Listening to the first minute of opening track “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” on Kate Bush’s 1985 album Hounds of Love, it’s easy to write the entire album off as your typical pop creation of the decade. The first track has the sound that any of us with parents who grew up in the 80s may be familiar with due to their constant replaying of the sounds of their youth. If that’s what you’re looking for, keep listening, as you’ve found an album that not only perfectly encases the sound of the decade but also is part of the foundation for many of the pop albums that came after it. Even if you’re not too into synth pop from the 80s, I encourage you to give this album a chance—if not for the chilling vocals and before-its-time experimentation with background vocals and production, then simply because this is one of the landmark albums that defined what pop would be for years after.
As mentioned before, this intro track is the classic 80s pop song, so much so that it sounds like it could have easily been a part of the original soundtrack of “The Breakfast Club.” In fact, for what it’s worth, the album was actually released the same year as the movie, which I would say speaks to just how iconic 80s pop is. The sound is so easily recognizable, for better or for worse, it can sometimes lead to easily confusing one song from the era with another. However, I would argue that there are a couple of small but striking differences in this song that make it stand out. The buildup at the beginning is slow yet stunning, making it impossible not to recognize the song within moments. And if it isn’t the buildup that lights up the bulb of recognition in your mind, it’s definitely the clear, strong vocals of Kate Bush. It’s somewhere between the pure vocals of a pop singer and the grungy, throaty vocals of a rock singer. This could have a lot to do with the fact that her early music was more so teenage rock, and this song, along with a couple others on the album, was mostly meant to appeal to the popular sound at the time. However, as much as the song played along with the norms of the typical pop sound in the 80s, it’s impossible not to hear the rock influences in the background. These influences are clear in everything from the riveting electric guitar riffs to the grunge in her voice as she hits key points in the iconic chorus. As much as it is easy to label this song just another 80s pop number, the fact that it’s still considered one of her top songs and is one of the most successful songs to come out of the era can’t be ignored, and that alone should warrant respect from any listener.
Yet another boppy, lively song from her album, I would say that there are two important elements to take in when listening to this song specifically: the amazing drums and the simply astonishing lyrics. The drums in this song are the basis for an iconic beat, one that may be stuck in your head for hours on end (I can vouch for this since the beat was stuck in my head for at least two hours while I was prepping for this album review). However, what’s not to admire about a song that’s so catchy it literally lingers in your mind for hours? If anything, it’s a success on the part of the producers and the singer, being able to create such a song, and I credit the beat of the drums for this. The lyrics, on the other hand, are both clever and completely straightforward. I always tend to admire love songs from the 80s, as there was nothing really to try to decipher about them. “I never know what’s good for me,” “I’ve always been a coward,” “Help me darling, help me please.” Lines like these speak clearly as to what the singer means and what the listener is going to identify with. But in all honesty, while the lyrics in this song are quite clear, if you listen extremely closely you can hear quite a few of the lines that might just fly over your head. For instance, at the beginning, a male’s voice says, “It’s in the trees. It’s coming.” Admittedly, the first couple of times I heard this song I truly just assumed that it was included at the start simply because it sounded cool. But after those few listens, I eventually linked up that entrance line with the title and a couple of other lines in the song. In essence, this song is speaking on the fact that love is wild and uncontrollable, like hounds, and there’s no way of escaping it. It’s wild, it’s free, and it’s relentless. As cheesy as it might seem to be, I can’t help but find it wonderful, and I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve had such cheesy but relatable meanings to songs.
Let me just tell you, if you have earphones in, the intro to this song is definitely going to give you a chill. Not because it’s particularly touching, but rather because the song starts with whispered instructions for you to wake up. I think this song is a nice follow up to the last two. Track six puts you to sleep, track seven induces a nightmare, and this track brings you out of that nightmare–albeit it wakes you up somewhat abruptly. It sounds like a mix of a cult meeting recording and a cheesy zombie flick track. That’s not to say it’s bad, because I definitely think that it’s one of the more experimental tracks on the album. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard before, and definitely not similar to any of the other tracks on Hounds of Love. In a way it reminds me of “Thriller” by Michael Jackson in the sense that it has a Halloween-y feeling to it. This is one of the few songs on the album that I could see myself listening to by itself and actually including in one of my playlists. It’s a song that could stand well on its own and is one of my favorites from this entire album. It isn’t as modern as some of the others, and definitely has an 80s sound to it because of the guitar riff in the background, but I think all of the elements come together to create something truly special.
This is by far the longest song on the album, going just over six minutes. I’ve always found myself to be conflicted on songs that are like this. On one hand, some songs simply do have messages that deserve that much time and are wonderfully executed, and it feels as if the song passes by way too quickly rather than dragging on. On the other hand, there have been times in which the song seems to just be unnecessarily long, and so what was meant to be artistic and meaningful simply comes off as a bore. In my opinion this song is fits into the former category. I never felt as if it was dragging on, and I hung onto every second of it. It’s gorgeous yet mysterious at the same time. Bush’s vocals shine through in this song more than any other. I was hesitant at first to choose a favorite song on this album, but I’m going to say that this song is most likely my favorite. It’s rare for the longest song on an album to be one of my favorites, but this song holds a sound that simply stands out from the others on the album. Admittedly there isn’t a whole lot of singing on this song in comparison to the others, but the period that Bush is singing is simply breathtaking–not to mention I’m a sucker for extremely mystical songs, and this song embodies that sound completely. I can understand that this may not be the song for everyone. There’s something relaxing to it, and it’s sort of unexpected as the next to last song on the album. Compared to the last song on the track, it seems to be the odd one out, but sometimes the odd one out is the best one.
In all, I think Hounds of Love is one of those albums that has some songs that just aren’t attractive to a particular listener. However, considering how well it was created, Bush’s amazing vocals, and just how big of a mark it left in pop and the music industry as a whole, it’s impossible to write this album off as anything but a work of art. Would I give this album a listen again? For sure. I think there are several songs on here that I find amazing, in every meaning of the word. It’s not my favorite album of all time, but I think it’s the type of album that everyone should give a try at least once, as it warrants that level of respect.
By John Martin and Max Totsky
Rome – Armand Hammer
Armand Hammer’s latest is a whirlwind thriller, with lyrics so dense, every line on it practically begs for lyrical analysis. The duo are clearly skilled rappers, to the point where Rome winds up feeling more like spoken word than a pure rap album. Faced with the disorienting production on this record, tag team emcees Elucid and Billy Woods are forced to ditch the downbeat, inventing their own syncopated rhyme schemes, while staying wildly in command of their own flows. You can see this best in action on “Dead Money”, where the two trade lyrics laced with paranoia and discontent. The song closes with a fadeout, like their verses were cut from a longer session and they could easily sustain that mesmerizing lyrical complexity and intensity for as long as they wanted.
But if Rome couldn’t get more off kilter, the beats are pieced together from scratchy recordings, coarse bass lines, and grimy samples. It’s a sound so industrial, it’s hard to find modern parallels. That’s the thing about this album: it feels like an anachronism. Rome features some of the classic rap braggadocio and politically charged chants that you might find on a socially conscious rap album of the 90s (i.e. Mos Def, A Tribe Called Quest). Considering the modern landscape of hip-hop, this 2017 spin on past ideas could easily sound trite; however, in the capable hands of Armand Hammer, the album taps into the richness of its forebears without lifting their style entirely. Rome is carved out with a singular vision, a gritty exhibition of the New York underground.- John Martin
Tapes #1-3 – Hoops
There’s something refreshingly nostalgic about Indiana based Hoops’ most recent EP collection Tapes #1-3. Fresh off their first major label LP Routines (and the band’s first time recording in a professional studio), this release takes it back to summer of 2016, where the band hit its stride with a run of three promising EPs. The album is Hoops at their beginning, efficient and delightfully hazy with the punchy percussion and slick guitar leads that drew me in the first time I heard them. Tapes #1-3 runs against the idea that an indie band has to transform the genre to deliver a memorable record. These 18 songs over 53 minutes are rooted in simplicity, each one structured to rope you in with a satisfying hook, then move onto the next. And even where the rickety haze and low-fi recording make their lyrics indecipherable, Hoops’ carefree sing-song melodies will get stuck in your head. It’s an album of sun-soaked tunes for a lazy Sunday afternoon.- JM
Horse Blanket – Posse
After hearing the winding bassline on their song “Keep Me Awake”, Posse had me hooked. With unornamented guitar strumming and soft tamborine, Horse Blanket is a six song EP that showcases how straightforward Posse can be. What makes Posse so potent comes in the form of their trademark sardonic lyricism, rooted in disaffected musings and blunt depictions of Seattle mundanity. Co-vocalists Sarah Maxim and Paul Wittman-Todd share the same dejected inflection when they sing, to perfectly match the tone of their words. They write lyrics to get lost in, wry and cutting, but captivating still (“You walked into the room/Such a stupid thing to do” for example). Even though it’s their final project together, it’s hard to call Horse Blanket a swan song. Posse closes off as it started: as jaded and aimless as their first two albums, sauntering at the steady pace of Jon Saltzman’s drumming.- JM
EP2 – Yaeji
Yaeji’s first EP poised her as an idiosyncratic voice in house music not to be reckoned with, where she sings, whispers, and raps over wonky rhythms and fluid synth lines. In a soft departure from that sound, EP2 showcases her through a hip-hop tinged lens, like in the trap infused beat on “drink i’m sippin on”. Yaeji finds a way to put her own spin on her influences, like on “passionfruit,” where she distills Drake’s vibrant dancehall hit into something more subdued and atmospheric, guiding you with the sound of her breathy voice and the deep throb of the bass.
Yaeji spends the EP playing with language, switching back and forth between English and Korean mid-sentence, omitting words, or repeating them as she pleases. Granted, her lyrics don’t give way to any meaningful breakthroughs, but to a certain extent, they don’t have to. The album opener “feelings change” feels stream of consciousness, like Yaeji wrote the music and just let words flow out of her mouth on the spot. She’s “speaking like breathing,” letting her swagger just ooze out naturally. In doing so, she draws attention to the immersive chords underneath — her whispers are just vibey accompaniment. In my opinion, that’s what makes EP2 work so well. Yaeji has perfected that sound that made her stand out and curated every element on this project to intertwine and complement each other. But ultimately, EP2 is effective simply because it sounds cool.- JM
Paradox – Aleksi Perälä
Finnish producer Aleksi Perälä creates techno music to zone out to on his latest double EP Paradox. With a microtonal tuning method called Colundi, these songs are based around ritualistic grooves, slippery synths, and undulating bass. Perälä uses a wide range of sounds on this record. “Gblft1740070” is a spellbinding track where glittering 8-bit tones cascade and arpeggiate over its entire run, whereas “Gblft1740072” counters that with sounds that resembles churning factory machines than Super Mario. Paradox is an album constructed with a conscious focus and attention to detail; however, on the listeners end, it’s best played in the background while focusing on something else. Perälä’s songs hover around five minutes, long enough to savor but not overstay their welcome, each an entrancing sonic journey of their own.- JM
Colón Man- Equiknoxx
Dancehall is appropriated more than any other genre these days, but only an outfit as authentic and Equiknoxx could deliver such a full-fledged deconstruction. These songs are built around a usually small group of samples- wonky voices, springy synths, noises that don’t usually work their way into bangers like this- but they unfold with a firm grip on their own momentum. It’s usually subtle and doesn’t get as loud and bombastic as it could, but the best songs here keep going until your it becomes dizzying.- Max Totsky
Plant Age- Terekke
When labels like L.I.E.S. grasp their overarching vision, it’s always a glorious time. The curational grace that goes into constructing this extra lo-fi, disorienting ambient music seems to accept only the crispest auras and the most skeletal beats, but it doesn’t always stick out as much as Plant Age, the soft and absolutely mesmerizing realest from Terekke. Patience and subtlety always come in handy when constructing this type of electronic music, so it’s not surprising that this marinates as well as it does. When you let Plant Age sit in a room, it will soothe but not without showing you its complexities.- MT
Wopavelli 3- Lil Wop
I saw Lil Pump yesterday, and you know how they usually play a healthy rotation of rap songs before a rap concert? They were doing that and it was slightly rubbing me the wrong way. They played not two but three songs by known child-molester 6ix9ine (I didn’t even know he had three songs) and at one point the DJ incited a chant of “FREE X!” as he launched into Xxxtentacion’s ‘Look At Me’, ignoring the brutal legal testimonies and multiple charges held against them. It didn’t make me happy about the place rap seemed to be. Then they played Lil Wop, and in that moment, I seemed to feel a little bit of relief. It didn’t completely numb the larger issue of fans making excuses for bonafide heinous acts, but hearing someone rap from the back of their throat so that their voice turns into some type of croak and somehow turning that into a banger gave me hope that rap could be revolutionary again, that it wasn’t veering into this pit of toxic and contagious aggression. There is literally nobody who has ever sounded like Lil Wop, and the fact that it works is a testament to his energy. I don’t even know how to describe it.- MT
October has been over for a minute, but its spirit lives on! Here are its best releases.
Reaching for Indigo- Circuit Des Yeux
It’s easy to make Haley Fohr’s voice the center of attention, but there’s a difference between the whimsical, (and slightly forgettable) music she creates as Jackie Lynn and the incessantly penetrating material that comes out of her Circuit Des Yeux pseudonym. When she commits herself to density, her bellowing, distinctively low voice transcends the initial shock factor that surfaces upon hearing it. It would be wrong to call instrumentation this dark and sharp “gentle”, but when it surrounds her voice, it feels like intricate ornamentation, the type that forces itself to step back. That being said, Reaching for Indigo is not an album that ties itself to any type of gimmick; it’s a statement by an artist who has chosen to live as art, to splatter herself onto every canvas with little to no restraint. – Max Totsky
The Garden- Carla dal Forno
Deadpan dream pop goddess Carla Dal Forno has unleashed The Garden, a collection of cavernous hook-driven songs that simultaneously invite you in and scare you off. Her first album You Know What It’s Like, released in 2016, set her apart as an ambitious songwriter with a keen ear for ambient sound design; however, The Garden shifts the focus to Dal Forno as a singer, her voice lifeless, menacing, and lovely — all at once. The instrumentals read like funeral marches, showcasing her ability to craft spacious, palatial music while retaining her lo-fi sense of steadiness. Her music centers around droning bass lines and ceaseless drum machine grooves, like on “Make up Talk” and the commanding EP opener “We Shouldn’t Have to Wait”. But Carla Dal Forno’s ghostly alto cuts through the reverb-laced murk and looms above it.
The title track pays homage to Einstürzende Neubauten’s 1996 song “The Garden”. Dal Forno’s version takes root in the same enchanting energy of its namesake, with ominous psychedelic synths to match. As she describes, the garden lures her in and becomes her place of solace (“day and night, I’ll always be outside”), though she doesn’t “mind the sense of threat from it.” When she beckons “go outside, I’m outside,” she takes on the siren-like qualities of the garden. If You Know What It’s Like set an eerie foundation for Carla Dal Forno’s sound, The Garden expands the ideas and drives the mood darker. She’s forceful. She’s urgent. She’s downright scary. In an apt stroke of artistry, Carla Dal Forno has built an EP as alluring and frightening as the garden within it.- John Martin
The Plunge- Fever Ray
It’s hard to know what to expect after eight years of silence. Karin Dreijer Andersson never seems to fail to shift the entire dynamic of electro-pop whenever she commits to a project, but after her main squeeze the Knife fizzled out after 2013’s magnum opus Shaking the Habitual, I thought she might retreat into a sort of retirement. After all, 2009’s Fever Ray solo project seemed like something a one-off, an exploration of ideas that dodged the saccharine chaos of her past material into something subdued and pretty spooky. However, she’s back albeit in a very different form. Gone is the carefully curated minimalism, the obtuse metaphors, and the oozing, pitched down vocals of Fever Ray’s past. She’s about something much more charged now, the type of tell-all urgency that is usually reserved for sloppy, drunken exchanges with a hook-up you might have a bit too many feelings for. The screeching synths and reliance on the other end of vocal effect spectrum (piercing autotune specifically) hits you off guard at first, but when you notice how sustained the charisma is here as well as Andersson’s ability to ride the abstract and loopy production of Swedish mastermind Peder Mannerfelt, the album ends up being pretty fucking fun.- MT
A flame my love, a frequency- Colleen
I’d take a wild guess that if you’re reading this, you remember where you were when you heard about the 2015 Paris attacks. I was in a science museum, at peak aesthetic indulgence, when the alert on my phone snapped me out of everything. I retreated, I mourned; it was impossible to know how to react. Colleen’s new album reflects this ambiguity, the challenge of living a life that is always walking in death’s shadow, vulnerable to tragedy at any time. It surfaced in the wake of her visit to her hometown Paris that just so happened to be on November 13th, the day of the attacks. It is hard for an album made of abstract electroacoustic landscapes to address the implications of this specifically, but the ambience is inescapable. These songs feel like they are constantly at risk of evaporating, bubbling under a despondent haze until they eventually give in and crumble.- MT
The Kid – Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
The Kid is a vivid electronic journey through Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s psyche and personal understanding of the world around her. With an arsenal of previous albums and projects under her belt, the Washington native has spent her career experimenting with her voice and a Buchla 100 synthesizer. Gilded by graceful waves of sound, the album is a guide through some of life’s most formative moments: birth, adolescence, love, and eventually death. Even though the album is formed from mechanical elements, Smith imparts so much color that they sound full of life, imitating running water, chirping birds, and even gusts of wind. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s wispy voice — distorted and distilled — is used as an instrument, interwoven with the varied effects. Like Smith’s fluid transitions, the track titles form sentences, flowing from each song into the next. They serve as a guide for her narrative, but the story’s details are freeform, open to interpretation.
Each song is a soundtrack for a certain phase of development. Carefree dances early in the album represent formative years (“I Am Consumed”), whereas weightier, contemplative songs toward the end carry the wisdom of someone who has experienced life and is comforted by its end. The last two tracks “I Will Make Room for You” and ”To Feel Your Best” are a story of learning how to commit yourself to something and learning how to give it away. To that end, The Kid portrays life in its most emotionally raw sense, heavy on feeling and light on detail. Relatable and thoroughly engaging, this is an album anyone can understand.- JM
When it comes to music-blog buzz genres, “dream-punk” is one that caught my eye in the wake of Norwegian group Makthaverskan’s 2013 sophomore album, and I’m glad it did because that thing was the shit. Heavenly, energetic, furious catharsis spearheaded by frontwoman Maja Milner’s powerhouse vocals singing sweet tunes of longing and emotional struggle? Sign me up! III is basically a sequel. The sound is a bit less rough around the edges, their strides have become more forceful, and while the highs are a bit lower, the thing is grounded in the same type of luscious brilliance that won me over in the first place.- MT
Mirror Reaper- Bell Witch
If you want to read something sad, read any interview with funeral doom outfit Bell Witch promoting Mirror Reaper. This record was scraped together in the wake of their ex-drummer Adrian Guerra’s death, using snippets of his voice to create some sort of reflection on mourning and moving on. And holy smokes, this album is as harrowing as it sounds. It plods along in a single 83-minute stride, leaning almost exclusively on low frequencies- growls, extended bass notes, battered down drums- to the point where after listening to it for a while you feel engrossed by a persistent raincloud. There are no crescendos, there is no wow-factor; just a single emotion that grows not because of any transformation but because when you stare at hopelessness for long enough, something else emerges. It’s hard to tell what that thing means, but it’s fucking potent.- MT
I can’t really gather the words to describe the feeling Tommy creates. It’s an experimental electronic project that concerns itself primarily with thickness, piling on atmospheres so robust yet so close to toppling over onto themselves. The backbones of these songs are hard to put your finger on but they exist; sometimes they come in the form of vocal samples so manipulated that they almost become bloated and sickening, and other times the aura is product of loopy, unsteady piano or dusty field recordings. Its presence is never undermined though, even if the melodies are barely there and there is absolutely no rhythm. There’s something eerie about its restraint, but at the same time this “restraint” is by choice; it would be absurd to imply that there’s something holding this project back.- MT
I Tell a Fly – Benjamin Clementine
British multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Clementine’s electrifying second album I Tell A Fly is an unpredictable journey through scenes of cultural history and his personal life, reimagined from the point-of-view of two flies. He explores themes of eclecticism and otherness, fusing elements of prog rock, classical music, avant-garde, and even as far reaching as tango. Untethered to a certain genre, Clementine forges his own out of elegant harpsichords, booming drums, and his otherworldly, complex lyricism. Benjamin Clementine designs his songs to be disarming. “Farewell Sonata” is a romantic piano ballad with delicately placed swells and warbles, but quickly mutates into a rock anthem that sounds like it should be played in a stadium, not a concert hall. But with Clementine, he can emote like Queen and dazzle like Mozart in a single song, and still sound distinctly his own.
He weaves theatrics in with beautiful ease and control. It’s in his deep, bellowing, operatic voice. It’s in the way he rolls his “r” in the word dragonfly. It’s in his mercurial changes of scene and tone. Piano notes cut like daggers on “Phantom of Aleppoville”, but soothe like aloe on “Jupiter.” Songs about childhood bullies brush shoulders with ones about the causes of war, showing the commonalities in the human experience. Though it’s wide ranging in subject matter and style, I Tell A Fly feels comprehensive and wholly unified by Clementine’s captivating presence. In this timeless, genre-bending exploration of life, he steps outside of convention and pieces together yet another mindblowing album.- JM
DK / SK- DK / SK
Suzanne Kraft’s work sounds like high end elevator music sometimes, the type of stuff you’d expect to hear in a some sort of neo-futuristic spa looking at a skyline on the 70th floor of some glass building in the soup of dusk. His solo work has been some of the most stunning, relaxed electronica in recent memory but here he teams up with Dang-Khoa Chau for something just as streamlined. These melodies, as frail as they are, slyly wrap themselves around you as they progress, keeping the grip loose enough for you to breath, but tapping into something inescapable at the same time. It’s a natural pairing and the music is as smooth as you’d expect.- MT
Omaru- Toiret Status
There’s something about glitchy-ass electronic music that practically begs to be called a “deconstruction” that really gets me hype. It happened last year with DJWWWW’s lowkey landmark Arigato, and its happening again here on this energetic full-length by Japan’s elusive Toiret Status. These songs are basically hypercharged sketches that seems as uncertain about their trajectory as you are, but the surprises keep coming and rarely disappoint. This project hits a plethora of thumping grooves, and each one is a sinister balance to the high-strung vocal samples that wind around the track. It’s a journey for real.- MT
Protest is a fluid concept. In that I mean to say the what, how, and why protest “is” changes as much as the cycles of oppression and injustice protest targets. Regardless of the ends and means, to protest is to act subversively against systems of oppression whatever you identify those systems to be. Trump’s recent travel ban on immigrants from Libya, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq calls, in my mind, for protest. In thinking of ways to act, I came along the idea to compile a list of musicians from these seven countries, in order to showcase the incredible humanity and creativity Trump’s hateful, dualistic and un-American policy will keep out of America. It’s important to acknowledge the political regimes and cultures many of these artists live under add an inherent political tone to their work. Many of these artist have been forced to flee their homeland because of war and violence, in this way these artist give a face to the faceless refugee xenophobic American policies attempt to lock out. To create in oppression is a necessary act of resistance, and to present their work in America is to stand in solidarity with that creative resistance by means of our own. To defy globalism is to defy the incredible artists and people of the entire world, to defy xenophobia is to embrace the incredible musics and cultures you will find below. Above all, I hope you enjoy the music of these incredible artists and appreciate the beautiful creators Trump’s ban throws fear and hate against. Please feel free to reach out at email@example.com if you have artist suggestions or comments.
Day One: Naseer Shamma, Iraq
Shamma, who was born in Al-Kūt, Iraq and studied the Oud in Baghdad, was forced to flee to Cairo during Saddam Hussein’s regime as political refugee and remained away from his beloved country of origin during the entire occupation of the U.S. military. Under the occupation of al Qaeda music was forbidden and reason for execution, in the past few years Shamma has been able to return to Baghdad on a few occasions for concerts and educational sessions, he currently runs Arab Oud House, a music conservatory, in Cairo in addition to his activities and collaborations as an artist.
Day Two: Emmanuel Jal, Sudan
Jal’s story is one of violence, loss, and escape. Forced into being a child soldier in the Sudan Liberation People’s Army as a seven year-old attempting to flee the war torn Sudan to Ethiopia, Jal eventually escaped the clutches of the army into neighboring Kenya. While studying in Kenya, Jal used singing as a way to ease the pain he had experienced as a child soldier in Sudan and in becoming a musician hoped his music to promote the unity of the citizens to overcome ethnic and religious division and motivate the youth in Sudan. Jal now lives in Canada and spends his time as an activist and musician spreading his story of loss and hope to the world.
Day Three: Mohsen Namjoo, Iran
Mohsen Namjoo combines religious songs and the everyday, American rock and classical Persian rhythm, Hafez and Rumi with street slang. For these incongruencies, which in many ways reflect the incongruencies of contemporary Iran, Namjoo was forced into exile from his hometown of Mashhad after the New York Times released his illegal music. Music outside of the traditional religious forms is banned in most of Iran. Before leaving the country Namjoo operated in the Iranian underground music scene, giving secret shows in DIY basements and carefully distributing his music. Though making music in itself was a political act for Namjoo, he does not write explicitly political music, in part recognizing the ways political dissent would only reduce his artistic credibility within Iran: “It’s important that you get your identity from art, and not animosity. The nature of art is not war.”
Namjoo currently lives in America as an Iranian immigrant, where he performs and has also been a visiting scholar at Stanford and Brown. In the same way Namjoo’s career embodies a political struggle in Iran, he now stands as a testament to the beautiful people open American borders bring into our country at a time when Trump’s administration has attempted to close them.
Day Four: Lena Chamamyan, Syria
Born to an Armenian family in Damascus, Lena Chamamyan grew up singing in both Armenian and Syriac choirs, as well as oriental Arab music. With the encouragement of her grandmother, Chamamyan decided to pursue singing at the conservatory level and along the way encountered the American Jazz idiom and classical forms. The music she creates now is a blend of this myriad of influences, injected with lyrics about the social situation in contemporary Syria. This social situation forced Chamamyan out in 2010, she currently lives in Paris. In an interview with News and Noise! she had this to say about Syria : “You can’t be Syrian and just live above or beside the situation. Every Syrian is affected by the situation, especially artists connected to the people. There’s no work, so no money, being confronted with too much death and unfairness daily. We feel lost. As if we’re losing our country and losing the trust in each other. I feel we reached a point where no one is protecting the Syrian people. The politicians’ actions cause more deaths and my first concern is in stopping the bloodshed and the deaths and to give the people hope. I keep asking myself questions like where are we going? What can we do? Well, we should never lose our relation with Syria, keep caring for each other, keep supporting each other. We should keep caring about every death because it’s all human blood being shed. Everyone has the right to say his opinion. It’s not possible to just stay silent, but sometimes you just can’t talk.” (https://newsandnoise.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/we-should-support-each-other-an-interview-with-lena-ch…)
Day Five: Kawi, Yemen
The outbreak of hip-hop in Yemen often traces back to the influence of American-Yemen rapper Hagage “AJ” Masae. Kawi is one of the young disseminators of the genre and appears to now split time between Yemen and Nuremberg, Germany. While not much information is available on the life of Kawi, he and his contemporaries, under the name of Yemen’s Montsers, exist primarily on the spheres of YouTube and Twitter.
Day Six: Ahmed Fakroun, Libya
Originally from Benghazi, Fakroun’s career as a musician can be best described by the ways he has straddles Europe and Libya. In terms of his European influences, Fakroun takes after Europop and French Art Rock. As a young child, he picked up the electric bass though he also plays the bouzouki-like saz, mandol and darbouka drum. His combinations of European and Arabic forms have deeply informed popular Arabic music, and he maintains his ties and roots to Libya following a large period of exile during Muammar Gudaffi’s oppressive regime under which all forms of music were illegal.
Day Seven: The Yellow Dogs, Iran
Much like Mohsen Namjoo, the Yellow Dogs came up in the underground Tehran scene, where western rock influenced music was illegal. The band cites Joy Division and Talking Heads as influences and play strictly western rock instruments for The Yellow Dogs. Following their musical contribution to the film No One Knows About Persian Cats and an interview with CNN, the band was forced to flee Tehran. They played their first “above-ground” show in Istanbu in 2010 and have since made home in Brooklyn. In 2013 two members of the band were shot and killed in New York City by another disgruntled musician, the remaining members of the band have continued making music, though The Yellow Dogs ceases to exist.
Day Eight: Kahbez Dawle, Syria
Khebez Dawle is a Syrian five-member rock band. Founded in Damascus, Syria in the late 2012 as a one-man project, the band consolidated in a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon in early 2013 after fleeing the conflicts and crises of their own country. Anas Maghrebi, Muhammad Bazz, Bachi Darwish and Hikmat Qassar & Dani Shukri make up the band and are currently working on a follow up to their 2015 self-titled debut.
Day Nine : Nancy Agag, Sudan
Having split time between her birthplace of Omdurman and the Netherlands from a young age, Nancy Agag brings a unique blend of styles to her renditions of traditional Sudan songs. Though she has spent more than half of her life outside of the war-torn country, her connection to the history of Sudan through music acts as a lifeline between her shifting modern global life and the conflicts of her home. Now based in Khartoum, Agag and the Kush Music Band perform music from all parts of Sudan in an effort to unite the shattered country under one peaceful cause of music.
Day Ten: Akvan, Iran
Akvan is the solo “Aryan Black Metal” project of Vizaresa, blending the sounds of western metal instruments with traditional Persian instruments like the tar and setar. His songwriting tackles Iranian history and mythology through deeply considered meditations on his own culture and how it is misinterpreted—not only by outsiders, but by his own country’s leadership. Even the mythologically-charged name of the project, Akvan, aims to encourage western audiences to seek understanding through education about Iranian tradition. In a similar way Vizaresa attempts to reclaim and debase the racist implications of Aryan in reference to his own music and the black metal community. Listen and find out more below.
Day Eleven: Omar Souleyman, Syria
Perhaps the most popular musician on this list thus far, Omar Souleyman got his start as a local wedding singer in his hometown of Ra’s al-‘Ayn in Northeast Syria. He has released over 500 studio and live albums, both from his private engagements as a wedding singer and beyond. In recent years he has worked increasingly with European dance producers like Four Tet to create a very unique blend of Syrian electrified folkloric dabke, Iraqi choubi and Arabic shaabi that has captured the ears of a worldwide audience. Souleyman, in both appearance and sound, challenges conceived negative Western notions and racism toward Arabic culture, and in doing so stands as a testament to the ways music can break down walls of ignorance.
Day Twelve: Wirephobia, Iraq
As he describes himself on his bandcamp page: “Wirephobia is a guy who likes noise music and makes noise music and the albums here are all noise so be careful little child the road is hard to go!” That and his hometown of Erbil, Iraq are the only two things we know about this elusive Iraqi noise musician, and somehow it makes his music all the better.
Day Thirteen: Groupe Amnar Awal, Libya
There is very little information available about this large band from Tripoli. The music, like much of the recordings above, is a blend of Western instrumentation and traditional Libyan rhythms and singing styles. Under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, music was essentially banned. This ban accounts for the lack of publicly distributed music leaving the country at the current moment as the music community slowly forms amid more political instability in the country. Listen and learn here: https://groupeamnarawallibya.bandcamp.com/album/awal-akalin
Day Fourteen: Sahra Halgan, Somaliland
Sahra arrived in Europe in 1992, a political refugee from her native Somaliland, a territory in the North East of Somalia (East Africa), formerly a British colony, self-proclaimed independent since May 1991, but as yet unrecognised by the international community. Halgan began singing at the thirteen and throughout the Somalian civil war worked as a nurse, using her music as a form of medicine for the soldiers she treated. She now uses her music to spread awareness for the unrecognized state of Somaliland, which has remained independent from Somalia as a sovereign democratic state for over 15 years. Halgan currently splits her time between her home in Hargeisa and touring Europe and Asia.
Day Fifteen: Porya Hatami, Iran
Porya Hatami is an experimental sound artist based in Sanandaj, Iran. Working in the field of ambient/minimal, his compositions explore the balance between electronics and environmental sounds, utilizing processed acoustic and electronic sources and field recording. Hatami is concerned with the land itself and how sound travels through that land, and his albums often feel like journeys through landscapes both imagined and real.
Day Sixteen: Sinkane, Sudan
Born Ahmed Gallab, Sinkane has grown over the course of his career to be a true blend and amalgamation of his many musical and geographic influences. Though he has spent the majority of his life in the U.S. , Gallab considers his origins to be Omdurman, Sudan. Gallab left Sudan when he was five because of political pressure on his professor parents and migrated to the U.S. In his music Sinkane makes near constant reference to his roots in Sudanese pop music and rhythmic structures, while also bringing in his many electronic and new-funk influences into the sound. Before releasing his own music, Gallab worked as a session musician for Caribou and Yeasayer and fronted the Atomic Bomb! Band, a tribute act to William Onyeabor. His newest album “Lif & Livin’ It” is out now on City Slang.
m50, Ashina, and special guest Multipara on 1/2/2015: FULL SET w/ Tracklist
m50 on 12/19/2014: FULL SET w/ Tracklist
On December 19th, I played almost only records from 2014. You can listen on my Soundcloud and Mixcloud webpages. Here are some highlights:
Davor – Ride With Me
Deep Detroit beatdown vibes via Croatia
Niro – Via Newton 1
Housey, cosmic, upbeat, future-garage from Italy
RDMA – Fanciful
Downbeat minimal grooves from Germany
Ranko – Ballad Of A Dead Bird
Strange leftfield organic / boom-bap fusion from Germany
On January 2nd, we hosted a guest set from Berlin’s Multipara, where he made some selections from the past year as well, my highlights again:
Quasi Dub Development – Shaky Steak
Super squiggly & tuneful dub from Italy
Building Instrument – Bli Med
Gorgeous vocals & low-tech grooves from Norway
Cristian Vogel – Forest Gifts
Murky spectral techno from Germany
Springintgut & F.S. Blumm – Zeitgeschwindigkeit
Elegant romantic folktronica from Germany
Xavier Charles – 10 clarinets in a washing machine
Truth in advertising, from France
But really, you should listen to the whole programs, they go a lot further…
why 15 albums and not 20? because 2014 was kind of a lame year in music, imo. maybe it’s because i’m “old” now so I don’t care for young thug’s style of rap
NOTE: BY MUSICS I JUST MEAN “MUSIC INTENDED TO BE LISTENED TO AT ONCE” IT MIGHT JUST BE ONE SONG, OR IT MIGHT BE A ALBUM. ALL OPINIONS ARE SOLID TRUTH NO ARGUE EVERYTHING WRITTEN STREAM OF CONSCIOUS — MINIMAL EDITING
15 – Travi$ $cott – Days Before Rodeo (mixtape)
sounds like: it’s already ripping off the next music trend
days before rodeo is travis scott’s mixtape of stuff he cut from his album that’s supposed to come out sooner or later, and it’s mostly notable for inspiring kanye to remake a beat or something on his new album, which would almost definitely be number 1 on my list had it come out this year. so really, we should knock travi$ for delaying better music than his. I mostly like it for conceptual reasons; travis steals a flow from nicki minaj off a song she did like 2 months before this mixtape came out (lookin’ ass), and one of the beats is just a different version of that kendrick lamar feature on pusha t’s album last year (i.e. mamacita sounds like nosetalgia) it’s like accelerationist appropriation. Cuz a big part of rap is “take old sounds and repurpose them” but he’s just taking CURRENT sounds and repurposing them! slow down travis! . also there’s this real emotional chord in “drugs you should try it” that gets stuck in my head (where he says “take this night AH-wayyy”) check it out:
heres a link to the mixtape download (it’s free, cuz its a mixtape)
14 – Tielsie – Palette/Hueboy/Bipp (remix) (three songs next to each other on soundcloud)
Sounds like: what i wish EDM sounded like
Tielsie is one of the PC music people, but he sounds really different from the other PC music people (mainstreamier?) so i’m pretty sure he’s an actual different human and not just AG cook under a different name. anyways these three tracks aren’t supposed to be together, they’re just kind of jammed back to back by soundcloud’s player SO THATS HOW I LISTEN. But give it a try! It’s nice and fast and good vibesy. uh and i’m a sucker for really fast syncopated percussion w some footwork influences. oh and you can DL it for free offa soundcloud
13 – Lil B – Hoop Life (mixtape)
sounds like: The Spiritual Successor to Basketball by Lil Bow Wow
if i had the werewithal to keep up with all the stuff lil b puts out, i would probably be a happier man, because it is universally acknowledged that he is the most coolest on the face of the earth. and I, a simple midwestern man, am incapable of feeling nuanced emotions so i just listen to happy music all day and refuse to feel sad, limiting me from ever becoming a true human being. uhh this is nice because lil b calls Wichita State University “witchika state.” lil b also has this magical way to mess up “proper” grammar and get his point across in very creatively broken sentences (eg “you say that I’m wack? see me on the court. score on me if you’re talkin bout points.”) which is a lyric from album standout Fuck KD, an excellent diss track with origins explained here better than I can: http://grantland.com/the-triangle/an-outsiders-guide-to-the-lil-b-kevin-durant-beef/
and here’s the track:
12 – DJ Rashad – We On 1 (EP)
sounds like: RIP DJ RASHAD
RIP DJ RASHAD
DJ Rashad passed away this year of a drug overdose (not a blood clot, actually, lots of autopsy confusion and weird media stuff surrounding it though so i understand if you’re confused (RIP oscar taveras as well)) and this is the last stuff he put out before passing away. First two tracks are classic repetitive-vocals footwork fare, middle seems like where footwork is currently, last track is a sped up version of Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” and maaan i could just listen to it all day.
11 – Boddika, Joy Orbison and Pearson Sound – Faint/ Nil (reece)/ Moist (single)
sounds like: thinking man’s techno
you know how you go to best buy and try on the expensive headphones and they’ve got a very well-produced song going on in the background (probably like… some promotional Jay Z track that sucks because Jay Z sucks now and is the epitome of sell out) and you’re like “maan i NEED these 500 buck headphones to hear music this good?” these tracks, if set as the headphone kiosk’s default tracks, would move BOATLOADS of headphones. they’re so dense and diverse! Of course, that makes them crap for parties, or really any type of social listening. you’re supposed to go somewhere quiet, close your eyes and listen to the like 5000 different percussive sounds in the three tracks. disclaimer: moist has some squishy gross samples and makes me feel ill at ease
10 – Merchandise – After The End (album)
Sounds like: yacht music
I’ve been big on merchandise for a while now, but they’re always switching up their sound. Buncha tampa bay hardcore guys who now play yacht-rock sounding eagles 80s music. wind chimes in the intro track. you know what it is. so this isn’t “life in the fast lane” but in a similar vein it’s also so un-trendy that i think it’s pretty cool. sounds very cheesy at times, there’s a song with telephone ringtones in it, who does that anymore? maybe you have to be a privileged asshole to like this music, hopefully not though! because i like it!
9 – Usher – Good Kisser (Disclosure Remix) (single?)
sounds like: Smooth party music
so i was at a “party” and i mosey on over to the spotify (which was playing a crap gucci mane song) and asked the guy manning it if i could cue up a track. “sure,” he replies, “what artist?” “Usher.” “Usher? Nah, that’s gay music.” no surprise — someone really into gucci is a homophobic blockhead. he walks away, so i put on this track anyways. About halfway into the song, he walks back up and says “Yo! This song is awesome! Who is this?”
8 – Panopticon – Roads To The North (album)
sounds like: vast soundscapey metal, but sometimes it just sounds like bluegrass
Panopticon is from Kentucky, I think, which explains why their country genre interludes are actually good instead of cheesy: its coming from the heart, not from fulfilling some over-technical metal guitarist’s virtuosity checklist. the production is grand, and even if you don’t like metal you’ll be cool with the country stuff. also the album art is very pretty and gets me in some type of lumberjack snowshoeing mood
a country song:
that segues into a metal song:
7 – Taso – Teklife Till Tha Next Life Vol. 1 (album)
sounds like: a party where everyone’s too cool for you to talk to comfortably
Taso’s part of teklife, but he usually has a more hip hop bent to his footwork. his original compositions for this album, like Luchini and Only The STrong WIll Survive, are awesome and really get my blood boiling (i think that’s an archaic saying nowadays). Only problem is he does footwork covers of C.R.E.A.M. and SpottieOttieDopalicious which are like two unfuckablewith songs. There’s literally no way to improve either of them, but maybe if you DJ this at a party people will do that thing they do where they think you’re remixing the original CREAM live on your turntables somehow, and then you will earn mad respect or something while all you’re actually doing is messing around with the hi pass filter
6 – Lakutis – 3 Seashells (mixtapey album)
sounds like: saying words over and over again in the coolest way possible while youre immersed in 1 foot of murky water
I like lakutis a lot; i tweeted at him for a n essay i was writing a few years back and he actually responded with thought out answers. he’s also in a podcast i lsiten to (podcasting is the new It thing, but not podcasting in a bad Lifehacker way, podcasting in a slice of life casual convo sorta way) uhhh i like the production on all these songs, its nice and dark and i originally thought this album was just okay but i listen to it a lot on the train so maybe its way better than i thought?
listen n download:
5 – Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape 3 (mixtape)
Sounds Like: beats so good that you’re glad nobody’s rapping over them
Ok so this came out in december 2013 but i didnt’ listen to it until 2014 so it’s on this year’s list. I’m usually not a man for instrumental rap beat; instrumentals tend to feel way sparse and need fleshing out by the percussion of the rapper’s voice to keep me interested. UNLESS YOURE CLAMS CASINO, who is definitely the best producer in the game right now if by “best” you mean “most dynamic.” there’s so much variety! AND it goes hard at a party. also his other instrumental mixtapes are good too if uou don’t have them. there’s no way you won’t like em. ITS A TED GUARANTEE.
4 – Sun Kil Moon – Benji (album)
sounds like: strummy acoustic guitar accompanying a very emotional true story
when i was in high school i could listen to 100% bland radio rock songs like the Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris and Drive by incubus and get emotional and angsty. And if ilistened to them like RIGHT BEFORE BED i could even cry most of the time. then i got mature and as a totally dispassionate art critic i now judge work solely by its artistic merit and i only cry when i get hit in the nose because even one who has transcended emotion cries when they get hit in the nose. or at least I thought…. BUT benji reawakened my emotional music sensibilities, as everytime i listen to it i get really sappy and think about how i haven’t called my parents in a while and feel bad for exploding aerosol cans and think about mortality and get melancholy about high school romances. it’s great! i don’t even like this genre 99% of the time because the lyrics drive the train, and the lyrics are usually really corny but not today
3 – Kool AD – WORD OK (album)
Sounds Like: casually delivered hella thoughtful
Everything about this album is west coast, which might offend people who want their rap to get to the point more quickly, but I don’t think that Kool AD functions as well in a cluttered new york production space (see Das Racist’s El-P produced stuff, for example). His drawly flow drops knowledge bombs about four times each verse, and you’ll never know it unless you actually listen becasue he’s too modest to do that dumb thing that big sean would do if he rapped a good bar (as in call back to it so you know BIG SEAN IS SMART capital neon letters). sometimes he doesn’t try, but just don’t listen to those songs! if i could be anyone alive right now, i would be kool ad. if i could be anyone alive ever, i would be Ramses, maybe. who would you be?
2 – A. G. Cook, GFOTY, Danny L Harle, Lil Data, Nu New Edition and Kane West – PC Music x DISown Mix (mix)
sounds like: 60 possible future universes in 60 minutes
PC Music was the “new hot thing” in 2014 which means that you, the reader, are either a) bored of them already and would like to get on with something conceptually newer in 2015 or b) are a regular person and don’t understand these “group a)” people because these PC Music youtube videos have like 4000 views; what do you mean they’re popular? Kind of hard to be writing for both a general audience and music dorks here, so no further comment. It sounds great. My favorite part is at 12:50. you favorite part can be anywhere you want it to be. free download on the track
1 – Sophie – Lemonade/Hard (and I guess Hey QT too) (single)
Sounds like: squeaky clean rubber ducks gaining incredible momentum and bouncing around a kitchen, except when they hit something they go faster instead of slower
My music of the year is two tracks by Sophie, who has yet to make anything less than amazing, and one track by QT, who is a 2 person due of which Sophie is half. This sounds a lot like PC music (it’s actually on the NUMBERS label but who cares) because it has a sweetness to everything that comes off as forward thinking rather than just dumb. so here’s my resultant thinkpiece: David Foster Wallace talked a lot about the poisons of irony, how it can only clear space for ideas and cannot constitute a meaningful movement in and of itself. Instead he praised what has come to be called new sincerity, basically being genuine and emotional and eliminating the harsh sarcasm from your being because what is irony doing anymore when the denny’s twitter account has fully coopted it? NUFFIN. problem is, sincerity is rather corporatized too, and i think it’s good that i throw up whenever i encounter my aunt’s precious moments figurines. That leaves us in a narrow space for future cultural innovation: how to move forward straddling irony and sincerity, ensuring both remain in the service of connection rather than alienation? PC music’s got a bit of an answer. spectaclist images of conspicuous consumption are brought to a scalding temperature and allowed to wash over beats and song structures, cleaning the classic chord progressions that we only pretend we’re tired of for new use in a framework that’s post-capital: QT is famous because she says she is, but QT isn’t a real person (but you can follow her on instagram). Lipgloss twins extoll the latest, scarcest fashions, but PC music releases unlimited music for free download. AG Cook is like 10 different artists, and this diffusion of identity rebels against maybe the most ingrained western idea (the self). Metamodernism has a soundtrack.
Listen to Lemonade/Hard:
listen to Hey QT: