- Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
After waiting half a decade, Indie-Folk powerhouse Fleet Foxes have finally released a follow up to their critically acclaimed 2011 album “Helplessness Blues”. The weight of expectation, particularly when factoring in the intensely intimate brand of Folk the band play, must have been overwhelming and in many ways “Crack-Up” bears the scars of this process. The world has become a much more uncertain place since 2011 and this uncertainty is reflected in the abstract lyricism and scattershot songwriting all over this album. The song structures here are winding and unpredictable especially on the longer cuts which can switch from sparse acoustics to full blown string-led climaxes on a whim. While the band doesn’t shy away from dense instrumentation somehow through even the busiest passages that Earthy real quality that defines all of the best Folk most stays strong. A big contributor to that is Robin Pecknold’s gorgeous vocal harmonies and affecting lyricism which not only paint a vivid picture of his own headspace but touch on important social issues as well. If you come into “Crack-Up” looking for a bright, pretty Folk album you will get just that but also so much more.
- Lorde – Melodrama
In a Pop music climate where it feels like the follow-up can never come soon enough and your limelight dims with every moment you’re not putting yourself out there, Lorde chose to do things her own way. The lyrical themes that dominate “Melodrama” simply would not have been possible had she not given herself time to be a teenager and grow into adulthood (relatively) normally. “Melodrama” is an ode to the fractured and self-serving love lives of young people, a celebration of all the fucked up mind games we play with each other and ourselves. These often dark and meditative themes are driven by production and instrumentation that excels in subtlety, like the little horn accents on “Sober” or the choppy thuds of percussion and vocal samples courtesy of Flume on “The Louvre”. In fact the only times where Lorde hits the rousing strides expected from a Top 40 Pop artist is on the opener “Green Light” and closer “Perfect Places”. Opening the album with a lamentation of her failed love and closing it with an anthem dedicated to the kind desperate, hedonistic pursuits that kind of heartbreak has driven so many of us into.
- Brockhampton – Saturation
The closest and most obvious comparison to Brockhampton’s posse-driven and chaotic Hip-Hop sound is the now defunct group, Odd Future. Yet even with the plethora of talent that came out of Odd Future, the group never dropped something this consistently superb. What elevates this group above their contemporaries is how each member is distinctly unique from the other but they come together so cleanly behind each song idea. Take the opening trunk-thumper “HEAT” where the aggressive verses from Ameer and Don are offset perfectly by Merlyn’s more melodic voice and Matt’s effortlessly cool flows. The frontman of the group, if there is one, would be Kevin Abstract who is far more than the designated hook guy as his tender singing voice gives way to commendable bars and pitch-shifted croons. His vision also shines through the surprising amount of variety on this tape. Alongside the straight rap songs are an abundance of Alt-R&B ballads and there are even some crazy instances where these two sounds clash on the same song like “BUMP”. With Saturation, Brockhampton have cemented themselves as the group to watch in the months and years to come.
- Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
The most outstanding quality that Vince Staples highlights on “Big Fish Theory” isn’t his impeccable flow or his penchant for sombre, socially aware lyricism; it’s his beat and producer choices. The production on this album brings with it the realisation of the Hip-House dream that other rappers have only hinted at along with wonky, distorted instrumentals that are pulled straight from an Electronic album. Bringing on big names like SOPHIE and Flume (hey him again) and giving them full licence to bring on their full signature sonic repertoire gives the album a totally unique flavour. At first listen it could be written off as Club fodder and while much of it would go off in such an environment, there is a darker edge lyrically and thematically. Vince laces his bars with scathing social commentary regarding, race, relationships and of course the current state of politics. This deeper meaning is brought forward with some of the kooky and eerie instrumental moments, taking a break from the House beats to become something more menacing.
- Kirin J. Callinan – Bravado
Cult of personality Kirin J. Callinan’s sophomore album is an exuberant Art-Pop album with no restraint or fear of poor taste. It can be hard to trace quite where the satire ends and the genius begins as the track “Big Enough” bursts into a thunderous 90’s Euro-Dance beat backed by Jimmy Barnes’ relentless croons. These moments of madness are rife over the tracklist which cycles through a smorgasbord of genres, each one progressively more unexpected than the last. While “Bravado” is endlessly zany, Kirin sprinkles in a surprising amount of vulnerability veiled beneath the Pop bombast. This becomes apparent on the final title track which sees Kirin stripping back his comedic façade to showcase his humanity more than ever before and his proclamation of “it was all bravado” makes you view the whole album in a different light.
DJ Khaled – Grateful
The worst album of June also happened to have one of its best singles in the form of the Rihanna and Bryson Tiller featuring, Santana sampling, “Wild Thoughts”. Unfortunately, raw gusto brought by the guest stars on that track is never matched once through the 22 track, 90 minute tracklist. On top of the blanket of mediocre performances up and down this thing the album’s signature star himself puts in a pretty weak performance with a line-up of unmemorable instrumentals. Despite being a living meme Khaled has shown that he is capable of pulling off great Pop R&B songs with a trademark goofy sheen but that sense of fun is sorely lacking on “Grateful”. With a tracklist this bloated and lacking in highlights “Grateful” was the most tedious listening experience I’ve had all year.