Category Archives: Music

Zelma Stone’s Debut ‘Layla’ EP Takes Us Back To Today

I had a daydream this week… I was walking down Valencia St in SF and instead of fancy boutiques and pour-it-yourself brewpubs, the sidewalks were lined with flower kids and VW trip vans. I hopped into one of these said vans and Zelma Stone’s “River” was playing… I leaned my back up against the van’s bench seat, dropped my head back, closed my eyes, sunk into the ravishing rhythm and I was happy.

“River” is the opening cut to San Francisco five-piece Zelma Stone’s debut EP, Layla, out today on Honey House Records.And while songwriter and frontwoman Chloe Zelma’s affinity for Jefferson Airplane is evident, calling Zelma Stone a throwback doesn’t do their promising present justice. Seeing them on-stage early last year, I was struck by how at home their contemporary psychedelia is in San Francisco…and coming from such a sprightly group that’s just starting to find themselves, it’s enough to embrace the heck out of their sound and where it could go.

Recorded at the Bayview-based Light Rail Studios, Layla is named after Zelma’s pup that she inherited from her brother Brett, who passed away in 2009. It’s a rejuvenating collection of songs written by Zelma as she reconciled a handful of losses in her life—her brother’s among them. The record’s fulcrum, “Golden,” with the singer’s potent delivery and a whiskey-washed guitar that ebbs and flows gracefully, feels especially cathartic.

“Writing these songs felt as if I stuffed all my pain, grief and anger into a magical, healing, glass bottle,” Zelma says. “Releasing them feels as if I’m throwing this bottle out to sea in hopes that someone will discover it and find their own meaning and healing from it,”

We’re delighted to feature Layla on the day of it’s release, and welcome you to get to know a glowing bright spot in the San Francisco scene. And you can see Zelma Stone live at their EP Release Party at the wonderful Rickshaw Stop on Saturday, January 19th. Layla is available for download at Bandcamp. 

Zelma Stone is Chloe Zelma (vocals/guitar), Haley Pan (bass), Jake Kissner (drums), Jewelz (keys) and Kevin Fielding (lead guitar). Follow the band on Facebook. (Photos by Diana Brewer)

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The 60 Best Albums of 2018 (+6 EP’s)

Aaaaaand…we’re back! This the 11th annual Everything Ecstatic Best Albums of the Year roundup and for 2018, I’ve laid out the 60 albums that meant the most to me this year along with six EPs in a separate section about a third of the way down.

I covered a good number of these artists throughout the year and am linking to some of my favorite features or podcast interviews I did with them if it applies. This was also definitely my most fulfilling year in music festival coverage so you’ll notice that a lot of these interviews may have even happened on site in Montréal, San Francisco, Austin, etc…

Keeping the words brief, but including cover art, scattered audio/video/photos and a Spotify playlist at the bottom of the post. My hope is that you can come back to this list and discover artists that you may have skimmed through the first time around or click on a different link and really get to know them. Click the ‘Albums of the Year’ tab on the top of this site to re-visit past years and hit me at @AGSpinelli on Twitter  or Instagram to follow along with my year-round escapades in music. Lastly, Everything Ecstatic has been producing not just features and blog posts, but also events! Like us on Facebook to stay connected! Enjoy and cheers!

Spinelli

61-51: Stellar Spins 

61. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
60. Cornelia Murr – Lake Tear of the Clouds
59. Tom Misch – Geography
58. The Ophelias – Almost
57. Saba – CARE FOR ME
56. Kurt Vile –  Bottle It In
55. Steady Holiday – Nobody’s Watching
54. Jim James – Uniform Distortion
53. Soccer Mommy – Clean
52 . Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
51 . Kamasi Washington – Heaven And Earth

The Top 50 (+ some EP’s)

50. tune-yards – I can feel you creep into my private life

An uncomfortable album on the surface, but a brilliant and important one when you dig deeper.

I wrote about it for the KQEDArts Best of the Bay Series.

