On the Monthly: January 2017 (and a little bit o’ December)

Best albums. January. 2017. No Particular Order!

Run the Jewels-RTJ3

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“RTJ3 opens in a Twilight Zone type of space.  The dark, dystopian world references bits and pieces of our own, but—whether or not the project is intended to be displaced to the year 2100 as one of the tunes alludes to—the work doesn’t directly address today’s headlines.  This is not entirely new; since his roast of Ronald Reagan on R.A.P Music, Killer Mike has devoted much more time tearing down the whole of “fuck boy” than isolating particular fuck boys. The difference for this project is rap’s meanest duo is scared.  Mike’s “The closest representation of God you might see” and El’s “motherfuck your permission” on their previous effort’s opener “Jeopardy” are replaced with “Down’s” “I hope with the highest of hopes/That I never have to go back to the trap/And my days of dealing with dope” and a chorus reading “I coulda died y’all.”  The blistering attack on the ears of Run the Jewels 2 is molded into a harrowing journey with heavy, brooding darkness.  The spirit of the duo still remains intact enough for some hyperbolic insults and comedy, but Run the Jewels 3 is certainly no laughing matter.”

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Austra-Future Politics

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“Austra’s voice gives new meaning to music critic phrases of “soaring melodies,” “atmospheric high notes,” and the like.  Throughout Future Politics, impressive vocal acrobatics float over icy electroacoustic space, only coming down to earth on occasion to utter viciously catchy hooks.  The record touches upon the cold nature of contemporary society and government with city life, capitalism, and relationships all facing dissection.  Although Austra’s beats punch and her more radio friendly cuts may incorporate instances of blissful warmth, the record is certainly not complete without tension and contemplation.”

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Daniel WJ Mackenzie-Every Time Feels like the Last Time

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“UK-based Daniel Mackenzie is a rather multi-dimensional artist with experience in improvisation, concept compositions, and sound installations.  Every Time Feels Like the Last Time, his first release with Eilean Records, touches upon many of his skills, while also managing to commit to specific overall aesthetic.  Classical, acoustic ideas emerge from the dark electronic pool of drones and abstract melodic material with more intense moments yielding massive pillars of distortion.  Clear rhythmic pulses are crafted without the use of drums making for a starkly unified overall sound.  Mackenzie also re-contextualizes various sounds constantly.  Slight adjustments to the piano’s reverb and echo push the instrument from the intimate, up close and personal back into the depths of darkness.  As a whole the record comes together excellently, offering new and exciting material throughout.”

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FJAAK-FJAAK

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“Berlin’s FJAAK certainly take the city’s club scene under their wing, however, their album is much more than an electronic dance record.  Rather than building their songs atop some sort of bassy beat foundation, FJAAK only use their pummeling beats as a sort of stabilizing agent, sometimes to tie together sparse melodic ideas and other times to cut through an icy, ambient environment.  Also, besides the few relentless pummeling tracks, FJAAK channels the likes of Oval for some beautiful, shimmering moments.  There’s even less of the constant up and down action of dance music records as FJAAK spends huge swaths of time subtly changing beats before stripping down to a barren place or sucking all of the air out of a tune to smash speakers with some brooding bass.  The album might not be the most emotionally heavy work, but it definitely offers surprises throughout.”

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Injury Reserve-Floss

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“Injury Reserve are one of those groups that you want to root for.  As they’ll tell you on their latest effort Floss, their music careers began in a Dentist’s office where three friends who were all “sick of wishin” cooped up for a couple weeks to put together a rap tape.  Floss is their second tape from that office and again they’ve compiled some ruthless material with titles like “Oh Shit!!!” (that’s three exclamation marks) and “All This Money.”  Besides the banger-worthy hits, however, the group’s heart shows loud and clear on the more emotionally moving material making for a fantastic collection of songs.”

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Little Simz-Stillness in Wonderland

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“Little Simz isn’t one to drown you in overly complex themes and metaphors.  After another year garnering more attention and touring uncharted territory, Simz found a minute to jump in the studio and reflect on it all.  Stillness in Wonderland is straight forward.  A few simple parallels between the rigorous touring lifestyle and Alice’s wonderland guide the rapper through a collection of different moods ranging from frustrating self-doubt to heart wrenching loneliness and even boisterous confidence.  The relative transparency of the work doesn’t detract from Simz’s talents, however.  Rather than deeming herself a conscious rapper with endless bars of introspection, Simz favors the three-minute pop format with infectious hooks and quick-witted bars having equal weight in her songs.  The album feels refreshing.  It’s both a quick, fun listen and a thoughtful depiction of Simz’s life.”

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-Donovan Burtan

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