This is our track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)for regular updates.What It IsIn 2017, at the ripe age of 26, Tyler, The Creator seemed a bit artistically exhausted. His teen-savant Southpark-lite provocateur pose was becoming a drag, and his last album -- 2015’s Cherry Bomb -- was a pretty-much unlistenable hodgepodge of N.E.R.D. retreads. For a second, it seemed like he was best suited as a fashion magnette -- his clothing line Golf Wang was pretty fresh -- with a side career as a sub-Hannibal Buress sketch comedian. The 2017 Flower Boy changed that awfully fast. Full of uncluttered, delicate melodies and surprisingly mature emotional themes, the album was ambitious without being pretentious. If his earlier work was intentionally distancing, Flower Boy felt subtle and embracing. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN may have been the most important hip-hop album of 2017, but Flower Boy was the most enjoyable, and surprising. “Okra” is his first song released since that album dropped.So, which version of Tyler shows up on Okra?This isn’t exactly the adolescent Tyler of old -- nothing here seems intentionally provocative, per se -- but this also feels like a bit of a retreat from his more emotionally nuanced persona of 2017. He talks a lot of shit. He tells critics to fuck off. He brags about his cars. There aren’t a lot of pretty melodies here.Is that a bad thing?Not really. The track bangs. Beneath a bed of churning, speaker-busting sub-bass, Tyler simply raps his ass off. It features some of the most dexterous flows of his careers, and it also pushes forward a couple of Tyler’s personal uber-narratives. He’s sexually fluid (he calls out Tim Chalamet from last year’s LGBT-friendly indie movie Call Me By Your Name). Odd Future is over (“Golf Be the Set/No More OF”). It feels more like a low-stakes victory lap than a big next step, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This is a track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)for regular updates.What It IsA meeting of the minds. On one side, afrofuturist chanteuse turned technicolor neu-glam enthusiast Janelle Monáe; on the other, Montreal retro-futurist, electro-wallflower-turned-pop-music-debutante Grimes. This is the second time they’ve collaborated (the first was on Grimes’ single “Venus Fly”), and is the second single from Monáe’s upcoming Dirty Computer album, which we’re hoping will evolve into an extended mash-up of Prince’s Dirty and Radiohead’s OK Computer.What It Sounds LikeLike the best bop from the radically queer future we’re all hoping for. Or maybe an anthropomorphic lullaby from our eventual alien masters, who’ve derived their knowledge of the human race by watching old David Bowie and Erykah Badu videos. Or maybe, more directly, like the maximalist experimental pop of Grimes’ last album Arts Angels crossed with the pan-sexual, slightly roboticized R&B that Monáe has been mining for most of her career.Playlists PlacementA “coming out” playlist for family or friends, perhaps. A road mix for space travel, maybe. The best tracks of 2018…definitely.
This is our track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)for regular updates."Opal - Four Tet Remix," Bicep What It IsConsidering that Belfast DJ duo Bicep took their name from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Pumping Iron, there music isn’t nearly as cheeky as you’d expect. The tracks bounce between Chicago house and Italo-disco and have a nice sheen that belies a mid-period Detroit influence. They’re also quite well known for their influential blog, Feel My Bicep, which is a destination site for fans of underground electronic music. What It Sounds LikeThe original “Opal,” from Bicep’s self-titled 2017 album, is a sludgy chunk of flangy, metallic synth sounds and downtempo drums that is surprisingly melodic for the duo. Four Tet doesn’t tinker too much with the formula. As is his wont, Four Tet adds whirring ambient textures and isolates the track’s melody, adding a layer of distortion that draws out the tracks blurry qualities. The track takes a minute to build, but, by the end, it’s vintage Four Tet: both transcendent and completely ephemeral. Suggested Playlist PlacementHedonist Hangover Music.
This is our track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)for regular updates.What It IsFor the past 20 years, Koze is the clown prince of German electronic music. First as a hip-hop DJ and then later as a outre house producer. He’s unique because he takes a lot of chances, and he does a lot of stuff that is formally interesting -- check out the clomping wood box on “Magical Boy” -- but his tracks feel less serious and more whimsical and fun. His previous album, 2013’s Amygdala -- is one of the most adventurous and approachable electronic albums of this decade, and his upcoming album, Knock Knock, is one of the more anticipated albums of this year. “Illumination” is the second single from the album.What It Sounds Like“Illuminations” is surprisingly straightforward. As where some of the producer’s other work felt as if it wandered into its own brilliance, this track feels more focused and immediate. The drums are forefronted and looped over the entirety of the track, and though there’s an occasional guitar line or synth swell, the basic structure never veers into abstraction. The track is build around the punchy vocals of Moloko frontwoman Róisín Murphy. Unlike other Koze tracks, “Illumination” is hard to imagine as an instrumental -- the production is great, but it largely services the vocals. It’s a little bit of a stretch to call this a banger, but it’s has enough of a pulse that it’s not difficult to imagine it lighting up certain dance floors.Suggested Playlist PlacementA “wake and bake” playlist for mornings when you never went to slept.
It’s a great big world, and there’s a ton of new music being released into it each week. How to keep up? Lucky for you, the staff at The Dowsers is sifting through it all each week, every week, and so we figured we’d curate the fruits of that labor into a new playlist franchise we calling “The 40: Essential New Music.” Updated every Monday, “The 40” brings together the 40 best new tracks from across multiple genres. If it’s good, it’s in there. If it’s not, then you can probably skip it. Enjoy.
There were two things we were looking forward to in 2018: Robert Mueller indicting Donald Trump, and Migos releasing Culture II. After all, Migos has been at the forefront of pop music for the better part of this decade. If we’re being 100% honest, we’ll admit that we dismissed them as one-hit wonders when “Versace” first dropped in 2013, even if we kept it in rotation for a long minute. But they’ve proven much more resilient, creative, and influential than we ever imagined. “Bad and Boujie” and “T-Shirt” helped get us through the past year-and-a-half of this orange-stained apocalyptic shitshow, and the first Culture felt like a coronation not only of Migos as the kings of hip-hop, but also of a new generation of hip-hop stars. So we just assumed Culture II would be like Easter with triplet flows, pinging trap beats, and wealth-porn punchlines.We can’t blame Migos for taking a victory lap, but, at 24 songs stretching nearly two hours, Culture II feels like a victory slog. There’s some hot tracks——“Stir Fry,” “BBO,” and “MotorSport” are all career highlights——but there’s a lot of bloat. Whether they did this because they lacked any sense of quality control (sorry), or because they were trying to game the streaming system, doesn’t really matter to us. The fact is, it gets tedious.So we’re asking you, our loyal readers and keen discerners of good taste, to help us make Culture II great again. Please, EQ the speakers, stake out the X-Actos, and carve out the amazing, taut album that we feel is lurking in there somewhere. You can see how we’d cut this up in the playlist above, but we want to hear your version, too. So, visit our Facebook post here, post your tracklist and Spotify playlist link in the comments, and/or give the thumbs up to the other version you like the best. We’ll feature the winning version of Culture II on our homepage and in our social feeds, attributed to you. Playlist away.
This is our track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)for regular updates.What It IsHot off their appearance on the the TDE-curated Black Panther Soundtrack, SOB X RBE (a merger of crews Strictly Only Brothers and Real Boi Entertainment) release their album Gangin. “Anti-Social” is the single, and it captures the crew’s Bay Area retro-rap vibe, and has gotten a decent amount of buzz both in the Bay and in the hipster blogsphere (Pitchfork named Gangin’ Best New Music).What It Sounds LikeClose your eyes and imagine you’re back in 1999, smoking a blunt in East Oakland, with Mary J. rippling out of a nearby car speaker and Mac Dre bumping from a from a nearby house party. You’re close now. DaBoii raspy voice flows nicely over the summary beat as he relays tales of “big glocks, long clips,” while Yhung T.O. offers shots at dick-riders and fake rappers. They ain’t saying much new here, but it sounds great.Playlists PlacementDo you have a playlist dedicated to smoking blunts? Go ahead and put this on there.
This is our track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)for regular updates.What It IsEverything is Recorded is the solo project from XL Recordings head honcho Richard Russell. If you imagine yourself a connoisseur of hip sounds then you should already know XL Recordings. But, if you somehow missed that one, check the back of your M.I.A., Jamie XX, White Stripes, Thom Yorke, and The xx. Yeah, it’s a stack discography.What It Sounds LikeIt sounds like the Beach Boys and Pharrell Williams went on a summer picnic together and blasted dub reggae while Stevie Wonder served prosciutto and manchego. A track that appears on a label head’s vanity project, and features four guests, two of which (Kamasi Washington and Sampha) are certified buzzbin legends, is likely going to disappoint you. And while no one reinvents the wheel here, this shit is tasty. Playlists PlacementIf you find yourself on a picnic with Brian Wilson and Pharrell Williams, give us a call. We’d love to hang. Then slip this onto the playlist.
This is our track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)for regular updates.What It IsAlongside Kendrick Lamar, Long Beach emcee Vince Staples is one of the most celebrated rappers of the past decade. But unlike Kendrick, who takes himself dead serious and occasionally smoothers his audience with sincerity, Staples is happy to play the part of the poker-faced jester. He recently started a GoFundMe campaign to support his retirement (he asked for 2 million to effectively disappear), and this single either supports that campaign or is the lead-off single to as yet-unannounced new album (or, alternately, it’s a combination of both, or just some loosey he had laying around).What It Sounds LikeIt’s really vibey, which is a bit surprising considering the track is calle “Get the Fuck Off My Dick.” The song pushes the idea from the promotional video that Staples is stepping down, at one point rapping, “Homie you can keep your money, it dont do nothing for me.” You should never take rappers that serious when they say they’re going to retire -- it’s an aspirational theme -- but Staples does seem sincere -- he describes walking through NYC’s MoMa museum (a pretty ideal retired person activity), relays some basic retiree financial planning (he’s going to spend the check from his Coke endorsement; save his Nike one), and takes some parting shots at the media (“NPR and XXL, man, I cant tell which is which”). The song is wrapped in an airy production, that has dusky like swirls of electronics over a slow, sludgy beat. Suggested Playlist PlacementBingo Night With B-Boys?
This is our track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far) for regular updates.What It IsIt’s a little hard to believe that 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the emergence of Sade. The Nigerian British singer is the queen of the slow jam; her lulling missives to the arts of seduction and sensuality are anchored in airy instrumental and her smokey voice. It’s refined sound, and Sade makes make-out music for people who want to keep it classy. After a seven-year break, she returns with this track for The Wrinkle in Time soundtrack.What It Sounds LikeEven by Sade standards, “Flower of the Universe” is particularly delicate. A hand-plucked guitar figure wraps around refrained vocal coos, with the occasional piano fill. But, as always, the star is Sade. She’s simply hypnotic here, sounding more maternal than carnel, and the track has a stark warmth and intimacy that is really unmatched in today’s pop landscape. Suggested Playlist PlacementA post-coliotal cuddling playlist would be perfect.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.