From Blood Orange’s stunning exploration of blackness to Clams Casino’s hazy rap debut, here are the best albums of July
July was certainly not a bad month for albums: The Avalanches returned after a 16 year absence, Arca casually dropped a free release that was better than a lot of records with expensive PR campaigns behind them, and Dev Hynes put out his best work to date with the latest Blood Orange full-length. Here are our picks of the month’s best albums.
ARCA – ENTRAÑAS
Arca’s latest missive Entrañas is not quite an album – it was released for free as a single 25-minute track on Soundcloud, and precedes his forthcoming third album Reverie – but for a loosie, it’s a remarkably coherent release that sticks within Arca’s already large and unique discography. Far darker and more aggressive than the balletic Xen and its more urgent follow-up Mutant, the release features 14 amorphous tracks that blend invisibly into one another, including collaborations with Mica Levi and Fade to Mind club DJ Total Freedom. Gorgeous melodies float atop pummelling bass drums, voices groan and synths squelch, but it all builds up to its stunning finale “Sin Rumbo”, a hymn-like song that sees Arca using his own vocals to jaw-dropping effect.
THE AVALANCHES – WILDFLOWER
After 16 years, Australian turntablist crew The Avalanches released the long-rumoured, constantly delayed follow up to their nigh-on-perfect 2000 debut Since I Left You. Things admittedly didn’t come off to a promising start – their comeback single “Frankie Sinatra” was a turkey, while their live shows were replaced last minute with DJ sets after a key member of the touring group struggled with visa issues. Nevertheless, Wildflower is pure Avalanches, with the group digging ever deeper into their crates for their hooks while enlisting a cast of guest vocalists to flesh their beats out, turning them into proper songs for the first time. While rooted in the sounds of the 90s and early 2000s – old school boom bap, filter house, and psychedelic indietronica – the relentless positivity of songs like “Harmony” and “Kaleidoscope Lovers” feels necessary and genuinely relevant in turbulent times.
BLOOD ORANGE – FREETOWN SOUND
Dev Hynes’ remarkable career has seen him make everything from scuzzy dance punk (Test Icicles) to indie folk (Lightspeed Champion), opening up songwriting opportunities for artists as varied as Sky Ferreira to mostly forgotten X Factor contestant Diana Vickers along the way. So when he released Coastal Grooves, his debut album as Blood Orange, in 2011, it was seen first and foremost as a musical shift rather than anything more significant. It was hard to imagine that just a few years down the line he’d be releasing Freetown Sound, a sprawling, 17-track discourse on race and identity in America that scrutinises Hynes’ own upbringing and how he situates that within the wider black struggle. Despite the inherently personal nature of the album, Hynes’ questions go beyond himself, and he bringings together a community of guests (from Debbie Harry and Nelly Furtado to writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ashlee Haze) to explore its themes.
CLAMS CASINO – 32 LEVELS
When New Jersey rap producer Clams Casino emerged in the early 2010s, his lo-fi, atmospheric style of hip hop was one of the most unique around. In 2016, countless producers have adopted, reworked, or outright copied the sound that Clams developed – but debut album 32 Levels shows why he’s still leagues ahead of the imitators. Landing after three stellar mixtapes, an EP for experimental label Tri Angle Records, and production work for A$AP Rocky, FKA twigs and more, the album draws together collaborators from different musical worlds (Lil B and Vince Staples sit alongside Kelela and Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring) and unifies them with his airy production. The guest vocalists all bring their A-games (particularly Lil B, who celebrates his years-long partnership with Clams by appearing on four tracks here), but it’s Clams’ beats that shine the most: beneath the hazy sounds and weird samples, there’s a real musicality here.
KONX-OM-PAX – CARAMEL
Scottish producer Konx-Om-Pax is primarily a visual artist, and his second album Caramel feels closer to the vivid cover sleeves and music videos that he’s created for the likes of Rustie, Lone, and Oneohtrix Point Never than the earthy sound of his debut Regional Surrealism. Konx-Om-Pax’s primary influence is rave music, although he was too young to experience the first time around. Caramel calls back to this youth, exploring rave nostalgia in a very human way: the album’s bright melodies and giddy synths are more about the feelings of rave – the colours, the euphoria, the effervescent fizz – than its sound.