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

The Round-Up: The Best Albums of May 2017


After a pair of phenomenal months of music, May's slate looked decidedly more low-key. However, now as I look back at it, there was still a handful of solid releases that deserve your time. Here are a few of my favorites. J Hus Common Sense Black Butter When I looked at the release schedule Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Lil Durk, "Pressure"


Lil Durk “Pressure” Digital Single Five years into his career, the Chicago native seems to be at a crossroads. After kicking off his career with a string of devastating mixtapes (including my favorite song of 2013), the 24 year-old has been a bit up and down of late, crafting a slew of Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Kommode, "Fight or Flight or Dance All Night"


Kommode “Fight or Flight or Dance All Night” Analog Dance Music (out June 2017 on Random Two Syllable Word) Good things come to those who wait, and Kings of Convenience fans have been waiting for the debut from Eirik Glambek Bøe’s side project for more than 10 years. Since announcing this project Read more

Hot Jam of the Day: Jlin, "Holy Child"


Jlin "Holy Child" Black Origami (out 05.19 on Planet Mu) Though there's only one more day until the Gary, Indiana footwork innovator's second LP drops, this brilliant and beguiling cut is more than worthy of standing on its own. Like her masterful debut, Dark Energy, this track features multiple, intricate polyrhythms that collide freely without Read more

Starting V: My Favorite Friendzone Tracks

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Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 4.05.42 PMEarly this week, tragic news broke that James Laurence, better known as one half of production duo Friendzone, had passed away at the impossibly young age of 27. Laurence grew up in Danville, CA — a leafy suburb at the foot of Mt. Diablo in the East Bay — and along with production partner Dylan Reznick, was one of the main architects behind a dreamy, ambient sound called “Cloud rap.” Inspired by video games, Japanese culture, and a vast knowledge of music from all over the spectrum, the duo crafted unabashedly emotional, lofty beats that remain hugely influential to this day.

They are probably best known for their frequent collaborations with fellow East Bay natives, Main Attrakionz. Mondre M.A.N. and Squadda B’s messy, exuberant flows were the perfect match for Friendzone’s unique beats, and though they went on to work with heavyweights like A$AP Rocky and Yung Lean, nobody sounded better on a FZ beat than Main Attrakionz.

As always, I am loathe to speak about people I did not know. But I just wanted to salute James Laurence’s awesome contribution to music and pick a couple of my favorite Friendzone tracks. Rest in peace, James. And all my thoughts go out to his friends and family in the wake of this tragedy.

aaf94ffdFriendzone
“I Have Nothing”
Collection I (2012)
The first FZ track I really fell in love with, “I Have Nothing” has all the hallmarks of that dreamy, woozy sound that they helped create. Like much of their best stuff, it has an oceanic feel, undulating between calm seas of synths and storms of percussion and vocal stabs. For me, it’s also the best example of their skillful vocal programming, often using sounds rather than words to convey a hell of a lot of meaning.

Hear more from Collection I on Bandcamp.

Main Attrakionz
“Perfect Skies” (produced by Friendzone)
808s & Dark Grapes II (2011)
The one that really blasted the MA/FZ partnership into the stratosphere, “Perfect Skies” is probably the archetypal “cloud rap” track to me. For three blissful minutes, Mondre M.A.N. and Squadda B smear their freewheeling verses over pristine, video game synths, 808s, and a soaring vocal sample from Japanese girl group Perfume. It captures the carefree, technicolor vibe of the genre and is perhaps the most beautiful beat the duo ever crafted.

Hear more from 808s & Dark Grapes II on Bandcamp.

Main Attrakionz
“Summa Time” (produced by Friendzone)
808s & Dark Grapes III (2013)
The sun hardly comes out during Bay Area summer, so Laurence and Reznick decided to make their some of their own on this gooey, luminous track. My favorite bit of this beat is at the end of the chorus (“The summer, the summer Wet paint and runners…”), because the descending synth melody feels so much like sun-rays breaking through thick summer clouds.

Here more frmo 808s & Dark Grapes III on Spotify.

Friendzone
“8 AM”
DX (2013)
Gaming was always a core tenet of the Friendzone experience. And though I’m not much of a gamer, there was one I loved on Playstation called Jumping Flash — a bizarre Japanese game where you pilot a robotic rabbit around a fantasy world, hunting for Jet Pods. It was a placid and gorgeous game, and “8AM” feels just like it — a serene and innocent adventure through a surreal and magical universe.

Hear more from DX on BandCamp.

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 4.07.28 PMSquadda B
“Love U”
TAG CHAMPZ BUNDLE
It’s hard for me to write about Friendzone without mentioning the East Bay’s favorite son, Lil B. Though they surprisingly never worked together, much of the MA/FZ catalog shares the Based God’s ultra-posi nature and chain of consciousness flow. You can really hear that on this ecstatic, freewheeling cut that pairs delicious keys with Squadda B’s love letter to his fans. He delivers it with ab unhinged, coming-down-off-ecstasy sincerity, which highlights the imperfect authenticity that caused so many people to gravitate to the whole scene.

Brent Barstow x Friendzone
“Growing Apart”
Digital Single
Though it’s far from an essential FZ track, I had to tack this one on the end because it is just so fucking weird and atypical of their sound. A bizarro slow jam from their early years, “Growing Apart” is a spare, piano-kissed love song that feels sooooo 2011 Soundcloud. If nothing else, it’s a nice reminder of good times gone by and how far they came in such a short time. RIP, James.

Hot Jam of the Day: The XX, “Performance”

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Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 3.27.32 PMThe xx
“Performance”

I See You (out now on Young Turks)
Unlike most, I am an xx classicist. Jamie xx seems like a talented guy, but I tend to prefer Romy and Oliver-centric, hyper intimate tracks like this (see also: “Night Time,” “Fiction,” “Stars,”), my favorite moment on their very good third LP. “Performance” ranks right up there with Romy Madley Croft most affecting compositions. Never one to spill her guts, Croft would rather pull you in and whisper in your ear, achieving the sweetest, most delicate catharsis possible.

Images & Words: Father John Misty, “Two Wildly Different Perspectives”

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father-john-misty-2Father John Misty
“Two Wildly Different Perspectives”

Pure Comedy (out 04.07 on Sub Pop)
The world is fucked up, and our ol’ pal Father John Misty has some thoughts about it. This poignant piano ballad is a second taste of his upcoming third LP and carries the same lyrical focus as the rambling, darkly funny, “Pure Comedy.” However, this track differs from much of the 35 year-old’s previous political work (i.e., “Bored in the USA,” “Holy Shit”), as there’s no humor at all here — just a grim exploration of a world hopelessly divided and coming apart at the seams.

Images & Words: Dave x J Hus, “Samantha”

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10-things-you-need-to-know-about-dave-1459762640Dave x J Hus
“Samantha”

Digital Single
Two artists responsible for a few of my favorite tracks of 2016 come together for a low-key singsong that highlights both of their versatile skill sets. Think of it as (sad)Boyz II (road)Men, “Samantha” is a moody, mid-tempo track along the lines of Dave’s sleeper hit, “Wanna Know.” The two MCs interchange effortlessly, switching between reflective bars and easy crooning over minor-chord piano and staccato percussion. As good as this is, it feels like it’s just the tip of the iceberg for both of them.

Images & Words: Real Estate, “Darling”

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d7d33259Real Estate
“Darling”
In Mind (out 03.17 on Domino)
Though they recently bid farewell to founding guitarist Matt Mondanile, everybody’s favorite Jerseyites are back with a follow-up to their languid 2014 LP, Atlas. More than anything, “Darling” will assuage any fears about the viability of the group sans Mondanile. Real Estate has always been known for their hooky, nimble guitar riffs, and they come through with a trademark one here that buzzes and floats with the same easy grace of much of their best work.

