Tag Archives: kendrick lamar

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

24 Sep

 

On the face of it, Big Fish Theory sounds great. On his second full-length album, Long Beach-native Vince Staples layers his poised and confident flow over reworked techno-house beats, and interludes these gems with often bizarre but invariably interesting spoken-word segments and collaborations. There are enough references to oceans and marine life to make the album title seem reasonable, and you’re left with a tidy hip-hop album, with a bow on top.

But dig a little deeper, and Big Fish Theory shines blackly with grimness and desolation. After the break-out success of his debut Summertime ’06 (2015) and his follow-up EP Prima Donna (2016), Staples has gotten really famous really quickly. With a rough past in the mean streets of North Long Beach, this is exactly what Staples should want – enough money, fame and women to catapult him into a different life. But the new life didn’t quite cut it. Staples is left with aching loneliness, and is often met with money-grubbing groupies and fair-weather friends when he tries to reach out for help. So he works on his music, harder and more focused, to exorcise his demons, all the while knowing that the “goal” he’s set himself won’t bring him happiness in the end.

It is this ominous pendulum of emotions that drives the entire album.

“Alyssa’s Interlude” sets the tone for the darker side of things, with a snippet of Amy Winehouse talking about her self-destructive nature being a major source of material for her music. On “Party People”, Vince shows his own streak of self-destruction – his fame pushes him into the spotlight, where he can’t hide his suicidal thoughts (“Please don’t look at me in my face, everybody might see my pain”). The fruit of his success threatens to undo him and, as Vince is finding out the hard way, money doesn’t fix everything anyway (“Couple problems my cash can’t help, human issues too strong for tissues”).

But it’s not just self-sabotage pushing him to the edge. On “745”, Vince is sitting in a swanky car with a beautiful woman – what he’s wanted all his life – but the dream cracks from the inside. His lady friend heads straight to the oyster bar, without regard to poor Vince who’s still out parking the car. “This thing called love’s hard for me,” he confesses, “This thing called love is a God to me.” Pity that he seems so far from it.

But the grim moods don’t last forever. Vince seems to pull himself out of depression by vowing to stay away from demons, within and without. Album opener “Crabs in a Bucket” uses house beats over an Azalea Banks-like off-kilter flow, to draw a mental image of Vince struggling to make it out of the “bucket” of his old neighborhood. (The song also marks the first appearance of Kilo Kish, who often adds a velvety, ethereal gloss over Vince’s hard-to-swallow bullets of truth throughout the album.)

“Crabs” is followed by the club-ready beats of the first single, “Big Fish” – the part where the intro melds into Vince’s almost taunt-like drawl still gives us chills after half a hundred listens. It’s fair to say that Vince doesn’t fit the mold of the typical hip-hop star – he’s a teetotaler and has never done drugs. We also find out from “Big Fish” that he’s really into saving his cash, wielding his bank balance as a protective float from his past misfortunes. “I was up late night ballin’, counting up hundreds by the thousands,” he boasts repeatedly, and it’s not tough to believe him when he says he’s taken the smart route out of his Ramona Park childhood. “Homage” gives us the same message, relayed over neat Gorillaz-style megaphone vocals – no doubt a nod to his recent collaborator Damon Albarn.

Beyond the pendulum between his self-destructive introspection and his drive to succeed, Big Fish Theory displays another overarching theme: Vince’s cynicism with the hip-hop game. He has repeatedly stated on interviews that he considers rapping to be his job, not a side hobby (“Last time I checked, my job was to make songs. All the other stuff is extra,” he stated bluntly in a recent Vulture interview). Over sludgy beats and tinny drums on “Yeah Right”, Vince sardonically questions the order of importance for many of today’s hip-hop stars. “Is your house big?”, “Is your girl fine?”, and almost as an after-thought, “If your song played, would they know that?” And of course, we would be remiss to not mention that the song also features a stand-out verse dropped by rap’s current king, Kendrick Lamar.

All in all, Big Fish Theory works on two levels. It is a great album to hear from start to finish even if you aren’t paying attention to the words; if you are paying attention, that’s a whole different level.

