Top 86 Music Albums of the 2010s by DriftingOrpheus (2021)
- Chart updated: 11/25/2021 06:15
- (Created: 04/02/2020 03:56).
- Chart size: 86 albums.
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The centerpiece is the 34 minute odyssey, Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture. A track detailing a Haitian slave revolt with all the ferocity one could imagine. It carries guitar hits that resemble facial punches that only cease once the skull has caved in. Incorporating horse whinnies and tribal chanting, the track dares one to ponder the music's inspiration, or even the headspace of the men crafting it. The most "straight-forward" rocker on the album is Oxygen, a song detailing an asthma attack with inertia that never ceases until the horn-soaked climax.
Rarely has an album embodied both a densely visceral and well-realized existence. The frightening aspect behind it all is that it seems to flow through the band so effortlessly, almost as vessels for transcendent music powered by an unseen force. While it's not a record for the conventional listener, you'd be hard-pressed to find an audiophile not displaced by To Be Kind's translucent beauty, or not horrified by its unfettered explicity.
"May planets crash, may god rain ash, to sear our skin, to fold us in
Kneeling close, seeking hands, our blood is warm, but what comes next?"
2. She Loves Us!
3. Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture
101.8 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
Seemingly alternating between uptempo, positively-charged romps and sentimental, breezy ballads, Modern Vampires of the City prioritizes balance far more than the band's prior work. The first landmark comes in the form of third track Step, which twinkles triumphantly leaving Rostam Batmanglij's production as the hallmark of the sweepingly gorgeous cut. The album soon receives an adrenaline shot in the form of Diane Young, a full-gear stomper which emphasizes a desire to live life at its fullest, with no regrets about being rebellious or young for that matter. One of the album's most audacious excursions comes in the form of tenth track Ya Hey. Frontman Ezra Koenig's vocal delivery is in stark contrast to the rest of the album, invoking religious fervor at a subdued pace.
As convention would have it, Modern Vampires of the City is indeed a pop record. It's one that takes risks, nudges away stereotypical classification and entrenches Vampire Weekend as a prominent force in modern music. Provocatively written, skillful executed and exquisitely produced, the album is a testament to the blossoming creativity of a young group on the rise, with much success predicted to follow. The album has a warm quality and has effectively become a comfort piece for me, calling back to better times. It's a record for those with youthful flesh and minds with temperaments far beyond their years.
"Ancestors told me that their girl was better
She's richer than Croesus, she's tougher than leather
I just ignored all the tales of a past life
Stale conversation deserves but a bread knife"
2. Finger Back
3. Don't Lie
99.6 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
While the previous record, 2014's To Be Kind conveyed a seething, scathing critique of human indecency, The Glowing Man is a far more reflective and anguished experience, almost communicating that the emotional toll of the journey that this era of the band went through was a soul-altering odyssey. Take second track Cloud of Unknowing for instance, a 25 minute, bone-rattling lead up to a midpoint climax that I have yet to see duplicated. After the storm passes, the track slinks back into the bowels of darkness from which it was conceived, hissing chants of "Monster eater" and "Jesus feeler". The second half of the record commences with the towering Frankie M, a 20 minute pulse-pounding journey dedicated to a battle lost to drug addiction. An abridged version was featured in Swans' live sets as early as 2014 but the final form of the song serves as a moment of tempestuous strength and intense catharsis on the album. When Will I Return? details a horrifying rape-attempt that befell Michael Gira's wife Jennifer. Possibly the album's most gentile track, Jennifer claims to "Still kill him in her sleep". The penultimate track here is the title track, The Glowing Man. The most extensive cut on the album, clocking in at nearly 30 minutes, is the most chameleonic, beginning as an avalanche of bruising guitar hits. The track then simmers before swelling again into a furiously paced proclamation of bodily manifestation. Vocalist Michael Gira cries, "Joseph is moving his tongue in my neck, Joseph is riding a vein in my head, Joseph is cutting my arm on his bed, Joseph is making my body fly". After having listened to it, you'd be liable to admit to an out-of-body experience.
The Glowing Man only consists of eight tracks, eight tracks spanning nearly two hours with enough vexation, desperation and despair to rival a lifetime of alcoholic's anonymous meetings. I've stated in earlier write-ups that the band incorporates their music with a staunch focus on the dichotomy of sound decibles. The Glowing Man seems to consummate this idea with the concept of emotional contrast. Moments of exhilaration lap on the shores of severe hysteria and dejection. Additionally, It shines through in practice as well as from the listeners point of view. At times the album ceases to be organized sound, but instead formulates as a raw force of nature. Put simply, it sounds like a human soul crying out for liberation.
