Listens for the Week #54: Knowitall, Zilly900, Cat Power, Stella Donnelly, billy woods & More
Nearing the end of 2023, I’ve been busy listening to every record possible. From PJ Harvey to Kesha, J Hus to Blaq Chidori, I have been binging LP after LP in an effort to make my year-end list as diverse and comprehensive as possible. But this week, fatigued by new releases, I’ve steered clear of most fresh projects, instead focussing on some favourites from the past few decades.
My Favourite Albums This Week
Knowitall & Zilly900 – 777 (2023) [East Coast Hip Hop]
The latest project from East Coast MC Knowitall comes four months after Hand Painted Realities, his strongest release to date. A departure from the grand, soulful passages of that LP, 777 is as gritty as the rapper’s sound gets, tearing apart an array of grimy beats supplied by Zilly900. The project begins with “UGLY NY”, a hard-hitting showcase of Knowitall’s lyrical prowess performed over a patchwork of distorted vocal samples. The triple-threat closer “ZILL PARCELLS” is predictably excellent. Joined by Patty Honcho and Blaq Chidori, the three MCs gel seamlessly, providing nothing but quality whenever their paths cross. As for the beat, Zilly’s work on the outro is some of his best on the whole project, sewing together a hypnotic piano sample with some distorted bass and haunting vocal chops.
Cat Power – Moon Pix (1998) [Singer-Songwriter]
With gorgeous production and equally enchanting vocals, Moon Pix is an essential for any fan of the singer-songwriter scene. The guitar-focussed instrumentation is never too complex, but that works in Chan Marshall’s favour, with the stripped back, relaxed soundscape creating an ambient backdrop for her lyrics to shine through. What’s most impressive about Moon Pix is the tale behind it: following a vivid nightmare, Marshall wrote many of the record’s tracks in that single, sleepless night, including highlights like “Metal Heart” and “Say”. Her poetic style makes every verse a joy to listen to, with so much depth and detail buried within every track. Moon Pix is an album whose greatness can only be realised after a dozen listens, with some of the most elegant instrumentation and immersive writing of the ‘90s.
Something I Love
Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs (2019) [Indie Pop]
There is no singer in the modern pop landscape like Stella Donnelly. She has the natural talent to tackle dark topics with a colourful sense of humour, turning grim themes into bright, accessible tunes. Beware of the Dogs is her strongest work to date. Like an anthology of sleazy men, each track is a dissection of a different man she’s come across, using her vibrant vocals and comedic style to make every one into a memorable tale. Occasionally, on cuts like “Boys Will Be Boys”, she strips back the comedy for a more sombre tune, but the quality doesn’t suffer. With a strong voice and mature penmanship, Stella has the versatility and charisma to pull off emotional ballads as well as hilarious bangers. Thriving over a lush blend of acoustic sounds, Beware of the Dogs is a 2019 masterpiece.
My Favourite Songs This Week
1. billy woods & Kenny Segal – “As the Crow Flies” (2023) [Abstract Hip Hop]
The closing track on Maps showcases billy at his most vulnerable and emotional. His Armand Hammer partner-in-rhyme ELUCID opens up the song with one of his best verses this year, spitting endless quotables over the throbbing production from Segal. Then, in just a few lines, billy leaves a devastating impact on the listener. ‘I watch him grow, wondering how long I got to live.’
2. Todd Edwards – “Look Out” (1999) [UK Garage]
A standout from Prima Edizione, “Look Out” captures all the glamour, energy, and detail that makes Todd Edwards such a compelling artist. The mathematic drum pattern offers a nice contrast against the soulful samples ebbing and flowing in the electronic soundscape. As pitched-up vocal samples rise and the funky bass persists, “Look Out” is a song so catchy it wouldn’t get tiring after an hour on loop.
3. Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist – “Mancala” (2023) [Abstract Hip Hop]
One of the most anticipated collaborations in modern hip hop, Voir Dire delivered on all fronts, and “Mancala” is just one of countless highlights. Earl’s signature laidback flows fit nicely over the dreamy piano beat from Uncle Al, and with an energetic performance from Vince Staples, the track accomplishes so much in under three minutes.