Tag Archives: new music

The Sunday Best 2016

As I stare out onto the balcony of my small third floor apartment outside of Philadelphia, I notice the Christmas lights I have wrapped around the posts are starting to lose their luster. It’s only 4 o’clock, so the winter sun has not completely set yet, but I can still tell the lights are fading, if they aren’t completely black yet. I didn’t bother taking down my Christmas lights last year. Part of it was laziness (ok, most of it), but I also wanted to keep them up for the summer, when I sit out on the balcony at night listening to the ocean-like drone of I-76 humming in the background. The warmth of the colors was comforting, even if they did seem out of place in the middle of July. It was like having a miniature beach bar in your own home, where the company is always good and the DJ always plays your favorite song.

In any normal December, the summer feels distant. But in December of 2016, this past summer feels like another point in time all together. This summer was a well-deserved breather in the middle of what was a tumultuous year. In any given year, the calendar flip to June begins a brief reward for surviving the winter and all that it brings. This year, it seemed like we really deserved it. It was halftime in the biggest, weirdest game of our lives, and since then, we’ve just been grinding it out to the finish before the lights fade.

It’s hard to say whether 2016 has been a good or a bad year. In many, many cases, this year has been a bad one. But some good stuff happened too! I think when it comes down to it, 2016 has been the most surreal year I’ve ever experienced. According to Merriam-Webster, “surreal” is the 2016 Word of the Year, and looking back, that is the only way to describe it. Name any major, newsworthy event to happen this year – Bowie, the Chicago Cubs, Trump, Pokemon, Prince, Brexit – it’s all so damn surreal.

A lot of the music released in 2016 reflected the growing unease of the world at large, as artists like Kanye West, Car Seat Heardrest, Beyonce, Danny Brown, and Parquet Courts followed their muse in ragged directions that made for jarring, schizophrenic listens. On the other hand, you had veterans like A Tribe Called Quest, Iggy Pop, Radiohead, and David Bowie releasing some of the most razor sharp and vital albums of their careers. Plus, Radiohead finally released a studio version of “True Love Waits,” proving that life isn’t so bad sometimes.

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that music is still needed to keep balance in this world. Music still and always will be the most accurate representation of human nature and emotion. For those who felt alone or overwhelmed with the events of 2016, music was there to comfort and to relate, and it always will be. Nobody can take it away from you.

Best 50 Songs of 2016

… but first, some honorable mentions!

Charles Bradley – “Changes” (Black Sabbath cover)

Phosophorescent, Jenny Lewis, & Friends – “Sugaree” (Grateful Dead cover)

Margaret Glaspy – “You & I”

CRX – “Broken Bones”

Case/Lang/Veirs – “Best Kept Secret”

Hurry – “Nothing To Say”

and now the list:

50. Fine Me, Kings of Leon

49. No More Parties In LA (feat. Kendrick Lamar), Kanye West

48. Vertigo Flowers, NOTHING

47. U-Turn, Tegan and Sara

46. Into You, Ariana Grande

45. Feel Right, Esme Patterson

44. Young Hearts, Beach Slang

43. Two Deliverances, The Hotelier

42. Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales, Car Seat Headrest

41. Pimp Hand, Vince Staples

40. Gardenia, Iggy Pop

39. Human Performance, Parquet Courts

38. Below, White Lung

37. Cheap Thrills, Sia

36. Thank You, White Denim

35. All Night, Beyoncé

34. Heart Shaped Face, Angel Olsen

33. Heart Like A Levee, Hiss Golden Messenger

32. Dreams of Flying, Mudcrutch

31. Piano Player, The Hotelier

30. Daydreaming, Radiohead

29. Back, The I Don’t Cares

28. I Can’t Give Everything Away, David Bowie

27. Ablaze, School of Seven Bells

26. When It Rain, Danny Brown

25. Same To You, Lydia Loveless

24. Secrets, The Weeknd

23. Fill in the Blank, Car Seat Headrest

22. 4th of July, Philadelphia (Sandy), Cymbals Eat Guitars

21. Brace For Impact (Live A Little), Sturgill Simpson

20. Decks Dark, Radiohead

19. Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah), White Denim

18. Sunday, Iggy Pop

17. Pink + White, Frank Ocean

16. Sun, The Hotelier

15. Really Doe (feat. Kendrick Lamar & Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt), Danny Brown

14. Same Old Blues, Phantogram

13. Ultralight Beam, Kanye West

12. Kiss It Better, Rihanna

11. Sister, Angel Olsen

10. Lookers, The Menzingers

9. Solo, Frank Ocean

8. Goodness, Pt. 2, The Hotelier

7. DVP, PUP

6. Burn The Witch, Radiohead

5. We The People…., A Tribe Called Quest

4. Real Friends, Kanye West

3. The Ballad of the Costa Concordia, Car Seat Headrest

2. Lazarus, David Bowie

1. Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar), Beyoncé

Here it is in Spotify form, sans Beyonce because she’s mean and doesn’t provide her songs anywhere except for Tidal and HBO… neither of which I’m shelling out the dough for:

 

