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

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Starting V: The Best of Future’s Two New Albums

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We’re only five weeks into 2016, and Future has already #blessed us with two records — mixtape Purple Reign and album EVOL. While his recent prolificacy has delighted his ever-growing core fanbase, I know a lot of casual fans who are finding it difficult to keep up with his relentless pace. For that reason, I picked out five of my highlights from the two albums, which will hopefully provide a foothold into both discs and give you a vibe of where he’s at.

1. “Fly Shit Only” from EVOL, produced by DJ Spinz
EVOL‘s beautiful, swirling final track is the pick of both discs, thanks to the mournful mastery of DJ Spinz. Built around an arpeggiated guitar riff that somehow simultaneously recalls Danzig and Radiohead, Future picks through the bones of life at the top. Reminiscent of 2015’s best song, “News or Smthn,” “Fly Shit Only” is basically a trap power ballad, and his doleful vocals are at their melodic, magnetic best — capable of turning any line into a hook that you won’t be able to get out of your head.



2. “Inside the Mattress” from Purple Reign, produced by Nard & B
As you’ll notice, most of my favorite moments from Purple Reign and EVOL are the downtempo ones. However, there’s plenty of #turnup Future on both records, and “Inside the Mattress” is likely the most potent of the bunch. This isn’t surprising considering that Nard & B produced his most ecstatic song, “Straight Up,” which is also the first Future song I ever loved. While it doesn’t match that track’s frenetic energy, it’s a reminder that Super Future is always ready to make an appearance.

3. “Lie to Me” from EVOL, produced by DJ Spinz
Spinz strikes again, crafting an incredible beat with glistening keyboards and spare percussion. The neon keys give “Lie to Me” a late night drive feel, and Future gleefully grabs the wheel, guiding you through the back roads and flickering lights of his psyche. 

4. “No Charge” from Purple Reign, produced by Southside
Futrue always sounds great on a Southside beat. The 27 year-old is the architect behind “Fuck Up Some Commas” and “Trap N**gas” (among many others), which are arguably the two most popular songs from Future’s recent purple patch. And he delivers again with this spacious, airy beat. Like the aforementioned singles, “No Charge” features Southside’s trademark hi-hat wizardry and deep synths — the perfect canvas for Future to smear his melodic vocals over the top of.

5. “Low Life” (f/ The Weeknd) from EVOL, produced by Metro Boomin, Ben Billion$ & The Weeknd
Future’s music is great, even when he isn’t. Fueled by fellow nihilist the Weeknd, the duo let their misanthropic flags fly, weaving through Metro Boomin’s cinematic synths and rolling percussion. Originally released on Christmas Day, the track is basically hip-hop “Bad Santa,” with its protagonists reveling in how good being the bad guy can be.

The Round-Up: 10 Musical Things I Loved About January ’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. Let’s see how this goes.

1. The back half of Rihanna’s ANTI
The biggest release of the year seems like a good place to start. Don’t let the pre-release Tidal apocalypse or its lukewarm, Drake-featured first single, “Work”, fool you; ANTI is a fabulous, understated collection that finds one of the world’s biggest stars at her creative and vocal peak. Aside from the wonky Tame Impala cover, the disc’s second half is unassailable — from the venomous break-up jam, “Needed Me” to its stunning piano ballad closer, “Close To You.” The latter is probably my favorite song of the year so far and is one of the most engaging, honest moments of RiRi’s career. Plus, it almost always makes me want to cry, then call everyone I love, then cry again.  Her weary, expressive vocals go places others can’t, dripping with the kind of mournful beauty that is unmatched by any modern pop star. The same goes for the wonderful “Love on the Brain,” “Yeah, I Said It” and “Higher.” It may not have the hits, and “Work” is a dud, but ANTI is one of the strongest releases of her career.

Because Tidal is the worst, you can’t stream any of it here. Pick it up over at Apple Music. Jk, it’s out on Spotify now. Stream it here.

2. The dreamy R&B of King’s We Are King
Rihanna made my favorite song, but the LA trio’s long-awaited debut LP is definitely my top album of the young year. A remarkably consistent 12-song set, We Are King is a balanced, updated take on the soul-infused R&B of people like Sade and Prince. While it’s a totally unfair comparison, it’s far from baseless, and there are so few artists nowadays who are writing such lush arrangements and full, rich vocal melodies. There’s just so much love on this album, and if it feels this good to get swept up in the waves, why would you fight it?

Stream it over at Spotify.

3. We got a new MssingNo EP
Truth be told, I’ve only been able to listen to it once or twice since it dropped this morning, but after two years of waiting, it sure feels like the mercurial Londoner’s incredible, genre defining self-titled debut EP has a worthy successor. After putting out a handful of inch-perfect remixes and one-offs, it’s so exciting to hear another long(ish) form statement from the still-anonymous producer. I’m sure I’ll write more about this when I get a little more time with it, but early returns are fucking massive.

Stream the whole thing over at Spotify.

4. Ryuichi Sakamoto comes back from cancer treatment with the Revenant Soundtrack
In July of 2014, the legendary Japanese composer announced that he was taking a some time off to deal with oropharyngeal cancer. Last summer, we got the good news that he was in good health and looking to get back to work. This January, we got to hear that work, and goddamn, that work is beautiful. Alongside Alva Noto with assistance from the National’s Bryce Dessner, Sakamoto crafted 23 tracks of affecting mood music. I haven’t seen the film, but if I enjoy it half as much as I did the soundtrack, it’ll be one of my favorite movies of the year.

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Hot Jam of the Day: DAWN, “Not Above That”

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D∆WN
“Not Above That”
RED*emp*tion (out soon on Our Dawn)

I’m consistently disappointed by the lack of Dawn Richard remixes lying around the Internet. That’s partially because she remains criminally underrated, but it’s also because few pop and R&B artists have embraced progressive dance music as fully as the New Orleanian. Many of the songs producers would be likely to rework — “Calypso,” “Billie Jean,” “Warriors,” “Dance” — are already packed with the kind of dance breaks, unique instrumentation, and vocal manipulation that remixers tend to employ.

The sweltering “Not Above That” is another example of this. Along with the ever-consistent Machinedrum, Richard crafts another banger that exists somewhere in that delicious nether zone between your duvet cover and the dancefloor. She has spoken about her desire to remove gender, color, and genre from her music, and lyrically, she challenges gender roles again on this record. “That’s why I call you up at 4 in the morning cause I’m not above that” could be a throwaway lyric from a Drake/Future/insert rap dude track. But when it comes out of Dawn Richard’s mouth, it is both a command and an invitation that carries disarming power. Last year’s Blackheart was a masterpiece, and RED*emp*tion is shaping up to be more than a worthy successor.

Images & Words: Zayn Malik, “Pillowtalk”

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Zayn Malik
“Pillowtalk”
Mind of Mine (out 03.25)

It’s hard to decide which is more smoldering — Zayn Malik’s bone structure or his first post-One Direction single. “Pillowtalk” brilliantly balances Malik’s sadboi lothario (think: Drake circa Take Care) tendencies with his blockbuster vocals. That voice allows him to veer toward a darker, moodier sound, while retaining the lightness and innocence of his early work. In other words, it’s the kind of song that hordes of teenagers can sing (read: scream) along to in a packed arena, or that two real-life adults might consider having sex to. There aren’t a ton of songs that work for both scenarios, and those tend to be reserved for only the most interesting pop artists.

Zayn’s just getting started as a solo artist, but Mind of Mine officially just vaulted to the top of my “Most Anticipated Albums of 2016” list. Something tells me I’m not the only one.

Images & Words: Wet, “Weak” (Live on the Tonight Show)

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Wet
“Weak” (Live on the Tonight Show)
Don’t You (out 01.29 on Columbia)
I don’t normally write about live performances, but I was just so struck by how far the Massachusetts trio has come in the last two and a half years. I first wrote about Wet in September of 2013, after falling in love with their debut single, the crushing break-up ballad, “No Lie.” A few months later, I caught (what I think was) their first ever gig in Brooklyn. They seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight that night, but you couldn’t hear in the way they played. Vocalist Kelly Zutrau stood out, stoically pushing through her nerves to deliver a heartfelt, affecting performance. Guitarist Marty Sulkow added beautiful counter-melodies to the sparse arrangements, while Joe Valle, their most energetic performer, banged away at a skeletal electric drum-kit.

As good as they were that night, I never thought that in just two years, I would be seeing them perform on Network TV. Their performance on Fallon was assured and confident, like a band that has been doing TV shows for years. Again, Zutrau was especially impressive. Much of Wet’s magic comes from the amount of negative space in their arrangements. That space often leaves Zutrau’s voice totally exposed, maximizing its impact but also the pressure placed on it. On what must have been the most stressful performance of their career, she came up trumps, confidently staying in tune and adding an emotional wallop to one of the strongest songs of their glittering young career. The performance isn’t just a reminder of how far they’ve come; it’s an exciting indicator of just how far they can go.

Best of 15: The Best Albums of 2015

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20. 2814
新しい日の誕生 (Dream Catalogue)
I’ve never been to Tokyo, but when I do, I’ll make sure to bring the ambient, post-Vaporware vibes of Dream Catalogue mainman, HKE and producer Telepath with me. The soundtrack to imagined midnight walks through the city, the disc’s cinematic, engulfing eight songs set a palpable mood, sure to keep your eyes closed and your mind wandering.
Hottest Jams: “新しい日の誕生” & “真実の恋”


19. Billboard Brothers
Billboard Brothers (self-released)
Do you love listening to people rap? Then, this is your album. Over 13 joyful tracks, Doughboyz Cashout’s dynamic duo raps their asses off, weaving melodic, adhesive verses over timeless slabs of 90s indebted G-funk. Like Westbrook and Durant, Payroll Giovanni and Big Quis have incredible chemistry, and they work so well together that their verses blend together and stand out at the same time.
Hottest Jams: “Strap on My Lap,” “Do What I Wanna Do,” “White”

18. The Staves
If I Was (Atlantic UK)
Whoever the Staveley parents are, they are fucking lucky. Imagine living in a house with three daughters who sing this beautifully together. On their second LP, they pair their heavenly three-part harmonies with the strongest, most evocative songwriting of their career, picking through the bones of a failed relationship with affecting honesty and relatability. It’s a sad record in places, but the ever-present mellifluousness of their vocals and arrangements guarantee that there’s always plenty of light streaming through the blinds.
Hottest Jams: “Make it Holy,” “Let Me Down,” “Sadness Don’t Own Me”

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Best of 15: The Hottest Jams of 2015

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Welp, that’s it for 2015. It was an incredible year for music, and it was tougher to whittle this list down to 65 than in recent years. Thank you for joining me for another year of ThunderPenguin, and it’s been awesome to see this little site growing. Hopefully, the album list will be up in a day or two.

65. Post Malone
“White Iverson”
Digital Single
I hated it, then I loved it, and then I hated myself for loving it, then I hated it again, and now I’m just confused about it. No matter where I end up with it, the Houston crooner’s ode to the Answer deserves a spot on this list, because of the emotional energy I expended dealing with it.

64. Nicole Dollanganger
“You’re So Cool”
Natural Born Losers (Eerie Organization)
Remember that 90s movie Crazy/Beautiful? The 23 year-old Canadian’s breakthrough LP should really be called Creepy/Beautiful. Its towering closing track is half wedding first dance, half slasher flick, as Dollanganger stretches her unique falsetto to extol the virtues of a love interest who seems to have committed some very grizzly murders (“You got guns for trophies mounted up like animal heads with the skulls of all the high school champs you keep in rows above the bed”). It’s unsettling, romantic, creepy, and very, very beautiful.

63. f(x)
“4 Walls”
4 Walls – The 4th Album (SM Entertainment)
The Korean girl group’s bilingual banger is bright, breezy, and far from the average American perception of what K-Pop is supposed to sound like. There’s bits of R&B, hip-hop, and New Jack Swing (seriously!) in here, and it brings me back to the girl groups of the early 2000s, like Dream, 3LW, and 702, which — in my book — is pretty high praise.

62. Justin Bieber
“Sorry”
Purpose (Def Jam)
I considered “I’ll Show You” (Justin’s very own “I’m not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”), but I settled on the 21 year-old’s delightfully sarcastic mea culpa. It should really be called “Sorry (Not Sorry),” and Bieber plays the mischievous scamp to perfection, acknowledging his past hijinks (i.e. monkey buying, speeding, this haircut) while hinting that he’s just getting started. Let’s hope he is.

61. Sufjan Stevens
“Should Have Known Better”
Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
There are a lot of meaningful lyrics on “Should Have Known Better” and many more on the exquisite album that spawned it. But none touched me like the final one here: “My brother had a daughter. The beauty that she brings, illumination.” My sister had a daughter last October, and I’ve been consistently overwhelmed by the staggering mass of power and beauty yielded by someone so small. Much of Carrie & Lowell is focused on the final acts of the people we love, but this special moment of tribute to his niece stands out as a shining beacon of light on a very dark album.

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Hot Jam of the Day: Foxing, “Indica”

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Foxing
“Indica”
Dealer (out now on Triple Crown)

While traveling through the Australian outback in my teens, my group and I were having the age-old “would you or wouldn’t you?” debate about whether you would kill someone if you were forced to go to war, when our grizzled guide turned around and gave our hypothetical some heavy reality. He recounted being confronted with child soldiers, whilst deployed at the height of the Rwandan Genocide. It was one of those stories that sticks with you, a glimpse into the depth of war with the horrifying clarity that can only be delivered by someone who experienced it firsthand.

Josh Coll of STL quintet Foxing is another with firsthand experience. A devastating post-mortem of time spent serving in Afghanistan, “Indica” is the rare war song penned from memories, rather than movies, books, or imagination. Erudite, poetic, and totally crushing, Coll grapples with what what he’s done and seen overseas and what it means for the man who came back. You won’t hear more affecting lyrics this year, and though Coll doesn’t sing them himself, vocalist Conor Murphy’s expressive vocal gives them extra weight. The prose is expertly paired with a lonely guitar, mournful military horn, and a touch of snare roll. It’s one of the most difficult songs I’ve heard this year, but also one of the most special.

Images & Words: Grimes, “Flesh without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream”

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Grimes
“Flesh without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream”
Art Angels (out 11.06 on 4AD)

While the blogosphere rages about whether Claire Boucher has ‘gone pop’ (whatever the fuck that means), the 27 year-old has simply got on with it. Over the last 18 months, she’s crafted a clutch of bangers that defy labels and genres (other than “fucking great”), and it all looks to be building up to what could be a 2015-defining LP — her fourth full-length, Art Angels.

This week, we got our first real taste of it with the propulsive, elastic “Flesh without Blood” and the heady, emotional ballad, “Life in the Vivid Dream.” The former strikes the perfect balance between Boucher’s distinct, experimental core and her impeccable ability to craft streamlined, inarguable hooks. And though the latter runs under two minutes, it is far from an afterthought, highlighting the disarming power she holds in her vocals and lyrics. #PopGrimes or not, it’s a breathtaking, vital sound that is all her own.

Images & Words: Lontalius, “All I Wanna Say”

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Lontalius
“All I Wanna Say”
Digital Single

The young New Zealander began his burgeoning career on Soundcloud and Bandcamp by uploading affecting, spare covers of popular rap and R&B songs, armed with only a Casio keyboard and a little bit of autotune. In the last year or so, the 18 year-old (né Eddie Johnston) has focused on original material, and new single, “All I Wanna Say,” is the best of it so far. Like in his covers, Johnston’s solo work is disarmingly direct and poignant, thanks mostly to its simplicity. A mantra like “all I have to offer is my love” would seem trite and cliché coming from most artists, but the innocent timbre of Johnston’s voice makes it feel like he really means it. Like, he believes that literally the only thing he can offer someone is his undying devotion. And that is a feeling that nearly anybody who has ever been a awkward, self-doubting, lovestruck teenager can relate to.