By KYLE KERSEY
- Car Seat Headrest – “Twin Fantasy”
Will Toledo’s reimagined masterwork on romantic teenage angst is stunning in its sheer scope. To think that Toledo crafted this hour-long indie-rock behemoth at only 19 is absurd, let alone that he had this vision all along – simply without the tools to make it a reality. Seven years after its original run, Toledo, now 25, has finally done it properly. At times overwhelmingly dense – as is the case of 10-minute-long tracks like “Beach Life-In-Death” and “High to Death” – and at times short and sweet – as is the case of “Stop Smoking (We Love You)” – Twin Fantasy is exciting and then it’s funny and then it’s breathtaking and then it’s heartbreaking – sometimes all at the same time – and then it’s over. Just like a failed relationship. Albums like this don’t come around often. Embrace it.
Highlights: “Beach Life-In-Death,” “Stop Smoking (We Love You),” “Sober to Death,” “Bodys,” “Cute Thing”
- Noname – “Room 25”
Modern hip-hop tips the scales so far towards the male spectrum that these kinds of albums don’t come along often. “Room 25” isn’t just an impressive debut album; it’s an impressive album. No qualifiers needed. The Chicago native sets herself apart from the rest of Chance the Rapper’s disciples in her lyrical prowess; she’s more of a beat poet than a traditional rapper. She intimately explores her personal relationships: to her city, her ex-lover, and herself. Underneath all this is some of the dreamiest production I’ve heard in a hip-hop album, complete with an air of 50s Disney in the strings on “Window” and balmy jazz on “Montego Bae”. Fans of Saba and Open Mike Eagle will eat this up.
Highlights: “Self”, “Don’t Forget About Me”, “Regal”, “Montego Bae”, “Ace”
- Parquet Courts – “Wide Awake!”
True: A. Savage’s vocals (yes, that’s the actual pseudonym of the lead singer) are in-your-face, amounting to a group of white New Yorkers declaring they’re woke. But when such wokeness is being declared over a pot-luck of Southern rock organs, funky basslines and punk leads, I can’t help but bite. “Wide Awake” finds Parquet Courts firing on all cylinders; a fun rock jam with overwhelming political overtones that, while not explicitly intellectual, are implicitly so. Perhaps the addition of producer Danger Mouse is responsible for the clean mix and surprisingly danceable instrumentals, or perhaps I’m just in love with “Freebird II,” or maybe, just maybe, rock isn’t as dead as we all think it is. Oh, and fuck Tom Brady.
Highlights: “Total Football,” “Violence,” “Almost Had to Start A Fight/In And Out of Patience,” “Freebird II,” “Tenderness”
- Sons of Kemet – “Your Queen is a Reptile”
Credit the current political climate for the fiery premise. Credit Sons of Kemet’s immensely talented musicians for the accomplished jazz. Mold the two together, and the resulting product is the most impassioned, diverse jazz record of the year. “Your Queen Is A Reptile” is explicitly historical, following a habitual song naming formula of “My Queen Is (insert historical black female figure here),” but also in embracing the African roots of the genre. Artists like Fela Kuti and the afrobeat movement of the ’70s spring to mind, and like those jazz movements, bandleader Shabaka Hutchings embraces both poignant political outcry and unorthodox composition. Am I saying that tubas are underrated? Yes, yes, I am.
Highlights: “My Queen is Ada Eastman,” “My Queen is Mamie Phipps Clark,” “My Queen is Harriet Tubaman,” “My Queen is Nanny of the Maroons,” “My Queen is Albertina Sisulu”
- IDLES – “Joy as an Act of Resistance”
IDLES is all about conflict: between Joe Talbot snarls such lines as “if someone talked to you the way you do to you, I’d put put their teeth through / Love yourself.” It’s less cheesy and more humorous than it sounds on paper. From the punishing opener “Colossus,” Talbot paints himself as an avenging angel, one who’s “like Stone Cold Steve Austin” and puts “homophobes in coffins.” Surprisingly emotional (see Talbot’s ode to his stillborn son “June”) and deceptively danceable, Joy as an Act of Resistance slaps muscular guitars atop punishing-yet-groovy rhythm while still maintaining a soul, making for a rousing punk manifesto. I challenge you to find a better pro-immigration anthem than “Danny Nedelko.”
Highlights: “Colossus,” “Never Fight a Man With a Perm,” “Danny Nedelko,” “June,” “Television”