Summer is officially over, but before we break out the corduroy and pumpkin-flavored beverages, Aural Wes looks back at our favorite albums from summer 2018: Yes, the pics ARE hyperlinked :)
Mitski - Be the Cowboy
Mitski’s 5th album Be the Cowboy creates a cutting sense of heartbreak embedded with raw musical power. Could we expect anything less? The first single off the album, “Geyser” reminded us immediately of Mitski’s ability to develop a deeply emotional musical experience in just 2 and a half minutes of her haunting voice backed by garage-rocky instrumentals. “Nobody,” showed an unexpectedly poppy side to Mitski with 70’s disco vibes and a hypnotic yet catchy chorus. My favorite song on the album, “Old Friend” was nostalgic and heart-wrenching, a beautiful homage to the solace of diners. Overall, Be the Cowboy was a wonderfully listenable album, perfectly combining her indie-rock sensibilities with her powerful ballad-ready voice.
Parquet Courts - Wide Awaaaaake!
Parquet Courts weren’t always the extra-political, eccentric punk band with soft-rock sensibilities that they are now. Their first record was filled with abrasive Ramones-inspired tunes that made up for a lack of melody with a ferocious intensity and a jangly guitar sound that managed to evoke the arid landscapes of their Texas beginnings. Fast forward 5 years and they’re working with legendary producer Danger Mouse on an album that sounds like the first compelling statement of the contemporary state of punk since…..Jay Reatard?? The tunes sound great, due in large part to the nimble bass-work—at times reminiscent of the glorious dance-punk DFA Records was putting out in the ‘00s—as well as the versatility the band showcases throughout the record. But in interviews leading up to the record’s release, singer Andrew Savage said that the songwriting was informed to a large extent by the harsh and unidealized themes on the album, which I think really sets this apart from the pack this year. Even on tracks like “Before the Water Gets Too High”, the lyrics are portraying a grave state of affairs—namely, the rapid onset of climate change—and chiding the political elite for their complicity. It may sound more like a dub-inspired haze than a punk song, but it carries the torch of punk music far better than most do [Bad Brains would be proud, i think]. The new “punk” is drawing attention to the manifold oppressions in society, while at the same time mocking those who think themselves high-minded for being aware of these social injustices, which the band does hilariously on the album’s title track.
Wide Awake! is truly a contemporary punk album too, an album filled with the existential dread of late capitalism and consequently, a mix of anger and restlessness. The boys of Parquet Courts have read the stats, watched the news, and seen the people around them succumb to the cruel forces of urban life; they know how absolutely screwed we are as a society. The reaction to this somber revelation often amounts to anger (“Almost Had to Start a Fight”), or sometimes a forceful call to action (“Total Football”), but it always leads to songs with something to say, which is why the melodies and riffs are on-point throughout the duration of the record. You certainly can’t write a song like “Total Football” without a subject matter as grandiose as the need for a massive, liberatory revolution against the powers that be (as well as a staunch anti-Tom Brady stance that we can all surely get on board with). Parquet Courts are not singling themselves out when they say “we are conductors of sound, heat, and energy”; this is a characterization of the working class, the everyday person, the power of collective action, and it’s clear that these crucial themes awaken a level of songwriting prowess not seen before from PC.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS - S/t
June saw the release of a seven track self-titled album by Kids See Ghosts, a project from the minds of Kanye West and Kid Cudi. KSG is as easy to listen to as it is deeply emotional. This intensity comes as no surprise to longtime listeners of both Kanye and Cudi—and neither does the clear distinction of stylistic differences. Nonetheless, the product synthesizes their best elements damn near perfectly. It’s impressive how this album balances the artists’ talents. Cudi’s signature sounds and delivery do more than hold up to Kanye’s raw power and sampling; they make it better.
Kids See Ghosts debuted a mere week after the release of ye. This was just the beginning of a Kanye-heavy summer, packed with heavy production and passion running high. KSG is, by design, in conversation with ye—in fact, “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” is a direct parallel of “Ghost Town,” off of ye. The two share not only a title, but several production patterns. No surprise, as Cudi is actually featured on “Ghost Town.” A standout track for me is “Reborn,” a brief respite from the general ominous tone of the album. Speaking of movin’ forward, I can’t wait to see what the duo churns out next—I expect to see it sooner than later.
