The Niche Nine: Our Favourite Albums of June 2017

I really had to resist the temptation to just list Melodrama nine times this month. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great month for new music, but Lorde is the zeitgeist, singing the song of my anchoritic soul. We’ll get to all that in due course. Let me recommend eight other shiny new releases first.

9. Portugal. The Man – Woodstock

On the whole, Woodstock is a good listen, if a bit uneven. They’re sort of working in the glitch-folk vein of The Age of Adz for a number of tracks here, but I think they’re best at full-throated, straight-ahead, traditional rock – as evidenced by the above total fucking banger. That line about crashing on Chaaaaaardonnay and Adderaaaaaaaaall is the lead-in to one of the best choruses you’ll hear all year. And I haven’t even gotten to the video yet: a genuine delight that features Glenn Howerton and his wife in pop-up ads from hell. I’m very preoccupied with Glenn Howerton’s face right now. Portugal. The Man caught me at the right time.

8. London Grammar – Truth is a Beautiful Thing

I have waited so, so long for new London Grammar, and while there’s nothing here to match the breathtaking, foreboding elegance of “Nightcall,” who gives a fuck? Hannah Reid may well be the greatest vocal talent of our generation. No hyperbole. I would listen to her sing the phone book. The high notes on “Rooting for You” are absolutely transcendental. Long may she reign.

7. Ride – Weather Diaries

It ain’t broke, but they’re fixing it anyway, marrying their inimitable brand of shoegaze with rough synth overtones culled from a Trent Reznor soundtrack and gentle experimentation with looping phrases, chopped and copied and pasted. But even as Ride looks forward, they’re also looking back. The arrangements of a few cuts here recall the Britpop-lite sensibility of Elliott Smith, making for a really comfy listen that feels fully of-the-moment without losing an iota of the special stuff that made you love Ride in the first place.

6. Benjamin Booker – Witness

Witness is one of those rare moments where a preternaturally gifted artist comes out of nowhere, points to three or four ailing genres, and singlehandedly saves them. This album is the sonic equivalent of declaring my city now, storming the scene and asking no one’s permission. Booker is raucous garage rock on one track and gentle, string-backed Jack Johnson-y balladry on the next. And these shifts never feel out of place, never feel anything but totally natural. He has a lot in common with past tourmates Jack White and Courtney Barnett, but the comparisons don’t feel totally apt – he’s kind of in a class by himself, see. One gets the feeling that his live show is something really, really fucking special.

5. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

A potent blend of rapidfire, cerebral, highly skilled rapping and backing instrumentation designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to get you to fucking dance. Staples’ music is so kinetic, so inspired by movement, that it’s impossible to sit still while you listen to him run lyrical circles around his peers. I’m not really the kind of person who goes out clubbing, but God, this album makes me want to hit a dancefloor and listen to how good it sounds blowing up speakers all summer long.

4. Big Thief – Capacity

The closest analogy I can think of for Adrianne Lenker’s vocal styling is Joanna Newsom by way of Emmylou Harris: never content with the simplest interpretation of a line, obsessed with cadence and internal rhyme and pure, unadulterated feeling. She spins gorgeous, moving stories of her life and childhood, but just as often, she dispenses with literal meaning altogether, reeling off lists of beautiful things that convey the meaning she’s searching for.

3. Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man

Have you ever wished Fiona Apple was a lesbian? I have great news for you.

2. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and James McAlister – Planetarium

Five years in the making or something stupid like that, the moment has finally arrived, and it was well worth the wait. This is the kind of expansive masterwork for which Sufjan is known and loved, a demonstration of total mastery without anything resembling restraint. The spare, acoustic, hotel-room recordings of Carrie & Lowell are lovely, but here, as with the C&L live album and his Summer 2016 tour appearances, you can tell that he is most comfortable when he can burst with sound and colour.

1. Lorde – Melodrama

I have to admit, I had my doubts. None of the singles gripped me. But I was being unfair, I think; comparing them, out of context, to the ten tracks on Pure Heroine that I’ve memorized so extensively that they now feel like extensions of my very being. Now that the album’s out, and now that I’ve been able to listen to it front to back, again and again, I can feel that same slow, effortless filtering of these songs into my very soul. This is a record that lives in its own destruction, sitting down with sorrow and fear and loneliness and getting really, really comfortable. But softly. Tenderly. With the recognition that it’s okay to feel broken, irreparable, like a liability, that it’s possible to feel all of those things, and also feel love. Masterful.

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