On our final “Things We Enjoyed …” column of the school year, we take a look at the releases that we’ve yet to discuss, yet nonetheless enjoyed as some of the best works released from September 2016 to June 2017.
Vagabon – “Infinite Worlds”
Vagabon is the indie rock project of Laetitia Tamko, a Cameroon-born New Yorker whose music is textured by an intimacy warm and true. “Infinite Worlds” captures Tamko in a handful of musical styles — at turns she adapts a Sonic Youth influenced vitality on songs like “Minneapolis” before switching over to a reclined coolness in the hazy dance track “Mal a L’aise.” Listening to the album often times feels reminiscent of reading someone’s diary, and that’s largely in part to the songwriting the album’s strongest asset. Tamko’s lyrics paint vivid images of moments of vulnerability: A past haunted by the ghosts of relationships-turned awry and times spent wandering a mirror room of infinitesimal possibilities.
While album isn’t a game changer, sitting comfortably in the indie rock sphere and sonically dipping its toes in other fields proficiently, it isn’t attempting to be anything other than an earnest collection of confessions; thankfully, Tamko weaves them together with panache, and delivered one of the sweetest rock albums to come out lately.
Angel Olsen – “My Woman”
Listening to Angel Olsen is often an exercise in somber reflection, the kind that hurts too good to not indulge in. I never think to myself, “I want to listen to something that will make me want to cry,” but somehow I always wind up returning to Olsen’s music. Her latest full-length project was released far back in September, preceding the start of school by a few weeks enough to slip by a handful of would-be fans. “My Woman” is a result of the Asheville, North Carolina based musician shifting gears from her previous lo-fi production and stripped down intimacy, instead favoring to approach that tenderness with the accompaniment of a more robust set of instruments to compliment her disarming rawness.
The album begins gauzy and effervescently with the single “Intern,” before subtly giving way to Olsen’s newfound penchant for a more traditional set of instrumentals. But traditional is the last way to categorize Olsen, a songwriter versed in performances like that in “Shut Up Kiss Me” that rip through the listener’s heart, evoking the cliched movie moment of selecting that perfect jukebox joint. From start to finish, “My Woman” is an incredible listen, oozing with creativity and an uncompromising sense of emotional directness.
Playboi Carti – “Playboi Carti”
The inclusion of Playboi Carti’s self-titled mixtape might mystify some when comparing it to the other works listed here. It lacks the lyricism necessary to give it an edge over other contemporary rappers and any semblance of engaging themes to consider it a quality work of art. But it fucking bangs. There’s really no other way to put it. Ad-lib after ad-lib, Carti kills it with his devilishly catchy hooks and showmanship that only a select few number of rappers can equal. By now, everyone’s heard “Magnolia,” a joint destined to go down as song of the summer 2017. Carti’s mixtape proves that not all music needs to be a groundbreaking work of artistic boundary-pushing. Sometimes, some mindless rapping over a banger beat is all it takes for a record to slap.
Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson in the town of Paterson, New Jersey in the movie “Paterson” (full disclosure: That observation was made by Mark Kermode and not myself). Jim Jarmusch’s film came out amongst a surplus of critically acclaimed films released in time for the Academy Awards, going unnoticed by many who instead gave more attention to films like “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.” But “Paterson” is a special film, an odd two-hour long film that sports neither a concrete plot nor sense of direction. It would be honest to say that nothing happens, but that honesty betrays the simplistic charm of the film. Aside from being a bus driver, Driver is a poet whose microscopic attention to detail saturates his observations, pairing nicely with the film’s restrained and pensive mood. It’s a film about breaking the mundanity of life in the little ways, a sweet film with lots to say and a subversive way of doing so.
Crying – “Beyond the Fleeting Gales”
The Highlander previously praised the band Crying as a band deserving of more praise and attention in our Under the Radar segment. However, their latest album on Run for Cover records, the prog-rock influenced “Beyond the Fleeting Gales,” itself deserves a spotlight for being one of the greater music releases of the past year. Crying takes influence from your dad’s favorite rock bands, incorporating fiery riffage and blistering solos all the while meshing it with poppy synth hooks, vibrantly mixing the two musical styles to incredible effect. The energy levels on the album go down when needed, like on “Well and Spring,” a slow angelic track recently featured on Frank Ocean’s Blonded Radio; but mostly, Crying spends the entirety of “Beyond the Fleeting Gales” playing with ‘80s rock and contemporary synth-driven pop, and the result is a brisk display of high-octane fun.
