Dealer (out now on Triple Crown)
While traveling through the Australian outback in my teens, my group and I were having the age-old "would you or wouldn't you?" debate about whether you would kill someone if you were forced to go to war, when our grizzled guide turned around and Read more
"Flesh without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream"
Art Angels (out 11.06 on 4AD)
While the blogosphere rages about whether Claire Boucher has 'gone pop' (whatever the fuck that means), the 27 year-old has simply got on with it. Over the last 18 months, she's crafted a clutch of bangers that defy Read more
"All I Wanna Say"
The young New Zealander began his burgeoning career on Soundcloud and Bandcamp by uploading affecting, spare covers of popular rap and R&B songs, armed with only a Casio keyboard and a little bit of autotune. In the last year or so, the 18 year-old (né Read more
Don't You (out 01.29 on Columbia)
During a week where Bachata Papi grabbed most of the headlines for his phenomenal drunk Uncle swag, another of TP's favorite vocalists also broke out some heartfelt moves on a new clip. For four spellbinding minutes, vocalist/songwriter Kelly Zutrau pours her heart out in Read more
Are You Alone? (out 10.16 on Matador)
Though he's still very much a rising artist, Majical Cloudz frontman Devon Welsh is quickly becoming one of the most powerful lyricists in music today. Blissfully free of wordplay and $10 adjectives, the Montreal native excels at direct, plainly poetic prose aimed Read more
Michael Omari’s storming (pun intended) 2015 continues with this ravenous new single, debuted on the first episode of his Beats 1 show, #MERKY. While the South Londoner is also an accomplished singer, he brings an extra helping of bars to “Standard,” and they come in an unrelenting series of waves, like a Mauricio Pochettino press. There’s a real magnetism to Omari’s lyrics, and while he’s far from a punchline rapper, each line seems to stick in your head and is made to be shouted along with a mass of people. Hell, even his freestyles have become anthemic. At this point, there’s not much else to say, but I’ll need to think of something for my year-end “Best Of” list. All hail.
“Perfect” Made in the A.M. (out now on Columbia)
It’s kind of incredible that the world’s biggest boy band and one of the most popular male artists dropped albums on the same day. And while the Biebs’ fourth LP has grabbed most of stateside column inches, One Direction first post-Zayn effort deserves more acclaim than it has received. Sharp, joyful, and chock-full of unforgettable melodies, Made in the A.M. is the rare 17-song album that doesn’t feel bloated, thanks to its lean, efficient songwriting. Standout single, “Perfect,” is a perfect example of the disc’s muscular craft, as it packs one of the strongest hooks of the year. Throw in a fantastically bitchy Taylor Swift kiss-off from ex-Harry Styles (“if you’re looking for someone to write your breakup songs about”), and you have another unstoppable 1D anthem, sure to captivate arenas and Twitter feeds around the world.
“A World I Give” (f/ Ryuichi Sakamoto) / “As Old Roads” / “Sometimes” Sometimes (out 11.13 on Western Vinyl)
Judging from these three tracks, prolific composer Keith Kenniff may be about to unleash one of the finest albums of the fourth quarter. The Berklee College of Music graduate’s beautiful, contemplative ambient music got the attention of legendary composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, who lends his golden fingers to the stirring “A World I Give.” Its melody is both graceful and angular, and its cinematic quality makes it near impossible to close your eyes without picturing a scene in your head. Like most ambient music, these songs will probably sound even better in the context of the album, which is one that I’m dying to hear.
While traveling through the Australian outback in my teens, my group and I were having the age-old “would you or wouldn’t you?” debate about whether you would kill someone if you were forced to go to war, when our grizzled guide turned around and gave our hypothetical some heavy reality. He recounted being confronted with child soldiers, whilst deployed at the height of the Rwandan Genocide. It was one of those stories that sticks with you, a glimpse into the depth of war with the horrifying clarity that can only be delivered by someone who experienced it firsthand.
Josh Coll of STL quintet Foxing is another with firsthand experience. A devastating post-mortem of time spent serving in Afghanistan, “Indica” is the rare war song penned from memories, rather than movies, books, or imagination. Erudite, poetic, and totally crushing, Coll grapples with what what he’s done and seen overseas and what it means for the man who came back. You won’t hear more affecting lyrics this year, and though Coll doesn’t sing them himself, vocalist Conor Murphy’s expressive vocal gives them extra weight. The prose is expertly paired with a lonely guitar, mournful military horn, and a touch of snare roll. It’s one of the most difficult songs I’ve heard this year, but also one of the most special.
Fresh off releasing one of 2015′s strongest debuts, April’s Dark Energy, the Gary, IN footwork producer (né Jerrilynn Patton) treats us to a victory lap in the form of a new EP. First single, “Nandi,” is sparser than much of her frenetic debut with sensual vocal samples laced through skittering hi-hats and rolling hand drums. The track has an aerobic quality, almost as if it’s trying to catch its breath. And while that could easily be traced to the genre’s hyper-speed dance steps, the songs alluring vibes seem to allude to something else that makes it very tough to catch your breath. Ahem.
Though it’s billed as a b-side to their excellent recent single, “Weak,” this crushing, gorgeous track is far from a throwaway. In fact, it’s atypical of much of the trio’s bulletproof back catalog. For one, vocalist Kelly Zutrau pushes her affecting voice into the highest register we’ve heard so far, straining to deliver devastating lines “Did you ever want something so much that your world came apart?” Another exciting new development is its delightful strummed acoustic guitar, which is very Everything But the Girl/Tony Rich Project. More than anything, it’s another keeper from a band that just never disappoints. If this song wasn’t strong enough to make their forthcoming debut LP, Don’t You, I cannot wait to hear what was.
“Flesh without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” Art Angels (out 11.06 on 4AD)
While the blogosphere rages about whether Claire Boucher has ‘gone pop’ (whatever the fuck that means), the 27 year-old has simply got on with it. Over the last 18 months, she’s crafted a clutchofbangers that defy labels and genres (other than “fucking great”), and it all looks to be building up to what could be a 2015-defining LP — her fourth full-length, Art Angels.
This week, we got our first real taste of it with the propulsive, elastic “Flesh without Blood” and the heady, emotional ballad, “Life in the Vivid Dream.” The former strikes the perfect balance between Boucher’s distinct, experimental core and her impeccable ability to craft streamlined, inarguable hooks. And though the latter runs under two minutes, it is far from an afterthought, highlighting the disarming power she holds in her vocals and lyrics. #PopGrimes or not, it’s a breathtaking, vital sound that is all her own.
“Stand Up and Speak” Stand Up and Speak (out 01.29 on Body High)
Samo Sound Boy is already responsible for one of the best dance albums of this year, and it looks like he has his eyes set on making one of the best of next year, as well. Along with bandmate, Jerome LOL, DJDS might have a monster on their hands, judging from its three exquisite pre-release singles. The most recent, “Stand Up and Speak,” matches soulful vocals with the group’s signature rolling percussion and spiraling songwriting. Unlike much of their sample-heavy back catalog, TheFader reports that the Angelinos employed a variety of live vocalists this time around. That shift is apparent here, and regardless of whether it is a sample, the vocals have a vitality that is a welcome addition to their always potent sonic stew.
The young New Zealander began his burgeoning career on Soundcloud and Bandcamp by uploading affecting, spare covers of popular rap and R&B songs, armed with only a Casio keyboard and a little bit of autotune. In the last year or so, the 18 year-old (né Eddie Johnston) has focused on original material, and new single, “All I Wanna Say,” is the best of it so far. Like in his covers, Johnston’s solo work is disarmingly direct and poignant, thanks mostly to its simplicity. A mantra like “all I have to offer is my love” would seem trite and cliché coming from most artists, but the innocent timbre of Johnston’s voice makes it feel like he really means it. Like, he believes that literally the only thing he can offer someone is his undying devotion. And that is a feeling that nearly anybody who has ever been a awkward, self-doubting, lovestruck teenager can relate to.
In the last five years, I’ve writtenquiteabit about prolific LA-based crooner Jesse Kivel’s music, but surprisingly, I’ve neglected his lesser-known brother Matt and his reflective solo work. Following last year’s underrated Days of Being Wild, the Santa Monica native recorded his third LP in Glasgow with Drag City head honcho, Alasdair Roberts. Its lead single, “Janus,” is a gorgeous, delicate folk number that sees Kivel’s soft voice paired beautifully with fingerpicked guitar and a touching, step-wise piano melody. It’s a heartening glimpse into what will hopefully be the record that will get him the recognition he deserves.