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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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”

October Highlights

1. Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End

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The promise of “Back to the Shack” was a little conflicting: while the last few Weezer records were certainly a clear departure from the alt rock roots of early projects, it seems that Rivers Cuomo is apologizing for doing whatever he wanted to do. It seems that fans were upset when Rivers decided to move from his nerdy, innocent voice into the goofy bravado (bro-vado). Here, Rivers succumbs to the  wishes of long-time fans and reviewers and gives us a guitar-and-guitar-only album that rocks front to back. The weird lyrics are still there and the attitude is not dissimilar from recent times, but the rock’n’roll is in full force.

Standout Track: Cleopatra

2. We Were Promised Jet Packs – Unraveling

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How’s that album cover hitting ya? A little bit Animal Collective, no? Anyway, the sounds on the otherrside of the record jacket are slow-burning rock tunes that hit for the heart first and foremost. Even the song “Piece of Mind” sounds like what M-83 would write if he traded in his pile of synths for electric guitars.
Standout Track: “Piece of Mind

3. Vince Staples – Hell Can Wait EP

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XXL’s Freshmen Cover may or may not be a big deal anymore, especially with the advent of Twitter and the success of self-promotion techniques (from Macklemore to Lil B to Death Grips and more), so spending time commenting on Staple’s “no thanks” to a spot on the cover might be a moot point. Staples seems to be a rapper who takes himself and his craft more seriously than his PR moves and displays his gifts for storytelling here in this new EP. There is a lot of bold, powerful statements, especially on tracks like “Hands Up” where recent police shootings come to the forefront of the narrative.

Standout Track: “Blue Suede”

4. Cold War Kids – Hold My Home

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If their 2006 hit “Hang Me Up to Dry” drove you a little crazy with leader singer Nathan Willett’s shrill vocal hook then maybe their new focus on rock dance beats will be a more palatable experience. Four-to-the-floor beats keep this record fun and will undoubtedly get stuck in your head.

Standout Track: “First”

Music Video of the Month (Just in time for Halloween):