homepage_large.e0491b02Run the Jewels 2
Run the Jewels
2014, Mass Appeal

Run the Jewels is a duo composed of the rappers Killer Mike and El-P, who impressed me in mad ways this year via speeches they gave at shows following Michael Brown’s killing (or didn’t give, in El’s case—he’s white and chose to stand in silent support as Mike spoke about fathering black children in America). First, though, they released this barbed, excellent record, which makes my head feel like a desktop globe spinning on its axis like, “WHERE DO I GO NEXT,” in its weird multifaceted brilliance. They are the cartographers of a brimming, diverse musical world here: My favorite song on it is “All My Life.” It starts with syrupy samples, over which the two’s voices creep murderous and, though they’re rapping, in a way that feels slowww like a threat drawled sotto voce, even though the song isn’t actually all that aggressive lyrically. That’s an entirely different destination than the one you’re delivered to on “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” a technically impressive flurry of verses, cadences, and beats that are blotted out just as quickly as they’re tendered. It’s so deliberate and fanged, and it fucking goes: When I saw Mike do the, “Now who really run this?” part on the last night of their tour earlier this year, people were jumping and shiver-dancing and paying all kinds of bizarre physical tribute to how hard he expectorated the words and JUST HOW VICIOUSLY GOOD he is at it. (I nearly knocked myself out at one point.) El is Mike’s perfect complement. He’s delicate where Mike is severe and vice versa, as on “Early (feat. Boots),” where El’s verse hammers police brutality after Mike recounts a devastating account of racist cop violence against his wife, child, and family at the top of the track. Killer Mike and El-P might traverse sprawling ground in terms of how their music sounds, but at the molten lyrical core of this record, their feet are planted firmly in America. I love these guys for talking about the truth of what that’s been like for them, and for loving each other enough to do it together respectfully and WELL. They are a model for how to be there for one another when the going gets terrible, and this album is an impressive heuristic about how to meet systemically perpetrated tragedy and oppression with riveting, beautiful, and galvanizing artwork, friendship, and community-mindedness. It gives me a lotta hope. —Amy Rose

Miles Davis
1986, Warner Bros.

Miles Davis was known for being a wild child. A master trumpeter, he followed the rules and broke them at the same time, making him one of jazz’s giants. (He was THE cool.) In 1985, South Africa’s white government declared a “state of emergency” to criminalize and silence anti-Apartheid political resistance, and this album was clearly in solidarity with the leaders of the anti-Apartheid struggle when it was released the next year. The title track is named after the first black Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Desmond Tutu, and “Full Nelson” for Nelson Mandela. From start to finish, the genius of Miles’s trumpet is punctuated by synths, which let you know that this is a very ’80s album. Considering that so much of jazz can be described as “timeless,” I am in love with how situated in a particular era this album is. I found it a few months ago, and it has been a treat to get into. —Nova

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
2013, Jagjaguwar

If any album pins down the malaise of teenage boredom, it’s this one. Most of the tracks are lo-fi; their haziness and many effects make them both rich and intangible, like sunlight hitting dust floating around your bedroom. The songs sound like they were pulled from a well-worn ’70s record—as fuzzy and warm as though they’ve been lived in. When you hear the glimmering reverberations of the guitars and vocals, you can imagine the Source Family playing them on repeat—especially tracks like “From The Sun” and “Faded in the Morning.” The band nails that limbo feeling that comes with an afternoon of having nothing to do while being drawn to go out and make something happen. —Lucy

marinaThe Family Jewels
Marina and the Diamonds
2010, Atlantic

Underneath the upbeat pop sounds of Marina and the Diamonds’ debut album are dark vibes that stem from its crucial, and painfully true, lyrics. Marina Diamandis defines different phases of dedication as she owns up to her commitments and their consequences. In “Oh No!” she croons, “I know exactly what I want and who I want to be,” giving triumphant, in-your-face determination. But in “Are You Satisfied?,” she talks about the downside of her “high achiever” attitude, singing, “My problem, it’s my problem / That I never am happy / It’s my problem, it’s my problem / On how fast I will succeed.” She’s badass and confident in her goals (like we all tend to be), but she’s still susceptible to straining herself to achieve “success” (like we all tend to be). It’s an important reminder of the most important rule of living: Take care of yourself. —Chanel

milk manMilk Man
2004, Kill Rock Stars

Milk Man is an all-around joyous, experimental, and unpredictable album to jam out to. Deerhoof’s lead singer, Satomi Matsuzaki has MAD talent, and the songs create a sort of simplistic chaos by blending punk with minimalism, and Matsuzaki’s playful singing with instrumental noise. With lyrics like “Strawberry fields, banana trees // Banana fields, strawberry trees // Happy to fly all over fields so real,” this album lifts me up when I’m feelin’ down. —Mads

stillness of overThe Stillness of Over
Lucid Nation
1997, Brain Floss Records

The Stillness of Over kept my faith in Riot Grrrl alive when the scene was declared dead. Lucid Nation was more experimental with than a lot of punk and Riot Grrrl bands in the late ’90s. Their sound packed a punch (it can remind me of Sonic Youth, and not only because they cover “Youth Against Fascism.”) The lyrics are feminist, outspoken, and unapologetic. “The Sun Doesn’t Rise in the Slaughterhouse” is about animal rights, “Dad” is about environmental activism, and “Penetration,” a song about rape, sets my heart on fire, especially when the women in the band scream, “No!” and call for revolution. There is no stillness here. It’s a passionate, powerful album that keeps me fighting. —Stephanie

Asobi Seksu
2006, Friendly Fire

I’ve moved three times in the past three months. Citrus has been my go-to record for experiencing transitory phases, entering new homes, and beginning a new life. Starting with the ambient opening track, “Everything Is On,” the album’s reverberating, dreamy vocals and swirling guitars are a step beyond what you hear on Asobi Seksu’s other releases. It’s a shoegaze-y kaleidoscope of sound. —Mads

imgresCigarettes & Truckstops
Lindi Ortega
2012, Last Gang Records

“Look out, California, I’m coming for my lover’s heart tonight,” Lindi sings on the opening/title track of Cigarettes & Truckstops. It sets the tone for the record—Lindi is a woman who knows what she wants, and who and what she loves. I’ve never been a big country fan, aside from the classics my parents listened to (Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn). But when I saw Lindi open for Social Distortion, her voice—full of heart and attitude—won me over. Her take-no-shit anthems, like “Don’t Wanna Hear It,” and ballads, like “Every Mile of the Ride,” capture what it feels like to pursue a passion. If this is going to be the year you fight for your heart and your dreams, Cigarettes & Truckstops would be a fitting soundtrack. —Stephanie ♦