Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Best Music of 2014: The Annual Music Megapost

Hello friends and random internet readers, and welcome to the 2014 edition of the now seventh annual Ultimate Music Megapost! Every year I view this post as the ultimate culmination of my hobby, where I pull together every Saturday morning spent pouring through music blogs, every long drive soundtracked to my current favorite songs, and every excited purchase of a new album. This year, these songs have played over a transitional year in my life. This time last year I wrote my list sitting in a plywood room in Afghanistan. Since then I’ve returned, left the Air Force, moved from Arizona back to Washington, and found a new career. As always, music consistently follows me wherever I go.

Each year I highlight what I feel was the best music of that year in a broad range of categories and then open it up for what I hope will be spirited discussion.

As with every year, I must start with a disclaimer. I’m a big fan of music but by no means is this a profession, which means that I don’t get free music sent to me by bands. This means primarily two things: 1) I haven’t heard EVERYTHING, though I venture to say I’ve heard quite a bit and 2) there are sometimes things that get released in the year prior that don’t make it to my collection until the next year, meaning don’t bother getting spun up letting me know that a song was released in December 2013 but I do try to avoid going too far back if I can help it. If the point is to highlight good new music to the casual fan, then I do not want to leave off a solid track. I also try not to get carried away with single bands, so even if I might feel like one album was so good it might justify having seven songs on the list (as is the case with the new album from The War on Drugs), I’ll leave that commentary for the Best Albums section and diversify the Top 50. Almost every year there are albums where I could get carried away, so let’s just operate with the understanding that my top two albums this year each contributed at least three songs that would be in a more true Top 50.

As always, I welcome any and all commentary, both positive or negative. This is a massive project to undertake, and although I have fun with it and, let’s face it, barely anyone reads it, it’s always nice to know that people are giving it a try. It would make my day to know that I helped someone find a new band that they love, and the only way I’ll know that is if you tell me.

unnamed

Click Here or on the Spotify Logo to Listen to the Playlist

Top 10 Albums of 2014

10. Nickel Creek – “The Dotted Line”

bg_nickel

Biases are biases, and I’ll never pass up a chance to talk about Nickel Creek. This is an album I waited a decade for, and while it wasn’t as A+ perfect as their original triad, it’s still Nickel Creek making wonderful newgrass folk. “Love of Mine” is the best here, “Elsie” is an instrumental gem, and “Destination” packs the punch. Don’t make me wait another decade!

9. TV on the Radio – “Seeds”

tv

TV on the Radio have always existed a little on the periphery for me. I’ve always listened, but it’s never truly grabbed me. Until now. Seeds hits right off the bat with two stellar tracks in “Quartz” and “Careful You”, announcing the potential TVOTR have when their usual fuzzy and unique alternative rock is blended with just a touch of catchiness. Elsewhere, “Ride” holds down the middle of the album, “Happy Idiot” is a throwback pleaser, and “Seeds” provides the perfect closer.

8. Beck – “Morning Phase”

81coqLBpCWL._SL1400_

Beck has changed a lot, but this new phase may be his best yet. The mood is set right from the onset with “Morning”; slow and mournful and thoughtful. From “Blue Moon” to “Country Down”, Beck waited a long time to release his best overall album.

7. James Vincent McMorrow – “Post Tropical”

Post_Tropical

It’s rare to find an artist who so blatantly follows in someone else’s footsteps, yet does it so well there’s no room to complain. JVM stretches his falsetto and showcases burgeoning electronics under his typical folk style, practically a direct copy of Bon Iver before. So why does he get a pass and garner such universal acclaim? It’s because the album is absolutely impeccable. There’s barely a song better than “Look Out” this year, and “Gold” and “Cavalier” aren’t far behind.

6. Interpol – “El Pintor”

61z6hUlr5AL._SL1500_Interpol undeniably peaked with albums #1 and #2. Practically everyone agrees about that. They’ve churned out some okay albums with some pretty good songs over the last half decade, but staying power exists in individual songs on shuffle, not in the albums themselves. That finally changed with El Pintor, their best album since Antics rolled out back in 2004. All you need to do is listen to the first two tracks, “All the Rage Back Home” and “My Desire”, and it’s like welcoming an old friend back.

5. Mimicking Birds – “EONS”

Mimicking-Birds-Eons-608x608How small are Mimicking Birds? My wife and had the chance to have a great conversation with lead singer Nate Lacy after their Phoenix show, and the conversation extended beyond mere pleasantries. Small or not, Mimicking Birds have now crafted two truly fantastic albums. EONS expands upon their debut, growing less minimal, yet staying rather unassuming. The songs are much more lush and detailed, but the tracks still float by with ease. “Acting Your Age” is the highlight, but “Memorabilia”, “Night Light”, “Bloodlines”, and “Wormholes” lend EONS the kind of consistency that warrants it a place amongst the best albums of the year.

4. Marshall McLean Band – Glossolalia

Marshall McLean - Glossolalia - cover (2)

Here lies the surprise of the year. Based out of Spokane, Washington, the Marshall McLean Band deftly combines northwest indie with southern Americana. The slide guitar rules the day, and McLean’s religiously-drenched lyrics create an imagery that puts him in Iron & Wine territory. On “Sons of Thunder”, McLean’s drops one of the best lyrics of the year when he sings “oh Lord if my hands keep shaking, pass me the tambourine”. The thematic consistency really ties together Glossolalia. Whether he’s referencing Joseph on “Coat of Many Colors” or singing lines like “I am Jonah this is Ninevah” on “Sinking Ships”, McLean’s church upbringing lends rich subject matter for his songs.

3. The Antlers – “Familiars”

When the same band can make the most emotionally intense album I’ve ever heard (Hospice), and make Familiars, it’s a true testament to the talent of Peter Silberman and company. Familiars is lounge-y, jazzy, and drenched in a sad trumpet. In other words, miles away from the fuzzy and intense cacophony of electronics that underpin his other greatest works, like Hospice’s “Kettering”. Yet, here they are, making one of the year’s very, very best. “Palace” has Silberman’s voice hitting high points as only he can, “Revisited” is moving and introspective piece, and “Parade” has a simple and fantastic piece of guitar work layered over synths and Silberman’s languishing vocals.

2. Spoon – “They Want My Soul”

81QUyArKVUL._SL1500_

Where to even begin? Spoon has been a longtime favorite and is often referred to as one of the most consistent bands in music. I regard 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga as one of the best albums ever made. They have written five five-star songs and 23 four-star songs. Yet count me as one of the many people who simultaneously enjoyed yet were underwhelmed by 2010’s Transference. At the time, I took the mild disappointment as inevitable when you’re following up an all-time great. But it was more than that. It simply wasn’t as memorable, and time has not been as kind to it. But then they come out with 2014’s They Want My Soul and change everything. Whether it’s throwback classics like “Rent I Pay”, summer jams like “Do You”, thematic holdovers like “They Want My Soul”, or straight up funky musical gems like “Knock Knock Knock”, Britt Daniel and Spoon come flying back with a vengeance. Much has been made of album highlight “Inside Out” though, and I feel much the same way. For a guitar driven band, “Inside Out” is the most unique thing Spoon has ever done, synthy and electronic and highly produced and featuring a harp of all things. Yet here it is, the most moving and introspective piece Daniel has ever composed. It’s a career-defining song for Spoon, yet it sounds like nothing they’ve never done before. And maybe that’s the point. Towards the end of the track, right before the synths truly take over the song, Daniel drops the perfect line: “Break out of character for me”.

