June’s Top Five Albums

If the middle of a month is too late for a Top-Five list for the previous month, we apologize. It’s July. It’s Summer. It’s a World Cup year.

Excuses aside, here is our list for top pickin’s in music for the month of June.

  1. Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence
  2. Damani Nkosi: Thoughtful King
  3. Buckshot & P-Money: Backpack Travels
  4. The Antlers: Familiars
  5. White Lung: Deep Fantasy

Think Mazzy Star crossed with Fiona Apple: “Black Beauty” from Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence (Deluxe Edition):

It reminds me of Guru’s Jazzmatazz series: “FreeDumb (Chains Off)” from Damani Nkosi’s Thoughtful King:

“Sweetest Thing” featuring T’Nah Apex from Buckshot & P-Money’s Backpack Travels:

“Hotel” from The Antlers’ Familiars:

Last but not least, from Canada. It’s nice to hear a female front vocalist do good punk: “Face Down” from White Lung’s Deep Fantasy:

Swans: ‘To Be [Best of Its] Kind’

There are broadly two ways to make a mark in music. You can either have an interesting, unique voice (be it singing, songwriting, arrangements, sound, or all of the above) or you can have a singular vision and execute it with ruthless precision.

Swans’ latest effort mostly falls in the latter category. With just over two hours of relentless sonic creativity, it’s a musical monolith only matched by their previous effort. 

Stylistically, it has more vocals, is more uniform and has less diversions than their previous effort, The Seer. Though while listening to the album I felt it was King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King played by an absinthe addled musical equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson. It had shades of madness we grew to love in System of a Down (Hypnotize / Mesmerize to be exact) and some noise rock borrowed from The Melvins.

To Be Kind did to post-noise/prog/rock, what Deafheaven did to heavy metal last year. It made me (us) sit up and take notice of a genre that has slipped away from mainstream consciousness.

I won’t be surprised if this ends up being my best album for the year.

An Illadelphia Come Up? Patty Crash via The Roots

Upon hearing the first two tracks to The Roots’ newly released And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, I knew it’d be up my alley. Nina Simone (whose voice entered the mainstream through Yeezus’ “Blood On The Leaves“) evokes images of an Alfred Hitchcock movie or a first-season Twilight Zone episode with “Theme From Middle of the Night.”

Things turn darker with Portishead-Dummy-esque overtones on “Never,” which features Icelander Patty Crash whom I hope to hear more of on future unlikely collaborations. She comes into the track with a color in her voice conveying sinister sorrow as if a cynic looking into a hopeless void of a spiritual savior, pitch black and never.

The Roots and Patty Crash: though certainly unlikely in the conventional sense, theirs is a charming fit, especially when bad pop hasn’t yet gotten a hold of youth with such character. Here’s to hoping Crash continues in the style of an Illadelphia come up.

Malachai’s ‘Beyond Ugly’ Isn’t So More Than It Is Experimental, Interesting

It’s an odd admission to make, but sometimes I get introduced to new music from the British motoring program Top Gear. Quite odd, considering I do listen to a lot of BBC 6music and a regular visitor to Stereogum and between the two I believe get all the alt-music I can handle. So when the first thought to seeing a hapless James May trying to cope with the near vulgar levels of Caterham’s power was, “What’s that song?”, I knew I had to give it a listen . . .

Sure enough, I found the song to be by a band called Malachai. The track? “Sweet flower.” The video? Absurd.

For a lead single to sound something like a cross between early noughties Oasis and early noughties Arctic Monkeys, the rest of the album is almost diametrically opposite to it (there is a track which is basically an old Hindi song with singing on top of it!) Experimental-psychedelic pop is probably the best way to describe the rest of the album with collaborations from Sergio Pizzorno of English rock band, Kasabian, only adding to its overall loopy-ness.

A sojourn into their previous efforts and the backing of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow help cement Malachai, a duo of Gee Ealey and DJ Scott Hendy, as a sort of musical equivalent to Psychedelic methadone.

Overall, I would say it’s probably not for everyone (even less so, if you are a “Straight Edge, like me); although I did find the entire catalog (A.K.A the “ugly” trilogy) to be an amiable diversion to say the least and it’s always interesting to see the odd little crevices of creativity that music has squeezed itself into.

