Larios List: First Quarter 2016
2016 has been an eclectic and boundary-defying year so far for musical releases across all genres. Alec Larios gives us his insights into the soundscapes that have made up the first three months of this year.
25. Cardi B – GANGSTA BITCH MUSIC VOL 1
Genre: Trap Rap
Favorite Tracks: “Trust Issues,” “On Fleek,” “Washpoppin,” “Trick,” “Lit Thot”
I know, I know. MTV’s LOVE AND HIP HOP star Cardi B is one of the loudest and most bombastic voices to ever grace Twitter, and depending on who you ask, she is either an inspiration to us all or a run-of-the-mill Thotiana who’s in over her head. But who would have guessed that she’d be able to translate all that energy into a pretty banging and well produced mixtape? With a charisma calling back to the hip hop ladies of the early 2000s plus some trap-inspired stylings for today’s crowd, Cardi spits even harder than her social media persona. Things even go to a more emotional direction with tracks like “Selfish” and the poignant skit “Her Perspective” contrasting with the slew of sugar daddy-shaming bangers that surround them. And yes, the cover is Cardi downing a Corona while some guy eats her out in the backseat of a car. Yup.
24. Old Man Canyon – DELIRIUM
Genre: Psych Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Learn to Forget,” “Hollow Tree,” “In My Head,” “I Don’t Wanna Go Out,” “Sugar City”
Psychedelic pop has been sounding more pop than psychedelic nowadays. Is it because Tame Impala is well past their prime? Or perhaps maybe this generation has finally discovered that acid and mushrooms produce more or less the same effect and are about as life-changing as an adult’s trip to Disneyland? Whatever the case, it’s good to have acts like Old Man Canyon take a few pages out of the trusty Impala and Portugal the Man playbook to add a little warmth to a now dumbed-down psych pop era. Canadian multi-instrumentalist Jett Pace provides a deluge of heavy, catchy synths that know exactly when to shift from high energy to melancholic. This coupled with his sensual guitar creates more than a few soothing musical landscapes, no drugs required!
23. Young Thug – SLIME SEASON 3
Genre: Hip Hop, Trap
Favorite Tracks: “With Them,” “Drippin’,” “Slime Shit,” “Problem”
So last time we saw Thugga he was making beef with Lil Wayne, Future, and even our beatmaster golden boy Metro Boomin. Since then he has been on “Sway in the Morning” claiming peace on all fronts, put out a couple releases, and even donned your grandmother’s winter coat for Yeezy Season 3 whilst collaborating with Kanye. He’s still moving on up. Just slide I’M UP under the rug. In an effort to produce mixtapes more efficiently, if not make them more refined, Thugga and his team have cut down the average song count by more than half. With this method, Young Thug avoids outlasting his welcome and thus his strikes are quick and effective. You will of course get the ingredients to the reliable Thugga formula on here including plenty of autotune, interesting beats by his faithful producers, and the signature vocals that are bound to either bang heads or confuse them. Highlights include the features by Yak Gotti, MPA Duke, and Peewee Roscoe on “Slime Shit,” as well as Thug’s robotic and Jamaican delivery switch-ups on “Drippin’.”
22. Oranssi Pazuzu – VÄRÄHTELIJÄ
Genre: Black Metal, Psychedelic Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Saturaatio,” “Värähtelijä,” “Valveavaruus”
Now that we are in 2016, the question of “Where will black metal go from here?” is constantly asked. After several disappointing releases under the flag of blackgaze and post-black metal in 2015, the genre saw itself in a bit of a creative freefall. But weird, yes? Everything is better weird! Oranssi Pazuzu, with their newest effort, seem to bravely think that going weirder is the right path and for the most part it works. Boasting more than a few entrancing bits inspired by heavy psych and ritual ambient, this album may very well bring about a new and interesting direction for black metal while at the same time being able to avoid alienating long time orthodox fans with pop guitar wankery. For those craving some metal you can study as well as rock out to or stuff that fits in a smoke filled dive bar as well as a smoke filled satanic altar, this is the album for you.
