With Volume 250 of The Daily up and running, we’d like to start off the quarter by highlighting some of the best music releases that came out during summer break. 2016 has been an all-around great year for music so far, and this past summer is no exception. Below, I’ve compiled a variety of releases that came out from the end of school last year (June 10) up to the first day of classes this year (Sept. 26). We hope you find something here you enjoy.
“Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not” — Dinosaur Jr.
Veteran indie rock group Dinosaur Jr. has returned with the fourth installment to its unprecedented third act as a band. Much like previous releases “Beyond,” “Farm” and “I Bet on Sky,” “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not,” is no-bullshit indie rock in the traditional sense — fast-paced songs, instantly-gratifying hooks and a healthy amount of killer guitar solos courtesy of J. Mascis, one of indie rock’s most iconic guitarists. This is Dinosaur Jr. doing what Dinosaur Jr. does best. The contributions by J. Mascis and Lou Barlow work together and contrast each other in rewarding ways, reminding us how good it is to have the band back together.
“HEAVN” — Jamila Woods
You might remember Jamila Woods’ smooth vocals from last year’s summer hit “Sunday Candy,” off of Chance the Rapper-affiliate Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s excellent debut LP “Surf.” Or perhaps you recognize her from Chance the Rapper’s excellent (“ain’t-no-gosh-darn-part-you-can’t-tweet”) new mixtape “Coloring Book.” But more than a featured singer on a few hit songs, Jamila Woods is an auteur — musician, poet, activist, etc. — and her debut “HEAVN” is a phenomenal collection of soul and gospel-influenced, socially conscious R&B. Thematically, it covers everything from love to systematic injustice to growing up. As a singer, Woods handles every note with care, and as a writer, she’s crafted an album in which every song feels essential, from the woozy love ballad of Chance the Rapper-featuring “LSD” to the powerful, Noname-featuring “VRY BLK.”
“Prima Donna” – Vince Staples
Last year, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples came out with “Summertime ’06,” his debut LP as well as one of 2015’s best albums. Following up this ambitious double album with an equally ambitious, though slimmer, EP entitled “Prima Donna,” Staples proves himself to be one of the most conceptually and technically riveting new rappers on the scene. Staples tells the story of a rapper from the beginning of his career to his eventual suicide — and he tells it backwards. The album, like “Summertime ’06,” opens with a gunshot. In between, we’ve got dark, mumbled interludes (including a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine”), new production sounds courtesy of James Blake, No I.D. and Dahi, (which veer from dark and dazed atmospheres to vigorous beats) some of the best bars we’ve heard yet from Vince Staples, and commentary on everything from the insidious nature of institutionalized racism (“War Ready”) to the startling impact of fame (“Prima Donna”).
“For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)” — Huerco S.
You may not have heard of the Kansas City producer Huerco S. (a.k.a. Brian Leeds) at this point, but keep an eye out. An ambient artist with a soft spot for club’s quieter side, Huerco S.’s “For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)” is undoubtedly one of 2016’s strongest ambient albums to date. Eschewing any traditional sense of percussion, Huerco S. makes electronic music more closely linked to Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works Volume II” than, say, the “Richard D. James Album.” It’s ambient music in a traditional sense, but the subtle influence of club music and the preference of sudden song endings rather than a seamless flow make this record unique. The languid echoes of synth that stream across this record are achingly melancholy and well worth a thorough listen with a good pair of headphones.
“Telefone” — Noname
Chicago rapper and slam poet Fatimah Warner (better known by her stage name Noname) has been delivering killer, insightful guest verses on a variety of great songs over the past few years (most famously her appearance on Chance the Rapper’s breakout mixtape “Acid Rap” on the song “Lost”). This past summer, her debut mixtape “Telefone” has been released, and it is a brilliant and quiet (but no less devastating for it) affair. As always, Noname’s flow is tight, and the production is lush and intimate. “Telefone” is at once inspiring and harrowing, detailing artistic struggle and racial injustice as well as personal and collective grief, while also finding strength in overcoming.
