2019: Second Quarter Favorites 25 incredible releases from the last three months

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


Music is just about dead. It’s been in a downtrend for years now, continually re-testing the strength of one of its last major levels of support. But the more you consolidate above support, the more likely it’ll break to the downside for further lows, which is when music fans will start panic selling their music and looking for different markets to pour their money into.

Music needs a catalyst to re-enter a bull market. Will our favorite releases of Q2 2019 be exactly what music fans need to be bullish again on music? The radiance of Erika de Casier? The bonfire ASMR drone of Helm? The dark-comic culture-war metacriticism of Quelle Chris? The interlocking chordal geometries of Ellen Arkbro? The protective plume of Aldous Harding? The gothic tales from billy woods & Kenny Segal? The deadpan tarraxo of Puto Tito? The enigmatic pranksters and fun-seeking carnivalians of CHAI? The beautiful firebombs of City & i.o? The sweet & sour love of Weyes Blood, the bodily love of Tami T, or the straight-up sex music from Carly Rae?

Nope, we’re on a sinking ship. See you at the local bottom for the dead-cat bounce before all-time lows. RIP Music. <3


Weyes Blood

Titanic Rising

[Sub Pop]

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Despite the casual insistence to connect Natalie Mering with the Laurel Canyon music scene of the late 60s and early 70s, there is little pessimism and portentousness associated with those West Coast folk on the latest Weyes Blood album. Titanic Rising may address the same failed-hopes ethos shared by eras then and now, but it doesn’t reflect it. Showing a new insight and maturity, Mering’s lyrics are suffused with personal feelings on timeless realities. Sweet love and sour love are romanticized, but never vacuous; the estranged notions of security and freedom are confounding as ever. Her musical range has expanded as well. From stem to stern, there are oodles of goosepimple moments on Titanic Rising. The world boils over, yet Mering keeps a hopeful simmer, reacting to the current state of affairs without fear or rage or even a simple world-weariness, apposite of living in “these times.” With Titanic Rising Mering makes sincerity cool again, and that can sustain lives.


Erika de Casier

Essentials

[Independent Jeep Music]

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Even in its most sun-dappled, starry-eyed moments, Erika de Casier’s music radiates with uncommon strength. Whether her head’s in the clouds, her heart is in the dumps, or she’s losing herself on the dance floor, de Casier knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask her partner for clarity, intimacy, or the space to just do her own thing. In echoing the wistfulness of G-funk, the sultriness of 2-step, and the weapons-grade verve of a Timbaland production, de Casier aligns herself with the emotionally heavy, feather-light styles of Brandy, Monica, and Aaliyah without descending into parody and pastiche. Hers is the rare record that quietly lives up to the audacity of calling one’s debut Essentials.


DJ Nate

Take Off Mode

[Planet Mu]

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When Chicago-based DJ Nate tripwires the tail of R&B flow (“Just Be Truu”) and bites off the butt-end of beats (“You Ain’t Ready To Battle”), lucid grip slips then reclines (“Go Krazy”). Stiff alterations of angel suave (“Oh Woooaaah,” “Talk 2 Me”) cross paths over multiple octaves and deny resolve. After death, Nathan Clark suspends your favorite tagline in cold cloud limbo, forgotten soundbites on loan from lost club library. You listen to this footwork through packed earth, following the rise and fall of your voice above the cheek-and-finger-tom thump, as it orbits Planet Mu, adrift and smooth severed. Short palm lines free float off the clock hand.


TREE

We Grown Now.

[Soul Trap Music]

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What I find most striking about We Grown Now. is that, fundamentally, it needn’t exist. The clue’s in the title; TREE’s not growing, but grown. Full stop. “I may never do a show again,” the Trap Genius confesses on “No Lies,” seemingly ready to pull the plug on his music career altogether. And yet, We Grown Now. does exist. This is where TREE’s at circa 2019, and this is what it took to get here. Because growth isn’t linear, nor is it easily definable. You can build a kingdom, lose a few people along the way (“I don’t talk to none them niggas now”), nurture existing relationships, or perhaps strike up a few new ones. TREE’s talked about pursuing “reality rap” in interviews, and by the time the album’s emotional centerpiece “Letter To MY Sons” rolls around, as a father’s advice is delivered with a father’s intensity and directness, it’s clear that his reality animates the very core of his music. He may be grown, on the cusp of fading to black, but on the strength of We Grown Now., there can surely be more overspill — more soul, more trap, more TREE.


