It’s been a pretty full year for music and now as it comes to an end, it’s time to separate the gods from the frauds. These are the five albums that struck deepest within me.
5. The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe is a hard person to describe. Adjectives flow easily; inventive, bold, imaginative, talented, but as she proudly states, she defies every label. The Electric Lady makes parts four and five of her seven part science fiction concept album series and lives up to the high standard of the previous entries. This albums sees her a little more free and a little more comfortable than in her previous work. While The ArchAndroid is still definitely the better album, the soul that fills the second half of The Electric Lady is still wonderful. Janelle Monáe has consistently been one of the most interesting people in music since Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) was released in 2007 and The Electric Lady does nothing but reinforce her already solid status. This is a fun, danceable album and I recommend it to everyone.
4. Without A Net by Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter’s return to Blue Note after 43 years is an astounding piece of modern jazz. This is fiery jazz, the kind that forces you to sit up and take notice of it. Not only is it of unparalleled technical proficiency, but the band members are almost psychic in how well they play off each other. They’ve been working with each other for over a decade now though, so I suppose that is only to be expected. Although this is beautiful jazz, it may be a little too obscure for people new to the genre. For anyone who has heard Wayne Shorter before though, not having this album would be a sin.
For those still on the fence, the full album review is here.
3. Days Are Gone by Haim
Each of my final three albums is an emotion and this one is happiness. This is a fun album to listen to and a fun band to watch. There’s none of the pretentiousness that characterizes so much of the indie scene. This is a very varied and consistently excellent album and doesn’t feel the need to shove the fact in your face at every turn (I’m looking at you, Arcade Fire). It’s hard to single out any songs in particular, “Honey & I” feels like Stevie Nicks at her best, “My Song 5” has an incredible bass riff, “Running If You Call My Name” is heartfelt, all of their songs are worth talking about. This is the band that loves making their music as much as I love hearing it.
2. Silence Yourself by Savages
If you’ve never heard the album, then it’s hard to explain why this album is so important. After all, indie musicians borrowing heavily from past music is nothing new and this is just Joy Division with a female singer. The thing is though that this album is very, very good. Painfully, brokenly good. Each of these last three albums is an emotion, and this is depression.
This album burns with a searing, undecorated intensity. Jehnny Beth screams and taunts throughout while the rest of the band perform their bludgeon-work upon your prone body. This is not a subtle album, an album with whom you can reason and share quiet moments by the fireside. This will shout at you, often just a single word, and you will listen because you know that the rest of the day is just going to be a pale echo of those submissive moments.
1. Yeezus by Kanye West
Yeezus (full review here) is Kanye at his biggest, his most brash, his funniest, his most aggressive. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is still probably his best album, but that did not make the sort of statement that Yeezus did. This album’s emotion is anger. Leaving aside the refusal to release singles until well after the album released, the music is intentionally difficult, the lyrics intentionally off-putting. Discomfort is the aim, but not without reward as well.
“I’m In It” for instance is some of the most menacing music I’ve heard this year, but has no problems juking you with unexpected comparisons and a mention of swag-hili. It is then followed by the exceptional “Blood On The Leaves”, which samples Nina Simone’s cover of “Strange Fruit” beautifully. “New Slaves” is rage coalesced (and fully reviewed here) as “I Am A God” is hubris. Every line in “Black Skinhead” is a call to action. Even “Bound 2” makes for an excellent closer.
You can see the work, the brilliance and the anger behind every line. You can, in fact, see Kanye West.