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?

Continue reading “The He(art) of Music”

The He(art) of Music

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #15 to #11

#15. The Colour in Anything by James Blake

310698eb

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

985e010a

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

blackstar

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

250961-35MM 001

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

sturgill-simpson

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

drive-by-truckers-american-band-album-cover-art

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

blank-face-lp

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

jeffery_young_thug

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

photo

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

0e1836c9

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

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #25 to #21

#25. Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown

atrocityexhibition

Atrocity Exhibition is the opposite of pleasant; it’s filthy and brutal, a no-holds barred stream of debauchery and tumult. Danny Brown has long lived on the fringes of hip-hop, whether it be due to his abrasive rapping voice, discomfiting persona or the translation of his darkest parts and times into his music. But with this album, Danny has abandoned any notions of conforming to traditional hip hop sounds, instead plunging into the depths of his psyche, with some of his most left-field hip-hop and electronic production.

While the dreary hedonism on here – full of drugs and sex – is certainly disconcerting, Danny also raps of his many conflicts, and the violence he has been, and continues to be witness to, describing his past with an oft-repeated nihilism. The production, though, is the most evidently anti-mainstream, anti-radio, aspect of Danny’s music. Combining layers of electronica, hip-hop and post-punk, there’s grisly percussion, glitch-y synths and haunting, psychedelic samples. Atrocity Exhibition, then, is a piece of utter chaos, interspersed with tales of sordid successes, that most musical audience would be turned off by. And yet, it exists as the ultimate middle finger to commercial music.

Listen to: Rolling Stone, Pneumonia 

#24. Telefone by Noname

covdifeuiaiv__f

I’ve been waiting on a Noname album ever since I heard her heart-rending verse on Chance the Rapper’s Lost (back when she was Noname Gypsy), her tempered voice and mellow flow acting as a front for deep introspection. In the years since, Noname has put together an intensely personal coming-of-age record, her poetic lyricism and spoken-word cadence delivering her story in evocative arrangement.

Noname’s form of confessional hip hop reflects that of several of her Chicago peers – Chano, Saba, Mick Jenkins – but there’s some unabashed soul-searching with a depth that some of her peers miss. She’s not a rapper’s rapper, but her thoughtful musings are layered with deliberate detail, and she raps intricate phrases with ease. No other album in recent memory has revealed the soul of a pensive black woman as well as this one; and given the America’s social climate, this scion of black femininity is a welcome addition to hip-hop.

Listen to: Diddy Bop, Shadow Man

#23. The Wilderness by Explosions In The Sky

album_art

Explosions in the Sky are one of the finest post-rock bands of our times for good reason: their sprawling music encompasses an array of textures, often within the same songs, but they resonate in intimate notes. Songs float in an expanse of space, sometimes surging in volume, sometimes shedding its moving parts down to the bare minimum. the mood shifts between intimate, to soaring, to shades of melancholy; the instrumentation is intricate, but never messy, making impeccable use of an array of musical components. As for the music itself, its beauty lies in the range of emotions it evokes. While the song titles and the moods of the soundscape themselves convey a trotting journey through the titular abstract wilderness, the reactionary perspective to each of these moments is entirely subjective to the listeners. And therein lies the significance of this record, and EITS themselves – epic in scale as it may be, it resonates with the audience with a familiarity that is entirely personal.

Listen to: Wilderness, Logic of a Dream

#22. Nonagon Infinity by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

f2bb0e44

An album that embraces aggressive weirdness and amps up the adrenaline to over 9000, while never really taking itself overly seriously, Nonagon Infinity is that rare beast – and it truly is a beast – of an album that is made for the purpose of finding out to what strange new extents music can be pushed. It’s loud, it’s relentlessly paced, and its garage-rock/psychedelic instrumentation is a vortex that is nearly impossible to get out of once you’re sucked in. One of the primary reasons for this immersion is the sequencing of the tracks; besides the impeccable segue of each track into the next, this is also probably the first album in the history of music that can be played as a continuous loop, its assigned end smoothly flowing into the opening notes of the album. Once you begin a listening session, there is no escape – while the wonderfully arcane lyrics are a delight, the frenetic soundscape will ensnare you in its spiked jaw, and the endless loop will imprison you in a perpetual stampede. Enjoy your stay.

Listen to: the whole album

 

#21. Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

packshot1-768x768

Music can often exist by itself, in meaningful vacuum, but there are albums where the context is inextricable from its content; Skeleton Tree is one of those albums. Although created prior to the tragedy, there is no denying the influence the event has had on the creation of this work: the death of Nick Cave’s 15-year old son.

There is no joy to be found here; the music over which Cave’s husky voice deadpans is almost underproduced, with no unnecessary flourishes or embellishments, yet moving in its own right. The voice and the words are front and center; the esoteric ruminations on death permeate the album, with anecdotes that simultaneously feel fantastical and personal. The pain and darkness that came with the tragedy is pervasive, and it influences every aspect of the music here. But it feels like Cave is speaking to his listeners just as much as he’s looking inwards, his eyes to a clouded-over sky, his feet on unstable ground; the result is one of the most sadly beautiful albums in recent times, and one that will stay with its creator and its audience for a long time to come.

Listen to: Rings of Saturn, Magneto

 

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #25 to #21

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #30 to#26

#30. NO REALITY by Nosaj Thing

34e070b3-0110-46ab-92ac-bd0976eced97

Rare is the album that can form a mood, and stick to it throughout its runtime. NO REALITY is that type of album. Eclectic producer Nosaj Thing has experimented with varying styles throughout his career, and he’s settled on dark atmospherics here. Imagine a deep pit, blacker-than-black to sight, with you stuck at the bottom, trying to claw your way out, with a barely visible rope in hand. There’s glimmers of hope, but mostly an unshakeable dread. This is the mood NO REALITY captures.

With deep, driving basslines and glitchy percussion, the weight of the sounds weigh heavy. Bursts of sound, almost like static, puncture the blanket of black.  The pacing of the production is deliberate; it sways between urgent and foreboding, never settling.

NO REALITY is a body of work that demands a complete listen; given its short runtime, that might not seem like a challenge, but the music is anything but light. It truly seeps into you, and is one of the most fulfilling electronic listens of the year.

Listen to: the whole thing

#29. Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka

love20and20hate

The first time I heard Michael Kiwanuka was the title track off his rustic debut album, Home Again. The incredibly soulful voice and melancholy lyrics stirred my very soul (no pun intended.) If I thought that album was special, four years later, the sprawling Love & Hate does it one better, with some gorgeous production and Kiwanuka’s vocals, reminiscent of some of the finest soul singers.

The title is a sweeping thematic declaration, that finds resonance in varying forms throughout the album. Here, love and hate are personal revelations, political declarations and a culmination of the spectrum of emotion, positive or negative. As a ‘black man in a white world,’ Kiwanuka offers unique points-of-view to these sentiments, expressing them in their entire depth, courtesy of his sonorous voice. The production derives from classic soul, jazz, funk and blue, with a rich, textured sound. It sounds contemporary, without compromising the timelessness of the music. The epic title track acts as the lynchpin to this body of beautiful work, proclaiming that “you can’t take me down/ you can’t break me down.” In the years since his debut, it’s clear that Michael Kiwanuke has come into own as a mature artist, as one worth giving your complete attention to. I have only love for this LP.

Listen to: Black Man In a White World, Love & Hate

#28. untitled unmastered. by Kendrick Lamar

1bcdfd6b

What does one say about Kendrick Lamar, and his music that hasn’t been said a hundred times already? The rapper, who by this point has all but staked his claim as the finest of his generation, if not among the all-time greats, has nothing to prove. It’s fascinating to view these tracks as works-in-progress; the amount of meticulous detailing Kendrick puts into his final music becomes very evident. But even in this unfinished state, the music here can often be stunning; the ‘demo’ tracks that comprise this collection are far better thought-out than most rappers’ albums.

The songs tackle an array of perspectives and concepts, which although not entirely fleshed out, are a peek into the mind of possibly the most fascinating artist in the industry. Kendrick’s rhymes are as sharp as they’ve ever been, his vocals contorting in the wonderfully weird ways he’s come to be known for, and he orchestrates a song like few other artists can. The beats are evidently constructed in the same space To Pimp a Butterfly was, with plenty of throwback live instrumentation. Truly, the only reason this album doesn’t feature higher up is it because it isn’t an album; nevertheless, it’s one of the most interesting collections of songs this year.

