Starting this blog/music journal/experiment in the middle of this year presented a lofty challenge. Could I really pen a review about an album each and every weekday (let alone a positive one) and maintain that regimen week after week, while holding onto some semblance of inspiration that made me want to initiate this project in the first place? The question continued to rattle around in my brain, even up till my 100th review.
Now having just finished my 150th, I guess the takeaway is this: if you want to do something, even if it sends your mind reeling with uncertainties and goes against the grain of everything surrounding you, just try it. Uncertainty is good.
That being said, I’m going to take a short break from album reviews to spend some time listening to holiday music with my family and working on other writing endeavors. Don’t worry, daily reviews will start back up at the beginning of 2016! I wanted to end this year with something a bit different, though. Since I spend so much time talking about albums, here are my top 50 favorite and unordered songs of this year (playlist at bottom):
- Susanne Sundfør – “Slowly” (from Ten Love Songs)
- Hiatus Kaiyote – “Breathing Underwater” (from Choose Your Weapon)
- Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta” (from To Pimp A Butterfly)
- Lower Dens – “To Die In L.A.” (from Escape From Evil)
- Father John Misty – “When You’re Smiling And Astride Me” (from I Love You, Honeybear)
- The Tallest Man On Earth – “Sagres” (from Dark Bird Is Home)
- My Morning Jacket – “Compound Fracture” (from The Waterfall)
- Hot Chip – “Easy To Get” (from Why Make Sense?)
- Braids – “Taste” (from Deep In The Iris)
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “The World Is Crowded” (from Multi-Love)
- Nozinja – “Nwa Baloyi” (from Nozinja Lodge)
- Maribou State – “Raincoats” (from Portraits)
- Domenique Dumont – “Comme Ça” (from Comme Ça)
- Leon Bridges – “Coming Home” (from Coming Home)
- CFCF – “Rain Dance” – (from The Colours Of Life)
- Deradoorian – “Komodo” (from The Expanding Flower Planet)
- Gangrene – “The Man With The Horn” (from You Disgust Me)
- FKA twigs – “Glass & Patron” (from M3LL155X)
- HEALTH – “DARK ENOUGH” (from DEATH MAGIC)
- Beach House – “Sparks” (from Depression Cherry)
- Widowspeak – “My Baby’s Gonna Carry On” (from All Yours)
- Tamaryn – “Last” (from Cranekiss)
- Beirut – “No No No” (from No No No)
- Silkie – “Majik” (from Fractals)
- Botany – “Raw Light Overture” (from Dimming Awe, The Light Is Raw)
- Auscultation – “Promise You’ll Haunt Me” (from L’étreinte Imaginaire)
- Woolfy vs. Projections – “Jackie” (from Stations)
- Benjamin Damage – “Monolith” (from Obsidian)
- Deafheaven – “Baby Blue” (from New Bermuda)
- Empress Of – “Everything Is You” (from Me)
- Darkstar – “Stoke The Fire” (from Foam Island)
- Alex G – “Salt” (from Beach Music)
- Nicole Dollanganger – “Poacher’s Pride” (from Natural Born Losers)
- Neon Indian – “Annie” (from Vega Intl. Night School)
- The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – “January 10th, 2014” (from Harmlessness)
- Pure Bathing Culture – “Pray For Rain” (from Pray For Rain)
- Baio – “Sister Of Pearl” (from The Names)
- Jamie Woon – “Movement” (from Making Time)
- The Japanese House – “Clean” (from Clean)
- Floating Points – “Silhouettes (I, II, III)” (from Elaenia)
- Grimes – “Flesh without Blood” (from Art Angels)
- Oneohtrix Point Never – “Mutant Standard” (from Garden Of Delete)
- DJ Paypal – “Awakening” (from Sold Out)
- Kode9 – “Third Ear Transmission” feat. The Spaceape (from Nothing)
- James Ferraro – “Pollution” (from Skid Row)
- Freddie Gibbs – “Fuckin’ up the Count” (from Shadow of a Doubt)
- f(x) – “4 Walls” (from 4 Walls)
- Triathalon – “It’s You” (from Nothing Bothers Me)
- Erykah Badu – “Phone Down” (from But You Caint Use My Phone)
- Fatima Yamaha – “Love Invaders” (from Imaginary Lines)
– stasi (@stasisphere)
You are sealed within a glacier, motionless in the frigid air of the vast tundra. You look through the distorted transparency of your frozen chamber and out at the desolate, white nothingness. A minuscule light appears on the horizon. It steadily grows larger and is joined by more lights of varying sizes. It’s a large group of living individuals, and they settle their camp at the base of your glass tomb. You listen to inklings of their communal songs . . .
