GoldFlakePaint’s Album Of The Year

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Not Even Happiness 

by Julie Byrne

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Basin Rock & Ba Da Bing Records

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words by maria sledmere

There are moments in adulthood where you find yourself in tune with the hurting spirit of your inward child, a purer sphere of perfect feeling. In a letter to his son, Ted Hughes refers to this inner child as a ‘little creature, behind the armour, peering through the slits’, an ‘inmost emotional self’, ‘the carrier of all the living qualities’.

The child is allowed to surface through maturity’s protective plating only in moments of distress, and it’s this sudden vulnerability that lets us to grow as individuals, exposing our chastest selves to a cruel and beautiful, turning world. Certain music, maybe, can tease out our secret weaknesses, open holes in the sky to find easier breathing, to let in the light for our psyche. Music that feels like the first breath of cold on a fresh winter morning, tart and sweet as a Braeburn apple. Music that offers a rambler’s zeal for discovery. Music that restores the child within us, makes worlds of unremembered innocence brush against our own, in all complicated grace of new images and stories.

There is something distinct about Julie Byrne that performs this raw magic. No record of 2017 quite did for me what Not Even Happiness can do, with its healing tones, its voice of deep and boldest blue. From the first snowy brush of acoustic frets on opener, ‘Follow My Voice’, to the embracing synths of its closing track, ‘I Live Now as a Singer’, Not Even Happiness takes you on its trail of dazzling vitality, leading listeners further within and yet ever across a complex universe. It’s the silver dripping through a forest canopy, a corona of cornflowers surrounding the moon. It’s laying down lines of metamorphic gorgeousness, lapis lazuli words that render the haunting of awestruck moments. With minimal accompaniment, Byrne’s voice thaws the ice that encases the heart; at once feather-light and thickly mercurial, with the whimsy of Vashti Bunyan and Leonard Cohen’s melancholy, cryptic spirit.

Byrne’s debut LP, 2014’s Rooms with Walls and Windows, exacted an enticing, tranquil quotidian, with soft-woven pastorals in old-fashioned mode. Folk music that dwells in a language for love as ephemeral permanence: “a prism for light passing through”, a lovely oxymoronic need to fill time and space immortally with an other, proximate to the knowledge of such impossibility: “I would not want to be faster or greener than now”. The record collects, reflectively, the simple, incantatory details that name desire—“black coffee, brown sugar and cream”—the details so fleeting yet still lingering, persistent in memory. Human relations shift like the tide, but Julie Byrne has a knack for preserving the rhythm of each swell and parting. Her voice looks back but reaches out also towards future shores.

Not Even Happiness extends this reflective maturity, but lifts us from domestic comforts to a more restless, nomadic sense of being. Love in ‘Sleepwalker’ is longing for someone even in the fleeting moment when they leave the room. Love in ‘Follow My Voice’ is passing clouds, breathing eyes. Love in ‘Natural Blue’ is this amazing resonance of colour, a bright splash of desire; Byrne here returns to childish wonder, its rich cerulean beauty swathed over soaring strings. Listening to ‘Natural Blue’, it’s as though you are floating above towns and fields glimpsed from memory, easing yourself into a flourishing dream. The song’s subtle synaesthesia evokes blue as a chordal longing, recalling the vertigo of a love whose sincerity is nevertheless draped in sorrow. For how can such feeling survive in a world so fleeting?

With a new age attentiveness to spirit, a folk singer’s commitment to careful lyric, Byrne makes quiet tapestries of life. Scenic weavings that ripple in the wind, brush against our breath; that protect somehow the splendour within. Not Even Happiness: the very title preserves its quiet joy by a certain refusal, a gap where we might gauge what is truly significant in our lives. In Byrne’s rootlessness, it’s a strength of will and comfort in solitude that persists as its own wisdom. Something more than happiness, something that lasts and gives out its promise like smoke from a candle extinguished.

The everyday tumult of social media and constant access to everything might promise pleasure, but the pleasures Byrne seeks are more solid, even as they often materialise as surprising instants. For Byrne’s lapidary imagism, her sleepless rivers and verdant fields, are swept up in movement, an assured philosophy of transience: “And life is short as a breath half-taken”. In lieu of romanticised eternity, she presents departures, devotion, melting days; little details we absorb and store for the longing to come. There’s a sense of sharing memory, of passing on friendship and love as both past and future thought.

Although from Buffalo, New York, Julie Byrne is a singer of many places, a poet of “the mystic west” as much as she is a dweller of cities, of the wilds and open roads. Not Even Happiness is an album of the land, the air and the sea; of darkness and light, the ancient and fleeting. Such diversity is a communion between the outside and in—“I’ve been seeking god within”—and with each delicate sample of birdsong and breaking waves, each subtle lift of orchestration and tremble of guitar, Byrne’s lyric self-awareness permits dialogue between self and nature, a recognition of that elemental intimacy.

On ‘Sea as it Glides’, we’re brought buoyed up on strings and soothing harmonies, before landing in the fadeout dreamland of ‘I Live Now as a Singer’. With hymnal vocal elasticity, cocooned in almost Lynchian synths, Byrne calls up Liz Fraser on ‘Song to the Siren’, calls up the heartbreaking languor of Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Tarifa’: lingering on the brink of state lines and borders, in all romantic darkness and warning signals—“Blue palms glide in the light of a red moon”—between now and forever, conjuring a future sublime that splits in its plurality, its otherness, its mystery.

