Images & Words: Jamie Isaac, "Doing Better"

Jamie Isaac "Doing Better" Digital Single After a year or so away, the low-key Croydon singer-songwriter returns with the first song from his forthcoming sophomore LP. "Doing Better" is another tasty slab of the bleary-eyed, late-night soul that made his debut, "Couch Baby," my 14th favorite album of 2016. Isaac is blessed Read more

Images & Words: Mabel x Not3s, "Fine Line"

Mabel x Not3s "Fine Line" Digital Single Mabel and Not3s both appeared on my "Best Songs of 2017" list as solo artists, so it's not surprising that their second single together is an absolute heater. "Fine Line" has more crossover potential than anything either artist has released before, bringing an anthemic, radio-ready chorus to go with their signature, lithe, Read more

Images & Words: 03 Greedo, "Never Bend"

O3 Greedo "Never Bend" Money Changes Everything (out now on Golden Grenade Empire) Not gonna lie, I slept on 03 Greedo last year, but I'm not going to make the same mistake twice. The Watts rapper is one of the most unique, exciting new voices rising today, pairing soulful crooning and sticky bars for a Read more

Best of '17: The Best Songs of 2017

So that's it. 6 years of ThunderPenguin are in the books. As always, here's a round-up of my favorite songs of the year. This was one of the toughest lists I've ever made, and I hope something on this list brings you the light it brought me. Thanks so Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: T-Pain, "Textin' My Ex" (f/ Tiffany Evans)

T-Pain “Textin’ My Ex” (f/ Tiffany Evans) Oblivion Tomorrow, T-Pain drops his long-awaited fifth LP, the culmination of the most trying era of the R&B innovator’s career. Through no real fault of his own, Pain (né Faheem Najm) went from the jolly ringmaster of a multi-million dollar radio empire to a Read more


Hot Jam of the Day: Courtney Barnett, “Depreston”

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Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (out 03.24 on Mom + Pop)

Since the dawn of modern civilization, procreation and land ownership have been the principle goals of humanity. While much has been written about the personal collateral damage brought about by the former, substantially less has been written about the latter, especially in the world of pop music. The 26 year-old Australian’s rumination on a trip to look at suburban homes with her partner is a beautiful dive into the realities of leaving the city for some land of your own. The large garden, the parking space, the peace, the comforting permanence. The isolation, the realization of the family you’re replacing, the boredom, the crushing permanence.

The story is left unresolved with the resolution to Barnett’s future replaced by a languid slide guitar, explaining that there is no answer to this question. It’s the sound of two people looking at each other uneasily on the ride home, hoping that the other knows what to do. It’s a masterful example of non-verbal storytelling that caps off an extremely well told verbal story; in other words, the perfect ending to a song that’s just about the same.

Hot Jam of the Day: Heems, “Home” (f/ Dev Hynes)

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“Home” (f/ Dev Hynes)
Eat Pray Thug (out 03.10 on Megaforce)

Surprise releases may be played out in 2015, but the New Yorker’s new single is a totally different kind of surprise. His heartfelt new single is a stunning stylistic U-Turn for an artist who is best known for his brainy, acerbic, and extrospective flow. While he hasn’t completely shied away from sharing in the past, Heems (né Himanshu Suri) has never written a song this direct and personal, as he picks through the bones of a failed relationship and his personal demons in striking detail.

Touched by inch-perfect production from Dev Hynes, the 29 year-old weaves couplets that land like crushing body blows (“You addicted to the H-Man. I’m addicted to the H, man”), masterfully combining brutal honesty and insight with his trademark wit. Though his voice sounds road-weary and downtrodden, Suri’s songwriting and storytelling voice has never been stronger, and I cannot wait to see where it progresses from here. Easily, one of my five favorite songs of 2015.

Hot Jam of the Day: Kendrick Lamar, “The Blacker The Berry”

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Kendrick Lamar
“The Blacker The Berry”
Digital Single

People like narratives. We like bad guys and good guys, assholes and heroes. We want to know what side we’re on and who else is with us. However, life rarely complies and often confounds us with frustrating shades of grey. While many plow ahead undeterred, determined to develop their Fox News or MSNBC-driven worldview, artists like Kendrick Lamar remind us of the futility of such myopia.

Like much of the 27 year-old’s exquisite canon, “The Blacker The Berry” is full of contradictions and dichotomies. He takes aim at both sides of the fierce racial battle being waged in America, while saving a heap of verbal artillery for the man in the middle, Lamar himself. He begins each verse with “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015,” and the “I’m” in question is all of us, struggling to apply our personal morality to a nuanced, amoral world. Like the most powerful statements in any disciple, the record raises more questions than answers, and with each thought-provoking release, Lamar further cements his status as one of the leading, most challenging voices in 2015… hypocrite or not.

