2017: Second Quarter Favorites From Laurel Halo & Ryuichi Sakamoto to Playboi Carti & Chino Amobi

If you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you. (Image: Paolo Čerić)

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


Chief Keef

Thot Breaker

[Glo Gang]


When I reviewed Two Zero One Seven in January, I felt obligated to excavate a rough sketch of Chief Keef’s disperse, ephemeral, and notoriously leaky catalogue, ending with the question of whether Thot Breaker (which had already been suspended in the limbo of hypothetical Keef releases since 2015) would ever come out. So in a surprise befitting Sosa’s winking demeanor, it makes a kind of cosmic sense that Thot Breaker would not only be released, but also that it would be an actual album, delicately mastered and thoughtfully sequenced, showcasing the evolution of Keith Cozart’s blossoming vision as a full-throated producer of singular and ambitious pop music. And the music is what shines: falsetto, autotune harmonies hang in the nausea of drum-barren and baroque lean-scapes, where the absurd poignancy of Keef’s lyricism glimmers, finally equilibrated to the left-field intuitions of his own production style (aided here by resident team Young Chop and CBMix, as well as a lone Mike WiLL Made-It spot). Standouts like “Alone (Intro),” the drumless ballad “Slow Dance,” stadium-dubstep barnstormer “Whoa,” and the inevitable lean-sipping ode “Drank Head” are legitimate ruptures in the Keef canon and, if we are to take the artist at face value (which we should), aesthetics more generally — they only require the audience to unsee a false history, and to accept the psychedelic, finessed vulnerability being offered on Thot Breaker.


Nkisi

Kill

[MW]


The only voice you hear on Kill bellows at the beginning of “Can You See Me,” asking with force, “Can you hear me? Do you know who I am? Can you see me? I live in the dark.” Brief and deliberate, the first official record by Nkisi, a co-founder of the explosively influential NON collective, somehow gets right up in its listener’s face while retaining its basic anonymity. The title track opens the record in a rolling, percussive euphoria, giving way to a kind of double-bridge in which manic beeping morphs into a dramatic trance arp. There are more shades of trance in the emotional denouement of “Parched Lips,” while both “Can You See Me” and “MWANA” rely on their nervous, nonlinear ascent toward climax. These are unique, collage-like tracks that still fit well within the massive, oddly shaped space Nkisi and associates have carved for themselves, blending a familiarly frenetic swing of snares into conversation with some evocative and incidental techniques of composition. Living in the dark, Kill offers a few scattered rays of light.


Lorde

Melodrama

[Republic]


Lorde is one of those ultimate artists who has achieved both top-level mainstream cred and top-level indie cred. You really can’t dislike her from any angle or you risk being seen as uncool, a fate truly worse than death. This is because, in contrast to most other pop today (most of which is pure garbage), her music is emotionally intuitive and refreshingly honest, with interesting insights into her social life and her love life. The production is airy, crisp, and occasionally sparse, giving the feeling that each sound and gesture was thoroughly considered and chosen for good reasons. These are true reflections of a partier, singing about the feelings that drive her to party and the feelings she’s left with when the party ends. That’s where Lorde transcends most pop music today: where most music regresses into trite politics or benign observations about life, her music is fairly particular and contains powerful ruminations that all people can relate to, because partying rules. Life is about the balance of partying and being sad.


Ace Mo

Black Populous

[Bootleg Tapes]


In any true Catholic family, there are over four aunts or uncles and subsequently dozens of first and second cousins who get placed in three categories: often, sometimes, and who? The “oftens” are there every holiday whose birthdays you’re dragged to; the “sometimes” are out-of-state cousins who you see enough to consistently dislike and/or smoke weed with in the alleyway; and the “whos?” are the reason why you address everyone as “bud” or “friend.” Ace Mo and the entirety of Bootleg Tapes have quickly risen from a “who?” to the highest ground of “often”: the sitcom best-friend cousin, transcending the ranks into a must-see, need-to-chill-with cousin. Can there be a brightest-star, favorite cousin within Bootleg Tapes? We refuse to answer that. But damn: as of this writing, he is the face off/banner kid of their Bandcamp, and Black Populous is bringing in a whole new appreciation for the label. So, what we’re saying is, Ace Mo, I have the dro, and we’re eating heavy always; see you at the next major holiday, and an AFX-style-remix-fanboy thanks to you.


Medslaus

Poorboy

[Self-Released]


If the most boring drums a rap producer can program go boom boom bap boom boom boom bap, then the second most boring drums a rap producer can program go ticka ticka ticka ticka ticka ticka ticka ticka ticka and the third most boring go ticka ticka boom bap ticka ticka ticka ticka bap, and so on. If I’m oversimplifying, I apologize — the point is: Slauson Malone doesn’t make beats you’ve heard before, and on the occasion that he employs a familiar sample, like on “Follies (P.M.W.),” the sumbitch gets turned out. Melodics become riddims and vice versa such that no two tracks ever sound the same. As for Slauson’s vocal counterpart, the first time I heard Medhane, I thought he was alright but steadily overshadowed by his producer. Post-Poorboy, I’m starting to think that’d be like saying Guru was overshadowed by Premier. And this is after just their second project together!? If these kids get any better, you’re all going to be out of a job. Chief Keef’s going to need to take a civil service exam or some shit. Rappaz rn dainja and beats are obsolete. Go ahead with that.


Kendrick Lamar

DAMN.

[Top Dawg]


Okay, so you’re not AIM buddies with Kendrick Lamar, but… doesn’t it feel like you kinda could be? The most over-the-top thing about DAMN. wasn’t that it sounded like the work of some untouchable megastar off on his own trip; it was the feeling that an easygoing, all-around “nice dude” who lives down the hall from you cobbled this shit together on his PC in the lonely-but-spacious hours between night shifts and day jobs. The shots fired on DAMN. didn’t feel so much “shockingly revolutionary” as they did “shockingly relatable.” It pretty much felt like Lamar was sending you a MediaFire link containing the mundane, silly, scared, honest fruits of a secret-hobby on Google Hangouts and then insecurely asking you what you thought of it right on the spot. Then, he anxiously watched the screen as you typed back your near-speechless, one-word response: “DAMN.”

For each of the first three quarters of every year, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter lists 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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