Favourite Albums of 2018 – #30 to #26

2018 has been a personal roller coaster, often going at breakneck speeds. In such times, music has continued to be one of the most important ways I slow down and remind myself of the anchors I care about – and the lenses through which I viewed the wider world. These are the albums that etched themselves in my ear, my heart and my mind.

#30. Championships, Meek Mill

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Meek Mill deserves every accolade he gets this year. A symbol of weathered triumph in a country that’s stacked against people of colour, Meek digs into the depths of his struggle, every ounce of pain evident in his impassioned vocals, every moment of redemption bursting in the more upbeat tracks. Championships strikes the balance between socially conscious and personally joyful music in a way that signifies the mantle Meek has clearly fought to take on.

Listen to: Oodles O’Noodles Babies, Uptown Vibes ft. Fabolous and Anuel AA

Continue reading “Favourite Albums of 2018 – #30 to #26”

Favourite Albums of 2018 – #30 to #26

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #15 to #11

#15. The Meetings of the Waters, Fionn Regan

I was introduced to Fionn Regan’s exquisite music through last year’s 22, A Million, by another purveyor of folk beauty, Bon Iver. It seems that Fionn has taken on some inspiration from being sampled on the electronic chaos of that album, as he expands some his gorgeous acoustic melodies with expansive maximalism and skittering flourishes on A Meeting with the Waters. The result is Fionn’s most musically exciting work (complemented by perfect mixes), which nevertheless retains his stunning, poetic lyricism. With evocative imagery like “Ferns they will bend/and the moon it will send/its light down your collar/your bones they will mend/I know they will,” he creates music that feels apt for the quiet nights that you need to renew your sense of life. Fionn Regan has been described as a successor to the folk legacies of Bob Dylan and his ilk – with this record, he reminds us he is truly worthy.

Listen to: The Meeting of the Waters, Babushka-Yai Ya

#14. Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes

There was perhaps no album more ethereally beautiful this year than Crack-Up. This should come as no surprise, given Fleet Foxes have produced some of the best indie folk-pop ever made – impeccable melodies and painstakingly arranged instrumentation are their bread-and-butter. This is elevated to more drawn-out, undulating songs on this record, without ever losing a sense of purpose etched into their tunes. Frontman Robin Pecknold’s abstract lyricism creates the sort of poetry that can both move and provoke. It’s an album that is well worth its 6-year wait – it feels less like a moment in music, than an engulfing tide. The only downside is that one doesn’t know how long we’d have to wait for another such masterpiece.

Listen to:  Third of May / Ōdaigahara, Fool’s Errand

#13. american dream, LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem came back, after 6 years. But perhaps more importantly, LCD’s James Murphy came back. He came back with the shimmering melancholy dance rock that he pioneered, but perhaps more importantly, he came back with the nudge-and-wink earnestness that makes his best music as compelling as it is. American Dream is further vaulted into the musical imagination of 2017 with its typically ambitious, epic tracklist that ruminates on everything from failed relationships to the police state. This sounds like LCD Soundsystem at its finest, but not quite the LCD that had a farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. They acknowledge that they’re back, and are keen to tie up loose ends, so to speak. The album closer Black Screen pulses along like a staccato heartbeat – but LCD Soundsystem has already, neatly reinserted themselves into our cultural conscious. Thank the gods for it.

Listen to: oh baby, call the police

#12. Process, Sampha

‘Visceral’ isn’t a word that often comes to mind when describing R&B, but there doesn’t seem to be a more apt way to describe Sampha’s uniquely devastating take on the genre. Fear, anxiety and loneliness are described in images of blood, death, melting plastic and solitary days spent at the piano through his intensely emotive vocals. The sparse production leaves no cover for Sampha to hide behind – he lays his soul bare on every song, and leaves the listener reeling, yet oddly craving more. Process is an album shaped by the insecurities of the man making the music, but the music itself is a mature, refined body of work that cements Sampha as a voice to remember through the ages.

Listen to: Plastic 100°C [the studio version is worth searching for], (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano

#11. SATURATION I-III, BROCKHAMPTON

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Cheating a little by having 3 albums at a single spot, but there’s no way around it – each of BROCKHAMPTON’s releases this year are essential listening. The LA-based collective has the most incredible musical synergy, with its various members – each of them a creative force in their own right – playing off each other effortlessly, and contributing to tracks that play to their strengths. These guys are making hardcore hip-hop with the sort of wonderful weirdness that reminds one of Odd Future – and I daresay they work better together than OFWGKTA. Each of the albums in the trilogy brings its own energy, with SATURATION I, being the most aggressively confident, while the later instalments experiment a fair bit with their sounds. The music never gets stale, nor do the left-field moments feel forced. These are records made by a diverse, passionately creative web of young voices – if your ears don’t perk up on first listen, you might want to check them out.

