tUnE-yArDs — Nikki Nack
tUnE-yArDs is the stage name of Merrill Garbus, whose quirky brand of indie rock music is creative and overflows with oddball charm. However it’s Garbus’s mesmerizing, slightly androgynous voice that makes a tUnE-yArDs song unmistakably a tUnE-yArDs song — she may not have the pretty voice that sings the national anthem at a football game but her husky whooping and shrieking is perfectly suited to the eclectic sounds that serve as a backdrop.
“Water Fountain” is the most straight-forward and perhaps most memorable song on the album, with its pulsing rhythm of loud hand claps underlying a shout-from-the-rooftops chorus. As the song progresses, new sounds are constantly unleashed, building towards a triumphant, riotous ending that features off-the-wall percussion and Garbus yelling giddily above a wall of sound. It’s a party-ready crowd-pleaser that would be the de facto “Song of the Summer” if there were any justice in the world.
Garbus’s lyrics are vivid and playful but often reflect wisely on the daily grind of just being human: “Monday the mirror always disappoints, I pinch my skin until I see the joints,” she sings on “Wait For a Minute.” On “Hey Life,” she comments, “I’ve spent twelve thousand, nine hundred and forty four days alive
/ Amazing how a human being can still thrive.” For the sake of music fans everywhere, one hopes Merrill Garbus and her captivating music will thrive for many years to come.
Schoolboy Q — Oxymoron
Schoolboy Q is part of the Black Hippy crew of talented West Coast hip-hop artists, but it is safe to say fellow Black Hippy member and superstar Kendrick Lamar has overshadowed him as of late. Therefore, a lot was riding on Schoolboy’s major-label debut and fortunately, from front-to-back, “Oxymoron” is an electrifying experience, a dynamic collection of tracks that should solidify Schoolboy as one of the most talented rappers and lyricists of our time.
“Oxymoron” offers an effective balance of tone throughout — some songs are unapologetic roll-down-the-windows, summer bangers and others see Schoolboy in a more personal, reflective mood. “Los Awesome” is one of the bangers and is easily in the running for rap song of the year with loud, buzzing synthesizers over a bone-crushing beat while Schoolboy and guest Jay Rock’s flow is nearly flawless. With that flow, the semi-silly chorus — “hot degrees, anti-freeze, chillin’ cool-cool with you” — sounds a lot more awesome than it deserves to be.
“Hoover Street” is a triumph of story telling where Schoolboy ruminates on a crack-addicted uncle and living in a family where everyone owns a gun (even his grandma). It’s rough stuff, but Schoolboy isn’t preachy or trying to sell a message; he just raps with composure about a brutal set of circumstances, his gritty poetry providing the ultimate emotional gut punch.
Rosanne Cash — The River & The Thread
Contemporary country music doesn’t have to be about driving dirt roads, girls in jeans “painted on so tight,” and drinking whiskey by the river. Enter seasoned veteran Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of Johnny Cash, whose latest album is gorgeous, inspiring, and should not be relegated to background music — it’s a collection of stories, to be absorbed and meditated upon like any truly great album.
The penultimate track, “When the Master Calls the Roll,” is spectacular, juxtaposing a bright, lush melody with a beautifully written Civil War parable (which, needless to say, doesn’t end well for the protagonists). Throughout the album, Cash’s stories are firmly rooted in the South — both its tumultuous history and its beauty — allowing Cash to paint a deep and vivid musical portrait of where country music calls home.
There’s a lot of disdain for country out there, but it’s time to set that disdain aside for Rosanne Cash, a visionary songwriter with far more to say than many other country artists of today.