Sunday, February 3, 2019


Now that the Oscar nominations are out and speculation rife, here are my picks for the best films of the previous year:

1. Roma (directed by Alfonso Cuarón):

'Roma' may be Cuaron's most personal film to date but it doesn't hide its flaws in looking back. Shot in black & white (wise choice) and pristinely detailed, Cuaron channels so much old-school and new-school processes into one singular vision. This sounds, in theory, like it's easy to execute but it takes a master to self-edit as he goes along. Not only a great film but, as it inevitably inches towards Best Picture Oscar territory, it's perceived as important as well.

2. The Favourite (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos):

though i've never been a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos i'm the first to admit that dude has a distinct point of view. 'The Favourite' however has elevated him to his highest yet: shot like a 1990s music video, the director gets career performances from Colman, Stone and especially Weisz and puts libertine English values on show. Scrumptious.

3. Isle Of Dogs (directed by Wes Anderson):

Wes Anderson is on such a roll that at this stage we not question his choices.

4. The Wild Pear Tree (directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan):

usually films examining a legacy begin at the parent's death but 'The Wild Pear Tree' doesn't take the easy route; Sinan's dad is very much alive as is all the debts he has amassed in pursuit of his dreams. But now it's all blocking Sinan's dreams and what ensues is deeply personal and mesmerizing to watch.

5. Spiderman (directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman): Into The Spider-verse:

you've been hearing for months now how great this is so just believe the hype if you haven't seen it yet.

6. Green Book (directed by Peter Farrelly):

takes around an hour to really kick in--once Dr. Shirley begins to fight back against the racism faced--that 'Green Book' takes off into a totally different animal, and for the better too.

7. First Reformed (directed by Paul Schrader):

a priest goes off the rails as everything crumbles on him. It's a stunning performance by Ethan Hawke.

8. A Quiet Place (directed by John Krasinski):

a wordless horror film? you bet and it speaks volumes too.

9. Eighth Grade (directed by Bo Burnham):

it's taken a while but here at last is the vulnerability of the Instagram age.

10. If Beale Street Could Talk (directed by Barry Jenkins):

the tenderness of black love is rarely put on screen but here Barry Jenkins puts his considerable vision on show.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Top 30 ALBUMS of 2018: Part Two (#1--10)...

A stunning year for the album, especially for deeply personal issues thrust out there. Here are the ten best...

1.Serpent With Feet Soil:

LGBT artists have been putting out striking personal documents for the better part of the decade but perhaps none more daring that Soil, a stunning debut from Josiah Wise that seems to be putting a enchanting spell on his beloved. Every track tackles a different perspective to his lover that coming out and joining him into this new gay light is what’s best…and we listen throughout awaiting a reply.

2. The Internet Hive Mind:

The Internet’s main bag has long been trying to keep a foot in so many genres that the genres themselves become useless. Here they still dip into smooth R&B, as in “Stay the Night,” and funky dance tracks like “Roll (Burbank Funk)” and bossa nova like “La Di Da,” but it all serves their greater, unified sound. Hive Mind is the full realization of what the Internet has been reaching for since their inception: They have finally become a genre unto themselves. (PITCHFORK)

3. Janelle Monae Dirty Computer:

For Janelle Monáe, a queer black woman, to exist is to be political. Dirty Computer is an exploration of and homage to that politicization, and as the year has progressed, the need for it has only become more apparent. ICE is keeping brown and black children in cages, the NRA continues to arm the most dangerous community (white men), and the Department of Health and Human Services is attempting to erase transgender individuals with oppressive and factually inaccurate language. Monáe’s fourth studio album is the musical embodiment of our responses to all of this. (COMPLEX)

