If you're like me you can't wait to see Stephen Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Kline's incredible novel Read Player One. RPO is quite possibly my favorite novel I've ever read. In the book, the creator of the groundbreaking VR universe OASIS, David Halliday grew up in the 80's and his interests become the interests of every person in the world. The book is full of references to D&D, 80's video games, movies, and most importantly MUSIC! The trailers have already given us a taste of the awesome 80's soundtrack we can expect but I put together a playlist of all the songs and bands referenced in the book. Before you make it out to the theater this weekend satiate yourself with these killer 80's tunes courtesy of James Halliday.
So many great singles were released this week. We wanted to acknowledge some of our favorites. Anything that doesn't make the top 10 can still be found in the playlist. Don't take the ratings too serious, they're mostly a way to stay organized. If there's a song on the playlist they are worth listening to, but there are a few we wanted to call out specifically.
For Fans of: Beach House, TV Girl, Flock of Dimes
Taken from No Going Back out now on SubPop
Genre: Pop, Rock
For Fans of: Yeasayer, Bruce Springsteen, HAIM
Taken from Caer out April 27th on Warner Bros.
Genre: Hip Hop
For Fans of: Wu-Tang Clan, Outkast, BROCKHAMPTON
Taken from Vacation in Hell out April 6th on Glorious Dead Recordings
For Fans of: Ought, Parquet Courts, Preoccupations
Taken from Riddles out March 2nd on Carpark Records
So much great music was released today and throughout the week. We wanted to acknowledge some of our favorite albums, songs, and music videos. Anything that doesn't make the top 5 can still be found in the playlist. Don't take the ratings too serious, they're mostly a way to stay organized. If there's an artist on the playlist they are worth listening to, but there are a few we wanted to call out specifically.
Leeds band Hookworms' third album is full of songs that surprise. Dancey jams in the vein of LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip are countered with soaring melodic ballads. The third album is a milestone in every band's career, where they reach new heights and come into their own. This album shows a band that is so comfortable in a their style that it comes across as effortless, when it's actually extremely complex. If you want to hear expertly crafted compositions, catchy melodies, and powerful lyrics this album checks all those boxes. This is the first album I've heard from this band and I'm blown away at how cohesive they are.
Someone Out There
On her sophomore album British singer Rae Morris delivers angelic synth-pop with enormous pop hooks, inventive percussion and electronics. However, while the music is creative, effective, and extremely well crafted I feel like this album's strengths are the basic tenants of songwriting. If you stripped away all the flashy electronics, these songs would still be engaging and powerful. Not to mention Morris' vocal performance adds that final 1-2 punch to just knock you on your ass. This what pop music is supposed to sound like. Hey Mr. Grammy president dude women have been "stepping up" since the music industry existed but if you need current example here she is. If Rae Morris' music isn't an example of what accessible and palatable pop can be I don't know what is.
18 Year old Indonesian rapper makes his debut and I was surprised by how much I loved this album. With a laid back yet lightning fast flow, Brain demonstrates his abilities both in the style of more classic rhythmic rap as well as the modern trap sound. This album is full of smooth melodic cuts and braggadocios trap bangers. You could draw connections to artists like Drake, Chance or Tyler, but Brian's really has a unique sound. He also discusses things that you wouldn't usually hear in rap music, like asking his dad for advice and being homeschooled. The production on this album really sets it apart, Brian spits over dense, and ever-changing compositions that don't sound like any other hip hop out there. This is an odd yet infectious debut album.
On the second album as Rhye, Mike Milosh once again delivers soft and smokey R&B tunes, only this time adds a bit of a funky edge. While these songs are compositionally dense, everything is understated and carefully placed that it never feels like there is too much going on. Groovy guitars, horns and piano come and go as the song requires, a perfect counterweight to Milosh's low key vocal style. This is album is pretty low energy but never gets boring. We've been waiting 5 years for a follow up to 2013's Woman and this album delivered the best possible outcome, subtle growth over the existing style that works so well.
Quit The Curse
The Michigan native turned Chicagoan singer/songwriter delivers a shimmering debut album. Burch delivers dreamy tunes with undertones of surf-rock and jangle pop in the vein of Wavves and Alvvays.
Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas released an album with his band The Voidz in 2014 and now they're back with a surprising new sound that is both super catchy and a bit unsettling. Screeching guitars and bassy industrial synths create a driving rhythm as Julian's chopped vocals are reminiscent of Bollywood pop, before the song shifts into a twinkling outro with heavily auto-tuned vocals. Casablancas is always doing something interesting whether it's his solo work, The Strokes, or a Lonely Island feature. I'm looking forward to hearing what he's got cooking this time.
From Virtue out March 30th on Cult Records
In 2015, folk-rock outfit Lord Huron released Strange Trails, an eerie and epic saga about the strange places life takes us. Now their following up their finest album to date with Vide Noir, an album that share that misty mysteriousness, this time inspired by Ben Schnider wandering around LA, "through downtown’s neon canyons and way out to the darksome ocean." They released this single in two parts. Part 1 is a lush 6 minute banger on it's own, but part two pushes it even further. They've taken the sound they established on Strange Trails and pushed it even further, with dense yet tempered compositions that reach an explosive peak in the second part of the song. This seems like a fitting follow up to their last amazing album, both examining the spectrum of human experience.
From Vide Noir out April 20th on Whispering Pines/Republic Records
The weekend feat. kendrick lamar
pray for me
The most racist president we've ever seen sits in the white house. Meanwhile, 2018's Black History Month will see the release of Marvel's Black Panther, which looks like it may be the best MCU film yet. What a strange time to be alive. The films soundtrack will be released next Friday and boasts an all-star lineup of rappers, singers, and producers like SZA, Anderson Paak, Khalid, Schoolboy Q , Vince Staples, and James Blake to name a few. On this song, we get some classic Weekend hooks, a badass verse from Kendrick (what else is new) examining what makes a hero. I can't wait until this movie comes out, it has one of the strongest casts of any Marvel movie, we get our first solo Black superhero, and it has some awesome music to add to the experience. I can't wait to see T'Challa kick ass to this song.
From Black Panther: The Album out February 9th
Sophie Allison has been making music as Soccer Mommy since 2015, one of Nashville's most promising DIY upstarts. This song starts with hazy guitar before busting into a breezy groove, as Sophie compares herself to another girl wishing, "I could be that cool." This song shows us what we can look forward to on the debut, demonstrating Allison's songwriting skills and compositional prowess.
From Clean out March 2nd on Fat Possum
Not gonna burn myself anymore
Last year The Proper Ornaments made my year end list with their album Foxhole, and now it looks like James Hoare might make the list again this year with his other band Ultimate Painting. Co-led by Jack Cooper, this new single finds them further honing their and it seems like this may be their best album yet. Creamy guitar licks bounce off each other in a bouncy understated groove as James states, "I turn myself inside out to give them something to talk about," and declaring "I'm not gonna burn myself anymore." This seems like the precipice for the sound that UP has been developing over the past few albums.
From Up! out April 6th on Bella Union
Directors: Sing J. Lee + Quavo
Taken from Culture II out now on Quality Control
Directors: Mario Dane and Frank Vierti
Writers: Andrew W.K. and Doug Anson
Taken from You're Not Alone out March 2nd on RED/Sony
TOKiMONSTA feat. Selah Sue
I Wish I Could
Director: Mitchell deQuilettes
Story: TOKiMONSTA & Mitchell deQuilettes
Taken from Lune Rouge
Director: Cameron Dutra
Man of the Woods
Director: Paul Hunter
So much great music was released today and throughout the week. We wanted to acknowledge some of our favorite albums, songs, and music videos. Anything that doesn't make the top 5 can still be found in the playlist. Don't take the ratings too serious, they're mostly a way to stay organized. If there's an artist on the playlist they are worth listening to, but there are a few we wanted to call out specifically.
Will This Do?
Jersey native Lily Mastrodimos used to be in the band Jawbreaker Reunion and now makes music under the name Long Neck. She wrote this album during 2016, we all know too well how shitty that year was, not only was there a lot of loss on a cultural level but Lily also experienced personal loss. From sludgy and explosive rock songs to tender folk ballads, these songs grow and change in surprising ways. Though Lily is only 24, you would think she's been writing songs for decades. Her writing is deft and clever, like on "Hive Collapse" comparing the natural phenomenon to her own personal collapse. The climax of the album comes on "Milky Way" with the frustration and anxiety building, Lily exclaims, "I sat to watch the sunset," and she's joined by a chorus of voices shouting, "AND I JUST FUCKING LOST IT!" It's unfair how awesome this album is, these songs won't leave me alone they keep pulling me back and I can't get enough.
"This real rap, no mumble." Early in their sophomore full length, Quavo makes this statement establishing that this trio stands apart from the cavalcade of fuckboys who try to do what they do. These days any dickhead can mumble some garbage over a boring beat and say it's for the culture, neglecting musical concepts and focusing only on the lifestyle represented in the music. On this album they make it clear they respect musical concepts, while doing their own thing and representing their culture. Aptly name "Migos Flow," the boys signature style is in full force here. While Offset shows off his skills as a classic rapper, while Quavo and Takeoff exemplify the trap sound, with auto-tuned harmonies and melodic hooks. They deliver inventive verses over well crafted compositions created by an all-star team of producers that include Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, not to mention features from Drake, Gucci, Cardi B, and many more. Though I prefer more socailly consious hip hop, this is some good escapist entertainment when I don't worry about the world's problems I can just listen to Migos talk about their crazy life. When I'm sick of a certain musical style, all it takes i one artist to do it right and get me back on board. I trust the trap sound in the hands of the Migos more than anyone else.
The sophomore album from Austrian electro-pop duo Leyya is a tricky little number. Singer Sophie Lindinger's voice could be suited for some generic hazy synth-pop, yet the duo outfits her smoky vocals with all manner of electronic innovation that change the feel of the song completely. These two dissimilar forces work insanely well together. Depending on what sounds make appearance, the musical style can shift in-songs. I don't even want to spend much longer describing the songs because you just have to hear all the elements come together to appreciate it. This is a masterfully composed, understated electro-pop album that sneaks up on you with how good it is.
The Spook School
Could It Be Different?
The new album from Scottish pop punk band The Spook School is bright and delightful. Their songs deal with "gender, sexuality and queer issues." They explore the diversity of the human spirit with jangly guitars and catchy power pop hooks. I feel like if this band were around ion the early 2000's they would be played on the radio constantly, as their positive pop punk sound song is reminiscent of that era. There is a sort of coming of age feel to this album, especially on the album closer wondering how life would have been different, "if I played sports in high school." This is a sort of feel good album that deals with heavy topics, but does it with a light foot and a sure hand.
This band started as an art school project, then continued on to deliver this awesome punk debut. The band's name in itself is a comment on sexism, so you know they're going to give you some insightful lyrics, relevant subject matter, and badass punk instrumentals. They don't dissappoint, on "Somebody" Rakel Mjöll sings, "I am not my body, I am somebody." In the age of a new sexual misconduct scandal every day, it seems us men are in desperate need of this obvious yet powerful reminder. However, not all the subject matter is all heavy there's sweet loves songs, furious punk jams, and infectious guitar riffs throughout. This album is the perfect blend of hard-hitting rock and breezy pop punk, making powerful statements while remembering to have some fun.
I Am Here (I Am Alive)
Detroit band Bonny Doon released their debut last year and it was one of the best records of the year, hazy folk rock with relatable lyrics. Last spring the band bunked at a house on Mystic Lake in Michigan with the intention of honing their sound. The result was more expansive jams, with repetitive rhythms that inspired the guys to improvise and be creative. On this song you hear them exemplify this new sound with measured guitars delivering a smooth, steady groove. This guitar riff will get stuck in your head eternally. The lyrics deal with the frustration of feeling like your alive but not living. This single promises that the band's sophomore effort will be as effective as their debut.
Philly band Hop Along came on my radar in 2015 with their album Painted Shut. That album rocked super hard so I was expecting their new one to be full force rocking out, but instead this song takes it's time with different guitar sounds and harmonies coming in and out. Francis Quinlan's voice is strong and smooth with little falsetto cracks at just the right moment. She becomes frightened by, "how simple my heart can be," as she sings about how people change and relationships change stating, "Don't worry we will both find out just not together." This is an extremely well crafted work of music and I can't wait to hear what Hop Along has planned for this next album.
New For You
Spanish band Hinds debuted in 2015 with a fantastic album and now they're back with a tighter sound and more introspective lyrics. Two of the members date musicians and saw it as a boy's thing until they decided to give it a try themselves, then created one of the best all female rock bands around. These sort of moments of relationships and self-discovery are what they explore on the albums. On this song they sing about finding your best self over crunchy and rubbery guitar riffs. This song is a perfect poster child for the revitalized sound you'll hear on the album
How To Socialise and Make Friends
Australian band Camp Cope have a knack for writing crunchy rock songs with heart-wrenching lyrics and Georgia Maq's gorgeous vocals build to the a powerful bellow. She sings about trying to get out into the world as she deals with an ex who's married among other things. Every song from Camp Cope just kills me and I can wait for their sophomore album.
How To Socialise & Make Friends is out March 2nd on Run For Cover Records
Losing The Light
This song was my introduction to the London band Night Flowers and based on this song I just might be their newest fan. Shimmering synths create a dreamy pad for a quickly picked guitar part that creates an epic and inspiring pop song about moving on. In the chorus Sophia Pettit sings, "Darling I see you falling and I do nothing," and also called the person she's speaking to, "my yesterday." The melancholy lyrics and blooming instrumentals create an interesting dichotomy, like a hopeful morning after a bad storm. Hopefully we'll get a new album from this band, either way I'm gonna keep spinnin' this song.