Listen to: HEAT, SWEET, BLEACH

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #15 to #11

Quick Thoughts – Imagine Dragons, Calvin Harris and Young Thug

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#1. Evolve by Imagine Dragons

 

 

 

Imagine Dragons are at the forefront of the wave of pop/electronic rock bands that can make some great anthems and fill up concerts with their sing-alongs, but cannot for the life of them, put together a great album. Every track on the mercifully short Evolve is driven by stadium-sized drums and vocals, and poppy synths that are earworms at best, and ear-gratingly bad at worst.

Dan Reynolds is a talented vocalist, and puts up an earnest performance throughout. He can lift songs to incredibly satisfying highs when done right, such as on the epic Believer, Whatever it Takes, (where Dan employs a hip-hop cadence on the verses) and Rise Up. Whether these songs are good is debatable, but they accomplish what they set out to do – fill your headphones with an overwhelming passion, that stirs something in you, like it or not.

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Five Songs for the Weekend – VI

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. Rollin ft. Future, Khalid by Calvin Harris

(full track on Spotify) 

Calvin Harris is on a roll (pardon the pun). With this track, he continues to bring together artists you might not have expected to hear together over warm, bouncy production that is a far cry from his past of big room EDM. Khalid reaffirms his place as a musician to keep an eye on, with an insanely catchy hook that’s a perfect fit for this beat, while Future brings his signature melodic flow and warbly vocals to keep the danceability quotient high. If you’d told me a couple of months back that I’d be heaping such high praise on a Calvin Harris song, I’d laugh; but here we are.

#2. Wildfire by blink-182

Ah, 90s bands that attempt a comeback. They’re always hit-or-miss, and for a while it seemed blink-182 would fall on the side of the misses, which might’ve been a little saddening (All the Small Things is still a great song). But Wildfire is a pretty great track – it’s got the relentless energy of classic blink, but with production and vocals that sound like a band realizing they grew up. Here’s to them finding their place in a new musical landscape.

#3. Shreddy Krueger by MANWOLVES

It’s rare to find a band that makes rap work with live instrumentation – but when it does work, it can make for pretty great music. MANWOLVES takes instrumentation you wouldn’t expect backing most rappers – trumpets and percussion that’s more snares than deep kicks or hi hats. The vocals aren’t the focus – this is truly a band. With that said, they sound at home with the production, and the hook makes for a good sing-along. They might not be the next Twenty One Pilots yet, but MANWOLVES are worth your time.

#4. Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons

It’s hard to call Imagine Dragons great – their hits are inconsistent, and not particularly outstanding musically. But every once in a while, they put out songs that are inescapable – epic tracks with anthemic hooks and rousing production. Whatever It Takes is such a record – Dan Reynolds is an accomplished vocalist who knows exactly what the song requires from him, and the electronic-tinged instrumental drives the powerful pre-chorus and chorus to soaring high. They may not make the most innovative music, but they definitely make some of the most memorable mainstream electro-rock.

#5. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National

It’s been a while since The National put out new music, and it seems like something’s changed in the intermediary years – The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness seems to leave behind the subdued, atmospheric sound of Trouble Will Find Me for a more aggressive, driven sound. Even Matt Berninger’s signature one-liners sound more purposeful – The National seem to have a more definite path ahead, as opposed to the melancholy abstractness of their previous work. I cannot explain it any other way.

 

 

 

Five Songs for the Weekend – VI

Five Songs for the Weekend – V

#1. call the police  by LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem are finally back, and their melancholy dance rock sounds particularly apt for a time “we all know […] is nothing.” The kraftwerkian grooves are as catchy as ever, in contrast to the ponderous brevity of frontman James Murphy’s politically-tinted lyricism. The creators of the perfect soundtrack to dance  away one’s worries are truly back; the new album cannot get here fast enough. 

#2. Glam by Walrus

This hazy, psychedelic track with a contemporary indie bent harkens back to the glory days of glam rock – think Queen meets Daughter – with its earworm guitar riffs and drawling vocals, making it perfect for a sunny afternoon.

#3. Bimmer Music by Ishmael Raps

A high-energy, exuberant track whose aim is to simply be as fun as possible. As evidenced by the title itself, this is made to bump while driving, with its booming production and hyped-up flow. A true banger.

