By: Max James Hill, Tanya Humeniuk, Courtney Miller, and Connor Robinson
Sirens by Nicolas Jaar
Nicolas Jaar’s second LP, Sirens, does not break new ground with his stark, bass-heavy style. Instead, he incorporates all his previous efforts to create his most cohesive yet challenging record to date.
This album moves fluidly through instrumentation, genre, and even language. Take a track like “The Governor,” which combines a breakcore drum beat with an Angelo Badalamenti-style piano riff before letting a solo horn wail freely. For the climactic finish, he reintroduces all these juxtaposing parts and produces one of the most exciting sections of the record. It’s his ability to take these seemingly opposing influences to create a sound that you never think would work — but it does, and it sounds effortless.
Sirens further establishes Jaar as one of the most exciting musicians out right now. – CR
The Altar by Banks
The Altar is Banks’ second studio album. It was produced by Tim Anderson and Al Shux, who both worked on her first album Goddess, and this time around I was hoping to see the Banks-Anderson-Shux team take more risks in terms of the musical accompaniment.
There was a bit more pizzazz here and there, and certain songs like “Weaker Girl” had violin arrangements which were cool. Most of it just sounded like your standard pop music, though: uncomplicated and neat.
But more experimentation in accompaniment would take away from the best thing about Banks — herself. Her voice and lyrics definitely stand out from standard pop music. Her voice is refreshing, and her lyrics tell stories of personal insecurities and disappointing relationships, but not in an overly clichéd way. You’d expect her to be the victim. In her lyrics though, she is both victim and antagonist, which makes for an interesting twist. – TH
Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea by Passenger
Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea is the seventh album by Michael David Rosenberg (stage name Passenger) — or the eighth, if you include the sole record by the band he fronted previously, of the same name.
Passenger hasn’t found any new strength to his voice, but I wasn’t expecting to find any; the soft raspiness of his vocals are a signature now. Nothing on this album will meet the popularity of 2012’s “Let Her Go,” but it has its moments anyway.
“Anywhere” is lighthearted, uptempo, and — dare I say it — happy. It’s at the top of my list for this album. It’s a good album, it’s just not as good as it could be. A lot of the songs sound similar enough to run together, but it doesn’t feel purposeful. “If You Go” has a good horn section that’ll get you up and tapping along, but then it blends right back into the ordinariness of the record. – CM
A Seat at the Table by Solange
In the best moments of her previous records, you could tell that Solange had a great album in her — but I didn’t expect it so soon.
Much like her sister Beyoncé, Solange dropped A Seat at the Table by surprise only three days after announcing it on Twitter. But unlike the vigour and ferocity that made Lemonade what it was, A Seat at the Table is quiet and contemplative, an album of measured clarity and soaring harmonies.
Despite its more subtle touches, it’s no less a powerful LP. Solange balances broader political commentary with personal struggle: “Cranes in the Sky” details her coping strategies, while “Mad” is a brave admittance of emotional toll that also features the best Lil Wayne verse in years. Punctuated by spoken interludes with her parents, Solange’s opus is stunning in its openness, each song its own portrait of resilience and strength.
If there’s a seat at the table, Solange has more than earned it. – MJH