category: Music Year in Review

2015 Music Year in Review

(So, um, yeah. I’m a little late with this. I never quite finished it up last year, but I need to get it out there before this year’s end-of-year wrap-up sneaks up on me. I never quite finished all my commentary, but I figured it was time to just post it and I’ll fill it in later… someday.)

Since 2007, I’ve posted a year-end music wrap up that serves mainly as a reference for myself and a few other folks that like to see what I enjoyed (I wish more friends would do the same). I try to stick to new music, no re-releases. Here is this year’s.

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order. (Note: My general rule of thumb is to try and link to the album at the location the artist will get the most money (Bandcamp, their label’s site), but there are still a few Amazon mp3 store links in there (and they’re affiliate links).

(See also: all previous years-in-review.)

Best of 2015

  • Abstract Rude: Keep the Feel: A Legacy of Hip-Hop Soul
    Solid grown-ass man hip-hop. “The Solution” with Brother Ali and Slug is excellent, as is “I Lived in a Time.” There are several massive posse cuts, large enough to be well beyond what you normally see in 2015.
  • Alborosie Meets King Jammy: Dub of Thrones
  • Aphex Twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP
  • Barrington Levy: Acousticalevy
    Barrington sounds as good as he ever has, his voice indistinguishable from his prime in the 70s and 80s. Occasionally the songs go a touch long and of course I cringed hearing autotune on “Times Hard” and “Only You” but otherwise: what an album. Deserved the Grammy nomination it received. (And thankfully, he seems to be on the mend after contracting Dengue Fever midway through the year.)
  • billy woods: Today, I Wrote Nothing
  • Chłopcy Kontra Basia: O
    This Polish future-folk was my favorite find of the year.
  • Dokkerman & the Turkeying Fellaz: Illegal Move
  • Fabiano do Nascimento: Dança dos Tempos
  • Guilty Simpson: Detroit’s Son
  • Ibeyi: Ibeyi
    An early-year contender for album of the year, the French-Cuban musical twin sisters create a ghostly masterpiece of minimalist soul. Beautiful.
  • Josa Peit: Constellation EP
    One of my favorite vocalists dropped this abstract gem of an EP this year. Hoping she’s at work on a full-length LP for 2016.
  • Kamasi Washington: The Epic
    The appropriately titled hours-long jazz project that goes from spiritual to free to funky and sounds solid no matter the subgenre. I love that music like this is still being made.
  • L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae: The Night Took Us In Like Family
  • Myka 9 & Factor: Famous Future Time Travel
  • DJ Ragz: Seasoned Bee Shark Steaks
    My mellow my man with his first solo release. Dope beats, dope guests, and, of course, plenty of zigga-ziggas.
  • Sadat X: Never Left
    Out of all the emcees that have been around since the 80s, Sadat’s got to be one of the most continually active of them. He does guest spots everywhere and still drops frequent solo albums. Never Left was an early year dose of classic hip-hop from one of the best and most distinctively unique voices hip-hop’s known. Super solid pairings with the UMC’s (both of them!!) and Dres from Black Sheep.
  • Scarface: Deeply Rooted
    30 years into the game and Face still puts out some of the most engaging solo albums out there. A solid listen from start to finish with no filler.
  • DJ Spooky & The Kronos Quartet: Rebirth of a Nation
  • Supastition: Gold Standard

Almost Best of 2015

  • AKD & Deepstar: Universal Language
    Darkish late-90s steez in this London/Australia long-distance collabo.
  • B. Dolan: Kill the Wolf
  • Curtis Fuller: The Good and the Ugly
  • eMC: The Tonite Show
  • Indigo Girls: One Lost Day
  • Joey Bada$$: B4.DA.$$
  • John Carpenter: Lost Themes
  • Natalia Lafourcade: Hasta La Raíz
  • Red Pill: Look What This World Did To Us
  • Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love
  • Zarelli: Soft Rains

Best of 2014 I missed until 2015

  • Anna Webber: Simple [released 2014?]
  • Otis Brown III: The Thought of You
  • R.esistance in Dub Meets Mad Professor: R.EChONSTRUCTION

My Daughter’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My daughter, now nine, has shifted into full pop gear. Which is fine because every so often she’ll obsess over something awesome like the original “Sweet Dreams.”

  • Adam Lambert: "Ghost Town"
  • Adele: "Hello"
  • Alicia Keys: "Girl on Fire"
  • Andy Grammer: "Honey, I'm Good."
  • The Black Eyed Peas: "I Gotta Feeling"
  • Boom Masters: "It's Always a Good Time"
  • Bruno Mars: "Locked Out Of Heaven"
  • Charli XCX: "Boom Clap"
  • DJ Snake, Lil Jon: "Turn Down for What"
  • Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart, Mitchell Hope, Sarah Jeffrey, Jeff Lewis: "Set it Off"
  • Ed Sheeran: "Thinking Out Loud"
  • Ed Sheeran: "The A Team"
  • Eurythmics: "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"
  • Flo Rida: "Whistle"
  • I U 1 D C: "Im The Man"
  • Iggy Azalea, Charli XCX: "Fancy"
  • Imagine Dragons: "Demons"
  • Imagine Dragons: "I Bet My Life"
  • Imagine Dragons: "Warriors"
  • Ingrid Michaelson: "Girls Chase Boys"
  • James Bay: "Hold Back The River"
  • John Legend: "All of Me"
  • John Powell: "Coming Back Around"
  • John Powell: "Dragon Racing"
  • Juice Music: "YMCA"
  • Katy Perry: "Roar"
  • Katy Perry, Juicy J: "Dark Horse"
  • Kelly Clarkson, John Legend: "Run Run Run"
  • KONGOS: "Come with Me Now"
  • Kuana Torres Kahele, Napua Greig, James Ford Murphy: "Lava"
  • Lorde: "Royals"
  • Lorde: "Royals"
  • MAGIC!: "Rude"
  • Mario Bischin: "Macarena"
  • Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars: "Uptown Funk"
  • Maroon 5: "One More Night"
  • Maroon 5: "Sugar"
  • Maroon 5: "Maps"
  • Maroon 5: "Animals"
  • Maroon 5: "Sugar"
  • Michael Brun, Roy English: "Tongue Tied July"
  • Miley Cyrus: "Wrecking Ball"
  • OMI: "Cheerleader – Felix Jaehn Remix Radio Edit"
  • OMI: "Cheerleader – Felix Jaehn Remix Radio Edit"
  • One Direction: "Drag Me Down"
  • One Direction: "Story of My Life"
  • OneRepublic: "Counting Stars"
  • ortoPilot: "Sweet Dreams"
  • Owl City: "Shooting Star"
  • Owl City: "Fireflies"
  • Passenger: "Let Her Go"
  • Passenger: "Let Her Go"
  • PSY: "Gangnam Style (강남스타일)"
  • R. City, Adam Levine: "Locked Away"
  • Rachel Platten: "Fight Song"
  • Sam Smith: "Stay With Me"
  • Sam Smith: "I'm Not The Only One"
  • Say Hey to Single Life: "Geronimo"
  • Shawn Mendes: "Stitches"
  • Silentó: "Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae)"
  • Soul Marathon: "Radio Active"
  • Survivor: "Eye of the Tiger"
  • Vance Joy: "Riptide"
  • Vance Joy: "Riptide"
  • WALK THE MOON: "Shut Up and Dance"
  • The Wanted: "Glad You Came"

My Son’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My son is three-and-a-half and this year started developing some favorite songs, so it’s time for him to get his own section.

  • The Emotions: “I Like It”
  • Natalia Lafourcade: “Hasta la Raíz”

Best Tracks of 2015

Here’s my list of favorite tracks of the year, along with a Spotify playlist of as many are available there. (Songs not available in the playlist are denoted with a * and a link is provided.)

Note that while the list below is sorted alphabetically, the Spotify playlist has been carefully organized to provide the Optimal, Cohesive Listening ExperienceTM.

  • A Place To Bury Strangers: “I’m so Clean”
  • A-F-R-O: “Definition Of A Rap Flow”
  • Abstract Rude: “The Solution (feat. Slug, Brother Ali)”
  • Aceyalone: “Ring Ding”
  • Afrobeat Orchestra: “Let It Flow Warsaw”
  • Alborosie: “Dub The Seven Kingdoms”
  • Anushka: “Kendrick (Too Hot Outside Edit)”
  • Ape the Grim: “Swipe da Funk (feat. Statik Selektah, Mr. Lif & Nabo Rawk)”
  • Apollo Brown: “Brass Tacks (feat. Chino XL & Finale)”
  • Atmosphere: “This Lonely Rose (feat. Blueprint & Aesop Rock)”
  • B. Dolan: “Stay Inspired”
  • Barrington Levy: “Here I Come”
  • billy woods: “Born Yesterday”
  • Blackalicious: “Blacka”
  • Brock Berrigan: “The Preacher”
  • Camp Lo: “Award Winning”
  • Cannibal Ox: “Blade: The Art of Ox (feat. Artifacts & U-God)”
  • Cassandra Wilson: “Good Morning Heartache”
  • Cattle Decapitation: “Mammals in Babylon”
  • Chłopcy Kontra Basia: “O Dziwożonie Zielarce”
  • Chill Rob G.: “Tell ’em (feat. R.A. the Rugged Man)”
  • Cicala Mvta: “Hi No Naka No Hi”
  • Claudio Simonetti: “Demon (Reprise) (Remixed by Leæther Strip)”
  • Congo Natty: “Jungle Is I and I (Hylu and Jago Future Dub Mix)”
  • Curtis Fuller: “Lyriste”
  • CZARFACE: “Sinister (Revenge of Yorgo Remix)”
  • D.Stroy: “Bravo (feat. Miri Ben-Ari & Clinton Sparks)”
  • Dizz1: “Mystify My Eye”
  • DJ EFN: “When I’m Dead”
  • DJ Krush: “Strange Light”
  • DJ Ragz: “Va Connect (feat. Tef Wesley, Mudd, Unown DC & Grussle)”
  • DJ Spooky: “Rebirth of a Nation: The Most Dangerous Woman in America”
  • Dokkerman & the Turkeying Fellaz: “La Casa En Llamas”
  • Duran Duran: “Pressure Off (feat. Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers)”
  • Dynas: “Who U?”
  • EMC: “The Monologue”
  • Erick Sermon: “Clutch”
  • Erykah Badu: “Dial’Afreaq”
  • Fashawn: “Confess”
  • Finale: “The Revival (feat. Invincible & Pierre Anthony)”
  • Fumaça Preta: “Apelo”
  • Georgia Anne Muldrow: “Ankles”
  • Ghostface Killah: “Death’s Invitation (feat. Scarub, Lyrics Born & Chino XL)”
  • Growbox: “O Tym Samym”
  • Guilty Simpson: “Radiation Burn”
  • GZA: “The Mexican”
  • Ibeyi: “River”
  • Illa J: “Perfect Game”
  • Indigo Girls: “Happy In The Sorrow Key”
  • J-Live: “Feel This”
  • Joey Bada$$: “Belly of the Beast (feat. Chronixx)”
  • John Brown’s Body: “Worldwide Dub (Mixed by Dubfader of 10 Ft. Ganja Plant)”
  • John Carpenter: “Night”
  • José James: “Strange Fruit”
  • Josa Peit: “Constellation”
  • Jr Thomas & The Volcanos: “Bumps In The Night”
  • JWP/BC: “Szaman”
  • Kamasi Washington: “Final Thought”
  • Kendrick Lamar: “How Much A Dollar Cost”
  • Kenn Starr: “Exodus (feat. Boog Brown)”
  • Kill Emil: “Out Of Town”
  • L’Orange: “Underworld”
  • Linda Oh: “Deeper Than Sad (feat. Dayna Stephens, Fabian Almazan, Rudy Royston & Jen Shyu)”
  • Mad Professor: “Cork Ball Dub”
  • Madchild: “Murder Mouth”
  • Maticulous: “The Same Way”
  • Meerenai Shim: “60.8% for bass flute and electronics” *
  • Method Man: “The Purple Tape (feat. Raekwon, Inspectah Deck)”
  • Milo: “Zen Scientist (feat. Myka 9)”
  • Mother Mother: “Get Out The Way”
  • Naru: “Heard Akua”
  • Natalia Lafourcade: “Hasta la Raíz”
  • New Kingston: “Conquer Dem (feat. Sister Carol)”
  • NTS: “Os Outros”
  • O.S.T.R.: “Ja Ty My Wy Oni feat. Sacha Vee”
  • Opio: “Tu Sabes”
  • PRhyme: “Wishin’ II (feat. Black Thought)”
  • Protoje: “Who Knows (feat. Chronixx)”
  • Quantic: “A New Constellation”
  • Red Pill: “Rap Game Cranky”
  • Redman: “Beastin’ (MCA)”
  • Run The Jewels: “Lie, Cheat, Meow (Prince Paul Remix)”
  • Sadat X: “Joe Frazier (feat. The UMC’s)”
  • Scarface: “Rooted (feat. Papa Reu)”
  • Scratch Bandits Crew: “Blank”
  • Sean Price: “Ni**erific”
  • Shawn Lov: “#FOH (feat. Pace Won)” *
  • Sleater-Kinney: “No Cities To Love”
  • Star Dexter Story: “Merkato”
  • STS: “Doin’ It Right”
  • Supastition: “Know My Worth”
  • SuperStefu: “Seksikkäin”
  • Talib Kweli: “Every Ghetto (feat. Rapsody)”
  • Tame One: “Hey DJ”
  • Tech N9ne: “Aw Yeah (Intervention)”
  • Tef Wesley: “Gametime”
  • Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: “Nobody Dies”
  • The Greg Foat Group: “The Eye of Horus”
  • The Polish Ambassador: “Crowd Control”
  • The Skints: “This Town (feat. Tippa Irie & Horseman)”
  • The Souljazz Orchestra: “Life Is What You Make It”
  • The Vaccines: “Dream Lover”
  • Your Old Droog: “Homicide”
  • Zarelli: “The Children’s Hour (feat. Leonard Nimoy)”
  • Zion I: “Lost In Translation”

