So far, 2017 has been a great year in music. But, when you only write one album review a week, it’s easy for some of the best albums of the year to fall through the cracks.
To rectify that, today, we’re going to take a quick look at five of the best albums of the first half of 2017 that I didn’t get a chance to talk about formally. As a note, this is not a definitive top five, nor are the records arranged in any particular order. They’re just five albums that deserve your attention.
BROCKHAMPTON — “SATURATION”
Billing themselves variously as the “All-American boy band” or as “the internet’s first boy band,” a better way of understanding BROCKHAMPTON is as a giant hip-hop group in the vein of the Wu-Tang Clan or Odd Future.
BROCKHAMPTON is a group comprised of 15 members, each contributing their own unique personality to the group’s over-all sound.
On “SATURATION,” the group’s first full-length album, that sound is best described as dizzying and frenetic. The group flips quickly between aggressive hip-hop bangers and alternative R&B tracks that would sound at home on Frank Ocean’s “Blonde.”
The members of BROCKHAMPTON take up some tried and true roles in rap groups of this size; if we compare them to Wu-Tang, Kevin Abstract is the group’s Method Man with all of the “cool guy” attitude and attention to hooks, while Merlyn Wood is their Ol’ Dirty Bastard, with an aggression and sense of humor that borders on carelessness.
The group lyrically vacillates between bold, violent bravado (“I’ll break your neck so you can watch your back,” Joba screams on opening track “HEAT”) and sincere, introspective thinking (“I gotta get better at being me, being who I am,” Abstract croons on “MILK”).
The fast switches between different lyrical and musical themes never feel forced. Instead, “SATURATION” shows the vast amount of styles BROCKHAMPTON is capable of dabbling in. “SATURATION” is the group’s resume, showcasing all of its members’ skills.
Loss — “Horizonless”
From the very first moment on “Horizonless,” it’s clear that Loss has something very, very dark in store.
The Nashville-based band plays funeral doom metal, a subgenre of doom metal that slows down the grooves of the already-slow doom metal genre into an almost rhythm-less sludge, lyrically focusing on themes of absolute despair.
Vocalist Mike Meacham varies between a deep, animalistic growl and a higher-pitched, throaty screech. His vocals are always unsettling, and occasionally even frightening.
Meanwhile, in the background, the instrumentation lumbers along at the pace of a wandering giant. It’s very easy to get lost in the band’s grooves, as their plodding beats become meditative on tracks that stretch to the neighborhood of 10 minutes.
There is absolutely nothing fun about “Horizonless.” It’s a scary record, not in the way that horror movies are frightening, but in the way that grappling with one’s own existential dread is.
Loss forces the listener to wrestle with themselves across the gruelling time-span of the record (clocking in at just over an hour), but those who are up to the challenge will find themselves rewarded by some of the most beautiful doom metal of recent years.
(Sandy) Alex G — “Rocket”
Philadelphia musician (Sandy) Alex G has established himself as a musical chameleon since the beginning of his career, and his latest album, “Rocket,” is no different.
While ostensibly a folk artist, Alex isn’t afraid to dabble in a variety of genres, ranging from alternative rock and to even harsh noise rock. All of these influences are to be found on “Rocket,” and that’s what makes it such a compelling record.
For the first half of the record, Alex sweetly sings over a variety of instrumentals that warp between folk, bluegrass and the alternative folk Animal Collective fans would be familiar with.
But about halfway through, on the tracks “Horse” and “Brick,” Alex strips back the sweetness and screams harshly over experimental, noisy production.
After these two tracks, Alex returns to sounds more similar to the first half, but they have a darker, more sinister tone now. The listener feels as though they’ve seen Alex experience a change, and everything has changed with it. The shift in tone is subtle, and it’s one of the most interesting moments in music this year.
Slowdive — “Slowdive”
What makes Slowdive’s return to the music scene after 22 years so amazing is that it does not feel like a standard comeback album; instead, it’s perhaps the best addition to the band’s catalog.
The English shoegaze band returns with their self-titled record which is exactly what you could ask for from a shoegaze/dream-pop album.
The album’s opening track, “Slomo,” is a spacey indication of what’s to come on the rest of the album: It’s jangly, dreamy, catchy and almost mind-numbingly peaceful. From there, it’s just one great dream-pop song after another.
Much like Loss’ “Horizonless,” “Slowdive” is the kind of album that it’s easy to get lost in, but in contrast, it’s overwhelmingly positive.
“Slowdive” is great in a way that is almost difficult to describe. Find a good set of speakers, put on the record, and really drink in its beauty.
Young Thug — “Beautiful Thugger Girls”
Young Thug is, without a doubt, one of the strangest figures in hip-hop. Well known for his yelping vocals and nonsensical lyrics, Thugger has been tapped into by some of the biggest names in hip-hop looking to add a distinctive sound to their record.
On “Beautiful Thugger Girls,” which is something like the rapper’s millionth project after a prolific series of mixtapes, Thug tries something a bit different: Calling it his “singing album,” he taps into a variety of genres of pop music to make an album that is admittedly messy but is nonetheless compelling.
Thug goes on a tour of music, adding genres as disparate as Jamaican dancehall and country to a base of trap music, and it’s all very strange.
Lyrically, Thug spits as much nonsense as ever (“I was ‘bout to stab ‘em thirty times like porcupines,” he says on “Tomorrow ‘Til Infinity”).
The strangeness of “Beautiful Thugger Girls” is what makes it so captivating. The main reason to keep listening on your first time through is just to see what Young Thug does next.
On future listens, the strange lyrics begin to reveal a certain sort of genius. In his bizarre, barked lyrics, Thug often reveals something about the baser levels of human nature.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan.