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 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


Half of the year is over, and we have done absolutely nothing with our lives. Very pathetic. The good news is that we use our ears to listen to music, so to celebrate, the TMT staff has once again come together to share our favorite releases of the last three months (give or take), compiled in the best format known to humankind.

This time around, we were outside the club (Jlin), in the Devil’s book (Sarah Shook & The Disarmers), and on Google Hangouts (Kendrick Lamar), broadcasting live using algorithm-free YouTube (Future City Love Stories). There was glittery slime (cupcakKe), naturalistic abstractions (Lieven Martens), and condensed chunks of cut-open human organs (Pharmakon), with a range that went from pop (Lorde), narkopop (GAS), and contorted pop (Laurel Halo) to rock-star rappers (Playboi Carti), airbrushed nightcrawlers (99jakes), and mutilated tunes on the DAW floor (Khaki Blazer).

Check the full list below, and as always, please take note of the shortlist, as these particular releases either weren’t heard enough yet to make the list or just fell short for various reasons. All worth a listen.

Shortlist: The Caretaker’s Everywhere at the end of time: Stage 2, Upgrayedd Smurphy’s HYPNOSYS, Actress’s AZD, Slowdive’s Slowdive, $3.33’s DRAFT, Perfume Genius’s No Shape, Peace Forever Eternal’s Nextcentury, Cloud Rat & Moloch’s split, Babyfather’s Cypher, Russian Tsarlag’s Gel Stations Past, Ducktails’s Daffy Duck In Hollywood, Elysia Crampton’s Spots y Escupitajo, RITCHRD’s GREATEST HITS, and Tara Jane O’Neil’s self-titled album.


Laurel Halo

Dust

[Hyperdub]


Dust’s single “Jelly” was a surprising teaser for fans of Laurel Halo, soberly announcing her return to vocal music with a big result. As the song resembles and contorts pop product, it’s vocoder — emblematic of 2012’s viscous and spacey Quarantine — serves the punctuated delivery of a funky Parliament-esque hook (“You don’t meet my standards for a friend…”), while collaborators Klein and Lafawndah deliver the remainder. The far-reaching influences found on “Jelly” came to be representative of Dust at large, an album that moves through its vibrant landscape of sounds and grooves in a way new to the artist behind it. “Moontalk” delivers a second blast of lopsided feel-good pop, Sam Hilmer’s saxophone rips on “Arschkriecher,” Michael Salu takes the stage on “Who Won?,” and the album ultimately subsides, taking space to explore old territory with the help of composer Eli Keszler. Dust is an exciting and adventurous release that couldn’t be more matter-of-fact.


Playboi Carti

Playboi Carti

[Interscope]


“I’m a rockstar” asserts Lil Uzi Vert in the intro to “wokeuplikethis,” the collaborative lead single off of Playboi Carti’s self-titled debut. Given the Atlanta native’s penchant for distorted, guitar-like synths and driving rhythms that often exceed 160 BPM, it wouldn’t be a stretch for us to extend the title to Carti, too. While “wokeuplikethis” is undeniably a track indebted to early rock & roll’s chugging groove — although one could even deem it pop-punk, taking its sparkly lead melodies and raspy, slacker vocals into consideration — Playboi Carti is evidence that its creator is something even greater. He’s sedimentary rock, a walking pastiche, the zeitgeist. He culls the best of 2016’s SoundCloud wave — its gravelly basslines, its chiming riffs — and blends it with well-curated bits of other subcultural ephemera. The transcendent beatswitch midway through “Location” integrates Macintosh Plus’s sloppily chopped aesthetic. “New Choppa,” featuring A$AP Rocky, delves into its own dark interpretation of chiptune. “Lame Niggaz” feels like a barebones deconstruction of PC Music’s unbridled optimism. Cash Carti’s everything that’s cool. He’s everything that’s ever been cool.


GAS

Narkopop

[Kompakt]


Whatever happened to program music? We tend to think of the entire instrumental-pop umbrella, typically cast over both ambient and techno, as purely abstract. Wolfgang Voigt’s marriage of the two styles as GAS has especially been painted as a project concerning itself with the musical absolute. And yet, when you put your ear to the impenetrably thick walls built around Narkopop’s heartbeat-like low-end and contemplate the album’s wandering melodies and swift, unpredictably-resolving chord progressions, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s a story there. Not just the depiction of emotions or a mood, not just the aural rendering of “a nightclub in a forest,” but a plot, a character, and a conversation (or their multitude). Is it the movement of people through the European continent in its war-ridden past (or equally foreboding present)? Or is it more of a personal strife, the tale of a human struggling and succeeding, to various degrees, at finding solace? He would likely respond that there is none, but my question stands: What’s the story, Wolfgang?


