Favourite Albums of 2017 – #25 to #21

Music in 2017 continues to soundtrack turbulent affairs in the world around us, as well as the spectrum of experiences and emotions in our own lives. It acts as our balm, a way to center our lives, a means to filter the haze of our environment through a tangible medium. What we choose to listen to, and that which buries itself in the depths of our craving psyche, possibly defines our times better than any other media that accompanies our days. In that vein, these are some of those albums that impressed themselves on the messy canvas of my year.

#25. War & Leisure, Miguel

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Miguel is perhaps the trust successor to the legacy of funk-infused, deeply sensual R&B that the legendary Prince pioneered. For Miguel, lust and love are the lenses through which he views the decidedly unerotic state of our world. The result is a rich, contemporary distillation of the aggression of war and the peace of leisure into the battlegrounds of our bodies and hearts. The man’s vocals find a sweet spot between seductive and soaring, an oasis of auditory pleasure in a dreary desert seemingly losing its grip on the joys of sexuality. Thankfully, Miguel makes it his mission on War & Leisure to remind us of that most raw desire of life.

Listen to: Sky Walker feat. Travis Scott, City of Angels

#24. Painted Ruins, Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear has making music for over 15 years, and they have assembled a veritable collection of musings on the seemingly pedestrian parts of our seemingly pedestrian lives. These thoughts are front and center on Painted Ruins, peeling back the mundane every-isms to reveal our bloodened lives. The words are painted on a canvas of familiar sounds, embellished by vibrant strokes that find the grooves in between the larger pieces, brightening the whole. This is an album that frontman Ed Droste has made a career of making – but every time, it works beautifully. “It’s chaos, but it works.”

Listen to: Morning SoundNeighbors

#23. No Dope on Sundays, CyHi the Prynce

This is the album I’ve waited on since CyHi the Prynce delivered one of the best verses on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on So Appalled. I’ve been waiting on this album since CyHi proved himself capable of crafting a cohesive, thoughtful body of work on Black Hystori Project. And he finally presents his debut album – and how. Over gritty, purposeful production, CyHi delivers street sermons that go deeper than the punchlines. Hell, even the punchlines often land a sharp thought unadulterated by forced cleverness. This is an MC who’s carefully honed to his craft to a level where he just needs to concentrate on laying his thoughts bare, and you’re listening. Whether he’s on the block or in the pews, with No Dope on Sundays, CyHi proves he isn’t going to be preaching to the choir.

Listen to: Dat Side feat. Kanye West, No Dope on Sundays feat. Pusha T

#22. All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, Joey Bada$$

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Honestly, I’ve typically been ambivalent about Joey Bada$$. 1999 was a grimey, lofi debut that nevertheless announced the arrival of a shockingly talented young rapper on the scene who harkened back to the glory days of New York hip-hop. But there’s only so much you can rap about rapping, trying to show off technical proficiency while skimping on musical quality, as was the case on later releases. But Joey has evolved into an artist on All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, creating a thought-provoking examination of USA 2017, in the voice of a young man with the soul of an old head. His lyrical acrobats are just as impressive as ever, often outshining his previous skills, but they’re employed towards greater goals – storytelling, introspection and analysis of a harsh world. This is a focused project with enjoyable meanderings, establishing Joey as not just an MC, but a musician. It’s no wonder Cole gifted him that stellar verse on Legendary – it’s a recognition of maturity from an elder rapper who’s been through this journey himself.

Listen to: Land of the Free, Rockabye Baby feat. ScHoolboy Q

#21. Take Me Apart, Kelela

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I love the resurgence and evolution that R&B has undergone in the past half-decade. Kelela personifies of a brand of Afrofuturism that is bold and alluring, an inescapable vortex of electrifying music. The blend of crystalline vocals and spacey production is assured send chills through your very soul – it’s a transcendental experience. If Gambino looked to the stars from our planet on Awaken, My Love, Kelela effortlessly travels to the cosmos and creates music infused with the stars themselves. Close your eyes, and let her silken voice elevate you. Take Me Apart is beyond music.

Listen to: Blue Light, LMK

 

 

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Favourite Albums of 2017 – #25 to #21

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

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Part 1 is here

Nas is indisputably one of the greatest MCs to ever grace the mic, as hip hop as rappers go. From what is widely considered one of, if not the best rap album ever, the gritty, streetwise Illmatic, up to the grown-man, nuanced, elegant hip hop on Life is Good, his discography is a play-by-play of the evolution of the genre through the eyes of one of its finest.

When he declared, then, that his beloved form of expression was “dead” halfway through his career on Hip Hop is Dead, then, the outburst of conversation was understandable. Fast forward 10 years, and Nas declares himself a proper fan of Future, the divisive rapper scores of hip hop heads declared as antithetical to “real hip hop.” He’d go on to explain his history with the genre on the watershed DJ Khaled track, Hip Hop with Scarface.

Continue reading “An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2”

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

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.

