Leonard Cohen — You Want It Darker (Columbia)
A fine addition to the legacy
Leonard Cohen’s career renaissance reaches new stature on You Want It Darker, an elegant thesis with deep-felt layers of wisdom and a sense of finality. Produced mostly by son Adam, Cohen’s third studio album in five years puts his diverse musical forms through a filter of temperance. On the title track, which opens the record, the Montreal-based Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir provides backing vocals and the chorus; ‘Hineni, hinen’ (‘Here I am’ in Hebrew), they moan, before Cohen comes in with an addition: ‘I’m ready, my Lord.’ Cohen is a storyteller first and foremost. ‘I’m leaving the table/I’m outta the game,’ he growls on Leaving the Table, as a hollow bodied guitar strums alongside. Like most of Cohen’s compositions, the focus stays on the lyrics. Travelling Light is vigorous, with plenty of variation in instrumentation, with Cohen singing, ‘Travelling Light, it’s au revoir, my once so bright, my fallen star. I’m running late, they’ll close the bar, I used to play one mean guitar.’ He clinches rootsy bluegrass strings on Steer Your Way, which travels back to the past; from his college stint in a country band to 1971’s Songs of Love and Hate, to brighter moments on Popular Problems. If I Didn’t Have Your Love is the only optimistic track here, as it finds solace in how love lightens and endorses the beauty around him. At some points, cheery piano chords accompany him describing celebration in the streets, and at some, he confesses, ‘I’m sorry for the ghost I made you be. Only one of us was real… and that was me.’ Cohen has aged like wine, and his voice still carries an energising richness.
Best track: Travelling Light
Worst track: It Seemed the Better Way
Solange — A Seat at The Table (Columbia)
The artiste’s strongest album to date
Solange released her EP True back in 2012, a soulful album that solidified her place in the archives of pop as a much-needed messiah. Now as she offers her first full-length album in seven years, Solange returns to us as an R&B historian. A Seat at the Table is full of lush vocal and musical arrangements. The album opens with Rise, a harmonious anthem that feels simple and meditative in its lyrical content. Sprinkled throughout the album are interludes by various voices in Solange’s life, including her father Matthew Knowles, her mother Tina Lawson, and No Limit Records founder Master P. These dialogues not only shed light on her family, but also on the history of Black empowerment. Mad featuring Lil Wayne and Tweet is a major standout, the chorus ‘there’s a lot to be mad about’ is catchy and Solange’s vocals and Lil Wayne’s rap verse complement each other. Cranes in the Sky is the best answer to Solange’s 2012 breakout single, the Dev Hynes-produced Losing You. The track offers similarly honest reflections on troubled relationships and heartaches. Solange’s vocals are muted on some of the lyrics that follow D’Angelo’s style on Black Messiah, another project that throws the light on black culture. One thing that makes A Seat at the Table so powerful is the intensely personal touch that Solange infuses each song with.
Best track: Mad
Worst track: Pedestals
Bon Iver — 22, A Million (Jagjaguwar)
An unexpected turn towards bizarre
Justin Vernon, the man behind Bon Iver, has spent nearly a decade working out how his music fits his mantra of life and pushing every album musically. Bon Iver have put out three albums since 2006, and Vernon’s inspiration to produce something genuine before it’s too late drives each of them into a new, unexplored territory. ‘It might be over soon’ are the first words you hear on the latest album’s opener, 22 (OVER S88N). The voice belongs to Vernon, but it is pitched up and robotic, whispering in your ear that nothing lasts forever. The core music strains for surprise at every turn. Interestingly, the signs and symbols that grace the cover and track titles feel almost like a tease. The aggressive 10dEAThbREasT is the most riotous song here, with pounding percussion, jumbled vocals and crushed instrumentation, creating a perfect storm. 715 – CRSSKS is Vernon’s master stroke on the album, as he creates this epic song using just his voice, creating an unrivalled intensity and influence that grips you. 29 #Stafford APRTS harks back the wounds Vernon sang so long about in his prior albums with a blistering, slow burn of a song that is explosive in each chorus. The more conventional moments work equally well. 666? is just brilliant, waves of crashing drums over an aching guitar line and some warm horns dominate over the studio trickery and computer effects. The closing track, 00000 Million, sounds the most like a folk ballad, a little revert to Vernon’s past self. He sings, ‘I worry about shame, and I worry about a worn path / And I wander off, just to come back home.’
Best track: 715 – CRSSKS
Worst track: _45_
Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)
One of the best story-tellers in rap
After Danny Brown released his avant-garde album, Old, in 2013, it was clear Detroit’s very own Rapper was on a different wave in comparison to his counterparts. On the album, he walks the incredibly fine line between sophisticated art rap and loud mess. The dreamlike Get Hi has a breathy, laid-back sample reminiscent of the meditative elements of Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. The track features legendary Cypress Hill frontman B-Real, and the slow-paced jazzy production is a perfect match for the two charismatic voices. The album’s most star-studded track, Really Doe (featuring the talents of Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and Black Milk), showcases a perfect contrast of eerie soundtrack bells and discordant piano chords. Brown’s story-telling skills haven’t changed at all since DNA, but he’s got better as a lyrical stylist. ‘Got me missing sleep ‘cause my mind on the beat/ So while I’m counting bars y’all be counting sheep,’ he raps on the subtle rags-to-riches track From the Ground. Tell Me What I Don’t Know, meanwhile, sees Brown recalling the hazardous streets of Detroit and seeing poverty and addiction up close. On White Lines Danny raps in harmony with twinkling background samples, while on When It Rains, he carries the rhythm along without drums for most of the song. The most rewarding aspect of Atrocity Exhibition is the ease with which Danny Brown conducts this freak show.
Best track: From the Ground
Worst track: Ain’t It Funny
Top 10 Singles
1. Closer.........................The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey (NM)
2. Star Boy.............................The Weknd feat. Daft Punk (CU)
3. Heathens........................................Twenty One Pilots (FD)
4. Let Me Love You.............. DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber (CU)
5. Broccoli................................ D.R.A.M feat. Lil Yatchy (NM)
6. Cold Water..........Major Lazer feat. Justin Bieber & MO (FD)
7. 24K Magic...............................................Bruno Mars (NE)
8. Side to Side................Ariana Drande feat. Bicki Minaj (CU)
9. Don’t Wanna Know....Maroon 5 feat. Kendrick Kamar (NM)
10. Can’t Stop The Feeling...................Justin Timberlake (CU)
(CU): Climbing Up (FD): Falling down (NM): Non-mover (NE): New Entry
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