Friday, 30 December 2016

Blackstar - David Bowie

If any event has come to dominate 2016 it might have been the death of David Bowie. It was emotionally impacting for millions and it set the tone to that on-going meme of “Fuck 2016.”

It took me maybe 3 months to listen to Blackstar, not because I was necessarily emotionally distraught but I did love Bowie, I felt a connection to him which I shared with no other artist, as a child his shadow lay over my family and as an adult he came to represent individuality and outsider feeling, two things I personally connect to. 

I’ve also been fortunate enough to interview his long-time producer Tony Visconti for my university paper which has only tightened my love towards Bowie.

The cover was designed by Jonathan Barnbrook, who did all his covers since Heathen

Due to all of that I didn’t want to listen to this album which was instantly dubbed his best since 1980's Scary Monsters and perhaps even before that, and I wanted to hear it without the fact that this would be David Bowie’s final artistic statement. However I can't lie that fact still flavoured my reception of the album. 

I didn’t have to worry though, Bowie did what he always could, he managed to make a contemporary record which felt as depressing as it was ambitious.

Much has been said about the mortality hinting lyrics on the album but to me the highlight is Bowie’s adventurousness in the face of mortality, Blackstar (The song) is strong powerful and awe inspiring, and to me sits above the rest as the song of the album.

The album has been described by producer Tony Visconti as a "Parting gift" to fans

However the likes of Tis A Pity She Was A Whore and Lazarus are also near perfect statements by the chameleon of rock, and the way in which Bowie plays with us and the music is amazing and incredibly emotional for a long time fan.

The album slumps with Sue, Girl Loves Me and Dollar Days but the finisher I Can’t Give Everything Away is powerful and an atypically Bowie song, which I suppose makes it perfect.

Despite my personal adoration of the album I do recognise that it has been canonised too soon, it was dubbed the album of the year before the first month was over, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its untrue, however it isn’t my favourite, but that doesn’t stop it from being the album I believe defines one of the most interesting years of recent memory. 

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Lemonade - Beyonce

2016 was the year of Beyoncé more than any other music artist. It was the year where she became political, the year she got critical acclaim and the year she redefined the concept of a surprise album and the music video. 

I’m not a fan of Beyoncé. Sure she’s released a fair few catchy pop songs that I’ve not minded and I’ve always appreciated that she has a good set of lungs, I also enjoyed her singing Etta James’ At Last at President Obama’s inauguration. I also didn't mind her sister Solange, but I’ve never been a fan of Beyoncé.

Lemonade is an album I expected to hate, I expected to listen to it and think “why is this so well thought of?” then I’d complain until I bored even myself and then I’d never pick up the album again, that’s what I expected.

The artwork for the sixth studio album of Beyonce released in April 2016. 

Expectations though are made to be broken by Beyoncé. Because Lemonade is one of the best albums of the year, although I can’t comment on the music videos which have all gained phenomenal adoration because I haven’t watched them.

Lemonade is constantly catchy, constantly innovative and a never-ending barrage of emotion.

It’s hard to admit that though cause I really expected to hate the album like I had Anti by Rihanna, but Beyoncé didn’t let me, she grabbed hold of my ears and moaned at me for almost a hour and then set me down, while I was sat shocked at the emotion, expressiveness and experimentation that I had previous considered Beyoncé unable of.

Hold Up is possibly Beyoncé’s peak as a emotive and personal artist with lyrics like “How did it come own to this/Scrolling through your call list?” admitting the flaws and weaknesses in her relationship with Jay-Z with whom she has long been seen as a power couple of contemporary music.

The 35-Year-Old artist has been making music since 1997. 

The most shocking moment though aren’t her truthful lyrics or dark confessions instead it comes in the form of Daddy Lessons, which destroys all the pop/R&B conceptions of Beyoncé, as it’s a country-pop song about her relationship with her father.

Honestly Lemonade confused me. Does this mean I’ll suddenly be appreciative of all her past efforts I wrote off after hearing the hit single from the album? Perhaps I should give other pop stars that are more known for catchy hits than innovative melodies?

If you need me though I’ll be posing with my copy of Loaded by The Velvet Underground.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Blonde - Frank Ocean

In contemporary R&B there’s no one who creates records with the same emotional depth as Frank Ocean, and his follow up to Channel Orange further pushes the notion that Ocean is one of the most interesting and enigmatic artists currently recording.

Frank Ocean dominated 2016 from behind the scenes. His influence could be seen on the works of Beyoncé, Kanye or Rihanna and his own album Blonde created waves in an already R&B dominated industry.

Channel Orange was a spectacular record, it was the perfect album for it’s genre, an odd comparison could be done by comparing it to Radiohead’s OK Computer, which was a perfect alternative rock album.

