Sam’s Top 23 Songs of 2016

(Sequenced for flow – not ranking – purposes.)

Tyvek “Choose Once” (In the Red)
My single of the year, from my album of the year. So raw, so good.

Mass Gothic “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” (Sub Pop)
Family Sing-Along Song of the Year honors go to this raucous doo-wop jam.

DIIV “Under the Sun” (Captured Tracks)
Shining down from a shimmering crack in the clouds that hung over 2016.

A Tribe Called Quest “We the People…” (Epic)
I could have chosen any of a half dozen tracks off this album but this here’s the anthem, get your damn hands up.

Francis and the Lights w/ Bon Iver “Friends” (KTTF)
Alan Parsons meets auto-tuned R&B meets, well, Bon Iver.

KAYTRANADA “LITE SPOTS” (XL)
Half this song is impossible to dance to; the other half is impossible not to dance to.

De La Soul “Royalty Capes” (AOI)
I wish this album had been more fulfilling than my anticipation of it, but there are some real gems amidst the scattershot experiments. This one’s about why a guy can’t find vintage De La on any of the streaming services.

Homeboy Sandman “Heart Sings” (Stones Throw)
Homeboy Sandman w/ I Am Many “Real New York”
(Stones Throw)
Sometimes he rhymes slow, sometimes he rhymes quick.

Beach Slang “Spin the Dial” (Polyvinyl)
“I was born at the bottom
But I never belonged
I’m hardly ever right
But I’ve never been wrong”
Could’ve been ripped straight from Paul Westerberg’s notebook.

The Men “Dreamer” (We Are the Men)
What you’d imagine to be playing anytime a parent pounds on their teen’s bedroom door and yells, “Turn it down!”

The Radio Dept. “Committed to the Cause” (Labrador)
A slinky statement of a song with hints of Prefab Sprout and St. Etienne.

Parquet Courts “Steady on My Mind” (Rough Trade)
Mmmn, Velvet-y.

Grandaddy “A Lost Machine” (Sony)
Man, this album can’t come soon enough…

James Blake “Love Me in Whatever Way” (Polydor)
That laugh track makes this even more heartbreaking than your average James Blake song.

ot to, not to w/ Noah Smith “Regretta I” (Other People)
Listen very closely.

The xx “On Hold” (Young Turks)
I know their 15 minutes of fame should be long gone, but that Hall & Oates sample…

Sonny & the Sunsets “Needs” (Polyvinyl)
The album where Sonny fell in love with a drum machine and made some goofy babies like this one.

Sunflower Bean “I Was Home” (Fat Possum)
Critics fawned over their debut but I found most of the album kinda boring. That said, this single is some transcendent psych rock amazingness.

Terry Malts “Used to Be” (Slumberland)
Terry Malts has been to me in the early 20-teens what The Wedding Present was to me in the early 1990s – completely durable and indispensible.

The Intended “Don’t Wait Too Long” (In the Red)
Rollicking goodness from Detroit’s garage (or basement, as the case may be) scene.

Leonard Cohen “It Seemed the Better Way” (Sony)
I’m a man of faith but after a year like this one, I get it. I really do.

David Bowie “Lazarus” (ISO/Columbia)
As my grandmother was bedridden and dying of cancer she’d ask my mom to open the curtains so she could watch the birds in the tree outside her window. When I first heard the bluebird line, I crumbled into a sobbing mess. Bowie gave until the very end…ain’t that just like him?

Homeboy Sandman


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…

Junk Science

My problem with a lot of so-called “avant-hop” music, even some of that released on our beloved Anticon label, is that it’s just not funky enough. To quote that great skit from De La Soul Is Dead: “Maybe if you flipped it on 45, so I could dance to it…”

The Brooklyn duo known as Junk Science has been typecast as avant-hop thanks to intricate (and sometimes arrhythmic) production and autobiographical (and sometimes heavy) lyrics. What they should be known for is their ability to move a crowd, in both senses of the word. DJ Snafu is a sample connoisseur — dusting off everything from AM Gold to deep jazz to informercials — and puts a little “whazzat?” into every drum pattern he lays down. Baje One has an easy flow with lyrics that are at once approachable and hard to touch. And they know it, too.

In fact, MC Baje One regularly puzzles over his strictly underground status, as he does in the soulful shimmy “Do It Easy”: “Tryin’ to sell a couple records/At the club they come to check us/But dog, what kinda money do y’think I’m stackin’ y’all/Coachin’ JV high school basketball?” But he isn’t about change his style to goose his iTunes royalties: “Vitamins and nutrients, static in the bass/Plus I get extra points ’cause I ain’t rappin’ in your face.”

Baje One is taking matters into his own hands now, shedding their decidedly underground label, Embedded, for an imprint of his own making called Modern Shark. There’s a whole page of freeMP3bies to be had over at modernshark.com/free. From the sounds of it, his financial future looks bright.

That said, based on the clever punchlines of their latest single, “Millins”, even if Junk Science were to start making dollars we probably wouldn’t see a spike in Hennessey sales. But you better believe that JV team would get the finest throwback Nikes money can buy…

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General Elektriks

This gem’s been on the back burner for two years! Ouch. I started a post on General Elektriks back in August of 2005, the year his debut album came out. I remember the label pulled the MP3s, and since we like to play nicely with others, I pulled the review (crying, all the while, on the inside, gettin’ all emo). Since then, Quannum has partnered with a solid digital distributor, ioda promonet, and the goods are back! This is such a great album. French-Brit, and current resident of Berkeley, CA, RV Salters, is General Elektriks, a man with an impressive quiver of vintage keyboards and the playing skills to go along with it. Smooth ‘n’ easy grooves made for lazy summer afternoons. Quantic said it best, “Like the Beatles in a pub brawl with the Neptunes.” And as a bonus, plenty of the Quannum crew make guest appearances on the album. Two-years-old, but packaged with stay-fresh beats. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Looks like General Elektriks will strike again early next year. He’s been busy with his other project Honeycut.

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Northern State

Northern State, while not typical of most bands, does have a typical experience: little band writes some good stuff, tours like crazy, goes big, gets written up in Rolling Stone and Spin and the rest, gets signed to a major label, tours some more, then bolts from said major label and gets back to doing their own thing. These ladies from Long Island have been working with Chuck Brody (Shitake Monkey) and the Beasties’ Adrock on their new album, which has them moving from hip-hop to a more Luscous Jackson-like vibe. New songs can be heard at their myspace site, but check out this oldie with the best ever rhyme from Prynn about her Native American ancestory.

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Lyrics Born

It’s not quite lunchtime here on the West Coast and I’m oh, so ready to belly on up for some comfort food courtesy of El Chavito. Lyrics Born provides similar, comforting nourishment to the ears. Ain’t no need to front. He let’s his skills do the talking. Lyrics Born delivers rhymes all neighborly-like. His vocals have a front-porch, homegrown tone that keep me coming back for more. Just like El Chavito, nothing fancy, just pure flavor (insert El Sombrero if you’re in Lyrics’ neighborhood, or Cancun over on Mission Street ). You can be in the same room as Lyrics Born with his newest release, Overnight Encore: Lyrics Born Live!. It’s Friday people, ease up and get down with Lyrics, his live band and a ton of hot and sweaty Aussies.
*FYI: Lyrics and Cut Chemist are playing tonight in NYC at Webster Hall.

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Serengeti

Remember back on Saturday when I posted Polyphonic the Verbose? Man, those were the days… Anyway, Chicagoland MC Serengeti guests on Polyphonic’s album and I found myself wanting to hear more. And more is what I got this week in the form of an email from Serengeti’s publicist. Get your “rewind” finger ready, if only for the ill shout-outs on “Dennehy” (yes, as in Brian Dennehy). Here’s a taste: “Vacation place: ‘sconsin, sausage: Johnson, chicken: Swanson’s…”

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The Coup

Matt, aka Gigahaw, reminded us of The Coup, the Oaktown rap duo who are best known, unfortunately, for “that album cover.” Boots Riley and DJ Pam the Funktress do wear their politics on their sleeves (even their toned-down cover for Party Music depicts a young player at a bar enjoying a Molotov cocktail). But what they don’t seem to get enough credit for is their ability to move your butt as well as your conscience. So, with their latest, Pick a Bigger Weapon, they have turned up the funk to match the intensity of their message. The intro is even called “Bullets and Love,” which brings me to another first for The Coup… A handful of apocalyptic slow jams that include the best (and possibly longest) song title of this administration: “babylet’shaveababybeforebushdosomethin’crazy” — awwwww yeeeeaaaahh…

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Mr. Lif

Mr. Lif has made a name for himself as a dry-witted, raspy-voiced MC whose favorite topics tend toward the sociopolicical. No change here with his latest solo album, Mo’ Mega, as he rakes the current administration over the coals without flinching. Lif is equally skilled at, though less famous for, is more playful braggadocio as evidenced on his collabo with Cut Chemist. Download both for a “fair and balanced” playlist (just kidding).

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Dr. Octagon

It must have been a sign when I recently found a tape recording of an interview I did with Dr. Octagon (aka Kool Keith) circa Dr. Octagonecologyst. This is the same tape that provided such reliable mix drops as “ain’t nothing smellin’ in jazz” and the Doctor’s bizarre verbal recreation of “greasy” beats. I don’t have downloads of the interview outtakes, but I do have a track from The Return of Dr. Octagon due out later this month. My man’s still at it. Some ‘notherworld production and lyrics to match. He can, to quote Rakim, “take a phrase that’s rarely heard, flip it…now it’s a daily word.” Oh and say kids, who likes remixes? Cause we got ’em, from Her Space Holiday and Cassettes Won’t Listen among others.

P.S. Wonder if we’ll ever hear The Mountain Goats remix Dr. Octagon. Turns out he’s a big fan. Just when I thought I knew everything…

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