My Top 15 Scrobbled Artists for 2015

1. Damu The Fudgemunk (85 plays)
2. Archie Shepp (83 plays)
3. Shawn Lov (68 plays)
4. Public Enemy (66 plays)
5. Lyrical Prophets (65 plays)
6. Dorothy Ashby (64 plays)
7. Rahsaan Roland Kirk (62 plays)
8. King Tubby (61 plays)
Charles Mingus (61 plays)
Half Pint (61 plays)
9. Ornette Coleman (60 plays)
10. Big Daddy Kane (57 plays)
11. Ibeyi (55 plays)
12. Eric Hofbauer (55 plays)
Common (55 plays)
Wayne Jarrett (55 plays)
Anitek (55 plays)
13. Ultramagnetic MC’s (53 plays)
J Dilla (53 plays)
Dennis Brown (53 plays)
14. Oddisee (52 plays)
15. Freddie Foxxx (50 plays)
Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet (50 plays)

Other Stats

Total tracks: 15142
Total unique tracks: 13309
Song Repetition: 1.14

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2014 Music Year in Review

Since 2007, I’ve posted a year-end music wrap up that serves mainly as a reference for myself and a few other folks that like to see what I enjoyed (I wish more friends would do the same). I try to stick to new music, no re-releases (well, one compilation album snuck in this year). Here is this year’s.

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order. (Note: My general rule of thumb is to try and link to the album at the location the artist will get the most money (Bandcamp, their label’s site), but there are still a few Amazon mp3 store links in there (and they’re affiliate links).

(See also: all previous years-in-review.)

Best of 2014

  • Amerigo Gazaway: Yasiin Gaye: The Departure and The Return
    When mash-ups were popular a few years back, you’d occasionally get some mildly interesting pairings, like King Tubby & Wu-Tang but for the most part, they were lazy remixes with little creativity and thought. But Amerigo Gazaway took the mash-up to a whole new level, a level on-par with the best remixes, with The Departure and The Return, where he pairs Mos Def and Marvin Gaye.
  • Babymetal: Babymetal
    On paper, there is no reason that teenaged girls singing J-Pop tunes over speed metal (and occasionally reggae, hip-hop, and electronica) should work, BUT IT DOES. This was my 2 1/2-year-old son’s favorite album of the year and it’s one of mine, too. There’s no denying that since they play the bizarre genre mash-up straight rather than as a gimmick, that’s why it plays so well. They’ve shot a bunch of great videos, too, including Gimmie Chocolate and Headbangya.
  • Busdriver: Perfect Hair
    I miss rappers being unafraid to sound weird, say anything, and turn away purist hip-hop fans. Busdriver’s that dude. Love “Eat Rich” & “Ego Death (feat. Aesop Rock & Danny Brown).”
  • Castle & Has-Lo: Return of the Gasface
    It’s pretty rare that I closely check for the lyrics and the production on any given hip-hop album, but Return of the Gasface delivers that pay-attention, thoughtful, lyrical hip-hop I love and well-matched soulful, jazzy beats.
  • D’Angelo & The Vanguard: Black Messiah
    A late, somewhat surprise entry from the dude that hasn’t released an album in 15 years. Great variety with lots of funknsoul.
  • Divine Styler: Def Mask
    I’ve been a Styler devotee since 1989 and over the years he’s released some of the most innovative, non-trend-following hip-hop of anyone. It’s been 15 years since his last album (which was amazing) and he picks up where he left off: futuristic funk with bass that will shudder your eardrums and flows for days. Twenty-five years after his debut as part of the Rhyme Syndicate, he’s still an enigma… and I love that.
  • Hollie Cook: Twice
    Recommended to me by Herbivore Josh. Reminds me of a young Sade over reggae riddims. Her mom was in Culture Club and her dad was Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. And… and! Her godfather is Boy George!
  • Joshua Redman: Trios Live
    In high school when I was first discovering jazz, I was a big Joshua Redman fan. Got a chance to meet him in 2001 and compliment his circular breathing. But over the last decade, I was basically clueless about what he was doing. Thankfully, I checked into Trios Live and was super pleased to hear Redman in a different role than I was used to hearing him: more intense, experimental, and even more awesome. I mean, c’mon, he even gave the nearly 90-year-old “Mack the Knife” some new life!
  • Kalbata & Mixmonster: Congo Beat the Drum
    Dark, heavy roots and conscious dancehall. The title track will blow your car windows out.
  • Kavita Shah: Visions
    Perhaps the year’s most beautiful album.
  • Khun Narin: Khun Narin’s Electric Phin Band
    Modern Thai psych rock (well, technically, “phin prayuk”) with that rare combination of a great backstory and incredible music recorded live “in a field outside the city of Lom Sak, in the valley of mountains that form a rough border between Thailand’s North and Northeast.”
  • Lee “Scratch” Perry: Back on the Controls
    It is so nice to hear a Lee Perry album worthy of his Black Ark era productions by recreating the signal chain using original equipment and configurations and then letting Scratch loose on the dub.
  • MindsOne & Kev Brown: Pillars
    I love me some Kev Brown beats and MindsOne just fits with him… it’s one of those pairings that works perfectly (“Manipulated” feels like a classic Jeru/Primo collabo or Dilated, depending on your coast).
  • Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens: Cold World
    Shelton is somewhere around 70-years-old and still belts it out like a champion. Love her soul, love her voice.
  • The 1978ers (yU & Slimkat): People of Today
    DMV represent. Love “One Nine 7 T 8” and “P.O.T. Act II.”
  • O.S.T.R. & Marco Polo: Kartagina
    If you followed this series over the years, you know I love me some O.S.T.R. He’s an old school hip-hop head in Poland that’s not only a great MC (well, he’s got a great voice — I don’t speak Polish, so I have no clue if he’s actually a good lyricist), he’s a killer producer. Teaming up here with Marco Polo, O.S.T.R. strictly plays the MC role. Solid through and through. “What is the Question?” will surely stick in your head for days.
  • Pharoahe Monch: PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
    It’s hard to overstate how important Monch has been in hip-hop, consistently pushing boundaries and telling the stories few others are telling. On top of that, he’s still got bars every bit as fire as what he was spitting over 20 years ago. Don’t miss his appearance on the “Bullseye” podcast, either. Great interview (the part with Huey Lewis is worth listening to, as well).
  • DJ QBert: Extraterrestria and GalaXXXian
    Exactly what I wanted from a 2014 QBert album: heavy thud rumbles and vicious cuts that show why this dude is still the best in the world on the decks. Even better: he released two albums (one focused on turntablism, one on teaming up with MCs — or one from space and one from earth, if you prefer)!
  • Quantic: Magnetica
    If you’ve liked Quantic’s earlier work, you’ll get more of what you love here: soul, R&B, cumbia, highlife, etc. Really dig “Sol Clap” and “You Will Return (feat. Alice Russell).”
  • Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2
    A second chest thudding offering from El-P and Killer Mike. The only thing they could do that might top this is the forthcoming Meow the Jewels. Love “Blockbuster Night Part 1” and “Lie, Cheat, Steal” (dig the use of the Soul Searchers sample previously used in “Jack the Ripper”).
  • Shawn Lee: Golden Age Against the Machine
    The mighty Shawn Lee takes inspiration from early-80s through mid-90s hip-hop and makes a b-boy friendly album with just enough throwback vibe to be fun without being overly serious and technical. Dig the Newcleus electro vibe on “Back to the Future”
  • Supastition: Honest Living EP
    Hip-hop’s everyman Supastition is about as consistent as they come: a dude making a living, doing honest music on the side, hence the title and (familiar) theme of this EP. For us grown ass adults, this type of hip-hop is particularly appealing, especially when well done.
  • Tono S. & Beyuz: Návraty
    Slovenian hip-hop, almost 90s throwback in nature like Poland’s Hurragun, but uses 70s Slovenian rock samples.
  • Tuff Scout All Stars: Inna London Dub
    Another Herbivore Josh recommendation. Super heavy dub, love “Dub It Inna Long Acre” and “The Marshall of Inverness St,” which pulls in some vocals from “Truths & Rights.”
  • Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz 5: The World
    Compilation of re-released material from 1961-1979.
  • Vienio: Etos 2
    Solid Polish hip-hop with broad true school appeal. Tek from Smif n Wessun guests. For fans of O.S.T.R.
  • Your Old Droog: EP
    I never bought for a second that he was a pitch-shifted Nas, but I do buy that he’s one of the few of the new breed of MCs that deserve the hype they’ve gotten. Sure, he could be labeled “derivative,” but I prefer the term “influenced.” “Nutty Bars,” indeed.

Almost Best of 2014

  • Chris Read: Small Steps
    Original hip-hop, funk, dub, and afro-beat from the dude that brought us the classic Diary megamix. One of those easily overlooked albums, but don’t miss it.
  • DJ Connect: Well Connected
    Swedish hip-hop producer teams up with (mostly) US-based MCs of varying renown.
  • Eyebrow: Garden City
    Like 70s Miles with some modern electronica leanings. Spacy and subdued. Herbivore Josh recommended.
  • Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata
    Dirty, gritty blaxploitation-esque soulful funk. Love “Scarface” and “Real.” Dope guest spots from Danny Brown, Scarface, and others.
  • Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons
    Another cinematic epic from Tony Starks with repeated appearances from Kool G Rap and AZ. Not quite on the level of last year’s Twelve Reasons to Die, but dang, two years in a row with albums this strong? Impressive.
  • L’Orange: The Orchid Days & After the Flowers EP
    One of my favorite new(er) producers, I love the warmth and how he manipulates a mood. Sometimes things get a little choppy on the production tip for me, but overall, these are two wonderful, connected albums.
  • Meridian Brothers: Salvadora Robot
    Wonderfully odd, slightly “off” tropical music.
  • Michael Jackson: Xscape
    Surprisingly fresh takes on material recorded as far back as 30 years ago. A template for how posthumous albums of unfinished materials should be handled.
  • Prince: ART OFFICIAL AGE
    The mysterious one returned sounding way fresher than I expected from someone who released his first album 36 years ago to sound. Fun fact: Prince was a Reagan supporter back in the 80s.
  • Prince Po: Animal Serum
    It’s so dope to have great albums from both members of Organized Konfusion in one year. And this one features a track with Saafir & Rock and another with OC and Pharoahe, so yeah.
  • Ranee Lee: What’s Going On?
    Ranee Lee was the first jazz album I ever got to revie over 20 years ago. Though her style of mellow vocal jazz is not usually the way I swing when it comes to the genre, I eagerly await everything she releases. “Where Do You Start” is beautiful and the cover of Marley’s “One Love” is better than one would expect.
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Give the People What They Want
    The album’s release was delayed while Sharon battled (and beat the crap out of) bile duct cancer, but worth the wait. Soulful and funky as always, it throws no curveballs. Favorite cuts: “Retreat!,” “Now I See,” and for Sharon, the aptly titled “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.”
  • The Budos Band: Burnt Offering
    Budos has got that block rocking funk. As always.
  • Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet: Polka
    Love the cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bombtrack” where they shift from more traditional jazz into aggressive Jerseyband-style metal jazz.
  • Ziggy Marley: Fly Rasta
    One Ziggy’s best albums with positive, upbeat reggae that’s exactly what you’d want from a Marley album.

Best of 2013 I missed until 2014

  • Clear Soul Forces: Gold Pp7s

My Daughter’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My daughter, now eight, is much less influenced musically by me than she was in previous years and moreso by classmates, cousins, the radio, etc. As a result, many of her favorite songs absolutely horrify me (“Whistle”) or confound me (“Life is a Highway”). But, she’s finding her way in through the pop morass and occasionally likes some pretty non-pop songs she hears (Roy Budd, Babymetal). Here’s her list of songs she really dug this year.

  • Roy Budd: “Getting Nowhere in a Hurry”
  • Charli XCX: “Boom Clap”
  • One Direction: “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful”
  • Owl City: “Good Time”
  • Gummibär: “I’m a Gummy Bear (The Gummy Bear Song)”
  • Tom Cochrane: “Life Is A Highway”
  • OneRepublic: “Counting Stars”
  • Owl City: “Fireflies”
  • Meghan Trainor: “All About That Bass”
  • Demi Lovato: “Let It Go”
  • Babymetal: “Gimme Chocolate”
  • Taylor Swift: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
  • Taylor Swift: “Shake It Off”
  • Ylvis: “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)”
  • Magic!: “Rude”
  • P!nk: “Just Give Me A Reason”
  • Katy Perry: “Roar”
  • Train: “Hey, Soul Sister”
  • Pharrell: “Happy”
  • Flo Rida: “Whistle”
  • Taio Cruz: “Dynamite”
  • Flo Rida: “Good Feeling”

My Son’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My son is two-and-a-half and this year started developing some favorite songs, so it’s time for him to get his own section.

  • Idina Menzel: “Let It Go” (like every other two-year-old on the planet)
  • The entire Babymetal album
  • Owl City: “Good Time”
  • OneRepublic: “Counting Stars”

Best Tracks of 2014

Here’s my list of favorite tracks of the year, along with a Spotify playlist of as many are available there. (Songs not available in the playlist are denoted with a * and a link is provided.)

Note that while the list below is sorted alphabetically, the Spotify playlist has been carefully organized to provide the Optimal, Cohesive Listening ExperienceTM.

  • The 1978ers (yU & Slimkat): “One Nine 7 T 8”
  • * Amerigo Gazaway: “Ms. Fat Booty (Yasiin Gaye)
  • Aphex Twin: “s950tx16wasr10 [163.97][earth portal mix]”
  • Army Of The Pharaohs: “The Tempter and the Bible Black (feat. Vinnie Paz, Planetary, Esoteric, Apathy & Celph Titled)”
  • Babymetal: “Gimmie Chocolate”
  • Bear Hands: “Sleeping on the Floor”
  • Benjamin Booker: “Spoon Out My Eyeballs”
  • Billy Idol: “Postcards From The Past”
  • The Bombay Royale: “(Give Me Back My) Bunty Bunty)”
  • The Budos Band: “Magus Mountain”
  • Busdriver: “Eat Rich”
  • Castle & Has-Lo: “Casual Friday”
  • Chokeules: “40-Year-Old Vegan”
  • Chris Read: “Disco Cumbia”
  • Chronixx: “Here Comes Trouble”
  • The Custodian of Records: “Absolutely”
  • D'Angelo and The Vanguard: “Sugah Daddy”
  • Daniel Bachman: “Coming Home”
  • Denmark Vassey: “Let the God Eat (feat. Scud One)”
  • Dice Raw: “Never Be a Gangsta”
  • Divine Styler: “Carrier's IQ”
  • DJ JS-1: “Turn the Tables (feat. O.C.)”
  • Doc Strange: “Monster Mashin' (feat. Chino Xl & DJ Menace)”
  • Esoteric & Stu Bangas: “Repercussions (feat. Ill Bill)”
  • Eyebrow: “The Golden Road”
  • The Flaming Lips: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (feat. Miley Cyrus & Moby)”
  • Flying Lotus: “The Protest”
  • Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: “Real”
  • Fumaça Preta: “Fumaça Preta”
  • * Gese: “On Ill
  • Ghostface Killah: “The Battlefield (feat. Kool G Rap, AZ, and Tre Williams)”
  • Hollie Cook: “Win or Lose”
  • J-Live: “Money Matters”
  • Jo Mersa: “Rock & Swing”
  • John the Conqueror: “Golden Rule”
  • Joshua Redman: “The Ocean”
  • Junior Stress: “To Nie Ja (feat. Vienio)”
  • Kalbata & Mixmonster: “Congo Beat the Drum (feat. Major Mackerel)”
  • Kavita Shah: “When… (Bonus Track)”
  • Khun Narin: “Show Wong Khun Narin #3”
  • L’Orange: “The End (feat. Billy Woods)”
  • * L’Orange: “My Magic Is The Best Magic (inst.)
  • Lee “Scratch” Perry: “Words Re-vision (Dubplate Cut)”
  • The Legion: “Stereo (Remix)”
  • Luciano: “Music is Life (feat. Turbulence)”
  • Madlib: “Yeti Movie”
  • Me'Shell Ndegeocello: “Good Day Bad”
  • Meridian Brothers: “El Gran Pajaro de Los Andes (instrumental)”
  • Michael Jackson: “A Place With No Name”
  • MindsOne & Kev Brown: “Legion of Doom (Remix)”
  • Molly Johnson: “God Bless The Child”
  • Muneshine: “Life Goes on (feat. Fresh Daily & ELMNT)”
  • Mungo’s Hi Fi: “Nice It Up (feat. Charlie P)”
  • Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens: “Get Up, Child”
  • Nehruviandoom: “Great Things
  • Nostalgia 77 & Prince Fatty: “Quiet Dawn Dub”
  • O.S.T.R. & Marco Polo: “What is the Question”
  • Onyx: “One 4 Da Team (feat. Reks)”
  • OOIOO:”Gamel Ninna Yama”
  • Orlando Julius & The Heliocentrics: “In The Middle”
  • Pep Love: “Evergreen”
  • Pharoahe Monch: “D.R.E.A.M. (feat. Talib Kweli)”
  • Prince Po & Oh No: “U Already (feat. Saafir & Rockness Monsta)”
  • Prince: “FUNKNROLL”
  • Quantic: “You Will Return (feat. Alice Russell)”
  • Ranee Lee: “One Love”
  • The Roots: “Understand (feat. Dice Raw & Greg Porn)”
  • Run the Jewels: “Blockbuster Night Part 1”
  • Sage Francis: “Make Em Purr”
  • Sarius: “Tak Bardzo Ja (feat. Ras)”
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: “Now I See”
  • Shawn Lee: “Rock Steady (feat. Lightheaded)”
  • Sick of it All: “Disconnect Your Flesh”
  • SlimKid3 & DJ Nu-Mark: “Boullion (feat. Del & Murs)”
  • Souljazz Orchestra: “East Flows the River”
  • Supastition: “Honest Living (feat. DJ Jon Doe)”
  • Swollen Members: “Jackson Pollock (DJ Makeway)”
  • Tommy Guerrero: “The Gunslinger”
  • Tono S. & Beyuz: “Nudny Chalan”
  • Tuff Scout All Stars: “The Marshall of Inverness St”
  • Verbal Kent & DJ Eclipse: “Beast Mode”
  • Vienio: “Wszystko Jest W Ruchu (feat. Kosi & Łysol)”
  • Willow: “8”
  • Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet: “Bombtrack”
  • Wu-Tang Clan: “Mistaken Identity”
  • Your Old Droog: “Nutty Bars”
  • Ziggy Marley: “Fly Rasta”
  • Zion I: “Get Urs (feat. Mr. Lif, Kev Choice, Deuce Eclipse, Opio, and Sadat X)”

My Top 15 Scrobbled Artists for 2014

1 Washboard Sam 187
2 Lee “Scratch” Perry 96
3 Shawn Lee 93
3 Amerigo Gazaway 93
5 De La Soul 90
6 DJ QBert 85
7 Augustus Pablo 84
7 Syl Johnson 84
9 Half Pint 83
10 Gang Starr 82
11 Skillinjah 79
12 Geto Boys 72
13 Madlib 71
14 Kool Keith 68
15 Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings 67

Other Stats

Total tracks: 17737
Total unique tracks: 15489
Song Repetition: 1.16

(via)

2013 Music Year in Review

(It’s almost absurd for me to post a year-in-review post for the previous year in November, but I’ve had this post sitting near-done for a long time and it’s time to just get it posted so I can start on this year’s!)

Since 2007, I’ve really enjoyed putting together these year-end personal “best-of” lists. Since most of my music “journalism” these days is limited to Twitter, I take the time at the end of the year to put together a list what really grabbed me.

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order. (Note: Many album links are affiliate links to Amazon’s mp3 store.)

(See also: all previous years-in-review.)

Best of 2013

  • abolitionist: the growing disconnect
    Punky punk punk punk punk punk from Portland!
  • Banda Magda: Amour, T’es La?
    I read about this fun little album on the NPR Music site and really dug the French ye-ye influence mixed with samba and other international sounds.
  • Colossus: Colossus
    Rochester, NY-based big band Colossus doesn’t play big band music (if they did, they likely wouldn’t be on this list). Instead, they play that slightly dark, modern jazz oft dubbed nu jazz or future jazz. Whatever the case, this six track album showed me that this style of jazz doesn’t have to be played only in a small group setting for good effect; it actually works really well in a big band setting.
  • Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers: Nothing Can Stop Us
    It seems so hard to find new roots reggae that features classic singers and a solid backing band with a real feel for the 70s roots sound. This is one of the rare new reggae albums that fits the bill. Favorite cut: “With You My Heart Belongs.”
  • Demigodz: Killmatic
    Celph, Apathy, and crew give you that aggressive drive time music you need and love. Peep how they flip the Rocky theme.
  • Erin McKeown: Manifestra
    Not my favorite of her releases, but it’s hard to deny that Erin McKeown loves what she does and isn’t afraid to try new sounds. She can always be counted on for a good album.
  • Franz Ferdinand: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
    Sounds Buddhist-y from the title, but isn’t. Super catchy title track. Actually, the whole dang thing is catchy.
  • Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge: Twelve Reasons to Die
    One of the most interesting Wu albums in years. Based on a comic of the same name, it’s hard to imagine a hip-hop concept album that doesn’t feel at least a little corny, but this is it. Though the main theme is Godfather-esque, I actually get more of a 70’s giallo vibe from Adrian Younge’s excellent production, which makes me love it even more. Fantastic stuff all the way through. (Apollo Brown’s remix version of the album called Twelve Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape is also well worth checking out.)
  • Jazz Addixx: Tomorrow’s Yesterday
    I’ve known Ragz for 15 years and Mudd for even longer, so I’m a touch biased. These three guys worked so long and hard on this album and it really shows. They’ve managed to stay true to their 70s-and 80s-soul-jazz-influenced roots while adding layers of complexity and nuance to their tracks that make this one of the most engaging albums of the year. Unown tears the ish out of the mic and his own beat on “Far Out” and you can hear the group’s effortless interaction on “Love Song” and “Ahhh!” where Un and Mudd trade lines while Ragz adds his signature cuts. This is grown up hip-hop that’s not afraid to battle every so often.
  • Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: Unvarnished
    The Joan Jett sound hasn’t changed all that much since the 80s (shoot, since her time with the Runaways), and that is totally, 100% OK. The fact that a 55-year-old can still rock (and be engaging when doing it) like she did at 25 is good enough for me.
  • Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (Volume One)
    What can I say? It’s about as engaging as pop gets. The second volume, oddly, was exactly the opposite.
  • Kid Tsunami: The Chase
    I’d never heard of Australian-based Tsunami before this album, but I’m glad I found him. The Chase is a brilliant slice of the 90’s boom bap sound. All of key players of the 80s and 90s are involved, including Kool Keith, OC, Percee Pee, El da Sensei, Bahamadia, and KRS-One, and they’re all at their best.. The title track is like “Crooklyn Dodgers part 4” with Buckshot, Chubb Rock, Pharoahe Monch, and Jeru. There’s not a single piece out of place here.
  • Klaus Layer: The Adventures of Captain Crook
    As they say, Klaus Layer is “skilled in the trade of that old boom bap”… with a nice dash of psychedelia to round things out. Love this dude’s instrumentals.
  • Meerenai Shim: The Art of Noise
    Super awesome compositions that combine classical, experimental noise, and blippy chiptune. (Meerenai is an uber-talented flautist my wife knew in elementary school. And she’s vegan. So she’s got a lot going for her.)
  • Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2
    Yeah, I mean, come on now. The Quintet sounding absolutely awesome on this late-60s date.
  • Shawn Lov: Grotesque Heads
    Shawn’s an underground NJ hip-hop head from way back (his dad ran the recording studio where many south Jersey classics were recorded) with a deep catalog dating back to when he was only 12 years old. He’s living out in San Fran now and running an arcade, but hooked up with Custodian of Records (aka Self, aka Grizzly Adams) and German producer Sebastian Hochstein to put together this tight collection of tracks with “old days” reminiscences and straight battle rhymes. Nothing fancy, just what I’ve grown to love about Shawn’s music.
  • The Sign of Four: Hammer, Anvil, Stirrup
    Miles Newbold’s (Natural Yogurt Band) new band serves up fantastic funky space jazz with just the right balance of almost exotica melodies, swirling cosmic tones, and jazzified funk.
  • Son Lux: Lanterns
    Synthpop with downtempo breaks and a little boom bap for added depth.
  • Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: We the Common
    Thao Nguyen is on that short list of artists I will check for each and every time. We the Common kicked off 2014 nicely with her blend of catchy indie folk-rock. The title track and “Holy Roller” are awesome.
  • Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone
    Pushin’ Against a Stone held the same appeal for me this year as Michael Kiwanuka’s Home Again did last year: a soulful album with classic sensibilites that doesn’t feel like a kitchy retro-throwback. And the new spin the style gets doesn’t feel forced or mashed up; it feels natural. This type of album is not an easy thing to pull off. Love the lead off track “Workin’ Woman Blues,” “Wanna Be On Your Mind,” and “You Can’t Be Told.”
  • Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ: Three-Mountain Pass
    Beautiful modern Vietnamese folk. “3 Gnossiennes” is stunning. See also her NPR Tiny Desk concert.
  • Yatha Bhuta Jazz Combo: Yatha Bhuta Jazz Combo
    Onra’s is one of my favorite producers of the last ten years thanks to his pair of Chinioseries albums and 2012’s Deus Ex Machina by Buddy Sativa was pretty great, too, so naturally I was looking forward to this spiritual jazz collaboration between the two. It didn’t disappoint.

