CoA reviews some of February's top albums. Photo by unknown on Flickr.
By Peridot Park
“Black Panther: The Album (Music From and Inspired By)” - Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd & SZA
The acclaimed Marvel movie “Black Panther” was preceded by the release of its soundtrack, a collection of songs organized by Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, and SZA. Like the movie, the album is a celebration of the rap and hip hop art form and African-American roots and culture. It is a triumphant collaboration of Black musicians, featuring both well-known and more underground artists. The album is impeccably produced (unsurprising, considering Lamar was executive producer); it intertwines trilling hi-hats and sharp basslines to form complex background tracks that perfectly complement the album’s rhythmic lyricism. Lamar skillfully enhances the songs with well-chosen samples and vocal effects. As the album was meant to be set to a movie, it is diverse in its featuring of both soulful and action-scene type tracks. Rap listeners will be excited to hear from this impressive lineup of their favorite artists.
Recommended songs: “X,” “King’s Dead,” “Big Shot”
“Landfall” - Laurie Anderson, Kronos Quartet
After Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, renowned multimedia artist Laurie Anderson’s New York apartment was left in ruins. “Landfall,” a collaboration with the San-Francisco based Kronos Quartet, is Anderson’s 30-track account of the devastation the natural disaster left in its wake. Anderson, a pioneer of electronic music best known for works such as her 1982 piece “O Superman,” navigates an intricate emotional landscape with strong-as-ever dexterity and musical prowess. Although Anderson never sings, per se, she uses her unmistakable voice in confident spoken word that expresses just as much emotion as any typical singer would. The quartet is simultaneously frantic and foreboding; the ever-present mood of the album is of some frighteningly unknown, imminent catastrophe waiting to strike. The album sounds almost theatrical; strings tremble, are plucked in a horror-movie-type pizzicato, bluster like the wind in a storm, all while Anderson serves as the unnervingly steady, somber narrator. “Landfall” is a haunting tribute to how art reflects life in which Anderson pushes the boundaries of her medium once again.
Recommended songs: “Galaxies,” “Nothing Left but Their Names,” “Gongs and Bells Sing”
“Amen” - Rich Brian
In 2016, Rich Brian released his first single, Dat $tick, as more of a comedic attempt than a musical venture. After it went viral, Brian continued to release songs which showed a gradual progression from frivolous side projects to artistic expression. Brian changed his stage name after a controversy over cultural appropriation and made efforts to transform his public image to that of an artist, rather than a meme-obsessed teen. “Amen” is Brian’s debut album, and it establishes distinct stylistic and thematic elements to look for in future work. His lyrics, laid over unique melodies and aligned with clean-cut beats, focus on Asian representation, his rise to fame, and misadventures with women. The production is impressive and Brian’s sound is fresh, although his flow is sometimes lacking. Brian alternates between taking risks and returning to his comedic roots. “Amen” is a diverse collection of songs that range from sensitive to charged with energy, and it will be exciting to see Brian grow as an artist.
Recommended songs: “Flight”, “See Me”
“Little Dark Age” - MGMT
Indie-rock band MGMT embrace their synth-pop side with their fourth album, “Little Dark Age.” The album is echoing and electronic, heavily playing with effects to enhance the relatively simple vocals and their accompaniments. The result is a varied, sometimes psychedelic swirl that alternates from evoking a melting, summery feel to weaving together sharp, almost-dissonant sounds. Some of the songs also have distantly 80’s-sounding influences. The album has a cohesive vision which oozes dripping heat and languor; however, some listeners might find this vision to have devolved to mere lethargy by the last track.
Recommended songs: “Me and Michael,” “Days That Got Away”