At year's end, we will undoubtedly look at April as the month in which Kendrick Lamar gifted us DAMN., a full-length worthy of joining his canon of intimidatingly superb albums. But Kung Fu Kenny's vitriolic mission statement barely scratches the surface of the treasures April provided us. Album-wise we had Gorillaz' highly-anticipated Humanz, the surprise debut of Sevdaliza and Arca's radical reinvention as a singer, with excellent tracks coming from artists as diverse Playboi Carti, Phoenix and Shabazz Palaces.
After a great deal of debate, the Highsnobiety Music staff was able to round up our top 10 albums and tracks of the month. Listen to all our picks below.
Describing the work of Actress, alias Darren Cunningham, as dance music doesn't really do it justice. His songs certainly make you move, but in less of a 'let's have fun and boogie' way and more of a 'frenetic maniac hopped up on amphetamines in a futuristic hellscape' way. On his new album AZD, Actress manages to pump up the volume even further, providing a soundtrack that is both frightening and addictive.
We knew we were in for quite a ride with Arca's self-titled new album after the string of stunningly gorgeous singles that emerged over the course of last month. But the extent to which the master-producer reinvented himself on this album is startling. Clearly taking cues from his recent work with Björk, Arca has put his voice at the forefront of his unnerving compositions for the first time, introducing an element of melancholic yearning that truly pushes his work to the next level.
The announcement of Feist's new album was about as out of left field as it gets. It had been more than half a decade since we'd heard anything from the beloved singer/songwriter; she seemed destined to join the ranks of the forgotten alternative gems of the 2000s. But lo and behold, she came back with a vengeance. Pleasure is her most aggressively raw collection of songs to date. Each track effuses a bluesy swagger that is a far cry from the polished indie-pop of her previous work. It is unquestionably a good look for her.
While techno music can sometimes slip into headache-inducing territory with a persistent kickdrum, Wolfgang Voigt has been rendering it sublime since 1995 with his GAS alias. On Narkopop, the first GAS album in 17 years since 2000’s Pop, Voigt refines the ambient techno sound palette he first introduced to the world over two decades ago. If you think ambient music is too boring to listen to, try Narkopop on for size - its lush, symphonic sounds are driven by a serenely energizing 4/4 beat. Once you’ve given it a listen, don’t miss his 2016 remix of Robyn & Kindess' “Who Do You Love.”
"In the six years since their last full-length, the incredibly misguided The Fall, Gorillaz have dramatically expanded their sonic palette. The quaint---if antiquated---synthesizers that marked their previous work have been replaced with beats that are razor sharp in their execution. The overarching trends of this past decade, from rave-rap to dancehall to witch-pop, have all been absorbed into their aesthetic without it ever feeling too forced. This integration is not seamless in every track, but it is to the band’s credit that when it does work, it really works."
Read our review.
"DAMN. offers a lot of sonic progression from Kendrick. There’s none of the avant-garde jazz-infused beats from To Pimp a Butterfly, and the album is much more of an easy listen than it’s predecessor. Not only is it necessary to listen to it over and over again, it gets better with every listen. But the distinct difference with DAMN. is that Kendrick’s rapping ability is in a different dimension compared to anyone else in the game."
Read our review.
Little Dragon---'Season High'
Swedish band Little Dragon’s fifth studio album Season High is admittedly not groundbreaking, but is nevertheless solid. Across 10 tracks, the quartet gets hazy with 80s-inspired upbeat electronic pop with echoes of disco and funk. Lead single “Sweet” is definitely still a highlight with its dark, sugar-high overtones, but tracks like “Strobe Light” and “Gravity” also showcase the band’s synth mastery and lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s effortlessly opulent vocals.
Sitting on the softer side of a genre not exactly renowned for it’s ability to disarm, Mr. Mitch delivered an exceptional, emotionally-charged album this month. With Devout, the Planet Mu producer tackles the the negative stereotypes attached to black fatherhood head on, with a carefully-constructed and inherently refreshing album celebrating his parenthood. The highlights? Mixpak’s reggaeton crooner Palmistry joining Mitch for the feeling-inducing “VPN” and the criminally underrated P Money’s own reflections on the album’s subject matter on the outstanding “Priority.”
Playboi Carti---'Playboi Carti'
Fans have been waiting patiently for Playboi Carti’s album for over a year, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Carti stan who says it wasn’t worth the wait. Dropping the same date as one of the most lyrical and deep albums of this generation in the form of DAMN., Cash Carti’s album is the polar opposite of Lamar’s opus. Comprised of wall-to-wall trunk rattlers and ad-libs galore and strong features from Lil Uzi Vert and A$AP Rocky, the real genius is heard in the album’s production. Southside, Harry Bourne and Pierre Bourne provide all the instrumental capers for Carti to spit over, and it makes for a combination that is basically just a lot of fun. “Mumble rap” of the highest calibre.
