The Round Up: The Best Albums of the Third Quarter

freshezaleEzale & DJ Fresh
The Tonight Show
Foreal Foreal Ent
Hottest Jams: “Day Ones,” “Stop Come On”

For the first time in my lifetime, the Warriors are good and East Bay rap is popping at the same time. 2016 has seen a clutch of young Oakland rappers like Kamaiyah, Nef the Pharoah, and Eazle make a dent in the national scene, while trumpeting the unique culture and sound of the city. The latter’s glorious 10-song debut uniquely blends the slap of hyphy with production legend DJ Fresh’s warm, glowing g-funk. The result is a deliriously fun, endlessly quotable collection that doubles as one of 2016’s most consistent hip-hop records.

freetown_sound_coverBlood Orange
Freetown Sound
Hottest Jams: “Best To You,” “Chance”
Dev Hynes is man of many dichotomies. He is both an adept soloist and a keen and successful collaborator. He’s a sonic chameleon (see: Test Icicles, Lightspeed Champion) and a man with a signature, easily recognizable sound. He’s as comfortable a leading man and he is a hired gun. This, the finest album of his career, is dripping with those ambiguities. On slinky standouts “Augustine” and “E.V.P,” he’s in full pop-star mode and in total control of proceedings. He also shines just as bright while supporting Empress Of and Nelly Furtado on “Best To You” and “Hadron Collider” respectively. All of these contradictions contribute to the sonic world that makes Freetown Sound such a fascinating journey.

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-12-00-38-amCamp Cope
Camp Cope
Poison City
Hottest Jams: “Song for Charlie,” “Flesh and Electricity”

Like all truly great cathartic albums, the Melbourne trio’s debut album is equal parts comedy and tragedy. Over the stunning LP’s eight songs, songwriter Georgia Maq tackles the death of her father (the incredible “Song for Charlie”), the dissolution of a relationship (“West Side Story,” “Lost: Season One”), and workplace disaffection (“Flesh and Electricity”) with stunning insight, bravery, and most of all, humor. I’ve found that when confronting loss you have to keep laughing — to keep remembering the things about your loved ones that made you smile. Georgia knows that, and she highlights that truth on just about every song on this very special album.

artworks-bwbg8wav1hoq-0-t500x500Lil Yachty
Summer Songs 2
Quality Control
Hottest Jams: “Pretty,” “King Of The Teens”

I just bought a large house plant. I am actively trying to improve my credit score. If I have more than three drinks, I’m gonna be a little bit hungover in the morning. In short, I am mega washed. I am not Lil Yachty’s target demo. However, when the ATLien bellows, “we are the youuuuuuth, ” I can feel my washed-ness recede, and for a split second, I am whole again.

sakamoto_2Ryuichi Sakamoto
Nagasaki: Memories of My Son (Original Soundtrack)
Hottest Jams: “At The Graveyard,” “Raindrops”

Though details about the film remain scarce, the legendary Japanese composer’s soundtrack has moved Yoji Yamada’s film about a mother’s eternal connection with the son she lost in the Nagasaki bombing to the top of my must-see list. Sakamoto’s gripping 28-song score pairs his signature gorgeous, minimalist piano-work (“At The Graveyard,” “How Are You?”) with stirring string pieces (“Giving Up,” “Killed in the War”) and sonic curveballs like the chanting “Nobuko” and the ghostly din of “Soul of the Dead Brother.” If the music can tell a story this utterly compelling without words or pictures, I can’t imagine what it’s like in its proper context.

bs239_lydialoveless_real_lpcover1600_0Lydia Loveless
Hottest Jams: “Midwestern Guys,” “Bilbao”

For somebody who once seriously considered getting a Ryan Adams-themed tattoo (Y I K E S), I’ve surprisingly never quite figured out alt-country. I’ve Wilco’d, hung out with Uncle Tupelo, and stared glumly at Sturgill Simpson, but they all left me cold. For that reason, I expected my reaction to the Ohio native’s critically acclaimed fourth album would be…well, loveless. Turns out, her sledgehammer vocals, nimble guitar playing, and (most of all) sharp, evocative songwriting proved me totally wrong. All ten of Real’s songs landed square on my chin, and from week to week, I found myself with a new favorite track.

