Monday, January 30, 2017

Favorite Albums of 2016

Another year, another list, another diminishment in quality (in terms of my writing quality -- musically speaking, it was really good).

I'm certain this is right.

20) Mitski -- Puberty 2: interesting album title. features one of the best songs of the year.

19) Left and Right -- The Yips: A touch of Malkmus. "“Margaret Thatcher bought a Stratocaster/ played it/ made it/ rose to greatness.”

18) Veils -- Total Depravityproduced by one-half of the best tag ever (El-P from RTJ), and one of my favorite bands, this album didn't measure up for some reason. Tried to reach the same deranged, cathartic heights of their 2006 classic Nux Vomica, this one captured the production qualities but missed out on all the heart.

17) Preoccupations -- Preoccupations:
  Music for paranoid joy division fans.

16) Space Mountain -- Big Sky: a touch of David Berman here, but only a touch.

15) The Peep Tempel -- Joy

Couldn't snag the album cover for some reason. The return of the band that put out 2014's second best album. A good listen all the way through, just maybe not as cheeky/gritty/idiosyncratic as the last one.

"Joy reignites the band’s distinct drawl, growling and fist-waved plainspoken complaint spun through colloquial larrikinism and picture-book pub-punk storytelling. Yet, with longer studio sessions booked, the band also enjoyed what they describe as a “definite indulgence”, leading to left-field experiments ranging from organs to car engines.

Thematically, it’s equally varied. Snapshots of everyday life butt heads with more straight-shot, politically-ignited rhetoric, as with fiery first single “Rayguns”. At the other end of Joy’s wide-spread spectrum, minimalism lounge-bar ballad “Go Slow” compliments the sparse backdrop with throaty, targeted taunts, taking a far more personal slant to the band’s usual tact." (Rolling Stone AU)

Slay Tracks: Totality, Rayguns, Constable

14) Alex Cameron - Jumping the Shark
This album is sweet. Alex Cameron, the lead singer, takes on the perspective of a variety of down-and-out sad sacks. He's all in on it though -- going so far as the dress up as the miserable cast of characters he creates (like the one on the cover, who I just noticed has a hearing aid). In a way, he's kind of mining the same vein as Krispy Kreme in the "is this real or an act kind of thing?" Here, we know it is a trick, but it is really well performed. Anyone that says music is dead isn't looking hard enough for gems like this. This video of one of his "characters" is incredible.

"I ain't every man I wanted to be," Alex Cameron sings on Jumping the Shark, but over the course of the album, he's more than a few. Cameron's solo debut album introduces him as a meta-singer/songwriter: though he's best known as a member of the electronic pop trio Seekae, in Jumping the Shark's world, he's a down-on-his-luck performer with a saxophone player and "business partner" named Roy Molloy. Cameron uses this theatricality to sell Shark's portraits of failure, capturing them with a complex mix of humor, beauty, and poignancy. Cameron commits to his characters and moods completely, sketching them with stark, warts-and-all sounds and lyrics. Jumping the Shark's tinny keyboards and beats could be ancient presets, but also sound oddly timeless as they move from shabby to almost noble at a moment's notice: on songs like the bittersweet anthem "Take Care of Business," Cameron uses little more than some well-placed synth washes to turn the titular chorus from innuendo to a plea. Meanwhile, his storytelling is remarkably sophisticated, filled with the depth and empathy of a much more seasoned singer/songwriter. At times, his songs recall those of Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel -- if they happened to be backed by Suicide. " (All Music)

Slay Tracks: Real Bad Lookin, The Internet, Take Care of Business, etc.

13) Teleman - Brilliant Sanity
If you don't know Pete and the Pirates, I'd check them out. They released two really great albums before breaking up and creating this group, whose goal, from what I can tell, is to make insanely catchy pop songs.

"Listing “the dogged pursuit of the perfect hook” as a driving force behind their music, everything Teleman do is crafted to worm its way under your skin. The follow-up to 2014 debut ‘Breakfast’, ‘Brilliant Sanity’ is an embellished venture through the unmistakable sound the four-piece have forged for themselves.

Having established an aesthetic that’s so very distinctly them, Teleman show no fear when it comes to pushing boundaries. Propulsive drumbeats reverberate and repeat, burrowing further through consciousness with every reiteration. It’s a mechanical sound that the quartet create, but with album number two they’ve given these mechanisms flesh.

Thomas Sanders’ vocals are as prolific as ever. Taking the lead over buoyant guitars, bubbling synth, and breezy rhythms, it’s all too easy to become lost amidst the high flying lyrics, which is exactly where the group want their listeners to be. It’s a vivid canvas that Teleman paint upon, using electric nuances and eerie echoes to give their dynamic melodies a possessive life of their own." (DIY)

Slay Tracks: Dusseldorf, Fall in Time, Glory Hallelujah, Drop Out

12) Christine and the Queens -- s/t

"“It’s rare to see a female pop artist so resistant to adoration, asking to be allowed to adore instead,” Pitchfork wrote about Christine (née Héloïse Letissier) earlier this year. That least Stone Roses-y of attitudes is clear throughout Christine’s first proper LP, which bounds along like a collection of curious observations, never explicitly demanding attention but always captivating it nonetheless. Hooks poke out of the mix and then slink back underneath. Phrasings from Christine’s lyrical mix of English and French — a near-identical version of the album was released entirely in French under the name Chaleur humaine in 2014 — draw you in for a line at a time. Arrangements swell but never go for the knockout punch. It’s brilliant in its quiet confidence, its willingness to intrigue rather than stun." (SPIN)

Slay Tracks: iT, Tilted, Paradis Perdus, Safe and Holy

11) Andy Shauf - The Party

"The Party plays out like Shauf is telling someone these the stories hours after or the next morning following the blowout. While the arrangements are lush, they don’t get too overbearing or massive to take away from the lyrics. Fans of artists like Elliott Smith and Grizzly Bear will likely enjoy Shauf’s music, but overall Shauf really comes into his own on The Party." (Paste)

Slay Tracks: Early to the Party, Quite Like You, The Worst In You, Alexander All Alone

10) Frightened Rabbit -- Painting of a Panic Attack
This one sounded like it was going to be incredible. Frightened Rabbit, who held down the #1 spot in 2010 and the #2 spot in 2013,  teaming with the Dessner Brothers (The National -- who have also showed up a lot in these gd lists). Unfortunately, it seems like the Dessner's kinda National-ized away some of Frightened Rabbits rougher edges. It's incredibly well produced and sounds great, but the album is a bit quieter and less eventful than I would have liked. Still a really solid album, but not quite reaching the heights of some of their earlier classics.

