The Best New Hip-Hop on Bandcamp

Best New Hip Hop

The year 2016 concluded with an unexpected present for hip-hop heads: Run The Jewels—aka rappers Killer Mike and El-P—decided to drop their third album ahead of schedule on Christmas Eve. True to the duo’s heritage, the 14-track project booms with loud and abrasive electro-funk beats, Killer Mike’s political rhetoric, and El-P’s trademark cynicism. While Run The Jewels 3 might have dominated late-December playlists, here’s a deeper snapshot of 11 other rap releases that are well worth your leftover Christmas cash.

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Album of the Day: Thurst, “Cut to the Chafe”

Los Angeles trio Thurst wear their outsider status with pride on Cut to the Chafe, a 14-song blast of punk anxiety that dials down the snotty playground taunts of their first release, YSFC (an acronym for “You’re So Fucking Cool”). Instead, they embrace the complexities of a full-on, grown-up existential crisis. “I’ve euthanized my youth,” guitarist and singer Kory Seal proclaims on opening track “Forever Poser,” setting the tone for what’s to come.

Throughout the record, Thurst wrestle with dualities that never get resolved, and aren’t really meant to. They debate going out vs. staying in, judging vs. being judged, being cool vs. being yourself—i.e. uncool. The band employ few effects or overdubs, instead doubling down on their unvarnished quality without sacrificing fidelity. Seal’s voice is front and center, his words spittle-flecked and emphatic, with sister and drummer Jessie occasionally adding harmonies while holding down a solid backbeat. Where YSFC had a more laid back, Feelies- type vibe, here the music recalls the post-punk pockets of ’90s indie, as well as the sad-sack parts of the Weezer discography.

Though primarily an observational record, Cut to the Chafe isn’t afraid to go for the jugular when it counts. The lyrics take issue with complacency of any kind, saving a special irritation for complacency that’s cloaked in symbols of rebellion, like long hair (“Their unoriginality is starting to rub off on me”) or belligerent anti-government attitudes (“‘Fuck the government,/Somebody told me/That still counts as an excuse”). It’s also, at times, very funny, especially when Kory slides into the POV of someone he claims to hate in order to unleash a few biting “that’s so L.A.” bon mots: “Earlier in the song/ I was trying to express/Me and most fashion bloggers, we don’t get along.”

Each song feels like a retort to the last. On “Electric Bill,” Kory bemoans his shut-in lifestyle with a crack about receiving a single phone call in a week (wrong number!) before diving into a drug-fueled bender on the very next track. He complains about living paycheck-to-paycheck, then follows it up with “Struggling Artist,” a flippant kiss-off to a bourgeois bohemian lifestyle that ends with the siblings harmonizing on the pointed rejoinder: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block/ if you’ve never come up with anything.” When his gaze turns inward on the searing, personal “Alienation”, Seal reacts with a shrug: “I try so hard to think of what I could possibly be but…I’m always just gonna be me.”

By the time the album winds down with a short, spoken-word, boozy-party sequence (Weezer, remember?), Cut to the Chafe has lived up to its title. Though it will surely rattle some cages, this record will play well with listeners who relate to the old adage, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me.”

Mariana Timony 

On “Twelve,” Exray’s Refine Their Cosmic Space Groove

Exray's

Exray’s by Gabriel Wheeler

In 2010, San Francisco group Exray’s landed a song in The Social Network, the critically-acclaimed film about Mark Zuckerberg’s founding of Facebook. The track, “Hesitation,” gave the crew instant visibility, and was perhaps the best song from their very-good debut album. But in hindsight “Hesitation”—an edgy, hard-charging rock track—is unlike anything else in the band’s catalog. Over the course of five years, and as many releases, Exray’s have gradually transitioned to a more lo-fi aesthetic, writing albums full of spacey dance songs.

On their latest album, Twelve, the band furthers that interstellar approach; the result is their most streamlined work to date. We spoke with three Exray’s members —vocalist/guitarist Jon Bernson, and DJ/producer Michael Falsetto-Mapp—about the group’s early days, crazy conspiracy theories, and why cyborgs exist in real life.

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On “Jardín,” Gabriel Garzón-Montano Puts Himself Front and Center

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Gabriel Garzón-Montano by Joe Hollier

It’s hard to tell where Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s studio ends and his bedroom begins. There’s a fully-assembled drum set nestled in the bottom of the singer/producer/instrumentalist’s closet. An array of synthesizers, keyboards, and speakers occupy most all of his desk space. And, behind the door, looming over the room, are a stack of black crates filled with exotic percussive instruments—from the tiny Brazilian tambourine that graced “Keep on Running” to the Tibetan bells that open “Fruitflies,” a track from his upcoming LP Jardín. In an age of sample-pack and VST-based musicians, the presence of so many tangible analog instruments is refreshing. Of course, there’s a laptop too; it sits atop a vintage Oberheim synth on his desk. But, it’s clear that when Garzón-Montano says he plays everything in most of his songs, he really plays everything.

The walls of Garzón-Montano’s bedroom studio are adorned with a similar blend of music and personal mementos. Most notably, amid the concert flyers, vinyl LPs, and pictures of his idols (including an ornately-framed pencil drawing of Lil Wayne), are portraits of his parents. His French mother’s knowledge of classical harmony and Colombian father’s love of cumbia rhythms pulse through his music. In the end, Jardín’s 10 tracks of genre-bending soul play much like his room looks—the work of a man with as many talents as sources of inspiration.

Ironically, working from home is difficult for Garzón-Montano. “It’s something I’ve resented.” he says as we discuss the years he’s spent writing Jardín in his room, “I’ve loved going to studios or leaving my place to work.” It’s hard to imagine he’ll be spending much time at home in the upcoming months. Bishouné: Alma del Huila, Gabriel’s first EP, sent him on a world tour opening for Lenny Kravitz, then to California to sign with Stones Throw Records. Jardín is set to propel him even further. The question is no longer how far, but how high?

In the days before his debut LP’s release, we talked with Garzon-Montano about how Jardín came together, and his efforts to grow as a performer.

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A Complete List of Bandcamp Artists Performing at the Inauguration

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Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank