If I would've had more time with this album, maybe it would've made it onto my Best of the Year list, but since I only found out about this album recently with my list set in stone, it's ending up here. But I can give this album tons of praise where it's due. The production on here is wild, the guitars are fiery, and it's such a fantastic blend of psych-rock, glam rock, and soul music. The opening song Gospel for a New Century is such a fantastic opener and tone-setter for the album with these horns that sound like they came straight of hell, and I mean that in a good way. It almost reminds me of Demon Days era Gorillaz. The chorus on this song is insane. In one channel you have these crushing, distorted guitars and in the other, you have those same horns cutting through the mix. The production is honestly nuts. But as if that wasn’t crazy enough, right after this is the song Medicine Burn is like a portal to another psychedelic dimension. It’s honestly the sound of your soul leaving your body. I also have to talk about the songs Romanticist and Dream Palette because back to back, the songs provide the best transition I've heard all year. Romanticist has one of the catchiest choruses on the album with distorted guitars popping up between channels throughout the whole song. Then there's the sound of fireworks shooting off and we're in Dream Palette with some insane drumming in the first half before we reach the songs main groove with this growling bass and an incredible duet with Julia Cumming who's voice sounds so good on top of this production. I highly recommend this album to everyone reading this. The production is nuts and it's a full experience to listen to.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
YEAR END LISTS: Honorable Mentions for 2020
Before I unveil my list for Albums of the Year, I wanted to first take a moment to acknowledge a few albums that didn't make it onto the list but still needed to be talked about. I also have a handful of EPs that I didn't want to make a separate list for so I put them on this list as well. There are also a couple albums here that came out too late for me to do a formal review for and too late for me to fit them onto the list so those two albums are on here as well. This list isn't in any ranking, it's just going to be the 3 EPs that deserve recognition and 7 albums that deserve recognition. So here it is, my honorable mentions for 2020.
Khruangbin x Leon Bridges - Texas Sun
I will be forever grateful for this EP because it was my first taste of Khruangbin. This EP is only 4 songs but each one is unique and it doesn't feel quite that short, and I mean that in a good way. This collision of two fantastic Texas artists goes over even better than I expected to. And I reason I really enjoy this EP is because it sounds like Texas. The title track makes me feel like I'm blazing down a highway that cuts between two farms. The song Conversion makes me feel like I'm at the top of Enchanted Rock watching the sunrise. And the song C-Side is the sound of pulling up to the beach, opening up the trunk, and running straight for the water. And while those vibes feel good, it's really how well Bridges fits on top of these Khruangbin instrumentals that make these 4 songs amazing. He's always had an amazing voice but I hope he decides to start hopping on more psych and vibe songs like this on future projects. This album is a great introduction to both artists so if you haven't listened to this yet, give it a shot.
Denzel Curry x Kenny Beats - UNLOCKED
You guys know how much I love Denzel Curry so any new music from him is always very welcome. When he did his episode of The Cave with Kenny Beats, I was hoping that him and Kenny would come together for something, anything. Whether it just be a one-off single or a full album, I needed something from the two to be released. In February 2020, we finally got that project. An 8 song EP full of MF DOOM and Wu-Tang influenced beats. The entire album was recorded in the 24 hours after that episode of The Cave and everything Denzel spits on this project was freestyled. And that looseness led to some hilarious and clever hooks and one-liners. Like on the song Take It Back where Denzel sings "I be sticking to the paper like a thumbtack" or on the song Pyro where he raps "Watch 'em come with the water hose / Make it rain on the b*tch, that's how you water hoes." It's really solid and Kenny's production is probably some of his best since FM! with Vince Staples. And even though it's pretty short, it's still one of the most solid rap projects of the year.
