Sampha is best known for lending his smooth, soulful vocals to Drake’s “Too Much” and “The Motion.” However, his EPs and acoustic session have proven that he is much more than a chorus man.
Sampha’s early recordings, released on his Sundanza EP, sound like a funky, frenetic arcade-cum-dance-bar. On his 2013 releases, Dual and Too Much/Happens, Sampha brings it back to the basics. One piano, one microphone, one man, and his soul. This is minimal music, permeated with a lonely urgency. Piano, vocals and the occasional drum beat are all Sampha needs.
With a diverse array of sounds under his belt, he will no doubt continue to croon and swoon in 2014.
2. Jessy Lanza
Hailing from our very own Hamilton, Ontario, Jessy Lanza released her bold debut album, Pull My Hair Back, in late 2013. She is the lone songstress on Hyperdub, the prolific London-based label, known best for its instrumental electronic artists. This is a testament to her musical talent.
Jessy makes amorphous electro-R&B. Synthesized arpeggios flutter beneath her breathy vocals, which pulse with a diffident sexiness. She experiments with a variety of sounds on her debut, ranging from funk to trap.
Stay on the lookout; she is likely to bless her hometown with a(nother) live show soon.
3. FKA Twigs
FKA twigs is sexy. The vocals on “Weak Spot,” the first song on her first EP are spoken almost entirely in a seductive whisper. It is not until the end of the song that we hear twigs sing. Or rather, moan, a sensuous, melodic moan. This is aphrodisiac music.
The breathy vocals that permeate the rest of her two EPs (aptly named EP and EP2) strike a seemingly discordant balance between dominance and vulnerability. It works for twigs. Her voice floats atop sparse production, lending to the ethereal intimacy that is so often a part of sex. Here’s hoping that 2014 brings us more of FKA twigs’ sultry, tripped-out R&B.
SOHN’s music is haunting, mournful, and melancholic. His electro-soul sound lies somewhere between The Weeknd’s brooding moodscapes and Rhye’s lamenting love songs.
A native of London, England, SOHN now lives in a quiet neighbourhood in Vienna. His music is reflective of this environmental shift. It is minimal, punctuated by empty space. Infrequently, songs will build to a dense climax, reminiscent of London’s cramped chaos.
SOHN has dropped two EPs, The Wheel and Bloodflows. He has an LP slated for release in 2014. Catch him in Toronto on May 14 if you’re around. If you aren’t, wait patiently for his debut album.
SZA is the first female artist signed to the powerhouse American hip-hop label Top Dawg Entertainment (or TDE), alongside prolific artists including Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q.
If that is not enough to convince you of her artistry, one listen through of either of her EPs will. See.SZA.Run and S are filled with woozy, synth-drenched soundscapes carried by SZA’s dreamy vocals. This is outer-space-wavy R&B that would be easily complemented with a blunt on a summer’s evening.
TDE CEO Anthony Tiffith has announced that the entire roster will release solo albums in 2014. Stay tuned for SZA’s.
Jai Paul (Unofficial)
Who is Jai Paul? His website (www.jaipaul.co.uk) does not answer this question; it is a blank, white page. His Twitter feed is equally unhelpful. Jai has tweeted once, only to announce that that he does not endorse this release. All other information about the enigmatic UK artist must be gleaned from his collection of self-produced demos.
As early as “Track 2” it becomes clear that Jai Paul is an extreme musical force. The song is a triumph of sonic fusion: electronic hip-hop meets Bollywood on an MDMA-fuelled dance floor. Jai Paul’s sensual vocals are complemented by Vani Jairam’s singing on the sampled, “Bala main bairagan hoongi.”
Two of the collection’s sixteen songs have been officially released. Track nine, “Jasmine,” is a subdued, pulsating slow jam. In the final track, “BTSTU,” Jai Paul alternates between haunting falsetto verses and a banging hook driven by electrified synth riffs. The music world has taken notice. “BTSTU” has been sampled by Drake and Beyoncé, and Jai Paul was signed to the British independent label XL Recordings on the strength of these two songs alone.
It is hard to believe that the other fourteen tracks are demos, for they sound no less complex or complete. Songs bounce across genres and moods. The cowbell-accented future-funky “Track 5” is worlds away from the undulating tropical vibe on “Track 15.” The album’s disparate sounds are made cohesive by Jai Paul’s vocals, which are at once distant and foreign, yet deeply intimate.
Some might argue that this leak deserves no place on a top ten list. Doubters, I bid you, listen to Jai Paul. His are among the most innovative sounds of 2013. Once you have listened through, relish the idea of an official debut album. Let us hope to hear it soon.
- Josh Spring
Trouble Will Find Me
When life gets overwhelming, we reach for a security blanket. It may not be with the same consistency as Linus van Pelt, but sometimes the tumult of the everyday can prove to be too much (as wretch-inducingly Thought Catalog-ish as that sounds).
The National’s sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, comes at the apex of their decorated career and provides the same wholesome comfort for the melancholy population as a tub of ice cream and shitty rom-coms do for spurned lovers. After suffering through relative obscurity and being pegged as sleepy miserabilist dad-rockers, all the acclaim the band has enjoyed in recent years could not be more deserved. In an industry saturated by one-hit wonders — Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, anyone? — it’s been refreshing to watch a band work their way up to widespread respectability.
I was surprised to face staunch opposition when I suggested this album for ANDY’s year-end list. Even though I’m a pacifist, I would have fought several bears or listened to Imagine Dragons to ensure its position. Though not as grandiose and immediately accessible as 2011’s stunning High Violet, TWFM is easily the most subtly brilliant record to come out last year.
It bears more of a sonic resemblance to 2003’s underappreciated Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers than its immediate predecessor. Although his young daughter Isla must be keeping it at its end, Berninger’s wit remains razor sharp. The baritone frontman will have you silently sobbing during the cathartic “I Should Live In Salt” (an ode to his younger brother) and laughing at the faux-morose lyrics on “Demons” (i.e. “When I walk into a room, I do not light it up”).
Jaded detractors have long labeled the National as overtly solemn, but they’re missing the obvious tongue-in-cheek nature of the music. Guitarist Aaron Dessner described the offerings on TWFM as “songs you could dance to—more fun, or at least The National’s version of fun.” After all, how could you insist that these guys take themselves seriously when the best song on their latest record is named after a nauseating cocktail, “Pink Rabbits,” and full of lyrics like, “I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park”?
- Tomi Milos
Sometimes I repeatedly write the word “Rhye” in the margins of my notebooks. Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal have refused to reveal the meaning or origins of their musical project’s name, and I am not even confident that I know how to pronounce it properly. But I just love how those four letters look together.
In this way, it’s the perfect name for a duo crafting soulful R&B music that, while perhaps not complex or profound, offers immense sensory pleasure. Horns, harps, and pianos are perfectly placed across Woman. Yet these flourishes always leave ample space for Milosh’s sublime vocals, which do not definitively register as either male or female.
His delicate, unplaceable voice enables Woman to deftly sidestep the hyper-masculinity and sexual aggression that frequently surfaces in male-fronted R&B. The cover art for R. Kelly’s recent record Black Panties, in which Kelly plays a naked woman like a cello, pretty much encapsulates this tendency. In contrast, when Milosh cries out “make love to me,” it’s a desperate plea, not an order. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sexual confidence, but Milosh’s style invests all the familiar pillow talk on Woman with a universal and somewhat subversive twist.
It’s true that a lot of other artists trade in similarly wounded, brooding R&B. In 2013, Autre Ne Veut, The Weeknd, and even Drake released albums in this vein. There is also some darkness on Woman. But perhaps better than any of their counterparts, Rhye balances such angst with the joy and jubilation of deep intimacy, even if there’s just “three days to feel each other.”
Woman opens with the couplet: “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs/I’m a fool for that sound in your sighs.” It may not be subtle, but what else is there to say?
- Cooper Long
To call Yeezus an album seems to do it a disservice – it is a scattershot of punk, a flurry of electric, and a hard-hitting pulse of hip-hop. It is a political statement, a diatribe on the overinflated monstrosity of celebrity status, and a lyrical tornado scathing a music industry that produces pop tunes that leave a listener feeling diabetic. Misogynistic slurs, challenges to racism, and helter-skelter screams pepper the measures. It is disorder. It is calm. It is everything and anything in between.
And that’s just the first song.
Kayne West’s Yeezus is an exhausting, powder keg of music, if it can even be called that. Unlike Kanye’s other six albums, the classic soul sounds are almost entirely absent. There isn’t the vintage word flexing or pencil pushing to produce smooth beats. Instead a progression of dissonance with shrieks and deep bass lines, chaotic melodies and emotional layers grate the ears for forty minutes.
Listening to it all in one go is a marathon. The tunes come in torrents, thud after thud after thud, and just when it feels like it’s too much, when you can’t take the discord, jerkiness, and sudden tiredness, the song ends and the next one ambles on with shrill screech.
This is not to say the album is bad. It isn’t. The greatness comes in exactly what makes it disconcerting: a reversal on the perceptions of regular musical composition, as well as the artist’s ironic assault on himself and everything that has made him.
That, or the album could just be the loud grumbles of a narcissist parading as complexity. Like the album’s title suggests, God only knows, and I’m sure even he has trouble listening to some of the fubar ricocheting throughout the songs.
- Kacper Niburski
Modern Vampires of the City
Whatever you call it, Vampire Weekend’s third record is one that defies both labels and my writing ability to express how fucking amazing it is. It is both the ambitious conclusion of a coming-of-age trilogy as well as an impressive sign of things to come.They were originally pegged as just another buzz-band when they arrived in a musical landscape replete with twee and lazily ironic acts. But Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Baio, and Chris Tomson have proven their critics wrong at virtually every turning point in their careers. 2008’s self-titled debut was a buoyant amalgamation of classical influences Batmanglij picked up at Columbia University (no one ever said a V-Dubs song needed more harpsichord) and African-pop. 2011’s Contra built off the debut’s inventiveness while remaining accessible even when making references to typography (re: the oxford comma). As Pitchfork put it, the band was “in an enviable position: semi-popular and sincerely idiosyncratic.”
Perhaps that’s why the band’s utter domination of 2013 wasn’t surprising. Although Batmanglij was the sole producer of the first two albums, the band enlisted Ariel Rechtshaid to lend his deft touch and fresh ears to the proceedings. To call the resulting fruits of their labour “magical” wouldn’t be hyperbolic.
MVOTC is a barbaric yawp proclaiming the virtues of America and a brave confrontation of solemn issues like mortality and religion. “Step” functions in the same vein as Kanye West’s “Homecoming” as a clever love song about a city, with the metropolis in question being poignantly depicted in its accompanying video. The number of references to fire that pepper Koenig’s lyrics on tracks such as “Unbelievers” and “Don’t Lie” makes one wonder whether he was reading Dante’s Inferno in the booth. The songs are as grave in subject matter as the epic poem, but with the band’s trademark tongue-in-cheek still shines. “Ya Hey” is an ethereal conversation with a higher power, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to gyrate your hips to. Considering the sheer infectiousness of the remaining songs on the album, the sparse and intimate “Hannah Hunt” is certainly not the one you’d pick for radio play, but it’s easily their best yet. The sheer ecstasy it induces during its final minute is enough for anyone to produce a full-fledged Patronus.
No words of mine can really do this immensely important album justice, so I’ll just stop here and give you a chance to listen to it.