1. The War on Drugs – “Lost in the Dream”

War-On-Drugs-Lost-In-The-Dream-608x608

The awards and recognition for The War on Drugs’ masterpiece album are starting to roll in, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Consequence of Sound and Paste’s #1 album of the year. Pitchfork’s #3. Amazon and iTunes’ #1 alternative album of the year. Stereogum and The Guardian’s #2 of the year. While I tend to have my differences with many of the publications, they are getting this one right. Lost in the Dream is easily the best album of the year. It’s a triumph of an album that will sit atop a select few albums getting repeat plays likely for the rest of my life. As music more and more turns towards EDM and general electronic experimentation, Adam Granduciel and company borrow from the likes of Springsteen, combining it with synth rock and Granduciel own grasp on lyrics and vocal delivery. Granduciel’s vocal delivery is often soaked in reverb and even slurred. His lyrics are patched together thoughts and feelings, evoking moods without a coherent story always emerging. His guitar work is as talented as I’ve ever seen. The result is a form of modern Americana rock that is alternatingly bursting and energetic while self-conscious. “Under the Pressure” and “Red Eyes” form the best paired tracks since LCD Soundsystem gave us “Someone Great” and “All My Friends”. There’s a commitment to be made here though. “Under the Pressure” clocks in at nearly nine minutes long. Six of the nine tracks are about six minutes or more. While the individual songs are brilliant, this album is an album. This is meant to be enjoyed in sequence, not shuffled. You need to feel the energy at the start, then let yourself drift into the soft “Suffering” and the expansive “An Ocean In Between the Waves”. “Eyes to the Wind” reveals such a state of weariness, encapsulated in the line “I'm just bit run down here at the moment”. That same weariness is expressed in the title of “Red Eyes” and in the opening lyrics, where Granduciel is “On my knees/To beat it down/To get to my soul”. It’s not all about lamentation though. On “Eyes to the Wind” the mood is down, but not out. All struggles are temporary. “So I'll set my eyes to the wind/But it won’t be easy”. On “Red Eyes” it’s captured in a single moment: the single greatest “woo!” every placed in a song, as dumb as that may sound. On the finale, the sprawling “In Reverse”, Granduciel finds acceptance. “I'll be here/or I'll fade away”, he sings. There’s just something so human about these songs. It’s not an album purely about struggle or purely about hope and acceptance. It’s just a chronicle of Granduciel’s thoughts, which are probably not unlike our own. That it’s set over music this amazing makes it all the better, and that’s its overall feeling is still so optimistic is comforting. It’s an introspective album that acknowledges the darkness that creeps in, but does not become consumed by it. And in an age where guitar-based rock is losing ground, it’s a savior. Woo!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Bleachers – “Strange Desire”
  • Broken Bells – “After the Disco”
  • Broods – “Broods”
  • Caribou – “Our Love”
  • Coldplay – “Ghosts”
  • Cold War Kids – “Hold My Home”
  • Foster the People – “Supermodel”
  • Great Good Fine OK – “Body Diamond EP”
  • The Hold Steady – “Teeth Dreams”
  • Lana Del Rey – “Ultraviolence”
  • Lost in the Trees – “Past Life”
  • NEEDTOBREATHE – “Rivers in the Wasteland”
  • Walk the Moon – “Talking is Hard”

Top New Old Songs

I wish this category didn’t have to exist, but I’m an amateur music reviewer who sometimes misses things. And since the whole point is to show you awesome music, I maintain this category annually to ensure that my follies in 2013 are rectified in 2014.

Autre Ne Veut – “Play By Play”

Foxygen – “No Destruction”

Born Ruffians – “The Needle”

Top Five New Bands

1. Marshall McLean Band

marshall-02-620x414

2. Broods

broods-650-430

3. Hozier

Hozier-From-Eden

4. Great Good Fine OK

Great Good Fine Ok perform at The Westway on August 21, 2014 in New York City.

5. Sohn

sohn_billboard_650b

Ear Candy aka I’m Not Just a Music Snob and Here Are Some Pop Hits That I Liked

Ariana Grande – “Problem”

Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”

Christina Perri – “Human”

DJ Snake & Lil John – “Turn Down For What”

Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”

Echosmith – “Cool Kids”

Passenger – “Let Her Go”

Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”

Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Sia – “Chandelier” (#43 overall)

Top 50 Songs of the Year

50. Jack White – “That Black Bat Licorice”

While some songs are fuel or heartfelt lyrics and sweeping grandeur, some songs simply rock. Jack White has done this for a living, and on his newest effort he doesn’t do it any better than on this track, and propulsive track of energy and fun.

49. Augustines – “Weary Eyes”

Billy McCarthy has the kind of breathy growl in his voice that contains years of experience and struggle. This is bar rock with a little glimmer of hope, a touch of “woah-ohs”, and a whole lot of charm. “We laid on the roof, drank wine and we proved we could fix ourselves”

48. The Afghan Whigs – “Algiers”

Alternative rock vets The Afghan Whigs drop a track that evokes visions of a lonely roaming wanderer as it builds from pleasant acoustic guitar into a denser rock song.

47. Walk the Moon – “Aquaman”

Are the late 90’s retro now? Walk the Moon typically makes peppy, well-done pop dance tracks and has appeared on the list before with “I Can Lift a Car” at #10 in 2012. “Aquaman” is an outlier for them, a slow jam closer influenced by the likes of Phil Collins. I was suckered by Bon Iver’s “Beth/Rest” and I’m suckered by Walk the Moon’s “Aquaman”.

46. Phantogram – “Fall in Love”

Phantogram continue to exist on the underrated peripheral of electronic indie rock, and “Fall in Love” is another whirling example of the talent they so wonderfully displayed on the outstanding “Mouthful of Diamonds”.

45. Grimes ft. Blood Diamonds– “Go”

Grimes is a bit of a wonderful weirdo, alternatingly genius (“Oblivion”) and too odd to handle. And then there’s “Go”, an undeniably poppy diversion. Thing is, it’s an infectious and amazing poppy diversion.

44. William Fitzsimmons – “Fortune”

As Iron & Wine’s Sam Beem continues to expand beyond his acoustic guitar, it’s William Fitzsimmons who has become the standard bearer of bearded, hushed vocal coffee shop music. “Fortune” is the best of a solid album for Fitzsimmons, who wears woundedness on his voice as well as anyone.

43. Sia – “Chandelier”

I want to see this song live to see if Sia can really hit these notes. If she can, then wow. “Chandelier” is the very definition of soaring, and Sia’s voice strains higher and higher till it almost breaks. Of the year’s Top 40 hits, this is one is the best.

42. Highasakite – “Lover, Where Do You Live”

I knew nothing about Highasakite as this track began the live set opening for London Grammar. But as the synths washed over me I literally got chills. The Norwegian band has some serious musical chops, and this is a song worth turning up loud and letting it just grow.

41. The Black Keys – “Weight of Love”

The Black Keys’ newest album peaks at track one, when the nearly seven minute long “Weight of Love” stars of with a jam and propels forward. The album won’t stand the test of time, but the outstanding band’s catalogue got a great addition for the Best Of album somewhere down the line.

40. Bad Suns – “Transpose (Nicita Remix)”

Sometimes it’s hard to explain why a song sticks out, but as the year went on I found “Transpose” always on the tip of tongue. I’ve been humming and singing through “and I can’t stop, even if I wanted to” for nearly all of 2014.