49. Jefferson Park Boys – Casual Horns, Dog

A stellar beat tape from Mr. Carmack + Kenny Segal + Mike Parvizi.

48. Kamaal Williams – The Return

One half of nu-jazz group Yussef Kamaal, Williams teams with keys player Henry Wu for one of this year’s many stellar jazz releases in the budding London scene.

47. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Tearing At The Seams

One song to rule them all:

46. Robyn – Honey

One song to rule them all part 2:

45. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food

One of the best band’s on the planet, straight up.

44. JAIN – Souldier

My favorite globally-inspired French pop singer belongs in the same conversation as the Charli XCX’s and Carly Rae Jepsen’s of the world.

I got the great pleasure to sit down with JAIN for an interview at the Montreal Jazz festival. 

42. Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse

On her third LP, Sadie Dupuis has really settled into one of the most consistent indie acts of the last five years.

Sadie was a guest on the Noise Pop Podcast where we discussed the finer points of the Scream movie franchise (among other things.)

43. Tierra Whack – Whack World

The 15 song Whack World video was the best 15 minutes of the year.

Continue reading The 60 Best Albums of 2018 (+6 EP’s)

First Spin: MPHD’s Repetition EP Induces Intrigue And Movement

MPHD is the tech house project of San Francisco producer Bradley Exum.  MPHD is the tech house project of San Francisco producer Bradley Exum. MPHD is the tech house project of San Francisco producer Bradley Exum.

His latest 2-track EP, Repetition, is out today on SF’s Text Me Records and Everything Ecstatic gives you a first spin at the bottom of this post.

Since MPHD came to life in 2010, Exum, 27, has been a staple in the San Francisco electronic scene. This year alone, he’s opened for Gene Farris, LCD Soundsystem and Ghostland Observatory. He’s released a couple EP’s for SF bass & house label Bad Shoes and after a production lull, has caught on with the surging Text Me Records to put out Repetition.

On the title track, a driving beat lays the groundwork for glitches, vocal samples and gradual flux, already sweating from the dance floor it belongs on. “Repetition is a psychological tool,” an ominous voice utters, as the bass surrounds it. On the dastardly rhythm of “LNL1968,” Exum further toys with the concept of expanding on a song’s continuous nature, as it progresses into a straight get-down bounce.

“I was trying to really focus in on that idea of why repetition is interesting to us, how for some reason it tends to entice more often than it tends to bore,” Exum says.  “Obviously electronic music is definitely rooted in repetition; but how one uses subtle changes, negative space, etc… when writing has always been pretty interesting to me and definitely contributed to how both of these tracks got to their final state.”

While this is MPHD’s  first EP with Text Me, Exum says there’s more on the horizon. For now, this shit is ready to rock a club stat. Peep Repetition below. Peep Repetition below. Peep Repetition below. Peep Repetition below. Peep Repetition below.

Follow MPHD on Twitter or Facebook.

All Photos by Lukas Peterson.

French Cassettes Don’t Mind Waiting On “Sunday Soda”

French Cassettes are one of those SF bands you just pine for more material from. They released their debut album, Gold Youth, in 2013, alongside the Summer Friends EP — both collections of shimmering and brisk, coastal pop songs — before sinking  in to studio sessions and side projects. They’ve still been a been a steady presence at Bay Area concert halls, but aside from “Right Talk” off of Oakland’s OIM Records 2015 Vol. 1 comp, there’s been a dearth of new French Cassettes tunes…..until now.

On the heels of the recently released “City Kitty”, we’re premiering the latest cut from French Cassettes’ long-awaited batch of new songs, “Sunday Soda.”  Predicated on a sleeping giant G note riff, the track unfurls into a feel good jam brimming with the spirit of SF’s  oceanic edges, just as much as that of the breeze within the almond orchards of the San Joaquin Valley, where the song was written and the band is originally from.

Mixed by long-time LCD Soundsystem producer/engineer Eric Broucek, the musical moods of “Sunday Soda” transition seemingly by design, in congruence with singer Scott Huerta’s lyrics.

