Saturday 30 December 2017

Album Of The Year 2017: 1. Tyler, The Creator - Flower Boy

Not only has Tyler, The Creator taken WIIHAMB's Album of the Year slot for 2017, the rapper is also my artist of the year. Upon the release of Cherry Bomb two years ago I was prepared to stan, ready to hear my new favourite record. I came away in love with 'Fucking Perfect' and a big fan of 'Deathcamp' but that was all. With that in mind, an album that took the ideas behind those two tracks and built upon them was literally all I could have asked for. And that's what we got on GRAMMY nominated Flower Boy.

There's a lot of speculation currently that Tyler's next record will be a "pop album" but it's baffling that anybody would think Flower Boy isn't already a pop album. In much the same way as I discussed about Brockhampton yesterday, Tyler has developed the ability to direct his album to the point where is hits the mark across pop, R&B and hip hop with seemingly little to no effort. On track two of Flower Boy, 'Where This Flower Blooms', Tyler not only talks about his growth and blossoming personally but also within his music and musical style. Where on Cherry Bomb so many of the tracks (Find Your Wings, Blow My Load) feel like overworked interludes, every track on Flower Boy feels like a song, even including album closing instrumental 'Enjoy Right Now, Today'.

An unavoidably clear observation of both Cherry Bomb and Flower Boy is the plethora of featured artists. On the former, these guests were littered throughout and made tracks feel oversaturated and unnecessarily complex. In contrast, every feature on Flower Boy fits each song perfectly, adding dynamics to the tracks yet never overshadowing Tyler himself. On 'Who Dat Boy', Tyler and A$AP Rocky take it in perfect turns on the verses, making for a seamless collaboration. Personally, Kali Uchis' vocals on 'See You Again' make for the best guest performance on the record. Her voice juxtaposing againt Tyler's sung vocals gives us a really raw sounding love song. Syd is an interesting vocal omission from Flower Boy considering her presence on Cherry Bomb; instead the only former Odd Future member we hear from is Frank Ocean (on '911/Mr. Lonely' and 'When this Flower Blooms'. Due to my sheer hatred of Lil Wayne, 'Droppin' Seeds' is the only track I don't like on this alum but as it clocks in at a mere 60 seconds I've found just pretending it doesn't exist is a great solution.

I guess what took me by surprise the most about Flower Boy was that I wasn't expecting Tyler, The Creator rapping and singing so openly about normal things that would affect a 26 year old. The state of sheer infatuation with another human being on 'See You Again', the apathy throughout 'Boredom' especially the line "my friends suck, fuck em, I'm over em", and the continued lack of companionship on '911/Mr Lonely'. I think all of these things are really important for young people listening to this album to hear. And I assume lyrically this wasn't just what I wasn't expecting, but not what anybody was really expecting. Hearing Flower Boy and associating that with the fact the maker of this album is fucking banned from the UK is absolutely baffling. It's important to note, though, that Tyler hasn't lost his more eccentric and erratic streak because we still hear that on both 'Who Dat Boy' and 'I Ain't Got Time!'. The contrast of those songs to the self-referential 'November' and 'Glitter' makes for a truly stunning record.

The growth of Tyler and his work throughout his string of studio albums is so clear and impressive. In terms of composition, lyrics and maturity it's genuinely surprising as to why mainstream media don't seem to show him a huge tonne of support. Even so, Tyler proved that he didn't really need it by reaching number 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart and top ten in the UK. The final best thing about this album is that just when you think you're fed up of hearing the songs from it, Tyler goes and switches everything up and every note sounds new again. Most notably his NPR Tiny Desk Concert is beautiful, fun and so enticing from start to finish - a must watch before 2017 is out, and a must repeat as often as you need to, just like Flower Boy itself.

Friday 29 December 2017

Album Of The Year 2017: 2. Brockhampton - Saturation II

As I'm sure many of you know, Saturation is a trilogy, three albums released throughout 2017. In this post I'm taking an isolated look at the second album. I'll probably do a bit about why I prefer it over the other two at the end.

There is so much to talk about I do not even know where to start. Lord help me. This Pigeons & Planes video really got me interested and mostly intrigued about what a group with this many active members could possibly be doing. This was quite shortly after the release of Saturation II and so I dived right in. I don't think that's something I would wholly recommend. There was a lot of the album that went straight over my head on first listen but enough that stood out (mostly courtesy of Bearface) to make me want to try it again. And so I did again, and again, and again.

I still don't know where to start so I'll jump straight in with those Bearface tracks that initially sucked me in, 'JESUS' right slap bang in the middle of the record featuring just Kevin Abstract and the aforementioned Irish singer, and the unforgettable album closer 'SUMMER' which see the vocalist go it alone. For anyone listening to Brockhampton for the first time these are by far the group's most accessible tracks (on Saturation II at least). They're both love songs verging on ballads with an undoubted root in pop. I guess they're the kind of songs that you'd want someone to write about you. They're also the kind of songs that shouldn't really work in the context of the rest of the album but they both fit seamlessly and I think that deserves a hell of a lot of praise.

"So what's the rest of the damn album like if it's not like this?" Well, it's fast paced, it's erratic, it's hectic, and it's complex. Saturation II's opener 'GUMMY' storms out the traps with all of Brockhampton's rappers offering a verse alongside a glimpse of the earwormingly catchy hooks that seem to just pour out of the group throughout the album. Structure-wise, the following track 'QUEER' is similar but it's these incredible choruses that set all of the songs on the album apart. In a world where so many rappers have to dial-a-chorus from "upcoming female vocalist" it's refreshing to see a collective that can literally do everything themselves - and we hear this again on 'JELLO'.

A truly unsung hero of this group and this album is Joba. He adds these really subtle yet affective vocals on the outros of both 'JELLO' and 'GUMMY'. I guess you probably wouldn't notice if these outros didn't exist, but the fact they do really make these songs feel complete. During one part of the Saturation Documentary, Joba quite defiantly says that he's not a rapper but his verses on both 'SWAMP', 'TOKYO' and definitely on 'SWEET' nigh on prove that to be false. 'SWEET', actually, I think is a super important moment on this album. This is the pop song where any doubters could no longer possibly claim that Brockhampton aren't a boyband. The chorus is catchy as fuck, and each member sounds unique and brings something that's truly their own to the table. Alongside Bearface, on Saturation II, Merlyn Wood maybe delivers my other favourite verses and his section on 'SWEET' is possibly my overall Saturation highlight.

Brockhampton definitely helped me come to the conclusion this year that I prefer hip hop generally when it's not taking itself too seriously, which I think is totally fine, that's just when I enjoy it most. So naturally, tracks like fan favourite 'JUNKY' and 'FIGHT' aren't my favourites on the album but both of them are undoubtedly worth highlighting. These songs deal with important predjudices and social issues, Kevin Abstract discussing homophombia and Matt Champion rapping about rape culture on 'JUNKY', whilst Ameer Vann talks racism and racial prejudice in a really comprehensive manner on 'FIGHT'.

"So why II over I or III?" Saturation II was the first album I listened to and more often than not the first tracks I hear from any artists I end up becoming a long term fan of tend to be my favourites. When I did go back to Saturation I found the songs overall quite hard to connect with; the album just didn't make as much sense to me as II does. I'm slowly learning to like it now, with the exception of 'GOLD' and 'FACE' which I liked pretty much instantly. Justifying my choice of II over III is a little trickier and I guess it's probably just a time-span thing. I love a lot of the songs on III most notably 'BOOGIE', 'BLEACH' and 'RENTAL', but I think overall maybe Brockhampton's third effort this year doesn't hit the seamless mark quite like their second album does.

There's so much in terms of design and aesthetics that I haven't even touched on including Roberto's skits throughout the album, the track titles throughout the trilogy and the artwork. Everything mentioned in this post only begins to highlight that Brockhampton is so much more than a boyband. It's a movement.

Thursday 28 December 2017

Album Of The Year 2017: 3. Airling - Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream

I can not for the life of me work out exactly how Airling fell into my life this year, but my God am I glad she did. Prior to 2017 the only time I'd posted about Airling was with her feature on the Japanese Wallpaper track 'Forces', but I skipped over her first EP Love Gracefully and single 'Stallin' to land at her debut album, Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream. I think that anybody who knows me would be surprised to hear how much I love this record especially with my near hatred for ballads and general downtemponess.

Airling, whose real life name is Hannah Shepherd, comes from Brisbane in good ol' Australia. This is why the man speaking relaxation prose throughout the album has an Australian accent. I actually hate these bits. I'm not a fan of interludes and skits or whatever generally, and I totally appreciate that what happens on these snippets is quite an original thing to slot into a pop album but it's not for me. And that's the beauty of the digital age, I can just delete them and pretend they don't exist - glory!

