Rather than try to spit out a thousand rambling words about the four albums that I’m currently obsessing over, I thought I might go all linked list on you and just pull out a blurb from my favorite review on each album. Here it is, my co-opted reviews of: the new album from The 1975, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Vitals by MUTEMATH, and Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording).
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it by The 1975
Wow, what a title. I’m going to go all When the Dawn … on them and just call it I like it … from here on out if you don’t mind. Anyway, I spend a fair amount of time in Apple Music and there was a lot of hype surrounding the release of this album within the app, primarily because there was an exclusive live concert streaming on Apple Music. I wasn’t particularly anxious about the release of this album, only vaguely connecting The 1975 in my foggy memory with one of their breakout hits, ‘Chocolate’, from a couple of years ago.
On a whim, I decided to spin it up one day at work and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I was immediately struck by the Eighties nostalgia that flows throughout the entire album (much in the same way as Haim’s Days Are Gone and the recent CHVRCHES release, Every Open Eye).
Kitty Empire, writing for The Guardian, sums it up pretty well:
With his mop of Michael Hutchence hair, his semi-ironic leather trousers and slight air of Johnny Borrell, singer Matt Healy makes no apologies for the band’s prettiness, their pop ambitions, their self-aware derivations, or the sheer variety of the 1975’s latest output. People listen across genres, argues Healy, so his band ought to deliver that breadth.
Consequently, I Like It When You Sleep tries to do it all – not just brash 80s funk and pop-house chant-alongs (The Sound, a withering look at a relationship), but shoegazey dream-pop (Lostmyhead), mawkish piano ballads (Nana, about Healy’s departed grandmother and the nonexistence of God) and gospel-tinged slow jams. The genuinely accomplished If I Believe You finds Healy’s loneliness climaxing in an understated sax solo.
The album starts out in hyperactive, but the pace slows a bit once it hits ‘A Change of Heart’ without becoming a complete drag; a shift that appeals to me but be forewarned if that’s not really your thing.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (self-titled)
Ann Powers, where are you taking me right now?
One of the central musical relationships in soul music is between a band’s lead shouter and the other voices supporting her or him. In her glory years, Aretha Franklin musically conversed with her family of backup singers, the Sweet Inspirations; Otis Redding upped his own unbeatable energy in dialogue with the Memphis Horns.
That’s quite a lead in – and I’m not saying Nathaniel Rateliff is in that company, but good lawd that boy can sing. As they often do, NPR Music has you covered for a great raw introduction to an artist. The ACL performance linked above and this Tiny Desk Concert performance should be plenty to help you decide if your in the mood for some Night Sweats.
Vitals by MUTEMATH
According to Wikipedia, Mutemath have been making music together since 2003. Vitals is the first MUTEMATH album that’s ever found its way into my library (thank you, Apple Music). Does this mean I’m totally new to Mutemath’s music? Of course not, it just means I’ve never binged on it like I have the last couple of weeks.
I spend about 25–30% of my time at work writing code and this album sets a great tone for that work. ‘Joy Rides’ is a great lead-off track, ‘Monument’ is a steady hit, and I love ‘Vitals’, ‘Used To’, and ‘Best of Intentions’.
Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
I have a predilection for musicals, particularly those constructed around a modern musical style, so the surprise here is not that I like Hamilton, but rather that it took six months after its release for me to realize the recording was out there. It’s not that I wasn’t at least tangetially aware of the musical’s existence, I just never thought about it at the right time to check into a recording. I’m sure my wife wishes I never had.
This bit from Paste Magazine’s ‘10 Reasons Hamilton Dominated 2015 and Will Own 2016, Too’ doesn’t sum it up perfectly, I don’t know what would:
Famously, composer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote the music and lyrics for In The Heights, which ran on Broadway from 2008–11) was on a beach vacation nearly a decade ago, read Ron Chernow’s acclaimed biography of Hamilton, and was shocked that no one had yet turned it into a hip-hop Broadway musical. Many genius ideas look obvious in hindsight, but this is not one of them. Miranda is perhaps the only person in the world that would have reacted that way. And yet, it’s a perfect meeting of subject and form, and a much-needed revival of the greatest American story ever told, of the founding of the nation.
The word ‘genius’ is thrown around a lot1, but the combination of lyrical wordplay, composition, and execution of this is masterful. If you have even a passing interest in musicals or hip-hop or history, just give this a listen. And be patient with it. While I can certainly list my stand-out tracks2, it’s a musical so everything is contextual and best consumed that way.
Almost as much as the phrase ‘[word] is thrown around a lot, but …’. ↩
I marvel at ‘Aaron Burr, Sir’, ‘Right Hand Man’, and ‘Cabinet Battle #1’ every time I hear them; ‘The Story of Tonight’, ‘Wait for It’, ‘That Would Be Enough’, ‘Non-stop’, ‘Hurricane’, and ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ are other favorites. ↩