We are pleased to present a list of albums that we feel have bubbled to the top of the heap.
As we ease into the halfway point of 2017, it’s time to pause, light up the grill and enjoy the summer, bathing ourselves in the glorious new music that this year has yielded. We are pleased to present a list of albums that we feel have bubbled to the top of the heap. And while there are some significant absences (Kendrick Lamar, the xx.), we hope this feature will inspire you to seek out some of the smaller names here.
It’s difficult to fathom how Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius has morphed from the gently tragic balladeer of his first albums to the assured world-crafter of No Shape. But there’s no denying that in that first, massive explosion of sound on opening-track “Otherside” we can feel the birth of a new, queer cosmos in the crushing swirl of noise and glitter. It sets the tone for a record composed of bare, diaristic moments that bloom into cosmogonies in the blink of an eye. Hadreas harnesses a powerful kind of beauty, self-sustaining and self-generating. Where the creative breakthrough of Too Bright sounded like a vivid workbook full of harshly sketched figures, this sounds like a lush oil painting of a forest-fire.
Hadreas’ previous work chronicled a great deal of suffering, but No Shape finds him coping with the strange high of a stability that’s been foreign to him for most of his life. There are articulations of a tactile serenity (“Valley,” “Wreath”) and defiant struts of queer contentment (“Go Ahead”), but there’s still a contentious relationship with the body (“Die 4 You,” “Run Me Through”). Despite this troubled relationship—or perhaps because of it—the hard-won peace takes on a strange, luminous wonder that helps us to see the simple truth lingering behind each of these songs: that freedom doesn’t have to be eked out in a world that doesn’t want you. Instead, it can be found in all the worlds we build for ourselves—as Hadreas sings on “Slip Away,” ”If you never see them coming/ Then you never have to hide.” — Joshua Palmer
In the liner notes to his album Music for Airports, Brian Eno wrote that ambient music should be “as ignorable as it is interesting.” The idea that music could be relegated to the background was and still is seen by many musicians as an affront to a craft they feel deserves full attention. But Eno doesn’t see listening in all-or-nothing terms. In the late ’70s he started to imagine music that could “accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular.”
Bing & Ruth’s 2017 album No Home of the Mind might be called “post-minimalism” or “new age neoclassical.” Warm and arrestingly beautiful, it is perhaps more than anything else the epitome of ambient. The album’s 10 tracks all feature the same instrumentation – piano, clarinet, two double basses and “tape delay operator” – and flow in an unbroken stream that alternates between turbulent and placid, restlessly moving and calmly drifting. It can be pensive, melancholy, hopeful, searching or ecstatic, but it is always tender.
As background, the album seeps into your life. Reassuring and constant, it fills in empty spaces, whether physical or emotional. At the same time it invites you to stop what you’re doing and sit down with it, to think and to feel and to really listen, to the sound of the music and to whatever you might be able to hear inside yourself. Bing & Ruth’s No Home of the Mind is, to borrow from Eno once again, a “surrounding influence” that in a time increasingly beset by anxiety and discord has the rare capacity to evoke a real serenity. —Eric Bernasek
We’ve sanitized our image of medieval days into a life without its nastiness: houses built with shit, urine-dyed wool, endless marches in heavy, dead animals in the street, eye-gouging and the perpetual stench of cesspits, bad breath and body odor. If any one of us were to be dropped into Britain circa 750, we’d probably gag to death on the smell if we didn’t get burned at the stake first. On Peasant, perhaps the most accurate and therefore most disgusting musical account of the era, Richard Dawson immerses us into a world that shows our fantasies were all wrong.
Dawson’s music superficially resembles the fanciful British acid-folk of the Incredible String Band or Fairport Convention. But those artists leaned genteel, while Dawson’s music is about… well, peasants. As the Monty Python skit goes, “How do you know he’s a king?” “He hasn’t got shit over him.” Everyone’s trudges through the dung heap together in Dawson’s world: farmers, weavers, soldiers, prostitutes and even shapeshifters eke out their lives in a place where life doesn’t have much meaning for the short years it lasts. They want what we all want: comfort, freedom, love and wealth. While most songwriters would spin this into a fable of dragons and demons, Dawson focuses on the people, and his empathy is boundless.
