Friday, February 6, 2015

FAVORITE ALBUMS of 2014

Well, here's these finally. Muh fav'rite albums. (Favorite songs here, by the way)

I can't help but compare to 2013, just a little, and this year paled in comparison. But, let's be honest, 2013 was a tough year to follow. At any rate, this passed 365 days were quite eventful for me personally - got a new job, went back to Japan, made some art, even participated in some gallery shows and a Comic Con. Many adventures, and these were my soundtracks. Let's get started, shall we? Click the blues for tasty treats!

First, a few items of miscellaneousness:

Favorite Film Soundtrack/Score:
Interstellar • Hans Zimmer

Runner up:
Under the Skin • Mica Levi

Favorite EP:
X priest X • Samurai EP

Favorite Album From 2013 Not Heard Until 2014:
Still Corners • Strange Pleasures

Runners-Up:
Philip Selway • Weatherhouse
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu • Pika Pika Fantajin
Flying Lotus You're Dead!
Kye Kye • Fantasize
Tennis • Ritual In Repeat


THE TOP 25--------------



25
D'Angelo and the Vanguard

Black Messiah

Still need some time with it, but quite an interesting and eventful listen. Sort of miss that slow, sweet, and sexy, but major points for originality. D’Angelo is still a pimp.
-- Ain't That Easy



24
S. Carey

Range of Light

A perfectly understated effort from the Bon Iver pal. Soundtracked many a reflective moment for me this year. Great on a calm and rainy day.
-- Glass/Film




23
The Smashing Pumpkins

Monuments to an Elegy

I have to admit I was a tad underwhelmed with Monuments. It’s adequately enjoyable, but I prefer my Pumpkins to be a tad more EPIC. I really loved Oceania and this just sort of feels like its b-sides. Still, every album Corgan puts out that isn’t “bad” is a sigh of relief these days. Keep it up!
-- Tiberius



22
Coldplay

Ghost Stories

Hard to pinpoint this one. I felt like every other song was incredible, among the best they’ve made. Stuff like “Midnight”  branched into new territory, while “Oceans” was a blissful and nostalgic return to the Parachutes intimacy of yesterdecade. So, at least half of it was fantastic. Which is enough to merit a #22, I suppose.
-- Ink


21
Hercules and Love Affair

Feast of the Broken Heart

After hinting at it on the previous two, Andy Butler and friends finally offer an album full of 90’s house goodness. Not as euphoric as Disclosure’s romp the year before, but definitely a worthwhile party in the same vein. And just a little more gay.
-- Do You Feel the Same?



20
Nothing

Guilty of Everything

Juiced up shoegaze goodness is always welcome in my house. A superbly fuzzy guitar album, filling some of that geetar void in my life.
-- Dig



19
The War On Drugs

Lost in the Dream

The album meanders a bit more than I’d like, but I’ll be damned if the vibe put off on this record isn’t chill as chill could be. The power of its Springsteenian bliss didn’t quite hit until I put it on while strollin’ Newport Beach in California. Definitely a good setting for its bright melancholia.
-- Under the Pressure

18
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

Days of Abandon

I dig the pop leanings from the band this time around. Especially the female led tracks like the shimmering “Kelly.” I’d take a full album of those! Good jorb, kids.
-- Simple and Sure



17
St. Vincent

St. Vincent

This album grooves and also rocks a little more than I was used to from her, and I totally dug it. Listening to it now, I realize I probably didn’t listen to it as much as I should have. Songs like “Birth In Reverse” remind of what I imagine Daniel Johns would do solo. I’d love to hear those two tackle a song together. Stand back, David Byrne!
-- Digital Witness

16
Warpaint

Warpaint

This band of ladies kind of came out of nowhere. I knew very little about them until they dropped this goodness and my friend suggested I take a gander (ども, Sierra-chan). Very cinematic, very brooding, and often quite funky. I like to walk in slow motion with sunglasses on to these tunes. Makes me wish I was a badass chick instead of some frumpy dude.
-- Hi

15
Tycho

Awake

A spectacularly spacey effort from these chill instrumentalists. It's a rare treat when an album of instrumentals can groove this smoothly all the way through, but they pull it off yet again. Is spacey-surfcore a genre? It should be.
-- See



14
Beck

Morning Phase

Every time Beck releases an album, I wonder how in the world one man can master so many sounds. Road-trip desert folk? Hell yes he did. The harmonies on this sucker are as good as I’ve ever heard from the man. A simply fantastic and happy sequel to Sea Change.
-- Turn Away
13
Arca

Xen

Venezuelan sound magician Alejandro Ghersi is on the rise, kids. Dude knows how to construct some otherworldly soundscapes (like he did with FKA twigs, Kanye, and now Bjork). This album of solo material is less beat driven than it is textural, but the results are nothing short of breathtaking. Make sure your headphones are ready.
-- Thievery

12
Thom Yorke

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

What a happy surprise this was! After dinking around with Radiohead’s PolyFauna app and soaking in the alien melodies within, I was more than happy to find out this solo effort was basically its soundtrack. Something about it seems so effortlessly hypnotizing. And it’s obviously little more than the digital sketches of a mad genius, but who doesn’t love to see the sketchbooks of a true master?
-- Brain In A Bottle

11
Damon Albarn

Everyday Robots

I wrote a review of this album on its release, and still stick by everything I said there. There are so many glorious juxtapositions happening here - beautifully melancholy songs about lamenting society’s technological addiction, made by putting together a very acoustic sounding electronic album. Damon and Thom just keep showing us that them old folks still got game.
-- Lonely Press Play




