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My Favorite Albums of 2017

Favorite Albums of 2017

IS TIME FLYING BY OR WHAT?! But seriously though, I know a lot of people think 2017 was worse than 2016, but for me, it was a year of growth, rebuilding and renewal, and I feel pretty great about it; I’m still emo, I’m still gay, but sometimes you gotta go through the darkness to see the light, right?

You could say the same for some of the artists and the albums that appear on this list, which are my favorite albums of the year. I say favorite, not top, because let’s be honest, there are other albums that came out this year that might be considered “technically” better than the ones on my list. Even the order of my list could be argued, but fuck it, they’re listed based on how much I love them, not who is a better artist or band, etc.

Anyway, back to that going through the darkness thing – lots of these albums are long-awaited returns for bands and artists that went through similar emotional journeys (or just needed a fucking break), so maybe that’s why some mean more than others to me. At any rate, I’m just happy that good, thoughtful music continues to exist in a world that increasingly doesn’t make much sense. And so, here are my favorite albums of 2017.

20. Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift / Planetarium / Carrie & Lowell Live

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To say that this was a prolific year for Sufjan would be an understatement. While I know that putting his three releases this year all at number 20 is cheating (and that’s not even counting “Tonya Harding”), there was just too much good stuff not to recognize on this list, and all three of these albums now hold a special place in my heart (and in my Sufjan library).

Favorite Tracks: “Exploding Whale (Doveman Remix)” / “Mercury” / “Should Have Known Better (Live)”

19. Arcade Fire – Everything Now

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Yes, it falls flat in the middle and there’s not excuse for a song as lame as “Peter Pan,” but the good stuff in Everything Now is really good. “We Don’t Deserve Love” never fails to stop me dead in my tracks.

Favorite Track: “We Don’t Deserve Love”

18. Spoon – Hot Thoughts

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I mean they couldn’t not be on this list, sooooooooooo…

Favorite Track: “Tear It Down”

17. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCATION

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Mostly just because of The New Yorker’s profile on her, but also because Annie fucking rules.

Favorite Track: “New York”

16. Conor Oberst – Salutations

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I was lucky enough to see Mr. Oberst perform in Denver this summer, and the songs on Salutations absolutely thrived when played live. Also, nostalgia, ya know? ALSO, any album that name checks John Muir AND Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin is a winner in my mind.

Favorite Track: “Barbary Coast (Later)”

15. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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Obligatory, but well deserving.

Favorite Track: “PRIDE”

14. Perfume Genius – No Shape

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Like, holy CHIC! Super fun and sexy and enduring album.

Favorite Track: “Valley”

13. LCD Soundsystem – american dream

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My personal american dream was fulfilled this summer dancing to “All My Friends” with all my friends at Pitchfork Music Festival, so that’s cool. american dream also slaps.

12. Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

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There’s a song literally called “K.” K.

Favorite Track: “Sweet”

11. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

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I’ve always been a big Laura Marling fan, and Semper Femina finds the artist at the top of her game. The album even earned her a Grammy nomination – chic for her!

Favorite Track: “Nothing, Not Nearly”

10. The National – Sleep Well Beast

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Because nothing fits depression better than The National!

Favorite Track: “I’ll Still Destroy You”

9. Lorde – Melodrama

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But like who’s the 31 year old that inhabits Lorde’s body? For real though, this albummmmmmm. Soundtrack for a generation I tell ya.

Favorite Track: “Supercut”

8. Rostam – Half-Light

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Listening to this album is like being curled up under a down comforter in some really good lighting with some chic candle burning, and who doesn’t love that? And in these dividing times, what’s a more enduring line than “Everyone of us has felt the lights go down”?

Favorite Track: “EOS”

7. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins

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I mean my Wi-Fi network was named Central and Remote forever – it was also the original name of this blog – so yeah, I am a bit of a Grizzly Bear fanboy. Admittedly, Painted Ruins is still growing on me, however it’s also provided a great reminder of how talented this band is, and I’m glad they decided to come out of hibernation when we needed them the most.

Favorite Track: Tossup between “Neighbors” and “Sky Took Hold”

6. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

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It’s scary how well this man can lyricize basically every trope about American society and our downfall as humans while making it all sound funny, lovely and heartbreaking at the same time.

Favorite Track: “Total Entertainment Forever”

5. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

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Really honestly I don’t think a guitar solo has made me weep until this album came around and now there’s three of them on here that do just that. I also don’t think I’ve ever felt as blissed out as I have while listening to “Thinking of a Place” while driving in the mountains.

Favorite Track: “Strangest Thing”

4. Aimee Mann – Mental Illness

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I credit Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space” as playing a major role in my personal “musical awakening” in high school. And while there have been great Aimee Mann albums since then, Mental Illness is the first one that leaves me feeling as shook as I felt back in 2003.

Favorite Track: “You Never Loved Me”

3. Feist – Pleasure

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I had been anticipating a new album from Feist since 2011’s Metals became my standby lakeside companion in Chicago. Pleasure was well worth the wait, and I’m happy for its existence every day.

Favorite Track: “Baby Be Simple”

2. Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life

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Lana’s just always kinda been my (and every other gay man’s) thing. I really don’t understand how she releases a new album every other year and they just keep getting better and better. Lust For Life is like, peak Lana, even though I hope the peaks just keep coming like they have been. It’s got everything – breathy ballads, Lana saying “fuck,” a song about drugs and marzipan, trip-hop beats, beaches, music festivals, and “Get Free,” a song that came to define my outlook on 2017 and life in general, a “modern manifesto” that got LANA TO SMILE ON THE ALBUM COVER.

Favorite Track: “Get Free”

1. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

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It was really looking like Fleet Foxes might not ever return, so when the rumors of a new album started swirling around, I tried not to get my hopes up. Then I saw Robin Pecknold open for Joanna Newsom at The Boulder Theater last year, and that had to mean something, right? Little did I know that I was hearing him sing a handful of songs he was working on for what would become Crack-Up, my favorite album of the year, one that exceeded all of my hopes and dreams for what I’d want in new Fleet Foxes material. I really don’t have much to add to what’s already been written about Crack-Up by much more talented writers other than to say the one-two punch of “On Another Ocean (January / June)” and “Fools Errand” reduces me to a puddle of goo every single time. Endless gratitude to these gentlemen for making music, and my favorite album of 2017.

Favorite Track: “Fools Errand”

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Top 30 Albums of 2015

I’ve been putting this one off. Because like, everyone released an album this year, which is chic, but also not chic. However I’ve come away feeling more #blessed because, even though some highly-anticipated returns from established acts did not surprise and delight, other releases more than lived up to the hype, and I think 2015 will go down as one of the most prolific, strange, fascinating years in music in the new millennium.

Here goes…

30. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love

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Not my favorite from UMO, but it’s too funky and groovy to be ignored.

Favorite track: “Necessary Evil”

29. Marina and The Diamonds – FROOT

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Like whatever, I’m gay and it’s called FROOT!

Favorite track: “I’m a Ruin”

28. Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass

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I’m feelin’ a lot of lady singers, and Natalie Prass is another one who made a pretty chic album this year, especially for a debut. Looking forward to many more from her.

Favorite track: “Bird of Prey”

27. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone?

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YES! LEAVE ME ALONE! Lots of feels, like, of course.

Favorite track: “Downtown”

26. Mikal Cronin – MCIII

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Mikal! You finally made my Top 30 list. Do you love it? How are you feeling right now?

Favorite track: “iii) Control”

25. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style

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I got into this one just a few weeks ago and yes I know dude’s been around forever and that these are all old songs.

Favorite track: “Maud Gone”

24. Foals – What Went Down

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I didn’t think I liked this album as much as I did, and then I noticed that like, a majority of the songs are rated 5 stars in my iTunes, so………..And yes, I actually use the star system in iTunes, K.

Favorite track: “A Knife in the Ocean”

23. Lord Huron – Strange Trails

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Like I know, call me basic, but I can’t tell you how many lyrics from this album have provided the perfect Instagram caption for everything here in Colorado.

Favorite track: “The Yawning Grave”

22. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?

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Hot Chip once again doing Hot Chip and that’s alright by me.

Favorite track: “Need You Now”

21. Beirut – No No No

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This was one of those albums that people had been anticipating and then a bunch of people were super disappointed by it because it was too simple and short or whatever. I like to think of it as almost a “Best Of” album – snackable Beirut content. And I like that.

Favorite track: “So Allowed”

20. Ducktails – St. Catherine

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I think it’s really about that music video for “Surreal Exposure” with Mac DeMarco, but it’s also about how each song on St. Catherine has something in it that grabs me.

Favorite track: “Heaven’s Room”

19. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

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I’ve missed MMJ, and The Waterfall is the closest I think I’ll get to the particular MMJ that I’ve been missing.

Favorite track: “Get the Point”

18. Caribou  – Our Love

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Like first of all, talk about chic album artwork! Also, this was one of the best shows I saw at Pitchfork Music Festival this year, which always seals a Top 30 deal.

Favorite track: “Back Home”

17. The Tallest Man on Earth – Dark Bird Is Home

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An album that I keep returning to, and one that I think has been overlooked this year.

