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


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.

Best of 2014: The Best Albums of 2014

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25. SD: Truly Blessed (iHipHop Distribution)
It takes guts to step out on your own. It takes real guts to walk away from a successful situation to go solo. Sadiki “SD” Thirston has a lot of things (talent, vision, originality), but more than anything, he’s got guts. Stepping away from GBE and the Chicago drill scene that he came up in, Thirston’s debut is filled with wonky, druggy melodies and anthemic, extroverted choruses that are well-balanced by drill’s insular roots.

24. 18+: Trust (Houndstooth)
Coming off like the XX’s delinquent older cousins, the LA duo’s proper debut saw them going deeper down the rabbit hole they started exploring with their early mixtapes. The boy/girl vocals hold a palpable tension and sensuality that is often lacking in such acts, and the sparse arrangements and sneaky hooks form the perfect seabed for their breathy pillow talk.

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Best of 2014: The Hottest Jams of 2014

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Only a few days late this year, but behold, my Favorite Songs of 2014! Hopefully, everyone had a safe new year and is looking forward to what should be a brilliant year of music in 2015. Thank you for your continued support and readership. It means a lot.

65. Angel Olsen: “Windows” from Burn Your Fire for No Witness
The final song from the St. Louis-raised folkie’s glorious second LP doesn’t employ many words, but it says a helluva a lot. Olsen’s desperate plea to a loved one who is seemingly uninterested in helping themselves is especially moving, as you can hear the weariness in her voice. It’s something that anybody who has been in her position can relate to. Here’s hoping that there was still enough strength in that voice to get through to whoever it was meant for.

64. Shamir: “On The Regular” (digital single)
One of the most playful songs of the year, the 20 year-old Las Vegan introduces himself to the haters and swats them away like Dikembe in one fell swoop. Armed with just some MIDI keys and a cowbell, Shamir Bailey’s enthusiasm is overwhelming, sing-rapping through a frenetic, explosive three minutes that’s perhaps the best indication of why there’s so much hype around him and why it’s so warranted.

63. Doss: “The Way I Feel” from Doss
Ephemera was a powerful weapon in 2014, but few captured wielded it as deftly as this anonymous American producer. This dreamy, romantic single straddles the line between mid-90’s, E’d-out rave and jilted teen’s LiveJournal, bubbling with both an intense desire for human interaction and crippling insecurity. So, you know, it’s basically the sound of high school.

62. Lauryn Hill: “Black Rage” (sketch) (digital single)
A song like this reminds us how much we miss the former Fugee’s powerful, distinct voice. As she is her wont, Hill speaks the truth here, laying out some harsh realities over the once-innocent melody from “My Favorite Things.” Hopefully, this “sketch” will result in some more fully realized paintings in the coming year. Lord knows we need them.

61. Throwing Shade: Sweet Tooth (f/ Emily Bee) from 19 Jewels
The kind of song that you can just melt into, the London producer’s ode to the human face is just as delicious as its title would suggest. Bee’s playful, flitting vocal is the perfect fit for Nabihah Iqbal’s ocean of synth molasses, and its wonky drum pattern gives it the tension it needs to keep the kettle boiling over. The whole thing hangs on a tightrope, constantly threatening to tip over but catching its balance at just the right time.

60. Jacques Greene: “No Excuse” from Phantom Vibrate
When I caught the talented Canadian live earlier this year, it became increasingly clear that with every project, he is moving further and further away from the constraints of the club world that he came from. While his music has always straddled that line (#sensitivehouse), the Marques Houston-sampling “No Excuse” seems more crafted for personal use than professional use, and that is by no means a bad thing. He’s always been a phenomenal DJ and producer, but it’s a joy to watch him grow as a songwriter, and I’d love to see what he’d do with a full-length album.

59. Tommy Kruise: “Hers” from Fête Foreign
From one Montreal native to another, Tommy Kruise’s “Hers” is a ghostly, evocative cut that is almost too pristine to add vocals to. Built around a timid keyboard line and his go-to trap hi-hats, Kruise laces a double helping of emotionality with two disembodied voices, floating menacingly above the fray. Also, make sure to check out its touching music video below, which is one of my favorites of the year.

