In my preamble to the last instalment of Albums I Love for July, I commented on the segment’s surprising scarcity of records to recommend, with only five releases making last month’s edition, compared to the usual number, which tends to average at around 15. With July’s issue being the first to feature a single-digit number of albums, the fact that August’s instalment features an even smaller number of records points towards a possible mid-to-late-year lull in music releases. I’ve often found album releases to die down slightly in the latter half of the year, but in the case of 2017, nearly as many records have been making their way onto my radar now compared to the year’s earlier months. In fact, with a significant number of projects that I had been hotly anticipating having been released across the course of the past two months, it’s perhaps more of an issue relating to the overall quality of the music that has been dropping recently. Why either of these possibilities would be the case is unclear, but having looked back through my albums-of-the-year lists for the past couple of years, there was a noticeable trend that witnessed more records released towards the beginning of their respective years making it into my favourites. Whilst it may be discouraging for me to think that most of 2017’s best albums are now behind us, there has thankfully still been the odd project to really catch my interest and live up to expectations, some of which will likely rank highly on my year-end list. So, although a somewhat sparse issue, here are the records released across August that stood out to me amidst the 100s of projects I listened to over the course of the past 31 days:
‘Written At Night’ by Uncommon Nasa
A staple of New York’s underground rap scene, Uncommon Nasa has been entangling jarringly idiosyncratic beats with similarly convoluted lyrical concepts for quite some time now. On the MC’s first entirely self-produced record, Written At Night, Nasa offers a look into the nightlife of a nocturnal artist weaving a complex narrative in order to express his muddled, midnight meditations, with the help of a handful of fellow powerhouses from the alternative and experimental hip hop scene. The end product is perhaps the artist’s strongest release to date from a conceptual perspective, with his chronological documentation of a night in the life of an inner-city musician encompassing many of the most compelling themes of his previous undertakings as a storyteller, resulting in a narrative that is oddly relatable, even amidst its more abstruse moments. With Nasa’s hand-picked production striking some similarly obtuse and yet engaging tones throughout much of the tracklisting, there is perhaps no better way of describing Written At Night than as a thinking person’s hip hop record.
‘Onism’ by Photay
Named after John Koenig’s concept of ‘onism’, which seeks to rationalise the frustration of the terminable and restricted existential experience of humans, the newest album from Evan Shornstein under his Photay pseudonym pulls from myriad places across the electronic music map, seemingly as an attempt to enrich and enlighten the listener’s insight into the musical world. Fusing cavernous ambiance with wiry disco grooves and exotic polyrhythms with straight-up, sugary pop tunes, Onism undoubtedly exists in a state of contrast, even in spite of the definitively singular nature of its subject matter. Likewise, although the album may weave its way through an eclectic array of esoteric electronic music genres, Shornstein manages to cushion all of his endeavours within a cold, cavernous ambiance that cuts through even the more decadent timbres and detailed textures, with the soundscapes that emerge from these chilly, capacious atmospheres giving chillwave a rather literal meaning.
‘who told you to think??!!?!?!?!’ by milo
A thinking person’s rapper if there ever was one, the latest album from Rory Ferreira under his pen name of milo, entitled who told you to think??!!?!?!?!, witnesses the ruminative rapsmith turn his attention towards race and inequality, with these topics having been previously unexplored in their entirety by the MC. Despite the slight shift in subject matter, milo nevertheless wraps his meditations on modern day America in the usual wry witticisms, nerdy references and sardonic humour that has often made the lyrics across his previous material so engaging and entertaining, even in spite of their opaque nature. With an arsenal of guest rappers from across the underground hip hop map at his disposal, as well as an eclectic array of beats — some self-produced, some not — who told you to think??!!?!?!?! is undoubtedly milo’s most diverse record to date, even in terms of the deliveries and flows utilised by the rapper across the album. The fact, therefore, that the project, as a whole, still remains incredibly tight and consistent, both on a sonic and conceptual basis, is a testament to just how much milo has grown as an MC and an artist in general, with some of his past releases coming across as somewhat scattershot amidst all their vast experimentation. The rapper, however, almost completely bucks this trend on his new album, leaving who told you to think??!!?!?!?! as easily his most fully actualised project thus far.
‘Malina’ by Leprous
Despite having made a name for themselves by pushing progressive metal into exceptionally avant-garde and technical territory, the newest record from Leprous, entitled Malina, reins in the rougher edge to the group’s stylings, in exchange for a more classic progressive rock sound that even manages to strike some electropop tones at times. With the album, overall, being much brighter, cleaner and more refined when compared to the gnarled complexity of the Norwegian progressive powerhouse’s past output, Leprous seem set on reconciling the mathematically precise experimentation of their most definitive material with a compositional formula that emphasises hard-hitting hooks and infectious grooves as much as it does serpentine song structures and breakneck musicianship. Although many of the cuts over the course of the tracklisting may come across as collaborations between Radiohead and Rush or Opeth and Sigur Rós, the salient strength of Malina is the success with which Leprous’ singular finesse for intertwining tortuous compositional skill with meticulous musical technicality shines through, even amidst songs that, by their standards, are genuinely accessible and carry a clear semblance of pop appeal. Whilst this new album has already proven to be a divisive release amongst the world of progressive metal and rock, the strong substructure on which Leprous have previously built their winding, experimental epics remains as firm as ever, with Malina simply applying the outfit’s core appeal to a slightly poppier paradigm, and seamlessly so.