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Smashing Pumpkins: Five Deep Cuts to Get You Amped for the Revival

12 Feb

Since 2005, eternal frontman Billy Corgan has rotated through several lineups under the Smashing Pumpkins banner. Each incarnation’s musical output covered wide-ranging territory, but sadly offered mere glimpses of the classic Pumpkins sound of the original foursome. Corgan had always maintained that he wanted his band to be something more than a nostalgia act, but occasional potshots at original members D’arcy Wretzky and James Iha didn’t help reunion prospects.

Then, the unthinkable happened. In March 2016, James Iha joined Corgan on stage to perform “Mayonaise”, sending a legion of Pumpkinheads around the world into a frenzy. The Pumpkins would eventually reunite (albeit without Wretzky) for a glorious arena tour, playing a three-hour long setlist carved out of their ’90s years.

Miraculous reunion aside, the tour setlist made abundantly clear just how deep the band’s catalog runs. A boxset of the band’s B-sides and outtakes (The Aeroplane Flies High) went platinum; so did Pisces Iscariot, a less elaborate compilation of rarities. The Pumpkins belong to an exclusive club of bands whose deep cuts offer as much depth and quality as their singles.

As the band and its fanbase get ready for another tour this summer, we bring to you our top five Smashing Pumpkins deep cuts. Enjoy!

5. “Glynis”(1993)

In our opinion, “Glynis” was the stand-out track of No Alternative, an AIDS-relief project that boasted the who’s who of 90s alternative rock (Pavement, The Breeders, Pumpkins). Apart from his angsty nasal whines, the Corgan of those days was a master of the dreamy semi-whispers that perfectly complemented the blanket of riffage underneath them. “Glynis” is a prime example of this era, with flanging guitars and a shimmering strings section.

4. “Set the Ray to Jerry” (1995)

This track, written during the Gish (1991) era, is widely considered by the fanbase to be one of the band’s best. Allegedly written about bassist Wretzky’s dad (who Corgan found to be extremely intimidating), “Set the Ray to Jerry” is carried by a thumping drum and bass backbone, set to an emotional vocal delivery by Corgan. Perfectly oscillating between dreamy croons and impassioned outbursts, it is still considered to be one of Corgan’s finest vocal performances to date. Although it failed to make the final cut of the band’s third album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, it was included as a bonus track on a 2012 re-issue. Hurrah!

3. “Stellar” (2007)

As a reunion album, Zeitgeist was not exactly what fans had been waiting for, but it certainly had its moments. “Stellar” is a sonic journey that harks back to the Siamese Dream (1993) days when Corgan’s guitar lines had an ethereal element to them. That vibe, locked in with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s thumping fillers, makes “Stellar” one of the best tracks to come out of the Zeitgeist era.

2. “Meladori Magpie”(1995)

The lead up to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a particularly productive period for the band: to realize his vision for an elaborate double album, Corgan was churning out demos at a brisk pace. Naturally, the period also saw a lot of experimentation with singing styles and arrangements; a few demos are especially notable for a bizarre carnival-themed undercurrent that accentuated the rough concept of the album. In our opinion, the best example is “Meladori Magpie”, originally released as a B-side to the album’s third single, “Tonight Tonight”.

1. “Waiting” (1998)

“Waiting” was a product of the Adore sessions that took place at Sunset Studios in late 1997. It was a trying time for the band: their touring keyboardist died of a heroin overdose, and longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was fired. Chamberlin’s void left by Jimmy gave way to a lot of experimentation with drum machines and other electronic elements. “Waiting” is a gloomy but surging track pulled out of this very same bag of tricks. Surprisingly, it was left out of the original Adore tracklist, but found its way back on a 2014 re-issue.

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Monthly Playlist: Jan. 2019

31 Jan

As we finish up the first month of the new year, Top Five Records is proud to start what we hope will become a long-standing tradition: a quick, five-song list of the month’s best songs. We’re just thirty-one days into 2019, but we’ve already enjoyed some great music. So, without further ado, here is the inaugural Monthly Playlist – enjoy!

