Sade, "The Big Unknown"


Sade "The Big Unknown" Windows Soundtrack (out now on Sony) Though she's only a few months shy of her 60th birthday, Helen Folasade Adu remains a force like nobody else. On the stunning "The Big Unknown," Sade proves that her quiet storm is still a Category 5, as she glides effortlessly over oceanic, Read more

Since U Been Gone: The Best Of What I Missed Last Week


Miya Folick "Thingamajig" Premonitions (out 10.26 on Terrible) With each new single, the talented LA vocalist is strengthening the case that her forthcoming LP could be one of the best debuts of the year. Her flexible vocals always stretch further than you expect, and she uses her seemingly unlimited range to exact maximum Read more

Since U Been Gone: The Best Of What I Missed Last Week


Welp, this is embarrassing. The week I roll out a new round-up column, I respond by posting exactly zero times. My editorial staff (of one) was pretty slammed this week, but that's no excuse. Hopefully this piece can make up for it, dear readers. I'll do better this week, because, Read more

Since U Been Gone: The Best Of What I Missed Last Week


I was on vacay in England last week, and as I sat back down at my desk this morning, I realized that a massive amount of new music came out while I was gone. I'm going to try something new with quick one to two sentence recaps of some Read more

Lil Uzi Vert, "New Patek"


Lil Uzi Vert "New Patek" Digital Single Easily one of most joyful songs of the year, the hyperactive, hypertalented Philadelphian returns with six (6!) electric minutes of swirling, tuneful hip-hop. Over Dolan Beats' glorious crystallized piano keys and tiptoeing hi-hats, Uzi goes the fuck in as only he can, slaloming through the beat Read more

Featured

The Round Up: The Best Albums of the Third Quarter

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freshezaleEzale & DJ Fresh
The Tonight Show
Foreal Foreal Ent
Hottest Jams: “Day Ones,” “Stop Come On”

For the first time in my lifetime, the Warriors are good and East Bay rap is popping at the same time. 2016 has seen a clutch of young Oakland rappers like Kamaiyah, Nef the Pharoah, and Eazle make a dent in the national scene, while trumpeting the unique culture and sound of the city. The latter’s glorious 10-song debut uniquely blends the slap of hyphy with production legend DJ Fresh’s warm, glowing g-funk. The result is a deliriously fun, endlessly quotable collection that doubles as one of 2016’s most consistent hip-hop records.

freetown_sound_coverBlood Orange
Freetown Sound
Domino
Hottest Jams: “Best To You,” “Chance”
Dev Hynes is man of many dichotomies. He is both an adept soloist and a keen and successful collaborator. He’s a sonic chameleon (see: Test Icicles, Lightspeed Champion) and a man with a signature, easily recognizable sound. He’s as comfortable a leading man and he is a hired gun. This, the finest album of his career, is dripping with those ambiguities. On slinky standouts “Augustine” and “E.V.P,” he’s in full pop-star mode and in total control of proceedings. He also shines just as bright while supporting Empress Of and Nelly Furtado on “Best To You” and “Hadron Collider” respectively. All of these contradictions contribute to the sonic world that makes Freetown Sound such a fascinating journey.

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-12-00-38-amCamp Cope
Camp Cope
Poison City
Hottest Jams: “Song for Charlie,” “Flesh and Electricity”

Like all truly great cathartic albums, the Melbourne trio’s debut album is equal parts comedy and tragedy. Over the stunning LP’s eight songs, songwriter Georgia Maq tackles the death of her father (the incredible “Song for Charlie”), the dissolution of a relationship (“West Side Story,” “Lost: Season One”), and workplace disaffection (“Flesh and Electricity”) with stunning insight, bravery, and most of all, humor. I’ve found that when confronting loss you have to keep laughing — to keep remembering the things about your loved ones that made you smile. Georgia knows that, and she highlights that truth on just about every song on this very special album.

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Hot Jams of the Day: Kelela, Elysia Crampton & Adrian Piper, “Final Exam” / “Reference Track TF Scrape”

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screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-6-20-57-pmElysia Crampton, Kelela & Adrian Piper
“Final Exam” / “Reference Track TF Scrape”
Anthem (The Vinyl Factory)
Experimental composer Elysia Crampton has been playing with Kelela’s voice for the last few years, so it’s exciting to hear the duo properly collaborate on two new tracks for the upcoming Total Freedom-produced soundtrack to the 9th Berlin Biennale. Part of the joy of Crampton’s music is its ambiguity, and these tracks both live in that space — part finished product, part work in progress. Kelela’s aqueous, evocative vocals are the perfect foil for Crampton’s productions that are often both soothing and chaotic. While there is no inkling of a potential collaborative album between these two longterm Thunder Penguin faves, it won’t stop me from dreaming about it.

