10 Midyear Favorites

2015 is off to a pretty spectacular start. Here are my highlights.

10. Only One Kanye West

Kanye West got big, got sad, got French-impressionist tendencies, and then got married and had a kid. Settling down seemed inevitable, and surely there was no better guide towards emotional maturity than the man behind some of the sweetest songs in pop music history.  So whether you’re part of Kanye’s anti-paparazzi militia or one of those old foagies that can’t comprehend why Sir Paul would even shake Mr. West’s hand, kindly hold your opinions until later. This is a song about a woman and her granddaughter, nothing more.

9. Having it AllAnnabel

Stripped-down-third-wave-emo-power-pop or midwest-indie-pop infused with power chords and wailing about broken hearts or some shit. Really, it’s whatever. It sounds like a lot of the modern punk out these days. But more importantly, it sounds better, and judging from the play counts, you probably haven’t listened to it yet.

8. You Know You Like ItDJ Snake and AlunaGeorge

AlunaGeorge, being one of the many artists Disclosure brought to international attention on their debut album, has experienced a bit more exposure than deserved. Not Sam Smith levels of Grammy-winning exposure, of course, but enough to stay relevant despite making mediocre pop music. Because when EDM alchemist DJ Snake makes your chopped and screwed voice sound far more interesting than you can on your own, you might be in some creative trouble.

7. GriefEarl Sweatshirt

People spend hundreds on headphones, thousands on soundsystems, even significant figures on cables all in the name of sound quality. And then something like “Grief” drops and sends those people scurrying to their system preferences making sure their audio settings are optimal. But alas, “Grief” is the sort of lo-fi slowdown that’s designed to sound muffled and cold, so much so that I check immediately in front of me for foggy breath every time I listen to it.

6. Dimed Out Titus Andronicus

For those that believe a 29-track punk opera named after an obscure Shakespeare reference (produced by a band named after the obscure Shakespeare play from which the reference can be found) cannot possibly work…the jury’s still out. The Most Lamentable Tragedy comes out in late July, but if the rest of the album sounds like Titus’s Pogues-meets-Springsteen-meets-Cheap Trick debut single, then we’re in for a hell of a ride. But there’s no way this sort of energy is sustainable, right?

5. When I Was Done DyingDan Deacon

Dan Deacon’s music approaches the cosmic with childlike wonder. And though his newest single “When I Was Done Dying” doesn’t have the philosophical fortitude of some of his earlier work, it still manages to provide the juvenile spark needed to seriously ponder the last unknown. Also, the video is trippy. Watch it.

4. AmazingYoung Thug

Young Thug seems to be replacing everything Lil Wayne was just doing with alarming competence and a svant-like talent for hooks. Rappers are singing now, and sometimes over Earth, Wind, and Fire samples, and it honestly sounds better than the monotone delivery (Bone Thugs n Harmony excluded) we’ve been getting for the last thirty years.

3. Don’t Wanna Fight – Alabama Shakes 

I’ve never heard anything as blues as Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard’s back-of-the-throat wail that begins their newest single. It’s all at once a painful, struggling, strong, and joyous noise. It helps that it comes from one of the country’s most enthralling young singers, who just so happens to lead the band that’s putting blues rock back on the map, and on their own terms, to boot. But even if great fame and fortune are in their future, I can’t imagine it coming without Howard’s wordless screech.

2. Sunday CandyDonnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment

I like cookouts. I also go to church semi-regularly, but I’d probably go every week if there was some barbecue promised afterward. “Sunday Candy” is the anthem for both, pairing gospel vocals with good-times soul, all headlined by Chance the Rapper and his grandmother-approved ode to a person he presumably wants to spend a lot of time with. It’s G-rated summertime loving without all the cool of the slickest R&B albums, finding a universally beloved middle ground with its heavenly vibes and sweet melodies.

1. Wesley’s TheoryKendrick Lamar

Tell me, which part of “Wesley’s Theory” surprised you first? Was it “HIT ME?” Thundercat’s wobble bass? Kendrick’s layered vocals? A chorus lifted off a one liner from Dave Chappelle’s most famous sketch? “EVERYBODY GET UP?” (that was it for me) George Clinton’s 73-year-old (but really timeless) imagination exiting and re-entering whenever he feels like it? Dr. Dre dropping by and not rapping? Whatever it was, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Kendrick Lamar fan who listened to To Pimp A Butterfly’s opening track without a sense of confusion. But it’s a masterful confusion, that’s for sure, one that kicks off The Great American Album by promising to fly in every which direction

 

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