Here it is, WUOG’s 2017 year end list as voted on by DJs and staff members at the station with words from Camilla Grayson (outgoing Music Director), Tori Benes (Music Director), Stan Standridge (incoming Music Director), and Frances Newton (outgoing General Manager and incoming Local Music Director).
10. King Krule – The Ooz
King Krule’s The Ooz is Archy Marshall’s deliberate, experimental exercise in playing with tedious monotony and overwhelming emotion. Instrumentation feels delayed and slow, Archy Marshall’s voice has a drunken drawl, and the slurred, poetic lyric plays fuse together. But then, right as you get comfortable, songs burst into immediacy and nerve, throwing the listener through repeating vocals, layering, and off-beat instrumentation to create an intense sense of chaos. Paranoia-infused vocals with soaked, jazzy melodies jump genre between R&B, trip-hop, post-punk, and dub, but find a distinct groove in the mix. Female vocals are thrown into tracks to create a softness contrasting Marshall’s howls, while Marshall builds his uneasy intensity. The Ooz is full of out-of-tune strumming, watery guitars, and fuzz, but it only adds to the mastery of King Krule’s curated, self-assured cool.
9. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
Geneviève Castrée’s death in July 2016 marked many endings, including the one to her experimental drone project, Ô Paon. After spending about three months writing and playing music in the room where she died, her husband, Phil Elverum, created the extremely tender album, A Crow Looked At Me. This release explores the questions created by death. Its musical simplicity highlights the poetic, highly-personal lyrics of life after loss. Phil used all his wife’s instruments when recording this album, and many of the songs seem written directly to her. His lack of detachment from his wife’s death, his choice to form an album without waiting until a record company told him it was an appropriate time to, helped Phil Elverum create a stunningly genuine and uncorrupted piece of artwork free from distasteful overproduction. This album is chock-full of goosebump moments, but each listener is able to pull different moments of importance in a very subjective and special way, which really connects listeners to this beautiful and historically sincere piece of work.
8. Tennis – Yours Conditionally
Yours Conditionally is the fourth studio album by married duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley. Their album highlights many of the outdated concepts presented in the late 1960s Phil Spector sound and 70s Fleetwood Mac style, while emphasizing that love should not be unconditional but within the conditions set by partners. Other themes, like those presented in the ironic “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” where Alaina talks about how women are just singing side pieces to the obvious lead male guitarist, combat the sad truths that were overwhelming factors in the past in the style of music they emulate. The album was written at sea, on the couple’s 30-foot boat, Swift Ranger, and lyrically, the album explores the fluidity of loving someone, the ups and downs, and the expectations, much like this life at sea. This album is a great background to a wave of emotions; its soft synths, guitars, dreamy vocals, and occasional bass could make someone cry or dance or both.
7. SZA – Ctrl
SZA’s Ctrl debuts onto the R&B scene with a neo soul inspired album on what it is like to be involved in romance in the modern day, holding nothing back with her honey-smooth vocals. Ctrl looks upon sexual freedom with a multi-tonal and sarcastic approach, but remains real and relatable through personal experiences of dates, secrets, and tv show references thrown in (catch those “Martin” and “Narcos” shout outs?). Her realness and matter-of-fact delivery elevate her lyricism to more than just romanticized concept, and alluring, sensual beats are supplemented with features from Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, James Fauntleroy, and Isaiah Rashad. SZA embraces storytelling as structure, grounded by minimalist melodies that let her husky pipes shine. She wavers between confident mantras and self-effacing doubt, but the deliberate sway just proves her commitment to realness.
6. Lorde – Melodrama
Few albums this year were as anticipated as Lorde’s sophomore effort, Melodrama. With the somewhat subdued pop on 2013’s Pure Heroine, there were plenty of directions the then sixteen year old Ella Yelich-O’Connor explored. With so much excitement around such a refreshing young star, the four year wait between the the two albums amplified the enthusiasm even more. This buildup culminated in the release of the lead single and the album’s opener “Green Light” in March of this year. From the opening notes, Lorde sounds more urgent than ever, and within the first minute the piano builds into an anthemic chorus. This was our first introduction to the Lorde we’d be hearing on Melodrama. With sleek production courtesy of Jack Antonoff, there’s plenty of playful instrumental risks featured. From the punchy horns on “Sober” to the synth breakdowns in “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” there’s a lot to savor. The album itself encapsulates the late teen years in which the songs were written, with the title Melodrama being incredibly apt. A large appeal of the album is in it’s honesty; the way Lorde navigates the more theatrical thoughts of young adulthood comes off as earnest. When combined with the forward thinking instrumentation and melodies, Melodrama makes for one of the most enjoyable pop albums of the year.
5. Alvvays – Antisocialites
Alvvay’s sophomore record, Antisocialites, opens with the whirling “In Undertow,” by far the Toronto band’s haziest song to date. While it may be the closest Antisocialites gets to a song as anthemic as 2014’s “Archie, Marry Me,” underneath all the layers of guitar effects, “In Undertow” details a relationship gone sour, making it unapologetically a classic Alvvays track. After listening through the ten-track album, full of longing and unrequited love, one can’t happen to think that lead-singer and lyricist Molly Rankin can’t get a break. As disheartening as a listen can sometimes be, Alvvays has always found strength in these letdowns, and Antisocialites is no different; each song translates heartbreak into a well-crafted and danceable indie-pop treasure. Alvvays still clearly pulls from jangle and twee pop, but this release adds more frenzy and maturity to their overall sound. Further synth exploration and a wider vocal range accompany their jangle pop to make for a more deeply layered record. Alvvays once again has caught the indie-pop the sweet spot with Antisocialites.
4. Brockhampton – SATURATION II
If there’s one thing that the members of Brockhampton want people to know, it’s that Brockhampton is a boy band. The Los Angeles based rap collective has been incredibly prolific this year. Between three albums, over a dozen music videos, a short film, a US tour, a documentary, a merch store that’s nearly perpetually sold out, trying to keep up can be exhausting. This isn’t even taking into account the social media presence of the group. Luckily, one doesn’t need to obsessively keep track of all of this to appreciate the Saturation trilogy they released this year. SATURATION II doesn’t waste a second sucking in the listener, with opener “GUMMY” highlighting everything that have made Brockhampton such an exciting and fun group. Crisp flows, fantastic hooks, quotable lyrics, and unique production all come together to make for some of the punchiest pop-rap you’ll hear all year. The unabashed gayness present on many tracks on here (most notably “JUNKY”) are a breath of fresh air, and the members, from Kevin Abstract to Matt Champion and plenty of others, each sound entirely confident and play off each other well. Brockhampton are reinventing what it means to be a boy band in 2017, and with each of the Saturation trilogy being a fantastic listen, they’re a group that should be on your radar.
3. Big Thief – Capacity
I must admit, I’ve by far listened to this album more than any other this year, yet to write this review I still wrote in circles, struggling to focus my thoughts. With every listen, this album carves a deep crease in my forehead from contemplation, and the thought of capturing the essence and strength of it in only several hundred words is one that pains me out of fear of not doing it justice. But here it goes.
The first time I truly listened attentively to Big Thief’s sophomore effort, Capacity, it took my breath away. While Capacity can happily play in the background with its hushed, warm vocals and rolling instrumentation, the record functions best when felt intensely. Singer Adrianne Lenker’s honeyed vocals detail the intimate affairs of deadly car accidents, freak injuries, abuse, and acceptance, all with vibrant imagery. The album centers around the masterpiece “Mythological Beauty” that, in strained vocals, finds Lenker empathizing with her young mother’s choices, citing, in retrospect, a traumatic treehouse accident from Lenker’s childhood as a key memory to this acceptance. These poetically-treated snapshots of Lenker’s life often leave me listening, while clinging onto the album’s accompanying lyric booklet, desperately trying to prevent missing a verse or even a second of this album’s visceral artistry. While few can directly relate to the deep misfortunes recounted on this record, the tender lyrics consistently circle back to themes open for the listener’s interpretation and personalization, like on the nursery-rhyme-like “Mary” and the sensually powerful “Pretty Things.” This album triumphs because of Lenker’s painfully personal lyrics, but also due to the flashes of beauty and emotional universality that listeners find from Lenker’s careful reflection of her twisted past. The delicate and stunning emotional treatment on this record firmly places it as one of the strongest releases of the year and a timeless album to be appreciated for years to come.
2. Flower Boy – Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator splits his career into two distinct categories with the release of Flower Boy; no longer relying on the intensity of self-showman lines and the animated bravado of OFWGKTA, Tyler matures into lush melodies, relatable emotional lines, and a balance between boldness and introspection. Intricate, jazz inspired beats are woven between hard-hitting bass-heavy compositions, and floating hooks contrast the baritone growl of Tyler. The introspective anxiety and confident swagger play with each other to create a dreamy, yet dreary aesthetic that paints the picture of who Tyler is more than any past release. Joined by heavy-hitter features from Frank Ocean, Kali Uchis, A$AP Rocky, Jaden Smith, Estelle, Rex Orange County, and Lil Wayne, Tyler builds an honest ode to self through humorous metaphor and self-produced, musical texture. Listen to it once, and its catchy lines and sweeping hooks will become pleasant earworms in no time.