"I beat him on his face
And I stab with all my strength
And I scream until he goes
I scream until he's gone
Then I crawl across the road"
-When Will I Return?
1. The Glowing Man
2. Cloud of Unknowing
3. Frankie M
98.7 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
Country Sleep commences in the most unguarded of ways. Faithful Heights, an a capella vocal track, is a declaration of support, almost in an attempt to reach out to the listener as a plea to remain hopeful and use the tracks that follow as emotional support. It's a wondrous foreward serving as instructions to learn from anguish rather than have it anchor you. Yellen's voice is soaring here and needs no instrumental buoying. He howls, "And in the morning light, we'll be sure to find, a kind of love so strong, It will make us cry faithful heights." Faithful Heights is the most confident of openers, simultaneous announcing itself in the most humble of fashions. The album's largest injection of energy comes in the form of second track, Ramona. The track, certainly the most conventional of the LP, is fueled by a resilient drum beat and supported by a full band backing. Even Yellin's voice receives reinforcement here from a fellow Yellin, Abe, and Alyson Holland. The track evokes visions of the American heartland and sun-swept memories of simpler moments. Despite an uptempo, cheerful timbre, the lyrics detail a declaration a love and a promise of a brighter future that seemingly remains unrequited. Subsequent track, Even If We Try, arrives as a swaying, violin-soaked bubbling crescendo that evolves into a rhythm-heavy, country-tinged outro. It's a track that can be best described as baroque-folk and there is no better talisman for the term. Yellin coos, "Even if we try, to make ourselves alright, to mend our severed lives, while all the rivers rage, descend upon the sage, alone on willowed eves, I lift my voice to sing." Something truly heavenly radiates here, shimmering in and out with subtle grace.
Fourth track, the numerical '22', may be the most all-encompassing track from the record, existing as the sonic footprint for Country Sleep. The piece is a stirring partnership of Yellin's woebegone vocals and a twinkling organ that gives the impression that the track will dissolve at any given moment. Much like the preceding Even If We Try, '22' is often overwhelming in its aesthetic beauty, almost weeping throughout. "A part of me, I call a stranger, this part of me, I found in danger, we saw the night, you fleshed it out, across time, wearin' my heart’s smile," Yellin details. The most unabashedly southern outing on the LP would most certainly be fifth track, Borrowed Time. Billowing out at a subdued rate and punctuated by extroverted bass, the song wouldn't be out of place in a Texas tavern nearing midnight. However, unlike the twangy karaoke ballads, the track has deep-rooted sentiments. Yellin croons, Now the sky unfolds it's blackened roads, life as it was never known, go on, see your part and see this through, maybe, maybe it might move you." Cherry Blossoms follows as another exhibition of restraint that results in a spring-loaded release of tension in the shape of twelve consecutive shouts of "Take me home". Wanted_You in August is an example of a straight-forward composition acting as a showcase for Winston Yellin's magnetic vocals. Recalling either a missed opportunity or an unreciprocated adoration, he sings, "My love is wrong, he's set it wrong, how do we..never again."
The album hits another creative high with eighth track, Lost Springs. Yellin rhapsodizes on anxiety-riddled self-accusations which results in a track that's effortlessly human. He asks questions and jumps to conclusions before answers can be heard. Sonically, the track is warm and inviting but the chill of the violin features emphasize the presence of nervous doubt before Yellin himself asks his flame, "How are you going to live your life alone?" and "I will never leave you." The final respite comes in the form of a final confirmation, a firm promise amidst a haze of doubt. Penultimate track, Was I for You?, introduces a folk-infused acoustic guitar arpeggio before an astonishing organ passage that remains one the finest moments on the record. TENN ends the album with a more traditional folk effort, acting as an epilogue to the stories of crippling sorrow and unflinching devotion. It's not so much what Yellin has learned that is noteworthy but rather his ability to remain as he is throughout his tribulations. He's acknowledged his shortcomings and is well-aware of his misfortunes but his heart remains open, willing to love while adrift in a sea of loneliness. "Floating on lost springs, to faithful heights I cling, sorrow stole my youth, what's left I'll give to you."
