Jagjaguwar // My Woman
Right after the opening song on Olsen’s newest album My Woman, it’s clear she is continuing to evolve as an artist. “Intern,” has her experimenting with a minimal synth for the first time underneath her powerful angelic voice. She shocked us with her 2014 release Burn Your Fire For No Witness and is continuing to do so with My Woman. Olsen has proved time and time again that she can create ear-pleasing songs solo, but she relies heavily on her band for My Woman. Lead guitarist Stewart Bronaugh’s subtle psych guitar flavour works so well with Olsen and the rest of her band. The highest points of the album are a mix between Olsen’s powerful vocal ballads and the call and answer between each instrument. The album is filled with Olsen’s unmistakable vibrato, but it never goes over the top. The album needs to be listened in full to truly experience the wild but controlled collection of Olsen’s newfound sound.
A Tribe Called Quest
Epic, SME // We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
After the terrorist attack at the Bataclan in Paris, A Tribe Called Quest put aside their differences and headed back into the studio. For the first time since 1998, the group worked on new music together as a unit. During the sessions, their co-founder Phife Dawg tragically passed away due to complications from diabetes.
Phife had laid down enough material to forge ahead with the project, resulting in their final, and perhaps most important collection. We Got It From here… Thank You 4 Your Service is politically charged from opening track “The Space Program,” until the finale, “The Donald.”
We Got It From Here… stands up with any of Tribe’s previous releases. It’s a bittersweet album that displays a renewed passion cut short by the passing of one of the most influential rappers of our time.
Glassnote Records // Awaken, My Love!
Donald Glover (also known by his stage name Childish Gambino) is the definition of a versatile artist. His newest album Awaken, My Love is dripping with the flavour of ’70s soul and funk—much different from his 2013 spoken word/rap album Because The Internet. Glover is an artist that will do what he wants, and Awaken, My Love explores this even further. The opening song “Me and Your Mama,” has him adeptly evoking James Brown underneath a dark gospel choir and songs like “Have Some Love,” “Boogieman,” and “Redbone,” are uniquely influenced by the styling of the late Prince and Parliament-Funkadelic. “The Night Me and Your Mama Met,” also features a blistering guitar solo that would even give Eddie Hazel’s “Maggot Brain,” a run for its money. We have to give a hand not only to Glover, but the accompanying musicians on Awaken, My Love. The instrumentation is groovy, crisp, and at times enjoyably obscure. With his newest recordings Glover will undoubtedly find a new fan base and hopefully convert listeners who only think of him as a rapper.
Columbia Records // Blackstar
We have lost so many inspirational people in this dark and unforgiving year, and the most crushing for me was David Bowie. He broke genres by showing the world what you can do with a few simple or unknown sounds—and he did it again with Blackstar. The album is almost impossible to pigeonhole into one genre. Bowie played with the exploratory world of jazz, but still keeps his pop undertones with only a few verses. Even in “Lazarus”—containing Bowie’s goodbye to the world—he breaks out in his popular minor-pop vocalization. Blackstar changes what we think a Bowie album should sound like.
Boys Don’t Cry // Blonde
Just when you thought Frank Ocean couldn’t get any more vulnerable, he releases his deeply personal album, Blonde. Fans had been anticipating the release for over a year, with many different release dates teased. Patience was rewarded, with Ocean downshifting to minimalist beats on the album. It’s a risky move, but compliments Ocean’s soulful voice and damaged lyrics.
“Nikes” leads off the album featuring Ocean’s voice modified to a higher pitch. The beat is brooding and mesmerizing, with Ocean trailing off into a variety of subjects—shoutouts to friends, Trayvon Martin and, of course, love. He returns with his natural voice near the end, dropping a tongue-twisting verse that confirms his versatility.
“Pink + White” most resembles the sound of his last album Channel Orange. It’s a dreamy trip through Ocean’s abstract mind, complimented by piano and orchestral elements.
Blonde is an album that will resonate for years to come, growing with each successive play. It’s tough to imagine how Ocean will follow up yet another critically acclaimed album, but he seems to do best when keeping true to his unique vision.
