Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap (April 30)

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Acid Rap is unbelievable, right from the start. Chance has got this nasally voice, almost like Danny Brown but with a lot more spunk and youthful energy. But I really don’t know where to start. “Good Ass Intro” is everything that’s good about hip-hop, with a little bit of gospel, bluesy old keyboard riffs, and hand claps and snares hitting at all the right times. It’s a church revival song, and a mere introduction to Chance’s capabilities as a rapper.

Acid Rap belongs in a modern juke joint, where everybody has been invited to the party, from Childish to Ab-Soul to Action Bronson. But it’s a testament to Chance’s ability that he manages to stand out as the star amidst a guest list full of hip-hop’s rising voices. I guess the best way to describe it is that Chance sounds like the best of every good rapper’s early years. He’s got a bit of Kanye’s old soul, from Graduation, a bit of Jay’s fire from Reasonable Doubt, and some of the nagging playfulness of Lil Wayne’s early mixtapes.

But he’s also beyond that. Chance has so much character, with lines like “Fuck all the faculty, tobacco-packing acrobat / Back-to-back packin’ bags back and forth with fifths of jack,” or with meditative insights, as simple as “everybody dies in the summer.” Acid Rap marks the true arrival of one of the most interesting rappers to come in recent memory, and he’s taking all of Chicago with him. -DK

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (May 14)

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“The world is changed,” Lady Galadriel narrates at the start of The Fellowship of the Rings. In 2008, the social climate could a indulge cutesy debut from white college grads telling tales of urban haute bourgeoisie. But by 2013, the indiescene’s comfortably moved into off campus housing. Vampire Weekend get the backlash, and like Don Draper once advised, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” So rather than frame their degrees on a wall, Vampire Weekend have considerably pushed the envelope their acceptance letter came in.

Ezra Koenig’s characteristic mélange of intellectual references takes a backseat to some truly great lyrical moments of self-awareness, none better than when Koenig grabs the wheel on “Hannah Hunt” and cathartically wails of love gone sour at the end of a cross country road trip. It’s a song that feels fully realized both conceptually and in execution, as if Rostam had continually refined its production in some Frankenstein laboratory for the last five years. Its crafty experimentalism bleeds onto the rest of the album, such that the breathlessness of “Stay,” fire of “Diane Young” and fervor of “Ya Hey” let Koenig’s critical philippics stick without registering too acerbic. That Vampire Weekend have crafted an album so simultaneously infectious and challenging is testament to an incredible growth in both musicianship and artistry. -RW

The National – Trouble Will Find Me (May 17)

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Trouble is sparingly beautiful and delicately crafted. It is perhaps The National’s most scaled back album to date, with more minimal arrangements, but all that does is allow Matt Berninger’s deep baritone voice to find room to worry, vent, and express some melancholic anxious longing. Trouble’s lyrics, brooding and poetic, and at times full of dark comedic wit, act as a response to the stark specificity of High Violet. If High Violet was Berninger singing anxiously on the streets of New York, then Trouble is Berninger back on his couch, drinking slowly and giving himself away to memory and regret and self-doubt.

Musically, “Slipped,” “Pink Rabbits,” “Hard to Find,” and “I Need My Girl” stand out as gorgeous tracks, spared back to allow the listener to appreciate the delicate twin-pickings of the Dessner brothers, or the soft rising horn arrangements that roll like supple waves. Trouble is a continued step towards perfection for The National, a band that has defied corporatism by refusing to change. This kind of passion, this kind of insistence, has made them honest, genuine, and authentic. And qualities like those are getting quite hard to find these days. -DK

Disclosure – Settle (May 31)

Disclosure-Settle

The debut release from brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence is a riveting showcase of electronic production. That it comes from two wunderkinds with likely only a combined 40 years experience of no more than breathing and shitting is an absolutely bewildering thought.

Settle is a gorgeous appropriation of the sounds popularized in the siblings’ native Surrey while they were still sporting diapers, and unlike the previous sentence, easily the sexiest thing crafted in 2013. That fact’s as much true to their dusting off of old two-step, drum & bass, and garage relics as it is to a murderer’s row of female R&B guest vocals. AlunaGeorge, Eliza Doolittle, and Jessie Ware deliver scene-stealing performances on tracks “White Noise,” “You & Me,” and “Confess to Me,” respectively.

But at their core, these standouts really pop from the duo’s house remodeling. Disclosure have filled Settle chock full of infectious dance hooks without sacrificing any of the dynamism. It’s well-deserved that hits like “White Noise” and “Latch” are spreading across dance clubs like wildfire. And I love watching fire burn. -RW

Kanye West – Yeezus (June 18)

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It’s hard to write briefly about Yeezus. And though I have my fair share of issues with some of Kanye’s choices as a producer and a rapper, it’s impossibly hard to discount what he has done with Yeezus. Lyrically, I don’t know if it even matters what he says anymore, because the production of these songs is so unreal. The urgent screams on “Black Skinhead,” the thumping bass on “Hold My Liquor,” the huffing and anxious beat on “I Am A God,” and the bouncing synths on both “On Sight” and “Guilt Trip”—these all contribute to this dark and maniacal mood that drives the album and makes it visceral.

Yeezus is spacious and minimal at times and industrial and edgy at others. It utilizes, and stems from, a rich compilation of sounds and genres, from reggae to soul to gospel to ambient and electronic. It all comes together to show that what Kanye has done in the last five or so years is create a sound that is uniquely and entirely his own. This is Kanye—old soul samples interjected right into songs (because he doesn’t give a fuck), chopped up and pitched down hooks, autotuned outros, and melodic industrial thumping that is emotional and aggressive all at once. And though Yeezus might not be as good as Fantasy, it shows that Kanye can continually change the game of hip-hop, even if he’s rapping about the same old, same old. -DK

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