Dear Future Person
Taken from Mellow Waves out now on Rostrum Records
Kali Uchis feat. Bootsy Collins & Tyler, The Creator
After The Storm
Dir: Weird Life
End of Time
Dir: Jeanne Lula Chauveau
If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead
Dir: Alexander Brown
On his third album as Porches, Aaron Maine deconstructs the rich synth-pop of his 2016 gem Pool, and outfits brooding house compositions with glorious horns and pristine piano. This album is emotional, experimental, and extremely entertaining. Entitled The House, Maine tackles the seemly innocuous but sometimes overwhelming idea, “I just want to leave the house.” This idea of freeing yourself from the comforts of your dwelling to go out and do something productive in the world. The music illustrates the bare desaturated isolation and counters it with building, bright flourishes. Maine masterfully layers his vocals, harmonizes with himself, adds auto tune and manipulates his voice and instruments in too many interesting ways to name. Though he created these songs alone, this album features contributions from his friends and fellow musicians like Alex G, Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, and Cende’s Cameron Wisch. On this album, sounds that would be at home in a cheesy 90’s R&B ballad or an 80’s pop song create a mesmerizing atmosphere at add to emotional power the songs in surprising ways. Maine fearlessly plays with odd electronics and it just fucking works. He made a record about letting go of fear and taking new chances by doing just that.
I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life
Merril Garbus' fourth record as tUnE-yArDs is as wacky and wonderful as you would expect, with her most elaborate production to date. Her sound has evolved into a fuller more polished sound, yet the odd and innovative choices that has always set her music apart are still in full force. She brings a goofy sense of humor to her music that doesn't undercut there seriousness of the subject matter. On “Colonizer” she checks her privilege saying, “I use my white woman voice to tell stories about African men,” and comments on wealth inequality on Hammer saying, “Living in a dream while the whole world drowns.” I'm deeply sentimental about the early tUne-yArDs records so I'm still adjusting to the new sound, but anything that Merill Garbus does is worth paying attention to.
First Aid Kit
In 2014 Swedish sister folk duo First Aid Kit contributed to albums for indie-rock legends Conor Oberst and Jenny Lewis in addition to putting out Stay Gold, one of the best records of the year. I've been waiting four years for another album and the Söderberg sisters did not disappoint, In fact this album may have even surpassed it's predecessor. They tell grand stories and pen classic folk lyrics in the style of their musical ancestors like Cat Stevens and Emmylou Harris, with simple succinct wit and wisdom that captures relatable emotions. The girls put a modern pop sheen on the nostalgic folk style, equal parts Loretta Lynn and Lana Del Rey. They give rich vocal performances, harmonizing over acoustic guitars and rising strings with flawless, crisp production. All of it outfitted with everything from subtle synth flourishes and handclaps, to epic horn arrangements and gang vocals.
The Official Body
When I saw English trio Shopping described as post-punk I had a wildly different image of them in my mind. This album is a post-punk / funk hybrid with bouncy bass lines, punchy guitar riffs, and grooves you can't help but tap your toe to. For how catchy and danceable this album is, the lyrical content carries weight, tackling social and political issues with party punk, full with chants and handclaps reminiscent of Le Tigre. This is an album with an interesting sound that feels familiar yet fresh.
running to the sun
The debut EP from singers Alexe Belle and Isis Valentino feels like a full length. This duo is part of Janelle Monae's Wondaland collective, so it's no surprise that this album is full of gorgeous vocals and bright melodies over shimmering compositions built on hip hop beats. The ladies sing powerful songs about love, loss, and overcoming obstacles. They've had their music featured on HBO's Insecure, they have Janelle Monae on their side, and they just released one of the strongest debuts you could ask for. I think these two have a wonderful career ahead of them.
In My View
Unclassifiable Scottish trio Young Fathers made their mark in 2015 with White Men Are Black Men To. My cousin and co-host Brian played their song "Lord" on our podcast and it blew my mind. Now they've done it again with a song that examines perception. Alloysious Massaquoi delivers some powerful vocals that oddly but awesomely remind me of Tracy Chapman. Kayus Bankole and G. Hastings trade off rap verses stating, "I want to be king until I am." Establishing the theme of this song, that things are not always what they seem as Alloysious paints the cold and haunting perspective, "In my view love will never come my way, so when I leave you'll be dancing on my grave." This is one of the albums I'm looking forward to the most. These guys dip their toes into gospel, indie-rock, and hip hop without letting one style dominate, and it makes for a one of a kind brand of amazing music.
Cocoa Sugar is out March 9th on Ninja Tune
Hear "Lord" on Best Song Ever
My favorite song from singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus' 2016 debut is "Strange Torpedo" in which she perfectly describes the experience of caring about someone who deals with addiction. On her new song, she looks at a different sort of addiction and the dynamic is flipped as she clings to a former love. She adds epic horn arrangements to her crunchy guitar sound, add that extra punch to an song that's already quite potent. Her sophomore album is shaping up to be her best yet, and this song may be the best one she's ever written.
Historian is out February 16th on Matador
Rapper/singer Lando Chill debuted in 2016 with the fantastic For Mark, Your Son. Then, last year he released the philosophical and political album, The Boy Who Spoke To The Wind. Now he brings with philosophical wisdom, connection to the earth, and social consciousness to this smooth love song. Over gooey synths Lando croons, "I know you're never gonna need me but I'm addicted to your love." Not sure if this is a one off or part of an upcoming album but come on Lando may as well go the hattrick.
Indie-rock mainstay Dr. Dog have pushed their folk rock sound into many different iterations, sometimes on the same album. The band also has two lead singers so you never know what your going to get. This time it's an eerie, expansive bluesy jam, with a few rhythmic shifts. Scott McMicken captures the helpless anxiety of hearing so many people and things talking, but none of them "are talking to me." On this song we become an outsider and eavesdropper, listening in to try and hear something that speaks to them. This is an unexpected but welcomed stylistic shift for a band who always delivers solid tunes.
Critical Equation is out April 27th on Thirty Tigers Records
Yo La Tengo
Shades of Blue
Indie-rock veterans Yo La Tengo just announced their fifteenth album with the release of four singles that are all very different but each good in their own way. This is probably the best standalone track. This bouncy acoustic jangle pop tune is exactly what you would hope for with new Yo La Tengo. I've never really gotten into this band like I should've so I'm excited to spend some time with this new album and get to know the long-estranged indie-rock legend I've been sleeping on.
There's A Riot Going On is out March 16th on Matador
In My View
Dir: Jack Whiteley
Taken from Cocoa Sugar out March 9th on Ninja Tune
Dir: Lucy Dacus
Taken from Historian out February 16th on Matador
First Aid Kit
Rebel Heart (Live From The Rebel Heart's Club)
Dir: Mats Udd
Taken from Ruins out now on Columbia Records
Not Discussing It
Taken from Running To The Sun out now on The Wondaland Arts Society/EMPIRE
Get Out Of Your Own Way
Dir: Broken Fingaz Crew
Taken from Songs of Experience out now on your iPhone probably
The fourth album of this 11 member Portland indie-rock band is an album in 4 parts, exploring the loss of memory and the loss of self. On this album songwriter Kyle Morton attempts to answer the question "What are we without our memories?" Inspired by works like Flowers for Algernon and Fellini's "8 1/2" Morton charts the decline of memory from the perspective of someone who is losing their sense of who they are. While much of the albums is fictional, for anyone who knows someone suffering from Dimensia or Alzheimer's these lyrics are all too real. In exploring an abstract concept Morton makes powerful insights about a very real human problem. He also draws some inspiration from the current political climate, examining the larger scale loss of "cultural memory" that we are currently living out, in which we fail to learn from history and are doomed to repeat it. Sometimes this album seems like it is just a singer/songwriter project with pared down, orchestrated folk like Sufjan Stevens or Jordan Klassen. However, the rest of the band makes their presence known, with grand instrumental bursts that leave the listener engaged and astounded.
Members of Seattle bands BOAT and Math & Physics Club come together to form Unlikely Friends. Their sophomore albums is made up of bright, bouncy rock songs. These songs are super flashy they're short, sweet, simple, and insanely catchy. I'd put this band in a league with the like of Guided By Voices and Elf Power, with witty lyrics surrounded by fuzzed out guitars. Just when you think you have this album figured out, the guys will throw you for a loop and take an interesting turn.
Suck The Blood From My Wound
This song is the album opener for Transangelic Exodus, Ezra Fruman's concept album where he's in love with an angel in a world where being an angel is illegal. Their love is a crime so they're on the run from an oppressive government, which is an all too real struggle for so many people. This punk anthem establishes the premise of the rebellious young lovers on the run from an oppressive system as Ezra sings, "I know they hurt you band and they hurt me too, but I'm not about to sit here and watch as they suck the blood from my wound."
Superchunk feat. Waxahatchee & Stephin Merritt
On the latest single from the band's upcoming eleventh album Mac Macaughan enlists Katie Crutchfield a.k.a. Waxahatchee and The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt for some hard rocking power pop about letting go of the past. Mac delivers some insanely catchy melodies, Katie lends some killer harmonies, and Merritt brings the beritone, over epic, screeching guitars.
Last year Melina Duterte delivered the fantastic Everybody Works as Jay Som. The band's performance was one of my favorites at Mopop this year. She delivers this breezy, bouncy outtake from Everybody Works, with some smooth and spiky guitar tones and Melina's low key vocals that slide into a sweet falsetto. While this song would've been a welcome addition to the last album, this song is solid on it's own.
Listen on Bandcamp
Greta Kline is back with the first single from Frankie Cosmos' sophomore album, and this song promises that there will be no sophomore slump. Greta begins the song, singly meekly over bare, intimate guitar, before building to a big rock chorus. This songs takes the dreamy indie-rock sound of their first album and adds a bit of a rock edge.
Vessel is out March 30th on SubPop
Karen O feat. Michael Kiwanuka
Yo! My Saint
Last year the Kenzo perfume company announced their new fragrance with a short film directed by Spike Jonze set to music by Sam Spiegel, Jonze's brother, and Assassin. This time Kenzo elists Yeah Yeah Yeah's mastermind Karen O, and English singer/songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, who you may know from his amazing 2016 album Love & Hate and his song "Cold Little Heart" which is the Big Little Lies theme song. Michael and Karen trade off haunting vocal performances in a song that has a few interesting phases that are made even more powerful when watching the film.
It's a new year, music has slowly begun to trickle in, and 2018 looks like it will be a great year for music. On this mini jams you'll find some musical staples as well as some newcomers. So let's take a look at some of the best new music of 2018.
DIY punk master Jeff Rosenstock's fourth solo album was a New Year's Day surprise, earning the obligatory title of "The First Great Album of 2018." Following up his sarcastic, self-deprecating 2016 album Worry, Jeff ventures into political territory. Though many of the lyrics are melancholic and powerful, it plays like a dark comedy when paired with infectious guitar riffs and Jeff's frenzied vocals.
Last year Daniel Romano released Modern Pressure, one of my favorite albums of 2017. Four days into 2018 he released two albums. This first new album could not be more different than it's predecessor. Modern Pressure channeled 70's rock and Human Touch channels 60's folk, driven by Daniel's creaky voice and an expertly picked acoustic guitar, and outfitted with gorgeous orchestration and glorious harmonies. He tells beautiful, sometimes brutal stories that feel like echoes of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
The Canadian singer/songwriter's second album of 2018 finds Daniel shifting from the bare folk of Human Touch to bigger folk-rock anthems. The title track opener "Nerveless" is my favorite song out of all songs on both albums, yet Human Touch is a stronger albums overall. I'm just excited to have so much Daniel Romano music to get to know throughout the year. His album helped me get through last year so I think I'm set for 2018.
Chicago native Elizabeth Eden Harris has been making music under the name cupcakke for the past few years, garnering some recognition via YouTube and World Star for her lightning-fast, hyper-sexual, sharp-witted brand of hip hop. On her new album she reaches a new level, with killer wordplay and references delivered with exceptional speed and confidence. She's only 20 years old but has handful of mixtapes under her belt. This rook could rap circles around most of the rappers out there.
Francis and the Lights
Just For Us
Francis Farewell Starlite earns the obligatory title of "Last Great Album of 2017." Though this album does feature any big names like Bon Iver or Chance The Rapper, Francis delivers his signature brand of heartfelt pop, with epic athems full of big shiny synths and warm ballads. This album is so bouncy and danceable, you can't help but feel good while listening.
A Productive Cough
The first single from the New Jersey punk band's fifth album, A Productive Cough, promises their best album since their groundbreaking 2010 album The Monitor. Where the band would usually come in guns blazing, this song sustains it's greatness over 8 minutes, led by an infectious piano part this song rises and falls with epic swells of strings, sleigh bells, flutes, and more. Patrick Stickles opens a vein, venting about the political climate and the "obnoxious process" that we're all trapped in, while pushing his voice to it's brink to convey our anxiety and frustration. His own personal struggles are inseparable from the political insights, with each line bleeding into the next yet forming a consistent and relatable stream of consiousness. This song feels like the modern punk equivalent of American Pie. It's a goddamn masterpiece. A Productive Cough is out March 2nd on Merge
Everybody Wants To BE Famous
Superorganism is a many limbed beast, with eight members in both London and Maine. Last January the group debuted their amazing song, "Something For Your M.I.N.D." and this January they've delivered another great single. The style they've established is in full force, teenage frontwoman Orono delivers some delightfully deadpan vocals, commenting on social media sensasionalization, over some very interesting compositions with gurgling synths, pitch shifts, and audio samples. The self-titled debut is out March 2nd on Domino Recording Co.