Favorite track: “Sagres”

16. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

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I’ve been a fan of Bradford’s projects for a while now, and Fading Frontier, while not revolutionary by any means, is just plain good, and one of the better Deerhunter albums in his catalog.

Favorite track: “Living My Life”

15. Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

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It may not be Views from the 6, but Drake made quite the mark on 2015 anyway; “Hotline Bling,” which was released on his own Beats 1 radio show, inspiring Erykah Badu to release the best mix tape of the year structured around the hit song, and this. I die for the signature sonic atmosphere Drake and producer Noah “40” Shebib have crafted over the years – call me crazy but I haven’t heard rap this moody since Atmosphere at their most emo.

Favorite track: “No Tellin'”

14. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

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I got my hands on a leak of this one back in December of last year, and declared it one of the best albums of 2015, in 2014. And despite everything else that came out this year, it held up. Bravo.

Favorite track: “Crosswords”

13. Wilco – Star Wars

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While seeing Wilco at Red Rocks on a balmy night in July, my buddy commented that, while awesome, the set was basically the same set as every Wilco show we had been to in recent memory, and hoped they had something up their sleeves. The next day, while sitting at Denver International Airport, Wilco dropped Star Wars, and the day after that, I saw them play the entire new album, front to back, for the first time live. Life’s pretty sweet sometimes.

Favorite track: “Taste the Ceiling”

12. Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars

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You know it was a crazy year when we didn’t get one, but two completely distinct and separate albums from Beach House. As you know, I love songs/albums that are downers, so Thank Your Lucky Stars was a welcome second helping from the duo. Also includes one of my favorite Beach House songs of all time (see below).

Favorite track: “Rough Song”

11. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

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Call me basic but I can’t get enough.

Favorite track: “St Jude”

10. Beach House – Depression Cherry

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I mean come onnnnnnnnn. When “Sparks” was released as the first single, I died. And then the whole thing was released and then I died again. And then we got ANOTHER Beach House album and I was officially Depression-Cherried.

Favorite track: “PPP”

9. Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon

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When Lana Del Rey announced Honeymoon like, a minute after she had almost finished touring for Ultraviolence, I was pretty skeptical that she could pull together something so quickly. Maybe it will be another Paradise EP thing I thought. But then came the honeymoon and it’s essential Lana at her most Lana, and I loooooooove that. In the words of Madonna, Lana is finally and fully an unapologetic bitch, and it’s such a chic looq for her persona and feels so good on the ears.

Favorite track: “Religion”

8. Tame Impala – Currents

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The album was gorgeous as expected – it has guitars, psychedelic guitars, sweet riffs, singing, other instruments. I mean it was the new Tame Impala album, it wasn’t going to be bad/fail.

Favorite track: “The Moment”

7. Julia Holter – Have You in My Wilderness

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Like, I told you earlier that I was really feeling the lady singers doing lady things (mostly because I was waiting on new Joanna Newsom, more on that in a moment), but holy chic, Julia! Didn’t expect this one to grow on me as much as it has, but like I’ll take it!

Favorite track: “Betsy on the Roof”

6. Jamie xx – In Colour

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I mean hello have you heard it (you have)?? Also, “Loud Places” is my favorite song of 2015, just throwing that out there.

Favorite track: “Loud Places (feat.Romy)”

5. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

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I cried the firs time I listened to this all the way through – tears of joy, tears of relief that it was as good as I was hoping it was, tears when listening to “I Went To the Store One Day” because it’s so damn sweet.

Favorite track: “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me”

4. Grimes – Art Angels

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Like hiiiiiiiii we’ve been waiting! Another album completely worth the wait, false starts, re-recording or whatever happened. Genius pop, genius period. Plus, Claire Boucher still has the best backup dancers around.

Favorite track: “Belly of the Beat”

3. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

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Another one of those that’s like “well no shit.”

Favorite track: “How Much A Dollar Cost”

2. Joanna Newsom – Divers

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I really don’t dare write anything about Divers because I still stand in awe (while holding an iPhone with Wikipedia at the ready) at what Joanna Newsom is able to do with words, stories, music, life in general. Mind blowing.

Favorite track: “The Things I Say”

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

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Everything that’s needed to be said about Carrie & Lowell has already been said, and those of you that know me personally know what Sufjan Stevens means to me. So I’ll tell you a story.

I was lucky enough to see Sufjan twice this year, the first time at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado. Set against the red rocks of Steamboat Mountain, with the Saint Vrain Creek running through the festival grounds, the festival had to take a nearly 2 hour break as a crazy thunderstorm ripped through the area. I was alone, huddling under the “Smokin’ Tent,” eating a corn dog I had managed to grab right before the storm happened, thinking my experience might be ruined – stupid families had taken their stupid wagons full of their stupid kids and stupid tarps and laid out all of their shit out in the designated standing-only area in front of the main stage.

Well, lo and behold, the thunderstorm managed to clear out all the stupid people, and even though I was a little wet, the ground was not muddy, I had plenty of beers, and found myself front and center for the Sufjan Experience.

It was also the last day of the Perseid meteor shower, with the added benefit of being in the middle or nowhere Boulder County at 5,300 ft. above sea level.

And so, Sufjan came on, everything was bathed in a neon glow, and I, along with many of the other people around me, was in the middle of such a #moment that I can’t even stand it.

During an extended musical break in “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!, Pt. I: The World’s Columbian Exposition / Pt. II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me In a Dream,” and as Sufjan was describing his experience of driving down into Boulder Valley earlier that day, telling us how lucky we were to be in this beautiful location together, the largest, most brilliant shooting star I have ever seen in my life raced across the audience, from back to front. I swear to you the entire audience collectably gasped, and I knew, right then and there, that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Everything, and I mean everything, was in it’s right place.

 

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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

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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

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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

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

Favorite track: “Elastic Heart”

27. Glass Animals – Zaba

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

Favorite track: “Cocoa Hooves”

26. Interpol – El Pintor

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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

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

19. The Antlers – Familiars

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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

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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

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Chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiic.

Favorite track: “Pendulum”

16. Spoon – They Want My Soul

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

Favorite track: “Back Home”

10. PHOX – PHOX

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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

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

Favorite track: “Break Me”

8. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

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Slay Annie.

Favorite track: “Regret”

7. Lykke Li – I Never Learn

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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

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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

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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

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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”

 

 

 

 

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Top 30 Albums of 2013

What a weird fucking year for music. What looked good on paper sadly translated into the not-so-impressive on the ears: 2013 was the year that everyone released an album; 2013 was also the year that everyone flopped.

Let’s look at the many notable names in music that missed their mark in 2013: Phoenix, Youth Lagoon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Deerhunter, Major Lazer, Fall Out Boy (jokes), The-Dream, Camera Obscura, Ciara, Jay-Z, Goldfrapp, MGMT, Britney Spears (this kills me), Lady Gaga, Cults, the return of Justin Timberlake…even the full length from Sky Ferreira didn’t live up to the magic of her EP.

And yet, where many stumbled, a few lived up to the hype, or lack thereof in the case of Beyoncé. Some overcame doubts that they could pull off another masterpiece. And plenty of room was left for newcomers to show the established set just how to make real music. Yes, there’s lots of familiar names on my list, but I was also fortunate to be exposed to brand new artists for the first time through live shows and word of mouth, a method of discovering music that closes the personal loop you have with certain tunes.

And so, while the year in music didn’t exactly shape up the way I expected it too, I’m pleasantly surprised by the results and am left hungry for what 2014 has in store.

30. HAIM – Days Are Gone

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Wilson Phillips-esque is always chic, but these ladies are talented in their own right with unexpectedly different records like “My Song 5.”

 

 

 

29. Kurt Vile – Wakin On a Pretty Daze

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The perfect soundtrack for unemployment, especially if you’re able to wander around Chicago’s lakefront. Weird, that was my life. Also one of the most warmly-produced albums of the year, and I don’t hate it.

 

 

 

28. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

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It’s about all of it, but it’s really all about “Jubilee Street.” Dead.

 

 

 

 

27. Bill Callahan – Dream River

Bill Callahan

A master songwriter returns with another provocative collection of songs that magically fits perfectly with the scenery of Colorado, so that’s chic for me.

 

 

 

26. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed by this release, but you still can’t deny that The National are really, really good at what they do. Maybe it’s just time for them to try something a little bit different the next time around. “Pink Rabbits” also kills.

 

 

 

25. Arctic Monkeys – AM

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Who knew these guys would still be relevant all these years after “Fluorescent Adolescent” took over the radio, but the Arctic Monkeys’ AM was one of the most solid rock albums of 2013.

 

 

 

24. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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Yes we’re all sick of “Get Lucky,” but there’s a reason why it blew up. Daft Punk finally returned in 2013 with the most slickly-produced odes to glam disco 70s funky chic with a roster of impressive guests to boot. Was it what everyone was hoping for in a new Daft Punk album? No, but it’s perfect in terms of what they were going for.

 

 

23. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle

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I don’t even know, she’s just really damn good at what she does.

 

 

 

 

22. Caveman – Caveman

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I didn’t even know about this band until I caught their act while opening for Rogue Wave (moments) at Lincoln Hall this past June. I’m really glad I went early (when you go to a majority of shows alone, it’s easier to drink at the venue then alone in your apartment…awkward) because I can’t stop playing their self-titled LP. Glowing melodies fuzzy keys and emo subject matter – I can totally get down with that and you should too.

 

 

21. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

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Obligatory, but it’s also a great album.

 

 

 

 

20. Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost

Iron & Wine

Sam Beam decided he also had to throw his hat in the ring in 2013, but he actually made a great album with Ghost On Ghost. Songs like “New Mexico’s No Breeze” and “Joy,” which had a killer music video to boot, are worth the price of admission alone.

 

 

 

19. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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She must have been going for a Fiona Apple-esque vibe with that album title, and while it’s definitely not Neko’s best album, it’s a solid entry in an outstanding catalog of music.

 

 

 

18. Rhye – Woman

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Made up of Milosh and Robin Hannibal, Rhye’s Woman came out of nowhere and blew most listeners away, me being one of them. It also didn’t hurt that the group’s super exclusive show at Schubas was one of the best I’ve seen all year.

 

 

 

17. Atoms for Peace – Amok

Amok

This is what Thom Yorke’s Eraser should have sounded like, although I like them both. Whatever.

 

 

 

16. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator

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I mean baiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. Talk about emo moments. But really, it’s quite something to hear what Devon Welsh and his producer / collaborator Matthew Otto can do with the most minimal of elements.

 

 

 

15. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

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These are all supposed to be my top albums of 2013, but UMO’s II is definitely a favorite. But like really, “So Good At Being In Trouble,” “Monki,” “Secret Xtians.” Are you kidding me?

 

 

 

14. The Dodos – Carrier

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I’ve mentioned this a few times on this blog that I hardly pay attention to anymore, but The Dodos are special not only because I love them, but because they were the subject of the first review I ever wrote. They disappointed with 2011’s No Color, but thankfully came back better than ever with Carrier, which is best digested in a solid listen from start to finish. It’s good to hear the group channeling the loss of guitarist Christopher Reimer into such beautiful art – putting the medium to its best possible use. Also bittersweet – the last show I saw at my home away from home, Lincoln Hall, was headlined by The Dodos; A fitting bookend to my life at that moment.

 

13. Night Beds – Country Sleep

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Lead by Winston Yellen, newcomers Night Beds tugged at the heartstrings with Country Sleep.  These are the types of songs you’d hear on The OC before the rest of humanity discovered them only because of said show, and yet they also avoid sounding clichéd. Also check out the super disturbing video for “Even If We Try.” Oh, also, my friend totally could have gone back to Winston’s hotel room the night they played the Varsity in Minneapolis, so that’s fun.

 

 

12. Disclosure – Settle

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Another debut in a list of amazing debuts in 2013, Disclosure’s Settle was, by far, the best dance record released this year, and then Beyoncé had to come and mess everything up if you’re into more of an R&B flavor. But really, can we talk about “Latch” or “Defeated” or “You & Me” or “Help Me Lose My Mind” or really every track on this album, because damn.

 

 

11. Indians – Somewhere Else

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Maybe it’s the chic album art that I wouldn’t mind having framed, maybe it’s the delicate yet slightly kooky vocals from Søren Løkke Juul (not to mention the kooky name, but whatever he’s from Copenhagen so act cool), maybe it’s the melancholy melodies backed by subtle electronics to make the whole thing grander, but Somewhere Else is certainly something else, in the best way possible.

 

 

10. Drake – Nothing Was the Same

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I really didn’t want to like this album. Perhaps I was getting a little sick of Drake and I didn’t want anything to overshadow the amazingness that was and still is Take Care. But Nothing Was the Same is like, really, really good you guys. I still kind of don’t want it to be as good as it is, but damn, he cracked my top 10. Bravo.

 

 

9. Local Natives – Hummingbird

Local Natives, Hummingbird

After breaking out with the brilliant Gorilla Manor, I’m really happy Local Natives avoided the dreaded sophomore slump and came out ahead with Hummingbird. And while it doesn’t offer much in terms of innovation, Hummingbird makes up for that in perfecting the direction of the band and setting excellent expectations with songs like “Ceilings,” “You & I” and the devastating “Colombia.”

 

 

8. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

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If landscapes could sing songs, they would sound like those grouped together on Muchacho. It sounds new yet rustic at the same time, like you’ve heard these songs in a past life or something. Muchacho is beaten up, triumphant, free-wheeling and wistful – all the makings for one of the best albums of the year.

