Album art / Courtesy
Music transcends. Sure, it’s cliché, but for good reason.
Case in point, my experience from Sound On Sound Fest (R.I.P.) outside of Austin a few years back. As my special lady friend and I are getting ready for the day, I throw on some clothes and confidently proclaim, “Hey, special lady friend, I guarantee we won’t see another Dwarves t-shirt today!” My prediction held true until dusk. As we’re walking through the courtyard, I spot a big, burly dude with a different, yet equally offensive, Dwarves t-shirt. We didn’t hesitate. Without saying a word, we made a beeline for each other and embraced in the biggest interracial man-bear-hug the state of Texas has ever seen. And that was it. We exchanged a sincere “Hell yeah!” and went on our separate ways. Music has an irrational power of immediate connection. Yet there we were, spontaneously bonding over a (let’s face it) sh*tty, scum-punk band with one good album.*
Speaking of my people, Santa brought me the greatest gift of all this holiday season. That’s right, I scored primo seats for the Massive Attack show in Chicago this spring! Those of you who know me might say, “Wait, didn’t you just have a baby?” Yes, but let’s be real. I’ve spent way more time with Massive Attack up to this point in my life. Plus, that baby can’t even play guitar yet.** I’ve been waiting impatiently for a proper U.S tour from Massive Attack since they destroyed ACL Fest way back in 2006. Finally, it’s actually happening.
I bet it was that last email I sent them – “Please come back to the U.S. We’re not all jerks.” You’re welcome, America.
Alright, enough with the pleasantries. Let’s get to some tunes. One note before we jump in. Instead of a simple song link, I always like to include an official music video for the featured artists when possible. I just think videos are cool and want to keep the artform alive. If we keep watching, they’ll keep producing. Join the movement. Viva la music video! Okay, we’ll work on the slogan, but you get the point.
The Voidz – Virtue
Let’s jump straight into some controversy – The Voidz are a better band than The Strokes (picture me sipping coffee behind a “Change My Mind” sign). That’s right, I said it. For those of you not immediately offended, both bands are fronted by indie rock legend Julian Casablancas. While not achieving anything close to the commercial success of The Strokes, there’s something more relatable and personal about The Voidz.
It’s nostalgic in the weirdest way, like they crawled out of a low-budget ‘80s hair band music video. All sweat, greasy hair, faux leather, and cigarettes. The afterbirth of the MTV generation.
But make no mistake, these guys can shred. I didn’t think there was any way they could top 2014’s Tyranny album, which included one of the greatest songs ever recorded.***
Somehow they outdid themselves with Virtue.
If you like this, you might also dig: The Growlers – Casual Acquaintances, Hot Snakes – Jericho Sirens, King Buffalo – Longing to Be the Mountain
Caroline Rose – LONER
If you like your pop bangers with a heavy dose of snarkasm, Caroline Rose is the artist you’ve been looking for.
Simultaneously cocky and self-deprecating, LONER is packed full of smart, sassy songs that spit in the face of pop culture. With her signature red jumpsuit and shameless dance moves, Rose is the hero we didn’t know we needed. I’m jealous of those of you who caught her Fayetteville show, opening for Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Unfortunately, I underestimated the local draw of RKS (who knew?), and tickets sold out almost immediately.
I won’t make that mistake again, but after dropping this instant classic, the next time she goes on tour she’s sure to be the headliner.
If you like this, you might also dig: MGMT – Little Dark Age, Anna Burch – Quit the Curse
Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Quite simply, one of the best punk albums to come out in a long time. Every track on Joy as an Act hits hard. One of my favorite things about Idles is the way they proactively go after anyone who might try to hijack their music for their own warped cause.
They use the video for “Danny Nedelko” (link below) to mock white supremacy, reminiscent of the Dead Kennedys classic “Nazi Punks F#%@ Off.” They use the song “Samaritans” to call out the ignorance of toxic masculinity. This band knows how to direct their rage in a manner that’s meaningful and fun.
In the song “Colossus,” lead singer Joe Talbot proudly yells, “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin / I put homophobes in coffins.” Punk music thrives when times are tough. I have a feeling we’re going to need more of them.
If you like this, you might also dig: Shame – Songs of Praise, Salad Boys – This Is Glue
Noname – Room 25
With this year’s Room 25 following on the heels of 2016’s Telefone, Chicago rapper/poet Noname already has two homerun albums under her belt. She has a jazz rap style that’s so smooth it’ll lull you into a false sense of comfort.
But as soon as you drop your guard, she’ll hit you with something off-the-wall raunchy enough to make Spank Rock blush. Lyrically, there’s not a rapper in the game who can touch Noname (well, maybe Tierra Whack, but we’ll get to her).
With Room 25, Noname has earned her place at the tippy-top of hip hop mountain, alongside the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples (not you, Kanye).
If you like this, you might also dig: Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar, Kali Uchis – Isolation
Tierra Whack – Whack World
What the heck does this girl think she’s doing? An album with 15 songs, exactly 1 minute each? Seems gimmicky. And then you listen. And listen. And listen.
Whack World is creatively addictive. The debut album from 23-year-old Tierra Whack feels like a game changer, reminiscent of Missy Elliott bursting onto the scene with Supa Dupa Fly. In the video release (below), Whack strings together a separate video for all 15 songs. Each video is as unique as the individual tracks. You could pick a segment at random to get a taste, but eventually you’re going to want to see/hear them all.
If you like this, you might also dig: Father – Awful Swim, Denzel Curry – TA1300
U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
This album was released way back at the beginning of the year and, honestly, I kind of forgot about it.
When I went back to give In a Poem Unlimited another listen, I was instantly reminded of how fantastic it is. The “band” is really a solo project of Toronto-based superchick Meghan Remy. While Remy’s vocals shine on every track, the most interesting aspect of the album is the varying beats and styles, ranging from disco-pop to funk-jazz, that drive the songs forward.
The theme of the album seems to focus on various women’s issues: abuse, neglect, fear, empowerment. But don’t be intimidated, men. Jump on the bus and embrace your inner feminist. You won’t be disappointed.
If you like this, you might also dig: Typhoon – Offerings, Screaming Females – All At Once, Amen Dunes – Freedom, Sin Fang, Sóley, & Örvar Smárason – Team Dreams
The Body – I have fought against it, But I can’t any longer
I’ve highlighted these guys in the past, but I’m doing it again because The Body is currently the most important metal band on the planet (i have the best hyperbole. no one has better hyperbole than me).
Fayetteville natives Lee Buford & Chip King continue to morph into whatever the hell it is they’re morphing into. There’s a distinct difference between their studio recordings and live shows. It all falls into the made-up genre of aggressive sadness, but the live shows lean significantly more toward the aggressive side.
Their show will leave you wondering what just happened. Did they play for 20 minutes or 2 hours? Was that one continuous song? The studio recordings flex between the super heavy and more subdued, but every second of I have fought against it is filled with tension & anxiety. The Body brought in outside collaborators to mix in strings, piano, and even electronic elements. The result is a disturbingly brilliant work of dark art.
If you like this, you might also dig: Sleep – The Sciences, Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, Craft – White Noise and Black Metal
Amanda Shires – To the Sunset
If you’re a fan of Dolly Parton, you need to check out Amanda Shires. And if you’re not a fan of Dolly, get out! Not really. You can stay. We’re almost done anyway. While only 36 years old, Shires is a seasoned veteran.
She started playing fiddle with the legendary Texas Playboys at age 15 and has been a contributor to a multitude of artists such as John Prine, Todd Snider, Devotchka, and (eventual husband) Jason Isbell.
At this point in her career, Shires isn’t playing second fiddle to anyone (yeah, i went there). The Dolly comparison stems from Shires’ enchanting vibrato vocals. The songs on To the Sunset are so warm and comfortable. They unfold effortlessly, powered by a lifetime surrounded by greatness. Now the student has truly become the master. Bow to your sensei!
If you like this, you might also dig: John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness, Cody Jinks – Lifers, Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt, Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love
I love making up genres, but I have no idea what to call Yves Tumor. That’s a compliment. Yves has a style that’s noisy and disjointed. It’s like climbing through a junkyard of instruments while random samples loop over pole-mounted loud speakers, but every once in a while you emerge into a clearing, everything makes perfect sense, and you dance your way to the next pile-up.
The album is held together by stellar drum work. It’s noisy. It’s weird. It’s great.
If you like this, you might also dig: Oklou – The Rite of May, Mitski – Be the Cowboy, Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage
* The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking is a trash masterpiece.
** These are just jokes, Mabel. Daddy loves you.
*** Do yourself a favor and make time to watch the entire 13-minute “Human Sadness” video.