2018: First Quarter Favorites From sheaves of harsh noise & asphalt batida to trap-rap hybridity & obscure Japanese video game music

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


The first three months of 2018 are over with, and we’re here to inform you that life is meaningless celebrate with our favorite releases! This quarter’s highlights include everything from sheaves of harsh noise (Prurient) and asphalt batida (P. Adrix) to trap-rap hybridity (cupcakKe) and obscure Japanese video game music (Diggin’ in the Carts). With teen-crush glances (Hannah Diamond) and broken hearts (Barrio Sur), our favorites had us stumbling into otherworldly glitch wonderlands (C. Spencer Yeh) and the scarred imaginary of urban space (Lolina), orienting us through vague reports on the immediate past (Profligate), to the superlative pop of the exclusive present (Charli XCX), to the aliencore toxicity of the future (Big Ded).

The full list — which includes releases from December 2017 to mid-March 2018, give or take — is below. Please also check out this quarter’s shortlist, which features music that may simply need more ears or time to marinate. Thanks for reading!

Shortlist: BbyMutha’s BbyShoe, 700 Bliss’ Spa 700, Bad Gyal’s Worldwide Angel, Quin Kirchner’s The Other Side of Time, DJ Nigga Fox’s Crânio, Robert Haigh’s Creatures of the Deep, Anenon’s Tongue, Mukqs’s 起き上がり, Jerkagram’s All Eyes on Me, Pluto’s Untitled, Black Mecha’s Counterforce, Severed+Said’s Incorporeality, Roc Marciano’s RR2: The Bitter Dose, and compilations by Houndstooth (In Death’s Dream Kingdom) and Allergy Season/Discwoman (Physically Sick 2).


Lolina

The Smoke

[Self-Released]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

It’s been two years since we first strutted the cruel, weaponsized-ersatz geographies of Live In Paris with Lolina, a grimly funny record that, for many at TMT, defined the downward spiral that was 2016. In the same way that our present moment is still refracting and remaking the aftermath of that year, The Smoke, released unceremoniously via Lolina’s Bandcamp earlier this month, sees a return to the scene of Live’s puzzling crime: still slinking through a contested “Fake City, Real City” in the conspicuous camouflage of a competitively servile self-representation, a deeply unsettled organ bass throb is still its uncanny pulse. But while Live mapped, across discrete movements, a kind of journey through the scarred imaginary of urban space, The Smoke’s eight-odd compositions wander, stuck in the loungey baroques of anxiety, shifting its lyrics to the dilettantish “character-singer” always eluding the center of the Lolina output: “Funny how it turns out there’s not much under the surface.” While The Smoke does little to modify what was already at stake with this project, its unresolved, postscripted dissolution takes on, like smoke, an eerie lingering form.


Barrio Sur

बड़ा शोक (heart break)

[Self-Released]

[LISTEN · READ]

Uploaded to SoundCloud in January, बड़ा शोक (heart break) is “Modern Rock orbiting around black ,queer & gang culture.” Predictably, the orbit of Fred Welton Warmsley III is far from predictable. In his first incarnation as Barrio Sur, he views both “Modern Rock” and “black ,queer & gang culture” from a point of view whose distortions are hardly recognizable except as belonging to him. Through surf rock (“Trade&me”), doo-wop (“redemption (7inch)”), and post-punk (“Move (unfinished)”), the figure of “Modern Rock” appears as a scattered heap of the broken, time-stretched, looped, and manipulated pieces of the history of rhythm and blues. At times, rock music melts in the desert heat, into puddles like the wandering and dirgelike “Crepuscular IV” and “Gang Culture” or the humming, monolithic “Dead Market.” Lonesome, rambling and preoccupied, Barrio Sur wears the downcast face of a cowboy, a mask in whose wearing Warmsley’s face joins those of all the overlooked footsoldiers of the American musical tradition. Rock history, usually a misleading optical effect, a mirage, is consulted here as a guide in an unusual exploration of companionship and loss. Managing to recover both the “loving and the fading, the heart and the break,” Warmsley sketches notes for a rock history of his own.


Charli XCX

Pop 2

[Asylum]

[LISTEN · READ]

Q: If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, which one would it be? A: Pop 2. Q: If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life? A: “Tears.” Q: If you could meet anyone alive who would it be? A: Charli XCX. Q: If you were going to write fanfiction, what fanfiction would it be? A: Pop 2 fanfiction about Brooke Candy, CupcakKe, and Pabllo Vittar in “I Got It.” Q: If you were shrunk to the size of a nickel and put in a blender, how would you get out? A: *starts singing* “Rollercoaster ride, in the fast lane…Unlock it” ♬♫♪ Q: If someone you loved was killed in front of you, but someone created a copy of them that was perfect right down to the atomic level, would they be the same person and would you love them just as much? A: ♬♫♪ *humming the Life Sim sample on “Track 10”*. Q: How would humanity change if human life expectancy were significantly increased (let’s say to around 500 years)? A: *still singing* ♬♫♪ “I’ll be your Femmebot” ♬♫♪ Q: Where do you find meaning in your life? A: Pop 2.


JPEGMAFIA

Veteran

[Deathbomb Arc]

[WATCH · READ]

Come for the song titles, stay for the impact. JPEGMAFIA’s second album refines his brash, messy, densely experimental production into a defiant (anti)statement that seems to be anti-everything: anti-narrative, anti-effort, anti-reconciliation. Yet somehow it’s still fun as fuck. Rarely does an album start so hot out of the gate (seriously: “1539 N. Calvert” bangs. so. hard.), but even more rarely does a rap album explore the margins like this and still feel like the coherent work of one producer. Touching on some of our favorite sonic palettes with serious irreverence, Peggy comes off as the poet laureate of our fucked-up zeitgeist. By the time album highlight “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies” rolls around, we should be desensitized to his shtick. Instead, we find ourselves ready to become Veterans in his war on everything.


Big Ded

Joybender

[Embalming Lately]

[LISTEN · READ]

Big Ded’s Joybender beholds the similar rule-breaker feel that alt rock did in the 1990s. The duo plunges into outsider and noise, flipping typically jarring genres with brushstrokes of bathdub, metamorphosing Joybender’s equation with future pagan and aliencore toxicity. Sure, there are games played with Lolina nods, big-show outsider antics that, up until this point, only Dracula Lewis has figured out, and yes, it indeterminately rips and dips of Chicklette feels, but that’s how Big Ded chews you up without actually digesting or vomiting your remains. At its basic, Joybender is like playing Beyond The Black Rainbow clips between bursts of Adult Swim cartoons. At its most brilliant, Big Ded presents a nearly perfect portrait of making art that appears like it’s constantly (almost unintentionally) incomplete. Embalming Lately been fronting Joybender since February. S/o to Cookcook and Brad Hurst for the directions to Big Ded then and ever since!

Prurient

Rainbow Mirror

[Profound Lore]

[LISTEN · READ]

At 3.5 hours, it takes just a little bit longer to drive from New York to Boston than it does to listen to Rainbow Mirror. You don’t go through the rust belt that the album claims to represent, per se, but the hollowed-out shells of post-industrial Connecticut and Western Massachusetts aren’t so far away. The album feels like a journey, one as harsh, raw, and sickly as you’d hope from Prurient (presented here as a three-piece), but unusually open, improvisatory, and fluid by Dominick Fernow’s standards. I jump between two urban poles, insulated by a car, something I’m not usually in. Rainbow Mirror keeps me awake, present, uneasy. The relation between this “in-between space” that I’m in (an urbanist lie, it’s a Real Place, with people and houses) and these two cities is mutually sustaining, creating an image of polarity where there is actually simply a broken but required feedback loop of production and transportation. This relation, this road, these spaces that I travel in are teeming, voluptuous, open, which in no way cancels out the fact that it’s an area of intense income disparity, post-industrial collapse, and racism. These forces feel delimited to this space, but that too is a lie; they lurk within and behind the urban poles. This seems to resonate in the opening screaming expanses of this music. I feel like this is “not where I’m from,” because I’ve been told this by a narrative I don’t understand. Between shivers, electronic pings, sheaves of harsh noise (walls/roads), something opens up.


