Albums Of The Month!
Albums Of The Month
1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
With their ninth studio album, Radiohead move beyond the existential angst that made them music’s pre-eminent doomsayers, pursuing a more personal—and eternal—form of enlightenment. Overshadowed by the break-up of singer Thom Yorke’s relationship, announced last year, A Moon Shaped Pool finds the band mining their long and deep back catalogue, while pushing their compositional skills relentlessly forwards. Where 2011’s more granular and underrated The King of Limbs revelled in beats, A Moon Shaped Pool marks a frequent relaxation into more conventional songcraft – manna from heaven for a certain stripe of Radiohead fan. Jonny Greenwood’s film score sideline pays dividends, too, in the string arrangements and modern classical introduction to Glass Eyes. The album unfurls with understated ease, each silvery song shimmering into the next. The pulse rarely quickens and the arrangements seldom agitate yet the album never quite feels monochromatic. Sly, dissonant strings grace some cuts, acoustic guitars provide a pastoral counterpoint to an electronic pulse, Thom Yorke’s voice floats through the music, often functioning as nothing more than an element of a mix; what he’s saying matters not as much as how he murmurs. You would not want to be so crass as to call this Radiohead’s break-up album; after all, there are four other band members. A song such as The Numbers (formerly known as Silent Spring) uses found sound, a little cosmic jazz, folk-rock acoustic guitar and accusatory strings to seethe specifically about ecocide. Ful Stop, meanwhile, is six minutes of encroaching electronic menace whose lyrics self-flagellate quite mercilessly. Sections of A Moon Shaped Pool contain an eerie, disconcerting glimmer, usually attained through power kept in reserve—nothing stabs as hard as sawing fanfare of “Burn The Witch,” while the winding, intersecting guitars the conclude “Identikit” provide the noisiest element—yet the album as a whole doesn’t feel unsettling. Instead, there’s a melancholic comfort to its ebb and flow, a gentle rocking motion that feels comforting Radiohead is recognizably the same band that made pioneering pieces of electronica-rock like Kid A but they’re older and wiser on A Moon Shaped Pool, deciding not to push at the borders of their sound but rather settle into the territory they’ve marked as their own. This may not result in a radical shift in sound but rather a welcome change in tone: for the first time Radiohead feels comfortable in their own skin.
2. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
On their winsome debut, the duo Whitney make a warm, simple and profoundly enjoyable rock’n’roll record, evoking the earnestness and innocence of Girls. The band is composed of former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek and former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Julien Ehrlich. Both were standout members of their former bands; Whatever reasons for their previous acts’ dissolution and split, the two have found each other and put together something simple but always invaluable: a great warm weather rock’n’roll record. Light Upon the Lake, their debut LP, is a short collection of short songs; half of them are made up of easygoing guitar flourishes, the other half feature woozy strings and slurred brass. This is the Corona of rock records, as Whitney consistently walk that fine line between identifiable and platitudinal. Light Upon the Lake operates in a universe of endlessly repeatable joy, with a touch of melancholy to keep it interesting. The songs could be about romantic love, but they’re open-ended enough to be whatever you want them to be. The crisp edges of these songs betray people who really know how to play their instruments, but instead of flashing that fact, they back up, writing only in vivid, broad, easygoing pop-rock strokes. “Golden Days,” has all the elements of showiness—a guitar solo, extraneous brass, a singalong—but the song stays small and hummable. Low-key perfectionism is perhaps a humbler virtue than seeking the big, dynamic splash. But it has a way of sneaking in past our defenses and lingering longer—before we know, we’ve been singing that song under our breath. Whitney might not reinvent anything, but they sound perfect right now, and it’s hard to argue with being in the right place at the right time.
3. Brigid Mae Power – S/T
Her self-titled Tompkins Square debut was recorded in Portland with Peter Broderick, and occupies a liminal space made up of droning guitars, metallic piano reverberations, and lyrics that trace some barely escaped threat. The liturgical haze and her slow, methodical singing give the impression of a woman and single mother learning to trust herself and others again, tentatively adapting to a life where she no longer has to look back every dozen steps. Like This Mortal Coil, Marissa Nadler, and White Chalk-era PJ Harvey, Power is adept at grounding what could otherwise be quite gossamer music. Sometimes she uses pace and volume, as on opener “It’s Clearing Now,” which spends almost eight minutes creeping in like a storm over the horizon, until it becomes overwhelming and transcendent. She shades her songs with soured highs and unsettling depths, Power is an equally nuanced vocalist. Her voice is agile and exhilarating, conveying all her nervous optimism and frank exhaustion. Despite its clear seriousness, Brigid Mae Power runs on that sense of newfound freedom. Power and Broderick find glimmers of light even in the darkest moments.