James Blake - Before EP
Over the past year, I became a huge fan of James Blake. He's always on top of great production and his voice is one of a kind. It's always super sweet and smooth, and he's always able to hit all of the soft spots in my body. He also dropped two great singles this year with You're Too Precious and Are You Even Real?, the latter of which hurt to cut from my Best Songs of 2020 list. But this EP is different, this is four solid dance-pop songs that go over pretty well in my opinion. It's not exactly huge drops and stuff that's gonna make you shake your body on a dance floor, it's a lot more lowkey than that. I'd say that it's in the same lane as the last Thom Yorke solo album, ANIMA. Just with the way a lot of these songs are trying to create an atmosphere and a vibe rather than just making a bass-heavy song that will have people raging at a festival. Take, for example, the title track. It's multi-phased, there are multiple buildups that all resolve beautifully, and the song manages to stay interesting enough along its nearly 5-minute runtime that it never gets stale or boring, it's always presenting a new idea. I'm glad that Blake continues to push himself artistically and if he decides to make more dance songs in the future, I will welcome it with open arms.
charli xcx - how i'm feeling now
Look, I'll be honest, I'm not super crazy over this album but you know what, it's the best quarantine album of the year. I'm not a huge fan of the bubblegum bass and hyper pop movement going on right now but, this album kind of makes me enjoy it. If you've never listened to an album of this style, it might be a little disorienting at first but once you get used to it, you'll enjoy it. But this album is strange in sense that while the instrumentals are noisy, glitchy, and strange, Charli's voice is like a light shining at the end of a tunnel. Her voice is super sweet and if you look past some of the instrumentals here, the quarantine theme of the album really reflects. Whether she's singing about the effects of her long-distance relationship on the song forever or missing the days when she could go out to a club or a party with her friends on c2.0. I also have to talk about the song claws because it is an absolute banger. Charli flows super well on top of this super distorted and noisy beat. I'm surprised at how much I like considering Dylan Brady of 100 gecs produced it but I can't deny how good it is. If you want to check out one song on here and you don't want to hear anything disorienting, the song party 4 u might be the most accessible song on here, even though I wish there was a big drop after the huge buildup, the best instead transitions into a bunch of harmonies. Yeah, while I'm not head over heels for this album, I don't hate it either and the quarantine themes here are reflected much better than any other attempt I've heard this year.
21 Savage and Metro Boomin - Savage Mode II
It's finally here. We finally got Savage Mode 2. And while there are some misses on this album, the hits are great. The song Mr. Right Now is probably the poppiest song on here and you know what, they have to be doing something right because I enjoyed a Drake verse for the first time in a long time. The 5th song on here (I'm not gonna say the title, I value my life) has a more R&B influence to it and 21's flow on the chorus is really good, his verse has a few odd lines but he flows so well that I don't care. I also love the string outro on here. The big compliment I can give this album is how well it ends as the last 5 songs are fantastic. I love the horns and piano chords that pop up in the chorus of Steppin On... There's some hilarious one-liners in the song too, I love the line where Savage says "Had them killers on your step like DoorDash." I love how the beat on the song Brand New Draco switches up halfway through, going from grimey bass and a synth lead to some sweet piano chords. The beat on RIP Luv is a little fuzzy, a little more lo-fi and slower than the rest of the beats on here but that's why I love it. I love the line where he says "My shoulder took a lot of tears, woulda swore it was a fountain on." And the closing song Said N Done has the best beat on this album, no debate and it matches the tone of the lyrics super well as Savage's verses are full of tales of being stabbed in the back and being done wrong. The only reason this doesn't make my AOTY list is that there were just too many other good rap albums this year.
IDLES - Ultra Mono
I know my review of this album was a little critical but I still did enjoy a bulk of it. I think I just went in expecting another Brutalism or Joy as an Act of Resistance but this album isn't that. This album is it's own endeavor. While the punk energy and screaming guitar riffs are still there, the biggest change here is Joe Talbot's lyrics. Rather than trying to hide his views behind metaphors or stories, he's backing you into a corner and telling you "This is what I believe in and I'm not gonna let out of this corner until you agree with me." And while it was off-putting at first, I've sort of warmed up to it. There are still moments where it doesn't quite work though. For example, Ne Touche Pas Moi, which is an anthem against cat-calling and harassment at clubs and their shows and it's enjoyable until there's this big chorus where Talbot and Jenny Beth are yelling, "CONSENT! CONSENT! CONSENT!" That hiccup aside, there is still a lot of great stuff here. The song Kill Them With Kidness is classic IDLES with politically charged lyrics paired with some great humor. I love the line in the second verse where he says "If you wanna beat the machine, keep your teeth clean." It's a huge stomper for sure. The singles on here were solid too. While Model Village might not be my favorite of the bunch, it's still a banger. I want the lines "I BEG YOUR PARDON / I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR ROSE GARDEN!" printed on a T-shirt. While I do think the IDLES well of ideas is starting to dry up, it's still a solid listen through, but I will be eternally skipping Ne Touche Pas Moi.