“I don’t remember intentionally doing this, but the lyrics definitely go from fun…to lonely…to desperate.,” Huerta says. “That’s probably because I start working on songs around midnight and finish the lyrics around 5am. Not really myself by then.”

Never without his wit, Huerta says the song was inspired by two of his favorite Davids: Bazan and Blaine. And as the G note morphs into the pre-chorus building like a magic trick, a silky guitar solo drops and beneath a highly relatable hook, painting that moment when all we’re left with is waiting for someone to meet you on the same page and blissfully accepting the anxiety that comes with it: “I don’t mind..waiting such a long-time…for patience…for three red lights…” We’ve all been there.

Listen to “Sunday Soda” below and go see French Cassettes Friday, Nov 16 at The Chapel on Valencia St with Spooky Mansion and Lapel, who both released notable SF records this year. Tickets here. 

Lead Image courtesy of French Cassettes.

“Saw You” by Laff Trax Was Tucked Away On Soulection Radio

So Laff Trax (Toro Y Moi x Nosaj Thing) is set to perform at Treasure Island Music Festival in Oakland this weekend. But strangely, the super production duo hasn’t officially released  a single track?? That’s laughable…ok I’ll stop.  But seriously, it leaves a lot of people wondering what to expect from an hourlong set from the collaboration project of two highly respected producers in Toro’s Chaz Bundick and Nosaj’s Jason Chung. Well my friends, I’ve been internet sleuthing… And I found something awesome.

Looks as if when Chaz hopped on to Soulection Radio #323 (back in August of 2017!) he dropped a track called “Saw You,” in its entirety (which Soulection cutely listed as being by ‘Laff Trak’) and it hasn’t really lived anywhere else, besides perhaps live Chaz DJ sets (Boiler Room), or the very limited Laff Trax performances that have gone down before TIMF this weekend. In the past, Toro & Nosaj collabed on the track “Try” off of Nosaj Thing’s 2013 album, Home, but this is on another spectrum entirely.

“Saw You” has those signature Nosaj cosmic effects and settles into a gamelan-soaked house beat in the mold of Chaz’s Les Sins project. As the track unfolds, vocals (presumably from Chaz) send us into an affirming musical comfort zone. I strive to find this kind of harmony in a production and I haven’t stopped blasting “Saw You” multiple times a day since I discovered it.

I’m gonna drop the track below and you can peep the whole Soulection #323 episode here. It’s a stellar mix and Joe Kay’s interview with Chaz in between tracks is insightful and endearing to say the least. More importantly though, some internet hero ripped the perfectly placed “Saw You” track into its own standalone soundcloud file (4 months ago!), which gives us our moment of zen below. This is an unofficial release obviously, but let this kindly be a call to Laff Trax: Get this shit out to the world son! (and I’ll happily swap in an official link when they do.) See y’all on the Island…err….in Oakland this weekend!

AS

Laff Trax plays TIMF Saturday 10/13/18 at 4:20 – 5:05 on The City Stage. 

(Image courtesy of TIMF)

The 60 Best Albums of 2017

Welcome to the 10th annual Everything Ecstatic Best Albums of the Year list!  What you’ll see below are a reflection of the 60 releases that resonated the most with me this year….all the way ’til the end of December, when this list published.

You’ll notice that the 10 album block of “Stellar Spins” is back this year to kick-off the countdown. These selections are included as they should positively be heard, despite being just outside of the Top 50. Furthermore, they add depth to the Spotify playlist that you’ll find at the bottom of this post (which you can also subscribe to on here. )

If you haven’t yet, make sure to peep our list of the 10 Best EP’s of 2017 and feel free to re-visit the Best of 2016 here. Previous years can also be perused by clicking the ‘Albums of the Year’ tab on the top of the page.

Each entry features a short blurb, some are longer than others and every 3-5  entries include an embedded audio track or music videos  so you can listen to something while you read through. Def click on some of the hyperlinks I’ve included to relevant stories written about these artists and albums, by either myself or colleagues. There’s a lot to enjoy in here!