5. “Sex Rich” – CRYSTAL

CRYSTAL is a Scottish punk / grunge act that has been gaining a solid fanbase over the past few years – and for good reason. The band elicits the best parts of 90s alternative mainstays like Nirvana and Pearl Jam – from vocalist Anna Shields’ gauzy vocals to guitarist Blair Crichton’s jagged, heavy riffs – without sounding like a rip-off tribute act. “Sex Rich” is perhaps the best introduction to CRYSTAL. The slight menace in Shields’ opening lines builds to a grungy wall-of-sound that occasionally breaks for some muddy, hard-hitting riffs. Have a listen, and keep an eye on this band.

File next to: Nirvana; Genres: Grunge, punk

4. “Landslide” – Beirut

If you love cinematic pop, you’ve likely been a fan of Beirut for years. “Postcards from Italy”, the band’s break-out track from their debut album in 2006, showcased the best parts of their sound: a folksy take on world music that somehow elicited images of cobbled European villages or cafés in old-town Ankara. “Landslide”, from the band’s upcoming fifth album Gallipoli, continuous this vibe. Zach Condon’s signature sweeping vocals tether the combination of percussion and staccato organ notes to create a lush, uplifting sound. Gallipoli is out on February 1, 2019.

File next to: Grizzly Bear; Genres: Indie, folk

3. “Pure Water” – Mustard feat. Migos

There’s plenty to love about this new track from Mustard and Migos. A hypnotically uneven beat provides the foundation for taut verses that perfectly exemplify why Migos currently rule the rap scene. All three Migos have a flow so unique that it goes beyond the lyrics as an instrument in itself – a feat so inimitable that it is now known ubiquitously as the Migos flow. On “Pure Water”, Offset, Quavo and Takeoff excel in shooting words with precision between the ebbs and flows of a beat, and Mustard provides them the perfect fodder.

File next to: Future; Genres: Trap rap

2. “Juice” – Lizzo

Since her debut in 2013, Lizzo’s music has been known for her gratuitous mix of soul and funk with the beat elements of mainstream of hip-hop. “Juice” is no different – a fun and exuberant take on the phrase “Why should boys have all the fun?” with some great lines that hinge on Lizzo’s self-confidence (“No, I’m not a snack at all / Look, baby, I’m the whole damn meal”). As a mark of her rising star, Lizzo performed this very song this week on Ellen. If that isn’t a testament to the song’s perfect dance sensibilities, we don’t know what is. Lizzo’s third album Cuz I Love You will be out on April 19, 2019.

File next to: Janelle Monae; Genres: Funk, hip-hop

1. “CHARLIE” – MALFNKTION feat. Shayan Roy

Mumbai-based electro-hip-hop act MALFNKTION is one of the most reliable beatmakers in Indian hip-hop. Older tracks like “Rani” (from 2015’s Hindustani Rascal EP) showcased his ability to merge desi elements such as old-world filmi samples onto an ever-changing landscape of beats. Recently, though, he’s really stepped it up a notch – and Shayan Roy, who you may know as the youthful Bengali lad in many Buzzfeed India videos, deserves much of the credit for it.

On “CHARLIE”, Roy’s fluid, swaggering flow meshes perfectly with the maddening beats – complete with an electronic horn section – that MALFNKTION puts together. With his lyrical dexterity and pop culture references, Roy evokes Childish Gambino, and we hear bits of Iggy Azalea’s melodic braggadocio here too. Simply put, we can’t recommend this track enough.

Bonus: If you liked this one, be sure to check out this duo’s other collaboration, “Vincent Chase Slippin”.

