Album of the Week: August Alsina, Testimony

August Alsina Testimony Out now on Radio Killa/ Def Jam In the last couple of years, millions of words have been written about the deconstruction of R&B. The common narrative reads that the antiquated, oft-problematic genre needed a re-think, a shot in the arm. Artists like the Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and Miguel Read more

First Quarter Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2014 (So Far)

Quite a few of my friends have asked me for new music, which is kind of insane, considering this has been an incomprehensibly strong year of music so far. We've seen a handful of brilliant LPs and some absolutely breathtaking singles. Here's a super quick round-up of about 25 absolutely essential songs that came Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Young Thug, "Treasure" (f/ Zuse)

Young Thug "Treasure" (f/ Zuse) Digital Single If you're still not sold on Atlanta's Jeffrey "Young Thug" Williams, I don't know what to tell you. Since the release of 2013's brilliant, 1017 Thug mixtape, Williams has cranked out envelope-pushing, breathtaking deconstructionist trap anthems, crafting tracks as unpredictable and fractured as his public persona. In classic Internet Read more

April Showers: 17 Releases That Demand Your Attention This Month

S. Carey, Range of Light (April 1, JagJaguWar) What: Bon Iver member/multi-instrumentalist/classically trained folky Sean Carey’s 2nd LP Where: Eau Claire, WI Sounds Like: Sensitive bros sitting around a lake, reflecting on life, sipping PBR’s, and shit. Giddy-O-Meter: 8/10 Four years since his ornate, orchestral-folk debut, All We Grow, Carey returns with a gorgeous, Read more

Hot Jams of the Day: Yung Lean, "Gatorade" (Lido Remix) // Disclosure, "Latch" (Lido Remix)

Yung Lean "Gatorade" (Lido Remix) Disclosure "Latch" (Lido Remix) Last week, I went to see Cashmere Cat and Trippy Turtle at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and while Cash Cat is always a great show, I was completely floored by the still-anonymous opening act. While Trippy Turtle is best-known for his ravenous Jersey Club Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Hannah Diamond, “Attachment”

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Hannah Diamond
Digital Single

Following up peculiar pop gem, “Pink and Blue,” the esoteric vocalist returns with a similarly cracked heartbreak jam. On “Attachment,” the Londoner straddles the line between cute and crazy with grace and dexterity, prancing her “lovelorn chipmunk” vocals over a maximalist, neon synth arraignment. Like her debut single, there are huge K-Pop and J-Pop undertones here, which add a freshness to her simple pop melodies. It’s hard to tell what the future holds for Diamond, but a recent showcase alongside Sophie in London seems to suggest that her delirious sound is going places.

Just in case you missed it, here’s the still-fantastic “Pink and Blue.”

Hot Jam of the Day: WIFE, “Heart is a Far Light”

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“Heart is a Far Light”
What’s Between (out 06.10 on Tri Angle)

If first single, “Heart is a Far Light,” is any indication, the Altar of Plagues frontman’s debut LP for Tri Angle is set to be one of the most bewitching, atmospheric of the year. Based around a taut guitar part and James Kelly’s hypnotic, layered voices, the track beautifully unravels to a piece much larger than the sum of its spare, minimalistic parts. The Irishman’s vulnerable vocals disarm the listener, giving the track a decidedly “private conversation” vibe. Altar of Plagues has always been best enjoyed in the full album format, so one would expect WIFE will be the same. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it.

Album of the Week: August Alsina, Testimony

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August Alsina
Out now on Radio Killa/ Def Jam

In the last couple of years, millions of words have been written about the deconstruction of R&B. The common narrative reads that the antiquated, oft-problematic genre needed a re-think, a shot in the arm. Artists like the Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and Miguel were crowned as the men for the job — the forward-thinking minds ready to drag R&B into the 21st century (read: make traditionally black music palatable to white audiences). Before we knew it, the three of them were playing triumphant sets at Coachella, the Ed Sullivan Show of today. The verdict was in: mainstream millennials demanded R&B.

The great secret, however, is the most progressive R&B coming out continues to be produced by artists who are generally viewed as “traditional.” Whether it was The-Dream’s stunning 1977 (2011), Jeremih’s Late Nights with Jeremih (2012), or TeeFlii’s recent AnnieRUO’TAY 2, much of the best work of the last five years has come from outside the lauded PBR&B(ARF) scene. Another one of those artists who will not be coming to a Coachella near you is 21 year-old August Alsina.

The New Orleanian’s debut has been mostly skipped over by the pop blogosphere, which is hilarious considering they all had plenty to say about the Weeknd’s limp, Kiss Land . The truth is, Testimony, is an outstanding first statement, highlighting much of what makes him such a compelling artist. First and foremost, he has the chops: an effortless, graceful tenor that glides up to a falsetto without a hint of strain. Even better, he uses those million-dollar vocal chords to weave affecting stories.

The record is called Testimony for a reason. From cathartic leadoff track “Testify” to gospel-tinged closer “Benediction,” Alsina is hell-bent on telling his story — from his difficult childhood to his triumphant rise and everything in between. Through everything, he never loses his buoyant spirit and dogged desire to succeed, perhaps best typified by the lyric “Heard my brother got gunned down and it hurt me to my heart. / So I kept grindin’, kept pushin’, he told me to go far.”

That survivor’s spirit permeates every minute of the record. Whether he is paying tribute to his troubled mother (“Mama”) or giving props to strippers (the outstanding “Get Ya’ Money”), Alsina has a knack for seeing things as they really are and paying tribute to people who are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. Even the album’s most romantic moment, the exquisite “Kissin’ On My Tattoos,” details a flawed couple, not brave enough to commit to each other but terrified that the other will move on.

