• Recommended New Music: September 2018

    SLEEP- THE SCIENCES

     

    First album by Stoner-metal pioneers in almost twenty years is a sludgy blast for those of you who like this sort of thing.  Sleep is the side project of High On Fire guitarist Matt Pike and Om’s lead singer Al Cicneros.  I don’t know Om’s music, but Sleep is considerably slowed down and less political than High On Fire.  They are close as can be to a modern day Black Sabbath, and it’s Sabbath and their most stretched out and jammiest.  “The Sciences” has a grand total of six songs with half of them over ten minutes.  All are worthwhile with key track being “Marijuanaut’s Theme”

     

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    JOEY PURP- QUARTERTHING

     

    Underrated Chicago rapper Joey Purp delivers a worthy follow-up to 2016’s excellent mixtape “iiiDrops”.  Purp toes the line between conscious rap and hard, street tough modern gangsta rap.  “Quarterthing” contains bangers that will also make you think and the dextrous Purp is able to dance around among styles and voices, creating an exciting, varied album.  Standout tracks are “Hallelujah”, “Godbody” and “Lebron James”.

     

     

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    LOW- DOUBLE NEGATIVE

     

    One of the absolute standout albums during one of the most tumultuous years of the past century.  Incredibly, Low, 12 albums & 25+ years into their career, has delivered it’s best and most relevant release yet, while almost totally changing up their sound.  Known as one of the pioneers of the early-mid nineties slow core movement, “Double Negative” deals often in glitchy electronic noise whereas the group through most of its career was traditional guitars, bass & drums.  It brings to mind Radiohead’s “Kid A” and like that album sounds downbeat, paranoid & oftentimes downright upsetting.  It is a perfect release during our society’s great unraveling.

     

     

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    NONAME- ROOM 25

     

    Room 25 cover.jpg

     

    Second self-released album by Chicago rapper and spoken word artist Noname even betters her debut “Telefone”.  Noname throws in jazz & neo-soul beats creating a vibe, which is simultaneously relaxed and confrontational.  Always thought provoking- Noname talks love, career, violence, death & racial and gender politics.  Of the moment and encouraging all of us to be better, including herself.  Fellow Chicagoan guest stars like Ravyn Lenae, Saba & Smino further enhance the music.

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    YVES TUMOR- SAFE IN THE HANDS OF LOVE

     

     

    A great leap forward for genre-bending group who hugs the line between experimental music and pop music in most of its forms.  This is only Yves Tumor’s second full length and it’s surprisingly accessible tracks like “Licking An Orchid”, “Lifetime”, and the standout “Noid”.  “Safe In The Hands Of Love” contains elements of noise-rock, 90’s R&B & alternative rock, dream-pop, glitchy electronic music & ambient and it’s one of the year’s better and certainly most unique albums.

     

     

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  • Recommended New Music: August 2018

    FRANKIE COSMOS- VESSEL

     

    3rd full-length album by Frankie Cosmos, AKA Great Kline, the NYC-bred daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates.  Kline plays a short & simple, but hooky hybrid of indie-rock and twee pop.  “Vessel” is 18 songs in under 35 minutes, blunt but often profound musings on life and love in the big city.  Not every song is perfect, but she never leaves you time to get bored.  The track “Duet” melts my heart and songs like “Same Thing” and “Apathy” are some of her best work yet.

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    TIRZAH- DEVOTION

     

     

    “Devotion: is the debut album by British singer/songwriter Tirzah, which veers away from the electronic indie-dance pop of her past singles, and delivers a beautiful and hypnotic 11 love songs.  She takes her cues from the best of mid to late nineties R&B and adds modern electronic beats, but slowed way down giving out a raw and spare vibe.  “Gladly”, “Fine Again” and “Affection” are three highlights of an album which reveals greater depth which each listen.

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    MITSKI- BE THE COWBOY

     

    Third album by Japanese-American Mistki Miyawaki is her most accessible and charming to date.  Moving away from the distortion of her last album, “Puberty 2”, “Be The Cowboy” offers up a more polished approach while sacrificing none of her music’s more challenging & complex aspects.  On “Be the Cowboy” Mitski adopts the persona of a typical suburban wife longing to break free of the marital and societal expectations placed on her.  Standouts include lead track “Geyser” and the disco-banger “Nobody”.

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    ARIANA GRANDE- SWEETENER

     

     

    My favorite pop album of the year so far, “Sweetener” is Grand’s fourth and perhaps her best. On “Sweetener” she reconciles with the horrific and tragic 2017 bombing during her concert in London, while celebrating her new love and engagement to SNL’s Pete Davidson.  They have sadly since broken up, but apparently remain friends.  “No Tears Left To Cry” was one of the songs of the summer and best pop songs of 2018, while follow up singles “God Is A Woman” and “Breathin'” show that “Sweetener” shows no signs of slowing down and is one of the most successful big name releases of the year.  Grande has the big voice and vocal chops to pull off a great ballad with the pizazz and taste to deliver a plethora of dance floor bangers. She is as close to a sure thing that we have in pop right now.

     

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    BLOOD ORANGE- NEGRO SWAN

     

     

    “Negro Swan”, Dev Hynes’s fourth album as Blood Orange, examines the flipsides of ‘ugly’ and ‘beauty’ and what is is like to live in the margins as an African-American gay person in modern America.  Hynes is a top-notch producer, who works with some of the biggest & best pop stars of today including Solange Knowles, Haim, Sky Ferreira & Carly Rae Jepsen.  Though his music is never boilerplate pop, Blood Orange is the place where he expands and explores his music to the greatest depth.  “Negro Swan” is a lot to dig through and is not immediately accessible, revealing its greatness slowly. “Nappy Wonder”, “Orlando” and “Runnin’ (with Georgia Anne Muldrow) are early highlights.

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  • Recommended New Music: July 2018

    PUSHA-T- DAYTONA EP

     

    A near perfect EP produced by Kanye West in the midst of his epic political Trump-suck up meltdown.  Luckily Kanye still knows his way around top-shelf beats and Pusha’s raps are his most satisfying since Clipse/Hell Hath No Fury way back in 2006.  All seven tracks are bangers and this doesn’t even include the single track Drake-diss “The Story Of Aldidon” which was released a few weeks later.

     

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    SNAIL MAIL- LUSH

     

     

    In a year in which indie-rock is somewhat dominated by young females, Snail Mail’s kick-ass debut album “Lush” may just be one of 2018’s best.  Snail Mail is eighteen year old, Lindsay Jordan, a gay D.C. native, who is indebted to nineties indie-rock and who was taught guitar by the great Mary Timony.  Her music is gritty, spare & sad but nearly every song builds to a soaring chorus with ripping’ guitar riffs for some of the most satisfying rock songs of the year; especially “Heatwave”, “Pristine” and the truly great “Full Control”.

     

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    YUNO- MOODIE EP

     

    Debut EP by talented Jacksonville, Florida musician, which genre-hops across it’s six tracks encompassing R&B, rap, pop, reggae, chill wave & psychedelic indie-rock ala Animal Collective.  “No Going Back”, “Why For” & “So Sl0w” are all gems, but the entire EP is a worthwhile listen and leaves me wanting more and dying to see what Yuno will do next.

     

     

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    DIRTY PROJECTORS- LAMP LIT PROSE

     

    Coming a just a year behind his 2017 self-titled break-up album about Dirty Projector’s leader Dave Longstreth’s longterm bandmate and partner Amber Coffman, “Lamp Lit Prose” has flown a bit under the radar this year.  “Lamp Lit Prose” is a lovestruck, optimistic album about finding that earthquaking romance after a long period of depression.  With track titles like “Break-Thru”, “I Feel Energy”, “I Found It In U”, “You’re The One” and “(I Wanna) Feel It All”, Longstreth’s joy is palpable and the buoyancy of the music here matches the lyrics.  In a year and a time filled with anger and often despair, “Lamp Lit Prose” is a light in the dark.

     

     

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    DEAFHEAVEN- ORDINARY CORRUPT HUMAN LOVE


     

    My favorite current metal band just keeps getting better with every album.  “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love”, Deafheaven’s fourth album, is its third classic in a row.  The group continues to tweak its singular sound of Death Metal, Thrash & Shoegaze by adding more moments of quiet & beauty; repetitive piano lines and ambient ocean swells, which make the juxtaposition of their thunderous guitar riffs and demonic vocals that much more powerful.  The entire album is a thing of beauty but “Glint”, “Canary Yellow” and “Honeycomb” are three of Deafheaven’s very best songs yet.

     

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  • Recommended New Music: June 2018

    JANELLE MONAE- DIRTY COMPUTER

     

     

    Third album by the extremely talented Janelle Monae, combines a pop sensibility with an experimental, futuristic sound and outspoken politics and a myriad of genres; R&B, rap, soul, funk, dance-pop and 80’s style New Wave. Influences include Prince, Bowie, Janet Jackson, Chic & P-Funk. “Dirty Computer” takes a look at our modern surveillance state and especially at what it means to be a minority (in Monae’s case black and queer) living under it. Its messages are life-affirming and badass rather than heavy handed and the album is a blast of a listen start to finish. Standouts include Prince-homage “Make You Feel”, the pro-female anthem “Pynk (Feat. Grimes)”, the hyper sexual “I Got The Juice” and politically dead on “Django Jane” and “Americans”.

     

     
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    PARQUET COURTS- WIDE AWAKE!

     

     

    Fourth album by Brooklyn-based, smart and sardonic punk band Parquet Courts continues their winning streak with their most diverse offering yet. Produced by Danger Mouse, “Wide Awake” alternates between some of the groups loudest and angriest music yet like “Almost Had To Start A Fight”, “Violence”, “Total Football” and the title track with warmer, mellower tracks like “Mardis Gras Beads” and “Tenderness”. This music nods back to NYC art-punk but is lyrically of the moment and feels brand new.
     

     

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    FATHER JOHN MISTY- GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER

     

     

    Father John Misty’s fourth full-length, “God’s Favorite Customer” is a much briefer and more pleasurable effort than the epic but execessive “Pure Comedy”. As per usual Misty matches melody with wit and sings like a 1970’s golden-voiced God. He comes off here as more empathetic than on the often hopeless and dire “Comedy”. Standouts include lead single “Mr. Tillman”, “Hangout At The Gallows” and “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest Of Them All” on a remarkably consistent album and are all among FJM’s best songs in an increasingly impressive body of work.

     

     
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    FLASHER- CONSTANT IMAGE

     

     

    Debut album from political D.C. punk band who sound more like a blend of early 80’s post punk & new wave. “Constant Image” is a short album, all killer & no filler with punchy hooks. Philosophically taking stabs at an array of social injustices, Flasher’s anger is palpable but it goes down smoothly. One of the best debuts of the year and though its sound is nothing new, Flasher also sounds like nothing else now.
     

     

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    KAMASI WASHINGTON – HEAVEN & EARTH

     

     

    “Heaven And Earth”, saxophonist and bandleader Kamasi Washington’s second full-length release (after his three disc debut “The Epic” and excellent “Harmony Of Difference EP” is another astounding musical accomplishment by one of modern jazz’s leading lights. Though certainly not as long as “The Epic”, “Heaven And Earth” is a two disc set lasting over two hours with not an ounce of mediocrity on it. It’s a concept album with two distinct sides- “Heaven” is now Washington experiences the world inwardly while “Earth” represents the outward world. External vs. internal. The weight and breadth of “Heaven And Earth” are a throwback to progressive jazz albums of the early 1970’s such as Miles Davis and Weather Report. I’ve loved everything Washington has put out and “Heaven And Earth” is his best yet and one of 2018’s best albums.
     

     

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  • Recommended New Music: May 2018

    ICEAGE- BEYONDLESS

     

    When Danish punk band Iceage broke out with their debut album “New Brigade” in 2011 they sounded gloomy, apocalyptic and dangerous.  But like any great band they have evolved their music with each album while maintaining their own distinct sound.  Iceage are still strictly indie and very unknown among the mainstream but they have gotten catchier and more accessible as they’ve aged.  “Beyondless” is their fourth album and certainly one of their best.  Tracks like “Catch It”, “Pain killer” and “Thieves Like Us” are some of the band’s best songs yet- goth pop but with a detached, ramshackle, almost drunken quality to them.  The band plays tightly while frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt sings loosely and off the rails, bringing to mind Pete Doherty of the late great Brit band the Libertines.  “Beyondless” is one of 2018’s better albums.

     

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    DJ KOZE- KNOCK KNOCK

     

     

    Most high profile album yet from one of the the millennium’s best DJ’s and techno artists.  DJ Koze if a German producer whose “Knock Knock” is a nearly 80 minute album encompassing nearly every type of electronic music imaginable, including minimalist techno associated with the Kompakt label, trip-hop, danceable club music with 70’s soul samples & balearic-style dream pop .  The album features a slew of guest vocalists including Roisin Murphy, Jose Gonzalez and Kurt Wagner, and many of the tracks are warm, melodic and even summery.  The album contains music to chew on but three obvious highlights include Gladys Knight sampling “Pick Up”, Bon Iver sampling “Bonfire” and the deeply groove oriented “Illumination”.

     

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    LEON BRIDGES- GOOD THING

     

    While Leon Bridges 2015 album “Coming Home” was a worthy debut of throwback soul heavily influenced by Sam Cooke & Otis Redding, its music too closely mirrored its influences to truly stand out by itself.  Bridges has a beautiful voice no doubt and anyone who can shine a light on the greatness of 60’s soul is doing the universe a favor.  That said Bridges new album “Good Thing” ups the ante considerably and feels much more contemporary, combining modern R&B with that retro soul which made Bridges appealing in the first place.  “Good Thing” is filled with tasteful ballads and a few upbeat, more danceable songs and two of the standouts are lead single “Beyond” and “Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand”.

     

     

     

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    BEACH HOUSE- 7

     

    Over the course of the last decade. psychedelic dream pop Baltimore duo Beach House has unlikely become one of the bigger and most consistent great bands in indie rock.  In seven albums they have yet to deliver an album short of very good and close to half of them have been great.  Their new album, the aptly named “7” is one of their very best- right up there with “Bloom” and “Teen Dream”.  While keeping their signature hypnotic, hazy sound with rich soaring vocals, “7” is heavier and thicker-sounding than their previous albums with more live instrumentation, particularly drums.  Highlights are found all over the album but include “Lemon Glow”, “Dive”, “Black Car” and “Drunk In LA”.  I predict “7” will land in my year end top ten as it continues to get richer and reward me more with each listen.

     

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    COURTNEY BARNETT- TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL


     

    Sophomore album “Tell Me How You Really Feel” sounds smaller and more minor than Courtney Barnett’s 2015 full-length debut “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit”, which was a surprise hit for the young Australian singer-songwriter who has a way with quippy, memorable and detailed lyrics and crunchy guitar riffs.  “Feel” is more introverted with less hit potential but it does not feel like a misstep.  I think in time it will show as an under-appreciated album with a handful of hidden gems- a likable album among a series of peaks and dips in the hopefully long and storied career of a major songwriting talent.

     

     

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  • Recommended New Music: April 2018

    SHAME- SONGS OF PRAISE

     

     

    Debut albums from South London post-punk band, who is indebted to Joy Division Gang Of Four & Interpol.  While Shame’s sound is certainly nothing new, their passionate, raw, intense, pissed off and political songs play well against the backdrop of Trump and Brexit and the band ramp’s down the experimentation of their influences creating an album of muscular, hard-charging, anthemic rock.

     

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    SOCCER MOMMY- CLEAN

     

     

     

    Soccer Mommy is twenty year old Nashville singer-songwriter, Sophie Allison & “Clean” is her excellent studio debut album- ten songs of witty, observational indie pop/rock.  Allison comes off as Generation Z’s version of Liz Phair, just as blunt but more sad.  Certain songs, especially “Cool” and “Your Dog” hit me immediately and are among my favorites of the year, but every track on the album seems to season upon repeat plays due to Allison’s sharp story-telling and attention to detail.  She is another exciting new voice pointing toward an exciting future for indie music.

     

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    AMEN DUNES- FREEDOM

     

     

    Best album yet from psychedelic, indie folk artist Damon McMahon, who has been recording albums for over a decade under the Amen Dunes monicker.  Like War On Drugs and Kurt Vile, Amen Dunes music unravels slowly and can feel hazy and druggy with moments of tension and release.  Though I enjoyed Dunes past music, “Freedom” represents a leap forward in songwriting especially with standout tracks like the title cut, “Blue Rose” and “Believe”.

     

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    CARDI B- INVASION OF PRIVACY

     

     

     

    “Bodak Yellow” was one of the most standout and ubiquitous tracks of 2017- rap or otherwise, announcing Cardi B as a bright new star of the genre.  Cardi is a Bronx-born rapper who became a social media star through Instagram and joined the cast of the VH-1 series “Love & Hip Hop: New York” before releasing any music.  Unlike most reality stars or actors who later become musicians, Cardi showed that she was a talent from the get-go. “Invasion Of Privacy” is her official major label debut and is the antithesis of the modern, sprawling, endless big budget rap star album (see Migos & Drake).  It’s all killer, no filler and contains “Bodak” as well as her other hit singles “Bartier Cardi” and “Be Careful”, as well as summer of 2018 summer smash “I Like It”.  Cardi’s rapping is funny, clever and biting and she may just be the best thing in commercial rap right now.

     

     

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    KALI UCHIS- ISOLATION

     

     

    “Isolation” is the great genre-bending debut album from 23 year old, Colombia American singer-songwriter, Kali Uchis.  Uchis moves effortlessly from funk to R&B & blues- neo-soul to dance pop to rock to throwback soul & doo wop.  While showing a slew of influences like Amy Winehouse & M.I.A., as well as album collaborators like Bootsy Collins and Damon Albarn, Uchis maintains a sound all her own. “Isolation” is 15 tracks with very few misses and its 46 minute length feels perfect.  Early favorites are “In My Dreams” as well as “Miami”.  2018, so far, seems to be a year filled with disappointed event albums but plenty of promising great new artists.

     

     

     

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  • 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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