Friday, December 30, 2016

Top Albums 2016 Part II 40 – 31

40. Yohuna – Patientness

Having a washed-out aesthetic is something that works quite well with female vocals, and Yohuna hits the sweet spot right away. Patientness is shoe-gaze with a very singer-songwriter mindset. The washed out sound, the effect-laden guitar, and the reverb-soaked vocals never overpower you, never fall into purely ecstatic moments, but leave nuance and especially enough of the vocals intact. Not that you necessarily get everything that is being said, but on tracks like “Steel Skins”, when the vocals are layered and harmonize with each other, the words are comprehensible enough to give meaning to them, which is equally true for high pitched “Golden Foil” and the sunrise attitude the song carries. The whole album has enough ideas and variations, to digress from any pinpointing and the band´s performance is set on stressing the mood of the vocals rather than creating it on their own. The best moments even recall something like Cocteau Twins or Imogen Heap, making this as visceral as it is heartwarming. I can only remain excited how Yohuna will push their sound and if they might lean towards any of the sides more in their future. 

39. Roy Wood$ – Waking At Dawn

Step away from thinking about Wood$ as one of the many iterations of Drake featuring Drake. This young Toronto rapper made his way, until he was picked up be the man himself and provided us with his debut album after one of the best EP´s of my recent memory. Waking At Dawn develops Wood$ sound, singing and rapping, while expanding the palette by a few new elements. Biggest addition and logical choice as a single, “Gwan Big Up Urself”, might not have been as catchy as “Controlla”, but was by far the better dancehall tinted track, expressing great longing and vibe throughout the song. Wood$ is more melodic in his singing and rapping than some of his contemporaries and while the channeling of Michael Jackson might be a far reach now, the allure is a given. In a far more relatable, 2016 version that is. Be it on “Down Girl” or “Got Me”, these longing songs about a love interest show Wood$ vocal range and expressive voice at its best. I´d still prefer the rap centered songs a little more, but his singing is impeccable nonetheless, coming off as hungry and driven, never falling into the “cool” performance style of someone drugged out or trap infused. One thing that would have helped the project and that Wood$ seems to further right now, is collaborating with other artists. Great cuts like “Skrrt” with Kodak Black, “Only You” with 24Hrs and Ty Dolla $ign help Wood$ move away from his peer and would have served as a welcome addition to this debut.  

38. Camp Cope – Camp Cope

As the band´s name, the album title and the cover suggest, this album is about healing, working in a hospital and sickness in a very societal sense of the word. While not always exactly going into a narrative mode to deliver stories about patients or something in the manner, Camp Cope are able to channel insecurities and nagging self-doubt created by external forces into powerful indie rock songs. This becomes especially true for “Jet Fuel Can´t Melt Steel Beams”, a song that marries a weird conspiracy theory of 9/11 with being cat-called by police and construction workers alike, leading to “carrying key between knuckles”, when walking home at night. This song alone is a powerful statement of the ills Camp Cope address in a very unique manner, and whether it’s talking about Tinder and the strangeness of human relationships through the internet, the honest perspective of the lyrics express personal and universal issues of the generation. These songs will carry you away, put you through the same motion and maybe push your own perspective on love, love and relationship in a new un-thought of perspective. We might not all have guitars and the ability to howl in Georgia McDonald´s way, but might be able to use this music for coping with our daily lives. 

37. CARLA DAL FORNO – You Know What It's Like

The premonition of “Italian Cinema” is the perfect introduction to You Know What It´s Like: The ghostly synth, part sci-fi, part art-house, gives way to the atmosphere of wind and thunder, only for a moment until “Fast Moving Cars” begins with sparse drums and a static tone. Dal Forno´s haunting, half-spoken, half-sung delivery is a top of the instrumental but captures the vibe of the sounds, sways with them through detailed variations and slowly rising tension. Going into “DB Rip”, there is the feeling of a film reel running, sounds carrying with the proposed themes of cinema, and the twinkling instrumental emanates a filmic arc, gloomy and disruptive, without really telling you why. All this to reprise the drum centered vocal performance by Dal Forno on “What You Gonna Do Know?”. She actually asks this question, trapping you in a scene and her vocals that have moved from haunting to becoming scary and distanced. There is a folky vibe in these songs, but not in any way the kind of folk that wants to connect with you as a listener, functioning more like the inquisition and the all-knowing voice of a narrator. This pattern continues until the very end of You Know What It´s Like, weaving a dark electronic experience spiked with the stirring voice of Dal Forno. The whole experience is almost like a confusing theater performance, with altered tribal influences and the artists capturing the whole room in her soundscapes and spooky plot.

36. Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, the band´s previous album was the true beginning of experimentation, the allowance of different sounds and structures – however, this effort showed its seams and the strain a little too much. This year The Wilderness has the band reaching this completely new realm with their music, dividing themselves from all post-rock clichés and building on a powerful concept with equally powerful songwriting. With the first moments of “Wilderness” alone, the creeping sounds, the steadily rising pace, you´ll get to see a band that has learned much from their various soundtrack efforts and is able to build a storyline without uttering a single word. Exploration and nature were a part of Explosions In The Sky from the very first beginning, not just as a source of inspiration, but as their modes of expression. In The Wilderness, you´ll truly feel like being taken on a trip through aural material alone. The high-reaching peaks of “Logic Of A Dream” feel like encountering a beautiful mountaintop before the tribal drums kick in and push your understanding to an approaching catastrophe, your supplies running dry or the temperatures reaching below zero, just until you realize, you´re actually floating, are unhurt by your thoughts. Every track flows seamlessly and while I never dug the concept of “close your eyes, and listen”, this album begs for your imagination to run free. Plus, if you haven´t done it yet, see this band live. Every track they played, old or new, was a magnificent experience, full of energy and drive, equally sending shivers down your spine as leaving you in awe and utterly speechlessness of how music can speak to your core being. 

35. Khary – Intern Aquarium

Khary came through with a superb rap project this year, not playing on the current styles and sticking to his highly lyrical and still sometimes funny and quirky qualities. Intern Aquarium begins with Khary telling us he´ll never intern again and the whole project is filled with skits by comedian Jermaine Fowler, mimicking Khary´s obnoxious boss, complaining about forgotten receipts, thirsting for that female intern and generally portraying the evil sides of corporate life. These skits never become annoying, with the crackling voice of Fowler being funny through his sheer sound, and they tie into the overall struggle of Khary´s ambitious as a rapper. Regardless, if he´s on funny tracks like “Guitar Hero” or “2AM Thrist Ballad”, or collecting his thought while letting you in on his life on cuts like “60” or “A Year In Space”, he spits great lines, equally hilarious, as they are often introspective and relatable. His skill as a rapper is most apparent in tracks like “Ambidextrous” showing off his impeccable flow and mindful songwriting skills. The most intriguing thing these elements carry, are the overall perspective of being a twenty-something trying to make it in the world, being between a juvenile lifestyle full of energy and the world´s troubles – from family to the shit on the news – weighing down on your mind. Surely, everyone in the West and from the Generation Y has some form of privilege and we´re being reminded of “how easy life is for us”, but that doesn´t relieve one of the pressures of trying to make something lasting in a world that doesn´t seem like one more of the same. Khary is in this middle, of being highly skillful and not having broken through to stardom yet, and it is the middle of many of his contemporaries, even those who can´t rap a single line.

34. I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage

Mostly sticking to a vocal approach on their music, prominently featuring references to obscure historical figures or occurrences throughout history, I Like Trains newest album is a purely instrumental soundtrack to a documentary about their own lives as musicians. Struggling musicians that is. A band that has a following, but was dropped by their label without proper communication and had to stick to a very grassroots approach, to release the music they wanted. I´m proud that they stuck to it and most importantly, didn´t change their sound into pop-sensible rock music. This album alone wouldn´t have been possible for a label like the Beggars Group! I haven´t seen the doc A Divorce Before Marriage yet, but as with their usual mindset of “soundtracking an occurrence”, the album works without any visual input. It will take you from saddening reflection, a kind of broken outlook on life, to great triumph and finding a balanced outlook on life. The band always had this sensibility for writing their instrumental lines, never being about the big bang or that one riff, but creating sweeping arcs of sound and divine moments of introspection in facing reality. Maybe, with the visuals and the story told about themselves, this album is the coming to terms with the past, the disruptions of life and the pain caused, that formed you through pressure. I couldn´t be more content with this album and even more excited what the future will bring for them. And yet, I still hope enough pay as one component, to experience as much creative freedom as needed. 

33. Bloc Party – Hymns

“The Love Within” was a somewhat misleading introduction to one of the best albums by Bloc Party yet. Hymns is a much calmer album then their previous album Four, showing a band that might have had its differences when it came to songwriting approaches of finding a fitting sound. Here the band, with exceptions such as “The Love Within”, with its bouncy electronic edge or “The Good News”, as an excursion into country music, use their electronic to create subtle drones for their characteristic guitar playing. A kind of spirituality that Kele Okereke reflects with his songs, while never going fully religious. The best songs in this lane are the ones, that could be about a lover as much as they could be about God, and most songs deal with love and understanding in a way, that could equally be for a lover or some spiritual entity. Hymns might come off as very streamlined after the first songs, but the album bloomed with me over the past twelve months and revealed a band that shied away from making pop music and getting in touch with their previous indie – just me, you and our instruments – mindset. 

32. Somos – First Day Back

First Day Back barely scratches the half an hour mark. But this immediacy is what makes these songs so remarkable. The band doesn´t draw out any musical idea or riff, without giving off the expression of lacking musicianship or giving you sketches. Every song is a full blown exegesis of some sort, many songs dealing with an unease over the workings of society and somehow addressing the own feeling of not fitting in. When the band intonates choruses like “It should feel good, it does not / How does it feel to be a thorn in the side”, they create a sense of empathy with their listeners, from their own feelings, or by being capable observers of their environment. It might be a given, that this kind of indie rock and weltschmerz can leave the impression of being very young and not very sophisticated, but even now, after gaining perspective on many things through age alone, one will find an appeal in the keen outlook and clear sounds, delivering many quotable lyrics and recognizable moments over this short half-hour of contemplation.

31. James Blake – The Colour In Anything

This album seems to come from a crushing phase of solitude, at least in the personal experiences of Blake. Most tracks deal with breaking and broken relationships, the impossible quest to understand the other – “I don´t know how you feel” on “Radio Silence” – or getting over being neglect by the other, “Put That Away And Talk To Me”. The great expansion here is not only in Blake´s deeper story writing and shedding his tears lyrically but in his riskier production choices. He doesn´t rely on a few given sounds anymore and uses more bombast instrumentation, even though the elements remain pretty much the same. His heartbreak sounds more colorful and fleshed-out the bleaker the words and experiences become. The Colour In Anything feels like the product of solitude and deciding to put it all out, with Blake becoming more confident in his music and overall composition of his albums. The sheer length of the project can lead to exhaustion, mirroring the singer´s own emotional draining, but the tracks deliver enough highlights and musical maximalism, that peaks will appear again and again and wake you up from fearing the same disarray that you may be listening to. Especially the middle part with “Choose Me”, “I Need A Forest Fire” and “Noise Above Our Heads” have Blake revisiting his louder and more beat-driven sound of his previous LP, while still being able to employ the loudness and peaks in a very subtle way and never abandoning his vocal duties for just meeting you with a robotic dub beat or broken soul-tronica. Unexpected growth here and far better “soul” than any throwback, "let´s use what people used 30 years ago", albums of this year.