Sunday, March 28, 2021

Record Roundup: Sonic Environments

All of the recent albums below succeed at creating complete environments, whether through music alone, or the combination of words and music. Each one blends genre as well, occupying new overlaps between classical, jazz, electronic, industrial, folk, and pop.

Listen along to excerpts here or below - and if you like something, head over to Bandcamp to support these artists.


Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra - Promises Some records you listen to, others you seem to enter into, like a space you can explore. This extraordinary collaboration between composer and electronic musician Sam Shepherd, who performs as Floating Points, and the legendary sax player is one such album. This impression that was likely enabled by the "non-visual" preview hosted by Luaka Bop about a week ago. Along with a password-protected link we were given instructions to dim our computer screen and do whatever was necessary to eliminate distraction from the experience. I didn't need to be asked twice. I entered the password, put on my Grado headphones, pressed play, closed my eyes, heard the opening tone cluster...and was off, traveling in the labyrinth of my mind. Besides that cluster, played on Shepherd's synth or a combination of keyboards and repeated with variations, Sanders' commanding reed playing was my guide, along with the strings of the LSO, at times ruminative and at others, sky scraping.

Considering the rich journey the nine-movement work takes you on, 46 minutes seems concise, with Shepard giving his imagination free rein, yet not being indulgent, like an epic novel where not one word is wasted. Intersecting with ambient music, space rock, spiritual jazz, and even the symphonic works of John Luther Adams, Promises feels like a big tent where people from many musical tribes can gather and find common ground. When I included Floating Points' second album Reflections: Mojave Desert on my Best Of 2019: Electronic list, I noted its "slow-burn intensity that is consistently involving," and remarked that "Shepherd remains an exciting talent, however, and I am sure there is more to come from him." While his last album, 2019's Crush, failed to fully excite me, Promises not only proves me right but serves as a coming out party for Shepherd as a composer and as someone with a vision far beyond the confines of a single genre. As for Sanders, who recorded his parts at age 78 or 79, he sounds completely at home in Shepherd's sound world, vigorous, exploratory, and emotionally engaged. If this turns out to be the capstone of his legendary career, it will not only honor his roots with John and Alice Coltrane, but stand alongside them as a remarkable recording on its own. I needed this in 2021 and I think you will, too.

Mariel Roberts - Armament Like any instrument, the cello is a sort of technology, and one which interfaces with other equipment remarkably well. So much so, that for long sections of this brutal yet engaging collection of improvisations, you will be forgiven for forgetting there's a cello involved at all. Roberts, a co-director of Wet Ink Ensemble who also plays with the International Contemporary Ensemble and the Bang On A Can All-Stars, among others, is a virtuoso at anything she chooses to play. Here she explores a dark view of our current environment, one in which she notes, "so much culture is being weaponized, turned into instruments of violence," by doing the same to her own instrument. Until the final lines, which almost provide the comfort of a Bach sonata, this is more the landscape of lifeless planets roiled by storms of unimaginably destructive power, an arena of texture and tone more commonly explored by the likes of Tool, Killing Joke, or Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. A kindred spirit would also be Mario Diaz de Leon, who often brings black metal into his classical compositions (and vice versa). Whatever your point of reference for the sounds Roberts conjures from her cello and some pedals, don't be surprised if you find yourself reveling in the grind and gleam of these brilliant soundscapes.

Benjamin Louis Brody/Ian Chang - Floating Into Infinity There's some fascinating gear-head detail behind the making of this album, which involves compositions by Brody played by Chang (also the drummer in Son Lux and Landlady) on a kit that's been converted into a "hyper sensitive sampler," giving him the ability to put some physicality behind the creation of electronic sounds. But that all melts away for the listener, who can simply sink into these starlit microcosms without a thought as to how they were made. While there is a bit of percussive drive to Modum, along with dramatic pounding keyboards, these are mostly contemplative pieces, made for scoring a session of staring at the clouds through rain-streaked glass. Sometimes conveying a slippery unease reminiscent of Harold Budd's Lovely Thunder, this music s not always comforting, however, but it is consistently gorgeous and full of invention and adventure.  

Angelica Olstad - Transmute One could imagine a quarantined Erik Satie making a recording like this EP, only instead of deconstructing Fauré, Griffes, and Ravel, he would take on his own music, and combine it with field recordings, as Olstad did, including bird calls, sirens, and the shouts of protesters, as a way of soundtracking our current experience. Olstad also shares some of Satie's taste for melancholy, but her concision and inventiveness keep things from getting too much so. Transmute invites you into Olstad's apartment as much as her mind, working as both a pause for reflection and a musical collage of recent history.

Steven van Betten & Andrew Rowan - No Branches Without Trees While this album of chamber folk is often delicate, it's anchored in the sturdy drawing-room hymnals of the string quartet arrangements. Although it hints at some of the emotional landscape of something like Beck's Morning Phase, these songs are more like short stories than memoir, with the narrative distance that implies. There's also a bit of a scrapbook feel to what songwriter van Betten and composer Rowan have put together here, with short instrumentals among the more proper songs. A brief, yet lovely album that leaves me to hope they pursue further collaboration.

Anika Pyle - Wild River Scrapbook, collage, memoir - along with chamber folk and electro-pop - are all folded into this intimate and revealing collection of songs and spoken word, the first solo album from a longtime linchpin of the Brooklyn-Philly pop-punk axis. Delving into deep emotions following the loss of her father, Pyle has pushed her artistry into territory unexpected enough for her that it feels like we're meeting someone new entirely. Her abilities as a writer also keep poems like The Mexican Restaurant Where I Last Saw My Father from being overshares, pulling from the personal to the universal to create something starkly moving, which is true of the album as a whole. A real gem.

Since this is an eclectic roundup, you can also find tracks from all these albums in this playlist along with everything else I'm tracking in 2021.

You may also enjoy:
Collapsing Into Nordic Effect's Raindamage
Witness The Ritual: Music of Pierluigi Billone
You Will Believe: Helga Davis's Cassandra

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Celebrating 2021: New Year, New Music

Like a drone in the intro to Painting With John (essential viewing, btw), I have flown free of 2020's music only to crash in a dense thicket of 2021 releases. And it's not that I haven't been listening, it's that I've been listening to SO MUCH. Where to begin? For this first post, I'm going to wend my way instinctively through what has captivated me the most for a multi-genre celebration of the year so far. I'll catch up with more later!

Tak Ensemble - Taylor Brook: Star Maker Fragments “All this long human story, most passionate and tragic in the living, was but an unimportant, a seemingly barren and negligible effort, lasting only for a few moments in the life of the galaxy." Only the most arrogant among us would argue with this sentiment from Star Maker, the 1937 science fiction book by Olaf Stapledon that provides the basis for this latest gem from Tak and Brook. But I will say that if this "barren and negligible effort" we're all living through includes sublime art like this album, I'm good.

From the off-kilter clarion of the opening chord, it's obvious that you're in the hands of a masterpiece - and one that's masterfully performed. The toughest part for others to imitate will be Charlotte Mundy's delivery of the spoken word excerpts from the text. Her voice is both perfectly controlled and naturalistic, with enough musicality that you can let your mind touch down on the content or just let it become part of the sound world. Brook's ingenuity in scoring is critical, too, of course, and you will marvel at how he "plays" the ensemble (Laura Cocks, flute; Madison Greenstone, clarinet; Marina Kifferstein, violin; and Ellery Trafford, percussion) like more keys on his synthesizer, eliciting novel blends of sound at every turn. In 2016, I sang the praises of Ecstatic Music, which was a remarkable collection by these same collaborators, but I was still slightly unprepared for how great this is - don't say I didn't warn you!

Sid Richardson - Borne By A Wind This captivating debut portrait album from Richardson also features a piece inspired by literature. In this case it's the poetry of Nathanial Mackey, whose radio-ready narration enlivens the five-movements of Red Wind. The words are as evocative as the music, which moves in cinematic fashion through different scenes and moods. The performance by Deviant Septet could not be improved and Richardson's writing for jazz in a classical setting is the equal of Shostakovich's, except it swings a little harder. The album also includes There is no sleep so deep, and elegiac piece for solo piano, played here by Conrad Tao, and LUNE, for violin and fixed media, including field recordings of loon cries, which are perfectly integrated into the sounds of the violin. Lilit Hartunian's performance is deeply engaging. Finally, we have Astrolabe, a sparkling piece for six instruments given a dazzling run by the Da Capo Chamber Players, who gamely shout and whisper the excerpts from Chaucer and Whitman sprinkled throughout. I note that the most recent recording here is from 2017 so all gratitude to New Focus for bringing this remarkable music to light.

Susie Ibarra - Talking Gong While I'm distressed to see how much I've missed from this marvelous percussionist and composer (including an album with genius pianist Sylvie Courvoisier in 2014!), this album ruthlessly dispels negative thoughts. Whether through minimalist, modal or even romantically lush piano (Alex Peh), playful flute (Claire Chase), or inventive percussion - or all three at once - there is much bliss to be had by immersing yourself in Ibarra's intersectional vision. 

Patricia Brennan - Maquishti Despite its gentle sonic profile, this is a bold album that will likely define the vibraphone and marimba for our current era. Like Michael Nicolas's Transitions did for the cello in 2016, Brennan's music both exemplifies the qualities of her instruments and moves them into new territory. For the latter, look no further than Episodes, in which woozy electronics transform the vibe's tones into gooey lozenges of sound that you may find yourself reaching for in the air. For a more classic, er, vibe, the opening cut, Blame It, seems to pick up where Dave Samuels left off, for a deeply chill exploration of hanging notes, meandering chords, and glittering arpeggiations. While each piece is no longer than your average indie-rock song, Maquishti adds up to an hour-long sound cycle that rarely flags in interest and provides a much-needed oasis in these anxiety-ridden times.

Adam Morford & Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti - Yesterday Is Two Days Ago In which stellar violist Lanzilotti collaborates with Morford, guitarist and creator of the Marvin series of sound sculptures, for a series of improvisations that are unafraid of the dark. The title track is a droning and atmospheric epic that conceivably could have inspired Scott Walker to follow up Soused by working with these two. Never less than fascinating, this shows off a side of Lanzilotti's interests that feels completely new and one that should attract listeners from an array of genres - I know it hits more than one of my sweet spots.

Amanda Berlind - Green Cone A hazy combo of low-fi piano, electronics, voice, and field recordings, this reminds me a bit of Elsa Hewitt - but in all the best ways. There's also a visual album and a comic book - feast your eyes - and a bonus track commissioned and played by the Bang On A Can All-Stars that explodes into jazzy instrumental pop (albeit with loud birdsong), further proof that Berlind is one to watch.

Foudre! - Future Sabbath With a title like that you may be expecting starlit drones to accompany some new, previously unimaginable ritual. And you would be dead-on, as this band of European electronic experts (including Nahal founder Frédéric D. Oberland and Paul Regimbeau of Good Luck In Death), improvises their way into a gleaming web of sound. It also seems tailor-made for a space travel epic, especially one populated by murderous machines or alienated astronauts. You may want to keep the lights on.

Madlib - Sound Ancestors Selected and sequenced by electronic musician Kieran Hebden (Four Tet), this is as cogent and concise a representation of Madlib's divine madness as we're likely to get. And by that, I mean it's wonderfully all over the place, weaving together everything from obscure psych-rock to the Young Marble Giants and field-recorded urban chants, for a more than persuasive rattle around the master's head.

Shame - Drunk Tank Pink Shame made a splash across the pond and in my world with their 2018 debut, Songs Of Praise, which hit my Top 25 for that year with its canny update on post-punk. Three years later, their confidence has grown and they are now able to dig into and expand on their angular grooves in a way that's even more deeply involving. While the lyrics sometimes seem simplistic ("What you see is what you get/I still don't know the alphabet" is the opening line of the album), there is character and conviction in Charlie Steen's vocals as he seeks to pare communication down to only the essentials. No sophomore slump here - Shame seem to be in it for the long haul and, on the back of this terrific album, they are even higher on my list of post-pandemic must-see bands.

Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview Of Phenomenal Nature Jenkins has a dusky, intimate voice and seems to be singing to one person at a time on this gorgeous and, at 31 minutes, too-brief album. With production (and most playing) by Josh Kaufman, the sonic environment is sensitively built around Jenkins' singing and songs, with the instruments forming an almost distant bed of sound. Her melodies are sturdy enough that no more is necessary to define these personal vignettes. But as personal as they feel, the spoken-word of Hard Drive serves as a reminder that Jenkins is at heart a storyteller. As Stuart Bogie's sax wends its way through the changes, Jenkins talks us through her day and the people she encounters, gradually building to an incandescent finish. This whole album shines quietly.

