• Recommended New Music: March 2018

    SUPERCHUNK- WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE

     

     

    11th full-length release by North Carolina indie-heroes Superchunk, continues their brilliant 2010’s late career run with “What A Time To Be Alive”, an energetic, angry and political album perfectly ripe for these crazy times. It is therapeutic to listen to people in their fifties calling out “old people” their age, or not much older for all of the messes they have made. Among the many album highlights are the title track, closer “Black Thread” and “Reagan Youth”. Another feather in the cap of this remarkably consistent punk institution.
     

     

     
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     U.S. GIRLS- IN A POEM UNLIMITED

     

     

    U.S. Girls have gained indie-rock credibility and stature slowly over the past decade, but “In a Poem Unlimited”, the group’s latest release, represents a great leap forward for them. Meg Remy, the group’s main creative force, combines her experimental inclinations with synth-pop and disco to create the group’s most pop and accessible music yet, while also its most pissed off and political. It is a diatribe against male violence presented in danceable, pleasant earworms. “Rosebud” and “Pearly Gates”, especially, are two of the better tracks of 2018 so far.

     

     
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    LUCY DACUS- HISTORIAN

     

     

    Sophomore album by promising, young Virginia-based singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus is in a similar vein as her friend and Matador label-mate Julien Baker. Dacus’s music is less spare and frankly rocks much harder than Baker’s though with busier production- horns, string instruments & added vocal effects. Dacus writes exceptionally well and while the subject matter can be heavy, the lyrics are clever, introspective and philosophical. Musically she is the master of the “slow build” and “Historian” gets better with every listen.
     

     
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    JEFF ROSENSTOCK- POST

     

     

    With No Age, Superchunk and now, Jeff Rosenstock releasing great albums in the first quarter of 2018, punk is already enjoying a great and resurgent year. Rosenstock is a punk lifer in his mid thirties who has just come onto my radar. “Post-” is titled as such because the record deals almost entirely with the aftermath of the 2016 election clusterfuck and how to deal in Trump’s America. Though the subject matter is dark and upsetting, Rosenstock’s simple yet well-played and passionate music with power-pop riffs and shout-along choruses are inspirational. “9/10” and the nearly eight minute “USA” are two major highlights.

     

     
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     KACEY MUSGRAVES- GOLDEN HOUR

     

     

    “Golden Hour”, lovable Nashville outlier Kacey Musgraves third album, is her best yet and by some measure. Musgraves has a lovely voice with an obvious southern twang, which will likely always keep her rooted to a country sound. Yet she cleverly takes traditional country music and infuses it with early eighties pop, disco and R&B freeing her music up to sound unlike anything else out right now. Her lyrics are funny, witty, relatable and progressive (especially in the country world) and she cleverly turns cliched phrases like “Wonder Woman”, “Space Cowboy” and “High Horse” on their ear. The highlights are abundant with too many to list here and I hope Musgraves ends up all over the radio. “Golden Hour” is one of the best albums of 2018 so far and it is easy and fun to root for such a likable artist.

     

     
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  • Recommended New Music: January & February 2018

    TUNE-YARDS- I CAN FEEL YOU CREEP INTO MY PRIVATE LIFE

     

     

     

     

     

    “I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life”, tune-yards fourth album, is their most confrontational and political yet, while leaning towards a poppier direction musically. Lyrically, group leader Merrill Garbus focuses heavily on social justice as well as cultural appropriation and white guilt, critical of white liberals turning a blind eye toward injustice. The music is funky and bass-driven with Garbus’s otherworldly harmonies with herself giving the group a signature song. Standout tracks include “Colonzier”, “Coast To Coast” and lead track “Heart Attack”.
     

     

     

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    TY SEGALL- FREEDOM’S GOBLIN

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Ty Segall is one of the most prolific artists working today. Even a music-obsessive such as I probably knows much less than half his discography. He’s released twenty albums in just under a decade so one must narrow the focus on the standout releases if possible. “Freedom’s Goblin” is a sprawling double album which takes from nearly every non-radio friendly electric guitar sound of the last fifty years. Early Metal, Stoner-rock, Crazy Horse inspired guitar jams, T-Rex-era glam rock, late sixties garage rock- it’s all here. There is even a kick-ass cover of disco-funk band Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone 1’s A Winner”. With an album this long not every track is created equal- Segall is intentionally messy and stylistically all over the place but the dude shreds and anyone lamenting the decline of guitar rock should check this out immediately.
     

     

     

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    NO AGE- SNARES LIKE A HAIRCUT

     

     

     

     

     

    “Snares Like A Haircut” is L.A. punk duo No Age’s first album since 2013 and their best in a decade. In fact it’s also my favorite album of the year so far. No Age take the hard driving energy of punk and the beautiful feedback haze of shoegaze and add it to sharp songwriting which has hooks for daze. They are equal parts pop and experimentation and “Snares”, their fifth full-length album, contains their best set of songs since “Nouns”. The highlights are abundant and include “Drippy”, “Cruise Control” and “Tidal”. Nearly every track on the album is under four minutes and the second the album ends it leaves the listener wanting more.
     

     

     

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    OUGHT- ROOM INSIDE THE WORLD

     

     

     

     

     

    Third album by experimental post-punk Montreal band Ought takes the group in a slightly more commercial direction to solid results. Ought has a decidedly eighties post-punk sound- think post-“Entertainment”-era Gang Of Four, a slightly less gloomy Joy Division and mid-eighties The Fall. Singer Tim Darcy sounds even more like The Fall’s Mark E. Smith than James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem does. Each of Ought’s previous albums has contained a few absolute gems and “Room Inside the World” is no different. “Desire” and “Disgraced In America” are two absolute standouts here, but while it is very unlikely you’ll start hearing Ought on the radio anytime soon, “Room” could end up opening up the band to a wider audience.
     

     

     

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    SCREAMING FEMALES- ALL AT ONCE


     

     

     

     

    I have been hearing about Screaming Females for years and finally decided to take the plunge and listen to them on their seventh album “All At Once”. I am damn glad I did and I definitely see what all of the fuss was about. The band is led by singer and lead guitarist Marissa Paternoster who delivers distinct, impassioned vocals and muscular guitar riffs. Apparently the group has tightened up its songwriting and taken its sound to a more radio-ready, pop-punk place. What I hear is a kick-ass, solid rock band with tons of hooks and I am excited to explore them more.
     

     

     

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  • Top 50 Albums of 2017: 50-41

    50. HUNDRED WATERS- COMMUNICATING

     

     

    Third full-length release from experimental electronic pop quartet is their most accessible effort yet.  Despite being signed to Skrillex’s label OWSLA, Hundred Waters have little in common with bro step.  Their music is gorgeous, relaxing and chill.  The first half of the album is nearly perfect starting with lead, and most radio-friendly track “Particle” and “Wave to Anchor” being the biggest highlights.  The second half dips in quality slightly aside from “Blanket”, one of the group’s best tracks yet.

     

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    49. IRON & WINE- BEAST EPIC

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Iron & Wine’s sixth album shows Sam Beam and company returning to the sparer, more stripped down sound of their earliest records, after more recent more band-oriented efforts.  At this point, it is same to call Iron & Wine one of the most consistently good bands in indie-rock as they’ve yet to have a misstep.  While “Beast Epic” may lack immediacy, there are no bad moments and it’s a gorgeous listen from start to finish.  The majority of this album is just Beam’s beautiful voice, his acoustic guitar and some strings and the occasional bass to back him up.  I’ve really enjoyed the group’s busier sounding records as well but this return to roots is nonetheless refreshing.

     

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    48. GIRLPOOL- POWERPLANT

     

     

    Second album by this L.A. based female indie folk-punk duo barely out of their teens. Girlpool only just added a session drummer for “Powerplant”, giving their sound a bit more muscle.  But the focus is on Girlpool’s otherworldly harmonies which bring to mind both the Breeders and the Roches.  Highlights are peppered throughout the album with lead single “123” and penultimate track “It Gets More Blue” being at the top of the heap.

     

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    47. DESTROYER- KEN

     

     

     

     

     

    It’s hard to believe that Destroyer, the long-term project of ultra-literate and eccentric singer-songwriter (and New Pornographer member) Dan Bear, has been active for over twenty years.  The first half of “Ken”, Destroyer’s 11th album, is equal in quality to their 2011 masterpiece “Kaputt”.  Opening track “Sky’s Grey”, single “Tinseltown Swimming In Blood” and “Cover From The Sun” are some of the best Destroyer tracks ever.  “Ken” loses some steam at the end but is overall a worthy effort and a step up from 2015’s still pretty good “Poison Season”.

     

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    46. JAY SOM- EVERYBODY WORKS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Jay Som is SF Bay area multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte.  “Everybody Works” is her official debut album after late 2016 mixtape “Turn Into”.  Though her music plays as lo-fi bedroom pop, her strong sense of melody and propensity to ROCK allows “Everybody Works” to rise far above most other music of its kind.  Duterte is only 22 years old and her talent, ambition and wisdom at such a young age gives me the sense that she could be around for a long time and really make a name for herself in music.

     

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    45. FLEET FOXES- CRACK-UP

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Fleet Foxes third album and first since 2011’s “Helplessness Blues” is their most musically complex & least song oriented album to date.  “Crack-Up” needs to be listened as an album rather then piece by piece so that you can dive into its sheer beauty.  Three of the tracks are over six minutes, including two song suites.  It is safe to call “Crack-Up” progressive indie-folk.  The Foxes’ signature gorgeous harmonies are in tact- there is not mistaking this band’s sound.  It’s just so much denser and layered than ever before, but ultimately rewarding for the listener who sticks with it.

     

     

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    44. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE- VILLAINS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Mark Ronson-produced seventh album shows this hard-rock institution at its most ass-shakin’ and experimental.  Queens have always been a groove-oriented group but I’ve never heard them actually this close to danceable.  Lead single “The Way You Used To Do” seems prime to take over radio but most tracks run into the five to six minute mark. This does not make them inaccessible.  Any long-time fan of Queens will not be disappointed.

     

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    43. DRAKE- MORE LIFE

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Over the best decade, Drake has become the most commercially successful and well as prolific artists in Rap. Though critically he falls well short of Kendrick Lamar, his output of great songs and albums is undeniable at this point. 2016’s “Views” was bloated and an artistic disappointment but still contained a number of standout singles such as “One Dance”, “Feel No Ways” & “Controlla”, not to mention “Hotline Bling” and it was DRake’s most commercially successful album to date. AS a follow up Drake gives us a nearly hour and a half long mixtape in “More Life”. While even longer than “Views” it seems more generous and less bloated with a free flowing vibe and a plethora of guest stars- Drake at times cedes entire songs to the featuring artists. It’s a fun album showing Drake stylistic diversity while still offering up a number of absolute standout singles like “Get It Together”, the summer-friendly “Passionfruit” and the previously released smash “Fake Love”.

     

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    42. ALVVAYS- ANTISOCIALITIES

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Second album by Canadian quintet improves on the group’s very good 2014 self-titled debut.  While it may lack a track as immediate as the debut’s “Archie, Marry Me”, “Antisocialities” is much more consistently winning overall.  Alvvays makes hook-filled indie-pop with a nod to shoe gaze and dream-pop. Lead singer Molly Rankin’s airy vocals are punched up to the front of the mix helping to make the group’s sound even more accessible than before.  The album barely breaks thirty minutes and is air tight without a dud among the ten tracks.  “Dreams Tonite” and “Plimsoll Punks” are two early standouts.

     

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    41. ARIEL PINK- DEDICATED TO BOBBY JAMESON

     

     

     

    Forty-something eccentric L.A. weirdo Ariel Pink dedicates a set of songs to Bobby Jameson, a sixties L.A. fellow weirdo who was once a fixture of the city’s psych-rock scene before dropping out due to mental health and substance abuse issues.  With “Bobby Jameson” Pink mixes 60’s psych sounds, 70’s soft rock and millennial dream pop.  His genius is his ability to morph this zany, outsider experimental music into catchy pop songs.  But he mostly succeeds here, particularly with tracks like “Bubblegum Dreams”, “Feels Like Heaven” and “Another Weekend”.

     

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  • TOP 50 ALBUMS OF 2017: 40-31

    40.  PRIESTS- NOTHING FEELS NATURAL

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Debut album by D.C. based, mostly-female, political punk rockers is a perfect antidote to Trump-era nonsense.  It was released back at the top of this year but I finally got around to listening to it in August.  Like 70’s punk & post-punk bands like the Raincoats and the Slits, Priests are far more interesting than straight-ahead, paint by numbers punk, adding elements of funk, jazz, reggae and indie-rock.  First single “JJ” is the catchiest track, but closing cut “Suck” is the most musically interesting.  “Nothing Feels Natural” is a barely thirty minute album with not a second wasted.

     

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    39.  REAL ESTATE- IN MIND

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Fourth full-length by Northern Jersey bred indie jangle pop act is another winner, making a strong if subtle case that Real Estate is one of the best and most consistent rock groups of this decade. There are small tweaks to Real Estate’s well-honed sound. Founding guitarist Matt Mondanile has left the group and was replaced by fellow Jersey native, the formerly solo artist Julian Lynch. The lyrics concern chief songwriter’s recent move to the upstate New York town of Beacon, marriage and new fatherhood, showing that the band has moved on a bit from post-collegiate, suburban ennui. While every song on “In Mind” sounds unmistakably like Real Estate, the group does rock out at bit more than on prior albums which can seem dramatic to a group with such a mellow, well-formed sound. Opening track and lead single “Darling” is an early favorite and one of the band’s best songs yet but this band is just ear candy to me and I expect to find my favorite songs to change over time with each listen.

     

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    38. WOLF PARADE- CRY CRY CRY

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Cry Cry Cry”, Wolf Parade’s first album in seven years, is quietly its most rewarding listen since the Canadian group’s debut “Apologies To The Queen Mary”, which took indie rock by storm back in 2005.  Wolf Parade sticks to its recognizable driving rock sound, led by punchy synth riffs and co-singer/songwriters Dan Boeckner & Spencer Krug’ passionate vocals.  The group  brings a better stable of songs to the table, after two decent but not great albums released over the last decade in “Expo 86” and “At Mount Zoomer”.  Tracks like “You’re Dreaming”, “Artificial Life” and “Valley Boy” are among the band’s best and though many of the album’s songs stretch past the five minute mark, “Cry Cry Cry” speeds by quickly without any real missteps.

     

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    37.  BIG THIEF- CAPACITY

     

     

     

     

    Sophomore release from Brooklyn-based indie quarter Big Thief took me awhile to enjoy.  “Capacity” is bare-bones, intimate and quite intense.  Singer, chief songwriter, and guitarist Adrianne Lenker delivers devastating lyrics often about painful familial memories, death and abuse, but sung in a sweet, very palatable voice.  “Capacity” requires immense concentration to fully appreciate its beauty and depth.  “Mythological Beauty”, the title track, and “Shark Smile” are the album’s biggest highlights.

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    36.  CHRIS STAPLETON- FROM A ROOM VOLUMES 1 & 2

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Nashville neo-outlaw Country hero Chris Stapleton follow up to his wildly successful, multi-million selling debut “Traveller”, is a modest, brief collection- a part 1 of a planned two part set (part 2 is planned to be released later this year)- that is all killer, no filler.  Album highlights include “Up To No Good Livin'”, “Them Stems”, “I Was Wrong” and Willie Nelson cover “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”, but every single song here is damn good.  Stapleton is a top notch songwriter, an authentic and soulful singer and maybe the very best thing going in all of country music right now.

    **  Since the above review Stapleton did release Volume 2 on 12/1/17.  I like it slightly less than “Volume 1”, but combining the two records delivers a solid one-two punch which contains nearly two handfuls of standout tracks with nary a stinker in the whole lot.  We are lucky to have this man’s talent.

     

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    35.  FATHER JOHN MISTY- PURE COMEDY

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Pure Comedy”, Father John Misty’s third album, is seventy-five minutes long and in his most ambitious and grandest statement yet.  Despite an incredibly strong start to the album, that does not make it his most enjoyable.  It lacks the amount of strong songs and musical diversity of his last album “I Love You Honeybear”.  Misty’s hipster persona, usually laden with irony, makes it difficult for the listener to discern his level of sincerity.  While many people find him frustrating; an obviously crazy talented & prolific songwriter with a voice like an angel who just can’t seem to play it straight, I find the persona fresh and interesting.  These are dark times both politically and culturally and Misty is not afraid to point fingers at not only our often ridiculous leaders, but the capitalist system in general as well as himself and his own audience.  The first four songs on “Pure Comedy”- the title track, “Total Entertainment Forever”, “Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution” & “Ballad Of A Dying Man” are all among the best songs he has ever written but “Pure Comedy” can get bogged down by the amount of similar sounding, lengthy ballads- four of the album thirteen songs are over six minutes with two of them going over ten.

     

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    34. THUNDERCAT- DRUNK

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Third album by hotshot L.A. bassist Thundercat is a free-form, often goofy “day in the life of” album made up of 23 songs, each around two minutes.  The vibe is experimental but also a loose and laid back fusion of soul, funk & jazz with each song flowing right into the next.  Standout tracks include “Friend Zone”, “Show You The Way” (with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald!) and last year’s cut “Them Changes”, which is maybe the best of them all.

     

     

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    33.  MIGOS- CULTURE

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Atlanta trap-rappers piggy-back and the success of #1 single “Bad and Boujee” and follow-up smash “T-Shirt” with the best album of their career so far.  Though “Culture” is certainly front-loaded it’s still by far their most consistently good release so far and its unique but more accessible sound should garner the group a ton of new fans.

     

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    32.  JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT- THE NASHVILLE SOUND

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    After two solo albums (2013’s “Southeastern” and 2015’s “Something More Than Free”) which established Jason Isbell as one of the leading lights of alternative country, Isbell releases his first album with his band the 400 unit since 2011 and his third with the group overall.  The Nashville Sound is less a singer-songwriter album and more of a southern rock album with gritty kick-ass songs like “Cumberland Gap” and “Last Of My Kind” which sound closer to the Drive-By Truckers than Isbell’s more recent solo output.  Though “The Nashville Sound” has a few missteps great songs like the ones mentioned above, along with “If We Were Vampires” and “White Man’s World” make it another worthy listen for Isbell’s ever-growing fanbase.

     

     

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    31.  CHARLOTTES GAINSBOURG-REST

     

     

     

    Charlotte, the daughter of legendary French pop star and auteur Serge Gainsbourg, lost her half sister in 2013 to a tragic accident.  Her last album “IRM” dealt with her own fears of sickness and mortality.  “Rest” is about coming to grips with loss while figuring out how to move forward with your life without being consumed by tragedy.  Gainsbourg is able to switch from quiet, depressing ballads like “Kate” and “Rest” to celebratory, dance tracks like “Deadly Valentine” and “Sylvia Says” mirroring the album’s main theme of resiliency.

     

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  • Top 50 Albums of 2017: 30-21

    30MOUNT KIMBIE- LOVE WHAT SURVIVES

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Third full-length release (it’s my first) by electronic music duo Mount Kimbie, who have apparently raised the bar by becoming much more song-oriented on “Love What Survives”.   Featuring celebrated indie guest vocalists including James Blake, Micachu & King Krule, Kimbie takes a leap from IDM into more traditional indie-rock territory.  Krule, who has his own heavily anticipated album out in mid-October, particularly stands out on “Blue Train Lines”, my favorite track on the album.  Mount Kimbie’s sound tow’s the line between propulsive Krautrock of group’s like Can & Faust, gloomy post-punk of Joy Division & early Cure and livelier energetic synth music of later New Order.

     

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    29. DIRTY PROJECTORS- DIRTY PROJECTORS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Dave Longstreth continues his Dirty Projectors project, with a break-up record about former bandmate Amber Coffman.  Longstreth is very musical but esoteric with offbeat rhythms and arrangements prominent throughout the album, and his unmistakably distinct high-pitched vocals make the Dirty Projectors “not for everybody”.  My guess is that “Dirty Projectors” will prove to be a grower but early standout tracks include “Up In Hudson”, “Keep Your Name” and “Little Bubble”.

     

     

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    28. ZOLA JESUS- OKOVI

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Sixth album by Zola Jesus is the first I’ve heard that I would consider all all out winner, despite a number of amazing individual moments released over the past decade.  Zola Jesus is Zika Danilova, an amazingly talented, opera-trained vocalist, whose soaring vocals give goth pop perhaps its first torch singer.  Lyrically “Okovi” deals with depression, cancer diagnosis & the suicide or attempted suicide of several of Danilova’s friends, but despite the dark themes, her gorgeous music sounds life-affirming rather than bummed out.  “Exhumed”, “Soak” and “Siphon” are my favorite tracks here but all of “Okovi” is a worthwhile listen.  Hopefully Zola Jesus’s profile will increase with this record.  They deserve it.

     

     

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    27. JULIE BYRNE- NOT EVEN HAPPINESS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Sophomore album by NYC transplant Julie Byrne is a beautiful and serene mixture of folk and new age music.  It’s over in just over thirty minutes and feels even shorter- there are no weak moments.

     

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    26.  MOUNT EERIE- A CROW LOOKED AT ME

     

     

    “A Crow Looked At Me” is 2017’s “Benji” or “Carrie and Lowell”- a beautifully written, deep and incredibly thought provoking album that is nonetheless devastatingly sad and too depressing for many.  Phil Elverum recently lost the love of his life, wife and mother to his one year old child, to cancer and “A Crow Looked At Me” is a celebration of her memory but also how her death and her spirit envelopes his world as he has to pick up the pieces and go on living.  That his wife died at just 35 and his child is not even old enough to truly ever remember her makes it all the more tragic.  But there can be deep beauty found in sadness.

     

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    25. LAURA MARLING- SEMPER FEMINA

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Sixth album by London based singer-songwriter Laura Marling concentrates on femininity and the complex relationships between women. Still only twenty-five, Marling is a true “old soul”, crafting music which could have easily been made at any time in the last forty five years. After 2015’s more rock-oriented, excellent “Short Movie”, “Semper Feminine” is more of a throwback to Marling’s earlier, more acoustic based work. Standout tracks include “The Valley” and “Wild Once” but the entire album is a great listen.

     

     

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    24.WAXAHATCHEE- OUT IN THE STORM

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Fourth album by Philadelphia band led by singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield, shows the group continuing to grow and get better with each release.  Each of their albums is examines the bad breakup of a relationship from a unique angle.  “Out In The Storm” is the first to look at the relationship from the perspective of having truly moved on.  Crutchfield’s lyrics are incisive and poetic, while Waxahatchee’s sharp indie power pop is a joy to hear.

     

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    23.THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS- WHITEOUT CONDITIONS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Seventh album by Canadian indie-rock super group is their first without group eccentric Dan Bejar who couldn’t record due to scheduling conflicts with his other group Destroyer.  Bejar’s presence is missed as he is often responsible for some of the group’s best and most stylistically diverse songs.  But likely due to his absence “Whiteout Conditions” is one of the band’s most focused pure power pop albums yet.  As usual the NP’s are led by chief singer & songwriter AC Newman but Neko Case is now given more shine on lead vocals.  The title track and “High Ticket Attractions” are early favorites.

     

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    22.FUTURE ISLANDS- THE FAR FIELD

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “The Far Field” is Future Islands fifth album but first since the band’s popularity increased exponentially due to hit single “Seasons” from 2014’s “Singles”.  There may not be a single track on “The Far Field” as amazing as “Seasons” but the album as a whole is a more consistently rewarding effort.  Future Islands is a three pieces band driven by Peter Hook-style bass riffs, passionate, heart on its sleeve vocals, robotic drums and no guitar.  Lead singles “Ran” and “Cave” as well as the gorgeous “Through The Roses” all standout but there is not a weak track in the bunch.

     

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    21. PERFUME GENIUS- NO SHAPE

     
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “No Shape” is the fourth album by confrontational & groundbreaking gay artist Mike Hadreas as Perfume Genius and is an ode to and a celebration of his love and relationship with longtime boyfriend and musical collaborator Alan Wyffles.  Hadreas’s music can be beautiful, heartbreaking, provocative, defiant and bold- sometimes all at once.  “No Shape” is his most consistently rewarding set of songs yet with lead single “Slip Away” being the most obvious highlight.

     

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  • Top 50 Albums of 2017: 20-11

     

    20.  SPOON- HOT THOUGHTS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    2014’s “They Want My Soul” was in my opinion one of the best albums of indie-rock institution Spoon’s twenty year career. “Hot Thoughts” may not be quite on its level but there is hardly shame in that Spoon has simply never made a bad, or even average album. Though Spoon certainly has its dedicated fan-base they somehow always manage to fly under the radar even though they are truly one of the best rock bands of their era. Like Real Estate above, Spoon has developed its own sound and stays in that lane while tweaking the formula up just enough to make “Hot Thoughts” different from the rest of their albums. Lead vocalist and song-writer Britt Daniel is also a genius in the studio and adds production flourishes- bleeps, loops, skronks and eerie strings or synths that add spice to his catchy and reliably consistent songwriting. “Can I Sit Next To You”, the title track and “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” are songs surely to be added to the great Spoon song canon at the very least.

     

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    19. KELELA- TAKE ME APART

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Take Me Apart” is Kelela’s long awaited debut after a series of stunning EP’s.  Kelela makes innovative, futuristic pop music, danceable and sex-focused, but more akin to early Bjork, FKA Twigs and the xx than current club music.  Her music is patient, sultry & sensual, increasingly rewarding upon repeated listenings.  Lead single “Frontline” is a standout track, but “Take Me Apart” is consistently pleasurable from beginning to end.

     

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    18. MAC-DEMARCO- THIS OLD DOG

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Third full-length album “This Old Dog” shows talented millennial slacker-hero Mac DeMarco’s leap into relative maturity, as DeMarco delves into his family history with a loving, but struggling single mother and a mostly absent father with substance abuse issues.  DeMarco’s woozy, chilled-out, mostly acoustic sound remains in place and tracks like “On The Level” and “This Old Dog” are up there right among his best material.  Long-time fans will not be disappointed and DeMarco’s lyrical growth is a welcome sign.

     

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    17. SAMPHA- PROCESS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Debut LP by frequent featuring vocalist (Solange, Drake, Kanye, Frank Ocean) Sampha is filled with meditative soul ballads sung in his gorgeous falsetto.  It’s a beautiful, but fairly downbeat album concerned with processing grief and self-discovery.  It’s one of the year’s best albums so far.

     

     

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    16. TYLER, THE CREATOR- FLOWER BOY


     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Color me surprised that the often offensive, always provocative rabble rouser, Tyler The Creator released his least offensive (by far) and best album with his fourth solo album “Flower Boy”. Production on past albums was normally in your face and aggressive, while on “Flower Boy” it’s gentle, beautiful and slow moving;  mellow jazz & soul samples are often used to color in the grooves.  Talented collaborators including Frank Ocean, Syd, Estelle & Pharrell Williams all contribute to “Flower Boy”.  It’s the biggest switch in sound of a recent artist that I can think of while possibly even being a coming out of the closet statement by Tyler, who previously has been justly accused of homophobic rants.  “Flower Boy” is a ton to dissect from a talented and often misunderstood young artist making his first major full-length album statement.  “Who Dat Boy” and “911/Mr. Lonely” are two standout tracks but the whole thing is a very strong listen.

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    15. FEVER RAY- PLUNGE

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Plunge” is only the second album by Fever Ray, a solo project of Karen Dreijer, one half of Swedish experimental electronic duo The Knife.  While certainly maintaining an experimental vibe, Fever Ray tends to be more accessible than The Knife and “Plunge” does not disappoint, delivering some of its best and catchiest tracks yet including “This Country”, “To The Moon And Back” and “IDK About You”.  Yet these tracks belie the remainder of the album which tends to be more dissonant and atonal.  As always, Dreijer is unapologetically liberal, attacking the western world’s current hyper capitalism and descent into conservatism.  She is ultra-focused on sex, and the more overt the sex the more political she sounds.  Sex as freedom!

     

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    14. JAY Z – 4 44

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Many didn’t feel like Jay-Z had this one in him.  One of the most talented rappers of all-time and arguably the longest career ever of sustained greatness, most thought of him as done after the fat, rich & happy artists failure of 2013’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail”, but 4:44 is not only great, it’s probably Jay’s best since “The Black Album”.  Many are reading “4:44” as a response to his wife Beyonce’s excellent “Lemonade”, or at the very least as an apology for his own marital shortcomings.  Whether it is or not, Jay-Z is certainly at his most emotional and introspective, allowing a real window into his soul.  “Smile”, “The Story of O.J.” and the awesome hit title cut are among the many highlights.

     

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    13. RUN THE JEWELS- RTJ 3

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The most exciting duo in rap right now drop a free mixtape on Christmas day and continue their winning streak with this third self titled album release.  Their political anger is understandably ramped up, but so is their joy- two guys celebrating a true friendship and partnership who are in the zone playing off of each other.  And the production is A-one as usual.

     

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    12. THE NATIONAL- SLEEP WELL BEAST

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Seventh album by gloomy Brooklyn dads, The National, is to my ears their best since “Boxer”.  The National rock harder here on a few tracks than usual giving “Beast” an energy and urgency not quite there on their still very good last few prior releases.  “Day I Die”, “Turtleneck” and “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” are the louder cuts and are all standouts in the band’s increasingly vast catalog.  The album’s sonic variety allows mellower tracks like “Carin At The Liquor Store”, “Dark Side of The Gym” and “Guilty Party” to stand out more as well.  It’s great to see a band over a decade in, well steeped in middle age not running short on ideas and still making some of the best music of their career.

     

    Buy Sleep Well Beast Amazon

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    11. VINCE STAPLES- BIG FISH THEORY


     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Big Fish Theory” is the second full-length (to go along with two standout EP’s) album for the Long Beach, California based rapper, further cementing Staples status as one of the young shining lights of modern hip hop.  Like Kendrick Lamar, Staples is a great pure rapper who also has lots to say- he is a fearless voice in calling out societal hypocrisies and racial strife.  On “Big Fish” he marries his intellectual raps to club music beats, which are specially indebted to late eighties/early nineties Chicago & Detroit House and Techno music.  Early highlights include lead track “Crab In A Bucket” and Kendrick Lamar featuring “Yeah Right”, but I’m excited to dig into this album further.

     

    BUY Big Fish Theory [Explicit]AMAZON



  • Top 50 Albums of 2017- 10-1

    10.  JULIEN BAKER- TURN OUT THE LIGHTS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Julien Baker is a Tennessee born, young, ultra-talented indie singer-songwriter who sounds much older and wiser than her twenty two years. Baker delivers powerful, raw and authentic vocals with spare accompaniment usually consisting of piano and electric or acoustic guitar all played by Baker herself.  She asks philosophical questions about depressions, God and her place and purpose in the universe.  “Turn Out The Lights”, Baker’s second album immediately captures your attention, but continues to get better with each listen.  There are no weak tracks, but the title cut is my favorite along with “Happy To Be Here”, “Appointments” and “Sour Breath”, but this is the type of album where your favorite song could change often over time and “Turn Out The Lights” could be destined to reach future classic status.

     

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    9. THE XX- I SEE YOU

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    3rd album and first since 2012’s “Coexist” is both an improvement on that record and a step forward for the band.  While maintaining the group’s signature smooth, sultry sound the xx incorporates elements from dj Jamie xx’s solo career and uses samples for the first time.

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    8.  THE WAR ON DRUGS- A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING


     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Fourth album find Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs really settling into a groove after 2014’s incredibly well received “Lost In The Dream”.  With a sound and production deeply indebted to mid eighties Boomer-rock (think “Avalon”-era Roxy Music, mid eighties-Dire Straits, late-eighties Springsteen with less nasally Dylan-esque vocals) TWOD is able to remind listeners of that throwback era, while maintaining its own singular, recognizable sound.  Led by frontman/songwriter and guitarist Adam Granduciel, the group’s big, busy sound is machine-line in its precision offering a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Though tracks like “Pain”, “Holding On” and the 11 minute plus “Thinking Of A Place” do stand out, “A Deeper Understanding” is best listened to as a whole- it’s a album that allows you to get lost inside of it.

     

     

     

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    7. SZA- CTRL

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Major label debut album from New Jersey based alternative R&B singer, SZA, is a surprise hit with tracks like “Love Galore” and “The Weekend” even crossing over to radio.  SZA’s lyrics are bold, frank and sometimes self-effacing- she is equally tough on herself as she is on bad ,ale behavior.  Her music sticks out as unique among her contemporary R&B peers as she often draws her sound from indie-rock as she does pop & soul.  Her Top Dawg label mates Travis Scott, Isaiah Rashad and especially Kendrick Lamar are all welcome featuring artist on this very smart & promising album.

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    6.  KAMASI WASHINGTON- THE HARMONY OF DIFFERENCE

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “The Harmony Of Difference” is the 30 minute EP follow-up to South Central Los Angeles Jazz Saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s three disc, three hour debut “The Epic”.  Washington, a leading light of today’s jazz who often collaborates with like-minded musicians outside of jazz like Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus & Thundercat, writes five concise thematic pieces that are combined into one lengthy fourteen minute suite called “Truth”, which is possibly one of 2017’s greatest recordings.  There is not a misstep one the EP, which may somehow better his audacious debut.  If you are looking for a good entry point to current jazz, Washington is a great place to start.  He takes the traditions of the hard bop masters, particularly John Coltrane, and expands it into current R&B and Hip Hop, enriching and enhancing both genres.

     

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    5.  ST. VINCENT- MASSEDUCTION

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Fifth full-length album by singer-songwriter & wunderkind guitarist Annie Clark (As St. Vincent) is one of 2017’s best albums.  Like two of her heroes, David Byrne & David Bowie, Clark is never content to rest on her laurels, stretching her writing and musical chops to yet again create an album unique to her discography.  Thematically, “Masseduction” deals with heartbreak, leaving and distance.  It’s already been called St. Vincent’s most pop-oriented album.  This may be true as far as song accessibility but none of it sounds remotely like any current pop dominating the radio.  “New York”, “Los Ageless”, “Pills” and “Happy Birthday, Johnny” are early faves.

     

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    4.  SLOWDIVE- SLOWDIVE

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Nineties shoegaze band’s first album in twenty-two years and it’s one of 2017’s best albums, continuing the welcome streak of Gen-X bands (Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine, Sleater-Kinney) delivering great reunion albums up there with their best work.  “Slowdive” is exacting and fussed over, but strikingly beautiful and at eight songs there is not even an average one in the bunch.  Whether pure pop, like album standout “Sugar For The Pill”, or more dissonant and swirling like “Star Rover” Slowdive deliver continuous ear candy- this album is a true triumph and makes me eager to go back and listen to the band’s original output.

     

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    3.  LORDE- MELODRAMA

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Twenty year old, precociously talented Lorde follows up her wildly successful debut album (2013’s “Pure Heroine”) with “Melodrama”, which is five times better than her pretty great debut- an album which simultaneously shows major music growth, is a cohesive artistic statement and contains a collection of amazing songs and singles.  It’s the best pure pop album of 2017 and one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.  Thematically “Melodrama” concerns the trials and tribulations of teenage life on the precipice of your adulthood.  It’s a concept that’s been explored before for sure but Lorde’s expert writing makes the songs fee lived-in, authentic and autobiographical.  The highlights are many- lead single “Green Light”, “The Louvre”, “Homemade Dynamite”, “Supercut” and album closer “Perfect Places”.  It’s the type of album that could be generating hits for several years.  Is Lorde the voice of her generation?

     

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    2.  LCD SOUNDSYSTEM- AMERICAN DREAM

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    First album in over six years is another absolute winner for James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem, adding even more to a catalog that as consistently great as any band of this millennium.  As usual, Murphy synchronizes driving synth pop and club music, gloomy post-punk and the early oughts dance-punk sound that he helped revolutionize into a sound often familiar but still uniquely his own.  Bowie, Talking Heads, New Order, Suicide, Brian Eno are all major influences.  “American Dream” focuses on the aging process, self-reflection and the search for meaning and idealism, particularly in Trump’s America.  It is certainly among the best albums released this year and tracks “Tonite” and “Call The Police” are among the best songs in the group’s arsenal to date.

     

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    1KENDRICK LAMAR- DAMN

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Kendrick Lamar has now, by 2017, taken over Kanye West as the most exciting artist in modern music. Lamar’s influence drives not only hip hop culture but music in general.  After 2015’s world conquering, heavily jazz & funk influenced “To Pimp A Butterfly”, Lamar with “Damn” brings the focus back towards pure rap, but “Damn” is as singular and unique as any of Lamar’s previous output.  It sounds far more focused that the sprawling and densely packaged “Butterfly” and though fifty-five minutes long it seems much shorter.  Lead single “Humble” managed to go all the way to #1- a huge crossover radio hit; it did so without compromises.  The best artists set the standard and make the societal infrastructure change for them.  “DNA”, “Fear”, XXX (featuring U2!!!!) and last track- the amazing “Duckworth” are all some of the best cuts of not only Lamar’s career but of 2017 in general.  “Damn” will likely be on the short list of 2017’s best albums when all is said and done.