Drone has captured my heart. I’ll admit, I initially dismissed the genre, pigeonholing it as arbitrary “music” with no real direction, but that couldn’t be further from the reality. Patience and subtlety are the hallmarks of drone; if a listener possesses the former and appreciates the latter, the beauty is unveiled. Perils is the newest full-length from the similarly named producer duo, made up of Kyle Bobby Dunn and Thomas Meluch.
The extent of these songs are split between Dunn’s instrumental drone soundscapes that envelop the listener in blankets of steadily morphing ambience, and more tuneful compositions led by the soft, harmonically rich vocals of Meluch. Both artists are stalwarts within the ambient music scene, and the ways in which they weave their unique talents together are awe-inspiring in their composition and execution.
Dunn and Meluch independently wrote and recorded the tracks for this record in separate locations; Dunn in Ontario (post-solo album) and Meluch in transit from the UK to Seattle. This release is about the anxieties, questions, and uncertainties of transition, both figuratively in Dunn’s case and literally in Meluch’s, and the solace required to persevere. If you’re seeking enveloping, harmonically rich drone, this album is for you.
– stasi (@stasisphere)
You sit on a dock at the edge of a grand lake. You search for the opposite shore in the dense fog, while your legs dangle just above the murky water. The haze grows thicker, until you can’t see your hand that waves directly in front of your face. A coldness passes through your body, and exits as quickly as it struck. You turn around, and see a house that wasn’t previously there. You enter through the door. A phantom floats in the center, in front of a computer . . .
The thread of hip-hop never leaves the fabric of those that once felt a fondness for it. Its influence always seems to find its way back into the music created by artists that can say they’ve ever loved the genre, no matter how removed from the style their previous output happens to be. A New Place 2 Drown is the newest full-length from Londoner Archy Marshall (AKA King Krule), a chameleonic, beat-loving singer-songwriter.
Marshall’s debut album as King Krule placed his deep, wise-beyond-his-years voice and blues-flavored guitar in the forefront of arrangements, but this record casts a ghostly shroud around his rugged crooning. The misty atmosphere, eerie experimentalism, and sluggish, trunk-rattling beats invoking the spirit of DJ Screw are the focus in these tracks, while Marshall treats his singing as a phantom within the enveloping instrumentation.
And A New Place 2 Drown isn’t just a record, either; it’s the name given to three pieces of art released cohesively. Aside from the collection of songs, Marshall also put out a short film, as well as a 208-page book of photography, poetry, and sketches by himself and his older brother Jack. This is an artist that openly welcomes others into his world, and what a fascinating world it is. If you’re seeking ghostly hip-hop, this album is for you.
– stasi (@stasisphere)
You swim below the ocean’s surface. The flood light on your scuba suit pierces the darkness, illuminating creatures that pass in front of your face. Suddenly, the light flickers and is extinguished, leaving you immersed in impenetrable blackness. You spot a purple light in the distance. You approach the beacon until it’s directly over you. You swim up and emerge out of the water, into a cavern adorned with twinkling crystals. You stride onto the dance floor . . .
So much can be communicated by saying so very little. A mere beat, melody, or groove can hold the most crucial meaning, and the deeper messages won’t even be revealed until the fourth or fifth time it traverses through one’s ears (if ever), because the music is so unimposing and immediately enjoyable. Imaginary Lines is the newest full-length by Dutch producer Bas Bron (formerly Bastian) under his Fatima Yamaha moniker.
All that Bron requires for these tracks are a couple glowing synth melodies, gently pulsating drums, and body-moving bass lines. The producer contorts these three elements into polished, subtly evolving compositions that dwell in the realms of disco, ambient, electro, and house. With so few components in the mix, it’s astounding that these songs sound this lush, and it’s a true testament to Bron’s level of innovation.
This record can easily be enjoyed solely at the surface level, but there are darker themes lurking between its folds. Imaginary Lines is Bron’s graceful commentary on 2015’s global refugee crisis. The “lines” referenced in the title may be the same lines that individuals die for every day, and although they may be “imaginary,” their impacts are very real. If you’re seeking melodically-superb disco/electro/house, this album is for you.
