The summer heat has reached peak levels, but these albums can withstand the warmth. Here are the best albums released this summer
Elder – Reflections of a Floating World (Armageddon Record Shop)
On Reflections of a Floating World, Boston stoner metal outfit Elder encompasses cinematic grandiosity with a tightly-wound, six-song barrage. The result is an album which encapsulates boundless creativity through a refined sense of mood and composition.
Opening tracks “Sanctuary” and “The Falling Veil” counteract bullet-proof guitar riffs with ethereal post-rock fingerpicking. The sounds that echo throughout the album transport listeners to sonic realms where nothing is familiar, but the surrounding environment nonetheless begs observation.
SZA – Ctrl (Top Dawg Entertainment)
SZA’s remarkable second outing with Top Dawg Entertainment shines like a beam from heaven. At its core, Ctrl is an R&B album. Upon closer listening, however, subtle embellishments are revealed that draw nods from all genres of music. Tinges of neo soul and guitar pop permeate these tracks about love and loss. Sonically, the album channels a pristine quality of its own, but really, it’s SZA’s disarming and ever-confident vocals that take centre stage.
Billy Woods – Known Unknowns (Backwoodz Studioz)
Known Unknowns is a bleak exploration of the black American experience. A New York native, Billy Woods’s strident honesty regarding the history of grief in black America is akin to Kendrick Lamar’s masterful To Pimp A Butterfly. But whereas the latter album relies on empathy, the unmitigated expressionism of Known Unknowns feels strikingly tangible. For Woods, it’s not enough for the listener to experience his anguish. He wants you to feel dejection. The album plays into the fact that every generation of artists in every medium tries to be more authentic than the artists before them. And in hip hop, that loosely translates into whose experiences hold more validity and weight. This, in addition to the rhythmic staccato Woods raps with, results in a brutally sincere and accomplished album.
DJ Sports – Modern Species (Firecracker)
Modern Species is a hotchpotch of enigmatic sounds coupled with a devout reverence for 90s house music. What really ties these influences together, though, is the laser-sharp production savvy of Milán Zaks and his brother, Central. Don’t be fooled — Modern Species is more than just a charming throwback. The album harnesses familiar motifs, but its tracks are executed with a varied sonic palette that combines equal parts from the past and not-so-distant future. These guys are tinkering their fingers to the proverbial bone.
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up (Nonesuch Records Inc.)
After a six-year hiatus, Fleet Foxes return with its most ambitious statement yet. Crack-Up is equal parts challenging and engrossing, but still serves as a welcome addition to the Fleet Foxes canon. The album delves into experimental territory by way of long-winding guitar noodling that usually finishes with a lofty crescendo. Sure, these moments are pretentious, but the Seattle band tackles this messy splendor with natural finesse. This is thanks to the album’s sprawling instrumentation, which is beefed up by gorgeously ornate strings and woodwinds. Yet, despite all its over-inflated moments, Crack-Up manages to establish a newfound artistic maturity in Fleet Foxes.
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (Def Jam Recordings)
Synthesizing U.K. electronic textures with his singular rap flow, Vince Staples’ triumphant Big Fish Theory chronicles the ennui that comes with transcending amateur status — specifically in the rap game. Enlisting the warped stylings of producers Sophie and Flume, as well as feature spots from Juicy J and Kendrick Lamar, Big Fish Theory just goes to show that Vince Staples is the most hopeful nihilist working in the industry.
Laurel Halo – Dust (Hyperdub)
Laurel Halo’s Dust defies classification but distills her diverse gamut of influences with seamless precision. While her electro-centric sound remains intact, there’s a free-for-all attitude to Dust that feels completely organic. Dexterous-free jazz freakouts and funk instrumentation intermingle on these tracks like peanut butter and jelly. Halo’s electronic flourishes still manage to navigate the album with ease, which really come through in the album’s production.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe (ATO Records)
Murder of the Universe is a concept album divided into three epics. Each story is tied together by an idiosyncratic narrative that’s read aloud by a lethal female cyborg. The album’s fried-out progressive rock aesthetic is augmented by the raw and disjointed psych-rock King Gizz is known for.
Jay-Z – 4:44 (ROC Nation LLC)
Jay-Z’s 13th studio album reads like a comprehensive confession. In 2016, Jay-Z’s wife Beyoncé released her breakthrough masterwork, Lemonade. In a lot of ways, 4:44 is a response to Lemonade. On it, Jay-Z laments his personal faults while addressing intergenerational friction in modern hip hop. The album draws its power from Jay-Z’s dissatisfaction with the artificiality of mainstream rappers. It’s an intensely personal effort, but at the same time, the artist’s bars feel like anecdotes finding redemption in vulnerability. 4:44 is very much an ode to marital fidelity, but Jay-Z doesn’t leave room for listeners to scrutinize his mistakes. He already did it for us.
Broken Social Scene – Hug Of Thunder (Arts & Crafts)
On Broken Social Scene’s first album in seven years, the band condenses their best attributes into a titan-sized album. Hug Of Thunder, like its name implies, is replete with infectious hooks and sparkling neon synths. It’s a surprisingly solid effort, especially for a band that hit its stride in the midst of the early 2000s indie wars between contemporaries such as Arcade Fire and Interpol. The album bleeds confidence and is bulletproof indie pop at its best. I guess you have to reinvent the wheel every once in a while to find new artistic essence.
Graphics by ZeZé Le Lin