Malibu – Anderson Paak (Hip-Hop, R&B, Rap)
Paak’s second album, Malibu, is perhaps his most complex and honest thus far. With pieces of gospel, soul, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary R&B and funk assembled behind a fluid, authentic rap style, the comparisons to Kendrick Lamar are obvious and generally justified. The two share an easy capacious flow with a boldly introspective command of words. Paak, however, leaves more breathing room, foregoing some of Kendrick’s more complex rhythmic and harmonic material in favour of a harder groove across the board.
Lyrically, Paak’s style is flowing and meditative. Paak draws on significant memories and experiences, presenting them earnestly enough to encourage the same practice from his featured artists – all of whom have a specific experience to contribute – resulting in an expansive and balanced testament to human perseverance.
Emily’s D+ Evolution – Esperanza Spalding (Progressive Rock)
Spalding has consistently demonstrated a comfortable familiarity with irregular time signatures and unexpected harmonic material, however, much of the genius of her preceding albums lies in her subtlety of presentation and the easy accessibility of the finished product. In remarkable contrast to her previous albums, Emily’s D+ Evolution is a much more audacious affair: flaunting challenging, angular melodic lines paired with complex rhythmic constructions presented in a bold, prog-rock style. While notably different to Spalding’s earlier vibe, this one is incredibly fitting of the narrative. Lyrically, the album is a poetic exploration of self-image, love, sex, ambition and acceptance; concluding with a confident declaration of emancipation from any imposed conventions. A bold artistic statement.
Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest (Indie Rock)
The follow-up to their Matador Records debut Teens of Style (2015), Car Seat, Headrest’s new record, is a neurotic, ambitious and cathartic 70-minute journey into frontman Will Toledo’s head and his ongoing battle with depression. While an intimidating number of tracks sprawl past conventional lengths for the genre, the ambitious song structures are justified by the band’s creative instrumentation and dynamic performances, coupled with Toledo’s effective and insightful explorations into the mind of a disillusioned and aimless teenager. It’s a must hear for all fans of lo-fi indie rock or The Catcher in the Rye, and has quickly become one of my favourite albums of 2016.
Wildflower – The Avalanches (Indie Rock, Pop)
After their 16 year hiatus, The Avalanches’ second offering emerges as a respectable sophomore effort. It successfully distills the charm that made their debut album Since I Left You such a classic, but is stylistically distinct, with emphasis on guest features over pure plunderphonics. The triple salvo of the songs Subways, Going Home and If I Was a Folkstar, proves to be a highlight of the record, each laden with hooks and killer bass lines. Admittedly, the album isn’t without issues; lead single Frankie Sinatra, for example, relies aimlessly on two very uninspiring verses from rappers Danny Brown and MF DOOM. Similarly, The Wozard of Iz would be terrific if not for Danny Brown, whose verse is simply out of place – and I say this as a big fan of his. It’s not as good as Since I Left You, but it doesn’t need to be.
Ultimately, Wildflower does what it sets out to accomplish: to provide a poppy, somewhat ethereal summer soundtrack – which made me feel deeply nostalgic for a time period I never experienced.
Puberty 2 – Mitski (Indie Rock)
In her latest album Puberty 2, Mitski expands her unique sound as a mixture of dream-pop and indie rock. It features profound lyrical depictions of themes of depression, anxiety and everyday mediocrity, highlighting the artist’s personal struggles. The opening track, Happy, explores the fleeting nature of happiness through the melancholic metaphor of a short-lived love interest, accompanied by choppy instrumentals and a rebellious melody. A throwback to the indie rock sound of her previous album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek, can be heard in the track Your Best American Girl. The archetypal distorted guitar featured in much indie rock is used in this song, coupled with an attractive, catchy melody. Upon closer listening, the complexity of Mitski’s music shines through, illustrating both the lyrical and musical talents hidden in her beautifully layered ballads. Puberty 2 is an amazing example of an artist building upon the established indie rock canon, to create something much more interesting and emotive than a mere formulaic regurgitation of the genre. This album is definitely worth a listen, and will undoubtedly be among my favourites for the year.
Synthia – The Jezabels (Indie Rock)
Synthia is the third studio album from the Australian indie rock band The Jezabels. This is easily the band’s best album with songs containing underlying feminist themes, catchy electronic melodies and well-built harmonies. One of the best aspects of the band is their unique sound, in which each instrument plays a fundamental role. The band has recently gone through trauma, with their keyboardist, Heather Shannon, diagnosed with ovarian cancer, however she is making a recovery. Perhaps in reaction to this experience, the entire album reflects powerful messages of respect, love and the importance of life. The lyrics reach out to all of us in our daily lives as the music is brought to us on a personal and intimate level. Synthia is very easy to listen to, with a strong mix of indie rock and electronic pop from the synthesiser. The tracks Come Alive, Pleasure Drive and If Ya Want Me are all highlights, and I am looking forward to hearing them live at their upcoming gig at ANU Bar on October 21.