Yves Tumor - Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Oliver Tree - Ugly Is Beautiful
You know, to this day, I still don't know if Oliver Tree is a troll or not. Like I want to believe that he's a real artist and wants to have a legitimate career but he really makes me have my doubts. Whether it was him postponing the album for "5-10 years" or the one stunt where he was kidnapped and couldn't be released until he revealed the album release date, which couldn't happen unless that post hit a million comments. There was also the World's Largest Scooter stunt that ended with Oliver dying? What I'm trying to get at is, Oliver has been going overboard on developing the character that the music almost seems like an afterthought at times. But if this album is any indication, he takes his music pretty seriously. The album has a lot of 90s alternative influence to it as a lot of songs are led by distorted vocals and either acoustic or distorted electric guitar. And while a lot of the lyrics are sort of surface-level or not substantive, there are still some bangers on here. Oliver's flow on the song Bury Me Alive is great and the beat is energetic and would kill live if he kept touring. His voice and delivery honestly wouldn't be too out of place on a Deftones album, he sounds a lot like Chino Moreno. There's also 1993 which has this infectious dance beat and groove. I love that synth line that drives the song that goes from being a little pulse to distorted madness in the verses. Apparently, this is the only album we're getting from Oliver Tree so if this it, there's no better way to go out.
Megan Thee Stallion - Good News
Megan Thee Stallion has had a huuuge 2020. She started off the year big with her Suga EP generating a few TikTok hits, mainly the song Savage which ended up spawning a Beyoncé remix. I also can't not mention WAP because, I mean, it's hard to escape this song. And look, hate on that song all you want, but, I don't think it's horrible, in fact, it's Megan that makes me enjoy it because her verses are fantastic. She also dropped a handful of singles since then which made it onto this album, the best of them being the song Girls in the Hood. There's this guitar sample that almost reminds of the guitar in 99 Problems by Jay Z. The song is raunchy, funny, and Megan flows super well over the song. I also love how bold the song opens up with that line "F*ck being good I'm a bad b*tch." And with this album, Megan shows that she's still just getting started. Her flows are great, her lyrics are still hilarious and raunchy, and Megan just sounds like she’s having fun in the studio whenever she raps. She also wastes absolutely no time addressing her Tory Lanez situation on the opening song where she spends 3 minutes just clowning on him. Calling him a "puss in boots," and saying "You shot a 5'10" bitch with a .22 Talkin' 'bout bones and tendons like them bullets wasn't pellets." She ends the song yelling, "Shoulda let them lock your ass up." There's also the song Sugar Baby which has this super sticky synth lead and one of the funniest hooks on the album where Megan sings, "Invest in this p*ssy, boy, support Black business." I cannot wait to hear more Megan Thee Stallion music soon because she even makes me feel like a bad b*tch.
AC/DC - PWR UP
This last band needs no introduction from me. If you’ve never listened to AC/DC, you have to have been living under a rock for your whole life because there’s no way you’ve never heard an AC/DC song. And while I might not be crazy over the band, it’s extremely admirable that Angus Young still wants to write and record albums, even though the band seemed good as done after their Rock or Bust Tour. As usual, the band isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel or try and be groundbreaking in the genre, and while that may be to the album's detriment, it’s still a solid batch of rock songs. Songs like Realize and Shot in the Dark are classic AC/DC through and through. The former is probably going to be a great opening song when stadium rock shows are back. It’s uptempo, grand, and is meant to be played live. The latter is a little more mid-tempo, the guitars are a little heavier but still solid. There's also Demon Fire which is the closest thing this album has to a song like Whole Lotta Rosie or Let There Be Rock and maybe that's why I like it so much. It's fast, Brian's voice is killer, and the chorus is huge. As I said earlier, AC/DC isn't trying to reinvent the wheel or anything on this album, but if you don't enjoy their music, you probably also don't enjoy memes. Just give it a shot, the dudes are legends.