Best tracks: “Big Fish”, “Yeah Right”, “745”

Advertisements

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN

26 May

At this point, it almost feels like a foregone conclusion that a new Kendrick album will be Album of the Year. The only real question is whether it is another classic. Personally, I don’t think DAMN is quite that strong. Kendrick Lamar has set an impossibly high bar for himself, and I think this is the album that finally fails to hurdle it. I’d be shocked if it there’s another album this year to touch it though.

There are so many strong parts to this album. I love the flow and the submerged beat of “FEEL.” “LOYALTY.” features an excellent Rihanna. The more rap that we get from her, the happier I will be. “FEAR.” is genuine in a way most confessionals aren’t. It’s eye-opening to hear Kendrick’s mother on the verse and to hear him speak about still being worried about money. His storytelling is still the best in the game. Also, these videos are the best of his career. TDE is doing really amazing work right now.

However, there are just more weak points to this album than to its predecessors. “YAH” is honestly weak, despite giving us the excellent nickname of Kung Fu Kenny and while the harmonizing of “LOVE” is interesting, it’s just not that good a song. Every Kendrick album has weak points, but this is the first one that seems to lack a purpose and so these faults feel exaggerrated. GKMC was his breakout and TPAB was breathlessly innovative but DAMN just doesn’t seem to have as strong a raison d’etre and so can’t help but feel a lesser album.

This is still a great album. This will almost certainly be Album of the Year. This is something you should listen to right now. Even if you’ve already had it on repeat all year, you should listen to it again. This is not quite a masterpiece, but is still close enough to deserve reverence. It’s a bold and innovating album that showcases a top-tier rapper at the top of his game. I highly recommend it.

@murthynikhil

The Top Five Albums of 2015: Nikhil’s List

1 Jan

2015 has been a good year. A lot of very good music has made it on to this list and lot more didn’t make it. One particular album killed everything else, as was expected, but we’ve had a lot of pleasant surprises as well. For instance:

5. Carrie and Lowell

Sufjan_Stevens_-_Carrie_&_Lowell

Given that this album is named after Sufjan Stevens’ mother and stepfather, it is no surprise that it is a deeply personal record. However, it handles its confessions with a deftness and tenderness that most could not manage. It frames its tales of depression, self-abuse, dissatisfaction and, for a brief moment in “Should Have Known Better”, happiness in gossamer threads of music to give the album a gentle, exploratory feel. This album slips ever so softly through the skin and straight to the heart. Carrie & Lowell distills a personal loss and acceptance and makes it a part of you.

4. Surf

Surf_(Donnie_Trumpet_cover)

Hip-hop can actually be this fun. Chance the Rapper is nothing short of jubilant throughout. Chanting “I Don’t Wanna Be Cool” is freeing in the way that Kanye’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is, but so much bouncier. The jazz solos are not the most engrossing and the album lacks a little punch, but all is forgiven when things are this upbeat. Surf puts a smile on your face and keeps it there as long as the album is playing.

3. No Cities To Love

No_Cities_to_Love_cover

No Cities To Love is rock and roll. Anthemic, full of fight and always ready to go, this is music that burns away the mediocrity you didn’t realize you were tolerating. Primal but intelligent, raw but proficient, No Cities To Love is punk rock at its best.

2. The Epic

Kamasi Mike

This is 2015, we should not get a new Coltrane-era jazz album. That we did and that it is this good is unreal. At three hours, the album justifies the name handily. It draws from all across the jazz spectrum, picking up pieces of Miles, the fusion of Weather Report and even touches of Latin Jazz and gives each pieces its due before melding the whole into something entirely its own. This would be nothing without the passion and virtuosity of the band. Not a note falls out of place or lacks in energy. There have been enough jazz greats to make the term “classic” a high bar, but for an album of this caliber, nothing else will suffice.

1. To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick_Lamar_-_To_Pimp_a_Butterfly

It took me something like a week when To Pimp A Butterfly came out to actually figure out if I liked it or not. As it turns out, I really did. good kid, m.A.A.d city was much more straightforward, you can see the brilliance in it immediately. To Pimp A Butterfly has singles, “King Kunta” will make you move, with or without your consent, and both “i” and “The Blacker The Berry” are the work of a craftsman at his peak, but “For Free” is almost spoken word poetry. I’ll accept that from Gil-Scott Heron, but it mystified me from Kendrick Lamar. Similarly, the funkiness of the album came out of nowhere and the lyrical content has no precedent.