4. Psychic Ills – Inner Journey Out
While the New York duo have always sounded somewhat self-medicated, their songcraft travels far beyond druggy introspection. Inner Journey Out is an open book that is also resistant to interpretation. Pleasures like the duet with Hope Sandoval, “I Don’t Mind”, are simple but rich. Brent Cordero’s Wurlitzer and Farfisa enrich the hues of the horizon-kissing terrain, as do the numerous guest musicians and drummers such as Harry Druzd of Endless Boogie and Derek James of the Entrance Band. The album is drawn out in length (14 songs over two LPs) but glides by without drag. Its melodies are mostly free of dramatic tension, but there is something continually compelling about its cracked but unbreakable zen demeanour.
5. Felice Brothers – Life In The Dark
The Felice Brothers recorded their new album on a farm, and clucking chickens even ended up on the recordings. Their Dylanesque Americana – all wheezing accordion, fiddles and folk tales about forgotten bandits – occasionally conjures up the atmosphere of a heady barn dance. But this rustic, deceptively homely backdrop provides a clever vehicle for songs that subtly but powerfully address the suddenly shakier foundations of Trump-era America. The nine songs see wedding dresses pawned, and houses and cars sold amid wealth inequality and “rich man’s wars”, but are never hectoring. Ian Felice’s lyrics tread a careful line between the blackest of humour and outright darkness, and their troubling imagery sounds musically exuberant. Plunder is ostensibly about a dog called Archibald but suddenly references a schoolgirl drowning. The Springsteenesque Triumph ’73 and grimly funny Jack at the Asylum are also terrific, characterful songs. However, the killer is the bleakly beautiful closer, Sell the House, which captures the painful scene as a family breaks up.
- STEVE GUNN – EYES ON THE LINES
This a guitar record with a capital G, although you’ll look long and in vain for what might pass off as a traditional, guitar face-pulling face-melter. Instead, the humble, common good-serving guitar heroics – a deft riff here, a light flurry of notes there, constantly shifting yet never needlessly busy – are built into the very fabric of tunes such as “Ancient Jules”, making it impossible to fully establish where the song ends and the guitar showcase begins, and installing the proceedings with a beguiling whiff of in-the-moment improvisation. Making experimental music is certainly a noble calling. Sneaking the adventurous spirit of improvisation into a relatively conventional song-based record such as Eyes On The Lines, however: that’s truly radical.
- WILLIAM TYLER – MODERN COUNTRY
Tyler’s third album, is described as a “love letter” to this vanishing world. Yet for all the focus on the past, it is musically a lightyear-leap forwards. Largely gone is the solo acoustic focus of his early work, replaced by something approaching a recognisable “band” sound, featuring electric guitars, drum machines and even hints of synths. This might seem risky: Tyler’s refrains are so tender and intricate that cloaking them in instrumentation could smother them. But on tracks such as the droning, ominous Gone Clear and the chiming pastoral folk of I’m Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me), Tyler’s backing group only serves to deepen and accentuate his spectral, ageless melodies. The result is an album that feels rich and rewarding, revealing new details on each listen.
- DJ SHADOW – THE MOUNTAIN WILL FALL
DJ Shadow trades in his turntables and MPC for a copy of Ableton and embarks upon a freewheeling, low-stakes journey through the contemporary sounds that inspire his practice. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Shadow is a foundational figure in hip-hop; with Endtroducing, he helped elevate both sampling and hip-hop instrumentals to the art forms they are today. And yet here he is, more than two decades in, experimenting, having fun, trying out new sounds and not being afraid to fail. Far from aiming for some grand unified statement, The Mountain Will Fall feels a lot more like a DJ set—a curated grab bag of ideas that overlap and collide, sometimes in unexpected ways. It’s as if Davis has no agenda beyond putting his own spin on the music he finds exciting—what higher calling could there be for a DJ?