Images & Words: Chromatics, “Dear Tommy”

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Chromatics
“Dear Tommy”
Dear Tommy (hopefully out soon on Italians Do It Better)
It’s fitting that in the week we finally got the album formerly known as Boys Don’t Cry, another long-awaited project looks set to poke its head out. The Johnny Jewel-fronted quartet famously announced that their follow-up to 2012’s beloved Kill For Love would be out in time for Valentine’s Day…in 2015. Now 18 months later, we still don’t have a release date, but we have a tracklist — A TRACKLIST! — and its gorgeous, amorphous title track.

This is is the sixth of 17 songs we’ve heard from the record, and along with “Just Like You” (one of the best songs of last year), it’s one of the strongest of the lot. The best Chromatics songs are their most dramatic and cinematic ones. And “Dear Tommy” sounds like it should be soundtracking a Wilder or Polanski movie with its palatial keyboards, slow-mo bassline, and Jewel’s evocative falsetto. We may not have a release date yet, but as Frank taught us this week, good things come to those who wait.

Images & Words: Frank Ocean, “Nikes”

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Frank Ocean
“Nikes”
Blonde (out now on Boys Don’t Cry)
About two minutes into his long-awaited new album, Frank Ocean’s pitched-up vocal hangs in the air and sings “RIP Trayvon. That n**ga look just like me.” With that simple lyric, Ocean humanizes a young man whose life was taken in the most inhumane way possible before being dehumanized repeatedly by media vultures and the uniformed, endless social media echo chamber. Throughout his career, the 28 year-old has consistently demonstrated this ability to nonchalantly craft disarming, truly powerful poetry in layman’s prose — rewriting the rules of engagement with a shrug of the shoulders. It’s perhaps the most valuable and rarest of his very many talents.

In many ways, Blonde feels like his best work yet, surpassing the hugely underrated Nostalgia, Ultra. That said, I want to sit with it for a week before I make a judgement, but early returns are incredibly impressive.

Hot Jams of the Day: Lydia Loveless, “Same To You” / “Longer”

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Lydia Loveless
“Same to You” / “Longer”
Real (out now on Bloodshot)
While I — along with the rest of America — spent most of my weekend in a Blonde-induced k-hole (more on that later), I took a detour today to give the Columbus, OH singer-songwriter’s fourth LP a couple of spins. What I found was rock-solid songwriting and delicious guitarwork with a welcome dose of Whiskeytown vibes. The disc’s first two tracks — “Same to You” and “Longer” — highlight all of those traits, along with Loveless’ powerful, evocative vocal. At first listen, Real will hit all of your alt-country nostalgia pressure points (if you have them). But I have a pretty good feeling that over time, it will do a helluva lot more than that.

Hot Jam of the Day: serpentwithfeet, “blisters”

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serpentwithfeet
“blisters”
blisters (out 09.02 on Tri Angle)
Though it’s been out for a couple of weeks, I had to write a little bit about the second single from Jonah Wise’s debut EP for Tri Angle. Like the spellbinding, “flickering,” “blisters” is a mesmeric, unique ballad with devotional touches that pairs Wise’s haunting vocals with a deft, orchestral accompaniment. While he dials back the trill a touch, his vocal remains aching and stretched, overflowing with emotion and heart. True originality is hard to find in 2016, but with every track, Wise is further cementing his status as one of the rarest working today.

Hot Jam of the Day: Lil Yachty, “Pretty” (f/ Burberry Perry)

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Lil Yachty
“Pretty” (f/ Burberry Perry)
Summer Songs 2 (Quality Control)
The Atlanta native’s excellent, youthful new mixtape, Summer Songs 2, is full of highlights, but none are as disarming as this emotional love song. “Pretty” is the type of track that makes you text your girl/boi or pine for the one that got away. Along with BFF Burberry Perry, Yachty expresses his devotion over a delicate bed of synths. You just don’t hear many love songs this direct, which gives it a weight and a realness that is so affecting. This might be one of my favorite songs of the year.

The Round-Up: The Best Records of the Second Quarter

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Instead of just rolling through the best of June, let’s round up the finest music of the second quarter of 2016. Coming off last week’s Best Tracks list, here are my favorite albums of the year.

Beyoncé
Lemonade
Parkwood / Columbia
The album that stopped the world on its axis (and made me and my girlfriend 40 minutes late to a dinner), Beyoncé’s incredible, genre-spanning sixth effort needs no endorsement from me. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best albums of the year, but you probably knew that. As I’m sure I’ll be writing about it in December, I’ll spare you for now. All hail.
Hottest Jams: “Love Drought” “Pray You Catch Me”

The Hotelier
Goodness
Tiny Engines
Another album that I’m sure to be writing about in December, the Worcester, MA quartet’s follow-up to 2014 masterpiece Home, Like Noplace Is There, isn’t as bleak as its predecessor but packs just as much catharsis. The “emo” label never really fit right and isn’t even close now, as the group has established themselves as much more than a nostalgia act. Goodness is a dense, varied collection that is equal parts grit and grace, meshing melodic riffs with crashing drums and Christian Holden’s distressed tenor to absolute perfection. Easily, one of the best indie rock albums of the last few years.
Hottest Jams: “Soft Animal” “Opening Mail For My Grandmother”

Anderson .Paak
Malibu
Steel Wool
For all the rave reviews, big tours, and TV appearances, I still somehow feel like the Oxnard native’s beautiful second LP hasn’t gotten its due. In short, this thing should make Paak one of the biggest artists in the country. Over 60 engaging minutes, he proves that he can do just about everything well. He sings with the easy confidence of a seasoned soul singer. He raps with depth, cadence, and touch. He plays jazzy, swinging drums that drive the album forward. And, more than anything, he demonstrates his incredible gift as a storyteller, crafting Malibu into a living, breathing world that it’s impossible not to get sucked into. To me, this is cut from the same cloth and absolutely deserves to be in the same echelon as recent classics like To Pimp a Butterfly, Channel Orange, Lemonade, and the like.
Hottest Jams: “The Season / Carry Me” “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance”

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The Round-Up: The Best Songs of the Second Quarter

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Like we did back in March, let’s round up the best music of the second 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.

Kanye West
“Champions” (f/ Gucci Mane, Quavo, Travis Scott, Yo Gotti, Big Sean, Desiigner)
Cruel Winter (release date TBA on G.O.O.D. Music)
The Life of Pablo could be the best album of the year, but it probably doesn’t not even contain Kanye’s best song of 2016. “Champions” beautifully highlights what makes West such a musical genius and explains why his music is more vital than ever, a near impossibility for a hip-hop artist 15 years into his career.

Sure, his lyrical skills aren’t as sharp as they used to be, but that’s not the point. Rather, West has opted to work like a great head coach or creative director, surrounding himself with the young talent and placing them in the best position to succeed. Yeezy only gives us four new bars, but everybody else shines, resulting in a thrilling posse anthem in the spirit of classics like “Mercy” and “Clique.”

Gucci Mane
“1st Day Out The Feds”
Digital Single
At some point, it was almost as if Gucci Mane became more of a meme than a man. All the trouble and noise had reduced one of the most influential, important rap artists of all-time into an interminable stream of cheap “Bitch I Might Be” LOLz. For that reason, it’s been brilliant to see him spend his first month as a free man with a seemingly sound mind and sharp focus, dropping a string of potent singles. None is more affecting than this suffocating, paranoid tale of life in one of America’s most notorious prisons.

Thast
“Rep Your County” (Dave Luxe remix)
Digital Single
I’ve already written a ton about Thast this year, and I’m assuming that she’s only getting warmed up. On this tasty remix, MTL beatsmith, Dave Luxe laces an airy arrangement that leaves plenty of space for the rising Tampa native’s booming, voracious flow to gobble up the yards. She’s promised that new work with Zora Jones and Ryan Hemsworth is just around the corner, and I could not be more excited to hear it. Without a doubt, one of the best rappers in the country right now.

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Stream This Shit: Karun (aka Runka), Indigo

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Karun (aka Runka)
Indigo
East African Wave
The Kenyan singer/songwriter’s gorgeous, 7-song project is the latest release from the excellent, Nairobi-based collective East African Wave. The arrangements are generally sparse and down-tempo, as the disc’s most prominent producers — Jinku and Nu Fvnk — mostly favor resonant, deep keys and use percussion as an accent, rather than a driving force. The restrained arrangements leave plenty of space for the singer (né Karun Mungai-Runkah) to dig into emotional, intimate spaces. My early favorites are “A Million Emotions” and “Need U The Most,” a pair of duets with her partner Joseph Kiwango. The former deals beautifully with the trepidation of falling in love, while the latter delves into being apart from home and the person you love. They are the kind of topics that just about everyone can relate to, but few can express with this much clarity and grace.