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Top Albums and Songs of 2015 (Sam List)

31 Dec

Inspired by Todd and a really great year for music, I’m coming out of hibernation with my tops of 2015…

Top Albums

Jamie xx In Colour (Young Turks)
I figured this collection of dancefloor etudes wouldn’t hold up to repeat listens but here I am, on the last day of the year, still unable to shake the hooks from my head.

Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment Surf (self-released)
A remarkably eclectic and powerful album. The fact you don’t see any of the guest stars credited in song titles tells you everything you need to know about how this “experiment” fared.

Protomartyr The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art)
Riveting post-punk from Detroit; kinda like Interpol without the pretense.

Young Guv Ripe 4 Luv (Slumberland)
Ben Cook set out to satirize bands like Cheap Trick, Big Star, Marshall Crenshaw, etc. only to end up creating a completely epic power pop album of his own.

Jose Gonzalez Vestiges and Claws (Mute)
I respect Jose’s absolute commitment to the whispery folk formula that made him famous, especially when it produces a gorgeous album like this one.

Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
Like Jose, Sufjan keeps doing his thing and it keeps getting better.

Thundercat The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam (Brainfeeder)
Yearning, confident, proggy, funky – like nothing else out there.

Colleen Captain of None (Thrill Jockey)
An art album that plays like a pop record.

Kamasi Washington The Epic (Brainfeeder)
I may be the only so-called music snob who thought Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was just okay (or is that just me being extra snobby?) – but if the Kendrick Lamar phenomenon means former studio musicians like Kamasi see more sunshine, I’m all about it.

Beirut No No No (4AD)
Even a B+ record from Beirut will make my top 10.

Top Songs

Young Fathers “Shame” (Big Dada)
Nosaj Thing feat Chance the Rapper “Cold Stares” (Innovative Leisure/Timetable)
Baio “Sister of Pearl” (Glassnote)
The Arcs “Stay In My Corner” (Nonesuch)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” (Jajaguwar)
Lonelady “Groove It Out” (Warp)
Bicep “Just” (K7)
Swervedriver “Last Rites” (Cobraside)
Spectres “Where Flies Sleep” (Sonic Cathedral)
Beliefs “Tidal Wave” (Hand Drawn Dracula)
Low “What Part of Me” (Sub Pop)
Helen “Motorcycle” (kranky)
Four Tet “Morning Side” (Text)
William Alexander “Strangest Things” (Yellow K)
Open Mike Eagle feat MC Paul Barman & Milo “Trickeration” (Mello Music)

Sam’s Faves of 2012

31 Dec

Okay, okay, I know…I slacked hard this year. I used to average a couple posts a week and in 2012 I clocked one a quarter…embarrassing. Thanks to Todd and Sean for holding it down and thank you all for frequenting 3hive. I promise to make it up to you in the months to come. Meanwhile, please accept a Spotify playlist of my 30 favorite tracks of 2012 as a down payment, featuring Holograms, Japandroids, Hollows, The Black Tambourines, and Homeboy Sandman. Happy listening and Happy New Year!

Homeboy Sandman

31 Dec

I can often spot a musician’s child after just a few bars. But I couldn’t have told you what the son of heavyweight-boxer-turned-community-lawyer sounds like until I heard Homeboy Sandman. And yet it somehow makes perfect sense. HBSM’s low-key timbre and minimalist production aesthetic belie his wicked talent for socially responsible wit and infectious wordplay. He goes hard without the crutches of stacks, gats, or tricks. His verses duck and weave, bouncing you off double negatives and triple entendres until you don’t know which way is up — and don’t care. It’s a good kinda dizziness and he’s been serving it all year long: to the tune of two EPs and a full-length(!). These downloads offer a good taste of his steez but make sure you check his coup de gras, “Look Out” from the Chimera EP, before you cast any final verdicts.

Cops Get Scared of Me from Chimera EP (2012)
The Miracle from Subject: Matter EP (2012)

And here’s a special treat from a limited edition split 7-inch with Jaylib on the flip…


15 Aug

Swedish punk rock…kind of hard to imagine from a country whose top exports have been outfitting the world’s middle class for decades and whose social system is famously egalitarian. But Sweden has its share of factories and, no matter how good your health benefits are, working in a factory sucks. That’s how the Holograms met: going out for drinks after their factory shift. Their brand of working class punk is accented by gravelly basslines and frayed synths (they are Swedish after all). The self-titled debut is packed with chilly, desperate war cries like “ABC City”. If you dig, get your hands on the entire album — it’s one of my top five of 2012 so far.

ABC City from Holograms (2012)


13 May

After the dissolution of his previous band, Jookabox, Indianapolis’ own DMA (aka David “Moose” Adamson) dashed off an album of self-described “crust funk” tracks that mostly defied listening. I say “mostly” because DREM BEB (as in “Dream Babe”) yielded “Riding Holiday”, an altered state take on the classic rock highway jam that wormed its way into my ear last summer with its hypnotic beat and headstrong chorus.
Now DMA is back with a follow-up called The Boardwalk which is far more gentle and refined in its approach. Waves of warped melodies wash over dubby pulses, beats, and clicks. Every so often DMA’s deadpan vocals wander through the soundscape, soaked in reverb, serving as yet another layer of instrumentation. Kind of like listening to Orbital after taking a handful of Sudafed.
DREM BEB was released as a limited-edition cassette and it appears that The Boardwalk is only available for streaming on Bandcamp. Not the most user-friendly distribution strategy, maybe it’s all part of the mystique.

Riding Holiday from DREM BEB (2011)

Karen Dahlstrom

9 May

Karen Dahlstrom has been a fixture in the NYC folk scene, writing and performing with Bobtown, The Evangelines, American String Conspiracy, The Do-Overs, and The Maybelles. Last fall, she released her first solo effort, Gem State, a five-song strong EP inspired by her Idahoan upbringing. In less than 18 minutes, Karen shows her narrative range—embodying everything from a hardass war veteran to a reluctant bride—with songs so immediate and real they seem to have been there all along, waiting to be discovered. Karen’s hauntingly earnest voice brings added weight her lyrics, especially when they’re as stark as this: “The devil clapped me on the back/when I was nigh 13/Died my eyes from blue to black/and he made me hard and mean” (“Streets of Pocatello”). Though it serves her just as well in the sweet summer-ish come-on, “One More Time”.

While self-released with almost no promotion budget, the EP has cast a spell on folk journalists, bloggers, and DJs alike. So much so that she’s already managed to put together a small US tour. Of course, my chronic laziness means half her shows will have happened by the time you’re reading this (check here to see if you’ll be lucky enough to catch her live). But that’s me…don’t take your frustration out on Karen, buy her EP and she might add your town to the itinerary next time around.

One More Time from Gem State EP (2011)

Jesse Futerman

17 Nov

For years music critics have loved to handicap grown-folk-music-performed-by-young-folk. It’s as though the younger a musician is, the more forgiving we should be of their songwriting (remember Ben Lee?). With that, I won’t even mention Jesse Futerman’s age because his deep, soulful music speaks for itself. The Toronto-based producer has been building a following through his SoundCloud mixes and finally pulled together an EP you can download for free here. I can’t tell if it’s the seasoned groove or the painfully short playing time of these tracks that leaves me yearning for more. Either way, I hope to hear from Jesse again soon.

Driva’man from Super Basement (2011)

Library Voices

13 Nov

Here’s a glimpse into the highly structured publishing process that powers 3hive: if one of us wants to call dibs on an artist we create a draft post in WordPress. As you might imagine I’m notorious among the more active authors for squatting on bands way too long. I swear I posted about Library Voices back in August but Sean sternly pointed out that the only thing I did in August is prevent anyone else from doing so.

Library Voices are a seven-piece outfit from Regina, Saskatchewan. The warm, spunky pop on their second album, Summer of Lust, belies the fact it was recorded in the deep cold of Canadian winter. There’s a lot to love here – bouncy rhythms, swirling synths, saxophone accents, swelling harmonies – but the lyrics, rich with literary and cultural references, pay dividends with repeat listens. Where else can you find yourself drumming on the steering wheel and singing along to a skewering of Canadian PM Stephen Harper’s cuts to arts funding? Or an homage to Miles Davis and Juliette Gréco’s tragic romance? Or a Gen Y take on the short stories of Raymond Carver? (I’m guessing that last one is why Sean was bummed I was sitting on this post for so long.)

As good as those tracks are, I’ll let you discover them on your own. Turns out Library Voices write their best lyrics when they’re not trying to be topical. I leave you with one of the best pop songs I’ve heard all year…

Generation Handclap from Summer of Lust (2011)

Soft Science

20 Oct

I’ve been trying since June to find time to post this. Meanwhile, if MP3s were tapes, I’d have already worn out my copy of Soft Science’s debut Highs and Lows. Their sound is a checklist of my vulnerabilities: melancholy lyrics, soaring harmonies, confident percussion, fuzzy guitars. Plus, singer Katie Haley’s delivery evokes at moments St. Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell or The Raveonettes’s Sune Rose Wagner. So I was smitten from the start. Love is the recurring theme, in all its many flavors. There are healthy doses of power pop and dream pop treatments here, but the most memorable songs are the nuanced and restrained ones. “Better Be Good” draws its strength from the smoldering embers of a broken relationship with an startling honesty that recalls “Voices Carry” (before you heard it a million times on ’80s rewind radio). “Put Your Arms Around Me” holds back in all the right ways – all that is left is Ms. Haley whispering sweet somethings in your ears, leaving you wanting more. Speaking of wanting more, this is only the second LP from Sacramento’s Test Pattern Records. Here’s to more where that came from…

Better Be Good from Highs and Lows (2011)

Put Your Arms Around Me from Highs and Lows (2011)


15 Jun

On paper, Socalled’s bio reads like an elaborate art hoax: he’s a producer/ composer/ arranger/ rapper/ singer/ journalist/ photographer/ filmmaker/ magician/ cartoonist/ puppet maker – oh, and Yiddish music enthusiast! – who, for his fourth album, invited 34 collaborators from all ends of the musical spectrum into the studio. As a whole, Sleepover is disjointed – sounding like “Prairie Home Companion” one minute and “106 and Park” the next. There’s a recurring thread of humor and pastiche on many of the tracks, but others stick out as being quite earnest. So it’s difficult to nail a unifying theme. However, taken individually, each song holds its own, and some even stand out. Take these two examples, where the eclectic ingredients come together nicely into a singular concept. The title track is a send-up of ghetto-tech anthems, with none other than Detroit’s own King of Booty, DJ Assault, serving up hypnotic refrains over a frenetic klezmer loop. (The joke wouldn’t be complete without puppets freaking in Socalled’s apartment – so be sure to watch the video.) By contrast, “Work With What You Got” is a positive vibration calypso-hop jam featuring Roxanne Shante and The Mighty Sparrow on vocals that would feel at home on the soundtrack to a feelgood children’s movie.

Socalled || Teaser Sleepover #2 from Dare To Care Records on Vimeo.

Sleepover (featuring DJ Assault) from Sleepover (2011)
Work With What You Got (featuring Roxanne Shante and The Mighty Sparrow) from Sleepover (2011)