While life seems to be at a standstill for most, the album cycle lives on.
By King Lars
We’ve all been confined to our homes, with slated album releases continuing on unchanged. Considering that most of us have nothing better to do than to binge the eternal ether of new media, let’s take a look at some of the more notable new records that have been released during this unprecedented quarantine.
Arca – @@@@@
Arca’s latest release, a one-track album entitled @@@@@, is equal parts unrelentingly bizarre and entirely entrancing from the outset. With horror-esque, whispered vocal deliveries, disjointing sequences, stuttering drum beats, chopped and looped vocals, and detuned synth leads, the 69-minute track is a playlist from hell. In many ways, @@@@@ is anything but a passive listen, requiring —perhaps even forcing— the listener to provide 100% attention in order to comprehend it. The music is powered by an intense feeling of fear that is juxtaposed with an artificial serenity. The track is audial cinema, creating a world in the not-so-distant future where society is perpetually surveilled by AI, and the listener can’t walk away from the track without having to feel the need to look over their shoulder.
Nicolas Jaar – Cenizas
The latest record from Chilean-American producer Nicolas Jaar is a meditation on spiritual self-cleansing. Cenizas is Jaar at his most existential, with the producer reportedly self-isolating for the creation of the piece, free of vices in order to purge any underlying negativity from his work. The resulting arrangements border between unnerving and hallucinatory atmospheres. The record is a monument to Jaar’s ability to piece together warped melodies and lush soundscapes into something dark and brooding, forcing the listener to come to their own answers about the nature of existence. No matter how seemingly bizarre the journey, Jaar is an adept guide, leading the listener through every ping, buzz, and scratch down a rabbit hole of sonic discontent that leads to ultimate self-realization.
Thundercat – It Is What It Is
The style of Thundercat’s Stephen Bruner could be described as virtuosic jazz befuddled with weed-induced musings, and his latest record, It Is What It Is, is more of the same. The follow-up to 2017’s Drunk, the album is a haphazard arrangement of deep grooves, shallow existential half-thoughts, and as always, fleet-fingered bass lines that have come to define his sound. There’s something endearing in the way Bruner juxtaposes his immense funk grooves and drunk inner-monologue, creating a work of art that seems to only take itself as seriously as it needs to, but that’s the charm that is Thundercat. Bruner effectively bridges the gap between the performer and listener, letting them know that they are one and the same, while providing fusion bangers like “Interstellar” and “Black Qualls” along the way.
Caribou – Suddenly
Dan Snaith of Caribou has his most stylistically diverse release to date with Suddenly. The album has an array of tracks that span anthemic electro-pop bangers to deep, heady grooves. Snaith’s trademark falsetto graces every song, and this new release finds the composer becoming more inventive and experimental with his creations, spanning rock, trap, UK garage, disco, and more, sometimes multiple genres within a single song. Suddenly exhibits Snaith’s growth, with clearer production, more poignant lyricism, and the greater ability to craft a meaningful story, with songs like “Home” and “Never Come Back.”
Tops – I Feel Alive
Tops are a four-piece from Montreal that have made themselves known for their light, sun drizzled indie-pop that is both refreshing and nostalgic. The group’s latest release, I Feel Alive, sees the band breaking out of the more melancholic compositions that have defined their sound, digging deep into the musical zeitgeist to bring us lighter, jangly tracks, such as “Drowning in Paradise” and the album’s opener “Direct Sunlight.” In more than one way, the new sound is a take on witchy indie-rock in the vein of Fleetwood Mac, with moments that bring the quartet back to more drawn out, introspective arrangements, like the song “Take Down.” The band is finding itself on this latest record, if anything as an embracer of rock more sincere cliches.
Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
Following in the footsteps of brash auteurs, Childish Gambino’s 3.15.20 is adorned solely with a white cover, offering less than subtle nods to Prince and the Beatles. Starting with a trancy, reverb-laden song —if you can call it one— has Donald Glover chanting mantric incantations, leading to the first ‘real’ song, “Algorhythm,” which strangely sounds more like Rammstein decided to make an R&B song. Genre-blending is definitely a motif of the album, with Glover combining many different sounds and styles into a single composition. While not leaving quite the footprint of his more monumental Awaken My Love, Childish Gambino is still a contender in the hip-hop world, offering a bit more disjointed and perhaps half-baked record with his new release.
The Weeknd – Afterhours
Abel Tesfaye, better known by his moniker The Weeknd, is the anti-hero of our generation, and his latest release, Afterhours, while not venturing into new territory, is a refinement of his artistic endeavors to date. The album spans genres, effectively combining dream-pop, new wave, and R&B. As was the case during the Trilogy years, The Weeknd’s music is an attempt at exorcising the artist’s feelings of drunken melancholy and devastating romances, with track listings like “Hardest to Love” and “Save Your Tears” being more abrasive signifiers. In the end, the record is a nice little trip, with entertaining elements of cinematic flair and run-of-the-mill, nihilist pop lyricism.