Favourite Albums of 2017 – #5 to #1

Note: No song recommendations for each album here. Delve into each of the albums in their entirety – they’re worth it

#5. 4:44, Jay-Z

The barebones cover art of 4:44 is symbolic. Jay-Z strips down his grandeur, his mythical image, to share thoughts and emotions he admits to having kept buried himself. This album is perhaps Jay’s most “Shawn Carter” album – it’s confessional, introspective and contemplative all at once. Think the emotional wallop of Song Cry expanded to album-length. Jay’s rawest moments come when reflecting on his infidelity, apologizing to Beyonce with a vulnerability he’s never dared to show before. He reflects on his legacy, as a rapper, a businessman and a father honestly – rather than expanding his mythos, he deconstructs and examines it. It’s almost ironic then, that he’s at his most confident lyrically here that he’s been in a long time. He isn’t trying hard with his punchlines or technicality, but he deftly presents his troubles and victories with plenty of quotables along the way. The decision to pair with No I.D throughout the album clearly paid off too, with a sonic cohesiveness that many of his previous works lacked. 4:44, then, is grown-man rap, and one of Jay-Z’s best albums – and perhaps, the only true Shawn Carter album we have.

#4. A Crow Looked at Me, Mount Eerie

How does one talk about death – more specifically, the death of the dearly beloved? Artists across time and mediums have tried to translate the devastating finality of death into their creations, to varying degrees of success. Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum plays his hand by turning the all-encompassing grief of his wife, Geneviève Castrée’s death into “barely music,” as he puts it himself. Throughout the length of the album, it feels like Elverum is simply unraveling his knotted heart into words, with startlingly frank descriptions of the time before, around and after Castrée’s death. There is no convoluted attempt at philosophical musings or poeticisms, simply the reality of Elverum’s life let loose over sparse, intimate instrumentation. A Crow Looked at Me is a painful, utterly sad album – every listen nudges you to cry – but that’s what death is. There is no resolution; just a lingering image of his dead wife burned into Phil Elverum’s soul, and now, ours.

#3. Sleep Well Beast, The National

The National are the classical indie band, using traditional instruments to effect a certain maturity to their sound, while singing about the everyday lives of everyday people simply living and loving. What differentiates them, then, is that there is none of the pretentiousness attached to most bands in this niche. Sleep Now Beast is a gorgeous, glacial album that brings the heft that every new National record brings, musically and emotionally. Matt Berninger’s rich baritone wades through the swamp of life, and endures. That is the leitmotif of this album – endurance. The album rarely soars, rather seeking to persist. It does not vault over obstacles, so much as wear them down. The production is rousing, if not anthemic. It lays out a bed of sound that’s comfortably gentle enough to couch your tired heart, but acknowledges that resting alone is not enough to move through life. Sleep Now Beast is an important record – in the chaos of our world it, it implores one to take stock of what we have, and what we must not lose. And that is all it takes to live.

#2. DAMN., Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is one the greatest MCs to ever grace the mic. End of. DAMN. is a meticulously crafted, stunningly written album that cements Kendrick as a musician who uses his skills not merely as a destination in itself, but as a vehicle to his message. This is his leanest, most accessible album, and it shows within every track itself. His rhymes are razor-sharp, condensing weighty ideas and philosophies into one-liners and tight metaphors, but equally adept at expansive, descriptive storytelling. Each song is a concept in itself, with appropriately moody production, delivering thought-provoking lyrics and quotables, often separated by a mere bar or two. He can go from the aggressive, barbed rapping of DNA. to the sensuality of LOVE. without ever compromising his lyrical dexterity. Kendrick is a purposeful, thoughtful rapper who can reel in the listener with deceptively simple ‘hooks’ and then confront them with the true depth of his music. This is best exemplified by album closer DUCKWORTH., one of Kendrick’s finest instances of storytelling, culminating in a disorienting, yet perfectly sensible twist that connects his music and his life in a utterly believable way. Saying he lives to make music, or that his music shapes his life would both be falsely reductive – for Kendrick Lamar, his music is his life. 

#1. Melodrama, Lorde

Melodrama is an album that is very difficult to describe objectively – it is a distillation of millennial heartbreak and recuperation lifted to celestial heights by one of the finest pop stars of this generation. Lorde couches the travails of a 20-year old in love in luxuriant sound, turning the ephemeral cascade of emotions that we attempt to deal with through the processes of love into tangible, memorable lyrics. Her synthesia shapes the album, infusing the music with a nocturnal quality that nevertheless glimmers under rave lights. Amidst spilt drinks, clothes quickly shed and shattered hearts, Lorde finds reasons to stay defiant, pick up her pieces and cruise down the highway without a care in the world. It’s a message that resonates in the depths of the young soul, from where we have shut out the light. Even as we overthink our punctuation use, we find a way to love till our breathing stops. It would be foolish to not drown in Lorde’s delicately emotive voice, and reminisce about the foolishness, the joys and the resilience of young love. It’s a beautiful thing, and no one captures it quite as beautifully as Lorde does.

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Favourite Albums of 2017 – #5 to #1

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #20 to #16

#20. American Teen, Khalid

Khalid is the breakout pop star of 2017. Capturing the millennial mood in a way few others in the mainstream have, Khalid effortlessly updates relics of romance and quarter life crises to the smartphone age. A large percentage of the songs live in a world shaped by the devices we hold in our hands – our source of joys, but a Pandora’s box just as often. Love and relationships are digitized, with their set of ups and downs. The top half of American Teen is an incredible run of pop anthems, while the second half ventures into upbeat R&B ballads – but the whole thing sounds like an album, an increasingly rare attribute.  Despite Khalid’s voice being the only one on the entire record, he holds his own better than some seasoned musicians, thanks to his earnest vocals and production that winks at classic R&B while consistently maintaining a richly modern sound. He comes of age through the run of the album, a self-assured debut that lays an exciting base for Khalid’s growth as a person, and artist.

Listen to: American Teen, Another Sad Love Song

#19. Rainbow, Kesha

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Kesha’s resurgence has been one of the greatest pop star transformations to witness in the last couple of years. A soaring, powerful record, Rainbow has an inspired Kesha shedding her Autotune-drenched party pop, instead placing her confident vocals front & center, her strife firmly behind her. She’s been vocally feminist in previous years, and that shows most evidently here. Her music here transforms the painful misogyny she’s faced over the years in the industry into boisterous, resilient pop music. She’s also retained her flamboyance, asserting that the Kesha we’re listening to now hasn’t lost the playful charm from when she first burst onto the scene. Rainbow thus has one of the most memorable pop stars of our time singing her heart out, and beautifully capturing ours in a way few others have.

Listen to: Woman, Praying

#18. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, 2 Chainz

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Yes, a 2 Chainz album is one of my favourites of the year. 2017 has been strange. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music isn’t just arguably Epps’ best album, it’s an all-round great album – Chainz exudes cool swagger throughout, deftly detailing the street life and the rap life through some of his sharpest punchlines. The production is as 2017 as it gets, mixing melodic trap with luxurious Southern textures. And it all sounds surprisingly grown- up, with a snarl that asserts that Chainz expects the respect accorded to a rap elderman. The tracklisting is meticulously executed, with a good mix of guests who complement Chainz perfectly. Pretty Girls… is an album that ought to make 2 Chainz disbelievers question their biases – he’s clearly spent time poring over the minutiae of this record, and presented a body of work that commands respect.

Listen to: 4AM, Sleep When U Die

#17. Everything Now, Arcade Fire

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Indie darlings Arcade Fire take their time making music – it lends a sweeping timelessness to their albums. It’s easy for an LP made as such to suffer from a sense of being lost, displaced in the context of the time it comes out. It’s a credit to Arcade Fire’s strength as a band, then, that they are able to create a world here that is untethered to a time, delivering their sound from a towering view, raised on pieces fit together over the years of their lives. The LP effuses neon retro in the layered, impeccably produced soundscape, and earnestly contemplates the world from the perspective of a generation that’s seen relentless change. Even when they tread preachy grounds, it’s hard to fault them for it – frontman Win Butler’s winsome singing makes you want to listen to what they have to say. As the record winds down, closing in a loop back to the opening track, it’s evident that Arcade Fire are aware that the idiosyncrasies of our lives are forever – but maybe, it’s not all bad.

Listen to: Everything_Now (continued) + Everything Now, Put Your Money on Me

#16. Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast

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Soft Sounds From Another Planet is an experience – the haze of sheogaze covers the album with cosmic dust, and Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner seems to construct her images through the same haze. Her lyricism ties the eccentricities of everyday life to abstract metaphors that land with the precision of a blade, such as on, if you’ll forgive the pun, The Body is a Blade. Michelle’s voice shines clear through the expanse, delivering a musical experience that feels like floating through a dream of vignettes from distant points in our lives drifting towards you. There’s a word in Japanese, komorebi, that transliterates to “sunshine filtering through leaves.” Zauner’s music often feels that way, the sign through our mess that there’s a way out.