Shanti Planti, Holobiont
Holobiont is the third full-length release from Bristol, UK Psy-Dub producer and composer Morison Bennett, the talented arranger known as Globular. Available as a free download or purchased as an eco-conscious CD in a 100 percent recycled card stock and printed with non-toxic inks.
Encompassing a truly outernational sound, Bennett creates a pulsating aural landscape shimmering with delicate nuances. Built upon a foundation of gooey electro dub, Globular masterfully infuses his music with a beautiful mixture of the ancient and the futuristic, swirling it into a liquid tapestry of psychedelic brilliance. Bamboo flutes, Indian Orchestras, Asian choirs, Arabic melodies, reggae drum shots, electrical noise, nature sounds and field recordings all merging together. Globular offers up something that could be described as futuristic shamanistic, and here with Holobiont, Bennett is definitely guiding us deep into new frontiers.
Dave O Rama
Buzz Records + Carpark Records // Outer Heaven
I was fortunate enough to write about this album earlier this year before Toronto’s Greys played at The Buckingham. The interview with singer/guitarist, Shehzaad Jiwani revealed the light-hearted, intelligent person behind a lot of the writing on Outer Heaven, which explores various, and quite dark, themes. The feeling of alienation is something we can all attest to, and it just so happens Greys wander through the topic using punk rock, noise and in moments, gorgeously dreamy soundscapes.
“Complaint Rock” remains one of my favourites on the album. Fuzzed out, slightly psychedelic guitars, tormented wails and the audacity to address complacency and consumerism of all things. The static finale must be the inner turmoil experienced by the conscious consumer. I hate it, but God, for some reason I still want it?
GOOD Music, Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella // The Life of Pablo
While ever-controversial in the public eye, West returned with his best album since 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Pablo is a living, breathing album that was continually tweaked on streaming services well after its initial release. New tracks were added, verses altered and beats adjusted.
West continues to be unselfish—I know what you’re thinking—musically. Pablo helped expose future superstar Chance The Rapper on the standout opener “Ultralight Beam.” “Pt. 2” was also the first taste we’d get of Desiigner’s summer anthem “Panda.”
On the selfish spectrum, he calls out Taylor Swift on “Famous,”—“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/I made that bitch famous”—and the a capella “I Love Kanye” muses about the public preferring his less-arrogant persona.
With all that said, Pablo contains some of his best work. “30 Hours” proves West is still one of the premiere beatsmiths, with some of his sharpest lyrical delivery to date—”My ex said she gave me the best years of her life/I saw a recent picture of her, I guess she was right.”
Love him or hate him, West continues to push the boundaries of hip-hop while infusing it with his trademark braggadocio.
Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein
Lakeshore Records // Stranger Things OST Vol. 1
There’s no question that Netflix’s Stranger Things (a show about the surreal and supernatural disappearance of a young boy in the town of Hawkins) has been critically acclaimed for its all star casting and unique story, but the series soundtrack deserves as much praise as the visuals. Created by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin psych/synth outfit Survive, the soundtrack is a grand comparison to the nostalgic dark ’80s synth feel perfected by Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, and at times, John Carpenter. Paired with the show, the soundtrack acts as a character, presenting the sinister dissonance that haunts Hawkins. It’s very rare for a series soundtrack to stand on its own without the visuals, but Stranger Things is so successful in bringing out the eerie undertones of the show it can be placed in the ranks of soundtracks such as Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, and Almost Famous.
Atlantic // iii
Ever since my good friend introduced me to Miike Snow’s 2012 hit “Animal,” I’ve kept an eye out for anything this group has done. In 2016 they reappeared on my radar in a big way.
Their March release, iii, is a mixed bag of electro-pop and ambient grooves, with touches of hip-hop for good measure. The ten-track album can truly be divided into two halves. “My Trigger” opens the album with an infectious piano loop and a swelling beat looming in the background. The opening lyrics had me hooked—“I saw you lickin’ a dollar bill/I’m in the graveyard if looks could kill/But murder ain’t your thing, you just shoot to thrill.”
The powerful hooks and extensive production value continue with the radio-anthem “Genghis Khan”—my personal favourite. The falsetto range on the track allows you to forget you’re singing metaphorically about the jealousy of a relationship and the Emperor of the Mongol Empire.
iii’s final five tracks tone things down from the upbeat shine preceding it. “Back of the Car,” features all the usual tricks—slick piano loop, falsetto, orchestral production, vocal effects and a stellar 808 bass-drop during the chorus.