#4. Thinking of a Place by The War on Drugs

Guided by the bittersweet ruminations on life of frontman Adam Granduciel, The War on Drugs’ sprawling new single is a self-contained journey through the many crests, troughs and bends of thought, gliding on ethereal instrumentation that flows with Adam’s vocals to create an experience of a song that transports one to the place he seems lost in.

#5. Intoxicate by ZHU

ZHU is one of the most interesting producers out there right now, with a sexy, sleek aesthetic that is as much electroncia as it is modern RnB. He continues this genre-melding with Intoxicate, combining his own falsetto vocals with his subdued brand of EDM. This one’s for the dark club corners that ZHU owns.

Five Songs for the Weekend – V

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

With the way music is consumed continuously changing, the way it is created changes too – artists have found new and exciting ways to destroy the limitations of genre, meld an array of sounds together and shape it into music that pushes boundaries, while still retaining the core of musicality. This charge into a genreless future is being led by a few stellar artists, each in a class of their own while defying categories.

Continue reading “5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless”

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

Five Songs For the Weekend

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

1. Believer by Imagine Dragons

 

 

An anthemic earworm of a hook, rousing electro-rock production, and lead vocalist Dan Reynolds’ powerful vocals – Believer has all the ingredients of an Imagine Dragons hit. There’s an interesting bit of hip-hop influence here, with Dan adopting a rap-like flow over marching drums reminiscent of the ones on Kanye’s Black Skinhead; after a mediocre sophomore album, this is almost enough to make one a believer in Imagine Dragons again. 

#2. BagBak by Vince Staples

Vince Staples is undeniably one of the best, and smartest, rappers of this generation, and BagBak continues his streak of fiercely unapologetic sociopolitical rap, standing up for people of colour and sticking it to the Man over booming production bubbling with aggression – proclaiming quite succinctly “Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the government to suck a dick, because we on now / Tell the president to suck a dick, because we on now.”

#3. Comb My Hair by Coast Modern

The aptly-named Coast Modern is a wonderful new band that’s been putting out consistently great, summery tunes reminiscent of the beach rock of Wavves, and Comb My Hair is their latest. There’s a hint of psychedelia, and the drawling vocals deliver the decidedly weird lyrics in an oddly endearing manner. Quite the trip.

#4. (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano by Sampha

This gorgeous track from Sampha’s long-awaited debut album is a testament to the intense emotions the incredibly talented musican can evoke – accompanied almost entirely by the titular piano, Sampha reminisces on times gone by, using the full breadth of his stunning – yet somehow delicate – voice. It’s nearly impossible to listen to this without a lump in your throat.

#5. Random Haiku Generator by Sin Fang, Sóley & Örvar Smárason

The video description for this beauty perhaps describes this song better than we could: it’s a “confusing commentary on modern life” that is “one part electronic power ballad, one part delusional fantasy.” It’s just as wonderfully weird as it sounds, and thanks to musicians like Örvar Smárason (from múm) who are adept at making the weird sound serene, this track is bound to be on the soundtrack to your ruminative evenings. 

Five Songs For the Weekend

The He(art) of Music

Prem Sylvester 

Music, as with any other aspect of modern culture, has experienced a paradigm shift in the last couple of decades – from being a form of pure entertainment, it’s taken on elements of pop culture, as well as art, splintered and reshaped itself, and continues to evolve. While music remains an integral part of pop culture, often being its most visible – and audible – form, there is a sizable movement that approaches music like one would visual art. It derives from outside the commercial, challenges conventionalities and its purpose is provoking thought and discussion. But what makes music created with artistic intent different from that created with the aim to entertain?

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The He(art) of Music

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #15 to #11

#15. The Colour in Anything by James Blake

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James Blake is something of a singularly unique figure in music – despite being lauded by critics, roped in by some of the biggest musicians on the planet to collaborate with, and with a dedicated cult following, it’s almost unnerving how he maintains his insularity. Despite The Colour in Anything being, by all accounts, his most collaborative work yet – Frank Ocean, Justin Vernon and more appear in the credits throughout – this is still very much a one-man show. The mood Blake has perfected in his previous albums, of terrifying loneliness, pervasive melancholy and an eternal struggle against the personal battles of life, remains just as stunningly effective here. The music is beautiful, despite its inherent sorrow, with the glacial electronica and keys providing the perfect soundscape for Blake’s chilling voice, one dripping in emotion that isn’t captured by any of his contemporaries nearly as truly. The solitude remains the central theme for nearly the entire 17-track running time, but the true beauty of this album, as it is with all of James Blake’s music, is the acceptance that this pain and heartbreak is an essential part of life. It’s difficult – there is no way you come out of this album without feeling broken. But it isn’t dreary – in its own weird way, this is an album that meditates on sorrow thoughtfully. It is human – and as with everything human, it’s incredibly compelling.

