By Toussaint Egan
Disclaimer: This is not a traditional “best of…end of the year” article. Rather, this is a compilation of albums and mixtapes I’ve listened to this year and thought noteworthy of a recommendation. This list is composed entirely from the perspective of my personal opinion. That being said, let’s begin…
LITTLE DRAGON – RITUAL UNION
This album is beautiful. It’s really refreshing to come across a band that’s not only talented enough to craft their own sound, but confident enough to experiment and push that sound even further. On their latest album, Little Dragon continues to deliver quality electro-pop soul music with a whimsical and quirky sense of production accentuated by lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s signature smoky-toned lyricism. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.
Favorite Tracks: Ritual Union, Shuffle a Dream, Nightlight
NOSTALGIA 77 – THE SLEEPWALKING SOCIETY
Like many of his downtempo musical contemporaries like Simon Green or Will Holland, Ben Lamdin of Nostalgia 77 has begun to embrace the emergent trend of moving away from the mix board, dabbling in live production and incorporating the element of vocal lyrics on his latest album The Sleepwalking Society. Collaborating with up-and-coming songstress Josa Peit, Lamdin creates songs that fondly evoke his musical namesake, crafting beautiful jazzy sonnets and flourishing improvisations that sweep you off your feet, enveloping you with the warmth of fond memories of places past and far away.
Favorite Tracks: Simmerdown, Beautiful Lie, Golden Morning, When Love is Strange
TOM CARUANA – BLACK GOLD: WU-TANG AND JIMI HENDRIX
Tom Caruana is a talented DJ known for remixing albums that juxtapose accapellas by iconic hip hop lyricists against an eclectic range of classic and psychedelic rock. After the phenomenal success of his last project, “Wu-Tang Vs. The Beatles: Enter the Magic Mystery Chambers”, Caruana is back with another Wu-related remix; this time set against an assortment of some of Hendrixs’ most famous songs. This compilation features a lot more minute long interludes and renditions of more Wu-Tang affiliate material, such as Raekwon’s “Built Only for Cuban Linx Pt. 2” and Killah Priest’s 1998 “Heavy Mental”. At the end of the day, its Wu-Tang mixed with Jimi Hendrix. What more needs to be said?
Favorite Tracks: House of Flying Daggers, Holla, The Switch Up
IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE – THE MARTYR
The release of Immortal Technique’s newest mixtape The Martyr could not have been timelier. Amidst a rising social tide of organized public protests and scandalous politics, Immortal Technique’s songs retain their poignancy and relevance. Though this release features a number of songs with a rotating arrangement of guest MC’s who are for the most part confident and talented enough in their ability to turn a verse, the best moments are arguably when Immortal Technique has the spotlight to himself, flowing with powerful punch lines decrying social injustice interspersed with jarring allusions to historical instances of civil disobedience.
Favorite Tracks: Rich Man’s World (1%), Eyes in the Sky, Toast to the Dead
ELZHI – ELMATIC
On his latest freely distributed mix tape, Jason “Elzhi” Powers takes on the audacious challenge of recreating and adapting the sounds and lyrics of one of hip hop’s most beloved early albums and making them his own. Collaborating with the production skills of Detroit-based jazz band Will Sessions, Elzhi melds Nas’ original rhyme scheme with his own introspective lyrics pulled from his own experiences. Elzhi achieves phenomenal results, paying tribute while at the same time casting his own shadow with terrific verses like, “They hit you with the set-up, I seen it all with my own two, the hood is like a glasshouse the devil throws stones through,” and “As I rewind mine before I got on the 1-9-9-9, Mother gave birth to this divine mind, Born with his arm leg arm head like a Quran Line.” This album is a love letter to the original Illmatic in the best possible way, paying loving homage to the recreation of a time-honored classic while creating something distinct in and of itself. I’m still mesmerized by the Will Sessions rendition of the hook from “It ain’t Hard to Tell.”
Favorite Tracks: Detroit State of Mind, The World is Yours, It ain’t Hard to Tell
BIG K.R.I.T. – RETURN OF 4EVA
This is feel good hip hop at its finest. Just when you thought that mainstream hip hop was saturated by the numbers singles romanticizing misogynism, fiscal irresponsibility, pointless violence, passive homophobia and cheesy sing talking love ballads doused with so much auto-tune it should be criminal, rappers like Big K.R.I.T. keep the faith in southern hip hop at its most honest, conscious and creative. There are a couple of party songs on this one, a few rough around the edges R&B ballads, but nothing that would throw off the persistent level of quality that K.R.I.T. maintains not only through his keen musical sensibilities as a producer but his raw lyrical honesty as a rapper as well. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this guy.
Favorite Tracks: R4 Theme Song, Dreamin’ (clean), American Rapstar, Highs and Lows, Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and encouraging Racism
RADIOHEAD – THE KING OF LIMBS
If you’re a fan of Radiohead and you were like me, pleased but polarized by the apparent over production and lack of bass and boom on this album compared to the vibrant arrangement of sounds of their previous album In Rainbows, do yourself a favor and check out the live versions from In the Basement. Trust me; it’s literally a night and day difference hearing these songs in a live capacity. If you’re not a Radiohead fan and you’re curious about getting into their music, there are a couple of good introductory tracks on this one, but I would strongly recommend beginning with their previous albums. If you are neither, then I tip my hat to you and wish you a good day.
Favorite Tracks: Bloom (Live Version), Lotus Flower, Give Up the Ghost, Separator
AMON TOBIN – ISAM
On his latest entry in experimental electronica, Amon Tobin doesn’t so much as create songs but craft soundscapes out of live field recordings morphed and manipulated into what could only be described as a cascade of thumping distortions and spindling strings collapsing into a sporadic jerking form of dubstep. The result is nothing short of out of this world, taking influence from the genre of Musique Concrete and adding it with a dash of heavier more electronic sounds reminiscent of the exotic nuances of Drew Neumann’s iconic orchestral work on Aeon Flux. If you’re ready to open yourself up to a weirder, definitively more polarizing form of electronic music, try this one for a spin.
Favorite Tracks: Journeyman, Wooden Toy, Goto 10, Kitty Cat