Hot Jam of the Day: Julien Baker, "Appointments"


Julien Baker "Appointments" Turn Out the Lights (out 10.27 on Matador) "It's the hope that kills you," goes the old saying. But it can also be the thing that saves you and drives you through life's dark stretches. It's what the 21 year-old is reaching for on this breathtaking first single from her highly-anticipated second Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Kelela, "LMK"


Kelela "LMK" Take Me Apart (10.06 on Warp) Our agonizing wait for the first taste of Kelela's proper studio debut* is finally over, and my GOD, our girl came through with a banger. In lieu of just typing 4,000 fire emojis, I'll just say that "LMK" is such a perfect distillation of what makes Read more

Images & Words: Jessie Ware, "Midnight"


Jessie Ware “Midnight” Digital Single In the years I’ve been covering music, I wrote more about Jessie Ware’s early career than just about anyone else. I first covered her back in 2011 and tracked her progression from a promising, mostly unknown, quiet storm prodigy to a true powerhouse who could command any room she was Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of 2017, So Far...


Rating albums at the mid-point of the year, just to re-rate them in six months seems dumb, so I decided to go with an NBA Draft-style tier system to pick out a few of my favorites so far. TIER 1: THE FAVORITE Stormzy Gang Signs and Prayer #Merky The Londoner's debut LP is an Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Jae Stephens, "24k"


Jae Stephens "24k" Digital Single Fuck one of the best debuts of the year. The LA-based newcomer just dropped one of the best songs of the year out of thin air. Featuring inch-perfect production from Jam City, Stephens weaves a devastating slow jam that captures the growth of a relationship from anxious first Read more

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Images & Words: Chief Keef, “Ain’t Missing You” (f/ Jenn Em)

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Chief Keef
“Ain’t Missing You” (f/ Jenn Em)
Digital Single

It’s remarkable how far Chief Keef has come in the two and a half years since his one and only Interscope LP, Finally Rich. Far away from the beady eye of label suits who never understood him and the ruthless media scrutiny that threatened to consume him, the Chicago native has quietly gotten his mojo back, crafting fascinating, gleefully experimental sounds with a rotating cast of characters in the LA suburbs. While recent releases like Sorry 4 the Weight and Back From the Dead 2 garnered little mainstream coverage, they’ve earned well-deserved love from sharp critics and (more importantly) have been well received by his growing, sonically open-minded fanbase.

That said, I don’t think anyone was expecting a twangy, pop-country ballad, but as he’s proven time and time again, Keef doesn’t give a shit about other people’s expectations. And you know what? It’s brilliant. “Ain’t Missing You” is a disarmingly powerful eulogy to the 19 year-old’s older cousin, Mario “Big Glo” Hess, a fellow rapper and mentor who was slain in Chicago in the aftermath of signing a lucrative record contract. Keef’s verses are gut-wrenching — particularly the second. He speaks candidly about his relationship with Hess, during what must have been an unimaginable transition from a 16 year-old in one of the poorest communities in America to a multi-millionaire celebrity. It’s the most clear-eyed, emotionally direct song of his career, and yet another example of Keef’s unarguable talent and relentlessly creative spirit.

Hot Jam of the Day: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Emotion”

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Carly Rae Jepsen
“Emotion”
Emotion (out 09.21 on Interscope)

I have wanted to write about the third single from Canadian popstar’s third LP since wonky versions of it started appearing online a couple of weeks ago, and today we finally get a proper studio quality version. A nice bridge between the anthemic, punchy “I Really Like You” and the moody ballad, “All That,” “Emotion” is a mid-tempo masterclass — the special kind of song that bottles up post-first kiss butterflies and serves them up to you again and again. Over 3 glorious minutes, the 29 year-old pours her heart out, beautifully framed by taut guitars and delicious swaths of synth. While the 80s, John Hughes influences are obvious here, this is a rare timeless pop song that can appeal to any person in any era. All you need is a beating heart.

Starting V: The Best of Jens Lekman, Postcards

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While working out his follow up to 2012’s wonderful, I Know What Love Isn’t, Swedish crooner/ThunderPenguin fave, Jens Lekman has been quietly releasing a new track every week on SoundCloud. Don’t let the paltry play numbers (most average around 6-10k streams) or the lack of blog love fool you, there is real magic in the 21 diverse songs released so far. Some are fully realized compositions, while some are skeletal sketches. Either way, it’s a fascinating set from a versatile songwriter whose only constraint is time, freeing him to dig deeper into disparate influences and half-baked ideas. Here are my five favorites to date.

“Postcard #7” (02.14.15)
One of the finest pieces of Lekman’s career, “Postcard #7” is a swooning affirmation that sees the perpetually romantic 34 year-old falling all over himself in the early days of a love affair. Metaphors are generally tricky to pull off and often ring hollow, but he delivers his words with a disarming, palpable earnestness that will leave you sipping on the sweet nectar (buh doom pish) of your most naive, lovedrunk moments. Pour me another.

