After being dropped by his previous record label, Blue Note Records, Grammy Award-winning songwriter Van Hunt has released his first independently-produced, fourth studio album. What Were You Hoping For? paints a portrait of someone wholly and thrillingly free. Made entirely on his terms, this album sees a departure from Hunt’s signature neo-soul sound into something so eclectic that it almost defies categorization. Blending R&B, funk, soul, psychedelic, new wave, rock and even some country, this album is so raw it’s almost punk in nature. What Were You Hoping For? simultaneously rejects and answers the question that its title poses. Lyrically, Van Hunt is brilliant. “Designer Jeans” talks about how people wear their prejudices like designer brands, be it sexual identity, politics or religion. This album lacks direction and focus, but its bravery certainly makes up for its shortcomings.
Trial track: “Cross Dresser” – Paul Traunero 5.0/10
The eagerly anticipated sixth album by M83 is nothing short of an opulent electronic exodus. It surges and fades relentlessly for 22 songs as Anthony Gonzalez summons the greatest aspects of past works along with intricately crafted original material. Gonzalez’s narcotic pop has a raw drive; the meticulously composed album has synths reaching heights unseen since Jean-Michel Jarre, while drums and guitars prowl gauzy soundscapes beginning with an elegant intro, featuring Zola Jesus. “Raconte-moi une histoire” is a surreal march into a dreamland led by a child’s voice and “Splendor” backs up a beautiful piano piece with M83’s signature reverb-obscured vocals sinking into waves of noise. Still, the album’s lofty electronic maelstrom isn’t for everyone. The unabashed pop coursing through most of the album could be off-putting, but any fan of modern electronic music can appreciate the ecstatic sound and fury of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.
Trial track: “Midnight City” – Patrick Case 8.5/10
The fifth studio album of the Ontario alternative-country band takes a soft melodic approach to dealing with loss and loneliness. Cuff the Duke’s take on country blends it with rock and indie vibes making for an undoubtedly unique sound that even non-country listeners are sure to enjoy. The first of a two-part album, Morning Comes emphasizes the struggles of heartbreak and easily reaches out to those who have experienced the emotional roller coaster of infatuation, romance and loss. From bittersweet and slow songs like “Brightest Part of the Sun” to a more upbeat “Count on Me” to fiery and passionate “Bound To Your Own Vices,” the album captures the range of emotions that often go hand in hand with losing someone. Any good band can make catchy melodies, but a great band pairs those melodies with lyrics and meaning that sneak in and touch your heart without you even knowing it.
Trial track: “Time Is Right” – Kalina Laframboise 8.0/10
Many bands have managed to create lasting legacies over their careers, but none quite like Joy Division. Unknown Pleasures was the first of only two albums released by the British post-punk outfit before the suicide of singer Ian Curtis in 1980. Although the band was initially unsatisfied with the production of the album, the record came to define their sound. It didn’t reflect the aggressive nature of their live performances, but instead lent a dark, spacey quality to the music. Many of the songs have a slow, pulsating groove to them, complemented by heavily produced drums, melodic bass lines and sparse guitars. Curtis’ lyrics are tragic yet beautiful, expressing the pain of dealing with epilepsy as well as hints to his looming suicide. Despite the band’s short life, they inspired legendary acts like U2, and started a post-punk movement that lives on today in groups like Interpol and The Killers, who released a cover of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay” in 2007.
Trial track: “Day of the Lords” – Robert Flis