Janelle Monae has served up one of the best albums of the year and so far her competition isn’t even close.
Served with visual accompaniment (a la Beyonce mode), Dirty Computer puts Cyndi Mayweather’s story on halt to check in on ‘Jane’, specifically more so Janelle Monae. It’s her most personal record yet even if she’s aided with the futuristic, robotic shimmer which she’s carried throughout her singing career. But gone are the full-blown characters, we’re now in the future through Janelle Monae’s life.
Janelle came out as pansexual, and the album and visual accompaniment displays her sexuality. But it is not Janelle’s sexual orientation which is spellbinding. It is the intimacy, the desire, the action of her sexual soul which is the most intense. ‘Make Me Feel’, ‘I Got That Juice’, ‘Crazy, Classic Life’, ‘Screwed’, ‘Pynk’ and ‘I Like That’ all detail intense affection, sexual confidence, sexual craving, animalistic desire, soft sensuality and sexual pride. These are all traits that are empowering, no matter the sexuality of who is behind them.
On ‘Crazy Classic Life’, Janelle paints out her desire to, well, have a ‘crazy, classic life’ (I know, kill me for being obvious). But the outro paints a picture of how as a black woman, she will be viewed at differently for her experiences versus a white boy. Me and you was friends, but to them, we the opposite/ the same mistake, I’m in jail, you on top of s—-. It reminds me of ‘kids being kids’, yet black kids are systematically blamed more for their crimes. And in these moments, you find yourself thinking more of the present then of Janelle’s future.
#5: the nights
Released as a double single with 'The Days", The Nights brings me back to my days in college, specifically with my fraternity. This song is quick but gets to the point rather fast with poignant lyrics, folktroncia and buttery beat drops.
#4: liar liar
It's hard to rank the songs off of True, Avicii's debut album which came in 2013. But this stands out for three reasons: the beautiful piano / screechy synth line in the chorus, the delicious binaries of the verses and chorus, and that epic bridge melody (lyrically: Well, we are, who we are, when we're all going under/ When the past with the last and will last until we're under)
#3: you make me
The chorus on this number really gets me going! The falsetto which comes in over a building crescendo of plucks...it's like Wake Me Up but on steroids, with 20% less guitar and 20% more EDM. I also love the ambiguity of the lyrics. You make me... what? You make me something, anything, this, that? Kind of beautiful if you think about it.
#2: dear boy
An eight minute banger with Mø which comes off grandiose but really delivers smart lyrics revolving around a married couple who are looking to find the spark which ignited them in the first place. The lyrics are on point, Mø serves the perfect vocals and the breakdown is beautiful.
#1: pure grinding
Talk about the song of a century regarding the 'grind' to get money! While Dear Boy is a mega-long dance number, this track is trap and hip, with pitch and small crystalline-like beats. I fell in love with this song when I first heard it, and can't deny it's my number one song now.
Lord Huron - Vide Noir
In French, Vide Noir translates to ‘black void’, a perfect summary of the third album by the wild-western fantasy meets indie band group. A couple of the tracks appear aggressive, while most mourn the loss of a woman who appears to have chosen the black void of some sort of addiction rather then the embrace of her love. The opening, Lost in Space and Time, sets this journey towards finding this ‘emerald star’. And while we see some character development, I would enjoyed a bit more detail on the world that Lord Huron has created. Who is their main character? What is the world around him like? Perhaps the point of the album is to detail that after a breakup with such an adored one, everything is dark and empty.
J. Cole - K.O.D.
I hopped into a truck with my friend Christian and we had a hour to kill for a ride. “Have you heard the new J. Cole album?” He asked, it only being a day after the album had dropped. I said no and he proceeded to play the entire album through. I like J. Cole, having been fans of his earlier work, if not appreciating it. But I was happy to hear that instead of some downtrodden material, J. Cole had come full aggressive, with loud music constructed in multi-dimensions and lyrics covering addiction, heartbreak and even an outro that on the surface is a diss, but comes across as a greater message for any musician. In fact, the outro brings up a great question about black entertainers with white audiences: They wanna be black and think your song is how it feels. Talk about a different sort of addiction.
