Images & Words: Real Lies, "The Checks"

Real Lies "The Checks" Digital Single Longtime TP favorite and the trio behind my favorite song of 2014, London's Real Lies are back with their first new music in a couple years. Few artists are as good at capturing the mood of being young and on your own in a big city like Read more

Father John Misty, "Just Dumb Enough to Try"

Father John Misty "Just Dumb Enough To Try" God's Favorite Customer (out 06.01 on Sub Pop) Though his last LP "Pure Comedy" had its moments, it was an overwritten project that was weighed down by grand, mostly superficial proclamations about the frivolity of modern life. His usually sharp pen often landed with Read more

Images & Words: Yxng Bane, "Vroom"

Yxng Bane "Vroom" Digital Single When I first wrote about the East Londoner back in July 2016, he didn't even have CDQ versions of his tracks on SoundCloud. In less than two years, Bane's career has grown like wildfire with multiple videos doing crazy numbers. The hot streak looks set to continue with Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of The First Quarter

To be totally honest, I'm not sure it's been a vintage first quarter for music, as I had fewer albums that I wanted to write about than usual. That said, there are some truly excellent albums on this list, and there's a lot to look forward coming up soon. Kacey Read more

Kacey Musgraves, "Golden Hour"

Kacey Musgraves "Golden Hour" Golden Hour (out now on UMG) At this point, you probably already know that the 29 year-old Texan’s new album is something special. The disc is a stunning collection of impeccably sung and written modern country tunes, all of which deserve your time. However, I wanted to Read more


Late Summer Catch-Up: The Best Stuff I Missed

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As you may have realized, posting has been a little sparse around these parts in the last couple weeks. I’ve been moving house from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the last few weeks, so I wanted to get into a quick round-up of some of my favorite recent tracks, now that I’m finally situated.

Real Lies
“Blackmarket Blues”
Real Life (out in October on Marathon Artists)
If you read this site regularly, you know how I feel about Real Lies. We’re now just weeks away from the release of their debut LP — an album I’ve been waiting for since I fell in love with their first single, “Deeper,” back in the summer of 2013. “Blackmarket Blues” captures an intoxicating balance between urban ennui and the eternal hopefulness of youth in a way that just cuts through me. I don’t know how many other ways I can keep saying it, but I fucking love this band so much. And so should you.

“You Don’t Have to Be Alone” / “In The Flames”
Digital Single
Samo Sound Boy has already made a great solo album this year, but his personal success hasn’t pushed his project with Jerome LOL onto the back-burner. The LA-based (Westlake, stand up!) duo formerly known as DJ Dodger Stadium, dropped a pair of sweltering, mantric singles this summer that will hopefully lead to a follow-up to 2014’s excellent, Friend of Mine.

Miles From Kinshasa
Digital Single
This one’s an absolute stunner. The London-based newcomer’s debut single pairs a foreboding bassline with lithe, infectious vocals, resulting in a track that feels both menacing and breezy. Unlike many of today’s pop songs, it’s tough to track the sounds that influenced “IVRY.” Miles cooks up a beautifully divergent sonic stew here, using stabbed electric guitars, syncopated hand-drums, and Pet Shop Boys synths to create a perfect soundtrack to life in a multi-cultural community.

Tim Vocals
“Where is the Loud” (Goon Mix)
Digital Single
While Craig David rightfully lapped up the plaudits for his flip of Jack Ü’s ubiquitous “Where Are Ü Now,” under-appreciated crooner Tim Vocals quietly dropped an excellent version of his own. The Harlem native waxes poetic about his love for weed in his gentle, yet powerful falsetto, gliding over the verses’ buoyant piano chords and Skrillex and Diplo’s infectious chorus drop.

Don’t You (out 01.29.16 on Columbia)
After what has felt like an eternity, the emotional trio’s debut LP finally got a release date. Lead single “Deadwater” is one of my favorite tracks of the year, and the skeletal “Weak” is a worthy follow-up, pairing Kelly Zutrau’s piercing, plaintive vocals with delicate guitar chords and a bouncy drumpad pattern. 2016 just got its first must-hear album.

“Come Back” / “Brought to the Water”
New Bermuda (out now on -ANTI)
The Bay Area sickos responsible for my fave album of 2013 are back with a vengeance. If these singles are anything to go by, New Bermuda will pick up where the masterful Sunbather left off. If anything, these cuts tend to skew even heavier and darker than their past work, hinting that success has done nothing but make them even more relentless.

RedemptionHeart (TBD)
For obvious reasons, not many artists who make music as nuanced and challenging as Dawn Richard are prolific, but the New Orleans powerhouse has been on an absolute tear of late. She only dropped her beguiling, brilliant third solo LP, Blackheart, back in January, just four months removed from a solid effort from her original group, Danity Kane. Now, she’s preparing the final chapter of “ The Red Era” series, which includes Blackheart and 2013’s Goldenheart. Its delightful lead single, “Dance”, shows that the 32 year-old is committed to bringing both quantity and quality to her ever-growing fanbase.

“Nothing’s Changed”
Digital Single
Baltimore producer eu-IV’s matches an interview with civil rights activist, Angela Davis, with a smooth, jazzy arrangement. It’s a powerful, affecting statement that reminds us that though over 40 years have passed since Davis first spoke those disarming words, they are still more pertinent than ever.

Odyssey (out 11.06 on Mixpack)
The grime-leaning producer recently announced his most ambitious project to date, a new 8-song EP that will likely highlight the Londoner’s diverse palette of influences. “Moodswung” is a shapeshifting, otherworldly soundscape that is offbeat and unpredictable without losing its coherence and form. Built around delicious MIDI harps and skittering percussion, it feels like the perfect soundtrack to deep space travel…or just the run of the mill chaos of your morning commute.

Digital Single
Summer might be over, but I guess nobody told this virile, Swedish dream pop trio. When you consider the length and bleakness of the Stockholm winter, it’s easy to understand why the group is struggling to suck a few more drops out of summer. It’s almost as if they believe that Mia Bøe’s defiant cries and powerful m83 synths will be warm enough to keep winter away for a few extra, precious weeks.

Images & Words: Troye Sivan, “WILD”

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Troye Sivan
WILD (out now on Universal Australia)

I first heard about the Australian YouTuber turned pop-star when I read Alex Frank’s excellent piece for the ever-reliable, Fader Magazine. Among other things, the 20 year-old stressed the importance of writing and speaking openly about LGBT relationships and issues in mainstream pop music, saying “I just wanted to write normal pop songs, and when the time comes to use a pronoun, I’ll use the word ‘he.'” It’s a simple yet powerful statement from a young artist who seems entirely unafraid of his sexuality impacting his ambitions as a pop-star.

That confidence is apparent on the powerful, affecting new clip for the title-track from debut EP. “WILD” captures the youthful innocence and abandon of falling into first love. It’s the kind of pop song that people have been fawning over for decades — a love-story that everybody can relate to. Musically, it’s equally inarguable, from its expertly moody pre-chorus to its earworm of a hook to Sivan’s devastating vocal. “WILD” has all the essentials of those timeless pop ballads that remind us that we are the same — hopeless romantics, looking for someone to love us. It’s that message of implied unity that makes Sivan’s music so radically human and his huge success so encouraging.

Hot Jam of the Day: Natasha Kmeto, “Your Girl”

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Natasha Kmeto
“Your Girl”
Inevitable (09.18 on Dropping Gems)

If there’s any fairness in the universe, Natasha Kmeto’s gorgeous new single will achieve widespread attention by soundtracking a pivotal first kiss in a teen movie (i.e. the 2015 equivalent of when Liv Tyler finally makes out with A.J. on the roof of Empire Records). The crushing vocals, the technicolor synths, the “I always wanted to be your girl” mantra. Everything about “Your Girl” feels like those special moments are supposed to feel, which isn’t surprising considering she wrote the song for her partner before embarking on a long tour (via TheFader). It’s dripping with equal parts devotion and regret, which is so relatable to anyone who is in a long distance relationship (like me) or often travels for work. It may not soundtrack any big-screen love affairs, but it will certainly soundtrack some real ones. And that’s what matters most.

Hot Jam of the Day: Dej Loaf, “Hey There” (f/ Future)

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Dej Loaf
“Hey There” (f/ Future)
#AndSeeThatsTheThing (out now on Columbia)

From the moment the Detroit native’s unavoidable first single, “Try Me,” blew up, the common narrative was that the 24 year-old was just another in the line of one-hit, viral rap sensations (see: Bobby Shmurda, OT Genasis, OG Maco, etc) that popped off in 2014. However, the reality stands in stark contrast to that notion, as she she has released a consistent stream of excellent material since, capped off by her mega-underrated Sell Sole mixtape. This year, she’s also dropped a handful of potent features (exhibit A, B & C), the snarling “Like A Hoe,” and the re-tooled “Me U & Hennessy,” which is arguably been even bigger than “Try Me.”

Her understated hot streak continues on her solid, six-song EP, featuring this excellent collab with everyone’s favorite hip-hop romantic. Like Future’s best duets, there’s real chemistry here, and they sound effortless and natural together. We’ll have to see if it ages as well as classics like “Loveeeeeee Song,” “Neva End,” and “Anytime,” but it certainly feels like a keeper at this point.

Images & Words: Chief Keef, “Ain’t Missing You” (f/ Jenn Em)

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Chief Keef
“Ain’t Missing You” (f/ Jenn Em)
Digital Single

It’s remarkable how far Chief Keef has come in the two and a half years since his one and only Interscope LP, Finally Rich. Far away from the beady eye of label suits who never understood him and the ruthless media scrutiny that threatened to consume him, the Chicago native has quietly gotten his mojo back, crafting fascinating, gleefully experimental sounds with a rotating cast of characters in the LA suburbs. While recent releases like Sorry 4 the Weight and Back From the Dead 2 garnered little mainstream coverage, they’ve earned well-deserved love from sharp critics and (more importantly) have been well received by his growing, sonically open-minded fanbase.

That said, I don’t think anyone was expecting a twangy, pop-country ballad, but as he’s proven time and time again, Keef doesn’t give a shit about other people’s expectations. And you know what? It’s brilliant. “Ain’t Missing You” is a disarmingly powerful eulogy to the 19 year-old’s older cousin, Mario “Big Glo” Hess, a fellow rapper and mentor who was slain in Chicago in the aftermath of signing a lucrative record contract. Keef’s verses are gut-wrenching — particularly the second. He speaks candidly about his relationship with Hess, during what must have been an unimaginable transition from a 16 year-old in one of the poorest communities in America to a multi-millionaire celebrity. It’s the most clear-eyed, emotionally direct song of his career, and yet another example of Keef’s unarguable talent and relentlessly creative spirit.

Hot Jam of the Day: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Emotion”

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Carly Rae Jepsen
Emotion (out 09.21 on Interscope)

I have wanted to write about the third single from Canadian popstar’s third LP since wonky versions of it started appearing online a couple of weeks ago, and today we finally get a proper studio quality version. A nice bridge between the anthemic, punchy “I Really Like You” and the moody ballad, “All That,” “Emotion” is a mid-tempo masterclass — the special kind of song that bottles up post-first kiss butterflies and serves them up to you again and again. Over 3 glorious minutes, the 29 year-old pours her heart out, beautifully framed by taut guitars and delicious swaths of synth. While the 80s, John Hughes influences are obvious here, this is a rare timeless pop song that can appeal to any person in any era. All you need is a beating heart.

Starting V: The Best of Jens Lekman, Postcards

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While working out his follow up to 2012’s wonderful, I Know What Love Isn’t, Swedish crooner/ThunderPenguin fave, Jens Lekman has been quietly releasing a new track every week on SoundCloud. Don’t let the paltry play numbers (most average around 6-10k streams) or the lack of blog love fool you, there is real magic in the 21 diverse songs released so far. Some are fully realized compositions, while some are skeletal sketches. Either way, it’s a fascinating set from a versatile songwriter whose only constraint is time, freeing him to dig deeper into disparate influences and half-baked ideas. Here are my five favorites to date.

“Postcard #7” (02.14.15)
One of the finest pieces of Lekman’s career, “Postcard #7” is a swooning affirmation that sees the perpetually romantic 34 year-old falling all over himself in the early days of a love affair. Metaphors are generally tricky to pull off and often ring hollow, but he delivers his words with a disarming, palpable earnestness that will leave you sipping on the sweet nectar (buh doom pish) of your most naive, lovedrunk moments. Pour me another.

“Postcard #17” (04.25.15)
Lekman’s always had a way with samples, and many of his best tracks (“Rocky Dennis’ Farewell Song,” “Maple Leaves”) draw heavily from recontextualized obscure disco and pop songs of the 60’s and 70’s. He goes to that well again here, grabbing a few languid piano bars from jazz demigod Charles Mingus’ lovely “Myself When I’m Real.” Lekman’s melancholic vocals are well-suited for the chopped up piano chords and forlorn horns, and the deft arrangement allows plenty of space for the Gothenburg native to glide into.

“Postcard #10” (03.07.15)
In my experiences with loss, I’ve found that I miss the small stuff about a person more than the bigger, more profound moments I’d shared with them. I tend to especially miss things like stupid jokes, discussing trash TV, and G-Chatting about God knows what, and Lekman captures the power of the minutiae that fills our lives with a rumination on his late grandfather. Borrowing its melody from the series’ jokey opener, “Postcard #10” memorializes him with the kind of affecting Christmas story that everybody can relate to.

“Postcard #6” (02.07.15)
“Remember… I gave you a chart for morse code,” is one of the most Lekman-y opening lines of all time. While it may make little sense at first listen, it draws you in. And Lekman — ever the expert storyteller — pays it off with an emotive tale about moving on and letting go. Sporting swirling synths, jazzy piano, and dramatic strings, the lush arrangement shows that these are developed, fully formed pieces, far from the throwaways that their fanfare-free release would suggest.

“Postcard #21” (05.24.15)
We’ll end this list with the most recent track, a cut that recalls some of Lekman’s early, lo-fi, vocal-driven work like “Do You Remember The Riots?,” “A Man Walks Into a Bar,” and “The Cold Swedish Winter.” The latter is the first Jens song I ever heard and began my love affair with his music. There was a homemade feeling to that early work — like he was in your living room, singing without a microphone. Fittingly, he’s currently on tour, playing living rooms and community centers in tiny towns in Sweden and Norway. No doubt, he’ll be leaving fans with intimate memories like the one I have of him playing for 10 to 15 of us in a parking lot after a gig in San Francisco. I have a lot of rich memories involving his music, but that’s the one I cherish most.

Hot Jam of the Day: Real Lies, “Seven Sisters”

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Real Lies
“Seven Sisters”
Digital Single

With four inch-perfect singles already under their belt (including 2014’s best song), the North Londoners’ forthcoming debut LP is one of the most anticipated albums of the year around these parts. While we’ve already heard a radio rip of the still-unreleased “Lovers Lane,” this is the first official taste of the record. It’s nearly impossible for me to write about them without bringing up nostalgia, and “Seven Sisters” is sporting some serious Italia ’90 vibes here… with Christian Maggio in the Gazza role and Gillian Gilbert’s twinkling, technicolor keys swapped for some stabbed, deep house chords. And though the influences are overt, Real Lies continue to sound like a band in their own lane in 2015. A group adept at balancing the music of their youth with a strong, personal voice, the result in a sound that feels both familiar and breathtakingly fresh.

Hot Jam of the Day: DJ Rashad, Nick Hook & Machinedrum, “Understand”

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DJ Rashad, Nick Hook & Machinedrum
Movin’ Forward (out 04.24 on TEKLIFE)

A few days before the one-year anniversary of footwork legend DJ Rashad’s tragic passing, Machinedrum (né Travis Stewart) releases this gorgeous collaboration with the late DJ and Nick Hook. In the press release, Stewart wrote about the difficulties of finishing the songs he had worked with Rashad on, explaining that they “seemed impossible to finish after he passed.” Fortunately for us, the North Carolina native was able to complete them, and they’ll be released on a tribute album for the great man next week. A year on, Rashad’s influence and legacy remains stronger than ever, highlighted by excellent work from rising artists like JLin, DJ Earl, and Machinedrum himself.

“Teklife to tha next life.” RIP Rashad.

Hot Jam of the Day: Samantha Urbani, “1 2 3 4”

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Samantha Urbani
“1 2 3 4”
Digital Single

The first line of the Soundcloud blurb for the ex-Friends singer’s new single reads “written, arranged, performed & co-produced by Samantha Urbani.” Assumedly, this was meant to avoid the shadow of her boyfriend Dev Hynes, whose figure looms ubiquitously over nearly every act he produces (Carly Rae Jepsen, Solange, Sky Ferreira etc). While the 80s pastiche and funky bassline are decidedly Hynes-ian, “1 2 3 4” is punchier than many of Hynes’ moody, occasionally overcooked arrangements (see: Jepsen’s sleepy, “All That”), and it bangs in a way that only his best work does. Over a buoyant synths, Urbani channels peak Benatar and early Madonna, delivering sticky verses and a devastating chorus with the blasé confidence of a seasoned pop star. It’s the rare pop song that is light as a feather, yet hits like a (shit)ton of bricks. More like this, please.

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