39. How to Dress Well – “Words I Can’t Remember”

How to Dress Well might be able to set the nighttime mood as well as anyone. The start of this track is on the minimalist side, but stick around past the four minute mark when the song implodes on the soul of the song kicks in.

38. The Hold Steady – “Wait a While”

One of the best bands in music, led by the greatest modern lyricist, returns with an album that returns in some ways to the grittier bar rock roots of albums past. The standout is “Wait a While”, a cautionary tale for a girl that’s been burned: “Collecting boyfriends isn’t such a perfect hobby”, sings Craig Finn.

37. Sufjan Stevens – “A Little Lost”

It wouldn’t be the year end list if prolific Sufjan Stevens didn’t make an appearance. This time he’s hear Sufan-ing Arthur Russell’s “A Little Lost” a song that’s pretty much about how much he likes kissing. Yet it’s still amazing because it’s still Sufjan.

36. Lost in the Trees – “Past Life”

“Past Life” is dreamy and haunting and a little dark but, most of all, it will stick with you. The simple yet excellent percussion, the great guitar line, and Ari Picker’s vocals make for an excellent track.

35. Young the Giant – “Mind Over Matter”

There’s no “Apartment”, “Cough Syrup” or other bit of perfection on Young the Giant’s less inspired sophomore slump, but “Mind Over Matter” still carries a good bit a of weight. Sameer Gadhia, who has one of modern music’s best voices, soars on this track.

34. Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Angel of Death”

Strange that a song that starts with lyrics so high school-ish in nature would end up being one of the more vivid storytelling songs of the year. Say what you will, but the verse about Cody, with his Kool Aid-stained mouth hanging out by the Arby’s, is one of the better lyrical pieces this year. Yes, some bits are sophomoric, but there’ a dose of reality here.

33. NEEDTOBREATHE – “Brother”

Speaking of the best voices in music, Bear Rinehart has a claim as well. “Brother” is another southern rock gem from the underrated NEEDTOBREATHE.

32. Cold War Kids – “First”

Long time favorites Cold War Kids, the kings of using the piano as a percussion instrument and mixing bar rock with alt rock, return with the second album in two years, and the star is “First”. At its heart it’s a middle-finger raised post-breakup song, but the real draw here is the music, and this is more than a toe-tapper. This one gets the whole body moving.

31. Bleachers – “Wild Heart”

One of the year’s bigger surprises to me was how much I enjoyed Bleachers’ album. Why? The combination of fun.’s guitarist with my first listen to forgettable lead single “I Wanna Get Better” left me thinking there was very little to be desired. But Jack Antonoff actually has some interesting things to offer, switching off between upper and lower registers very well and constructing some truly good tracks, the best of which was “Wild Heart”.

30. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – “Maps for the Getaway”

Longtime readers will know of my affinity for Andrew McMahon, more famous for Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. I’ve practically grown up listening to him, from high school through college and beyond. Here McMahon looks back at those times in a song about his wife. When he sings the line “Through all the autopilot years/The tears of joy, the face of fear/Now that we're not hiding/Somehow you're still riding in my car”, it might be my favorite lyric of the year. As a fan of McMahon I’ve listened to him pre-leukemia (the “autopilot years”), mid/post-leukemia (the “face of fear”), and as he looks through it all and sees his wife beside him in the car, I’m reminded that back in 2003 Andrew McMahon’s younger self soundtracked many of my trips home to visit my future wife. There’s no artist out there that means more to me personally.

29. The War on Drugs – “In Reverse”

As the closing song to the year’s best album—and frankly one of my favorite albums of all time—the nearly 8 minute long “In Reverse” ties together perfection so very, very well. Adam Granduciel’s vocal delivery is just so amazing. He sings in such a distant and thoughtful way here that it almost makes you feel like he’s having these reflective thoughts in that very moment. It’s a thing of brilliance, and when the song emerges from the meandering opening and really kicks it up a notch (3:15 in when he sings “and I don’t mind you disappearing”), it’s one of 2014’s single best music moments.

28. Interpol – “My Blue Supreme”

While the rest of music continues to move past Interpol as a meaningful band, I continue to champion them. This is not because I believe that they are doing anything revolutionary, but because I believe they have settled on a crisp style that is uniquely them to the point that adapting and changing makes them less unique. In short, don’t grow, Interpol, I love you just the way you are. “My Blue Supreme” is a good case study: you have the impeccable guitar lines, the buildup that occurs over Paul Banks hushed baritone, and the bursting chorus. It’s Interpol formula 101, which I believe makes it great.

27. James Vincent McMorrow – “Gold”

The beginning and the end of “Gold” bare little resemblance. The gentle harp strum with JVM’s breathy vocals quickly grows and grows until it bursts at the seams.

26. The Antlers – “Revisited”

Talk about setting a mood. Guided by a lounge-y trumpet, jazzy piano and percussion, and Peter Silberman’s emotive voice and descriptive lyrics, “Revisited” hits like a ton of bricks.

25. Spoon – “They Want My Soul”

The kind of song I’ve waited years for from Spoon. The song is both a throwback stylistically and a summary or years of thematic consistency from Spoon.

24. Marshall McLean Band – “Irons in the Fire”

I’m not sure there’s a simple lyric I’ve sung more this year than “Holy roller!”. Marshall McLean fuses indie rock and country deftly, blending it with religious imagery for some of the year’s best.

23. Lana Del Rey – “Brooklyn Baby”

At her best, Lana Del Rey is quite the performer, and despite the initial criticism she received it’s hard to deny there’s no one quite like her. “Brooklyn Baby” is her newest album’s best track, hitting its highest moments when Lana reaches into her upper register.

22. Foster the People – “Coming of Age”

Without a hit like “Pumped Up Kicks” you might not have noticed Foster the People excellent sophomore album, led by “Coming of Age, a perfect of indie rock and pop catchiness. This is an underappreciated band.

21. Fink – “Looking Too Closely”

The key to Fink’s amazing track is the forward motion. The slow guitar starts strumming a little faster. The soft piano gets a little louder. The drums become more and more prominent. The song builds, hits a highpoint, comes back down, and raises up again. It’s a gem.

20. Coldplay – “Midnight”

If you’ve never heard this song before, you might want to listen to it twice. The first time I heard “Midnight” I was disappointed it never broke out at the end, as Coldplay songs often do. But if you remove that expectation, “Midnight” is one of the moodiest and prettiest songs ever written by band who specialize in those things. Anyone who has seen its magic at work in the new Exodus trailer know how effective this track is.

19. First Aid Kit – “My Silver Lining”

The Soderberg sisters of Sweden’s First Aid Kit have always shown an adept grip over older American country. Here they combine their vocal talents with some modern twists to create one of the year’s best.


18. Hozier – “Take Me to Church”

Hozier—the monicker of Andrew Hozier-Byrne from Ireland—was my big pick to break out in 2014, and now it seems like he’s finally done that. His rich voice stands out, but it’s his incredible hold over lyrics that takes him over the top. Just the opening line, “My lover’s got humor/she’s the giggle at a funeral”, packs enough creative punch to outdo many of his peers.

17. Nickel Creek – “Love of Mine”

Welcome back, my friends, how I’ve missed you. There’s the soft mandolin. There’s Chris Thile’s voice. There’s the harmonies with the Watkins’. And there are the kinds of lines I remember: “for all these pretty words it wasn't her but love that I adored”. I missed you Nickel Creek. Don’t go away again.

16. Caribou – “Back Home”

The first of two Caribou songs high on this list, “Back Home” is one of the most cathartic tracks of the year. The breakout at the end is a swarming electronic symphony. Turn the headphones up loud.

15. Beck – “Blue Moon”

Who is this Beck? Announcing the tenor of the song by wailing the opening line “I’m so tired of being alone”, Beck creates something beautiful here. I dare say the best thing he’s ever done.

14. SOHN – “Artifice”

I liked “Artifice” at first. Kept it in my shuffle. Periodically, I’d add songs. And I’d delete many, making room for the new. “Artifice” always stayed somehow. The song is infectious and swirling.

13. Great Good Fine OK – “Not Going Home”

Talk about a debut album I can’t wait for. GGFO don’t even have a full length album yet, and last year they had the #38 song. This year they do even better, dropping the best electro-pop song of the year, an absolutely rousing track.

12. London Grammar – “Maybe”

Oh how I love Hannah Reid and London Grammar. I gushed over them through 2013, and by throwing an extra track onto their 2014 US release, I get to gush again. If I could make you love a band, I’d probably make you love London Grammar.

11. TV on the Radio – “Careful You”

A love song, TV on the Radio-style. Set over fuzzy synths and whirl of music, TV on the Radio drops one of the best sounding choruses of the year. Sometimes a band can stand to add a little melody to the equation, and here is the perfect example of a great band making a smart transition.

10. Family of the Year – “Hero”

Allow me to cheat. Like most, I heard this song in what might be the year’s best movie, “Boyhood”. It was released in 2012 originally, but has been rereleased on the movie’s soundtrack, so that’s my loophole! I’m happy to take the loophole too, because this is an amazing and moving song. It’s uncertain lyrics soundtracked a transitionary period in my life.

9. Broods – “Bridges”

As frustrated as I’ve been over the synth/bedroom electronica revolution at times, it’s clear that no matter how much styles change that there are some bands that just do it so well. Take “Bridges” for example, a song that is built over an electronic wave. But there’s something else here. The song is a rush of energy, at once swarming and catchy.

8. Marshall McLean Band – “Sons of Thunder”

I hope this band gets heard. I’m doing my part and I’d really love you love this one. I’ve always been a fan of Americana and alt-country. I love the steel guitar and many of the things country music brings to the table, even though I run away from modern pop country as fast as I can. Mold those country elements with Northwest indie and obvious Christian influences, and you have Marshall McLean and “Sons of Thunder”. Oh Lord if my hands keep shaking, pass me a tambourine. What a song.

7. Interpol – “My Desire”

It’s been years since Interpol dropped a cut like “My Desire”. The guitars that underpin this song are nothing short of incredible. You even have Paul Banks wailing into a bit of a falsetto. If you’re looking for the year’s best straight alt rock jam, look no further.

6. Mimicking Birds – “Acting Your Age”

This is one where you close your eyes. Nate Lacy adds a few more layers to his already incredible style, and creates a banjo-infused track that is worth obsessing over.

5. Spoon – “Inside Out”

Just when I think I can’t love Spoon any more than I already do, they drop “Inside Out” out of left field. Spoon is alternatingly fun and energetic, but this is their most introspective track yet. As Britt Daniels sings “mmmm and then they wash my feet” and the harp kicks in, it’s a brilliant music moment. “Break out of character for me”, he sings. And as the song keep growing, that’s exactly what happens.

4. The Antlers – “Palace”

Fun fact: if you don’t count the instrumental prelude on Hospice, I have five-starred the opening track on every album by The Antlers. There’s only 100 five-star songs, so that means something. “Palace” is another masterpiece by Peter Silberman and The Antlers. This is a song about reaching out to someone and saving them, although that description does not do it justice. When the song breaks out into the line “but I swear I’ll find your light in the middle, where there’s so little late at night, down in the pit of the well”, Silberman encapsulates desperation.

3. Caribou – “Silver”

Love at first listen. “Silver” once again proves what we learned with 2010’s “Jamelia”: that when Dan Snaith combines his production skills with his relatable vocals, perfection can happen. “Silver” has been on non-stop shuffle this year.

2. James Vincent McMorrow – “Look Out”

“Look Out” starts mildly enough, with JVM’s soft falsetto echoing over just a touch of a piano and a reverbing, distant striking of a drum. The chorus, however, introduces a totally new and improved JVM, borrowing from contemporaries like Bon Iver, but doing it so exceptionally well that all potential unoriginality criticisms are squashed. McMorrow’s gift is the sincerity in his vocals, which are soft for sure, but nonetheless striking and powerful when combined with the electronic cacophony that envelops the greatest segments of the track.

1. The War on Drugs – “Under the Pressure” and “Red Eyes”

As the year came to a close I had a hard time reconciling the fact that I knew that “Red Eyes” was possibly my favorite song in four or five years, but that its link to “Under the Pressure” is so unbreakable that the song stands taller when paired with its album predecessor. “Under the Pressure” opens this year’s best album and clocks in at nearly nine minutes long, signaling a clear intention that The War on Drugs are not here to make a cookie cutter album. “Under the Pressure” is a glorious alt rock track, led by a combination of swirling synths, driving percussion, and some absolutely stunning guitar work and lyrics from Adam Granduciel. When the song hits its zenith—right about when Adam belts out “Lying on my back/Loosening my grip/Wading in the water/Just trying not to crack/Under the pressure!”—it’s the kind of high you wait for all year from an artist or a song. To me, this makes it all the more impressive that the song is one-upped immediately by “Red Eyes”, the clearest #1 song I can remember. Seriously, I gave this year’s #1 song so little thought that it’s as if it was determined for me about a year ago when I first heard it. The song is a ball of bursting energy, growing on a lead guitar line, Charlie Hall’s propulsive drumming, and Granduciel’s reverb-drenched vocals, highlighted by the best “woo!” ever seen in music. It’s not just the song of the year, it’s the early front runner for song of the new decade.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Alt-j – “Left Hand Free”
  • Alt-j – “Nara”
  • Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – “All Our Lives”
  • The Antlers – “Parade”
  • Ariana Grande – “Problem”
  • Augustines – “Walkabout”
  • Avery Tare’s Slasher Flicks – “Little Fang”
  • Avi Buffalo – “Memories of You”
  • Band of Horses – “Neighbor (Acoustic at the Ryman)”
  • Bear Hands – “Giants”
  • Bear Hands – “Party Hats”
  • The Black Keys – “Turn Blue”
  • The Black Keys – “Fever”
  • Bleachers ft. Grimes – “Take Me Away”
  • Bleachers – “Like A River Runs”
  • Bon Iver – “Heavenly Father”
  • Broken Bells – “Perfect World”
  • Broods – “Coattails”
  • Caribou – “Can’t Do Without You”
  • Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”
  • Christina Perri – “Human”
  • Cloud Person – “Lighthouse”
  • Coldplay – “A Sky Full of Stars”
  • Cold War Kids – “All This Could Be Yours”
  • Cold War Kids – “Hotel Anywhere”
  • Copeland – “Disjointed”
  • DJ Snake & Lil John – “Turn Down For What”
  • Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
  • Echosmith – “Cool Kids”
  • Elbow – “New York Morning”
  • FKA Twigs – “Two Weeks”
  • First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane”
  • The Fixators – “Colourblind”
  • Foster the People – “Pseudologia Fantastica”
  • Foster the People – “Are You What You Want to Be?”
  • Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
  • Gaslight Anthem – “Get Hurt”
  • The Hold Steady – “Oaks”
  • How to Dress Well – “Precious Love”
  • How to Dress Well – “Face Again”
  • Hozier – “Work Song”
  • Hundred Waters – “Murmurs”
  • Interpol – “All the Rage Back Home”
  • Jack White – “Lazaretto”
  • Jack White – “That Black Bat Licorice”
  • Jungle – “Busy Earnin’”
  • Lana Del Rey – “West Coast”
  • Lana Del Rey – “Old Money”
  • Mimicking Birds – “Bloodlines”
  • Mimicking Birds – “Wormholes”
  • Mimicking Birds – “Memorabilia”
  • NEEDTOBREATHE – “Where the Money Is”
  • NEEDTOBREATHE – “Difference Maker”
  • Nickel Creek – “Elsie”
  • Nickel Creek – “Destination”
  • Ought – “Habit”
  • Panda Bear – “Mr Noah”
  • Passenger – “Let Her Go”
  • Portable ft. Lucio – “Surrender”
  • S. Carey – “Fire-scene”
  • Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”
  • The Shins – “So Now What”
  • Spoon – “Do You”
  • Spoon – “Knock Knock Knock”
  • Spoon – “Let Me Be Mine”
  • Spoon – “Rent I Pay”
  • St. Vincent – “Prince Johnny”
  • Sun Kil Moon – “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love”
  • Switchfoot – “Slipping Away”
  • Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
  • Thom Yorke – “Guess Again!”
  • Todd Terje ft. Bryan Ferry – “Marry & Jonny”
  • TV on the Radio – “Quartz”
  • TV on the Radio – “Ride”
  • Walk the Moon – “Portugal”
  • The War on Drugs – “Suffering”
  • The War on Drugs – “An Ocean In Between the Waves”
  • The War on Drugs – “Burning”
  • The War on Drugs – “Eyes to the Wind”
  • The War on Drugs – “Lost in the Dream”
  • Wild Beasts – “Wanderlust”
  • William Fitzsimmons – “Centralia”
  • Young the Giant – “Camera”
  • Young the Giant – “Anagram”
  • Young the Giant – “It’s About Time”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

All of the Albums!

mimicking_birds_01

The writing may have slowed, but the listening has not. Life has gotten in the way lately, but that’s what a good recap is for. Apologies to those of you used to the full reviews, as I realize I’ve only written two this year. Please forgive me as I’ve returned from Afghanistan, gotten back to life, left the Air Force, moved from Arizona to Washington, and searched for a new job. Writing has simply taken a backseat. So here is a quick synopsis of every album I’ve bought in recent months that I haven’t given a full review:

NEEDTOBREATHE – “Rivers in the Wasteland” – ★★1/2

NEEDTOBREATHE have still remained quiet in mainstream circles, but they keep churning out great gritty, southern-tinged rock songs led by one of the most interesting voices in music, Bear Rineheart. On their newest effort there is still plenty to love, but a little too many forgettable tracks. “Brother” is the highlight, and “Difference Maker” close behind.

S. Carey – “Range of Light” – ★★

S. Carey, who also functions as the drummer and backup vocalist in the more widely known Bon Iver, churns out more breathy, soft indie. When he is at his best, such as “Fire-Scene” and “Alpen Glow”, S. Carey can soundtrack a rainy day. Overall though, the album’s one-dimensional sound tends to dissolve into the background.

Bear Hands – “Distraction” – ★★

Years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Bear Hands in a super tiny venue in Boise. They still have some of that great energy here. “Party Hats”, “Bad Friend”, and “Giant” all are the kind of guitar-driven jams summer is made of. The album overall is inconsistent on the whole, but Bear Hands sure have good single potential.

The Black Keys – Turn Blue – ★★1/2

The overall rating feels generous, but I’m trying not hold my expectations against them too much. The album is still fine, but The Black Keys can and have done so much better. The album sounds uninspired and likely be ever-forgotten when stacked up against the likes of Brothers and El Camino. “Weight of Love” and “Turn Blue” are reminders that The Black Keys have immense talent even when they aren’t putting out their best.

Mimicking Birds – EONS – ★★★★

Surely destined to be one of the year’s best, EONS is the second gem in a row from the excellent Mimicking Birds. EONS is at once minimal and expansive, proof that you can be at once quiet and multi-dimensional. “Acting Your Age” and “Bloodlines” are the very best of the best, but the album is absolutely worth owning.

The Antlers – Familiars – ★★★★1/2

The Antlers now have three albums, all sounding slightly different, and all amongst my favorites of each respective year. This time around, they rely more on the horn, but utilize it to create a smoky, lounge-y feel reminiscent of a noir film. As always, Peter Silberman stretches his range from hauntingly soft on “Revisited” (“so when they asked me for directions, I sold them our map”) to movingly impassioned on “Parade” (“but I swear I’ll find your light in the middle, where there’s so little late at night, down in the pit of the well”).

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence – ★★★

Somewhat of the ol’ switcheroo from the most controversial woman in indie, er I mean mainstream pop. Lana follows up her debut album with tracks more reminiscent of indie blogosphere darling “Video Games” than pop hits like the “Summertime Sadness” remix. It drones on at times, but “West Coast” vibes California cool and “Brooklyn Baby” is as good as she’s ever done”. Lana Del Rey has proven tough to peg, but she continues to churn out some great tunes.

Bleachers – Strange Desire – ★★★

As an album it won’t blow anyone away, but count me in the group that is a little pleased at this small surprise from the guitarist for popular band fun. A sonically interesting duo with Grimes? Using the lower register so effectively on “Reckless Love”? Rousers like “WIld Heart” and “Like a River Runs”? Yes, please. You may have heard radio single “I Wanna Get Better”. If you like that one, there’s more here, and if you don’t, be assured it’s one of the worst songs here.

Broods – Evergreen – ★★★

Broods has given us some free previews of a lot of these tracks, and while they don’t add much more on the expanded full album, there is still some true excellence here. “Bridges” is one the year’s best tracks and “Never Gonna Change” is great. Missing from the LP is one of their EP’s strongest tracks, “Coattails”, so don’t miss picking that one up too.

Interpol – El Pintor – ★★★★

I adore Interpol, their slippage after their first two albums is obvious. But of course it is, since I truly believe Turn On the Bright Lights and Antics are two of the best modern albums ever made. The good news is that El Pintor is also their best work in a full decade. Interpol’s best years may be behind them, but the best tracks on El Pintor, namely “My Desire”, “All the Rage Back Home”, and “My Blue Supreme”, are among the strongest they’ve ever written.

Caribou – Our Love – ★★★

I’m not usually a fan of electronic dance music, and this doesn’t change my opinion overall, but it’s obvious that Dan Snaith of Caribou has some skills. Snaith also occasionally sings, and in 2010 he packed a killer vocal punch in “Jamelia”, my #1 song that year. Three more times on this album, Snaith nails it again. “Back Home” and “Can’t Do Without You” are excellent, and “Silver” reigns supreme as one of the best tracks of 2014.

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – ★★1/2

I am an untrustworthy fanboy of Andrew McMahon all the way back to his early Something Corporate days, so take compliments with a grain of salt. As an album its nothing revolutionary and lyrically it lacks his normal punch, but it’s still tough not to get a tinge of sentimentalism listening to McMahon reminisce on “Cecilia and the Satellite” and “Maps for the Getaway”.

