December might be recognized as the gift-giving month throughout the westernized world, but it’s November that often produces the most gems in our record stores. With the specter of competing against mass-marketed albums released just in time for Christmas looming, most independents purge their release calendar in November, ahead of any black Friday’s or cyborg Monday’s. For fans of music, this is a bountiful time, and our list of the month’s best reflects this: it is not short on quality nor quantity. We know you’re feeling that new Adele, but may we suggest saying “Hello” to any one of these records for the active music listener in your family this gift-giving season. They’ll at least appreciate the
bad pun gesture, right?
The Best Album of November 2015
Al Rogers Jr., Luvadocious
Uncompromising is the through line each loose Soundcloud upload has shared leading up to Al Rogers Jr.‘s Luvadocious record. At least, at passing glance that would be an accurate read as a bouncy pop track like “BlueGreen” is stacked against “Honey” addressing the Baltimore uprising in May. And perhaps that uprising was the catalyst of Luvadocious, which is Rogers Jr.’s imagined world where god is feminine and love is not feared. Many of the anxieties explored on “Honey” like poverty and oppression are given deeper meditations on Luvadocious in hopes of discovering transcendence—liberation from that ghetto of the mind.
The Luvadocious concept explores this new world of fearless living through radio transmissions by Godina, the black goddess played by Baltimore radio personality Ladawn Black. The eponymous overture invites the listener to loosen up, conveyed through a side show introtoletuknow that Rogers Jr. has transported us to an alternate universe. That said, Al Rogers Jr. is not an eccentric-to-a-fault, Willy Wonka type guide promising immediate alleviation of strife. Yes, the record envisions utopian worlds, but that does not mean Rogers Jr.’s head is so far in the clouds he cannot see the cracks in the pavement.
Produced entirely by Drew Scott of Blacksage, the versatility of the album, as it winds through Dungeon Family-esque afro futurism into Baltimore club, makes no compromises and holds no hands. This is not guided listening, but a record that gives few fucks if it loses you along the way.
Here are the rest of our favorites for November 2015, in no particular order.
Airbird & Napolian, Mr. Foolish (Cascine)
Arbird & Napolian began their bi-coastal partnership in 2013 with the Erika Spring-fronted single “In The Zone”. In an interview with the duo the intent was clear early: Napolian was bringing his L.A. vibe through a laid-back, Dre-like sound, while three hours ahead Airbird was utilizing his Brooklyn habitat to invite Cascine recording artist Erika Spring, on the heels of her time in Au Revoir Simone, into the fold. The duo’s debut full length Mr. Foolish has maintained that formula.
Toyota, “Model Concept(s) I-V”
Toyota arrange songs like unstable grids: committed to eighth-note rigidity, rendered with wiry lines, and yet constantly threatening to derail and veer off course. Unlike Coneheads, Toyota style themselves as machines, trafficking in the engineering lingo of prototypes and mass-production.
DRIFT, Black Devotion (AVANT! Records)
London’s Nathalie Bruno, currently in Leave The Planet, and previously in Phosphor, rises as a synth lord as DRIFT. On her Devotion EP, Natahalie shepherds us into the winter fray with some of the best cold crystal music gems to shine darkly onward and into the new 2016 era. Electric images appear and disappear into the audio, synths arrive swiftly with hooks and body shaking rhythms that hit sharply on point and on cue. Nathalie’s trailing echoes are cast like caution to the wind, streaking like tear streams of smeared makeup the hue of the sky at midnight on a moonless night. The reactive response from rejection and having your feelings torn apart by another are met with a vengeful and confident sound that depicts the act of being denied in a profound and potent arrangement.
Read Sjimon Gomper’s interview with Nathalie Bruno in the Week In Pop.
After a decade of what feels like buffaloed energy in indie rap by no fault of its proprietors, indie rap is rediscovering its soul. Guards are coming down, skin is being shed, and egos are parsed to the minutia of their central pain. Gross generalizations be damned! There simply was something missing from Busdriver’s music, even in its attempts to reconcile personal damages on Beaus$Eros, that suggested an ornate armor defending the heart. Busdriver is aware in his claim to have come from a dead world and comparisons of Leimert Park to Winterfell.
Soggy Creep, Damn the Well 7-inch
Olympia’s Soggy Creep (featuring former members of Bone Sickness and Criminal Code) fall under the large black umbrella of “dark punk,” but they’re a slightly different varietal than the taut, gothy groups that have been gathering momentum under that tag as of late. This is real fist-in-the-air music, as energetic and rousing as it is gloomy, more punk than post, a unique standout in a (flat) field full of soundalikes
Mizan K, Dark Blue EP (Terrible Records)
There is a moment on Mizan K’s “No Fool [Freestyle]” that channels Nina Simone’s “I Don’t Want Him (You Can Have Him)”, addressing the most complicated side of unrequited love. It’s possible to imagine Mizan K’s piano ballad, drudging through the low end of the ivories, entertaining a captive audience in the dark quiet of Carnegie Hall. These are not the sort of scenarios to be suggested lightly, but Mizan K’s Dark Blue EP is an impressive debut with sincere attachment to legacy and the lineage continuum.
Try The Pie, Rest (HHBTM Records re-issue)
San Jose’s Try The Pie recorded Rest between 2005-2008 in San Francisco and originally released it in small batches on CD-Rs to distribute to friends and roommates of frontwoman Bean Kaloni Tupou. The album now sees a proper wide release via Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records (the label responsible for putting out Bean’s previous band Sourpatch). The early recordings from Tupou highlights the sincerity and genuine expressions of truths (personal and universal) that have become a touchstone of Bean’s work beyond the Bay Area. Acting locally and globally while consistently making an inspiring array of sounds; Try The Pie has earned the honor and right to be the group and force for good that should be a household name before 2016 even arrives.
Read Sjimon Gomper’s interview with Bean Tupou in the Week In Pop.
PC Worship, Basement Hysteria (Northern Spy Records)
Four discrete pieces alternately vamp on leaden riffs or devolve into rustic, arid passages. The pace is sluggish. The atmosphere, funereal. And yet, it’s never so summarily describable. PC Worship, long-skilled at spiking rock convention with avant-garde tendencies, here evoke something akin to durational performance art, inviting listeners to witness the quietly crazed consequences of a probing creative methodology in real-time.
Cavanaugh, Time & Materials
Featuring guest appearances by P.O.S. of Doomtree, Busdriver, and Hemlock Ernst (rap alias of Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands), Time & Materials is rife with blue collar weirdness that often lies in the undercurrent of Serengeti’s most inspired moments. Open Mike Eagle operates as producer, a first for his career, and in doing so has given new, legitimate life to the producer-on-the-mic synecdoche.
Ocean Hope, Chamber Dreams (Hush Hush)
Corinth, Greece brother and sister band Ocean Hope arrived in a shroud of mystery entrancing us with the unbound beauty and audio buoyancy of “By Your Side”. Not unlike their fellow Grecian contemporaries Keep Shelly In Athens, they make music that dips down from those inner zones and illustrates sound-screen-sprayed designs where feeling becomes projected through the latest organic synth-tech devices whilst tapping into those ineffable regions of responsive feeling. Even though Chamber Dreams runs only four succinct tracks long, a plethora of feels are evoked and covered throughout.
DJ Paypal, Sold Out (Brainfeeder)
DJ Paypal is a member of the Mall Music collective consisting of fellow norm-corporate monikers like DJ Mastercard and DJ Orange Julius. He’s also an overseas member of the worldwide footwork collective TEK Life, but the signing to Brainfeeder is a coup of a different color. Has DJ Paypal sold out? Essentially it’s part of a linear dialogue between releases—his last being Buy Now—but if we trust Flying Lotus’ executive decisions (and we do!) then Sold Out is likely to be beyond the average footwork record.
Helta Skelta, Beyond The Black Stump (Deranged Records)
Beyond the Black Stump, which follows a few self-released singles dating back to 2011, is a formidable platter of snappy, zipped-up punk. It’s economical, with little more than spry riffs, spritely leads, and spartan drumbeats set to sinuous, lean arrangements. The mix, which privileges treble to rousing effect, foregrounds vocalist Jon Worpole’s classic sneer, the sort of droll, guttersnipe affect that feels inflected by insufferable boredom.
Sierra Manhattan, Sierra Manhattan (AB Records/Atelier Ciseaux)
Lyon, France’s Sierra Manhattan stir up a sincere slice of self-sketched pop that needs to be heard by all denizens of the DIY order. Renardo Duguéto’s lo-fi delivery of forget-me-nots and earnest sweet nothings spill from guitars that recall all your favorite alternative and independent heroes who made guitar music for the bedroom, for the stage, and for pleasant days in the park.
Read Sjimon Gomper’s interview with Sierra Manhattan’s Renardo Duguéto in the Week In Pop.
E•Noon & Franswais, Mr Mysterious
Neither E•Noon nor Franswais are the man appearing on the cover of Mr. Mysterious. In a sense the Nashville rappers are not Mr. Mysterious. The record is that enigmatic. The wishes of the duo is that Mr. Mysterious remains within the bookends of “Step Up On That” and “Slopes”, no lifestyle or brand or backstory required. Taken at face value Mr. Mysterious is a richly produced underdog record indebted to the musician’s hustle of Nashville and deeply influenced by the Dungeon Family heyday.
Snuff Redux, Besides You
Snuff Redux eschew the pretensions, forego the fakeness, the feigned boredom, and the stigmas that keep would-be inclusive gatherings and groups apart by making music for dives, living rooms, basements, makeshift spaces, what dwindling all ages spaces that still exist in Seattle, and all around energetic array of audio to be enjoyed anywhere at the loudest available volumes. The Besides You EP sharpens barbs against the detached and disaffected folks; signs of sounds to keep you excited about Seattle’s lesser-sung heroes and to tide you over until they release their debut full-length.
Read Sjimon Gomper’s interview with Snuff Redux in the Week In Pop.
Junglepussy, Pregnant With Success
By closer “Dear Diary”, producer Shy Guy has offered no singular template for Junglepussy. She’s stomped through all rap-chic pigeonholes with no airs of belittlement. In that same regard, men are not made of straw nor scapegoats in the under tow of a feminist wave. In the end, she’s at the bathroom mirror, brushing her teeth and reflecting on her philosophies: “I reside in a realm of my own. But I still know how to co-exist.” Spin the record back and Junglepussy’s world is precisely that, a vision of equal sexes coexisting in unity.
Booker Stardrum, Dance And (NNA Tapes)
Contrasts of shapes and shapelessness are explored, toyed with, and tweaked in Booker Stardrum’s new tape, Dance And; an experimental exercise of mental landscaping, heavily emphasized in drums and percussion. A master drummer coming from the band VaVatican, Stardrum navigates a spectrum of percussive patterns ranging from light bells to tremendous crashes and synth-like samples, creating portraits of instability.
The Brainstems, No Place Else (Bad Diet)
Mastered by Mikey Young of Total Control, this isn’t a PARTY DUUUUUUUDE, flamingo-with-backwards-hat-and-sunglasses, my-first-tattoo-was-a-neck-tattoo band. These are straightforward, well-written, hooky songs with just enough guitar solo that is doesn’t feel hammy. If it’s party rock, it’s rock for a party full of your closest friends who you actually care about seeing, rather than a party full of drunk randos and jerks that talk too loud at you about things you hate and one naked guy running around violating everyone’s boundaries.
Arca, Mutant (Mute)
As obtuse and dysmorphic as Xen sounded, it still was Arca’s most accessible and conventional release to date. Who knew he was just using it lure people into his actual world of broken beats and nerve ripping bursts of jagged synth hymns . Often times less a group of songs than an ever shifting oscillation of intensity, Mutant is ultimately a more honest and engaging representation of the cacophony (and secret beauty) of Arca’s music.
William Alexander, Strangest Things (Yellow K Records/Forged Artifacts)
Devoted to home recordings and all things involving Tascam 4-tracks; Long Beach artist William Alexander builds golden vintage gems off of muddied hip hop rhythms that contain the lo-fi luster of songs that possess that familiar cadence of a classic pop song recalled from the corner storage banks consciousness and memory. There are many moments on Strangest Things where William dials the correct chord and effect combinations that signals all the strangeness and vagaries from the past masters pushing toward the DIY bedroom pop of tomorrow.
Read Sjimon Gomper’s interview with William Alexander in the Week In Pop.
Jeffrey Lewis, Manhattan (Rough Trade)
Jeffrey Lewis’s Manhattan was officially released on October 30, but like most New Yorkers, we run a little late. Just like the MTA, which—along with many other NYC fixtures—is a theme that runs throughout Lewis’ personal vignette of his city. It might even persuade some of the recent transplants to cross over the East River and explore the other burough.
Listen to our interview with Jeffrey Lewis on Nothing Urgent.
Timmy’s Organism, Heartless Heathen (Third Man Records)
Also released on October 30, we’re giving Timmy’s Organism—one outlet of the great Detroit bandleader, Timmy Vulgar—the benefit of the doubt. There’s a third eye painted on his prodigiously receded hairline, charms dangle everywhere, and the power-trio palpably thrusts songs towards even greater tempos and intensity. Vulgar’s guitar sounds practically lewd; queasy, gurgling tones match his mutant croak. Whereas Heartless Heathen satirizes minor rock celebrity, Timmy’s Organism coolly warrants it.