Caroline Polachek, "Ocean of Tears" & "Parachute"


Caroline Polachek"Ocean of Tears" / "Parachute"Pang (out this fall on Columbia)Ok, now I'm getting really excited about the ex-Chairlift vocalist/composer's first album under her real name. Following up on her wonderful first single "Door," these two new tracks highlight Polachek's spellbinding voice and evocative, powerful songwriting. Though you can Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of the 2nd Quarter


Ana Roxanne~~~Leaving RecordsThe Oakland bedroom artist’s debut project is a staggering slice of ambient music that pulls subtly from the R&B and pop vocalists that she grew up on. Her voice sounds far away but pulls you in close (think: Grouper’s “Ruin”) and is ready to tell you its Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2019, So Far (Honorable Mention)


As promised, here is the rest of my favorite tracks of the year that didn't quite make the cut for my main list. Songs are in no particular order. Chromatics “Time Rider”bahahahahah (Italians Do It Better) “Dear Tommy” is obviously never coming out. But I did get to hear this Read more

The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2019 (So Far)


A little bit late this year due to real-world commitments, but here is my annual list of the best songs of the first half of 2019. Look for my honorable mention coming later in the week. This year, instead of going with an actual ranking system, I'm going to Read more

Lana Del Rey, "Doin' Time"


Lana Del Rey"Doin' Time"Sublime OST (out soon on Universal)If you grew up in California in the early 2000's, it was just about impossible to get in someone's car or go to a party that wasn't playing one of those two Sublime albums. Evidently, the same was true in wherever Read more

Columns

Images & Words: Devon Welsh, “Somebody Loves You”

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Devon Welsh
“Somebody Loves You”
True Love (10.11 on You Are Accepted)

Everything you need to know about Devon Welsh’s penetrating, majical* music is right there in the title of his record label, “You Are Accepted.” For his entire career, the Montreal vocalist’s main mission is to connect with his audience in the most visceral way possible. With stripped-back production and intense lyrics, Welsh’s songs make direct eye contact with you, hellbent on breaking down the barriers between us and tapping into something real and human.

*yuck yuck yuck

Images & Words: Burna Boy, “Anybody”

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Burna Boy
“Anybody”
African Giant (out now on Atlantic)

Though this weightless single has been out for a month or so, I wanted to use it as an excuse to wax lyrical about the Nigerian vocalist’s masterful new LP. For the last few years, Burna has been dropping potent, wavey material that fuses Afrobeats, R&B, hip-hop, and dancehall for a sound that sets trends, not follows them. And “African Giant” is his crowning achievement so far. “Anybody” is a perfect distillation of the way he just floats on a track, managing to both bob along the surface and make a deep impact on any instrumental he hops on.

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of the 2nd Quarter

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Ana Roxanne
~~~
Leaving Records
The Oakland bedroom artist’s debut project is a staggering slice of ambient music that pulls subtly from the R&B and pop vocalists that she grew up on. Her voice sounds far away but pulls you in close (think: Grouper’s “Ruin”) and is ready to tell you its secrets… if you’re down to take the time to listen.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

AJ Tracey
AJ Tracey
Self-Released
He made us wait for it, but the talented Tottenham boy delivered on his debut LP. It’s probably five or six songs too long, but Tracey’s versatility is on full display here, potently mixing modern grime with Island pop, American rap, and touches of classic 2-step and garage.

Stream it on Soundcloud.

A.A. Bondy
Enderness
Fat Possum
You might think that synths don’t really belong in folk music, but the Louisiana native doesn’t agree with you. On his incisive fourth LP, Bondy cleverly injects hazy synths to the mix, which add delicious sonic texture to his mopey, mature songcraft.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Bedouine
Bird Songs of a Killjoy
Spacebomb
Azniv Korkejian outdid herself on the follow-up to her understated yet excellent 2017 debut. “Bird Songs of a Killjoy” boasts all the stately, pastoral beauty of her debut, but with the added bonus of subtle string arrangements and touches of percussion. An album to drape yourself in.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Big Thief
U.F.O.F.
4AD
The Brooklyn quartet’s third album in four years proves that in some cases, you don’t need to choose between quality and quality. A moody, mellow collection of swelling folk music, “U.F.O.F.” wraps Adrianne Lenker’s wispy voice and affecting lyrics in warm, lived-in string arrangements.

Bill Callahan
Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
Drag City
On his seventeenth (17th!) studio LP, the lo-fi legend glides into (cool) dad-hood with consummate ease. The 20-song project is dripping with insight, grace, and more than anything, gratitude. It’s wonderful to hear Callahan so at ease with where he is, and the disc consistently brings my thoughts back to all the many, many things that I’m thankful for in my own life.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Bruce Springsteen
Western Stars
Columbia
I can’t lie, I never would have imagined putting a new album from the Boss on a list like this. But fuck, Western Stars is good. A vulnerable, weary slice of Americana, Springsteen shares nearly 70 years of lessons, allowing himself to reminisce about the past while always keeping one eye on the future.

Cate le Bon
Reward
Kemado
Though she recorded her fifth LP in relative solitude, Le Bon’s fifth LP feels anything but lonely. On her best project yet, the Welsh singer-songwriter wraps her evocative vocals in smart, lush chamber pop arrangements that recall late 60’s psych but still feel modern somehow.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Field Medic
fade into the dawn
Run For Cover
Though he tends to get lumped with the emo revival groups, Kevin Sullivan’s music feels a lot more “No Depression” than “Alternative Press.” Fade into Dawn reminds me a lot of Whiskeytown, pairing Sullivan’s rickety voice with Southern-fried, sweet & easy pickin’.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Hayden Thorpe
Diviner
Domino
A few years on from Wild Beasts’ break-up in 2017, Hayden Thorpe and his dulcet falsetto is back with a contemplative, seductive first solo LP. Though the mood stays pretty consistent, the emotional resonance of Thorpe’s vocals and his soft songwriting touch keeps things ticking over and feeling fresh.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

J Balvin x Bad Bunny
OASIS
UMG

Superstar team-ups like this often work better in theory than in practice, either due to shaky chemistry or each artist vying for top billing instead of sharing the spotlight. J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s surprise collab suffers from no such thing, as the pair bring the best out of each other, playfully cruising through eight weightless, gleefully flirty cuts.

Holly Herndon
PROTO
4AD
On her fifth LP, the San Francisco artist takes us deep inside the soul of the robo-verse, teaming up with a cast of talented musicians and an AI program, lovingly called “Spawn.” The result is a towering, chaotic collection of genreless sound, which feels equal parts alien and human.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Kevin Abstract
ARIZONA BABY
Question Everything
To my ears, the Brockhampton frontperson works best as a solo artist, as it allows him to fully explore his eclectic sonic tastes, which include R&B, rap, soul, pop, and jazz (to name a few). Though it’s only 11 songs, ARIZONA BABY is a mature, hyper-thoughtful, modern project, which is dripping with perspective and insight.

Kim Petras
Clarity
BunHead

A pure pop powerhouse. Each track features melodies that are Gorilla Glue sticky, and Petras turns out a superstar performance, gliding over the arraignments without breaking a sweat. Though Dr. Luke’s presence is hard to reckon with, hopefully the contract will be short-lived. And it doesn’t completely diminish the excitement of a trans pop star making sexy music music for the masses.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Klein Zage
Womanhood EP
Orphan
The London producer’s excellent new EP uses samples like a weapon — astutely flipping ultra-earnest affirmations on their head to explore what it’s actually like to be a woman. She pairs them with undeniable, lo-fi house grooves that will get your feet on the dance-floor while the samples stick in your head.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Kyle Bobby Dunn
From Here To Eternity
Self-Released
If you’ve got good speakers or headphones, fire them up and throw on the Montreal producer’s expansive new project. Almost more of a sound designer than a songwriter, KBD is a master of mood, looping endless layers on top of each other until they form something subtly breathtaking. 

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Leif
Loom Dream
Whities
Not to be confused with Le1f, the electrifying New York rapper, the Welsh producer’s new project is a stunning, gentle wash of sound. Though it is broken into six tracks, it plays like a single 35-minute journey through his home country’s gorgeous rolling hills, placid lakes, and windy, expansive shoreline.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Lil Keed
Long Live Mexico
YSL/300
Though an early co-sign from Young Thug was crucial to the 21 year-old’s early success, “Long Live Mexico” proves that Lil Keed is ready to stand on his own. Sure, the Thugger influence is obvious, but the way Keed’s squeaky, pitched-up flow dances around the beat is undeniable. Feels like he’s got all the tools to go a long way.

Stream it on Soundcloud.

Lucinda Chua
Antidotes 1
Self-Released

The Londoner’s staggering debut is a 4-song collection of delicate, pure ambient pop music. The only thing softer than her arraignments is her voice, which is so soothing it should be prescription-only.

Matt Kivel
last night in america
Cascine
I’ve been buying stock in the Kivel brothers for the better part of a decade. And to these ears, the dusty, placid “last night in america” is the younger Kivel’s finest work yet. Though the production is lo-fi, the sonic cinematography is widescreen, as the Texas transplant casts his eye (and pillow-soft voice) across a country on the brink.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Orville Peck
Pony

Sub Pop
The Nevada crooner’s masked melodrama captures country music’s delightfully camp roots and drags them to the 21st century. Blessed with a cannon of a tenor, Peck patrols the lonely prairie, triumphantly belting out intoxicating songs of love, loss, and lust. Yee fucking haw.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Palmistry
Afterlife
Mixpak
The more the Londoner (né Benjy Keating) slithers away from dancehall pastiche, the better. On his tasty second LP, he mostly lends his impossibly soft, sweet-boy coo to low-key, affecting pop arrangements. Sure, the Jamaican influence is there, but on this project, the sounds feel more like inspiration than source material.

Stream it on Bandcamp.

Mall Grab, “Sleepless”

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Mall Grab
“Sleepless”
Growing Pains (out now on Looking for Trouble)
The talented Aussie producer has had a busy 2019, dropping a pair of potent dancefloor-ready EPs. The first, May’s super bassy “Moogie,” was all dark corridors and strobe lights, but “Growing Pains” (released last week) adds a little more sonic variation without sacrificing his ravey roots. The 4-song EP’s leadoff single pairs modern grime rhythms with neon synths for a thrilling late-night joyride.

Blood Orange, “Dark & Handsome”

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Blood Orange
“Dark & Handsome”
Angel’s Purse (out now on Domino)

Though I’m trying not to get too carried away, the first few spins of Dev Hynes’ new mixtape, “Angel’s Pulse,” are extremely promising. “Angel’s Puse” feels like the Londoner at his loosest and most experimental. The Toro y Moi-assisted “Dark & Handsome” is an early standout featuring faraway keys, some screw vocals, and an unexpected rap verse from chill-lord Toro y Moi. It’s a useful window into the vibe of the freewheeling vibe of the project.

The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2019, So Far (Honorable Mention)

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As promised, here is the rest of my favorite tracks of the year that didn’t quite make the cut for my main list.

Songs are in no particular order.

Chromatics
“Time Rider”
bahahahahah (Italians Do It Better)
“Dear Tommy” is obviously never coming out. But I did get to hear this slinky new track and see the legendary quartet live in Brooklyn, so I can’t be too angry at Johnny Jewel and co. “Time Rider” is exactly the kind of track that makes the “Dear Tommy” thirst so strong. Sleek, stylish, and sonorous, Jewel weaves a taut, tasty arrangement for Ruth Radelet to effortlessly strut across. They really do it better, don’t they?

FKA Twigs
“Cellophane”
Digital Single

On her first single in three years, the South Londoner paints an evocative portrait of her struggle to maintain a relationship under an unrelenting spotlight. It’s unclear whether it was penned for either of her famous exes (Robert Pattinson, Shia LaBeouf), but you can feel the weariness and strain in her voice, which is beautifully magnified by the skeletal arrangement. There’s still no word of an upcoming project to go with it. But once there is, it will quickly become one of the most talked-about of 2019.

Queen Key
“Hey”
Eat My Pussy Again (Machine Entertainment Group)
Find me a song that bangs harder than this. Seriously. Find it and send it to me because I cannot wait to hear it. The only thing that hits harder than the ridiculous sub-bass is the Chicago native’s raw, unapologetic bars. Though she is still insanely slept on, tracks like this should wake people up quick.

Duendita
“Magdalena”

Direct line to My Creator (The Vanguarde Craft and Creative)
Though it originally appeared on her 2018 debut, this stunning single’s re-release is too good not to mention. A breathtaking goodbye ballad to her late aunt, “Magdalena” surrounds the Queens native’s affecting vocals with careful pianos and warm synths. And that video. 😭

Joey LaBeija
“Dry Your Eyes” (f/ Nina Sky)
Tears in My Hennessy (coming for blood)
We all need a positive affirmations every once in a while, especially when we’re going through a break-up. Though much of the Bronx producer’s post break-up project is heartsick club music, late in the record he enlists Nina Sky to help remind him that everything will be ok in time. It might be a simple sentiment, but it’s an important one that is perfectly delivered here.

Images & Words: Octavian, “No Weakness”

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Octavian
“No Weakness”
Endorphins (out now on Black Butter)

The rising Londoner comes through with new visuals for his ice-cold break-up track, set in the late-night Parisian skies. The French-born MC is one of the most versatile young artists in the city, and “No Weakness” highlights his undeniable melodic gifts and star power.

The Round-Up: The Best Songs of 2019 (So Far)

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A little bit late this year due to real-world commitments, but here is my annual list of the best songs of the first half of 2019. Look for my honorable mention coming later in the week.

This year, instead of going with an actual ranking system, I’m going to going to break them up by tiers.

TIER 1: THE EARLY FAVORITE

Duugie
“Night Shift” (f/ Odunsi & Omagz)
Sojourn (Blac-Apollo)
Even though it features two of Nigeria’s most exciting young stars, somehow not a single American publication has covered this magical late-night jam. As we learned with “Drogba” — last summer’s song of this summer — the States are often slow to catch up with all the exciting sounds of the Continent. But still, “Night Shift” deserves better. Duggie’s gorgeous, flexible keys form a perfect platform for Odunsi (The Engine) and Omagz to do what they do best. Though the latter is driving the bus vocally, the former drops a stunning, low-key verse that is dripping with sauce and sensuality. If somebody is going to put out a better song than this, it’s going to be a classic.

TIER 2: THE CONTENDERS

03 Greedo
“Trap House” (f/ Shoreline Mafia)
Still Summer in the Projects (Alamo)
03 Greedo can say more with one line than most rappers can do on an album. And to steal the show on this airy banger, all he needs is “NO SHEEETS ONN TOPP MY BEAAHHHDD.” Aside from my favorite hook of the year, “Trap House” features a pair of watertight verses from the likely Angelinos of Shoreline Mafia and unsurprisingly tasty keys from the artist formerly known as DJ Mustard. The best song of the summer.

Lucinda Chua
“Feel Something”
Antidotes 1 (Self-Released)
So much about modern life is about our ache to connect with another. There are a million different ways to do it now, but nothing speaks to us like the visceral connection of being with someone real. The Londoner’s stirring, contemplative ode to that desire is one of the finest pieces of music that I’ve heard this year. It’s the kind of song that makes you stop in your tracks, look up, and appreciate the world around you. It definitely did that for me this year.

Colin Self
“Survival”
Siblings (RVNG Intl.)

In our world where civil rights are constantly under attack, the fight for survival for many members of the LGBTQ+ community is as urgent as it’s ever been. The multi-instrumentalist Colin Self focuses on this struggle on the spellbinding, “Survival.” With a soaring voice, Self cries out “in the night, I fear my life is growing short as I resist.” It’s so powerful to hear Self give a voice to a largely unheard population, though many more should be heeding his words.

Dawn Richard
“Vultures / Wolves”
New Breed (Our Dawn)

The centerpiece from her wonderful fifth LP could double as a pretty solid summation of the New Orleans visionary’s career. For six enthralling minutes, Richard lays her flaws bare, admitting that she “keeps getting in her own way,” without losing an ounce of the resilient spirit that permeates all of her music. It is beautiful, heartbreaking distillation of the Dawn Richard experience — one that I’ve enjoyed immensely over the last five years. 

XanMan
“Section 8”
Digital Single

I recently watched an interview with the DMV native, and what’s striking about it is how uninterested he seems to be in being famous or being a part of the mainstream rap zeitgeist. You can hear it in his music too. His bars simply refuse to adhere to any modicum of structure, veering in and out of the beat with reckless abandon. His YouTube is a treasure trove of rapid-fire, joyful street rap with clever melodies sprinkled in alongside his punched-in bars. His star continues to grow at a rapid rate, especially as he’s newly out of prison, and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here. 

