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Calvin Harris,  Funk Wav Bounces
Vol. 1
for the laid-back
It's not to say that we’ve grown tired of the kind of aggressive electronica that only sounds like nirvana when you’re pulling an all-nighter—in fact, Calvin Harris himself was a premiere purveyor of this—but when you can begin to predict the drops or the Chainsmokers’ child-like rhyme scheme, you’re willing to welcome other ideas. Thankfully, Harris saw that change coming and capitalized on it, instead delivering a soundtrack to the exact opposite of erratic energy. Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 was for the laid-back, the chilled-out, the unbothered. At 10 tracks, it was a tightly-curated compilation for the carefree, with an equally meticulously-made guest list. Full of breezy funk and sun-kissed trop-pop and dreamy disco, Harris provided the tunes for barbecues and boat parties, long drives and distractions. It was #positivevibesonly personified. And considering our current climate, we needed that and still do.

Danielle Cheesman
More Life
A quiet contender
Following the lukewarm response to his super successful sixth studio release, VIEWS, Drake delivered on his promise of a "collection of songs that become the soundtrack to your life." Classified as a playlist, in lieu of a “title” like “album” or “mixtape,” More Life, housed a unique mixture of sounds, styles and guest appearances. Present all throughout the 22-song project are traces of what and who has sonically influenced the global megastar over the course last few years. Although loaded with scene-stealing performances courtesy of rookies like Joria Smith and Giggs and all-stars such as Travis Scott, Quavo, Young Thug, Skepta, 2 Chainz and Kanye West, the playlist avoids feeling like a  everybody murdered Drake on his own sh*t type of project. A quiet contender for 2017’s Hip Hop MVP, Drake approaches More Life like a point guard looking to set up his or her teammates for their big shot. Drizzy himself scores big with anthems like “Fake Love”, “Portland”, “Free Smoke” and “Passionfruit.”

Kai Acevedo
the yang to the yin
"HNDRXX", Future’s sixth studio album, is the yang to the yin of FUTURE, his fifth studio album released a week prior. Much more lighthearted and bright-eyed than its sepulchral counterpart, HNDRXX finds Future returning to his Pluto (and the criminally overhated Honest roots to create his purest release to date. Let’s face it: Future can easily piss out a “Rent Money” or “Mask Off” on any given day. But he is at his most appealing when he dips his open wounds into a pool of wispy, heart-clutching melodies. Lo and behold, HNDRXX. At 17 songs, this unapologetic album finds Fewtch going through the motions all the while evincing the essence behind the phrase “beauty behind the madness.” Wistful records like "Solo" and "Sorry,” along with warm and breezy "Incredible" and "Testify,” are among the standouts that present a man removing the mask to lick his wounds ("Paid for my mistakes like a drug deal" he notes on "Sorry") and remind you that he’s become better because of them ("Shining is therapy, money is ready"). Luxurious and, at times, raw, Fewtch’s melodic opus is unquestionably something to behold.

Ralph Bristout
At What Cost
melting pot of sounds
Genres can’t stick to GoldLink, he’s teflon. On At What Cost, the D.C. rapper’s major label debut, GoldLink digs into the core of his city’s polyrhythmic sonic gumbo, only to stretch it past its limit and mold one the year’s most electrifying listens. We want to call it a hip-hop record, but sonically At What Cost is a melting pot of sounds and yet everything gels. The infectious “Crew” is an immediate highlight, but silky grooves like “Have You Seen That Girl,” go-go infused numbers like “Hands on Your Knees,” and the breezy “Roll Call” are three of the many winning ingredients to GoldLink’s undeniable concoction. In its ability to fluidly weave through its colorful palette without a smudge of awkwardness, At What Cost shines like his city in the summertime.

— Ralph Bristout
drunken midnight dramatics
Lorde’s Melodrama is a euphoric house party, but it’s also the drunken midnight dramatics that threaten to ruin it and the self-conscious critique that comes with its clean-up. And while that sounds like grounds for manic expression, Lorde manages to skillfully weave the tale together on the LP. Split between tragic piano ballads and glossy-grandiose synth-pop, the 14 tracks are both dark comedy and romance noir. And while the soundscape is undoubtedly top-notch, it’s the deliberately-picked bow Lorde ties each track with, like literal ear candy, that keeps you coming back. It’s the tiny bomb explosion she mimics with her mouth on Homemade Dynamite. The gun-cock she vocalizes on “Perfect Places.” The unbridled roar she opts for in place of a melodic lyric on “Supercut.” The sample of Paul Simon declaring his “favorite tape” on “Loveless.” The beat bottoming out entirely on “Sober” so she can crisply whisper “Jack and Jill get fucked up and possessive when it get dark.” And it’s more phrasing like that, these Instagram caption-sized confessionals, that make it a lyrical wonder, too. “Well, summer slipped us underneath her tongue / Our days and nights are perfumed with obsession.” “I overthink your p-punctuation use / Not my fault, just a thing that my mind do.” “I am my mother's child, I'll love you 'til my breathing stops / I'll love you 'til you call the cops on me.” And, finally, “They’ll hang us in the Louvre; down the back, but who cares?—Still the Louvre.” So, about that house party and its aftermath, Melodrama is also the days-later relieving revelation that everything’s gonna be fiiine.

Danielle Cheesman
Torii Wolf
Flow Riiot
pounding boom bap
Die-hard fans of DJ Premier know that he’s worked with singers like Christina Aguilera, D’Angelo, and Janet Jackson, but not like this. Torii Wolf is a singer/songwriter from Wantagh, New York, and Preemo signed her to his To The Top Records imprint. Her debut album Flow Riiot has the signature scratching and pounding boom bap that Premier is known for, but adds live keys and strings to build an atmospheric tone that gives space for Torii’s smoky whisper of a voice. Premier does nine of the 15 tracks, while araabMUZIK, King of Chill, and Mike Zombie handle the rest. It’s pop, but not too sweet or formulaic - and an artistic achievement for both Premier and Torii.

William E. Ketchum III
Vince Staples
Big Fish Theory
kinetic, dance-ready energy
Vince Staples has already proven himself as one of the more thoughtful, creative young rappers from his class. But his sophomore Def Jam record, Big Fish Theory, pushes the envelope even further with its production. Staples steered the musical direction of this album toward the electronic side with house and Detroit techno music, assembling a roster that consists of L.A. beat scene producer Zack Sekoff, GTA, Christian Rich, Jimmy Edgar, SOPHIE, Flume, and others. The result is a record that has the same substance that Vince’s fans are used to, but with a kinetic, dance-ready energy. Vince Staples guessed that he wouldn’t be nominated for a Grammy Award this year, but his new album still deserves all of the love.

William E. Ketchum III