And now kids, the letter of the week is B! Can you think of any artists that start with the letter B?
But seriously. Perhaps it’s merely coincidence, or the end of September just Brings the Best out of the letter B from Bands.
This week’s INPO is Brimming with a Bounty of Brilliant musicians – all of which fall under the second letter of the alphabet in my music library.
(Okay, I’m done).
Banks – The Altar
The unofficially-penned genre “nu-R&B” or “future-R&B” seems to have a defining characteristic of minimalist, dense electronic production which serves as a sort of platform for the artist to showcase his/her vocals and lyrical craftsmanship. Often, the differentiating factor between artists comes from the subtle changes in ticks and textures found underlining each song’s production; otherwise, the genre is very copy-paste. But for some reason, certain acts stand-out, finding highlighted strengths in either their voice or their production team – or both.
L.A. songstress and self-proclaimed “Goddess” (the title of her 2014 debut), Banks seems to be the latter, pushing forward with her sophomore The Altar. Her soft-tempered voice glistens the way the morning dew shines; but just as dew is cold to the touch, her personal and sharp lyrics find a sudden tenderness to the senses. Take the chorus of “Imma need a bad, need a bad / mother fucker like me” on the slow and soft “Weaker Girl” that eventually fades out with a gentle string arrangement. Or the fact that her lead single “Fuck With Myself” sounds like if Selena Gomez switched genres and then had Peaches produce the track. Nonetheless, its poignant and catchy and puts Banks’ thoughts in the spotlight.
Naturally, the minimalist production on The Altar creates the ambience and the space for Banks to be the centre of attention, enchanting listeners with her velvety smooth voice and intoxicating charm. The gentle synth builds on “Lovesick” and the hypnotic percussion on “Gemini Feed” act as the aesthetic to draw in the listener’s attention until Banks takes over and unwraps the bow on a gift of intoxicating hooks. The production on “Mind Games”, “This Is Not About Us”, and “Weaker Girl” dabble with dramatic, using string arrangements and intense synth rhythms to evoke emotion.
And what would a “nu-R&B” album be without a little trip-hop? Flexing her sultry side on the second half of the album, Banks hits slower tempos and heavier bass lines with “Judas”, “Haunt”, and “Poltergeist”, before closing the album on a personal note with “27 Hours”.
A few moments on The Altar stand out as especially raw and unfiltered. Contrasting against the electro-infused track list is “Mother Earth”, with Banks accompanying an acoustic guitar, and heart-break track “To The Hilt” showing Banks at her most delicate, opening up about a former lover and letting the shakiness in her voice speak volumes.
Although The Altar easily fits in with your every-day nu-R&B album, Banks saves it with her entrancing and stellar voice, both musically and lyrically.
Must-haves: “Gemini Feed” // “Fuck With Myself” // “Trainwreck”
Boreal Sons – You & Everyone
Calgary experimental indie rock group Boreal Sons first caught my attention with their possessing lead single “What Becomes” earlier this year, but as many of us know, one single does not make a full record. Fortunately for the art-rock trio, their lead single was just the tip of the iceberg on their latest album You & Everyone; an equally possessing and dynamic collection of music that combines lush synthesizers, emotionally-lead piano arrangements, and lyrics inspired by dark personal experiences.
Lead singer Evan Acheson had the unfortunate task of attending six funerals in a single year while working on the new album. Naturally, the emotion and dark themes seeped into the track list of You & Everyone, but nevertheless, avoids treading into depressing and sappy waters. Emotional, and touching – yes…gloomy and dull – no.
You & Everyone blends elements of soft folk rock – stuff you might hear from bands like Fleet Foxes and Bear’s Den – along with experimental textures and the heightened production in the likes of Aero Flynn and most Justin Vernon projects. The result is 9 tracks that are simple enough to embrace, but complex enough to dazzle.
Opener and lead single “What Becomes” incorporates all the major aspects of the album: synthetic production, full band harmonies, intense builds and crashes, and dark lyrical content, and following in its footsteps is the alternate-universe themed single “Another You”. From there on, it’s not so much the album loses its intensity, but instead it refocuses it. Sombre ballad “Strangers” finds passion in its delicateness, while the playful lyrics “you know your face could start a war” in the middle of the catchy chorus of “The Bruiser” adds extra personality to the record.
And like “Strangers”, the other slow songs on You & Everyone have a similar richness, in due part to the careful attention to the drones and swells of the instrumentation, but mostly due to the soothing vocals of Acheson; a stellar match for the subtle piano melodies and slowed tempo. “Light of a Low Sun”, “In the White”, and “All Catastrophe Dies” each slow down the track list, but in a different way, providing a different edge and taste in the slow song department.
Considering there are only three members, Boreal Sons create quite a bit of depth with their music. Synthesizer, keyboard, drums, and vocals are all that is found on You & Everyone, and the band’s simplicity works wonder as they find love and death at a crossroad.
You can stream the album in full and order your copy through their bandcamp page.
Must-haves: “What Becomes” // “The Bruiser” // “Another You”
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
This is the future of indie folk.
Tasteful auto-tune, unpredictable synthetic textures, all of which are lead by a human mind and spirit.
Now it’s only fair to point out, my knowledge of Bon Iver’s discography is fairly lacking; I’ve only heard snippets of his first two under the moniker, so with his third 22, A Million, it feels almost like I’m beginning from scratch. Wisconsin progressive folk act Bon Iver, lead by none other than Justin Vernon, revitalize the mid-west, heartfelt songwriting of personal growth and loss, and turn it into futuristic songs about personal dissatisfaction, launched by its unprecedented sonic appeal wedged between now and when.
Amongst its quirkiness, 22, A Million is a fairly short album, only 10 tracks touching barely over 34 minutes, but feels even shorter because of its effortless fluidity and sweeping emotional presence (as the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun”). Just as the time spent with a loved one passes by all too quick even though the clock has struck well past curfew, 22, A Million makes it easy to get lost in the moment. And if there’s any clear sign to point out this phenomenon, opening track “22 (Over S∞∞n)” points to the fact that the album will be over soon, and the same could only be assumed for Vernon’s personal inspiration for the song, as he denotes “it might be over soon” to someone in his life (himself even perhaps?).
Vernon’s internal struggle comes out through his singing; although heavily drenched in effects and dripping in warped adjustments, you can still hear his soul reaching out through the tracklist, most notably with the future-accapella ballad “715 – CRΣΣKS”, and the folk-strumming tune “29 #Strafford APTS”. But his ability to gently force his way into the mind and spirit of the listener is one of the main themes of the album it seems, as each individual track produces an intimate experience, one sparked by Vernon’s songwriting, but maintained through our own interpretation.
With its only fault being it is too short (and some may argue incomplete), 22, A Million is beautiful. It borrows techniques and characteristics from countless albums before it (re: James Blake or Sufjan Steven’s The Age of Adz), but the jigsaw style of collectiveness, along with its timing and place in music history allows it to be encompassing and distant simultaneously, lighting the match of what is to come in songwriting.
Must-haves: “22 (Over S∞∞n)” // “29 Strafford APTS” // “715 – CRΣΣKS”