Hot Jam of the Day: Jae Stephens, "24k"


Jae Stephens "24k" Digital Single Fuck one of the best debuts of the year. The LA-based newcomer just dropped one of the best songs of the year out of thin air. Featuring inch-perfect production from Jam City, Stephens weaves a devastating slow jam that captures the growth of a relationship from anxious first Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of May 2017


After a pair of phenomenal months of music, May's slate looked decidedly more low-key. However, now as I look back at it, there was still a handful of solid releases that deserve your time. Here are a few of my favorites. J Hus Common Sense Black Butter When I looked at the release schedule Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Lil Durk, "Pressure"


Lil Durk “Pressure” Digital Single Five years into his career, the Chicago native seems to be at a crossroads. After kicking off his career with a string of devastating mixtapes (including my favorite song of 2013), the 24 year-old has been a bit up and down of late, crafting a slew of Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Kommode, "Fight or Flight or Dance All Night"


Kommode “Fight or Flight or Dance All Night” Analog Dance Music (out June 2017 on Random Two Syllable Word) Good things come to those who wait, and Kings of Convenience fans have been waiting for the debut from Eirik Glambek Bøe’s side project for more than 10 years. Since announcing this project Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Jlin, "Holy Child"


Jlin "Holy Child" Black Origami (out 05.19 on Planet Mu) Though there's only one more day until the Gary, Indiana footwork innovator's second LP drops, this brilliant and beguiling cut is more than worthy of standing on its own. Like her masterful debut, Dark Energy, this track features multiple, intricate polyrhythms that collide freely without Read more

Featured

Hot Jam of the Day: DJ Khaled x Jeremih x August Alsina x Chris Brown x Future, “Hold You Down”

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DJ Khaled
“Hold You Down” (f/ Jeremih, August Alsina, Chris Brown, Future)
I Changed A Lot (out this year on We The Best)

DJ Khaled is probably an amazing dude. He’s the guy who knows absolutely everybody and has an encyclopedic contact list. He’s always down hang out, and he’ll probably even drive and smoke you out on the way. Basically, he seems like the best dude ever. For that reason, he’s responsible for some of the most fun crew anthems of the last few years, and “Hold You Down” qualifies as one of his best. Enlisting four of the hottest vocalists in R&B/hip-hop, Khaled coordinates a slow jam as palatial and luxurious as the foyer in his Miami mansion. If live was fair, this would be the song of the summer. Another one, indeed.

Make sure to check out the equally lavish video, if for no other reason than to enjoy Khaled’s wonderful acting. YOU SMAHT. YOU VERY SMAHT.

Hot Jam of the Day: Merchandise, “Green Lady”

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Merchandise
“Green Lady”
After the End (out August 25 on 4AD)

In the unrelenting deluge of new music that greets listeners every week, it’s impossible not to completely whiff on a number of very good bands. Merchandise is one of those bands for me. Even though I am complete sucker for their brand of moody, atmospheric The Smiths/The Cure/Depeche Mode worship, both of their critically acclaimed efforts — 2012’s Children of Desire and 2013’s Totale Night — flew right across my radar screen. Luckily, I gave the Tampa group’s deftly majestic, “Green Lady,” a spin. Vocalist Carson Cox’s sneer-y baritone hints at a lifetime of listening to the great British singers of the 80’s (and 90s-ish). His voice is highlighted by an evocative arrangment, washed with swabs of synth and reverb-laden guitars. I may be late to the party, but I’m glad I finally decided to show up.

Hot Jams of The Last Couple Weeks: Moving to LA Catch-Up

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Ahoy Loyal Penguin-ites! TP has spent the last two weeks moving from the magisterial metropolis of New York City to the good vibes and tropical climes of Southern California. For the foreseeable future, TP will now be broadcasting out of a beach-side igloo on the north side of Venice.

However, the music hasn’t stopped, so here is a quick round-up of some of the best tracks released in the last fortnight.

