When Blurred Lines has been declared the Song of the Summer, and We Can't Stop is breaking records, you know it's been a hard few months in popular music. But never fear! The last few weeks have given us reprieve, and all is right in the world again. Here are three great albums to listen to immediately if you need a palate cleanse from the summer that failed music. They've been on repeat on my iTunes for days now and I'm obsessed.
Love In The Future: John Legend
Love In The Future is John Legend's fourth studio album, and in my personal opinion, a major improvement on his 2010 offering Evolver. On Love In The Future, John Legend goes back to his R&B/Gospel roots and brings back that deep heartfelt voice and simply sweet piano ballads that made me fall in love with him back in 2004.
There's an emotional heaviness to the album. This is the lyrical output of a man in love, heavily contrasted with the soulful moaning musicality on tracks like Made To Love and Save The Night. But he also draws on his ability to add weight with just his piano. All of Me and Hold On Longer are slow mournful track full of emotion laid bare.
The entire album has an eerie tone of foreboding largely created with minor chords and deep baritone notes. These are songs about love and relationships and their hardships and successes. It's a beautiful body of work that deftly harkens back to Legend's debut Get Lifted in all the best ways, while moving forward musically and emotionally. You'll love it.
Yours Truly: Ariana Grande
Here me out. This girl has PIPES. As in, Mariah Carey pipes. And I'm not exaggerating.
Ariana Grande's (of Nickelodeon fame) debut album Yours Truly is essentially a respectful homage to the 90's R&B that she (and I) grew up with, with added context for the 2013 set. Songs like lead single The Way and Piano are straight throwback pop songs, while Popular Song is more in line with the One Direction set of today.
But the real star of the album is her voice, and the comparisons to Mariah Carey are fitting. Ariana's vocals are miraculously light and gymnastic, easily navigating her upper register on songs like Baby I while the doo wop melody of Tattooed Heart showcases her range. Almost Is Never Enough is as strong a ballad as I've heard in recent years, expertly performed with Ariana's signature light touch; filled with emotion but not so heavy as to burden the listener with sorrow. The similarities to Mariah don't end at her vocals. Ariana does tend to favour the "perpetually twelve" aesthetic that has made Mariah famous, which makes sense when you realize that Ariana has named Mariah as her "favourite person ever".
But style aside, Ariana is easily one of the most vocally talented artists to come out of the "teen-television-to-music" pipeline transition, topping even Demi Lovato's powerhouse voice in my book. Give it a listen. You might be pleasantly surprised.
The Electric Lady: Janelle Monáe
If you only listen to one album for the rest of the year, make it The Electric Lady. the follow up to 2010's The ArchAndroid, comprising suites IV and V in the Metropolis suite, the album is almost entirely flawless. Lead single Q.U.E.E.N. was only a small glimpse into the greatness that is this body of work.
Boasting exquisite features from Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange, Esperanza Spalding and Miguel, The Electric Lady continues the story of Cindi Mayweather in spectacular fashion. Monáe draws on influences of old school funk, jazz, soul, gospel, blues and R&B to weave her tale of womanist empowerment.
Every song with a featured artist is a solid musical journey, with Givin Em What They Want (ft. Prince), Q.U.E.E.N (ft. Erykah Badu) and Electric Lady (ft. Solange) emerging as standouts, with Miguel's Primetime and Spalding's Dorothy Dandridge Eyes trailing behind only slightly. Monáe shows her vocal range on Look Into My Eyes, her musical versatility on Dance Apocalyptic, and her social consciousness on Ghetto Woman; an open letter to black middle class women reminding them of their worth.
But it is Victory that is the standout track to me personally. Influenced heavily by R&B ballads, Monáe's voice is full to bursting of struggle and strife and rising above, with a mournful melody about "find[ing] glory in the little things."
The entire album is spectacular. Even the interludes are spectacular. Monáe takes us on a journey of Afrofuturism rooted firmly in the realities of the present, entwining a political message that is accessible even to the most oblivious listener. It is a true work of musical genius.
There are tons of great releases slated for the rest of the year, (Lady Gaga and Britney Spears anyone?) but these three should take you at least through September. Trust me, they're all kinds of amazing.
What are your current favourite albums? Have you already listened to the albums on this list? What did you think? Which album releases are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!