THE TOP 10--------------




10
Sisyphus • Sisyphus

I’m still pretty disappointed this album didn’t get more praise last year. I was floored by it’s ambition. Immaculately produced, humorous but sensitive, wild but quiet. Somehow Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti, and Son Lux came together seamlessly to fuse an amazing mix of experimental hip-hop and melodic synth pop that any fan of Gorillaz should appreciate. It succeeds most on tracks like the fantastic opener “Calm It Down” and “Rhythm of Devotion,” when fat beats melt away to the soulful yearnings of Suf. Is the thing perfect? No. But when it’s on, it soars. And like Gorillaz, there’s a keen sense of humor at work here. The mistake is to take this album too seriously. It’s just a party album with three unlikely friends. And it’s a helluva good time. Sounds great on vinyl too.
-- Take Me





9
The GOASTT • Midnight Sun

I’ve been waiting for this sucker to drop ever since I developed a school-boy crush on model/instrumentalist/songstress Charlotte Kemp Muhl and realized she was shackin’ up and writing music with rock prince Sean Lennon. Little did I know just how psychedelic and incredible the duo’s debut album would be. Its like a sexier Tame Impala, where the male lead has a better excuse for sounding like old school Beatles than anyone else alive. Sean has proven himself to be capable over the years, but hearing Charlotte coo over the quirky melodies while rolling along with some very analog sounding basslines on songs like “Johannesburg” is very impressive. The two compliment each other phenomenally. A much more melodic, rockin’ and all-around enjoyable album than I even hoped for. I hope they keep it up.
-- Animals (Warning: some psychedelic nudity!)
-- Xanadu





8
Caribou • Our Love

It’s always lovely when otherwise basic club-worthy electronic music can sound so fresh. I realize Dan Snaith has been doing this a lot longer than either, but Our Love almost sounds like the love child of Toro Y Moi’s laid-back grooves and Disclosure’s pleasure center jams. “Silver” melts around my skull like very few songs have in recents years. I even hear a little of Arca’s spacey textures in tracks like “Dive.” Basically, the album is an accurate snapshot of everything good about electronic music today. And that makes me happy. Very happy indeed. Not sure what else to say about it. 
-- All I Ever Need





7
††† • †††

Chino is on a roll the last few years while Deftones takes a break. Last year he teamed with Isis to form spacey shoegaze outfit Palms, and now this. Somehow I didn’t expect Crosses to be as good as it is. “This Is A Trick” starts things off pretty heavily, and while a dark air of gothic gloom hovers above the entire album, for the most part it’s relatively low key (by Chino standards). Never before has his love for 80’s synth groups like Depeche Mode bubbled so closely to the surface. Even still, every track has a decisive bite to it. One thing he’s always been good at is finding beauty in darkness. Make no mistake; these are love songs. “The Epilogue” would be playing on pop radio in some alternate universe where decent stuff like that still played on the radio. “Bermuda Locket” blurs the lines between love and lust just a bit more, and “Frontiers” doesn’t hide anything with lines like “I’m consumed by your danger.” And that’s just tracks 6-8. Occasionally he lets loose with a howling chorus in “Blk Stallion” and, my personal favorite, “Bitches Brew.” Overall, a surprisingly solid collection of melodic digirock…er witchhouse…er dark wave… or whatever the kids are calling it these days. BONUS: it was also my favorite concert of the year. Even met the man himself.




6
Kidkanevil • My Little Ghost

Over the summer, my wife and I took the vacation of a lifetime visiting Tokyo. Naturally, I had to visit the famous six story Tower Records in downtown Shibuya. As I roamed the megastore, I gravitated to the electronic section and randomly played featured album My Little Ghost at the listening station. I listened to the first three tracks (ambient opener “All Is Lost,” the glitchy “Earth to G San,” and lonely-sounding highlight “Inakunaru”). That’s all it took. I had found a souvenir. I assumed the artist was Japanese, given most of the track names were in Japanese. But I came to find out it’s actually the work of Tokyo-obsessed London native Gerard Roberts (it took me forever just to find his name, very little is written about him online). Roberts paints a dreamy landscape of blips and bleeps that can be light, but often venture into technical euphoria pretty quick. He has a keen knack for melody, mirroring greats like Aphex Twin or FlyLo at their most melodically glitchy. Occasionally, a Japanese guest artist provides some ghostly vocals, like on the incredible “Butterfly/Satellite” (feat. Cuushe & Submerse). And sometimes anime samples pop up, like in the spritely “Keroro Dub.”  The whole thing is a brilliant, light hearted journey, and a must-listen for any fan of good electronica, or good music in general. And for me, it’s also a memory attached to one of the best vacations ever.





