Q22013: The Year in Music (So Far), Part 2
Mac Miller—Watching Movies with the Sound Off
When did Mac Miller start getting so good? I had filed him away in a corner of my brain under the label of Fratboy Rap, but his latest effort has me thinking that he might be a serious creative force. Watching Movies’ tone is thoughtful, reflective, somber, and sonically adventurous—Mac’s recent move to L.A. has given him the chance to work with a bevy of talented producers, most notably Flying Lotus, whose characteristic sparkly-jazz underlies the lead single "S.D.S." And you couldn’t ask for a more impressive list of collaborators—lyrical wunderkind Earl Sweatshirt, wheezy gourmand Action Bronson, and, most surprisingly, the enigmatic and staggeringly-talented Jay Electronica. Perhaps kicking a nasty promethazine habit has given Mac time to reflect on his craft—if so, it shows, and I find myself looking forward to his next release.
Boards of Canada—Tomorrow’s Harvest
Oof. What is there to say? After eight years of silence since 2005’s somewhat-disappointing The Campfire Headphase, a run-up campaign that included unlabelled vinyls dropped in record stores, year-old Youtube audio clips, and a locked website that invited fans to deduce its passphrase, Tomorrow’s Harvest needed to be good: and it is, holy shit, it is. For a band previously very concerned with natural sounds and pastoral scenes, Harvest maintains a vibe that reminds me of science fiction: the low, oscillatory synth rumbles of the opener "Gemini" bring to mind a spaceship moving slowly across a starscape, and the pneumatic hisses throughout "Reach for the Dead" sound like the exhaust vents of some massive machine. It’s brooding, ominous, and absolutely spectacular.
Chance the Rapper—Acid Rap
Chicago may be rife with violence, but this hasn’t prevented its young men and women from making a tremendous amount of exciting music. Chance the Rapper—a 17-year-old Chicago native—has made huge splashes with his second mixtape [free download]. He’s got a timbre to his voice that reminds me of Lil Wayne’s early years—high-pitched, nasal, slightly-strangled. But he uses his yawp beautifully, crafting elaborate stories of lost love, misspent youth, and copious amounts of LSD and peppering his verses with freewheeling phrases like "swallow them synonyms like cinnamon Cinnabon." The production is bright and full of brio, hearkening back to the kind of positive yet trippy sounds pioneered by in the '90s by the Pharcyde and Hieroglyphics. It’s packed full of great guest appearances, from relative unknowns to bigger names like Twista and Ab-Soul. Don’t miss an absolutely lovely verse from Noname Gypsy on "Lost."
El-P and Killer Mike—Run the Jewels
This tape hits hard. Really hard. Killer Mike, fresh off of 2012’s terrific R.A.P. Music, spits furious, careening, violent verses, and El-P assembles his darkest and most menacing beats (and more than keeps up on the mic). It’s short—barely more than half an hour—but completely arresting and totally relentless. It’s a little strange to hear Mike transition from his trademark diatribes against the police state to rapping about molly and mushrooms, but the sheer force of his delivery more than makes up for the slight cognitive dissonance. Download it—it’s free—and buckle the fuck up.
Queens of the Stone Age—…Like Clockwork
Josh Homme is perhaps hard rock’s premier auteur, and to hear Dave Grohl, the best rock drummer alive, back behind the drums—as he was on QotSA’s Songs for the Deaf, one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time—is a joy. Clockwork is bluesy, loud, dirty, and really, really fun. The lead single "My God is the Sun" is perfectly emblematic of what QoTSA are all about—Homme’s throaty vocals and fevered lyrics, an awe-inspiring barrage of percussion, and a huge, crunchy bass riff all come together to make a sound like that of a hallucinogen-tinged Southwestern take on Led Zeppelin. It may not hit quite as hard or as furiously as Songs for the Deaf (especially on the songs not featuring Grohl), but what’s great about Clockwork is that the Queens don’t sound like they really care about living up to the past. This is music made by people who love rock music. To hell with everything else.