Hot Jam of the Day: Chromatics, “Just Like You”

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“Just Like You”
Dear Tommy (out soon on Italians Do it Better)

After months of waiting, we finally get a taste of Chromatics’ hugely anticipated fifth LP. And my god, it’s tasty. Gauzy, moody, and sedately delirious, “Just Like You” is both a reminiscence of a past relationship and a sobering realization that the protagonist has moved on to someone new without actually moving on. Vocalist Ruth Radelet is both removed and present — like talking to someone who is thinking about something else — as she delivers line after crushing line. Johnny Jewel’s beautiful, minor synth lines frame Radelet’s words, further cementing the overwhelming gravity of the cycle she’s found herself in. Basically, it’s “Time is a Flat Circle” set to downtempo electro, and the result is one of the best songs of this young year.

Best of 2014: The Best Albums of 2014

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25. SD: Truly Blessed (iHipHop Distribution)
It takes guts to step out on your own. It takes real guts to walk away from a successful situation to go solo. Sadiki “SD” Thirston has a lot of things (talent, vision, originality), but more than anything, he’s got guts. Stepping away from GBE and the Chicago drill scene that he came up in, Thirston’s debut is filled with wonky, druggy melodies and anthemic, extroverted choruses that are well-balanced by drill’s insular roots.

24. 18+: Trust (Houndstooth)
Coming off like the XX’s delinquent older cousins, the LA duo’s proper debut saw them going deeper down the rabbit hole they started exploring with their early mixtapes. The boy/girl vocals hold a palpable tension and sensuality that is often lacking in such acts, and the sparse arrangements and sneaky hooks form the perfect seabed for their breathy pillow talk.

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Best of 2014: The Hottest Jams of 2014

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Only a few days late this year, but behold, my Favorite Songs of 2014! Hopefully, everyone had a safe new year and is looking forward to what should be a brilliant year of music in 2015. Thank you for your continued support and readership. It means a lot.

65. Angel Olsen: “Windows” from Burn Your Fire for No Witness
The final song from the St. Louis-raised folkie’s glorious second LP doesn’t employ many words, but it says a helluva a lot. Olsen’s desperate plea to a loved one who is seemingly uninterested in helping themselves is especially moving, as you can hear the weariness in her voice. It’s something that anybody who has been in her position can relate to. Here’s hoping that there was still enough strength in that voice to get through to whoever it was meant for.

64. Shamir: “On The Regular” (digital single)
One of the most playful songs of the year, the 20 year-old Las Vegan introduces himself to the haters and swats them away like Dikembe in one fell swoop. Armed with just some MIDI keys and a cowbell, Shamir Bailey’s enthusiasm is overwhelming, sing-rapping through a frenetic, explosive three minutes that’s perhaps the best indication of why there’s so much hype around him and why it’s so warranted.

63. Doss: “The Way I Feel” from Doss
Ephemera was a powerful weapon in 2014, but few captured wielded it as deftly as this anonymous American producer. This dreamy, romantic single straddles the line between mid-90’s, E’d-out rave and jilted teen’s LiveJournal, bubbling with both an intense desire for human interaction and crippling insecurity. So, you know, it’s basically the sound of high school.

62. Lauryn Hill: “Black Rage” (sketch) (digital single)
A song like this reminds us how much we miss the former Fugee’s powerful, distinct voice. As she is her wont, Hill speaks the truth here, laying out some harsh realities over the once-innocent melody from “My Favorite Things.” Hopefully, this “sketch” will result in some more fully realized paintings in the coming year. Lord knows we need them.

61. Throwing Shade: Sweet Tooth (f/ Emily Bee) from 19 Jewels
The kind of song that you can just melt into, the London producer’s ode to the human face is just as delicious as its title would suggest. Bee’s playful, flitting vocal is the perfect fit for Nabihah Iqbal’s ocean of synth molasses, and its wonky drum pattern gives it the tension it needs to keep the kettle boiling over. The whole thing hangs on a tightrope, constantly threatening to tip over but catching its balance at just the right time.

60. Jacques Greene: “No Excuse” from Phantom Vibrate
When I caught the talented Canadian live earlier this year, it became increasingly clear that with every project, he is moving further and further away from the constraints of the club world that he came from. While his music has always straddled that line (#sensitivehouse), the Marques Houston-sampling “No Excuse” seems more crafted for personal use than professional use, and that is by no means a bad thing. He’s always been a phenomenal DJ and producer, but it’s a joy to watch him grow as a songwriter, and I’d love to see what he’d do with a full-length album.

