Posts Tagged ‘DJ Shadow’

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.


  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.


  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.


  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.


  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.


  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.

Spotify My Soul – September 27

September 27, 2011

I’ve been traveling the past few weeks for work, and my blog output has suffered accordingly.  I have a bunch of things in the hopper, including a long overdue record review and my contribution to the 20 year anniversary celebration of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind (boy, that makes me feel old).  In the meantime, here’s a quick look at some of what I’ve been listening to when I’ve had a chance to log on to Spotify.

  • The Horrors, Skying.  I’d seen some billboards for this album around the neighborhood and an ad on Spotify touting some English music mag’s (NME?) proclamation that this was an inventive album convinced me to give this a listen.  I didn’t know that aping The Church and Disintegration-era Cure was inventive, but I’m not the writer for a major music mag.  As you can tell, I wasn’t impressed.
  • DJ Shadow, I Gotta Rokk.  Newish EP from DJ Shadow, more of a return to some of his earlier work in my opinion.  I had already heard the title track and loved its combinations of guitar riffs and drum fills that evoke memories of the headbangin’ 80s.  I also really liked the track Def Surrounds Us.  It combined some of the atmospherics of Entroducing with some of the more uptempo beats from his last album.
  • The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow.  This is a collection of some really pleasant songs.  Really enjoying listening to this, Joy Williams and John Paul White both have great voices and they work well together.  The spare accompaniments rightly let their voices shine, but are a nice complement.
  • Scott Walker, various songs from his self-titled 1 to 4 series.   I had never heard of Walker until I saw a documentary about his fascinating career and reading about Lou Reed (see below) for some reason reminded me of him.  Rising to fame with the Walker Brothers singing pop ballads, he left the group and forged out on his own, with a series of albums that continued to produce ballads, though the subject matter veered toward more adult topics that typical pop fare.  His velveteen voice is not for everyone (my girlfriend found him “creepy”), but I like it.  The voice and subject matter are often incongruent, it’s like if Tony Bennett was signing Trent Reznor lyrics, but I find the contrast likeable.
  • Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music.  I recently finished a very comprehensive history of the Velvet Underground from the Rough Guide series.  Based on this volume, I’d recommend the other books in the series if you want a completist account of a band.  Not only did it chronicle the history of the band, but had a thorough look at each of the VU records as well as the solo careers of each band member.  Lou Reed has had a prolific, though sometimes spotty, career that I didn’t fully appreciate.  One album in particular caught my eye.  Metal Music Machine is an instrumental album, a seemingly odd choice for a talented lyricist like Reed.  Not only it is an instrumental piece, but an experimental one at that.  Broken up into four “songs” lasting sixteen minutes apiece, this is all feedback and noise.  I made it through in one sitting (I’m sort of surprised I made it), and I’ll say that theoretically it was interesting as an artistic statement, but I will probably never listen to it again.  The last of the four pieces, in particular, verged on unlistenable, a repeating sound that reminded me of a dentist’s drill almost drove me over the edge to hit “STOP”.  Reed claims this wasn’t the big FU to his record label that it seemed, but even if that wasn’t his original intent, that’s what I see it as.  And to think that only a few years before, he had created a song like this:

Exhibit A

August 31, 2010

Entropy (Part A – The Third Decade, Our Move) – DJ Shadow from Solesides Greatest Bumps

This song comes from the 17 minute Entropy piece that DJ Shadow created in the years before the classic Endtroducing. On that album, he would perfect a complex, layered approach to his DJ craft; this song hints at what was to come.  A voice sample and rolling cymbals introduces Mr. Davis.  Then the beat kicks in, a sweet snare and cymbal combo.  Vocal samples come and go (discussing the merits of “rappin”),  a horn sample comes in (right before a sample of a guy saying “he did what the kids call sampling”), scratches flit around the edges of the song, later becoming more pronounced and anchoring the middle of the song.  This definitely has more of a “party” vibe than much of the stuff on Endtroducing, the drum samples alone want you to get off your seat and dance, whereas a lot of the Endtroducing stuff has a more laid back tone (you still say, that’s a killer beat, but you’re willing to just sit back and enjoy it).  Or at least that’s how I see it.  Youtube link to the song: