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Overlooked Albums

So much fights for your attention. Do you want to watch TV? Read a book? Listen to music? Even when you do finally put on a record, open up iTunes, skim through a playlist on Spotify, it’s comforting to go to what’s familiar. Keeping up with what you know and love is hard enough, adding in new stuff can seem impossible. For whatever reason, we feel these albums, all released this year, haven’t reached as many ears as they should. It’s a long journey of a lot of decisions before you press play, but we promise it’s worth it. None of these albums received Best New Music, but they’re all worth another spin.

 

 Three years after Darren Cunningham said he was ending his Actress project, he started dropping hints he was writing an album that could cure acid indigestion or be prescribed as a “Metropolitical sound vitamin.” AZD, his most recent collection of experimental techno tracks, runs counter to his opaque statements, making for his most accessible record. Where 2014’s Ghettoville dissolved any semblance of rhythm into a pool of acid, AZD is looser and groovier, with tracks explicitly made for the grid of a dancefloor. Looming over AZD is some wacky inspiration, specifically the artist Rammellzee’s “Gothic Futurism” manifesto, which saw a cross historical link between Medieval monks and graffiti artists. AZD stands as one of Cunningham’s most inviting projects, and its generous attitude makes his disorienting songs all the more affecting. –Kevin Lozano

Ellen Arkbro is an efficient composer. Starting with this album’s title, For Organ and Brass, she leaves little room for indulgence or flair. The title composition begins with a wallop, a long tone of organ entered into at full force. It changes very little, notes held for double-digit seconds, brass sounds gurgling in the background. The other two pieces are much more delightful (or as delightful as abstract drone can be), with a solid debt to the New York sounds of the late ’70s and early ’80s, merging avant-garde classical with whatever kooky background stuff the Talking Heads were trying out. It’s gaseous, wonderful music that lets your mind shape it as you please, like watching big clouds and finding dinosaurs, bunnies, tanks, ships. Here is the raw materials, do as you please. –Matt

“For Organ and BrassSilver Haze

Aye Nako addessed issues of racial and gender identity with pop-punk exuberance on their 2013 debut, Unleash Yourself, and delved into what they dubbed “non-college rock” with 2015’s The Blackest Eye EP.  Silver Haze, their powerfully bedraggled sophomore album, slouches further in a ’90s indie-rock direction, their knack for infusing well-worn forms with fresh perspectives still expertly intact. Singer-guitarist Mars Dixon now shares songwriting and vocal duties with fellow guitarist Jade Payne, whose deadpan lyrics carry a political tinge that fits right in. “Tell me what I need to stay safe on the streets,” Dixon implores on the churning anthem “Sissy.” It’s a common enough sentiment nowadays, and this group deserves to be heard by more than those who already share it. –Marc Hoga

“Particle Mace”

Aye Nako

Thot Breaker

Young Thug isn’t the only rapper to issue a “singing” album this year. Chief Keef’s Thot Breaker, the latest full-length from the prolific artist, sees the 21-year-old artist fully embracing the sensitive crooner within. Given the sheer size of his catalog, casual fans can’t be held entirely at fault for potentially skipping a new album from Keef—but his latest album belongs in the same pantheon that his Bang 3 and Finally Rich projects inhabit. Thot Breaker shows that Chief Keef is capable of creating memorable and outright charming  music when he wants to. It’s a milestone of growth for an artist who was vaulted into the spotlight at 16. –Noah Yoo


When word spread that the Courtneys almost got their own animated TV show, only to have it falter over Nickelodeon’s insistence on singling out a “leader,” longtime followers of the Vancouver band couldn’t help but chuckle. Onstage and in interviews, the trio of singers come across as an ideal ensemble cast. Plus their 2013 self-titled debut was rife with chunky guitars and peppy choruses ready for primetime, including one song named after “90210.” Instead of a TV show, with their sophomore album the Courtneys became the first non-New Zealanders signed to Flying Nun, the influential kiwi-pop label. But II’s sticky-sweet bubblegum could still spark singalongs anywhere Saturday morning cartoons are viewed. Nick may have missed the mark, but fans of whip-smart fuzz-pop should tune in anyway. —Marc Hogan

“Minnesota”

Modern Species

Aarhus, Denmark, is not exactly known as a European dance music hub. DJ Sports and his Regelbau collective are helping redefine the city’s scene by making tunes that transform any party, be it in their hood or yours, into sun-kissed scenes blessed with ocean breeze. DJ Sports’ debut Modern Species is a primer on how this Danish producer utilizes classic genres, like 1990s drum ’n’ bass, fine-tuned techno, and soulful house, to create fantasy with every rhythmic moment. His percussion is adventurous, sprawling across a wide range of BPM, and his synths and sound design are both precise and pillowy, comforting as they are perfectly calibrated. This is the kind of album that will transport you from the humdrum environment of the everyday to a place a lot brighter. –Kevin Lozan

“World A”

DJ Sports

An Act of Love

The throb of minimal dub techno often does away with the rollercoaster highs of more populist dance styles in favor of a muted steadiness. This static consistency can sometimes be too heady for its own good, but in the capable hands of producer Jacob Long, aka Earthen Sea, it turns into an emotional experience that can be just as visceral as any rave. An Act of Love alternates its shadowy beats with ambient washes of sound, the album’s pulse flickering on and off as if it’s caught in limbo between ash and ascension. –Ryan Dombal

“About That Time”

Eart

The Distance

Gigi Masin, who released the chiller’s classic Wind in 1986, has lately enjoyed a bit of a resurgence, through reissues and a renewed interest in extremely meditative, spacey jams. Gaussian Curve is his newish trio and on The Distance they take the simple sounds the Italian began unfurling 30 years ago and, well, unfurl them just a little bit more. This is vibey, unhurried music, with long guitar strums and high register synthesizer drones. Put it on, close your eyes and dive right in. Come on in, says Gigi, the water’s fine. –Matthew Schnipper

“Four For You”

Gaussian Curv

All Blue

Last fall, G Perico joined the ranks of Los Angeles rap’s most promising with Shit Don’t Stop, his mixtape of visceral street-level storytelling and streamlined G-funk glide. The competition in West Coast hip-hop has only gotten tougher this year, but Perico solidifies his spot with All Blue, an airtight debut album underscoring the contradictions that drove Shit Don’t Stop forward. Perico invokes Crips imagery with keen-eyed verité detail, but he isn’t celebrating it, and his crisply enunciated yelps and simmering synths somehow manage to convey joy. “Finally got a future that don’t involve the state pen,” he raps on late-album highlight “How You Feel.” He’s seriously understating what’s ahead. –Mar

“Bacc Forth

Green Twins

 Nick Hakim sounds like he spends as much time listening to Marvin Gaye as he does Tame Impala. The former’s innate sense of sensuality runs through Hakim’s debut, and the latter’s influence offers a kaleidoscopic haze where his falsetto can hide a little, when it gets too real. The Queens-based, Berklee-educated musician is willing to admit—under the cover of a smoldering sax, retro piano line, swirl of strings, or drum machine—that he misses her terribly, that he wants to take up residence in her mind if only to better meet her needs. So much soulful music makes a point of broadcasting desire as vividly as possible, but Nick Hakim understands that a low-key touch never hurt anyone’s chances, either. –Jillian Mapes

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