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Nao Feburary 15
(Photo courtesy of Nao / YouTube.com)

Five albums you might have missed this summer

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Summer has come and gone. The temperature is starting to drop, the leaves are changing, and legions of students have packed up their records and headed back to campuses nationwide. Alas, nothing gold can stay. But hey, it’s not all bad. Though it lacked the star power of previous summers and there were a couple major disappointments (still waiting on that album, Frank Ocean), this summer still featured its fair share of strong albums. With that in mind, here are five summer releases that you might have overlooked.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic

At long last, jazz is experiencing somewhat of a mainstream renaissance in 2015 and saxophonist Kamasi Washington is an important reason why. You might have heard him already on Kendrick Lamar’s jazz-hop masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly or on Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! On the aptly-named The Epic, Washington more than lives up to the standard set in his previous collaborations. Throughout its nearly three-hour runtime, The Epic manages to push musical boundaries while maintaining a sound that’s both fresh and accessible to jazz regulars and newcomers alike. Highlights include the frantic bebop of “Miss Understanding” and a blissed-out rendition of “Claire De Lune.”

Jamie XX – In Colour

Many know Jamie XX for his work in the influential post-rock band The XX or his collaborations with Gil-Scott Heron. For all intents and purposes, In Colour establishes him as a solo force to be reckoned with as well. It’s a record with a little bit for everyone: For U.K. Garage enthusiasts, there’s the squelching “Gosh”; for those whose tastes are more subdued, “Loud Places” features a spellbinding turn from Jamie’s, The XX bandmate Romy Madley Croft. But the highlight of the record has to be “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” which perfectly incorporates the ridiculous vocal stylings of rapper Young Thug into an airy, soul-sampling groove.

Destroyer – Poison Season

Dan Bejar is at it again. In addition to his work in the New Pornographers, Bejar has been creating interesting, accessible, and slightly batty music as Destroyer since the mid-90s. Poison Season, his first album since 2011’s critically-acclaimed Kaputt, is no different. Equal parts chamber music and Young Americans-style “plastic soul,” the album is musically diverse without sounding scattershot. What really distinguishes Bejar from the rest of the pack however, are his wry, fantastic lyrics and vocal cadence. For example, on the Springsteen-esque “Dream Lover,” Bejar croons “aw shit here comes the sun” like it’s a term of endearment. The record is full of moments like that.

FKA Twigs – M3L355X EP

Since the release of FKA Twig’s album last summer, both fans and critics alike have been eagerly anticipating the experimental artists’ next release. The five song /M3L355X/ (pronounced “Melissa”) EP doesn’t disappoint; it’s every bit as powerful, mind-bending, and sexy as its predecessor, LP1. Tracks like “Figure 8” and “I’m Your Doll” showcase Bennett’s hypnotic production and hair-raising vocals. “In Time” sports a pitch-shifted chorus that’s disorienting but not overbearing. In fact it may be the best track on the EP. “Glass and Patron” has been labeled a modern-day “Vogue” by critics. This comparison doesn’t quite do FKA Twigs justice: Madonna, whilst a boundary-pusher and tastemaker in her own right, has never been as captivating as this.

Nao – February 15 EP

If there’s one release that came out this summer that deserves more credit, it’s this one. With only one EP to her name, 2013’s excellent So Good, Nao continues to impress with the very solid February 15. Tracks like “Zillionaire” mix Badu-esque swagger with the esoteric bleeps and bloops of Jai Paul. It’s the ballads however, where Nao really establishes herself. “It’s You” is a shimmering pop song reminiscent of Whitney Houston, and “Apple Cherry” features arguably the best vocal turn of any singer I’ve heard this year. Bring on the debut LP.

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