Tag Archives: Album Review

Top 30 Albums of 2014

“It’s been a long time baby and it has been a rough road.” – Mariah Carey, Home Shopping Network

I feel like this quote from the elusive chanteuse herself (whose latest album effort is most definitely not included in my top 30) adequately sums up the year in music, as well as most things in my life, like putting together this list of my Top 30 Albums of 2014.

This list is all over the place, as expected. There were releases from artists that I knew, even before hearing, would end up in the top 10. There were releases from artists that I thought would end up at the top that didn’t even stick. There was one release from a particular Canadian artist that I knew I would love, but didn’t expect to be my favorite album of the year.

And so, as we turn down the lights on 2014, I’m looking at this list and I’m liking a lot of what happened. Here’s hoping you did too.

30. Damien Juardo – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun

Damien-Jurado-Brothers-And-Sisters-Of-The-Eternal-Son-608x608

Damien Juardo said this album “is about a guy who disappears on a search, if you will, for himself and never goes home,” which is kind of like what happened to me when I moved to Boulder, so that’s fun.

Favorite Track: “Silver Katherine”

29. Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

conor-oberst-1400163701

I feel like most people have written off this album. While there’s nothing groundbreaking here, there’s a familiarity in Mr. Oberst’s vocals and subject matter that, along with the sprawling, dusty guitars, makes flipping this record akin to sliding into your favorite boots. Whatever.

Favorite track: “Double Life”

28. Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

Sia_-_1000_Forms_of_Fear_(Official_Album_Cover)

Best straight pop album of the year. WHATEVER T-SWIFT.

Favorite track: “Elastic Heart”

27. Glass Animals – Zaba

Zaba

It’s just like chic and funky and consistently groovy, front to back.

Favorite track: “Cocoa Hooves”

26. Interpol – El Pintor

interpol-el-pintor

Yes, while El Pintor is a return to form (finally) for Interpol, the album sees the band falling back on old tricks. Nothing is new or exciting about most of this material, and yet it’s the band’s strongest effort in a long, long time, with a few of the songs being able to sit on the same shelf as the best work they’ve ever done.

Favorite track: “My Blue Supreme”

25. How To Dress Well – Where Is This Heart?

What Is This Heart

Like, one minute it’s dance-y and fun (“Repeat Pleasure”) and then it’s like, really spooky and scary and sad (“Face Again”). I’m in.

Favorite track: “Repeat Pleasure”

24. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

Tomorrows Modern Boxes

A very welcome surprise from Mr. Yorke, who continues to be prolific behind the scenes while we all wait for Radiohead’s next masterpiece.

Favorite track: “Nose Grows Some”

23. Sisyphus – Sisyphus

Sisyphus

I’m biased because it’s love. Sufjan and I share a very special bond, so I couldn’t not include an album on this list that he’s (heavily) involved in. While in theory this album shouldn’t work, it works well. Really well. Sufjan’s orchestral flourishes along with Son Lux’s melodies prove to be the perfect backdrop for MC Serengeti’s rhymes.

Favorite track: “Rhythm of Devotion”

22. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

la-et-azealia-banks

Perpetually delayed, and now perpetually great. I’m nervous I’m summoning something dark from the underworld when I listen to tracks like “Heavy Metal And Reflective,” or summoning something really, really chic while listening to “Ice Princess.” Even though most of the material is years old at this point, Ms. Banks still sounds fresh to death. Gays are flying everywhere.

Favorite track: “Wallace”

21. – TV On The Radio – Seeds

tvotr_seedslp01

TV On The Radio are a happy band now and it sounds great on them.

Favorite track: “Right Now”

20. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

You're_Dead!

But like really? It’s like candy coming out of your speakers.

Favorite track: “Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

19. The Antlers – Familiars

FamiliarsAlbumCover

I don’t think The Antlers will ever get to a place as good (or depressing) as Hospice, but with each release since that defining record, they continue to evolve and surprise, still able to deliver an emotional punch with those freakin’ horns in a way that few others can.

Favorite track: “Surrender”

18. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

RunTheJewelsRTJ2

 

Like, K. Album of the Year on many other’s lists. Not as high up on mine, but still, earth shattering.

Favorite track: “Early (feat. Boots)”

17. FKA Twigs – LP1

LP1

Chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiic.

Favorite track: “Pendulum”

16. Spoon – They Want My Soul

They Want My Soul

I met Britt Daniel this past Sunday. Oh, this album is good. Spoon by the numbers, but that’s like, way better than most bands’ by-the-numbers shit.

Favorite track: “Knock Knock Knock”

15. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise

La_Roux_-_Trouble_in_Paradise

Maybe it’s because I’m gay. Maybe it’s because the live show blew my mind (even though I was alone, which was chic but also not chic). I keep coming back to this album when I need to shake the stress away, one of the many magical powers of music. La Roux’s Trouble in Paradise does it better than many others – there’s no need to skip to the next track on this one.

Favorite track: “Cruel Sexuality”

14. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days

Mac_DeMarco_Salad_Days

Is Mac DeMarco good looking? Not good looking? What would happen if he fixed his teeth? Can he get naked more often in music videos?

Favorite track: “Let My Baby Stay”

13. James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical

Post_Tropical

Murked me all last winter, and I’m ready to let it murk me all over again during this snowy season. McMorrow turned up the bass for his second LP and it sounds really great.

Favorite track: “Red Dust”

12. Future Islands – Singles

Singles

I mean there’s really not much more I can say about Singles that hasn’t already been said. This was Sam’s year.

Favorite track: “Seasons (Waiting On You)”

11. Caribou – Our Love

Our Love

Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike. Yes. Also, Owen Pallett contributed a lot to this one. More on him later…

Favorite track: “Back Home”

10. PHOX – PHOX

PHOX

Ok, honestly I really didn’t want to like this album as much as I did, and still do. First, it was pushed on me BY THE STARBUCKS APP. Red flag number one. And then just look at that album art. CUTE AS FUCK. Also, their name is a stylized spelling of fox, an animal that is plastered all over my favorite Pierrepont Hicks tie. There’s no way the music can be that good. Then I learn this Baraboo, Wisconsin-based band recorded this album at Bon Iver’s April Base. BAIIIIII. And then I gave in and laughed and cried and wow it’s just kind of perfect. Does this make me basic?

Favorite track: “Satyr and The Faun”

9. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

arewethere.lpout

Dead. I’m dead by how perfect this album is. Really Sharon, stop it.

Favorite track: “Break Me”

8. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St. Vincent

Slay Annie.

