Even in an era of diverse jazz piano greatness, John Escreet stands apart. His music is a dark, ruminative panorama, a stark contrast to the pointed rhythmic abstraction favored by current leading lights of the keyboard like Ethan Iverson (of the Bad Plus), Jason Moran, Myra Melford, Brad Mehldau, or Vijay Iyer. Escreet moved to New York from his native England ten years ago and, after studying with Moran and Kenny Barron at the Manhattan School of Music, established a following for his distinctive style, with sideman gigs for acts ranging from Middle Eastern fusionist Amir ElSaffar to legendary free-jazz saxophonist Evan Parker. Parker joins the stellar rhythm team of drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist John Hébert on Escreet’s latest recording, which is drawn from two completely improvised concerts in Europe earlier this year. The music moves smartly from episodes of brooding piano trio to austerely elegant sections with all four musicians contributing nuanced inflections. Occasionally the band will discover a thick groove and mine it for its intensity. Each musician has room to shine, but Escreet impresses repeatedly with unique upper-register clusters and innovative sounds throughout. Overall this is music that doesn’t try to overwhelm you. Instead it draws you in. — Martin Johnson
Lesley Flanigan “Hedera”
New York experimental musician Lesley Flanigan released this song on a two-cut EP of the same name this year. The twenty-minute track begins with a frantic scratching — a mechanical, rough noise that tumbles forward like a panic attack and continues for the duration as an anxious underpinning. Flanigan likes to pair harsh analog noise with soft, beautifully layered vocals, which she distorts until they’ve become an otherworldly chorus; most of her work uses feedback produced by wooden speakers she makes herself, but after the birth of her first child, conjuring that kind of noise was no longer feasible. Using a recorded beat instead meant she could compose on a laptop as her child slept. Here, her voice builds slowly over the course of the song, shifting into unfamiliar harmonies as the uneven beat rolls on below. It feels like an invocation of all we’ve been through this year, a reminder of the constant gnawing in our hearts as we floated through our days. Though her vocals are mesmerizing, they never can quite escape the restlessness below. After “Hedera” comes to a close, we’re greeted with the sound-bath “Can Barely Feel My Feet,” a wonderfully numbing comedown of blurring voice and tones, providing a spaciousness that we will need as we enter a dark future. — Sophie Weiner
Horse Lords Interventions (Northern Spy)
When Captain Beefheart said that the “mama heartbeat, that ‘bom-bom-bom'” of rock ‘n’ roll, was “boring,” he wasn’t advocating leaving all time signatures behind, just obvious ones. The follow-up statement was “I want things to change — like the patterns and shadows that fall from the sun.” There is a hint of Beefheart’s idea of harmony in the motifs of Baltimore’s Horse Lords, and it’s literally built into their setup. Inspired by the guitars of the west African nation of Mauritania, Owen Gardner refretted both his instrument and Max Eilbacher’s bass to a just intonation scale of his own devising. Inside of that tonality, Horse Lords work loops against each other until you feel rhythms that you don’t want to have to count. Once they’ve set up their grid, they stay within it, finding the change in the way parts align. There are few explosions or huge dynamic dropouts here. If Horse Lords need more negative space, they simply mute three-quarters of the band; “Encounter II/Intervention II” is an extended solo piece for saxophonist Andrew Bernstein, who toggles notes and drags them out into semitonal barks all alone. The joy rises, though, when the band lock gears and roll hard through their chutes and ladders. — Sasha Frere-Jones
Kitten Heaven or Somewhere in Between (Scary Kid)
For pop artists in 2016, releasing an EP was a way to test the waters of commerce in the streaming-music era. For the Los Angeles outfit Kitten, though, the EP Heaven or Somewhere in Between offered a chance for post-major-label redemption — an idea suggested by the religious bent of the album’s song titles (“Church,” “Heaven”) and made fully flesh by Chloe Chaidez, the chameleonic lead singer whose deft navigation of all sorts of high-tension pop genres makes her one of music’s most compelling presences. Kitten’s 2014 self-titled album featured Chaidez and her bandmates trying on musical ideas to winning effect; the swirling “G#” was my number one song of that year, existing on the precipice of shoegaze while allowing Chaidez to flaunt her whisper-to-a-yawp vocal prowess. On the independently released Heaven, Chaidez struts her stuff with rock-star swagger, accompanied by big guitars and bigger hooks. She fuses the pomp of end-credits New Romanticism with the fabulousness of glam on the Suede-saluting “Fall on Me,” swishes through the reverb-soaked riffs on “Church,” and melts the icy keyboards on the blippy “Knife” with her love-you-to-death pleas. Heaven or Somewhere in Between might only be five songs, but those tracks showcase Chaidez’s pop-star bona fides and ability to wring emotions from even the stoniest listener. — Maura Johnston
Kvelertak Nattesferd (Roadrunner)
This band’s name is Norwegian for “stranglehold,” and frontman Erlend Hjelvik slings black-metal sludge with the guttural best of them. “1985,” the first single from the instantly popular sextet’s third and best album, owes far more to glam, Dave Grohl, and Brian May than anything Roadrunner’s ever put out (or even anything by Kvelertak fan James Hetfield). The contrast between the lovable Seventies-rock backing and the usual Cookie Monster vocals is jarring, and “1985” has a great, swaggering switch-up of a bridge that demolishes indie competitors like Sleigh Bells or Fucked Up. The rest of Nattesferd is less of a jolt but just as compelling: The runaway-train-on-fire punk of the title track and the stop-start Aerosmith boogie of “Bronsegud” still break away from black metal in their brevity and cleanliness, while the opening “Dendrofil for Yggdrasil” surges forth with the most traditional dissonance (and blast beats) on the record. The closer? Well, it sounds more than anything like Built to Spill’s “Broken Chairs.” Just imagine this band as the skewer through a few different kebabs of rock circles and eras, and then chow down. — Dan Weiss
Metá Metá MM3 (Planet Woo)
Metá Metá is a trio from São Paulo — singer Juçara Marçal, saxophonist Thiago França, and guitarist Kiko Dinucci. Their source materials are a clutch of moves taken from rock and various strains of improvisation, as well as the rituals of Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion that uses music and dance to summon the spirits of deities known as orixás. On their exceptional third album MM3, Metá Metá’s flow constantly takes them toward the ecstatic. The final track, “Oba Koso,” is a traditional chant to the orixás, rearranged into a circular, nine-minute thrash. “Imagem do Amor” starts with a modest guitar figure that the band enlarges, alternating flurries and near silences that highlight their rhythm section for this album, bassist Marcelo Cabral and drummer Sergio Machado. In Portuguese, Marçal sings about “birth,” which a Brazilian source tells me is most likely about reproductive rights, as abortions up to three months were just legalized. (By email, França avoided specifics but allowed that “there’s a feeling of despair, pessimism, and anger in some of the lyrics that comes from this turbulent time we’re living, this dark cloud of political and social instability.”) If we need to channel jazz back into rock via São Paulo, so be it. — S.F.J.
Mic Write ONUS Chain (Shadow Firm)
Hip-hop has seen a spike in protest music in recent years as police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement permeate news and social-media headlines, but Detroit’s Mic Write has been covering socioeconomic issues in his lyrics for years. Now that the rest of the industry is stepping up, he can show them how to do it right. The MC, whose offstage name is Chace Morris, has earned his stripes as an award-winning, fellowship-earning poet, rapper, and educator, and his latest EP, ONUS Chain, further establishes him as one of hip-hop’s top wordsmiths. The emotive six-song collection aims to rally like minds and maintain self-love, even as systemic racism attacks people of color through law enforcement, education, and housing. “H.U.D.S.” struggles with how to explain police brutality to high school students; on “Wait/Weight,” Morris remembers the high school English teacher who accused him of plagiarism: “Black boy that write too well, look how good his paper is.” Despite central themes of grief and anger, the record ends defiantly, with “Pledge of Allegiance,” where Morris and his crew celebrate life, even when lived in a country determined to make them devalue themselves. — William E. Ketchum III
Tanya Tagaq Retribution (Six Shooter)
Seeking an album worth covering alongside Nadya Tolokno’s scabrous Pussy Riot EP in the bleak aftermath of Trump’s electoral coup, I lit upon an equally radical woman from northern latitudes: Inuk performance artist Tanya Tagaq. At 41, Tagaq has been recording for over a decade. She’s teamed up with Björk, won Canada’s Polaris Music Prize for 2014’s Animism, and had a Joe’s Pub gig reviewed in the New Yorker. In the wake of the Polaris, Retribution has been praised south of the border for its fierce intensity, its ritualistic grooves, its unusual sounds, its haunting throat-singing, its frightening global warming lecture, and the dulcet cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” it goes out on. I’d just add that its ghostly menace and fatalistic rage are focused and magnified immeasurably by our political crisis. Tagaq is a feminist whose core issues are Inuit rights and the climate change that’s melting her culture, but they imply a worldview: Her m.o. is to meet extremism with extremism. Playful and jovially profane in conversation, she switches to a performance aesthetic that’s both radical and plastic. Retribution is never fun to listen to. But these days that’s one more thing that makes it so satisfying. — Robert Christgau
Tweet Charlene (eOne Music)
Released through independent label eOne this February, Charlene is the first full-length in over a decade from Charlene “Tweet” Keys. The r&b landscape has shifted greatly over that span, but Tweet goes back to basics here, reveling in velvety-smooth love songs driven by live instrumentation. Lead single “Won’t Hurt Me” finds her making peace with the end of a relationship, her delicate voice floating over a simple acoustic guitar melody; “Addicted,” meanwhile, is a slow burn about all-consuming attraction and desire. Early on in her career, Tweet made her name as a backup vocalist for the likes of Ja Rule and Missy Elliott, and in an excellent full-circle moment, she joins forces with Elliott on the Timbaland-produced “Somebody Else Will,” one of the album’s standout tracks. This is the same trifecta that led to “Oops (Oh My),” the radio and chart smash that brought Ms. Keys to prominence in 2002. While Tweet’s strain of r&b might not dominate the airwaves the way it did back then, Charlene proves that she can nod to the rudiments while giving the result a renewed energy. — Vanessa Okoth-Obbo
Anna Wise The Feminine: Act I (self-released)
Let’s get the obligatory she-sings-on-To Pimp a Butterfly press peg out of the way. Then let’s wonder why one of the year’s best debuts didn’t make more of a splash considering the Kendrick co-sign. Wise was blessed with an apt surname: As she told an interviewer earlier this year, “Women are great. We’re fucking great and I want to talk about us.” The Feminine‘s closing bow, “Go,” and its slow-build antecedent, “Girl, Mother, Crone,” together form a smart-disco epic upwards of six minutes that unquestionably evokes Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” and arguably excites more than anything on the strong but downtempo Blonde. “Precious Possession” sits comfortably between Tinashe and Dawn Richard’s restless post-r&b deconstructions, and the shoulda-gone-viral “BitchSlut” is one of the breeziest, most plainspoken callout tracks ever written: “You think I wanna fuck ’cause I comb my hair/’Cause I’m at the bar next to an open chair.” It’s impossible to miss the message of “Decrease My Waist, Increase My Wage.” We need that sort of talk now more than ever. — D.W.
[Correction: The entry for Horse Lords initially stated that the artist was inspired by the “east African island of Mauritius,” when it was in fact the west African nation of Mauritania. We have changed the entry to reflect the error.]
The year began with a prominent lefty website bemoaning the death of protest music; we disagreed, and boy, do we need that stuff now more than ever. Nothing is going to get better if Donald Trump is, as expected, sworn in on January 20. Not art, not the life it imitates, and that goes especially for those who were oppressed even during the only eight years a black man ever ran this country.
So we’ll look again and again to these songs, chosen by our music contributors, which this year addressed already-existing horrors sure to worsen in the coming (hopefully only four) years. They confront, with humor or anger or beauty, nearly every issue that came up in 2016, from the seemingly minute to the unspeakably horrific. May the catharsis of this art, and the art borne out of whatever comes next, prop up our sanity. May it grant us the strength to keep going in a tunnel whose opening light has yet to appear. And may a song called “I Just Killed a Cop Now I’m Horny” give us an absurd laugh between tears.
ANOHNI, “Drone Bomb Me”
Sung from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl in Afghanistan who’s so drained of hope after the drone murder of her family that she begs to join them, this track confronts the sinister core of drone warfare: under its ruthless terms, even children cannot be truly innocent. — Matthew Ismael Ruiz
ANOHNI, “Four Degrees”
Rather than address the politicians who (with the help of their wealthy donors) are destroying our planet, ANOHNI commandeers their nonchalance and makes it violent: “I want to burn the sky, I want to burn the breeze, I want to see the animals die in the trees,” she croons sweetly. Thundering drums and triumphant horns herald the arrival of a now-guaranteed cataclysm. We’re fucked, but at least this song is great. — Zoë Beery
Bas, “Too High to Riot”
Queens rapper Bas pulled no punches on this crude, hilarious title track from his sophomore album that memorably notes, “They used to make it a crime to fuck white women / But damn, better give me a lot of time.” He also (less provocatively) calls out the TSA, NSA, and lying leaders who “treat us like prisoners.” It was released in March. It’s hard to believe he’ll sit out the next riot. — Dan Weiss
Becky G, “We Are Mexico”
In just eighty seconds, Becky G vividly portrays the struggle of Mexican immigrants, illustrating strong family ties, menial labor, and the struggle to keep out of law enforcement’s way. It may be titled “We are Mexico,” but the sentiment applies to anyone who has to work twice to hard to achieve half as much. — Andrew Casillas
Blood Orange, “Hands Up”
The most instantly catchy song on pop chameleon Dev Hynes’ richly acclaimed sophomore opus is also its most explicitly critical, deflecting the soft-focus Quiet Storm synths with truthful nihilism like, “Keep your hood off when you’re walking” and “Sure enough they’re gonna take your body.” It ends with a sample of someone pleading “Don’t shoot,” and it isn’t a cliffhanger. — D.W.
CupcakKe, “Picking Cotton”
Don’t be surprised that a 19-year-old sex-comic genius who made gold out of “blowing bubbles with sperm” is just as vivid and concrete about police brutality. Elizabeth Harris observes sharply that “We’re still slaves, just not picking cotton,” and channels her brothers and sisters unlawfully slain by supposed lawmen by simply reporting “I’m dead even if I surrender.” — D.W.
Lucy Dacus, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”
Tim Kaine’s favorite new singer-songwriter got her big break with a single that cannily skewers the one-word stereotypes we attach to women in the public eye: Funny. Cute. Artsy. Gossipy. Sure, it’s no antifascist diatribe or global warming polemic, but it’s certainly proven effective at inoculating Dacus’ estimable talent against trivialization. — Judy Berman
Drive-By Truckers, “Ramon Casiano”
The Truckers have rarely been as concise as they are in this unpacking of the story of Harlon Carter, who killed fifteen-year-old Casiano at point-blank range in 1931 after hearing a complaint about Latinos loitering Carter’s white neighborhood. He went on to become a border patrolman, but he’s best known for his work in the 1970s: he’s the man who turned the NRA from a gun-safety organization into the horror we know now. — D.W.
Emilio Estefan, “We’re All Mexican” (Todos Somos Mexicanos)”
The rare big-budget topical protest song, “We’re All Mexican” recruits a host of musicians and celebrities affirming support for Hispanic and Latino communities across the country. Emilio Estefan, the song’s architect, later claimed that the song is not a rebuke to Donald Trump. Sure — just like “Grindin’” isn’t about drug dealing. — A.C.
Fea, “No Hablo Espanol”
Thundering punk thrives in the menacing hands of Fea, a Chicana riot grrrl outfit who give zero fucks whether they speak Spanish or not. “No Hablo Español” boasts fuming power chords, angry choruses, and excitingly cacophonic drumming; the message is all about shattering barriers — language or otherwise. — Isabela Raygoza
G.L.O.S.S., “Give Violence a Chance”
Peaceful protest is an admirable goal — until you realize that “keeping the peace” means working within racist, sexist, and transphobic structures. On potent single “Give Violence a Chance,” trans-feminist hardcore band G.L.O.S.S. (an acronym for Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) reject pacification in favor snarling subversion, with prejudiced police as a central target. — Lindsey Rhoades
Larkin Grimm, “I Don’t Believe You”
Shortly after coming forward with rape allegations against her former collaborator Michael Gira, of Swans, Larkin Grimm released this gentle harp ballad dedicated to abuse survivors. It’s not a straightforward narrative, but it lurches forward with what many will recognize as an account of physical betrayal. — D.W.
Helado Negro, “It’s My Brown Skin”
This pacifist’s protest to the vilification of brownness is a proclamation of self love. Brown folks have been conditioned to believe, at first, that the refrain of “it’ll keep you safe” feels naive. But listen long enough, and we remember all the ways that it’s true. — M.I.R.
Homeboy Sandman, “Talking (Bleep)”
Direct your attention to the verse here about HuffPo, wherein the rapper-turned-occasional-columnist blasts his sometime-employers for refusing to publish an article he wrote about “the link between mass media and private prisons” followed by them having “the gumption/To hit me up to try and talk about some dumb shit.” — D.W.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Rican Beach”
Alynda Segarra’s jam-encrusted “Rican Beach” attests to her brilliant restlessness as she charmingly continues to champion the voice of America’s unsung heroes. Through her ragged, soulful mix of country blues and folk rock, the roots-conscious bluegrass doyenne unveils a heart of gold while her penetratingly poetic lyrics challenge the dark side of gentrification. — I.R.
JPEGMAFIA, “I Just Killed a Cop Now I’m Horny”
Over an icy backdrop somewhere between witch house and NIN ballad, culture-jamming Baltimore rapper and self-styled “black Ben Carson” Barrington Hendricks brags about being “Bad with the brains / Punks understand me.” This contribution to 2016 agitprop is casts him as a postmodern Ice-T; play loud while it’s legal. — D.W.
John Legend, “I Know Better”
Legend is both hopeful and grief-ridden on this track that warns against destructive hubris. “I know the truth from lies,” he sings, about the inevitable collapse of a kingdom build by deception and hatred. In an adamant and church organ-infused refusal to sink into a culture of blame, Legend chooses awareness and ultimately, love. — Rajul Punjabi
The Julie Ruin, “Mr. So and So”
You know the dudes who monopolize the front row of feminist punk shows because they secretly get off on angry chicks? The ones who are totally down to confront their privilege, but only if you make them a reading list? Well, Kathleen Hanna has spent 25 years dealing with them, and she’s fucking sick of it. — J.B.
Kesha, “It Ain’t Me Babe”
Kesha’s appearance at the Billboard Music Awards — her first televised performance since suing producer Dr. Luke for sexual abuse — was almost canceled at the request of her powerful alleged abuser. That makes her aching Dylan cover a #FreeKesha victory. If you’re looking for guilty pleasure party trash, a walking dollar sign who wakes up feeling like P. Diddy, or, particularly, a silent victim — well, it ain’t her. — Carey Dunne
Kendrick Lamar, “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.”
The third track from Kendrick Lamar’s collection of unreleased tracks from his album sessions is a riff on one of hip-hop’s most tried and true homonyms: peace/piece. It’s less protest and more cautionary tale, asking his fellow black artists if the short-term gains are worth their cost: “What if I compromise? He said it don’t even matter/You make a million or more, you living better than average/You losing your core following, gaining it all.” — M.I.R.
Lotic, “Formation (ELECTION ANXIETY/AMERICA IS OVER EDIT)”
What more apt way to experience Beyoncé’s defining anthem for 2016 than with the intensity ramped up by about 34% in this remix by a queer black Texan who loaded it up with sirens and marching band snares in the wake of the worst election in the history of the U.S. presidency? If anything, it’s not anxious enough. — D.W.
While M.I.A. intones through Auto-Tune, “Borders, what’s up with that? Politics, what’s up with that?” the images from her self-directed video (immigrants conquering fences and making boats out of their bodies) fill in the blank. When she gets to “Your privilege, what’s up with that?” it’s clear that finding the answer isn’t her job, but ours. — D.W.
MC Carol & Karol Conka, “100% Feminista”
This hard hitting anthem for Brazilian women by MC Carol & Karol Conka chronicles growing up witnessing violence against women and then vowing to change it. It’s a timely and necessary track as femicide rates in Brazil soared — a women there is killed every two hours. — Nia Hampton
Vic Mensa, “16 Shots”
No song better captured the rage at the heart of protests against Laquan McDonald’s 2014 killing by ex-police officer Jason Van Dyke, and Chicago officials’ seeming cover-up. Named for the number of times Van Dyke shot McDonald, the song’s jagged instrumental perfectly underscores Mensa’s excoriation of a city failing its impoverished communities of color. — Sameer Rao
Mistah F.A.B., “6 Shots (#BlackLivesMatter)”
Hyphy’s trademark humor still pokes through in lines like “They castratin’ black men ‘cause our dicks bigger,” but here F.A.B. mostly drops earnest nuggets: “What got me hot is ain’t no black cops ain’t speaking out,” “All you white folks that still say we’re all equal / I bet you wouldn’t trade reputations with my people.” And yes, “A gorilla get killed and white folks sad.” — D.W.
Mitski, “Your Best American Girl”
2016’s breakout indie star was quick to deny that this guitar anthem was her way of using white indie boys’ tools to dismantle their house. It’s a love song, she insisted. Fair enough, because what else could make you feel the simultaneous pain and pride of diverging from a bullshit ideal so acutely? — J.B.
Dawn Oberg, “It’s 12:01”
Oberg’s country-tinged rock is an unlikely genre for condemning police brutality, but her tribute to Alex Nieto, Mario Woods, and other victims of San Francisco’s police force is both searing and affecting. Its arrival this year hit even harder since, in March, a jury cleared Nieto’s killers of wrongdoing in a civil suit brought by Nieto’s parents. — Z.B.
Open Mike Eagle + Paul White, “Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)”
“Nobody smiles at me ‘cause I’m a black man” is Open Mike Eagle’s setup, and the punchline is “…until the show starts.” Over Paul White’s haunting, bluesy backdrop, Eagle speaks calmly and incredulously, in a voice like he’s just been pulled over: “I don’t want you, your purse or your pocketbook / Them dumb yoga pants, boots, or fur with the octopus.” He’s also got a tip for the guys in the “flip-flop squad” making “patronizing hip-hop nods: “Just be a person.” — D.W.
This year on the second Monday in October (which some people call Columbus Day), Prayers released the anti-colonization anthem “Mexica,” a tribute to the Aztecs. It is at once a celebration of the civilization’s rich history and accomplishments, and a middle finger to the concept of imperial borders and ignorant calls for Mexicans to “go back where you came from.” — M.I.R.
Pussy Riot, “Make America Great Again”
Chants of “Lock Her Up!” during Trump’s campaign likely triggered this song helmed by Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, who was imprisoned in 2012 by the Russian after a performance of “Punk Prayer.” Though the smooth bossanova underpinning parody single “Make America Great Again” is less abrasive, its message has become chilling as Trump praises Putin and threatens both journalists and artists. — L.R.
Dawn Richard, “Valhalla (Outro)”
At first listen, this doesn’t seem like a protest song, but a paean to dreams denied and deferred. In Richard’s mind, the Norse legend becomes a paradise “where rebels are the majority/and [her] color isn’t minority” exists only in “open dreams”. But the conceit proves just as potent a revolutionary rallying cry: we need not perish to build Valhallas of our own — we just need to stick together. — Zoe Camp
Run the Jewels, “2100”
Recognizing our need to process, Run the Jewels thankfully offered the world “2100” soon after the election. This is the spiritual successor to the 2014’s haunting “Early” (which also featured BOOTS on a world-weary hook), swapping the duo’s usual battering-ram bravado for a smoldering, heavy-hearted plea for relief from oppression. — S.R.
Sad13, “Get a Yes”
Though bodily autonomy is somehow still up for debate amongst judges, politicians, and college administrators, advocates for enthusiastic, affirmative consent now have an anthem in Sad13’s “Get A Yes.” Playful, pop-forward, and sex positive, the single offers would-be partners a revolutionary guide for open communication about limits and desires alike.— L.R.
ScHoolboy Q feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Black THougHts”
This is an unusually introspective take on gangs and one person’s responsibility to stop the violence. “Let’s put the rags down and raise our kids,” ScHoolboy Q raps over a soulful track. “All lives matter,” Q says — to Bloods and Crips, that is — “both sides.”? It’s time to put the guns and bullshit down and look upwards to what’s really fueling the drug war (hint: not “black-on-black crime”). — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
After the election, the exceptional-voiced Vegas-to-Philly wunderkind summed the healing power of his falsetto for this bewitching, acoustic call-to-arms. He paired it with a personal Facebook post imploring straight white people: “This is your fight.” His label-mate Adele should cover it. — D.W.
Sheer Mag, “Can’t Stop Fighting”
There’s a fine line between raising awareness about global atrocities and appropriating them, but empathy rules this powerhouse single that connects the murders of female factory workers in Juarez with the daily street harassment most women face. There’s poetic justice, too, in the swaggering riffs Sheer Mag use to inveigh against a uniquely chilling form of dick-swinging. — J.B.
Solange, “Don’t Touch My Hair”
This may be the most militant song on A Seat at the Table: accompanied by a continuous kick drum, key board, and horns, Solange softly provides a simple request that white folks just can’t seem to wrap their heads around — that her hair and her culture be respected and left unhampered. Featuring Sampha, the song is quiet riot. — N.H.
Pop culture as we know it wouldn’t exist without Black America’s creative excellence, even though white supremacy always tries to erase that fact. “F.U.B.U.” is a call for Black people to embody the greatness and excellence that is their right, even (and especially) when it’s under siege. — S.R.
Esperanza Spalding, “Ebony and Ivy”
Likely the most resourceful Best New Artist Grammy recipient ever, Spalding redefines “dirty white rules” and calls out “plantated crimes” in our nation’s sad history on this grooving track. The chorus: “It’s been hard to grow outside / Growing good and act happy / And pretend that the ivy vines / Didn’t weigh our branch down.” — D.W.
Swet Shop Boys, “T5”
Heems and Riz Ahmed’s irreverent lament on the omnipresent horror of being Brown at airport security sends up the world’s deplorable handling of the Syrian refugee crisis with a brilliant comparison to the “Iliad’s” Aeneas: “Fled Turkey and he just founded Rome, what if he had drowned in a boat?” — S.R.
Systema Solar, “Tumbamurallas”
On their champeta-infused “Tumbamurallas,” the Colombian psychedelic band deliver a winning combination of tropical madness and EDM brilliance. While they vivaciously demand social change — specifically, issues regarding the Venezuela-Colombia migrant crisis — their heady choruses and wild percussions call for the ultimate Caribbean-style dance party. It’s liberating, urgent, and funky as hell. — I.R.
T.I. feat. Killer Mike & B. Rossi, “40 Acres”
Conscious rap is not any one thing, and here, it’s venomous and boastful. T.I. is the 1% — “Load up my clip off a Zimmerman/Filling my pocket with Benjamins” — while Killer Mike is erudition, with the fire of a preacher. Flipping the false promise to freed South Carolina slaves they’d get “forty acres and a mule” during Reconstruction, the rappers instead claim “forty acres and a Muller — I spent my reparations at the jeweler.” — S.K.
A Tribe Called Quest, “We the People…”
In this jolting indictment of American passivity, Q-Tip pieces Tribe’s tried-and-true sound with a call to humanity: When we’re hungry, we eat; when we’re thirsty we drink. It is an outcry that we are all just people. It’s a song that is as reflective of the current times we’re living in, as the racist and bigoted America we thought we had progressed from. — Tara Mahadevan
Saul Williams, “Down for Some Ignorance”
If ignorance is the fuel of prejudice, America has the market cornered like OPEC in the 70s. The beauty of Saul Williams’ poem set to bells is that it exposes our willful embrace of that ignorance, bathing in its blissful safety but ultimately warning us of a cycle doomed to repeat itself. — M.I.R.
Anna Wise, “BitchSlut”
Rarely has the experience of existing as a 24/7 harassment target been rendered so searingly: “You think I wanna fuck ‘cause I comb my hair / ‘Cause I’m at the bar next to an open chair.” Wise’s solo bow is a snap-shut anti-sexist jingle as compact and incisive as a Reductress headline. — D.W.
Jamila Woods, “Blk Grl Soldier”
Centering the black girl as the hero, Woods crafts a thoughtful song that honors the women in the continuous struggle of being black in America. The guitar-laden, uptempo track could easily be the theme song of the longed-for presidential campaign of Michelle Obama. — N.H.
Jamila Woods, “Vry Blk”
Playing on the children’s nursery rhyme “Miss Mary Mack,” the Chicago singer-songwriter pairs with rapper NoName Gypsy to break down down anti-black police violence and carceral policies with whimsy and rhyme. Play this song for young freedom fighters-to-be. — N.H.
Xenia Rubinos, “Mexican Chef”
Atop a blistering rhythm section drenched in funk, the catchy hook on “Mexican Chef” reminds us that White America’s service economy is built on brown backs: “Brown walks your baby/Brown walks your dog/Brown raised America in place of it’s mom/Brown cleans your house/Brown takes the trash/Brown even wipes your granddaddy’s ass.” — M.I.R.
YG & Nipsey Hussle, “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)”
An unsubtle target needs an unsubtle takedown, so YG and Nipsey Hussle reach across the aisle — Bloods and Crips — for this scathing evisceration. YG isn’t much for subtlety, simply chanting what we’re all thinking — “Fuck Donald Trump/Fuck Donald Trump.” Nipsey pulls up with gems: “Reagan sold coke, Obama sold hope, Donald Trump spent his trust fund money on the vote.” As they say: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. — S.K.
Raye Zaragoza, “In the River”
In this heartfelt ode to those “standing up for the water” at Standing Rock, Zaragoza’s melodies are so gorgeous they belie the fraught subject matter. But she makes it quite clear that #NoDAPL movement isn’t merely about natural resources — it’s about preventing another entry in the long list of atrocities against Native Americans. — A. C.
When hip-hop’s premier fabulist Rick Ross brings his Masters of Ceremony show to Barclays Center this weekend, he’ll fill the stage with a truly peculiar lineup of more than a dozen of the genre’s legacy acts. These are artists well past their commercial peak; it’s as if Ross is curating a show full of MCs he thinks should be getting more love than they are in 2016. Or maybe these are just the dudes who answered the boss’s call.
Regardless, the show displays Ross’s greatest talent. One of the hip-hop game’s top executive producers, Rozay might not be a gifted lyricist, but he excels in the maestro role. With a velvet voice, an exquisite ear for beats, and a knack for collecting brilliant MCs for features, you don’t have to consider Rick Ross a great MC to admit he makes dope music. Representative of the present-day evolution of the mafioso rap genre first taken mainstream by the likes of Mobb Deep and Noreaga, he’s an ideal headliner for such an event. Ahead of the Barclays show, scroll down for a primer on the lineup of legends that Ross has assembled.
Marked for stardom early on — he’s the only member of the Wu-Tang Clan to get his own track on their debut LP — Meth is world-renowned for his snot-nose suave street style and fierce microphone skills. An accomplished actor, Meth boasts a filmography that’s almost as impressive as his discography — he has dozens of feature-film and television roles to his credit. Meth’s name certainly stands on its own, but he arguably achieved his highest levels of fame as one half of a doped-up duo with his pal Reggie Noble, a/k/a.…
Redman Arguably the dopest MC to ever come out of New Jersey, Redman took the spirit of Biz Markie’s comedy raps to another level lyrically, pushing the limits of the form while making us laugh along with him at the absurdity of life and times in Newark. Mentored by EPMD’s Erick Sermon, he would later find a kindred spirit in Method Man, teaming up for albums, films, videogames, and TV projects.
House of Pain Their 1992 smash hit “Jump Around” never really went away, even after the group broke up in 1996. DJ Lethal would join Fred Durst in rap-rock frat Limp Bizkit, and Everlast would achieve similar levels of fame with two solo records. But “Jump Around” persists, even if it’s more likely to be heard these days at a prom or bar mitzvah than any hip-hop club.
Prodigy and Havoc arguably had as much influence as anyone in defining the Queens hip-hop aesthetic of the mid-90s, lacing together boom-bap beats with sinister piano samples and squeezing the Scarface soundtrack dry for source material. They each pursued solo projects during a long hiatus from 2006 to 2014: Havoc found continued success as a producer for other artists, while Prodigy matured from a sickly 19-year-old into a grizzled OG. But their influence on hip-hop is probably best measured by the endurance of their 1995 single “Shook Ones, Pt. II,” which to this day remains a hip-hop standard by which rappers’ rhymes are measured.
Super Cat Less an MC than a Jamaican dancehall legend, Super Cat might be remembered by some for his early 90s hit “Don Dada,” or his guest appearance on Sugar Ray’s monster hit “Fly.” But for a lot of hip-hop heads, his true claim to fame is being responsible for the first official recording by The Notorious B.I.G., who jumped on the remix for his 1993 single “Dolly My Baby.”
This G-Unit affiliate is likely quite grateful to be included in this group of OGs; he’s got three mixtapes and the cocaine love song “CoCo,” a minor Billboard hit, to his name.
Rakim The rapping half of legendary duo Eric B. & Rakim, the God MC has a secure spot in the hip-hop canon. Few can claim to have had as much of a hand in shaping the genre’s lyrical form: Over Golden Age LPs like 1988’s Follow The Leader, Rakim raised the bar to a degree not seen before him, and rarely since. His late-90s comeback was impressive, if short-lived, and a Dr. Dre collaboration was scrapped due to “creative differences.” But there’s a reason cranky-old “real hip-hop” heads constantly cite Ra as the truth — even if some of the beats may sound outdated, the bars still hold up.
The Jungle Brothers were prominent members of the jazzy, Afrocentric Native Tongues hip-hop crew, which included De La Soul, Black Sheep, and A Tribe Called Quest. While much of hip-hop at the time (including their own) was rooted in jazz or funk samples, their early hit single “I’ll House You” put four on the floor. It was the first time most people outside Chicago heard hip-hop to a house beat, and foreshadowed the current climate of mainstream hip-hop, which owes as much to house music as it does to jazz, funk, and soul.
Brownsville OGs M.O.P. continue playing shows to this day, but they’ll forever be known as the dudes that do that turn-of-the-century anthem for stick up kids everywhere, “Ante Up.” The frenzied reaction the song gets at shows is more than a little surreal, considering its subject matter is focused entirely on robbery and assault.
Hip-hop in the early 90s is mostly remembered as a gangsta affair, but The Pharcyde has been holding it down for woke MCs in South Central Los Angeles since 1989. Their light-hearted debut Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde served as a foil to the Ruthless Records aesthetic dominating the West Coast hip-hop scene; they made yet another left turn with their follow-up, Labcabincalifornia, which heavily featured Soulquarian production wizard J Dilla. Spike Jonze, who directed their music video for “Drop,” also made a documentary short on Pharcyde member Derrick “Fatlip” Stewart.
Jones founded the Harlem hip-hop group the Diplomats alongside Cam’ron, and achieved some solo success, taking his 2006 single “We Fly High” to platinum status. He too has taken a stab at acting, and also directs music videos under the name CAPO.
N.O.R.E. Formerly known as Noreaga in an homage to the Panamanian dictator, Nore came up in Queens in the late 90s, not long after Mobb Deep. On his debut LP with his [?] incarcerated partner as Capone-N-Noreaga, he professed his disdain for Christianity and called himself the “Arab Nazi.” On his solo debut N.O.R.E. (“Niggas On the Run Eatin’”), he embraced his funny bone, dialing down the militance and amping up the laughs. He rode a Neptunes beat and his signature catchphrase “What What” to the top of the charts with “Superthug,” and closed out one of the all-time classic posse cuts, “Banned From TV.” He successfully went reggaeton in the mid-aughts, and these days co-hosts a popular podcast with DJ EFN, Drink Champs.
Pete Rock & CL Smooth
One of the architects of New York hip-hop’s rise to mainstream success in the early 90s, Pete Rock is one of those old-school producers that can flip a sample on a drum machine into a beat live, in real time. His early records with CL Smooth are classics of the genre, and his Soul Survivor solo tapes are all-star compilations. Recently, he’s been showing his gray hairs by telling young mumblecore rapper Lil’ Yachty to get off his lawn, but dude is enough of an OG that we’ll forgive him his geriatric gripes.
Ever since he dropped his Lightspeed Champion handle and started making sultry nouveau r&b as Blood Orange, Devonte Hynes has slowly been coming out of his shell. Not necessarily as a musician — by his mid-twenties he already had world tours and a handful of albums under his belt — but as a dancer. Over the course of three LPs, a few singles, and a B side, Hynes has graduated from shy strutter to leaping swan. Ahead of his show at Terminal 5 on October 1, here are a few of our favorite Dev Hynes dance moves, in handy GIF form.
In the video for “Dinner,” side A of a 7″ put out in 2011 by the inaptly named Terrible Records, a 26-year-old Hynes isn’t quite yet confident enough to break out.
But from even the first Blood Orange record, Coastal Grooves, you get a sense the music is almost forcing movement out of his body. The video for lead single “I’m Sorry We Lied” goes from fun and flirty to bloody and murderous at the drop of a dime (literally, peep the sneaky pay phone call), and we finally get a first glimpse of Hynes letting loose, on the dance floor with his smiling temptress.
Next came the video for sophomore album Cupid Deluxe single “Chamakay,” filmed in Hynes’s mother’s native Guyana. It has beautiful backdrops and shows him drawing more than a little from voguing, a form whose angular and intricate stylings start to influence his dancing going forward.
The Gia Coppola-directed video for 2014’s “You’re Not Good Enough” featured increasingly bold Hynes moves, although he’s still still got a controlled, almost muted vibe. Also, some strong Michael Jackson flavor…
…although he also makes clear he is still his own unique brand of weirdo.
The “Time Will Tell” video marked the first time Hynes allows a director to train the camera completely on him while he dances in a music video, and you can tell it’s something he’s worked on and is (rightly) proud to share. Set in a dance studio, it feels like he’s inviting us to witness the many hours he’s spent practicing.
As Hynes began to address his own black experience in his music, the videos followed suit; his background dancers went from mostly being white (as was the case in the beginning of the Blood Orange project) to mostly being brown and black. Catch him in the middle of a deep crew flexing — pretty skillfully, we might add — on the corner in Chinatown with Junglepussy, in the video for one-off single “Sandra’s Smile,” his emotional response to the death of Sandra Bland.
Hynes’s latest LP as Blood Orange, Freetown Sound, is a continuation of where he left off with “Sandra’s Smile,” both musically and visually. In the video for first single “Augustine,” his dancers have gotten more diverse, and that voguing influence shows up again with some tricky hand movements.
But thankfully he never moves away from the move we all love him best for: shredding on guitar like no one else can.
Blood Orange plays Terminal 5 on Saturday. Tickets are sold out but available on the secondary market.
HBO’s miniseries The Night Of concludes Sunday evening after eight episodes. The series begins in Jackson Heights, Queens, when a nice college kid named Nasir Khan borrows his father’s yellow cab and winds up accused of brutally murdering a white girl who lives in an upscale brownstone on the Upper West Side. A spell at Rikers Island ensues, and the protagonist goes through a transformative experience as the show sharpens its focus on the physical and psychological effects of the prison system.
In addition to this somber commentary, The Night Of has also revealed itself as a show stitched together by a roundup of hip-hop artists, songs, and references, many of which are also tied to New York City. Ahead of its finale and new life as a binge-watching experience on HBO Now, here’s a primer on the show’s hip-hop connections. (Standard disclaimer: Mild spoilers ensue.)
First, the Most Obvious: Leading Man Riz Ahmed Is Riz MC
Riz Ahmed plays The Night Of‘s lead character, Nasir “Naz” Khan. His previous film credits include Chris Morris’s suicide bomber comedy (yep) Four Lions and the brooding noir flick Nightcrawler, but he’s also been pursuing a career as a rapper back in his native UK. As Riz MC, his most prominent effort is “Englistan,” a musing on multiculturalism that hits home as his nation lies prone in a post-Brexit limbo. You can also catch Riz MC recording with Queens-raised Heems as the Swet Shop Boys; the primal, punchline-laden “Tiger Hologram” is the duo’s latest outing, ahead of an album slated to drop later this fall.
Sticky Fingaz Plays a Fellow Inmate
Since announcing himself on the hip-hop scene as one-fourth of the hoarse-voiced, Jam Master Jay–mentored group Onyx back in the early Nineties, Brooklyn-born Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones has proceeded to make legit moves into the acting world. He’s racked up a sizable list of film credits, plus roles on TV in The Shield and Blade; here, he plays one of Naz’s fellow inmates. A new (and as-yet-unreleased) song from Sticky, “Listen Up,” soundtracks a key scene in the show — Naz’s transportation to Rikers Island.
Lord Jamar’s Role as a Prison Guard
Another renowned Nineties rapper-turned-actor, Brand Nubian mainstay Lord Jamar, takes on a recurring role as Rikers Island guard Tino. Jamar’s own “Revolution,” featuring guest vocals from Horse and Reality Allah, serves as a taut soundtrack that closes episode six in steely fashion, although you’ll have to watch the show to find out just how apt it is.
Treach’s TV-Room Stare-Down
Halfway through the show, you might start to think the version of Rikers presented in The Night Of is a messed-up retirement home for Nineties rappers, because Treach from Naughty By Nature also turns up for a cameo. Despite the groups’s renown for anthemic crossover hits like “O.P.P.” and “Hip-Hop Hooray,” Naughty’s back catalog also includes street-wrought moments like “The Chain Remains,” which casts a glance at the prison system. Treach’s appearance in The Night Of is rooted in this side of his oeuvre, as he becomes involved in a tense standoff with Naz over what to watch on the Rikers Island rec room’s TV. Let the record show that only one of them is interested in watching Ellen’s show.
Michael K. Williams’s Early Rap Video Hustle
As Freddy the Rikers Island kingpin, Michael K. Williams adds another sterling role to his clip reel. But by the time he became a darling of the HBO world by playing Omar on The Wire and Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire, he’d already popped up in a slew of hip-hop videos; an early gem includes his appearance in the one for Boot Camp Clik’s 1997 track “Night Riders.” Catch him portraying a bootlegger at the top of the video — a role he may well have lived out, because Williams grew up only a block away from the rap collective’s sadly-departed Sean Price.
Show Writer Richard Price’s Clockers Connection
The Night Of was co-written by Richard Price, an author whose books take grisly glee in exploring the underbelly of New York City’s crime milieu. Tracing lines from the mid-Nineties to the present day, Spike Lee’s film adaptation of Price’s Clockers offered an early acting role to Sticky Fingaz (as drug dealing kid Scientific). Also in the mix is John Turturro, who was cast as a detective in the movie long before he’d play the eczema-afflicted attorney John Stone in The Night Of. (Keep your eyes peeled for his promotional “No fee ’til you’re free” ads around the NYC subway system.)
Sometimes what we want from noise is a total absence of nuance; just get to the point, we beg. Blow the doors off! Detonate the bomb, already! This month’s featured selections lunge for the jugular in different ways, giving us some satisfaction in this torturous interval in between spring and summer. Let’s get fried, shall we?
Bergegas Mati – Pop Neraka
Bergegas Mati is the work of Ari CK and Pandu, two cryptic musicians from Malang, Indonesia, and Pop Neraka is quite a record. It reminds us that, fantastic and valuable as so many experimental creations are, most of them aren’t willfully abrupt on a John Zorn or Boredoms level. They don’t exist in that batshit paradigm where your nerve endings tingle dangerously from start to finish because you have absolutely no idea what’s coming up next.
Because it taps into this great, underused tradition, Pop Neraka never feels static. One minute someone has assembled a blazing guitar solo from multiple takes; the next, a maniacal drum set clinic is in progress; in another, hardcore is reinvented with maracas. The cumulative effect is anarchic and dizzying; several of these seventeen tracks clock in at less than a minute, while one stretches past the ten-minute mark. Sure, Ari CK and Pandu (mercifully) pepper their whiplash with plateaus: “5LilinMerahMelingkarDiantaraBintang” (try saying it five times fast) sinkholes the album with four minutes of poltergeist droning. But most of the time we’re left gaping at their audacity, like the primal scream therapy of “Nilai E Dipelajaran Seni Musik,” or how swiftly “Fuck U DJ!” becomes unlistenable, or the willingness of no-fi blues dirge “Fallen Omar Salazar” to retrain from completely dismantling itself.
Christian Mirande – Foxbat
There are many qualities that I look for in a quality experimental recording, but two leap to mind at this moment: the ability to continually engage me as a listener, and the impression that whatever is happening within the music is also happening to me. It is no exaggeration to say that Foxbat (No Rent Records), a new tape from Philadelphia’s Christian Mirande, embodies the second quality so fully that the first becomes a moot point. These sonic molecules are unstable, and hopelessly so. It sounds as though Mirande has programmed his electronics to invent, then perfect, the AI equivalent of a game of jacks.
It’s impossible to turn away from something which, as it plays, seems part and parcel of one’s own physiology; there is absolutely no escape. Side A, “Comfortable With GLONASS,” suggests sedan chassis autopsies crossed with a pair of rear tires kicking up irradiated gravel sprays. Side B, “Comfortable With TsAGI,” takes on a sludgier cast, massaging and stretching its predecessor’s range of effects like saltwater taffy; even when the sound dips low, diseased, and dusty-stylus scratchy, the effect is invigorating. This is a landmark release.
Theo Nugraha – “Rembulan”
“Rembulan” — Indonesian for “moon” — is a thick, suffocating blast of recent noise from Borneo’s Theo Nugraha, who’s spent the past couple of years establishing himself as a noise evangelist. There’s no prelude or preamble here: We’re plunged, immediately, into a sort of concentrated, bifurcated disorder. Whether at three minutes or thirty, there’s always a risk of this brand of harsh noise-wall wearing out its welcome too quickly. “Rembulan” overcomes this obstacle by placing a sustained, annihilating drone and a distorted, cratering crumble in direct opposition to each other; sometimes one element or the other is permitted to pendulum to the forefront, or a piercing whine slices through the confusion to incinerate every item on your mental to-do list. The spigot explodes; the furnace erupts; the valley is burned and poisoned. Hang on tight.
And some odds & ends…
Speculative Realism, a collaboration between Druuna Jaguar (Portugal) and Phantasm Nocturnes (U.S.), is one of the darker, more hair-raising team-ups I’ve stumbled upon recently.
This year’s edition of the always fantastic NorCal Noisefest is set to take place in Sacramento, California, from Friday, September 30, through Sunday, October 2; no lineup as of yet, but keep checking for details, as they’re sure to emerge soon.
Regardless of where you happen to stand on Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, I think we can all agree that this is probably the best fake U.S. presidential campaign advertisement in recent times. Frog Piss, folks! Get hip.
Within most of us, the month of February induces spasms of denial. We want – no, we need – to believe that the worst of winter is over, that the weather can’t and won’t get worse, that slicing winds and sudden snowfalls and frozen sidewalks are a distant, unpleasant memory. This February was happy to nurture and encourage such beliefs, to dole out moderately warm days and tease flowers towards bloom – only to jerk any hints of spring away and plunge the temperatures back down into the teens or twenties on a dime (to say nothing of the arctic tundra that was the 13th). Winter isn’t completely over yet, no matter how much any of us want to believe it. Since throwing temper tantrums in the face of nature is futile and self-defeating, we may as well give ourselves over to the full-bore catharsis noise music can offer us.
STADIUM-LEVEL EXTINCTION EVENT: Tattered Syntax
Alone Gone(Oxen) compiles unreleased and previously released material that William Hutson (Clipping.) created between 2005 and 2009. In his liners, Hutson notes that an extraordinary amount of editing work went into these compositions, and that “by the time I decided I had become decent at making this kind of noise, this style had fallen out of favor.” Nonetheless, this is a phenomenal collection which, at its best, is terrifyingly three-dimensional, as though it were documentation of the sky giving way to some sort of jagged, power-electronics Armageddon. The noise here feels relentlessly cleansing in a deeply tornadic sense, if tornadoes were capable of piercing iron walls and rearranging collective psyches; tracks strike, annihilate, recede, contemplate, and then out of nowhere are dismantling the ground on which you stand listening, wide-eyed, trying to comprehend what’s happening around you. For the first dozen listens or so I was reminded of the the hit-and-run nature of John Wiese’s seminal Teenage Hallucination, but Hutson is operating on a different, less comic frequency; more is at play, with the shrillest tones displayed, swallowed, then bazooka-barfed out as sprays of gravel, and very serious intimations of planetary destruction.
See Through Buildings is the primary project of Garrden Grove, California’s Ben Rehling. His latest, I’ll Waive the Cover Charge (Lost Light Records), is solid entry in the Harsh Noise Wall (HNW) sub-genre. My biggest gripe with HNW over the years has been that at its very worst, the music presents an undistinguished front of oblivion, a snarling, invariable, personality-absent blare representing a dead-inside entropy and not much else. “Anti-music” is not necessarily a pejorative notion, but lame HNW nearly renders it as such. And while Rehling embraces overload, flooding the mix with geysers of feedback and distortion, he also takes care to bi-layer his cacophony, stutter the flow, hint at samples struggling to breathe underneath that never-ending avalanche of noise. The moments when the distortion sharpens and leaps out, emerging as something viscerally distinct from the surrounding rubble, are where Waive reveals itself as special.
A HUNDRED TATTOO NEEDLES PRICKLING AS ONE: Naughty
Rome’s great Signora Ward tape imprint, home to the amazing Power Monster among other projects, is taking its bow; Nylon Insomnia, from Rome’s Naughty, is one of the label’s last releases. I’m most partial to Side B, “You Won’t Sleep,” where Kevin Elliot Ford’s sweeping, sprained distortion shifts into steamroller mode, blood-red and confrontational, dozens of thorns and thistles shoving past one another, deeper and deeper into your eardrums. A fine bookend to the beginning or ending of a day: any day.
Short Takes: Hesse Press recently issued Nihil Ad Rem, a provocative monograph from GX Jupitter-Larsen, with whom you may be familiar from dozens of noise projects and collaborations over the years. The 33-page book features perception-confounding paintings, and live-performance photography that somehow combine aspects of Mexican wrestling, outsider art, and the concealment implicit in terrorist communiques. Austin’s No More Gun Violence organization returns with another compilation in an ongoing series, and No More Gun Violence, Vol. 4is an scabrous, ponderous dozy; proceeds benefit the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Last but not least, Pittsburgh’s digitally-inclined outfit Cloning has connections to the until-recently-on-pause White Suns,; they’re prolific and abrasive, in a sometimes minimalist way.
Ours is a city that’s easy to fall in love with, easy to fall in love in, and easier still to break your heart in (or nurse it back to health). New York City remains a timeless muse for artists of every genre and generation. We’ve already compiled a selection of the best NYC albums and the best songs about the five boroughs we call home. Now, just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re playing these love songs on repeat because they touch on romance in a way that only New York — and the musicians who live, love, and get over their heartbreaks here — can. Here are our picks for the best New York love songs. You’re welcome in advance for compiling your Sunday-night playlist.
“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” — LCD Soundsystem
“I don’t see the need to make New York seem like it doesn’t have things that make me want to shoot myself in the fucking face as a way of explaining that I love it,” James Murphy told the Voice back in 2007. And this is where Taylor Swift, Jay Z, and Sinatra’s simple, Thanksgiving Day Parade–size depictions of the Five Boroughs fail, while Murphy’s winking, piano bar ditty succeeds. The Sound of Silver closer pragmatically struggles with the city in our heads and the city in front of us, but appreciates it all the same. In real life, New York is not waiting for you, not there to make you feel number one. But when you love something — really love something — honesty goes way further than fluff. — Sean McCabe
“Oh Oh I Love Her So” — The Ramones
An underrated gem from 1979’s Leave Home, “Oh Oh I Love Her So” sounds like so many other Ramones tunes on the surface, but the song is as much a valentine to New York as it is to the girl pulling at Joey’s heartstrings. “Then we went down to Coney Island, on the coaster and around again,” he sings. “And no one’s gonna ever tear us apart cause she’s my sweetheart.” It’s a solid deep cut that fits the bill. — Ryan Bray
“You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” — Johnny Thunders
Ralph Kramden: “You’re gonna be awful lonesome around here all by yourself, Alice. Just remember, you can’t put your arms around a memory.” The Honeymooners, “Better Living Through TV”
Both Ralph Kramden of Brooklyn and John Genzale Jr. of Queens wanted to pursue the American dream. “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” is a shot straight to the heart, track two of Johnny Thunders’s first solo album, and it does so after two minutes of cheery surf guitar opens the record. The track feels windswept, echoey, and bleak. Thunders’s voice teeters on the edge of bravado, accompanied by grand, ambitious Spector-ian acoustic guitar chords. “Feel so cold and all alone/Cause baby, you’re not at home,” Johnny sings, before closing the thought: “And when I’m home/Big deal, I’m still alone.” It will break your heart; it is meant to break your heart. — Caryn Rose
“The Only Living Boy in New York” — Simon & Garfunkel
Paul was drifting from his friend. It was the spring of ’69 and Art was caught at a film shoot in Mexico for what was to be his cinematic debut, Catch-22. Paul, alone, remained in New York, where he wrote for the approaching Simon & Garfunkel swan song Bridge Over Troubled Water. Without his partner in a city of millions, Paul channeled the lonesomeness into four minutes that eventually sway into a poignant and friendly requiem. It’s a simultaneous hug and a kiss-off: “Tom, get your plane right on time/I know that you’ve been eager to fly now.” It should come as no surprise that music supervisors working on films continue to rehash the song periodically; its layered love leaves room for boundless reveal. — Silas Valentino
“A NY Love Story” — Mack Wilds
Mack Wilds’s New York: A Love Story, his 2013 debut with legendary producer Salaam Remi, is a throwback to the soulful roots of Nineties hip-hop and the New Jack Swing era. The title track, “A NY Love Story,” is an elegant affair: Wilds is sweetly asking his current fling if they can take their relationship to the next level. “Baby, I don’t mind, making love all through…the night, but I need a love thing, too,” he sings in his mesmerizing falsetto. Over a dreamy instrumental, Wilds is a hopeless romantic, looking for “a Stevie Wonder kind of love,” and she eventually heeds his advances. In a city where Tinder is the dating app du jour, it’s pleasant to hear Wilds pursue love and happiness the old-fashioned way. — Eric Diep
“The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” — Magnetic Fields
Like most Magnetic Fields love songs, this one is tinged with sadness and — thanks to Stephen Merritt’s drawling baritone — kind of creepy, especially with its intimation that the object of the narrator’s affection is being courted by a much-older professor. But the premise is perfect: In a city of dirty sidewalks, overcrowded subways, and pricey taxis, of course the guy with the car is the one to call up on a sunny summer day. Driving around town without anywhere to go is a luxury few New Yorkers get enjoy, making the opportunity to stick your head out the window with the wind in your hair worth a potentially crappy date. Note to single Lower East Siders who can’t seem to catch a break: Those alternate-side parking tickets might be worth it after all. — Zoë Leverant
“Hey Lover” — LL Cool J featuring Boyz II Men
LL Cool J had been hip-hop’s de facto ladies’ man for a decade by the time “Hey Lover” came around. But this time — albeit highly improbably — the rapper doesn’t get the girl. “It was Harlem at the Rucker, I saw you with your man/Smiling, huh, a Coach bag in your hand,” LL says. “But I don’t want to violate your relationship/So I lay back in the cut with a crush, that’s a trip.” LL is resigned to covet his object of affection from a distance, relying on grueling workouts, fantasies of vanilla ice cream, and Boyz II Men’s smooth, pop-r&b grooves to keep him afloat. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
“Train Under Water” — Bright Eyes
Bright Eyes — the sometimes nom de guerre of Omaha-bred singer-songwriter Conor Oberst — has long been considered quintessential sad bastard music. But I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, one of two LPs released simultaneously on Saddle Creek Records in 2005, is Oberst at his most hopeful and earnest. In the early Aughts, Oberst frequently drew comparisons to a young Bob Dylan, and this album seemed to recall the singer’s own Freewheelin’ Greenwich Village folk period. One of the album’s strongest tracks, “Train Under Water” — most likely referencing the L train — is at once a beautiful arrangement of steel pedal guitar and harmonies, and an ode to the complexities of inter-borough romance. “I always get lost when I leave the Village, so I couldn’t come meet you in Brooklyn last night,” Oberst offers by way of an apology, though the reported future L train closures could soon produce a fresh batch of excuses to help him skip out on a date. — Jackson Conner
“Love Comes in Spurts” — Richard Hell & the Voidoids
Urgent, dirty, and dangerous: the essence of young, snotty, Lower East Side “love” in Seventies New York City. Richard Hell deftly captured it in the two minutes and three seconds of his seminal (pun intended) 1977 tune, which kicked off and set the tone for Blank Generation, Hell and the Voidoids’ timeless debut. As Hell rants, “I was a child/Who wanted love that was wild/Though tight as slow motion/But crazed with devotion…I was fourteen and a half/and it wasn’t no laugh.” We can presume the lament chorus of “oh no it hurts” refers to an STD unwittingly contracted via one of those wild loves, but as he also sings, love “…murders your heart/They didn’t tell you that part,” hinting that under the barely controlled musical chaos beats the heart of a romantic — fitting for Hell, who took his surname from the work of decadent French poet Arthur Rimbaud. — Katherine Turman
“You Said Something” — PJ Harvey
What is it to be just one body among New York City’s 8.4 million? Some say it’s a reminder of one’s smallness. Others would argue the city’s vastness brings a sense of endless possibility. PJ Harvey’s “You Said Something” stands firmly on the side of the latter philosophy. Harvey doesn’t stray from the cliché symbols of New York City, but they stick because of her songwriting’s sense of movement. The airiness invigorates landmarks like the Empire State Building — now no longer constrictors, but pathways to that nebulous “something” Harvey croons about. In a song released in 2000, the metropolis Harvey romantically describes was a year away from being infected by death and paranoia. — Brian Josephs
“Bonita Applebum” — A Tribe Called Quest
Last year, A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album turned 25, and it was remastered and reissued with new remixes from CeeLo Green (“Footprints”), Pharrell (“Bonita Applebum”), and J. Cole (“Can I Kick It?”). Even in 2016, “Bonita Applebum” still holds up, a classic hip-hop track about swooning over a woman with an hourglass figure. Q-Tip’s lyrics are smooth as molasses, telling his side of courtship with one-liners like “You and me, hun, we’re a match made in heaven.” His confession of love goes as far as telling the girl “I like to kiss ya where some brothers won’t” — a boast of cunnilingus that’s hard for anyone to deny. Considering the influence of Tribe’s music after all these years, “Bonita Applebum” remains a song New Yorkers know all too well, and the perfect example that playing hard to get is a winning game. — Eric Diep
“New York City Serenade” — Bruce Springsteen
“New York City Serenade” is an ode to the city as much as it is a love story. It is a grand, epic tale of Diamond Jackie and Billy, with a soundtrack to match, from the piano intro (courtesy of David Sancious) that sweeps majestically from classical to jazz, before settling into the gentle, lyrical rhythm that carries the song forward. Springsteen’s narration is peak Jersey Shore hipster surfer dude, calling it as he sees it, talking about the fish lady and the jazzman and the corner boys. A string section descends seemingly from the heavens, and some of Clarence Clemons’s most emotional saxophone work walks our heroes into the sunset. It is eight minutes of hope and heart and beauty: “So walk tall, baby, or don’t walk at all.” – Caryn Rose
“I Love You Baby” —Puff Daddy featuring Black Rob
Diddy has had his fair share of emo raps. There was an especially plaintive run right after his breakup with J.Lo — but nothing goes as hard as “I Love You Baby.” A B-side favorite from 1997’s No Way Out, “I Love You Baby” introduced Harlem’s Black Rob, whose opening salvo sums it up: “I met her uptown on Dyckman, aight then/Talkin’ that, how she only dealt with businessmen.” Rob steals the tale about a duplicitous woman who sets him up, only to face a grizzly end. “Funny how it’s a small world, baby girl/Youse about to get fucked with no gel/I’mma sit back and watch this cake finish baking/And plan your extermination, word.” — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
“Puerto Rican Judo” — Ratking
Ratking’s brash brand of New York rap might not be the sound you think of when you imagine a New York City love song, but on “Puerto Rican Judo,” from their incendiary 2014 album, So It Goes, they channel their gritty and grim vision of Manhattan into a touching snapshot of an underclass relationship in Gotham. Over a Sporting Life beat that evokes the sounds of an overhead subway, Patrick Morales, a/k/a Wiki, and Wavy Spice trade bars marveling at the small miracle that is the other person. She says, “You bring out the best in me/Everything you say manifests in me.” He counters, “How you look at me like that, when I got no teeth?” In an album with a dark, complicated relationship to New York City, the song is a poignant expression of how love manifests in a town where cops, class, and race can make a relationship between a “brown girl” and a “white boy,” as Wiki describes the pair, very difficult. — Adam Downer
“You Don’t Know My Name” — Alicia Keys
Few moments in music are more endearing than Alicia Keys pausing in the middle of “You Don’t Know My Name” — the first single from her Grammy Award–winning sophomore album — to act the part of a lovestruck waitress working at a coffeehouse on 139th and Lenox. Every Wednesday, Keys’s secret crush comes into the shop on his lunch break and orders a hot chocolate. “I always use some milk and cream for you, ’cause I think you’re kinda sweet,” she admits during their first phone call, her voice shy but self-assured. The song was produced by Kanye West, the beat is sampled from the Main Ingredient’s ethereal 1974 single “Let Me Prove My Love to You,” and the music video features Yasiin Bey (a/k/a Mos Def) in the role of Keys’s hot cocoa–addicted love interest. — Jackson Conner
“Angel of Harlem” — U2
“Angel of Harlem,” from 1988’s Rattle and Hum, is brimming with the breathless, shiny optimism of the newly arrived. “New York, like a Christmas tree/Tonight this city belongs to me,” sings Bono, and we all know what he’s talking about, that moment when you first glimpse the skyline in the distance. The lyrics are stream-of-consciousness impressions, excited, quick jump shots viewed through the eyes of someone who has loved New York and everything she represents. It is an ode to the city and to its music and to the rhythm of the subways and the streets and the electricity in the air. It is about missing a time and a place you were too young to have been part of. — Caryn Rose
“Slum Goddess” — The Fugs
One of the great, underappreciated NYC bands of the mid Sixties was the Fugs, featuring poet Ed Sanders (who authored the impressive Manson tome The Family). It’s almost a novelty song in its quirky, picaresque tale-telling of young Sherry Bendel’s NYC “trip.” Sherry moved to the LES in the Summer of Love, her charms inspiring the narrator to pine and plead, “Slum goddess, won’t you please be my bride?” Her accomplishments? “Sherry organized a commune on Avenue A/She swears the revolution is just one pamphlet away.” The elusive Slum Goddess existed in a sunnier time and place: “Dope, sex, revolution, pretty paisley hues/She walks through the park/All the hippie hearts melt.” The best, though, is that Sherry’s parents “were detectives posing as bums” to find their wayward daughter. They don’t write ‘em like this anymore. — Katherine Turman
“Visions of Johanna” — Bob Dylan
What’s so remarkable about Bob Dylan’s iconic Blonde on Blonde track “Visions of Johanna” is not simply its serpentine verses or the fact that the singer is at once both laying bare his infatuation with a singular woman and simultaneously dreaming of another more desirable yet unattainable one. Rather, it’s his impressionistic depiction of a meandering New York City evening: the “all-night girls” and how “they whisper of escapades out on the D-train,” the “muttering small talk at the wall.” Mona Lisa in the museum with the “highway blues.” Dylan’s New York here is a boozy, obsessive one, equal parts love, desire, and regret, all underpinned by a supple acoustic guitar and Robbie Robertson’s treble electric. Those sights and sounds of the bustling city can blind even the most steadfast man, but Dylan is too engrossed with the woman never present, and it all blurs into one massive whirl. — Dan Hyman
“’03 Bonnie & Clyde” – Jay Z featuring Beyoncé
Jay Z and Beyoncé are hip-hop’s reigning couple, but before #RelationshipGoals, they were Young and Bey, “cruising down the West Side Highway.” Jay Z fittingly samples 2Pac’s “Me and My Girlfriend” for his first collaboration with his future wife. Never much for sap, he keeps it Brooklyn. “She rides with me — the new Bobby and Whitney/Only time we don’t speak is during Sex and the City.” Beyoncé responds like a true ride-or-die chick: “Down to ride ’til the very end, it’s me and my boyfriend.” Although the couple didn’t cop to a relationship until years later, their heat radiated off the track. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
“I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” — The Ramones
The quintessential New York City punk band wrote the quintessential punk rock love song with 1976’s “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” More Sixties bubblegum schlock pop than anything else, the toe-tapping little ditty is Beatles-esque in its sweet simplicity, showing off the Queens crew’s soft side following the Sturm und Drang of their first single, “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Written by drummer Tommy Ramone, it features the band’s trademark endearingly boneheaded lyrics (“Hey, little girl/I wanna be your boyfriend/Sweet little girl/I wanna be your boyfriend” — be still my beating heart) and a sunny little beat, punctuated by crooning vocal harmonies. Tommy once said that NYC is the “perfect place to grow up neurotic,” but “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” shows that there’s plenty of room here for a dash of romance, too. — Kim Kelly
“I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” — Sleater-Kinney
If the song that inspired it charmed with its simplicity, Sleater-Kinney’s own ode to punk-rock lust (and maybe love) is a much tougher customer, snapping and snarling as it stomps all over rock ‘n’ roll’s clichéd gender roles. Vocalist and guitarist team Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein demand the adulation and admiration afforded to male stars like Joey Ramone and Thurston Moore, groupies and all — “I wanna be your Joey Ramone/Pictures of me on your bedroom door/Invite you back after the show/I’m the queen of rock ‘n’ roll” — while feigning disaffected boredom, like they’re saying it’s all just a game and they’re going to win no matter who shows up. It’s a fierce statement of strength and self-regard, delivered via yelps and warbles over a moody beat and warped surf rock riffs. After all, if you can’t love yourself, who will? — Kim Kelly
“New York” — Snow Patrol
“If you were here beside me instead of in New York, if the curve of you was curved on me/I’d tell you that I loved you before I even knew you,” Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody sings amid sad piano chords. I first heard this song when I was a freshman in college — I’d never dated anyone; I’d never lived in a place that wasn’t my hometown. It’s the kind of sad, soaring song I wanted to drown in, imagining myself in a fancy Manhattan apartment with a long-distance lover who desperately wanted me to come back — but I wouldn’t. I would be independent and strong in my longing, I’d build a life in that glorious sanctuary, New York. Now I live in a mildly shitty Brooklyn apartment and am about to celebrate Valentine’s Day for the first time with a significant other — I’m a lot less romantic now, but when I listen to “New York,” it feels like I’m winking at eighteen-year-old Claire. — P. Claire Dodson
“Fuck You Tonight” — Notorious B.I.G. featuring R. Kelly
A lot has been made of the Notorious B.I.G.’s storytelling ability, hits, and basically everything else involving him. What arguably hasn’t been emphasized enough is how his lyrical economy can be as important as his mellifluous flow. His best displays of storytelling and character description are drawn vividly within a few sets of bars (see: “Suicidal Thoughts,” “Juicy,” “Niggas Bleed”). It’s a skill that made the transition from Ready to Die’s street griot to Life After Death’s slick-but-deadly mafioso a believable one, and it’s what makes “Fuck You Tonight” a standout. A lesser rapper would’ve drowned within the high-thread-count lushness of R. Kelly and Bad Boy’s production. Biggie, on the other hand, plays a convincing mack, turning the Parker Meridien hotel into a quaint accoutrement. And while an unfortunate number of r&b/rap collaborations are more superfluous than aphrodisiacs, “Fuck You Tonight” sticks with its personality: “Skip the wine and the candlelight, no Cristal tonight/If it’s all right with you, we fuckin’.” Don’t let the shadow of “Can’t You See” obscure this essential cut. — Brian Josephs
“Queen of Lower Chelsea” — Gaslight Anthem
“Did you grow up lonesome and one of a kind?/Were your records all you had to pass the time?” asks the narrator of “Queen of Lower Chelsea,” who tells us why he came to the big city in the first place. And there’s a girl (there’s always a girl, right?) who wants him and doesn’t want him, and he feels the same way: “American girls, they want the whole world/They want every last little light in New York City.” Of course, our hero came to the city for the exact same reason, but he can’t see that yet. But he’s gonna be all right; you hear it in the way his voice soars on the bridge: “Nothing is free/Not even me.” — Caryn Rose
“I Love Livin’ in the City” — FEAR
Less a song about love than a shit-stained love letter to the filthy beating heart of the city itself, FEAR’s song features lyrics about roaches and junkies, encapsulating a very special time in New York City history. (There’s even a reference to the protagonist’s burning desire to “fuck some slut,” for all you romantics out there.) In 1983, Times Square still crawled with pimps and prostitutes, its neon lights flickering invitingly over sex shops and peep shows — and that was uptown. The less said about the war zones in Alphabet City the better, and don’t even ask about Brooklyn. FEAR were originally from California, but after a riot broke out during their infamous SNL performance of “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones,” we claimed them as our own — and “I Love Livin’ in the City” is both their magnum opus and an instantly recognizable battle cry for anyone who calls this big, beautiful bastard city home. — Kim Kelly
“Hey Ma” — Cam’ron featuring Juelz Santana
“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit…A true soul mate is a mirror,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. Harlem rappers Cam’ron and Juelz Santana probably didn’t read her wanderlust memoir, but 2009’s “Hey Ma” is, in many ways, an exploration on how shared interests lead to romance. “You smoke? (I smoke)/I drink (Me too)/Well good — cause we gonna get high tonight.” Juelz meets a girl “downtown clubbing,” and by the time they’re at the 155th exit on the West Side Highway, he knows she’s the one — at least, for the night. You really don’t have to travel outside New York City to find true love. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
“The L Train Is a Swell Train and I Don’t Want to Hear You Indies Complain” — Out Hud
