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.