Noname’s gospel rap, Young Thug’s verbal acrobatics and Stranger Things’ atmospheric score feature in our roundup of August’s best albums
Our roundup of August’s best albums includes the much-welcome return of Frank Ocean, a bold new footwork record by DJ Earl, and Stranger Things’ atmospheric soundtrack. But it’s been a top-notch month for albums all around: new records by Giggs, Cam & China, Trim, and Rae Sremmurd are all worthy of your time, even if they didn’t make our final five. Here are our picks of the month’s best full-length projects.
DJ EARL – OPEN YOUR EYES
Though the genre suffered a major loss with the tragic and untimely death of DJ Rashad two years ago, DJ Earl’s latest mini-album shows that Chicago footwork is still going strong in 2016. Open Your Eyes is an eight-track attack of twisted samples, whirlwind rhythms, and screwball synths that take footwork into even more peculiar directions: the tunes still bang, but they sound far more out-there than ever before. Three collaborations with experimental synth musician Oneohtrix Point Never stand out mostly for how unexpected they are, but the best moments come on tracks like “Rachett”, when Earl takes a sideways approach towards more familiar footwork tropes.
FRANK OCEAN – BLONDE
Frank Ocean didn’t actually take that long to make Blonde – it’s not exactly uncommon for an artist to spend four years between records – but for his hungriest fans, it felt like an eternity. Despite the weight of expectation, Blonde wasn’t the earth-shaking, game-changing album that many thought it’d be – yet it still managed to satisfy both ardent followers of Frank Ocean’s work and newcomers alike simply for sounding like… well, like a Frank Ocean album. It’s warm, romantic, melodic, and inviting, but most importantly songs like “Pink + White” and “White Ferrari” couldn’t have been written by anyone else.
KYLE DIXON & MICHAEL STEIN – STRANGER THINGS, VOL. 1
Stranger Things was excellent, but it was also a naked piece of nostalgia. The show’s iconography overtly referencing the work of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King and other influential figures from the 1980s sci-fi/horror genres, but its score had a somewhat less regressive slant: although it recalls the soundtracks of artists like Tangerine Dream, Goblin, and Wendy Carlos in its use of old school analogue synthesizers, composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (of Austin band SURVIVE) are less interested in aping the specific melodic cues from the era as they are in exploring sound itself. Their atmospheric, emotional sound worlds bear more resemblance to the work of a contemporary screen composer like Cliff Martinez, and they also sound great when listened to outside of the show.
NONAME – TELEFONE
Our first introduction to Chicago rapper Noname (formerly Noname Gypsy) was her appearance on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape. Though she made subsequent guest spots on follow-ups Surf and Coloring Book, it took a year or so for Noname to finalise her debut mixtape. Telefone has been a long time coming, and it shows: it’s a delicate and meticulously crafted collection of gospel rap, with Noname telling very human stories of death, violence, abortion, and poverty. Yet no matter how dark her subject matter veers, she always brings something very warm and even uplifting to the songs.
YOUNG THUG – JEFFERY
Young Thug draws breathless and often hyperbolic praise from critics with each of his projects, but you don’t need to believe that he’s evolving language in order to appreciate that he’s one of the most inventive and adept rappers actively releasing music right now. JEFFERY is basically full of belters (not many musicians can write tracks as good as “Wyclef Jean”, “Kanye West”, and “Harambe” in a lifetime, let alone put them on one release), with Thugger’s versing sounding increasingly more elastic and his ease working a vocal hook questioning just what a pop chorus can actually be. Coupled with its bold artwork, JEFFERY is one of the more noteworthy albums to come out this year.