This Month's Picks

Hallways (CD)

Homeboy Sandman

Homeboy Sandman’s second LP for Stones Throw should hopefully take the Queens-born rapper’s detailed, honest accounts to an even wider audience. Tracks like “Problems” offer funny, poignant lyrics that touch on both everyday and serious concerns, from STDs to cigarette smoke hanging on a sweatshirt. “I’m surrounded by hipsters; what does that say about me?” he asks funnily while contemplating his relationship to independent film over music that sounds like glasses clanging against each other in a smokey jazz club. On “America, the Beautiful,” Sandman offers a heartfelt (but not heavy handed) pep talk for feeling nationalistic, describing the random, perhaps overlooked things that make our nation relatively safe and livable by international standards, from the post office to child labor laws, saying “the streets aren’t paved with gold, but at least they’re paved” and “we are the 99% locally, we are the 1% globally.” It speaks to Sandman’s ability to say what’s on his mind without succumbing to pressure to appear harder or angrier than he really is. Production-wise, Hallways is a smorgasbord of great underground producers and showcase for Stones Throw labelmates like Jonwayne, who produces standout “America, the Beautiful” and also creates a moving landscape for “Refugee,” while longtime collaborators 2 Hungry Bros go heavy on the bass for “Loads” (featuring Blu) and Oh No set out a great, trippy landscape on “Heaven Too.” Homeboy Sandman’s ability to be really real may not be for everyone as some tracks may feel frivolous, but it feels like a nice counterpoint to the more self-serious underground stuff. Those who appreciate honestly and true personality in hip-hop storytelling should flock to the engaging Hallways.

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Genre: Hip Hop

Eat Pray Thug (CD)

Heems

Das Racist emerged as young successors to the Beastie Boys in the late ’00s, combining juvenile yet satirical wordplay with anything-goes production, of warped Nintendo synths and classic hip-hop samples, into a strangely effective new medium perfect for the YouTube generation. As the band flamed out, Das Racist member Teems (aka Himanshu Suri) has kept busy releasing mixtapes on his own label and traveling South Asia to connect with his roots. This background helps to inform Eat Pray Thug, which is much more serious than anything we’ve heard from Heems before without losing his adventurousness or sense of humor. “It’s the Hindu Spike Lee!” he declares on the entertaining “So NY,” claiming his own space within a classic hip-hop production (“I’m with the brown boys, we roll around so deep”). Race plays strongly throughout the album, but Heems has a way of working his commentary into nuanced raps that never come off as preachy, rapping “Had to leave Williamsburg and of all the white drama/had to leave my home, they callin’ me Osama” on “So NY” or, more seriously, “They wakin’ up my friend at night for no reason/they promised him freedom, now he guilty for treason” on the hard-hitting “Flag Shopping.” Heems knows the best way to get his point across is through empathy, rapping “I was there, I saw the towers and planes, and I’ll never be the same” over “Flag Shopping’s” post-9/11 pulse. However, Heems also doesn’t allow himself to be typecast as rapping only from and about his South Asian-American perspective, as Eat Pray Thug has its share of simpler songs, like the aptly titled “Pop Song (Games)” and lush R&B track “Home,” featuring Dev Hynes. Such tracks might be breadcrumbs leading to Eat Pray Thug’s headier material, but taken together, they add up to a mightily impressive studio debut from Heems.

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Genre: Hip Hop

Moonlight (CD)

Hanni El Khatib

Hanni El Khatib’s throwback rock ‘n’ roll grows longer fangs on third album Moonlight. The sinister title track sees El Khatib engaging in some swampy blues with chords that hover too closely together, like kissing cousins. “Melt Me” adds some much-appreciated full-and-dirty fuzz to the mix. El Khatib largely supplants ambiance and swagger for melody, but you won’t mind when the results are as pulsating with life as songs like stomping blues-rocker “The Teeth.” While his last album, Head in the Dirt was strong, Moonlight sees El Khatib finding his voice more and dedicating himself to it, coming up with a deliciously whiskey-soaked album that suggests grimy, dimly lit dive bars and the things that happen after closing time.

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Genre: Rock

Evermotion (CD)

Guster

Guster’s most vibrant album yet bulldozes inhibitions, propelling the band to a harder-charging, more freewheeling. Packed with tight hooks, muscular guitar riffs, clanging percussion, and surprisingly dark lyrics.

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Genre: Rock

Amateur Hour (CD)

Bob Odenkirk

Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul and Mr. Show fame continues to be the smartest guy in the room, delivering brilliant absurdist jokes about hoarders, the elderly, the biz and ungrateful kids. Like lost Mr. Show skits in joke form.

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Genre: Comedy

III (CD)

BadBadNotGood

This trio is changing the rules on improvised instrumental music and taking jazz into the future. III is their biggest project yet, ushering in the group’s newest explorations that are proving to be limitless.

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Human Voice (CD)

Dntel

Dntel, solo producer by the name of Jimmy Tamborello has long been creating soundscapes for others to put their human voice over. With Human Voice Tamborello has refused listeners the rights to their own language. Instead, he has created a world where connection is fleeting, melody is deconstructed, and all “voices” mechanized. An interesting proposition when the bulk of your listeners associate your music with Death Cab For Cutie’s emotive crooner Ben Gibbard. Nevertheless, the gambit pays off. Amidst the bits and grids of Human Voice, the mechanized voices morph through layered synths and staccato beats from the unintelligible to a distinct melodic pattern and back again. After 8 tracks It gives the listener the feeling of having communicated with a being not unlike a robot Ben Gibbard.

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Mahler 7 (CD)

Gustav Mahler, Gustavo Dudamel, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela

The five movements of Mahler’s 7th traverses all levels of emotions. This is quite the journey to experience… There is a kaleidoscope of colors throughout this symphony which might leave some listeners in a state of confusion or can magically transform one’s passion for life.

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Genre: Classical

Harvest Of Gold (CD)

Gossling

Australia's Gossling (aka Helen Croome) presents a debut LP with lush textures and vocal hooks that deftly weaves complex emotional themes throughout. The gorgeous pop songcraft has already garnered much notice.

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Genre: Rock

I Love You, Honeybear (CD)

Father John Misty

Father John Misty’s fearless second record builds on his folk-rock sound with orchestral touches, genre diversions and direct, conversational lyrics that cut through singer/songwriter clichés. The title track introduces Beatlesesque melodies and weeping steel guitar to prepare you for the scope of the record. J. Tillman starts going into crooner mode with the spectacular “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” his crushed-velvet vocals singing over a sweeping, country-symphonic arrangement, but his lyrics nicely keep the romanticism from getting too gooey (“I wanna take you in the kitchen/Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in”). “True Affection” takes a sharp turn into MIDI-electro-dream-pop, with some Fleet Foxes-style harmonies keeping things grounded in Tillman’s wheelhouse. “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” takes another turn, this time into Velvets-third-album twinkling indie pop, while Tillman calls out an airheaded groupie (“She says like, literally, music is the air she breathes,” he sings hilariously). Tillman’s lyrics work so well because of their specificity—you feel like you’re watching him break hearts at a local bar when he sings “Why the long face? Blondie, I’m already taken,” over a sultry Southern sway on “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow.” Such subject matter could read as self-serving, if not for the album’s more self-effacing tracks, like “The Ideal Husband,” in which Tillman admits various wrongdoings, petty or otherwise, over nervy rock ‘n’ roll; or “Bored in the USA,” a piano ballad that seems to mock Tillman’s own first-world problems of alienation and dullness (“Save me, white Jesus!” is an awesomely cutting exclamation). Tillman’s refusal to do anything in a typical way while still keeping the music highly polished helps I Love You, Honeybear to never feel indulgent. Rather, it’s an extraordinarily giving album, as Tillman’s honesty and strength as a songwriter and performer has grown immeasurably. It’s easily one of the best albums of the year thus far.

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Genre: Rock