The fact that Noname’s Room 25 is our album of the year despite its relative lack of promotion is truly a testament to the quality of the album. Every track wows on its own but gets even better within the context of the album. Its live instrumentation and Noname’s poetic vocals give Room 25 the feeling of it being just you and her, something no other album is able to achieve to the same degree. All in all it’s the most cohesive and surprising album of 2018 and is deservedly our number one. —Daniel Moran
Dirty Computer — Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe’s latest release accompanied an “Emotion Picture” of the same name — a gorgeous combination of music video and narrative film loaded with social commentary.
Cloud Nothings’ Life Without Sound explores the contradiction within its title. Audiences expect recalcitrance and disobedience from the alternative Indie group; but their new album carries the irony of its name throughout each raw, mismatched track. Artists have a long tradition of rejecting their genre. Even the first English novel began with, in more complicated language, this is not a novel. These writers wanted to create something new, something detached from form and independent of critical expectations. The first modern novels told stories of self-invention that lent writers as much individual autonomy as their protagonists. Naming an album — a mechanism of noises, phrases and harmonies — as sans sound has the same effect. The first thing Life Without Sound does is deny its instrument and mute its impact. It strips away its validity and then rebuilds with a notion of newness and impossibility. There is, of course, sound in the world. Front man Nathan Williams knows that and shares his own voice and noise in the nine-track album. With his chosen title, he openly frees the band from the expectation of what kind of sound or silence his life and his album should exploit. Cloud Nothings labels its album Life Without Sound and then fills a silent void with music. The reinvention begins from track one. A mechanically-mesmerizing piano introduces the album as if breaking an infinite silence. And like a child learning to walk it happens all at once — sound emerges. Williams rises from a muted ambiguity: “I came up to the surface/ Released the air/ With no words to remember/ What happened there.” He describes a relatable awakening to the rhythm of his bass guitar and breaks with the anticipated soundlessness to express a mental noise. Like listening to music in headphones or getting lost in thoughts, sometimes life takes on a tone other than sound. Cloud Nothings’ violent drum clashes with an electric guitar between Williams’ coherent words. The fleeting cacophony walks the line that we repeatedly cross each day between silence, sound and noise. Sound carries a certain connotative clarity — a cause and effect — that noise lacks. William’s choice of title plays to this thought. Each track fuses new, unidentifiable resonances. Voice, guitar, piano, tambourine, drum, technological intervention meld in a novel, not-all unharmonious noise. Cloud Nothings composes noise in a way that defies its displeasing essence yet retains the rowdy tumult.
Arguably, Life Without Sound evades the qualifications of sound. With one contradiction reconciled, however, the album focuses on others. The track list progresses from “Things are Right With You” where Williams repeats “feel right, feel right, feel right” to “Internal World” where he sings “But I’m not the one who’s always right.” His indecision resonates with me and equals the mismatched instrumentals. Feelings and thoughts don’t line up in Life Without Sound, just as in our lives. The album brings this inner turmoil “Up to the Surface” with a screaming splash. Just like reading an author’s indulgent coda, the whole album ends up making sense after a few patient listens. Life Without Sound signifies an internal existence breaking through. Soundlessness blankets our reality when the mind’s noise grows too loud. Life Without Sound violently splinters the divide between an inner and outer self; amid the chaos, Williams provides flashes of insight and understanding. When you let the inner noise become reality’s soundtrack “You give up what you know/ Can’t explain where to go/ And you move in a world that moves on its own.” But when you realize, like Williams, that “it’s time for coming out” that there’s “No use in life without sound” you pull back the blinding mental curtain and remove the brain’s earplugs to clear, coherent sonorousness. This resurfacing and re-invention comes from a thought or a feeling, a sigh or a bang. Julia Curley is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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50. Horse Lords — Interventions
Horse Lords — a four-piece avant-rhythms band from Baltimore with more creativity than they’ll ever know what to do with — have been specializing in freaking us all out since 2012, but Interventions is their first release which brings it all together into one coherent vessel you can really dive right into. Maybe it’s because they’ve finally said goodbye to anything resembling rock music; maybe it’s because they’ve figured out how to make that flitting groove stick around from start to finish. Either way, Interventions’ mind-busting polyrhythms and brain-zapping dissonances no longer sound like Pere Ubu outtakes or Steve Reich scraps. Every second on Interventions sounds just like Horse Lords.
Kendrick Lamar’s follow-up to 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city was perhaps the most anticipated album of the year. It seemed impossible that Lamar could equal the accomplishment of his perfect debut. Instead, he blew it away in scope, ambition and depth. Across 16 tracks and nearly 80 minutes, Lamar burrows into complex issues, using his dexterous voice to produce an astounding variety of tones and emotions, from anger to false bravado to introspection to drunken sobbing. The music itself is a history lesson in modern African-American music, blending jazz, funk, soul and classic hip-hop into one omnivorous, fluid sound.