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Immanuel Wilkins – The 7th Hand

8 May

There’s a lot to like about The 7th Hand. The music is immaculate. There is obscene skill behind the whole thing. There are moments of transcendence. For all of its strengths though, it is just short enough of challenge to mire the whole album.

It oscillates quite sharply between pleasant and aggressive throughout and in the opener “Emanation” you have some very energetic sax work followed by a relaxing piano solo. They both end up flat however. The sax starts strong and is played very well, but it lacks challenge and ends up going nowhere you wanted to visit. The piano solo is a little off-kilter but needed to be fully askew. It’s the same story in “Lift.” There’s a lot of sound and fury, but it’s ends up signifying nothing.

Sometimes, the album takes a turn more towards the pleasant, such as in “Fugitive Ritual, Selah” and it does it well. It may have done better with stronger focus on that side, but that does nothing to help the lack of challenge.

The 7th Hand has moments though. The opening of “Witness” evokes a deep, verdant, arboreal scene and thread some ominousness through it to great effect. These moments just are not enough to lift an album that can never quite escape falling flat.

Rosalía – MOTOMAMI

29 Mar

MOTOMAMI is the greatest reggaeton album ever made. Rosalía was already a superstar and yet she has found a way to be larger still, and even more impressively, to do so on her own terms. MOTOMAMI does not fall cleanly into any box, but instead draws from apparently every influence that Rosalía can bring to the table and the result is dizzying.

This shows up well in the fun “CANDY.” She brings great emotion and fascinating sounds from a range uncompromising in its scope and makes the song fun to boot. She is every bit as fun in “CHICKEN TERIYAKI.” The music is clever, lively and so very individual.

For all of that though, she is still capable of “HENTAI,” a slower indie rock cut. She does it well, even if I prefer the reggaeton and her versatility is stunning. This is what allows for the standout “LA FAMA,” not only the best track on the album, but also The Weeknd as good as he has ever been, but somehow in Spanish.

MOTOMAMI is everything you could ask for and yet does not have a single fragment of pandering from Rosalía. This is her album entirely and we are all the better for it.

Nilüfer Yanya – PAINLESS

20 Mar

PAINLESS is an imperious album. It’s effortless in its ability to capture. you. Many of the other great albums of the present work with intricate details. PAINLESS just finds the right grooves, adds the right textures and is rightly confident in their ability to keep you captivated. Yanya then adds to this with insistent and undeniable storytelling that runs as a dark whisper underneath the shimmering dream pop.

In something like the standout “L/R”, the narrative both powerful and sparse. “Sometimes it feels like you’re so violent, autopilot” is a strong line for the chorus and contrasts very satisfyingly with the languor of the music.

Similarly “anotherlife” is buoyant, dreamy and resonant and then it will absolutely lacerate you the moment you let it in. “try” is very compelling and very relaxing music and Yanya’s voice is perfectly restrained and sublimely emotive.

PAINLESS is a consistently cohesive album. There’s nothing here that detracts from the vision or compromises the quality and both are unparalleled.

Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

5 Mar

Big Thief has always been a band for whom I’ve had more respect than liking and there have been plenty of albums where I’ve had neither one. This is the first album of theirs that I really enjoy. It is somehow both deeper and more detailed than their previous work. It’s more intelligent and a little off-kilter as in the spectacular “Simulation Swarm.”

More enjoyably though, it’s also much more fun than their earlier work. The two hands clapping in “Time Escaping” is hilarious and on just the right side of camp and the song itself is nothing short of excellent. The country twangs that never move too far into the background of “Spud Infinity” are similarly just funny.

With this humor and humanity, they are more poetic than their usual and more resonant as well. This is really good music with none of the remoteness that often plagued their earlier albums. In fact, it’s hard to think of any real flaw to hold against the album at all.

Saba – Few Good Things

20 Feb

I certainly didn’t expect such a relaxed Saba on Few Good Things. I’m used to a rapper more caught up in the throes of emotion. Here, we see him stretch out a little. He broadens his musical range as a result. “If I Had A Dollar” has him channel Kendrick and “Soldier” brings in something of an Outkast feel. He does well enough with both of them and with the album as a whole. There’s nothing here with much heft, but also nothing here that misses the mark.

