On my first listen of Earl Sweatshirt’s third album, Some Rap Songs, I thought a lot about that title. Some Rap Songs. It struck me as sort of commentary on how so many people consume music in 2018. Here’s this rapper that has been buzzed about for years. Here’s his album. Listen to it, get it or don’t, and move on to the next thing. What was it? Some rap songs. It’s a notion portrayed in the cover art too; a blurry, borderline frightening image of Earl is front and center — an image that renders the creator of this album nearly faceless. In my mind, it all fits, being brilliantly calculated and serving a specific purpose; an analogy for this record as a whole.
This was not a record meant to be released in this time, but couldn’t have come out at a better one. If you think the intention was to just deliverer “some rap songs,” you’d be mistaken. No. instead what’s been presented here is a masterclass in album making, Earl Sweatshirt’s finest work to date. and one of the most forward-thinking and boundary-pushing rap records of this decade.
You probably know the story already: Earl, a near mythological figure in rap already at only 24 years of age, has been in the spotlight since his early teens. Born Thebe Kgositsile, Earl made his start in the Tyler, The Creator-founded hip-hop coalition, Odd Future. He was sent away to a boarding school in Samoa for at-risk teens right after the release of his first mixtape, only then to make a triumphant return with his first proper record, Doris, in 2013, and following that up with the brilliant, now cult classic I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside in 2015. I Don’t Like Shit marked the signs of a significant stylistic shift and the start of a new era for Earl.
The cover for Anderson Paak’s latest album, Oxnard, immediately gives the impression of a film. “Starring Anderson Paak,” it reads, much like the marquee on a movie poster. And like a movie poster, we see an array of images all pertaining to Paak’s life. These include images of his son, two of the members of his band The Free Nationals, as well as Paak himself, standing before a large crowd next to the most glaring inclusion, which is hip-hop legend Dr. Dre. All of these images are portrayed in a cloud of smoke, as Paak stands firmly there, arms open, assuredly singing something uplifting and life-affirming.
This is the poster to the film that is Anderson Paak, Oxnard being the third film of the trilogy — and the biggest one to date due to his meteoric rise in the public consciousness in the last two years. Keeping this in mind, despite my hype for this record and my love of Paak’s previous works, I still had my apprehensions about this project. I wondered if this newfounded backing and production by Dre and his label Aftermath would result in a production too large with stakes so high that it might suck the soul out of what makes Paak so great — the soul that was allowed to freely reign on a record like Malibu. Would Oxnard be marred by tracks lacking the songwriting ability that made his previous works so instantly lovable and memorable?
10 years ago, a multi-colored, noisy yet pop-inclined punk record and band made a significant splash in the underground music scene. I’m talking about Nouns, by the L.A.-based duo No Age. This wasn’t my first exposure to the band — that came in the form of the almost equally brilliant follow-up: 2010’s Everything In Between, which is a much more polished, fleshed-out take on the band’s sound.
After falling in love with In Between, I undertook the journey every music nerd gets to embark on once they discover a new band they enjoy — I checked out their old shit. Upon coming across a copy of the aforementioned 2008 debut release at a local book/record store that I now work for — your probable response to this sentence: “Of course this dude works for a book/record store” *rolls eyes* — and it became “one of those albums” to me. What do I mean by that? Well, not only is it a record which I feel a certain attachment and undying love for the songs on it, but it helped steep and cement my interest and need to explore more and more avenues of indie and underground music leading to why I’m here, doing what I do today.
Now here we are, 10 years and three records later, and No Age are back at it with a new release entitled Snares Like A Haircut. The hype was real for this one, my friends. Does it disappoint?
This is the fourth year I’ve published a top records of the year list. And honestly, making this one was maybe the hardest. I’ve never had a year where my choices have flip-flopped as much as they have here. Even in years prior, my number one was always a clear choice, but this time around it balanced between a solid five records that I would interchange to potentially be deemed my favorite.
I think that stands as a major testament to how good music really was this year (or perhaps how big of a nerd I am). The best part about making this year’s list was how much of a challenge it was, and I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank everyone who had the audacity to pursue a life in music. From the struggling local act to the stadium fillers, thank you for making life so much sweeter for what you do.
I always say personal taste is like D.N.A., in that it’s all reactionary and a reflection of who you are; mirroring what you believe in. One type is never the same as another’s, and what works for one doesn’t apply to everyone, because it makes you who you are.
THE LIST. The List. Everyone has one, so what’s the point?
This past year, I feel like it’s impossible to not have some kind of ranking for what you’re the biggest nerd about, whether it be films, books, comics, TV, etc. It’s everyone’s chance to sound like a know-it-all critic to your friends who look at you (but will never admit to it) to know what’s the best of the best regarding that specific medium; that whatever that person is gonna say is of the highest caliber regarding something they love and you can tell from that twinkle in their eye as they tell you (I work at a bookstore, so believe me, I can spot that look instantaneously now). This is that list, and I am that nerd.
Without further ado, here is part one of two ranking my favorite records of 2017 (and if you haven’t already, also take a look back at my honorable mentions list featuring another 15 records from this year):
We’ve finally arrived at the end of the year; a year in which every lone week felt like it’s own self-contained 365 days. If there was any ray of light in a year filled with nuclear tension, lies, and the loss of respect for many in the entertainment community, it was the great art that 2017 has brought us — particularly in music. This Thanksgiving weekend, before we get to the legitimate two course meal of my 30 album year-end list (albums 30-16 go up next Friday, and 15-1 the week after), I’m serving this hors d’oeuvre, and talking about some of my favorite albums of the year… that unfortunately didn’t make my year-end list for 2017.
Doing this accomplishes a couple things:
1. It gives me an excuse to talk about my favorite records of the year a little earlier.
2. It makes my year-end list shorter than it has to be.
3. It generates hype for what will actually make the final 30.
4. You can get mad at me early for not having your favorite albums in my definitive list.
Hope you all have a good weekend spending time and appreciating the ones you love, and, of course, spinning these albums.
“I want Brockhampton to be something that lasts beyond me. Yeah, that’s the goal.” – Kevin Abstract, founding member of BROCKHAMPTON.
The story of L.A.-based hip-hop outfit BROCKHAMPTON is a bit of an unconventional one, especially in the world of hip hop. The group formed after Kevin Abstract (real name Ian Simpson) made a post on a Kanye West fan forum looking for artists to collaborate and make music, following him being disowned by his family after coming out as gay (a main topic of his last project under the Kevin Abstract moniker, called American Boyfriend). He and the others that responded then relocated to a house in L.A., where each member resides and creates music together. Kevin just turned 20 a couple weeks ago, and the other members of the group are around the same age. Yes, that really is the story behind this group; material that I don’t think even some of the most skilled storyteller could come up with easily.
BROCKHAMPTON has been gaining traction steadily ever since their formation, with a healthy dose of singles and a scatterbrained, albeit super enjoyable mixtape with 2015’s All American Trash, which showed a great deal of promise and great tracks to match. Don’t begin to think that this level of heart and ambition doesn’t shine through on their new album, SATURATION (BROCKHAMPTON’s first proper LP), because that feeling permeates and consumes this project wholly.
It’s been a year in which a week can feel like a year within itself, given the crazy-ass state of our world right now. But we’ve made it to June, and so we are at the midpoint of the year. You know what that means…LISTS! And you’re probably saying to yourself, “But Dan, it’s not the end of the year yet?” Yeah, I know, but why not talk about some of the best album releases so far.
In a year that’s been rife with amazing records, these are my top 15 albums released from January to May. My hope is that a lot of these choices flew under your radar, and that I can do my job properly by presenting you with new music. But if not, then hey, weren’t these records great? I also like the prospect of doing a list like this, simply because it will be interesting to see how drastically this list will change by December. It’s sure to be affected both by upcoming releases and the chance to dive deeper into some albums I previously missed.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, here are a few honorable mentions for y’all:
It’s bothersome to hear people talk about Gorillaz. Sure, Gorillaz are a widely loved and celebrated act, and they have been for nearly 20 years now. But one of their greatest strengths is also one of their biggest setbacks.
It’s idiotic to me that the animated world of Gorillaz, co-created by legendary underground comic artist Jamie Hewlett, and which serves as the stylistic umbrella for a global and multigenerational collaborative music project, proves to be such a turnoff for people.
I often hear, “I’m not in the mood to listen to a new Gorillaz record.” Or, “I haven’t listened to Gorillaz in years,” said with an uppity, I-have-no-time-for-this-kids-crap kind of pretension. I hear it all the time. But the worst is when I simply hear someone say, “I hate them.”
These all translate to, “I don’t want to listen to something that my anime-watching, comic-reading coworker listens to.” It’s bullshit and it totally exists — don’t deny it. It’s a very lazy argument, and I’d say that even without my personal bias. Gorillaz is a project that represents artistic unity and bridging gaps to deliver a message that we as a people desperately need, especially in our current turbulent dystopia. This is the point of Humanz’ entire existence.
Hello, hello, hello, and happy new year! Welcome to a new Basement Dwelling spin-off feature I’m proud to roll out — “Pre-Orders.” The purpose of “Pre-Orders” is to make a list of albums coming out every month that I am incredibly excited for, and to hopefully get you similarly excited for them. Maybe I will even review the records presented here in the future. But even if I don’t, you can rest assured these albums will be sitting comfortably on my turntable or in my CD player for the next few months. So let’s begin the inaugural “Pre-Orders” post with January’s most hyped albums.
Brandon Can’t Dance – Graveyard of Good Times (Jan. 13th)
I was first introduced to Brandon Can’t Dance this past October when he was the opening act for LVL UP and Alex G, when I caught their sets here in Chicago. Although I had no prior experience with the act, I walked away completely impressed seeing his set at that show, and was even more impressed upon hearing the first singles — “Angelina” and the ridiculously infectious “Smoke And Drive Around” — to come from his upcoming record. It’s simplistic, one-man indie electro-pop of which I’m excited to see how a full LP of material will turn out.