After the success of June for new releases, July has continued this great middle of the year period in 2017 for album drops. Hip hop dominates this month, which is important given that up until now rap has had an inconsistent year, especially in comparison to the massive highs of 2016. What is also notable about this month, is that for the first time this year my albums of the month listing contains more than six releases. Given this, based on numbers alone, this then would low-key have to go down as the best month for music so far in 2017. At least within my monthly pick series anyway.
So, with all that considered, here are my favourite new releases from July.
Jay-Z – “4:44”
I chose “4:44” for this month because it came too late during last month to make it on to my picks for June. Wow!! What a comeback from Hova, a comeback, which exceeded all my expectations. I must confess I had no fanfare for this release to the point I might not have even listened to it, but it turned out to be an exceptionally good album and one of his best efforts. The production is stunning, while the soul samples and lyricism on display on tracks like “The Story of O.J.” simply blew me away. Jay-Z is in the back end of his career now, but it is testimony to his skill and talent as a rapper and producer that he was able to drop an album of this quality so late in the piece. He needed to as well, especially given the drama and controversy surrounding his relationship with Beyoncé. This is his answer to “Lemonade” and boy what a statement it was.
Fave Tracks: The Story of O.J., Caught Their Eyes (feat. Frank Ocean), 4:44, Family Feud
MeloDownz – “Avontales”
If you read my blog regularly you will know that I rave constantly about the current state of New Zealand’s hip hop scene and how healthy it is. This is because of artists like MeloDownz, who has just released his latest EP “Avontales.” This eight-track release is so impressive, both in terms of its storytelling and production. Named after his hometown Avondale in Auckland, “Avontales” is the perfect melding of R&B/soul and hip hop, with great vocal contributions from the wonderful Bailey Wiley and Israel Starr, and stunning production from the likes of Dusty Melody and LightskinJon. “Avontales” is easily one of my favourite EP releases of the year so far and I look forward to seeing where MeloDownz goes next.
Fave Tracks: The Anthem (feat. Bailey Wiley), $on of a Queen, One More (feat Israel Starr), 8ight 2wenty 8ight
Arcade Fire – “Everything Now”
I have never really been into Arcade Fire, but I was willing to give this album a go based on the premise that the pre-album singles were good. Well, it turns out the album is good to and marks quite a change of direction for these alt kings towards pop and dance music. We saw signs of this stylistic turn on previous album “Reflektor,” however, on “Everything Now” they go full tilt in a move that has confounded some critics and fans. Some of the reviews have criticized their new sound, including Pitchfork who gave the album a 5.6, a score for mine which was a bit harsh. There will always be those who long for “Funerals” or “Neon Bible,” but as a casual observer of this group, their approach to dance and pop on this record has won me over in what for me is one of the most fun records of the year.
Fave Tracks: Everything Now, Signs of Life, Creature Comfort, Electric Blue
Tyler, the Creator – “Flower Boy”
Rapper Tyler, the Creator is one of the coolest cats on the planet. His enthusiasm for his art and new album is infectious and it should be because he has just released one of this year’s best hip hop records in “Flower Boy.” With great contributions from the likes of Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy, “Flower Boy” is a melancholy, jazz-fusion-infused record and marks a bit of a change from his previous work, which was often darker and more aggressive. This album is reflective of a more mature Tyler, the Creator, even though he still explores themes on “Flower Boy” such as boredom, isolation and anxiety. The album has also raised questions about his sexuality, with many speculating that “Flower Boy” could be his coming out album. Whether this is true or not is another matter, but at least we can enjoy the music and revile in the fact that clearly, if his Twitter is anything to go by, Tyler is having fun.
Fave Tracks: When This Flower Blooms, Pothole, Boredom, 911/Mr. Lonely
HAIM – “Something to Tell You”
Pop rock’s favourite sisters returned this month with their first album in four years “Something to Tell You.” HAIM set the bar quite high with their debut in 2013 “Days Are Gone,” but have largely matched it on this album. With its Fleetwood Mac-esque sound and glorious harmonies, “Something to Tell You” is a great pop rock record. It manages to take what are clear 1970s influences, but project them into a 21st century pop context in a way that doesn’t sound dated or out of place. At times, the album can sound a bit samey, but the lesser moments are very much made up for with outstanding tracks such as “Little Of Your Love,” “Ready For You” and “Kept Me Crying.” This is slick LA pop rock, which would have sounded just as good on Californian radio in the 70s as it does now.
Fave Tracks: Little of Your Love, Ready For You, Kept Me Crying, Walking Away
Terrace Martin Presents the Pollyseeds – “Sounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1”
When I heard Terrace Martin was releasing a collaborative project The Pollyseeds with Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington I was over the moon because these cats are some of the best jazz players going around at the moment. Following on from the success of last year’s “Velvet Portraits,” on “Sounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1” Martin takes influence from Glasper’s release, also from 2016 “ArtScience” in going down the contemporary R&B/jazz fusion route. It proves a very successful formula, offering up some of the slickest jazz you are likely to hear in 2017. Jazz has had a renaissance in recent years thanks largely to the Brainfeeder label and the success of Kendrick Lamar’s jazz rap odyssey “To Pimp a Butterfly.” This continues on “Songs of Crenshaw, Volume 1,” with these jazzers proving why they are in such high demand at the moment.
Fave Tracks: Chef E Dubble, Intentions (feat. Chachi), Funny How Time Flies, Believe
SWIDT – “STONEYHUNGA”
Oh, how I have waited in anticipation for this album for so long. After the success of last year’s mixtape “SWIDT vs Everybody” and lead single “No More Parties in Stoneyhunga,” Onehunga’s finest SWIDT have dropped their debut album “STONEYHUNGA” and boy oh boy is it good. With its mixture of high octane West Coast-influenced hip hop and humorous skits, SWIDT have pulled a rabbit out of the hat here in what is one of the best hip hop albums of the year. The production from Smokeygotbeatz is world class, while both Spycc and INF’s flows are on point as they rap about growing up in Onehunga and the impact of gentrification on the area. This is top quality local hip hop that has familiarity to it and is extremely relatable to me as a kid of the 90s given the things they talk about on the album. For mine, this has the quality to become an instant New Zealand hip hop classic, and given how media attention they are getting, “STONEHYHUNGA” could make more of a splash than any hip hop album has in this country since the halcyon days of Scribe and Che Fu.
Fave Tracks: Alfred & Church, Little Did She Know, All Night, Mine