Across the Margin takes stock of the status of music in 2018, stopping near the midway point to offer its picks for the best songs of the year (so far)…
Jonathan Wilson — “Over The Midnight”
The release of Jonathan Wilson’s third full length album in early March threw us for a loop. While we were well versed in many of his production credits, including remarkable work with Father John Misty (Fear Fun, I Love You HoneyBear), Conor Oberst (Upside Down Mountain), and Dawes (Nothing Is Wrong, North Hills) — just to name a few — we admittedly hadn’t explored his solo work in depth. Upon fixing this gaping and embarrassing hole in our musical expertise, we fell deeply not only for Wilson’s latest album Rare Birds, but for the entirety of his catalog catalog, particularly 2013’s stunning Fanfare (treat yo-self!). Since March, Wilson’s catalog and Rare Birds has been getting mad burn over here at Across The Margin, especially the sonic journey that is the entirely engaging and smooth “Over The Midnight.”
Listen to “Over The Midnight.”
Czarface & Doom — “Bomb Thrown”
Crazrface, the hard-hitting hip-hop group composed of 7L, Esoteric, and Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck, were back at it this year with another album release, but this time they employed the help of the mysterious, legendary emcee MF Doom. The result, Czarface Meets Metal Face, is a fascinating throwback album, brimming with more nerdy references than an episode of The Big Bang Theory (or, so we’ve heard…). While Czarface Meets Metal Face isn’t of the quality in aggregate of the last few Czarface albums (or any Doom album for that matter), there are a few bangers, one of which is “Bomb Thrown,” where all three emcee’s display their bizarre lyrical prowess over a funky, classic feeling beat.
Listen to “Bomb Thrown.”
David Byrne – “It’s Not Dark Up Here.”
This was a tough decision here, as it seems as if weekly, since the release of David Byrne’s first true solo album in fourteen years, American Utopia, that we at Across The Margin fall deeply for another one of the gems that makeup Byne’s stellar album. There were times we were sure “Everybody’s Coming To My House” would get the nod. Other days, “I Dance Like This,” or “Gasoline or Dirty Sheets,” we figured, would represent American Utopia. However, at time of publication the ultra-funky, and whistling-enhanced, “It’s Not Dark Up Here” is our jam. It’s remarkable that David Byrne is still putting out such inspired work at this stage in his career, and more than that you can find him currently putting on a remarkable live show on an eighty-plus date (!!!) world tour. Just wow…
Listen to “It’s Not Dark Up Here.”
Kendrick Lamar — “King’s Dead” ft. Future & James Blake
We are running out of superlatives over here at Across The Margin in order to describe Kendrick Lamar’s prolific and remarkable output since the release of Good Kid M.A.A.D. City in 2012. This year, he was the cherry on top of an exceptional and important Hollywood blockbuster, one that highlighted the true power of black enterprise in America with Black Panther. Of course Kendrick was the one that was going to provide the musical tone for such a cinematic endeavor, one that celebrated an African superhero, was directed by an African-American director, and featured a majority black cast. Always up to the task, the recent Pulitzer Prize winner came with it, leaning on contributions from a crew of talented musicians including Sza, Ab-Soul, Anderson .Paak, Vince Staples, 2 Chainz, Future, and James Blake on an album that undoubtedly “lives on X.” Our selection from this exceptional soundtrack is the intoxicating “King’s Dead,” which features Future and James Blake.
Listen to “King’s Dead.”
Amen Dunes — “Believe”
If not familiar with New York based psychedelic-folk rock phenom Damon McMahon, former frontman of Inuok, and his band Amen Dunes (made of McMahon, Delicate Steve on guitar, and Parker Kindred from Antony & The Johnsons and Jeff Buckley on drums), their fifth album released this March, Freedom, is an excellent place to start. While not fully representative of all of what Amen Dunes has to offer, as each release of his is its own unique animal, Freedom will draw you into McMahon’s world as his delicate falsetto glides over understated electronic soundscapes. Freedom manifests itself as Amen Dunes’ most focused and beautiful offering yet, and nothing highlights this idea more than “Believe,” as gorgeous of a track as we’ve heard all year.
Listen to “Believe.”
Dungen & Woods — “Loop”
In the summer of 2009 the famed Swedish prog rock band Dungen toured with Brooklyn based folk-rock band Woods, culminating the tour by co-headlining the Woodsist festival. The chemistry birthed amid that time together has, almost ten years later, manifested itself in a collaboration in the form of the superb album Myths 003. “Loop,” the opening track on Myths 003, is a sonic adventure, a driving psychedelic ride that is engaging and entirely hypnotic. “Loop” is a song that provides listeners with a cathartic escape, as it is impossible not to get lost in is pulsating groove, and just drift away.
Listen to “Loop.”
Jeff Rosenstock – “USA”
Jeff Rosenstock dropped an absolute barnburner of an album on the first day of 2018 entitled Post-, which marked his third solo effort. Bolstered by robust pop-rock anthems and a fierce energy, Post- is as exciting of an album we’ve come upon recently. Of all the tracks on this riveting album, there is one that stands out not only as a fiery rocker, but one that is suffused with pointed lyricism. “USA” conveys the frustration of the moment in a country whose ills have become more readily apparent than ever before. “Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected / Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted / Trapped in my room while the house was burnin’ / To the motherfuckin’ ground,” Rosenstock wails to commence “USA,” an absolutely perfect anthem of angst in the Trump Era.
Listen to “USA.”
Leon Bridges – “Beyond”
Leon Bridges is an artist not of this time. A true throwback, Bridges — who released his sophomore album last week entitled Good Thing — whisks listeners back to the heyday of Motown with his earnest, affecting voice and soulful grooves. While Good Thing is the sort of album that’s worthy of running from front to back, at the moment we have “Beyond” on repeat, a song that is dripping with passion and beauty, and of the excitement and uncertainty that defines those initial feelings of first falling in love. Leon Bridges isn’t simply a retro soul man, but a purveyor of music that feels absolutely timeless and “Beyond” is a perfect example of the awesome power he wields musically.
Listen to “Beyond.”
PRhyme — “Flirt” ft. 2 Chainz
It is not too early to begin examining the collaboration between Detroit rapper Royce Da 5’ 9” and legendary producer DJ Premier as one of the more formidable hip-hop pairings in recent years. This March they released their second album, PRhyme 2, and it’s more of the same head-nod inducing boom-bap found on their first album. Of all tracks on the album we find ourselves drawn robustly towards “Flirt” featuring 2 Chainz. While Royce and 2 Chainz meticulously recounting their real-life frustrations with the opposite sex on the track is fascinating, the beat and the hook are the reason that we can’t stop bumping it. It’s a song that will surely be on all of our summer playlists.
Listen to “Flirt.”
Royce Da 5’ 9” — “Cocaine”
We felt it absolutely necessary to feature a double dose of Royce Da 5’ 9” amid this mid-year music celebration, as Royce is just coming with it in ‘18. Beyond his aforementioned collaboration with DJ Premier, Royce released a stunning solo album entitled Book of Ryan that contains so many bangers we had a hell of time deciding which one to highlight. Would it be “Caterpillar,” which features Eminem spitting as if he were still in his prime, or the squad banger that is “Summer On Lock” featuring Pusha T, Jadakiss, Fabolous, and Assasin? Ultimately, we went with “Cocaine” with its ultra smooth soundscapes, its personal narrative, and always on-time lyricism from one of the best doing it.
Listen to “Cocaine.”
Jamo Gang — “The Altar.”
The Jamo Gang is a hip-hop duo that flies far too under the radar for our liking. Composed of the legendary wordsmith Ras Kass and one of hip-hop’s most unheralded lyricists, El Gant, along with turntable virtuoso J57 on the beats, The Jamo Gang evokes the golden age of hip-hop (the 90s of course) while exhibiting the fire and passion of hungry up and comers. Their eight-song Jamo Gang EP, released late January, is rife with dazzling lyricism and hard hitting beats, and culminated with the anthemic “The Altar,” featuring Snak the Ripper and our favorite hook we’ve come upon all year. While we are still eagerly waiting for their first full length release, the stunning tracks such as “The Altar” that make up the Jamo Gang EP will certainly hold us over until then.
Listen to “The Altar.”
Nightmare On Wax — “Shape The Future”
In the eyes of trip-hop aficionados, Nightmares on Wax (George Evelyn) is considered a true pioneer. A legend of the genre, who has been awing fans with a radiant mix of funk, soul, and hip-hop laced with dub and club beats since his 1991 debut A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter, Nightmares On Wax feels particularly inspired on his first album in five years, Shape The Future. What is most remarkable, and wholly inspiring about his latest album is the positivity that persists throughout it, particularly in the entirely hypnotic title track, “Shape The Future,“ an eerie and soulful journey through blissful, tranced out soundscapes.
Listen to “Shape The Future.”
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids — “Tinoge.”
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids latest album, An Angel Fell, is a riveting and intense jazz ensemble that is all-consuming and flat out beautiful. Idris & The Pyramids have been performing since the early 70s, yet after a lengthy hiatus beginning in 1977, they began releasing albums again in 2012, and thank all that is good that occurred. While it is apparent many are unaware of their musical stylings, we believe “Tinoge,” the opening track off An Angel Fell, to be a perfect introduction to Idris & The Pyramids’ enthralling sound with its driving percussive rhythm and extended, dizzying free jazz sax solo.
Listen to “Tinoge.”