- LAURA MVULA – THE DREAMING ROOM
Laura Mvula is a classically trained vocalist with an orchestral pop style all her own. Her second album is filled with her rich and moving voice and is laden with sonic surprises. Mvula’s sound doesn’t scan retro or referential. Rather, it feels visionary, and somewhat out of time. The Dreaming Room is a consolidation of Mvula’s dramatic instincts, her ability to burnish alienation and longing and bravery into set pieces saturated with coolly psychedelic soul. She’s a mannered artist with a degree in composition, and she favors careful and narrative orchestral accompaniment
- MALA – MIRRORS
In this expertly curated record, Mala blends the local instruments and hypnotic polyrhythms of the Andean mountains with the menacing synths and heavy bass of the UK’s underground music scene to narrate his Peruvian travels. From the amorous soprano in Cunumicita to the acoustic guitar accompaniment in The Calling, the album is peppered with tender moments, but isn’t lacking in the weighty, dancefloor-friendly tracks the producer is known for, such as Looney and the breakbeat-influenced finale, Elements. Although Mirrors requires several listens to fully appreciate its beauty, it is definitely worth the effort.
This month was swarming with great new releases so we thought we’d up our usual Top 10 to a TOP 15! Here are the ones that just missed out on our top 10 slots:
- Allen Toussaint – American Tunes
- Swans – The Glowing Man
- Rival Sons – Hollow Bones
- The Invisible – Patience
- Band Of Horses – Why Are You OK
1. Mark Pritchard – Under The Sun
Discerning an aesthetic thread through the Mark Pritchard discography was tough in 1996. Twenty years later, forget it. Around 2013, he evidently tired of thinking up a new alias with each expectation-confounding release and, under his birth name, initiated a trio of brief releases for the Warp label. Featuring drop-ins from Ragga Twins and Spikey Tee, the fully energized EPs moved through jungle, bass, juke, ragga, and grime. They provided no indication for the approach taken on Under the Sun, itself a stylistic manifold. The album begins with “?,” a sorrowful and moving ambient piece. Given a low-key release in 2009, the track has been used by Mala to open DJ sets, and it serves a similarly cleansing purpose for its new home here, leading to a rolling Krautrock chorale that features the baleful, multi-tracked voice of Bibio. It’s followed by a nocturnal speeding anthem, all pounding and scuttling drums, vibrating drones, and stern direction to “switch to infrared,” and a weightless, slightly uneasy track with some robotic harmonizing. That covers only the first quarter. What follows is mostly beatless, with the tracks ranging from 90 seconds to eight minutes in length. They’re highlighted by the flittering “Where Do They Go, The Butterflies,” the gorgeous “Sad Alron,” and “Rebel Angels,” where buried bass probing and a racing melody play out like a set-up for thunderous breakbeat science but disintegrate. The handful of additional tracks with vocals are spread throughout. Thom Yorke in misshapen form adds hazy dread to a lulling machine ballad. Cult folk hero Linda Perhacs delivers a spooked ballad from the edge of a dune. For Beans’ nightmarish spoken narrative, Pritchard makes like a member of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop with intensifying patterns of organ filigrees and electronics that blip and swarm. The somewhat fragmented yet totally spellbinding sequence ends with the title track, a subwoofer workout built around a loop of — what else? — Julie Andrews’ recitation of a 1765 nursery rhyme.
2. Homeboy Sandman – Kindness For Weakness
Homeboy Sandman tapped into a unique energy, and parlayed the vibe into a rap career. The Stones Throw MC, with his penchant for haphazard deliveries and a strong command of rhythm, continues making headway in the indie and underground circles with his latest effort, Kindness for Weakness. Running just over 36 minutes, it’s a quick, concise listen, with everything the Alternative Hip Hop-listening crowd could ask for. The producers enlisted for Kindness for Weakness are a ragtag dream team. Jonwayne (“Heart Sings”), Large Professor (“It’s Cold”) and Edan (“Talking (Bleep)”) among many others, establish a cohesive vibe that balances minimalistic chilled out music, with other more complex, technically sound tracks (“Earth, Wind, Fire, Water”). Elsewhere, RJD2 adds a little extra flair with “Gumshoe,” a two-minute instrumental right smack in the middle, while Paul White provides “Sly Fox” and “God” in unison. The spirit of collaboration is palpable throughout, and speaks to the good nature amongst friends and creative partners. As a result, the album is elevated by the production’s sonic uniformity. Kindness for Weakness is a strong album with a permeating message. The whole vibe is original, and exquisite minimalist production tips the scales, in tow with strong lyricism. Homeboy Sandman’s abilities as a MC, paired with a strong supporting cast of guest MCs and producers, execute accordingly without being repetitive. Best of all, he offers up a valuable life lesson: be kind always. The album’s biggest strength is the number of wells from which it draws inspiration. Kindness is more than just good manners; it’s a modus operandi.
3. Kaytranada – 99.9%
Montreal producer Kaytranada has been the secret weapon behind some of the best electronic music of recent years. His distinctive style – a deft melange of 80s boogie and hip-hop dynamics – encompasses a versatility that has brought him production work with both street-tough hip-hop artists like Mobb Deep and Freddie Gibbs, and R&B/pop singers like Anderson .Paak, The Internet and Katy B. While there is little new ground being broken on this debut album – DJ Spinna and Onra have both pursued similar territory – Kaytranada adds a pop nous and Dilla-like beat-making precision to the equation. That hip-hop prowess finds it’s apogee on the Vic Mensa-guesting banger Drive Me Crazy, while his commercial bent offers up several potential chart hits here; Bullets pairs Little Dragon chanteuse Yukimi Nagano’s distinctive vocals with an irresistible, sunshine speckled dance groove while Got It Good is a sweet, bass-heavy slice of soul that sees the return of garage bod Craig David. Elsewhere, the producer’s catholic tastes find an outlet in a variety of styles, from the neat, beat-driven instrumental Bus Ride, to the club-friendly Together and the Tropicalia-mash up of Lite Spots. A near perfect debut.
4. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – We Be All Africans
5. Gold Panda – Good Luck And Do Your Best
- MELANIE DE BIASIO – BLACKENED CITIES
- JAMES BLAKE – COLOUR IN ANYTHING
- MAX GRAEF + GLENN ASTRO – THE YARD WORK SIMULATOR
- DAM FUNK – DJ KICKS
- KING – WE ARE KING
- Karl Blau – Indroducing…
- Corinne Bailey-Rae – The Heart Speaks In Whispers
- Lone – Levitate
- Marissa Nadler – Strangers
- Beth Orton – Kidsticks
- Daniel Romano – Mosey
- Death In Vegas – Transmission
- Jessy Lanza – Oh No
- Holy Fuck – Congrats
- Pantha Du Prince – The Triad
1. Charles Bradley – Changes
If Wilson Pickett could cover the Archies and Al Green could interpret the Bee Gees, why shouldn’t Charles Bradley put his spin on Black Sabbath? Bradley’s deep, soulful reading of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” (from 1972’s Vol. 4) became something of a viral sensation when it first surfaced on a Record Store Day single in 2013. Now it’s become the title track and cornerstone of Bradley’s third album, and in this context it doesn’t sound like a novelty, but like the striking, deeply felt performance it truly is. As on his two previous albums, Bradley is one of the most authentic-sounding artists in the 2010s retro-soul sweepstakes on Changes. The production by Thomas Brenneck is straightforward but naturalistically effective, and puts Bradley’s rough but passionate vocals in engaging relief with the accompanists. (Most of the album features the Menahan Street Band backing Bradley, though the Budos Band does the honors on two cuts.) Most of the songs on Changes are new, but they sound like they could have been prize Atlantic or Stax rarities from the mid-’60s, and the performances honour the sound and the emotional power of classic soul. Bradley spent years imitating James Brown, and the influence of Mr. Dynamite is still audible on many of these tunes. But since he launched his belated recording career, Bradley has developed a greater sense of self and more confidence in his own musical personality. On Changes, the rough-hewn power of Bradley’s voice is at its most powerful, and there’s a fierce sense of longing and need in this music that’s almost tactile in its realism. Charles Bradley doesn’t sound like a ’60 soul singer, he sounds like a great soul singer regardless of era. And Changes shows Bradley still has plenty of new ground to explore at the age of 68.
2. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
His third full-length in as many years, A Sailor’s Guide is a dedication to his 2-year-old son, and it operates—somewhat obviously—as a pragmatic series of advisory letters to aid the process of growing up and discovering the world. Simpson may be an esteemed writer and top-notch performer, but A Sailor’s Guide takes massive strides to show that no title on earth will ever suit him as finely as “father” does. And fatherly advice has never sounded this gorgeous; certain moments on A Sailor’s Guide are sensitive enough to feel physically adjacent to them. A Sailor’s Guide is a clear departure from the country-leaning propensities present on Metamodern Sounds. In fact, the only tangible thing connecting Simpson’s third LP to the genre is Simpson himself, making A Sailor’s Guide a crystalline example of his versatility and range as an artist. Whether by Simpson’s own design or in spite of it, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is ahead of its time. Perhaps it’s due to his insistence on playing the game by his own rules, but at least compared to the industry standard, A Sailor’s Guide feels at least five years too early. Artists spend decades working up to the level of instrumental variety and emotional awareness that Simpson seems to comprehend at his core, so it feels inherently wrong to be experiencing something so tender and well-rounded this early in his career. But it’s not wrong. It’s incredibly right, because A Sailor’s Guide is an incredible album. And one that captures the Holy Grail sound of ‘Cosmic American Music’ more completely than anything since Gene Clark’s ‘No Other’. So the best thing we can do is push off, set sail, lean back and enjoy the ride.
3. Babyfather – BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow
Babyfather, BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow, a group that comprises Blunt and the (probably fictional) DJ Escrow, with contributions from Arca and Micachu. BBF, it is fair to say, probably won’t be coming out of too many car speakers this summer. It’s far too maudlin, for a start, haunted by the ghosts of violence, crime, drugs and decaying relationships (albeit with a hint of optimism towards the album’s end). BBF rests on clean musical lines, with simple synth melodies or sampled strings rubbing up against beats that nod to club-friendly musical trends Massive Attack are an unexpected reference point, both in BBF’s melodic dub bass lines and the casual-to-the-point-of-coma vocals, which raise the smokey spectre of Tricky or 3D in Massive’s Blue Lines era. As with those two MCs, the vocals on BBF suggest improvisation and spontaneity, with simple melodies and rhymes gently pushed to their limits in a way that is hypnotic, affecting and very low key. BBF is a rare example of an album that invites both arty introspection and head nodding. Much like Blunt himself, BBF is not always easy to love. But that makes the eventual rewards even more satisfying.
4. Kris Drever – If Wishes Were Horses
5. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
6. M83 – Junk
7. Konono No1 meets Batida – S/T
8. J Dilla – The Diary
9. Sasha – Scene Delete
10. Clark – The Last Panthers
- Brian Eno – The Ship
- Moderat – III
- Ash Koosha – I AKA I
- Liminanas – Monomore
- Laura Gibson – Empire Builder
- PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
- King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
- Cate Le Bon – Crab Day
- Rustie – EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE
- Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop – Love Letter For Fire
- The Field – The Follower
- Mogwai – Atomic
- Bibio – A Mineral Love
- The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect
- Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness
1. White Denim – Stiff
There’s an overlying theme of fun and feistiness that permeates White Denim’s new record, Stiff. The Austin, Texas quartet sound determined to shake off whatever hangover is still lingering from their recent line-up change, and come out revamped and refocused on their rollicking new batch of tunes. Frontman James Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki have regrouped in another tight unit to continue the band’s streak of southern-fried garage rock, soul, psychedelia, and funk. Eschewing the soulful psychedelia of 2011’s D and brazen classic rock of the Jeff Tweedy-assisted Corsicana Lemonade two years later, the band’s seventh LP breaks from the progressive R&B of the past for their hookiest niche of Southern rock yet. The sinuous guitar licks of “There’s a Brain in My Head” and bravado swing to “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)” echo the lively churn of the Allman Brothers, Both tracks boisterously anchor the front half of the record, while also setting the upbeat, buoyant mood that courses through the entire album. The group let their foot off the gas ever so briefly at the midway point, with the slow-burning charm of “Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)” channels the honey-sweet croon of Al Green, But things quickly pick back up on the rambunctious second half with the noisy “Mirrored in Reverse” and “Had 2 Know (Personal)”, that mirrors the raucous energy of Grand Funk Railroad. White Denim realizes a sound truly its own on Stiff, shaking off whatever nerves that may have lingered after significant line-up change.