The child within us isn’t trapped in amber. She is able to eke through, snag pieces of light, glimpse the world even while hiding recalcitrant from reality. In all the weight of mature emotion, Julie Byrne attunes us to our hidden needs; restores the wonder of seeing things in their fragile, raw and hypnotic state.

Her voice is warm and full, yet often hollow too: unafraid of exposing vulnerability, sweeping gossamer finger-plucked guitar across landscapes of love and memory. In the cold dark nights of winter, I walk the long way home, listening to her healing songs as my boots crackle ice and glass, recalling a time in the year when Glasgow too might be dear green, meeting a sky of endless blue.

By carving a record of spacious joy, atmosphere and subjective focus, Julie Byrne recovers that much-needed nourishing, welcomes us in with oracular lyric. Despite its mysticism, its long-cast shadows, there’s a sedimentary precision to the world of Not Even Happiness: an accumulation of tiny material pleasures like chips of silt and jewel; yet also a sense of being always on the verge of evaporation, submitting oneself to the bliss of abyss. For isn’t that what love is, after all: the commitment to something vastly beyond, perhaps impossible, beautiful in its cliff-like sheerness of feeling and vision? Occasionally, a record comes along that realigns us with the child, with that inward capacity for infinite, formless, roving emotion; breaking again on shatterable reality, spreading outwards like milky vanishings of winter light. Ted Hughes again: ‘The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.’

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The best of the rest…

 

Capacity

by Big Thief

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Saddle Creek Records

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words by sammy maine

What’s most remarkable about Big Thief’s second full-length is it’s attentiveness to the human experience. It’s their mindful exploration of every crack and crevice that sees them never putting a spotlight on one particular aspect of attainment but instead, giving rise to each ripple; an ever-flowing tide of consummation of our differing selves that seamlessly and skilfully come together as one universal narrative.

The record is one of deep personal retrospect. So personal, that it can often feel overbearing in its exposure, suffocating in its dissection of each influential moment. It urges us to simply sit with ourselves – an act that in itself, can feel dauntingly intimate as we examine our mirrored image. But there’s also a distinctive discipline in how Big Thief present these stories of intimacy; lyrically, Adrianne Lenker is a master of warmth and compassion but with an approach that effortlessly weaves this tenderness with jarring recollections of trauma. Much like Lenker offers on “Great White Shark”, Capacity is an “accumulation of debris”, a gathering of the rubble and wreckage that makes us who we are.

She chronicles these stories with a stance that is unafraid of the depth that darkness can take us, creating a fortress through her embrace of every detail. It’s an indomitable approach that feels freeing despite her unwavering grasp. It’s an exercise in owning each blackened fragment that deters this darkness from dominating our every day. “For in the dark there is release.”

But, perhaps more importantly, there are also flickers of light in these stories – a single candle that forever burns in the background. It’s often a struggle to stay hopeful, to find the good, but Lenker does so by seeking insight through the experience of others. On “Mythological Beauty” she sees the world through her mother’s eyes, a “child inside you who is trying to raise a child in me.” It’s a riveting, central part of Capacity that sees Lenker find empathy for her young parent. It’s a testament of trying to do your best despite the inexperience that wraps itself around your anxieties. Lenker now sees her mother as a woman, a person she identifies with through their shared desires and uncertainties.

On the track’s most painful moments, where Lenker speaks of an ‘older brother she doesn’t know’ and a bloody accident where her mother prays that her ‘baby doesn’t die’, her performance becomes heavy with the weight of these revelations; a deliberate, resounding affirmation that serves as a testament to her skilled vocal dynamic. “You’re all caught up inside, but you know the way” Lenker asserts; an encouraging axiom that offers optimism to both her mother, herself and the listener.

This dynamic is an aspect that flows throughout Capacity. While Lenker’s lyrics are very much the focal point of the record, there are also moments of instrumental clarity. Both drummer James Krivchenia and bassist Max Oleartchik play with a thoughtful, attentive grace – a pulse that serves as a comforting reprise and one which we hold on should the lyricism become too encompassing. Lenker’s longtime musical collaborator and husband, guitarist Buck Meek, offers an unflagging complement to her melodic undertakings. He understands the excavation of each song and produces a gentle yet evident accompaniment that soars during the album’s fiercest moments and crumbles at it’s most sensitive. It’s the collaborative, communal nature heard throughout Capacity that makes it an album of such raw capability. Lenker’s band members not only listen to her exposed truth – they understand it

Capacity reaches its most compelling moment on “Mary”. Served as a stirring ode to her best friend, Lenker performs it with an unwavering gaze, a closeness that celebrates the stillness, the silence in simply being here. Through its five-and-a-half minutes, it offers fragments of actuality that construct a sanctuary for the disheartened and while it may seem obvious to describe Lenker’s lyrics for this particular piece as poetry, there is simply no other word that details the song’s striking beauty. It’s performance is the pinnacle of Lenker’s understanding of the world around her, a continuous stream of words that seem to fall from her mouth with such ease.

Through these bold assertions, Capacity encourages us to not only face the moments that make us who we are but to dissect them with a microscopic viewpoint. It’s an album that urges us to move forward but with the understanding of the grief that comes with each step. It understands that we may lose our way but that there’s still an all-encompassing beauty to be found in the journey itself. It knows we are still growing.

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CTRL

by SZA

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Top Dawg Entertainment

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words by victoria parkey

In a Vogue interview, when asked why her album had been delayed – SZA responded, “I’ve been working on me, which subsequently affects the album. The type of music that I’m writing is very personal… Everything is in tandem, because I think my life is so connected to my music. It’s weird, I’m not a separate entity from ‘artist me’.” For me, it’s that intensity of how personal and honest the album is that makes it so relatable and so inviting. Rather than make it an ego trip, SZA lays her flaws out on the table.