Favorite track: “Regret”

7. Lykke Li – I Never Learn

Lykke_Li_-_I_Never_Learn

Jesus, this album. I mean when the preview video was released, I was sobbing at my desk. TALK ABOUT DEVASDATING! Apparently she wrote this album after the most painful breakup of her life. “This album is about the shame and the guilt and the sadness and the regret you can experience after leaving someone,” she told Pitchfork. Like, sadness chic to the extreme. And that voice, that voice that can pierce anything. Really though, if you’re having a bad day or you just fought with your girlfriend/boyfriend/roommate or just want to feel feelings, this is about as cathartic (and brilliant) as you can get. I mean during the chorus of “Gunshot” it actually feels like the music is shooting you. How great is that?

Favorite track: “Gunshot”

6. Beck – Morning Phase

Beck-Morning-Phase

The return of Beck was great for me, and great for 2014. Seeing Beck at Pitchfork Fest this year really cemented how great this album is; who knew “Blue Moon” was such a sing-along anthem? “I’m so tired of being alooooneeeee.” Sing it boy.

Favorite track: “Waking Light”

5. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

Ultraviolence

I don’t think I anticipated an album more this year than Lana’s- the one on which she had to prove to everyone she wasn’t a flash in the pan, she wasn’t her SNL performance, which honestly wasn’t that bad. The girl that everyone loved to hate became the subject of countless think pieces both defending and defaming her (once again). But Lana doesn’t care about any of that, and Ultraviolence is amazing. The album sounds like old Hollywood, curated by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and brought home by Lana’s vocals, which are stronger than ever. She revels in being the other woman, looking pretty when she cries, smoking hydroponic weed in Brooklyn with her boyfriend. And she’s cooler than him. Duh.

Favorite track: “Sad Girl”

4. Tweedy – Sukierae

Sukierae

What could have been a toss-off is instead one of the most captivating releases Jeff Tweedy has put out in a while, with or without Wilco. It’s long, yes, but none of the tracks are throwaways. Instead, we get a look into how a singer/songwriter deals with family issues (his wife’s cancer), and learn that Jeff’s son, Spencer, is a skilled drummer, which isn’t that much of a surprise. Songs like “Fake Fur Coat” evoke solo Dylan material, while “Low Key,” “Pigeons,” and “Honey Combed” take their place along with the best that Wilco or Tweedy have ever done. A treat, for sure.

Favorite track: “Low Key”

3. Real Estate – Atlas

Atlas

Real Estate have established a pretty niche sound, and while that doesn’t change much with Atlas, the band has evolved that sound to drape around some forlorn subject matter. “I’m out again on my own, a reflection in the chrome,” sings Martin Coutney on the opening track, singling that not all is beachy keen in New Jersey. This sentiment continues throughout the album. Lyrics like “I cannot come back to this neighborhood without feeling my own age,” on “Past Lives” and “I’m just trying to make some sense of this before I lose another year,” on “The Bend” hit home for many who are watching their own lives evolve before their eyes, but also reinforce that change can be a beautiful thing.

Favorite track: “The Bend”

2. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream

Lost in the Dream

It’s perfect. Really. Like, almost too perfect. The best part is Adam Granduciel and company make it all sound (and look during live shows) so effortless, like this kind of material is easy to conjure. I’m guessing it isn’t, so bravo.

Favorite track: “Red Eyes”

1. Owen Pallett – In Conflict

In Conflict

“I’ll never have any children. I would bare them and confuse them, my children.”

Oh Owen, aka Final Fantasy, aka master of the violin and loop pedal, aka the strings genius behind The National, Arcade Fire, Beirut and the Oscar-nominated Her soundtrack. On In Conflict, Owen the collaborator collaborated with Brian Eno to release his most personal album yet. One minute, this thing sounds like you’re on the moon (“In Conflict”), the next, you’re almost uncomfortably close to a past sexual encounter that’s at once eerie and beautiful (“The Passions”). I knew In Conflict would be good, but I had no idea that this album would grow on me to become my favorite of the year. Finally eschewing the guise of a stage name and signing about fictional characters like he did on Heartland, Pallett opens up and sings about his life, which is beautiful, messy and yes, gay.

When he sings that line, “I’ll never have any children,” you can almost hear the sadness in his voice, but he’s also come fully to terms with that fact. On “The Secret Seven,” Pallett sings, in defiance to Dan Savage, “It won’t get better,” before offering up his own telephone number and an ear to those that are experiencing “the hunger” and the rising water that can be navigating the gay lifestyle. The arrangements are complex yet playful, with added electronics, on display during “The Sky Behind the Flag,” and others, fleshing the whole thing out. I’m just rambling at this point, but the point is that I couldn’t escape In Conflict even if I wanted to.

And I don’t hate that.

Favorite track: “Song For Five & Six”

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Album Review, Music

Thoughts on Yeezus

kanye-new-album-yeezusThe first record on Kanye West’s sixth studio album, “On Sight,” clearly spells out what the fuck is about to happen for the entire length of Yeezus.

“How much do I not give a fuck? / Let me show you right now before you give it up,” West snarls before we hear a classic Kanye-esque sample, featuring the line “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.”

Exactly.

West already gave us want we wanted with 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He’s so good at doing this only 10 years into his professional solo career that he pulled out all the stops, scheduled every guest rapper you’d ever want to hear on a Kanye album and pushed all the studio flourishes to the extreme because he knew Dark Fantasy would play like a greatest hits album. At the very beginning of Dark Fantasy, we hear “Can we get much higher?” Like, hello.

And you wanted that again?

I’m about to compare Kanye West to Radiohead right now. Radiohead are expected to evolve and make drastic and creative leaps and bounds forward with each album. All of that came to a head with In Rainbows – it was the best of everything that had come before it. Then The King of Limbs was released and people were pissed off because it was more challenging, didn’t change things enough and was “too short.” LOL K.

I think the same thing is happening with Yeezus, although I would say it’s more like Kanye’s Kid A. You see, Kanye got us all gassed up over the past decade, made his “ultimate” album with Dark Fantasy, and then pulled the rug out from everybody who was expecting something they could play in the club or while pre-gaming.

Yeezus is a dark, twisted fantasy in its own right. It sounds like nothing else, yet peppers in sonically beautiful moments that link to Kanye’s past, most directly to the also challenging and commercially unviable 808s & Heartbreak. All at once, it’s funny, uncomfortable, provocative, beautiful, depressing and a challenge.

Very recently, celebrated band Low played the annual Rock the Garden, and people were super pissed because the band’s set consisted of one song stretched out to 27 minutes. In response, the City Pages’ Reed Fischer complied an argument for why it was actually brilliant. I’m going to use a couple of his arguments to wrap up my thoughts:

Fischer: Rock the Garden is a Walker Art Center event, not Jingle Ball.

