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Est. 2005


SZA feat. Kendrick Lamar

from the album Z


SZA produced "Babylon" with DJ Dahi and filmed a music video for it. But for her debut LP, Z, label mate Kendrick Lamar joins SZA for this impassioned introspective.

It's hard to not draw parallels between SZA's sensuality and that of FKA Twigs in "Papi Pacify." Unfortunately for our lead here, being crucified [and drowning in a creek (if you check out the video version) isn't exactly a rosy end to this fiery tale. Kendrick adds his own layer of grief to the song, but he picks it up too. As his emotion builds his flow opens up, nicely contrasting SZA's quiet calm. Though somewhat woebegone, "Babylon" is packed with desire and a beat that relaxes any tension, making "Babylon" a great baby-making playlist addition.

SZA's voice is powerful. You can hear it as her voice influxes and stresses ever so slightly like a blues guitarist bending slightly out of tune. But the power is overtaken by the fact that the song starts and ends in the same place, making the song more of a statement or call for help than a journey. It's bookended by SZA's ask for crucifixion — at once admitting her guilt for her hopeless situation as well as letting us know this story has already concluded.



"Slow Motion"
from the album PHOX


In the past three years, Baraboo's sweethearts PHOX have slowly dug themselves out of the obscurity of a Wisconsin snowbank to gain national and international recognition. After opening for The Lumineers at the iTunes Music Festival in London last year and completing a national tour with Blitzen Trapper, PHOX is finally ready to release their first full-length album.

One of the singles from the upcoming self-titled album is the dreamy pop piece "Slow Motion." This multilayered track features all kinds of interesting instrumentation, such as clarinet and mandolin, and the energy organically ebbs and flows with each swell of the melody. By far the loveliest instrument is the voice of lead singer Monica Martin. Citing classic soul singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James, Martin bends her agile voice around complex melodies and flitting runs with ease. With "Slow Motion" as our first sugary-sweet bite from PHOX's debut, the rest of the album (out June 24) is sure to be just as tasty.


The Antlers

from the album Familiars


Imagine a postcard exposed to various iterations of rain and sun on its way to your mailbox. Its weathered edges stir up and muddle within you feelings of wanderlust and jealousy for the sender. The Antlers present "Palace," the first single off their upcoming album, Familiars, as a note written on the back of this postcard. The steady horns that peek through the soft piano intro, combined with Peter Silberman's falsetto, call to mind tidy and delicate cursive. The ink blooms on the page to champion the lightness that comes from feeling free in a new place. As the horns become louder and Silberman yelps out the words, the cursive loosens, anticipating its own undoing, to give way to rushed and senseless scribbles. It's as if the sender of the postcard is finally admitting — to himself and to the reader — that he's lonely, tired, and ready to go back home.

"Palace" is a poignant, rainy day anthem that will leave you with an unresolved yearning reverberating in your vaulted chest. A few more listens of the song, much like reading a message over and over, somehow settles the fluttering disquietude that it causes upon first listen. The Antlers have a knack for making music that can put their listeners in a deeply emotional headspace that's hard to shake, but with "Palace" they seem to be giving their listeners a way out. Escape's never sounded so bittersweet.



"White Snow"
from the single White Snow


The components of this song are simple: the hollow pitter-patter of a percussive riff. Criminally laid-back swirls of synth. The grounding pulse of a beat, and relaxed vocals that settle on the track like pillowy drifts of its namesake. The way that CHPLN combines these elements in "White Snow," however, elevates this song from a handful of pretty fluff into a well-balanced experiment in chilled-out electro-pop where the rich mood of piece eclipses any obtuse lyrics.

So who's behind this song, which has found its way onto international airwaves despite the band's lack of promotion? CHPLN (pronounced "Chaplin" and indeed named after the silent movie actor) is Dali Bor and Pippo Vari, childhood friends from the south of London who call their genre "multipop." And while the duo may not have released enough material to provide a good feel for their range, there's no question that they've found their niche: textured electronic fare that's warm enough to thaw even the most stubborn winter.


First Aid Kit

"My Silver Lining"
from the album Stay Gold


The world was first treated to the pairing of First Aid Kit and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis in 2012 with the release of their second album, The Lion’s Roar. Mogis’ bells and whistles paired with the sisters’ voices were complementary in a way that could only be matched by an Animal Planet special feature. Yes, true beauty came out of First Aid Kit’s sophomore album, but the tracks tended to echo one another. One finished the album with something to be desired, and it wasn’t another homage to Joni Mitchell.

What The Lion’s Roar lacked seems to be there in the duo’s upcoming third album, Stay Gold, to be released June 10. Their pre-released single, “My Silver Lining,” is a neon sign pointing in the right direction — meeting at the crossroads of folk, pop, and ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, “My Silver Lining” promises good things to come.

The most striking parts of the standout tracks lie in the strings: The Omaha Symphony Orchestra provides a hopeful and persistent harmony underneath the Soderburgs' angelic voices. They tackle issues of regret and the drive that keeps them above their worries, but still the song could soundtrack a Maserati ad, speeding in slow motion through the south-west’s vast deserts. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.


Jamie xx

"Sleep Sound"
from the single Sleep Sound


Those familiar with Jamie Smith more often than not recognize his stage name due to its ties to popular Brit-electronica trio The xx. The group has risen from relative obscurity to almost celebrity-like status since releasing their debut LP, xx, almost five years ago. Certainly they deserve the success; the album pervaded so many demographics with its simple melody constructs and highly emotional love lyrics, making it one of the decade's best-produced records. Yet, it's unfortunate for Jamie xx as a producer that his band's work overshadows his own.

A product of the same London high school as a handful of legendary British electronic musicians (Four Tet, Burial, and Hot Chip to name a few), he's developed an uncanny ability to combine the most polarizing sounds to create cohesive tunes. This was especially on his 2011 genre-bending tape, We're New Here, where he somehow combined Gil-Scott Heron's celebrated spoken word with his own production that ranges from electronically twisted steel drums to post-dubstep. It's a project that cemented his place in the United Kingdom's DJ scene but went largely unnoticed by his American audience. Hell, I'm not even sure most people realize he produced a large part of Drake's second studio LP, Take Care.

"Sleep Sound" is a collective hybrid of Jamie's more recent output. It has the vocal samples that resemble those of xx chanteuse, Romy Croft, while containing the heavily dubbed feeling found on more experimental tracks like "Far Nearer." This track heavily borrows from the 2-step movement, but Jamie injects his own personality to make "Sleep Sound" an instant hit. It's truly a shame he doesn't release more solo work, yet the time gap makes us savor and revel in these sparse moments.


Future Islands

"Seasons (Waiting on You)"
from the album Singles


Future Islands is finally having its Cinderella moment. Their fourth album, Singles, is a head turner, and well-deserved one at that. After their storied performance on Late Show with David Letterman, they could have played the role of Fairy Godmother as well — the song at the center of that performance, “Seasons (Waiting on You),” is downright amazing. It’s all pop and grunge, melodramatic and sincere, gorgeous and grotesque. It brings together the contradictions that make up our lives, or at least those of us on the more emotional part of the spectrum.

In most live performances of “Seasons,” frontman Samuel T. Herring holds his hand to the sky during the words “as it rains,” gazing mournfully on an uplifted and unknown object invisible to everyone but him. The simple gesture embodies the genius of the song itself—cartoonish in its romance, it is a track that yearns for a particular love while accepting the passing of time. Future Islands have tightened up their sound in a way that brings their sharp synth-pop to the forefront and showcases their talent in the best of ways: no evil step-mother in sight.


The Black Keys

from the album Turn Blue


Everyone's favorite alt-rock duo The Black Keys is back with their first release in three years, set to drop next month. After a bizarre marketing ploy involving a Mike Tyson tweet and several mysterious YouTube teasers, they let loose the first single off the new album.

"Fever" is a definite twist on the classic Black Keys sound, which has become very recognizable over their past seven albums. The song has a lighter, poppier feel than most fans are used to and it skips along at a constant level, never reaching above a dull roar. Driven by a prominent electro riff, the track introduces new synthetic instrumentation to the band's traditionally guitar- and drum-based sound. With a curveball like this, there's no knowing what's in store for us on the rest of the album. I can't say I'm not excited, though.



"Water Fountain"
from the album Nikki Nack


Merill Garbus, the tUnE-yArDs mastermind, makes music in a world of its own. Garbusville (lol, just a goofy name I thought to call her world, lol) is a world where ramshackle African rhythms, gnarly basslines and soulful, dynamic vocals are fused for an at times jarring, at times sweet sound. But, whether it's discordant, harmonious, or both, tUnE-yArDs' music is almost always compelling.

"Water Fountain," the first single off forthcoming album Nikki Nack, finds tUnE-yArDs at fullll throttle. Garbus has one of the most unique, powerful voices in music today (think female Dave Longstreth) and she makes full use of it on the track, jumping everywhere from a gentle croon to soulful yelp.

While "Water Fountain" is probably not tUnE-yArDs strongest single to date, it's still a fun listen. Where previous tUnE-yArDs songs used dissonance as an advantage, to amplify powerful bits or provide counterpoint to Garbus' sweeter melodies, "Water Fountain" nearly overdoes the dissonance. The spastic track flows from section to section, while Garbus laments, "No water in the water fountain, no phone in the phone booth." It may not be a tUnE-yArDs classic, but "Water Fountain" shows Garbus experimenting with new sounds (more synths and drum machines than usual) and of course the new album will probably be great.

UPDATE: The second Nikki Nack single, "Wait for a Minute," just dropped and it's awesome.

Nikki Nack is out May 6 on 4AD.


"Devil on My Shoulder"
from the EP Epiphany


D/C's debut single, "Devil on My Shoulder," is a beautiful ode to the saving moments of satisfaction that can be found buried within the prolific genre of unsatisfied youth. Simple, stripped down, and to the point, the floating listlessness of the track is completely justified by the young Londoner's clear raw musical talent. Classically trained, A/C uses the cello to create a melodic foundation before mixing it with modern pop styling.

The accepting sense of sadness in the song that saturates the song opens with the lines:

"I am a son of anarchy,
There's no way of stopping me
Run the streets with nowhere to go
Society won't ever let me go”

Though the lyrics describe aimlessness, they hit an emotional bulls eye of sorts. D/C poignantly uses lines that could be found in a "We Are Young"-type anthem in a song ("There's no way of stopping me") where the tone cuttingly reminds us that we are participants in the very society we claim we to undermine in our nights of revelry and high energy declarations of freedom. Throughout the course of the song, the speaker seems to struggle with a sense of individual identity that is at times in contention with the inevitably of his age and circumstances. "No matter where I've been / you always think I come from sin... I was born good, I swear I tried." The result is a thoughtful, frustrated, and ultimately important piece of music.