It has been Too Long since I shared anything here, and I've come across some killer tunes lately, so here's a few of the artists and bands who've been floating my boat. There's a Spotify playlist below, so you can listen along!
Cayetana – New Kind of Normal
I actually can't believe it took me this long to catch on to Cayetana. Their perfect mix of late-era riot grrl, precision-crafted pop hooks and paralysing depression should've turned up on my radar when I was looking for a successor to Waxahatchee's sublime 2013 record, Cerulean Salt. If you've ever dug Waxahatchee, or any other Crutchfield projects like P.S. Eliot, this is for you. If you don't get to the end of New Kind of Normal and just start the record over again, I'm not sure we can be friends.
Haley Bonar – Impossible Dream
Haley's album before this, Last War, was a quiet favourite of mine back in 2014. There's a slow-burning quality to her songwriting, a sense that a heat is slowly building that the album art (a house that's still burning down) only reinforced. It wasn't until Impossible Dream came along that I reeeeally clicked, so I've been blessed with two Bonar albums at once. The song that sold me is the opener on Impossible Dream : 'Hometown' is a strong, simple strummer that captures the complicated feeling of old familiar places. Compared to more outwardly muscular tracks (like the wild, sky-shaking 'Kismet Kill'), 'Hometown' is an understated gem that shows the confidence in Haley's songwriting. It feels like a song that has always existed, but she was the one to finally capture it. It's a perfect companion to 'Bad Reputation' off Last War , another song that feels less 'written' than 'discovered', it sounds so perfectly formed.
Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death
I've listened to this album so much that I'm worried Tegan and Sara will take out a restraining order on me. To be fair, it's impossible to resist the New Romantic, high-drama-higher-cheekbones of Love You to Death. They showed hints of a nascent pop instinct earlier in their career ('Back In Your Head' is ten years old, how do you feel?), but LYtD is their complete and unflinching embrace of pure, razor-sharp pop. It defies you to pick a perfect song, knowing very well that the only answer to that is "whichever one is playing now". There's not a sloppy moment, not a chorus that doesn't come crashing in at the atomically-precise moment it should hit. Producer Greg Kirstin (one half of The Bird and The Bee, who's Hall & Oates tribute album you should check out; producer to Lily Allen, Pink, Adele, etc etc) makes LYtD a glossy delight, doubling down on those killer pop hooks with clean, rippling synths and sparkling neon tones. The album is so perfectly crafted that it could become sterile in the wrong hands, but Tegan and Sara invest everything with strong, clear emotion and personality aplenty, keeping even the ballads tight with their deft harmonies. This is one of the best pop albums in living memory. Why are you still reading? Go, listen!
Noname – Telefone
Unlike all the other 2016 albums I slept on in the list (Haley Bonar and Tegan and Sara both came out last year), I've just never stopped listening to Noname's Telefone. At first, the mixtape's appeal was the first luxurious, warm grooves – album opener 'Yesterday' rides in on the warble of an old organ and boom-bap drums, and slides into what might be the gentlest, most uplifting chorus I know. It's an easy listen, a great soundtrack for evening reflection and a gentle uplift in the morning.
Those smooth tones disguise Telefone's sophisticated blend of soul and hip-hop, though, and provide a safe backdrop against which Noname contrasts the dread and anguish of black life. 'Casket Pretty' is a slow head-nodding groove that hides a somber reflection on police brutality in its rounded tones. "I hope you make it home/I pray to God that my tele don't ring" she speak-sings, "I am afraid of the dark/blue and the white/badges and pistols rejoice in the night". She deftly switches gears, doubling the beat one line before shifting to staccato bursts of precisely-crafted assonance with the confidence of a slam poet, because she is one. She sings about checking "my Twitter page for something holier than black death" just before that gorgeous chorus on 'Yesterday', which shifts the tone to something much more somber as she "pictures your smile/like it was yesterday". There's an incredible maturity to her work, the tough wisdom of someone forced to grow up too fast. So it was startling to see how young she is, how bright her smile is, how easily she leads a band when she did a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR earlier this year. She communicates with her whole face, so seeing her perform brought a new level to an album I was already head over heels for.