Listening to it now, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a moment where I didn’t like it. It’s a struggle now to find what I once found questionable. The album justfits together so well. Ideas, both musical and lyrical, are layered deeply into this album and yet it flows seamlessly between them. The album manages to encompass contradictions like the self-castigating ‘u’ and the upbeat ‘i’ without blinking an eye. Similarly, the album holds the full musical spread of the near-funk of “Hood Politics” to the hip-hop clinic of “King Kunta”. At this point, there really is nothing that Kendrick Lamar cannot do.

I thought three years ago that good kid, m.A.A.d city was Kendrick at the top of the game and I thought the same when he dropped “Control”. I’m not going to make that claim after To Pimp A Butterfly, it’s clear that Kendrick is going to take us further still and I can’t wait to see where he goes. This is the greatest rapper of his generation and he has just gotten started.

@murthynikhil

Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly

13 Apr

Kendrick_Lamar_-_To_Pimp_a_Butterfly

I really like To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s hard not to like Kendrick Lamar right now, good kid, m.A.A.d city was a classic and his work since then has been exceptional. While not quite the masterpiece that his previous album was, To Pimp a Butterfly can at least raise the question when it comes to sheer quality and most certainly surpasses its predecessor in innovation.

That’s part of what made the album so hard to evaluate. There is no doubt that this is a challenging album. It bends genre incessantly, “These Walls” could have come off a Prince album and “For Free” is more slam poetry than hip-hop. A jazz band backs the entire production. Yet, despite those things, this is a hip-hop album through and through. Songs like “King Kunta” or “The Blacker the Berry” are fire for even the most die-hard rap purist.

It challenges the listener with content as well though. The entire album has a running storyline of temptations from Lucifer and tests from God with Kendrick as a messiah. “u” tears deep into Kendrick showing him holding himself responsible for his failings and tears into the listener as a result. “Mortal Man” questions the listener’s dedication to him, but comes off as self-doubting instead of accusatory. For all of the lows though, there’s the positivity of songs like “i” and “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” both of which break up the intensity of the album very nicely while also just being very good music.

To Pimp a Butterfly is very simply what you should be listening to right now and what you will be listening to for a long time.

@murthynikhil

Kendrick Lamar: Section.80

2 Jun

Section.80 is the work of a very talented kid. This is Kendrick Lamar’s album before good kid, m.A.A.d city and before “Control.” This is back when he was just a guy with talent and not one of the biggest names in the rap industry. The inexperience shows, there some degree of searching for who exactly he is, but there is also enough identity to make a very good, very individual album.

There are some stellar cuts on this album. “A.D.H.D.” is an excellent tale of life in the poorer parts of L.A. “No Make-Up” is a positive track in the vein of Goodie Mob. “HiiiPower” is K.Dot’s take on “So Appalled” and “Keisha’s Song” is “Brenda’s Got A Baby” and both are exceptional themselves. However, the album has its share of weak points and lacks the consistency of a more experienced rapper. His flow is a pleasure to listen to, but his lyrics have moments of weakness amongst all the cleverness.

In summary, Section.80 is a little bit rough but well worth a listen, even three years and a sequel into its history.

@murthynikhil

The Top Five Songs of 2013: Nikhil’s List

26 Dec

2013 was a great year to be into music. It’s hard to think of the last time that things have been quite this interesting. There have been stellar debut albums and big name comebacks (including a return to Blue Note bandleader after no less than 43 years). There has been major rap release after major rap release after major rap release after major rap release (with a very refreshing minor rap release thrown in for good measure). We even managed to see the return of science fiction. It’s been a great year with great music and here is my take on its top tracks

Honorable Mention: “Valentine’s Day” by David Bowie

Adding an honorable mention to lists like this is cheating, but I couldn’t write this without touching on this song. “Valentine’s Day” was both heartfelt and topical. With barely anything at all, Bowie manages to paint a complex picture of the eponymous Valentine. His description of the planned school shooting is extremely personal and that lets you fill in what pushed Valentine this far. The song itself shifts from tender as he goes over his treasured plans and power trips to frenetic as he is about to take action. Frightening and remarkable, this song is David Bowie as good as he’s ever been.

