Welcome to the first edition of our monthly review round-up series! At the end of every month, we will look at some of our favorite records and give them a rating. Of course, we couldn’t cover everything that was released this month, but here are the ones that we recommend to you!
Sun Kil Moon – Common As Light and Love Are Valleys of Blood
Common As Light is an album that is the literal definition of a hit or miss record. It’s over 2 hours long with Mark Kozelek singing in a stream-of-consciousness style that could become annoying very quickly. Combine that with the fact that this album is very left field instrumentally, and you’re given a weird mesh of an album. This kind of stream-of-consciousness singing and soft rock instrumentals was experimented with on 2015’s Universal Themes which was met with a pretty lukewarm reception. While I wasn’t completely in love with that release, I felt as if Kozelek was going in a direction that could definitely work if given the right amount of care.
Simply put, Common As Light is what I wanted Universal Themes to be. The album opener “God Bless Ohio” is a fantastic starter that covers everything from the Ariel Castro hostage situation in 2013 to Kozelek reminiscing about when he was young and his mother would hide money from his father. The track is a bittersweet representation of what Kozelek thinks about his home state. He sings:
“What saved me from the dark clouds hanging over Ohio?
What’s chasing the dream, baby?
Who would have known
That the pursuit of love and music would have even bought me a home
Or’d have take me to Tokyo, to Tel Aviv, to Athens, to Reykjavík, and Rome.”
The key element that makes this album and all of Kozelek’s work so good is his ability to tell stories. On his 2014 critically acclaimed album Benji, he told stories all centered around death. Now death isn’t a new topic in music, but the approach that Kozelek took to singing about it was so fresh and raw that you couldn’t help but feel the emotion that was emanating from the record. It’s very vivid and as a listener, you can’t help but get drawn in. On Common As Light, Kozelek is able to keep the listeners attention by giving a story on nearly every single track. “The Highway Song,” for example, starts out pretty typical, but then immediately transitions into Kozelek recounting the death of a man of who was impersonating Eric Clapton. Normally this would immediately annoy me, but it’s such an interesting approach to songwriting that I can’t help but be impressed.
Another example is on “Butch Lullaby” which is an ode to a friend that had passed away. Kozelek tells us every single part of Butch’s personality to the point where he tells that his favorite part of a turkey was the drumstick. Then he stops and retells a story about what happened at Butch’s memorial. Kozelek’s near photographic memory truly takes these ramblings and makes them truly beautiful.
I want to stress, this isn’t an album for everyone. Some people see this as 2 hours of an insane man rambling about everything under the sun. It’s very easy to see this album as pretentious and by some regards, it is. Still, if you can get past these few points then I think that you will love this album.
Sampha – Process
If there is one album that I really wanted to do well, it was this one. Sampha’s debut record is one of the best debut’s I’ve heard in a while and has one of the best songs I’ve heard this year in “No One Knows Me (Like The Piano).” Sampha has been around for a while working with artists like Drake , Solange, and SBTRKT, but with this record he truly comes into his own. He combines elements of electronica and alternative R&B that come together in a similar way to that of James Blake. Sampha’s voice actually sounds like Blake’s on a few of these songs and these benefit these tracks a lot.
By far my favorite track is “No One Knows Me (Like The Piano)”, which is an absolutely beautiful track about Sampha’s experience growing up playing the piano after his mother’s cancer diagnosis. It’s an absolutely heart-wrenching track that legitimately made me tear up when I heard it initially.
“No one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home
You would show me I had something some people call a soul
And you dropped out the sky, oh you arrived when I was three years old
No one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home.”
Another great track is Reverse Faults which Sampha described as a metaphor for his body breaking and shattering. This track is purely about self-reflection and how we sometimes don’t realize how much we impact each other. It’s a simply masterpiece of a song with Sampha’s wonderful vocal performance shining through this song like none other.
Seek this album out if you can!
HOMESHAKE – Fresh Air
While it isn’t as good as Midnight Shack or In The Shower, Peter Sagar’s third album is the perfect album for those days where you just want to lay in bed and do nothing. It’s very lazy, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is some of the most relaxing music I have listened to this year. Sagar’s approach to yacht rock and alternative R&B is fresh (pun intended?) and extremely pleasing to the ears. The instrumentals on this album are lo-fi and it plays very well with Sagar’s very airy singing. The opener “Call Me Up” had me bobbing my head back and forth throughout the entirety of the track. It’s a great opening track, but it also sets the tone for the rest of the record.
One of my personal favorite tracks on here is “Every Single Thing”, which has Sagar singing about relationships and the importance of communicating. It’s a very minimal track in terms of lyrics, but the chorus…oh dear Lord, the chorus is simply incredible.
“Thought it’d be easier
For me to think of her
I was dreaming as you spoke and not listenin’ to you
Thought it’d be easier
For me to think of her
I was dreaming as you spoke and not listenin’ to you”
I don’t have much else to say about this one, but definitely seek this album out. You won’t regret it.
This album was one of my most anticipated of this year and I’m very happy to say that this is one of, if not, my favorite album of the year so far. Up until this point, Jens Lekman has been an artist that I found to be one of those singer-songwriters to be in a league of his own. His approach to songwriting is so smart and thought-provoking that I can’t help but be taken aback by how GOOD it is. Life Will See You Now is a follow-up to 2012’s I Know What Love Isn’t, which some felt paled in comparison to his standout album in 2007. I was a little let down this myself, but when I heard the singles “What’s That Perform You Wear” and “Evening Prayer”, I immediately knew that were going to get something fantastic. Lekman’s approach to indie-pop is not only smart, but catchy and endlessly quotable.
“To Know Your Mission ” tops the album off and Lekman immediately sets the tone of the album with this opener. The album is all about life and it’s many many quirks. This particular track has Lekman asking the question, “What’s your mission in life? What do you want to do? Do you know where you’re going?” He sings this song from the perspective of a Mormon missionary who eventually runs into a teenage boy, that boy being Jens himself. When the missionary asks Lekman what he wants to do, he replies:
“To have a dream
A GPS in your heart
A path to follow
Through the dark
Well, Jens says, “I write songs sometimes
But they’re kinda bad
So if that doesn’t work out
I want to be a social worker just like my dad
I just want to listen to people’s stories
Hear what they have to say.”
That hit me really hard. Particularly because of how as kids, we have this idea of what we want to be. For me, I wanted to be a professional wrestler. As we go through life, we see our paths change and what we had wanted to happen doesn’t always go the way we want it to. It’s hard to get lost in our dreams that we sometimes forget to have a backup plan. These tracks are just a testament to life. Another one of my favorite tracks is “Postcard #17” which is probably the darkest song Lekman has ever written. The song is all about Lekman’s insecurities, particularly the writers block that occurred from Night Falls Over Kortedala and I Know What Love Isn’t. Contrast this song with “What’s That Perfume You Wear”. A song that is so happy and cheerful regarding love and relationships that immediately transitions into something that is dark and sort-of depressing. It’s just another testament to how life can be great, but how it fluctuates to being bad in a matter of seconds.
I really can’t praise this album enough. It’s one of my favorite releases so far and it could potentially end up on my top 10 albums of the year list. Definitely give this album a listen!
P.S. The hooks and choruses on this album are absolutely killer.
Stormzy – Gang Signs and Prayer
The general theme of this month is good debut albums it seems like. The inaugural album from South London grime and hip-hop artist Stormzy is a versatile set of tracks that show off his numerous talents. Stormzy isn’t just a grime artist and he let’s that be known from the jump. This album does have grime bangers like “Mr. Skeng”, “Big For Your Boots”, and “Shut Up”, but a bit part of this album is full of chill pop tunes and some straight up gospel tracks.
The track “Cigarettes and Kush” featuring Kehlani is probably my favorite track on the album. It’s a little R&B/pop tune literally all about smoking, but with a chorus that has been stuck in my head since the album’s release. Kehlani and Stormzy play off of each other so well that it feels damn beautiful..enough though it’s about smoking. The gospel tracks on here are also surprisingly well done. Usually when a secular artist tries to make a gospel oriented piece of music, it doesn’t really pan out in the way that the artist intended. The songs on here really work though and that’s in large part due to Stormzy’s singing voice. It’s actually pretty decent if given the right instrumentals to work on. The 2 “Blinded By Your Grace” songs are both fantastic that genuinely wonderful and Stormzy even does a cover of NAO’s “Like Velvet” is actually very well done!
The grime bangers on here aren’t as heavy as the ones on Wiley’s last album, but they are still extremely good songs that will no doubt make you go crazy. I just wish that he added the singles “Scary” and “WickedSkengman 4” if he was going to add Shut Up into the track listing. Still though, if you’re a fan of UK hip hop and grime you will definitely dig this debut album.