New Songs to Quarantine To, July 2020

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There is some telling symmetry on my list of the best songs from the past month. Two tracks openly wish death to an immoral man. Two others fantasize about falling in love using amusement park themes. All of them resonated with me during a time defined by crimes against humanity and a yearning for intimacy. It’s a wicked world, but it can’t stop us from singing.

1. John K. Samson – “Fantasy Baseball at the End of the World”

The former Weakerthans frontman uses sports metaphors to confess his death wish for our president, over gentle, sympathetic guitar.

2. Angel Du$t – “Turn Off the Guitar”

This side project for members of the hardcore bands Turnstile and Trapped Under Ice has become an unexpected pop juggernaut – “Turn Up the Guitar” is their boppiest effort yet.

3. Zara Larsson – “Love Me Land”

Love is an amusement park on this gobsmacked electro-pop earworm.

4. Aminé (feat. Young Thug) – “Compensating”

“It’s hard to admit that I’ve made my bed,” this Portland, OR, rapper shares on this track, where a sprightly marimba loop is as refreshing as the artist’s ability to accept blame.

5. The Chicks – “Tights On My Boat”

Natalie Maines delivers a viciously cathartic kiss-off to her trifling ex-husband, over wink-and-a-smile acoustic strumming: “Hey, will your dad pay your taxes now that I’m gone?”

6. Sylvan Esso – “Ferris Wheel”

Here’s another addictive summertime amusement park romance jam, this one literally pining for the chance to make out at the top of a ferris wheel on a hot August night.

7. Black Thought – “Thought vs Everybody”

In the same month we said goodbye to one of the founding members of The Roots – the perennially underrated rapper Malik B – his old foil Black Thought dropped an intense, chorus-less rap exercise that makes me believe he could battle the world and win.

8. Widowspeak – “Plum”

How is it that a simple chord progression, strummed in just such a way, can make me want to go for a drive in the country? This song was made for watching rolling fields go by, and feeling grateful for every one.

9. Kylie Minogue – “Say Something”

Ray of Sunshine #1: Pop legend Kylie Minogue has made an album called Disco. Ray of Sunshine #2: Its lead single heals through dance music in classic Kylie fashion – “Baby, in an endless summer, we can find our way.”

10. Pallbearer – “Forgotten Days”

The progressive doom cosmonauts in Pallbearer have returned with a new single, with the kind of giant, lumbering riff that could casually destroy your town.

11. Bill Callahan – “Another Song”

Bill Callahan just keeps on reveling in romantic domesticity, and it just keeps on making me cry: “As the shadows of the leaves on the wall / Grow and dissolve / Almost in time to our chests’ rise and fall / As we lay on the bed wanting for nothing at all.”

Catching Up with King: “Duma Key”

When I moved to Stephen King’s home state of Maine, I thought it would be fun (if a bit cliché) to finally read his books in earnest, and discover how I really feel about his work. For this installment, I packed up my shorts, sandals and ghost pirate repellent and cracked open his 2008 novel Duma Key.

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On June 19, 1999, Stephen King was staying at his camp in Western Maine, enjoying a bit of a family reunion on the lake. He was planning on taking everyone to the movies that evening, but figured he still had enough time for his daily four-mile walk. It was a decision that almost cost him his life.

While walking against traffic on Route 5, a van swerved directly in his path. King smashed into the windshield, flew 14 feet into the air and landed on the pavement, breaking his leg in nine places. In his 2000 memoir/manual On WritingKing describes being helicoptered to the hospital in Lewiston, a ride during which one of his lungs collapsed:

“… as I lie in the helicopter looking out at the bright blue summer sky, I realize that I am actually lying in death’s doorway. Someone is going to pull me one way or the other pretty soon.”

Eight years later, the author completed a novel seemingly inspired from that realization, giving shape to that entity whose unseen hand has the power to pull us back from the brink, or push us off a cliff. In Duma Key, this entity is definitely not something we would call God.

This is the story of Edgar Freemantle, a successful Minnesota developer whose entire existence is upended by a horrifying construction site accident, which claims his right arm and rattles his brain to the point where he has trouble finding the right words for things. In the early stages of his against-all-odds recovery, Edgar is physically and verbally abusive to his wife Pam, who divorces him. Broken in more ways than one, Edgar contemplates suicide, until his therapist asks him if there are any creative outlets he can use to build up “hedges against the night.”images

Edgar immediately thinks of sketching. Soon, he’s asking his realtor to find him a rental in a warm, remote place, so he can continue his recovery and maybe even stumble across his muse. Once he arrives at a remote, largely uninhabited island, Duma Key transforms from an exploration of the grim aftermath of physical trauma to something of an anti-ableist superhero origin story. As Edgar experiences a remarkable artistic reawakening, he realizes that the phantom itch in his missing hand is maybe more than a phantom. The more he understands its power to not only make goosebump-raising works of art, but also right the occasional wrong in the real world, Edgar feels like he’s risen from the dead. Problem is, he’s not the only one.

“Some questions I have never answered to my own satisfaction,” Edgar admits in one of King’s “How to Draw a Picture” interludes, “but I have drawn my own pictures and I know that when it comes to art, it’s perfectly okay to paraphrase Nietzsche: if you keep your focus, eventually your focus will keep you. Sometimes without parole.”

51xVH88DkPL._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOn the rare occasions when King sets his stories outside of Maine, it’s usually for a good reason. Duma Key is no exception. The author and his wife Tabitha began spending their winters in the Sunshine State in the late-’90s, after a falling icicle almost killed their dog. “We never really came to terms with the fact that we were rich” until that moment, King told USA Today. They got a place in Sarasota, a short drive over the bridge from islands like Siesta Key. Duma Key is a fictional place, but it is set off the coast of Sarasota. So when King writes about visiting tourists blasting Toby Keith and ruining his day, it’s safe to say that we’re reading the very real complaints of an honorary Floridian.

More importantly, the geography of Southwestern Florida is integral to this story. Edgar’s transformation into an up-and-coming “American primitive” artist is sparked by his terrifying paintings of the Duma sunset, as seen from the porch of “Big Pink,” his rented beach-house-on-stilts. And the book’s most important relationship, between Edgar and his Duma neighbor Jerome Wireman, is a result of the former’s daily beach walks. The first time they interact, Edgar can’t quite make it all the way to Wireman’s beach chair. When he finally gets there a few trips later, Wireman has a celebratory drink waiting for him. In a book full of arguments that you can’t age out of creative inspiration, King also shows that it’s possible to forge meaningful friendships late in life as well.

The first time Wireman and I actually met he laughed so hard he broke the chair he was sitting in, and I laughed so hard I almost fainted … It wasn’t the only time we laughed together. Wireman was many things to me – not least of all my fate – but most of all, he was my friend.

51S-RggeyLL._SY445_QL70_ML2_Wireman is only one of a handful of colorful-yet-haunted characters that populate this story, including the octogenarian art patron and wealthy heiress Elizabeth Eastlake, whose tragic family history is tied up with the ancient evil that resides in Duma Key’s ominous psychotropic jungle. Edgar’s wife and daughters play critical, life-saving roles, a vision of how post-divorce bonds can transcend bitterness. A boozy Tampa art critic steals a few scenes, and Edgar’s pseudo-assistant Jack is a lovable and supportive kid with a knack for keeping his boss sane. It’s a classic King strategy – make you care about people as they become closer and closer friends, and then seal that bond with a healthy dose of shared trauma.

Horror movies will always go back to the “child draws something super scary” well, as a way to depict an innocent being’s mind being overtaken. In Duma Key, those scary drawings are more than just drawings. It’s kind of amazing that King hadn’t explored the terror of that idea before, given his penchant for writing about haunted creative types. Yes, this book has some pretty clear callbacks to classic moments from It and The Shining and Pet Sematary and John Carpenter’s film The Fog, but on the whole, it’s a fresh take on the entrancing, healing qualities of the human imagination, and how they could make any of us susceptible to the darkness. Especially if a powerful evil was somewhere trapped out there, straining to transcend whatever’s blocking it, like one especially bad idea.

THE “CATCHING UP WITH KING” RANKINGS

1. Pet Sematary

2. Misery

3. Carrie

4. The Shining

5. Duma Key

6. Doctor Sleep

7. The Talisman

8. Nightmares & Dreamscapes

9. 11/22/63

10. On Writing

11. The Stand

12. The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger

13. The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three

14. Bag of Bones

 

New Songs to Quarantine To, June Edition

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Some incredible things happened in June 2020. Protests against government-sanctioned hate swelled to unforeseen global heights, raising awareness of insidious systemic racism in the minds of the privileged. City councils voted to defund police departments. Statues honoring racists were torn down.

Also in June, fiery antiracist poetry entered our lives at just the right time. Songwriting legends reflected on love and marriage and divorce. And a resurgent diva reminded us that disco will never die. These songs might not change the world, but they’ll make a pretty good soundtrack for this harrowing, electrifying, emotional summer.

1. Coco – “I Love It (Black)”

This purposeful, pride-drenched blast of UK grime is as exhilarating as seeing Black Lives Matter protests go global.

2. Run the Jewels ft. Gangsta Boo – “Walking in the Snow”

Black people are murdered by police so often, a rapper can write lyrics about a specific atrocity and chances are it’ll apply to others by the time the track drops. Like Killer Mike’s explosive verse on “Walking in the Snow,” written before George Floyd’s death:

And everyday on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, “I can’t breathe”

3. Bully – “Where to Start”

If you’re a fan of cheerful, high-energy grunge hooks, well then Bully for you.

4. Jessie Ware – “Soul Control” 

An undeniable “Two of Hearts” synth line brings us behind the velvet rope at an ’80s discotheque, where the chorus froths over like champagne.

5. Bob Dylan – “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”

“Lot of people gone / Lot of people I knew,” admits a 79-year-old legend over the low, reassuring hum of his backup singers, who coax him to admit that he’s in love, even now, at the end of the road.

6. Dua Selah – “Cat Scratch”

“Posture of a pastor with his sheep / Planting hella seeds,” spits this Sudanese-American emcee over a mournful, trance-inducing guitar loop. So grateful to be in the congregation.

7. Spillage Village – “End of Daze”

A scathingly funky rap crew track about our American apocalypse: “God packed her bags and said ‘Bye bye.'”

8. Bill Callahan – “Pigeons”

A year after crafting the best album of 2019, Bill Callahan is unexpectedly back: driving newlyweds around in his limo, reflecting on the universality of marriage, and doing his best Johnny Cash impression. We do not deserve this.

9. Dessiderium – “Cosmic Limbs”

A brain-liquefying display of technical death metal riffage, with rapid-fire note clusters that scamper down your ear canals like gremlins infiltrating a spaceship.

10. Saint Jhn – “Trap (Rompasso Remix)”

Burbling, chart-baiting dance-pop with a chorus that gives a middle finger to the police.

11. Neil Young – “Separate Ways”

Can a break-up song be romantic? The opener of Neil Young’s long-lost, finally released 1974 LP Homegrown certainly comes close. Over a trademark guitar and harmonica arrangement, Young celebrates a love gone by with stark, open-hearted tenderness.

12. Teyana Taylor ft. Lauryn Hill – “We Got Love”

“Love is the new money / I’m mentally wealthy,” posits Teyana Taylor on this buoyant R&B singalong about what really matters. When Lauryn Hill appears to share her own hard-won perspective on the emptiness of financial success, it feels like a torch being passed.

Top 100 Albums of the 2010s (85-81)

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Here are entries 85-81 in my arguably pointless countdown of my 100 favorite albums from the past 10 years. We’ve got some mesmerizing R&B fan letters, a fire-breathing emcee at the top of his game, the greatest metal band of all time, a visionary hip-hop boy band, and one of the 21st century’s most popular (and reviled) groups.

a2334189316_1085. Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy! (2019)

The second LP from Chicago R&B singer Jamila Woods was a concept album about her influences that includes homages to poets, actors, authors and painters. “What is it with these independent men? / It’s always something / Threatening your masculine energy / You think it’s fleeting,” Woods croons in her laid-back tenor on a song dedicated to the iconoclastic funk genius Betty Davis. You can feel the lessons Woods has learned from Davis, who famously had to put up with Miles Davis’s bullshit, subsumed in this music. Other tracks are dedicated to Muddy Waters and his resistance to appropriation; Nikki Giovanni and her defiantly triumphant poem “Ego Tripping”; Eartha Kitt and her refusal to compromise. Musically, Woods continued down the neo-Badu R&B path she started on her 2016 debut, coasting on the fluidity of the drums and bass lines until we were damn sure we must be floating. Her voice is never showy, and it doesn’t need to be, hitting the notes with a confident grace, borne up on the vision, ability and audacity of those who showed her how.

Cakes-Da-Killa-Hunger-Pangs-608x60884. Cakes da Killa – Hunger Pangs (2014)

Every time another gorgeously produced triumph showed up on DatPiff in the 2010s, the line separating hip hop mixtapes from studio albums got thinner and thinner, to the point where it has pretty much vanished. But one listen to Hunger Pangs and we knew we were hearing a tape. The beats are jagged and guttural and loud. The songs are short, muscular, and barely interested in choruses. Whitney Houston’s between-song banter is utilized as a coda with no concern of legal action. And the Atlanta-based emcee just absolutely goes off, tearing apart every verse like a gymnast with buzz saws for arms. Cakes da Killa was no stranger to tape brilliance, but Hunger Pangs was a whole new strain of adrenaline. While Run The Jewels deservedly got a lot of praise in 2014 for inspiring us to run through walls with their molotov cocktail of a second album, no rapper in that year could quite match Cakes’s energy. Just listening to one of his verses from “Just Desserts” or “It’s Not Ovah” should qualify as an hour of cardio. “Coming at n—-as like an avalanche,” he spews, not even coming close to hyperbole.

cover_2253201862015_r83. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls (2015)

Of all the fascinating moments from the 2009 Iron Maiden documentary Flight 666, nothing compared to the footage of a Brazilian fan who had just caught one of Nicko McBrain’s drumsticks. He stands awestruck, unaware of the camera, tears of gratitude streaming down his face. It’s a feeling I could relate to when listening to the band’s excellent double-LP The Book of Souls, because it shimmers with the commitment and energy of a band half its age. While never straying from that classic Maiden formula – dramatic intro, triumphant gallop, insanely catchy solo, repeat – The Book of Souls avoids nostalgia though the use of a panoramic lens.  The two best songs on the record are also the two longest songs in the entire Maiden catalog. “The Red & The Black” especially slays, its chorus a fist-pumping “whoa” that makes we wish I was in a stadium, expressing my gratitude loudly.

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82. Brockhampton – Saturation II (2017)

In the summer of the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the self-described hip hop boy band Brockhampton filled up three mixtapes with enough personality and emotional honesty and creative left-turns to make even the grumpiest pessimist feel hopeful about our next generation of leaders. If the first Saturation was like hearing young wizards beginning to master their power, the second is where they start wielding their magic for real. Saturation II finds bandleader Kevin Abstract and producer Romil Hemnani zeroing in on a shared vision that transformed the club into a confessional booth. These rappers had no qualms getting shit off their chests, whether it was over a playful party-ready beat or a laconically strummed electric guitar. It’s compulsively listenable music, full of instantly memorable choruses and effective, cathartic verses. How they made a record featuring seven rappers feel this light is beyond me.

81. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto (2011)

If you already hated Coldplay, their fifth album wasn’t gonna change your mind. But as somebody who has always been a sucker for the band’s sweeping choruses and earnest (some would say naive) belief that romantic love is an engine of hope for the world, Mylo Xyloto had me digging in my heels as a fan. For the first time since its melancholy debut, Coldplay went after a concentrated aesthetic concept – to marry their arena-baiting alt-rock elements with those of modern pop and R&B. And with the help of their best collaborator, producer Brian Eno, they got the concoction just right, foregoing the usual piano balladry for shimmering synthesizers and throwing a bigger spotlight on Jonny Buckland’s dynamic guitar playing.  “Princess of China,” a duet with Rihanna, was a microcosm of this mini-evolution, aiming for Billboard charts, festival stages and crowded dance floors, without ignoring the band’s forever-polarizing lovestruck roots. The lead single, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” was pretty much a middle finger to all the critics of Chris Martin’s lyrical clumsiness – an un-ironic Afropop-flecked singalong about soaring walls together to overcome despair. If that description doesn’t make you roll your eyes, you might be a Coldplay fan.

Check out the full list here!

I Am Part of the Problem

For my entire life, I have surrounded myself with White people. Growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, I could count the number of my Black classmates on one hand. After watching the LAPD beat the shit out of Rodney King, I was not compelled to reach out to any of them.

When it came time to go to college, I chose an even less diverse place – a small Franciscan college near the Pennsylvania border. I did not care at all about Saint Francis. But I certainly cared about feeling comfortable.

Since then, I have chosen to work for five overwhelmingly White companies. Because I rarely heard racist things, I therefore believed these were non-racist places.

A year after Trayvon Martin was murdered for being Black and wearing a hoodie, I chose to move away from my hometown with my wife, who I adore and who also is White. I suggested Maine – quite literally the whitest state in America. I love Maine; the nature is gorgeous. But from the perspective of my awareness of racial injustice, this was like a caterpillar deciding against becoming a butterfly and lining its cocoon instead.

For the last 20 years, I have felt compelled to write about music, and a lot about hip-hop specifically. In 2002, I wrote my first-ever “column” in a local rag about why suburban kids like me love rap. Using the “family values” conservative and noted rap-hater William Bennett as a straw man, I wrote, “The more you try to hide a culture, the more we want to be a part of it.”

But I clearly never wanted that. As I write this, 18 years later, it is from that same deafening cocoon of White privilege. A place where opportunities fall in my lap. Where I never have to fear physical harm. Where I rarely see Black faces, but seek attention for writing about Black artists. When a Minneapolis police officer casually murdered George Floyd, keeping his hands in his pockets as his victim cried for his mother, I was getting buzzed on craft beer and enjoying a fire in my backyard – where almost all of my neighbors are White.

My racist preferences have perpetuated a racist system. I haven’t had to do anything to be complicit in this system, because it’s got centuries of fuel in the tank – a despicable legacy of murder, rape, and rank dehumanization. Black people have always known this of course. They’ve been pointing at it, screaming at us to at the very least acknowledge it.

So here I am, doing the very least. I wish I had some big reveal to share here. I have donated some money. I am pushing for antiracist policies at work. But I haven’t been to a protest. I remain part of the problem, no matter how much that makes me want to throw up.

I finally see the walls of privilege that racism has built for me. If you feel like giving me credit for this, please wait until I have burned them down.

#BlackLivesMatter

New Songs to Quarantine To, May Edition

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Here are my favorite songs released in May 2020, the month we decided a pandemic was over because we just really super wanted it to be. While any news of America’s blind “reopening” scares me to no end, even I, the guy at the grocery store who still wears gloves, can support one thing opening up again – your car window. On your next drive, press play on this mix and crank the volume. Because the only thing that’s contagious about it are the hooks.


1. Pa Salieu – “Betty”

Spacious, dancehall-infused UK hip hop that shows how mesmerizing vocal syncopation can be.

2. Charli XCX – “Enemy” 

Over some full-blown Cyndi Lauper slow-dance synth-pop, Charli XCX realizes the person she loves has the power to destroy her.

3. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist (ft. Rick Ross) – “Scottie Beam”

On the same week George Lloyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs dropped this chillingly appropriate chorus: “The revolution is the genocide / Yeah, my execution might be televised.”

4. Moses Sumney – “Keeps Me Alive”

Here’s a falsetto that can dance in the rafters of a track like an acrobat.

5. Carly Rae Jepsen – “This Love Isn’t Crazy”

CRJ shared a whole album of B sides this month, and per usual, they’re catchier and sweeter and more emotionally authentic than most artists’ A sides.

6. Polo G – “Martin & Gina”

“I get this feeling in my stomach when you next to me.”

7. Kim Petras – “Malibu”

’80s Whitney Houston reverie pop that fills our need for party music like summertime comfort food.

8. Kamaiyah – “Go Crazy”

The last time I heard a rapper be this intoxicatingly melodic over a cookout-ready G-funk beat, Warren G was asking us to mount up.

9. Orville Peck – “No Glory in the West”

Everybody’s favorite Orbison-ian masked country singer is back, with another gorgeous, stripped-down showcase for his honeyed rumble of a voice.

10. Grave Digger – “Lions of the Sea”

Shamelessly catchy retro power metal about Scottish military history from a group of middle-aged German dudes? That’s my kind of escapism.

11. Nick Hakim – “Qadir”

Seven healing minutes of low-lit, slow-building, grief-stricken R&B.

Top 100 Albums of the 2010s (90-86)

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And so it continues. Entries 90-86 in this countdown of my 100 favorite albums from the past 10 years. This time around, four of the five come from rappers. And I’m struck by how each of them tackle internal, personal struggles head on, and emerge triumphant – or at least in a healthier headspace – by the end. Functioning pretty effectively as metaphors to live by this spring.

a2343898464_1090. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two (2017)

The first line on this L.A. rapper’s second album isn’t your typical hip hop boast – “You never seen a man so calm in your life.” Released after the artist announced a break from touring due to his struggles with alcohol, Rap Album Two makes good on that initial claim in low-key, redemptive fashion. Jonwayne is a steady, comforting force as a rapper, his reflective bars gelling with serene, meditative loops. As he pours his heart out about his demons, and how he fears his art will suffer without them, the quiet understanding in his voice makes it obvious it’s not an act. “I need to slow down / But I need a good friend to come and tell me how,” he raps. It takes a significant amount of calm to admit that on wax.

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89. Kvelertak – Nattesferd (2016)

A bearded warrior broods on a mountainside, his loyal space owl by his side, the moon a lingering witness in the early morning sky. One of the highest compliments you can give Kvelertak’s third album is it that its songs perfectly suit its objectively awesome album art. Nattesferd is extreme metal party music that grabs you by your filthy black t-shirt and demands you pay attention. It’s a group of focused Norwegian musicians worshipping the art of the riff as if Odin decreed it to be so. Chugging, triumphant arena rock, exhilarating 1000 mph thrash, reflective minor-chord balladry, sinister doom – it’s all here, and it’s all unbelievably catchy. Vocalist Erlend Hjelvik screeches like a possessed space owl all over everything, which could be a sticking point for some. To me, it’s downright painterly.

The-Roots-How-I-Got-Over-Album-Cover88. The Roots – How I Got Over (2010)
Philly rap legends The Roots reached mainstream fame in the ’10s as the house band on The Tonight Show, where their effortless charisma remains a necessary distraction from Jimmy Fallon’s needy celebrity worship. But they never stopped doing what they do best. How I Got Over was their first post-Fallon LP, and it crackled with a new kind of energy – of veterans looking back on their road to success, and reenergizing themselves in the process. By masterfully blending their two main stylistic approaches – optimistic, Native Tongues-inspired grooves and chilling, confrontational synth-funk – the band was able to paint a thoroughly convincing picture of self-doubt evolving into self-confidence. Early on, Black Thought rattles off a laundry list of natural disasters over the gloomy piano chords of “Walk Alone.” But by “The Day,” guest vocalist Blu is looking in the mirror and realizing: “I should start living today.”

https_images.genius.com639af7c3779547263444a0acdd2ffcde.1000x1000x187. Noname – Room 25 (2018)

As we’ve learned the hard way in this country, the people who loudly brag about how strong and smart they are tend to be the weakest and stupidest of the bunch. On her patient, radiant second album, the Chicago rapper Noname calmly delivered verses about struggling to find yourself, the frustrating Venn diagram of sex and love, and the frightening impermanence of existence. It’s powerful because it’s not trying to sound powerful. Featuring live musicians playing low-lit, after-hours R&B vamps, Room 25 has a restorative quality. It’s hot soup on a cold day. On the opening “Self,” we’re blessed with a Fender Rhodes loop that sounds like good news. And Noname dropped the ultimate verse of 2018 over it, hurling a pie in the face of rap’s patriarchal gatekeepers: “My pussy teaching ninth-grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism / In conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus / And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?”

https___images.genius.com_a751544c0f22d3c1f71ad541d8b0be66.1000x1000x186. Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint (2014)

Two years after Drake brought “YOLO” to the mainstream as a rationale for conspicuous consumption and casual sex, Nicki Minaj applied the concept in a much more meaningful way. “Life is a movie, but there’ll never be a sequel,” she philosophizes on “All Things Go,” the autobiographical opening track of the Queens rapper’s third LP. As she spits with atypical candor about her cousin who was gunned down, her abortion, and her hopes for her daughter, the idea that you only live once becomes a soothing reminder that nothing is permanent. It’s a mantra she follows across the 22 tracks of The Pinkprint, blocking out the torrent of criticism that defines life as a female rapper and looking inward instead. Over an eclectic sonic expanse that covers everything from gleeful rap nostalgia to full-blown power balladry, Minaj admits to fears of commitment; celebrates the joys of having a physical body; and finds hope on the dance floor. Resulting in a work of art that rewards us for investing time in it, all the more so because that time is limited.

Check out the full list here!

New Songs to Quarantine To, April Edition

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In April 2020, I was in my car only a handful of times. This honestly made me worried that I would have nothing to share in this monthly round-up of my favorite new tracks. (This was not my primary worry in the midst of a pandemic. I’m not a sociopath. But it did crack the top 20.) Because like a lot of adults with jobs and responsibilities, my commutes are the ultimate moments to be able to focus on a song, to give it the best chance to get its hooks in me. Alas, I worried for no reason. Great artists still managed to worm their way into my workdays, providing an outlet for feelings of stress and disorientation, and giving voice to the joy I feel when realize I can stop and kiss my wife in-between meetings. No matter what is happening in the world, music will always have the power to do that. Which is an encouraging thought.


1. NNAMDI – “Gimme Gimme”

On this song about unrepentant greed, an insanely catchy dive-bomb bass line leaves me wanting more.

2. Charli XCX – “Claws”

If this frayed electro-pop love song is any indication, Charli’s imminent recorded-at-home album is going to make us all dance in our living rooms with tears in our eyes.

3. Jean Deaux (ft. Saba) – “Moody!”

Two Chicago rappers melting the lingering snow with their flows.

4. Laura Marling – “Fortune”

An almost unbearably beautiful breakup song.

5. Thundercat (ft. Zach Fox) – “Overseas”

Another delightful, international travel-based ditty from our planet’s resident jazz-pop goofball/genius.

6. Rina Sawayama – “XS”

If Destiny’s Child and Korn had teamed up on a single back in 1999, it would’ve broken TRL records. And, as this Japanese-British pop craftsman posits here, it would have also supersonically slapped.

7. Jessie Ware – “Spotlight”

Jessie Ware brings Sade to the club: “A dream is just a dream / And I don’t wanna sleep tonight.”

8. Duck Sauce – “Captain Duck”

The DJs responsible for the playful, unpretentious early-’10s jams “It’s You” and “Barbara Streisand” return, reminding us that the bass line to Chic’s “Good Times” is anything but a misty watercolored memory.

9. Khruangbin – “Time (You and I)”

Even when they employ vocals, as they do here, this Houston psych-funk trio uses them as mantras, ushering the groove even more expeditiously into our souls.

10. Yaeji – “When I Grow Up”

Over a skittering, hi-hat-strewn backdrop, Yaeji whispers about the intimidating permanence of adulthood: “You feel crazy / You’re hurt maybe / You don’t have room to say maybe no more.”

11. Bob Dylan – “I Contain Multitudes”

So many things are comforting about Bob Dylan’s new ballad.

1. A legendary lyricist scratching his name-dropping itch for the thousandth time, borrowing the song title from Whitman and referencing Indiana Jones, Chopin, Poe, etc.

2. A percussionless arrangement of acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars that is the sonic equivalent of organic honey.

3. A message that we’re all complicated beings, who can be expected to do unexpected things – like, perhaps, vote for a Republican president in 2016 and then turn on him in 2020.

The Top 100 Albums of the 2010s (95-91)

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So much has changed since we kicked off this new column, where I count down my 100 favorite albums from the past 10 years. So many previously mundane things about life – opening doors; buying groceries; finding a hair in your food and eating it anyway – are now terrifying. But take solace, gentle reader. Because lo, there remains at least ONE mundane exercise that is as boring and inconsequential as ever. My friends, I am still making lists of albums and posting them on the Internet, even though literally no one is asking for them. Some things, even now, will never change.

Screen-Shot-2019-03-21-at-08.51.4395. Orville Peck – Pony (2019)

Few things have been romanticized by Americans more than the idea of men traversing the great Western plains, facing danger together, loyal to nothing except one another. It was tempting to say we’d heard it all before, at least until last year, when a Canadian punk singer changed his name, started dressing in bespoke cowboy suits with matching veils, and dropped one of the most enigmatic debut LPs of the decade. “The sun goes down, another dreamless night / You’re right by my side,” croons Orville Peck at the outset of Pony, his silken voice making it clear it’s a love song just like Roy Orbison’s used to do. Though the languages of forlorn ’60s pop, ’70s countrypolitan balladry and ’80s new wave, Peck creates a honky-tonk atmosphere all his own, a world of glitter balls and sawdust, where lovers can slow dance unafraid.

https_images.genius.comf9fec989d8a03a8204fd4ff1189d2dd5.1000x1000x194. Sophie – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides (2018)

The dance-pop enigma Sophie made her mark this past decade by turning lifeless hitmaking technology against itself, resulting in outrageously plastic earworms. This astounding trademark sound was still evident on her 2018 studio debutbut this time, her mission was a therapeutic one. She featured her own singing voice for the first time, on a gentle, spectral ballad called “It’s Okay To Cry.” On the hand-clap-driven reverie “Immaterial,” she presented our metaphysical selves as our true selves, resulting in a pure expression of freedom: “Without my legs or my hair / Without my genes or my blood / With no name and with no type of story / Where do I live?” Throw in some of that trademark anti-pop – “Faceshopping” sounds like a Casio being shoved down a garbage disposal – and you’ve got an album unlike any other, that celebrates how each of us is unlike any other.

93.unnamed-1-1569341614-640x640 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (2019)

In the fall of 2018, three years after losing his 15-year-old son to a tragic fall, Nick Cave began a blog called “The Red Hand Files,” in which he answered questions from fans. The first post tackled a question about how his writing process has changed. “I would say that it has shifted fundamentally,” Cave responded. “I have found a way to write beyond the trauma, authentically … I found with some practise the imagination could propel itself beyond the personal into a state of wonder.” The double LP that resulted from these writings, Ghosteen, is just as Cave described – a heartbreaking eulogy that searches for meaning behind the veil of mere biology. The music of Ghosteen supports his solemn voyage, with blankets of vintage synths lending a gorgeous sense of otherworldliness throughout. Also, for the first time in his career, the 62-year-old sings for long stretches in a stunningly clear falsetto, his voice like his soul, reaching ever higher.

b266198ecaf03cafb955bee91d331fa75e2398ad92. Esperanza Spaulding – 12 Little Spells (2018)

“There’s a vibrational current between every fingertip and the unseen,” declares Esperanza Spalding on 12 Little Spells. In the context of the soundscapes she builds around it, this line feels like the truth. Because the artist we could once describe as a “Grammy-winning jazz composer, singer and bassist” had reached heights of sonic expression that transcended genre. Only in this rarefied air could she take on this album’s amorphous challenge – sing a dozen songs about physical reactions to art. Spalding’s arrangements are largely percussionless, freeing up her bass lines to bob and weave around our expectations. Few things stuck in my brain in 2018 like the gentle, swaying funk of “Thang.” “‘Till the Next Full” evokes Hejira-era Joni Mitchell with its swirling, nocturnal acoustics. The title track swells like a old movie score, toeing the edge of dissonance but always choosing beauty.

51GqlPejStL._SY300_91. Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (2015)

Jessica Pratt is the kind of enigmatic folksinger who sounds like she was meant to record alone, hurling complicated emotions into the void. Her phrasing is messy, her pronunciation odd – “can” is “keen”; “time” is “tam” – but in the psychedelic malaise of her second LP, these quirks sounded less like affectations and more like the artist’s own personal language. The joys of her guitar playing, however, are clear as day. She interrupts gorgeous finger-picked cascades with staccato minor notes, playing with a narrative thrust that gives the record its bone density. When we hear that scratch of pick on acoustic, we’re trained to expect some diary-entry-type emoting. Pratt plays against that expectation beautifully, leaving just enough breadcrumbs to get us lost.

Check out the full list here!

New Songs to Quarantine To

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Here are my favorite songs from March 2020, a month where we needed good music even more than usual. Each of these tracks speaks to our post-COVID reality in different ways, from bemoaning separations to appreciating the upsides of nesting to calling out all the craven shitheads who keep pointing at a trainwreck and calling it a fender bender. More importantly, they all slap. So press play, stay safe, and remember that while we’re physically apart, that can’t stop us from harmonizing.


1. Swamp Dogg (ft. Justin Vernon & Jenny Lewis) – “Sleeping Without You Is A Dragg”

I thank god every day that I can still hug and kiss and sleep next to my wife. The ache in this 77-year-old R&B legend’s voice speaks for those who can’t.

2. Dixie Chicks – “Gaslighter”

Every time Trump says COVID is just like the flu, this should get a million streams.

3. Caroline Rose – “Do You Think We’ll Last Forever?”

The panic attacks that go hand in hand with true love serve as a hell of a metaphor for our shared existential crisis – and the fizzy synth-pop arrangement helps it all go down easy.

4. R.A.P. Ferreira – “Leaving Hell”

A song about how art is a pathway to joy is itself a pathway to joy.

5. Waxahatchee – “Can’t Do Much”

Katie Crutchfield nails what it’s like to work from home with your soul mate: “In my loneliness I’m locked in a room / When you see me I’m honey on a spoon.”

6. Cupcakke – “Lawd Jesus”

“When I hop off my flight / Naomi Campbell with the wipes.”

7. Deb Never & Kenny Beats – “Stone Cold”

This ethereal R&B track about a famous wrestler speaks to our need for human connection, which ironically connects all of us.

8. Protomartyr – “Processed by the Boys”

“When the ending comes, is it gonna run at us like a wild-eyed animal?” barks lead singer Joe Casey over a feral, cleansing cacophony of guitars.

9. Laura Stevenson – “Time Bandits” 

Over hopeful “Don’t Think Twice” acoustics, Laura Stevenson makes it a little bit easier to not give in to despair: “Quit smoking baby / Even though the world is ending.”

10. Channel Tres – “Weedman”

Whether it’s via THC, or an impossibly chill rap song about loving THC, we’ve gotta revel in our moments of bliss when we can find them.