Fortunately for us, summer break was nonexistent for 2014’s most acclaimed acts.
Few fanfare-grabbing albums from early this year managed to outdo preconceptions, with rock gods’ snooze-inducing efforts and chart-topping rappers’ unexpected malaise (Bruce Springsteen and Pharrell, anyone?).
However, summer’s slew of strong releases shifted the momentum of music in 2014 and could help make for an even more interesting fall.
Ab-Soul and Spoon’s warm-weather wonders stood out in particular and deserve recognition.
“These Days…” by Ab-Soul
Ab-Soul makes any conspiracy theory seem plausible, from the Illuminati to 9/11’s cause, with rhymes that clash against hip-hop’s norms.
Rap superstar Kendrick Lamar’s pal, Ab-Soul lacks the mainstream appeal of his contemporaries and fails to record and release a steady stream of content like Lamar. But with “These Days…,” the California MC’s third studio album, he builds upon aspects that made prior albums memorable.
Everything here is disjointed and nonlinear. Ab-Soul’s last project, “Control System” from 2012, put less emphasis on tracks with a clear beginning, middle and end. However, this album’s standout tracks, “Dub Sac” and “Ride Slow,” feature almost no adherence to typical song structure with a plethora of lengthy verses and extended instrumentals.
The continually darting narratives throughout “The Days…” work exceptionally with the themes Ab-Soul tackles: feelings of self-doubt and insignificance.
Yes, listeners will feel frustrated and insignificant as Ab-Soul rattles off numerous examples of direness on a worldwide scale like on “Stigmata,” where he discusses the ails of technology, sarcastically thanking the late Steve Jobs for the tech revolution’s positives and negatives.
And Ab-Soul’s dreary effort brings out the uneasiness in everyone — even the album’s guest artists. Danny Brown normally deploys spastic fun in his raps; on track 14, “Ride Slow,” though, his syllables slither like fog over an early morning crime scene. Rick Ross almost forgets to stupidly brag in his “Nevermind That” rap, as paranoia consumes each lyric.
Clocking in at an hour and a half, “These Days…” is lengthy and hard to follow at times, but Ab-Soul’s challenges to accepted ways of thinking through unpredictable songs make it an interesting listen.
Final Rating: Three and a half out of Five Suns
“They Want My Soul” by Spoon
Conventional wisdom suggests Spoon’s reign should be over.
The Shins, Death Cab for Cutie and The Strokes have either called it quits or released such garbage as of late that breaking up seems like progress. Spoon’s eighth effort, “They Want My Soul,” though, validates the group as productive and ground breaking as other early-‘00s indie darlings encounter their shelf lives.
“They Want My Soul” really begins with track two, “Inside Out.”
Here, Spoon accomplishes a first in its 20-year existence: writing an exceptional song that lasts more than four minutes. Lush, nylon strings groove under each of the track’s verses, and frontman Britt Daniel’s melancholy crooning ushers everything forward.
A handful of Spoon’s prior releases, “Kill the Moonlight” and “Gimme Fiction,” notably, sat on the brink of being classic, but three or four filler tracks ruined that. But on the band’s latest, all 10 tracks build on “Inside Out’s” exceptional sound in contrasting ways.
Despite having developed a distinct sound with its seven prior releases, Spoon tries new things here. “Rainy Taxi” sounds like James Brown trapped in Thom Yorke’s body with its doses of funk colliding against alternative drear. Spoon does a solid impersonation of The Flaming Lips circa 2002 on “Do You.”
Spoon always drops decent albums but never anything great until “They Want My Soul.” A candidate for best album of 2014, the collection engulfs numerous fascinating ideas and sounds.
Final Rating: Four out of Five Suns