Arcade Fire returned four years after the terrific Reflektor only to flop on their faces with the inexplicably bad Everything Now. Kesha, meanwhile, rebounded after half a decade of inactivity to blow out of the water anything she’d done on her first two albums with Rainbow. Across major label releases and independent albums, the summer of 2017 offered its fair share of surprises, gems and coal alike. Here are six of the gems released from June to August.
The Underside of Power by Algiers
Every aspect of The Underside of Power—vocalist Franklin James Fisher’s post-punk gospel howls, the Southern Gothic atmosphere and the emphasis on atonality—eschews convention in some form or another. These unusual elements collectively create a cold, dystopian soundscape atop which Fisher comments on the similarly dystopic elements of American culture. “The hand that brings the gavel down / Is the hand that ties the noose” he belts on “Cleveland,” a direct indictment of the pattern of Black bodies at the feet of police officers. The Underside of Power is a protest album through and through, a call for revolution in a bleak Orwellian world.
Savage Sinusoid by Igorrr
Combining the ogreish force of death metal with the disorienting warps of electronic and the delicacy of French baroque music, Savage Sinusoid by experimental music collective Igorrr sounds unlike anything released in 2017. “Cheval,” for example, bounces between an upbeat French accordion and pummeling blast-beat drums upholding primal screams, all peppered with digital glitches. But where most artists run into the obstacle of contradiction, founder Gautier Serre sees seams, beautiful commonalities across these seemingly distant styles.
4:44 by Jay Z
Jay Z was rightfully dragged to Hell and back on Beyoncé’s monumental opus Lemonade, so his announcement of a response album felt like a rushed decision, either a compulsive attempt to capitalize on the publicity of Lemonade or defend himself from criticism. That Jay Z’s last great album was The Black Album from 2003 didn’t earn the New York hip-hop mogul any benefit of the doubt when it came to this response album’s quality, so 4:44 was expected by many to be another in a long line of disappointing Jay Z releases. However, upon listening to it, it’s clear that there was more care and thought put into 4:44 than his last four releases combined. No I.D. handles just about all of the production, opting to give the entire record a throwback soul vibe reminiscent of early Kanye West, and Jay Z manages to share his point of view without ever absolving himself of his guilty actions. 4:44 is the comeback album Jay Z fans have been waiting for.
Melodrama by Lorde
In an interview with The New York Times, Lorde described Melodrama as “a record about being alone. The good parts and bad parts.” Given that a sizable portion of this album directly addresses a past relationship of Lorde’s— “Homemade Dynamite” a fond recollection, “Writer in the Dark” a painful goodbye—it would be easy to assign this album the label of “breakup album.” However, Lorde goes far beyond merely acknowledging the dissolution of her relationship; she expresses a wide breadth of emotion, and there’s tremendous growth and revelation across the album’s eleven tracks. Youthful but with the retrospect youth often lacks, Melodrama is a stunning sophomore effort from one of the most talented major pop stars working today.
Quazarz (Double Album) by Shabazz Palaces
Shabazz Palaces continues to press their spacey hip-hop psychedelia with their latest release, a concept album comprising two simultaneous releases, Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines. The Quazarz double album chronicles the saga of Quazarz, an interstellar musical envoy who explores the horrors of the planet Amurderca, these United States as viewed through frontman Ishmael Butler’s Afrogalactic filter. Futuristic but timely, abstract but focused, the Quazarz duology sees both Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire expanding their strange ambitions even further.
Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator
The Tyler of 2017 is a far cry from the Tyler who introduced himself to the world with “Yonkers” over six years ago. Tyler’s brand of self-loathing nihilism softened in that timespan, and though he remains a subversive figure in hip-hop, his art radiates some of its warmest shades to date. “See You Again,” with its Kali Uchis guest chorus and twinkling pianos, evokes a rare bittersweetness from Tyler, while “I Ain’t Got Time!” co-mingles a newfound level of openness with Tyler’s snarling presence as he confesses that he’s “been kissing white boys since 2004.” Self-exploration doesn’t have to preclude human vulnerability, and with Flower Boy, Tyler finds a flickering kindle in his heart.