2. Damien Jurado – Visions Of Us On The Land
Trilogies, by their very nature, make for uneven listens when taken as a whole. Usually produced over lengthy periods, with ideas only ever taking form over the gestation and sometimes frittering away, the purity of the initial concept can get lost, with the water muddied as the work progresses. This is not a problem that appears to have troubled Damien Jurado. On his 12th album, taking in a sprawling 17 tracks, he picks up where 2014’s Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Son left off. Both sonically, and thematically, it feels a snug fit, a warm companion piece. Working again with label mate Richard Swift, Jurado’s sound is once more pitched perfectly and squarely between the intimate and the epic. He takes the listener from fireside confessional to Cocteau Twins-esque glimmer in the space of only two tracks – the aural scope really is as broad as is imaginable. But the warmth across each and every track is palpable. Walrus is a loping, 70s rock crasher, but it’s soon completely out classed with one of the record’s most tear-jerking moments, in the melodic gift of Cinco De Tomorrow, which sounds effortless, graceful and concise. If there is one constant, it’s Jurado’s unique voice – a fluted, barrel-round, gruff intonation that can scale the peaks not normally associated with such a friendly fireside tone. “We’re aiming for wherever the sun is,” he offers at one of countless smart lyrical snapshots across Visions…, and it seems as good a mission statement as any.
3. Steve Mason – Meet The Humans
The former Beta Band and King Biscuit Time maestro uncorks a set of pop songs that stand proudly as independent pieces, yet make for an even greater whole. the purity of Steve Mason’s songwriting has never before sounded so beautifully at peace, buoyed by the weightlessness of emotional resolution. Meet the Humans manages to distill Mason’s lush melancholia and maverick pop acumen into 11 strong tracks that refer to his two decades of recording while delivering something new Fans of any of Mason’s earlier projects will find something to love on what is easily the gifted popsmith’s best solo effort to date.
4. Snowboy + The Latin Section
5. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
6. BITCHIN BAJAS + BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY – EPIC JAMMERS & FORTUNATE LITTLE DITTIES
7. KENDRICK LAMAR – UNTITLED UNMASTERED
8. RAY LaMONTAGNE – OUROBOROS
9. HERON OBLIVION – S/T
10. POLICA – UNITED CRUSHERS
1. ANDERSON .PAAK – MALIBU
The new album by Oxnard singer-rapper-lyricist-producer .Paak (who adds a dot to the beginning of his surname) shows a rising artist stepping up to buzz-heavy scrutiny. Best known for his production work on Dr. Dre’s 2015 album, “Compton,” .Paak on his second studio album is a study in versatility. Like Chicago artist Chance the Rapper and singer-producer Pharrell, .Paak is as sharp cutting through a vocal hook as he is tearing through rapped verses. While .Paak is skilled as a singer, rapper, lyricist, and instrumentalist (he used to drum for Haley Reinhart of American Idol fame), he’s also aware of his own limits. He’s said that while some of the songs on Malibu were written before he made 2014’s Venice, he wanted to wait until he had the right circle of collaborators in place to put them together for an album. The teamwork is ultimately what gives the hour-long Malibu its expansive shape. In pure musical terms, it’s a joy of an album to play all the way through, a radiant blend of styles dense with instrumentation: a blast of horns here, a piano solo or squiggly guitar lick there, with liquid bass lines and hard-smacking drums throughout. For its lyrical and musical scope, Malibu brings to mind a number of excellent albums, ranging from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions to, yes, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Proving himself to be more than a unique voice on a Dr. Dre album (there have been plenty of those over the past quarter century), .Paak seems to be in total control of his talent. It might be a challenge for him to make something as relatable and soulful as Malibu again, but fortunately, the album has the kind of substance that suggests he’s built to last.
2. THUNDERCAT – THE BEYOND/WHERE THE GIANTS ROAM
A spellbinding, 16-minute, six-track sequence from Thundercat—an artist who has been in the public eye plenty this year already, thanks to prominent spots on albums by Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington. The songs here are airy, and often provisional-feeling, while Thundercat’s lyrics reliably invoke death, mourning, and vulnerability. Every composition seems relentlessly aware of its own mortality. The greatest comfort on offer tends to be the nimble power of Thundercat’s virtuoso technique on his main axe. That instantly recognizable, feather-touch electric bass sound of his is potent, but also gossamer-delicate in a way that reinforces the mini-album’s themes of impermanence. Amid its textured, timeless, transcendental grooves, he grapples with the death of friends and the end of a relationship – here the eerie ambience of Radiohead meets the warmth and virtuosity of jazz fusionist Stanley Clarke. Them Changes, a funk track co-produced with Flying Lotus, is built from an Isley Brothers drum sample, maple bass and the Moogerfooger effects unit; elsewhere chords collide with falsetto choral vocals and subtle percussion. With sweetness in the sorrow, this is music inspired by human vulnerability, arriving as if beamed in from another planet.