21 Savage & Metro Boomin
Savage Mode
Slaughter Gang
Hottest Jams: “X (f/ Future),” “No Heart”

It’s called Savage Mode, but it really should be called Savage Mood. Every track on the Atlanta dwellers’ collaborative album is there in service of crafting the most sinister, unsettling ambience imaginable. 21 never raises his voice once here, eschewing bravado in favor of ice cold, passionless nihilism, while Metro Boomin’s skeletal synths and skittering percussion guarantees Savage’s threatening bars deliver maximum impact.

jamie-isaac_pachshot_high-resJamie Isaac
Couch Baby
Marathon Artists
Hottest Jams: “Last Drip,” “Know U Like Me”

I’ve been back in New York for about a month, and I had forgotten how fucking tiring living in this city can be. And the 21 year-old Londoner’s wistful, blurry-eyed debut has been the perfect soundtrack for yawn-y mornings on the train and late night walks home. Isaac expertly frames his dulcet tenor with expansive swaths of synth and languid percussion, sneakily nestling low-key hooks in each subtle track.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-11-56-37-pmCar Seat Headrest
Teens of Denial
Hottest Jams: “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales,” “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)”

I was slow to come around on the prolific Virginia native’s sprawling, critically beloved 13th album, but I’m glad I finally did. Though I’m not real hot on the indie/college rock cannon that he draws from (Pavement, Yo La Tengo, etc), Teens of Denial is an impressive songwriting achievement, as Will Toledo supplies enough deadpan humor, fuzzy riffs, and sticky vocal melodies to keep you engaged through its mammoth 70-minute runtime.


untitled-article-1438185462-e1438260682161-672x372Mark Barrott
Sketches From an Island 2
International Feel
Hottest Jams: “Brunch With Suki,” “Der Stern, Der Nie Vergeht”

Winter is coming, and by all accounts, it’s gonna be a doozy on the East Coast. While my body freezes, my brain will be chilling on the beach in the warmer climes of the British producer’s lush ode to the Balearic islands. While the islands are mostly known for the sticky, sweaty dancefloors of Ibiza, Barrott focuses on their rich, natural beauty, letting the picturesque forests, remote beaches, and myriad tropical birds inspire him. The disc is both a beautiful escape and a new look at the famous islands.

Winter’s Diary 4
Hottest Jams: “Aquafina,” “Surprizes”

Sadly, the talented Chicagoan’s career has somewhat stalled since she linked up with Timbaland a couple years ago. Her widely-hyped debut, Think Tink, is still yet to materialize, and the newest chapter of her Winter’s Diary series failed to make much of a dent commercially or critically. That said, the low-key affair is a strong, worthy entry into the bulletproof series. To my ears, Tink always shines over mid-tempo, alluring production, and tracks like “Aquafina,” “Your Side,” and “Surprizes” live up to her high standards. She may have lost some of her buzz, but Winter’s Diary 4 proves that she’s lost none of what built it in the first place.

kodie-shaneKodie Shane
Little Rocket
Hottest Jams: “Losing Service,” “Hands Up”

Lil Yahcty may be the captain of the Sailing Team, but Kodie Shane is well on her way to becoming first mate (sorry, Perry). Her hyper-melodic new EP echoes much of the infectious joy of Yachty’s best work, and her emotional intelligence and warm vocals ratchet things up even higher. All five of the disc’s songs illicit maximum feels, and she displays impressive versatility throughout, just as comfortable jumping on a reflective number as she is a bedroom banger. One of the most exciting young talents of the year.

screen-shot-2016-06-16-at-3-14-39-pmYoung Thug
Hottest Jams: “RiRi,” “Swizz Beatz”

Jeffery “Young Thug” Williams has put out so much music in the last three years that it has been tough to keep up. And while he’s still recording at an insane clip, he drastically shortened each individual mixtape this year, making them more cohesive and easier to digest. The excellent, 9-track JEFFERY is an example of this effective new strategy. Thug keeps the filler to a minimum, balancing his signature bouncy, sticky bangers with a couple melodic, down-tempo numbers. The result is one of the tightest, most consistent albums of Williams’ career.

Tri Angle
Hottest Jams: “blisters,” “flickering”

Vocal manipulation is at an all-time high in pop music. And while I’m a proponent of artists coaxing interesting, affecting sounds out of their voices by any means necessary, Josiah Wise’s staggering, naked voice is a massive breath of fresh air. The clean presentation exposes the listener to every trill and strain, revealing all the sorts of subtle magic. On this gorgeous five-song EP, the Baltimore native bravely plumbs the depths of his soul, dragging his fears and failures out of the dark and into the light.

frank-ocean-1438159114-article-0Frank Ocean
Boys Don’t Cry
Hottest Jams: Just. About. All. Of. Them.

Since Frankie made us wait for Blonde, I’ll make you wait to hear my thoughts on it. Look for it at or very near the top of Thunder Penguin’s Best Albums of 2016 list in December. <3

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