Category Archives: Music

On The Radar: TOKiMONSTA & Ambré’s “Strange Froot”

Jennifer Lee is best known as the eclectic, storytelling beat producer and performer, TOKiMONSTA. Though her latest effort, through her Young Art Records imprint, reinforces the LA artist as a benevolent music lover and curator at her core. Much like a TOKiMONSTA composition, the Young Art Sound II comp is an all-inclusive reflection of the rich diversity emerging throughout electronic music, from B. Lewis’ fuzzy, R&B-tinged trap, to the festival-friendly, EDM-lite of Blackbird Blackbird. Even in a seemingly saturated electro market, Lee believes, there are genuine gems to be unearthed.

One of these jewels is New Orleans singer Ambré, featured on “Strange Froot,” one of the two tracks TOKi herself produces on the 16-track comp. On the first TOKiMONSTA music released since 2017’s Grammy-nominated album Lune Rouge, Lee foregoes lushness for simplicity, and places her collaborator (and Kehlani’s 2015 tour opener!) at the song’s forefront. Ambré’s airy lead vocal floats over sparse, calming drums and elegant strings give way to dreamy, layered guitars for a blissful, romantic moment. As Ambré’s own moonlit ruminations fade, “Strange Froot” leaves room to ponder on what sonic tales Lee’s TOKiMONSTA has left to tell, waiting to be uncovered.

TOKiMONSTA takes Young Art Sound II on tour, starting on June 7. Peep “Strange Froot” below.

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)

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!


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!


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!


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.


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.


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!


The 50 Best Albums of 2016

This is it. Year 10 of my Best Albums of the Year list is here, moments before we close a messy chapter on 2016. This year was filled with incredible music from new and established artists alike, but will likely best be remembered for the lives that we lost (David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen, and sadly many more…) This year’s post is dedicated to their memory and will celebrate the best music of the year, much of which artists like them inspired in one way or another.

There’re hyperlinks everywhere (hyperlinks are fun…click em!) and there’s a full Spotify playlist (with two exceptions) at the bottom. You can check out the archives of my previous lists from 2006 – 2013 here, 2014 starting here and 2015 here. And now, welcome to Everything Ecstatic’s 50 Best Albums of 2016!

(If you dig what you read/hear, hit me on Twitter. Also, I host the Noise Pop podcast and share a lot of music every month throughout the year. Subscribe on iTunes. Cheers!)

50-41: Stellar Spins

50. Gold Panda – Good Luck And Do Your Best
49. Porches – Pool
48. Charles Bradley – Changes
47. Rapsody – Crown
46. Eleanor Friedberger – New View
45. Big Thief – Real Love
44. Jay Som – Turn Into
43. Allen Tate – Sleepwalker
42. Elujay – Jentrify
41. White Lung – Paradise

The Top 40: The Year’s Best Albums

40. Young Magic – Still Life


Like taking a trip to Bali without leaving your seat. Melati Melay churned out easily the best Young Magic album to date (read my full review for Paste here.)

39. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!


Not that I really needed another Anderson .Paak album in 2016, (more on him later) but Yes Lawd! built on the canvas that producer Knxwledge made for Paak on the groundbreaking single, “Suede.”

38. Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine


After producing a couple of songs from Hamilton Leithauser’s solo album, Black Hours, (including the fantastic “Alexandra”) Rostam Batmanglij —formerly of Vampire Weekend— joined forces with one of my favorite singers in Leithauser, for the exceptional I Had  Dream That You Were Mine. 

37. Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony


This young trio from New York toured harder than most bands this year. Their debut LP dropped early in the year and never seemed to leave my rotation. Love the dueling vocals from Nick Kivlen and Julia Cumming and Jacob Faber on the drums is a beast on stage.



This Florida duo reminds me of early Best Coast (when it was still good.) I spun the Sales EP ragged waiting for the full length to finally come out and it’s a pleasure.

