Album of the Year Reviews 2/15



As a fierce proponent for the concept of the album, my pursuit has certainly become endless. It’s that project that affords you some insight into the mind and inner workings of an artist. That project that has a message and, within each song, and as a whole, the album stands by that message. It’s not often the cream of the crop gets haphazardly dropped in your lap. Anyone familiar with the blips of work from Noname in the last three years has been eagerly awaiting her debut mixtape. And now, with open arms, we embrace Telefone for the gorgeous work that it is.

The young Chicago emcee formerly known as Noname Gypsy delivers an LP soaked in juxtapositions, creatively approaching the subject matter she emblemizes — a genuine love for your tormented hometown, because “ain’t no one safe in this happy city.” Telefone is captivating, breathtakingly cerebral, and it’s one of the best things I have heard all year.

Everything about this album is in constant tension. Soft and light undertones with loads of singing contrast her unique style. A yearning for the past is mirrored by utter optimism for that which awaits us; only to continually remind humankind the we will each find an ultimate demise. She depicts the tribulations of being raised by Chicago, yet also the pride associated with her social identity. Summed up, it’s all just grim confidence, sobering promise. It’s baffling that all those contradictions can still sound so effortlessly fluid.

This record owns the four biggest traits I rate records on.

Cohesiveness — top to bottom, start to finish, born out of a foundation of slam poetry and beat rhythms, the mindfulness of the craft is the monument on this effort. It’s short and sweet with an abundance of emotional impact.

Intricate, crafty lyricism — it still amazes me how creative Noname is with her syllables. Pair that ability with unparalleled literary skill and you can almost close your eyes and see her dancing on each rhyme.
The subject matter is heavy, weighed down by political struggles and violence in her native, blustery city. There are talks of planning your own funeral on “Shadow Man” that still have me pondering. Yet by alluding to a child-like mentality, this record is a nostalgic response to life’s unavoidable bleakness. “Diddy Bop” is an ode to the youth, whose concerns consisted of nothing more than the playground, K-Swiss, and getting home before the streetlights came on.
(Aside: Raury’s feature verse on this song tops the list of guests on the project.)

Delivery and execution — her delivery may come across unconventional, but it remains emphatic, which is a testament to the opposing forces that drive the ideas behind a lot of the tracks. It’s been a long time since I have noted both the gentleness and conviction of an artist all at the same time. Further, the tone so favours black self-love, but Noname spits so positively that it rings without a shred of bravado. There’s a real coolness about that.

Nowhere on the album is the message clearer than on my favourite track “Forever”, where Noname’s personal escape through music gets woven into the commentary. She comments about using “Aloe Vera sentences to heal the scars” and the joys associated with simple solutions. “Trying to re-imagine abracadabra for poverty, like poof I made it disappear, poof I’m made of happiness.” In a way, recounting her own maturation is indicative of the evolutions of her neighbourhood, whether they’ve happened or she hopes they one-day will.

Hers is a voice the world so desperately needs.

Production — The production is nothing short of heavenly, divine. Melodious piano lines drive airy drumbeats over a jazzy gospel backbone that steadies each track. While the typical artist might mirror the austere content with somber musical aesthetic, we get sunny synth and loads of snapping. True to form, Noname really flips the script.

After those key traits, her message is clear and riveting. This album cements her as a rising star, someone we won’t be able to ignore.

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