I’m the worst at checking out new music. Usually it’s because there are albums I love enough to play them over and over, other times it’s straight forgetfulness. In an effort to feel better about my own living under a rock, I decided to share my favorite albums thus far of this quarantine period. What better time than now to dive into albums I’d slept on prior to having so much time on my hands? Hit play and read along.
James Blake ‘Assume Form’ I’ve been part of the James Blake fan club since 2013’s Overgrown, but the most recent, Assume Form, somehow slipped past me. Not only does he coax a verse from Andre3000 on ‘Where’s The Catch’, but he also teams up with Travis Scott and Metro Boomin’ on ‘Mile High’, two of my favorite collaborations on the album. After the release, he dedicated the body of work to his longtime relationship with Jameela Jamil. Blake has never been shy about showing his vulnerable side, but Assume Form is different – instead of oversharing, he’s writing from a place of effortlessly owning his growth, happily looking forward to what life will be. He feels empowered in finding his other half (beautifully shared on ‘Power On’) and luckily for us, it comes in the form of an auditory masterpiece. Blake doesn’t have it all figured out of course – he’s only human. He muses between internal conflicts on ‘Don’t Miss It’ while expressing pure awe of his relationship in ‘Can’t Believe The Way We Flow’.
This is definitely the most played album of my quarantine thus far.
Hiatus Kaiyote ‘Choose Your Weapon’ Before you ask where the hell I’ve been and how I’d yet to hear of Hiatus Kaiyote, COOL YOUR JETS because Choose Your Weapon is one of two exceptions to this article, meaning I hadn’t revisited the album in so long it almost felt brand new. Heads up, this album isn’t for those with tastes for the mundane – 18 tracks of neo-soul soundscapes, complex polyrhythms and experimental synths will blow your mind. The very best part of rediscovering this release during quarantine was appreciating the bands’ creativity all over again. After becoming the first Australian act to earn a Grammy nomination, I believe it was this unique energy that brought the groundbreaking album to fruition. This is a band that must have gone into the studio with no limits, an endless array of instruments and the ability to lock themselves away to create to their heart’s content. My favorite tracks? ‘The Lung’, ‘Prince Minikid’ and ‘Atari’.
Future-soul R&B lovers, this is a group you won’t come close to hearing anywhere else.
Rex Orange County ‘bcos u will never b free’ The first release from English sweetheart Rex Orange County, bcos u will never b free, is a perfect introduction to the artists’ melancholy yet easy-going nature. It was only a year after this debut release that Rex became known for his producing prowess on Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy, propelling him into a spotlight that makes it hard for some to see past his star-studded accomplishments. ‘bcos u will never b free’ sounds like an 18 year old kid making beats in his bedroom singing about life, heartbreak and ungrateful rich girls. Songs like ‘Corduroy Dreams’ are laden with Americana influence, simple guitar chords and hum worthy melodies while ‘Know Love’ takes a more contemporary R&B feel, rich with instrumentals. I don’t use bae unless I’m talking bacon and eggs, but Rex Orange County and this album both hold a truly special place in my heart.
Blood Brothers ‘Crimes’ The Blood Brothers can best be described as post hardcore with a bit of sonic punk influence thrown in for good measure. What sets them apart for me is their affinity for absolutely fucked up verses – the Blood Brothers reign supreme in penning murderous ballads and their juxtaposed vocal ranges. It isn’t all visceral, rampant energy though – compared to older albums, Crimes is more musically in-depth, especially with the addition of pianos, organs and the absence of screaming matches between the two singers. Even at their most indisposed, you can’t deny the melodies on ‘Live at the Apocalypse Cabaret’ or the candid and gruesome story telling skills on ‘Rats and Rats for Candy’. This is an album I loved when I was 13 and still have a soft spot for at 29.
Blood Orange ‘Negro Swan’ Blood Orange poured a lot of emotion into bringing Negro Swan to life. In just under an hour, the musician fills us in on childhood traumas, lost love, black depression and more, but it doesn’t feel as weighted as one would think. On ‘Charcoal Baby’, Blood Orange sings ‘Can you break sometimes?’ as if seeking an answer to dull life’s anxieties. Set atop a dreamy, synth studded production, the song feels more like a summertime jam than a soundtrack to an existential crisis. His stream of consciousness writing style is signature, forcing you to pay attention to each song before arriving at any conclusions. ‘Jewelry’ is another standout, featuring a sound bite from transgender activist Janet Mock before seguing into a blend of spoken word and jazz. Negro Swan is a beautiful celebration of Black queerness, acceptance, community and culture.
The list of features include ASAP Rocky, Project Pat, Diddy, Tei Shei, Steve Lacy and more.
Lil Peep ‘EVERYBODY’S EVERYTHING’ I’ll admit this came from a quarantine Netflix binge, as I’d had no prior knowledge about Lil Peep beforehand. The documentary, ‘Everybody’s Everything’, outlines the young rapper’s life and tragic death, playing previously unheard songs from studio sessions throughout. It didn’t take long for me to listen to the album in full – a compilation that spans his collaborations through the start and end of his career. On my first listen, most of his lyrics seemed to move between moods so quickly I couldn’t keep up. He’d go from popping xanax on ‘AQUAFINA’ with Rich the Kid to foreshadowing his own death on ‘Liar’ and ‘Rockstarz’. Songs like ‘walk away as the door slams’ and ‘witchblades’, both featuring Lil Peep’s closest collaborator, Lil’ Tracy, are emo rap bangers. Make fun of genre mashups if you want, but I’m all about furthering creativity. Everybody’s Everything is anything you want it to be – you can turn the volume up and fantasize about another life where you’re consuming bottles, models and material possessions, or as I did on the second listen, pick up on the underlying vulnerability that deserves to be heard. All in all, the posthumous Everybody’s Everything is a clumsy but poignant affair between emo rap and Soundcloud trap – two genres you either love or hate.
Shabazz Palaces ‘The Don of Diamond Dreams’ Like Assume Form, The Don of Diamond Dreams release slipped past me somehow. I’ve been a fan of Shabazz Palaces for a long time and when I found the new album, I texted more than a few friends to share the gem. Fun fact: Emo rapper Lil’ Tracy, frequent Lil’ Peep collaborator I mentioned above, is the son of Ishmael Butler, Shabazz Palaces MC. Transitioning between psychedelic hip hop and experimental space gazers, Shabazz Palaces are constantly evolving their sound beyond new dimensions. Besides, if there’s hip hop on Sub Pop, it’s gotta be great. Listening to ‘Wet’ allows you to take in the duo’s new influences while ‘Ad Ventures’ is a slowed, downtempo DMT experience. Regardless of what you’re into, you’ll never be bored listening to Shabazz Palaces.
Khrungabin & Leon Bridges ‘Texas Sun’ EP I’ve lived in a lot of places, but I’m super biased when it comes to Texas, kind of how actual Texans are. While I’m not proud of *all* things Lone Star, when it comes to music and food, Texas can do no wrong. Houston based Khrungabin and Fort Worth singer Leon Bridges have long been personal favorites individually, but their collaborative EP Texas Sun is a universal blessing. An unforeseen yet unparalleled match, this seamless aural treasure provides an ethereal escape like the soft and warm caresses of a Texas sunset. I call it space soul with notes of rhythmic funk and the endearing voice of Bridges. Perfect to put on before lying down for an afternoon siesta.