Every year, WVAU asks its community about the music that moved them, the songs they listened to on repeat, and the albums they’ll never forget. This year we asked for the overrated, the best, and the unforgettable.
Most Underrated Album
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s Bandana
By James Lepinsky
Five years ago, Gary, IN native Freddie Gibbs and the Beat Konducta Madlib collaborated on an album that felt more like a film rather than a hip-hop album. Madlib’s idiosyncratic approach to hip-hop beatmaking and soul sampling and Freddie Gibbs’ no-BS rhymes were an unlikely match made in heaven. And I, like so many others, were waiting, even begging for a second release to come sooner or later. If not, I’m sure all of us were completely satisfied with replaying Piñata ad nauseum. And yet, we are graced with Bandana.
If Piñata was a lost low-budget blaxploitation film from the 1970s, Bandanais golden-age Hollywood, as evidence by the album’s cover as Quasimoto on zebra-back overlooks a scorched Los Angeles. There is a good amount of experimentation throughout this new album, with Madlib delivering a trap beat on “Half Manne Half Cocaine” that must have definitely confused Madlib disciples the first time they listened to this cut. Lyrically, Freddie Gibbs’ verses come through with their grave and palpable aggression, and this juxtaposes nicely with Madlib’s soul chops, especially on songs like “Crime Pays” and “Palmolive.” This is really good and under appreciated rap music.
Most Overrated Album
By Matthew Cieslak
Meh. That’s the best way I think I could describe pop-rap phenomenon BROCKHAMPTON’s latest album, GINGER. As a longtime fan of the band, their consistency in dropping bops across their discography has been impressive, to say the least. GINGER does have a couple of these, and the singles from the album do hit hard. What GINGER lacks, however, is the sense of the band’s dedication you get from listening to other albums in their discography. Maybe it was because of Ameer Vann’s departure from the group, or maybe it had something to do with the deal they signed with RCA, but everything about this album feels too… safe.
From their tame Twitter presence to goofy live performances, it is painfully obvious that the collective is moving away from taking risks on their albums. Maybe now that they’ve got hits under their belts, Kevin Abstract and the boys are OK with simply appealing to their stans and not trying anything new. Even at their live show this past November, on stage, they just didn’t have the same hype and energy as they did during the SATURATION era, or during the IRIDESCENCE tour. Here’s hoping 2020 leads to a BROCKHAMPTON that is ready to push the boundaries of pop as it has done before.
Favorite Rackspin Find
By Alejandro Hirsch Saed
From the first lines, the album feels daunting and crisp. It is a multi-dimensional Lp, perfect for a fall afternoon. While the music is folky, it has certain experimental jazzy notes that elevate the album and make it incredibly interesting.
Her ability for storytelling is pretty unique, with a descriptive quality. There is a good balance between her whistle like voice and the use of minor-key throughout. The changes of pace in the songs are masterful, never going too fast or too slow but redirecting the listener in a beautiful path.
While the first four songs are sad and slow, by “Pharmakon” the pace picks up with some major keyed guitar tunes. The lyrics highlight the intimacy of relationships, the pain that comes from love. It is an emotionally drenching, yet relatable album. In “Persephone,” the albums hits its peak. It balances folk with jazz and jarring lyrics.
The album works because each song is unique while remaining true to the overarching emotional sound. It is a beautiful journey into the intimacy of a troubled relationship. It feels like one of the most interesting takes on folk in the past ten years, which not only makes it noteworthy but also innovative. It is both a strange but simple album that blends genres and emotions, keeping the listener engaged throughout a little bit more than half an hour.
A refreshing take at folk.
Best Local Artist
By Milo Paul
A thrashing two-headed monster of sound, Teen Mortgage is prime garage punk with a more-than-healthy dosage of sludgy fuzz backing the licks and kicks. Ed Barakauskas and James Guile brought the beast to this plane a while back after unearthing it amidst some sordid archeological excavation and it has yet to calm down even in this year of our lord 2019. Like, seriously— the thing’s still very mad.
Wordy metaphors designed to beat around the bush aside, 2019 was a humdinger of a year for the duo. With a killer, still-talked-about-to-this-day, and quickly sold-out show with the Chats under their belt (among other numerous equally-explosive showcases), what else could have possibly been there to accompany their campaign of sonic assault outside a new grime-soaked E.P.? Life / Death may have only come out just a couple months ago, but it has continued to blow other DMV-based band’s releases out of the vapid musical waters that characterized this scene’s start to the year; replacing it with the raw primordial soup of a band best left alone to electrify amid their contemporaries’ lounging. Kids better leave their guitars and amps at home for at least another month because Teen Mortgage are the rightful local rock champions of 2019… and the year ain’t over yet.
Best New Artist
By Shannon Durazo
In late 2017, a teenager named Claire Cottrill from a small town outside Boston recorded a lo-fi pop song titled “Pretty Girl” using basic computer tools and filmed the music video on her webcam. Pretty soon the song became a viral hit, and ever since then Clairo has been able to maintain her internet popularity through a string of similarly fun and lo-fi singles like “Flamin Hot Cheetos” and “4EVER.” But in 2019 Cottrill had her big break with the release of the charming, heartfelt, and multidimensional debut record Immunity. Co-produced by former Vampire Weekend member Rostam, Immunity brought a complexity to Clairo’s sound that had not existed before, all while still maintaining her bedroom-pop relatability. No longer singing just about boys in her room, Clairo instead uses the record to reflect on her high school years and subsequent experiences of depression, anxiety, autoimmune disease and her first sexual encounters with women. Clairo’s queerness in particular has significantly boosted her star power, singles “Bags” and “Sofia” have become the unexpected teen anthems of the year. This year Clairo topped the college radio charts, went on a mostly sold-out US tour, and continues to gain popularity through collaborations with Mura Masa and Charli XCX. 2019 has really been Clairo’s year, and we can’t wait to see what she delivers in 2020.
Best Live Show
By Jessica Anthony
It makes me sad to say I didn’t actually go to all that many concerts this year. It seemed like every time an artist was touring, something else was in the way, or I was in the wrong city to go see them. That’s why, when I realized I would be in DC during Hozier performing at the Anthem, I made it a personal mission to make it to his show. There’s an otherworldly quality to his music, and with Wasteland, Baby! being one of my absolute favorite albums of the year, I knew I was going to have the time of my life; he did not disappoint.
The ethereal sound his voice and instrumentals have on record was nothing compared to the show he put on. Even the opening act, Angie McMahon, was one of the best warm-up acts I’ve ever seen. Still, when Hozier came on, I remember my first thought being I can’t believe he’s real. He had a whole troupe behind him, backup singers, and even a violinist that elevated his music from songs to an experience that the audience shared that night. It sounds cheesy, but I can’t think of many other shows where I lost myself as much as I did that night, listening to him belt out ”No Plan” or duet ”Work Song” with Angie. He knew how to interact with the audience, cracking jokes, and played unreleased music, including unreleased at the time “Jack Boot Jump.” It was really everything I hoped for and so, so much more.
Best Online Presence
Lil Nas X
It’s been a big year for Lil Nas X, mostly surrounding the sweeping and unavoidable success of his rap-meets-country fusion hit “Old Town Road,” which stayed at number one on the Hot 100 charts for a mind-boggling 17 weeks. In a new era where the mainstream charts are increasingly being dominated by Tik Tok tracks and an artist’s popularity can be heavily dependent on how meme-worthy they are, Lil Nas X is leading the pack as “social media music’s” biggest star. Not only this, but before Old Town Road, Lil Nas X may or may not have had a popular Nicki Minaj twitter fan account. Regardless if that rumor is true, you should still give his current hilarious twitter account a follow, his one-liners are golden.
Nicki Minaj vs. Cardi B
I mean, where do we even start? Nicki and Cardi originally seemed to just have a friendly rivalry, even collaborating on the single “Motorsport.” But things took a turn for the worse this year and these two queens of New York hip hop really went at it. For an informative timeline on how the Nicki-Cardi beef got started and what it’s current status is, check out this Genius video. Also, make sure to check out the viral shoe-flying smackdown these two had at New York Fashion Week. Regardless of what the current chapter of this beef is, with borough pride and the title of “Queen of Hip Hop” on the line, it doesn’t seem like Nicki and Cardi will be making amends anytime soon.