Listen to: Radio Silence, Love Me in Whatever Way

#14. 22, A Million by Bon Iver

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Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, is a work of detached beauty. The album is possibly the most challenging of Bon Iver’s discography, with a lexicon that communicates emotions and moments beyond the pedestrian, in words – existent and invented – that appear carefully pruned to strike the right chord at the right moment, yet maintain the enigma. The electronic elements and distortion that finds its way into the production is a departure from their acoustic stylings, and the lyrics have become even more esoteric. However, the core of the album is still very much Bon Iver, with the music delivering the emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer, rendered in the haunting, layered voice of Justin Vernon.The listener is thus left to decipher an intricately woven, highly conceptual exploration of Justin Vernon’s psyche, a narrative wrought of creative exhaustion and anxiety, the soul of the sagacious recluse laid bare. 22, A Million, is a layered, intelligent but heavy record. It’s also deeply emotive. And in that dichotomy, lies Bon Iver’s genius.

Listen to: 33 “GOD”21 M◊◊N WATER

#13. Blackstar by David Bowie

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Did David Bowie know Blackstar was going to be the last gift he’d give to music? If he did, it sure doesn’t sound like it. The album is brimming with experimental instrumentation, with elements of jazz, funk, rock’n’roll, and even the occasional hip-hop, his songwriting is as wonderfully esoteric as ever, and the record as a whole sounds like the work of a man invested in absolute creativity, not one 25 albums in. And therein lies Bowie’s genius; here was a man dedicated to pushing the envelope of music till his last breath, forcing his contemporaries to play catch up even as time was catching up with him. The centrepiece of the album, Lazarus, swirls in a lush mix of saxophone, rolling drums and startlingly distinct guitar riffs. This runs consistently through the tight runtime, with an energy that never lets up, yet never becomes chaotic. And as the soaring music crescendos in the final track, there’s a sense that David Bowie has given all he is to his music. The man may have lived his turn, but the music will never truly die. RIP, Ziggy Stardust.

Listen to: LazarusGirl Loves Me

#12. We’re All Gonna Die by Dawes

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Don’t let that album title fool you: this isn’t a hopelessly nihilistic record. Matter of fact, this might be one of the cleverest musical dissections of the human condition to come out this year. The indie-folk rock of this album is nuanced, with philosophical musings on several existentialist themes, as well as on ideas closer to the realities of our lives. The songs move from restrained to anthemic with ease, with huge, extremely catchy choruses. The instrumentation moves far enough to standard indie tropes to be deemed experimental, but there’s still something comfortable and familiar about it. Everybody’s Gonna Die feels like a wise older brother, with years on the road, the smell of whisky and cigarettes on his breath, telling you about the years of wisdom he’s acquired in a manner that merely feels like he’s revealing to you what you’ve already known in your heart, albeit in the most pleasant form possible. This is a big, meaningful record. The proclamation might be of death, but its contents focus on the journey of life. Its success lies in the fact that it helps the listener appreciate the wonderment of that journey a  little more.

Listen to: One of Us, When the Tequila Runs Out

#11. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth by Sturgill Simpson

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Sturgill Simpson is that sort of genre-bending singer-songwriter that can extract the finest from each facet of music he touches on, creating a lush, evocative ode to the journey of life itself. Sturgill’s deep, rustic voice with its country twang guides the listener through personal musings, thoughts collated with everyman lyricality, as he relates his paths of discovery – of self and to the world – to his family. The instrumentation, appropriately, sounds like the soundtrack to the meditative lulling of a vessel swaying in the waters of time. This is an earnest, honest exploration of the truths of life; it’s a deeply thought-out album, one that is carried by Sturgill’s rich vocals and eloquent songwriting into the realm of the heavenly, yet tethered to the beating heart of humanity.

Listen to: Breaker’s Oar, In Bloom

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #15 to #11

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #20 to #16

 

#20. American Band by Drive-By Truckers

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The Drive-By Truckers sure sound like a true-blue American Band, with their country-inspired rock and southern twang. Given their roots then, this unabashedly political album is a bold statement to make. There are no convoluted metaphors or wary approximations here; the lyrics are a direct reflection of the America that primary songwriters Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood live in.

