LxL’s Best Albums of 2017

Below are our favorite albums of 2017.

10. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Sketches Of Brunswick East
9. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
8. Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator
7. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
6. Ibeyi – Ash
5. Alvvays – Antisocialites
4. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN
2. Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
1. Perfume Genius – No Shape
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The Best Live Acts of 2015

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When it comes to end of year lists, you tend to just see half of the music world covered: recorded music. But many more people are interested in live music, and in turn want to know who are the acts I should be spending my hard-earned dollars to go see. That’s what we try to accomplish each year with our favorite live acts list. While certainly not comprehensive, these are the 10 acts we saw that we would say are definitely worth it.
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The 10 Best New Artists of 2015

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Every year when December comes around, we get excited like all other music fans about putting together our end-of-year lists. Of course we get excited about best songs and albums, but maybe the most exciting list is the best new artists. These were fresh and exciting new faces that surprised us with their debuts, and we can’t wait to see where they go next. For example, the members of our favorite new artists of 2012 list are now giants in their own right and will likely top our 2015 albums list (Kendrick Lamar, Alabama Shakes, Father John Misty, and who knows, maybe Frank Ocean will surprise us with an album release before 2016). So without further ado, our favorite new aritsts of 2015.
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Kamasi Washington Live Review

Kamasi Washington

September 9th, 2015

Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL

Kamasi Washington performs live in the KCRW studio.
Credit: KCRW

As an extremely casual jazz fan, Kamasi Washington’s three hour epic aptly titled Epic is the first jazz record I’ve listened to non-stop in probably five years. For those unfamiliar, Kamasi Washington is an L.A. saxophonist with a laundry list of great recording credits, including work for Snoop Dogg, Flying Lotus, Ryan Adams, Gerard Wilson, Lauryn Hill, Chaka Khan, Broken Bells, and of course, stamping his fingerprints all over the album of the year, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Fellow LxLer Todd and I caught Kamasi Washington and his band – filled with musicians Kamasi has played with for over 20 years – at the Bottom Lounge, and it officially ruined the rest of the rock shows we go to this year.

I hadn’t previously been to the Bottom Lounge, but was impressed by the beer selection, atmosphere, and sound of the venue. Before the show, we met Kamasi’s keyboardist Brandon Coleman and trombonist Ryan Porter while hanging out at the bar. Both had some pretty awesome stories from their touring travels with Kamasi – whom they have known and played with since they were kids – and other acts including Alicia Keys and Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Al MacKay. Stories from their childhood and and travels, including a call to the Austrian president to get a band-mate out of jail in time for a gig, were pretty incredible and promising for the show to come.

Drummer Makaya McCraven served as the opener with his band, with extremely powerful but swift drumming. He plays sort of like a hip hop drummer forced to play jazz, a pretty unique style to experience live.

Kamasi then came on stage, fielding two drummers (Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner), a stand-up bassist (Miles Mosely), female vocalist (Patrice Quinn), trombonist (Ryan Porter), and keyboard and keytarist (Brandon Coleman). Kamasi’s father Rickey, who was running the merch table, also joined the band for about half the set, playing soprano sax and flute. The band’s life-long familiarity and friendship plays into the comfort and fluidity with which the band plays.

Kamasi opened with “Change of the Guard”, the Epic opener that perfectly captures the politically-charged America we currently live in. Kamasi’s style of jazz is fused with hip hop and funk, but definitely channels the spiritual and spacey sounds of John Coltrane. Other highlights included the soulful salute to his grandmother, “Henrietta Our Hero”, the smooth lounge sway of “The Rhythm Changes”, and the fluid “Final Thought”. While Kamasi certainly plays with incredible dexterity and power, it’s the golden tones he consistently strikes with his saxophone that really takes his playing to a new level.

Todd and I definitely learned the hard way when you are used to going to rock shows, the musicianship of a jazz show can certainly make everything else look like child’s play. Kamasi is a force that has not only infiltrated the hip hop and rock world, but will likely be delivering great jazz records for years to come.

P.S. You can learn more about Kamasi and watch him live on NPR’s Jazz Night in America.

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LxListening: Odds and Ends ’15

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Since the day of the cassette mix tape up till today with Spotify playlists, many people’s playlists follow a mood like rainy day or exercise music or draw from a nostalgic period like songs from high school or the 90’s. This playlist is none of those things. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never been much for mood or seasonal playlists. We’ve certainly lent plenty of fuel for them, and I love stringing together complementary songs for a special event like a party or wedding, but in my regular day-to-day, my listening tends to be way more sporadic. In that spirit, here are five songs from the last couple months that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. In fact chances are you like one thing but could care less for the rest. Either way, I hope you find something you enjoy among these odds and ends.

Kamasi Washington – “Change of the Guard”

Like three-hour jazz space odysseys? Ok, saxophonist Kamasi Washington isn’t for everyone, but if you loved Kendrick Lamar’s masterful To Pimp a Butterfly which he lent his golden saxophone pipes to, in time you can find your way into Epic, sort of like if when John Coltrane died he was reincarnated on Mars.

Bully – “I Remember”

Like 30-minute punk rock albums? Well Nashville’s Bully is pretty much the opposite of Kamasi Washington: simple, punchy attitude distilled into two-minute garage rock songs.

Algiers – “Blood”

One of the most distinct bands to land on the scene in 2015 has been Algiers. The Atlanta band defines most standard rock labels, but if I was to call them anything, I’d call them industrial blues punk. “Blood” has vocalist Franklin James Fisher howling about what often feels like a losing battle, matched in the video with images from the history of Black civil rights in America.

Holly Herndon – “Morning Sun”

Following in the footsteps of avant-garde electronic female artists like Laurie Anderson and Yoko Ono, Holly Herndon is wilting both highly intricate and also highly melodic electronic quilts. Her latest, Platform, doesn’t shy from using any and every possible sound on her computer (treating Garageband like Storage Wars), but she puts them all to good use.

Django Django – “Shake and Tremble”

Let’s end on a light note. London spaghetti-western rockers Django Django are the sound you would get if the Johnny-Depp-voiced gecko Rango fronted a London dance rock band. I know that’s complete nonsense, but frankly I don’t care. Listen to Django Django.