Originally formed in Sacramento, Out Hud was a jammier offshoot of dance-punk outfit !!!, featuring members Nic Offer and Tyler Pope. But unlike !!!, Out Hud’s siren call to the club floor was wordless. Despite only being instrumental, the track “The L Train Is a Swell Train and I Don’t Want to Hear You Indies Complain,” from their 2002 debut S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D., is a testament to Bedford Avenue’s former desolation. Almost fifteen years later, the twelve-minute track’s math rock–indebted guitar washed in synth haze recalls the nearly barren (hipster-wise) Bedford Avenue of the early Aughts. A place where DIY on Kent meant $10 keggers boasting performances by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Les Savy Fav, before James Murphy and Co. turned the neighborhood into a pool where we’d happily drown. Whenever I want to look back at being a teen, soaking up cheap beer with Tops-bought potato chips, I flip this one on. Sure, we might lose the L for two years, but in Out Hud’s era, it was a portal to what seemed like New York’s cool future — a distant memory blockaded by so many high-rises. — Claire Lobenfeld
“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” — Paul Simon
In 1986, when Paul Simon brought the musical fruits of his South African sojourn to Saturday Night Live, I recall being mesmerized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the heretofore unknown-to-me rhythms and instrumentation. I wasn’t alone: Graceland marked a sea change for Simon. While the “diamonds” reference could be read as a reference to South Africa/DeBeers diamonds, the bouncy, utterly infectious tune is still a classic rich-girl-poor-boy love story. While “the poor boy changes clothes/And puts on aftershave/To compensate for his ordinary shoes” to take his wealthy paramour dancing, ultimately, the playing field is leveled as they end up “by sleeping in a doorway/By the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway/Wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes.” Emphasis “their” from “her.” Swoon. Love triumphs over class differences in what is possibly one of the only contemporary American pop radio tunes to feature singing in Zulu. — Katherine Turman
“Autumn in New York” — Billie Holiday
Many great musicians have performed “Autumn in New York” since composer Vernon Duke first wrote the jazz standard in 1934. Versions by Charlie Parker and Frank Sinatra, as well as a beloved duet by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, stand out as particularly moving renditions. But there’s something about the melancholic beauty of Billie Holiday’s voice — the ineffable warmth she wraps around each note — that captures the true romance of Duke’s music and lyrics. The delicate accompaniment by pianist Oscar Peterson allows Holiday to shine, and listeners are easily transported to a crisp November day in Central Park, experiencing the mixture of excitement and sadness that often comes with falling in and out of love in New York City. “It’s autumn in New York that brings the promise of new love,” Holiday sings longingly. “Autumn in New York is often mingled with pain.” — Jackson Conner
“Good Fortune” — PJ Harvey
“Good Fortune” is the sound of your heart beating, of falling in love late at night at a party, of a glance across a crowded room, of connecting in a moment and realizing that you are, yes, now ready to let go of your bruised and broken heart, and take a chance again. The song is the soundtrack to running through dark, deserted downtown streets, the narrow side streets in Chinatown and Little Italy, back in the day when there was a difference. You’re running hand in hand in the middle of the night, in a world where it feels like it’s just the two of you. Harvey’s voice is strong and in control, reassuring you: You got this. You’ll get over this. — Caryn Rose
“New York State of Mind” — Billy Joel
In recent times, Billy Joel has become as much a part of New York City’s fabric as Lady Liberty or the Empire State. In the mid Seventies, however, after returning to the East Coast following a three-year stint in Los Angeles, Joel was feeling sentimental and lovelorn. “New York State of Mind” is the singer-pianist’s love letter to the city he adores; it’s a reflection on parting ways with supposed ease in exchange for that energetic heart-jolt only felt strolling through the boroughs. “I know what I’m needing/And I don’t want to waste more time,” Joel sings, slow-rolling piano burbling beneath. “I’m in a New York state of mind.” Never a hit single, the Turnstiles track has gone on to achieve almost mythical status among Joel’s fans due in large part to the singer performing the song in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11. What was once the tale of a young man returning to the bustle has come to signify something far greater: our collective love of that which is familiar and safe. — Dan Hyman
Like thousands of music fans all over the world, David Bowie fell in love with New York because of the Velvet Underground. He would visit the city for the first time in 1971, coming over to do press for Hunky Dory; he insisted on being introduced to both Iggy Pop and Lou Reed immediately. Establishing a habit he’d proceed to keep until he was no longer able, he voraciously consumed live music, making the scene at Max’s Kansas City or going to the Mercer Arts Center to see the New York Dolls. Years later, he’d be in the crowd while Iggy hopped onstage to sing “96 Tears” with the Patti Smith Group at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, and he’d visit Max’s to catch a set by singer-songwriter Biff Rose, only to become enamored with the opening act, a new talent named Bruce Springsteen.
New York City would be important to his work as well. Bowie rehearsed here, put together bands here, began his theater career here with The Elephant Man, and would both launch tours and end them right here. He celebrated his fiftieth birthday here, and he helped the city heal when it needed it most. His love and affection for New York was visible and palpable and only grew with the passing years.
It only makes sense that David Bowie would wholeheartedly embrace the city that welcomed the weird and the strange and the odd and the questioning with open arms — the same way, as it turned out, that his music and art and very presence on the planet did for so many. In 2003 he told New York magazine, “I’m here most of the year now. I only leave if work demands it. (I’ve read the rumors about how I have houses elsewhere, but this is it.)” Naturally, he settled downtown, where you might glimpse him eating breakfast or walking around. And like New York’s most successful adopted sons, he would merge into city life seamlessly, cheerfully playing for dozens of charities, going to shows, and checking out local bands.
“People here are very decent about their interactions with well-knowns. I get the occasional ‘Yo, Bowie,’ but that’s about it,” he’d said in that same interview. “My only rule is to avoid tourist areas. But if I weren’t known, I’d still avoid ’em.”
That’s a true New Yorker right there.
September 28, 1972 | Carnegie Hall: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
On his first American tour, Bowie brought Ziggy Stardust to perform before a sold-out Carnegie Hall. This would be his third concert in the States, following gigs in Cleveland and Memphis. The Carnegie marquee read, “Fall in Love With David Bowie” while klieg lights lit up the sky outside the venue. The audience was filled with fans in their Ziggy-esque best, and NYC’s best and brightest appeared with their entourages, from the Dolls to Warhol and the Factory crowd. Bowie was sick with the flu, and reports from the show mention that it took the band a while to gather momentum. But by midway through, Cyrinda Foxe (then with David Johansen) and Angie Bowie were dancing in the aisles, and the New Yorker‘s Ellen Willis was standing on her chair, “enthusiastically applauding.” Bowie would tell the audience, “This is like bringing coals to Newcastle!” before launching into his versions of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “White Light/White Heat.” “Andy Warhol” would be introduced as a song “for all the blondes in the audience.”
July 19–20, 1974 | Madison Square Garden: Diamond Dogs
Ziggy Stardust was dead, and when Bowie returned to town for his first performances at the Garden, it was with the insanely ambitious Diamond Dogs tour, which featured a full theatrical set (including a catwalk and a cherry picker hoisting Bowie over the audience) and choreography (by none other than Toni Basil). Diamond Dogs was meant to be Bowie’s vision of Orwell’s 1984, having come about after his attempts to create a musical based on the book were blocked by the author’s widow. But Bowie’s own post-apocalyptic creation was plenty bleak on its own. These MSG shows — the final concerts on this leg — were filmed by Bowie’s management for release, but although audio is out there, the video has never surfaced.
October 28, 1974 | Radio City Music Hall: ‘Philly Dogs’
While still ostensibly part of the Diamond Dogs tour, this seven-night stand at Radio City Music Hall would present a completely different show, now referred to as “Philly Dogs” to denote the tour’s drastic swing from proto-punk apocalyptic nightmare to r&b revue. To the confusion of fans dressed as Ziggy and Aladdin, Bowie had already ditched the tour’s original concept — the elaborate set, which hadn’t fared well on the first leg, wouldn’t get farther than the West Coast — in favor of a band that included Robin Clark, Ava Cherry, and a pre-superstardom Luther Vandross on backing vocals (the backing band also performed a seven-song set of r&b material to open the show). All of Bowie’s hits were reinterpreted through this soul-based filter, to varying results; reviews were overwhelmingly not positive. The band was great (with the addition of Carlos Alomar, and David Sanborn’s role expanding due to the new arrangements), and the enthusiasm and desire was authentic, but there was just too much bombast. “Young Americans” is introduced as being from the forthcoming album, recorded back in August at Philly’s Sigma Sound.
March 26, 1976 | Madison Square Garden: Isolar
Robert Christgau declared this particular Bowie era “the most powerful and innovative arena-scale hard rock since the ’73 Stones” in the April 5, 1976, issue of the Village Voice, in a short piece that covered the tour promoting Station to Station. The shows would be prefaced with music from Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity before a screening of Un Chien Andalou, the short surrealist film by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. The Isolar tour would present Bowie still trying to amalgamate soul music and rock ‘n’ roll; it was less overblown and more muscular than the “Philly Dogs” tour, for sure, but not quite there yet. Christgau would note that the MSG show wasn’t as powerful as the one he’d seen at Nassau Coliseum a week earlier; he also commented, “Finally, there’s no reason to believe Bowie appreciates what he’s achieved. His taste in David Bowie has never been very trustworthy.”
March 18, 1977 | The Palladium: The Idiot
No, this wasn’t a David Bowie tour; this was Bowie going out with Iggy Pop to promote the Bowie-produced album The Idiot in order to help keep Iggy on track. His role was unannounced until the first show, after which word spread like wildfire. Bowie hid behind the keyboards over at stage left, laughing and smiling, but you could hear him on backing vocals even if you were legally deaf.
May 7–9, 1978 | Madison Square Garden: Isolar II
The 1978 tour focused on Low and “Heroes” with a healthy dose of Ziggy Stardust to break up the otherwise emotionally grim musical landscape. Today, hearing a food vendor calling, “Hey, pretzels!” during “Warszawa” probably offers some sense of what it was like to see such a rigidly choreographed and sonically punishing performance in a sports arena. The Garden shows would close out the U.S. leg of the tour before Bowie and Co. headed to Europe to finish things off.
September 23, 1980 | Booth Theater: The Elephant Man
After runs in Denver and Chicago, Bowie would arrive for his Broadway debut in his role as John (or is it Joseph?) Merrick, a real-life figure who suffered from a medical condition that caused a severe deformity in his face and overall bone structure. Bowie had seen the play on Broadway at the end of 1979 and was introduced to the director by a mutual friend. Bowie’s run in the play was a complete sellout, and he would receive rave reviews for his performance from both the press and his fellow cast members.
July 25–27, 1983 | Madison Square Garden: Serious Moonlight
After being off the road for years while he focused on his career in film and on the stage, Bowie was back. The Let’s Dance album was an international smash, he had taken over the fledgling MTV, and there was a run on red high heels in every shoe store in New York City. These performances were triumphant and electric, with another great band in tow despite the loss of Stevie Ray Vaughan just as the tour began (SRV had either been fired or had quit, depending on whose version you believe). The backing singers (the Simms Brothers) were inelegant and overbearing, but the horn section (featuring Stan Harrison, from the Asbury Jukes, and Lenny Pickett, who’d cut his teeth with the Tower of Power) was brilliant. For teenage Bowie fans who had been too young to see Bowie in the Seventies, this was our coming-out party.
June 14, 1989 | The World: Tin Machine
Tin Machine was the next vehicle for Bowie, who’d put together a band — and tried to sell it as just that, a band, and not David Bowie and some backing dudes. Along with Reeves Gabrels, he was joined by Hunt and Tony Sales (whom he met while out on tour with Iggy in 1977); the stripped-down quartet would make two attempts before Bowie admitted defeat. This show at now-defunct club the World was the first tour’s warm-up gig, and fans remember its rawness and energy as being part of the charm. No horns, no backup singers, just a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll group.
January 9, 1997 | Madison Square Garden: Fiftieth Birthday Celebration
Featuring Frank Black, the Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, Robert Smith, Billy Corgan, and Lou Reed, the show transcended the usual tribute concert vibe because the guest of honor was just so goddamn stoked about the whole thing. But the best moment had to be watching Bowie singing with Reed on one of Lou’s most New York songs, “Dirty Blvd.” (Lou, for his part, seemed pretty damn happy about it, too.)
October 13, 1997 | The Supper Club: Earthling
This was a tour you might have ignored unless you were a diehard, an outing to theaters and clubs to support an album you probably didn’t pay attention to. Bowie was backed by a tight and capable band including Gail Ann Dorsey, Gabrels, Mike Garson, and Zach Alford and played a career-spanning set that didn’t dwell too long in any one place but was brimming with an energy and enthusiasm amped up by the small venue. (Dylan also played here, and the intimacy had much the same effect.)
January 29, 1998 | Hammerstein Ballroom: Howard Stern’s Birthday Party
Bowie performed five songs for this event, of which three were broadcast by E! A Bowie fanatic recalls, “It was wonderful to see how all these people who weren’t there to see him were cheering for him and loving it. Howard fans are a very tough room.”
June 19, 2000 | Roseland: BowieNet Show
Before most artists even had a solid Web presence, Bowie was already on version two of BowieNet, and this show (part of a three-night run at Roseland, a warm-up for his Glastonbury appearance the next week) was for subscribers only. Fans flew in from all corners of the globe, which was why Bowie, not wanting to let anyone down, showed up despite being severely under the weather. The audience full of diehards likely inspired the performance, as David was visibly relaxed, playing air guitar during “Rebel Rebel” and letting an affectionate grin escape when everyone sang, “Hot tramp, I love you so” with especial emphasis. Even ill, he still managed to hit the high notes when it mattered, most notably on the “Wild Is the Wind” opener.
February 26, 2001 | Carnegie Hall: Tibet House Benefit
Bowie took full advantage of the Hall’s famous acoustics and let his baritone lift “Heroes” to the rafters, accompanied by Tony Visconti on bass, Moby on guitar, Philip Glass on keyboards, and a four-piece string section. The combo also presented “Silly Boy Blue,” and Bowie came out later for the all-star jam on “People Have the Power.”
October 20, 2001 | Madison Square Garden: The Concert for New York City
After opening with a plaintive cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” (played solo with a synthesizer while sitting on the stage), Bowie got to his feet. “Hi, fellow New Yorkers. I’d particularly like to say hello to the folks from my local ladder — you know where you are,” he said before going into a version of “Heroes” that was equal parts tribute, heartbreak, and utter fucking triumph.
February 22, 2002 | Carnegie Hall: Tibet House Benefit
This time around, Bowie performed “I Would Be Your Slave” and “Space Oddity.” For the latter, he was backed by Sterling Campbell on drums, Adam Yauch on bass, Glass on piano, and (for good measure) the Kronos Quartet. Once again, Bowie and his accompanists joined the final encore of “People Have the Power.”
June 11, 2002 | Roseland Ballroom:Low and Heathenin full
Bowie would kick off the tour to support Heathen with this BowieNet subscriber-only show that began with 1977’s Low played start to finish, followed by a costume change and then all of Heathen, too. He even dressed the part for Low, resurrecting a classic Thin White Duke ensemble of white shirt, black vest and trousers, and black tie. Bowie had hinted at the format for the show in pre-tour press, but (quite understandably) not many people actually believed it. Bowie introduced “Be My Wife” by saying, “I’m not even sure my wife has heard this — and it’s too late to ask her now.” There was a power failure in the middle of “Warszawa”: “In 1976 this couldn’t have happened,” Bowie remarked, “because all of our amplifiers were made of wood, and we were able to suffice with steam. I hate electricity, don’t you?”
October 11, 12, 16, 17, and 20, 2002: The New York Marathon Tour
A concert apiece for all five boroughs: Bowie himself dubbed it “The New York Marathon Tour” on BowieNet, stating: “I would like to repay the fans that traveled so far to see me by bringing my show to them. But most importantly, I could get home from all the gigs on roller skates.” He would play at the Music Hall at Snug Harbor (Staten Island); St. Ann’s Warehouse, alongside the Brooklyn Bridge; Queens College; Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe; and the Beacon Theatre. He also did a solid job shaking up the setlist from night to night. It’s hard to call a clear winner, but we’ll go with Brooklyn, which got everything from “Moonage Daydream” to “The Bewlay Brothers” to “Ashes to Ashes,” making the St. Ann’s show something special indeed.
May 10, 2002 | Battery Park City: Tribeca Film Festival
Bowie appeared as part of the Tribeca Film Festival’s “MTV Rock and Comedy Concert.” This wouldn’t seem all that notable except for an interview he gave to a local cable crew in which he greeted the interviewer (and audience) with “Hi, I’m your next-door neighbor” and went on to talk earnestly about the efforts to revitalize downtown New York after 9-11. (He also sang a little of “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round,” if you needed another reason to look this one up.)
February 28, 2003 | Carnegie Hall: Tibet House Benefit
In Bowie’s last appearance for Tibet House, he would perform “Loving the Alien” and “Heathen” in his solo slot, but it was his duet with Ray Davies on the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” that offered one of those amazing, transcendent moments the Tibet House shows could provide. The affection and shared emotion between the two will have you holding your breath.
September 15, 2005 | SummerStage: With Arcade Fire
Bowie had been out of the public eye for a while after being sidelined by a heart attack he suffered onstage in 2004. He wouldn’t reemerge until 2005, when he was again spotted around NYC. A week after appearing with Arcade Fire at Radio City for Fashion Rocks, he would appear with the band in Central Park in what was the worst-kept secret/most obvious guest appearance ever. Bowie had been vocal in his adoration for Arcade Fire, stating in an interview on davidbowie.com, “When I was asked to do this event I said I wanted to perform with Arcade Fire, who I love, and it went from there.” Obvious or not, the crowd goes bonkers for this very particular type of New York moment, the kind that explains why people live here: because you can go to a concert in Central Park and David Fucking Bowie might walk onstage wearing a lilac suit and a Panama hat.
November 9, 2006 | Hammerstein Ballroom BlackBall Charity Concert
This annual charity event benefits Keep a Child Alive, an organization assisting families affected by HIV in Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, and India. Bowie performed “Wild Is the Wind,” “Fantastic Voyage,” and “Changes,” joined on the latter by Alicia Keys. He was gorgeous, dapper, energetic, and every other flowery adjective you’d use to describe David Bowie. This was his last public performance; it will be good to remember him just like this.
Where do we go from fear? After the attacks on their concert at the Bataclan in Paris in November, Eagles of Death Metal practiced what they preached and turned to rock ’n’ roll as the best salve they could offer. In honoring the victims, they issued a call to arms for any musician worldwide to remix, release, and ultimately reinvent their glam-y ballad “I Love You All the Time.” They dubbed the effort “Play It Forward.” Since initiating the drive the week of Thanksgiving, there have been frequent contributions from notable acts such as My Morning Jacket, Savages, and Florence + the Machine. With each cover comes a sense of solidarity more vibrant than that of any social-media photo filter.
While the versions courtesy of big-name artists are warmly encouraging, it’s the little guys who form a buzzing online hive that subtly illustrate this campaign’s brilliance. Bedroom singer-songwriters, bluegrass string bands, and DJs alike joined in from across the globe to produce a musical event that encapsulated the woes and pros of 2015: mass interconnectedness, dismay, hope.
When “I Love You All the Time” was released on October 2, in tandem with Eagles of Death Metal’s fourth album, Zipper Down, the pop-rock trifle seemed little more than a three-minute plea for love — and about two shirt unbuttonings away from a Thin Lizzy tribute. By December, the song had transformed. Not only does its title suggest universal affection and serve as a battle cry for harmony, but its opening lyrics (“I’m never alone”) and the unsettling coincidence of the second verse being sung entirely in French enhance the song’s mystique. Seldom in the history of popular music has a song been reimagined so swiftly and vividly while serving as a reminder of the persistence of good.
Collected below is a list of ten musicians who heeded the call:
10. Petra Haden
Petra Haden is a violinist and singer who was a member of the Decemberists and That Dog; she has also recorded with the Foo Fighters, Green Day, and Queens of the Stone Age. Her take on “I Love You All The Time,” a lovely a cappella rendition, recalls the best parts of a Glee cover while trimming any of the annoyances of, well, a Glee cover.
There are examples of DJs retooling the core of the song, but none has approached it in a manner so somber and bleak as this Netherlands-based artist. Kointree’s version eschews the beauty of the melody in favor of the darkness but does it in a way where you can embrace the cold — think old Nine Inch Nails. Plus, the elusive Hollander’s accompanying video, of a distorted walk through the frozen forest, contributes to the overall mood, without being overly moody.
8. Red Sand Studio
This Lyon, France–based recording studio and production company recast “I Love You All the Time” with all manner of Eighties attitude, which plays out smoothly for a couple of reasons. EoDM’s Zipper Down included a cover of Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer,” for one — after the attacks, the Fab Five’s Simon Le Bon tweeted that royalties from the song would be donated to charity. EoDM leaders Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme were inspired by Duran Duran’s decision, which paved the way for the Play It Forward campaign.
7. Ragged String Band
U.K.-based but Americana-devoted, Ragged String Band are a folk quintet straight out of Essex who tackled their take using banjo plucks and some Tin Pan Alley harmonica. It’s a stripped-down hoedown where the only instrument missing is a moonshine jug sporting three X’s. It’s also a fitting tribute to “I Love You All the Time” ’s inherent adaptability.
6. Tomasz Bukowski
A one-man band from Poland with a charismatic persona and an impressively tacky shirt shows viewers, instrument by instrument, how he devised his cover. Recording each bit in various nooks around his home and using a very DIY microphone filter, Bukowski charms his way through his cover and offers solace to EoDM in a most fitting way: “As the beer label says in 00:09, ‘Powodzenia,’ which means ‘Good luck,’ ” he writes in the description. Powodzenia to you, too.
Cue the John Hughes montage: We have a synthwave cover to embrace. A trio from Austria, Dates begin their rendition with a fuzzy synthesizer note before launching into an irresistible, beat-heavy blast. Think Europe’s own Future Islands, but with a helping of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and just a skosh of Q Lazzarus.
There isn’t much info on the Web about this Dutch guitarist, but what we do know about Wonderdog is that he recorded his version in Bussum, Netherlands, and that his hammer-on technique is on point. Looking like the kind of guy who would steal your spouse at a California beach party, Wonderdog retunes his guitar to simultaneously hit the rhythm and lead sections of “I Love You All the Time.” In the finale, he nails the most cathartic chorus found in the whole bunch. Somewhere out there, Kid Rock felt a shiver.
3. Tropic of Xhao
Tropic of Xhao are another Essex-based group (their cover was recorded by the same studio that helmed Ragged String Band’s), and the trio’s singer, Lulah Harper, casts a brooding and smoky spell over this formerly glam jam. Driving a spooky, psychedelic stake into the heart of the original, Tropic of Xhao reimagine “I Love You All the Time” as a Phantogram-worthy comparison. Plus, Harper is a Seinfeld fan and nicknamed herself “Moops Electric,” recalling the classic Moors vs. Moops debate between George and the Bubble Boy. For eternity, serenity now!
2. Jürgen Brunner
“Rock ’n’ roll, friends. That’s the key,” states Jürgen Brunner, an Austria-based video game developer who released this cover through his company ILIKESCIFI. He reworks the song into a café-suitable rendition, complete with acoustic rambling and a baritone plea. Simple and effective, like the coastline photo chosen for the video art.
1. Louie Chelle V
What look to be two college roommates (the bunk bed and tapestry are dead giveaways) perform a delicate cover wherein they trade French verses and harmonies. In the description they write how they were inspired by the Kings of Leon cover, which EoDM’s Hughes has praised, as quoted in Rolling Stone: “It just really nails the Gerry Rafferty–Seventies sensibility.”