3. AFRICAINE 808 – BASAR
Africaine 808’s debut album is an album about hybridity, about the way that far-flung styles and sounds can make excellent dance partners. Refreshingly, there is nothing didactic about the German duo’s approach. Rather than reprising established histories, Africaine 808 seem determined to devise their own narrative, one that reinvents the entire concept of “world music” from the ground up. Basar incorporates a host of disparate musical styles and conventions, but never in a tokenistic way: Instead, it’s a joyful mélange of sounds and rhythms; all underpinned by intricately programmed TR-808 patterns. What really unifies the album is its deep sense of musicality. With Basar, they have assembled a vast glossary of fresh sounds, considerably enriching the language of contemporary dance music in the process.
4. MOODYMANN – DJ KICKS (V/A)
5. CAVERNS OF ANTI-MATTER – VOID BEATS/INVOCATION TREX
6. FIELD MUSIC – COMMONTIME
7. GO GO PENGUIN – MAN MADE OBJECT
8. MARLON WILLIAMS – S/T
9. LUCINDA WILLIAMS – THE GHOSTS OF HIGHWAY 20
10. DOUG TUTTLE – IT CALLS ON ME
Writing this after his death I am finding it near impossible to review this; his parting gift, this shadow that he has left of himself to stand over us, unbiasedly. To have written an album at any point in your life that is so bold, ahead of the curve and with such passion and vision is an achievement to last a lifetime. To do this with death standing beside you, watching the clock and at the age of 69 is unrivalled. Bowie, as the world has now celebrated at the top of its voice, has spent his career reinventing and transforming not only his own image and musical self but also mainstream and avant-garde cultures and movements. With Blackstar is has taken pockets of influence from his past triumphs and embroidered them with the clarity that mortality gave him and his love of jazz and of treading on un trodden ground. The result is 40 minutes of densely profound music. The messages are there, especially on the final tracks on the album but they don’t consume the songs, allowing you to enjoy them without the constant reminder of what we’ve lost. David Bowie is a genius, a heroe, a spaceman… all of those things but what he has reminded us of with Blackstar is that he was a humble human being too. Just the same as all of us. And if he could beat them, just for one day, then so can we.
The richly atmospheric, nicotine-stained quality of the Tindersticks’ music makes it an ideal complement to TV shows and films But on The Waiting Room, that dynamic is reversed: the band handed off its 11 tracks to various filmmaker friends (including Denis, Christoph Girardet, Pierre Vinour, and Gregorio Graziosi) as inspirational fodder for accompanying short films packaged with deluxe editions of the record. While this very contemporary concept has been utilised by the likes of Justin Bieber and Beyoncé in recent years, The Waiting Room is not an album which needs adornments: there is a simple, traditional pleasure in its earthy, untampered warmth – it is an album to be ingested in one sitting; the kind of immersive, intricately produced music designed to be listened to on some extravagantly priced, high-quality audio player. Injecting life into their usual louche romance, We Are Dreamers is dragged further into darkness with the addition of Jehnny Beth of Savages on barbed vocals, while Hey Lucinda – recorded with the late Lhasa De Sela – is an elegantly dishevelled duet, sung as if both are slumped across a bar. Its centrepiece – the smoky, soulful Help Yourself – is the triumphant declaration of a band shapeshifting with sophistication.
3. DYLAN LEBLANC – CAUTIONARY TALES
The third studio long-player from the Muscle Shoals-born crooner, the aptly named Cautionary Tale finds Dylan LeBlanc exorcizing some personal demons while injecting some pomp and circumstance into his signature blend of breezy, ’70s West Coast singer/songwriter pop and Bible Belt-bred gothic Americana. His high, husky voice recounts tales of hope and desperation over immaculate production that combines the staples of guitar, bass and drums with restrained washes of strings – about as far from the stifling, mainstream Nashville Sound as imaginable.
4. TRICKY – SKILLED MECHANICS
8. BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY – POND SCUM
9. ALEX SMOKE – LOVE OVER WILL