This is not an easy record, and it’s not one you may want to return to often. Musically harsh and crude and lyrically repulsive; a stench at times seems to rise from the record itself. Dawson’s Geordie accent makes many of his words difficult to parse the first time around. Yet this is exactly what makes the album so rich and rewarding. You might have to brace yourself to listen to it, but once you’re ready, it’s the best goddamn thing in the world. — Daniel Bromfield
“Function is the key,” Fugazi once sang. It could serve as the guiding principle for Spoon, a band that follows the taut minimalism of CAN and Wire as well as the pop sensibilities of Queen and the Bee Gees, who foster their own form incisiveness despite being nobody’s idea of stripped-down. Since joining up with producer Dave Fridmann for They Want My Soul in 2014, Spoon has got its swagger back. Though the production may at times give in to contemporary trends, Hot Thoughts has an urgency sorely lacking in today’s music.
Something about Britt Daniel’s time in Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner seems to have loosened him up, as testified by dancier numbers like “WhisperI’lllistentohearit,” “First Caress,” and “Shotgun.” But there are still traces of experimentation in the ambient-island sound of “Pink Up” and the instrumental closer “Up,” with its wash of saxes like the Lounge Lizards at their most contemplative.
There is trademark Spoon, too—“I Ain’t the One” is classic Daniel songwriting at its best, with the effortless combination of defiance and vulnerability that defines the best of Spoon: “When the night comes knocking, knocking on me/ I say, I ain’t the one.” “Tear It Down” has a Ram-era McCartney feel that suits the band nicely. But the jewel in Spoon’s crown on this latest album is the absolutely captivating “Do I Have to Talk You Into It.” Spoon’s genius has always resided in its use of negative musical space to create tension. This sounds like Trent Reznor fronting the Stones and features Daniel’s most inspired singing, and displays an ease with pulp noir character sketches in an otherwise emotionally immediate song “They say I better seal you up in wax/ So that you’re never gonna bite me back.”
Like fellow Texans the Spurs, Spoon makes it look easy. – Dylan Montanari
It may be the highest compliment you can pay to a work of art: Jen Lekman’s latest album improved my life. As a recent college grad, saddled with the doubt and insecurity that naturally comes from a journalism degree, it was wonderful to hear Lekman weave tales of finding beauty in chaos. His music seemed to reach out and say “yup, it’s all very confusing, now come and dance!”
It’s frustrating that English is Lekman’s second language, as he casually outclasses nearly every lyricist in 2017. Over ten tracks, he carries us from a moonlight takeover of a carnival, a weeping bride to be and the history of the entire universe. His songs seem like personal conversations, he Swede charmingly allowing us to share in his confusion and wonder, and his brilliant short stories are matched by vivid, thrilling musical backgrounds that bounce merrily from piano ballads, quasi-disco and twee pop that develops into an emotional gut punch. It may be the only album to transform cancer and a 3-D printer into a catchy chorus, but that’s his brand of magic in a nutshell. Lekman’s knack for microscopic detail makes it easy to become immersed in his world: one moment, he’s crying, the next he’s dancing his ass off, then he’s doing it all at the same time and it never stops being gorgeous. This bustling, delirious album never loses sight of the world’s chaos but takes it in stride, finding peace in entropy. A deeply confused millennial can find tranquility here, even while he’s making a fool of himself on the dancefloor. – Nathan Stevens
On Power Trip’s sophomore effort, the Dallas thrashers opted to take the ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach – well, sorta. Nightmare Logic is a catchier affair than 2013’s Manifest Decimation, the band using the best tracks from its debut as a blueprint for an across-the-board upgrade. The riffs are beefier, the songs are gnarlier and vocalist Riley Gale’s snarl is more threatening. Even the production is improved. Returning as producer and engineer, Arthur Rizk smartly clears away much of the debut’s reverb, resulting in a clearer record whose breakneck thrashers like “Firing Squad” and “Ruination” aren’t hindered by a muddy background.
Religion continues to be the prevailing target of Gale’s blunt-force lyricism. While that may be a well-worn path, the insolence of lines like, “I don’t care what you think you know/ Go and leave it on your tombstone” makes up for it. Whether he’s lashing out at authority in general as on the title track or taking an inspirational posture on the get-off-your-ass rhetoric of “If Not Us Then Who,” you never doubt Gale’s sincerity or conviction.
Nightmare Logic is a pure distillation of anger for a year that seems likely to produce some of the angriest music since the Vietnam War. Even when the album’s bile is not directed at current events, you’ll want to shout in protest, “Warfare everywhere?/ I shudder the thought!/ Lined up with the firing squad/ Now take your best shot!” — Steve Lampiris
Thunderous drums bellow throughout “Century” as Leslie Feist breathlessly runs circles around, taunting them to keep up while acknowledging a losing race against time. Bristling with such assured energy, Feist’s latest album Pleasure is a stripped down beauty that encapsulates modern confusion in sophisticated melodies and smart lyrics.
Feist’s spirit shows in the album’s ragged glory. There’s no slick Bee-Gees cover, no Apple commercial-ready pop. Pleasure revels in a sparse yet warm ambience, casting a lone Feist and acoustic guitar into the melancholic “Baby Be Simple” and the lo-fi hiss of “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You.” By cutting away layers of gloss and production, Feist taps into a more intimate and personal expression that was always bubbling right under the surface.
The barebones arrangement of “Lost Dreams” unexpectedly evolves into dissonant guitar scribbles and chiming electric pianos though it never overloads itself – a steady, unwavering beat gently cradles the harmonies of multi-tracked Feists. Meanwhile, “Any Party” reverses the formula as blustery guitar riffs give way to whispered choruses that balance the triumphant and the intimate.
The album’s title track has a seductive coo that wraps around a sloppy guitar riff. “It’s my pleasure/ And your pleasure/ That’s the same/ That’s what we’re here for,” she hollers into the abyss as mellotrons ascend to the skies. Feist explains that, “Pleasure and pain they’re just all in continuum… as soon as you get it, that satisfaction just plants a new seed for new wanting.” Luckily for us, Pleasure satisfies that want. — Edward Dunbar
Reunion albums rarely live up to a band’s initial reputation. Does it even matter if a reunited band makes a solid album, as long as it simply evokes memories of its peak? While Slowdive’s early shoegaze records helped define the genre, fans would probably have forgiven it for sticking to a formula, especially since its departure from that formula led to its financial ruin and breakup.
Fortunately, Slowdive isn’t content to rest on the laurels of its increased popularity, and the result is one of its finest albums.
Rather than recreate its old records, Slowdive has expanded its sound with songs have a heft that Souvlaki and Just For a Day never reached. Its dream-pop is more enveloping and psychedelic than ever before, and the guitar-driven material shows a side of the band that could have gone toe-to-toe with Ride in the shogaze sweepstakes. Slowdive is a clearer, more pristine version of what the band wanted to do 25 years ago. Plenty of bands can reunite to cash in on their past, but it takes a special group of musicians to reunite and take that scary, forceful leap into the future. – Kevin Korber
Oddisee is not a household name, but he should be. Even prior to his latest release, he was notable for reasons that went well beyond the merits of any single record or track. The tip of The Iceberg is “Digging Deep,” in which the DC artist implores the listener, “Let’s get into it” over jazz horns and finger snaps. It sets the tone for a record steeped in authenticity.
The album is built like a southern town: on top of fundamentals, relatable to the people. It’s complex but straight-forward, and eschews hip-hop and pop trends in favor of soulful, raw vocals and a simple groove. There are elements of disco and jazz on an album that is produced to a velvet-smoothness. Amir Mohamed el Khalifa bounces through relationships, race, friendship and economic distress telling stories that reflect history, culture and a rich emotional world. As its title suggests, the album is a massive project in a sea of otherwise cold material. It would have been easy for any rap artist to stick to inner-city tropes, but such songs as “Like Really” proceed through a skeet shoot of call-outs on all kinds of modern ridiculousness and a timely moment in American history.
This is a hip-hop album for our time, particularly for those who feel left out of the national discourse. Even if the content is not your thing, the music should be, with re-sampled live instrumentation and freshly constructed beats. Layer for layer it’s one of the richest and most accomplished records of the year. – Darryl G. Wright
The New Jersey new wavers that released Crazy Rhythms in 1980 looked like high school nerds. The now veteran indie rockers look as threatening as a PTA meeting. But in concert, the reunited Feelies, despite approaching 40 years in existence, still deliver long, energetic sets and the spirited guitar rave-ups that are their signature. The stripped-down In Between, their first studio album in six years, is far more consistent than their previous album (which came after a hiatus of 20 years).
