Sampler: Earthy Tones in Folk, Blues, and Jazz

Four earthy tracks from multiple genres that are perfect for your Sunday afternoon.

This week we’re breaking from our genre oriented samplers to give you something new: four earthy tracks from multiple genres that are perfect for your Sunday afternoon.

Nothing Turns My Lock by Kate Vargas

Kate Vargas’ brand of earthy, muted jazz is beautifully classic, but her perspective is anything but old-fashioned. Nothing Turns My Lock is a manifesto on sexual liberation, pulling out every stop and holding back zero punches. As each verse unfolds, Vargas confidently pushes the envelope farther with lines like, “I like good loving, that don’t make me bad”, “I’m not a big believer in monogamy”, and the god of all stanzas: “I don’t discriminate between Johnny and Sue/ He, she, they, and you can come (wink, wink) too/ Yes it may take many, many, many men and women to satisfy my needs/ But nothing turns my lock like your key.” It’s an expansion on the jazz standard form, which to use Vargas’ words is “usually pretty hetero and monogamous”, but it never loses the timeless feel of it’s source material. Her energy is defiantly infectious. As soon as her smoky jazz voice hits your ears in all its raspy, irreverent glory you can’t help but get hooked. Nothing Turns My Lock is a must-listen even if you aren’t usually a jazz fan, it’s a witty pop statement from a supremely talented rising star. We can’t wait to see where Kate Vargas goes from here.

Eyes to the Sky by David Ellis

Folk as a genre has exploded in the past decade, but even in such a crowded and diverse genre David Ellis has found a niche that makes him stand out from the crowd. Where the scene is largely dominated by pop folk acts cashing in on the Mumford & Sons/The Lumineers explosion at the start of the decade, one guitar male/female duos with tight harmonies, and emotive Justin Vernon-inspired experimental projects, Ellis has turned instead to the 70s to capture and modernize an up-beat, rhythmic kind of hippie folk that is both catchy and creative. A self-described “Pagan Rock” artist from London, his aim is to make earthy and spiritual music for an increasingly spiritually deprived Western culture, encouraging the listener to connect with the beauty of the world and find happiness within themselves. On his latest single, Eyes to the Sky, he does exactly that, creating an optimistic and nuanced song about love in the grander sense that is imbued with an undeniable vitality. The album it was taken from, Misty Heights, recorded and produced by Ellis while living next to the Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock, is slated for release August 15.

Caught Between Our Troubles by The American Buffalo

The 1970s were the heyday of rock music, marked by watershed releases from bands as varied as Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, The Eagles, The Ramones, and Rush. One particular subculture of 70s rock, however, largely faded into obscurity in the following decades except for two of its figureheads, Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Southern Rock was a thriving sub-community in the rock landscape of the 1970s, focussed on virtuosic, earthy guitar playing and storytelling lyricism more often than not about the everyday experience of the common man. On Caught Between Our Troubles, Dayton-by-way-of-Nashville artist The American Buffalo channel the 70s Southern Rock movement in sound and in spirit, resulting in a powerful mix of folk, country, and blues that paints a simple, but resonant scene: two brothers sitting in a park, deep in reflection over a pack of smokes. It’s part of singer-songwriter Josh Edwards’ modus operandi: dissecting the oft-ambiguous role of the white American male in a culture of white patriarchy. He does this with probing, storytelling songwriting in the tradition of American Popular Music (not to be confused with American Pop Music), a very historically aware movement including a wide variety of genres that is meant to be in direct conversation with the cultural meta-narrative. As a result, Caught Between Our Troubles feels timeless, a thoughtful track that is relevant today and would have been relevant even in the era it emulates.

