Tuned-In Thursday: The Best Music of 2024 So Far

Tuned-In Thursday: The Best Music of 2024 So Far

This year has brought some really great music so far, from summer bops, to melancholic winter ballads, 2024 has been an incredibly well-rounded year for music so far. The year is halfway done as of next week, and with this (along with every other music blog) I will be counting down the best albums released so far this year.

To qualify for this list, an album would have to have been released this calendar year, as well not be confused with an EP (extended play) or a single. With this, I have gathered ten records that are varied in genre and tone, and generally stand out to me this year. These are not in any particular order.

Arooj Aftab – “Night Rein”

Jazz has not always been my thing, but with Arooj Aftab’s record, “Night Rein” I feel as though my love for jazz is finally surfacing in my year-end lists. “Night Rein” is a contemplative record that sparked not only me writing this list, but it solidified my affinity for indie artists. I put “Night Rein” here on the first spot because I feel as though it has not gotten a ton of love since it has came out. My favorite tracks on the record are “Na Gul” and “Raat Ki Rani.”

Beyoncé – “Cowboy Carter”

Beyoncé’s eighth studio record is genre-defying, groovy, you can dance to it, has a huge country influence, and I really love it. “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” and “II HANDS II HEAVEN” are my favorite tracks on the record and encapsulate the vibe really well: a soulful and heartfelt tribute to country, while also being quite the modern pop masterclass. Beyoncé’s cunning lyricism and ear for the old and new make her a current front-runner for album of the year at the Grammys, and award she has not won yet, but with this record, her goal is closer than ever.

Charli XCX – “Brat”

Brat, to me, is a once in a lifetime pop record. As I stated in my review of it two weeks ago: “’Brat’ by Charli XCX being this good does not make sense…‘Brat’ is confusing as it is liberating…” and I absolutely stand by this sentiment. Charli’s commercial and critical success with this record, (it is currently the number one rated album on the aggregate review site, Metacritic for 2024) is staggering to say the least. She has been on a rise since 2013, with early pop hits, then transitioning to underground electronic-pop fame, and now it seems everything has gone full circle with “Brat.” Charli has made a pop-hit record but stuck to her morals and her friends, no matter how hard it was.

Eunuchs – “Harbour Century”

One of the most blistering and fast-paced rock albums to have come out within the last five years, “Harbour Century” by Australian brutal progressive-rock band Eunuchs (think Black Midi or Mr. Bungle) is definitely a unique record. It juxtaposes crooning and melodic vocals with striking and angular guitar, drum, and saxophone instrumental breaks. Tracks I would recommend out of this one would be “Pat A Dragon” and “Bird Angel Dynasty.”

Cindy Lee – “Diamond Jubilee”

This one is hard to recommend because of just how inaccessible it is. You can only download it off of a GeoCities website, (a place on the internet I’ve never heard of before.) However, once you cross that barrier to entry, you’ll find one of the best kept secrets of 2024. “Diamond Jubilee” is a double-album worth downloading and worth listening to. It is for fans of psychedelic and hypnogogic-pop music (a la Ariel Pink, Flaming Lips or Animal Collective.)

The Lemon Twigs – “A Dream Is All I Know”

The charming Lemon Twigs returned from a pretty successful run in 2023 with their breakout record, “Everything Harmony” and while I personally thought the record was pastiche and lukewarm, lacking any real style and standout lyricism, their 2024 album, “A Dream Is All I Know,” is their best record to date. It is precise, compact and filled with amazing lyrics and incredible sunshine pop. “Ember Days” is one of my favorite songs of the year so far.

Chief Keef – “Almighty So 2”

As stated in my review on a previous edition of Tuned-In Thursday, I think this record is great. It’s bombastic, boastful, but most importantly it is well constructed and put-together. I will end this section with a piece from my review: “Chief Keef is arguably the most comfortable he has ever sounded, no awkward flows, no whack-sounding bars – all precision and all skill. Boastful yet introspective lyrics are what I usually look for on the lyrical side of a modern rap record and Chief Keef effortlessly delivers.” The best tracks on this LP are “Jesus” and “1,2,3.”

Amaro Freitas – “Y’Y”

Brazilian jazz musician and composer Amaro Freitas went on a retreat to an Amazonian basin where he experienced nature and the people who reside within the Amazon. Through this worthwhile experience he invites us in to a lush and beautiful landscape that acts not only as a personal diary of his travels, but a spiritual guide to the self. Freitas’s Bandcamp page write-up puts it best, “While Side A of Y’Y serves as an expression of connection to the earth and to the ancestors, Side B serves as proof of connections between the global Black avant-jazz community.” My favorite track on the record is the last track, “Encantados.”

Martha Skye Murphy – “Um”

“Um” by Martha Skye Murphy (guest vocalist on the infamous “Narrator” by Squid) is an odd egg – not a spoiled one though – just odd. On paper, the ambient and electroacoustic elements should not mix with the pop and rock ones. However, Murphy has created a sentimental and reflective world that tackles subjects such as para-social relationships, existentiality, self-image and the nature of a world constructed by humans. These philosophical musings don’t go over the casual listener’s head, Murphy simply invites the audience in, and gives her worthwhile perspective. Standouts on this one are “IRL,” “Kind,” and “Pick Yourself Up.”

Black Dresses – “Laughingfish”

Black Dresses’ “final” album stands alone as one of their boldest and brashest. It mixes industrial soundscapes with electronic and rock instrumentals. Duo Ada Rook and Devi McCallion have been making music together for over 8 years, but this record seems more like a sincere break-up album. Songs like “Wounded Animal” and “If You Find Me Gone” are not for the faint of heart or for the casual listener, because of this, “Laughingfish” is really hard to recommend, however, if you like bands like Rammstein and Nine Inch Nails, listen to this but proceed with caution. But if this is a true sendoff then it is one hell of one.

Tuned-In Thursday: ‘Brat’ by Charli XCX

Tuned-In Thursday: ‘Brat’ by Charli XCX

“Brat” by Charli XCX being this good does not make sense: the forward-thinking production, the cunning and introspective lyricism, the sincere tribute to old and new friends. There’s also other components as well: the album’s camp, its sporadic pacing and its need for self-indulgence. These clashing elements should not make for an album as cohesive and complete as it is.

However, it just works.

Charli XCX’s sixth studio album, “Brat” is confusing as it is liberating. It fuses pop and electronic music in such a stylistic way that makes it exciting to listen to. Instead of meandering electronic dance music over a catchy albeit basic pop chorus, it tackles interesting themes that Charli has never written about before such as motherhood, death, bodily insecurities, etc.

This mixing of lyrical and production prowess by both Charli and executive-producer A.G. Cook, makes for the perfect storm for Charli to top the charts critically and commercially. She has received rave reviews from huge music outlets such as theneedledrop (10), Pitchfork (8.6), The Line of Best Fit (9) and Paste (9).

Charli’s multi-conglomeration of her queer, women, young and old fans might be enough to get her positioned on a whole other level critically and culturally.

To talk about the music for a second again, “Brat” succeeds on multiple levels and throughout its runtime it proves to the listener that it will be in their memories for years to come.

The first track, “360,” which is looped into by its sister-remix track, “365,” at the end of the record, talks about Charli’s commercial success and what it took to get her there.

“That city sewer sl*t’s the vibe/Internationally recognized/I set the tone, it’s my design/And it’s stuck in your mind/Legacy is undebated/You gon’ jump if A. G. made it/If you love it, if you hate it/I don’t f***ing care what you think,” Charli sings on “360.”

The other singles on the record including the electric “Von Dutch,” the hypnotic “B2b” and the bass-thumping “Club Classics,” each have their own strengths but share the same weakness: they are not long enough. I simply cannot get enough of each song.

“Brat” does not peak at the singles however, “So I” “Everything is romantic,” “Apple” and “Talk Talk” are also exceedingly fantastic. Normally, singers drenched in auto-tune for an entire record does not work, but for Charli, the effect paints her in a synthetic and futuristic light; someone who is damaged by the fast-moving pace of the world.

This is especially true with the track, “Sympathy is a knife.”

“’Cause I couldn’t even be her if I tried/I’m opposite, I’m on the other side/I feel all these feelings I can’t control/Oh no, don’t know why/All this sympathy is just a knife/Why I can’t even grit my teeth and lie?/I feel all these feelings I can’t control (Oh no),” Charli sings.

Charli is torn between herself in reality and her twisted perception of herself in her mind. This is a very common idea that a lot of young people struggle with, especially in internet-focused circles like Charli’s – someone who is constantly being engaged with online para-socially.

The most impactful songs on the record for me have to do with lyrics and themes that the 31-year old has never put to song before, like on “So I,” a song dedicated to the late, great singer-songwriter and producer, SOPHIE.

“Wish I’d tried to pull you closer/You pushed me hard, made me focus/Your words, brutal, loving, truthful/I was petrified/You’re a hero and a human/Track was done, I’d make excuses/You’d say, “Come on, stay for dinner”/I’d say, “No, I’m fine” (Now I really wish I’d stayed),” Charli sings.

A regretful Charli also makes her voice on her own potential motherhood heard on “I think about it all the time.”

“I went to my friend’s place and I met their baby for the first time/How sublime/What a joy, oh my, oh my/Standing there/Same old clothes she wore before, holding her child, yeah/She’s a radiant mother and he’s a bеautiful father/And now they both know thesе things that I don’t,” Charli sings.

These conflicting feelings stay for most of the tracks on the record; these lyrics are personal and beautiful, along with gorgeous and jaw-dropping electronic production to go along with it. Charli XCX shines on this record, even when she does not want to.

The only criticism I have with the record is its overall theming, which is also filled with conflict and vitriol, however, I think for now, “Brat” stands as a record that feels one way on paper, but is completely different in practice. It is a tonal shift, which is perfect for Charli XCX.

Tuned-In Thursday: “Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going” by Shaboozey

Tuned-In Thursday: “Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going” by Shaboozey

Country and rap are two genres that, on the surface, seem antithetical to each other. However, up-and-coming country-rap artist Shaboozey begs to differ. Born Collins Chibueze, Shaboozey has been making a name for himself in the music scene for over five years now, blowing up with the song “Start a Riot” with DUCKWRTH off the “Into the Spiderverse” soundtrack.

During 2024, Shaboozey skyrocketed into mainstream success when he appeared twice on Beyonce’s newest full-length album, “Cowboy Carter.” The songs “Spaghettii” and “Sweet | Honey | Buckiin’” give a look into Shaboozey’s prowess.

Beyonce and Shaboozey’s hip-hop infused country stylings have thrown some people off, it isolates the two battling demographics in the major pop music zeitgeist. Country and Rap, at least in the past five years, gave fruitlessly battled for the throne in what ‘the culture’ needs.

To get personal for a bit, I have written in other publications about the rise of bro-country and the fall of mainstream success with hip-hop. I have also in the past been very open to epic multi-genre-spanning albums (including those under the country sphere) such as Zach Bryan’s latest album, Dolly Parton’s “Rockstar” and Beyonce’s “Cowboy Carter.”

Well, my socks have been knocked-off once again by a prolific, subversive country act. Shaboozey’s “Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going” is one of those ‘blow-you-away’ type albums. Spanning 12 tracks and multiple different musical sub-genres, “Where I’ve Been” carefully balances country pop, americana, country rap and a surprisingly adequate take on stomp-and-holler bro-country.

“Horses & Hellcats” starts off the album pairing twangy background guitars with a foreground acoustic guitar that gives way to the husky, deep vocals of Shaboozey. The lyrics on this track create a foreboding, epic and triumphant atmosphere – perfect for an intro.

“And there’s no way out of the life that we chose/Everyone knows where it goes/Ayy, we ride palominos like they’re SRTs/Once I pick a speed, ain’t no catchin’ me,” Shaboozey sings on the chorus.

Shaboozey paints the picture of the old American West in the modern South. A story of outlaws, steeds, and regret. This opening track gives way to Shaboozey’s breakout single, “A Bar Song (Tipsy),” it’s got everything that a great modern country song needs. Clean production, dynamic lyricism, a catchy-as-hell chorus, and a charismatic lead vocalist.

Shaboozey combines classic, southern drawl with modern bro-country aesthetics not only in his lyrics, but his delivery as well.

