Channel Orange, Frank Ocean
Ryan Rainey, Editor-in-Chief
Forget for a second all of the chatter surrounding the release of Channel Orange. Forget about Odd Future. Forget about Tumblr.
But remember how real the love on the album sounded. Frank Ocean gave us some of the most earnest love songs put on a streaming service’s servers since the dawn of the Spotify age.
Few songs express the excitement and beauty of a budding but unrequited love the way “Thinkin Bout You” does, and “Bad Religion” complements the hope with pure pessimism: “It’s nothing but a one-man cult / With cyanide in my styrofoam cup / I can never make him love me.”
The pronouns were sufficient to keep bloggers and music writers occupied with Ocean’s sexuality and its cultural significance for the entire summer of 2012. But at the end of the year, after the buzz had faded, one thing remained: Ocean had written an extraordinary album, regardless of for whom it was written.
Lonerism, Tame Impala
Katherine Krueger, Managing Editor
Drawing on the sound of 1960s psychedelic rock is nothing new. But Tame Impala managed to refine their sound to make Lonerism one of the most memorable and interesting albums of the year.
This is an album about exclusion, alienation and introversion, set among melodies that are driving and wrought with emotion, even if that emotion is fleeting. It’s clear that singer Kevin Parker is most comfortable in his own head and, while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does create distance from other people.
But the effect is not indie brand aloofness: Parker’s understated vocals and the pumping synth draw you in and feel inherently relatable. The band showcases a new awareness in “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” a song made for watching the world go by from your bedroom window or the second story of a double-decker bus. “Elephant” and “Why Won’t They Talk To Me”? are also standouts.
Tame Impala’s latest album feels well worn and accessible in a way plenty of their peers have failed – all the while making a record that explores the nuance of very real fears and anxieties without feeling fragile.
Electra Heart, Marina and the Diamonds
Kelsey Sorenson, Associate Copy Chief
In her second full-length album, Welsh singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis, a.k.a. Marina and the Diamonds, refines her indie pop sensibilities for a broader audience. Her concept album, built around female archetypes, such as the home wrecker, teen idol and prima donna, is influenced more by mainstream pop and electronic music and less by the New Wave that typified her debut.
Underneath that pop facade is an examination of today’s pop culture and its values concerning women. Marina’s social criticism is most intense in “Sex Yeah,” a track lamenting how sex sells more than anything in our culture (note: that track is on the U.S. edition, but not the UK edition). But her most successful combination of scrutiny and pop songwriting is “Valley of the Dolls,” an electronic ballad heavily referencing the ’60s novel and its film adaptation of the same name, which depict women whose glamorous lives slowly destroy them.
Examining the very pop culture she’s a part of with a critical eye, Marina and the Diamond’s sophomore effort is a relevant, reflective, catchy, brooding success.
Shrines, Purity Ring
Katie Caron, News Editor
If you enjoy swirling synths, hard-hitting bass and chilling female vocals, Purity Ring’s debut album Shrines is one to check out.
The Montreal-based duo’s album is two parts electro-pop, one part trap music and three parts strange in a good way. Listening to Shrines straight through is kind of like peering into the pale memory of a creepy childhood. The lyrics are anything but “pure,” but the album does convey a feeling of innocence and youth. These themes contrast with disturbing images of bodies (presumably the “shrines”), including lines like “cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you.”
The heavy bass throughout the record punctuates each track with an edge to balance the vocals and ebb and flow of the synth. Some tracks make you feel like you’re swimming in a chilly pool while others hit harder and almost beg to be rapped over – which rapper Danny Brown did last October to create a banger over “Belispeak.”
Highlight tracks include “Obedear,” which combines high hats, clean bass and rich background vocals to form a more danceable sound, and “Lofticries,” a slower gem which could easily play during a profound montage toward the end of a film.
Purity Ring’s first project is easy to listen to and stands out against other electronic music put out this year. Fans of artists such as Crystal Castles or Grimes should take a listen.
good kid m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar
Joe Timmerman, Opinion Content Editor
The album, Lamar’s second, paints a vivid picture of his life as a self-professed “good kid” growing up in Compton, Calif. Of particular note are a pair of songs early on in the album. In “Backstreet Freestyle,” Lamar lets his ego fly high over a heavy and bass-friendly beat, comparing his dream of “money and power” to that of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, and bragging about his car – very out of character from what we know of Lamar.
In the second song of the pair, “The Art of Peer Pressure,” Lamar explains how he tries to fit in with his friends from Compton (see the previous song), rapping, “I got the blunt in my mouth / Usually I’m drug free / But shit, I’m with the homies.”
good kid m.A.A.d city combines truly brilliant storytelling and rapping with equally superb production. Every track feels like it belongs. All of this, combined with high-profile appearances from artists such as Dr. Dre and Drake, makes the album a must-listen for anyone who enjoys truly high quality rapping and storytelling.
Made Possible, The Bad Plus
Charles Godfrey, Opinion Editor
This newest release from the Minneapolis-based jazz trio has been my soundtrack of the semester – I’ve been playing “Seven Minute Mind” on repeat since November. The Bad Plus have already amassed a deep discography of covers and imaginative original work – nevertheless, Made Possible may be their most experimental album yet.
“Seven Minute Mind” is actually a five-minute-38-second tour de force that leads off with driving arpeggios over crisp drums and continues with layers of funky staccato chord jabs. The track evolves into the breakneck harmonic equivalent of a James Bond chase scene. It ebbs and flows in and out of melodic chaos as the trio indulges in some lengthy and abstract improvisations, only to return with a symphonic and sweeping chord progression around which the song as a whole revolves. “Seven Minute Mind” trails off in the rapid, syncopated rhythm in which it began. There’s something strangely cyclic about this song.
In Made Possible, The Bad Plus strikes a precarious balance between order and disorder, moving periodically between clean, crisp harmonies and pandemonium. This is genre-bending instrumental jazz at its finest.