    BUY DAMN. [Explicit] AMAZON



  • Top 50 Albums of 2017: Honorable Mentions

    AFGHAN WHIGS- IN SPADES

     

     

     

    Buy In Spades

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    ALEX LAHEY- I LOVE YOU LIKE A BROTHER

     

     

     

    Buy I Love You Like a Brother

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    ARCADE FIRE- EVERYTHING NOW

     

     

    Buy Everything Now

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE- HUG OF THUNDER

     

     

     

    Buy Hug Of Thunder

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    CALVIN HARRIS- FUNK WAV BOUNCES PART 1

     

     

     

    Buy Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 [Explicit]

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    CLOUD NOTHINGS- LIFE AFTER SOUND

     

     

     

    Buy Life Without Sound

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    COURTNEY BARNETT & KURT VILE- LOTTA SEA LICE

     

     

     

    Buy Lotta Sea Lice

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    FEIST- PLEASURE

     

     

     

    Buy Pleasure

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    GRIZZLY BEAR- PAINTED RUINS

     

     

     

    Buy Painted Ruins

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    JENS LEKMAN- LIFE WILL SEE YOU NOW

     

     

     

     

    Buy Life Will See You Now

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    KEHLANI- SWEETSEXYSAVAGE

     

     

     

    Buy SweetSexySavage (Deluxe) [Explicit]

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    KEVIN MORBY- CITY MUSIC

     

     

    Buy City Music

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    KING KRULE- THE OOZ

     

     

     

    Buy The OOZ

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    LIL B- BLACK KEN

     

     

     

    Buy Black Ken [Explicit]

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    LIL UZI VERT- LUV IS RAGE 2

     

     

     

    Buy Luv Is Rage 2 [Explicit]

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    MARTY STUART & HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES- WAY OUT WEST

     

     

     

    Buy Way Out West

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    MASTODON- EMPEROR OF SAND

     

     

    Buy Emperor of Sand

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    MOSES SUMNEY- AROMANTICISM

     

     

     

     

    Buy Aromanticism

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    SYD- FIN

     

     

     

    Buy Fin [Explicit]

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    THE SHINS- HEARTWORMS


     

     

    Buy Heartworms



  • Top 50 Albums of 2017: Best of 2017 Volume 1

    Best of 2017 Volume 1 (1/12/18)

    1. Slowdive- Sugar For the Pill

    Buy Sugar for the Pill

    2.  Drake- Passionfruit

    Buy Passionfruit [Explicit]

    3. Calvin Harris (Feat. Frank Ocean & Migos)- Slide

    Buy Slide [Explicit]

    4. SZA (Feat. Travis Scott)- Love Galore

    Buy Love Galore [Explicit]

    5. Kelela- Frontline

    Buy Frontline

    6. Fever Ray- To The Moon and Back

    Buy To The Moon And Back [Explicit]

    7. Future- Mask Off

    Buy Mask Off [Explicit]

    8. Jay-Z- 4:44

    Buy 4:44 [Explicit]

    9. Kendrick Lamar- DNA

    Buy DNA. [Explicit]

    10. LCD Soundsystem- Call the Police

    Buy call the police

    11. King Krule- Dum Surfer

    Buy Dum Surfer

    12. The War On Drugs- Pain

    Buy Pain

    13. Lorde- Homemade Dynamite

    Buy Homemade Dynamite [Explicit]

    14. St. Vincent- New York

    Buy New York [Explicit]

    15. The xx- Dangerous

    Buy Dangerous

    16. Kamasi Washington- Truth

    Buy Truth



  • Top 50 Albums of 2017: Best of 2017 Volume 2

    Best of 2017 Volume 2 (1/12/18)

    1. J Balvin & Willy William (Feat. Beyonce)- Mi Gente (Beyonce Remix)

    Buy Mi Gente featuring Beyoncé

    2. Cardi B- Bodak Yellow

    Buy Bodak Yellow [Explicit]

    3. Migos (Feat. Lil Uzi Vert)- Bad and Boujee

    Buy Bad and Boujee (feat. Lil Uzi Vert) [Explicit]

    4. Lil Uzi Vert- XO Tour Llif3

    Buy Xo Tour Llif3 [Explicit]

    5. LCD Soundsystem- tonite

    Buy tonite

    6. Frank Ocean- Chanel

    Buy Chanel [Explicit]

    7. Lorde- Perfect Places

    Buy Perfect Places [Explicit]

    8. Slowdive- No Longer Making Time

    Buy No Longer Making Time

    9. St. Vincent- Happy Birthday, Johnny

    Buy Happy Birthday, Johnny

    10. Mount Kimbie (Feat. King Krule)- Blue Train Lines

    Buy Blue Train Lines (feat. King Krule)

    11. The War On Drugs- Strangest Thing

    Buy Strangest Thing

    12. Perfume Genius- Slip Away

    Buy Slip Away

    13. The National- Day I Die

    Buy Day I Die

    14. Julien Baker- Turn Out The Lights

    Buy Turn Out the Lights

    15. Sampha- Blood On Me

    Buy Blood on Me

    16. Jay-Z- The Story of O.J.

    Buy The Story of O.J. [Explicit]

    17. Kendrick Lamar- Duckworth

    Buy DUCKWORTH. [Explicit]

    18. Father John Misty- Things That Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution

    Buy Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution