Arcade’s picks: top albums of the summer

Sam Ergina, Arcade Editor Taylor DeMulling

“Coloring Book” by Chance the Rapper – Sam Ergina 

“Coloring Book” may be categorized as a hip-hop album, but it features the same genre-bending style as past projects Chance has been involved with, most notably Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment’s “Surf” and, more recently, Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo.”

Unlike Kanye’s newest production, however, Chance the Rapper’s spirituality is dedicated to a greater force than himself. The influence of gospel and soul constitute the core of the production behind most of the tracks, with Chance rapping over mixed choir samples with poise and patience, in contrast to the sporadic lyricism in previous works. Additionally, Chance thrives at adapting his own style to the unique sound of the many features on the album including Jay Electronica, Young Thug and T-Pain.

This is an album of Christianity, family and life in Chicago, masterfully crafted and blasphemous to ignore. “Coloring Book” showcases an artist who stands on the shoulders of giants, or, as Chance phrases it “Kanye’s best prodigy, he ain’t signed me, but he proud of me, I’ve got some ideas that you got to see.”

Chance the Rapper has come a long way from the drug-addicted rapper that caught the hip-hop community’s attention in “Acid Rap.” His character has progressed and while some may prefer the style he embraced in his past mixtapes, there’s no denying the development Chance underwent in the three-year interim not just as an artist, but as a man.

“Why Are You OK” by Band of Horses – Taylor DeMulling

A decade after releasing its first album, “Everything All The Time,” Band of Horses produced another mix of melancholy melodies. The album Band of Horses spent the last 10 years perfecting, “Why Are You OK” combines folksy, guitar-heavy refrains with abstract lyrics that form a wistful, somber narrative.

Though much of the album offers the slow, sorrowful sound that’s expected of an indie kid’s post-breakup playlist, its more upbeat tracks, like “Solemn Oath” and “Casual Party,” help keep it engaging. Many of the songs focus on relationships in their twilight stages and the issues that lie beneath the surface of seemingly perfect couples. “Barrel House” delves into a relationship where both parties are so deep in their own secrets that they are blissfully unaware of the other’s, with lyrics like, “But oh, the heart of a man, the secrets they bury within.”

“Why Are You OK” is well worth the listen with headphones, as songs like “Country Teen” and “Even Still” utilize the three-way Stereo style, where different beats are played from the left and right sides of the headphones. The long-awaited album is consistent with Band of Horses’ past work and an easy listen all the way through.


“Freetown Sound” by Blood Orange – Nurah Lambert

The underground rhythm and blues chill wave project known as Blood Orange released its third album this summer and of all the innovative music that the summer of 2016 delivered, “Freetown Sound” remains one of the most memorable.

Like many of Blood Orange’s previous works, “Freetown Sound” has an incredibly multi-faceted sound that is impossible to box into a single genre. It’s ’80s pop. It’s electronic synth. It’s laid back hip-hop. It’s anything it wants to be — which is one of the many political messages that this album sends.

The songs address matters like feminism, pop culture and race issues. The struggle of being black in Western civilization arises constantly throughout the album.

Dev Hynes, the man behind Blood Orange, uses samples from various sources, including a Ta-Nehesi Coates interview where Coates discusses how self-conscious he feels doing simple tasks such as getting dressed in the morning, because he is unsure of how others will perceive him because he is black.

Despite tackling such serious topics, the tone of each song still maintains an upbeat, yet atmospheric vibe, partially due to the quick snares and the spacious reverb.

As such a versatile musician, it makes sense that Hynes has written songs for countless other artists and has collaborated with just as many. On this album alone, the voices of Carly Rae Jepsen, Nelly Furtado and Empress Of make appearances, among others.

“Home of the Strange” by Young the Giant – Cam Lutz

Young the Giant’s third album, “Home of the Strange,” is an unforgettable collection of indie rock songs that blends heartache, restlessness and melancholy into a euphony of human emotion.

Released on Aug. 12, the album is a vibrant, passionate testament to the disillusionment felt by many Americans looking in vain for happiness, opportunity and equality.

The lyrics offer an existential twist to indie rock. The central themes of despair, the search for meaning and the unattainable dreams that haunt the human psyche recur throughout the album. In “Amerika,” the album’s opener, lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia, whose parents immigrated from India, laments the false hope and empty promises of the American Dream, calling it “a rich kid game.”

Another song, “Repeat,” offers the same descriptive language while emphasizing the search for fulfillment in a world seemingly devoid of objective meaning: “Life grows underneath us, a thousand leaves below.” In “Elsewhere,” the beat slows and falters, highlighting the metaphor of “beating hearts” as a “shattered work of art.”

Overall, Young the Giant’s newest album provides some catchy indie rock tunes intertwined with occasional electronic highlights and vivid, heartfelt lyrics.


“Wildflower” by The Avalanches – Parker Greenwood

A culmination of craftsmanship and variety, this sample-focused album, released for streaming on Apple Music on July 1 and fully released July 8, took members of the group over 15 years to complete. The tactile use of extensive sampling creates a unique sound that ranges from ’40s jazz, to ’70s rock, to contemporary hip-hop. The experience, reminiscent of modern psych rock, maintains a relative calm throughout most of the album.

“Frankie Sinatra,” one of the standout tracks, is exemplary of the album’s extended production. A Danny Brown from 15 years ago and a more recent MF Doom are both featured on this song, rapping as “ah Frankie Sinatra, ah Frank Sinatra” repeats between verses. Brown reappears later on in the song “The Wozard of Iz.” “The Noisy Eater” is another notable track which focuses on the eating habits of Biz Markie, the mind behind the 1989 hit “Just A Friend,” and is both creative and outright strange in sound.

For those put off by hip-hop, the album is still accessible, as many songs focus heavily on electronic, rock and ambient music. The immense amount of work put into making this album is evident from the beginning. With all of the albums released this summer, the hype behind “Wildflower” has been much less than is deserved. 

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