4. Noname Room 25:

By the sound of Room 25, Chicago spitter Noname has spent her time since 2016’s Telefone crafting a project that low-key feels like her Voodoo. Her wicked pen found a way to build upon the foundation of Telefone, diving headfirst into hypnotic live instrumentation with introspective, unapologetic lyrics. She might not have gotten D’Angelo in the flesh on “Don’t Forget About Me,” but she definitely channeled his spirit, bringing a neo-Soulquarian vibe in the best way. In other places, especially “Blaxploitation,” Noname sifts through the lines on her pad to find the route to racial identity in a nation that shits on practically anything black. Other standouts on the album are the Ravyn Lenae-featuring “Montego Bae,” and “Ace,” featuring Saba and Smino. But, truth be told, Room 25 sounds best when it’s just Noname and the funky rhythms she selected, with her spirit chock-full of hilarity and humility. (COMPLEX)

5. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae Everything’s Fine:

sometimes there’s nothing like a labour of love because Everything’s Fine brings two partners—who are formidable on their own—together for the tightest, freshest rap for the year.

6. Christine and the Queens Chris:

On her second album, Christine and the Queens’ Hélöise Letissier invents a new persona—the tough, in-your-face androgyne Chris—to challenge and question the things male rock stars get away with. Over sinuous new wave funk, Chris sings about paying for sex (“5 dollars”) aggressively pursuing pleasure (“Damn [what must a woman do]”), and shrugging off commitment (“girlfriend”)—the kinds of things that would be seen as “masculine” if you believed in that concept. “Some of us just had to fight/For even being looked at right,” Chris sings on “5 dollars,” summing up the way it feels when the world expects you to behave a certain way, but you just can’t play by their rules. And in 2018, that was a whole lot of us. (PITCHFORK)

7. Blood Orange Negro Swan:

Devonté Hynes is always on time. The multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer/songwriter consistently finds ways to synthesize the feelings and emotions of the moment to create something wholly original that manages to expertly comment on the goings-on of those who are a part of his generation. On his fourth album under the Blood Orange moniker, Hynes sets out to tackle black depression, the effects of his tumultuous upbringing, and the struggle of marginalized people merely existing the way they please. The songs reflect that and the times. Trans activist Janet Mock helps open the album on the contemplative “Orlando.” Diddy talks about hope returning and being brave enough to love on the smooth “Hope.” Like other Blood Orange albums, the music sounds like a perfected fusion of black pop music from the past and present. Negro Swan plays as the soundtrack for a time when black stars—and non-famous black folks—are working to carve out room to exist in the way that doesn’t deplete them. It’s right on time. (COMPLEX)

8. The Voidz Virtue:

completely forgotten by critics who have been quick to pronounce the death of rock but Virtue absolutely rocks everything down to the ground while having fun in the process. Casablancas has, at last, found the niche space between poking fun and delivering the goods.

9. Jenny Wilson Exorcism:

an album about rape could be very stoic but Wilson decides not to sacrifice her unique brand of humour or funk. And we’re all better for it.

10. Low Double Negative:

Digitally deconstructed with producer BJ Burton, the record’s electronic noise attempts to strangle the human voice. Static prevails and flickering tones are almost untraceable to the instruments that made them. As austere as Double Negative gets, the mournful harmonies of Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk keep it from ever seeming impenetrable. “It’s not the end, just the end of hope,” Sparhawk murmurs into the maelstrom. Call them slowcore if you must, but this is also pretty hardcore. (PITCHFORK)

THE TOP 100 SONGS OF 2018: PART FIVE (#1--20)...

And so we come to it at last; the best songs of 2018.

1. Bickenhead (Cardi B):

takes a sample from Project Pat’s “Chickenhead” and runs away as the “step your pussy up” song of the year.

2. Does This Ski Mask Make Me Look Fat (Jpegmafia feat. Heno):

hailed for a while now as the leading proponent of the fusion of experimental and mainstream rap and here he makes his case breathlessly.

3. The Story Of Adidon (Pusha T):

The surgical summer that we were promised reached its peak with this astonishing, vicious diss track. In it’s wake now is Drake's good-guy persona as well as his alleged use of ghost writers and child with a former porn star. Not even Drake's supposed inability to sport an afro got dissected. Damn.

4. Apeshit (The Carters):

The Carters are pop music. On “Apeshit,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z analyze cultural institutions that fail to include black artists. The video places black dancers and the Carters in front of white artwork in the Louvre in Paris. They call out the Grammys, which invite black artists for ratings at the ceremony but don’t reward these musicians with actual trophies. As a combined force, the Carters are an establishment of their own, one that’s capable of challenging the likes of the NFL and the Recording Academy. (ESQUIRE)

5. Animal (Caroline Rose):

as she continues to burrow down into pop/rock, Rose wisely hasn’t sacrificed lyricism that tells her sly tales. “Animal” is bloodlust sex to its core (two bodies moving in sync/ I turn it over and over/ like an animal…) but here’s the twist: it’s the sex that got away from the ex she’s still obsessing over.

6. Messy (SerpentWithFeet):

not a lot of artists working within the urban pop or R&B scene can claim to be doing something unique but even a quick listen to any track from serpentwithfeet’s (Josiah Wise) album will attest to his unique brilliance. “Messy” is fragile, tender yet almost antithetical to its intent of love. Or maybe I should say defiant in its queer look at love bordering on rejection.

7. My Contribution To This Scam (Quelle Chris & Jean Grae):

the corporate world is like a vampire sucking the life-force out of the many cogs in a wheel aka you, us, me, everyone who gets up each morning to make that money. Fine, that much is clear but Quelle and Jean expand that concept to include being American into this “scam”, the later even dishes her exclusiveness in rants lest you forget, “I gave you nine minute school girl rants/ Jill Palance/ epic Eastern manifestos…” before bitterly turning her aim to Youtubers.

8. Damn (What Must A Woman Do) (Christine and the Queens):

in the year when Cardi B told women to basically step their pussies up, Heloise Letissier took the more modest approach to tell men to step their dick game up, exasperated how little attention is paid to women getting their rocks off…even going as far as to ask if they gotta pay for some good dick.

9. Blown Up (Salad Boys):

as nervy and on edge as the subject matter of being on point every milli-second of existence.

10. Next Time/Humble Pie (The Internet):

Syd takes us on a stunning look, two-fold, of making a move to a love interest and how that can unfold, all the time giving us the best track Aaliyah never will get to record.

11. Final Fight (Thundercat):

his contribution to the 2018 Adult Swim Singles but this glides so effortlessly that I wonder if he had second thoughts about keeping it for his next album. The heavy synths are heavenly on the ears.

12. Lo’ Hi’ (Jenny Wilson):

there’s hardly a female working in pop currently braver than Wilson. Health issues aside, she’s decided to open up about her experiences with abuse and “Lo’ Hi’” chillingly describes how she was stalked to be raped. Juxtaposed to deeply effective house beat, Wilson lays it all out bare and you dare not flinch or look away.

13. Broken Clocks (SZA):

slinky call to arms when that pesky ex just won’t let go of your name.

14. Blaxpoiltation (Noname):

a stunning rebuke turned inward towards the black community and how what we see influences how we act (‘eating Chick-Fil-A in the shadows/ that taste like hypocrite…’) and, sadly, how we’ve accepted it all. Oh, and there’s a Hillary Clinton swipe so fast that if you blink you miss it.

15.Gush (Busdriver):

another driving force in the underground rap scene---“Gush” crackles like Busta Rhymes on speed X4 and throw in 90’s Bjork weirdness and you get a masterpiece.

16. Feels Like Summer (Childish Gambino):

seemingly overshadowed by “This Is America” but it’s here that Gambino has unearthed new territory in a genre that he has constantly tried to reinvent. Guess what? It’s working.

17. Lemon To A Knife Fight (The Wombats):

and they keep saying that rock is dead.

18. Leave It in My Dreams (The Voidz):

Julian Casablancas absolutely loses himself in this psychedelic pow-wow and we’re all here for it.

19. Fall (Eminem):

backed by an uncredited Bon Iver, Eminem sounds prepared to prove why he is his own GOAT, creating a new trough to the rap game.

20. Adam & The Evil (Clarence Clarity):

singing about the sins of the father while breaking in new Beck-like funk grooves.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Top 30 ALBUMS of 2018: Part Two (#11--20)...

getting closer to the BIG reveal...

11. U.S. Girls In A Poem Unlimited:

From the haunting opener “Velvet 4 Sale” to the danceable anti-war “M.A.H.,” the songs work because Remy sings earnestly and patiently about revenge and reckoning—something she knows is coming. The album also plays host to over 20 guests, and the collaborations echo the album’s tone: There is a fight and the fight cannot be approached alone. In a Poem Unlimited manages to be a record for the times, without bowing to the vastness of all miseries. It knows its targets. (PITCHFORK)

12. Kali Uchis Isolation:

Uchis pays tribute to pop’s past while making it sound new through glowing homage to black and Latinx jukebox favorites and a global roster of collaborations housed in classic soul/R&B aesthetics. She’s a stylist for sure, but her retro dream world sounds more OutKast downtempo psych funk and less Bruno Mars roller rink pander. That said, her solid songcraft should win her fans across all generations, while her lyrics, full of POC feminist empowerment aphorisms and frank millennial sex-positivity, speak to how to grow up and love right. (PITCHFORK)

13. Clarence Clarity Think: Peace:

With THINK: PEACE, Clarence really embraces his poppier side on a lot of these tracks. The majority of the poppier tracks are so immaculately written and structured, especially with the choruses. He always was a master of writing killer hooks, so this could be seen as a natural transition. However, he managed the tricky task of leaning on his poppier side while still providing the insane production that made No Now so mind-blowing. (BYTEBSU)

14. Gaika Basic Volume:

while his album undoubtedly builds on that angry contemporary dystopia narrative, with politically-charged rap blazing commandingly over his trademark infusions of dark, sex-fuelled dancehall, smoky R&B and so-industrial-you-can-hear-the-cogs-whirring electronics, Basic Volumefeels more personal than before. Its title comes from the former name of his late father’s material sciences company, and - quietly - this is an album that deals with the displacing nature of grief, too. (THEQUIETUS)

15. Salad Boys This Is Glue:

‘Blow Up’, the album’s first single, kickstarts the LP on a moreish note, with motorik drumming and the frantic intercutting of jangling ’80s guitars licks with a doomy, more fuzzed out variety. Later, ‘Psych Slasher’ ebbs and flows with melodic denouement awash in phaser and swimming synth, while the likes of ‘Exaltation’ and ‘Divided’ embody, in their gloomy themes, Joe Sampson’s blistering and finely-honed song-writing skills. This album is, above all, torment at its most exhilarating. Indeed, despondency has never been as inviting as it is on ‘This is Glue’. (LOUDANDQUIET)

16. Caroline Rose Loner:

Lyrically, Loner is all over the place, in the very best way. Bikini is a take down of sexism and misogyny in the entertainment industry – “all you have to do is put on this little bikini…and dance” exclaims Rose, and you can almost hear the contempt dripping from her voice. On the other end of the scale is the doomy To Die Today, which as the title may suggest, imagines what it would be like to die: “Gonna know what it feels like to drown, my lungs fill up and make like the liquid of a cloud” intones Rose over a spectral, almost ghostly, groove.(MUSICOMH)

17. Cardi B Invasion Of Privacy:

The full complexity of her Cardi-ness is on display here. She teams up with fellow boss-bitch SZA on “I Do,” where she deploys brash one-liners about not needing a man for anything. She’s just as charismatic while flashing her vulnerable side on “Be Careful,” when she warns a cheating partner that he’s on his last strike, and spills out words of gratitude on the wholesome “Best Life” with Chance the Rapper. That sense of range also transfers to her exploration of genre, as she expertly flips between boogaloo-inspired Latin trap, Southern hip-hop twerk anthems, tender R&B jams, and neck-snapping freestyles. It’s not so much a question anymore whether you like Cardi or not: it’s which Cardi you like most. (PITCHFORK)

18. Nao Saturn:

weaves together both intimate and fictionalized accounts of her rollercoaster of a Saturn return on her second album, inviting listeners into the recent events of her life while charting new territory — her "wonky funk" moniker is nodded to, but this collection eclipses it. Drama is softened by sincerity on the record, as NAO finds balance in the wake of chaos. (EXCLAIM)

19. A$AP Rocky Testing:

structured much like any other major label rap release, and yet it deftly swerves away from the problems that plague the majority of its peers. It is overstuffed with ideas across its 15 tracks, but not a single second of its runtime is wasted; one of the rare albums that is all killer, no filler. It has a jaw-dropping list of guest artists and producers that may be the most eclectic musical team assembled thus far in 2018, but it never lacks for cohesion or clarity for a moment. (HIGHSNOBIETY)

20. Kendrick Lamar Black Panther Soundtrack:

In a year where TDE was rolling full steam ahead, one of their earliest wins was Kendrick Lamar and company’s Black Panther: The Album. Inspired by the blockbuster Marvel film, Lamar assembled a dizzying array of talented artists and cultivated a soundtrack that marries the African-inspired soundscape in the film with T’Challa and Killmonger’s swagger. Lamar had his fingerprints all over this album; SOB X RBE were darlings for many in 2018, but they never sounded as focused as they did on the pulsating “Paramedic!,” and Jay Rock, Kendrick, and Future’s “King’s Dead” was an infectious trunk-rattler that heads were blasting even if they didn’t rock with the film. The project didn’t shy from radio bangers, either; Lamar and SZA shined on “All the Stars,” while the Weeknd and K-Dot took it darker on “Pray for Me.” Ultimately, this release not only shows that, when properly inspired, Kendrick can churn out some impressive music for himself and the squad, but that films like Black Panther (and, later, Creed II) need soundtracks/album-length releases that truly encapsulate what they mean both to Hollywood execs and, most importantly, the people flocking to see them in theaters. (COMPLEX)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Top 30 ALBUMS of 2018: Part One (#21--30)...

There's a reason why consensus has been hard to get this year for best album: everybody stepped up. Some usually-expected names here but a lot of new names have emerged.

Here are my picks of the best:

21. Pusha T Daytona:

He’s one of the handful of street rappers who have been able to cross over to the corporate side with ease; Rick Ross and JAY are the only others who come immediately to mind. King Push’s lyrics lend credence to his truth-telling persona. On “Infrared,” he tells his truth once more, as he references the Cash Money sub-fest that is “Exodus 23:1” and re-ignites his beef with Drake. 2018 will be remembered as the year Pusha won, in every sense of the word. (COMPLEX)

22. Ariana Grande Sweetener:

Though some stans might disagree, Sweetener is Grande’s strongest work to date, thanks in large part to previous collaborator Max Martin and the legendary Pharrell Williams. The opening track, “Raindrops (an Angel Cried),” an interpolation of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons’ “An Angel Cried,” is 38 seconds of chill-inducing bliss, with her pipes on full display. The rest of the album is less about her range and affinity for whistle tones, which is fine. We already know she can sing; on Sweetener, we finally get to hear Grande grow into her voice and give us more memorable work. (COMPLEX)

23. N.E.R.D No One Ever Really Dies:

what’s most striking about No_One Ever Really Dies: the way these former architects of Future Sound have become handmaidens to their past. The weaknesses on their previous records (other than Nothing, which every good N.E.R.D. fan ignores) came from ideas that pointed off in new directions even if they weren’t fully fleshed out. Here, even the better songs are recycled, as the band lives off blood infusions from its guestlist. Out of the game so long, the N.E.R.D. antennae have picked up on something extra-musical in the air, and crafted their old sound around it. (PITCHFORK)

24. Hookworms Microshift:

You would have to search far and wide to find a transformation in an already great band that works as well as this. The key to it all is the vulnerability that MJ is now willing to put on display, giving the newfound musical incisiveness the emotional fuel it needs to really fly. If this isn’t one of the albums of the year then we must be in for something special. (DROWNEDINSOUND)

25. Emma Ruth Rundle On Dark Horses:
She is crafting bold art that is bleak and brooding, yet devastatingly beautiful. More importantly, she is telling stories that must be told and heard. Even in the most terrible moments and in the darkest of times, she finds something from which strength can be obtained and lessons can be learned. She finds the pain that inflicts us all, yet she encourages us to not simply run away but to be the remedy to the infliction. To realize that we are not just riding On Dark Horses, but we are the dark horses. (THEREVUE)

26. Ty Segall Freedom’s Goblin:

In marveling at the sheer volume of Segall’s discography, it’s easy to overlook his growth as a writer. He’s often slotted alongside peers like Thee Oh Sees and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard in the pantheon of garage-rockers with exploratory impulses and little regard for traditional promo cycles. But it’s more apt to mention him in the same breath as musicians like Robert Pollard, Ted Leo, or Elliott Smith—expert melody-makers who borrow liberally from the classic-rock canon, but reshape and demystify it in their own eccentric image. And on Freedom’s Goblin, the tuneful sensibility that Segall has been nurturing since 2011’s Goodbye Bread fully blossoms into sky-high hooks and rich, resonant lyricism, all while keeping his primordial spirit intact. (PITCHFORK)

27. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Hope Downs:

the band has tightened things up in just the right ways and come up with something magical. The guys in the band headed off to a remote area of Australia, bunkered down with producer Liam Judson, and refined their sound until it shone like a gem. More than before, the guitars have a spiky bite, the vocals come through clearly, the rhythm section has some kick, and every song feels like a hit. The first three songs, "An Air Conditioned Man," "Talking Straight," and "Mainland," are breathtaking guitar pop, built on the DNA of the Feelies, the Go-Betweens, and R.E.M. but given new life by the emotion the three songwriters and vocalists (Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, and Joe White) pour into the words and singing. Not to mention the thrilling interplay of their guitars; none of them are virtuosic, but the parts they play fit together as seamlessly as Lego pieces. (ALLMUSIC)

28. Leon Bridges Good Thing:

Bridges addresses the just and unjust objections to his first LP. Musical progression lines every seam, from the disco strut of ‘If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)’ to the modern sheen of ‘You Don’t Know’. What’s more, he retains the timeless sparkle of ‘Coming Home’ but pushes the clock forward, this time pitching somewhere between 60’s-era Mad Men living rooms and present-day clubs. Opener ‘Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand’ could be handpicked from any previous decade, but the gentle guitar loops of ‘Shy’ owe a debt to Danger Mouse’s productions. He’s no longer directly indebted to the past. (NME)

29. White Denim Performance:

The colorful abundance of Performance is reminiscent of another guys-rocking-in-a-room album from earlier this year: Chicago psych bros Post Animal’s When I Think of You in a Castle, which fused skill and melody to similarly potent effect. But while Post Animal aren’t shy about venturing into heady territory, Performance finds White Denim sticking comfortably within the confines of more familiar classic rock sounds. The closest they get to entering a trippier realm is in the closing minutes of the sprawling “Fine Slime,” when a jammy, grimy groove starts to fade out, replaced by some errant noise. But then the grit returns at full blast. You can hear hints of the Beatles (don’t laugh) on the album, as well as blues-pop titans and fellow classic rock disciples the Black Keys, who leave an indelible imprint on opener “Magazin.” (PITCHFORK)

30. Virginia Wing Ecstatic Arrow:

Ecstatic Arrow is an album of fresh starts. Richards and Pillay recorded in the Swiss Alps, and while the connection between location and sound is often spurious, there is a heady clarity to the album that you might describe as “alpine” if that word hadn’t been ruined by men’s shower gel. Koto sparkles; swathes of synthesizer mist descend, then break, allowing incandescent pop choruses to break through; and the pair create ashram lusciousness from icy machines. Virginia Wing’s is an understated but familiar scramble of mid-’80s pop at its most avant-garde—Laurie Anderson’s sprechgesang, Peter Gabriel and Japan’s chilly hauteur; Kate Bush’s imposing dynamic and Malcolm McLaren’s impish reinvention—so if Ecstatic Arrow doesn’t feel quite like stepping into a new world, it at least returns us to an unspoiled glade. (PITCHFORK)