After the chaos and confusion of Monday morning, this article’s publication was pushed back a day. Hopefully anyone still feeling shaken up can find some relief by escaping into these records. They are two that I overlooked earlier this year, but which definitely deserve attention.
One of the greatest aspects about writing this column is that it forces me to actively search for new music every week. Sometimes it is difficult to find something worth writing about, and sometimes the biggest releases of the week are right in front of me. And while I believe I wrote about most of the best music to come out this year, a few slipped through the cracks. While I work on the Top 10 best songs I’ve heard this year for my final “Listen Up” next week, I thought I would backtrack a bit and cover two albums I missed from earlier this year.
“Malibu,” Anderson .Paak
This year might have been better for no one more than Anderson .Paak. The 30-year-old once struggled to the point of homelessness, but became the breakout star of 2016. His warm, funky, soulful brand of hip-hop caught the ears of listeners who couldn’t enjoy the Southern California sunshine when this record was released in January.
“Malibu,” .Paak’s second full-length album, came on the heels of his major presence on Dr. Dre’s “Compton,” which brought him into the spotlight. .Paak marked a departure from the usual young collaborators of the hip-hop producer, who has taken Eminem and Kendrick Lamar under his wing. In this case, however, Dre did not influence .Paak’s sound. In some ways, it was the other way around.
“Malibu” found .Paak fully realizing that old-school R&B sound, with his own drumming keeping rhythm, disco-like grooves and basslines that ride like Earth Wind & Fire. .Paak’s vocals weave from rapping to crooning smoother than any other rapper-singers.
One of the singles, “Come Down,” has slowly become a hit, lately soundtracking NBA promotions on TNT and getting a performance on the Tonight Show. It has hints of rock, and the busy instrumental never distracts from the flow of the bassline and the scream-along chorus. Album opener “The Bird” is one of the most understated but beautiful songs on “Malibu,” with guitar and horns carrying what could be a decades-old soul classic. “I chose to follow what the greatest do,” he sings. “Am I Wrong” is a shimmering modern take on disco, synthesizers shining above driving rhythm. ScHoolboy Q adds his voice and attitude to the celebratory track.
.Paak also put out a collaborative album, “Yes Lawd!”, with producer Knxwledge last month. His efforts this year are two of the most original I have heard, and .Paak’s creativity has finally found a mass audience.
“Psychopomp,” Japanese Breakfast
Thanks to the band name, Japanese Breakfast might be a serendipitous discovery for those searching for Japanese recipes. The group’s debut album is guitar rock drenched in effects, melodies that, no matter how buried they may feel, get stuck in the mind.
“Psychopomp” is nine tracks of shoegaze-influenced pop, floating in haziness. It is a brief work, with only one song clocking four minutes. Japanese Breakfast seems to fit in tangentially with the burgeoning lo-fi scene, but it has stood out for its own sound among a group of bands that struggles to keep its music original. While acts like Eskimeaux and Frankie Cosmos keep the instrumentation to its simplest, Japanese Breakfast stacks layers of effects on top of its songs.
“Everybody Wants to Love You” is a jangly pop-rocker. Michelle Zauner, the principal singer and songwriter, sings in a sincere voice that covers the spectrum of relationship statuses in just over two minutes. Many of the album’s tracks features lyrics focusing on outward subjects, but she also turns toward introspection. Slow burner “Jane Cum” is emotionally draining, with the rising feedback overwhelming and eventually covering everything. The chorus of “Heft” winds around a soaring synthesizer, aided by Zauner’s guitar, but undercut by her voice, which seems to get rougher around the edges with each song.
Japanese Breakfast put out a record that will not get much attention outside of certain circles, like the Philadelphia scene and Zauner’s touring circuit, but her music is a reminder that not everything great is staring you in the face.