Listen to: untitled 02, untitled 07

#27. Cardinal by Pinegrove

pinegrove-cardinal

Cardinal is an album about friendship. This might not be immediately apparent; the lyrics are far from esoteric, but there’s a certain doublespeak in the themes. This doesn’t really matter initially, for Pinegrove have created an immensely listenable indie rock record, with the sincere vocals and nostalgia-inducing instrumentation. But listen closely, and the words begin to make sense. You begin to see the people you know and love, or loved and lost, in the songs. As a year that brought me extremely meaningful friendships, and new wisdom on what these relationships meant, it’s hard to truly measure the quality of this record, except in terms of how it resonated with me. It’s a moving listen, but never overtly sentimental. It’s an ode to our equations with some of the most wonderful people in our lives, and an ode to the mistakes and successes we’ve had with them, in an intensely personal manner. So throw on Cardinal, call over a few friends, and soak in this record. And even when it ends, know that your friends are still around.

Listen to: Old Friends, New Friends

#26. Darkness and Light by John Legend

john-legend-darkness-and-light-cover-art

John Legend is an RnB traditionalist: he’s one of the best singer around, and emotes classic RnB subjects through his vocals: love, loss, hope and grief. But with Darkness and Light, Legend makes his most distinguished attempt to present himself as an artist that understands his place in music and society, as someone with a voice that’s speaking – or singing – about what matters to him.

Given his appearances on shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher and tweets, it’s evident that John Legend cares about being a person of colour in the America he lives in; it’s a harsh place, even more so for someone without Legend’s money and influence. For the first time in his music, he acknowledges this, and grapples with the reality his community lives in. Herein lies the darkness.

However, his light comes in the form of people: his wife and his daughter, most prominently. He derives hope from them – despite their obstacles, there is an abundance of love between them, and Legend builds upon this as his foundation, as his reason to keep fighting, living and making music. His ode to his daughter, Right By You (For Luna), thus acts as the thematic centerpiece – a recognition of the world she’s been brought into, with the reassurance that he will do his best to show her the goodness in it – the darkness and the light.

Listen to: Penthouse Floor, Overload 

 

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #30 to#26

Bursts of Thought #1

1. 99.9% by Kaytranada

999

The cover art for 99.9% is emblematic of the music it contains. This is abstract, bright music that demands the listener’s attention. With polyrythmic, massive-bass driven production, Kaytranada comes up with some truly unique production that skitters 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. It’s a bit of a disappointment then, that some of the vocalists, particularly with their lyrics, sound rather uninspired. I have a love-hate relationship with Little Dragon vocalist Yukimi Nagano, and the closing track, Bullets, does little to sway my opinion towards love. One Too Many has Phonte pushing his singing abilities to an unfortunate breaking point, alongside some truly cringeworthy lyrics. However, when the music plays, these issues recede, for Kay’s stellar work on the boards is front-and-center. The instrumentals are unlike anything I’ve heard this year, and sounds just at home on full blast as they do in my headphones. Save for the occasional vocal misstep, then, 99.9% is a hypnotic, layered record created by a man with a meticulous ear for sound. Music is all the better for it.

2. Cloud Nine by Kygo

kygo-cloud-nine-2016-2480x2480

Kygo is a phenomenon: he’s almost single-handedly engineered the next wave of festival-filling EDM with tropical house, that’s come to permeate the mainstream in an incredibly short period.Courtesy of a few uber-popular singles, all eyes have been on Kygo, which he’s directed towards this album, Cloud Nine. Unfortunately, Kygo’s music, while very well done, reveals its biggest flaw – its homogeneity – when extended to album length. In fact, most of the best tracks on the album, gorgeous in their own right, have already been released as singles. Some of the strongest vocals on the album appear on Firestone and Stole The Show, courtesy of Conrad Sewell and Parson James respectively, while the acoustic stylings of Kodaline on Raging and James Vincent McMorrow on I’m In Love make them some of the best tracks here. Among the deep cuts, Happy Birthday is a shimmering gem featuring the always-incredibe John Legend, and Not Alone featuring RHODES is worth multiple listens. As with most EDM, lyrics are hardly the focus here, being standard pop fare. The production is obviously why we’re here, and Kygo’s blend of lush, summery synths and strings, and gorgeous keys remain beautifully atmospheric, which shine through on the instrumental Intro and the closing For What It’s Worth, which would’ve been better off as the original vocal-less Piano Jam. Even as the tracks bleed into each other, Cloud Nine remains vibrant and truly stunning in sections. Kygo’s music, then, is clearly better off consumed as individual songs, than listened to as a traditional album. With that in mind, the listener can settle into some wonderful vibes with Cloud Nine.