There are moments of real straightforward sweet lust, like; “got me looking forward to weekends with you baby,” on ‘Love Galore’ that are later mixed with self-awareness and anxiety, “sorry I just need to see you, I’m sorry I’m so clingy, I don’t mean to be a lot.” It’s an intensely endearing record because it feels as though it lacks pretense and is real and genuine in the stories and the emotions that are being discussed. She directly admits that sometimes you feel insecure, sometimes you say embarrassing stuff to someone you have feelings for, and sometimes you’re going to react the wrong way because we’re all flawed and relationships are complicated and that’s fine.

You can be imperfect and still make an absolute banger of an album with a Kendrick Lamar feature on it.

Production wise it sounds incredible too. Ctrl’s opening track, ‘Supermodel’, produced by Pharrell, leads with nothing more than SZA’s vocals and a syrupy and simple guitar line, creating a perfect minimal warmth, until halfway through the song it’s joined by an absolutely magical drum groove. The charming instrumental is peppered with more lyrical moments of vulnerability and insecurity “leave me lonely for prettier women, you know I need too much attention for shit like that” that juxtapose lines of venomous revenge like “let me tell you a secret, I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy” – sung like the ultimate sassy shrug.

I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say that 2017 has been a tough year to be a woman. We’ve come on leaps and bounds in calling out those whose actions need to be called out, but Donald Trump is still president, Johnny Depp is still making movies, people are still buying Chris Brown’s music, and somehow despite this, male friends still seem surprised that pretty much all their women in their lives have been on the receiving end of shitty, terrible stuff. For me, the silver lining’s been that the current climate has made me a lot closer to my female friends – we know we’ve got to look out for each other and we’re in it together because it’s really hard – maybe impossible – for guys to truly understand that some days it sucks to be a woman trying to navigate our way through the world.

I think that’s why 2017 was the perfect year for ‘Ctrl’ to be released. It’s such a powerful record because it feels like you’re hanging out with your best girl friends in your living room drinking wine, talking about self-esteem, shitty relationships, crushes and sexual empowerment, and those are the conversations that help you get through it all.

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Drool

by Nnamdi Ogbonnaya

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Father/Daughter Records & Sooper Records

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words by tom johnson

Nnamdi Ogbonnaya is an enigma and a tour de force; a label head, composer, producer, performer, multi-instrumentalist, you-name-it…

Over the past decade he’s played with numerous bands, ticking off any genre you like, while releasing numerous records under his own name, records which also drift through hip-hop, jazz, pop, math, you name it…

Way back at the start of 2017 came the news that Nnamdi would be joining forces with the formidable Father/Daughter Records, one of the most progressive labels in the indie-rock sphere, who have released a string of varied and vivacious different projects this year, cementeing such a status and their importance within the scene. What role that partnership had in streamlining Ogbonnaya’s endeavours, we can’t be sure but the resulting album – the mesmerising, thirteen track Drool LP – sits as one of the most interesting and invigorating records of the year.

Devilishly intriguing from the outset, the first track to be heard from the record was one of its key stand-out moments, the dazzling, rampant “let gO Of my egO”, and it immediately set a precedent for what follows. Skittish, frantic, bursting with energy, the track still sounds wildly invigorating, rising and falling, drifting in and out of focus as Nnamdi’s flow pours forward from start to finish. If that track was the agitated, hard-to-handle introduction then it’s follow-up, dOn’t turn me Off, is the gleaming moment that the project blossomed in to life. There are few pop songs as effortless and wholesome in 2017, the meaty hook of the chorus the kind of inspired glint of gold that rattles around your brain from the first moment you hear it: “I’m ready to blow,” he declared: And how.

His ability to shift between genres is what keeps the record so fascinatingly out of your grasp. Like the wild characters you try so desperately hard to keep up with, Nnamdi is a wide-eyed character of fire and fun, rushing through like a whirlwind, trailing a wake behind as vivid as what comes before.

Lyrically, Nnamdi is equally adept at penning joyous pop thrills as deep-cutting exultations. “Don’t try to pat my back / I’m a hypochondriac / Everything I do I do for me and not for your recognition,” he delivers on the title-track, while the dense brooding balladry of ‘Think That Way’ channels TV On The Radio’s darker sider: “Cause if I was made in his image we’re not identical / I could have faked the whole picture but not my bitter soul / I’m sick of praying for things I’ll probably never get / I’m sick of giving you credit for my accomplishments.”

It’s the record’s rippling undercurrent of societal vexations, and the way such a thing weaves it way in and out of these thrilling compositions, that leaves such a lasting impression. That TV On The Radio comparison feels apt at various points across the record, there’s also the bite of Young Father’s ferocious power and energy, Shabazz Palaces’ eloquence, but this is undoubtedly, uraniumously a record of Ogbonnaya heart, mind, and soul. From the unbridled flow of those aforementioned bright stand-outs, through the refined and tetchy ‘sHOULD hAvE kNOwN’ and the sprawling closing track ‘iVyTRA’ Drool thrives on – and because of – its central character; a wunderkid thrashing around in the face of a real world that offers little respite. That these sentiments and set-pieces manifest themselves in to such a thrilling and forceful collection of songs is what makes Drool such a lasting, powerful, important piece of work.

A masterpiece in-hiding is a masterpiece all the same. And here it is.

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Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void)

by Hand Habits

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Woodsist Records

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words by nina corcoran 

Lasting impressions don’t always come from firm pressure. With Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void), her full-length debut as Hand Habits, Meg Duffy made a record of expansive tones that find their strength in gentleness. The album goes head to head with the void before all of us, but Duffy never sounds overwhelmed. Instead, she prioritizes lasting storytelling through the delivery of steady breaths over immediate melodies or frazzled, frantic guitar. She is calm and even-toned. This isn’t a record about wallowing in sadness, nursing a broken heart, or struggling with demons. It’s about facing the unknown and, after looking around, finding gratitude for it letting you waltz in.

Duffy’s greatest strength as Hand Habits is her belief in the listener. Wildly Idle begins in what’s essentially the meat of a song with “Flower Glass.” There’s no faded intro of long preface to the opening track. Rather, guitar strums beneath her and drums pad softly as she immediately offers up the album’s first lyric: “I know I’m not the picture perfect vision made in your mind.” She knows impurities are hard to ignore, and she trusts that listeners understand how that feels. She doesn’t need to set the mood. There’s a level of trust between her and an invisible audience already, and she triples it by beginning where she does. So the song continues with a chorus about desperately clinging to time and those we fear will fade, and she warps imperfections into a beautiful, enveloping, endless sea of warmth — a feeling that she swears is flawed yet certainly feels picture perfect. Wildly Idle digs its roots into this feeling, and the openness with which Duffy addresses it is what makes an age-old topic feel at once rich in emotion and worth returning to over time.

To some, Hand Habits’ debut album is a long-awaited record from Duffy as a songwriter. She’s well-known to a certain section of concert addicts as a guitarist who deepens the tone of another musician’s material—she spent years playing in Mega Bog and Kevin Morby Band on tours—but seemed to lace her own visions into their work. Now, her laid-back guitar playing finds its own voice, which isn’t easy to do within that sector of style. With numbers like “Actress” and “Demand It,” she opens up chords and echoing strums, giving the illusion that every guitar part could melt time or liquefies its notes.

That’s where Wildly Idle begins and ends, in the midst of smooth songwriting that has no limits and no intent of ever finding any. Hand Habits’ songwriting is best when freewheeling into endless space. Though she splits up the record with static-splattered electronic interludes marked with “(scene)” titles, Duffy presents the album like a straight listen-through, and it’s best listened to in full. As tempting as it is to dub tracks like “Book on How to Change” or “Nite Life” as standouts among the 13-track record, it goes against the point of the album. Wildly Idle is a record born to exist in time and it’s best heard when given full control of how we relate to that very subject. And though it recalls the soft, ripe meditation of other folk-leaning releases of 2017, Wildly Idle is a standalone gem. Instead of getting lost in wonderment while driving down the interstate, like Lomelda did with Thx, or finding healing in miniature moments that overwhelm, like Julie Byrne did on Not Even Happiness, Hand Habits gives herself over to the educational tenderness that comes with accepting the voids we stumble into over the years and trusting ourselves to no longer dictate time.

Writing can be a physically stationary interaction, often leaving one overwhelmed or soaking in memories, but listening doesn’t have to be. That’s how Wildly Idle makes its mark, an impression that becomes deeper and more helpful the more it’s explored. Thoughts that ground you suddenly lift into the air when set to the tune of her album, all delay pedals and elongated vowels, and she stretches them into thin, appealing tones. As Hand Habits, Duffy launches into a state of constant movement mid-reflection, and Wildly Idle is the record that encourages listeners to try doing both themselves. The more time you give the album, the greater it distances you from it, which may be the most selfless gift Duffy could ever hope to offer.

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Infinite Worlds

by Vagabon

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Father/Daughter Records

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words by ben tipple

There’s something genuinely empowering about Infinite Worlds, the debut full-length by Cameroon born New York resident Lætitia Tamko under the Vagabon moniker. In amongst its enrapturing music, defined by Tamko’s effortlessly stunning vocals, it also revolutionises a sometimes-trite singer-songwriter world, pushing at the edges of what makes the broad genre tick. She’s a singer-songwriter in the loosest sense, presenting the record on her own terms, and offering a voice to the unheard in the process.

Although as Vagabon, Tamko carries with her the everyday trope of a troubadour; Infinite Worlds is both musically and thematically complex. It’s the work of somebody who doesn’t just understand songwriting but also the mechanics of music, and the impact of emotion. The album, running at just thirty minutes in length, is imperfect. By all accounts this mirrors the way Tamko views herself.

Infinite Worlds could have easily been overly polished; a veneer casting a shadow over the delicate vocal cracks that ultimately give Vagabon’s sound its characteristic charm and power. Fortunately, it’s comfortable in its beautiful imperfections. Tamko’s distinctive vocals lead the charge, as the rest of the record spirals around her storytelling. Together, it’s spellbinding.

There’s a confidence embedded into not just the music, but also the structure of the record. In its comparably short running time, over five minutes are dedicated to an electronic experimental opus. It both stands out in an otherwise delicate record, but also reflects Tamko’s drive. It’s testament to her reluctance to be pigeonholed. As with her more rustic sound, it’s peculiar and brilliant.

Mal à L’aise“, translated from French as discomfort or uncomfortable, sits at the record’s centre directly separating two of the album’s guitar driven tracks. The product of time spent in her New York apartment with a computer attempting to avoid pissing off the neighbours, it defines Tamko’s desire to transcend boundaries. It also represents peculiarity, itself the dominant oddity. Any preconceived rules related to music and structure are not just ignored here. They are redefined.

It’s a theme that underpins Infinite Worlds. The album is led by an understated eccentricity. Self-described as a misfit, Tamko makes music to encourage and reinvigorate the marginalised. Not just an outcast growing up, Tamko has battled with a DIY scene that often fails to represent diversity. This empowerment bleeds throughout Infinite Worlds, and reaches far wider. In the risks the record takes and in its sheer uniqueness, it speaks to those fighting against society’s confining labels. It dares to challenge and finds beauty within that.

On “The Embers“, the albums opening track and a reworking of a previously released song on the debut Vagabon EP, Tamko makes the statement clearly. “Run and tell everybody that Lætitia is a small fish,” she sings with her delicate tones masking an explosive icy grit. The track rapidly grows, as do most on Inifinite Worlds. By the song’s conclusion, Tamko is anything but inferior. She’s breaking out of insecurity and taking the world head on. She maintains this balance, simultaneously strongminded and insecure, offering an insight to an unusual mind.

Never is this more evident than the one-two of “Cleaning House” and “Cold Apartment”. The first is a call to arms and the other an acceptance of personal mistakes. Although Tamko has clearly stated that her music is not all autobiographical, as the songs flow into each other they seem to discuss both aspects of her identity. It is this notion of identity that consistently drives Infinite Worlds.

On “Cleaning House” Tamko carries a revolutionary tone. “You only get to speak this way because we enabled it,” she spits with an understated aggression. It is reactionary and forceful, a powerful defiance to a lack of humility. It also speaks of heritage, something that is more overtly mirrored in the stunning “100 Years”. Yet this visceral anger subsides into painful loneliness come “Cold Apartment”. The protagonist is left pining over lost love. Tamko shows both sides of identify, how self-assurance and loss can co-exist.

In this way, Infinite Worlds is an exploration of the self. It tackles conflicting emotions, the ebb and flow of confidence and insecurity. The positivity in vulnerability. Here it once again speaks to the disenchanted. The outcasts and the misfits. Tamko cements the importance of roots and heritage in celebrating identity. On “100 Years” the characters travel back to a long forgotten home. In a way, it feels as if they are returning to the very source of identity. “If we sell this house, I won’t go,” Tamko sings, holding on to and celebrating her existence.

What most sitting on the fringes of society struggle with is acceptance, both externally and internally. Marginalised people look for recognition in and of others. Vagabon effortlessly taps into that search. The album is underpinned almost entirely by Tamko’s conflicting emotions. By her ability to be at once courageous and defenseless. Infinite Worlds is heartbreaking and reassuring, delivered in a beautifully flawed way that only heightens its relatability.

The entire record is defined by Tamko’s appreciation of musical process, as well as her willingness to let the cracks show. For her, singer-songwriter doesn’t just mean handling a guitar. There’s a plethora of sounds, and more emotion, that pull together to form Vagabon. Her work as a music engineer has dramatically shifted the way she approaches sound. Recent interviews see her hint at collaborating with rappers. Trying to place Vagabon in a box is a pointless exercise. It’s counterproductive for a sound that deliberately exists entirely in its own space.

As with most of the year’s greatest records, they exist on their own plain. They challenge the norm, and they revolutionise. At the heart of her music, Vagabon is a singer-songwriter project, but it’s so much more than that title suggests. It’s a surprising, challenging and outright beautiful record, celebrating an ability to connect with the downtrodden and the lost.

Add to that it’s power, the notion of heritage, and a search for belonging, and there’s a weight to Vagabon’s Infinite Worlds that remains immeasurably powerful. In just thirty minutes, Tamko offers hope. She offers a place to be you, an acceptance of your own identity, and the power to simply be.

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Melodrama

by Lorde

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Universal Music

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words by mel reeve

2017 was the year of our Lorde. Four years after her debut album Pure Heroine, a polished work of aspirational luxury and stylised suburban life, she gave us Melodrama. Pop star from the age of 16, splitting her time between touring the world performing to stadiums full of people and spending time with friends and family at home.

It seems incredible that a 21 year old can make music which speaks so wisely and worldly of love, heartbreak and hope. So who is Lorde? Who is Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor? It doesn’t really matter, as she stares out silently at you from the cover of Melodrama, like Blue era Joni Mitchell or a Van Gough painting – her work connects on a fundamental emotional level, exploring experiences we all understand and want to see reflected in the art we consume. Yes, she has a lot of interesting things to say, she is charming and she is funny – for example her performance at the 2017 VMAs where she was unable to sing because she had the flu so badly and instead just did a wonderfully weird interpretive dance performance was great – but you can find her music deeply special even without that context. Her talent for knowing the musical strings to wrench at your heart extends to making you want to dance until your feet hurt – Melodrama is all about maximum emotional impact.

It’s a perfect blend of passion and drama, combining the intensity of youth and the wisdom and wit of someone that’s seen the world, it takes you on a whirlwind journey through Lorde’s psyche. The circular, self-referential structure makes it feel like a symphony; we start the journey with “Green Light” and “Homemade Dynamite”, kissing on the dancefloor and acting recklessly but as we reach “Sober II (Melodrama)” and “Liability (Reprise)” we’re cleaning up the champagne glasses and reflecting on the heartbreak we’ve experienced on the way (of course, this is Lorde and she knows the recipe for a perfect pop song so rather than leaving us melancholy she closes things with “Perfect Places”, the dream sing-along-end-of-the-night track).

