While there’s nothing wrong with the current popular music landscape, some may find it tiresome to hear the mainstream albums from the likes of Cardi B, Post Malone, Ariana Grande, Drake and etc. that routinely dominate the charts.
These personalities and their music take a wealth of attention from smaller, independent artists that create wonderful material, but still seem to fall between the cracks.
Great music isn’t always the most visible, so this list is an effort to bolster up your Spotify (or preferred streaming service) library with four exemplary projects that you might have missed in the first leg of 2019.
Choker — Filling Space series (“Mono no Moto”, “Dog Candy”, and “Forever & a Few”)
Indie hip-hop and R&B artist Choker is similar to Frank Ocean in several regards: they’re equally enigmatic, they resemble each other sonically and vocally, and they both treat music as a medium for honest self-expression.
To say Choker is a Frank Ocean clone, however, would be a disservice to how he commits to his own, unique artistic vision.
Filling Space is a three-part series of EPs (“Mono no Moto”, “Dog Candy”, and “Forever & a Few”), released separately over the span of three weekends, creating a cohesive collection of songs that touch a variety of genres: dream pop, electronica, spacious hip-hop and boyish contemporary R&B.
His debut full-length “Peak” and last year’s “Honeybloom” both showed promise, which he thoroughly fulfills with this project. Choker’s music is nostalgic, delicate and maintains an unpredictable nature that will draw you back for repeated listens.
Solange — “When I Get Home”
It would be a mistake to see Solange Knowles as a mere shadow of her sister. Solange’s 2016 studio album “A Seat at the Table” won critics over with black pride, neo-soul odyssey, featuring her feathery vocals that provide the foundation for a deeply moving listening experience.
With “When I Get Home,” Solange has penned a love letter to Houston, her hometown, while still incorporating the best elements from her previous project.
In an aesthetic sense, the sounds Solange works with here are far rougher than her previous album. The song “Almeda,” for example, uses rickety trap drums, an encompassing bass line, a hazy synth lead and a phenomenal, but unexpected, Playboi Carti feature.
This expansion of her style melds seamlessly with her soft R&B soul sensibilities, which makes the listener wonder where her sound will go next.
Helado Negro — “This Is How You Smile”
The sixth studio album from artist Helado Negro is a dense piece of experimental Latin synth-folk that finds him lamenting, remembering and dwelling on ideas that are as vast as the soundscapes he creates.
“This Is How You Smile” is driven by memory. Helado Negro uses his medium to reflect on his upbringing as a first generation Ecuadorian-American.
Some of the most engaging moments on the album are in Spanish, like the track “Fantasma Vaga,” which meanders down a ghostly narrative backed by an eerie, buzzing synth lead.
Helado Negro is a masterful composer, and “This Is How You Smile” is perfect for anyone searching for a meditative music experience to bring forward a new perspective.
Jessica Pratt — “Quiet Signs”
Jessica Pratt’s recent folk album is (as the name implies) quiet. It is nap time music to its core, which may seem like an odd assessment, but the music here is so gentle and dreamlike, you’ll be wondering if you’ve heard it in a dream before.
Pratt’s voice is as alien as it is familiar. Her nasally vocals are instantly ear-grabbing and evoke a deep sense of mystery.
The songwriting is simple and sweet. The album showcases her morose lyricism and her gentle fingerpicked guitar melodies, creating one of the more ethereal listens of the year so far.