Sweetest Tunes of 2017 – International Highlights
New year, new me? Don’t forget to add these 2017 bangers to your summer playlist! Featuring tracks from Tyler, The Creator, King Krule and more.
Nick Hakim is an artist whose music defies categorization. His music takes elements from a number of genres, including psychedelic rock, soul, hip-hop, dream pop, lo-fi and jazz. Despite this eclectic mix, his debut album ‘Green Twins’ flows well as a whole. A satisfying trend on this record is his tendency to create exciting melodies without the use of words, whether that be excitable shrieks or cooing in the background. He employs that to great effect on ‘Roller Skates’, giving the song a great spontaneous energy commonly associated with live music. If you were to listen to this tune without the vocals, you would think it is a pretty lethargic sort of track. There is a constant drum loop, treated through reverb effects and possibly a slight phaser, whilst the guitar is fairly clean and straight throughout. There isn’t a chorus either, but his vocals are so well done, the production spot on, that it makes up for the lack of backing and apparent song structure. You could almost utilize the treated version of his vocals, with all its varying reverbs and echoes as its own distinct instrument within the song, such is its importance. Hakim has a versatile, soulful croon that draws you in with its infectiousness; he’s never flat or moaning, he always conveys emotions strongly with his voice. This lends great energy to any song he sings… The sign of a great vocalist.
‘Homeshake’ mastermind Peter Sagar was the former guitarist for Mac DeMarco’s live band. Since going solo, he has added even more depth to a never ending Montreal scene, with his catchy, lounge-tinged indie tunes. ‘Fresh Air’ is his third album, featuring ‘Not U’, a slow but hypnotizing piece of synth pop, complete with R&B and trip-hop elements. The low-key instrumental, containing a repeating casio motif and synth bass hits, serves as a blank pallet for Sagar to croon over. He sings in a casual tone, bemoaning the presence of a former lover, before employing falsetto to good effect in the chorus. The end of a relationship and the conflicting emotions that follow are the fundamental themes of this song, which Sagar conveys succinctly. He has written simple, but clever lyrics that explain a situation most listeners will have experienced and aligned with at one point.
‘Portrait of a Lady’ is a beautiful melancholic tune about the stereotypes that can effect women. Off Mimi Raver’s debut album ’06 Female’, ‘Portrait of a Lady’ manages to sound lush and rich, despite the album being recorded on a four-track. This limitation means that each instrument’s contribution has to count for plenty, and they do. The chord progression (Cm-Gm-F-G) is simple yet striking, played on a watery sounding acoustic guitar that gives the song sonic depth, backed along by a bobbling bass guitar. Raver’s heavily reverbed vocal is desperate and forlorn, really drawing the listener into her plight. A fantastic effort from a new artist to look out for in future.
Little Dragon’s bio on Facebook describes their music as “Dreamy, rhythmical, shifting, moody rainbow sounds”, which is oddly spot-on; ‘The Pop Life’ is no exception. A stop-starting monster of a pop tune, ‘The Pop Life’ remains danceable in spite of this structure. Deep, whirling synths back tense verses, where vocalist Yukimi Nagano sings in the second person, chiding you for your obsession with fame and being ‘seen’. Usually you’d assume the singer would take a particular tone of voice when scolding someone, however Nagano still sounds as smooth as ever whilst making her point. She is an outstanding singer, who provided the highlights of Gorillaz’s “Plastic Beach” (2010) with her contributions on “To Binge” and “Empire Ants”. The song alights in the chorus, with a bouncing bass synth and busy drums backing up Nagano’s excursions into falsetto nicely.
‘No 1 Song In Hell’ is a tune that moves along lazily, with hazy sounding arpeggios being backed by a faraway sounding Theremin, which whirrs away in the background. It’s all rather dreamy, due in part to the reverb employed on most of the instrumentation, but also the hazy vocals which are low-key and slightly croaky, like someone that has just woken up. This tranquil atmosphere is broken with the arrival of crunchy guitars (more akin to Splashh’s earlier work) and the burst of a kick drum, which signals the entrance of the chorus. The dynamic shift is very enjoyable, as well as the gradual speeding up of the song and increased drumming power. All of this, combined with the piano hammering around wildly in the background, reminds me strongly of “The Good, The Bad And The Queen”, which also has a thrilling ending.