1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid mAAd City had a west coast ease to its sound, while his 2015 release To Pimp a Butterfly was jazz-infused personal account to blackness in the modern age, but with DAMN., Lamar trades funk for intense lyricism and pure emotion. It’s less concept driven than To Pimp a Butterfly, but Lamar’s flow has only gotten stronger with his ability to weave together personal and national issues in one line. Lamar covers as much ground with the concept of humility as bravado, and Damn manages to personify the grapple with reputation and fame. “LOYALTY” with Rihanna hits the pop zone that he lacked on To Pimp a Butterfly, while Lamar even managed to make Bono relevant again in “XXX.” Lamar tops charts with his honest and hard-hitting ode to himself, and people just can’t get enough of Kung Fu Kenny–It’s no wonder fans have discovered it’s supplemental backwards storyline.
– Camilla Grayson
To be honest, DAMN. was really an album I pushed aside quickly after its release. While I still thoroughly enjoy Kendrick Lamar’s jazz-interlude-filled To Pimp A Butterfly, I didn’t give DAMN. even close to a fair enough chance to grow on me. As a rather selective listener of rap, the unapologetically thumping beats and, at time, cacophonous vocals easily scared me away. Upon revisiting the album, I’ve realized this may have been my biggest musical sin of the year. From the lazy bass and vocals on “PRIDE.,” to the bubbling synths and beats of “GOD.,” Kendrick crafts a fluid environment to encompass one of his most personal releases yet. And while I’m late to the game, I really do give a damn about this release going into 2018.
There’s no artist today who is quite as ubiquitous as Kendrick Lamar. While DAMN. wasn’t an album I personally spent a lot of time listening to this year, there was nothing else even close to matching it in terms of both general popularity and critical acclaim. Despite going for a more commercialized sound, Kendrick’s lyricism and artistic vision are never sacrificed, and there’s plenty to enjoy on DAMN. Kendrick himself describes DAMN. as a “hybrid” of his earlier work. From the driven yet accessible good kid, mAAD city to the political charge on To Pimp a Butterfly, it’s easy to see where he’s coming from with this description. Following up two of the best hip-hop albums of the decade was no small feat, but DAMN. holds its own. While I think it is somewhat less than the sum of these parts, it isn’t trying to be a substitution for them. DAMN. alone is a great addition to Kendrick Lamar’s already stellar discography, and cements himself as a centerpiece of modern hip-hop.
Two years ago, Kendrick Lamar blew WUOG away with To Pimp a Butterfly, and he did it again this year with DAMN. The storytelling that has been so evident in his albums, but was so admired in Butterfly, is combined with instrumentation more like good kid, m.A.A.d city. This album also seems like a reflective piece on Compton, where Kendrick is from. His lines about hating the police, about drugs and weapons, but also about his own individuality outside of the system, are all themes touched on in N.W.A’s 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton. Kendrick’s storytelling enters his present day narrative in DAMN., explaining the pros and cons of having money. Kendrick has made another awesome album, and we’re all glad for it.
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
- Tyler the Creator – Flower Boy
- Big Thief – Capacity
- Brockhampton – Saturation II
- Alvvays – Antisocialites
- Lorde – Melodrama
- SZA – CTRL
- Tennis – Yours Conditionally
- Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
- King Krule – The Ooz
- (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket
- LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
- Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
- Mac Demarco – This Old Dog
- Fleet Foxes – Crack Up
- Slowdive – Slowdive
- Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet
- Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives
- Richard Dawson – Peasant
- Sampha – Process
- St. Vincent – Masseduction
- Jay Z – 4:44
- Gorillaz – Humanz
- Thundercat – Drunk
- Perfume Genius – No Shape
- Jay Som – Everybody Works
- The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
- Omni – Multi-Task
- Slaughter Beach, Dog – Birdie
- The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts
- Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
- Kesha – Rainbow
- Hoops – Routines
- Lil Uzi Vert – Luv is Rage 2
- Migos – Culture
- Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
- Joji – In Tongues
- Lingua Ignota – All Bitches Die
- King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana
- Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
- Daniel Caesar – Freudian
- Harry Styles – Harry Styles
- The Menzingers – After the Party
- Logic – Everybody
- Brockhampton – Saturation
- Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)
- Sorority Noise – You’re Not As ___ As You Think
- Oso Oso – The Yunahon Mixtape
- The National – Sleep Well Beast
- Future – Hndrxx