The Go! Team
All the way live
The Go! Team is a sort of superorganism itself, with many members coming and going over the years. Their sound has always been big and bright and fun, but on the new album they attempt to capture the energy of a marching band and condense it for an indie-rock project. This new single does not disappoint, with big horns, schoolyard chants, and a poppy chorus. This is some feel good music to make you pumped for the coming year. Semicircle is out January 19th on Memphis Industries.
Hand it over
It's been 5 years since MGMT's last release and these new songs find the duo venturing into interesting new territory. They delivered eerily unsettling yet unescapable catchy indie-pop with "Little Dark Age" and "When You Die." This new song is more a spacious ballad, with instrumentals reminiscent of 70's pop. The orchestration on all of these new songs is equal parts comforting nostalgia and innovative experimentation.
What began as a college art school project has developed into one of the most exciting new punk bands. They comment on social and feminist issues with killer guitar riffs and clever lyricism. They channel Le Tigre on this new single, full with handclaps and "hey hey"s. The band's self-titled debut is out January 26th on Lucky Number.
I could not have made it through 2017 without all the amazing music that was released during the year. This is a list of 100 artists that shared their ideas and experiences to connect us all through song. These albums listed are just a fraction of the wonderful music that come out during the year but every album on this list is worthy of multiple listens. So as a thank you to all the musicians who helped us get through the year, let's support them by enjoying and appreciating their work.
Last night, thousands of Michiganders crammed into The Palace of Auburn Hills to see legendary Pink Floyd mastermind Roger Waters. The show that Roger and his band put on was truly a spectacle, the likes of which I've never seen before. He played two sets beginning with the Dark Side of The Moon opener "Speak To Me/Breathe," played some of his new songs as well as selections from other classic Floyd albums The Wall and Wish You Were Here. His backing band was phenomenal, including Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius and, as Roger put it, "Our obligatory hippie from LA" Eisley's Jonathon Wilson. The song "Wish You Were Here" is one of my favorite songs of all time and one of the first I learned on guitar so it was really special to see him perform that song. During "Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2" children took to the stage in orange prison jumpsuits which they ultimately ripped off, revealing shirts that read, "RESIST." Roger went easy on Trump in the first set but didn't hold back for the second. After playing "Dogs" the band put on animal masks and toasted with champagne, then busted into "Pigs (Three DIfferent Ones)". A faux-Animals factory made of screens, on which they projected images of Trump with a tiny penis, as a baby in Putin's hands, and ended by projecting some of his worst quotes on the screen then the final blow read, "Trump Is A Pig" This prompted a small group of people in my section to walk out with middle fingers held high. The show easily could've ended after DSOTM closers "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" (in which a giant prism with rainbow lights ala the album cover was projected). However, he finished it off with a few tracks from The Wall, ending with the classic "Comfortably Numb." As the band finished out Roger went down into the crowd and shook fans' hands. At 73 years old Waters is still a performance powerhouse, political critic, and all around cool dude. Not only did he play some of the greatest Pink Floyd songs from their 4 greatest albums but he created a one of a kind sensory experience. Find the unbelievable setlist below.
Jason Isbelle and the 400 Unit The Nashville Sound
Jason Isbell recently appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Trevor made it clear that he prefers to be labeled as a “folk singer” rather than a “country singer.” While the focus is clearly storytelling in his music, you can’t help but hear the southern influence in the music and his voice. Isbell walks that line, being a folk singer in a country world. His band the 400 Unit assist in creating crisp country compositions, with twangy slide guitars and Jason’s wife Amanda Shires, a musician herself, contributes vocals and fiddle. On this album Jason proves that he’s progressive, tackling topics that country singers wouldn’t go near. However, the first two songs on the album find him putting himself in the shoes of those who fight and fear progress. The album opener “Last of My Kind” follows a country boy who can’t adjust to life in the city. This is followed by the hard-rocking “Cumberland Gap” in which a coal miner’s kid is trapped in an rural town who turns to drinking, demonstrating that “ the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole.” On “White Man’s World” he examines sexism through the lens of his daughter’s future, and tackles racism and white privilege, acknowledging everything that he has at the expense of others. He delivers some off-kilter love songs with “If We Were Vampires” and “Molotov” in which he chronicles his and Amanda’s love story (spoiler: they meet at a County Fair, that’s as country as a love story can get). Jason opens up about his anxiety on the aptly titled “Anxiety.” He ends the album with the most unifying and optimistic tracks, “Hope The High Road” where he muses “Wherever you are I hope the high road leads you home again, to the world you wanna live in,” and the album closer “Something to Love” where the couple sings their hopes for their daughter, “I hope you find something to love, something to do when you feel like giving up.” A couple years ago this would have even been too country for me to listen to, and now it’s one of my favorite albums of the year. The main message that comes through on this album is one of love and understanding. Hear me play “Last of My Kind” on Best Song Ever.
Fleet Foxes Crack-Up
Fleet Foxes return with their first album in 5 years. Over that time frontman Robin Pecknold went back to college, did some soul searching, and found his way back to music. You can tell the band has matured and the music has matured along with them. These songs are more restrained, expansive, and experimental with bare and dissonant stretches that evolve in melodic flourishes. Fleet Foxes have always walked the line between folk and indie-rock but on this album they really lean into their folk sensibilities. Songs are mostly acoustic with some piano, strings, and electric guitar rounding out the compositions, and of course their signature harmonies are back in full force. This band has always felt like they were from another time, yet even they are not immune to political commentary. They attack topics like patriarchy and division subtly and with poetic flare. This album isn’t as flashy or infectious as the bands previous work. Rather than putting this one to sing along with your friends, this is a piece of work to be absorbed into, sinking into the rich harmonies and carefully placed, atmospheric layers. Hear me play “Third of May/Odaigahara” on Best Song Ever.
Roger Waters Is This The Life We Really Want?
“Teacher Leave Those Kids Alone.” “Welcome To The Machine.” “Charade You Are.” For over 40 years Roger Waters delivered poetic political commentary through progressive rock as a member of one of the greatest bands of all time, Pink Floyd. Now, Donald Trump and the rise of populism all around the world has brought the man out of retirement to give us some much needed musical therapy. Last year, Roger came out swinging at a show in Mexico City, projecting images of Trump and assigning that iconic “Pigs” lyric on to him, “Charade You Are.” Though the other members aren’t present this feels like a new Pink Floyd album, demonstrating how integral Waters was to the band’s sound (see bass players are important). Full with audio collages, experimental jams, and soaring ballads, activating the nostalgia of Floyd fans while feeling of the moment. This album covers so much ground, tackling old staples like corporate greed, war culture, and refugees that sadly are just as relevant now as they were in the band’s heyday. Though it paints an accurately melancholy picture of our world, this album is addictive. Songs either are smooth and bouncy progressive jams, reminiscent of classics like “Have A Cigar” and “Another Brick In The Wall" or unbearably beautiful epics in the vein of “Wish you Were Here” and “Comfortably Numb.” I find myself reminded of the fact that Roger was a contemporary of David Bowie, there are some similarities in their writing and they are some of the finest songwriters of all time. It’s awesome to see Roger back and better than ever the year after we lost Bowie. This album feels like a visit from an old friend, and though the world is falling apart around us at least we have each other.
Noga Erez Off The Radar
Gal Gadot isn't the only Wonder Woman to come out of Tel Aviv, the city in Israel is also home to one of music's most talented and fearless new musicians, Noga Erez. The producer/singer/rapper makes sharply crafted electronic music full of wisdom and political commentary. Skeletal electronics shift into rich, melodic flourishes, with inventive electronic sounds perfectly place. Noga Erez happened to emerge during an increasingly insane time in global politics. Corruption and incompetence aren't limited to any one nation or government, and women who speak out are often at risk of verbal and physical harm. Noga's music was released with the backdrop of the women's marches, the #shepersisted incident, and all the battles of women fighting for their rights and safety all over the world. It would be enough for this album to be technically impressive or socially essential, but somehow it's both. Hear as we listen to "Dance While You Shoot" on Best Song Ever.
One of the year's strangest and quirkiest albums is also one of it's most raw and powerful. Foxing's Conor Murphy named his new project after his dog that died, demonstrating the line this album walks, both goofy and beautiful. Dead friends, self-loathing, pill addiction: he tackles these topics with just the right amount of levity and desperation. "Dead retrievers are all golden." "No one likes you." "I love every moment when I'm fucked up." These expressive, self-deprecating lines work their way into your brain and mirror Conor's inner monologue. Switching from measured folk to explosive alt-rock, Murphy wanders around yet find his way back to repetitive choruses with ear-worm melodies. This album highlights the exuberant and confounding absurdity of life. It's a surprisingly accomplished debut. Hear as we listen to "Dead Retrievers" on Best Song Ever.
Sir Robert Bryson Hall III a.k.a. Bobby Tarantino a.k.a. Logic is one of the fiercest most enlightened young rappers out today. Known for his creative album concepts, eye-catching album art, and not to mention lightning fast rhyming abilities, Logic takes it to the next level on his third studio album. He uses anecdotes and lessons he’s learned being a light-skinned bi-racial man living in America to examine racial tensions and the current political climate with one goal, to bring EVERYBODY together. We get insight into his difficult childhood, with both parents addicted to drugs and his white mom exhibiting racism towards her biracial children. He also inhabits the mindset of many different kinds of people to make it feel like an inclusive experience that everyone can relate to. Not only are Logic’s informed and insightful lyrics back by fantastic production by producer 6ix, Logic himself, and more, but it also feature’s an amazing cast of contributors. Rap legends Black Thought, Chuck D, and Killer Mike but also newcomers Damian Lamar Hudson, Alessia Cara, and Kalid, and frequent collaborators Big Lenbo, Lucy Rose, and Damian Lamar Hudson (Quincy Jones even contributed on a song). On his major label debut The Incredible True Story Logic took the classic rap trope of skits throughout and uses them to establish a grand narrative to his albums. The narrative on this album is his best yet, a story of a man who dies, existing in a “waiting room” as “god” explains life and the afterlife to him. The best part: god is voiced by astrophysicist and all around awesome dude Neil Degrasse Tyson. There is also a cryptic announcement that I won’t spoil here you have to listen to the whole album. This is Logic’s finest work yet I could really write about it forever. There is so much awesome supporting material for this album. Check out Logic and Neil talk about life, music, and art for Complex and check out Logic talking break down every song on the album for Genius.
Perfume Genius No Shape
Mike Hadreas is back with the fourth album as Perfume Genius and he takes his sound to astounding new heights. Over the course of his first three albums, Hadreas has gone from more bare and basic folk compositions to more exciting elaborate compositions. On this album he goes even further with producer Blake Mills, they make his sound and bright and explosive and is it tender and vulnerable. So many bold and daring choices are made on this album, whether it’s the synths, the meter, the melody, the rhythm, so many parts are tweaked and altered in ways to make every moment delightfully unpredictable. Unlikely elements are forced together and work vexingly well. Hadreas’ fragile voice holds it’s own against the sonic tornado occurring around it, with gorgeous melodies compliments the heart-wrenching yet uplifting lyrics. Hadreas changes tone from the wise older brother vibe of “Just Like Love” to the sexy strutting of “Go Ahead” whatever emotion he’s exuding it’s delivered with a smooth steady voice. Hadreas speaks from experience, having been persecuted for his sexuality, his experiences being an addict, his experience suffering from Crohn’s disease and tries to deliver some truth. As the title tells us “Shape” is the major theme on this album on “Slip Away” the repeated refrain is “Love they’ll never break the shape we take,” on “Every Night” he pleads with an energy he feels (ghost, interdemensional being) to take shape and reveal itself, and on “Wreath” he dreams, “I wanna hover with no shape” longing to exist free of his body and gender. It’s perfect that this album came out the same day as Logic’s Everybody because that line is a mirror image of Logic’s line from Black Spiderman, “I don’t wanna be black I don’t wanna be white I just wanna be a man today. I don’t wanna be christian, muslim, gay, straight, or bi, see you later bye.” Hadreas wrote the music for all these before the lyrics, so the instrumentals display the emotions just as well as the lyrics. This record captures the struggles that affect, not just gay men, but so many of us who try to live our truth without being devoured by our own destructive urges. Just like life this album has ups and downs that all take different shapes (see what i did there). The highs reach unseen heights and the lows are yet beautiful. This album is anecdotal, romantic, introspective, cosmic, existential, spiritual and timely. That is an nearly impossible combination to capture and here it’s done masterfully. Hear me play my favorite song of the year “Slip Away” on Best Song Ever.
Walter Martin My Kinda Music
The Walkmen’s Walter Martin is back with his signature brand of incessantly catchy, cleverly casual, fourth wall breaking folk music. The follow up to last year’s fantastic Art’s and Leisure find Martin outfitting his acoustic guitar compositions with twangy guitars, call and response background vocals, bongos, and cartoonish sound effects that never detract but add to the playful, island vibe of the album. As you can tell from the title Martin often talks about music in the song, like on the album opener “Wishing Well” where he wishes for guitar solo, or the titular “My Kinda Music” where The album highlight for me is the song “Hey Matt” where Walter seeks guidance on how to write a song from The National’s Matt Berninger, who readily offers a verse of advice. It ends with a hilarious exchange where Walter admits that Matt wasn’t his first choice he had first asked Randy Newman. Matt asks, “You really asked Randy Newman to sing on this song?” Walt responds, “Yea I did actually/” Though Berninger makes this song amazing Newman would’ve been a good choice since Walt’s style is clearly influenced by him. Martin remains one of the most creative folk storytellers, whether he’s telling his daughter a bedtime story or charting his ancestry he makes it fun and breezy. I can’t think of another who writes music quite like Walter Martin, it really is a one of a kind experience listening to one of his albums.
Christopher Paul Stelling Itinerant Arias
So much of the music on this list is political. It’s unavoidable at this point and I actually kind of want to thank Donald Trump for being such an abomination that he’s inspired so much awesome protest music. Country/folk singer Christopher Paul Stelling’s fourth album offers comfort to the scared and criticism to those in power. From gentle folk ballads to big bluesy compositions with horns, Stelling’s smokey voice is an apt companion for these turbulent times. This is a beautiful album of well constructed protest folk. I’m going to keep this one short because the artist can say it all better himself. Check out NPR’s feature where CPS gives a brief description of how he wrote the songs and their meaning, read it here.
Cayetana New Kind of Normal
Philly rock band Cayetana teased their sophomore album, putting two of it’s songs on a split EP with Camp Cope. It got me excited to hear more music from them and now it’s here. New Kind Of Normal draws on the reality that humans will eventually adjust to even the most jarring or horrific conditions. Whether it’s prison, slavery, or captivity, while escape and freedom are constantly in your mind a routine is eventually established and the unthinkable becomes the status quo. Cayetana frontwoman Augusta Coch extends this idea and applies it to suffering from depression, getting comfortable in emotions that feel unbearable. I’ve felt this and seen it others who suffer from depression how it almost becomes comforting to stay in the mindset of “all is lost.” This becomes The New Kind of Normal rather than take the more difficult path of trying to take positive steps toward change, you take the easier path of inactivity and pain. If only it were so simple, over the course of this album we hear Augusta’ struggle between wanting to be better and turn her back on her destructive habits, as it applies to love and relationships, and the crippling doubt and regret that keep her in that comfortably uncomfortable state. This album provides like-minded listeners badass inspiration rock, not acting like everything is ok, but trying to be better and keep moving. I really just enjoyed their catchy pop-punk vibes and I had no idea how powerful and profound the upcoming album would be. This is a beautiful yet painful portrait of depression and uncertainty. Hear Brian and I listen to “Certain For Miles” and discuss the album’s meaning on Best Song Ever.
New Zealand singer/songwriter Amelia Murray released her debut EP as Fazerdaze in 2014 and she was picked up by Flying Nun Records (don’t drop her!). Now her debut full length is here and it’s a great introduction to the world. Murray ornaments crunchy guitars with echoey synths and vocal effects, striking the perfect balance of dreamy and immediate. Fazerdaze is the perfect description of her sound, as the songs are rocking and danceable yet they’re surrounded by hypnotic compositions that put you in a daze. It seems like every other song or album that is sent to me is some dream-pop or hazy indie-rock and it really makes a lot of them blend together. However, Amelia Murray manages to lull you into the dreaminess and then take you off guard by rocking super hard. We are seeing more artists play every role in making a record, and Murray is no exception, playing all instruments, as well as mixing and mastering. This is a well done debut that promises some great music from her in the future. Hear Brian and I listen to “Lucky Girl” and discuss on the new episode of Best Song Ever.
Mac Demarco This Old Dog
Mac is back baby, with his dreamy synths and guitar tones, crooning about life and love over hazy, shimmering instrumentals. As the title shows you, Mac is getting older and I feel like this fact is captured throughout the album. Whether it’s seeing more of his “old man” in himself, or pledging his love to his counterpart, we see a more mature and grounded Mac than we’ve seen in the past. I loved his first couple albums but soured on him a bit after 2015’s Another One because it was all too hazy that i felt the songs didn’t stand out from each other. However, on this album he successfully injects some immediacy into his hazy instrumentals, with more crisp acoustic guitar parts balanced with dreamy guitar and synths. Mac really channels his folk roots on this album and it assists in delivering some of the catchiest and most insightful songs that he’s written in recent years.
British band Slowdive have been delivering shoegaze/dream pop since the late 80’s who enjoyed success, worked with legend Brian Eno, and ultimately disbanded in 1995. They reformed in 2014 and now bring us their first album in 22 years. They broke up after being dropped from the label when their sound changed, but their classic style is alive and well on this new album. Though many of the songs are driving and catchy the guitars are echoey and twinkling as vocals are soft and buried in sound. Songs may start sharp but melt into a dreamy mist. I was never a huge fan of this band or shoe gaze in general, it always just seemed like the most boring genre, with some exceptions. However, this album is super engaging and beautiful. This is a great album to throw on, relax, and sink into the haze.
Legendary rock band Blondie reunited many years ago and have released a few albums, but for their eleventh album they enlisted some all-star musical talent to breathe new life into their retro-act. Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, Tv On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Sia, and Charli XCX all contributed on the album and my favorite producer John Congleton produced, making the album sound fantastic. Debbie Harry has always been a magnetic frontwoman and she doesn’t miss a step on this record. This album starts strong with driving, bouncy rock tracks reminiscent of the band’s early work. However, as it goes in it loses it focus and goes off into some strange directions. Some synths are a bit too abrasive and some lyrics goofy and off putting. Needless to say I don’t think this will be topping year end lists, but it's still a fun and enjoyable listen for fans of the band of rock royalty.
LCD Soundsystem Call The Police/American Dream
Ahead of their SNL debut last weekend, LCD Soundsystem released the first two singles from their upcoming follow up to 2010’s This Is Happening an album that was intended to be their last. Following their epic last show at Madison Square Garden (chronicled in the doc Shut Up and Play The Hits) where the likes of Donald Glover where in attendance and Reggie Watts and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler appeared on stage, the crew took a 7 year hiatus. Now they’re back with two expansive politically charge singles, and it’s good to hear from an old friend in these trying times. They rocked both of them on SNL with Nancy Whang donning a Bad Hombres shirt showing Trump and Putin’s faces. The first song Call The Police is the upbeat banger of the two, reminiscent of the groups earlier work, and it covers a lot of ground. The refrain, “We don’t waste time with love” could be the motto of the Republican party, feeling especially relevant after they signed the bill taking healthcare away from 24 million people. He also brings the alt-right to mind talking about debating “the history of the jews.” American Dream chronicles the morning after an insightful acid trip and one night stand. The slow shimmering track captures the despair and disconnection of the times juxtaposing it with the idea of the “American dream.” It’s amazing to have this band back and both of these singles are more than I could’ve hoped for from their return. No details on the album yet but it’s due this year. Hear Brian and I listen to “Call The Police” and discuss on Best Song Ever.
The National The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness
The National frontman Matt Berninger warned people who think their music is too slow and depressing to wait for what they have planned for the next album. Boy was he right, this new song hits hard. Beginning with a heavenly chorus of female voices, ominous piano then hits over an electronic beat, before the heavy guitar riff that returns throughout the song. Thumping toms drive the song, and electronics flutter as Berniger’s signature Beritone delivers some classic National melodies, staying in his lower register until the soaring chorus build where he passionately cries, “I can’t explain it any other way.” While Berninger said a lot of this album will be about the struggles of marriage, as his wife Carin often consults and helps him write songs (there’s a song on this track list called “Carin At The Liquor Store”) this one is notably more political. Matt Berninger has this to say, "That one, for me, is a hibernation—the dark before the dawn sort of thing. That one’s less about relationships than it is more of the strange way our world and our idea of identity mutates—sometimes overnight, as we’ve seen recently. It’s an abstract portrait of a weird time we’re in." I feel like this is one of the most upbeat, rocking songs that The National has made in a long time. While it’s still textured and nuanced as we’d expect, they exhibit the edge that people often overlook. If you’ve ever seen this band live it’s laughable to call them boring of depressing, with Matt’s furious screams that are often subtly mixed into recordings, and the bands passionate performance. This song and the album that follows will surely put the haters to rest. I’m beyond excited for this album, it’s exciting to see an already amazing band brave new territory in an uncertain time. The follow up to 2013’s fantastic Trouble Will Find Me is called Sleep Well Beast out September 8th on 4AD.
Grizzly Bear Three Rings
The final of the three indie-rock titans that released new music this week comes from Grizzly Bear. Unlike the two preceding this song is not political and really just seems like a beautiful heart-breaking love song. The verses a brooding yet beautiful, with layered synths and guitars making and dark, dreamy atmosphere that feels uncomfortable and uncertain a little bit. Not only does this capture how Ed Droste is feeling in the song, but for fans who have been awaiting new music from them for 5 years, it's suspenseful wondering will they have changed too much, will this pay off like it usually does. The song carefully builds to it's crescendo with Ed pleading, "Don't you ever leave me // Don't you know that I could make it better." First this is sung with modest instrumentation before blooming into gleaming peak reminiscent of classic tracks like, "Ready, Able." Since my girlfriend follows Busy Phillips Instagram religiously, Ed is her good friend and hearing this song brought her to tears. This song is a subtle show stealer, holding back before blowing you away. We'll get more word on when to expect the album soon.
The long awaited return of Damon Albarn’s cartoon gang falls in line with some of the years best albums, indirectly commenting on political tensions through engaging music. while there are many moments on this 26-track epic that are reminiscent of Gorillaz past sound that we know and love. However, a good deal of the album takes Gorillaz electronic proclivity and pushes into overdrive, with most of the album dominated by thumping techno beats, with samples and a range vocals coming in and out. Albarn set out to paint a dystopian image of Trump’s presidency (which he really does need any help doing) and the result is an album that feels like scenes from a nightclub at the end of the world. Albarn himself makes minimal appearances and instead lends most of the album to an insane list of features, some household names like Pusha T, Vince Staples, and Mavis Staples, and some newcomers like Benjamin Clementine deliver awesome debut performances. This makes the album feel intentionally disjointed, which I appreciate, but I can’t help missing the Damon Albarn dominated Gorillaz albums of the past. Alongside Plastic Beach and Demon Days, as a whole this one is not one of my favorites. But on it’s own it’s an amazing return and there are standout tracks that will go down in history as Gorillaz classics.
Sylvan Esso What Now
When vocalist Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn joined forces in 2014 to become Sylvan Esso, they found a cozy spot somewhere in between synth pop and indie-rock. Their first album was ground-breaking and topped many year end lists. Their sophomore effort takes their style even further, reaching new heights of glimmering electronic pop. Amelia reflects on her youth, love, death, the music industry, and society as whole and finds some truth in all of it. Whether the songs are driving bangers like “Radio” and “The Glow” or bare, vulnerable coos like “Sound” and “Slackjaw” these songs hit even harder and sound even sweeter than the groups already astounding debut. Hear Brian and I talk about Sylvan Esso and listen to “Kick Jump Twist” on Best Song Ever.
Morning Teleportation Salivating for Symbiosis
On their sophomore album the Kentucky-based rock band pushes the boundaries of genre, balancing flowing melodies with innovation and experimentation. Songs on this album are solid folk rock tunes at the structural level, but the band pushes it further, whether with big horn arrangements, mid-song style shifts, and interesting effects and production tricks. Every track brings a new vibe and element to the table, “Rise and Fall” begins with Cat Stevens-esque acoustic picking, “The Code” follows it up with dark and bouncy horn-rock. The driving rock of “Calm Is Intention Devouring It’s Frailty” is permeated by a funky experimental groove, ending in a gorgeous twinkling piano composition. Next, the odd and comical “Rocks Gears Desert Trucking” is followed by the more socially relevant tracks like “Escalate” with the chorus, “Things are starting to escalate and I don’t want you to evaporate.” the explosive “Riot In Time” and the titular “Salivating for Symbiosis” a heartfelt plea for unity and connection. Following the catchy guitar driven, “Turning The Time” they referencing “The Code’ lyrics with instrumental “A Cell Divides” This is an incredibly ambitious and eclectic album, not only will songs and melodies plant themselves firmly into your brain, but the songs have instrumental and intellectual levels that are not always present in indie-rock. This album’s phenomenal instrumentation features contributions from Mimicking Birds’ Aaron Hanson, Cage The Elephant’s Daniel Tichenor, and Death Cab For Cutie’s Dave Depper. This band delivered a spirit of inventiveness into a genre that is desperately in need. Check out the new episode of Best Song Ever where I play "Calm Is Intention Devouring It's Frailty" and we ask frontman Tiger Merritt fro his birth certificate.
Shugo Tokumaru Toss
Japanese multi-instrumentalist Shugo Tokumaru has been making On his new album he enlisted musicians from all over the world to record parts and he assembled them into one of the most earth-shattering combination of sounds. Shugo outfits bouncy folk tunes and tender ballads with all manner of effects and experimentation. This “cut-and-paste” style never makes the songs feel disjointed, it is all well balanced and thoughtfully placed to add to the experience. Deerhoof drummer Greg Sunier delivers incredible drum parts, following all the twists and turns the songs take. Though I don’t know what the lyrics say Shugo’s vocals are lovely and heartfelt. Songs with vocals are broken up by instrumental compositions, whether it’s the cartoonish symphony of “Cheese Eye” or the bare guitar work of “Dody” these add nice intermissions and preludes for the exciting tracks that follow. Though Shugo has been making music for a while this album is really his greatest accomplishment yet, really putting him on the map as one of modern music’s great inventors. This album is full of beautiful and catchy songs that constantly surprise the listener in the most delightful way possible. Hear Brian and I discuss and play “Hikageno” on Best Song Ever.
Leslie Feist returns with her first album in 6 years, and it’s a surprisingly bare yet beautiful departure from the polished folky pop-rock that made her a household name. She said that she kept the takes raw because that was her emotional state at the times. This album has a similar sonic environment to Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest with the space feeling large, dark, and echoey while it’s filled with thumping drums, bassy guitar strums. While the production is minimal songs do grow to be very grand and structurally Feist experiments with different rhythm’s and time signatures, so the songs don’t feel rushed or lazily assembled. Feist’s vocals are as always powerful and beautiful, and she’s occasionally backed by a leveling chorus of backup vocalists. This is a beautiful return for a beloved artist.