Marshall McClean Band – Glossolalia – ★★★★

What a surprise pickup. Bringing together the best elements of folk/Americana and combining them with Northwest influence, Marshall McClean provides a bit of alt-country unlike anything else I own. Packed full of religiously-influenced lyrics and steel guitar, songs like “Sons of Thunder” and “Irons in the Fire” aren’t just “good for a little band from Spokane”, they are amongst my favorite tracks of the year.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Spoon – “They Want My Soul”

spoon2

★★★★★

A few years ago, I wrote a 28 page document counting down the Top 100 albums of the decade. At the #1 position was the unbelievable, critically-acclaimed, universally-loved Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon, an album that blended alternative rock with an undeniable catchiness that made for what might possibly be the most perfect blend of indie and pop that I’ve ever heard. It’s regarded as sort of a career peak from a band that’s been around longer than you think, churning out consistently great products from the very beginning. If you’re interested in a short tour of their very best, you can try this (2001), this (2002), this (2005), or most definitely this (2007). And how about their biggest hit? (2007)

In some ways, 2010’s followup to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference, was doomed from the start. It’s hard enough to follow up, say, my 82nd favorite album of the decade, but how do you followup the best? The effort was admirable, and tracks like “Mystery Zone”, “Who Makes Your Money”, and “Out Go the Lights” still are some of their strongest, but it was no Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. And now with They Want My Soul, 2014 seems about time for a band that peaked in 2007 to start slowly slipping out of the picture…

Except, no. Wow. They Want My Soul is brilliant. The singles started trickling out a couple months ago. “Rent I Pay” was vintage Spoon: Britt Daniels’ growl rising over toe-tapping percussion and simple-yet-fantastic guitars and subtle details. Then came “Do You”, a summer jam if you ever heard one, peppy and positive, with Daniels asking “do you wanna get understood?”. Finally, the masterstroke: “Inside Out”. We’ve seen Spoon get pensive before (“Anything You Want” and “Black Like Me”, for example), but we’ve never seen Britt Daniel quite like THIS. “Inside Out” is the album’s best track, lush and beautiful on the surface but still distinctly Spoon underneath. When Daniel sings “break out of character for me”, he might as well be singing about the track itself. “Inside Out” leaves it’s mark, and it’s only the second track of the album.

Even with the initial three singles being as excellent as they are, the rest of the album is no less amazing. “Knock Knock Knock” is the album’s most fun track and the most immediately likeable, but take a deeper listen and hear everything else going on. It’s a sound so interesting that in this article on NPR, Spoon says they had trouble later because they couldn’t figure out how they made the sounds in the studio. On the album’s title track “They Want My Soul” Spoon tackles familiar material like soul-suckers, including a throwback to a real-life character and childhood bully Jonathon Fisk, who was the subject of his own song in 2002.

Listen, this isn’t Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga part two, and it shouldn’t be, But I’ll be darned if this isn’t the second best record from a band that has made some absolute doozies. It’s Britt Daniel and Spoon sounding mature, confident, and assured. In 2001, following a disheartening struggle with a major record label, Daniel sang “We go through all the same lines or sell out to appease/But go to sleep in a bed of lies/I made my own more than once or twice”. In 2007, he sang “They told me stop scouting the field/They told me have a look, and commercial appeal/And start getting that hair cut sharp”. Spoon has always been protective of their soul and the integrity of their music. In 2014, it’s Daniel singing with confidence on “Let Me Be Mine” about putting himself out there. Sure, he sings, “Go ahead and take another chunk of me, yeah, just go”, but it’s not the end of it. “Auction off what you love/it will come back sometime”, he sing, showing actual comfort in selling his music, being himself, and seeing how it goes. After years of refusing to be anyone but himself, Daniel sounds as unashamed as ever.

Oh, and let’s just say you don’t care about all the history and analysis and investigation of common themes…The album SOUNDS awesome. Seriously, just listen to “Knock Knock Knock” below.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Best Music of 2014 So Far (15 Songs, 5 Albums)

Best Tracks

1. War on Drugs – “Under the Pressure” / “Red Eyes”

Best opening 14 minutes on an album since Band of Horses’ Cease to Begin back in 2007.

2. James Vincent McMorrow – “Look Out”

Haunting and beautiful evidence of what the talented Irish songwriter can do if he borrows a touch from Bon Iver.

3. London Grammar – “Maybe”

A brilliant addition to their US release. Emotive and passionate and just as excellent as always.

4. Mimicking Birds – “Acting Your Age”

Just close your eyes and let this one wash over you. Nate Lacy is the most talented person in indie that no one knows about.

5. The Antlers – “Palace”

It starts gentle and ends with the kind of force The Antlers are capable of when firing on all cylinders.

6. Beck – “Blue Moon”

So this is the transformation of Beck, who might be better right now than he’s ever been.

7. Young the Giant – “Mind Over Matter”

Sameer Gadhia might be one of the most interesting vocals in music right now, and he lets it stretch on this optimistic and defiant jam.

8. Great Good Fine Ok – “Not Going Home”

They’ve yet to release and album and both their singles have landed on my lists. Hoping for more like this one.

9. Broods – “Bridges”

The New Zealand brother-sister duo lean on the sister’s breathy vocals and the brother’s body-swaying musical creations.

10. The Hold Steady – “Wait a While”

A return to the rock roots and the stories. It’s good to hear Craig Finn on top again.

11. Foster the People – “Pseudologia Fantastica”

Foster the People have decided to be the band we all wanted MGMT to be, and with great psychedelic-pop results.

12. Lost in the Trees – “Past Life”

The band always seem to operate in the dark, and this one is no different. But it’s them at their most expansive and, consequently, at their best.

13. Bad Suns – “Transpose (Nicita Remix)”

Their label says this in an “insta=grat” track and I tend to agree. Thing is I’m still singing it months later.

14. Nickel Creek – “Love of Mine”

Welcome back, old friends. There’s that familiar feeling again. My ears missed you.

15. Hozier – “Work Song”

Big things are coming for Hozier. “Work Song” is a heavy, gospel-influenced track. With this and “Take Me to Church” on just EPs alone, Hozier is about ready to be a household name.

 

Best Albums

1. War on Drugs – “Lost in the Dream

war_on_drugs

2. James Vincent McMorrow – “Post Tropical”

Post_Tropical

3. Beck – “Morning Phase”

Beck-Morning-Phase

4. The Antlers – Familiars”

5. Mimicking Birds – “EONS”

Mimicking-Birds-Eons-608x608

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Coldplay – Ghost Stories

coldplay_ghost_stories-t2

★★★1/2

What a career Coldplay has had. Although lampooned by certain sectors, they are now reaching a point of sustained popularity rarely achieved. Even publishers that have spent years negatively judging Coldplay are starting to look back at albums like Viva La Vida—this amateur critic’s favorite—and regard it as something of a classic. Despite their penchant for being mopey and dreamy, they’ve also managed to produce some distinctly different albums. Just look at the range of difference between acoustically-oriented Parachutes and the electro-pop of Mylo Xyloto, both good in their own way.

Now we get Ghost Stories, a post-breakup album for Chris Martin and company, and the expectation is that mopey and dreamy will once again rule the day. And for the most part, yes, this album is a much more restrained affair compared to previous efforts, for better or for worse. For better because mood-wise, the feel is distinct. This is an album that can accompany a lonely night drive. For worse, because catharsis is lacking. If you’re waiting for the album to build-then-burst like so many Coldplay tracks, you won’t find that moment, even when you think it’s coming on closing tracks like “O”, which feels like it builds and builds until it just simply decides to end. This is still a worthy addition to the Coldplay discography, though. The infectious “Magic” and standout “Ink” bolster a strong start before trademark softy “True Love” breaks in. “Midnight” is a curious soft-electro single. It’s another track that feels like it’s about to take off, yet doesn’t completely, opting for the explosion to happen purely electronically. But upon repeated listens, I like the dark, dreamy mood in creates. Finally, there’s “A Sky Full of Stars”, the obvious single and the most Coldplay track here. Martin, in the early stages of propelling another of his classic, cheesy, star-gazing songs announces “Now I don’t care/Go on and tear me apart/I don’t care if you do”. It’s as if Chris Martin is saying “listen, this is me, this is what I do well, people love it, and I’m going to go for it”. And he does, unabashedly. So it’s with full transparency that I admit that the poppiest and most accessible song on this album is also my favorite.

I’m not going to overly laud the album because it breaks basically no new ground. The album feels introverted and shy, which is probably what you’d expect from a post-breakup Chris Martin. It’s a pleasant album, perfectly fine, yet not spectacular. But for the Coldplay fans, I think they’ll like it just fine. When they want the creative, expansive version of Coldplay they—we—can still reach for Viva la Vida, but Ghost Stories will now sit there for the quieter moments, like Parachutes for a new decade. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Catching Up on 2014

Nickel Creek

Ever since returning from Afghanistan, I’ve watched the blog sort of die away. And as time continues to go by, it becomes more and more overwhelming to try and catch up on everything. So here, on this pleasant Saturday morning, I’m going to get caught up. Of course, I can’t write a full review on everything I have. But that’s okay. You probably want the snippets anyways. So get comfy folks, here goes a “snippet” review of every album I’ve purchased since the start of the year.

James Vincent McMorrow – “Post Tropical”

★★★★

Surprise. Surprise. I have liked some songs from James in the past, but I didn’t see this coming. The album borrows freely from Bon Iver and James Blake, and the Irishman’s take on those styles—most amazing on “Look Out”, “Gold”, and “Cavalier”—is absolutely stunning.

Switchfoot – “Fading West”

★★

As with every Switchfoot album, there are some really great tracks. “Slipping Away”, “When We Come Alive”, and “Love Alone is the Worth the Fight” highlight a pretty solid first half. Unfortunately the back half is pretty unmemorable, and the album ends up being forgettable.

Young the Giant – “Mind Over Matter”

★★★

Young the Giant blew me away with their self-titled debut album, one of my all-time favorites, but their sophomore album is more solid than spectacular. Sameer Gadhia still brings some of the most interesting vocals in alt rock to the plate, and songs like “Mind Over Matter”, “Camera”, and “Anagram” are great.

Broken Bells – “After the Disco”

★★1/2

Expectations can be killer, especially when you subscribe to the idea that everything James Mercer (of Shins fame) touches turns to gold. Broken Bells’ newest effort is pretty good in spots, especially upfront on “Perfect World” and “Leave it Alone”. The album is full of good songs, but overall it will leave you underwhelmed.

Band of Horses – “Acoustic at the Ryman”

★★★

More for the diehard BoH fan (me!) than the casual listener, Band of Horses strip down some of their slower songs, change up the arrangements, and present them in the iconic Ryman. They cover some of my all-time favorite: “Funeral”, “Detlef Schrempf”, and “No One’s Gonna Love You”, and possibly improve on “Neighbor”.

Lost in the Trees – “Past Life”

★★★

Sometimes they lose me a little bit by sounding a little too similar across the board, but Lost in the Trees have some high highs. “Past Life”, the title and lead track, for example, is absolutely mesmerizing. “Daunting Friend” and “Glass Harp” are right behind. 

William Fitzsimmons – “Lions”

★★★

His formula is no secret. He’s a sad man with a beard playing hushed, emotional songs. When he nails it, though, it can strike you to the core. Moments like Fitzsimmons pondering and singing “and I hope I made you well” on “Well Enough” display him at his strongest.

Wild Beasts – “Present Tense”

★★★

Wild Beasts are a lot to handle, especially vocally, so I am timid to recommend them. However, they really can nail a song. Check out the eerie video for “Wanderlust” and if you like what you hear check out others like “Palace” and “Sweet Spot”.

 

Beck – “Morning Phase”

★★★★

Apparently it took till 2014 for Beck to release my favorite album of his. Always a casual fan, I was truly blown away by how much I loved “Morning Phase”, led by Song of the Year contender “Blue Moon” and others like “Waking Light” and “Country Down”.

The War on Drugs – “Lost in the Dream”

★★★★1/2

As of right now, this is the Album of the Year. And if the year ended today, it would also contain the Song of the Year in “Red Eyes”. The album makes me considering using words like “masterpiece”. It’s a cohesive gem, floating from song to song in one steady stream. The songs are moody, soaring, and often long. “Under the Pressure” and “In Reverse” provide some of the best bookends to an album you’ll ever hear, and it’s truly my year-long goal to get every reader to listen to “Red Eyes”.

Foster the People – “Supermodel”

★★★1/2

Are Foster the People the band that everyone likes? They are high energy and young and seem to basically be making a career off of being what we all wanted MGMT to be. The college kids like it, and if I’m any indication, so do the indie bloggers. And for the second straight album, Foster the People release a summery blend of awesome. “Coming of Age” is an obvious winner, but don’t miss the fast-paced “Best Friend” or the psychedelic “Pseudologia Fantastica”.

The Hold Steady – “Teeth Dreams”

★★★

Back in 2005 The Hold Steady released one of modern music’s seminal albums in “Separation Sunday”, possibly one of the greatest lyrical achievements ever. A decade later, the band is still kicking, but some of the bite is gone. Even so, Craig Finn is one of the best, and one great tracks like rockers like “Wait a While”, story-based songs like “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” and “The Ambassador”, and sweeping closers like “Oaks”, The Hold Steady show that they still have it.

**Note: I’m not being hyperbolic about Separation Sunday. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t find the album on spotify, pull up the lyrics online, and spend 43 of the best minutes music can offer. It’s one of the 3 best albums I’ve ever heard.**

Nickel Creek – “A Dotted Line”

★★★★★★★★★Stars of Excitement!!!!★★★★★★★★★

I am such an impartial giddy fan of Nickel Creek that reviewing them is nearly pointless. Having to wait a decade to hear the next album was a challenge, and my blog is littered with commentary about my pain over the “hiatus” that spanned my entire marriage. Welcome back, Nickel Creek. I wanted to put “Elsie” on here, as that’s my favorite, but here is a close second.

Alright folks, that’s it. More to come with NEEDTOBREATHE, S. Carey, Broods, and new albums by bands like Coldplay on their way. Sorry for the hiatus. Maybe now I keep the blog cooking again.

Monday, March 24, 2014

So Much Good Music Lately



FOTO: HILDE MESICS KLEVEN

I’ve fallen woefully behind on reviews this year, but part of this is the overwhelming amount of great music that’s out there right now. Check out some of the best of the best. Also, don’t forget to follow my continuously updated mix on Spotify.

http://open.spotify.com/user/derubino/playlist/1dnlPNnscprArTuAtqkOOG

Beck has changed a lot over time, but the music he’s making right now is probably my favorite. “Blue Moon” is absolutely wonderful.

I’d never heard of Highasakite before I saw them opening for London Grammar last week. After they kicked off the set with a powerful version of this track, I was hooked.

Up a totally different alley, is the indie pop song “Needle” from Born Ruffians. I need to check them out more.

On a more dour note, haunting “Past Life” from Lost in the Trees will get under your skin.

Can’t forget the work of Broken Bells (James Mercer of The Shins plus Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley). This one is called Perfect World.

For something a little more instantly gratifying, hope about this remix of Bad Suns?

I could go on and on, but with new releases from The Hold Steady, Nickel Creek, Coldplay, and Black Keys on the horizon, things look like they’re going to get better and better.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The 2014 Academy Awards

Every year I try to watch all the Best Picture nominees. Given my unique arrangement lately—deployment to Afghanistan, lots of transit time, three weeks off—I’ve actually managed to watched every movie mentioned in the major categories BEFORE the Oscars. Which makes me happy. Here’s my take on all the major categories.

Best Picture

1. Gravity

gravity

2. Her

her1

3. Philomena

Philomena2

4. American Hustle

american-hustle_2756552b

5. 12 Years a Slave

12-Years-a-Slave-4

6. Dallas Buyers Club

dallasbuyersclub

7. Nebraska

NEBRASKA

8. Captain Phillips

930353 - Captain Phillips

9. The Wolf of Wall Street

wolf

Thoughts on the nominees:

Visually speaking, Gravity might be the best I’ve ever seen. How rare is it to watch a movie and think to yourself, “Wow, I’ve never experienced anything quite like that before”. That’s why it’s my #1. Her is a very close second. The world Spike Jonze created was so incredible and fascinating, and Phoenix’s performance was spot on. Philomena was my biggest surprise, as I found it to be the most impactful of the films in a field that included Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave. It was incredibly sentimental without being sappy. American Hustle was probably the most pure fun, and I don’t really have a single problem with it, but it didn’t scream Best Picture to me. Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave did a great job dealing with some really heavy material and provided some brilliant performances. Nebraska was a heartfelt and oft-hilarious movie from Alexander Payne—who directed previous year-end favorite of mine The Descendants—but I would call the movie “good” more than “great”. Neither Captain Phillips or The Wolf of Wall Street deserve Best Picture nods, though neither were bad. Captain Phillips had a great final third, but overall was closer to just being a “good drama”, while The Wolf of Wall Street was not much more than pointless fun that dragged on for way too long, albeit very well done, very well acted pointless fun.

Snubs:

mud-movie

My two favorite movies of the whole year are Mud and Rush, so I’m not calling Gravity the best of the year, just the best of the bunch. Overall the field is solid, but it could have been improved with Mud, Rush, The Spectacular Now, The Way Way Back, Saving Mr. Banks, or The Place Beyond the Pines taking some of the weaker spots. Heck, if you just want a comedy, I was really impressed with The World’s End.

Best Actor

1. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

12-years-a-slave

2. Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

3. Christian Bale (American Hustle)

4. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

5. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Thoughts on the Nominees:

All very good picks. Ejiofor was absolutely mesmerizing in 12 Years a Slave. He knifes your heart just with his facial expressions. McConaughey probably had the best year when you combine this performance with Mud and Wolf of Wall Street. He was my favorite part of Wolf of Wall Street in his limited screen time. Bale was also a loveable disaster in American Hustle. His range is fantastic. If Dern wasn’t actually a near-senile old man, he got me. DiCaprio was a force in Wolf of Wall Street as well, but a step behind a very solid top four.

Snubs: 

ryan-gosling-stars-in-first-trailer-for-the-place-beyond-the-pines-watch-now-124452-470-75

This list is pretty good for leads. McConaughey was fantastic in Mud but the Academy wasn’t going to ignore Dallas Buyers Club, Ryan Gosling was electrifying in Place Beyond the Pines, and Chris Hemsworth was surprisingly fantastic in Rush, but I don’t have massive qualms with the nominees here.

Best Actress

1. Judi Dench

philomena2 (1)

2. Amy Adams

3. Sandra Bullock

4. Cate Blanchett

5. Meryl Streep

Thoughts on the nominees:

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Judi Dench is the absolute best here, and don’t think me stupid until you’ve seen Philomena. What she does as a scarred old Irishwoman trying to find her son after 50 years is astounding. Adams would have been my choice before seeing Philomena, because she’s fantastic in American Hustle. Bullock was tasked with commanding the screen practically solo in Gravity and did great. Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep—in Blue Jasmine and August: Osage County respectively--both played wrecks in movies I’d have been fine with not watching. Blanchett gets the slight nod because her character was a little more complicated than just playing Streep’s bitter character.

Snubs:

the_spectacular_now_36383

Shailene Woodley should have been nominated for The Descendants, and you could make a case for her for The Spectacular Now. Can’t say there’s a whole lot more to mention, unless we reach for the little Onata Aprile, who played the little girl in What Maisie Knew or Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks. I’d take any of those three over Blanchett or Streep.

Best Supporting Actor

1. Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

michaelfass

2. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

3. Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)

4. Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)

5. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)

Thoughts on the nominees:

The top four is all pretty close. Hard to really pick. Plus, Leto is a shoo-in to win anyways. Leto was really great, but I was a little more shaken by Fassbender’s crazed performance in 12 Years a Slave. The man can sure play a villain. Jonah Hill gets his second Oscar nomination. I wanted him to win for Moneyball, but he was good here too. Bradley Cooper gives a tough performance. Hard to win playing the pitiful character. Barkhad Abdi shouldn’t be here. Sorry. The Academy must’ve liked his story. Good story, but not nominee worthy.

Snubs:

her-joaquin-phoenix-8

How did Joaquin Phoenix get left off this list when Her managed to get attention for Best Picture. I’d have given him the #1 spot. No kidding. Also, one of my favorite performances of the year was Sam Rockwell in The Way, Way Back, though I understand that one not getting the same attention.

Best Supporting Actress

1. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

american-hustle-jennifer-lawrence-is-foul-mouthed-mother

2. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

3. June Squibb (Nebraska)

4. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

5. Juila Roberts (August: Osage County)

Thoughts on the Nominees:

To me Jennifer Lawrence is an easy pick here. She was a firecracker in American Hustle. Not only that, but the field drops off after her. Nyong’o is the only person who comes close here and the only other person who I’d be fine with winning. Squibb was fantastic in her brief time in Nebraska, but her character doesn’t stretch too much beyond comic relief. When I first saw Hawkins on here, I thought, “Really? The sister from Blue Jasmine?”. She only gets the nod over Roberts because not only did I not find Roberts’ role impressive, I found it obnoxious.

Snubs:

careymulligan_2550464b

Sure not hard to find people better than Hawkins or Robert, but nothing approaches Lawrence anyhow. How about the loveable Joanna Vanderham from What Maisie Knew. Heck, if the Academy likes women who play emotional wrecks (as they seem to), Julianne Moore was better than Roberts in that movie, and Nicole Kidman was better in The Paperboy. Erin Moriarty showed rising star potential in Kings of Summer and Carey Mulligan played the pathetic Daisy character quite well in the now-forgotten Great Gatsby. All of those are better than Hawkins and Roberts. The category is Lawrence’s though.