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The Lowdown:EarthGang’s Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot inked a deal with J. Cole’s Dreamville imprint in August of 2017, after which they promised a trilogy of extended play releases to precede their highly anticipated full-length debut on the label. The eight-track Royalty EP is the final installment in the series from the Atlanta duo, following the first chapter, Rags, and their subsequent project, Robots. Royalty is a tie-dyed time capsule brimming with the moments, thoughts, and emotions that might plague any buzz-worthy artist on the verge of transitioning from internet fame to bona fide stardom.
The Good: The storytelling on Royalty is extremely personal and matches the heft and intensity of EarthGang’s bars. The EP is as evocative of EarthGang’s humble beginnings and meteoric rise as their colorful ideas about the future. They pilot a steady ship buoyed by lush production — most notably from Childish Major — and the clarity of their respective voices; the southern drawl and swagger they lend to the tape conjures their ATLien forebears of all stripes, but the time-traveling trap punk aesthetic they have perfected is a beast of their own design. That sound finds them poised to unlock the level where everything they touch turns to gold.
The Bad: Beyond the brevity of the project and the presence of DC Young Fly — on three of Royalty’s eight tracks — who could translate as more of a grating distraction than comic relief for some, there isn’t much bad about the project.
The Verdict: EarthGang travels from Atlanta and the tiresome comparisons that plague aspirant rappers from hit-factory towns to their new digs in Mirrorland – a trippy, Wonka-esque alternate reality of the group’s own making where the trees smile, women’s breasts come in threes, and rap prosperity is more than they could have anticipated. The duo’s euphoria at their hard-earned success is tempered by the fates of the people confined to the trenches they have outgrown, which threaten to haunt them on the other side of the looking glass. U
nderstanding the value of every mile traveled through Atlanta and all points adjacent in pursuit of their dream, they learn that the journey itself is the destination. They end Royalty with a solid investment in savoring the moment that doubles as a set of directions for those on the road behind them with an inkling to follow. With Royalty, EarthGang decisively closes the trilogy and prepares to enter Mirrorland – the world established by their willingness to dream.
Essential Tracks: “Build”, “Off the Lot”, and “LOLSMH”
Glover is currently working on his final album under his alter-ego’s name. Back in June, the multi-faceted entertainer told The Huffington Post that he was retiring the Childish Gambino moniker because “it wouldn’t be punk anymore” and likened it to an unnecessary film sequel.
“Like I feel like there’s gotta be a reason to do things and I always had a reason to be punk,” Glover told The Huffington Post last summer. “Being punk just always felt really good to me and we always looked at Atlanta as a punk show and I feel like the direction I would go with Childish Gambino wouldn’t be punk anymore. As much as ‘Redbone’ is a punk song because it’s a gospel song that’s on the radio, I’m like there’s only so far you can go before you just are the radio.”
Of course, in a destabilized media landscape where all concepts of “punk” are up for interpretation, one could argue signing to major label is as “punk” as it gets. “It was necessary change of pace,” Glover says of the deal in a new statement.
Whatever the case, RCA promises more new music this year from the hip-hop wunderkind, whose 2017 album Awaken My Love!just scored five Grammy nominations. All three of Childish Gambino’s existing records were put out through GlassNote Records.
Glover recently dropped a teaser trailer for the second season of Atlanta, which premieres in March.
If you came to this year’s Coachella announcement hoping for a return of the long-awaited reunions and impossible-to-get surprise acts of the past, you’ll once again leave disappointed. Once festival organizers reconfirmed Beyoncé after her postponement last year, the festival’s traditional biggest question mark already had a definitive answer behind it.
Perhaps not wanting to diminish their long-awaited headliner’s shine, organizers played it safe with the festival’s two other headliners; although Eminem and The Weeknd are both solid draws on their own, they don’t come near to matching the well-deserved fervor for pop music’s reigning master.
So, yes. The top line of the festival is devoid of any true shocks. However, a closer look reveals that America’s preeminent outdoor music festival is still capable of evolution. This year, that means a long-overdue focus on women and a surprising shift away from the dude-heavy guitar rock that helped put the festival on the map.
Queen Bey knows how to make an entrance. A year after her pregnancy postponed her 2017 headlining appearance, Beyoncé finally gets the chance to cap off her Lemonade victory lap on one of the world’s biggest stages. Plus, after Solange’s triumphant headlining set at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, there’s also a little sibling rivalry on the line.
Photo by Philip Cosores
The former Talking Heads frontman hasn’t worked the festival circuit with the regularity of some of his contemporaries, a fact which, when combined with his notoriously infectious live performances and a forthcoming record that marks his first new work in six years, makes this set one to watch. Literally.
Before his 2017 summer tour, French electronic impresario and master of spectacle Jean-Michel Jarre hadn’t played in America since 1986. The exclusivity may be gone, but that may not matter; you don’t become a Guinness World Record holder for world’s largest concert without knowing how to put on a show.
Photo by Ben Kaye
Though this is her fourth Coachella appearance since 2008, Annie Clark’s penchant for Bowie-style reinvention (and blistering showmanship) injects even midday festival sets with a headliner’s urgency. Add that to the fact that she’s currently supporting some of the best material of her career, and you can see why some people would be happy to sub her in as Friday’s headliner.
Buried in the tiny text of Saturday, you’ll find a rare treat: X Japan, the long-running glam metal band that basically defined the genre in their home country. This is their first appearance in America since a triumphant Madison Square Garden show in 2014; come for the speedy licks and theatrical costumes, and stay for the befuddled joy on the faces of people in the crowd who mostly showed up to see Post Malone.
As far as this year’s headliners go, it’s Beyoncé and everyone else. That includes The Weeknd, whose semi-regular festival schedule and listless most recent record (2016’s Starboy) render his the least essential marquee slot. This could all change if a surprise record drops between now and April (or he somehow gets Daft Punk to show up), but for now, this booking’s a miss.
Though he had some well-received UK festival appearances in 2017, Eminem enters 2018 with the LP-shaped albatross of the dreadful Revivaldragging down any potential excitement for this set. Plus, in a year focused on finally booking and celebrating women in music, closing out the festival with the guy who wrote “Kill You” feels a little tone deaf.
Photo by Andy Moran
Man. Remember 2012? Barack Obama was still the President, the Mayan apocalypse was all the rage, and “Tessellate” made alt-J feel like the next truly massive British rock band. Now it’s 2018, and we’ve got Donald Trump, the ever-looming threat of actual nuclear war, and … still alt-J, just worse. I hate the future.
Portugal. the Man
Photo by Philip Cosores
Look. I’m as happy as anyone that the alt-rock lifers from Sarah Palin’s backyard finally achieved breakout radio success with last year’s “Feel It Still”, but I’m also just as happy to admit that it feels like they’ve been lurking on the bill of every festival I’ve been to since 2008, and I just can’t get amped for that anymore.
A Perfect Circle
Finish the Tool record, Maynard, and then you can hang with your friends.
It’s been 10 years since rumors of an imminent appearance at Coachella 2008 kicked off one of the most surprising (and successful) reunions in indie rock history. With a new album on the way, it would’ve been a solid callback to finally see Kevin Shields and company take the stage in Indio.
The long-gestating follow-up to 2013’s Modern Vampires in the City may finally emerge this year, so what better way to reintroduce your band (and resurrect a little guitar rock) than a headlining set at Coachella? We’ll probably find out the answer to that soon, just not in time for the festival.
Photo by David Brendan Hall
Somehow, the Foo Fighters have never headlined Coachella, which seems like more of a statistical anomaly than an actual oversight. This year would’ve been a decent year for that to change; 2017’s Concrete and Gold occasionally sparked with brilliance, and Dave Grohl’s toothy grin beats Eminem’s sulk any day of the week (especially Sunday).
We’ve marked Coachella’s gradual-but-decisive embrace of true pop for years now, and would’ve been pretty thrilled if they’d snagged the genre’s President to go with Queen Bey. For now, the Super Bowl halftime show (and a new record tantalizingly compared to the latest Bon Iver album) will have to suffice.
Just read what we wrote last year twice. It’s all still true.
He headlined the festival himself in 2010 and released one of 2017’s best records in 4:44, but this time around Jay-Z’s most important Coachella collaboration might come as a designated hitter on Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” or “Upgrade U” (though we’d also accept a surprise run-in for “Renegade” with Eminem the following night).
Photo by David Brendan Hall
First, a couple of caveats: Earl Sweatshirt has been laying pretty low since touring with 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, and his on-again/off-again feuds with former Odd Future stablemate Tyler, the Creator are well-known. But with Earl’s new album on the way and Tyler in his biggest Coachella slot yet, a quick run-in for “Orange Juice” or something feels like a distinct possibility.
It’s been 10 years since Brian Eno and David Byrne rekindled their collaboration for 2008’s quietly brilliant Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, so it’d be cool to see them take the stage together for “Strange Overtones”. I would also settle for the more likely scenario of Byrne and St. Vincent reviving their brass band and taking down a track from 2012’s Love This Giant.
Migos and Cardi B are already going to be on the grounds anyway, so we’re going to be pretty bummed if somebody doesn’t bring Nicki Minaj out for her middle finger of a verse from “MotorSport”. Besides, in a year when the festival is finally giving bad-ass women their due, it wouldn’t be right to leave Nicki out of the fun.
Come on. I know it won’t happen, and you know it won’t happen … but what if it happened?
Led by Beyoncé, the women of Coachella form the festival’s highest highs this year. With featured sets ranging from established talents like St. Vincent and HAIM to meteoric sensations like Cardi B and SZA to small-font stars such as Japanese Breakfast, Cherry Glazerr, and Alvvays, the schedule is finally starting to reflect the broad cross-section of talent that’s been waiting for its due. However, the lack of any true surprises (and the continued presence of overbooked festival fillers that’s starting to ding even the biggest fests) keeps this year’s Coachella from perfection on paper, at least. Talk to us again in April, and we’ll see if we’re wrong.
There’s a very brief, fleeting moment that takes place between celebrating and reflecting upon the music of a fading year and anticipating the sounds and possibilities of the calendar flip to come. If you blink, you could miss it. So, if you’re scratching your head right about now, odds are you blinked. That’s right. Last year’s best album was … hold on, we’ll think of it. And that song we couldn’t get out of our heads for months … wait, it’ll come to us. That’s a bit hyperbolic, we know, but it’s not entirely untrue either. It’s remarkable how we are able to arbitrarily rope off huge masses of half-processed pop culture in our heads and make way for more to come marching through. Is it fair? Maybe not. Ideally, we’d have a couple months to finish digesting 2017 before we’d have to start consuming all over again. But that’s life, and ready or not, there are dozens more remarkable records on their way. These are the ones we’re most excited to make some room on our plates for.
Why We’re Excited: After an exhaustive tour behind their last album, 2014’s acclaimed Stay Gold, the sisters of First Aid Kit took some much needed time apart to decompress. When Klara and Johanna Söderberg regrouped, they felt stronger as both sisters and a musical duo and then applied this sense of renewal to their fourth full-length, Ruins. The result is a rawer sound and a willingness to expose more of their inner selves than perhaps ever before. Here, the Swedish outfit focuses on a crushing heartbreak and the feeling of absolute purposelessness that follows, assisted by the likes of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Wilco’s Glen Kotche, and elements of Americana and ‘50s-era Everly Brothers balladry. –Lake Schatz
tUnE-yArDs – I can feel you creep into my private life
Release Date: Jan. 19th
Why We’re Excited: Merrill Garbus has kept busy in the four years since 2014’s Nikki Nack: she contributed to albums from Cut Chemist and Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, wrote a song for Mavis Staples, and kept on the road — and, as evidenced by early tracks from new album I can feel you creep into my private life, she might have gotten deeper into house music. The officially released tracks have been thrilling, but the live preview of ”Heart Attack” proves there’s far groovier Garbus to come in the near future. –Lior Phillips
Why We’re Excited: In preparation for his ninth (!) studio album, Nils Frahm created his ideal recording studio. Saal 3 is located within the historic Funkhaus building in Berlin and boasts bespoke cabling, a mixing desk, and a self-built pipe organ, among other unique features that have helped the German composer fully realize his vision and properly translate the arrangements inside his head onto record. While Frahm was already operating at a high level on his last few LPs, including 2015’s Solo, All Melody represents an accomplished musician elevated and empowered by a nurturing personal environment. –Lake Schatz
Why We’re Excited: It almost doesn’t make sense to eagerly anticipate a new Ty Segall record, given the maddeningly prolific clip that the seasoned garage guru records at. But his second self-titled effort, released in early 2017, showed Segall’s ability to branch beyond his savage musical instincts into subtler territory. To that end, it’ll be interesting to see if Freedom Goblin represents further growth or a retreat back to garage punk primitiveness. –Ryan Bray
Why We’re Excited: Rhye may have lost one of their two founding members since releasing the Polaris Prize-nominated Woman in 2013, but the R&B outfit have still managed to evolve and become the most complete version of themselves on BLOOD. Much of this growth stems from Rhye’s many, many months spent on the road: Their music now is more inspired than ever by the intimacy and humanity that goes into a live performance. There’s also a noticeable emphasis on the sounds of funk and soul, which goes hand in hand with the LA-based act’s desire for closeness and emotional intoxication. –Lake Schatz
Why We’re Excited: It’s been eight years since we’ve had the emo songwriting of Chris Carrabba to empathize with us while we wallow in our emotional depths, and there’s no better time for a return than 2018. Lead single “We Fight” was a reminder that those of us who feel like loners are still part of a community built on the acceptance of the outcast. Emo has had its ups and downs artistically as well as culturally over the years, but with the recent surge of talented young bands in the genre and a milieu more in need of rallying cries than ever, Dashboard Confessional is well set to return to the vanguard. –Ben Kaye
Why We’re Excited: Following the collaborative album FFS, released in conjunction with the band Sparks in 2013, the boys in Franz Ferdinand are getting back to business. Always Ascending marks the band’s first proper album since 2013 and features production from Philippe Zdar, who has previously worked with the likes of Phoenix and Beastie Boys. The self-titled lead single is heavy on synth and also gives fans their first look at new members Julian Corrie and Dino Bardot, who will help fill the gap left by founding member Nick McCarthy, who departed in 2016. Now 14 years removed from their smash hit “Take Me Out”, Always Ascending offers a chance for Franz Ferdinand to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. –Zack Ruskin
Why We’re Excited: Don’t take the title of Superchunk’s 11th studio album at face value. What a Time to Be Alive, from its moribund-looking cover art to its angry-as-all-fuck title track, appears poised to be the most pointed and overtly political outing of the iconic indie act’s career. In today’s turbulent times, we’ll take all the fiery sonic catharsis we can get. Fortunately for fans, Superchunk haven’t missed their mark yet. –Ryan Bray
Why We’re Excited: Wild Beasts announced their split in September, but the UK indie rockers’ many passionate fans will have one last album to cherish. The culmination of more than a decade and a half together, Last Night My Dreams Came True features 13 live studio recordings of tracks pulled from across the band’s five studio albums. It’s a bittersweet farewell, but a powerful one as evidenced by early sample “The Devil’s Palace”, which inventively combines Limbo, Panto highlight “The Devil’s Crayon” and “Palace” from 2014’s Present Tense. –Lior Phillips
Why We’re Excited: It’s common knowledge that Marissa Paternoster is one of our generation’s greatest guitarists. Through six albums with Screaming Females, she’s also proven to be one of punk’s sharpest voices, a bastion of clarity, and an undeniable force. The band’s seventh album, All at Once, is due out February 23rd on Don Giovanni Records and appears to be nothing less than a monster. Single “Glass House” builds momentum into a pummeling crescendo, claustrophobic and thrilling in the best ways, and if it’s representative of what’s to come, we may be in for the band’s heaviest record yet. –David Sackllah
N.E.R.D.’s main connection to actual nerds is that they promised parties they couldn’t deliver. In 2002, the rocked-up redo of their Europe-only debut In Search Of… amassed rave reviews just as the guard was changing in rap criticism towards a less rockist focal point. Today, the album’s hardly looked upon with rose-tinted lenses, despite a preponderance of horny rap-rock bangers that actually seemed to enjoy themselves among the rampant objectification. Then again, Pharrell Williams has always been good at enjoying himself, especially with this project.
Two years later, they returned with the Steely Dan-inflected Fly or Die, which wasn’t as lucky with the critics, even if it admittedly extended the group’s weirdo life with that “her ass is a spaceship” line for the radio. That critical misfortune would carry over into both 2008’s coked-out Seeing Sounds and 2010’s ayahuasca’d-up Nothing, two albums that did very little to convince outsiders that the cool kids had finally showed up.
Though, the trio’s ridiculous ongoing insistence that this group was political in some way did reach some kind of apotheosis, namely when Pharrell stressed the need to capture the era in his music in a 2010 Billboard interview, saying: “We have a Tea Party. We have conservative Democrats. We have liberals that are like neo-liberals and nothing like you thought they’d be…” To this day, I have no idea what Pharrell thought liberals would be.
Since then, Pharrell and his partners Shay and secret Neptunes genius Chad Hugo haven’t had much need for a rec-room side outfit to let out their dormy porn fantasies — at least not while Pharrell’s been busy “slumming it” with Daft Punk or singing his juggernaut solo hit “Happy” to millions of families across the world. But now, because nothing makes any sense in 2017, the cool kids of N.E.R.D. have shown up.
With NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES,the trio have delivered the party-at-the-end-of-the-world record that only their Rolodex could truly dream to life. Where else would you hear Rihanna rapping, a stoned Ed Sheeran mumbling dub reggae, André 3000 rhyming “fractals” with “pterodactyls” all while comparing himself to an omelet (then a quiche), or a completely sober Kendrick Lamar duet about the Keith Lamont Scott shooting.
The album’s so far from dumb that it’s hard to believe it’s a N.E.R.D. record. From “Oh you won’t get away for how you treat Islam” to “Fuck what you say, we’re gonna climb your wall” to the brief but unmistakable “Mad ethnic right now” intro and the amazing “Rollinem 7’s”, Pharrell’s pulled off a damn-near miracle corralling so many A-list guests for A-list work that’s just as much of a block-wide celebration as it is a riot against racism.
Five straight burners set the pace, beginning with “Lemon”, in which Riri flows laconically and doesn’t sing a note; “Deep Down Body Thurst”, which conceals an anti-Trump protest march behind its sexy title; “Voila”, a Gucci Mane-assisted motivational anthem; “1000”, the only Future collaboration ever about “assembling a riot”; and “Don’t Don’t Do It”, as sincere a song as this group has ever done, thanks to a fiery Kendrick Lamar assist that excoriates police brutality.
From there, things slow down with the “Billie Jean”-paced floor-thumper “ESP” and the expansive, nearly eight-minute psychedelia of “Lightning Fire Magic Prayer”, all before the guests take over again. “Rollinem 7’s” adds to André 3000’s almost Christopher Walken-level winning streak of cameos alone, “Kites” finds M.I.A. flying over borders, and closing track “Lifting You” somehow draws emotion from a dub respite with Ed Sheeran.
Rarely has such powerful music collapsed so neatly into lightweight star fuckery; you could play NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES several times before registering the heavier content beneath the addictively obnoxious “Bouncin’ around, bouncin’ around, bouncin’!” and “Voila, voila!” hooks. If the album title means anything, it’s that all of these major talents are still here. In fact, they’re stronger than ever.
Essential Tracks: “Rollinem 7’s”, “Don’t Don’t Do It”, and “Lemon”
Last year felt particularly cruel as we watched so many of our pop-culture icons get taken from us without warning. By December, we all yearned for a pause, an ending, a reset. However, none of the comfort that comes with the hopeful act of flipping a calendar page lasted long into 2017. Instead, we’ve felt the pain more acutely and more personally than a year ago. Most of us have witnessed our core values challenged, felt our realities shaken, and endured daily reminders that who we are in our most basic integrity remains very much at stake. For that reason, it’s been a year in which we’ve turned to music out of necessity perhaps more than ever. The albums you find on this list aren’t just records we admired or caught ourselves dancing to. In many cases, they’re part of the reason we’re still here. They’ve consoled and empowered us, understood how we’ve felt, and in a time of such ugly, bitter divisiveness, reminded us that we’re never truly alone in mind, heart, or spirit.
These are the 50 albums we’ve leaned on most this year. Here’s hoping they don’t have to do such heavy lifting in 2018.
The Gist: After placing Chromatics’ Dear Tommy in the Red Room, Italians Do It Better producer and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel issued this daring solo album mostly inspired by his work behind the scenes on Twin Peaks: The Return.
Why It Rules: With Windswept, Jewel sounds more assured as a producer than ever, conjuring up a moody amalgamation of his signature brooding synthpop and a style of free-form jazz akin to David Lynch go-to Angelo Badalamenti.
Essential Tracks: “Windswept”, “Slow Dreams”, and “Between Worlds”
The Gist: Two years after the interstellar, metallic Garden of Delete, esoteric electronic experimentalist Daniel Lopatin (AKA Oneohtrix Point Never) returned to score a crime drama starring Robert Pattinson. Retaining his own burning palette and pushing it through a Vangelis/Carpenter mesh, Lopatin continues to find new ways to inject anxiety and awe under the skin.
Why It Rules: A somber, piano-heavy collaboration with Iggy Pop in which the Stooge dreams about petting crocodiles is a good place to start, but Lopatin delivers the high-voltage thrills all on his own.
Essential Tracks: “Hospital Escape / Access-A-Ride”, “The Acid Hits”, and “The Pure and the Damned”
The Gist: Multiple-instrumentalist Melina Duterte (aka Jay Som) rode her production and recording acumen on debut LP, Turn Into, to a deal with indie major Polyvinyl for Everybody Works.
Why It Rules: In what can only be described as bedroom maximalism, Duterte dug her lyrics into the granular, banalities of existence and aimed her production at expansive soundscapes. On “The Bus Song”, Duterte sings, “I can be whoever I want to be,” and that’s exactly who she is on Everybody Works.
Essential Tracks: “The Bus Song”, “Everybody Works”, and “For Light”
The Gist: After rising to session-player fame by collaborating with Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, and Vic Mensa, 24-year-old trumpeter Segal (FKA Donnie Trumpet) wrangled three fellow Chicago musicians together to expand his interest in experimental jazz, ultimately showcasing how the backbeat of hip-hop’s new sound is worthy of its own spotlight.
Why It Rules: On their debut LP, The Juju Exchange follow in the footsteps of producers like Flying Lotus and Knxwledge — not in sound, but in audience awareness, drawing listeners out of their usual jazz associations and into a world of smooth, free-form, low-key musings that inspire with their use of ample space.
Essential Tracks: “The Circuit”, “We Good”, and “Morning Of”
46. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish – Blade Runner 2049
Origin: Santa Monica, California; London, United Kingdom
The Gist: All signs pointed to chaos when director Denis Villeneuve parted ways with composer Jóhann Jóhannsson at the 25th hour, but Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish rose up to the challenge with an unexpected Hail Mary score.
Why It Rules: In addition to time restraints, both Zimmer and Wallfish had to follow in the footsteps of Vangelis, whose original Blade Runner score remains inimitable. They succeeded with a follow-up that’s both reverent and wholly intimidating.
Essential Tracks: “Sea Wall”, “Rain”, and “Wallace”
The Gist: Another lineup change and personal turmoil almost broke up Paramore, but Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and a returning Zac Farro came back stronger than ever to record their most pop-leaning album to date.
Why It Rules: On After Laughter, Paramore step completely away from their pop-punk origins and embrace the influences of Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads, and Blondie. Catchy sing-along hooks and ’80s pop production combine for a bright, polished sound that barely conceals the heartbreak and pain in the lyrics underneath. Williams describes the album best with the catchphrase “cry hard, dance harder.”
Essential Tracks: “Rose Colored Boy”, “26”, and “Hard Times”
The Gist: The 19-year-old R&B singer’s debut album builds from the buzzing lead single, “Location”, and demonstrates a strong grasp of the pulse of his generation without alienating a greater audience.
Why It Rules:Khalid’s silky-smooth voice and anthemic hooks combine with pop/R&B production for a fresh sound that doesn’t push the rookie too far outside his comfort zone. American Teen is a solid effort in its own right while also allowing plenty of room for growth as he comes of age.
Essential Tracks: “Young Dumb & Broke”, “Location”, and “8teen”
The Gist: Caught between the brutality of the Bataclan massacre and the subsequent ascent of France’s right-wing reactionaries, veteran synth rocker Thomas Mars and co. escaped the tension by looking backward via this Italo-disco ode to bygone Riviera summers.
Why It Rules: Released just in time for the warm-weather months, Ti Amo hit like the aural equivalent of a white wine spritzer: Singles “J-Boy” and “Ti Amo” bubble with a radio-ready fizz, while deeper cuts like “Tuttifrutti” and “Fleur De Lys” add a shade of heady longing to all that sunbaked pop.
Essential Tracks: “J-Boy”, “Tuttifrutti”, and “Fleur De Lys”
The Gist: Riding high off the runaway hip-hop hit “Bad and Boujee”, the prodigious trio of Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff fully capitalized on that momentum with a splendid set of tracks that put even the best work in their mixtape-heavy discography on notice.
Why It Rules: Backed by a cadre of producers, including Metro Boomin and Zaytoven, the success-obsessed bars and hedonistic hooks of Culture perfectly encapsulate the breadth of trap music, from its hypnagogic highs to its unapologetic lows.
Essential Tracks: “Bad and Boujee”, “Slippery”, and “T-Shirt”
41. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – Stranger Things 2
Origin: Austin, Texas
The Gist: Another season of Netflix’s Stranger Things means another vintage score from Survive’s own Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, and that’s exactly what they dropped back in October ahead of the series’ highly anticipated premiere.
Why It Rules: A year has passed. They’re a little older. They’re a little wiser. No longer are they echoing the iconic sounds of John Carpenter or Goblin, but indulging in more modern fare like Bon Iver and M83. Hawkins has never sounded so hip.
Essential Tracks: “Eulogy”, “Eight Fifteen”, and “On the Bus”
BROCKHAMPTON’s output in 2017 brought new levels of DIY influence, diversity, and inclusivity to the earnest, self-contained universe of a boy band fandom, making them the obvious choice to be our Rookie of the Year. On Friday, the group will complete its album trilogy with the release of Saturation III, and as a teaser, they’ve just shared a new track called “BOOGIE”. Take a listen below.
In theory, an end-of-summer boy band concert might be the closest place a fandom gets to finding utopia.
School-night curfews and general real-world responsibilities are temporarily off the table. Scrutiny by older siblings, friends, or co-workers is a distant evil. The immediate population around you are basically like-minded friends you haven’t met yet. As soon as the house lights dim, you’re allowed to sing (or gutturally scream) your truth as much as you like. Yet, for Brockhampton fans, the mark of a true boy band blowout is not measured in full-throated hysteria, but in how well you can benignly insult its band members.
The chants started meekly at Brockhampton’s first tour through Boston this past September. Between sets, a few kids towards the front started yelling “fix your teeth,” a callback to de facto band leader Kevin Abstract’s dental insecurities on “Star”. Within minutes, a new, louder chant swept the entire floor of the nearly 600-capicity venue: “FUCK YOUR SHOES.”
A woeful outsider to the fandom, I frantically started Googling combinations of “brockhampton fuck your shoes.” Across their two albums and mixtape, there’s not a single lyric describing a hatred of shoes, nor in any translations of their video intros featuring Roberto – Brockhampton’s webmaster and official Spanish-speaking announcer. In a last-ditch effort, I checked Twitter and found my answer: the band signed one of Abstract’s shoes backstage and planned on throwing it into the crowd. The chant had only begun dying down, but Abstract already had a response. “they just started a fuck your shoes chant,” he tweeted, “so nvm boston ima give em to someone who deserve em. smh.”
The saga of Abstract’s shoes arced in under 10 minutes. A group next to me started passing around the rapper’s most recent tweet, laughing like Kevin was just another friend that would get a high five for playing along once he got off stage. Once Abstract and the rest of Brockhampton arrived onstage, the crowd heel-turned towards a traditionally adoring fandom, though there wasn’t much convincing needed to go along with the band’s self-proclaimed “Southside One Direction” status.
Brockhampton’s draw is fairly straightforward: They’re a 14-piece boy band – a title they not only started, but have actively championed since – of rappers and creatives looking to upend traditional release cycles and pop star standards before they implode in a blaze of sheer productivity (more on that later…)
Any skeptics of Brockhampton’s rightful space in the boy band canon are welcome to check out their extensive (and perennially sold-out) merch store. With each reaction video sizing up Abstract’s unflinching verses about being openly gay against rap’s social politics, there are twice as many self-directed music videos from the Brockhampton camp reminding fans how much they care about outside opinions. And while any less-than-perfect album review would shake a young band to its core, they’ve taken one of their most high-profile reviews and made it into a t-shirt.
Maybe it’s just easier to explain Brockhampton’s rise to the fringes of alt-pop stardom in the fandom’s voice: When a band and its output are this compelling, fuck the reviews, fuck the thinkpieces, and, while we’re at it, fuck your shoes, too. Brockhampton is not your traditional boy band, but they’re sure as hell the one that 2017 desperately needed.
“Just imagine a group of kids moving together for one goal, one big goal.”
Kevin Abstract’s disembodied voice is cinematically narrating shots of his bandmates lounging across couches and floors, dimly lit by the glow of their laptop screens. “They move into a house, this big house, and they just create all day long,” Abstract continues. “They make all their dreams come true. That’s their goal, to make every single dream come true … imagine that. That’s what Brockhampton is.”
For likeminded peers, it’s also possibly the new American Dream. Replace the small-business-owner motif with a Soundcloud rapper, find your associates through a Kanye West fan forum, move to the West Coast together, and use your Spotify streams and YouTube views as metrics for success. Considering the fact that Tyler, The Creator’s couch-hopping performance on Jimmy Fallon is now an iconic piece of ancient Internet history for a population of DIY artists in their late teens/early twenties (which, in the case of Brockhampton, is its entirety), a 14-piece boy band of rappers and creatives seemed not only possible, but mainstream accessible. The reason Brockhampton are our Rookies of the Year rests in the sheer ambition of their Saturation trilogy, a set of albums that puts to bed the notion that artists have to choose between quality and quantity.
Trading out Texas for California in the wake of their All-American Trash mixtape, Brockhampton’s biggest hurdle on the first Saturation album was a rather traditional one: cementing some kind of group identity. Aside from Abstract, who already had two blog–buzzed solo albums, and singer-producer bearface’s occasional appearances on Majestic Casual, Brockhampton’s lineup remained in varying states of localized recognition going into 2017. Comparisons to Odd Future’s similarly ambitious, but overstuffed roster trailed them in comment sections, which June’s Saturation only helped by partially leaning into.
“HEAT” opens Saturation in a gratuitous blaze of violence, a blown-out bass heralding rapper Ameer Vann’s lurid observations mid-robbery (sample verse: “I love to watch ’em squirm, I love when bitches bleed/ If she’s sucking on the barrel, you can’t hear her scream/ So kiss the fucking carpet, this aggravated larson”). It’s brash, grotesque, over-the-top, and pretty much any other adjective Odd Future would’ve gravitated towards in their heyday. But, ultimately, it’s a red herring in defining Saturation. “GOLD” and “STAR”, arguably the band’s breakout singles, fulfill that role far more effectively. Over a minimalist, hiccuping beat, “GOLD” exudes superstar bravado without leaving the confines of their southern Californian neighborhood. The video features the band comically strutting down the street in wigs and costumes, dancing in the back of a strobe-lit UHaul like a Be Kind Rewind-style sweding of Missy Elliott’s “Supa Dupa Fly”. It’s Brockhampton’s DIY approach at its most wholesome, but also the first time Matt Champion’s smirking verses, JOBA’s warped, Timberlakean vocals, Merlyn Wood’s Young Thug-esque ad-libs, and Abstract’s earworm hooks began to congeal into the full boy band package.
“STAR”, meanwhile, is a mood board of pop culture worship. Vann, who casts himself as both “the black Tom Hanks” and “Secret Agent Cody Banks,” is as confident boasting about his fledging pop stardom as he is discussing the hard-earned path it took to get there. Dom McLennon, arguably one of the group’s more unsung talents, joyously throws out comparisons to Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead, Hannibal Lector, Molly Shannon, and both Tobey McGuire and Seabiscuit. It’s the kind of anthem that immediately becomes a band’s live calling card – currently, “STAR” gets played at every Brockhampton show roughly five times on average – but it’s also the essence of why Saturation works so well. It’s reputation-building without losing itself in self-seriousness, joking with a need for validation under the surface, and radio-worthy without losing the slight surface marks of bedroom production.
That’s what makes Saturation II such an anomaly. Released a mere 80 days after its predecessor, Saturation II’s turn-around time could have easily been the only thing worth noting about it. Thankfully, it’s not … if Saturation was Brockhampton’s sleeper hit, Saturation II is its blockbuster sequel, super-sizing the original’s formula without losing the original’s appeal.
“GUMMY” opens the second Saturation in the middle of a crime again, but where “HEAT” felt stifled by who could come up with the most gruesome line, “GUMMY” is a pure, Ocean’s 11-style team effort. Abstract, Wood, Vann, McLennon, and Champion take turns building off each other’s anxieties over reputation, fame, racism, and privilege while employing an absurdly infectious g-funk synth line. In part, the immediacy of a track like “GUMMY” is a testament to the group’s producers as well as its star performers.
“You gotta be a team player and adjust your role accordingly,” in-house producer Romil Hemnani offered in a rare interview from his bedroom studio. “Production should be there for [the artist]… it should bring out the best in the artist.”
Fittingly, Steve Jobs’ biography sits under Hemnani’s nightstand next to a copy of Pharrell Williams’ Places and Spaces I’ve Been, both imitable success stories for Saturation II. Apple’s aesthetic-minded mass production fits the Saturation trilogy at large, but N.E.R.D’s massively catchy interpolations between rap, rock, and pop outrun any other influence on Saturation II. “SWEET”, in particular, graduates with high honors from N.E.R.D.’s off-kilter school of hit-making. Abstract eerily channels Pharrell on the hook as McLennon’s heady verses make unusual bedfellows with Wood’s staccato bursts of energy. Vann’s easygoing braggadocio is deliriously incongruent with JOBA’s chaotic half-sung, half-rapped origin story, but “SWEET” rides on the power of friendship uniting its misfit cast.
The album’s moments of pure, early ‘00s radio-weaned euphoria (“JELLO”, “SWAMP”) and its introspective final act, concluding with “SUMMER” — the requisite Brockhampton album outro featuring bearface’s pristine pop star vocals over a soft rock guitar solo — make for a sprawling patchwork, but virtually every stitch is compelling in its ambition. Still, any conversation on Saturation II will inevitably end on “JUNKY”.
If we’ll allow one final Odd Future allusion, the video for “JUNKY” may very well be Kevin Abstract’s “Yonkers” moment. A sepia-toned ballet practices idly behind Abstract as he stares down the camera, unleashing a torrent of trauma from his closeted, Texan upbringing over horror score string plucks. It’s the kind of harrowing clip that demands immediate replays, partially to process the candor Abstract’s delivering, partially to process its visual singularity.
“So I’ma get head from a nigga right here and they can come and cut my hand off and my legs off and I’ma still be a boss ’til my head gone, yeah,” Abstract concludes, fearlessly addressing both his homophobic tormentors back in Texas and the threat of homophobia looming taller around every corner of Trump’s America. It’s an impossible verse to follow, but Abstract’s bandmates make a valiant effort. Vann’s drug cocktail for combating paranoid thoughts, Wood’s recollections of dropping out of school, Champion’s takedown of rape culture, and McLennon’s rapid-fire outro bring out some of each member’s strongest verses, but the success of “JUNKY” is not in any member besting anyone else. If anything, it serves as Brockhampton’s greatest unifying moment, giving each member a platform for their vastly different struggles while allowing the floor for Abstract’s most vital verses to stand front and center.
The sole scrap of information to prove Saturation III actually exists is a forcibly announced release date. Hours after uploading the final single from Saturation II, III’s “first single” arrived in the form of “Follow”, Brockhampton’s most self-deprecating banger with Abstract gleefully boasting about his “hella low” credit score. Taking a page from Pablo-era Kanye’s methodical rewrites, “Follow” quickly relegated itself to an unofficial list of B-sides feverishly tended to by die-hard fans. Alleged album art cropped up on band members’ Twitter feeds, only to be shot down weeks later. The myriad singles and videos that lead up to Saturation II suddenly dried up ahead of III. Press, meanwhile, remains firmly at arm’s length as interest in the band continues growing; their first-ever group interview with MTV News remains their only full press appearance to date (a request for comment on this story was politely declined.)
After days of baiting fans with cryptic tweets teasing something on December 1st, Brockhampton finally caved. Call it the exhaustion after saturation, call it a brilliant (or obnoxious) deceit that even tricked a few of its members, but the release date announcement ended up agitating more than sating: “December 15th, the last studio album by Brockhampton.”
To make a 90-day wait between albums feel like an eternity and still find a way to keep a press cycle interesting on a third album is a feat, but at what cost? In the wake of Lil Peep’s tragic death in November, rap’s defiantly rising class of Internet-beloved genre polyglots feels like it’s in danger of fading before it could see its influence unfold. And sure, while it’s bordering on overkill to say Brockhampton changed what it means to be a boy band, they’ve certainly made some lasting renovations to the model.
“I wanted it to be a boy band because I just wanted to re-define what that meant,” Abstract concluded in a piece with Ray-Ban last year. “I wanted people to look at this group of kids from different cultures, just sit back and accept the term that we throw on ourselves.”
Whether it’s sold-out shows across America in the dying days of summer, making videos for one-off singles with friends in someone’s driveway, or boldly trying to cross out every last teenage dream left on their lists, Brockhampton’s output in 2017 brought new levels of DIY influence, diversity, and inclusivity to the earnest, self-contained universe of a boy band fandom.
So much of 2017 has related to excess, and whether you have it or you’re annoyed by it. Whether in noise, media, social media, words, money, things, or more — MORE?! — we’re constantly bombarded by volume; some of us come away from that wanting more, and others just want it to stop and shrivel away. Songs may not be able to change all of that, but they can certainly do a good job of explaining the situation. Looking through our list of the best tracks of 2017, it’s littered with artists taking a side in that debate. Whether you want everybody to sit down and be humble, or you’re happy to swim through love galore, the whole world is reacting to the gigantic-ness of everything. And despite all of the noise and the frustration, there’s been a whole lot of positivity and beauty, as expressed here as well. Living in 2017 is reacting to 2017, and it’s a beautiful thing to see so many people doing so with real care. These songs don’t deny our reality, but could well lay a path to a new one.
Sounds Like: The Flaming Lips trying to cover an ABBA song but getting interrupted, continually and fruitfully, by a rogue faction of the Polyphonic Spree.
Key Lyric: “We can just pretend/ We’ll make it home again/ From everything now”
Why It Matters: The album’s grander ambitions (and seemingly endless, satirical guerrilla-marketing campaign) may have fallen flat, but the title track, aided by ambitious production from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp’s Steve Mackey, clocked in as one of the Arcade Fire’s most confident songs of all time.
Sounds Like: The ending to every breakup you’ve ever had, only two hours later, when the weight of change hits you in every possible way.
Key Lyric: “I know you’re thinkin’ I’m heartless/ I know you’re thinkin’ I’m cold/ I’m just protectin’ my innocence/ I’m just protectin’ my soul”
Why It Matters: Sam Smith conquers the ballad yet again with a hit that’s less Tom Petty and more CW. This is unadulterated emotionalism that finds the blockbuster singer-songwriter sounding stronger and more confident than ever. It’s actually kind of contagious.
Sounds Like: Klonopin in a song: A Gen Z lullaby drifting through a hazy high school basement party, where everyone is the right amount of happy, in a paradise hidden far away from expectations.
Key Lyric: “I’m so high at the moment/ I’m so caught up in this/ Yeah, we’re just young, dumb, and broke/ But we still got love to give”
Why It Matters: Nineteen-year-old Khalid speaks of what he knows on this mesmerizing and anthemic ode to embracing the bliss of simple youthful contentment. You’ll be swaying along to the chorus of “Young, Dumb & Broke” hours after you hear it.
Sounds Like: A neon-flooded roller rink after a few too many Pixy Stix.
Key Lyric: “On my own/ Pretending that I’m not at home/ Act like I don’t check my phone”
Why It Matters: Three long years after her debut, the Danish powerhouse’s confident vulnerability makes “Linking with You” a sugary pop high. She sings about dreaming that that special someone finally calls, but with MØ, even the waiting is sublime.
Sounds Like: A hard, drifting left turn around the corner of a damp city street, shot in high-def slow-motion.
Key Lyric: “The reign of our ascension makes statisticians feel sickly/ Accountants, they get snippy, they never counted so quickly” or “Show some respect, or you’ll get showered like parade confetti/ Made man, I’m made already, nobody safe from petty/ 450 horse up in the Porsche, 600 in the Chevy”
Why It Matters: Soundtrack themes are hard to nail, especially when you have the acclaim of the film to live up to. Bringing together this much talent on a song that perfectly fits the movie and makes for a banging standalone track only serves to elevate Baby Driver, which should be a benchmark for any OST single.
Sounds Like: A sly protest song, sung with teeth bared, set to a beat by La Roux. Or if you prefer, it sounds like a demon, a party boy, and an anti-war activist having a freaky threesome in the bathroom of an all-night club.
Key Lyric: “And you can always justify/ The missile trails across the sky again”
Why It Matters: In recent years, as Trent Reznor has explored all the different sounds he’s good at making, he’s occasionally neglected the kinds of songs that made him great. “Less Than” hearkens back to Nine Inch Nails’ hits from Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral – it’s a howl of rage you can dance to. The difference here is that Reznor’s rage is turned outwards instead of in.
Sounds Like: The song the Peanuts gang might rage and blow a few stacks to if they were as lit as Migos. “Bad & Boujee” is a testament to their signature flows that pair them with deconstructed synth piano gold from Metro Boomin.
Key Lyric: “Raindrop, drop top/ Smokin’ on cookie in the hotbox/ Fuckin’ on your b*tch, she a thot, thot/ Cookin’ up dope in the crockpot/ We came from nothin’ to somethin’, n*gga…”
Why It Matters: “Bad & Boujee” is Migos’ first single to top the Billboard Hot 100. The group turned rap’s aspirational flexing into a nouveau riche trap anthem that speaks to their love of women and iced-out excess but also makes clear their willingness — if tested — to adhere to the code of the streets.
Sounds Like: A one-man tug-of-war for emotional stability across wet, slippery tiles as indifferent locker doors slam shut all around
Key Lyric: “I could be your swim mate/ I could be your slave”
Why It Matters: In a year that many of our favorite rock and roll go-tos tasted bland, we found ourselves turning to up-and-coming flavors like The Kickback more and more. The brutal catchiness, wit, and manic desperation of songs like “Hotel Chlorine” have kept us feasting all year — always allowing time to digest before jumping back in.
Sounds Like: Relaxing by the pool in the moonlight with your significant other while sipping on margaritas.
Key Lyric: “Put some spotlight on the slide/ Whatever comes, comes through clear.”
Why It Matters:Frank Ocean comes together with Migos’ Quavo and Offset on a breezy, disco pop jam that’s as deep or superficial as you want it to be. While the chorus contemplates intimacy and meaningless sex, two-thirds of 2017’s hottest trio enjoy bouncing back and forth over a groovy bass line.
Sounds Like: It’s like some ancient recording of an alien world, where silence is replaced by what can best be described as aural embalming fluid
Key Lyric: That part where your mind goes full David Bowman about three minutes and 53 seconds into this nine-minute odyssey.
Why It Matters: Brian Eno and Kevin Shields are responsible for some of the most groundbreaking music of the last few decades, and while their collaboration for Adult Swim isn’t exactly changing history, it’s certainly a little Eric Stoltz and Lea Thompson: some kind of wonderful.
21st Century PUNX Deconstructors, Trouble Making Agitators, DIY noise insurgents & Manufacturers of Dissident Political Wear.
PUNX.UK was formed by a Manchester anarcho punk collective in 2013 as a webzine sharing info on local gigs and bands.
Originally focusing on creating a DIY gig guide for our city we then expanded to cover the whole of the UK scene in 2014.
Since then we've faithfully tried to promote all the events, blogs, websites and sounds of resistance throughout the country and beyond.
In 2016 we partnered with Sabcat Workers Cooperative to produce dissident political wear providing financial support to the activist causes, benefits, unions, bands, and community groups that we work with.