(Note: I always make a point of highlighting my favorite EP’s of the year and the next three picks reflect that. Cheers.)

35. Forth Wanderers – Slop EP


These Father/Daughter Records signees are from Montclair, NJ (same town as Pinegrove, more on them later) and the moment I heard the title track, “Slop,” I fell into the discog rabbit hole. There’s not much material cause they’re young (lead singer Ava Trilling just finished high school!), but all of it is great and I like the potential here a lot.

34. Rayana Jay – Sorry About Last Night EP


Really sweet concept EP from a Bay Area artist and it was cool to see Oakland’s Rayana Jay come into focus this year. The best two tracks here are produced by SF’s Mikos Da Gawd, including “Sleepy Brown,” which is easily one of the best Bay Area songs of the year.

33. Kllo – Well Worn EP


Found this Aussie duo via the Ghostly International (my favorite label) newsletter and Well Worn marks their first Ghostly release. I profiled them immediately after I heard their music and from where I’m standing, this release bridges a five-year time gap in electronic music (Buy me a beer sometime and I’ll explain this.)

32. Andy Shauf – The Party


One of the later additions to this list, the Canadian Shauf’s third full-length has become a go to for relaxing at home. “Alexander All Alone” is one of my favorite songs of the year and Shauf’s sound has matured immensely.

31. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake


This is probably my favorite morning album of the year cause it’s so calm and approachable. Soft horns billowing alongside gentle guitars, without being too tame. It’s a good one.

30. Caleborate –1993


Nice punctuation mark on a solid two-year run for Berkeley rapper Caleborate. 1993 is his most polished work to-date and he’s drawing a lot of attention from big names in hip-hop. Stoked to see what the future holds for this dude.

(NOTE: I live in San Francisco and also dropped The 16 Best Bay Area Albums of 2016, where Caleborate’s 1993 checked in at #3. Bookmark it if you live in the Bay or are just plain interested in good music.)

29. Skepta – Konnichiwa


I first heard Skepta on Blood Orange’s “High Street” from 2012’s iconic Cupid Deluxe. Since then, he’s become England’s definitive grime MC and even won the UK’s coveted Mercury Prize (top album of the year from the UK.) He leads the grime movement with charisma and authority. Peep this amazing performance of “Shutdown” from the Mercury Prize gala.

28. The Range – Potential


One of my favorite electronic releases of the year, The Range’s James Hinton infuses his productions with trivial samples of people singing on Youtube. It can be odd, but it totally works. Seeing Hinton play the “Swimbyosis” stage on the Woodward Reservoir shore while I was floating in the water at Symbiosis festival, was one of my favorite live moments of the year.

27. Jessy Lanza – Oh No


This was easily one of my most anticipated albums of the year following Lanza’s breakthrough 2014 LP Pull My Hair Back.  On Oh No, she built on the aesthetic that she and co-producer Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys had previously established, while exploring her eclectic musical influences. Nods to footwork and 80’s pop abound and “VV Violence” was a killer single. Hear my April interview with her on the Noise Pop Podcast here. 

26. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.


Kendrick Lamar needs only the cutting room tracks from last year’s #1 Album of the Year, To Pimp A Butterfly, to churn out one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. Untitled unmastered., with it’s sputtering free jazz beats, is a welcome bridge for whatever comes next for perhaps the best MC in the game.

25. Robert Glasper/Miles Davis – Everything’s Beautiful


It takes incredible talent to re-interpret Miles Davis tracks in memorable fashion. Bill Laswell, King Britt, et al. did a fine job with 1999’s Panthalassa: The Remixes EP, and now Robert Glasper — “your favorite producer’s favorite producer” — uses Miles samples for this album, the Original Soundtrack to Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead biopic. Glasper has features from Erykah Badu, Phonte, John Scofield, Stevie Wonder(!!) and Hiatus Kaiyote. But it’s Bilal along with Glasper and Davis on “Ghetto Walkin'” that steals the show.

24. Moderat – III


Berlin-based Moderat is Apparat and Modeselektor and damn it if the the whole isn’t better than the sum of its parts.  This is their third effort together (duh) and they’ve never sounded better. III is an IDM masterpiece and lead single, “Reminder,” is one of the year’s best tracks.

23. Kamaiyah – A Good Night In The Ghetto


Queen of the Bay. I’m gonna keep referring to Kamaiyah as that, because she stole the fucking show in Bay Area hip-hop this year. “How Does It Feel” is the anthem the Bay Area needed the most and she’s poised to kill the game nationally. A Good Night In The Ghetto checked in at #2 on my Best Bay Area Albums of 2016. 

22. Black Marble – It’s Immaterial


Ghostly International can do no wrong in my book. I was introduced to Black Marble this year and It’s Immaterial is a portrait in passing of life in a New York Loft. This is killer loner music and Chris Stewarts’ output sounds like the love child of New Order and Cold Cave.

21. Field Mouse – Episodic


Go ahead and file this as the most underrated album of the year. I’m miffed at how this Topshelf Records release didn’t garner the kind of critical praise that other Philadelphia artists featured on this album have. Episodic is engineered by Hop Along’s Joe Reinhart, features Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Joseph D’Agostino, Swearin’ and Waxahatchee’s Allison Crutchfield, as well as Sadie Dupuis (on the most excellent “Do You Believe Me Now?”) The music is awesome and is in the same vein as those aforementioned critically-acclaimed artists (“Over And Out” among other tracks, takes me back to some of my favorite 90’s alterna rock bands.) And that cover art? It’s done by none other than Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan. I love this record and it’s the definition of an underrated one. Don’t sleep on Field Mouse, they rock.

20. Twin Peaks – Down In Heaven


I had more fun seeing Twin Peaks live this year than just about anybody else. Caught ’em three times and hearing “My Boys” at Bonnaroo’s opening night was everything. These guys are in the zone and this is solid Chicago psych-folk rock.

19. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool


Radiohead might be the best band on the planet and A Moon Shaped Pool is a logical step in their story. Jonny Greenwood’s production is on point and this is yet another quality Radiohead release. Plus, they finally put “True Love Waits” on a record. Hell yes.

18. The Avalanches – Wildflower


16 years after their iconic Since I Left You, (One of my desert island discs) The Avalanches finally dropped a follow-up and it took me a while to get over what took them so long. They have Camp Lo opening the album up magnificently on “Because I’m Me,” Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick on “If I Was A Folkstar” and additional features from Danny Brown, MF Doom, Father John Misty and more…. Like Since I Left You, Wildflower shows how that The Avalanches are especially well-versed in a range of musical styles.

17. ANOHNI- Hopelessness


Not sure if there’s another artist who can fire shots at the Obama administration and their use of drone warfare in the Middle East, through gripping music that you want to listen to over and over again. ANOHNI (formerly Antony of Antony and the Johnsons) is joined by producers Hudson Mohawke and Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never for one of the most powerful releases of the year.

16. David Bowie – Blackstar


David Bowie is one of the most important artists of our lives and our parents lives and likely our children’s lives. He worked on Blackstar until he tragically left this world in January and this album will forever feel like Bowie’s ghost in our speakers, doing what he did best for decades.

15. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound


Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes has a firmer grip on pop music than just about anyone. Freetown Sound sees Hynes delving deeper into themes of love, sexuality, hate, politics and living in tumultuous times. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s the closest thing we have to Prince.

14. Adrian Younge – SomeThing About April II


There’s just so much fucking silk on this record. Adrian Younge conducting his soul orchestra, Bilal and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier (my favorite vocalist of all-time) all over the record and if that’s not enough, Rapahel Saadiq. Younge is a modern-master, who pushes the boundaries of soul music and delivers his music with a stylistic feel that is unparalleled.

