Songs for Peace: LxListening

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Frankly, 2016 has been an awful year. It has felt like every news cycle brings a new tragedy: black lives being taken from police brutality in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, police being shot in Dallas, and ISIS attacks in Baghdad, Istanbul, Orlando, Brussels, and San Bernadino. Fear, hatred, and anger is the language of the day and in the U.S. Election and Brexit.  Voices of ignorance and arrogance drown out those of love, courage, and unity.

While there is still certainly plenty of reason for protest and fighting for justice, sometimes we all just deeply long for peace and for all the madness to end. Music can bring a sense of healing and peace of mind like nothing else.

These for the most part aren’t anti-war or protest songs (we’ve been there before), but these are songs pointing to a brighter future, plain and simple. So for myself and anyone who needs a little bit of hope, here are my favorite songs for peace.

Listen on Apple Music

Listen on Spotify

 

Songs for Peace: LxListening

Even in Losing, Ticketmaster Sets the Terrible Rules

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If you are a frequent event attender like myself, you have probably gotten a handful of emails with the subject line “Schlesinger v. Ticketmaster Settlement.” This was a class-action lawsuit where someone actually took ticket monopoly Ticketmaster on and sued them for all their excessive and deceptive “processing” fees.

For once, the good guys won and anyone who ordered tickets between October 21, 1999 and February 27, 2013 can benefit from the lawsuit. The problem is very much on how the settlement payout is being distributed, which feels very much on Ticketmaster’s terms.

  • For each transaction you get a measly $2.25 coupon code per transaction you made up to 17 (for myself, I had the full 17 equaling $38.25).
  • Depending on your past transactions and whether you had tickets shipped, you could also receive $5 UPS discount code for sending tickets, which is largely useless since most people just do print-at-home or mobile tickets these days.
  • The biggest win appears to be the $5M in free tickets that Ticketmaster is distributing to customers, which again, you can get up to 17. I got 17 of these free general admission tickets, but the problem is Ticketmaster is calling the shots on which shows it applies to.

The first round of shows the free tickets applied to was released in mid-June, but turned out to be a who’s who of who you don’t want to see. Most cities didn’t even get shows, and the ones that did, only had shows included at big outdoor amphitheaters like the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Tinley Park, IL or the Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville, IN, venues that get washed-up legacy acts (Def Leppard, Heart, Hall & Oates, Rob Thomas), mainstream country (which is great if you are a country fan, but not helpful if you aren’t), or just straight-up bad 90’s rock acts (Buckcherry, Slipknot, Korn, Rob Thomas). The only consistency seems to be that these are shows that are super unlikely to sell out (so not really affecting Ticketmaster’s bottom line), and Ticketmaster is only giving away a handful of free tickets for each show.

Here’s Stephen Colbert speaking about how lame the options are:

Even at this moment, all of the shows listed are sold out of vouchers, meaning if you want to use your free vouchers, you have to continually check back this website (http://concerts.livenation.com/microsite/settlement) and just hope a show comes up that you actually want to go to AND it isn’t already sold out of vouchers.

Also when it comes to the $2.25 coupon code, this is such a small amount that Ticketmaster has to be thinking this just incentivizes customers to use and buy tickets on Ticketmaster with very little effect on their profit.

So while I’m glad someone actually stuck it to Ticketmaster, it still seems like the music fan barely benefits from this. Fortunately, it seems like there has been a ton of improvement and additional competition over the past few years, with many smaller venues handling their own ticket sales through their websites, other sites like Ticketfly and Brown Paper Tickets taking off, and secondary market sites like Seatgeek reaching new heights. I used to be stuck using Ticketmaster for purchases 3-5 times a year, and thank the Lord, I can’t tell you the last time I had to use Ticketmaster. There is hope for a better ticket world yet.

Even in Losing, Ticketmaster Sets the Terrible Rules

LxL’s Top 10 Radiohead Songs

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There are only a few acts in rock history that have been able to shape-shift and stay both relevant and innovative over a 20 year span. American chameleon Beck is certainly one, with his incredible new summer jam “Wow” certainly being an example of that, but Radiohead is the most notable from across the pond. Radiohead’s new album A Moon Shaped Pool is an extension of that continued innovation, building out beautiful and dissonant orchestration into the band’s sound, influenced by the experimental film scores done by guitarist Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be BloodThe Master, Inherent Vice). All three of us were at the perfect ages for Radiohead to really take hold (though it only took hold with two of us), with Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief releasing during our high school years and In Rainbows releasing in our college years. So without further ado, our 10 favorite songs for a band we hold dear.

