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5 Best Albums So Far 

Wednesday, Jul 13 2016
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Kanye West
The Life of Pablo

Before The Life of Pablo, I was proud to call myself one of Kanye West's biggest haters. Though his early stuff was commendable, Yeezus was an inelegant mash-up of genres that was more cacophonous than mellifluous. Not to mention, the guy is a Grade-A egomaniac. But then TLOP came out, and, seemingly overnight, my opinion changed. Unlike its predecessor, TLOP is a lesson in seamlessly blending disparate sounds. Funk and soul samples of yore, reggae tunes, and gospel ditties meld with newer electronic cuts and trap influences to form a patchwork of styles and voices, replete with features from some of the biggest names in music right now (Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Chhance the Rapper, Young Thug). Sure, there's a lot of Auto-Tuning and a pretty pronounced religious streak throughout, but what do you expect from a guy who created a video game revolving around getting his mom into heaven? From the dark and eerie "Real Friends" — a twist on Whodini's 1984 single "Friends" — to the humourous a capella rap monologue "I Love Kanye," to the funkified, old-school jam "No More Parties In L.A.," TLOP is a paradigm of eclecticism done well. Jessie Schiewe

Top Three Tracks
"Real Friends"
"Highlights"
"Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1"

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Radiohead
A Moon Shaped Pool

Almost 24 years after its debut single "Creep," which — judging by the karaoke songbooks of the world — is how Radiohead is destined to be remembered, A Moon Shaped Pool rescued five Britpop survivors who'd seemed to be teetering toward quiescence. Released in June to near-unanimous acclaim, the album nudged Radiohead closer to where it was in the fall of 2000, when the the ominous first five notes of Kid A swept away the 20th century. It's cause for concern when rock veterans start strip-mining their back catalogue for inspiration, as is the case with album closer "True Love Waits," which has been floating around for almost 20 years, most notably from 2001's I Might Be Wrong, a semi-obscure compendium of live recordings. But the orchestration on this version is so spare, and the cracks in Yorke's falsetto so sorrowful, that it feels like anything but a warmed-over B-side from the vaults. The band equally adept at fashioning empty spaces between notes and creating a warped signature, like a metal saw bent back and forth in a dream, has returned. Thank you for coming back to us, Radiohead. Don't leave. Just don't leave. Peter Kane

Top Three Tracks
"Burn The Witch"
"Daydreaming"
"Decks Dark"

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Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Denial

When Will Toledo first started recording music, he was too scared to sing in front of anyone. With music this personal and emotional, it takes a lot of courage to sing — and sometimes scream — your feelings to others. He recorded his vocals alone in the backseat of his car — hence the name of his band. Six years, 13 albums, and a record deal later, Toledo has grown more comfortable performing outside of his car, though his lyrics remain as pointed and full of self-doubt as ever. Teens of Denial is a fascinating record, juggling topics ranging from alcoholism to clinical depression to heartbreak. Starting with the lyric, "I'm so tired of fill in the blank," Toledo takes us on a journey through his innermost thoughts and worst Sunday hangovers. When he screams, "It doesn't have to be like this" toward the end of the slow-building rocker, "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales," it feels like a rallying cry for disillusioned youths. Consequence of Sound called Toledo "the indie rock hero we've been waiting for," and they're right. Our indie savior is here. Steven Edelstone

Top Three Tracks
"Destroyed By Hippie Powers"
"Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales"
"1937 State Park"

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Charles Bradley
Changes

Who's Going To Save The World, the debut album of psychedelic-soul trio Father's Children, was recorded in 1973, but it wasn't released until 2011. Listen to Charles Bradley's album Changes and you might think the same thing happened. But it didn't. Rife with funky guitar chords, boisterous horns, and Bradley's raspy Otis Redding-esque voice, Changes is a perfectly preserved time capsule of vintage soul and R&B — so much so that it's almost incomprehensible that it was created this century. It wasn't until Bradley was 63 years old that he started recording music, and Changes is his third album in five years. He re-creates the sounds of his childhood — think doo-wop, sunshine pop, and blues rock — without letting modern trends obfuscate the music. The struggle was real for Bradley, and you can hear its toll on his voice, as he sings about love, loss, and life in general. Sure, he's not the only artist pursuing a retro style — think Leon Bridges or Son Little — but he's certainly the most authentic. He's not trying to copy or emulate anybody; he's just making the music that he should have created 40 years ago. JS

Top Three Tracks
"Things We Do For Love"
"Nobody But You"
"God Bless America"

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Rexx Life Raj
Father Figure

The problem with trends is that they can become too pervasive. Take, for instance, hyphy or mob music. The two styles — characterized by thumping 808s, fast beats, and buzzy bass lines — dominate the Bay Area rap scene, and it's rare to find a local rapper who shucks them both. Then there's Rexx Life Raj. Raised in Berkeley, the 26-year-old, who is both an agile rapper and gentle crooner, gravitates toward spacey, ambient beats that are mellow in pace and sparse in production. Father Figure, his debut studio album, is named in honor of his dad and the life lessons he taught him, as well as the peculiar mentorship position Raj currently finds himself in as a result of his many years in the Bay Area rap scene. (He's been making music since high school.) From "Handheld GPS," a stripped-down, guitar ballad about our dependence on smartphones; to "Young Wardell," a static-filled, electronic paean to Steph Curry's career; to "Moxie Java," a ghostly, synth-punctuated admission of Raj's addiction to Adderall and weed, the up-and-coming rapper demonstrates his varied skill set, including a knack for crafting stick-in-your-head hooks and clever catchphrases. If you're looking for an earworm album, it doesn't get much better than this. JS

Top Three Tracks
"Handheld GPS"
"Moxie Java"
"Father Figure"

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