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’

 

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Favorite New Music: November

  1. Sho Baraka The Narrative

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Sho Baraka’s departure from Reach Records turned out to be a much needed source of inspiration. Baraka released the racially-themed Talented 10th, and was a little too adult for the Reach crew: a group whose mission statement was focused on creating youth group rap music. After 2012, however, other Reach artists began following Baraka’s lead, and Christian rap began getting political: Lecrae’s biggest album, Anomaly; Derek Minor’s Minorville, then Empire; and even Tedashii’s very personal eulogy album Below Paradise. None of these projects would have been green-lit without Baraka’s initial move.

This new album is 2 1/2 years in the making, and it is more emotionally varied than Talented 10th. The instrumentals are poppy, and some are jazzy thanks to James Portier’s involvement. Lots of symbol bell percussion hits and soul samples flood the body of the record. Thematically, this album focuses on the black experience in the United States, as well as Baraka’s personal faith system. It is much less religiously preachy than his early projects, and uses God as a personal confidant rather than the product of which Baraka is selling.

Standout Track: “Love, 1959

2. STRFKR Being No one, Going Nowhere

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This album makes me want to grow an ironic mustache, wear a dress shirt, go to a party, and politely bounce back and forth in the corner of the room.

Standout Track: “Tape Machine

3. Lambchop FLOTUS

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A vocoder album through-and-through, FLOTUS creates subtle and sometimes moving songs. Lots of the instrumentation is sparce and quiet, leaving room for the vocal performance to rise to the top. Lambchop creates an album that leans more toward Bon Iver’s self-titled album.

Standout Track: “JFK

4. Alicia Keys Here

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Alicia Keys’ newest album is an interesting counterpoint to Solange’s release A Seat at the Table: Both are politically charged thematically, and both from African-American pop singers, but the later is much more subdued than what is on Here. There are varying moods on this album, which makes for a more colorful experiences.

Standout Track: “The Gospel

5. E-40 The D Boy Diary: Book 2

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In a world where mumble rappers earn more money than most hard-working citizens, it’s nice to know, at least, there are working rappers out there who can spit circles around the young guns (some of whom appear here). Just one listen to songs like “Fired Up” or “Gangsta Song” remind listeners that rappers should be responsible for mastering their craft, and not simply tagging their name on a catchy beat. Never mind the ridiculous track list (44 songs!), the more the merrier for Mr. E-4o.

Standout Track: “On One

Other Solid Releases: DAWN Redemption ; SiMS More Than Ever

 

 

 

Favorite New Music: October

Cakes Da Killa Hedonism

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The front end of Hedonism has rapper Cakes Da Killa spitting over thumping techno beats, which propels the album with high energy. “New Phone (Who Dis)” moves the album into a poppier field with a beat complete with syncopated rim shots and a synth melody reminiscent of late 2000s pop rap. The down tempo, moodier songs “Tru Love” and “Revelations (Outro) are a nice reprieve from the heavy bass hits, and balances out the album from the back end of the track list.

Standout Track: “New Phone (Who Dis)

Jeff Rosenstock Worry.

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Life-long outcast Jeff Rosenstock comes through with another solid emo rock album that nearly rivals the near-perfect We Cool? of a few years back. A short documentary was produced to back the album, and shows Jeff’s strong vision for this higher budget project.

Standout Track: “Wave Goodnight to Me

D.D Dumbo Utopia Defeated

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Standout Track: “Satan

New Wave can seem, well, old. Utopia Defeated is soaked in sonic nostalgia, but the dance rock beats and the very Sting-esque vocals create a fun album for dancing. This is a strong debut album for the group as they are added to the 4AD roster.

Lewis Del Mar S/T

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This acoustic dance duo have found their footing in popular culture with their single “Loud(y)” and much of this album features similar musical tropes: simple, distorted percussion, single-note lead guitar melodies, and vocals akin to that of Imagine Dragons’ cleaner tunes. The more cut-and-paste the instruments, the more energy the group exudes in their work.

Standout Track: “Malt Liquor

Joyce Manor Cody

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There is something special when a band gets away with selling the lines: “What do you think about Kanye West? / I think that he’s the great, I think he’s the best / Yeah, I think he’s better than John Steinbeck / I think he’s better than Phil Hartman.” Is it stupid? Yes. Is it brilliant? I can’t tell.

Standout Track: “Fake I.D.

More Solid Albums: Phantogram Three ; Acid Arab Musique de France ; The Game 1992 ; Bell X1 Arms ; NxWorries Yes Lawd! ; The Radio Dept.Running Out of Love ; C Duncan The Midnight Sun

 

 

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: April

  1. Weezer The White Album

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With each new album, Weezer has a polarizing effect on its listeners. The praises of glory-day releases like Pinkerton are countered by a bounty of justified criticisms. The “return-to-form” Everything Will Be Alright In the End was too quickly assigned its moniker, as many tracks feel just too on the nose and over the top…even for Rivers Cuomo and company. On the flip side, albums with terrible reviews (Make Believe, The Red Album, Raditude) all have amazing singles hidden somewhere in the track listings that fans adore. This new album, which continues the self-titled color scheme motif, eeks above the mediocre pile and sits somewhere around The Green Album in terms of overall greatness. The tunes are catchy and none of them beg to be avoided. If “inoffensive” is Weezer’s new game plan, then count me in. I miss the middle-of-the-road rock tunes Cuomo pens. There here in spades.

Standout Track: “Jacked Up

2. Gallant Ology

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Electronic R&B has a new contender: Gallant. The power falsetto the singer brings is countered with bassy, thudding drum rhythms and thick synth chords. Gallant’s style is a more direct throw-back to 90s era slow-jam R&B than, say, The Weeknd’s pop appeal or How to Dress Well’s alternative lane.

Standout Track: “Bone + Tissue

3. Aesop Rock The Impossible Kid

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Aesop Rock has the most commanding voice in hip-hop. Lots of rappers lean heavily on the production to create a compelling listening experience. Aesop Rock could rap with just a metronome and it would still hold strong as an effective art piece. Because of his overbearing tone, I have found Aesop’s side projects more digestible as he gets to share the microphone with other contributors (e.g. Hail Mary Mallon’s Rob Sonic, The Uncluded’s Kimya Dawson, and the collaborative EP Lice with Homeboy Sandman). On his newest full-length solo project, Aesop tells us amusing tales and showcases his deep lexicon. It’s all fairly even-keeled from track to track and the full-length music video is a lovely visual paring.

Standout Track: “Lotta Years

4. Big Black Delta Trágame Tierra

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80’s synth dance music might never die. And that’s alright. Big Black Delta’s new LP has some sounds that are ripped straight from a 1980’s Hollywood montage scene. Kimbra makes a haunting appearance on the Halloween-esque tune “Bitten by the Apple” and Debbie Gibson lends her vocals to the very dancy “RCVR.” A lot of fun for the dance floor on this release.

Standout Track: “Kid Icarus

Other Solid Releases: Frankie Cosmos Next Thing; Gwen Stafani This is What The Truth Feels Like, Deftones Gore, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Fields PersonA, Suuns Hold/Still

 

 

 

Favorite New Music: March 2016

  1. Into it. Over it. Standards

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Evan Weiss’ project as Into It. Over It. sounds like the best versions of emo-rock from the mid-late 2000s. There’s chord progression, and even guitar tone, that one might find on Death Cab For Cutie’s Narrow Stairs. Even Weiss’ vocals have Ben Gibbard gloss all over tracks like “Closing Arguments” and album opener “Open Casket.” The drummer, on the other hand, it let loose on the albums best tracks and the duo create some exciting indie rock tunes.

Standout Track: “Adult Contempt

2. Miike Snow iii

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Britney Spears’ pop monolith “Toxic” is my favorite pop song. It’s my go-to karaoke song. It’s one of two cover songs my band has learned. It just rocks. Turns out, two of the three members of Swedish electro-pop group Miike Snow produced that song over ten years ago! Miike Snow’s previous releases (apply titled i and ii) have both had songs on my best-of-the-year lists and this release proves to be no different. The sonic textures here remind me of Foster The People’s debut record Torches when it comes to syth tones and melodic phrasing. And just like FTP, this trio is groovy as hell on some tracks, and pulls out some great lyrical play on others. Not only to mention, the music video for “Genghis Khan” may be hard to beat as my favorite music video of 2016. We’ll see!

Standout Track: “Genghis Khan

3. The Knocks 55

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The Knocks debut album is like listening to the best party playlist your cool friend painstakingly pieced together, but without their incessant sleeve-tugging quips to distract and annoy you. This LP is all over the place, but its core is steeped in nostalgia for places (“New York City”) modernized takes on antiquated grooves (“Classic”) and coupled with like-minded artists just as eager to live in bygone eras (e.g. Carly Rae Jepsen, X Ambassadors, WALK THE MOON). A majority of these songs dip into that anti-party sound akin to Alessia Care’s work, but the party is the point on every track here.

Standout Track: “Collect My Love” (feat. Alex Newell)

4. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down A Man Alive

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Back in 2013, when I first caught wind of Thao Nguyen’s band, it ended up on my favorite albums of the year list as well as setting the benchmark for great band names. Three years later, Thao releases an album that is like a tUnE-yArDs art-rock project. As it turns out, Merrill Garbus herself produced this latest LP and it is cut from the same sonic cloth: distorted mic effects, choral vocal backup melodies, heavy drums, and endlessly interesting lyrics. A huge win here for Thao!

Standout Track: “Departure

5. M. Ward More Rain

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M. Ward has been a busy man as one half of She & Hims many releases, but he’s back for another solo record, and it is just as classic and moody as one might expect. The hollow-body guitar sounds beautiful soaking M.Ward’s usual reverb and delay effects. More of what we love here on More Rain.

Standout Track: “I’m Going Higher

More Solid Releases: Primal Scream Chaosmosis; Baauer Aa; Bent Shapes Wolves of Want; Policia United Crushers; Wussy S/T; Cub Sport This Is Our Vice;

 

 

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