Blood Orange - Negro Swan
On Negro Swan, Blood Orange (Dev Hynes) delves into his own self in a redefined manner. The record ranks as the #1 “riding the bus home in August” set of tracks, perfect for a late night in the summer. Hynes takes an introspective take on this newest album, stressing his own insecurities, hinting towards his depression and childhood turmoil. In its completeness, Hynes’s album is genuine like no other; it makes a statement in veering from the stereotype of how black male musicians are so often portrayed in hip-hop and R&B. Instead, Blood Orange’s newest work is exposed, cohesive, and heartfelt. In addition, Negro Swan marks Hynes’s first use of features on his albums. Hynes’s guests are not exactly “underground”; he impressively features Diddy and A$AP Rocky on “Hope” and “Chewing Gum,” respectively.
Negro Swan does many things right--it can be praised for its rhythmic mastery, variety of instruments and sounds, contemplative thought, and its soft nature (among other things). Most of all, Blood Orange’s lyrical prowess stands out; he traces his album with beautifully-thoughtful verses: “Sixteen-year old boy/To feel so numb it’s deafening,” Hynes sings on “Orlando”. On “Charcoal Baby,” he writes “No one wants to be the odd one out at times/No one wants to be the negro swan/Can you break sometimes,” diving into personal issues with his outward persona. His album is interwoven with the words of Janet Mock, a transgender writer and activist. The track “Family” features Mock responding to the question of ‘what family is,’ responding that she “think[s] of family as community”...“I think of the spaces where you don't have to shrink yourself/Where you don't have to pretend or to perform/You can fully show up and be vulnerable.” Timely, political, and contemplative, Negro Swan tells the story of Blood Orange’s own hardships and the vulnerability inherent to his musical and personal identity.
Snail Mail - Lush
Snail Mail’s debut album Lush was a summer album appropriate for multiple occasions, whether you felt a little somber or were looking for contagious guitar instrumentals appropriate for bopping around with friends. Lindsey Jordan takes her listeners through a painful romance with “green eyes.” In “Pristine,” she expresses anger over parties, weekend after weekend, with her significant other, feeling looked over and asking in her chorus, “Don’t you like me for me?” In “Heat Wave” and “Stick” she continues to express frustration. “Green eyes” cannot commit to Jordan like Jordan commits to her. In “Full Control,” she realizes that love should never be this frustrating. She chooses to love herself instead of waiting for someone to love her back.
On the surface, Lush may sound like another album about teenage love and angst, but Jordan clearly demonstrates that she is a strong-willed, passionate, nineteen year old female indie rocker who can convey profound emotion and supply strong instrumentals. Keep it coming, Lindsey!
Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E.
“I want my name to be a household product.”
Prior to the release of K.T.S.E. (short for Keep That Same Energy), I had not heard of Teyana Taylor despite her being featured on one of my all-time favorite albums, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. K.T.S.E. sets itself apart from the other albums in Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. summer series with its soulful R&B sounds (reminiscent of Old Kanye).
In many of her songs, Taylor sings about love, sexuality, and vulnerability, and her airy vocals are interspersed with signature Kanye samples. The combination of laser pew pew pew noises and samples from GQ’s “I Do Love You” in “Issues/Hold On” especially stand out, as well as the strings that accompany Taylor’s powerful verses in “Rose in Harlem”. The highlight of K.T.S.E., however, is the closing track “WTP” which hearkens back to the 1980s Harlem ballroom scene, sampling dialogue from the documentary Paris is Burning and Ellis D.’s classic “Work This Pussy”.
While there are some more disappointing moments in the album (“3Way” is easily skippable and Kanye’s verse in “Hurry” is cringeworthy to say the least), Taylor describing her partner’s premature ejaculation in “Hurry” as “rocket-rocket-rocket-rocket ship blast like it’s Jimmy Neutron” makes it all worth it.
Father John Misty - God’s Favorite Customer
Father John Misty’s newest album, God’s Favorite Customer, features the haunting melodies, folky accompaniment, and smooth crooning we’ve come to expect from him. This album, inspired by Tillman’s struggles with depression, often strikes a self-deprecating, brutally honest tone about the tolls that mental illness takes on him and his relationships. A good example of this, “Please Don’t Die” alternates between Tillman’s and his wife’s perspective narrating the lyrics. As he realizes the effect his depression and suicidal ideation has on her, she begs him, “please don’t die.” She doesn’t go easy on him, either (or he doesn’t go easy on himself, considering that he’s really writing this): “Oh my god, you’re so naive / You’ll leave this world in a drunken heave / Who’ll make the arrangements, baby, them or me?” This subtle lyric, referring to Tillman’s own funeral arrangements, is Father John Misty at his most morbid and clever.
If you’re in a lighter mood, try listening to “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All” for some comically unorthodox metaphors about love (“like a pervert on a crowded bus / this glare of love bears down on me”); or “Mr. Tillman”, which was inspired by the two months Tillman spent in a hotel writing this album and losing his mind. (This one’s pretty dark, too, come to think of it.)
Despite the overall quality of God’s Favorite Customer, it has a few shortcomings. Father John Misty remains stuck in his own head - gone is the political commentary prevalent in Fear Fun (2012), his best album to date (in my humble opinion). In that same vein, the album lacks contrast - each song has, at most, a soft-rock feel, but nothing you could swing your hips to. So if you want to chill out and commiserate about life’s struggles, let Father John Misty’s gorgeous melodies sweep you away.
The Internet - Hive Mind
Hive Mind is like the irresistible, suavé individual you see on the other side of the room at a party. The piece steals the show for the #1 “on the way to the party” album of Summer 2018. The Internet’s fourth studio record marks a progression for the band’s discography towards a new type of sound, one that will serve as a guide for the group’s predecessors. This album is undeniably sexy; it has beats that will make you want to dance in an elevator, lyrics from Syd and Steve Lacy that will make you want sing to a mirror, and guitar solos from Patrick Paige II that will make you want to do nothing else but pick up an air guitar with your friends.
In 2017 and 2018, members of The Internet took some time off to work on their own projects. Syd introduced us to her world with Fin, Steve Lacy made love to our headphones with Steve Lacy’s Demo, Matt Martians got funky on The Drum Chord Theory, Patrick Paige II explored his soulful voice on Letters of Irrelevance, and Christopher Smith did ...something... on LOUD. After the release of these masterful, soul-finding projects, The Internet’s comeback is syncopated and smoother than any record the band had produced prior.
Hive Mind gets rolling with the gentle chords of bass and Syd’s breathtaking voice on “Come Together.” The band displays itself with a newfound confidence from the get-go: the members construct a jazzy beat on “Roll (Burbank Funk),” followed by the seducing pleas of Syd on “Come Over,” and a classic groovy hit on “La Di Da” where Steve Lacy confesses that he “just came to dance/I’m on the move.” The album takes a moody turn with “Stay the Night,” where Syd dips into her gentle self, continuing into the feel of a softly-lit bedroom scene. “Bravo,” “Mood,” and “Next Time/Humble Pie” continue in a melodramatic, post-breakup trend, revealing the more vulnerable side of Hive Mind. “It Gets Better (With Time)” escapes from the mid-album funk and takes on a stronger, powerful persona that segues into the memorable beats on “Look What U Started.” “Wanna Be” acts as a stabilizing interlude before the album finishes on a loud, self-assured note with “Beat Goes On” and “Hold On”. The final songs of the album reiterate the ultimate cohesive and multi-faceted boldness that has become inherent to the sound of The Internet. Hive Mind marks the successful collaboration of five wildly talented individuals reuniting after some time alone. Most importantly, it will make your pregame.
Real Friends - Composure
Composure, the third album from Chicago-based pop-punk band Real Friends, is arguably the band’s most progressive and most musically evolved release. The album comes about a year after lead singer Dan Lambton suddenly took time off from the band to focus on himself as his struggles with bipolar disorder continued to worsen. Composure highlights many of the trials Dan faced, ranging from anxiety, loneliness, and losing loved ones, as well as how his bandmates reacted to Dan’s mental illness. Overall, the lyrics on this album are more mature than previous albums and EPs, and the songs demonstrate the healing process for those struggling with mental illness. Composure also differs from other Real Friends releases as there are no slow songs on the 32 minute album.
For me, the song that sticks out the most is “Get By”. This song in particular highlights the high times of Dan’s life and how he truly felt that writing and getting back into music helped him work through his conflicts. The song is the happiest on the album and a good contrast to many of the other songs. I had the privilege of seeing Real Friends live on the day the album was released. I bought a signed copy of the CD from the guys in the band, and heard many of the new songs performed for the first time. The album is amazing live, and when mixed with songs from older albums, makes for an incredible live performance. Give this album a listen!
