Mitski, "Two Slow Dancers"


Mitski "Two Slow Dancers" Be The Cowboy (out 08.17 on Matador) Every slow dance with someone you care about feels like a moment suspended in time. I mean, that's the point, right? Your hands are tied, your bodies are connected, and even your gaze is limited. Mitski, the fantastic New York songwriter, Read more

Future, "Hate the Real Me"


Future "Hate the Real Me" Beastmode 2 (out now on Epic) The peak of a quietly excellent year, Future goes super deep on his worthy follow-up to 2015's legendary "Beast Mode" tape. Of all its stirring moments, nothing emotionally hits harder than its last track, as Future pours his heart out over Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far...)


Somehow, some fucking way, 2018 is more than half over. And though it might feel like I always say this, I think this was the toughest list I've had to make yet. There's been an overwhelming number of exciting, vital new voices popping up and plenty of fantastic follow-ups Read more

Images & Words: The 1975, "Give Yourself A Try"


The 1975 "Give Yourself A Try" A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships (out in October on Dirty Hit) Though it's been out for about two weeks, I've listened to the Manchester quartet's new single roughly two million times. Compositionally, it's totally unremarkable. Built around a repetitive, simplistic guitar riff and three chords, Read more

Images & Words: The Rhythm Method, "Chin Up"


The Rhythm Method "Chin Up" Digital Single Every two years*, I get afflicted with the same illness. It usually starts up a few weeks before every major international football tournament and lasts until somewhere around the quarterfinals. Who knows how long my believesthatEnglandcanwinthewholething-itis will last for this year, but I'm hoping that Read more

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

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D∆WN
“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
“Pillowtalk”
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.

Images & Words: Wet, “Weak” (Live on the Tonight Show)

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Wet
“Weak” (Live on the Tonight Show)
Don’t You (out 01.29 on Columbia)
I don’t normally write about live performances, but I was just so struck by how far the Massachusetts trio has come in the last two and a half years. I first wrote about Wet in September of 2013, after falling in love with their debut single, the crushing break-up ballad, “No Lie.” A few months later, I caught (what I think was) their first ever gig in Brooklyn. They seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight that night, but you couldn’t hear in the way they played. Vocalist Kelly Zutrau stood out, stoically pushing through her nerves to deliver a heartfelt, affecting performance. Guitarist Marty Sulkow added beautiful counter-melodies to the sparse arrangements, while Joe Valle, their most energetic performer, banged away at a skeletal electric drum-kit.

As good as they were that night, I never thought that in just two years, I would be seeing them perform on Network TV. Their performance on Fallon was assured and confident, like a band that has been doing TV shows for years. Again, Zutrau was especially impressive. Much of Wet’s magic comes from the amount of negative space in their arrangements. That space often leaves Zutrau’s voice totally exposed, maximizing its impact but also the pressure placed on it. On what must have been the most stressful performance of their career, she came up trumps, confidently staying in tune and adding an emotional wallop to one of the strongest songs of their glittering young career. The performance isn’t just a reminder of how far they’ve come; it’s an exciting indicator of just how far they can go.

Best of 15: The Best Albums of 2015

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20. 2814
新しい日の誕生 (Dream Catalogue)
I’ve never been to Tokyo, but when I do, I’ll make sure to bring the ambient, post-Vaporware vibes of Dream Catalogue mainman, HKE and producer Telepath with me. The soundtrack to imagined midnight walks through the city, the disc’s cinematic, engulfing eight songs set a palpable mood, sure to keep your eyes closed and your mind wandering.
Hottest Jams: “新しい日の誕生” & “真実の恋”


19. Billboard Brothers
Billboard Brothers (self-released)
Do you love listening to people rap? Then, this is your album. Over 13 joyful tracks, Doughboyz Cashout’s dynamic duo raps their asses off, weaving melodic, adhesive verses over timeless slabs of 90s indebted G-funk. Like Westbrook and Durant, Payroll Giovanni and Big Quis have incredible chemistry, and they work so well together that their verses blend together and stand out at the same time.
Hottest Jams: “Strap on My Lap,” “Do What I Wanna Do,” “White”

18. The Staves
If I Was (Atlantic UK)
Whoever the Staveley parents are, they are fucking lucky. Imagine living in a house with three daughters who sing this beautifully together. On their second LP, they pair their heavenly three-part harmonies with the strongest, most evocative songwriting of their career, picking through the bones of a failed relationship with affecting honesty and relatability. It’s a sad record in places, but the ever-present mellifluousness of their vocals and arrangements guarantee that there’s always plenty of light streaming through the blinds.
Hottest Jams: “Make it Holy,” “Let Me Down,” “Sadness Don’t Own Me”

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Best of 15: The Hottest Jams of 2015

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Welp, that’s it for 2015. It was an incredible year for music, and it was tougher to whittle this list down to 65 than in recent years. Thank you for joining me for another year of ThunderPenguin, and it’s been awesome to see this little site growing. Hopefully, the album list will be up in a day or two.

65. Post Malone
“White Iverson”
Digital Single
I hated it, then I loved it, and then I hated myself for loving it, then I hated it again, and now I’m just confused about it. No matter where I end up with it, the Houston crooner’s ode to the Answer deserves a spot on this list, because of the emotional energy I expended dealing with it.

64. Nicole Dollanganger
“You’re So Cool”
Natural Born Losers (Eerie Organization)
Remember that 90s movie Crazy/Beautiful? The 23 year-old Canadian’s breakthrough LP should really be called Creepy/Beautiful. Its towering closing track is half wedding first dance, half slasher flick, as Dollanganger stretches her unique falsetto to extol the virtues of a love interest who seems to have committed some very grizzly murders (“You got guns for trophies mounted up like animal heads with the skulls of all the high school champs you keep in rows above the bed”). It’s unsettling, romantic, creepy, and very, very beautiful.

63. f(x)
“4 Walls”
4 Walls – The 4th Album (SM Entertainment)
The Korean girl group’s bilingual banger is bright, breezy, and far from the average American perception of what K-Pop is supposed to sound like. There’s bits of R&B, hip-hop, and New Jack Swing (seriously!) in here, and it brings me back to the girl groups of the early 2000s, like Dream, 3LW, and 702, which — in my book — is pretty high praise.

62. Justin Bieber
“Sorry”
Purpose (Def Jam)
I considered “I’ll Show You” (Justin’s very own “I’m not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”), but I settled on the 21 year-old’s delightfully sarcastic mea culpa. It should really be called “Sorry (Not Sorry),” and Bieber plays the mischievous scamp to perfection, acknowledging his past hijinks (i.e. monkey buying, speeding, this haircut) while hinting that he’s just getting started. Let’s hope he is.

61. Sufjan Stevens
“Should Have Known Better”
Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
There are a lot of meaningful lyrics on “Should Have Known Better” and many more on the exquisite album that spawned it. But none touched me like the final one here: “My brother had a daughter. The beauty that she brings, illumination.” My sister had a daughter last October, and I’ve been consistently overwhelmed by the staggering mass of power and beauty yielded by someone so small. Much of Carrie & Lowell is focused on the final acts of the people we love, but this special moment of tribute to his niece stands out as a shining beacon of light on a very dark album.

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Hot Jam of the Day: Foxing, “Indica”

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Foxing
“Indica”
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 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.

Images & Words: Grimes, “Flesh without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream”

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Grimes
“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 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.

Images & Words: Lontalius, “All I Wanna Say”

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Lontalius
“All I Wanna Say”
Digital Single

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.

Images & Words: Wet, “Weak”

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Wet
“Weak”
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 front of a crowd of zero, pining for a lover to reconsider walking away. Director/choreographer Holly Blakey beautifully captures the evocative performance, highlighting the raw, exorcismic (not a real word) power of dance in one of the strongest music videos of the year.

And, if somehow you haven’t seen it yet, check out Aubrey’s “Hotline Bling.” It’s also great.

Images & Words: Majical Cloudz, “Downtown”

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Majical Cloudz
“Downtown”
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 at the common experiences we share: love, fear, loss, and the like. The gorgeous devotional, “Downtown,” has a few stunners that deal with the former. Lyrics like “There’s one thing I’ll do If it ever goes wrong. I’ll write you into my all of my songs. / And if suddenly I die. I hope they will say that he was obsessed and it was OK” speak for themselves and beautifully define what love feels like and what it can mean. A truly special statement from what should be one of the albums of the year.

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