File next to: Childish Gambino, Iggy Azalea; Genres: Hip-hop, electronic

Top Five Jazz Records From 2018 That We Want You To Listen To

28 Jan

5. Ambrose Akinmusire – Origami Harvest

Origami Harvest is an interesting, if inconsistent, album. There’s some really compelling jazz here. “the lingering velocity of the dead’s ambitions” is pleasingly jagged, which is where the album is at its best, but drags a few moments out for too long. The interplay between Kool AD and Ambrose Akinmusire in “blooming bloodfruit in a hoodie” is excellent, but the ad-libs drag the sound down. “miracle and streetfight” has an excellent conversation between the strings and the brass and the space in “Americana / the garden waits for you to match her wilderness” is very strong. The political tinge adds a little depth but needed more development if it were to add another dimension to the album.

Overall, this is an album that rewards a listen and one that stands out for the uniqueness of the pairing, but is nonetheless deficient in fairly significant ways.

4. Moses Boyd – Displaced Diaspora

This album is a fascinating view into London, not the London of Dickens and smog, but that of the many people that have through one means or another found their way there. It’s an album that does more than just talk about London’s history as a global city. Naturally then, it fuses a lot into the base sounds with Afro-bass in a few songs, including the energetic “Frontline” and rap in “Waiting on the Night Bus”, which has a nice traditional jazz feel, but is sadly weighed down a little by that same “City Nocturne” however stays traditional but is elevated by the fantastic vocal work of Zara McFarlane.

It’s an album with undeniable grooves. Moses Boyd’s drumming and production are rightly acclaimed and this album showcases that well. Unfortunately though, the album does still pall on repeated listens. There’s plenty of cleverness in it and the diaspora adds some welcome challenge, but as a whole, it feels a little lacking. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating and under-explored angle into a city often evoked and a strong musical piece to boot.

3. Esperanza Spalding – 12 Little Spells

This is a highly challenging album rife with atonalities, genre bending and odd meters, but somehow charming despite that and undeniably clever. It’s a gorgeous puzzle box of an album that pushes at you again and again. There’s more than enough here to reward you for the considerable effort that the album asks for and the album makes that effort fun to spend. You should definitely give it a listen and then give it a bunch more so as to fully appreciate what it does.

2. Joey Alexander – Eclipse

It’s hard not to be excited about Joey Alexander. His debut was fantastic and he goes from strength to strength. It’s not just that he is a prodigy, it’s that his skill is prodigious. He has a great flair for the unexpected, which shows up well in “Space” and an ear for the gentle and beautiful as in “Time Remembered” and “Bali.” Additionally, his guest Joshua Redman does fantastic work in his solos in “Fourteen” and “The Very Thought of You” which are then matched wonderfully Joey Alexander’s piano work. It’s even very approachable and his version of “Blackbird” is worth checking out no matter your comfort level with Jazz. My only complaint is that the album as a whole could have used a little more challenge, but the album is so charming and cheerful and refreshing to listen to that the complaint seems almost misdirected. Eclipse is just something that you are glad to have listened to.

1. Ezra Collective – Juan Pablo: The Philosopher

This is an excellent album and another that’s just a pleasure to listen to. It’s underpinned by good, traditional jazz but layers on fascinating world influences from Africa to South America and the Caribbean. “Juan Pablo” in particular benefits from this openness and then again in the drums of “The Philosopher.” These are upbeat songs that energize while still fully engaging the mind. The highlight though is the final song, an unorthodox and wonderful take on “Space Is The Place”, the famous Sun Ra piece. There’s even space in this album for the more drawn out sounds of “People In Trouble.” This is a very, very strong sophomore effort and an album that I cannot recommend highly enough, both for people deep into jazz and for people looking to try some out. You should definitely listen to it.

The Top Five Albums of 2018 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

There’s been a lot of great music in this year, from sources both expected and previously unknown. It took quite some effort to bring the list down to just five, but these are the five that we think you should definitely listen to when ringing out the new year.

5. Chris – Christine and the Queens

Musically, Chris is a throwback. This album sounds like nothing as much as an escapee from the pop / R&B charts of the 80s and a very good one at that. It’s upbeat music with lots of interesting little quirks. It is not just effortless, but actively fun, to flow with this album and it’s embedded with myriad little flourishes that delight.

What truly elevates it though is the modernity it brings. While the structure is that of Michael and Madonna, the album is clearly something of 2018, both musically and, more strongly, lyrically. Héloïse Létissier’s alter-ego Chris explores the edges of modern femininity with intelligence and complexity. The character is strong and sensual but vulnerable and human. She’s a full person and she makes this one of the most vivid albums of the year.

4. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Kanye has had an interesting year to say the least, but we’re not here to talk about that. We’re just going to talk about the best of the series of seven-song mini-albums. Kids See Ghosts finally brings Kid Cudi out of the rut that his last few albums found him in and gives Kanye the grounding and focus that he’s lacked for a few years now. The two of them have a history of bringing out the best of each other and this album is the culmination of that relationship.

The rock-flavored rap of Cudi has exploded of late, but most of the current practitioners are somehow substantially more emo than Cudi ever was. It’s refreshing to see a return to his more straightforward, guitar-focused strain with this album. His deep voice and the thrum of his humming have always been his greatest strength and Kanye’s flat-edged rapping cuts right through it beautifully.

This album is a spiritual experience and clearly built to be so. “Reborn” evokes the kind of devotional feeling most religious ceremonies can only grasp at. The strength, the upliftment and the humanity of the song and the album as a whole transcends the human and reaches the divine.

Read our full review here.

3. Room 25 – Noname

Room 25  is easily the most unique album of this list and of this year. I’ve never heard anything like Noname’s blend of laid-back rap, jazz and soul before and I doubt that I will again until her next album.

Her technical skill is astounding. She takes rapid, layered lines and delivers them with a staggering nonchalance. She’s even able to mix a little laughter into the lines that she goes through at a blazing pace.

It’s not a loud album. It doesn’t need to beat you over the head with its merits. It just does what it wants to do and it does it extremely well.

Read our full review here.

2. MUDBOY – Sheck Wes

MUDBOY is basically the opposite of Room 25 in every aspect but quality and innovation. Where Room 25 is gentle and intricate and relaxing though, MUDBOY is pounding and blunt and arousing.

This is a rough and uncompromising album. It bludgeons you with ideas and innovations relentlessly. It’s also just really good rap. “Mo Bamba” is not just a viral hit, it’s the most exciting song in rap this year. He doesn’t need any kind of ornateness in this album, it’s just straightforward and strong.

I don’t actually expect to see this start a new trend in rap just because of how unique Sheck Wes’ sound is. Imitating him is not a task for the weak. Instead, we’re going to have to leave it to the man himself to show us what’s next for the most interesting music of the year.

Read our full review here.

1. Both Directions At Once – John Coltrane

Both Directions At Once was the album that I was most excited about this year and it delivered fully on that hope. Recently discovered in a copy given to his first wife, this album found Trane in the middle of that fertile period around My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. It never got the full release that his classics of the time obtained and so is quite naturally rough, but the brilliance here is undeniable.

His early takes on “Impressions” are fascinating not just for what they would become, but for the music that they were in the moment. It’s clear that this is a transitional period for Trane. He still has some of the pop sound of My Favorite Things here in “Nature Boy” and “Villa”, which may not be as challenging as the rest, but are still excellent.

The Untitled Originals are all intriguing. His variations on 11386 are all thought-provoking in different ways, Take 2 is exploratory and Take 5 is playful. They are elegant and unexpected and so beautiful.

There’s a clear difference between Both Directions At Once and the masterpieces that Trane actually released in those fertile years of the late 50s and early 60s, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an album of tremendous intelligence and my easy pick for album of the year.

Read our full review here.

@murthynikhil

The Top Five Songs of 2018: Neeharika’s List

30 Dec

You might have heard a few of our top five songs on the radio; a couple are famous for their blockbuster music videos. All of them, though, have made our year that much better, and we’re excited to share them with you. Read on for our top picks!

5. “Nice for What” by Drake

The women in this Dreezy hit from 2018’s Scorpion work hard and party harder. They don’t get bogged down by bad partners; they put in their best from 8 to 5 and don’t feel guilty to hit the club later at night. With hypnotic beats, a sunny outlook and endearing lyrics, “Nice for What” is a feel-good female empowerment song from a totally unexpected source – a male rapper.