“One, here comes the two to the three to the four/Tell ’em ‘Bring another round,’ we need plenty more/Two-steppin’ on the table, she don’t need a dance floor/Oh my, good Lord,” Shaboozey sings on “A Bar Song (Tipsy).”

This combination of great lyrics, flow, and southern delivery gives each song an authenticity that is lacking on a lot of modern country releases. You can really believe that the stories being told here are what Shaboozey has experienced in his day-to-day life, from parties to heartbreak.

This extends to a lot of the slower tracks on the album as well. Instead of a brazen bravado, Shaboozey displays a kind a soft sincerity in these ballads. “East Of The Massanutten,” “Finally Over” and “Let It Burn” are tracks you’d find playing beside the calm, embers of a recently put out fire at a friends’ campsite.

In contrast, Shaboozey really puts the ‘party’ In party tracks. “A Bar Song (Tipsy),” “Anabelle” and “Vegas” all bring a fun and enthusiastic atmosphere to the album and act as good singles.

While there are no bad tracks on this record, there are one or two tracks that do not explore one of those two pre-established atmospheres and feel lost in comparison.

“Drink Don’t Need No Mix” and “Steal Her From Me” both have that meandering quality to them, along with lyricism by Shaboozey that is not the most impressive.

“’Cause nothin’ last forever/And momma raised me better/See, these girls belong to the streets/What goes around comes around/And karma, she’ll haunt you down,” Shaboozey sings on “Steal Her From Me.”

Overall, this record from Shaboozey (not unlike a lot of subversive country records) has really impressed me and I am looking forward to see what road he will go down next.

 

Tuned-In Thursday: ‘Clancy’ by Twenty One Pilots

Tuned-In Thursday: ‘Clancy’ by Twenty One Pilots

The serious yet carefree demeanor of musical duo Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun seems like it doesn’t work on paper. Bouncing from genre to genre: reggae, pop, rap, rock, etc. – sometimes it stretches artists too thin. However, for Joseph and Dun, their elasticity is their greatest strength, fusing various different musical stylings throughout their over 15-year artistic tenure, as well as cultivating an engaged fanbase through in-album storytelling.

Twenty One Pilots’ newest outing is called “Clancy,” and hit selves last Friday, May 24. “Clancy” aims to be the closing remark on the “Blurryface” trilogy. Their departure from lighter themes a la “Scaled and Icy,” and returning to more serious topics like on albums such as the aforementioned “Blurryface” and the fan-favorite “Trench,” is a welcomed transition – fans have been wanting “darker” material for a while now.

The band, in an effort to convey their meanings of their albums better, have created a whole story in which there are several different main characters, storylines and plot-points interwoven in the songs and in the music videos.

“Blurryface” starts off the trilogy focusing on the titular character representing all of Joseph’s insecurities and faults. “Trench” focuses on the character of “Clancy” and zooms out with the “Blurryface” allegory to tackle mental illness as a whole, using a physical location (a walled city ruled by demagogues) in order to get across their message. Finally, “Clancy” takes a look at the titular character’s psyche and how it all relates back to Joseph.

While the material on “Clancy” is darker and more focused than “Scaled and Icy,” and the concentration on storytelling is promising, that does not mean that the switch between the two was a big leap.

Lyrically, the album starts out with a bang, “Overcompensate” is an obvious choice for first-track, as a deep, robotic voice welcomes the listener “back to ‘Trench.’” Joseph ties the break back to “Trench” by singing a chorus from “Bandito” in the intro.

Musically, the track takes cues from both “Blurryface” and “Trench” both with Joseph’s rapping and the bombastic production, consisting of lots of synths, racing guitar and bass lines, as well as acoustic guitar near the end. The meandering indie pop of “Scaled and Icy” seems to have officially come to and end.

The next two tracks, “Next Semester” and “Backslide” are my favorite on the record. Both songs tackle the topic of mental health and lead the listener down anxiety-riddled roads and use Joseph’s personal struggles as lyrical fuel.

“I remember/I remember certain things/What I was wearin’/The yellow dashes in the street/I prayed those lights would take me home/Then I heard, ‘Hey, kid, get out of the road!’” Joseph sings in “Next Semester.”

