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

 

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: 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: 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

 

 

Favorite New Music: March 2016

  1. Into it. Over it. Standards

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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;