Cucina Povera

Hilja

[Night School]

[LISTEN]

I can’t even quite remember how I discovered Hilja, Maria Rossi’s debut album as Cucina Povera; it just kind of entered my life, frosty and simple, yet utterly spellbinding. And it hasn’t left since. The project’s name — a style of southern Italian traditional cooking associated with making-do and simplicity — reflects Hilja as an album perfectly: within, you’ll find deeply affecting, emotional music crafted using a very limited sound palette. Rossi usually self-samples her voice to create soundscapes and choirs or makes use of cryptic field recordings, only occasionally reaching for a synthesizer. This is ambient music rooted in Rossi’s immediate surroundings and an enchanting meditation on finding beauty in the ordinary.


P. Adrix

Álbum Desconhecido

[Príncipe]

[LISTEN · READ]

As in dream: “feeling the music from the words.” With our ears to the terrain, we sought footing in the percussion of shells snapping and plates shifting. We prepared for finite worlds in this flanging earth. We thought these sounds would be like all the others, an archipelago to be turned cartographic. But this terra infirma, this collection unfamiliar is not for knowing. In asphalt batida and slurred footworks, the jungle takes back the city. A de-bodied voice, a woozed intonation: “Adrix.” In turbulent Annihilation, as if in dream: “a rising sense of heat and weight and a kind of licking, a lapping wetness, as if the thick light was transforming into the sea itself.” We thought, as bodies do, that we could hear these sounds in this world but these sounds slough descriptors like rain off flesh. “Cut me open. Are my insides going to move like my fingerprints?” P. Adrix, sonhos unraveled and the sea itself, knows already: our insides run like sounds. Move for life. Transform or die.


Jam City

Earthly 000

[Self-Released]

[LISTEN · READ]

What good is there in skulking in the shadows? Lately, lots. The noise is overwhelming. Nauseous, even. I mean, when is the last time you didn’t want to pick a fight with someone on social media for one thing or another? When you had to restrain yourself because someone ran their hands off? When you got called out for offending someone without intending to? Sometimes it’s best to keep chill, keep quiet, say little. Walk in the shadows, have a buffer from the noise. These be autistic times, even when we don’t realize it. Jam City knows the score. Trap the sound, warp it to deny the overload. You can step back a bit, not stick your head out as much. It’s not the worst thing in the world. Maybe it’ll even make you less stressed.


03 Greedo

The Wolf of Grape Street

[Alamo]

[LISTEN]

The era of the overstuffed rap album is upon us, all disrespect to Spotify. Major labels have rushed to exploit the botched integration of streaming numbers into Billboard’s chart methodology, loading down a hot single with as much filler as it can bear and loosing the result onto sponsored playlists everywhere. Not so with 03 Greedo; throughout The Wolf of Grape Street (and his previous releases, which often reach 30-40 tracks in length), he remains reliably excellent across a myriad of styles, re-shaping himself seemingly without limit. Handling much of his own production and having never needed another rapper to carry a track, the vast majority of Greedo’s work to date has been a solo effort; with features including Yhung T.O., OMB Peezy, and PNB Rock, Grape Street offers a glimpse of how his sound might infiltrate the broader rap consciousness, if not yet the mainstream. Regardless, he’s the same Greedo as ever; whatever form he takes, his appeal remains rooted in his ambassadorship for L.A.’s Watts neighborhood — as album closer “Never Bend” begins, “if these project walls could talk, they’d be just like 03.”

Hannah Diamond

Soon I won’t see you at all

[PC Music]

[LISTEN · READ]

You don’t see Concrete angelsforegrounded, in cover, on Hannah Diamond’s latest EP — until it’s too late. And speaking of concrete, Miss HD (as she’s styled on the cover artwork) is not, or at least not on this EP, so much in the business of construction as deconstruction. PC Music always treads a line between doing pop and taking it apart, and Soon I won’t see you at all falls more toward the latter than Diamond’s earlier singles. Buildups never quite arrive, or if they do, they’re too wonky to dance to. That moment of yearning for the drop is suspended exquisitely, in perpetuity. We’re post-post-modern here, though; Diamond wants you to know that she’s sincere while making music that’s clearly, shimmeringly (but not transparently) all about surface. It’s the aesthetic of the teen crush, sly glances, and holding hands; the plastic hyperreality of her imagery and sound conveys this without a hint of schoolgirl fetish, which it exchanges for the slightest flavor of uncanny valley, of an 80s shy girl refracted through vaporwave aesthetics. She’s pretty in pink… and blue.


Pendant

Make Me Know You Sweet

[West Mineral]

[LISTEN · READ]

Ambient music, as per its name, has always been here; this much is evident. Accessing it has always been about privileging space; it’s this precise attention that distinguishes music from noise, and yet there’s always a cadre of listeners who, every so often, identify a new trend in ambient music, drawing parallels between oppressive temporal ambience and distinctive equalizer shapes. Often, ambient music’s affectiveness is framed as nepenthe, medicine for sorrow; in times of political turmoil, escape; in times of rapid technological advance, antidote for accelerationism. Within this simplistic framework, an ambient album’s success can be surmised by examining how convincing it is as an interactive object made up of negative space. Contrarily, what makes Pendant’s Make Me Know You Sweet a phenomenal ambient album is its unfathomable depth, its unknowable shape, its enigmatic purpose. It is extraordinary by virtue of its potentiality rather than its materiality, signifying it as a site for infinite reflections, if not new, then cast back with striking resonance.


U.S. Girls

In a Poem Unlimited

[4AD/Royal Mountain]

[WATCH · READ]

Backed by an exhilarating blend of only the finest sounds of the 1970s, Meg Remy’s latest as U.S. Girls is her most accessible yet. From the bouncing strut of “Mad As Hell” to the endless Remain in Light-esque groove of “Time,” In a Poem Unlimited could easily be the premier roller-disco soundtrack this side of Xanadu. At the same time, though, as seemingly every day brings to light the horrific actions of powerful people, there too is In a Poem Unlimited. Throughout, Remy calls out the many kinds of men who fail women. And as society begins to reckon with changes that are long past overdue, Remy’s words on opener “Velvet 4 Sale” — without taking its rape revenge plot literally — particularly resonate. Protect yourself from those who would do you harm, tear them down and make them fear you, and do whatever it takes to make sure they never get an opportunity to hurt you again.


C. Spencer Yeh

The RCA Mark II

[Primary Information]

[LISTEN · READ]

If I were to stand in front of one of those old synthesizers from the 1960s, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I mean, I’ve never even played a MiniKorg, so it stands to reason that I may have responded similarly to C. Spencer Yeh, who stumbled upon the RCA Mark II sitting idle at Columbia University, unused since 1997. But instead of composing with the seven-foot-tall, wall-length, $250,000 apparatus (which he couldn’t do because the thing’s straight busted), he set up some contact mics and recorded the sounds of the machine itself as he “twisted knobs, pushed buttons, flipped switches, pulled plugs, and rubbed the metal exterior.” (He probably also put his mouth on it, because why wouldn’t he?) The edited results comprise The RCA Mark II, an otherworldly glitch wonderland where dust motes and metal filings dance around the room long after Yeh’s left it.


Organ Tapes

Into One Name

[Genome 6.66 Mbp]

[LISTEN · READ]

Drowned in artifice and draped in the hopelessly optimistic veil of youth, Organ Tapes’s Into One Name sounds like a lot of things, but most of all it sounds like the future. Tim Zha’s latest release bears all the intimacy and claustrophobia of a bedroom confessional, albeit one that trades in the Elliott Smith and acoustic guitars for Alkaline and Auto-Tune, pulsing along on a hushed string of miniature dancehall riddims and soft, twinkling MIDIs. Halfway between a mourner’s procession and an adolescent profession of love, Into One Name splits itself in multiple directions at once, as joyous as it is filled with remorse, as swaggering as it is broken. It’s an apt waypoint on the continually fracturing path that we’ve all found ourselves wandering down, a gently written love letter that promises to remain sincere even as our world seems to drift further and further out of reach.

Cities Aviv

Raised For A Better View

[Total Works]

[LISTEN · READ]

One could argue that Cities Aviv’s latest album is a paradox. It’s as if, through a careful act of reduction and omission, a highly refined yet raw form of hip-hop has been established. The disjointed beats (if they’re there at all), melancholy samples, reverb-laden synth lines, and abruptness at which the songs begin and end not only complement Gavin Mays’ internal monologue, but seem to mirror it — a purposefully organic unfinishedness. (I am reminded of surrealist painter Joan Miró’s 1925 painting, The Policeman.) As listeners, we’re still there, just listening, only now it feels like we’re doing so from inside the rapper’s head. Vulnerability can hurt — anything coming straight from the heart often does — but rarely is it this effective. “I done showed up in the wrong place/ But my vision in a clearer space.” You’re damn right. Thanks for letting us bear witness to it.


Various Artists

Diggin’ in the Carts

[Hyperdub]

[LISTEN · READ]

Diggin’ in the Carts” is a Red Bull Music Academy doc series and radio show exploring Japanese video game music. Its accompanying Hyperdub compilation is the result of an insane amount of work from Steve Goodman (a.k.a. Kode9) and filmmaker Nick Dwyer. In an interview, Dwyer dropped that to find the Carts gems, he listened to every single 8- and 16-bit soundtrack from Japan that exists. As a result, Carts collects only the truly obscure — you likely won’t even recognize the game to which they belong. The extreme limitations of all video game composition from this era makes this series revelatory, elevating what could be primitive, incidental background scores into gorgeous compositions to be enjoyed in their own right.


Yma

EMBRACE

[Lynn]

[LISTEN]

January is IRL the cruelest month, friends. On the first morning of this new year, cold water blistered down the roofwork outside my window. I watched it pitching sharp shapes earthward as I huddled over my hoard of space heaters. Landlord said to let the faucets go all night. High winds splintered through the crack under the front door. Drops, drips, stutters, buzzes, creaks, croons, and whirs roared up around me. In all this, I heard an echo of ringing electric pianos caught in a shudder, voices scintillating all watery and reflective in winter wind, scratching inhalations. These were the initial sounds of C.E. 2018. These sounds were birthed on the backs of icicles but came at me via Yma’s shockingly soft EMBRACE, released — in full disclosure — by our friends at Lynn.


Profligate

Somewhere Else

[Wharf Cat]

[LISTEN · READ]

A concrete mass poured over us: Somewhere Else came in with the breeze. It bares a fuzzy affect and a propensity for breaking. Meeting me, it calls back to Broadcast’s Tender Buttons, itself a callback to Nico, Kraftwerk, and Stein. Inheriting, biting, sipping. It reaches out toward the melancholy of so many loved ones, pulls each in with vampiric force. It leaves little room for fantasy. Profligate, a musician and a poet, that’s the line, two members lost in the wash. Two figures (barely present) give a vague report on their immediate past. This document brims with melodies and brilliant colors, but it sits still like an uncanny fog: placid, gray, cold, undisturbed, holding its own like static in a vacuum. Somewhere Else is cold like so many, but cozy like few. The sound of circuits wailing against capture, even this wail holds understanding; it meets with the senses and warms from within. I sat with it all winter and fell apart as I watched it unravel, loosely, becoming undone.


Debit

Animus

[N.A.A.F.I]

[LISTEN]

The debut album from Mexico City’s N.A.A.F.I label sounds as though it was commissioned to represent a personalized night tour through an expansive and intimidating metropolis. Delia Beatriz, the New York-based producer behind Debit, somehow kneads a forensic distillation of detached lives lived in between both of those cities, as she mangles disjointed percussion and Latino rhythms with warm synths and beautifully interspersed effects. The resulting tracks allow for a haunting fusion of styles, which not only make Animus a firm favorite of the first quarter, but place Debit high on our list of artists to keep track of in the months to come.

Mount Eerie

Now Only

[P.W. Elverum & Sun]

[LISTEN · READ]

You know how it is: sometimes you just gotta talk out loud to yourself in order to work through something. Phil Elverum said a mouthful on last year’s haunting A Crow Looked at Me, and his 2018 opus (and companion album to Crow) continued the clear-eyed — if hopelessly circular — rumination. Inside the reaction chamber of Elverum’s brain/body, you could hear all the Big Stuff (pain, death, religion, pregnancy, war) colliding and fusing with all the small stuff (sleeping, reading, watching TV, eating, traveling) to create… what, exactly? Not “resolutions.” Not even logical discourse. This was pure nuclear energy; as bright as the sun and stars that pulse and flare and relentlessly spit their unhearable music (with zero fucks given about puny little you and me) into every soundless corner of the frozen universe and just as deadly to bathe one’s puny little earth body in directly.


Jean-Luc Guionnet & Daichi Yoshikawa

Intervivos

[Empty Editions]

[LISTEN · READ]

Down in the dirt, the firstborn’s new mind immediately detected the ubiquitous danger. Who was next to go? Going numb, she experienced a floating feeling as she was moved toward a distant flashing red light, the pulse of Calumet’s flame. When she grew up, she remembered that flame and the nightmares it brought her, and she remembered that day in 2014 when the flame spread uncontrollably, fueled by hydro carbon liquid and hydrogen, and consumed almost everything. The survivors were stranded and floating in perceived eternity and space, occasionally colliding into other objects, occasionally distressed by unrecorded warning systems, occasionally heading toward distant flashing red lights. Out here, between the living and something else, we feel a constant sense of panic, which is, to be honest, no different than the day we were born. Our lungs becoming a sort of timekeeper, like an hourglass, slowly filling up with dirt, one grain per full rotation. It’s hard to tell exactly if this sense of panic started in 2014 or the day we were born.


cupcakKe

Ephorize

[Self-Released]

[WATCH · READ]

You done the math yet? cupcakKe just couldn’t wait for anybody else, and so here’s Ephorize, yet another coup de maître of trap-rap hybridity and “drill concrète” (outs to Jazz) — the clearing of the site for bangers and anthems alike. These are the new horizons for her unhinged sex style, an extension of her audacious technique further away from the viral liminality of the past toward wholly consummate performance. And, the uncompromising lyrical plurality that made Queen Elizabitch such compulsive listening continues, as cupcakKe probes both herself (“Self-Interview,” “Single While Taken”) and the world around her (“Crayons”) with the same tenacity as her wildest fantasies and bluntest jibes. No slide into formalism here, then; from the top to the bottom, from casual boasting to wisened self-observation, this is Elizabeth Harris’s Address, the state of things — her voice, unbound.


Lost Girls

Feeling

[Smalltown Supersound]

[LISTEN · READ]

Like with the intimacy of Robert Ashley’s lilting intonation, intimating, the threadbare petal edge thrust against the sky, to the world behind them, too large to take in, sentences here never end nor contain themselves in their trite simplicity: they jut, drift, gesture, allude through their incompleteness. The world is too large to take in, so unravel it at its seams. Prefer transparency to the cloth that, repressing private parts, paints a spurious whole. Be threadbare, but spacious, unraveling in the interstices of the cloth the loss language that makes possible, the world. Prefer the body without end or appendage, the sexless body composed of parts that are themselves wholes, driftingly limitless. I’m not the same person I used to be, ends Ashley. I am limitlessly multiple, continue Hval and Borden, the “Blue” Gene Tyranny to her Ashley. I wonder. I accept. I am spacious, singing flesh, says Cixous, traversed by Eros. I am lost, says no one knows which I, and perhaps we just want to feel more lost.


Dedekind Cut

Tahoe

[Kranky]

[LISTEN · READ]

Tahoe has been sitting in my head, somewhere between the back of my brain and my skull, emerging at unexpected times and yielding cerebral results. The brass sounds of “The Crossing Guard” ring in my ears as hot shower water runs down my neck. “Equity” lays flat, churning, during the morning queue. “MMXIX” is reborn when someone steps in a puddle. The title track exists in the spaces where the others don’t, unattached to anything, able to lay over everything. I don’t have the means to experience Tahoe in any of the locations written on the cover; instead, it floats through my mind, rarely leaving since it entered. I think of that figure casting something to somewhere when I’m alone, in groups, and asleep. There’s something brooding about Tahoe; I can’t figure it out, and I don’t really want to.

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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