Country Sleep is part Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan, so evocative and yet so ethereal. The record is supremely delicate and never attempts to shroud or recast the precise order of events in question. Comparable to Joy Division's Closer in regards to just how personal of a testimony it is, Country Sleep packages long-form meditations into controlled bursts of ornamental beauty, both poetic and sonic. After the critical misfortune surrounding second LP, Ivywild, one could be lead to believe that Country Sleep was just lightning in a bottle for Winston Yellin, however, it more likely chronicles a slow burning candle, representative of a distinct mood during a place and time that cannot be reached again. A candle that burns once and only once.
"Oh God, I've forgotten how to pray,
Make me a man like you did with Abe,
Faith can carry a man to his grave,
Would you bury my bones by the garden gate?"
1. Even If We Try
3. Lost Springs
95 [First added to this chart: 10/24/2020]
RDJ has adopted a slew of sobriquets throughout the years, names like AFX, Polygon Window, The Tuss, GAK, Power-Pill, Caustic Window and Bradley Strider just to name a few. However, for 2014's Syro, he stuck to the namesake by which we know him best. The sixth LP under the Aphex Twin umbrella is notably warm in timbre which comes as a stark deviation from his previous effort, 2001's Drukqs, which brandished prepared piano and dissonant drill 'n' bass passages. 13 years is an extensive amount of time to go between albums but RDJ's highly discernible refocusing is evident throughout Syro's hour-long runtime. Still, it's not like the beatsmith was entirely dormant during that time. Some of the bubbly, enveloping artifacts for Syro could be found in his 2007 release Rushup Edge, flying under the The Tuss flag. It's also important to grasp that James is an artist that is constantly curating his back catalogue for release at any given time, making his creative process impossible to timestamp and endlessly fascinating. RDJ solidified Syro's arrival by commissioning a zeppelin to fill the airways over London adorned with his logo. He always had a flair for the dramatic, or should that be the surreal?
The album commences with Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix), affectionately known by supporters as the "Manchester Track" due to its inclusion in a Manchester setlist in 2007. The official title certainly is fitting, as it's named after a line of drum machines produced by Korg in 1967. The music itself is bouncy, with careful weight applied behind each beat. This is no longer the face-melting acid and tribal drill 'n' bass more akin to a previous iteration of Richard. This is RDJ poking around with a scalpel producing surgical, sonic whimsy with a "kick-your-feet-up" sense of ease. The second track is the 10 minute Xmas_Evet10 (Thanaton3 Mix). It appears like a hissing fog and then combusts with soaked, waterlogged beats that lead into a gliding groove that shapes the track. This "Xmas" is comprised of several distinct sections, à la a Paranoid Android perhaps. What results is a cavernous journey and a surefire album highlight. Sixth track and album centerpiece Circlont6A (Syrobonkus Mix) is the most frenzied outing on Syro, announcing itself with a distorted, jarring vocal sample and traveling at a breakneck pace throughout its duration. It's a skittering, anxious soundscape while never losing the ability to be infinitely danceable across its six and half minute lifespan. As a culminating, tranquil reminder of RDJ's versatility, he bestows Aisatsana on his audience as the final track of the LP. A moving, minimalist piano piece that acts as a ray of sunlight that cuts through cloudy skies after a destructive storm of IDM and techno hysteria. Many have speculated that this is a dedication to his wife as the track is her name "Anastasia" in reverse. The piano is minutely reverbed and subdued as birds chirp in the distance and one can visualize the morning dew formed on the grass at your feet. A wholeheartedly beautiful way to end a record and a concrete monument to the talent of this wonderful artisan.
No matter what nom de plume, AFX or Aphex Twin, Polygon Window or Bradley Strider, there have been but a sparse few who have ever been more cutting edge and strikingly original than Richard David James. Between reinventing himself numerous times, going reclusive and plastering his grinning face throughout Chris Cunningham's nightmare fuel music videos, I'm quite secure in saying that RDJ has done it all. He's even had "Shakespeare" Kanye West try to steal his work and pass it as Yeezy's own. This is in fact the same artist who's had a single peak at number 16 on the UK Singles chart (Windowlicker) and also birthed an LP entitled Expert Knob Twiddlers. Save for maybe 1992's Selected Ambient Works 85-92, no album is more representative of the work of electronic music's most enigmatic personality than Syro. It's labyrinthian, inviting, warm, frightening and a scorching "fuck you" to those who questioned if RDJ still had it. It stands as nothing less than a modern masterpiece and a remnant of yesteryear in the exciting scope of current electronic music. "Let the old man show you how it's done," the record screams defiantly through wordless beats. It's a sound I'll never get tired of.
Richard has often shied away from interviews and recently even claimed that he will no longer partake in them at all, fueling the belief that we will never fully unravel and understand the phenom that he has been and continues to be. This addendum stands as one of my more personal verses. Richard's music has contorted my own personal definition of music and what sonic shapes it could embody. His melodic forays remain consistently alien to my ears and that's an indicator of a true innovator and pioneer. He wasn't the first to do it. He would surely credit the work of avant-garde legends like Brian Eno and John Cage as inspiration without hesitation. Still, despite subsequent imitators and spiritual legacy bearers, there's still no one who sounds quite like Aphex Twin. The man with the power to move you to tears with ambience or melt your speakers with his patented "Aphex Acid" will always be inherently special to me and my endless journey of musical exploration. Syro will forever be a key piece of that puzzle and Richard's work is an ever-evolving tapestry begging to be traversed. RDJ himself has never commanded praise of any kind. He's often self-deprecating, claiming to be "an irritating, lying ginger kid from Cornwall who should've been locked up in a juvenile detention center". A more appropriate description of the man would be a shimmering genius, musical mad-scientist the likes of which we may never see again. However, if it were up to Richard himself, he'd likely prefer an existence as a whisper that evolves into a subliminal wall of sound; An idea, in lieu of being human at all.
1. Circlont6A (Syrobonkus Mix)
2. Xmas_Evet10 (Thanaton3 Mix)
3. Syro U473T8+E (Piezoluminescence Mix)
94.8 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
The LP begins with A Lot's Gonna Change, a track that starts with a series of fragile piano key strikes. The track quickly escalates with the introduction of Mering's stirring voice. Her voice washes over every inkling of the track like a soothing breeze, starkly opposite of bracing drumbeats. The track finishes amongst lush backing vocals that play off of Mering's sympathies, "Let me change my words, show me where it hurts." The track exemplifies the term "grand opening" and provides a blueprint for ambitious soundscapes to follow. Second track Andromeda, the first single off of the album, sports a western-tinge blended with psychedelia, embodying equal parts Dolly Parton and Iron Butterfly. If you haven't listened to the track, please take a moment to imagine that sonic cocktail in your mind. Mering laments, "Treat me right, I'm still a good man's daughter, let me in if I break, and be quiet if I shatter." The song paints a portrait of unrealistic expectation and subsequent emotional investment. Sixth track, Movies, stands as the album's artistic centerpiece. It's also the most pioneering cut from Weyes Blood so far, submerged in synthesizer arpeggios that are just as delectable as they are alien. The vocals lacerate the wall of electronics with ease as she announces, "I'm bound to that summer, big box office hit, making love to a counterfeit." The poetry points to an endless wave of typicality when it comes to romance and a distinct longing for a love-affair fit for the silver screen. The track ends with a cello barrage capping the whimsical, serene track supported by Mering's heavenly bellows. The penultimate, Picture Me Better, is a likely candidate for the most straight-forward cut of the lot. The instrumentation is heavily stripped back incorporating pacifying strings that play shyly behind Mering's vocals. Her hair-raising falsettos quickly supplant the strings and aid the notion that she could create transfixing serenades if rendered acapella. The song itself is a poignant memorial to a friend lost to suicide's destruction. "If I could have seen you just once more, tell you how much you are adored, there's no point anymore," she details. The track winds down into a final instrumental entitled Nearer to Thee, a reference to the final song played during the demise of the unsinkable ship.
Titanic Rising's artistic vision is crystalline and unalloyed. The thematic framework is a thunderous damnation of monotony and all things ordinary relating to modern life and romance. It's a testament to the artist's admiration of true love in its purest form. Furthermore, the album is a musical mission statement pleading the listener to refuse social conventionality. As emotional as the record is, it's also a vehemently liberating experience. Much of its power is drawn from the sun-dwarfing brightness of its vocal standard-bearer. These tracks are crafted around Natalie's Mering's voice as opposed to common music-making methodology. After all, a traditional approach would just be too run-of-the-mill for Weyes Blood. We can thank her ambition, emotional insight and angelic vocal register for her ever-growing collection of winsome work.
"Lost and tangled up in you,
Everyone knows you just did what you had to,
Burning much more than ever before,
Burning down the door,
It's a wild time to be alive."
1. A Lot's Gonna Change
3. Picture Me Better
94.6 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
The noise rock sheen is cemented with opening track, "Neon Junkyard", which invokes one of Cox's treasured acts, Royal Trux. The singer's vocals are vigorously clouded, more congruous with the guitars of Lockett Pundt and Frankie Broyles as opposed to a single melodic entity. Though the music is unabashedly direct, the lyrics present more of an abstraction. Cox scowls, "Finding ancient language in the blood, fading a little more each day." It's an apropos entry point into the thematic stylings of Monomania. "Leather Jacket II" amplifies the intensity, ushering in garage rock swagger braced by howling guitars that emerge midway through the track. Cox's vocals are even further back in the mix but his tape manipulation helps color the song's intentionally rough edges. The sentiments are more transparent here as Cox sings, "I was just bones; Yeah I barely tried, they always cut my head off." Cooler heads prevail as "The Missing" comes into view. Vocal duties are handed off to Lockett Pundt who penned the song. His serene voice cascades downward, dousing water over the fire lit by the band in "Leather Jacket II". The piece is reflective and acts as a comedown for a record still in its infancy. Bradford contributes on the cut as well, as his soothing synthesizer and heartbeat drumming provide a soft landing for Pundt's fragile vocals. "Pensacola" is a slice of southern-hospitality, served straight from Deerhunter's unorthodox, noisy kitchen. Josh McKay's bass and Cox's percussion pump blood through it and provide bouncy buoyancy for the prose. Cox's character yearns to leave behind an undesirable home life, even for the unlikely haven of Pensacola, Florida. The rhythm section shines again in the following piece, "Dream Captain", which details another account of a caged bird looking for escape. It's clear by now that Cox has projected the specifications of the personal prison he called home onto the face of the album. Here, he longs for a manifested fantasy skipper to whisk him away from a terrible place in a hopeless time. Sixth track, "Blue Agent", unfurls as a prickly yet magnetic testimony of a friendship gone awry, devolving into quiet resentment. Cox brags, "If you ever need to talk, I won't be around; If you ever need to fight for life, I'll make no sound." The song brandishes cold and calculated malice masquerading as rhythmic curiosity, encapsulating Monomania's essence.
The second half of the record commences with the cold guitar line that highlights "T.H.M", a ghostly track that touches upon the suicide of Cox's younger brother. Hauntingly profound, the poetry recounts early morning phone calls from the dead and failed attempts at brotherly course correction. Josh McKay's bass rests beneath like an ankle-high fog as the room's temperature takes a dive. Cox laments, "My head was like a wound when they called me and said, It's happened much too soon". Eighth track, "Sleepwalking" sports chugging inertia with Moses Archuleta's drums powering a piece that deals with the removal of rose-colored glasses. A union is coming apart due to a bittersweet epiphany as Cox explains, "Can't you see, we've grown apart now." It is, without a second notion, the rhythmic jewel of Monomania. "Back to the Middle" functions as an epilogue of sorts for "Sleepwalking". The production here is translucent in comparison to the rest of the record, furthering the theme of clarity of recollection. Organ passages tether the verses together to give the track flavor amidst the straight-forward melodic approach. The title track screeches as it shakes your hand, assuring that no other is more fit to bear the album's namesake. The song is a volcano of frustration, touching on themes of unfulfilled sexuality and uncompromising, emotional resolve. Cox remains romantically stymied but staunchly unwilling to accommodate to shallow expectations. "There is a man; There is a mystery whore and in my dying days I could never be sure," Cox declares. Repeated utterances of "Monomania" lead us out with a double act of definition and implementation. Sonically, the track is the most visceral of the record. "Nitebike" picks up the pieces of previous fury with a literal recording of a modest motorcycle. The song itself, which shines light on Cox's complicated youth, consists of just Bradford and an acoustic guitar. The ruminative space that "Nitebike" occupies calms the wounds left in "Monomania's" wake. It's a highly shaded anecdote that inhabits a peculiar but welcomed space. On the final track, "Punk (La Vie Antérieure)" employs hypnotic wordplay alongside dizzying psychedelics to create one of the album's most sensory experiences. "Punk" traverses ideas of self-identity and how fruitless it can be to fit a round peg in a square hole. The band double up on bass duty here, ensuring a muggy undertone to Cox's lyrics. "Punk" guides the album to its conclusion in a catchy and clever fashion.
The labyrinthian mosaic being weaved by the Atlanta outfit is still being constructed. Like an evolving amoeba, Deerhunter often deconstruct and rebuild sonically in order to please themselves. There's no quaking, self-serving desire to conform in fear of being left behind, a tactic that many of their peers would employ. This unit had already survived deaths, multiple label alterations and hiatuses all while boasting one of modern music's most dependable discographies. Cox has long lambasted the selection of the band's namesake, rejecting any connotations or discussions it may inspire. The name simply has no significance, save for a mark of consistent quality. However, it's Cox's very rejection that carries the utmost significance, indicating an endless desire to push boundaries and avoid creative complacency. Despite Monomania being a voracious account of a difficult time, repeated ingenuity is not something Deerhunter struggles to achieve. With the treasure trove that is the band's criterion, others would likely point to earlier triumphs like Halcyon Digest or Microcastle as potential crown jewels. However, like the band's purposeful ability to conceal and distance itself away from a steadily hollowing indie scene, Monomania is a proper masterpiece hiding in plain sight. They say still waters run deep and that's true of human beings, but in Deerhunter's case, their most raucous effort surely has the most to say.
"Your bones they were always, they were always in my way
The fire finds a way to completely erase
I followed you out
You threw up and you complained
And I bide my time, and I hide my glory away
In the basement room where you used to kneel and pray"
93.7 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
The album begins with the apropos, 'Terrible Love', a document of a relationship on its way to disaster. It's a scenario that Berninger is clearly familiar with and it's a fragile union bound together by alcohol, sleeping pills and bits of string. "And I can't fall asleep without a little help; It takes a while to settle down my shivered bones until the panic's out," Berninger laments. Maybe he finds solace in carrying on, riding a freight train to anguish if only to know he's stuck it out and not thrown in the towel. It takes a special kind of pride to willingly fall on the sword and both parties are willing to do so, even if it means confronting the specter of failure once again. Sonic standouts here emanate from the progressively distorting guitar work from the Dessner brothers and the powering percussion of Bryan Devendorf. 'Terrible Love' epitomizes the championing of imperfect relationships amongst imperfect beings. Second track, 'Sorrow', occupies a far more straight-forward thematic headspace. The band played the song for six hours straight at the MoMA PS1 as part of a collaboration with Ragnar Kjartansson aptly titled, 'A Lot of Sorrow'. Berninger's poetry is in top form on the cut, with an assist from Aaron Dessner. Berninger testifies, "I live in a city sorrow built; It's in my honey, it's in my milk." Anyone can write a song about a former flame, but to describe the inner workings of one's plight with such malaise, with the presence of profound wounds paved beneath a concrete shell of numbness is certainly no easy feat. Gentle keyboard flourishes usher the song out to a chorus of angelic coos communicating the saintly nature of quiet suffering.
Fourth track, 'Little Faith', is the only track on the LP to feature a writing credit from Carin Besser, Matt's wife. With the compositional brain trust swelling to three, the prose undergoes a cinematic makeup, straying away from the hyper-introspectiveness of early tracks. "You'll find commiseration in everyone's eyes; The storm will suck the pretty girls into the sky," Berninger howls. This is the first of 'High Violet's' tracks to craft an image of a tangible, sensory experience rather than a prolonged sense of yearning. 'Little Faith' buzzes in a fashion similar to that of an AM radio coupled with sopping bass plucks that arrive in lock-step with Berninger's bellows. Strings anchor the track and prevent it from flying away with the twinkling guitar arpeggio that introduces itself during the second half. 'Little Faith remains on of the LP's unsung heroes. On the other hand, 'Afraid of Everyone' often stares down the barrel of consistent praise for its brilliance and its star-studded feature. Sufjan Stevens provides harmonium and offers backing vocals. Stevens also composed the vocal arrangements for the track, which becomes more apparent when you listen to the cascading voices falling over each other like rolling waves. 'Afraid of Everyone' is certainly one of the LP's more graceful excursions, something that could be seen as a harbinger for Stevens' 'Carrie and Lowell' in 2015. The context of the song deals with aversion to social interaction and the struggles of managing anxiety. Consequently, the narrator must navigate the rough seas to provide emotional stability to his young family as he rapidly and consciously ages. It's a banner moment for sure. However, the emotional heart and soul of all things 'High Violet' resides squarely within 'Bloodbuzz Ohio'. The record's sixth and most sensational track, is a ode to copious amounts of debt, the sentimental nature of one's hometown and a stirring promise of a comeback story yet to be written. If one examines closely between the lines, there's a sense that this comeback will never come to fruition. It's more of a portrait of a character on an endless losing streak with hope being the only thing driving him forward. He's a slave to his patterns, his habits, and his demons. His ambition has been chiseled away by disappointment, his potential, squandered by alcohol and his treasured and downtrodden home state, both a sanctuary and a prison. As Berninger puts it, "Ohio is in his blood." 'Bloodbuzz' is the most poetic statement on 'High Violet' and it's also a wolf in sheep's clothing. It harbors the album's most infectious, progressive momentum while staying unflinchingly defeatist, forever resigned to lose. The track is a proper masterpiece and one of the grandest statements of the 2010's. "I still owe money to the money to the money I owe; I never thought about love when I thought about home," Berninger admits.
The album recedes back into itself with 'Lemonworld', and the band evidently reembraces reservation after the emotional exertion of 'Bloodbuzz Ohio'. The seventh track concerns escape from the urban jungle of New York City and all of its obligations and burdens. The subject dreams of a lavish desertion, adorned with idyllic summer afternoons highlighted by pairs of alluring women. Eighth track, 'Runaway', elongates the solemnity of 'Lemonworld'. The track itself is a tributary branching off from the record's pension for promoting the acceptance of subpar situations. 'Conversation 16's' instrumentation swirls around Berninger's baritone serenades like a warm breeze. The drum kit finds itself ushered forward in the mix, acting as the catalyst for the track's success. Another song concerning rupturing foundations, this 'Conversation' concerns a married couple carrying on the facade of stability. The record finishes with 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks', a track that features backing vocals from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. The track serves as a mournful sendoff for an LP drenched in emotional heft. It passes on a message that we are all susceptible to love's cruel nature and it's this pain that unites us, certainly a lesson the band's fanbase can revel in.
The National continued to elevate their indelible status in the coming years with critical successes at every turn, yet, none of them feel as essential or as crucial to the band's identity as 'High Violet'. It's 11 tracks of unabashed turmoil paired with the courage to parade it with unlimited vulnerability. Some would argue that the strength of music is grounded in the sense of catharsis that it can inspire, but 'High Violet' doesn't repurpose that pain, it merely acts as a conduit between beating hearts. The album classifies fallibility as a redeeming quality and helps us understand why we hurt but not necessarily how to heal. After all, to completely recover from our intangible scars would be distinctly inhuman. It's true that we find a picturesque beauty in incalculable jubilee, but sorrow is a phenomenal, soulful achievement in its own right. 'High Violet' lets us know that it's okay to cherish it.
"I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees."
1. Bloodbuzz Ohio
3. Afraid of Everyone
93.1 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
The LP is a revolving, reoccurring nightmare of self-inflicted wounds to which there is no detectable method of course correction. Track one, 'Downward Spiral', creates a tangible atmosphere of dread and paranoia coupled with drum hits that narrowly tether Brown's rhymes together. The song feels like it could unravel at any given moment, expertly mirroring its narrator. Periodic, gleaming guitar is the ray of sunshine that provides brief respite. Even that feels diluted by the blackout curtains of Brown's poetry. He remarks, "Been grinding on my teeth so long it's swelling up my jaw, Nothing on but my bathrobe and pinky ring, Your worst nightmare for me is a normal dream." It's a viscous, slow-moving start to the LP that subverts expectation and prepares the palette for a serving of experimental hip-hop. Subsequent track, 'Tell Me What I Don't Know' eschews the use of Danny's routinely coarse cadence in favor of a baritone, subdued vocal approach. Synth injections of bass that wouldn't be out of place within a 1970's Giallo picture lower the track into a dark abyss as Brown hastily raps above it. Third track, 'Rolling Stone', is as languid as the record gets, with the presence of Petite Noir creating a soothing atmosphere amidst an ocean of prose which resembles a fiery shipwreck. Brown declares, "Bought a nightmare, sold a dream, happiness went upstream, blame myself, I had no control, now I'm living with no soul." Fourth Track, 'Really Doe', is a hip-hop super collaboration of epic proportions as a baton passes from verse to verse ushered by traditional, yet hard-hitting production. Earl Sweatshirt's final verse is an apropos coda to the track, as he himself would embrace aural reinvention. Earl professes, "You've been the same motherfucker since 2001; Well it's the left-handed shooter, Kyle Lowry the pump, I'm at your house like, "Why you got your couch on my Chucks?" 'Really Doe' is a rap alliance deftly done and supremely executed.
Fifth cut, 'Lost', re-bathes the LP in its elixir of overt abnormality. Playa Haze's production is the crown jewel on the track, interweaving elements of 'Flame of Love' performed by Bai Guang that behave like a murmuring, beating heart pumping blood through the beats. It remains one of the album's most creative, earworm-inducing moments, toting the line between buoyant hip-hop banger and bleak, introspective fever dream. The record's cornerstone, 'Ain't It Funny', embodies the spirit of 'Atrocity' better than any, pulsating with brass lungs reminiscent of the sonic motifs of the reformed Swans records of the 2010's. 'Ain't It Funny' is crunchy, coarse and agitated like a charging rhinoceros. Brown laments, "I can sell honey to a bee, in the fall time make trees take back they leaves; Octopus in a straight jacket, savage with bad habits, broke serving fiends, got rich became an addict." The track lives as the lynchpin for the thematic DNA of the record while flourishing the finest production and lyrical flexibility present within its 15 songs. Side two commences with 'White Lines', a skittering, subterranean excursion that outlines the subject's love/hate relationship with cocaine. Sonically, it's dingy, unfettered and unwashed. It acts as a descent down a staircase by way of inebriated stumbles, punctuated by pervasive, staccato twinkling. Here, glorification and degradation flow equally, contributing to an album of faux emotional highs and rock-bottom lows. Twelfth track, 'When It Rain', is undoubtedly the most aggressive of 'Atrocity's' offerings, detailing the pugnacious nature of his hometown of Detroit and it's clear how his surroundings helped carve out the motifs of the record. Bass returns in a big way on the track with a Delia Derbyshire sample, 'Pot Au Feu', used to genius effect in order to conjure an atmosphere of fear where safety is far from reach. Brown concurrently creates a sense of horror from manning the street corners of his origin while expressing pride in being a product of it and having survived its urban hazards. Brown explains, "Cause everybody hungry in them streets, nigga rob ya grandma for something to eat; Know it's fucked up, that's how it be growing up living everyday in the D; And it don't seem like shit gon' change; No time soon in the City of Boom, doomed from the time we emerged from the womb." Danny skillfully paints a picture of nurture at the hands of a city by linking together moments that bred tomorrow's scars but are recollected by way of hazy dreams.
Some MCs never find a quintessential vehicle for their voice, sonically or thematically. Danny Brown had to make friends with vulnerability and stare death in the face in order for 'Atrocity Exhibition' to materialize. Hip-Hop is littered with examples of exuberant characters seemingly fitted with armor invulnerable to breakage. Brown proudly displays his imperfections here, without the need for exaggeration. His voice itself is the finest metaphor for his approach to his fourth record. It's unconventional, grating and even a bit ugly, however, it's what draws you in. It's initial homeliness gives way to pride-swallowing enjoyment with Danny's self-exposure opening the floodgates to an approach that champions the phrase "all bets are off". Unconventionality is beautiful, the unorthodox is tradition and staccato sounds unmistakably like legato. On 'Atrocity Exhibition', Brown crafts a visage of himself as a Detroit-based King Midas, saddled with a fortune of alcohol, stimulants and women in lieu of gold. He doesn't do this to inspire envy or raise street-cred as seen in other rap symphonies. Rather, as an act of confession in an attempt to pull his own soul from the fiery wreck of his crumbling, metropolitan castle. He just so happened unlock his artistic potential and produce a hip-hop masterpiece in the process. The Devil went down to Motown and lost. I guess this means Danny's salvation was a success.
"Say ya need to slow down
Cause you feel yourself crashing
Staring in the devil face
But ya can’t stop laughing
Staring in the devil face
But ya can't stop laughing."
-Ain't It Funny
1. Ain't It Funny
2. Really Doe
3. When It Rain
92.8 [First added to this chart: 04/25/2020]
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