The Best Music of March 2016

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Kendrick lamar with president obama

In a 2016 that has tempered expectations, March certainly came in like a lion. With five weeks in the month, it started with a hefty haul on March 4—a popular release date this year for bands touring in the spring—and it came strong right until its foolish end. The Body proclaimed that No One Deserves Happiness, but these records sternly disagree, spanning genres a Million Universes wide, with a Weight that left listeners Too High To Riot. Even after trimming the fat off the lamb, it got so Hella Personal, we couldn’t get it below the 23 records listed here, Yet, despite the pun-tastic titles March provided, it was the untitled and unmastered that moved us the most.

The Best Album of March 2016

Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered

Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered (Top Dawg Entertainment)

Soon after Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo first dropped, and the fragmented album—that’s probably being edited as you read this‚was lauded by some for it’s progressive sonics and nonconformist structure, Kendrick Lamar decided to drop untitled unmastered, a project full of tracks that didn’t make the final edit of To Pimp A Butterfly.

A portion of untitled‘s brilliance is that it mirrors TLOP‘s futurist, format-be-damned structure, but does so with a soundscape predominantly steeped in classic jazz and soul. Lamar sidesteps the typical approach to hip-hop songwriting, not desiring to seek resolutions as much as hurl his emotions wherever they land on the project. The audio dream sequence that is untitled makes a strong case that his raw, spoken-word approach is best experienced without the typical boundaries major labels tend to enforce.

Even as a “previously unreleased” compilation, untitled is a monumental work that lays a blueprint for lyricists who are long on ideas but short on the ability to condense them. It speaks to the zone Kendrick’s in where even his B-sides can mark him as a visionary.

Here are the rest of our favorites for March 2016, in no particular order.

Littler, Of Wandering (Birdtapes)

Continuing Littler’s tendency toward brutal honesty and self-awareness—and then balancing that frustrated introspection with a glance outward—the burgeoning Philly band’s debut full-length (produced by Kyle Gilbride of Swearin’) is a self-contained world of questions voiced dually by Madeline Meyer and Dan Colanduno. Exploring personal disappointment with a shifting culture whose notions of what it means to be successful are constantly changing—though, it seems that the band are doing a better job keeping up than they let on.

You can also read Meyer’s roundtable discussion on “The Myth of The Band” here.

dedekind Cut, American Zen (Hospital Records)

Featuring a bevy of standout guests like Philip Glass, Juliana Huxtable, and DJ Shadow, among others, the artist formerly known as Lee Bannon explores new sonic realms in his first release as dedekind Cut. The non-conformist beat maven has expanded his craft over the past four years, generally identified with the drum and bass and jungle music genres, Bannon says his artistry as dedekind Cut is “100% free” with “no allegiance to any instrument or DAW.”

Sheer Mag, III 7-inch

2015 was a good year for Sheer Mag. The Philadelphia punk outfit with cock-rock swagger has seen their stock rise to Coachella proportions, and after two EPs, they’ve returned in 2016 with a powerful new 7-inch. Self-recorded, III is similar in vein to their prior releases, with Christina Halladay’s demanding, anthemic vocals leading the fray, but it carries a danceable weight not unlike that of another oddly placed Coachella singer.

Mal Devisa, Kiid (self-released)

As Mal Devisa, Northampton’s Deja Carr has been making tunes that are sparse but hardly delicate, combining soulful vocals with sparing bass and keyboard lines. On her debut full-length Kiid, she forcefully asserts her might and grace as an artist, her sound more intense than ever. She swings from sweeping vocal lines backed only by deep bass to heated rap tunes with heavy percussion, and her range is tremendous in either context. The record is wrought as an assurance, to herself and the people she’s loved, in the face of a lingering dread of dying. She reminds us that reassurance isn’t always quiet: “I’m a dominatrix when the bass kicks,” she shouts over a hefty beat on the final track, leaving no room for doubt.

Open Mike Eagle & Paul White, Hella Personal Film Festival (Mello Music)

Open Mike Eagle’s collaboration with Paul White helps us to make sense of our selves and our surrounding environments. From Aesop Rock entertaining the imagination of invulnerability on “I Went Outside Today”, to poking fun at the month to month rent schemes of scraping by on “Check To Check”, Eagle continues to shift through the personal paradigms with a host of human humors. Inequities and inconsistencies observed with all the awkward honesty of some classic Lenny Bruce stand-up banter (visited later in the album with the intimate “Insecurity Pt. II (The Moor The Marry Her)”). OME’s latest personal cycle of observational verses is an examination of our collective and individual cultures, along with the many states of our unions.

Prince Rama, Xtreme Now (Carpark Records)

When one first hears the concept for Prince Rama‘s Xtreme Now—extreme sports fused with medieval imagery, inspired by time spent in a Viking ruin off the coast of Estonia—it might sound a little jumbled or absurd. But sisters Nimai and Taraka Larson have established a precedent of being thoughtful and detailed artists even in their most imaginative flights of fancy, and Xtreme Now proves to be a well-conceived and creative left-field observation of the “digital dark age” we’re currently living in.

Foster Body, Moving Display (Diabolical Records)

On Moving Display, Salt Lake City post-punk outfit Foster Body sets trebly, siren-like guitar riffs and oblique bass patterns atop finicky, high-tension grooves. It’s a neurotic album, goth in its theatricality, but one that compels firstly at the level of the individual players, whose performances are inventive and distinct, and, altogether, quite thrilling.

Horse Jumper of Love, Horse Jumper of Love (Disposable America)

If you could imagine a soundtrack following you, like a spirit, as you walk, oppressed, through a drearily rainy day, it might sound like Horse Jumper of Love’s new self-titled LP. Trudging guitar comes in heavier than wet socks, and the immediate twang of a pulled chord, along with the stop-motion tempo, pulls you down into the Boston trio’s beautiful bleakness, and continues throughout. Dimitri Giannopoulos’ voice, however, brings you inside, out of the rain. Still soaked to the bone—grey light from the overcast skies streaks in through the window shades, and the outside rain rages on.

TOKiMONSTA, FOVERE EP (Young Art Records)

Detractors of modern electronic music frequently soapbox about a lack of “musicality” in the genre. Indie producer/DJ Jennifer Lee, pka TOKiMONSTA is one of the primary artists who disproves that talking point, with a catalog full of densely layered, thoughtfully arranged compositions. On “Giving Up”, a beguiling collaboration with Jonny Pierce of The Drums and Erick “Jesus” Coomes from Lettuce, she shifts between electro-ballad and intriguingly subdued dance with an impressive fusion of seemingly disparate elements. It sets a positive tone that carries throughout FOVERE.

Big Ups, Before A Million Universes (Tough Love)

Big Ups confront interpersonal relationships and the ills of society with equal velocity on their second full-length. The band continues its angry streak, but here they’ve tempered their rightful frustration with tender moments—and Joe Galarraga’s voice is standout as he keeps pace with the band’s instant shifts from soft to harsh rumble and back. The softer moments are particularly piercing here, as when Galarraga narrates, “Told me how you felt that night I met another person,” his voice almost a whisper over a muted guitar line on “So Much You.” The four-piece build these barely-held-together moments ever so slowly up to the massive attacks that they do so well, stretching even further an already-impressive dynamic range.

Photay, Sadie EP (Astro Nautica)

Since the release of Photay’s self-titled EP in 2014 we’ve witnessed an upstate kid from Woodstock land tracks on Broad City and Man Seeking Woman, while gaining tastemaking fans in Gilles Peterson, Marry Anne Hobbes, Daedelus, SBTRKT and Bonobo. With an uncanny ability to transport us into alternate modes of stress-free bliss without the intrusion of dark anxiety, Photay maintains that m.o. on the Sadie EP. It’s music fit for a Steph Curry highlight reel of ankle-breaking crossovers, acrobatic scoop shots, and of course, assassin-level walk-off three pointers.

P. Morris, Low EP (Bear Club Music Group)

“Son, I love you but no one in this world owes you shit,” says a tough, motherly voice message in the opening of “Great Expectations” off Los Angeles producer P. Morris’ new EP. The tone in her voice is brutal yet undercut with maternal tenderness. So goes Low, a brutal five song cycle, disjointed and disfigured in genre, in the nurturing hands of a caretaker. P. Morris interrupts with rigged sonic stabs and industrial percussion that feels like fragmented cliff notes of Yeezus, and repeat listens raise questions, conjure clues, and beg connections to be made. P. Morris has yet again worked the angles and in doing we must adapt once again to his calculations.

The Body, No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey)

Chip King and Lee Buford peg No One Deserves Happiness as their pop record—bass lines indebted to Beyoncé, groove touchstones by way of Donna Summer—and though the chasm between such buoyant music and The Body’s sallowness suggests that it’s an ironic pose, it’s more a matter of negativity overwhelming intent. The Body’s influences are myriad, their collaborators legion, but on record it’s as if they can’t help but render everything in stark, humorless terms.

You can read Sam Lefebvre’s interview with The Body here. 

Neighbors, Very Rare Expensive Jewelry (Malaka Records/Help Yourself Records)

Over the years we have chronicled the events and adventures of José Díaz Rohena and the band Neighbors spanning the coasts from Philly to their current home-base in Seattle. Through the tests, trials, and struggles of life comes Very Rare Expensive Jewelry. From lineup change-ups, therapy sessions, cathartic life coping mechanisms, and so on; Neighbors continue on their good-neighborly journey with one foot tapping a toe to the streets with the other placed firmly on a magic new age yoga mat. But don’t expect any kind of transcendental meditation or allegorical/spiritual mantras. Even though they’ve gone through the wringer that ambitious DIY acts often experience, Neighbors emerge with humor intact and a fuller, richer, more intricate sound.

Elucid, OSAGE EP (self-released)

Elucid’s forthcoming solo album, Save Yourself, is slated for a release date in mid-April, so to hold us over he gifted his followers with a mini-album, produced almost entirely by himself, entitled OSAGE. It’s a rapturous movement and standing at the catalyst is Elucid with a post-apocalyptic poem to the death of vanguards on “Remembering Amrir”. He intones a paragraph from the writings of Amiri Baraka with “now that the old world has crashed around me / and it’s raining in early summer / I live in Harlem with a baby shrew / and suffer from my decadence which kept me away so long.” It’s an informed moment that repeats itself across OSAGE, as the mini-album feels like an homage to Elucid’s heritage, both given and assumed. These moments manifest through the words of Black Nationalists and through the source codes of free jazz and proto-punk that propel the record.

Chris Weisman, Hi (OSR Tapes)

Chris Weisman is known in part for how wildly prolific he is—in the past seven years the Brattleboro, Vermont-based songwriter has released nearly twenty full-lengths, each full of short tunes concentrated deeply inward or far outward to the strange minutiae of daily living. Now he’s loosing unto the world a glimpse into a past of more myriad sounds with Hi, an album of previously unreleased songs recorded in 2009. As always, Weisman makes clever use of language and rhyme to articulate things much bigger than their surface area. He is not opposed to undergoing a bit of burning himself—this collection is eclectic across its 18 tracks and also evocatively weird in the sounds he injects into each isolated song.

Swim Team, Swim Team (Infinity Cat)

Cincinnati’s resident thrashers Swim Team self-titled cassette for Casey Weissbuch’s curated Infinity Cat Cassette Series is a nonstop thrill ride that clocks in under the 30 minute mark and features all the real, visceral raw audio aggression that we need more of 2016. Taking a no-holds-barred/no-prisoners approach that doesn’t mind breaking the fourth wall to castigate or chastise those deserving of being taken down a few pegs from their pathetic and/or petty pedestals. This is the cassette for anyone and everyone who has ever felt like it’s them against all the bastards of the world.

Visuals, The State of Things EP (TheSongSays)

Andrew Fox will be a name that years from now people will wonder where this guy came from, following the release of The State Of Things EP, a new project under his Visuals moniker. For The State Of Things EP, Fox linked up with Bruno Pronsato in Berlin and his thesongsays label. With a label manifesto central to the “romantic and conceptual currents of dance music”, the EP arrives in medias unrest on the grooving exotica of the eponymous track. Visuals’ sound is dream pop sans the traditional trappings, as Fox is admittedly “caught up in the state of things”, he translates that by never allowing his vocals or the atmosphere to drift too deep into REM. Rather, Visuals locks into a hypnagogia that hazes the EP without sacrificing its consciousness.

The Glow, Weight EP (self-released)

Mike Caridi, co-founder of Double Double Whammy and one-fourth of Brooklyn’s LVL UP, has been making his own tunes quietly and prolifically for years now. Many of them eventually evolved into LVL UP tunes, but lately he’s been sharing his solo songs with greater frequency and intention, as The Glow. Now Caridi has released a new three-song EP that manages especially to build on the emotive depth of his songs. “I am not warm, I am not cheek to cheek, I am not the person you want me to be,” Caridi sings in an upfront admission of personal limitations to open the EP, against fuzzed-out guitar and an overblown drum machine. weight is an appropriate title to convey the emotional burden that Caridi draws into these three tracks, each of them just under two minutes long.

The Landlords, Fitzgerald’s Paris (Feel It)

American hardcore flourished in and around urban centers and small towns alike, with the most pronounced perversions often forming at the margins. Sam Richardson, proprietor of Richmond, Virginia punk distro and record label Feel It, has facilitated first-time release of one such anomaly: Fitzgerald’s Paris, a previously unheard full-length teeming with disparate tendencies that Charlottesville hardcore outfit The Landlords recorded and shelved before disbanding in 1987. Fitzgerald’s Paris, recorded between 1985 and 1987, was intended as a followup to The Landlords’ respected 1984 LP, Hey! It’s a Teenage House Party! And in many ways, Fitzgerald’s Paris is the more interesting of the two, capturing a seemingly transitional but ultimately stymied period of creativity.

VUM, Cryptocrystalline (Secret Lodge Recordings)

VUM’s anticipated album Cryptocrystalline creates something of an open (yet somehow shrouded in a clandestine veil like a secret society in congress) meeting between the outside and inside worlds. Jennifer Pearl and Christopher Wormald continue to create melodic mood progressions that respond as thoughts, feelings, and perceptions to the events of the environment-punctuated by the pulse of Scott Spaulding’s percussive engineering.

Bas, Too High to Riot (Dreamville Records)

Queens rapper Bas and his Dreamville co-horts have carved a lane as humble everymen. They succeed in part from their representation of the millenial youth clinging to optimism in perilous times. Enter Too High To Riot, the 12-track sophomore record from Bas. Over cloudy, warm production, he vents on perhaps the three predominant thoughts of the average 30-year-old Black male: social issues, his place in his industry, and women. He sprinkles heavy topics with a measure of levity and melody that serves to endear the album to listeners, such as on “Black-Owned Business” and “Live For”. Additionally, his impressive range of flows over the versatile production keeps the project fresh.

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