If the sudden thunderstorms and my daily flirtations with heat strokes are any indication, then Summer is upon us. It’s a cliche to say that people flock to the movie theaters to catch some AC, but it’s also not a coincidence that the hottest months of the year coincide with blockbuster season. So, in the spirit of escapism, here are some blockbuster albums to help you beat the heat AND avoid the crowds.
1. The Carters - Everything is Love
This surprise joint release between Jay-Z and Beyoncé dropped on June 16th and it hit the ground running, complete with a gorgeous music video shot in The Louvre to accompany their single, "APES**T". Everything is Love rounds out a trilogy of honest & personal albums from R&B and hip-hop’s reigning power couple.
From Lemonade’s revolutionary canvas of multiple genres and styles, massaging and re-working classic elements of modern music to create something wholly empowering; to 4:44’s disarming intimacy, stripping the layers off of a hip-hop giant to show us more of the man underneath; and finally to here: Everything is Love is the culmination of this co-dependent maturation process.
Equally a Beyoncé album as it is a Jay-Z album, they lovingly share the spotlight together, knowing when to compliment the other and when to drop out. This mutual understanding leads to an exhilarating synergy between the two, best witnessed on tracks like the aforementioned “APES**T” as well as the excellent “BLACK EFFECT”.
While Everything is Love may seem on the surface to be another album of “Luxury Rap”, that special brand of ostentatious flaunting and surface-level party jams, if you look underneath the brags you’ll find an honest portrayal of the nature of success, the importance of gratitude, and the necessity of a loving community. With Everything is Love, the Carters have cemented themselves as a powerful force together, and have made a damn fun album to boot.
Listen to The Carters "APESH**T"
2. Kanye West - Ye
Ye is a lot more difficult of an album to parse through than Everything is Love, but that’s the nature of Kanye at this point. Featuring 7 songs, Ye’s music picks and pull from a selection of musical influences that span Kanye West’s career. That is to say, this album sounds like Kanye was primarily inspired by Kanye, rather than the high-art meets Prog-Rock aesthetics of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or the Industrial-influenced Revolutionary rap of Yeezus.
Ye is exponentially more easily digestible than West’s previous effort, The Life of Pablo. But while that record FELT like an exploration of mental illness via sketchpad, Ye feels more like being calmly told about mental illness over some beats. Ultimately, the main flaw about this album is that West himself inextricably politicized the release through his twitter musings and embracing of Trump. Is this new from Kanye? On the surface level, no. The man tried to rebrand the Confederate flag, he featured black KKK hoods in a performance on SNL where he practically told middle America where they can shove their complaints. So no, this sort of bombastic coupling of art and real-life provocations isn’t new. But then again, those acts of political commentary had a lot of thought behind them; now it just seems like Kanye is spending too much time on Youtube and looking at political memes.
You can feel that sort of millennial ADD in Ye. There are moments of true genius (“Violent Crimes” is Ye’s “Ultralight Beam” in terms of brilliance), but Kanye is making it increasingly harder to separate art from artist. Maybe that’s his point. I could just do with less references in the third person.
Listen to Kayne West "Violent Crimes"
3. Father John Misty - God’s Favorite Customer
God’s Favorite Customer is the fourth album from former Fleet Foxes drummer-turned-singer-songwriter Josh Tillman under the name Father John Misty. Released not too long on the heels of his previous album Pure Comedy, God’s Favorite Customer finds Tillman settling into a more comfortable space, populated with familiar faces, places, and sounds. While it is less adventurous than his masterpiece I Love You, Honeybear, God’s Favorite Customer nonetheless makes a worthwhile companion to that record’s maximalist, swept-up-in-love ballads.
Favoring piano to guitar (Save for the hilarious, sing-songy “Mr. Tillman”) and somber introspection over the grand orchestral flourishes and jittery energy to his previous work, God’s Favorite Customer is a quiet an honest portrait of a man who would be the first to tell you that he’s kind of an asshole.
If there is one thing keeping God’s Favorite Customer from fitting comfortably alongside the canon of his previous piano-heavy ballads is the lack of cohesion found within. Songs float along nicely enough, but there is no sense that the listener is being guided along an intentional path. At times, it sounds as if songs from two separate records are sitting next to each other.
Complaints aside, if you’re looking for a wonderfully moody album to compliment those frequent thunderstorms that this summer is bringing, you could do much worse than this.
Listen to Father John Misty "Mister Tillman"
4. Maps & Atlases - Lightlessness is Nothing New
The third album proper from the former math-rock group is sure to put off the prog-heads looking for the immediate gratification of the band’s earliest EP’s, but those who don’t look past the surface will be missing a wealth of experimentation and technicality on display.
Maps & Atlases have been steadily honing their sound into something unique across their five releases. Their 2012 album, Beware and Be Grateful, found them playing around in the soundscapes of 80’s pop in the vein of Tears for Fears, and Lightlessness is a full-on dive into those sounds. It marks the first album since losing their second guitarist, leaving all of the guitar trickery up to frontman Dave Davidson. But he has proven that he is more than up for the task.
Singles like “Fall Apart” and “Violet Threaded” show off a new confidence in Davidson’s melodies. At a first glance, these feel like standard pop songs, until you notice the way the rhythm glides around, dancing about the edges of where you would expect to find it. On top of their polyrhythms and accents floats finger-tapped guitar lines that often sound more like synths than a guitar (according to Davidson himself, there were almost no keyboards used at all in the recording process). If one were to study it, one would find all the trappings of math rock, just dialed into the background so that the songs can stand on their own melodies and craft.
Inspired by the loss of Davidson’s father, Lightlessness explores the space left behind by another, and as such can be thematically heavy. But Davidson’s honesty and optimism carry the listener through these dark spots into moments of pure catharsis. Lightlessness is Nothing New may very well be the most unique pop record you’ll hear all year.