Each song on this album has a clearly defined identity, but when put together Lorde has created a wonderful, cinematic landscape, a defined place to visit every time you listen. From the driving piano on the 80s soundtrack montage perfection that is “Supercut” ‘in my head I do everything right, when you call I forgive and I fight’ to the delicate, wrenching beauty of “Liability (Reprise)”. Melodrama is an inherently visual album, she gives you the story through her lyrics and makes sure you’re feeling the right feelings as intensely as she is with clever musical tricks and charming textural additions – for example, the explosion noise she makes that interrupts the beat in “Homemade Dynamite”, the sample of Paul Simon saying ‘what is this tape?’ on Loveless, the shuddering, slowing fairground spin in the background of “Liability (Reprise).”

On “The Louvre” Lorde proudly paints herself as the woman who is feared for feeling too much, the so-called ‘psycho-ex’ – she sings, “I am your sweetheart psychopathic crush, drink up your movements – still I can’t get enough”. It’s a modern love-story of texting anxiety and late-night phone calls, ‘I over-think your p-punctuation….our thing progresses, I call and you come through’. With characteristic gravitas she describes how this love deserves to be preserved in the highest of institutions, ‘But we’re the greatest, they’ll hang us in the Louvre, down the back, but who cares, still the Louvre. Underneath. Lorde’s using one of my favourite sounds; gated reverb drums (if you don’t know anything about gated reverb I’d recommend watching the Vox video on why all your favourite songs make use of this sound. If it’s good enough for Carly Rae Jepson and Lorde it’s worth learning about). On “Liability she sings the heart-breaking refrain ‘they say, you’re a little much for me…so they pull back, make other plans. I understand’. It’s a love song to herself, ‘the only love I haven’t screwed up’ and it shows the most important lesson I’ve ever learned which is that caring for yourself should always come first ‘the truth is that I am a toy, that people enjoy until all of the tricks don’t work anymore, and then they are bored of me’.

Melodrama isn’t short on life-lessons, including the idea that caring too much is not a flaw and loving too much is not a mistake, it’s a sign of strength and emotional intelligence, ‘she’s so hard to please but she’s a forest fire’. This is one of my favourite lines from the whole album, it reminds me of Mitski’s “Burning Hill” ‘I am a forest fire/and I am the fire and I am the forest/and I am a witness watching it’. There’s something very powerful in both these amazing artists acknowledging that it is not weak to put your needs and desires first, there is power in your passion. On “Hard Feelings/Loveless” Lorde sings ‘I care for myself the way I used to care about you’ in a moment of vulnerability, before switching mood entirely and taking delight in this caricature of the dangerous scorned woman ‘Bet you wanna rip my heart out, bet you wanna skip my calls now. Well guess what, I’d like that, ‘cause I’m gonna mess your life, gonna wanna tape my mouth shut…’

For me this album is so special because it captures that passion and energy of youth but also the exhaustion and pain of becoming an adult, ‘all of the dreams that get harder…maybe all this is the party, maybe we just do it violently. But you’re not what you thought you were’. Pure Heroine was the work of someone who thinks they know exactly how things work and who they are, while Melodrama explores the realisation that it’s not the easy, sometimes things don’t work out and sometimes it’s really hard – and sometimes it’s really amazing. Maybe you are not what you thought you were, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Lorde uses her music to describe life with the contrast turned up – things feel more important, more devastating and far more joyous.

Melodrama is also special to me because I know that I’m watching an artist grow and develop who will only continue to make music of this quality and to this level of critical acclaim. She’s my generation’s Kate Bush and it’s such a privilege to already have lived my life alongside these albums. I’ve lived vicariously alongside Lorde during the Pure Heroine era and now I can reflect on my heartbreaks and triumphs and the lessons I’ve learned already as a young woman living in this world with her on Melodrama; ‘all the terror and the horror gotta wonder why we bother? All the glamour and the drama and the fuckin’ Melodrama’.

I can picture myself years in the future putting Melodrama on and disappearing back into this highly saturated, intense world of colour, heartbreak, love and drama. Lorde has captured what it is to be a young woman right now, to be full of hope and excitement for the future yet with the world-weary wisdom of someone who’s lived a lot in a short space of time and knows that there’s a lot of learning left to do. Love, happiness and experience comes at the cost of the potential for heartbreak and the cynicism that eventually builds the more you try to grow and discover. Melodrama is an album of its time, it paints a picture of a specific point and place, of self-discovery and growth. It belongs to 2017 but that doesn’t mean it won’t continue to give in 2018 and beyond.

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A Crow Looked At Me

by Mount Eerie

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P.W. Elverum & Sun

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words by guia cortassa

Sometimes life takes unexpected turns. Sometimes our brain turns to unexpected coping mechanisms to get through difficult times. Sometimes the weight of the events is so heavy that everyday, mundane things beat a time that passes without feeling it, the absent mind incapable of acknowledging days, months, even years passing by. Sometimes, though, you can’t stay lost because there are people relying on you, depending on you, needing you, and you’re forced to keeping on as if nothing happened, or, at least, as if what happened didn’t have such an impact on you. Sometimes you need to say out loud without circumlocution what has happened, to make it real and deal with its aftermath, and still that might not be enough. Sometimes the urge of taking it all out is so strong that words overflow your mind, making you feel trapped until you spit them out and let them loose in the air, like some food your stomach wasn’t able to digest.

Phil Elverum has been through all of this. When his wife and longtime collaborator Geneviève Castrée died in 2016 after a short illness, he was left with their baby daughter to raise and a new house to build over his irreversible loss. And music, of course.