The record was released in August 2016 and included guests like Andre 3000 and Beyonce. 

Now, like Radiohead did with Kid A, Ocean has changed the game in a fell swoop of beeping sounds and emotional words, with significant undertones or politics and anthems for a maltreated young adult audience.

Songs like Ivy, Pink + White, Self Control, Nights, White Ferrari and Siegfried are all incredible. Ocean crafted this album better than any other album of 2016 had been crafter with the exception of Blackstar and Lemonade.

It’s hard to find fault with the album, there are moments where it seems to lose its catchiness or it fails to grapple between hooks, but overall the album is constant and good.

Blonde is the second studio album of the 29 year old star.

While the album may be good however there are no spectacular moments on the album that make your jaw drop and there are no lyrics which could have sprung from the pen of Shakespeare. It’s a good album, but its highs simply don’t reach the expected pinnacle.

As far as artists go Frank Ocean is one of the most interesting ones in the modern world. He has a unique viewpoint, he has the ability to song craft and he appears to have the ability to create greater albums.

Which Blonde isn’t. It isn’t great. But it is good.

This song isn't on the record, as you can't link to them, oh well. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

A Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead

If A Moon Shaped Pool were a part of the discography of most bands it’d be the highlight of their discography and it’d likely overshadow anything else they released. For Radiohead however it’s a album greater than their worst, but not greater than their best.

Radiohead have had 3 game changing albums: OK Computer changed the work of alternative rock away from the grunge-britpop scene that had been going since early in the decade. Kid A changed the word Art Rock from a insult of pretentiousness into a critical buzzword synonymous with change and the album also enabled rock with electronics to be both popular and critically acclaimed. Then there’s In Rainbows which was a masterpiece and challenged the music piracy and corporate controls with an innovate pay what you want system.

A Moon Shaped Pool is the 5th greatest Radiohead album, worse than the 3 mentioned and The Bends. The album however is great.

The artwork of the ninth studio album of the British artist.

What was surprising was how adventurous the album felt and how their extra-curricular works influenced the album you can hear Thom Yorke’s solo works in the song craft and you can feel Jon Greenwood’s instrumentation work with the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson all over the record.

The high of the record is debatable but if a popular consensus has arisen it is that the highlight of the album is True Love Waits, a song about Yorke’s recently deceased ex-wife. The song has been performed live since 2001 in an acoustic setting but 15 years on the song has been changed into a swirling of gorgeous orchestration and lush landscapes.

The rest of the album is almost as good with songs like Present Tense, Burn The Witch, Daydreaming, Ful Stop, Identikit and The Numbers all being near perfect songs.

Radiohead were formed 31 years ago and released their first hit Creep in 1992.

Of course this record wouldn’t be a Radiohead record if it didn’t have some political meaning and much like Hail to the Thief the record seems to warn about the state of the world.

Burn The Witch and it’s accompanying video embody this the best with Joseph McCarthy undertones and 1984-esque lyrics which appear to refer the rise of far right ideology.

Regardless of if the fascists take control of the Reichstag again or if this is only a misstep and 2017 will be forever known as the time when socialism took the west, there is one certainty A Moon Shaped Pool will be discussed by the children of the children of the people who are affected by the current political climate.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Coloring Book - Chance The Rapper

Colouring Book is the album whose acclaim confuses me the most. It isn’t infectious, it isn’t experimental and it doesn’t make me feel enriched by listening to it. So why is it so well regarded?

I’m not Chance The Rapper’s target audience I’m not a Hip-Hop head, I don’t go out of my way to listen to mixtapes and I dislike it when religion flavours conversations to much, and Colouring Book is the most religious album I’ve heard in 2016.

He’s a good rapper though and his style is likeable and I found a lot of his lyrical subject matter to be easily relatable but the thing is to often does the songwriting let down Chance’s rapping talents and too often do his good lyrics get overshadowed by larger more annoying lyrics.

This is Chance's third mix tape.

Maybe I’m just a cynic though, well that’s what several teachers have told me over my time in education at least. I disliked the happiness of the album, I thought it was too positive a album and I prefer a good mopey album, so maybe that’s my fault, but maybe it’s not.

The album has some good songs though All We Got, Same Drugs, Mixtape and All Night are all great songs which can’t be ignored, they are full of lyrical and musical highs.

However there are more songs that annoyed me on this album than most EPs have songs. The list would be too long so I’ll spare your eyes.

Chance The Rapper on Good Morning America.

At the end of the day though it’s not really a terrible album but it also isn’t a good one. It’s not a album I’ll listen to again, but that’s fine cause I’m not his audience, and while the fact that so many love this record does confuse me I’m happy to admit on this occasion, and in surely many future ones, maybe it’s not the album, maybe it’s me with the issue.