The song’s ambiguity is a microcosm of what makes Testimony so strong and its author so interesting. In today’s world, artists tend to deliver easily-digestible, unvarying brands: the Weeknd’s dead-eyed lothario, Miguel’s sensitive bro. However, Alsina prefers to live in the moral grey area of the real world, where nothing is all one way or the other. And there’s nothing more progressive than that.


Images & Words: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “Live in NYC”

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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
“Live in NYC”
Songs taken from Days of Abandon (out 05.13 on Slumberland)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart treated a small group of lucky people to a preview of their third LP, rolling through six new tracks. Judging by these cuts, Kip Berman and co. are about to unleash the best work of their career, and the new songs absolutely nail the balance beetween buoyant and melancholy that makes so much of the source material (80s shoegaze, 90s alt-rock) so timeless. Special mention for their rendition of outstanding second single, ”Eurydice,” as it’s one of the most inarguable songs the group has ever written. I’m officially looking forward to hearing Days of Abandon in full.

Hot Jam of the Day: Koreless, “Sun” (String Quintet Live at Maida Vale)

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“Sun” (String Qunitet Live At Maida Vale)
Digital Single

Here’s the first taste of Welsh producer Lewis Roberts’ collaboration with a string quintet at BBC’s legendary Maida Vale studios. They take on the second track of his outstanding Yungen EP, and the result is overwhelming and gorgeous. Lead by a haunting cielo, “Sun” opens up into an exuberant, sweeping melody with a palpable cinematic quality. Roberts doesn’t bring in his signature synth until about halfway through, and it integrates beautifully with the acoustic instruments, adding a futuristic feel to its timeless core. Hopefully, this won’t be the only piece we hear from the session.

Hot Jam of the Day: Sd Laika, “Great God Pan”

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SD Laika
“Great God Pan”
That’s Harakiri (out 04.28 on Tri Angle)

I’ve devoted plenty of words to spooky Wisconsin producer, Peter Runge, in recent weeks, but we just got the second taste of his uber-hyped debut effort for Tri Angle. “Great God Pan” isn’t quite as harrowing as the outstanding, ”Meshes,” but it packs the same slaughterhouse vibezzz. It’s impossible to really call anything original nowadays, but Runge is coming close here, as it’s extremely hard to put your finger on what this sounds like. We’ve heard terms like “deconstructed grime” and “industrial” thrown around, but none of them quite fit. It’ll be fascinating to hear how his uncompromising sound works over 30-40 minutes, and I cannot wait to find out.

Images & Words: Tommy Kruise, “Hers”

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Tommy Kruise
Upcoming EP

This is a really beautiful clip, in which the Montreal native chronicles the story of one of his fans, Bogdan Chiochiu. Chiochiu suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and uses music to help him navigate through his life, much like so many others (myself included). Though its protagonist is not where he wants to be at the moment, there is a real undercurrent of hope and an underlying beauty that runs through the whole clip.

It is expertly soundtracked by the buoyant Quebecois producer, whose outstanding original takes a bit of a supporting role to Chiochiu’s story. That said, “Hers” still stands out with its twinkling synths and pounding backbeat, undulating languidly and gracefully over the affecting images. An overall knockout.

Hot Jam of the Day: Kid Smpl, “Silo Tear”

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Kid Smpl
“Silo Tear”
Silo Tear EP (out 05.05 on Hush Hush)

The Seattle producer’s enveloping sound lies somewhere between the dancefloor and the factory floor, gorgeously weaving between an alluring human touch and the cold steel of heavy machinery. Opening with some post-Burial vocal longings, “Silo Tear” glides into an aqueous, mantric groove, punctuated with sporadic percussion and drippy sonic filigree. It ultimately resolves to an industrial, chaotic movement before disappearing without a trace. It’s an excellent stand-alone piece, but it’s the kind of single that feels like it is best heard in the context of a full statement. Roll on May 5.

Hot Jam of the Day: Lana Del Rey, “West Coast”

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Lana Del Rey
“West Coast”
Ultraviolence (out this summer on Interscope)

Though she’s released a string of dross since the stunning 2011 singles, “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans,” the 27 year-old manages to recapture some of that Old Hollywood magic that made her early work remarkable. It could be down to the touch of producer Dan Auerbach, but I’d also imagine that stepping away from the harsh glow of the limelight was a good thing for Ms. Lana. All of her post-”Blue Jeans” work has been listless and tepid, the sound of a person beaten down by years of life in front of the camera.

Sounding like an artist well into her 40s, it looked like she was already a spent force, but “West Coast” shows signs of life. While it has its fair share of eye-rolling lyrics (“Down on the West Coast, we’ve got a saying. / If you’re not drinking, you’re not playing.”), her voice glides over a taut, single-note guitar riff that unfolds into an expansive, breezy chorus. Auerbach’s influence is all over this thing, and his bluesy sensibilities form an effective foil for her carefree, vapid vocals, giving her music a weight that it has been sorely lacking in recent years. It remains to be seen whether this is a one-off or a sign of things to come, but it’s nice to see her get her mojo back.

Hot Jam of the Day: MNEK, “Every Little Word”

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“Every Little Word”
Upcoming Debut LP (out soon on Virgin)

After a handful of fantastic singles and a slew of production credits, the 19 year-old is finally ready for his close-up. Lead single, “Every Little Word,” distills much of what makes the Londoner (né Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike) such a rising star. Built around a buoyant arraignment  “Every Little Word” matches inch-perfect craft with progressive, sticky songwriting, resulting in a great pop song that sounds great too. Though MNEK’s work is littered with timeless 80s and 90s references, his tracks always sound incredibly current, and this is no exception.

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