The Fortnightly Playlist, February 24th, 2019

There’s a wide variety of styles this edition, which reflects my listening lately. A little more World music, more neo-classical, some hip-hop and dance… really just a bit of everything. There’s a new Czarface record out, as well as new records from Lazerbeak, Vieo Abiungo, Ladytron, Gary Clark Jr, and Cass McCombs. There’s also new singles from John Vanderslice, Eliza Shaddad, Jamila Woods, Flock of Dimes, Gaye Su Akyol, and Tacocat.

Luther is the new full-length record from Lazerbeak. It’s his first solo album since 2012’s Lava Bangers, but of course he’s been far from unproductive since then with his fingerprints being all over every Doomtree-related release that comes out. Also, last year saw him collaborate with Chicago-based rapper, Longshot, on a record called Parades. The new record has a much more patient and atmospheric sound than his more typical big beats that come to the front of his more hip-hop oriented material for P.O.S, Sims, or Shredders. The tracks tend to be more builders than straight bangers on this one, but it makes for a great listen straight-through.

My big discovery this week was Gaye Su Akyol. Her blend of funk, synthpop, blues and electronica with Turkish flair has really struck me as some of the most fun music available today. It’s full of energy and brings together eastern and western styles in ways that could only be done by someone fully immersed in both. The big, bold hooks here really draw you in, and it’s the sort of thing you can’t help but move to.

Other favorites in this edition are Cass McCombs, Nicola Cruz, Flock of Dimes, Ibibio Sound Machine, and MADMADMAD.

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Tracklist:
Bruno Bavota – Passengers
Lazerbeak – Fathoms
MADMADMAD – Gwarn
Ibibio Sound Machine – Wanna Come Down
Flock of Dimes – The Sisters
Madeline Kenney – Helpless
Porter Ray – Mask of Control
Jamila Woods – ZORA
Eliza Shaddad – Don’t Speak
We Were Pirates – You Don’t Owe Me Anything
Plain Sails – Made of Glass
Ladytron – Far From Home
Nicola Cruz – Siete
John Vanderslice – I’ll Wait For You
TacocaT – Grains of Salt
Fontaines DC – Too Real
A.A. Bondy – Images of Love
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Deli
Hey! Douglas, Gaye Su Akyol – Ayva Cicek Acmis
Gary Clark Jr – What About Us
Czarface, Ghostface Killah – Powers and Stuff
Vieo Abiungo, William Ryan Fritch – Cobble Together
Joshua Burnside – Desert Wine
Cass McCombs – The Great Pixley Train Robbery
Teen Daze – Endless Light

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Favorite Albums of 2018 (Part 2), The Top 10

I’m excited for this one. There were so many good releases this year that I needed to do two parts because I couldn’t not include the albums I featured last week. That said, there was no edging out these 10 from the top positions. So here are the albums that caught and held my attention the most this year.

Here’s the playlist!

10. Busdriver – electricity is on our side
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This is easily one of the most challenging and, in some ways, difficult albums I’ve featured this year, and that shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise when one considers Busdriver’s career and catalog. Regan Farquhar started rapping very young, but he developed a very eclectic style from a wide array of inluences. Electricity is on our side sees him at times in full improvisational-jazz mode, scatting while the music careens through complex time signatures. At times you might think of this a jazz album with the way his sung lines run neck and neck with trumpet at times slightly ahead and at times slightly behind, but he can snap into a more straight-forward hip-hop groove unexpectedly and suddenly, and seems to take pleasure in delivering particularly difficult lines with stunning clarity. It’s not an easy album to listen to at times, but it is so worth it.

9. Balún – Prisma Tropical
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This was considered one of the most anticipated Hispano-American albums of the year by many music media outlets, and the initial single, La Nueva Ciudad, hit charts in 8 countries. The Puerto Rican quartet is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and the change in locale has brought a lot of changes for the group as they now take on themes of the stateside Puerto Rican experience. Their electro-indie sound has continued to develop beautifully over the past 12 yrs, and they’ve mastered their blending of electronic beats and acoustic percussion. Angelica Negron’s voice floats overtop of everything beautifully, and the overall sound weaves between complex and simple, layered and sparse, modern and traditional. They execute this cleverly and seemlessly, and it’s a truly fantastic album.

8. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine
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This new collaboration between Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, Volcano Choir) and Aaron Dessner (The National) has been played a ton in our house. Engaging at every turn, but also a laid back, relaxing and just dowright beautiful album. My favorite track serves as a great cross-section of the whole album. Forest Green has a mix of acoustic drums and electronic beats, a slow and simple bass riff that stays constant through the whole song, light guitar riffs that float in and out, and effects-laden vocals floating over the top. It’s a record that sinks into you, and you feel it.

7. Eliza Shaddad – Future
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Eliza Shaddad’s voice caught me this year, and her debut solo full-length album had an immediate pull for me. The first couple tracks on Future gave the record a moody beginning, but it develops to more positive themes as well. Shaddad brings a well-rounded approach to her songwriting having worked with and written for a wide variety of artists and poets. She brings all this experience to the table in this record, and the result is a debut that sounds like a seasoned artist with a large back-catalog to delve into.

6. Angelique Kidjo – Remain In Light
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Taking on a classic cover has a particular challenge for an artist, and taking on the task of re-imagining an entire classic album and putting it through the lens of your own artistry is a true feat that many artists may not be up for. Angelique Kidjo is more than up to the task. She took the Talking Heads’ acclaimed 1980 album Remain in Light and made something her own. While the songs stay true to the original material in many ways, I don’t listen to this as if Kidjo is covering another artist’s material. Kidjo herself said that from the time she first heard Remain In Light she knew it was “an African album”. She’s certainly not wrong. The Talking Heads and producer, Brian Eno, drew inspiration and influence from Fela Kuti’s 1973 album Afrodisiac. Maybe what Angelique Kidjo did was simply bring things full circle for a record that always had a heart in West Africa, or maybe it is more of a ping-pong effect bouncing from Fela Kuti in Nigeria to The Talking Heads in New York to Angelique Kidjo in Benin.

5. Dessa – Chime
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Dessa called dibs on 2018 pretty early on. Good Grief had been released in the fall of 2017, and it was at first unclear if that was a stand alone single. It was clear, though, that Fire Drills was leading her to a big year. Dessa is part of the staunchly independent hip-hop collective, Doomtree, and it can be a long road for independent artists to have the reception that Dessa had with Chime. I got to see her at the largest venue of the first leg of her tour, and she thanked fans for the support by noting how unusual it was to see a Doomtree artist in a large theater rather than a small bar. Dessa is the only one on this list to also be among my favorite authors of the year. Her memoir-in-essays, My Own Devices, is listed among NPR’s top books for the year, and gave insight into her entire catalog of music. She’s always been excellent as a lyricist, and her writing in essays is insight how deep that talent runs.

4. Middle Kids – Lost Friends
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Sing-alongable. Now, I’m not sure how legit that is as a term, but it gets the point across. Middle Kids have a strong talent for writing songs that you immediately want to sing along with. Mistake is the prime example. The first time I heard the song, I was already singing along to it by the second chorus… singing along to a song that I’d never heard before. This runs through the whole of the album. Please, Never Start, On My Knees, Bought It, and Edge of Town all feature this infectious and anthemic quality. They do this without sacrificing any of the depth of their songs. They are relatable, hopeful, desperate, heartfelt, honest and genuine.

3. Marlowe – Marlowe
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“We got the 17th wonder of the world right here… We got the 19th wonder too.” This collaboration between Seattle producer, L’Orange, and North Carolina rapper, Solemn Brigham, was a revalation for me. It has a classic hip-hop sound featuring classic looping methods and rooted in soul. I’m not alone in finding this to have a vintage sound. I felt justified in the assessment when I shared it with a friend, and he said it reminded him of Paul’s Boutique. Then later I read Pitchfork’s review declaring it “spirited, old-school rap.” L’Orange’s production builds a perfect structure designed for any rapper to succeed with, but I also frind Solemn Brigham to have such a solid charisma and enthusiasm that it’s hard to find much criticism here. It’s such a great listen.

2. Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son
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Music archivist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and slide-guitar genius, Ry Cooder, has always held a special place for me. I’ve been a guitarist for over 18 yrs now, and he’s my all-time favorite guitar player. But there’s more to this record than that. This is an artist with a career over 50 yrs long releasing his most complete and excellent record of his career. Ry is an artist that has never turned down a challenging project. He’s worked with Captain Beefheart, The Rolling Stones, John Lee Hooker, Ali Farka Toure, Manuel Galban, VM Bhatt, Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Mavis Staples, Buena Vista Social Club, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Bill Frisell, and he takes all of this experience to this record. A hallmark of Cooder’s music is his talent for weaving original songs in with both classic and obscure American folk songs. This has never been so seemless as it is on this record. Straight Street, You Must Unload, and Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right could not be more timely, and his version of I’ll Be Rested When The Roll Is Called (a song he co-wrote with Mavis Staples for her 2007 record) fits nicely as well. Among my favorites on this record are Jesus and Woody and the title track.

1. Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
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“I think that what makes [the songs] appear so focused is that sort of for the first time we carved the pieces of the stone away from the sculpture that didn’t fit. We usually have a little bit of a collection of these kind of straight-to-the-heart-of-the-matter kinds of songs, but then we put other songs around them that are easier to sing and easier for us to cope with. […] This time we just really pointedly let those songs fall away, and the ones that were left were the ones that were most difficult to sing. We knew that that was the record.” -Brandi Carlile Live on KEXP on March 27th, 2018.
There’s hardly anything that I can say of this record that says more clearly than that why I loved it so much. By The Way, I Forgive You addresses issues of family dynamics, politics, addiction and forgiveness; things that seem to haunt our culture presently. Forgiveness, in particular, is a strong theme running through this record, and Brandi had a lot to say on this as well. Later in the same interview I quoted above she said, “I just noticed that the word has gotten diluted. It’s gotten a little bit diluted by a perfectionist society. It’s become kind of an evangelical buzzword, hashtag blessed, kind of word when it’s really a filthy-radical, difficult, impossible thing to do that it might be the very reason why we’re even here on earth; just to learn how to do it.” This comes through fully on the album. It is thoughtful and full of passion. No voice could make you feel it more than hers. It’s a record that has the ability to change a person.
Brandi is finally seeing more recognition for her work with this album, and has 6 Grammy nominations. Now, I often don’t have much faith in the Grammys in terms of getting things right, but this is encouraging. Here’s a little more about the nominations.

 

The Fortnightly Playlist, November 4th, 2018

I rounded things out this time at a tight 19 songs, but there’s plenty to talk about in this solid playlist. Eliza Shaddad is one of my surprises for the year, and right now I have her debut full-length, Future, sitting at my #5 album for the year. American treasure, Willie Nelson, has a great new single out. And to top things off, Pedro the Lion is back!

The Fortnightly Playlist, November 4th, 2018

So credit to my wife, Sara, for drawing my attention to Imogen Heap’s score for Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Imogen is an amazing composer, well worthy to be considered among the most talented musicians currently making music. She just is. She mixes eastern and western music traditions, creative and tradition instrumentations, and old and new techniques. She’s done something special with this project.

Personally, I think Sean Lennon has come to terms with the fact that his voice sounds like his father’s voice. He’s able to do his own thing without concerning himself about people making the connection to The Beatles. The Claypool Lennon Delirium takes joy in diving into the weird and psychedelic, but with this new single I think they’ve struck a little more balance. No, they are not gunning for pop appeal, but this new tune has hook enough to draw people in while still sounding unusual and even unique. You’d expect nothing less from this pair, really.

Other favorites in this edition are Beirut, Eliza Shaddad, Residente, Willie Nelson and Cloquet. Enjoy!

Also, if you missed it… I posted an Election Special playlist earlier this week, and you can check it out HERE!

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Tracklist:
Steve Gunn – New Moon
Eliza Shaddad – Daydreaming
Pedro The Lion – Yellow Bike
Bob Mould – Sunshine Rock
Dan Mangan – Just Fear
Stars – Are You With Me?
Shad – All I Need
Atmosphere – Jerome
Residente – Rap Bruto
Imogen Heap – Suite One: Platform 9 3/4
Beirut – Gallipoli
Punch Brothers – Three Dots and a Dash
Willie Nelson – Vote ‘Em Out
Deerhunter – Death in Midsummer
The Dandy Warhols – Forever
The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Blood and Rockets: Movement I, Saga of Jack Parsons -Movement II, Too the Moon
Robyn – Honey
Cloquet – Often
Imogen Heap – Suite Three: A New Prophecy

The Fortnightly Playlist, October 7th, 2018

An influx of Irish artists, some local grunge legends, the Screaming Eagle of Soul, Finnish bigband/hip-hop, and previously unreleased Joe Strummer… It’s been another two weeks, so here’s another playlist full on new music.

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Last weekend was the 2018 Hard Working Class Heroes festival in Dublin, Ireland. Since 2003, this festival has built a name for itself by promoting emerging artists. The lineup this year was chock full of great up-and-comers, and I had a hard time choosing who to include in my own list. I did include 7 artists from their lineup, but if you enjoy them then you can check out a playlist of all of them here! The artists I chose to include are 1000 Beasts, Crook, Alan Finan, Joshua Burnside, Bicurious, Brenna Carroll, and Damola.

Charles Bradley, the Screaming Eagle of Soul, died little more than 1 year ago. He worked at numerous odd jobs from dishwasher to James Brown impersonator, he endured homelessness off and on since he was a teenager, and was not given a chance in the music industry until late in life. He was 62 when his debut album was released. His long struggle ultimately was what made him the artist that so many fell in love with… full of humility and gratitude. It was only 6 and a half years after his debut album that he passed away from stomach cancer. In that period, he released 3 full-length albums. Now an album full of unreleased material is set to be released on November 5th (his 70th birthday). I believe this is the same show I linked to when he passed away, but it is my favorite. I remember listening to this live on the radio, and it gets me every time: Charles Bradley live in the KEXP Gathering space.

Well, I’d thought that I had this playlist all set early this week, and then I found out about this new Joe Strummer collection, 001. The songs are mostly from the years after The Clash split up, and include 12 that have never been released before. I’m a huge fan of Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, and there are some real gems here from the years between The Clash and The Mescaleros. Unreleased tunes with other Clash members, some Mescaleros favorites, songs recorded under a variety of names, and a duet with Johnny Cash covering Bob Marley are all in this brilliant collection. As I said, I had pretty much done the playlist already, and trying to figure out where to fit Strummer in was a challenge. I decided to just stick a trio of tunes at the end as sort of a coda to this edition.

Favorites this edition include Ricky-Tick Big Band & Julkinen Sana, Courtney Barnett, Alan Finan, Eliza Shaddad, and Cloquet.

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Tracklist:
Eliza Shaddad – Just Goes to Show
Brenna Carroll – Like I Do
Charles Bradley – I Feel a Change
Gabriel Teodros, Shakiah, Rell Be Free – Summer Haze
Anderson.Paak, Kendrick Lamar – Tints
NAVVI – Sampaguita
1000 Beasts, Janet Grogan – Lord (It’s OK)
Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie No.2
Sharon Van Etten – Comeback Kid
Bicurious – Sleep
The Joy Formidable – The Better Me
Emmaline Twist – Desperate Measures
Mudhoney – Please Mr. Gunman
Courtney Barnett – Small Talk
Kurt Vile – One Trick Ponies
Crook – Easter Morning
Joshua Burnside – A Man of High Renown
Alan Finan – Slumber
Gabriel Kahane – November
Cloquet – Chances
Four Fists – 6666
Damola – Snoozing
Precyce Politix, D.R.U.G.S. Beats – To the Giants
Ghostface Killah – An Unexpected Call
Ricky-Tick Big Band, Julkinen Sana – Kohtalo
Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash – Redemption Song
Joe Strummer – Burning Lights
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – London is Burning

The Fortnightly Playlist, August 26th, 2018

Well, the playlist is on the long side this edition, with well over an hour and a half runtime. I guess it was difficult trying to cut things down this time. There are some big new releases coming out right now. Just released Death Cab For Cutie, Fliptrix, and Cullen Omori, as well as some more releases right on the horizon like IDLES’ Joy As An Act Of Resistance coming out on Friday.

I’m excited for Eliza Shaddad’s debut full-length that is set for October. Shaddad has released a couple EP’s in the last few years, and there are a handful of singles available from the upcoming release. I was only recently made aware of her material, and she’s certainly a young artist to get excited about. I’ve especially enjoyed this track that I’ve included in this edition, “This Is My Cue”.

Moses Sumney is following up last year’s debut full-length, Aromanticism, with some of the most poignant songs to be released this year. It’s only 3 tracks, but I would put them right in with the best music of the year. I have to think that he’ll continue to reward his audience with excellent music for a long time to come. I highly recommend giving this new material, Black In Deep Red 2014, a listen. For me, it makes him one of my top artists to watch. Whatever comes next from him will be a huge.

Starting with “Rank & File” by Sumney, this playlist goes into a short back-and-forth between UK Hip-hop and US Hip-hop. I could discuss for a long time the strengths, similarities, differences, and the influences between them, but it’s probably better to just let the music speak for itself. My point here is to display the diverse strengths in hip-hop right now. There’s so much life in Hip-hop right now. Particularly, I want to highlight Fliptrix. Now to talk about Fliptrix, then you need to talk aobut High Focus Records. Fliptrix is also the CEO of the label, and has been instrumental in the careers of High Focus artists including several that I’ve included on this blog in the past. It’s well worth digging into Fliptrix’ full catalog including two full-lengths as one quarter of the group The Four Owls along with fellow High Focus artists, Verb T, Leaf Dog, and BVA. His new record, Inexhale, is an excellent, lyric-forward listen.

Other favorites this edition are BODEGA, Ben Khan, The Chamanas, WHY? and Dirty Projectors.

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Playlist:
Futuropaco – Bambino Tiranno
BODEGA – How Did This Happen?!
Kristin Hersh – No Shade in Shadow
Eliza Shaddad – This Is My Cue
Low – Disarray
Death Cab for Cutie – Northern Lights
Cullen Omori – Four Years
Moses Sumney – Rank & File
Smellington Piff, BVA, Scorzayzee – Ruled By the Numbers
Four Fists – Dork Court
Fliptrix, Ocean Wisdom, Onoe Caponoe – Inside The Ride
Jedi Mind Tricks – San La Muerte
Ben Khan – Ruby
Dirty Projectors – Break-Thru
The Chamanas – La Verdad
La Union – Tiempo
Jah Chango & Jarabe De Palo – Sofa de Cuero
Iron & Wine – Waves of Galveston
Let’s Eat Grandma – I Will Be Waiting
AUK5, Sudan Archives – Fairyway
WHY? – The Water (Kishi Bashi remix)
Sink Ya Teeth – Substitutes
Whitney Ballen – Fucking
Jose Gonzalez & The Brite Lites – Killing For Love
Deafheaven – You Without End
Cloud Nothings – The Echo of the World
IDLES – Great