That aside, I think the songs on this album are absolutely incredible from start to finish. They're a beautiful, stunning amalgamation of pop and R&B. There are (what I've read as) recurring themes of lust and wanting to be wanted and wanting to be the best for someone else.  Seeing as nobody I know actually reads this I'll tell you about the time during which this album came to me. There was a boy who I got pretty attached to. But this boy fucked 👏 me 👏 up 👏. Never have you ever had so many mixed signals from someone who actually, it transpired, didn't even give a shit about me as a friend. He's dead to me now. But this album got me at multiple points. I think the ability for one person to hear another person's experiences through their music and interpret it to fit what they're going through is completely nuts, but I guess it just happens sometimes.

There are so many highlights on this record that the entire album is a highlight. My personal favourite tracks, at least lyrically, are probably 'Move Me', 'Far Away' and 'Bloodshot Blue'. The use of Tom Iansek as a guest vocalist throughout Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream is honestly some kind of genius - subtle yet so effective. Similarly Fractures' Mark Zito's vocals on 'Vessel' makes for an absolutely dreamy collaboration. This record is genuinely a delight from end to end and I haven't much more to say on it than that.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Song Of The Year 2017: The Top Three

Hi, long story short, I essentially had a breakdown and I've remembered I absolutely loathe writing, which has why it's taken me so long to finish this saga but here we are, please, read on.

3. Dua Lipa - New Rules

I remember vividly listening through to Dua Lipa's many-a-time delayed debut self-titled album, finally getting past all of the singles that had been released before the summer and reaching track ten. I had so many questions but the most prominent ones were "why is this buried in the thick of this album?" and "why on earth hasn't this been a single already?" It's honestly an instant hit. As discussed at number seven of this countdown, counting in songs is very fun because it's something everybody knows how to do. And here lies the ingenious of Dua and the 'New Rules'. The other incredible aspect of this song is that it is right up there with the greatest Anti Fuck Boy Anthems of all time, and it truly is a message that everybody on the planet of dating age really needs to hear.  The writing team for 'New Rules' features the insanely talented pop hero Emily Warren alongside Caroline Alin and Ian Kirkpatrick. Finally, 'New Rules' served us up one of the greatest music videos of 2017 with its rainbow of pastels and slick choreography.

2. CNCO and Little Mix - Reggaetón Lento (Remix)

Honestly, the fucking state of CNCO's 'Reggaetón Lento (Bailemos)' pre-remix. Vocally it's absolutely fine but in terms of instrumentation it leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. Thank God for who ever at Syco picked this out and gave it the treatment it was in dire need of. The Little Mix remix is, as remixes usually are, far more club ready than the original but also contains a hell load more chart and mainstream appeal; not to mention everything production-wise just sounds so much cleaner. The most impressive aspect of 'Reggaetón Lento (Remix)' comes thanks to whomstever handpicked which lyrical/vocal aspects of the original song to keep to the extent where anyone could be fooled into thinking this was the original track. Vocally all four of Little Mix are absolutely perfect for this song and I don't have another word to say on that matter. The video... I can't decide if Little Mix and CNCO filmed at different times (on different locations?) but even if that's not true I'm not a fan of videos that look like it could be the case.

1. French Montana feat Swae Lee - Unforgettable

Yes, so my song of the year. My favourite three minutes released in 2017 comes from a man who I think is one of the lamest rappers to break into pop music of recent. To be fair to Mr Montana, 'Unforgettable' definitely features his most bearable verses of the year, and even his random ad libs are alright. What really got me about 'Unforgettable' is that the instrumentation gets the faux-dancehall/dancehall pandering just right, and it doesn't try too hard, which is interesting considering that the beat was originally put forward for Drake's Views. Swae Lee, one half of Rae Sremmurd is who this song went to first (post-Views contention obviously) and I honestly can't fathom why this wasn't kept for the duo because at no point does it not sound like Swae's song. I guess that we can just be grateful that so much of his vocal has remained on the final version because he's honestly perfect for it. Genius have a 'The Making Of' series on YouTube and the video for 'Unforgettable' truly got me invested in production - and fuck, how nerdy are producers!

Thursday 14 December 2017

Song Of The Year 2017: 4. Kelela - LMK

Seeing Kelela live last week was actually what spurred me to write a songs of the year list alongside my albums for 2017. And obviously it was the point halfway through her set when she dropped 'LMK' that I thought "this is so damn great and not enough people are recognising that fact".

'LMK' was the first single taken from Kelela's latest album Take Me Apart, and I have absolutely no doubt that for everybody involved in the process it was a no-brainer to put this track out first. The up-tempo-ness of 'LMK' isn't the most typical sound one might associate with Kelela but she's done it so well, this genuinely should have been a worldwide smash and it's mind-blowing that it wasn't. I don't personally relate to the lyrical themes throughout 'LMK' but I can definitely appreciate them and Kelela's delivery of them.

