I saw Noname perform at The Crocodile this past Wednesday. Ravyn Lenae opened for her, and needless to say they were both incredible. I had been anticipating this concert for quite some time now (I ordered the tickets in November), and the night had finally arrived.
First things first, I had also bought meet and greet tickets for my lovely girlfriend in an effort to blow Valentine’s Day out of the water. For the most part I think it was a success. She was excited to meet Noname, as was I, of course. Unfortunately, we both had different reactions to talking to her in person. She was so nervous that her mind started racing, asking Noname-whose real name is Fatima-question after question. This was a godsend, because I was so nervous that my mind drew a blank and stood there sheepishly, only mustering the courage to introduce myself and say “yes” a few times.
After a photo op with Fatima, it was time for the concert. Unbeknownst to me, there was an act before Ravyn Lenae. Local Seattle rappers Nyles Davis and Mo Money got the show started, but not exactly as I had expected. Noname and Ravyn Lenae’s musical styles both exude peacefulness and don’t try to be in your face. Davis and Mo Money were both accurate reflections of what rap is becoming: repetitive lyrics over bass-heavy beats. Their music reminded me a lot of Lil Uzi Vert, my least favorite rapper in the game right now. Mo Money also got really sweaty and it was flying everywhere, so that didn’t help his set improve.
Finally, the time came for the actual concert to start, and Ravyn Lenae came out. And let me tell ya, her voice was jaw dropping. I knew it was good when I listened to her music on Spotify, but it was probably even better live. Each song she performed had multiple vocal inflections where she would change the note while she belted out a single word or sound. My previously hefty expectations had been exceeded somehow and I was witnessing an angel on stage.
Lenae also took the time to explain the meaning behind each song before she performed it. I had listened through her Moon Shoes EP multiple times, but had never taken the time to thoroughly listen to it and pull the meaning from each song. I found myself listening much more intently, trying to connect the lyrics to the explanation she had given just a few minutes earlier. Also, she put the mic in front of my girlfriend to sing a part of a song, but evidently the pressure was overwhelming and she could only sing for a split second before laughing it off. To be fair, I would’ve done the exact same thing, and Ravyn probably would’ve gotten the whole crowd to make fun of me because I can’t sing as well as her. That may have been why she did it in the first place.
Lenae’s set ended after about 45 minutes and it was time for the headliner, Noname. Her debut album Telefone was one of my favorite albums of last year. It was meaningful, perfectly produced, and it introduced me to a female rapper that I actually enjoyed (sorry not sorry Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea). Noname’s band was the first to come on stage, performing a few minutes of smooth instrumentals before Noname came out to open with “All I Need”. To my relief, she sounded exactly like she did on Telefone. The live band was a great addition; Davis, Mo Money, and Lenae all performed over recordings of the instrumentals to their songs (Davis actually rapped over recordings of his songs with the rap recorded too, so he didn’t have to work as hard). Noname performed Telefone in its entirety, as well as her verses for Mick Jenkins’ “Comfortable” and Chance the Rapper’s “Lost”. Ravyn Lenae joined her on stage and they performed “Forever” together, which was easily the best moment of the night. Noname’s discography still has some growing to do, because she ran out of music to perform after half an hour. Despite the short set, Noname was excellent on stage and had the audience captivated the whole time.
The concert as a whole was great. The surprise openers got the concert off on a sour note, but Ravyn Lenae and Noname more than made up for the openers’ slip-ups. Both either performed exactly as in their recordings or far beyond what I had expected. Once they expand their discography there will only be more demand for them to go on tour again, and I look forward to when that day comes. Check out each artist’s music below.
As the year reaches its close, there’s still a small handful of albums I need to get caught up on before finalizing my highly anticipated (by me) Top 50 albums of the year. 2015 has presented a decent amount of fantastic album releases, spanning from seven minutes in length to nearly three hours. I’ll be focusing here on the shorter releases that have held my attention since the clock struck midnight December 31, 2014. This list is purely mine, and only reflects the miniscule sliver of music I’ve been able to sample this year. Here’s to a great year, and I’ll be sure to publish my list of 50 great full-length albums as soon as it is complete, along with a list of many, many, many honorable mentions. Stay tuned, rainy dawgs.
15. NAH – Light as Fuck
Philadelphia-based producer/drummer/vocalist NAH has been making a name for himself in the experimental underground for quite some time now, but the release of his latest demo/EP Light as Fuck shows him coming into his own in really meaningful, aggressive ways. Contrary to its name, this 24-minute two-sided EP achieves levels of heaviness for which punk acts frequently aspire. If you’re at all interested in punk and noise with a hip-hop twist, this should be on your radar.
Stream Light as Fuck here, then purchase it for whatever price feels adequate to you.
14. Benoît Pioulard – Noyaux
Benoît Pioulard is a Seattle-based musician that has a heaping spoonful of releases to his name. He recently captured my attention with the release of Noyaux, a beautiful, textured drone album that’s perfect listening for a cold, windy post-finals winter morning. If you’re ever feeling like there isn’t much beauty in this pitiful excuse for a world (or if that NAH EP has you feeling particularly nihilistic) then give this some time to grow on you and expose you to nature’s beauty.
Bassist extraordinaire Stephen Bruner has had my attention fully captured ever since his highly acclaimed 2011 debut album as Thundercat, Golden Age of Apocalypse. It sounded like a more organic, jazzy Flying Lotus LP, which makes sense considering the two collaborate frequently, including a gig as part of Kendrick Lamar’s noise-making studio band for his majestic To Pimp a Butterfly. To keep the people satisfied, Mr. ‘Cat is back with an astounding, funky, melodic EP that features some of his most textured, organic, fully-formed songs to date. If you aren’t captivated by the sticky melody of “Lone Wolf and Cub,” then you aren’t listening properly. As the story goes with most EPs, this thing is criminally short. However, it is filled with lively instrumentation, pretty vocals, and takes the form of a completed studio project, for better or worse.
This thing is on Spotify, otherwise you can directly purchase it from the usual avenues.
12. Mick Jenkins – Wave[s]
Chicago-based rapper Mick Jenkins took my iPod by storm last year with the release of his phenomenal breakout mixtape, The Water[s], a deeply conceptual and thought-provoking tape that didn’t sound like anything else I was listening to. This year, he followed that up with Wave[s], an admittedly more accessible and less exciting release. This nine-track affair deals more in themes of romantic love, and produces a few genuine pop rap tracks that I imagine escalated Jenkins’ level of fame to some degree. Regardless, this thing is still immaculately produced, and it shows Jenkins as a master hook-writer and gatekeeper of his own original sound. I would definitely recommend The Water[s] before recommending Wave[s], but the two go together in such obvious and meaningful ways that I still feel like this is a worthy follow-up. Just listen to this dude’s flow and his beats and try not to get hooked.
This EP is on iTunes as well as Spotify.
11. Lupe Fiasco – Pharaoh Height
Famed controversial conscious rapper Lupe Fiasco made a remarkable comeback this year with his surprisingly decent fifth studio album, Tetsuo & Youth, which dropped back in January. Toward the end of the summer season, though, he dropped his true 2015 masterpiece, Pharaoh Height, a brief mixtape that combines Fiasco’s love for video games with his love for dropping multi-faceted, complex yet digestible bars. I’m not the biggest Lupe fan, so I was surprised at how taken I was with Pharaoh Height, because it is a purely wonderful and worthwhile hip-hop release. It’s a fun, loose release that is simultaneously conceptual and “deep.” If you deleted Mr. Fiasco from your iTunes library after he ruined your life with Lasers, you might want to check this out. It definitely restored my faith in the rapper, and I’m highly anticipating his next release, which is rumored to be a sequel to his beloved sophomore LP, The Cool.
Admittedly, it took me longer to appreciate Aesop Rock than it might take a majority of his fans. His style is abrasive, intense, and difficult to take in, but that’s what I’ve grown to love about the dude. He’s been in the game for two decades now and shows no sign of stopping with this new free collaborative EP with prolific alt-rapper Homeboy Sandman. I’m not as familiar with Sandman, but he piqued my interest with some of his lyrics on this excellent, unabashedly fun and funny EP. The production is great, the bars are great, and this has me stoked for whatever’s next for both MCs. It’s been over three years since the latest Aesop Rock solo LP, though he has put out music with Rob Sonic (as Hail Mary Mallon) and Kimya Dawson (as The Uncluded). Let’s hope he’s as energetic on his next solo release as he sounds here!
What are you waiting for? Download Lice for free right over here!
9. Shigeto – Intermission
I despise the term “IDM,” but I can’t think of a more picture-perfect example of dance music that evokes intelligence, rationality, and tranquility than Intermission, the gorgeous new EP from Detroit-based producer Shigeto. This instrumental work is a peaceful, nuanced record that begs you to pay attention to each instrument, sound, and experiment featured here. Every time I listen I’m taken aback. Intermission stands on its own as a beautiful piece of electronic music that ushers in live instrumentation (or so it appears). If you liked what The Knife was doing on their last album, or if you’ve been captivated by that new Floating Points album, you’ll definitely enjoy what Shigeto has laid out on this EP.
Stream Intermission here, via Ghostly International.
8. Iglooghost – Chinese Nü Yr
British producer Iglooghost came through in a big (and surprising) way this year. This dude is only 18, but he’s honed his musical identity with a fantastic debut EP. Chinese Nü Yr dropped a couple months ago on Flying Lotus’ own Brainfeeder imprint, which is quite the co-sign for a newcomer. The co-sign justifies itself upon listening to this four-track EP, which is as colorful and over-the-top as the cover suggests. This thing is audacious, fun, and filled to the brim with sound and energy.
These slappers are slappin’ away on Spotify.
7. Modern Baseball – MoBo Presents: The Perfect Cast EP featuring Modern Baseball
One of my favorite new additions to the punk/indie/emo scene is Philly-based merry pranksters Modern Baseball, a quartet that comes through with the saddest jams to ever put a smile on my face. Following up last year’s excellent You’re Gonna Miss it All LP, the group is back with a new EP dives even further into depression and addiction, especially from the personal life of vocalist/guitarist Brendan Lukens. This EP is personal, poppy, and perfectly succinct. It serves as a great follow-up, and has me waiting for the group’s upcoming Holy Ghost LP with bated breath. Be on the lookout for that in 2016, but for now, have this wonderful new EP for free/name your own price, courtesy of Lame-O Records.
It pains me to admit this, but I had never heard of Olympia, WA punk group G.L.O.S.S. (it stands for Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) until the group was unwillingly caught up in a controversy with notorious shoegaze/dream pop band Whirr. A member/spokesman for the band tweeted disgustingly transphobic bullshit about G.L.O.S.S., whose lead vocalist is a trans woman, effectively resulting in Whirr being dropped from its label and, subsequently, a sizable amount of its fans. Not only did this give me a solid excuse to remove the toxic band from my news feed forever (aside from their boring music) but it also introduced me to Demo, a creative, excellent debut EP. Demo gives a voice to the voiceless and is as hardcore as it is hardcore empowering. If you listen to one hardcore punk record this year, make it this one. It’s unique, loud, unafraid, and hard as all hell. Simply put, this thing kicks ass.
Demo is available in a pay-what-you-want format over here, so give it a much-deserved listen.
5. Your Old Droog – Kinison
New York-based rapper Your Old Droog used to just be “the guy that sounds a lot like Nas.” This year, he showed his true talents, both as a rapper and as a conceptual artist. Kinison is without a doubt the year’s most creative hip-hop EP. Kinison challenges the long-held notion that capital-R rock music trumps all hip-hop music across all time, and that the two genres are completely separate and can never intersect. While there are plenty of arguments to support the latter (let’s just pretend nu-metal never happened, okay?) Droog spits effortless bars over off-the-wall samples about his favorite ‘90s rock music. I won’t spoil too much because this EP is so underrated and fantastic that it speaks for itself upon listening, but let’s just say Droog uses Captain Beefheart himself as the gruff, gravelly hook for one of the tracks here. Enough said.
Okay, so PRODUCT is more of a compilation of sorts than it is a bona fide EP, but it still features some of the decade’s most out-there pop and electronic music. SOPHIE is the famed face of label/art collective PC Music, and one of the minds behind that infectious QT single that dropped last year. He’s also an artist worth celebrating in his own right, which is more apparent than ever with each of the eight songs on PRODUCT. Even though half the songs on here have been available for well over a year, this project still stands on its own as an EP. Not only is it catchy, but it’s experimental as all hell. Each track is poppy, technicolor, and borderline noisy with its candy-coated excellence. Again, most of these songs have been around for a while, but hearing it all re-contextualized in this format further cements my love for SOPHIE and everything he’s doing.
Buy it on iTunes! Stream it! I don’t care! Just listen to PRODUCT somehow.
3. Open Mike Eagle – A Special Episode Of
This right here is the art-rap EP of the year, no question about it. It is also serves as a sequel of sorts to Open Mike Eagle’s frustratingly underrated 2014 LP Dark Comedy, on which he hones his sound, lyrics, and comedic chops with considerable aplomb. The fun times continue on A Special Episode Of, a collection of songs that questions everything from politics to humor to existence itself. It’s an EP that’ll have you laughing to keep from crying to keep from thinking about your impossibly small place in this impossibly large universe. It’s equally experimental and accessible, making it a perfect candidate for 2015′s most accomplished rap EP. There’s nothing about this thing that isn’t dope to the highest level of dopeness.
Give this a listen, then a thousand more listens right over here.
2. Swain – Heavy Dancing
This EP is as catchy and straightforward as post-hardcore music gets, yet it leaves me with one burning question: WHY IS THIS THING NOT LONGER??? Heavy Dancing runs at only seven minutes, making it the year’s most criminally short EP, yet it makes perfect use of every goddamn second. These Dutch noisemakers use to rock on under the name This Routine is Hell, but the group has undergone a genre switch and, obviously, a name switch. Now playing as Swain, these guys came through with an aggressive, fast-paced handful of songs that I haven’t stopped playing since it dropped in early March. I’m practically salivating at the thought of a full-length album, and once you get your ears on this, you will be, too.
I never thought I’d use the word “aggressive” to describe the music of British alt-R&B superstar FKA twigs, but M3LL155X (pronounced “Melissa”), her third EP, is her most aggressive and bizarre release yet. Twigs sings with an infectious level of passion about sex and sex-positivity on this thing, and the production, which was mostly handled by BOOTS, is to die for. This EP is weird, poppy, and super dense and glitchy. No one is making music quite like this, and a year out from her phenomenal debut full-length, FKA twigs shows no sign of stopping. M3LL155X demands and deserves a lot of attention in a short amount of time, and FKA twigs reclaims her status as the UK’s most exciting experimental singer/songwriter since the amazing Kate Bush. That’s big talk, but M3LL155X is definitive proof that FKA twigs can walk the proverbial walk. This EP is consistently amazing, and anyone not on the hype train yet better get on board before she rockets at light-speed to some far-off galaxy, leaving the haters so far behind they won’t know what hit them.
This EP isn’t free, but you still need to hear it, so go listen to it with whatever service is most convenient for you.
Well, those are my 15 favorite EPs of the year. 2015 has been overloaded with awesome stuff, so while you’re waiting to check in and see what my 50 favorite albums are, check out all these releases!
Jakob Ross is Rainy Dawg Radio’s 2015-2016 Music Director.