Our music staff has returned with their fourth round of Music Streaming Suggestions! We have another diverse lineup this week, headlined by the likes of The Weeknd, Mac Miller, Jay-Z, Anderson .Paak and ODESZA. As usual, we added our new suggestions to our weekly-updated Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure.
The Highlights (2021) - The Weeknd
Following his triumphed $7 million Super Bowl performance—and my frantic purchasing of his $200 accompanying merchandise—I can without hesitation affirm my allegiance to The Weeknd/XO family. I have spent half this lifetime following Abel Tesfaye’s ascending career, and this past weekend was my breaking point. Quite literally, I broke down in tears. Watching one of your favorite artists grow right before your eyes is an inexplicably rewarding experience (and one of the many reasons I love what I do!). Like many great music icons, at the pinnacle of your career (or following your untimely death), you release a "Greatest Hits" album. These records amass every Billboard-charting single into a reflective masterpiece of accomplishments. Shuffling through what The Weeknd titled The Highlights was a trip down memory lane. As I time-traveled through the album, all the tracks that once felt “overplayed” or “annoying” now felt monumental. His complex yet hyper-sexual trademark sound is matchless and a testament to his longevity as an artist. From "The Morning" to "Starboy" to "After Hours," Abel Tesfaye has comfortably reserved a seat for himself alongside the greats. -Deja Williams
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: "The Morning," "After Hours," and "Die For You"
In Return (2014) - ODESZA
Allow me to set the scene. It’s 2014, sophomore year of high school. You and your homies just stumbled upon the “chillstep” realm of EDM from a Pandora station. You sit around in one of your basements, transcending on the sonic journey that is ODESZA’s opus In Return. 13 tracks later, your perception of electronic music is permanently changed.
Apologies for my overly-specific opener, but this album is special to me. When I first discovered In Return, I really felt like it rewrote the rules for EDM. The genre as a whole came to worldwide prominence when I was in middle school, led by the likes of Skrillex and Deadmau5. House was popular, and other subgenres such as dubstep began to blow up. I liked it all, but I was never blown away by EDM until coming across ODESZA. The Washington-based duo captures the best elements of electronic music while mixing in strategic notes of pop, alternative, R&B, and folk influence to curate a fluid, well-rounded listening experience.
In Return is a ride, simply put. Producers Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight put on a show that evokes a spectrum of emotions within the frame of 48 minutes. Minimalistic tracks like “It’s Only” and “Kusanagi” literally make you feel like you’re floating (maybe crying, too), while bright tracks like “Sun Models” and “Say My Name” effectively elevate your heart rate. The range on this record is crazy. ODESZA was able to execute their vision for a diverse, experimental project by enlisting a talented supporting cast of vocalists—Shy Girls, Monsoonsiren, Zyra, Jenni Potts, Madelyn Grant, and Briana Marela.
Six years later, In Return is still as fresh as the day I first discovered it. If you’re also open to having your EDM preconceptions shattered, do yourself a favor and give this one a listen today. -Evan Linden
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Kusanagi,” “Bloom,” and “Memories That You Call”
EP2! (2021) - JPEGMAFIA
EP2!, the sequel to JPEGMAFIA’s elusive, adventurous EP! is officially here. The collection of music is highlighted by bumpy, almost medieval-esque synthesizers, vulnerable and exploratory vocal progressions, and of course, unfathomably beautiful transitions. Devoid of any samples, Peggy implemented a pure, synthesizer-heavy sound throughout. Whilst indulging yourself in EP2!, do not expect it to be any bit comparable to the likes of All My Heroes are Cornballs or Veteran. This, however, should not be a deterrent to your listening. This entire collection of music was curated within the time span of around three weeks, which in itself is legitimate mastery. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and take 17 minutes out of your day to just sit and revel in the boundary-defying artistry that Peggy effortlessly purported. -Finn Askin
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “FEED HER!,” “PANIC ROOM!,” and “FIX URSELF!”
Faces (2014) - Mac Miller
As Mac Miller does receive plenty of the praise he deserves for his final two albums, Swimming and Circles, there are countless fans who don’t even know about Mac’s mixtape catalog. Even though there are multiple incredible mixtapes, there is not one mixtape that shines brighter than his most recent. Faces is currently my favorite Mac project, and its themes become even eerier following his untimely death. Faces gives us an introspective look into the toxicities of fame, drug abuse, and mental health struggles on top of the most fitting instrumentals possible. The album acts as a sonic depiction of how Mac Miller’s life changed since his fame—for better or worse. On top of that, hip-hop connoisseurs like ScHoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt, 9th Wonder, Rick Ross, Thundercat, Ab-Soul, and Vince Staples are smoothly added into the mix. Whether it's the slow-building, anxiety-riddled progression of the sample in “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” or the echoing, dark chorus on “Funeral,” each track exhibits the up-and-down wavelength of being a superstar. Each track is tightly rolled with pathos, and if you're a Mac Miller fan, this musical expedition needs to be traveled and hiked by you. -Marty Gross
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” “Angel Dust,” and “New Faces V2”
Reasonable Doubt (1996) - Jay-Z
To determine the peak of Jay-Z’s genius is an impossible task. However, his run in the late 1990s rivals The Beatles in the mid-1960s, and Kanye West through the late 2000s-early 2010s.
Jay’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt, was surrounded by speculation because, at that point in time, Jay had only been a feature artist. Once the first chapter, “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” kicks off with an illustrious Mary J. Blige feature, the rap game becomes Jay’s. He’s immediately catapulted into the same conversation as Tupac, Biggie and Nas.
HOVA demonstrates his master’s degree in mafioso bars, dramatized storytelling, and competitiveness. This album was supposed to be a one-off originally, but Jay’s bar-dropping was so effortless and flawless that it prompted one of the greatest careers in music history. -Ralph James
HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: "Politics As Usual," "Can I Live," and "Dead Presidents II"
Ventura (2019) - Anderson .Paak
Over the last couple years, there's only a handful of artists that I've listened to more than Anderson .Paak. His music has appeared on seemingly every one of my playlists; a car ride without some Anderson .Paak is now a foreign concept to me. Of .Paak's five projects, I most often return to Ventura, an album that puts .Paak's genre-bending capabilities on full display.
Ventura has an infectious energy, seamlessly incorporating elements of soul, R&B, funk, and hip-hop across eleven tracks. It's hard to name artists better than .Paak when it comes to excelling in both singing and rapping, evidenced on "Winners Circle" and "Jet Black." Ventura is just so smooth, embodying a unique West Coast calmness that delivers bursts of serotonin the whole way through.
Ventura is .Paak at his best, as he combines the finest elements of his past work to deliver his most well-rounded project to date. What might be most impressive about the album is the robust features, which include André 3000, Smokey Robinson, Brandy, and Nate Dogg. Since .Paak refuses to be held down by any one genre, he's able to harmonize with anybody, making the features that much more impactful.
If you're looking for your next road trip album or a soulful boost during this harsh winter, take a trip to Ventura. I promise you'll have a good time. - Jack Martian