Best Albums of 2016

30. Ritualize, Lushlife & CSLSX

29. Tired Of Tomorrow, NOTHING

28. City Sun Eater In The River Of Light, Woods

27. We Were Wild, Esme Patterson

26. New Skin, CRX

25. Revolutionaries, You Won’t

24. Love You To Death, Tegan and Sara

23. A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, Beach Slang

22. Guided Meditation, Hurry

21. The Life of Pablo, Kanye West

20. Real, Lydia Loveless

19. Post Pop Depression, Iggy Pop

18. Wild Stab, The I Don’t Cares

17. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, Sturgill Simpson

16. Blonde, Frank Ocean

15. Human Performance, Parquet Courts

14. Paradise, White Lung

13. A Corpse Wired For Sound, Merchandise

12. SVIIB, School of Seven Bells

11. The Dream Is Over, PUP

10. Pretty Years, Cymbals Eat Guitars

9. My Woman, Angel Olsen

8. Stiff, White Denim

7. A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead

6. Goodness, The Hotelier

5. Lemonade, Beyoncé

4. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, A Tribe Called Quest

3. Atrocity Exhibition, Danny Brown

2. Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest

1. Blackstar, David Bowie

With all due respect to the fantastic albums and artists listed here, David Bowie’s Blackstar is the best album of 2016, and it’s not even close. No other artist has released an album like this in decades, let alone 2016. David Bowie stared down the face of death, molded it into his image, and created his best album in two decades. He turned his own death into performance art. There is so much going on Blackstar, it’s going to take WAY more than one year to digest the whole thing. There are secret doors hidden all over the place on Blackstar, and we may never find them all. While David Bowie’s death hovers over every last note here, the music on this album is absolutely alive. Album highlights “Lazarus,” “Dollar Days,” and Bowie’s beautiful final transmission, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” provide a fitting send off to one of music’s true pioneers. There will never be another artist like David Bowie, and there is certainly nothing like Blackstar. God’s speed, Starman. Thank you for your service. We got it from here.

To WXPN, with love

I’m in love.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted something here, but I have a burning in my heart that MUST be shared with the world. I feel like Buddy the Elf, twirling into his father’s big meeting with the “angry elf”. I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!

Yes, I am in love. I am in love with 88.5 FM WXPN, Philadelphia’s best and most vital radio station.

How did this happen? Well, as chance would have it, I was driving on I-76 into Philadelphia (well, “driving” may be a stretch… more like slowly seeping eastward), and I felt the need to listen to something other than my collection of music on my iPod. So, I turned to my old friend the radio, something I don’t normally do. The last time I honestly enjoyed listening to the radio was probably when I was still driving around with my mom and “How Bizarre”  was being played.

After I switched the radio on, WXPN was the first station I landed on, right there at the beginning of the dial. And what to my wondering ears should appear but the XPN Morning Show with Kristen Kurtis and Bob Bumbers, playing one of my favorite artists – Courtney Barnett – on the radio of all places, a medium usually reserved for teeny-boppers and Rihanna.

From there, I was hooked. It didn’t take much. That morning, I was serenaded by some current & old favorites of mine, but was also introduced to artists like Sarah Jarosz, Lake Street Drive, and Oh Pep!. They even played a few great tracks off of the Day of the Dead compilation (including the great rendition of “Sugaree” by Phosphorescent, Jenny Lewis & Friends). It was love at first listen, I tell ya.

WXPN, a non-commercial, member-supported radio service of the University of Pennsylvania, strives to connect artists and audiences with a particular emphasis on new and significant artists and music. You won’t hear any commercials clogging up airtime (other than the occasional PSA). What you WILL hear is a celebration rock, blues, folk, and world music, giving many local and indie artists an opportunity to be heard. The next song you hear could be your new favorite band, and your new favorite band could be living next door (or hey, it could be me… sorry for the shameless self-promotion).They’ll play The National, David Bowie, Car Seat Headrest, The Strokes, Kurt Vile, Bruce Springsteen, and… well, you get the picture. Hell, any radio station that is willing to play “Watcher of the Skies” by Genesis in the middle of the day has my heart forever.

Since that fateful day cupid took a hold of my car radio, DJs like Helen Leicht and Dan Reed and programs like “New Music Tuesday”, “Throwback Thursday”, and “Friday Mixtape” have given me faith that radio, at least in Philadelphia, can still play a vital role in a community. WXPN also produces the live music program The World Cafe with host David Dye, a program that distributed nationally to over 200 stations across the country through NPR Music. 88.5 FM WXPN is proof that radio can still expand your musical tastes and not simply pander to it.

Yes, I am in love with a radio station, and it is a love that grows stronger with every listen.

You too can fall in love with WXPN on your computer here: xpn.org.

 

 

Slonk So Hard

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Slonk Donkerson, Mercury Lounge, New York, NY  2.26.16 Photo by Jeff Yerger

I have no idea what the name Slonk Donkerson means. It could be a sandwich, a disease, or the name of an alien from a galaxy far away. Frankly, I don’t care what it means, but it feels like it’s been around forever.

Slonk Donkerson, a Brooklyn-based band of long time friends Dylan Vandenhoeck (bass/lead vocals), Zack O’Brien (formerly drums, now guitar/backup vocals), and Parker W. Silzer IV (guitar/vocals), absolutely rocked the Mercury Lounge in New York City Friday, February 26. They’re everything you could possibly want in a band: poise, attitude, rawness, and slick rock and roll that pays homage to The Replacements, Husker Du, and even the bands those groups stood against like Van Halen, 80’s Genesis, and Rush. Plus, Vandenhoeck is a mullet-clad frontman who plays a fretless, five-string bass…  I mean, come on, how cool is that?

On paper, this concept sounds so insincere and perhaps a little cheesy, but man, Slonk Donkerson is the exact opposite. It’s not just enough to sound like bits and pieces of these bands, you have to evoke the feeling and energy that comes along with the sound. Slonk brought that kind of musical excitement to the Mercury Lounge Friday. It was a kind of excitement that I haven’t felt since I saw The Replacements for the first time at Forrest Hills in 2014. Plus, they’re crowd-pleasers. I have the utmost respect for a band that’s not too proud to play a song or two that the crowd wants the hear. I’m not even sure “Watching Every Channel at Once” and “Build Something / Break Even” (my two immediate favorites) were on the setlist, but when the crowd shouted out for them, they played them.

Their new album, The Lunar Martini Motorbike Club and Their Respective Destinies is…well… weirdly named but wildly fun. Slonk has a unique talent for combining a million different sounds and different ideas into one 3:00 song. While it’s evoking familiar sounds, Slonk Donkerson is so different than anything coming out of Brooklyn. It’s refreshing. I highly recommend seeing this band at one of their many shows in the New York City area (here’s hoping they travel down to Philly where I am now). They’re a great band with a bright future and a killer live show. It’s as Slonk as that!