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Best of 2014: The Hottest Jams of 2014 (Honorable Mention)

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It’s that time of the year again! It’s time for me to spend altogether too much time comparing apples and oranges, trying to figure out which tasty sonic nuggets spoke to me the most clearly this year. I’ve been making this list for the last six years — the last four for Thunder Penguin — and while I don’t get paid to do it anymore, I find myself enjoying it more and more each year.

As last year, let’s kick things off with an aperitif — a handful of songs that I love and feel compelled to write about but couldn’t quite fit on my list.

The-Dream: “Black” (digital single)
2014 was a beautiful year, but it was a hard, profoundly sad one. We were reminded again and again where we really are as a country and how far we must go to reach some modicum of equality. Terius Nash’s Gaye-inspired ballad was one of a handful of powerful protest songs that brought some light and hope to the dismal reality facing so many Americans every day. 

James Blake: “200 Press” from 200 Press EP
The British boy wonder spent most of 2014 looking back to his club roots with delicious effect. Here, Blake ties an Andre 3000 sample in nots over a spacious, carefully constructed arraignment. It’s not quite “CMYK,” but it’s a start.

Travi$ Scott: “Mamacita” (f/ Rich Homie Quan & Young Thug) from Days Before Rodeo

The talented Texan plays best with others, when his prodigious production talents outweigh his lyrical shortcomings. Teaming up with two of the most current voices in hip-hop and producer du jour, Metro Boomin, Scott and co. gleefully cruise through five minutes of stuntin’ over a creeping beat.

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Hot Jam of the Day: Future Brown, “Talkin Bandz” (f/ Shawnna, DJ Victoriouz)

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Future Brown
“Talkin Bandz” (f/ Shawnna, DJ Victoriouz)
Future Brown (out 02.24 on Warp)

Nguzunguzu, Fatima Al Qadiri, and J-Cush don’t give a fuck about your year end list. “Talkin Bandz” is the kind of banger sure to throw a wrench in any self-respecting blogger’s “Best Of” list. It’s a potent concoction made of a cascading arrangement, a couple of monster verses from Chicago vet Shawnna, and a languid hook from DJ Victoriouz. Best of all, “Talkin Bandz” comes with the news of a long-awaited debut LP from the quartet, which is likely to be one of the hottest releases of 2015. All hail.

Hot Jam of the Day: Tink, “Tell The Children”

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“Tell The Children”
Digital Single

In these disheartening times, we need powerful, impactful voices like Tink’s.

RIP to Michael Brown Jr. and the many other innocents who have been tragically taken far too soon. May they find justice and peace in the next world.

Hot Jam of the Day: T-Pain, “Stoicville”

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Stoicville: The Phoenix (out in 2015 on Nappy Boy)

It’s pretty depressing that it took an auto-tune free NPR performance for America to show a modicum respect to one of the finest hit-makers of the last decade, but these are depressing times. If you argued that Eddie Van Halen and Tom Morello’s usage of distortion pedals them frauds, you would rightly be called an atavistic, unreasonable dipshit. However, few would say the same if you slated T-Pain for running his (very good) voice through a vocal processor. In fact, most people would probably agree that this devalues his standing as a musician.

This faulty logic has been used (by dipshits) as a stick to beat the ATLien for most of his 10-year career. To them, I present some facts. At just 29 years of age, T-Pain has already sang on and co-wrote fifteen (15!!!!) US Top 10 Singles, including at least seven pieces of musical WD-40 that will set any dancefloor/club on the planet ablaze. He’s also consistently put younger artists over, providing them with the kind of anthemic, gold dust choruses necessary to introduce rising talent to the masses. More than anything, he’s just an affable, super talented dude who has spent his entire career soundtracking good nights out with friends and long nights in between the sheets. And, the vocal processing he’s used makes him no less of an artist than your favorite guitar-wielding rawker.

All those aforementioned facts are why we should be celebrating T-Pain’s 10 years in the game. Fuck a Tiny Desk Concert. Fuck your Twitter approval. Hell, fuck this exquisite, acerbic slab of lyrical majesty that puts his ridiculously versatile skill set on blast. More than anything, fuck the fact that if this was a Kendrick Lamar track, all those dipshits would be fawning all over it.

The Most Anticipated Albums of The Fall (Part 2)

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Dan Bodan
(10.28, DFA)
After what feels like an eternity, the Berlin-based crooner is finally ready to drop his debut LP. I instantly fell in love with Bodan’s lithe, gracefully salacious sound on 2012’s bulletproof Aaron/DP 12″ single. Since then, he’s continued to crank out diverse, unclassifiable tunes that consistently challenge how pop music is supposed to sound and what pop singers are supposed to sing about. In his music, nothing is taboo. Whether it’s a lounge lizard sax solo, trancey synths, an earnest cover of a jazz standard, or a soliloquy about a particularly memorable blowjob, everything is in play. And that’s what makes Bodan such a fearless artist and one of the most fascinating musicians of 2014.
Giddy-O-Meter: 10/10

(10.28, FREEBANDZ)
Fresh off the crushing (for me and presumably, them) dissolution of his relationship with Ciara, Future graces us with his second full-length release of the year. While his eyeroll-y recent collab with Wiz Khalifa, “Pussy Overrated,” gives me pause about this release, the presence of executive producer Metro Boomin and the 30 year-old’s stellar track record gets me back on board.
Giddy-O-Meter: 8/10

Young Chop
(10.28, Chop Squad)
Last week, I wrote about the Chicago producer’s impressive maturation over the last two and half years. After taking over the world with the ubiquitous “I Don’t Like,” Chop has steadfastly refused to be put in a box, and pre-release singles suggest that Still will serve as a culmination of 30 months of non-stop work and melodic experimentation. In interviews, Chop (né Tyree Pittman) comes off as a gregarious, genuine, super driven guy, and it’s great to see all of those traits keep paying off for him.
Giddy-O-Meter: 9/10

(10.31, Kranky)
Liz Harris recorded much of her 10th LP, Ruins, all the way back in 2011, whilst on an artist’s residency program on the southwestern coast of Portugal. Evidently, the Oregon resident stumbled upon a new kind of alchemy while there, because she managed to bottle up the region’s impossible beauty and distill it into eight gorgeous songs. Armed with mostly just a piano and her intimate, disarming voice, Harris crafted an album to savor and one of her most human, direct statements ever. It’s another unique effort from one of the finest musicians working today.
Giddy-O-Meter: 10/10

(11.04, Hippos In Tanks)
I’ll be honest, I have no idea what to expect when it comes to Alejandro “Arca” Ghersi’s debut LP. The eclectic, Venezualen producer has lit up high profile collaborations with Kanye West and FKA Twigs, and last year’s beguiling, &&&&&,was one of best mixtapes of 2013. That said, Xen seems likely to be a different animal altogether, and its mesmeric lead single, “Thievery,” features unsettling, witch-housey (I know, I know) instrumentation and an intoxicating, shuffling backbeat. I have no clue what the record will sound like, but when it comes to Arca, that’s kinda the point.
Giddy-O-Meter: 9/10

Dean Blunt
Black Metal
(11.04, Rough Trade)
Speaking of “who the fuck knows,” the mercurial Londoner’s second solo release is also sure to confound and delight openminded listeners. After his split with Inga Copeland — who dropped the incredible Because I’m Worth It back in May — the ex-Hype Williams man has continued his prolific, mellon-twisting output as a solo artist. The Redeemer was one of the most divisive, peculiar records of last year, and the songs we’ve heard from Black Metal point to a slightly more streamlined, albeit still pretty fucking weird sound.
Giddy-O-Meter: 9.5/10

Deptford Goth
(11.04, 37 Adventures)
Life After Defo, the southeast London songwriter’s debut LP was one of the most underrated albums of 2012, and I actually don’t blame music critics for that Everything about Daniel Woolhouse is understated. His warm, restrained vocals. His spare, windswept arrangements. Hell, even his face in promos is mostly obscured, either by his sadboi poses or his barista-level beard. That said, if you spend some time with his music, you’ll likely find that it’ll open up to you and reveal its quietly majestic properties.
Giddy-O-Meter: 9/10

Ryan Hemsworth
Alone for the First
(11.04, Last Gang)
If you’ve been following the Canadian DJ/producer’s career somewhat closely, you saw this one coming. Wiped out by the late nights, constant travel, loud music, and lonely hotel rooms of life as a touring DJ, Hemsworth’s second LP is the quietest, most reflective work of his career. The 7-song set is led by his lovely Dawn Golden-assisted, long distance relationship jam, “Snow in Newark.” Not much of a singer himself, Alone for the First Time enlists a talented guest-list, including Alex G, Lontalius, and lithe Swedish vocalist Little Cloud.
Giddy-O-Meter: 8.5/10

(11.11, Houndstooth)
Like an NC-17 version of the XX, the shadowy duo’s darkly seductive jams will slink their way on to that “special” playlist we all have on our laptops. Built around the dual vocals of members Samia and Justin (who also serves as their main beatmaker), 18+ stews elements of hip-hop, goth, bedroom R&B, and downtempo electro into an intoxicating sonic elixir. While last year’s mixtape showed incredible potential, Trust boasts much improved production value that should take them to the next level.
Giddy-O-Meter: 9.5/10

Antony and the Johnsons
(11.11, Secretly Canadian)
While it’s not really a new album, Antony’s concert film/live album that chronicles the extraordinary stories of 13 women over the backdrop of the Mercury Prize winner’s exquisite chamber pop looks like a revelation. Besides being one of the finest live performers I’ve ever seen, Antony’s music and personal stories (and surely the ones featured in this documentary) are extremely inspiring and enlightening, and I personally can’t wait to sit down an enjoy Turning in full.
Giddy-O-Meter: 9/10

Andy Stott
Faith in Strangers
(11.17, Modern Love)
Let’s be real, no matter what the pre-release singles sounded like, a fanboi like me was always going to fawn over any new Andy Stott record. That said, when they’re this fucking good, you can’t really blame me. The two songs in question — “Violence” and “Faith in Strangers” — highlight his mastery of managing sonic space and his originality as a producer and songwriter. The Mancunian producer’s last LP, Luxury Problems, made my Top 5 of 2012 list, and there’s no reason his next one can’t do one better this year.
Giddy-O-Meter: 10/10

RL Grime
(11.17, WeDidIt)
It’s been a helluva year for the futurists in LA’s WeDidIt Collective. 2014 saw quality releases from core members Groundislava and Shlohmo, along with a stream of exquisite remixes and one-off singles. So it’s only fitting that (arguably) their biggest star, RL Grime (né Henry Steinway), is set to bookend their year with his debut LP. Akin to maximalist, hands-up producers like Hudson Mohawke, it’ll be fascinating to see how Steinway balances club bangers with more pop-focused tracks, like his swirling collaboration with How to Dress Well.
Giddy-O-Meter: 8/10

Starting V: 5 Doughboyz Cashout Tracks You Need to Hear

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Detroit’s Doughboyz Cashout has been one of the best new finds of my music year, combining timeless g-funk beats with loquacious, swaggering bars. In a hip-hop scene increasingly driven by druggy production and #sadboi MCs like Drake and Future, the group’s energy, directness, and overall good vibes are extremely welcome. Though there are palpable traces of Bay Area swag, LA soul, and New Orleans/Atlanta late 90’s snap, their potent sonic stew is all their own.

Though they’ve endured a long road to fame (they formed in ’06), it looks like they’re finally set to blow, signing to (Young) Jeezy’s CTE Records. Here are five of the DBCO tracks that helped soundtrack my summer.

Payroll Giovanni: “Get Money Regardless” (Digital Single)
To my ears, Payroll Giovanni’s slick flow is reminiscent of the mid 90’s California artists that I grew up with, namely Rappin’ 4-Tay. That buoyant, effortless delivery (think: a vocal Bradley Beal 20-footer) is on full display here with Giovanni sliding through twinkling keys and a soulful vocal hook to devastating effect.

Big Quis: “Mayweather” (f/ Payroll Giovanni) (on My Turn)
On this, one of the group’s most anthemic tracks, Giovanni and the ravenous Big Quis turn their swag up to Money Mayweather levels here. Quis’ aggressive flow is an excellent foil to Giovanni’s laid back demeanor, and their vocal synergy is masterfully framed by a swirling arrangement and an adhesive hook. This should have been one of the songs of the summer.

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