By Keegan Priest
As the leaves fall and the temperature drops, summer time has come to end. And as we wear our sweaters and drink our apple cider, we can finally listen to the overbearing amount of music released in summer 2019. Here is a guide on what music looked like this summer:
Brockhampton, the wildly massive supergroup that persuade teens all over the world to shop at Urban Outfitters and wear Vans, has a hefty track record. With five albums in almost two years, the boy band has dominated “alternative” music with their Saturation Trilogy, and their debut album Iridescence. What I found most interesting in the group’s early effort was the youthful energy, the quirky production, and the funny lyrics that at times, had introspection. But the dynamic of the group has changed, and so has their sound. When Ameer Vann, one of the original seven vocalists, was accused of sexual assault back in 2018, the group publically asked him to leave. Since then, their music has gone for the worst. I don’t think this decline was because of Ameer’s absence—but because the group lost the chemistry, the energy, and the youthfulness that was so admirable in their work before Iridescence.
If Iridescence was Brockhampton’s instinctual, emotional reaction to Ameer’s departure, GINGER is the group’s reflection on their growth as humans. But it isn’t as good… at all. And I think this is because the group spends so much time forcing themselves to grow up and to leave the immaturity in the Saturation Trilogy. People may argue that this is Brockhampton’s most cohesive and consistent piece yet, but when the group focused more on creating music for the sake of music, it felt worlds more connected than the tracks on Ginger. Not only has the group lost their chemistry, there are just some blatantly bad songs too. The song “St. Percy” is obnoxious and pointless, and “If You Pray Right” has some of the worst producing from Romil (the group’s producer) I have heard yet.
But the first four tracks give the album a little bit of what has been missing, such as the guitars on “NO HALO” are sweet and melodic, with clean percussion underneath or the beautiful chorus sung by Ryan Beatty on “SUGAR” or the sporadic energy and signature Brockhampton beat on “BOY BYE.” While some aspects of this project are admirable, like the new sleek production and the versatility and constant effort shown by every member, they all fall short of creating an enjoyable album experience.
Best Songs: Sugar, Boy Bye, Heaven Belongs To You
Worst Songs: If You Pray Right, Big Boy
All My Heroes are Cornballs
If you were a fan of JPEGMAFIA solely because you admired the off the wall, energetic performances off of last year’s Veteran, you’re going to be disappointed. Because this is not the album you’re looking for. All My Heroes are Cornballs is a sonic but not stylistic departure from Baltimore native’s discography full of noisy, industrial production techniques applied to modern popular hip-hop subgenres. Whereas on his debut, track after track was a messy, loud, crazy piece of chaos— All My Heroes are Cornballs is a sensual, sleek, toned down reinvention of what he has been praised for in the past.
The opening track, “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot,” encapsulates the essence of the album in just under two minutes and thirty three seconds. The off kilter melodies with reverbed drums, layered with sporadic noise clips of clapping or screen static create an eerie but calming experience from the listener, only to be followed by a beat switch where Peggy screams over a distorted bass. But this burst of aggression only lasts for a couple of seconds, because it quickly transitions back to the guitar melodies from earlier. These short bursts of aggression demonstrate Peggy’s versatility and ability to change a mood in just seconds.
While it may not be the album many people (including me) were looking for, All My Heroes are Cornballs emphasizes JPEGMAFIA’s talent as a producer in both modern hip-hop and experimental fields. While I do miss the “Baby I’m Bleeding”-like tracks off of Veteran, some of the songs on his newest record are his best despite the sonic deuter.
Best Songs: Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot, Grimy Waifu, PRONE!, Papi I Missed U
Worst Songs: – Life’s Hard, Here’s a Song About Sorrel
The last 30 seconds of “Nighttime Drive” off of Anak Ko sounds exactly what summer feels like. The beautiful string sections with light guitar create a nostalgic but simultaneously refreshing atmosphere that paints a scene similar to that on the cover of the record. California-based dream-pop and shoegaze multi-instrumentalist Jay Som has been a quiet but an increasingly significant contributor to indie music for a while. But with Anak Ko, Som creates her best piece of work to date that solidifies her as one of the most important names in her field.
