January Music Recap


As the Maine wind chills persist and our semester woes multiply, it’s important to find things that instill a simple warm glow. Whether that be exercise, catching up with friends, movie watching or just resting, having that ray of sunshine can benefit your day significantly. 

Personally, my form of escape is listening to music and thinking about how it sounds and what it could mean. With this article and with more to come, I invite you to join me in that passion, as here, I will break down three releases from January. Additionally, I want this to be a community. No one person should have a monopoly on opinions, so if you have something you want to share about these albums I discussed, let me know in the comments! I’d like for this to be vibrant and interactive.

With that being said, let’s dive in. I want to talk about “Dawn FM” by The Weeknd, “Aboogi” by Imarhan and “Three Dimensions Deep” by Amber Mark. This isn’t a list of my favorite January releases per se; rather, they’re albums from the month I’d like to discuss.

Beginning with The Weeknd, “Dawn FM” is the artist’s fifth LP, which succeeds his impactful 2020 release, “After Hours.” With “Dawn FM,” he’s expanding and doubling down on themes that were prominent on “After Hours,” including synthpop and ‘80s nostalgia. 

What needs to be addressed is that The Weeknd is remarkably good at this sound. He wears his influences on his sleeve, but that doesn’t stop him from making great songs. Weeks later, I still have that distorted guitar loop from “Sacrifice” playing in my head even when I’m not thinking of the track.

More instrumental highlights for me are the tight synth backings present on many numbers, especially “How Do I Make You Love Me” and “Take My Breath.” I’m also keen on when he’ll say a line and then ‘respond to it,’ if you will, in a much higher voice. It’s this kind of intensifying emotion that never fails to catch my attention.

The Weeknd’s futuristic yet nostalgic “Dawn FM” is a dynamic album that carries some pluses and minuses.

My sole gripe with this album is that it’s going for an ambitious concept without the lyrical substance I would expect. To explain, it seems that “Dawn FM” is a mysterious radio station that you tune into; as the listener (and possibly The Weeknd ) finishes listening to this ‘station,’ they will have completed a journey to process their inner struggles and make self-improvement. Musically, this idea works. The sometimes haunting guidance of Jim Carrey, the album’s narrator, as well as many rich songs that feel like the listener is engulfed within The Weeknd’s demons, all fit the theme well.

However, lyrically, nearly every song is concerned with the love, tension and relationship fallouts. Given how reflective and ponderous the closing monologue, “Phantom Regret by Jim” is, a stronger diversity of topics within the core of the album would’ve been appreciated.

Switching gears musically and geographically, I want to talk about a fascinating album and type of music that I hope everyone will check out. This next album is called “Aboogi” by a West African quintet called Imarhan. The genre that this group lies in is known as desert blues. One of the most interesting types of fusion I’ve discovered, desert blues mixes American blues/rock with traditional Tuareg music, a type of sound coming out of North and West Africa. What results from this musical blender is something incredibly dusty and nomadic that’s laced with a strong sense of community.

Having gotten its start in a military base during the late 20th century, desert blues became a way for the Tuareg people to find solace as they dealt with the hardships of being geographically displaced. Since these songs are performed in a language I can’t translate, I’m examining these songs solely on how they sound and the feelings they convey.

Dusty and poised are what best describes Imarhan’s latest release of Tuareg desert blues, “Aboogi.”

Jumping in, the opening track, “Achinkad,” epitomizes the great qualities that so often pertain to the genre. It begins slowly with somewhat hollow drums giving this trotting effect. As it builds, more voices come in and they harmonize beautifully. What’s found here, and on many other tracks, are these swelling choruses, all sung in a deep range that almost sound like humming. This humming consumes the ears so magnificently that I was mesmerized in a way I wasn’t expecting, even when I’ve heard this kind of song multiple times.

Halfway through “Achinkad,” the band pauses for a guitar solo that gels in this gritty way with the rich and subdued vocals. Within this solo, the guitar is accompanied by what I think is a woodwind instrument native to their region, creating an enthralling shriek.

Nearly every song on “Aboogi” is a standout for me; I’m only not crazy about the slower and less zestful tracks like “Temet” and “Laouni.”

Finally, I hope you packed your R&B boots, because we’re headed to a world of silky female vocals, funky basslines and pouring your heart with Amber Mark’s latest full-length album, “Three Dimensions Deep.”

For me, this album is a mature look at Mark’s troubles and triumphs. Tracks like the opening two, “One” and “What It Is,” allow her to vent her frustrations with life before transitioning to a contemplative, organ-filled track titled, “Most Men.” Hearing those first two songs paints an interesting picture that seems to express how, after taking the time to let go of what was holding her down, Mark is now able to perform “Most Men.” The song features Mark giving advice to another woman — maybe herself — about the troubles most men come with. Later down the album, there are more instances where Amber is motivating another person and/or herself, and it comes off marvelously.

There are also plenty of tracks that see Amber just being okay with deciding to live her life and have fun, namely “Bubbles,” “FOMO” and “Foreign Things,” which, given all the problems she details, it’s great that she’s letting loose.

“Three Dimensions Deep” finds Amber Mark opening up about many of her emotions in a mature and musically-rich way.

Putting topics aside, this record simply sounds beautiful. Amber is an extraordinarily talented singer whose vocals resound delightfully. Let it also be said that this is an hour-length album that Amber carries without a single feature. In a musical climate where rappers put out studio releases laden with phoned-in features, it’s inspiring to see the effort and devotion with which Amber put “Three Dimensions Deep” together.

Hopefully you enjoyed my thoughts, and if you have something you want to contribute to the discussion, drop a comment.