Khaki Blazer

Didn’t Have to Cut

[Hausu Mountain]


Pat Modugno when donning his Khaki Blazer is most known for his juddering, hypercaffeinated cut-ups and off-the-grid percussive discursions (scope the contemporaneous Speed Rack Willy), but on Didn’t Have to Cut, he seems to be taking our boy Gotye’s words to heart. Not only do we choose when and where to cut, but we could also decide not to do it at all. Modugno, thinking of all those tunes left mutilated on the DAW floor, must’ve had a change of heart, a turn away from the neo-dadaist massacres he seemed to so gleefully perpetuate. He still collages with the best of ‘em, but Didn’t Have to Cut gives each sound a little more room, a little more time to express itself. From the complete wheezer of “Comfortably Grey” to the slow-tone torture of “Saturn Rings” to the sheer psychic insinuation of “Hold Your Breath and Count,” everyone swarms and squiggles and sighs and squawks a little more thoughtfully. Still, the crowning achievement is the strung-out electric allolalia of “Death Bedhead,” featuring some famous singer I used to know. Didn’t Have to Cut is perhaps the most truly strange thing of 2017 so far, a melted, lopsided chimera roaring, bleating, and hissing its way into our hearts.


Félicia Atkinson

Hand In Hand

[Shelter Press]


Hand in hand, I’m watching the places where fingers tip into edges where I end. The fingernail barriers blood vessel and lymph and nerve from the wilderness. The fingernail keeps the self-stuff safe. Keratogenous upkeep is self-atomizing with clipper and file, a breaking for building to remind us that split bone is trauma but broken nail is health. All sounds are found in the breaking. All found breaks are Hand in Hand, the discarded sounds we shed to be. Voice is a buzz a bass a kiss a house a dance a poem. It sounds in slivers, these uncovered discards, this mode of droned bone jutting into distal digits. Dis-uncovery is wiping it away while rubbing it in. It’s in us. Félicia splints (our) nervous material like steel kissing keratin. Slip pinches hangnails. Bones break flesh, in-grown you. Infections are plausible. Fungi whine in crevices. In clips. Is imperfect. She skitters. We whisper. Listen. I’m following you. Take care.

Ryuichi Sakamoto

async

[Milan]


When Ryuichi Sakamoto was diagnosed with throat cancer, no one knew how long he had to live. After around 40 years with Yellow Magic Orchestra — as well as many years as a solo composer — Sakamoto didn’t know if it’d be possible to ever make music again. “My faith in ‘health’ was crushed… I could have lost my voice, so I feel very lucky that I didn’t,” he shared with The New York Times. But with time, the 65-year-old composer slowly returned to the piano to give us async, 14 tracks of sobering reflection that meditate on the underlying grief at the heart of his health. Pooling influence from Andrei Tarkovsky and the piano meditations of Claude Debussy, async is about as uncomfortably intimate as instrumental music can be. Tracks like “walker” and “disintegration” feel of a certain post-Cagean tradition yet bask in a crushing fragility that borrows more from the emotive terrain of film composition than it does from art world experimentalism. “Ff,” “stakra,” and “ZURE” offer warm synths with a harrowing sparseness, while “fullmoon” includes a quote from Paul Bowles, one that’s light, yet aching in their harrowing detail. For all of its baggage in personal narrative, async continues much of what makes Sakamoto’s film work breathtaking with a handful of rich pieces at the height of the emotional spectrum.


Jlin

Black Origami

[Planet Mu]


The outward expansion of footwork has yielded many meta-narratives, all inextricably bound by a sense of propulsive energy — be it a frantic release schedule, marked by a saturation of physical releases and SoundCloud drops, or the will to stretch and mutate the methodological lexicon for the circle beyond. Never created, never destroyed; Jlin taps into the latter impulse once again with Black Origami, a renegotiation of the truncated vision of footwork posited by Dark Energy. Between percussive modes via India and Africa, and the divergent compositional methods of Basinski, Herndon, and Fawkes, these dark energies are (as the title suggests) continuously folded and refolded, enveloped and developed, resulting in one of the densest and most challenging sets of footwork yet. Wordless coos (“Enigma,” “Calcination”) pierce the void; meanwhile, “1%” quite literally dials up the madness, interjecting samples amongst characteristically throttling drum hits and transmuting bass. Make no mistake, Jlin is operating way outside the club here. Questions of identity and psychogeography aside, the pull of Black Origami lies in the physicality of its Delphic complexity — a kind of corporeal braindance — so consider it a sizable gauntlet to body music hereafter. Oh, and good luck dancing to the next one.


Future City Love Stories

Future City Love Stories

[BLCR Laboratories]


The BLCR Laboratories debut of Future City Love Stories (a.k.a. Dream Catalogue CEO, a.k.a. HKE, a.k.a. [every last a.k.a. imaginable]) finds spectacular foundations for the self-titled release’s existence on the audible milieu of atmosphere. There is no “real” rhythm or reason unfolding within the chapters of Future City Love Stories, just architectural patterns. Existence as lingering footsteps in the background. Haunting echoes vibrating throughout empty alleys and alcoves. The sound of rain down the road turns out to be televisions left on static in a storefront window. Explanations withdrawn with, “Neverminds.” A voice intentionally lost in translation. Blurring lights that even up close hum a glow of aura. Dumpster fires. Pockets of wafting smells entangle the senses. Enough narrative imagination in ethereal splendor for listeners to create their very own Future City Love Stories. Come out and play forever.


Sarah Shook & The Disarmers

Sidelong

[Bloodshot]


“What kind of music do you usually have here?” Country AND western, honky AND tonk, punk AND queer… wait, what? Sarah Shook plays smoky raw alt-country that contrasts a subtle defiance of gender stereotypes with a proud and triumphant embodiment of another trope, the country legend on a path to hell paved with bad intentions and slippery with moonshine. Country may be the music of pain, but if you need something to rile you up, the driving outlaw rhythms here’ll get the job done too. Shook’s voice is an extraordinary instrument — rough-edged and velvety by turn, with a rattling quiver and a broken lilt that’ll break your heart right along with it. Sidelong inscribes her name, alongside Lydia Loveless and Hank Williams III, in the Devil’s book.


Arca

Arca

[XL]


Electronic music has an odd relationship with vocals. They’re polarized along the spectrum of directness, either fully obscured or so loaded with emotional cues as to seem heavy-handed. The notion of the electronic singer-songwriter is nearly extinct, word to James Blake. Arca found a way to bridge that gap, speaking both through his production and his own voice, and transmitting gripping affect on two levels: the pure sound of his voice, a universal language, and the massive (but nuanced) emotional conveyance of the lyrics themselves, sung in his native Spanish. Whether you speak the language or not, Arca seizes control, making himself clearer to the listener than ever before.


Lieven Martens

Gardens, Fire and Wine (A Compilation)

[Edições CN]


Quietly, he picks out postcards under a bright moon. The street murmurs, the water laps. Slowly, softly, a certain psychedelia seeps in, of the visitor, in transit, appearing, displacement. And the words come, briefly. In summary. To try to speak to transitory and totalizing experiences. Swaths of moments, and to honor them, particularly. Moods, tones, warped glimpses. A gesture. Plus all that’s ungraspable, well-traveled. I picked this one out just for you. Wish you were here. Signed Lieven Martens, who equates the seven soundscapes on Gardens, Fire and Wine (A Compilation) with a set of seven postcards. They go around the world; it’s a miracle. Delivery, like a whisper. Words laid bare for you, again, actually, as many of these tracks were previously released on 7-inches and cassettes between 2012-15. Compiled, they span from documents of live performances to naturalistic abstractions. But, again, in the wonderful words of Martens, they’re not quite that. More, “a series of images, not reissues yet self-captured.” Words touched heart. Simply. What did he write? He wrote of all sorts of good soil. Thank the glaciers, the volcanoes.

cupcakKe

Queen Elizabitch

[Self-Released]


Saying that this [title with a strong female lead] is anything like MC Lyte or Lil Kim would be as lazy and as sexist as it is glaringly false. Elizabeth Harris (nope, not this one) is a motherfucking kraken on Queen Elizabitch, spitting glittery slime from her furry pink tentacles until you submit. Straight up, Queen Elizabitch is filthy as fuck, hilarious as Hell, and hard as a dick while she’s rapping. Put squarely, this shit is BOLD, and it’s not lost on us that being a female MC in this context requires an impossible balance between class and crass. I can’t deny that cupcakKe’s notorious guttermouth is what pulled me in, but in all honesty, what has kept me coming back is her unmatched consistency in a game dominated by warbling cocks. This shit slays on a Blueprint level. That it would probably still slay on a Kingdom Come level is a reflection of her unsolicited ferocity. However we heard it, I’m glad we listened.


Chino Amobi

PARADISO

[UNO NYC/NON]


Tiny Mix Tapes has been covering Chino Amobi since at least 2012, when he was known as Diamond Black Hearted Boy. As it turns out, 2012 also was the year yours truly started writing for TMT — and my last name really is Diamond, by the way; it’s not a moniker like C Monster. Fun fact: C got me this gig. He was listening to Chino back when Chino was Diamond Black Hearted Boy. I faintly remember him telling me about Diamond Black Hearted Boy, and my reply being something like,”’Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon?’ Dope song, bro.” He definitely told me about Chino Amobi later too, but I just thought he was talking about the guy from The Deftones. The point is, not all of us TMTers are in-the-know experimental music scholars with master’s degrees, and some of us who are are secretly borderline illiterate, but most all of us thoroughly enjoy Chino Amobi’s PARADISO and its arcane references, sudden outbursts, and the way those elements play off of one another, like close friends with similar interests and backgrounds but little else in common. Cages this weekend?


Richard Dawson

Peasant

[Weird World]


The curtain rises; before us, a paddock of aged grass, overcast with swelling clouds, while somewhere nearby, there lays a whimpering collie “under a whining bush… seized by a fit.” A house sits in the corner of the enclosure, steam escaping through the windows — inside, there keeps “a cauldron of pummeled gall-nuts afloat in urine/ add river-water thrice-boiled with a bloodstone.” On the wall, a painting has begun to drip from the humidity, its seaside pastoral molting into something almost unrecognizable, as if suddenly one can see “in the face of the cliff/ a ghastly doorway.” Beyond the doorway lies a kingdom of gold, a place where “a child can be bought for a year’s worth of grain,” and “fortune wags its tongue along the walkways of the bathhouse.” Innocents lay lifeless on the street corner, and as the music of war begins to stir once again, somewhere far away, “the rolling fields grow dark as the grave/ and I am fleeing for my life.


Pharmakon

Contact

[Sacred Bones]


Shortly before the release of Contact, Pharmakon played a memorial show for those who lost their lives in the Oakland Ghost Ship fire. The show was also a fundraiser for the Trans Assistance Project in honor of Feral Pines, a transwoman who was among those who died. I didn’t know Feral personally, but many of the people I went to the show with did. Pharmakon played a short set, a single song off Contact. A great chunk of the audience cried. Contact is an industrial-noise record, a condensed chunk of materialized, cut-open human organs, a manifestation of pain and fury and sadness. Terribly abrasive, yes, but it reminds us that such horror-totems are also a locus for contact. There’s a great deal of space in this record, gaps between aural saturation, pockets to curl up and gather and weep in between sheets of oblivion. We can gather around a shared wound. We can hold hands. Contact is an assault and an opening-up.


99jakes

Birthday Party (Not Our Birthday)

[Self-Released]


“You would cry too if it happened to you.” INT. MOTEL ROOM — NIGHT. SALEM and GFOTY moved into a vacancy together at the edge of town, a few miles past the last gas station but before you get to the cornfields. It always looks red in their room, because they keep a neon sign glowing all through the clear-blue night. We’re throwing a birthday party for their overdue baby, and we just had to book 99jakes, the holy sacrilegious DJ broadcasting live from the forest using algorithm-free YouTube. The party is for jakes only, sorry, but you’re a jake. You might’ve RSVPd “Going” on Facebook high as fuck at 2:35 AM, but you were not ready for this party. Airbrushed nightcrawlers are scurrying on the walls, moms and ravers are talking Yu-Gi-Oh!, and one of the jakes keeps trying to start a food fight with this cardboard cutout of Magneto. Another jake is genuinely sobbing about their weekly horoscope. It’s a new moon and the party is over, but after the afterparty, we’re playing 7th Guest. For keeps. Watch it, dude.


Aaron Dilloway

The Gag File

[Dais]


Cigarette butts litter the floor. Empty beer bottles are strewn across the room. The walls in the house are that dark-brown, stained-wood paneling of which the 70s were so fond. The carpet might as well be orange if it actually isn’t. Remnants of paraphernalia are on a glass-top table in front of a couch. There’s a stale smell in the air. A low thud lopes along in the background. You can vaguely make out that music is playing, but you don’t know what it is… there’s mostly muddy bass frequencies. Random conversations are taking place in this room, but you’re not really a part of any of them. You’re just observing. Down a hallway and through a bedroom door is a familiar smile. A kind of vaguely eerie, expressionless smile that you pull a string to animate. While pulling the string, a busted speaker inside of it creaks to life, announcing “kill away” with a cackle. You ghost this scene immediately.

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 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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