Willie Nelson God's Problem Child
Willie Nelson has been a staple of the country music for like 2 of my lifetimes combined. The cover of Willie’s new album show’s Nelson cast in red light, looking down with an ocean of pain on his face. He expressed this pain over the course of the album in beautiful and sometimes fun ways. Whether he’s lamenting lost friends and fearing that the end of his life is near, or commenting on the political climate, Nelson deliver clever and heartfelt lyrics that cut deep. The title track feature Leon Russel, recorded shortly before his death, making the weight of Willie’s words even heavier. This album is a lovely expression from a music legend.
Beloved French indie-rock band Phoenix have been teasing new music for the past few months, with cryptic Instagram posts, and music for a Calvin Klein commercial starring Rashida Jones among others and directed by the great Sofia Coppola (who is married to Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars). Now they’ve delivered the first single of their upcoming album Ti Amo due June 9 on Glassnote Records. Once again Phoenix deliver bouncy, infectious synth pop with J-Boy which stands for Just Because of You. This is quite simply a love song, though he does look at some societal anecdotes and examines where the blame falls. The band said this album was inspired by a romanticized version of Italy and it’s themes are “simple, pure emotions: love, desire, lust, and innocence.” From the sound of it, they will be examining this idea of paradise and the harsh realities that often mar the picture of perfection. This first single is very promising that the follow up to 2013’s Bankrupt will be solid, though this band has never made a bad album so I’m not worried.
Charly Bliss Guppy
If you’re like me you may think that you couldn’t love a pop punk band that channels 90’s rock and grunge with a cute blonde frontwoman with a high pitched voice. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Brooklyn band Charly Bliss balances all of this masterfully and not only did I not hate them, but I became obsessed with them. Frontwoman Eva Grace Hendricks and guitarist Spencer Fox met in line at a Tokyo Police Club show and Charly Bliss was born. Eva’s high voice could’ve been the groups greatest detractor yet it is actually the greatest asset and helps make their music distinct. It also adds to her scream, which makes several appearances, it’s piercing peak feels so visceral and expressive. She can sound like Taylor Swift at her sweet or Kathleen Hannah at her fiercest. Eva’s writing revolves around friendships, relationships, and growing up. Often with self-deprecating humor, painting herself as a sort of bumbling anti-hero who you root for despite their follies. One of my favorite tracks “DQ” chronicles a time when she “bounced so high I peed the trampoline,” and she foresees a grim future for herself, “I’m gonna end up working at Dairy Queen.” Amidst the humor you hear the soul of a person who is just trying to find their way, and she taps into truths about youth, love, and growing pains. Every song on this album is in your face, super catchy, and rocks so hard, channeling the likes of Nirvana and Bikini Kill they are reminiscent of the 90’s while feeling perfectly suited for 2017. This album was not on my radar and now it’s shot up to the top of my list. Hear Brian and I talk about them and play their song “Black Hole” on Best Song Ever.
Overcoats is band made up of besties, Hanna Elion and JJ Mitchell. They describe their sound as “Chet Faker meets Simon & Garfunkle” which is a good way to describe it. I’ve said they’re do synth pop in the vein of Sylvan Esso but with a bluesy country/folk influence like Fiona Apple or KT Tunstall. It makes sense that they are such close friends, hearing how their voices move together almost telepathically to create heavenly harmonies over flawlessly assembled electronic compositions. They sing about love, loss and family, on the opener “Father” and closer “Mother” they examine these themes through the lens of parents. I would usually be turned off to another female synth pop band who sings about love, but they do it so well and sound so perfect it’s hard not to love them. On “23” they chronicle a marriage that happened too young, on “Siren” they counsel a girl who’s just had her heart broke, and on my personal favorite track “Nighttime Hunger” they long for the love of a man, though recognizing the inclination to be alone, while tapping into the frenetic regret and loneliness that can hit when you’re up at night while everyone else sleeps. This an astounding debut album, it is beautiful and innovative from start to finish. I’m bout to play them on the podcast (don’t tell Brian) and I’m having a hard time deciding whether to see them or The xx and Sampha, so head over to @BestSongEverPod on Facebook or Twitter and cast your vote in the poll.
Real Life Buildings Significant Weather
Brooklyn has delivered some incredible indie-rock in recent years. The Epoch collective bands like Bellows, Told Slant, and the band formerly known as Eskimeaux have given some great albums. Not to mention, Vagabon which gave us one of the best albums of the year so far. Laetitia Tamco who is the voice and mind behind Vagabon, along with Crying’s Elaiza Santos, back up frontman Matthew Van Asselt to add to the lexicon of great rock coming out of Brooklyn. This band does carry on the same style of those Brooklyn bands I mentioned, with 90’s/early aughts emo and indie-rock influences, songs often begin bare and deceptive, exploding unpredictably into power pop hooks. Matthew’s soft shaky vocals make song feel very vulnerable. Yet with this band of heavy hitters they take that sound and maximize it, making it rock even harder, often taking the listener by surprise. Laetitia and Elaiza adds some lovely backup vocals and harmonies, and Elaiza’s keys add a really interesting feel to this style that you don’t hear too often. Matt’s lyrics stem from simple thoughts like his key not working in a door, or a picture of a sunset on Instagram, then they meandering with stream-of-consiousness trails leading to relatable truths about finding your way through life and figuring out your purpose. His writing feels very casual with random thoughts assembled together, making it feel like your friend is talking to you trying to connect many different examples to make a point. All songs kind of bleed together seamlessly, yet take on their own personality throughout. This is a fantastic second album from my favorite new indie-rock supergroup. Hear when Brian played their song “Tare” on Best Song Ever.
Born in Iran, and raised in the Netherlands, Sevda Alizadeh became a successful basketball player and walked away from a position in the corporate world to pursue music. It’s a good thing she did too, because not only is she skilled when it comes to sports, business, and academics (she has a master’s in communications), but she’s an extremely gifted songwriter and performer. Over the past couple years she’s released two EP's, remixed one of her songs with A$AP Ferg, dropped her first Persian language track in protest of the travel ban, and now her debut full-length is on the horizon. This album doesn’t feel like a debut though, because her sound is already so refined. She worked with frequent collaborator, Mucky, which is both his name and the perfect way to describe the production on this album. These songs do a lot with very little, every sound feels meticulously placed, and small changes have a big effect. These songs can by moody, sexy, eerie, and lovely. To read the rest of my thoughts on this fantastic album head over to Ghettoblaster Magazine and subscribe and check out when I played "Marilyn Monroe" on Best Song Ever.
Eric Slick Palisades
Eric Slick is the drummer for one of my favorite bands, Dr. Dog, and now he’s released his debut which is in stark contrast with the band’s sound. However, some of Dr. Dog’s folk-rock structures and hymnal melodies have stuck with Eric, yet his production is a bit more chaotic. Eric breaks up finely assembled folk compositions with noise-rock bursts, adding an interesting edge to the sound. His vocals are often soft and restrained yet with passionate swells at the right moment. This album take a bunch of crazy turns, it can go from bouncy and modest, to ominous and epic. Eric recently moves from Philly to North Carolina and he underwent meditations and dream therapy to help him through it, the result was this collection of songs chronicling the experience. This accounts for the dreamy vibe of many of the songs. I always enjoy seeing a supporting member of a band step out from behind the kit and show us a side of them we hadn’t previously seen. This is a well done debut and establishes Eric as a standalone creative force.
Joe Goddard Electric Lines
Here we have another member from a band I love breaking off and doing their own thing. The driving force behind Hot Chip’s infectious synth compositions, Joe Goddard, has released his first proper solo album, making dance music more soulful that I thought was possible. Electric Lines, stands up beside much of Hot Chip’s catalog, which is rare when a member’s solo work is as fully formed as their work with a band. Goddard blends bouncy synth-pop with funk and soul samples added in. Like any dance record you expect excessive repetition, yet Goddard knows how to add in elements to keep the listener engaged throughout. Goddard himself adds some auto-tuned soaked vocals, yet many of the instrumentals can standalone. English vocalist SLO contributes soaring vocals on two songs, making them feel more like full-fledged pop songs. Goddard continues to innovate in the field of electronics, adding interesting synth tones and vocal effects. This record is not only one of the best dance albums I’ve heard in a while, but it’s also one of the best side-project/solo albums I’ve heard this year.
DJ Shadow feat. Nas Systematic
Every year this time the HBO show Silicon Valley starts up again, a day I anxiously wait for. The show is packed with comedy actors I adore and they always find away to paint our heroes into a corner right before they cut to credits, making you ache for next’s week episode. The music that ends each episode is crucial to making the stakes feel high. Last year, an episode ended with “Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow feat. Run The Jewels which alerted the world to the fact that DJ Shadow was returning, shortly after he delivered The Mountain Will Fall. Shadow also tags this season’s premier with another legendary rapper by his side. Over a badass driving beat, Nas, gives killer verses about how “the system is fucked”, his dream of selling guns in the hood, talking about investing in startups, and “methodical corporate culture.” All this feels fitting following the scene where Gavin Belson moves Jack Barker's desk to the basement across from the men’s room, all over a minor travel squabble. I’m not sure if this song will appear on another release from Shadow, but one can only hope. It’s just good to see two heavy hitters team up to add to the already high quality of Silicon Valley.
Jason Singer a.k.a. Michigander has enjoyed success while remaining unsigned. Though the band is in it’s infancy he’s released a handful of singles opened for the likes of Flint Eastwood and Ra Ra Riot and he’s playing MoPop Festival in Detroit this summer. I feel like he has the potential to be an inescapable pop-rock act. His songs are so catchy, his lyrics heartfelt and passionate, and his vocals soaring and emotive. All this is demonstrated in his new single “Fears” Over a bouncy composition with thunderous drums and twinkling keys, he pleads with a lover in the chorus, “You can go but just don’t leave me. Cuz I need to feel your heart beating.” This is the latest of many beautiful and infectious singles that Michigander has released recently. He has quickly become one of my favorite local acts to root for and I am anxiously awaiting his debut full length. No word on when that will be yet but until then enjoy this song and check out when I played “Nineties” on Best Song Ever.
The year was 2005. The video for a song called, "Feel Good Inc" was all over VH1 and MTV. I was a lad of 15, and I was unable to discern what I was seeing. Was it a band? Was it a rap group? Was it both? Why was the song being sung by a cartoon? I then went on to discover the genius of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, creating the world's first digital band, with music that ventures into every genre possible with big name features, and animated accompanying films that follow our heroes through grand dystopian adventures. It wasn't until the release of Plastic Beach in 2010 that I made sure to watch every video and experience the saga of 2D, Murdoch, Noodle, and Russell. Now on the precipice of their highly anticipated album Humanz let's revisit the songs that earned them the title of GOAT and made us love a fictional band more than we ever thought possible. Here are 25 of my favorite Gorillaz songs. Let's be real, it's dominated by Demon Days and Plastic Beach, but there's tracks from their self-titled debut a few Humanz tracks and even a track from D-Sides. There has never been a band like Gorillaz and there never will be again. Check out some of my favorite Gorillaz videos below as well as the two new ones for Saturnz Barz and Hallelujah Money and check out the full playlist here.
Kendrick Lamar DAMN.
Ladies and Gentlemen the king has returned, King Kendrick aka Kung Fu Kenny aka Cornrow Kenny aka Kenny Duckworth, whatever you call him he’s back and he once again is unrivaled making music of this quality on the scale that he does. Throughout the course of his career, Kendrick has chipped away at the mold of what a rapper can do and think and accomplish. Now in a fuck-bitches-get-money culture of hip hop ruling the radio Kendrick dares to be different and take chances, not just in his lyrics but in the musical styles he explores. Following the opening track where he gets shot trying to help a blind woman, Kendrick takes on Fox News, cops, and the government, low hanging fruit for rappers yet he does it better than anyone, and he examines what’s in his DNA stating, “Shit I been through probly offend you.” Most importantly Geraldo Rivera, who responded by saying Drake is better) Throughout this album you can find so many reasons that Kendrick is THE best rapper, not only is his writing profound, thought-provoking, exciting, but his physical capacity to deliver rhymes is truly staggering. The biggest thing that set him apart on this album is that he is, “HUMBLE.” While he partakes in braggadocio throughout (how could you not being him) this album is largely an examination of himself, with several confessions that he if flawed, which is the sort of thing you don’t hear much of in rap. On “FEEL” he explores a range of emotions and offers criticism of himself and the world around him, on “XXX” he examines the contradictory nature of wanting to stop black on black violence, yet counsels his friend to kill the man who killed his son. Not only does he depict the complexities of humanity, but he obviously contemplates the extremely complicated life of a black man in 2017. This complexities are mirrored in the two sided elemental song titles, “DNA” & “BLOOD”, “PRIDE” & “HUMBLE”, “LUST” & “LOVE,” showing that there are different sides and facets to all situations. Kendrick perfectly encapsulates the atrocities that black Americans endure, and offers a comforting and guiding voice for all of us, while admitting that he’s not perfect himself, “In a perfect world I’d be perfect, world.” In the past Kendrick has gotten stupid criticism for being too serious, but I feel like he still brings the party on tracks like, “LOYALTY” “HUMBLE” and “GOD,” “ELEMENT” is such a classic confidence boosting rap track, “Pull up, hop out, air out, made it look sexy.” Yet for fans of intellectual rap, the whole album is dense with philosophical pondering, astute wordplay, and cultural significance. Beside all that is sounds fucking amazing working with an all-star lineup of producers including Mike Will Made It, James Blake, and many more, as well as collaborators like Anna Wise and The Internet’s Steve Lacy, not to mention the big budget features of Rihanna and U2. I’ll end my review the same way the album ends, with the most amazing story told in recent rap history. Kendrick chronicles the youth of the perviously mysterious Anthony “Top Dog” Tiffith, C.E.O. of Top Dawg Entertainment. He tells Anthony’s plans to rob a KFC and shoot the cashier, Ducky, Kendrick’s dad, who gave Anthony free chicken and biscuits, resulting in him letting Ducky live. Years later Ducky’s son was signed to the label of the man who almost killed his dad. Kendrick blurs the lines, allowing pop and indie-rock to bleed into hip hop, and further secures his spot on the hip hop storyteller throne.
Deep State Thought Garden
Athens, GA has a rich musical history. Cult-classic bands from the Elephant 6 collective like of Montreal, Elf Power, and Neutral Milk Hotel called Athens home. Now a band joins the ranks of Athens musical heritage with traces of it's predecessors. Founded by Taylor Chmura who, "wanted to form an aggressive/cathartic/punk band that was undeniably catchy.” That's exactly what he did, all of these songs are immediate and in your face, but with some of the most infectious melodies this side of the Mississippi. Taylor stated that he had so many melodies swirling in his head that he had to unleash them somehow. As the cover demonstrates the lyrics are pensive and clever, covering so much terrain with inescapable melodies they feel like concoctions brewed and perfected over time, growing in Chmura's thought garden until they were begging to be plucked and presented. This is punk at it's finest, balancing the raw "fuck you" attitude of old school punk with welcoming pop structures. Hear me play their song "Mountains" on Best Song Ever.
Little Dragon Season High
Swedish Electro-pop band have been a mainstay of the indie music world for years and they’ve collaborated with the likes of Gorillaz, De La Soul, and Kaytranda. Yet on their new album they go in a bold new direction, channeling 80’s pop like Prince and Michael Jackson, which frontwoman Yukimi Nagano’s meek yet powerful vocals have no problem adjusting to. They made these songs to escape the gloomy days that waited outside and many of the tracks have that chill, slightly melancholy vibe. However, many of the tracks on this album are big synthpop jams. This album wins the award for most strange unique synth sounds packed into one record. I’m not a huge fan of 80’s pop so I’m surprised I enjoyed this album as much as I did, but also it’s Little Dragon and they would have to try hard to lose me as a fan. These songs have so much happening in them, but it all gels together to make a smooth synthetic storm. Hear Brian and I discuss this album and play “Celebrate” on Best Song Ever.
Lillie Mae Forever and Then Some
Nashville singer/songwriter has been playing in bands since she was 9 years old, and for the past few years has lent her talents on fiddle and mandolin to Jack White’s tour band. Naturally, Jack repaid the favor by producing her debut album, Forever and Then Some, and releasing it on his own Third Man Records (that may mean it was pressed at the plant in Detroit, down the street from me). Lillie Mae Rische delivers a beautiful debut album, with rich yet subtle compositions of classic country instruments, outfitted with gorgeous orchestration that rounds out the powerful swells in her vocals. This is crisp, clean country, not surprising that this album sounds flawless considering White was at the helm. She sings of love, loss, regret, and coming home, through vulnerable ballads and toe-tapping honkey tonk jams. This is a beautiful debut and the latest in a long line of fine music that Jack White has produced.
Spoek Mathambo Mzansi Beat Code
Veteran South African producer Spoek Mathambo has made a name for himself combining pulsing house and techno with hip hop, funk, injecting African folk influences to bring his native sound to a wider audience. That’s certainly what he does on his new album Mzansi Beat Code. Mzansi is the name for “south” in the local language so he is bringing the beat of the south of Africa to the world. He blurs the lines of genres, bouncing from repetative skeletal techno to melodic bouncy synth pop. This is the first album where Spoek didn’t contribute vocals on the album, and his focus on the instrumentals comes through as they are expertly constructed. Filling his spot is a long list of lesser known singers and rappers that give the varied vocal personalities to each song. This is Spoek’s best work yet and hopefully will spread the Mzansi beat far and wide. Hear Brian talk about how these song remind him of LCD Soundsystem and we listen to the opener “Want Ur Love” on Best Song Ever.
Shamir Bailey has been writing songs with an Epiphone guitar since age 9. Identifying as neither male of female, Shamir burst onto the scene in 2014 with a striking androgynous countertenor voice and a clever confidence. Shamir's 2015 debut Ratchet found Bailey singing and rapping over pulsing electronic beats, considered by many, myself included, as one of the best records of the year. However, Hope, is a stark contrast to the previous record, release entirely by surprise, even his manager didn't know. Shamir recorded every part on a four track recorder over a weekend. The most surprising part is that it's pretty much a straight up rock record, which makes sense considering the early Epiphone days, but this truly was a side of Shamir we had not yet seen. Shamir said that this record feels like a "coming out" since a coming out was never necessary, Shamir just existed and people figured it out. This is 100% Shamir's most personal record, the raw rock sound adds to the vulnerability heard on all of these tracks. Shamir tests the limits of countertenor vocal ability, with crescendos finding Bailey's voice so high it could break glass. While the debut record was more polished and produced this album is rough around the edges. This may result in some disappointed fans the support has mostly been really positive, appreciate the vulnerability of Shamir. Though these tracks are lo-fi and a bit abrasive at times this feels like deeply genuine expression from a practiced songwriter. You can find the full album on Shamir's soundcloud.
Cotillon The Afternoons
In 2015 Cotillon, the rock project of Jordan Corso, made their debut with rocking self-titled album and now Jordan’s back with The Afternoons. The debut was recorded in San Francisco and Jordan wanted this to be a New York album so he left sunny California and made his way to the Big Apple (he chronicles the experience on “10 Dish Set"). Corso teamed up with Quilt's Shane Butler who felt Corso's music was fittingly representative of the city. The lyrics are cusually comfortable, speaking to the listener as if they're an old friend. This album finds Corse reinvigorating his sound, sliding from crunchy punk, breezy alt-rock, and more expansive rock tracks. This album is sounds fantastic with veteran players like John Andrews and Jon Nellen supporting. This is a successful next step for an already fantastic band.
Talib Kweli & Styles P The Seven
Any political rap album released this week is obviously going to overshadowed by DAMN., but if anyone could make one to stand beside King Kendrick, it's hip hop legends Talib Kweli and Styles P. These guys were heavy hitters in hip hop when I was growing up and getting into the genre. I've lost track of both of their careers since the mid aughts but I've been seeing their names resurface as features and now they've teamed up to deliver a much needed statement from our rap elders. It feels like business as usual, Kweli familiar voice is comforting and his writing is as sharp as ever. The two examine what it means to be black in America in 2017 and touch on the obvious topics. Joined by the usual suspects like Common and Jadakiss, this album feels reminiscent of a bygone era of rap, tailored for the current climate.
Logic Black Spiderman
I've been seriously obsessed with this song and video. For those of you who don't know Logic, the stage name of Bobby Bryson Hall III, is an insanely talented young rapper who's known for his creative concepts, eye-catching album art, and not to mention lightning fast rhyming abilities. His third studio album is shaping up to be his best yet. Like so many rappers he's drawing from the political and social climate, touching on issues like race and sexuality. His perspective is especially unique because he looks white for the most part, yet is biracial, putting him in a strange in between space, suffering the discrimination from racists and skepticism regarding his rapping from members of the black community. Yet his mindset is to rise above, be proud of who he is, and encourage others to do the same. The video for this song is amazing, you'll find it below, I love how he puts himself in the shoes of struggling single mothers and members of the LGBTQ community. This song has a feeling of joy in the face of adversity, not to mention Logic demonstrates his immense verbal talent and thoughtful writing skills. The chorus touches on the racist backlash of the call for Donald Glover to be the next Spiderman. Which, Tom Holland is pretty good, but I think we've seen enough white scrawny teenage Spidermen that casting Glover would be a cool reimagining. At least Glover is probably gonna be a cool villain in Homecoming though. I am so excited for Logic's new album Everybody out May 5th on Def Jam.
Father John Misty Pure Comedy
What can you say about this album that Father John Misty doesn’t say on the album itself. This is a self-aware, prophetic, political, meta-masterpiece. On his first two albums as FJM Josh Tillman told stories of love and adventure, pages from the life of a Hollywood hipster, dense with sly sarcasm and cultural references. After a fully justified meltdown while playing a festival in the midst of the election cycle, Tillman decided to turn the focus of his music to skewering the frustrating customs and institutions of our country. He delivered probably one of the most daring and strange SNL performances, playing his 6 minute epic Pure Comedy, where he picks apart religion, politics, gender roles, and addiction. I was most excited when he played Total Entertainment Forever, which begins “Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the oculus rift,” which garnered modest controversy, but I saw him play it at MoPop and thought it was a perfect cariciture of our entertainment addicted culture. Each song brings a new concept around this theme, whether it’s “Ballad of The Dying Man” in which he prophecies his own death, or the 13 minute “Leaving LA” in which he predicts the departure of many fans (ironic because i feel like he’s more popular than ever now) and tells a story of himself choking in a JC Penny’s as a kid. These songs are intelligent, deep, and though often sarcastic and satirist, heartfelt. I saw it in his face and heard it in his voice when he said to us at MoPop that he doesn’t mean to be insulting or pretentious. He offers kind warnings and paints a grim yet accurate picture of what the future holds. I played the titular “Pure Comedy” on Best Song Ever.
Joey Bada$$ ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
New York MC Joey Bada$$ has been making music since he was 15 years old, listening to his work it’s astounding how bright and insightful he is for his age. This is especially clear on his second full length, ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. The 22 year old rapper presents musings on politics and race relations filtered through the lens of his life and experiences, giving these macro problems a individual perspective. In the lineage of great intellectual MC’s like Nas and Common, Joey speaks about the state of the world without feeling too preachy, rather feeling like a soldier in the ranks. The production on this album is so airy smooth, making these songs so inviting despite the sometimes tragic content contained within. Make no mistake this album is very bright and positive both musically and lyrically. Featuring the likes of Schoolboy Q and J. Cole, this album pushes Joey even further down the road to greatness. We always knew he was talented, but we’ve never seen him juggle social significance, personal expression, and sonic delight as effectively as he does on this album. Brian played the song "Rockabye Baby" on Best Song Ever.
Future Islands The Far Field
In 2014 Baltimore synth pop band Future Islands released Singles, it was their fourth album but it was the one that helped them gain notoriety. They made their Network TV debut playing Seasons (Waiting on You) which Pitchfork named the best song of the year. Now, they follow up their breakout album with The Far Field, carrying on their infectious synth compositions and Sam Herring’s unmistakeable, erratic vocals. The bright and bouncy instrumentals on this album are deceiving as the album largely focuses on the end of a relationship. Throughout the album Herring examines past relationships and the toll that being on the road takes. He often breaks the fourth wall, so to speak, talking about writing songs and being a musician, but it adds the context. Herring has such a strange voice that I wasn’t sure if I liked at first, but it’s so emotive and animated, so is his stage performance, that it’s endearing and powerful. Herring accepts the departure of his lover, understanding their motivations, yet still acknowledging the pain it’s caused him. This album was produced by one of my favorites, John Congleton, and I feel like it is the band’s best work yet. This is a beautiful examination of love that’s as catchy as it is heart-breaking.
White Reaper The World's Best American Band
On the Louisville punk band’s second full-length they successfully super-size their garage punk sound into giant arena rock. They channel the likes of KISS, ACDC, The New York Dolls, and more as they pack this album with powerful, catchy guitar riffs and inescapable melodies. Each song takes new chances with the guitar sound and general vibe touching on all areas of classic rock, each feeling appropriate and well placed. The World’s Best American Band is not just an awesome title but it’s the band’s mantra. Frontman Tony Esposito said, “ “Just like Muhammad Ali was the greatest, you gotta say it out loud for people to believe it.” This positivity is paying off as this is the best work yet. This album revives the spirit of party rock, where pop and hip-hop now have the party music market cornered, this harkens back to a time when rock and roll ruled the airwaves. I played the song "The Stack" on Best Song Ever check it out.
Aye Nako Silver Haze
Brooklyn punk band Aye Nako formed with a “community-oriented, anti-capitalist, LGBTQ-friendly ideology.” Now on their first full length on Don Giovanni they’ve refined their sound, delivering disorienting fuzzy punk with melodic swells that eventuate the vulnerable emotional lyrics. Singers Jade and Mars, are two sides of the same coin, offering varying yet connected perspectives of the queer black experience in America. These aggressive and uncertain sonics perfectly mirror that experience, even the prettiest melody isn’t safe from an off note thrown in to change the whole dynamic of the notes. This band is a part of an incredible music scene in Brooklyn with the likes of Vagabon and Epoch collective bands, and not only are they friends with some of these musicians but they all share an early aughts indie aesthetic that they all channel into different concepts and styles. I was expecting an album that would be emotionally significant but kind of brutal to listen to, and what I heard was the opposite. This album is full of energy and power and it presents a perspective that is not represented enough. Brian played the awesome single “Particle Mace” on Best Song Ever.
Tashaki Miyaki The Dream
The mysterious LA indie-rock band Tashaki Miyaki broke up before they even got the chance to be established, but now a couple years later they’ve reformed to deliver a gorgeous album. Frontwoman Lucy (not her real name) writes heartfelt, yet cleverly comedic, lyrics and croons over dreamy instrumentals. This album is a great marriage of noise, dream pop, and some 50’s soul influence. Beautifully layered orchestrations emerge from beds of fuzz as Lucy’s vocals are layered and effected so all elements make a sweet, hazy sonic atmosphere. Lucy’s vocals remind me of Jenny Lewis with the old Hollywood Americana vibe of Lana Del Rey. The striking album art perfectly demonstrates the beauty of this album where the band name demonstrates their goofy side (I mean they have a song called "Cool Runnings”). This is a combination I can get on board with. I played their song “Girls On TV’ on Best Song Ever and we watched the James Franco directed video starring the incomparable Juno Temple.
