Images & Words: Jamie Isaac, "Doing Better"


Jamie Isaac "Doing Better" Digital Single After a year or so away, the low-key Croydon singer-songwriter returns with the first song from his forthcoming sophomore LP. "Doing Better" is another tasty slab of the bleary-eyed, late-night soul that made his debut, "Couch Baby," my 14th favorite album of 2016. Isaac is blessed Read more

Images & Words: Mabel x Not3s, "Fine Line"


Mabel x Not3s "Fine Line" Digital Single Mabel and Not3s both appeared on my "Best Songs of 2017" list as solo artists, so it's not surprising that their second single together is an absolute heater. "Fine Line" has more crossover potential than anything either artist has released before, bringing an anthemic, radio-ready chorus to go with their signature, lithe, Read more

Images & Words: 03 Greedo, "Never Bend"


O3 Greedo "Never Bend" Money Changes Everything (out now on Golden Grenade Empire) Not gonna lie, I slept on 03 Greedo last year, but I'm not going to make the same mistake twice. The Watts rapper is one of the most unique, exciting new voices rising today, pairing soulful crooning and sticky bars for a Read more

Best of '17: The Best Songs of 2017


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

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

Featured

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.

Images & Words: Wet, “Weak”

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Wet
“Weak”
Don’t You (out 01.29 on Columbia)

During a week where Bachata Papi grabbed most of the headlines for his phenomenal drunk Uncle swag, another of TP’s favorite vocalists also broke out some heartfelt moves on a new clip. For four spellbinding minutes, vocalist/songwriter Kelly Zutrau pours her heart out in front of a crowd of zero, pining for a lover to reconsider walking away. Director/choreographer Holly Blakey beautifully captures the evocative performance, highlighting the raw, exorcismic (not a real word) power of dance in one of the strongest music videos of the year.

And, if somehow you haven’t seen it yet, check out Aubrey’s “Hotline Bling.” It’s also great.

Images & Words: Majical Cloudz, “Downtown”

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Majical Cloudz
“Downtown”
Are You Alone? (out 10.16 on Matador)

Though he’s still very much a rising artist, Majical Cloudz frontman Devon Welsh is quickly becoming one of the most powerful lyricists in music today. Blissfully free of wordplay and $10 adjectives, the Montreal native excels at direct, plainly poetic prose aimed at the common experiences we share: love, fear, loss, and the like. The gorgeous devotional, “Downtown,” has a few stunners that deal with the former. Lyrics like “There’s one thing I’ll do If it ever goes wrong. I’ll write you into my all of my songs. / And if suddenly I die. I hope they will say that he was obsessed and it was OK” speak for themselves and beautifully define what love feels like and what it can mean. A truly special statement from what should be one of the albums of the year.

Late Summer Catch-Up: The Best Stuff I Missed

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As you may have realized, posting has been a little sparse around these parts in the last couple weeks. I’ve been moving house from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the last few weeks, so I wanted to get into a quick round-up of some of my favorite recent tracks, now that I’m finally situated.

Real Lies
“Blackmarket Blues”
Real Life (out in October on Marathon Artists)
If you read this site regularly, you know how I feel about Real Lies. We’re now just weeks away from the release of their debut LP — an album I’ve been waiting for since I fell in love with their first single, “Deeper,” back in the summer of 2013. “Blackmarket Blues” captures an intoxicating balance between urban ennui and the eternal hopefulness of youth in a way that just cuts through me. I don’t know how many other ways I can keep saying it, but I fucking love this band so much. And so should you.

DJDS
“You Don’t Have to Be Alone” / “In The Flames”
Digital Single
Samo Sound Boy has already made a great solo album this year, but his personal success hasn’t pushed his project with Jerome LOL onto the back-burner. The LA-based (Westlake, stand up!) duo formerly known as DJ Dodger Stadium, dropped a pair of sweltering, mantric singles this summer that will hopefully lead to a follow-up to 2014’s excellent, Friend of Mine.

Miles From Kinshasa
“IVRY”
Digital Single
This one’s an absolute stunner. The London-based newcomer’s debut single pairs a foreboding bassline with lithe, infectious vocals, resulting in a track that feels both menacing and breezy. Unlike many of today’s pop songs, it’s tough to track the sounds that influenced “IVRY.” Miles cooks up a beautifully divergent sonic stew here, using stabbed electric guitars, syncopated hand-drums, and Pet Shop Boys synths to create a perfect soundtrack to life in a multi-cultural community.

