Listens for the Week #33: billy woods, MF DOOM, Caroline Polachek
Updated: May 14
Every week, I offer three recommendations: something new, something classic, and something I love. This week, I’ve been revisiting all my favourite albums in preparation for my “Top 15 Favourite Albums of All Time” list releasing later this month, and in between, I’ve checked out a handful of incredible new records like the latest project from billy woods.
billy woods & Kenny Segal – Maps (2023) [Abstract Hip Hop]
Four years after MC billy woods and producer Kenny Segal joined forces for the rock-infused Hiding Places, the duo are back with Maps, a jazzy change of pace from their first collaboration. Unlike billy’s Aethiopes from last year – a tightly connected concept album with an immersive, often atonal style of production – Maps is a far looser project with a diverse set of songs that all stand strong individually. Take the hard-hitting opener “Kenwood Speakers” with its synthetic drum-work and sizzling bass, then compare that to something like “The Layover” with its sinister, looping piano melody, and the tracks sound like they belong to completely different albums. The varied sounds of the record are weaved together by billy’s consistent performance, offering his signature drunken delivery with a flurry of abstract, densely detailed rhymes. Guests from Danny Brown to Aesop Rock deliver fantastic verses and fit right in with the ominous sound of Maps, but it’s billy who makes the record special. Over a decade after History Will Absolve Me, billy’s run of abstract excellence is still going strong.
DOOM – BORN LIKE THIS (2009) [Abstract Hip Hop]
This is an album I don’t revisit nearly as much as DOOM’s sharpest works, but there is still so much to love about BORN LIKE THIS. More than any project before it, this one embodies a dark, foreboding atmosphere with a chilling soundscape that makes any rapper sound villainous. From the descending bass on “YESSIR” as Raekwon delivers a ferocious verse to the sinister build-up on “CELLZ” where Charles Bukowski’s nihilistic poem transitions into a savage set of bars from DOOM, BORN LIKE THIS is filled with despairing moments. DOOM himself is as lyrically sharp as always, flexing his inhuman rhyming ability on iconic songs such as “GAZZILLION EAR” and “THAT’S THAT” while tying every rhyme into themes of villainy and corrupt society. However, the album has its drawbacks. “BATTY BOYZ” is a poorly aged, homophobic mess of a song with a monotonous beat to make it even less appealing. “SUPERVILLAINZ” is a massive posse cut with Kurious, Mobonix, Plug 1 from De La Soul, Prince Paul, and Slug from Atmosphere, but instead of an epic celebration of underground hip hop, it’s a low effort compilation of mini-verses that doesn’t even break the three-minute mark. With its ups and downs, BORN LIKE THIS is far from perfect, but the highlights are too plentiful for me not to love it.
Something I Love
Caroline Polachek – Pang (2019) [Art Pop]
Pang is an extraordinary art pop album. Caroline’s hesitant, eccentric, half-robotic voice is so uniquely hypnotic, like an odd fusion between the avant-garde vocals of Björk and the autotune glory of Charli XCX. That stuttering style strengthens the emotion of her lyrics, with all the imperfections of her singing adding to the feelings of nervousness, anguish, and excitement she exudes. Aside from her performance, the production on Pang is impeccable. The entrancing backing vocals on “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” make for a standout moment, but “Ocean of Tears” is the greatest highlight on the whole record. The dreamy, ambient instrumentation during the verses make the chorus all the more powerful, when Caroline’s voice is supported by an eruption of synths, punching drums, and throbbing bass. Pang is brimming with these moments, juggling elegant ambience and in-your-face catchiness, with the result being one of the most dynamic and exciting pop albums of the last decade.