CFCF, "Closed Space"

CFCF "Closed Space" Liquid Colours (out 03.01) Though I haven't listened to it as much as his ree-fucking-dick-u-lus J.Lo remix (aka: the best song of 2019 so far), the first single from Montreal mainstay Michael Silver's new album is an instant keeper. It kicks off with luxurious beds of neo-geo synths that Read more

Sade, "The Big Unknown"

Sade "The Big Unknown" Windows Soundtrack (out now on Sony) Though she's only a few months shy of her 60th birthday, Helen Folasade Adu remains a force like nobody else. On the stunning "The Big Unknown," Sade proves that her quiet storm is still a Category 5, as she glides effortlessly over oceanic, Read more

Since U Been Gone: The Best Of What I Missed Last Week

Miya Folick "Thingamajig" Premonitions (out 10.26 on Terrible) With each new single, the talented LA vocalist is strengthening the case that her forthcoming LP could be one of the best debuts of the year. Her flexible vocals always stretch further than you expect, and she uses her seemingly unlimited range to exact maximum Read more

Since U Been Gone: The Best Of What I Missed Last Week

Welp, this is embarrassing. The week I roll out a new round-up column, I respond by posting exactly zero times. My editorial staff (of one) was pretty slammed this week, but that's no excuse. Hopefully this piece can make up for it, dear readers. I'll do better this week, because, Read more

Since U Been Gone: The Best Of What I Missed Last Week

I was on vacay in England last week, and as I sat back down at my desk this morning, I realized that a massive amount of new music came out while I was gone. I'm going to try something new with quick one to two sentence recaps of some Read more


The Round-Up: The Best Tracks of 2016 So Far…

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Instead of just rolling through the best music of March, let’s round up the best music of the first quarter of 2016. We’ll kick things off with the best tracks of the year so far. My album list should be out later this week. And so as not to repeat myself, I didn’t include anything from any of those albums on this list.

Last Japan
“Ascend” (f/ AJ Tracey)
Digital Single
Two of the biggest young talents in grime link up for one of the biggest choons of the year. Last Japan has been cranking out gorgeous, powerful tracks for the last few years. But he rarely works with vocalists, so it’s great to hear one of the best MCs in the game lend vocals to his work. We’ll see if this will be a one-off or a sign of things to come. Hopefully, it’ll be the latter.

Jordan Raf
Double Negative (out soon on POW)
Undoubtedly one of my favorite new artists of the year, the LA-based singer-songwriter has been on fire recently, using his gorgeous, clean tenor to sing dirty little love songs. His work reminds me a lot of eternal TP favorite, Dan Bodan, unabashedly exploring the oft-seedy, visceral aspects of real sex and relationships.

Silk Road Assassins
Reflection Spaces (out 04.15 on Planet Mu)
Of all the exciting new album news this year, nothing beat the secretive London neo-grime trio announcing their forthcoming debut EP on Planet Mu. I’ve been lurking on their Soundcloud for more than a year, inhaling their icy, Neo Geo synths and monstrous, rolling percussion. And while “Vectors” isn’t anywhere near new, it remains one of most exciting, futuristic tracks of recent years and is an exciting roadmap to how far these three could really take this. Roll on April 15th.

“Fly Shit Only”
EVOL (out now on Freebandz)
After an all-conquering 2015 (and 2014 and 2013), Future Hendrix shows no signs of slowing down, dropping two full-lengths in the first quarter, EVOL and Purple Reign. While neither will remembered as a classic, they are full of highlights, namely the former’s mid-tempo, guitar-driven closer. The DJ Spinz weeper recalls my favorite song of last year, “News or Smthn,” and continues to hint at how special an all-slow jam Future album would be.

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Hot Jam of the Day: Linda Perhacs, “The Dancer”

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Linda Perhacs
“The Dancer”
Digital Single

I rarely think about contributing to Kickstarters for people I do not know — especially ones by musicians — but Linda Perhacs’ recent campaign has me considering a change of tune. Besides the fact that she seems like such a lovely woman, the LA resident’s story is the kind you’d want to support. After releasing her psychedelic folk debut, Parallelograms, back in 1970, she disappeared from music for years working as a dental hygienist. She only found out about the disc’s cult following after she was contacted by a small Brooklyn label following a near-fatal case of pneumonia in 2000.

It took another 14 years for Parallelograms to get its worthy successor: 2014’s beautiful, The Soul of All Natural Things, put out by Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty. And it appears that she still has a lot of music in her. She’s working on a follow-up, led by finger-picked lead single, “The Dancer.” Now well into her seventies, Perhacs’ voice has a warmth and softness that seems to get more affecting as she ages.

If she can raise 16k in the next six weeks, she’ll be able to finish the album, and we’ll be able to hear it. That sounds like a cause I can get behind.

Contribute to her Kickstarter and learn more, here.

Images & Words: ANOHNI, “Drone Bomb Me”

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“Drone Bomb Me”
HOPLESNESS (out 05.06 on Secretly Canadian)

We got the first taste of the new ANOHNI (FKA Antony) LP late last year with her uncompromising look at climate change, “4 Degrees.” While it was one of the best songs of last year, it still felt like the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). And yesterday, we got a little closer to the disc’s core with the stunning, heartbreaking clip for second single, “Drone Bomb Me.”

On its face, the concept of a white British artist writing a song about drone warfare from the perspective of a young Afghan girl sounds dicey. But the 44 year-old has always been a deeply empathetic artist, and she succeeds in giving a heart and voice to the myriad victims of modern war. Drone warfare is designed to be clandestine and inhuman, and they’re built to move like street sweepers, coming in the night to dispose of unwanted people like litter in the gutter. It is an unimaginably cruel, often random fate that is a tragic fact of life for a rising population. Any effort to bring that horrific truth to light should be valued, and when it’s this penetrating and powerful, it deserves to be lauded.

The Round-Up: 10 Musical Things to Love about February ’16

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If Jens Lekman can write, record, and produce a new song every week, I can write a monthly blog post rounding up my favorite musical goings-on from the last 28-31 days. These aren’t in order, and this isn’t a Best Of List. Rather it’s a random collection of ten things (i.e. scenes, songs, albums, new directions, etc) that caught my attention. I’ll mostly be picking things I didn’t have a chance to write about, so as to avoid repeating myself. Leggo.

1. PNB Rock’s melodic masterstroke, RNB3
It feels like Philadelphia hip-hop is on the verge of having a moment. From the buzzing, electric Lil Uzi Vert to the unique Tierra Whack to the A$AP Mob affiliated Chynna, there are a clutch of promising young artists coming through the city right now. And that’s just a few of them.

My favorite of the bunch is 24 year-old Rakim “PnB Rock” Allen. Hailing from Northwest Philly’s Germantown neighborhood, Allen is blessed with an easy tenor and a muscular flow that he effortlessly slips in and out of throughout his unassailable, RNB3 tape. Some may argue that he sounds too much like Fetty Wap, who is on this tape and hails from just a couple hours up I-95. But Allen’s storytelling and songwriting is distinct and more than strong enough to stand on its own. RNB3 has all the fingerprints of a slow-burner (remember, “Trap Queen” was out for almost a year before it blew up), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this excellent disc was the soundtrack to Summer ’16.

Download RNB3 here.

2. Kanye takes us to church on the divine, The Life of Pablo
There’s been a ton of brilliant writing on Kanye’s inimitable seventh album. But what’s stuck with me the most are the religious, ecstatic moments on this thing. Chance’s verse from “Ultralight Beam.” The hook on “Father Stretch My Hands.” Queen Kelly Price. Rihanna channeling Nina Simone. The confessional verses on “FML.” In the build-up, ‘Ye did describe TLOP as a gospel record, but I didn’t think that he’d go this far. You’d think I’d have learned not to underestimate the great man after all these years.

3. Memoryhouse returns
I’ve been swooning (and stanning) hard for this Canadian duo since they released their flawless debut EP, The Years (2010). Their sophomore LP, Soft Hate, is another delicious collection of gentle, affecting dream-pop. Though they remain frustratingly underrated, they continue to grow as musicians and songwriters, which is typified by vocalist Denise Nouvion’s confident, subtly commanding performance on this disc. Keep sleeping on these two at your peril.

4. The 1975 channels 1989 (the year, not the album)
The Manchester quartet’s remarkably consistent second LP plays like a never before heard “Monster 80s” comp. The well-balanced disc boasts captivating slabs of guitar rock (“She’s American,” “UGH!”), moody synth ballads (“A Change of Heart,” “Somebody Else”), and even a pair of “More Than Words”-style fingerpicked tearjerkers thrown in at the end (“Nana,” “She Lays Down”). If you can stomach Matty Healy’s occasional lyrical eye-rolls, there’s a huge amount of songwriting goodness to feast on here.

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Images & Words: FKA Twigs, “Good To Love”

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FKA Twigs
“Good to Love”
Digital Single

Tahliah “FKA Twigs” Barnett knows that stripping things out is often the way to make the biggest statements. Visually, musically, and lyrically, the 28 year-old deals in simplicity and directness, giving a rare, powerful intimacy to her music. Ambiguity is easy, and we’re overstocked with lyricists using a lot of words to not say much.

True to form, her most recent single, “Good to Love,” says a hell of a lot, as she plaintively asks her partner to move past their baggage and let her in. The arrangement is spare and her voice unwavering; there are no distractions. For the next four minutes, Twigs assuages his fear while asserting her own power. “It’s not your fault that I’m loved to my limit. I’ve had plenty so I know you’re mine” is as stunning a lyric as we’ve heard this year, morphing past sexual experiences from a source of jealousy into one of strength. It’s something that anybody who has ever been in a relationship can relate to and an example of how real empathy can break down the barriers that keep us apart.

Hot Jam of the Day: The 1975, “Somebody Else”

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The 1975
“Somebody Else”
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (out 02.26 on Dirty Hit)

So little of the chatter around the divisive Manchester four-piece has anything to do with what they sound like. The group’s ridiculously-titled second album has ignited myriad Twitter #hottakes and commenter bitchfests, focusing on who vocalist Matthew Healy is or isn’t fucking, what he’s doing with his hair, and whether music this poppy is fit for the indie blogosphere. It would all be a bit dull in the hands of another band, but the five pre-release singles they’ve dropped have highlighted what a thrilling, unpredictable band they’ve become. And any time a shitload of people are talking about a band who is taking real chances, it’s a good thing for music.

The best of the five is the warm, moody new-wave ballad, “Somebody Else.” While the post-chillwave Small Black/Washed Out vibes are legitimate, nobody in that scene had this level of arena-ready songwriting chops or the graceful power of Healy’s voice. And while much of that music was inspired by the kind of songs that could captivate big rooms, Healy and co. truly aspired to do it. And just three years removed from their debut, they are heading out on a massive tour to do it for real. I’ll be there, and it will be glorious.

Also, check out their SNL performance of the ecstatic, “The Sound.”

Starting V: The Best of Future’s Two New Albums

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We’re only five weeks into 2016, and Future has already #blessed us with two records — mixtape Purple Reign and album EVOL. While his recent prolificacy has delighted his ever-growing core fanbase, I know a lot of casual fans who are finding it difficult to keep up with his relentless pace. For that reason, I picked out five of my highlights from the two albums, which will hopefully provide a foothold into both discs and give you a vibe of where he’s at.

1. “Fly Shit Only” from EVOL, produced by DJ Spinz
EVOL‘s beautiful, swirling final track is the pick of both discs, thanks to the mournful mastery of DJ Spinz. Built around an arpeggiated guitar riff that somehow simultaneously recalls Danzig and Radiohead, Future picks through the bones of life at the top. Reminiscent of 2015’s best song, “News or Smthn,” “Fly Shit Only” is basically a trap power ballad, and his doleful vocals are at their melodic, magnetic best — capable of turning any line into a hook that you won’t be able to get out of your head.

2. “Inside the Mattress” from Purple Reign, produced by Nard & B
As you’ll notice, most of my favorite moments from Purple Reign and EVOL are the downtempo ones. However, there’s plenty of #turnup Future on both records, and “Inside the Mattress” is likely the most potent of the bunch. This isn’t surprising considering that Nard & B produced his most ecstatic song, “Straight Up,” which is also the first Future song I ever loved. While it doesn’t match that track’s frenetic energy, it’s a reminder that Super Future is always ready to make an appearance.

3. “Lie to Me” from EVOL, produced by DJ Spinz
Spinz strikes again, crafting an incredible beat with glistening keyboards and spare percussion. The neon keys give “Lie to Me” a late night drive feel, and Future gleefully grabs the wheel, guiding you through the back roads and flickering lights of his psyche. 

4. “No Charge” from Purple Reign, produced by Southside
Futrue always sounds great on a Southside beat. The 27 year-old is the architect behind “Fuck Up Some Commas” and “Trap N**gas” (among many others), which are arguably the two most popular songs from Future’s recent purple patch. And he delivers again with this spacious, airy beat. Like the aforementioned singles, “No Charge” features Southside’s trademark hi-hat wizardry and deep synths — the perfect canvas for Future to smear his melodic vocals over the top of.

5. “Low Life” (f/ The Weeknd) from EVOL, produced by Metro Boomin, Ben Billion$ & The Weeknd
Future’s music is great, even when he isn’t. Fueled by fellow nihilist the Weeknd, the duo let their misanthropic flags fly, weaving through Metro Boomin’s cinematic synths and rolling percussion. Originally released on Christmas Day, the track is basically hip-hop “Bad Santa,” with its protagonists reveling in how good being the bad guy can be.

The Round-Up: 10 Musical Things I Loved About January ’16

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If Jens Lekman can write, record, and produce a new song every week, I can write a monthly blog post rounding up my favorite musical goings-on from the last 28-31 days. These aren’t in order, and this isn’t a Best Of List. Rather it’s a random collection of ten things (i.e. scenes, songs, albums, new directions, etc) that caught my attention. I’ll mostly be picking things I didn’t have a chance to write about, so as to avoid repeating myself. Let’s see how this goes.

1. The back half of Rihanna’s ANTI
The biggest release of the year seems like a good place to start. Don’t let the pre-release Tidal apocalypse or its lukewarm, Drake-featured first single, “Work”, fool you; ANTI is a fabulous, understated collection that finds one of the world’s biggest stars at her creative and vocal peak. Aside from the wonky Tame Impala cover, the disc’s second half is unassailable — from the venomous break-up jam, “Needed Me” to its stunning piano ballad closer, “Close To You.” The latter is probably my favorite song of the year so far and is one of the most engaging, honest moments of RiRi’s career. Plus, it almost always makes me want to cry, then call everyone I love, then cry again.  Her weary, expressive vocals go places others can’t, dripping with the kind of mournful beauty that is unmatched by any modern pop star. The same goes for the wonderful “Love on the Brain,” “Yeah, I Said It” and “Higher.” It may not have the hits, and “Work” is a dud, but ANTI is one of the strongest releases of her career.

Because Tidal is the worst, you can’t stream any of it here. Pick it up over at Apple Music. Jk, it’s out on Spotify now. Stream it here.

2. The dreamy R&B of King’s We Are King
Rihanna made my favorite song, but the LA trio’s long-awaited debut LP is definitely my top album of the young year. A remarkably consistent 12-song set, We Are King is a balanced, updated take on the soul-infused R&B of people like Sade and Prince. While it’s a totally unfair comparison, it’s far from baseless, and there are so few artists nowadays who are writing such lush arrangements and full, rich vocal melodies. There’s just so much love on this album, and if it feels this good to get swept up in the waves, why would you fight it?

Stream it over at Spotify.

3. We got a new MssingNo EP
Truth be told, I’ve only been able to listen to it once or twice since it dropped this morning, but after two years of waiting, it sure feels like the mercurial Londoner’s incredible, genre defining self-titled debut EP has a worthy successor. After putting out a handful of inch-perfect remixes and one-offs, it’s so exciting to hear another long(ish) form statement from the still-anonymous producer. I’m sure I’ll write more about this when I get a little more time with it, but early returns are fucking massive.

Stream the whole thing over at Spotify.

4. Ryuichi Sakamoto comes back from cancer treatment with the Revenant Soundtrack
In July of 2014, the legendary Japanese composer announced that he was taking a some time off to deal with oropharyngeal cancer. Last summer, we got the good news that he was in good health and looking to get back to work. This January, we got to hear that work, and goddamn, that work is beautiful. Alongside Alva Noto with assistance from the National’s Bryce Dessner, Sakamoto crafted 23 tracks of affecting mood music. I haven’t seen the film, but if I enjoy it half as much as I did the soundtrack, it’ll be one of my favorite movies of the year.

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Hot Jam of the Day: DAWN, “Not Above That”

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“Not Above That”
RED*emp*tion (out soon on Our Dawn)

I’m consistently disappointed by the lack of Dawn Richard remixes lying around the Internet. That’s partially because she remains criminally underrated, but it’s also because few pop and R&B artists have embraced progressive dance music as fully as the New Orleanian. Many of the songs producers would be likely to rework — “Calypso,” “Billie Jean,” “Warriors,” “Dance” — are already packed with the kind of dance breaks, unique instrumentation, and vocal manipulation that remixers tend to employ.

The sweltering “Not Above That” is another example of this. Along with the ever-consistent Machinedrum, Richard crafts another banger that exists somewhere in that delicious nether zone between your duvet cover and the dancefloor. She has spoken about her desire to remove gender, color, and genre from her music, and lyrically, she challenges gender roles again on this record. “That’s why I call you up at 4 in the morning cause I’m not above that” could be a throwaway lyric from a Drake/Future/insert rap dude track. But when it comes out of Dawn Richard’s mouth, it is both a command and an invitation that carries disarming power. Last year’s Blackheart was a masterpiece, and RED*emp*tion is shaping up to be more than a worthy successor.

Images & Words: Zayn Malik, “Pillowtalk”

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Zayn Malik
Mind of Mine (out 03.25)

It’s hard to decide which is more smoldering — Zayn Malik’s bone structure or his first post-One Direction single. “Pillowtalk” brilliantly balances Malik’s sadboi lothario (think: Drake circa Take Care) tendencies with his blockbuster vocals. That voice allows him to veer toward a darker, moodier sound, while retaining the lightness and innocence of his early work. In other words, it’s the kind of song that hordes of teenagers can sing (read: scream) along to in a packed arena, or that two real-life adults might consider having sex to. There aren’t a ton of songs that work for both scenarios, and those tend to be reserved for only the most interesting pop artists.

Zayn’s just getting started as a solo artist, but Mind of Mine officially just vaulted to the top of my “Most Anticipated Albums of 2016” list. Something tells me I’m not the only one.

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