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

 

 

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September Highlights

1. Lecrae Anomaly

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The “rapper who also happens to be a Christian” Lecrae takes over the iTunes front page as well as #1 on the Billboard charts but is somehow still unheard of on Top 40 radio. While the new album struck me as more straightforward than its predecessor (which suffered from over-production) there are many tracks here that could be so much greater if Lecrae tapped into his fantastic tropes from his early work. Regardless of the mood, the project works well and stands as a great piece of modern hip hop.

Standout Track: “Runners

2. Homeboy Sandman Hallways

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Boy, Oh Boy! Homeboy Sandman gets to take on a full-length project! I love this man’s poetry and it never comes off as fake or pretentious.

Standout Track: “Problems

3. Banks Goddess

banksThere are a lot of comparisons to be made between Banks and Ellie Goulding. In both cases the vocals are reworked into the instrumentals as a separate instrument but both also are given a little room for those intricate vocal runs sans-corrective post production. This debut, however, features production from some of my favorite electronic producers: SOHN, Shlohmo, and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.

Standout Track: “You Should Know Where I’m Coming From

4. Busdriver Perfect Hair

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If Hellfyre Club was the rap game’s Loony Toons, then Busdriver is it’s Bugs Bunny. I caught him live a few years back opening for Astronautalis and he certainly knew how to keep the audience’s attention despite having just a beat machine to accompany him on stage. The Aesop Rock and Danny Brown features are a natural fit, too, in this very unnatural experiment of weird.

Standout Track: “Colonize the Moon

5. ODESZA In Return

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The vocal-sample-heavy beat makers ODEZA bring a great collection of tracks that are part Clams Casino and part Passion Pit, with its strong synth sounds. The vocal features don’t feel like intrusions on this LP, which can often be a sentiment I have on other great electronic beat makers.

Standout Track: “Bloom

Video of the Month: Brunettes Shoot Blondes “Knock Knock”

2013: Favorite Music, Part 2

Boy, there’s always too much music to digest and never enough time. Let me know if your favorite slipped by me. I am always excited to hear more great music. These are my favorite albums, not the BEST albums of 2013. I don’t know enough about music to make that kind of a statement. Pitchfork does, I guess.

Presented in alphabetical order, here are my favorite albums from this past calendar year.

The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

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As most others have noted, part 1 of the two-parted 20/20 Experience holds together better as a stand-alone work. Are these songs twice as long as they should be? Most of them, yes. Is Jay Z’s verse on Suit and Tie sub-par? At least. But the classy(ish) charm JT brings to his post-FutureSex/LoveSounds sound is more delightful than monotonous. And as far as best pre-album hype marketing techniques go, JT’s week-long stint on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon trumps Kanye West’s and Arcade Fire’s strange building projections and Jay Z’s  pseudo-platinum deal with Samsung. Notable Tracks: Mirrors, Pusher Love Girl, Spaceship Coupe

Acid Rap – Chance the Rapper

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I don’t have to do drugs because Chance the Rapper has done all of them. He’ll tell you about it on Acid Rap, a mixtape dropped in the first half of 2013. The rapper has the kookiest personality in the Chicago scene and his vocal fills (nya nya nya nya nya nya) somehow feel carefully constructed rather than time-fillers and could perhaps replace Kanye’s HEH! or  or 2 Chainz’s TWO CHAAAAAAINZ. Chance (don’t forget the rapper) the Rapper has lots of fun and let’s us into his world. Notable Tracks: Pusha Man ; Cocoa Butter Kisses ; Everybody’s Something

All That I Hold Dear – Homeboy Sandman

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The world of underground hip-hip is fun and exciting because the genre hosts MCs who lean more toward the poetic rather than the profane. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but often the former is dropped for the latter in major label hip hop. Homeboy Sandman (I know, right?) dropped two EPs this year and All That I Hold Dear is the stronger of the two. Sandman hits the classic topics without falling into the pitfalls other artists find so easily now: He defends his own talents without performing the Kendrick Lamar “Control” list-off-my-peers-and-diss-all-at-once blanket verse, and he delves into his personal emotional battles without getting overly self-indulgent in melancholy like Childish Gambino or even Hopsin. This stuff is short, fun, and catchy. Notable Tracks: King Kong Got Nothing On Me, Musician, Relapse

Beta Love – Ra Ra Riot

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Ra Ra Riot has been slipping by me for a long time. I probably would have been a fan back when The Rhumb Line was released in 2008 back when bands like Spoon and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were filling up iPod Nanos across the western world. But alas, the world has too much music and it was only until 2013 that I finally got to hear Ra Ra Riot (and only because they released Beta Love so early in the year). Here, the band keeps the tempo up, the mood poppy, and the singing high. I just wish the mixing was a little better, it still seems kind of off. Whatever. Notable Tracks: Dance With Me; Beta Love; Angel, Please ; When I Dream

Excavation – The Haxan Cloak

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This is what the nightmares of Autobots sound like. Notable Tracks: Excavation (Part 1) ; Mara ; Miste

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Heroes For Sale wins for most time spent in my CD player in my car. It also wins for being the only album I have ever pre-ordered. Ever. Mineo’s debut album hits highs early and often and only give up in the last couple tracks. Christian Hip Hop only seems to maintain life through Reach Records, which is terribly sad, but also convenient if you struggle to find and CHH worthwhile (we all do). This record beats the other big Reach release this year, Derek Minor’s Minorville, in both lyrical content and production. Mineo’s lyrics trump the production save for Gavvi’s You Will, which left my mouth hanging open the first time I heard it. Thanks Reach Records! Notable Tracks: Ayo! ; You Will ; Cocky

Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

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Vampire Weekend keep doing what they do well: being pretentious and relatable simultaneously. I’m not going to pretend I understand whatever Ezra is singing about and if I do find out all of his references in this new LP, he’ll have another lengthy set of obscure references in the next release. The guitar loses its tremolo strumming and moves into a more groovy style (I mean, as groovy as you can get with a harpsichord). Also, Steve Bushemi is related to the bassist, Chris Baio? Notable Tracks: Diane Young, Step, Ya Hey

Pure Heroine – Lorde

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New Zealand teenager Ella Yelich O-Connor has a bed time still. She gets grounded from using her smart phone. As Lorde, she is a worldwide sensation. An Avril Levine on Ritalin stuck inside the chilliest computer game ever, a robo-Lana Del Rey, Ingrid Michaelson getting cozy with a drum machine….All of Pure Heroine must be listened to laying down on soft carpet staring at the popcorn ceiling while cooler kids go out at night dancing to electric music with way more wubs. Notable Tracks: Royals, 400 lux, The Love Club

We The Common – Thao and The Get Down Stay Down

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Thao and The Get Down Stay Down win for coolest name in 2013. This debut (wow, there’s a lot of debuts on this list. Huh) delivers the sunshine with sing-along melodies, fun drum patterns, and the most indy-sounding female indy voice you’ve heard since tUnE-yArDs. Notable Tracks: We The Common (for Valerie Boldon) ; City ; Holy Roller