This is the first of four installments looking back at some musical highlights of the year.
These are my top selections for best Turkish albums to have come out in 2017. They are the albums that defined Turkish music – albeit alternatively – in 2017, and are some of the most substantive releases to have come out from this country in over a decade. Turkish music is growing and finding its distinct sensibility and musical quality; these artists are daring, intrepid and fully realized in their sonic output.
Jakuzi: “Fantezi Müzik”
A complete magnum opus that is as original as Turkish music has been in decades. Theatrical, dramatic and over-the-top, Jakuzi’s “Fantezi Müzik” is the best Turkish album of 2017. Dealing with themes of erotic obsession, freedom of self-expression and the all-encompassing consumerism of love, Jakuzi is not a band that shies away from source material – and this debut is a testament to their raw emotional honesty. The album originally came out in 2016, albeit independently through Bandcamp, but has since been released by a major label (with the addition of four new songs), as it had gained an overwhelming – and probably unexpected – cult following. It is nonchalant in its sense of the world, yet almost overly observant. The album dances around the fine line between the horrid and the utterly brilliant, and emerges gloriously every time. Each and every song on the album is a masterpiece; every stroke on the synthesizer is the perfect one, and every lyric is expressed with pulsating emotion. It breaks your heart and mends it at the next beat. A wide, expansive space in the middle of nowhere, hosting the most beautiful of parties, “Fantezi Müzik” is a promised land among the ruins.
Büyük Ev Ablukada: “FIRTINAYT”
A tour de force from the indie masterminds, Büyük Ev Ablukada’s “FIRTINAYT” is a brisk dance record that traverses a path completely untrodden in Turkish music. The synth-based sonic motif of the album is extremely masterful, to a point where it is hard to believe such production is Turkish – because it is just so unprecedented in our culture of music. The album also bears testament to some of the most daringly complex songwriting to come out of Turkey, and the band performs these lines effortlessly. The album is colossal and monumental; it demands attention and draws out your absolute best dance moves. As Büyük Ev wearily searches for a meaning amidst all that is lost, they touch the strings of pure delight out of thin air – and play the audience like an instrument. And we are just glad that they exist to do so.
Ezhel’s brilliance is born not exclusively out of his transformative approach to Turkish rap or the cutting-edge production of his songs – it is, beyond these things, a result of his ability to capture and define what Ankara is and why it’s worthy of our attention. Ankara, apart from being the capital, is a city much disdained for its reputed monotony – being known as a city of memurs (bureaucrats) – and as a result, very few artists have really tried to understand its unique civic qualities. In songs like “Şehrimin Tadı” (The Flavor of My City), Ezhel effortlessly raps about Ankara, in all its faded glory. He shines a light into its darkest geographic and human corners – the suburbs, the outcasts – and builds a monument from the hardships and sufferings of everyday people. To live in Ankara as a young adult today is to also see yourself in Ezhel’s songs, to rap alongside him about your city – and to feel for once like you belong to somewhere truly magnificent. The album’s realism demonstrates an outlook common to this generation, arguably to an extreme – as indicated when a friend of mine pointed out the Bilkent vehicle sticker in one of the rapper’s music videos and asked, “Is he one of us?” This is an album that hands-down deserves its commercial attention – as well as its critical recognition as the best Turkish rap album to come out in ages.
Son Feci Bisiklet: “Kötü Şeyler”
Bilkent’s very own Son Feci Bisiklet has returned with their sophomore album “Kötü Şeyler,” a refined alternative rock album that both captures the brilliance of their debut and elevates their characteristic sound. Frontman Arda Kemirgent’s vocal performance shines as he delivers each lyric with the accompanying emotional weight – the music is fun, but also contemplative. The band once again proves that they are not just a passing breeze but a musical movement that is current and definitive of the moment.
Palmiyeler: “II (Venus)”
To listen to Palmiyeler is to feel the warm summer breeze on your cheeks as you walk out of your cottage to see the waves breaking on the ocean early in the morning. The youthful cheer of their songs makes the listener question why, for so long, such songs were not produced in Turkey. But Palmiyeler emerges out of this confusion with an impeccable vision that paints the world with the soothing tranquility of cerulean and indigo. It’s been a long time since a band this young has created an ageless sense of perpetual serenity with their sonic aesthetic. “II (Venus)” is such a great album that it will make you want to fall in love in a pre–internet era summer disco.
Lara di Lara: Hazineler İçindesin
123 frontwoman Dilara Sakpınar’s solo effort Lara di Lara has seen her striking out along a different musical path from her band, and “Hazineler İçindesin” is representative of her geographical decisions. All songs are written and sung in Turkish (unlike 123’s bilingual oeuvre), with exceptional emotive taste and lyrical sensibility. Sakpınar’s vocal performance is currently unrivaled; she extends herself to the corners of her ability to broadcast her understanding of the world. Through 16 songs that capture her experiences through life and marriage, she offers a European sense of sonic expression that is also deeply Turkish. “Gün Doğumuna” and “Hazineler İçindesin” are standouts that shouldn’t be missed.