G’day mate (said in an obnoxiously bad Australian accent). How was your April? That’s good. I wasn’t really listening to your answer. I’m sure it was fine. Maybe it was really bad. Oh well, you read those words, and it’s now May so you A: survived, and B: still have both eyesight and the ability to read English.
All things considered, there’s probably 100,000s of people who don’t fit into either of those categories, so quit your fucking whining and be thankful you’re around for another round of Phil’s Phive, arguably the internet’s least read monthly roundup column! And if you are reading this, consider yourself a member of an extraordinarily exclusive club. More people routinely get off to x-rated pictures of the titular Wendy from excellent fast food chain Wendy’s than read this shit, so give yourself a pat on the back! Anyway, enough about my sex life. Let’s start talking some freaking albums.
5. Playboi Carti – Playboi Carti
In a now infamous Instagram video, Lil Uzi Vert recently called Playboi Carti’s debut project the “best album he’s ever heard.” Lmao. While this initially doesn’t appear to make an inch of sense, if you frame it in the context of Uzi’s unique approach to hip hop, you can see where he’s coming from. Playboi Carti is the epitome of what humourless oldheads refer to begrudgingly as ‘mumble rap’, ‘swag rap’ or whatever condescending term you’d like to attribute to it. In their review of the mixtape, XXL referred to this project as a “glorified beat tape with ad libs” or something to that degree.
They’re half right.
There’s literally no substance on this record, and a lot of the time Carti doesn’t even bother rapping in the traditional sense, instead making hype noises and repeating phrases ad infinitum, phrases containing only what could liberally be referred to as ‘words’. But see…that’s just it. This mixtape is pure audio candy: sweet beats largely on behalf of rising producer Pi’erre Bourne just sound fucking good, and Carti mindlessly has a blast on top of them. On “Half & Half,” Carti says over and over “this is not pop this some rock”, which speaks volumes to what this record achieves.
Hip hop is having its pop punk moment right now, and Playboi Carti encapsulates it perfectly.
Seeing as how Lil Uzi Vert is more of less the poster bo(i) of this movement, it makes sense why he would have such high praises for this project. Full disclosure: I’ve never listened to this entire mixtape in full. At 15 tracks, its wayyyyyyy too long for what it is. That being said, lord knows I’ve listened to the first half dozen tracks infinitely more than a certain K. Lamar’s record from this year, and “Magnolia” is a serious song of the year contender.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: pop punk cloud rap
4. Arca – Arca
Listen bitch, I’m an Arca OG. I downloaded and bumped &&&&& the day it dropped, and put that shit on my end of year list. I remember driving home from work with a coworker back in 2014, getting considerably stoned before doing so, and throwing that mixtape on to fuck with him. He didn’t last five minutes before asking me to turn it off, while I sat there with an annoyingly gleeful smile on my face.
To me, Arca sounded like the future. This was where music was going; amorphous beats, originless sounds, alien soundscapes. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. When his debut album Xen dropped, it was widely acclaimed, and all of the sudden Arca was making beats for fucking Kanye West of all people.
Xen was a fantastic project, adding a degree of structure to the producer’s signature sound.
But its follow up Mutant, released a mere year later, felt like a retread, a bizarre notion for an artist as groundbreaking as him. Arca had already proven how adept he was at crafting totally alien instrumentals, it was hard not to feel let down he hadn’t taken it a step further.
Clearly the man’s no fool, as his third, self-titled record, is almost a direct response to my personal qualms with his sound. This record actually contains songs, sung by Arca himself. Make no mistake; this is still an Arca record, so don’t expect anything here to be charting any time soon. But this is the exact progression Arca needed, and now it feels like he’s back on track on his trajectory to become one of the most important queer artists of our generation.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: alien art ballad
3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Imagine being Kendrick Lamar. You follow up your massively acclaimed debut record with a sophomore project equally as lauded, a record that despite its dips into aggression and depression, largely revolves around hope for the black experience in America. ‘We gon’ be alright’. The next year, Donald Drumpf is elected president.
