2016: Second Quarter Favorites 22 picks from the last three months

This feature is made possible by Stagelight Monthly Music Contest. Submit a song for a chance to win $3.5K+ in studio tech, or simply vote and you'll be entered to win a prize every week! Download your FREE copy of Stagelight, The Easy Way to Create Music, for Windows or Android and start making music today. [What is this?]

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


Is this a bagpipe club track (DJ Coquelin & MC Cloarec)? Can you hear the sirens (Babyfather)? Could u imagine choking to death at Red Lobster (James Ferraro)?

Amidst a crushing political apparatus at work, a renewed meaning of club terrorism, and contentious movement around neoliberal policies, the music world in the last three months jerked about in stuttered, haphazard ways. Of course, the headliners tended to dominate and overwhelm through the theatrics of Apple Music, TIDAL, and others, but any sense of cohesion remained elusive. Even this list of Q2 favorites happily limped along without the usual nods to Radiohead, Beyoncé, or Drake (who are all shortlisted below).

Instead, our favorite picks from quarter #2 reflect miniature worlds (Foodman), entropic forces (Mitski), and graceful flourishes (Ytamo); rhythmic brutalism (Puce Mary), negative-space painting (M.E.S.H.), and exclamations of pain and joy (Jessy Lanza). They’re filled with ghosts (Xiu Xiu), shamanic cyborg chants (Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith), and mussed tears (Karl Blau) — at once futurist (Andy Stott), post-Futurist (Burberry Perry), and modern/old (William Tyler): a contemporary aesthetics-in-motion (Tim Hecker).

Before getting into the list, we’d like to once again acknowledge some of our favorites that didn’t quite make the cut. Find these below, and then check out our favorite 22 releases of the last three months.

Shortlist: Julianna Barwick’s Will, GAIKA’s SECURITY, Lee Gamble’s Chain Kinematics, Drake’s VIEWS, Kamaiyah’s A Good Night in the Ghetto, James Blake’s The Colour in Anything, Steve Gunn’s Eyes on the Lines, Mukqs’s 石の上にも三日, AceMo & Fugitive’s Gold & Silver, Lil Uzi Vert’s Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World, The Body’s No One Deserves Happiness, Parquet Courts’ Human Performance, Beyoncé’s LEMONADE, DJ Marfox’s Chapa Quente, Prurient’s Unknown Rains, Euglossine’s Canopy Stories, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, ANOHI’s Hopelessness, City’s HVMIX005, ANGEL-HO’s Red Devil, Elucid’s Save Yourself, Constellation Botsu’s ちゅざけんなッズベ公!!, Fear of Men’s Fall Forever, Moonface and Siinai’s My Best Human Face, Bardo Pond’s AcidGuruPond, and Deakin’s Sleep Cycle.


Jessy Lanza

Oh No

[Hyperdub]


Oh No finds Jessy Lanza doing her R&B thing (“Vivica”), her Detroit thing (“VV Violence”), a dash of Art of Noise 80s ballad thing (“I Talk BB”), and plenty of other things. More importantly, all of Lanza’s things grow together here into a complementary, bona fide Jessy Lanza thing. Each song walks the uncanny line between earworm and deep cut, combining with playful ease a knack for catchy songwriting, a broad framework of influences, and a unique approach to digital production. So, because I’m worried Oh No might be framed as a “crossover opportunity” for Hyperdub, I’d instead like to count it with Double Cup and Black is Beautiful as one of the dubstep- and bass-focused label’s strangest and most interesting releases. With nothing but mad respect to Kode9 and Burial, UK bass music crossed over years ago; the point is to push it further outside of itself and into the unknown, as Hyperdub has earned a reputation for doing. If the label is known today for journeying beyond the purism of club musics past into the more-than-club music sphere, Oh No touches the surface of something more than electronic, more than pop, and at times, nearly more than human. When Lanza does her thing as well as she does it here, it’s a thing that dances beyond all the lonely anxiety of classification. Oh No is an exclamation of pain and joy, and my favorite pop record of the year… if you can call it that.



Ytamo

MI WO

[Someone Good]


It’s summer — or thereabouts — where I live, and sitting on my porch, listening to MI WO, I realize my whole backyard is grooving along. Typically brazen and obnoxious, the Carolina wrens have sunk their song into the synthetic harpsichord melody of “Autopoiesis;” each droning bee, usually so buzzed out on pollen, hums along to the burbling rainbow cauldron of “Human Ocean.” Despite its cybernetic bird calls and plinking rhythms, MI WO still feels natural, a prosthesis so seamlessly attached to the world of my backyard. Even the timid family of deer that scarfs down my hosta bobs along to the melancholic “You Me” and sheds a tear or two over that last decaying note on “100 Bird Stories.” She’s so dexterous, handing out colorful, cascading melodies right before drifting into warped and woozy atmospherics. It’s all so gentle and inviting that this must’ve been what Eden was like before they messed it all up. Yeah, this whole spot is alive, brought together by Ytamo’s “comfortable mastery” and playful spirit. She’s that “easie PhilosopherMarvell talks about, filling in the space between humanity and nature with a single graceful flourish.



Burberry Perry

Burberry Perry

[Self-Released]


Burberry Perry’s debut release is like a crystalline broadcast from an alternate Earth, one where Steve Reich and Brian Eno were as seminal influences on rap music as James Brown and Sly Stone. Vocally, Perry’s work is post-Futurist — or post-Thugger — with distinct bop undertones; lyrically, he’s engaged most closely with observation and appreciation of the mundane, the everyday. Musically and spiritually, however, Perry eschews the club for the cosmos. The tension between these disparate modes is exquisite, and their effect on the listener is thrilling, intoxicating, transcendent even. On songs like “Ride” and “Happy,” physical impact is loosely equivalent to a dolly zoom; the distance between form and function is tangible and staggering, not to mention deliciously vertiginous. While most other artists in the rap world are overly concerned with material goods as a symbolic reflection of status, Burberry Perry, on the other hand, seems to understand that sometimes a vehicle is just a vehicle — a means rather than an end. And while Perry claims that he “just [wants to] be happy,” it’s clear that he’s content for now, simply riding for the feel of it.



Xiu Xiu

Plays the Music of Twin Peaks

[Polyvinyl]


There’s something a little too modest about Plays the Music of Twin Peaks as an album title. Sure, it’s a helpfully matter-of-fact description of Xiu Xiu’s most harrowing album to date, yet it obscures just how much Jamie Stewart and co. have taken their famous source material and made it their own. Faithfully reproducing the soap-operatic melodies, disturbing ambiences, and unforgettable walking bassline that burned the soon-to-be-reborn TV series onto the collective consciousness, they’ve built an otherwise original album that merely uses the show’s mythology as a vessel into which they pour their own neuroses, fears, traumas, and conflicts. They’ve embellished on the distinctive Badalamenti score and added powerful no-wave/post-punk/new-wave/ambient material of their own, demonstrating that, in fact, the highly subjective makeup of Twin Peaks means that any act with just the right amount of ingenuity can stamp its soundtrack with their own particular identity. And it’s precisely this stamping-of-identity that ends up being more faithful to the show than any straight-up covers album could ever have been, since, if nothing else, the logging town of Twin Peaks was mysterious, equivocal, and vague just so we’d be forced to fill it with our own ghosts.



Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

EARS

[Western Vinyl]


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith doesn’t slack on her modular ambient synesthesia. Although the watercolor soundworld of EARS has the kind of classic drip that just begs to get cranked through your earbuds as your head hits the pillow, what really lifts it into the ether is the poise with which Smith delivers us our utopia. Between those shamanic cyborg chants, the trickling synth fantasia, and that nocturnal saxophone hum, EARS is a remarkably precise work, less non sequitur dreamscape than vivid, ponderous boat ride. Even if the lyrics on EARS trend closer toward glossolalia than overt personal narrative, Smith creates genuine moments from her metaphysical stream of the surreal, respiting but journeyed, familiar yet new. EARS is brisk to listen to, but before long, it’s tunneled into your head, aligning your memories with its own, casting out visions of a spiritual vista as thick with underbrush as it is clear in the night sky. Turn the lights off, feel the room grow.



Puce Mary

The Spiral

[Posh Isolation]


The Spiral, Frederikke Hoffmeier’s third solo album for Posh Isolation, marks a rotating core of pained evocation — a cold but deeply human terror elegantly, solemnly fascinated with suspended tension fading into sonic blood — aural lore, the “Slow Agony of a Dying Orgasm.” An exhilarating tome of cosmic menace, the works forgo rhythmic brutalism in favor of a devouring anxiety that evolves within long intervals of empty space. The compositions breed within these open plains. Gleaming blinks dim in the expanse. Woodblocks and burnt Shakuhachi pivot and reverberate against rusted metals. Suspended howls grate in awful grandeur — scorched Demon Masks, charred Oracle Bones lie thrown about in ceremony as the characters “peel themselves like oranges.” Recalling Toru Takemitsu’s grim score for Ran and all the images contained therein, her lurching strands of feedback ring over half-animal forms. A wicked court music is revealed; her commitment to the horror is total.



Babyfather

BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow

[Hyperdub]


We couldn’t tell who was real and who wasn’t. If I’m honest, we didn’t even know what the full meaning of keeping it real was anymore. At this time, I found a lot of realness and comfort in the rap album called BBF. Babyfather’s tunes had us in the zone. Especially when we had a bottle in our stretched hands. The instrumentals alone had me pulling up this tape over and over. Is this quite serious? Is this quite serious or what? Get me. This makes me proud to be British. Tears and cookies. Let me fill your double cup. Gimmick. Gimmick. Nothing happens in a bubble. Fuck MI5 and its original title. We’re never gonna get it. It’s more fucking gunshots outside and the sunrise always over the horizon. Whatchu gonna do? You hear the sirens? Can you hear it?



YYU

Karaoke

[Lillerne]


What is it about repetition that draws a listener in? It can’t just be the comfort in the instant familiarity. There has to be something bigger, right? Perhaps it’s the affirmation that, out of the seemingly endless differences in life, not only do patterns emerge, but also the patterns have been there the entire time. Chance just may be how and when you view something. I mean, a ton of shit fell on various heads before an apple hit Isaac Newton’s. It’s all about time and place. And time and place are ever repeating. With YYU, repetition isn’t as much a mode expression as it is the expression, and on Karaoke, no matter how quick something changes, no matter how long something lasts, it all repeats itself. Always. What YYU is doing has been done, and it will be done later. YYU is just strolling on that Newton tip right now.



Foodman

Ez Minzoku

[Orange Milk]


In a helpless era, when the age conspires to make us feel irrelevant, powerless, incapable of affecting much of anything at all, Foodman (a.k.a. Yokohama producer Takahide Higuchi) presents an appealing solution: Become the god of your own miniature world. Ez Minzoku, Higuchi’s newest petri dish, swarms with hyperactive life forms, moving and squawking according to his rules. Hair metal guitar chords honk across the mix; horrified screams and mischievous squeals pile atop one another; funk bass stretches languorously over tap-tapping MIDI snares. The sounds make a kind of weird sense when taken as a whole, the way the word “jungle” reduces a teeming riot of life to something fathomable. “Mid Summer Night” is the most conventional track, a cool R&B, but the strands of its DNA are unmistakably woven by Higuchi — the rushing-heartbeat bass, the polyrhythms following their own logic. This kind of dissonance doesn’t only rebuke the comfortable norms of pop music — it’s the firmament of a whole alternate world lorded over by one mad Foodman.



James Ferraro

Human Story 3

[Self-Released]


           .-'"""'-.
      ,____|_______|____,
       '._____________.'  
           |.-- --.|      
           |(o) (o)|      
          (|       |)    GENDERLESS Mii
           |   U   |     CONSCIOUSNESS
 __        | .___. |        
/|||       |       |     
||||       :       :       EVERY NIGHT
|  |/)      `.___.'          I CRY
 \  /       __) (__        AT SIZZLER
  \/\      /\ \ / /\     
   \ \    /\ \ ^ / /\     
    \ \  / |  |0_/\_ \     SZECHUAN 
     \ \/ /|  | \  /\ \     COWBOY
      \  / |  |0//\\ \ \
       \/  | /   \ |  \ \
           |/ .-. \|  / /
        .-'|-( ~ )-| / /   HI! MY NAME'S         
        \  |--`-'--|/ /   
         \ |       | /
          \|   |   |/
           |   |   |      COULD U IMAGINE
           |   |   |     CHOKING TO DEATH AT
           |   |   |        RED LOBSTER?
           |   |   |
           |   |   |
           |___|___|     IKEA JUST PURCHASED
          `|---|---|'         A FOREST
          *|   |   |*    
           |_._|_._|
          /'  /|\  '\    SOMEONE POISONED
         /   /^ ^\   \    THE WATERHOLE!
        /__.'     `.__\



Tim Hecker

Love Streams

[4AD]


Writer and theorist Boris Groys once asked, “What is it about the present — the here-and-now — that so interests us?” In some sense, our cultural and economic reliance on aesthetic “movements” in both art and art-music drives the force of cultural overproduction, but for the last 15 years, Tim Hecker’s been out on his own, uncharted terrain. Love Streams continued much of our love for Hecker — again carving out icy gorges with Piano Drop-era melodies and closely-knit choral textures. Bobbing about in gentle, collapsing hooks, now in part indebted to the chorale composition of Josquin des Prez. Tracks like “Bijie Dream” and “Castrati Stack” were well-studied gestures toward perhaps the vastness of tech possibility, with subtle coloring in soft Icelandic auroras; while it didn’t sound as close to the “liturgical aesthetics after Yeezus” as some would’ve hoped, the soft use of auto-tune as a compositional device revealed much more about contemporary aesthetics-in-motion than it ever did about pop. Cutting up functional elements, now worked into a taut, electric collage, Love Streams showed us the need for challenging ensemble music again — every moment, a new composite sublime du jour.



Lolina

Live in Paris

[Self-Released]


A post-ideological world is nonsense, but let’s agree that capitalism is the most widespread form of technology today. I’m not thinking about cutting-edge devices, rather the set of human activities framing our quotidian interactions. You’d think that the seeming universality of capitalism would eliminate the idea of the outsider, or at least diminish what defines such an archetype. Inga Copeland, a migrant and nomadic artist, knows that’s bullshit. If anything, capitalism has created new ways to frame the outside as a form of existence, and nowhere is this more evident than in the London that this work assays. Lolina’s Live in Paris disputes those exclusion processes by subverting the perverse pantomime of the quintessential capitalist board game, but also staging a performance that signals itself as willfully existing outside electronic music’s dominant discourse. With those weapons, Copeland claws through the blinkered narratives we are made to follow as unassailable creeds, crafting a timely and momentous visual album, a portrait of London in the eyes of the wretched.



DJ Coquelin & MC Cloarec

JE M’EN TAPE

[PRR! PRR!]


A densely packed, well-greased experience that, like the loaded pizza TMT gets delivered every TGIF slumber party, seems brand new every time the box (cassette case) is popped open and funneled gluttonously into your mouth/tape deck. The bizarre mix of original work, oddball edits, and moments of left-field clarity doesn’t come around too often – PC Music’s six member hour-long DISown Radio mix is a decent parallel – and DJ Coquelin & MC Cloarec’s JE M’EN TAPE is that out-of-body clusterfuck. The Belgian duo channeled hypocapnia-like levels of delirium to the point where you can honestly ask the room “Whaaat are we listening to?” and “Is this a bagpipe club track?” All while splashing cold water in your face to determine whether it had all been a Danny Boyle dream sequence, before walking over and flipping back over to Side A.