Introduced by the sounds of nature, it’s a return to the largely acoustic roots of the band’s first second act, The Good Earth, which traded in new wave jitters for a sensitive but powerful jangle. You’ll hear echoes of that album’s centerpiece “Slipping (Into Something)” as well as the seasoned work of songwriters who can take such easy titles as “Time Will Tell” and “Pass the Time” and make them sound like guitar-driven pearls of wisdom. It’s as if the Velvet Underground lived to shed its decadence, retaining its core musical tenets for a hard-earned maturity. Glenn Mercer still barely raises his voice above a whisper, singing almost subliminal melodies carried by acoustic and electric guitars that have never lost their gorgeous, unassuming inventiveness. With so many examples to the contrary, The Feelies are a persuasive example that the rock and roll life can be lived with a life-affirming gentleness; and at the same time, that veteran rockers can close out a live set with a convincing “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The title In Between sums it up: that the middle or the road can be as glorious and expansive as the over nine-minute title cut. – Pat Padua
Forward-thinking rap fans have been into grime for a while, so the sub-genre’s rise was hardly shocking, but among this year’s crop of solid releases, J Hus’ globally-inspired, swagger masterclass Common Sense is a clear standout. Hus isn’t a lyricist worthy of multiple rewinds like Skepta or Dave, but his tracks overflow with charisma, whether he’s channeling mid-2000s Roc-a-Fella on the title track or putting Drake to shame with his Afrobeat heater “Good Time.” The sheer force of personality on display from J Hus makes it feel like a rap album from a completely decade or two earlier, when artists emerged closer to fully-formed.
J Hus in some ways feels like a throwback to rappers like 50 Cent in terms of how he seizes control of his narrative. He constantly brands himself as “ugly,” which leads to some of the record’s most amusing lines (“I’m so ugly that I’m sexy” on “Good Time,” “And I’m a ugly man making sexy money” on “Friendly”). Though he speaks with total candor about the dangerous aspects of his upbringing he also has an undeniable gift for levity that makes Common Sense a smooth listen from start to finish. Still, the album’s most resonant track may well be “Clartin,” a vindictive, violent fantasy delivered with such rage that it’s easy to feel like you’re in the crosshairs just by hitting play. And for the grime skeptics out there, Common Sense is packed with excellent hooks (“Clartin,” “Bouf Daddy”) and vibrant, infectious production (“Good Luck Chale,” “Did You See”) that you’ll see the genre in a whole new light. – Grant Rindner
Raymond Carver once wrote, “It ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love.” Ella Yelich-O’Connor, the smoky-voiced teenage prodigy who showed up as Lorde in 2013, cited Carver as a major influence on her debut record Pure Heroine. That album was littered with introverted eyerolls about the state of modern pop and evocative imagery about suburban teen life, but it largely took Carver’s advice on matters of the heart—hardly any of its songs tackled romantic love.
On Melodrama, Lorde throws his advice out the window. A sweaty, shimmering breakup record, both impossibly grand and sandpaper-raw, she attacks her first major heartbreak from the lens of a reluctant but enthusiastic weekender. Structured to mimic the spiritual highs and lows of a single house party, the album ebbs and flows, shuffling between despondence (the stunning “Liability”) and liquid confidence (the Jai Paul-cribbing “Homemade Dynamite”), sometimes on a single track (“Hard Feelings/Loveless”). She pulls all the threads together on euphoric closer “Perfect Places,” where she refines her “Royals”-era critique of hedonism into something sadder and more adult—an acknowledgement that all the parties are essentially empty, but they’re still the best we’ve got.
O’Connor is the perfect foil for executive producer Jack Antonoff, whose bombastic ’80s fetishism she reels in with her penchant for understatement. Every inch of the mix is agonized-over excellence, from “The Louvre”’s wobbly underwater non-chorus to the barely-audible “Leave” tacked on at the end of “Liability (Reprise).” Holding it all together is O’Connor’s dizzying way with words, which manages to strip these dense, poetic songs about pop’s favorite subjects of any syrup or pretense.
Melodrama is a draining, thrilling, just plain beautiful pop album, up there with the likes of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in terms of capital-p Perfection…and it was written by a fucking 20 year-old. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait four more years for the next one. – Conner Reed
Revisiting the musical influences of one’s youth is often a surefire way to slip into nostalgia. John Darnielle avoids that pitfall on his 16th Mountain Goats album, Goths, are record in which he culls vivid storytelling from his teenage years spent dressing “like a bad undertaker.” For the first time, Darnielle chose to set down the six-string and write an album completely on the piano, which is especially notable given that there have been periods in its history when the Mountain Goats was nothing more than Darnielle’s voice and his acoustic guitar.
