2016: First Quarter Favorites 20 picks from the first three months of the year

For each year's first three quarters, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter features are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heard among the more popular picks. More from this series


Just a quarter into 2016 and it already feels like we’ve experienced the full emotional and sensorial spectrum of a year’s worth of music. And given how much we listen to these days, we sorta have, comparatively speaking: We got the big album (The Life of Pablo), the critically acclaimed album (untitled unmastered.), and the pop album (Vroom Vroom); the misfit (LEXACHAST), the mixtape (Purple Reign), and the miscellaneous (Arigato). But try as we might to sanctify and fetishize just 20 out of an increasingly ridiculous amount of great music being released, our favorites this quarter are already looking to the future. From Dean Blunt’s Babyfather and Young Thug to Charli XCX and 18+, more than half of the artists on this list have either already dropped a new release or are planning one (or more) for later this year. Crazy times.

Before we get to the list, here are releases that we loved but didn’t make this cut: Lucrecia Dalt’s Ou, Blithe Field’s Face Always Toward the Sun, Lil Yachty’s Lil Boat, Eric Copeland’s Jesus Freak, Why Be’s famished 003, LIL UGLY MANE’s Oblivion Access, Katie Got Bandz’s Drillary Clinton 3, The Body’s No One Deserves Happiness, Sicko Mobb’s Super Saiyan Vol 3, Future’s EVOL, Josephine Foster’s No More Lamps In The Morning, Lil B’s Thugged Out Pissed Off, Aluk Todolo’s Voix, Matmos’ Ultimate Care II, Mikael Seifu’s Zelalem, Pinkshinyultrablast’s Grandfeathered, Space Camp 1991’s Space Camp 1991, and David Bowie’s Blackstar.


Brood Ma

DAZE

[Tri Angle]


Yah, dystopia reeks. Anthro-alphabetic paradigms keep getting written into rocks. We are overtaken and infatuated with intensely overstimulating our small, shitty human brains that regularly ruin everything. We consume byte-sized grains of regime. We file them in arrays of ridiculous, jumbo images. Images drip as Hard Wear, as Thorium and NRG. Images drip as sonic precodes shifting and producing essential strands of malignant code. Images rot like organic structures throbbing with diseased life. Brood Ma’s trance-inducing gamification of image-sound spawns music as flighty, small, and vexing as it is leviathan. Metallurgic textures descend into plate-shifting blasts of geo-sound. Silvery video game dust is blown all over the mix. Molten cores of human-hatred pool — attempting to melt shoddily-built structures back into primordial shapes — a cloud of poisonous gas, a mesa of weird ore. DAZE is a bitter, harsh cloning of geologic sound functioning as an unforgiving critique on net-concrete “club” musicology. Early in 2016, we see the crusts of net-movements cast as an elemental friction between planet and image — with tension building evermore, no release in sight.



Charli XCX

Vroom Vroom [EP]

[Vroom Vroom]


Keep up! High-heeled socks were manufactured for this world of fierce friction. And 2016 will be the hardest year yet. So meet me at Jeff’s party around 9? Danny L Harle is doing a DJ Challenge in the city after 1 AM. We’ll warm up while living-room dancing to Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom EP [SET TO REPEAT]. Featuring an infinite jest of racket from Hannah Diamond and queen-bee SOPHIE, Vroom Vroom is the experience needed in leveling up life to its(!!!!!!!!!!!!!) fullest. Success is within reach. Buckle up, bb-boii. Charli XCX is your getaway driver. Let’s ride this secret together.



The Savage Young Taterbug

Shadow of Marlboro Man

[Night-People]


In spite of how you may feel after listening to The Savage Young Taterbug for the first time, Charles Free is everything but a mystery man; he’s the wind in your hair, a soft bandage on a fresh wound, and the first sip of sweet lemonade on a hot summer’s day. The gooey hum of his deep-fried folk offers a fumbling hand onto a degraded scene of melancholic posturing and harmonious distortion. His nonchalant charm creeps through the cracks of confessional lyrics that tug on our heartstrings through the most warped, rugged instrumentation. And for all those rough-edged production tropes, the music comes saturated in a demeanor that’s unmistakably sincere. On “The Paperstud,” Free’s first single from Shadow of Marlboro Man, the frazzled loops of Journeyman’s Cheddar are evaporated to reveal the tender skeleton responsible for shaping his most contorted and distinct abstractions. Whether he’s grumbling over a potential love interest or distorting his voice to fit the frazzled wave of his guitar strings, Free’s latest tape exists as a glistening gemstone while remaining one of the most humble recordings of the year so far.



