Listens for the Week #35: Sufjan Stevens, Clipse, Jockstrap
Every week, I offer three recommendations: something new, something classic, and something I love. This week, I’ve been hopping across all genres from jazz to hip hop to pop, preparing myself to write some new articles but mostly just listening to wherever my instincts led me. Beyoncé, just like last week, has been dominating my music time, and since I saw her perform live last night in a cinematic three-hour show, I don’t think that will change any time soon.
Sufjan Stevens, Timo Andres & Conor Hanick – Reflections (2023) [Modern Classical]
Known mostly as a singer-songwriter, having written fantastic folk records like Illinois and Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens has also dabbled in ballet. Reflections is a seven-movement composition written for the Houston Ballet in 2019. While I have no doubt the eleven-dancer ballet would make for a fantastic spectacle and elevate the music to new heights, by itself, Reflections is still a wonderful album. The whole record is performed by pianists Conor Hanick and Timo Andres, crafting these rippling seas of keys where the musicians ebb and flow, giving and taking – the musical equivalent to complete duality. Through its fast-paced passages and glimmering solos, Reflections sounds equally intricate and effortless. The listener is left no moment to breathe as the musicians weave their instruments into one another with the same ease as dancers performing a duet, complementing one another and fusing their talents into an elegant, cohesive piece. With the entire album consisting solely of piano work, I can’t see myself returning to Reflections often, but while it’s on I am enchanted by its mesmerising movements.
Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury (2006) [Gangsta Rap]
A masterclass in lyricism, chemistry and production, Hell Hath No Fury deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as classics like Liquid Swords and Ready to Die. Pusha T and No Malice bounce off one another so well, offering uniquely ferocious performances as they rap about everything from criminal paranoia to the hustle of selling cocaine. The production is what makes the album so special, with a range of eccentric beats suppled by The Neptunes. Whether it be the hypnotic accordion loops on “Momma I’m So Sorry”, the distorted piano chops on “Ride Around Shining” or the soulful guitar work on “Nightmares”, each song embodies its own distinct mood and sound, with no two songs remotely alike. Despite the diversity in styles, the duo master every beat, making Hell Hath No Fury an album as sonically varied as it is lyrically consistent.
Something I Love
Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B (2023) [Glitch Pop]
Months back, when I wrote my ‘Top 100 Albums of 2023’ list, I was quite confident in my ranking, but having revisited the latest Jockstrap album, I know I should have ranked it far higher. It’s one of the most colourful pop albums I’ve heard this decade, with glitchy stretches of eccentric vocals and robotic electronica contrasting against flashes of normality where acoustic instruments dominate. Georgia’s soft, youthful vocals make for a remarkable dichotomy against the electronic insanity of Taylor’s production, complementing one another while expressing such vastly different styles. “Jennifer B” and “Greatest Hits” show off the album at its most bizarre, with high-pitched vocal samples looping over a crashing wave of synths and strings while Georgia floats above the vibrant soundscape. “Glasgow”, by comparison, is a far tamer cut – it’s an enchanting guitar ballad with an electronic flourish, but it’s Georgia’s impassioned vocals that make it the album’s greatest moment. Full of off-kilter ideas, pulling them all off with ease, I Love You Jennifer B perfectly encapsulates the forward-thinking creativity of the modern pop landscape.