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The Top 25 EPs of 2020

Is it just me, or have more EPs been released in 2020 than usual? Maybe it’s a pandemic thing. Artists trying to fill the absence of touring by releasing something, even if it’s only a handful of songs. You can’t rush or force the creative process, and there’s no rule book that says you need to be productive when there’s nothing better to do. If the world can shut down, then you can too. Not everyone can be Taylor Swift and give us TWO LPs in less than eight months. Let’s just be grateful to the artists who felt inspired enough to give us something in 2020, whether it was a song, an EP, an album, or a combination of b-sides and remixes.

One trend I didn’t anticipate from this past year involved artists releasing multiple clusters of songs at once and eventually combining them into a full length album. For example, Paramore’s Hayley Williams gave us her first solo LP Petals For Armor in May, but back in February we got the Petals For Amor I EP and in April we got the Petals For Armor II EP, which comprised the first 10 tracks from the album. Similarly, Jordana released an EP titled Something To Say at the end of July, followed it up with a second EP titled To You in December, but also combined the two to create the Something To Say To You album. Given the way they were released it’s tough to classify those types of things as standalone EPs or actual albums, but for the sake of clarity I’ve decided the final product should be the only thing that qualifies for year-end lists. On the flip side of that, Dirty Projectors gave us FIVE EPs in 2020 and technically didn’t combine them into an album but rather assembled a compilation titled 5EPs, so those each count separately. If you’re confused, just go with the flow!

There’s a fair amount of weird or off-putting stuff on this Top 25 EPs of 2020 list, and that’s partly by design. One of the things I love most about EPs are how they give artists free reign to experiment without the pressure that comes with a traditional LP. You can play around with song structure and sounds that might not otherwise fit with your current or perceived aesthetic. You can respond to current events in the world without having to write 10 songs on the same topic. For new artists, an EP can be an opportunity to introduce yourself to the world and start to build a fan base. I’m very excited about a few of the artists that gave us their debut EPs in 2020, as evidenced by their inclusion on this list. Chances are you won’t like everything here, but I sincerely hope you discover something new to enjoy and that it expands your consciousness to some degree. There’s a little something for every kind of taste, along with some love for Chicago artists as well. If you’re unfamiliar with any of this music, dig in, sample a song or two, and decide whether or not you want to explore even more.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Friday Recap

Day one of Pitchfork is done, and boy was it a lot of fun. Apologies for that rhyming introduction – I immediately regretted it after I had typed it, but still liked it enough to not delete it. But yes, on the whole it was a delightful day and a great start to another year of the festival. The primary lesson that I learned – well, rather had reinforced on me – was that the best performances always had genuine passion and respect behind them from both the artists and the crowds. There are some examples of the good, the bad, and the middling peppered throughout this recap, so join me on the other side of the jump for a chronicling of all that went down from a musical perspective on the first day of the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Friday Preview

Slap on some sunscreen and hose yourself down with bug spray, because Pitchfork Music Festival is starting early this year! Well, a couple of hours earlier than usual. In past years, the opening Friday has always been a shortened day, typically kicking off around 3PM. I’m not exactly sure what the point of that was, beyond letting some people take a half day of work and still make it in time, or perhaps working a full day and not missing too much. Maybe it was also a budgetary concern, as the cost of booking another 3 or 4 artists to fill out the lineup might have been just a touch more than they wanted to spend. Whatever their logic, it seems like the organizers have stopped kidding themselves and are finally ready to extend the overall festival experience by a couple of hours. Gates on Friday open at Noon, and the first artist takes the stage at 1PM.

