It’s Monthly Mixtape time, baby!
1. Sufjan Stevens – “Should Have Known Better” (Asthmatic Kitty)
Another month means another cut from Sufjan Stevens’ upcoming LP, Carrie & Lowell, and it runs just as deep as his previous offering. “Should Have Known Better” again finds Stevens donning his best singer/songwriter chops, but this time pivoting between delicate acoustic finger-picking and subtle digital ornamentation. The back-and-forth expertly mirrors the strife Sufjan wrestles with in the wake of his mother’s passing: a constant balancing act of blame, confusion and regret that’s just as beautiful as it is tragic.
2. Will Butler – “Son of God” (Merge)
Will Butler’s voice sounds a hell of a lot like his brother Win’s, but Arcade Fire’s sound grows ever more massive and Win never seems to make time for straightforward, fun songs like “Son of God” anymore. So Will struck out on his own for his mostly self-performed solo album, Policy, and this is its catchiest track. The at times turgid Reflektor could have used a touch of this song’s skittery indie folk energy and resplendent chorus.
3. Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrian at Best” (Mom & Pop)
In which an Aussie punk troubadour works through some dense internal conflict with some dense internal rhymes. Her overflowing diatribe cycles through love, hate, admiration and making messes of successes with the literacy of a Paul Weller and with the power of his American contemporaries (or hers, for that matter). The chorus is fair warning to every love song protagonist ever that their rose tinted glasses are the problem: “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you/ Tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you.”
If the psychedelia-saturated drone of Moon Duo sounds an awful lot like Wooden Shjips, that’s for good reason—Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson helms the side project with Sanae Yamada. Now on their third album together, Moon Duo has put out another wildly addictive set of songs, one that’s highlighted by closer “Animal.” With a sharper edged guitar, rolling drums and eerie organ line, “Animal” is a quick-jabbing beast.
5. Jamaican Queens – “Bored + Lazy” (Self-released)
A barrage of halting synth bursts, Ryan Spencer’s whispery vocals and gloopy beats coalesce in a hallucinogenic swirl in the Detroit trap-popsters’ “Bored + Lazy.” When the chorus hits, the vocals shift to deadpan, robotic intonations as the predatory seduction weaves its web. At once a jerky, start-stop dance track that might come from a zombified Justin Timberlake and a slow-burning groove, it’s syrupy and bitter in equal measures.
6. Grimes – “REALiTi” (Self-released)
It’s been a tumultuous few years for Grimes since her last album, 2012’s Visions, particularly due to the antagonistic response to last year’s EDM-leaning single “Go.” Fans can now rest assured: “REALiTi,” her latest single, is billed as a demo, but it has all the elements to satisfy Visions devotees, from subtle melodies and corrosive synths to Grimes’ ethereal, sweeping falsetto. “REALiTi” comes from the sonic space where Claire Boucher thrives most, and whether it’s a sure sign of what’s to come or not, it nice to see she’s back in that place for now.
7. Braids – “Taste” (Arbutus Records)
Ex-sex is like the set encore of relationships if the encore sent you into the night unfulfilled, confused and angry for some vague, ill-defined reason. On the uptempo, electro-pop number “Taste” off her band’s forthcoming album Deep in the Iris, Braids frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston fantasizes about one more rough romp with her ex, while simultaneously grappling with why she settles for lackluster love. The yearning and discomfort Standell-Preston projects while searching for connection makes “Taste” an appetizing entree into Braids’ new album.
Although the rumor has been circulating for over three years, Maya Jane Coles (aka Nocturnal Sunshine) is proving dubstep is far from dead with her newest single “Take Me There.” After stepping away from the alias to focus on more tech-house movements under her given name, Nocturnal Sunshine has re-emerged on a heady wave of half-time basslines. This track caresses the subs, but certainly isn’t going to decimate speakers like North America’s hyper-bass offspring, just as the original two-step and grime producers liked it.
9. Current Value – “Viral” (Blackout)
So many drum & bass producers have been following the “R&B hook meets wide open bass monster” trend as of late that it’s easy to overlook the myriad of releases which might break the mold. German producer Current Value doesn’t seem to be aware of that scene. His recent Nitro EP sounds like it arrived here unexpectedly through a wormhole from 2047 and the single “Viral” carries an original and infectious neurofunk payload which deserves closer study.
10. Kanye West- “All Day” (G.O.O.D Music)
What’s the new buzz word at G.O.O.D. Music? Eclecticism. For anyone who thought the “He’ll Give Us What We Really Need” sample in “On Sight” came out of left field, wait for the Paul McCartney guest spot at 4:17 on Kanye’s latest.
11. Kendrick Lamar – “u” (Top Dawg)
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly firmly positioned the Compton MC at the very front of the hip-hop pack with almost no one in his rearview, yet during standout track, “u,” he goes after himself. “But you ain’t shit/ I’m convinced your talent’s nothin’ special,” he directs inward before hysterically shrieking suicidal thoughts into a hotel bathroom mirror. As the antithesis to the more self-optimistic, “i,” Lamar criticizes his own insecurities and shortcomings, but to the outside world right now, he can do little wrong.
12. Earl Sweatshirt- “Grief” (Columbia)
We need to talk about Earl; “Grief” finds him wading deeper and deeper into paranoia, wearily eyeing the “fishy niggas” who’re “eating off of hooks.” Earl isn’t a sucker like them, but, as the stark and broken production shudders to a halt, it seems like Earl has been staring into the void too long. In a sobering year for rap, Earl’s made something beyond devastating, something that feels absolutely abyssal.