In place of a more traditional year-end best-of list, Talkhouse has asked some of our favorite artists to choose their favorite album of 2018 and tell us all about it.
—The Talkhouse Team
The album Room 25 by Noname really blew me away when I heard it. The songwriting, the excellent production, the brilliant arrangement and the LYRICS—it’s all there. There is plenty to revisit and enjoy in a new capacity every time I pick it back up.
I first heard the album through my brother Mark. These last couple of years, if I hear something new that I like, it’s because Mark told me to check it out. After he turned me onto Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell, and then Ctrl by SZA, it became clear that I should listen to his recommendations in a more timely fashion. I’m finally getting better about that, little by little. He got me into Rihanna as well; I was late to her, which is beyond foolish of me. Better late than never, they say.
I only heard Room 25 a couple of months ago, I don’t think too long after it came out. Mark put it on in the car driving us to rehearsal one day. It struck me immediately, and the more listens I give it, the more it grows as a very compelling and expertly made work. I sense that it will only continue to do so—there’s just so much to it.
Initially, it was the production that first struck me, the percussion specifically. I’m partial to drums being mixed a certain way, and though I’m reluctant to go into detail on that (as I often mix up recording terminology), this album has the perfect sounding drums. They add to what becomes a complete presence, and yet there isn’t really anything aggressive about it, not even in the vocals (although some of the lines in these songs bite, and hard). The vocal delivery, both percussive and unhurried, is spot on. When Fatimah Nyeema Warner very nearly sings that line in the first track, “Mister money man, mister every day he got me, mister weather me down, Mister me love, mister Miyagi…” it just knocks me out. The whole record can sit back comfortably, and still it will have your rapt attention. Also, despite having an intricate arrangement and at times particularly contemporary subject matter, the feel of the whole is timeless. There are nods to jazz, soul, R&B, and hip hop without any worry of where the music sits in our time. It’s confident in its own time, I think it’s a confidence that a lot of listeners have been hungry for, myself included.
I put “Room 25” on in the van on one of the longer travel days of our last tour overseas; I think we were in England somewhere, and we just played the whole record through. It’s exhilarating when a record someone puts on seems exactly right for a shared experience. Great music enters a space and enhances it. This is especially powerful if an album as a whole is strong, then it becomes akin to storytelling, like a play or film. Because it’s been a few years since I chose music as a career path, I didn’t realize until recently how rarely I’ve allowed myself the humble pleasure of shared listening. It sounds extreme, but think of the handful of times when you felt the person next to you also listening to a song intently. What an incredible kind of generosity, that music can offer community. The other day I heard on the radio that we are all actually becoming worse at listening. Knowing that it’s still possible for me to share joy, in a nation seething at current events mirroring our collective isolation and feeding our ravenous terror, it’s something I realize now I desperately needed. We played “Room 25” right around sunset—there were storm clouds so the light on the fields we passed was even more exaggerated. I’ll keep that moment with me for a while.
“Bad sleep triggered by bad government” is one line that seems particularly of this time to me, but I doubt it’s a concept unique to 2018, especially for anyone who isn’t white and male. Overall, the whole focus of this album is fearless observation, both outward and inward, which to me is the greatest form of writing. It’s also the kind of writing that will always be of its time.
There are a lot of realizations to which many of us are only just waking up. I hope we continue to do so. It is often painful, but it brings wisdom. With wisdom enters a solace that terror can never provide. Room 25 is proof. In my opinion this album stands on its own. I think it will survive long past the lists of this year. It’s just a very strong work.
(Photo Credit: Left, Scott Troyan)