New Music: April 2017

  1. Sylvan Esso What Now

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The pop duo Sylvan Esso has produced the best tunes you’d likely hear at a Starbucks over the last few years, and the group’s new project incorporates more samples and drums, but keeps the songs tight and catchy.

Standout Track: “Radio”

2. Bishop Briggs S/T

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Airy folk vocals placed atop simple electronic backing tracks. This project is very much like Marian Hill, or even some Sylvan Esso work, but the lead vocals  here are much more powerful and soulful.

Standout Track: “Wild Horses”

3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN.

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This is the worst Kendrick Lamar album, sure, but the worst of the best, in this case, is still worthy of some praise. The through-line on this project comes much less intelligible than Lamar’s last two full-length projects, both in its narrative and its sonic palate. Tracks like “DNA” and “HUMBLE” are unavoidable bangers, the best of the year, and the lengthy and contemplative “FEAR” is something more akin to what I loved in Lamar’s previous work…but then there’s “GOD” and “LOVE” : terrible tracks for any artist.

Standout Track: “DNA”

4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy

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A continuation of the approach to I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty creates lush songs tackling the aches and pains of living as a critic of/participant in western pop culture. Some of the instrumental choices have changed, but the melodies here could’ve winded up on either album. The humor is thick and black and paired with 70’s pop…it’s a formula that’ll work until Father John Misty himself becomes the next Taylor Swift.

Standout Track: “Total Entertainment Forever”

Other Solid Releases: The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions ; Future Islands, The Far Field ; Feist, Pleasure

 

 

Favorite New Music: March

1.Grandaddy Last Place

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This new Grandaddy sounds like what Sparklehorse might have released had he won his battle with depression and created a record of victory and positivity. The tunes are catchy and pleasantly upbeat. The tone of the singer’s voice gives the songs depth to what might otherwise go down as saccharine pop rock tunes.

Standout Track: “Brush with the Wild

2.WHY? Moh Lhean

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In Yoni Wolf’s podcast, Wandering Wolf, the front man of WHY? often communicates his continual fight to stay positive despite perpetual health issues. In this new album, Yoni continues that theme to create the band’s best album since 2008’s Alopecia–a very different album in tone, but similar in song structure complexity. The rapping is takes a back seat to Wolf’s unusual voice, but the performance on these tracks is more solid than his recent efforts. I’m so happy this album is as solid as it is…and re-listenable as well!

Standout Track: “One Mississippi

3. Kool AD Sky Ladder

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It’s more of what you’d expect from the Bay Area stream-of-consciousness rapper, but with a new sound palate when it comes to his choice of instrumentals.

Standout Track: “FUCK THAT (Feat. Killer Mike)

 

Other Solid Releases: Sondre Lerche Pleasure ; Methyl Ethel Everything is Forgotten ; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah The Tourist ; Sorority Noise Not As ___________ As You Think

Favorite New Music: February

1.The Orwells Terrible Human Beings

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No special tricks or gimmicks here, just catchy 4/4 pop punk tunes from The Orwells.

Standout Track: “Black Francis

2.Surfer Blood Snowdonia

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From simple indie pop tunes to elaborate 7+ minute sonic journeys, Snowdonia surprises me on every listen. The vocal harmonies help carry the album through the less impressive moments, and the melodies cement John Paul Pitts as a formidable pop songwriter.

Standout Track: “Snowdonia

3.Jesca Hoop Memories Are Now

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Memories Are Now mishmashes Celtic, indie folk, and Americana into a unique record, and one that I would normally regard as “boring.” What makes this project interesting, however, are Hoop’s repeating hooks and unique instrumentation.

Standout Track: “Memories Are Now

4.Dirty Projectors S/T

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Break-up albums come at a great cost, but the power impact of many a somber works of art are my favorite. While this self-titled release is tragic in subject matter, the sonic palate is all over the place: there are indie pop tunes, alt r&b, and electronic dance songs. They meld well in this collection of tunes, and never have I been more invested in a Dirty Projectors album.

Standout Track: “Keep Your Name

Other Solid Releases : Mother Mother No Culture ; Thundercat Drunk ; Mozzy Fake Famous

Favorite New Music: December

Grace VanderWaal – Perfectly Imperfect EP

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I don’t think I’ve ever watched a whole episode of America’s Got Talent since back when that singing ventriloquist guy won. I have, however, seen plenty of clips on YouTube, and every performance Grace VanderWaal gave was well worth the 30 second ads. Her frail voice belts like a mini Sia, and the pop tunes on this EP establish VanderWaal as a purely musical experience rather than a TV gimmick.

Standout Track: “I Don’t Know My Name

Injury Reserve – Floss

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You you remember crunk? If not, it’s where Lil John came from…and continues to exist. The genre of rap faded as quickly as it rose: something about shouting all of your words takes a toll on the masses. The Arizona group Injury Reserve use those motifs and fit them into a 2016 hip hop context to great success. It’s chaotic, riot-inducing, and an incredibly fun listen.

Standout Track: “All This Money

The Trouble With Templeton – Someday, Buddy

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Winter is a time for Christmas music…that is, if you can stand the stuff. For others like myself, winter is a time for dreary music. Music that is good for lying in bed and crying if you’d like. The down tempo tunes of this newest LP might just do the trick. The guitar picking is a like Bon Iver, but the overall sound is dream pop if the dreams were only of longing and loss.

Standout Track: “1832

Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt.

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Tog Dog Entertainment’s 2016 releases have been hit and miss (Blankface LP, The Sun’s Tirade, Introverted Intuition) but they certainly saved the best for last! Ab-Soul’s creativity lies within his lyrical content, and again Ab-Soul uses religious themes and imagery to communicate this thoughts on life, love, sex, and drugs. The tracks are diverse and intriguing, and a great step forward from his previous full-length album Strange Days.

Standout Track: “Huey Knew THEN

 

Ricky Eat Acid – Talk To You Soon

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The chillwave project of Sam Ray takes the tropes of the genre and counters them with disparate parts on Talk To You Soon. Scattered throughout the album are classical piano melodies, trap hi hats, industrial bangs and thonks, 8-bit synths, and a hardcore vocal performance. Because of its diversity, the album doesn’t necessarily read as a cohesive project, but it turns out diversity is a benefit for keeping the listeners’ attention across the 16 tracks of this mostly-non-lyrical album.

Standout Track: “Nice To See You

Other Solid Releases: Soviet Soviet Endless; J. Cole For Your Eyez Only ; Kid Cudi Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’

 

Favorite New Music: September

  1. Clipping. Slender & Misery

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The space between the Wriggle EP, released earlier this year, and this sophomore album Clipping has swung the musical pendulum as far as it can swing in the hip-hop spectrum of styles and modes. On this LP, the bangers are all gone replaced by a long, winding story-album of a futuristic stowaway alone on a spaceship. The music serves almost more as a radio play than a traditional rap album, and that makes this release one to invest time into.

Standout Track: “Air ‘Em Out

2. Dawes We’re All Gonna Die

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With their ability to wrap dire scenarios with pleasant instrumentation, Dawes continues to play to their strengths on their new album, just one year after releasing the wonderful All Your Favorite Bands in 2015. On this project, the lyrics center on the temporal nature of people and how to hold onto the little moments and how to get rid of the bullshit before its too late. The sonic palate is wider on this project too, with keyboards and drum machines finding its way onto an album also feature steal guitar and ragtime piano.

Standout Track: “One of Us

3. Frank Ocean Blonde

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Despite being released earlier on the Tidal music platform, I got a hold of Blonde in September…and the wait revealed an thoughtful R&B album, but not altogether different from his previous triumphs in the genre under his other releases.

Standout Track: “Solo

4. Angel Olsen MY WOMAN

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Olsen’s newest album starts slow with a slow, reverb-soaked ballad, but then cranks out some fun, groovy rock tunes with vintage guitar sounds and a voice that was transported from the 1960s.

Standout Track: “Shut Up Kiss Me

5. Against Me! Shape Shift With Me

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I have always missed on Against Me! albums; more bands lost in the glut of great new music being released in recent years. This album gives me reason to explore the band’s back catalog, and especially the critically praised Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Simple rock tunes with catchy hooks run throughout this album, and the simplicity keeps Shape Shift an easy listening experience.

Standout Track: “Boyfriend

Other Solid Releases: Grouplove Big Mess ; Mac Miller Divine Feminine ;  Kishi Bashi Sonderlust ; Cymbals Eat Guitars Pretty Years ; Sin Fang Spaceland ; Isaiah Rashad The Sun’s Tirade ; Bon Iver 22, A Million ; Regina Specktor Remember Us To Life 

Favorite New Music: June

1.Clipping Wriggle

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Daveed Diggs is 1/2 a step away from household-name-level stardom after winning a Tony for his work in the unimaginably successful Broadway musical Hamilton. The educational, historical content of Hamilton is a great juxtaposition with this release: an EP of grimy, explicit rap verses paired with the industrial and jarring production that makes clipping worth multiple listens. Both “Wriggle” and “Hot Fuck No Love” are vile in their blatant sexual imagery, but it is delivered so well from such a talented rapper that I find myself feeling empathetic rather than reviled.

Standout Track: “Back Up”

2. Marian Hill Act One

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Marian Hill’s Sway project knocked me off my feet: a slim, special LP filled with roomy club R&B tunes. Here, the group continues their same format with few changes to the formula.

Standout Track: “Talk To Me”

3. Band of Horses Why Are You OK

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I haven’t really liked much of Band of Horses releases besides their early success Everything All The Time. Now, ten years later, BOH finds their niche again writing songs with memorable melodies and beautiful guitar tones. I think this album will grow more on me the more I listen to it this year.

Standout Track: “Solemn Oath

4. Will Butler Friday Night

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This live recording has solid rock songs from Butler’s project he helms outside of his work in Arcade Fire. This music has got a lot more punch and drive than anything recent from the indie group, and this album is charming because it includes playful dialogue between Will and the crowd. Most of the live concert recording are tracks from Butler’s debut album Policy, but the new tracks keep up the same enthusiasm and energy from the older tracks. It’s all fun in here.

Standout Track: “Public Defender

More Solid Releases: The Kills Ice & Age;  Pale Dian Narrow Birth ; Fitz and the Tantrums Fitz & the Tantrums; Red Hot Chili Peppers The Getaway

 

 

Favorite New Music: May 2016

Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial

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From the opening guitar licks in “Fill in the Blank” to the Dido reference in the middle of “The Ballad of Costa Concordia” Car Seat Headrest shows their songwriting prowess on this Matador Records debut. Will Toledo pens some killer drepressing lyrics and pairs the sentiments with indie guitar tunes that sit somewhere between surf rock, lo-fi, and punk. The songs are all very catchy, too, and melodies will stick around in your head, especially the refrain from “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”.

Standout Track: “Fill in the Blank

Mutual Benefit Skip a Sinking Stone

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Sometimes you need an album to just sit on the floor and soak in. For a long time, that album for me has been Burst Apart by The Antlers, but now it might have some company. These folk tunes from Jordan Lee deliver the mellow vibes through the lightly harmonized vocals and the thick, legato string arrangements.

Standout Track: “Not For Nothing

Nothing Tired of Tomorrow

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17 year old me would have been disappointed in his older self’s musical tastes. This album would have been written off as “too soft” in a world where nu-metal ruled and bpms under 140 were discarded. Nothing’s washed out opening tracks cresendo two minutes into “Vertigo Flowers” where the half time count builds into an incredible wall of sound. The album shows its 90’s sensibilities and holds a lot of similarities to the drugged out, dreamy songs of my early childhood. The nu-metal turns on at “A.C.D.” with harmonies one could find on a track by The Urge.

Standout Track: “A.C.D. (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)

Death Grips Bottomless Pit

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And then there’s Death Grips.

Standout Track: “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood

ANOHNI Hopelessness

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Have you ever been engaged with entertainment and cannot come to the conclusion whether you are either captivated or baffled? So continues my relationship with ANOHNI’s vocals on Hopelessness. The sexual ambiguity makes the music more difficult to categorize, which makes the album more interesting to explore. Plus, “4 Degrees” is a great pop song with one catchy hook.

Standout Track: “4 Degrees

Other Solid Releases: James Blake The Colour in Anything; Fruit Bats Absolute Loser; Homebody Sandman Kindness for Weakness; Yoni & Geti Testarossa; Chance the Rapper Coloring Book; Astronautalis Cut The Body Loose

 

 

New Music 2016: February

  1. The Jezabels Synthia

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If you’re like me and you’re spending your days waiting for news about a new M83 album, the wait is no more. Well, sorta. Synthia is cut from the same sonic cloth and even hosts a greater variance of themes and sounds than Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The lyrics are up in front, too, which helps carry across the lyrical intentions rather than the sheer pathos of heavy synth pads. This album is powerful and beautiful.

Standout Track: “Unnatural”

2. Eric Prydz Opus

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Is titled your album Opus arrogant, self-congratulating, or preemptive? Probably. But why wait for others to label your project? Cut out the middle man! Eric Prydz creates a long and consistent album of house/techno beats that eek inside your brain and still there in the back crevasses, whispering sweet 1s and 0s.

Standout Track: “Black Dyce”

3. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

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The Grammy-winning combo that ruled pop-rap radio a handful of years ago is back with a sophomore album that is just as balanced as the first: silly Macklemore vs. overtly serious Macklemore. The new and old generations of rap appear together on this project and Ryan Lewis produces tracks that both dip into current trends and recreate funky, jazzy tracks from yesteryear. It’s a solid follow-up, but I have a feeling this album will not be nearly as omnipresent as The Heist was in 2012.

Standout Track “Brad Pitt’s Cousin

4. Diiv Is The Is Are

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Jangly guitars and I have been on an off-again-on-again relationship. Even the way these guitars look put me off. Despite all of that, Diiv creates a pleasant garage rock/surf rock sound with simple tunes constructed from complicated guitar parts. This is the sound of cool kid rock and I’ll be damned if I miss out on another rock trend.

Standout Track: “Dopamine”

Also Great: Radiation City Synesthetica, Kevin Gates Islah, Sunflower Bean Human Ceremony, Animal Collective Painting With, Ra Ra Riot Need Your Light, BJ The Chicago Kid In My Mind, Astronautalis Yikes! Ep; Mothers S/T. 

 

New Music 2016: January

  1. Anderson.Paak Malibu

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The mind that was behind the scenes for Dr. Dre’s return-to-form release Compton has released his sophomore album titled Malibu. I didn’t give Compton much attention, but this album has been replayed more than any other album this month. Paak’s voice is so soulful and is paired with some beautiful piano progressions. The guest rappers are solid on each of their appearances (BJ the Chicago Kid stands above veteran rapper Talib Kweli and more celebrated rapper Schoolboy Q). The funky tunes are too fun to stop listening to and owe a lot to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. I hope Anderson.Paak dips his hands into more projects in 2016.

Standout Track: “Come Down

2. David Bowie Blackstar

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David Bowie’s final album is a dark journey into the final stages of life: acceptance, regret, looming doom. Bowie’s voice sounds withered and soulful, but the standout for this record is the instrumental group backing up the legendary artist. It’s very jazzy with elements of hip-hop, industrial music, and the classic ballad. It is an impressive finally for Mr. Bowie: a farewell gift for fans.

Standout Track: “Sue (or in a season of crime)

3. Lecrae Church Clothes 3

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Lecrae’s Church Clothes mixtape series has been his “cross-over” projects where the Christian rapper invites secular artists into featuring verses as if to say “Hey, look, I appreciate worldy rappers, but, sadly, they’re still going to hell.” The third issue of this series, similar to the rapper’s last full-length album Anomaly, moves from religious issues to topics of racism, classism, and gang violence. The moody production is much more cohesive than the first two mixtapes, but there is no standout banger here.