Low not playing “Plastic Cup” is nowhere close to equivalent to Katy Perry skipping “Teenage Dream.” Get over it. The Walker has a long tradition of supporting experimental performance that sits outside the mainstream, and Low’s choice to densely explore one track was a fitting addition to the day. If anything, this will be a Low appearance that will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, “Drone, not drones,” was a completely badass way to address the crowd. Alan Sparhawk and his band looked fearless and punk as fuck up there.

Me: Kanye West is not Flo Rida, T.I. or J Cole. He’s creating art that the masses have seemed to relate to up to this point. Kanye West will not be playing Jingle Ball.

Kanye not making “Gold Digger Part 2” is kind of the point of pushing music forward. Get over it. If anything, Yeezuz will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, sampling “All the Beautiful People” on “Black Skinhead” is completely badass.

Fischer: Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

Admittedly, I was initially confused by the long, billowing intro that stretched easily five minutes before a noticeable change. But as the sun started to peek its way out from behind the clouds, “Do You Know How to Waltz?” began to build into something epic. In an era when we’re used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it can be refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next. Although the few lyrics of the song include the line “One more reason to forget,” I guarantee no one who was gathered there Saturday will be able to erase in their minds what they experienced while Low played. A shame for those who just wanted something less unique, less singular, and less captivating. The crowd agreed that Emily Haines was “not synthetica” later on, but should remember that we should not be passive, music-consuming drones either.

Me: Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

From the very beginning, Yeezus sounds like no other Kanye album out there and can initially be confusing. In an era when we’re used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it can be refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next, a la Yeezus and Kanye’s career in general. I guarantee no one who listens to Yeezus will be able to erase in their minds what the hell just happened in their ears, on their speakers, etc.

_

When Kanye first tweeted that he would be projecting new music at specific locations across the country, I dropped what I was doing and headed up the street to Wrigley Field, not knowing what to expect. In true Kanye form, the projection of “New Slaves” started an hour late. I tried to be as in the moment as possible while also trying to decipher what this new sound was and listening intently to the subject matter of what is a very deep song. Then, out of nowhere, in slammed the sample of Omega’s “Gyöngyhajú Lány.” It’s quite a beautiful and somewhat profound moment, actually, and felt more that way as me and 50 other people stared at the entrance of Wrigley Field with jaws dropped, while Kanye and Frank Ocean crooned “So let’s get too high, get too high again.” It may not be the same type of high that Dark Fantasy gave the world – Yeezus is a high of a very different sort. And thank God – At least none of us are bored anymore.

1 Comment

Filed under Album Review, Music

Pre-release Murks: James Blake, Dawes and Kurt Vile

James-Blake-Overgrown-608x607

James Blake – Overgrown, out 4/9

After a slew of EPs and a strong debut LP, James Blake hits all the right bass-filled notes with Overgrown. It’s a strong album across the board, and while sonically it continues in the dub-step-y, synth vibe that Blake is king of, Overgrown takes on more hip-hop influences, which can be heard in the excellent “Life Round Here” and, of course, “Take a Fall For Me,” which features RZA. Bonus track “Every Day I Ran” even samples Big Boi.

Essential tracks include “Life Round Here,” first single “Retrograde,” “Digital Lion,” which blossoms into something beautiful at the mid-song mark before returning into looped madness, and the one-two punch that comes from album closers “To the Last,” and “Our Love Comes Back.”

Definitely put this one on your purchase list when it drops on Tuesday.

tumblr_inline_mhtkui8atB1qz4rgpDawes – Stories Don’t End, out 4/9

The third time proves to be a charm for LA-based Dawes. Stories Don’t End is an enjoyable, easy and accessible album from top to bottom. While the band’s previous efforts were solid in their own right, Dawes’ sound was hard to distinguish from others in the crowded genre (Mumford & Sons, Avett Brothers, etc.), but with Stories Don’t End, Dawes have manage to set themselves apart in the “Laurel Canyon” sound, even if Father John Misty continues down his current path.

Bookended with the lovely “Just Beneath the Surface,” and its reprise, other highlights include “Someone Will,” “Most People,” which manages to overcome the clichéd message of its lyrics because of its killer melody, “Something In Common” and my personal favorite, “Side Effects.”

Definitely grab this one on Tuesday as well.

OLE-998 Kurt Vile-Walkin On A Pretty DazeKurt Vile – Walkin On a Heavy Daze, out 4/9

The track lengths on Kurt Vile’s latest, Walkin On a Pretty Daze, might be intimidating at first, however you know a song is good when nearly 10 minutes pass and it feels like 2, which is exactly the case with the album’s opening track, “Walin On a Pretty Day.”

Vile works magic again with “Was All Talk,” the relentless drum machine propelling the song into new territory like an unfolding landscape for nearly 8 minutes. “Pure Pain” is another gorgeous chameleon of a song, while album closer “Gold Tone” sounds exactly like its title.

The songs are long because not for the sake of being long (I’m looking at you Mr. Timberlake) but out of necessity – each minute has its purpose in making Walkin On a Pretty Daze some of Vile’s most engrossing work yet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Album Review, Music

Top 30 Albums of 2012

Many things have influenced this list, most notably my move to Chicago in April. Being in a new city and getting to know music through headphones while riding the L instead of long drives around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis has certainly been a different experience, and a welcome change of pace. I’ve been truly falling in love with an album or bands because of my experiences at live shows in totally new venues to me. When it all ads up, I feel like this list would look a little different if I had stayed in Minneapolis.

I’ve also been nostalgic (story of my life), which is why the list is also a little #dark and emo – musicians like Andrew Bird and bands like Ben Folds Five “bring me back” and it feels weird/sad/good all at the same time. I mean does this even make sense?

This was also a weird year in music because nothing like, totally blew my fucking mind. Don’t get me wrong, every album on this list has definitely given me super fragrant moments, but nothing was really a revelation in terms of being something sounding completely different and new. I mean, Animal Collective released a new album and it didn’t even make my list. What? There are also two Minneapolis-based bands on this list. Double what?

At the same time, it almost made it harder to arrange this list, as a lot of albums could have been traded out for others equally as worthy – it’s just one song or a personal experience or another thing that determined which album one which slot.

Anyways, I’m sure I’ll feel differently about this or would have added other albums and will want to eat my own words six months down the road from now, because that always happens and I’m constantly discovering new music no matter what year it was released. So with all of that, here goes:

30. Poliça – Give You the Ghost

Polica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust, I have lots of issues with this band, this album (I tweeted something to the effect that it basically sounds like GAYNGS 2.0), but damn if “Wandering Star” doesn’t take me places every time I hear it. Whatever.

29. Sun Kil Moon – Among the Leaves

Sun Kil Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A kind album with kind music made for shuffling down Lincoln Avenue in the crisp air, especially while listening to “Sunshine in Chicago.

28. Yeasayer – Fragrant World

Yeasayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This album kind of kicked off a theme of big names releasing albums that were good, just not great, or as great as their previous efforts. Sorry Yeasayer, I’m talking about you. But this was still decent, and album closer “Glass of the Microscope” does really nice things to me.

27. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It

Perfume Genius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s pretty. It’s depressing. It’s pretty depressing. I like it.

26. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Sharon Van Etten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really solid album, with a live performance at The Cedar to put it over the top for me.

25. Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game

Rufus Wainwright - Out Of The Game Lyrics_monsterlyricsblogspot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certainly not Rufus’ best work, but still enjoyable. This one may be more of a nostalgic pick for me, but you can’t deny the man’s skillz.

24. Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit

Delta Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry I’m not sorry.

23. Woods – Bend Beyond

Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very prolific band who released their best album yet this year.

22. The Shins – Port of Morrow

Print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I’d prefer to be a little bit more emo when spending time with The Shins, this is a solid album for a return.

21. Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind

Ben Folds Five

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean hiiiiiiiii, grade school, high school and college memories smacking me in the face. I really, really enjoyed this album.

20. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

Kendrick Lamar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.

19. Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship

Here We Go Magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A personal favorite of mine. I just love everything about this band. As for the album, it’s all fantastic, but “How Do I Know” is just pure fucking genius.

18. Shearwater – Animal Joy

Untitled-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, I was honestly expecting something just a little more from Shearwater, especially for a debut on Sub Pop. Little gripes aside, I Shearwater are a great band and Animal Joy is still a joy.

17. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

first-aid-kit-lions-roar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These ladies kinda came out of nowhere for me, but The Lion’s Roar is a sweet album filled with thoughtful songs that tug all the right heartstrings.

16. Passion Pit – Gossamer 

Passion Pit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After reading that Pitchfork feature, I think everyone just wanted to give Michael Angelakos a big hug. So I’m already emotionally vulnerable and then we learn all of that #dark stuff and then we have an album that sounds like a party on the surface but is actually just super sad? Sign me up Oh, also, my twin is in the band.

15. The Walkmen – Heaven

The Walkmen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aaaand again, not my favorite album by The Walkmen, but Heaven still definitely has its moments.

15, Horse Feathers – Cynic’s New Year

Horse Feathers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t groundbreaking music, but frontman Justin Ringle’s voice is just so nice, and these folk tunes are simple yet gorgeous at the same time, welcoming repeat listens for whenever you want to feel cozy. Yeahhh.

 

13. Grimes – Visions

Grimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My goal in life is to become a Grimes backup dancer. Holy chic.

12. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Tame Impala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know what more I can add to the discussion of how good this album is, other than to say how good it is. It’s really good. “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control,” is one of the best songs of the year.

11. Hot Chip – In Our Heads

Hot Chip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know if people just forgot about how good this album is, but In Our Heads has been snubbed on many other lists. Again, it’s nothing totally radical for Hot Chip, but it is some of their best work yet.

10. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Lana Del Rey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEAVE LANA ALONE!!! But seriously though, I really love this album, including the new songs added to the Paradise edition. Just give into it already.

9. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself/Hands of Glory

Andrew Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lovely Mr. Bird returns with another lovely album.

8. The xx – Coexist

The-xx-Coexist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess I’d call this album dense, in the best way possible. You just kinda get enveloped in the whole thing. The xx just keep getting better.

7. Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs

Lost in the Trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This album is about the suicide of lead singer An Picker’s mom. She also had cancer. Just know that going into this. The brilliantly arranged strings that swirl around these folk-tinged songs do Picker’s mom justice. It’s not the happiest album of the year, but there can be beauty in death, and A Church That Fits Our Needs emotes that in the best way. I saw a lot of shows this year and I think Lost in the Trees’ performance at Lincoln Hall was my favorite.

6. Grizzly Bear – Shields 

Grizzly Bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted something just a little more from Grizzly Bear, but again they get away with sounding like they’re playing by the numbers, because by the numbers for Grizzly Bear is extraordinary.

5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Frank Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pyramids.

4. Dark Dark Dark – Who Needs Who

Dark Dark Dark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best breakup album in recent memory.

3. Beach House – Bloom

Beach House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beach House never disappoint. Another situation where a band just keeps getting better. Put on “On the Sea” if you wanna see me cry in public.

2. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

FatherJohn_fearfun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A nearly perfect album. It’s funny, touching and beautiful at the same time, with harmonies for days. You can listen to it over and over and it never gets old. The songs just drill in your head even deeper. The man can also dance.

1. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Fiona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean have we met? We’ve been waiting for a while for this one. I’ll admit I was a little nervous when I heard she hadn’t really teamed back up with Jon Brion – the songs are some of the most stripped down and spare in her career – but this just highlights Fiona’s voice and the subject of each masterpiece. Sure there are musical flourished but only where they absolutely need to be, hitting at the perfect place to really pull at your heart, or head. She’s one of the finest songwriters around. The Idler Wheel was worth the wait and more. It was the best album of 2012.

Leave a comment

Filed under Album Review, Music

Album Review: Kanye West & Jay-Z – Watch the Throne

7.5 out of 10

As if we really needed a joint album to tell us that Kanye West and Jay-Z own the hip-hop throne.  But here we have Watch the Throne, which only solidifies this fact, but what do Kanye and Jay have to prove, and who are they trying to prove it to?

I’m just going to put it out there that this is a Kanye album where Jay happens to guest on every track.  From the production style to the “skits” (dialogue from Blades of Glory that end up being more distracting than funny) to the musical interludes between some tracks to the album art by Riccardo Tisci, this is a Kanye project.  Some may argue that Kanye even has the upper hand on most of the verses, although Jay surprises and even trumps his partner in some instances.  But this isn’t a Kanye album, and so it has to be judged on the fact that this was a joint project, and after an initial listen, it’s a little disappointing.

Those expecting to be blown away by which should have been like, the ultimate marriage in hip-hop talents coming together to just make a blow out affair should, well, not expect that.  Watch the Throne is nuanced and is even serious for a majority of the running time.

