Arthur Russell, "You Did It Yourself"


Arthur Russell"You Did It Yourself"Iowa Dream (out 11.15 on Audika)There's something very fitting about a new project of recordings by the late, great Arthur Russell dropping 6 weeks before the end of the decade. In many ways, the multi-instrumentalist's sound feels at home along the wildly experimental, genre-fluid music Read more

Images & Words: The 1975, "People"


The 1975"People"Notes on a Conditional Form (out 02.22.20 on Dirty Hit)The Used, Head Automatica/Glassjaw, Primal Scream, Marilyn Manson, Blur, The Refused. And that's only six of the roughly 600 random bands that the new 1975 track brings to mind. And somehow, just like mother-fucking always, they pull it off. Read more

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

Columns

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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Images & Words: Wet, “Weak” (Live on the Tonight Show)

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Wet
“Weak” (Live on the Tonight Show)
Don’t You (out 01.29 on Columbia)
I don’t normally write about live performances, but I was just so struck by how far the Massachusetts trio has come in the last two and a half years. I first wrote about Wet in September of 2013, after falling in love with their debut single, the crushing break-up ballad, “No Lie.” A few months later, I caught (what I think was) their first ever gig in Brooklyn. They seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight that night, but you couldn’t hear in the way they played. Vocalist Kelly Zutrau stood out, stoically pushing through her nerves to deliver a heartfelt, affecting performance. Guitarist Marty Sulkow added beautiful counter-melodies to the sparse arrangements, while Joe Valle, their most energetic performer, banged away at a skeletal electric drum-kit.

As good as they were that night, I never thought that in just two years, I would be seeing them perform on Network TV. Their performance on Fallon was assured and confident, like a band that has been doing TV shows for years. Again, Zutrau was especially impressive. Much of Wet’s magic comes from the amount of negative space in their arrangements. That space often leaves Zutrau’s voice totally exposed, maximizing its impact but also the pressure placed on it. On what must have been the most stressful performance of their career, she came up trumps, confidently staying in tune and adding an emotional wallop to one of the strongest songs of their glittering young career. The performance isn’t just a reminder of how far they’ve come; it’s an exciting indicator of just how far they can go.

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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Best of 2013: The Best Tracks of 2013 (Honorable Mention)

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It’s the time again — time to pick over the bones of an incredible year of music. Over the next few days, I’ll roll out my favorite tracks of the year. Let’s kick things off with 10 songs that didn’t quite make it out of the incredibly crowded field. That said, they absolutely deserve your attention.

Willis Earl Beal: “Too Dry to Cry” from Nobody Knows (XL)
While I’ll never claim to be a great blues historian, I do know that the Chicago-native’s sophomore LP felt as authentic as anything out nowadays. Listening to Beal sing is like watching someone lift a car; it’s a physical experience. You can feel him straining every sinew as he pours his heart into every ravenous come-on, perfectly verbalizing human nature’s most visceral, virile instinct.

Darkside: “Golden Arrow” from Psychic (Other People)
Picking one song off Nicolas Jaar & Dave Harrington’s excellent debut LP feels idiotic, as (like their debut EP) Psychic demands to be heard in one immersive sitting. That said, its 11-minute opener sets a spooky, emulsifying tone for the whole record. Harrington’s delicious, palm-muted guitar line wraps itself around a forlorn falsetto, resulting in a track that is both alluring and unsettling.

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Oh My Fucking May: 16 New Albums You Must Hear This Month

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While the NBA is rolling out their immortal “40 Games in 40 Nights” promo, the music world is doing its own. “16 Potential Classics in 30 Nights” may not be as catchy, but it’s just as ri-goddamn-diculous. I can’t remember a month where this many (SIXTEEN!) exciting, possible top-10 albums have all dropped in a month. It’s especially impressive, considering it succeeded an epic first quarter.

So, here is low-down on the 16 albums out this month that demand your attention — in 16(ish) words or less.

And awayyyy we go!

Dean Blunt, The Redeemer (Hippos in Tanks)
When: May 1
Where: London
What: The first true official LP from the Hype Williams-frontman
Why You Care: It’s the most coherent statement from the esoteric, genre-bending genius to date. An utterly fascinating LP.
For Fans of: Everything but the kitchen sink.
TP’s Excitement Scale: 9.8/10

Ghostpoet: Some Say I So, I Say Light, (Brownswood)
When: May 6
Where: London
What: The sophomore LP from the moody, progressive spoken word poet/MC
Why You Care: Because his debut, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, was an engulfing, original masterclass of post-Skinner sad-o grime.
For fans of: Late night bus rides home, poetic hip-hop.
TP’s Excitement Level: 8.8/10