Kimbra - Primal Heart
I enjoyed Kimbra’s third studio album, although it didn’t have the full fledged punch of her second album, The Golden Hour. I wonder if this is due to Primal Heart’s nature to lean towards commercial pop. A release like this could have done her wonders in 2014 following the success of ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, but this feels like a continuation off previous material then anything else. There are some excellent songs (The Good War, Like They Do on the TV, Lightyears, ) songs you definitely should consider adding to your playlists. Maybe this album will grow on me, but something is leaving me waiting for her next album cycle.
The opening sets Susanne up for some comparisons with the moon, the crow, the shark and the earth, all in a spiritual mantra of her being. It's an excellent and slightly eerie opening to the album, setting up the expectations there of. The strongest lyric, is verse 4: "I’m as empty as the Earth/An insignificant birth/Stardust in a universe/That is all that I am worth"
My favorite track of the album, the lyrics are poignant and fresh, the slide guitar sounds gorgeous and the build-up and execution is second-par to none. Susanne presents a lot of darkness, but in a way this song leans into the light. The morality and chaos around her seems to come to a pause in this song. I honestly want to quote the lyrics to the entire song, BUT if I'm forced to pick only one, it has to be the opening: "Do you believe in reincarnation?/'Cause I thought I saw your soul / Flashing and dancing on the horizon /Shades of jade and emerald."
#3: good luck, bad luck
Another top selection, the jazz which inspires the album is pretty clear now in this track which sounds like something you might hear in a delicious hole in the wall with strong cheap drinks and the best live music in the city. The binaries exposed on this track highlight the back and forth Susanne experiences with her man as dictated by 'good luck'/'bad luck', 'double trouble', 'empty / full'. My favorite lyric on this one has to be this beautifully written line, "Freeloader...wisdom from the books he never read"
#4: the sound of war
Another favorite of mine, this track clearly demonstrates the sound of war with the medieval guitar intro and the drones' signals at the end into the ethereal nothingness of a post apocalyptic nightmare which she has created. By the end of the track, you're left with some George Orwellian/Wells nightmare especially with her lyrical prowess, "Leave all that you were/ 'Cause you won’t need it where/You are going tonight"
#5: music for people in trouble
This song is more of a spoken poem over some glitches and minimalism, focusing on the center core of the album. The thesis is wrapped into the poem which divides the album in two layers. Favorite line has to be the ending, "We don't do life, we don't choose life, life does us."
#6: bedtime story
Another favorite, Susanne combines moody underground jazz to paint to question the mute problematics of a decaying (or decayed) relationship. There's a gem of lyrics here, my favorite being, "I'll think about the time you reassured me you were mine/
Oh, what is love but a frail little dreamcatcher?"
The lead single for the project, and no doubt the most uplifting and radio-friendly of the bunch (although both descriptors seem far from accurate on this track). Built with a booming chorus which borderlines on gospel music, the piano which holds the track evolves into new folk. Favorite lyric on this one is the one she says with such hummingbird melancholy, "You're a teasing little twister and/They're dancers in the dark."
#8: no one believes in love anymore
A solemn piano ballad that makes me sad even when I'm the most happy. You can tell Susanne has been hurt as she repeats lines with such factual brokenness that you certainly believe that love is over and gone. Among the lyrics, my favorite line is "We’ll all get there soon, looking up at the Moon." I can't help but feel that line is a warning of sorts of humanity's slow loss of love.
#9: The golden age
Another gem, this spacious track harbors an ABBA-like ballad chorus designed and wrapped in sheer celestial wonder. The lyrics are miminal, but the production is fantastic. If there's one song that bridges her past electronics, it has to be this one. The chorus is rather epic, building up to a climax before falling into descent: "It beats louder and louder and longer and longer/All the way to the border/And back to when I was young and out of my mind."
#10: Mountaineers - featuring josh grant
One of my favorite songs of 2017, (#10), Mountaineers is a sheer colossal giant which is almost indescribable. The opening with Josh Grant sounds like a Gregorian Choir and pulses forward with cosmic sensibility. In the middle, Susanne and Josh trade places, as the song begins to grow and sparkle with timelessness before the ending's gospel and organ shine through. Another oil metaphor is used, both for romantic and enviornment connections ("Swimming in the soil of your wasted oil" is a gem of a line). but the ending brings the record to an all-time high, as Susanne clarifies that people in trouble are simply troubled because tis is life. "What we are, what we want, it will never change."
In the 'Album Analysis' series, Matt examines a favorite albums and breaks apart the lyrics and production.
When Tegan and Sara went synth, most people were probably confused given the duo's past as a grungy punk band. I didn't really know Tegan & Sara too well to be that closed off to their new material, and Heartthrob become a pop favorite from 2013.
Heartthrob was very present on the Best of 2013, coming in at 33 on NME's list, 13 on SPIN's, 30 on Rolling Stone's, 7 on Idolator's and 19 on Stereogum's.
The album opens with the lead single 'Closer', which indeed harks to teenage heartthrob with a catchy chorus and a delicious synth line.
"You never really knew me, never, ever / Never, ever saw me, saw me like they did / You never really loved me, never really, Never really loved me, loved me like they did."
Track three cuts a bit deeper, losing a bit of the synth and replacing it with piano. It's still very different from the punk band's previous sound. I love the line, 'How I climbed your city's walls'...it's a stand out for me.
In the progress of the album, the piano gets replaced for guitar as we transition to the fourth track, "I'm Not Your Hero". The album, which is a concept album about early romance and young love. I wonder what the band is trying to communicate on this track, maybe this is about a man/woman who breaks up the relationship to the thankfulness of the other?
While Closer demonstrated a fun attitude towards the unknown and present of love, Drove Me Wild continues to break down the crash that apparently happened after track one. The song gives us good strong 80s pop, and thankfully cheers us up considering how sad the last few tracks had been!
'How Come You Don't Want Me', is the sixth track and the beginning of act two. It's a rather needy song, but we've all experienced the question which the duo pose as well as the feelings. The song's happy bridge is really my favorite section:
On an album that talks about love, one phenomena that is definitely worth investigating is 'trying to be friends' after a breakup. To Tegan and Sara, this is not going to happen as they describe a rather psychotic ex.
With all the songs that aggressively pull and push relationships and break-ups, Love They Say is perhaps the only tender love ballad here. You can tell this song was cooked up acoustically before overlaid with dripping star night synth. It's funny how cheesy the lyrics might be, yet how honest and right on the money they are.
Track 9, the penultimate, Now I'm All Messed Up, is probably my favorite song. It's kind of an enhanced version of the earlier somber tracks, 'Goodbye, Goodbye', 'I Was A Fool', with a double chorus punch that really hits home. I love the filtered piano and the way they utilize the double sides of feeling, I want you to go vs. I want you to stay.
One would hope that the album would end on a happy note, but it probably ends the way a true heartthrob ends: lonely. There might be hope of a new tomorrow, but in that moment when the relationship ends, it indeed plays out as a 'shock to your system'. There's something rather haunting that an album about love and the feelings of initial romance ends with the line, 'What you are is lonely'.
So is that the true feeling of a quick relationship or maybe a string of dates? The ups and downs, the rollercoaster and the heartthrob. Leave your comments below!
Okay, so since I've had troubles uploading audio from The Killers before, I figured it might be better suited for a blog post. On the March 6th version of Matt's Gamut, I went through this list live. If you want to listen to the playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/1249003745/playlist/5tWrYCnfc6sPzEvBTY0FCU
I keep saying "I write" but don't share anything. So here we go, let's share.