Hot Jam of the Day: T-Pain, "Textin' My Ex" (f/ Tiffany Evans)


T-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 Read more

Images & Words: SOPHIE, "It's Okay To Cry"


SOPHIE "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 Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: King Krule, "Logos"


King Krule "Logos" The OOZ (out now on XL) Archy Marshall's excellent new album feels like a collection of those wonky dream states that exist somewhere in that nether region between being wake and sleep. Though I'm still digesting all 19 of its songs, the hypnotic, jazzy "Logos" immediately stuck out. Over languid jazz chords Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, "For Robin"


The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die "For Robin" Always Foreign (Epitaph) There are many, many awful things about addiction, but little is as insidious as the way it pushes its victims away from loved ones from their previous life and deeper into their illness. Anybody who has lost someone to Read more

Images & Words: Stormzy, "4PM in London"


Stormzy "4PM in London" Digital Single Turning freestyles into anthems is nothing new to the ultra-talented Londoner. And though the ravenous "4PM in London" was probably written, it feels alive in the same way that many of those aforementioned tracks did. Unlike Drake (the man who originally rapped on this beat), Stormzy's got the rare ability to Read more

Featured

The Monday Round-Up: Skepta, James Blake, and the Rest of What I Missed

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An avalanche of important new albums dropped last Friday, so this week’s Monday Round-Up is dedicated to my early favorites from that batch.

Skepta
“Konnichiwa”
Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know)
There are a bunch of great lines on the London rapper’s monstrous fourth LP, but my favorite comes about 90 seconds in. “Boy Better Know, man went to the BRITs on a train. / Man shutdown Wireless, then I walked home in the rain.” That image of UK hip-hop’s biggest star walking back to his apartment after setting London’s biggest music festival on fire is indicative of not only his approachable, everyman image but also his commitment to the culture and his city. Konnichiwa is the biggest UK-to-USA crossover record since Boy in Da Corner (2003) and Original Pirate Material (2002), and it’s great to know that Skepta didn’t need to compromise his roots to achieve his massive success.

Radiohead
“Daydreaming”
A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
Judging Radiohead albums on pre-release singles is always dicey. So if you were unmoved by the muted lead single, “Burn the Witch,” don’t let that put you off. Second single, “Daydreaming,” is an impossibly gorgeous piano ballad that recalls past classics “Pyramid Song” and “Videotape.” It begins restrained and gentle, but it gradually swells to a stunning, swirling crescendo. There’s life in the old dog, yet.

James Blake
“f.o.r.e.v.e.r”
The Colour in Anything (Polydor)
For the most part, the sprawling, experimental The Colour in Anything is an opaque, hazy affair. Buried in the sonic and emotional fuzz is  “f.o.r.e.v.e.r.” — a stunning, direct moment of clarity. Recalling his near-perfect cover of “A Case of You,” Blake strips everything back, proclaiming his naked devotion over nothing but a sparse, touching piano line.

Julianna Barwick
“Beached”
Will (Dead Oceans)
While I hate to pick one of the pieces out of Barwick’s third LP, “Bleached” is a microcosm of the album’s sublime, subtle beauty. Will is her most instrumentally rich LP yet, and the cinematic pianos and strings frame her vocals so well that it’s almost hard to go back to the a cappella sounds of her wonderful breakthrough, The Magic Place.

ANOHNI
“I Don’t Love You Anymore”
HOPELESSNESS (Secretly Canadian)
Frankly, I haven’t listened to this album enough to begin to comment on it, but this Oneohtrix Point Never-produced organ ballad grabbed me most at first listen. It reminds me of another of her previous collaborations with OPN, the sparse, gripping “Returnal.”

LUH
“The Great Longing”
Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing (Mute)
Another that I need more time with, ex WU LYF frontman Ellery James Roberts and Ebony Hoorn’s debut features a number of maximalist, feral anthems. That said, its closer highlights the disc’s diversity. A bit like a twisted campfire song, “The Great Longing” pairs the duo’s raw vocals with strummed acoustic guitars and faraway horns.

Kaytranada
“Got it Good” (f/ Craig David)
99.9% (XL)
The Montreal producer’s long-awaited debut is a vibrant collection that features touches of 90’s R&B, hip-hop, radio pop, light house, and astral jazz. My early favorite is this warm collaboration with TP favorite Craig David. Kay uses a languid vocal sample and jazzy drums to create the perfect canvas for Mr. Born To Do It to do what he does best.

The Monday Round-Up: Pity Sex, Young Thug, and the Rest of What I Missed

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Because there’s so much music coming out every week, there are always tracks that I want to write about but don’t get around to. I’m going to try to remedy that a bit by writing a weekly round-up of the best of what I missed, spending just a couple of sentences on each song. Let’s see if this works.

Pity Sex
“Plum”
White Hot Moon (out now on Run for Cover)

Vocalist/guitarist Britty Drake’s heartbreaking ode to her late mother is likely the saddest song of the year. Heartbroken as she is, Drake is able to contextualize the crushing loss with incredible clarity, even looking outside her own grief and into her father’s.

Young Thug
“Texas Love”
Digital Single

Thugger dedicates his newest loosey to the victims of recent flash flooding in Houston. This melodic, emotional gem is one of the strongest singles he’s released in the last year, and you can tell that he has real affection for the city and its people.

JSTJCK
“Noticed”
Digital Single

Not to be confused with Just Jack, the garage DJ of “Starz in their Eyez” fame, JSTJCK is one of London’s freshest new voices. “Noticed” is a laid-back, personal slab of R&B that is a solid successor to his brilliant, slept-on recent single, “Honest.”

Dawn Richard
“Honest”
Digital Single

It isn’t clear whether this will be on the New Orleans native’s hugely anticipated new LP, Redemptionheart, but it is clear that this heartfelt collaboration with Kingdom is a fucking banger. Album deets remains scare, but as long as she keeps trickling out singles like this and “Not Above That,” I won’t be complaining.

Nite Jewel
“Kiss the Screen”
Liquid Cool (out 06.10 on Gloriette)
We’re just one month away from Ramona Gonzalez’s long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s One Second of Love. The disc’s second single is a potent, slinky mid-tempo synth ballad about falling in love in the digital age.

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.

Read more

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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