BØRNS | Bleachers | Charli XCX – Fillmore, Detroit (August 11, 2015)

Triple Header in Detroit

Triple Header in Detroit

What a stacked bill.  The “Charli and Jack Do America” tour was not on my radar.  At all.  I like Charli alright and BØRNS‘ EP Candy is pretty awesome.  I can’t stand fun., so I assumed I wouldn’t like Bleachers.  Oh, ho ho, was I wrong.  Thank God for flagging sales…

LiveNation had a “deal” for their stop in Detroit: partnered with local rock station 89.1, they’d sell the balcony nosebleeds for $8.90 (plus $3 service fee) and try to fill the place up.  I couldn’t resist.  Adding on a voucher that I’d been saving from LiveNation (bestowed upon me because I go to way too many concerts), our final cost was $4.40 per ticket.  That’s like $1.45 per act.  Jackpot.

Although Detroit is still struggling to recover from ’08, the city still has its charms and history.  The Fillmore (formerly the State Theater) has been on my venue bucket list for a long time and I was floored.  This place is GORGEOUS.  I’m from Boston, so let me use local comparisons: imagine the intimacy of Paradise with a vibe like House of Blues or the Palladium, tacked on top of the class of the Orpheum or Boston Opera House.  What a place.

When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the nosebleed balcony GA section was closed and they had opened up the floor to all ticket holders.  Nobody wanted these tickets, it seemed.  Even though we arrived when BØRNS was wrapping up his first song (“Seeing Stars”), there was enough space to get a sweet spot just 1/4 away from the stage.

Hometown Boy, BØRNS

Hometown Boy, BØRNS

The floor was packed for the hometown boy.  Even though he only has a 4-song EP, he peppered in some new songs and a cover of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.”  His falsetto is spot-on live and the band is so tight you’d think they were a few albums/tours in.  They were so good that I saw them a few days later (for FREE) in downtown Ann Arbor for a summer radio “lunch” event.  Get on BØRNS now before they blow up.  Full-length LP drops in October.  This kid is gonna be huge.

BØRNS in downtown Ann Arbor (8/13/15)

BØRNS in downtown Ann Arbor (8/13/15)

After a short break, the first headliner of this double-headlining tour came on.  Bleachers is the band of Jack Antonoff, guitarist for fun. and Lena Dunham’s arm candy.  Fun. is alright, but I can’t stand Nate Ruess.  So sorry, Jack, I should have given you the benefit of the doubt.  They put on an amazing show.  With the energy of pop-punk bands in their prime, c. 2001-2003 (think Blink, Jimmy Eat World, Fall Out Boy, etc) and a little bit of ’80s hair metal flair, they blasted the audience with jam after jam, playing those instruments as adeptly as a much older band.  Jack absolutely owns the crowd and everyone ate it up.  “Tuesday night in Detroit!”  It was absolute joyful bliss to see a band and audience connect like that.  I would pay to see these guys again.  In a year where I’ve seen Clutch, Mastodon, Kaiser Chiefs, U2, Interpol, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift, I can say hands down that Bleachers put on a better show than more than a few of those aforementioned marquee names.

More fun than fun. - Bleachers

More fun than fun. – Bleachers

And then we have Charli XCX.  Now, I keep up with all types of music (except country… sorry, I just can’t) and, in my mind, Charli XCX is huge.  She’s a radio star (see: “Boom Clap”) and writes bangers for other equally cool (see: Icona Pop) and not-so-cool-anymore (see: Iggy Azalea) ladies.  Her old stuff is dark synth-pop beauty, reminiscent of Bat for Lashes, if Natasha Khan were a brat like Lily Allen.  Her newest LP Sucker is a slight departure, maintaining her bratty, sneering “fuck you, sucker” attitude, while polishing it off with amazingly clean pop production.  I’d have figured she’d be a worthy final headliner.  Then I saw the floor clearing.  People were actually leaving in tiny droves.  Did I miss something?  I know tickets were cheap, but you still paid for the whole show…  Even when her giant pink-witch middle finger banner dropped and she came on with her awesome all-girl band, people were filing out.  Even as the die-hards on the floor were jumping with their hands in the air, folks were bailing.  Even before she played “Boom Clap,” almost a quarter of the audience was gone.  The section directly in front of me was literally devoid of people.  Just a vast empty space that could have held about 30 concertgoers, minimum.  It was embarrassing.  But the weirdest thing is that Charli put on a pretty good show.  Her songs could be annoying (see: lyrics) but the music is fun, loud, and energizing.  I don’t get it.  By the time she ended the show with her big hit, we had no problem just traipsing out the front door, no crowd to fight through, no slow crawl toward fresh air.  It was the weirdest thing.

Where'd everyone go? Charli XCX and her big inflatable guitar

Where’d everyone go? Charli XCX and her big inflatable guitar

Maybe Bleachers should have headlined.

 

BØRNS setlist:

1. Seeing Stars
2. 10,000 Emerald Pools
3. Past Lives
4. Broke
5. Bennie and the Jets (Elton John cover)
6. American Money
7. Electric Love

Bleachers setlist:

1. Shadow
2. Wild Heart
3. Wake Me
4. Reckless Love
5. Dreams  (The Cranberries cover)
6. Rollercoaster
7. Shadow of the City
8. You’re Still a Mystery
Encore:
9. Only One  (Kanye West cover)
10. I Wanna Get Better

Charli XCX setlist:

1. Sucker
2. Breaking Up
3. I Love It (Icona Pop cover)
4. Famous
5. SuperLove
6. Doing It
7. Need Ur Luv
8. Allergic to Love
9. Mow That Lawn
10. Body of My Own
11. London Queen
12. Break the Rules
13. Gold Coins
14. Fancy  (Iggy Azalea cover)
15. Boom Clap

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

2015 Favorites (So Far)

Top: Brandon Flowers, Marilyn Manson, Empire Middle: Carly Rae Jepsen, Daniel Johns, Florence + The Machine Bottom: Dr. Dre, Kelly Clarkson, Muse

Top: Brandon Flowers, Marilyn Manson, Empire
Middle: Carly Rae Jepsen, Daniel Johns, Florence + The Machine
Bottom: Dr. Dre, Kelly Clarkson, Muse

A few months ago I thought to myself: “Self, is it 1997 again?”  I was rocking to Marilyn Manson, Blur, Noel Gallagher, and Prodigy…  Timbaland kept my head nodding…  Bjork released something that sounded Homogenic…  (Seriously, all those things happened in 1997 AND now again in 2015.  Whaaaat?)  Yes, I’m aging and nostalgic, but in my defense, my old heroes are still making new music.  As the year progressed, some other familiar faces joined the fray.  I thought 2014 was a huge year (seriously, go back and see how many gigantic — but ultimately disappointing — records were dropped last year) but this year is proving to be stellar.  It’ll be interesting to see who survives until December and how the love-rankings change…  Here goes:

1. Marilyn MansonThe Pale Emperor
This album did not leave my car’s dash for about 2 solid months. A return to form, a concise, tight work from a man who has finally matured and settled into a realistic and content place. Catapulted into my top 5 Manson albums of all time, which is no small feat.
Must: “Deep Six” | “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” | “Devil Beneath My Feet” | “Cupid Carries A Gun”

2. Brandon FlowersThe Desired Effect
Since 2004, Brandon Flowers has been one of my spirit animals.  We’re the same age, and even though our lives are completely different (see: Mormon rock star vs. doubting Catholic nobody), every lyric he writes hits me right where it counts. If this was a Killers album, it’d be my 3rd favorite after Hot Fuss and Battle Born.
Must: “Can’t Deny My Love” | “I Can Change” | “Lonely Town” | “Untangled Love”

3. EmpireOriginal Soundtrack
What. A. Show. Thank God for Timbaland, because this soundtrack is just stacked, start to finish, with absolute bangers that hearken back to a funner, more bombastic time in hip-pop (i.e. Timbaland c. Missy Elliot-era & Timbaland c. JT/Nelly Furtado/2008 glory). The show is so good it could carry these tunes, but they stand on their own.
Must: every single song, except for the Courtney Love/Jennifer Hudson/Mary J. Blige songs… yes I’m serious, the cast can hold their own.

4. Carly Rae JepsenE MO TION
Yeah I’m surprised too.  No idea from what corner of the pop heavens this glorious album descended from, but holy hell, it’s perfect. She deserves more credit and airplay for this. ’80s-tinged gems that are catchy, fun and not the least bit corny. Unfortunately, it seems like this record might get buried by Taylor’s unstoppable 1989 (still got legs!) but she really deserves at least some kind of Tove Lo-level exposure.
Must: “Run Away With Me” | “Emotion” | “Gimme Love” | “Your Type” | “Love Again”

5. Daniel JohnsTalk
I love Silverchair. I love Dissociatives. I love anything Daniel Johns does. Yet I still went into this with some trepidation. In the end, I’m still onboard.  Whereas B.Flow is my Vegas spirit animal, Daniel Johns is my Australian walkabout guide. Produced by Lorde’s guy, it sounds like Sam Smith and Frank Ocean at some points, but it’s all Daniel. The Silverchair fans that never got past Frogstomp (lulz) are so pissed about this, but if you’ve been keeping up with his career, this is a wonderfully logical progression.  Gorgeous.
Must: “We Are Golden” | “By Your Side” | “Cool On Fire” | “Dissolve” | “Chained” | “Faithless”

6. Florence + The MachineHow Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Took a few spins, but the ol’ California spirit finally hit me.  A great breakup album, it has a few bangers.  Not as many as her previous records (Ceremonials is still my fave), but enough to warrant repeat listens.  There are a few slower same-same tracks, but you can easily skip them and jump right to the good stuff.
Must: “Ship To Wreck” | “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” | “Queen of Peace” | “Hiding” | “Make Up Your Mind”

7. Dr. DreCompton
16 years later.  This album is not a singles/hits collection.  It’s not a party record.  It’s a journey through Dre’s history, past and present, coming full circle at the “end” of his career.  It’s exhilarating, heavy, and intense.  It just came out, so I have no doubt that it’ll climb in my rankings by the end of the year.  It’s quite the experience.
Must: “Genocide” | “Loose Cannons” (skip the murder skit at the end… yikes) | “One Shot, One Kill” | “Just Another Day” | “For The Love Of Money”

8. Kelly ClarksonPiece By Piece
Nothing new here, just a solid, adept collection of pop gems from one of the best voices we have today.  We’ve got some Sia collabs, some sappy (but so, so moving) ballads, and one particular banger that should not have used anything dubstep-inflected (so 2012) but that works so well.  One of my favorite songs of the year, “Take You High.”
Must: “Heartbeat Song” | “Invincible” | “Someone” | “Piece by Piece” | “Take You High” | “War Paint”

9. MuseDrones
I’m still on the fence about this one.  It’s tied with The 2nd Law as the worst Muse album ever (doesn’t bode well for our heroes’ trajectory) but it actually has more good songs on it than its predecessor.  So confusing.  That old riff spirit is back and the songs are concise, but when you go back and listen to Origin of Symmetry (which Matt said they were trying to spiritually recapture) it’s really not the same.  Sigh… downward spiral since The Resistance era ended…
Must: “Dead Inside” | “Psycho” | “Reapers” | “The Handler”

10. The ProdigyThe Day Is My Enemy
BOOM!  This is a violent little record.  Even though they’re “electronic,” Prodigy were always more comfortably lumped in with more aggressive and physical rock and metal acts (just look at their live shows).  Their latest is just pure fury. Nothing new here, nothing really to write home about (nothing will ever beat Fat of the Land, even though Invaders Must Die comes really close).  Just a straight-up punch to the face.
Must: “The Day Is My Enemy” | “Nasty” | “Rok-Weiler” | “Rhythm Bomb” | “Get Your Fight On” | “Wall Of Death”

11. Mark RonsonUptown Special
Great background music.  Fun all-around record.  Gets placement here simply for “Daffodils.”  What. A. Song. (there’s also that song with Bruno Mars… maybe you’ve heard it a few times on the radio…)
Must: “Summer Breaking” | “Feel Right” | “Uptown Funk” | “Daffodils” | “In Case of Fire” | “Heavy and Rolling”

12. Big Data2.0
Where’d these guys come from?!  This is one of those albums that can be played at parties from now until the end of time.  Fantastic groovy songs with a wide array of exciting guests (Rivers Cuomo, Dragonette, Kimbra), but nothing beats the glory of “Dangerous,” one of the best songs of the year.
Must: “Business of Emotion” | “Dangerous” | “Clean” | “Snowed In” | “Get Some Freedom” | “Perfect Holiday”

13. BlurThe Magic Whip
Full disclosure: my family is from Hong Kong, where the boys recorded this album. So I came in super biased.  Luckily they deliver. Anything is better (in my book) than 13 and Think Tank.  There’s some of the their old energy here, a lot of solid pop tunes, and a little Gorillaz energy seeping in (“New World Towers” and “Thought I Was A Spaceman”). Happily surprised with how good this turned out.
Must: “Lonesome Street” | “Go Out” | “I Broadcast” | “There Are Too Many Of Us”

14. Tame ImpalaCurrents
By year end, this will probably climb up a few spots.  It’s taken me a few listens to really appreciate the soundscapes.  I was worried about the hype heaped upon this one, but so far, it’s delivering.  Groovy, smooth, super catchy. Ronson’s “Daffodils” was just a taste of what Kevin Parker was up to…  It’s an album of 70s-inspired dreamy space groove.
Must: “Let It Happen” | “The Moment” | “The Less I Know The Better” | “Disciples” | “Cause I’m A Man”

15. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying BirdsChasing Yesterday
I miss Oasis.  You miss Oasis.  Thank God he was the genius behind Oasis because this is basically another album’s worth of perfect Noel tunes.  Nothing too revelatory here, but it’s so familiar and comforting to hear him do what he’s so good at.  With some psychedelia tossed in for good measure.
Must: “Riverman” | “In The Heat of the Moment” | “While The Song Remains The Same” | “Ballad of the Mighty I” | “Revolution Song”

And then we have the “Close but no cigar” ones that kept this from being a “Top 18” list…  they’re awesome albums, but as the year has progressed, they haven’t had the staying power as the 15 above:

1. BjorkVulnicura
It really is a gorgeous, heart-breaking album.  But I’m not in the right place right now and this is NOT what I would consider feelgood stuff.  It’s way too heavy for me right now, despite the moments of beauty and “classic” Bjork that’s shining through.  It’s just too sad.
Must: “Stonemilker” | “Lion Song”

2. Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
This album is great, don’t get me wrong.  And it is home to my favorite song of 2015 (“Pedestrian..” IS BEST).  Her lyrics and delivery are stellar, the songs are cute, but I don’t see this staying in rotation past this year.  Who knows.
Must: “Pedestrian At Best” | “Aqua Profunda!” | “Depreston” | “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party”

3. You + Merose ave.
Here simply to give it some exposure and remind myself that there are some gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous tunes on this record (a project from Pink and her guy friend).  “You and Me” and “Unbelievers” are worth the price of admission, but I haven’t listened too thoroughly to the other tracks.  Yet.  This will likely get me through Autumn and Winter, so we’ll see whether it jumps by year end.
Must: “Capsized” | “You and Me” | “Unbeliever”

Bottom 9

Top: The Prodigy, Mark Ronson, Big Data Middle: Blur, Tame Impala, Noel Gallagher’s HFB Bottom: Bjork, Courtney Barnett, you+me

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: Dr. Dre – Compton

If only this really was the LA skyline...

If only this really was the LA skyline…

16 years we’ve waited and all the blogs and publications are asking: “Was it worth it?”

Debatable.

The Chronic changed my music-life, as it changed many other lives.  When N.W.A. first came out, it was still a little out of my range; I was still hanging out with MC Hammer and about to devote a couple years to Bell Biv Devoe and the post-New Edition crew.  Public Enemy were the most extreme I got, but they weren’t as crass, dangerous or debaucherous as N.W.A.  What does an 8-year old half-white kid know about fucking the police?  It wasn’t until Dre released The Chronic — and then Snoop’s Doggystyle — that the combination of pre-pubescence and the need for danger really collided.  Unwittingly, it also served as the bridge between my hitherto love of hip-hop and the impending conversion to alternative rock and industrial metal.