Tami T

High Pitched And Moist

[Trannytone]

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Do you think you’re better off alone? Would Tami T’s glorious, crushing High Pitched And Moist hit the same? If its opener’s lyrics didn’t describe my one-time-everyday? If her pitched-up voice didn’t sound like how I’d like mine to? I’d recommend Tami even if every single horny, grief-stricken word didn’t ring true. We think she’s got comforting to do. Good luck shaking the “LA-LA-LA” chorus from “Princess” out of your head. Or unshaking yourself after hearing the way she releases anger, transforms it into wisdom or noise. From the messy title to Eero Lampinen’s pink cover, both so femme as to be confrontational (or an invitational!), we were hooked — dancefloored, crying. Yes, here’s some POP with POWER, to imagine a whole new world, confession, anthem, mucous, yolk. There you are, hating to hate to love to love your body in the club, stuck in no ways, shaking the habitual by shaving every single day, chugging dumb b*tch juice, singing! Tami T makes music for — who else? I’ll fly with you.

Entro Senestre

Entro Senestre Live ACID at B.N.C.C

[BANK Records NYC]

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It’s 8 PM, and I’m home alone — all night — guarding this sacred vessel of life; my ass ‘bout to get-right while watching the sunset from our fifth-floor apartment windows. Henny and I are turning up the stereo at the stroke of midnight-ish — hours later — setting three different flashlights on strobe-mode that burst bubbles throughout cherished space. Suddenly, I’m in socks around 3:11 AM wanting more, glide-dancing along the surface I had cleaned between now and synaptic flickers. Entro Senestre Live ACID at B.N.C.C been playing this entire time, like an entangled pendulum. Steaming energy arriving throughout my body, an anaconda at my throat, the confidence of skyrocketing: my humble abode drenched in layer, gory, nerdy techno.


Quelle Chris

Guns

[Mello Music Group]

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You’d have to be excused for not immediately processing all the dope that Quelle Chris’s Guns put on the table. It was released in something of an alt-rap all-star week, which also welcomed new albums from billy woods, Mach Hommy & DJ Muggs, and TREE. But come quarterlies, this is one that simply can’t be ignored. A master of character-driven satirical songwriting, Quelle Chris is truly in his element here, packing countless layers of dark-comic culture-war metacriticism into 13 tracks of mostly self-produced bangers and mash, i.e., goes down easy, but there’s a lot to digest. Such that three months later, your blurber only just now picked up the Jadakiss-by-way-of-Theravada reference in frequent collaborator Denmark Vessey’s verse on “Box of Wheaties.” Another highlight: the Falling Down-type postal bass line shooting everything that moves on “Mind Ya Bidness.” Like I said, it bangs.


Carly Rae Jepsen

Dedicated

[Schoolboy/Interscope]

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What if we were bad lovers? What if the what of our wants weren’t enough, our parts too weird to be sustainably partnered? What if we were always too much, will only ever push and shove lusts onto things that slip away as quick as we discard them? All we want is real love. And we don’t know a thing about it. Dedicated is the site of knowing wanting and wanting unknowing. The clarion max-out of earlier Carly gives way to ticks and groove, trills like scraped paper and sweat on our curves. This is sex music, bodies atop bodies atop armoires in bedrooms, amour armor where sometimes one is plenty. If the sounds are devoted to any one thing, it not a compostable single love. Dedicated, rather, is loving as philosophy, a pop system for life in scope of the affections and anxieties one renders endlessly. It’s not the words; it’s the sound. And it helps so much.


Ellen Arkbro

CHORDS

[Subtext]

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Entirely bare of pretension, CHORDS is simply chords. In two parts, a mammoth drone for organ and slow, spilling articulations on guitar, Arkbro conjures complexities from simple practice. Although minimal and straightforward, it would be a disservice to classify this simply as an academic or strictly conceptual attempt; in her careful compounding and peeling away of frequencies, surprising snatches of beauty emerge. It is near the edge of perception where her work shines, smithing sounds so fine and unexpected that one might doubt they were there at all. The mind-blankening weight of “CHORDS for organ,” which often threatens to swallow the listener, also harbors delicate tones sweeping about each other in near-holographic pas de deux. Bolstered by a buzzing Karplus-Strong string, her guitar sketches the curious, swirling resonances that emerge between the acoustic voice and the synthesized one. Arkbro’s work makes no excuse or justification for itself, rather preferring to let the peculiar character of her selected chords and their interlocking geometries sing for themselves.