Fruit Bats - The Pet Parade People are saying this is a high watermark in the 20-year career of Eric D. Johnson and Fruit Bats. I wouldn't know as I have allowed myself to remain only dimly aware of his progress over the years. I'm not really sure why - maybe it was the name, or maybe I heard an early song and couldn't get into his quirky voice. It wasn't until I fell desperately in love with Bonny Light Horseman, the alliance between Johnson, Josh Kaufman (him again!), and Anais Mitchell in 2020, that I was like, this is him, the Fruit Bats guy? So, when the first single was released from The Pet Parade, I was on it and loved it right away. Kaufman's production could not be more beautiful, with rich skeins of acoustic guitars, dazzling instrumental touches (the guitar solo on Holy Rose is a tiny, intricate wonder), and, only when called for, a certain grandeur. 

Johnson's songwriting draws from a deep well of Americana and British Folk, but his melodies feel both fresh and completely inevitable. Lyrically, he manages to convey a lot with a few words, as in the opening of Cub Pilot: "She is looking out the living room window/Watching Saturday become Sunday/Coyotes by the garbage cans/Howling in the driveway." He is also unafraid of going right for the gut, as in this verse from On The Avalon Stairs: "Today a little further from the shore/And maybe tomorrow/Into the volcano you go/It's hard to say, but all you know/Is that you got no kids to take/Your ashes to the lake." As for his voice, it's still highly distinctive, but he is in complete control and his inventive phrasing makes nearly any words intensely moving. For a perfect example, listen to how he turns "Gullwing doors" into an incantation in the song of the same name. I can't speak for his previous albums (give me time), but Johnson takes a firm place in the front ranks of American songwriters with The Pet Parade.

Find songs from all these albums and follow along with my 2021 listening in these playlists:

You may also enjoy:

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Best Of 2020: Out Of The Past

Herein I end the Best Of 2020 series as it began, with a multi-genre roundup of some amazing releases from last year, the difference being these are all reissues or otherwise from out of the past. As usual, click play here or below to listen as your read. 

The Big Boxes

Lou Reed - New York If only the New York City Man himself could have lived to see this glorious super-deluxe edition, with the original album luxuriously spread across four sides of vinyl and a DVD of a brilliant live show from Montreal in 1989. You also get the album on CD and discs of live takes and sketches. If the latter are not as revealing as you might hope, it's only further proof of the laser-focus Reed brought to the creation of the album, which never wavered between thought and expression. The songs themselves have a remarkable double-life, as a catalog of the ills of the 80's (AIDS, urban decline, climate change) and and reminder of how far we have to go in addressing some of them. And that Reed-Rathke guitar interplay never gets old.

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Live In Maui In the electric church of rock & roll, I'm nominating Eddie Kramer and John McDermott for sainthood. This staggering box set, containing over 90 minutes of fantastic live performances from August 1970 plus a new documentary, Music, Money, Madness...Jimi Hendrix In Maui, is yet another tribute to their careful stewardship of Hendrix's work. While some of this material has come out in other forms (and bootlegs), their sonic and sequencing magic has made for a coherent and thrilling listening experience. Highlights are too many to mention, from a fire-breathing Voodoo Child (Slight Return) to the finest version of Villanova Junction I've ever heard, and the documentary puts everything in illuminating context. Billy Cox (bass) sounds sharper than he did some months earlier when the Band Of Gypsys rang in 1970, and Mitch Mitchell proves himself Hendrix's ideal drummer, even on the tracks where he had to overdub to help conquer wind noise. It's a new landmark on my groaning shelf of posthumous Hendrix releases and I vow not to be surprised if McDermott and Kramer wow me like this again.

Jamaican Sounds

Various Artists - Coxsone's Dramatic and Music Centre Smashing remastering on this reissue puts you right in the room as Clement "Coxsone" Dodd recorded these tracks in the early 60's. Falling somewhere between jazz, doo wop, mento, and ska, this is not just a great piece of history but a direct Rx for your pleasure centers.

Various Artists - Blue Coxsone Box Set Yes, the back catalog of Studio One is endless. Yes, the super-cute 6x7" box set, which faithfully reproduced these mid-60's rarities in physical form, is sold out. But that shouldn't stop you from getting to these delightful - and mostly unfamiliar - tracks.

Various Artists - Pirate's Choice, Vol. 2 Delightfully deep cuts from Studio One in the 70's, many of them alternates, like an especially shamanistic take on Door Peep by Burning Spear. But it's now-forgotten tracks like Black Is Black by The Freedom Singers that truly astonish.

Various Artists - When Jah Come Among those we lost in 2020 was legendary reggae producer Bunny "Striker" Lee and this stellar collection of rare and alternate takes is a fitting homage to his sound, which was sleek, propulsive, and hypnotic. Too many highlights to note, but if you like roots reggae and dub, you will be thanking the good people at Pressure Sounds for their curatorial expertise.

African Head Charge - Churchical Chant Of The Iyabinghi When British dub master Adrian Sherwood collaborates with percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah, this is what happens - explorations of rhythm, bass, and studio sonics, arriving at what could be settings for unknown rituals. This collection of reworked outtakes will alter your mind in a purely organic fashion.

Mystery Music

24 Carat Black - III Dale Warren's legacy was mostly earned by the extraordinary Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth from 1973, but over a decade after Gone: The Promises Of Yesterday, Numero Group has given us another unfinished gem in these sparse jazz-funk-soul pieces from the late 80's. Using just bass, percussion and touches of other instruments, Warren conjures a late-night vibe of romance and mystery. Just as mysterious is why the three singers featured - Princess Hearn, Vicki Gray, and especially LaRhonda LeGette - are not household names.

Miles Davis - The Lost Septet I've had a bootleg of this 1971 Vienna gig forever (with an incomplete Sanctuary, however) and can attest to its majesty. Featuring a band that never recorded in the studio, it's an essential piece of the electric period. 

