Tag Archives: rap music

10 favorite albums of 2015

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color – They are on my must-see-live list. This album is strong, top to bottom.

Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful – This one just kept growing on me. Bronson’s adept verbally, and mixes a standard street vibe with some smarter-than-you-might-expect lyrics.

 

The Do, Shake, Shook, Shaken – Olivia Merilahti’s beautiful voice delivers, and the production backing her is more interesting than it might initially appear. I haven’t enjoyed an electronic pop album this much since Postal Service’s Up.

Girl Band, Holding Hands With Jamie – Girl Band’s 2015 EP, The Early Years, makes an appearance in my honorable mentions below, as well. What can I say? This kind of noise rock is right in my wheelhouse.

Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – Erika Wennerstrom’s voice immediately captivated me when I first heard 2009’s The Mountain. But what keeps me coming back is the evolution of these Bastards, how they aren’t satisfied to keep making the same album over and over. I didn’t love 2012’s Arrow although it was decent. Restless Ones is a home run, arguably the best album I heard in 2015.

Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight – Thanks to White Reaper and Houndmouth, Louisville had a pretty good year in 2015. These roots rockers follow their solid 2013 debut, From the Hills Below the City, with an even stronger sophomore effort. One of my goals in 2016 is to see Houndmouth live.

July Talk, July Talk – These Canadian rockers manage to balance a bluesy rock sound and Peter Dremaneis’s low, raspy voice with a lighter, poppier feel, largely provided by co-vocalist Leah Fay.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – An album that’s actually worth all of the rave reviews its received throughout the year.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – It is awesome to have these ladies back. I was privileged to see them live in Indy, and I’m hoping maybe they’ll hit some festivals in the Midwest next summer so I can catch them again. Punk rock that seems to be louder than the sum of its parts.

Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, Too – I get bored with hip-hop artists pretty easily. I don’t care what car rappers drive, what over-priced alcohol they drink or how many bitches they have. I grew up in the era of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Paris, Boogie Down Productions, The Jungle Brothers, Das EFX, etc. I want some goddamn substance. Young Fathers not only provide that, but their production sounds not at all like the repetitive beats that flood the airwaves.

On the bubble: Girlpool, Before the World Was Big; Dead Weather, Dodge & Burn; No Joy, More Faithful; Pale Honey, Pale Honey; White Reaper, White Reaper Does It Again

Honorable mentions: A Place to Bury Strangers, Transfixiation; Ryan Adams, 1989; Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit; Girl Band, The Early Years; Elle King, Love Stuff; Miguel, Wildheart; Motorhead, Bad Magic; Tunde Olaniran, Transgression; Torres, Sprinter; Wolf Alice, My Love is Cool

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30 Favorite songs of 2015

Anonymous, Desaparecidos – “Freedom’s not free / Neither is apathy.” Punk rock for anyone feeling the Bern.

Better Man, Leon Bridges – I’m hoping to catch this guy live in Indy early in 2016. Beautiful soul music.

Blueberry Island, Julie Ruin – The keyboard really holds this song together, mesmerizing without being overwhelming. The fuller sound of the chorus is striking, as well.

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Such an easy, seductive groove. I find myself bobbing my head every time.

Diamonds, Tunde Olaniran feat. iRawniQ and Passalacqua – My favorite hip-hop song of the year and one of my faves of 2015, period. Love the chorus: “No ice on my hands / No diamonds on my grill / Don’t drive a Mercedes / I’m a keep it real / Nothing in my pocket but a $5 bill / Guess I’ll go to Taco Bell / And get a combo meal.”

Dreams, Beck – I wasn’t thrilled with 2014’s Morning Phase. Wait years for new Beck, and the reward is limp and sleepy? Dreams is Beck getting his groove back.

Gwan, The Suffers – Kim Franklin’s voice powers this track. Those beautiful funk horns really fill it out.

Handsome, The Vaccines – Snotty, up-tempo pop punk.

Hate Street Dialogue, The Avener feat. Rodriguez – A delicious groove mixed with more high-minded lyrics.

Holy Ghost, A$AP Rocky feat. Joe Fox – What happens when the church appears to be just as corrupt and morally bankrupt as the rest of society? If you’re A$AP Rocky, you cut one hell of a hip-hop track laying out your concerns.

I Don’t Think She Cares, White Reaper – Garage punkers White Reaper and roots rockers Houndmouth = Kentucky had a pretty good year in music in 2015.

I Feel Love (Every Million Miles), The Dead Weather – Of all of Jack White’s projects, The Dead Weather always seemed like the most undercooked. Never bad, mind you, just not all that great compared to his other work. Dodge and Burn may be the album that changes my opinion.

In My Mouth, Jeff the Brotherhood – A song in the tradition of AC/DC’s Big Balls.

Institutionalized, Kendrick Lamar feat. Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg – I love I, and that may be Kendrick’s best song of the year. I certainly wouldn’t argue against it. But I’ll take this hip-hop diatribe on fiscal and racial inequity every day of the week, and twice on Tuesday.

Kocaine Karolina, Elle King – King is interesting. Ex’s and Oh’s is a helluva pop song, and it’s not the only nugget worth listening to from King’s first full-length, Love Stuff.

Lawman, Girl Band – Girl Band brings the noise, walls of fuzz and discordant tones.

Out of the Woods, Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams’ top-to-bottom cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album is worth the listen. This was my favorite.

Paper Girl, July Talk – Love these Canadians, and I’m hoping they’ll swing through Indy again soon. Their live show is where it’s at.

Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett – What if Bob Dylan sounded like a half-assed stoner chick from down under? I’m not sure Barnett belongs in that rarefied air just yet, but I wouldn’t surprise if she ends up there.

Rage, Le1f – The closest I can get to a comparison is Dizzy Rascal. While Le1f has the unrestrained energy about him, he’s a little further off the beaten path than Diz.

Smarter Than I Was, Buddy Guy – Dude still has it.

Stalker, Kasey Chambers – I’ve liked Chambers since the first time I heard Last Hard Bible. Stalker has the same sort of desperation and humor in it.

Strange Hellos, TorresStrange Hellos has a PJ Harvey quality to it, loud screechy guitars and a powerful feminine voice.

Tease, Pale Honey – I’ve managed to run across quite a few young women really rocking out in 2015. Tease is one of the best.

T.I.W.Y.G., Savages – Yes! Yes! Yes! Can’t wait for the new album.

Trustful Hands, The Do – Smooth, subtle and easy. Shake, Shook, Shaken is one of my favorite albums of the year.

Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – I usually connect with one or two pop songs a year. I don’t know about “uptown,” but Ronson and Mars totally find the funk.

Victory or Die, Motorhead – Lemmy and Co. continue to do what they do, which is make kick-ass metal music.

Wicked Game (Spotify Sessions), Wolf Alice – I’ve always loved Chris Isaac’s sexy, whispering original. Wolf Alice and singer Ellie Roswell strip away that seductive sheen and add some brutal despair to take Wicked Game to a new place.

On the bubble: All My Heart, The Mynabirds; And I Love Her, Kurt Cobain; City Boy Blues, Action Bronson; Drum Machine, Big Grams feat. Skrillex; Foreign Object, Mountain Goats; Go Head, Awreeoh; Milkman, Bully; Rap Zealot, K-OS; Vices, Slayer

Honorable mentions: 15 Years, Houndmouth; Anyways, The Prettiots; Ashes to Ashes, Warpaint; Awake, Snoop Dogg; Baby Britain, Seth Avett & Jessica Lee Mayfield; Bleeder, Ceremony; Blud, SOAK; Bunker Buster, Viet Cong; Chalk Snake, No Joy; CHERRY BOMB, Tyler, the Creator; Don’t Wanna Fight, Alabama Shakes; Falling, Here We Go Magic; Feel Right, Mark Ronson feat. Mystikal; figure 8, FKA twigs; How Could You Babe, Tobias Jesso Jr.; I’m Callin’, Tennis; I’m Gonna Teach You, Daniel Romano; Impossible, Angel Haze; Johnny Delusional, FFS; Man Plans God Laughs, Public Enemy; Melt Me, Hanni El-Khatib; My Own Fantasy, Royal Headache; Only You (Live), Anderson East; Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves; Rain or Shine, Young Fathers, Romance Dawn, Radkey; Run, Rainbow Kitten Surprise; Shake It Off, Ryan Adams; Solid Gold, Turbowolf; Son of God, Will Butler; Vital Signs, Gang of Youths; the valley, Miguel; What We Don’t See, A Place to Bury Strangers; Which Side Are You On, Talib Kweli feat. Tef Poe and Kendra Ross; Woodland Rock, Ty Seagall; Young Girls in Space, The Unwed Teenage Mothers

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Favorite albums of 2015: The third quarter review

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color – There’s no weak sauce, from track the first to track the last. Wish I’d caught them in Indy this summer, because they’re most definitely on my “must see” list.

Dead Weather, Dodge and Burn – Maybe the best thing Jack White’s done since the end of the White Stripes. He sounds energized, and the Dead Weather sound stronger because of it.

The Do, Shake, Shook, Shaken – It’s just a great mix of electronic pop, moody lyrics and the gorgeous voice of Olivia Merilahti.

Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – I like a band that keeps evolving. Restless Ones is a step beyond any of their previous albums.

Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight – These Kentucky rockers keep picking up steam. Nice to see them get broader recognition.

July Talk, July Talk – Visceral blues rock with pop touches. They put on a terrific live show.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick is the only mainstream rapper I have any interest in, because Kendrick is the only mainstream rapper with something to say.

No Joy, More Faithful – High-quality stoner rock that would be more comfortable in the mid-1990s than the mid-2010s.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – Going to see them for the first time in December. Can’t wait.

Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, TooWhite Men Are Black, Too, takes hip-hop to new strange, interesting places, and might even be better than To Pimp a Butterfly.

On the bubble: Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful; Girlpool, Before the World Was Big; Pale Honey, Pale Honey; White Reaper, White Reaper Does It Again

Honorable mentions: Ryan Adams, 1989; Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit; Girl Band, The Early Years; Elle King, Love Stuff; Miguel, Wildheart; Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer; Torres, Sprinter; Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp

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Favorite songs of 2015: The mid-point review

Anonymous, Desaparecidos – My favorite lyric of the year: “Freedom’s not free / Neither is apathy.” Payola is one of the better political albums I’ve heard in a few years.

Better Man, Leon Bridges – Cool, smooth, classic-sounding soul music.

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra – This disco funk track is addictive, the chorus easily embedded into your head so you’ll be singing it to yourself the rest of the day.

Chalk Snake, No Joy – No Joy turns up the distortion and pays little mind to traditional rock songwriting expectations. Chalk Snake twists and contorts, fading away in a trail of feedback.

Cherry Bomb, Tyler, the Creator – I have yet to be convinced of his ability as a lyricist, but Tyler’s ear for production is unlike anyone anywhere near the mainstream of hip-hop and few are as daring as he is willing to be.

Dirty Harry, Grace – The dragging tempo and the wavy synth sound that appears-disappears-reappears helps make it, but what really is the cherry on top is Grace’s ability to work over the top of the minimal musical backing.

Dreams, Beck – Aah. Now I feel better. Instead of dreary Beck making numbing, down-tempo tunes that don’t compare with similar offerings such as Mutations or Sea Change, we get Beck getting his groove on. The world is right again.

Gwan, The Suffers – Sounds like it could have been a Tina Turner B-side in 1972. The tempo is relentless, and Kim Franklin’s powerful voice drives the band.

Go Head, Awreeoh – I’ve been looking forward to the film Dope. This song, from the soundtrack, only heightens the anticipation.

Handsome, The Vaccines –  Cheeky, fun pop punk. The video captures the spirit of the track.

Hate Street Dialogue, The Avener feat. Rodriguez – The song has a real bounce to it, but the lyrics are much darker than the music backing it would imply.

Holy Ghost, A$AP Rocky feat. Joe Fox – Combination prayer and cry of rage, A$AP attacks the ignorance and corruption he sees everywhere, including those foul acts committed in the name of Jesus.

How Could You Babe, Tobias Jesso Jr. – A simple, gorgeous, heartfelt piano ballad.

I’m Callin’, Tennis – Smooth and low-key, I’m Callin’ works for the party or for the comedown after the party.

Institutionalized, Kendrick Lamar feat. Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg – Kendrick drops knowledge about income inequality.

Johnny Delusional, FFS – I’ve never been big on Franz Ferdinand, but the child of the 1980’s hiding deep down inside me loves the new wavieness of this track.

Lawman, Girl Band – I love bands that aren’t afraid to make noise. Lawman is about as good as noise gets. That big, fat, fuzzy, drony bass sound holds it down while everything else swirls around it until the sound explodes all over the place.

Milkman, Bully – This song probably has as much in common with the catalogues of Sebadoh and L7 as it does anything in the modern rock scene.

Paper Girl, July Talk – The bluesy, raw sound of July Talk comes off even better live, as do the antics of Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay.

Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett – There’s just no one quite like Ms. Barnett and her smart, goofy, melancholy, endearing, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

Rain or Shine, Young Fathers – I’ve fallen in the love with these guys the past few years. They’re most definitely not content to follow the hip-hop crowd. Rain or Shine is just one piece of evidence supporting that claim.

Strange Hellos, Torres – There’s a PJ Harvey-ness to this track that attracts me. I love how Strange Hellos builds and how the song draws its strength from Mackenzie Scott’s growling voice.

This World is Not My Home, Robert Earl Keen – Keen’s voice is perfect for this nugget of bluegrass gospel.

Trustful Hands, The Do – There are three or four tracks off Shake, Shook, Shaken that I could have chosen for this list. There’s just something warm, familiar about this track that gets me every time.

Uptown Funk, Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – This track would work just as well in 1975 as it does in 2015. Bruno was the perfect choice to sing Uptown Funk, and the horns are spot on.

Honorable mentions: 15 Years, Houndmouth; Awake, Snoop Dogg; Baby Britain, Seth Avett & Jessica Lee Mayfield; Bleeder, Ceremony; Blud, SOAK; Blueberry Island, Julie Ruin; Bunker Buster, Viet Cong; City Boy Blues, Action Bronson; Damn Baby, Alpine; Don’t Wanna Fight, Alabama Shakes; Feel Right, Mark Ronson feat. Mystikal; First Choice, Oddisee; Foreign Object, Mountain Goats; For You, Genevieve; Julie, 100 Watt Horse; Kokaine Karolina, Elle King; Man Up, Nikki Lane; Melt Me, Hanni El-Khatib; Only You (Live), Anderson East; Power Man, Camp Lo; Prince of Slackers, Turn to Crime; Railroad, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn; Roll Up, The Struts; Solid Gold, Turbowolf; Son of God, Will Butler; Too Much, The Steeldrivers; Vital Signs, Gang of Youths

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Favorite albums of 2015: The mid-point review

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – I get caught up in what Barnett does lyrically. The laid-back, stoner vibe musically makes a soft base for harder, more serious thematic moments.

The Do, Shake, Shook, Shaken – The most I’ve loved an electronic pop album since Postal Service’s Up.

Girlpool, Before the World Was Big – This album seemed a bit too … twee at first. I kept waiting for the point where Before the World Was Big would annoy me or wear me out, and it never happened. This smart, stripped down collection has sucked me in.

Heartless Bastards, Restless Ones – Wow. I’ve been a fan for awhile, but none of the Bastards’ previous releases prepared me for this. Less straightforward and a little more diverse than the rest of their catalogue. Wind Up Bird (above) has some terrific, acid-rock guitar work.

Houndmouth, Little Neon Limelight – Kentucky’s finest polish their sound and drop an instantly lovable collection of country rock.

July Talk, July Talk – Last year’s EP was terrific. This year’s full-length is terrific-er. I think I’ve written this before, but it’s kind of like listening to Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave front the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick is the only mainstream rapper I have any interest in. Part of that may be because he’s the only mainstream rapper who has something more to say than just listing off what expensive swag he owns.

No Joy, More Faithful – Grimy, fuzzy, stoner punk that would have been just as comfortable in the 1990s as it is now.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love – So, so glad to have them back.

Young Fathers, White Men Are Black Men, TooTo Pimp a Butterfly deserves all of the support it’s received, both critically and from fans. White Men Are Black, Too, takes hip-hop to new strange, interesting places, and – heresy! – might even be better than Kendrick Lamar’s latest.

Honorable mentions: Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful; Alpine, Yuck; Girl Band, The Early Years; Elle King, Love Stuff; Mark Ronson, Uptown Special; Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer; Snoop Doog, BUSH; Torres, Sprinter; Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp

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Fave albums of 2015, the first quarter review

Little Neon Limelight, Houndmouth – It seems like one of the hardest things for a young band to do is to make a second album that A) goes somewhere new and sounds fresh while B) not abandoning your core sound that made fans love you in the first place. Houndmouth kicked the sophomore slump in the teeth with this one.

No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney – It’s so sweet to have the greatest all-female punk band of all time back in the house (with some apologies to L7). Please don’t go on hiatus again.

Shake, Shook, Shaken, The Do – Lyrically driven electronic pop. Postal Service fans, take note.

Strangers to Ourselves, Modest Mouse – The more I listen, the more I like it. Musically, it’s Modest Mouse’s most diverse album to date. Lyrically, MM still has a flair for the surreal and humorous.

To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar – I don’t know that I’ve said this about many albums, but To Pimp a Butterfly deserves all of the praise it has been given. And the critics like this album more than fat kids love cake, so that’s saying something.

Honorable mentions: Rebel Heart, Madonna; Mr. Wonderful, Action Bronson; Seth Avett & Jessica Leah Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, Seth Avett and Jessica Leah Mayfield; Uptown Special, Mark Ronson; Viet Cong, Viet Cong;

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That’s My Jam #17: Too $hort, ‘The Ghetto’

You wouldn’t expect the man who once titled an album Cocktales to drop one of the most mindful gangsta tracks of all time, especially without uttering a single curse word in the entirety of the cut. Yet Too $hort did exactly that in 1990, copping the title and sample from Donny Hathaway’s classic soul jam to create a rap anthem worthy of both Public Enemy and the Notorious B.I.G. When classic rappers’ names get dropped, too often $hort Dogg is forgotten. But Too $hort was one of the original O.G.’s in the hip-hop game, and one of the few still standing. While he never really stuck with the higher-minded hip-hop lyrics, The Ghetto is a reminder of what he is capable of behind the mic.

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Hungry like the ‘Wolf’

It’s hard not love an album that hits the popular consciousness with a big, old haymaker that the mainstream never saw coming.

I feel like Wolf‘s going to be one of those albums, by the time all is said and done. Yes, lyrically, this stays true to all of Tyler, The Creator’s work to this point: A chuckling, stoned, dead-eyed agent of chaos in a world that doesn’t understand that it truly loves the resulting madness. Too many drugs, too many “faggot” callouts, too much intelligence gone out of control. Tyler is that nasty, uncontrolled Id lurking under the surface that no one wants to admit is there.

It isn’t that this is approach new. Eminem managed the balancing act on both The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP, and Old Dirty Bastard took the madness to a previously unheard of level on Return to the 36 Chambers. But unlike Eminem or ODB, Tyler has created an album with limited single potential. There’s no Real Slim Shady or Shimmy Shimmy Ya on Wolf. Yes, true hip-hop heads will be down, but it’ll be interesting to see if Tyler can mimic the sales, chart success or awards of the previously mentioned predecessors.

What really helps elevate Wolf is not Tyler, The Rapper but Tyler, the Producer. He’s the man behind the knobs for the most part, and he manages to create a full, dark, off-kilter background for his hip-hop diorama. Whether it’s the minimal, bass-heavy, slurred feel of Jamba, the otherworldy “da da da da DA da” melody on Domo23, the manic Latin energy that backs the juvenile Tamale or the slow jam synth of IFHY, Tyler finds the right sounds to back whatever approach he’s trying to take lyrically. More importantly, nothing has an assembly line, jam-of-the-moment feel. Wolf isn’t about ring tones; it’s about legacy.

The final product is an album … a full album, not three or four front-loaded singles with what Sean Combs once called “album tracks” aka half-assed filler. I can imagine a time a decade or so from now Wolf being mentioned in the same breath as We Can’t Be Stopped, Ready to Die or Midnight Marauders. History is being made, so, as a wise man once said, ya betta recognize.

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