With everyone and their mother having an indie-rock group, and Beach House clones filling Spotify-curated playlists, it can be really difficult to separate the talented from the average. But the level of sophistication and intricacy in Jay Som’s instrumentals transcend many of the cliches that turn many off from the genre. The guitar playing is constantly changing styles and tones, the bass lines are always like the glue of the track. She understands the genre and does a super good job developing casual, laidback moods. While Som may not have the best vocals, she compensates with catchy melodies and harmonies that add a lot to the track.
The track “Tenderness” is definitely the best on the album. The 80’s drums, the beautiful harmonies, the smooth guitar, and the wonderful hook all build off one another to make arguably the best dream-pop (and honestly pop in general) song of the year. With only 2 records under her belt, Jay Som has a promising future with her unique and sophisticated shoe-gaze/dream-pop sound.
Best Songs: Tenderness, Nighttime Drive, Superbike, Get Well
Worst Songs: If You Want It
The story of Clairo is one that many dream of. In 2017, the 19 year old, self taught, homemade musician Clairo posted her song “Pretty Girl” accompanied by a DIY music video that blew up on YouTube (which has over 40 million views now). With a world of support and internet virality, Clario became a popstar overnight, all by herself. And while many with this type of quick fame may sell out to the industry and create meaningless industry-crafted pop tracks, Clairo on Immunity pulled a complete 180 and made one of the best indie records this year.
The dancy chords on Clairo’s “Pretty Girl” and “4Ever” are pretty much gone. Immunity takes a significantly more alternative tone. Drums, guitar, bass and piano fulfill a lot of this album’s compositions. But to those familiar with Rostam of Vampire Weekend fame, this album may seem very similar to a lot of stylistic signatures present throughout the band’s discography. With help from Rostam and Peter Cottontale, Clairo creates a moody indie album that discusses themes of youth, love, and self-growth of maturity.
One of the most moving moments on Immunity is on the opener “Alewife” where she describes her suicide attempt and how a significant figure in her life prevented her from doing it. It feels like this is a story that Clairo has been reluctant to tell, but once the track is over you get a sense that admitting the experience was part of her getting past it. While the piano is somber and the drums are slow, she didn’t need to make a sad song. But to understand how she has grown as a person she had to admit the ills of her past. This theme persists throughout the album. And I think that’s what the title means. From all of her experience of pain and suffering, she instead learns to grow from them and develops and Immunity. This especially resonates on the lead single “Bags”, where Clario describes a possibly one-sided, ambiguous relationship that leaves Clairo to contemplate her own sexuality, and through this experience learning more about herself. Clairo is growing as a human- and on this album she shows she’s growing as a musician too.
Best Songs: Alewife, Bags, Softly, Sofia, and White Flag
Worst Songs: Feel Something
Many people fail to recognize the importance of jazz in all forms of popular music. As a speak to people, jazz is usually a genre they perceive as mere background music for coffee shops. But pop, hip-hop, and a lot of styles that pull from all aspects of jazz, whether it’s rhythm swing or chord progressions. But aside from influence, there are still dozens of jazz records every year that are incredibly interesting and innovative. And the first and only release from the extremely mysterious artist shows a captivating fusion of electronic ambient music with big-band and experimental jazz.
And Reservoir has been a leading force in the new reinvigoration of jazz in various forms of popular music. Alex Wiley, lead brass player in the ensemble, contributed significantly to Chance The Rapper’s “Good A** Intro” off of Acid Rap and then later contributed to mega-group Whitney, which has made some of this year’s best indie rock.
And while I appreciate and love lots of improvisational and on-the-spot jazz records from the likes of Miles Davis on Kind of Blue, or John Coltrane on A Love Supreme, something about well-orchestrated jazz melodies and accompaniment makes the genre so much more listenable and accessible. And I think on this self-titled debut we get exactly what I find so mesmerizing about this niche of jazz.