FOMO by Great Aunt

Americana usually calls to mind the bayous of Louisiana, the pocket communities of the Appalachian mountains, or the great plains of the American heartland, but Melbourne, Australia’s Great Aunt prove that, despite its name, not all great Americana comes from the United States. Comprised of songwriters Megan Byrd and Chelsea Allen, Great Aunt have been steadily making a name for themselves in the Australian Country Music community since 2016 with their tight harmonies and instrumentals that are elegant in their simplicity. Lyrically they pull influence from old time, bluegrass, and gospel traditions, writing downtrodden music that masks its latent sorrowfulness in the joy of its expression. On their newest single, FOMO, Great Aunt drop back off their usually vocal-driven sound and instead highlight their guitar playing prowess, arranging the song around a set of slide guitar riffs that sound straight off a Georgia front porch. The sparse lyrics accent these riffs beautifully, creating an almost haunting vibe with their hushed, close harmonies. The sound feels like a captured live performance, creating a sensation of immediacy that draws the listener in to the deep valleys and dangerous peaks of the song as it undulates between dynamic extremes. 

Review: “Princess Diana” by The Mañana People

“Princess Diana, the debut full-length from German freak-folk/psyche-country duo The Mañana People is the kind of album that almost seems tailor-made for a quirky coming of age indie-movie.”

FFO: Space-Westerns, Olde-Timey, Freak Folk

In the early 2010s there was a string of movies where the protagonist somehow ends up involved with an eccentric indie band. Jim Carrey fell in love with the singer of an avant-garde noise pop band in Yes Man, Michael Fassbender wore a giant papier-mâché head and fronted a psychedelic rock band in Frank, and of course Ellen Page and Michael Cera formed their own quirky folk duo in the smash hit Juno, which briefly popularized bubbly, cutesy folk with its accompanying soundtrack. It was such a popular trend for those few years that it almost became its own subgenre and launched specifically Michael Cera and Zooey Deschanel into the spotlight. 

While these movies put a ton of underground artists in the spotlight for a brief moment, there was a certain sense that the viewer was supposed to see these kinds of music as weird, perhaps endearingly so, but still other to them. Where the obscure musician stereotype wasn’t fetishized (like in Scott Pilgrim V.S. the World) it was often played as a sort of joke. Fortunately for the actual artists in these obscure corners of music, these movies had an unintended side effect: a bunch of kids who never would have known these genres existed genuinely fell in love with the new musical world now in front of them. I was one such kid. 

Princess Diana, the debut full-length from German freak-folk/psyche-country duo The Mañana Peopleis the kind of album that almost seems tailor-made for a quirky coming of age indie-movie. Their blend of lo-fi country, harmonies that fall somewhere between The Beach Boysand The Eagles, and inventive sci-fi storytelling plant them firmly in a niche all their own. Top that off with the occasional whirligig synth line, a few timely handclaps, and the always-essential theremin solo, and you have the recipe for an immediate cult classic and/or the soundtrack to the next popular Sundance film. It’s infectious fun from the very first song, practically oozing with good-natured joy. 

The Mañana People draw from quite a variety of host material to create their unique brand of entertainment. What is particularly impressive is the way they contour their harmonies to further distinguish each song. On Matchstick Manthey resemble The Beach Boys, while on Anthrophagus they sound more like 70s Southern rockers The Outlaws, and on People Who Don’t Know They’re Deadthey once again reimagine themselves as a barbershop quartet. Musically The Mañana People are equally prone to experiment, usually leaning on old-timey country guitars, but occasionally dipping into Frankenstein organs, surf guitars, lo-fi electronic drums, and old-English balladry, doing each separate style justice and maintaining their indie-pop chops throughout. 

The lyrics more often than not tell tales of zombies, murder mysteries, and traveler’s woes, calling to mind the classic monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Though hoaky at points, both writers consistently display a talent for penning gripping lines that jump beyond their narrative context. Perhaps the best example of this comes on the chorus of the penultimate track It’s Harder to Try, a old-timey country tune akin to The Carter Family“May the road rise to greet you / May the songs fill your head / May your house be safe from tigers / May your youth be well-spent / It’s so hard to be kind / But it’s harder to try.” While their particular brand of lyricism certainly isn’t for everyone, it is unusually captivating for what it is. It takes a rare songwriter to get a listener invested in a song about zombie battles, but The Mañana Peoplepull it off more times than not.

While Princess Diana is a very unique album and generally quite engaging, it can feel a bit disjointed at times. The album’s composition is a little inconsistent, with the track order sometimes seeming very thought out and at other times haphazard. It sits in that awkward, uncanny valley between albums that were designed to be cohesive and albums that were really just a collection of songs, not really committing to either side. This makes listening to Princess Diana as a unit an uneven experience, despite each song for the most part standing on its own merits. Despite this, however, it is still quite a fun and enjoyable collection of tunes.

All in all the debut LP from The Mañana People makes for an intriguing listen, so unique as to peak your interest and yet with enough familiar ground to keep your attention focused. Fans of freak-folk and psyche-country will find plenty to enjoy here, but Princess Diana is such an endearing album that it also merits a listen from any outsider who might be curious. While it may be fairly obscure as an art-form it is also so laden with catchy hooks and infectious, quasi-space-western energy that most anybody can find something to enjoy.  

7.3/10 (Stand-Out)

For more information on how we score albums see Our Rating Scale.

Label: Unique Records
Release Date: January 18, 2019

Review: “i am > i was” by 21 Savage

Popularized largely as the result of his work with producer Metro Boomin in the later part of the decade, 21 Savage is one of the Atlanta trap scene’s up and coming stars, and he comes out swinging for the fences on his December release.  This is a guy who wants to prove that he’s not just a fad or free loader riding on the capes of his contemporaries.  For the most part, his sophomore album i am > i was succeeds at this goal, solidifying him for the time being as one of the stronger members in the mainstream trap scene.

My favorite aspect of 21 Savage’s sound is his singular voice.  It’s hard, but also strangely soothing.  Unlike other comparable artists like Future or Travis Scott, he rarely employs auto-tune in his music, or he does so more sparingly; he sounds much more natural than most for the style of music that he makes.  He is cool and confident; he sounds streetwise, but above all real.  21 and his producers recognizes this strength and capitalizes on it.

Opening track “a lot” is the perfect intro and example of this.  It’s smooth and easy, with laid back beats and a melodic soul sample that carries the listener effortlessly into the record; it’s the type of song you would hear cruising with the top down on a breezy day.  Although the lyrics are stereotypically hip-hop (how much money you got / how much money you got / how much money you got) in a braggadocios sense, it’s not distracting because it’s not anything you wouldn’t expect.  If you’re listening to 21, you’re probably there because you like rap, and are used to these tropes.  The trend continues throughout the rest of the album, in the sense that the lyrics do not break into any new territory and sometimes border on cliché, but it’s ultimately okay because that’s not why anyone listens to 21 Savage anyway.

Where the record succeeds is in providing hot trap anthems to soundtrack your parties and car rides.  Taken at face value this may denote a weak album, but that’s not what I’m trying to say.  Sometimes you just want a solid album to have fun with and turn up to with your friends, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  i am > i was is just that.  It illustrates the growth of an artist over time in terms of providing a more fully developed image, which establishes him as a star to keep an eye on as his career develops.

Rating: 6.0 (Solid)

For info on how we score albums see Our Rating Scale

“Amity” by Nedarb reviewed by Ian Miller

Indie hip-hop icon Nedarb Nagrom is arguably one of the most influential people in the underground scene. Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve probably heard his music if you’ve ever opened the soundcloud app. Not only has he served as the producer of big-name artists such as Lil Peep, but he is also a member of emo hip-hop supergroup Misery Club, not to mention the cult-famous Goth Boi Clique. Ned has become somewhat of a tastemaker, breaking artists and connecting with people that have genuine star-power. Part of this comes from his love of hip-hop and emo culture, which shines through on his solo debut Amity.

Amity is a banger. The production doesn’t stray far from Ned’s usual sound, featuring pulsating 808s, plenty of lo-fi high hats, and dark synth textures that are the staple of most trap music. The first section of the album showcases Ned’s emo-rap style that he’s helped create. The songs feature many of his usual collaborators from the Goth Boi Clique crew and associates: Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Lil Tracy, Horsehead, Mackned, and fellow Misery Club members Lil Zubin and Fantasy Camp among many others.

Album highlight “Feeling” (feat. Horse Head, Lil Lotus, and Jon Simmons) encapsulates the emo aspect of Ned’s sound very well. The track begins with a lo-fi guitar sample, calling to mind the pop-punk ballads of the mid-2000s. In comes Horse Head with a bubblegum pop-punk melody for the hook, almost fooling you into thinking you’re listening to a pop-punk record, but when Lil Lotus takes over the verse and the hi hats and drums kick in, you remember that it’s 2019 and not 2009. It sounds very punk (in a 2020s way), and hilariously emo.

Nedarb switches gears around the middle of the album, opting for a real rap sound. The juxtaposition is a tad bit jarring, but still works because of the similarity in the production choices. The guitar samples are absent, but the lo-fi beats and booming bass remain. I had never heard anything produced by Nedarb that fell outside of the emo-rap domain, and it was refreshing to hear him do something different, as on the track “2003” (feat. Big Baby Scumbag & Little Pain), dispelling all myths that Nedarb only makes music for sad white kids.

The greatest strength of Amity is the successful combination of emo and rap culture, which many have cringed at.  It is a sound that’s not for everyone. Prior to the 2010’s, the two scenes were often thought to be mutually exclusive. In the mainstream-eye, rap was for the tough and emo was for the sensitive. As someone who has taken a lot of inspiration from both subcultures, it is refreshing to see an artist who successfully resolves the two, showing that they can co-exist in a natural way, like two friends from different neighborhoods just hanging out.

What keeps the album from launching to the next category is its lack of musical diversity. Although it features both emo and rap songs, by the end of its 16 tracks, it can begin to feel a bit monotonous. If there had been a bit more variety, it might make the record more listenable to casual fans. However, this does not keep it from its biggest success: being a celebration of one end of the soundcloud universe from one of the people at the center of it. If anything, this release is further evidence that this brand of hip-hop is here to stay for the next few years.

Score: 7/10 (Stand Out)

For info on how we score albums see Our Rating Scale

“Lou Reed 2000” by Lee Scott Reviewed by Ian Miller

Hailing from Runcorn, England, rapper/producer Lee Scott’s new record Lou Reed 2000 is a lo-fi stinger. On early album highlight “TITLE TRACK,” Lee samples Lou Reed interview clips in which Lee answers the questions himself. “You seem very withdrawn . . .” says the interviewer, to which Lee disdainfully spits, “Cause I don’t like talking, I’m depressed / one-word answers, Lou Reed talking to the press.” This line might be laughable in the voice of a less mature rapper, but Lee’s deep, ghoulish sneer combined with the easy, hard-hitting beat make it sound like a threat. The track is underlined with jazz chords that call to mind King Krule, an aesthetic that is kept throughout the record’s concise 30 minute runtime. The message is here from the beginning: Lee is sad, but he’s also tough as nails.

Lou Reed 2000 is full of these types of punchlines. “ROCKET FUEL” finds Lee musing on the ins and outs of his day-to-day over a familiar beat while he sardonically raps, “Corner shop survivalist / fingering your pie n’ chips.” This sounds like a guy who wants to be taken seriously, who has his chops, but at the same time does not want to be taken too seriously. He plays the depressed thug character in a way that sounds authentic, but at the same time seems to imply that it is a character. Lee’s having fun on these tracks even when the lyrics would not necessarily suggest it.

The result is an extremely entertaining listen. “Something’s always got to give, and it’s usually me health / I’m in a league of my own, losing to myself,” closes off the final verse of “ROCKET FUEL,” while a dreary keyboard lead brings it to a close. It sounds like something you’d listen to on a rainy Saturday afternoon, considering going outside and doing something, but the sounds of the record make you want to stay in-doors, and that somehow makes you feel cool. It’s a very specific mood.

Speaking of which, mood is easily the biggest strength of the record. Sonically, it is consistent the whole way through without being repetitive, which is pretty remarkable given that most of the songs have a similar tempo and arrangement. Instead, it builds up the world around the listener, enveloping them in Lee’s (usually unpleasant) consciousness. Lines like, “They say everybody has a dream, well I don’t / I just wake up sometime mid-afternoon and think to meself I should get a scran in soon,” capture a sense of apathy (and maybe buried longing) that seems more rooted in blues and jazz traditions than the emo-rap of today. This is also supported by the chord choices and sparse vocal melodies that appear occasionally throughout the record. The blunt lyrics being contextualized in this sonic atmosphere adds to the authenticity of the message.

Lou Reed 2000 is a wonderfully immersive record that does not ask too much from its listeners. It’s possible to just enjoy this for the music alone and the sound of Lee’s voice, without needing to digest the lyrics. It is a versatile album that is perfect for listening on your own, or in the car with your friends on the way to Taco Bell at night. To anyone who is a fan of lo-fi or jazz rap, this is a record for you.

Rating: 6.8/10 (Solid)

EDIT: The original published version of this review included misquoted lyrics; this mistake has been corrected.

For info on how we score albums, see Our Rating Scale

Metro Boomin – “NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES” Reviewed by Ian Miller

 

For those not in the know, Metro Boomin is one of the most in-demand producers in hip-hop music at the current moment.  He is behind many of the biggest trap hits of the past five-ish years, including Future’s “Mask Off,” “Bank Account” by 21 Savage, “Congratulations” by Post Malone, and Kodack Black’s “Tunnel Vision.”  His solo debut, NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES dropped a few months ago, in which he expands his sonic vision over the course of a full length record.

Although the album is wholly produced by Boomin, he does not lend a verse anywhere on the record.  The vocals are provided by the usual suspects; 21 Savage, Travis Scott, Young Thug, and Swae Lee (and others) all appear at various points throughout the album, giving it vocal variety and a collaborative feel that works mostly to its benefit.  Album opener “10AM/Save The World,” (with Gucci Mane) kicks things off slowly, with Boomin’s trademark dark production and cautionary beats.  Moody strings and piano chords set an ominous tone, and the gorgeous orchestra swells in the outro set an ominous and epic tone straight from the beginning.

This moody vibe continues for the next several tracks, as on the Travis Scott auto-tune crooner “Overdue,” and the dynamic “Don’t Come Out The House,” as 21 Savage alternates between a whispered and mono-tone delivery with his signature trap flow.  Elsewhere, Swae Lee provides melody, as everyone offers the usual swag-trap punchlines.

The strength and weakness of the record is how Metro Boomin uses the artists that he helped break into the mainstream to his benefit, bending them and contorting their voice to suit his needs.  At a run-time of 44 minutes, NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES does not overstay its welcome.  The songs often flow seamlessly into each other, giving it a cohesive feel.  Nowhere does it feel disjointed; it is clearly Boomin’s project.  He is the visionary behind the release, and his presence is felt strongly throughout.  The vocalists are simply along for the ride, and it’s fun to listen to what they bring to the table.  They are there to pay homage to Metro, giving him shout outs on several tracks.  It feels like a posse album similar in some ways to Kanye’s Cruel Summer (2012), which was a collaborative release from the artists on his label.  Everyone on here sounds like they’re having fun, and when the artist is having fun, the listener usually is too.

But, this is also what holds this record back from standing out over other mainstream trap releases in recent memory.  The features have a certain vapid quality to them, and while this is prevalent in a lot of trap music, it comes through in the fact that this is not their own record.  This album is a good example of what it’s trying to do, which is make a moody trap banger that exemplifies the sound that Metro Boomin has helped define.  If you’re in the mood for this sound it will hit the spot, but does little to merit listening in a different context.

Rating: 6.2/10 (It’s solid)

For info on our rating scale see https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Ian’s Top 25 Albums of 2018

Trying to make end of the year lists is an inherently subjective task.  Here at Not a Sound we are committed to reviewing albums based upon how well they accomplished what they set out to do given their audience, genre, and vision.  That makes ranking albums across genres and cultures difficult in many ways, because it is impossible to review Mark Kozelek and A$AP Rocky in the same way, or compare Ariana Grande to Deafheaven.  At the end of the day, our favorite records are the ones that stuck with us the most, not only in terms of technical prowess, but in terms of an emotional and personal connection.  So don’t take this list personally if your favorite record didn’t make it on here; this is simply the music that defined 2018 for me.  Just because your favorite artists aren’t on here doesn’t mean I think they’re bad.

25 – How To Fix Everything by Fantasy Camp

fantasycamp

Emo-rap singer and producer Fantasy Camp did a lot this year. He produced songs for other artists, helped form Misery Club, and released two of his own Eps.  The second of which, How To Fix Everything, is huge leap from the first, demonstrating crisp, focused instrumentals and pristine vocals.  As emo-rap continues to develop, it is clear that Fantasy Camp will be one of the artists at the helm.