21. Låpsley – LONG WAY HOME
Genre: Art Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Heartless,” “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me),” “Love is Blind,” “Leap”
I know it makes no sense to take the piss out of pop wankery, only to recommend a pop release right after, but goddamn is this album worth some mention. The great majority of pop stars we know now only seem to give their voice to a song to have it worked up by a bunch of studio heads and complemented with various instrumentation but not Liverpudlian Holly Låpsley Fletcher. She triumphantly puts every bit of herself at the helm of this project making for a moving and atmospheric experience. Creating lustful synths, emotional pianos, playing a plethora of other instruments, and not to mention displaying a wonderfully dynamic vocal range, Låpsley borrows elements from R&B and even disco to effortlessly take Sia and Lorde off of their undeserved thrones.
20. Cobalt – SLOW FOREVER
Genre: Black Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Hunt the Buffalo,” “Beast Whip,” “King Rust,” “Elephant Graveyard”
So death metal vocalist Charlie Fell got his band taken away from him and it was a pretty good one. Many of us will have fond memories of Lord Mantis’s prime, especially the magnificent album PERVERTOR, in our dreadful nightmares. Now attaching himself to black metal band Cobalt, Fell and company are ready to make some noise. Rather than just mashing together black metal and sludge and seeing what comes out as both Cobalt and Lord Mantis have so often done, Cobalt’s long awaited SLOW FOREVER does that and more by going into some pretty ambitious territory. Through its gargantuan length, the record has some folk metal and even hints of classic rock all pasted together by Fell’s most enraged black metal screams yet.
19. Tindersticks – THE WAITING ROOM
Genre: Chamber Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Follow Me,” “Second Chance Man,” “Planting Holes,” “We Are Dreamers!”
Getting into a level of intimacy that albums rarely do, Tindersticks’ newest effort sees itself in a wondrous emotional realm that acts like Belle and Sebastian and Destroyer would only dream of reaching now. Starting out with dulcet notes paired with Stuart A. Staples’s dreary whispering, Nick Cave-y vocals, the album slowly metamorphosizes into something hauntingly emotional. Both female vocalist features from Lhasa de Sela and Jehnny Beth come right at the perfect moments with one welcoming the record’s transition and the other warning of its close. This one is a creepy lullaby almost headed towards the lonely desolation that was Tindersticks’ peak in the 90s or last year’s impeccable Boduf Songs release.
18. Bas – TOO HIGH TO RIOT
Genre: Conscious Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Too High to Riot,” “Dopamine,” “Housewives,” “Night Job”
It’s a shame that Lord Bas still isn’t getting as much love as he deserves. Paris-born rapper of Sudanese descent, Abbas “Bas” Hamad now resides in Queens and is attached to J.Cole’s crew and Dreamville label despite having significantly more talent and wordplay ability than Cole. Though it might not be as groundbreaking as Bas’s 2014 debut, TOO HIGH TO RIOT still has Bassy at his best. There’s some dark and dreary production that has atmosphere but doesn’t fall into the now routine trappings of trap or cloud rap. And of course Bas himself also delivers, spitting in his forlorn and introspective style ruthless lines like “Until your nation apologize/I fuck a European bitch for every African nation they colonize/And add us some commas there to follow my dollars sign” on the title track.
17. Spektr – THE ART TO DISAPPEAR
Genre: Black Metal, Industrial
Favorite Tracks: “Again,” “Kill Again,” “Your Flesh is a Relic,” “The Art to Disappear”
As said before with Oranssi Pazuzu, black metal seems to be spreading its tentacles a bit into some weird areas now instead of funneling itself into one sub-sub-subgenre. One aspect of black metal that has prevailed throughout the years is its ties with the genre of noise. Whether it be the works of Mories in Gnaw Their Tongues or Ulver’s early stuff, black noise has had its share of fans and always seemed to favor layers of feedback and harshness. French two-piece Spektr turns that on its head by attaching the more industrial and avant-garde to black metal in ways many artists rarely fathom. It took a couple listens, but let me put it this way: There’s a track on here entitled “From the Terrifying to the Fascinating,” and that name perfectly describes the type of experience this album presents.
16. Boosie Badazz – IN MY FEELINGS. (GOIN’ THRU IT)
Genre: Hip Hop, Trap
Favorite Tracks: “The Rain,” “Cancer,” “Bad Guy,” “Call of Duty”
Louisiana rapper Boosie Badazz, like many rappers of his time, likes to keep himself incredibly busy and almost always at the studio. So the story goes: Boosie is released from prison narrowingly dodging the death penalty, puts out a fairly solid but slept-on mixtape in 2015, and is then suddenly diagnosed with cancer. Filled with a mixture of sadness and rage, Boosie booked it to the recording booth to verbalize his frustrations. The result is IN MY FEELINGS. (GOIN’ THRU IT). Rarely do we ever get a hip hop artist at this point. Hearing Boosie contemplate on the fragility of his own life, recalling his crying spells while still going hard with his classic crunk delivery, is strong evidence for the impact hip hop can have as an art form. Suck it, Gene.
