Caroline Polachek, "Ocean of Tears" & "Parachute"


Caroline Polachek"Ocean of Tears" / "Parachute"Pang (out this fall on Columbia)Ok, now I'm getting really excited about the ex-Chairlift vocalist/composer's first album under her real name. Following up on her wonderful first single "Door," these two new tracks highlight Polachek's spellbinding voice and evocative, powerful songwriting. Though you can Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of the 2nd Quarter


Ana Roxanne~~~Leaving RecordsThe Oakland bedroom artist’s debut project is a staggering slice of ambient music that pulls subtly from the R&B and pop vocalists that she grew up on. Her voice sounds far away but pulls you in close (think: Grouper’s “Ruin”) and is ready to tell you its Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2019, So Far (Honorable Mention)


As promised, here is the rest of my favorite tracks of the year that didn't quite make the cut for my main list. Songs are in no particular order. Chromatics “Time Rider”bahahahahah (Italians Do It Better) “Dear Tommy” is obviously never coming out. But I did get to hear this Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2019 (So Far)


A little bit late this year due to real-world commitments, but here is my annual list of the best songs of the first half of 2019. Look for my honorable mention coming later in the week. This year, instead of going with an actual ranking system, I'm going to Read more

Lana Del Rey, "Doin' Time"


Lana Del Rey"Doin' Time"Sublime OST (out soon on Universal)If you grew up in California in the early 2000's, it was just about impossible to get in someone's car or go to a party that wasn't playing one of those two Sublime albums. Evidently, the same was true in wherever Read more

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The Best Of What I Missed (January, 2017)

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

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

Stream it on Spotify.

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

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

Stream it on Spotify.

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

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

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

Stream it on Spotify.

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

Stream it on Spotify.

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

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

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

Starting V: My Favorite Friendzone Tracks

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

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

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

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

Hear more from Collection I on Bandcamp.

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

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

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

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

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

Hear more from DX on BandCamp.

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

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

Hot Jam of the Day: Sampha, “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano”

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Sampha-Noisey-1-7Sampha
“(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano”
Process (out 02.03 on Young Turks)
The soft-spoken Londoner’s delicate piano ballad feels like the first truly great song of 2017. Over his nimble, mantric piano melody, Sampha bares his soul, expounding on the way music can allow you to be yourself beyond the constraints of your everyday life. The song conjures up the image of a young, shy kid, running his fingers across the keys, slowly growing into the instrument as he grows into himself. It might not have been a piano for you — maybe it was a basketball hoop, a tree you used to climb, or (like me) your father’s guitar — but the experience is just about universal and illustrated beautifully by Sampha here.

Best of ’16: My Favorite Albums of 2016

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Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.13.01 PM31. Huerco S
For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
Proibito
Though the K.C.-producer’s debut LP Colonial Patterns enjoyed overwhelming acclaim, he seismically shifted his sound for his second one, veering from opaque beat music to oceanic, drifting synthscapes. Though it’s a risky move, it pays big dividends, and the disc plays like a single transportive track, destined to sweep you away.

Stream it on Spotify.

30. Mélanie De Biasio
Blackened Cities
Le Label
Don’t let the fact that the Belgian jazz singer’s rumination on modern city life is presented as a single 24-minute song turn you away. It’s a surprisingly digestible listen with more than enough footholds to latch onto. Though the instrumentation is free-wheeling and improvisational, De Biasio’s gentle vocal is always there to guide you, appearing and disappearing at just the right times.

Stream it on Spotify.

29. Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert Vs The World
Atlantic
From his hair to his sound, everything about the Philly native is vivid and colorful. LUVvsTW is nine songs of boundless, youthful energy with some of the most adhesive hooks of the year. And though his subject matter is pretty consistent, Uzi is adept at switching his flow up, often a few times in one song. One of the most fun releases of the year.

Stream in on Spotify.

28. The Hotelier
Goodness
Tiny Engines
Instead of trying to recreate the pain of their brutal, beautiful breakthrough LP, Home, Like Noplace Is There, the Worcester, Mass trio let some light and (ahem) goodness into their sound. Cathartic as they may be, the disc’s 13 songs tend to focus more on life than death, picking out a number of small, tender moments and blowing them out with their signature nimble guitars, pounding drums, and Christian Holden’s unique, strained vocals.

Stream it on Spotify.
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Best of ’16: My Favorite Songs of 2016

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2016 was trash, but goddamn, the music was good. Here is a handful of the songs that kept me positive, no matter how bad the news was. Thanks to everyone for the continued support and readership.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-15-06-pm61. MUNA
“I Know A Place”
About U (out 02.13.17 on RCA)

The LA trio’s ode to the healing power of sweaty dancefloors took on an even deeper meaning, as it was released only a few hours before 36 people tragically passed away at a 100% Silk event at Ghost Ship in Oakland. And though I’ve never been to that particular venue, I grew up going to many similar spaces around the Bay Area. As rents soar and cities continue to prioritize condos and Whole Foods’ over then its long-term residents, these spaces are becoming less regulated, more dangerous, and more important than ever.

60. Grizzle
“Entreaty”
Black Label II (Blacklink Sound)

Though little is known about young UK producer Griffin Haworth, we do know that his debut single is a goddamn banger. “Entreaty” twists a line from Trey Songz’s middle school dance classic, “Can’t Help But Wait,” in Eagle Scout-level knots, then slowly lets it unravel over skittering hi-hats and kaleidoscopic synths. It’s the kind of single that should be setting dancefloors ablaze around the world, but I guess my earbuds will have to suffice.