24 – Historian by Lucy Dacus

lucy

I have to admit that I was one of the people who only found out about Lucy Dacus when the boygenius project was announced.  After listening to her latest album Historian, I understand the hype that she has received from critics this year.  The record is a perfect example of well written indie-rock, brimming with poise and sincerity.  The best example of this is the track “Night Shift,” which characterizes her voice, lyrical style, and arrangement very well in its two part structure.

23 – TESTING by A$AP Rocky

testing

A$AP Rocky has had a difficult time living up to the hype that he and the media have built around him since his breakout in the early part of the decade.  Testing is no masterpiece, but I enjoyed all the weird detours and experiments he takes you on over the course of the record.  It doesn’t flow perfectly, but it’s a fun, truly odd listen that was definitely a soundtrack to my summer.  “A$AP Forever REMIX” is one of those songs that you gotta turn up to with the homies every once in a while.  It just is.

22 – Corinthiax by Wicca Phase Springs Eternal

corinthiax

On this EP, Wicca Phase cleaned up his sound, and released a polished effort that is easily the most likeable and accessible work he has created yet.  The EP loosely follows the theme of seeking after “Corinthiax” – “A dark manifestation of a love that I was given by the hollow moon.”  It’s a dark, quirky listen that is an acquired taste, but one that I have learned to love given the right mood.

21 – Nasir by Nas

Nas

One of the five albums to come out of Kanye’s Wyoming sessions, Nasir lacks some of the focus of the other five, but is still a phenomenal listen.  Kanye’s beats and Nas’ lyrics and delivery are a match made in heaven, and the album is crowded with great samples.  The album drops off a bit at the end, but the beginning warrants a spot for me on this list.  Also the song Simple Things might be one of the catchiest hip-hop tracks of the year.

20 – East Atlanta Love Letter by 6LACK

east

6LACK is the artist that I always hoped Drake would be.  Unlike Drake’s bloated Scorpion, East Atlanta Love Letter is concise, and while it shares a similar moody hip-hop/modern RnB style to Drake, 6LACK sounds way more convincing than Drake ever has.  On album highlight “Scripture,” he raps, “I’m and RnB n— with a hip-hop core” and you believe him.

19 – DAYTONA by Pusha T

daytona

On the first Kanye-produced project to arrive this summer, the president of G.O.O.D. MUSIC label made a scorching comeback.  This is a nearly perfectly constructed album – Push’s delivery is intense, sadistic, and snarky as ever before.  He spits bar after bar over Kanye’s beats and sampling, which are expertly crafted and chosen to fit the moment.  This is a daring, experimental, and daunting example of what gangster-rap looks like in 2018.

18 – CARE FOR ME by Saba

Saba_ Care For Me

The Chicago-native Saba wrote some of the most heartbreaking bars of 2018.  Much of the album deals with the loss of a loved one, and the aftermath.  On opening track “BUSY / SIRENS” he disdainfully and heartbrokenly raps, “Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat / I’m tryna cope, but it’s a part of me gone / in this packed room I’m alone.”

17 – 7 by Beach House

Beach House_7

Beach House is one of those bands that I’ve always flirted with, never fully committing to calling myself true “fan,” but this album may have won me over.  I was swinging at the park up the street from my parent’s listening to it this summer when the song “Woo” came on.  The gorgeous synths, electro beats, and airy vocals singing “I want it all, but I can’t I can’t have it” made me feel like I was in a dream.

16 – Lush by Snail Mail

snailmail2

A friend recommended this to me quite recently, and while I haven’t had the chance to get close to it, Lush is a strong example of what an indie rock album should sound like to me.  It is full of tightly constructed songs, passionate lyrics, and earwormy melodies that stick with you when you’re done.  Jordan’s vocals are emotional without overdoing it.  This album is one that I will return to in 2019.

15 – Sweetener by Ariana Grande

ARIANA

I guess you could say I’ve been an Ariana stan (no that’s not a typo) for a while, and this album helped validate this title for me.  While her excellent debut Yours Truly was a great 90’s throwback record, and her subsequent releases yielded massive hits, it did not feel as though she had a truly unique voice in the pop sphere.  On this album she seems to have finally found it.  It’s a massive, girly, sincere, and fun album that pulls out all the stops.  This record proves that trap is the new pop, as many of her songs are oriented around trap influenced beats, while still maintaining the RnB-diva aesthetic of her previous work.  As far as pop music goes, this is as 2018 as it gets.

14 – Tha Carter V by Lil Wayne

carter

Wayne’s long delayed, incredibly hyped fifth Carter installment finally came this year.  For an album that he had begun working on years ago, this record sounds surprisingly modern.  Of course, in many ways it is nostalgic as all get out in terms of the lyrics and some of the beats, but it does not disappoint.  It felt like a return-to-form for Wayne, a resurrection of the master MC of ten years ago, with fast bars on top of fast bars, and punchline after punchline.  Where Wayne shines the most however is in his introspection as a veteran of the scene, as in the delightful and melodic “Mess.”

13 – Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt

earl_some rap songs

Odd Future alum Earl Sweatshirt was another popular rapper who made his return this year on the psychedelic, jazz influenced hodge-podge that is Some Rap Songs.  Earl has always been introspective, but he takes it to a new level on this release, reflecting upon the loss of his father.  He successfully ages from the angsty punk we knew from his early career to a reflective, wise adult who is on the verge of a spiritual awakening.

12 – Mark Kozelek by Mark Kozelek

kozelek

These days there’s not really that much of a difference between a Sun Kil Moon record and Mark Kozelek solo record, but it is evident upon this release.  These songs mainly consist of guitar looping and Mark’s trademark, stream-of-consciousness storytelling.  While not as engaging as some of his more dynamic work, this album is a testament to where he is at in his life and career.  It means a lot when an artist chooses to release a self-titled record this late in their career.  This album represents who Mark is, as he sings about his home town, boxing matches, memories from his childhood, and the day-in-and-day-out of his extremely normal, yet fascinatingly introspective life.

11 – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love by Deafheaven

deaftheaven_albumart

I don’t usually listen to metal that much.  One night this summer I was cramming an assignment for an online class, and I saw an album called Ordinary Corrupt Human Love pop up on my recommended page.  The album title is what initially caught me, as the meaning of the statement was intriguing, and the words themselves just sounded powerful.  I found myself struck by the dark beauty of the music.  I couldn’t understand the words lead vocalist Clarke was saying, but I felt the emotion of the music, and the attempt to make something huge and important.  “Canary Yellow” was blasted in my car on the way to work quite a bit in August.

10 – Kids See Ghosts by KIDS SEE GHOSTS

kids

This is the colab album that both Cudi and Kanye fans have been dreaming of for years.  It’s an extremely artsy-banger, with Ye and Cudi trading verses back and forth, across various genres and styles ranging from guitar-sampling rap, to straight up rock music, and even a song that sounds like Man On The Moon-era Kid Cudi.  It’s the perfect example of the genre that Kanye and Cudi have carved out for themselves over the span of their careers – a unique blend of art rap and pop rap that has gone on to influence hip-hop as we know it.

9 – Astroworld by Travis Scott

astro

Astroworld finally lived up to the hype that Scott has had since the start of his career.  The album is like the fictional theme park it is named after; each song is a wild ride and a new attraction.  While it inevitably drops off at some points due to its excessive runtime, it feels natural.  Like any long hot day at an amusement park, there are highs and lows: long waits in line, stops in grimy bathrooms, overpriced food.  But, most of the time, you’re still glad you went.

8 – This Is My Dinner by Sun Kil Moon

sun

I’ve already written about this album, so I’ll spare the details, but I will reiterate that this is one of Kozelek’s best recent works.  Rather than feeling oppressive as he did sometimes on 2017’s Common As Light, his stories here feel like they are coming from a better place of hope and often humor.  The variation of instrumentals is engaging, and captures a melancholic beauty that I am often aware of in late fall.  It is no wonder he waited to release this album until November 1st, as it was written and recorded in November of the previous year and perfectly fits that mood.

7 – Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest

twin fantasy

I wasn’t sure if this should really count towards this year or not, as it is a re-recorded version of an album released years ago on bandcamp.  But considering the work that Toledo did to literally re-record and rework the whole thing, I believe it does stand out as a new record.  This is a densely packed, experimental indie-punk album that lays the writer bare to the listener.  It’s a long, thrilling masterpiece that is a tribute to those suffering from mental illness that is also life-affirming in its exuberant weirdness.

6 – Club Misery by Misery Club

miseryclub

This is another that I’ve written about already this year, so again, I’ll spare the details.  Misery Club is one of those underground groups that you run across every so often that you realize is bound to be huge.  The melodies, tight beats, and emo lyrics are all geared perfectly towards rap’s current moment, as intense vulnerability is becoming more popular than ever.  With the right publicity behind them, this group could be one of the biggest pop-rap sensations, if not on the radio, then in the larger underground scene.

5 – Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along

hop along

Hop Along’s third album is different than the previous two.  It has far fewer explosive moments than Paint It Shut, which initially was a setback to me.  Overtime though, the consistency of this record has caused me to come around to viewing it as potentially Hop Along’s best record.  It is paced perfectly, a fantastic example of guitar-based indie pop.  Lyrically, it touches on the emotional and personal memories, as well as on the current political moment in songs such as How You Got Your Limp and One That Suits Me.  It is a timely release that hits all the bases.

4 – Skylight by Pinegrove

pinegrove

It took me a few days to listen to this album.  Given the band’s past, I had mixed feelings about their return, and it had been a while since I had listened to Cardinal actively.  In the end, Skylight turned out to be one of my favorite releases of the year.  It is not a drastic departure from their previous sound; much of it is still the same brand of country-infused emo that made them popular.  The difference here is that there is an amount of reflectiveness in these songs that hits the ears differently than Cardinal.  The first half is slow-paced and linear, and there are far fewer catchy hits on this record than before.  But give it a few listens, and you will find layers to the stories that these songs tell that will have you coming back time and time again.

3 – Swimming by Mac Miller

Mac Miller_Swimming

Mac’s final album is his best yet.  I remember thinking this before he died, wondering where his career would take him next.  It’s the best version of what he had been trying recently – a funky style of rap that infused RnB flawlessly.  The lyrics are stark and personal, but also convey true joy and hope in the latter half.  It is not a perfect record, but it is not one that reveals a perfect man, so the flaws feel appropriate.  It’s a powerful testament to going through it (whatever your personal it might be) and coming out on the other side intact, a different person, but one who is ready and able to move on.  This is the best legacy Mac could’ve left as his last testament.

2 – boygenius by boygenius

ole-1408-boygenius

This is an indie-supergroup dream band.  The possibility of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus on one project makes total sense, but I still could not believe it was actually happening when it was announced.  As three of the most powerful voices in indie-rock in this current moment, they come together to make a record that has variety, consistency, and beauty that is nearly unparalleled.  They are all different-but-similar enough for it to work without sounding like their solo releases.  Boygenius is undeniably a group effort that offers something new to fans of any of the three artists.  I’m praying they do another release eventually.

1 – ye by Kanye West

ye

Kanye had quite a year.  It seems that he does almost everything he can to keep people from talking about what he does best: music.  Kanye’s short, flash-in-a-pan ye is his most lyrically revealing, vulnerable album in years.  In past releases, his usual pattern is to reveal something about himself – some guilt, pain or insecurity – and then immediately cover it with an expletive or a bad joke, but on this album, he gets as close to naked as we have seen him.  The lyrics deal largely with his mental health, wrongs he has committed against his wife and the public, as well as drug addiction, and working through his role as a father.  Through it all, the music is fantastic, crackly, a bit lo-fi (for blockbuster standards), adding to the rawness and emotional energy.  As usual, it is packed with guest features, most uncredited.  They usually take on a background role: these are not designed to gain hype, but to add to the over-all product.  Despite his shortcomings as a person, ye is some of the best music Kanye has released.  It will not be viewed as an influential super-hit the way most of his previous albums are, but to fans, it is a rare and real look into the most influential man in popular music.