Tim Vocals
“Where is the Loud” (Goon Mix)
Digital Single
While Craig David rightfully lapped up the plaudits for his flip of Jack Ü’s ubiquitous “Where Are Ü Now,” under-appreciated crooner Tim Vocals quietly dropped an excellent version of his own. The Harlem native waxes poetic about his love for weed in his gentle, yet powerful falsetto, gliding over the verses’ buoyant piano chords and Skrillex and Diplo’s infectious chorus drop.

Wet
“Weak”
Don’t You (out 01.29.16 on Columbia)
After what has felt like an eternity, the emotional trio’s debut LP finally got a release date. Lead single “Deadwater” is one of my favorite tracks of the year, and the skeletal “Weak” is a worthy follow-up, pairing Kelly Zutrau’s piercing, plaintive vocals with delicate guitar chords and a bouncy drumpad pattern. 2016 just got its first must-hear album.

Deafheaven
“Come Back” / “Brought to the Water”
New Bermuda (out now on -ANTI)
The Bay Area sickos responsible for my fave album of 2013 are back with a vengeance. If these singles are anything to go by, New Bermuda will pick up where the masterful Sunbather left off. If anything, these cuts tend to skew even heavier and darker than their past work, hinting that success has done nothing but make them even more relentless.

D∆WN
“Dance”
RedemptionHeart (TBD)
For obvious reasons, not many artists who make music as nuanced and challenging as Dawn Richard are prolific, but the New Orleans powerhouse has been on an absolute tear of late. She only dropped her beguiling, brilliant third solo LP, Blackheart, back in January, just four months removed from a solid effort from her original group, Danity Kane. Now, she’s preparing the final chapter of “ The Red Era” series, which includes Blackheart and 2013’s Goldenheart. Its delightful lead single, “Dance”, shows that the 32 year-old is committed to bringing both quantity and quality to her ever-growing fanbase.

eu-IV
“Nothing’s Changed”
Digital Single
Baltimore producer eu-IV’s matches an interview with civil rights activist, Angela Davis, with a smooth, jazzy arrangement. It’s a powerful, affecting statement that reminds us that though over 40 years have passed since Davis first spoke those disarming words, they are still more pertinent than ever.

Murlo
“Moodswung”
Odyssey (out 11.06 on Mixpack)
The grime-leaning producer recently announced his most ambitious project to date, a new 8-song EP that will likely highlight the Londoner’s diverse palette of influences. “Moodswung” is a shapeshifting, otherworldly soundscape that is offbeat and unpredictable without losing its coherence and form. Built around delicious MIDI harps and skittering percussion, it feels like the perfect soundtrack to deep space travel…or just the run of the mill chaos of your morning commute.

Postiljonen
“Go!”
Digital Single
Summer might be over, but I guess nobody told this virile, Swedish dream pop trio. When you consider the length and bleakness of the Stockholm winter, it’s easy to understand why the group is struggling to suck a few more drops out of summer. It’s almost as if they believe that Mia Bøe’s defiant cries and powerful m83 synths will be warm enough to keep winter away for a few extra, precious weeks.

Images & Words: Troye Sivan, “WILD”

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Troye Sivan
“WILD”
WILD (out now on Universal Australia)

I first heard about the Australian YouTuber turned pop-star when I read Alex Frank’s excellent piece for the ever-reliable, Fader Magazine. Among other things, the 20 year-old stressed the importance of writing and speaking openly about LGBT relationships and issues in mainstream pop music, saying “I just wanted to write normal pop songs, and when the time comes to use a pronoun, I’ll use the word ‘he.'” It’s a simple yet powerful statement from a young artist who seems entirely unafraid of his sexuality impacting his ambitions as a pop-star.

That confidence is apparent on the powerful, affecting new clip for the title-track from debut EP. “WILD” captures the youthful innocence and abandon of falling into first love. It’s the kind of pop song that people have been fawning over for decades — a love-story that everybody can relate to. Musically, it’s equally inarguable, from its expertly moody pre-chorus to its earworm of a hook to Sivan’s devastating vocal. “WILD” has all the essentials of those timeless pop ballads that remind us that we are the same — hopeless romantics, looking for someone to love us. It’s that message of implied unity that makes Sivan’s music so radically human and his huge success so encouraging.