3. Konnichiwa by Skepta

kon-pac

Skepta has been consistently building anticipation for Konnichiwa for about a year now, with cosigns by Drake and Kanye, and riding the wave of some stellar singles. A grime album hasn’t seen so many eyes on it in a long time. Fortunately, the album lives up to quite a lot of the hype. Konnichiwa sticks to the tried and tested grime formula for the most part: aggressive, no-frills production, flow and rhymes, a version of braggadocios hip-hop at its bluntest. It isn’t particularly innovative, but it doesn’t aim to be. It’s technical, clever and authentic rap. The few instances Skepta steps out of his comfort zone are met with mixed results; the Pharrell-assisted Numbers is a nice standout(could’ve done without the Pharrell verse though) and Text Me Back should not be dismissed as “one for the ladies,” having some genuine emotion not found anywhere else on the album. Ladies Hit Squad, on the other hand, is a terribly generic club song that is an unnecessary attempt at breaking into the US mainstream. Speaking of the mainstream, Skepta will definitely find a place on the playlists of hip-hop heads and grime newcomers across the world with Konnichiwa, although it will probably not blow up on the charts. It’s far from pop, but it’s real. And as straightforward as the music may be, Skepta is assured in his abilities, and he ensures the listener knows it.
Bursts of Thought #1

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #3 to #1

Note: Listen to every song on these albums. They’re worth your time.

#3. King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T

81mdqeyii2bl-_sl1500_

Pusha almost didn’t give us this masterpiece this year: dropped in mid-December, Darkest Before Dawn is the absolute last album to make my list. And with good reason: this is Pusha T’s best solo body of work so far. There is absolutely no excess on this LP: at 10 tracks and about 30 minutes long, this is an effortless listen, and every track makes its presence felt, loud and clear.

Push is rapping at his sharpest, on some of the best production he’s had. There is noticeable edge to the vocals and the lyrics, exacerbated by the issues of race Push touches on through the album. And while he’s always had great production, here is focussed, thematic production; there is no joy to it, the 808s and bass elevating the grit of Pusha’s lyrics to powerful places. Darkest Before Dawn is a testament to Pusha T as a musician, as one who can curate a laser-sharp body of work. And to think, this is only the prelude.

#2. In Colour – Jamie xx

713wag2bjudl-_sl1500_

In Colour is one of those wonderful albums that can be treated as an audio-visual experience by virtue of its cover art and the music itself. Vibrant, warm, cool and silky in turns, this project is one of the most eclectic electronic albums in recent memory. What stands out the most is the seamless incorporation of samples, original production and vocals to present a flowing piece of music that finds form without being limited by any of its elements. Jamie xx incorporates a veritable plethora of influences with a remarkably contemporary flavour, ensuring that In Colour isn’t eccentric, yet like nothing you’ve heard before. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), a tropical pop wonder, with rap and reggaaeton vocals is a thematic crux of the album.

Jamie xx is a connoisseur of electronica, and In Colour is his most compelling buffet. Let the music play and soak in its beauty.

#1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

3813bcd3d4accb7634eea23a2a7ab190-1000x1000x1

Everyone saw this coming. There is no way around it. To Pimp A Butterfly album transcends rap. Hell, this album transcends music. What Kendrick is conveying here moves beyond the realm of socially conscious music; it is a consciousness all in itself. This album is so incredibly complex, sonically and conceptually.  The lyrics, quite literally, weave short stories that cohere into an incredibly descriptive whole. They are, as James Joyce put it, the portrait of an artist and by extension, his culture. In the same vein, the production on TPAB is aggressively retro, while still sounding fresh; a melting pot of black music, be it funk or jazz or the blues. This is hip-hop grounded firmly in its roots. I am truly stunned by the magnitude of this album.

To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t meant to be easy listening, it isn’t music you can listen to passively. This is a microcosm of the spectrum of overwhelming life  Kendrick has lived through. It is a representation of the African-American experience, through the eyes of one if its own, straddling the line between stardom and humility, money and power, and good and bad. This is, dare I say it, a classic work of art.

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #3 to #1