Welcome to DU music's album of the week section. Weekly updates will happen right here so be sure to check in as often as you can! If you're new, be sure to scroll down to find previous Album of the Weeks
In My Room by the Grammy award winner Jacob Collier is his debut album and has already received immense critical acclaim for its exciting and liberal approach to music-making. Collier gained popularity for his renditions of songs such as Don’t You Worry About a Thing by Stevie Wonder on YouTube. Now, at a mere 23 years of age, he has already begun touring the world with his music, having recently played his Irish debut in The Academy.
This album, entirely arranged, composed and performed by Collier himself, is quite striking for its blend of so many genres. Due to a lack of formal teaching in sound production the album has quite a liberating feel to it within each song and throughout. The fusion of jazz, electronic, pop, funk and classical has elements to suit almost anyone’s taste. The room he refers to in his title was the grounding for his musical learning, in his own words a way of “investing in my own imagination”. The fruits of this unorthodox approach are most evident in the obscure harmonies and blends of percussive noises to create entire songs, particularly on his track ‘You and I’. There is an audible atmosphere of homemade exploration, unique to the album’s aesthetic.
Collier’s musical ear never fails him throughout the album as he respects the individuality of each piece while also managing to make a cohesive, well-blended and balanced programme. Each song is only as long as necessary without ever feeling overworked nor following a rigid structure. While it is at times quite dense music – quite similar to listening to jazz music it requires attention – the groovy and mellow mood is quite relaxing. The young and hopeful spirit of In My Room is not only something refreshing but also a source of excitement for the future of contemporary music.
Tracks to listen to: You and I, Down the Line, Hajanga
Also watch on YouTube: Music Theory Interview: Jacob Collier
If you’re like me and you appreciate a little charming weirdness, then you probably love Kate Bush too, and considering we’re coming up on the 40 year anniversary of her first album, I thought that I’d pay my dues. The Kick Inside is one of her particularly impressive works, with Bush providing a hugely varied set of tracks while still retaining her distinctive stamp of eccentricity.
Bush’s voice is one of the more well-known sounds coming out of British art pop in the last few decades. Not only does she show great range, she also shows a sort of effortless control of her voice, impressive considering she was only 19 at the time of recording (See ‘Oh To Be in Love’). Bush’s vocal skills also allow her to display some less conventional techniques, seen at various points throughout the album (‘Kite’ and ‘Feel It’ have some pretty good examples of this, although most tracks have their moments). Bush’s voice has this naturally mystical quality to it, and that combined with her incredible songwriting skills makes every track engaging and distinctive.
Speaking of her songwriting skills, Bush somehow managed to write a whole album of great tracks before even turning 20. There’s an impressive range of genre in the album, with more rock orientated tracks (‘James and the Cold Gun’) and pop ballads (‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You’) appearing alongside the more genre-defying tracks, all moulded with Bush’s own particular style. The tracks that particularly shine are those that have a heightened awareness of instrumentation, the likes of the larger ensembles present in ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’, or songs that focus on particular instruments (not to be obvious but ‘The Saxophone Song’ is a good example of this, if not for the saxophone then for the cool synthy melody line coming in towards the end, a little precursor to the 80’s sounds coming around the corner). There’s so much to be said about the general atmospheric elements of the album, it’s best just to sit down and experience it, you’ll get what I mean after the first 20 seconds of whale noises that open the album. ‘Moving’ and ‘Strange Phenomena’ are kind of like the musical equivalent of those calming whale noises.
Tracks to check out in particular are ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’, ‘Strange Phenomena’ and (of course) ‘Wuthering Heights’.
- Chloe Tait
Their first album since 2012, Wonderful Wonderful is one which takes the band in a new direction. Reminiscent of Brandon Flowers’ solo work, the eponymous opening track starts with a synth battle cry, before heavy drums provide that vital ‘Killers feel’. Vocals reign pure throughout, with Flowers as the focus, but additional backing adds a real edge to this song. The overall instrumentation of all of the songs place heavy emphasis on synthesisers which, although we’ve experienced this in the band’s music before, gives a new age feel to this title track. Good start to the album.
The next track on the album, ‘The Man’, recently released as a single, has been clogging the radio airwaves for the past few weeks and it’s easy to see why. Again, starting with heavy synth before the distorted guitar kicks in, this single shows the band’s intent with their new music. It’s a statement to the industry and artists alike. While this doesn’t have quite the same impact as past anthems from the band, it gives the listener a real sense that this song is about power and resistance.
On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Some Kind of Love’, provides a pulled-back ballad, as is rarely seen from this band. While the repetition of the lyric from the title proves irritating at times, you can’t help but be drawn into the succulent melody and a guitar riff that breaks up the music and lyrics.
There are plenty of other notable mentions on the album. ‘Rut’ provides a rhythmic backing that drives the hopeless feeling of the lyrics towards resolution. ‘Run For Cover’ is definitely a song which has an original ‘Killers feel’ to it. It nearly feels like a rewrite of ‘Spaceman’ from their 2008 album, Day and Age.
Wonderful Wonderful definitely isn’t usual Killers, the band have taken a step forward. While I’m not sure if this was the best move for them, and the album wouldn’t be one of my favourites, it is so good to see the band producing albums again. Welcome back!
The Human Condition, is the debut studio album from American singer, rapper, songwriter and record producer Jon Bellion. The album creates a world of generative empathy; whereby we can relate to and experience Bellion’s human reality without feeling guilty. In speaking about the album Bellion is quoted saying: ‘Us as humans all have the same problems. We struggle with pride and tons of different issues that nobody really wants to talk about. So I figured if I’m the honest one showing how human I am, it will make people feel better about themselves.’ Throughout the album Bellion lays his flaws at our feet so we can appreciate the beauty of being human and accept that just like us, he is nowhere close to perfect.
This album is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It combines the genre of hip hop and rap with an almost animated quality. The entire album from its cartoonish artwork down to the narrative of the tracks themselves all point to a bigger picture which is by no means an accident. Bellion himself has said, ‘It’s like a giant business plan for Disney Pixar because it’s always been my dream to score a movie for them. So basically if my debut album blows up, John Lasseter (of Disney Pixar) and these guys will hopefully see these images and be like ‘Wait a second this is not one of our movies, what is this?’’ As a result I believe this album is not simply for the hip hop fan but for those who want to hear Bellion’s story. The narrative of the tracks begins with Bellion describing himself as unchanged from the insecure high school student living in his mother's house, in spite of the money and success he has since achieved. The protagonist (in this case Bellion) faces his hubris and pride, his obsession with material things and money, and his insecurities and fears for the future, ‘I wonder why I can’t find my voice in my dreams...’ - Track 6, Maybe IDK.
These issues that we all are faced with as part of the human condition are brought to the forefront of Bellion’s album not through his (admittedly) catchy beats and funky rhythms, but through the brilliance of his lyrics. Bellion’s voice is so clear that his lyrics shine through in every track, not only laying out his own insecurities but also commentating on the world around him, ‘We live in an age where everything is staged…’ - Track 7, Woke The F*ck Up and ‘We’re secretly out of control and everyone knows…’ - Track 11, Morning in America. The album could be viewed as a critique on our society and yet never once appears cynical. Bellion’s faith in love, God and in turn the human condition shine through which can even result in a little bit of cheese… (see Track 2, 80’s Films.)
Personally, my favourite songs are Track 13, Guillotine (excellent choice if you’re looking for a bop), Track 3, All Time Low (which is probably Bellion’s most famous song) and Track 7, Woke The F*ck Up (it is one hell of a powerful tune!). However, to truly appreciate the world Bellion has created I would urge you to start the album from the beginning and experience it in its entirety. This way you truly appreciate one of the best ending tracks to an album I’ve ever heard in Hand of God (outro).
- Fiona Garvey
Throughout the entirety of Process, Sampha infuses electronic instruments, rhythm and poetic lyricism to create a pathway exploring his most inner thoughts. Nobody Knows Me Like the Piano is a story about how he feel in love with the piano as a childhood escape, but also about his mother.
Sampha also explores mortality and suffering on a persoal level. Losing both his parents to cancer, and also enduring his own scare, Plastic 100c references his revelations as he sings 'I didn't know what that lump was'.
The entire album is a journey of self exploration for Sampha, his lyrics are thought provoking, his melodies are hauntingly sweet and his style is radical! Enjoy it, you only get to discover once!
Tracks to Listen to; Timmy's Prayer
Blood On Me
- Eoin Hand
Not Even Happiness, the second studio album from the contemporary folk singer Julie Byrne is an exploration of both internal and external landscapes as she maps her cross country tour of America. Byrne’s style grows from the last fifty years of folk music, drawing influence from Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny and Laura Marling. An album of self-exploration, doubt and solitary discovery Not Even Happiness paints Julie Byrne as a kind of lonesome nomad and as listeners; we enjoy partaking in her journey.
The interest in the natural world and its relationship to our own internal existence makes this album an outlet for personal meditation. It is something that evokes intense emotion from Byrne’s simplicity of voice and delicate guitar playing alone. With the occasional addition of Flute or String accompaniment, this album invites us to question the complexities of the simple both in terms of lyrics and in instrumentation.
Byrne’s words can sit on the surface and out of context they can read like cliché love poetry. However when performed to us with such profound emotion of character each word becomes increasingly interesting, and increasingly meaningful. Noted for having a voice “like balm” perhaps similar to a balm that soothes and heals the skin, it is Julie Byrne’s low, enchanting voice in this album that mends something inside all that hear it.
A subtle and introspective work.
Tracks to enjoy: ‘Sleep walker,’ ‘Melting Grid.’
- Michael McCartan
Lost in the Dream, The War on Drug’s third studio album, marks a devastatingly beautiful loss of identity and direction within the ruination of a long-term relationship. The album draws significant influence from artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, with reminiscent undertones of 1980’s rock and Americana anthems. Lost in the Dream underwent a gruelling 1-year recording process in which bandleader Adam Granduciel’s perfectionist tendencies resulted in his performance of over half of the instruments heard throughout.
Dreamy synthesizers and ambient guitar permeate each track, highlighting the continuous themes of suffering and anxiety present in Granduciel’s lyrics. Though each track underwent endless stages of recycling and refurbishment, the result is an album that truly deserves its merit. Upon its release, Lost in the Dream received universal acclaim, marking itself as The War on Drugs’ most harrowing yet stunningly intricate record to date.
The inaugurate track on the album, “Under the Pressure,” makes effective use of blurry guitar ripples accompanied by a steady, yet understated Americana drum beat. Anxiety is the predominant theme present here in which Granduciel paints a vague yet meticulously thought-out picture of a man falling apart.
Overall, the album provides its listeners with an Alice in Wonderland-esque view into Granduciel’s world; you find yourself looking through a key-hole into his mind, slowly being fed information as though you are stumbling through the darkness alongside him. I think that perhaps that was his intention; he delicately introduces you to his world and enables you to discover your own personal connection, however, you can’t quite pinpoint how this happens. Inexplicable bliss.
Tracks to check out: ‘Under the Pressure’, ‘Suffering’, ‘In Reverse’.
- Aoife O'Shea
This is the second studio album from the Nottingham based electroacoustic trio ‘London Grammar’, released in June a mere three months ago. Between it’s harrowingly beautiful melodies and intriguing electronic production techniques, it combines the beauty of raw acoustic music with the possibilities of modern production, creating the most beautiful musical marriage. Lead woman Hannah Reid’s vocals create the most enchanting atmosphere of any music I’ve heard in a long time, with the rich reverb enveloping the listener, making you feel like you're a part of the song, rather than an outsider listening in. The beats, when used, are incredibly well crafted and delicately chosen to suit the sound of the song perfectly, and the effected piano, echoed guitar and gorgeous electronic sounds create an inescapably aesthetic environment. Although I have only become a fan in the last month, I now cannot get enough of their music, and would encourage you all to listen and let me know what you think!
Tracks to check out; Wild Eyed, Trials (Demo) and Everyone Else.
- Sam Hardiman
The discovery of this album was one of the happiest accidents that has ever happened to me. This album oozes a retro ‘60’s psychedelic pop feel. The album, by Italian duo Dumbo Gets Mad is, goofy, cheesy, and weird, but nonetheless it is a fantastic album. From the first track ‘Before Kiddos Bath’, we are introduced to the world of Dumbo Gets Mad, a world that includes mega-funky basslines, wacky sounds, and incredible production. There is always something to turn your attention to with this album, be it the jazzy basslines, extremely well written chord progressions, or the exploration of timbre that abounds throughout, especially on many of the drum sounds used. Every little detail of the sonic landscape is considered, and from the get-go you will feel the ‘60’s vibe reverberate. In my opinion it is one of the best psych-pop albums to come out in the last number of years.
Tracks to check out: ‘Before Kiddos Bath’, ‘Indian Food’, ‘Crystal Balls on Roll (South Africa), ‘Future Sun’.
- Cormac Fitz