Slauson Malone 1 - Excelsior
Jasper Marsalis, better known as Slauson Malone, has spent the past 5 or so years building up a catalog full of some of the most experimental and forward-thinking music in the spheres of pop, rap, and psychedelic. The New York based artist got his start as a part of the relatively well known experimental collective Standing on the Corner, a group known for their collage-style of cerebral hip-hop, jazz, and spoken word. Their sound shines powerfully through Malone's solo work, but Malone somehow finds ways to up the ante on experimentality. With some tracks catering to the recent developments in hyper-pop, some reminding the listener of the sparse b-sides from various albums from indie-folk legend Phil Elverum, and the occasional minute long sound collage track sounding like a song from early in The Books discography, trying to pigeonhole Excelsior into just a few genre labels is a futile endeavor. The one overarching thing between all the songs, apart from their mostly skeletal, barebones sound and the creative use of samples and field recordings, is the hip-hop influence. It wasn't until I listened to the album through the lens of experimental hip-hop first, with considerations for other elements second, that I truly realized what a special project this is. Of course, you all might find it better to take a different approach, but with a few of the songs having a real nice groove behind Malone's crafty lyricism, occasionally getting a track you can nod along to is quite fun. Not to mention it makes the quieter, folk and ambient-like songs all the more interesting. Slauson Malone 1 has a sound that in many ways is unprecedented in popular music, and his maturity as an artist will be nothing short of endless entertainment until that perfect album surfaces. And from the sound of Excelsior, he is certainly moving in the right direction.
Favorite Tracks: "New Joy" ; "Half-Life" ; "Voyager"
- Will Lewis
Sufjan Stevens - Javelin
Sufjan Stevens is back with his 10th solo album and possibly his most personal. The highly anticipated album, Javelin, does not disappoint. Clocking in at 42 minutes over 10 songs, the album has a nice pace and a sorrow filled tone. On the day of the album release, Stevens revealed that his longtime partner Evans Richardson passed away in April and dedicated the album to him. The album as a whole is the process of grief put into song, from the instrumentation to the lyrics. Stevens doesn’t hide this, as in the first track, “Goodbye Evergreen,” he sings “Goodbye, Evergreen you know I love you. But Everything heaven-sent must burn out in the end.” As the album gets deeper, the songs get sadder as Stevens questions if anyone will love him and chronicles what a relationship means. Each song has intricate instrumentals that sound angelic. Stevens uses orchestras and background vocals to express what words can’t. The best way to describe this album is to look at its cover. Javelin is a beautiful collage of life, whether that be struggles or fantastic moments that come with it. The tone is sad, but also uplifting. Stevens encapsulates this best with final song, “There’s A World.” Stevens sings about how there’s a world where his partner is alive. Even when someone dies, somewhere they exist, and there is nothing more beautiful than that.
Favorite tracks: “Will Anyone Ever Love Me?” ; “Everything That Rises” ; “Genuflecting Ghost” ; “So You Are Tired” ; “Javelin (To Have And To Hold)”
- Logan Hurston
Hannah Diamond - Perfect Picture
With the announcement of the end of A.G. Cook-led record label PC Music earlier this year as the background, Perfect Picture feels like a wonderful electronic pop swan song to close out an era. Hannah Diamond returned after four years with her sophomore album, a worthwhile wait since 2019’s Reflections. The album was produced by Diamond herself and David Gamson, whose past collaborators include Kesha and Charli XCX, making for a perfect assemblage of female pop artists for Hannah to join. The album deals with problems of identity and losing yourself in someone, best embodied by tracks “Divisible By Two” and “Want You To Know”. “Impossible” and “Flashback” deal with an unrequited love, reminiscing over past moments and instances of “what could have been”. The album’s upbeat production paired with its sentimental lyrics gives way for a heartfelt dance album, a crying in the club compilation, if you will. Closing track, “Unbreakable”, puts a band-aid on all pieces of woe and distress scattered throughout the album and concludes with the line, “Some good things come from an ending”. As sad as it is to believe this will be Hannah’s and many others last PC Music release, we must continue on and look forward to what's to come.
Favorite Tracks: “Affirmations”; “Poster Girl”; “Flashback”
- Ryan Carraway
Mutual Benefit - Growing at the Edges
Craving some new indie folk after listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Javelin? Mutual Benefit’s 6th album, Growing at the Edges, will fill that void. The album is a 38-minute journey that sounds straight out of an early 2010’s coming-of-age film. Jordan Lee uses a unique mix of traditional and classical instruments to build a cozy sound. The album features ballads by Lee along with a few short instrumental tracks. The track “Untying a Knot” is a standout with its use of synths, brass, and piano to compliment the upbeat tune. Most of the album has a somber, yet uplifting tone. Lee’s singing isn’t phenomenal, but it’s unique and endearing. The album’s strength is its instrumentals. Each song is different and has long instrumental breaks that build onto each other. Because of its somber tone, none of the instruments are loud and most of the brass is subdued. But Lee does a great job at complimenting his voice with the sprawling instrumentals. Growing at the Edges is the perfect album for a rainy day or a hike through the woods. It’s the type of album that would be played in a local coffee shop. If you’re looking for some great indie folk, give it a chance.
Favorite tracks: “Growing at the Edges” ; “Remembering A Dream” ; “Untying a Knot” ; “Wasteland Companions” ; “Little Ways”
- Logan Hurston