Dan Auerbach- Waiting on a Song
The Black Keys guitarist/vocalist is back with his 2nd solo effort and it does not disappoint, with an outstanding classic rock sound that very much surprised me the first time I heard the album. With myself being a huge fan of both The Black Keys and Auerbach, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Yes, The Black Keys have drifted from their gritty blues garage rock sound heard in their first couple of efforts, so it is no surprise Auerbach has done the same, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a nice blend of country, soul, and folk, with a timeless feel to it. Notable tracks include “Waiting on a Song,” the excellent opener and title track, as well as the single “Shine on Me,” a very George Harrison-ish sounding track. Other excellent songs are “Malibu Man,” Living in Sin,” and “Stand by my Girl.” This album also features classic musicians such as John Prine and Mark Knopfler as well. Waiting on a Song is a breath of fresh air that I enjoy every time I listen to this album.
Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory
For me, Big Fish Theory, the sophomore album of Compton native Vince Staples, sounds like nothing I have ever heard before in terms of hip hop and that is a wonderful thing. You can clearly hear Staples interest in electronica on this album, with heavy techno electronic dubs, aggressive fast beats, and sometimes avant garde sounds make this album very interesting to listen to (and get down to as well). I have honestly never heard anything like it in terms of a hip hop album and that is what I like about it so much. Staples’ lyrics on this album are very much about the down side of things, dealing with death as well as the horrors of fame and success as well as the current state of the world. The album features many appearances, samples and not, by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Damon Albarn (Blur and Gorillaz), and also is amazingly produced by the likes of Flume and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) helming the project. Big Fish Theory was definitely the most interesting and all encompassing album I have listened to all year, and I can’t wait to see what Staples has in store next.
Mac DeMarco- This Old Dog
Everyone’s favorite gap-toothed Canadian indie boy is back in his much anticipated fourth outing, but This Old Dog is much different in nature then the laid back indie rock lp’s we’re used to. It’s a much more moodier album than we are used to with DeMarco, with the album’s theme centering around the troubled relationship between Mac and his father, who wasn’t supposed to hear this album due to terminal illness, but interestingly enough he survived and the rest is history. Of course with any Mac album, there is many solid tunes on this album. Yes, it’s much more melancholy than say, Salad Days, but it doesn’t disappoint, having some of Mac’s best tracks.
Kendrick Lamar- DAMN.
Over the years, Compton raised rapper Kendrick Lamar has emerged as one of the greatest artists of the modern era, and his 4th album, DAMN, keeps that status alive. While not as story driven as Good Kid, M.A.A.D City or as full as To Pimp a Butterfly, DAMN does not disappoint. His past albums, particularly Good Kid and Section 80 deal with Kendrick’s struggle filled Compton upbringing. DAMN has a fair amount of weight to the lyrics, but it more of strikes a middle ground somewhere between success and struggle. It really doesn’t have a bad track on it and in my opinion, his songwriting and lyrics have never been better. Lamar is, in my opinion, one of the most ambitious and thought provoking musicians I have ever heard and that’s what I love about his albums. The subject matter definitely carries its weight, but that’s a good thing. DAMN is a very good balance between energetic fast bangers and thoughtful reflections, all revolving around Kendrick’s rap destiny, whether good or bad.
Randy Newman- Dark Matter
Throughout his 40+ year career, singer/songwriter Randy Newman has always had a keen sense of satirical irony and humor, as well as a knack for perspective and writing songs about characters in real and interesting situations. While most know Newman for his work on many Disney film soundtracks, particularly Toy Story, Newman’s work goes far beyond that. His latest album, Dark Matter, is gorgeous and thoughtful. There are many interesting scenarios in the songs, and that’s why it’s so good. It touches a lot on politics, particularly the first track, “The Great Debate,” an 8 minute mini opera of sorts, having characters debate the argument of science vs. religion. Other interesting tracks include “Brothers,” a humorous imaginary conversation between Robert and John F. Kennedy regarding the Bay of Pigs Invasion and Cuban girls, and “Sonny Boy,” the true story of blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson, who was murdered in Chicago and his name, songs, and reputation was essentially stolen by another man, Sonny Boy Williamson II. With a full orchestra on deck and Newman’s signature garbled voice and soft piano, Dark Matter is as touching and absolutely gorgeous as it is smart and satirical, and a must listen.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard- Flying Microtonal Banana
At the end of 2016, Australian psych monsters/workaholics King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard said they would have 5 albums under their belt by the end of 2017. While many skeptics had their doubts about this claim, they were proved very much wrong as KGLW did in fact release 5 whopping albums, each one very good and more different than the last. The album range in genres from psychedelic lounge jazz to heavy Sabbath- like rock about a giant robot vomiting all over the universe. The quirk to this album is that all of the instruments are in microtonal tuning, which means every single note on the album is in a minor key, giving it an eastern and interesting sound for King Gizz, although it still has their signature sound written all over it. Still featuring their awesome harmonicas, flutes, and smashing drums and fuzzy guitars that make KGLW so much fun to listen to.
Drake- More Life
After lukewarm reviews of his 2016 album Views, Toronto native and music giant Aubrey Graham aka. Drake, returns with a absolute slam dunk. Let me tell you, I have always loved Drake. He has been a big influence on me, and I have been a pretty big fan since his 2010 debut, So Far Gone. His 2011 album Take Care takes the cake as my personal favorite hip-hop album of all time. The production on his records and mix tapes are always top notch, and he is an excellent rapper and singer. I thinks what strikes me most about his music is his ability to never hide how he feels. He is very “real” in that sense, and he isn’t afraid to show his emotions, and I like that. With that being said, More Life is definitely a blend of old and new, and everything in between. It goes back while treading new ground. It is a blend of everything from hip-hop and trap to afrobeat, pop, and Jamaican reggae inspired dancehall. Once again, the production is nearly flawless and every track is dripping with good energy and lush sounds, some would even say as the title suggests, life. It’s all flows and breathes really well and in that way it reminds me a lot of Kanye West’s 2016 album, The Life of Pablo. More Life serves as a reminder that Drake is still a excellent musician and a force of nature in a genre that never stops changing.
American jazz musician Thundercat released his first album in 4 years, and this album really took me by surprise. Drunk is a unique blend of groovy modern jazz fusion with a constant groove going. It features many guest appearances such as Kendrick Lamar, Kenny Loggins, and Michael McDonald. The production is amazing and I really love the album cover for it. I’m quite surprised this album didn’t get bigger than it did, because it really is a good album listen that I find myself listening to a lot.
Joey Bada$$- ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
Joey’s sophomore effort is very well done, and I was very struck the first time I heard it. This album is definitely a throwback to the 90s, “golden age of hip-hop,” but it still has a very fresh feel to it. It’s definitely one of the most politically charged albums I have heard in a while, but that’s a good thing in my opinion. The lyrics are definitely one of the memorable things about this album. Rap has always been rooted in politics, and it’s interesting to see a modern young artist like Joey Badass convert that feeling on a modern scale. The production is amazing, with a jazzy feel to it with plenty of samples and record scratches in it too. It’s the closest thing to old school hip-hop I have heard in a long time, and you can definitely hear it on this record. It reminds me a lot of A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy in particular.
Fleet Foxes- Crack Up
After a 5 year hiatus, Washington indie folk group Fleet Foxes is back with their 3rd album, and is an interesting departure in terms of flow for them. If you would imagine Fleet Foxes as a bunch of long haired bearded dudes playing acoustic guitars, you’ve got their image down, but their sound is so much more. They’re known for their immaculate chamber like vocal delivery, and excellent song writing, courtesy of lead vocalist Robin Pecknold, as well as Josh Tillman, now better known as Father John Misty, who left the band back in 2012 to pursue a solo career. Fleet Foxes also have a good sense of production, which is very important in a genre like folk music. In term of modern folk and Americana music, there are a lot of generic bands and sound-alikes, which makes the genre feel pretty stale to me. Fleet Foxes is the opposite, always keeping things fresh and interesting, and Crack Up is no different. It is definitely not as good and as their self titled debut album or Helplessness Blues, but that’s because it’s so different. Every song flows into one another and it can be hard to distinguish sometimes, but it’s a good album to get lost in. Each song soars and swirls with hoards of big drums and acoustic guitars. Sure they tried something different, and it made for an interesting album that mixes up things for them.