Off the 'Beaten' Tracks

A review of this Summer's lesser known hits

It seems like every three months is the “best three months of music,” but these past Summer months have certainly been the greatest “best three months of music” in recent memory, for both mainstream and lesser known artists. Huge releases like Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail” or Kanye’s “Yeezus” have rocked the socks off even those who aren’t typical music junkies, but if you are looking to expand your musical repertoire, here are a few records from the summer that didn’t get such widespread airplay, but are still worth checking out.

Odd Future affiliate Earl Sweatshirt’s debut album is the type of dark hip-hop record that is a soundtrack to a dorm room brooding session. The “Doris” perfect grimy, lo-fi beats ensures that it will never surface on the radio, but like his previous work, the dark production, handled by Earl as well as heavy hitters like The Neptunes and The RZA, manages to perfectly underscore Earls hoarse flows. Earl lyrics are still carried by complex rhyme schemes, alliteration and assonance, but unlike his previous work, there are consistent – if abstract – narratives to be found within Earl’s polysyllabic maze that make for a more interesting listen.

Another, more sonically accessible, hip-hop album from the summer is A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord, a collection of trunk-rattling, anthemic hood epics from the weirdest affiliate of A$AP Rocky’s collective A$AP Mob. While you shouldn’t look for socially conscious or complex lyrics, you should come for the druggy and operatic production, and enjoy Ferg’s unconventional persona. Take, for example, “Hood Pope,” a woozy drug ballad where Ferg melodically narrates some warped fairy tale, or bouncy, dancehall influenced “Shabba.” Regardless of Fergs talent as a rapper (or lack thereof), the man has what so many of his trap compatriots lack: a sense of humor, and a genuine stylistic vision for his music.

There were some great releases in the various disciplines of electronic music as well. Detroit based producer Zachary Saginaw, known as Shigeto, dropped No Better Time Than Now, an album of percussion-heavy electronica that escapes narrow classification but remains ultimately cohesive. While his previous album Lineage (also worth a listen) found Shigeto layering jagged synths and abstract atmospherics over more traditional hip-hop beats, Shigeto plays with a wider set of sounds on No Better Time; the vibes on stunning “Ringleader” loop and evolve as the heart-pounding kick pattern drops in and out, each time signaling a change in the arrangement as a whole. “Soul Searching” bridges a strange gap between the free jazz of Sun Ra and the percussive house music of Four Tet. While most of the songs are slow moving and low-key, Saginaw ensures that his evolving soundscapes are mysterious, timeless and always intriguing.

Finally, if you are looking for a more accessible electronic record to liven up your parties this fall, look no further than virtuoso bassist Thundercat’s Apocalypse, an album of future-jazz filtered through the aesthetic filter of the album’s producer, LA beat scene maestro Flying Lotus. While many of the songs follow from it’s producers fetish for wonky, disarming beats, Thundercat’s impeccable sense of melody, harmony and his silky smooth voice help the album to go down easy. On “Heartbreaks and Setbacks” chopped-up drums skitter around among haunting organs as Thundercats falsetto soars high above the din. The albums sometimes remains grounded, as in electro-funk jam “Oh Sheit, It’s X” sometimes soars to another galaxy, like on astral “Tenfold,” but whether you are listening on the dance-floor or with headphones alone in your room, Thundercat has a fantastic and unique sound on Apocalypse, and is sure to satisfy regardless.

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