A special shout-out is warranted for the song’s excellent music video featuring some real women role models. Issa Rae, the black writer-actor behind HBO’s Insecure, leads suited-and-booted men in a neon-green jumpsuit. Zoe Saldana, who plays a superhuman fighter in the Marvel Universe, is a doting mom to her young children. Letitia Wright, the scientist-princess from Black Panther, dusts the dirt off her bright red jacket. Like the song itself, the music video captures the true happiness and optimism that comes from being an independent, hard-working woman. And we are here for it.

4. “QYURRYUS” by The Voidz

Tyranny, the debut album from The Voidz, was a genre-defying exploration of eclecticism, peaking with an eleven-minute amorphous beast called “Human Sadness”. On this year’s follow-up Virtue (full review here), The Voidz have sharply toned down the weirdness for a much more accessible album. “QYURRYUS” (pronounced “curious”), though, does not fit into that formula – or any formula, really.

There are no precise words to describe what this song is because there are no others like it. Familiar-sounding synth beats dissipate in the first five seconds into an imagining of what Rammstein, for example, might sound like if they were a belly-dancing nomadic tribe. Julian Casablancas’ strange, indecipherable vocals could be viewed as a musical instrument on their own. The chorus sounds like a robot attempting to create a Bollywood song. Somehow, miraculously, it’s a catchy song, too.

File this one under its own damn category because there isn’t going to be anything like this anyway.

3. “Set to Attack” by Albert Hammond Jr.

In our opinion, the best songs are the ones that can change your mood just by listening to them. “Set to Attack”, the highlight of Albert Hammond Jr.’s fantastic Francis Trouble (full review here), is just that kind of song.

With an achingly nostalgic mix of early Beatles and early Strokes, “Set to Attack” is a sweet, simple ditty about the trials of young love. “I was still hoping that you were the victory / To what had felt like love,” croons Hammond, taking us back to a time when you could know and feel all the words on a love song.

“Set to Attack” is a little happy, a little sad, but ultimately impossible to not love. An instant classic.

2. “SICKO MODE” by Travis Scott feat. Drake

Travis Scott’s new album, Astroworld, is a tribute to a now-closed, much-beloved amusement park in his hometown of Houston. “SICKO MODE”, the stand-out track from that album, is an inspired, three-part roller coaster of a ride that shows why Scott is a cut above the rest.

“SICKO MODE” is so packed with surprises that it might give you whiplash. Drake lays the intro in a verse that seems to build up to a beat drop – except it doesn’t. Travis takes over with two verses of hypnotic flow that lull you until he swerves again, with sludgy beats that lead into a dizzying new section. A few seconds before the end, the tempo abruptly slows down to a halt, and you know you just have to get back in line hit replay.

1. “This is America” by Childish Gambino

It’s been seven months since “This is America” broke the freaking Internet, and we still can’t get over it. The song starts off innocently enough, with gospel-style vocalizations and a gentle guitar. With a gunshot, it breaks into an on-point summary of black America in 2018: racism, shaming and unwarranted police violence.

Of course, no review of this song is complete without talking about its music video. There is no doubt that Donald Glover is the renaissance artist of our generation. He wrote for 30 Rock; he’s an established actor; he produces and often directs his own award-winning show; and he is an independently popular musician. On the music video for “This is America”, he puts it all together in a maddeningly talented way.

There are so many layers to the music video that this short review cannot do it justice, but consider the following images. He grooves along to an upbeat gospel choir but suddenly shoots them dead with a machine gun. He joins uniformed black kids in traditional African dances while chaos reigns in the background. And the camera pans to folks filming the whole thing on their phones.

There are musicians, and then there are artists. And then there are geniuses. No points for guessing which one is Childish Gambino.