Compton is not The Chronic.  It’s not even 2001.  There are glimpses of each predecessor, but don’t expect Compton to be The Chronic 3/III/2015 of your dreams.  The Chronic was damn-near perfect.  The singles alone warrant classic status.  Deeper cuts like “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” and “Rat-tat-tat-tat” cement that designation.  2001 gave us a couple more classic singles, but was not as funky, visceral or exhilarating as Dre’s debut.  Almost a decade had passed, Dre was loaded, Snoop was R&B, and Eminem was in his prime.  There was no need to change the game.

Jump forward almost two decades (!!!): Snoop is Bob Marley, Eminem is super into running, and Dre is even richer.  Compton serves primarily as a vehicle for two things: promoting the upcoming N.W.A. biopic and “debuting” a new batch of proteges.  Dre doesn’t even sound like Dre anymore.  I’m listening to The Chronic right now and his voice is so deep, so commanding.  Now I’ve switched over to Compton and his flow is off, his voice sounds a wee bit higher.  I can’t complain, but it honestly took me a few double-takes to realize that it was Dre on the track and not one of the 3-4 other “guests.”

One thing that remains — thank God — is Dre’s masterful production.  The soundscapes and atmosphere remind me of Dre’s one-time collaborator and my all-time favorite: Trent Reznor.  Like Trent, Dre can craft an amazing beat, weave a lusciously flowing earworm, and connect tracks in a way that remind older folks like me the value of a cohesive album, even if their current lyrical output is pretty laughable and they are happy/rich shadows of their former selves…  Compton is a press-play, sit-back, listen-through experience.  The guests pop in and out, the melodies shine through moments of grit and ugliness, and Dre remains the mad puppeteer.  I need way more listens to fully appreciate this, but at the moment, I’m convinced it’ll only truly unfold after repeat (all-the-way-through) listens.  The latter half of the album is stacked.  This is not a perfect singles collection like The Chronic.  It’s a journey, a soundtrack not only for a *hopefully* glorious movie, but for an experience with a scarily-talented crew and its masterful doctor.  For that, I think this trip is totally worth it.

Rating: 4/5 marijuana leaves

YAASSSS:

  1. Hearing Ice Cube rap “it was a good day.”
  2. Having Xzibit, Snoop and Eminem on the same album… is it 2000 again?!
  3. Anderson .Paak, half-Korean blasian, repping on 6 of 16 tracks on Compton.  TIYL: Frank Ocean.
  4. Jon Connor: next big thing.

OH DEAR…

  1. That questionable skit at the end of “Loose Cannons” where they inexplicably kill a woman… No thanks!
  2. Eminem’s soon-to-be infamous line about rape on “Medicine Man”… Necessary at this point in your career, Em?
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

Hey pal, you've got some cake on your face...

Hey pal, you’ve got some cake on your face…

Take a trip down memory lane with me.  The year is 1995.  I’m watching MTV with my buddy and a video starts.  Some clown covered in bird shit with makeup all over his face is screaming at the camera.

Friend: “Oh shit, this guy is awesome!  You know them?”
Me: “Nope.”
Friend: “This song rules.”
Me, singing along: “...who am I to disagree?
Friend: “I thought you said you didn’t know them?  How do you know this song?”
Me: *rolls eyes*

And so began my absolute love affair with Marilyn Manson.  A year later, I was hunched over a brand new CD acquisition, CD liner booklet filled with depraved, filthy images of decay, perversion, and a guy on his knees, a gas mask on his face, connected to a hose attached to another guy’s crotch.  This was serious fucked-up shit.  I still remember the fresh smell of that booklet, the newly-opened CD fragrance that gives me Ratatouille moments up until this very day.

A few years later, I’m standing outside my local CD purveyor in the dead of winter, freezing my ass off.  My mom was with me, buying everyone around us coffee.  At the front of the line, Marilyn Manson sat at a long table, face plastered in colorful makeup.  Hours later, I finally get to meet my hero and all I could muster was “OhmyfuckinggodIloveyousomuch!”   He signed my copy of his autobiography with a smile and nodded at me.  My mom came up next with another copy to sign for my friend.  “How are you today?” she asked him.  He smiled at her and replied, “Very well, thank you.”  And then they start chatting!  Meanwhile I’m standing off to the side, aghast that Manson is getting more out of my mom and they are becoming fast friends.

Over the next few years, I don my makeup.  I do my nails.  I try the torn pantyhose look.  I squeeze into my pleather pants.  I see him in concert about 6 or 7 times.  You’ve never seen me in such a frenzied state.  Nothing beats it.  The last time I feel such absolute fanboy love/lust, it’s 2001 (the post-Columbine Holy Wood era, i.e. his last truly great spectacle tour).  And then nothing but a steady decline.

The Golden Age of Grotesque was Manson’s turning point.  The last album that incorporated that insane feral energy and deviously intelligent wit.  Then the drugs and relationships got the better of him and he released a trio of absolute eye-rollers, starting with the passable Eat Me, Drink Me, then the godawful High End of Low, and finally an album that I don’t even have on my “just in case” external hard drive, Born Villain.  As a good fan, I never completely gave up hope, but I didn’t get those hopes up either.

And then The Pale Emperor happened.

What an album.  Clocking in at a sparse 10 tracks, it’s a concise, masterful gut-punch, full of swagger, thump and enough old-school creep-atmosphere to please his die hard shock rock faithful.  I never thought I’d see this day.

Depending on how much you’ve listened to him in the past, I can break the album down into a couple categories.
“Old” Manson (i.e. sounds like it was produced by Trent or something, aka “File Under Antichrist Superstar and Holy Wood):  “Deep Six,” “Slave Only Dreams To Be King”
SwagTASTIC (i.e those Manson songs that you can kinda dance to, aka might fit nicely onto Mechanical Animals): “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge,” “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” “Devil Beneath My Feet,” “Cupid Carries A Gun”
Creeptastic (i.e. perfect for a horror movie, a mix between “Man That You Fear” and the creepier tracks on Holy Wood, and all the amazing ballads on Mechanical Animals): “Killing Strangers,” “Birds of Hell Awaiting,” “Odds of Even”
There’s also a trio of acoustic bonus tracks on the deluxe edition: “Day 3” (acoustic of “Odds of Even”), “Fated, Faithful, Fatal” (acoustic of “Slave Only Dreams to Be King”) and “Fall of the House of Death” (acoustic of “Third Day of a Seven Day Binge”).  Well worth your time, if you can snag them.  Manson claims that every song on the album was recorded in one take, so God bless producer Tyler Bates.
If I had to choose a least favorite song on the album (i.e. that dreaded skippable track), it’d have to be “Warship My Wreck.”  The good thing is that it’s not bad.  It’s just not as catchy as everything else.  It’s still got great atmosphere, but once you’ve heard everything else, you’re going to want to skip ahead.
In the Manson power rankings, I’m going to go ahead and put it behind Holy Wood.  It’s likely tied, overall, with Portrait of an American Family.  But for me, at this age, it barely nudges Portrait down a peg.  As follows:
1. Antichrist Superstar
2. Mechanical Animals
3. Holy Wood
4. Pale Emperor
5. Portrait
6. Eat Me, Drink Me
7. Smells Like Children
8. High End of Low
9. Born Villain
Take that to the bank.  Manson has aged and he still has a lot to offer a world that has come to accept him as not really that shocking at all.  Surprisingly, he remains a hero/icon to a new generation of ignored, lost and misunderstood youth (who weren’t even old enough to remember the religious furor kicked up during the Antichrist era).  He remains one of the most intelligent performers alive and, even though his wit and ferocity were strangely silenced during the Bush years, music still needs a cartoon villain and underdog.  The fact that Holy Wood remains relevant almost 14 years later is both a sad truth about American society (and it’s love of God, guns and government) and a reminder that Manson was one of most vital and important music and pop culture figures of our lifetime.  The Pale Emperor is his way of saying “Don’t count me out just yet.”
Tagged , , ,

2014 Year In Review

Hey, we haven’t updated this blog in over a year!  It was a busy year.  A good year.  Especially for the ears.

Without further ado, here’s my year in review.  Let’s see if the other ILTSOI dudes can step up too…

Nothing can stop us now.