Tracks take musical twists and turns – there are dubstep breakdowns (I think this is now just a requirement for all music in 2011) and beat shifts which are oft the best moments of the album.  While “Lift Off” is a guaranteed big radio hit thanks to Beyoncé, it’s the last minute of the song where it gets really musically interesting, and this is the minute most likely to be cut during the radio edit.  We hear pure horns; Beyoncé’s vocal is remixed with an added in “Jump!” and then hand drums come in to stir everything to perfection.  It’s a wonderful moment, and could have been the base for an entire track.

Same goes for “Ni**as in Paris.”  The main track is entertaining enough – who doesn’t like to hear Jay rap about his Rolex and Vuitton and Kanye mentioning Margiela over a straight balling track?  I mean it’s sick.  Yet again, with this track it’s the last minute that really seals the deal.  We get a very Kanye-esque melancholy chorus in the background as piano chords accentuate the fact that both Kanye and Jay are definitely in their zones.

The lighter tracks are the fun that you would have expected from a Kanye/Jay album, but have some problems of their own.  “That’s My Bitch” starts out with Kanye impersonating the part where Alicia Keys calls her café love in “U Don’t Know My Name,” before turning into a party jam, but really doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t heard from Kanye or Jay before.  “Otis” is…well, Otis.  And while probably not considered a lighter track by the majority, “Made in America” just can’t be taken seriously by me, Frank Ocean’s “Sweeeet Queen Corettaahhhhhaaahhh” is just too giggle inducing.  It’s just trying damn hard, even if the versus from Kanye and Jay are heartfelt.

The more emotional tracks continue to be the standouts, with “New Day” being one of the highlights of the album as Kanye and Jay tell their unborn children to learn from the mistakes they have made over a flowing vocal sample of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.”  “Murder to Excellence” follows in this same emo vein where we can hear a hand-strummed guitar while the two artists muse on “black on black murder.”  And “Welcome to the Jungle” has Swizz Beatz returning in fine form, where minor electric keys make for another emotional moment.

And while Kanye and Jay’s verses are more often traded back and forth seemingly independent from one another, it finally all comes together with the excellent “Why I Love You.”  Whoever made the genius decision to lift Cassius’  “I Love You So” as is, simply adding a more hard-hitting bass line, should be applauded. While Jay owns the majority of the song, it’s near the end when Jay and Kanye go back and forth mid-sentence, trading statements and finally rapping on top of each other as the track dissolves into strings (that should have lasted another minute) as they declare “for these ni**as not know what they do, ooh.”

I mean the thing is though, both Kanye and Jay do indeed know what they’re doing, together on this album and independently from each other.  That’s why it comes as a surprise that this album is a grower and has its weak moments.  Both men tend to aim for immediacy with their work, however Watch the Throne requires multiple listens before it can be fully digested.

In “Why I Love You,” Jay asks, “Wasn’t I a good king?” as Kanye answers “Maybe too much of a good thing, huh?” I just want to know – for being so self-assured throughout this whole affair, what are they so nervous about?

2 Comments

Filed under Album Review, Music

Album Review: Lady Gaga – Born This Way

7 out of 10

When the single “Born This Way” was released, I was pretty repulsed by the obvious connections to Madonna’s “Express Yourself.”  Well, maybe not so much repulsed as surprised that this was the lead single for an album that was supposed to be so freaking groundbreaking.  I mean, Gaga pimped herself more than Kanye West in saying what a cultural revolution she is, and no one is calling her an egotistical asshole.

Alas, I kept my fingers crossed.  “Born This Way” was only one song from an album that would contain 14.  Then “Judas” was released, and I thought it was a joke, “Bad Romance” for the lame.  Then the album art was released, and I thought it was even more of a joke.

Then I got drunk.

Now, “Judas” has over 70 play counts in my iTunes library and I changed the image for when one of my friends calls to a close-up of the hot tranny mess that is Gaga on Born This Way’s album cover.  It’s freaking hilarious and, maybe brilliant? Turns out Lady Gaga sober is a completely different experience from Lady Gaga not sober.

So do you have to be on something to “get” Lady Gaga and her music?  I mean, it definitely helps.  Upon an initial listen of Born This Way, there was nothing particularly gripping about it.  With a majority of the songs, you could replace the lyrics of any chorus with lyrics from “Bad Romance,” “Alejandro,” even songs on the same album like “Judas,” and they work just as well because the oft-talked about  “sledgehammer” beats are the same and even the song structures and melodies mirror one another.

There’s also the whole classic rock, 80s, Depeche Mode, Queen, Whitesnake thing going on with Born This Way, which is new for Gaga, but walks a vey, very fine line of brilliance vs. really cheesy.  Again, upon first listen, I was really tuned off by the sax solos (But it’s the E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons, so it’s totally legit!!!), endless syhths and production qualities.  Have a couple of cocktails, however, and it’s fist pump city.  This is also the reason why “Yoü and I,” the only straight up ballad on the album, works.  The “We Will Rock You” stomp and claps that wraps the song is actually amazing, and I can totally see myself raising my glass of whiskey to Nebraska when I hear this out somewhere.  Listen a little more closely to the melody and the lyrics, and it’s actually kind of sweet.  Ugh, I can’t believe I went there.

Sober or not, there are still a handful of songs that I can never accept on this album, so let’s just get that out of the way.  “Hair” is trash.  “Americano” fell off that fine line into cheeseville like whoa.  “Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love),” is just, well, read the title.  I really can’t deal with “The Edge of Glory” either.  But that’s just me.

But put on “Marry The Night” while getting ready to go out and you’ll so be like “I’m totally going to marry the night tonight!”  There’s also a brilliant, sweet melody buried under that relentless beat.  “Government Hooker” is deliciously naughty, with Gaga singing, “I could be anything, I could be everything.”  I can only imagine what the video for this song will look like.

Then we get to “Scheiße,” obviously made for the catwalk.  Although it’s one of the songs that falls into the “plug the hook of ‘Bad Romance’ into the chorus and it still works” category, Gaga speaking in nonsense German on top of electronics that sound like a dentist drill doing something really bad to your body is irresistible for some reason.

Those same electronics make an appearance in the dark and wonderful “Heavy Metal Lover.”  As Gaga sings “I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south,” (no but really), reverbed claps and churning synth chords really take you there.  Another really great melody is the backbone of the song, and when the beat drops as Gaga’s voice is processed through heavily processed auto-tune, you’re ready for the climax.

And then, there’s also the whole religious, Catholic thing going on throughout Born This Way, which isn’t really anything new (Hi Madonna) but elevates songs like the wonderful “Bloody Mary,” and “Electric Chapel.”  The former is one of the only slower-paced songs in the whole album, which is a nice break from the assault of beats.  In a slow disco groove, Gaga sings “I’ll dance dance dance with my hands hands hands above my head head head like Jesus said.”  Then we hear Gregorian monks singing backup and chanting “Gaga.”  By the time after the bridge when the groove really kicks in complete with 70s disco string flourishes, you’re ready to go to confession.  It’s really quite wonderful.

So, this is music for going out.  All Starbucks locations were playing Born This Way all day yesterday because of some sort of deal inked between the artist and the coffee giant (she is so anti-establishment!), and I didn’t know if I should have ordered a latté or a vodka tonic.

Gaga knows her audience well.  This is exactly the album her fans have wanted.  Yet, even with all the “new” elements in her sound (religious, 70s, 80s, trashy rock), all the songs kind of blend together in one never-ending beat rampage.  I’ll admit it, I’m sure more of these songs will grow on me and I’ll be eating a few of the above words, but I know she has more tricks up her sleeve that don’t involve so much campiness.  She has an amazing voice and is a very strong songwriter.  Time for her to do something truly groundbreaking with those talents.  In the meantime I guess I’ll order another drink and dance.

Key Tracks:

Judas

Government Hooker

Scheibe

Bloody Mary

Heavy Metal Lover

Electric Chapel

You and I


 

1 Comment

Filed under Album Review, Music

Album Review: Britney Spears – Femme Fatale

8 out of 10

Ah yes, a new Britney Spears album.  Growing up, I used to count down the days to the release of such classics like In The Zone and Britney in day planners (yes, I once used day planners).  I’ll be the first to admit, I was and still am a Britney fanatic.

Moving through high school and then college, I had to hide away my love for the pop star – loving Britney Spears was cool only if you loved her for her looks and not her music.  However, as her fanbase continued to grow up with her, the pop music she was making moved away from the Mickey Mouse Club-friendly lyrics and started to be more relatable in the sense of “yes, I also go out and get drunk and like to party.”  I mean, that’s fun music.

I’m not saying you should take Britney Spears seriously as some tour de force in the music as art world, but in the pop music world, Britney is queen, despite the Lady Gagas and Ke$has (I just had to type a dollar sign to substitute for the ‘s’ in that last one…no thanks).  And so, Femme Fatale, Britney’s seventh studio album, starts with a song written by…Ke$ha.

And therein lies the key to Femme Fatale.  Taking cues from 2007’s Blackout, Britney has left every vestige of sounding like an actual human and has instead surrounded herself with the best writers, beat and tastemakers that use her as a channel for some of the best pop music you will hear all year.

It might as well be an iMac propped up next to a microphone singing the stuttering chorus of “Till The World Ends,” the deliciously Euro-trash second single from the album.  Yet no other artist like Britney has been willing to let a producer contort, auto-tune and robotize vocals as much as Britney’s are throughout this album, and the result is pretty silly and a lot of fun. In the majority of Femme Fatale’s case, these producers include Britney’s longtime buddies Max Martin and Dr. Luke.

Moving past her Circus-era “I’m not crazy anymore and I will sing ballads about my baby” mentality, we finally get back to the wild, drunk and bitchy Britney, my personal favorite.  We even get a little electro R&B Britney with the excellent “Inside Out,” which probably would have better suited Ciara, yet the fact that it’s Britney singing about wanting to be turned inside out makes it that much better.  We are even rewarded with lyrics that nod at past smash singles (“Hit me one more time, it’s so amazing,” and “You’re the only one who ever drove me crazy”).

Not missing a beat, the album moves to “I Wanna Go,” a song with a chorus that encourages fist pumping out an open sunroof and has Britney giggling like a little girl after singing “Shame on me/to need release.”  We all secretly want the same release.

The rest of the album pretty much follows the mega beat with electronics formula, and although a few may seem forgettable after one spin, there are certain elements to songs like “Gasoline,” “Seal It With A Kiss” and “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” that keep you coming back for more, especially the latter’s lyric “You must be B.I.G. because you’ve got me hypnotized.”  Gimme gimme more.

Britney really takes it there with the Bloodshy produced “How I Roll.”  Riding on top of a beat built off of handclaps, synth and piano chords, the same team that wrote “Toxic” has penned the new going out anthem.  Remember the Gwen Stefani song “Bubble Pop Electric?”  This is what a song with that title should sound like.  Oh, and Britney sings the lyric “You can be my fuck tonight.”

Things get even weirder with “Big Fat Bass.”  Try to move past the fact that it includes will.i.am and sounds like a throwaway Black Eyed Peas song and embrace the other fact that you know how much fun this will be to drink and dance to.  I speak from experience.  When android Britney starts to warn us that “The bass is getting bigger,” I actually get a little scared and excited.  Like, how much bigger is the bass going to get, because I don’t know if my body can handle it.

“Trip To Your Heart” makes the listener feel like they are floating on top of a lazer and smoke filled dance floor, while “Trouble For Me” stands on its own.  “Blackjack, whiskey straight , every day changes your life.”  I’m cool with that.

The album closes with the very Madonna circa American Life sounding “Criminal.”  With a chord progression that takes us all the way back to the …Baby One More Time era, Britney sings to her mom, telling her that she’s in love with, well, a criminal.  A flute opens the song.  And it works.

Again, this is not Earth shattering music, although it has the potential to be if the bass gets any bigger.  But it does definitely deserve a listen if you want to know what pop music sounds like these days, how to do it right, and what computer software is capable of.  Aside from being Britney’s best album, it also proves that you don’t need to hatch out of an egg to create something that, in the end, just gets bodies moving.

Key Tracks:

Till The World Ends

I Wanna Go

How I Roll

Big Fat Bass

Also, check out the bonus tracks on the Deluxe version

1 Comment

Filed under Album Review, Music

Album Review: Radiohead – The King Of Limbs

9.7 out of 10

If In Rainbows saw Radiohead return to Earth with some if their most organic and lush music in a decade, then The King Of Limbs is an album about transition.

First of all, lets address the gripe about the album’s length.  At 38 minutes, it is the shortest album in the group’s collection, however it’s only 5 minutes shorter than Amnesiac. Yes, the album zips by, but it still leaves its mark on you.

“Bloom” is one of the more notable Radiohead album openers, the song literally unfolding with looped pianos and an incredible focus on Phil Selway’s tumbling beat, set in a vast landscape of keys, strings and horns.  Who knew Thom Yorke and Rufus Wainwright could sound alike as Yorke belts “Open your mouth wide.”

And from “Bloom,” The King Of Limbs transports the listener on a remarkable journey that only becomes richer with each listen – typical for Radiohead, yet could lead to early dismissal among causal listeners expecting something as instantly gratifying as In Rainbows. The fact is this isn’t an extension of In Rainbows, nor is it the return to the huge hooks and anthmatic rock of The Bends, although influences from Radiohead’s cannon of music can be heard in pockets throughout the album.