Future
“Shotgun”
Save Me (Epic)

Though you could argue that his consistency has faded a touch since his unimpeachable 2014-2017 run, the Atlanta native can still hit heights* no one else can. For me, he’s at his best when he’s got maximum space, and Detail gives him a ton of room to fill with a spare beat, built around rolling percussion and tasteful keys. Special note must be made for the engineering touch of long-time collaborator Seth Firkins, who passed away in 2017. Nobody else treated Future’s voice with quite the light touch of Firkins, and “Shotgun” is a testament to his masterful craft.

*depths

Ariana Grande
“ghostin” (acoustic version)
thank u, next (Republic)

The 26 year-old has been through unimaginable public tragedy in the last few years. A terrorist attack at her show in Manchester, a messy public divorce, and the death of her ex-fiancé Mac Miller. And though she’s touched on all of these things at times in previous music, she’s never been more direct than on this stunning goodbye to Miller. Wrapped in layers of warm, surging synths (which, of course, sample Miller’s “2009”), Grande mourns his loss while apologizing to her current partner for struggling to get over it. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and a testament to Grande’s bravery and empathy as a singer and a writer.

Jai Paul
“Do You Love Her Now”
Do You Love Her Now / He (4AD)

After seven years away, the mercurial Londoner returned with two new tracks and an updated version of the album he worked so hard on, which leaked without his consent a few months before its release date. Along with the music, Paul wrote about how much that leak hurt him, which is instructive of the dangerous way modern music fans demand control of their favorite artists’ careers.

The singles were also a reminder of his special talent and singular sound, which combines elements of soul, funk, and R&B and runs them through his unique worldview. It’s unclear whether more is coming, but with Jai Paul, you’ve just got to savor what you can get.

Kevin Abstract
“Mississippi”
ARIZONA BABY (Question Everything)

The San Antonio native put his acclaimed Brockhampton project on hold long enough to craft a worthy follow-up to 2016’s exquisite “American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story.” Its best moment is its most introspective, as the 22 year-old digs deep into his relationships with his friend, a boyfriend, and crucially, himself. Abstract’s best solo work always feels cut from the same cloth as Frank Ocean’s classic “Nostalgia, Ultra,” and “Mississippi” is no exception.

Kim Petras
“Sweet Spot”
Clarity (BunHead)
Nobody is making better pure pop in 2019 than Kim Petras. Katy Perry and Taylor Swift would have killed to put out most of the nine (9!) new singles she’s already dropped this year, which are absolutely jammed with meaty hooks and her obvious star appeal. Though her continued collaboration with Dr. Luke casts a severe damper on things, it’s hard not to appreciate the importance of a trans woman who is making unabashedly sexy pop music for the masses. It’s unclear just how much influence Luke has had on these songs and if he will continue to be involved, but musically and culturally, it’s hard to ignore what the German-born artist is doing.

Orville Peck
“Hope to Die”
Pony (Sub Pop)
The masked Nevada crooner’s revelatory debut is finally starting to get the widespread coverage it deserves. An absolute one-off in modern music, Peck makes unabashedly camp country that sounds like 1962 but feels like 2022. And though there’s no shortage of melodrama on Pony, but he really outdoes himself on its penultimate song — a preening, posing powerhouse performance that somehow recalls a young Morrissey in chaps. Sign me the fuck up.

Big Thief
“Open Desert”
U.F.O.F. (4AD)

The centerpiece of the Brooklyn quartet’s lauded third LP serves up a heavy dose of “Ghosts of the Great Highway” vibes, pairing Adrianne Lenker’s evocative vocals with a haunting, open-string heavy arpeggiated guitars. Though its not clear what Lenker is on about, the atmosphere is laid on thick and leaves one hell of an imprint.

Images & Words: CFCF, “Healing Kurage”

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CFCF
“Healing Kurage”
Liquid Colours (out 07.12 on BGM)

Michael Silver is back with a new collection of extremely pure moods, ready to soundtrack beautiful summer sunsets. “Healing Kurage” does what it says on the tin, laying out languid, therapeutic synths that are impossible not to get lost in. The disc is streaming now at Bandcamp, and I highly recommend getting over there and checking it out.

Images & Words: Florist, “Time is a Dark Feeling”

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Florist
“Time is a Dark Feeling”
Emily Alone (out 07.26 on Double Double Whammy)
Emily A. Sprague makes folk music that is both haunting and haunted. She beautifully frames her forlorn vocals and heartrending lyrics with arpeggiated guitars that hang in the air like fog. Her newest song is stark even by her standards, stripping the arrangement of everything save her voice and a choked-up acoustic guitar.