Posts Tagged ‘James Blake’

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 – 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.

Spotify My Soul – Aug. 21, 2011

August 21, 2011

This week was a heavy on the retro tip for me, looking back at albums I either haven’t listened to in a long time, or never got around to listening to.

  • My Bloody Valentine, Loveless.  Even though I was always a fan of shoegaze, I never had given more than a cursory to a seminal work in the genre.  This is an album that deserves all the accolades that it has received since it’s release in 1991.  Noise with a purpose, the texturing and layering of sound is beautiful stuff.
  • Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed.  Unlike the Beatles or the Who, I have never gotten through the album discography of the Stones.  The hits from this album are many, so a lot of these songs I’d heard, but put together in the album it takes on a whole new dimension.  Midnight Rambler is still one of my favorite Stones songs; Monkey Man is a strong track I’d never heard (and was clipped in a hip hop song that I’m struggling to remember, urg).
  • Black Keys, Magic Potion.  I’d gotten their first couple releases, and their latest; but had never made an attempt to get this or Attack & Release.  Not sure why, this is a solid record that I plan on listening to some more.
  • James Blake, James Blake.  Released earlier this year, and fawned over by Pitchfork and its ilk, I’d been wanting to see what the buzz was about.  Like Loveless, these are nuanced compositions that deserve multiple listens.  The music is coupled with a surprisingly sweet voice to create some soothing songs.
  • Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi, Rome.  Continuing to create gold with whatever he touches, Danger Mouse’s latest is a collaboration with Italian composer Daniele Luppi that serves as an homage to the soundtracks of spaghetti westerns.  I really liked the laid back tracks he created as musical backdrop for James Mercer’s vocals on last year’s Broken Bells release and I got the same feeling from this album, though this time the vocals come courtesy of Norah Jones and Jack White (glad he was able to find employment again).