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

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of 2019 (First Quarter)

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Gah, I can’t believe we’re already 25% through 2019. That said, Spring is in the air, and we’ve enjoyed an excellent, diverse crop of music during these first three months. Have a look at some of my favorite LPs of the year so far in no particular order.

Dawn Richard
“New Breed”
Our Dawn
Probably my favorite project from my favorite R&B artist of the last ten years, “New Breed” is the New Orleans native’s most personal statement to date. In just over half an hour, Richard guides us through the eclectic, electric sound of her hometown, talking her shit and telling her story without fear, apology, or one ounce of bullshit. Truly a one of a kind.

Read my longer review for No Recess, here.

Default Genders
main pop girl 2019
Aka “Love in the Time of Fentanyl,” James Brooks’ (formerly of Elite Gymnastics) second LP was one of my favorite musical surprises of the last few years. Though his previous work is pretty patchy, this project is absolutely breathtaking and impossible to categorize. The Minneapolis native paints twelve affecting portraits of young people on the brink, with Rockwell’s eye for detail but none of his idealism.

Read my longer review for No Recess, here.

“After its Own Death / Walking in a Spiral Towards the House”
When a new Liz Harris project arrives out of the blue, you don’t ask questions. You just thank your lucky stars and hit play. I don’t know what a “Nivhek” is and why this isn’t a Grouper record, but I do know it feels like a welcome callback to her (even more) experimental early work. Though it only has four tracks, it’s her longest project in years, stretching almost to an hour. Each of the songs have movements that shift between ambient moments of stillness, harsh synth drones, and the odd bit of singing. It’s the kind of thing that will give back what you put in and only start to reveal itself on repeat listens.

Various YouTube Videos
Trying to keep up with the rising PG County rapper’s music is a full-time job. There’s basically no info about him online or a hub for his thrilling, unpredictable music on Spotify, DatPiff, Soundcloud, or social media. So, YouTube searches and random clicks are as good as it gets. And honestly, that sense of random discovery and lack of context is a perfect microcosm for Xan’s music, as his stream of consciousness, oft-arrhythmic flow doesn’t fit into categories or marketing best practices. It just fucking goes.

Jayda G
“Significant Changes”
Ninja Tune
The ground is thawing, the days are getting longer, and New Yorkers are emerging from their holes at a rapidly increasing rate. It’ll never be a better time to throw yourself into the gorgeous, multi-faceted dancefloor odyssey from Berlin-via-Vancouver artist Jayda Guy. The incredible disc’s nine tracks touch on everything from deep house to 90s rave to R&B to straight up disco with the touch of a master DJ who knows how to intertwine a bunch of different sounds to craft one cohesive, exhilarating set.

A real hidden gem, I literally have found zero information online about the Lagos-based producer or his magnificent new EP. However, everything you need to know about this guy can be heard on this incredible project, featuring three near-perfect slices of modern R&B-meets-Afropop. The intoxicating first is a silky devotional, sung by rising crooner Kaysnap, while “Popular” is a playful, late-night number with dancehall touches. The third, “Nightshift,” is probably my favorite, pairing two strong voices from Nigeria’s alté scene on a track that deserves to be a global smash. I need to do some more digging on Duggie, but context be damned, these are three of the absolute best songs I’ve heard in 2019.

Listen to the EP on Spotify.

American Football
American Football
A double helping of #dadfeelings, the emo legends’ wonderful third LP features some of their most beautiful guitar-work and Midwestern mope master Mike Kinsella’s most cutting lyrics. Built around endless layers of impossibly twinkly guitars, Kinsella uneasily tries to ease into fatherhood, wondering how they hell he got here and whether he’s the right man for the job. Jokes aside, it’s an affecting, considered look at growing up, accompanied by tuneful, tasteful musical virtuosity.

“Future Hndrxx Presents: The WZRD”
San Nayvadius’ hot-streak continues on this uneven, but exciting new project. Admittedly, it’s probably 8 tracks too long. But this is 2019, make yourself a playlist. Tuneful, upbeat pre-release singles “Jumpin on a Jet” and “Crushed Up” both delivered the goods, but Future really gets in his bag on the back-half of this project. Whether he’s crooning his ass off on “Baptize” or trading daggers with Young Thug and Gunna on “Unicorn Purp,” the 35 year-old still has so much to give.

“M for Empathy”
Double Double Whammy
At just 16 minutes for 11 songs, you could be forgiven for writing off the Texas folk experimenter’s new album as inessential sketches. You’d be wrong, of course. But I’d understand. The truth is, her third LP is a powerful collection of tracks that explore empathy and care (for herself and others) with arresting insight and a real intent to connect. Some may find her earnestness off-putting, but in this world, we need it more than ever.

Chief Keef
Glo Gang
Chief Keef and Zaytoven have so much in common. Though they are good collaborators, the duo basically operate in their own respective lanes, creating sounds and vibes that are all their own. So it’s no surprise that their joint LP is a fantastic, surprising journey into the minds of two of the great sonic auteurs of the last ten years. Zay serves up a tasty, multi-faceted collection of beats — from muscular street rap (“Sneeze,” “Han Han”) to reflective, luxurious piano magic (“Ain’t Gonna Happen,” “Petty”) — and Keef switches his flow up to match each of them, bringing out some of his most forceful, personal raps.

Ariana Grande
“thank u, next”

Though it doesn’t feel quite as ubiquitous as her other projects, this sharp, consistent LP is probably my favorite Ari record front to back. We all knew the lead single was a classic going in, but playful swooners like “needy” and “bad idea” are among the most weightless, joyful pop songs that you’ll hear. That said, centerpiece “ghostin” stands on its own. The spellbinding, farewell ballad to ex- fiancé Mac Miller beautifully underlines trauma’s ripple effect — the way the death of a loved one spreads far beyond the person you lose and wriggles into all the corners of our lives. An absolute masterpiece.

“When I Get Home”
Frankly, I’m surprised by the fairly tepid response to Solange’s long-awaited follow-up to 2016’s beloved “A Seat at the Table.” Maybe its unhurried, subtle elegance is anathema to the way we consume culture in 2019, or maybe it was just missing a breakthrough single. Whatever the case, the jazzy “When I Get Home” extremely deserves your time. The disc takes listeners on a personal, loving journey through her hometown, revealing so much about what drives her and what makes her the artist that she is.

Jessica Pratt
“Quiet Signs”
Even though she’s quite well-known, Jessica Pratt’s music feels like a secret — like you found it at the bottom of a box of records in your grandma’s attic. Her hushed third LP is another direct hit, deftly expanding on the pastoral folk of her first two albums with well-chosen moments of pan flute, organ, and strings. The results are languid, soothing tracks that can’t help but conjure up memories and spark daydreams.

Croatian Amor
Posh Isolation
Danish producer Loke Rahbek has the ability to conjure up both dreams and nightmares, often in the scope of a single song. “Isa,” his sixth LP, delivers plenty of both, striking a deft balance with aqueous ambient synths, industrial percussive touches, and the odd, fleeting human voice. The result is an engulfing, cinematic journey into our increasingly robotic hearts, considering where the organic material ends and the digital begins… or if there’s even a line at all anymore.

“Freewave 3”
The Chicago native’s new project feels like it’s submerged in 10 feet of water. Over a cavalcade of downtempo, downtrodden beats, he lays out his bleary-eyed reality, dogged by addiction and tragedy. Few artists tackle addiction with the unglamorous, brutal honesty of the 22 year-old, and in a scene that often glorifies drug use, Lucki does anything but.

Better Oblivion Community Center
“Better Oblivion Community Center”
Dead Oceans
Though the Phoebe Bridgers/Conor Oberst collab is probably my least favorite Bridgers-related project, BOCC still has a handful of lovely moments. The duo sound best to me when the arrangements are spare (see: “Dominos” and “Didn’t Know What I was in For”) and Bridgers takes the wheel. Ultimatley, there’s just too much of Oberst’s creaky voice on here for me, but hey, some Phoebe is better than no Phoebe.

“Better EP”
Memory Music
“Sounds kinda like Lifehouse and Third Eye Blind” may not sound like a compliment at face value, but the Philly four-piece’s updated take on the 90’s mod-rock sound of my youth tickles all my musical pleasure centers. Led by the solemn vocals and evocative writing of front-person William Lindsay, the “Better EP” explores the cruel wages of addiction that he observed both from his North Philly neighborhood and in his own life. Though it’s only three songs, it has a hell of a lot to say.

Images & Words: Bedouine, “Bird”

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Bird Songs Of A Killjoy (out 5.31 on Spacebomb)
The LA-based folk singer (né Azniv Korkejian) is prepping the follow-up to her excellent 2017, self-titled debut, and this swooning stunner is our second taste of it. “Bird” adds the light touch of strings to her normally stark, acoustic guitar-driven arrangements. The fuller sound adds an extra helping of drama to the song, matching her heartsick lyrics that beautifully deal with the struggle to move on from somebody you love(d).

Sky Ferreira, “Downhill Lullaby”

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Sky Ferreira
“Downhill Lullaby”
Masochism (out soon? on Capitol)
It’s been almost six years since we’ve heard from Sky Ferreira — the person behind one of my favorite songs of the last 10 years — but the talented 26 year-old has kept busy, appearing in a ton of movies, modeling, and, of course, tinkering with her oft-delayed second LP. Its first single is a gothic, foreboding funeral jam that pairs her doleful voice alongside a creeping Type O Negative baseline and cinematic, swooning Lana Del Rey strings. It’s an unexpected move, but it fucking works and also underlines what makes Ferreira such a compelling figure. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the project.

Images & Words: Santi, “Sparky”

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Digital Single
The man behind one of my favorite songs of 2018 returns with his first new music of 2019, and unsurprisingly, it’s a banger. One of the leaders of Nigeria’s exciting alté movement, Santi pairs beachy, airy keyboards with his evocative voice for a sound that recalls Afrobeats, dancehall, and American R&B. Though his voice is soothing and the vibe is soft, there’s a still that little hint of edge that guarantees that his music could never blend into the background. Don’t sleep on this guy.

Images & Words: NoCap, “Ghetto Angels”

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“Ghetto Angels”

Digital Single
As YNW Melly’s chilling, “Murder on My Mind,” finally finished its ascent to #1 last week, the rising Mobile, AL rapper quietly released a new song that deserves just as much attention. NoCap is yet another example of the rising tide of young, independent artists, whose sound has just as much in common with R&B and gospel as street rap. More than anything, “Ghetto Angels” — much like “Murder on My Mind” — feels like a modern blues record.

A heartbreaking look at a young life littered with violence, he recounts getting ready to pick up a friend to take him to visit another friend’s grave before getting a phone-call telling him that friend was also dead. Though pain is pouring out of every pore of this record, Cap finds strength in numbers, as his boys help him out on the last chorus, lifting his spirits and reminding him that he’s not alone.

Foxes in Fiction, “Ontario Sunshine pt. 3” (feat. Emily Yacina)

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Foxes in Fiction
“Ontario Sunshine pt. 3” (feat. Emily Yacina)
Digital Single
It’s a rainy Friday morning in New York, which is just about the perfect backdrop for the dreamy, long-awaited new single from Warren Hildebrand. Short of a few one-off tracks, the Queens-based artist has been pretty quiet since his lovely 2014 project, “Ontario Gothic,” but he’s returning sometime soon with a new full-length. Though this track isn’t slated to appear on it, hopefully it’s a sign of things to come, as it pairs soothing, reverb-soaked guitars with Yacina’s affecting vocals to delicious effect.

Matt Kivel, “l.a. coliseum”

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Matt Kivel
“l.a. coliseum”
last night in america (out 05.10 on Cascine)
Our first taste of the LA singer’s debut LP for Cascine is a dreamy, low-light rumination on the early days of a relationship. Kivel’s voice is soft but affecting, and it gently bobs along the layers of soft synths and meandering electric guitar. It’s a track that really feels like falling in love in LA,  and it leaves me seriously jonesing for those technicolor sunsets and warm, evening breezes.

Chief Keef, “Ain’t Gonna Happen”

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Chief Keef
“Ain’t Gonna Happen”
GloToven (Glo Gang / RBC)
The Chicago stalwart’s new project with the legendary Zaytoven is unsurprisingly full of weird and wacky sounds, moving in innumerable unexpected and exciting ways. Its most powerful moment is its starkest, as a heartbroken Keef floats freely over Zay’s gorgeous piano.

“Face dried up, from all of the tears I done cried up,” he laments, namedropping late friends and family members like Fredo Santana, Big Glo, and Capo. In just 23 years, he’s encountered a staggering amount of loss, but in classic style, he soldiers on, pushing boundaries and continuing to cement his legacy as one of the most important, influential rappers of his generation.

Channel Tres, “Brilliant N***a”

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Channel Tres
“Brilliant N***a”
Digital Single
The man behind one of my favorite songs of 2018 returns with a silky new slice of the indefinable deep house/jazz/rap sound that he started cooking up on his incredible, self-titled debut EP. Over a meandering flutes, airy toms, and droning synths, the artist born Sheldon Young glides effortlessly across proceedings, dropping adhesive, charismatic couplets by the dozen. Hopefully, a proper debut LP beckons.

Images & Words: Xanman, “Kane”

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Hey Shootah Vol 2. (self-released)
This song has been out for a minute, but I just realized that I still haven’t written about the super talented DMV native yet. Considering that I’ve probably listened to more Xanman than any other rapper so far in 2019, it feels like it’s time to change that.

Like most of his tracks, “Kane” feels like it’s over before it even stars, imploring you to run it back (at least) a couple more times as soon as it finishes. At his most frenetic, Xanman basically eats the end of his bars (pun extremely intended), jamming in as many as possible and thumbing his nose at the beat. But he’s far from a one-trick pony, as he highlights by shifting into a cut-time, sing-song flow midway through the track. It’s the kind of melody lesser rappers would build an entire song around, but Xanman tosses it out in under 15 seconds, just because he can.