You can’t argue with the results. Though there’s certainly hints of melancholy throughout the album, its title belies the upbeat tunes contained therein; Darnielle’s piano is joined by sweeping string arrangements and propulsive basslines as he weaves tales that teeter between fact and fiction. He doesn’t revisit his teen years so much as reimagine them, and he proves especially adept at concocting scenarios for the musical influences of his youth. On “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds,” he envisions what it would be like for the Sisters of Mercy frontman to revisit old haunts in a song about how we can’t escape our roots. “Shelved” involves Darnielle picturing himself as a struggling goth musician in the genre’s heyday, one who is considering hanging it all up because he refuses to “tour with Trent Reznor” at the bottom of the bill.
Buried among all the batcave accoutrements is an underlying theme of the thin line between artistic success and failure. As he sings on “Abandoned Flesh,” Robert Smith may be “secure in his villa in France” and Siouxsie Sioux is able to “keep the bills paid,” but there are so many more bands like Gene Loves Jezebel, who broke apart before they could really rise to fame. And as he addresses on “Paid in Cocaine,” our priorities shift from a reckless pursuit of pleasure to more pragmatic concerns as we age. Goths isn’t a trip down memory lane, but rather a reminder that, as time marches on, we can never truly go back. – Josh Goller
A Crow Looked at Me may well be the single most emotionally devastating release not only of 2017 but of all time. Written as an almost stream-of-consciousness rumination on life in the wake of the loss of his wife, Phil Elverum’s latest release under the Mount Eerie moniker is also one of his best, most affecting albums to date. “Death is real/someone’s there and then they’re not/and it’s not for singing about/it’s not for making into art,” he sings, bringing the listener into his world in the immediate wake of his wife’s death. There’s no preface, no easing into it, you’re simply thrust into the tragic tumult of his day-to-day.
And while death and loss have long been the hallmark of pop music, particularly the brand of introspective indie rock in which Elvrum has long trafficked, it’s never been explored in such a raw, unflinching manner. Listening to A Crow Looked at Me is an incredibly visceral experience, often uncomfortably personal in both its depth and detail. Much of the album is addressed directly to his late wife, making the innocence and emotional vulnerability in his voice all the more impactful. Listeners will likely come away from A Crow Looked at Me with a stronger need to hold loved ones closer, let those we love know it.
“The year moves on without you in it,” he sighs, making the loss palpable. Unlike anything else in his catalog, this is a definitive artistic statement that sets a high water mark for emotional vulnerability and artistic honesty. Heartbreaking, deeply personal and often uncomfortably intimate, A Crow Looked at Me is a marvel to behold. Like the emotionally brutal documentary Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, it’s an emotional gut punch that stays with the listener long after the last of Elverum’s delicately strummed acoustic guitar strains fade into the ether. – John Paul
Roger Waters could have just not turned up at all in 2017. That he did is commendable. That he did so with this much fire is seemingly unthinkable. His fears about global politics and war remain firmly intact. The desperation he sings of this time is neither quiet nor English: It’s spread to all corners of the globe and louder than hell. Pretend world leaders, the huddled masses, and the untold millions scarred by war all figure large in the lyrics and images the ever-imaginative Waters conjures amid these pieces.
This is easily the most Floydian album to arrive on our desks since 1983’s The Final Cut. Instead of Is This the Life We Really Want? being a second requiem for the post-war dream, it’s a snarling, spitting twin to the Floyd’s punk era rager, Animals. The Orwellian overtones, the palpable fear of imminent collapse and the sense that any swimming against the tide may be totally freaking futile.
The rage Waters displays here is real and is best exemplified by the scathing, scorching “Picture That,” the dark, Radiohead-informed titular cut and the LP’s most accessible moment, “Déjà vu.” No one makes sound pictures like Waters (not even NPR) and having this collection of theater for the mind is easily the best thing in his entire solo output.
Waters is 73 now and monetarily much richer than he was before Dark Side of the Moon. Though it’s certainly likely he’s come to appreciate the bright side of success, he hasn’t lost his desire to see basic human decency prevail. His detractors might argue otherwise: Allegations of antisemitism have dogged him in recent times; concertgoers in certain markets have walked out of his shows aghast at his anti-Trump politics (as though no one could see that coming). In the end we don’t have to agree with where he draws those lines to appreciate that he’s willing to raise his voice against what he perceives as injustices.