Beverly Glenn-Copeland - Transmissions and Live at Le Guess Who? 2018 The rediscovery of Beverly Glenn-Copeland's genre-defying work, whether the jazz/folk of his debut or the new age ambient of Keyboard Fantasies, has been a highlight of the 21st century. Transmissions is a wonderfully curated (and immaculately pressed) souvenir that spans his whole career, including triumphant live performances from 2018 and 2019. To hear more of his great touring band, featuring phenomenal drummer Bianca Palmer, grab the whole set from Le Guess Who?, which has been released separately. P.S. Early in the days of "shelter in place," MoMA PS1 shared an online screening of the marvelous documentary about Glenn-Copeland - keep an eye here and catch it if you can.

Ethan Woods - Mossing Around And Other Songs As I noted when this was originally released in 2018 (in a vinyl-only edition of 30), Woods creates "a mood that is alternately wacky and spiritual, spinning tales backed by his guitar, Aaron Smith's laptop, and Alice Tolan-Mee's keyboard and violin. Call it "chamber-freak-folk-tronica," if you must call it something." Now, we have a digital edition, which includes slightly enhanced "hyper-real" versions of each song, so everyone can experience this unique headspace and do some mossing around of their own.

British Folk Adjacent

Keith Relf - All the Falling Angels - Solo Recordings & Collaborations 1965-1976 While some of this is meandering and sketchy (or familiar from previous Repertoire reissues), taken as a whole, it makes the strongest case yet for Relf as a creative force outside The Yardbirds. Based on All The Pretty Horses from a BBC session and the spine-tingling 47-second demo of Only The Black Rose (later polished up for Little Games, the final Yardbirds album), he was a Joe Boyd production away from true Brit-folk godhead.

Trees - 50th Anniversary Edition Speaking of Brit-folk godhead, this four-LP compilation brings together The Garden of Jane Delawney (1970) and On The Shore’(1971), the two unjustly obscure albums by this band, alongside demos, BBC sessions, etc. Featuring the crystalline voice of the late Celia Humphris (she died in January 2021) and intersecting as much with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay as with the delicate side of King Crimson, this is essential listening if any of those are important to you. 

The Clientele - It's Art Dad Not every song lands with the acuity of classic Clientele, but atmospherically speaking this compilation of material from the mid-90's (available digitally for the first time) will give you all the reverb-drenched, 60's-inspired feels of Alasdair MacLean & Co. at their best. 

Michael Chapman - Sweet Powder & Wrytree Drift Often featuring the legendary guitarist, singer, and songwriter at his moodiest - even Hi Heel Sneakers is rendered as a swampy fever-dream - this reissue makes two excellent self-released albums (from 2008 and 2010 respectively) easily available. There's more from the Chapman motherlode, too, including an expanded version of Pleasures Of The Street, a smoking live set from 1975. Get your pick and shovel, and dig deep - the rewards will be many.

Rockin' Alternatives

Supergrass - The Strange Ones (1994-2008) While I can't attest to the super-deluxe edition of this career retrospective (I have seen complaints about the picture disc vinyl, however), the streaming version is a fab non-chronological career overview with some nice live and demo bonuses. It's a fun listen for this longtime fan and one I hope will convince others of the greatness of a band that is perpetually under-appreciated in the USA.

Ut - In Gut's House As I said when their 1986 debut was reissued in 2019, Ut were "were one of the best of the lot," when it came to New York no-wave, and this 1987 LP doesn't change that opinion one iota.

David Bowie - Originally released exclusively through his website in 1999, Bowie took performances mostly from Amsterdam, New York, and Rio (all 1997), and selected them for maximum excitement. Seamlessly sequenced and mastered so you never know the difference between venues, it makes for a thrilling listen. Clearly the best of the lot of 1990's performances with which the Bowie estate has been flooding the market as of late. 

Soundscapes And Cinema

Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd - Another Flower Recorded in 2013 but never released for some reason, Budd's death seems to have impelled Guthrie to gift us this swoon-worthy collection of jewel-toned ambiance. Swoon away...

Brian Eno - Film Music 1976-2020 While the two very familiar tracks from Apollo (as used in Trainspotting, etc.) threaten to eclipse some of the other pieces, this is a fine repository of strays from Eno's film and TV career. Notable tracks from Heat, Dune, and Top Boy demonstrate his unmatched ability to create atmosphere, and his cover of You Don't Miss Your Water (from Married To The Mob) shows off his unheralded skills as an interpreter.

Mort Garson - Didn't You Hear? This soundtrack from a 1970 art-house flick shows that the magic of Mother Earth's Plantasia was no accident - but is astonishing how quickly Garson mastered the Moog. Next time you're doing a gratitude exercise, send some love to Sacred Bones Records for this and other entries in their reissue series.

Ennio Morricone - Segreto If you're as big a Morricone fan as I am, you've likely heard some of these tropes before, whether hard-driving crime jazz or comically suave sex-comedy pop, but everything just sounds better here. The sequencing and mastering are both masterful, befitting the respect demanded by Il Maestro for both his work ethic and musical brilliance. Also, some of these are alternate takes or previously unreleased so this in no way a posthumous cash-in. If this is the start of a tsunami of Morricone retrospectives, I am so ready to surf that wave.

Find more from out of the past in the 2020 archive playlist and keep track of 2021's discoveries here.

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2019: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2018: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2017: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2016: Reissues

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Best Of 2020: Rock, Folk, Etc.

Like I've probably said too many times before, I was born in 1964 so this realm is in my epigenetic makeup. More than 60 percent of my Top 25 was from these genres, but that was only scratching the surface of what excited me. Previously covered albums are at the top and then there are a couple dozen more must-hear albums. Don't take the sub-genres too seriously, just a noble attempt to group like with like. Press play on this playlist or below to listen while you read.

Of Note In 2020: Rock, Folk, Etc.
Nadia Reid - Out Of My Province
Ocean Music x Jerome Ellis - Morsels - Note: Get the cassette; only 18 remaining!
Squirrel Flower - I Was Born Swimming
Dana Gavanski - Yesterday Is Gone
Ultraista - Sister
Wire - Mind Hive - Note: See also the equally excellent 10:20.
Porridge Radio - Every Bad
Dogleg - Melee
The Strokes - The New Abnormal
Lucinda Williams - Good Souls, Better Angels

Best Of 2020 (So Far)
Them Airs - Union Suit XL - Note: See also Doped Runner Verse, which shoots off in some interesting new directions for this combo.

Record Roundup: Songs And Singers
Caitlin Pasko - Greenhouse
The Dead Tongues - Transmigration Blues
Alex Rainer - Time Changes 
Emma Swift - Blonde On The Tracks
Billie Eilish - Live At Third Man Records

Record Roundup: In Their Prime
Michael Zapruder - Latecomers

Record Roundup: Catching Up (Sort Of)
S.G. Goodman - Old Time Feeling
Jeffrey Silverstein - You Become The Mountain
Melody Fields - Broken Horse
Boogarins - Levitation Sessions and Manchaca Vol. 1

Live And Direct
No surprise: the shutdown of concerts has led to a slate of live albums, many catalyzed by Bandcamp Fridays to devote proceeds to one important cause or another - or just to support artists who depend on the road for their livelihood. Here are a few of my favorites.

Father John Misty - Off-Key In Hamburg Recorded in 2019 with an eight-piece band and the 14-piece Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt:, this 20-song career overview finds the good Father in spectacular form. Your $10 will go to the the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund - and give you hours of pleasure.

Scott Hirsch - Hirsch and the Minglers Live at The Colony, Tulsa. March 17, 2018 Supposedly recorded on an old Teac by "Wizard," this mesmeric live set is best experienced on the home-dubbed cassette, which adds an extra layer of murk. The digital version is pay-what-you-will with 100% of the proceeds split between the Black Wall St. Times and the Oklahoma ACLU. Your generosity will be rewarded!

Stargazer Lilies - Live At Sherman Theater I first encountered these volume-driven varlets live at a tiny club in Austin, Tx but this virtual performance recorded in November 2020 shows them now ready for the big stage at your local festival. Nine bucks gets you the album and a private link to view the concert video - put it up on the flatscreen.

Scott & Charlene's Wedding - Live At The Tote This collection, caught on a steamy January night in Melbourne finds Craig Dermody's shambolic band putting 10 years of work to rest in storming fashion. Every home should have at least one SACW album - why not make it this one?

Arctic Monkeys - Live At The Royal Albert Hall Recorded in 2018 just after the release of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, this set finds the band handling the atmospheric demands of the new material like the pros they are, while still sounding hungry on the early material. All proceeds go to War Child UK and that clear vinyl package sure looks sweet.

Frankie & The Witch Fingers - Levitation Sessions While I'm still stung by the fact I haven't seen these psych-infused heavy groovers on stage, this lessens that a bit - while providing a fine introduction to their sound.

Hamilton Leithauser - Live! At The Café Carlyle I always wanted to get to one of these shows, but the ticket price and minimum kept me away. Now I have this perfect keepsake of the loose vibe Leithauser encourages at these shows, recorded in January 2020. The cover of Randy Newman's Miami that opens the album is a perfect introduction to what is to come. The band is killer, too, with Morgan Henderson and Skyler Skjelset from Fleet Foxes on hand, along with Walter Martin, Jr. from The Walkmen. With Stuart Bogie (Antibalas) on horns and Nicole Atkins on backing vocals, the riches are almost embarrassing, but someone of Leithauser's titanic talents deserve no less.

Hiss Golden Messenger - Forward, Children and School Daze The staggering density of M.C. Taylor's songwriting catalog is well-represented by these TWO live albums, both fundraisers for Durham Public Schools students, which repeat no songs. The first is from one night at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC, and gives a good idea of the dynamics of a typical Hiss concert (I've been to a few!), while the second cherry-picks from several shows. Taken together, you get two-and-a-half hours of one of the best live performers of our time, right in your living room, and the privilege of lending a hand to public schools.

Phil Cook - Eau Claire, WI - 8​/​13​/​2016 @ Eaux Claires Festival Out of the seven(!) shows Cook has made available on his Bandcamp, I grabbed this one due to my romantic need to experience the Eaux Claires Festival any way I can. It's a great show, too, with the Guitarheels, including Ryan Gustafson of the Dead Tongues, in full flight. Pick any show at random and your $5 will guarantee a good, equal parts  heartwarming and joyful.


Loma - Don't Shy Away Two years ago, I wasn't sure if we would hear more from this group of Emily Cross, Dan Duszynski, and Jonathan Meiburg (of Shearwater) after their debut, which I called a "compelling blend of haunting folk and immersive sonics." It seemed they were unsure as well, but interest from Brian Eno and their own motivations impelled them onward to this gorgeous collection. The folk influence is still there, but there's also hypnotic electronic gleam, even a bit of Giorgio Moroder, on this one, including Eno's work mixing the last track, Homing. With Cross's serene vocals lending consistency to the variety of sounds and structures, Loma sound ever more like a real band. Now, let's see how they do with that "difficult third album."

Tomberlin - Projections Following up the gauzy folk of 2018's At Weddings, Tomberlin displays a wispy strength on this 5-song EP of carefully augmented future sing-alongs.

Jeff Tweedy - Love Is The King Well, he told us he was low-key, so this downbeat collection contains few surprises - but still gives a good helping of what makes him one of our key songwriters. 

This Is The Kit - Off Off On Kate Stables shows the magic of Moonshine Freeze was no accident. Inventive horn arrangements spice up mesmerizing song-craft infused with the melodies of British isles ancients. Accept no substitutes - and when she says “Keep going,” you will believe her.

Lera Lynn - On My Own That title is no joke - Lynn wrote, sang, played, and produced every note. But when you fall for her rich voice and pop-rock-folk smarts, how it got made will be the last thing on your mind.

John Calvin Abney - Familiar Ground Inserting himself ever-more firmly into the clearing created by Wilco, Elliott Smith, Gene Clark, etc., Abney has given us an exceptionally well-crafted set, with many songs speaking directly to our present moment.

Chris Maxwell - New Store No. 2 There are few writers in any medium who combine cleverness and wisdom so seamlessly. Featuring the best production of his career, touching on British psych and Laurel Canyon slickness, this is a new landmark for Maxwell.

Charlie Kaplan - Sunday Although I often argue with what Kaplan deems important in his newsletter, he gets all the influences right here - from Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen to the Stones - with the added thrill of hearing someone discover their own voice.

Indie Pop

Eric Slick - Wiseacre The title implies a lack of seriousness, but Slick knows what he's doing - and he keeps the pop-soul party from Natalie Prass's last album going quite nicely. He even has her in for a duet on one track. Sweet.

Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher It took a few listens to connect the catharsis of the last track, I Know The End, to what had come before, but finally a complete album emerged, and one making a considerable leap from her first. Led by her deceptively airy voice, Bridgers crafts songs that overlay universal themes on personal experiences with wit and skill. 


Bartees Strange - Live Forever While I don't share his reverence for The National, if that was part of his path to this dazzling debut, so be it. There's more variety (and passion) here than some display in a whole career.

Matt Berninger - Serpentine Prison Despite my anti-Nationalist comment above, perhaps it's just the Dessners that leave me cold. In either case, working with the legendary Booker T. Jones has brought out a new side to Berninger, with well-shaped melodies and an all-too relatable emotional landscape of sorrow and regret. The production finds a perfect balance between Booker T.'s classicism and Berninger's avant-indie leanings. 

Historian - Distractions and Barriers In the 60's it wasn't uncommon to release two or more albums in a year, so why not Chris Karman in 2020? Take your pick from the dark propulsion of Distractions to the washy sketches of Barriers.


Carabobina - Carabobina This collabo between Boogarins bassist Raphael Vaz Costa and Sao Paulo-based engineer Alejandra Luciani delivers on the promise of "Brazilian noise pop" with serene confidence.

Cornershop - England Is A Garden Easily their best since that stunning third album, with all the bittersweet fun that implies. They have now been born for the eighth time. Or the second - you know what I mean!

Bananagun - The True Story Of Bananagun These Aussie pranksters outdo nearly everyone on this list for sheer quotient of FUN. Leader  Nick van Bakel must have a hell of a record collection.

Fleur - Fleur I may have misspoke - Fleur's updated Ye-Ye, expertly backed by Les Robots, may have Bananagun beat at the "fun" game. What the heck, get'em both!

Kol Marshall - Elemental Truths To A Funky Beat Producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Marshall concocts head-nodding grooves with touches of funk and reggae - and a much-needed dose of Walter Becker's attitude. 

Aksak Maboul - Figures 30 years later, Marc Hollander brings back these art-punk legends, joined by dulcet-toned Veronique Vincent, and for 13 tracks the results are astonishing. The next nine songs however...skip'em.

Rock ON

Andy Bell - The View From Halfway Down The first track satisfies my Ride needs more than their reunion albums, but going solo has also given Bell the freedom to explore and he lands on distant shores, finding treasure on each one.

Adeline Hotel - Solid Love The most focused collection of Dan Knishkowy's introspective indie yet, sensitively and warmly accompanied by Whatever's Clever founder Ben Seretan, et al. 

Post-Punk 4 Life

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Sideways To New Italy Two albums in and RBCF have found more passion and personality, lending their two-guitar jangle new urgency and interest, with soaring melodies and biting solos. I'm glad they stuck with it - and that I kept listening.

Fontaines D.C. - A Hero's Death Album two finds these Irish purveyors of rote retro punk embracing the beauty and darkness of post-punk to much more convincing - and even thrilling - effect.

Self Defense Family - 2020 Singles Upstate NY post-punkers get back on their singles grind and release an album's worth of great songs. Listen to my playlist, then get to Bandcamp to buy your favorites.

There's more to be found from 2020 in my archive playlist and you can keep up with 2021 here.

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2019: Rock, Folk, Etc. 
Best Of 2018: Rock, Folk, Etc. 
Best Of 2017: Rock, Folk, Etc.
Best Of 2016: Rock, Folk, Etc.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Best Of 2020: Jazz, Latin, And Global

This is perpetually my smallest category, but what I do love I love wholeheartedly. A few of these were covered earlier in 2020, which you'll find at the top, while others are things I've been dying to share with you. Read on - but first click play on this playlist or below.

Of Note In 2020: Jazz, Latin, And Global
Wayne Escoffery - The Humble Warrior
Makaya McCraven and Gil Scott-Heron - We're New Again: A Reimagining
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan - Navarasa : Nine Emotions

BLK JKS - Abantu/Before Humans

Record Roundup: Catching Up (Sort Of)
Vibration Black Finger - Can't You See What I'm Trying To Say

Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? I've decided to stop trying to keep track of the myriad activities of Moor Mother (born Camae Aweya) and just grab hold of the ones that stick quickly - like this stellar outing from her jazz quintet. Collaborating with Keir Neuringer (saxophone, percussion), Aquiles Navarro (trumpet, percussion), Luke Stewart (double bass, percussion), and Tcheser Holmes (drums, congas), leads to some of her most focused work in a setting in which she is comfortable being both contemplative or enraged. The credits also tell a story, as many tracks here are rooted in percussion jams for a funky, polyglot vibe reminiscent of Kip Hanrahan's great American Clavé recordings. But there's no doubt that Moor Mother's gift for language and the power of her voice are key factors in elevating Who Sent You? above a plethora of recent contemporary jazz releases. For more, don't miss her "afrofuturist song cycle," Circuit City, which includes many of the same players.

Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - Free Hoops Fleet of finger and of an analytical bent, Courvoisier's pianism once again finds new heights of avant jazz delight with Drew Gress (bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums) on their first album since 2018's excellent D'Agala. They are obviously her perfect foils as I found the two albums she made with others since then to be slightly too cerebral, i.e. dry. But not here, as the creativity and interaction of the rhythm section keeps Courvoisier both down to earth and as dazzling as a star-filled sky. For proof, check out Just Twisted, a neo-noir chase scene that will leave you breathless.

Mark de Clive-Lowe - Dreamweavers While this trio record, with the keyboard/production maven accompanied by Andrea Lombardini (bass) and Tommaso Cappellato (drums), is very stripped down for him, it's quite a different proposition from what Courvoisier is doing. Skywriting analog synths soar over rich acoustic piano, while the rhythm section pushes and recedes intuitively, from dense rhythms to airy accents. Slickness is also part of the picture, harkening back to an earlier time when jazz reentered the pop firmament on the wings of electricity and bright melodies. It's also wonderful to see MDCL pay tribute to the late, great Ras G with a cover of his Strolling Down Degnan

Mike Sopko, Bill Laswell & Tyshawn Sorey - On Common Ground It's hard to imagine players of less stature than bassist/producer Laswell and drummer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Sorey being able to find common ground with Sopko, whose coruscating guitar is an unstoppable force on this trio date. There's an almost evil thrill in hearing Sorey - essentially capable of anything on drums - pound away in Oracle. I can picture a cinderblock attempting to hold his bass drum in place and crumbling to dust as he builds an almighty groove. Parascience, another standout track, moves from reflective to eerie to full on skronk with frightening facility. Can I be greedy and ask for a residency at The Stone when concerts come back? I'd go every night.

Sun Ra Arkestra - Swirling Beyond the surprise of the mere existence of the first album under the Arkestra name in over 20 years is the shock at how good it is. It also remains true to the master's vision of a cosmic yet soulful music which draws as equally from outer space imaginings as it does from Ellington, Mingus, and Monk. Beautifully recorded, with fervent performances under the direction of Marshall Allen, who at 96 shows no sign of losing the thread he picked up with Sun Ra back in 1958, Swirling is an end-to-end triumph. But don't get the idea that Allen and Co. are taking their legacy too seriously - there's even a romp called Unmask The Batman, which rips through the TV theme song, paying homage to the 1960's session that resulted in Batman And Robin, credited to The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale. Sensational indeed!

Jahari Massamba Unit - Pardon My French This full-length debut from the collaboration between DJ/producer/multi-instrumentalist Madlib and percussionist/producer Karriem Riggins has been a long time coming - and exceeds expectations in its epic sweep and deeply involving jams. No surprise, the drumming is especially spectacular, but working with Madlib has enabled Riggins to stretch beyond the occasional sketchbook feel of his (fantastic) solo albums, Alone Together and Headnod Suite. If whatever they do next is this good, I say take your time, gentlemen.

Thiago Nassif - Mente Fascinatingly fragmented no-wave Brazilian, assisted by producer Arto Lindsay, who knows all there is to know about both sides of that coin. Simpatico guest vocalists like Ana Frango Elétrico and Gabriela Riley smooth things out a little, but the true pleasure is in letting these burnished and brittle bits and pieces assemble in your head.

Jungle Fire - Jungle Fire Concision and conviction are the keys to success for this LA-based octet's "Tropi-funk," as this 30-minute album blasts through a blend of Afrobeat, Afro-cuban, boogaloo, and other sonic signatures of the diaspora. It's all fun, but it's on Emboscada where they truly go beyond pastiche with some astonishing 3D guitar riffage.

The Mavericks - En Español After In Time, which hit not only my Best Of 2013 but also my Best Albums Of The 2010's, these Tex-Mex-Americana experts seemed to lose their footing. Mono (2015) felt like a rush job, Brand New Day (2017) was forgettable, and the less said about their Christmas and covers albums the better. Now, with their first album in Spanish, they've roared back again. Singer Raul Malo sounds fully engaged and avoids any showboating, the sound is rich, with layers of live instruments, and the energy never flags. I'd rather play this at a party than any of the forced disco retreads that got so much acclaim last year. As for how "authentic" their takes on old school Conjunto and Tejano actually are, I'll leave that to the scholars. I'm just happy to go along for the ride.

For more in these genres, make sure to dig into my archive playlist and follow the 2021 edition to stay up to date.

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2019: Jazz, Latin, and Global 
Best Of 2018: Jazz, Latin, and Global

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Best Of 2020: Hip Hop, RnB, and Reggae

The only pure hip hop album on my Top 25 was Alfredo, the devastating team-up between Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist (see also his brilliant live session with the El Michels Affair). But that doesn't mean the year was devoid of exciting or even important releases from that realm, not to mention R&B and Reggae. A few of those showed up in earlier posts, which are listed first and included on the playlist below. 

Of Note In 2020: Hip Hop, R&B, and Reggae
Charlotte Dos Santos - Harvest Time
Pop Smoke - Meet The Woo 2 (Deluxe)
Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony

Record Roundup: Catching Up (Sort Of)
Quakers - II - The Next Wave
Supa-K: Heavy Tremors

Clipping - Visions Of Bodies Being Burned How far you want to dive into the references to classic horror films and homages to an earlier generation of hip hop artists on this latest from Daveed Diggs' group is up to you. Even if totally ignorant of all the cogitation behind their creative process, I can't imagine the brick hard, serrated beats - constructed by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes with other collaborators - combined with Diggs' machine-gun delivery not having an impact. Part of that is the sheer viscera Diggs pumps into couplets like: "'Til nine months later with a stomach full of Devil baby/She startin' to think it's time to pump the brakes/But that train left the station with the Great Migration/Bloody tracks left right by the drain, say the name." You would not be mistaken if you assigned the album to the same moment that gave us HBO's Lovecraft Country, another canny a mix of pop-culture inside jokes with social commentary. So whether it's the words or the grim soundscapes that discomfit you while listening, either way you will not be bored.

Conway The Machine - From A King To A GOD, No One Mourns The Wicked (with Big Ghost Ltd.), and Lulu (with The Alchemist) Maybe it's the raw winters of Buffalo that forged this indomitable rapper, who seems to have endless bars to deliver over beats by some of the best producers around, including DJ Premier, Havoc, Big Ghost Ltd., and The Alchemist. In some ways, there's nothing on these three albums that couldn't have come out five years ago, but rather than live on the cutting edge, Conway seeks merely to be excellent. He's also damned convincing in whatever tales he's delivering, with a persona of having come through the fire to rise to the top. But among the brags are heartfelt and humble moments of reflection, as on The Contract from Lulu: "Let's toast to my enemies, no, let's toast to my injuries/Turned my negative to positive, I don't need no sympathy/I'm the GOAT 'til infinity, I wrote with intensity/Plus, my potent delivery, I just hope they remember me." If he keeps up this pace and quality, he'll be impossible to forget.

Megan Thee Stallion - Good News Like Conway, Megan sees no need to jump on trap or drill trends, just serving up fun, creative beats from a roster of expert producers (I count 20!), and slathering her diamond-sharp rhymes all over them with infectious glee. Her joy - and ours - comes not only from her sheer skill with syllables, but her complete lack of inhibition, which can also be found on WAP, the era-defining single (and video!) she made with Cardi B. While Cardi is not on the album, there are a ton of other guests, but she lets none of them dim her shine, although Dababy and Sza come close. While Don't Rock Me To Sleep, the one pure pop move, is regrettable, mainstream hip hop this good is not as common as it should be so all is forgiven. Not that she would care what I think - nor would I want her to!

Jean Dawson - Pixel Bath The Pigeons & Planes Discord is one of the brightest spots on the internet, full of positivity, constructive criticism, and enthusiastic sharing. While time constraints have me mostly lurking, my antennae are always up for something getting a lot of attention, and this nearly genre-free debut quickly bubbled up. As much a rock or pop album, with all the soaring guitar solos and sticky choruses that implies, it slots in here nicely due to its omnivorous nature and sharp attitude. While there is plenty of youthful angst, it fortunately stays to the right side of emo, landing almost in a post-punk zone on occasion. It's anyone's guess where Dawson goes from here, but his options appear to be unlimited.

Spillage Village, JID & EarthGang - Spilligion Even before I knew this collective was from Atlanta, GA, I was getting strong OutKast vibes based on the beat-making, which is colorfully original yet steeped in funk, soul, gospel, etc., and the variety and energy of the flows. Loads of pop smarts, too, with several songs achieving ear worm status. Perhaps a testament to the deep collaboration underpinning the whole album is the fact that, with 20+ producers and a more than a dozen rappers, Spilligion not only doesn't collapse under its own weight, but is actually a joyful and consistent listen. You can listen free on every service, but tell me you aren't tempted by this vinyl package, which is as exuberant as the music.

Goodie Mob - Survival Kit Speaking of the Dirty South, here comes the Mob with their first album in seven years - and one of their best. Even at nearly an hour, it does not overstay its welcome thanks to the lively tracks by Organized Noise and energized and engaged rhyming from everybody, including the three stellar guests: Chuck D, Andre 3000, and Big Boi. Considering the way 2021 has kicked off, I'm going to keep this album close at hand. As Khujo Goodie says in the title track: "Mask on, gloves on, we ain't out the woods yet/The power of the mind is my survival kit."

Run The Jewels - RTJ4 Some have complained that while this is good, it's nothing new from Killer Mike and El-P, but I think the former is carrying the latter less often, which is refreshing. El's beats are as great as usual, with more of an electro flavor (and a great Gang Of Four sample on The Ground Below), inspiring Killer Mike to some awesome heights, as on this verse from Goonies Vs. E.T.: "Ain't no revolution is televised and digitized/You've been hypnotized and Twitter-ized by silly guys/Cues to the evening news, make sure you ill-advised/Got you celebrating the generators of genocide/Any good deed is pummeled, punished, and penalized." There's also a devastating Mavis Staples feature on Pulling The Pin, and one of the best rallying cries ever on JU$T: "Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar." When I start using paper money again, I will be looking hard.

Sault -  Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise) Through a combination of savvy marketing and a canny combination of influences ranging from Black Heat and 24 Carat Black to contemporary funk, R&B, and hip hop, this mystery collective topped many a list of 2020's best music. Much of that acclaim was deserved as they delivered two albums full of sticky tunes, danceable grooves, and up to the minute rallying cries. However, each album is salted with PSA like interludes (like You Know It Ain't) that lose their luster after a few listens. But there is much that is thought-provoking and much that is sheerly enjoyable here. Maybe next time around they'll realize they have nothing to prove.

Orion Sun - A Collection Of Fleeting Moments And Daydreams This slightly updated version of her 2017 EP shows off Tiffany Majette's talents with exquisite focus, slightly more so than her other 2020 release, Hold Space For Me. But both make great use of acoustic guitars, scratchy records, bossa nova samples, and Majette's voice, which has a delicacy belying its hidden strengths. Both records are a time-lapse view of a new original blossoming before your ears.

Kali Uchis - Sin Miedo (Del Amor Y Otros Demonios) Anyone who's heard 2018's Isolation, Uchis' first album, would know from songs like Your Teeth In My Neck that she is "sin miedo" (without fear) - and that she's an endless font of melody. That combination means it's no surprise that this album of mostly Spanish language material goes down so smoothly. She traverses boleros and reggaeton with equal ease, demonstrating that steely delicacy on song after song. Even on a banger like Te Pongo Mal, she never oversells, making an album that will work at a party but also in quieter circumstances. The last track, Angel Sin Cielo, which could have been a tour de force of layered vocals over acoustic guitar, is an unfortunate misfire, but the rest is close to perfection.

Denise Sherwood - This Road If the name looks familiar to you from the On-U Sound universe led by Adrian Sherwood, you're already on the right track to digging this delicious debut by his daughter. Apparently years in the making as she sought her voice, it's helped by that temporal variety, with touches of trip-hop and drum & bass among the sleekly assured reggae you would expect. And it's a gorgeous voice, too, confident yet restrained, with the low-key strength of someone who knows they have nothing to prove. More than holding its own among classics from the New Age Steppers, African Head Charge, and other Sherwood projects, This Road sees the On-U legend yet being written. All hail!

Toots & The Maytals - Got To Be Tough That was a bit of a sorry roller coaster ride we went on last year with this reggae legend. First, there was his inspiring interview in Rolling Stone, which revealed a long-in-the-works new album would soon be coming to fruition, with the unlikely help of Zak Starkey. Then, just days later, the dispiriting news that this indefatigable force had been felled by complications resulting from COVID-19. So now the album had the dual weight of not only being his first in ten years, but his final statement. I'm happy to report that, after a shaky start (the first song is annoying, the second inconsequential), and despite an unnecessary remake of Three Little Birds, this is a fine album. His voice sounds strong throughout and there are more than a few songs - the title track especially - worthy of including on a career-spanning playlist. There may be more in the vaults that will come out posthumously, but for now this will serve as a capstone to a life in music that needed no burnishing. 

Singles: This category always churns up essential stand-alone singles. In 2020 there was the aforementioned WAP and we also got Frank Ocean singing dreamily in Spanish on the spare Cayendo, the warm Terry Callier/Isley Brothers vibes of The Sun by Secret Night Gang, Hot Sauce, another tasty lagniappe from Pinkcaravan!, and Lockdown, the quarantine smash by Anderson .Paak. He rose to our current moment with one his best songs yet, somehow giving us permission to dance while looking squarely in the face at some of the challenges of 2020. My grandchildren will understand a bit more of what we're going through when we play them Lockdown. What music will you share with them to help them understand?

For more from these genres, check out my archive playlist - and make sure to follow the 2021 edition so you don't miss anything.

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2019: Hip Hop, RnB, and Reggae
Best Of 2018: Hip Hop, RnB and Reggae
Best Of 2017: Hip Hop, RnB and Reggae
Best Of 2016: Hip Hop and RnB
A Vacation In Hip Hop Nation
A Few Brief Words About Some Recent Hip Hop