FAVORITE 14 OF ’14

1. Tove Lo Queen of the Clouds

An absolutely perfect album from start to finish.  Catchy, melodic Swedish pop at its finest.

2. Sam Smith In The Lonely Hour

The lush soundtrack to heartbreak and unrequited love, with a voice so smooth you want to wrap yourself up on the sofa and pass out with a smile on your face (and tears drying on your cheeks).

3. Tori AmosUnrepentant Geraldines

Return to form (groan) for my favorite singer of all time.

4. Taylor Swift1989

Can’t deny the pop perfection.  The love might wane with time, but there’s no denying this beast of an album.

5. Alt-J This Is All Yours

You thought their debut was funky and mind-blowing?  Add a million more layers and a tighter control on the soundcraft.  A lush journey into funky town.

6. InterpolEl Pintor

The second “return to form” (repeated groan) on this list.  Tight, melodic, groovy.  Everything that self-titled shitfest was not.

7. Run The JewelsRTJ2

Very rarely do I hear a song and exclaim, “Fuuuuuuuuuck!!!”  This is an entire album of that.  The lyrics wow, the melodies are delicious, and everything is just hard as fuck.  And Zach de la Rocha.

8. RoyksoppThe Inevitable End

A perfect way for them to go out: darkness, groove and a continued roster of perfectly curated guest singers.

9. Lana Del ReyUltraviolence

Not as good as her debut, but the throwback lushness saves this from sophomore slump status.  A time machine.

10. War On DrugsLost In The Dream

This is #1 on most of the year end lists, and with good reason.  It’s a propulsive, immediate and absolutely dreamy journey through soundscapes.  Dylan, Springsteen, Arcade Fire.  It’s all here.

11. Kaiser ChiefsEducation, Education, Education, War

One of my favorite bands.  They’ve only disappointed me once in 4 albums.  They won’t win any awards, but consistently releasing start-to-finish pogo-pop-rock perfect albums contribute to their long-lasting place in my heart.

12. Coldplay Ghost Stories

Their worst, hands down. But it’s not that bad.  I’ve grown to enjoy this more than when they released it in the summer.  Because it’s NOT a summer album.  It’s cold, sad, lonely, introspective.  Casual fans will love the Parachutesness of it all.  I appreciate that it’s a peek into Chris Martin’s ruined heart.  Take this break, come back with another life-affirming opus.  *hugz*

13. Pharrell WilliamsG I R L

Skateboard P is actually pretty underrated: he’s been producing amazing bangers for over a decade, and yet he’s just blown up in these past 2 years (thank you Daft Punk and The Voice).  This is just another release of Pharrell gems.  Get the throwback party started.

14. Crosses – †††

Deftones will never release anything “classic” now that Chi Cheng passed away (just like — less morbidly — Interpol will never release anything of top caliber without Carlos D), but this Chino side project comes close.  It’s sexy, groovy, relatively calm.  Chino’s voice can still send shivers down a spine like no other.

Albums I listened to to-death that weren’t released this year: Bastille, Clutch, Katy Perry, Avicii, Avatar, Fitz and the Tantrums

Albums that kinda let me down: U2, Beck, Black Keys

 

FAVORITE SONGS OF 2014

As always, this is based purely on play count on my iTunes.  I may have listened to them in other places (see: ipod, burned CD) but this is a fair indicator of my earworms of the year.

1. Lorde – “Yellow Flicker Beat”

2. Coldplay – “Magic”

3. Pharrell and Daft Punk – “Gust of Wind”

4. Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora – “Black Widow”

5. Goldroom – “Embrace”

6. Ariana Grande and Zedd – “Break Free”

7. BANKS – “This Is What It Feels Like”

8. Interpol – “Tidal Wave”

9. Royksopp and Robyn – “Monument (The Inevitable End Version)”

10. Tori Amos – “Trouble’s Lament”

 

GIGS OF 2014

1. Avicii – TD Garden – June 25
An absolute party from start to finish.

2. Tori Amos – Boston Opera House – August 15
First full Toriphile experience for me: waited all day with a group of fans/new friends for a glimpse of Tori, then drinks, then a perfect setlist.  If we actually got to talk to her, it would have been the most perfect day of 2014.

3. Arcade Fire – Xfinity Center – August 19
Nice to see them in a huge amphitheater.  Their sound and presence needs all that space.

4. Clutch – Lupo’s – September 5
Rocked. The. Fuck. Out.

5. Lady Gaga – TD Garden – June 30
Finally.  Happy birthday to me.

6. OneRepublic – Blue Hills Bank Pavilion – June 24
All hits, all the time.

7. Nine Inch Nails (with Soundgarden) – Red Rocks – July 21
My all-time bucket list venue.  My all-time favorite band.  Maybe I’ve seen Trent too much lately.  Maybe my mind wasn’t in the right place.  An otherworldly experience.

8. Jimmy Eat World – Lupo’s – October 18
Futures isn’t my favorite Jimmy album (see: Bleed American) but hearing it start to finish was something else.  Finally got “Nothingwrong” and life is good.

9. Katy Perry – TD Garden – August 1
Much like OneRepublic, this was just an unfair barrage of hits that would make any artist blush.  What a party.

10. Cibo Matto – The Sinclair – February 8
A comeback tour, a new album, old friends.  But when you don’t play “Sci-Fi Wasabi” as you originally wrote it, this nagging fan loses a little interest.

11. Iggy Azalea (and Austin Mahone) – Gillette Stadium – June 15
Free.  Yeah nothing beats that.

 

It was a good year.  Hopefully another year doesn’t pass without an update…  Make it a good one!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We Haven’t Updated In A Year

Hope it was a good one for your ears…

2013: Year In Review

What a year.  Most of my favorite artists added some soul, some funk, some humanity to their usual cold and sad sounds.  It was the year of the big release, the unleashing of the hype monster.  Seemingly everyone and their grandmother released something new this year and it was just a glorious and embarrassing goldmine for us music-Smaugs.  Looking back on a great year as my ears already enjoy 2014.

My Favorite Albums of 2013:

1. Empire of the Sun: Ice On The Dune
Nothing catchier or more joyful blessed my life all year.

2. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories
The most epic album of the year.

3. nine inch nails: Hesitation Marks
A return to form for Trent and a reaffirmation of rabid fandom for me.

4. Arcade Fire: Reflektor
The biggest grower of the year…just give it a chance.

5. Lady Gaga: ARTPOP
Most underrated “big” album of the year, absolute bangers from start to finish.

6. Queens of the Stone Age: …Like Clockwork
Cocksure (hee hee) swaggering sexy rock and fucking roll.

7. Lorde: Pure Heroine
Newbie of the year with an honest-to-goodness perfect set of tunes.

8. Kanye West: Yeezus
The biggest mindfuck, the biggest statement, and one of the hardest albums of 2013.

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito
Possibly their worst album, but with such a discography, this rabid subterranean creepfest slays.

10. KT Tunstall: invisible empire // crescent moon
It’s about her late father and ex-hubby, so you know you’re in for some gorgeous heartbreak.

11. Bruno Mars: Unorthodox Jukebox
Perfect pop album.  Period.

12. how to destroy angels: welcome oblivion
Trent’s other release of the year, a quieter, more feminine affair.

13. Goldfrapp: Tales of Us
Sultry and languid, perfect for secret late night debauchery or a quiet come-down.

14. Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob
2013’s catchiest, prettiest pop-mindfuck dedicated to hearts and heartbreak.

15. Disclosure: Settle
The soundtrack to the permanent Uniqlo store in my heart.

16. Savages: Silence Yourself
Ferocious debut from a group of lasses with bigger, brasher thrash-balls than both Kanye and Trent.

17. The Strokes: Comedown Machine
A solid send-off(?) set from one of my favorite bands of the ’00s.

18. OneRepublic: Native
We liked “Counting Stars” a year ago…

19. Imagine Dragons: Night Visions
They don’t know who they want to be and every song sounds like another band, but they’re the best damn tribute band of the year.

20. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
Now that they’re singing about death and sad stuff, I can finally relate to these chaps.

21. Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience, Part 1
This bloated album only receives placement because of “Mirrors”, its only reason for existing.

22. Austra: Olympia
I loved her from the moment she sang her first note in concert, so this set — however underwhelming or same-same — is still welcome.

Not Released in 2013 But Still Dominated My Life:

1. Ellie Goulding: Halcyon
Thank you, Skrillex, for breaking her heart, because this is a gigantic, emotional wubby ride.

2. Jessie Ware: Devotion
Pure, utter talent and class from this ’90s throwback queen.

Yeah, that’s right.  I only listed 24 albums.  Not 20.  Not 25.  I’m a rebel.  On to the songs…  These are the tracks that ruled my life for 12 months.  Ranking was tricky:  I based this purely on iTunes/iPod combined play count.  Not radio eargasms, not streaming on YouTube, not clicking “Back” to repeat a song and thus losing the extra count.  “Radioactive” should be higher.  Alas, it is a cruel world.  You all know how to use YouTube or whatever streaming-shit the kids are into these days, so I hope you don’t mind doing the leg work and searching for these yourself.  Embedding links?  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

My Favorite Songs of 2013:

1. Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”
2. Coldplay, “Atlas”
3. how to destroy angels, “Strings and Attractors”
4. M83, “Oblivion (feat. Susanne Sundfør)”
5. Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”
6. Lady Gaga, “Venus”
7. nine inch nails, “Came Back Haunted”
8. Linkin Park and Steve Aoki, “A Light That Never Comes”
9. Lorde, “Buzzcut Season”
10. Phoenix, “Entertainment”
11. Ylvis, “The Fox”
12. Empire of the Sun, “Celebrate”
13. Lady Gaga, “Applause”
14. Kylie Minogue, “Skirt”
15. Avicii, “Hey Brother”
16. Churchill, “Change”
17. Empire of the Sun, “Old Flavours”
18. Giorgio Moroder, “Racer”
19. KT Tunstall, “Made of Glass”
20. Naughty Boy, “LaLaLa (feat. Sam Smith)”
21. Tegan and Sara, “I Was A Fool”
22. Bruno Mars, “Moonshine”
23. Disclosure, “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)”
24. Queens of the Stone Age, “I Sat By The Ocean”
25. Bruno Mars, “Natalie”
26. Drake, “Hold On We’re Going Home”
27. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, “Thrift Shop”
28. Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”
29. OneRepublic, “Counting Stars”/”Preacher”/”Can’t Stop”
30. Kanye West, “I Am A God (feat. God)”/”Black Skinhead”
31. Katy Perry, “Roar”
32. Pitbull and Ke$ha, “Timber”
33. Sara Bareilles, “Brave”
34. Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
35. Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive”
36. Sebastian Ingrosso & Tommy Trash, “Reload (feat. John Martin)”
37. Selena Gomez, “Come and Get It”
38. Frank Ocean, “Eyes Like Sky”
39. Lana Del Rey, “Summertime Sadness”

Year in Gigs:

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs (with Har Mar Superstar), May 12, 2013, House of Blues
Smushed into the front row by a crowd of surprisingly aggressive and scary young people, I gave into the chaos for the first time in my life.  No panic attack.  No diving for safer waters.  No passive aggressive elbow jabs.  I lost my mind for over an hour, parts of me forever smeared onto my neighbors (and parts of them melded into me).  One of the best shows of my life.  And Karen O held my hand.  I mean, c’mon.  We’re done here.

Karen O is my halfie queen.

2. nine inch nails (with Godspeed You! Black Emperor), October 11, 2013, TD Garden
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of attending a “heavier” show with me, you know I get a little wild.  Whiplash-y, drool-y, oh-my-God-get-away-from-me NUTZ.  Well last time I saw NIN (in Beijing), I reached that peak of utter insanity and have yet to replicate it.  This night was close, but in a section where 99% of the fuckers sat down (SAT DOWN. AT A NIN CONCERT.) it was hard to completely lose it with a straight face.  Alas.  Trent titled the tour “Tension” — which he said refers to the bubbling tension seething underneath the surface of the newfound control that he’s putting on the group — whereas I saw it as “SEXUAL TENSION.”  Everything was funked up — he even has soul sistahs now! — and I wanted to just grind myself into the arena flap-chairs like a horny mongrel.  And they played rarities like “Even Deeper” and “Into The Void.“  Hunh… even deeper into the void…  MY VOID.

We’re so high up you can’t even see Trent. Just that blast of light.

3. Empire of the Sun, September 7, 2013, House of Blues
An utterly blissful experience of smiles and joy.  The crowd was one of the few that did not annoy me once (shocking, considering it was mostly EDM fuckface kids) — not a single time!  And the euphoria was capped off by show-closing “Alive” where we all jumped in unison, smiling at each other, and one guy stopped, turned around to me and gave me a high five.  Fuck yeah.

Empyreans Unite!

4. KT Tunstall, September 25, 2013, Somerville Theater
A girl and her guitar.  That’s all you really need with KT Tunstall.  Crowded into a small, intimate theater (playing Insidious 2 next door…), we enjoyed such a special evening with one of the most underrated, hilarious and embarrassingly talented singers in contemporary music.  I laughed, I cried, I made bird sounds (yes, there was a bird-call contest).

KT is my quarter-Canto goddess.

5. Queens of the Stone Age (with The Kills), December 13, 2013, Agganis Arena
You want a balls out rock and roll show?  Indeed.  There were whiplash guitars, soaring choruses and absolutely crushing riffs.  I’ve waited AGES to see these guys and it was perfect.  A smaller setting might have been nicer, but they’re too big now for little old me.

QOTSA Rocking Your Ass

6. how to destroy angels, April 27, 2013, House of Blues
Trent.  Twice in a year.  Is this real life?!!  For this experimental set — one of only a handful of shows that the band will perform, ever — it was all about the mood, the stage show and the experience of seeing Trent, his wife, and his creative team just bend your mind and melt your brain with ingenuity.  “NIN with female vox” as they are often described.  I was lucky just to be there.

Marital Bliss

7. Alt-J, March 3, 2013, Paradise
Glad I saw them when (and where) I did: they came back 5 months later and played the Bank of America Pavilion.  In this tiny space (one of my all-time faves), they brought their stunning debut to life.  Like how to destroy angels, this was for the experience.  You’ll never get to see them at such an intimate venue ever again.

8. Selena Gomez and Jason Derulo, June 30, 2013, City Hall Plaza
Happy birthday to me!  This was a radio show where we caught a bevy of pop hits in a short amount of (free!) time.  The day was most memorable NOT for Ms. Selenerrrrrr, but for a mid-set crowd panic-rush that brought back terrifying visions of the Marathon bombing.  It was just a giant brawl, but for a moment, we all thought it was something much, much worse.

See you again next year!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Playlist: Fall Fun

“IT’S NOVEMBER!!!  WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?!?!?!!?????” — me, this morning when I woke up.

Indeed, it is time to change the clocks, lament the death of nature and get our asses ready for the cold, brutal fist of winter to pummel us into the doldrums of S.A.D.  Yay?  At least the music keeps us warm.

The past two months whizzed by and before you know it, it’s time for the Year End Listocalypse.  Let’s get this show on the road.

As I muse over the “Big Picture” of 2013, the most striking theme of the year was soul, beats and humanity filtering their way into the sounds of my favorite artists (see: NIN, Daft Punk, Arcade Fire).  Call it the Let’s Dance Bowie-fication (or, on a lesser scale, the Viva La Vida-ing of a sound).  I’ll blather on about it at the end of December, but I’d just like to make mention here, since most of the songs that follow are full of big beats, big emotion and a lot more humanity than I’m used to at this time of the year.  Here’s what I’ve got for September:

1. Coldplay – “Atlas”
That song from the Catching Fire soundtrack.  Sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before, and yet it’s perfectly Coldplay.  For better or worse.

2. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”
Is this their best song ever?  Apologies to the “Wake Up” crowd — I’m a Suburbs man, myself — but this is just a 7-minute party with AF, Bowie and James Murphy.

3. Jessie Ware – “Night Light”/”Sweet Talk”/”Imagine It Was Us”
Smooth and cool.  If I had known about this album when it came out last year, it’d be in the Top 10.  It has dominated my past few months.  It fulfills everything I loved and missed about the early ’90s, in my debut-Mariah phase of life.

4. Ylvis – “The Fox”
Yes, seriously.  This is a great song.

5. OneRepublic – “Preacher”/”Can’t Stop”/”Light It Up”
This OneRepublic album…it’s a grower!  No shame!  While Ryan Tedder is one of the best pop writers around today, he still can’t figure out what he wants his band to sound like.  “Preacher” is their Coldplay phase.  This song should be mashed up with “Paradise” because it’s basically the same song.  Then we have some other Top 40 radio rip-offery with “Can’t Stop” and “Light It Up” — which is to say these should ALL be on the radio.  ASAP.

6. BANKS – “This Is What It Feels Like”
If Aaliyah were still alive today (god, how I cried), she’d be making songs like this.  So smooth, so sexy, so awesome.

7. KT Tunstall – “Feel It All”/”Made of Glass”
“Feel It All” is the most uptempo song on her new album of desert twang ballads.  The chorus is a sweeping gorgeous little thing.  Then we have “Made of Glass” which is bar-none one of the greatest songs KT has ever written (whoa, slow down Neil!).  The ending whistle solo with orchestral backup caves my chest in.  One of the highlights of my year.

8. Austra – “Home”
Poor Austra are getting swept by the wayside in this overstuffed year of amazing releases.  This is a highlight from their latest that I keep coming back to.  I’m sure I’ll get better acquainted with this album, but not this year.

9. Savages – “No Face”
This song is fucking brutal.  Claws to the face, thrashing in a sweaty pit, hair-pulled in quasi-sexual physical overexertion.  I want to kick, I want to jump, I want to fuck, I want to spit and scream and shake my face around like I was seizing.  Holy shit, I love this song.

10. Schoolboy Q – “Collard Greens” feat. Kendrick Lamar
I slept on Kendrick Lamar for too long, and I am ashamed.  This kid is the real thing.  Schoolboy is part of his crew and this is his most palatable song (for me).  I can’t get enough from the blippy-bloopy, driving beats.  The rhymes are quote-worthy too.  I’m happy to be interested in rap again.

Album of September: based purely on how much I listened to it on loop, this is most definitely the month of Jessie Ware’s Devotion.  Sure the album didn’t come out this year, but whateverrrrrr it is stunning.  Take me back to 1991!

Now we move on to October.

1. KT Tunstall – “Alchemy”
I saw her at the end of September and it was a revelation.  I’d waited a very long time and she did not disappoint.  This was an unknown track from her setlist — a rare track from a concert-only EP release — and it’s such a delicate piece of beauty, the kind of snowflake track that you’re scared will melt if you play it too loud.  Just…absolute beauty.

2. Sisters of Mercy – “This Corrosion”
Holy shit!  Thank you World’s End end credits!  Thank you Simon Pegg!  If I went through my formative teen years in the 80s, I’d totally be a Sisters of Mercy fan haha, who am I even kidding.  This shit is awesome.  All the doom and gloom of Joy Division and The Cure, but with a nice dance-y dose of Bowie.

3. Lady Gaga – “Venus”
This song was released a few days ago and it’s already jumped up my charts to dethrone everything you see below, songs which had a whole month to spend with me before being unceremoniously flung from their perches by this wacko Sun-Ra-sampling ode to planetary romance.

4. Linkin Park and Steve Aoki – “A Light That Never Comes”
Have you HEARD this song?  It’s a perfect collab — even more appropriate than their Collision Course experiment with Jigga — and it makes me want to to go to a dance party and pretend I’m a little EDM shit.  BANGER.

5. Lorde – “Buzzcut Season”
Yeah I finally caved and now I like “Royals.”  But the rest of the album is great too.  This is my clear standout.  It’s a hypnotizing, insistent groover, perfect for chill-out mixes and emoting with your online friends.

6. Lady Gaga – “Do What You Want” feat. R. Kelly
Read that line again.  Did you ever think you’d see “Gaga” and “R. Kelly” in the same sentence?  I surely did not.  Her Manson collabo-remix made more sense.  But here we are and this song is huge.  You miss The Fame?  Prepare to rejoice, Poker Face.  I think it would fit nicely on Fame Monster though.  It’s R&B Gaga, someone you all missed.  R.Kelly’s verse is perfect.  This is all just so ridiculous it works.

7. Florence and the Machine – “Strangeness and Charm”
Thank you Shazaam.  Thank you Cole Haan outlet store.  This was a bonus track from Ceremonials and I’m ashamed that I didn’t have it already.  It should have been on the final album cut.  It’s huge, a typical Florence wailer.  I love this ginger powerhouse.

8. Kendrick Lamar – “M.A.A.D. City”
As you read above, I’m finally onboard with Kendrick Lamar.  I’ve had this song for over a year but I never listened to it.  Stupid ass Neil.  Makes me miss the glory days of Death Row.  This song makes me drive fast.

9. Miley Cyrus – “Wrecking Ball”
OHHHHH SHIIIIIIIIT, no he DI’INT!  Yes I did…  After a horrible shame spiral that required a lot of emotional support, my sister and I finally succumbed to this fucking song and omg I love to sing it at the top of my lungs.  My stepmom walked in on me the other day, wailing in the kitchen.  I felt like I had just been caught masturbating.  So, much, shame.  But damn it if this song isn’t one of the Top 10 Best Pop Songs of 2013.  Congrats, you misguided little soul.

10. Drake – “Hold On We’re Going Home”
Add this to my shame spiral.  I hate Drake.  But fuckit I LOVE THIS SONG.  I love singing along, I love to pretend I’m smooth.  And I can sing it better than he can haha (hashtag drake you suck).

Album of October: surely this will turn some heads, but sorry, Arcade Fire just released their new album a couple days before the end of the month, so the winner remains Goldfrapp and their Tales of Us.  They had the good sense to release it at a decent time of the month, in time for my rankings.  It’s quiet, introspective.  Let’s put it this way, since you’ll only want this if you’re a Goldfrapp fan: file this under Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree, NOT Black Cherry, Supernature or Head First.  It falls somewhere between Felt and Seventh — no song is as rollicking as the least rollicking on Felt Mountain, and yet no song is as uplifting or carefree as anything on Seventh Tree.

Goldfrapp’s Tales of Us

See you at the end of the year…

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Playlist: Summer Fun//Back To School

Summer sure flew by, didn’t it?  As those languid days bled into each other and stifling heat and humidity gave way to cooler climes, my song consumption also cooled down a bit.  It happens every year: summer is full of bangers, then autumn hits and I’m back to my comfort zone of moody atmospherics, darker content and more introspective experiences.

From the heights of summer fun to its final gasps, let me just track my musical diet so we can move on with autumn and get ready for the final year end blow-out best of’s for this insanely overwhelming and generous year of music.

My song of the summer (Sorry “Get Lucky” and suck it “Blurred Lines”)

 

JULY TOP 10 (as always, by order of playcount)

1. Naughty Boy featuring Sam Smith – “Lalala”
This is one of those magical tracks that drops into your life and changes it forever (melodramaaaaaa….)  But seriously this is such a gorgeously lush dance track with crazy angelic vocals from my new favorite soul-singing white boy.  Get on it if you haven’t heard yet!!!  Seriously, just watch the video NOW.

2. Guy Sebastian featuring Lupe Fiasco – “Battle Scars”
This is an older track that my sister just discovered this summer.  Soaring choruses swapped with rapped verses.  Usually I cherry-pick the choruses and spend the rap verses groaning and rolling my eyes (see: anything with Gym Class Heroes), but this is equally moving and passionate.

3. Disclosure featuring Sam Smith – “Latch”
The second “La-“/Sam Smith song on the list, “Latch” is a hypnotizing dose of ’90s club music set to Smith’s delicious croon-shrieking (boy got range!)  This was huge over the summer, get to catching up if you haven’t heard it yet.

4. Austin Mahone -“What About Love”
This new pop idol looks like the next Bieber but this song is about 110% N’Sync, circa Celebrity.  He even says “Bye bye bye.”  A done deal.

5. The Bullitts featuring Tori Amos – “Wait Until Tomorrow”
This is some movie/music project by the Bullitts.  Of course I am onboard for Tori, but the rest of the soundtrack album is killer.  Features a whole bunch of people (from Lucy Liu and Rosario Dawson to Mos Def).  Also likely to be the only dubstep track featuring Tori.

6. Britney Spears – “Ooh La La”
Did you know there was a Smurfs 2?  Yeah, wtf, right?  This is from that soundtrack.  A classic Britney banger.  Kept our July fresh.

7. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – “Can’t Hold Us”
Some songs are just designed to get you hyped.  This is one of them.  You know it; you’re likely sick of it already.

8. Armin Van Buuren featuring Trevor Guthrie – “This is What It Feels Like”
Pure unadulterated house-techno joy-fest.  Throw them hands up and be happy you’re alive.

9. Mel C featuring Matt Cardle – “Loving You”
I’ll always love my favorite Spice.  Sporty’s solo stuff has always been the best, mostly because she’s the best vocalist from the Spice Force 5.  Paired here with UK X-Factor dreamboy, it’s a power ballad in the vein of James Morrisson/Nelly Furtado “Broken Strings.”

10. Sebastian Ingrosso and Tommy Trash featuring John Martin – “Reload”
Holy shit, there are a lot of “featuring xyz”s on this list, eh?  The summer of the feature, ha!  Genres don’t exist anymore, everyone likes everything.  Alas.  Anyway, here we are, with the 3rd year in a row that John Martin has benefited from his friendship with Ingrosso (2011 had “Save the World” and 2012 had “Don’t Worry Child”, both with Swedish House Mafia).  What a party.

Favorite Album of July:  
Disclosure: Settle — a continuous dance mix straight from 1991, packed with current UK vocal up-and-comers.  Groovy.

AUGUST TOP 10

July bled into August and the above 10 continued to gain spins (holy shit, all that pop and EDM!?!  Isn’t this a fucking rock blog???).  Here are the new additions to the eternal summer playlist.

1. Lady Gaga – “Applause”
If you know me, you know the build-up to this release was a little bit important for me.  After Daft Punk and NIN (ok fine and Arcade Fire), my most anticipated comeback-single-drop was Gaga’s.  I was not disappointed and this song did not stop playing for days.  Holy shit.  She does not disappoint.

2. Zeds Dead – “By Your Side”
Sludgy, chilled-out pseudo-dubstep from the current EDM wave, but I love it because of that angelic female vocal and its kinda-trip-hoppy feel.  This is more my pace.  You can keep your violent drops and molly, thank you!

3. Nine Inch Nails – “Copy of a”
The album is perfect, Trent’s best since 1999’s Fragile.  This is the opening song of the new album, Hesitation Marks, and the 2nd single.  I must say, it makes 1st single (and 2nd song on the album) “Came Back Haunted” a better song.  Jittery, driving and ferocious, but without all that violence and rage of early-day Trent.  Just delicious.

4. Avicii featuring Aloe Blacc – “Wake Me Up”
You’ve all heard it.  It’s on the radio every 5 seconds.  For a brief moment in August, it was still fresh and exhilarating.  It’s still good, but it’s almost played out.  Alas, thank you Avicii for pumping out another life-affirming earworm.

5. David Bowie – “Let’s Dance” (InFiction String Remix)
This soundtracks a car commercial.  And it is amazing.  “Let’s Dance” is one of my favorite Bowie tracks (up in the Top 3 with “China Girl” and “Suffragette City”) and this is one of the few remixes that I love (I’m usually not a fan of remixes).  It’s got that creepy X-Files vibe, some sci-fi M83-type shit.  Once the vocals kick in, it’s just a blast.

6. Depeche Mode – “Should Be Higher”
Off their latest, Delta Machine, this is a slinky sultry nugget that thumps along like a mysterious cloaked version of “Personal Jesus” or anything off Playing the Angel.  After all these decades, they still can make me dance and grind.  So sexy it hurts.

7. Michael Buble – “It’s A Beautiful Day”
I was in Europe for a wedding.  This song was out.  It was a perfect marriage (ha!) in terms of soundtracking a particular moment in time.  he cranks out perfect smile-makers and this one is one of his best.  All hail Buble.

8. Chthonic – “Set Fire To The Island”
The best black metal band from Taiwan has released one of the few black/death metal songs that I can listen to on repeat.  Usually stuff like this is reserved for particularly bad days when I want to smash everything.  It’s pummeling, it’s loud, it’s gorgeous.  Why?  The chorus is drenched with classical Chinese opera instrumentation and operatic vocals.  A fantastic combination.

9. Austra – “What We Done?”
On their sophomore album, Austra have beefed up with atmospherics.  Whereas their debut was a freaky trip through dark creepy tunnel, this one feels more open, more expansive and a lot more lively.  It’s still creepy, but the beats hit harder.  Rather than bobbing our heads in a dimly-lit corner of the room, we’re now dancing on a dimly-lit dancefloor.

10. Katy Perry – “Roar”
This took me some time to get into.  It’s so boring and plain.  Where’s the fun?  But after a while, that overly positive, go-get-em girl! attitude really wore me done.  I like it now, ok ok.  It’s only a matter of weeks before it’s on Glee.

Favorite album of August:
KT TunstallInvisible Empire//Crescent Moon
First half is about her dead dad; second half is about her divorce.  So you know this is going to be a cheerful record.  It’s her most stripped-down yet, almost acoustic in its instrumentation.  It’s also very pretty.  I love the delicacy of it, but my friend said it was “sad music.”  Sure.  But it’s good sad music.  Less lush than Beck’s Sea Change, but maybe in the same spirit.  She has yet to disappoint me.

See you in a month, when the list gets inevitably darker, heavier and moodier.  Fear not, pop-phobes ;P

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: nine inch nails – Hesitation Marks

 

The last time I was in the US for a new NIN release, it was 1999.  Before midnight, my then-gf and I waited outside our local Newbury Comics for the doors to swing open.  There were a couple other nuts there and some sturdy lesbians waiting for the new Tori (also on our list).  For a dedicated music fan, this is what you did.  It was a time before leaks (Napster was just getting started), it was a time before we took music ownership for granted.  It was also a time before musicians communicated so openly with fans.  We hadn’t heard from Trent since “The Perfect Drug” (which I spent days tracking down with my confused father chauffeuring me all over town) and the Lost Highway soundtrack.  It felt like ages.  We wanted to get our hands on The Fragile before anyone else.  We spent the rest of the night and early morning listening to that massive double album, barely making it to class.  Even though I always say The Downward Spiral is my favorite record and NIN’s best, I secretly (and honestly) prefer The Fragile.  Downward Spiral may be the best — it is violent, scary, desperate — but The Fragile meant more to me and still registers.  I’m not that angry, confused and sad kid anymore.  And neither is Trent.

Fans might be upset (“It’s not The Downward Spiral/The Bends/Parachutes/Definitely, Maybe/…Baby One More Time!  Waaaahhhhhhhh!”), but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years being a NIN devotee, the old school folks will come around and end up loving it.  It always happens.  We all grow up.  Why should we expect Trent to stay mired in suicidal rage?  He’s married, sober and has two kids (I know, when the fuck did that happen!?).  He has an Oscar.  If anyone would have told me this in 1995, I would have scoffed.  He’s happier now and has control over his life, but those same demons still linger.  They linger in me, they linger in us all.  He’s channeled them here in a pristine package and it is the finest NIN experience since The Fragile.

If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, head over to iTunes and stream it before the release date.  Let’s get this ride started!

1. The Eater of Dreams kicks off with see-sawing blips and bloops — then a creaking of a rusty wheel — and then everything becomes awash in dread.  Trent always does a good job starting albums with a mood-setter.  This is a marriage between the decaying gears and cogs of his earlier work with the digital soundscapes that he’s so fond of creating these days.  A fitting thesis statement for an album that he’s using as a bridge to his past.

2. Copy of A is a driving dance party.  It sounds like we’re floating in an isolation chamber, his voice echoing off the walls and getting lost in a thick electronic sludge.  The intensity builds up with some classic trills and tinkles that are heard best with headphones (seriously, this is orgasmic) — one of my favorite things about Downward Spiral and Fragile were the new sounds, buried in the background, that you could hear on repeated listens — and the rave finally explodes with such clarity that I almost started to pogo dance in my kitchen.  The bottom drops out suddenly and the low-end bass comes up to catch you on a nice meaty cloud.  This song gets better and better with time.

3. Came Back Haunted was a perfect comeback single.  If you’re a fan, you’ve heard it.  Multiple times.  If you’re not a fan, go listen.  We’ll wait for you here.  It’s classic first-single material for New Trent — fast, intense, a real collar-grabber — much like “Discipline,” “Survivalism” and “Hand That Feeds.”  The lyrics say it all: “Everyone now reminding me/I am not who I used to be.”  This is a full declaration of Trent 2.0.  There is no going back.  (Bonus geek-points for the very very brief Downward Spiral piano motif)

4. Find My Way begins with some breakbeat, drum-and-bass type shit, before the upper octave piano chimes in.  My favorite NIN songs include this kind of delicate piano work, the rare glimpse of soft beauty under all the ugly.  This could fit nicely on The Fragile, and for this I am grateful.  His voice soars as he oohs and ahhs, the volume never getting too loud.  There’s some harmonizing in there too.  It’s a pretty non-ballad that is going to sound incredible in a packed arena.

5. All Time Low is a fucking FUNK FEST.  In the same vein of his funk-doobiest shit (see: “Closer,” “Only,” “Kinda I Want To,” “Even Deeper,” “Into the Void,” “The Big Comedown,” “Discipline,” most of the shit on Year Zero), this is a stank bassline orgy (courtesy of Pino Palladino, D’Angelo’s bass man) complete with “hoo-hoo-hoooh“s and sexual breath intake.  It ends in the stars with some pretty humming.  There’s tastes of The Fragile AND Year Zero on this, which still confuses me (see: my favorite and my least favorite NIN albums, respectively).  But so far this is an early front runner for favorite deep cut on the album.

6. Disappointed is a Radiohead song.  Seriously, go listen!  Trent must have also enjoyed Kid A and Amnesiac as much as I did, because he’s clearly channeling that blip-dee-bloop vibe on this.  There’s even some nice “Lotus Flower” handclapping.  But then the minor chord twangs and Wall of Dread guitars come flooding in and we’re finally in NIN territory.  The ending is an overwhelming assault of beauty.  It really is Radiohead circa Kid A, but with a lot more soul and humanity.  And dread.  Lots of dread.

7. Everything…  well here we go.  If there were ever a song to divide the NIN community, it’s this blast of cheery pop-rock (yikes!) goop.  There are blasts of guitar and aggressive yelling, but at the heart of it, it’s a beefed-up Cure song.  The guitar and bass are so peppy it is unnerving.  Fear not: it is not so pop that it could be played on the radio, but once that drum-machine loop comes popping in, you’ll have a hard time believing this is the same guy singing about fucking you like an animal.  Now let’s all pogo-bounce and listen to Smashmouth.

8. Satellite is the 2nd of two new songs written for the now-delayed Greatest Hits package (“Everything” being the other).  This is another leftfield inclusion.  It’s a song about paranoia (they’re watching!) and stuff like that, making it very Year Zero-ish.  But it’s so much better.  If Year Zero had more songs like this, I might actually enjoy it.  It is so funky it hurts.  It sounds like it was produced by RedOne or one of Beyonce’s or Gaga’s guys.  Dat beat is so dirty I’m grinding my ass into my chair with such delight and relish.  The doom guitars do kick in eventually, but that beat… man, that beat.  Sorry Miley, but the real BANGERZ are on this record.  This is going to be on my iPod for a very, very long time.  Twerk it!

9. Various Methods of Escape starts off sounding like some of the non-NIN stuff that Trent’s been meddling with lately (see: movie scores, How to destroy angels_).  But the trademark guitars bust in and then Trent starts singing in falsetto.  It’s very pretty.  Again, the beat and soundscape sound very Year Zero-ish, but those small details (jarring minor chords, the warbling, the whispering) give it just enough grit and humanity, veering it away from that polished sci-fi.  The denouement is another ode to The Fragile.  It glides along a pretty wave before crashing down with driving drums and guitars.  Early contender for Fan Favorite on this album.

10. Running would make a great workout song, just in case that title didn’t register.  It’s another funky exercise that gets seriously twisted and unnerving, with dueling whispers battling like the angel and devil on your cartoon shoulders.  Minor key Fragile guitars jut in.  Disembodied mantras.  All over that slick as shit jungle beat that would sound at home on an early Bjork remix record.

11. I Would For You is pummeling.  At first I thought it was a Watch the Throne b-side (kidding!) but it really is a heavy hip-hop beat.  The lyrics hint at the new Trent: “If I could be someone else, I would for you.”  Awww, that is just the sweetest.  For the moment, though, that sweetness is buried underneath the glorious noise.  This is the start of a near-perfect blend of mixing that lasts until the final song.  Think of it as Part 1 in a suite.  (and there’s more Fragile guitar, huzzah!)

12. In Two builds the atmospheric tension until you can barely take it anymore, and then just pops and completely drowns you in digital honey.  The beat is HARD.  The vocal delivery is sharp.  This is aggression and angst.  Like everything else before it, it remains funky.  But this is much more jagged.  To bring in a much-maligned rip-off band from yester-decade: this song sounds like what Orgy spent so long trying (and failing) to achieve.  I know that doesn’t help the case, but if you listened to Orgy, you might understand.  There’s a very deliberate sheen to the song, once you strip away the jagged guitars, the ambient noise.  Again, the noise drops away for a classic Trent-whisper-over-white-noise intermission, before punching you right back in the face to remind you just whose house you are in.

13. While I’m Still Here is the song with Lindsay Buckingham, oh patriarch God of Fleetwood Mac.  There’s also saxophone on it.  So how’s that for a nice head-fuck.  It starts off sounding like a How to destroy angels_ castoff (imagine Mariqueen singing this…) but then that familiar dread trickles back in.  “Hurt” this is not.  It’s not even on par with the hollow beauty of “Zero Sum” or “Right Where It Belongs.”  It’s too human, too rich with humanity.  Buckingham’s jamming is so unlike anything Trent has done before.  It isn’t programmed, it isn’t precise.  All that work on Sound City must have taken its toll on the old guy.  Once the sax toots its way onto the track, you know the game is changed.  There is a bubbling storm of dread underneath everything, but damn it if that guitar twanging and sax work isn’t the most human noise ever set to the NIN sound.  One of the most interesting songs in his catalog, which is saying something.

14. Black Noise is an appropriate title for the closing song — which is just an extended finish to “While I’m Still Here.”  We started this adventure with noise, and we end with noise.  “Ripe (With Decay)” ended The Fragile on a half-measure, leaving the listener with an incomplete and uncomfortable sense of emptiness.  This ends with bellowing dissonance, building up to uncomfortable levels before abruptly cutting to silence.

Trent said that he wanted to link Hesitation Marks to The Downward Spiral (which can be seen most clearly with the choice of artwork and throwback font), but I feel like it’s more akin to The Fragile.  This experience isn’t as outright violent and sociopathic as Spiral.  There’s highs and lows, points of beauty and discomfort.  There’s organic flourishes (Fragile was full of them, planned and controlled as they were), there’s experimentation.  It is a wonder that Trent is still trying to do things differently at this stage in his career, when he could just as well be perfectly fine doing Greatest Hits tour after Greatest Hits tour.  I am so happy with this record.

Fanboy reaction: this is so fucking awesome.  It’s been so long since I’ve been excited and enamored by a new NIN record.  The past few have been good, but could have been shaved down to something better.  This is an experience.  It’s glorious and I love it.  I only hope Trent decides to play more new stuff on the tour (I can’t believe I just said that).  A+

Unbiased critical reaction (lol yeah right): this is a very good album.  Maybe 4 out of 5 stars.  It is up there with the better NIN albums.  Granted, we will never get another Downward Spiral, but this is a very nice successor to The Fragile.  It’s fresh, exciting and, above all, worthy to stand with the greatest in the NIN catalog.

Hesitation Marks is out on 9/3 via Columbia Records, in a bajillion different editions (deluxe, digital deluxe, audiophile).  Buy them all.

the different album covers, courtesy of newrock1019.com

Tagged , , , , , ,