The Magnetic Fields
50 Song Memoir
If 50 Song Memoir is proof of anything, it’s that Stephen Merritt is at his best when facing a monumental challenge. In 1999, he released 69 Love Songs, a box set that was just that – 69 songs about love, each told with Merritt’s signature bittersweet, often humorous lyrics. Since that seminal release, Magnetic Fields have stagnated a bit with a handful of meandering, mixed-bag albums. But in 2017, the songwriter has returned to his muse with another gargantuan challenge: to write 50 songs about his 50 years on this planet. Not only does he meet the quota, but the massive task helped him to shake the cobwebs off of his muse and write some of his best material in over 20 years.
Some may find the idea of a five-CD, 50 song album to be a bit too tedious, but Merrit masterfully tells his story in a way that is endlessly entertaining and continuously mysterious. This isn’t a straight-forward memoir (we never learn the names of his parents, if he has siblings, or the names of his lovers); instead, each song plays as a snapshot – sometimes a hilarious story (a mean cat, failing an ethics class in college, a song about how surfing is a dumb sport) and sometimes a heartbreaking revelation (the impact his mother’s boyfriends would have on him over the years, fears of the AIDs epidemic, mental illness). Merrit is at his finest though when the songs are a combination of both his signature snark and sadness.
Father John Misty
[Sub Pop; 2017]
Whenever I listen to Father John Misty’s 2017 release, Pure Comedy, I can’t help but think about the works of one of my all-time favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. To place Josh Tillman, the man behind FJM, on the same level as Vonnegut would be a bit hyperbolic, but Tillman’s satirical portrayal of a misguided human race is reminiscent of Vonnegut’s hopeless take of humanity.
Stillness in Wonderland
[Age 101; 2017]
Over the past three years, Little Simz, the up-and-coming London hip-hop star, has shown her range. Her 2015 underground hit, “Dead Body”, hinted toward a dark and brooding artist while 2016’s AGE 101 DROPX EP aimed toward a more electronic approach. 2016’s conceptual effort Stillness in Wonderland continues in her path of unexpected turns with an album that is mellow and soulful, reminiscent of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun.
[Young Turks; 2017]
A lot has happened since Sampha’s promising 2010 debut, Dual EP. Instead of capitalizing off of his first effort, Sampha instead spent the next seven years supporting his mother as she suffered with cancer. She passed away in 2015, and he would soon after discover his own health scare in the form of a lump in his throat. The result of this seven year hiatus from releasing music is Process, an album with a depth and maturity far exceeding that of most debut, full-length efforts.
Swet Shop Boys
It is officially time to start wetting our pants – Donald Trump will be the President of the United States in mere months. The thought of that orange faced, mentally ill galoot running the most powerful country in the world is reason enough to be nervous, but his hateful rhetoric of bigotry and oppression has been even more appalling. Expressing this panic and anxiety as a white man feels a bit like empty venting in comparison to those who actually have something to fear in the Trump dictatorship.
Enemy #1 seems to be anyone of Muslim descent. Threats of a Muslim registry and even internment camps have already been floated by the Trump camp, and one can’t help but feel helpless to a Republican majority that might just appease the mad man’s wishes. Swet Shop Boys, a hip-hop duo comprised of Heems and Riz MC (both of Muslim descent), might just be the soundtrack of angst and hope that we have all been looking for in these trying times.
A Tribe Called Red
We Are the Halluci Nation
You are more likely to hear about the Cleveland Indian’s battle with the Chicago Cubs in the World Series than you are to hear about The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest of the North Dakota pipeline. Really, it isn’t that surprising. For over 400 years, Native Americans have been treated as second class citizens, their cause often ignored or quickly dismissed. With their third album We Are the Halluci Nation, the Canadian DJ trio called A Tribe Called Red are unwilling to sit idly by while the injustices of colonization continue to wreak havoc on indigenous people of North America.
Jumping the Shark
[Secretly Canadian; 2016]
We are all flawed humans. All of us. Donald Trump. Hilary Clinton, and yes, even Ken Bone. Celebrity provides us all with an outlet to judge others without fear of repercussions, but in the end, we all have our own crosses to bear. Instead of taking aim at fame, Alex Cameron decides to expose the mundane flaws of all of us: the business man, the drunk, and the dude living in his parents’ basement.