Summer Music Roundup
After a summer whose end was marked by Taylor Swift “killing” all of her former selves, we’re looking back at our favorite releases of the season, most of which are slightly less, er, melodramatic (Lorde pun intended). In case you missed any of these highlights, let us guide you through a selection of summer 2017’s greatest music moments.
This summer, JAY-Z returned from a four-year hiatus with a renewed dash in his name and a contemplative album about the affair that set the Beyhive aflame last year when Beyoncé opened up her soul with a visual album that publicly acknowledged his infidelity. Heavy with samples and lighter on artist collaborations (although Beyoncé makes an inevitable appearance, along with Frank Ocean, Damien Marley, and Jay’s mother), 4:44 paints the rapper as a family man, a father who puts his children first, a son eternally devoted to his mother, and a husband who made a mistake he deeply regrets. But the jury’s still out on whether the Beyhive has decided to forgive him.
by Danielle Cohen
Crack-Up (Fleet Foxes)
If there’s anything we’re to learn from the six-year, undeclared hiatus Fleet Foxes put an end to on June 16 of this year, it’s that patience is key. Frontman Robin Pecknold’s folksy tenor has matured, updating the lonely 20s doubts he articulated on 2011’s critically acclaimed Helplessness Blues. With former drummer John Tillman out of the picture and in the national spotlight performing under the stage name Father John Misty, Pecknold and the band have managed to stay the course and have been greeted with the open arms of an ever-eager and committed fan base. Crack-Up digs its heels into the psychedelic folk that late aughts’ contemporaries Marcus Mumford and Edward Sharpe bowed out of for poppier sounds and reestablishes Fleet Foxes at the forefront of the genre.
by Emmet Teran
Lorde’s Melodrama, which interrupts a four-year hiatus following her wildly successful debut Pure Heroine, forgoes a triumphant and celebratory homecoming in favor of vulnerability and a supreme empathic relatability. The trade-off is calculated, self-aware, and yet again masterfully executed. Melodrama loosely chronicles her relationship and subsequent breakup with long-term boyfriend James Lowe, but maintains an ambiguity that universalizes her emotions and forces the listener to empathize rather than just sympathize. Those who are uncomfortably familiar with Lorde’s specific post-breakup brand of heartbreak can work through the 11-song tale of loving and losing on a poignant, intimate level. Yet the listeners who prefer to consume the album in a more strictly musical sense will still find plenty of merit in the 20-year-old’s irresistibly catchy, bass-driven melodies and creative use of vocals to recreate a diverse array of instruments. Melodrama is the product of a precocious musician that more than self-justifies its abnormally measured roll out.
by Sam Prescott
Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (Calvin Harris)
“THIS is Calvin Harris?” is a pretty good way to sum up Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, a post-Taylor Swift, star-studded 180-degree turn that marks a serious shift in Harris’ repertoire. It’s hard to believe the smooth, laid-back, sunny tracks of the album came from the same man (or, um, computer) that brought us straightforward, hyped-up EDM tracks like “Summer” and “Let’s Go.” There’s not a single track that doesn’t feature a big-name artist. In fact, only two of them feature a single artist, the rest being three- and four-way collaborations. In spite of the massive cast of guests, the album feels like Harris leaning back in his chair, stepping away from hardcore EDM-pop to what might be the future of dance music: chock-full of crossover collaborations, effortlessly catchy, and impossibly cool.
by Danielle Cohen
Good For You (Aminé)
The smashing success of his hit single “Caroline” presented Aminé with a clear niche as a light, energetic, and easy-listening brand of rapper. In his debut studio album, Good For You, the Portland, Ore. native plays to his strengths and generally executes his vision well without straying from the path that “Caroline” set him on. For a 23-year-old rookie, Aminé collected an impressive quality-over-quantity roster of guest spots; he features Ty Dolla $ign (“Veggies”), Nelly (“Yellow”), Offset (“Wedding Crashers”), Charlie Wilson (“Dakota”), and Kehlani (“Heebeejebies”). Even more impressive is that Aminé overshadows most if not all of them. In the 2016-17 hip-hop landscape, massive artistic undertakings have been paradigmatic, highlighted by Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. But Good For You is at its best when at its least ambitious; airy tracks like “Wedding Crashers” and “Slide” hit the mark, while contemplative counterparts like “Sundays” and “Hero” more often feel half-baked. Aminé still has time to mature as an artist, but on Good for You, self-awareness is often the difference-maker between staying sharp and falling flat. And Aminé usually attains the former.
