Favourite Albums of 2017 – #10 to #6

#10. Nü Religion: Hyena, THEY.

The wave of alternative, trap-influenced R&B/melodic rap swept over music in the form of a few stars who molded the subgenre and brought it into the mainstream – The Weeknd and Bryson Tiller are a few names that come to mind. But they quickly shed their provocateur images for mainstream-friendly, sleek pop. This is where vocalist-producer duo THEY comes in – adding a layer of grit to the established tropes of the music by incorporating punk influences, gnarly instrumentation and sexy/snarling vocals.  The production, courtesy Dante Jones, strikes an exciting balance between delicate R&B, bass-heavy trap and guitar-driven rock, while vocalist Drew Jones floats over the beats flawlessly, confident and earnest in turns, with a gravelly tint to his voice complementing the soundscape, all brought together with flawless mixes. It makes sense, then, that THEY call their music Grunge&B. Nu Religion is an exciting, creatively inspired album that is extremely catchy and memorable – whether you’re riding down city streets or have your headphones blasting the music in your ears, this is an essentially 2017 record.

Listen to: Motley Crew, Say When, Dante’s Creek

#9. Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples

Vince Staples occupies a strange space that is quintessentially his – an ubertalented MC with scathing commentary on race, politics and society whose view of pop culture is decidedly millennial. Speaking on everything from love to celebrity culture to racial issues, Vince barrels through his incisive commentary with succinct, sharp lyricism. It makes sense that the beats he chooses share the chaos of the world he describes – glitchy electronica with a hip-hop bent that draws from 80s dance music just as much as it looks to Afrofuturism (as Vince has half-jokingly alluded to it). After the operatic Summertime ’06, Big Fish Theory is a disarmingly sleek 36 minutes of incredible music that hits you with the force of a tsunami and leaves you gasping underwater, but the whirlpool that Vince creates here makes you want to go under again as soon as you resurface.

Listen to: Love Can Be…, Party People, Rain Come Down

#8. Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker

This album broke my heart. And I am thankful for it. Trying to explain exactly why the meditations on depression, loneliness and crises of faith (in god, oneself and others) that comprise this album is so powerful, so achingly beautiful despite how bleak it might sound is pointless. All you should do is press play, and allow Julien Baker’s breathtaking voice reach into your ribcage and deliver her heartrending music straight to your waiting soul.

Listen to: Appointments (also one of the best music videos of the year), Sour Breath 

#7. Run The Jewels 3, Run the Jewels

I know, RTJ 3 technically came out in 2016. But it came out late enough in the year, and was fucking brilliant, so it deserves inclusion in this list. RTJ keep up their unmatched chemistry throughout the length of probably their most ‘polished’ album yet – Killer Mike and El-P trade bars with remarkable ease, all while providing the music for the revolution. Anthems that call for the destruction of ‘the masters,’ ruminative tracks that take stock of personal and social losses, and braggadocio that uses the disarray of the world as punchlines; they all ring in our ears with some of El-Producto’s best production and solid lyrical concepts. It’s tempting to give in to the misery of the world we live in (even the fierce MCs acknowledge the weight of what they see and experience on the brilliant 2100), but music like RTJ’s provide the much-needed kicks to our collective asses to actually go do something about this shit.

Listen to: 2100 feat. BOOTS, Hey Kids(Bumaye) feat. Danny Brown, A Report to Shareholders/Kill Your Masters

#6. 4Eva is a Mighty Long Time, Big K.R.I.T

Finally, finally. This is the studio album KRIT fans had been waiting for since 2010. 4eva is a Mighty Long Time is a double album that actually works, and KRIT brings his A-game to every aspect of this record. The first half shows off his Big KRIT persona, with the trunk-rattling Southern aggro-rap. He sounds his most confident here, claiming his place among the greats, brandishing lyrical weaponry using effortlessly paced flows. The beats bang, and you can feel his resentment at not being taken seriously all these years turned into seething purpose. This aggression is balanced on the second half, the Justin Scott side that deals with industry struggles and personal demons over soulful production. KRIT trades braggadocio for introspection, employing his underrated lyrical talents to paint a picture of a conflicted man dealing with the consequences of his artistry. The instrumentation reflects the jazzy rap stylings that have found their place in hip-hop. The balance is something few musicians can achieve – the album’s entire length has serious replay value, and for one its size, it never lets up or gets repetitive. 4eva is a Mighty Long Time indeed, but with this record, Big KRIT proves that he deserves to be remembered as such, as one of the finest MCs ever.

Listen to: Big KRIT, Big Bank, Mixed Messages, Drinking Sessions 

Advertisements
Favourite Albums of 2017 – #10 to #6

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

pjimage

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

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

105009

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

5bd323ade6b909c1f9c74dd88643813d-1000x1000x1

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

everything-now

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

7-21-japanese-breakfast

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

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

67e5b4e0572b354606cd0dc5529030ee-1000x1000x1

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$$, Joey Bada$$

1200x630bb

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

warpcd287

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

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2017 – #25 to #21

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

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 – 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