59. Tommy Kruise: “Hers” from Fête Foreign
From one Montreal native to another, Tommy Kruise’s “Hers” is a ghostly, evocative cut that is almost too pristine to add vocals to. Built around a timid keyboard line and his go-to trap hi-hats, Kruise laces a double helping of emotionality with two disembodied voices, floating menacingly above the fray. Also, make sure to check out its touching music video below, which is one of my favorites of the year.

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Best of 2014: The Hottest Jams of 2014 (Honorable Mention)

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It’s that time of the year again! It’s time for me to spend altogether too much time comparing apples and oranges, trying to figure out which tasty sonic nuggets spoke to me the most clearly this year. I’ve been making this list for the last six years — the last four for Thunder Penguin — and while I don’t get paid to do it anymore, I find myself enjoying it more and more each year.

As last year, let’s kick things off with an aperitif — a handful of songs that I love and feel compelled to write about but couldn’t quite fit on my list.

The-Dream: “Black” (digital single)
2014 was a beautiful year, but it was a hard, profoundly sad one. We were reminded again and again where we really are as a country and how far we must go to reach some modicum of equality. Terius Nash’s Gaye-inspired ballad was one of a handful of powerful protest songs that brought some light and hope to the dismal reality facing so many Americans every day. 

James Blake: “200 Press” from 200 Press EP
The British boy wonder spent most of 2014 looking back to his club roots with delicious effect. Here, Blake ties an Andre 3000 sample in nots over a spacious, carefully constructed arraignment. It’s not quite “CMYK,” but it’s a start.

Travi$ Scott: “Mamacita” (f/ Rich Homie Quan & Young Thug) from Days Before Rodeo

The talented Texan plays best with others, when his prodigious production talents outweigh his lyrical shortcomings. Teaming up with two of the most current voices in hip-hop and producer du jour, Metro Boomin, Scott and co. gleefully cruise through five minutes of stuntin’ over a creeping beat.

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Hot Jam of the Day: Future Brown, “Talkin Bandz” (f/ Shawnna, DJ Victoriouz)

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Future Brown
“Talkin Bandz” (f/ Shawnna, DJ Victoriouz)
Future Brown (out 02.24 on Warp)

Nguzunguzu, Fatima Al Qadiri, and J-Cush don’t give a fuck about your year end list. “Talkin Bandz” is the kind of banger sure to throw a wrench in any self-respecting blogger’s “Best Of” list. It’s a potent concoction made of a cascading arrangement, a couple of monster verses from Chicago vet Shawnna, and a languid hook from DJ Victoriouz. Best of all, “Talkin Bandz” comes with the news of a long-awaited debut LP from the quartet, which is likely to be one of the hottest releases of 2015. All hail.

Hot Jam of the Day: Tink, “Tell The Children”

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“Tell The Children”
Digital Single

In these disheartening times, we need powerful, impactful voices like Tink’s.

RIP to Michael Brown Jr. and the many other innocents who have been tragically taken far too soon. May they find justice and peace in the next world.

Hot Jam of the Day: T-Pain, “Stoicville”

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Stoicville: The Phoenix (out in 2015 on Nappy Boy)

It’s pretty depressing that it took an auto-tune free NPR performance for America to show a modicum respect to one of the finest hit-makers of the last decade, but these are depressing times. If you argued that Eddie Van Halen and Tom Morello’s usage of distortion pedals them frauds, you would rightly be called an atavistic, unreasonable dipshit. However, few would say the same if you slated T-Pain for running his (very good) voice through a vocal processor. In fact, most people would probably agree that this devalues his standing as a musician.

This faulty logic has been used (by dipshits) as a stick to beat the ATLien for most of his 10-year career. To them, I present some facts. At just 29 years of age, T-Pain has already sang on and co-wrote fifteen (15!!!!) US Top 10 Singles, including at least seven pieces of musical WD-40 that will set any dancefloor/club on the planet ablaze. He’s also consistently put younger artists over, providing them with the kind of anthemic, gold dust choruses necessary to introduce rising talent to the masses. More than anything, he’s just an affable, super talented dude who has spent his entire career soundtracking good nights out with friends and long nights in between the sheets. And, the vocal processing he’s used makes him no less of an artist than your favorite guitar-wielding rawker.

All those aforementioned facts are why we should be celebrating T-Pain’s 10 years in the game. Fuck a Tiny Desk Concert. Fuck your Twitter approval. Hell, fuck this exquisite, acerbic slab of lyrical majesty that puts his ridiculously versatile skill set on blast. More than anything, fuck the fact that if this was a Kendrick Lamar track, all those dipshits would be fawning all over it.

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