You can read our full review of his album here

5. “5 AM in Toronto” by Drake

It’s easier to laugh at Drake than to like him. Nothing Was The Same did nothing but reinforce how soft he is. I mean, have you seen “Hold On, We’re Going Home“? It wasn’t actually a bad album though and that speaks volumes about his talent. “5 AM in Toronto” though is Drake going hard and is excellent. Look at this

The part I love most is they need me more than they hate me
So they never take shots, I got everybody on safety
I could load every gun with bullets that fire backwards
You probably wouldn’t lose a single rapper
Niggas make threats, can’t hear ’em over the laughter
Yeah, that’s cause I’m headed to the bank, nigga

Why he chose not to put this in Nothing Was The Same is beyond me, but album complaints aside, this is just really good rap. At the end of the day, this boy has talent.

You can read our review of his full album here.

4. “Lies” by CHVRCHES

So, CHVRCHES have finally arrived. Now that they’re here, I was disappointed by their album, but had a ton of fun at their concert. I like intelligent pop with female singers, and this covers that in spades. This song pulls off the same sound that made me fall in love The Knife and Lauren Mayberry’s voice is glorious. Besides, that chorus just can not be resisted.

This is dark, beautiful and glorious to listen to. Her story of self-confidence through control over her lover is splendid and made much more so by the motif of lies. This is perfect pop.

Again, album review here and concert review here.

3. “New Slaves” by Kanye West

When I first heard Yeezus, it was actually “Blood on the Leaves” that straight up convinced me that Kanye West was still on top of the game. It has been a while though and “New Slaves” is the song I most return to. The menace on that opening beat is palpable. You could cut a block out of it with a knife and use its inner fire to heat a home for a month. And that’s before Kanye opens his mouth.

This song is rage. This is pure in the way so few songs are. This is Kanye upset and rightfully so and calling out things that are wrong. You shouldn’t have to be a god to do this, but of all of the players this year, no one else has proven godhood as convincingly. Everything I’ve said until now though does nothing but diminish the song. Rage and menace is worthless if not as crafted as this song. It may have been forged in a crucible instead of handwoven on an ancestral loom, but this is masterwork nonetheless.

Album review, link. You’ve got this by now.

2. “She Will” by Savages

The Savages’ debut album was one of the most intense things that I heard this year. There are very few albums that affect me so deeply that I need to carefully monitor when and how much I listen to it. Silence Yourself acts on me the way Unknown Pleasures does, and that is a very high bar to reach. Songs like “She Will” can absolutely break me.

Jehnny Beth is scathing and confident in her takedown of gender roles. Although takedown is far too mild a word for this song. Evisceration is much more apt. Fay Milton’s drumming is primal and the guitar and bass work could be a song in themselves. These individual points are meaningless though because their sum is so much more. Everything fits in, everything works together and as a listener all you can do is what it says. This picks you up and hurls you where it wishes. That repeated refrain of the title at the song end is far to commanding to ignore.

This is the kind of song that you need to sit alone in perfect silence and breathe after. You can still hear it though. You’ll never really escape it.

1. “Control” by Big Sean (feat. Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica)

Let’s be clear about this. No matter what the title may say, this is K.Dot’s song. I haven’t seen a song been snatched quite so hard since a young Eminem killed Jay-Z in his prime on “Renegade“. The other verses are fine, but I’m not even going to go over them.

Kendrick Lamar has put it down with this song. Rap is going to change because of this and with it music and with that society. The world has moved and his verse is what did it. Let’s start with the easy part to talk about. He just claimed both coasts. With one hand, no less. He name-dropped everyone. Even people performing on this very song weren’t safe from him. Enough nice-guy rap, things are going to go hard again and Kendrick has brought the golden age back.