Go listen to their album on Soundcloud or better yet, buy it on iTunes.

 

The (Frustrating) Life of Pablo

“Name one genius that ain’t crazy.”

It’s finally happened. Kanye West has actually gone insane. His mind has always been in a perpetual state of motion, constantly redirecting his attention from music to art to fashion to Twitter and to God-knows what else. On his latest The Life of Pablo, Kanye’s ego has finally the better of him. The rollout for TLOP was an absolute shit show of empty promises and false starts (it still is). The album itself is an absolute mess. I’m not even confident it’s finished. In fact, I hope it really isn’t finished. If TLOP actually turns out to be an experiment on how the music media will seemingly eat up anything he shits out on both Tidal and Twitter, then I will certainly tip my “Yeezus” cap to him. Until then, I cannot sit here and defend this record.

Not that he needs me to. For all the shit Kanye West gets for is actions outside the studio (some of it deserved, most of it not), people tend to forget that he is a truly gifted musician. Kanye West is a man with a unique gift of musical knowledge and a golden touch for sampling and producing. He is a smart person brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, who can be as articulate as a professor when he wants to be. That’s why it’s frustrating that Kanye West would release such a deliberately half-hassed product, but I like to think he knows what he’s doing. It’s like Kanye knows that even if he farts in a microphone, critics will love it anyway. After listening to some of these lyrics, he did exactly that. He spewed a lot of that sort of crap on Yeezus, but at least on that record, the music had purpose and razor-sharp focus. Every word he spoke came across like an exorcising of demons, and we all bought it. On TLOP, the lyrics are cringe-worthy just for the sake of being cringe-worthy, and now I find myself wondering if everything that was said on Yeezus was just as cheap and insincere. As attention-getters, the X-rated lyrics work, but in the end, many of the songs suffer for the ignorance.

But it’s not just the lyrics that are way sub-par. The music, 90% of it not even produced by West himself, is consistently inconsistent and relentlessly frustrating. You keep waiting for songs like “FML” and “Highlights”, which have SO much potential, to become fully realized. Instead, they feel tossed aside from a man bored with his own creation.

Take the track “30 Hours” for example. Initially, it’s one of the best songs on the album, as Kanye raps like he’s still wearing pink polos over a beat that would fit right in on The College Dropout. It’s hard-hitting, direct, and damn good. That is, until it isn’t. Like a NJ Transit train headed to Penn Station, Kanye inexplicably stops. He just gives up on the song, turning a potential show-stopper into a glorified demo. Instead of finishing the song out, he blabbers on about bonus tracks, mumbles a barely conceived verse idea, and even answers his damn cell phone. He just leaves all of that in there! Critics will tell you this is art – the sound of a scatterbrained man at work – but I’m here to tell you this is bullshit. Any track that features Andre 3000 but doesn’t actually have Andre 3000 rapping (or doing anything, really) on the song is bullshit. The two rappers had a chance at a banger, but instead settled for an under-cooked piece of meat. It’s the story of this album, really. Kanye settles; he never attacks. And he wants Tidal users to pay $20 for this? Come on, man. Would you buy a car with no wheels for $50,000?

Now, that’s not to say that TLOP doesn’t have its moments of clarity. Like I said, it’s easy to forget that Kanye West is a gifted producer. The skeletal “Ultralight Beam” delivers on Kanye’s Twitter promise of this album being a “gospel album.” Ever the curator, Kanye lets the young Chance the Rapper steal the spotlight with the most captivating verse on a Kanye West album since Nicki Minaj’s ferocious debut on “Monsters”. The first true taste of TLOP back in January, “Real Friends,” is another understated but beautiful gem, with a moody, haunting piano setting the scene for Kanye to once again play the bad friend and even worse family member. It’s one of those songs that reminds you why you root for Kanye in the first place. The best song on TLOP by far is “No More Parties in LA,” and it’s one of the best songs of the year so far. It’s a perfect example of what makes Kanye West so great, and also what makes this album so frustration because of how it could’ve been so much more. Kanye, along with Kendrick Lamar(!), just let loose on this track. The three samples on here, including Junie Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy,” have no right being on the same track together, yet it sounds so seamless and captivating. It’s the most fully realized this album gets, and I can guarantee you’re going to be hearing a lot more of it blaring out of car stereos this summer.

I want to sit down with Kanye West. I want to tell him that he’s capable of so much more. We all know this, and I think he knows it too. So, why is he settling for this? I want to know why he isn’t pushing himself to be better, like all the greats. Or maybe he’s pushing to hard… no one man should have all that power, right? I’m not looking for the old Kanye; I’m just looking for a sign that the man is still willing to continue to push himself musically, and not merely settle. Give me a chance to interview him, to buy him a beer he desperately seems to need. I want to ask him all these things and more. He’d probably tell me to fuck off, and if he did, I’d be happy because at least that would mean the fire isn’t out.

Sunday Barrel Best of 2015

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Welcome to another edition of the annual Sunday Barrel Year-End Celebration, where we’ll take a look back at the best music to come out of 2015. December is the time of year where music blogs such as this like to pretend that music is a sport that can easily be broken down into rankings so readers like you can grumble and complain. That’s what the internet is all about, right? As with any “sport,” there are bound to be winners and losers (unless you play in Bettman’s NHL, then EVERYONE’s a winner), let’s take a look at some of the biggest winners and losers of 2015.