Standout Track: “Gangland” feat. Propaganda

4. Panic! At The Disco Death of a Bachelor 

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The parallel journeys of Panic! and Fallout Boy have always been weirdly synchronized since both groups debuted their breakout albums in 2005. Death of a Bachelor is Panic’s version of Save Rock & Roll and American Beauty/American Psycho in that this album is a love letter to past musical movements. Brandon Urie swings from an impressive Frank Sinatra impression on “Death of a Bachelor” to a late 2000s dance pop song on “LA Devotee” to the sonic potpourri “Victorious” that feels too much like FOB’s “Uma Thurman.” The points where Panic! distance themselves from their musical counterparts are the more memorable moments of this record, and of their career.

Standout Track: “Death of a Bachelor

Other Releases Worth Mentioning: Daughter’s Not To Disappear; Savages’ Adore Life; St. Lucia’s Matter; MONEY’s Suicide Songs

 

2015: Favorite Tracks and Albums

Favorite Tracks (outside of my favorite albums)

12. “Genghis Khan” Miike Snow

This funky disco track has been stuck in my head since it was released just one month ago. Simple and catchy: the winning combination for pop.

11. “Four Five Seconds” Rihanna feat. Kanye West, Paul McCartney

While none of the artists involved with this minimal rock tune released their own albums in 2015, they all come together on this simple, cathartic anthem to nearly losing your cool. Here’s hoping Kanye and Rihanna’s 2016 releases use this track as a reference point.

1o. “I Believe” KB feat. Mattie for Today

Take a popular cheer from a football stadium and remix it into a loud banger. Is it low hanging fruit in terms of sampling? Maybe. Is it heart-pumping and wonderful? Yes.

9. “Powerful” Major Lazar feat. Ellie Goulding, Tarrus Riley

Putting a pop song in 6/8 might not seem like a bold move, but this swinging duet made this track stand out from the rest of the songs on the radio this year. Props to Diplo and everyone in Major Lazar. What a year!

8. “You Got Spirit, Kid” Coheed and Cambria

Sometimes, we all can use a heavy dose of humble pie. Few songs provide such strong helpings, but this pop-punk song from the metal band leaves us with the succinct “Nobody gives a fuck who you are.”

7. “Ill Mind of Hopsin 7” Hopsin

Hopsin’s brief dip into Christianity nearly paralleled my own, so hearing this song on his 2015 album Pound Syndrome was such a powerful and meaningful connection. His anger comes through loud and clear to my ears.

6. “Good for You” Selena Gomez feat. A$AP Rocky

Here it is: The sexiest song of 2015. Good God.

5. “All My Friends” Snakehips feat. Chance the Rapper, Tinashe

I’m a sucker for Chance the Rapper. Anything he does I love. Here, however, he doesn’t shine quite as bright as the hook. This is modern R&B gold for a generation of delinquents.

4. “Honey I’m Good” Andy Grammar

Who says ‘good guys finish last?’ Andy Grammar’s foot-stomping ode to a far-off lover serves as a palate cleaner to some of the seedier messages of many of 2015’s pop and rap hits.

3. “The Hills” The Weeknd

The Weeknd’s two biggest hits, “The Hills” and “I Can’t Feel My Face,” sound like polar opposites one first listen. One is dark and moody and the latter is poppy and groovy. As it turns out, the first is about sex and the second is about cocaine. “The Hills” wins it out for me by a hair because the scary instrumental and booming 808 bass hits are too awesome to ignore.

2.“Where are U Now” Jack U feat Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber’s resurgence into pop music has nothing to do with his abilities as a singer. It has everything to do with his public self-deprecation and his choice of producers. Songs like “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean” are held up solely, but strongly, by the instrumentals. The same goes for the group Jack U (Diplo and Skrillex) who cut and paste the daylights out of Bieber to create a song well out of the singer’s natural abilities.

1. “Downtown” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Taking the number 1 spot for both favorite track and favorite music video is the Pacific Northwest’s own Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. This song serves as a sonic response to Bruno Mars’ and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” (technically a 2014 release) and does more with the funk themes and vocal hooks. The chorus is nothing sort of epic, the humor is fun, the best-producer award should be ripped from Pharell’s hands and placed as Ryan Lewis’ feet. BONUS: The music video is filmed in Ryan Lewis and I’s hometown, Spokane!

Favorite Albums

10. Dawes All Your Favorite Bands

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Part dream pop, part folk rock, and all good for the soul, Dawes’ latest album is such a great project that is focused on supporting the lyrics. There are some great Americana lines in this LP: “Let’s raise a glass to all the people you’re not speaking to”; “I hope all your favorite bands stay together” and the like. Simple, beautiful writing.

Favorite Tracks: “Things Happen”, “All Your Favorite Bands”

9. Melanie Martinez Crybaby

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Dark yet poppy. Eerie yet fun. Melanie Martinez’s full-length album carries this juxtaposition throughout and unleashes some of 2015’s best pop songs.

Favorite Tracks: “Alphabet Boy” “Sippy Cup” “Cry baby” “Carousel

8. A$AP Rocky At.Long.Last.A$AP

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Following up Long.Live. A$AP should have been much harder than this. The dark and moody sophomore LP from one of the more popular rappers today soars above the other early releases from his cohort (Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler, Vince Staples, Joey, Action Bronson, et al).

Holy Ghost” feat. Joe Fox “L$D

7. The Wombats The Wombats

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2015 was a year that made it clear Passion Pit’s steam is fading. Who will be ready to carry the torch of electro-pop synth euphoria? Well, there’s quite a few. The Wombats are my favorite contender in that race and this album delivers on happy anthems and thudding downbeats to dance to. We’re going to be okay.

Favorite Tracks: “Give Me A Try” “Your Body Is A Weapon

6. Miguel WILDHEART 

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I never got into Kaleidoscope Dream. R&B and I had not yet been properly introduced. After the R&B gateway drugs of James Blake and Frank Ocean, Miguel’s second album was welcomed into my earholes and brainwaves. And there he stayed.

Favorite Tracks: “Coffee” “what’s normal anyway” “NWA

5. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly  

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There is no denying the obvious truth: This is the best rap album of 2015. It might be the best rap album of this decade. Too important to be relegated into obscure music circles, too banging to be boring, too dense to be short-changed as pop-rap. Kendrick outdoes and outgrows his former self from Good Kid M.a.a.D City and has given us a project to reflect on and use as a rap touchstone.

Favorite Tracks: “Alright” “i” “Momma” “Hood Politics

4. Jeff Rosenstock We Cool?

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This is a pop-punk hail-marry. Simple and brash and unapologetic with its heavy dose of feels, We Cool? somehow epitomizes what I lived through as a young adult thus far. Not to mention, the video for “Nausea” is fantastic.

Favorite Tracks: “Nausea” “Get Old Forever” “You, In Weird Cities

3. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment Surf

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We didn’t get an official Change the Rapper follow-up to his magnificent mixtape Acid Rap. What we did get in 2015 was an unexpected left turn: Chance used his fame to promote his group of friends called “The Social Experiment.” Their first project was fronted (although oddly not prominently featuring) Donnie Trumpet. The group still packs a punch with its soulful arrangements and there are a half-dozen uncredited cameos from today’s best rappers.

Slip Slide” “Wanna Be Cool” “Familiar” “Sunday Candy

2. Marian Hill Sway

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I don’t know who Marian Hill is. I don’t know because, somehow, no one on the internet is talking about this album. WHY THE HELL NOT?! Hill’s style falls into the minimalist electronic field a la Sylvan Esso or even Lorde. The tracks are light but groovy and each track just adds to the mood.

Favorite Tracks: “Got It” “One Time” “Lips

 

And #1… FIDLAR  Too 

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2015 was the year by band became a top priority. We’ve been recording our first album, we won a battle of the bands competition this summer, we’ve played a handful of fun shows. This album (not my band) has captured what I hope to accomplish when our record is all said and done. These guys are having tons of fun and its evident from track #1. It’s loud and obnoxious at times and punky as hell. I guess this was the year for sophomore albums…so…”sophomore slump” my ass.

Favorite Tracks: “40 oz on Repeat” “West Coast” “Why Generation” “Sober