Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Best New Music: Miguel's Continued Gospel of Sex on 'Wildheart'

Before Miguel's Wildheart was released yesterday, and was only a string of enticing, X-rated singles, it was already one of the best albums of 2015.

On the follow-up to his 2012 masterpiece, Kaleidoscope Dream, this generation's R&B Prince (as in, both royalty and "the artist formerly known as") is even more explicitly the brilliant, fearless purveyor of lessons on how to love and lust for a woman. 

Some of Wildheart's 16 tracks are listed in either small or large caps - a solid representation of what's in store on each one - and are a delicious mix of deep dirt and intimacy, all saying a different, but equally compelling, variation of the same thing: Miguel might understand the spiritual power of sex better than anyone, ever. Sometimes it's druggy and sinful, sometimes it's sacred - and you'll know the difference as the record's instrumentation moves between between buzzy guitars and sweet balladry. But every time, it's the impossibly soulful, hypnotic voice of Miguel that lays it on you without mercy - and that's what makes this album, and likely every Miguel album that will follow it, totally perfect.

Best Tracks: FLESH, Coffee, what's normal anyway, Hollywood Dreams

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Best New Album: Kacey Musgraves' 'Pageant Material'

Fact: Kacey Musgraves is the only contemporary mainstream country music artist I listen to. Or ever have.

Two years ago, I stumbled upon her feisty debut album, Same Trailer, Different Park, after reading a review that described her as the "Kendrick Lamar of country" - a badmouthing, expectation-defying rebuttal to (then still) country Taylor Swift and her fellow purveyors of country pop ideals. I was immediately refreshed by her disses of stale, white picket-lined towns and some of the laughable scandal and culture that accompanies it all. In her songs, Musgraves talks often about the need to get out - similar to some of raps biggest influencers - and, it's more clear now than ever, that she has.

Musgraves didn't have a dissimilar upbringing to any of the Hot Country-topping cowgirls - she grew up in Texas, began writing songs at age eight and hit local festivals and fairs to show her talent, before getting a record deal. Her voice and strummed melodies are sweet as pie, so she I'd bet she was always destined for bigger stages, but how she uses that voice and stage are what sets the 26 year-old firecracker apart.

On her sophomore album, Pageant Material, Musgraves weaves together another 13 breaths of fresh air. The uncomplicated (so, in essence, real country) instrumentation and song genetics are sort of genius; they allow her also-uncomplicated songbird voice to state her claims plainly, and wisely, from the get-go. There's no shortage of commentary about good values, love lost and being yourself - but it's how Musgraves bends the typical tricks and gimmicks of traditional country western storytelling ("I'd rather lose for what I am, than win for what I ain't") when doling out untraditional lessons that makes her the new queen of the genre.

image via kaceymusgraves.com

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell Cover "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)"

A month ahead of Iron & Wine and Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell's collaborative covers album, Sing Into My Mouth, the two have released a rustic-sounding spin on the Talking Heads' 1983 classic, "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)."

The famous new wave single has always been an awesomely unconventional one in the pop world, so this surprising, twang-riddled folk adaptation definitely jacks up the accessibility. Sam Beam (Iron & Wine mastermind) and Bridwell's harmonies are clear as glass throughout the soft Americana cover, reassuring (as if anyone had any doubt) that the two singer-songwriters are a collaboration match made in heaven.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Vance Joy Releases New Single: "Great Summer"

After his huge debut album, Dream Your Life Away, Vance Joy has dropped a one-of single that's set to be part of the soundtrack for the film adaptation of John Green's Paper Towns (starring Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne).

Straight up, I dig it. Sounding nothing like the folky balladry we've come to know from the Aussie songbird (born James Keough), "Great Summer" sounds like some expansive, early millennium Rogue Wave or Nada Surf college-rock that melodically hits all the right spots. Built off straightforward guitar lines, upbeat piano and some always-welcome xylophone twinkles, Keough's laid-back vocals are the perfect fit for this summery tale of lost love.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Vampire Weekend's (Chris) Baio Debuts "Sister of Pearl"

Recently, Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio announced he'd be releasing his debut solo album, The Names, under the moniker Baio this fall. Yesterday, he dropped the second single, "Sister of Pearl" - nailing this buoyant, Bowie-esque pop-rock that sounds only a little like what he's done with Vampire Weekend.

On the new track, Baio's vocals wander theatrically around the earworm guitar riff that keeps the energy of the song pulsing - making for a carefree anthem that will stay with you all summer long.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Are You Onto Tove Styrke? Listen to 'Kiddo' Now

Six years ago, at only 16 years-old, singer Tove Styrke stepped up to compete on Swedish Idol.

Despite her strong vocals and presence, she didn't win. I think everyone, including Styrke, knows that turned out to be a good thing.

She then signed to Sony, released an uncomplicated pop album that made waves in her native Sweden. Between her blonde locks, petite frame and accessible pop hooks - you could certainly argue that Styrke was already on the right track to conquering North America.

When really, a few years away from the limelight, her natural mousy brown locks grown out and a new, edgy hipster pop release now on the shelves - 22 year-old Styrke is better positioned than ever to become the pop idol she needs to be.  

Her second album Kiddo, is exactly what the doctor ordered - start to finish. Similar to fellow Scandinavian superstars Robyn, Lykke Li, Mapei, Icona Pop and Susanne Sundfør (the list really does go on an on), this flavour of pop is anything but bubblegum; while the melodies are straightforwardly likeable - they're accompanied by strong feminist statements, sassy, glam instrumentation and, above all, her capable, voice of conviction. It's so rock, but still so perfectly pop. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

5 (New) Essential Weekend Tracks

Alright, alright, alright. TGIF! Here are five essential, pretty much brand new tunes to get things moving for you on this fine, thundery Friday.

1. Can't Feel My Face - The Weeknd: I mean, this song won the week. You couldn't swing a handbag and not hit someone talking about how fire this track is. With some obvious Michael Jackson influences on the upbeat, disco-ey new single from Toronto crooner Abel Tesfaye (who has never sounded better) - it appears he might be moving in a less moody, more groovy direction. We're down.

2. Tied Up (feat. DeJ Loaf) - Casey Veggies: 21 year-old Casey Veggies, former member of the recently disbanded Odd Future crew and new member of Roc Nation, is carving his own name quickly with radio-ready tracks like this. Joined by DeJ Loaf on the sugary hook, the up-and-coming West Coast rapper rhymes effortlessly about his girl, sounding awesomely early millennium.

3. Gosh - Jamie xx: I can't say enough good things about this swelling electronic track (and its dope video - the best I've seen in awhile). Starting with one of xx's coined, skittering beats and some washy effects, the song eventually builds into one of those big, emotive, M83-reminiscent places that might make you want to cry.

4. Third Eye - Florence + The Machine: A lot of critics think the new Flo album goes downhill after the first half, but I totally disagree. For fans of her theatrical anthems ("Shake It Out," "If Only For A Night"), it's chantable, open-air doozies like this one that keep me listening.

5. No Time Is Better - Dizzy Wright: This might be more of a Sunday night wind-down tune, but damn - don't overlook Wright's newest album. Some of the jazzy, early 90s samples nestled into The Growing Process' production give off To Pimp A Butterfly vibes. (The highest compliment.)

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The Virgin Suicides Soundtrack: 15 Years Later

First, I can't believe it's been 15 years since The Virgin Suicides was released, along with its game-changing score and soundtrack. I feel old(er).

Although undeniably dark, Jeffrey Eugenides' acclaimed book and then Sofia Coppola's award-winning film adaptation were huge for me. Both the rad score (composed by 90s-famous French duo Air) and 70s-laden soundtrack were so overplayed in the four walls of my bedroom - acting as a kind of dual education in the power of indie artist-scored pictures and mid-70s prog-rock.

Second, I just found out the most mindblowing fact about the soundtrack. Did you know that Air's haunting lead soundtrack single, "Playground Love," is actually sung by Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars? Hang on, what? Trust me, I've looked this up before - but the vocals have always been credited to Gordon Tracks, which is apparently Mars' pseudonym. Listen to it and you'll finally clue into Mars's distinct voice singing the famous lyrics. Oh, and although Sofia Coppola was married to Spike Jonze during the making of Virgin Suicides, she and Mars got married 12 years after its release. Boom.

And last, Noah '40' Shebib, of Drake's OVO Crew, played one of the young boys infatuated with the five sisters in the film.

 Again, what?

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Best New Album: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment's 'Surf'

Excuse me while I pour a glass of wine, sit in a lawn chair on a brownstone rooftop and watch the sun go down over New York City. 

Not your standard hip-hop listening activity, but, I pretty much always end up feeling that way when I listen to real hip-hop; albums that, in essence, are filled with rap, but, pull in so many other eclectic elements that it's hard to bucket it into that genre only. Or any genre, I guess.

This is Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment's debut album, Surf - a 16-song (free) release from the gloriously unconventional Chance, The Rapper and his collective of bohemian musician friends. Not to mention J. Cole, Busta Rhymes, Big Sean, Migos’ Quavo and a whole other community of top-tier rappers who lend their voices to this bright-as-sun, soulful statement. Surf is incredible.

As is the case with some of hip-hop's best albums, I can't predict what the critical perception of Surf is going to be in the long run (it's been positive so far). It could be criticized for lacking cohesion (it doesn't) or praised as a genius loot bag filled with soul, jazz and hip-hop glitter and meaningful rhymes - all melded together by the hot breeze that radiates from each track.

Whichever track you choose, front to back, this is the summer soundtrack. But, for grooving purposes, I'll suggest "Wanna Be Cool," "Sunday Candy" and "Familiar," and for your balmy rooftop nights, let the cool saxophone of "Nothing Came to Me" and the pretty melody of "Windows" transport you. 

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Are You Onto Vic Mensa? Watch The Video For "U Mad" (feat. Kanye West)

Ooooooouuuu, don't wanna talk about it.

So, the hip-hop video is officially all the way back. (And, thank goodness - no one needed another bullshit car wash, poolside, making-it-rain visual to add to the thousands that dropped from the early millennium onwards.) First, Kendrick, then A$AP Rocky and now young gun Vic Mensa and his newfound mentor - you might have heard of him - Kanye West have stepped up to the proverbial plate to drop some of the most bananas hip-hop videos we've seen in too long.

Six months ago, you probably hadn't heard of Chicago's Vic Mensa (born Victor Kwesi Mensah). He's had a good year. Mensa has toured with J. Cole and Danny Brown, worked with Chance the Rapper and Disclosure, and most recently (following his appearance on 'Ye's "Wolves" with Sia) signed to the Roc Nation family. So, everyone's watching the 22 year-old and waiting for the fire to keep dropping.

Enter the new video for Mensa and West's "U Mad" - one of the top ten bangers of the year - in which the co-aggressors go absolutely mental for five minutes. When Mensa and his hyped SAVEMONEY crew aren't thrashing together under hazy red light, he's either shirtless, clad in a black mesh ensemble or strapped into a straitjacket, going off over the explosive beat. And that's even all before Kanye steps in, wearing just the flyest Donda-commemorating sweatshirt and rhyming stoically next to his the young protegé. It's all too much.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Of Monsters and Men: 'Beneath The Skin'

When Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men stepped into the limelight following the release of 2011's My Head is An Animal, the appetite for thundering, Mumford-esque indie-folk was at its peak. 

Skip ahead four years, when even Mumford stripped their most recent effort of swelling chords and folklore, and you'll find Of Monsters and Men trying to, and only mildly succeeding at, making similar changes on their sophomore, Beneath The Skin. Icy-voiced Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir told Rolling Stone to expect the first and second albums to sound "pretty polar opposite" - which definitely isn't true - but, they're moving in the right direction.

Beneath The Skin is a moodier MHIAA, that has expectedly gorgeous moments (the album opener and the ballad "Organs"), and a few yawners - but is still built on shimmery acoustic chords and strings. And not that I was expecting this, but there are no less wilderness metaphors. Songs are named Wolves Without Teeth, Black Water, I Of The Storm, and you'll be hard-pressed to go three beats without hearing something about the forest, tide or mountains. Considering what their majestic homeland looks like, that's a bit of lyrical bread and butter I don't really mind.

The enjoyment of this record probably won't come down to whether or not it's pretty (of course there will always be sweet moments with OMAM), but whether or not you require serious variance in a band's evolution.

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Best New Album: Jamie xx's 'In Colour'

If you've been watching Jamie xx's ascent since his acclaimed beginnings as part of indie-rock band the xx, his work with Gil Scott-Heron, last year's "All Under One Roof Raving" and wicked remixes in between, you're likely as unsurprised as the rest of us that his official debut album is every bit as praise-worthy as expected.

All of the songs are good. As is the case with everything electronic that Jamie xx (born Jamie Smith) releases, In Colour is heavily influenced - too eclectically influenced to rhyme off the genres and icons - painting different dreamy pictures of what goes on inside the cool underground rave that is Jamie xx's brain. It's straightforward, intimate and pulls in everything you'd want to hear from the young British producer.

And what I think is the sign of any great release, is that the uncomplicated and emotive "filler" tracks are just as ear-catching as showier, spotlighted singles like "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)," "Gosh" and "Loud Places" (with fellow xx-er, Romy). There's the dark and twinkly "Hold Tight" and "Stranger in a Room" (voiced by other xx member Oliver Sims), the colourful, steel drum-driven "Obvs" and pulsing "The Rest is Noise," which have just as much substance, but are willing to lurk quietly in the in between. Kind of like Jamie himself.

Friday, June 5, 2015

TGIF: Neon Indian's "Annie"

Neon Indian has arrived.

Not that Alan Palomo hasn't been out here making feel-good music for, you know, 4 years - but "Annie" is an overdue coming-of-age party for his druggy, sometimes chillwave, sometimes electro-pop efforts.

Nothing about this new Neon Indian track is hazy - it's islandy, in-your-face disco that puts Palomo's yearning vocals right out there where your all-night dance party needs them. I'd reckon it'll also work well in the Texan artist's already danceable stage game. 

And, hey, if you find yourself likening this tropical groove to Ace of Base's "The Sign," we're on the same page.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Best New Track: Lil Wayne's "Glory"

So, Wayne could be back.

After joining TIDAL, Jay-Z's questionable streaming service, as a co-owner, Lil Wayne also released his new single "Glory" yesterday as a TIDAL exclusive. Coming from the self-proclaimed "best rapper alive" and one of hip-hop's hardest working stars, it should be no surprise that this new, non-stop rhymefest is pretty good.

But, after a pretty weird few years and phantom, should-be 11th and 12th albums (Tha Carter V and Free Weezy, respectively, supposedly), it's typical Wayne to show up amidst his legal and creative messes and drop some solo fire. Since no one, likely including Wayne, knows when his albums are coming - I guess Weezy got a little antsy and just needed the platform to release it.

"Glory" is awesome not only because of the pounding beat or orchestral sample, but because it's everything that made us fall in love with mixtape Wayne in the first place. It's free-flowing inner monologue, at points sharp and at other points perfectly nonsensical - going on and on before his final declaration at the 5-minute mark ("I got 'em"). Production-wise, it's not even anything special, but lyrically, it's old school Wayne.

Until there's a functional link somewhere, you can stream the song in full over at 2DopeBoyz.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Major Lazer feat. Ellie Goulding + Tarrus Riley: "Powerful"

When I first started writing this post, it was about a different track from Diplo's side project, Major Lazer, and their new album, Peace is the Mission ("Be Together", featuring sibling duo Wild Belle - great tune). But, after letting the album roll on, I hit the brakes once I heard "Powerful" - Major Lazer's collab with Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley. It sounded awfully familiar...

That's because I wrote about a different - or less official - version of this song, minus one Goulding, and plus one Ezra Koenig (of Vampire Weekend) over six months ago. Turns out the earlier, obviously unmastered cut of the song was used as part of Major Lazer's FXX cartoon show (on which Koenig voiced a character) and has gotten a refresh for the reggae-EDM trio's third album.

Needless to say, this polished Ellie Goulding-sung version is, well, powerful. A chugging, reggae-laced dance number, the track is sexied up by Goulding's vocal acrobatics and Riley's soulful, heavy chorus. Makes me think they should have sped up production on this tune, so that Goulding could have contributed this single to the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack as well.

All in all, the whole album is fire. Have a listen - I dare you not to groove in your seat.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Leon Bridges Drops New Single, "Smooth Sailin'"

Another day, another sensational Leon Bridges single.

Ahead of his debut album, Coming Home, out June 23 on Columbia, the Forth Worth, Texas soul artist has dropped the fifth single set to appear on his highly anticipated release. In recent months, Bridges has shaken the industry with effortlessly cool, 60s-sounding singles including the album's title track, "Better Man," "Lisa Sawyer," and what I think is the best track of the year so far, "River."

Similar to the four before it, "Smooth Sailin'" is pure soul, and what Bridges calls the "crowd favourite" at live shows. With some sassy guitars and saxophone, the rhythmic new single oozes a breeziness that's perfect for summer in the city - present day, or 50 years ago.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Júníus Meyvant Releases Second Single, "Hailslide"

Why aren't more people talking about Júníus Meyvant?

We're in the midst of a little soul revival at the moment (amen) - thanks to the dusty sounds recently released by "it" artists Leon Bridges, Alabama Shakes and even A$AP Rocky - and, it can't be overlooked that a fiery-haired Icelandic artist is also making some big contributions to the genre.

Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson (AKA Júníus Meyvant), only has two singles to his name, but both "Color Decay" and now "Haislide" evoke strong hints of Smokey Robinson and Van Morrison in their sunshiney, horn-filled indie-folk flavour. You won't only find poetry in Meyvant's groovy, instrument-packed numbers - he's privy to using nature similes to describe his love for a woman. Everything is "sweet like honey" and "so wonderful, like the quiet voice of summer breeze," and in the context of his colourful sonic landscape, these comparisons are bang on.

You can listen to his gorgeous first single (and one of my top five picks for the best songs of 2014) here, and his new single below. Meyvant's debut EP finally drops next month, via Record Records.

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