This past Friday saw a hefty number of releases. Rather than attempt to write five or six album reviews this week and promptly self-combust, here are some mini-reviews of my favorite releases from last week.
Stormzy, Gang Signs and Prayer
I came late to the grime scene, but so far it has been merely decent. For those who don’t know, grime is a combination of electronic and hip-hop characterized by hard-hitting English MCs. Skepta’s Konnichiwa was the first full-length grime album I listened, leaving me slightly disappointed but curious about the genre. Stormzy’s new album, Gang Signs and Prayer, has proved that grime is a legitimate genre in the music industry and that it should not be meddled with. Stormzy delivers ruthless lyrics over raw, machine-like instrumentals, never wasting a breath. This album, unlike other grime projects, carefully balances the line dividing typical aggressive grime tracks and soft, stripped-back vocal tracks. Stormzy lends his singing voice on multiple tracks and impresses. Overall, a strong debut for Stormzy that puts an unconventional yet refreshing twist on traditional grime. Listen to Gang Signs and Prayerhere.
Steve Lacy, Steve Lacy’s Demo
Two and a half months into 2017 and The Internet has already become very busy. They kicked off a tour last week and have already released three solo projects this year. Steve Lacy is the latest of the band to drop a project, following Syd and Matt Martians. Recorded entirely on his iPhone, Steve Lacy’s Demo sits at six tracks long (or short), and Lacy clarified on Twitter that the project is neither an EP or album, but a song series. Nonetheless, it’s lackadaisical style and lo-fi vibes provide a relaxing listen. Lacy’s guitar leads most of the songs, usually settling for a pairing with the drums or bass and not much else. The lack of variety seems daunting at first, but Lacy makes due with the tools at hand. Steve Lacy’s Demo is a short, sweet intro to The Internet’s youngest member, highlighted by his melodic vocals and lo-fi atmosphere. Listen to Steve Lacy’s Demohere.
Oddisee, The Iceberg
Oddisee continues to strengten his discography with his latest release, The Iceberg. His eleventh studio album tackles poverty, racism, and more ethical issues. He spits lyrics with sincerity and depth, quite possibly taking multiple listens to decipher. The instrumentals include bright horn sections; each song sounds like a crisp live rendition. The climax of the album occurs on “Like Really”, a low-key banger where Oddisee addresses everyday problems minorities face. The Iceberg proves to be another strong release in Oddisee’s ever-expanding discography. Listen to The Iceberg here.
Thundercat finally returns with what will most likely be an album of the year contender, Drunk. At 23 tracks long (only 53 minutes total), Thundercat croons about losing friends, anime, masturbating, cats, and everything in between. He takes what made Apocalypse great (increased use of singing) and what made The Golden Age of Apocalypse great(bass solos and instrumentation) and combines them on Drunk, effectively creating an explosion of clever production and sweet, delicious vocals. Most tracks, unfortunately, are short, but each is still strong enough to stand up on its own. There are a lot of features, too, each which contribute to the song exactly as expected (even Wiz Khalifa, which isn’t really a good thing). Thundercat’s eccentric, unique style plays to his favor again on Drunk, coming through with the best release of the year thus far. Listen to Drunk here.
The Internet blew me away with Ego Death in 2015. The album was cohesive, masterfully produced, and showcased the talents of each individual in the group. Now, two years later, the members of The Internet have decided to take a break from their group act and pursue their solo careers. The first of The Internet to release a solo project is Matt Martians, the group’s keyboardist. His first solo album, The Drum Chord Theory, can easily be traced back to the sound of his collective, but he also manages to venture into areas unknown and take the listener on a psychedelic-albeit scattershot-journey.
One of the most striking characteristics of the album is its dependency on the drums. Despite Martians experience with the piano, the drums play a larger role in driving each song forward and maintaining the melody (if the album title wasn’t already a giveaway). That’s not to say that Martians doesn’t utilize his piano skills or experiment with other instruments. The instrumentals on the album take a hefty amount of risks, most of which pay off. A majority of the time they take precedence over Martians’ singing, playing long before and after Martians sings. One song in particular, “Where Are Your Friends?” sounds like it was intentionally recorded in a factory, with the instrumental miming the sounds of hammers and whistles. The sound of that would normally be annoying, but Martians uses the sounds to add a playful mood to the song. Others don’t pay off as well, like on “Alotta Women/Useless”, where the piano chords overwhelm the other instruments and Martians’ repetitive lyrics wear themselves out.
This brings me to one of the significant issues with The Drum Chord Theory. Martians depends too much on the instrumentation to create a quality song. Each unique instrumental is paired with lyrics that are too sparse or shallow to derive any meaning from. Take the song “Found Me Some Acid Tonight”; Martians repeats “I found me some acid tonight/And we gon’ trip to the other side” before the song abruptly cuts off. This is not the only instance where Martians is caught repeating himself, and it continually dulls down the album to the point of boredom.
Martians also lacks a concept to attach to his album. He mostly croons about love and his search for the perfect companion, but never really connects these songs together to create an overarching theme. Concept albums aren’t a mandatory staple of the music industry, but it helps to have an idea that the artist can work around and build off of for an album. J. Cole comes to mind when thinking about this, as he did a fairly nice job with a concept on his latest album 4 Your Eyez Only, choosing to base the album off of his friend’s death.
Despite the issues with The Drum Chord Theory, Martians has released a solid album. Numerous songs include inventive beat changes that force the listener to stay on their toes. The groovy bass and guitar lines sound reminiscent of Thundercat and Tame Impala. Martians’ features absolutely crush their appearances (Steve Lacy and Tyler, theCreator produce; Syd, Steve Lacy, and Kari Faux feature). The lyrics, however, are nothing to ride home about and hang on the verge of redundancy. The absence of a concept also makes the album impossible to comprehend as one single work. The Drum Chord Theory doesn’t break the stratosphere, but it’s not supposed to. This album has proved Martians’ potential, and that we should be prepared for what he has to come. Listen to The Drum Chord Theory here and catch The Internet at The Neptune on March 17.
Thundercathas been under the radar recently. He quietly released the single “Bus in These Streets” nearly half a year ago but since has made no hint of any new music. That changed today when he released the song “Show You the Way” featuring Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, as well as revealed that his new album Drunk would be available February 24. “Show You the Way” features Thundercat’s signature high-pitched singing and smooth instrumentation, and Loggins and McDonald both lend their voices to make the single even smoother than I thought was humanly possible. Along with the new song and album release date, Thundercat released the tracklist for Drunk. At 23 tracks long, the album is going to take time to fully digest. Check out the tracklist below (which includes some noteworthy features), and listen to “Show You the Way” here.
01. Rabbot Ho 02. Captain Stupido 03. Uh Uh 04. Bus in These Streets 05. A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II) 06. Lava Lamp 07. Jethro 08. Day & Night 09. Show You The Way [ft. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins] 10. Walk on By [ft. Kendrick Lamar] 11. Blackkk 12. Tokyo 13. Jameel’s Space Ride 14. Friend Zone 15. Them Changes 16. Where I’m Going 17. Drink Dat [ft. Wiz Khalifa] 18. Inferno 19. I Am Crazy 20. 3AM 21. Drunk 22. The Turn Down [ft. Pharrell] 23. DUI
November 2016 has been a hell of a month, to say the least. I’ve found refuge in music outside the hot mess of classes, politics, and general concern about my life’s purpose. This being the week of Thanksgiving, here is some of the music that’s kept me going. I’m so grateful for everything on this list.
“Hard Work” — Theo Katzman PSA: if taken seriously, this indie-pop single shows borderline symptoms of “Nice Guy Syndrome”. That being said, it’s sooo catchy, and now I’m antsy for the release of Heartbreak Hits in January 2017. Theo Katzman is also a member of one of my favorite bands, Vulfpeck.
“Them Changes” — Thundercat (feat. Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington) This future funk song has been stuck in my head more often than not over the last month. It’s a mesmerizing interpretation of heartbreak, with a drum sample from “Footsteps in the Dark” by The Isley Brothers. Everyone who worked on this song is mind-blowingly talented. Do yourself a favor and check them out.
“Forever” — Ben Harper Ben Harper is heartfelt, thoughtful, and beautifully folksy in this wedding-worthy song. I’ve caught a bad case of the feels. Hopeless romantics, you’ve been warned.
The Meters It’s probably cheating to put an entire artist on here, but I love pretty much everything from these guys. They’re insanely funky and severely underrated. This month, I’ve been listening to “Give It What You Can” on repeat. “Hand Clapping Song” and “Cissy Strut” are also staples on any funk playlist. 10/10 would recommend.
“Monday Morning” — Fleetwood Mac A tribute to those agonizingly ambiguous, passionately complex people in your life. Cherish them.
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.