San Fermin Belong
When a band has both a male and female singer who trade off vocal duties, you’re going to have your favorite and the songs that the other singer leads are not going to be as good. With Belle and Sebastian the favorite is Stuart Murdoch, with Of Monsters and Men the favorite is Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir. However, on Brooklyn band San Fermin’s third album, both Ellis Ludwig-Leone and Charlene Kaye deliver some solids songs. I grouped this band in with other indie-rock/synthpop bands like Sylvan Esso, and they are in that same vein, but this album was much more impressive and engaging than I thought it would be. Ellis is a composer which makes perfect sense hearing these dense, textured pop songs that come off so effortless. Not only are the lyrics and vocals lovely, but the composition are an ever-changing tapestry of sound, that keeps every song interesting throughout. This band takes an oversaturated style and breathes new life into it.
Sweet Spirit St. Mojo
A Giant Dog’s Sabrina Ellis started a solo project that morphed into an 8 person rock band with a sound that is big, bold, and rocking. When Brian played their song “The Mighty” on Best Song Ever he said it was a “total Luke song” because it’s reminiscent of Queen, and indeed I did enjoy it quite a bit. The instrumentation on this album is interesting because it’s rich and layered with orchestration and 50’s girl group harmonies, backing up raw instrumentals and Sabrina’s unpredictable vocals. Whether she’s screaming about her childhood Dorthy Hamill haircut or her love of Pamela Anderson, her delivery is powerful, changing from speak-sung screams to operatic belting. At times this album is a bit goofy and over the top, but what do you expect from a sound this big? It’s gonna go over the top, and if you’re a fan of A Giant Dog, you know Sabrina likes to inject some levity into her music. I can truly say there is nothing else like this out right now. Brian played their epic song "The Mighty" on Best Song Ever.
Guided By Voices August By Cake
If you listen to Best Song Ever you know Guided By Voices, Grandaddy, and Ween were 3 90’s bands that are cult favorites and people have been telling me to listen to for years. I am now well acquainted with all of them and GBV is actually my least favorite of the 3 (David Obenour will literally kill me if he reads this) but that’s not really an insult because all of them are really amazing bands. Mainly what those 3 bands are is that in the midst of the 90’s grunge mania they made choices that set their music apart. GBV is really unique in the way that they are so prolific (this is Robert Pollard’s 100th album) and they make albums with 30+ songs that are all 1-3 minutes long. That’s a tradition they continued on this album. August By Cake feels like a sort of musical scrapbook, just quick glimpses of different stories and worlds. This is some grade a fuzzed out folk rock with Beatles-esque melodies and bold guitar hooks, yet with 30+ songs you have time for all manner of experimentation and they certainly experiment. I took a long time to get into this band but I am truly in awe that they can make music of this quality and this volume for so many decades. Happy hundredth Robert. Hear when Brian played the song “Hiking Skin” on Best Song Ever.
Diet Cig Swear I'm Good At This
The debut of Brooklyn pop-punk duo Diet Cig is the heartfelt yet self-deprecating autobiography of frontwoman Alex Luciano. The title I Swear I’m Good At This could apply to sex, love, socialization, or just life in general. That’s the thread running through this album, Alex is a young well intentioned woman trying to navigate love and life, and experiencing some comical follies. Like having sex with a person with the same name as her or just the quirky yet relatable comfort of having ice cream on your birthday. When songs aren’t fuzzed out, driving pop punk, Alex delivers a couple White Stripes-esque tender ballads. There are times when Alex’s voice feels a bit whiny, but overall this is a solid debut. The duo have a knack for writing infectious pop-punk and Alex’s writing captures that feeling when you feel like you have confidence in your abilities, talents, or personality yet that doesn’t come through when you want it to. That struggle between having big ideas that lack big execution. Brian played their song “Tummy Ache” on Best Song Ever.
Happyness Write In
In 2014, British indie-rockers Happyness made their debut with Weird Little Birthday channeling their alt-rock influences and garnering attention for a song where they talk about wearing Win Butler of Arcade Fire’s hair after scalping him. On their second album they broaden their horizons and channel the likes of The Beach Boys, Big Star, and Roxy Music to make lavishly textured 60’s influenced pop-rock combined with Jangle-pop and alt-rock influences making this album feel a strange kind of familiar. The band recorded in their Jelly Boy Studios which is in a building that is being redeveloped so this is kind of the end of an era for the band as this is the last album that will be recorded there. Who knows what the future holds for Happyness, but given the path they’ve been on I think we will just see them further develop their sound and explore new territories. I played the album’s expansive opening track “Falling Down” on Best Song Ever so check that out and then just continue listening to the rest of the album.
Tee Grizzley My Moment
The debut full length of Detroit MC Tee Grizzley is equal parts street aggression and glorious homecoming. After serving three years in prison for home invasions he returned home, contrary to the belief of haters, and got a record deal. Tee first made waves with “First Day Out” that chronicles his arrest, case, and homecoming in epic fashion. His style is really distinct, he raps in a sort of stream of consciousness way, he just goes without stopping, covering so much terrain. He holds back before unleashing his full force, which is mirrored by the swells in the beat. This album is not for the faint of heart, Tee is no joke, be prepared to hear a lot of death threats and brags about bitches. However, there are more vulnerable moments, with heart-breaking verses about people he’s lost and pain he’s endured. The aggression feels justified coming from someone who’s been to hell and back. This album is his triumphant return, his moment.
The New Pornographers Whiteout Conditions
The poster child for indie-rock supergroups in Canadian band The New Pornographers. Containing the immense talents of Neko Case, A.C. Newman, and Dan Bejar a.k.a. Destroyer, they’ve been a staple of the indie-rock landscape for over 15 years. They've developed their sound over the years going from raw indie-rock to more elaborate orchestrated rock. This is their first album without Dan Bejar and while Neko and A.C. can absolutely carry an album on their own, I do miss his presence. On this album they carry on the crunchy guitar and spiky synths that they implemented on their last album Brill Bruisers. However, for some reason that sound feels a bit played out on here. I really enjoyed the singles shared before the release of this album, and I even played "High Ticket Attractions" on Best Song Ever but this just didn't do much for me. I love the album artwork and much of the lyrical content is very relevant and the album is well done but compared to their last four records this one fell short for me. I'm sure I'll give it another chance and maybe appreciate it more, but it just had me longing for the old New Pornogs.
Allan Kingdom LINES
Canadian rapper Allan Kingdom has four mixtapes and a Kanye feature under his belt (last year’s Northern Lights was fantastic) and now with LINES he furthers his rise to greatness. Allan cites Cudi as a main influences of sound and that is definitely apparent. Cudi was one of the pioneers of the sing-speak style of rapping that now is extremely oversaturated, yet for certain artist it provides an interesting vehicle for their flow. Allan is one of the few rappers, alongside Lil Boat and Chance, who I enjoy doing the positive sing/rap stye, he also raps in the traditional manner, either way his flow and wordplay and super impressive and infectious. Allan is in with some indie rappers as well as heavy hitters, I was glad to see one of the former, Kevin Abstract a rapper/singer who’s music speaks a lot about his homosexuality. Compared to Northern Lights this album falls a little short, but if you were to throw any of these songs on I would still jam out cuz this guy can do wrong.
Shugo Tokumaru Hikageno
The music of Japanese multi-instrumentalist Shugo Tokumaru can best be described as a cacophony of awesomeness. For his new album Shugo enlisted a bunch of artists to record different part and then he pieced them together. The result is some of the most innovative and enjoyable music I've heard in a long time. This song begins as a tender acoustic ballad, yet constantly evolves with different sounds make appearances, ultimately building to a bitchin' guitar solo that you would think would be too jarring yet it perfectly fits. Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier adds some meandering drums that chaotically accompany Shugo's vocals as the song winds back down to it's basic part before ending. I am beyond excited for this album to come out and it's gonna totally fuck up the list I started for my best albums of the year, it's gonna up at the top. Check out the new episode of Best Song Everwhere Brian plays the song and we talk about it. Toss is out April 28th on Polyvinyl.
Frank Ocean feat. Jay-Z & Tyler, The Creator Biking
We got our second post-Blond Frank song today and it features Hov himself and Frank's ex-Odd Future bandmate Tyler, The Creator. Jay delivers an interestingly lo-fi verse comparing life's cycles to the wheels of a bike and so the bike metaphor begins. I'm still not entirely sure what "biking" is supposed to mean but I think it's kind of supposed to be used how Aimee Mann uses the ferris wheel to describe bipolar disorder: ups and downs around and round. Frank's verse is different that what we're used to from him. Instead of doing his signature meandering r&b vocals he does a sort of sing/rap sort of thing I would expect from D.R.A.M. or Chance. I don't mind it though in fact his flow on this song it super infectious. Tyler spits a pretty good verse and then Frank ends it with a cool scream/sung bridge in the end. I feel like everything Frank has done since Channel Orange has just been super strange (although that albums pretty strange too). Not sure if he has an album coming out soon but whatever he's up to I'm down with it.
Aimee Mann Mental Illness
There’s so much to say about how great this album is, I think it may even be my favorite album of the year. The veteran singer/songwriter embraces a less is more mentality, keeping the instrumentation limited mainly to acoustic guitar and vocals, yet it’s outfitted with strings and light percussion (sleigh bells). Aimee was inspired by 70’s east listening music and added beds of backup vocals, that add soaring crescendos to her minimal compositions. The lyrics focus on, you guessed it, Mental Illness, whether she’s examining her own behavior or someone she knows, she offers powerful case studies into the human mind. On “Goose Snow Cone” she misses her cat and captures the feeling of homesickness and loneliness, on “Patient Zero” she’s seduced then let down by Hollywood, and on “Philly Sinks” she describes someone she calls “borderline sociopathic” with a drinking problem to boot. However, judgement isn’t cast instead it shed’s light on the motivations of those involved. Every song of this album tells a new beautiful and heart-breaking story, offering solidarity and understanding for those of us who picture our friends, family member, or even ourselves in these flawed protagonists. After a couple decades of making great music (the Magnolia soundtrack rules) Aimee Mann still finds a way to make evocative and infectious songs. Brian played her beautiful song “Goose Snow Cone” on Best Song Ever which I think may be one of my favorite songs of the year.
Tei Shi Crawl Space
Argentinian singer/songwriter Valerie Teicher a.k.a. Tei Shi released her debut full length, Crawlspace, referring to the spot where she would face her fear of the dark as a child. On this album she faces her fears whether it’s the tarantula on her face in the album cover, the fear that she won’t be a good singer, or the fear of losing a love. She delivers a rich and ever changing synth-pop sound, all held together with her soulful voice, surprising the listen with the heights it reaches. 80’s referencing synth-pop is a dime a dozen these days and I would normally be turned off to this sound. However, her shimmering compositions and soaring hooks are inescapable. She also includes audio clips of herself as a child, she starts the record with her child self describing "How To Record” and talks about wanting to sing like Britney Spears and it’s adorable. This is an incredible debut album and we can expect great things from Mei Shi in the future. Brian played the song “Keep Running” on Best Song Ever, check it out here.
Legendary English rock band Wire recently celebrated the 40th Anniversary of their eponymous debut album Pink Flag. They’ve been know for pushing the boundaries of rock and punk and their sound continues to evolve. They masterfully walk the line between noisy and atmospheric, gruff and dissonant, heartfelt and melodic. As the name Silver/Lead and the grey album art demonstrate, cryptic and mysterious lyrics paint a melancholy picture of the future, yet bursts of light and hope permeate the intentional monotony. Wire is such an influential band and they continue to add to an already amazing catalogue. Brian and I talk about them on Best Song Ever and play their song “Short Elevated Period" check it out here.
Lydia Ainsworth Darling of the Afterglow
Lydia Ainsworth makes a strange yet intriguing combination of folk influenced synth pop. Banjo licks lay in aside big wobbly bass drops, lead by Ainsworth’s pop star voice it’s a surprisingly infectious cocktail. These songs begin dark and moody before erupting into grand pop crescendos. Her sound grew on me, I was not a fan when it was first sent to me. The big synth sound can be a bit abrasive at times, but the more I listen I appreciate the bold compositional choices she makes, not to mention her melodies are glorious. if she had just stuck with folk or just stuck with synth pop, she would perhaps struggle to stand out, but with the combination of both she emerges as an original. This is an impressive sophomore album developing a truly unique sound.
Pile A Hairshirt of Purpose
Another post-punk band with a four letter name, Boston band Pile no doubt was influenced by Wire in some way. This band began as a solo act and grew into a full band and their sixth album is their finest yet. It’s equal parts harsh & abrasive and soulful & melodic. When the guys aren’t rocking with jagged punk hooks and speak-sung lyrics, Rick Maguire croons over gently strummed guitar backed by orchestration. The sound of this album is so big, yet it feels far away, all noise filling an open space. This album has enough driving force and intimate vulnerability to keep me interested, and is dissonant enough to alienate the masses
Freddie Gibbs You Only Live 2wice
The veteran MC reminds us of his influence, tells tales from the streets, comments on the political state and gives some advice to the kids. Rap music often romanticizes thug life, some of my favorite rap does this, but it is nice to hear rappers like Killer Mike and Freddie Gibbs telling the up and comers that it’s actually some heavy shit and to avoid if you can, though not everybody can. Gibbs states,”I think n****s forgot who gave these n****s this flow,” and throughout it’s clear that his flow is incredible and is absolutely imitated. The production on this album is somewhat old school, this definitely is reminiscent of 90’s and early aughts hip hop. Beats consist of looped samples and basic electronic drum beats, they’re understated yet effective.
Bleachers Don't Take The Money
For the last 5 years FUN.'s Jack Antanoff has been winning Grammys and writing songs for pop stars, and in 2014 he released his solo debut as Bleachers. Now he and Lorde are pop’s dynamic duo, with him co-writing and producing her upcoming Melodrama, and she supports him on this track, co-writing and lending backup vocals. Jack released a lengthy statement to his fans along with this song, explaining how he uses “Don’t Take The Money” to mean don’t walk away from a gut feeling you have, because usually those gut feelings lead to great things. He applies the metaphor to love, he said he wanted to reflect how difficult relationships can be and in the chorus begs his love not to walk away, repeating “Don’t Take The Money.” Antanoff was recently referred to as “pop’s secret weapon” and he certainly has a knack for writing big, bright, infectious songs. On this song his sound is working better than ever, I actually like this one more than anything on is last album so this sophomore release is looking very promising. Bleachers album Everybody Lost Somebody is due June 2nd on RCA.
Amber Coffman No Coffee
Recently Amber Coffman commented on the latest release from former band Dirty Projectors, and she kind of gave her side of the story: her and Dave broke up in 2012, he helped produce some of her solo album and then things took an “uncomfortable downturn” and she distanced herself. I thought her response was very tactful not being angry or pointing the finger she just said she’s excited to move forward and share her music. Shortly after we got the second single from her upcoming solo album, and she seems to be heading in an interesting new direction. The guitar riff that begins the song is reminiscent of 70’s soul and funk, before layering on acoustic guitar and bass in the chorus. The instrumentals here are flawless, and they perfectly suit Amber’s beautiful. unmistakeable voice. She swoons over a lover saying, "Don't need no coffee, I'm wide awake. I'm not much for sleeping when your love is at stake." This is a sweet love song and it gives us a sense of what the album will contain. I think it’s safe to say we’re going to see another side to Amber that we haven’t seen before, whether it’s the style of music of the content of the lyrics, she is entering into new territory. I feel like I don’t need coffee when I listen to this song cuz it’s so sunny and bouncy it’ll set your day off to a great start. Her debut solo album City of No Reply is due sometime this year on Columbia Records.
Craig Finn We All Want The Same Things
I’ve been sitting on this album for a long time patiently awaiting it’s release so the world could hear what I did. This is one of my favorite albums of the year if not my favorite. The former Hold Steady frontman channels his inner Springsteen and tells elaborate tales of the human condition, landing on the truth, “We All Want The Same Things.” Whether it’s “Junebug and Jester” “Nathan you’re my only friend.” or “James I’m glad that you’re here” we’re introduced relatable characters that help us access the triumphant highs and defeating lows of life. This is Finn's most ambitious and instrumentally diverse album. Whether it’s jangly folk or polished driving rock, Finn creates a new musical atmosphere for each song. Every song feels like a new scene in an anthology film, with a new director showing each scene through a different lens yet they all connect in ways. Finn has had a lot of experience as a storyteller and this feels like his Master’s thesis, the intersection of master storytelling and production expertise. I played the beautiful song “Preludes” on Best Song Ever.
Sera Cahoone From Where I Started
On her fourth solo album, the singer/songwriter and former Band of Horses drummer looks back on her life and reflects on what she’s learned and what she still wants to improve. She looks at where she is now compared to where she started. She talks about overcoming her stage fright, the untimely loss of a loved one, and her desire to be a “Better Woman” a better lover and a better friend. She has previously been classified as lo-fi country but that’s not the case on this album. This is crisp and clean country, consisting mostly of Sera’s soft and majestic voice over a gently picked guitar, with occasional swells of strings or guitars or harmonicas, helping the songs bloom into more elaborate compositions. I never knew that a phenomenal singer/songwriter was back behind Ben Bridwell all this time, and now I’m glad I was able to see the amazing music Sera is capable of creating.
Spiral Stairs Doris and The Daggers
Pavement’s Scott Kannberg a.k.a. Spiral Stairs enjoyed a couple years of quiet life in Australian countryside with his wife and child, before they grew tired of the country life and moved back to the states. He initially intended to record this album very quickly but the death of his friend and bandmate Darius Minwalla died caused him to make the songs more emotional and expansive. This extra time and attention to detail pays off, where he intended these song to be straight garage rock, now each tune is outfitted with synths, or affected guitar riffs, giving each song it’s own vibe and personality. Not only does this album sound great but it features a killer indie-rock lineup of contributors. The National’s Matt Berninger lends vocals on “Exiled Tonight” and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew lends vocals and Justin Peroff plays drums on the whole album along with bassist Matt Harris. I played the song “Dance (Cry Wolf)” on Best Song Ever and we talk about the video which stars Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle watch it here and watch the video for "Emoshuns" below.
Kendrick Lamar The Heart Part 4
Kendrick surprised everyone this week when he announced his album in one of the most unique ways. Over the course of this epic 5 minute track Kendrick updates us on where he’s at over a smooth, soulful composition repeating the chorus, “Don’t tell a lie on me and I won’t tell a truth about you.” The beat is constantly evolving with the tone, hitting harder, as Kendrick reminds us all who is “King Kunta” taking what many people believed to be veiled shots at Drake. The beat gets darker and more driving while Kendrick establishes “I am the greatest rapper alive,” reviewing his career and where he’s at now, while effortlessly weaving in musical and cultural references, social commentary, and even calling out Donald Trump. He ends it say, “Ya’ll got til April the 7th to get your shit together.” I was actually enjoying Drake’s new album and then Kendrick has to come along and remind everyone that he can’t be touched. His writing is so phenomenal because he covers so much ground in a way that doesn’t feel disjointed, while simultaneously making innovative choices that make his flow the most interesting to listen to. As he announce in the song his follow up to 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly is out April 7th.
Sufjan Stevens Saturn
You never quite know what to expect from a new Sufjan Stevens album. The multi-instrumentalist genius and Detroit native is always coming up with amazing new ideas and album concepts, whether it was the 50 states projects, the BQE symphony, or his fore into electronic music The Age of Adz. Now he’s following up 2015’s Carrie and Lowell, the scaled down folk album about the life and death of his mother, with an album about space. He’s enlisted musician friends like The National’s Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and James McAlister to compose an ode to the cosmos. This album was written and toured four years ago but now they’re finally putting the songs out as an album. I’m sure some people, like my cousin and co-host, will not like this more electronics saturated sound, with arpeggiated synths and heavily auto-tuned vocals. However, the genius of Sufjan is that he has his signature song structures and melodies that feel familiar, but he presents them in so many different ways, whether it’s electronic like this and Age of Adz or on All Delighted People where he did different genre versions of the title track. I am excited to hear what Sufjan music about space is like, I’m sure it will not disappoint. Planetarium is set to come out sometime this year.
Drake More Life
A new album from record breaking superstar rapper Drake is always bittersweet for me. I used to be an enormous fan of his (I still have some songs on Thank Me Later memorized) but his last few albums have been an insane amount of songs that all do the dark minimal trap sound so they all blended together and were boring. After all the dissing of Pusha-T and Kid Cudi shit I was not planning on liking More Life or even listening to it for that matter. However, I gave it a chance and it became my favorite album of the week. I feel like this album is the culmination of every style Drake has tampered with in the past: the trap sound he’s run into the ground is definitely present, the dancehall sound he employed on “One Dance” is present on songs like “Passionfruit”, and there are more traditional rap songs more resembling his early work. The production on this album is top notch, as it should be with the team of producers he has on here including 40 and Boy-1da. My favorite addition on this album is how many British musicians he features, Grime rappers Skepta and Giggs appear on a couple songs and Sampha lends his phenomenal voice to “4422”. He also has appearance from hip hop’s biggest stars like Young Thug and Migos as well as the man himself Kanye West. The big argument people have about Drake and my problem with him was that he’s the biggest artists in the world, he’s super rich, and it seemed like he’s either whining about a girl or beef with another rapper. However, he’s dialed down his whininess and I actually love some of the songs where he sings rather than rap. His writing and flow are hard to have a problem with, he is really on point with this album. It seems like old Wheelchair Jimmy has gotten back to basics and he’s definitely pulled a Weezer and won back some fans that had soured on him. If you wanna hear me start a nasty rumor about Drake, check out the latest episode of Best Song Ever.
Spoon Hot Thoughts
The veteran indie-rock band, and one of my personal favorite bands, Spoon have put out their ninth studio album Hot Thoughts, and they retain the consistent quality that we’ve come to expect from them. Their style has never really undergone any huge change they’ve got their sound down, and that’s the case on this new album. Following up 2014’s They Want My Soul, they go in a slightly different direction, with tracks that are a bit darker and more lush and 80’s influenced, but overall it’s Spoon up to their old tricks. Certain tracks are indecipherable from earlier albums, it’s almost as if it’s the same sound just coming through a different filter, the descending piano foundations and fuzzy guitar riffs are still present, they’re just clocked in different synths and effects so that they come across in a new way. Brit Daniel’s songwriting is still on point, and his unmistakeable voice fits in perfectly with the new elements added. While this album can’t outdo previous works like Gimme Fiction or Transference, it is the next in a line of unimpeachable albums. If you want to hear about my complicated history with this amazing band, or the time I saw Brit Daniel at MoPop Festival check out this episode of Best Song Ever where I also played “Hot Thoughts.”
Sorority Noise You're Not As ____ As You Think
I first listened to this band because their name sounded cool, their music was emo influenced indie-rock that was good but didn’t really stand out. However, on their album You’re Not As ____ As You Think they reach new depths of emotional vulnerability as frontman Cameron Boucher process the deaths of his close friends through these songs, literally unleashing his emotions through screaming in some cases. I’ve said it before that emo music can be so underutilized, with shallow poppy tunes whining about a breakup or something, yet when it’s used as a venue for deep and serious pain the genre is the perfect venue for vulnerability and powerful emotional confessions. That is the case on this album it is extremely powerful, both in the sense of destructive guitar riffs, pounding drums, and piercing screams, but in the quite moments everything feels so much closer and immediate, adding to it’s weight. This album was produced by Mike Sapone who has worked with the likes of Taking Back Sunday and Brand New, which makes perfect sense because this album captures that same sound, but refines it even further. Last year we saw bands like Microwave and Touche Amore, using emo and screamo to attack really profound moments in life, and it’s great to see a band like Sorority Noise showing a new side of themselves in the same way.
Real Estate In Mind
Can an album be too catchy? I say yes. I feel like there are albums where every song starts of with a super catchy riff and then maybe loses momentum throughout the song, so at first glance every song is so catchy, then they all blend together. That has been the case with most Real Estate albums for me. I put it on and it sounds so great, the dreamy synths, mixed with the bouncy guitar riffs, are so chill and lovely that I’m hooked. However, after a minute of reverie vocals and swirling guitars I zone out and then repeat this process for 10-12 songs. I completely recognize this is high quality indie-rock but since it’s done in the dream pop style i often sink in to the haze and miss out on the individual merits of the album. That being said, I think that is some of the appeal of this music as well, if you want to sink into some haze you know where to go. Real Estate has never put out a bad album and when I’m listening to the songs that guitar parts put my weary heart at ease, yet right when the song is finished I couldn’t tell you how it went.
Perfume Genius Slip Away
Under the moniker Perfume Genius, Seattle singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas has released three beautiful albums. Over the course of those albums, his sound has evolved from quiet folk and piano ballads, to grander indie-rock arrangements. With the release of this new single, it seems his upcoming fourth album will be his grandest and most realized yet. This song begins with modest production as Hadreas sings about "breaking free" and never having to hide, as a gay man who has faced oppression to not have to hide these words carry even more weight. On the inspirational chorus he says, "Oh, ooh love. They'll never break the shape we take. Oh, ooh. Baby let all them voices slip away." This resilience is mirrored in the music with an Arena rock sized burst of drums and keys with a plethora of other noises making appearance. The song ends in a bittersweet, noisy, and dissonant crescendo. This is without a doubt the most technically impressive and emotionally powerful song I've heard from this artist and I can't wait for the new album, No Shape out May 5th on Matador.
Gorillaz feat. Popcaan Saturnz Barz
The world has been waiting 7 years for Damon Albarn to follow up Gorillaz phenomenal 2010 album Plastic Beach, and this week we got a leaked tracklist showing an insande amount of amazing features including D.R.A.M., Savages' Jhenny Beth, Vince Staples, and De La Soul to name a few. There are so many other amazing features or superstar artists and lesser known talents. We got our first taste of the album yesterday, along with a stunning short film from Jamie Hewlett, where our favorite animated band spends a night in a haunted house. All of this, the dark and eerie beat that Damon and Popcaan spit over, and the creepy video draws comparisons to early tracks and videos like "Dirty Harry." I just read there was some angry Popcaan fans who dissed Drake for not featuring the guy on either of his last two albums, but hey he's on a Gorillaz song so he'll be just fine. I am insanely excited for this new album this is one of my favorite bands ever. We now know that Humanz is coming out April 24th
This is the first taste we've gotten from Feist's first album in six years, following up 2011's Metals, and it's got me ready for more. I lost track of Feist after her seminal album The Reminder, and now hearing this new song she has really altered her sound, but in a cool and interesting way. This song blooms over the course of 5 minutes starting from a soft strummed guitar and Feist's mumbly vocals, then fuzzy guitar riffs and percussion are added all leading a up to a hand clap crescendo, with a chorus of voices chanting "Pleasure". The album of the same name, Pleasure, is out April 28th on Interscope Records.