10 Essential Brainfeeder Albums

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best brainfeeder albums

Brainfeeder doesn’t have a signature sound, exactly, but it does have an aesthetic—a cross-genre fusion of hip-hop, jazz and electronic music that all converges into one cosmic, psychedelic space. Founded by Flying Lotus in 2008 and taking the name of a highlight from his Los Angeles album, released that same year, Brainfeeder began as a showcase for some of the forward-thinking producers and artists in FlyLo’s own backyard in L.A. before expanding their radius to feature artists from locales as far reaching as England, Australia and Norway.

This year, Brainfeeder turns 15, and in choosing our picks for the best Brainfeeder albums, we attempted to cover as broad a spectrum as possible: beatmakers, jazz bandleaders, neo-soul, psych-pop, prog-fusion and so on. It’s an overwhelming task, but the takeaway is one of a rich depth of talent—this list is intended as merely the beginning of your journey, and we recommend you keep it going from here.

best brainfeeder albums Teebs

Teebs – Ardour

Many of the greatest moments in Brainfeeder’s history are those that embrace more than an innovative outlook on beat music or jazz, but an emotional quality that sets them apart from other corners of the dancefloor. Ardour, the celebrated debut album by New York-born producer Teebs, was made during a two-year period during which his father passed away, and there’s a delicate, melancholy sensibility to its 18 tracks that seem to carry an ever-present grief even as they brim with vibrancy and wonder. Like a more grounded counterpart to the cosmic odysseys of Flying Lotus (who was once Teebs’ roommate), Ardour is a kaleidoscopic vision through a gentle layer of cloud cover. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

Austin Peralta – Endless Planets

Austin Peralta didn’t release that much music in his brief lifetime, his Brainfeeder debut arriving only a year before his untimely death at age 22. Which makes the effortless beauty of Endless Planets all the more poignant. The pianist and bandleader—and son of legendary skateboarder and director Stacy Peralta—released the first proper jazz record on Brainfeeder as opposed to one that simply carried a heavy jazz influence. But Endless Planets weaves between more complex fusion pieces, low-key post-bop jams and even gorgeously haunting showpieces like the 13-minute “Algiers.” That this is only one of one makes it all the more heartbreaking, but this early essential in the Brainfeeder discography offered a clearer glimpse of the vision early on. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

Iglooghost – Chinese Nü Yr

Sometimes, when I hate myself, I put this EP on and think about how a teenager made music this image rich, vibrant and polychromatic. Then, I go lay facedown on my bed in the dark, door locked, wife not allowed in until my will to cease to exist out of shame for a life poorly lived passes. We’ve reviewed Iglooghost in the past, so don’t take it as a knock when I say this isn’t even his best record. But there’s always something exciting about new beginnings, especially ones as already so well-developed as this. Iglooghost was part of an exhilarating if-you-were-there-you-were-there wave of avant-garde electronic teens, combining the best elements of plunderphonics, vaporwave and IDM to a single hyperbolically rich and imaginative finished product. Some music induces rich visions in the mind’s eye of the synesthetic; Iglooghost, like Aphex Twin before him, has the rare ability to force these images into the minds of anyone at all. That he would string his albums together in a bizarre meta-narrative seemingly plucked from Fantagraphics’ most surreal indie comics or a bong-smoke haze of half-remembered Adult Swim TV shows is only fitting. Music to attain the seventh brain to. – Langdon Hickman

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

Kneebody + Daedelus – Kneedelus

One of the more fascinating collaborative projects in the Brainfeeder catalog is one that feels essential to the label’s ethos. In 2015, L.A. beatmaker and IDM artist Daedelus teamed up with Santa Monica jazz fusion group Kneebody for an entirely different kind of fusion, emphasizing thick and syrupy arrangements descended from a long line of ’70s fusion innovators but incorporating even more oddball rhythms and a kind of searching progressivism that takes them deeper into fascinating territory. On tracks like “Drum Battle,” the fusion comes together brilliantly, spotlighting smoky atmosphere and skittering time signature shifts alike. It’s a joyfully unconventional pairing that yields new rewards with each listen. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

best brainfeeder albums Kamasi Washington The Epic

Kamasi Washington – The Epic

There was a period shortly after this monumental nearly three-hour long record came out that you could find jazzheads complaining that it made people start listening to jazz. I want you to think about that for a moment. Granted, anyone turned on to jazz by this behemoth had good reason to; not only did this album capture the imaginative fire of jazz at its best, showcasing some heart-stopping solos, comping, ensemble play and inventive chordal choices on top of the killer melodies, it also showed a simply staggering range of styles. Seemingly everything appears here, from tight bop to big band a la Sun Ra to the orchestral jazz of Duke’s later years. Thankfully, the frankly goofy hipsterism decrying this record has died off entirely, parallel to Washington’s establishment as a jazz mainstay, leaving us with simply one of the most phenomenal debuts as a bandleader the genre’s ever seen. – Langdon Hickman

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Turntable Lab (vinyl)

best brainfeeder albums thundercat

Thundercat – Drunk

A hell of a career: from playing with hip-hop’s best to cutting avant-jazz jams to even being a member of Suicidal Tendencies (who’ve managed to rack up quite the array of jazz and fusion players in their fold), Thundercat has checked nearly every box you’d ever want to as a gigging bassist. Still, this is his masterwork: combining buckwild licks and chops with a Zappa-infused sense of humor and melodies so catching even Ariana Grande covered a tune from this record (the inestimable “Them Changes,” naturally), Drunk has a little of everything that makes Thundercat such a compelling player done better than he’s ever done it before or sense. His earlier material feels at times like a bid for attention while what came after feels sometimes like a bid for serious credibility, both well-earned by this point. Drunk (and, to an extent, it’s chopped-and-screwed companion record Drank) hits the perfect sweet spot, footloose and fancy free, and with enough mood-rich melodies to give you them perfect midnight cry-alongs if you aren’t jamming along instrument-in-hand. – Langdon Hickman

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)

georgia anne muldrow overload

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload

Georgia Anne Muldrow founded a label of her own, SomeOthaShip Connect, along with spouse Dudley Perkins, but in 2018 she crossed paths with Brainfeeder for a characteristically cosmic album of psychedelic soul. Overload captures the most warmly melodic side of Muldrow’s music, which spans a vast spectrum from earthy R&B to more loosely flowing jazz jam sessions (see: Jyoti). Here she captures a little bit of everything: boom-bap soul on “Blam,” soaring space balladry on “Vital Transformation,” a deep grooving slow jam on “You Can Always Count On Me.” Though Muldrow’s rarely been predictable or conventional as an artist, Overload shows that even her take on a half-hour of melodic pop songs becomes an elevated experience. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

Salami Rose Joe Louis – Zdenka 2080

Lindsey Olsen is Salami Rose Joe Louis, a psychedelic pop artist with an ear for the warped and the off-balance. The aesthetic of her 2019 album Zdenka 2080 is wrapped in the gauze of worn video cassettes and sticky turntable belts, like lounge and vocal jazz being heard through faulty electronics and worn-out media. The giveaway is Olsen’s dreamy, note-perfect vocals, which float seamlessly above her unsteady arrangements with effortless elegance. It feels like music from the future played on instruments from the past, and the loss in translation is what makes it unusually enchanting. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp

best brainfeeder albums jaga jazzist

Jaga Jazzist – Pyramid

Norwegian nu-jazz collective Jaga Jazzist had been releasing music for nearly 25 years, through labels such as Ninja Tune and Smalltown Supersound, before eventually partnering with Brainfeeder. Though the group’s hometown of Tønsberg is quite a distance from Los Angeles, the group’s ethos fits in perfectly alongside that of Brainfeeder, their sound a hybrid of jazz and electronic music, with more than a little prog rock groove. Pyramid is at once their most eclectic and accessible album, an epic journey that comprises four lengthy pieces and is best experienced as a cohesive whole. Driving rhythms, synthesizers and deep grooves drive the band’s progression, which touches upon elements of classic jazz fusion, more neon-flecked sounds reminiscent of contemporaries like The Comet Is Coming, and even some guitar-driven material that doesn’t feel out of place next to a band like Elder. There’s a lot here, and beyond that, there’s a lot to love—a jazz album for dance music heads and vice versa. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Merchbar (vinyl)

hiatus kaiyote mood valiant

Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant

The third album by Australian neo-soul group Hiatus Kaiyote was made during a time of recovery for vocalist Nai Palm, who two years earlier was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet there’s nothing defeated or devastated about Mood Valiant. Instead, it’s a statement of purpose and resolve, a celebration in spite of the curveballs that come our way. The group’s first full-length album released via Brainfeeder also happens to be their strongest album to date, an immaculately produced album—with Brazilian psych legend Arthur Verocai behind the boards, amazingly enough—that finds the group embracing a lightness and simplicity that gives their songs more room to breathe while the earworms continue to linger. It’s a marvel of contemporary R&B with all manner of sonic treats sprinkled throughout—a joyous and life-affirming album from a group unafraid of showing their vulnerability between the breaks. – Jeff Terich

Listen/Buy: Bandcamp | Turntable Lab (vinyl)

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