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Splendor & Misery (Sub Pop)

clipping.

Splendor & Misery (2016) is an Afro-Futurist industrial Hip-Hop album set on an intergalactic cargo ship commandeered by a Fugitive Slave, MC Daveed Diggs. The album plays from track to track as one uncut narrative. Alone in space, our protagonist flees a slave rebellion and the authority that ransacked his home. The ship he is stowed away upon seems sentient and provides the tracks our lone protagonist raps atop of. The track’s composers, Hutson and Snipes, built our cold pumping, pipe dripping, diegetic space bowel tracks. clipping. has brought together elements of both past and future in this eerie metal-bending space odyssey.   

Returning from Broadway’s Hamilton, Daveed Diggs’s inspiration for the album seems clear. With glaring parallels to the Middle Passage and slave trade, the album explores the individual experience of one escapee.The most direct reference is seen in the track “True Believer,” which features a hook taken directly from a slave song. Unlike HAL 9000, the ship in Splendor & Misery is responsible for providing the tracks beneath the rapping; the radio static, the metal-banging and haul-droning. Its industrial noise is comparable to that of Death Grips.


Together the tracks meander in pace and tone. Despite this, clipping. manages to smoothly weave each track together in a cohesive piece. Each song contributes to the whole narrative, provides action, setting or reflection that all play into the album's arching narrative. The instrumental builds to a triumphant end. We leave the wanderer alone in the darkness, aboard an empty ship, with a slim chance of ever reaching any shore.
   
Daveed Diggs’s rapid fire lyrics are seismic, clipping.’s exploration of slavery is impassioned and Hutson and Snipes’ instrumental is innovative. It is 37 minutes of straight pounding suspense that would provide any Monday morning commute with a fitting audioscape.

- Samuel Peters

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The Altar (Harvest Records)

BANKS

BANKS garnered our attention in 2014 with the release of her critically acclaimed debut album, Goddess (2014). The singer, who has toured with The Weeknd, is onto something very special with her futuristic R&B sound. With the release of BANKS’s sophomore album, The Altar (2016), our obsession has once again been further validated, pushing us deeper and deeper into her haunting world. Upon first listening to the album it is easy to see how it can be overlooked. However, like anything BANKS has her hands on, the album's true merit is found when you forge a more meaningful connection with her music. Her combination of fragile dark-pop sound and scathing yet empowering lyrics will have us wearing down that repeat button in no time. 

Staying true to her original sound, BANKS continues to use modern R&B vibes as heard on the tracks “Gemini Feed” and “Judas.” These vibes seem to cascade over the entirety of the album. Her use of emotional lyrics and intense beats has somehow been magnified and pushed to the next level when compared to Goddess.  Standout track “Trainwreck” hits the listener with an infectious beat, but don’t be fooled, this song is packed with powerful, evocative lyrics.

This album will send you on a journey of self-discovery where you may just find yourself lying in bed chanting “fuck you,” but that could be immediately followed by a heartfelt cry. So grab those over-ear headphones and a tub of Häagen-Dazs ice cream and settle into a cozy blanket while you embrace The Altar.

- Connor Andersen

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My Woman (Jagjaguwar)

Angel Olsen

The cult of personality in our current music culture has led us to quickly stereotype an artist and chastise them when they don’t act accordingly; Angel Olsen knows this well. After being pigeonholed as a sad folk singer after her critically acclaimed sophomore record Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014), Olsen has become more and more protective of her work and of her image. Basically, she wants to be seen as whole person.

It makes sense that the two major themes of MY WOMAN (2016) are desire and the societal expectations of women to perform emotional labor. On the lead single “Shut Up Kiss Me,” Olsen snaps at her lover to, “Shut up / kiss me / hold me tight!” with rapturous immediacy. The nearly eight minute centerpiece, “Sister,” names all the things she wants for her younger sister, but internally are things she truly wants for herself. “Heart Shaped Face” and “Pops” discuss how men often project their own feelings onto women in their life. When songs don’t meditate on these themes, they allow Olsen to portray herself as complex and multidimensional. Love, hope, and pain all present themselves throughout, allowing Olsen to be vulnerable in front of her audience. 

The sonic palette is also more diverse than her prior works. The opener, “Intern,” features some of Olsen’s softest singing over Angelo Badalamenti-esque synths.

“Not Gonna Kill You” and penultimate track “Woman” are chilled out psych-rock jams, reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles. “Give it Up” incorporates the sassy melodrama of ’60s girl-groups like The Supremes and The Crystals. Vocally, these songs are Olsen at her largest and most convincing, abandoning the country twang often found on Burn Your Fire For No Witness (2016) for gleaming falsettos and earthy coos. With the assistance of producer Justin Raisen, Olsen and her band have their sound fully realized, making the songs resonate even deeper with their listener.

You can no longer call Angel Olsen a “folk artist”she covers too many genres here to be simply anything. She is no longer just lonely and sad; Olsen’s music reflects the multiplicity of her. Instead, she comes off as one thing on MY WOMAN: undeniably human.

- Charlie Westrick

 

 

AIM (Interscope Records)

M.I.A.

AIM (2016) is M.I.A.'s worst album and appropriately, it comes with the announcement of a hiatus. The riddims are cut from the same cloth, kente and silk; no one could mistake the artist for another. They are often of the grade, which in combination, has preserved her voice as unique. The issue is the audible malaise the trailblazer seems to flaunt; amidst reference upon reference, lyrical and instrumental, to earlier work, the listener may feel better compelled to revisit her former glory.

Preceding the release of her last album Matangi (2016), she had already been distancing herself from music. She cited a back-and-forth with her label, who thought that album was too positive and would hinder her image as the wielder of third world justice with border security troubles. Following was the NFL's drawn-out $16.6 million  lawsuit against her for having wielded her middle finger at a halftime show. M.I.A. refuted this saying that the action was the mudra of her namesake goddess Matangi. A certain bureaucratic discomfort seems reasonable.

The album still flouts the more important banner of justice with the music video for the single “Borders” being one of her loudest renditions. Curiously, however, the artist who fronts as the voice of so many unheard voices has managed to release a third self-titled album, her first being the paranoid, ungoogleable and altogether inconvenient /\/\/\Y/\ (2010). Vanity has never been unbecoming of a popular artist, but with Matangi's vicious yogic musings on reincarnation, circularity and oneness on AIM, one may think the gesture befitting a refugee of the third world.

- Brandon Barrett

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