Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Top 30 ALBUMS of 2019: Part Two (#1--10)...

ten great records to close out an amazing decade in music:

1. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib Bandana:
Freddie Gibbs raps like the Terminator terminates, all credible threats and ceaseless forward motion. It’s perfect to a point that sometimes seems inhuman. It’s little wonder that Gibbs has met one of his greatest collaborators in the West Coast sample whiz Madlib, whose beats get stoned and loose in all the places where Gibbs’s raps tend to be tightly wound. On 2014’s Piñata and again on this year’s Bandana, the duo syncs up and delivers a record better than the sum of its parts, a selection of beats and rhymes so hard everyone involved (including guests Killer Mike, Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Yasiin Bey, and Black Thought) is elevated in the process. (VULTURE)

2. Weyes Blood Titanic Rising:
even at her most optimistic, Mering grounds herself in reality. On the majestic opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change,” Mering yearns to return to the purity of childhood, a time when the world seemed to swell with wonder and possibility. But she cuts her fantasy short and admits that since progress is impossible to escape, why not focus on what matters right now? Later on “Mirror Forever,” she is her most blunt: “No one’s ever gonna give you a trophy/For all the pain and things you’ve been through/No one knows but you.” This advice comes off as almost gravely urgent and upholds Titanic Rising’s acceptance of difficult truths. (PITCHFORK)

3. Danny Brown U Know What I’m Sayin?:
Brown usually lunges out of beats, but here melts into them, making himself just another bright leaping dot on a cartoon assembly line. Individual production credits come from longtime collaborator Paul White, JPEGMAFIA, Flying Lotus, and Q-Tip himself, who coaxes and calms these nervy beats into a free-flowing suite, full of irregular rhythms and snipped edges. The snare snap on JPEG’s “3 Tearz” hits either a half-second later or sooner than you expect, prompting the loosest and most unpredictable verses from Killer Mike and El-P in years. Q-Tip’s own “Dirty Laundry” basically loops a full minute of “Aurora Spinray,” a quivering instrumental from the early-’70s psychedelic group Syrinx, and destabilizes the rhythm so much that listening to it feels walking across a waterbed. (PITCHFORK)

4. FKA Twigs Magdalene:
FKA Twigs had a breakup and emergency surgery to remove painful fibroid tumors she describes as being the size of fruit and returned with Magdalene, an elegant cycle about redrawing boundaries and relearning trust after a rough patch. Magdalene avoids specifics; it would rather show solidarity with aggrieved women through history than allow a man much space in this frame. It plays out more like an internal dialogue from a multifaceted artist giving herself a pep talk. The production splits the difference between abrasive electronics and tender piano sounds, sometimes in the space of a single song. (VULTURE)

5. Gaika Heaters 4 The Seaters:
an unassuming mixtape but one that all the pretenders in the UK dancehall scene desperately need to study to up their game.

6. Lizzo Cuz I Love You:
Cuz I Love You is Lizzo’s victory lap. Throughout the course of 11 tracks, she flaunts the fact that she can literally do anything. The opening title track has Lizzo resembling Whitney Houston with a soulful admission of love and fear. Oh, and by the way, she wrote it in under 10 minutes. On “Like a Girl”, she reaffirms her ability to rap with the feminist anthem many have tried, and excruciatingly failed, to create (see Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”). She sings, “Woke up feelin’ like I just might run for President/ Even if there ain’t no precedent/ Switchin’ up the messaging/ I’m about to add a little estrogen.” Back-to-back tracks “Juice” and “Soulmate” are perfectly pop, with fun and uplifting lyrics that you’ll want to sing in the mirror every morning. On the R&B-infused “Jerome”, Lizzo succeeds at what Taylor Swift has been attempting to do for years. She absolutely roasts — and name-drops — her ex in a way that’s devoid of desperation; instead, she’s unapologetically unperturbed. (CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND)

