Jamie xx

Jamie xx, producer of The xx, released a new album on Jan. 13.

2015 has been a monumental year in music so far. Following somewhat of a drought in 2014, some of the industry’s biggest artists have returned with fantastic LPs while newer artists have been in fierce competition with each other to make a name for themselves in a year that seems like fantastic music is released just about every week. 

“Barter 6” by Young Thug 

“Barter 6” is an electrifying, dark, and angular take on southern hip hop that is nothing short of spectacular. On top of glistening minor arpeggios, Earth shattering trap drums and dancing high hats, Thugger disassembles words down to mere sound. Then, syllable by syllable; bar by bar, he reassembles the English language into a tool that he can use to wow audiences.

Young Thug is on the vanguard of a new rap genre, which has its roots in Lil Wayne’s game-changing music, but is more fully developed, nurtured and delicately executed version on “Barter 6.”

The album’s standout and opening track “Constantly Hating” features Thug wasting no time as he slices through the mix with unbridled precision landing syllables onto the beat like a hammer as he fires line after line.

“But really, what is it to do when the whole world’s constantly hating on you?” Thugger pleads in the hook of “Constantly Hating.” 

His answer to that question could not possibly be louder as Young thug delivers not only the best album of the year so far, but one of the culminating stylistic achievements in all of hip-hop.

“In Colour” by Jamie xx

Jamie xx’s debut mesmerizes not with flashy features, speaker crushing compression or lofty musical intellectualism, but with a subtle and startling energy that exudes from each track. Nowhere is this strategy achieved more perfectly than on tracks like “Loud Places” whose lyrics Romy of The xx delivers flawlessly.

“Loud Places” illuminates the struggle of a woman looking for quiet security but can only find the deafening beat of the dance floor—an experience brought to life by the unbelievably moving and dynamic chorus.

Moments like this are what make “In Colour” so great. There is a loudness here that can only be achieved through subtlety.

“Carrie and Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens

Our past never leaves us. We encounter the world as sullen, yet we are proud of the storms we have weathered and are more aware of the fragility our lives posses with each weak spot in our armor exploited.

No one is more aware of this truth, it seems, than Sufjan Stevens.

“Carrie and Lowell” plays like a diary Stevens would rather forget, but knows he must encounter head on if he hopes to ever find solace. Steven’s story is one of betrayal, loss and loneliness that began with the departure of his mother Carrie who abandoned his family when Stevens was a young child

But, Sufjan is forty years old now and his mother is passed, making true closure impossible.

“I should have wrote a letter and grieved what I happen to grieve” Sufjan concedes in defeat now that his mother can no longer hear his surrenders.

“Carrie and Lowell” is a brilliant narrative that is so tangible for so many people, as it possesses a type of brutality songwriters do not often achieve.

“Vulnicura” by Björk

“Moments of clarity are so rare. I better document this. At last the view is fierce.” Whispers Björk on “Vulnicura’s” opening track, “Stonemilker.”

With this lyric, Björk has never been more self-aware of her career. For two decades, Björk’s career has picked up so much compositional momentum that her music has come to barely represent what songs are supposed to be. Rather, Björk’s compositions are categorized by minimalist explorations of found sounds, asymmetric time signatures, jarring break beats and the most vertigo inducing synths that one could only dream up.

However, with “Vulnicura,” in the mire of lost love, Björk violently expels the shock factor of her songs in exchange for gorgeous string arrangements. In doing so, she achieves a clarity that is fiercer than any music she has written to date.

“Vulnicura” is a break-up album at its core. However, what sets it apart is the fact that as the album progresses, the pain festers within an aging Björk in such a violent way, that it begins to seep through the cracks until halfway through the album’s ten minute suite “Black Lake,” when her anger erupts in mythic proportions.

“The Powers That B” by Death Grips 

Zach Hill of Death Grips once said that Death Grips doesn’t just make music to make music. The musician claimed that the group has to move forward with each project, or there is no reason to continue making music. In this vein of thought, veteran drummer Zach Hill, producer Zach Morin and frontman MC Ride have spent a career dismantling hip-hop into the grotesque.

This metamorphosis is exactly what Death Grips executes almost flawlessly on “The Powers that B.”

The project is split into two halves: the Former known as “N****s on the Moon” and the latter called “Jenny Death.”

“N****s on the Moon” is composed and recorded almost entirely on an electronic drum set making it a minimalist matrix-like labyrinth of asymmetric drum beats and Björk samples triggered by the drum kit that provides the only pitches found on the first half of “The Powers That B”.

However, the record’s second half, “Jenny Death” moves in the exact opposite direction. Though utilizing the same high frequency drum textures and freakishly fast tempos, the “Jenny Death” opts to use a maximalist guitar laden approach to dismantling the traditional instrumentations of hip-hop.

The two halves contradict, but at the same time brilliantly fulfill and complement each other, making “The Powers That B” a modern “White Album” of sorts for people sitting on the lunatic fringe of music. The album stands as perhaps one of the most poignant and visceral musical statements. 

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