On The Monthly: February 2017

Best of February. No Particular Order.



Sampha has been lurking in the shadows for years as a songwriter and collaborator; Kanye, Frank, and Solange look good on a resume, but this album was Sampha’s chance to jump out into the spotlight.  On all accounts, Process is a victory.  Perfect instrumentals fill every corner of the work from modest piano/voice tracks to risky drum charts and sweeping backing vocals.  Sampha’s words are heartfelt throughout, addressing everything from the importance of his mother, to the tough aspects of relating to one’s family members and a few tunes about overcoming heartbreak.  It’s an emotional journey that also happens to include some early contenders for best single of the year.

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Priests-Nothing Feels Natural


Stormzy-Gang Signs & Prayer


Stormzy will tell you himself that this debut record was a long time coming.  Since gaining recognition as best grime act in the 2014 MOBO awards, he’s been a bit aloof, releasing only singles, mixtapes and music videos.  The air gets cleared quickly on Gang Signs & Prayer as each of the first three tracks hit hard and emphasize—convincingly—that there’s nothing to worry about—Stormzy is clocked in a ready to go.  He also quickly convinces us that he’s not one dimensional with a gospel number and later features offered by Kehlani and Nao.  Perhaps the album is a bit of a mixed bag and perhaps a few too many tunes gush with excess, but this record showcases a dynamic songwriter who commands each and every minute with his striking personality.

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Julie Byrne-Not Even Happiness


There are certain formulas that have stood the test of time and the folk singer/songwriter equipped with acoustic guitar is clearly one of them.  Although the pillars of the 1960s and 70s—Dylan and Mitchell—might still be the ones truly at the tip of your tongue when the topic is brought up, Chapman, Elliot, and Sufjan have carried us on to modern day.  Aided by some blissfully subtle decisions from producer Eric Littman, Julie Byrne has carved out a nice niche for herself on Not Even Happiness.  The album’s transient landscape effortlessly maintains a natural sensibility, while also tapping into some gorgeous electro-acoustic findings.  Byrne’s lyrics are beautifully introspective and focused so the album reads as a personal journey with words of wisdom for all people.

Full Review

Lisa Mezzacappa-avantNOIR


On AvantNOIR, Lisa Mezzacappa showcases a knack for achieving a great overall ensemble sound in an aesthetic that strikes a balance between noisy avant-garde jazz and more straight-ahead materials.  Beginning with a quirky three-minute tune, diving into some ambient realms in the middle, and ending with a floating, back-beat jolt, this album truly offers seven contrasting tunes, yet there’s a moody quality that connects each number.  Mezzacappa has been around the bay-area jazz scene for quite some time now, but this is my personal introduction to her music and it’s clear that she will become a staple of my jazz listening for years to come.


On the Monthly: January 2017 (and a little bit o’ December)

Best albums. January. 2017. No Particular Order!

Run the Jewels-RTJ3


“RTJ3 opens in a Twilight Zone type of space.  The dark, dystopian world references bits and pieces of our own, but—whether or not the project is intended to be displaced to the year 2100 as one of the tunes alludes to—the work doesn’t directly address today’s headlines.  This is not entirely new; since his roast of Ronald Reagan on R.A.P Music, Killer Mike has devoted much more time tearing down the whole of “fuck boy” than isolating particular fuck boys. The difference for this project is rap’s meanest duo is scared.  Mike’s “The closest representation of God you might see” and El’s “motherfuck your permission” on their previous effort’s opener “Jeopardy” are replaced with “Down’s” “I hope with the highest of hopes/That I never have to go back to the trap/And my days of dealing with dope” and a chorus reading “I coulda died y’all.”  The blistering attack on the ears of Run the Jewels 2 is molded into a harrowing journey with heavy, brooding darkness.  The spirit of the duo still remains intact enough for some hyperbolic insults and comedy, but Run the Jewels 3 is certainly no laughing matter.”

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Austra-Future Politics


“Austra’s voice gives new meaning to music critic phrases of “soaring melodies,” “atmospheric high notes,” and the like.  Throughout Future Politics, impressive vocal acrobatics float over icy electroacoustic space, only coming down to earth on occasion to utter viciously catchy hooks.  The record touches upon the cold nature of contemporary society and government with city life, capitalism, and relationships all facing dissection.  Although Austra’s beats punch and her more radio friendly cuts may incorporate instances of blissful warmth, the record is certainly not complete without tension and contemplation.”

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Daniel WJ Mackenzie-Every Time Feels like the Last Time


“UK-based Daniel Mackenzie is a rather multi-dimensional artist with experience in improvisation, concept compositions, and sound installations.  Every Time Feels Like the Last Time, his first release with Eilean Records, touches upon many of his skills, while also managing to commit to specific overall aesthetic.  Classical, acoustic ideas emerge from the dark electronic pool of drones and abstract melodic material with more intense moments yielding massive pillars of distortion.  Clear rhythmic pulses are crafted without the use of drums making for a starkly unified overall sound.  Mackenzie also re-contextualizes various sounds constantly.  Slight adjustments to the piano’s reverb and echo push the instrument from the intimate, up close and personal back into the depths of darkness.  As a whole the record comes together excellently, offering new and exciting material throughout.”

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“Berlin’s FJAAK certainly take the city’s club scene under their wing, however, their album is much more than an electronic dance record.  Rather than building their songs atop some sort of bassy beat foundation, FJAAK only use their pummeling beats as a sort of stabilizing agent, sometimes to tie together sparse melodic ideas and other times to cut through an icy, ambient environment.  Also, besides the few relentless pummeling tracks, FJAAK channels the likes of Oval for some beautiful, shimmering moments.  There’s even less of the constant up and down action of dance music records as FJAAK spends huge swaths of time subtly changing beats before stripping down to a barren place or sucking all of the air out of a tune to smash speakers with some brooding bass.  The album might not be the most emotionally heavy work, but it definitely offers surprises throughout.”

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Injury Reserve-Floss


“Injury Reserve are one of those groups that you want to root for.  As they’ll tell you on their latest effort Floss, their music careers began in a Dentist’s office where three friends who were all “sick of wishin” cooped up for a couple weeks to put together a rap tape.  Floss is their second tape from that office and again they’ve compiled some ruthless material with titles like “Oh Shit!!!” (that’s three exclamation marks) and “All This Money.”  Besides the banger-worthy hits, however, the group’s heart shows loud and clear on the more emotionally moving material making for a fantastic collection of songs.”

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Little Simz-Stillness in Wonderland


“Little Simz isn’t one to drown you in overly complex themes and metaphors.  After another year garnering more attention and touring uncharted territory, Simz found a minute to jump in the studio and reflect on it all.  Stillness in Wonderland is straight forward.  A few simple parallels between the rigorous touring lifestyle and Alice’s wonderland guide the rapper through a collection of different moods ranging from frustrating self-doubt to heart wrenching loneliness and even boisterous confidence.  The relative transparency of the work doesn’t detract from Simz’s talents, however.  Rather than deeming herself a conscious rapper with endless bars of introspection, Simz favors the three-minute pop format with infectious hooks and quick-witted bars having equal weight in her songs.  The album feels refreshing.  It’s both a quick, fun listen and a thoughtful depiction of Simz’s life.”

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-Donovan Burtan

2016 Review: Top 20 List (1-10)

p.s. this list has been running on CULT MTL for  couple weeks now


1. Frank Ocean-Blonde 

Frank Ocean finally returns with a much more developed sound, one that clearly took all four of those years to craft.

Further Reading

2. Jessy Lanza, Oh No

Jessy Lanza keeps things fun, but pushes limits in dance-pop with experimental song-writing and sound effects.

Further Reading

3. Ida Toninato, Strangeness Is Gratitude

Toninato showcases her mastery of minimalism with an album that continues to enrich with each listen.

Further Reading

4. Mitski, Puberty 2

Mitski struggles to keep her head above water in a harrowing emotional journey.

Further Reading

5.Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown provides a landscape as toxic as his xanax-induced lifestyle.

Further Reading

6. Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman, Evan Parker, Ikue Mori, Miller’s Tale

Absence of drums and structured meter and drum set go unnoticed in one of the mosty exciting jazz releases of the year.

Further Reading

7. Death Grips, Bottomless Pit

Death Grips add more to the greatest hits album with destructive ear worms.

Further Reading

8. Solange, A Seat at the Table

Solange offers an in-depth glance at her life while also crafting plenty of stand-out singles.

Further Reading

9. Okkyung Lee and Christian Marklay, Amalgam

Christian Marklay and Okkyung Lee capture the essence of improvised music with unique tools giving hope for the future.

Further Reading

10. Aaron Lumley, Anabasis/Katabasis

One of Montreal’s most exciting improvisers holds his own with raw bass mastery.

Further Reading


2016 Review: Top 20 List (11-20)

11. Angel Olsen-My Woman

A masterful rock album about keeping hold of yourself through struggles with relationships.

Further Reading

12. David Bowie-Blackstar

 Bowie’s final number.

Further Reading

13. The Range-Potential

A sample-based wonder that perfectly captures the anxiety of youth.

Further Reading

14. Steve Lehman-Selebeyone

A jazz/hip-hop album that balances both idioms effortlessly.

Further Reading

15. Mary Halvorson-Away With You

Halvorson’s chamber jazz compositional talents on full display to contrast last year’s solo effort.

Further Reading

16. Xarah Dion-Fugitive

Xarah Dion turns up the heat with heavy, punchy tunes.

17. Bobby Kapp and Matthew Shipp-Cactus

Masters of jazz duet in a place deeply rooted in jazz but void of limits.

Further Reading

18. A Tribe Called Red-We Are the Halluci Nation

Tribe Called Red return with their best songwriting effort to date.

Further Reading

19. A Tribe Called Quest-We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Tribe Called Quest honor Phife Dawg and remind us how important their sound is to the contemporary music ethos.

Further Reading

20. Tim Darcy and AJ Cornell-Too Significant to Ignore

Tim Darcy’s ought lyricism gets displaced in a sonic vacuum supplied by sound artist AJ Cornell.

Further Reading

2016 Review: Honorable Mentions

No Particular Order:

Weezer-self/titled (white album)

A sunny album that throws a little bit of pet sounds into the classic weezer mix.

Further Reading

Blood Quartet-Deep Red

No wave threw and threw with trumpet at the helm.

Further Reading

Kristoffer Lo-The Black Meat

A gloomy drone album that re-contextualizes the tuba with massive, electronic soundscapes coming into play at each climax.

Further Reading

Nao-For All We Know

A nonstop pop party.

Further Reading

Xenia Rubinos-Black Terry Cat

An amalgam of punk, soul, and hip-hop ethos with social awareness and charisma dripping down the walls of each track.

Further Reading

Jason Sharp-A Boat Upon Its Blood


A dense experience that searches for resolution throughout.

Further Reading


An album that never skips a beat, destroying the competition with each fiery verse.

Further Reading

Nick Fraser-Starer

A quick-hitting record that expertly navigates the space between planned and spontaneous.

Further Reading

Wadada Leo Smith and Vijay Iyer-a cosmic rhythm with each stroke

A striking duo project with an air of minimalism achieving an unexpected level of accessibility.

Further Reading

Braids-Companion EP

A necessary reiteration of the sounds of their 2015 record.

Further Reading