WINNERS

Philadelphia

No offense, Philadelphia, but when did you become cool?* As I was looking through my favorite music from this and recent years, I noticed a startling number of bands come from Philadelphia or the surrounding area. I mean, look at this list:

  • The War on Drugs
  • Kurt Vile
  • Pissed Jeans
  • Hop Along
  • Free Energy
  • Amanda X
  • Strand of Oaks
  • Nothing
  • Beach Slang
  • Restorations

This city is stacked! If there was such a thing as a Fantasy Music League, Philadelphia would dominate. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many great musicians in the ranks, playing shows at great Philly venues like World Café Live, MilkBoy, Johnny Brendas, First Unitarian Church, etc., waiting their turn for national recognition. Thanks to these bands, venues, and radio stations like WXPN and Radio 104.5, Philadelphia’s music scene is truly thriving.

*This is no way an endorsement for any major sport team based in Philadelphia. Also, please note that the phrase “No offense, Philadelphia” is a trademark of all Philadelphia sports.

Feminism

Another aspect I noticed about my favorite music from this and recent years is the amount of women just killing it in music right now. Most of the bands I listen to feature at least one female member. Music is now led by women, and it’s about damn time we recognize. Adele is setting fire to the rain and the billboard charts, single-handedly saving the music industry (and perhaps destroying the music streaming) in the process. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift and her ever-growing squad have taken over the radio and your local arenas, Beyoncé will probably drop a surprise album tomorrow, and a new Rihanna album is right around the corner (we think). But I’m not just talking about pop starlets, as there are many powerful, strong, and talented young women making noise away from the Top 40 charts. Female-fronted artists like Bully, Screaming Females, Grimes, CHVRCHES, Hop Along, and Courtney Barnett all released some of the best music this year, and they’re only getting started.

Tom freakin’ Petty

I’m not sure how it happened, but Tom Petty is inescapable. Not Tom Petty himself, but his sound. Who knew Tom Petty was so prolific? The dude started his 2015 off by winning a lawsuit for songwriting credits on Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” as it was decided that it sounds a little too close to Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” How did Petty handle it? He called it “a musical accident,” saying in a statement, “All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all.“ How chill is that? The dude abides, man. If only the Gaye Family Estate was half as sympathetic. Legally, many new artists and veterans alike are getting in on the Tom Petty action. Last year, The War on Drugs carried the Petty torch with their magnificent roots-rock opus Lost in a Dream. In 2015, the “Petty Trend” continued. On his latest album, b’lieve I’m goin down, Kurt Vile (a friend of The War on Drugs, of course) is at the top of his Petty game. The great song “Pretty Pimpin’” recalls Petty’s laid-back, stoner’s brand of classic rock. But it’s not just Kurt Vile who’s livin’ like a refugee. Ryan Adams, who had a great 2015 of his own, nailed a Tom Petty-covering-Taylor-Swift impression on his version of Swift’s 1989. Hell, even Deerhunter and Tallest Man on Earth took the Petty sound for a spin on their respective albums. So, tell your dad or your uncle: classic rock is back baby! I, for one, can’t wait for the year when the Peter Frampton sound comes around.

LOSERS

Coldplay

I’m done defending this band. When word of a new Coldplay album in 2015 surfaced, I felt they had every chance to make a truly great album after breaking new ground on Ghost Stories. That album, while a little uneven, had some inspired moments, reminding us that Coldplay is one of the few mainstream pop acts that challenges their listeners which each release. But this pile of crap – their seventh (and possibly last) album, A Head Full of Dreams – I cannot defend. I never thought I’d say it, but it makes me yearn for the days when Coldplay had rushes of blood in their head rather than meaningless dreams (A Rush of Blood to the Head is a great pop album that will only get better with age). What happened to the old Coldplay? Songs like “Clocks,” “Magic,” or even “Paradise,” I can defend. But “Adventure of a Lifetime”? I can’t even. There is no redeeming quality about this new album. There are no hooks and no earworms here, both of which Chris Martin always had a knack for. A Head Full of Dreams is just a mish-mash of sound, and I now know what Coldplay sounds like to people who hate them.

Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music – Streaming Music

I get the feeling that the major music industry still doesn’t know what to do with the Internet. 15 years since Napster came in like a wrecking ball, major labels have seemingly shrugged their shoulders and said “fuck it”, giving the music away for free after all with little-to-no benefit to the actual artists. Streaming music is now controlled by three major services: Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music. This past year saw these services aggressively competing for real estate on the same barren island. It’s like Lord of the Flies, and Jay Z is Piggy. The millionaire posse of artists representing Tidal spent most of 2015 practically begging for our business, with not much to offer but “exclusive” videos and shows. Their main schtik was that they’d be working “for the artists”, but so far, very few listeners have bought into it. While it’s fundamentally great to have free and open access to this amount of music, it’s not benefitting anyone but label owners. Artists like Coldplay, Taylor Swift, and Adele – arguably the world’s biggest pop stars – have not offered their music for streaming. Adele’s new album 25 has sold 6 million copies in four weeks in the US alone. In today’s world, that kind of number is unheard of! And you want to know how she was able to do this? She did not make 25 available on music streaming services. If you wanted to hear the album, you had to shell out the dough. It’s a great strategy for her, but unfortunately, smaller artists wouldn’t be able to get away with this. While free exposure on the internet is great for any new band, they’d be lying if they said that money wasn’t a concern. Something needs to be done for the up-and-comers so they can get their fair share. What that plan might look like, I haven’t a clue, but I’m sure something can be done. It’s too bad Jay Z and his friends are more worried about the money in their own pockets.

YouTube and David Letterman

This might be one that only matters to me, but remember those great performances on Late Night with David Letterman over the years? I’m talking Ryan Adams, Future Islands, The Strokes, etc. Well, they’re all gone! None of these legendary performances are available to watch on YouTube anymore… well, at least the ones on the now-deleted Letterman YouTube channel. Come on, man! Just because Letterman retired, doesn’t mean all the great musical moments from the show should go too.


