Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10 of 2015

10. Good Old War – Broken into Better Shape

This was Good Old War's first effort without the Old – Tim Arnold. He left the band right before they started recording Broken into Better Shape to focus more on his family and life in Philadelphia, which is also the other band members' home base. Unfortunately, they do loose something without the third member but it's more or less the same thing, so on my top 10 they shall still be. Some songs that are more rather than less of the same thing - “Tell Me What You Want From Me” and the self titled song, “Broken into Better Shape” which are also their key tracks on the band's fourth full length. They also switched labels – from Sargent House to a Vancouver based indie rock outfit, Nettwerk, that are also label homes to Family of the Year, Father John Misty, Guster and weirdly enough, Sinead O'Conner!

9. The Front Bottoms – Back On Top

Releasing their fifth studio album on their new label, Fueled By Ramen, the Front Bottoms, like Good Old War, did the same old thing but also added something to their pop punk literalness. Lead singer Brian Sella and his crew from Woodcliffe Lake, NJ (of course!) are in the highlight of their career so far, playing their first headlining tour this year and positive response to their major label debut. Key tracks include “Summer Shandy” and “West Virginia”...also “The Plan (F**k Jobs)” just for the song title alone.

8. Joanna Newsom – Divers

Before I made my first draft of this list, I forgot my girl Joanna came out with an album this year! Leaving my other girl Laura Marling on the chopping block. Honestly, I wanted to tie her and Good Old War for #10 but I don't really like ties on lists, I think it's kind of a cop out. So, Marling will be be a very very honored honorable mention.

Anyway, since Newsom's last album, Have One On Me, she married Andy Samberg, bought a house with him that also happened to be the former residence of Charlie Chaplin (it's actually a really cool house – pics here) and completed a new creative endeavor on her resume – acting in Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice which I wish was better than it seemed to be, but it wasn't (she was great though!). Newsom came back with her usual harp infused folk with a voice that you would think could surly only come out of a small child, no? Some how though, it works. Key tracks I really love include “Sapokanikan” and the self titled track, “Divers.”

7. Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface

Maybe the best lyric about tax dollars is said in this album. ALMOST topping B.O.B.'s “Baby you the whole package, plus you pay your taxes. And you keep it real, while them others stay plastic” from “Nothing on You.” ALMOST. This was a very pivotal album for this mid-western rap duo. “Tear in My Heart” (the song that has the line about taxes,) got pretty huge towards the end of the Summer and their Blurryface tour with Echosmith sold out some major arenas in the United States. Blurryface definitely brought them more fans but I'm not exactly sure why. Did Fueled By Ramen do a better job with advertising? Don't get me wrong, I like the album a lot, but Vessel, their debut full length released in 2013, was a better album. I'm just putting it out there. Blurryface sounded more “commercial,” I suppose. More pop influenced. More Pro Tools created computerized beats in the background. So that could be why. Also, maybe more hooks in their choruses, mirroring “Holding On To You” from Vessel. “Tear in My Heart,” “Lane Boy,” “Stressed Out” come to mind. 

I also really liked the whole “Blurryface” lore the attached to this album. I don't think it's ever been confirmed but fans are lead to believe that Blurryface is pretty much a symbol for the general public and/or the negative aspects of society. “My name's blurryface and I care what you think,” is the lyric that got peoples attention about this. I appreciate their attempts to make hip hop for the masses with some substance behind it. However, something I don't appreciate from this album – the voice modulation thing they did. I think that was supposed to be their way of showing Blurryface in musical form though. But still. Key tracks off of this album include, “Tear in My Heart,” “Stressed Out,” “Lane Boy” and “Not Today.” Also, if you haven't listened to Vessel yet, why haven't you? Go listen to that. Then you have my permission to listen to Blurryface.

6. Natalie Prass - Self Titled

This Disney Princess really surprised me with her old school country vibe – almost sounding like a young Dolly Parton mixed with a little bit of Graham Parsons' influence. I can't wait to see what she does next – I have a feeling she's going to ride out this album for a while though. If you want to check out my previous post on Prass, click here. It has a little more about my feeling on her music and her background. Key tracks include “My Baby Don't Understand Me” and “Why Don't You Believe in Me.”

5. Best Coast - California Nights

Bethany and Bobb's third full length album is their grown up album – it shows the most maturity not necessarily in their lyrics, but in their instrumentation and general vibe. Actually, some of their lyrics, I hate to say, are probably the weakest they've ever written - “California Nights” and “Heaven Sent” specifically and that could be why California Nights isn't higher on my list. However, it has some really good gems like “In My Eyes” and “Jealousy.” It's definitely an album to listen to if you've liked Best Coast in the past. Click here to read my article from Occur talking more about this album.

4. Frank Turner - Positive Songs for Negative People

Frank decided to push himself lyrically with his sixth studio album to write more positive. Funny thing is, I feel like he's generally positive in his music overall, he just usually has more of a “matter of fact” way of saying it and his lyrics appear to be more negative than they really are. At least that's how I take it. With Positive Songs for Negative People, he came up with “Get Better” and “Next Storm” which are reasons enough to make this my #4 album of the year. Both very inspiring, enigmatic songs with lyrics that will make you want to get out of your house and take a walk. Even in the dreary, rainy season we're calling Winter here in Upstate New York. Other key tracks include “Mittens,” “Josephine” and “Song for Josh.”

3. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I just sit and think and Sometimes I Just Sit...

Courtney Barnett is just awesome. That's all I could think of when trying to figure out how to start this. Coming from an A.A. Milne quote, author of OG Winnie the Pooh, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits...” Barnett's album title pretty much sums up her music to me. Sometimes, she thinks with her pen, thoughts flowing out of her, her mind racing like a girl who just found the unmitigated benefits of going to therapy and then sometimes, she's very subdued in her lyrics and her verse sounds prepared, like it was intended to be a song. Should we look out to the suburbs for a house? I guess it couldn't hurt us. Let's go with the flow with Courtney Barnett (“Depreston” - example of a prepared verse) and then in the next song, we're freaking out about swimming and how she much prefers it to jogging (“Aqua Profunda!” - example of the unmitigated benefits) and then who knows where we'll end up with Courtney Barnett because her lyrics and music is fluid. Anything she thinks of, will become the next song you listen to. The greatness about Barnett is that no matter which Courtney you're getting, it's still poignant and intelligent. This, like The Front Bottoms, was Barnett's year of xposure – her official debut album gave her some serious Pitchfork and indie cred. Whether that's good or bad, I will leave that up to you. Key tracks include “Depreston” (might be one of my favorite songs ever, actually. It's a very beautiful song and there are a lot of “read between the lines” moments in the lyrics. I could be biased because it includes my last name but I doubt it), “Elevator Operator,” “Pedestrian at Best” and “Nobody Really Cares if You Don't Go to the Party” (“I want to go out but I want to stay home.” - everyone's life story at some point in their late twenties).

2. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell

Again, how do I start this? I'll keep it on the short side since I think people who read this blog know my feelings about this album already. Basically, I'm very happy that Stevens went back to what he does best – folk music that could be played at a funeral AND a school dance. Eerie but strangely pleasant. This album was very important for Stevens himself to make to cope with bereaving his late mother, and it shows that he put the work into it. 2015 was also the year that I got to see him live in concert for the first time. I wasn't disappointed at all and he's another artist I can check off of my “Artists I have to see before they stop performing and/or I die.” list.  Knowing Stevens, his next album will probably sound completely different and it will also be released in like, five years. I would ask for both of these things not to happen but I know I'm not in charge of that. Key tracks include: “I Should Have Known Better,” “All of Me Wants All Of You”, “Fourth Of July” and “The Only Thing.”

1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Um, how could I NOT have No Cities to Love as my number one?! These bad ass riot grrrls came out of nowhere after breaking up (I know it was allegedly a “hiatus” but they pretty much broke up – if you didn't get back together within five years after hiating, I would consider that a bonafide break up, no? By the way, I know hiating isn't a proper form of hiatus, I just thought it sounded funny,) and were like, “HEY we made an album without anyone hardly knowing about it. Here it is.” and it was like they never left! LIKE THEY NEVER LEFT, GUYS!!!

Sleater-Kinney were one of those bands I thought I would never be able to see live. Their last album before No Cities was the uninspiring (at least compared to the other albums in their catalog,) The Woods in 2005 and I unfortunately got into Sleater-Kinney roughly five years after that. So I didn't really have a chance. Until 2015 when they just popped out of nowhere and were like, “hey remember that awesomeness we created? We're going to do that again and we're going to do it better than some of our other albums, what of it?” So not only did I get a really solid album from one of my favorite bands of all time, but I was also able to check off another band off of my list (see: Sufjan's blurb above,) and see them kick ass in the flesh. So thanks Corin, Carrie and Janet for that.

No Cities to Love brings me back to Call the Doctor or One Beat. Janet Weiss' drums crashing against bass that could be heard miles and miles away with unapologetic, raw guitar and smart, thought provoking, sincere lyrics. Their music questions everything, makes you think about society and the way you live. It puts you in a mindset that makes you want to change the crappy things about your life or maybe on a larger scale. Totally what rock is supposed to be. Key tracks include EVERYTHING. No, actually, “Price Tag,” “No Cities to Love,” “No Anthems,” “A New Wave” and “Bury Our Friends.”

Honorable Mentions:
Laura Marling, Short Movie
Bully, Feels Like
Fall Out Boy, American Beauty/American Psycho
Modest Mouse, Strangers to Ourselves
Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color
Drake, If You're Reading this It's Too Late (I like Drake, okay? Don't judge me.)

And notice Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly isn't on this list AT ALL. Could it be the only top 10 of 2015 on the internet or in print that doesn't have his name on the list? I think it might be. Because if I see another goddamn list with his name next to “Number One,” I don't know how I will take that. I just don't know! I also should probably be prepared that he will wipe the Grammy awards in February. I'm just shuddering at the thought. I didn't have anything against him until he became the freakin' Adele of rap. Just sayin'.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Playlist Paragraphs: President Obama's Summer Playlist: Day [Spotify]

Hey, did you know that THE WHITE HOUSE has a Spotify account? Well, they do. And apparently to inaugurate the account, President Obama made a playlist of his own.

1. Ain’t Too Proud to Beg – The Temptations
2. Live It Up – Isley Brothers
3. Memories Live – Talib Kweli & Hi Tek
4. Tombstone Blues – Bob Dylan
5. So Much Trouble in the World – Bob Marley
6. Paradise – Coldplay
7. Tengo Un Trato (Remix) – Mala Rodriguez
8. Wang Dang Doodle – Howlin Wolf
9. Another Star – Stevie Wonder
10. Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly & the Family Stone
11. Boozophilia – Low Cut Connie
12. Wherever Is Your Heart – Brandi Carlile
13. Good Day – Nappy Roots
14. Green Light – John Legend
15. Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones
16. Rock Steady – Aretha Franklin
17. Down Down the Deep River – Okkervil River
18. Pusher Love Girl – Justin Timberlake
19. Shake It Out – Florence + The Machine
20. La Salsa La Traigo Yo – Sonora Carruseles

There are a lot of songs on here I actually don't know so kudos to you, President Obama. But this playlist overall seems like a relaxing Summer day - Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Sly & the Family Stone, Justin Timberlake. But it also has some surprises like Coldplay, Brandi Carlile and Nappy Roots. It's eclectic and there are a lot of genres represented here, which I consider to be a factor when you're judging a playlist. Also, Florence + the Machine! Now that is definitely a surprise for the President. And now I'm just picturing him reading the latest wacky bill that has been submitted to congress and he's in the oval office reading it, listening to "Shake It Out" and just shaking his head.