The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2019 (1st Quarter)


Even though we're a solid week into the second quarter, better late than never right? Here's a quick round-up of some of my favorite songs of the last three months. To keep numbers manageable, I didn't include anything from any of my favorite albums list and prioritized songs I Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of 2019 (First Quarter)


Gah, I can't believe we're already 25% through 2019. That said, Spring is in the air, and we've enjoyed an excellent, diverse crop of music during these first three months. Have a look at some of my favorite LPs of the year so far in no particular order. Dawn Richard
 “New Read more

Chief Keef, "Ain't Gonna Happen"


Chief Keef "Ain't Gonna Happen" GloToven (Glo Gang / RBC) The Chicago stalwart's new project with the legendary Zaytoven is unsurprisingly full of weird and wacky sounds, moving in innumerable unexpected and exciting ways. Its most powerful moment is its starkest, as a heartbroken Keef floats freely over Zay's gorgeous piano. "Face dried Read more

Tierra Whack, "Only Child"


Tierra Whack "Only Child" Digital Single Tierra Whack's 2018 debut "Whack World" was one of the most promising debut albums I've heard in a very long time. However, I found it super hard to write about (and ultimately, fall in love with), because of her decision to chop all the tracks off Read more

CFCF, "Closed Space"


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

Featured

Grouper, “Parking Lot”

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Grouper
“Parking Lot”
Grid of Points (out 04.27 on Kranky)
Every time Liz Harris drops a new track, it’s up to us to savor it and appreciate it for the little miracle that it is. It may sound like hyperbole, but everything she’s put our since her wonderfully shut-in 2007 LP Cover the Windows and the Walls, has been teeming with delicate, ghostly beauty. Best of all, her songs grow and develop like living organisms, subtly revealing new layers of their beauty with each successive listen.

For all those reasons, there was much rejoicing at Thunder Penguin HQ* (aka, my desk) when Harris announced her follow-up to the incredible “Ruins” — my third favorite LP of 2014. Lead track “Parking Lights” contains the same bewitching intimacy that’s in much of her best work. Built around a forlorn piano melody, the Oregonian brings her haunting vocals up way up in the mix. And though it’s difficult to make out her words, the tone of her voice says more than enough.

The countdown to April 27th starts today.

Swae Lee, “Hurt To Look” (f/ Rae Sremmurd)

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Swae Lee
“Hurt To Look”

Swaecation (out soon on Ear Drummers)
Sremm Season is rapidly approaching, and on Wednesday, the venerable Mississippi brothers treated us to the first three tasters from their upcoming triple disc. Each of the three deserve some shine. “Powerglide” is the kind of airy, hyperactive banger that they built their name on, and Slim Jxmmi absolutely snaps on his electric debut solo single, “Brxnks Truck.”

But, as an eternal sucker for smooth R&B, Swae Lee’s solo single was the one that really stood out to me. Lee doesn’t sing, he glides. His vocals are effortless, and they just cruise over any arrangement he encounters, especially mid-tempo, luxurious Mike Will beats like this one. On “Hurt To Look,” he plays the role of a jilted lover, looking sadly over at what could have been. It’s a role he was born to play, and I cannot wait to hear what he does with an entire album of his own.

Kacey Musgraves, “Space Cowboy”

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Kacey Musgraves
“Space Cowboy”
Golden Hour (out 03.30 on UMG)
Very few country artists can crush my heart like the 29 year-old Texan. Whether it’s the swooning, wedding-worthy, “Late To The Party” (one of my Top 5 Songs of 2015) or the heartfelt, sad-sack tale about small-town life “Merry Go ‘Round,” Musgraves has that rare ability to capture the beauty or pain of a moment and distill it into four empathic, gorgeous minutes.

Now we can add “Space Cowboy” — the first single from her third proper LP — to that list. A touching ode to the moment you realize that no matter what you do, the person you love will never truly commit to you. It hurts like hell, but there’s also a freedom that goes with it — a realization that it’s finally okay to let go and find someone who will appreciate you. A little part of you is relieved. And Musgraves captures both of those emotions masterfully here. One of the best songs I’ve heard this year.

Images & Words: oklou, “Friendless”

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oklou
“Friendless”
The Rite of May (out 03.16 on NUXXE)
It’s impossible not to get swallowed up by the rising French vocalist’s spellbinding breakthrough single. “Friendless” is a an aqueous, sensuous track that undulates like the calm sea depicted in the video clip. Though the production is spot-on, Marylou “oklou” Mayniel’s vocals are the real star of the show, aching for the love of someone who is far away. One to watch in 2018.

Images & Words: Jamie Isaac, “Doing Better”

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Jamie Isaac
“Doing Better”
Digital Single

After a year or so away, the low-key Croydon singer-songwriter returns with the first song from his forthcoming sophomore LP. “Doing Better” is another tasty slab of the bleary-eyed, late-night soul that made his debut, “Couch Baby,” my 14th favorite album of 2016. Isaac is blessed with a warm, soft tenor and is a talented piano player — both of which are on full display on this broken-winged ballad. More like this please, Jamie.

Images & Words: Mabel x Not3s, “Fine Line”

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Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 12.01.22 PMMabel x Not3s
“Fine Line”

Digital Single
Mabel and Not3s both appeared on my “Best Songs of 2017” list as solo artists, so it’s not surprising that their second single together is an absolute heater. “Fine Line” has more crossover potential than anything either artist has released before, bringing an anthemic, radio-ready chorus to go with their signature, lithe, Afropop and R&B infused sound. Though Not3s is a rising star in his own right, Mabel sounds incredible here, and it’s starting to feel like she’s the next UK artist who will make true waves in the American pop landscape. Probably my favorite song of this young year.

Images & Words: 03 Greedo, “Never Bend”

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https_cdn.evbuc.comimages354975762160791799801originalO3 Greedo
“Never Bend”

Money Changes Everything (out now on Golden Grenade Empire)
Not gonna lie, I slept on 03 Greedo last year, but I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. The Watts rapper is one of the most unique, exciting new voices rising today, pairing soulful crooning and sticky bars for a sound that is as bluesy as it is joyous. My favorite track, “Never Bend,” is a perfect example of that dichotomy, as Greedo revels in his resilience without running away from the pain that revealed it. One of the most exciting young artists around.

Best of ’17: The Best Songs of 2017

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So that’s it. 6 years of ThunderPenguin are in the books. As always, here’s a round-up of my favorite songs of the year. This was one of the toughest lists I’ve ever made, and I hope something on this list brings you the light it brought me. Thanks so much for reading this year. Love you guys.

Though it’s missing some things, you can listen to most of this list on this Spotify Playlist.

ALEXG66. (Sandy) Alex G
“Sportstar”
Rocket (Domino)

Easily the weirdest song ever written about sports, “Sportstar” is a cracked chronicle of fandom. Alex’s heavily processed vocals and spacey guitars give the whole thing a dissociated vibe that seems to mirror an obsessed fan’s imaginary relationship with his or her favorite star. As with any one-way relationship, there’s deep pain intertwined with the infatuation, and he does a really nice job of highlighting that both lyrically and sonically.

65. Ariel Pink
“Feels Like Heaven”
Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (Kemado)
Every few years, something weird happens, and I really dig an Ariel Pink song. It’s always the poppiest thing on the album (i.e. “Round and Round,” “Put Your Number in My Phone), and it’s almost always the only thing I like from it. Though “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson” is better than most of his records, nothing jumped out at me like this little blissed out slice of 60’s psychedelia. Feels like heaven, indeed.

64. Desire
“Saturday”
Windswept (Italians Do It Better)
The year is 2047. Our robot overlords have condemned us to a life of servitude. There is no sun, and a thick perma-fog hovers like death over the only inhabitable villages left. Johnny Jewel tweets “DEAR TOMMY: COMING 2048.” I glumly close my browser and turn on one of three excellent IDIB comps that he had put out that year.

63. Kommode
“Fight or Flight or Dance All Night”
Analog Dance Music (Random Two Syllable Word)
I must admit, when I first heard that the long-awaited side project from Kings of Convenience’s Eirik Glambek Bøe was called “Analog Dance Music,” I worried that it might be a little bit “old man yells at cloud” dance music. However, it turned out to be a rock-solid collection of breezy, languid disco that didn’t feel that far from KOC’s best up-tempo tunes. This, its lead single, is a perfect representation the record: well-constructed, well-sung, and well pleasing.

62. Mayorkun
“Mama”
Digital Single
The Nigerian charts were on fire this year, a veritable goldmine of inspiring, genre-fluid sounds from artists scattered all over the continent. This ecstatic love song from one of the country’s brightest young stars was a real standout. Mayorkun’s voice has a playful, innocent feel, which interacts beautifully with the track’s nimble guitars and clavé beat. He’s one to watch in 2018.

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Hot Jam of the Day: T-Pain, “Textin’ My Ex” (f/ Tiffany Evans)

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Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 4.23.55 PMT-Pain
“Textin’ My Ex” (f/ Tiffany Evans)
Oblivion
Tomorrow, T-Pain drops his long-awaited fifth LP, the culmination of the most trying era of the R&B innovator’s career. Through no real fault of his own, Pain (né Faheem Najm) went from the jolly ringmaster of a multi-million dollar radio empire to a sullen, unfashionable has-been — the Chad Kroger of R&B. He’s been surprisingly open about how much the whole process hurt him, specifically chagrined by how little credit he’s given for his undeniable influence on the current sound.

The story around “Oblivion” — his first record in six years — centers around a man who’s gone through the meat grinder and is primed for redemption. Bruised but unbroken, an older, wiser Pain is ready to translate everything he’s been through into the most potent, affecting work of his career. Unfortunately, none of that was apparent on its lead single, “Goal Line.” It’s a flaccid, ineffectual trap snoozer, more the work of a follower than a leader.

However, the pre-release promise starts to show on this swooning second single. A duet with rising R&B singer Tiffany Evans, “Textin’ My Ex” is a classic T-Pain song in so many ways — a well-written, well-sung ballad that tells a simple story. However, there’s a subtle difference. There’s a palpable ache in his voice that gives you the feeling that there’s higher stakes here. Maybe it’s because of all the bullshit he’s been through, or maybe it’s just that texting your ex is a much riskier proposition in your 30’s than it is in your 20’s. Whatever it is, it’s effective, and it’s made me so much more excited to hear what else is on “Oblivion.”

Images & Words: SOPHIE, “It’s Okay To Cry”

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Screen-Shot-2017-10-19-at-9.05.23-AM-1508418344-640x328SOPHIE
“It’s Okay to Cry”

Digital Single
Every once in a while, somebody puts out something that takes your breath away. “It’s Okay to Cry” is absolutely one of those moments. After spending her early career lurking behind faceless, chaotic, schizophrenic experimental dance music, the 32 year-old has stepped into the light and up to the microphone. The result is pure magic.

Built around a twinkling, celestial piano melody, “It’s Okay To Cry” plays out like a tender, ultra-modern Disney ballad. Her voice is sweet and confident, as she consoles a heartbroken loved one. The depth and power of the message is ratcheted up by the stunning visuals, which depict Sophie as an angelic figure. More than being Sophie’s first public appearance, it’s also the first time she’s clarified which pronouns (she/her) she’s using. It’s a massive statement in so many ways, and truly one of the best songs I’ve heard this year.