Frank Ocean | channel ORANGE
After its release this past July, Frank Ocean’s “channel ORANGE” has become the soundtrack to my first semester. In his debut studio album, Frank Ocean surprised audiences with his unconventional melodies, midtempo beats and unexpected instrumental arrangements.
The album solidified Ocean as the new face of R&B, and an unconventional face as well. Earlier this year, Ocean became one of the first African-American R&B artists to openly announce he had fallen in love with another man in a letter he posted to his fans on Tumblr. Since then, “channel ORANGE” has received rave reviews and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
— Kendall Breitman
Kendrick Lamar | good kid, m.A.A.d city
It only came out this past October, but music critics and fans have almost instantly called Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” a classic. And while it might not have earned that status quite yet, the album easily trumps any rap release this year.
Recorded in Los Angeles and executive produced by Lamar’s mentor Dr. Dre, everything from its hazy hooks to Lamar’s own gremlin growl makes it an addicting listen. Lamar spits out so much brutal truth into every narrative-driven track (exemplified by songs like “The Art of Peer Pressure”) and manages to slip in some typical hip-hop bravado on “Backseat Freestyle.”
The album’s popularity was also ramped up by somewhat melancholy party numbers like “Swimming Pools (Drank).” Forget all the hype surrounding him — Lamar is already well on his way to joining the ranks of rap superstars.
— Yohana Desta
Tame Impala | Lonerism
I loved Tame Impala from my first listen of their 2010 debut “Innerspeaker,” and their newest record “Lonerism” is a wealth of blissfully sprawling psych that, while inspired by its ‘60- and 70s-era predecessors, manages to build its own technicolor landscape.
While the backbone of “Lonerism” is still the band’s signature textured, swirling riffs, Tame Impala’s newest record opts for a less linear path, incorporating an instrumental patchwork that’s more experimental and fully realized than their previous work. Frontman Kevin Parker’s simple melodies are as resonant as ever, as the album’s ruminations on being alone take the form of passive and plain-spoken observations.
Tame Impala aren’t interested in being a cognitive exercise, and the spirit of “Lonerism” echoes through a blissful physicality, which even at its most languid is propelled by exuberant momentum. With “Lonerism,” Tame Impala has transcended the critical boxing in that accompanied their first album — “They’re psych revivalists!” “With Lennon-esque lead vocals!” — by creating an album with a panoramic scope that serves as the stepping stone between Tame Impala’s ‘60s forefathers and psych disciples of the future.
— Maeve McDermott
Jukebox the Ghost | Safe Travels
Jukebox the Ghost is yet another entry into the category of fluffy indie pop, but hey, at least they do it well.
Their third album, “Safe Travels,” released on June 12, is decidedly dominated by cheery tracks laden with peppy guitar and piano with a synthy twist.
Their lyrics, though a bit shallow and sappy, are undoubtedly adorable and performed with such energetic verve that it’s hard not to love each song. Some songs, like the ironically sunny “Adulthood” and the piano ballad “Devil on Our Side,” even abandon the initially optimistic subject matters of love and friendship to deal with deeper themes like aging or death.
Despite the album’s insistence on keeping within the range of acoustic and synth-pop, Jukebox sometimes dabbles in sweeping orchestral sounds like in “Ghosts in Empty Houses.”