Ahh, September. The nights have finally started drawing in, that scorching summer heatwave is becoming a distant memory, and we’re eagerly anticipating the wonderful music that autumn has in store from us, from our freshers magazine’s cover stars Pale Waves‘ debut album to rock veterans Muse‘s ninth. It’s also been far, far too long since we had a records round-up here at The Edge. So, with the end of summer, what better time to look back on some of our favourite hits that were released over July and August? We’ve had Ariana Grande’s highly anticipated fourth album as well as Troye Sivan’s electric yet personal sophomore LP, but let’s be honest, there’s only one album we can look at first.
Eminem – Kamikaze
We couldn’t really start anywhere else, could we? Coming just eight months after the much-maligned Revival, Eminem‘s latest came almost out of nowhere right at the end of August. Kamikaze is as much a heated response to the reception to his 2017 album as it is his scathing commentary on the rap landscape as Eminem sees it (“I can see why people like Lil Yachty, but not me though / Not even dissin’, it just ain’t for me”). It certainly won’t be winning him any fans – Kamikaze plays mostly as an old, angry MC shouting at his critics for 45 minutes – but it reasserts his position as the King of Flow, and features appropriately lethal production besides. Eminem may well be past his best, but the charts won’t mind, and at least Kamikaze proves he is capable of more than the frankly dismal Revival – not to mention that he can still churn out ludicrously pumped-up tracks like ‘Greatest’ on a whim.
George Ezra – ‘Shotgun’
Ok, this one technically came out as a single in May, having already been released as part of Staying At Tamara’s back in March, but c’mon – it’s been near-impossible to listen to Radio 1 or Captial or any of the others for at least an hour without hearing Ezra‘s beautifully dulcet tones gracing the airwaves once or twice. ‘Shotgun’ practically definied this summer – aside from that brief moment where we all thought football might actually be coming home – and for good reason. It’s bouncy, upbeat and catchy, everything you want from a summer-dominating single. Add in Ezra’s sweet baritone crooning and the lyrical themes of letting everything go and embarking on a road trip, and you have an absolute no-brainer for one of the songs of summer 2018.
Years & Years – Palo Santo
If 2015’s Communion was an intrepid debut exploration into dance-pop that played well on nights out but mainly stuck by the rules, this year’s Palo Santo is a far more mature and refined musical experience from Years & Years that delves deep into themes of sexuality, toxic relationships and hypermasculinity. It’s a refreshing change of pace from most other music that dominated the charts over the summer, tackling genuinely important issues in an engaging and thought-provoking way. Of course, this is all backed up by the trio’s sublime instrumentation that keeps you hooked from track one. In the words of our reviewer: “Palo Santo mixes all aspects of pop music together to come out with something entirely new. A little bit synth, a little bit electropop, totally amazing.”
Deaf Havana – Rituals
Last year’s All These Countless Nights acted as a reset-button of sorts for Norfolk rockers Deaf Havana. Prior to that release, they had discussed even calling it a day, but they decided to persevere – and Rituals is the second hit album in two years (not counting the Countless Nights remaster released at the tail-end of 2017) that they have to show for it. It may be a bit more electronic than you may have expected – and far, far groovier – but, in the words of our reviewer, continues to display the band’s “immense talents as songwriters and musicians to build a pop-rock album full of anthems.” Focusing heavily on themes of religion, redemption and sin, Rituals “showcases the band’s composure to take on new challenges to invent a new sound,” all while producing a real tour de force of an album that fans have adored since its early-August release.
Ariana Grande – Sweetener
Coming just over a year after the devastating attack at her 2017 Manchester concert that killed 22 people and left Ariana Grande “permanently affected”, one of pop’s most inspiring stars returned this August with Sweetener. Headlined by the quite sublime ‘God is a Woman’, Grande’s fourth record is filled to the brim with love, positivity, hope, strength and womanhood. Gorgeously produced by Pharrell Williams, Sweetener is infinitely replayable, with hidden layers to the instrumentation and lyricism discovered on each listen, from the rainbow melodies of ‘R.E.M.’ to the slick, seductive funk/calypso fusion of ‘successful’ and the heartbreaking vulnerability masked within a pop banger of ‘no tears left to cry’. With uplifting feminist anthems and hyper-personal ballads waiting around each corner of this wonderfully pastel album, there’s nothing that Grande attempts that doesn’t stick the landing, with the result being one of the pop records of the summer. But ultimately, Sweetener is about, in Grande’s own words, “giving people a hug, musically.” Sonic surprises and lyrical genius may be ever-apparent throughout the album’s 45 minutes, but it is also just a big, warm record that you will find hard to put down once you pick it up.
Panic! At The Disco – Pray for the Wicked
Are Panic! At The Disco really still going? It would seem so, with sole remaining member, frontman and de facto one-man-band Brendan Urie putting out the group’s (?) sixth studio album towards the end of June. (Okay, so it doesn’t quite fit into this article’s “July/August” remit, but then nor did George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’, and I failed to include Pray for the Wicked in our other records round-up this summer, so it earns a little spot here). Fittingly, given Urie’s 10-week acting stint on Broadway prior to the production of the album, Pray for the Wicked is outrageously theatrical, “matching the flair and incessant pace of the backflipping Urie, egging you on to think about the possibilities of what a live performance of this album would have to offer,” in the words of our reviewer. If nothing else, the latest record from Urie is delightfully exhilarating throughout its 35-minute runtime, failing to reach the heights of the group’s mid-2000s heyday but providing a solid poppy listening experience all the same.
YUNGBLUD – 21st Century Liability
YUNGBLUD, AKA Dominic Harrison, has his musical style, tone and message nailed down. His pop-punk emo brand of music will perhaps be unappealing to older listeners, but that’s not the point. With 21st Century Liability, he’s calling out to the younger generations to tackle the issues of drug abuse, rape and mental health that are so relevant to so many people, and, in the words of our reviewer, he does so “brilliantly”. Just the fact that he earned himself a spot on the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack tells you the kind of messages he wants to put out and his talent at producing the kind of music that will allow him to get those messages out there. With 21st Century Liability, YUNGBLUD “brings politics into his music and uses it as a tool to educate and inform those who may not be listening already.”
Troye Sivan – Bloom
There’s a sense of joyful liberation that pervades every single corner of Bloom, the follow-up to the South African-born, Australian-raised, L.A.-based Troye Sivan‘s 2015 debut Blue Neighbourhood. It’s present in the ecstatic cries of the title track, it’s present in the innuendo-laden dance hit ‘My My My!’, and it’s present on the quieter, more personal ode to an ex-boyfriend ‘The Good Side’. Bloom weaves a very personal tale of Sivan’s nascent maturity, intermingling stories of love, longing and rapprochement. But most of all, it is an expertly crafted dance-pop album that can have you lost in the joy of the music one minute and crying along to Sivan’s wonderfully tender vocals the next; an expert demonstration in the pop star’s musical talent and range.
(Oh, and weekly records round-ups will return after fresher’s week. I promise.)