No, this isn’t the life we really want but having seers such as Waters to help us navigate through it makes it all easier. What more could we hope for? – Jedd Beaudoin
Shackleton’s music over the past few years has tended toward “devotional music,” to take from the producer’s 2016 EP of the same name, but that ignores that he always made tracks in that vein. The main difference is that Shackleton’s early, low-frequency work sounded like the devotional chanting of Lovecraftian secret societies conjuring unspeaking horrors, whereas now the artist leans more on his fondness for world sounds to skew toward a warped kind of falsified field recording. His work now swaps frigid northern climates for humid, sun-drenched jungle, with densely overlapping percussion aping some kind of ur-tribe of primal, shared-ancestor humans. Sferic Ghost Treatments marks something of a return to the classic Shackleton by way of his present incarnation, maintaining the focus on interlocking polyrhythms while delving into some of the old darkness.
Vengeance Tenfold’s previous collaborations for Shackleton were marked by ominous incantations, but here he sounds sly and a bit ironic, repurposing the “die before you die” groan from 2008’s “Death Is Not Final” into a more melodic, even danceable meter for “Dive into the Grave.” Elsewhere, dense patterns of percussion instruments from all around the world collide into a cacophony of native sounds that speak to the producer’s gifts as a composer. Like Burial, Shackleton escaped the collapse of dubstep unscathed due to how advanced and singular he sounded even at the genre’s creative height. Sferic Ghost Treatments is the latest peak for one of the most consistently rewarding producer’s on the modern British electronic scene, and its knotty future-primitivism demands close study. – Jake Cole
Acoustic and electronic music seemingly are constantly looking for, if not the perfect balance, a rapturous combination. Electronic music has such limitless possibilities, while acoustics harbor such tenderness in their tone. Increasingly, artists are forging distinct sounds with a combination of analogue and digital, and Wilsen make a case for their ambient, folk-indebted post-rock on their debut album I Go Missing in My Sleep. The album revels in weaving this electronic haze around a tranquil, acoustic guitar base. Through many permutations, this minimalist starting point finds its way towards ethereal ballads, electronic decay and synthpop.
Whereas Zola Jesus follows a similar musical route, her music is frequently couched in these dark, somber tones. Canadian Ian William Craig also matches his operatic vocals with a heady mixture of warm analogue and expressive synths and decay. Wilsen, however, manage to maintain this wispiness from their folk and pop influences. Certain tracks can be tantalizingly broody, but a burgeoning euphoria always aches to stifle the melancholy. For its variety, I Go Missing in My Sleep is sparse, choosing key moments to enhance tracks with a synth flourish, shuffling beat or rapid finger picking. The sound is haunting, enigmatic and smoothly sophisticated. Frontwoman Tamsin Wilson’s lyrics are pointed and unadorned, and her delivery is almost always deliberate, if still a hushed whisper. It’s a contemplative, engrossing debut that doubles as a teaser for the post-folk we are likely to hear a lot of in the coming years, as artists inevitably evolve their acoustic sounds to incorporate lush electronics, and vice versa. – Katherine Springer
When an artist becomes as big as Drake has over the last five years, the biggest obstacle with any new release is expectation. Despite moving units and digital streams, Drake’s fourth album, Views felt like a disappointment because of the insane run of success he’s had. Summer after summer of hits, bending the radio to his personal taste and Drake still hadn’t released a full-length studio effort that could comfortably be called a classic. As a result, the bloated, overextended Views was an overly ambitious mess, long on hits, sure, but unsatisfying as a whole.
More Life sidesteps this by pretending not to be an album. Oh, it’s definitely an album, but calling itself a “playlist” shifts the listeners’ expectations and allows for a connection that Views just wasn’t capable of forging. It works so well because it embraces Drake’s greatest skill, his penchant for creating moments. More Life is just as long as Views, but it doles out Instagrammable quotes, perfectly cast features and mood appropriate global music appropriation with panache. It feels fleeting in a way that is distinctly 2017, as nothing here sounds timeless, but that evaporating sense of time and place just adds to the urgency. From the J. Lo sample on “Teenage Fever” to the infectious flute on “Portland” to Young Thug’s insane verse on “Sacrifices”, every little piece builds up to a functional whole.
Drake himself, on opener “Free Smoke”, hearkens back to his beginnings in the rap game when he had to write his name on his drinks at parties because he couldn’t afford to buy another if it came up missing. That prologue makes for such fascinating contrast with the supreme level pettiness on “Can’t Have Everything”, where he mocks his enemies for staying at the Sheraton. Realistically, Drake can probably only keep this level of quality up for one more album cycle, at best, so there’s something special about him cementing this moment in time, regardless of what how he chooses to classify the project. – Dom Griffin