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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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