New Music: April 2017

  1. Sylvan Esso What Now

sylvan-esso-what-now-2

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

C9aM4kIUAAAE2Y0

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.

Damn._Kendrick_Lamar

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

fjm pure comedy

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: May 2016

Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial

car seat headrest

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

mutual-benefit-skip-a-sinking-stone

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

nothing_tiredoftomorrow

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

gripsalbumgood

And then there’s Death Grips.

Standout Track: “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood

ANOHNI Hopelessness

ANHONI

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

 

 

Favorite New Music: March 2016

  1. Into it. Over it. Standards

IIOI-Standards-Cover

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

Miike-Snow-iii-2016-2480x2480

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

theKnocks_55_Cover_final_gjmi37

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

Thao-Get-Down-Stay-Down--A-Man-Alive-album-cover

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

m ward

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;

 

 

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

dawes-all-your-favorite-bands-album-stream

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

Melanie Martinez

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

AtLongLastASAPCover

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

wmbts_glitterbug_CD_Vinyl-cover

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 

miguel wildheart

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  

kendrick-lamar-album-artwork-to-pimp-a-butterfly-000

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?

jeff rosenstock we col

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

surf

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

marian hill sway

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 

FIDLAR_TOO_CD_FRONT2-350x350

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

New Music: March

1. J. Monty – Level 54

level54

Christian Rapper J. Monty is one of Rapzilla’s Freshman Class of 2015 and has released the Level 54 mixtape as an introduction to a much larger audience. The focus here seems to be J. Monty’s lyrical skills as two of the tracks exist solely to give J. Monty space to spit one hundred bars. The personal indulgence is entertaining and doesn’t become dulling.

Standout Track: “100 Bars

2. Purity Ring – Another Eternity

91auXinrmCL._SL1500_

Purity Ring’s debut album got a lot of attention, and deservedly, but from an interesting individual: rapper Danny Brown. The trip-hop electronic group produce another beautiful album with a heavy dose of hip-hop beats covered by beautiful female vocals. In retrospect, Purity Ring might have been responsible for getting my hooked on the subdued electronic music with female vocalists (Ellie Goulding, Lorde, ODEZA, Banks, and everyone else).

Standout Track: “bodyache

3. Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

Action_Bronson_Mr._Wonderful

Sometimes a rapper’s staying power is determined by their personality. More charistmatic personalities that outshine their musical talents often come and go quickly. Action Bronson has a lot to prove in order to keep himself in the business: he’s a 31-year-old white chef (with the body type to match) from Queens complete with a big, red beard. He sounds strikingly similar to Ghostface Killah, but worse comparisons could be made. His mixtapes have delivered a lot of comedy and here he continues with his fun personality. The professional shine of a debut album is a little distracting, but when Bronson gets to rap, it’s hard not to listen again and again.

Standout Track: “Baby Blue featuring Chance the Rapper

4. Death Grips – Jenny Death

jenny-death-1200

Here’s a snippet of lyrics from Jenny Death: “Spit on you, spit on me/ All we know spit must be us/ Spit fits us, we spit and sniff/ We sniff and clutch each other’s fate/ I don’t care about real life, I don’t care about real life.” So, there ya go.

Standout Track: “On GP

Favorite Music Video of the Month: