Favorite New Music: September

The National Sleep Well Beast

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It’s been five years since The National’s previous album, Trouble Will Find Me, was released: a subdued yet anthemic work that placed the band at the top of indie rock’s best-of lists. Sleep Well Beast takes vocalist Matt Berninger to its traditional baritone melodies all the way to the shouts and cracks of the barn-burning rock tune “Turtlenecked.” The Dessner brothers open up their guitar licks to catchy heights instead of the simple chords of the previous album. Percussionist Bryan Devendorf even tries new methods on this outing, using synthesized drum machine sounds and loops instead of his usual dampened acoustic sound.

With these changes, the album is infused with songs that are equal parts depressing and dance-inducing, a dichotomy worth investing in with this band.

Standout Track: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

Death From Above Outrage! is Now

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The bass-and-drums duo have created an album of catchy tunes that transcend the confines of their previous mix of blues rock and heavy rock sound. The duo nail the prog-stadium rock of Muse, the hard rock riffs of Royal Blood, and the distorted vocal screeches of Jack White.

Standout Track: “Never Swim Alone”

Deerhoof Mountain Moves

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If you need an album this year that really keeps the listener guessing from track to track, look no further than Deerhoof’s newest project. The genres come and go like a radio music library playlist on the fritz: indie pop, hip hop, funk, blues rock, jazz, opera(!). Along with the obscure pallet from which the band pulls, the time signatures are played with to create more interesting guitar-led tunes that might otherwise be too tame for this body of work.

Standout Track: “I Will Spite Survive

Foo Fighters Concrete and Gold

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A great Foo Fighters album hasn’t hit the shelves since 2011’s Wasting Light where the band recorded the album in Dave Grohl’s house. Since then, Grohl has been spending his efforts on curating a documentary, playing drums for whomever, and releasing the overproduced yet underwhelming Sonic Highways. 2017’s Concrete and Gold isn’t a home run, but the songs are catchier and more concise, a format the band hinted at in their underrated Saint Cecilia EP. The best songs take the band’s guitar-centered aesthetics and somehow amplify them even more on tracks like “Run,” and the crowd anthem “The Sky is a Neighborhood” will find its way into the Foo Fighter’s 3+ hour live sets from now until the band’s official retirement.

Standout Track: “The Sky is a Neighborhood

Other Solid Releases: Rapsody Laila’s Wisdom; Metz Strange Peace; The Killers Wonderful Wonderful; Prophets of Rage S/T

 

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Favorite New Music: August 2017

Andy Mineo & wordsplayed Magic & Bird

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Christian hip hop has suffered from tardiness in the musical world. Lecrae put out his first real trap song in his 2015 album, for example, and popular hip hop vernacular gets a spiritual twist long after the term is on the tongues of the teens (e.g. Tedashii’s “Jumped out the Whip” or Trip Lee’s “Idk”). Andy Mineo and label-mate wordsplayed ditch the bad tropes of CHH and deliver a funny, quirky, skill-filled mixtape of 90s era rap music. It’s light and breezy, and the chemistry between these two talents should not be overlooked because of their genre.

Standout Track: “DANCE (You See It)

Action Bronson Blue Chips 7000

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Queens’ Action Bronson is now more of a internet channel TV host than a rapper, but the shift in focus over the last few years since his debut Mr. Wonderful has not dampened Bronson’s skill, sense of humor, or song topics. Blue Chips 7000 delivers some excellent production from a slew of Bronson’s go-to producers, all somehow dipping into old 70s era film scores (or their sonic equivalents) to create unique but thematically linked instrumentals. Then there’s “Let Me Breathe.” Completely out-of-place, the club pop-rap beat is extremely catchy, and Bronson sounds completely inauthentic rapping over it…until the song stops in its tracks, and the Queen’s native calls out the song for what it is: a cheap excuse for booty-shaking.

Standout Track: “Let Me Breathe

Myke Bogan Pool Party

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Portland native Myke Bogan releases a laid-back project with moody and down-to-earth narratives akin to J Cole’s last two releases, but the instrumentals still have the trappings of pop rap that would make many of these songs fit well into the night club scene.
Standout Track: “Sailor Jerry’s

Other Solid Releases: The Cribs 24/7 Rock Star Shit ; The Districts Popular Manipulation ; So Much Light Oh, Yuck ; Amy O Elastic

 

 

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

 

 

2016: Favorite Tracks and Albums

Favorite Tracks (Outside of my Favorite Albums)

15. Joyce Manor “Fake I.D.” – Most awkward exchange at a party.

14. Danny Brown “Really Doe” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Sou, Earl Sweatshirt – Danny Brown’s experimental album had this more traditional, bangin’ posse cut right in the middle.

13. Brvndon P “Coolin” ft. Beleaf – 2o16’s best pitch corrected hype man lines.

12. ANOHNI “4 Degrees” – Coolest vocal tones

11. Ariana Grande “Let Me Love You” ft. Lil Wayne – Sexiest song of the year

10. Mutual Benefit “Not For Nothing” – From the saddest album of the year.

9. Gallant “Bone + Tissue” – best use of falsetto.

8. Joey Purp “Girls @” ft. Chance the Rapper – best instrumental

7. Kanye West “Ultralight Beam” ft. Chance the Rapper – best Chance verse.

6. Run the Jewels “Legend Has It” – the most RTJiest song to date.

5. Baauer “Day Ones” ft. Novelist, Leikeli47 – best song to crank to 11.

4. Lizzo “Good As Hell” – best feel good song

3. Into It. Over It. “Adult Contempt” – best percussion part

2. Jack Garrett “Worry” – best PBR&B tune

  1. Dawes “When The Tequila Runs Out” – best lyricist of 2016.

Favorite Albums of 2016

10. Jeff Rosenstock WORRY.

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While this album is nowhere as nuanced as Rosenstock’s previous record We Coo?, WORRY. has all the trappings of a great pop punk record – 1/8 note bar chords blasted through tube amps, a substantial helping of crowd “woahs”, and the blistering shouts from the front man himself.

Standout Tracks: “Festival Song” “Wave Goodnight to Me” “Blast Damage Days”

9. Swet Shop Boys Cashmere

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Heems’ project always capture my attention; whether its the Das Racist mixtapes or his solo projects, his use of humor and ad-lib skills make for an enjoyable listen. Here, the content becomes more politically-themed as he tag teams with Riz Ahmed, a Londoner of middle eastern heritage. The instrumentals sample sounds and artists of southern Asia (similar to Heem’s debut album Eat Pray Thug) thanks to the brilliant work of Redhino. Unlike the mixtapes, this project has no slack or throwaway moments; it’s all solid and important rhetoric communicated through club rap tracks.

Standout Tracks: “T5” “Aaja” “Zayn Malik

8. Modern Baseball Holy Ghost

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The emo rock world has been catching a new wave of energy: 2016 saw great music from Into It. Over It., Joyce Manor, Useless ID, Real Friends, and TTNG. The project that floats to the top of that powerful list is Modern Baseball’s newest LP Holy Ghost. It’s simplicity works in its favor as the heart-on-sleeve lyrics take a front seat.

Standout Tracks: “Note to Self” “Wedding Singer” “What If..”

7. Regina Spektor Remember Us To Life

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Regina Specktor’s newest album is a very theatrical project: each song is an independent vignette telling specific stories, some with fleshed out characters. Many musical moments are musical theater tropes, or that of a film score, and inform the lyrics and mood much more than the poppier piano projects Specktor has released previously in her career.

Standout Tracks: “Grand Hotel“”Small Bill$” “The Light

6. Weezer Weezer [The White Album]

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It’s hard not to adapt the opinions of others in our formative years. I did not know, for example, that Weezer had bad albums. I bought what turned out to be, critically speaking, Weezer’s least popular records: The Red Album and Raditude. It wasn’t long after diving into diverse musical realms through college that these albums began to wain in quality, and some if it upon re-listening sounded horrendous.

2014’s comback-ish Trouble Will Find Us In The End turned out to be an album-long drum roll to the real surprise: 2016’s The White Album. The melodies are fun and within Weezer’s wheelhouse. The guitars rule, as they did in 2o14, and the subjects while not as eclectic are explored in odd ways…ways familiar to early Rivers Cuomo lyric sheets.

California Kids” “Jacked Up” “King of the World

5. Anderson.Paak Malibu

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Raspy-throated crooner Anderson.Paak went from behind-the-scenes producer for Dr. Dre’s Compton to front man extrordonare. Now grammy nominated, Paak unleased his varied talents as rapper, James Brown impersonator, band leader, drummer, and all around classy chap in this funky record. It’s meaty and yet airy, with thick product that somehow keeps the songs light. It’s a musical magic trick to behold.

Come Down” “The Dreamer” “Parking Lot

4. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive

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2013’s We Are Common also made it onto my AOTY list, and Thao has only upped her game since then. With production help from the brain behind tUnE-yArDs, this LP unleashes a torrent of quirky rock tunes circling the singer’s personal search of her birth father. It’s deep, thought-provoking, and catchy.

Standout Tracks: “Departure” “Astonished Man” “Nobody Dies

3. PUP The Dream is Over

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My favorite album of 2015 was FIDLAR’s Too, and this album takes the same musical influences and creates an equally raucous track list. The earnestness of the lyrics and the group shouts create an effective woe-is-me pathos, but the song structures are exceptional: multiple bridges, key changes, an incredible drummer, and time signature experimentation make this album an excellent record for all kinds of music lovers.

DVP” “Sleep in the Heat” “My Life Is Over And I Couldn’t Be Happier” “Familiar Patterns”

2.clipping –  Splendor & Misery / Wriggle

The experimental Rap trio released two excellent, yet very different, projects in 2016. The first was an EP called Wriggle that delivered more of what we knew made clipping great: creative instrumental beats (one made entirely of gun noises), motor-mouth bars from Daveed Diggs, and memorable guest verses. It’s catchy, raunchy, and a powerful punch for an EP.

Fast forward a few months, and the group releases Splendor & Misery. A 40-minute rap-opera of a runaway space slave trapped on a cargo ship. Yup. Diggs runs wild with the imagery and the narrative while the instrumental production serves more like the sound effects of a radio play than that of a rap album. Both projects are excellent, and both deserve to be recognized.

Standout Tracks: “Shooter” “All Black” “Air ‘Em Out“”Back Up

1.Car Seat Headrest –  Teens of Denial

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Will Toledo has a runaway hit of an album: a debut album in the sense that it is the first with a nation-wide market release, but is technically his 12th album, most of which were dropped on bandcamp. The garage rock band is pure pathos, with Toledo yelping his emotions, ripping them off his sleeve and throwing them directly into your face. The guitars are rough and agitated, but hold together for melodic hooks, building most of the wall of sound. i had the privilege of seeing them live, and you know a band resonates with a generation when the crowd, during “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” sung so loud that it through off the band, missing a cue to move into the final chorus. The record makes me equally jealous and understood; Toledo makes a fine mouthpiece for a lot of sullen youth.

Standout Tracks: “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” “1937 State Park” “Fill in the Blank” “Destroyed by Hippie Powers”

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