Best New Music: October

Beck Colors

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Beck has been playing with genre projects since his 1990’s debut into indie white-dude rap a la sitar beat. My favorite Beck projects are the more poppy albums, like Guerro, and in 2017 Beck takes a full, healthy bite out of modern pop-rock on Colors. There’s the piano bounce of “Dear Life,” the dancy funk guitar that drives “Up All Night,” and, as luck would have it, another foray into goofy rap with “WOW.” It’s a sweet and delicious bite that’s too fun to deny.

Standout Track: “Dear Life

Big K.R.I.T. 4Eva Is A Long Time

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Mississippi Rapper/Producer Big K.R.I.T.’s double-disc project isn’t just long to make up for his few years of absence, but the duality of the performer/persona manifests itself from one disc to the other. K.R.I.T. gives himself time to explore both the bravado of a rap artist and the frailties of a man hoisting that facade for so long. The religious themes permeate the two discs, as any fan would expect, and the 808 truck-thumping still defines the production, and keeps K.R.I.T. in the top tier of Southern Rap producers.

Standout Track: “Keep The devil Off

Weezer Pacific Daydream

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I finally got the chance to see Weezer live in concert, and it was one of the finest live music experiences for one simple reason: River Cuomo is a song-writing genius, and has 20+ years of songs to prove it. This latest batch of pop tunes is produced like a Maroon 5 record, but still has a few guitar-heavy tracks sprinkled in. The pop hit “Feels Like Summer” works tons better than previous pop anthem attempts like “I Can’t Stop Partying” and the B-sides explore acoustic guitar arrangements and chord progressions ripped from the 1950s. There are a few low points, as any Weezer album may have nowadays, but Pacific Daydream still confirms a positive outlook on the band that was reignited by Everything Will Be Alright In The End. Bravo!

Standout Track: “Beach Boys

The Front Bottoms Going Grey

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The Front Bottoms were in need of a sonic shift after their 2015 full-length seemed to have fully explored the acoustic emo rock well. Here, the synths come out and create some pop melodies that help balance the rawness of the lead singer’s lyrics and performance, his usual heart-on-sleeve m.o. still characterizing the crux of the band.

Standout Track: “Vacation Town

Other Solid Releases: Wolf Parade Cry Cry Cry; Shigeto The New Monday ; Julien Baker Turn Out The Lights

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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

 

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

 

 

Favorite New Music: May 2017

Wavves You’re Welcome

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I couldn’t stand Wavves’ debut album, nor their more popular sophomore King of the Beach: the overblown guitars and vocals proved more grating than punk rock. Here on You’re Welcome, the band writes some melodic tunes, slows the pace a little to leave room for a little empty space between distorted down beats. The fuzz shows up in full on many tracks, but the mixing and mastering make this my favorite Wavves project.

Standout Track: “Come to the Valley

Perfume Genius No Shape

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Mike Hadreas performs as Perfume Genius, and his fourth album delivers on beautiful vocal arrangements from haunting to sullen to gleeful. Some of the songwriting reminds me of Ra Ra Riot, but the styles don’t stick through the album, and No Shape‘s title begins to describe the album itself.

Standout Track: “Slip Away

(Sandy) Alex G Rocket

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Speaking of having no shape, Alex G has released Rocket this month, and the singer-songwriter has collected tracks in whatever genre suits his fancy. There’s quiet, folky tunes all the way to the noisy “Brick,” which is an industrial…rap…tune?

Standout Track: “Brick

Swet Shop Boys Sufi La

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Even the B-sides of MC Riz and Heems’ debut album Cashmere from 2016 stand out as forward-thinking rap music in a saturated trap scene. The southeast Asian samples do lots of the heavy lifting on this EP, and Heems gets into his most goofy on “Birds,” but the tracks continue a much-needed political heaviness for a 2017 world.

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Other Solid Releases: Mountain Goats Goths, Jlin Black Origami , Daddy Issues Deep , Pet Symmetry Dream

 

 

 

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

 

 

Favorite New Music: March

1.Grandaddy Last Place

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This new Grandaddy sounds like what Sparklehorse might have released had he won his battle with depression and created a record of victory and positivity. The tunes are catchy and pleasantly upbeat. The tone of the singer’s voice gives the songs depth to what might otherwise go down as saccharine pop rock tunes.

Standout Track: “Brush with the Wild

2.WHY? Moh Lhean

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In Yoni Wolf’s podcast, Wandering Wolf, the front man of WHY? often communicates his continual fight to stay positive despite perpetual health issues. In this new album, Yoni continues that theme to create the band’s best album since 2008’s Alopecia–a very different album in tone, but similar in song structure complexity. The rapping is takes a back seat to Wolf’s unusual voice, but the performance on these tracks is more solid than his recent efforts. I’m so happy this album is as solid as it is…and re-listenable as well!

Standout Track: “One Mississippi

3. Kool AD Sky Ladder

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It’s more of what you’d expect from the Bay Area stream-of-consciousness rapper, but with a new sound palate when it comes to his choice of instrumentals.

Standout Track: “FUCK THAT (Feat. Killer Mike)

 

Other Solid Releases: Sondre Lerche Pleasure ; Methyl Ethel Everything is Forgotten ; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah The Tourist ; Sorority Noise Not As ___________ As You Think

Favorite New Music: February

1.The Orwells Terrible Human Beings

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No special tricks or gimmicks here, just catchy 4/4 pop punk tunes from The Orwells.

Standout Track: “Black Francis

2.Surfer Blood Snowdonia

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From simple indie pop tunes to elaborate 7+ minute sonic journeys, Snowdonia surprises me on every listen. The vocal harmonies help carry the album through the less impressive moments, and the melodies cement John Paul Pitts as a formidable pop songwriter.

Standout Track: “Snowdonia

3.Jesca Hoop Memories Are Now

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Memories Are Now mishmashes Celtic, indie folk, and Americana into a unique record, and one that I would normally regard as “boring.” What makes this project interesting, however, are Hoop’s repeating hooks and unique instrumentation.

Standout Track: “Memories Are Now

4.Dirty Projectors S/T

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Break-up albums come at a great cost, but the power impact of many a somber works of art are my favorite. While this self-titled release is tragic in subject matter, the sonic palate is all over the place: there are indie pop tunes, alt r&b, and electronic dance songs. They meld well in this collection of tunes, and never have I been more invested in a Dirty Projectors album.

Standout Track: “Keep Your Name

Other Solid Releases : Mother Mother No Culture ; Thundercat Drunk ; Mozzy Fake Famous

Favorite New Music: January

1.Brian Eno Reflection

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There hasn’t been any inclination to seek out ambient music; it just seemed like homework to me, especially when there was some trendy rap mixtape I had still not listened to. But as I age, the calming (and single-track) new album from Brian Eno reminds me to slow down and breath. It’s not dull-minded like the soundtrack to one of my mom’s yoga tapes, but more thoughtful and complex in its arrangement and instrumentation.

Standout Track: “Reflection

2.Run The Jewels RTJ3

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Killer Mike and El-P released their 3rd album as Run The Jewels digitally in December, but was physically released in 2017 (complete with stickers!) and so ends up here on this list. The duo continues to produce bangers on the caliber of RTJ2, but adds a few songs that pull the veil back and reveal some more personal details, especially from El-P’s verses on “Thursday in the Danger Room” and “A Report to the Shareholders”. A high bar is set for Rap in 2017.

Standout Track: “A Report to the Shareholders: Kill Your Masters

3. P.O.S. Chill, dummy

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Two years ago, the Doomtree collective released All Hands which featured all of the gang in Doomtree including P.O.S who then had huge complications with his health. His previous record, We Don’t Even Live Here, was supposed to be his mainstream rap release, but lost the opportunity to tour due to his ailment. in 2017, Stefan is back and healthy and releasing his most melodic work to date. The finale, an 8-minute comeback track released last year, highlights these personal struggles and has Stefan surrounded by friends and colleagues, which makes the project hit on a deeper emotional level.

Standout Track: “Faded

4.Cherry Glazerr Apocalipstick

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A little psych rock, a little garage punk, and little of everything in between, Cherry Glazerr’s guitar heavy rock album has just enough DIY sentiment to be charming with the studio-quality mixing to keep the project easy on the ears. It’s fun, sarcastic, and poppy.

Standout Track: “Trash People

Other Solid Releases: Cloud Nothings Life Without Sound ; Japandroids Near to the Wild Heart of Life ; Train a girl a bottle a boat ; SACRED PAWS Strike A Match; The xx I See You ; SOHN Rennen ; Sundara Karma Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect

 

 

 

 

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