“Little By Little” has a very Radiohead-esque descending guitar chord as its backbone, reminiscent of “Reckoner” or something from the OK Computer era. But the spotlight is again focused on the churning beat, a drum machine augmented by what sound like junkyard percussion influenced by middle-eastern melodies.

“Codex” is the album’s downbeat ballad, with production akin to that of Kid A, draping the piano and horns (the horns are out of control good) in the audio equivalent of taking a xanax and wrapping yourself in the warmest blanket possible.

However it’s tracks like “Feral” and “Give Up The Ghost” that make business as usual for Radiohead an accomplishment by anyone else’s standards, “Feral” taking on the dubstep movement head on as a sort of “yeah, we can do this too and do it damn well” note from the band.  The album’s centerpiece, “Lotus Flower,” seals the deal, with Yorke singing the line “there’s an empty space inside my heart” in his most gorgeous falsetto yet over a sinister bassline mixed with a human handclap.  It sounds distant and processed yet warm and soulful all at the same time.  The music video really takes it there too:

So, The King Of Limbs is its own beast, taking cues from the band’s library and the current state of music yet existing on its one plane entirely.  As the laid back trot of “Separator” signals the end of the album, Yorke sings “I’m a fish now out of water,” which is the prefect definition for The King Of Limbs; a brilliant collection of songs that leaves one feeling slightly uncomfortable yet at ease all at once, a collection that requires that you take pause to fully digest what is going on here, a collection that strongly hints that Radiohead are about to blast off once again into completely new territories.

Perhaps this is only part one of a two-part album, a primer for LP 9 or a chance for listeners to catch their collective breath before the next big thing.  But for now, The King Of Limbs is Radiohead’s big thing of the moment, and what a moment it is.

1 Comment

Filed under Album Review, Music

Top 25 Albums of 2010

Oh, 2010, how I adore thee for the straight up deluge of fantastic music that was released under your timestamp.

2010 saw the return of notable names after lengthy absences (Gorillaz, Sufjan Stevens), eagerly anticipated follow up albums from critically lauded artists (Joanna Newsom, Arcade Fire) and, of course, Kanye West; joining Twitter proved to not only be an outlet for West’s pent up whatever, it also served as the platform that the icon released free music every Friday up until the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  Love him or hate him, that move will prove to have longer lasting impressions on the music industry than we can feel at this moment.

And we’re not done yet.  Gorillaz will be “pulling a Radiohead” by releasing an entirely new album for free, crafted on an iPad during the band’s latest tour, on Christmas Day.  Titled The Fall, I can’t wait for this one.

And so, while 2009 was a little lackluster, 2010 was almost overwhelming.  We laughed, we danced, we cried, we saw a lot of shows.  And if rumors and CD release dates hold out, things are lookin’ up for 2011.

Here are my top 25 favorite albums of 2010.  Again, I’m not claiming to have heard everything in the music world this year, but these 25 will resonate with me for a time well beyond 2010…

25.  Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

Although not as celebrated as 2008’s Rook, The Golden Archipelago tends to be more cohesive.  Songs blend into one another, transporting the listener along every peak and valley on the simply gorgeous ride that the album provides.  “Landscape At Speed” is one of my favorite songs of 2010.

24.  Here We Go Magic – Pigeons

Here We Go Magic continue to provide the soundtrack to hazy summer days and cold winter nights with their trippy, glittery music, which also has the ability to sound extremely laid back yet emotional and earnest at the same time.  Check out “Land of Feelings” to get you started.

23.  Caribou – Swim

“Odessa.”  Nuff said.  Oh, the rest is pretty damn fantastic as well.

22.  MGMT – Congratulations


Maybe this wasn’t exactly what people were expecting after Oracular Spectacular, but what’s the fun in being served the same stuff again?  Some have called Congratulations challenging, but the reward is a body of work that is actually more exciting and weirdly beautiful than the group’s previous work.  Congratulations indeed, boys.

21.  The Roots – How I Got Over


 

 

 

 

How I Got Over will probably go down as Jimmy Fallon’s house band’s best work when all is said and done.  Raw but polished when it needs to be, hard hitting yet sonically pleasant, this album is not to be missed.  “The Day” gets me every time.

20.  Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo


 

 

 

 

Avigdor’s voice may sound young and could have the ability to get a little annoying– dude is only 18 – but the debut album from this group of kids is wise beyond their collective years.

19.  Morning Benders – Big Echo


 

 

 

 

California dreaming, with a sound that mixes some cues from Grizzly Bear (play “Promises” back to back with Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks”) yet sounds crisper, happier and just plain sunnier.  “Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)” is a marvel, packing quite the punch for clocking in at less than 2 minutes.

18.  Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest


 

 

 

 

More optimistic sounding than previous efforts, Bradford Cox and company still have the power to transport the listener to another, more relaxed and blissful sounding place, particularly with the standout track “Sailing.”

17.  LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

Nonstop dance party.  But listen to the lyrics.  Not only is James Murphy a musical genius, his commentary on what happens outside of the club during the tiniest interactions that you have is poignant, to say the least.

16.  Gayngs – Relayted

Bon Iver – check.  P.O.S. – check.  Members of Lookbook, Solid Gold, Megafun, Dessa and Michael Lewis – check.  Too many cooks in the kitchen?  I haven’t even gotten close to naming everyone in the group and the answer is a resounding “NO!”  The group’s take on “Cry” is one of the most outstanding tracks of the year.

15.  Hot Chip – One Life Stand

After working through some shit on Made In The Dark, Hot Chip returns to typical form on One Life Stand, keeping the best parts of previous efforts and Made In The Dark’s emotional punch.

14.  Vampire Weekend – Contra

Really smart kids making really smart pop music.  I mean really.

13.  Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

Every track but 3 from Gorilla Manor has a 5 star rating in my iTunes.  Not that that means anything to you, but seriously, I cannot get these gorgeous harmonies out of my head.  Even the group’s cover of the Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign” is spot on.

12.  Drake – Thank Me Later

Drake’s mixtape was on my list last year, and his debut definitely didn’t disappoint.  The star-studded guest list isn’t a crutch either.  This is some of the best hip hop around for miles.

11.  The Walkmen – Lisbon

The mantra “less is more” finds its musical equivalent in Lisbon, where The Walkmen prove that if you write strong enough melodies with just the right amount of melancholy evoked through the assured, howling vocals, sometimes all you need is a guitar and a drum kit.  Flourishes of strings in all the right places really bring this album home.

10.  Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Damon Albarn’s virtual band is anything but.  Plastic Beach isn’t only a riot of epic proportions, its message is immediate, and feelings and sensations are conjured musically in ways that could only be brought to you by Gorillaz.  A commentary on our times, a great dance record, joyful, morose and pensive, Plastic Beach is the exactly what we wanted Gorillaz to return with.

9.  The National – High Violet

Admittedly, it took me a bit to get into this one, as it has for me getting into The National in general.  Matt Berninger’s voice has that love it or hate it quality.  Thankfully, I have grown to love and truly appreciate his vocals, and High Violet is a near perfect record.  Consisting of a collection of some of the most prevalent musicians in the scene today, including the guests featured on this particular album, I guess I’m not too shocked that the band’s latest work has become one of my favorite this year.

8.  Spoon – Transference


Grittier, a little rough around the edges and even a little mysterious sounding, (I mean there’s a song called “The Mystery Zone”) Spoon has gone back to its roots with this one. “Nobody gets what I say/Those who know, those who lose/Those who look trough,” sings Britt Daniel on the aptly titled “Nobody Gets Me But You”. “Do they get me?”  Yes Britt, I get you and fully embrace your band’s latest album.

7.  Robyn – Body Talk

Body Talk blends the best tracks off of the three EPs (yes, three) Robyn released in 2010.  How is it that Robyn was able to come up with 21 beyond this world stellar pop songs, yet her contemporaries, who get way more attention than she does, still have yet to write something as amazing as the single of the year, “Dancing On My Own.”?

6.  Beach House – Teen Dream

“Walk In the Park” pretty much says it all.  The spinning, glittery geodes at the duo’s live shows are something, too.

5.  Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

Yes, it’s over two hours long.  Yes, its complex and lush arrangements may overwhelm.  Yes, her voice is probably the most polarizing in the business.  But this album is pure gold.  Truly a work of genius.  Lock this up in the Library of Congress immediately.  “In California” is probably the most beautifully devastating love song of the year.

4.  Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I really don’t think there’s anything more to say about this one than has already been said, either on my blog or elsewhere.  Kanye said most of it himself.  Ok, I’ll say one more thing; this album proves that hip hop definitely does have a place and can push forward and evolve every other genre out there.

3.  Owen Pallett – Heartland

Speaking of complex and lush arrangements…But seriously, this concept album about a farmer named Lewis who has some beef with his creator (Owen) is wildly imaginative and damn pretty.  Canada has much to be proud of.

2.  Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

The most soul shaking telling of the pains of growing up.  Period.

1.  Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz

“I’m not fucking around.”

Yes, I’m biased.  But seriously, nothing else sounds like this album.  Nothing else this year is so soul exposing, so enthralling, so life-affirming as The Age Of Adz.  And while it’s definitely a challenge for those used to the softer, banjo picking Sufjan, then good.  Music is supposed to push you, to make you feel uncomfortable, happy, to get you crying.  As a form of art, what you get out of music (and The Age Of Adz) is equal to what you put into it.  Put a lot into this, and I assure you the rewards will be great.  Music is so powerful this way, and Sufjan knows exactly how to wield this power in a way that is boundary pushing yet so reverent that it melts my brain.

Leave a comment

Filed under Album Review, Music

Album Review: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

9 out of 10

I get why a lot of people dislike Kanye West.  He’s outspoken, cocky and arrogant beyond belief, and at times rude and insensitive.

And yet all of our lives we are taught that if you don’t believe in yourself and have confidence in your dreams, you won’t achieve them.  Kanye West believes he is, without a doubt, one of the best, if not the best, rappers of all time.  And so he is.

In the same fashion that he crashed the VMAs and trumped Taylor Swift by declaring that Beyoncé had “one of the greatest music videos of all time,” (which you all secretly agreed with but decided to call him outspoken, cocky and arrogant beyond belief, rude and insensitive), West declares his music as some of the greatest of all time.  And so it is.

West alluded to all of this on the track “Last Call” from his 2004 debut The College Dropout:

Some say he arrogant. Can y’all blame him?

It was straight embarrassing how y’all played him

Last year shoppin’ my demo, I was tryin’ to shine

Every motherfucker told me that I couldn’t rhyme

Now I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem

Or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams

I use it as my gas, so they say that I’m gassed

But without it I’d be last, so I ought to laugh

 

Yep, he’s motivated alright, and after following up his debut with the excellent, Jon Brion produced Late Registration, successfully avoiding the sophomore slump, West had already cemented himself in the legions of rap music’s greatest of all time.  Graduation and 808s & Heartbreak didn’t hurt either.

And so now we have My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  Yes, it’s an instant classic, although I’ve come to expect nothing less from West at this point (see above).  And while West has always been very personal in his rhymes, this album contains some of the darker, twisted thoughts ever rapped before.  It’s also gorgeous, at times even moving.  Sure, attribute some of that to the samples and guests (Bon Iver anyone?) West handpicked for each track, but even if you reduce his talent to that of a great editor and pop culture curator and consumer, then he is one of the best editors, curators and consumers of all time.

It takes someone special to not only think of using the Aphex Twin song “Avril 14th” as a sample, but to then turn the contemplative piano line on its head, make it sound even more pensive and then turn that into the base of a song like “Blame Game.”  Morphing Bon Iver’s “The Woods” into a club banger without erasing the emotional weight of the original song is just plain crazy.  And genius.

And while the impact of some of Fantasy’s standout tracks was diminished with the early releases via West’s again, genius, and free, G.O.O.D. Friday releases, the quality of the songs themselves is anything but diminished, making more sense in the sequence of the overall album.  In some cases, West even went back and added to these tracks before the album’s release, as is the case with “Devil In a New Dress,” breaking the song down with a baseline that can only be described as soulful as hell, as cliché as that sounds, and then dropping a Rick Ross rhyme on top of it all that is one of the best moments on the album.

Don’t even get me started on how good the menacing beat on “Dark Fantasy” sounds in the car at highway speeds.

So sure, continue to carry your preconceptions of Kanye West before even scratching the surface to find the meaning of his music, the samples he chooses, his motivation and his arrogance. Sure, call Fantasy just another rap album and fail to acknowledge how this genre of music is one of the most important in our culture and the significance of the commentary it provides on the current state of society.  If you really want to understand why this album matters, you need to separate the man from the music, and then put the two back together again.  Maybe then you will get it.

Until then, I can’t hear you.  I’m laughing hysterically at the Chris Rock bit at the end of “Blame Game.”

Key Tracks:

Dark Fantasy

All of the Lights

Monster

Devil In a New Dress

Lost In the World

1 Comment

Filed under Album Review, Music