I know, I know. It does seem awfully premature to write a piece on “the top songs of 2016,” given that were only three months into the year. But bare with me, the first quarter of 2016 has already produced some incredible music across all genres. Here is part one of my six selections that you should check out.
Amerika by Wintersleep
Off The Great Detachment
Out now on Dine Alone Records
Are you alive, oh my Amerika?
Perennial with the earth
And freedom, love, and law, and life
It’s been four years since Halifax’s Wintersleep has released new music. That changed in a big way back on January 7th, when they released this rousing behemoth of a song.
The lyrics draw inspiration from Walt Whitman’s poem “America,” which encapsulates the poet’s enduringly hopeful vision of what he thought America was, and would become. Wintersleep’s singer and primary lyricist Paul Murphy creates a subtle and brilliant tension between the idealistic perceptions of Whitman’s “America” and the contemporary reality. When the vision and the result are compared, they seem woefully incompatible; something significant is missing or has gone unfulfilled (it’s no coincidence, I would think, that the band named the song using the same spelling as Franz Kafka’s Amerika, itself a project forever left incomplete).
Musically, the song moves along with all the muscular euphoria of a Whitman poem. Drummer Loel Campbell holds down an enormous beat amidst sporadic handclaps, anthemic guitars, and tastefully integrated keyboards. Murphy’s vocals are excellent and beautifully translate the emotive, symbolic complexities of his lyrics.
Adore by Savages
Off Adore Life out now on Matador Records
I adore life
Do you adore life?
This offering from the UK’s Savages is an unforgettable exercise in the art of building tension through composition. For a band that typically revels in writing bold songs chalk-full of post-punk fury, “Adore” is a dramatic shift in tone. The band uses sparse instrumentation, dynamics, and empty space to engulf the listener in a slow-burning dirge.
Front-woman Jehnny Beth shifts from effortless croons to soaring melodies as she examines the tensions that arise between love and desire. The song is anchored by Ayse Hassan’s ominous bass-line that plods on alongside Gemma Thompson’s haunting guitar atmospherics. Drummer Fay Milton weaves in and out of the song, building dynamic intensity before the driving conclusion.
“Adore” shows a band in command of their song writing abilities. Savages not only create potent moments through the parts they play, but also through parts where they abstain. One such moment comes halfway through the song where the instruments cut out and Beth lingers in silence for an almost uncomfortable amount of time, before the delivering the song’s primary hook. When she finally sings the line devoid of accompaniment from her band mates, it is a moment of striking intimacy.
You can catch Savages at The Danforth Music Hall on April 4th.
The Season/Carry Me by Anderson .Paak
Out now on EMPIRE/OBE/Steel Wool/Art Club
What’s the meaning of my fortune reading?
When I cracked the cookie all it said was “keep dreaming”
Last year, Kendrick Lamar’s landmark album To Pimp a Butterfly in many ways redefined the sonic parameters of modern hip-hop. He ingeniously blended freeform jazz and funk with contemporary sounds, to create a genre-bending piece of work that is progressive yet firmly rooted in nostalgia.
Malibu, the new album from Los Angeles artist Anderson .Paak, follows in To Pimp a Butterfly’s footsteps in how it innovates and experiments with genre. Paak incorporates elements of soul and classic R&B into an album housed in a hip-hop framework. He finds unique sonic territory, reminiscent of artists like Outkast, Frank Ocean, and Lamar himself.
“The Season/Carry Me” is a particularly excellent moment on a record that captivates from start to finish. It is a song that is split into two distinct movements, in which Paak reminisces on the highs and lows of his upbringing and the roots of his newly found success. Both movements of the song showcase his incredible vocal elasticity. Paak switches from a deft, rhythmic flow to raspy R&B/soul melodies with ease. His gifted sense of musicality is no surprise, considering he also wrote and performed all the drum parts on Malibu.
For a sense of his multi-dimensional talent, check out Paak’s recent performance of “The Season/Carry Me” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Photo courtesy of Kai Oberhäuser via stocksnap.io
Geoff Parent is a full time student currently enrolled in Centennial College’s Publishing: Book, Magazine and Electronic program. He is a graduate of Queen’s University with Honours in English Language and Literature. In his downtime, he enjoys reading, writing, playing the drums, obsessing over music, and eating far too much sugary cereal for a person his age. He lives in Toronto.