13. Jamila Woods – HEAVN


Chicago stay eatin’…What a beautiful record from one of the best young voices in hip-hop. It’s a display of Chicago’s fearlessly emotional and political hip-hop style, featuring a lot of the figured who matter in that scene, with Woods front and center. (This is one of the two entries not on Spotify, but you can listen to HEAVN on soundcloud in full here.)

12. Pinegrove – Cardinal


This is why we don’t drop Best of The Year lists in November. I finally spun this album late in the year and I’ve listened to it more than anything since. From Montclair, NJ, Pinegrove’s is indie rock that just kicked emo to the curb and builds small-town nostalgia with a hint of a banjo — the kind that doesn’t hit you over the head. Pinegrove just makes you so fucking happy to listen to them…When “New Friends” came on earlier today,  it brought the biggest smile to my face and it always does.

11. Noname – Telefone


Chicago hip-hop comin’ atcha again and this album is proof of how dominant the Chi-town scene was this year. It feels like everything came together perfectly on this one. Noname (fka Noname Gypsy) was the vocalist on Chance The Rapper’s “Lost” (off of 2013’s Acid Rap) and now she’s brought in her own cadre of collaborators, like producers Cam Obi, Phoelix, Monte Booker and Saba. Start at “Diddy Bop” featuring Raury and Cam and then get lost in one of the best hip-hop releases of the year.

10. Beyonce – Lemonade


This is absolute ownage of pop music and pop culture. Beyonce is a fucking boss and the Lemonade visual album accompaniment is one  of the greatest pop culture productions I’ve ever seen. (This is the other album not available on Spotify, hence it’s not on the playlist. You can bootleg it, or get it on Apple Music —or Tidal?  — or e-mail bomb Jay-Z or something? Vinyl? Just do what you gotta do to get it.)

9. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service


This was a real treat for old school hip-hop heads. To hear Phife Dawg dropping posthumous bars making sports references like no other, Jarobi’s best flows, Q-Tip not totally stealing the limelight and features from Andre 3000 to Kendrick Lamar to Anderson .Paak…man, I just still can’t believe we got a new Tribe album in 2016. Bless up Tribe.

8. Låpsley – Long Way Home


This is my zen. I listen to this record religiously when I cook, which seems to be the only way I can absolutely unplug from the outside world. Last year’s Understudy EP made the list and shouts out to XL Recordings for quickly putting out Long Way Home. The 20 year old Brit is a most elegant singer, who pairs her vocals with her own nuanced electronic production featuring a resonating drop-vocal effect on most of her tracks. One of the most original projects I’ve heard in quite some time.

7. Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book


Give the man his credit, Coloring Book is the truth.  Man… I wish I could vote for Chance for president. I mean…the guy single-handedly started a rampant independent music movement by shunning record labels when others in his position never did. He’s on his way to becoming one of the biggest artists in America and there’s soooo many classics on this album: “Blessings,” “Angels,” “Summer Friends” for starters, but this album has so much damn energy. It has gospel undertones bursting at the seams, but it’s incredibly self-aware and a helluvalot of fun. One love to Chance (Also, I beat him at ping-pong once…facts only.)

6. Frank Ocean – Blonde


I had to first get over the many jukes and psych-outs Frank Ocean pulled before finally releasing this record; it was borderline ridiculous. But once I got over myself, Blonde wonderfully picks up where Channel Orange (my #1 album of 2012 ) leaves off and it’s just Frank doing his thing. This is an incredibly ambitious album that’s well-executed from start to finish with a lot of stellar moments….Feel like that last sentence is the ultimate cliche for a great album, but there you go. Also, “Solo” (Reprise) with Andre 3000?!?!?!?! Shiiiiiiit!

5. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial


This kid can write a fucking hook. Reminds me of when Cloud Nothings burst onto the scene and started making an album a year and quickly had this vast discog of rockin’ pop tracks. That’s where Will Toledo and Car Seat Headrest are at now. This album is catharsis for every angst-riddled, depressed, quasi-happy, lost, confused, anxious, stupid and blissfully ignorant kid…and whether that kid is a teenager or a thirty-something, Toledo speaks (screams) right into our souls, to find ways to say what we’ve always wanted to get out, but didn’t have the guts (or talent) to do so.

4. Solange – A Seat at The Table


This is absolute ownage of pop music and pop culture, while fully establishing your own identity as an artist, without pandering to, well…anyone. Solange affirmed that she is no longer living in her sister’s shadow with an amazing concept album. Her voice has never sounded this velvety and she got extremely creative in using Master P as the vessel to move the storyline of A Seat At The Table along; of being black and trying to become successful in America. The album’s production slate is also a who’s who in indie rock and soul-based hip-hop: Longstreth, Questlove, Saadiq, Welsh, Sitek, Sampha, Bainbridge, Q-Tip. Respect.

3. Kaytranada – 99.9%


My favorite electronic album of the year is from Canadian producer Kaytranada. Album opener, “TRACK UNO” was the best pure intro track of the year and from there, Kaytranada shows why he might be the best producer to match any vocalist’s flow. From Phonte  to Vic Mensa to Anderson .Paak to Craig David…wait, wait…hold up? He got Craig David back out?! For real, “Got It Good” is serious shit and it has a totally different feel from Paak’s “Glowed Up.” 99.9% induces movement at every turn, but with the utmost versatility. The instrumental tracks are likewise prime, especially “BUS RIDE” with Karriem Riggins on the drums. And just when you think he’s out of tricks, the album closes with “BULLETS” featuring Little Dragon’s Yuikimi Nagano. Feel me?

(Note: 99.9% won The 2016 Polaris Prize, awarded to the best Canadian album of the year.  I loooove watching the Gala on youtube every year. Watch it here with performances from Kaytranada, Jessy Lanza, Grimes, Andy Shauf, Carly Rae Jepsen, White Lung & more)

2. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive


Taken from my #1 Bay Area Album of 2016 entry:

What could easily be my overall album of the year, A Man Alive saw Thao opening herself up to her past and the intense emotions that came with living a life in the shadow of her estranged father. I had the pleasure of reviewing A Man Alive for Paste Mag earlier this year and it gave me an opportunity to dig into what I feel is the best lyrical album of the year. I remember on my final listen before I started writing, I lost my shit three times: On “Guts,” “Millionaire” and then “Hand To God.” These types of powerful music moments don’t come around too often and when they do, you’re probably staring an Album of The Year candidate in the face.

On Thao’s best record to date, she’s joined by producer Merrill Garbus of tune-yards, who helped Thao explore deep self-reflection and make music that spans far beyond her folk-leaning roots. I love this album, because it poked through the Bay, when hip-hop is really dominating the area for me in terms of quality and showed how good rock and roll can still be made here. It showed what an incredibly talented songwriter Thao is, who is still expanding her musical boundaries. But most of all, it showed how a San Francisco artist (Thao) and an Oakland artist (Garbus) can come together to create the best local album of the year, and it’s a microcosm for what we can all accomplish together if we bridge both sides of the Bay. This was the record that drove the point home of how we’re much stronger artistically if we look for ways to merge the creative hub that Oakland has become, with the inspirational beauty, infrastructure and musical history of San Francisco.

1. Anderson .Paak – Malibu


The best album of the year, also comes from this year’s most interesting artist. You couldn’t turn around without finding Anderson .Paak on a track somewhere in 2016. The man who finally blew up as the primary vocalist on Dr. Dre’s Compton record last year, is now a bonafide star. But this rise didn’t come without a decade-long struggle and Malibu tells the story of that.

What makes Paak so great, is that while his life — broken home, parents in jail/on drugs, marriage quickly annulled, career going nowhere — could easily be viewed as tragic, he never takes himself too seriously and always feels like he’s living in the moment that you’re listening to. In the end, he never stopped pushing forward and when he got a golden opportunity to make it to the top, he outworked everyone else to get there. And he still hasn’t stopped. I made a playlist of tracks Paak is featured on and I keep adding to it monthly, cause new tracks keep popping up. His NxWorries album is also on this list at #39. He’s been touring furiously, including 11 shows at SXSW en route to the prestigious Grulke Prize as the festival’s best performer.

