East Oakland rapper Kamaiyah dropped her ’90s-influenced debut, A Good Night in the Ghetto, to critical acclaim last year. 2017 has borne that mixtape’s fruits, including a spot in XXL’s influential annual freshmen class (she’s the first West Coast female on the list). According to her Instagram, the 25-year-old former security guard has since struggled to preserve her momentum thanks to a series of delays with her upcoming Interscope release. However, on this self-released interlude, Kamaiyah turns her frustrations into lyrical fodder delivered with an unmistakable deep-voiced flow and uplifting candy-coated hooks. Though she’s forthcoming about the hardships of newfound fame and label drama, Kamaiyah ultimately maintains confidence and a triumphant poise. “Coldest chick on two feet that you probably ever saw / Illest chick alive in some panties and a bra,” she boasts on “Dope Bitch,” culminating in the record’s biggest hook: “I’m a dope bitch / Straight up outta Oakland.”
Like her hero, Missy Elliot, one of the most refreshing aspects about Kamaiyah (apart from her signature jumpsuits) is her abstention from hypersexuality and hostility. Kamaiyah focuses on building herself up from the inside out, cultivating an image of one who is hardworking, humble and accessible. There’s sense of historical continuity in her music, and in interviews, Kamaiyah appears to take her role as the next link in a storied chain seriously. With laid-back G-funk production and a fresh vocal style, Kamaiyah is at once honoring and changing the rap game in the West.
Their fourth album of the year (!), Polygondwanaland finds King Gizzard continuing to explore the possibilities of microtonal guitar work. The band sounds more comfortable with their instruments, allowing them to really stretch out here. Echoes of Turkish psych, horror movie soundtracks, post-rock and metal blend in a heady swirl of odd rhythms, twinkling melodies and dense counterpoint.
Various Artists — Skyscraper Riddim
As dancehall music continues to worm its way into modern pop, recent releases by Tory Lanez, Drake and others have begun dripping with Jamaican influence. Skyscraper Riddim, then, is an interesting reversal of this dynamic: following the massive success of Rihanna’s “Work,” which sampled his “Sail Away (Riddim)” from 2000, producer and singer Richie Stephens has returned to producing dancehall. His Skyscraper explores the golden era of ragga music, with playful flutes that dance over staccato clavinet chords and synths pads that drift over a thudding bass kick. Dexta Daps, Christopher Martin and Romain Virgo all bring their A-game, while deejays Mr. G and Assassin fling verbal barbs. But it’s veteran Professor Nuts’s “Ruguh Ruguh” that makes one feel like they’re in the ’90s tipping back Red Stripes and vibing at an all-night party.
If 1990s indie rock is now considered classic rock, Verst’s second album, David Slain, is an instant classic. That’s not to say these are retro recordings — sure, there are hints of Pavement’s penchant for six-string entanglements, but David Slain decidedly dodges slacker musicianship. And yes, frontman John Dickey’s voice sometimes sounds like an intersection of Thurston Moore’s lackadaisical timbre and J. Mascis’s reedy croon, but Dickey has been singing this way since the ’90s with Pie and Richard Bitch. David Slain may be ’90s informed, but it’s not a ’90s retrospective. No disrespect to Sebadoh, but Lou Barlow could never write a song as catchy as “Haleakala.” And while Pixies are godhead, their guitars never sounded as cacophonously gorgeous as those laid to waste on the eight-minute space rock epic “Secret Sea.”
True to his unconventional form, Chris Brown dropped Heartbreak on a Full Moon on a Tuesday — Halloween, no less — gifting his fans an astonishing 45 tracks. From soulful ballads to upbeat hip-hop to EDM-infused bangers, there’s something here for everyone. The album begins with “Lost & Found,” in which Brown opens up about an intimate “situationship” filled with angst and frustration. On “Hope You Do,” he samples Donell Jones’s 2000 hit “Where I Wanna Be,” and we hear Brown’s more vulnerable, sexual side. He gets help from Future and Young Thug, delivering “High End,” which sounds exactly how a collab of this magnitude should: smooth, flashy and unapologetically cool. Does Brown need 45 tracks to achieve #HOAFM’s sonic aims? Probably not. But regardless of whether he’s trying to game the charts or just tenacious, Brown brings ample variety to this sprawling package.
Carly Pearce quit high school and moved to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, at age 16, performing five nights a week at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park and music venue. The hard work appears to have paid off for the “Every Little Thing” singer: a duet with Josh Abbott Band in 2016 landed her on both the country music charts and the Big Machine Records roster. Effortlessly country in sound and lyric, Pearce’s debut album arrives highly anticipated. Songs like “If My Name Was Whiskey” and “I Need a Ride Home” are homages to the Nashville songwriting community. Elsewhere, Pearce’s powerful vocals settle into soulful ballads like the title track, as well as the catchy twang of up-tempo songs like “Hide the Wine.”
What happens when a clutch of Chicago experimental music vets give proper pop a go? They create their own twisted brew of indie rock and psychedelic noise. Nothing Valley is an acid-dosed sugar rush of angular guitar crunch, splattered drumming and abrasive textures. Melkbelly channel the melodic indie rock of the Breeders and the psychedelic flute-gaze of Swirlies, but mush it messily through a cracked, noise rock sensibility reminiscent of old Sonic Youth and the fringier elements of the nineties Touch and Go Records roster. And yet, even with the group’s penchant for difficult noisiness, their surprising pop mastery shines through.
Synchromysticism is only the third full-length in 13 years formulated by this St. Louis instrumental trio. Even at that rate, these guys should be considered prolific, given the ridiculous complexity of their material. Synchromysticism is the apex of Yowie’s nerdy, nervous output thus far. Its dense, kinetic compositions, constructed from insectoid guitar dissonance and dense polyrhythmic beats, represent a perplexing reinvention of the concept of groove. Unlike bands whose mechanically sterile shredding never really gets to the point (or, worse, is the whole point), Yowie wield their ultra-technical math-rock chops in service of something danceable. Sure, it might help if you had a few extra limbs, but even if you’re sitting still, your brain will be forced to do some dancing anyway. Forget daily Sudoku to keep your synapses in shape — just spin this instead.
2015’s Gruta finds singer-producer Cecilia Gebhard performing feats of transfiguration. As folk instruments from her native Argentina converge with beats and electronics, it becomes impossible to tell the digital from the indigenous. The ensuing haze is dubby and hypnotic, an early-morning dream state in which didgeridoos mimic bassy synths and Latin güiros keep the whole thing swaying.
Gorgeous icy ambience crafted from hushed, shifting slabs of sound. A shimmering, greyed-out sprawl of quiet beauty.
Spacious indie confessionals backed by deceptively intricate drumming. It doesn’t get much purer than these vocals.
Melancholy, wasted and loose indie rock. Like a weird, noisier Morrissey.
Glitchy, multilayered future-pop. Bleeps and bloops dart between aggressive rhythms in a ceaseless tumble.
String-laden psychedelic pop/garage rock from Paraguay.
Southern rockers hailing from up north. Steel guitar and gospel-tinged keys; songs about women (three of ’em) and raising the dead.