5
Little Dragon • Nabuma Rubberband

Speaking of vacations, every big trip needs a good album to soundtrack the adventure. When I went to Europe in 2013, it was Phoenix’s Bankrupt!,  which appropriately complemented the constant barrage of Euro-chic everywhere I went. But for Japan this passed summer, Nabuma Rubberband was the album blasting through my psyche – a slick dozen of some of the smoothest jams all year. The band’s effortless cool and techno-soul sounds like Tokyo looks. Of course, singer Yukimi Nagano is of Japanese descent, but that’s not really a factor (or is it?). When my headphones weren’t pumping the synth stomp of “Paris” on a bullet train to Kyoto, my mind was focussed on the breezy pop of “Pretty Girls” under the rainy Shibuya night lights. I even hummed it to myself while at hip night club AIR (Lost In Translation, anyone?), even though there was a house DJ doin’ his thang. Coincidentally, my favorite track from their album previous (Ritual Union’s sassy “Shuffle A Dream”) was heard two separate times in stores whilst roaming the city. It was meant to be, and I was just glad they could tag along. Thanks, Little Dragon.
-- Killing Me





4
Aphex Twin • Syro

The universe has been mighty generous the last few years. 90’s legends have been popping up out of the woodwork all over the place: Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Mazzy Starr, My Bloody Valentine, Beck, Thom Yorke, Damon Albarn…it’s been such a blessed time. I just wish Richard D. James could have joined the party, ya know? I wouldn’t expect anything life-altering, just an album or so of juicy throwback goodness. Like the good ole days. And it would be so cool if he could actually “sing” a little on a track, maybe with some odd sequenced name like “Minipops 67 [120.2][Source Field Mix].” Or what if he did a straight-forward funky jam and called it, I dunno, “Produk 29 [101]?” That would be sweet. And I’d really love some sort of spastic video game freak out. He could call it (and I’m just spitballin’ here…) “Circlon6a [141.98][Syrobonkus Mix].” I suppose it would be wishful thinking to even hope for an achingly beautiful piano track to close the thing, though, right? Yeah… you’re right. I feel so selfish even thinking it. Maybe someday. If we’re good.






3
Charli XCX • Sucker

I don’t know how I’ve ignored this girl the last couple years, but when I finally heard “Boom Clap,” I fell in love. When I finally got my hands on her anticipated sophomore release, I thought it was a fun collection of energetic, campy pop, but nothing too “fancy” (get it??). Still, it was good enough to merit repeated listens, and the more I did, the more I began to realize something: this might actually be the best ROCK album of the year. Seriously. This album eventually brought out the same sort of giddy delight I usually reserve for acts like The Strokes, or maybe Sleigh Bells, or even Phoenix on occasion. The kind of fist pumping melodic guitar jams you can’t help but sing along to at the top of your lungs while driving down the street. Listen to those riffs on “Breaking Up.”  Or how about the Ramones rip “London Queen?” Hell, “Hanging Around” is the best Weezer song in ages. And don’t even get me started on the epic that is “Famous.” That jangly intro, that soaring chorus…you kidding me?!? FUHGETTABOUTIT. Sure, the lyrics are a tad empty. Purposely so, just like many a fantastic rock jam of the past where the goal is simply having a good time. And, sure, it’s a pop album at heart (“Doing It” is a spot-on Madonna by way of Haim tribute). But good, ol' fashioned rock hasn’t had the best showing the last few years. If it takes a chick like Charli to get it goin', I ain't complaining.





2
FKA twigs • LP1

I’m not the smartest man, but two things I know are true in this world: #1.) Some albums simply must be heard on a system with enough bass to shake your bones. #2.) as a regular consumer of music, there is no greater joy than hearing something new that completely takes your breath away on first listen. Listening to LP1 reminded me of these very truths. #2 is no easy feat. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, that’s for sure. But this is easily one of the most fabulously produced albums I think I’ve ever heard. My immediate thought was that of a female James Blake (“Jane Blake?”). Aesthetically, there are many similarities between the two; the spine tingling quiet-but-emotive vocal presentation, the flawless production, a reverence for the space between the noise (and the impact it can have), and an uncanny ability of injecting warmth and soul into an otherwise cold and mechanical sound. Of course, Blake mostly produces his own stuff, while Twigs had some help from a few super-powered collaborators (a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked, cuz those guys made some magic here). But, the most distinct connection between the two is the feeling of hearing pop from the future. Like some big headed space goon beaming sounds into my brain exclaiming, “This is how we do in 3014.” It’s is the kind of album that you can’t come back from. I hear the crap on the radio and it sounds like the poundings of cave men compared to this.
-- Pendulum 
-- Hours
-- Two Weeks





1
Wye Oak • Shriek
Someone I don’t even know once told me “If you like Beach House, you’ll enjoy Wye Oak.” That person was correct. And though it’s practically a funkier Teen Dream, I was still sort of surprised Shriek ended up here. I had pegged LP1 as my sure-fire #1 for much of the year, and was convinced it would take quite a behemoth to topple it. Yet, slow and steady, Wye Oak crept their way up the ladder as 2014 went on. The little album that could! Wasn’t until it came time to crown my favorites that I realized, “Waitaminutte, I think Shriek is actually my favorite album of the year… how ‘bout that!” The only reason it surprised me was because there really isn’t anything significantly mind-blowing about this album. There’s no new sounds that warp my brain, or life-affirming themes that change my world. It’s no Bloom, that’s for sure. But therein lies its true power–it’s simply the most immediately approachable, and endlessly enjoyable album I heard this year. I don’t have to wrap my head around how good this is, I can just hear it. More often than not, when I’d get in the car and pull out my iPod with nothing specific in mind to listen to, I found myself putting on Shriek. And it was always a good choice. The lyrics are understated but poetic (“And in the telling of the story/I lose my way inside a prepositional phrase/I read his lips and I see glory/but what I hear is “be afraid”), the instrumentation is minimal but lush, the grooves are understated but memorable, and Jenn Wasner’s voice is oh so pleasant. I think one of the album’s secret weapons are Wasner’s perfectly placed bass lines. Right away that bass hooks you with opening track “Before,” and then flows right alongside a cloudy piano in the title-track that follows. Of course, the synths are obviously integral as well. They bounce to perfection in “The Tower.” But it’s when “Sick Talk” hits that every element involved seems to click in flawless unison. Definitely the overlooked centerpiece of the record, and an instant classic. 

