Hot Jam of the Day: Julien Baker, "Appointments"


Julien Baker "Appointments" Turn Out the Lights (out 10.27 on Matador) "It's the hope that kills you," goes the old saying. But it can also be the thing that saves you and drives you through life's dark stretches. It's what the 21 year-old is reaching for on this breathtaking first single from her highly-anticipated second Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Kelela, "LMK"


Kelela "LMK" Take Me Apart (10.06 on Warp) Our agonizing wait for the first taste of Kelela's proper studio debut* is finally over, and my GOD, our girl came through with a banger. In lieu of just typing 4,000 fire emojis, I'll just say that "LMK" is such a perfect distillation of what makes Read more

Images & Words: Jessie Ware, "Midnight"


Jessie Ware “Midnight” Digital Single In the years I’ve been covering music, I wrote more about Jessie Ware’s early career than just about anyone else. I first covered her back in 2011 and tracked her progression from a promising, mostly unknown, quiet storm prodigy to a true powerhouse who could command any room she was Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of 2017, So Far...


Rating albums at the mid-point of the year, just to re-rate them in six months seems dumb, so I decided to go with an NBA Draft-style tier system to pick out a few of my favorites so far. TIER 1: THE FAVORITE Stormzy Gang Signs and Prayer #Merky The Londoner's debut LP is an Read more

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

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The Round-Up: The Best Albums of March & April

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I skipped last month’s album Round-Up to bang out the My Favorite Tracks of the First Quarter list. So this month’s album list features my picks from March and April. Possibly the strongest batch of the year so far, 2017 is shaping up to be another incredible year in music.

mounteerie-600-5Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked At Me
P.W. Elverum & Sun
I can’t remember two albums released back-to-back that provide such stark, unflinching looks at death as Mount Eerie’s incredible, A Crow Looked at Me, and Sorority Noise’s brutal You’re Not As ____ As You Think.

And while I can relate to some of the tragedies that color the Sorority Noise LP, I cannot even begin to fathom the loss that Phil Elverum chronicles on his ode to his late wife Geneviève Castrée, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the impossibly early age of 35. Elverum was always crafted deeply affecting songs, but he was also an intensely private figure who seemed to craft albums from some faraway galaxy.

Well, on A Crow Looked At Me, Elverum eschews every inch of that privacy. He lets us all into the deepest crevices of his life — from their bedroom to moments with their daughter to uncomfortable conversations at the grocery store to the life they shared deep in the Washington woods. Though the arraignments are skeletal in the extreme — mostly consisting of Elverum’s strained vocals and meandering, nylon string guitars — each of the eleven tracks are incredibly rich. Not with just information about the characters, but with legitimately insightful, universal wisdom that only this kind of grief can leave behind. An absolute masterpiece.

Listen to it on Spotify.


sorority-noise-pr-photo-pat-nolanSorority Noise
You’re Not As ___ As You Think
Triple Crown
While Elverum penned his record about losing the one you love, the Sorority Noise album is about the especially unsettling feeling that takes place when you are young and lose multiple friends in quick succession. When you feel like every time the phone rings, you will be confronted by another tragedy that you won’t be equipped to deal with. When you start to believe that death is around every corner.

“Just this year I lost a basketball team to heaven” sings Cam Boucher on “Disappeared.” Artists tend to wrap loss in metaphor to soften the blow, but Boucher (like Elverum) is not here to make you comfortable. There are a number of moments on the record that are physically unsettling, as if you are reading someone’s deeply personal journal behind their backs.

It’s not a walk in the park, but as the album moves, little rays of hope start to cut through the clouds. Much of that comes from their raw, yet tuneful riffs and Boucher’s sneaky catchy choruses. It also comes from the knowledge that as the days go by and the shock wears off, it becomes easier to remember your friends as they were in life, not in death.

Listen to it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 4.58.22 PMMr Mitch
Devout
Planet Mu
On the total other end of the spectrum comes the longtime TP-favorite’s second LP. Absolutely teaming with life, the disc is bookended by two gorgeous love-letters. The first is to his partner, which features Mitch’s young sons on vocals. And its heartfelt closer sees Mitch singing to his second son while he was still in the womb.

These are just two of the truly heartfelt, affecting moments on this special album. Mitch has always been a master of building hyper-melodic, emotional soundscapes that drive miles beyond the parameters of grime. But the songwriting on Devout far surpasses anything else he’s put out in his already glittering, genre-redefining career. Probably my favorite album of the year so far.

Stream it now on Spotify.

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Hot Jam of the Day: War on Drugs, “Thinking of a Place”

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Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 7.39.30 PMWar on Drugs
“Thinking of a Place”
Digital Single
“Thinking of a Place” is first new piece of original music from the Philly group since Lost in the Dream — one of the best albums of 2014. And, my god, was it worth the wait. An expansive and beautiful mid-tempo ballad, it features some of Adam Granduciel’s richest and most melodic songwriting.

Over windswept acoustic strums and a restorative lead riff, Granduciel yearns for a fading connection with an affecting restlessness and melancholy. You can feel him reaching for something that he can’t quite grab and trying to find his way back to a place that doesn’t exist anymore. Most rock songs have no right to go on for 11 minutes, but this one could go on for twice as long. Just stunning.

The War On Drugs – Thinking Of A Place from Record Store Day on Vimeo.

The Round-Up: The Best Songs of the First Quarter

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It’s insane that 2017 is already one quarter over, but it’s been a tremendous three months of music. Here are a few of the best tracks I’ve heard this yera. For both of our sakes, I’m going to (try to) keep my write-ups Tweet length (LOL).

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 11.27.55 AMStormzy
“100 Bags”
Gang Signs & Prayer (#Merky)
“Dear Mama” for the year 2017, “100 Bags” is a rare beacon of unobstructed light in these turbulent times. The Londoner makes the song cry for four breathtaking minutes, sharing the boundless, genuine love he has for his Mumzy. “Take a selfie, show ’em how you look mum. Flex on ’em, let ’em know that we’re good mum” is easily my favorite line of the year and makes you root so hard for both of them.

Frank Ocean
“Chanel”
Digital Single
In a world increasingly obsessed with living in black and white, ambiguity is rarer and more important than ever. On “Chanel,” Frank refuses to adhere to anybody’s labels or expectations, gleefully weaving together macho flexes, references to gay sex, drug talk, and ernest affirmations of love without breaking a sweat. It’s subtle but unflinching, inviting listeners to dig a little deeper and not turn away from the grey areas that color all of our lives.

OMB Peezy
“Lay Down”

Digital Single
Born in Alabama but based in Northern California, OMB Peezy takes cues from both regions to cook up a hell of a stew. “Lay Down” matches Bay Area slap with a Southern drawl for a throwback sound that is also purely modern.

Jens Lekman
“How Can I Tell Him”
Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian)
The Swede’s gorgeous fourth LP is full of affecting storytelling, but nothing hits quite as close to home as his struggle to reconcile his love for a friend with outdated, damaging notions of masculinity.

future-net-worth-getty_573x300Future
“Fresh Air”
HNDRXX (FreeBandz)
It came out in February, but “Fresh Air” is pure NYC summer. It’s a crackling anthem, built to bump out of cars, apartments, and sweaty ass clubs. God knows we need as many of those as we can get.


MoStack
“Let It Ring”
Digital Single
The next name to know in the popping UK rap scene. MoStack’s breakthrough single glides like a summer breeze, bridging Afrobeats, dancehall, and the North London sound with ease.

RunTown
“Mad Over You”
Digital Single
As African influence spreads across the music world, don’t forget to check out the source. The 27 year-old Nigerian’s gorgeous, sashaying love song has a palpable warmth that is hard to find in modern music.

J Hus 
“Did You See”
Common Sense (out 05.12)
He kept it low-key last year, but the Londoner is primed to drop his proper debut (even though, oh my god, download The 15th Day) and take over 2017. Already getting love on both sides of the Atlantic, his earworm flow and wavey melodies should be the sound of the summer.

Khalid
“American Teen”
American Teen (RCA)

While I’m not sure I love the record as much as many do, its lead single is a heavenly bit of nostalgic pop. The El Paso singer’s pristine vocal captures the freedom and fear of being young.

Don-E ft. Nado
“You Alright Yeah?”
Digital Single
Sunshine in a bottle, the anonymous Londoner’s first single features a nuclear hook that will dig its hook into your brain and leave you asking everyone you see, “You alright, yeah? How’s your mum? She good, yeah?” It just feels so goddamn good.

KWAYE
“Cool Kids”

Digital Single
The best debut pop single of the year, the London vocalist slides through an ultra-slinky, guitar-driven quiet storm, making a strong statement about acceptance in a truly stylish manner.

DaVido
“If”
Digital Single
Already a mega-star in Africa and Europe, the Nigerian vocalist looks poised to make the jump across the Atlantic. “If” is yet another example of the boundless joy his sound delivers.

Chief Keef
“Reload” Feat. Tadoe & Ballout
Digital Single
Though the blogosphere is mostly ignoring him these days, the 21 year-old continues to crank out esoteric, experimental work for his loyal army of fans. On “Reload,” Keef turns the trap house into a Super Mario Bros ghost house, riding triumphantly through dramatic, off-kilter church organs.

Dave
“Samantha” (f/ J Hus)
Digital Single
The rising Londoners link up for a gospel-tinged ballad that pairs Zeytoven-ish piano noodling with the duo’s trademark melodic vocals and personal bars. Though they seem like quite different characters, they sound perfect together.

Jacques Greene
“True” (f/ How to Dress Well)

Feel Infinite (out now)
The MTL producer’s debut LP is full of highlights, but nothing tops his reunion with longtime collaborator, Tom Krell. The Chicago vocalist sounds back to his best, floating over a slice of characteristically emotional house.

Sampha
(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano
Process (Young Turks)
The most aesthetically perfect song of 2017, this beautiful track is more than an homage to the first piano Sampha ever ran his fingers over; it’s a testament to the way that music can help you find your identity and figure out who you are.

Screen-Shot-2017-04-12-at-13.43.27-970x550Mr. Mitch
“VPN” (f/ Palmistry)

Devout (out 04.21 on Planet Mu)
While I remain undecided about dancehall tourist/weepy softboi, Palmistry, “VPN” is all about the glorious synth arrangement, courtesy of the always innovative Mr. Mitch. Devout is shaping up to be one of the albums of the year.

Ryan Adams
“Shiver and Shake”
Prisoner (PAX AM)
“Shiver and Shake” is the most powerful moment from his best record in more than a decade. Adams is at his lowest point, grappling to rebuild a life that heartbreak has reduced to rubble, as “Tunnel of Love” plays in the background.

Father John Misty
“Pure Comedy”
Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
FJM is A LOT, and somehow the record is even more. But “Pure Comedy” is a powerful distallation of how sharp his pen can be and how strong his voice almost always is.

Jean-Michel Blais & CFCF
“In a Landscape – Rework”
Cascades (Arts & Crafts)
The two Montrealers’ collaborative EP is full of minimalistic, contemplative piano interplay. Their take on John Cage’s modal masterpiece reinterprets the cinematic splendor of the timeless original.

Phoebe Bridgers
“Smoke Signals”
Digital Single (Pax Am)
The rising LA folk singer’s breakthrough single captures the darkness and light of old Hollywood monster movies, telling a story that is both spooky and alluring.

Migos
“T-Shirt”
Culture (Quality Control)
The jewel of the standout commercial rap release of 2017, “T-Shirt” highlights the group’s unmatched lyrical interplay and Quavo’s underrated hook-writing chops.

AJ x Deno
“Ride or Die”
Digital Single
Like an increasing number of young artists, it all started for 14 year-old Londoner Deno Driz on Instagram. Unlike many others, his youthful, elastic tenor (think: early Chris Brown) works just as well in a real recording studio as it does on social media. A young star in the making.

The XX
“Replica”
I See You (Young Turks)
In recent interviews, bassist/vocalist Oliver Sim has bravely disclosed his struggles with hereditary alcoholism. And he sums it up beautifully on this heartrending track, asking “do I chase the night or does the night chase me?”

grouper-ws-710-385Grouper
“I’m Clean Now”
Paradise Valley (YELLOWELECTRIC)
At the end of one of the most chaotic years in recent history, the angel Liz Harris came down from on high to bless us with one of the most peaceful, soothing songs of her career. If only 2017 sounded like this.

Calvin Harris
“Slide” (f/ Frank Ocean, Migos)
Digital Single
The Scot’s first two albums are two of my guiltiest pleasures, so I can’t say “Slide” is a total surprise. That said, I did not see Harris being the man behind one of the strongest pop tracks of the year so far.

RaeLynn
“Love Triangle”

WildHorse
T. Swift probably isn’t ever coming back to Nashville, but there’s a ton of talented young singers who are here to fill that void. The 22 year-old’s debut LP is full of polished, sharp songwriting like this windswept, heartfelt ballad about divorce.

SahBabii
“Pull up with ah Stick” (f/ Loso Loaded)
Digital Single
One of the stickiest, sweetest melodies of the year, the Atlanta native’s breakout single is yet another example of the positive way Young Thug has impacted the sound of the city’s young creators.

(Sandy) Alex G
“Bobby”
Rocket (out 05.19 on Domino)
I’ve never really been an Alex G guy, but his recent pivot toward a dustier, less noisy sound has worked a treat for me. “Bobby” is a cutting look at the way neuroses can keep people from the ones they love.

SamHuntSam Hunt
“Drinkin’ Too Much”

Digital Single
“Marvin’s Room” with a twang. I don’t know exactly what the former quarterback/current fuckboi is up to here, but it certainly sounds like nothing else coming out of Nashville.

Images & Words: Lil Uzi Vert, “XO Tour Llif3”

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091316-shows-hha-performers-the-full-review-lil-uzi-vert-5Lil Uzi Vert
“XO Tour Llif3”
Digital Single
While on tour with the Weeknd, the Philadelphian has dropped a couple of loosies to tie his fans over until his hotly anticipated Luv is Rage 2 mixtape drops later this year. The strongest of the bunch is “XO Tour Llif3” — an emotional track that also bops in vivid color.

Over a keyboard riff that swings like a pendulum, Uzi chronicles life as one of the biggest rising stars on the planet, surrounded by mobs of obsessive, overwhelming fans and feeling further from his real friends than ever. And though there’s sadness there, it’s an Uzi track, so there’s plenty of joy seeping out. That ecstasy is captured beautifully by the electric, lyrical steps of Atlanta dancers SheLovesMeechie, TheRealYvngQuan, Ayo, and Tayo.

Images & Words: OMB Peezy, “Loyalty Over Love”

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Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 3.48.54 PMOMB Peezy
“Loyalty Over Love”
Loyalty Over Love (out TBD on Sick Wid It)
The Sacramento-via-Mobile rapper has been one of the shooting stars of 2017, rising on the back of two of the strongest rap tracks of the year so far: “Lay Down” and “When I Was Down.” Like the aforementioned tracks, “Loyalty Over Love” highlights the 20 year-old’s potent sound, which recalls 90’s New Orleans without sacrificing an ounce of modernity. Peezy has the rare flow that is hyperactive and unpredictable, but also smooth and catchy. And his verses are laden with hooks that will dig themselves into your brain. In short, he is just a massive talent, and the stage is set for Loyalty Over Love to be a monster debut mixtape.

Hot Jam of the Day: MoStack, “Let it Ring”

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mostack-1MoStack
“Let it Ring”
Digital Single
The North Londoner’s glorious and airy banger has been on heavy rotation for me all month. And while you might be sick of the Island vibes meet trap drums combo, “Let it Ring” is more magnetic than just about anything else of its type. MoStack is an spark plug of charisma and swagger, slaloming between the beat and driving it forward like a seasoned vet. While it’s blowing up in the UK, it is still just crackling stateside. If we’re lucky, that fire will keep building and will be blazing by this summer.

The Round-Up: 10 Albums Released in February That You Must Hear

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We just said goodbye to an incredible month of music. One with the strongest slate of releases that I can remember in a really long time. Of all the interesting releases that dropped this month, ten stood out above the rest. Here’s my round-up of them.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.05.00 PMStormzy
Gang Signs & Prayer
#Merky
In a month that yielded a clutch of excellent LPs, nothing could touch the South London MC’s gorgeous, gospel-tinged epic. Over 16 diverse, consistent tracks, the big man (né Michael Omari) vacillates between sticky, booming bangers (“Big For Your Boots,” “Mr Skeng,” “Cold”), heart- wrenching confessionals (“Lay Me Bare,” “100 Bags”), and even a few gooey love songs (“Velvet,” “Cigarettes & Cush”). The result is an impressive, fully-formed statement that leaves you feeling closer to the artist and reeling from his incredible talent and storytelling. An early favorite for Album of the Year.

Hottest Jams: “100 Bags,” “Big For Your Boots,” “Lay Me Bare”

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.14.53 PMFuture
FUTURE // HNDRXX
Freebandz / Epic
After enjoying one of the all-time hot streaks from the middle of 2014 through the end of 2015, the indomitable Atlanta native was showing signs of slowing down last year. However, he came through with a pair of triumphant projects this month. Though the first is a solid, yet uneven effort, HNDRXX is an exhilarating return to form. Melodic, confessional, and full of earworms, it feels like his most well-rounded, focused work since his legendary trilogy of Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights. Future Vandross > All.

Hottest Jams: “Fresh Air,” “Incredible,” “Solo” (HNDRXX)
“Mask Off,” “Feds Did A Sweep,” “Draco” (FUTURE)

Stream HNDRXX on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.14.08 PMJens Lekman
Life Will See You Now
Secretly Canadian
On most other months, the venerable Swede’s fourth LP would have topped a list like this, but timing has never been his strong suit. That said, Life Will See You Now is a phenomenal feat with ten tracks that could only be penned by a master storyteller. Whether he’s dealing with the perils of masculinity (“How Can I Tell Him”), crippling anxiety (“Postcard #17), or a struggling friend (“Hotwire the Ferris Wheel”), he always writes with a rare empathy, offering penetrating insight into the lives of his characters and, often, his listeners as well.

Hottest Jams: “How Can I Tell Him,” “Dandelion Seed,” “Wedding in Finistére”

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.13.24 PMSampha
Process
Young Turks
This month has produced so many great records that it’s almost hard to remember that the 28 year-old’s beautiful debut dropped back on February 3rd. Process was a couple years in the making, and you can tell. He begins the record exhausted and anxiety-ridden, feeling like a plastic bag that is melting in the summer sun. Longing for home, he takes us on the road with him to his new life as an adult and shares nostalgic daydreams about the piano he grew up with. It’s a beautiful, affecting journey that ends as they often do… back home at the place where it all started.

Hottest Jams: “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” “Plastic 100°C,” “What Shouldn’t I Be?”

Stream it on Spotify.

rs-ryan-adams01-4b269365-c7e6-47af-82f7-d2b9388ffe9bRyan Adams
Prisoner
PAX-AM
The strongest Ryan Adams record in a decade, Prisoner finds the 42 year-old writing himself out of the post-divorce rubble, inspired by Tunnel of Love, Tom Petty, and Johnny Marr. Though Prisoner has a clutch of the kind of crushing, quiet moments you’d expect from an Adams break-up record (“Shiver and Shake,” “We Disappear”), they are well-balanced by mid-tempo tunes (“Haunted House,” “Prisoner”) and noisey AM radio rockers (“Do You Still Love Me?,” “Anything I Say to You”). In fact, the latter tracks are kinda the most intriguing part of Prisoner. As he sounds surprisingly refreshed and primed for the next phase of his life and career. And that’s something worth celebrating.

Hottest Jams: “Prisoner,” “Shiver & Shake,” “Haunted House”

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.19.18 PMTeen Daze
Themes For Dying Earth
Flora
Jamison Isaak’s sixth album is one of the most surprising efforts of the year. I’d really only ever known him as a sort of chillwave also-ran, but Themes for a Dying Earth is a gorgeous collection of lush, affecting ambient indie-pop with hushed but heartfelt vocals. The record sounds like a foggy morning in the mountains, inspired by the perma-hazy British Columbia wilderness it was recorded in. It’s both a tribute to the beauty of Isaak’s surroundings and also a quiet warning about what’s at stake as we continue to bury our heads in the sand as our planet suffers.

Hottest Jams: “First Rain” (f/ S Carey), “Cycle,” “Dream City”

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.23.49 PMVagabon
Infinite Worlds
Father/Daughter
Lætitia Tamko’s proper debut is fresh, vibrant, and packed with affecting and daring songwriting. From its gut-wrenching leadoff track, “Embers,” that explores power dynamics in relationships to its heartbreaking finale, “Alive and A Well,” Infinite Worlds is a powerful collection from an artist with a unique and necessary voice. The disc’s eight tracks feature an interesting mix of piercing, fingerpicked folk, alongside crashing rock moments and electronic touches. Tamko is one of an exciting new batch of young female singer-songwriters like Julien Baker, Georgia Maq, Mitski, and Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast). It’s a generation of artists who don’t fit into old ideas about what folk is supposed to sound like and who is allowed to make it.

Hottest Jams: “Fear & Force,” “Embers,” “Alive And A Well”

Hear it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.26.39 PMElbow
Little Fictions
Polydor
Ryan Adams isn’t the only old favorite who dropped a rejuvenated effort this month. The Manchester crooners are coming up on their 20th year in existence, and they toasted the anniversary with one of the strongest albums of their career. They’ve always been at their best when they’re balancing melancholia with hope, crafting weirdly anthemic ballads that work as well in a quiet pub as the Glastonbury Festival. Tracks like “Magnificent (She Says)” and “All Disco” feel like they hit that mark and hint that they’re not content to continue as a mere nostalgia act.

Hottest Jams: “Gentle Storm,” “Magnificent (She Says),” “Kindling”

Kingdom-RotatorKingdom
Tears in the Club
Fade to Mind
The Fade to Mind mainman has been an important member of the LA club scene for the better part of a decade, but Tears in Club still feels like a maiden statement. The disc is 50%  pop-oriented tracks that feature exciting young vocalists like SZA, Syd, and Shacar, and 50% instrumental, hyper-melodic dance tracks. Though I tend to gravitate to the former, they are well framed by the latter, resulting in a compelling, versatile body of work.

Hottest Jams: “Down 4 Whatever” (f/ SZA), “Nothin” (Club Mix)” (f/ Syd), “What is Love” (f/ SZA)

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 3.30.44 PMVermont
II
Kompakt
We’ll finish off the list with a lovely ambient effort from Danilo Plessow and Marcus Worgull. II is packed with warm, swirling synths that set a placid, wintery mood. Though percussion is at a minimum, you can really hear Balearic influences in the synth melodies, and it’s easy to picture yourself looking out the window in Vermont and dreaming of warmer climes.

Hottest Jams: “Norderney,” “Demut,” “Chanang”

Stream it on Spotify.

Images & Words: Stormzy, “Big For Your Boots”

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Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 4.31.56 PMStormzy
“Big For Your Boots”
Gang Signs & Prayer (out 02.24 on #Merky)
About halfway through my first listen of the lead single from Stormzy’s debut LP, I got the feeling that I was listening to a future classic. Maybe it’s the way the beat shifts gears — how the hi-hats accelerate then drop off like a NASCAR. Or maybe it’s the magnetic, endlessly quotable bars, tailor-made to be screamed by hoards of sweaty kids. It could also be Sir Spyro & Fraser T Smith’s grime Game of Thrones synth chords. It’s probably a little bit of all of that, but more than that, it’s the relentlessly joyful spirit that Stormzy always brings to his music, which makes him impossible not to cheer for. All hail.

The Best Of What I Missed (January, 2017)

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I’m gonna try to bring back the monthly Round-Up/Best-Of column. Except this year, I’m only going to focus on the stuff that I haven’t previously covered. So if you want to hear my thoughts on Sampha, Mount Eerie, Stormzy, Julie Byrne, J Hus, The xx, Father John Misty, etc, all you have to do is scroll down.

1484012575_afea34802e6a9a95aa9777d1f4c65c00The Migos Rightfully Claim The National Spotlight
Though their commitment to staying independent was questioned by many, the Migos’ unquestioned rise to the top of the rap universe (and Billboard charts) is both a vindication of their rare talent and their refusal to kowtow to major labels. Their second studio LP, Culture, is joyous and triumphant effort that showcases all three of their members and a clutch of some of the best producers on the planet (Metro Boomin, Cardo Got Wings, Nard & B). As influential as they always were, they’ve been slept on way too long, and it’s fantastic to see the world wake up.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 3.51.27 PMRyan Adams Is… Back?
I’ve spent the last 10 years trying talking myself into decent but flawed Ryan Adams albums, almost like I’m trying to trick my brain into caring as much about them as I did Love is Hell, Cold Roses, and Pneumonia. Frankly, it’s not been that effective (even though I swear Easy Tiger is underrated), but early returns on his new breakup LP have been incredibly exciting. While lead singles “Do You Still Love Me?” and “To Be Without You,” are solid, but not spectacular late-career Adams, I’ve been obsessed with a pair of Tunnel of Love-recalling live songs: the title track and the heart-crushing “Haunted House.” I never listen to live YouTube rips, but these feel like the two best songs he’s written in a really long time, and I’m dying to hear the rest of it.

PNB_ATL_ArtistHeader1400x700PnB Rock Drops His Long-Awaited Debut
After falling in love with his 2014 RnB 3 collection, the Philly native’s major label debut was high on my most-anticipated list. The 24 year-old didn’t disappoint, as GTTM: Goin Thru the Motions is an engaging collection that lives in the potent nether zone between R&B and street rap. A talented vocalist with knack for crafting unescapable earworms, Rakim “PnB Rock” Allen is fast cementing himself as one of the genre’s foremost rising stars.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 4.06.26 PMOur Ol’ Pal Jens Returns
Five years on from dropping my favorite album of 2012, I Know What Love Isn’t, the amiable 35 year-old is dropping his fourth full-length. Early returns — a pair of singles and live set I caught late last year — have me eagerly awaiting its arrival. Lekman is one of the most talented, unique songwriters we have, and Life Will See You Now looks to be another sonically versatile, unexpected collection that deals with life’s innumerable grey areas and micro-moments that are hard to pin down but form the meat of our lives.

Note: A new version of “Postcard #17” will also feature on the LP.

31654-akirakosemura-04piAkira Kosemura’s Enchanting Piano Playing
On his contemplative EP, Our Own Picture, the Tokyo resident strips everything back for a trio of gorgeous and naked piano compositions. Though he doesn’t get a ton of American press, Kosemura is one of the most talented pianists working today, and this bite-sized collection will hopefully inspire people to check out the rest of his fascinating catalog.

Stream it on Spotify.

M.-Lamar-photo-by-M.-Lamar-1-copy-e1458089281520M. Lamar’s Ghostly Avant-Opera: Funeral Doom Spiritual
Though I haven’t listened to this challenging, unique LP nearly enough to come to any conclusions, the first few listens have been quite stunning. Funeral Doom Spiritual is a striking LP that fuses Lamar’s operatic, ultra-expressive vocals with melodramatic melodies, spectral piano, spiritual influences, and occasional harsh electronic elements performed by Liturgy frontman, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. In short, I’ve never heard anything like it, and I’m looking forward to getting to know it even better.

Stream it on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 4.03.21 PMKing Terius Drops a Low-Key EP
It won’t be mistaken for a project from The-Dream’s god level, four-disc run between 2007’s Love Hate and 2012’s Terius Nash: 1977. However, Love You to Death is a tasty little collection that will hopefully serve as an aperitif to his forthcoming full-length Love Affair, which is meant to drop in March. Nash keeps the BPM as low as the lights and glides through five, easy slow jams in the way that only he can.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 4.07.11 PMSinai Vessel’s Convincing and Cathartic Brokenlegged
The North Carolina trio’s Sophomore LP is a packed with evocative indie rock with nimble, jangling guitars and hooky songwriting that reminds me of the 90’s alt-rock that I grew up on. Frontman Caleb Cordes has a steady, expressive voice and a restless spirit, and his songwriting helps separate Brokenlegged from the rest of the crowded emo/indie-rock world.

strand-of-oaks-15-pStrand of Oaks Yearns For His Youth
Crushing, crashing, bashing, smashing, thrashing, face melting, head exploding, etc. You can pick your fave rock writer cliche when talking about the leadoff single from Timothy Showalter’s upcoming LP, Hard Love. Though I’ve never been a huge fan, “Radio Kids” is miles away the best Strand of Oaks track yet. It is built around a huge guitar riff that is powerful enough to drag his pedestrian vocals and sadboi biker dude schtick to the transcendent heights that he’s always shot for but never come anywhere near.

Starting V: My Favorite Friendzone Tracks

Posted on by TP1.COM in Featured, Starting V | Comments Off on Starting V: My Favorite Friendzone Tracks

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 4.05.42 PMEarly this week, tragic news broke that James Laurence, better known as one half of production duo Friendzone, had passed away at the impossibly young age of 27. Laurence grew up in Danville, CA — a leafy suburb at the foot of Mt. Diablo in the East Bay — and along with production partner Dylan Reznick, was one of the main architects behind a dreamy, ambient sound called “Cloud rap.” Inspired by video games, Japanese culture, and a vast knowledge of music from all over the spectrum, the duo crafted unabashedly emotional, lofty beats that remain hugely influential to this day.

They are probably best known for their frequent collaborations with fellow East Bay natives, Main Attrakionz. Mondre M.A.N. and Squadda B’s messy, exuberant flows were the perfect match for Friendzone’s unique beats, and though they went on to work with heavyweights like A$AP Rocky and Yung Lean, nobody sounded better on a FZ beat than Main Attrakionz.

As always, I am loathe to speak about people I did not know. But I just wanted to salute James Laurence’s awesome contribution to music and pick a couple of my favorite Friendzone tracks. Rest in peace, James. And all my thoughts go out to his friends and family in the wake of this tragedy.

aaf94ffdFriendzone
“I Have Nothing”
Collection I (2012)
The first FZ track I really fell in love with, “I Have Nothing” has all the hallmarks of that dreamy, woozy sound that they helped create. Like much of their best stuff, it has an oceanic feel, undulating between calm seas of synths and storms of percussion and vocal stabs. For me, it’s also the best example of their skillful vocal programming, often using sounds rather than words to convey a hell of a lot of meaning.

Hear more from Collection I on Bandcamp.

Main Attrakionz
“Perfect Skies” (produced by Friendzone)
808s & Dark Grapes II (2011)
The one that really blasted the MA/FZ partnership into the stratosphere, “Perfect Skies” is probably the archetypal “cloud rap” track to me. For three blissful minutes, Mondre M.A.N. and Squadda B smear their freewheeling verses over pristine, video game synths, 808s, and a soaring vocal sample from Japanese girl group Perfume. It captures the carefree, technicolor vibe of the genre and is perhaps the most beautiful beat the duo ever crafted.

Hear more from 808s & Dark Grapes II on Bandcamp.

Main Attrakionz
“Summa Time” (produced by Friendzone)
808s & Dark Grapes III (2013)
The sun hardly comes out during Bay Area summer, so Laurence and Reznick decided to make their some of their own on this gooey, luminous track. My favorite bit of this beat is at the end of the chorus (“The summer, the summer Wet paint and runners…”), because the descending synth melody feels so much like sun-rays breaking through thick summer clouds.

Here more frmo 808s & Dark Grapes III on Spotify.

Friendzone
“8 AM”
DX (2013)
Gaming was always a core tenet of the Friendzone experience. And though I’m not much of a gamer, there was one I loved on Playstation called Jumping Flash — a bizarre Japanese game where you pilot a robotic rabbit around a fantasy world, hunting for Jet Pods. It was a placid and gorgeous game, and “8AM” feels just like it — a serene and innocent adventure through a surreal and magical universe.

Hear more from DX on BandCamp.

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 4.07.28 PMSquadda B
“Love U”
TAG CHAMPZ BUNDLE
It’s hard for me to write about Friendzone without mentioning the East Bay’s favorite son, Lil B. Though they surprisingly never worked together, much of the MA/FZ catalog shares the Based God’s ultra-posi nature and chain of consciousness flow. You can really hear that on this ecstatic, freewheeling cut that pairs delicious keys with Squadda B’s love letter to his fans. He delivers it with ab unhinged, coming-down-off-ecstasy sincerity, which highlights the imperfect authenticity that caused so many people to gravitate to the whole scene.

Brent Barstow x Friendzone
“Growing Apart”
Digital Single
Though it’s far from an essential FZ track, I had to tack this one on the end because it is just so fucking weird and atypical of their sound. A bizarro slow jam from their early years, “Growing Apart” is a spare, piano-kissed love song that feels sooooo 2011 Soundcloud. If nothing else, it’s a nice reminder of good times gone by and how far they came in such a short time. RIP, James.