“Freetown Sound” — Blood Orange
Writer Brian Howe once said that if Prince were an introvert, he’d probably sound something like Blood Orange (otherwise known as Dev Hynes). Indeed, there’s no denying the influence of Prince on Blood Orange’s sound, and Dev Hyne’s work is quieter, more contemplative than Prince’s. Although “Freetown Sound,” Blood Orange’s best record yet, provides us with some striking beats and soaring hooks from guest vocals ranging from Carly Rae Jepsen to Nelly Furtado, it is undoubtedly a quieter affair than anything in Prince’s oeuvre. This is not to say the album doesn’t have intense moments. From the opening lines of standout track “Augustine” (“My father was a young man / My mother off the boat / My eyes were fresh at 21 / Bruised but still afloat”) to the Ta-Nehisi Coates sample on “Love Ya,” “Freetown Sound” is replete with powerful, thought-provoking moments.
“MY WOMAN” — Angel Olsen
Until recently, many fans have known singer-songwriter Angel Olsen as a folk musician. On her searing opus “Burn Your Fire for No Witness,” she pushed folk rock to its limits, imbuing it with a fire that simmered with quiet energy. With her newest release “MY WOMAN,” Olsen moves towards a more full-fledged rock sound, broadening her sonic palette and embracing some of her most direct hooks. Her songwriting is top-tier, as always, her lyrics at once emotional and philosophical, and the vocal melodies, particularly on “Heart Shaped Face” and “Sister” are powerful. In particular, the way in which longer tracks “Sister” and “Woman” build over Olsen’s resonant vocals lends the album an emotional heft that is remarkable, evoking heartbreak, melancholy, desire, etc. Though fans may at first miss the simmering folk of “Burn Your Fire for No Witness,” Olsen’s “MY WOMAN” demonstrates that she is capable of anything.
“Skeleton Tree” — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Born out of unspeakable personal tragedy, Nick Cave’s newest release with The Bad Seeds asks the question: How do you even talk about an album that tackles loss in such a harrowing way? Simply put, if you want the more profound experience, you don’t. You listen. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that “Skeleton Tree” is one of the best albums in an already remarkable discography, up there alongside “The Boatman’s Call,” “Abattoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus” and “Let Love In.” From the minimal, experimental sonic landscape to Nick Cave’s by-turns mythological (“Jesus Alone”) and deeply personal (“I Need You”) lyrics to the emotional desolation depicted herein, “Skeleton Tree” is not, strictly speaking, pleasurable to listen to. But it is meaningful and gut-wrenching. There are no pleasant pop songs, no earworm melodies. This album demands full intellectual and emotional attention. Like the most powerful Greek tragedies, “Skeleton Tree” takes us through a harrowing landscape of pain and loss and leaves us with catharsis.
“Puberty 2” — Mitski
Mitski Miyawaki (primarily known by her stage name Mitski) has made one of the best indie rock albums of the year. The effortlessly searing “Puberty 2” covers a wide sonic and emotional range. Standout track “Your Best American Girl” tells a story of love and loss in the context of cultural divide: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I finally do / And you’re an all-American boy / I guess I couldn’t help trying to be the best American girl.” Mitski’s vocal performance on this song is impassioned and bracing and beautiful, and the rest of the record is in the same vein. The album, though a pleasure to listen to, covers some dark territory. “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” distorted guitar documents the pain of restlessness, “I Bet on Losing Dogs” feels like an elegy for faded love, and opening track “Happy” is anything but. In spite of, or perhaps, because of this, “Puberty 2” feels triumphant, an indie rock record that soars even when it sinks.
“Blonde” — Frank Ocean
It was getting to the point where we weren’t sure if Frank Ocean’s second album would ever see the light of day. Even if it did, many were convinced that Ocean could never follow up his masterpiece “Channel Orange,” one of the most canonical R&B albums in recent memory. It’s been four years, and the follow-up is here: “Blonde,” an album that makes genre designation seem quaint and daunting. This may come close to heresy, but let me say that “Blonde” is every bit as good as its predecessor, though in very different ways. “Blonde” is undoubtedly less immediately accessible — the production is more minimal, experimental and guitar-laden. As always with Frank Ocean, who will almost surely go down as one of the best songwriters of the 21st century, the vocal melodies, the lyrics, the production and the overall product are top-notch. Songs like “Self Control,” “Skyline To,” “Ivy,” “Godspeed,” etc. are of the highest tier. And though the highs on “Channel Orange” are untouchable, “Blonde” feels like a more cohesive record overall in terms of mood and sound, making for one of the year’s best records thus far.
Contact Tyler Dunston at tdunston ‘at’ stanford.edu.