Around this time in 2016, I was still reeling from the death of David Bowie and the impact his last album, Blackstar (released two days prior to his death), had on me.
Because of that, I slacked pretty hard on new music for a good portion of 2016. However, there hasn’t been a David Bowie-level death so far this year, so I’m not distracted enough to talk about some of the best this year has had to offer so far.
1. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
“You want some new brutalism?” These are the first words you hear on Nothing Feels Natural, the debut album from Priest, a D.C. post-punk band made up of vocalist/lyricst Katie Alice Greer, drummer Daniele Daniele, guitarist GL Jaguar, and bassist Taylor Mulitz. And let me say, what an amazing opening statement it is.
While I’ve been a pretty strong proponent of this most recent post-punk revival, Priests bring a new element to the table that I had no idea I was missing.
Throughout the entire album you’re on your toes the entire time as the band holds you by a thread between fun, surf-inspired garage rock tunes to spoken word pieces reminiscent of Slint to quirky tracks about starting a band called Burger King.
On this album, there is a real, visceral feeling going on here that’s unmatched by many other bands.
The timing of the release definitely doesn’t hurt (it was released just one week after Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States), but even without that context there’s a sense of fear and dread running throughout the album that I can’t help but relate to. If there is an album that should begin the resistance, it’s Nothing Feels Natural.
2. Sampha – Process
Process has been an album I’ve been anticipating for years since I first heard Sampha back in 2013 on Drake’s “Too Much” from Nothing was the Same.
He was this seemingly perfect combination of the alternative R&B sound artists like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean were cultivating and the new wave of UK electronic music led by James Blake and Jamie xx.
While each of these artists has either completely abandoned or started to abandon their initial sound, there was still a lot left to do with them.
Luckily, Sampha is here to pick up the torch as despite this being his debut album, he sounds like an artist who has long figured out his style and approach. There’s a sense of vulnerability at play here that’s really unique and demands your attention.
The first two tracks on the album, “Plastic 100°C” and “Blood On Me,” are urgent and fearful. Sampha is afraid to confront the future and who he’s becoming, both of these songs at times feeling like they’re coming out of a sci-fi novel.
Shoot, throughout most of the album there’s a spacey quality to many of these songs, but they never feel alien.
If there’s any album here people are most likely to enjoy, it’s definitely going to be this one, as it’s the perfect distillation of the current and old alt-R&B sound, combining the best aspects of both eras while paving a new path for the genre ahead.
3. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods
Overall, 2017 has been an incredibly depressing year.
While it’s been filled with a lot less celebrity deaths, it is filled with the death of American democracy as we know it with the administration of an orange authoritarian and his (white) nationalist pals.
Anyways, it’s hard to be happy right now and I’ll take it where I can get it, which in this case is Neil Cicierega’s amazing mashup album, Mouth Moods.
Cicierega has been a figure on the internet since the beginning of the millennium, first gaining notoriety for the creation of animutations, then later on his music project Lemon Demon and the video for their song “Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny,” then later on his series Potter Puppet Pals, and now has regained notoriety for his series of mashup albums, Mouth Moods being the third in a trilogy including Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence.
And on this third album, Cicierega has fully mastered the art of mashups, as there’s just something so special about this.
Not only are most of these songs clever and masterfully done (see “AC/VC,” a mashup of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles”), it’s that there’s a sincerity about this album that a lot of other mashup artists lack.
He’s an artist who truly appreciates pop music and isn’t just sending it up for the laughs, he’s celebrating it. So, if you really wanna hear what the Barenaked Ladies “One Week” and Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” mashed up sounds like, listen to this.
Oh and also if you really enjoy internet meme culture and pop music, this is good for that too.
4. The Pablo Collective – The Death of Pablo
So since I just talked about a mashup album that’s overall inspiring, happy, and hilarious, let’s talk about one that’s almost the complete opposite.
The story behind The Death of Pablo is almost as interesting as the album itself, as it was an inspired by a post by an anonymous user on 4chan’s music board which states:
“I keep having this dream where Kanye puts out a new album’s called “The Death of Pablo” It’s just 4 songs, Ultralight Wall, Washed Up, Father Stretch My Hands pt. 3 and Fade pt. 2 They are all around 20 minutes. It sounds like the originals but just 20 times darker in both lyrics and production also, Fade pt. 2 has 10 minutes of Kanye talking about his innermost fears and what happens when you die after a few minutes of silence.”
After this post, a number of users made this dream a reality by coming together as The Pablo Collective to make The Death of Pablo, a fever dream of an album that turns Kanye West’s messy 2016 release The Life of Pablo into a dark ambient post-hip-hop noise masterpiece.
It’s a simultaneously a celebration of the darker aspects of Kanye’s music and personality and an indicator of the music taste of the masterminds behind this release.
At times, this is an incredibly difficult listen, but getting through it all is entirely worthwhile as it’s one of the most intriguing releases of the year.
While on Mouth Moods it’s pretty easy to find the roots of the songs Neil Cicierega mashes up, it’s different on The Death of Pablo as the Pablo Collective completely uproots The Life of Pablo and chops it up into something barely recognizable, yet beautiful in its own way.