Wednesday, December 23, 2015

To Pimp A Butterfly, Sexwitch, Chvrches, Moon Wiring Club

Oh, and bizarrely, I only just began to pay attention to the Kendrick Lamar record which everyone and their pet hamster loves. I'm highly suspicious of people lauding an album unanimously as the second coming of Christ. My defenses immediately go up. Why was Kendrick Lamar number 1 everywhere? Were people too lazy to deviate from The Consensus? I don't know.

But I do know that I really like Lamar's "Alright" and "King Kunta" and actually, pretty much the whole album, To Pimp A Butterfly. I'm still reluctant to put it in my top albums list because I'm still in the listening mode. But it is pretty amazing -- and I'm actually just talking about the backing music. Haven't paid much attention to the words at all, which I am told in a stern voice, is about all sorts of important shit. The music is pretty FANTASTIC though.... Honest. Take a listen:

Also, a couple of other albums that I forgot or missed from my top list:

Sexwitch - Sexwitch: a collaboration between Natasha Atlas (of Bat for Lashes) and a bunch of other people. They do these amazing covers of long-forgotten 1970s psychedelic / pop / folk songs from Iran, Morocco, Thailand as well as some American stuff. Pretty cool. Check out "Helelyos":

Chvrches: Every Open Eye: I like it! What can I say? It's melodic, it's dancy, it's well-recorded, and it feels like 1983 (or '84?). Technopop from people with thick Scottish accents who seamlessly integrate a whole host of great 1980s pop influences (OMD, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, etc.)

Moon Wiring Club -- this is an electronic band (actually a British guy named Ian Hodgson on the Blank Workshop Label) who have released a bewildering amount of stuff in the past ten years or so. In 2015 alone, he has put out two things, Why Does My House Make Creaking Noises and Playclothes from Faraway Places. Their website is a strange rabbit hole of an imagined world of Victorian curiosity.

Here is their "Velveteen World," which is actually a track from 2013's A Fondness for Fancy Hats. But you get the general idea:

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I didn't really like much-touted albums by Sufjan Stevens (NPR listener music), Courtney Barnett (meat and potatoes guitar music), Tame Impala (completely derivative classic rock), Father John Misty (pretentious), and Adele (she's a good singer but do we have to continue to pay attention to her?).

Monday, December 14, 2015

Favorite Music 2015

My list of favorite albums this year. Like most years, it's a list with the same old, same old. Let's face it, my taste in music is like it's frozen in 1992.

- A bunch of guitar-based rock.
- A bunch of electronic music.
- A bunch of singer songwriter types.
- Sometimes, some instrumental music.

One or two oddities. Blah blah.

What I did notice was a lot of women. Make of it what you will.

Favorite 17 albums of the year. This is in alphabetical order!!!!
Except my favorite album of the year, which is:

Beach House - Depression Cherry: I like this. It's mellow. It sounds a bit like My Bloody Valentine's softer moments. But they are undeniably great songwriters, capable of great hooks. I cannot say enough good things about this FANTASTIC album. They also released a second album this year, called Thank Your Lucky Stars, but I have not heard that. This is one of my favorite tracks from Depression Cherry, "10:37." There is a magical childlike quality to it, isn't there?


1. Arca - Mutant: Well, what can you say? It's discordant, it dispenses with the conventional structure of music, it is all about mood, and even then it is disturbing, off-putting, uncomfortable, tense. Arca is London-based producer Alejandro Ghersi (originally from Venezuela). Nothing on this makes sense. Honestly, I had the same feeling when I heard White Light/White Heat for the first time (even though that album sounds nothing like this). That this is the present form of electronic music is no surprise in a world that feels like it's going to hell. A perfect soundtrack to entropy.

2. Lou Barlow - Brace The Wave: This is literally the exact opposite of Arca. We're talking muddy, low-fi singer-songwriter acoustic guitar stuff. I always liked Lou, not sure why, all the way back to Folk Implosion but also, of course, Sebadoh. This is an intimate album, you alone, somewhere, someone's house, not even yours, you're a guest, you put it on, you're quiet for about 40 minutes, and then it's over. Some things are pretty, but always a bit off-kilter. Great stuff. Check out "Repeat."
3. Blur - The Magic Whip: I like this. It's better than I expected. I saw them live at the Hollywood Bowl recently. They were good. I think most of the songs were basically written by Graham Coxon (the guitarist) and then Damon Albarn (singer) sort of came in and put some words and melodies on it, taking a break from his global-music-sampling high-flying lifestyle. I hear he might even activate Gorillaz. Sounds good. But this album is a huge surprise and I invite even those who never liked Blur in the first place to sample a few tunes from this. Here is "Thought I Was a Spaceman":

4. Deerhunter - Fading Frontier: Well, Deerhunter has always been in my top 10 whenever they release an album, and this one is no different. This is certainly top 5 for me. Not as abrasive as their last one (Monomania), this new one is perfectly crafted indie pop, no sharp edges, great melodies, and excellent production. It's musically conservative in that it breaks no new ground but that is no slight against the band at all. There is something comforting in this kind of pop/rock. This is probably the album I've heard the most in the past few months. Below is the opening track from the album --  Was there a better opening track on any album this year? NO!

5. Florence + The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful: Well, I sure do like this album. Guilty pleasure? Music for the bourgeois? I don't know. Song for song, this is the best commercial pop album of the year, every song, ear candy for the top 40. Florence Welch is obviously into the drama of her own life and sees every single emotional left turn in her life as worthy of a dramatic song. But props to her for creating anthemic tunes out of the ups and downs of romantic yearning. It's a bit like if U2 took all their stadium rock aspirations and distilled it down to fantastic pop songs about the "pains of being pure at heart." One day, one day, I will see her live show and it will be great. Imagine seeing this song at the Hollywood Bowl (which is apparently what it's about).

6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress: Unusual for these guys, they managed to crank out a new album, "only" three years after their other (brilliant) one from 2012. In any case, the album is four tracks, most of it which is based around a musical piece called "Behemoth" that the band have been playing for many years. And honestly "behemoth" is a word I've long associated with these guys: their music sounds like a behemoth making music. Some of the stuff on the new album sounds like Yanqui U.X.O. from many many years ago - it has that cavernous effect, as if the band is playing in an underground cave and their loudness is going to literally collapse the cave around them and bury all of them under a pile of rocks. I know none of that made any sense. But really, with Godspeed, there's no point in writing about their music. It's really quite impossible to describe it. (Although I have tried many times). These new four tracks of ripping industrial epic noise will set you adrift into the asteroid belt. They have never let me down.

7. Holly Herndon - Platform: She's a techno producer based in San Francisco (and apparently a Ph.D. student at Stanford) who has been around for a few years putting out all sorts of electronic music, often using a visual programming language called Max/MSP. What to say about this? Honestly, the first thing that struck me about the album was the cover and particularly her face -- red hair, big blue eyes, a vacant faraway look. Someone reviewed her music and said that it's about how you "express humanity in a digital age." Mumbo jumbo, indeed. This is laptop music with an irregular erratic beating heart, and I mean that in a good way. Here is "Chorus":

8. Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness: Strange, strange, singer-songwriter type. Strange voice, strange accent. A bit of a baroque sensibility. Sometimes dreamy. A voice from far away. Like she's singing from another time, through a time machine, and it's getting to us here through a megaphone. It's music for the NPR set but in this case, this is not a bad thing. Based in Los Angeles, she is obviously an extremely (extremely) talented songwriter, musician, and producer, someone in total control of her music. Here's "Feel You" from the album -- you can imagine it being on 120 Minutes sometime in 1989, just when you're falling asleep but you wake up and think, hmmm, this is pretty good, maybe I should go and get it.

9. Hop Along - Painted Shut: So who remembers guitar rock? Anyone? Some people apparently still believe in it. In 2015! I know. Anyway, this band from Philadelphia, fronted by a young woman, is all about guitars, basses, and drums. Also, some people seem to think that said woman's voice is weird. I don't think so at all. But what it is, is melodic, a bit like 90s alt-rock. See for yourself. Here is the opening track on Painted Shut, called "The Knock." The album is pretty much like that, and it's one of those albums you can listen to from beginning to end without skipping a track. Good stuff.

10. Jaime xx - In Colour: You may know Jaime xx from his role in the band, the Xx, but he seems to spend most of his energy as a producer and remixer of others. He's so busy that I couldn't really do him justice but despite all his achievements, this is his first actual solo album. This is soaring uplifting techno / rave music, the kind you don't hear so much anymore. One review says that "[t]here are passages in In Colour where the music is huge and anthemic while being simultaneously open and intimate." I think that actually does a good job of succinctly describing this album. Check him out on this episode of Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW.

11. Metz - II: Finally,  a band that rocks the fuck out! Sure, they have a bit of (Bleach-era) Nirvana in them but when you crank up the first song ("Acetate"), it will make you want to jump up and down and destroy everything around you. The album is completely about one thing: blow-your-voice-out-rock-and-punk. There's, granted, not much variety (a criticism leveled at the album by some) but the album is about half-an-hour long and before you know it, it's over. It's a perfect punch in the gut of a laid back afternoon.

12. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden Of Delete: This is basically a guy named Daniel Lopatin who's based in Brooklyn and puts out his weird electronic music on the famed Warp label. I've mentioned his stuff before on Joy of Speed (particularly his album Replica from 2011) and he continues to push the boundaries of electronic music here on Garden of Delete which literally came out a few weeks ago. It's moody music and (like Arca) a bit of an acquired taste, but it does feel like the soundtrack to these times, sometimes cold, sometimes warm, sometimes aggressive, sometimes gentle, but bathed in this kind of awareness of the confusing electronic world we all live in. Here is "I Bite Through It."

13. Puscifer - Money Shot: For some strange reason, this album dropped and then disappeared. Which is weird when you consider that Maynard James Keenan is at the heart of it.Yes, it's been 10 years since the last Tool album, and does anyone really give a shit whether they will release another album? In the time that Tool has not released an album, Led Zeppelin had pretty much their entire career. But we do have Puscifer to hold us over, and unlike most of the earlier Puscifer albums, this one, called Money Shot, is not entirely a joke album with Ween-like songs about absurd shit. In fact, in the middle of all the heavy music there are moments that remind me a lot of A Perfect Circle: emotive and intense. Consider "The Remedy":

14. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love: Was a bit afraid that there would be infinite hype about this album (there was) and it would be a letdown (it wasn't). It is actually pretty awesome. This album is great from the beginning to the end - high energy popish punk that doesn't outstay its welcome -- it's only 32 minutes long. Great melodic rock. And after all these years, I still kind of have a crush on Corin Tucker. She has the most unbelievable voice in pop music. And on this album, she doesn't quite reach the halcyon heights of The Woods, but she still manages to pummel you into submission.

15. Kurt Vile - B'lieve i'm goin down....: So every one of his albums for the past few years has been worth getting. Straight head guitar-bass-rawk with bits of Tom Petty thrown in. The difference is that Kurt Vile has an uncanny ability to write absolutely great songs that permanently stick in your brain. Not all the songs here are top-notch, but as a whole I think this album is a smidgen better than the previous one. I saw him live in LA a couple of months ago and I would have enjoyed it more if the sound mix was a bit better. Aside: I ran into him at a Thrifty car rental a few weeks ago. I told him I'm a big fan and he was very nice about it. Here is a live version of the opening track:

16. Wilco - Star Wars: Who'd have thought? I'm honestly not a big fan of Wilco (dad rock and all that) but I like the sound of this (free) album a lot. The guitars sound brittle, a sonic aesthetic I'm very fond of, kind of like the band Television. This is yer basic guitar-rock album, but it doesn't sound overthought (like much of Wilco), just kind of jammed out and tossed into the world. Yet, there is an intelligence to these songs. These are musicians who have a deep knowledge of the history of rock and they know their Gang of Four as well as they know their copy of late sixties Faces. A great driving album.

I'll post my favorite reissues, compilations, and live albums in a couple of days.