Almost Best of 2013

  • Aceyalone: Leanin’ On Slick
    Acey’s one of those super talented dudes that keeps dropping quality albums quietly. I’ve been a big fan since All Balls Don’t Bounce and (especially) A Book of Human Language. His latest effort is bouncy and jazzy and all growed up, a nice extension of the doo-wop and funk influenced “The Lonely Ones” from 2009. The MC-as-lounge-singer (in a good way) vibe is evidenced by “30 and Up” where Acey declares, “This is for the 30 and up, / Grown folks who’s earnin’ a buck.” He also rocks it on “Workin’ Man’s Blues'” (ever-so-slightly different than the version on The Lonely Ones) and “Hit the Road,” which is way better than it should be using “Hit the Road Jack” as its base.
  • Al Supersonic And The Teenagers: It’s Alright
    If I were a soul singer performing classic soul-style tunes, I’d also call myself Al Supersonic.
  • Archie Shepp and the Attica Blues Orchestra: I Hear the Sound
    It’s going to be hard for Shepp to ever hit me like he did with his 1960s albums, but he’s still got the fire on this Kickstarter-backed album. This orchestral take on some of his classic work is generally quite enjoyable (though I was definitely disappointed by the “Attica Blues” rendition). He brings back “Steam,” “Mama Too Tight,” and “Ujaama,” all of which fare better than “Attica Blues.”
  • Danny Brown: Old
    I never messed with Danny Brown before. The little I’d heard didn’t grab me and I just couldn’t understand why he was held in such high regard among the newer breed of MCs. The first half of Old made it all clear to me. “The Return (feat. Freddie Gibbs)” has funk and soul elements with spacey synths and touches of eastern flutes that is compelling as it gets. “Wonderbread” is wonderfully odd and erratic, like if Sun Ra and Kool Keith covered a nursery rhyme. The first half of the album is significantly more enjoyable than the second, but it’s still a carefully conceived album best ingested as a whole rather than its independent pieces.
  • DJ Dister: Roll Wit Dis
    Artifacts, G Rap, Kool Keith, KRS, and other old school favorites keep rocking over dope Dister tracks.
  • Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2
    Em’s audience may not be as rabid as they were ten years ago, but no one can deny the guy’s still got bars who “can just walk up to a mic and just bust.” And he’s still capable of making aggressive, offensive music that makes you want to punch someone in the face. Can you imagine back in 1988 the idea of a 40-year-old white rapper (hell, anyone over 35 at that point) being a legit MC? It’s not a perfect album (those sung hooks, man), but it’s a good listen. Favorite cuts: “Survival” (a song there’s no reason I should like, but I do), “Berserk,” and “Rap God.”
  • Hieroglyphics: The Kitchen
    This one didn’t seem to get much attention after its release, but it’s a solid, classic Hiero crew album. Not everything clicks, but if you’re a long time Hiero fan, you didn’t leave disappointed.
  • Jasiri X: Ascension
    It’s hard not to like a dude like Jasiri X who is out with a new track with accompanying video within what feels like moments of any major politically-charged event. Though his beats don’t always grab me, Jasiri X is this generation’s Paris (who had the same issue with beats after his first two albums).
  • Las Supper: Back to the Future
    Big Daddy Kane’s “grown-up” rap/soul/funk band certainly offers a matured, relaxed version of Kane, but there are still some classic fast rap Kane moments throughout. The guy’s still got it and though this new project didn’t always hit on all cylinders, it’s a fun listen and probably a pretty awesome live show. Dig “Where Do We Go (From Here)” and “Last Chance.”
  • L’Orange and Stik Figa: The City Under the City
    The mighty Stik Figa mayne sounds great over L’Orange’s soulified beats.
  • Mary Halvorson Septet: Illusionary Sea
    Halvorson is certainly an acquired taste, but if you’ve acquired it, you’ll want to taste this.
  • Mikrokolektyw: Absent Minded
    Mikrokolektyw’s second album on Delmark (!!) is just as enjoyable as their first. Fans of Suchar and Majewski’s work with Robotobibok will be pleased.
  • Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels
    El-P + Killa Mike = pretty much what you’d expect. Industrial strength beats, hard bars, and a nice dose of don’t-give-a-fuckness. “Banana Clipper (feat. Big Boi)” is pretty boss as is the non-album late-year leak, “Pew Pew Pew (feat. DJ Q-Bert).”

Best of 2012 I missed until 2013

My Daughter’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My daughter, now seven, has been gravitating more toward pop tunes, but every so often still surprises me with a random song I’m playing that she’ll like. Here are her new favorite tracks from 2013 (not limited to songs from this year).

  • Donald Byrd: “(Fallin’ Like) Dominoes”
  • Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: “We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)”
  • Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: “Holy Roller”
  • Quiet Riot: “Cum on Feel the Noize”
  • Owl City: “Fireflies” (this kills me a little bit inside)

Best Tracks of 2013

Here’s my list of favorite tracks of the year, along with a Spotify playlist of as many are available there. (Songs not available in the playlist are denoted with a *.)

Note that while the list below is sorted alphabetically, the Spotify playlist has been carefully organized to provide a cohesive listening experience ™.

  • abolitionist: “Bright Red Blood Letters”
  • Aceyalone: “30 and Up”
  • Adam Pieronczyk Quartet: “The Storks of Marrakech”
  • Al Supersonic And The Teenagers: “It’s Alright”
  • Archie Shepp & The Attica Blues Orchestra: “Blues for Brother G. Jackson”
  • Banda Magda: “Amour, t’es là?” *
  • Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite: “I Don’t Believe A Word You Say”
  • Colossus: “Up and Up”
  • Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers: “With You My Heart Belongs”
  • DJ Dister: “Regardless (feat. Artifacts & DJ Stylewarz)”
  • Danny Brown: “Wonderbread”
  • Deltron 3030: “What is This Loneliness? (feat. Damon Albarn & Casual)”
  • Demigodz: “Dead in the Middle” (almost “Demigodz is Back”)
  • Dooley-O: “Burn Dem Up (feat. Smoke)”
  • Dr. OctoTron (Del & Kool Keith): “Good Stuff (feat. Motion Man)”
  • Elvis Costello & The Roots: “Cinco Minutos Con Vos”
  • Eminem: “Survival” (almost “Rap God” or “Berserk”)
  • Erin McKeown: “The Jailer”
  • Franz Ferdinand: “Evil Eye”
  • Ghostface Killah: “Beware of the Stare”
  • Grand Daddy I.U.: “Sasquatch Feet”
  • Hieroglyphics: “Passing Fads”
  • Jasiri X: “42 Bar Thesis”
  • Jazz Addixx: “Lemonade”
  • Justin Timberlake: “Pusher Love Girl”
  • Kid Tsunami: “The Chase (feat. Buckshot, Chubb Rock, Pharoahe Monch & Jeru the Damaja)”
  • Klaus Layer: “In My Mind (Instrumental)”
  • L’Orange and Stik Figa: “Decorated Silence (feat. Open Mike Eagle)”
  • Las Supper: “Last Chance”
  • Mary Halvorson Septet: “Red Sky Still Sea (No. 31)”
  • Meerenai Shim: “Mercurial”
  • Mikrokolektyw: “Little Warrior”
  • Oh No: “Controlled Riots (feat. Souls of Mischief)”
  • Quantic, Alice Russell, and Combo Barbaro: “Here Again”
  • Red Baraat: “Shruggy Ji”
  • Run the Jewels: “Banana Clipper (feat. Big Boi)”
  • Rustee Juxx: “Countdown to Def (feat. Chip-Fu and Brother J)”
  • Shawn Lov: “Another Level (feat. Self as Grizzly Adams)” *
  • Son Lux: “Easy”
  • Soul Sugar: “East of the River Nile” *
  • Souleance: “L’Insoulence”
  • Tanya Morgan: “The Vehicle (feat. Spec Boogie & 6th Sense)”
  • Tech N9ne: “My Haiku/Burn the World (feat. Kriss Kaliko)” *
  • Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: “Holy Roller”
  • The Godfathers: “Crook Catastrophe & The Gunblast Kid”
  • The Hip Abduction: “Why Say One”
  • The Sign of Four: “Jumping Beans”
  • U-God: “Zilla” *
  • Valerie June: “Workin’ Woman Blues”
  • Van-Anh Vo: “3 Gnossiennes: Gnossiennes No. 3”
  • Yatha Bhuta Jazz Combo: “Honey, Hash, Rose”

My Top 15 Scrobbled Artists for 2013

1 Johnny Clarke 115
2 King Tubby 107
3 The Roots 104
3 Jungle Brothers 104
5 Hieroglyphics 92
5 Half Pint 92
7 Twinkle Brothers 90
8 Max Romeo 87
9 Stevie Wonder 86
10 Horace Andy 79
11 Brownbird Rudy Relic 77
12 Jazz Addixx 73
13 Dennis Brown 71
14 Ultramagnetic MC’s 70
15 Del Tha Funkee Homosapien 68

Other stats

Total tracks: 15670
Total unique tracks: 13969
Song Repetition: 1.12

(via)

2012 Music Year in Review

For the past six years, I’ve really enjoyed putting together these year-end personal “best-of” lists. I don’t do many formal reviews these days, so this let’s me get a little music journalism in each year. I try to stick to new music, no re-releases (well, two “previously unreleased” albums snuck in this year). I had too much trouble picking one best-of-best-of-favorite album this year, so I didn’t (Brownbird Rudy Relic, Michael Kiwanuka, DJ Format, and Los Miticos Del Ritmo were all too close for me to decide).

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order. (Note: Many album links are affiliate links to Amazon’s mp3 store.)

(See also: all previous years-in-review.)

Best of 2012

  • Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
    I admit it. I’m finally calling myself a fan of Fiona Apple, she of long, obtuse album titles. She’s a great songwriter, a terrific musician, a tortured soul, and she makes powerful, heartfelt albums. The Idler Wheel… is the latest and contains so many darkly playful, engaging tunes, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Plus, you’ve gotta admire that she was willing to cancel tour dates to be with her sick dog. (Also: if you haven’t read this article, you should.)
  • Baaba: The Wrong Vampire
    Eclectic Polish band Baaba does it again with this hodgepodge of creepy cross-genre experiments and improv that’s nu jazz one second, grindcore the next, and blippy electronica the second after that. Favorite cut: “To the Cellar,” a cinematic, Goblin-esque heart-stopper with wicked flute and sax melodies and driving drums.
  • Beneficence: Concrete Soul
    I’d never even heard of this NJ emcee before stumbling on this album on MOG. Boy am I glad I found it… the tracks with Lord Tariq (“Y.W.E.”), Grap Luva and Rob-O (“Cold Train”), and El da Sensei (“Way We Rockin'”) have that classic mid-90s snap without sounding dated in the least. And Beneficence isn’t an emcee to sneeze at, either. The guy’s got bars. This is an album made for cranking in the car, son.
  • Josh Berman & His Gang: There Now
    Super engaging Chicago free jazz (on Delmark, no less!) from Berman, also featuring the awesome vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz.
  • Brownbird Rudy Relic: Chicano Dynamite
    Brownbird does it again with another dynamite (see what I did there?) lo-fi, solo, soulful blues release. The title track is scorching, but Rudy also slows it down and shows the strength of his voice on ballads, as well. Love it. (Bonus: a video I shot of Rudy performing the title track in DC earlier this year.)
  • Casual & J. Rawls: Respect Game or Expect Flames
    Great production by J. Rawls and some of Casual’s best work lyrically in years. Favorite cuts include “Nota Problem Part II,” the Hiero posse cut “Hier-O-Dot (feat. Copywrite, Phesto, Tage, Tajai, Opio & Jakki Da Motamouth),” and straight fire on the title track. Great album, terrible album title.
  • Avishai Cohen: Triveni II
    Cohen is one of my favorite modern jazz trumpeters and on this trio’s second release, there’s a lot to love. Innovative and free without being formless, this is some of the best modern jazz has to offer. Love “B.R Story” and the drumwork on “Safety Land.”
  • Cuefx: International Post-War Chill
    Dark, sorta-glitchy Skalpel-esque nu jazz from Poland. Love “Neurodramatic Hip Hop” parts 1 and 2. A remixed version of the album just came out this month. See also (and this, too).
  • DJ Format: Statement of Intent
    The 10″‘s design harkens back to 60s Stereo Action exotica releases on RCA and the LP artwork is nearly as excellent. The music: pure late-80s throwback. There’s not a single thing I don’t love about this album, from the production to the emcees to the package design. All-around brilliance.
  • Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again
    Bill Withers’ last album was 27 years ago, but Michael Kiwanuka gives us an idea of what a modern day Bill Withers album would sound like. Warm and soulful, this is an outstanding release. Leading up to the album, Kiwanuka released a few EPs that contained a few tracks not on the album. I collected all of the tracks he released in one MOG playlist, if you’re interested (and here’s a Spotify version with a few bonus Spotify-exclusive live tracks tacked on at the end).
  • Shawn Lee: Synthesizers in Space
    Fonky space funk based around “the mystery box,” an unidentified vintage synth Lee found at a shop in Austin. Thoroughly enjoyable and funktastic. My favorite of his recent releases.
  • Los Miticos Del Ritmo: Los Miticos Del Ritmo
    Thanks to Josh from Herbivore for turning me onto this one, which ultimately became one of my favorite albums of the year and led me into a several-month long love affair with Cumbia music and Soundway Records entire catalog (Cumbia and otherwise). Good ol’ Quantic had a hand in this album, as with so many other excellent releases this year. Some more background info from Soundway: “The record was recorded entirely on 4 track tape, using a process of overdubs and tape transfers to record multiple sessions at different times with different musicians.” The end result is funky and super danceable, even on covers (“Another One Bites the Dust,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”) that could have easily turned out gimmicky. In fact, my favorite cut on the album is the fantastic cumbia dub rehash of the Abyssinians’ “Satta Massaganna.” Super, super stuff.
  • Nas: Life is Good
    Easily Nas’ strongest album in years (maybe his best since Illmatic). He lets vulnerability shine brighter than his ego and gets handed a lot of great beats. Loved “A Queens Story,” “Daughters,” “The Don,” “Nasty,” and especially the brilliant No I.D. production on “Loco-Motive.”
  • Nostalgia 77 & The Monster: The Taxidermist
    Ben Lamdin seems incapable of making a bad record. Just enough free, just enough funk, just enough nu to make to achieve that balance of instrumental awesomeness.
  • Oddisee: People Hear What They See
    Oddisee’s a pretty amazing dude. Over the past few years, he’s become one of my favorite producers, eschewing an easily recognizable signature sound for a jack-of-all-trades style. One never know what angle he’s going to come from, but it’s almost always done with finesse. Turns out Oddisee’s a dope emcee, too. Don’t pass this one by.
  • Ondatrópica: Ondatrópica
    More Quantic on the list. The cover of “Iron Man” is clever and you’ve gotta dig the beatbox-infused “Rap-Maya,” but the entire album is a deliciously chill blend of the folky Columbian cumbia sound with any number of other genres, from salsa to bossa nova to hip-hop.
  • Pep Love: The Rigmarole
    This Hiero release flew under the radar, receiving very little mention on the music blogs I read. That’s a shame because it’s some classic Pep Love with solid production throughout and Pep at the top of his lyrical game. Peep “Runaway Slave” and the Bollywood-inspired “Everywhere.”
  • DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles: The Kolexxxion
    Premier’s beats are inspired and reminiscent of his heydey (Primo’s “reject” beats are still better than yours!) and Freddie/Bumpy is bringing the pain like he hasn’t since Industry Shakedown. Listen before going outside to punch people in the face.
  • Quantic & Alice Russell with the Combo Bárbaro: Look Around the Corner
    Seriously? Another amazing Quantic joint? Buddha have mercy. Funky soul and soulful funk by way of Columbia. Easy now.
  • Stik Figa: As Himself
    Technically this came out originally in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2012 that Kansas MC Stik Figa’s debut LP got the wide release it deserved. The first three tracks (“The Skinny,” “Corner Store,” and “Absitively”) are straight bonkers. Excellent production by Seven.
  • Tensei: Two
    Spacy, soulful, and jazzy instrumental EP (mostly) that kicks off with great Alice Coltrane samples (ones I’ve also used) but features some excellent live instrumentation, making this an above-average collection of beats. One is also good.
  • Yva Las Vegass: I Was Born In A Place Of Sunshine And The Smell Of Ripe Mangoes
    Venezuelan-born New York street performer Yva Las Vegass not only has an incredible voice, but is an amazing instrumentalist and songwriter. Her music blends Venezuelan folk songs with punk intensity. Don’t miss her NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert and her Soundcloud channel.

Almost Best of 2012

  • AWOL ONE: Shockra!
    Weird, quirky, subdued, instrumental.
  • Belleruche: Rollerchain
    Though not as strong as their previous albums (Turntable Soul Music and 270 Stories are personal favorites), there’s still a lot to like about the minimalist, electronica-soul band’s Rollerchain. Dig “Stormbird“… it’s blippy, bassy, and frenetic.
  • Black Taxi: We Don’t Know Any Better
    Shared with me by former co-worker Jason, Black Taxi is sounds like they’re straight of the 80s with their reggae-influenced punk. Good stuff.
  • El-P: Cancer for Cure
    A lighthearted romp through flowers and sunshine! Great to help the kids sleep well with dreams of fuzzy bunnies and rainbows.
  • Vijay Iyer Trio: Accelerando
    Modern jazz lives. Iyer can always be counted on to prove that. (And a jazz verson of “Human Nature” that doesn’t come off corny? Only Iyer.)
  • Matisyahu: Spark Seeker
    Matisyahu’s taken a Michael Franti turn, veering away from his reggae roots and going more toward reggae-infused happy rock. He does it well, though, and it’s hard not to like albums like Spark Seeker, especially good on a warm summer day.
  • Mello Music Group: Self Sacrifice
    A strong compilation form the ever-popular MMG. I dug the album’s opener, “Focus,” with DJ Soko and Def Dee and “Soul Survivor” with Boog Brown, PRT’s Wise Intelligent, and Georgie Anne Muldrow.
  • Frank Ocean: Channel Orange
    His sexuality initially overshadowed the release of the album, until people realized, “Holy crap. This is a good R&B album. I remember those.” Digging “Thinking About You” and “Super Rich Kids.”
  • Plug: Back On Time
    Luke Vibert found an album’s worth of unreleased drum-n-bass tracks from the mid-90s–Remember Drum-n-Bass for Papa? Yeah, that era–and I’m mighty glad he decided to release ’em. This stuff takes me back to my college years and my dabbling in drum-n-bass, jungle, and experimental electronica on my Trancelike State radio show.
  • Portico Quartet: Portico Quartet
    Innovative UK jazz using a 21st century percussion instrument, the Hang.
  • Rocket Juice & the Moon: Rocket Juice & the Moon
    Enjoyable, low-key album from the supergroup made of folks from the RHCP and Blur and Fela Kuti’s drummer with some good guest spots.
  • Tabasko: Ostatnia Szansa Tego Rapu
    Number one in Poland for two weeks, this O.S.T.R. production isn’t as fire as his previous work, but tracks like “Sluchawki” and “Zachlannosc” will stick with you.
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Older Than My Old Man Now
    I came to Loudon Wainwright III very late in the game (only after seeing him on Undeclared) and I am admittedly not up on his extensive back catalog (this is his 22nd studio album), but I loved his humorous, thoughful take on aging, family, and death on Older Than My Old Man Now. “The Days That We Die” is a duet with his son with poetry written by his father. A great quote from Wainwright about turning 65: “When you’re sixty-five, everything seems to be somewhat in the rear-view, or at least in the side-view. Well, not everything, and hopefully your windshield wipers are still working.”

Best of 2011 I missed until 2012

Oddly, I didn’t mark anything down this year.

My Daughter’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My daughter, now six, has developed an interesting taste in music. Here are her favorite tracks this year (not limited to songs from this year), loaded up in a MOG playlist that we often spin when we’re on the road.

  • Naughty by Nature: “Hip-Hop Hooray”
  • Bill Withers: “Just the Two of Us”
  • Max Romeo: “I Chase the Devil”
  • Screeching Weasel: “You Are My Sunshine”
  • Heavenly Beat: “Hurting”
  • Heavenly Beat: “Tradition”
  • Beastie Boys: “The Panda Rat”
  • Yabby You: “Warn Them Jah Dub”

Best Tracks of 2012

Last year I put together 8tracks playlists, but this year I realized that a lot of tracks I liked I only have access to streaming. On the flipside, not everything is available on Spotify, so I can’t make a streaming playlist and cover everything. Maybe by next year there will be a way to combine local tracks and streaming tracks in a playlist that can be shared. Until then, I’m just going to give you a big ol’ unsorted list of some favorite tracks of the year.

  • 7 Immortals: “Thursday Night Live”
  • Black Taxi: “We Don’t Know Any Better”
  • Cuefx: “Neurodramatic Hip Hop (Part 1)”
  • Robert Glasper Experiment: “Smells Like Teen Spirit (feat. Lalah Hathaway)” or “Afro Blue (feat. Erykah Badu)”
  • Gensu Dean: “On Down (feat. Sputnik Brown)”
  • Jeb Loy Nicholls: “Hard Times (Darq E Freaker & African Boy Version)”
  • MA_Doom: “PBS”
  • DJ Format: “Terror (feat. Mr. Lif)”
  • People Under the Stairs: “Uprock Boogie”
  • Pep Love: “Everywhere”
  • DJ Nu-Mark ft. Bumpy Knuckles: “Dumpin’ Em’ All”
  • Belleruche: “Stormbird”
  • Gift of Gab: “Nlp”
  • Casual & J. Rawls: “Respect Game or Expect Flames (feat. Del the Funky Homosapien)”
  • Quakers: “What Chew Want”
  • Boog Brown, Wise Intelligent, and Georgia Anne Muldrow: “Soul Survivor”
  • THEESatisfaction: “Enchantruss”
  • Willis Earl Beal: “Take Me Away” (great story behind this album)
  • Stik Figa: “The Skinny”
  • Tensei: “Passport”
  • Rakaa: “Frequent Flyers (feat. Prevail)”
  • Liknuts: “Grumpy Crocodile”
  • Portico Quartet: “Steepless (feat. Cornelia)”
  • Baaba: “To the Cellar”
  • Oddisee: “Do It All”
  • Ming & Ping: “Chinatown (feat. Mariqueen Maandig Reznor)”
  • Yva Las Vegass: “Crack Whore”
  • Los Miticos Del Ritmo: “Satta Massa Cumbia”
  • Muneshine: “Lower Level”
  • Pink Freud: “Horse and Power”
  • Josh Berman & His Gang: “One Train May Hide Another”
  • JJ DOOM: “Dawg Friendly”
  • Everlast: “Prison Folsom Blues”
  • Shawn Lee: “Lost in the Shuffle”
  • Brownbird Rudy Relic: “Chicano Dynamite”
  • Craig G: “Rabbit Season”
  • Styles Of Beyond: “Take That (feat. Celph Titled)”
  • Chino XL: “Father’s Day”
  • The Coup: “Your Parent’s Cocaine feat. Justin Sane of Anti-Flag”
  • Brother Ali & Jake One: “Letter to My Countrymen (feat. Dr. Cornel West)”
  • Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers: “Work it Out”
  • Busdriver: “Werner Herzog (feat. Open Mike Eagle & Nocando)”

My Top 15 Scrobbled Artists for 2012

1. Beastie Boys 148
2. Bill Withers 138
3. Dennis Brown 129
4. Barrington Levy 115
5. IV the Polymath 102
6. Brownbird Rudy Relic 95
7. King Tubby 92
8. DJ Format 91
9. Piero Umiliani 89
10. Half Pint 81
11. Michael Kiwanuka 80
12. Lee “Scratch” Perry 77
13. Scientist 76
14. Junior Wells 75
14 (tie). Johnny Clarke 75

Other stats

Total tracks: 16173
Total unique tracks: 14225
Song Repetition: 1.14

(via)

2011 Music Year in Review

For the past five years, I’ve really enjoyed putting together these year-end personal “best-of” lists. I don’t do much in the way of music journalism anymore, so this scratches my yearly “write a bunch about music” itch.

2011 was another amazing year for music. I think I have more in my “best of” category this year (29) than any previous year. With so much music getting released (and, really, so much of it being so good), it can be easy for great albums to get overlooked. It’s impossible to be 100% complete, so here’s this year’s completely subjective rundown on my favorite music of the year.

(See also: 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.)

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order.

Best of 2011

  • Andrzej Przybielski & Oles Brothers: De Profundis
    Polish trumpeter Andrzej Przybielski passed away earlier this year. While I haven’t heard much of his work, this final album of his is remarkably intricate, moving, and cerebral. See also: his 2009 album with Sing Sing Penelope.
  • Archie Shepp & Joachim Kühn: Wo!man
    Though I haven’t enjoyed Shepp’s albums in recent years anywhere near the level of the fire music he was making in the 1960s, the releases have been good. This duet with German jazz pianist Joachim Kühn is by no means a return to Shepp’s 1960s form, but the interaction between the two is a thing of beauty. The elegant and lush arrangements have a quiet sophistication befitting elder jazz statesmen like Shepp and Kühn. There are five originals and three standards here (Ellington’s oft-covered–by Shepp especially–“Sophisticated Lady,” Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” and Hagen/Rogers’ “Harlem Nocturne”).
  • Atmosphere: The Family Sign
    You know you’re going to get something personal when Slug hits the mic, and this time is no different, with outstanding tracks like “The Last to Say,” “Just for Show,” and “She’s Enough” (which has the year’s most adorable video). Also: great packaging on the vinyl release.
  • Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
    “We were free to get back to our bread and butter: fart jokes.” That’s what Mike D. said about the Beastie’s return to form on Hot Sauce… It truly is amazing at how a group of guys in their mid-to-late-40s can make a record that sounds as fresh and fun as the stuff they did almost 25 years ago.
  • Blue Scholars: Cinemopolis
    A Kickstarter-funded ($62,000 of a requested $25,000) album that answers the question, “How does music influence cinema?” Song titles are all people’s names. “Anna Karina,” actress in many Godard movies, basketball player “Slick Watts” (with an excellent accompanying video featuring Slick himself), and oft-forgotten, the amazing civil rights activist “Yuri Kochiyama.” Sabzi’s production is outstanding and Geo’s lyrics are some of the best of his career. This is hip-hop.
  • Brownbird Rudy Relic: I Am the Juke
    Another great collection of original “holler blues” from the dynamo known as Brownbird. He goes the old-school route once again, recording on a 1950’s Concertone one-track reel-to-reel with a 1940’s era RCA Victor Radio mic in an abandoned Brooklyn loft.
  • Czeslaw Bartowski/Analog Burners: Drum Dream
    Inspired by Polish drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski, Analog Burners’ Mensa-El freaks Bartowski’s work into dope instrumentals.
  • De La Soul & DJ TenDJiz: De La Soulviet
    Classic De La tracks remixed with Soviet jazz samples? Excellent. The beats are well constructed, the samples well chosen, and the overall vibe, very chill.
  • Freestyle Fellowship: The Promise
    It’s been nine years since the last album from the highly lyrical collective. Considering the break, it’s amazing that the result was so a cohesive, funky, enjoyable. The album dips a bit in the second half, but the first half is outstanding. Production is handled by Eligh, Black Milk, Exile, & more.
  • Greg Foat Group: Dark is the Sun
    I don’t even remember how I came across this particular album, but it’s a doozy. Funky UK jazz with harpsichord, organ, and synths that goes beyond just drums and bass. Dark is the Sun is a real gem that will appeal to fans of 70s spiritual-funk-jazz. Don’t overlook this one.
  • Honey Ear Trio: Steampunk Serenade
    Phenomenal release with Erik Lawrence on sax and flute, the always awesome Allison Miller on percussion, and Rene Hart on bass and loops (which are so subtly integrated, I had no idea they even existed). Their take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is one of the best ever.
  • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Race Riot Suite
    A concept album about the 1921 Tulsa race riot that’s intense, grooving, and wholly unique. This group’s 21st album in 18 years serves as a reminder that there’s amazing jazz coming from all around the country.
  • Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations: Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations
    Fun, short indie pop songs that are impossible to dislike.
  • KIRk: Msza Swieta w Braswaldzie
    Dark, blippy electronica-infused jazz reminiscent at times of both Pink Freud and Robotobibok.
  • Matthew Shipp: Art of the Improviser
    Shipp gets open on his version of “Take the A Train.”
  • Muzykoterapia: Piosenki Izy
    Very solid nu jazz (damn it, I hate that term, but there it is) from Poland. A nice accompaniment to Nostalgia 77’s album.
  • The Natural Yogurt Band: Tuck In With
    Quirky, funk-library style tunes. Massive breaks abound.
  • album of the year Nostalgia 77: The Sleepwalking Society
    This album got far more rotation from me than any other album this year. German vocalist Josa Peit joins Benedic Lamdin on his latest album as Nostalgia 77. Peit’s sultry voice is the perfect match for Lamdin’s nu jazz (there’s that damn term again), as heard on “Sleepwalkers,” song-of-the-year “Simmerdown,” and “Beautiful Lie.” This is one of the rare albums that I love, my wife likes, and even our 5-year-old daughter requests songs from. The Sleepwalking Society is near perfection.

    Here’s a 30-minute playlist of Nostalgia 77’s videos, acoustic versions, and interviews from this year:

  • Onra: Chinoiseries Pt. 2
    Pitchfork pooped on it, but I loved it nearly as much as the first.
  • Pharoahe Monch: W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)
    Sure, I’d love to see an Organized Konfusion reunion album, but I certainly can’t complain about Pharoahe’s solo albums. Favorite songs: “Assassins,” “Let My People Go,” and the title track.
  • Prince Fatty Meets The Mutant HiFi: Return of Gringo!
    Spaghetti western ska dub, Ennio Morricone meets The Specials meets Augustus Pablo.
  • Priscilla Ahn: When You Grow Up
    Alternating between light, poppy folk and subdued contemplative folk, Ahn delivers a super mellow and very enjoyable album. Favorite cuts: the title track, which is like a breezy spring day and the über-catchy “Oo La La.”
  • The Roots: Undun
    A late-in-the-year contender, this short (for The Roots) concept album is deep and moving. A great addition to their discography. (See John Book’s in-depth review for a great look at the album.)
  • Shabazz Palaces: Black Up
    I hadn’t kept up with the Digable Planets’ Butterfly since he and his crew denied me an interview for the college paper back in 1995 (not that I hold a grudge or anything), but my jaw dropped when I discovered his abstract work as part of Shabazz Palaces. His two EPs last year were very good and this year’s Black Up is even better. Unlike anything else out there and absolutely engaging. Loved (deep breath) “An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum,” “Endeavors For Never (The Last Time We Spoke You Said You Were Not Here. I Saw You Though.),” and “Swerve… The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding).”
  • Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Soul Time!
    Sharon Jones has a permanent spot on this list if she releases an album.
  • Shona Foster: The Moon & You
    There’s a clear Tori Amos influence from this singer I found via This American Life (not how I usually find my music because, well, I already know about DJ Shadow), but there’s a little Erin McKeown-esque style thrown in the mix making Shona Foster more interesting to me than her strongest influence. Niceness on “No. 34,” “Queens,” “Bad Intentions,” and “Where We’ll Go.”
  • SuperHeavy: SuperHeavy
    By all predictions, this album should have been somewhere between a confused mess and an acceptible “supergroup”-style album. Turns out it was an extremely enjoyable, “big” album with great performances all around from Jagger, Junior Gong, and the rest.
  • Thao & Mirah: Thao & Mirah
    Quirky and varied instrumentation makes this effort from the somewhat-odd-couple pairing of indie-folk singer-songwriters Thao (of Thao with The Get Down Stay Down) and Mirah one of the most engaging of the year. Favorite tracks: “Likeable Man” and “Squareneck.”
  • Various Artists: passionjunkies.it: Aa.VV. Dolphyn Surround
    Dope instrumental hip-hop from Italian beatmakers. Each track is based on Eric Dolphy samples.

Almost Best of 2011

  • Albert Kuvezin & Yat-Kha: Poets & Lighthouses & Live at the Stray Dog
    Two more strong releases from the Tuvan throat-singing powerhouses. Poets & Lighthouses was officially released in 2010, but not released in the US until 2011. Live at the Stray Dog was graciously released for free on Bandcamp.
  • AWOL One & Factor: The Landmark
    I’ve always been a fan of AWOL One’s left-field brand of hip-hop and this release with producer Factor is a nice addition to his discography. Favorite tracks: “Coming to Town,” “Frenemies,” “Rewind Yourself,” and the excellent duet with Moka Only, “The Wasp.”
  • Bubble Geese: #foamparty
    Offensive, party-friendly hip-hop with enough pop culture references to make Entertainment Weekly blush. Love the way they freaked Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd” on their first single. (Do I have to disclose that my cousin is one of the MCs? There, I just did.)
  • Common: The Dreamer, The Believer
    Common’s late-year contender is his best album in years. Favorite cuts: Ghetto Dreams (feat. Nas), Lovin’ I Lost, Sweet.
  • Elzhi: Elmatic
    I dig Elzhi and think he’s talented, but have never placed him in the top tier. This excellent mixtape had started to change my mind. Very well done with a lot of attention to detail.
  • Evidence: Cats & Dogs
    The self-name-checking weatherman is back with a solid solo release on Rhymesayers. Really dug “Late for the Sky (feat. Slug & Aesop Rock)” and the DJ Premier-produced “You,” which also had an incredibly dope video.
  • Moka Only: Barbecued Horse Contest Instrumental
    Moka is as prolific as they come in 2011. This year alone he’s released at least five original, full-length albums. Do you even realize how insane that is? I didn’t even have a chance to check all of them out, but I really enjoyed this collection of beats quite a bit.
  • Oddisee: Rock Creek Park
    If you still haven’t grasped what Oddisee is capable of as a producer, this album will do it for you.
  • Paul White: Rapping With Paul White
    Very solid album of aggressive tunes, but not absurdly so. Does that make sense?
  • Tech N9ne: All 6’s and 7’s
    Outstanding effort from N9ne. “Worldwide Choppers” is absolutely epic.
  • Tori Amos: Night of the Hunters
    This album is a weird one for me. I’m not a big fan of Tori Amos and I don’t think I’ll listen to this album very frequently, yet it’s a really, really good release. Funny how that happens sometimes.

Best of 2010 I missed until 2011

  • Levity: Chopin Shuffle
  • Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms
  • Arszyn/Duda: ŚĘ (my review)
  • Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom
  • Shabazz Palaces: Shabazz Palaces / Of Light

My Daughter’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My daughter, now five, has developed an interesting taste in music. Here are her favorite tracks this year (not limited to songs from this year), loaded up in a MOG playlist that we often spin when we’re on the road.

  • Beastie Boys: “Intergalactic”
  • The Upsetters: “Black Panta”
  • Nostalgia 77: “Simmerdown”
  • Dilated Peoples: “Live on Stage”
  • Dilated Peoples: “Worst Comes to Worst”
  • Rakaa: “Observatory (feat. Mad Lion)”
  • Rakaa: “Delilah”
  • Lee Perry & The Upsetters: “Kojak”
  • Beastie Boys: “Sure Shot”
  • Half Pint: “Have a Little Faith”
  • Tech N9ne: “Worldwide Choppers (feat. a ton of people)”
  • Go Diego Go: “Morning in the Rainforest/Diego Theme” (had to get one kids song in there)
  • Scientist: “Steppers”
  • The Upsetters: “Dub Organizer”
  • Nostalgia 77: “Beautiful Lie”
  • Dennis Brown: “Sitting and Watching”
  • Kathy Young: “A Thousand Stars”

Best Tracks of 2011

Here are two mixes I put together at 8tracks.com covering my favorite tracks of the year. I tried to stick to one track per artist and per album. The first mix was put together midway through the year and the second mix I just finished up. Total listening time: 2 hours, 18 minutes, 37 seconds.

2010 Music Year in Review

It’s been another great year of music. It’s tough to keep up with everything coming out, so I’m sure there’s some awesome stuff missing here, but the normal rules apply: this what I dug most and came back to most frequently.

(See also: 2009, 2008, and 2007.)

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order.

The Best of 2010

  • Belleruche: 270 Stories
    Belleruche’s approach of combining turntables and soulful vocals (“Influenced by vintage blues records, punk girl drummers, obscure 60’s cover bands and experimental west coast turntablists”) reminds me a lot of what we heard from Kristin Mainhart and the Khromozomes crew in the earlier part of the decade. Great, danceable, funky tunes very much in line with their excellent “Turntable Soul Music” from 2008. The video for “Fuzz Face” is also well worth checking (every frame was photocopied to hell to create a really ill visual distortion). Favorite cuts: “Fuzz Face,” “3 Amp Fuse,” and “Gold Rush.”
  • Black Sheep: From The Black Pool Of Genius
    For some reason, this album completely flew under the radar. From my recollection, almost no one talked about it after the first week it was out. But, honestly, it’s pretty darn good. Production’s dope and no fan of early-90s hip-hop can tell me that they didn’t get geeked from “Elevation” or the Native Tongues’ reunion track “Birds of a Feather” (even with the awkward levels on the mix).
  • Boog Brown: Brown Study
    Voiced by Detroit native Boog Brown and produced by the (I-finally-realize-he’s) super dope Apollo Brown, Brown Study is packed with some genuinely awesome tracks, including the amazing “Friction” featuring Miz Korona and perennial laze.net favorite Invincible (if she’s not making an album of the year, she’s appearing on them), “Friends Like These” featuring Kam Moye/Supastition, “Play the Game” featuring Ken Starr, and “Marinate.”
  • CeHa: Bilet
    Driving Polish hip-hop with some excellent production. Favorite track: the reggae-inspired “Rób, Co Chcesz.”
  • Celph Titled & Buckwild: Ninteen-Ninety-Now
    Original, unused mid-90s Buckwild beats lacing Celph Titled verses? Um, yes please. Great stuff, including guest spots from Treach, Demigodz, Celph Titled, and a massive posse cut with Sadat X, Grand Puba, A.G., O.C., and Diamond D. Favorite cuts: “Swashbuckling,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Styles Ain’t Raw.”
  • Clutchy Hopkins: The Story Teller
    In a world where everyone knows everything, it’s kinda cool that the mystery behind Clutchy Hopkins has remained a mystery. Is he really DJ Shadow? Cut Chemist? Madlib? Whatever the case, the music sounds is like a folky funk live-instrument amalgam of all of them.
  • El Da Sensei & The Returners: Nu World
    El and Tame are working on an Artifacts album, but until then, we have their excellent solo work to enjoy. Tame had two killer albums last year (one solo and one with Del) and El’s work with Polish production duo The Returners this year was every bit as good as his first outing with them a few years back. A great, great release. Best cuts: “Knowledge Be the Key” featuring Raaka, “2 the Death,” and “Live Noize” featuring Akrobatik.
  • Igor Boxx: Breslau
    From the Skalpel crew, Igor Boxx’s solo venture at first may not seem quite as interesting as the group’s work, but with repeated listenings, it really opens up. Great, deeply personal music.
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way
    Do all the analysis you want about white kids and the popularity of retro-soul of the last decade thanks to labels like Daptone, Soul Fire, and One Note, there’s no denying that Sharon Jones tears shit up. I Learned the Hard Way is a phenomenal release, full of the fire and soul that R&B hasn’t had in decades. Classic recording equipment and techniques are an important part of the equation, but if Jones’ presence and voice weren’t there, all the recording gimmicks in the world wouldn’t matter. Top-to-bottom, this one’s a classic will be in rotation for many years to come. Favorite cut: “Money.”
  • Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma
    Too busy? Phooey. Too blippy? Nah. All I know is that I’m continuing to dig the insanity and complexity.
  • The Left: Gas Mask (also)
    Producer Apollo Brown is another guy behind the sampler that had a great year, laying down the foundation for two of my favorite albums of the year, Boog Brown’s aforementioned Brown Study and this collaboration with MC Journalist 103 and DJ Soko. The classic formula: dope MC, soulful beats, and cuts (though I could have used some more of the latter). Favorite cuts: “Statistics (feat. Invincible),” “Gas Mask,” and “The Melody” (where Journalist 103 is on a Supastition steez). A month after the album hit, a 3-track EP of leftover cuts was released as Gas Leaks. It’s also worth snagging.
  • Little Miss Higgins: Across the Plains
    The album has firmly planted Little Miss Higgins amongst my favorite modern blues singers alongside Brownbird Rudy Relic, CW Stoneking, and Mamie Minch. Just, wow. There’s some serious power behind this creativity, as seen on “Bargain! Shop Panties,”
  • oddisee: Odd Winter
    Released in January, this one started the year off wonderfully. Oddisee is one of the most inventive and talented producers in hip-hop right now, able to tackle pretty much any style with ease and expertise, and this collection is a good example of his versatility. From the outstanding hands-on-the-lunchtable battle track “Riiight (feat. Stik Figa)” to the choppy “Carry On” to the mellowy-soulful “All Because She’s Gone.”
  • PackFM: I F*cking Hate Rappers
    “Too many MC’s, not enough fans.” The title track is the anthem for anyone who’s overwhelmed with the barrage of hip-hop by barely talented bedroom rappers and for the true MC’s and producers tired of nobodies talking shit with authority just because they were on a mixtape. But this 15-track (5 are skits) release isn’t a one-note pony. Pack brings heat on “Wanna Know” with labelmate Deacon the Villain, “Here We Go (Come On),” “Absolutely Positive,” “Sire” (Pack’s take on “King of Rock”), and the 180 degree turn from the title track titled “I F*cking Like Everything.” The skits are well done, but of course, get a little tired on repeated listening (though I’ll never tire of the “I think my Aunt got signed to Koch last week” line on the intro). The production by Kno, Tonedeff, Domingo, J-Zone, and others is great.
  • Pink Freud: Monster of Jazz
    Since one of my favorites bands of all-time, the brillant Polish post-contemporary jazz group Robotobibok, broke up a few years ago, I’ve been leaning on groups like Pink Freud to keep me happy. Like their previous output, Pink Freud’s “Monster of Jazz” is a wonderfully eclectic selection of modern jazz with splashes of electronica.
  • POE (Projekt Ostry Emade): Złodzieje zapalniczek
    I anxiously awaited this late-year release from the moment I heard about it. Emade’s a dope producer and OSTR is a great MC (ahd producer, but I don’t think he got behind the boards at all on this one) and the album didn’t disappoint. I only got to listen to it a couple of times since it took me until mid-December to get a copy, but it’s a great Polish hip-hop release with a classic style. Combine it with the full set of accompanying instrumentals, and I’m happy. Favorites: “Nie odejdę stąd,” “Nadzieja,” and “Ty Znasz Ten Stan.”
  • Rakaa: Crown of Thorns
    Of course Rakaa’s a dope MC, but when you give him some amazing production on every single track, you’re going to end up with an album of the year. There’s certainly no album that got more rotation for me than this one, due in part to the amazing “Delilah” and one of the sharpest political songs I’ve heard in a long time, “The Observatory” (featuring Mad Lion).
  • Reason: Landlords & Lullabies
    I wasn’t really too familiar with Rhode Island MC Reason, but I checked out some recent mixtapes and eventually bought the CD of his 2010 LP Landlords & Lullabies. His style may not be for everyone, but I really dug this release from the top down. Favorite tracks: “Paid Bills,” “Girls with Cameras,” and “Clingers” (featuring Dirty Hank).
  • Sade: Soldier of Love
    Receiving a massive PR push when it was released in January, Sade’s first album in a decade surprised the hell out of me. The title track/lead single was straight fire and the rest of the album was almost as good (other favorites: “The Moon and the Sky” and “Long Hard Raod”). This is one of those rare releases that matches voice and music so perfectly.
  • Scanner with the Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink of an Eye
    The problem with blending jazz with any other genre is that the jazz almost always suffers. Guru’s Jazzmatazz series was good, but you weren’t hearing any hard-bop complexity in the song structure. It’s rare that one can do what Scanner and the Post Modern Jazz Quartet have done here: mesh blippy electronica with post-contemporary jazz and make it sound “right.” The key is that this is a jazz album first. Scanner’s contributions, while certainly not an afterthought, are understated. Rather than becoming the focus, they’re an accent. Half the time, one doesn’t even realize Scanner’s doing anything, until you realize that the swirly effect that swooped in was his doing. On “Dreaming With You at My Side” (probably the least “jazzy” of the tracks here) the fuzzy bleeps somehow mesh with vibraphones and dub-style reverb on keys doesn’t sound out of place.

    My favorite track on the album is the closer, “Beyond the Edge of the Frame,” a frenetic breakbeat with piano and vibes and Scanner’s occasional interjections. While structurally it’s not as complex as the other tracks on the album, it has a drive behind it that’s hard to resist.

  • Sxip Shirey: Sonic New York
    I came across this one late in year, after listening to an episode of “Radiolab” featuring Shirey. Really unique instrumentation mixed with ambient sounds of the city. Sounds like a played out combination, but it works quite well.
  • Stik Figa & D/WILL: Alive & Well
    Stik Figa had quite a year with several dope releases hitting the net. His work with Oddisee on the From the Top was really dope, but I actually preferred Alive & Well, his follow-up with D/WILL to 2009’s hellogoodbye. I wasn’t familiar with D/WILL as a producer before his work with Stik, but I’m digging his sound. Stik Figa mayne! Favorite cuts: “Be Like That,” “The Down,” and “Alive.”
  • Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony
    Cassandra never fails to impress, but I think Silver Pony, an interesting mix of live and studio recordings, may be my favorite release of hers in the last decade. Love that voice.

If I had to limit myself to one favorite, I’d pick two. Sharon Jones and Raaka. There you go… enjoy.

Though I never got around to doing any more, you may want to check out my 8tracks.com mix I made in September titled “2010 Hip-Hop Favorites Part 1.”

The Best of Stuff from 2009 that I Discovered Late, in 2010

The Almost Best of 2010

  • Easy Star All-Stars: Dubber Side of the Moon
  • Eternia & Moss: At Last
  • Mos Def: Mos Dub
  • Nas and Damian Marley: Distant Relatives
  • Shigeto’s EPs

Other stuff worthy of mention, crammed into a small space.

BP and Odds: Vacancy,
Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh),
Falside: Dollars Make Change,
Mary Halvorson Trio: Switzerland 2010 / Saturn Sings,
Jaga Jazzist: One-Armed Bandit,
Elton John & Leon Russell: The Union,
OSTR: Tylko Dla Dorosłych,
The Roots: How I Got Over,
Sadat X: Wild Cowboys II,
Sage Francis: Li(f)e,
Whitefield Brothers: Earthology,
Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles

Favorite Hip-Hop Producers

  • Apollo Brown
  • D/WILL
  • Oddisee
  • The Returners

Best Ways to Hear New Music in 2011

  • Music blogs (for old, rare stuff, start with the Mining the Audio Motherlode category from WMFU’s blog and expand from there; for new stuff, search around a bit – just remember: always buy the stuff you like after hearing it!)
  • MOG
  • Ex.fm plug-in for Chrome
  • Bandcamp

2009 Music Year in Review

So here’s a little secret: this was actually posted on December 29, 2010. Here’s the thing: I totally meant to finish this in 2009 and continue the yearly streak of music year-in-reviews, but I kinda’ never finished. Thus, this list is mostly without commentary, but I wanted to get it posted before I posted 2010’s.

(See also: 2008 and 2007.)

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order.

The Best of 2009

  • Ancient Astronauts: We Are To Answer – Bad assness from German production duo.
  • Bad Luck: Bad Luck – Neil Welch’s latest.
  • Del and Tame One: Parallel Uni-verses – Two of the nicest join forces for one of the year’s nicest.
  • Dollabin: Styles You Can’t Afford
  • Fire!: You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago – EP of Swedish Psych-jazz.
  • JS-1: Ground Original 2
  • Erin McKeown: Hundreds of Lions – Album of the year? Possibly.
  • MF Woolly: Chrome and Ivory
  • OSTR: O.C.B.
  • Ras Luta: Jesli Slyszysz – Positive (I assume), upbeat reggae. Ras Luta sounds like a Polish Jr. Gong.
  • Souls of Mischief: Montezuma’s Revenge
  • Spinach Prince: Spinach Prince – Live instruments treated like samplers.
  • Sunny Tuff: Tuff Luff (EP) – My mellow my man!
  • Tame One: Acid Tab Vocab
  • The Unknown and DJ Ragz: DC Airways – Beats made on battery power in airports and on planes.
  • Wszystkie Wschody Slonca: Japonski Rezyser – Polish reggae/dub
  • Wu-Tang remixes/covers (El Michels, vs King Tubby) – Favorite: “Money Rules Everything Around Me” (CREAM & Horace Andy)
  • Various Artists: Kind of Bloop – 8-bit covers of Kind of Blue
  • Various Artists: Polska Rootz – “Future folk” is an apt description.

The Best of Stuff from 2008 that I Discovered Late, in 2009

The Almost Best of 2009

(alphabetical; and this is where I get lazy about linking)

  • Brother Ali: Us (love that combatting homophobia in hip-hop is becoming the thing to do)
  • Brownbird Rudy Relic/Orb Mellon: The Juke Shall Rise Again EP
  • Chip-Fu: Jungle Rock Jr. Stop Playing mixtape
  • DMV hip-hop from yU (Before Taxes), dumhi (3!), Diamond District, Oddisee (x2)
  • Elzhi: Leftovers mixtape
  • Kam Moye: Splitting Image (Best verse of the year: final verse on “Stars”)
  • Matisyahu: Light
  • Mos Def: The Ecstatic
  • Q-Tip: Kamaal The Abstract (rec. 2001, rel. 2009)
  • Sadat X: Brand New Bein’
  • ST/MiC: Honest Music
  • Aly Tadros: Things Worth Keeping (really liked “Linger”)

Other stuff worthy of mention, crammed into a small space.

Aarophat & Illastrate As Black Noise,
The ARE: IRAN,
Blu: Open,
Built By Snow: Mega,
Chris Read’s stuff (The Little Brother Show, The Diary volume 1.5),
Common Market: The Winter’s End EP,
Thaione Davis: Still Hear,
Deeskee: Audiobiograffiti,
Esoteric: Serve or Suffer,
Fashawn: Boy Meets World,
Avram Fefer Trio: Ritual,
Finale: Pipe Dream and a Promise,
Mr. Lif: I Heard It Today,
N.A.S.A.: The Spirit of Apollo,
Sage Francis: Sick of Wasting…,
Sleep: Hesitation Wounds,
DJ Spooky: The Secret Song

2008 Music Year in Review (yes, really)

Yes, I am actually publishing a 2008 year in review in March. But, I started putting this together last November and lord knows I’m hurting for content here, so here goes…
(See also: last year’s year in review.)

The Best of 2008

Invincible: Shapeshifters

When Jay Smooth embedded Invincible’s video for “Sledgehammer,” the first single off of her debut album (and my favorite hip-hop single of the entire year), I ordered the album from her site before the video had even finished. While Eminem and Dilla were Detroit hip-hop’s most popular exports, Invincible may well be the most deserving of attention. Not only is the precision of her complex flow razor sharp, she holds it down as an activist for the city’s forgotten. The result is an album full of jaw-droppingly dope lyricism, tight production, and an overall package that was hard to beat this year.

You’ll notice that I didn’t add anything like “one of the best female emcees ever” because I think we’re mostly past the point of acting like women can’t be every bit as ill as men. Invincible herself says it best with the nicest couplet of the year: “I’m striving to be one of the best, period / Not just one of the best with breasts and a period.”

Lots of superlatives here and they’re all deserved.

Supastition: Leave of Absence EP and Kam Moye: Self-Centered EP

I drop these together because Supastition=Kam Moye and both EPs are deserving of notice. Supastition is perhaps one of the best all-around emcees that you haven’t paid attention to. I know that was true for me — I heard his amazing “Fountain of Youth” two years late, but have been hooked since. This dude is hip-hop, like KRS used to say. Gems: “Welcome to My Life,” “Black Enough” (Self-Centered) and “Bad Blood,” “Word Has It,” “Worst Enemy” (Leave of Absence).

Goat: Special Agent

Special Agent is one of those rare unsolicited ADDreviews submissions that really grabbed me. It’s abstract, experimental, avant-garde jazz with just enough funkiness to keep things jumping. Now if I could just stop forgetting how good this album is after listening to it; I “rediscovered” it three or four times last year.

Nas: Nas

I haven’t really liked very much Nas has done since his first or second album even though the dude is a great MC. But this year’s self-titled album offered up some real gems, especially “Sly Fox,” a scathing attack on Fox News.

Neil Welch: Narmada

From my ADDreview: “Proof that post-contemporary jazz in the Trane/Shepp/Sanders/Ayler vein is alive, well, and getting better and better.”

J-Live: Then What Happened?

I’m a huge mark for J-Live. He’s one of the best out there and he proves it again and again, album after album. This one’s no different. “Ole (feat. Oddy Gato)”, “One To 31”, “It Don’t Stop”, and “You Out There” are all straight fire.

I had to stop following him on Twitter, though. Too many tweets.

7L & Esoteric: Esoteric Vs. Japan (Pterodactyl Takes Japan!)

I’ve always liked Esoteric as an MC but he’s really coming into his own as a producer. On this one, the samples are sourced from Japanese monster movies.

OSTR: Ja tu tylko sprz¹tam [Edycja specjalna]

From the moment I heard OSTR’s “Powietrze,” I knew this dude was someone to keep an eye on. And, indeed, this Polish emcee/producer has become one the country’s most well-respected and he’s finally getting his due in the States. This latest release has top-notch flows and beats that are beyond sick. Some surprise guests show up, too, in the form of X Clan’s Brother J, Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, and The Artifacts’ El da Sensei. Top tracks: “Co by siê nie dzia³o,” “1980 (feat. Sadat X and Cadillac Dale),” Jestem tylko dzieckiem (feat. El Da Sensei & Dan Fresh),” and “Jak nie Ty, to kto? (feat. Brother J).” Also, the instrumental for “Zamach na Ostrego.”

Al Green: Lay It Down

What do you get when you take legendary soul singer Al Green, put him together with producer ?uestlove and release the resulting album on Blue Note? A new Al Green album that has all the trademarks of his classic 1970 albums. This one was definitely an overlooked gem and the collaborations with Anthony Hamilton, Corinne Bailey Rae, and John Legend were surprisingly good.

Half Pint: No Stress Express

Yeah, I’m a bit biased, but Pint’s latest album is his best work since the late 80s, so I had to include it. Nice stuff here with Jack Maness from the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, Toko Tasi, Dollaman, and Miki Howard. Lots of great singles here, even if you’ve already got a couple of the tracks on other albums.

Pint also released a two-disc anthology last year that’s quite good, but he’s got several “Greatest Hits” compilations, so I decided this one deserved more notice.

Spejs: Czlowiek Z Jednym Pejsem

Another solid hip-hop album from Poland.

The Best of Stuff from 2007 that I Discovered Late, in 2008

A lot of times, particularly in the first month or two of the year, I come across something from the previous year that I missed. Here’s my ode to four albums that fall into that category.

Built by Snow: Noise (EP)

This is one of those CDs that I was sent for review on ADDreviews that sat around in my “unreviewed” pile for several months before I even listened to it. But it took only one time through to become one of my favorites. Sure, nerd rock isn’t exactly my normal musical territory, but the stuff here is just so catchy, I couldn’t deny it. “Radio,” “Julianna,” and “Laika” rawk.

Their new album, MEGA, came out last month and is almost as awesome as this.

Atmosphere: Strictly Leakage

This free album dropped on the web late last year and, truth be told, is as good as any other Atmosphere effort. It’s less introspective than Slug sometimes is and is more of a party record, with lots of battle rhymes over classic hip-hop tracks (like “YGM” (Young, Gifted, and Mixed) over Big Daddy Kane’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” track). Because of this, I think even Atmosphere/Slug detractors could get into it. Equally good on headphones, in the car, or while making pancakes.

100nka: Kompot Gratis and Potrawy sTrawy

I maintain that the progressive/post-contemporary jazz coming out of Poland is some of the most engaging music anywhere. 100nka is part of that scene.

I just became aware of their work last year and enjoyed the hell out of their 2007 double-release of Kompot Gratis and Potrawy sTrawy. Fans of Robotobibok and Pink Freud will love the complex, layered sounds of 100nka.

Thes One: Lifestyle Marketing

WOW. Thes One (of People Under the Stairs) takes the music of Herb Pilhofer, a composer responsible for a number of funky corporate jingles of the 1970s, and turns them into extra-funktastic beats. The swirling echoing vocals on “Northwestern Bell” will stick with you for days.

The Almost Best of 2008

One sentence each.

Craig G & Marley Marl: Operation: Take Back Hip-Hop: Way, way better than I expected.

Common Market: Tobacco Road: A strong follow-up to their classic debut.

pre: almightly low: Solid execution on a unique concept: an album built entirely on one-note samples.

Dr. Dooom: Dr. Dooom 2: Better than most of Keith’s recent output.

Del: Eleventh Hour: Not classic Del, but it’s always good to hear new stuff from the Funky one.

C-Rayz Walz & Kosha Dillz: Freestyle vs. Written: All writtens from Kosha Dillz and all freestyles from C-Rayz make for a fun concept album.

Muneshine: Status Symbol: The ultra-talented emcee/producer from the north is one to keep an eye.

Michael Franti: All Rebel Rockers: Like Yell Fire! part 2, but not quite as hot.

John Doe: The Last Amateur (One Hour Photo): More densely packed turntablism from the Hobo.

2007 Music Year in Review

It’s been a while since I’ve written any sort of music-themed year-end wrap-up (three hyphenated words in a row!), but I’ve really enjoyed a lot of new music this year, so I thought I’d share. In alphabetical order, here are my favorite albums of this year.

Tom Baker Quartet: Look What I Found

It’s rare that a new jazz album catches my ear any more, but when I got Tom Baker’s CD to review for ADDreviews, I was blown away. It’s an abstract, avant-garde jazz album–post-contemporary jazz, if you wish–but is so perfectly restrained that it’s actually accessible to those who don’t normally go for that sort of thing. Silence between phrases take front stage, thanks to the subtle interplay between musicians. I love it.

Choice track: "Family of Four"

web / buy

brownbirdrr Brownbird Rudy Relic: Anti-Stereo Acoustic Holler Blues

It’s even more rare that a new blues album catches my ear. Let me tell you, though, that this one isn’t just the blues album of the year, it’s the Album of the Year. Period, end of story.

Brownbird is a "straight-edge, vegan, Chicano purveying traditional acoustic blues music." And he’s probably the only one. The music is full of heart. You can feel your soul rattle when he hits his first note. To top it off, to get a more authentic, classic blues sound, he used vintage mics and recording equipment, as he described in an interview I did with him earlier this month:

In the late 40’s Ampex created the first 1-track home recorder. It was a bulky small dishwasher sized wonder that allowed a user to demo out tracks without having to enter a studio.

This is the machine I used.

I split the one track to two 30’s Era Model 55 Shure Unidynes by using a 2-dollar Radio Shack splitter and some electrical tape.

I recorded live in a rehearsal room designed for opera (read: natural reverb) and did everything live (obviously sans overdubs). Because the recordings themselves could not be set to level afterwards (as there is little more than volume) each Microphone had to be strategically placed to fit each songs vocal and guitar specifications. Since I did not have an engineer (or anybody’s help at all) I had to cut a track and meticulously listen to the play back to ensure that everything was near perfect as there was (and is) no way to change the tracks afterward.

Finally the tracks were transferred to CD without the use of digital manipulation and mastered to industry standard from the original transfer CD.

Choice track: "Stranger Here Blues"

web / buy

Jazz Addixx: Oxygen Refreshed

It was awesome to see two friends of mine–Mudd, who I’ve known since 1994 and Ragz, who I’ve known since 2000–get signed to a record deal with Domination Recordings. This updating of their self-released Oxygen album is phenomenal from beginning to end. Not only does Mudd remain one of the best under-the-radar emcees on the planet, he’s a monster behind the MPC as well. Throw in Ragz’s insane cuts and you have yourself a modern hip-hop classic in the vein of A Tribe Called Quest in their prime.

Choice track: "Dope"

web / buy

Jerseyband: Jerseyband Live: Lung Punch Fantasy

Random gimmicks like "lungcore" (metal with a horn section) are typically interesting to me the first time around, but don’t stand up well to repeated listening. Jerseyband, inventor of the phrase and concept behind Lungcore, though, is the rare exception. Their 2007 live album is an intense kick in the nads that will manage to take everything you’d expect from a metal band and turn it on its side. "Sangwich" is a good example of what I love about this album (check it out here). The track starts off with guttural screams, drops into an upbeat ska horn riff, slows down into an almost holiday-sounding melody, moves into some jazz elements, then closes out with some more ska and driving metal guitars. I truly cannot compare it to anything else I’ve ever heard.

Extra bonus: these guys have an awesome Christmas album, too.

Choice track: "Sangwich"

web / buy

Eric McKeown: Sing You Sinners

I first heard Erin McKeown on NPR early this year when they played her super-fun take on the standard "Get Happy." Her album, mostly interpretations of standards, is so fresh and original, it can’t even be lumped into the "covers of standards" category. She’s got a great voice, great enthusiasm, has a degree in ethnomusicology from Brown, and is from Fredericksburg. What else do you need?

Choice track: "Get Happy"

web

Chris Read: The Diary (The World’s Greatest Rap Megamix)

Holy. Crap. An 80-minute chronological hip-hop megamix with–hold your breath now–over 800 records in the mix. This is an amazing, amazing accomplishment and a true masterpiece. I’ll be posting a full review in the next few days.

It’s free. Go download it unless you hate great things.

download

Sage Francis: Human the Death Dance

Sage keeps on impressing with my favorite release of his since Hope. Love the guitar, lyrics, and hook on "Got Up This Morning" and the old school references on "Underground for Dummies." Also, his was the only live show I saw this year (hi, Corey!).

Choice track: "Got Up This Morning"

web

Archie Shepp: Gemini

While I’ve enjoyed some of Shepp’s new millennial output, I enjoyed Gemini more than
I expected. The first disc of this two-disc set kicks off with a kind of awkward duet with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, but then comes a 10 1/2 version of "Mama Rose," a Shepp standard. I hesitated a bit adding this to the list since to me, if Shepp’s not coming with the 60’s fire, it’s missing something, but the whole package is solid enough I decided to leave it in.

Choice track: "The Reversal"

web

Ticklah: Ticklah vs. Axelrod

Dub has been reborn thanks to this member of the Easy Star All-Stars. Full of heavy, heavy dub and classy Afro-beat crossovers, Victor Axelrod plays keys, drums, bass, and guitars on this gem of a release. Guest vocalists include Rob Symeonn, Mikey General, and Mayra Vega.

Dub just keeps getting wiser.

Choice track: "Pork Eater (feat. Rob Symeonn)

web / buy

If you feel like checking out all of the choice tracks above, give this l’il end-of-the-year mix a listen (it starts quietly):

And now, some noteworthy albums that are worth mentioning but didn’t make my favorites list.

DJ Paul C mixes

DJ Paul C is a New York City drum-n-bass legend. I was first introduced to him 1997 when I picked up a cassette copy of the Manhattan Calling mix from Breakbeat Science. It was a brilliant blend of dark dnb and found constant rotation in my deck for a number of years. I was happy to see that not only has he made that mix available for free as an MP3, he has a bunch of new mixes from this year posted as well. I love his selection of tunes and it makes me realize that the mid-to-late-90s dnb scene’s vibrancy lives on.

web / download

Fjord Rowboat: Saved The Compliments For Morning

"Canadian shoegaze" that almost completely goes against my normal listening pattern, Fjord Rowboat didn’t strike me as amazing the first time through, save for the super-catchy-downer "Shootin’ the Breeze," but I suspect this is an album that may grow on me like a fungus.

listen / buy

Hyphen One: The First Letter

He may not be the next coming of Wise Intelligent, but damned if this NJ head didn’t put together a solid album. Some tracks felt out of place ("Brothers In Christ"), but tracks like the graf-themed "Shit House Art" and "Plus One" featuring Pacewon are well worth checking.

web (warning: very load autostart audio) / buy

KRS-One and Marley Marl: Hip-Hop Lives

Not a super album by any stretch, but the symbolic nature of these two working together after the famous "Bridge Wars" makes this one worth of mention. Be sure to check out the video for "Hip-Hop Lives."

web

Poormen: Poormen

From the always awesome Public Eyesore, this album was released on a 3" CD and the 16 tracks span only eight minutes. It’s noisy, obnoxious, and a complete disaster. I love it. (Recorded in 2004, but released in 2007… I think.)

web

Statik Selektah: Spell My Name Right

21 tracks with about three times as many guests, this compilation has many ups and downs. The ups, though, are way up: like Big Shug’s "Punch Out" whose brilliant beat is based on the old Nintendo "Punch Out" theme and "Express Yourself 08" featuring Termanology, Talib Kweli, and Consequence, which culminates in a very different track than NWA’s original.

web

X Clan: Return from Mecca

A packed album from the eternally underrated Brother J (Professor X had no involvement with this before his death, as far as I can tell) that stuffs in some duds ("Positrons," "Mecca") amongst some real gems ("Weapon X," "Speak the Truth (feat. KRS-One)," and "To the East (feat. Abstract Rude and YZ)").

web