Lamar obviously has a saviour complex, not that the media’s constant appraisal of him as the “saviour of hip hop” has helped any. So, your huge, widely ambitious Power to the People project gets released, is praised to the heavens, and it seems like your hard work and dedication to your art may actually have an impact on the world at large. Then the opposite happens. Does Kendrick feel responsible for this? At the very least, you can be assured that he feels as though he’s failed his people. And thus we have DAMN., a record steeped in disappointment and frustration.
My biggest issue with Kendrick has always been his unwillingness to truly get personal with us.
Who really is Kendrick Lamar? GKMC is a near flawless record (to a fault, in my opinion) but we don’t learn a lot about who Kendrick really is at the time of recording. TPAB, while containing flashes of true reflection of the self, was too complex of a project to reveal too much beyond his ambitions.
But by abandoning any pretense of overarching concept (at least on the surface), DAMN. feels like Kendrick’s most personal project to date. Instead of making music about his city, or his people, this record’s ostensibly about Kendrick himself. As a result, DAMN. contains some of his most straight forward tracks to date, one of them “mainstream” enough to land the man his first #1 song on the charts.
When this album dropped, I was convinced that it was my favourite of his to date, and possibly his best. A few weeks removed, however, I’m no longer sure how I feel about it. I’ve never been a huge Kendrick fan. TPAB was one of my favourite records of 2015, but I don’t really know how much of that had to do with Kendrick himself. I know he’s objectively great, one of the best to ever do it, but do I ever actually want to listen to him? Not really. It’s all a matter of preference, of course. Some of the most important music of the decade has come from Kendrick. But there’s a difference between appreciation and enjoyment.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: excruciatingly modern hip hop
2. GAS – Narkopop
I have sleeping problems. Had them my entire life. I just…can’t fall asleep. And if I can, I can’t sustain it. Because of this, I listen to a lot of ambient music, whether as a means to help fall asleep, or ease my over-exhausted brain in times of need. One of my favourite aspects of ambient is its functionality; it’s music as a tool. This year as been lacking in ambient records I could use, and as any sick person will tell you, life is much more difficult without medication. Thank god for Narkopop.
GAS’ first record in 17 years is a monumental achievement in ambient, and is certainly worth the wait.
With a run time of close to two and a half hours, Narkopop isn’t as much of a record as it is a universe to be submerged in. And while most ambient music revels in neutrality, Narkopop carries a subtle sinister edge to it, almost to the point where labeling it as ambient seems like a misnomer. “Background” music isn’t supposed to be this emotive. At low volumes, Narkopop successfully carried me away to Dreamland as faithfully as I can hope for. At louder volumes, however, this record can be…kind of terrifying at times. The forest at dusk portrayed on the cover accurately conveys the record’s sense of wandering the wilderness, where the possibilities are endless and its way too easy to get lost and never find your way back out.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: narkopop
1. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar
If you had told me a few months ago that a legendary experimental black metal band would end up releasing the best pop album of 2017, well, honestly I probably would’ve believed you because that’s just the kind of guy that I am.
I definitely would have believed you had you told me the record was by Ulver.
The only thing these guys do better than vastly switching up their sound on every record, is pulling it off seemingly without effort. While getting their start by releasing a series of 90’s black metal classics, Ulver has since abandoned any notion of formula and started basically doing whatever the fuck they wanted at a prolific rate.
After their acclaimed ambient collaboration with Sunn O))) in 2014, and the fascinating foray into post rock with 2016’s ATGCLVLSSCAP, their latest record, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, is a straight faced, no-holds-barred new wave record, all synths, drum machines and soaring choruses.
The level of songwriting on this record is incredible.
These songs would’ve been hits in the 80s, although they absolutely sparkle with modern production values. This is an excellent album on its own terms; the fact that Ulver made it just makes the music that much more interesting. Listen to this record with your dad and I guarantee he’ll pretend to already know about it and tell you he used to listen to it all the time with your mother in the good old days before you were born.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: history goth pop