"Having said that, though, Painting of a Panic Attack is still an album to be cherished. A combination of new life experiences, that allow Hutchison to weave more vivid tales of mourning, nostalgia and, ultimately, triumph, and the shot in the arm that is Aaron Dessner giving the band that little bit more has helped to create an album that could rival Midnight Organ Fight. Just as Frightened Rabbit felt like they were starting to fall into a bit of a rut, Painting of a Panic Attack arrives to remind why they are such a special band. They’re not giving in just yet and thank goodness for that." (The Line of Best Fit).

Slay Tracks: Death Dream, Woke Up Hurting, Blood Under the Bridge, Wait 'Til Morning.

9) Touche Amore - Stage Four

Didn't expect a "post-hardcore" album to make the list. Especially one about a lead singer dealing with the loss of his mom to cancer. But life is full of surprises. Without a doubt, this album is pretty brutal and not for everyone.  But it packs a huge emotional wallop and it is beautifully wrought. A bit hard to listen to all the way through on  account of all the screaming though, ha.

"The heartsick sentiment of this album will leave most listeners with a pang in their chest. Bolm’s pain is so beautifully expressed that it can be hard not to buy in entirely. The “hardcore Carrie & Lowell” description is becoming fairly standard for Stage Four, but it still serves to highlight just how moving this record is. It will make you want to mosh, it will make you want to cry. I can’t think of a better sell for Stage Four." (The 405)

Slay Tracks: Flowers and You, Rapture, Benediction, Water Damage

8)  Modern Baseball -- Holy Ghost

Scratches a lot of the same itches as 2014-best "Home Like Noplace There Is" by the Hotelier.

"So, no, Holy Ghost isn’t as lighthearted as the band’s previous records. And it’s true that it lacks the sense of humor that propelled songs like “Going To Bed Now” and “Rock Bottom.” But this batch of songs serves a higher purpose: In addition to being a powerful examination of self-worth and how it tends to wither beneath the responsibilities of adulthood, the record is also a testament to the band’s growth musically and thematically. Ewald even seems to sneer at the carefree philosophies of youth when he sings about how “you ate the words you always used to say.” “Whatever, forever” just no longer applies. The Holy Ghost, that intangible something that represents forgiveness and spiritually fulfillment, remains out of reach. This record is the space in between." (The AV Club)

Slay Tracks: Mass, Everyday, Coding These To Lukens, Breathing in Stereo, Just Another Face

7) Operators - Blue Wave

Dan, the man, no stranger to this blog. Handsome Furs, his old group, got #1 on the 2011 list; and his even older group, Wolf Parade got #6 on the 2010 list. Oh yea, and his side-project super-group got #7 in 2012. He's an incredibly solid songwriter, who just seems to get better and better as he goes, and this offers a somewhat, if not completely new, take on his style and themes.

"It's ironic that Dan Boeckner sings so specifically about dreaming on four of the 10 songs that make up Operators' full-length debut. While Blue Wave showcases enough synth-centric production to meet all of the requirements to recreate a genre once widely referred to as dream pop, the songs on this album teem with such agitation that it could be the photo negative of that style: nightmare pop." (Pitchfork)

Slay Tracks: Rome, Cold Light, Blue Wave, Bring Me The Head, Nobody

6) Christian Fitness - This Taco Is Not Correct
Andy Falkous is no stranger to this blog. Another one of his projects got the 10 spot in 2009, and the number 3 spot in 2013. I seem to really like about half of his work, and this falls into the category. A lot of the songs are completely mental -- both lyrically and sonically, but the melodies are always super strong to keep it together.

"Amps are overloaded, ala ‘68 on the noise-wreckage of the superb Bad Boys Die In The Bath (you can almost feel the heat as it starts popping and hissing from the roaring strangulation that’s created) whilst the swaggering nonchalant of the hilarious and cutting bite of Reggie Has Asbestos Training is summed up by the immortal line: “the proof is in the pudding well, the pudding was made in a shit oven by a donkey cock fuckwit with half the world in its petty-hate petting zoo and if that sounds like you, it’s not.” A mostly spoken word piece, with Falco reciting the song’s title over Jack’s upbeat percussion, whilst some smooth synth-flows, buzzes and hums in the background, like some weird 70s-style novelty theme song from a show based on the life of the titular Reggie. What is going on here?" (Keep it Fast)

Slay Tracks: Your Favourite Band Wants you Dead, Bad Boys Die in the Bath, More Skin for the Skin-Eaters

5) Run the Jewels - RTJ3

Same Spot as 2014's RTJ2
 -- which has aged extremely well, and which I prefer a bit more.

"Maybe it’s that dichotomy that makes Run the Jewels the most exciting prospect hip hop currently has, even in an age when Kendrick is revolutionizing the genre, when Kanye is redefining the word megalomania and when Chance the Rapper is leading a vanguard of new talent for whom classic LPs look like a foregone conclusion. What none of those can offer, though, is the increasingly unshakeable feeling that the two decades’ worth of hard yards that Mike and El put in is what makes RTJ so special. Nobody fresh out of the blocks could ever make a record this vital sound quite so effortless. That’s the only issue with RTJ3; the sense of triumph occasionally spills into self-satisfaction, and the next stop would be complacency. This is an album that could easily be subtitled Mission Accomplished, but for once, it feels like bowing out on top would be ill-advised. That, in itself, is quite the compliment." (Drowned in Sound)

Slay Tracks: Down, Legend Has It, 2100, Panther Like a Panther

4) PJ Harvey -- The Hope Six Demolition Project

PJ Harvey does albums like they were intended. This is not quite as good or coherent as 2011's number 3 ranked Let England Shake, but still very good.

