Posts Tagged ‘2016’

2016 Year End Picks

January 1, 2017

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A great place to get a pulse on what music critics, websites and blogs are thinking about at the end of the year is Metacritic, which compiles all those year end lists and gives an aggregate “best of” list based on the number of #1, #2 and other votes received by an album.  You can find it here and as of today, the top 10 are:

1 Blackstar by David Bowie
2 Lemonade by Beyoncé
3 Blonde by Frank Ocean
4 A Seat at the Table by Solange
5 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
6 Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
7 The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
8 We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
9 Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
10 My Woman by Angel Olsen

I wrote about a few of these albums this year (Bowie, Radiohead, ATCQ), and I’ve listened now to all 10.  Life of Pablo and Blonde have some really good moments, but overall as albums I don’t think either deserves to be in a top 10.  Lemonade deserves a spot in a top 10, as the trio of 6 Inch (with it’s great use of an Isaac Hayes sample), Freedom and Formation are some of the best pop R&B of the past few years.

Nick Cave’s album has an unfortunate story to go with his melancholy album, but I thought this album was rather boring.  As I mentioned in my post about the death of Leonard Cohen, I hadn’t really given his music the attention I probably should have.  I listened to his last album he put out months before his death and wow, it’s good.  Appropriately titled You Want It Darker, it’s somber, dark, but really good.  I definitely would put it above the Cave album.  It’s ranked 12 on the Metacritic aggregate list.

As you know from my review of ATCQ’s album, it’s the number 1 hip hop album of the year.  Coloring Book is nice, but ATCQ beats it.  Caveat, I haven’t listened to the new Run The Jewels yet, but I doubt I’ll like it more than the Tribe album.

I was really surprised by the new Angel Olson album.  It was more rock, less folk and there’s hints of some PJ Harvey in there that I really liked.  Check out the Song Exploder podcast where she breaks down the album’s best track (and one of my favorite songs of the year) Shut Up Kiss Me for some insights on where she was coming from in making this new album.

Here’s some other albums and songs I really liked in 2016, including a few you might have missed.

Rock

  1. Andrew Bird, Are You Serious. Normally a Bird album would go under the Folk heading, but here Bird does rock just enough for me to put this in the proper Rock category.  The title track is one of my favorite songs of the year and his duet with Fiona Apple immediately before that is really good too.
  2. Okkervil River, Away.  Another band that sometimes straddles the line between rock, folk and country.  Only 9 songs, but only one clocks in at less than 5 minutes and the 7+ minute opus, Frontman In Heaven, was another favorite of mine this year.
  3. Allah-Las, Calico Review.  Garage rock band from Los Angeles that has a laid back sound but just enough bite to keep you coming back for more.
  4. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, A Man Alive.  This one is in my top 5 for sure this year, can’t understand why it didn’t get love from the critics in year-end lists.  I wrote about it when it came out here.

Folk/Country

  1. Blind Pilot, And Then Like Lions.  A six piece from Portland Oregon, straddles the line between folk and pop.  While no really transcendent songs here, a quality set of songs that reminds me of a less bombastic Local Natives.
  2. Jim James, Eternally Even.  Love James’ voice and so he can usually do no wrong in my book.  A good group of songs that get a little funky in spots with some nice horn/key parts.
  3. El Perro De Mar, Kokoro.  Ever since hearing her cover God Only Knows, always on the lookout for new music by the Swedish singer.  She put out a new album this year, a pleasant series of happy tunes.  My favorite is Hard Soft Hard.
  4. Cass McCombs, Mangy Love.  Packs a lot of different styles into this album, from sweet balladry to blues rock stomp.  Like James, a great voice that I always enjoy.  Rancid Girl is a standout.
  5. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.  He followed up his excellent 2014 album with another great one.  He throws in elements of psychedelia, folk, rock, and country into his songs and he has a quintessential “country” voice in the mold of Waylon Jennings.  Covering Nirvana’s In Bloom could have been a travesty, but it works, particularly in the context of the songs around it.

R&B/Pop

  1. James Blake, The Colour In Anything.  Wrote about this earlier in the year here.  Surprised this fell out of the top 10 and even top 25 aggregate Metacritic list.  It’s a little long, but some really beautiful songs.
  2. Amber Arcades, Fading Lines.  Lovers of modern Swedish/Norwegian pop will like the vocal styling and melodies of Annelotte de Graaf as Amber Arcades.  This is her debut full length album.
  3. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound.  While I haven’t been as high on some of his previous albums, I liked this one a lot and more than the Frank Ocean album.  This clocked in at 20 on the MetaCritic aggregate list.
  4. Jessy Lanza, Oh No.  Saw her a few years ago at SXSW and enjoyed her brand of synth pop.  This is her second full length.  It’s been nominated for the Polaris prize so it’s getting attention overseas.  An enjoyable album that pairs well with the Junior Boys album I mention below.

Soul/Funk

  1. Charles Bradley, Changes.  Another very good album from soul revivalist Charles Bradley and a rotation of backing bands. Ain’t It A Sin in the middle of the album is one of my favorite songs of the year and he does his best to keep his title of “closest thing living to James Brown” with Good To Be Back Home.
  2. Dam Funk, DJ Kicks.  If you are a fan of Dam Funk’s new style funk, this is a good way to figure out where he’s coming from and who he is trying to emulate.  A solid collection of funk tracks.
  3. Michael Kiwanuka, Love & Hate.  The stone heart and black background are a good visual representation of this album’s sound.  Kiwanuka’s soulful voice is used to melancholy effect here and Place I Belong is one of my favorite songs of the year.  This album was tied for #24 on Metacritic’s list.

Hip Hop

  1. Aesop Rock, The Impossible Kid.  Veteran MC put out his seventh album.  Still brings his dense lyricism and a good collection of dark beats.  Doesn’t hit the highs of something like Life of Pablo, but a much more consistent album.
  2. BadBadNotGood, IV.  Not a proper hip hop album, but the Canadian jazz group does have several singers and rappers provide vocals over their loping, modern jazz.  The collab here with Colin Stetson, Confessions Part II, is a stand-out.

Electronic

  1. The Orb, Alpine.  A three song EP of takes on alpine morning, evening and dawn, it’s a relaxing but engaging record with definite Eastern influences.  A nice soundtrack for you hikers out there as you drive out to your next trailhead in the early morning.
  2. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat.  Wrote about this one earlier in the year here.  Add track 8, And It’s Forever, to my favorites from this album of house-based dance music.
  3. Aphex Twin, Cheetah EP.  Usually enjoy anything new that Richard James puts out and this EP should have kept his fans happy.  Reminiscent of 2014’s Syro if not a little more straightforward.  CIRKLON 3 is a fun track with a little bit of a funk breakdown thrown in.
  4. DJ Shadow, The Mountain Will Fall.  Surprised this one didn’t get much love either in end of year lists.  No, it’s not Endtroducing, but it’s on par with Private Press and the Run The Jewels collaboration Nobody Speak is everything you’d want out of those three getting together.

Quick Hit or Miss – ATCQ’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

November 16, 2016

we_got_it_from_here_thank_you_for_your_serviceI’ll admit I was skeptical when I heard the rave reviews of Tribe’s new album.  When a legendary group puts something out after such a long absence, critics usually take one of two paths:  savaging the new material as not living up to the old stuff or a triumphant return to form.  I became less skeptical when I saw no drop off in the comments from friends.  Now having listened to the album a few times, I’m going to join in and proclaim this one a Hit.

The album starts off on fire with several tracks that could work their way into a top 10-15 ATCQ track list for me and I think this album might possibly move ahead of their debut in my personal rankings of their albums.

I was trying to pinpoint how to describe the difference between the sound of “classic” Tribe and this album.   It boils down to this: the “classic” albums, particularly Low End, have a laser-focused consistency that was comforting. You knew you were getting a fat boom-bap beat coupled with sweet jazz samples.  And all was good.

The new album certainly retains most of the boom-bap anchor and there’s still some jazz style, but it spreads into other areas not really explored before in the classics. Electric guitars (We The People and several Jack White shreds on the latter third of the album ),more collage-style samples (opener Space Program), and  some R&B (Enough!!) to name a few. This could be a disaster, but I think it mostly works and is a more interesting listen than if they just tried to recreate Low End.

Obviously the other element here are the raps. Both Q-Tip and Phife (R.I.P.) still bring it. And to come back after 18 years (which in hip hop years is like 50 I think if my math is right) with the same mix of dexterous wordplay, humor and braggadocio is special. Never one to shy from confrontation with social issues, and they realized in 2015-16 stakes is high, they come right out the gate with some of their most political songs ever.

They bring along more guests than on the classics, though nothing hits Scenario heights. Speaking of, Busta Rhymes is all over this and I have nothing bad to say about that; he can still hype up a track with the best of them. Andre 3000 makes a few appearances and he remains a national treasure when it comes to guest verses. And nodding to the new generation, Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar, fit right in.

There’s not a bad song in the bunch, I think the last track on Disc 1, Enough!!, is probably the weakest and I won’t begrudge them for the obvious Phife tribute Lost Somebody, but I think the album’s last track, The Donald, is a more fitting tribute to him.  He (and Q-Tip) drop their final verse as A Tribe Called Quest and Phife goes down swinging, ready to take on all comers: “No doubt, I’mma set it, dudes best be ready/off top on the spot, no reading from your Blackberry/Leave the iPhones home, skill sets must be shown/i’mma show the real meaning of the danger zone.”

Leave you with a link to a guy who gets it, jamming to album highlight We The People…

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Quick Hit or Miss – Catch Up Edition

July 18, 2016

I mentioned in my last post that I had some albums I wanted to write about. Here’s a few newish albums and my hit or miss thoughts:

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1. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool. To cut to the chase, this is a Hit. Radiohead seems they can put out a cohesive and musically interesting album in their sleep. This goes in the top half of their canon for me, though it’s not without its small faults. Radiohead could always put out songs that had soaring orchestral feeling while using traditional rock instruments. Here they actually have quite a bit of real orchestration, starting with the strings in opener Burn The Witch and continuing throughout the album. It seems unnecessary in some places. My favorite track is Ful Stop with its menacing bassline and spacey effects. Identikit is also a standout and one of the more “traditional” Radiohead tracks here. And overall, even with those orchestral additions, this group of songs hews closer to earlier records than some of the more knob twiddling of recent efforts.

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2. James Blake, The Colour In Anything. I give Blake and his producers credit for putting himself up front and center in his music and he usually delivers. The skittering, clattering beats and music that back him most often take a back seat to Blake and his nice vocal range. The album has a consistent sound throughout, which works to a point. But at 17 tracks, I feel like it’s a few tracks too long. The funny thing is several of my faves are in the back half; after opener Radio Silence, my two other standouts are  tracks 11 (I Need A Forest Fire with Justin Vernon) and track 15 (Modern Soul).  I’d give it a qualified Hit.

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3. Parquet Courts, Human Performance. They still have a sense of humor; opener Dust becomes the go-to indie rock song to sweep to. They still can tell a good story in the span of a 3-4 minute song. They still hold the stranglehold on being the NYC-est rock band out there. They still throw in a few curveball weirdo songs. They are America’s Kinks. So, yeah, Hit.

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4. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat. Mostly synth pop harkening back to the 80s with  a few dalliances into house music, this is a fun album. They get a little dark and serious to keep this from getting monotonous. Opener You Say That and album closer Big Black Coat are my two favorite songs, the latter being one of my most played of the year so far.  I give this one a Hit.

You Call That A Shuffle?