59.Lloyd
“Tru”
Digital Single

Everybody loves a comeback story, and the velvety-voiced Atlanta crooner is hopefully gearing up for a big one. Over bluesy, contemplative guitars, the 30 year-old lays bare the scars of 20 hard years in the music business. And weary as he may be, his voice has retained the same playful, youthful timbre that we first fell in love with all those years back.

58. JSTJCK
“Honest” (f/ Yxng Bane)
Digital Single

There’s more than a hint of vintage Craig David vibes on this ultra-slick single from the rising East London vocalist. The recipe is straight forward — nimble keys, a tasty hook, jazzy drums — but the execution is first class, leaving me hungry for more from him in 2017.

57. Boosie Badazz
“Wanna B Heard” (f/ Slim Thug)
Out My Feelings In My Past (Self-Released)
If there’s one thing we aren’t doing in 2016, it’s hearing one another. For the last 15 years, the Baton Rouge native has been dutifully speaking for our country’s most marginalized, historically disenfranchised folks. On the striking “Wanna B Heard,” the 34 year-old shares the stories of members of his community, aiming to highlight their humanity that is constantly threatened by the media, police, politicians, and trash people on social media.

56. Skepta
“Man”
Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know)
An anthem in an album full of them, I could have picked a number of tracks from Skeppy’s Mercury Prize-winning fourth LP, but I decided to go with the unapologetic, cocky swagger of “Man.”  Over an unexpected Queens of the Stone Age sample, the 34 year-old lets us know how awesome and annoying it is to be the face of UK hip-hop.

gemininegative55. Negative Gemini
“Body Work”
Body Work (100% Electronics)

Queens producer Lindsey French’s second LP is one of the best balanced electronic albums of the year. Living somewhere in the nether zone between the dancefloor and the bedroom, Body Work is filled with rave music with heart. Its standout track is a perfect distillation of that potent sound, as French’s longing, wistful vocals float between trance-inspired keys, new wave drum pads, and an energizing bassline.

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Hot Jam of The Day: MUNA, “I Know A Place”

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muna3MUNA
“I Know A Place”

About U (02.03.17)
The fact that this emotional, heartfelt single dropped the same week as the tragic Ghost Ship fire in Oakland is the cruelest irony. This gorgeous single champions the kind of special, inclusive space that Ghost Ship purported to be — places where people can safely lose themselves under neon lights and loud music. As a Bay Area native who has spent many nights in such places, it breaks my heart to know that more than 30 people lost their lives, simply looking for that feeling. Though anthemic at its core, “I Know a Place” feels elegiac to me now — both as tribute to those we lost that night and to the people who are fighting provide safe, enriching spaces that are driven by love and respect, not profit.

Images & Words: Wiley, “U Were Always Pt. 2” (f/ Skepta & Belly)

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wiley-006Wiley
“U Were Always Pt. 2” (f/ Skepta & Belly)

Godfather (out 01.13.17 on CTA)
Though known more for his muscular bars, the Godfather indulges his soft side on this sultry new single from his hotly anticipated 11th album. The cut is a little reminiscent of Skepta’s “Ladies Hit Squad,” as the three MC’s put their exes on blast over some delicious, laid-back Adina Howard vibes. Just like on the other pre-release singles, the 37 year-old sounds refreshed and sharp here, and Godfather is shaping up to be one of the standout albums of the early year and potentially one of the strongest efforts of Wiley’s legendary career.

Hot Jams of the Day: Burial, “Young Death” / “Nightmarket”

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screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-2-34-09-pmBurial
“Young Death” / “Nightmarket”
Young Death / Nightmarket (out now on Hyperdub)
Just in time for the holidays, the legendary South London producer (né William Bevan) returns with two tracks that help make 2016 suck just that little bit less. The emotional former jives nicely with his incredible 2014 EP, Rival Dealer, matching a hopeful, comforting vocal sample with spare keyboards and percussion. The latter is built around a snake-like keyboard riff that slowly builds to an overwhelming, yet gorgeous crescendo. Both cuts are reminders of what a special talent Bevan is and the unique sonic space that he inhabits.

Under the Radar: Yaroze Dream Suite, Yaroze Dream Suite

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screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-48-40-amYaroze Dream Suite
Yaroze Dream Suite
Local Action
Back in October, grime futurists Yamaneko and Mr. Mitch dropped a delicious, sparese 4-song collaborative project that I somehow neglected to write about. The duo’s emotional, genre-bending sound may not grab you at first listen, as it isn’t big on hooks. But the more time you spend with it, the deeper it’ll drag you out to the outer reaches of its galaxy, exposing new surprises along the way with each successive listen.

Hot Jam of the Day: The xx, “On Hold”

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The xx
“On Hold”
I See You (out 01.13.17 on Young Turks)
The world is in desperate need of healing. While the kind of healing it needs obviously can’t be mended by a relaxing new album, we’re also really not in a place to turn one down. Late last week, the soothing London trio announced their third LP, led by this spellbinding new single that matches their signature down-tempo lullabies with tasty drum programming and a tongue-twisting Hall and Oates sample. I was one of the few who loved their 2012 sophomore LP, Coexist, and took a hard pass on Jamie xx’s sterile, lifeless In Colour. And thankfully, “On Hold” feels much more in tune with the former rather than the (bizarrely) critically-acclaimed latter. At least that’s one thing we can look forward to in 2017….