10. “Give Up the Ghost”

Radiohead has built its reputation on being weird, electronic, and experimental, but the band does beautiful ballads as well as anyone. The hypnotic looping of “Give Up the Ghost” is the perfect example of Radiohead at their most emotionally resonant. The first time I saw this live a year before the release of King of Limbs, there wasn’t a single person not transfixed to the stage during it.

9. “Burn the Witch”

The lead track off of the Radiohead’s latest, “Burn the Witch” combines beautiful yet jarring orchestration with piercing political commentary. Thom Yorke often speaks caustically to the political climate of our time, but he has never done so more poetically than “Burn the Witch”

8. “There There”

In the beginning of the George W. Bush’s presidency, Radiohead released Hail to the Thief, calling out our world’s leaders years before the reality of all the corruption, greed, and unjust war became clear. “There There” comes off as snappy and playful as Radiohead gets, but its soaked with the impending doom right around the corner.

7. “Pyramid Song”

Like I said before with “Give up the Ghost”, Radiohead does piano ballads in a way that just makes you float off your feet. “Pyramid Song” feels like floating into another dimension.

6. “Reckoner”

The crash of percussion and the still, harp-like guitar riff announces “Reckoner”, one of Radiohead’s most arresting songs off of their most colorful album, In Rainbows. The way “Reckoner” grows and shifts is just picture perfect: every piece of instrumentation in just the right place.

5. “Electioneering”

“Electioneering” is Radiohead at their most manic and chaotic. Early in their years of writing politically, the band sounds as urgent as ever on “Electioneering”.

4. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”

One look at the alien-like individual that is Thom Yorke, and you wouldn’t think of him as a hopeless romantic. And certainly he’s not, but Yorke writes some of the most moving love songs around. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” is a simply gorgeous love song that is hard not to get wrapped into.

“Paranoid Android”

Inspired by The Beatles “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “Paranoid Android” is really three different songs fused into one blazingly epic song cycle.

“Idioteque”

As much as Radiohead breaks ground on every album, Kid A may be the only one that truly transformed music, ushering in an era where electronics, experimentation, and rock all belonged together. “Idioteque” is a disco for the apocalypse.

“Everything In It’s Right Place”

“Everything In Its Right Place” is really a perfect song. It’s beautiful, alarming, and creepy all at once. It combines all of Radiohead’s best elements: bold experimentation, arresting vocals, and abstract yet expressive lyrics.

Just Missed:

Austin – “Codex”

Austin is the only one of us that isn’t a Radiohead nut, but he does find enjoyment in King of Limbs. “Codex” sort of hearkens back to the best piano ballads from Pink Floyd, a band that Austin certainly cherishes.

Todd – “Life in a Glass House”

Todd loves his jazz and “Life in a Glass House” is a swinging, messy jazz tune and an interesting genre departure for Radiohead.

Wes – “Street Spirit…Fade Out”

The Bends may have been Radiohead’s second album in 1995, but it was really their first as the bold, experimental band we know today. “Street Spirit…Fade Out” is one of my favorite album closers period: its pacing, restless and just doesn’t want you to leave or stop listening.

LxL’s Top 10 Radiohead Songs

Car Seat Headrest Review: Teens of Denial

 

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In a year where politicians are promising to make things great again, the same could possibly be said about rock music. Like America, rock may no longer be the center of attention, rock critics constantly looking for a savior to bring rock back into the mainstream.

While rock has been great all this time (with great acts like St. Vincent, Tame Impala, Parquet Courts, Savages to name a few.),  there are still certain sparks that remind me of rock in the days of my youth, when it sounded vibrant and exciting like nothing else. 23-year-old Virginian Will Toledo is in the days of his youth and writes about youth like few others: on his first two albums 2015’s Teens of Style and now 2016’s Teens of Denial. Teens of Style was indeed stylish, the sound of a twentysomething songwriting genius writing Strokes-style songs in his garage. Teens of Denial has plenty of thrilling rock songs, but there is also incredible songwriting craft and compositional ambition on Teens of Denial: an absolute magnum opus about youth and young manhood.

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Teens of Style is a concept record about a character named Joe as he faces emergent adulthood. On Teens of Denial, Toledo sings each song like it could be life and death (which is how it feels as a teenager), in the same way Springsteen sounded on Born to Run or the Replacements on Let It Be. Obviously those are lofty comparisons, but at times Teens of Denial sounds and feels the part of an instant classic. Even with so much seemingly at stake in songs like “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, Toledo maintains a dry wit throughout, throwing out funny one-liners here and there to keep it grounded.

Toledo knows how to do epic songs the right way: not in a cheesy, ridiculous, or snobby way, but songs that strap you into a roller coaster, and make you want to ride over and over even when you know which twists and turns are coming. From the opening bending riff of “Vincent”, it’s clear you really need to strap in, especially as each instrument comes in and picks up speed, until you are hurled around in a shroud of noise that you hope never ends. “The Ballad of Costa Concordia” is 11-minute mini-song cycle filled with moments of sobriety, eagerness, apathy, and pure bliss – really the full encapsulation of feelings of adolescence – topped off with a refrain from Dido’s “White Flag” to capture the disillusionment of millennials. On “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, juxtaposes two seemingly dissimilar subjects, the aforementioned drunk drivers and killer whales, then uses them as a comparison to himself and teens like himself: an out-of-control, unpredictable danger to themselves and those around them. Toledo laments “We are not a proud race/It’s not a race at all/We’re just trying/I’m only trying to get home.”

Sonically, Car Seat Headrest isn’t reinventing the wheel but sort of taking pieces of the best indie rock in the past few decades: the rock drive and observations of youth in America like The Hold Steady, cool apathy and catchy rock melodies like the Strokes, and bombastic and unconventional songs and bookish smart lyrics like Okkervil River.

This is a big reason why people are excited about Car Seat Headrest. The world of “indie rock” as it was known in the early 21st century is not what it used to be, and Car Seat Headrest is being held up as our last big hope to take indie rock’s place in the world back. While Will Toledo may not be a racist, misogynist bully or indie rock’s savior, he is another excellent young rock talent that shows rock will remain vibrant, even if it’s on the margins. Independent rock can be great, even when it’s not the coolest and biggest kid on the block.

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Can’t Miss: “Vincent”, “The Ballad of Costa Concordia”, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, “Destroyed by Hippie Powers”

Can’t Hit: None

Car Seat Headrest Review: Teens of Denial

LxL’s Surprise Album Power Rankings

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This spring has been full of musical surprises like no other year. Five major artists announced and released albums as a surprise on short notice, and instead of breaking each of them down in separate reviews, we thought it best to rank and mini-review each album. So here are our spring 2016 surprise album power rankings.

5. Drake – Views

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Surprise Level:

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Since Drake’s 2015 mixtape If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late and his phone jam “Hotline Bling”, people have been anticipating the tentatively-titled Views from the 6 for almost two years. Then on April 4th, Drake finally announced the album with a slightly shortened title, Views. The album finally dropped at midnight on April 28th exclusively in Apple Music.

Best Moments: “One Dance”, “Child’s Play”, “Hotline Bling”

After two years of anticipation of a big Drake magnum opus, Views is certainly ambitious at 20 songs but falls flat. Drake seems stuck in neutral for his past few releases, unable to move forward emotionally or musically.

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The album suffers from being about 8 songs too long and some poor sequencing as well. The album only picks up speed about 10 songs in, when its biggest highlights hit. “Child’s Play” has Drake singing playfully about America’s favorite restaurant, “One Dance” is Drake picking up the dancehall vibe and running with it, and “Hotline Bling” which was tacked on the end of the album to just boost some sales. Mostly Views is severely disappointing.

Verdict: Leave Drake alone on his perch.

4. James Blake – The Colour In Anything

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Surprise Level:

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In November 2014, the neo-soul electronic musician James Blake said he was mostly done with his third album and it would be released in spring 2015. This, of course, didn’t happen. In February 2015, some rumors surfaced that the album would finally be coming out soon but without a date. On April 28th, Blake released some photos on his social media revealing the album title, and then a few days later on May 6th, Blake released the album at midnight.

Best Moments: “I Need a Forest Fire (feat. Bon Iver)”, “I Hope My Life”, “Timeless”, “Choose Me”

James Blake is someone I have been lukewarm on for two albums, but his latest, The Colour In Anything, showcases why he’s one of the most sonically interesting musicians around. Beyond having a smooth and soulful voice, Blake undercuts and contrasts his voice with an incredible range of sonic distortion, electronic dissonance, and range in audio dynamics, going from extremely soft and sweet to an all-out alarming mix of noise.

Blake also knows how to build a hypnotic and arresting album like few others. “Love Me In Whatever Way” is a great example of how James repeats a phrase as the sonic waves build higher and higher before consuming him. “Timeless” showcases his ability to pick a variety of seemingly dissonant sounds that whirl together in wonderful and interesting ways. “I Hope My Life” takes the cold synth-pop of 80’s greats like the Eurythmics and the Pet Shop Boys to great new heights.

Verdict: Give James a(nother) shot

3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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Surprise Level: 

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Experimental rock greats Radiohead are a band that certainly needs no introduction, and a band that is known for experimenting with surprise releases ever since 2007’s In Rainbows when the band allowed fans to “pay what you want” for the album.

The latest release cycle started on May 1st when the band deleted their internet presence entirely, deleting all posts from their social media and taking their site Dead Air Space down. Then the band released teaser videos on May 3rd before finally releasing the first single and video “Burn the Witch.” A couple days later (May 6th), they released a second single and another video, this time the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Magnolia) video for “Daydreaming.” The same day the band announced the albums release on May 8th, where the album A Moon Shaped Pool, was released on all streaming and download services including Apple Music, Google, and Spotify, which Radiohead and previously criticized and kept their music off of.

Best Moments: “Burn the Witch”, “Daydreaming”, “Identikit”, “True Love Waits”

The best comparison for Radiohead’s latest is 2007’s In Rainbows, where Radiohead created a truly beautiful record. In the same way, A Moon Shaped Pool has plenty of experimentation (primarily from the dissonant strings and orchestration of guitarist Jonny Greenwood) but at its core, it’s pretty Radiohead: Thom Yorke singing tenderly over lush piano and orchestration singing with tenderness and urgency.

Lead track and single “Burn the Witch” was a song made for our times. Over menacing strings, the song drives an arrow through our irrational, witch-hunting, outrage culture which has led to this insane political climate and social media mess we live in. Like much of Radiohead’s music, the album drips with the danger of an impending apocalypse, the darkness lurking right around the corner.

A Moon Shaped Pool is one of their most listenable albums, but also subtly brilliant in its detail. These little touches and flourishes on each song take these songs from good to great. “Identikit”, which was produced in Jack White’s Third Man studios, showcases the sophistication of drummer Phil Selway and each player adds layers of complement and turmoil. “Decks Dark” has almost an operatic tension as the haunting choir is a cloud hovering over Thom Yorke’s voice and piano.

“True Love Waits” is an incredible example of Radiohead’s timing and brilliance. The song was written in in 1995 and has been played occasionally live, but has never found an album home. Now, 21 years later, “True Love Waits” is the perfect, poignant close to Radiohead’s prettiest album.

Verdict: The rock champs are back

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

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Surprise Level: 

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Chicago rapper and pride of the South Side Chance the Rapper released his third mixtape Coloring Book at 11PM on May 12th. The mixtape was initially announced to release soon on April 4th, with Chance announcing the official release date on his live TV debut of “Blessings”, his second single off the mixtape (“Angels” was released and performed on ate night month’s earlier). The album released exclusively on Apple Music for two weeks, giving Apple another leg up towards catching Spotify in the streaming races.

Best Moments: “No Problem”, “Summer Friends”, “How Great”, “Blessings”

Taking some notes from his musical hero and fellow Chicagoan Kanye West, Coloring Book is an ambitious step forward for Chance and similarly straddles the secular and spiritual like much of Kanye’s work. Chance, though, leans heavily on the side of spiritual, since Coloring Book is more gospel as the main course with a side of hip hop and R&B. Chance’s mix of the best in hip hop and R&B production into gospel breathes new and fresh life into a genre of music that played an incredibly important role in the formation of rock ‘n’ roll and soul.

Chance takes his child-like faith and boundless joy and puts it on record for all to hear, also showcasing the best of his home community. Turning on the nightly news, you tend to hear nothing but sad stories from the South Side of Chicago, but Chance paints a different story: a talented community filled with hope in the face of adversity, and faith that can move mountains. “No Problem” just jumps out of your earbuds with joy, “Summer Friends” snaps and crackles with incredible production with an assist from Francis and the Lights, and “How Great” somehow takes CCM anthem “How Great Is Our God”, auto-tunes it, adds a bunch of clever bible rhymes (“The type of worship make Jesus come back a day early”) and actually makes it sound cool and not corny. I’ve heard from a handful of people who were Chance skeptics who have said Coloring Book has made them believers.

Verdict: Glory Glory! Hail the new king of Chicago rap

1. Beyoncé – Lemonade

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Surprise Level: 

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Beyoncé released lead single “Formation” right before her Superbowl performance in Feburary, making millions come to the shocking revelation that Beyoncé is black. Beyoncé then announced a mysterious video project on HBO called “Lemonade”, and turns out it was the debut of her new visual album Lemonade. The brilliance of Lemonade  as a visual experience and piece of musical expression instantly made the internet go crazy, as did the witch hunt from Beyoncé’s fan base to find the woman that Jay-Z cheated on Beyoncé with. President Obama could cheat on Michelle and it would be less of a thing.

