Best Albums of July 2017

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1Domino

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Avey Tare’s musical output from the past year and a half seems to have two distinct chapters.  The first comes with Animal Collective’s “Painting With,” a colorful and bustling record that received a companion in this year’s “The Painters” EP.  This hustle-bustle was abandoned for “Meeting of the Waters,” a stripped back EP featuring only Tare and Geologist.  Many Animal Collective fans considered it to be their best release in years and a return to an earlier style for the group.

Those fans would do well to listen to “Eucalyptus.”  Tare does well to flesh out the feel of “Waters” into a work that still manages to bring enough originality to the table to be considered a true standalone work.

“Eucalyptus” contains some of the most soul-searching and emotion-baring music Tare has made to date.  Lyrics for much of the album revolve around Tare asking questions of himself and his relationships.  It often feels like a return to the style of Feels – lots of concrete but abstract descriptions of everyday life that are peppered with profound observations.

The music on this album (promoted as “an electroacoustic movement”) is diverse.  Some of this comes from the featured artists – Angel Deradoorian, Eyvind Kang, Jessika Kenney, Susan Alcorn – who bring a variety of textures and ideas to the record.  They consistently work seamlessly into the song structures, adapting to the more upbeat tracks just as easily as the slow-burners.

Also notable is Deakin’s production on the album.  Tare’s frequent producer and collaborator seems to bring more of his influence to the project than any past Tare album.  There are sections of Eucalyptus that are strongly reminiscent of the transitory portions of last year’s “Sleep Cycle.”  “Lunch Out of Order Pt. 1” is particularly reminiscent with its selection of field and ambient recordings.

“Eucalyptus” is largely an understated album, relying more on drones and ambience to create a mood than some of Tare’s more poppy tendencies.  For the most part, it will ask for your attention rather than grab it.  Giving the album your attention will make for a rewarding listen. [Patrick Larsen]

Recommended if you like: Animal Collective, Deakin, Angel Deradoorian

Listen to: “Season High”

2Self-Released

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Gracie and Rachel’s self- titled debut album pits classical music against pop while simultaneously fusing the two. The album features lyrics descriptive of the duo’s intertwined lives; the pair co-creators since high school. Simplistic, the black and white album cover showcases the two women, one covering the other’s eyes while she, in turn, covers the other’s mouth. The two have revealed the symbolism behind the cover art, explaining how it illustrates the interdependent nature of their relationship, each relying on the other to process and express.

With Gracie on piano and Rachel on violin, both contribute complimentary vocals. While it’s common in groups for one artist to outshine the rest in a listener’s ear, Gracie and Rachel’s achieve a rare balance.

Album standouts include tracks “Go” and “Only a Child”. “Go” opens with a single instrument allowing listeners to take in the gradual and artful layering of one instrument at a time, in the end creating a cohesive sound of the dreamy vocals and fantastic intro. “Only a Child” takes on a darker, more mysterious tone its lyrics speaking to feelings of insecurity and falsity.

Gracie and Rachel are a standout duo whose songs deliver both striking melodies and exceptional vocals. [Meagan Whalen]

Recommended if you like: Regina Spektor, AURORA, Florence Welch, Kacy Hill, LÉON

Listen to: “Go”

3

Interscope

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Years ago, I was introduced to a song called, “Diet Mountain Dew” by a singer that I had never heard of at the time.  Her name was Lana Del Rey, born Lizzy Grant. As I began to explore Lana’s music, I realized a common theme–her songs were rather depressing, the type of music you’d want to listen to while staring dramatically out the car window. But there was something about her sound and her image that captivated you, transported you to an era of the past, a time before the Gagas, the Perrys, and the Swifts of our generation. Lana has an art to her that is unlike her musical peers: her music is powerful, dark, and has meaning deeper than most gimmicky pop songs that are played to death on the radio. Her highly anticipated fifth studio album,Lust for Life” was released on July 21 and is one of her strongest works since her second album, “Born to Die,” released in 2012.

At the center of the “Lust for Life” album cover is a glowing Lana, with daisies worn in her hair. It’s a contrast to her previous album covers, where she typically appears quite somber. After listening to the first song, “Love,” it’s clear that this album is quite different than Lana’s past sound. Lana narrates her frustration with today’s youth, who fantasize about the past with their “vintage music”, she continues, “…You’re part of the past but now you’re the future  / Signals crossing can get confusing.”

The album includes strong collaborations with artists like the Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, and Sean Ono Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The only collaborative song that faltered on “Lust for Life” was the ballad, “Groupie Love.” The powerful, slow moving song brings emotion and romance to the album but feels harshly interrupted by an out of place verse, rapped by A$AP Rocky. Both Lana and A$AP are talented in their own ways but together are not a cohesive musical unit.

“Lust for Life” includes underlying political themes, heard in songs “God Bless America- And All the Beautiful Women in It” and “When the World was at War We Kept Dancing”.  Lana has previously mentioned in interviews that she was inspired by the Women’s March when she wrote the song “God Bless America…” In the feminist anthem, she croons, “May you stand proud and strong / Like Lady Liberty shining all night long”. “When the World” opens softly, with solely instrumental guitar, and leads into Lana lamenting “Is it the end of an era? Is it the end of America” but follows up, “No, oh it’s only the beginning.”

My personal favorite on the album is the closing song, “Get Free.” This song is one of Lana’s most positive songs to date; the ‘60s vibe piece has Lana promising to move “out of the black / and into the blue.” It sounds as though Lana’s trademark sadness vibe may be moving into a new direction in the future. The song ends with chilling instrumentals and the faint sound of the ocean–waves crashing, seagulls flying overhead. The sun is creeping ever so slightly out of the clouds, and you can vividly picture a woman in white gazing at her reflection in the water, smiling, with daisies in her hair. [Ally Feinsot]

Recommended if you like: Sky Ferreira, Florence + The Machine, Marina and the Diamonds

Listen to: “Groupie Love”

4Fearless

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Time has had a profound effect on British metalcore quintet Oceans Ate Alaska. In the two years since releasing its debut full-length, “Lost Isles,” the band has weathered the departure of founding vocalist James Harrison, and taken time to reflect on the outlook for both the band and the entire metalcore scene. In this time of self-reflection, the band has developed a sincere respect for Japanese music. The byproduct of their efforts, sophomore release “Hikari,” is a record that heavily incorporates Japanese styles into their already-unique sound, in a highly enjoyable fashion.

Before even listening to the record, it’s easy to recognize the influences Japanese culture has on Oceans Ate Alaska. Many track titles come straight from the language (such as “Hansha,” which is Japanese for “reflection”) and its culture (like “Benzaiten,” derived from the Japanese Buddhist goddess of all that flows); the record’s title, Hikari, is Japanese for “light” and carries a large importance to the band.

The content of “Hikari” certainly reflects this “light” feeling, while still delivering the technicality and brutality that made Oceans Ate Alaska popular in the first place. Part of this feeling comes from the mix, which sheds the sonic oomph that “Lost Isles” featured. Most importantly, however, is the level of ambience Oceans Ate Alaska achieved with this record. In an interview, they discussed the experimentation and subtle layering of Japanese instruments into the mix. I didn’t expect to hear traditional stringed instruments over the breakdown in “Benzaiten,” the opening track, but when I did, I found the contrast of light strings and the band’s dense guitar work very intriguing. This occurs elsewhere on the record too; “Hansha” is opened with a full group of traditional instruments and then coupled with the band’s use of subtle electronics and guitar leads.

Despite the evolution of the band’s sound, a few songs on “Hikari” will satisfy even the group’s oldest fans. The album’s lead single, “Covert,” features the same frantic back-and-forth of catchy melodic phrasing and abrupt shifts in tempo as much of “Lost Isles” does, albeit in a more structured manner. Other songs, like “Deadweight” and closing track “Escapist,” carry the same nuances of OAA’s older sound, primarily through the guitar work.

In 2015, the release of “Lost Isles” was refreshing enough to listeners to push Oceans Ate Alaska up to #4 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. With “Hikari,” the band avoids succumbing to the creative writer’s block that befalls many artists’ sophomore releases, but manages to retain the core elements of their sound. The result is a thirty-minute effort that resembles some of the scene’s biggest names, yet establishes Oceans Ate Alaska alone as one of the most exciting bands to follow going forward. [John Carroll]

Recommended if you like: Invent Animate, Northlane, Born Of Osiris

Listen to:Covert

5Columbia

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In his fourth studio album, Tyler Okonma, better known as Tyler the Creator, shows listeners a new side of himself- perhaps a more vulnerable one. Unlike his usual abrasive and sometimes offensive music, Tyler taps into an emotional side on this album, singing about fantasy relationships and love, loneliness and his feelings on things beyond the usual “f*** that” mindset. One song that deeply contrasts his previous work is “See You Again” featuring Kali Uchis. The song is about more than just longing to be with someone, but also how far one’s mind will go to make up those scenarios. Tyler sings “I wonder if you look both ways when you cross my mind” which taps into a new and improved Tyler. I’m not saying this to trash the genius work that was Goblin and the fame grabbing Yonkers-but rather praise Tyler for finally being reflective and giving us a look into something more.

Besides Tyler showcasing his amazing talents, the album is stacked with great features like A$AP Rocky on the hit single “Who Dat Boy” and Lil Wayne on “Droppin’ Seeds.” Most notable though was the collaboration we’ve all been wanting with Frank Ocean. The two singers have always cited each other as best friends and in March released the powerful single “Biking” also featuring Jay-Z. But in this new collaboration, Frank Ocean appears on two tracks “Where the Flower Blooms” and “911 / Mr. Lonely” – and he does not disappoint. “911 / Mr.Lonely” is somewhat of a two part song with Tyler rapping about, you guessed it, his loneliness. The track develops a new beat as it morphs into Mr.Lonely. All of this is happening as Frank Ocean’s beautiful and melodic voice ties everything together. Even though at times he’s just the background music, the song would not be where it is without him.

“Who Dat Boy”, “Pothole” and “I Ain’t Got Time!” offer the angsty and angry Tyler that we’ve all grown to love, however beyond that the album has definitely taken Tyler into a deeper trance than seen before. Overall Tyler’s ability to keep everything I’ve previously loved about his music style- the aggressive and rap driven antics- while also showing a more sensitive and reflective side is what places “Flower Boy” at the top of his work. [Katherine Wolter]

Recommended if you like: Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean, Lil Wayne

Listen to: See You Again”

Be sure to check out our Best of July Playlist which features all of these artists and many more!

 

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