Joey Dosik - Inside Voice
You really can’t beat Joey Dosik and a piano. Dosik’s first album Inside Voice is a perfect contemporary take on the full spectrum of soul, with notes of gospel, R&B, and everything in-between. Best known for his collaborations as songwriter and instrumentalist with neo-funk group Vulfpeck (and for being a nice guy), Dosik’s smooth vocals and groovy melodies shine through in his solo work. His music exemplifies the art of minimalist funk arrangements with big nods to the traditional soul of Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding, but still presents a modern twist, all of which will draw in fans old and new.
Title track “Inside Voice” is undoubtedly sultry and dreamy, driven by snapping fingers and a fantastic string section. Dosik draws from more aspects of pop with duet “Don’t Want It to Be Over,” which completely makes you want to get in a cheesy dance battle with your ex in a mid-century modern apartment. The piano riff in “In Heaven” is irresistibly bright and bouncy, whereas ballads “Grandma Song” and “Emergency Landing” slow things down with beautifully stripped down arrangements. No one’s complaining with the album’s conclusion, the fifth version of “Game Winner,” one of Dosik and Vulfpeck’s most popular tracks. Joey Dosik brings innovative and suave musicianship to the field with Inside Voice for a great debut album.
Playboi Carti - Die Lit
On the surface, Playboi Carti may seem to be your run-of-the-mill, mindless trapper. He exudes the same sort of bottomless braggadocio with which his contemporaries have stumbled through the doors of pop culture. Coming up through A$AP Rocky and various other connections following his move to New York City, Jordan Carter made his breakthrough with the hypnotic “Magnolia”, a swerving, trance-inducing ballad of drug-running and self-pronouncements akin to everything else we have heard from the rap world throughout the past 25 years. However, if we abandon judgement just long enough to listen to “Long Time - Intro,” the first track on Die Lit, then we see why Playboi Carti is the enigmatic genius that he is. His flows, his interplay with the woozy beats of Pierre Bourne, the sheer bravery to utter a line like “I fuck yo bitch like a tick”, everything about him, all make for a wildly enjoyable album filled with one-liners, and beats made for jumping off a building, just like the album cover. “Choppa Don’t Miss” with Young Thug is rapid and wistful, “RIP” makes me want to through my self through a burning building, and “Fell in Luv” makes me want to marry myself and then divorce myself. In sum, Die Lit is an album not made to be experienced through an album review.
Aminé - ONEPOINTFIVE
REVIEWFORYOU: Aminé is a GENIUS when it comes to his career, hear me out. He turned his one hit wonder “Caroline” into a legitimate career with savvy song drops culminating in GOODFORYOU, an album filled with equal parts artistry and songs that slap. Despite clearly trending towards songs with meaning, Aminé is very aware that bangers hold an audience. ONEPOINTFIVE, the EPLPMixtapeAlbum, is meant to fulfill that desire. It is a halfway point between GOODFORYOU and whatever well-crafted project comes next (it’s right there in the name). The album is playful, narrated by comedian Rickey Thompson, and relies heavily on sharp trap beats. The introductory track, “DR. WHOEVER,” bares his soul while also spinning a ironic, bouncy hook. “These intros ain’t meant to be bangers,” Aminé says, but the song still bangs. The album continues on the same wave, not faltering, but also not going anywhere. “REEL IT IN,” the album’s high point (and is still charting), comes as the third track and causes all the tracks following to appear low-energy in comparison (they’re not).
None of this is to say that Aminé’s new album is bad. It is certainly not. Full of playlist-perfect songs, it does EXACTLY what it is supposed to do (slap). See it as something to hold you over for whatever Grammy-competitive body of work he is sure to put out. If you only like Aminé for music in the vein of “Caroline,” this is album is for you more than anybody else; savor it.
Aminé is a king. Know how to pronounce his name: AH-MEEN-AY
The National - Boxer Live in brussels
This spring, The National released a live performance of their classic album Boxer in celebration of its tenth anniversary. But while Live in Brussels was nothing new, a front-to-back recording of an album I've listened to dozens of times, it provoked in me a nostalgic, self-reflective joy, one categorically different from the kind of intensely current pleasure you might expect in a list like this. Boxer was one of the first albums I really listened to, and it defined its era in indie-rock. But in a culture of innovation and originality, when indie music has seemingly moved on to more experimental and subgenre-specific sounds, listening to Boxer in 2018 feels almost anachronistic. Like albums of the time by The Shins or Arcade Fire, it is a product of a bygone musical era. However, the value of Live in Brussels lies not in its newness but in its ability to evoke the individual and collective memories that listeners bring to it. The National was among the first bands I really loved, from my initial exploration beyond my dad's library, when I was discovering what music really meant to me. What live or studio re-releases do is resurrect both cultural and personal histories to be relived and reexamined, and for that Live in Brussels doesn't have to be new or different, it just has to be.
Tony Molina - Kill the Lights
“Kill The Lights” is simultaneously a very traditional and an unorthodox album. This is an album that draws influence from a time when melodies reigned supreme, from familiar sources like 60’s power pop and 90’s sad rock (think the Byrds or Elliott Smith) - with songs that already feel, on first listen, like classics you grew up on. Except the 10 track album clocks in at a bare 14 minutes. Tony Molina distinguishes himself through brevity - songs average just over 1 minute, but are so finely, and so delicately crafted that they whiz by in no time. And while some tracks may admittedly read as Byrds rip-offs (extremely faithful ones at that), others are actually quite progressive in their cute little 2 minute runtimes. Because the songs are so short, all parts of each feel essential—tracks somehow hit highs and lows within this mini timeframe, and manage to stay impactful and emotional throughout.
Pusha T - DAYTONA
Compact, succinct, vicious. That is Pusha T’s Daytona. A seven-track track, 21-minute project entirely produced by Kanye West, Daytona proves that Pusha T is one of the most underrated, clever and economical rappers in the game. Despite being his shortest album to date, Daytona is saturated with the most drug references of any album in Pusha T’s career and despite luxury drug rap being Pusha’s domain, songs like “The Games We Play” raise the bar considerably. On this song he raps,
Oven's full of cakes that he bakes, still spreadin' paste // The love just accentuates the hate // This is for my bodybuildin' clients movin' weight // Just add water, stir it like a shake
Not a single word is wasted on Daytona from Pusha’s part and Kanye’s production matches, with its hard and gritty simplicity; from the harsh guitars on “Games We Play,” to the ominous and cinematic piano on “Hard Piano,” to the spare 808 on “Come Back Baby,” Kanye’s production matches Pusha’s focus perfectly.
There are no bad songs on this project, but the highlights include “Games We Play,” “Come Back Baby,” and “Santeria”. Although much of the buzz surrounding this project might have been due to Pusha’s beef with Drake, this album stands by itself in launching Pusha T back into the spotlight as one of the best rappers in the game.
-Nathan Baron Silvern
Drake - Scorpion
It’ll be a while before I forget the night this summer when some NYU kid I barely knew announced to my apartment that Drake’s Scorpion dropped as he swiftly hijacked the aux for a rather forced impromptu listening party. Not that I minded too much at first. I’m done with hating Drake. There’s no point in fighting it. He’s like a force of nature. Accept it. Give into it. Maybe sometimes you’ll love it.
Things heated up when “God’s Plan” came around, a song that had already run its course through most people’s listening cycles at this point. I had almost forgotten about it—at least enough to not expect it on the album. When it came on, I suddenly felt like a kid whose parents took him for a surprise trip to Toys R Us.
In my moment of childlike joy, our nameless NYU Drake elitist decided to air his grievances with the song which he found to be overrated. I’m not one to say people’s music tastes are wrong. But he was definitely not correct. “God’s Plan” is a banger. It hits where it should. It doesn’t go on too long. And it’s got enough variation to keep the listener engaged.
The same cannot be said for the rest of the album. After realizing how long the album was (around when we got to the B-side and our focus began to drift and every song we thought was the last song somehow was not) we promptly gave up. It wasn’t until later that week that I finished it.
Scorpion is a haystack with more than a few needles. Jump in. Find the needles you can. Get out. Some of my favorite Drake songs are on this album, and they provide me with really fun listening even a couple months out. Maybe it’s not the best album, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s like a stupidly long diner menu. There’s something there for everyone, but some of it is definitely not safe to eat.
All that being said: Drake will never get better than Houstatlantavegas…