Here we are, back at it again with some more Yearly Yinz action, this time for Bored In Pittsburgh’s favorite local albums of 2019, arranged chronologically.
Brittney Chantele – A Fire On Venus
Although Brittney Chantele’s April release, A Fire On Venus, is both more romantic and less overtly political than 2017’s Labels, it’s subversive in its own, low-key way. At a time when the US Supreme Court seems split over whether or not LGBTQ+ citizens deserve basic protections under the law, making an album full of queer love songs is a big middle finger in the face of those who clutch their pearls and disingenuously deploy the phrase “religious liberty.” Plus, as Chantele herself told Pittsburgh Current in April, “A lot of what’s on the radio […] is heteronormative love stories. We can always switch out the pronouns in our heads and make the song what we want it to be, but sometimes, you know, that sucks.”
Rather than mentally swap the lyrics to existing songs, Chantele created her own batch of economical pop songs that explore the ins and outs of queer relationships. A Fire On Venus contains 17 tracks, but avoids feeling overstuffed due to the tidy, trap-tinged, neo-soul packaging in which the songs are wrapped; all but one clock in at under three minutes. Chantele worked with a vocal coach so that she could augment her usual rapping-singing with more singing-singing, and her warm, relaxed delivery complements the languid instrumentals of album highlights “Water Under Bridges” and “Hydrangea.” Don’t worry, though; she can still spit (see exhibits “Full Moon” and “Wetlands”). A Fire On Venus is an artwork full of small, everyday details: FaceTime dates, moonlit drives, enticing lingerie, unanswered texts, Zodiac signs, human flaws and imperfections. Sometimes, the simplest stories are the most radical.
Ky Vöss – Space Cadet
Merriam-Webster defines “space cadet” as “a flaky, lightheaded, or forgetful person.” In the case of Ky Vöss’s May album of the same name, you’d do well to take it more literally. On the album cover, Vöss is presented as a royal alien being, face obscured by a cloth and head bearing a metallic crown, a figure with a distinctly unearthly quality. It makes sense when you learn that Ky Vöss is a persona assumed by the artist in order to cope with the scars of their past, an entity that channels rage, trauma, addiction, creativity, and recovery all at once.
Space Cadet‘s lyrics, delivered in Vöss’s waifish sing-song, carry an escapist bent, and make heavy use of the second person, as if Vöss is delivering to themself words of survival and motivation. Mesmeric album opener “Tiny Words” and dissociative ballad “Picking Locks” both center on the command, “RUN,” and “Shelter,” the album’s gentlest track, sees Vöss urging themself “onward and upward.” The music on Space Cadet combines the electrified sparkle of dream-pop with the grimy tenebrosity of witch house; Vöss weaponizes sprightly synth bursts, sending them ricocheting off convulsive rhythms so that each blast hits like a series of gothic video game punches. The effect is strongest on “Power Trip,” a sexwork-positive, Die Antwoord-esque jumprope chant from hell. The sonic aggression serves a purpose; the music on Space Cadet doesn’t just feel like a fight for Voss’s life, it actually is one. It’s a struggle that can be won, as Vöss puts it on the turbocharged disco closer “Swallow the Batteries,” “as long as I’ve got my space suit.” The Space Cadet ascended and transcended in 2019.
Yorel Tifsim – Theresonlynow
Yorel Tifsim’s May release, Theresonlynow, dropped without a ton of fanfare, and for some reason, I feel like the producer/rapper may have wanted it that way. It’s funny that the first line you hear Tifsim utter is, “There’s not much that I’m involved in.” I’d argue that this isn’t true; the guy has produced records for a number of notable artists, but you can tell what he’s getting at. Tifsim strikes a monk-like posture on this album, swearing off outside noise, social media, fake friends, fake enthusiasm, “faked orgasms” from “corporate gangsters.” He is alone in his asceticism, an old soul born out of time; on “Disorder,” he raps, “I barely hang out/I can’t relate to this generation.” It would sound like an admission coming from some, but to Tifsim, it’s a boast. Tifsim’s voice is pitched down on a number of tracks, furthering the impression of artist-as-oracle.
The album is held back from the precipice of downer-dom by Tifsim’s lush, sumptuous production; his instrumentals exist in a stoned haze, gliding slowly along like raindrops down a windowpane. Soft, pillowy samples and plush melodies abound. The mantra-like “Umayburnout,” especially, could function as a sonic alternative to Valium. Tifsim holds court from the incense-filled, velvet-draped chamber of sound that he’s created. You may love Theresonlynow, but don’t get ahead of yourself with praise; Tifsim “can only shake your hand if you don’t believe the hype.”
Leek Lone – blackboyfromaroundtheway
Rapper Leek Lone once scrapped an entire mixtape because it wasn’t good enough for him. Blackboyfromaroundtheway remains his first and only project to date, an introspective, clear-eyed work featuring unusual beats sourced from the depths of the Internet. Leek is haunted by the specter of death over the course of these 10 tracks; he talks about friends who have passed and worries that he and his father won’t reconnect before one of them is in the grave. Even loved ones and neighborhood figures that remain on Earth are “blowing in the wind/aging like liquor/burning like cigarettes,” as Leek puts it on “KINGDOM.”
Rapping is Leek’s release; the recording process, done entirely at home, feels like a protective bubble that allows him to gaze out at his surroundings and take stock of the things happening around and to him. I thought of Kendrick Lamar’s line from 2011’s “Ab Soul’s Outro”: “I’m not on the outside looking in/I’m not on the inside looking out/I’m in the dead fucking center, looking around.” The long view dominates all else; album closer “BLESS US!” sees Leek proclaiming, “I don’t know no better than to really be great,” and conjuring an image of his grandma yelling “Hallelujah!” He may be experiencing hardship, but he’s got some people still around, and an ultimate goal to strive toward.