These dark lyrics specifically deal with the protagonist of this song reminiscing back to a time when they were a student, panicking over their academics and experiencing a mental breakdown where they could have ended up taking their own life.

The honest yet layered allegorical lyrics like these are present on a lot of the beginning tracks like “Next Semester,” “Backslide,” “Midwest Indigo” and “Vignette.”

“Rеachin’ out on my way home/You can be so cold, I’ll try again/You make me sad and second-guess myself/You can be so cold, Midwest Indigo,” Joseph sings on “Midwest Indigo.”

However, the relatability and instrumental uniqueness, along with the catchiness of the tracks, soon fades. While tracks like “Lavish,” “Navigating,” and “Oldies Station” are not terrible per se, they are not very interesting lyrically.

“Welcome to the new way of livin’/It’s just the beginning of lavish/From the floor to the ceiling/Welcome to the style you haven’t seen in a while,” Joseph sings on “Lavish,”

Joseph, by creating all of these worlds and characters, stretched himself a little bit too thin on this record. Metaphors and allegories get mixed up, storylines get too confusing, and the tightly focused beginning ends up falling apart near the last third of the track-list.

To me, “Trench” ended up being the best of all worlds – lyrically, instrumentally, and story-wise. In order to have stuck the landing, Joseph and Dun would have to have outdone the monumental “Trench,” which is a tall order to fulfill.

“Clancy” is not a failure of a record, but it is not a home run either. Hopefully whatever Joseph and Dun do next will not only hit the mark musically, but also within their complicated yet intriguing storylines.

Tuned-In Thursday: Hit Me Hard And Soft by Billie Eillish

Tuned-In Thursday: Hit Me Hard And Soft by Billie Eillish

Serene, calm and commanding. The atmosphere that 22-year old Billie Eillish brings about on her third studio album, “HIT ME HARD AND SOFT,” is absolutely divine – especially on the first track, “SKINNY.”

The quaint guitar, bass, and strings on that track completely entrance the listener into Billie’s world: one of heartbreak but also one of curiosity and inspiration.

The effortless transition into the next track, “LUNCH,” a silky and seductive banger that explores themes of Billie’s newfound queerness and her willingness to dive right into pleasure is a theme that is not foreign to pop songs, however, Billie’s sincereness and excitement with the subject makes me believe that this is a topic that she has wanted to tackle for a while now.

The lyricism and on-the-nose stylistic leanings of Billie is not just with her, but with her brother and sole producer of the record, Finneas, as well.

The crisp yet subdued bass lines are absolutely perfect for this record and its atmosphere. Billie, like she is in the cover, is completely submerged in water, however, she still is floating, a feeling directly felt in the next track, “CHIHIRO.”

Back to the lyrics and how they fit in with the theming of the record, Billie sings in “CHIHIRO,” “Open up the door, can you open up the door?/I know you said before you can’t cope with any more/You told me it was war, said you’d show me what’s in store/I hope it’s not for sure, can you open up the door?.”

In this track, Billie is struggling with not only this newfound sexuality and queerness, but she is also struggling with this new relationship she has found herself in.

Billie could even be read as borderline obsessive, with those themes carrying over into the eighth track, “THE DINER.”

“I’m waitin’ on your block (I’m waitin’ on your block)/But please don’t call the cops/They’ll make me stop/And I just wanna talk (I just wanna talk).”

Some would speculate that this verse reads as Billie musing from the perspective of one of her crazed stalkers, however, I interpret it as an analogy to her own loving obsession over the subject of the album’s story. I also view it as a sister track to “CHIHIRO,” showcasing the darker side to new love: obsession.

“HIT ME HARD AND SOFT” also has its grander moments, like in “THE GREATEST” and “BITTERSUITE.” The booming rock instrumental passages and vocals of Billie hit in both of those tracks, the latter of which shocked me with the fact that it has three tonal changes.

The last track, “BLUE,” is a synthy, cold but uplifting track about heartbreak and how you can move on from it.

“I try (I’m not what) to live in black and white, but I’m so blue (But I’m not what you need)/I’d like (Not what you need) to mean it when I say I’m over you/But that’s still not true, true.”

Then, the track fades out and fades in again for a soft, beautiful piano ballad about their past lover’s upbringing and how they are inherently more similar than she’d like to think.

The strings carry the track out and it fades, but not before we hear, “But when can I hear the next one,” referencing another album on the way soon, (or it could just be a plain tease to her fanbase.)

Overall, Billie Eillish’s gorgeous and stylistic new album stunned and shocked me, in all the best ways. She continues to make records equally as good as the last and has continued to carve her place in the pop-culture zeitgeist for years to come.

Tuned-In Thursday: Chief Keef and Childish Gambino

Tuned-In Thursday: Chief Keef and Childish Gambino

Expectations can be a damning thing. If you have predisposed ideas about a person, group, idea or event, then it completely warps your idea of what that thing is and will be. This rings true for a myriad of different topics but how it primarily affects me and my music enjoyment is with hip-hop.

Every time I think that a certain artist is done with producing and releasing good music, and every time I think that there is an artist that can do no wrong, something changes – those expectations get undermined.

This is what happened last year, about six months ago, with Westside Gunn and Ken Carson, two artists who have primarily released great and poor music respectively. Ken Carson ended up releasing the better album that week by a large margin and Westside Gunn’s ended up falling short.

This week, we have two hip-hop/RnB and neo-soul legends, Chief Keef and Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino.) Both artists have carved their own paths in music cannon in the early to mid-2010s.

Keith Farrelle Cozart (a.k.a. Chief Keef,) is a Chicago-drill artist that rose to prominence in the early-2010s with his abrasive and bombastic drill tracks such as “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa.” Lately though, Chief Keef’s music has been on the decline, with each release straying farther and farther from what made his music fresh and great.

However, Chief Keef’s latest studio outing, “Almighty So 2,” is a mighty beacon of hope to those who have written Chief Keef off.

To start off with genre, this was not a trend-hopping rage rap album like people have predicted, instead this is a full blown, throwback, true Chicago-drill rap album. Songs like “Jesus,” “Runner” and “1,2,3” all have triumphant production that include classic drill staples: horns, a pulsing bass line, clicking hi hats and lots of car engine sound effects.

Chief Keef is arguably the most comfortable he has ever sounded, no awkward flows, no whack-sounding bars – all precision and all skill. Boastful yet introspective lyrics are what I usually look for on the lyrical side of a modern rap record and Chief Keef effortlessly delivers.

Finally, the record is the perfect length, 16 tracks and just over an hour – the album never overstays its welcome. There are a few tracks and one skit near the beginning of the record that halt the album’s momentum for a bit, however this is short-lived as track five, “Jesus” really picks the album’s speed back up.

For Chief Keef, this album is a great moment, however, on the other side of the spectrum is Childish Gambino.

Gambino is one who usually releases great music: “Because The Internet,” “’Awaken My Love’” and the single “This Is America” all have set him up for success.

Gambino’s latest effort, “Atavista” (formerly the project known as “3.15.20”) is a revamp of his 2020 record, an album that – at the time – sounded entirely unfinished. Now, that record is complete, with one new track, re-mixed and re-mastered original tracks, and a thematic through line to tie it all together, how does “Atavista” hold up against all of Gambino’s other records?

The answer is not well.

The truth is, Gambino does not expand upon any established ideas, instead he recycles them until there is no more meaning to those original great ideas.

The meandering alternative-RnB of “Because The Internet” is present on tracks like “To Be Hunted” and “Sweet Thang,” as well as the progressive neo-soul of “’Awaken My Love’” on “Time” and even the jitter, erratic hip-hop of Gambino’s critically panned (but cult-classic nonetheless), “Camp” on “Final Church.”

All of these recycled and not-expanded upon ideas just feel tired at this point. It’s depressing that Gambino spends four years re-mixing and re-mastering all of these tracks just to end up sounding like copies of your old work.

It’s not a good look at all.

What we can learn from this journey into expectation is to just not have expectations. Go into an album blind, do not look anything up about it, do not listen to any singles or teasers – just listen!

If we all lose our expectations of what something can be, then we can really have a discussion of the merits of art and the like.