 

TOP SONGS of 2015

Honorable Mentions:

Cheerleader, Omi

Watching Every Channel At Once, Slonk Donkerson

Style, Ryan Adams

Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Continental Shelf, Viet Cong

Never Get You Right, Brandon Flowers

Gifts for the Earth, Deafheaven

Trace Me Onto You, Title Fight


 

50. Lonely Town, Brandon Flowers

49. 679 (feat. Remy Boyz), Fetty Wap

48. Desperate Guy, The Fratellis

47. Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party, Courtney Barnett

46. Ship To Wreck, Florence and the Machine

45. The Less I Know The Better, Tame Impala

44. Pretty Pimpin, Kurt Vile

43. Multi-Love, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

42. Forget It’s A Dream, Communions

41. All Day, Kanye West

40. Darkness of the Dream, The Tallest Man On Earth

39. I Can Do No Wrong, American Wrestlers

38. Powerful Man, Hop Along

37. Bought to the Water, Deafheaven

36. Six, Bully

35. The Ideal Husband, Father John Misty

34. Repetition, Purity Ring

33. Complexity, Eagles of Death Metal

32. Levels, Nick Jonas

31. Ripe, Screaming Females

30. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) (feat. Young Thug & Popcaan), Jamie xx

29. Feeling Ok, Best Coast

28. Thief, The Fratellis

27. Push Pull, Purity Ring

26. My Body, Armstrong Leigh

25. Rose Of Sharon, Title Fight

24. Depreston, Courtney Barnett

23. Breaker, Deerhunter

22. Kill V. Maim, Grimes

21. The Moment, Tame Impala

20. How Much a Dollar Cost (feat. James Fauntleroy & Ronald Isley), Kendrick Lamar

19. Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins), Father John Misty

18. Necessary Evil, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

17. Snakeskin, Deerhunter

16. Leave A Trace, CHVRCHES

15. The Blacker the Berry, Kendrick Lamar

14. Flesh Without Blood, Grimes

13. Gosh, Jamie xx

12. Uptown Funk (featuring Bruno Mars), Mark Ronson

11. Lock All The Doors, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

10.Can’t Feel My Face, The Weeknd

It’s weird we now live in a world where The Weeknd is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. It wasn’t that long ago when Abel Tesfaye was releasing mysterious mixtapes of drugged-out, moody R&B songs whilst remaining anonymous to the public. Tesfaye’s still got a little bit of that baggage with him, but he hits the nail on the head on “Can’t Feel My Face,” a song that struts and grooves like a smooth criminal. It’s definitely the best Top 40 song of the year for me.

  1. Down Side Of Me, CHVRCHES

What I like about CHVCHES, other than the juicy synths in each song, is that on their newest album, Every Open Eye, they didn’t rush to change their sound on what’s only their 2nd record. Instead, they improved every aspect of what made their first album so great. The production is a little slicker, the melodies are a little catchier, and Lauren Mayberry’s voice gets stronger with every performance. “Down Side of Me” is a deep cut from an album full of radio-friendly bangers, but I think it’s the most emotionally powerful of the bunch.

  1. Trying, Bully

It’s a damn shame this band wasn’t around 20 years ago, because this song would be everywhere, after every final Cobain chord fades. In a way, that’s exactly what Bully does on their debut album: pick up where Nirvana left off, that is if Nirvana was fronted by the lovechild of Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani. Guitarist/Vocalist Alicia Bognanno is a leading force, delivering her brutally honest lyrics with scorching tongue. Plus, she produced the whole thing herself. Somewhere in the heart of Chicago, Steve Albini must be proud of his former intern.

  1. Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett

“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you.” Courtney Barnett has quickly become one of the best lyricists this generation has to offer. Her words are funny, poignant, and strong. I was blown away when I first heard this song back in March. At times on her A Sea of Split Peas Double EP, Courtney’s songs, much like her words, tended to ramble on as her mind would audibly wander. On “Pedestrian,” Courtney and her backing band of scoundrels have found a laser-sharp focus with more than enough pep to knock you off your feet.

  1. Sister Cities, Hop Along

Hop Along’s newest album, Painted Shut, is a revealing set of angsty indie-rock. Everything about it is so human, which has a lot to do with the urgency in the music and Quinlan’s voice. Hailing from Philly, Hop Along’s songs are about growing up quickly despite feeling helpless and weak at times. On “Sister Cities,” Frances Quinlan’s voice strains with a defeated exasperation, like she’s just so sick of this shit around her, although she’s not yet ready to give up.

  1. Alright, Kendrick Lamar

I’m already sick of hearing about the upcoming presidential election. They’re all fart-sniffers and snake-oil salesmen/women, in my humble opinion. Everyone has their different and respective opinions on what are the big issues in America, but there’s no denying that one of the biggest issues plaguing out country is the continuing racial divide. On Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly, he speaks of the real life struggles black Americans face every day, against some of the very people who are supposed to be protecting them. On the best song of the album, “Alright,” he paints a bleak picture, citing the oppression and depression he’s experienced in his hometown: “We hate popo / wanna kill us dead in the street for sure.” When all seems hopeless, Kendrick proudly reminds us that despite all this, “we gon be alright.” It’s a simple, universal message that points to a peaceful future. It seeks to unite, not divide, and points to a future of opportunity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, yellow, purple, or blue… the message is the same: “we gon be alright,” Now THAT’S a change I can believe in.

4. Luna, Deafheaven

Following up a groundbreaking album like 2013’s Sunbather can be a daunting task, but Deafheaven are hitting their stride. New Bermuda is a different but better album. “Luna,” the second of five songs on the album, pulverizes anything on Sunbather. The first half of the song is absolutely brutal, as George Clarke pushes his screams to the limit over guitarist Kerry McCoy’s Slayer-like attack. The wonderful thing about Deafheaven, and what makes them so great, is that as dark as things get with them, there is always a moment of relief and light around the corner that counterbalances the darkness. The final few minutes of “Luna” is an eruption of ecstasy and relief so powerful, it’ll make you cry. I have no idea what Clark is singing on this song (or the whole album, really) but quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. The one word I can make out at the end is “suburbia,” and in the moment on the song, it’s the most beautiful word I’ve ever heard.