Karl Blau

Introducing Karl Blau

[Bella Union]


“Down here where we’re at, everyone is equally poor” — there’s an echo in the inch-space between the screen and front doors. There’s an echo and a voice in this space for passing through, for that splash existence splitting where you were and where you’re headed. The echo is reverberated histories, and the voice is Karl Blau. Like the good country songs, Karl Blau’s voice is not settled or fixed. It patrols plains between wilderness and abode, and it’s a distant million crickets, a few mussed tears splashing a denim collar in the sun. The voice echoes in the still screen-door space of tradition, the baritone cartography of Introducing Karl Blau. The voice is warm like its histories, bold like its pioneers — it believes in the old songs, and it knows “We don’t care what happens outside the screen door.”



Andy Stott

Too Many Voices

[Modern Love]


Call it multivocal, sure, in that it draws from a myriad of sound sources, but classifying Andy Stott’s sharp, artisan work as being too much of anything seems as counterintuitive as putting your faith in strangers. Dude’s never made a shoddy product, and yet he’s never felt like a solicitor. Stott has always straddled that line between benevolent neighbor and hermetic handyman, like he’s always there when you need some sugar or like a hammer or something, but he’s never too loud when you’re having a quiet dinner party. If anything, it’s too rare that “dynamic personality” doesn’t sound like “oh, what an interesting person.” It really isn’t even enough that we can vicariously live out our futurist dancefloor fantasies whenever we catch a buzz saw coming from his garage. Then again, maybe we’re too much. Maybe perfection isn’t what Stott is after. Maybe it’s just reprieve from our incessant inquisitiveness. Maybe he just makes really good shit. I wouldn’t put it past him, but as a naturally curious neighbor, I wouldn’t rule out something cosmic either. Who knows what he’s keeping in there.



DJ TiGa

The Sound Vol. 1

[Lit City Trax]


Mr P said it best: “Footwork works well with socks.” Or something like that. So imagining Birkut on waxed linoleum jamming The Sound Vol. 1 by DJ TiGa is sort of a good mutual experience. The beat appears so positive, always. There’s never a turn-down vibe. It’s always at max. And that’s me, like, I love max. Max is what I need to heal that canker sore. It’s 1000% Atlantic City. All the chance. Entirely Rich Uncle Pennybags. An alpha so omega’d that divergence or duality is like, “Why, tho?” Bumper-to-bumper traffic is worth blowing up with sound. Learn something from DJ TiGa. The Sound Vol. 1 is simply setting up the net. There’s no low nor high, only boundaries. Set them yourself.



M.E.S.H.

Damaged Merc [EP]

[PAN]


There’s minimalism and there’s minimalism. Some artists have an uncanny way of filling in the void with sparseness and isolation; maybe the brushstrokes of their instruments are just bold and three-dimensional enough. On Damaged Merc, James Whipple a.k.a. M.E.S.H. manages that feat incredibly well. His club-ready third EP is not just spacious; it is propelled by space. Contrasting clattering beats, biting synths, and intrusive vocal samples with factory-floor abyss, it’s as though these four songs broke off and restarted incessantly, creating rhythmic tension with the time count alone. Whipple earned his stripes producing drum & bass, among other electronic forms, and it shows: his brand of techno slants in a syncopated, unmistakably British direction, not unlike the productions of another adept negative-space painter, Bok Bok. Damaged Merc is brief but supremely compelling: dark, angular, unpredictable, vicious music.



Amnesia Scanner

AS [EP]

[Young Turks]


AS self destructing tremolo
AS right thurr
AS ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ (^_^) ( ̄ー ̄)
AS gleaming metal trash can lid in the sun
AS Alvin Simon Theodore
AS bass pressure sucker punching you in the guts



William Tyler

Modern Country

[Merge]


The modern country is the old country. The same mountains, same rivers, same valleys stretch out and cover this gorgeous piece of land as they have always done. The same beauty is still available to us: rain clouds hanging in the Grand Canyon, a windy turn up the Blue Ridge Parkway, a sun shower in the afternoon slicking the asphalt of the interstate gold. We still have access to all this majesty. What’s modern, what’s really changed in America, is us. Safely indoors, we forget those places are real and huge and outliving us and are not humbled by them anymore. We fit them onto screens, frame them in nice pictures, imagine them as idylls with fixed edges. We need a reality check once in a while. William Tyler’s guitar plucks us out of that comfort, bravely throwing us into the open air, the wild Americana, a humbling place where we have no control, where we must travel wordlessly against our anxieties and embrace the unknown to begin to understand ourselves again. I listen and feel the pull of the road stronger than ever.



Gobby

No Mercy Bad Poet

[DFA]


It’s all too exciting. Psych is alive and well living in the mutant chill-out room that is this album. All the fashionable subgenres are there, but unlike many in the realms of delirious experimental dance music, Gobby stabs on something deep, something you had no idea was there. His genre curatorial sense is trigger-happy keen, but these are vast, trippy structures that insinuate themselves with breezy confidence (and more than a touch of the sinister). It’s not so much a bad trip, simply one that’s a hard sell and somehow more fulfilling for the struggle. No Mercy is some persuasively sophisticated muck, despite the mosquito cloud overwhelm of its restless texture and occasionally prickly auto-tuned rants. It’s easily 2016’s best-dressed happy mess thus far (with glinting periphery hooks for subliminal stamina).



death’s dynamic shroud.wmv

CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE

[Orange Milk]


Cut, loop, and run it into f∞rever; rising from Olympia’s ruins, our #NUWRLD aesthetes invade pop as if it were a public domain, its ubiquity seized and reconstituted into obscure microgenerity, subsumed by errant streaks of internet culture. These anthems for the virtual utopia experience are as twisted as a glass of curdled orange milk, at once aching with regret and d.e.s.i.r.e. — a farcical tragedy soundtracked by iPhone notifications and narrated by PornHub actors. Yeah, it’s part SEXXTAPE, part YouTube tribute video, but we’d be damned if we didn’t find the whole thing so irresistibly perverse. Pop’s sex is yet another sample to be fed through plug-in after plug-in, stretched beyond temporal and social context to imperceptible, ultra-accelerated heights of joy/indifference/heartbreak/etc., kinda like conveying rudimentary moods and motivations with emoji. Miley’s “we can’t stop,” echoing ad infinitum, becomes a revolutionary maxim. You a’ready know that loading this into the tape deck (or, indeed, your hard drive) is gonna be a play-of-the-game, 100 move.



Mitski

Puberty 2

[Dead Oceans]


Puberty 2, the fourth full-length album (and first from Dead Oceans) for Mitski, is a skeletal centerpiece, an entropic force of plaintive pop affect that swells far past the many ceilings of generational scaffolding on Bandcamp. Equal parts personal and powerful, 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek trembled through meandering melodies, choking on lines of broke weekdays and collateral love. Swift, sharp, christened with heavy heartbreak and an unwavering gaze inward, the tracks chronicled destruction and defeat, self-loathing and internalized anxiety, growing outward past frenzied, clunky metaphor toward the brink of collapse. It’s a theatric call-to-action for radical kindness everywhere, a symbiotic acceptance of the world’s millions of beautiful inconsistencies, streamlined and packaged with wide-eyed uncertainty and the will to push ahead. It’s living on your own terms, every bit as messy and inconsistent as they need to be.


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


This feature is made possible by Stagelight Monthly Music Contest. Submit a song for a chance to win $3.5K+ in studio tech, or simply vote and you'll be entered to win a prize every week! Download your FREE copy of Stagelight, The Easy Way to Create Music, for Windows or Android and start making music today. [What is this?]

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