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

 

 

Favorite New Music: September

  1. Clipping. Slender & Misery

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The space between the Wriggle EP, released earlier this year, and this sophomore album Clipping has swung the musical pendulum as far as it can swing in the hip-hop spectrum of styles and modes. On this LP, the bangers are all gone replaced by a long, winding story-album of a futuristic stowaway alone on a spaceship. The music serves almost more as a radio play than a traditional rap album, and that makes this release one to invest time into.

Standout Track: “Air ‘Em Out

2. Dawes We’re All Gonna Die

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With their ability to wrap dire scenarios with pleasant instrumentation, Dawes continues to play to their strengths on their new album, just one year after releasing the wonderful All Your Favorite Bands in 2015. On this project, the lyrics center on the temporal nature of people and how to hold onto the little moments and how to get rid of the bullshit before its too late. The sonic palate is wider on this project too, with keyboards and drum machines finding its way onto an album also feature steal guitar and ragtime piano.

Standout Track: “One of Us

3. Frank Ocean Blonde

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Despite being released earlier on the Tidal music platform, I got a hold of Blonde in September…and the wait revealed an thoughtful R&B album, but not altogether different from his previous triumphs in the genre under his other releases.

Standout Track: “Solo

4. Angel Olsen MY WOMAN

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Olsen’s newest album starts slow with a slow, reverb-soaked ballad, but then cranks out some fun, groovy rock tunes with vintage guitar sounds and a voice that was transported from the 1960s.

Standout Track: “Shut Up Kiss Me

5. Against Me! Shape Shift With Me

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I have always missed on Against Me! albums; more bands lost in the glut of great new music being released in recent years. This album gives me reason to explore the band’s back catalog, and especially the critically praised Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Simple rock tunes with catchy hooks run throughout this album, and the simplicity keeps Shape Shift an easy listening experience.

Standout Track: “Boyfriend

Other Solid Releases: Grouplove Big Mess ; Mac Miller Divine Feminine ;  Kishi Bashi Sonderlust ; Cymbals Eat Guitars Pretty Years ; Sin Fang Spaceland ; Isaiah Rashad The Sun’s Tirade ; Bon Iver 22, A Million ; Regina Specktor Remember Us To Life 

Favorite New Music: June

1.Clipping Wriggle

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Daveed Diggs is 1/2 a step away from household-name-level stardom after winning a Tony for his work in the unimaginably successful Broadway musical Hamilton. The educational, historical content of Hamilton is a great juxtaposition with this release: an EP of grimy, explicit rap verses paired with the industrial and jarring production that makes clipping worth multiple listens. Both “Wriggle” and “Hot Fuck No Love” are vile in their blatant sexual imagery, but it is delivered so well from such a talented rapper that I find myself feeling empathetic rather than reviled.

Standout Track: “Back Up”

2. Marian Hill Act One

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Marian Hill’s Sway project knocked me off my feet: a slim, special LP filled with roomy club R&B tunes. Here, the group continues their same format with few changes to the formula.

Standout Track: “Talk To Me”

3. Band of Horses Why Are You OK

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I haven’t really liked much of Band of Horses releases besides their early success Everything All The Time. Now, ten years later, BOH finds their niche again writing songs with memorable melodies and beautiful guitar tones. I think this album will grow more on me the more I listen to it this year.

Standout Track: “Solemn Oath

4. Will Butler Friday Night

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This live recording has solid rock songs from Butler’s project he helms outside of his work in Arcade Fire. This music has got a lot more punch and drive than anything recent from the indie group, and this album is charming because it includes playful dialogue between Will and the crowd. Most of the live concert recording are tracks from Butler’s debut album Policy, but the new tracks keep up the same enthusiasm and energy from the older tracks. It’s all fun in here.

Standout Track: “Public Defender

More Solid Releases: The Kills Ice & Age;  Pale Dian Narrow Birth ; Fitz and the Tantrums Fitz & the Tantrums; Red Hot Chili Peppers The Getaway

 

 

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