Category Archives: review
Ski Mask the Slump God: Stokeley


On his album debut, the South Florida rapper (and former XXXTentacion associate) employs a playful approach to celebrate style over substance.

Indie Brew found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Trey Alston

My Brightest Diamond: A Million and One


In pursuit of sweaty deliverance, the acrobatic singer takes worries about police brutality, relationship woes, and embracing differences to the dance floor.

Indie Brew found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Maggie Lange

The Best Albums of 2018: #40 – 21

best of 2018 40-21Let’s be honest for a second: No one clicks on these lists for the introduction. I don’t blame them! This is usually just the place where some routine throat-clearing goes, before we get to the main event. It’s also the place where I confess to the amount of anxiety involved with putting together a list like this—last year, I said, “Right now, there’s probably someone in their bedroom in Buenos Aires, making a record on their computer that is going to end up on next year’s list. So as comprehensive as we’ve tried to make this list, we realize that, even at 100 albums, we’re only scratching the surface of what’s available.” Guess what? That’s still true in 2018. That said, the albums that made the cut, to us, represent the breadth and scope of the many worlds available to discover on Bandcamp, and feel like the best musical summation of the last 12 months. When we make this list, we’re not only trying to assess the year’s best music, we’re also trying to tell the story of 2018, album by album, song by song. As always, being a part of Bandcamp Daily in 2018 was a true joy; we took a look at Extratone, the world’s fastest musical genre, got familiar with the New Face of Death Metal, and spent time with artists like Yugen Blakrok, Suzanne Ciani, and Kamaal Williams. Once again, the world of music is bigger than any one list can possibly contain, so consider this a starting point on the neverending journey to discovering new sounds, new scenes, and new voices. Alright, that’s enough throat-clearing. Let’s get to the list.

—J. Edward Keyes, Editorial Director

Best of 2018 Schedule:
December 10: #100 – 81
December 11: #80 – 61
December 12: #60 – 41

December 13: #40 – 21

December 14: #20 – 1


Cruel Magic

In what’s become one of metal’s most surprising second acts, NWOBHM pioneers Satan have now made three albums since reforming in 2011—one more than they released during their original ’80s run. Cruel Magic is the best of the reunion-era albums, a sinewy riff machine that pays homage to the history of the band (and genre) without being in thrall to nostalgia. Frontman Brian Ross, 64 years young, has never sounded better or more energized, and the band matches his vigor on rippers like “Into the Mouth of Eternity” and “Death Knell for a King.”

-Brad Sanders


Maghreb United

The bewitching Saharan chant that opens Maghreb United still sounds spellbinding six months after its summer release, and the rest of the album ably maintains that hypnotic mood. On its 10 pulsing songs, feverish electronic grooves cast a flickering light against whirling pan flutes and snakelike guitars, augmented by star turns from vocalist Cheb Hassen Tej from Tunisia, Mehdi Nassouli from Morocco, and Sofiane Saidi from Algeria. Mahgreb United’s unlikely—but utterly perfect—fusion of dance music and desert blues results in the year’s trippiest album, one that will surely continue to soundtrack psychedelic fever dreams well into 2019.

-Isabela Raygoza

Read our Album of the Day on Maghreb United.


Dwarfs of East Agouza
Rats Don’t Eat Synthesizers

Dwarfs of East Agouza’s Rats Don’t Eat Synthesizers is comprised of two side-long compositions featuring acoustic bass, alto sax, guitar, organ, and synthesizers, piloted by Alan Bishop of Arizona experimental royalty Sun City Girls, Cairo’s Maurice Louca, who plays in Bikya and Alif, and Egyptian psychedelic luminary Sam Shalabi. Side one is a hypnotic, psychedelic desert composition with compulsively danceable rhythm, buttressed by a slashing guitar section. Side two is less straightforward, opening with heavy, throbbing electronics before descending into groove-riddled free jazz madness. Taken together, the two halves defy genre, finding a middle ground between funk, free jazz, and noise rock and settling in for the duration.

-Jordan Reyes

Read our interview with Dwarfs of East Agouza.


Jesus Piece
Only Self

Melding the sound of their previous EPs with a heavy helping of both doom and atmosphere, Jesus Piece’s Only Self feels like both the culmination of what the group has done to date, and the first step in an auspicious career. Engaging, dynamic, and perfectly sequenced, Only Self is an ambitious hardcore record, one that subverts the genre’s sometimes familiar trappings and demonstrates a sense of daring and a willingness to experiment. Palm-muted mosh parts give way to modulated ambient breaks, vocals range from throat-tearing to ethereal, the drums go from impressive restraint to all-out chaos. The result is both punishingly heavy and decidedly somber—songs that are tightly composed and executed mercilessly.

-Jim Gies

Read our Album of the Day on Only Self.


Witch Prophet
The Golden Octave

On her debut album The Golden Octave, Witch Prophet sounds as if the weight of the world is on her shoulders. She sings of her struggles as part of the Ethiopian/Eritrean diaspora, considers her position as a queer woman in the Habesha community, and protects her power and agency in a world that wants to deny her both. That she is able to turn that fight into songs that are rich in beauty is one of the things that makes The Golden Octave so powerful. Its songs pair house and hip-hop-inspired rhythms with soul and folk-inspired vocals, building to choruses that feel like mantras meant to incite strength, compassion, and perseverance. On The Golden Octave, Witch Prophet is telling us exactly who she is, and where she is going. It is our privilege to be able to follow her on the journey.

