| 03.21.2018

A diverse review of 2017 albums – Week 1 — 2017 was a year nearly too loud to remember



How does one make a record in 2017 that could sound like it’s from another generation? Well, look to something like Alex Cameron’s synth-pop concept album, “Forced Witness.” But how does one create an album that could be played in the majority of settings? One would turn to someone like Bonobo’s heart and soul, Simon Green, who has been making waves for almost 20 years with his unexpectedly unique and relaxing downtempo electronic.

“Migration” is his first true commercial success, peaking at the No. 5 spot on the U.K. Albums Chart. Collaborations with Nick Murphy and Hundred Waters’ Nicole Miglis made sure that it was no surprise the album was nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards.

From the introductory title track “Migration,” a Jon Hopkins collaboration shines through in the form of cymbals, maxing out the percussion channels, while Hopkins plays a very dizzying piano, acting as if it was a barrier for the relentless percussion that highlights the seams of the song. As the album progresses, Green’s modern influences show on tracks like “Break Apart,” which sounds like a less reverbed xx track, or on ”Outlier,” a song that wouldn’t feel out of place on an Aphex Twin instrumental compilation, with its free-flowing rhythm and plucky, sequenced synthesizers. 

Arguably, most of “Migration” doesn’t sound conventionally “new,” but it stitches these slightly complimentary genres together well, resulting in cool experimentations like the Grammy nominated song “Bambro Koyo Ganda,” which could remind one of the sounds from the clattering, tribal instrumental hip-hop album from 2017 by Forest Swords, titled “Compassion.”

These “bangers” that make their way around the album aren’t really expected from the overall sound of the record. Songs like “BKG” and “Ontario” could very well find their way into the recording studio of an experienced, daring emcee (Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar come to mind).

Migration has done what most modern downtempo releases attempt to do — create something new and refreshing out of the old ways of minimal techno. By branching into newer, trendier genres while still maintaining the signature sound of those humid ‘90s U.K. nightclubs, Green finds himself at the center of a whimsical electronic paradise, inviting in both new and old listeners.

Vince Staples

Vince Staples’ work on “Big Fish Theory” shows to be the adventurous and experimental effort he has been awaiting to expose to the public.

Within this album are many more electronics, an aspect of Staples’ creations that came before BFT. Never before have they taken quite a central focus. With guest production by Flume, Sophie and Justin Vernon, there is no question why this album sounded as if Autechre met the West Coast.

Gone is the conventional California sound that Staples showed on his “Hell Can Wait” extended play record, and in its place is a mouth-watering concoction of electro-hop. Sub bass synthesizers line the beats of “745” and “Big Fish” with a distinct G-funk vibe that feeds off the emcee’s slow marmalade-like, but calculated flow. Almost IDM-based percussion allows Staples to expand a bit more in the vocal field — “Crabs In A Bucket” has this shuffled beat that fights Staples for the needle point spotlight, while “Yeah Right” showcases a Kendrick Lamar feature over a pasta pot sounding beat that has a hint of clang similar to “Packt Like Sardines…” by Radiohead.

Big Fish Theory is also Vince’s most conventionally experimental album, shown with a track like “SAMO” that has a hint of the group clipping.’s metallic production style, or on “Party People,” which has an instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place with MC Ride of Death Grips on top of it.

In a year of hip-hop’s inventive reservoir drying at a worrying rate, at least there are artists such as Staples who still push the boundaries of rap to a point where he submits the listener to a new sound rather than what’s popular or is deemed “commercial.”

Visible Cloaks

In a musical world chock full of variation and a year dedicated to really messing with your head, most regular listeners wouldn’t allow an ambient album anywhere near “DAMN”. or “Melodrama.”  It’s simple — in a millennial age, people want styles, and lots of them. “Visible Cloaks,” however, does not succumb to the social listening pressures. Instead, they create an unbiased ambiance of cavernous whimsy.

From the introductory track “Screen,” you’re faced with a barrage of dysrhythmic sounds that form no melody and seem to have little to no structure. What happens as the bulk of the album progresses is a shift of focus, from a conventional song dissection to an unfiltered appreciation for sound.

“Bloodstream” squirts these clicking, heavily resonated and edited synth lines, which sound

more like something from an ASMR video than an electronic album. Spliced together with these synths are glockenspiel samples, vocal hums, tremolo keyboards, and even a small hint of vocoders. If there is any song on here that displays what “Reassemblage” can do, it’s this one.

This is one of the best sounding albums I have heard in 2017. From the expertly mixed field recordings on “Circle” to the sluglike bells on “Mask,” to even the bonus track “Moon” and its humanlike choirs, most sounds on this album seem as if they are being played in front of your very eyes.
The final song on the album’s deluxe version, aptly named “Cave,” nails that cavernous whimsy I mentioned before, with its seemingly never-ending synth pads sliding through your ear canals like oil.

Never stopping throughout the course of the album to establish a chorus or a bridge, “Cave” ends just as the album begun, by showing an impressive range of sounds that feel like they can’t be contained within a “normal” song style. The result is an audio collage of ambient textures, an unconventional kaleidoscope that is sure to show you something you have yet to hear before.

Rem Jensen can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu

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