1) Benjamin Clementine – And I Have Been – Oct 28, 2022
Self-taught award-winning composer and vocalist Benjamin Clementine is no stranger to heartwarming LPs, and his third album is more of the same. And I Have Been sees the Englishman maintaining his distinct, Nina Simone esque sound, but it is by no means boring. Clementine’s ability to balance elegance and evocation is as impressive as ever, and you can’t help but notice his beautifully haunting voice. Clementine played a minor role in Dune and has said he is looking to do more acting, possibly ending his musical career sooner rather than later. Still, he mentioned in an interview with NME that And I Have Been is part one in a trilogy of albums that he began writing a few years ago. This release is focused on love, unlike much of Clementine’s past material, and even though it is outside of his usual repertoire, he executes these ballads magnificently. Like many great classical compositions, the string sections carry a lot of these songs, but that is no slight at Clementine’s piano playing or the beautiful backing vocals featured on tracks like “Gypsy, BC.” Clementine never fails to set the mood for a track in the first few measures, and then quickly take the listener in a new direction. Few albums released this year have been this raw emotionally and this tight instrumentally, and all we can do is sit back and watch as Clementine climbs the ranks of great contemporary songwriters.
Favorite tracks: “Gypsy, BC” ; “Atonement” ; “Recommence”
2) Smino – Luv 4 Rent – Oct 28, 2022
Not to be overshadowed by Halloween, St. Louis hip-hop artist Smino released his highly anticipated album Luv 4 Rent. It had been four years since Smino had released an official project, with a slew of intermittent singles, the occasional feature, a holiday themed LP and a mixtape on SoundCloud being all that we had heard from the genre-bending hip hop artist. With this release, Smino has cemented himself as a mainstay in the hip-hop world, with three amazing albums, starting with blkswn in 2017, followed by NOIR in 2018 and now with Luv 4 Rent in 2022. Smino’s roots in drumming are ever present on this album, with his history in rhythm allowing him to float over beats with ease with some of his most ethereal beats to date. Smino calls upon frequent collaborator Monte Booker to produce on this album, with Booker having producer credits on most of the record, and other artists like Kal Banx, Groove and Childish Major having producer credits on the album as well. Luv 4 Rent stays true to the style that Smino has carved out over his career, while still evolving his sound further. Luv 4 Rent is a happy medium between blkswn and NOIR while still having its own distinct identity. With the evolution of Smino’s sound on this project while staying true to his roots, I feel comfortable in calling this his best project yet. I am excited to see where Smino will go from here, and how he will evolve further.
Favorite tracks: “Pro Freak” ; “Blu Billy” ; “Modennaminute” ; “Curtains”
3) Aoife Nessa Frances – Protector – Oct 28, 2022
Irish singer-songwriter Aoife Nessa Frances is back with her second full length album, and it certainly deserves some attention outside of the Irish underground. Accessible yet experimental, surreal yet grounding, this psych-folk-pop record does many things well. On first listen, it felt like a folk rendition of Scott 4 meets The Velvet Underground and Nico. I mean, her voice even sounds like Nico, just with an Irish accent as opposed to a German one. Protector is no concept album, or at least I found no identifiable story or narrative stretching over the tracks, but it is certainly ordered in a specific way. In many ways this album is like walking alone into the woods and coming out changed on the other side. Not wounded nor sad, but certainly changed. Perhaps this feeling is analogous to Aoife’s journey as an artist when writing the tracks, or maybe it’s merely the excellent use of ambient sounds on tracks like “Only Child” that give this record a very mystical, earthy feel. Aoife’s beautiful voice is frequently backed by reverbed guitar licks, hand-held percussive instruments, piano glissandos, and tasteful string sections. Hypnotic drones are also featured throughout, giving it a real John Cale feel. The closing song “Day Out Of Time” even features beautiful horns in the back half of the song, giving the album a very symphonic ending. This is certainly one of my favorite folk records of the year so far, mainly because it breaks the mold of contemporary folk without being completely inaccessible. Any music fan has something to get out this album, and I will certainly be returning to it for a while.
Favorite tracks: “Only Child” ; “Back to Earth” ; “Day Out Of Time”