Hot Jam of The Day: Mount Eerie, “Real Death”

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Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 11.54.02 AMMount Eerie
“Real Death”

A Crow Looked At Me (out 03.24 on P.W. Elverum & Sun)
I don’t have much to say about Phil Elverum’s gorgeous elegy to his late wife except that it is the rare song sucked all the wind out of me. Adjectives fail to capture the depth and heft of “Real Death,” so I won’t try. I will just thank Elverum for his honesty and empathy, which reminds us that no matter how hard you try to wrap your head around real loss, you cannot. You can only decide to keep going and do your god-damndest to never lose sight of the grace and love that person brought into your life while they were still with you.

Hot Jam of the Day: Teen Daze, “First Rain” (f/ S. Carey)

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Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 12.25.49 PMTeen Daze
“First Rain” (f/ S. Carey)
Themes For Dying Earth (out 02.10)
Though it’s been unseasonably warm in New York, we’ve had a steady stream of rain, which has been an excellent backdrop for the placid new single from Vancouver-based musician Jamison Isaak. Though neither Isaak nor Bon Iver member Sean Carey have ever been strong singers, they are unarguably adept at crafting lush, soothing instrumentals. Built around a descending keyboard melody, “First Rain” is built to soundtrack staring aimlessly out windows, finishing puzzles, laying around, and doing whatever the hell else you like doing when it rains.

Hot Jam of the Day: Sampha, “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano”

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Sampha-Noisey-1-7Sampha
“(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano”
Process (out 02.03 on Young Turks)
The soft-spoken Londoner’s delicate piano ballad feels like the first truly great song of 2017. Over his nimble, mantric piano melody, Sampha bares his soul, expounding on the way music can allow you to be yourself beyond the constraints of your everyday life. The song conjures up the image of a young, shy kid, running his fingers across the keys, slowly growing into the instrument as he grows into himself. It might not have been a piano for you — maybe it was a basketball hoop, a tree you used to climb, or (like me) your father’s guitar — but the experience is just about universal and illustrated beautifully by Sampha here.

Hot Jam of the Day: Julie Byrne, “I Live Now As A Singer”

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4321767Julie Byrne
“I Live Now as a Singer”
Not Even Happiness (out 01.13.17)
The Buffalo native’s sophomore album is one of the albums I’m most looking forward to in this young year. Its third single, “I Live Now as a Singer,” is another perfect demonstration of the warming, gentle power of her sound and the evocative timbre of her voice. Though much of her excellent debut featured dusty, fingerpicked guitars, this track is built on lush, cinematic synth chords that actually remind me of Enya, which, frankly, couldn’t be a more exciting development.

Best of ’16: My Favorite Albums of 2016

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Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 2.13.01 PM31. Huerco S
For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)
Proibito
Though the K.C.-producer’s debut LP Colonial Patterns enjoyed overwhelming acclaim, he seismically shifted his sound for his second one, veering from opaque beat music to oceanic, drifting synthscapes. Though it’s a risky move, it pays big dividends, and the disc plays like a single transportive track, destined to sweep you away.

Stream it on Spotify.

30. Mélanie De Biasio
Blackened Cities
Le Label
Don’t let the fact that the Belgian jazz singer’s rumination on modern city life is presented as a single 24-minute song turn you away. It’s a surprisingly digestible listen with more than enough footholds to latch onto. Though the instrumentation is free-wheeling and improvisational, De Biasio’s gentle vocal is always there to guide you, appearing and disappearing at just the right times.

Stream it on Spotify.

29. Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert Vs The World
Atlantic
From his hair to his sound, everything about the Philly native is vivid and colorful. LUVvsTW is nine songs of boundless, youthful energy with some of the most adhesive hooks of the year. And though his subject matter is pretty consistent, Uzi is adept at switching his flow up, often a few times in one song. One of the most fun releases of the year.

Stream in on Spotify.

28. The Hotelier
Goodness
Tiny Engines
Instead of trying to recreate the pain of their brutal, beautiful breakthrough LP, Home, Like Noplace Is There, the Worcester, Mass trio let some light and (ahem) goodness into their sound. Cathartic as they may be, the disc’s 13 songs tend to focus more on life than death, picking out a number of small, tender moments and blowing them out with their signature nimble guitars, pounding drums, and Christian Holden’s unique, strained vocals.

Stream it on Spotify.
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