This album was a pleasant surprise in the dreary winter months of 2016, carrying me on a groove into the summer and beyond.
XL Recordings // A Moon Shaped Pool
There has always been debate about whether Radiohead is better as an electronic group or classic rock band, but I would say the five-piece is best as a combination of the two. And that’s exactly what we get with A Moon Shaped Pool. The newest set of recordings has Jonny Greenwood revisiting the realm of guitar with his subtle lead melodies accompanied by Thom Yorke’s haunting voice. Parts of the album are pure noise rock and Radiohead utilizes a full orchestra of unique sounds with songs like “Burn the Witch,” “Full Stop,” and “Present Tense.” There has always been something about Radiohead’s song construction that is infectious. With A Moon Shaped Pool, each song blends so perfectly into the next, something Radiohead attempted with their 2011 release The King of Limbs. Radiohead has always fallen into the computerized, dehumanizing technology trap, but with A Moon Shaped Pool they utilize every sound—making it one of their most enjoyable records.
Okavango African Orchestra
Batuki Music Society // Okavango African Orchestra
Toronto’s Batuki Music Society has been doing an amazing job supporting African music and musicians in Canada for many years. With the Okavango African Orchestra the society brings together nine Toronto and Montreal based African-born musicians from seven different countries performing in ten different languages.
The project is based metaphorically on the Okavango River Delta in the Kalahari Desert, a meeting place where an incredible diversity of animals—both predator and prey—must attempt to coexist together. Here the orchestra represents an amalgamation of traditional instruments and languages spanning the continent, coexisting together for a rare moment in time.
Producers Aron Nitunga and Nadine McNulty have assembled an incredible collective of acclaimed and award winning musicians from all directions representing Senegal and Ghana; Burundi, Eritrea, and Somalia; Zimbabwe and Madagascar. Probably the first time traditional African instruments from the north, south, east and west have been brought together to create passionate and inspiring musical hybridizations blending traditional and contemporary to mind blowing effect. The Okavango African Orchestra digs up a musical well overflowing in complex rhythms, gorgeous melodies and a rich complexity of vocal harmonies. A truly a joyous celebration.
Dave O Rama
Jagjaguwar (Flemish Eye in Canada) // Preoccupations
While it may not have as many obvious twists and turns as it’s predecessor, Preoccupations have still managed to create a record to cloak my heart in a glittery new wave blanket. This band seems to be my go to in the moments I have a decent pair of headphones and crave a beautiful, yet dimly lit, backdrop for the task at hand. One can’t be sure whether it was their decision to change their name amidst controversy or simply their natural direction, but their first offering as Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong) is somewhat slower, softer and oddly arranged in spots. The song “Forbidden” has an indulgent, eerie quality which quickly builds into what sounds like it’s going to be another classic burst of perfectly calculated instrumentals we’ve come to love from the band. Alas, we’ll never know what could have been as the track fades just as quickly as it blossomed. I suppose I enjoy the mystery.
Silla + Rise
Independent // Debut
Silla + Rise are an Ottawa-based trio deeply invested in the rhythmic possibilities of Inuit throat singing. Featuring Nunavut singers Cynthia Pitsiulak (Kimmirut) and Charlotte Qamaniq (Igloolik)—a vocal duo who have been known to merge their traditional northern vocalizations with hip-hop sensibilities in the group Tumivut—now join forces with Canadian electro dub producer Rise Ashen.
Known for his numerous excursions into the land of bass and a discography filled with interesting collaborations, Rise Ashen has a finely honed intuition and his contributions here deftly serve to enhance the magic emanating from the two gifted singers. His musical arrangements travel the space between glistening ambience and throbbing subsonic pulsations that compliment the vocal rhythms perfectly.
Deriving their name from Inuktitut word “Sila”—which means “weather”—the two singers tap the main artery, the heartbeat of the universe, the pulse of the life force. Primordial and otherworldly, Debut envelops you and draws you into a trance-like state of consciousness that is sonically unique and yet, at the same time, deeply familiar.
Dave O Rama