Now, let’s get to the song. Kendrick’s flow is still impossible. He rides this beat so hard it dies the moment he gets off it. Honestly, its heart probably stopped beating minutes before and K.Dot pushed it anyway. That moment when in the middle of calling out competition he takes a breath because the list is so long, that’s as much of a statement of confidence as wearing the crown. Don’t even talk to me about the replies. The mic was dropped with that verse and not even Thor has the ability to pick it back up. We’re done.

@murthynikhil

Top Class: The Best Music of the Year

29 Dec

Seasons’ greetings to our readers! As Year Twenty-Twelve winds down, there are a few inevitable questions that arise. Why did the Mayans provide such an anticlimax? Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? What were the best albums of the year?

Unfortunately, prophecies and politics are not our forte, but we proudly share with you our take on the year’s best in music.  From R&B superstars to British indie rock, Top Five Records covers the top five records (duh) from the year that was.

5. Jake Bugg, by Jake Bugg

Young 19 year old singer-songwriter from Clifton, Nottinghamshire

Young 19 year old singer-songwriter from Clifton, Nottinghamshire

Chiming in at number five is one of England’s finest singer-songwriters – and certainly the youngest. 1994-born Jake Bugg (né Jacob Edwin Kennedy of Nottinghamshire) impressively channels artists from at least thirty years before his birth in his eponymous debut album Jake Bugg. Yes, the overarching obvious influence is Bob Dylan, but there’s a healthy bit of Lonnie Donegan and Graham Nash in there too. The entire concoction is astounding for several reasons: he strums and finger-picks like he could be pals with Nick Cave; he writes and phrases like he could be a contemporary of 2005-06 era Alex Turner; and he looks like Britain’s answer to Justin Bieber.

Raucous skiffle/country stomp “Lightning Bolt” starts the album off on a rather good note, and sets the tone too. “Two Fingers” is a tribute to his life in Clifton: fat joints, too much alcohol, and an unnamed man in the house flinging curses at Jake’s mother, while “Seen It All” deals with pills, gangster crews, and the kind of parties where everyone carries a knife. Surely, it is enough to send a young man into spirals –Jake admits that he’s “run down some dark alleys” in his head. The lad’s appeal shines through in “Two Fingers”, though: his “Hey, it’s fine/I left it behind” closer adds that subtle touch of having ‘seen it all’ and being all the wiser because of it. “Ballad of Mr Jones” is a slow-burning epic about a powerless man who drunkenly takes things into his own hands; we guarantee that you spend the song thinking, How the hell is this guy just nineteen? The best song on the album, however, is still our old favorite. Jake Bugg’s album is an hourglass, with one bulb set in yesteryear’s bluesy tarnish and other set in today’s grisly reality – the best part is that you don’t even notice the sand flowing between the two.

Must check out: “Someone Told Me”, “Ballad of Mr Jones”, “Lightning Bolt”

4. Channel ORANGE, by Frank Ocean

Christopher Francis Ocean.

Christopher Francis Ocean.

Clocking in at our number four is R&B critical darling Frank Ocean. Last year, Mr. Ocean’s mixtape Nostalgia.ULTRA topped many a critic’s list. The current member of oddball rap troupe Odd Future was an erstwhile songwriter for artists as varied and well-known as Beyonce, Justin Bieber and John Legend. But with his debut mixtape, Frank has decided to step out of the background, and has since then come into his own as perhaps the best R&B artist recording today.

Channel ORANGE was cleverly released in the very week that normally girl-lusting Frank Ocean confessed (on Tumblr!) to being in unrequited love with a man for many years. The shock surrounding the news, coupled with a series of shrewdly-timed interviews, meant that Frank was the biggest thing in music at that point. Happily, the album lives up to the hype.

Frank Ocean's tell-all Tumblr post

Frank Ocean’s tell-all Tumblr post

“Forrest Gump” is about that same man, who ran Frank’s mind for a few years (Run, Forrest, Run. Get it?). On “Bad Religion”, he sings/confesses in earnest (“I could never make him love me/ Never make him love me”) to a taxi driver/shrink for the hour, and you’re left wondering if ‘he’ is the man in “Forrest Gump”, or God, who historically tends to frown upon homosexuality. Prostitute/Queen of Egypt mash-up “Cleopatra” is equally rich in religious motifs. (We wrote about it earlier this year.) But we felt that the best songs on the album arise when Frank pairs his emotional revelations with an R&B foil of sorts: such as Outkast’s Andre 3000 on “Pink Matter”, or our personal album pick “Super Rich Kids” featuring fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt.

What really strikes you about Frank Ocean is his ability to turn the hedonistic ideal on its head: that a life of drugs, alcohol and sex can rebound into a very acute sense of loneliness and defeat. Flip over to Channel ORANGE, asap.

Must listen: “Bad Religion”, “Super Rich Kids”, “Cleopatra”

3. Django Django, by Django Django

Art school kids from Edinburgh

Art school kids from Edinburgh

Imagine that you live in a space station in year 2250 with the rest of the humans, decades after the Earth has proved uninhabitable. Imagine that you then decide to zap yourself back to ancient Cairo, find yourself a bodacious desert caravan, zap yourself forward to the Californian desert of the 1850s right into a spaghetti Western, and finally go on a caravan journey to the Pacific Ocean where you decide to go surfing. If you can imagine all this, then you’re prepared to listen to Django Django, the eponymous debut album by four of the finest specimens of Edinburgh’s art-school scene.

Even if you can’t imagine what we describe above, start listening. Django Django have made it easy for you to picture with the aptly entitled album opener “Introduction”, where synths from the future meet rugged outlaw whistles of Old West, while “Hail Bop” transitions seamlessly from this seething drama into almost a Beta Band-like classic, echo-y pop rock. (Interesting trivia: Django Django’s David Maclean is in fact the little brother of the Beta Band’s keyboardist John Maclean!)

Django Django album cover

Django Django album cover

“Skies over Cairo” is a mind-blowing instrumental piece that could soundtrack a revamped version of the video game Prince of Persia if it were rewritten as a mystery-thriller, while “Zumm Zumm” heads south right into the sub-Sahara.

The album’s centerpieces, though, are the two singles that the band has released. “Default” jangles with unrelenting percussion, chant-chorus lyrics and synths straight from hyperspace, and is overall one of the catchiest songs you will hear in your life. MGMT only wishes they were this good. “Waveforms” is the other crowning glory in this overall glorious album. Starting off exactly like a Major Lazer song, the synth-drama slowly unfolds in a cerebral haze that is more organized that it seems on surface. The song ends with the entire band chanting a hypnotic mantra:“Touch it, break it, shake it yeah/ Take it apart and break it yeah/ Try to rearrange it yeah/ Couldn’t recreate it yeah”.

And that’s what the band essentially does. They take noises from various locations and time periods of world history, and rebuild it into a colorful kaleidoscopic juggernaut that is wholly organic and fully fantastic.

Must listen: “Default”, “Waveforms”, “Skies Over Cairo”

2. good kid, m.A.A.d. city, by Kendrick Lamar

good kid, m.A.A.d. city: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar

good kid, m.A.A.d. city: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar

Straight-out-of-Compton Kendrick Lamar’s debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, is a meditation on what makes a classic, near-perfect hip-hop album. The album cover features a young Kendrick in the background and a tall bottle of booze in the foreground; Kendrick sets the familiar atmosphere that has consumed many a rapper: that of the over-arching influences of a mad city’s harsh realities, especially for a young black man. The difference between Kendrick and all those other rappers is the other element pictured on the album cover – family – because of which Kendrick managed to stay a ‘good kid’ despite Compton’s gang culture.

But that doesn’t make a classic hip-hop album: not quite. Kendrick is also an excellent rapper, an adept storyteller, and an intelligent young man, and is able to convey his thoughts in a killer flow over some seriously slick beats. Kendrick has correctly subtitled the album ‘a short film by Kendrick Lamar’. It’s a flipbook of glimpses into Kendrick’s life – from teenage lust and gang temptations to the maturity of young adulthood – and it’s so well-articulated that you could actually be watching a movie.