Lastly, if you dig what you read/hear, hit me on Twitter. I also host the bi-monthly Noise Pop Podcast and share a lot of new music throughout the year (Subscribe on iTunes!) Much of that music is included in the list below. Cheers!

AS

60-51: Stellar Spins

60. Hundred Waters – Communicating
59. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In The Alps
58. Jonti – Tokorats
57. Caleborate – Real Person
56. Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness 
55. Moonchild – Voyager
54. Milo – Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!
53. Jaime Wyatt – Felony Blues
52. Aldous Harding – Party
51. Ty Segall – Ty Segall

The Top 50: The Year’s Best Albums

50. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

This is exactly what it sounds like. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile on a record together. If you love either, this is up your alley. If you’re a fan of both, have a ball!

49. The JuJu Exchange – Exchange

JuJu Exchange is Nico Segal’s new band (fka Donnie Trumpet of The Social Experiment and Chance the Rapper fame). This is a cool spin on modern jazz and essentially a record of  jazz instrumentals that could easily end up on a Chance album.

48. Vagabon – Infinite Worlds

Laetitia Tamko garnered universal praise for her debut and it’s as pleasant of a listen as you’ll find this year. Shouts to SF-based Father/Daughter Records for putting this one out.

47. Jlin – Black Origami

I don’t understand Jlin’s music, yet that’s what keeps me coming back for more…this seemingly never-ending quest to make sense of these sounds, in all of their futuristic-yet-primordial glory.

46. The XX – I See You 

Jamie XX took a more heavy-handed role in producing the group’s sound on this one and it made for a welcome comeback following a dreary sophomore slump.

45. Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet

Michelle Zauner is one of the most interesting artists in indie as she begins to try her hand at directing music videos too. The auto-tuned first single, “Machinist,” didn’t do the full scope of this album justice. This is essential.

44. Gold Class – Drum

The best album from an excellent slate of releases by industrial music-based Felte Records. Singer Adam Curley will have you pining for Morrissey. Read more on this Paste premiere I did in August. 

43. TOPS – Sugar At The Gate

Montreal-based indie band brought it once again on their third LP on the stellar Arbutus Records label. This is no doubt their most complete effort.

42. Kelela – Take Me Apart 

Kelea cements her role as one of the prime forces in electro R&B. Opening track, “Frontline” is perfectly produced, mixed and performed. A standout if there ever was one.

41. Kamasi Washington – Harmony Of Difference

Harmony of Difference could easily be taken as an appendix to Washington’s seminal The Epic (Our #23 Album of 2015). It’s just six tracks, but the saxophonic bandleader leaves a lasting mark, again.

40. Ghosting – Reimagining Miyazaki

Producer Andrei Eremin sampled a slew of Hayao Miyazaki films in this gorgeous re-interpretation of the music within famed Japanese filmmakers works. The Melbourne-based Eremin made a name for himself as an engineer on records by Hiatus Kaiyote and Chet Faker and his Ghosting debut is a must-listen for Miyazaki fans (Listen to the album in full on Bandcamp.)

39. Weaves – Wide Open

Polaris-prize nominated Canadian indie band took the next step in their promising careers. Singer Jasmyn Burke is one of the best front-women in the business. She’s sinister and powerful, yet doesn’t take her self too seriously. Go see this band live. Do it.

38. Bedouine – Bedouine

The latest Spacebomb Records product is the project of Aleppo-born Azniv Korkejian. This is a beautiful record that adds to Spacebomb’s glowing roster of singers like Natalie Prass and Julien Baker. I edited this fine piece by Eric Danton on Bedouine, please dig in.

37. Ibeyi – Ash

I really thought Ibeyi would slump on their second XL Recordings release, but in a lot of ways, this shows more accessibility and direction than their debut. “Me Voy” opened up the world of featured vocalist Mala Rodriguez to me, a rapper from Spain who like Ibyei, can’t be missed.

36. Yellow Days – Is Everything Okay In Your World?

If you’re looking for the next King Krule, here he is.

35. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

The next great hip-hop renaissance man.

34. Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors

While the lineup of Dirty Projectors has had some tough departures over the years  (first Angel Deradoorian and now Amber Coffman),  this has always been Dave Longstreth’s project. He pushes strong on what’s incredibly the band’s 8th LP and it’s time we give Longstreth and DP their praise due as one of the best long-running indie rock bands.

33. Daniel Caesar – Freudian

Canadian R&B singer/songwriter shows shades of Frank Ocean in this dashing debut. Remember his name.

32. Washed Out – Mister Mellow

The first Washed Out album on Stones Throw Records is producer Ernest Greene’s finest work to date. He successfully resurrected Washed Out out of the chillwave shell and this slots in nicely on the Stones Throw catalog. Peep the trippy and strangely hilarious visual album companion with SNL’s Kyle Mooney below.

31. BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II

The freshest breath of air in the music industry this year was a diverse group of 14 kids from Texas.  Saturation II stands as the finest of the self-proclaimed “boy band’s” three album’s released this year. They tackle topics from squashing haters to grappling with sexual orientation in the millennial generation. This is an important group.

30. Kllo – Backwater

Debut LP for the Aussie duo on the Ghostly International label. Shades of old school drum and bass are woven within nuanced beats and dancefloor ready electronica.

29. Sango – De Mim, Pra Você

Where Diplo has moved past the Brazilian funk sounds he popularized on a global scale, Sango has made them his hallmark. This is a respectful and aware spin on baile-funk infused beats and the best part is that there’s more coming on the imminent horizon from Sango.

28. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

English electronic band totally crushed it on this Warp Records release. Guests appearances from James Blake, Micachu and King Krule are just the icing on the cake of one of the year’s best electronic releases.

27. Jordan Rakei – Wallflower

Now signed to Ninja Tune, Rakei’s Wallflower is blue-eyed soul for a new generation.

26. Jay Som – Everybody Works

Bay Area singer-songwriter Melina Duterte’s Everybody Works was one of the most critically-acclaimed new indie acts of the year. This was one of the best album’s to come out of the Bay this year.

24. Rexx Life Raj – Father Figure 2: Flourish

My favorite Bay Area rap album of 2017 saw Raj’s smooth flow and refined perspective over beats from local producers like Mikos Da Gawd, Drew Banga and the Julia Lewis, all profiled in my Behind The Beats series for KQEDArts. 

24. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural

DC punk band led by Katie Alice Greer are out here to shatter the status quo. Pointed lyrics, a dynamic album and one of the best live performances I saw this year ( at Swedish American Hall)

23. King Krule – The OOZ

The highly anticipated follow-up to 2013’s 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is a complete package at 19 tracks. English singer/guitarist Archy Marshall is as impressive for his gravelly vocals as he is for his dexterous guitar playing.

22. Bonobo – Migration

Bonobo’s Simon Green could have easily gone the route of many other highly accessible electronic musicians and just loaded his next album with features. But Migration is modest in it’s collabs and sees Green further developing one of the richest electronic discographies of the last decade+.

21. Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan

Wiki lives and breathes New York and No Mountains in Manhattan is bursting at the seams with the fabric of the city. He’s my favorite NYC rapper and this record is fun as fuck.

20. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah- Diaspora

The best jazz album of the year comes from a New Orleans-based trumpet player leading the charge in a new urban jazz movement. I discovered Scott when I was sitting on the couch of the Paste Studio in New York hearing him play for the first time. I was floored. Please watch this:

19. Shigeto – The New Monday

Likely the professional highlight of my year, was heading to Detroit to document how some of the city’s artists were thriving among the city’s urban renaissance. Zach Saginaw (Shigeto) was the main driver for my narrative and The New Monday is a testament to how the city has infused his typical jazz/electronic drum-based fusion with hip-hop and Detroit house. Shigeto has been one of the most intriguing artists on the Ghostly label for a while and this release does the lineage justice.

