Images & Words: Real Lies, "The Checks"

Real Lies "The Checks" Digital Single Longtime TP favorite and the trio behind my favorite song of 2014, London's Real Lies are back with their first new music in a couple years. Few artists are as good at capturing the mood of being young and on your own in a big city like Read more

Father John Misty, "Just Dumb Enough to Try"

Father John Misty "Just Dumb Enough To Try" God's Favorite Customer (out 06.01 on Sub Pop) Though his last LP "Pure Comedy" had its moments, it was an overwritten project that was weighed down by grand, mostly superficial proclamations about the frivolity of modern life. His usually sharp pen often landed with Read more

Images & Words: Yxng Bane, "Vroom"

Yxng Bane "Vroom" Digital Single When I first wrote about the East Londoner back in July 2016, he didn't even have CDQ versions of his tracks on SoundCloud. In less than two years, Bane's career has grown like wildfire with multiple videos doing crazy numbers. The hot streak looks set to continue with Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of The First Quarter

To be totally honest, I'm not sure it's been a vintage first quarter for music, as I had fewer albums that I wanted to write about than usual. That said, there are some truly excellent albums on this list, and there's a lot to look forward coming up soon. Kacey Read more

Kacey Musgraves, "Golden Hour"

Kacey Musgraves "Golden Hour" Golden Hour (out now on UMG) At this point, you probably already know that the 29 year-old Texan’s new album is something special. The disc is a stunning collection of impeccably sung and written modern country tunes, all of which deserve your time. However, I wanted to Read more


Album Review: m83, Junk

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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.

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.

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.

A Good Night in the Ghetto
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
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
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.

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

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

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Linda Perhacs
“The Dancer”
Digital Single

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

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

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

Contribute to her Kickstarter and learn more, here.

Images & Words: ANOHNI, “Drone Bomb Me”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download RNB3 here.

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

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

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

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

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FKA Twigs
“Good to Love”
Digital Single

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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