Endgame

Savage [EP]

[Purple Tape Pedigree]


Gettin’ real savage out here. These streets, on unseen knees, in the dark, breaking through a fence, into a riddim, with the hi-hats on fire. Neotropical like say global warming again. Sweating in a bed in the darkness, inhaling fumes, dying fast. Sword-wielding enemies come out of the amplifiers. Dancehall, dancehall. Jamaica, Jamaica. UK armor; melody as sword, bass as shield. Endgame’s fantasy that music can do damage, not just to eardrums, but to limbs and neurons. Enter the Territory of the Jamaican Samurai. Action figures, comic books, comic book stores. Dirty newspapers dancing in a momentary whirlwind. There will be aggressive stares in the club, but Endgame’s music can handle them. Murders, there will be more murders in the world. Dead bodies piled up. Alive bodies bodied up in a dark space. Samurais walking in the fog. Endgame, in the fog.



Jeremih

Late Nights: The Album

[Def Jam]


Lately, I’ve been feeling down about my generation’s preferred method of exchange and what that says about what we supposedly value in our relationships “these days.” We Netflix and Chill, Snapchat split-second booty calls, swipe right for a good time. And we’re into it, for as long as our favorite show is free to stream. Until that awkward lull between seasons, between text messages, between Drake single releases. And it feels good while it lasts, until it doesn’t. Lately, I’ve been bumping this shit nonstop, wondering when it’ll all wear off like that glint peeking out th’ blanket top, 20 minutes in, 3 months down. And then it hits me, like when New Girl trips you up because you notice yourself somewhere in Zooey’s hair: this Jeremih dude’s finding it in between blunt hits and blimp rides, and yet there’s nothing dispassionate about it. And now I’m sitting on my couch with 16 inches of bacon cheese bread, finished with every available season of Louie, but I’m on like my 10th spin of Late Nights this week, liberated by its charm, feeling like the world is mine.


Future

Purple Reign

[Freebandz]


“I just need my girl/ I just need my girlfriend,” wallows the 32-year-old trapper-cum-multimillionaire rapper on the closing track from his Purple Reign mixtape. While EVOL, the quick strike follow-up album, may have performed better commercially — selling over 100k copies in its first week — and provides more audacious bangers for the would-be clubhoppers of the world, Purple Reign ultimately remains one of Future’s most confessional, intimate works to date. At first, Purple Reign is relatively easy to undersell, but in the months since its release, the tape has transmogrified into something of an all-encompassing grand narrative of Future and practically bookends the emotional-dirty-Sprite-superstar persona he’s carefully built since his messy split from ex-fiancée Ciara. But all the tabloid fodder and narrative tricks would amount to nothing if the actual tunes didn’t hold up, and Purple Reign has ‘em by the boatload. His flow has never sounded more disaffected and sensational (“Salute”), his free-associative lyrics never more bombastic (“No Charge”), never more quotable, and his hooks never more addictive (“Wicked”). What he’s cooking up next is anyone’s guess, but Purple Reign reminds us why Future can get away with a song like “Perky’s Calling” — because he’s the best supervillain rapper out.



Secret Boyfriend

Memory Care Unit

[Blackest Ever Black]


Memory Care Unit: Case File. The vocals don’t even enter until halfway through the second track, almost 15 minutes into the album. That’s the kind of tactic that might get labeled as epic in almost any other case. Chris & Cosey as a solo act. Junk electronics playing beautiful melodies by whatever means necessary. Loner vibes of deep-sea organisms conveyed by a person with pawn-shop synths. Micro blips of “They’re Playing Themselves” echoing drops of water in some cave, host to slimy organisms moving about in the dark. It’s what happens when no one bothers you, and you’re just onto some “your - self” shit. “Stripping at the Nail” and that watery chorus sound on a guitar coming at you like New Order on barbiturates. More vocals (finally), just whispering in this emptiness… possibly meaningless… hard to tell. Effortlessly loops back around to track one after “Memorize Them Well,” so repeat repeat repeat. Maybe the most A L O N E record of 2016 so far.



Dedekindcut

BHM/N3D

[NON]


“This is us then and now and after,” declared Dedekindcut, a.k.a. Lee Bannon, by way of NON, and there’s something demeaning about placing BHM/N3D in a temporal context. Indeed, there are certain facts that can’t be disputed, maintained Juliana Huxtable at the end of last year, and BHM/N3D continued a timeless narrative into the present first quarter, a narrative engrained in the hellish soil of our institutions and rooted in that depicted by Huxtable’s artwork — a nightmarish backdrop, enduring as do masterpieces of Rembrandt or Johannes Vermeer. Incarnating sonic signifiers of black history against piercing cuts of rave, at other times it’s chopped and screwed, mincing its temporal flow, but never breaking a chilling spitting image of familiarity, identity fading into its three dimensions.



Good Willsmith

Things Our Bodies Used to Have

[Umor Rex]


Willsmith may be Good, but if we’re to take their latest at face value, the kids certainly aren’t. Things Our Bodies Used to Have almost plays out as a swirling, cacophonous eulogy to everything these children lose in the transition to adulthood, in the transition to that anarchic state of things where you’re on your own, and people care about you only insofar as they can materially gain from your existence. Its eddied currents of dystopian synth, unhinged guitar, and mournful electronics fuse into a study of bereaved and betrayed youth, seamlessly yet disconcertingly painting this youth as having shed everything that made them unique in order to fit securely into the machine. Yet, however tightly this machine clasps them into place, the free-form post-rock by this Chicago band (which features ex-TMTer Mukqs) repeatedly hints that there’s something radical bubbling under the calmed surface, waiting for the perfect moment to burst out.



Amnesia Scanner & Bill Kouligas

LEXACHAST

[Self-Released]


LEXACHAST utilizes a coded language perversely to tell a hypermodern fiction. Starting with a buzzing, declarative refrain, PAN founder Bill Kouligas and the Amnesia Scanner duo-hivemind-website update a twisted code base of electronic glitch, splicing it with jarring rhythmic if-then statements until it is forced to attack itself and perish in a pleasurable apoplexy. Like glitch art, and the indifferent, ever-evolving website created for the project by artist Harm van den Dorpel, LEXACHAST encodes emotion into uncommitted cultural objects by subjecting them to overclocked and inappropriate performance parameters, ultimately turning them into constructs of purely aesthetic syntax. LEXACHAST’s mutant designs of clipped voice and compressor burn off disharmonic energy in a fricative groove, filling the file with furious waves of artful deletion. Just like with past AS projects, and a good degree of Kouligas’s PAN label output, it’s a fantastically surreal take on the typically positive modulation of modern club music that still carries the torch for its future, a total rewrite plus an update. This executable now reveals the “negative potential” of certain sound sources.


Kanye West

The Life of Pablo

[GOOD/Def Jam]


“What if Kanye made a song about Kanye?” Truth is, every Kanye song is about Kanye, just as every tweet, album drop, or fashion show is flecked with that miscreant persona he’s been cultivating ever since the days of pink polos and backpacks. The Life of Pablo is at once a toast to the douchebag, a “topology of monstrosity,” and a love letter: to the beautiful mornings, to Equinox, to wives and mothers; in which Mr. West rediscovers his formerly lost soul. Kanye, like Barth before him, knows that we are all cut from divine cloth — just listen to “Waves” or that Sister Nancy flip and feel his beatific vision, the god dream, shine like sunlight filtering through the blinds. But it’s hard to be a god, and perhaps TLOP will never truly be perfect as a consequence of its own Desiign/er, as a living, breathing, changing creative expression. Such is the nature of what Kanye is staking here, an attempt to shift from the ossified concept of an Album and rendering it mutable to its creator’s mercurial whimsy. And so, I say this: “I belong to Pablo” (Which / One?), and as we grow and thrive in the coming months, TLOP can only do so too.



MORO

SAN BENITO [EP]

[NON]


Water resistance is a drag, a dance revolution: abrasive and erosive, resplendent and viscous. Like the apocalypse-pastoral cross-section of its (Chino Amobi) cover, SAN BENITO is something that shapes and overflows our perspective with the beautiful force of rupture, sounding against the fibreweb hold of history’s invisibalizing horizon. It’s pleasing; it’s pained. MORO’s decolonizing dance music for NON (not doing; not involved with; not of the kind or class described) WORLDWIDE (extensive; diasporic; not international) is the reclamation and defamation of tango from Argentina’s whitewashing shallows, seaweed-fed and scary. Beneath the surface tension of the noise is the skin friction that this release listens against. A rhythm treasure that beats with stormy, declarative purpose, it remembers who woke up killed in action, passage after passage. No petrichor without ash, no sleep without bloodshed. MORO rewrites the conclusion in howling wolves, unsheathed swords, fluttering wings, half-halted screams, air raid sirens, detonating shells, emotional organs, and all along the endless undertow push and pull of the tide against the shore. The water you’re waiting for.



Prurient

Cocaine Daughter

[Hospital Productions]


Slow-roasted corpse wrapped in pay-by-the-hour motel bedding. Six dead after a bus driver lost control, crashing into the highway below. Two dead after a home invasion; hear the chilling 911 call. A child walks alone in the woods. This weekend will see four feet of snow. A nurse pulls the plug and she breathes. The door was open. Child drowns during a six year old’s birthday party. The police are under investigation after video emerges of a man being shot point blank in the chest. There’s a cabin above us. A city searches tonight for a young girl last seen playing in her yard. A drug ring expands their reach. A past death buried, watered, and trimmed. She was last seen wearing a green coat, jeans, and white shoes. The market fell again as tensions with the East rise. Drone strike appears to have hit a schoolyard. Old names recycled into new existence. Pretend your past is relevant. Six months into sleeping under the Western Ave bridge. Body found. A tape recovered.



Young Thug

I’m Up

[300 Entertainment/Atlantic]


No one in their right mind would claim that I’m Up is one of Thugger’s finest releases to date. With Slime Season 3 just released and his much-anticipated/-delayed official debut, Hy!£UN35, due in the summer, we highly doubt that I’m Up will even be the best record he puts out this calendar year. Nevertheless, I’m Up’s value isn’t really measurable by the Aspergian systems of ranking that we call music criticism; to the contrary, this minor album’s considerable merits are correlated more to its dashed-off effortlessness than to any sense of ambition. This is a demonstration of Young Thug at his most nonchalant, coolly showboating between touchdowns, a welcome reminder for old fans — and perhaps an assurance to new ones — that winning isn’t always the best reason to play the game. Not that Young Thug really seems to do anything but win, mind you. Just look at that artwork: this is Young Thug’s world; we just inhabit it. He’s not just gonna let success slip away from him, major label machinations be damned. I’m Up is his way of letting us know that he doesn’t have anything else to prove. He’s ready. He’s happy. He’s next. He’s up.



ADR

Deceptionista

[PAN]


Trip Metal is a phrase associated with confusion and the acceptance that such a feeling is universal and should be embraced. An ecosystem, in a telluric sense, devoid of organic growth, devolves into total self-consumption and eventual obliteration. In a mellifluous sense, flourishment abides by no soil-based rules. A parrot will often not leave its perch while caged. The height must give into the instinct of being above it all. Shaken stimuli is cut clean along border paper and white-walls with #expensive ART hung, as glum tummies fold against glum tummies. Within this confounding human bash, ADR’s Deceptionista runs alongside the stagecoach and the hovercraft.



18+

FORE

[Self-Released]


Sexy and sleek, like the best he-said she-said R&B, FORE’s full of trappy anthems for the coked-up camslut lurking inside every bloated body on the internet. Following up on 2014’s excellent Trust, 18+ throws art-school ambition at the sex-playlist genre. It’s House of Balloons with PC Music pretext, music that knows when to shut up with the specifics and hit you with naughty feelings. Collaborators Justin Swinburne and Samia Mirza both live in L.A., but they prefer to work separately, sending each other files of their recent projects, and we can hear that disconnect in the smothered emotions that filter through standout tracks like “headinmyway (drone).” Like a knockout Tinder match who feeds you pills the moment you meet, this one’s worth adding to your rotation.



Kendrick Lamar

untitled unmastered.

[Top Dawg/ Aftermath/ Interscope]


The body wheels an elbow over its attacker, pivots on its heels, and with sneakers smacking hardwood, an Atlas shoves. The body breaks away from the Earth, a fadeaway liftoff, the Olympian ascending. Watch the lips: “levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate.” The body, Lebron, lands, hauls down a basket and untitled unmastered. What’s it sound like, Lebron? “It’s not the funk monograph of Butterfly, maybe because what we need now is the fractured unknowns, the wash of artist as young black man. The damn thing has been pimped and we are in flight; Kendrick can’t be untitled unmastered ever again, right? And it’s all over the songs, the sureness, the dread, the glee, the abandon. It starts with a come-on, ends in the manic groove, who we? what now? And he just raps, trapping the things we crane for in the space between palette and teeth. It’s the sketch of the artist as the young man sketching. It’s not the Finals. It’s an intake, the shootaround, a levitation. But you have to be there when it’s the game’s best. It’s the body and the voice that you want taking the shot as the clock hits zero.”



Yearning Kru

Copper Vale

[Planet Mu]


In this day and age, the hard and simple truth is that it’s not that difficult to find strange, disorienting electronic music. We certainly aren’t complaining here at TMT (as this list might’ve tipped you off), yet still, there’s something special about Copper Vale, Yearning Kru’s debut release from Planet Mu. The gurgling mutations strewn about Copper Vale aren’t merely the latest iterations of an ever-fracturing digital landscape, but rather the moldy residue left in the wake of that progress. These lurching processionals, hewn to pieces then melded back onto one another to yield maximum stickiness, speak to a between-ness that’s all too rare in the dialectic of artistic upheaval. The discomfort that seeps through the pores of Copper Vale is numbing to the point that it actually breaks through our preconceived barriers of what “psychedelic,” “tactile,” and “futuristic” mean, achieving a newer and more alarming liberation. Referring to these nine pieces as “tracks” feels unfair; though the claustrophobia of the laptop is present here, Yearning Kru takes our emerging neofuture and flattens it into a paste, rejecting the kind of directional movement or acceleration we might crave from our ever-improving fifth appendages. Instead, he serves us up a different theory: the final frontier isn’t in the stars — it’s stuck to the bottom of our shoes.



DJWWWW

Arigato

[Orange Milk]


If Meek Mill said, “It’s levels to this shit,” then DJWWWW was like nah, frick that and instead made Arigato, just the type of EVERYTHING MUSIC jumpoff we lust for ‘round TMT to surgically prod and homeopathically massage out that primeval, “what even is music?” curiosity from our jaded, literally perfect bone structures. ‘Cause foreground/background, macro/micro, source/sample: they got literally bodied therein, like, err’body a formless organ unto another freek constellation. Like, time is a texture that ain’t always soft, and this joint was spiny! Vines and rappers, straight Ideas and shit pulled up, dressed like samples, and spit a rousing chorus of “Whatup, doe?” ‘Cause DJWWWW’s the type of DJ who makes you forget there was a DJ. Like it was God rode the razorback particles of cybertime out this Transformer heart. Arigato put the Fear of God in us, b.



Babyfather

Platinum Tears

[Self-Released]


The streets have a bad grudge and, for Babyfather (Blunt, Dean), the only refuge is in the surface of everything. In the merciless duration of a sample repeated in a bizarre rhythm, as if arguing against rhythm. In the “background” of muddy, middley frequencies, the navigation of which is considered so difficult that Idris Elba called Blunt “brave” for sticking to it. The surface brings freedom. It brings power, in that even your sufferings and cryings are manifested only as the shallow glisten of platinum — to be untouchable. These Platinum Tears are filled with pretty violins and murmurs of transgression and bliss. One of them sounds like Skid Row. They form the shallow fields on which Blunt’s characters play the games of war and brotherhood, of love and scorn. All of these are ghostly, intimated only by rough particulars. Good driving music. For lurking and loving. For the dark and the light, and certainly for gray days. Dean, will you ever respond to my letters?


For each year's first three quarters, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter features are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heard among the more popular picks. More from this series


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