In 2017, four big music releases surprised listeners around the world for a variety of reasons. Read on to hear some remarks about what they teach us about the art of music making.
18 March 2017, Drake drops “More Life” on the OVO-Sound label.
Why it’s surprising: “More Life” plays out over nearly an hour and a half, bringing it closer to the length of an amateur EDM record than that of a typical mainstream hip-hop release.
What we can learn from it: You can still make long records in the 21st century.
2016 spent a ton of time telling musicians to give up making albums and to stick to single releases. This continues to be standard advice, owing to the growing market of music streamed directly from the Internet.
Then along comes Drake with a collection of 22 tracks he doesn’t even call an album, but rather, a “playlist,” and how does the music community react? With plenty of well-deserved enthusiasm, that’s how.
Thrillist.com calls it “the best Drake project since ‘Take Care’ because it gives Aubrey Graham space to explore his obsessions. While the tough-guy paranoia of ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ remains, the icy musical claustrophobia of Views is mostly gone, replaced with a nimble commitment to teasing out disparate global influences. Songs like ‘Passionfruit,’ ‘Madiba Riddim,’ and ‘Blem’ pulsate with real heat, while winning guest spots from artists like Sampha, Young Thug, 2 Chainz, and Kanye West make the long run-time feel earned. Sometimes more really is better.”
Rolling Stone calls “More Life” Drake’s “finest longform collection in years, cheerfully indulgent at 22 tracks and 82 minutes, a masterful tour of all the grooves in his head, from U.K. grime (‘No Long Talk’) to Caribbean dancehall (‘Blem’) to South African house (‘Get It Together’) to Earth, Wind & Fire (‘Glow’). Yet the more expansive he gets, the more himself he sounds – and the further he roams around the globe, the deeper he taps into the heart of Drakeness.”
Labor Day 2017, LCD Soundsystem releases “American Dream” on DFA/Columbia
Why it’s surprising: It’s the first new LCD Soundsystem record in seven years. And oh, yeah — the band broke up after the last one.
What we can learn from it: It’s good to reform your band if there’s still music in it.
LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy talked big in 2011 when the band broke up, even going so far as to urge fans to wear funeral attire to their farewell show.
Additionally, their breakup coincided with the release of their rock-umentary, “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” which now becomes less definitive with the introduction of “American Dream.”
These facts must have figured big in the group’s decision to reform for the recording of another full-length album.
So why did they feel compelled to do it? As music journalist Dan Jackson puts it, “The songs are very, very good. Like on the previous three LCD records, Murphy’s meticulous production means that each track, like the pleading ‘oh baby’ or the sprawling ‘how do you sleep?,’ hits like a carefully plated dish served up by a weary master chef called out of retirement. If you can deal with the middle-aged malaise and occasionally too self-aware couplet, this lengthy record is a rewarding feast. You’ll eat whatever this guy cooks up.”
April 28th, 2017, Mary J. Blige delivers “Strength of a Woman” on Island
Why it’s surprising: Mary J. Blige returns to that undeniable ’90s groove which originally made her a star
What we can learn from it: Don’t feel bad sticking to your winning formula, even if your style has antiquated roots
Mary J. Blige took plenty of risks while experimenting on her 2014 record, “The London Sessions.” The gambles paid off. Fans and critics alike loved the record.
But that album alienated some of her most avid, longtime listeners who wanted to hear more of what she’s delivered in the past. Maybe for that reason, but probably just because she felt like it, Blige went back to her old-school sound for SoaW.
Pitchfork says of this, “Strength of a Woman’s classicism is, in some ways, a relief despite the success of The London Sessions’ more modern tracks; in an era of young R&B acts that bury their vocals in hazy, gossamer production to the detriment of cohesion, it’s refreshing to hear Blige sticking with what she knows. Mary will never not be Mary, and through the deep-dive into self-empowerment and, as ever, self-discovery, that is this album, she understands her voice is her most effective tool—and her emotion its understudy.”
5 May 2017, Slowdive produce ‘Slowdive’ on the Dead Oceans label
Why it’s surprising: Slowdive haven’t put out a record in 22 years, let alone a self-titled LP
What we can learn from it: You may not have your style figured out for 30 years
The shoegazey sound of Slowdive began in 1989, a pretty darned long time ago in music terms. They pumped out three well-received, popular mainstream albums in the early nineties. Then they took a sleep akin to Rip Van Winkle’s.
When they woke up in 2016, they still felt warmth in their instruments. They picked them up and began recording their most recent material in 22 frickin’ years. When they’d done, they looked at the new body of work and apparently felt like the songs described the band so well that the collection deserved the honor of being a self-titled album — finally.
And does it deserve that honor?
Pitchfork noted, “The beauty of their crystalline sound is almost hard to believe, every note in its perfect place.”
Thrillist described it thus, “these eight new tracks are simultaneously expansive and the sonic pathfinders’ most direct material to date. Birthed at the band’s talismanic Oxfordshire haunt The Courtyard – ‘It felt like home,’ enthuses guitarist Christian Savill – their diamantine melodies were mixed to a suitably hypnotic sheen at Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Sound facility by Chris Coady (perhaps best known for his work with Beach House, one of countless contemporary acts to have followed in Slowdive’s wake). ‘It’s poppier than I thought it was going to be,’ notes Halstead, who was the primary architect of 1995‘s previous full-length transmission Pygmalion. This time out the group dynamic was all-important. ‘When you’re in a band and you do three records, there’s a continuous flow and a development. For us, that flow re-started with us playing live again and that has continued into the record.'”
That’s all for this week, but stay tuned for another great year at the MondoBlog! Happy New Year, creative music geniuses!