Where CARE FOR ME was passionate and heartfelt, Few Good Things is much more muted. Saba is talented enough to make solid music nonetheless, but the album still ends up unfocused and unmemorable.

Mitski – Laurel Hell

14 Feb

Laurel Hell will cut you if you let it. It’s a quiet album and that just makes the cuts deeper still. “Working for the Knife” is painfully sharp and very resonant. It’s great indie rock and pairs clever, evocative rock with clever, evocative lyrics. Her storytelling is top-notch throughout and unmatched in its subtlety. There’s something persistently elusive in the story of “Should’ve Been Me.”

Her music also doesn’t particularly worry about being noticed. The details are often stunning though. She tries sounds that are just a little off-kilter and puts a lot of care into some very small pieces. It’s unfortunate then there are also broad swathes of music that just don’t do anything particularly interesting and not all that much that truly transcends into the magnificent. However, there is still a lot that is quite good and some parts so clever they cannot help but linger.

FKA Twigs – CAPRISONGS

31 Jan

FKA Twigs has made a habit of going from strength to strength over her career, a fact made even more incredible by how much she adds with each iteration and how strong she started in the first place. A mixtape like CAPRISONGS is naturally not going to be her strongest or most consistent work, but it is a space for her to stretch out and experiment a bit and it’s delightful for that.

To start with, she brings Afrobeats into the mix. “papi bones” is a lot of fun and has a lot of infectious energy to it reminiscent of Rihanna in her peak Barbados phase. However, there’s lots of innovation even in the more straight-edged pop. She brings in a fascinating high pitch for “minds of men” that elevates the track from merely good pop to something memorable. Similarly, while “ride the dragon” does have a slightly cliche flute and name tag, it’s mostly very intriguing music.

CAPRISONGS is also just good at being good music. “oh my love” is an excellent track and the chorus is a lot of fun. It is “tears in the club” though that is the real standout. Her collaboration with The Weeknd is a true superstar single. Both of the singers are absolutely at the top of their powers and they work so well with each other.

It’s far from a perfect album. The interstitials alone do more than enough to keep it from that. However, it is a lot of very good, very interesting music. FKA Twigs is always doing something new and always doing it very well and it’s a pleasure to try to keep up.

The Weeknd – Dawn FM

16 Jan

Superstardom was always a strange fit for The Weeknd, but Dawn FM is him conceding all the best parts of his music for it. Trading R&B for disco-pop isn’t necessarily a bad thing and he gets some good music out of it but the result is his weakest album yet.

The style works well for things like the extended and extremely danceable “Take My Breath.” It’s absolutely top-tier synth-pop and Abel gets to use his voice to its full effect in it. Similarly, “Best Friend” is a very good song and an excellent showcase for just how well The Weeknd can sing.

Going disco has highlights, but substituting it for the previous R&B really hurts something like “Less Than Zero” which ends up simply boring and bland. He’s also lost a lot of his edge here. He glories far less in self-destruction now that he’s won a Kids Choice Award.

Even something like the still quite good “Is There Someone Else” doesn’t carry the emotion that he once brought to bear. There’s no bite to this album. He’s much less scary and less debauched than he once was. I like what Wayne does in “I Heard You’re Married” and Abel has moments in there too, but it has replaced his razor blades with safety scissors. Also, while I love Jim Carrey, the interludes are the kind of bad poetry I expect at amateur singalongs.

The strangest thing is that The Weeknd has always been an artist defined by singles and not albums and this album has no single for me to really come back to. Dawn FM does come together in a way that none of his previous albums ever really came close to doing but that doesn’t do enough without the musical peaks that he once had. There used to be gold with the dross. Dawn FM is instead a pretty consistent bronze.

Top Five Albums of 2021 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

Above all else in 2021, there are two disappointments that naturally loom heavy. I can’t say that they don’t put a damper on wrap-up lists like this or that I don’t personally wish they were better, but to focus on them is to lose sight of a year that has had some particularly bright moments for music. We had a stellar debut album, some top-notch jazz and the consolidation of a rapper who has unquestionably found himself.

5. Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

It’s still a little novel to see a mature Tyler. There was never any question when he started out that he was not only immensely talented but also a very intelligent and very sensitive young man, but did need to squint to see it through all the antics. Now, you would have to be blind to miss it.

Pairing with DJ Drama was a good start. The two feed off each other, each bringing out more fun, chaotic energy from the other and the occasional guest spot builds further upon that. It’s when he gets to telling stories though that the album is at its best though. His narrative of his friend’s girlfriend in “WILSHIRE” is one of the strongest stories that rap has ever dropped and the kind of thing that only Tyler could make. If you only listen to a single song from 2021, make it this one.

Read our full review here.

4. Low – HEY WHAT

I tend to see slowcore as soundscapes. They feel like murals, not miniatures. It’s music that you can see with unfocused eyes. HEY WHAT is music of that scale and yet intricate in its detail. There are thousands of thoughts, each expressed in tiny spaces. It’s very clever and very understated and somehow willing to reward you no matter how you approach it.

Read our full review here.

3. Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

I’m not young anymore. I haven’t even felt young in a long time. SOUR wears its youth on its sleeve. This is about coming of age, of throwing yourself at a boy who doesn’t treat you right and of feeling your feelings. Olivia Rodrigo goes from heartbroken to honest to gloriously petty with the speed and the intensity that only teenagers can bring to bear and she does it all with startlingly clever lyrics and undeniable music. SOUR is nothing short of a phenomenon.

Read our full review here.

2. Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey- Uneasy

You just can never really get a handle on Uneasy. This is an album that always stays just a little out of reach, that always keeps you just enough off balance that you cannot quite find your feet. It’s exhilarating in the way of an off-kilter roundabout and just as quick to leave you dizzy.

Jazz is at its best when it holds to its political roots and Uneasy does just that. It takes all of the disorientation that it builds with such intelligence and skill and uses that to remind you how unsettling the present day is and that icy water to the face is what makes this album truly excellent.

Read our full reveiw here.

1. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

I’m honestly still a little surprised that this collaboration happened, but it’s not at all surprising that the pieces all fit together so well. This style of nature-infused, spiritual music has offshoots in all of the styles of music represented here. However, it’s still magical to see it all come together.

It’s evocative and yet fully detailed. You can feel the forest and every living being all at once and yet the austerity of nature gets tempered by a wonderfully human saxophone and so the whole lifts you further and further to the point where even the silence after the album finishes is suffused with its glow.

Read our full review here.

Listen on Spotify:

Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

17 Dec

Some albums are more than ready to just come out punching. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power rocks hard and unapologetically. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do stellar production work, giving the whole album a strong edge, but it’s really in the emotion that Halsey herself brings to the table that makes the project so strong.

At it’s best, in songs like the magnificent “I am not a woman, i’m a god,” the music is maximal and anthemic. “I am not a woman, I’m a god / I am not a martyr, I ‘m a problem / I am not a legend, I’m a fraud / So keep your heart ’cause I already got one” is a good, strong, feminist chorus for a good, strong, feminist song.

“Girl is a gun” has a lot of the same strengths, but is fun and sexy to boot. “In The Lighthouse” has Halsey punch out a chorus over an absolutely filthy riff. It’s very grunge and very clever.

This is unfortunately balanced by a lot of filler though. “Darling” is forgettable, “You asked for this” has nothing interesting in it and some music that grates. “honey” is fine, but predictable and I want to get to the more interesting songs.

Additionally, it often falls into triteness. The surprisingly Foo Fighters cut “Easier Than Lying” is quite a good song, but the lyrics fall more into trite than truthful and that hurts it. “Whispers” features a fascinating flow and has a nice gear shift in it, but the clever music is once again undercut by the uninspired lyrics.

That there are flaws is undeniable, but when the music gets going, it more than overcomes any weaknesses. “I am not a woman, i’m a god” is a sublime achievement and the kind of song that defines an artist. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is unafraid to just rock and the result is nothing short of stellar.

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