"The Hope Six Demolition Project is an album with quite a story attached. Preparations for the follow-up to 2011’s Mercury prize-winning Let England Shake involved Polly Harvey travelling to Afghanistan, Kosovo and the grimmer parts of Washington DC in the company of film-maker and photographer Seamus Murphy, the better to record the effects of war and poverty. The field trips have thus far spawned a book of poetry and photographs called The Hollow of the Hand, and an open recording session-cum-art installation, during which the public were invited to stand behind a one-way glass and watch Harvey and her band making the album in a specially constructed studio in London’s Somerset House. There is a documentary film to follow" (The Guardian).

Slay Tracks: The Community of Hope, A Line in the Sand, The Orange Monkey

3) Car Seat Headrest -- Teens of Denial

This 23-year old is prolific (his 12th album?) and in complete control of his music. Really solid stuff. Check out Teens of Style as well -- my second favorite album of last year.

"Teens of Denial showcases most of the weapons in Toledo’s arsenal: deft wordplay, a vocal style that might be the very definition of ennui, and tight guitar-driven indie rock arrangements that recall Weezer, Beck, and Jonathan Richman. " (Flood Magazine)

Slay Tracks: Fill in the Blank, Destroyed by Hippy Powers, Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An)

2) The Hotelier -- Goodness

They made some interesting artistic choices (album cover for one, drum placement in the mix for two), and not quite as good as 2014's "Home, Like Noplace There Is," but a damn good record. 

"Goodness is a spiritually rich listen, but none of it would matter much if it weren’t such a goddamn great rock album. For something that, on paper, reads as terribly intimate, its anthemic appeal transforms Goodness into a surprisingly liberating event. Especially on the spring rush of single “Piano Player” and the openhearted ache of “Two Deliverances,” these private experiences become electrifyingly communal. Yet wedged in-between are moments of cautious reverie in the form of campfire songs and ruminative ballads, affording more credit to how well-balanced — and life-affirming — a record this ambitious can be." (SPIN)

Slay Tracks: Two Deliverances, Settle the Scar, Soft Animal, Sun, End of Reel

1) Drones -- Feelin Kinda Free

From the first moment of track one, I knew this would be my top album of the year. Maybe not a classic like their last few, but the first six songs on this album may be the the finest six track sequence on any of their albums. An intensely political and timely album.

"It’s fair to say then that The Drones’ music is loaded with a capital L – pumped up with fury at our historical flaws, contemptuous of seemingly institutional wastefulness and pride. Lyrically, Liddiard cuts an entrancing figure – somewhere between a political revolutionary and an apocalyptic conspiracy theorist, uncompromisingly skeptical but never without reason. On 2013’s I See Seaweed he readily obsessed over humanity’s most callous elements – the warmongers, the capitalists, the faceless elite – without flinching once, his words often spat out snidely like a crazed Nick Cave. Throw his dogged lyricism over manic, maddened guitar work and you have yourself a dark horse for one of the best albums of the past five years.

You’d think things couldn’t possibly get any more ominous but you’d be wrong. The first chorus on Seaweed’s follow up sees Liddiard flippantly remark: “now I’m feelin kinda free // I’m going straight to DVD” as if liberated by the acceptance that humanity is too far gone. Later he sneers, “I want a private execution…for free_” over one of the most guttural bass lines I think I’ve ever heard. After the sharp, juddering ‘Taman Shud’, ‘Then They Came For Me’ references the always crushingly relevant Martin Niemoller poem as well as psychological tactics used by the German air force in World War II. The stakes are somehow even higher, the outlook somehow even bleaker." (Drowned in Sound)

Slay Tracks: 1-6

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Favorite Albums of 2015

Yikes -- Looks like I'll finish this thing just as people are prepping their Best of 2016 lists. In the end I bought 52 albums last year (!), while undoubtedly listening to a hundred more. Takes a while to do these for me cause I gotta do some due diligence, like looking over other people's Best of lists to see if there's anything that fell through the cracks. You gotta dig pretty hard too because most people are rehashing the same few albums -- Grimes, Kendrick. No doubt those are both good albums; I just find it hard to believe that everybody in the world would independently arrive at that decision if it wasn't for the echo chamber of the blogosphere. I can guarantee you no one in the world has the same list as me. Not even Tyrone.

15) Youth Lagoon - Savage Hills Ballroom
Solid album from the creator of one of my favorite album's from a few years ago (2011's The Year of Hibernation). Not quite the same highs and lows. Steady as she goes. Well-produced. Easy-listening. Looks like this was his last go round under this moniker.

Slay Tracks: Officer Telephone, Highway Patrol Stun Gun, No One Can Tell, Free Me

14) Hop Along - Painted Shut

Heard this one at the start of the year and thought it would end up in the top ten. It got close, but it's teeth never really sunk in. The price of admission is worth it just for lead singer Frances Quinlan's incredible voice.

From the AV Club: It’s fitting how much the song references Saddle Creek’s top dogs, channeling the key-smashing piano of Cursive’s The Ugly Organ, while Quinlan’s lyrics recall Conor Oberst’s ability to overanalyze compact moments until they carry an improbable weight.

Slay Tracks: The Knock, Horseshoe Crabs, Waitress, Texas Funeral

13) Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell

More beautiful, sad songs from Sufjan. Just gotta be in the right mood to listen to an album about being deserted by your mom and then dealing with her death.

Slay Tracks: Death with Dignity, Should Have Known Better, The Only Thing.

12) Slonk Donkerson - The Lunar Motorbike Club and Their Respective Destinies

This band is a paradox. On the one hand, it's impossible to respect a band with the name Slonk Donkerson. On the other hand, any band that gives themselves such a non-commercial name must be respected. 

