Bon Iver - 22, A Million: So I don’t know how everyone else “discovered” Bon Iver, but I started listening because one of my favorite free-jazz saxophonists, Michael Lewis (of Happy Apple) had played on his 2011 album Bon Iver. I soon found that Bon Iver was an album full of abstract arrangements and amazing musicians (yMusic’s Rob Moose ad C.J. Camerieri, Butcher Brown collaborator Reggie Pace) not to mention Justin Vernon’s songwriting. Bon Iver quickly became a favorite of mine. That said, after the remarkable transition from For Emma, Forever Ago to Bon Iver, I didn’t really expect 22, A Million to remotely resemble either.
From the first moments, it becomes clear that Vernon has chosen to make technological manipulation of sound a central component of this album, from re-pitching vocals and saxophones to glitchy distortion that I swear wasn’t caused by my dinosaur laptop. The influence of Vernon’s bromance with Kanye West as well collaborator Andrew Broder (aka Fog) is heavily apparent. Additionally, the saxophone presence of Michael Lewis and a 12-person sax section credited as the “Sad Sax Of Shit” lend a simultaneously earthy and ethereal feel to the record.
As is his custom, Vernon says what he has to say relatively quickly; the album only runs about 35 minutes. His lyrics are once again both vivid and cryptic, and while I won’t really attempt to decode any of them here, I would direct those interested to check out Bon Iver’s website, where you can find something Vernon’s friend Trever wrote about the inspiration and meaning of the album. Apparently, 22 is meant to represent Justin as himself; a million, Vernon’s audience; and all the numbers corresponding with the tracks in between, various items and places of significance in his life.
In the end, I feel like this record is simultaneously soulful and abstract. The electronic element might make it seem impersonal and cold at first, and while there are a couple moments where the electronic bits seem a little forced (“10 dEAThbREasT”), the imperfection and human aspect present in every part of this record helps to form a unique and touching work. From the minimalist tendencies of “715 – Creeks”, and “____45_____”, to the gorgeous layered sound of “8 (Circle)”, I find 22, A Million to be incredibly emotionally poignant, while reaching a level of sonic and artistic complexity that few artists of our time could master as Bon Iver has. JATIN
RIYL: Fog, Kanye, Fink, Saxophones
Recommended Tracks: 1, 5, 8, 9
Solange - A Seat at the Table: A Seat at the Table is an examination of black female identity, empowerment, and survival, in all their complexity. Solange breaks down the different sides of her own identity, and demonstrates the importance of intersectionality in understanding what it means to be a black woman in America today. The record is packed with soul, history, personal storytelling, and stunning R&B arrangements, making it vulnerable and deeply impactful. For those (myself included) doubtful that Solange could possibly break out of her big sister’s shadow, this record is what we’ve all been waiting for.
As Solange questions her own identity, and her place in modern America, she asks the listener to do the same. On “Weary”, she says, “I’m weary of the ways of the world. Be weary of the ways of the world.” She questions the ways that black women have been put into very specific racial and gendered boxes in our society, and asks for the listener to question these as well. On my favorite track from the project, “Mad,” Solange and Lil Wayne address the criticism they receive for the anger and bitterness they feel, ultimately expressing their “right to be mad.” This shit is funky you guys. If there’s one track I really recommend, it’s this one.
Overall, the record is clearly directed at the black community, as Solange addresses them directly on, “F.U.B.U,” repeating what feels like the album’s mantra: “this shit is for us.” Oftentimes, though, with art directed at one specific community, in this case, black women, people will argue that it’s for that community only. I disagree. In my opinion, non-black allies have a responsibility to be a part of this conversation, even if that means just listening (usually it does). So, if you’re not a black woman, still listen to this album. Listen to it more than once. Listen to the stories being told. Listen to the “Tina Taught Me” interlude, as Solange’s mother dismantles damaging Post-Racial-America rhetoric. Listen to “Don’t Touch My Hair,” and question our society’s standards of beauty, and how they’ve been racially coded throughout history. Question how you may be contributing to these problems, even by just being a bystander. Question what you can do about that. There’s a lot packed into this record that everyone could benefit from, even, and especially, if the stories being told are not relatable to your personal narrative.
Ok, I’ll get off my soap box… My point is, this record holds serious depth, and is timely and so so relevant right now. In just under an hour, Solange delivers something that is both vulnerable and incredibly strong. The features are on point, including Wayne, BJ The Chicago Kid, Sampha, Kelly Rowland, Moses Sumney and Q-Tip. The cover art is perfect, the accompanying visuals (1, 2) are stunning, and she released a really rad digital book to go along with it all, if you’re into that. ZOE
RIYL: Beyonce (seriously), Janelle Monae
Recommended Tracks: 4, 6, 8, 9, 13
Devendra Banhart - Ape in Pink Marble: Devendra, oh Devendra, you sweet little cherry blossom you. I have listened to this record many a time, usually alone at night, when the hours of focus and work have long past. I listen to this record when I am at my weakest and least energetic. The sleepy drifting music asks for nothing from its listener. You can try to pay close attention to the hazy and psychedelic guitars but it would be an effort in futility, all it will do is take you once again out of place and out of mind.