Listen to: Machinist, Till Death 

 

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #20 to #16

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

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

#1. Sober – Lorde

The theme of Melodrama is pretty clear now – post the fame of Pure Heroin, Lorde was thrust into a world she didn’t recognize, and it took a toll on her. Sober continues the brutally honest examinations of modern hedonism, the often-contradictory dichotomy of the party culture and alcohol binges, over a pulsating beat. It’s going to be intriguing to see how it all comes together on the album, which is just a week away.

#2. That Far – 6LACK

After blowing up off the back of some great singles, most notably, Problems, and an album, it seems like 6LACK doesn’t intend to take his foot off the accelerator. Keeping to his hazy production and vocals, 6LACK thematically focuses up. Looking firmly to the future while dismissing his distractions, he makes it known that his only purpose is success.

#3. Not Enough ft. THEY. – Lido

There aren’t enough upbeat tracks that are a fuck-you to an ex. Vibrant and fun, with lots of great little harmonies, Lido and THEY. come together for a song that will be a lot of fun to sing along to – possibly a little drunk.

#4. Rain Come Down – Vince Staples

Few rappers can do truly dark, gritty music like Vince Staples can. With a beat that’s haunting and menacing despite its bounce, Vince delivers his trademark descriptive bars, unflinchingly narrating the ruthlessness of the streets. Ty Dolla $ign delivers a great hook, his gravelly singing a perfect foil to Vince’s monotone. Big Fish is shaping up very well.

#5. Someone to You – BANNERS

A great pop-rock song is always welcome. With an absolute anthem of a hook and rousing production, BANNERS is clearly targetting the same audience as Imagine Dragons and Bastille, and doing a pretty good job of it. Watch out for them

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

RELAXER by alt-J

alt-J are a band of their time and place – they’ve got more than a bit of hipster aloofness, but their music sounds volatile enough to be earnest – their indie-gone-global catapult is reflected in their need to make music that is ‘true’ to themselves, yet appealing enough to their wide audience. With RELAXER, while they have created quite a bit of music that reflects that mosaic, along the way, they seem to have have lost the plot.

Continue reading “RELAXER by alt-J”

RELAXER by alt-J

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

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

#1. I Promise – Radiohead

Listening to an album for the first time and realizing it will end up being one of your favourites is an astonishingly wonderful feeling. That’s what I felt with OK Computer, and to relive that wave of emotions with I Promise, a track tellingly recorded between The Bends and OKC is something a fan usually only dreams of experiencing. With melancholy strummed guitars and marching percussion, Thom brings us back to the delicate and intimate promises of a relationship in danger of tearing apart. It’s an emotional, beautiful track. And it’s quintessentially Radiohead.

#2. Perfect Places – Lorde

Pounding kicks open the track, followed immediately by the existential lyric  “Every night I live and die;”  akin to Green Light, this is a complex song, juxtaposing a dance-y electronic instrumental with exploratory lyrics. Tackling the escapist party culture of alcohol and casual sex with a nuance that acknowledges both the desire for mindless euphoria, as well as the resultant ennui, Lorde once again captures the seemingly-contradictory dichotomy of our youth like few artists do.

#3. Run – Foo Fighters

Given how long the Foo Fighters have been around, there isn’t much in the way of surprises they can throw at you – but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some damn good music their own way. Run begins with Dave’s voice – melodic, yet tinged with a growl bubbling underneath – before launching into classic Foo; the aggressively infectious guitar riffs, driving drums and snarling vocals. It’s a mosh-pit worthy fireball of energy that belies the musicians’ age (which is also the theme of the music video). Thank the musical gods for it.

#4. Everything Now – Arcade Fire

The sunny,  melodic production – co-production credits go to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter – and the indie everyman vocals of Win Butler on the title track of Arcade Fire’s upcoming album, Everything Now, offer an essentially personal narrative in the overwhelmingly populist reality of the world, where the human struggle is lost to consumerist, majoritarian agendas. It’s a bleak message, and more relevant than ever.

#5. 4 AM ft. Travis Scott – 2 Chainz

2 Chainz has come a long way – his flow’s gotten better, there’s some substance to it, and he sounds more reassured and confident in his rapping. With a smooth banger of a beat and a trademark Travis hook adding to the concoction, this has the potential to be a hit. Either way, it’s a legitimately great track.

 

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII