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TEST SPIN: Taking Back Sunday — Tidal Wave

There are select phrases that evoke a warm, fuzzy feeling inside of me. Among them are “Warped Tour” and “Hot Topic.” And I still wholeheartedly believe that it’s perfectly okay to long for Warped Tour and Hot Topic even in 2016. You see, there’s something about teenage angst that epitomizes nostalgia. Something comforting, even. But this same nostalgia reminds us that the heyday of pop-punk has long since passed.

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TEST SPIN: Baba Brinkman — The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos

I have a lot of admiration for music as a way of sharing information and ideas. It has the power to bring people joy and excitement, to catalyze casual or critical thinking and to incite discussion and reflection on problems. Music also teaches in a way that’s memorable and comprehensible. It has incited social and political change time and time again, and has ingrained all sorts information into minds. Because of its capacity for influencing and teaching, musicians like Baba Brinkman have tried to capture its power for education. Baba Brinkman’s 18th educational hip-hop release, The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos, takes on climate change, spitting verses on everything from policy to ecology to religion.

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TEST SPIN: Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition

Right off the bat, I want to let you know that I’m not going to review this new record, Atrocity Exhibition by the Detroit rapper Danny Brown, objectively. Danny Brown is my favorite rapper of all time, I’m disposed to review this record positively, and it’d be dishonest to pretend otherwise. I also want to let you know that even though Danny Brown is a great, great rapper, he’s also extremely transgressive and sometimes difficult to listen to; his music is so weird that it inspires obsessive love in some while alienating many more. Accordingly, Atrocity Exhibition is as uncompromising and bizarre as it is brilliant. Danny raps in a nasal, high-pitched squeal that mimics the effects of stimulant abuse, and his music is dissonant, arrhythmic and stressful.

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TEST SPIN: Mac Miller — The Divine Feminine

This year has made it apparent that Mac Miller is trying to distance himself from Donald Trump in more ways than one. The combination of the chant he uses to get the crowd going when he performs —one of his old mainstays at concerts (“Fuck Donald Trump”) — and his new album’s tone — which is decidedly more Al Green than Beastie Boys — draws a line that he has been trying to mark out for years. Each of his albums has represented a drastic musical shift from those preceding it, and The Divine Feminine is no exception to that trend. The album opens with “Congratulations,” which features both Mac and Bilal singing. If you haven’t heard Mac sing before, you should.

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TEST SPIN: Nick Cave — Skeleton Tree

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, a “post-punk super group,” plays the kind of music that makes you want to be a roadie, a groupie, a super fan. They sound like an older, alternative Adele: refreshingly soulful.  Skeleton Tree, their new album released on September 9, carries the weight of a universal conscience. Nick Cave patches together old lyrics in a new way that resonates in your ear drums, makes its way into your cerebrum and sends a cascade of interneurons down toward your heart.  Skeleton Tree is irresistible from its first echoing electric chord.

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TEST SPIN: Izzy Bizu — A Moment of Madness

Once in awhile, an artist appears who produces exactly what you were looking for. The pop music scene has been overly blessed with strong female leads, from any of Ariana Grande’s continuously multiplying tracks (I love her and Nicki Minaj, but “Side to Side” is a bit much for me to get out without wincing a bit — “wrist icicle/dick bicycle?” Really?) to any of the pure gold that Rihanna and Beyoncé rain down on us. I’d been craving someone with a bit of a different sound for a while and around last spring ran into Izzy Bizu’s “White Tiger,” off her 2013 EP Coolbeanz. This track is liquid happiness and believe me, it makes a much better alarm then your AT&T default track “Spring Morning.” With a minimal rhythm of piano and percussion by her side throughout, it feels about as wholesome as watching How to Train your Dragon with your grandma (which is a 10/10 would recommend, by the way). It’s clean in lyrics and in production, it’s light, it’s substantial and it leaves you feeling the same as the track comes to a close.

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TEST SPIN: Isaiah Rashad — The Sun’s Tirade

Isaiah Rashad has always seemed like a guy caught between two worlds. Back in 2013, the Tennessee native turned heads by signing to Top Dawg Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based label previously exclusive to artists like Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, rappers raised in the city and deeply indebted to its musical history. And while Rashad operates comfortably in that scene, his blatant reverence for Southern rap and J Dilla-soul mark him as something of an outsider on TDE’s roster. After more than three years on the ever-growing label, the 25 year-old’s role there remains unclear. Even so, he’s one of its most compelling artists — that rare student of rap baring his influences on his sleeve, all the while crafting a signature, vital sound.

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Let’s Be Frank: Arts & Entertainment Writers Take On Frank Ocean’s New Projects

Four years after his revered and still-bumped Channel ORANGE, R&B singer/enigma Frank Ocean has finally put out two follow-up projects: Endless and Blonde. Frank Ocean fans from the Arts & Entertainment section reflected on the albums: Were they worth the wait? Will they ascend to the same level of praise of Channel ORANGE? Chris Stanton: I had a friend make the mistake recently of criticizing Blond(e) to me, arguing that the hype around the album combined with Frank’s general aura of mystery had led to reactionary praise — longtime fans and casual passerby alike loudly proclaiming their hosannas to prove that they totally get art, man. Call it a product of spontaneous album releases or the performativity of social media, but the immediate public response to this sprawling project (TWO albums???

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Spears Falls Short of Glory

Pop has changed. Over the course of the last decade or so, what was once an outlet for one-dimensional electronic ballads such as Spear’s Top 10, Toxic, has become one that allows expression of the complexities of more than simply romance, artists are expressing the intricacies of their lives. Pop has come to encompass a great deal of music as well. Suddenly, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Britney Spears are all in the same category. That being said, in many respects, the pop bar has been raised in just the last 10 years.

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TEST SPIN: Glass Animals — How To Be A Human Being

Glass Animals’ sophomore album, How To Be A Human Being, presents a bold expansion from the intimate and smooth vibes in 2014’s ZABA. The band has had a distinctive sound since they released their first EP, Leaflings, in 2012. That sound has carried with them through their second self-titled EP and first album. Unlike the cryptic lyrics on ZABA that better communicated feelings than messages, each track on this album tells a story inspired by hundreds of recorded conversations with real people that the band met on tour. These conversations were distilled into the 11 fictional characters featured on the album artwork.