Consuming Music in a Digital Age: Bret Easton Ellis on Singles vs Albums

Kanye West was Bret Easton Ellis’s first guest; Marilyn Manson his second (Bret then speaking through an increasing buzz off tequila and Marilyn discussing pop culture while sipping absinthe). The author of Glamorama, Less Than Zero, and American Psycho, Ellis has hosted his own podcast since November 11, 2013, and, a fan of B.E.E. after having thrice read American Psycho, I now tune in to this podcast every week which features mainly screenwriters and musicians conversing about Hollywood, whether we are in fact in a golden age of television, behind-the-scenes production of films, commerce in entertainment in the digital age, and writers’ struggles.

On May 12, Ellis spoke to musician and Philadelphia-native Kurt Vile, whom Ellis at one point in the podcast stated that he’d once tweeted “might be the future of rock.” The pair discussed, among other things, the phenomena of a culture effervescent for social media and being in-the-know so therefore steeped in over-consumption of content resulting in an increasingly dissipating attention span. A side effect: people now consume music in bits (singles) rather than a full course (albums). As someone of so-called Generation X, an era when people consumed music in the way presented them rather than in popularized $1.29 downloadable bits, I’m in the same camp as Ellis of which he states:

I’m more seduced by a series of songs that are ordered in such a way by an artist and which is more satisfying to me as a listener. I usually listen to music vis-a-vis the record rather than the single which is of course where music is located now more than ever. The single is the message because the single is all about popularity and popularity is craved to an almost fanatical degree leaving the idea of the album as something of a relic — the album is sort of too long.

Short documentary of Kurt Vile’s “Wakin on a Pretty Daze:”

In our heyday of vice, Musicritx collaborator Robert Kerestes once introduced me to Fragile by Yes while properly indisposed by substance; though we still clung to a crystallized experience, sobered through that album’s topography. And it was indeed an experience from beginning to end, track by track. It was also the first time I’d realized why limits in choosing individual songs on vinyl gave the world great albums. Setting the needle and leaving it to drag along the groove over an entire record made musicians consider an artistic element to the way they served music to listeners; they composed individual songs yet were inclined to exquisitely coalesce them as a full record thus allowing us to consume it in a continuous, digestive listen. Records were the canvas, the stage, and The Dark Side of the Moon and Fragile were directed pieces of art.

Bret Easton Ellis, in his discussion with Kurt Vile, on why he prefers the album as opposed to the single:

The meaning of Yeezus by Kanye West is completely different than if you just listen to ‘Black Skinhead.’ And the way Yeezus is built, by the time ‘Blood On The Leaves‘ plays, you have been through an emotional experience that makes the placement of that song even more devastating than it would be just as an unmoored single.

Jason Isbell’s “Elephant” from Southeastern:

This is true for albums as disparate as Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories to Jason Isbell’s Southeastern to Drake and Kendrick Lamar‘s last records. The meaning for some of us isn’t the single, the one song, the four-minute YouTube clip. The meaning is the collection of songs culminating in a fifty-minute experience, and that’s a different kind of experience, a different kind of  enjoyment than the single, The single is more fleeting, more disposable, more immediate. The album [on the other hand] works as a long-form narrative, growing in intensity as you listen to track, following track, following track.

Kendrick Lamar’s “The Art of Peer Pressure” from Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City:

Redemption That Makes Me Want To Have Dissed My Own Mom. Kind Of

Venice, Italy, 2003: It’s where and when I’d first heard Infinite (1996), on a college trip. Following that was “Any Man” from the Soundbombing II compilation (1999). I was a bit innocent in hip-hop to take The Slim Shady LP seriously, though (1999); I considered it too commercial at a time I was just getting to know rap — after all, when Big L’s Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous was your favorite album, not even a Dr. Dre production could have topped it. Now, listening to “Role Model” fifteen years later, I can’t believe my oversight.

The Marshall Mathers LP 2, released November 5, 2013, is only beginning to gain traction in my playlist. Although I’m not crazy for Shady in the least, for a serious hip-hop listener I’m entertaining the idea of calling myself a fan, especially after hearing “Rap God,” a ferocious reign of lyricism to counter critics’ claims that Em’s gone pop. Then there’s the latest Spike Lee mini-joint; a music video for “Headlights,” track fifteen on MMLP2.

It pays homage to Shady’s mother whom the video takes its perspective. While we’re shown images of a washed-up Debbie Mathers smoking and drinking in her reminiscence of a son, Shady reveals through reflective lyrics some regret at his slandering disses of his own mother on past records. Eventually they encounter one another: her stepping out of a tattered, perhaps 1998 Honda Civic; him stepping out of his more charmingly souped-up Dodge; they embrace on Sunnyside Drive. Other than the obvious pleasant surprise that he acknowledges his mother in such manner, I particularly like the tone of Shady’s rapper’s emotion (Em doesn’t go all R&B-ish; he keeps it Detroit).

In the end, rather than a bill-collection notice in the mail, Ms. Mather’s receives a hand-written letter from her son as if to say, “Happy Mother’s Day.” The video debuted on Sunday, May 11. I’m also almost a fan.

Cleanin’ Out My Closet” from The Eminem Show (2002):

See what hurts me the most is you won’t admit you was wrong / Bitch do your song – keep tellin’ yourself that you was a mom / But how dare you try to take what you didn’t help me to get / You selfish bitch; I hope you fuckin’ burn in hell for this shit

My Mom” from Relapse (2009):

My mom loved Valium and lots of drugs
 / That’s why I am like I am, cause I’m like her
 / Because my mom loved Valium and lots of drugs
 / That’s why I’m on, what I’m on, cause I’m my mom

“Headlights” from The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (2013):

But I’m sorry momma for ‘Cleaning Out My Closet,’ at the time I was angry / Rightfully, maybe so, never meant that far to take it though / Cause, now I know it’s not your fault and I’m not making jokes / That song I’ll no longer play at shows and I cringe every time it’s on the radio

Eminem, his mother, and Detroit:

Don’t Get Us Wrong. We Loved The Pixies Before ‘Fight Club’

Can I just say one thing?

I ask this in a drunken state of agonizing longing for the Pixies in their former glory after hearing Indie Cindy, their comeback album. I ask no one as I am alone in my apartment with Death To The Pixies playing at piercing volume. I’m holding a full glass of Merlot and peering out my window from the 10th floor, yelling:

Kim Deal singing backup vocals is one of the finer subtleties in music! IT’S A FINE SUBTLETY!! LISTEN TO THAT VOICE!!

I’m smiling like a maniacal clown and I’m ravenous and I begin scrolling through iTunes, seeking tracks to feed my craving for fine subtly, talking to no one, myself:

That silky gloom in her voice when she says ‘DEBASER‘ or when she repeats ‘CHAINED’ on “Hey” or when she moans in a high morose melody on “Tame.” When she sings a simple ‘LA-LAA’ on “Gouge Away,” it’s as if she’s the only person who can add such threat to the murky vibe.

Then I uncork another bottle of Merlot.

Alas, Kim Deal has departed and her bass is trying to be filled and I long for “Bone Machine” and “Gigantic.”

*   *   *

From collaborator Vikram TG:

Update on Pixies’ new album: it’s titled ‘Indie Cindy,’ their first album in 23 years, and its disappointing to say the least . . . one of the worst reunion albums AFAIK. Worse than the Stooges’ 2009 album and Chinese Democracy put together. Compare the Pixies’ comeback to last year’s ‘MBV’ by My Bloody Valentine, who also had the same period between releases, and it is very clear when something is done as a perfunctory exercise rather than out of passion; ‘Indie Cindy’ is a prime example of it.

Ouch. Sorry, Charles.

April’s Top-5 Albums

  1. Pharoahe Monch: PTSD
  2. Woods: With Light and Love
  3. Mobb Deep: The Infamous Mobb Deep
  4. Paolo Nutini: Caustic Love
  5. Blueprint: Respect the Architect

Having become a fan of Pharoahe Monch from his days on the Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing underground hip-hop compilations — which are, by the way, more blueprint to rap than Jay-Z lays stake to — in the 1990s, never would I have thought of listening to him now with the same impression. On PTSD, Pharoahe is on a mission to inject hip-hop with the message that social struggle and political commentary have more substance than misogyny and braggadocio. Where I now see Kanye West as almost a sideshow with such commentary in his music, I’m frightened more by Pharoahe’s intelligence accompanied by his ominously crafted rhymes lurking beneath his modest persona. It’s no wonder Eminem name-dropped him in a well-deserved salute on “Rap God:”

I know there was a time where once I, was king of the underground / But I still rap like I’m on my Pharoahe Monch grind

Back to PTSD: Pharoahe’s perspective in the skin of gunmetal on “Damage:”

Sworn to be cannon fodder for your father slaughter daughters / Armor piercing tumblers more deadlier than napalm / Fuck a stray bullet I take aim when the gun draws / For everlasting fame I will maim those who change the gun laws / Cause post traumatic stress disorder, ask any vet I’ve worked with / My purpose like catching bodies in safety nets at the circus

“Rapid Eye Movement” and “D.R.E.A.M.” are two notable tracks featuring well-respected MCs in the underground, Black Thought and Talib Kweli, respectively. They also showcase the work of Marco Polo and Lee Stone, two producers worth noting.

Woods’ “Moving To The Left” is the standout track on With Light and Love, though you don’t want to judge the entire album by it since the rest of the record is an overall mellow listen. With spring rolling into summer soon, it’s a great album that conjures feelings of outdoor concerts and music festivals. Paolo Nutini’s Caustic Love at no. 4 is the other indie record leading our feelings into milder climates with funkier grooves and a soulful edge. Nutini is Scottish but he lets loose in Hollywood in the video for the fittingly titled, “Scream (Funk My Life Up).”

Being that the Musicritx are ardent fans of hip-hop, we anticipated Mobb Deep’s comeback album, The Infamous Mobb Deep, as a shoe-in for April’s Top-5. As much as Havoc and Prodigy hold up with a 2-disc release featuring their signature hard-core rhymes concerning street-life in Queensbridge, a real treat for fans comes as the previously unreleased recording for “Eye For An Eye.” When guests Nas, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah drop menacing bars it’s as if you’re back in 1995 and . . .

lost in the blocks of hate and can’t wait for the next crab nigga to step and meet fate — Right Back at You, ‘The Infamous’

Have a listen below. Enjoy.

“Rapid Eye Movement” by Pharaohe Monch featuring Black Thought:

“Moving To The Left” by Woods:

“Eye For An Eye,” previously unreleased, by Mobb Deep:

March’s Top-5 Albums

When rapper Freddie Gibbs discussed his collaborative album with Madlib, entitled Piñata, in Clash Music, he didn’t hold back on the calling out:

When [Rick] Ross and [Young] Jeezy tell you they got 100 bricks, you don’t believe that shit. That ain’t true.

On “Thuggin’,” the eighth track on the album, he separates contender from pretenders; him the former, others the latter:

Niggas be like ‘Fred, you ain’t never lied’ / Fuck the rap shit, my gangsta been solidified

We’re not against rap, but we’re against those thugs / Can’t be legit when every nigga in your click sold drugs

When you grow up in Gary, Indiana, the bonafide swagger comes with the territory. Freddie Gibbs sews threatening street anecdotes into accommodating beats from California producer, Madlib, at times reminiscent of 1970’s funk and at other times sounds of gangsta soul. An unlikely combination, this duo may just have created one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. Their respective styles complement one another resulting in a serious sound unlike that peppering Billboard charts — a sound of stories reflective of genuine street life over refreshing instrumentation rather than just that “rap shit.” Fans of hip-hop will definitely take note after seeing tracks laced with Raekwon, Scarface, Earl Sweatshirt, and Ab-Soul.

For something lighter than MadGibbs, English indie-rockers of Elbow present a heavy shawl wrapped with horns and organs trumpeting inspiring melody. Watch the video for the single “New York Morning” and gain a glimmer of attitude to “get up and go. New York, here I come.”

If you’re a fan of Fleetwood Mac or possess nostalgia for Springsteen-esque arrangements, The War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream serves up well in that regard. At one point I was half-expecting Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” to pay a cameo.

Collaborator Vikram TG put MØ on the radar and after listening I couldn’t help but think of it as a more sobering Lady Gaga crossed with Beyoncé’s production team. Danes do nice pop.


  1. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata
  2. Elbow: The Take Off and Landing of Everything
  3. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream
  4. MØ: No Mythologies to Follow
  5. Real Estate: Atlas

“Thuggin'” by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib from Piñata:

“New York Morning” by Elbow from The Take Off and Landing of Everything:

“XXX” by MØ feat. Diplo from No Mythologies To Follow:

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