Listens for the Week #15
Every week I offer three recommendations: something new, something classic, and something I love. This week has been a busy one musically. I've been trying my best to catch up with all of 2022's highlights in time for my year-end list, and the plethora of new records coming out this December is only making the process more sluggish. That's no complaint, however, as it goes to show how blessed we've been for quality and quantity of music this year. Aside from my 2022 dive, I've made time for some excellent pop records and the occasional soul classic. Since I've been so focussed on 2022 albums, for this week, I'll provide the usual three albums, but with an additional six albums from this year I highly recommend to you all.
Something New (at least from 2022!)
1. Little Simz - NO THANK YOU (2022)
Before the new Simz album released, I was sceptical. A sudden announcement at the end of the year with little promotion -- with no singles, nor even a week's wait between the announcement and release -- made me hesitant to go in with high hopes. However, after multiple listens, I'm relieved to say that the new Little Simz release is not the rushed album I feared, but another tight project from the rapper, showcasing her immense talent as it continues to blossom. It fuses the theatrical flare of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert with the conciseness of GREY Area, making for a project full of gems with no space for filler. Her writing is sharp, and the subject matter is as personal and transparent as ever. Cleo Sol is a frequent collaborator with Simz, and she's more prominent than ever on NO THANK YOU, providing luscious vocals between Simz's introspective verses that give the album a gorgeous sound from start to end. I don't believe it's her best work, but it's certainly not far off. While it may not be as satisfying an album experience as Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, the sharpening skill of Little Simz is undeniable. NO THANK YOU is more proof that, by the end of her career, she will be up there with the greatest rappers of all time.
2. Jimmy Luciano - Grand Rising (2022)
Grand Rising is a criminally underrated hip hop album from this year I implore any moderate fan of the underground to check out. The production is diverse, with slow jazzy cuts, trap bangers, and even a drill song in the mix. While that diversity may make some suspect the album is unfocussed, that isn't the case at all, with Jimmy's witty and energetic style fitting every song, weaving the track-list together with his consistently engaging performance. From its hard-hitting opening to its emotional climax, Grand Rising explores so much - sonically and lyrically - for a mere half hour record.
3. Richard Dawson - The Ruby Cord (2022)
This is an album so powerful that words cannot do justice its magnificence. The instrumentation is filled with these grand build ups of strings and guitar, rising into triumphant crescendos more impactful than anything else I've heard in 2022. The singing is high-pitched and frail, rising above the grand instrumentation and never being drowned out in the noise. This is an album I know I will come to adore, especially once I read more into its writing, but for the moment, I can safely say it's one of the best albums of 2022 and one I would recommend to anyone remotely interested in discovering something new and exciting.
4. Thought Provokah - I'm Good, I'm Good (2022)
This hip hop album is performed through the persona of Knaps Jones, a man whose life is logged through the documentary, "I'm Good, I'm Good." The album's title is based on the answer Knaps gives when asked if he's alright, and the album itself begs the question, is he? It's such a fun and creative record, going through all the different aspects of Knaps's life with great storytelling and dense lyrical meaning to every verse. The production is crisp and bright, making for one of the most polished hip hop records of the year. Most tracks are brief, so in turn the album flies by as fast as a good week.
5. Perfume Genius - Ugly Season (2022)
Ugly Season is an album I don't think I'll fully appreciate for a long time. The instrumentation has bubbly elements of pop, but they're stretched out, removing almost all sense of catchiness in favour of creating a dense and vivid atmosphere. It's a subtle album which rewards patience, and admittedly I did not give it the proper attention going in. As the album went on, however, I began to understand its detailed sound and got to appreciate it for what it is. The atmosphere it creates is dark and foreboding, making those few bright and catchy moments all the more captivating as they contrast against the ambience of the rest of the record. It sounds like an album perfect for pitch darkness, to fully bask in its sound, but as that's not something I regularly do, I doubt I will ever fully appreciate Ugly Season until I'm cursed with insomnia one night and need something to fill the silence.
6. DRE Colombian Raw & Ras Beats - Crudo (2022)
Hard-hitting underground hip hop with grimy beats and braggadocious rapping. The production from Ras Beats packs a punch on every track, making use of these ominous samples with crashing drums which create a distinctly eerie sound. Dre contrasts the spacey production with his confident performance. He spits each bar with an irresistible swagger, as if he's well aware of the quality of the tracks he's producing. It's concise, hooks me in immediately, and in its brevity, it never drags.
7. DROWSY SOUTH - THE DROWSY TAPE (2022)
Drowsy South are an up-and-coming hip hop group whose mixtape gives me high hopes for where they will go next. Much of the production has an emphasis on piano, giving the project a laidback and sombre sound. As well as piano, muffled samples and record scratching techniques are sprinkled throughout the album, giving THE DROWSY TAPE an old school charm. The rappers contrast this cool soundscape with their enthusiastic performances, bouncing off one another well. The songs are lengthy, but that's no issue because each member of the group brings their own flavour, making each track dynamic and captivating. While I prefer the abrasive cuts near the start to the more mellow tracks in the second half, there's still a lot to love within this mixtape.
Erykah Badu - Mama's Gun (2000)
Soul is a genre I knew little about until this year. I was a Stevie Wonder fan, but that was the extent of it. So, at the beginning of 2022, I listened to Mama's Gun, and adored every moment. Erykah has such an eccentric and powerful voice, able to bend it in so many compelling ways to convey more emotion than most singers could ever dream of. This is her most cohesive work, with subtle transitions between every song which emphasise the importance of each track in the album. The production is subtle for the most part - a serene blend of soul, hip hop and jazz elements which Erykah glides over with her elegant performance.
Something I Love
Jonny Farias & Blank Thought - Seasonal Affective Disorder (2022)
The new EP from rapper Jonny Farias and producer Blank Thought sounds as frigid as its title and album cover would suggest. Especially on songs "Spiral" and "Reset", the production truly shines with Blank creating these dense, spacious atmospheres which make the listener feel as though they are drifting through thick cloud. Jonny's style complements the production well, adapting well to sombre and punchy songs alike with a versatile style, flowing on any type of sound. In only eleven minutes, the duo have crafted one of my favourite EPs of the year that no hip hop fan should miss out on.