 

 

7. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

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The expectations for this album were incredibly high, thanks to a viral campaign, “secret” shows, track listing leaks, and lots and lots of ad money. Ultimately, Reflektor fell short for many. Have Arcade Fire jumped the shark? Maybe. Our quaint little indie band are now playing arenas on the next tour and have a much larger sound to match. Yet isn’t this the complaint aimed at every band who were once someone’s secret that now everyone enjoys? It isn’t all bad, and Win Butler seems to know exactly what he and the rest of the group are to do with this newfound superstardom. And there’s still no denying the pockets of genius found throughout Reflektor, with the title track being one of my favorites of 2013. Maybe I’m a little jaded that the secret’s fully out in the open, but I think we’ll get a clearer picture of what Arcade Fire is turning into (or has become) with a follow-up, whenever that happens.

 

6. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

Blood Orange

Like, this is almost a perfect album. There’s really not much more I can say.

 

 

 

 

5. James Blake – Overgrown

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James Blake traded in the dubstep sound of his first proper LP for a more R&B flavored sound on Overgrown, and it pays off in dividends. Overgrown is a multi-textured album that has the ability to fully launch the listener into a dark, seductive atmosphere. It’s an album full of surprises, twists and turns that remind us why Blake is one of the best in the business.

 

 

4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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A familiar name that actually pulled through in 2013. People love to hate Vampire Weekend, but why? I think it’s jealousy. Insanely talented, good looking, smart guys that make great fucking music with a sound that is distinctly their own, Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City is familiar enough while also offering something fresh over previous releases. It’s like a really solid piece of furniture. Don’t even get me started on “Hannah Hunt.”

 

 

3. Beyoncé – BEYONCÉ

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Even though it’s not the number one album, Beyoncé’s surprise (that’s an understatement) “visual album” clearly won 2013. If there was ever a time to use the term “tour de force” to describe an album, let alone the full Beyoncé Experience that was dropped on humanity as the clock struck midnight on December 13, this would be the occasion.

Not only is the album 14 songs long, but there’s a full on music video for each song (and then some). And these aren’t just like, go-pro handycam bullshit videos. Oh, and on top of all of that, the album slays. It’s her best work yet, sounding current without overplayed while also pushing some sonic boundaries.

In an age of massive pre-release promotions that have the potential to do more damage than good (see every other major release from well-established artists this year), Beyoncé and her team were able to create an event akin to when Radiohead released In Rainbows. It shows her dedication to not only the craft, but also the meaning of music and its ability to bring people together. Don’t be jealous.

 

2. Volcano Choir – Repave

Repave

God damn Justin Vernon. I remember seeing Volcano Choir perform their first ever show at The Cedar in Minneapolis back in 2011. Since Justin Vernon was involved, the crowd was a who’s who of the Minneapolis music scene and Bon Iver fanboys, all trying to get a taste of whatever Vernon had his fingers on those days.

The show was awesome, but it was basically one giant, live experiment, similar to the entire structure of Unmap. Certainly, this wasn’t music for the mainstream and would remain one of Vernon’s many side projects with his buddies.

Ugh, that notion was so wrong, and what a difference two years makes. After seeing Volcano Choir perform at The Metro in Chicago in support of Repave, we now find the group as a fully-formed juggernaut, complete with a live show that employs a beautifully-designed lighting concept cascading off of a cave-like backdrop, with Vernon planted behind a pulpit, preaching to raptured audiences. The songs on Repave are no longer experiments in sound and electronics. These are lovely, anthemic, powerful songs that serve as a call to arms. Vernon, for the most part, ditches the falsetto, belting out lines like “set sail,” pleading with the listener to “repave, repave, repave, repave,” and to “shed skin.”

It’s as if Vernon is shedding the persona of Bon Iver, and he very well may be according to some recent interviews. He’s at the helm now of a different, more powerful ship now, and that plasters a giant smile on my face.

 

1. Kanye West – Yeezus

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I’ve already dropped the mic on this album back in June, but once again, Kanye West has released the album of the year – an album that sounds like nothing else and pushes forward a very specific agenda about status and race in America. In closing, and in true Kanye form, Imma quote my previous post on Yeezus:

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.

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The OC at 10 – My Favorite Musical Moments

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Whether you want to admit it or not, The OC was (and still is) a cultural phenomenon, something that, at least for me, defined a very forming period in my life. Debuting on August 5, 2003, and ending all too soon on February 22, 2007, members of the Millennial Generation laughed, cried and winced as we watched the lives of the Cohen family and everyone they touched in Newport Beach unfold (or unravel).

I’d even go as far as saying that The OC played a pretty heavy part in my decision to move to California and attend the University of San Diego for my freshman year of college.  Seriously. The first time I ever got successfully drunk in California was in Laguna Beach – by that time, The OC had inspired MTV’s “Laguna Beach – The Real OC,” so my giddiness was doubly amplified.

I was also exposed to bands that would become some of my favorites thanks to The OC and the genius of Alexandra Patsavas and creator Josh Schwartz, who would sometimes write entire episodes based off of a song. I mean, does it get any better than that? Can we talk about the giant Death Cab for Cutie Transatlanticism poster in Seth’s bedroom?

Music, and the show’s passionate dedication to good music, is one of the reason’s why it’s still my favorite TV show of all time. The music used was able to capture the beautiful, almost magical elements of California along with the undercurrents of corruption, depression and forlornness living at the edge of the continent brings with it. And so, I give you my 10 favorite musical moments of The OC:

10. The Pogues – “Love You ‘Till the End” Season 4, Episode 4 “The Metamorphosis”  :  Tears. So. Many. Tears

 

9. Sufjan Stevens – “For the Widows in Paradise; For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti” Season 3, Episode 15 “The Heavy Lifting” : We all didn’t care much for Johnny, but I kinda did a little bit more because of this scene. Also, Sufjan.

 

8. Ryan Adams – “Wonderwall” Season 1, Episode 19 “The Heartbreak” : Bai.

 

7. Imogen Heap – “Hide and Seek” Season 2, Episode 24 “The Dearly Beloved” : Slow motion murk, literally.

 

6. Rachael Yamagata – “Worn Me Down” Season 2, Episode 11 “The Second Chance” : Can I open up a real life Bait Shop?

 

5. Patrick Park – “Life’s A Song” Season 4, Episode 16 “The End’s Not Near, It’s Here” : Series finale. Dead.

 

4. Matt Pond PA – “Champagne Supernova” Season 3, Episode 14 “The Rainy Day Women” : Quite possibly one of the best scenes in the history of television. Yep, it’s the upside down Spider-Man kiss.

 

3. Jeff Buckley – “Hallelujah” Season 1, Episode 27 “The Ties that Bind” : Are you even kidding me right now? Also, Marissa starts to become drunk Marissa again, which was everyone’s favorite.

 

2. Radiohead – “Fog” Season 3, Episode 20 “The Day After Tomorrow” : Leave it to The OC to feature a little known acoustic version of Radiohead’s brilliant “Fog” to soundtrack the continued problems between Seth and Summer, Sandy and Kiki, and the emotional re-building of Summer and Marissa’s friendship.

 

1. Coldplay – “Fix You” Season 2, Episode 23 “The O.Sea” : I mean everything is going to shit in this episode and then we are murked with “Fix You,” possibly Coldplay’s most depressing song, that made its debut on this episode. I’m crying while writing this, thanks.

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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.

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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.

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Video Murk: Iron & Wine’s “Joy”

Iron-And-Wine-Ghost-On-GhostIt’s raining like, everywhere today, right? Then let Iron & Wine’s “Joy” take you away to a magical place. Although Sam Beam’s last couple of outings as Iron & Wine didn’t do too much for me, his latest, Ghost On Ghost is doing very very nice things to me, and I’ve been getting lost in “Joy” for the past week. There’s also a really awesome stop motion video to go along with it, and both are equally gorgeous. Fast Company has an article on how it all came together. Check out “Joy” below.

 

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Solange @ Bottom Lounge 4.15.13

photo 1Remember when Solange was supposed to perform in Chicago in February, and then cancelled the performance, citing “scheduling issues” and “weather,” but really it was probably so she could do chic things at the Oscars?

Well, she made good on her promise to make it up to us, finally returning to the City of Big Shoulders that were collectively holding some pretty high expectations for the performer we affectionately call Beyoncé’s little sister. The entire area outside of the Bottom Lounge (we’ll get to that in a minute) smelled like weed, so people were also just high, regardless of expectations.

Anyways, when Solange o’clock hit, the booming sounds of “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work” started blasting from somewhere other than the two horribly placed speakers on either side of the stage. Sound issues for Solange, really? Thankfully, things kicked into gear just before Solange took the stage along with the rest of her band including two #chictothenextlev backup singers. Unfortunately, more sound issues would plague the entire show, however Solange grooved through the entire hour-long set determined to deliver.

From the first minute the crowd, which was one of the most interesting I have ever seen at a show, was hooked, and Solange’s vocals were surprisingly powerful as she hit all the right notes. Without mentioning anything specific relating to the events in Boston that day, Solange told the crowd that the show was all about celebrating joy before performing “Don’t Let Me Down.”

photo 2The sultry dancing finally clicked with “Bad Girls,” Solange telling the audience “grind out whatever aggression you have with this one. Just grind.” Solange herself got really into this one, twerking it hard on stage letting the beat ride out. “Why did I wear a fucking sweater?” Solange asked herself.

Even though the sound was never 100 percent perfect, everything off of the True EP sounded great live, but the show was finally taken there with “Lovers in the Parking Lot,” which sounded absolutely huge and had Solange pushing her vocals the hardest. With more emphasis put behind the beat in the live version, the crowd threw their arms in the air like this was a hip hop show, and Solange was very into it. Good thing, since she told us all she just shot the music video and it’s her next single.

“Lovers in the Parking Lot” led to the moment; “Losing You.” Even though it’s actually a really depressing song, everyone was singing along in some sort of joyful/sad cathartic release, a true party atmosphere celebrating broken hearts.

Solange exited the stage for a brief moment before returning for the encore, which closed with the triumphant “Sandcastle Disco.”

I think it’s safe to say Solange upheld all of the expectations and finally made good with Chicago, sound issues aside, and brought some brightness and joy to a day that had been pretty dark. Ultimately, isn’t that when music is at it’s best?

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Phosphorescent @ Lincoln Hall 4.13.13

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I’m not gonna lie, the details of Phosphorescent’s sold out show at Lincoln Hall Saturday night are a little hazy.

You see, I was convinced to do some day drinking in Wrigleyville (I know), only to wake up an hour before the show already a little hung over. There was only one thing to do; smack back a Miller High Life tallboy and head on down to the show.

Opening band Strand of Oaks were great, if only a little sleepy. Maybe it was all the smoke from the fog machine. All I know is that after positioning myself in prime position since I was flying solo, Phosphorescent took the stage and started with one of my favorite songs from Muchacho, “Terror In The Canyons.”

Just like on the record, lead singer Matthew Houck’s voice sounded a little frayed, but that actually added to the raw, forlorn alt country aesthetic of the performance.

“Song For Zula” found Houck very comfortable on stage, meandering around as the live band shuffled around with him in a very relaxed and confident manner, everyone in the audience finally hooked into the performance. “Down To Go” continued this vibe.

Playing mostly songs from Muchacho, the highlight of the show had to be the expansive take on “The Quotidian Beasts,” which hit with a certain intensity that can only be captured live.

After concluding with something that I can’t quite remember, Phosphorescent came back to play a very lengthy encore, including a Randy Newman cover before finally saying adieu.

Even though I can’t remember the specifics (sorry mom), I did leave fully satisfied. If Phosphorescent is playing in your neck of the woods anytime soon and isn’t already sold out, go, drink a few beers and enjoy.

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Rhye @ Schubas 4.11.13

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Normally, getting told at the door about a band’s request for no photos, no in and out of the room during the show, no loud talking, and then two more similar announcements before the show starts with the additional piece of information that the bar would be closed during the show, would generally irk me. Believe me, I’m the biggest advocate of no talking, pictures with flash etc. during a performance, but they way they were really hammering this in at Schubas before Rhye took the stage was a little much. Then the music started and I couldn’t have cared less.

I don’t even know how to talk about how good this show was because while I was expecting it to be really good, I didn’t know it would be that good. Like, witnessing something truly special good.

Seeing Rhye at a place like Schubas, with candles lit and enough Warby Parker frames to fill a flagship store, is really the only place anyone should see Rhye, and as all those in attendance refrained from talking and taking pictures, Rhye and an impressive live band that included strings and a trombone cast a spell. A really chic, sexy love spell.

The band played some mood music as lead vocalist Mike Milosh walked on stage then went right into the understated “Verse.” With a tremendous command of vocal restraint, the sounds of “Verse,” including expert harmonizing from the group, melted the room before they performed a transformed, stripped down version of “3 Days.”

Milosh kept his own talking to a minimum, however he acknowledged he was getting good vibes from Schubas, saying “yeah, this will be nice,” as the mood picked up a little and everyone started grooving to “The Fall.”

Throughout the evening, Milosh kept signaling to his band to draw songs past their normal running time, letting the beat ride as his voice floated sublimely above everything.  After “Shed Some Blood,” things continued to heat up with “Last Dance” and “Major Minor Love,” the room dead silent, hanging on to every last word and note.

Nearing the end of the hour long set, the mood turned more celebratory with “Open,” and then “Hunger,” which featured solos from each band member including a fantastic trombone solo.

After explaining that they had one more song left, the show closed with the band performing one of Milosh’s singles, “It’s Over,” aptly titled to close out an other worldly performance.

No doubt, Rhye are on an upward trajectory and will soon be leaving rooms like Schubas behind for bigger theaters and festivals. With the ability to craft a bubble of Rhye-ness at Schubas, even if it meant threatening signs and announcements, Rhye as a live show was something transcendent. Too bad you can’t get 1,500 people that quiet no matter what you do. Go see Rhye before the crowd starts talking.

And yes, I snuck one photo and I didn’t lift my phone up or use the flash. SFP.

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