  1. I Went To The Store One Day, Father John Misty

Father John Misty is one cynical bastard. Every word he utters on the gorgeous I Love You, Honeybear is sung with a sly grin and a tongue firmly in cheek. Father John Misty, himself, is a persona Josh Tillman can hide behind so he can get away with singing about love, marriage, and changing his dastardly ways without sounding like a complete asshole with an acoustic guitar. As much as I like the sarcastic Father John Misty, the album’s best moment is when the mask is stripped away and it’s Josh Tillman, just another asshole with an acoustic guitar. On the album closer, “I Went To the Store One Day,” Tillman is at his most vulnerable, talking about his desire for a lifelong marriage and a quiet life in the south. He doesn’t mince words or make any jokes here. This love between him and his new wife Emma is complicated, beautiful, and real. Yet, it started out so simply at some grocery store in southern California. Out of all the great lyrics on I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman save’s his best and most impactful for the very end.

  1. Let It Happen, Tame Impala

Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind Tame Impala, doesn’t want to get caught in the same place for too long. Like any great musician, he’s changing but he still wants us to come along for the ride. It’s a theme that’s omnipresent on his brilliant new album Currents. Sure, Parker could’ve easily pulled another psych-rock opus like Lonerism out of his ass, and it probably would’ve been great. But thanks to Currents, we now know that’s not how Parker’s mind works. That’s not how anything works in life, and sometimes, you just gotta let it happen. That’s what Kevin Parker struggles with on his best album opener to date. It’s an urgent and frantic song that borrows traits from Tame Impala’s past songs while hinting at the change that blooms on the rest of the album. The music itself highlights the struggle in Kevin Parker’s mind, but in the end, he does what he wants and moves forward. The sound is progressive as the song twists and turns, leading up to a exhilarating vocoder-assisted climax. If you had told me Daft Punk produced the middle section, I would’ve believed you. But no, this is all Kevin Parker, and on “Let It Happen,” it’s amazing what he can do no matter what muse he follows.

  1. REALiTi (Demo), Grimes

It’s been a long time since we heard from Grimes. Her last album, Visions, gave her some major street-cred among indie critics and fans alike. Despite it’s spacey weirdness, Visions was a pop-album at heart straight out of the mind of an eccentric young woman out of Canada named Claire Boucher. However, after nearly 3 years since that album’s release, we didn’t hear much from Boucher. In 2014, she gave us “Go,” a Skrillex-ed out jam that was originally written for Rihanna (who didn’t want it) and was supposed to be featured on a Grimes album that Boucher herself abandoned to start from scratch. At this point, fans were left to wonder if Visions was just a fluke. Little did we know, Boucher spent the better of three years teaching herself how to play different instruments like the guitar and violin, as well as mastering her production skills. Finally, in March, we heard the initial fruits of Boucher’s labor: an unmastered/unmixed demo called “REALiTi,” released only to hold fans over for her November album Art Angels. I know what you’re thinking (other than “do I have to read this whole thing?”): a demo? Really? Yes, really. This demo is hardly a demo at all. In fact, this unfinished product is so well-produced, it’s miles better than your highly polished Top 40 summer jam. But that’s not the only thing that makes this song so great. “REALiTi” is smooth combination of chill-wave, synth-pop, and Napster-era techno, making for an irresistible jam that can only be made by Grimes. There’s simply nothing like it.


 

TOP ALBUMS of 2015

30. 1989, Ryan Adams

29. II, METZ

28. Sounds & Color, Alabama Shakes

27. California Nights, Best Coast

26. The Lunar Martini Motorcycle Club, Slonk Donkerson

25. Dark Bird Is Home, The Tallest Man On Earth

24. Another Eternity, Purity Ring

23. American Wrestlers, American Wrestlers

22. The Desired Effect, Brandon Flowers

21. b’lieve i’m goin down…, Kurt Vile

20. Chasing Yesterday, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

19. Communions EP, Communions

18. Fading Frontier, Deerhunter

17. The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, Beach Slang

16. Zipper Down, Eagles Of Death Metal

15. The Magic Whip, Blur

14. Painted Shut, Hop Along

13. Rose Mountain, Screaming Females

12. Multi-Love, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

11. Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied, The Fratellis

10. Hyperview , Title Fight

9. Feels Like, Bully

8. To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

7. Every Open Eye, CHVRCHES

6. In Colour, Jamie xx

5. I Love You, Honeybear, Father John Misty

4. Art Angels, Grimes

3. Currents, Tame Impala

2. Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett

1 New Bermuda, Deafheaven

2015 was an embarrassment of riches for music geeks like me. I highly recommend listening to all of the albums I listed above, as each of them could easily be #1. It’s been THAT good of a year in music.

If you’re still one of those people who ignorantly believes that there’s no good music out there anymore, there’s no better time than now to turn off the radio and try one of these albums out. I’m not saying to completely disregard everything in the Top 40, because there’s a lot of good stuff there too. But if you think that’s all the new music there is, that’s like drinking Bud Light all your life without ever tasting an IPA or a fine wine. There’s a lot of beauty out there, you just have to know where to listen.

For example, Courtney Barnett, a talented young woman from Australia, released an incredible new album chock full of fun, honest rock and roll. Barnett’s a gifted songwriter who has a unique way with words. She tells stories that will make you laugh and break your heart, squeezing every last word out of her head until she runs out of breath before the next verse. Sometimes I Sit and Think is one hell of a debut from a musician that has a truly bright and exciting future. If you’re going to start with any album from this list, make sure it’s hers.

As for me, my favorite album from this year is Deafheaven’s New Bermuda. I’ve written about it extensively in the past, so at this point, there’s not much more to say except I still can’t get enough of it. I’ve never had an album punch me so hard in the gut emotionally and musically. If death-metal isn’t your thing, I totally understand. It isn’t mine either, and it’s too bad the death-metal moniker is going to scare a lot of people away from this great band. The thing about Deafheaven is they aren’t interested in adhering to the metal genre as it is traditionally known. Out of all the genres of music, metal tends to be the most stubborn. Metal fans are like a cult, and if any band deviates from the norm (that is, if a band tries to evolve as any good band should), they’re spit upon. Deafheaven is a band that can’t be pigeon-holed into one genre. They’re too unique for that; too forward-thinking. New Bermuda defies any single genre. The album is a seamless blend of thrash metal Metallica, Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock grandeur, and Oasis at the peak of Britpop. The result is absolutely breathtaking, and for that, it is my favorite album of 2015.

Deafheaven reach new heights on “New Bermuda”

Every once and a while, an album will come along seemingly out of nowhere and shake the foundations of your world to shreds. Sunbather, the 2013 album from black metal shoegazers Deafheaven, was that kind of record – an album of emotionally turbulent set of gorgeously-crafted songs unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. It’s one of my favorite records EVER, and yet, it’s one that I can’t really listen to very often. It’s so emotionally draining that I find I have to be in the right mindset to press play on the opener “Dream House”, because once you’re in, there’s no turning back, and it takes a few moments to recover as “The Pecan Tree” fades and the album ends.

One of the biggest triumphs of Sunbather was how Deafheaven seamlessly brought together very different worlds of black metal, shoegaze, and even pop, thus having critics dub them as “the metal band for those who don’t like metal.” Metal, as you may know, is a very peculiar genre that hasn’t quite branched out since Metallica’s The Black Album days. Nu-metal was a step WAY back, and any band influenced by Disturbed doesn’t deserve to be listened to or written about. Finally, here comes a band willing to push Metal in a forward direction, and they get chastised for it. Why? Because “metal heads” felt Deafheaven was not genuine “metal.” Listen, I am by no means a “metal head,” and I am certainly not a black metal fan. However, while Deafheaven may be considered “black metal” by definition, they defy genre in reality. Deafheaven is proof that it’s okay to like this music, and then enjoy, say, CHVRCHES immediately after. Genre doesn’t matter here. That’s what makes this band so special, and this is why you need to give their newest album New Bermuda a listen.

New Bermuda is most certainly not Sunbather. While Sunbather was beautiful on the inside and out, New Bermuda is an ugly and twisted beast. Vocalist George Clarke voice screeches in a goblin-like tone throughout, while guitarist Kerry McCoy leads an aggressive attack, shredding more and “shoe-gazing” less. Not to mention the stellar full-time band members – bassist Stephen Clark, guitarist Shiv Mehra, and drummer Daniel Tracy – whose contributions to this album add to its monstrosity. Tracy, in particular, might be one of the best drummers out there right now.

Yet, despite its grotesque exterior, this album has an inner beauty that is more pronounced here because of the initial ugliness. There’s always going to be a dark and a light side to Deafheaven, but the lines between the two are more obscured on New Bermuda. “Brought to the Water” starts out with discordant riffs and bursts, picking up where Sunbather left off, but it blooms into something else entirely by the end. “Baby Blue,” the three-part mid-album epic, tussles and turns between a dreamy melody and a chugging, sludgy slow burn. While Deafheaven are certainly coming into their own on this New Bermuda, the one song on this album, for me, that is the embodiment of what makes Deafheaven so ahead of their time is “Gifts for the Earth,” a hard-nosed rocker that as it breaks down, it pummels anything on Sunbather into submission. But then, out of nowhere, Deafheaven ride into the sunset into a “champagne supernova” in the sky. While being one of the most straight-forward songs Deafheaven has written, it’s mind-blowing how this band can go from And Justice For All to What’s the Story Morning Glory so perfectly and naturally. It’s a small taste of what makes New Bermuda so great. Deafheaven isn’t cashing in, they’re moving forward. None of it sounds forced; none of it feels fake. It’s just… Deafheaven.

The Sunday Best of 2014

Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels

by Jeff Yerger

Remember me?

As I sit here in my new apartment (waiting for some water to boil so I can eat some damn pasta), I think about what a crazy year 2014 has been. For me personally, it’s been a tale of two cities: I entered 2014 cozy and familiar in New York and as 2014 begins to wave goodbye, I find myself living in Philadelphia, in a whole new comfort zone. My life has changed in oh so many ways, and I’ve had music with me every step of the way.

2014 has been a great year for music. It’s been a year full of unexpected (literally, being that one morning the whole world woke up with a strange U2 album on their iPods) and powerful music. Where 2013 saw the big guys like Daft Punk, Arcade Fire, and Kanye West remind us why they’re the best, 2014 brought us some fantastic newcomers and not-so-seasoned pros who produced damn-near masterpieces seemingly out of nowhere.

I love music, and since I don’t have all of your sock sizes, I wanted to share the gift of my favorite music from 2014 with you.

But first, some accolades…

Best TV Performance

It’s a shame that David Letterman will be retiring next year, especially because he brings in fantastic musical guests, and each musical guest he has always seems to bring their A-game. This performance by Future Islands is by far the performance of the year. I mean, it really doesn’t get any better than this. Here’s hoping they come back for an encore before Letterman bows out. In the words of the man himself, I’ll take all of that ya got!

Best Live Show

I really wanted to give this to Sleigh Bells, who always seem to deliver (and more) during their live show. I also wanted to give this to Foxy Shazam, another stellar live act. Hell, I even wanted to give this to Kanye West, who I didn’t even see live this year, but video evidence shows me I missed out big time. While all these artists have great live shows in their own way, I have to give this award to none other than The Replacements. Seeing them at Forest Hills Stadium in September was a religious experience, which is the only way I can describe it. Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg still rock like hell, and perhaps finally, after 30 years, they’re finally getting their due. If they come around at all in 2015, be sure to go see these heroes of indie rock.

Top 5 Pop Singles from 2014

(admit it, you like these songs and dance like there’s no tomorrow whenever these come on at the bar)

5. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX – “Fancy

4. Ariana Grand & The Weeknd – “Love Me Harder”

3. Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne – “Rather Be”

2. Nick Jonas – “Jealous”

1. Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”

Now for the good stuff…

Top 50 Songs of 2014

  1. Ryan Adams – “Gimme Something Good”
  1. St. Vincent – “Prince Johnny”
  1. Coldplay – “Magic”
  1. La Sera – “Fall in Place”
  1. Sylvan Esso – “Hey Mami”
  1. Run the Jewels – “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”
  1. Real Estate – “Crime”
  1. The Orwells – “Who Needs You”
  1. The Black Keys – “Gotta Get Away”
  1. Phantogram – “Fall In Love”
  1. White Lung – “Down It Goes”
  1. Foxy Shazam – “In This Life”
  1. Grimes feat. Blood Diamonds – “Go”
  1. Charli XCX – “Gold Coins”
  1. Dum Dum Girls – “In the Wake of You”
  1. Future Islands – “Fall From Grace”
  1. Bleeding Rainbow – “So You Know”
  1. The Raveonettes – “Sisters”
  1. Deluka – “Dead of Night”
  1. Spoon – “Let Me Be Mine”
  1. Cloud Nothings – “I’m Not Part Of Me”
  1. Parquet Courts – “Sunbathing Animal”
  1. The War on Drugs – “Burning”
  1. Fucked Up – “Glass Boys”
  1. St. Vincent – “Digital Witness”
  1. Run The Jewels – “Blockbuster Night Part 1”
  1. Pup – “Resevoir”
  1. Angel Olsen – “Stars”
  1. Ryan Adams – “Feels Like Fire”
  1. Alvvays – “Archie, Marry Me”
  1. TV on the Radio – “Careful You”
  1. Against Me! – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
  1. Coldplay – “Midnight”
  1. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – “Kelly”
  1. The Horrors – “So Now You Know”
  1. La Roux – “Let Me Down Gently”
  1. King Tuff – “Eyes of the Muse”
  1. Bleeding Rainbow – “Tell Me”
  1. Merchandise – “Little Killer”
  1. Spoon – “Inside Out”
  1. Run the Jewels feat. Zack De La Rocha – “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”
  1. Charli XCX – “Need Ur Luv”
  1. The War on Drugs – “Suffering”
  1. Fucked Up – “The Art Of Patrons”
  1. Sharon Van Etten – “Your Love Is Killing Me”
  1. Alvvays – “Adult Diversion”
  1. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting On You)”
  1. Merchandise – “Green Lady”
  1. Sylvan Esso – “Coffee”
  1. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Jackson”

As I mentioned earlier, I moved to Philadelphia back in September. It’s been a big lifestyle change for me. For the first time since college, I’m living on my own and really for the first time ever in my life, I’m fully independent. While it’s been a good thing, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss home in NJ at least a little bit. The song “Jackson” by Cymbals Eat Guitars captures this feeling for me perfectly. As the song builds up, Joseph D’Agostino yelps and strains words about hanging out in Jersey with your friends (more specifically, Six Flags). It’s a song about nostalgia and dear friends, and the music itself is uplifting and I love every minute of it. Make sure you at least give this song a spin, if anything. Truly a special song from a special album.

For the Spotifically inclined…

And now for…

My Top 25 Albums of 2014

25. Phantogram – Voices

24. King Tuff – Black Moon Spell

23. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

22. Dum Dum Girls – Too True

21. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

20. Real Estate – Atlas

19. The Horrors – Luminous

18. Restorations – LP3

17. White Lung – Deep Fantasy

16. The Raveonettes – Pe’ahi

15. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

14. Pup – Pup

13. Future Islands – Singles

12. TV On The Radio – Seeds

11. Spoon – They Want My Soul

10. Charli XCX – Sucker

9. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose

8. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

7. Fucked Up – Glass Boys

6. Bleeding Rainbow – Interrupt

5. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

4. The War On Drugs – Lost In the Dream

3. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

2. Alvvays – Alvvays

1. Merchandise – After The End

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Last year, my album of the year was Kanye West’s divisive Yeezus, and while that album is great and mind-blowing in itself, I did enjoy it as much as I enjoy After the End by Tampa Bay’s own Merchandise. In fact, I’ve come to realize that there are very few albums I love and enjoy as much as After the End. Admittedly, I had never heard of Merchandise before this summer. Since then, I’ve checked out their back catalogue, which consists of just a few small EPs of skuzzy, lo-fi post-rock. While these albums had their moments, I never would’ve expected something of this magnitude from Merchandise. After the End is a grand, triumphant album that sounds like nothing else in 2014. I honestly couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it sounds like; I hear everything from The Smiths to Arcade Fire to Duran Duran to The Cure to fucking Coldplay.

Where Yeezus was a beautifully distorted mess, After the End is absolutely flawless, and it’s apparent through the sound and production that this was the intention. After “Corridor” sets the scene, the run of “Enemy,” “True Monument,” and “Green Lady” is the best three-song punch I’ve heard in a long time. It takes most bands years to write just one song as good as those, and Merchandise has THREE of them at the beginning of this freakin’ record. After that, other standouts like “Telephone” and the excellent “Little Killer” are just icing on the cake.

Please do yourself a favor and listen to this album. Obviously, all of the albums I’ve listed on here are fantastic and worth a listen. The top 5, in particular, could all easily be number one here, but for me, I have listened to and enjoyed no album more in 2014 than After the End by Merchandise and I hope you will too.