Ranging from racism, immigration and police shootings to personal struggles and economic hardships, the Drive-By Truckers are grave and contemplative throughout, and offer more nuance to the issues that country is grappling with than several political pundits, the largely frenetic guitars and percussion driving home the point. Uniquely positioned as they are in the South, making an album such as this one is risky, but there are messages here their audience would do well to listen to. And that makes this record an essential listen in 2016.

Listen to: Ramon CasianoGuns of Umpquoa 

#19. Blank Face LP by ScHoolboy Q

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Rap is currently experiencing a paradigm shift: shedding the sounds of the old school, and embracing a more fluid definition of hip-hop. ScHoolboy Q is one of those rappers straddling both eras in a way few others can, revitalizing  West Coast gangsta hip hop with a dose of hazy cloud rap. Q’s rhymes are among his sharpest here, delivering incisive, vivid observations of the street life he came from, and his transition to a life of fame, with clever bars delivering pithy commentary on the consequences of his lifestyle. But this isn’t a steady stream of hedonism either – Q recognizes that he often personifies what, to him at least, is necessary evil. There is a menace in the tone of the album, whether it be in Q’s snarling vocals – even the more laid back flows have a sneer to them – or the grimy production. Booming 808s, growling guitars and basslines, everything comes together in a form that goes from haunting to aggressive. Blank Face is a West Coast record through and through, in its imagery, sound and character, and ScHoolyboy Q has assured himself as one of the finest purveyors of that atmosphere.

Listen to: Groovy Tony/Eddie KaneTookie Knows II

#18. Jeffery by Young Thug

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Is any character in hip-hop today as fascinating as Young Thug? From a ~gangsta~ rapper with a unique voice, Thugga has evolved into one of the most wonderfully weird rappers around. His subject matter may not exactly be unique, but his delivery is his USP. Thug modulates his raspy sing-song voice in ways few other musicians can, be it a high-pitched screech, an aggressive growl, or a smooth RnBesque flow, often switching styles multiple times in the same song. He flows effortlessly over bass-heavy trunk rattlers that stay faithful to his own off-kilter style, perfectly accommodating his unconventional melodies.  However, this isn’t to say his lyrics aren’t equally entertaining – whether he’s rapping about his seemingly endless sexual escapades or his high-end lifestyle, he elicits more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, in moments of hilarious brilliance reminiscent of golden-age Lil Wayne, one of Thugga’s idols. Alongside his own declarations that “there’s no such thing as gender,” supported by the androgynous album cover, it’s clear that Young Thug aka Jeffery has no fucks to give about convention. Hip-hop is better for it.

Listen to: Wycleaf Jean, Kanye West

#17. 99.9% by Kaytranada

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99.9% is abstract, bright music that demands the listener’s attention. With polyrythmic, massive-bass driven production, Kaytranada comes up with some truly unique sounds that skitter across a wide array of sounds, never getting into a rut. While it can be broadly classified as electronica, with distinct hip-hop influences, there is a significant amount of progressive genre-blending here, particularly with the percussion, such as on the stellar BBNG-assisted Weight Off, the unmatched Glow’d Up with Anderson.Paak’s inspired vocal performance, and Breakdance Lesson N.1 which sounds like straight 80s hip-hop interspersed with futuristic synths. The vocals, although limited, often complement the production extremely well, with some hip-hop, and a healthy dose of RnB-based vocals from decades post.However,  Kay’s work on the boards remains front and center for the most part, resulting in a hypnotic, layered record created by a man with a meticulous ear for sound. Music is all the better for it.

Listen to: Got It Good, Weight Off

#16. Malibu by Anderson .Paak

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It’s hard to describe Malibu in musical terms; it’s a record that feels both sprawling and intimate, offering up depictions of .Paak’s life through a bird’s eye view of his soul. We’re walked through the streets of his town, peeking into the churches he sang in, the rooms he fell in love in, the grimy dance floors he let loose on, and the homes where his heart was broken. In his inimitable raspy voice, he weaves tales of family, strife, love, and growth with incredible lyricism, the imagery evocative, and the settings distinct. Drawing on the sounds of various past decades, while still firmly grounded in contemporary hip-hop and RnB, the rich live instrumentation complements .Paak’s prowess as a singer, moving between forms with incredible ease. Malibu is .Paak’s heart worn on the album’s sleeve, and it is one that beats with a passion that few other musicians can conjure.

Listen to: Heart Don’t Stand a Chance, The Season|Carry Me

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #20 to #16