If you’ve enjoyed Devendra’s music in the past, especially his 2013 release Mala, then this latest album will fall right in line with your listening pleasure. It leaves some to be desired in the form of artistic expression, Devendra has always been a sort of sly trickster, yet this album is for the most part sleepy, not necessarily tricky. From a man who has formed a collaboration album called MEGAPUSS, making songs like “Fuck Abe Lincoln” and “Crop Circle Jerk ‘94”, this album sounds awfully tame for Devendra. He has always had an energy within him that feels unpredictable, yet as much as I enjoy the tone and mood of this album, especially in the setting I have described, it is not unpredictable.
Asking for experimentation from an artist is a topic within music journalism I always find odd, I simply try to appreciate works for what they are and nothing else. Yet in this case, as retro-futuristic this work is sonically, I know he is capable of a certain storytelling wit that he has in the past been able to meld seamlessly with his lost soul sensibility. In past works like Cripple Crow (2005), Devendra comes across as a fortune telling gypsy, telling us the futures of different worlds and cultures, of lives we have yet to live and lives lived long ago. The piece keeps the viewer in the same comatose state as Pink Marble does, but also moves them from place to place spiritually.
The songs themselves feel ripped out of some space lounge where all the patrons have left and the very odd looking cleaning crew is slowly shuffling. It’s very pink and floating on clouds, a wonderful landscape that is deeply unsettling. “Mourner’s Dance” sounds straight out of the Twin Peak soundtrack complete with swaying synths that lull you into a state of distrust in your surroundings. The title of “Theme for a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green” is a lovely visual guide to listening to a track that sounds like a man falling in love to elevator music. The music displays Banhart’s oddities without really taking the listener on a cohesive journey from start to finish, there are definitely some hidden gems to be found. RAMIRO
RIYL: The Twin Peaks Soundtrack, Reliefs of Anxiety
Recommended Tracks: 3, 7, 9, 10
Nicholas Jaar - Sirens: This album actually came to my attention through the Twitter feed of David Rudnick, the artist who made the cover art. The stand out track here is “The Governor”, solely because its the first electronic track I’ve heard in a while that references beach rock as its underlying material. The combination of Beach Boys style vocals with breakbeats samples is a little shocking a first, but quickly settles into itself. Both “No” and “Three Sides of Nazareth” fit into a similar beach-vibes-viewed-through-a-new-yorker’s-lens category, with a similar proportion of beach to city grunge ratio. “Killing Time” and “Leaves” are definitely the weak tracks on this release. While they feature a professional level of sound design and production, they’re mostly ambient tracks that wander aimlessly aka the worst kind of ambient, almost more atmospheric. They drag the album down unnecessarily, especially “Leaves” given its placement in the middle of the album. Overall the work has some highs and lows, play it on your show. CAMERON
RIYL: Mount Kimbe, Jon Hopkins, Four Tet, pre-ambient Moby, Caribou, Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing
Recommended Tracks: 2, 5
Suicidal Tendencies - World Gone Mad: For a band with a history as long and colorful as Suicidal Tendencies, I’m actually really impressed with their latest albumWorld Gone Mad. 33 years after the debut record that made him famous, founding member Mike Muir carries on the legacy of the first popular crossover thrash band ever. Blending elements of thrash metal and hardcore punk, World Gone Madmakes you want to tell authority figures to frig off, or perhaps knock some shit over! Personally, it makes me want to skateboard extremely fast. It contains the screaming middle finger of punk while simultaneously incorporating the roaring grittiness of metal. As I was listening to this album, I was really enjoying the drums, so I looked it up - turns out they have Dave Lombardo of Slayer on drums, heck yes!!! If you can get past the fact that it’s an old band and listen to it as a new project, it’s actually a great album, I’d give it an 8/10. CHRISTIAN
RIYL: Slayer, Rage Against the Machine, Black Flag
Recommended Tracks: 3, 8, 10
Mick Jenkins - The Healing Component: In my opinion, Mick Jenkins’ debut album, The Healing Component, amongst many others, marks the comeback of ‘conscious hip-hop’ for a millennial audience. Following his last two mixtapes, The Water[s] and Wave[s], Healing Component continues Mick’s (yo too bad this fool’s name sucks, sorry) trend of rapping about water and other liquid-y substances. Aside from that, homie waxes poetics on love, and offers his thoughts on being Black in the 21st century— not a topic a lot of rappers have shied away from lately.
If you’re looking for party anthems, or [fire emojis], this ain’t really it.Healing Component is strictly all about the lyricism. Jenkins makes a show of showing off his ability to spit at fast cadences and changing up his intonation. His deep, kinda raspy voice also works well on these buttery soulful joints. We also see some ill features out of BADBADNOTGOOD
On the other hand, I don’t really fuck with these interludes and these intros, which seem to play at trine be deep or righteous in some way, but don’t really have much to offer, namsayin. Also, the joint, ‘communicate’, fucking sucks b. That’s just me tho. JAISON
RIYL: Common, Lupe Fiasco
Recommended Tracks: 4, 6, 10