7. Jamila Woods LEGACY! LEGACY!:
every track on LEGACY! LEGACY! is named for and inspired by a significant writer, musician or artist—many of them women, essentially all of them people of color—and their influence shines through, whether in the anecdotal biographical details of Frida Kahlo’s life or the cocksure swagger of Muddy Waters. It’s a loving tribute in large part, but what LEGACY! isn’t is pure homage. Woods empathizes, draws connections between her own experience and those of the writers and musicians that came before her, but the vision still refracts through her own lens into a prismatic spectrum of sounds and emotions that amounts to the sum of her singular vision. (TREBLE)

8. Bon Iver I, I:
the sound of old faithful re-energized.

9. Nilufer Yanya Miss Universe:
an impressively diverse collection of tracks, but most of them can be broken down to a few simple elements. There’s usually a snaking guitar line, some snapping percussion and, of course, a lot of Yanyas, always doubling back and harmonizing with themselves. She does a lot with a little. She can sweep these elements into something that sounds massive, like she does on “Angels,” or she can keep them in tightly controlled syncopation, like she does on “Heavyweight Champion Of The Year.” There’s a sense of Yanya-as-conductor on these tracks, wielding emotional swells with expertise. (STEREOGUM)

10. Prince Originals:
How wild that a chronicle of a lost era can feel so modern when all over it are musical markers of the ’80s: synths and drum machines and clap tracks and extended breakdowns and of course, sax solos. Nostalgia, even rendered fresh, works on the ear in invisible ways, as does the sequence of these songs. We careen between slow-burning love songs (witness Prince’s glorious falsetto over the heartbeat percussion of “Baby, You’re a Trip,” which Prince wrote for Jill Jones, about the time she snooped in his diary after he read hers) and more quintessential dance hits. “Holly Rock,” which he gave to Sheila E. for the Krush Groove soundtrack, is snappily upbeat, Prince punctuating the chorus with James Brown-esque flourishes (“I’m bad, good god!”) and a snarky taunt at the end: “Now try to dance like that,” he says. (PITCHFORK)

THE TOP 100 SONGS OF 2019: PART FIVE (#1--20)...

We come to it at last: the twenty best year-defining tracks...

1. Headlights & Heaters 8 (Gaika feat Azekel, Cosima & Robb Rocks):
there is so much noise out there in America and Britain about dancehall's influence and everyone wants to sound hard and well, like everyone else. And, they're all mostly failing except Gaika. Here he not only puts diversity on display but the individual segments of brilliance as so detailed to perfection.

2. Toast (Koffee):
out for a year now, played to death everywhere AND yet still unrepentantly brilliant and fresh.

3. Zora (Jamilia Woods):
the author finally getting some artist due.

4. In My Room (Frank Ocean):
This looping bop abandons “DHL”’s pitch alterations for its own dream-pop easy-slipping atmosphere. The vocals change pace at random, making for an oddly fluid experience, as if we were all immersed in a wave of colours throughout. Alternating refrains of “Quit being violent with me,” and “You make me violent” seem only to suggest a see-saw of feeling between two people, taking us directly into this room which is where Ocean ends the track abruptly, almost as if shutting the door. (ATWOOD MAGAZINE)

5. Andromeda (Weyes Blood):
not only does Weyes Blood sound otherworldly on this standout track on her new album but she sounds of the world she is assessing too. Andromeda is akin to bowie’s Space Oddity—that gem of a pop track that doesn’t assume but bleed through emotion from a disassociated position yet charms with its sadness. When she turns the line “Looking up to the sky for something I may never find” early on its as if the screws are being pulled out of her body.

6. Drunk II (Mannequin Pussy):
one of the brilliant things about this song is that it communicates so clearly the volatility of being drunk—the wild vacillations between moods and topics, for sure, but also the way that, at least for me, being drunk can reveal you, can put at the forefront the thing you thought you didn’t want to talk about. “Drunk II” notices the frustration and self-defeat of drinking, how “going out almost every night” doesn’t actually solve the problems it’s supposed to—how singer Marisa Dabice, or her narrator, has to “pretend” to have fun even though she says it’s what she wants. Dabice’s sharp, dynamic vocals swing from scared to defiant to bitter to crushed, all ambiguity, and as the song is ending and the searing guitars crescendo, she shouts, “I have the answer now!” But it’s never so simple. (TREBLE)

7. Dirty Laundry (Danny Brown):
over a cheeky, churning Q-Tip beat, Danny Brown lays out a series of ribald tall tales, most of which have the exaggerated, conversational quality of someone drunkenly trying to get their buddies to laugh. But as funny as these stories can be—doing “the humpty-hump in a Burger King bathroom,” paying for a lap dance with pocket change—they’re all rooted in the desperate poverty of their characters. They also often end, funnily enough, with that desperation giving way to strange moments of empathy. (Lori the stripper, for example, doesn’t mind the change because she needed the money—she had her own laundry to pay for.) “Ever seen a roach with babies have babies?” Brown raps early in the song. “In the hood like, ‘Whatever, we in this bitch together.’” (TREBLE)

8. Doorman (Slowthai feat. Mura Masa):
enlists electronic producer Mura Masa, whose job is usually to add dancefloor-ready pop carbonation to songs. Here, though, Mura Masa gives “Doorman” a gnarl of growling guitars, distorted vocals, and drums that seem to kick the song forward as he builds up to a shouted chorus: “Doorman, let me in the door/Spent all my money, you ain’t getting no more.” The rapper said in a press release that he wrote the song after seeing multi-million dollar paintings on a wall after a night out in London, exposing a wealth disparity that “made him sick.” That sickness shakes his voice as he spits the words “high society,” shouting against the rollicking background noise. The song ends with a return to the newscast, this time about working-class Britons sniffing glue. It’s more punk than Slowthai’s ever sounded, a class critique made for a mosh pit. (PITCHFORK)

9. By The Gullet (Nakhane):
crams soul amid the sweet torture held within its lyrics.

10. Flat Tummy Tea (Freddie Gibbs & Madlib):
begins with Freddie Gibbs and ends with Freddie Gibbs. And it has a Madlib beat that sounds like a carnival and refuses to let up. For 2:35, Gibbs is absolutely relentless, throwing out standout lines like they’re filler. “Gold body, my jeweler he black mummy me, I be all in these bitches’ stomach like flat tummy tea,” “step out the kitchen and step in the booth and drop heat on these rap n****s, without a cosign you probably be fillin’ my grocery bag,” and “Bellagio with quatro hoes, stack like Connect 4s” are all in competition with each other for best lines of the year. Even more than singular moments, Gibbs manages to pull together the strands of white supremacy, capitalism, and mass incarceration so quickly that by the second verse, he still has time to flex. (TREBLE)

11. Free The Frail (JPEGMafia feat. Helena Deland):
to think he nearly left it off the album.

12. Receipts (SerpentWithFeet feat. Ty Dolla):
in line with serpentwithfeet’s previous work, an experimental, intricately structured R&B song, and it’s fascinating to see Ty import his melodic sensibility into this context, when usually it’s being employed on Top 40 pop songs or blockbuster rap records. The song is narrative, with Wise and Ty dueting as its two protagonists. Wise explained the genesis of the song in a statement: “I began writing ‘Receipts’ when I first moved to Los Angeles last summer…I played an early demo for Ty Dolla $ign and he asked to join me on the track. This song carries a lot of weight for me because it’s a snapshot of two brothers rhapsodizing about unforeseen romance. Ty is a huge part of my LA story so ‘Receipts’ feels like a perfect document.” (SPIN)

13. 100 MPH (Prince):
nothing beats him in original form.

14. Paralysed (Nilufer Yanya):
Yanya’s style is rich with eclecticism; funk, Bossa Nova, subtle touches of gritty rock and world music influence, for an all around British indie cornucopia. Delicious guitar riffs and bridges carry the album, perking the ear and eliciting uncontrollable grins, as in “Paralysed.” There’s a prettiness to Yanya’s vocals that offsets the tough, toothy veneer. The dichotomy makes for some pleasant surprises throughout the album that leave the listener on their toes. (SLUGMAG.COM)

15. With My Whole Heart (Sufjan Stevens):
We live in particularly trying times for optimism, but here is Sufjan Stevens, shaking things up and teaching us to love again. “With My Whole Heart” is his self-described attempt to “write an upbeat and sincere love song without conflict, anxiety, or self-deprecation.” Coming from a guy whose every passing interest—U.S. state history, Tonya Harding, fucking Christmastime—seems to result in teary-eyed contemplation, it’s a noble pursuit. Inevitably, he almost falls apart less than two minutes in. “I confess the world’s a mess,” he admits softly, “but I will always love you.” You can almost sense him gazing out the window wistfully before remembering the task at hand.(PITCHFORK)

16. Best You Ever Had (B.Y.E.H) (Jada Kingdom):
the beef with Shenseea is still hot but from last year came the real gut-check on how a woman feels about a cheating man.

17. Sisyphus (Andrew Bird):
Bird has this knack for formulating the type of uber smart pop that only he really navigates in an Americana way and Sisyphus succeeds wildly with whip phrases like “history forgets the moderates”.

18. Song 32 (Noname):
“I’m America at its best,” she proclaims over frequent collaborator Phoelix’s laid-back, bluesy production. The Chicago native flows effortlessly as she name drops Diddy, Kendrick Lamar and Cardi B while bragging and boasting about her own skills and godliness. Coming in at just under three minutes, it’s a very short but sweet little ditty that will tide us over until her next single. ("Song 33" perhaps?) (SOULBOUNCE)

19. New Breed (Dawn):
it’s woman worship time…from other women.

20. Paper Tulips (Gallant):
the electronic notes of "Paper Tulips" play with oblique metaphors and layer composition to speak on relationship ambiguities. (EXCLAIM.CA)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Top 30 ALBUMS of 2019: Part Two (#11--20)...

inching closer...

11. King Princess Cheap Queen:
much of the power of this album lies in King Princess' voice and words – both of which can be sweet and casual and then disarmingly vulnerable within the space of a line. “I like the way that you talk slow / Spelling my name with your tongue so...” she sings softly in “Homegirl” over a pared-back, sugary guitar melody, before she gets you in the gut with the next line: “You don't have to say it / We're friends at the party / I'll give you my body at home.” (VICE.COM)

12. JPEGMafia All My Heroes Are Cornballs:
refuses to be the formal introduction that it could have been; instead, the album is a defining statement because of its turbulence. It’s a mirror that chooses to shatter over and over and over again, all jagged edges and glimpses. The production here is some of the prettiest JPEG’s ever done; either that, or it’s the ugliest or most jarring, and the album vacillates between the two, from wind chimes to scrap metal as Peggy jumps between AutoTuned hooks and anxious, jugular-bursting verses, never quite the same as he was on the last song but always incisive and unignorable. (TREBLE)

13. Ty Segall First Taste:
his first studio set since last year’s sprawling double-LP Freedom’s Goblin, suggests Segall may be warming to the concept of restrictions. He recorded First Taste without a single guitar, seemingly renouncing his allegiance to garage-psych skronk. Relying entirely on keyboards, percussion, and stringed instruments of different persuasions, the album winds up sounding like… well, like a lot of other Ty Segall records, really. (PITCHFORK)

14. Quelle Chris Guns:
despite its blunt title and explosive aesthetic, is less like a noisy shootout and more a silenced sniper shot. “Spray and Pray” features syrupy bass licks and grainy percussion that establish a moody aesthetic behind Chris’s trademark rasp and sharp characterization of gang members’ familiarity with firing guns. Nothing truly sets the record ablaze on the instrumental front, but the moody tone of the jazzy beats juxtapose amazingly with brutal lyrical takedowns here. I love the somber pianowork on “Guns”, almost giving the track a pitch black film over Chris’s bars; the elegant feel of the beats on “Box of Wheaties” plays perfectly to the faux-classiness of the track, and the dramatic tone of the pianos on “Straight Shot” is downright beautiful. Chris Keys and Quelle Chris combine to make some truly wonderful musical moments on the record, especially with some of the more horror-core instrumentals, like on the gothic synths and children choir on “PSA Drugfest 2003” and the maniacal guitar and doughy drums on “Obamacare”. (SOFLOSOUND. COM)

15. Koffee Rapture EP:
it’s been quite the past 12 months for Koffee with a single track alone (“Toast”) but surprise, surprise she has backed it up with an engaging EP that successfully puts her on a map that will survive the mystique around her life at the moment.

16. Sharon van Etten Remind Me Tomorrow:
‘Remind Me Tomorrow’, then, serves not so much as a nudge, but a forceful and playful shove to remind listeners just how special Van Etten’s talent is on both a lyrical and musical level. Don’t call it a comeback, but it may well be her most intoxicating and impressive work to date. (NME)

17. Gallant Sweet Insomnia:
if you follow the press this was the year male R&B disappeared but they’ve all forgotten about Gallant. Sweet Insomnia is the sound of a man quietly growing in confidence and experimenting within the space.

18. Nakhane You Will Not Die:
It’s an album filled with drama, with verve, and a continual sense of the unexpected; ‘Star Red’ is a tale of religious rebellion prompted by the singer’s own grandmother, while the movement from sharply defined techno driven pop to lush arrangements from co-conspirator Ben Christophers is wonderfully well executed. A singular experience, ‘You Will Not Die’ is a theatrical jewel, the sound of a rich, vital talent moving briskly into the limelight. At times reminiscent of Kate Bush in its sense of performance, ANOHNI in its integrity, or even Marvin Gaye in its soulful, sinewy groove, this is an album to be cherished. (CLASH MUSIC)

19. Five Steez & Mordecai Love N Art:
the hip/hop influence is clear—a recurring theme –but it’s the new innovations that shine: little niches of originality and risk that elevate the lyrical flow. Love N Art is growth full thrust and there seems no slowing down in sight.

20. Little Simz Grey Area:
third album by London emcee Little Simz, that half-hour and change feels particularly lean, toned and ready for battle. Now 25, Simz meditates on the doubts and uncertainties of young adulthood over a rich production heavily composed of live instrumentation. So while she’s airing some deep-seated angst, she ends up sounding bulletproof. It’s a fascinating paradox but one that works because the honesty and vulnerability only give Simz strength. When she says, “Man, they shoulda never let me discover the mic” on “Boss,” it’s a summary moment of threatening chest puffery well earned. (TREBLE)

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Top 30 ALBUMS of 2019: Part One (#21--30)...

It's been a great year for albums so without further ado, here we go:

21. Avey Tare Cows On Hour Glass Pond:
the search for intimacy and connection powers the best work of Portner’s catalog (the longing “Grass,” the anxious “Peacebone,” the lovestruck “Bluish,” among others), and on Cows on Hourglass Pond, it returns to the fore after a half-decade of sonic wandering. The record finds Portner fruitfully preoccupied with the contours of aging; whether he’s accentuating the positive (the bubbling “What’s the Goodside?”) or probing humanity’s fixation on the unattainable (“Taken Boy”), Portner’s lyrics radiate a relatable combination of wary optimism and well-earned bittersweetness without ever tipping over into the realm of sanded-off platitudes. (CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND)

22. Beck Hyperspace:
The emotional arc of Hyperspace can be exhausting, especially if it hits close to home. But for fans, it may feel more important that the record has an emotional arc at all. Beck's past few records have featured many excellent songs, but lately it's been hard to shake the feeling that he's grown more interested in engaging with music on formal terms than exploring deeper feelings. On Hyperspace, he's not hiding anything. We happen to know more about his personal life at the moment than usual, but we don't need to in order to connect. Anyone can recognize the sound of someone trying their best to pull themselves together. (NPR)

23. Bayonne Drastic Measures:
the crystalline production of Drastic Measures marks a departure from Primitives, Bayonne’s entirely self-produced and more loosely structured full-length debut. In shaping the immaculately composed album, Sellers partly drew inspiration from the sublime melodicism of 1960s symphonic pop. “I spent a lot more time thinking about the little subtleties than I ever had before, and putting more thought into the meaning behind the songs and the best way to get that across,” he says. (CITY SLANG)

24. Michael Kiwanuka Kiwanuka:
right from opener ‘You Ain’t the Problem’, when the muffled opening bars blossom out into a glorious, Supremes-style call to action, and through to the brilliant orchestration on closer ‘Light’, there is a swagger and snap about the record. It’s filmic; a widescreen set of beautiful songs that, vitally, allows deeper investigations in terms of content and sound to be carried out elsewhere. There is a feeling throughout that on this release, Kiwanuka recognises that he has the power, and all the time in the world, to get things down on tape. (THE QUIETUS)

25. Brittany Howard Jaime:
Alabama Shakes singer and guitarist Brittany Howard steps out on her own in more than one way. She sings, writes, plays guitar and drums, and produces herself (with Shakes bassists Zac Cockrell, drummer Nate Smith, and keyboardist Robert Glasper as an occasional backing band). She opens up with stories about her upbringing. “He Loves Me” speaks to experiencing faith apart from the formalities of religion, while “Georgia” recalls growing up while having same-sex crushes in the devout South. “Goat’s Head” revisits learning that people didn’t approve of her parents’ interracial union through the memory of a gruesome prank. The uniqueness of these experiences is mirrored in the music, a mélange of styles touching on funk, rock, soul, hip-hop, and synth-rock, making disparate noises feel closer together by nature of Howard’s wide-ranging tastes and powerhouse musical chops. (VULTURE)

26. Ariana Grande Thank U, Next:
as Ariana moves from strength to strength, her steadiness as an artist incorporates more diverse ideas. This is pop but there is a now cultural aspect that has kicked it. Trying to identify what has caused this can be tricky but what is clear: she's growing up into a woman right before our eyes even while retaining her mischief nature.

27. Lafawndah Ancestor Boy:
it is left to the listener to piece through these lyrical asides to find meanings of his or her own rather being led by the nose, which only makes Ancestor Boy all the more thrilling, especially when its driven by such an effective, powerful production. ‘Joseph’ is a sepulchral ballad with piercing lyrics that place romance as a panacea to the world’s ills: “Wherever you go/You will be safe in this world” Lafawndah murmurs sensually on a bed of glimmering synths. It’s a slower moment amid the raucousness of most of Ancestor Boy and a rare moment of direct meaning. ‘Ancestor Boy’ in comparison is more peculiar, a rollicking dubstep-tinged banger that looks into the past to consider the singer’s –and all of our – ancestry: “Did he come from the water?/Did he come from the sky?/Did he come from the mountains?”. Lafawndah leaves these questions hanging as the music, all pounding percussion and industrial clamour, sweeps over you like a tide. It’s the majestic highlight of an incomparable album. (THE QUIETUS)

28. The Raconteurs Help Us Stranger:
they say absence makes the heart grow fonder and that’s surely the case for The Raconteurs after being away for the past eleven years. White breaks through the gates running on the opening two tracks before settling down into some subdued blues rock that he’s at home most.

29. Marika Hackman Any Human Friend:
in Marika Hackman’s telling, life as a twenty-something in a major city means nights where you kiss strangers, consume substances, and stay up until it becomes light again. It also means nights where you stay inside of your apartment and talk to no one. This polarity is the basis of the British singer-songwriter’s third album, Any Human Friend, which is a singular, extraordinarily horny, and occasionally bleak pop record largely about the complexities of queer desire. (PITCHFORK)

30. Jay Som Anak Ko:
proves the emergence of a stylistic auteur in indie rock. There’s little apparent by way of concept, lyrical wit, and aesthetic quirk — qualities that illuminate the work of many of Duterte’s colleagues — but ambience, style, and ingenuity are well at work, making the album a vibe-y classic worth hanging onto. (TINY MIXED TAPES)