April 18, 2016

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Straight to the shuffle:

Tears for Fears, Sowing The Seeds of Love, from Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92). Four stars.  This is the full version of the song, which more than the radio edit, shows how this is a full-on tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s era-Beatles.  The middle section of the song has orchestral swells and layered horns that is totally reminiscent of parts of several Sgt. Pepper songs.  A so-obvious tribute (Lennon would have been proud of the number of times the word “love” is uttered) could have backfired, but it works and stands on its own as a catchy pop song.

Gnarls Barkley, The Boogie Monster, from St. Elsewhere.  Three stars.  Yes, I have the entire album that has the Crazy song on it.  It’s actually a decent album, but there’s some misses and this is one of them.  There’s a decent organ line running through the song, but it’s just kinda of a flat song that doesn’t go anywhere and has ho-hum lyrics.  Given the title and lyrics, they were obviously going for a “scary” vibe, but it’s about as scary as The Wicker Man reboot (not scary).  And it throws in a dumb fellatio joke at the last second that has no discernible connection to the rest of the song.

The Clash, Police on My Back, from The Essential Clash (Disc 2). Four stars.  This song was originally written by Guyanese artist Eddy Grant and appeared on the sprawling and ambitious Clash album Sandinista!  The opening guitar riff sounds like a whirring police siren and propels the song forward throughout.  For the international influence of a lot of songs on this album and the origins of this song in particular, the Clash’s version come across as pretty straight-forward rock.  Bonus points for the train whistle sound effect to go with the lyrics about “running down the railway tracks.”

Quick Hit or Miss – Mayer Hawthorne, Man About Town

April 12, 2016

81Ht6uzTd6L._SY355_I didn’t even know Mayer had a new album coming out until my wife sent a text to me and our friends who used to live in the “valley” here in LA with a new song she’d heard called aptly, The Valley.  This song is one of the highlights of the new record, so makes sense it would get some radio airplay.

After a brief opening track that oddly reminded me of the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody, this album settles into R&B with an pinch of 80s pop.  A few moments reminded me of Hall and Oates, particularly Book of Broken Hearts.  There’s a few slow jams (Breakfast in Bed and Get You Back) thrown in too.

The Valley has a catchy “oh oh oh” chorus and hand claps that provide a sunny backdrop to a song about a woman trying to escape the “valley” to make it in LA.  My favorite song on the album is the song that comes right before it, Fancy Clothes.  It’s a reggae-tinged song with more horns and guitar than most of the rest of the album.  I think the reason I liked it the most was it stood out as different than the rest of the tracks.

I think that’s my main problem with the album.  It’s good and consistent music with all the songs clocking in between 3:30 and 4 minutes long.  But that consistency can make it a little monotonous on repeated listens.  I’d give it a hit for throwing on in the backyard this summer or cherry-picking a few songs for a summer playlist, but I don’t think this one will keep me coming back.

Here’s Fancy Clothes, one of those songs I’d throw in a playlist:

Quick Hit or Miss – Hinds, Leave Me Alone

January 13, 2016

homepage_large.21b15074Garage rock is a crowded genre and has been for at least a decade. Standing out in this sloppy, energetic and guitar-heavy field is hard.  Hinds has a leg up in that respect because the band is all-female in a male-dominated genre. And, they are Spanish, which sets them apart from the glut of American bands doing the garage rock thing, though there are and always have been foreign purveyors of this brand of rock.

There’s an obvious debt to early Black Lips, who they’ve toured with, via often caterwauling vocals and choruses that often seem to be a contest to sing over one another. Which isn’t a knock, but it’s treading on ground much covered.

I preferred the uptempo tracks and the pacing is a little off with an instrumental in the middle that just feels thrown in for no good reason and then several slower songs in the second half. My favorite track was Bamboo, though it seems like it would have fit better on the first half of the album. Closer Walking Home builds up nicely to a rousing end.

Metacritic has this rated at a 75 and its gotten some pretty glowing reviews. For a debut, it’s got its moments and I’m hoping they can stick around because I think they have the potential to do even better. If you’re a fan of the genre it’s worth your time, but overall I’d say it’s a near-hit.

Here’s the video for Bamboo: