Listens for the Week #23
Every week, I offer three recommendations: something new, something classic, and something I love. This week, I’ve been catching up on a few 2023 releases because I feel I’ve been lacking in that regard, but I’ve also made plenty of time to spin some classics as I revisit my record collection.
Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You (2023) [Art Pop]
Ever since 2019’s Pang, I’ve been eagerly waiting for the next chapter in Caroline Polachek’s career. Her glitchy brand of pop music captivated me from the moment I first heard it, with her disjointed electropop production and stuttering, unpredictable vocal style giving her a recognisable sound from the outset. Her new record sacrifices some of the accessibility of her earlier work in favour of a more daring and triumphant sound, and the result is one of her strongest projects yet. The opener, “Welcome to My Island”, perfectly establishes the grandiose sound of the record, with these hesitant verses delivered over a patter of glitchy synths rising into the explosive chorus where Caroline flexes the strength of her voice as drums crash and backing vocals chant around her. These bursts of vivid sound occur all over the album, culminating in the impeccable closer, “Billions”, where a half-dozen rambling verses build into a triumphant, harmonised chorus to end the album on a phenomenal high. From the soothing bagpipes on “Blood and Butter” to the growling, digital bass on “Crude Drawing of an Angel”, the album fuses so many elements into one of the most colourful and exciting pop records of the decade.
UGK – Ridin’ Dirty (1996) [Southern Hip Hop]
I recently conducted a poll asking who the better duo is: OutKast or UGK. While I knew it was inevitable OutKast would win, it was by such a landslide that it makes me question whether all the voters had actually listened to UGK, because the duos are far closer in quality than the results suggest. Ridin’ Dirty is UGK’s masterpiece and evidence why they are some of the best rappers to ever come out of the South. Rappers Bun B and Pimp C have amazing chemistry, with the former having a more collected tone in contrast to the latter’s unapologetically aggressive delivery. Their production choice is excellent, full of rippling, funky basslines which embody all the warmth and grit of the South. The distorted samples on the hook of “Murder” and the ever-changing piano-work on “Ridin’ Dirty” make for some of my favourite moments, but from front to back, there is not an underwhelming moment. With its consistently groovy production and no shortage of charisma from the rappers, Ridin’ Dirty is an undeniable essential in Southern hip hop.
Something I Love
De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (1989) [Jazz rap]
With the sudden news of De La’s Trugoy the Dove passing away, I felt obligated to return to their underappreciated catalogue, starting with their classic debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. This album embodies all the carefree energy and light-hearted jazziness the Native Tongues movement was famous for, with Plug 1 and Plug 2 matching the soft production with a range of quick-witted verses. The hits off this album are hip hop at its very best, with Plug 1 and Plug 2 passing the mic back and forth over the busy production of “Me, Myself & I” making for one of my favourite rap songs of all time. “Eye Know” may be even better, capturing such a vivid, summery sound simply no other hip hop group could. Even the deep cuts are brilliant, like the bass-heavy “Ghetto Thang” and upbeat keys on “Tread Water”, keeping the momentum going for the album’s lengthy twenty-four track runtime. 3 Feet High and Rising is tied with Stakes Is High for my favourite De La Soul album, but each one has their own unique strengths, which made for one of the best discographies in hip hop history. The loss of Trugoy the Dove – or Plug 2 – was so shocking, especially with the group preparing for a new tour and celebrating the victory of winning the rights back to their music. Whether we ever get new De La music in future or not, I just hope the other members of the group are doing alright. I’ll continue to spin their classics for years to come.