Savages: Silence Yourself (Matador)
When: May 7
Where: London
What: The rollicking debut LP from the hotly-tipped riot grrrrl quartet
Why You Care: The young post-punkers are threatening to lift off with a classic. Angry, uncompromising, utterly brilliant.
For Fans of: The Shape of Punk to Come
TP’s Excitement Level: 10/10

Kisses: Kids in LA (Cascine)
When: May 14
Where: Los Angeles
What: The follow-up to their splendid, massively underrated debut, The Heart of the Nightlife
Why You Care: As an early investor on this synthy, Balearic-leaning bf-gf duo, it’s hard to be objective, but KILA is a dark step forward from their excellent debut.
For Fans of: Rolling the windows down. The 80’s.
TP’s Excitement Level: 10/10

Pure X, Crawling Up the Stairs (Acephale)
When: May 14
Where: Austin, TX
What: The follow-up to the slowcore trio’s excellent debut, Pleasure (2011)
Why You Care: Early singles have foreshadowed a less foggy, more melodic second effort.
For Fans Of: Expressive, heady guitar music. Downers.
TP’s Excitement Scale: 8.5/10

Colleen, The Weighing of the Heart (Second Language)
When: May 14
Where: Paris
What: The French Joanna Newsom’s ornate, orchestral fifth LP
Why You Care: The mercurial, hyper-talented composer/producer crafts beautiful tracks that pair delicate, orchestral arraignments with her breathy, mellifluous vocals.
For Fans of: Midday naps, orchestral pop.
TP’s Excitement Scale: 8.8/10

Listen to “Push the Boat Onto the Sand,” at FACT.

Classixx, Hanging Gardens (Innovative Leisure)
When: May 14
Where: LA
What: The long-awaited debut full-length from the breezy disco duo
Why You Care: Because every summer needs a soundtrack, and nobody is currently making better sunshine jams.
For Fans Of: Good vibes, day-drinking, DFA.
TP’s Excitement Scale: 8.7/10

Dirty Beaches, Drifters/Love Is The Devil (Zoo)
When: May 14
Where: Montreal via Taipei
What: The shadowy, experimental 2xLP follow-up to 2011’s lo-fi masterclass, Badlands
Why You Care: Alex Zhang Hungtai is famously unpredictable, and these albums promise to be harrowing, engulfing rides.
For Fans Of: Challenging, uncompromising, occasionally brutal journeys deep into the human psyche.
TP’s Excitement Scale: 9.1/10

Hot Jamz of the Year: The Best Tracks of 2012

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A couple of people have asked me why I still take the time to do this every year, even after the magazine I used to write for shut down. It’s two things. For one, I’m a pop music anorak. I love taking the time to explore the year’s trends (alternative R&B, future garage) and the genres that have faded by the wayside (witch house, chillwave). Pop music is so ephemeral in the Internet Age, and it only takes going over a few past year-end lists to see that. Secondly, I love having these lists as timestamped overview of my year. It’s a great way for me to reflect and add context to the year that I’ve just experienced.

On to the songs. As every year, I have a few rules that I try to stick to so that this list doesn’t get completley impossible to make.

1. Mostly attempt to stick to the “singles,” whenever possible, just to make it a bit easier.
2. Only pick one song from each artist.
3. Try to avoid picking remixes.
4. Try to avoid picking Nickleback songs.

Listen to most of it on a Spotify Playlist , especially if Soundcloud is being wonky. You will miss some tracks though.

51. Inc.: “5 Days” from 5 Days Single
We kick the list off with one of the sexiest songs of the year. The Prince-obsessed Angelinos’ drop their debut on 4AD in February. It should be special.

50. Lemonade: “Neptune” from Diver
Brooklyn synth-pop heartthrobs wax lyrical about drunk dialing. (Lena Dunham voice) You know, what? They just get me. (Giant spoonful of ice cream). They. Just. Get. Me.

49. John Talabot: “Destiny” (f/ Pional) from fin
An exquisitely-crafted swirling slab of Balearic joy from the Spanish producer’s long-awaited first LP. #popthemollyimsweatin

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Hot Jam of the Day (10.10.12): Various Artists, “West Coast Cypher ’12” from the BET Hip-Hop Awards

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(In Order) Xzibit, YG, Kurupt, E-40, DJ Quik, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg/Lion/Baby Cat
“West Coast Cypher ’12”
BET Hip-Hop Awards

There are ten things that I really enjoy/think about about this performance.

1. Everything about Kendrick Lamar’s flow is captivating. One of the best rappers on the planet right now. No doubt.

2. Besides his hair, DJ Quik’s commitment to percussion is truly exceptional (even though he couldn’t keep up). Didn’t know a plastic fork could count as an instrument.

3. I wonder how much Xzibit’s people must have paid the producers to get him at that table. I’m setting the over-under at $250,000.

4. Along the same lines, YG. Really???? The producers needed a young, up-and-coming rapper to go with Kendrick, and they came up with YG? What, Tyler The Creator, Lil B, Earl Sweatshirt, Kool A.D., Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Hopsin, and Mondre M.A.N. were all busy? Hell, I would have even accepted Tyga’s non-rappin’ ass. Puhreeese.

5. I’ve never been his biggest fan, but E-40 has got to be one of the most charismatic, likable rappers on the planet. I wish he was my uncle.

————————————————————————————————————————————

Quick Tangent: Because I’ll never have as seamless a segue to this again, here is my family fantasy team of rappers.
Dad: Jay-Z –>Has experienced more than many would in 10 lifetimes. Seems like a level-headed, non-insane person. Would give the best b-day presents.
Mom: Pepa from Salt ‘N Pepa–>Seems like she would be a fun mom that would also teach discipline and raise you right. Also, if anyone ever fucked with you, she’d fuck them up first.
Big Brother: T.I. –>Has made a bunch of mistakes but has come through them. Feel like he’d give great guidance/advice. Seems wise.
Little Brother: Curren$y–>The current frontrunner of the prestigious “rapper I’d most like to play NBA Live/FIFA with.” That’s what little brothers are for, right?
Big Sister: Missy Elliot–>Clearly the cool older sister who you could follow around, but would also be sweet to you. Would def have hot friends.
Cooky Uncle: E-40–>Obvious.
Cool Uncle: Rick Ross–>You wouldn’t see him often, but whenever you needed something he’d help you out. Also, you could go visit him in South Florida and hang out on his yacht without him getting all in your shit. Also, would probably smoke you out for the first time and not tell your dad. Also, good birthday presents.
Cousins: Odd Future–> You wouldn’t want to hang out with them everyday, because they are completely insane, but they would definitely spice up boring family gatherings and would probably have weed/m80’s/skateboards/etc to play with.

————————————————————————————————————————————

AANNNNNDDD, we’re back!

6. WHERE THE FUCK IS SHORT DOGGGGGG????????? SO-CAL BIASSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!

7. “I don’t gotta prove I’m fly…parrot.” I just…

8. I love that Kendrick Lamar mentions eating Now and Laters before playing ball. Good to know that the kids in the burbs have at least one thing in common with kids from Compton. Dr. Pepper and N&L’s are the perfect pre-game meal for middle school ballers…and Lamar Odom.

9. America needs a new Kurupt/Dogg Pound album. I predict that both would be huge hits in today’s market.
(EDIT: There have been two Dogg Pound albums and a Kurupt album released in the last three years. They sold a combined 11 copies by our count. We called around.)

10. Possible candidates for the 2013 edition: Shifty Shellshock, Travie McCoy, Afroman, The Azn dude from Black-Eyed Peas, all three of the Delinquentes, residents of the Cali Swag District.

Stream This Shiat: The Tallest Man on Earth, There’s No Leaving Now

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The Tallest Man on Earth
There’s No Leaving Now (Dead Oceans)

For those of you who can’t wait till next Tuesday, you can stream the exquisite new album from Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson. NPR always gets the best streams.

Stream it here. Also, check out lead single “1904” below. Right click for DL.

The_Tallest_Man_on_Earth: “1904”

Shout out to the homie Kayte Rossi for the tip.

Hot Jam of the Day (05.14.12): Twin Shadow, “Five Seconds”

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Twin Shadow
“Five Seconds”
Confess (4AD)

I must confess (yuk yuk yuk) that I’ve been a little slow posting this because I simply can’t quite tell whether I like it or not. Like so many others, I absolutely fell in love with artist officially known as George Lewis Jr’s hyper-slick 2010 debut, Forget, and while this undoubtedly still sounds like Twin Shadow, it still feels different to me. There are a ton of ideas living in this track, which feels like it weighs it down just a bit. That said, I love its driving backbeat, punchy 80’s guitars, and Lewis’ trademark powerful delivery. It sounds like something that could have been on the Dazed & Confused soundtrack, and frankly, I can’t tell if that’s a good thing or not. Hopefully, once I hear it in the context of the album, I’ll be a little bit more sure. I’m a little worried, but still confident that I’ll love it.

Twin Shadow: “Five-Seconds”

And just because it’s awesome, here’s the hilarious video for Forget’s “Slow.”

STREAM ME!: Beach House’s Incredible New Album, Bloom

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NPR always gets the best streams, and one week before its release, they are giving us another: Beach House’s ridiculously excellent fourth album, Bloom. I really don’t need to sell this. It’s just fantastic. It will make your life better. Just listen to it. Do it. Do it now.

Stream available here.