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth

On “Sherane”, a teenaged Kendrick drives out to his girlfriend’s house, mad with lust: only to stop short at her driveway at the sight of two hooded gang members; a voice mail from his mother, asking him to come back home, ends the song. The story continues in a skit on “Poetic Justice”, where he eventually gets jumped by the two gangsters on account of being on their turf. This event catalyses his thought process on “good kid”, where he realizes that he’s stuck between the ‘red and blue’ of Compton’s gangs and the ‘red and blue’ [police lights] of the bigoted cops. “I’ve never been violent, unless I’m with the homies,” explains ‘good kid’ Kendrick on “The Art of Peer Pressure”, and these are the same influences that he tries to overthrow on “m.A.A.d city”.

The album’s story arc – and Kendrick’s process of transition – finds its end on “Real”, in a heartbreaking skit with Kendrick’s parents. “Any nigga can kill a man, that don’t make you a real nigga,” his father tells him, “Real is responsibility, real is taking care of your motherfucking family, real is God, nigga,” while his mother chimes in with, “I love you, Kendrick.”  Kendrick Lamar has created more than an album: he has actually written a poignant and all-too-real script of gang culture’s harrowing influence. We strongly urge you to listen to good kid, m.A.A.d. city. It’s a masterpiece.

Must listen: “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “good kid”, “Real”

1. Lonerism, by Tame Impala

Album cover

Lonerism.

Over the course of the year, we have already sung numerous praises for Perth’s retro-psychedelic sensation Tame Impala. Over the course of the year, we also realized another thing: nothing else we’ve heard in 2012 has been able to match up to their album. The conclusion? Tame Impala’s sophomore album Lonerism is, in our honest opinion, the best album of 2012.

Yes, it is true, Tame Impala sounds like they might’ve fit in well in the late 1960s. Yes, it is true, lead singer Kevin Parker sounds eerily like Jim Morrison and John Lennon. But either one of those facts wouldn’t make them brilliant, or even that notable: psychedelic rock revivalists are a dime a dozen. Lonerism is special because Tame Impala’s band members have swathed themselves in the spirit of that bygone era so meticulously that they know no other way of making music; so that when the digital-age sheathes of synths (or any other elements) are inevitably added in, they seem perfectly organic even against the retro backdrop.

The umbrella theme on Lonerism stems from Kevin Parker’s acute introversion and subsequent loneliness. This manifests itself in songs that are at different stages of his thought process: from the suppliant “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” to the resigned “Keep On Lying” to the wonderfully nihilist and expressly titled “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control”.

Perth boys

Perth boys

The whole album is a giant trip; and each of the songs is, individually, a mini-trip that swirls and floats around in your head, with enough small quirks and strokes of genius embedded in the album to leave you spell-bound. There’s that moment on “Mind Mischief” when the strobe vocals and atmospherics wind down by a fraction to surface a guitar riff. There’s that moment on “Sun’s Coming Up” where the mournful piano ballad unexpectedly switches into hopeful, reverb-heavy wah-wahs: like musical sublimation. There’s that moment on “Keep On Lying” when the guitars, drums and non-diegetic laughter suddenly sync up, and a new phase of the song begins. These magical moments can and will vary for each listener and listen, which means that Lonerism is that rare, ever-replenishing goldmine: a classic.

“Elephant”(music video!) is an unrelenting, mind-blowing animal of a track that overtakes your entire mind for a few minutes; Tame Impala hypnotize you into their world with cymbal crashes, drum rolls and that bassline, dear God. Fluffy white clouds float lazily by in an azure sky on “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” (music video!), and you’re too headily high to notice what Parker’s really saying (“But I got my hopes up again, oh no, not again/ Feels like we only go backwards darling.”). “She Just Won’t Believe Me” is a snatch of four-sentence brilliance, like a mistakenly-tuned radio station.

We tried, but we just couldn’t stop ourselves from describing nearly every song on this album.

Tame Impala’s Lonerism sounds like that one unforgettable stoned reverie (we’ve all had one) that you had in college when you were tripping on weed and listening to ‘60s psychedelia. If you like The Doors, post-Revolver Beatles, early Pink Floyd or getting high, you will love this album. Even if you don’t really like any of these things, you’ll still like Lonerism. We guarantee it.

Must listen: “Elephant”, “Keep On Lying”, “Mind Mischief”

Agree with our top five? Disagree? Let us know in the comment section below!

%d bloggers like this: