Favourite Albums of 2018, #5 to #1

Note: Not recommending individual songs here – every song on these albums is worth your time

#5. 7, Beach House

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There are few bands capable of making music as richly textured as Beach House. With 7, they craft a work of dark brilliance, with their signature swirling guitars, densely textured vocals and haunting atmospherics. There’s a bite to their sound that defies the melancholy of past work, surging forward. Beach House have always made memorable, lush music – and this record suffuses it with a shade of inky black that shines.

#4. DiCaprio 2, J.I.D

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J.I.D is an MC in the truest sense. His lithe, sharp delivery, strong mic presence and descriptive – if not picturesque – lyrics. The comparisons to Kendrick are inevitable – his wordplay and punchlines are stellar, but they’re second to his powerful recollections of his past, laden with violence and survival, and thoughtful examinations of his present. J.I.D said his intent with DiCaprio 2 was to make a movie, something cinematic – it’s evident that he succeeds several times over.

#3. Swimming, Mac Miller

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What can you say about this album now, when its wounded but hopeful heart is the last remnant of Mac’s legacy? It’s still difficult to talk about this album without remembering that this was Mac at his most mature, taking his pain in his stride while acknowledging it all the same. Swimming is the closest that he came to dispelling his demons before they took him – and that note of optimism is the most important one he could’ve left us with.

#2. Sweet Decay, Ciaran Lavery

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Ciaran Lavery is hurting – and he isn’t afraid to wear his bleeding heart on his sleeve. The songs on Sweet Decay drip with memory and sorrow, the heft of these motions made stronger by the impassioned grit in his voice. Every emotion is felt, not just sung. Be it the difficulty of distance or the nakedness that accompanies love, Ciaran captures it all with heartfelt words. This is a record that will resonate and ripple through many parts of one’s life, and reveal shades of it that you didn’t even know existed.

#1. Kids See Ghosts, Kids See Ghosts

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If the beauty in struggle was to be encapsulated in an album, Kids See Ghosts is what it would sound like. Recalling the tumult of their lives, Kanye and Cudi could’ve easily given in to their blackest tendencies – but they choose to see the rainbow-tinted light. Tackling their failings, their successes, their struggles with mental health and everything in between over a short-as-can-be runtime, brevity is the name of the game. This masterpiece of sound, with psychedelic, trap, rock and soul influences in underpinned by a love for the music that they create, and use to express themselves. Kids See Ghosts achieves a level of cohesion that can only be engineered by Kanye, and then colours it with the expansive palette of Cudi. Their vocals, their lyrics, and most of all, the production is impeccable – and through the ego of knowing what they’ve accomplished, Ye and Cudi hand us their hard-won beacon, and tell us, go. Be reborn. What a canvas to draw resurrection on.

 

 

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2018, #5 to #1

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

Five Songs for the Weekend – III

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

#1. Slide ft. Frank Ocean and Migos by Calvin Harris

The excitement for this unlikely collaboration has been extremely high since it was first teased, and thankfully, it delivers. Backed by shimmering retro-pop production courtesy of Calvin, Frank Oceans delivers some fantastically smooth vocals – think sipping on some rum in a hammock by the beach – before the track transitions seamlessly to the melodic rap of Quavos and Offset. It’s reminiscent in parts of of 90s/early-00s rap-RnB collabs, with some distinctly trap stylings. Summer it is not, but it’s one of Calvin’s best songs in a while, and perfect for the summer. (Find the full song on Spotify)

#2. 2 Lovin U by DJ Premier and Miguel

This was unexpected. Premier hasn’t lost a step with the beats – the funk on this is crazy with some rich guitars, the scratched vocal samples adding that signature Preemo touch. Miguel lays on the silken vocals, floating over the production with unmatched swagger. Everything about this song screams a hit.

#3. Incredible by Future

Damn, Future went from underground trapper to straight up alt-RnB superstar in a week with HNDRXX. A true tropical jam, the synths are vibrant, with just a little edge, and the bass-heavy drums give this a deep house vibe. Future’s vocals are at their cleanest, crafting a trap-RnB ode to his woman in a way only he can. This has the potential to be in heavy rotation in the coming months.

#4. Anoxia by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is decidedly one of the weirdest bands out there, and thankfully, also one of the most prolific. No two of their albums sound the same, and their latest, Flying Microtonal Banana is no different. Finding a strange middle ground between desert and psychedelic rock, Anoxia sounds like a snake charmer on acid. Coupled with their lo-fi vocals, esoteric lyrics and impeccable mixing, the track sounds like one’s stumbled into a dimension that straddles the nomad and the shaman. What could they possibly come up with next?

#5. Walk On By ft. Kendrick Lamar by Thundercat

Thundercat is possibly one of the most creative purveyors of the new wave of RnB, and his collaborations with Kendrick are always phenomenal – Walk On By is no different. While Bruner reflects on the disorientation following the end of a relationship, Kendrick continues to paint striking images of the lives of the disenfranchised. The hazy production is an appropriately melancholy backdrop to their verses, and ties together a track that would be a perfect soundtrack to a plodding, sad walk.

Five Songs for the Weekend – III

Five Songs For the Weekend – II

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

1. Keep it Low by Generationals

An indie pop-rock gem driven by lo-fi vocals and serrated guitar licks, this track has a catchy melody that keeps its edge intact. If you like your pop music with a bit of a punk aesthetic – a la The Strokes – this is worth a listen.

#2. Cool Your Heart ft. Dawn Richards by Dirty Projectors

From the first album to come out since Dirty Projectors basically became David Longstreth’s solo project, this dynamic, vibrant track is, in his own words, “an anti-co-dependency anthem.” The production is by far, one of the most intriguing pieces to come out this year – minimal, with blocks of sound moving around and snapping into each other like Tetris pieces. Dawn Richards fits into this puzzle perfectly, her vocals a perfect foil to David’s deadpan delivery. Quite the satisfying concoction.

#3. Shining by DJ Khaled, Beyoncé and JAY Z

DJ Khaled keeps outdoing himself. After a supersized – “major” – 2016, he brings together the power couple of music, Beyoncé and JAY Z, for a toast to success, the black tie variety. The production is appropriately luxurious, and Bey is at her swaggering best, soaring with confidence few rappers have the right to. Jay’s verse is short, but as he is wont to do, carves his niche with cool assurance, and deftly hands the mic back to his woman. This is the suave anthem.

#4. Kinda Bonkers by Animal Collective

The wonderfully weird Animal Collective return with a psychedelic-pop beauty, the production slightly glossier than than one is used to from them, but with their trademark irreverence. The background vocals add another interesting layer, while the primary vocals themselves are fun, with esoteric lyrics and an insanely catchy hook. This one’s going to be playing in your head for a while to come.

#5. Mask Off  by Future

Future cannot lose. After a 2016 where he saw his profile rising, but also had his detractors saying he’d lost touch with his original trap sound in favour of a more pop-ish sound, 2017’s self-titled Future album is enough assurance he’s always going to be a trapper at heart. Mask Off is one of the best tracks off the project, with an audible sneer and chest-thumping production to accompayny Future Hendrix’s boasts. You know he’s going to be around for a long time.

Five Songs For the Weekend – II

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #25 to #21

#25. Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Bursts of Thought #1

1. 99.9% by Kaytranada

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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