As a concept album, this is a strange one.  It appears to be about some kind of lover affair that takes place on motorcycle race around a never-ending course (the aforementioned lunar martini motorway), viewed through the lens of some 80s dreamscape. I mean where else can you expect to find lyrics like these: "'...but that was when i was young,' she said lighting a smoke by the generator."

And then:
But she turned away from shelter 
Took the chopper from the barn 

Headed to Casino City 
with a pack of tarot cards 

And though sleep walking he searches 
for the star upon her brow 

underneath her breath 
she whispers, “sorry that I left you” 

From Stereogum: One of the things that makes Slonk Donkerson exciting is that they’ve begun mixing a very weird array of musical touchstones; suddenly the perennially hip antecedents of the Replacements or R.E.M. are mingling freely with more stereotypically passé reference points like ’70s and ’80s hard rock, even hair metal. That self-aware indulgence in rock history all takes place within an ethos and framework the band dreamt up as the “Lunar Martini” world. Suddenly, an album that initially comes off as one of those simple pleasures in life — driving rock music with great melodies — reveals itself to have a whole lot of art-rock thought behind it, and becomes a more interesting listen as a result. It wouldn’t work if the songs weren’t just straight-up amazing, though, full of surprising arrangements and the occasionally densely harmonized vocal part that continue to add little twists and turns, so that Slonk Donkerson claim old forms as their own.

Slay Tracks: Sonata, The Lunar Martini Motorway, Painted from Memory, Watching Every Channel at Once, There in Spirit, It's Only Ending

11) Sweet Serenades - Animals
Hard not to like this Swedish duo, who describe themselves as the "Woodsmen of Indie Pop" (see picture below).
I have no idea if they live in that camper, but I certainly hope they do. Not quite as good as some of their previous work, but these guys never miss-step (for both better and worse). For this album, they cite their influences as  Joy Division, Roxy Music, Nelly Furtado, and Dead Man's Bones (check out the song "In the Dark" for proof.)

Slay Tracks: Come Out and Play, Fireworks, In the Dark, Never Gonna Stop

10) Vacation - Non-Person
Surprise surprise, this one's about death, decay, and mortality too, but it talks about it in a different, kinda funny, way:

do you still cart around that piece of shit you call a body all the time?

 do you still have a brain,
and if you do, does it still think about the past?

"do you open up your sink at night
fishing out all the people that you've washed down the drain
and is it proof that we were there
if it's clogged with human hair
and if it makes your gag-reflexes flair
From punknews: "Frankenstein's monster may actually be an apt descriptor for this record. The band obviously pulls influence from many genres, with punk, glam rock and power pop getting exposure on the record. And given the album's cut and paste body part album cover and the various references to self-mutilation ("The Effort") and physical decomposition ("Decaying" and "Like Snow"), the album drips of references to bodily freakishness. Non-Person isn't the sound of body parts becoming unstitched, however. On the contrary, it's reminiscent of an inhabitant finding out just how powerful it's new body is. "

Slay Tracks: The Effort,  Every Direction, All I Think About (Myself), Strange Fascination

9) Young Fathers - White Men Are Black Men Too

From The Quietus: Young Fathers have Nigerian, Scottish and Liberian heritage. They've all been the victims of racism – and sure, I include the white Graham Hastings in that, because there's no way Scots live to their late-20s without hearing shit down south solely because of their north-of-the-border birth (especially given recent political tensions, no doubt). Hastings told the New Statesman last monththat he wants racists to hear this album: "Because how do you change things unless you're attacking them in a non-violent way?"

An admirable sentiment, a worthy ethos; but it'd count for nothing if nobody was listening to White Men Are Black Men Too. The confused faces at last year's Mercury turned campaigners for Popular Music to win Popular Prizes would love nothing else. But to return to my earlier point, regarding Young Fathers' lose-lose situation: this album flips that fail-state on its head courtesy of being 39 minutes of utterly triumphant fusion pop. Everyone should hear this.

Rap and rock and soul and more gets mixed into this whole, and it sounds entirely unlike anything else being made in the UK right now – and, honestly, it's hard to imagine any other group being so bold as this, while also keeping hold of instantly hooking motifs beside the envelope-pushing experimentalism and joyous embracing of pan-continental motivation. Everything here screams win-win into your earholes, until all you can do is dance to its insistent demands for a better way of thinking.

Slay Tracks: Shame, 27, Rain or Shine, Sirens, Nest

8) Dilly Dally - Sore

Check the vid -- female smells like teen spirit. Nirvana meets the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Slay Tracks: Desire, The Touch, Next Gold, Purple Rage, Green

7) Young Jesus - Grow/Decompose

This might very well be the album of the year. It's dynamic, catchy, and explores huge themes. Ostensibly, it seems to be about families, the bonds between them, and how we grow and change and some times can't change; but it's expressed in it's own unique language of slugs, inchworms, trees, orange peels, dirt, cigarettes, transvestites(?). There's a lot going on here.

you hear your mother singing sweet
but disregard her melody
while mending may and eloise and david
with some pale green douglas fir and willow leaves,
gently making something breathe.

brothers don't bleed
it's a cut of a different kind
grandpa grew trees
now the green runs through our spine

you don't start clean 
spines are twisting in the rings
this old tree
been around before you were born

It's got touches of Weezer, Modest Mouse, and Neutral Milk Hotel, but if it was an equation, it would be those bands divided by 4 and not 3. Still, high praise.

Slay Tracks: G, Slug, Blood and Guts, Milo, Dirt

6) Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves

When I first heard this album, I thought it was complete shit. Shit that someone had sculpted into a nice form, but shit nonetheless. And, in a way, it was hard for it to be anything else. Modest Mouse was working on it for 8 years. Essentially, it was bound to become their version of Guns and Roses Chinese Democracy.  They'd lost key band members and Isaac Brock invited his girlfriend to play in the band. It reminded me of Pink Floyd's 1994 album, The Division Bell, which, I read, had to be sent back to the band after the first attempt in order to make it sound more like Pink Floyd.

But I didn't give up on it. There were a few songs I liked right away (The Tortoise and the Tourist, The Best Room); although, I felt like I'd heard them before. And after 3-4 listens, I was starting to like more of it and it ended up one of my most listened to albums this year. I still think there are some terrible decisions on here (Pistol, Wicked Campaign), but there's still a lot to like. He's mining the same terrain as ever, but give Isaac Brock 8 years and you're bound to have some gems.

Slay Tracks: Shit in Your Cut, Ansel, Pups to Dust, The Tortoise and the Tourist, The Best Room.

5) Pomegranates - Healing Power

One of the best (and most frequently overlooked) indie bands of the last decade. Check out their back catalogue if you get the chance. This is their final album and it's a great way to go out.

From City Beat:
Merritt's description of Healing Power as sprawling is appropriate; the album has several propulsive moments, including the staggering, stuttering majesty of the seven minute "Hand of Death" and the tribal electric blast of "House of My Mortal Father." There is also a fairly diverse dynamic acrossHealing Power's 13 cuts, which careen from those spurts of high energy to atmospheric and moody Pop confections, like the gentle and aptly titled "Taking It Easy" and the melancholic reverie of "Morning Light," with the strolling bounce of the title track finding the middle ground between those stylistic ends of the spectrum. Logically, Healing Power stands as a natural progression from Heaven, which the band also thought would be louder and less constrained, and it also reveals Pomegranates' impending solo directions, as the majority of the album consists of songs that Karns and Cook brought to the band in more or less completed form
Slay Tracks: Friends, High Class, Season of Love, House of My Mortal Father

4) Torres - Sprinter

Cool lady -- I saw her play last Fall in Northampton and she looked like a character out of A Clockwork Orange. Sings like PJ Harvey. Good lyrics and interesting arrangements. Easy mid-temp listening.

From Pitchfork:  On Sprinter, however, Scott shrouds her voice with feedback and heavier rock instrumentation, created alongside PJ Harvey producer and percussionist Rob Ellis. The sound is like a gauze bandage covering the emotional wounds, the profound isolation and fear of abandonment, that sit at the heart of Sprinter. But Scott lets a little red bleed through nonetheless, and for listeners, at least, that's a good thing. 

Slay Tracks: Strange Hellos, A Proper Polish Welcome, Sprinter, Cowboy Guilt, 

3) Desaparecidos - Payola

For Pitchfork to give this politically charged, nominally emo, album from Conor Oberst a 7.6 is pretty high praise. This style of music isn't exactly popular at the moment and Conor's spotlight peaked roughly ten years ago. This one took a while to grow on me too. But as the melodies dug in, I started paying more attention to the lyrics. Some pretty hot takes here on wall street, patriotism, radicalization, poverty, immigration, health care...  Jesus, reading over that and you'd think this thing was a bummer to get through, the sardonic anthems make it super easy listening.

It’s a locker room of CEOs
Telling dirty jokes

They’re all betting men who never lose
And float away on golden parachutes
It’s a bonus not a shake down
And they’re worth every penny
In my bank account
From Pitchfork: It would appear that Payola is where Oberst's been storing the splenetic rage that fueled his most compelling work and has mostly gone missing since I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. But while Payola is his most urgent and angry work in a decade, it's by far his most fun record. Because really, it's his only fun record.

Slay Tracks: pretty much the whole of it.

2) Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Style

Great little album. 

From the NYTIMES: He’s a self-conscious, noisily introverted low-fi rocker who has clearly studied Beck, Weezer, Brian Wilson, Daniel Johnston and perhaps Guided by Voices. Like them, he confesses bleak thoughts in uplifting melodies. Brash guitars and celebratory, multilayered vocal harmonies fill choruses like the one in “Los Borrachos,” which meshes overlapping lyrics: “I miss you” and “I don’t have any hope left, but the weather is nice.”

When did our heart
Stop beating?
Used up all the heat
When did it start?
Our meeting
It’s been on repeat
I know there's a full moon every night
it’s just not always bright
but it’s been so long since I saw the light
maybe I haven’t been looking at the sky

Slay Tracks: The Drum, Something Soon, Times to Die, Strangers, Maud Gone, Los Barrachos (I Don't Have Any Hope Left, But the Weather is Nice)

1) Third Eye Blind - Dopamine

Damn. Can't imagine anyone saw this one coming.

First, some reviews for this album:

From Consequence of Sound: It's safe to say that Dopamine, the band's fifth studio album and first since 2009's Ursa Major, will be the last we see from Third Eye Blind.

From My initial impression after listening to Third Eye Blind's Dopamine for the first time was something along the lines of "People are going to hate this."

One last review: Dopamine isn't his best record, and it might be his worst, but for one of the slyest songwriters from the past two decades of pop, "worst" can still be pretty damn great.

What can I say though. I have a sweet spot for these guys. When I was a kid, I liked their self-titled album and Blue as much as I liked either of Weezer's early albums, and I still think those albums have held up really well. Admittedly, I lost touch with them after that, but when I saw this in the store, I thought "what's the worst that could happen?" If these guys could capture even 50% of the glory of those early albums, it'd be a huge win, and I think they did. It's way too easy to hate these guys, and while there is definitely something embarrassing about the honesty/sincerity/sing-rapping style of the lyrical content, it's refreshing to hear something that isn't veiled with so many layers of irony (Slonk Donkerson). I can't listen to this album and not think of summer time, reading comic books, playing video games and running around in the woods with my brother and our friend Trent, when things were easier and there wasn't any need for irony. And while I have mixed feelings about nostalgia (Jalow says the lowest form of conversation is "Remember when..."), I don't mind it here.

Slay Tracks: Everything is Easy, Shipboard Cook, Rites of Passage, Back to Zero, Something in You, Get Me Out Of Here

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Best of 2014

I usually wait until early January to post these things so that I can look over other "Best of" lists to make sure I don't miss anything, but damn I've been sleeping on this.  All in all, a pretty good year for music. But in the end, I think every year of music is about as good as the energy you put into it.

Doing something a bit different this year though. Instead of writing my own descriptions about how great this music is, I'll generally be letting others do the heavy lifting for me and sample from reviews that match my overall sentiment about the albums.

Bombs away.

10) What Moon Things - What Moon Things
Reminds me a bit of that band Wintersleep, who put out a few really solid albums in the early 2000s.


Modest Mouse Meets the Cure

I’ll level with you, dear listener and reader. The first time I heard the new self-titled debut album from New Paltz, New York-based band What Moon Things, I hated it. I was only able to get about three songs deep before abandoning things altogether. But I happened to revisit the album, and I’m glad I did. Once I had wrapped my head around the band’s Modest Mouse meets the Cure sound, I was suckered in. That doesn’t mean that What Moon Things is a perfect band. Far from. Still, there’s enough on What Moon Things that is endearing enough. 

Slay Tracks: The Astronaut, Squirrel Girl, Sun, Where's the Fire

9) Sex Hands - Pleh

Sounds a bit like Pete and the Pirates recorded in someone's closet. Read somewhere that a lot of these songs are about the TV show Friends.


We need more bands like Sex Hands. Bands who genuinely, unselfconsciouslyhave fun with their music. Their instruments are barely in tune, their lyrics are often unintelligible, and their songs rarely stray from their trusted, noisy formula (somewhere between the boisterous, motorik punk of Parquet Courtsand the hooky garage rock of Jacuzzi Boys). Yet despite – or perhaps thanks to – these amateurish tendencies, Pleh is an incredibly compelling debut.

Slay Tracks: Pivot, Gay Marriage, Hairdo, On a Break, Tommy

8) Parkay Quarts - Content Nausea
I liked this album. It reminded me of early Pavement but was different enough to not sound duplicative.


Content Nausea is a record bursting with anxiety, both lyrically and musically. The first track ‘Everyday It Starts’ leads with a dentist drill type whine before lunging into the type of guitar work that sees the band being constantly referred to as the ‘new Pavement’.
Content Nausea proves that Parquet Courts remain one of the more innovative bands in indie rock at the moment. Already declining offers to feature their music in American TV shows, the group's efforts to shun social media and advertising are going to have to be stepped up if the band continues producing such quality, from-the-hip honest music.
Slay Tracks:  Content Nausea, Slide Machine, Pretty Machines, Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth

7) Step-Panther - Strange But Nice
The album Weezer wished it has put out this year. Can be streamed here (check out Namor for proof of Weezerness).


"I’ll stop short of calling it an album for everyone, but it really does cut across a wide swath of feelings and subjects that belies its persistent scrappiness. “Who even knows which genre movie we’re in?” sings Bourke in the album’s most telling line. And really, what does it matter if these are pop songs, or metal, or garage? If they’re about love or about scaling castle walls? Through and through, Strange But Nicefeels homemade and from the heart, like a high-school notebook scrawled with the names of favourite bands and superheroes. Of course it’s rough around the edges, but it’s all the more special for it."

Slay Tracks: Nowhere,  It Came From the Heart, Namor,  Zombie Summer

6) Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
This album came out so early in the year that I'm having a hard time remembering how much I liked it. I know I did, but probs not as much as their last one (#2 in 2012).

From the big fella:

Which brings us to Cloud Nothings. With 2012’s Attack on Memory, Dylan Baldi and company took a giant step forward, assuming the role of resident “angry band” that we can turn to when we had the urge to RUN THROUGH A FUCKING WALL. In fact, songs like “Wasted Days” reminded us we even had that urge. The sort of epic ferocity reappears on “Pattern Walks,” the nearly eight-minute centerpiece of Here and Nowhere Else, and we’re grateful for it. Really, it was a relief to see success hadn’t smoothed away any of the band’s edges; this is a fact that’s made immediately clear with “Now Hear In,” the charging, take-no-prisoners opening track. The guitars are raw, the drums rampage, frontman Baldi’s voice is as ragged as ever, and none of these things relent over the remaining seven songs, especially on standard bearer “Pyschic Trama.” In conclusion, while we may not possess the same angst we once did, it’s a relief to know that younger folks continue to channel their aggression in compelling yet surprisingly catchy ways. 

Slay Tracks: Now Hear In, Quieter Today, Psychic Trauma, No Thoughts, Pattern Walks

5) Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2
First rap album on the yearly best of. Momentous.

From the dawg's blog:
And all I can say is wowRTJ2 is the best music of 2014, a stew of banging beats, a combination of fun and serious wordplay, memorable guest performances (especially by Zach De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine fame), and real-world ponderous thoughts. It's tag-team rap music based in a world of drone strikes, fuckboys (a term for haters that El and Mike are very fond of) and comedic disses ("Style violent, give a fuck if you deny it, kids / you can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks") that will stay in your brain for days. In its best moments, it's relevant anti-establishment protest music, whether it's against religion ("Liars and politicians, profiteers of the prisons / The forehead engravers and slavers of men and women / Including members of clergy that rule on you through religion / Strippin' kids to the nude then tell 'em God'll forgive 'em") or Ferguson-style police violence: ("Everyday I'm in a fight for my soul / Could it be my medicine's the evidence for pigs to stop and frisk me when they rollin' round on patrol?"). Like the best socially-relevant music, it's fun and catchy and transcends rap music to something much more: a bumping soundtrack for 2014 America that rarely leaves my car CD player.

Slay Tracks: Oh my Darling Don't Cry, Blockbuster Night Part 1, All My Life, Early, Angel Duster

4) Maximo Park - Too Much Information

Ha, this review from popmatters is pretty good:

"Brimming with half formed ideas and floundering melodies, Too Much Information is easily one of the most uninspired albums released so far in 2014. Hopefully, nothing else this insipid will be released this year."

This one from drownedinsound captures my feelings about it better though:

I suppose the jarring thing about Too Much Information is that in the most respectful sense it sounds like a hit album of seven year ago, and hence slightly out of time now, despite not actively being dated in any particular sense. But really, the joy of this restlessly melodic record is that it doesn't give a shit about any of that: it's neither forward looking nor, overtly retro or especially of the moment - it just is, in the best sense.

Slay Tracks:  Brain Cells, My Bloody Mind, Is It True, Drinking Martinis, Midnight on the Hill

3) Future Islands - Singles
Great album. Great band. Finally getting their due. For those who haven't seen their Letterman performance, check it out here. I don't think it's their best album, but here they absolutely hone their formula to perfection. Sometimes the Sam Herring's vocals sound a bit like what I imagine the Beast from Beauty and the Beast sings like.

Slay Tracks: Take your pick. "A Song for Our Grandfathers" is a personal favorite. "Fall From Grace" is the most Future-Islands-ish.

2) The Peep Tempel - Tales

I didn't find these guys until the last week of December. (They were #49 on this top 50 list). They pack a punch though. One of the few bands that comes close to matching the Drones for overall energy. Maybe Peep Tempel's closest comparison would be Mclusky or Future of the Left. I think these songs are sort of funny in their own lecherous, seedy way.


" According to the promotional blurb,Tales loiters at the ugly margins of Australian society: “Morally disassociated, reality-TV-style politics. $7 chips at the footy. The great Australian dream, a 35-year mortgage on a home that will be in the advanced stages of dilapidation in just 25,” claims the press release.  Like all promotional material, the use of those evocative images probably involves an element of poetic licence. But within Tales exists not only a near-perfect punk rock record, but a brutal narrative of the reality of contemporary suburban Australia."

Slay Tracks: Vicki the Butcher, Big Fish, Waystowe Kingston Men's Home, Carol, The Opera of Lester Moore

1) The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace There Is

I definitely did not think an album by an emo band from Worcester, MA would be my top album of the year, but that's just how it goes sometimes. Even the word emo seems like an insult. Perhaps that's why this well-recieved album (fifth highest metacritic score for the year) didn't show up on more year-end lists.  But this is a damn good album that I kept returning to over and over throughout the course of the year.  Incredible melodies, lyrics, dynamics, and over all concept.

"With Home, Like Noplace Is There Christian Holden and The Hotelier aim high and don’t just hit their mark, they absolutely obliterate it. Personally I can’t remember the last time I was this floored by an emo or pop-punk record, and given the intricate layers of meaning and narrative, as well as the atraditional songwriting that allows Holden to achieve maximum emotional effect, after many, many listens I still feel like there’s a whole lot more here left to unpack. Home, Like Noplace Is There is a grand emotional and social narrative that cuts to the quick of difficult issues like depression, gender identity, and just generally feeling out-of-place when you should feel at-home, as suggested by the title. But perhaps the best part about the whole record? It’s a cathartic, anthemic blast from top to bottom, made to be screamed along with in basements, shitty cars, dive bars and VFW halls across the vacant middle of America from which the emo scene originally rose. These guys are on to something special; all that remains is for you to listen and start singing along."

Slay Tracks: The Scope of All This Rebuilding, In Framing, Your Deep Rest, Discomfort Revisited, Dendron

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2013 - Playlist

Here's a Spotify playlist with some of my favorite songs from my favorite albums of 2013 -- Enjoy!

Best of 2013

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2013

My goal with these things is to get them finished by the end of the first month of the year. Looks like I've done it again! I apologize if the quality of the writing has dropped off a bit, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Now, without any further ado (I had to look up the spelling on that), my favorite albums of 2013:

Honorable mention:
Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse
Sat. Nite Duets - Electric Manland
Duckworth Lewis Method - Sticky Wickets
Touche Amour - Is Survived By
Los Campesinos! - No Blues

#11) Torres - Torres

I guess this lady's (real name Mackenzie Scott) family pooled together some money to buy her a guitar and some time at a recording studio, and this is the result. No doubt, she's a talented lady. I couldn't have done it. Last year, it was Family Band; this year, it's Torres. Two bands that struck very similar chords for me. Somewhat spooky, ethereal, emotive, intimate stuff.  Lilith fair? Maybe. Was she the baby given up for adoption in Moon & Back? Who knows. Why are there eleven albums on the list? Because I'd forgotten about one until it was too late. Nowhere to go but down. Nothing to do but drown.

Slay Tracks: Honey, Moon & Back, Don't Run Away, Emilie, Waterfall

#10) The Veils - Time Stays, We Go

In digging in a bit to write this, I was struck by the number of reviews of this album that cited The Veil's 2006 album Nux Vomica as one of the overlooked classics of the last decade. I can't say I disagree. That album is full of unparalleled gothic bombast. Their 2009 album Sun Gang's wasn't too shabby either.  Time Stays, We Go catches the band at an interesting moment - this is a very capable band that can effortlessly click into a taut melody, but now seem less sure of where to take them. They've downplayed the big upswells, and the feverish, possessed vocals -- the things that made them so previously compelling. Instead of being driven by the music, this seems to be a band very much driving the music - and they do it very well. I just wish they'd bring a little crazy back.

Slay Tracks: The Pearl, Sign of Your Love, Turn on the Rain, Another Night on Earth

#9) Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana

Female Malkmus. Pioneer Valley. Chunky, lo-fi guitars. Indie in the early 90s sense of the word. A bit too heavy on the brokenhearted bad romance vibe, one mustn't complain.

Slay Tracks: Tiger Tank, No Below, Cash Cab, Plough, MKVI

#8) Polvo - Siberia
After taking a decade off, these guys ended up at #5 on my 2009 list. They came almost as close this time around. To label them as "math rock" is probably more of an insult than an useful descriptor, but that's what they're often tagged as. If they are experimenting with weird time signatures and whatnot, it doesn't get in the way at all. The songs grow and mutate, but always in a melodic and interesting manner. In fact, of all the albums on my list, I find this one the most chilled out.

Slay Tracks: Total Immersion, The Water Wheel, Some Songs, Anchoress

#7) The Strokes - Comedown Machine
I'm probably the last living Strokes fan. But, what can I say, I like these guys. And this, to me, seems like a bit of a return to form. Not that they can ever really get back to that bygone era, but you can still have a nice time listening to it.

Slay Tracks: Tap Out, Welcome to Japan, 80's Comedown Machine, Slow Animals

#6) The National - Trouble Will Find Me
This album got kind of a bum wrap earlier this year. One of my buds went as far as writing that it ruined the first 29 years of his life. Sure it's sometimes a little boring, and as another one of my buds pointed out, Matt Berninger hasn't screamed for the past three or four albums, but if you don't compare it to every thing else that they've done and don't look only for shortcomings, it's a very good album. Hushed, referential/reverential (allusions to the Beatles, Nirvana, Elliot Smith, Violent Femmes, and even earlier National albums), this is a great album to listen to as the Summer fades and the cool winds of Fall sweep in.

I have only two emotions 
careful fear and dead devotion 

I can't get the balance right

Slay Tracks: Demons, Don't Swallow the Cap, This is the Last Time, Graceless, Humiliation

#5) The Virgins - Strike Gently
These guys sound a lot like Tom Petty (in a good way). The album is the first release from Cult Records - a record company owned by Julian Casablancas of the Strokes (see earlier entry). No doubt, this album has a bit of a Strokes vibe too. It's nice stuff though. Easy listening. Entertainment Weekly said this about it: "Strike has the Modern Lovers' deadpan vocals, Television's jagged Grooves, and Lou reed's street-hassle guitar riffs."

Slay Tracks: Prima Materia, Wheel of Fortune, What Good Is Moonlight, Travel Express (From Me).

#4) Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Hey, has anybody seen my connector around here? no, that's not it - that's just a reflector. Another big band that got kind of a bad wrap because they changed up their style a bit. These guys played in Haiti and wanted to make an album of music that you didn't need to know to enjoy here. They mainly succeeded. The second half is killer -- the stretch between the Hey Jude tones of Awful Sound and Afterlife is as good a run as any they've ever had.

Slay Tracks: Joan of Arc, Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice), It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus), Porno, Afterlife

#3) Future of the Left - How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident

Andy Falkous' (the lead singer) tongue is so deeply planted into his cheek that I imagine it's bleeding. On first listen, I didn't expect to like this album as much as I do - it's harsh, angular, and initially seemed relatively dark and bleak. But subsequent listens warmed me up to it, and I found incredible melodies and songwriting. This album is so f'ing funny to me now. Falkous is a man who seems deeply unsettled by the world, but absolutely loves it as well. It's like how we learned that the political spectrum is actually a circle and not a line -- the same holds here: despite the world-weary cynicism, there is an unrelenting optimism.  He takes great pride in pointing out it's ridiculousness. No one else could write these lyrics: "Once I dreamt of owning my own home and renting six bedrooms to call center veterans: good tenants and better communicators / But ambition encountered an economy dominated by forces so deep they confound themselves." 

Maybe Eddie Argos, the lead singer of Art Brut, said it best:

THE NEW FUTURE OF THE LEFT ALBUM REALLY IS WHAT ALL GUITAR MUSIC SHOULD ASPIRE TOOOOOOOOO!!!!! HOOOORAYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MOTHERFUCKER !!!!!!!!!!!!BUY THIS ALBUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Slay Tracks: Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow; Johnny Borrell Afterlife; I Don't Know What You Ketamine; How to Spot a Record Company; Donny of the Decks 

#2) Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

Another popular band around these parts (aka, my apartment). Frightened Rabbit returned very early this year (I can remember listening to this as I dug my car our of major snowstorm last January) with their fourth album and found the band if not still ascending, then at still riding their peak. No doubt, you'll remember that FR walked away with the cherished title in 2010. They came damn close this year. I'm a sucker for optimistic Scottish misery and there isn't a band who does it any better. I have never wanted more to be a man and build a house around you / I am just like all the rest of them: sorry, selfish, and trying to improve. Looks like we're growing up.

Slay Tracks: Acts of Man, Holy, Dead Now, The Oil Slick.

#1) The Drones - I See Seaweed

i see seaweed on the lawn
there's no point coming here no more
do you remember way back when?

when weeks sank in the swimming pool

holidays were cotton wool

your bald tyre friends, the pelicans, cowboys and indian
admit it, she was kinda cute
her panties were your parachute
they found her near the airport, in a crater, near the bend
where she and i'd walk by the zoo
not knowing we'd do what all plagues do
i forget her all the time these days and be forgotten too

So begins the Drone's 6th album and there's no turning back. Over fifty minutes of the most thoughtful and raucous music you'll ever hear (and they've added a keyboardist).  Per usual, Gareth touches a lot of interesting subjects, but what's always so fascinating is the unique way he does it. Overpopulation: "we're lockstepping in our billions / lockstepping in our swarms / lockstepping in the certainty that more need to be born" Old arguments: "it's like i'm shooting at a shadow that a bomb burned on the wall." Google Maps: "i took a strangely disembodied walk down memory lane / to the home of my late mother and my youth / under the full glare of a hot LCD sun / i rode nine eyed survivor Street View." Genocide, climate change, corrupt politicians -- yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before. How is this different? Well, let the man speak: "Every time you go in and do something you’re a different person. I’m not 22. It never gets old. It never gets boring.” Exactly right, Gareth.

He touches on a lot of stuff, but it never bogs down the music because he does it so artfully. That's a good part of a fun for this band; that, and the fact that they make extremely rocking music in an era where it's popular to sit quietly in your room and make electronic music on your computer. A real palate cleanser this, as always.

Slay Tracks: I See Seaweed, Nine Eyes, Laika, Why Write a Letter You'll Never Send