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Mac Miller’s posthumous album “Circles,” released on Jan. 17, is a fitting end to his respected rap career and eclectic body of music. Miller began his career at the age of 15 in Pittsburgh’s hip-hop scene, and over time became an almost entirely different artist. He evolved from his beginnings as a fratty pop-rap artist to boldly experimenting with his sound, all the while growing immensely as a rapper, producer and singer.
In many regards, the advent of the Internet has changed the landscape of music more than anything since the invention of the phonograph. From the explosion of microgenres such as vaporwave and cloud rap in the 2010s to streaming services allowing immediate access to just about every song ever recorded, the music industry is almost unrecognizable to what it was pre-Internet. One of the more significant aspects of the new music industry is the now meteoric pace at which stars can rise through the use of websites such as SoundCloud, Bandcamp and even YouTube — all of which allow anyone to find an audience much more easily than in the past.
There is no one in the world who sounds like FKA twigs. Her music contains a multitude of recognizable influences, sure, but the way in which she seamlessly weaves together musical ideas from a broad range of genres and styles into her own music is unique to her and her alone in the modern landscape of popular music.
For fans of Kanye West, there is nothing in the world more stressful than when he announces a new album. Kanye’s album rollouts are never anything less than a full-blown spectacle, often containing controversial statements, ill-conceived actions, pushed-back release dates and even major changes made to both the album’s title and content. After scandals like the “Imma let you finish” fiasco with Taylor Swift leading up to 2010’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” the numerous name changes to 2016’s “The Life of Pablo” and Kanye’s public embrace of Donald Trump before 2018’s “Ye,” veteran Kanye fans thought that nothing else he could do would surprise them.
Fall is the season of change. Musically, Post Malone has changed from a hardcore rap/pop mogul to a gentle sad boy with his new album “Hollywood’s Bleeding,” released earlier this fall. His third album reflects complex emotions of melancholia and regret, differing profoundly from the aggressive, angry lyrics of his past two albums.
“Norman F—ing Rockwell!” is easily Lana Del Rey’s best work to date. Upon its reveal, the cover art of “NFR!” created a considerable amount of controversy within Lana Del Rey’s fanbase. While her previous covers all use similar bold fonts for the title of the album and feature cinematic images of Del Rey alone with a car and wearing white, conservative outfits, “NFR!” goes in a different direction.
Taylor Swift. The name of one of America’s most successful musicians conjures up images of cowgirl boots, sparkly dresses, Twitter feuds and boyfriends. Often the mere mention of Swift induces a chorus of eyerolls or sighs of disgust. Very rarely do conversations about Swift mention her enormous success as a musician, including the fact that her most recent album “Lover” became 2019’s best-selling record in just a week. A common critique I hear of Swift’s work is that her music is too sophomoric, too girly and hyper-focused on relationships — according to Swift in a recent Rolling Stone article, the media has long since decided she was a “a boy-crazy man-eater.” And it’s true to a certain extent; the success of “Lover” demonstrates that Swift’s strength is highly rooted in her ability to write and compose songs based on love.
The epilogue to “Negro Swan” explores feelings of anxiety — about growing up, relationships and feeling isolated — in a series of feature-filled vignettes.
It’s a recurring theme in discussions amongst Vampire Weekend fans that their albums correspond to seasons. Their self-titled debut album, full of perky strings and New England imagery, is reminiscent of a collegiate fall. Their sophomore effort, “Contra,” with its bright synths and upbeat tempos, brings to mind a sunny summer day. And “Modern Vampires of the City,” their third album, is the definition of wintry, with its black and white cover and its existential, morbid themes.
Gary Clark Jr. seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis. After bursting out of the Austin music scene as an heir to greats like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, he settled into a comfortable role as a jam-and-solo blues guitarist.Yet somewhere along the line grew tired of the redundancy. Starting with his 2015 album “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim,” Clark began experimenting with sounds that veered into R&B and funk, and his latest release, “This Land,” is even more of a departure from the traditional blues image he once presented. I would even go so far as to say that “This Land” is not a blues album at all. Rather, it is a sampler of Clark’s genre-bending experimentations, which hover somewhere between rock, R&B and hip hop. Unfortunately, the result is a messy record that has intriguing moments but lacks a coherent identity, sounding like the product of an artist who is still unsure of his own place in the world of modern music.
This past Friday, Hozier’s second studio album was released, closing a five year gap between his debut album from 2014 and his latest. Given the massive success of the Irish singer’s first album, “Hozier” and five years’ worth of expectation, Hozier’s second album was released upon high anticipation. So does ‘Wasteland, Baby!’ rise to the challenge?
Over the past two years, no band has had a more meteoric rise in the world of rock and roll than the Michigan quartet Greta Van Fleet. Comprised of three brothers — Josh, Jake and Sam Kiszka — along with friend Danny Wagner, Greta Van Fleet has exploded from the small-town suburbia of Frankenmuth, Michigan to the international stage of modern rock and erumpent stardom. Propelled by two fiery EPs, 2017’s “Black Smoke Rising” and “From the Fires,” the band quickly caught mainstream attention for their classic rock revival sound rooted in a Led Zeppelin-esque penchant for thunderous riffs and singer Josh Kiszka’s distinctive howl, which is eerily reminiscent of the great Robert Plant. Unsurprisingly, this launch into the glorious orbit of rock and roll resulted in extremely high expectations and hype surrounding the band’s official debut album, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army.”
Is it indie pop? Techno? R&B? Hip-hop? Blood Orange’s new album “Negro Swan” revives Devonte Hynes’s genre-transcending sound with an earnest meditation on the state of those existing on the fringes of society.
When you have been writing and recording music since the 1960s, it should be a challenge to consistently produce new and exciting music. It should be a challenge to reinvent and reestablish yourself with each new album and single. It should be a challenge to cater to the fans you already have while simultaneously trying to appeal to more.