My favourite thing about this song is how true it stays to classic 90s R&B; there's so much homage paid to early Destiny's Child, Aaliyah, Brandy etc on 'LMK' and the authenticity of that shines through. And this isn't true of just the track itself, the Andrew Thomas Huang directed video takes me back to watching MTV when I was eight years old and being mesmerised by these colourful sassy clips with nightclub backdrops.

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Song Of The Year 2017: 5. Goldlink feat Brent Faiyaz, Shy Glizzy - Crew

This is the first song on this list that I've actually written about before. Luckily for me that was at least nine months ago and I remember very little of what I wrote so I can plead ignorance when I re-hash everything I said before in this here end of year post. A disclaimer that this single was first released at the end of 2016 but I hadn't heard it and it didn't receive a video until March, and 'Crew' also featured on Goldlink's second album At What Cost which was also released in 2017. Thus, I rest my case on including this particular track in this rundown.

I've been a fan of Goldlink since I heard 'Sober Thoughts' a couple of years ago but it's upbeat tracks like that and 'Dance On Me' that I've tended to favour. I guess in terms of vibe 'Crew' is quite a stark contrast. I think the reason I like it as much as I do, you know, to include it in my songs of the year, is predominantly down to Brent Faiyaz.His chorus has gotta be up there with the catchiest of the year. The interesting thing is that Faiyaz doesn't really sound anything like he does on 'Crew' on his own material, which I guess is cool, that ability to adapt.

Something that I'm sure I'll write a lot more about when it comes to my albums of the year is how I've come to terms with exactly the kind of rap/hip hop that I actually like. Shy Glizzy's verse, which when I first heard it I thought was ridiculous, is now probably my favourite part of this track.

Song Of The Year 2017: 6. Tove Lo - Disco Tits

Everything on the lead up to the release of this single made me think it was going to be absolutely atrocious. I'm not sure where my lack of faith or confidence came from but it was strong and unsettling. I guess the thought of anybody I like a lot releasing two full length albums in as many years have the potential to make me nervous. It shouldn't have done. From the very minute I pressed play I was convinced, won over, a believer in Tove Lo once again, and ashamed that for those few days I'd felt uncertain.

I admire Tove Lo's audacity to sing about things that popstars don't generally sing about. You know, being wet, your nipples being hard, and also pretty much every line on 'bitches' which features alongside 'Disco Tits' on the Swede's latest album BLUE LIPS. I think it's fun to hear words and phrases like this in a colloquial but not derogatory way, and it's important that a woman should be able to sing about this kind of stuff without being shunned for it. Sure, the tracks on this album then became less commercial radio friendly but it's 2017 and who really gives a fuck?

Two super mad things about 'Disco Tits'. Firstly, this song only has one verse. Yep, just the one. But it almost doesn't even notice. This song has the ability to pretty simply flip between verse and chorus numerous times without making itself feel repetitive which is honestly a feat in itself. The second thing is how absolutely nuts the video is; let's not gloss over that. The clip is directed by Tim Erem who has worked wonders on all the video footage for Tove Lo's Lady Wood campaign, but has also directed none other than Major Lazer's 'Lean On' and Rihanna's 'Work'.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Song Of The Year 2017: 7. Ingrid - 1234

Here's a nice niche one for you. The only explanation for how I found this track is that it must have been on Sweden's NMF playlist at the time and to be quite honest, thank God it was. '1234' has received next to no promo otherwise which is pretty poor form from Ingrid and her team given how great this single is.

'1234' was penned by four (as far as I can tell) relatively unknown Swedish writers including Swedish Disney star, Linnéa källström. And it encapsulates everything one could want from an extremely fun Nordic pop song. Where Swedish pop females are concerned, bar Tove Styrke and Tove Lo (stay tuned), they haven't had the greatest year which begs the question why an artist like Ingrid wasn't pushed a little further. It actually sounds like a poppier/more bubblegum amalgamation of some of Tove Styrke's tracks.

'1234' came out just after Samantha Urbani's song of the same title finally made its way to digital stores/streaming services and it was at that point I thought, surely it can't get better than this. Ingrid proved me wrong.The chorus absolutely slams. Has anything ever been more sing-along-able than counting? No. It literally hasn't. Everybody can count and almost everybody can also count in English. Other than that I'm not honestly sure what the lyrics are all about... getting someone who fancies you to dance? Regardless, I'd quite like for this to be played at my funeral. Thank you very much.

