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

Images & Words: SOPHIE, "It's Okay To Cry"

SOPHIE "It's Okay to Cry" Digital Single Every once in a while, somebody puts out something that takes your breath away. "It's Okay to Cry" is absolutely one of those moments. After spending her early career lurking behind faceless, chaotic, schizophrenic experimental dance music, the 32 year-old has stepped into the light and up to the microphone. The result is Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: King Krule, "Logos"

King Krule "Logos" The OOZ (out now on XL) Archy Marshall's excellent new album feels like a collection of those wonky dream states that exist somewhere in that nether region between being wake and sleep. Though I'm still digesting all 19 of its songs, the hypnotic, jazzy "Logos" immediately stuck out. Over languid jazz chords Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, "For Robin"

The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die "For Robin" Always Foreign (Epitaph) There are many, many awful things about addiction, but little is as insidious as the way it pushes its victims away from loved ones from their previous life and deeper into their illness. Anybody who has lost someone to Read more

Images & Words: Stormzy, "4PM in London"

Stormzy "4PM in London" Digital Single Turning freestyles into anthems is nothing new to the ultra-talented Londoner. And though the ravenous "4PM in London" was probably written, it feels alive in the same way that many of those aforementioned tracks did. Unlike Drake (the man who originally rapped on this beat), Stormzy's got the rare ability to Read more


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
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.

“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
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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“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.

Hot Jam of the Day: Kendrick Lamar, “The Blacker The Berry”

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Kendrick Lamar
“The Blacker The Berry”
Digital Single

People like narratives. We like bad guys and good guys, assholes and heroes. We want to know what side we’re on and who else is with us. However, life rarely complies and often confounds us with frustrating shades of grey. While many plow ahead undeterred, determined to develop their Fox News or MSNBC-driven worldview, artists like Kendrick Lamar remind us of the futility of such myopia.

Like much of the 27 year-old’s exquisite canon, “The Blacker The Berry” is full of contradictions and dichotomies. He takes aim at both sides of the fierce racial battle being waged in America, while saving a heap of verbal artillery for the man in the middle, Lamar himself. He begins each verse with “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015,” and the “I’m” in question is all of us, struggling to apply our personal morality to a nuanced, amoral world. Like the most powerful statements in any disciple, the record raises more questions than answers, and with each thought-provoking release, Lamar further cements his status as one of the leading, most challenging voices in 2015… hypocrite or not.

Hot Jam of the Day: Chromatics, “Just Like You”

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“Just Like You”
Dear Tommy (out soon on Italians Do it Better)

After months of waiting, we finally get a taste of Chromatics’ hugely anticipated fifth LP. And my god, it’s tasty. Gauzy, moody, and sedately delirious, “Just Like You” is both a reminiscence of a past relationship and a sobering realization that the protagonist has moved on to someone new without actually moving on. Vocalist Ruth Radelet is both removed and present — like talking to someone who is thinking about something else — as she delivers line after crushing line. Johnny Jewel’s beautiful, minor synth lines frame Radelet’s words, further cementing the overwhelming gravity of the cycle she’s found herself in. Basically, it’s “Time is a Flat Circle” set to downtempo electro, and the result is one of the best songs of this young year.