Continue reading “Quick Thoughts – Imagine Dragons, Calvin Harris and Young Thug”

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Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes

Describing music with shimmering instrumentation and rich vocals as ‘beautiful’ is easy. But rare is music that sounds beautiful, as much as it feels beautiful – music that captures the many intricacies of our world and emotions in its own flourishes. This music is not superficially pleasant – often, it might deal with powerful themes that ordinary men and women are left to grapple with. But the result is immensely evocative, vivid in its detailing.

Musicians that can create truly beautiful music, then, are to be treasured; Fleet Foxes is among them, and Crack-Up is a stunning work of music, and art.

Continue reading “Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes”

Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes

Pretty Girls Like Trap Music by 2 Chainz

Atlanta has been hugely responsible in influencing the sound of hip hop for decades; from the funky, rich bassline-driven smooth raps of OutKast, to the gritty, straight-talking trap of T.I. and Jeezy, to the mood- driven sing-rapping of Future and Young Thug, the city has kept evolving its sound, and consequentially, that of the genre.

2 Chainz, having blown up somewhere between the aggressiveness of trap and the melodies of ‘mumble rap,’ has had an unsteady career path from dropping the (unfortunate) Tity Boi moniker to the present day. With Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (PGLTM), however, 2 Chainz seems to have hit upon a winning formula – his trademark punchlines are intact and often strikingly clever, and so is the sneer from his trap origins, but it’s complemented by great, memorable harmonies in the production and vocals that clear some of the grit. The result is the best album of Tauheed Epps’ career, and possibly one of the best of the year.

Continue reading “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music by 2 Chainz”

Pretty Girls Like Trap Music by 2 Chainz

Boomiverse by Big Boi

When Big Boi gets on the mic, you know you’re going to get some of the best flows around, with lyrics that effortlessly switch between the playful and thoughtful, and punchlines galore. The Southern drawl is unmistakable, and so is the swag. Set aside him being half of OutKast – Big Boi aka Daddy Fat Sax aka The Son of Chico Dusty aka Antwan Andre Patton deserves every accolade that comes his way as a solo MC. With his debut arguably being a classic, and a solid follow-up, Boomiverse sees Big returning to his roots and proudly waving his flag. This is an album from a legendary MC his strengths that puts on display, and it’s almost good enough to forgive that atrocious album art – for like that cover, there are a few questionable choices Patton makes here that undermine the strength of the project as a whole.

The songs that work the best are where Big Boi taps into his years in the rap game to ooze swaggering confidence – In the South is a classic Atlanta banger, with a slow-burning, bass-rich beat that see Patton assert his status as a Southern icon, along with a hook by Pimp C, gone but never forgotten. Big Boi always brings out the best in Gucci Mane, and that shows here too. The sneering Made Man with Killer Mike and Kurupt, and Follow Deez with one of the best hooks on the album courtesy of Curren$y and another Mike similarly feature self-assured, braggadocios raps brimming with quotables. Kill Jill has a thumping, war-ready beat and some of the best rapping on the album – save for that terribly unnecessary Bill Cosby line (just, why, Antwan?). Get Wit It has a delicious funk to it, and Snoop Dogg rapping like he hasn’t in a long time.

Then there are the tracks where Big Boi takes on the role of rap’s elder statesman, such as on the decidedly pragmatic Order of Operations, where he traces his financial and business decisions throughout his career and offers up advice to the youngsters. Overthunk, one of the best tracks here, sees Big take stock of his environment and the lessons he’s learnt with an excellent Eric Bellinger hook and laid-back (if slightly weird) production. These songs are lent credence by Big Boi’s many years in the game, and might come off preachy in the words of several other MCs.

Unfortunately, besides the extremely catchy and hedonistic Freakonomics, there’s a lack of great ‘playa anthems’ here. All Night and Chocolate sound rather obnoxious in their production and hooks, which are the key components of these songs that are supposed to be fun; although the former fares a tad better. Mic Jack has a rather bland beat, and an atrocious hook – another song Adam Levine ruins.

There’s little quibbles too. Some of the sequencing is messy – Freakonomics is weirdly sandwiched between two bangers. Da Next Day is probably Big Boi’s weakest intro track, even with Big Rube’s deep, gravelly voice sounding as purposeful as ever.

Rap is not nearly the same genre as it was in the two-odd decades since Big Boi first started rhyming. But he has continued to stay relevant in the chaos of its changes, evident in the fact that new music always gets hip hop heads excited. Boomiverse may not be Daddy Fat Sax’s best work, but there is enough great hip hop here to remind us why there are some MCs that we would do well to always exalt in rap’s history books.

 

 

Boomiverse by Big Boi

Melodrama by Lorde

About the sixth time I listened to Melodrama from start to finish, I was walking along shaded roads, the sky settling into swirls of faded orange and yellow, set against a vastness on the cusp of turning from blue to black. As Green Light swells and bursts into life, its chorus rising and consuming the moment, it was all I could do to not burst into song and dance right there, a la Lorde herself in the song’s music video.

Continue reading “Melodrama by Lorde”

Melodrama by Lorde