– stasi (@stasisphere)
Your phone wakes you. Your eyes are greeted by the darkness in your room, accentuated by the flashing light that accompanies the blaring tone. You stumble out of bed and grab the device. You press answer and hold it up to your ear. You are driving between towering buildings in the heat of the sun. Your phone rings again, and you reluctantly lift it to your cheek. You’re surrounded by a large crowd jumping to a beat. You feel your pocket vibrate . . .
Mixtapes are everything in hip-hop. If they can’t rent a producer for an LP’s worth of instrumentals, or (gasp!) produce it themselves, vocalists gather tracks created by their favorite producers and add their own flavor on top. This specific artist hardly needs to restrain herself to this format, but she honors her roots by owning it completely. But You Caint Use My Phone is the newest full-length mixtape by singer-songwriter Erykah Badu.
This is a mixtape in the truest sense of the term, as it consists primarily of Badu contorting telephone-focused songs by other artists — including the Isley Brothers, Egyptian Lover, New Edition, Usher, and Drake (yes, it’s “Hotline Bling”) — by adding her iconic vocals and sound design nuances with producer Zach Witness. Along with comedic skits included, this record has an off-the-cuff feel that’s loads of fun.
For Badu, phones aren’t to be taken for granted; they’re supernatural devices that stretch across space and time, and span the gap between this life and the next. They have the potential to distort intentions and ruin connections, but they also possess the power of seemingly infinite communication. This record is evidence that she isn’t alone in her thinking. If you’re seeking mixtape-format, soulful r&b, this album is for you.
– stasi (@stasisphere)
You crawl out from a steaming manhole in the center of an intersection. The rain stopped moments ago, but the gutters roar like rushing rivers. You sprint to the sidewalk, and into a nearby park to rest upon a bench. You wake to a saxophone trilling in the distance. You follow the faint notes out of the park, and down a dingy alley. The sound stops as you come to a dead end. The brick wall contorts into multiple individuals with instruments. They play . . .
Jazz is uncensored music straight from the heart. It typically consists of less rigid arrangements than other genres, allowing much more room for experimentation and improvisational elements. It’s the style with which many began their professional music careers (including yours truly), and many find their way back. Civil Circus is the newest full-length from singer and composer Diggs Duke, a man who surely loves his jazz.
Duke spreads his far-reaching, poignant musings across this record like a diary. His irresistibly soulful voice is backed by diverse mixtures of instrumentation, including live drums, saxophones, bass, piano, acoustic guitars, and tinges of electronic experimentalism ala Flying Lotus. Some tracks are brief glimpses of ingenious soloing, while others are more reminiscent of hip-hop, r&b, and harmony-laden gospel.
You won’t find a more honest portrayal of Duke, and that’s because he performs exactly what his heart exclaims throughout these ten songs, thus removing the censorship from his artistry. It gives the record a voyeuristic quality, and makes the listening experience akin to taking a peak inside a unique life. This is the goal of most artists, and Duke greatly succeeds here. If you’re seeking poignant, jazz-tinged soul, this album is for you.
– stasi (@stasisphere)
You walk the dusty road between tall, towering crops within a vast field. The grey clouds that hang heavy above you signify rain. Just as the thought passes, a droplet splashes onto your forehead. The sky opens its gaping mouth and pours upon all. The greenery surrounding you begins to grow at a startling pace. It ascends and weaves together to form a canopy over your head. You continue walking the now-muddy path, and listen to the sounds that drip down . . .
In essence, music is but a vessel. It’s a vehicle in which to place an idea or story for the purpose of communication to those that will listen and, hopefully, understand. Gode is the newest full-length from André Bratten, a producer from Oslo. Bratten shaped this record as a tribute to the rural working class of his home country in the early 20th century. It’s a history lesson and a gorgeously produced album rolled into one.
Bratten is nothing if not versatile in his sound design. The seasoned producer utilizes a mixture of glistening string arrangements, contorted piano, and layers of field recordings, all recorded through tape machines and adorned with subtly propulsive rhythms, to create these lush compositions. Genres are difficult to pin down in this case, but there are included flavors of post-rock, techno, trip-hop, and beautiful ambience.
The title literally translates to a tool used to prod cattle, but it’s also come to mean “a right or privilege,” and served as a spiritual symbol of the indentured labor performed by the above-mentioned social class. Hardship was ceaseless for them, and only the privileged could afford to create art. This record is Bratten’s hymn to those people, a voiceless generation. If you’re seeking potent, lush electronics, this album is for you.
– stasi (@stasisphere)