18. Jacques Greene – Feel Infinite

Feel Infinite hit me out of nowhere in the same was Maribou State’s Portraits (our #15 Album of 2015) did two years ago. Both quickly became go-to electronic refuges throughout the year. “I’m proud of this album because I think it’s the best version of what I can do,” he told Chris Trenchard in a Paste feature earlier this year. And it’s damn fine work.

17. Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom

One of the best rapper’s on the planet. Bar none. Few go harder and are as prolific as Rapsody and the album’s ridiculous features list includes Rapsody. Kendrick Lamar, Anderson. Paak, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought, Moonchild [inhales; exhales] BJ The Chicago Kid, Terrace Martin and more. There’s a reason why people want to be on the same track as Rapsody and I was totally floored when I heard her flow on the album’s opening title track:

16. Thundercat – Drunk

A 23-track revue of new-school funky bass tracks with Michael McDonald, Pharell AND Kendrick features? Hell yes.

15. Cornelius – Mellow Waves

Nobody makes music like Cornelius’s Keigo Oyamada and Mellow Waves is a flat-out beautiful collision of live instrumentation and electronic composition mixed with mild J-Pop undertones. This is an inspiring release.

14. Kacey Johansing – The Hiding

My favorite album to come out of the Bay Area in 2017. Johansing created the bones of The Hiding at her long-time home of Bolinas, along with Panoramic House in Stinson Beach and sessions in Portland. She made the move to LA where the record was finished and released on the Night Bloom Records label she co-founded with Real Estate’s Alex Bleeker, but it still sounds like a lovely and somber walk along the Marin County shore. “Hold Steady” is in the running for my favorite song of the year.

13. Gabriel Garzón-Montano – Jardín

Another excellent find for Stones Throw Records. Born to Colombian and French parents, the New York native Garzón-Montano made an album replete with call-backs to native South American music and groovy hip-hop rhythms.

12. Chastity Belt – I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone

The best release from the Seattle quartet harkens back to the PNW’s grunge roots. This is slacker music at it’s finest, with awesome melodies throughout.

11. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two

Jonwayne woke up one night in a pool of his own vomit. Alcoholism had consumed his life and it was at that moment where he realized he needed to take control of his life. He excommunicated himself from his social circle and stole away to a family cabin in Canada. Bridges were severed through his silent approach to rehabilitation and his justification letter for his actions, came in the form of this album. Bandcamp’s Marcus J. Moore lays it out in detail masterfully in this piece. 

10. Faye Webster – Faye Webster

A quasi-country, folk album released on eclectic Southern hip-hop label Awful Records, Faye Webster’s self-titled album is one of the stickiest records of the year. Dare you to not fall in love with her songs.

9. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism

One of indie’s most heralded hired-guns finally put out his own release and it saw Sumney at his most carnal, impassioned and vulnerable self. This is an album for lost souls trying to find their way in the outside world. It will fill you with purpose and touch your spirit.

8. Angel Olsen – Phases

Ok…Now THIS is what I’ve been wanting from Olsen following 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Last year’s MY WOMAN was spectacular in the fire that Olsen found, but I like my Angel nice and sad. On this collection of B-sides and loose ends, Olsen’s damn near impossible staccato hits you right in the feels.

7. Lusine – Sensorimotor

Spotify says I listened to Sensorimotor more than any other album this year and that feels appropriate. I come to Lusine  for digital inspiration and to make my brain work. The long-time Ghostly International artist brings a refined electronic sound…it’s the maturation of musical movements, culminating on this incredible release.

6. Sampha – Process

Sampha was the strongest voice behind what I deem to be the most important album of the decade in SBTRKT’s self-titled debut. We knew he was destined for greatness; if not then, it was when Drake pegged him for a feature on “Too Much.” Then last year, Solange came calling for “Don’t Touch My Hair.” Now, Sampha Sissay finally delivered his debut LP and Process is a Mercury Prize-winning masterpiece.

5. Nick Hakim – Green Twins

From my Best New Artists of 2017 entry for Paste Magazine:

Nick Hakim is a dreamer. On his ATO Records-released debut LP, Green Twins, the Queens-based singer takes us along for the ride as he waxes philosophical on the muses who reside within his psyche. (“It’s been years since you came around these parts of my mind,” he sings on “Cuffed.”) Throughout the album, Hakim attempts to processes the memories that are beginning to come back to him and the new ones he’s attempting to create, all with an endearing meekness. Laden with tape machine-filtered psychedelic jazz, mellowed hip-hop drum beats and soul-driven vocals, Hakim’s music is meant to make you lose yourself and embark on the same blissfully existential train of thought as its auteur.

4. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid

When I needed it the most, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith lifted me up. The Kid gave me life in a difficult time and reached the inner-workings of my soul from the moment I first heard it. Smith uses the Buchla 100 synthesizer to create her music and it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Her music falls somewhere between Aphex Twin and Jessy Lanza and The Kid is perhaps the most intricate electronic release of the year.

3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.  

Say what you will about the monotony everyone placing DAMN. at or near the top of their Top Albums of the Year lists, but at least we can all agree on one thing: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper in the game. Period.

2. SZA – CTRL

I love everything about this album. I love that the original sessions were at a lake house in Michigan; the antithesis of a studio in LA, where most hip-hop-focused pop music gets made. I love SZA’s vocal melodies…how every “ooh ohh, ahh, ahh” or “doo doo doo” is a treat for my ears. I love little details like the background vocal stacking on the “Broken Clocks” hook (seriously, an audio engineering class oughta be taught around this record) or how she says the word ‘finally’ on “Go Gina” (It sounds like she says ‘final-le-le’ and it’s endearing as fuck.) I love how at a time when the prevailing trend for women in hip-hop is to prove that you’re tough or a ‘bad bitch’ in a male-dominated genre (the Cardi B, Nicki Minaj effect, if you will), but SZA delivers the other side of a male/female narrative with raw emotion, wit and vulnerability. She’s unapologetically secure in her insecurities and it comes across with a distinct authenticity. No line on the album illustrates this better than this one on ‘Drew Barrymore’:

I’m sorry I’m not more attractive
I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike
I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night
I’m sorry I’m not your baby mama
I’m sorry you got karma comin’ to you
Collect your soul, get it right

It’s a #rare display of empowerment without pandering to what’s already been accepted as a way of conveying it. And when we look back on 2017, we’ll remember how SZA established herself as a bonafide fucking star in a field filled with basic ass men.

1.  Kevin Morby – City Music

I’m such a sucker for a well-executed concept album and Kevin Morby executed the hell out it on City Music. These days, everyone seems to be in flux from one city to another (especially in the music industry) and City Music is about embracing where you are, wherever that may be. From “Come To Me Now”—the album’s opening track—Morby transports you into the periphery of America’s cities and towns. Characters gaze out the window of their somber living spaces into the hazy horizons before them. We move from town-to-town in a manner reminiscent of Modest Mouse’s A Lonesome Crowded West, observing their people with a humble desire to understand the backstories that shape our ideologies.

Recorded at Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, CA and at Richard Swift’s studio in Cottage Grove, OR, Swift oversaw City Music’s arrangements and production giving each track a distinct feel…almost like a thematic mixtape, as Morby explained to me on an episode of the Noise Pop Podcast. Morby’s guitar never sounds the same, but it’s always memorable: From the quaint reflection of “Dry Your Eyes” to the triumphant solo on “Aboard My Train” and on filling the guitar hook with life again-and-again on “City Music,” the album’s unforgettable title track. Backing vocals are meticulously littered throughout—often from Heron Oblivion’s Meg Baird—with varying effects, yielding a collection of tracks that feel like they each come from different regional styles. Simply stated, the production and delivery are symbiotically spectacular.

Much like A Lonesome Crowded West, this is a road trip album of the highest order, exuberantly painting the pictures that get taken at every mile. And while City Music is ultimately devoid of any political slant, you can’t help but feel that it’s thesis subscribes to the notion that seeing the country and experiencing new surroundings is the only way we’ll learn to accept the differences that make America unique.

Happy New Year y’all and here’s to 2018!

The 10 Best EPs of 2017

Everything Ecstatic’s year-end round-up has begun! The Best Albums of the Year list will be released in about a week, but first, I wanted to give shine to the 10 EPs that resonated most with me this year.

Not quite an LP and a bit more than a single, EPs are an opportunity for artists to make a statement before an upcoming album release, release a shorter collection of tracks without the time/energy/costs associated with a full-blown album, or simply a concise artistic expression within a limited number of tracks. These 10 positively merit your attention and listen to them via the playlist at the bottom of this post. Here they are, in no particular order (with the label that released them in parenthesis.) Peace.

Amber Mark – 3:33 AM (PMR/Harvest)

A promising young pop singer, Mark delivered a cathartic collection of soulful dance music that helped her cope with the loss of her mother. The self-produced 3:33 AM shows that joyous pop music can still carry a deeply emotional message. Take note of Amber Mark, she’s next up.

Modern Cosmology – Summer Long (Elefant)

Laetitia Sadier’s latest project is a collaboration with Brazilian group Mobojó. The former Stereolab frontwoman is my favorite vocalist on the planet. Period. There’s nobody like her and Modern Cosmology is a welcome addition to one of the finest artist catalogs you’ll ever hear.

Steve Lacy – Steve Lacy’s Demo (Three Quarter)

Steve Lacy is a core member of LA-based group The Internet (who dropped our #9 Album of 2015). Now, the guitarist and producer is building out his solo repertoire starting with these six tracks and a slew of other notable collabs. “Dark Red” is a Top 10 song of the year, bar none.

Spooky Mansion- I’m the Moon, You’re The Wave (so plz change w/ me) (Self-released)

Hailing from San Francisco’s Sunset District, Spooky Mansion sound like the personification of the ocean air emanating from the cold and comfortable Bay.  Gotta head over to Bandcamp to peep this 4-track release properly.

De’Wayne Jackson – Don’t Be Afraid (MDDN)

Rappers from Houston don’t normally sound like this. Jackson’s Don’t Be Afraid is a visceral and vulnerable release and this dude caught me surprise in a major way. This is exactly what I look for in hip-hop and really looking forward to more from Jackson, who’s now based in LA.

Houses Of Heaven – Remnant (Felte)

Industrial rock-focused Felte Records is a small operation that put out some gems this year. Among them, San Francisco/Oakland products, Houses of Heaven, which we highlighted as our favorite Bay Area EP of the year on a Noise Pop Podcast episode.

Yaeji – Yaeji (Godmode)

Korean-American DIY-electronica artist Kathy “Yaeji” Lee dropped some seriously sticky productions across both Yaeji and EP2. While the latter got more press looks, the self-titled release marvelously calls back to late-90’s chilled out dance floor beats and her vocals are hypnotic. Peep the video she directed for “Noonside”:

Toulouse – Extended Plea (Terrible Records)

Brilliant pop singer on the Terrible Records label run by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. I can see Toulouse really pushing through into the mainstream with his glorious voice and expansive productions. Extended Plea is truly a journey.

Ela Minus – Adapt. (Yebo Music)

I fell hard for Colombian electronic producer Gabriela Jimeno’s 3-year spanning three EP series. Adapt is the final and best installment, with four tracks that are bright, complex and rhythmic.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – The French Press (Sub Pop)

The Melbourne, Australia indie rock scene has bene churning out some incredible artists as of late. This guitar-heavy quasi-surf rock band are a welcome addition to the likes of Courtney Barnett and Tash Sultana. One of my SXSW standouts, this was a notable release for Sub Pop.

Listen to all ten EPs on the Spotify Playlist below and subscribe to it here!