The Best Sophomore Albums

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Henry: Another week with a guest-writer, though this one is more familiar. Elliot, how goes it?

Elliot: Hey stranger! I’m fine and dandy thanks, hope you’re all good out there on the interweb as well. Can we also take a second to appreciate the certified grade A hottie in this photo? Phwoar.

H: Yeah yeah … Just to let everyone know, he’s not a child so there’s nothing dodgy here – he’s little underfed. Anyway Elliot mentioned that it would be a decent idea to run through some of the best sophomore albums, as we’ve already covered debuts over here. So let’s head in,

Yellow House – Grizzly Bear

H: I can’t remember exactly, but this is when Grizzly Bear got big. And good. It paved the way for their third and fourth albums, on which the band certified their status as one of the world’s biggest indie-rock bands. I totally get how some people view Grizzly Bear as overhyped, indie-status bearers but think it’s a massive shame. On a track like Knife, Yellow House’s stand-out, you can hear traces of a band honing their careful mixture of stabbing lyrics and swaying harmonies. That they never provide fuel for that most tedious of 21st century problems – landfill-indie – is an even greater credit to Grizzly Bear’s evolution.

E : For sure. Having listened to Shields first, coming back to this it’s easy to see how they got so good.I agree totally with this paving the way, this definitely set their style in place for records to come. You touch on both, but especially these harmonies here, they all seem so composed and yet so breezy. Definitely a cornerstone of indie-rock for both of us I’d say.

Neon Bible – Arcade Fire

E : There are some (Henry included I think?) who would argue that their debut album, Funeral, was the best there is to hear of Arcade Fire, but I’m gonna have to go ahead and disagree (please don’t fire me.) There’s an awful lot to like about this album. I’ve always loved this coupled up front two, but it’s really front man Win Butler who stands out the most. On tracks such as The Well and The Lighthouse, it’s easy to feel his energy all the way through, and he carries them so well. Those “heys” on No Cars Go still get me amped each time I hear it again. An album this full of soaring riffs and touching on so many topics still pertinent in society, is always gonna be a hit with me. Deep, I know.

H: I like Neon Bible enough. Hell, I think if you gave me a copy of this or their first, I’d probably pick the second to listen to. But it’s just a lotta stuff. A lotta imagery, a lotta sweeping choruses, just a whole lotta sound. It’s self-indulgent to the extreme. But maybe they just needed to get it off their chest before they swept back to The Suburbs which was a sonic, and tonal reversion to their debut and which, in the long run, will probably serve them better.

Halycon – Ellie Goulding

H: This, I can remember exactly as precisely the moment that Ellie Goulding got good.

E : Yeah she pretty much blew up didn’t she? I mean, not literally. Any time you’re featuring on a Calvin Harris track, you’re pretty huge.

H: Yup, and it’s difficult to understate just how much of a step-forward Halycon is from her debut (which, unsurprisingly, didn’t propel her to mainstream success). Every song of the album could have been a hit which isn’t something you can say of every British popstar these days. Anything Could Happen got the Glee treatment, Lights got the late-blooming, let’s have a go at the US charts too, treatment and I Need Your Love got the gym-playlist treatment. Figure 8 is a neat example of just how sophitcatedly Goulding learnt to weave sentiment, EDM and her manic-vocals together.

Acid Rap – Chance The Rapper

E : There’s a reason why he’s on so many “hottest rapper” and “most anticipated” lists, Chance progressed from 10 Days and killed it here! I realise Chance has got a lot of hype from me, but maybe that’s because this album was my most anticipated in a long time, and it totally delivered. Chance got a lot of comparison to Chief Keef, who blew up a year before him, but Chance is a totally different kind of artist. This album is experimental, jazzy, out there. This is off the wall, tripping balls, mixing club with dance hall, and just absolutely unique throughout. Also, Good Ass Intro is undoubtedly the funnest kick starter to an album, since forever.

Father, Son, Holy Ghost – Girls

H: One of my favourite albums of recent years, and the final before their break-up, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is validation for Girls’ many supporters. It’s a musical answer to the many, many claims of ‘I swear they’re good, just give them a listen.’ Christopher Owens’ voice isn’t for everybody – it’s actually not dissimlar from a male Ellie Goulding – but it suits me just fine (and he’s found potentially greener pastures in a post-band, solo career; he’s the Harry Styles of Girls). The hit (and that’s a fairly relative term) Vomit and Honey Bunny are a brilliant distillation of how the band streamlined its rocky, streetside mess into something edgier without losing any of its bizarro dream-pop-90s-rock kick. Bonus marks if you guessed that the girl in the video for Honey Bunny is not only Owens’ girlfriend, but the female half of Dominant Legs (whom we featured a while back on 25 Songs for Summer).

Late Registration : Kanye West

E : So yeah, he may have gonna batshit crazy, and so what Yeezus isn’t his best ever? We can’t deny that this is arguably one of the best sophomore albums ever, can we? To quote a Donald Glover sketch, “but you made Graduation”. True, but Late Registration definitely carved the way for Kanye. This is an album that proved Yeezy to be more than a rapper, more than a producer, but the whole package. Quoted as being inspired by Xxplosive (one of my favourite tracks) the whole album is full of horns, percussion, strings, and it’s so refreshing to go back now and enjoy Kanye before autotune became his staple. Jesus Walks is still one of my favourite songs, and his mix throughout of lyrical class and production genius make this album one of the seminal works of hip hop this side of the millenium.

H: Probably Kanye at his creative peak, right? He’s always needed a lot of editing – and that’s not just his formal musical efforts – but that’s part of Kanye’s charm. This takes me back to the heady days of Colet Court – you wouldn’t have been present Elliot – trying desperately, desperately hard to be cool.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA About Henry Wong

Sometimes, I write about music. Pretty cool. You can follow me on Twitter @henellenthorpe, find on Instagram @hennnners or even go old school and e-mail me at henry@canyouhearthis.co.uk

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