Top Five Lo-Fi Indie Albums of 2018 With Female Singers That We’re Listening To Right Now

26 Aug

This title may seem overly specific, but it’s a subgenre that I cannot get enough of and one that 2018 has been anomalously fruitful for. These albums are lo-fi not only in music but in topic, but it’s that lowering of stakes that’s what allows them to shine. I love this space for smaller stories

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett continues the long tradition of lo-fi indie rock set down by people like Pavement in the 90s. She’s more clever and more understated than her predecessors though. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit had a strong voice of its own and was a fantastic debut. Tell Me How You Really Feel is not quite up to the same standard. The understatement goes a little too far here and the album just feels muted.

She’s still an excellent musician and there are some real moments of cleverness, such as the put down to an anonymous troll in “Nameless, Faceless” or the happy roll of “Sunday Roast”. It’s a very solid album. It’s just also one that’s a little too quiet about what it has to say.

Clairo – diary 001

Bands get younger every year. It takes someone like Clairo to really bring that home to you though and to bring home just how talented these young stars are. Her hit song “Pretty Girl” is well worth the attention, but there’s a lot in here worth your attention.

She has a wonderful voice that blends mellowness and disaffection to the point that they’re indistinguishable. It’s manages to be deeply compelling though, standoffish or no, and gives you the space you need to submerge yourself in it.

Her music is young and whip-smart and earnest all at once. There’s a lot of craft underlying the album’s pose and every song was clearly assembled with care. For all of the softness and all of the understatement, there’s still quite a bit of muted fun in the effects around “B.O.M.D.” and “4EVER” is highly danceable pop.

Even with the short runtime of 14 minutes, there is a bit here that could have been removed safely, but there’s also as much actually worth listening to as most full releases.

Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse

Speedy Ortiz have always been the cleverest kids around. Sadie Dupuis is sharp and incisive enough to make a scalpel look like a foam bat and combines that with an unbelievable skill with poetry. With Twerp Verse, Speedy Ortiz has moved further into their own voice than even before. More opaque, more stripped-down and more rewarding than before, this album continues the evolution of this band into something that is more confidently their own.

Firstly, “Villain” is an exceptional song. The plainness of the lyrics highlights just how disturbing they are and the off-kilter timings of the song are disorienting and beautiful. “Lucky 88” is catchy and surprisingly Silversun Pickups-like for a band that once toured with Stephen Malkmus. “You Hate The Title” is really playful music as well.

As always, Speedy Ortiz are the smartest indie rockers around. They’re just much too good for you not to listen to.

Snail Mail – Lush

This is the most lo-fi of the albums here. It has deeply textured, hazy sounds that are very reminiscent of the recent fantastic Vagabon album. Her voice is wonderfully teenage though and so deeply sincere. This is the kind of debut that forces people to pay attention. For all that it is clearly part of a long tradition of ‘90s indie rock, it’s stunningly modern and derives from a wide variety of influences. It’s the rare album to live up to the promises of the title.

You can really see this in pieces like “Speaking Terms”, where the drawn out segments epitomize the lo-fi that I adore. The composition of the song perfectly introduces and then frames her voice. “Pristine” moves faster and the lyrics are personal and honest and then challenging of itself and so of you.

Strong, honest, layered and skillful, this is a startling debut and a strong statement of arrival.

Mitski – Be The Cowboy

We’ve saved the best for last with this list. Mitski’s previous album Puberty 2 was one of the best albums of 2016 and Be The Cowboy is, if anything, better. It’s exceedingly clever and complex and uses that to keep you off-balance the entire way through.

While it lacks anything on the level of the breakout single “Your Best American Girl” and steps into a more remote realm, the quality of the songs here are stunningly consistent. Whether it’s the threads of “Old Friend” or “Me And My Husband” that braid through each other to make a deeply layered narrative or the cleverness of the rise and then abrupt walk back of “Two Slow Dancers” or the knife-edge and thump of “Washing Machine Heart”, every one of these songs is just really good music.

Mitski just goes from strength to strength. She’s sharp, incisive and very human and Be The Cowboy is everything you could want from a lo-fi indie album in 2018.

@murthynikhil

The Top Five Albums of 2017

1 Jan

2017 has been a good year for returning legends and young upstarts alike. On the former front, Jay-Z released his side of the story behind the infamous elevator fight in 2014, following albums by his wife and sister-in-law in 2016. Spoon released yet another great album, and indie darlings LCD Soundsystem came back from self-imposed retirement with a surprise album.

As for the upstarts: we got some amazing debut albums from buzzy artists like Moses Sumney and Sampha, but we were also graced with surprisingly strong follow-up records from Lorde and Vince Staples. And of course, there was Kendrick Lamar, who simultaneously fits both categories (and, really, all categories) with his third major-label full-length album.

Read on for our take on the top five albums of the year past.

5. The OOZ – King Krule

the ooz_king krule

According to King Krule (the stage name of 23-year-old Archy Marshall), the “ooz” mentioned in the album’s title is an homage to the various solids and liquids that ooze out of the human body – the primordial “creations” that we make and refine to fit into society. The vowel is lopped off at the end as a tip of the hat to the backwards-form of Marshall’s previous avatar, Zoo Kid.

If all of this seems strange and circuitous, then we’ve given you an apt welcome to the world of King Krule. The OOZ lies somewhere along the spectrum between jazz, punk and grunge, and Marshall’s brilliance lies in elevating this sonic kaleidoscope into a seamless new genre.

“Dum Surfer” opens like a menacing surf-rock song, crisp guitar bouying Marshall’s half-remembered boozy stories. About a third of the way through, the song segues into a skillful jazz guitar solo, complete with backing brass, but the beat never changes – it’s the same song. “Czech One” is a heart-breaking jazz-R&B song, complete with melancholic saxophone. Two songs later, “Vidual” is the hypothetical output of the Libertines penning a ska song.

Aside from his obvious musical aptitude, King Krule also happens to be a pretty good writer. Specifically, his allure lies in his ability to shuttle between precise anecdotes and profound reflection without losing the overall plot. For example, on album opener “Biscuit Town”, Marshall transitions from plaintive young-adult angst (“I seem to sink lower, gazing in the rays of the solar / In fact, we made a pact, but now I think it’s over”) to name-dropping Coca-Cola and Chelsea player Zola in the same verse. Somehow, this mishmash of story structures deepens your investment in Marshall’s emotions – with the effect that you are left feeling sorrier for him than deserved for what is essentially a yearning post-break-up tune.

The OOZ is a unique, woozy picture of Archy Marshall’s wide-eyed sadness. If there is a flaw, it’s that 19 tracks is a bit too long, but that’s just our opinion. File this one next to Mac DeMarco, early Nirvana, jazz classics, or pretty much anywhere else on your shelf – it’ll work.

Best tracks: “Dum Surfer”, “Biscuit Town”, “The Locomotive”

4. Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Vince-Staples-Big-Fish-Theory-Album-cover-art

In direct contrast to current radio-reigning rap stars, Vince Staples is not boujee at all. He does have a lot of new money, but he certainly isn’t wasting it on stupid shit. In fact (just like a great man once warned), more money brought Vince more problems, in the way of an inability to be happy despite achieving everything he’s ever wanted. Vince battles the ennui by making more music, which in turn brings more money and – you guessed it – more problems. It’s a vicious cycle, but happily for us, it results in great music from Vince Staples.

Don’t get us wrong – Big Fish Theory is no sob-fest. Vince Staples’ lyrics may speak of an inner tedium (“Human issues too strong for tissues”) but damn, can he lay a strong boast over a sick beat when he needs to. On “Big Fish”, Vince describes his bad-ass self-control over a club-ready trap beat – not only is he good at getting rich, but he is damn good at staying rich. On “Yeah Right”, Vince sneers at the priorities of today’s rap stars – money, women and then musical fame – all over a sludgy, sexy beat that could replace any one of these stars on the charts.

Full review here.

(If you’re wondering where you’ve heard his music before, it’s probably “BagBak” on the soundtrack for the Black Panther trailers.)

Best tracks: “Big Fish”, “Yeah Right”, “BagBak”

3. Hot Thoughts – Spoon

Hot thoughts

There’s a certain consistency to Spoon. The beats are always crisp; the guitars alternate expertly between nervy energy and rock-star confidence; the lyrics are slightly peculiar, matched by Britt Daniels’ idiosyncrasies. That may sound like formulaic, but Spoon is anything but. The essence of the band remains constant – the Austin-y quirkiness especially – but Spoon is actually very adept at updating the rest of their sound with each subsequent album.

Hot Thoughts, the band’s ninth (!) album since their formation in the mid-90s, is no exception. Keeping with the times, the album gets an almost hip-hop treatment, most audible on the sly overconfidence of “Can I Sit Next to You”. Hot Thoughts also benefits from the guiding hand of Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann, resulting in the sonic dreamscapes on “Pink Up” and the free-jazz masterpiece of album closer “Us”.

The best tracks, though, are still the Spooniest ones. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” is all big drums and Daniels confidence, and “Shotgun” could soundtrack a bar fight in your early 20s. It’s the kind of music that makes the Strokes seem frumpy.

Full review here.

Best tracks: “Do I Have to Talk You Into It”, “Can I Sit Next to You”, “Shotgun”

2. Melodrama – Lorde

Melodrama

Lorde started working on her debut album, Pure Heroine, when she was a 13-year-old in small-town New Zealand. The album, which released a few months before her 17th birthday, was set in suburbia, with a close set of friends and nothing really to do, and it was so good because the songs reflected those circumstances so well.

Melodrama is very different, because Lorde herself is very different. In between the two albums, Lorde became extremely famous, originally through her break-out track “Royals” but later supported by a slew of well-received singles. She moved from New Zealand; she made new friends. Fortunately, Lorde’s skill at transcribing the moods and phases of her life into song have grown with her. Melodrama is the result of spending an already melodramatic period of life – late teens – under the auspice of immense fame.

Every song on the album is a standalone story; a slice of Lorde’s life, shuttling between New York and New Zealand and everywhere else in the middle. On the whole, Melodrama is a break-up album – in a very real sense, from her New Zealand boyfriend James Lowe, and in a deeper sense, from the starry-eyed naivety of her late-teens.

Melodrama is a near-perfect, infinitely enjoyable pop album, and you’re losing out on a real musical treat if you haven’t given it a full listen.

Full review here.

Best songs: “Homemade Dynamite”, “Sober”, “Perfect Places”

1. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick-Lamar-DAMN-album-cover-featured-827x620

As we speculated in May, it has basically become an assumption that a new Kendrick Lamar album will be the best album of the year. For the remaining seven months, we looked far and wide – from post-rock to punk-jazz, from hip-hop to pure pop – but nothing comes close.

Like its predecessors, DAMN. is a masterpiece because Kendrick Lamar is bigger than life. He is a born-again Christian, and genuinely believes that he has been put on this Earth with a greater purpose. His literally godlike self-confidence lets him do things that others simply cannot do. On “DNA.”, he explores black heritage from a blinding barrage of angles (“I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA / I got hustle though, ambition flow inside my DNA”). Like many rap songs, “HUMBLE.” is boastful (“I blow cool from AC / Obama just paged me”); but by masterfully balancing the brags with too-real pictures of the very recent past, Kendrick keeps himself humble. “FEEL.” is a free-fall through Kendrick’s complex feelings on his newfound fame, delivered in a flow so fluid that the words almost become beats.

The hundreds of words in Kendrick’s verses are so full of wordplay, imagery and thematic elements that each song basically needs its own Cliffnotes. Kendrick Lamar is a masterful poet and storyteller who just happens to have the lucrative gift of making chart-topping hits. DAMN. is not even the best album of his career, but it’s still the best album of 2017.

Best songs: “HUMBLE.”, “ELEMENT.”, “DNA.”

 

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