Song Of The Year 2017: 8. James Vickery - Alone

Well, would you look at that. If it isn't great guy James Vickery with the second track from his debut EP Complexion. James sent me 'Alone' before its release and since I haven't spoken about it I thought I would share my reaction to said song. It was as follows: "Very INTO IT, the intro/outro is my fave bit. This hook is very good. Not even a chorus is it, just like one line over and over, it works. Songs without choruses really fucking me up this year." The other song I really liked that doesn't really have a chorus is Jakil's 'Every Time We Talk' which was genuinely pipped to the post by the tracks that did make this list.

'Alone' is produced by my favourite producer and in my opinion the UK's best producer (and also very long time WIIHAMB favourite), Maths Time Joy. This track is tight. It's that whole "whitespace" thing, when you're designing something. Less is more. And that really plays out well for 'Alone'. The first minute or so of this track is so minimalistic and it works effortlessly. In fact, let's discuss exactly what happens at 02:02 of 'Alone'. This is by far the greatest moment of this song and honestly it was exactly what I wanted from James Vickery post-'Epiphany' and 'Lately'. Everything drops out and then that vocal, the vocal we were all waiting for, slams back in. Glorious.

Another important, but niche, thing to note is that none of the tracks that Vickery has put out over the last year are longer than three minutes and twenty seconds which is truly the most optimal. People who don't take durations seriously aren't the types of people you should take seriously about music and that's the bottom line of this situation.

James has just announced his second London headline show. Tickets on Dice here. Come have a beer.

Monday 11 December 2017

Song Of The Year 2017: 9. George FitzGerald - Burns

I started working at Domino Records sister company Double Six Rights this year. If you didn't know that, you know now. The Double Six roster is expansive, but the in-house Domino roster is pretty eclectic too. I'd say I've probably been fairly dismissive of Domino releases this year but I've started making more of an effort to listen to everything we put out. It's actually probably this song, that I have round the office been referring to as "the greatest song of all time", that spurred that.

I'll tell you exactly why I fell in love with 'Burns' so quickly. It's simple. It's that sample. Chopped and sampled vocals are by far my favourite thing in electronic music and to pull it off in such a clean manner is something I really admire. The vocal sample here is taken from a track by label mates Little Cub. Ten years or so ago I first heard Burial's 'Archangel'; I'd never heard (or realised I'd heard) sampling like it before and it genuinely changed my life. My outlook on music as a whole was completely flipped on its head and anything that calls back to that moment gets a yes from me.

What really sets 'Burns' apart, though, is FitzGerald's ability to build such an intense atmosphere in the space of four minutes starting out with a really short and basic sample. The escalation is so gradual and effortless that it's easy to not even notice the other elements bubbling under the surface until you're completely encapsulated in the midst of it all as the percussion kick in. I'm not one for sentimentality or sitting in dark rooms with nothing but my thoughts, but if I was, I'd be using 'Burns' to soundtrack just that. This is a masterpiece and a masterclass in how to do electronic music right.

Song Of The Year 2017: 10. William Singe - Rush

The only YouTuber I stan. Unbelievably William Singe as a solo artist has flown under the radar again in 2017. I don't understand. Anyone not familiar with the YouTuber's work will have heard him as the featured vocalist on very short man Jonas Blue's 'Mama'. This was not a good song, but sure, it wasn't bad publicity for Singe. Aside from this, his primary game is really impressive YouTube covers and mash-ups, but back in February Singe released his debut "original" single 'Rush'.

Yep, you got me, 'Rush' isn't entirely original, but it features one of the best interpolations/samples that we've heard all year - and definitely a damn sight better than 'Look What You Made Me Do'. 'Rush' samples Jennifer Paige's 1998 bop and a half 'Crush'. It's in no way subtle but it works seemlessly. In fact, for someone who essentially puts their own spin on current chart hits and R&B classics as a day job, 'Rush' is a no-brainer in terms of being a Singe's first single.

The thing that truly cements 'Rush' in WIIHAMB's top ten singles this year is William Singe's vocal performance. It's a falsetto dreams are made of. And something really important is that Singe doesn't over-sing at all. I think that's super easy to do if you have a voice as good as his but there's no point during this song where Singe overdoes it and I think that deserves credit. The only thing that let Singe down in 2017 was that 'Rush' wasn't followed up by an EP or even another original single. Can't have it all, I guess.

'Rush' is a classic case of white girl pandering R&B but bite me, I love it.