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Music favourites
December 07, 2018
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1. Christine and the Queens, Chris

Hot damn! It’s impossible to get started on the sound of Heloise Letissier’s second album — Chris — without first acknowledging that the 30-year-old chanteuse is currently the coolest, sexiest human being on our planet.

In the four years since critics hailed her debut album as Christine and the Queens as “like peak Michael Jackson produced by Bjork”, she’s simultaneously toughened and loosened up. Always identifying herself as a queer, pansexual artist, she’s rebranded as “Chris”, cropping her hair and embracing a macho sweat and swagger.

Letissier makes her vintage synths snap, crackle, pop, fizz, freeze, squelch, shimmer and soar. There’s even a shattered glass effect (on Stranger) to complete the Old Skool Electronica bingo card. Treble notes bounce from air-cushioned soles.

2. Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the biggest leap of Arctic Monkeys’ career so far. It’s loaded with cultural references — a move that frontman Alex Turner had previously designated to his other projects — that are placed deftly onto a layout that reads more like a short novel than any traditional songwriting structure.

Lyrics on each song are rambling, stream-of-consciousness; Turner’s meandering style on the piano sounds as though he’s still figuring out the melody. Four out of Five is one of the tighter songs on the record; the thud of the bass and Turner’s keen falsetto on the intro precede a controlled, staccato mutter: “Hokey Cokey with the opposite sex. The things you try to forget, doesn’t time fly.”

3. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer

Just over 10 years since the release of her official debut EP Metropolis, aged 21, Janelle Monáe released her third full-length album Dirty Computer: a record that will go down as a milestone not just as a work of art in its own right, but as the perfect celebration of queerness, female power, and self-worth.

Screwed ft Zoe Kravitz segues into a spitfire of a rap on Django Jane; an ode to black female power and arguably Monáe’s most political track to date, which recalls wordplay akin to hip hop artist Rapsody.

4. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves third album flips between wide-eyed country pop and disco-electronica. Aided by co-writers and producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk — both Nashville stalwarts — Musgraves conjures up a feeling of lightness as she melds the traditional and futuristic.

High Horse is disco western and the most radical departure from Musgraves’ earlier sound. It’s a Kylie Minogue circa 2001-level bop that builds on summery guitar strumming with sweetly lilting vocals that hold just a hint of menace. The lightness returns on a song like Butterflies, with its cheerful bass line running beneath her sweet, dreamy vocals.

5. Kendrick Lamar, various artists, Black Panther: Original Motion Picture Score

Kendrick Lamar co-executive produced the Black Panther soundtrack, has writing credits on its 14 tracks, and appears in various skits and features. But his most essential job on this album is that of the curator, as he brings in a staggering array of talent – from Anderson .Paak, SZA and Future to South African gqom (EDM) artist Babes Wodumo and alt-rapper Yungen Blakrok.

You can see why the soundtrack would appeal to Lamar; the listener draws easy comparisons between the film’s King T’Challa and King Kendrick, both of whom grapple with the trappings of the lofty perch upon which they sit. Then on King’s Dead, he takes on the role of T’Challa’s nemesis and casts his responsibilities aside: “Who am I? Not your father, not your brother/Not your reason, not your future/Not your comfort, not your reverence, not your glory,” he spits.

6. Colter Wall, Songs of the Plains

On his second album Songs of the Plains, Colter Wall set out to paint a picture of his home, working once again with Nashville’s ubiquitous Dave Cobb, who produced Wall’s self-titled debut in 2017. There’s a cover of Billy Don Burns’s Wild Dogs, which Wall makes entirely his own, and a spot of yodelling on cowboy traditional Night Herding Song.

7. Mac Miller, Swimming

The late Mac Miller’s fifth album Swimming is a languid breakdown of the headlines he found himself a part of in recent years, thanks to a high-profile breakup with singer Ariana Grande and ensuing drink-driving arrest. Instead of delving into his past, however, Swimming is a hot lap of a record through where Miller turned his gaze to the future.

What’s the Use serves as pumping proof of the fact, an expertly-produced track that doesn’t so much wear Miller’s influences on his sleeve than stitch them on (think Outkast meets Thundercat via A Tribe Called Quest). Its irresistible bass line will be coursing through your veins for days.

8. Tamino, Amir

Tamino’s music on his debut Amir draws on the old-world romance of his grandfather — a famous Arabic musician and actor — but also embodies the genre-less quality of much modern pop. The musical heritage that is so essential to the 22-year-old’s sound comes to life in the dramatic, sweeping instrumentation on a song like So It Goes; haunting, graceful violins, bold drum beats and the shimmer of a tambourine transport the listener entirely.

The voice is the thing. There’s a richness and weight to it that seems steeped in the culture of his Egyptian heritage, a solemnness and intensity that belies his age, and an astonishing vocal range that goes from a sombre, deep moan to a deeply affecting falsetto cry that recalls Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Thom Yorke, Jeff Buckley, or Rufus Wainwright. It’s that voice, along with the maturity of Tamino’s approach to his art, that make this debut quite so astonishing.

9.  Gaika, Basic Volume

Gaika broke new ground on the UK music scene and asserted himself as one of the most provocative and multi-talented young artists of this generation with his debut album, Basic Volume.  

Featuring production from the likes of SOPHIE, Dre Skull and Jam City, the south London artist — full name born Gaika Tavares — brings together a multitude of influences including dancehall, electronic, trip-hop and punk for this first studio LP. His mesmerising beats and huge, yowling instrumentation recall the stark, futuristic landscapes of Mad Max and Ghost in the Shell.

Gaika pays no attention to the limitations of traditional genre or songwriting structure, tackling themes of identity and the tensions of life in the city with profound intelligence; consistently challenging tired stereotypes put in place by a predominantly white mainstream media of what black British music is, and can be.

10. Shame, Songs of Praise

Distinguishing themselves from the hordes of other white, indie guitar bands that emerged around summer 2017, south London natives Shame manage to make raw, bleeding anger sound articulate on their debut album.

The band seem uneasy at the notion they should set out to inspire a generation — frontman Charlie Steen told The Guardian this year that he found the idea of a rock star “offensive” — but the rage and bile they channel on Songs of Praise give listeners plenty to relate to.

The Independent

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