Iceage — “Pain Killer”
Iceage is a Danish punk rock band who have been wowing us with their growth across their four studio releases, and none more than their latest, Beyondless. While thick, and even morbid at times, Iceage’s brand of driving punk is often buoyant, accessible, and downright fun. “Pain Killer” is a poppy rocker of a song featuring paired vocals from lead singer Elias Rønnenfelt and American singer/songwriter Sky Ferreira to brilliant results, specifically when the hook comes around and the duo wildly wail “I rue the day you became my pain killer.” Don’t be surprised if by song’s end you find yourself right there with them howling away as well!
Listen to “Pain Killer.”
Preoccupations — “Disarray.”
Regardless of what they call themselves, Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong) has continually enamored us with their frenetic and jarring brand of post-punk. Their latest album, New Material, is more of the same mind-bending and energetic rock that we are continually drawn to. The album’s third single, “Disarray,” displays in one track everything we love about the band: maniacal guitar work, a pulsating drum machine, and surging vocals with introspective lyrics that invoke a surprisingly cathartic ambience.
Listen to “Disarray.”
Courtney Barnett — “City Looks Pretty”
In a short amount of time, Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett has ascending the ranks of indie rock royalty to great heights. Due to her introspective lyrics and deadpan delivery, we have come upon comparisons of Barnett to Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan, and in many ways that makes sense to us. She is an indie rock phenom that continues to impress with her releases, none more so than her latest album released just last week, Tell Me How You Really Feel. Although we are still just digging into all the majesty of the album, we are already profoundly fond of the pulsating, thoughtful “City Looks Pretty,” a track where Barnett laments about life on the road, singing “Friends treat you like a stranger and strangers treat you like their best friend / One day, maybe never, I’ll come around.”
Listen to “City Looks Pretty.”
Janelle Monae – “Make Me Feel.”
Janelle Monae is a national treasure, and her latest album, Dirty Computer, is exemplifying of just how uniquely talented of an artist she is. While we were close to shining a light on a track on Dirty Computer where the world came to realize just how talented a rapper Monae is (“Django Jane”!), “Make Me Feel” is most representative of her grandeur. “Make Me Feel” is a song that invokes the exultant, ultra funky spirit of the late great Prince, and in that way is a song that makes us feel fully alive and ready to shake our ass.
Listen To “Make Me Feel.”
King Tuff — “Nevermind Sunshine.”
Anyone familiar with the musical inclinations of Across The Margin knows how deeply we admire the prolific garage rocker Ty Segall. He is, to speak plainly, our dude. Not only are we thankful to Ty for his bounteous musical offerings, but for leading us into the auditory arms of of Kyle Thomas, also known as King Tuff. Thomas was a member of Segall’s touring band The Muggers following the release of his album Emotional Mugger, and once we became enamored with Thomas after catching a few shows on this tour, we took a deep dive into all things King Tuff. This year King Tuff dropped a gem of an album, The Other, which we recommend front to back, but the serene jaunt that is “Nevermind Sunshine” is a hell of a place to start in becoming familiar with this exciting artist.
Listen to “Nevermind Sunshine.”
Caitlin Canty – “Take Me For a Ride.”
On Nashville-by-way-of-Vermont singer/songwriter Caitlin Canty’s third album, Motel Bouquet, her enchantingly gorgeous voice is the focal point that everything else revolves around. Produced by Grammy-nominated producer Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers), and recorded live over three days in Nashville, the album features radiant songs about love and loss and all the relatable places in between. The first single released off of Motel Bouquet is entitled “Take Me For A Ride,” and it is a song that Canty describes as “a take on the frustration in circling back to a vice or a person that you’ve been trying to quit.” A track that is as affecting as it is delicate and beautiful.
Listen to “Take Me For a Ride.”
Khruangbin — “Lady and Man.”
Khruangbin (the Thai word for airplane) is a three piece band from Texas and our latest music obsession. Inspired by 60s and 70s psychedelia and funk, as well as musical stylings throughout the world from Thailand, to Spain, to the Middle East, and beyond, Khruangbin’s latest album Con Todo El Mundo is a stunner. “Lady and Man,” the album’s second track is smooth as silk, and a funky, perfectly executed musical excursion whose only point of fault we can find is that it eventually comes to end.
Listen to “Lady and Man.”
Kevin Morby & Waxahatchee — “The Dark Don’t Hide It” & “Farewell Transmission”
In an homage to the great Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co, Songs: Ohia), Kevin Morby and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield teamed up to release covers of two of Molina’s most treasured songs, “Farewell Transmission” and “The Dark Don’t Hide It.” These two faithful renditions to Molina’s vision capture all the beauty and depth of both brilliantly crafted songs, and not only serve as a reminder of Molina’s genius, but of the enormous talents of both Morby and Crutchfield. Proceeds from the digital sales of the two songs will go to the MusiCares charity, so don’t be shy!