-Amaya Garcia

Read our interview with Witch Prophet.


Tim Hecker

Konoyo is the sound of sea change. In late 2017, Tim Hecker enlisted Tokyo’s Motonori Miura to assemble an ensemble of Gagaku musicians—Gagaku being a style of Japanese ancient court music that relies heavily on wind instruments like the shō, hichiriki, and ryūteki. The musicians then improvised material in response to Hecker’s array of synthesizers and drones. Throughout Konoyo, Hecker explores layered drone as much as empty space, and the resulting collaborative work is dynamic and moving—organic and synthetic sounds combining with equal force.

-Jordan Reyes


Hilary Woods

Irish musician Hilary Woods recorded Colt on an eight-track in her Dublin flat, and while I cannot verify whether or not it was recorded entirely at night, I can’t imagine another scenario that makes sense. It’s not just that the songs here are low-lit, shadowy, and gorgeously slow-moving, it’s that each of them feels like a secret that’s safest whispered after the sun goes down. Last year, Woods provided live accompaniment to a screening of the German Expressionist horror film Der Golem, but the songs on Colt feel better suited to a movie like Murnau’s Sunrise, full of quiet longing, deep sorrow, and haunted by the shadow of death. All of them are built from similar elements: muted guitars, keyboards soft as gauze, and Woods’s quiet, mystic vocals, but she uses that base palette to fill full canvases of blues and greys. On “Prodigal Dog,” her voice drips like a melting icicle across sleek sheets of synth; on “Black Rainbow,” she seems to summon Julee Cruise, right down to the reverberating bassline. It’s night music, to be sure: dark and quiet, but also full of strange, almost supernatural beauty.

-J. Edward Keyes

Read our Album of the Day on Colt.


Amen Dunes

Damon McMahon’s fifth album as Amen Dunes begins with a pep talk: “This is your time,” a child’s voice says, “their time is done. It’s over.” The voice is only half-kidding; while Freedom is McMahon’s most fully realized effort to date—a triumph, really—it’s not an egocentric act of artistic dominance. By switching between his own deeply personal diary entries and a cast of questionable characters (including “Parisian drug dealers, ghosts above the plains, fallen surf heroes, [and] vampires”), McMahon keeps things cryptic and compelling, and proves his staying power as a storyteller with few equals.

-Andrew Parks

Read our interview with Amen Dunes.


Georgia Anne Muldrow

Georgia Anne Muldrow has always used her music to speak truth to power and encourage the world to stay woke. But it was her complete embrace of love in all its forms, romantically, communally, and personally, that made Overload a celebration, even on forceful tracks like “Blam.” Overload reflected the kaleidoscopic beauty of the black culture and its music—jazz (“These Are The Things I Really Like About You”), soul (“Williehook (Skit)”), R&B (“Aerosol”), and hip-hop (“Play It Up”). What better way to empower those you love than by reveling in—and reminding them—of their beauty.

-Chaka V. Grier

Read our interview with Georgia Anne Muldrow.


Dur Dur of Somalia
Volumes 1, 2, & Previously Unreleased Tracks

Dur Dur Band were at the forefront of Somalia’s Golden Era—that vibrant period between the 1970s and late ’80s—but their music was almost lost forever. Thankfully, some of the original recordings survived: Analog Africa’s reissue combines Dur Dur’s first two albums, released in 1986 and 1987. The record is a testament to the band’s unique sound, which fused traditional Somali rhythms with global influences from disco, American soul, and Bollywood pop. With their soaring Somali vocals and deep-funk grooves, the tracks sound just as groundbreaking now as they surely did on Mogadishu’s dancefloors all that time ago.

-Megan Iacobini de Fazio

Read our Album of the Day on Volume 1 & 2: Previously Unreleased Tracks


Pig Destroyer
Head Cage

Pig Destroyer know how to read a room. In 2018, a song called “Cheerleader Corpses” isn’t going to play the way it did in 2001. On Head Cage, the D.C. grind lifers eschew the Bukowskian serial killer diaries of the band’s back catalog in favor of leftist agitprop (“Army of Cops”), absurd humor (“The Adventures of Jason and JR”), and meditations on loss (“Mt. Skull”). Musically, it’s the grooviest, catchiest Pig Destroyer album to date, and a reminder that grindcore is a cousin of punk.

-Brad Sanders

Read our interview with Pig Destroyer.


Pink Siifu

Ensley mirrors a world characterized by hyper short news alerts and even shorter consumption cycles. The album’s 25 tracks mock the idea of attention span; Siifu’s songs fall in on themselves (“pops tired”), switch up vibe halfway through (“skin made of gold”), or take the form of 30-second vignettes consisting entirely of warped loops of Goodie Mob lyrics (“eye smile”). But throughout these constantly shifting backdrops, there’s a voice searching for a thoroughly old-fashioned salvation: guidance from a higher power. Ultimately, ensley is a hip-hop prayer.

-Philip Mlynar

Read our interview with Pink Siifu.


Armand Hammer

Paraffin is the sound of Billy Woods and ELUCID standing to the side of 2018’s scorched socio-political landscape and seething, “We told you so.” The MCs’ lyrics hit home hard, angry and rightfully distrustful of authority, summarized by Woods vowing, “Peace? Not this evening,” on the brooding “Alternate Side Parking.” Backed by production that balances dystopian experimentalism (“Rehearse With Ornette,” “Fuhrman Tapes”) with soulful requiems (“DETTOL,” “Root Farm”), the album is an openly politicized experience that’s either rallying cry or damning indictment—depending on which role you play in the system.

-Philip Mlynar

Read our feature on Backwoodz Studios.


Anna von Hausswolf
Dead Magic

The fourth album by Sweden’s Anna von Hausswolff grapples with mortality, but the music is far from morose. In fact, Dead Magic is possibly her most triumphant release to date, offering uplifting crescendos propelled by rising rhythms, swelling guitars, and von Hausswolff’s seemingly-unlimited vocal powers. It helps that von Hausswolf recorded the organ parts in one of the largest churches in Scandinavia, giving the album’s cathartic bombast and even more epic feel. But it’s not the tools von Hausswolf used that make Dead Magic so intoxicating; it’s the transfixing vision and unswerving commitment she brings to every note that she utters.

-Marc Masters

Read our interview with Anna von Hausswolf.


Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy

Usually when someone talks about the idea of separating the “art from the artist,” they—and we—would be much better off if they just kept their mouth shut. But on Twin Fantasy, Will Toledo tackles that question from an entirely different angle, specifically: where is the line that separates reality and autobiographical art, and what is the point at which the latter begins to replace the former? Over the course of 72 minutes, Toledo recounts a true-life doomed love affair, while simultaneously wrestling with the idea of making art out of his life, and what happens to the recollection of real-life events when they become knotted up in a creative narrative. In that context, all of Toledo’s justifiably vaunted fourth-wall-breaking and pop culture referencing takes on new significance—the artist commenting on the art while the art is still in progress. That’s only half the genius of Twin Fantasy, though; the other half is in Toledo’s unerring sense for melody and his ability to construct cannonballing rock songs with 28 different interlocking sections that never feel overworked or overcooked. Twin Fantasy is the kind of album that teaches you how to listen to it while you’re listening to it, a dense, dizzying rock record that’s two parts Baudrillard, two parts Badfinger.

-J. Edward Keyes

Read our Album of the Day on Twin Fantasy.


The Armed
Only Love

Chaos reigns supreme on The Armed‘s second album, pulling us into the Detroit band’s pummeling mix of mangled electronics, poison-tipped pop hooks, and idiosyncratic hardcore. It’s as if the poorly named but dearly missed Genghis Tron came back from the dead to deliver another Kurt Ballou production alongside guillotine-like guitars and the pyrotechnic fills of Converge drummer Ben Koller. Heady and unhinged, this is one to play as the world burns.

-Andrew Parks


Feeding Frenzy

In a Bandcamp interview a few months back, C.H.E.W. said their initial mission statement involved playing “Crass Records anarcho shit as fast as possible” and “weirdo Dead Kennedys stuff.” That sounds about right, although the powder keg punk on their debut album sharpens that template with an airtight mix, and welcome detours like the spoken word segue of “Gag Order” and the six-and-a-half-minute parting shot that is “Belly Up.”

-Andrew Parks

Read our interview with C.H.E.W.


Camp Cope
How to Socialise & Make Friends

There were more than a handful of moments in 2018 where it seemed like the patriarchy’s stronghold was starting to show cracks, and Australia’s Camp Cope was there with the battering ram on How to Socialise & Make Friends. The songs on the record jump from nostalgic, bittersweet ballads to catchy pop screeds against misogyny, making it one of the most dynamic records of the year. Catchy ‘90s jangle pop with a feminine punk edge, How to Socialise & Make Friends is irresistibly hopeful.

-Ally-Jane Grossan

Read our Album of the Day on How to Socialise and Make Friends.


renaissance man

Social media experts encourage artists to share their personal lives as much as they do their music—but 19-year-old rapper MIKE prefers to keep things hazy. Renaissance man feels like taking a peek into someone’s diary where half the words are faded and obscured: The texture is frayed and muddied, a beguiling sonic slush covering bars that combine smart wordplay with emotional confessionals, all of which are relayed in MIKE’s slurred voice. “I don’t really like attention, but I bring it around,” MIKE raps on “Time Will Tell,” grappling with the way his art—and life—is increasingly being watched by a wider audience.

-Philip Mlynar

Read our interview with MIKE.


Grid of Points

Grid of Points doesn’t quite stretch to 22 minutes, but Grouper mastermind Liz Harris decided that was long enough. She was right: anything more would have been too much. As it is, her 11th album feels like a loved one whispering goodbye. The seven tracks here are intimate and austere, even by Harris’s standards, and the way she layers quiet vocal harmonies over spare piano raises goosebumps. Harris’s distinctive vision and restrained approach have made Grouper one of the most compelling, if understated, acts in dream-pop and ambient music, a reputation that Grid of Points greatly enhances.

-Eric R. Danton

Read our Album of the Day on Grid of Points.

Best of 2018 Schedule:
December 10: #100 – 81
December 11: #80 – 61
December 12: #60 – 41

December 13: #40 – 21

December 14: #20 – 1

Indie Brew found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Editorial

Coldplay: Live in Buenos Aires


Though it includes some of the band’s least memorable songs, their latest live album makes a strong case for Coldplay as one of the 21st century’s most enduring arena acts.

Indie Brew found this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: Sam Sodomsky

The Best Albums of 2018: #60 – 41

Best60-41-1244-1Let’s be honest for a second: No one clicks on these lists for the introduction. I don’t blame them! This is usually just the place where some routine throat-clearing goes, before we get to the main event. It’s also the place where I confess to the amount of anxiety involved with putting together a list like this—last year, I said, “Right now, there’s probably someone in their bedroom in Buenos Aires, making a record on their computer that is going to end up on next year’s list. So as comprehensive as we’ve tried to make this list, we realize that, even at 100 albums, we’re only scratching the surface of what’s available.” Guess what? That’s still true in 2018. That said, the albums that made the cut, to us, represent the breadth and scope of the many worlds available to discover on Bandcamp, and feel like the best musical summation of the last 12 months. When we make this list, we’re not only trying to assess the year’s best music, we’re also trying to tell the story of 2018, album by album, song by song. As always, being a part of Bandcamp Daily in 2018 was a true joy; we took a look at Extratone, the world’s fastest musical genre, got familiar with the New Face of Death Metal, and spent time with artists like Yugen Blakrok, Suzanne Ciani, and Kamaal Williams. Once again, the world of music is bigger than any one list can possibly contain, so consider this a starting point on the neverending journey to discovering new sounds, new scenes, and new voices. Alright, that’s enough throat-clearing. Let’s get to the list.

—J. Edward Keyes, Editorial Director

Best of 2018 Schedule:
December 10: #100 – 81
December 11: #80 – 61

December 12: #60 – 41

December 13: #40 – 21

December 14: #20 – 1


Young Fathers
Cocoa Sugar

Raucous and groundbreaking, Young Fathers’ 2014 debut album Dead and sophomore follow-up White Men Are Black Too charged confidently into new sonic territories, the band challenging and provoking listeners with their experiences in our chaotic modern world. On Cocoa Sugar, Young Fathers slow down, letting the droning bass lines and lyrics about duality and contrast burn slowly instead of fully explode. But the cleaner production doesn’t hamper the group’s experimental dissonance; instead, it creates a sense of balance, for an experience that’s more immediately digestible, but is by no means easy listening.

-Ruth Jiang

Read our interview with Young Fathers.



Thou have always been overachievers. In just over a decade, the Louisiana sludge-metal quintet have amassed a bottomless cache of albums, EPs, splits, and one-off tracks across a variety of esteemed labels, each release more deathly beautiful than the last. Whereas past releases saw the outfit evoking surrealistic, Southern Gothic soundscapes, Magus is rooted in present dread. It’s basically a murky, mashable American Horror Story: driven by huge-ass riffs, illuminated by eloquent lyrics, and smeared with the freshly-spilled blood of modern tyrants. And so, Thou’s winning streak rolls on. Get behind ’em—or else get the fuck out of the way.

-Zoe Camp

Read our Album of the Day on Magus.


Helena Hauff

DJ and electronic producer Helena Hauff’s second LP, begins in a way that’s almost deceptively simple, with a fuzzed-out drum machine that clatters against empty air on “Barrow Boot Boys.” Soon, though, the song descends into breakneck acid house, lit up by strobing synthesizers and jackhammered by relentless percussion. And though portions of Qualm could easily fit under the “lo-fi house” tag, that shorthand does a disservice to the sophistication of Hauff’s sequences and melodies. Album centerpiece “The Smell of Suds and Steel” is an eight-minute bulldozer of a song, oscillating between meticulously arranged synth blips and woozy, drawn-out ribbons of sound. Few club songs are so energetic, or so cinematic.

-Jordan Reyes

Read our Artist of the Week feature on Helena Hauff.


Empress Of

On Lorely Rodriguez’s 2015 debut as Empress Of, Me, the young electro-pop singer, songwriter, and producer explored incredibly intimate territory, chronicling her anxieties, insecurities, and desires. On Us, she grows her world outward, covering romantic relationships both at their tender beginnings (“I Don’t Even Smoke Weed”) and in moments of conflict (“Trust Me Baby,” “Love for Me”), as well as the comfortable companionship of a good friendship (“Everything to Me,” featuring Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes). Rodriguez’s production skills and careful songwriting, more than evident on Me, have grown as well; every synth burble, every ticking beat, every delicate vocal melody seems impeccable in its placement. Us thrums with warmth, and loses none of Rodriguez’s singular style.

-Jes Skolnik

Read our Album of the Day on Us.


Various Artists
African Scream Contest Vol. 2

It’s been a decade since this series’ thrilling first release, but African Scream Contest Vol. 2: Benin 1963-1980 finally offers another stacked slice of Benin’s hugely underrated Afro-rock history. Similar to the scorching music being made in neighboring Nigeria at the time, the arrangements on Vol. 2 are full of blood-raw guitar lines, scintillating brass sections, danceable grooves, and soulful vocals. Hardly monotone, a song like Stanislas Tohon’s “Dja Dja Dja” reinvents the cha-cha in a Benin accent, while “Asaw Fofor,” by Ignace de Souza & The Melody Aces, is a slinking, jazz-influenced number that feels part French pop, part kitsch.

-Dean Van Nguyen

Read our feature on the making of African Scream Contest Vol. 2.


Con Todo El Mundo

Khruangbin’s music seems to exist in liminal space—you can try to pinpoint exactly what era a particular guitar picking technique might be from, what part of the world the percussion reminds you of, or what the lilting, muted gospel choruses are trying to evoke, but there will always be multiple answers to every question. Which is just one reason why their sophomore album, Con Todo El Mundo, demands repeated listens. It’s music that seems to transcend both geography and time. On Con Todo El Mundo, Khruangbin creates a world where the music of Afghanistan, Thailand, and India converge with Western genres like R&B, soul, and funk to create songs that are sultry, sublime, and therapeutic in equal measure. With their impeccable instrumentation and a heavy sense of atmosphere, Khruangbin create a window to a world that’s all their own, one that’s filled with wonder, magic, and love.

-Amaya Garcia

Read our interview with Khruangbin.


Kamal Keila
Habibi Funk 008: Muslims and Christians

Documenting the fruits of the flourishing Sudanese musical scene in the ’60s and ’70s—nearly lost to the anti-Afrocentric and pro-Arab aftereffects of the 1989 Islamic coup—Muslims and Christians is a showcase for Sudanese jazz and funk master Kamal Keila, who populates each song with blistering, bluesy guitar riffs and Arabic vocal melismas, surrounded by lilting Ethiopian horns, resulting in fierce grooves that channel both James Brown and Fela Kuti. The album’s 10 songs are split cleanly in two—five are performed in Arabic and five in English—but all of them veer markedly political, expressing a poignant—and timeless—plea for unity between people divided by political and religious beliefs.

-Catalina Maria Johnson

Read our feature on the making of Muslims & Christians.


Basa Basa

Ghanaian group Basa Basa got off to an auspicious start: their debut album was produced by Fela Kuti himself. But it was the group’s third album—an adventurous collaboration with producer Themba “T-fire” Matebese—that propelled them to cult status. 1979’s Homowo, reissued this year by the Vintage Voudou label, builds on Basa Basa’s rhythm-heavy sound with layers of ultra-modern keys and futuristic synths. The album’s eight tracks fuse traditional Ghanaian sounds and Afrobeat percussion with elements of disco and psychedelia, resulting in a heady, experimental, and incredibly forward-thinking record.

-Megan Iacobini de Fazio


The Midnight Hour
The Midnight Hour

The opening track to The Midnight Hour—an album-length collaboration between Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge—hews close to the duo’s work on the score for the Netflix show Luke Cage. Over the course of the song’s four minutes, Muhammad and Younge capably build a noir-y mood of drama and suspense. But as the album progresses, it becomes clear that their skills as composers goes beyond summoning any one specific era or mood. They encourage guest vocalists like Luther Vandross, Laetitia Sadier, and CeeLo Green to step well out of their comfort zone, tackling orchestral soul and post-bop jazz in revelatory ways. Arriving nearly 30 years after Ron Carter’s now-classic appearance on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Verses From the Abstract,” The Midnight Hour provides an example of how the crate-digging sensibilities of early hip-hop can still take on exciting new forms.

-Christina Lee

Read our interview with The Midnight Hour.



Guitarist Shelby Lermo made two very different albums this year. On Extremity’s Coffin Birth, he explored primitive Swedish death metal, his guitar downtuned and muffled by “underground” production. Ulthar’s Cosmovore, on the other hand, was a shotgun blast of black metal crossed with grimy death and crust. Backed by an avalanche of drums from Justin Ennis (ex-Tombs, ex-Mutilation Rites), Lermo and bassist Steve Peacock unleashed an absolute firestorm of riffs, never granting the listener a moment’s relief. Strap in.

-Phil Freeman


Jeremiah Jae

At first, the August release of Jeremiah Jae’s DAFFI seemed ill-timed. Jae’s bleak rhymes about blunt-addled insomnia, the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle of indie rap, and the potentially fatal ends of felonious activities are better suited to frigid grey winters than the end of the fourth hottest summer on record. Delivered in his slow-yet-slick flow, Jae’s rhymes perfectly complement the album’s lugubrious production. But despite its grim subject matter, Jae ends the album with songs of hope, like the breezy, determined “Rise.” In that light, the album’s timing was perfect: Jae was preparing us for the harsh winter to come, and also reminding us that, like the struggles he raps about, it too will end.

-Max Bell


Kamaal Williams
The Return

Upon its release, Kamaal Williams cautioned against considering The Return to be an extension of jazz-fusion he’d built as half of Yussef Kamaal (or even as jazz, or as anything other than “the London underground”). And while the music here, like most jazz, is fully improvised, Williams was right: The Return is better taken on its own terms, isolated from stylistic restrictions. The album is full of percolating dance grooves that bob and weave like a boxer, placed in conflict with gauzy, mesmerizing soundscapes that have a momentum of their own. It’s an album that demands you shelve your expectations, and simply dream along.

-Michael West

Read our interview with Kamaal Williams.


Mick Jenkins
Pieces of a Man

“With the logic of a Spock, if I retreat, I’m simply trying to prosper,” Mick Jenkins raps on “Ghost”; Pieces of a Man makes a good case for a bit of solitude for the sake of creativity. Against liquid, jazz-informed production by Black Milk, Kaytranada, and Badbadnotgood, Jenkins summons the spirit of Gil Scott-Heron, the lyrical rhythm of Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool,” and the prosperity gospel of Cardi B. In a musical landscape where hip-hop is a familiar sound, Jenkins has managed to build a world that’s all his own.

-Christina Lee


Zeal & Ardor
Stranger Fruit

Swiss-African-American frontman Manuel Gagneux created Zeal & Ardor in 2013, after asking strangers online to suggest genres for him to combine. The two he chose were black music and black metal. Two albums later, Gagneux remains fascinating not just for his unlikely juxtaposition of influences (Alan Lomax field recordings, Sam Cooke, Billie Holiday, Darkthrone, Satyricon, Erik Satie), but for the themes of racism, murder, oppression, and extremism he weaves throughout his songs. In an era of mistrust, lies, and hate, Stranger Fruit presents a grim but inspiring scenario in which the underclass turn to Satan for salvation.

-Jon Wiederhorn

Read our interview with Zeal & Ardor.


Haley Heynderickx
I Need to Start a Garden

It took Portland, Oregon’s Haley Heynderickx three tries to make the debut album she wanted, but her hard work paid off a thousand times over. I Need to Start a Garden is a light and graceful folk-rock record that celebrates finding beauty in the small, organic details of the world. Heynderickx’s gentle insistence on examining these tiny elements up close is a reminder of the joy that can be found in taking life slow, and in honoring your connections with the earth and with fellow humans.

-Allison Hussey

Read our interview with Haley Heynderickx.



When we spoke with Swarvy’s collaborators for our Artist of the Week feature, each MC used the same word to describe him: “genius.” On Anti-Anxiety, Swarvy spends 18 tracks living up to that praise. And while the drums bounce from beat-scene skirmishes to jazz-inflected boom-bap, Swarvy’s most impressive skill is his ear for melody, vaulting the album’s songs from exciting exercises to infectious earworms. It’s a rare feat—something some might even call a work of genius.

-Will Schube

Read our Artist of the Week feature on Swarvy.


Koenji Hyakkei

One of the most remarkable things about Dhorimviskha is that it almost wasn’t released. The fruits of a crowdfunding campaign, Koenji Hyakkei’s fifth album finds the avant-prog/zeuhl band in imperious form, as repaying their donors with a bizarre alien opera full of instrumental pyrotechnics and spiraling jazz. Yet as dizzyingly incomprehensible as raves like “VREZTEMTRAIV” seemed when the record was released in July, repeated listens revealed a calculatingly precise logic behind each and every mad progression, giving the band’s colorful music a sense of arresting inevitability.

-Simon Chandler


Woolen Men

Woolen Men’s latest album, Post, is a work of post-punk precision; take the tense rhythmic spine of “Brick Horizon,” for example, or the crisp-pleated guitar riffs that drive “Twin Flames.” But while those snapped-to-grid songs give the album structure, it’s the scattered moments of looseness that give it spirit: the sea-shanty strum of “The Movie Goer,” for example, or the way on “Hollow World,” singer/drummer Rafael Spielman’s pronunciation of “hollow” can also be heard as “hello.” Those tiny tricks of the ear give the album thematic and emotional ambiguity, a bit of soft focus on an album that’s sharp and airtight.

-Annie Zaleski

Read our Artist of the Week feature on Woolen Men.


No News is Good News

We let rock stars cook well into their 60s and 70s, but the moment your favorite MC sprouts a gray hair or two, the public throws dirt on their career. On No News Is Good News, Phonte bucked the notion that rappers can’t age gracefully. He talked about growing older and the importance of mental and physical health. On the battle-ready “So Help Me God,” Phonte spit bars for the rap heads. Then on “Expensive Genes,” he talks about the challenges of aging as a black man. Phonte gives us all the game we need, and some we didn’t even realize was necessary. His messages resonate, no matter how old you are.

-Marcus J. Moore

Read our guide to the music of The Foreign Exchange.


Let’s Eat Grandma
I’m All Ears

For the teenaged sludge-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma, the world is a flawed but hopeful place. On I’m All Ears, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth eschew the irony poisoning of the previous generation, opting instead for either sincerity or snarling disdain. When Walton and Hollingworth tackle outdated gender norms on the churning “Hot Pink,” it’s a battle cry for a better future. When they coo the words “you got this,” on “It’s Not Just Me,” it’s a tender reminder that that building the future will be a collaborative effort.

-Ed Blair

Read our interview with Let’s Eat Grandma.

Best of 2018 Schedule:
December 10: #100 – 81
December 11: #80 – 61

December 12: #60 – 41

December 13: #40 – 21

December 14: #20 – 1

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Editorial

Chic: The Chic Organization 1977-1979


The latest in a long line of box sets and anthologies collects the pioneering disco duo’s core albums. Despite the songs’ deep familiarity, they still represent pop at its most triumphant and complex.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Andy Beta

It Looks Sad.: Sky Lake


Fleshing out its classic indie-rock sound with synths, Auto-Tune, and other hazy production touches, the North Carolina duo searches for dream-pop atmospheres in the muggy Florida landscape.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Ian Cohen

Album of the Day: Jeff Tweedy, “WARM”


Wilco may have set a high water mark for experimental Americana with 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and 2004’s A Ghost is Born, but frontman Jeff Tweedy has spent the intervening years slowly inching away from the abstract and obtuse elements of those LPs, in favor of more direct and explicit songwriting. WARM, his first album under his own name, marks the exceptional culmination of that approach. Written in the wake of his father’s passing, and as Tweedy enters his 50s, these deeply intimate and skeletal songs consider what it means to remain in the present, what it means to be a link in a family chain, and what it means to appreciate the joys of life even as darkness threatens to swallow us whole.

Rarely has Tweedy conveyed so much emotion with such sparse arrangements. On standout track “How Hard It is for a Desert to Die,” each vivid note of his acoustic guitar carries remarkable emotional heft. On opening track “Bombs Above,” he recounts his battle with opioid addiction in a near-whisper—“I’m taking a moment to apologize,” he sings—backed by knotted guitars and his elder son, Spencer, gently thumping the drums. Even “Let’s Go Rain,” a major-key jangle and the album’s most accessible track, utilizes its sunny melody as a foil for an allegory of total destruction, and the deception makes it all the more chilling.

On “War on War,” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy proclaimed, with then-typical abstraction, that “You have to learn how to die / If you want to want to be alive.” Throughout WARM, he conveys his gratitude for that life with a clarity and solemnity that, finally, brings that sentiment into sharp focus. “I don’t believe in heaven,” he sings on the album’s title track. For Tweedy, heaven, and hell, are right here on earth.

-Max Savage Levenson

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Editorial

Blake Mills: Look


The rising producer has made records with John Legend and Perfume Genius. On his new instrumental record, he expresses exquisite vulnerability at the intersection of ambient and modern classical.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Grayson Haver Currin

The Diverse Disco DNA of French Label Favorite Recordings

Favorite Recordings

By summer 1979, Chicago DJ Steve Dahl’s pro-rock army—mostly young, straight, white men—had had enough of disco. Disco—the ebullient, throbbing form of dance music born in black, Latino, and Italian clubs in Philadelphia that came of age in members-only gay dance parties in New York—had strutted its way to widespread ubiquity thanks to John Travolta and the Bee Gees—not to mention four-on-the-floor innovators like Chic, Gloria Gaynor, and Barry White.

Dahl’s “anti-disco army” called Insane Coho Lips—which boasted 7,000 members, according to The Washington Post—spent much of 1979 carrying out their crusade: thousands of them mobbed a club that changed from rock to disco in June, they cornered a disco promotional van in a parking lot later that month, and it took 50 police officers to stop hundreds of “Cohos” from rioting when they couldn’t get into a sold-out promotional event. And then on July 12, Dahl drove a Jeep onto the field at Comiskey Park in front of 50,000 fans, and detonated a six by four foot box of disco records. Fans rushed the field. The damage was so bad that the Chicago White Sox had to forfeit their baseball game. By the end of the next month, there wasn’t a single disco song in the Billboard Top 10. Disco was thought to be dead.

At least in America, that is. As the disco backlash gobbled up record sales and radio play in the States, the genre thrived in Europe. ABBA sold 400 million records worldwide, and Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk provided disco with a positive critical imprimatur that American disco mostly lacked. “It wasn’t a clash like in the U.S.,” says Pascal Rioux, founder of the Paris-based Favorite Recordings. It wasn’t a political statement either: “[In France,] it was to make money firstly.”

Favorite’s catalog runs the gamut—from reggae to Brazilian soul to hip-hop, but much of it finds its DNA in the pulsing rhythms of disco. (Indeed, Favorite singles come emblazoned with an all caps tag that reads “DISCO” in case you had any doubt.) Rioux ran the deep-house label Disques Rotax from 1997 to 2006—and released a smattering of house singles of his own, many in collaboration with soul combo Mr. Day.

But in 2006, Rioux made a contact that inspired him to change directions: producer/keyboardist Ron Foster had heard Rioux and Mr. Day’s cover of Lee McDonald’s “Gotta Get Home” on the Park Hyatt Tokyo Airflow compilation that the hotel had released to capitalize on the success of Lost in Translation (the hotel was featured prominently in the film). Rioux wanted to reissue McDonald’s cover of The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” but Foster—who had produced the song and still had the master tapes—was reluctant to hand over the masters to someone he’d never met.

So Rioux flew to New York, took a train to Philadelphia, and met Foster himself at the station. Rioux’s visit coincided with that year’s Soul Patrol convention in Philadelphia, where Foster introduced him to several forgotten Philly soul luminaries—including singer Barbara Mayson, soul group Mandrill, and Gene Chandler, a favorite of collectors who specialize in esoteric soul sides. “I was like in a candy store,” Rioux says with a big grin. Rioux flew back to France with the masters—and an origin story for his new record label—in tow.

Rioux continued the shoe-leather approach when it came to getting Favorite’s records in stores: he loaded up his van with all the records he could fit and took the ferry from Calais to Dover.

He visited record stores in Brighton, London, and Manchester—some of which he’d visited as a collector in his early 20s and which still served as the best marketplace for classic soul sides—and sold his new label’s wares out of the back of the van. “I was doing the invoices by hand,” he recalls. “Everything was old-school.”

Asked about the importance of labels like Favorite—whose roster reflects the reality of a multi-ethnic modern France in the age of Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, Rioux demurs. He grew up hating Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie—“a fucking fascist,” according to him—but Rioux’s M.O. is less political than musical. The provenance of Favorite’s artists—past and present—spans the globe, from a Lyon soul chanteuse with Burkinabese/Senegalese roots, to a modern post-bossa nova composer based in Rio, all the way back in time to a forgotten early ‘80s gospel disco pioneer in Los Angeles.

But Rioux gets less excited about his label’s role as a corrective to the rising nationalist tide than he does about, say, the ‘70s analog sound he wants for his records—go-to producer Bruno “Patchworks” Hovart deserves much of the credit for capturing the organic, lived-in sound that Rioux is looking for. This is the music that Rioux fell in love with as a kid, that he discovered on day trips to London and Brighton while digging through the crates at Mr. Bongo.

But regardless of Rioux’s intent, the impact of labels like Favorite is vital. Favorite helps to correct the historical record, to remind us that disco isn’t a dark spot in American music. It informs house, hip-hop, the early electro of Prince, the post-modern dance euphoria of LCD Soundsystem, and the wayfaring boogie revival of Dâm-Funk. Favorite envisions a kind of alternate history, where Steve Dahl never played militia dress-up, where disco was never demolished. Here are the label’s essential records.

Lee McDonald
Sweet Magic

The record that started it all. Actually, it was a single of “We’ve Only Just Begun,” but you’ll find that here. The soaring melodies and singalong soul of Sweet Magic stands as a riposte to anyone who refuses to hear the link between Motown and disco. McDonald’s band is tight and inventive—the extraplanetary sax solo on “Show Me” is a highlight—but this is McDonald’s show: he’s defensive but heartfelt on “Gotta Get Home,” he yearns for a return to the simplicity of childhood on “Let’s Play Luck,” and he’s endearingly, pathetically desperate on “I’ll Do Anything for You.” McDonald has the same kind of shouty braggadocio that made superstars of Levi Stubbs and David Ruffin. If music were a meritocracy, he would’ve been as famous as they were. Alas.

Des Promesses

More than anything, Pan-African disco pop project Voilaaa—with three a’s—is a showcase for the talents of in-house producer Bruno “Patchworks” Hovart. 2015’s On te l’avait dit is uniformly strong, but last year’s Des Promesses feels even more locked-in. Pascal Rioux’s glowing endorsements of Hovart seem like hyperbole until you hear how much this guy can do; just check the diabolically tight horns on “Pour la vie.” The bass-and-wah pedal spy movie soundtrack of “Mbele” has a sound throughout that is organic and unfussy. You can hear immediately why Rioux found the perfect man to lead his analog revolution in Hovart.

Byrne & Barnes
An Eye For An Eye

On Eye for An Eye, Byrne & Barnes’ tight ensemble metes out exquisitely controlled grooves in the tradition of c’caine lovers Steely Dan and the cool-because-Thundercat-said-so Doobie Brothers. The poolside bounce of “Never Gonna Stop Lovin’ You” could be an outtake from Minute by Minute. The lothario lilt on “One More Try for Love” would make a perfect soundtrack for giving your mistress a cubic zirconia promise ring. A forgotten West Coast/AOR classic—originally released only in Japan!

Various Artists
French Disco Boogie Sounds, Vol. 1 (1975-1984)

The French Disco Boogie Sounds series is the sound of the best party you can’t believe you got invited to. All three are excellent—the third one, out this year, might actually be the best—but you always remember your first: Vol. 1 starts the night off with the frenetic Afro-disco of Beckie Bell’s “Music Madness,” rises to a thrilling crescendo with Toulouse’s ecaststic shout along “C’est toujour comme ça l’amour,” and eases you into the end of the evening with Le Club’s slinky “Un fait divers et rien de plus,” which sounds like it was written to soundtrack an ’80s heist movie.

Various Artists
Brazilian Disco Boogie Sounds, Vol. 1 (1978-1982)

Júnior Santos—a drummer turned crate-digger based in Rio—aims to recapture the ecstasy of the height of Brazil’s samba rock movement in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Samba rock—much like American disco—started small, at block parties in the favelas of São Paulo. Pioneers like Jorge Ben eschewed the European restraint of bossa nova in favor of black American styles like funk and soul.

It was a virtual inevitability that samba would eventually unite with its spiritual brother to the north. Brazilian Disco Boogie Sounds, Vol. 1 transports us back to those halcyon days, when samba groove and disco melodrama made for utopia on the dancefloor. Cristina Camargo’s furiously insistent “Moral Tem Hora,” Carlos Dafé’s blaxpoitation soul scorcher “Escorpião,” and Rabo De Saia’s triumphant anthem “Ripa Na Xulipa” would burn up dancefloors as effectively today as they did when they were released.

Pat Kalla

Favorite’s latest release is a dark horse album of the year contender. Pat Kalla, a Lyon native born to a Cameroonian father and a French mother, cut his teeth as a member of the Voilaaa family—his tracks are some of the best on the aforementioned Des Promesses. But his debut LP heralds the emergence of a truly monstrous talent. Jongler modulates between at least half a dozen genres of African music—including Ghanese high-life, Angolan Semba, and Cameroonian makossa—but Kalla’s voice never gets lost in the fray. Here, he sings, barks, and raps with equal agility.

The lo-fi lope of “Laissez-moi danser”—which recalls the brutalist ballads of Angolan singer Bonga, the most successful Semba artist of all time—and the rumba rave-up of “Jongler (mathématiques)” are two standouts, but there are few fallow periods on these 12 songs. Pat Kalla emerges fully formed.

-Jordan Ryan Pedersen

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