Back in March, we published our inaugural quarter list, featuring our favorite 20 releases from the first three months of the year by artists like E+E, Lil Herb, Actress, and Thug Entrancer. Now we’re back with our second-quarter favorites — spanning roughly from April through June — which includes a couple that we missed the first time around and an even looser definition of what qualifies as a release (two of the picks below exist only as single-track SoundCloud streams). Expect some kawaii pop and caustic noise, Brazilian carnival rhythms and atomized beats, fractured rap and #problematic metal, even recordings literally dug up from the dirt.
But before we get to the list proper, here’s a ridiculously long shortlist + some editor picks: Life Sim’s This Life, Madalyn Merkey’s Valley Girl, Fear of Men’s Loom, Wreck and Reference’s Want, DJ Marfox’s Lucky Punch, Karmelloz’s Source Localization, TCF’s 486669f0e9b…, Gucci Mane & Young Thug’s Young Thugga Mane La Flare, Fatima Al Qadiri’s Asiatisch, Future’s Honest, Lotic’s Damsel in Distress, Ancient Astronaut’s Ancient Astronaut, Sculpture’s Membrane Pop, Swans’s To Be Kind, Pure X’s Angel, Ben Frost’s A U R O R A, Ian William Craig’s Theia and the Archive, DJ Moondawg’s We Invented the Bop 2, Ivy Barkakati’s Star Report, Sd Laika’s That’s Harakiri, M. Geddes Gengras’s Ishi, Traxman’s Da Mind Of Traxman, Vol. 2, Container’s Adhesive, Diamond Black Hearted Boy’s How The West Was Won, Powell’s Club Music, Islaja’s S U U, 2 Chainz’ Freebase, and Jónó Mí ló’s Eco Reject Mixtape.
As stubborn analog heads deride the sterility of software synthesizers and laptop lobbyists tout their machines’ “infinite possibilities,” Christian Fennesz ambles into the middle of the debate, cracks a smile, and shows us that we can have it any way we like. The Austrian multi-instrumentalist approaches his multi-layered compositions in part from the perspective of a fastidious soft-synth aesthete, keen to explore jarring textural juxtapositions, otherworldly new plug-ins, and Max/MSP’s still unplumbed depths of disfiguration. In our recent interview, Fennesz quite simply states, “I like noise music a lot,” as if we couldn’t tell from the static-charred tumult of “The Liar” or the intensifying digital clipping of “Bécs.” But noise, in Fennesz’s hands, doesn’t alienate as much as fascinate, beckoning us to lean in and observe the craftsmanship of its fine grains. Although Bécs would bewitch us with those qualities alone, it’s another aspect of Fennesz’s practice that supplies the towering emotional peaks of tracks like “Static Kings” or the epic “Liminality”: his crystalline guitar work, presented as spontaneous takes flecked with winning imperfections, animating his songs with legible melodies and harmonic progressions etched in thick lines over the ambient haze.
Ninos Du Brasil
Novos Mistérios is like arriving in a country that never existed until the soil has been touched. Everything there is naturally unnatural, and their culture, technology, architecture, fashion, etc. is all familiarly “WTF?” Dancing is their only form of communication. Your navigator thinks that tapping is some kid banging with shovels and shit and shells, but none of the assessment is really that sound. Drums are not hollow or stretched-hide. Lights flicker like something is becoming. The version of you that is NOT you is welcome at Novos Mistérios under faith, not experiment. And the definitions of celebration, paranoia, hardcore sex, and normative seem to fade together in waves of material woven so tight it surpasses Kevlar. The politics of it is beyond individual mental capacity. Sometimes your nose bleeds. Hospital Productions has been reaching deep within the hearts of beat this year (Exoteric Continent, Ivy Barkakati, Dual Action). But add Ninos Du Brasil to that list, and world-building reaches max-level mind expansion. On par with High Wolf, L. Pierre, and [your favorite post-game drum-circle], Novos Mistérios gratifies all the senses of what makes postmodern agita tolerable, even at your most lax’d settings. The chain is OFF on this one. It will get you on an equalizer grind too! Will you survive the journey into and escape out of Novos Mistérios?
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
When TMT reviewer Gabriel Samach wrote, “After 10 years, I think we may finally have the next Madvillainy,” my initial reaction, having not yet heard Piñata, was an entirely skeptical “Yeah, sure, okay.” However, by the time I reached the interlude at the end of “High,” as my reaction mimicked the seizing dip-smoker’s howl, I began to think Mr. Samach might be onto something. Previous exposure to Gibbs had convinced me that his skill set made for better live performances than records. But now I realize that Gibbs simply needed a masterful beat conductor like Madlib to provide the perfectly imperfect (read: “ain’t fully quantized”) accompaniment for his raw yet polished always-in-the-pocket intensity. And really, there is no one “like Madlib” living today. Unfortunately, some cats are too caught up worshiping the ghost of Dilla to recognize that his only peer is currently pushing the craft even deeper into future realms of funk. As for the question of this being “the next Madvillainy,” it might be; but more importantly, it’s the first Piñata, and that’s something equally deserving of our highest admiration.
The scattered tracks and mixes pumping out of the enigmatic London-based pop factory/production company PC Music typically don’t bode well for inclusion on sanctifying, historicizing features like these. But GFOTY’s Secret Mix is so fun (!), so cartoonish (!!), so spastic (!!!) that we’re reminded of how exhilarating it can be to NOT GIVE A FUCK, despite even the mix’s nine-minute runtime and six-song tracklist (only three of which are original). Of course, this “exception” also speaks to the elastic, time-compressed velocity of GFOTY’s music, whose plasticized veneer and simulated naiveté make its aesthetic feel independent of any human operator and therefore also of any clearly-defined format. GFOTY even removes herself somewhat from PC Music’s more visible ✩avastars✩ (Hannah Diamond, Princess Bambi) by adopting ARK Music Factory-on-Red Bull production tricks and staggeringly complex algorhythms™ that lead to pop manifestations of the more overtly hyperreal and hypertextual variety. But there’s zero hostility here: these tracks party in a refreshingly inclusive (web) .domain, one in which GFOTY and PC Music CEO/creative outlaw A. G. Cook make rhythms with finger-snaps and melodies with helium; in which pop tropes are rendered anew through a balance of nuanced treatment and brazen intensification; in which gratification isn’t deferred or denied, but is instantaneous, inscrutable, incessant — and oh so devine. ♩ ☺ ✉ ✆ ♥
Because I’m Worth It
Because I’m Worth It, copeland’s first “official” full-length since her departure from Hype Williams, doesn’t waste time with ham-fisted gestures. Instead, the album harnesses psychic references in a manner that made her former duo so enduring to some and so impenetrable to others. The clues start with the bewildering album cover, which features a strikingly abrasive, ice-cold stare from copeland, an image whose cultural implications find continuity in the music: “l’oreal” acts as both an affirmation of worth and a foil to the beauty corporation and its slogan (“Because you’re worth it”); “Fit 1” turns the objectifying Brit slang on its head; while “advice to young girls” suggests that an authoritative voice commanding empowerment is, by copeland’s own admission, a joke, even as it could be taken by listeners as a call-to-arms. With her tactics ranging from wincing sine-wave-damaged depth charges (“Faith OG X”) to the purposefully cliché (“DILIGENCE”), there’s no assurance that the listener is making a “correct interpretation” of its content (and my own here is clearly just one of many possible). But that she manages to evoke such contemplation on an album that’s only 30 minutes long, where half the songs don’t even contain vocals, is itself an incredible achievement.