After all is said and done, the sounds captured here seem as though they were fine-tuned to my very liking. As pleasant as pleasant can be. Many people lamented the change in direction and lack of guitars. I had actually never listened to Civilian before this, but after falling for Shriek, I decided to go back and take a gander. And it’s ok I guess. But there’s too much guitar. And not enough euphoric, blissful, heavenly awesome. Shriek, FTW! Now, if only we can get these guys and Beach House to tour together…hot damn.



Friday, January 2, 2015

Top 14 songs of 2014



Wait... Top "14?!" Sure! Why not?

Now, this might look like a simple gimmick to correspond with the year. And while it is a happy coincidence, that fact was not involved in my decision to include a few extra morsels in my official "Top 10 Songs" this time around.

A top 10 has so much power to it. I mean, let's face it, most people don't give an elephant's haunch about what's beyond it. This is the hallowed ground of any list - an elite club reserved only for those special few that are truly worthy of spotlight.

Unfortunately, by definition, only 10 items can exist within a top 10. Because "math" and whatever. But the truth is, there are usually more than 10 that deserve the honor associated with being in the coveted, reverenced "Top 10." For this reason, I have also crowned four more tracks that to me just "felt" like they deserved it. Because they kicked that much buttock, and never left my head.

So, without further ado... my Top 14 Songs of 2014.
(Links to each track in the names)
Go here for 50-13





14. TOUCH | Shura
I almost lost this one. I found it by accident early in the year, but no album or EP exists, and iTunes didn't carry it. It almost got pushed aside, until I luckily rediscovered its glory later. Hovering synths and an honest, soft spoken lyric of longing and >BAM!< you've got yourself some gold. It's very European in the best way. I don't know where this girl came from and why she only has a handful of tracks circling the internet (all fantastic by the way), but she needs to put an album out. NOW. 



13. MINIPOPS 67 [120.2] | Aphex Twin
You'd think it would be hard to pinpoint a single moment that absolutely stood out on an album like Syro. But for me, it wasn't even a question. Sure, "aisatsana" stands out for being the only piano track on an album full of intricate electro-genius. And while it is pretty, that's not the one. "Minipops 67" takes the cake for a few reasons: a) being the first "single," it was the first any of us officially heard from Aphex Twin in 13 years. And it...was...glorious. b) it's a perfect storm of Richard D. James at his best, almost like a greatest hits all in one track. And c) I love hearing Richard's voice manipulated at the end. The man, the legend, back in full force, and vocalizing on a track! Something about that gave me goosebumps. And it still does. 


12. FAMOUS | Charli XCX 
Hot damn. While Sucker as a whole took a few spins to really get into, this song took no time at all. That jangly guitar intro, the thundering percussion, and Ms. Charlotte taking it to space in the chorus just like she's famous. I mean, HOT DAMN! I can't help but feel like it's both a celebration and a farce all at once. Almost like Lorde's "Royals," or Sophia Coppola's Bling Ring. Mocking the excess while blissfully enjoying it. Either way, it's pure pop bliss. The girl is legit. 



11. SILVER | Caribou
Is it possible for something to sound like it both came from space and also the depths of the ocean? That's kind of what Dan Snaith has done here. He took your basic break-up pop song premise, and turned it into a watery space epic. I suppose it doesn't really matter, because I feel like I'm floating while listening, which works either way. It can be hard to sound "original" in electronic music these days, but Caribou pulls it off with style here.



10. MORNING | Beck
For the record, this song must needs be played with the lush, heavenly intro track "Cycle," or it doesn't count. But, if you're a good person and have a soul you should already know that. Beck is a master at many sounds. He's a chameleon. But somehow he's always at his best when he's strummin' at a guitar and singing to the heavens. This track is the perfect opener to Morning Phase, and aptly titled, it sounds like a perfect sunrise. 




9. CALM IT DOWN | Sisyphus
(Explicit Lyrics)
First time I heard this thing I was at work, and I found myself unable to function for a few minutes as I re-listened and shared it with some co-workers. The production, the groove, the lyrics, the emotion. It makes me laugh, and it makes me kinda sad too. It's an epic song with multiple movements, starting with Serengeti's positivity rap, and capped with some soft introspection from the ever reliable Sufjan Stevens. In fact, Suf's lyrical spread on the end of this song just might be my favorite of any this year. "Shall I account for peace?/ Shall I resist it my way?/ Mine is the glory/ Mine is the praise." Such a diverse, surprising, and epic tune.



8. SICK TALK | Wye Oak
I'm a sucker for a few things. Two of them are great synths, and great bass lines. This song kicks my ass with both. It's so light and fluffy, but somehow so incredibly funky. And when that chorus comes to life...I can see fireworks. The lyrics are so subtle but effective and Wasner's voice is quickly becoming one of my favorites in the biddness. Incidentally, she also plays the bass and synths here from what I understand. So, basically, she's cooler than you. Anyway, such a simple but blissful few minutes of audio heaven. Puts me in dream mode.




7. PRETTY GIRLS | Little Dragon
I said it on a blurb from another track of theirs, but Little Dragon are the epitome of cool to me right now. Their songs radiate with an effortless charisma. "Pretty Girls" is a song that got stuck in my head as I wondered around Shibuya Tokyo with my wife this past summer. The jittery pop of the beat and the dreamy synths just fit the fashionable, hyper-futurism of the city while strolling across the busiest crosswalk on the planet. Fittingly, Yukimi sings about not getting stuck in the glory of the big life. It's a chill but grand piece of music that I've attached to some of my fondest moments of the year.