Music is the most powerful tool. It resonates to the most obscure meanderings of the psyche, triggering feelings and emotions behind any possible control. Intangible, it can pierce through the heart like the sharpest of knives and leave you bleeding to death. Or, it can light up sparks of hope and happiness in the desperation of the most desponded soul.

For Elverum, music was a way to keep in contact with both reality and loss; and his album, “A Crow Looked at Me”, the means to convey his story and dispel the pain, the supreme act of honouring his love and get a meaning to his life.

You are invited and encouraged to listen to him, and, through his words, to get acquainted to a person that no one can ever meet anymore but needs not to be forgotten, starting from the introduction the musician penned himself to accompany the release of the record:

“WRITTEN AND RECORDED

August 31st to Dec. 6th, 2016 in the same room where Geneviève died, using mostly her instruments, her guitar, her bass, her pick, her amp, her old family accordion, writing the words on her paper, looking out the same window.

Why share this much? Why open up like this? Why tell you, stranger, about these personal moments, the devastation and the hanging love? Our little family bubble was so sacred for so long. We carefully held it behind a curtain of privacy when we’d go out and do our art and music selves, too special to share, especially in our hyper-shared imbalanced times. Then we had a baby and this barrier felt even more important. (I still don’t want to tell you our daughter’s name.) Then in May 2015 they told us Geneviève had a surprise bad cancer, advanced pancreatic, and the ground opened up. What matters now? we thought. Then on July 9th 2016 she died at home and I belonged to nobody anymore. My internal moments felt like public property. The idea that I could have a self or personal preferences or songs eroded down into an absurd old idea leftover from a more self-indulgent time before I was a hospital-driver, a caregiver, a child-raiser, a griever. I am open now, and these songs poured out quickly in the fall, watching the days grey over and watching the neighbors across the alley tear down and rebuild their house. I make these songs and put them out into the world just to multiply my voice saying that I love her. I want it known.

“Death Is Real” could be the name of this album. These cold mechanics of sickness and loss are real and inescapable, and can bring an alienating, detached sharpness. But it is not the thing I want to remember. A crow did look at me. There is an echo of Geneviève that still rings, a reminder of the love and infinity beneath all of this obliteration. That’s why.

– Phil Elverum

Dec. 11th, 2016

Anacortes”

And then, we’re in it. Everything is unfolding in front of us.

As if reading straight from his personal journal, Elverum’s words, apparently ironic and sneering, throw us into his life. No filters, no forewords, no sugarcoat. It’s all laid bare, on a lo-fi, folk atmosphere that enhance the sense of excruciating, painful rawness of grief. There’s no escaping from that inner space, and no reassurance about the future. Just the hic et nunc of a life you’re suddenly part of, with his hurtful burden of a sympathy hard to express, yet bursting inside your heart. It’s the Romantic definition of “sublime” Edmund Burke theorised: a violent emotion caused by the experience of disquiet, fear, and dark feelings, so intense that it transforms into the most pleasurable object of beauty.

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Asking/Bearing

by Lushloss

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Hush Hush Records

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words by sammy maine

I have a strange relationship with my mother. Like most teenagers, I struggled to know the parent who had gone from my everything to a person I no longer understood. To me, her well-intentioned motives seemed like an ambush of my personal happiness. We tried to navigate our new relationship, often falling into the trap of heated disagreement, of both intense, unwavering hatred and of longing to be accepted and loved. When she tried to take her own life when I was 15, this hatred only intensified; I felt let down, I felt angry and I felt like I could’ve done a lot more. I kept asking myself, why can’t we be normal? Why does it have to be like this?

I refused to visit her in the rehabilitation centre. I was angry that she felt she could leave us with such disregard to the aftermath it would cause. I blamed her for everything. Now, aged 29, it’s perhaps this teenage stubbornness that I most regret. I was yet to find the maturity to see my mother as a person – she was simply, my mother, there to direct me and love me and be there for me, always. I never comprehended that I could be there for her, too.

When I first heard Asking/Bearing, I felt an overwhelming affinity with Lushloss, AKA Olive Jun. So much so, that I emailed her to tell her of my obsession and while some critics claim that navigating a record through your own personal perspective deters any sort of objectivity, Jun replied, asking, “Were you able to find a part of yourself in the album?” It was this question that urged me to search deeper into a record that seemed to already know so much about me.

The album is comprised of two parts. The anchor of the first, Asking, is a skype conversation between Jun and her mother in Korea, with excerpts of the chat weaved throughout. They speak of Jun’s grandmother’s deterring health – of her inability to recognise her family’s faces – something that Jun’s mother noticeably tries to brush off, saying “you have to understand, she’s old.” It’s a mother trying to shield her child from pain, tentatively stating the facts of life before moving on to a different subject. But Jun, in what I attribute as a brave move, presses on with asking her mother how she feels about the situation, before asking of her grandfather – a man who passed away when Jun’s mother was just 13. It’s in this intimate moment that the power of Asking/Bearing is pulled into focus.

Their conversation is strikingly private, as Jun urges her mother to describe the grandfather she never met. Jun’s mother entertains her child’s questions but soon becomes agitated with the cracking of her stable, motherly foundation. It’s an exploration of familial relationships, of morality and how difficult it is for parents to be vulnerable in front of their children. In exposing this conversation, Jun urges us to see our parents as people, to get to know their fears and hopes, to comprehend their intention. Asking was written over an intense two week period and it’s perhaps this vivid, personal affirmation that makes it so profound. After sitting with it for a few weeks, I set out to get to know my mother, the person – not my mother, the parent. It’s still very much a work in progress.

Interestingly, the second half of the album – Bearing – was written long before Asking but Jun’s ability to craft wandering, electronic tapestries enables both parts of the record to seamlessly stitch together in one big, beautiful heap of confession. Sonically, Jun offers a certain softness, a texture created through thoughtful, gentle keys and tender percussion. Her progressive approach to the production on the record is strikingly evident; she knows just went to pause for breath or soar to an attuned finale. It’s an approach that calls for closed eyes, for stillness.

Asking/Bearing is an album that has offered me so much this year. It’s immersive, unravelling haze is a home to nestle in; a sprawling, intangible place of infinite wonder. I have often found myself returning to it as a means of escape, with Jun’s introspection inadvertently summoning a reckoning of my own. It’s an album that asks us to examine the relationship with ourselves and with those closest to us, despite the apprehension it may cause; it asks us to communicate, to seek out something brighter; it offers tranquility in a troubled, darkened world. “Is everything ok?” she asks on “Wanting” and after finding Asking/Bearing over these past 12 months, it seems like everything will be, eventually.

thx

by Lomelda

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Double Double Whammy Records

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words by ross jones

photograph by phillip j randall

I saw a meteor burn through the sky, from the hood of your car, our minds and hearts cemented in one place as they had done so many times before. We silently traced it’s meaning, wondering when the last time would ever be, or if this was it.

“Boy, how could I know if we could ever be anything else?

Oh, anything but what we are”

Thx – the second album from Hannah Read, the central mind behind Lomelda – is the embodiment of a journey. Although many take place across the record’s blurry 33 minutes, they are all an unambiguous piece of the wholehearted songwriter’s personality – physically and emotionally. They are journeys of circumstance, travelling to reach loved ones and exploring a world that’s just that little too far out of reach but still worth chasing. They are journeys through the mind, apprehending the fragmented moments of youthful nativity and unexplainable balance of anxieties and excitement that are informed by idols, fellow star chasers and unwavering dreamers, and ourselves, watching from what feels like so far away as our lives play out in front of us, unable to take both hands off the wheel.

Through all these notions and experiences, feelings and constant stream of questions, Read has crafted an album that encapsulates coming of age in a staggeringly beautiful, heartbreaking and genuine manner. You never really stop growing up, its an overstated idea that once you reach young adulthood things start to make sense in this humongous and completely incomprehensible world that we inhabit, with these hundreds of millions of ideas and emotions flickering like headlights and fireflies in the dead of night in each single mind how can it truly? With Thx, Read attempts to document such a personal trip in search of understanding, through thousands of miles of self-reflection and the deeply personal encounters we face in our daily lives, and has created something that feels enlightening. This is the most important journey at the album’s core.

Steeped within the very essence of Thx is a feeling of solitude. Whether it be Read’s purposeful playing of most of the instruments throughout the record in such a full, rich yet cohesive style, or the way in which many of the song lyrics form unanswered conversations with unnamed individuals, the narrative is very much from the focus of Read’s notably developing perception as the record progresses. So what makes this so surprisingly warming, even inviting, is just how it leaves open the space for the listener to not only step into Read’s constantly travelling shoes, but those that inform and influence her life and the steps that she takes, further informing just how deeply personal the record is to Read, but those that listen and can appreciate it’s sense of empathy. “What am I doing here? I wish you were here, and from here, from here, it’s just me.” The affecting realisation of having to set out on your own and find your way, especially without someone one you know, even love, may seem perhaps bold and a step in a new direction, but that feeling of acute aloneness is heartbreaking, and as Read plays it out, under a whirling guitar, perhaps the most anxious sounding part of the whole record, her ability as a songwriter truly comes to the fore, the ability to actualise such emotion into the frame of tempo and form a wonderfully realised moment.

It’s with this awareness and then further re-encountering that those little, minute moments of shedding come to completely form the heart of the record, each so unfathomably accompanied by a swaying instrumental, instinctive layer or tranquil harmony. The past intermingles with the present, representing an equation of formation, as Read traces fleeting moments and, many times with jaw dropping transparency, unveils profound mourning. “Your voice of ash whispers from the car stereo, when I breathe I choke” Read’s capacity to frame broad feelings and make them so tangible is at times difficult to face, but thats also what makes her music so bracingly magnificent. When withheld amongst present thoughts, these feelings are arguably at their most acute, “Or just hold me close before you go, at least hold me close before I go, don’t you know I need a goodbye? Cause I’m too nervous to drive.” The mystery of the future feeds the anxiety of the present, tiny moments of close comfort from the past the only small antidote for the whirlwind of disorientation that we constantly have to stand and battle against.

Yet through all this as human beings we continue to press, attempt to do everything we can and prosper within this even more momentous and incomprehensible world that we sit within, and with this notion Hannah Read crafts her finest moment yet, in the astonishing fragility of the closing ‘Only World’. Encompassing everything ~ the slowly fragmenting past, the very palpable nature of the present and the unwavering incomprehension of the future ~ in a matter of singular keys and hushed yet individual rhythm, Read reaches for as far as her voice will take her as she cries “When I get it, I’ll give it all I got this time, maybe this time.” It’s crushing and so wholesomely uplifting in one final tiny moment, Read as astute as ever to know that next time may not be it either, but it’s worth chasing across the world and through her life to capture the moments that make life matter most. We’re all growing up, I don’t think we’d have it any other way.

“It’s gonna be slow going, from here on out.”

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