This week brought some genuine surprise to the music world. Frank Ocean finally crashed the hype train into public view, dropping his long-awaited sophomore album on a weekend night. After four years, nobody expected it to appear so randomly, but here we are.
This is the state of music in 2016. The pendulum of control is truly swinging back in favor of the artists. Everything else I discovered this week was courtesy of the artists themselves, broadcasting personally on Twitter, Bandcamp, and other open platforms.
Frank Ocean – Blond
I’m still wrapping my head around this album. It’s deeper, weirder, and far more personal sounding than Frank Ocean’s monumental debut from 2012, Channel ORANGE. It’s difficult, twisting, full of mysterious detours and confounding production choices. It’s also one of the most viscerally satisfying sets of music I’ve heard all year.
I’ll be writing much more about it in a proper review, but for now I want to say that the album feels simultaneously more stripped-down and raw, yet more carefully crafted and majestic. The sense of scope is massive, yet it’s dotted with up-close moments of confessional intimacy.
Cool moments of synth bravado and beat swag trade places with yearning guitar plucks and subtly grandiose string arrangements. Vocals leap from acoustic whispers to reverbed choirs in moments of flashing grace, like opening a hatch and emerging into sunlight from a cramped bunker. The entire album feels like that kind of wide-eyed revelation, fresh air bursting into a sealed room and blowing the walls away.
The wait might have felt interminable, but funny enough, the resulting album was worth it. This is far more than a return to form; this is a new evolution for one of the best singer-songwriters alive today.
Here’s a stream for those with Apple Music. You can also buy it digitally on iTunes.
Listen to songs from the album Blonde, including “Nikes,” “Ivy,” “Pink + White,” and many more. Buy the album for $9.99. Free with Apple Music subscription.
Yeah, Apple spelled the album wrong.
While it’s locked behind a subscription for the moment, Blond will appear on Spotify in a week or so. His other release, a visual album called Endless, will be shared as soon as it’s up on Youtube.
The Avalanches – Subways animated video
Subways is the jam of the summer, if not the entire year. It’s got an eternal groove that will echo in your mind forever. It’s a key piece of The Avalanches‘ 15-years-in-the-making masterpiece Wildflower, and I’ve mentioned it before.
But this video is a whole new adventure. The animation feels like an anarchic hybrid of The Beatles’ timeless Yellow Submarine and Radiohead’s so-90s-it-hurts video for Paranoid Android. Yet, it’s weirder and more joyful than either. Words cannot describe it, so just go ahead and watch. You’ll be thankful you did.
Dino Sabatini – Omonimo
This is my favorite self-discovery of the summer so far. Dino Sabatini crafts incomprehensibly gorgeous aquatic techno that feels utterly peerless in its mood and feel. The Italian techno producer may be a contemporary of artists like Donato Dozzy and Rod Modell, but the sound captured on Omonimo is unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
This is beat music for deep sea exploration, for real adventure, for laying-in-bed-all-day introspection. The textures caress my eardrums like few other albums have ever done. The overarching mood is meditative, spiritual even, but the production is blessed with a profoundly tactile feel, rife with handcrafted instrumentation and palpable humanity behind the boards.
This was made for deep hypnosis, inner explorations into shamanic discovery. It’s right up my alley and it might be one of the best albums of the year. I’m going to be writing more about this.
For now, just try it out. You can listen to the entire album streaming here:
Miles Davis / Robert Glasper / Erykah Badu – Maiysha
Speaking of discoveries on the internet, this morning brought a truly fun little surprise when I was browsing Twitter over coffee. It turns out that Robert Glasper made an entire album of reinvented Miles Davis tunes and that one of them was a cover of eternal jam Maiysha, with new vocals courtesy of Erykah Badu.
Right there we’ve got two of my favorite artists, Davis and Badu, glued together by jazz veteran pianist Robert Glasper. Glasper has worked with dozens of hip-hop artists over the years, from Q-Tip to Kanye West, Common, J Dilla, Mos Def, and so many others. He was also the primary architect for the Miles Ahead soundtrack, rearranging and editing Davis’ classic oeuvre into a fresh experience for a new generation. In other words, he’s more qualified than anyone to bind modern sensibilities to a monumental classic.
The song is a fun twist on the original, which appeared on one of my favorite albums of all time, Get Up With It. Badu’s vocals are light and playful, conjuring the ghost of Brazilian chanteuses like Astrud Gilberto. It feels odd at first but quickly makes itself comfortable over the band’s solid groove. As the song builds, a trumpet sample from the man with the horn himself enters in perfect harmony with Glasper’s Rhodes melody.
As a lifelong Miles Davis fan, this is one of the best tributes I’ve ever heard. Enjoy the video:
I hope you found something to brighten your day. Thanks for reading!