We’ve compiled as many of these tracks as are available into this Spotify playlist.
[Unlimited Free Milkshakes]
Before their recent breakup, Teen Suicide was the latest in a string of homespun projects from Baltimore resident Sam Ray. Their early releases mixed the fidelity of early Wavves with a disembodied take on downer emo, miles away from the beat experimentation and ambient works of Ray’s Ricky Eat Acid project. But then came “Salvia Plath,” released earlier this year as part of a compilation from Ray’s internet label Unlimited Free Milkshakes. It spins a piano sample from “Marvin’s Room” around some quietly crooned lyrics about eating strawberries and watching the Food Network to make someone else feel better. It’s certainly the sound of one man with a microphone alone in his bedroom, but it’s so beautifully sincere that it outweighs any preconceived notions you may have about the aesthetic. Lines like “If you still hate yourself I’ll eat you out for an hour in your room ’cause I love giving head” seek to assuage the pain, and in any case it sounds like Ray is a pretty good friend.
– Colin Joyce
Armed with little more than a cheap synthesizer and a gruff baritone, Owen Ashworth has long serenaded the world with the detailed stories of sadsacks and loners holed up in their homes. Portraying them with a specificity of detail and poignant wittiness unlike many bedroom musicians, Ashworth made a relative name for himself under the name Casiotone for The Painfully Alone. Though he retired that moniker a couple of years ago, his work hasn’t ceased. “Riot Grrrls” represents a similar sort of storytelling from his 2012 record as Advance Base, entitled A Shut In’s Prayer. A nostalgic look back at a friend and a summer and detailing the way people drift apart, Ashworth allows us to see a little of ourselves in his characters. Despite its bare bed of Fender Rhodes and a cheap drum machine, there’s a cinematic scope to his sort of songwriting. They’re all little short stories surrounded in melody, but particularly on “Riot Grrrls,” the level of detail lends a believability to the characters that extends beyond what the “song” seeks to do as an art form.
– Colin Joyce
[Cinematic / Creative Control]
17-year old Flatbush native Joey Bada$$ exploded onto the New York rap scene this year with a little mixtape by the name of 1999. Bada$$ and his Progressive Era crew are serious about their ’90s hip-hop — smooth jazz and soul-influenced beats with brass and keys. It’s clearly evident just minutes into the tape. Bada$$ even jokes on his Facebook profile that he was born and died in 1995.
“Survival Tactics” is Joey Bada$$’ battle anthem and a clear standout on the album, with an infectious and uptempo beat from producer Vin Skully and the best guest verse on the album from Capital Steez, taking shots at everyone from Lil B (They say hard work pays off/ Well tell the Based God don’t quit his day job) to the President of the United States (“If Obama got that president election/ Then them P.E boys bout to make an intervention”).
Perhaps even more fascinating is Bada$$’ lyricism and trying to decipher all of his ’90s emcee influences. On his verse when he utters the lines “When niggas start equippin’/ throw the clip in/ your blood drippin’/ and got you slippin'” it’s obvious that Bada$$ has taken a few notes from the vowel-distorting Notorious B.I.G.. If the Brooklyn teen is able to take more cues from the emcees that preceded him while continuing to illustrate his unique personal struggles, the sky’s the limit for him and Pro Era.
– Evan Kaloudis
Airhead’s “Wait” single turned a lot of heads back in March with its impossibly fragmented rhythms, the isolated singer-songwriter-y vocal sample that seemed to leak achingly from the track like tiny restrained tear drops, and its stunning what-the-fuck mixture of lo-fi indie and folk instrumentation with an incredibly immediate and impressionistic pastoral atmosphere. None of the sounds were commonplace on the London dance heavyweight imprint, R&S, or, really, anywhere within a few hundred miles of it. But it was that release’s B-side that ultimately did the most damage. The track’s polished-marble synths and halting click-snap snare echo hover around a fat, tense negative space punctuated by an oscillating skyward arpeggio and booming kick. It’s building toward something, but it’s too beautiful to be conscious of what’s coming. Some “Here Come The Warm Jets”-esque electric guitar harmonics slide their way in like crystalline vapor trails before the whole thing explodes into power chorded reverie, little melodic pathways shooting off from the track’s huge emotional center. It shouldn’t work, but, boy, does it.
– Will Ryan
White Lung’s debut LP, Sorry, is a constant push-pull toward opposite extremes of hardcore decimation and undeniable hook-y, sing-along goodness. The Vancouver 4-piece surround themselves in colossal, physical mountains of roaring guitar riffs and serrated waves of tremolo-picked noise while vocalist, Mish Way, dominates the onslaught with her gooey and emotive, yell-sing vocals. Sorry is full of tracks with rapidly scaled builds and happily thrashed choruses and “Glue” is the best of the bunch. Opening with a delicious syncopated drum fill, the group is laser accurate and exceedingly tight in the pocket, Way’s judgmental, kiss-off lyrics reaching a pitch as the guitars cut horizontally through a carnivorous, melodic arpeggio. The chorus lands with a blistering see-saw rhythm as Way leaps through, all anthemic sentiment and gut-punch sing-song delivery, ready to lead the troops in battle. It’s impossible not to sing along with that “dead horse rotting” line without feeling like all your enemies have been smited.
– Will Ryan
“Gun Has No Trigger”
Dirty Projectors have a certain knack for colorful songs. Bitte Orca is this wide, expansive arena sound being thrown around with each slight motion — brightness unmatched. That album, however, lacked a certain amount of structure in its songs, its major focus being intricately sewn-together arrangements that changed whenever they needed too. “Gun Has No Trigger” managed to change that perception immediately. The instrumentation is sparse and the ears are fixed upon the vocal performances of Longstreth, Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle, and Angel Deradoorian, all containing a beautiful yet haunting quality to all of them. The song plays out in a cohesive manner that hasn’t been seen from Dirty Projectors very often and it’s refreshing for a band of their caliber to make the brave jump. Though this feature is continued on in their fantastic album Swing Lo Magellan, “Gun Has No Trigger” is special in its enclosed dark nature filled with lyrics of societal dragging, accompanied with the ironic notion “the safety’s off but the gun has no trigger,” eventually revealing that the gun is pointed at the holder.
– Andrew Halverson
2011 proved to be a stellar year for Objekt, starting off a complete unknown and winding up one of the true breakout stars of underground club music. Self-released tracks like “CLK Recovery” and “The Goose That Got Away'” caught the attention of “UK bass” DJs up and down the country, but also left a mark on the techno scene in Berlin, where TJ Hertz now resides. A limited edition white label featuring two edits of a thankfully Drake-less “Wildfire” under the SBJEKT alias plus a spot reworking “Bloom” on Radiohead’s high-profile TKOL RMX 12345678 series helped further the notion that Hertz may be the most ruthless Oxford graduate since Rupert Murdoch. So on paper, it’s faintly peculiar that his sole release of the year on all formats was the Cactus / Porcupine split on Hessle Audio way back in February; that is, until you actually hear the thing. While the flip is great in its own right, “Cactus” is absolutely monstrous. It creeps forward in an unassuming manner before hitting with such sternum-rattling force that it single-handedly revived the credibility of wobble bass amongst DJs that are more likely now to be found playing deep house. But what makes it truly unique is how after a period of sustained assault, the track recedes into the black before coming back double-strength and sounding entirely different, a trick Hertz manages to pull off twice more before relenting. I can’t do it justice, it genuinely has to be heard to be believed; or, indeed, felt.
– Gabriel Szatan
“If Not I’ll Just Die”
[Merge / City Slang]
Lambchop have never had an issue selling their own custom brand of country soul. And amid sardonic, often irreverent lyrics, the band makes music that lingers in your mind long after the last notes have faded from your speakers. Opening track “If Not I’ll Just Die” from their latest album Mr. M, which is dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt, takes the band into familiar territory as singer Kurt Wagener opens the song in classic Lambchop form with lines like “Don’t know what the fuck they talk about/maybe blowing kisses, blowing names/and really what difference does it make” and makes it seem as though a sense of resignation and grief is weighing heavily on everyone. The swaying strings and opulent piano lends the song a timeless quality that belies its mournful lyrical tone. But this being Lambchop there is always a knowing smirk buried somewhere in there, letting everyone know that despite the decidedly dour outlook, the band is working through its sorrow in the only way they can—through their music. The song even appears to make some meta comment on the nature of itself when Wagner sings “…the strings sound good/maybe add some flutes.” But regardless of its affectations, the song shows the band in their prime, peddling the sounds of Nashville by way of Las Vegas.
– Joshua Pickard
2012 continues to rev up the pace the last few years have set as far the mutant splicing of pop, R&B, and UK bass, the disparate sounds of woodblock clank, FM radio, and nocturnal lurk merging into a singular, throbbing slink, and Vancouver’s Evy Jane occupy their own special place in the sub-sub-genre, on the more stormy, atmospheric, and slow burning end of things. The duo of vocalist Evelyn Jane Mason and producer Jeremiah Klain come fully formed with “SAYSO,” the first track off their self-titled EP, delving deep, deep into noirish, after dark cool, its thick, smoke-filled atmosphere syrup-dripped onto an isolated, bone cracking snare propelled by a classic dubstup bass flutter and some psychedelic dub chords. Mason’s voice barely registers above an alluring and smiling, tight-lipped whisper as if she’s singing the whole track into an accomplice’s ear. The track gets subtly blurrier as it goes on until Mason’s wordless coos are swallowed whole by the deep reverberating glug. It barely crosses four-minutes, but it’s such an engrossing and complete track that when it’s over you feel like that after-party, mid-morning haze has gone with it.
– Will Ryan
In a year that was littered with some amazing tracks, A$AP Rocky’s “Goldie” still stands as an example of hip hop at its best. Backed by a hard, steady beat by Hit Boy (who had a streak of great production this year too), A$AP displays some of his most playful lyrical work to date: “A 40 ounce to chase it, that’s just an understatement/I’m early to the party but my ‘Rari is the latest.” A$AP spends the entirety of the song bragging about how awesome his life is, and how jealous you should be that it isn’t your life. But since it’s A$AP, you don’t get mad at him, because you’re having so much fun just going along with it. Even though we spent most of 2012 anticipating a follow-up to LiveLoveA$AP, and instead hearing about delays, “Goldie” was the perfect consolation prize for having to wait until 2013 for A$AP Rocky’s full-length album. Luckily, this song will be on the playlist rotation for quite sometime. Why? — because its just too infectious for its own good, and that’s perfectly fine with the rest of us.
– Eric Arredondo