6. BITCHES BREW | †††
I wasn't sure what to expect of Chino Moreno's next side project. I enjoyed Palms from last year, but the side projects hardly ever match the highs of Deftones. But when I heard "Bitches Brew," I threw my hands in the air. This man is a damn genius no matter where he's at. The gritty energy of this track was unmatched for me this year, and it's easily the most "rockin'" tune in my list, let alone the album it hails from. Because of that, it's not the best representation of the album, but it's easily the best song on it. When Chino howls that first "From the flames/of the fiiiiiiiire!" like a warlock possessed, it sends chills up my spine. Also... I met Chino at the ††† show, and I may have pee'd a little.  



5. BOOM CLAP | Charli XCX
I knew very little of Charli XCX before I fully heard this song. I even saw Fault In Our Stars and didn't remember this song was in it. But when she released a Tokyo version of the video for it's Japan release, I decided to take a gander. BOOM. CLAP. I fell in love. One of the greatest pop songs I've heard in ages. Charli isn't afraid to lean on the side of cheese and pull it back just short of going over board, which makes for pop perfection. And this right here is the prime example of that approach firing on all cylinders. Carefree, mindless (in a good way), and impossibly fun. And when you feel like a party, that's all you need. 




4. BUTTERFLY/SATTELITE | Kidkanevil
(ft. Cuushe and submerse)
I laid down one night, listening to this song for the first time as I drifted to sleep. The beginning is nothing particularly fancy, although a good mix of bleeps and bloops. Suddenly, the bloops faded away, a dog started barking, and LIFTOFF. I kid you not, as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I suddenly felt like I was soaring through space. Then the sprite-like Japanese vocals of Cuushe start swirling around, and I realized I was hearing something really special. When music can give you that out-of-body experience, there is nothing like it. As the song slowly drifted to an end, I felt my body float back down to Earth. I literally laid there with my eyes wide open, thinking about what I had just experienced. 



3. PENDULUM | FKA twigs
Every once in a while, a song will come around that sounds like nothing else you've ever heard in your life. I think back to songs by Radiohead, Bjork, Animal Collective, Sigur Ros. I also think back to my favorite song of 2011, James Blake's "Lindisfarne I/II"– a minimalist, post-R&B/soul song that sounds like it came from the future. Most of LP1 sounds like it's from the future, but "Pendulum" shares a similar aesthetic as "Lindisfarne" by reveling in it's deliberate pacing, it's open space, and heart wrenching emotion. It's really a straight forward love song, but the damn thing sounds like it came from 3014. The moment that gets me every time: at 4:20 the backing vocals take over the refrain "So lonely trying to be yours" and you can hear the heart breaking, the soul longing. A perfect song.


2. MAGIC | Coldplay
I've had a soft spot for Coldplay for these past 14 years. Through good, through bad, I'll always give them a chance. The investment doesn't always lead to reward these days, but I'll be damned if "Magic" isn't one of the greatest songs they've ever put to record. It's bravely minimal, it's surprisingly funky, and above all, it's irresistibly heartbreaking. Chris Martin is one of those nerdy dudes you just can't help but like. And hearing his heart break on this song is almost unbearable. I feel like I'm hearing an old friend cry about how he still believes in love despite his feel-goods being kicked in the ass. It's a simple, sad love song in a completely different way than "Pendulum," but I think it's the "bro to bro" empathy that has it edging Twigs by a hair. I just wanna give Chris a big ole hug.




1. LOVE NEVER FELT SO GOOD | Michael Jackson
(ft. Justin Timberlake)
Ok, I'll admit something right here. I fully concede this isn't the "best" song on this list. But there are a few facts that just set my being to flame - its an old school, unshelved MJ tune (which is refreshingly amazing, considering), and it's a duet with Justin-friggin-Timberlake. It's the former King of Pop on the same track with the current King of Pop! That right there is enough to get me giddy as a school girl in summer. When I first saw the video for this I nearly cried it was so glorious. But let's give the original tune itself some credit, because it is fantastic. This is vintage Thriller-era MJ, and it was only a leftover demo. MJ in his prime, putting a track to tape for someone else that he figured was just a placeholder. But, listening to it now is the sound of homage. A shrine to one of the most incredible entertainers the world has ever known. I like remembering him this way. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite Songs of 2014

Here begins my list of favorite songs of the year passed.

This is the extra meat, for those that just love seeing big long lists from someone not that important at all. I enjoy so much music over the course of a year, well over a thousand songs. And, I just enjoy lists. So here, in all its glory, is my Top 50 songs (the "Top 10" will get its own prettier, more official post). May it warm your soul and kindle a flame in your heart.

Every song included in the list was a diddy that truly impressed me this year. Songs that were stuck in my head for extended periods of time, songs that I went back to over and over. Sure, there were more than 50, but it has to stop somewhere.

I tend to give a word or two about why each song made me tingle. The better the songs get, the more wordy the explanation. Read them, or don't. Whatever.

So put some headphones on, and hear what I hear.


50. SUFFERING | The War on Drugs
The subtle and sad guitar line is what hooked me to the rolling melancholia of this tune. Makes suffering sound so good.

49. TIBERIUS | The Smashing Pumpkins
Corgan's reliable chugging brings this one home with nostalgia. He's still got it.

48. HOURS | FKA twigs
Might be the sexiest song of the year. A deliciously warped groove to soundtrack your next make-out sesh.

47. FELLOW FEELING | Porter Robinson
Half Hans Zimmer, half Skrillex, all awesome. Kinda schizophrenic, but the most beautiful and forward thinking track on it's respective album.

46. FOOL | Perfume Genius
Some great white boy soul going down here. Sorta found myself wishing more tracks on Too Bright had a similar groove.

45. THE EPILOGUE | †††
A surprisingly light offering, as far as Chino is concerned. Very Depeche Mode, in all the right ways.

44. KILLING ME | Little Dragon
It's imperative this song be blasted as loud as possible when listening. That monstrous synth obliterates you so pleasantly.

43. ANIMALS | The GOASTT
(WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS NUDITY)
Rocked up psychedelia directly from the mind of pop royalty. John would be proud. So would Tame Impala, for that matter.


42. SHRIEK | Wye Oak
Probably the most "Beach House" sounding tune on the album by the same name. Which is, of course, a very good thing. Jenn Wasner's voice soars to perfection.

41. ZOMBIE MORNING | Saku
This song was playing on a huge screen at Tower Records in Tokyo while I was there this summer. No better way to permanently embed a song into your psyche.

40. DO YOU FEEL THE SAME? | Hercules and Love Affair
Throwing it back to early 90's house will almost always hook me. The incredible vocal performance puts it above the other cuts from this album.

39. INAKUNARU | Kidkanevil (ft. Phasma)
The title translates as "to become naught," often used as a euphemism for death in Japanese. There is a subtle sadness to it, emphasized by the lonely, ghostly vocal.

38. TWO WEEKS | FKA twigs
No beating around the bush here. Half insistent obsession, half confident declaration, Twigs is sure she's the one, and the emotive vocal and scattered beat definitely back her up.

37. BIGGY | Warpaint
Warpaint's strongest tunes lie in a realm of ominous tensity, just like this. That dark synth and simple drum beat set the tone, and it all builds from there. So thick you could cut it.

36. BIRTH IN REVERSE | St. Vincent
Perfectly quirky, Annie Clark finally convinced me to pay attention a little more with the uptempo, face melting acrobatics of this'n. Rock on, Annie. 

35. ALPENGLOW | S. Carey
This beautifully soft number sort of snuck up on me as a surprise stand-out. For whatever reason, there's not a lot of quietness to my list this year. A nice respite.  

34. UPTOWN FUNK | Mark Ronson (ft. Bruno Mars)
Not a huge fan of Bruno generally, but hot damn does this one bounce. James Brown and MJ alive and well here. Don't believe me? Just watch.

33. YUME NO HAJIMA RING RING | Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
A disappointing lack of wacky barn-burners from Kyary this year, but I was quite pleased with this light-hearted pop number. 

32. UNDER THE PRESSURE | The War on Drugs
Such a breezy melody, you hardly realize it's an 8 minute track. If you're wondering, this one sounds fantastic while chillin' out by the waves on Newport Beach. 

31. KLAPP KLAPP | Little Dragon
It's pretty euphoric when that fat synth takes over the groove. And it just keeps on rollin'. Prepare for takeoff. 

30. NOSE GROWS SOME | Thom Yorke
Having messed with Radiohead's PolyFauna app a bit (which features much of the music found on Tomorrow's Modern Boxes), the otherworldly atmosphere of this track was magnified substantially. 

29. IT WILL END IN TEARS | Philip Selway
A lovely, but deceptively sad Beatle-esque piano ballad that expands into a spacey gospel chorus by the end. Simple, but very satisfying. 

28. KELLY | The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
POBPAH always have the jangly goodness, but a wonderfully bubbly vocal by A Sunny Day In Glasgow's Jen Goma put this one over the top. Fantastic and dreamy.

27. HISTORY OF A CHEATING HEART | Damon Albarn
The most deliberately stripped down track on Everyday Robots, which makes it stand out particularly well. Swells of strings wrap around Damon's sad self-reflection, and it's beautifully heartbreaking.

26. BREAKING UP | Charli XCX
Tracks like this give Charli a good case for not only being one of 2014's brightest pop stars, but one of the year's best rock stars as well. Simple, teen-pop lyrics, but pure adrenaline. 

25. DIG | Nothing
The best Pumpkins song to come out this year (sorry, Billy). Perfectly fuzzy shoegaze pop.

24. ISN'T IT SO | X priest X
I literally came upon this song for the first time as I was constructing this list. It might be jumping the gun a bit to throw it so high so soon, but can you blame me? Nothing fancy, just an adorable, addicting synth-pop gem.

23. RHYTHM OF DEVOTION | Sisyphus
Quite a few interesting things going on in this track. After rapper Serengeti angrily vents a bit, he ends his verse repeating the mantra "I feel more comfortable now" as if he just had to get that wacky hip hop rant off his shoulder. Then Sufjan chimes in with some synth-pop sensitivity and it all boils to a wall of sound finale. It makes for one helluva listen, and a definite highlight on a very interesting album. 

22. I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE | Sam Smith
I was actually disappointed in the lack of solid songwriting to showcase Sam's talent on his debut album. Too often the songs were over cooked, which didn't do him any favors as he had to over compensate in his voice. But there were a few bright spots, namely this little ditty. A soulful gospel groove that let's Sam charge his voice with believable emotion.

21. MIDNIGHT | Coldplay
They might not pump out front to back classic albums quite as well as they used to, but I'll be damned if they don't surprise me with at least a song or two every time out. I've heard plenty of other artists create similar sounding tunes, but hearing Coldplay tackle a song like "Midnight" while still making it their own left me slow clapping in the wind. Well done, boys.

20. PARIS | Little Dragon
There is something so natural about how Yukimi flows her lyrics over the subtle grooves of this track. So effortlessly cool, so stylishly slick. The perfect song to dance to in your dreams. Sounds great on a bullet train to Kyoto, by the way. 

19. HI | Warpaint
Another brooding number from the ladies of Warpaint. I'd be happy with just that bass line and the swinging beat behind it, but the thing keeps building and growing and soon sexy becomes scary and vice versa... and then they've got ya. So choice.

18. SEASONS (WAITING ON YOU) | Future Islands 
I'll be honest, I still haven't heard more than one or two songs from this band. But this one is a doozy. And it's all because of singer Samuel Herring. The dude belts the hell out of this thing with such a nicotine drenched earnestness. Anyone else singing and it might fall on its face. (You have seen that Letterman appearance, right? WATCH IT.)

17. XANADU | The GOASTT
It is incredible how much Sean Lennon sounds just like his dad. But that's not all that makes this tune great. It's the brazen psychedelia, the Middle Eastern melodies, the wispy backing vocals and rolling bass of the beautiful Charlotte Kemp Muhl. It's a lot of things. And I don't know who made this video, but it's a wonderfully appropriate sensory overload.

16. LONELY PRESS PLAY | Damon Albarn
The found sound collage of this tune blurs the line between electronic and organic. It could just as easily be a live band as a programmed tune. And I love that. I also love the inherent detachment of it all. Damon sings of a loneliness soothed only by the superficial pressing of a button. Is technology the savior or detractor? Again, electronic and organic beautifully blurred.

15. GUESS AGAIN! | Thom Yorke
One of the best non-Radiohead tunes Yorke has produced. An eerie piano lulls over choppy beats and whirling ambience, and then the bass drops in. Up and down it goes, while Thom softly whispers a typically ominous melody. I don't say this about a lot of Thom's solo work, but it's almost Radiohead worthy. Which is a compliment considering it's probably just a doodle.

TO BE CONTINUED...



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 10 Songs of 2013


Previously on our Favorite Song Adventures:
50-26
25-11

Alas...The Top 10. 
You'd think it would be difficult narrowing down the 10 most essential tracks in such a year, but it was surprisingly cut and dry for me, for the most part. There were many tracks that were "Top 10 worthy," but these ten tracks were the absolutes. The ones that blew me away on first listen, and still deliver after the hundredth time. I was a little surprised how poptimistic my tastes were this year. But it was a good year for mainstream pop, after all.

Most truly great songs have at least one "goosebumps" inducing moment. The singer nails an impossible note, the guitars soar into space or melt your face, or maybe the chorus just knocks your brains down the drain. You find yourself rewinding it just to make sure you really did hear what you think you did. Each of these posses such moments, and they shall be made known.
And here we go...



10. TO THE LAST | James Blake
Mr. Blake does more with very little than most artists do with a lot. He's a genius minimalist of soul and "dub-step" (whatever that means these days). "To The Last" is a representation of everything James Blake does right, the perfect antithesis to the horror vacui of mainstream pop and R&B. And he tops it off with one of the most breathtaking vocal performances of the year. 
Moment of Glory: 34 second mark. Just after Blake opens up with his falsetto to the skies, he brings it back down and the bass drops right with him. Make sure you have proper listening accommodations, kids.



9. TAP OUT | The Strokes
When are people going to stop writing off this band? Sure, their recent albums haven't quite lived up to the early classics. But every time they release an album, I get at least one top ten song out of it. This year, we get the perfect soundtrack to cruisin' in your Ferrari convertible. Every element of this tune is clicking together in perfect harmony. And for the first time in a couple albums, they sound confident in their sound again. Swagger means a lot to this band, after all.
Moment of Glory: 56 second mark. The groove itself was chilling enough, on first listen, but specifically that moment when the guitars roll up and down in unison with surgical precision. Badass.


8. NEW YOU | my bloody valentine
Buddy Greg and I had our own little online listening party to mbv the moment we got a hold of the download (it was pretty late at night). I was a song or two ahead of him, and when I hit track 6, I about wet myself with delight and waited anxiously for Greg to catch up. A hypnotic loop with Belinda Butcher's classically understated voice sounding just like it did 2o years ago. Like the rest of the album, it fits just as perfectly in 2013 as it would have in 1993. Amazing how something so simple is so perfect.  

Moment of Glory: 1:53 mark.  Belinda's angelic sighs fuse into a perfect harmony, then reunite again around the 3:00 minute mark to ride it to the end. I could listen to that last two minutes for an entire album.


7. STRAWBERRY BUBBLEGUM | Justin Timberlake
I usually detest songs with food symbolism. Especially when it leads to awkward innuendo. But something about JT's beeeeauuutifully constructed 8 minutes of "Strawberry Bubblegum" makes complete sense. Perhaps the sensual melody and flawless production  makes up for it. And remembering JT on all those SNL episodes gives it a sly tongue-in-cheek humor. A little bit of all of that. But most of all, it's that second half. I'm a sucker for phenomenal vocal arrangements, and the last few minutes of this one is nothing but. Which reminds me... 

Moment of Glory: 6:16 mark. And all the way to the end. The first time I heard that bit I was pulling in from a drive, and I couldn't help but sit in my car those final few minutes, reveling in the complete bliss that is JT's voice multiplied. (I also thought, "Blueberry lollipop...?)



6. ROYALS | Lorde
One night, my wife leans over and says, "Wanna hear a cool song?" She played this video for me, and I was floored. She claimed she heard it on the radio and my response was "Since when does the radio play something this good?" I was stunned that such a minimal beat, incredible melody, and sharp lyrics could exist in one song and still be a mainstream hit. A few months later, she exploded. I know you've all heard it, and many of you are probably sick of it (which means you listen to the radio too much). But I still think this is one of the best vocal melodies and arrangements I've heard in a long time. I'm interested to see where this kid goes.  

Moment of Glory: around the 1:25 mark (1:46 in linked video). I was already taken by the chorus, but those harmonies in the second verse solidified it for me. Tis magical.
Bonus:
THE LOVE CLUB
I usually hate ties, but I decided this spot needs to also include mention of her song from the EP of the same name. I was almost as enamored by this one's swirl of harmonies when I first heard it, and think it's better than any other song on her full length debut. So there's that.



5. THE WIRE | Haim
It was almost hard to decide which Haim song I liked the most. Them chicas know how to bust a tune. It came down to "The Wire" because, in the end, this was the one I just could not get out of my head.  I also think it is the quintessential Haim song. All three take turns on lead vocal, it's got the most independently powerful lyrics in an album full of them, and it just rocks all sorts of socks. They make so much better use of that beat than the Eagles did. 

Moment of Glory: about the 21 second mark. The first riff of "Well I know, I know I know, that you're gonna be ok anyway" without any backing instrumentation, and the moment that bass rolls right back in with the beat...hot damn. That's when I knew this was the sheeyit. 



4. STILL INTO YOU | Paramore
I've tried to hide my respect for Paramore over the years. I secretly loved the hell out of nearly every radio single I've ever heard of theirs, but sometimes felt like maybe that's not something to necessarily be proud of. But the moment I heard this thing I said, "Ah, screw it." Hayley Williams has an amazing set of pipes, and she works them for all they're worth on "Still Into You." The lyrics are simple, sure, but not stupid. And that chorus, sweet sassy molassy, that chorus.
This is a flawless (and harmless) pop masterpiece. It's useless pretending this isn't incredible. So I won't. Just one thing though, Hayley - please grow your bangs back out.
Moment of Glory: 1:53 mark. I love when that second chorus starts up, this time with some great back up harmonies to go along with that insanely epic melody. That's what I'm talkin' about.





3. WHITE NOISE | Disclosure
(feat. AlunaGeorge) 
I was caught off guard when Disclosure dropped on the scene. Somehow I hadn't even noticed the hype surrounding them. When I finally did a little research, I came upon "White Noise." What...the...hell??? It's been awhile since a song by an artist I knew nothing about before hand knocked me on my ass quite like that. I've been craving that early 90's house sound for a few years, and artists like Hercules and Love Affair offered a taste of the old days. But this song is Grade A 100% certified nostalgic beef. Obviously it's contemporary enough to stay fresh, but let's just be honest with ourselves: This sounds an awful lot like 1992. And at the moment, that is a very good thing in my book. 
Moment of Glory: 1:36 mark. That electro-riff carries you along nicely through the first bit, but once that bass drops for the chorus (and the dude starts busting moves in the video), that's when Aluna Francis takes off. Suddenly you're dancing in space.



2. ONLY TOMORROW | my bloody valentine
Let me just mention how hard it is to find a good, modern picture of these guys. I swear they haven't taken a photo in 20 years either (hard to find good youtube clips of their songs too, incidentally). Anyway...

After the soothing opener "She Found Now" fades out, "Only Tomorrow" introduces you to some overdue face melting. It chugs along without a break, looping chords and melodies in typical MBV fashion, while Belinda Butcher tames the beast from within. What Kevin Shields does with these guitars is mesmerizing. The grinding screech of the rhythm sounds like it could take paint off of a wall. In fact, I don't doubt that it probably could if you played it loud enough. And loud is the only way to go, of course. Shield's purposely mixes his songs at a lower volume to give the listener room to raise the roof. So, if you are listening to this song for the first time, just know you probably aren't doing it right unless it hurts a tad. 
Moment of Glory: 1:28 mark. After Belinda finishes her first round at the mic, it sounds like take-off is initiated, and suddenly it all DROPS. The guitars fall, the drums pound and for a full minute (almost exactly), the listener is assaulted by a barrage of distortion and audio sandpaper. And it sounds wonderful.



1. GET LUCKY | Daft Punk
We've all heard this one by now. No need to hash out the details. You know it's amazing. And if you say otherwise, you're lying. Remember where you were the first time you heard those bits shared during SNL? I must've played this one hundreds of times. I was like a kid at Christmas hearing the Bots lay out their return, bit by bit. The marketing was fantastic. Not enough of that these days. The excitement was palpable. When the radio edit finally dropped, I downloaded it around midnight and listened to it on repeat for about an hour or so. I couldn't get enough of it. The album version is even tastier, a little more build, a little more reward. It has never gotten old to me, and is one of the best tunes in a stellar catalog. It is a perfect pop juggernaut, and deserves every bit of it's success this year in conquering the world. And it is my favorite song from one of the best musical years in recent memory. 

Moment of Glory: 2:20 mark (linked radio edit) or 3:26 (album cut). You probably know exactly what this is without tracking to it. The first time I heard those Robots stutter to life on this track, I kept playing it back over and over. It was DAFT PUNK! They were back! I still hear those electric harmonies and get goosebumps.

Well, that's it, kids. I'll be posting my favorite albums over at TheRadioCure.com along with those hooligans. So stay tuned. 



Happy 2014