by Sam Prescott
Gone Now (Bleachers)
Jack Antonoff got a lot of attention this summer. With good cause: He basically wrote all your favorite songs, including most of Taylor Swift’s anthems (yes, he was the brain behind “Look What You Made Me Do”), Lorde’s entire album, and a lot of the “Girls” soundtrack, not to mention tracks for Sia, Sara Bareilles, Fifth Harmony, and Tegan and Sara. He was part of Fun. Oh, and he’s dating Lena Dunham. But Antonoff’s own band, Bleachers, put out a wonderfully nostalgic album in June that’s arguably more fun than any of the female pop anthems he’s written. It’s bursting with energy and should only be played on full blast, and it sounds like Bruce Springsteen married with… well, any of the female pop queens Antonoff has written for. You don’t have to like “Girls,” but you will probably like Bleachers.
by Danielle Cohen
Mura Masa (Mura Masa)
Mura Masa’s eclectic self-titled debut album skirts the edges of pop, flirting with some of its catchiness but edging away from it in the end. He teamed up with a bevy of artists that include everyone from A$AP Rocky, Desiigner, and Charlie XCX to Bonzai and Tom Tripp. There’s garage punk, hints of dancehall, rap, and much more. Yet Alex Crossan has maintained some sort of signature throughout it all, a combination of vaguely off-putting dissonance and irresistible bells and clicks that make him a uniquely pop-resistant artist. Much of the album is influenced by the city of London and the music that originated there (in fact, the album opens with the sound of a bus driver announcing “New Park Road”), but it’s a beautiful collage of genres, artists, styles, and sounds.
by Danielle Cohen
Desert Center (Guantanamo Baywatch)
Portland, Ore.-based Guantanamo Baywatch have spent the last few years refining their surf-punk sound, with their newest album Desert Center nodding not only to previous generations of surf rock but also charting a path on its own. Like their band name, their new album is multilayered, often combining playful, political, and referential impulses. Their guitar-heavy instrumental tracks sound simultaneously assured and exploratory, while their lyrical tracks are conceptually and compositionally simpler. Ultimately, the former tracks carry the album, with “The Australians,” “Conquistador,” and “Witch Stomp” standing out as highlights. Meanwhile, two outlandish interludes break up the album (one of which features 20 seconds of fading maniacal laughter following the phrase “Happy Halloween!”). If this album evokes the surf rock of the 1960s and ’70s, it drifts away from the beach. Desert Center is an album that belongs to the desert: what initially appears harsh, endlessly repetitive, and dry is actually rich with life. In Desert Center, guitar riffs sprout as organically as weeds. The emotional and rhythmic texture of a surf trip has been transposed to the desert, full of angst, introspection, and collective discovery. At its best, the album seems to be as much of a journey for Guantanamo Baywatch as it is for listeners. Enjoy the ride.
by Matt Wallock
New York (St. Vincent)
This is the nostalgic, wistful ballad of the summer. Full of yearning, reflection, resignation, and respect. Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, is the badass female guitarist we all know and love, most recently from her self-titled album. The single showcases Clark’s softer side, featuring a melancholy but graceful tone. The message of the song is one of being okay with endings, even when they don’t go the way we’d like. In “New York,” a goodbye is final, but perhaps anything but finite. To her, the subject of the song has affected her infinitely and contributed to her formation as a person in ways immeasurable, breathing life and context into a city that moves so quickly, its identity as a place grows nebulous. Along with the release of this single, Clark was also busy making her directorial debut as part of the all-female anthology XX. As for now, we should all perhaps think of approaching loss, love, and friendship in the manner present in “New York.” Hopefully, Clark’s full album will give us some more backstory to the song.
by Viviane Eng