A breaking of new ground for one of the best contemporary hip hop producers in the genre. The Alchemist teams up with the independent and philosophical rap pioneers of Armand Hammer (billy woods & ELUCID) for a politically charged and intoxicating listening experience. In just 15 tracks, billy and ELUCID go on a 40 minute tear ravaging white supremacy, the systemic failures of capitalism, and the hypocrisy of religious fanatics. These criticisms hit hard with the vital backing beats of The Alchemist, who, throughout his extensive last decade, has established himself as something of an all time great producer. Each beat here adds an apocalyptic aura to the typically dread filled and stern performances from billy woods and ELUCID. Haram stands as a necessarily prescient and raw musical reminder of what is and what is to come if nothing is done to stop the aforementioned threats to humanity.
15. Lucy Dacus - Home Video
On her ambitious and deeply personal third album Lucy Dacus mines nostalgia deeper than most are able. Digging past the perverse sentimentality which belies most writers and delving instead into the bittersweet truths of what it truly means to “come of age”. Within it’s 11 tracks Dacus elevates typical indie rock affair with her well trained voice delivering ornately detailed images of the trials of youth. It is notable that the entire album starts with the line “being back here makes me hot in the face” teasing embarrassment at the thought of revisiting one’s past beautifully sets up the subversive nature that underscores the entirety of Home Video. She revisits first loves, religious touchstones, shitty exes, and reckons with her identity through the lens both of her young self and the older, wiser, more experienced woman she’s become- doing both with painstaking portrateur and sensitivity. In what might be the albums most standout track “Thumbs” Dacus delivers a sparse and haunting ballad which plainly details supporting a friend through trauma. Dacus puts us in the moment with her younger self and the other characters in the scene until the end of the track where she nearly breaks down wishing she had said to her friend what she is only able to now. This is not the only moment that should have the listener crying along with her.
- Griffin McMorrow
14. Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses
An electrifying followup to her Polaris-prize winning album God Has Nothing to Do with This Leave Him Out of It, Zambian-Canadian rapper Backxwash’s newest effort continues her exploration of religion, identity, trauma, and the occult while deepening her unique horrorcore rap metal sound. The most notable step here is in production, Buried has a much fuller sound palette when compared to her previous work; similarly the newest project sees Backxwash (real name Ashanti Mutinta) expanding her collaboration pool. Some familiar faces return (Ada Rook of Black Dresses lends to a few tracks) but Mutinta also lends guest spots to hip-hop experimentalists clipping., indie vocalist Sadie Dupuis (Sad13, Speedy Ortiz) and more throughout the album's scant 10 tracks. However, despite all of this Backxwash remains the star of her own show, her outsized personality calling attention at every moment just like any good horror villain ought to.
- Griffin McMorrow
13. Illuminati Hotties - Let Me Do One More
Sarah Tudzin is the frontwoman for the band Illuminati Hotties, she also crucially loves a weird joke. Whether it’s bitingly satirical visions of a corner store selling bottled spit, absurdist non-sequiturs about the DNC, drug shamans, and business startups, or infuriatingly clever turns of phrase- Let Me Do One More is chock full of asides and witticisms all wrapped neatly in a tight punk package. A mixer, engineer, and producer by trade, the record is also populated by the sort of deceptively obvious hooks and surprisingly complexed and layered instrumentation which Tudzin makes look easy. Despite the record's playful nature, the emotions and tunes at the core are real, and fleshed out transcending this project from being just a snot-nosed punk romp. Catchy, clever, and endlessly relistenable by the time this album is through, Tudzin is sure to have even the most stern and self-serious listener laughing along with her.
- Griffin McMorrow
12. L'rain - Fatigue
Right off the bat, Taja Cheek (L’Rain) lets the listener know that this album is one born of self-reflection and remembering. A sampled vocal recording of Quinton Brock at the end of track one, “Fly, Die”, asks the question, “What have you done to change?” actively putting the listener into the same headspace Cheek herself seems to have been in during the writing process. Many songs on Fatigue continue this reflection, often asking more questions than giving answers, with music that typically follows suit. The off-kilter grooves and constant use of tape recordings and manipulation sends one into a state of near hypnosis, forcing the listener to let go of their own ego and allow L’Rain to lead them through abstract and intimate narratives. In an interview with Nick Zanca for Tone Glow, Cheek expands upon the use of field recording as a means of remembering, an element that is featured prominently on the album, both in the songs and the interludes that alternate with the full-length tracks. They serve as a form of documentation of moments and the atmosphere around them, something that is captured beautifully throughout the record’s short runtime. It is an equally brief and potent release- meditatively curious, the music shares in our grief and thankfully offers a calming space to process everything that has us fatigued.
- Anthony Wells
11. Wiki - Half God
This newest release from the New-York based MC with collaborator Navy Blue handling all production behind the board is a project that will have listeners foaming at the mouth for more. A true blue New York rapper and artist reminiscent of legends like Nas, Guru, GZA, Big L, and others. Wiki and Navy Blue go deep to the roots of the genre, interpreting tracks in a classic yet refreshing way. Tracks such as “Can’t Do This Alone”, “Home”, ``New Truths``, and “The Business” are passionate, stank face inducing boom bap bangers, whereas the other portion of the record spends its time on self-reflection and storytelling. While Half God is Wiki’s 5th studio release, on it he feels as if he is finally coming into his own and blossoming into one of New York’s premier hip hop. All in all the beats are pristine, the bars are sharp, and the artistry is killer. With over ten years in the rap game Wiki comes through with an album that even non-believers should take note of.
10. Sloppy Jane - Madison
The newest full-length from the California based Avant-Garde rock/ performance art project Sloppy Jane, Madison continues frontwoman Haley Dahl’s fascination with the inherent beauty in the grotesque and makes for her most fully realized release yet. Continuing with the project's unique eccentricities, the entirety of this record was recorded in the Lost World Caverns in Southern West Virginia; however, this record is far from a gimmick- each decision is fully integrated into the albums off-kilter and somewhat unsettling take on chamber pop. The natural reverb, echoes, and found-sound quality that the naturalistic recording environment provide push this record to new heights, but it wouldn’t be half as gratifying if the tunes, lyricism, and production here weren’t all equally esoteric and magnetic. Heartbreak, loss, nature, addiction, animal abuse, and murder are all topics rife for poetic musings in the world which Dahl pens on Madison. Throughout even it’s most macabre moments though there’s a theatrical air that keeps Madison from becoming overly off-putting, but if it makes these tunes slightly more accessible that’s by coincidence. Make no mistake, every element of this performance was put on solely to engage Dahl in her entirely uncompromising and one of a kind creative vision, audience be damned.
- Griffin McMorrow
9. Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders (feat. The London Symphony Orechestra) - Promises
The most exciting collaboration of the year (move aside, Silk Sonic) was by far the teaming up of electronic music musician Floating Points and jazz legend Pharoah Sanders. The result was something truly inspired. Sam Shepherd, the musician behind the Floating Points moniker, stepped away from his typical IDM to compose for orchestra instead, arranging one of the most delicate and thoughtful pieces of the year. The building block is a 7 note motif, the first notes played, and they continue throughout the length of the composition, giving a mystical air to the work. It is Pharoah Sanders though, who serves as the guide for the meditation. The iconic tone of his saxophone takes nearly a minute and a half to enter, but it is assertive and begging, the recognizable breathiness luring you to lean in just a little bit further, to see what the journey is all about. Despite the mostly subdued tone, there are joyous moments of exaltation. In “movement 3”, Sanders puts down his saxophone and begins using his voice instead. It begins as soft and thoughtful as his previous playing, but becomes more lighthearted and playful as the 4th movement begins. After several minor builds, the sky finally opens up in the 7th movement; Sanders’s saxophone is let loose, coming close to the style of playing he was best known for during his most prolific era. The final movement features Shepherd capturing pure beauty with the London Symphony Orchestra, closing out like a soundtrack from a movie. It is the most tense the piece gets, but incredibly moving before fading back into silence (for over 30 seconds on the digital version), allowing you to slowly wake back up to reality.
- Anthony Wells