Grizzly Bear possess a rare gift of being able to write challenging songs which retain a pop edge that entices listeners. ‘Four Cypresses’ is no exception. It begins in an almost industrial manner, with a repeating beep being followed by an irregular marching beat that propels the song forward. Christopher Bear’s drumming is fantastic, he allows all the other instruments to do their own thing with his busy rhythms. It creates a great atmosphere; you almost feel as if you are on a journey, in transit. The structure of the song definitely doesn’t follow a verse-chorus-verse format, but it draws you in as they stagger their instrumentation, building suspense over time. Airy synths flit in and out of play, whilst the heavily reverbed guitar strums sound as if they are entering from another plain. ‘Four Cypresses’ finally hits breaking point two and a half minutes in, where a stunning chord change ushers in a great middle eight section, where Daniel Rossen’s vocal harmonies soar above a very heavy backdrop. Where the instruments were arranged meticulously and used sparingly in the first half, all the toys are thrown out of the cot here, with the guitars and synthesizers loosening up and being played with greater force. Subsequently, the song slows to a close, having exerted all its force in the middle section, but you still feel exhilarated in its aftermath.
‘Czech One’; a weary, resigned journey, is the clear standout on King Krule’s ‘The Ooz’. While the song moves along at a languid pace, Archy Marshall still manages to arrest the listener with his deep, imposing baritone (which commands respect despite his tender age). Pretty synth lines sparkle and bounce about a repetitive ‘boom, tap’ drumbeat, whilst the woozy vocal layering and intermittent piano tinkling are used tastefully, lending to the song’s understated sense of elegance. In spite of this beauty, the song feels uneasy – the chord progression never seems to finish or focus, spinning around on itself and finishing in the same place it began. This mirrors Marshall’s contemplative lyrics, which leave questions unanswered. While the nature of this song renders it an unconventional choice for first single, especially when put up against more upbeat songs like ‘Dum Surfer’ and ‘The Locomotive’, the quality of ‘Czech One’ shines through and provides a great showcase for Archy Marshall’s talents. Top song.
‘Scum Fuck Flower Boy’, is a self-contradictory album title that could sum up the career of Tyler, The Creator; a rapper recognized both for the beauty of his music and controversial, almost incendiary lyrics. This paradox extends to Tyler’s persona, where his brash, confident nature seemingly conflicts with his innate sensitivity inherent in his lyrics and artwork. A good example of this is ‘Garden Shed’, the centrepiece of the album, where Tyler’s feelings press “heavy on his mind”. The song itself floats along effortlessly, building to a crescendo where Tyler raps metaphorically about the concealment of one’s sexuality. On first glance, it would appear to be a statement of coming out, however Tyler has been accused of provoking homophobia in the past. Who knows if he is taking upon the voice of a character, or divulging personal thoughts? Whatever the case, it is cleverly written, showing his maturation and improvement as a songwriter. Estelle supports ably as always, her smooth vocals lending to the sophisticated nature of the track, whilst the distorted drive of Austin Feinstein’s guitar (of Slow Hollows fame) propels the song into another stratosphere immediately prior to Tyler’s rap. It’s not often that a rapper waits almost three minutes before featuring in his own track, but it fits superbly, the building suspense lending strength to his contribution.
- Garden Shed - Tyler, The Creator
- Czech One - King Krule
- Four Cypresses - Grizzly Bear
- No. 1 Song In Hell - Splashh
- The Pop Life - Little Dragon
- Portrait of a Lady - Mimi Raver
- Not U - Homeshake
- Roller Skates - Nick Hakim
- Forget Me - Born Ruffians
- Olymp - Lia Lia
- Moonlight on the River - Mac DeMarco
- What If Birds Aren't Singing They're Screaming - Aldous Harding
- The Lung - Wavves
- Beam Me Up - Darlia
- Fruitflies - Gabriel Garzón-Montano
- Sincerely, Yours - Sophie Meiers
- My Children - Protomartyr
- Right On You - Benjamin Booker
- Time On Her Side - Future Islands
- Friend Zone - Thundercat
- Dog - Widowspeak
- Habit (Blood Cultures Remix) - Cool Company
- Do Yourself A Favour - Ariel Pink
- Ambur - Demen
- Writer In The Dark - Lorde