“I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”
“Blue Ruin” and “Green Room” director Jeremy Saulnier’s films have an unpredictability to them that infects its action scenes for the worst, at least for the characters involved. Long time friend and collaborator of Saulnier, Macon Blair, borrows this Coen-esque aspect in his directorial debut, “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore,” a unique film lead powerfully by Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood. Blair’s first feature film follows Lynskey as a woman whose pessimism has hit an all time low after she is burglarized. With the help of Wood’s goofy rat-tail sporting, shuriken-throwing character, she experiences a different perspective on life. And, like Saulnier’s films, there’s gore. Lots of gore, most of it occurring as a sucker punch to the audience, and never overstaying its welcome. It’s not for everybody as its slow pace and black humor will fly over the heads of many, but it’s a sweet film (if at times a shitstorm) that foretells a great future for Blair and his oddball directing style.
“Personal Shopper” is a hard film to describe, for good reason. It stars Kristen Stewart as a personal shopper for a French socialite, living in the country out of a sense of obligation to make contact with her late twin brother. It plays like a horror film at times, but of the artsy variety that restrains itself to have its spookier elements service as metaphors less so than concrete plot-pushing devices. The film takes its time to put the pieces together, in between ominous text messages Stewart’s character receives briefly after witnessing an apparition, and the finale might disappoint those in search of a story that wraps itself up succinctly; it demands close attention, and those that give it the respect it deserves will be engaged in a perplexing tale on grief, and how we cope with trauma.
Vince Staples – “Big Fish Theory”
There’s a great tweet I saw about Vince Staples’ new 12-track record, “Big Fish Theory,” that postulates the beat-making process behind it, referencing that scene in SpongeBob where Mr. Krabs asks for the song that goes “bee-boo-boo bop” or some variance on that. It’s funny because even though nearly every song on the album features that kind of bubbly synthesized beat that echo the album’s aquatic motif, it’s an album filled to the brim with off-the-wall production unlike any of Staples’ contemporaries. There’s songs on “Big Fish Theory” featuring frenetic electronica beats that no other rapper — save for other top-tier artists like Danny Brown and Young Thug — would have any idea how to rap over. Ultimately, it’s record that masterfully showcase that highlights why Staples, in all his sheer individuality, is one of the best in the game.
Brockhampton – “Saturation”
Brockhampton is a musical collective created by American rapper and R&B singer Kevin Abstract in 2015. Now 15 members strong, the self-described boyband’s latest creative effort came in the form of “Saturation,” a 17-track long album exploding with energy. I’d be lying if I said I could identify which member is which when listening to the album, save for Abstract or Ameer Vann, but the group explodes with charisma from each emcee. Brockhampton borrows styles from other genres too, often adapting a style more akin to an indie rock outfit influenced by ‘90s and early 2000s emo or contemporary pop and R&B. Despite an abundance of style that hops from track to track — there’s never a chain of straight rap bangers or dancey pop tunes — every single track is a quality hit from an eclectic group of artists on the comeup.
“Under the Shadow”
“Under the Shadow” is a horror film directed by Babak Anvari that released back in October 2016, set in Tehran, Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and centered on a mother who is progressively convinced that her and her daughter are being tormented by a malevolent spirit known as a djinn. Incredibly short, running less than a full hour and a half, the film makes effective use of its compact narrative; what it lacks in length it more than makes up for with rich symbolism and tense, dreadful atmosphere. Not a single shot is gone to waste in this extremely calculated horror film that brilliantly doubles as an allegorical tale about female oppression. Part of the film is redolent of 2014’s “The Babadook,” both in plot and the wholly convincing performances by the films’ female leads — Narges Rashidi is a powerhouse, carrying herself subtly in her initial doubt before a palpable evil encroaches.