Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ten Favorite Albums of 2015

1. Everything Everything- Get to Heaven


   



Everything Everything's record unlike the others on this list isn't readily available in the U.S.  This is the British band's third record, but the first time I'd ever listened to them.  The record deals with paranoia, government surveillance, and terrorism.  A direct reflection of the 24 hour news cycle that constantly reminds us of what a scary place the world can be.  While the subject matter is dark the sound of the album leans more towards popular music, in extreme juxtaposition to the topic at hand.

2. Torres- Sprinter


   



A common theme in this years music was artists coming to terms with and struggling to still find comfort in their spirituality and religious background.  Torres' record is the second from Nashville based Mackenizie Scott.  Her Baptist upbringing informs many of the record's lyrics.  It took a few listens to really enjoy this record because I didn't initially connect with the sound of it, but it was the lyrics that really drew me in.

3. John Moreland- High on Tulsa Heat



 

John Moreland's record one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.  The first track "Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars" almost sounds like a track off of Led Zeppelin III, the bands "folk" album.  I ended up seeing him live at the Americana Festival in Nashville.  He took the stage without saying a word and began a solo set that flowed with emotion that few perfomers could matchIt took a lot out of him emotionally to perform to relive heartbreak, longing, and alcohol abuse.  One of the most moving artists I've discovered in a long time!


4. Lin-Manuel Miranda-Hamilton Soundtrack



 

An odd surprise, Hamilton is a hip-hop musical that follows the life of the founding father of the same name.  What could have been a disaster is instead an amazing feat that showcases American culture.


5. Ibeyi- Ibeyi



 


Ibeyi's debut is a hard record to describe.  The French born twin sisters (Ibeyi means twin in the Yoruba language of Africa) are the daughters of the Cuban drummer for Buena Vista Social Club.  The record pulls from electronic, African, French, and Caribbean influences and still manages to put them all together in one of the best records this year.  

6. Father John Misty-I Love You, Honeybear



 

Another big surprise Father John Misty's record far surpasses his decent but not great previous record.  This is basically a concept record about Josh Tillman, the real name of Father John Misty, relationship to his now wife Emma.  It somehow manages to be sentimental without being corny, maybe due to much of the records confessional nature.  Tillman portrays himself as an often shallow protagonist, the album cover shows him as a baby, imperfect and often selfish.



7. Kendrick Lamar-To Pimp a Butterfly



 

Kendrick Lamar's album is a sign of the times, a thematic take on what it means to be a black man in America.  His song "Alright" was adopted as a motto of the Black Lives Matter movement against recent focus on police brutality.  Much of the album's success rest on the reliance on the Los Angeles music scene: Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Dr. Dre, and Terrance Martin all contributed to the album.

8. Sufjan Stevens-Carrie & Lowell



 

In 2012 after years of estrangement from his mother Sufjan Stevens was at her bedside when she died of cancer.  Her death affected him in ways that surprised him and the result is his phenomenal return after 2010s amazing Age of Adz.  The album also sees more of a return to Sufjan's folk roots.  The result is a lot of songs about sadness and death, but the result is ultimately very cathartic.  I got to see him perform the album in its entirety in the Ryman Auditorum in Nashville; one of the best shows I've ever seen.

9. Patrick Watson-Love Songs for Robots


 


While I knew of Patrick Watson this is the first time I've actually listened to one of his albums.  The title "Love Songs for Robots" is ironic in how little it sounds like an electronic album and leans more towards the emotive nature of someone like Bon Iver.

10. Jamie XX-In Colour

  


Jamie Smith of the band The xx released his second solo studio album (the first without the late Gil Scott-Heron) in which he again acts as a producer.  The result composed over a five year period, is one of the best sounding albums of this year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Favorite Singles of 2014

1. Daman Albarn- "Everyday Robots"



2. FKA Twigs- "Two Weeks"

 


3. War on Drugs- "Under the Pressure"

 


4. Perfume Genius- "Queen"

 


5. Run the Jewels- "Blockbuster Night Part 1" [Explicit]

 


6. Sun Kil Moon- "Carissa"

 


7. Hozier- "Jackie and Wilson"

 


8. Chet Faker- "1998"

 


9. Hozier- "Take Me to Church"

 


10. Caribou- "Silver"

 


Friday, December 19, 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014

1. Sylvan Esso-Sylvan Esso

 

 

2. Saint Vincent-Saint Vincent

 

 

3. Beck-Morning Phase

 

 

4. Wild Beasts-Present Tense

 

 

5. FKA Twigs-LP 1

 

 

And the original recorded version:

 


6. Chet Faker-Built on Glass

 

 

 

7. Glass Animals-ZABA

 

 

 

8. TV on the Radio-Seeds

 

 

 

9. Caribou-Our Love

 

 

10. Winged Victory for the Sullen-Atomos

 

 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best Singles of 2013

1. Blood Orange- "Chamakay"
2. Arctic Monkeys- "Do I Wanna Know?"
3. James Blake- "Retrograde"
4. Phosphorescent- "Song For Zula"
5. Kanye West- "Black Skinhead"
6. Janelle Monae- "Primetime"
7. Lorde- "Royals"
8.Vampire Weekend- "Step"
9. Arctic Monkeys- "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?"
10. Low- "Plastic Cup"

Albums of 2013: Honorable Mentions

Classixx- Hanging Gardens
Arctic Monkeys- AM
Janelle Monae- Electric Lady
Darkside- Psychic
The National- Trouble Will Find Me
Kurt Vile- Walkin on a Pretty Daze
Bonobo- The North Borders
Agnes Obel- Aventine
Midlake- Antiphon
Volcano Choir- Reprave
Sigur Ros- Kveikur
Jagwar Ma- Howlin'
Low- The Invisible Way
Fat Freddy's Drop- Blackbird
Chelsea Wolf- Pain is Beauty

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Best Albums of 2013

Here is my annual list of the 10 best albums in no particular order:

1. These New Puritans-Field of Reeds (Infectious Music)


Probably the band with the smallest following on this list, their official SoundCloud has less than 6,000 followers.  The song above was the one track on this list that I almost immediately wished I had thought of writing.  The piano starts out with a simple but memorable line something in the vein of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" for the 21st century.

2. Kanye West-Yeezus (Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam)


Kanye West may be the most widely know artist on this list but his focus on a more dirty synth sound in the vein of Chicago House electronic music didn't have a single track make it the top of the billboard charts.  This album, as opposed to his previous "Dark Fantasy", sees West as his narcissistic peak with few of the points of vulnerability that made that previously album so unique.  The track "I am a God" probably speaks the strongest to this new direction.  Yeezus has been less well received and has alienated some of his fan base.  But I think that makes him a truly great artist that he is willing to experiment at the expense of fans not being satisfied with his new work.

3. Lorde-Love Club EP (Universal Music Group)

The only one on this list that actually has a song on the Top 40, she exploded out of nowhere this year.  The song everyone knows by this point is "Royals" a critique on the excess that is found in pop and hip-hop music.  Lorde is "not proud of her address" in her native New Zealand so it is ironic then that Lorde beat out artists like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and even Eminem as number 1 on the charts.  I chose her EP over the full length album that was also released this year because overall it seemed a much more polished effort over some of the weaknesses of the LP.

4. Forest Swords- Engravings (Tri Angle Records)


Forest Swords is the work of the British Matthew Barnes on Tri Angle an independent record label based in Brooklyn that includes Balam Acab and Evian Christ. Sasha Frere-Jones a writer for the New Yorker describes the label as palimpsest, a manuscript in which the original writing has been written over by later writing.  Forest Swords is definitely part of this category of electronic music, heavy use of samples and splicing made possible by the rise of modern DAW's such as Pro Tools and Ableton Live.  Barnes, as he was going through hearing problems, refused to work many hours in the studio.  He mixed the entire record on his laptop outdoors in the English countryside.  What resulted is an incredibly organic sound, a rarity for electronic music.

5. James Blake-Overgrown (Atlas, A & M, Polydor)

Blake's sophomore effort while not quite as groundbreaking as his first it corrects many of the weakness of his first album.  One of the chief complaints of his debut was the large lack of lyrics.  He rectifies that here and as a result songs seem to have more life to them.

6. Baths-Obsidian (Anticon)

Baths' first record Cerulean, while a great album suffered from overuse of compression making the dynamics of the record at times difficult to listen to.  In this his third album Baths seems to back off from the loud wars and actually features a majority of tracks with him singing.  Not a usual feature of electronic music.

7. Jon Hopkins-Immunity (Domino Records)

Hopkins, coming out of his recent folk collaboration with King Cresote, returns back to his roots and creates one of the best electronic records of the year.  While my favorite track is actually the piano based "Abandon Window"the track above captures the feel of the album much better.

8. Arcade Fire-Reflektor (Merge (US), Sonovox (UK))

If I'm completely honest Arcade Fire's album was one that I was disappointed with on first listen.  It took a second listen before I realized how much I actually loved the new direction Arcade Fire seems to be taking.  The album is much more heavy on the bass and almost leans towards reggae on tracks such as "Here Comes the Night Time" and the opening of "Porno" which actually sounds like something from a current hip-hop hit.  It's great to see another established band experimenting and the results are amazing.

9. Boards of Canada- Tomorrow's Harvest (Warp)

I fell asleep to this record many times (in the best way possible).  It's electronic music but it's not the kind of music you'd play in clubs but the kind you'd play alone in your room with some good quality studio headphones. The record uses very little drum machine or samples despite clearly being an electronic record. Although this is their first album in seven years they are were completely unknown to me before this record.

10. Thundercat-Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)

Thundercat was featured in Grand Theft Auto 5 on the Flying Lotus channel. Thundercat is actually on the same record label Brainfeeder founded by Lotus. Thundercat is not only further establishing himself as a permanent fixture in the Los Angeles electronic music scene but also as a rarity in the field: Thundercat is primary a bassist. This in a music scene that often either focuses on drum machines and sythns. As a result Thundercat's album is extremely dynamic and seems to feature the often forgotten instrument much more prominently than any other artist on the list.