Of course just because we’re getting a full day on Friday doesn’t mean there are more names on the lineup to help fill that extra time out. Instead, a number of artists at the start of each day will perform unopposed, meaning you’ll have the choice to either watch one specific performance, wander around Union Park and explore other areas of the festival (/drink more/hang with friends), or simply show up late. The choice is yours, but I would strongly recommend arriving early all three days. You’re likely to discover something truly great as a result. There is at least one set starting before 2PM each day that has the potential to be among the best of the entire weekend, and it’d be a shame for you to miss out! Then again at Pitchfork, just about every set is a must-see. Navigating the weekend filled with such great music can be a little challenging, which is why this day-by-day preview guide is here to help! Join me after the jump for a breakdown of Friday’s lineup and schedule, where I’ll do my best to point you in the direction of exciting, fun, and amazing things to do, see, and hear.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 Lineup Playlist
Saturday Preview Guide
Sunday Preview Guide

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Lineup Playlist

Welcome to the beginning of Pitchfork Music Festival Week 2017! It’s become tradition here on Faronheit in the last few years to spend a full seven days celebrating the three day blissful orgy of music that descends upon Chicago every July in the form of the Pitchfork Music Festival. In my opinion, you won’t find a better curated or more diverse festival lineup anywhere other than Pitchfork. They put their brand and reputation on the line to celebrate great and innovative artists across backgrounds and genres. If you’re unaware or ignorant of the festival, perhaps a glance at some past coverage will provide an accurate impression of how things go each year. We couldn’t be more excited to bring you a complete festival guide all week long on Faronheit, which includes day-by-day previews, day-by-day recaps, plus a whole bunch of photos and other media along the way. Whether you’re headed to Union Park this weekend and are unsure about what bands to see, or are interested in the lineup and are looking to vicariously experience the festival without actually going, the hope is you’ll make this site one of your stops for key information and on-the-ground reporting. It’s a pleasure to put this guide together every year, and I hope it’s reflected in the content posted.

Let’s get started by providing a proper introduction to all of the artists set to perform at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017. After the jump you’ll find a Spotify playlist featuring two songs from every single artist on the linup, along with individual links to websites, music videos and more. The Spotify playlist is ordered by day and set time, while everything else is sorted alphabetically. There are plenty of ways to get to know these artists, but obviously listening to their music is the most important of all. So click some links, stream some songs, and begin your education!

More Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 coverage:
Friday Preview Guide
Saturday Preview Guide
Sunday Preview Guide

Album Review: Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan [Domino]

One of the most fascinating things about Dirty Projectors is how they continually evolve with each new record. It’s been almost 10 years since the band released The Glad Fact, which at the time really wasn’t much more than frontman Dave Longstreth and Yume Bitsu’s Adam Forkner playing oddball songs people had trouble describing. Things got even more fun in 2005 with The Getty Address, a concept “opera” that was about the destruction of the environment, 16th century explorer Hernan Cortes, and featured a main character named Don Henley. There was dense orchestration mixed with some more modern R&B beats that certainly gave it a unique feel and sound. When people started to earnestly pay attention to this eccentric and sometimes brilliant band was in 2007 with the release of Rise Above. The record was an attempt by Longstreth to re-interpret the classic Black Flag album Damaged track-by-track, in spite of not having listened to it in over 15 years. His focus also shifted away from epic, orchestral arrangements and more towards dense polyrhythms and visceral vocal harmonies. Band membership was somewhat streamlined too, and after working with a wide variety of people including members of Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors became a more comfortable five piece with people Longstreth actually seemed to care about. The real challenge was getting people to care too. Such wild musical ambitions often made for difficult results, and the critical love the band received didn’t exactly earn them a huge increase in fans. They are the sort of band best described as “not for everybody.” On their last album Bitte Orca however, they went a long way to help rectify that stigma by moving in a more accessible art-pop direction. Key elements such as West African-inspired guitar lines and offbeat percussion remained, but never had the band produced something that was so light, airy and altogether fun to listen to. After years of wandering through a desert of his own wildly strange vision, Longstreth had finally found the balance needed to take the band to the next level of success.

That was three years ago, and since then restlessness has once again gotten the better of Dirty Projectors. Never content to do the same thing twice, or even keep the same lineup for too long, there have been a few changes made in preparation for the release of the band’s new album Swing Lo Magellan. Keyboardist and singer Angel Deradoorian has taken a hiatus to focus on other projects, and drummer Brian McOmber left the band, with Mike Johnson taking his place. A close listen to the new single “Gun Has No Trigger” also yields some clues as to what’s in store on the new record. The arrangement is best described as minimal, with an unwavering beat and light flourishes of bass guitar being the only instruments used beyond Longstreth’s lead vocal and the harmonies of Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle. The poppy, R&B-like flavor of “Stillness Is the Move” off Bitte Orca is nowhere to be found. In fact, not one song on Swing Lo Magellan even comes close to that level of funky, resonating catchiness. That’s not the point though, because this is a fresh batch of songs written with different intentions in mind. Whereas the last album was very self-conscious by carefully reappropriating certain sounds in creative ways, Longstreth has called the new material deeper and more personal, but also more playful with an emphasis on writing great individual songs rather than leaning on an overarching theme. Instead of retreating from the more pop sensible and accessible song structures, the band drives even further towards them. The way they do it varies from song to song, as do the styles somewhat, but when you’re anchored by distinctive guitar playing along with equally distinctive percussion and vocal styles, those constants do great work keeping everything pretty uniform even when they’re anything but.

Swing Lo Magellan begins with Longstreth clearing his throat. It turns out to be the first of many raw “sounds of the studio” that appear on the album. “Unto Caesar” contains the most obvious use of the technique, with Coffman and Dekle asking, “When should we bust in the harmonies?” right in the middle of a verse, and later commenting on the lyrics with, “Uhh, that doesn’t make any sense, what you just said.” Such off the cuff moments actually lend the record quite a bit of levity and sharply reduce the impression that Longstreth is a bit anal retentive when it comes to song arrangement. Is almost everything else pieced together in an almost ironclad fashion? For the most part, but that’s another point Longstreth is trying to make: music should inspire you and relate to you rather than simply existing in a vacuum of your own complacency. Songs like “Offspring Are Blank,” “About to Die,” “Just from Chevron” and “Impregnable Question” tackle the big topics of birth, death, environmental disaster and love, because if you write about trivial things you’ll get trivial responses to your music. The whole thing is very nicely summed up at the end of the record with “Irresponsible Tune,” where Longstreth adopts a ’50s style croon and a lone acoustic guitar to make his case. “Without songs we’re lost/and life is pointless, harsh and long,” he espouses with the same sort of tender conviction that’s so effective across the rest of the album. Even if he sang it as though he didn’t believe it, that doesn’t make the words themselves any less correct.

What makes Swing Lo Magellan such a compelling listen is that you’re never able to put it into a box or describe it to someone easily. If you’ve heard a Dirty Projectors record before then you’ve probably got a reasonable grasp on what they sound like, even if words fail you. Opening track “Offspring Are Blank,” for example, is extremely organic in its initial approach, the melody created via humming voices and the rhythms sustained by handclaps. Three kids on a school playground can recreate it, no instruments needed. Until the chorus, that is, when the sky cracks open and the electric guitars and drums come to life next to Longstreth’s soaring vocal. The dynamic shift from quiet to loud and back again calls attention to the verse-chorus-verse nature of the song while also sucking you in with a dynamite hook. On a different side of the spectrum, “Just From Chevron” has no chorus or hook, and plays out as a story where Coffman and Dekle narrate the beginning and end while Longstreth belts out a meaty lead role through the middle portion. It’s a unique way to put together a song, but the lyrics about a dying oil employee’s final words are what sell and justify its existence. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Dirty Projectors get a little psychedelic, “Maybe That Was It” is a guitar-heavy dirge that’s one of the most normal things the band has ever done. There’s nothing inherently weird about it outside of some light effects applied to Longstreth’s vocals, yet such a straightforward approach almost leaves the song sounding like the odd man out. When you’ve got a record full of handclaps, alien-like harmonies and various electronic bric-a-brac, avoiding such things can give you the impression there’s something wrong.

Similar things could be said about the title track. Longstreth’s relaxed vocal is paired with a lightly strummed acoustic guitar and a very standard, unflinching snare rhythm. As he waxes poetic over those 2.5 minutes of folk, there’s something almost Dylanesque about it. That brings up a great point: Dave Longstreth and Bob Dylan have quite a lot in common. Both are very odd and mysterious creatures, about whom we know everything and nothing at the same time. The attitudes and opinions we’re supposed to glean from the songs themselves are nearly useless, because either the lyrics are too strange to make any sense out of, or the times we do understand will be contradicted in the next song or record. Interviews are awkward, and often classified as train wrecks. Yet in description, people tend to use the words “ahead of his time.” At the end of it all, the one thing we can remain sure of is that be it Longstreth with Dirty Projectors or Dylan and his band, we will always keep expecting the unexpected. It may not always work out or be the easiest to digest, but at least they’re still trying to reach that next level of greatness. That’s more than can be said about a vast majority of artists making music today.

Dirty Projectors – Gun Has No Trigger

Buy Swing Lo Magellan from Amazon

Album Review: Givers – In Light [Glassnote]

When properly structured, there are some records that automatically put you in a good mood. You could be having a seriously bad day, but find some time, throw on some headphones and a great album can transport you to a place of solace and comfort, both warming you with its embrace while also providing you with plenty of reason to smile. Matt & Kim are indie rock’s “first couple” when it comes to overzealous, super happy music, to the point where you’re often left doubting that any single person, let alone two people, could ever be THAT happy THAT much. Similarly, the early days of Los Campesinos! featured the English collective with their high energy pop songs and excessive use of the glockenspiel, and so many fell in love with that side of their personality, even if they’ve since branched out and gone a bit darker/heavier/slower recently. Among the many ways of describing such a feeling that this sort of music gives you, joyous and celebratory are two great adjectives to use. When it comes to 2011, particularly summer 2011, the band that should be on everyone’s smiling lips is Givers. Their debut album “In Light” is very much as the title describes, not to mention their cover art shows – a massive bright spot shines amidst a collection of stars and other space elements. Yes my friends, if you’re in need of a serious pick-me-up, here it is.

In the first 4.5 minutes of “In Light”, which amounts to the opening track and first single “Up Up Up”, there’s a whole host of instruments that show up and almost as quickly disappear in the mix to the point where if you blink you’ll miss them. The standard guitars and drums are just the beginning, and everything from handclaps to shakers to xylophones, keyboards and flutes all make an appearance at one point or another. The ultimate result shares a lot of qualities with Afropop, in that the moments the song settles into a groove you can easily imagine Vampire Weekend or Paul Simon trying the same thing. But the great part about the track is how it transcends that easier definition by throwing curveballs at you. Call it a hybrid between a number of different pop styles and then throw some seriously great vocal harmonies between Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson for an increased sense of beauty. So it’s complicated, beautiful AND fun? It’s one of the big reasons why Givers are a band to keep a close eye on. What makes this record even better is how the band continues to play with sounds and genres without firmly ascribing to any of them. They never stay in one place for too long, and it’s that inability to figure out exactly where they’ll go next that makes them so damn fascinating. That and their constant energy matched with some heavily catchy choruses makes for some stellar party music. One could argue that the sheer exuberance of this record and how Givers doesn’t really ever slow down until the second-to-last track is a problem, but since when is having too much enthusiasm detrimental? If anything, it’s impressive they’re able to keep it up for so long. You’ll likely get tired before they will, which is probably why some will take the band to task for that.

The way that Givers first began to get notice was when they opened a 2009 show in their home state of Louisiana for heroes of theirs, Dirty Projectors. If you find the obtuse charm of Dirty Projectors to be a little too strange for your taste, “In Light” is like an easier on the ears version of much of that band’s catalogue. You can especially hear it in the finger-picked electric guitar work on a track like “Noche Nada”, which in spots mimics Dave Longstreth’s best moments. The Dirty Projectors crew liked Givers so much based on that one show, they would eventually ask the band to join them for an east coast tour a few months later. They haven’t really stopped since then, and it’s almost a wonder that there was time to actually record “In Light”, for which they recruited producer Ben Allen, who is notable for working with Animal Collective and Deerhunter, among others. A big part of why Givers rarely take a break from touring is how easily they win over crowds. They’ve been raved about at SXSW and a whole host of other places, based primarily at the time on only having released a self-titled EP. Now that their full length is out, expect not just a lot more dates but for the crowds to continue to grow larger and larger. So much about “In Light” suggests that Givers are destined for not just big but HUGE things, which is why it would behoove you to start paying attention now, if you haven’t been already. The weather’s warm, the beaches are open, and this album wants to be your soundtrack. Between this and the self-titled debut from Cults, you’re not going to find two bands better equipped to entertain you for the season, if not the rest of 2011.

Buy “In Light” from Amazon

Album Review: Braids – Native Speaker [Kanine]

By oh so many indications, 2011 is set to be the year that post-rock finally strikes it big. There is no official explanation as to why, save for saying that the sound is simply evolving and other elements are being incorporated into the more traditional post-rock sound. Of course post-rock in and of itself is a hazy term, loose on purpose to be a catch-all for stuff that sticks out like a sore thumb when placed against a standard 3.5 minute pop song. As such it’s experimental and more often than not immensely beautiful no matter if a band is using four electric guitars or a whole orchestra to get a point across. There’s also a solid rejection of verse-chorus-verse structuring, catchy hooks, and short, to-the-point statements. Post-rock is an adventure, a journey into the vast and unknown wilderness where discovery is half the fun. It is the realm of Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, along with Mogwai and Tortoise and Pelican. Thanks to a band like Braids and their debut record “Native Speaker” though, a musical genre that has reached something of a standard way of going about things gets reinvigorated with a few curveballs.

When reaching for their comparison chart, there’s probably higher than a 50% chance most people will try to define Braids as supremely indebted to Animal Collective. “They’re like Animal Collective, only if they came from Montreal,” somebody will say or write. While there are some similarities between the two groups, such as the somewhat liberal use of gurgling electronics and an overall natural flow to the song arrangements, there are far more differences worth paying close attention to. Braids doesn’t have much in the way of filtered/warped vocals (outside of the occasional echo effect) or harmonies. You can also understand and make sense of what singers Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Kathie Lee are singing. To put it another way, the vocals are “decipherable and intelligible”. They’re also not nearly part of the hippy-trippy freak-folk movement, because while a number of their songs are in the 6-8 minute range, there’s not a singular moment that feels over-extended or jam band-y. Think less psychedelic and more of a shoegaze-inspired pop thanks to creative arrangements and not a whole lot in the way of instrumental passages (save for the last track on the record). Of course that description doesn’t even suffice for this band, as they are notoriously hard to pin down into any one sound for too long. That’s largely why it’s easiest to put the band underneath the larger umbrella known as post-rock. Despite the apparant variations in styles from one song to the next, there are so many elements that hold steady across the record that everything comes off as striking and organic and exciting. Fuck genre tropes, Braids are content to carve their own path through this wilderness landscape.

“Native Speaker” begins with the first single and much-hyped track “Lemonade”, and it’s one hell of an introduction to Braids. While the sound of a babbling brook or creek may be confined to the opening track alone, it’s largely a statement for the entire record. The music softly and beautifully moves along, twisting and turning and moving around rocks or whatever else might be in the way. Somewhere in the distance a bird chirps, frogs jump around for fun, and occasionally a deer will come by for a drink. It takes over two minutes for “Lemonade” to reach a chorus, but that’s of little consequence since that time was so well spent building layer upon layer as keyboards pile on electronic elements pile on booming drums and finally guitars. Standell-Preston’s vocals hold a calm demeanor when they first come in, but that gets thrown pretty much to hell once she raises her voice to ask, “Have you fucked/all the stray kids yet?”. When the chorus does finally land, it’s a scorned scorcher, as the lines, “what I’ve found/is that we/are all just sleeping around” soar like they were launched off a mountaintop. The immediate lesson, and one that’s equally learned by most every track on the album, is that you don’t fuck with Raphaelle Standell-Preston in both vocal strength/range and personally as well. At seconds under 4.5 minutes, “Plath Heart” is the shortest song on “Native Speaker”, and it’s a synth-fueled dreamscape with an almost Dirty Projectors-esque bent to it. The vocals are practically cutesy and playful and a keyboard-created steel drum pushes that vibe further, but the lyrics betray that with a little bit of anti-relationship sentiment. That’s where the title really comes into play, because if you know how dark and depressing Sylvia Plath’s writing is, you know that a Plath heart isn’t something worth smiling about. A lovely lullaby is how the 8+ minute “Glass Deers” begins, with the keyboards lightly plinking as if singing you to sleep. The vocals play along too, even when Standell-Preston repeats over and over again about how she’s “fucked up”. Eventually though, while the melody remains on a lovely even keel, the vocals soar to an extreme as Standell-Preston begins to yell at the impressive level of Bjork or Karen O. That quiet-loud-quiet-loud singing trend continues for the duration while the lyrics are a bit more upbeat about loving someone even with all their faults. The atmospherics continue with the title track, in which the main part of the melody are a couple of quiet keyboards and a looped electronic bit that simply float in the ether. Not content to just let it sit there though, guitars and random noises begin to permeate the mix, piling on top of one another the way that great post-rock songs do. Harmonies are introduced, the vocals soar yet again, and then in a flash, all is quiet once more before the track goes gentle into that good night after 8.5 minutes of writhing around.

Have you ever been in an apartment or hotel room when a very loud rave is happening right next door? You can hear a muffled version of the beats through the wall and they totally keep you up as you’re trying to sleep. “Lammicken” exploits that sort of noise as the backing melody, along with a looped and melodic “ohhhhaaahhhohhhh”, both of which are the only two constant things about the track. “I can’t stop it,” Standell-Preston sings over and over again with varying degrees of forcefulness. Through it all, white electro-static builds and builds up in the mix, and as already mentioned, there’s no way to stop it. It overtakes everything else near the end of the song, before finally abruptly quitting in the last 30 seconds as the original backing melody plays the track out in a much more ominous fashion than before. A series of synths layered on top of one another mixed with some drum rim hits is how “Same Mum” begins, and once the playful vocals come in it becomes one of Braids’ poppiest and most immediate songs despite lacking a legitimate chorus. Some lightly picked Grizzly Bear-like guitar comes in about mid-way through the track, shortly before a 2 minute instrumental breakdown that also has some xylophone making an appearance. The final 90 seconds brings a slow down in tempo as the guitars disappear and vocals return with Standell-Preston providing interesting variations on the phrase, “We are from the same mum”. That’s the last thing she says on the entire record as we’re then led into the instrumental closer “Little Hand”. Beginning as a spacey, pulsating deep synth, keyboards begin to plink out a jaunty little melody that’s practically the sonic equivalent of twinkling stars. Carefully picked guitars weave themselves in and out of the mix as there’s just a hint of Sigur Ros-like atmosphere, even if there is no build to a huge crescendo. Instead, the melody slowly fades away as gently and calmly as things began.

What makes Braids so interesting is their ability to sustain a melody no matter how long or short a track might be. Their five minute songs are just as great as their eight minute ones because they all feel like they’re going somewhere. Even if a track only has one line in it, repeated ad nauseum, it’s the WAY the line is sung, along with the sounds surrounding it that keep the listener fully engaged. As such, Raphaelle Standell-Preston deserves much of the credit for her powerful and highly expressive vocal performance that soars far above and beyond your average female singer. The rest of the band are by no mean slouches either though, as the tracks on “Native Speaker” end up being not so much songs but immense compositions that are complicated even when they sound remarkably simple. The only spots where the quality dips on the album is near the end. After establishing a moody intensity on the two 8+ minute epics in the middle of the album, attempts to rise back up again at a more brisk pace don’t ever fully succeed despite their best efforts. It never gets boring, it just all sort of blends together in one cohesive piece of slow burn, synth-filled post-rock that’s simply not as distinctive as everything that came before it. Despite this, “Native Speaker” is most definitely one of the best records that will be released this month, and Braids one of the best up-and-coming bands you’ll hear about in 2011. There was a pretty heavy load of hype surrounding the band heading into their debut, and the good news is that most of it is justified. There’s room for improvement, but when your first album is as good as this one, Braids might just be one record away from truly becoming a universally respected and beloved band. It’s almost ironic that they also just happen to be from Montreal.

Braids – Lemonade
Braids – Plath Heart (via Pitchfork)

Preorder “Native Speaker” from Amazon

Album Review: The Roots – How I Got Over [Def Jam]

The Roots are without a doubt the best band to ever work in late night television. That, after 20 years as a band they chose to sign a contract to become the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is just a little bit surprising. Their star has been on the proverbial rise in the past several years, and given their ever-increasing popularity, it’d make sense if they just kept at it and continued the recording and touring cycle they’ve done for so long already. Of course given the challenges of working in the music industry these days, and that most everyone in the band has families they should be spending time with, agreeing to a job that has decent hours, a steady paycheck and doesn’t require travel must seem like a good idea. When they did agree to work in late night, they also said that they were done writing and recording new albums as their entire focus would be on the TV show. It turns out they lied to some degree, and in their spare time were able to piece together a new record that due to a number of different issues was delayed multiple times in the last year. At long last, “How I Got Over” is finally out this week, and if you know The Roots, chances are you know what you’re in for.

The surprises on “How I Got Over” come in the form of guest artists playing with The Roots this time around. While they are very much a band (or more of a collective, given their large numbers) that plays their own instruments, The Roots have rarely worked with other actual bands on their albums. Instead, because their songs are largely hip hop in nature, you get a number of rappers and R&B stars making guest appearances. This time around, perhaps informed by some of the groups they’ve seen perform on “Late Night”, they’re diversifying a bit more than usual and incorporating some notable indie artists into their songs. Opening track “A Peace of Light” features guest vocals by Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle of Dirty Projectors. The Roots collaborate a little with Monsters of Folk (or more likely just Yim Yames) to give the song “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” a little hip hop edge in what becomes “Dear God 2.0”. They also do a track with Joanna Newsom, which samples her song “Book of Right-On” along with new vocals to become simply “Right On”. Aside from those rather interesting guests, there’s also some more familiar faces for Roots fans in the form of Dice Raw, Phonte, P.O.R.N. and the great John Legend.

In terms of pure musical interest, long-time fans of The Roots will feel pretty comfortable with how this record sounds. It’s very much in line stylistically with their last couple albums “Game Theory” and “Rising Down”, though with a couple notable exceptions. First and foremost, “How I Got Over” is very much the sort of record that you want to sit down with and listen to from start to finish. The track sequencing is incredibly important in this case, though if you happen to stumble upon a song from the album while on shuffle it probably won’t feel too out of place. Really what might bother some people is how long it takes for things to really get going and settle into a groove. The first few tracks may be slow, but they’re also dark and immensely intriguing. Listened to in order, they blend into one another effortlessly and from the “do do do” harmonies provided by the ladies of Dirty Projectors through the piano-and-drums over hip hop of “Radio Daze” there’s some intensely deep and smartly composed moments along the way. The second half of the album also boasts some serious highlights as well, and the string of tracks from Joanna Newsom’s “Right On” through the seriously hard-hitting hip hop of “Web 20/20” feels particularly brilliant. Sandwiched in between those are two songs in a row with John Legend which are exactly as great as they need to be. Really there’s not a weak track on the album, and special credit goes to the two main players in The Roots, Questlove and Black Thought (Tariq) for their work both performing and producing the record. Tariq’s extremely smart, if occasionally politically motivated rhymes and Questlove’s rock-solid drumming make for the absolute best things about this album, whether guests are involved or not. The Roots refuse to be outshined on their own record.

Whatever the actual reason(s) for the multiple delays might have been, “How I Got Over” almost seems worth the wait. It may not be the band’s best album, nor their easiest to like, but it’s still highly interesting and holds firm their reputation of being one of the best hip hop acts out there today. Whether or not there will be another record beyond this one is still a huge question mark given their late night duties, but if this is the last original material we’ll hear from The Roots, they’re going out on a great note. Those completely averse to hip hop probably won’t find much if anything to like here, but for the indie kids who haven’t heard a Roots album before, this is as good of a place as any to get started. Virtually all the collaborations turn out well, and it’s particularly nice to hear a Joanna Newsom or a Yim Yames popping up between the smartly written rhymes. Hopefully there will be more of that in the future. For the time being, it’d be a good idea to buy a copy of “How I Got Over”, and to witness the incredible skills of The Roots, watch them weeknights on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Not only do they have the right entrance song for every guest (they had Heidi Klum on the other day and did a play on The Go Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed”, renaming it “Her Lips Are Seal’s”), but every now and then they’ll improvise songs about audience members using various musical styles. It is nothing short of incredible, and proof positive that not only are The Roots the best band in late night, but also one of the best bands working today.

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