After January’s relatively sparse and inconspicuous beginning for the music year, February in comparison was a deluge of contemporary music releases, with Friday the 24th (herewith dubbed #SuperMusicFriday) chosen by the Gods to smite us all for even daring to doubt this year’s potential. Aside from #SuperMusicFriday the month was still incredibly rich, and I somehow managed to almost double my listening quota from January without really noticing. These are the five records that impressed me the most.
Future – HNDRXX
I seem to find the melodic auto-crooning of ‘Hurt Future’ a much more compelling figure than the braggadocios decadence of ‘Trap Future’, and February saw both manifestations of the Altanta rapper surface, first through FUTURE and then just a week later, HNDRXX. What both of these releases prove is that Future has an incredible ear for cutting-edge, colourful trap-flavoured soundscapes – FUTURE hits hard with club bangers, and HNDRXX brings the druggy, psychedelic R&B-influenced slow burners. It’s not a ground breaking record by any means, but for just over an hour’s worth of material HNDRXX is surprisingly engaging, mainly thanks to Future’s stellar production cast who provide just enough highlights through beat variations to overlook the many lyrical lowlights. (the most infamous example being “Gushy gush, so soaky” – thanks, Fantano)
Fav tracks: My Collection, Incredible, Fresh Air, Neva Missa Lost, I Thank U, Solo
Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
When it comes to genuinely gifted lyrical rappers, one of the primary attractions of paying close attention to what they’re saying isn’t just about noting clever rhymes or great puns, it’s about getting unique insights into their perspective and day-to-day experiences. Jonwayne’s Rap Album Two is full of such instances, and has just as many lyrical zingers (“I never forget, like elephants on 4chan” on the opener “TED Talk”) as there are introspective rhymes (“As I watch these calendars slip through my fingers / I don’t wanna meet my maker, just make my meters” in “City Lights”). As an added bonus, the production on Rap Album Two is delicately crafted, littered with dusty, old-school sample based beats – he may not be formally attached to the label any more, but these soundscapes show Jonwayne is clearly still spiritually connected to Stones Throw. Rap Album Two is consistently intelligent and heartfelt, and is my favourite hip hop record of the year so far.
Fav tracks: TED Talk, Paper, City Lights, Afraid of Us, These Words Are Everything
Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
I doubt there will be as many eclectic-yet-accessible records released this year than Jens Lekman’s Life Will See You Now, an album which somehow balances deeply personal and emotional narratives over bright, varied pop instrumentation that borrows from the likes of disco, calypso, samba and even balearic beat. Take for instance the track “Evening Prayer” which involves someone 3D printing a tumour as a metaphor for an enduring friendship, a bizarre concept and yet it’s strangely endearing to listen to as Lekman glides over these unusual lyrics with such sweet inflections. I can’t help but love the calypso-pop banger “What’s That Perfume You Wear?”, not only because I’m a sucker for steel drums, but Lekman sings the hook with such conviction – “It smells so good / That sandalwood” that it’s hard not to be similarly intoxicated by this album’s scent – or vibe, if you will.
Fav tracks: To Know Your Mission, Evening Prayer, What’s That Perfume You Wear?, How Can I Tell Him
Sampha – Process
It takes a particularly special level of musical artistry to transform trauma and grief into spectacular, haunting beauty, something which Sampha does spectacularly across all 10 tracks in his debut release Process. The title is the primary clue, I suppose – the transformative power of music being Sampha Sisay’s most potent coping mechanism, as he ruminates over the loss of his parents (his father in 1998, his mother in 2015, both to cancer) over brilliant production that may be rooted in R&B but extends far beyond the conventional, incorporating the likes of hip hop, future garage and UK bass to create incredibly detailed aural surroundings that demand repeat listens to fully unpack the details. It’s hard not to become attached to Sampha’s persona as his heavenly falsettos are Process’ defining trait, able to carry intimate ballads (“(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”) as well as kaleidoscopic electro-trap jams (“Reverse Faults”). Harrowing, emotive and incredibly captivating, Sampha’s debut Process is R&B that is as forward-thinking as any other release I’ve heard, and is my personal favourite of the year so far.
Fav tracks: Plastic 100°C, Blood on Me, (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, Reverse Faults, Timmy’s Prayer
Thundercat – Drunk
If you found Danny Brown’s chaotic descent through substance-riddled mayhem in Atrocity Exhibition too abrasive, then the strange and humorous alcoholic experiences in Thundercat’s Drunk may be the gateway funk drug you need. From the first moments he’s singing “I feel weird / Beat your meat, go to sleep” (“Captain Stupido”) and just a few tracks later “Cool to be a cat / Meow meow meow meow meow”, (“A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)”) in the process crafting some of the most memorable and funny refrains of the year – I’m particularly fond of the closing lines in “Tokyo” – “It was Dragon Ball Z, a wrist-slap bracelet / Goku fucking ruined meeeeeeee”. This unique brand of contemporary, meme-worthy humour (his twitter is a goldmine of lyrics transformed into memes) pairs nicely with the 70s-inspired bubbling funk and groovy R&B instrumentals, sounding distinctly similar in places to Stevie Wonder’s seminal record Songs in the Key of Life. Not only is Thundercat one of the standout artists on Brainfeeder’s roster, he continues to spearhead this new and exciting renaissance in R&B music, Drunk simply being the latest chapter – and it will certainly be in my consideration for album of the year.
Fav tracks: Captain Stupido, Uh Uh, Bus in These Streets, Show You The Way, Walk On By, Tokyo, Jameel’s Space Ride, Friend Zone, DUI