Organ Tapes

Hunger in Me Living

[TT]

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Like ice, and, bleeding, or glassy lustrous, voices slip, sleek, and, spill, not merely gloss of whines and crooning, disaffected drain-gang whimpers, loss, and, streaming thru the very thick of things, it all congeals, thru this lonely luster, throat-clenched fleeting, angelic frail and feel of so-far-away, and, so-far-from, everything, so-close and the thought-that-i-could-love and you and, loving, you, and the rush of it all, passing, you, bye, as red-light river of surge, swoon, and seething distance of life lived in distance from life, yet, in ice shards of whisper, fringed with sonic edge of cloud rap’s neon dissociation, there’s a dream ! and delicate dream-pop yearnings, as if, this distance from you, is where i find you, as if, to share lonely ? as if, plastic flows of murmuring coalescence distance into, lonely, sharing, as if, to the one who comes to you hungry and tired, there can be, living thru your hunger, in us, living…

Aldous Harding

Designer

[4AD]

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Every line that Aldous Harding sings on Designer comes clutched tightly by uncompromising mixtures of percussion, keys, and strings. Her vocal outpour distills reckless experiences through a measured delivery, and while each piece is generous in its narrative, her humble assortment of instruments hold on to her words like a protective plume, a restrained air that fits perfectly around her thoughts, confessions, and memories. Her recollections here are intimate; she sings of kisses, glances, strokes, hinting at once in admiration and regret as she refers to unfathomable dreams and wild, welling eyes. Harding’s impressions then gently fade away, alluding to another world of hissing lawns, fruit trees, and glow worms, while the distinct pressure points of Designer remain forever engrained and impossible to forget.


billy woods & Kenny Segal

Hiding Places

[Backwoodz Studioz]

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Coming out of the fog like weary soldiers, billy woods and L.A. beat veteran Kenny Segal deliver hip-hop’s “Wasteland.” Whether it’s the state of the rap industry, the American military-industrial complex, or the lingering scars of past colonial conquests, the pellucid rage of Hiding Places leaves you shell-shocked. billy’s delivery is clear and direct, his cadence never falters; he articulates gothic tales of a surveillance age over slurring, hypnagogic beats — the contrast that makes this collaborative album distinct. His lyrics contain myths and odysseys — the ranting evokes magical realism — tracing lines through histories of atrocities. From Saddam in the Spider Hole to King Leopold in the Congo, the grim world is exposed for its cowardice. Kenny Segal cuts a ghostly foil. Hiding Places renders the apocalypse in High Definition, in all its banality and bureaucracy. “This is America,” billy reminds us, “it’s not for the weak of stomach.”


Helm

Chemical Flowers

[PAN]

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For over a decade, Luke Younger has been a reputable source of genre splintering pseudo-drone envelopment. With Helm, the listener wades in placid, while the murky water steadily seeps out of comfy containment. Despite producing some balmy, bonfire ASMR drone, Younger continues to make you earn that rusty glow with some blackhole-listing, de-composing and skeletal process segments. The feeling is akin to when it’s just between you, a passenger, and the world. When your pocket distractions fail you and there’s nothing more needed than to plainly take in everything you possibly can of your surroundings. Even at its quietest (the immaculate stillness of “Leave Them All Behind” is For Those Who Have Never…-level mesmerizing), Chemical Flowers is an invigorating, steely-eyed gulp of incidental air and a proper reaffirmation for this keen curator of the strange space between restlessness and resolve.


Wizard Apprentice

Dig A Pit

[Ratskin/Cruisin]

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An album about recovering from “intimate partner violence.” Nonetheless welcoming. Warm, soft-spoken, bold, melodic, vulnerable, and most of all smart. Tieraney Carter (a.k.a. Wizard Apprentice) comes off as emotionally hyper-intelligent in a way that few others are. Like, can you say you’re a virtuoso at the instrument that is your brain? I mean your heart-brain, the thing behind the eyes, where the tears come from, where the choices are made. I mean, really, where the choices are really made. I just started practicing the damn thing. Carter could give a masterclass. This is where the tears come from, the good ones. Necessary.


Holly Herndon

PROTO

[4AD]

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It’s impossible to write around the influence that artificial intelligence had on PROTO. Namely, it’s the fact that — along with a heavily prominent choral ensemble and a host of other contributors — Holly Herndon made her third studio album in collaboration with an A.I. “baby” named Spawn. Raised on a healthy diet of vocal coaching and a sense of community, Spawn’s function was not to stand out or replicate an approximation of previous Herndon works, but to be embedded in the creative process itself, part of the generation of something entirely new. The results are at times mind-blowing, a melding of electronic music with traditional Sacred Harp singing, and super future techniques like, oh I don’t know, an A.I. that’s learning to sing and appreciate group dynamics. In Holly Herndon’s vision of the future, humanity isn’t destined to be overthrown, harvested, and turned into mulch by an uprising of sentient artificial intelligence. PROTO brings the organic and the artificial together, crafting an environment for the two to work and blossom in creative harmony.

Your Old Droog

It Wasn’t Even Close

[Self-Released]

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Far beyond the common characteristic of wanting to please, Your Old Droog makes the type of music he wants to make. Case in point: It Wasn’t Even Close. Droog is a man so full of fantastic bars they seem to drop out of him at will. And with the aid of executive producer Mach-Hommy, he crafted a record to rival any rap release of this year. Too many lines to quote. Too many impressive features to number. Overall, too many nods to give. But Droog gets the final, overall nod. An observation: what’s most striking about It Wasn’t Even Close is the pure fun and skill of his flow. Also, “Babushka” is song-of-the-year material for me. Just saying.


City & i.o

Spirit Volume

[PTP]

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It’s shitty to suggest this, but: perhaps in just the right (metaphorical) circumstance, carpet-bombing can be a “very effective” strategy? One deft and sycophantic track at a time, the low-profile Canadian pair of City & i.o. assaulted the scant, 34-ish-minute terrain of Spirit Volume with a full blitz of catastrophic but exuberant synth-spray, static-gas, and drum-fire. But what really turned the carnage-ravaged results into a “mission accomplished” was just how sober, thoughtful, and downright meticulous the duo’s stratagems were. The album’s “cinematic slabs of fight-scene tech-noir” were dropped from above in a merciful ebb-and-flow pattern and felt more loving than terrifying, more cerebral than anxious, resulting in nine beautiful firebombs. Do NOT try this at home.


マヒトゥ・ザ・ピーポー (MahiToThePeople)

Yasashiihonyuurui

[Jusangatsu]

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GEZAN frontman and lo-fi polymath マヒトゥ・ザ・ピーポー (MahiToThePeople) finds a quiet introspection in solo work that’s all but purged from his band’s frenzied post-hardcore assault. Never before, though, had he so enthusiastically retreated into solitude than in the first half of 2019, which spawned a pair of warm and muffled Mahi LPs in February and April, respectively. While the first was a more traditional foray into wispy chamber folk à la Iron and Wine or early Belle and Sebastian, April’s やさしい哺乳類 (“friendly mammals”) delved headlong into lounge-jazz hip-hop cyphers, post-rock throwbacks, and slowcore-tinged bossa nova. Spreading 8 tracks over roughly 45 minutes, やさしい哺乳類 was a slow-paced entry into the DIY canon that lavished care onto its eclectic whims. Here, マヒトゥ・ザ・ピーポー proved himself an auteur of pocket-sized proportions.


Sarah Davachi

Pale Bloom

[W.25TH]

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Every so often (OK, quite frequently and quite purposefully), I find myself stuck in a YouTube hole of obscure classical music uploads; it’s how I originally discovered La Monte Young and Julius Eastman, two of my favorite composers and two of Sarah Davachi’s obvious predecessors. What I love about getting lost in these loops for hours at a time is how YouTube’s algorithms function as a kind of DJ for all these culturally related pieces that supposedly eschew any such context. After awhile, I hardly know what I’m hearing or what I’ve heard, but it all bleeds together like a tuning at a dress rehearsal. Pale Bloom, like YouTube and its infinite treasures, provokes this spirit of passive wonder through gentle, spiraling piano phrases that beckon deeper and deeper into its drapery until there is nothing left but knots. Tangled in melancholy and smothered in confusion, I retrace my steps each time, always approaching that second I nodded off, but never centering in; always empty-handed but, curiously, always full at heart.


Mukqs

SD Biomix

[Orange Milk]

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We’re here dissolving in the drums, waiting transubstantiation by slabs of synth. As the pianos clinked away, we felt that kick pulse. We were invited by skittering electronics to peek over the edge of New Age serenity. We are a collage of moments moving toward yet eluded by the reassurance of solid footing. Some sounds cry out from their origin, others slither from the ooze as a refracted reference points. They like to tussle, interwoven, along ridges and furrows. As sonic memories grow closer in plastic space, they reach out to one another, pursuing smoothness. We oscillate between the two as they become one smooth surface.

M. Geddes Gengras

I Am the Last of That Green and Warm-Hued World

[Hausu Mountain]

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Do you remember the first ambient album you heard that made you appreciate the genre? Do you remember the way the room’s color tinted slight? Maybe it instilled a sense of calm or enhanced your focus. Did it ease you into a memory, gently guiding you along without words or suggestion, giving you space? I Am the Last of That Green and Warm-Hued World by M. Geddes Gengras reminded me of the first time I fell in love with the genre. I could feel the air thicken with Appalachian humidity. I remembered the unkempt trees lazily hanging over the highway, rolling into the way station and waiting in line at the pump. I drifted off into a meditative state with the sounds anchoring me like mala beads. When it was over, I wanted to go back, ease into the record, come and go as I pleased, watch as the world became green and warm-hued.


Puto Tito

Carregando A Vida Atrás Das Costas

[Príncipe]

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Recorded throughout 2014-15 in the low-stakes context of a bedroom producer barely into his teens, Carregando A Vida Atrás Das Costas is a blazing document of a geographically-defined sound retrieved by Príncipe from the borderless scrapgrounds of SoundCloud. The Angola-born, Lisbon-based Puto Tito — still only 19 — joyrides the pulse of his Portuguese contemporaries and catalyzes its idiosyncratic mutation through jerky tones and rhythmic fuckery, outré squiggles and disconnected thuds, producer tags and claps clapping a hair too early. This is “deadpan tarraxo” for the empty dance floors of Segundo Torrão, life loaded behind the back, bodies arching and contorting and discovering new poses.


CHAI

PUNK

[Otemoyan]

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You don’t have to be Dean Blunt to be mysterious. Enter Chai, a Nagoya-bred school band with members that don’t share their last name and don’t speak on any personal matters. Straddling the line between enigmatic pranksters and fun-seeking carnivalians, PUNK’s MO is self-help truisms and substantive creeds that never wear out their welcome. Who are these girls? They seem bred from a lab that sought to combine Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, Justice, and the music club from K-ON. Theatrics aside, Mana, Kana, Yuuki, and Yuna are unwilling to leave you without a smile. It’s a secretive quest to infuse life into punk, and by god, they just might do it.


Andrew Tasselmyer & Patrick Spatz

Interior Currents

[Constellation Tatsu]

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The world has an unerring capacity to overwhelm you quickly these days. You can stick to your rhythm, and then something happens that completely disrupts it. Maybe everything is just moving too fast when we’re expected to get things done, or when and how we’re supposed to respond to events as they happen, even when they have nothing to do with us. The world seeks to isolate us at every opportunity through overwhelming us, to condition us that such a state is perfectly normal and fine. Finding solace in what we can’t control has become so meaningless, because there is barely anything we can control. Yet only in moments of true calm do we realize this situation. The times where we can look inside and recognize the serious problems within ourselves, imposed by a society that wants little more than to turn every man, woman, and trans person into an island.


Beat Detectives

NYPD Records Volume 3: Nefertiti Abstract Movie

[NYPD]

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I get the sense from taking in Beat Detectives’ Nefertiti Abstract Movie (though it could easily be any release from the prolific duo of Chris Hontos & Aaron Anderson) that these guys are all about idea generation: jamming into the night, nothing off limits, just scratching those ideas out in the DAW and keeping as much out of the unfinished track graveyard as possible. The result is a gritty, disconnected style that flits around hip-hop in the loosest way imaginable, plucking samples from the ether and often holding things down via a shuffling groovebox. The disjointed narrative seems to invite listening to the tracks on shuffle, suggesting you never know what you might find.

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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