The word atmosphere is used a lot (by me specifically) when writing about music, but I think that Reservoir can better be described as landscapes. The way the compositions are so textured and how well the instruments are perfectly layered paint a natural yet almost mystical setting. The beautiful choir vocals on the title track and the quirky electronic passages off of “Plantasy” are elements not particularly associated with the genre, yet are used masterfully to create otherworldly background for the melodic horns to soar over.
While under the radar of many in the genre and in the grander scheme of music, Reservoir is a jazz genius who deserves much more attention than they have.
Best Songs: Resavoir, Taking Flight, Intro
Worst Songs: Escalator
Atlanta Millionaires Club
While country fuses into the mainstream of hip-hop and other popular music with the popularity of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” Faye Webster is pushing similar movements in a more independent scene. I’ll be blunt about it: I really don’t like country music. But as artists like Kasey Musgraves or Orville Peck begin to fuse genres and transcend the established limits of the culture, I have developed a little more heart for it. Atlanta Millionaires Club is a seamless fusion of jazz, folk, country, soul, indie, and hip-hop that is constantly interesting, witty, and beautiful. With the saxophone renditions on “Kingston,” to the signature country slide guitar on “Room Temperature,” to the gorgeous string arrangements on “Jonny,” one could argue that Webster feels unsure of where she belongs in the grander scheme of music. But the way Atlanta Millionaires Club utilizes its diversity with innovative compositions is its biggest strength. Faye Webster, only 21 years old, creates some of the most interesting music out this year— and she hasn’t even graduated college.
Best Songs: Right Side of My Neck, Jonny, Kingston, Come to Atlanta
Worst Songs: Flowers
Case Study 01
Joining a movement of revisionist soul, Toronto native Daniel Caesar has dominated the last couple of years by creating low-key, intimate, and falsetto-heavy guitar R&B songs. With assistance from the likes of guitar player John Mayer, to contemporary jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD, to neo-soul superstar Kali-Uchis, his major label debut Freudian was a phenomenal album that established Caesar with his own sound and put him on the radar for many listeners.
But this time around, Daniel Caesar, with Case Study 01’s emphasis of modern minimalism, tried to make Frank Ocean’s Blonde but fell short miserably. But this doesn’t discredit its quality—there are some redeemable qualities about this record. While there are still some hints of the style that we’ve heard so much from him (like on “CYANIDE” and “ENTROPY”,) Caesar abandoned many of the best qualities of Freudian and traded them for a more modern, minimalist experimental direction. The instrumental on the second half of “ARE YOU OKAY?” sounds more like an instrumental off of a Mac Miller record, and the dull, obnoxious instrumental on “OPEN UP” is just a watered down version of his worst material.
This switch rarely works well for Caesar—but there are exceptions. The collaboration track “FRONTAL LOBE MUZIK” features some very bouncy and intriguing production with fantastic vocal performances from both Pharell and Caesar. Maybe I shouldn’t blatantly hate on Caesar’s evolution, because with this song he shows he can definitely pull it off. But most of this album is extremely lackluster and I feel like if Caesar spent more time sticking to what he did so well in Freudian, he would have been able to make a much better record.
Best Songs: CYANIDE, ENTROPY, FRONTAL LOBE MUZIK
Worst Songs: LOVE AGAIN
Undoubtedly, R&B has been a genre that has grown more and more stale everytime a Bryson Tiller or Rihanna knock-off releases another generic record. But every so often, a new face enters the scene offering a refreshing interpretation of the genre. And Raveena is one of them. The smooth, intricate instrumentals on her newest record, Lucid, are a stark contrast to what the genre has been so saturated with recently. What makes Raveena rise above her contemporaries is her ability to make such human, natural-sounding music in a genre full of DAWs and computers. While it does have heavy influence from electronic music, there aren’t any generic trap sequences or 808’s. Instead, there are luscious jazz guitar chords and flowing basslines accompanied by strangely beautiful Mort Garrison’s Plantasia-esqe synthesizers.