FKA twigs: “Pendulum” from LP1 (out August 12)
It only takes a couple spins of rising Londoner, Tahliah Barnett’s dynamic first album to know that it’s likely going to be one of the discs of the year. Second single, “Pendulum,” undulates and unravels like a trip-hop hymn, as Barnett’s graceful, elastic vocal glides over a sparse, disarming arraignment. Magic.

Jeremih & Chi Hoover: “She Know It” from Not on My Album (out August 4th)
The best music news that filtered out since TP was off was that Chicago’s Jeremih is close to releasing a follow-up mixtape to 2012’s near-perfect, Late Nights with Jeremih. Not on My Album will consist of cuts that didn’t make his long-awaited third label-backed LP, Thumpy Johnson. Based on the strength of this, its lead single, it will hardly be an afterthought.

Jessie Ware: “Share It All” from Tough Love (out this fall)
Following brilliant lead single, “Tough Love,” the London vocalist makes it two for two. Topping her all-conquering debut, Devotion, was always going to be tough sledding, but the 29 year-old seems poised for the challenge. Another potential candidate for album of the year.

Tobias Jesso Jr.: “True Love” (Digital Single)
It may sound more than a little familiar (John Lennon, anyone?), but this starry-eyed piano ballad is sure to melt even the most calloused of hearts. Very little is known about the Canadian singer-songwriter. However, we do know that if Cameron Crowe ever decides to make an Almost Famous 2, this absolutely needs to soundtrack the first dance at William Miller and Penny Lane’s wedding.

Vashti Bunyan: “Across the Water” from Heartleap (out October 7th)
2014 has been an incredible year for mercurial folkies, and their legendary fairy godmother is getting into the act, releasing her third proper LP this fall. Lead single, “Across the Water,” is a fantastic primer to those who are new to Vashti World, pairing her impossibly gorgeous, fingerpicked guitar with that unforgettable, delicate coo. Over 40 years on from her seminal debut, the Newcastle native still sounds as potent and present as ever. Thank god for that.

Shy Girls: “All For Show” (digital single)
The Dan Vidmar-fronted Portland R&B outfit links up with Jagwar Ma’s Jono Ma for a sparse, upbeat slab of MJ worship. It’s really the first non-slow jam we’ve heard Vidmar lend his sumptuous falsetto to, and the results are as delicious as you’d imagine.

Groundislava: “Girl Behind the Glass” (f/ Rare Times) from Frozen Throne (out September 22)
One of the key figures of LA’s burgeoning electronic scene (which is quietly becoming the best in the country), Jasper “Groundislava” Patterson is ready for his close-up. Following the similarly moody, vocal-led, “Feel the Heat,” the Wedidit-er’s is proving that he’s more than just a great DJ and producer. He’s also a capable songwriter and artist in his own right.

Sophie: “Lemonade” from Lemonade/Hart (out August 24)
The London-based trixxter is back with another blippy, bloopy, beepborpy slab of progressive bubblegum pop goodness. As per usual, he packs an impossible number of ideas into an incredibly small space, leaving the listener spinning in a 2-minute sonic hurricane.

Metro Boomin: “Chanel Vintage” (f/ Future x Young Thug) from 20 & Boomin (out later this year)
The STL-bred, ATL-based producer is one of the most sought after producers in music now, and he shows why on this adhesive new single. The best thing about “Chanel Vintage” is that Boomin’s elastic beat and Young Thug’s presence prompt Future to bring the old Future back, as the 30 year-old barks out a couple of his most virile, unhinged verses in years.

JJ: “Dean & Me” from V (out August 19)
While Sincerely Yours isn’t quite the force it was a couple years ago, their flagship group is still going strong, cranking out their signature brand of tasty, rap-infused Balearic pop. Elin Kastlander still has one of the most intoxicating voices around.

The Best Albums of 2014 (So Far)

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As I am writing this the day after the NBA Draft, I’ve decided to break my favorite albums into tiers. These are my current contenders for Album of the Year. Dig in.


TIER 1: THE FAVORITE

Sun Kil Moon: Benji (Caldo Verde)

Not a lot of people make their greatest album at age 47. Of course, the difficulty of that feat is compounded when you have a back catalogue as essential as Mark Kozelek. I’ll probably need at least five years to decide whether the near-perfect, Benji, will age like the seminal RollercoasterGhosts of the Great Highway, or Songs for a Blue Guitar. Hell, last year’s Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, an album nobody seemed to give a shit about, was my second favorite album of last year. Suffice it to say, the former Red House Painter has previous.

But the fact that I (and many others) am even considering its place in the Koz’s canon means Benji is one hell of an album. It is. Its 11 songs set a new standard in musical storytelling. Over his trademark, masterful mostly nylon-stringed pickin’, the Ohio native digs into his past, weaving insightful, poetic narratives about the ensemble cast that has stumbled into his life. Yes, he almost always starts at the end. But if you think this album is only focused on death, you aren’t listening carefully. This is an album about life. It’s about finding depth and beauty in the tiny lives we live and the deaths we die. If you ever wondered whether anything we do has any meaning, give Benji a spin, and see if you can’t be convinced.

TIER 2: THE CONTENDERS

How to Dress Well: What is this Heart? (Weird World)
One of the (many) great things about Tom Krell’s unforgettable debut, Love Remains, is that its architect was shrouded in mystery. We had a name, but there was no face, no printed lyrics, and hardly a clear, human voice under all that sonic mist. Like watching a gripping drama through drawn curtains, it was beautiful but sometimes totally incomprehensible.

Now, four years later, the curtains haven’t only opened. Krell has stuck his head out the window and invited us into his bedroom to flip through his dream book and read all the letters under his bed. The result is a masterpiece of craft and bravery, as the Chicago resident leads us on an arresting journey through his myriad influences (pre-release mixtape, NO WORDS TO SAY, is essential listening), psyche, and desire to understand the things that make us most human. A fucking knockout.

August Alsina: Testimony (Def Jam)
While the critics have mostly ignored the New Orleanian’s first proper LP, Testimony is one of the best debuts I’ve heard in a long time. Anyone with ears can appreciate his vocal talent, but he’s one of the rare vocalists who also brings serious songwriting and storytelling chops to the table. Really, it’s that storytelling that really sets him apart. For a 21 year-old, he has a bewildering array of stories to tell. Whether he’s dealing with the death of his brother (“Testify”), being homeless (“Right There”), or admitting his flaws as a lover (“You Deserve”), Alsina’s honesty and erudite perspective is a breath of fresh air in a scene where those kinds of feelings are at a premium.

Anybody who has successfully navigated such pitfalls better have a buoyant, resilient spirit, and the Radio Killa has that in spades. He attacks every topic with a weightless swagger, manifested by his effortless tenor. He is as adept at crafting club bangers (last year’s monster hit, “I Luv This Shit”), as he is classic love songs (“Kissin’ On My Tattoos”), gospel-tinged numbers (“Benediction”), moody strip club cuts (“Get Ya’ Money”), and feelingz-free boner jams (“No Love”). Hell, even the clumsy, Kellz-ian raunch of “Porn Star” works, even though it should be a disaster. Debut albums are meant to introduce you to an artist, and Testimony tells me that Alsina is one of the most talented new R&B singers in recent memory and one who will be around for years to come.



Future: Honest (Epic/Free Bandz)
It’s easy to forget how different hip-hop was in April 2012, when Nayvadius “Future” Wilburn released his audacious, influential debut, Pluto. When it dropped, nothing, I mean nothing, sounded like it. He was initially derided for not being a non-lyrical, non-singing (UGH AUTOTUNE) sensitive thug, who wasn’t really enough of anything to move the needle. However, those who listened closely found that Pluto was the sound of an infinitely creative, sonically curious artist who had the balls to deal openly with his feelings.

Two years later, everybody sounds like Future. What does the consummate outsider do when he becomes Empire? Just keep doing you. Honest still sounds like an album only Wilburn could make, highlighting his elastic voice, evocative songwriting, and singular personality. In fact, the only clunkers on the lean, sharp 12-song set are the ones where he sounds least like himself, namely the just-ok, radio-rap-by-numbers “Move That Dope” and the forced Andre 3000 collab, “Benz Friendz” (Whatchutola). Its best, most Future moment is saved for last. On gorgeous closer, “Blood, Sweat, Tears,” where Wilburn free associates a heartfelt confessional about how he got here and where he’s going. At this point, it seems like the 4.67 billion miles to Pluto is merely a rest stop on an even greater journey.

TIER 3: THE FRINGE CONTENDERS

The War on Drugs: Lost In The Dream
With song titles like, “Disappearing,” “Suffering,” and “In Reverse,” it doesn’t take a genius to decipher that the man behind The War on Drugs’ third LP might have been going through a bit of a tough time. Surprise, surprise, frontman Adam Granduciel spent much of the early process going through a break-up, and goddamn, you can feel it. That said, this is far from a sad-sack affair, as Lost in the Dream poignantly and deftly captures the range of emotions you go through when you have to start over. While there may be precious little lyrical light to be found, the Philly native’s warm synths and cleansing guitar work act as a sort of sonic flashlight, reminding you that there is always light just around the corner. The result is an affecting post-mortem, that feels more like a refueling than a dead end.

Lewis: L’Amour (Light in the Attic)
Light In The Attic’s reclamation of the forgotten Canadian singer-songwriter’s only recorded LP (originally put out in 1983) was one of the fascinating stories of the year. We may never learn anything about the man who created it, but now, at least, we can celebrate his achievement. Though it is oft-compared to Springsteen’s Nebraska (probably one of the ten best LPs of all-time), I see it as a really singular album, like a musical message in a bottle that just washed ashore one day. Lewis’ hushed, sometimes unintelligible vocals are unforgettable, especially when paired with this caliber of arrangements, ripe with transportative synths and impeccable finger-picked guitar. It’s an artifact that we are damn lucky to have.


Copeland: Because I’m Worth It (self-released)
It takes Inga Copeland all of two minutes of her proper debut LP to reintroduce us to her Inga-ness. First track, “Faith OG X,” opens with lurching, delicious dollops of sub-bass. Just when it sounds like the beat’s going to kick in, a piercing, high-pitched tone materializes, leaving the rest of the song a painful experience to get through. Even on the most streamlined, digestible album of her career, the ex-Hype Williams member wants to challenge you. The rest of the disc’s seven tracks highlight her singular sound and prodigious talent. Because I’m Worth It somehow manages to sashay into nearly all corners of the musical spectrum (sometimes in just one song) without ever feeling disjointed or slapped together. It’s a rare trait that she (and her ex-partner in crime, Dean Blunt) has carried with her for her whole career. We have never had any clue where she is going next, but wherever it is, we know she’ll bring her Inga-ness with her.

Ricky Eat Acid, Three Love Songs (Orchid Tapes)
You’d be hard pressed to find an artist who has wielded more influence over music than Aubrey Drake Graham, and that influence doesn’t end in hip-hop. Take, Maryland-based bedroom producer, Sam Ray. If it wasn’t for the incredible, tongue-twisting Drake sample he employed in “In My Dreams We’re Almost Touching,” his gorgeously esoteric debut album would have likely never made its way into my earbuds. Lucky for me, it did, because Three Love Songs is an album that is alive like few others: a collage of sonic polaroids, dusty backroads, and fire-and-brimstone preachers. These days, few albums have such an engulfing quality, drawing you into a 360-degree environment in the way that great films, literature, and TV do. Though the story is challenging, opaque, and quite creepy at first glance, successive listens will draw you deeper into Ray’s fascinating, murky world, revealing an underbelly of resplendent light, understanding, and love just below the surface.

Real Estate, Atlas (Domino)
There are very few bands who start their career with three great albums, but even fewer of those groups have gotten better with each successive LP. The Brooklyn-based quintet’s exquisite third LP puts them in that rarified air, thanks to their understated songwriting mastery and signature lush guitarwork. Real Estate albums have always sounded brilliant, but none has said as much as Atlas. Lyricist/principle vocalist Martin Courtney is recently married and is about to have a child, and instead of focusing on nostalgia and growing up, he turns his focus to the present tense, writing articulately about the fears of commitment that so many of us share. Songs like “How Might I Live?” and “Crime” are dripping with self-doubt and anxiety, and “Talking Backwards” deals with struggling to communicate in a frayed relationship. No matter how deep Courtney goes, he is always balanced by his band’s light, breezy arrangements, which (as music does in real life) keeps things from going off the rails. Yes, there’s darkness on the edge of everything, but there’s more than enough light to balance it out.

TIER 4: THE STRONG PLAYOFF TEAMS

Young Thug x Bloody Jay: Black Portland (self-released)
Collaborative albums (i.e.,Watch the Throne, Ferrari Boyz, Like Father Like Son, The Best of Both Worlds) rarely become more than the sum of their parts and almost always yield little more than the hot single or two. However, like he has in most aspects of his life, Young Thug proves the outlier. His mixtape with the similarly iconoclastic ATLien, Bloody Jay, is a consistently explosive collection that celebrates both artists’ spastic, exhilarating styles. There aren’t many who can keep up with Thugger, but Bloody Jay proves to be up to the challenge.



Wild Beasts: Present Tense (Domino)
Four records in, the Lake District quartet have established themselves as one of the most distinctive groups in music. Their Wikipedia page lists them under a whopping nine different genres, and while there’s some truth in all of them, none of the qualifiers come close to encapsulating their nuanced, singular sound. Most conversations about Wild Beasts center around frontman Hayden Thorpe’s warbling falsetto, but that isn’t the only thing that makes them stand out. Musically, Present Tense is focused on building moods rather than structures. The utilize washes of synth, churning guitars, and deft percussion to match the dramatic timbre of Thorpe’s graceful interplay with Tom Fleming’s vulnerable baritone. It’s a delicate balance, and it’s taken them four albums to absolutely nail it. We’re lucky they have.

Kyle Bobby Dunn: Kyle Bobby Dunn & The Infinite Sadness (Students of Decay)
As is true in modern life, it’s hard to be quiet in today’s music world. Artists have roughly 2.3 seconds to catch the ear of potential fans, and if you don’t make your point loudly and quickly, it is going to be real tough to get heard. However, that hasn’t discouraged Montreal ambient/drone composer, Kyle Bobby Dunn. His warm, exquisite double album is among the quietest releases of the year, but if given the proper time, it will open itself up in a way that few albums will. Built around his aqueous, endlessly looped guitar, the delightfully-titled Infinite Sadness bobs up and undulates through two engulfing, disarming hours. If you decide to go, it will gently draw you out into its calm, soothing waters, which are also vast and deep.

YG: My Krazy Life (CTE/Def Jam)
A couple weeks before YG dropped his excellent debut LP, he released a star-studded trailer full of some of the biggest artists in rap (A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Young Jeezy, Rich Homie Quan) dropping a dizzying array of praise and superlatives on the rising 24 year old. I remember sort of scratching my head like, “damn, how did this dude get these guys to go that deep?” The answer? My Krazy Life is a fuckin’ monster. It’s been years since an artist has distilled the classic West Coast/LA experience and sound as well the Compton native does here. Kendrick and the Black Hippies are great, but they don’t embrace that vibe quite like YG does. Super producer DJ Mustard is the perfect sidekick, lacing his signature bounce to most of the album’s 14 tracks. The West Coast has been waiting a long time for an artist to bring the good times back, and YG is just the man to do it.

Owen Pallett, In Conflict (Domino)
The Canadian composer/songwriter’s music is almost always spoken about in staid, almost academic terms. While his harmonic construction remains of an incredibly high caliber, his fourth LP features some of the strongest, most emotive songwriting of his career. He’s always been a bit of a chameleonic musician — tough to get to know — but In Conflict is by far the clearest window we’ve had to the man behind the violin. Don’t let its pre-release billing “concept album on mental illness” fool you. It’s far from the scholastic, faceless experience that the description would make it seem. Pallett writes with great depth and bravery about alcoholism (“The Riverbed”), inter-generational intimacy (stand-out “The Passions”), and having children (“I Am Not Afraid”). Its most arresting moment comes on center-piece, “The Secret Seven,” a rumination on the tragic suicide of Rutgers student and fellow violinist, Tyler Clementi. When Pallett mournfully sings “It don’t get better/ The hunger, even back in his arms,” he may be nominally singing to someone else, but it’s clear that he’s sharing parts of himself he never has before.

Ana Caprix, For Seven Nights This Island is Ours (self-released)
Though the London producer remains anonymous, his (I think) debut LP is chock full of personality and character. Along with pop re-constructionists Doss and the PC Music camp, Caprix crafts music that lives in the netherworld between the cheesy and the brilliant. It’s easy to get turned off by the Emoji artwork and the silly song titles — “:))” is an absolute beauty — but the record is far from a joke. Caprix has a knack for crafting moving, electo/trancey soundscapes that also don’t take themselves too seriously. Like a lot of of internet culture, it’s hard to tell where the samples end and the original work begins, and it seems like that is by design. Some will feel uncomfortable with it, but you shouldn’t fret. It’s just the Internet, y’all.

Second Quarter Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2014 (April-June)

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It’s heating up out here in New York, and it’s a perfect time to catch up on the best music of the last three months, while looking forward to a glorious summer of music. Leggo.

How to Dress Well: “Precious Love”
I could have picked a handful of the tracks from Tom Krell’s gorgeous third album and the only realistic challenger to the Koz’s beautiful Benji for Album of the Year, but I went with the clear-eyed, “Sittin’ Up in My Room” vibes of “Precious Love.” It is perhaps the greatest indicator of HTDW’s remarkable maturation from the hermetical, closed curtains magic of Love Remains to the open, unabashed, pure pop of What is This Heart? Genius.

Metro Thuggin: “The Blanguage”
Young Thug has spent most of the last 18 months making the establishment uncomfortable, and his collaboration with rising producer, Metro Boomin, is one of the truly breathtaking tracks of the year. Boomin’s twinkling keys and off-kilter drums are the ideal canvas for Thugger’s spastic, elastic flow. There’s not really verses or a chorus, but when you’ve got this much ability, who needs em’?

Real Lies: “North Circular”
The moody Londoners’ gorgeous single captures the muted ennui and delicious longing of growing up in suburbia. It’s the kind of track that simultaneously reminds you why you left your hometown and why, no matter where you go, it will always be home. “How many late nights does it take you to change?” In. Fuckin’. Deed.

Copeland: “Advice to Young Girls” (f/ Actress)
I’d like to imagine that ex-Hype Williams bandmates Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland have a sort of friendly rivalry. Like, Inga heard Dean’s ridiclously excellent, The Redeemer, last year, and was like, “alright, Dean. I got somethin’ for ya.” That something is the incredible, Because I’m Worth It, and it’s lead single is a modern, brazen call to arms for a generation of smirking, texting, free thinking girls, who already know that the city is theirs.

 

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Hot Jam of the Day: Jessie Ware, “Tough Love”

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Jessie Ware
“Tough Love”
Upcoming LP on PMR

After stealing our hearts with 2012’s near-perfect, Devotion, the approachable 29 year-old is finally set for a follow-up, and if this sultry lead single is anything to go by, the talented Londoner’s reign isn’t ending anytime soon. Restraint was one of the key elements of Devotion, and the exquisite production from BenZel (Two Inch Punch & Benny Blanco) is dripping with it. However, Ware doesn’t follow suit vocally, exploring the upper ranges of her evocative voice in a way that feels fresh and exciting. It feels like she’s taking off the shackles and really going for it here. No doubt, it still feels like a Jessie Ware track, but it’s incredibly exciting to see such a successful, talented young artist continuing to grow in front of our eyes. All hail the queen.

Hot Jam of the Day: Karl x Johan, “A Better Tomorrow”

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Karl x Johan
“A Better Tomorrow”
A Better Tomorrow (7″ out 6.24 on Emotion)

Following in Sweden’s rich tradition of prodigiously talented, frustratingly mercurial duos — Air France’s  Joel & Henrik, JJ’s Joakim & Elin, Boat Club’s Andreas & Magnus, m83’s Anthony & Claire (jk) — Johan Tuvesson and Kalle Jönsson have spent nearly five years tantalizing us with a string of pristine, emotional pop singles and no proper debut LP. Last summer, the long-awaited debut finally got a date — April 29th, 2014 — nearly an entire year in the future. April 29th came and went, and surprise surprise, we got no album.

But, we have a new single, and oh my word, it’s a doozy. The Stockholm residents have always had a knack for penning stadium sized choruses, aimed straight at the 13 year-old hearts in all of us. The breathtaking, aptly-named “A Better Tomorrow” may feature their most sweeping one yet. Recalling Peter Gabriel as much as Peter Cetera, the Swedes wax emotional over technicolor synths and Rick Allen-esque starry-eyed, synthesized drums. It’s the kind of song meant to play at full-volume in a cavernous, sweaty room to a sea of lighters and outstretched hands. It’s also the kind of song that keeps roping us in, waiting on pins and needles for the complete statement that will officially place them in the rarefied company of their aforementioned countrymen.

Images & Words: Real Lies, “North Circular”

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Real Lies
“North Circular”
North Circular / Dab Housing (out this summer on Marathon Artists)

This is big one. The London trio’s affecting ode to the 25.7-mile stretch of road that borders the northern part of their city is a gently disarming number that beautifully meanders like the steady flow of midnight headlights. Reminiscent of Mike Skinner’s seminal “Weak Become Heroes” — still one of my 20 favorite tracks of all-time — “North Circular” feels like a massive achievement. It could be the incredibly rare song that distills experiences and feelings of a particular generation in the way that Skinner did 12 years ago.

It beautifully sums up the possibility and the ennui of growing up in suburban sprawl — the melancholy joy of cruising down your streets with your people with fuck all to do. Topped off with a shuffling backbeat, graceful synths, and a far-away guitar line, “North Circular” is the perfect soundtrack for the muted euphoria of a late-night drive through the a-road pubs, petrol stations, and suicide bridges of our suburban childhoods. While my streets may lay more than 5,000 miles to the west, for these 4-and-a-half minutes, the North Circular certainly feels like home.

Hot Jam of the Day: The Antlers, “Hotel” // “Palace”

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The Antlers
“Hotel” // “Palace”
Familiars (out 06.17 on Anti-)

Since its release, I’ve loved a lot of albums, but I still can’t name five that better the Brooklyn indie/post-rock trio’s incredible, gut-wrenching Hospice (2009). While 2011’s Burst Apart was very good, it was simply never going to live up to its nuanced, overwhelming predecessor, but judging by these two gorgeous, dreamy numbers, it looks like Peter Silberman and co. are back to their best.

The exquisite latter, especially, highlights the group’s knack for matching enchanting, ornate melodies with harrowing, devastating lyrics and vocals, resulting in songs that gently, gloriously break your heart. If there’s one thing that’s true about these guys, it’s that they are not a singles band, and I cannot wait to hear how these songs work in the context of an album that is one of my most anticipated of the year.

Listen to “Hotel” over at  Brooklyn Vegan.

“Palace”

Starting V: My Favorite DJ Rashad Tracks

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Late last night, a friend texted me that legendary Chicago house/footwork/juke producer Rashad “DJ Rashad” Harden had passed away at  just 35. Anytime someone passes away at such an age, it is an impossible tragedy, and all thoughts and prayers must be extended to his family and friends. However, the timing of Harden’s death is even crueler because he was finally starting to get the international recognition that his genius, vision, and innovation deserved.

His fifth LP, Double Cup, was one of the best releases of last year and enjoyed almost universal acclaim. He spent the last couple of years criss-crossing the globe, playing to massive, sweaty rooms, packed to the brim.

I won’t speculate on the cause of death or the man himself, because I have no insight into either. I would, however, like to celebrate the great man’s incredible, influential catalog and the enduring legacy he leaves behind. I was lucky enough to see Rashad’s final two NYC performances, and both times I was left marveling at his uncanny ability to seamlessly weave massively diverse, frenetic tracks together with consumate ease and mastery. He must have been born with a metronome implanted in his brain to be able to match those beats. In short, he will remain one of the most influential, important producers of his generation and one of the men who brought the Chicago club sound to the world.

Also, I appreciate that I am not the person to craft a definitive collection of his best work or sum up his career, but I did want to devote some words to his songs that hit me hardest. RIP.

“Let it Go” from Rollin EP (2013)
Admittedly, I was late to the DJ Rashad party, as “Let it Go” was the first track of his I really fell in love with.  One of my favorite songs of 2013, the track captures a lot of the elements that make his sound so remarkable. Rashad manages to balance hyperactive percussion with evocative swabs of synths, teetering on the edge of the beat. Just when the off-kilter number threatens to tip over, he masterfully reaches over to steady the ship, guiding it safely to its devastating climax.

“I’m Gone” from Just A Taste (2010)
While he was a master of manipulating chopped-up vocal samples, Rashad could also build around an extended sample like few others. Case in point, “I’m Gone” matches an evocative Gil-Scott Heron sample (one also famously used by fellow Chicago-native, Kanye West) with a syncopated, dancefloor backbeat and wobbly sub-bass to perfection. While he obviously made great party music, there’s an undercurrent of pain in a lot of his best work, and it’s on full display here.

“She A Go” (f/ DJ Spinn & DJ Taso) from Double Cup (2013)
One of Rashad’s greatest strengths was his versatility, and the Double Cup stand-out incorporates UK Garage influences and Southern rap into his Chicago sound. Obviously, this isn’t the only place he utilizes the aforementioned elements, but it’s one of my favorites. One of the smoothest Rashad tracks on record, he blends just-behind-the-beat chords with his signature syncopated percussion. It’s topped off with an infectious, screwed vocalsthat guide the listener through the track’s stunning 3-plus minutes.

“CCP” from TEKLIFE Vol 1: Welcome to the Chi (2012)
He had a knack for pulling apart vocal samples to inhuman levels, deconstructing them to the point of otherworldliness. That said, no matter how mangled, they never lost their humanity, as highlighted on this evocative banger. If that wasn’t enough, Rashad actually uses the vocal as a percussive element here, almost signaling tempo shifts with it. It’s something I’d never really heard done like that, and it’s yet another example of why Rashad will be remembered as a true sonic innovator.

“FootworKINGz” from Jukeville (2009)
Even though he was certainly never limited to the genre, it feels fitting to end this list with an example of pure footwork glory. “FootworKINGz” only uses a few sonic elements and two words, but in classic DJ Rashad style, it becomes much more than the sum of its parts. And isn’t that what being a great DJ/producer is all about? It’s about pulling the magic out of the small elements of recorded tracks and putting them together to make an entirely new, original piece of music. Only the great ones can do it, and it’s why he will always be considered the Footwork King.

RIP DJ Rashad.

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