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

Starting V: The Best Prince Songs on the Internet

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As you know, Prince Rogers Nelson passed away on Thursday at the young age of 57. I am always loathe to pontificate too much about people I’ve never met, but Prince was a special case.

In my opinion, he was the single most influential and important pop artist/musician of all-time and the second best electric guitar player ever, trailing only Jimi Hendrix. He did more to push culture forward than any other modern pop musician, challenging people to live more freely while making popular culture a safer space for true self-expression. He made people nervous, excited, scared, ecstatic, and uncomfortable (often all at the same time) and challenged damaging norms relating to race, gender, and sexuality more than any other mainstream musician. You can feel his influence in just about every inch of popular music, and many of current music’s most creative artists are direct descendents from his rich musical and stylistic family tree — from Kanye to Rihanna to Young Thug to Frank Ocean to André 3000 and so on.

And then there was the music. Over a 40-year period, he released nearly 40 studio LPs that spawned a litany of unbelievable musical moments. His first album, 1978’s For You, fused classic soulful, R&B (“My Love is Forever,” “Baby”) with nasty 70s funk (“Soft and Wet,” “I’m Yours”). Incredibly, Prince wrote and played every instrument on the disc’s lush, refined arrangements. As great as that record still is, you never would have guessed that it would precede the journey it did. And he spent the next 40 years of his life exploring, mastering, and re-imagining countless genres (rock, R&B, pop, soul, jazz, etc) and writing a diverse array of some of the most beloved pop songs of all time for other artists (example A, B, C, D).

It’s a career that couldn’t be summed up by a thousand think-pieces, but I wanted to pick out a couple favorites to write about. Any Prince fan knows how fervently he protected his copyright and how few of his songs are available to stream, so there’s no “When You Were Mine,” “Erotic City,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” or “With You” on this list. That said, there are plenty of looseys that I’ve streamed throughout the years to deal with Prince cravings during work-hours. Here are my five favorites.

Prince
Purple Rain
Live in 1983 in Minneapolis

I had to start with the big one. The first ever performance of the best pop song of all-time, this clip captures every ounce of his greatness — as a performer, as a vocalist, as a guitarist, and most of all, as a songwriter. Featuring an extra verse and an extended solo, this clip captures a legend at the peak of his powers. Supposedly, they sourced a lot of the studio version from this performance, which is one of the reasons that version feels so much more immediate and human than most studio recordings.

There’s this great moment (at about 3:14) when Prince approaches the mic and opens his mouth to sing the first verse, but just steps back at the last second to collect himself, seemingly overcome by the moment. Maybe he just did it for effect, but it’s also a little window into the ocean of emotion (it’s not hyperbole if it’s about “Purple Rain”) that he’s tapping into here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this thing over the years, but each time I do, it gives me something new.

Stream it over at Antiquiet.com.

Prince
“Do Me, Baby”
Live at the Capitol Theater, 1982
This is my favorite cut from one of the only legit concert recordings available online, captured at a New Jersey date of the Controversy tour. Many of Prince’s best bedroom jams have a divine, gospel-esque quality to them, almost like the Purple One is laying down and worshiping at the altar of somebody’s mind-blowing (ahem) talent. This performance of “Do Me, Baby” is one of the greatest examples of that. Backed by one of the classic Revolution line-ups, his virile vocals are flawlessly framed by the great Lisa Coleman’s starry-eyed keyboards, Dez Dickerson’s sublime, echo-y guitar filigree and a filthy baseline by Brown Mark. The whole show is more than worth your time, but this is the high point for me.

Prince
“Always in My Hair”
Live at the Arsenio Hall show, 2014
One of the things that makes Prince’s death so sad is that it felt like he had so much more music left in him. Incredibly, 40 years into his career, his level never seemed to really drop. In his 50s, his fingers remained just as nimble and his vocals just as potent as they were in his 20s. In fact, I cannot think of a single musician from his generation aged so gracefully, save possibly Springsteen (maybe). He was never a nostalgia act, consistently putting out work that broke new ground and took real chances.

This ripping performance of the classic B-side turned single, “Always in My Hair,” is perfect evidence that he emphatically still had ‘it’ late in his career. He pays tribute to a loyal lover with effortless swagger and a face-melting guitar solo. His backing band, 3RDEYEGIRL, is also a reminder of his lifelong commitment to empowering female musicians, which will always remain a key element of his lasting legacy.

Prince
“A Case of You”
A Tribute to Joni Mitchell
As people, Prince and I probably don’t have very much in common (as much I’d wish), but one thing we can definitely agree on is Joni Mitchell. And because she’s likely my favorite artist ever, Joni covers are always a dicey proposition to me. However, Prince handles “A Case of You” with trademark grace and subtle virtuosity. From the lovely, sprightly piano playing to his easy falsetto, he treads the line between putting his own stamp on it and staying true to the perfect original.

Prince
“Sometimes it Snows in April”
Parade
OK, so this one is kind of cheating, but I found it on YouTube today, so I’ll say it passes the copyright test. I’ve been coming back to Prince’s devastating rumination on the loss a friend a lot recently, as I’ve had to say goodbye to three of my own in the last 12 months. They happened in quick succession, hitting me hard and leaving me with endless questions. As the months have passed, I’ve gained some perspective and understanding on what Prince eloquently sings about here, namely to do your god-damnedest to appreciate the time you’ve got with the people you love. It’s a simple lesson, but it’s the biggest one there is. Every day, I’m trying to do a better job remembering it. And whenever I need a reminder, this record has been there for me.

“Sometimes it Snows in April” is just one of the many gifts that Prince gave us in his incredible 57 years on this planet, which is such better place to live on because of his contributions. RIP.

“All good things they say, never last.
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past.”

Hot Jam of the Day: Palmistry, “Club Aso”

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Palmistry
“Club Aso”
Pagan (out 06.17 on Mixpak)

After a string of tantalizing solo singles and an underrated EP, Palmistry (né Benjy Keating) is finally ready for his close-up. “Club Aso,” the lead single from his long-awaited debut LP, pairs the Brixton artist’s sentimental tenor with warm synths and subtle, dancehall-influenced percussion. Unlike a lot of artists making pop music in the indie space, Keating is an A-Grade songwriter, rather than just a vibe creator or mood setter. And it’s easy to imagine the track being a radio hit in the hands of someone like Bieber or Drake. That said, I’m glad he kept it for himself, as it likely wouldn’t have maintained the restrained feel that makes “Club Aso” one of the best songs I’ve heard this year.

Album Review: m83, Junk

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M83
Junk
Mute Records

On the dawn of his seventh album — more than 10 years into his career as M83 — Anthony Gonzalez was confronted with massive stakes. His sky-scraping power ballad “Midnight City” had catapulted the unassuming Frenchman on to the mainstage of the festival circuit and mainstream rock radio, changing both his financial position and his artistic one. He could have easily cranked out another album of life-affirming, neon synth pop and spent the summer melting the faces of adoring festival crowds. But ever the contrarian, Gonzalez returned with the strangest album of his long, varied career.

Junk is a sprawling journey into the emotional heart of a kid who came of age in the 80s, obsessed with the magic of daytime radio and cable TV. You can hear traces of Jean Michel Jarre, Bruce Hornsby, acid house, 80s sitcom themes, late disco, and even some Andrew Lloyd Webber on this thing, but Gonzalez’s ever-present voice keeps it all together — usually in synthesizer form — benevolently guiding you onward, like that giant flying dog from the Never-Ending Story. And while there are a few big whoosh, Coachella jams (“Road Blaster,” “Go!”), much of these tracks are a million light-years away. There’s the wistful, Crocodile Rock of “Atlantique Sud,” a beautiful duet sung all in French. Standout “Walkway Blues” features Balearic touches and a dramatic chorus. And the instrumental, Vaporwave-y “Moon Crystal” sounds like a game show theme, while “Tension” features gently arpeggiated guitar that recalls Queensryche (seriously!).

All that said, the best of Junk comes in a stunning trio of ballads. “For the Kids” could have been lifted from the golden age of musicals, with the incredible Suzanne Sundfør gliding over a timeless piano melody. Gonzalez takes back over vocal duties on “Solitude,” which feels most like a traditional, M83 ballad. His vocal is enveloped in a lush, stirring string arrangement that builds way to a gloriously schlocky crescendo. He saves the best for last, signing off with the crushing, celestial “Sunday Night 1987.” Penned for the late, legendary sound engineer, Julia Brightly, it is a quiet, contemplative way to sign off on a loud album that is full of ideas.

“Julia, Alexander. Let me feel you all, love” sings Gonzalez in closing, offering us insight into the driving force behind why he makes the kind of music he makes. He could have used his newfound mega-stardom to try to blow out a direction he’s already nailed, but when faced with the biggest stakes of his career, he decided to follow his heart and take the biggest possible risks.

Listen to the whole thing on Spotify.

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of 2016 So Far

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Instead of just rolling through the best of March, let’s round up the finest music of the first quarter of 2016. Coming off last week’s Best Tracks list, here’s are my favorite albums of the year.

Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
G.O.O.D. Music
Hottest Jams: “Ultralight Beam” / “Father Stretch My Hands 1 & 2” / “Real Friends”
Is it an album? A living, breathing performance art piece? An ad for another shitty streaming service? Whatever you want to call it, Kanye continues to be this generation’s greatest musical innovator and a guy who is working completely in his own space. At his MSG record release show, West quipped that people were flocking to the arena to see him play “one on none,” and it’s true. He’s not competing against other artists, rappers, or musicians anymore; he’s stretching his hands (I mean…) in ways we’ve never seen.

The Life of Pablo is an album that only Kanye could have made — a sonic manifestation of what life is like inside one of the world’s most creative minds. This thing shifts from the divine halls of the Sistine Chapel to an Atlanta trap house (I’m talking Metro, not Desiigner, btw) to sitting shotgun in a convertible speeding down Lincoln in Marina Del Rey… and that’s only the first 13 minutes. Though it’s not perfect, there are too many great moments to cover here, but he sums up where he’s at on the Weeknd feature, “FML.” “I’ve been living without limits. As far as my business, I’m the only one that’s in control.” That’s the Kanye mission statement in a nutshell, and we are goddamn lucky that we get to experience it.

Listen to it on Spotify.

Rihanna
ANTI
Westbury Road
Hottest Jams: “Close to You,” “Yeah, I Said It,” “Love on the Brain”
Rihanna albums tend to feel huge — packed with big ideas, massive stylistic shifts, and A-List guest appearances. However, for her eighth album, the 28 year-old decided to scale things back, crafting an album that feels intimate, emotional, and 1000% hers. She left off recent smashes “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “FourFiveSeconds” and only gave out two features.

By stripping things away, the focus is fixed on the artist, her writing, and that fucking voice. That criminally underrated voice. She’s never mentioned alongside the Adeles and Beyonces of the world, but her versatility and powerful vulnerability are untouchable. She effortlessly shifts from the raspy, upper-register soul of “Love on the Brain” and “Higher” to the restrained, smoky sensuality of “Needed Me” and “Yeah, I Said It.” She caps off her virtuoso performance with the pure, heartbroken closer “Close to You,” which is still one of the best songs of the year.

Listen to it on Spotify.

Lontalius
I’ll Forget 17
Partisan Records
Hottest Jams: “It’s Not Love” / “Glow” / “Selfless”
One of the many interesting aspects of TheFader’s must-read Kaytranada feature was his struggle to move from a Soundcloud producer/remixer into a full-fledged artist. It must have been a similarly strange shift for 18 year-old Eddie Johnston, who rose to digital fame a few years ago with emotional, stripped-down covers of his favorite R&B and pop songs. While his debut maintains his early work’s confessional nature, I’ll Forget 17 is a massive step forward, both in construction and composition. His signature Casio keyboard is mostly replaced by loose, strummed guitar chords and subtle electronic dynamics, which add depth and variation to his arrangements. Songwriting-wise, he’s light years ahead of where he was, crafting a record full of relatable, insightful looks at growing up, falling in love, and moving on when young love invariably lets you down.

Kamaiyah
A Good Night in the Ghetto
Self-Released
Hottest Jams: “How Does it Feel?” / “Break You Down” / “I’m On”
More than anything, the Oakland newcomer’s debut tape is a celebration. It’s a celebration of her humble past (“I’m On,” “How Does it Feel?”) and exciting present/future (“Out the Bottle,” “Fuck it Up”). But this is far from just party music. Cuts like the slithering slow jam, “Break You Down,” and the reflective, “For My Dawg,” highlight her rare versatility and keep the collection balanced. Kamaiyah’s vocals are a throwback to the sound of the 90s: clean, relentlessly melodic, and likely to appeal to those suffering from auto-tune fatigue. It’s an exciting first statement from an artist with massive potential, and it’s yet another win for an East Bay scene that is thriving right now.

Hear the whole thing, here.

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The Round-Up: The Best Tracks of 2016 So Far…

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Instead of just rolling through the best music of March, let’s round up the best music of the first quarter of 2016. We’ll kick things off with the best tracks of the year so far. My album list should be out later this week. And so as not to repeat myself, I didn’t include anything from any of those albums on this list.

Last Japan
“Ascend” (f/ AJ Tracey)
Digital Single
Two of the biggest young talents in grime link up for one of the biggest choons of the year. Last Japan has been cranking out gorgeous, powerful tracks for the last few years. But he rarely works with vocalists, so it’s great to hear one of the best MCs in the game lend vocals to his work. We’ll see if this will be a one-off or a sign of things to come. Hopefully, it’ll be the latter.

Jordan Raf
“Duvet”
Double Negative (out soon on POW)
Undoubtedly one of my favorite new artists of the year, the LA-based singer-songwriter has been on fire recently, using his gorgeous, clean tenor to sing dirty little love songs. His work reminds me a lot of eternal TP favorite, Dan Bodan, unabashedly exploring the oft-seedy, visceral aspects of real sex and relationships.

Silk Road Assassins
“Vectors”
Reflection Spaces (out 04.15 on Planet Mu)
Of all the exciting new album news this year, nothing beat the secretive London neo-grime trio announcing their forthcoming debut EP on Planet Mu. I’ve been lurking on their Soundcloud for more than a year, inhaling their icy, Neo Geo synths and monstrous, rolling percussion. And while “Vectors” isn’t anywhere near new, it remains one of most exciting, futuristic tracks of recent years and is an exciting roadmap to how far these three could really take this. Roll on April 15th.

Future
“Fly Shit Only”
EVOL (out now on Freebandz)
After an all-conquering 2015 (and 2014 and 2013), Future Hendrix shows no signs of slowing down, dropping two full-lengths in the first quarter, EVOL and Purple Reign. While neither will remembered as a classic, they are full of highlights, namely the former’s mid-tempo, guitar-driven closer. The DJ Spinz weeper recalls my favorite song of last year, “News or Smthn,” and continues to hint at how special an all-slow jam Future album would be.

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Hot Jam of the Day: Linda Perhacs, “The Dancer”

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Linda Perhacs
“The Dancer”
Digital Single

I rarely think about contributing to Kickstarters for people I do not know — especially ones by musicians — but Linda Perhacs’ recent campaign has me considering a change of tune. Besides the fact that she seems like such a lovely woman, the LA resident’s story is the kind you’d want to support. After releasing her psychedelic folk debut, Parallelograms, back in 1970, she disappeared from music for years working as a dental hygienist. She only found out about the disc’s cult following after she was contacted by a small Brooklyn label following a near-fatal case of pneumonia in 2000.

It took another 14 years for Parallelograms to get its worthy successor: 2014’s beautiful, The Soul of All Natural Things, put out by Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty. And it appears that she still has a lot of music in her. She’s working on a follow-up, led by finger-picked lead single, “The Dancer.” Now well into her seventies, Perhacs’ voice has a warmth and softness that seems to get more affecting as she ages.

If she can raise 16k in the next six weeks, she’ll be able to finish the album, and we’ll be able to hear it. That sounds like a cause I can get behind.

Contribute to her Kickstarter and learn more, here.

Images & Words: ANOHNI, “Drone Bomb Me”

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ANOHNI
“Drone Bomb Me”
HOPLESNESS (out 05.06 on Secretly Canadian)

We got the first taste of the new ANOHNI (FKA Antony) LP late last year with her uncompromising look at climate change, “4 Degrees.” While it was one of the best songs of last year, it still felt like the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). And yesterday, we got a little closer to the disc’s core with the stunning, heartbreaking clip for second single, “Drone Bomb Me.”

On its face, the concept of a white British artist writing a song about drone warfare from the perspective of a young Afghan girl sounds dicey. But the 44 year-old has always been a deeply empathetic artist, and she succeeds in giving a heart and voice to the myriad victims of modern war. Drone warfare is designed to be clandestine and inhuman, and they’re built to move like street sweepers, coming in the night to dispose of unwanted people like litter in the gutter. It is an unimaginably cruel, often random fate that is a tragic fact of life for a rising population. Any effort to bring that horrific truth to light should be valued, and when it’s this penetrating and powerful, it deserves to be lauded.

The Round-Up: 10 Musical Things to Love about February ’16

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If Jens Lekman can write, record, and produce a new song every week, I can write a monthly blog post rounding up my favorite musical goings-on from the last 28-31 days. These aren’t in order, and this isn’t a Best Of List. Rather it’s a random collection of ten things (i.e. scenes, songs, albums, new directions, etc) that caught my attention. I’ll mostly be picking things I didn’t have a chance to write about, so as to avoid repeating myself. Leggo.

1. PNB Rock’s melodic masterstroke, RNB3
It feels like Philadelphia hip-hop is on the verge of having a moment. From the buzzing, electric Lil Uzi Vert to the unique Tierra Whack to the A$AP Mob affiliated Chynna, there are a clutch of promising young artists coming through the city right now. And that’s just a few of them.

My favorite of the bunch is 24 year-old Rakim “PnB Rock” Allen. Hailing from Northwest Philly’s Germantown neighborhood, Allen is blessed with an easy tenor and a muscular flow that he effortlessly slips in and out of throughout his unassailable, RNB3 tape. Some may argue that he sounds too much like Fetty Wap, who is on this tape and hails from just a couple hours up I-95. But Allen’s storytelling and songwriting is distinct and more than strong enough to stand on its own. RNB3 has all the fingerprints of a slow-burner (remember, “Trap Queen” was out for almost a year before it blew up), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this excellent disc was the soundtrack to Summer ’16.

Download RNB3 here.

2. Kanye takes us to church on the divine, The Life of Pablo
There’s been a ton of brilliant writing on Kanye’s inimitable seventh album. But what’s stuck with me the most are the religious, ecstatic moments on this thing. Chance’s verse from “Ultralight Beam.” The hook on “Father Stretch My Hands.” Queen Kelly Price. Rihanna channeling Nina Simone. The confessional verses on “FML.” In the build-up, ‘Ye did describe TLOP as a gospel record, but I didn’t think that he’d go this far. You’d think I’d have learned not to underestimate the great man after all these years.

3. Memoryhouse returns
I’ve been swooning (and stanning) hard for this Canadian duo since they released their flawless debut EP, The Years (2010). Their sophomore LP, Soft Hate, is another delicious collection of gentle, affecting dream-pop. Though they remain frustratingly underrated, they continue to grow as musicians and songwriters, which is typified by vocalist Denise Nouvion’s confident, subtly commanding performance on this disc. Keep sleeping on these two at your peril.

4. The 1975 channels 1989 (the year, not the album)
The Manchester quartet’s remarkably consistent second LP plays like a never before heard “Monster 80s” comp. The well-balanced disc boasts captivating slabs of guitar rock (“She’s American,” “UGH!”), moody synth ballads (“A Change of Heart,” “Somebody Else”), and even a pair of “More Than Words”-style fingerpicked tearjerkers thrown in at the end (“Nana,” “She Lays Down”). If you can stomach Matty Healy’s occasional lyrical eye-rolls, there’s a huge amount of songwriting goodness to feast on here.

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Images & Words: FKA Twigs, “Good To Love”

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FKA Twigs
“Good to Love”
Digital Single

Tahliah “FKA Twigs” Barnett knows that stripping things out is often the way to make the biggest statements. Visually, musically, and lyrically, the 28 year-old deals in simplicity and directness, giving a rare, powerful intimacy to her music. Ambiguity is easy, and we’re overstocked with lyricists using a lot of words to not say much.

True to form, her most recent single, “Good to Love,” says a hell of a lot, as she plaintively asks her partner to move past their baggage and let her in. The arrangement is spare and her voice unwavering; there are no distractions. For the next four minutes, Twigs assuages his fear while asserting her own power. “It’s not your fault that I’m loved to my limit. I’ve had plenty so I know you’re mine” is as stunning a lyric as we’ve heard this year, morphing past sexual experiences from a source of jealousy into one of strength. It’s something that anybody who has ever been in a relationship can relate to and an example of how real empathy can break down the barriers that keep us apart.

Hot Jam of the Day: The 1975, “Somebody Else”

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The 1975
“Somebody Else”
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (out 02.26 on Dirty Hit)

So little of the chatter around the divisive Manchester four-piece has anything to do with what they sound like. The group’s ridiculously-titled second album has ignited myriad Twitter #hottakes and commenter bitchfests, focusing on who vocalist Matthew Healy is or isn’t fucking, what he’s doing with his hair, and whether music this poppy is fit for the indie blogosphere. It would all be a bit dull in the hands of another band, but the five pre-release singles they’ve dropped have highlighted what a thrilling, unpredictable band they’ve become. And any time a shitload of people are talking about a band who is taking real chances, it’s a good thing for music.

The best of the five is the warm, moody new-wave ballad, “Somebody Else.” While the post-chillwave Small Black/Washed Out vibes are legitimate, nobody in that scene had this level of arena-ready songwriting chops or the graceful power of Healy’s voice. And while much of that music was inspired by the kind of songs that could captivate big rooms, Healy and co. truly aspired to do it. And just three years removed from their debut, they are heading out on a massive tour to do it for real. I’ll be there, and it will be glorious.

Also, check out their SNL performance of the ecstatic, “The Sound.”