“Mama” is arguably the most significant track on the record. Raveena, a first generation Indian-American, pays homage to her mother who moved from home to provide a better life for her daughter. Raveena contemplates her mother’s life before she moved, all the things she had and loved before she had to give them up. And while Raveena makes inferences to her personal experience with her mother, “Mama” is an anthem for mothers who make so many sacrifices to better the lives of their children. This is what the record is full of: using anecdotal stories to describe a broader statement on life and romance.
While I don’t think Lucid is a completely unique album that breaks all existing boundaries of music, Raveena does a phenomenal job creating beautiful soul-pop that doesn’t indulge too much in its influences.
Best Songs: Mama, Nectar, Sugar Water, Floating
Worst Songs: Stronger
Revenge of The Dreamers III
J.Cole’s Dreamville label has become increasingly more popular in the realm of hip-hop in the last couple of years. They’ve signed some extremely talented members like EarthGang and JID, who are both some of the most innovative in the new school and have impressive releases under their belt. Although many of their individual discographies may be extremely lackluster, Revenge of The Dreamers III gives a platform for many of the performers on the label (and many more) to demonstrate their skills in a competitive yet friendly manner.
There are some wild standouts. “Down Bad” could be rap song of the year, “Under The Sun” is an insanely good posse track with brilliant chemistry, and “Sacrifices” features the best collection of artists and verses on the album. JID is the album’s MVP. Every verse has a different technical flow, witty lyrics, and superb energy. But these highlights are only so high because of the concentration of the most talented members in the label.
When you put a JID or J.Cole verse side by side with one of the dozens of mediocre artists featured on the track, it shows the talent gap and ultimately ruins some of the songs. “Lambo Truck” and “Got Me” are painfully generic songs with little to no admirable qualities that demonstrate how three to four artists are carrying an album full of luke-warm beats and blatantly bad vocal performances.
I think I would genuinely enjoy this project if I didn’t constantly want a JID, J.Cole, or EarthGang feature. There was too much stuffing in between the good stuff to call this album objectively great. But for the little artists that did do their shining on this album, J.Cole and the Dreamville Team did a spectacular job creating an important opportunity for them to perform alongside hip-hop’s biggest superstars.
Best Songs: Under The Sun, Downbad, Sacrifices
Worst Songs: Self Love, Got Me
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Following Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s 2015 collaboration album Piñata, the hip-hop community quickly focused lots of attention on the duo’s work and were extremely curious about what the future of their work would sound like. Although legendary producer Madlib continued to collaborate with various artists, and Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs released two solo albums, nothing was heard from the two of them together. But when the single “Flat Tummy Tea” released in early 2018, hip-hop fans from all across the genre began to count down the days until the notorious duo would release their second collaborative project Bandana.
This is a great pure hip-hop record. Madlib delivers track after track with chopped funk/soul samples that provide a basis for Freddie to spit the cold hearted bars with the brutal flow we have become so familiar with. “Crime Pays,” the lead single for this album, is a practically perfect hip-hop track. The hook is catchy and charismatic, the beat is simple but not boring, and the word play from Gibbs is top-notch. And a lot of the tracks on the record are just as great. “Fake Names” and “Practice” both contain jazzy, soulful beats with ruthless lyricism from Freddie Gibbs.
Aside from “Crime Pays,” I don’t find many of these tracks very replayable. Whereas on Piñata I found myself listening to the tracks “Higher” or “Harold” on repeat, there are few tracks on Bandana I could say the same for. The hooks are less sticky, the production is significantly less elaborate and Freddie feels less energetic. While I think this album should stand alone from its predecessor, Gibbs and Madlib set a high bar for what their collaboration would sound like. And while I think they succeed in reviving those same qualities, Piñata just seems like the more likeable record.
Best Songs: Crime Pays, Practice, Cataracts, Fake Names
Worst Songs: Giannis