• Recommended New Music: October 2017

    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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    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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    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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    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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    COURTNEY BARNETT & KURT VILE- LOTTA SEA LICE

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Low key, low stakes, but consistently enjoyable platonic collaboration between two indie-r0ck standouts.  Philadelphia native Kurt Vile & Australia’s Courtney Barnett are close friends whose music you wouldn’t necessarily but together.  Vile plays expansive but mellow guitar-based rock- a northeastern slacker-persona doing psychedelic country.  Barnett’s music is much more punk-based and energetic.  Vile & Barnett,  societal misfits both, are expert songwriters known for witty whip smart turns of phrases and a sharp eye for detail.  “Lotta Sea Lice” is much closer to Vile’s sound than Barnett’s.  It is among neither artist’s best albums, but especially opening track “Over Everything” and single “Continental Breakfast” make it a fun listen.

     

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  • Recommended New Music: September 2017

    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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    MOUNT 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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    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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    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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    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.

     

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  • Recommended New Music: August 2017

    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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    CALVIN HARRIS- FUNK WAV BOUNCES VOLUME 1

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Funk Wav Bounces” is a lightweight, but perfect summer party album with a slew of top-notch famous guest stars including Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, Future & Migos.  While not every track is a winner , the album contains at least a handful of great singles, including song of the year candidate “Slide” (featuring Frank Ocean & Quavo), along with second single “Feels” & “Rollin”.  The lack of heft from the album’s deep cuts does little to detract from its overall playability- it’s the perfect soundtrack to a summer BBQ.

     

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    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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    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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    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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  • Recommended New Music: July 2017

    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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    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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    BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE- HUG OF THUNDER

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Broken Social Scene is a fifteen member collective of Canadian musicians and friends and “Hug Of Thunder” is the group’s first album and seven years and perhaps their best effort since 2002’s “You Forgot It In People”.  “Thunder” is less sprawling and more focused than past releases; an album about holding onto your ideals in turbulent times and and upon entering middle age.  With so many different people offering up their talents within the band, BSS is incredibly musically diverse while always steeped in the sound of early 00’s indie rock.  Hard-driving, mellow, soothing, droning, spacey and gorgeous are all apt adjectives in describing their sound and “Hug Of Thunder” is an extremely welcome and worthy addition to the BSS canon.

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    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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    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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  • Recommended New Music: June 2017

    MARTY STUART & HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES- WAY OUT WEST

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    A longtime country music new-traditionalist, Marty Stuart had been completely off my radar until this year.  In addition to launching a solo career in the late eighties, Stuart had been a longtime touring sidemen for legends like Lester Flatt (of Flatt & Scruggs) & Johnny Cash.  As per the album title “Way Out West” is much more a ‘Western’ album that anything resembling today’s country music.  Stuart combines the sounds of sixties-style Bakersfield sound country music, bluegrass, psychedelia & surf music- a hodgepodge of sounds that he somehow is able to fit together to create an album that tells a story of the west and is a blast to listen from start to finish.

     

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    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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    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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    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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    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.

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  • Recommended New Music: May 2017

    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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    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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    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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    CHRIS STAPLETON- FROM A ROOM VOLUME 1

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    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.

     

     

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    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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  • Recommended New Music: April 2017

    THE SHINS- HEARTWORMS

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Shins fifth album, “Heartworms” is a Shins album in name only.  Self-recorded & self-produced, the Shins are now little more than lead singer and songwriter James Mercer and some hired guns.  That said fans of the Shins should find plenty to like here as the group’s template of intricate arrangements and strong power-pop melodies is locked firmly in place.  The Shins have always taken their basic sound from mid-sixties Beatles and Beach Boys psychedelic period which is certainly one of my sweet spots.  There may not be an obvious single like previous albums “New Slang”, “Kissing The Lipless” or “Simple Song” but there is so much to like here that highlights will almost certainly emerge over time.

     

     

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    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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    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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    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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    KENDRICK 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.
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  • Recommended New Music: March 2017

    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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    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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    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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    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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    MASTODON- EMPEROR OF SAND

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The rap on Atlanta-based Metal institution Mastodon now is that they are simply repeating themselves, or selling out to a more commercially based sound. While no expert on the current Metal scene I don’t really understand either argument as Mastodon continues to deliver to deliver music of extremely high quality that will knock you on your ass.  “Emperor Of Sand” is a concept album about a man given a death sentence by a desert sultan and the tale of time running out on him as he plans his escape.  Mastodon’s three vocalists (Drummer Brann Sailor has become an increasing vocal presence) adds to the diversity of the band’s sound.  Twin guitarists Brett Hinds & Bill Kelliher create crunching riffs and amazing solos as they play off of each other.  Brann Dailor’s thunderous yet groove oriented skills behind the kit show him to be one of rock’s greatest drummers.  Nearly every song contains a breakdown or two that will both surprise the listener and “take them to eleven”.  “Emperor Of Sand” may not be Mastodon’t great record but it’s still pretty damn fine.
     

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  • Recommended New Music: February 2017

    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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    SYD- FIN

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Debut solo album by member of the band the internet who got her start with the Odd Future crew.  Syd is a young, gay woman with a punk-rock look, but each of the 12 songs of this album are sexy, sultry, confidently delivered radio ready R&B.  It will be fascinating to see if the mad-talented Syd, with an outsider look and persona, can break through to the mainstream.

     

     

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    JENS LEKMAN- LIFE WILL SEE YOU NOW

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Life Will See You Now” is the fourth full-length offering from the sweet, twee, vulnerable, tender-hearted Swede.  It’s a step up from his last two with Jens offering optimistic, light disco beats and female backing vocals with a nods to Balearic club music, which belie the ache at the core of most of his lyrics.  Jens wears his heart on his sleeve like this generation’s Jonathan Richman.

     

     

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    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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    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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  • Recommended New Music: January 2017

    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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    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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    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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    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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    CLOUD NOTHINGS- LIFE WITHOUT SOUND

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    “Life Without Sound” continues Cleveland indie rocker Dylan Baldi’s winning streak to three in a row.  It is a slightly more melodic update of the passionate, energetic, lo-fi bash-pop sound the band has carved out over most of the past decade.  And the drums remain ferocious.

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