“Postcard #17” (04.25.15)
Lekman’s always had a way with samples, and many of his best tracks (“Rocky Dennis’ Farewell Song,” “Maple Leaves”) draw heavily from recontextualized obscure disco and pop songs of the 60’s and 70’s. He goes to that well again here, grabbing a few languid piano bars from jazz demigod Charles Mingus’ lovely “Myself When I’m Real.” Lekman’s melancholic vocals are well-suited for the chopped up piano chords and forlorn horns, and the deft arrangement allows plenty of space for the Gothenburg native to glide into.

“Postcard #10” (03.07.15)
In my experiences with loss, I’ve found that I miss the small stuff about a person more than the bigger, more profound moments I’d shared with them. I tend to especially miss things like stupid jokes, discussing trash TV, and G-Chatting about God knows what, and Lekman captures the power of the minutiae that fills our lives with a rumination on his late grandfather. Borrowing its melody from the series’ jokey opener, “Postcard #10” memorializes him with the kind of affecting Christmas story that everybody can relate to.



“Postcard #6” (02.07.15)
“Remember… I gave you a chart for morse code,” is one of the most Lekman-y opening lines of all time. While it may make little sense at first listen, it draws you in. And Lekman — ever the expert storyteller — pays it off with an emotive tale about moving on and letting go. Sporting swirling synths, jazzy piano, and dramatic strings, the lush arrangement shows that these are developed, fully formed pieces, far from the throwaways that their fanfare-free release would suggest.

“Postcard #21” (05.24.15)
We’ll end this list with the most recent track, a cut that recalls some of Lekman’s early, lo-fi, vocal-driven work like “Do You Remember The Riots?,” “A Man Walks Into a Bar,” and “The Cold Swedish Winter.” The latter is the first Jens song I ever heard and began my love affair with his music. There was a homemade feeling to that early work — like he was in your living room, singing without a microphone. Fittingly, he’s currently on tour, playing living rooms and community centers in tiny towns in Sweden and Norway. No doubt, he’ll be leaving fans with intimate memories like the one I have of him playing for 10 to 15 of us in a parking lot after a gig in San Francisco. I have a lot of rich memories involving his music, but that’s the one I cherish most.

Hot Jam of the Day: Real Lies, “Seven Sisters”

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Real Lies
“Seven Sisters”
Digital Single

With four inch-perfect singles already under their belt (including 2014’s best song), the North Londoners’ forthcoming debut LP is one of the most anticipated albums of the year around these parts. While we’ve already heard a radio rip of the still-unreleased “Lovers Lane,” this is the first official taste of the record. It’s nearly impossible for me to write about them without bringing up nostalgia, and “Seven Sisters” is sporting some serious Italia ’90 vibes here… with Christian Maggio in the Gazza role and Gillian Gilbert’s twinkling, technicolor keys swapped for some stabbed, deep house chords. And though the influences are overt, Real Lies continue to sound like a band in their own lane in 2015. A group adept at balancing the music of their youth with a strong, personal voice, the result in a sound that feels both familiar and breathtakingly fresh.

Hot Jam of the Day: DJ Rashad, Nick Hook & Machinedrum, “Understand”

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DJ Rashad, Nick Hook & Machinedrum
“Understand”
Movin’ Forward (out 04.24 on TEKLIFE)

A few days before the one-year anniversary of footwork legend DJ Rashad’s tragic passing, Machinedrum (né Travis Stewart) releases this gorgeous collaboration with the late DJ and Nick Hook. In the press release, Stewart wrote about the difficulties of finishing the songs he had worked with Rashad on, explaining that they “seemed impossible to finish after he passed.” Fortunately for us, the North Carolina native was able to complete them, and they’ll be released on a tribute album for the great man next week. A year on, Rashad’s influence and legacy remains stronger than ever, highlighted by excellent work from rising artists like JLin, DJ Earl, and Machinedrum himself.

“Teklife to tha next life.” RIP Rashad.

Hot Jam of the Day: Samantha Urbani, “1 2 3 4”

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Samantha Urbani
“1 2 3 4”
Digital Single

The first line of the Soundcloud blurb for the ex-Friends singer’s new single reads “written, arranged, performed & co-produced by Samantha Urbani.” Assumedly, this was meant to avoid the shadow of her boyfriend Dev Hynes, whose figure looms ubiquitously over nearly every act he produces (Carly Rae Jepsen, Solange, Sky Ferreira etc). While the 80s pastiche and funky bassline are decidedly Hynes-ian, “1 2 3 4” is punchier than many of Hynes’ moody, occasionally overcooked arrangements (see: Jepsen’s sleepy, “All That”), and it bangs in a way that only his best work does. Over a buoyant synths, Urbani channels peak Benatar and early Madonna, delivering sticky verses and a devastating chorus with the blasé confidence of a seasoned pop star. It’s the rare pop song that is light as a feather, yet hits like a (shit)ton of bricks. More like this, please.

Hot Jam of the Day: Jamie XX, “Loud Places” (f/ Romy Madley-Croft)

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Jamie XX
“Loud Places” (f/ Romy Madley-Croft)
In Colour (out 06.02 on Young Turks)

Like so much of their work as the XX, “Loud Places” snared me quickly. 18 seconds to be exact. The XX’s brokenhearted first two albums have a number of lyrical gems, but the first stanza of this single is one of Croft’s best yet. “I go to loud places. / To search for someone to be quiet with, who will take me home. / You go to loud places. / To find someone who will take you higher than I took you.” Once I heard that, I was in for the ride, but unlike so much of their previous work, I was legitimately surprised where it took me.

After the downcast, decidedly XX-ian start, “Loud Places” blasts out of her lonely bedroom and on to a buoyant, ecstatic dance-floor. It’s a welcome display of power from an oft-forlorn, vulnerable voice. And when Madley-Croft gets to her last line (“You’re in ecstasy without me. / When you come down I won’t be around.”), you can’t help but want to cheer for her — like she’s your recently-single friend who’s finally moving on from her ex and making out with a random at the bar.

First Quarter of 2015 Mini Round-Up: The Best Songs I Missed

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It’s been a busy three months for me, and while I’ve still had time to listen, I haven’t been able to keep up with what has turned into a blinding first quarter. Here are a handful of my favorite songs that I haven’t been able to write about.

Stormzy
“Know Me From”
Digital Single
Like a lot of American teenagers, I was enamored by the exciting world of grime thanks to early efforts from The Streets and Dizzee Rascal. Unlike a lot of American teenagers, it stuck, and it’s still sticking as tightly as ever. Original Pirate Material remains one of my three favorite albums, and it has led me to discover heavyweights like Wiley, Skinnyman, Kano, and Roots Manuva, as well as less celebrated folks like the Mitchell Brothers, Sway, Tempa T, and Devlin.

For that reason, I’ve loved the recent American interest in grime. A wicked new wave of producers, as well as artists like Skepta, JME, Novelist, AJ Tracey, and Stormzy guarantee the genre’s bright future. The breakthrough banger from the 21 year-old Londoner is probably my favorite song of the year so far, and hopefully, it will continue to grow the genre enough to finally kick off the US grime takeover that I predicted in the late 90s… or at least, a couple of long-awaited American tours.

Kanye West
“Only One” / “All Day” / “Wolves”
So Help Me God (out ??? on GOOD Music)
I somehow missed writing about all three of these gems, and when considered together, they’re indicative of Kanye’s incredible versatility and duality as an artist. A heartfelt, disarmingly direct piano ballad to his wife and child; a delirious, maximalist turn-up anthem; a spare, claustrophobic rumination. They illuminate the many facets of Mr. West. And though he’s on fire, in love, and surrounded by all the cool kids, there is still lingering loneliness, isolation, and self-doubt all over these tracks. Those are the contradictions that make him the greatest artist of his generation.

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Hot Jam of the Day: Courtney Barnett, “Depreston”

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Courtney Barnett
“Depreston”
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (out 03.24 on Mom + Pop)

Since the dawn of modern civilization, procreation and land ownership have been the principle goals of humanity. While much has been written about the personal collateral damage brought about by the former, substantially less has been written about the latter, especially in the world of pop music. The 26 year-old Australian’s rumination on a trip to look at suburban homes with her partner is a beautiful dive into the realities of leaving the city for some land of your own. The large garden, the parking space, the peace, the comforting permanence. The isolation, the realization of the family you’re replacing, the boredom, the crushing permanence.

The story is left unresolved with the resolution to Barnett’s future replaced by a languid slide guitar, explaining that there is no answer to this question. It’s the sound of two people looking at each other uneasily on the ride home, hoping that the other knows what to do. It’s a masterful example of non-verbal storytelling that caps off an extremely well told verbal story; in other words, the perfect ending to a song that’s just about the same.

Hot Jam of the Day: Heems, “Home” (f/ Dev Hynes)

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Heems
“Home” (f/ Dev Hynes)
Eat Pray Thug (out 03.10 on Megaforce)

Surprise releases may be played out in 2015, but the New Yorker’s new single is a totally different kind of surprise. His heartfelt new single is a stunning stylistic U-Turn for an artist who is best known for his brainy, acerbic, and extrospective flow. While he hasn’t completely shied away from sharing in the past, Heems (né Himanshu Suri) has never written a song this direct and personal, as he picks through the bones of a failed relationship and his personal demons in striking detail.

Touched by inch-perfect production from Dev Hynes, the 29 year-old weaves couplets that land like crushing body blows (“You addicted to the H-Man. I’m addicted to the H, man”), masterfully combining brutal honesty and insight with his trademark wit. Though his voice sounds road-weary and downtrodden, Suri’s songwriting and storytelling voice has never been stronger, and I cannot wait to see where it progresses from here. Easily, one of my five favorite songs of 2015.