After steadily releasing standout tracks and EPs for the past few years, Sevdaliza finally surprise released her debut full-length last week. With already beloved songs like “Hero” and “Human,” Ison also features the heartbreakingly stunning “Hubris” and brand new stunner “Replaceable,” which was one of our best tracks of the week. With an arresting, mysterious concoction of trip hop, experimental R&B, spoken word, and haunting vocals, Sevdaliza proves she’s one to keep an ear on.
Frank Ocean ft. Tyler, the Creator & Jay Z---"Biking"
“Frank Ocean’s third single of 2017 finds him ruminating on the act of riding bicycles. As a ubiquitous form of solo transportation in many parts of the world, the subject might seem banal. But Frank, alongside Jay Z and Tyler, the Creator, work their magic to transform two simple wheels into something both sonically and thematically sublime.”
Read our review.
Gorillaz ft. D.R.A.M.---"Andromeda"
"The clear standout from Humanz is 'Andromeda,' a hazy track that functions as both bittersweet love song and mellow club jam. The beat is comprised of just a few simple elements—a precise, clockwork beat, a clipped bass line, and a few healthy layers of rich syntheszier—yet it effuses a sophistication that isn’t found anywhere else on the album, naturally progressing from the sounds of their last great full-length (2010’s Plastic Beach) without ever feeling like a call-back. And in a record that carries a traffic jam’s worth of guest spots, it is the only one that feels wholly belonging to Gorillaz."
Read our review.
"What this translates to in a musical context is a showcase for Lamar’s lyrical dexterity that is nothing short of jaw-dropping. The song’s second half, built around an ominous, industrial beat reminiscent of another rapper’s game-changing opus, makes you question whether or not Lamar even needs to breathe; there are a full 37 seconds of sustained rapping in which there is no discernible point where he stops for air."
Read our review.
Berlin’s Laurel Halo is back with “Jelly,” one of the best lyric videos we’ve seen. It’s the first single from her upcoming Dust full-length, due out June 23 on Hyperdub, featuring echoing, harmonizing vocals by Klein, Lafawndah and Halo herself, with layers of lush synths, cascading piano and percussion.
Mac DeMarco---"On the Level"
As cute as Mac DeMarco's 'goofball with a heart of gold and a guitar' shtick can be, it's when he departs from this formula that his music is most interesting. His last full-length Salad Days was good, but the crown jewel among its tracks was "Chamber of Reflection," a woozy electronic ballad about isolation that is among the best he's written. "On the Level," off his upcoming album This Old Dog, is very much in the vein of that song, and so it was no surprise that it is among the best tracks April had to offer.
The return of Phoenix was not something we were treating as an ‘essential’ on the list of musical releases this year. But as soon we put on “J-Boy,” half out of curiosity, we knew that fact was bound to change. The beloved French indie-pop outfit have excised the bloat and excess that marked their 2013 album Bankrupt! for a sound that is far less contrived and far more smooth. “J-Boy” (despite its at-times dark lyrics) exudes both confidence and wonder, and it is an immensely satisfying late-career peak for a band we were half-ready to give up on.
Dropping your tape the same day as Kendrick might seem ludicrous. And though Carti’s self-titled tape lacks some of Kendrick’s depth, it’s obviously a lot of fun – and as our recent op-ed attests, shouldn’t be written off alongside “woke rapper” albums. The ATL rapper’s debut is just downright enjoyable turn-up music, rich with jovial trap beats. “Magnolia,” the choice cut from the tape, is as bass-heavy as it is utterly infectious. Certified trunk-rattler.
Ahead of the third installment of his Beautiful Pimp EP series, Rome Fortune dropped the project’s lead single “WOOPS” a bit early. The world music-influenced track is Rome’s honest dissection of the music industry and his place in it as a staunchly independent artist. “‘WOOPS’ is me saying I already know what your song sounds like before I click play. I already know the subject matter and I’m tired of it. Why aren’t you? How many songs about fucking somebody’s bitch or how much money you have can you make over a knockoff Metro Boomin’ beat,” Fortune told us of the single.
Shabazz Palaces---"Shine a Light"
Featuring fellow Seattle funk band Thaddillac, Shabazz Palaces’ first track since their 2014 album Lese Majesty is a fresh take on 70s soul and classic hip-hop with some killer strings. From the sounds of this one, we’re excited to see what they have in store for their forthcoming full-length Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star which is set to drop July 14.
The xx---"A Violent Noise" (Four Tet Remix)
Four Tet’s re-envisioning of The xx’s “A Violent Noise” extends the track to over eight minutes, adding a banging house rhythm, melodic harps and focusing on the guitar riffs, while subduing Oliver and Romy’s vocals. To say it is sublime would be grossly underselling what is clearly the best remix of the year (so far).
Portions of this article appear in the April editions of our Best Tracks of the Week series.
Be sure to check out our picks for the Best Music of March right here.