15. Entropia – UFONAUT
Genre: Black Metal, Progressive Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Fractal,” “Apogeum,” “Mandala,” “Veritas”
Black metal a lot of times gets thrown accusations of being one of the more uninspired offerings of extreme metal with merely tremolo picking and blast beats being the only two necessary components. Polish black metal outfit Entropia prove with UFONAUT that that is simply not the case. Anxiety-inducing screams, vigorous drumming, intense arpeggiation evolving from post-black metal, and moments of electronic peppered in adding a space rock or sci-fi mystique really take this album to a whole other level. Like VÄRÄHTELIJÄ, UFONAUT is down for a bit of psych, but the technical skill involved in its dynamic shifts from sludge to black to post-black to who-the-hell-knows uncategorizable metal is absolutely mind-melting.
14. The Jezabels – SYNTHIA
Genre: Art Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Stand and Deliver,” “My Love is My Disease,” “Smile,” “Unnatural,” “Pleasure Drive”
One of the few releases in recent memory to capture modern female melancholy without being insufferably preachy or anti-men, The Jezabels’ SYNTHIA is not your average “white girl blues” record. Lines that are strangely profound like “They seek the shade you can only get from the holes in her body” on “Come Alive” are delivered by Hayley Mary’s somber yet passionate voice and covered by some amazing instrumentation. Synths and guitars strictly avoid lazy shoegaze or dream pop monotony and become so moody, ranging from oppressive to triumphant, that one cannot help but have a few nerves struck.
13. WestsideGunn – FLYGOD
Genre: Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Dunks,” “Vivian at the Art Basel,” “Bodies on Fairfax,” “Omar’s Coming”
Originally from Buffalo but now residing in Atlanta, WestsideGunn has been rhyming for quite some time now. With an incredibly out there vocal style that lands somewhere in between a black Joe Pesci and Mike Tyson, WestsideGunn can easily carve his own spot in both the heavily saturated South and East Coast hip hop scenes. Following his exceptional HITLER WEARS HERMES series, Gunn refines his sound and gets a hold of some pretty great features by Skyzoo, Action Bronson, and Danny Brown on FLYGOD. And with production from Soundcloud unknowns like Daringer and Camouflage Monk vying to find new avenues in a nostalgic East Coast vibe, this release is well worth checking out.
12. Obscura – AKRÓASIS
Genre: Technical Death Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Sermon of the Seven Suns,” “Akróasis,” “Fractal Dimension,” “Weltseele”
Taking some obvious cues from tech death metal giants Gorguts, German band Obscura manages to hit it out of the park with this one despite having a ton of lineup drama. Attaining a new drummer, guitarist, and bass player, the new Obscura instantly finds chemistry. Magnificently filling more than a few voids, the band challenge themselves at every turn with Cynic-inspired progressive bits and crazy time signatures that push this album towards the cinematic. Every member, especially those new to the band, is given their time to shine with each performance flawlessly flowing into the next. This must mean that band leader and sole Obscura veteran Steffen Kummerer is working with some pretty powerful metal magic when his band can go through such crucial changes and still manage to top their previous work.
11. Chairlift – MOTH
Genre: Synthpop, Indie Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Look Up,” “Polymorphing,” “Crying in Public,” “Show U Off”
The new album by Chairlift is clear proof that pop’s movement to the more sophisticated and intelligent is much more than a radio listener’s fever dream. MOTH is both personal with Caroline Polachek’s smooth singing and incredibly catchy thanks to dreamy instrumentation by her and partner Patrick Wimberly. Spellbinding synths produce a rather mechanical feel that hypnotically mixes with Polachek’s distinctly human voice uttering relatable lyrics of love and adulthood. And once a little autotune is put into the scene, the beautiful fusion is complete. Maintaining that certain vulnerable warmth while still appealing to artificial pop sensibilities is no easy task.
10. Yung Lean – WARLORD
Genre: Cloud Rap
Favorite Tracks: “Immortal,” “Highway Patrol,” “Fantasy,” “Hoover,” “More Stacks,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Miami Ultras”
Though the appeal of Yung Lean may be elusive to some, there is no doubt that Sad Boys Entertainment is here to stay. Most of WARLORD, especially the first half, is standard Lean fare. As always, the spotlight is on the production, once again mostly handled by Sherman and Gud. Their hauntingly synthetic beats still create an oppressive and drugged-out mood, but this time the atmosphere is so prominent that Yung Lean is occasionally forced to venture outside his comfortable monotonic vocal delivery. Lean’s voice trades stoned inebriation for feisty charisma and even screaming fury, sometimes reminiscent of fellow white rapper BONES. Combine this with a plethora of effects that Lean’s producers slap onto his voice and you have an album S A D B O Y S the world over have been dreaming of.
Read the full review here.
9. Mutant – PLEIADES
Genre: Thrash Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Guerra Florida,” “Obsidian,” “Road to Xibalba,” “Twelve Gods,” “Nahual”
Spanish thrash metal band Mutant have got something truly epic in their hands with this one. It’s easy to see that a common theme on this list is the ability to mix up different styles and influences, and holy Hell does Mutant do that so exceptionally well. Adding a flood of tech death expertise, groovy jazz notes, and tribal ambient on top of an unforgiving thrash metal soundscape has never been done so perfectly. There are times when PLEIADES goes from menacingly dark and intense to celebratory or even heroic. Plus Pla Vinseiro’s voice doing what could have been Lemmy if he went down the death metal route is something that fans of any type of metal should not pass up.
8. Bones – USELESS
Genre: Cloud Rap
Favorite Tracks: “RestInPeace,” “GladWeHaveAnUnderstanding,” “RightOnSchedule,” “Coinstar”
I’ve been accused more than a few times of being a Bones apologist, but it’s easy for everyone to see that we are experiencing him at his peak right now. Finally realizing that his one verse style is done best when his delivery is at its loudest, the white Los Angeles rapper prolongs cloud rap’s life by distancing himself from cookie cutter trap while still going as hard as he can. While the screaming anger present in this mixtape is definitely the hottest selling point, Bones’s traditional prospects of ghostly vocals, depressing lyrics, and TEAMSESH’s gloomy production are still here at full force. This is simply where Bones was always meant to be and a great mixtape to start with for those finding his overabundance of releases intimidating to take on or anyone new to cloud rap altogether.
7. Paul Jebanasam – CONTINUUM
Favorite Tracks: “eidolons beginning p = (m²A ² am to (rho-z)-y ∂t+(ρ see to wait dz/dt = it xy that I -beta* do not z countless,” “search another 3Hφ˙ = lose you i), place i=0 doubt I V (φ) am ∝ exp( √ 16π to meet you again pm² P φ”
Who would have thought that a former dubstep and house producer would be able to fashion a pretty engaging drone ambient release? Sri Lankan artist Paul Jebanasam smashes the overused electronic trope of synthesizer blasts onto a potter’s wheel then quickly stretches and shapes it into a dreamlike journey from the deepest reaches of space and back. At first drawing the listener in with heavenly tones then throwing in some waves of noise to eventually crescendo into a dramatically tear-jerking close, CONTINUUM comes close to being a life-altering album rivaling the noted works of Ben Frost in his prime.
6. Boris with Merzbow – GENSHO
Genre: Drone, Noise
Favorite Tracks: “Huge,” “Sometimes,” “Heavy Rain,” “Vomitself,” “Goloka Pt. 2,” “Prelude to a Broken Arm”
Here comes the dream team again, the Kobe and Shaq of weirdly innovative Japanese music. This project is a bit of a head scratcher with how you are to go about enjoying it, but even if one is supposed to listen to the Boris disc and Merzbow disc at the same time, GENSHO is absolutely jaw-dropping whether you take it in as intended or sequentially. Here you basically have Japanese metal band Boris, after a string of pretty disappointing releases in the past few years, taking some of their greatest tracks and recreating them to be even more dark and droney. Then comes our buddy Merzbow with a surprisingly listenable torrent of noise longing for an unholy marriage with Boris’s soul-crushing guitars that’s sure to be a “phenomenon.”
5. Venetian Snares – TRADITIONAL SYNTHESIZER MUSIC
Genre: Drill and Bass, IDM
Favorite Tracks: “Dreamt Person v3,” “Everything About You is Special,” “Decembers,” “Can’t Vote for Yourself v1,” “She Married a Chess Computer in the End”
This is a confusing turn in Canadian electronic producer Aaron Funk’s music career, if confusing can mean becoming sonically less confusing and much more privy to modern electronic tastes. The aptly named TRADITIONAL SYNTHESIZER MUSIC still has a few Venetian Snares challenges here and there for old times’ sake, but it boldly goes in a more optimistic direction than usual. There are even tracks on here that could be, dare I say, danceable. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it when Funk marched to the beat of his cold, robotic heart, but the addition of brighter and warmer synths on here are way too fun to not love.
4. Open Mike Eagle and Paul White – HELLA PERSONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Genre: Conscious Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Admitting the Endorphin Addiction,” “I Went Outside Today,” “Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)”, “Leave People Alone, “Drunk Dreaming”
More often than not, fans of rap music, like myself and many others, will forgive an artist’s lazy lyricism. But experiencing a true poet who has mastered all manners of wordplay and is able to be heartbreakingly real with their words is something to cherish. Enter California rapper Open Mike Eagle who has made a name for himself by being one of the most brutally honest and endearing wordsmiths in the game today. Touchy topics that Mike covers include the usual such as race and drugs but go even deeper with notions of modern technological enslavement by smartphone, corporate corruption, and social anxiety. And with an incredibly competent producer in Paul White at the helm, most noted for his work on Danny Brown’s XXX, this album is a godsend with a nostalgic flair and poignant samples.
3. Baaba Maal – THE TRAVELLER
Genre: Mbalax, West African
Favorite Tracks: “Fulani Rock,” “Gilli Men,” “Lampenda,” “Traveller,” “Jam Jam”
Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Maal returns after many years with an album that is downright spiritual. Refusing to give up his spot as one of the most influential figures in African music, Baaba Maal showcases his sensual guitar playing to be just as expressive as his voice. Though we don’t understand much of what he is saying in his native Pulaar tongue, it’s nearly impossible not to stomp your feet to the high energy tribal rhythms or be swept away by one of his more heart-rending pieces. Though a good amount of the album has him sticking to his roots, a little bit delves into Baaba Maal indulging in some modern music production magic that pairs his singing with some wondrous electronic that easily entrance. Overall, it’s a wonderful introduction to his music and a surefire sign that he is perfectly capable to continue making more.
2. Denzel Curry – IMPERIAL
Genre: Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “ULT,” “Gook,” “Knotty Head,” “Story: No Title,” “Zenith,” “If Tomorrow’s Not Here”
Florida rapper Denzel Curry has finally made his opus, folks. After breaking away from Raider Klan and Spaceghostpurrp, scoring a Robb Bank$ and Lil Ugly Mane feature on his criminally underrated album NOSTALGIC 64, and coming out with a lukewarm double EP, Curry gives us IMPERIAL. With this release, think of what Bones did on USELESS and kick it up about ten notches. The production here is dark and atmospheric but is really only there to give spotlight to Curry’s impassioned and intense rapping. Most all the hip hop releases on this list “go hard,” but one would be pressed to find another rapper from any year go harder, to an almost overwhelming degree, than Curry on this record. IMPERIAL proves that a rapper today need not fall into the confines of trap or be forced to rhyme in a stoner voice to have a glorious hip hop release under their belt.
1. Gesu no Kiwami Otome – RYOSEIBAI
Favorite Tracks: “両成敗でいいじゃない (ryoseibai de iijanai),” “ロマンスがありあまる (romance ga ariamaru),” “シリアルシンガー(serial singer),” “心歌舞く(kokorokabuku),” “無垢な季節 (mukuna kisetsu),” “Mr.ゲスX (Mr.gesuX)”
Don’t let the Japanese text steer you away! The newest outing by J-rock band Gesu no Kiwami Otome is utterly sensational. A delightful blend of alt rock, math rock, jazz, and funk, RYOSEIBAI gracefully dodges being categorized as anime opening-core and highlights what the apex of “progressive pop” should sound like. Touching acoustic segments have no problem mingling alongside lush synths, and Enon Kawatani’s voice is just as sweet and upbeat as the exciting guitars and complex piano arrangements that are prevalent throughout this release. It’s incredibly difficult to listen to this and not be impressed with the amount of sheer talent poured in. Even those completely turned off by music of this kind may be tickled by RYOSEIBAI. I quickly found that the big, dumb smile I had on my face shortly after starting this album eventually tasted some salty tears of joy when headed towards the end. I cannot recommend this one enough!