Malibu is that album without a bad song. It’s the album that when one song ends, you’re sorta bummed, but then are quickly brought back to life when the next one starts. It’s the one where you go “Hey, that sounds like a 9th Wonder beat?” And it is. It’s the album that has songs about shitty exes that makes you laugh because you remember her/him. It’s hearing Paak talking about getting his first pair of Jordan’s and thinking about when you got your first pair of fly kicks. It’s the album with mounting  visual and interactive media and performances that just make you wanna keep paying closer attention (This low-key Marvin Gaye inspired performance takes the cake.)  And for me personally, it’s the album where I co-signed the dude a year ago, thinking he was gonna pick up steam quick, but had no idea just how much steam and how quick and incredibly inspiring his rise would be.

I’ll leave you with a lyric from my favorite song of the year, “The Waters” feat BJ The Chicago Kid and produced by Madlib. Where Paak, wearing a huge grin on the mic and knowing his career is about to explode, calls his shot in top form and lives to tell the tale:

I’m glad that you finally made it to the future but you’re late
And the price is through the muthafuckin’ roof
If you want you could wait outside the building
I ain’t takin’ no more meetings

The future is here and Anderson .Paak is a massive part of it. What an album, what an artist and here’s to the Best Album of 2016!

Cheers y’all and Happy 2017!

Best Music Video of 2016: Jamie XX’s “Gosh”

From the moment I first watched it, Jamie XX’s “Gosh” video directed by Romain Gavras grabbed me. It successfully depicted a world I never knew existed, but wanted to know everything about when the video came to a close. Watch the video and read my entry for Paste Magazine’s 20 Best Music Videos of 2016 feature from 12/15/16 below. 

Romain Gavras never takes the easy way out. The Greek-French music video director, who is most well-known for directing M.I.A.’s provocative “Born Free” and flamboyant “Bad Girls” videos, doesn’t just make music videos as much as he makes musical short films as his signature stamp on the video he conceptualizes and directs. Gavras often creates post-apocalyptic worlds like with “Born Free” and Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “No Church In The Wild” And on Jamie XX’s “Gosh” video, Gavras’s setting is a utopian ghost city, which in fact, isn’t a utopia at all, but rather the Tianducheng development in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, which was built to look like Paris and house 10,000 residents, but is now is sparsely inhabited (The story of Tianducheng itself is one of the internet’s most glorious rabbit holes by the way. Feel free to start here.)

The world of “Gosh” sees Hassan Kone — an albino of African descent — as its focal point, traversing the city amidst hundreds upon hundreds of Chinese boys, whose soldier-like choreography and visual and mechanized uniformity is masterfully portrayed by the Xiaolong Martial Arts School. Kone comes across as the last hope for the decrepit cesspool of Tianducheng, as he races through the film in a Subaru and ends it standing beneath the 300 foot tall Eiffel Tower replica, while the Xiaolong boys circle him in patternized movement. It’s what Busby Berkeley choreography would look like in the year 2100.

All the while, Jamie XX’s opus founded on elements of ragga drum and bass, is hypnotically in sync with the movements of the characters. Mattias Rudh’s drone cinematography pans out to show the sullen buildings of Tianducheng, creating a CGI feel, which adds to the eerie, futuristic vibe of the video.

Gavras tosses out his usual violent themes in favor of a different type of fear. The fear that this utopian city from the future is actually from the present. Kim Chapiron and Iconoclast’s “Behind The Scenes” mini-doc (watch it below) is a welcome companion to Gavras’s “Gosh” video and a look into the method behind the artistic madness of one of the most intriguing music video directors in the business and one of the best videos of the year.