Best Moments: “Hold Up”, “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, “Sorry”, “Freedom”, “Formation”

Beyoncé’s last album was a self-titled surprise release during the holiday season in 2014, another visual album with a different video for each song. Lemonade, is a truly cohesive musical film, as Beyoncé wrestles with her husband’s infidelity in 11 different emotional phases (Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, and Hope and Redemption). Beyond looking as good as Terence Malick’s Tree of Life, Lemonade explores more musical flavors than any album before. “Hold Up” has Beyoncé on the verge of losing it with a reggae-tinged reworking of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” by saying “Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you.” “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is Beyoncé finally letting her anger free with a thrashing rock track with the help of Jack White. “Daddy Lessons” is a southern-gospel flavored country tune with singing about her childhood. “Freedom” is an empowering anthem for anyone with obstacles to overcome, and specifically with the help of “Kendrick Lamar”, stands as an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s incredibly rare for someone to reach their artistic peak nearly 20 years into their career, but Beyoncé is finally reaching her creative peak, and it’s awesome to hear.

Verdict: Beyoncé accomplished what Kanye couldn’t: making people buy Tidal and not be angry about it.

 

 

LxL’s Surprise Album Power Rankings

LxListening: Rocking and Rolling

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Rock music has really fallen far in the last two decades, being replaced by hip hop, pop, and then electronic music as the primary musical language of the day. While it once ruled the musical landscape for about 40 years (about 1955-1995), rock music is quickly becoming like jazz, a genre for a sub culture, rather than popular culture. So in some ways, liking rock music makes me (and maybe you) a bit of an old fogy. Whether it’s the predominant music of the day or just part of a subculture, either way, there will always be vibrant, exciting rock music just as there is always vibrant, exciting jazz music.

Early 2016 is no exception. Several of my favorite rock bands going released albums or singles as well as a few new bands I’m excited about. Here are six songs from bands that keep rocking and rolling even into 2016.

 

“Mother of the Sun” – Black Mountain

Quite simply, this is a mountain of a song. If you are a fan of 70’s hard rock and heavy metal like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, there really probably is no better modern band for you to listen to. Trippy, heavy riffs that just serve as body blows. The perfect male/female rock vocal duo in Amber Webber and Stephen McBean as if they were transported straight out of 1970. Yet they have enough experimentation and songwriting craft to not just be a carbon copy of those 70’s rock bands.

 

“Dust” – Parquet Courts

“Dust” is the perfect anthem for cleaning your house. What a strange, funny, and surprisingly existential song it is from the fine Texas band, Parquet Courts. They have some of my favorite guitar/bass interplay since the Strokes. Now you have no excuse not to clean.

 

“Black Lipstick” – Chicano Batman

Receiving the blessing of Jack White, L.A. band Chicano Batman isn’t just one of the best named bands around – they are also one of the most interesting bands around. Combining psychedelic soul, Brazilian tropicalia, Latin blues, and soul into one amusing musical melting pot, I can’t wait to see these guys live.

 

“The Wheel” – PJ Harvey

In a year of political division, alt-rock great PJ Harvey is making political anthems for the people. Her new album releasing this week, The Hope Six Demolition Project, is filled with catchy yet piercing rebel anthems standing up for the people of England and those around the world, continuing her political bent started on her last album, 2011’s Let England Shake.

 

“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” – Car Seat Headrest

Young guitar and singer/songwriting prodigies appear to be popping up left and right. Courtney Barnett was our obsession the last two years, and I think its safe to say, Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest might be ours this year. In addition to writing my favorite rock song so far this year, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is a stunning two-sided song starting tender and coyly before finishing with triumphant and biting guitar.

 

“The Answer” – Savages

Measured in pure riffage and intensity, it’s really hard to beat Savages. Jehnny Beth looks pretty much possessed on stage, and the rest of the band plays with the precision of Joy Division and the force of the Stooges. They are truly a sight to see.

LxListening: Rocking and Rolling

LxListening: Sweet 2016

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It’s been a modest yet somewhat surprising first few months of music in 2016. We had a crazy sloppy album release from the former best rapper on the planet (Kanye West with Life of Pablo), and a quiet surprise release from the current best rapper on the planet (Kendrick Lamar with Untitled Unmastered). We’ve had a lot of old favorites come out with some solid releases (M. Ward, Mavis Staples, Santigold), and a few breakout artists catch me by surprise (Anna Meredith, TEEN, Anderson .Paak). Here are five of my favorite songs so far to come out in 2016.

Continue reading “LxListening: Sweet 2016”

LxListening: Sweet 2016