Category Archives: Neil

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

 

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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

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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?
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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.”
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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!

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Review: Kanye West – Yeezus

Gat-DAYUM.

The sheer audacity to release a CD with no label or design.

The sheer audacity to release a CD with no label or design.

It took me a week to muster the energy and mental fortitude to tackle this album.  I saw SNL.  That shit was intense.  I heard the snippets.  This didn’t sound very cheery.  It’s summer: I want fun, sunshine and good vibes.  Not an angry, aggressive assault.  It felt like way too much to handle in one sitting.  And my suspicions weren’t that far off.  Luckily it’s the opposite of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — tight and concise, it’s a 40-minute punch to the face.  Get ready for the year-end Best Of list death-match between this and Random Access Memories.  It’s going to be ugly (concise artistic statement vs. overblown indulgent masterpiece?  WHICH IS WHICH?!?!), but no matter what, Daft Punk wins.

Yeezus is heavy.  In every way.  The beats are the hardest, most industrial assaults since NIN’s The Downward Spiral.  The lyrics are vicious, spat out through the speakers like the best hateful Marilyn Manson tracks from the old days.  The content is absolutely draining.  A couple songs in and I’m already exhausted: I’m hyped up, my head is bobbing furiously and the lyrics are making me extremely uncomfortable.  This might be one of the best rock records of the year.  Therein lies the genius of Kanye.

My favorite Kanye albums are his more surprising ones (unsurprisingly).  The quirkiness of 808s and the genre-hopping of Graduation.  The grandiose insanity of …Dark Twisted Fantasy.  I enjoy his first two for gracing the world with some of the best rap singles in history, but as full statements, it’s all about 808s and Yeezus.  He’s getting shit for aping Death Grips, for these misogynistic lyrics and for yet another curveball.  Who the fuck cares.  This is art from one of the few geniuses we have today.

So let’s go for a ride.  I’m strapped in with my giant headphones, crouched over my computer, the bass from these beats resonating down into my gut.  See you on the other side!

1. “On Sight” – This opener lobs a bomb right to your head, courtesy of Daft Punk.  It sounds like Nine Inch Nails…and then Kanye starts rapping and it gets gross and offensive and snarling.  At one point in the din, he asks: “How much do I not give a fuck?”  Then drops a pretty soul sample.  As soon as you’re wooed into comfort, the beat kicks back in and you die.

2. “Black Skinhead” – Far and away my favorite track on this album.  It employs one of my favorite beat-motifs of all time (see: “The Beautiful People”, “Uprising”).  The drum smashes are just pummeling, good LORD.  Bouncy, jerky and unrelenting.  Can you mosh at a Kanye gig?  Because this tour is going to be crazy.  At the end he just starts rasping, “GAWD!  GAWD!”  I feel the same way.

3. “I Am A God” – This track’s liner notes actually say “Featuring: God.”  LOLZ.  Only fuckin’ Kanye.  This has more atmospheric depth and a sprawling Tron-scape kind of feel.  The steady digital drone is claustrophobic.  The swelling melody is goosebump-worthy…  This song is also home to some of my favorite lines on the album, all insanely egotistical and ridiculous, from this: “I just talked to Jesus/ He said what up, Yeezus?”… to, my favorite, this:  “In a French-ass restaurant/ Hurry up with my damn croissants!”  CROISSANTS.  The ending gives me chills, with Kanye screaming — like, terrified, I-cannot-breathe, someone-save-me shrieks — as the melody dips and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) drops in to end it on an angelic note.

4. “New Slaves” – One of Kanye’s “Songs With A Message” and I love it.  He’s getting a lot of shit for copying Death Grips, but the thing is, he is Kanye.  Whoever he’s aping doesn’t matter: Death Grips are indie-favorites, a blip on the History of Music radar, a precise band with a precise style.  This is Kanye, oh He of backpack rap, auto-tune masterpieces, John Mayer, Chris Martin, Daft Punk, Bon Iver genre-smashing duets, and a cultural icon.  So when Kanye does something like this — which might sound like a punk duo going nowhere — it matters.  And he also does stuff that lesser groups don’t: he just keeps the twists coming.  This song is bleak, dark and ugly… then BOOM: at 2:51 — drumroll please — the song explodes from its prison with a glorious auto-tuned declaration of joy and FRANK. OCEAN.  The song endings on this album are stunners.

5. “Hold My Liquor” – This one starts out kinda dumb, but still has its shining moments.  At this point, these lyrics, man…. He is so angry.  I wonder what the fuck Kim is doing to him (or vice versa).  Is he even happy with the mother of his child?!  Anyway, this song has some really pretty instrumentation, despite all the nigga-this, nigga-that, which gets tiring.  But then, ooooooh, that guitar-solo ending drone is pure bliss.  Chief Keef and Bon Iver are both on this one, which is really even more whatdafuck piled onto the existing whatthehelllll.

6. “I’m In It” – Eesh, this track is disgusting (get a poncho!).  If you’re not a fan of rap-porn (which this pretty much is…), skip this track.  I couldn’t even listen to it with my sister in the same room; it was too embarrassing.  Cunnilingus, salad tossing, fisting, some racial insensitivity (relating to “eating” Asian with sweet and sour sauce) and all the things Kanye will do to you with his “reptile.”  It’s 50 Shades fetish shit with a gorgeous falsetto sample.  To bring it right back to my world (NIN, Manson, Tori), there’s even a lyrical “starfucker” interlude toward the end.  As repulsed as I was, the song was electrifying, hypnotic and strangely arousing.  I don’t even know anymore…

7. “Blood On The Leaves” – This is the one with the Nina Simone “Strange Fruit” sample… so, yeah: divisive.  This could have been on 808s: it’s dark, he’s auto-tuned.  It’s a huge banger with ominous marching band horns, though I’m with the rest of the critical public in questioning his use of this sample — with all the heaviness associated with it — on a song about gold-diggers and baby mammas.  Is he saying that all that bullshit is the black man’s modern day lynching?  Ick. I have no idea.  But it’s Kanye; he must have a reason.

8. “Guilt Trip” – Another unrelenting drone set atop the motif of da numba one “Chief Rocka,” one of my favorites.  Favorite line: “Star Wars fur/ yeah I’m rockin’ Chewbacca/ The one chief rocka/ Number one chief rocka.”  *Mic drop*  Another of my favorite lines is quite similar to one of my favorite Coldplay songs (“Violet Hill”): “If you love me so much, then why’d you let me go?”  Interestingly enough, DJ Premier’s real name is also Chris Martin.  Did Kanye do that on purpose?!?!  I don’t know what to believe anymore!  We end on a heavy Bjork Homogenic-era (see: the 90s) beat drop, right before the sound of an alarm…

9. “Send It Up” – This one is abrasive.  The lyrics are ugly.  The beat is irritating.  The mood is dark.  That goddamn alarm keeps sounding.  And it still sucks me right in.  I love noise, I love the din, I love when my ears tell me that this sound is not supposed to feel good.  And I love to dive headlong into it.  This is another NIN-track (but actually it’s the 4th Daft Punk production credit… they are really gunning for Trent on this album!) and you’ve also got a Beenie Man sample.  Again, whattheholyfuckinghell.

10. “Bound 2” – Yay, rejoice, old school Kanye fans!  It sounds like Late Registration!  College Dropout!  Graduation!  Hooray!  After nine songs of hell, this is a welcome finish.  It’s so throwback, it’s so leftfield.  I’m sitting here grinning like an idiot because Kanye really knows how to do it.  There’s still some flourishes of digital noise in here — lest we forget about Yeezus — and some line about “spunk on mink” (good luck getting that out!) which is hilarious.

And then we’re done.  It’s been 40 minutes.  Where’d the time go??!  That was exhausting.  Physically, mentally and — yes — even emotionally.  There’s a lot of ugly in here.  If I didn’t understand English, I’d have thought it was a great alt-metal album.  But he’s really got a lot of awkwardly hateful doozies in there that you just can’t shake.   This is his darkest stuff ever.  And it’s thrilling.

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Playlist: March 2013

Jeez, another month blew by.  ONE FISCAL QUARTER.  And now we’re a few days into April and I haven’t even updated you on my March listenings yet…  You — all one or two of you, bless your hearts — must have been so anxious to see what I’ve been feeding into my ear tubes.  Fear not, for I have risen.  Let’s go!

[Remember: we’re going for play count here….  No cheating!]

 

1. how to destroy angels – “Strings and Attractors
This song sounds like something off The Fragile (by way of Year Zero), which is alright in my book because The Fragile is secretly my favorite NIN album (sorry, Downward Spiral, you’re still technically the “best”).  I cannot wait to hear this in concert.  House of Blues, 4/27!  Gah!

2. Phoenix – “Entertainment
Argh, conflicted!  Why?  This is the chinkiest-sounding shit I’ve ever heard, and yet…. YET…. it’s so goddamned catchy!  Like, earworm-cannot-be-dislodged-from-brain catchy.  Bound to be in the Top 10 Songs of 2013.  And the video is a ridonkulous, high art homage (yes, I’m calling it an homage) to Korean dramas.  A+, you French bastards.

3. Rihanna – “Lost In Paradise
I know, I’m supposed to be punishing her for going back to Breezy, but no.  I love this song (thank you H&M in-store music, as always). Her “darker” tracks are always my favorites and I’m assuming this is the dark horse of Unapologetic.  Sounds like it’d fit nicely on Rated R (my favorite RiRi album).  Hum along.

4. Bruno Mars – “Moonshine
My favorite track off his latest album (if you remember, my album of February).  As my sister said, “This would be your favorite.”  Totally.  Funky beat, driving rhythm… reminds me of my favorite Alan Parsons Project shit (sorry for this obscure, embarrassing and problematically incorrect point of reference).  It’s cool, it’s catchy.

5. Fall Out Boy – “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)
They’re back!!!!  I didn’t realize how much I missed them (I’m really serious, sue me) or their pretentiously laughable song titles (are we still LiveJournaling, bros?).  This stadium-banger is wielding a killer chorus and it’s just…agh, I miss 2005!  I’m so surprised by my love for this song that I’ll just stop here.  I’m on fiiii-yaaaaaaaah!

6. Usher & Diplo – “Go Missin‘”
I’ve been sitting on this since February.  It’s a slow burner.  So smooth, so hypnotic.  He’s so into the electronic thing these days that it’s no surprise to hear this style song, but without him worrying about filling a dance floor with insane high energy shit, he can utilize that smooth-ass voice of his.  Mmmm mmm, smoove.

7. Alt-J – “Estocada” (aka “Something Good”)
Sorry, Alt-J.  They’re at the butt-end of my 2012 Albums list and, you know what, they should be in the Top 3 or 5, at least.  I saw them in March for the first show of their current US tour.  It was amazing.  This song in particular — already one of my faves off the album — was infused with so much ass-kickery in a live setting that I can’t stop listening to it.  They’re so good and so few people know about them… there’s still time to get into them before you’re accused of bandwagoning.  Get with it!

8. Junip – “Your Life, Your Call
In a year packed full with highly anticipated albums (Strokes, JT, NIN, Daft Punk, Arcade Fire, YYYs), I am so surprised that Junip just popped out of nowhere and into my life.  I cannot wait to hear the rest of this album.  Jose Gonzalez singing without his usual acoustic accompaniment + 2 guys who play instruments = this.  I’ll be damned, but I think I might be more into it that both the new Strokes and JT combined.  Great job, Junip boys.

9. Youngblood Hawke – “We Come Running
This song has been out forever, right?  I’ve heard it on the radio for months, but have just finally let it into my heart.  It’s happy, it’s catchy.  It’s like a lamer version of a fun. anthem mixed with some old pop-punk-emo aesthetic.  It makes me happy.

10. Demi Lovato – “Heart Attack
Damn, girl.  When I first heard it, I was like, “Ugh this is so generic and boring.”  And then I couldn’t get it out of my head (especially that “chorus”!)  So there you have it, I will just embrace this.  The lyrics are dumb, most of the song really is quite generic, but damn… that “ataaaAAAAAaaaAAAAAAK” is money.  Pure money.

And finarry, the latest from Stephen Frost.  This one’s a rocker and *might* be my favorite off his current album project.

Damn.  Looking back on this list — I’m listening to some pretty poppy shit these days!  And you know what?  It’s only going to get worse as the weather gets better.  Every year — without fail — my winters are filled with quiet, profound, introspective, and sometimes dark stuff.  But once the windows can roll down and my limbs can be freed from their fabric-layer prisons, it’s on.  But what about album of the month!?  Wrote about it already.  Yeah, it grew on me.  how to destroy angels.  Go tell your mom about it.

 

 

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Review: The Strokes – Comedown Machine

Oh March… what a month.

New Trent, new JT and now new Strokes.  Tis a good month.

The Strokes - Comedown Machine

 

Let me get this out of the way: I love the Strokes.  Their last two albums have been clunkers (Angles was shit and First Impressions had a couple amazing tracks… mired in shit).  Is This It is on my Desert Island Discs (do we change this to Desert Island MP3s now?) list, one of my Top 10 of ALL TIME (take that!), and Room On Fire will always occupy a soft spot in my heart.

How does this album stack up?  It’s pretty fucking good.  It’s no Is This It.  It’s no Room On Fire.  And it’s not just good because it’s not First Impressions or Angles.  It’s a solid little thing, a nice meld of the first two albums and Julian’s solo effort, Phrazes for the Young, which I also loved.

And now follows my quick jumping-of-the-gun review.  We shall see how this ends up on the year-end ranking…

1. Tap-Out: “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”?  Sunny pop blast to open the album.  Me like.

2. All The Time: sounds most like Is This It.  Jangly and jumpy, Julian raspy as ever, it’s a hard-charger.  Me like.

3. One Way Trigger: if this song becomes one of the “Age Old” divisive arguments among Strokes fans, put me squarely and forever on the side of “THIS SONG IS AWESOME.”  It took forever to grow on me, but that falsetto and “find a girl, find a job, find a dream, shut it down” shit really connect with me.  Me love.

4. Welcome To Japan: this is early front-runner for favorite track on the album. This is groovin’ shit, like No Doubt “Hella Good”-type nasty funk-pop.  Me love.

5. 80s Comedown Machine: zzzzzzzzzz… Melody and instrumentation are fine, but Julian’s putting me to sleep on this one.  Me sleepy.

6. 50 50: YEAAARRRRRGH!  With more balls and heavier riffs, this would make a badASS QOTSA song.  Sure wakes you up from the “80s Comedown Machine” funk.  Julian’s screaming like a man on this.  Me love.

7. Slow Animals: get into the groove again.  Julian sounds like he’s floating in space, but damn if the other guys are working their fingers off.  The “chorus” comes out of nowhere and it’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head, even if I have no clue what Julian is sputtering.  Me like.

8. Partners In Crime: wooooo, guitars go home, you’re drunk!  Before the wacky chorus kicks in, I got some tastes of Phil Collins’ “Another Day In Paradise” (haha, no joke).  This is fun and upbeat, but the most praise I can give it is for creativity and to say it wasn’t on Angles (burn).  Me like.

9. Chances: WHO IS THIS?!?!???  It sounds like someone but I can’t put my finger on it.  Someone NOT Julian Casablancas.  Mid-tempo, relaxing little number.  But what the fuck is that insane girl-singing in the beginning?  This sounds 80s soft rock.  Me sleepy again.

10. Happy Ending: tee hee.  It’s not quite happy, nor is it the end of the album.  Meh?  Me kinda like.

11. Call It Karma Call It Fate: the drugs have finally taken full control of the brain.  I thought this was an old Motown song at first (“Heard It Through the Grapevine”?) that morphs into some dreamy Beach Boys pop tune.  Definitely the most surprising track of the album, and quite possibly their swan song.  Me like.

So there we have it, folks.  3 killers, 5 great ones that’ll likely grow on me and a few snoozers.  Hey, I can’t complain; nothing is as bad as this cover art (or Angles).  If this is really their last album, as it’s feared/rumored, I’d say it’s a good way to go out.  They’ll remain one of my all-time favorite bands, even despite Angles.  Good job, boys.  (B+/A-)

The Strokes, Comedown Machine, out 3/26 on RCA.  Stream it on Pitchfork before the album drops.

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Review: How to destroy angels_, “Welcome Oblivion”

On March 5, 2013, Trent Reznor released new music with his new band, How to destroy angels_ (yes that underscore is supposed to be there don’t ask me why I don’t know either).  Therefore one can conclude that no matter how middling or meh this output happens to be, it is still Trent and Trent still rules the roost in Neiltown.  That being said, htda’s debut LP — Welcome Oblivion — is not awful.

 

 

On one hand, you’ve got the good stuff, the shit that sounds like a conventional song, which, Trent being Trent, sometimes is not so easily attained.  Lead single “How long?” is the closest you’re going to come to convention.  There’s a chorus (I think?), some lyrics, it’s catchy.  This might be played on a really cool radio station that nobody listens to.  On these so-called “good” songs, it just sounds like a NIN song where Trent is replaced by his wife, Mariqueen (seriously, even her delivery sounds exactly like Trent).  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

On the other hand, you get a whole shitload of stuff that sounds like Ghosts or Year Zero, my two least-favorite NIN projects.  While I appreciate the thought put into both albums, man cannot live on concept alone.  Ghosts tries my patience, even if there are some gorgeous tidbits floating around those 4 volumes of tedium.  Year Zero has its moments as well, but God help me, half the songs sound the same.  SNORE.

That’s how I listened to this album.  The songs either fall on the “songs” side, or on the “Oh GAWD Trent, no more Ghosts/Year Zero/David Fincher movie score castaways!” (or somewhere in between).  Here they are, presented alongside convenient “File This Under” acronyms (i.e. “YZ” = Year Zero, “G” = Ghosts, etc.):

 

“Songs” (a.k.a. download/listen to these if your attention span is as small as mine)

1.  “Ice Age” – cute folksy little track that strums on and on and on.  It’s catchy enough and sticks in your head. (Ghosts/Fragile)
2. “On the wing” – more sleepy harmonies from Trent and Mariqueen, yet this sounds a lot like a Goldfrapp song that snuck onto Year Zero.  Which is awesome.  Hence the placement in “Songs” rather than below in the “Not So Bad.”  (YZ/The Slip)
3.  “How long?” – THE standout track of this album and a good enough reason for the creation of this entire LP.  It is a grower, but oh boy, what an earworm.  I played the shit out of this track and I’m not even sick of it.  It finally sounds like Mariqueen’s gig, not a cheap cover version of a NIN song.  I love, love, love this song. (sounds like htda.)
4.  “Strings and attractors” – more masturbatory Ghosts shit.  I’m so done with these blips and bloops and bleeps.  Mariqueen sounds nice and angelic on this track, but as with “Too late, all gone,” it tries my patience.  Not sure why, but I just want to press the “next” button… and then, THEN it becomes something else.  Something Fragile-y.  And I’m back onboard. (G/F)

 

“Not So Bad” (a.k.a. I’ll take what I can get…)

1.  “The Wake-up” – a good intro.  Short and sweet. (YZ/G)
2.  “Keep It Together” – droning and monotonous, but hey, there are vocals!  VOCALS! (YZ)
3.  “And the sky began to scream” – the blips and bleeps get a bit more aggressive and Mariqueen drops the vox (barely) again… this is like begging for crumbs.  (YZ)
4.  “Welcome oblivion” – vox TOTALLY sound like Trent… starts off Year Zero-y, ends with some surprisingly awesome Fragile-sounding twangs and drums. (YZ/F)
5.  “The loop closes” – this is a strange one.  You’ve got the Year Zero production, but also some flourishes of Fragile and even Downward Spiral (!!!!!!) instrumentation.  It’s another mainly-instrumental wank-fest, but it’s surprisingly gratifying.  This track also has the most Trent vocal presence, if you care.  (DS/F/YZ)
6.  “Hallowed ground” – the delicate closer of the album is a mixed bag.  You’ve got your icy piano tinkling, which reminds me of Still, and your ominous Year Zero electro-beats.  It’s peaceful and relaxing and if you’ve made it this far, just enjoy it and be glad the album is finished.  (S/YZ)

 

“Jesus Christ, Trent Reznor… enough of this shit!”

1. “Too late, all gone” – this sounds EXACTLY like a Year Zero castaway that replaced Trent’s vocals with Mariqueen.  I don’t know why it bugs me so much…  maybe because it feels lazy?  I don’t want to hear any more Year Zero shit, let alone a track that’s supposed to be for another group.  And it’s not even a bad song (technically, for whoever you are reading this, it’s worth a download.  Honestly.), I just have lost patience at this point.
2. “We fade away” – Ghosts with vocals.  Again.  Sigh.  It’s not terrible by any means, but an album full of b-side worthy songs is not an album.  (G)
3. “Recursive self-improvement” – oh, these fucking song titles.  We’re on track 11 and you can tell I’m clearly getting frustrated.  Even Radiohead are not this self-indulgent (fightin’ words!).  Should I have bought Amok instead?  I’m not even sure.  Let me go get another beer while this song blips its way to the end… This sounds like the soundtrack to a video they play in the computer exhibits at science museums.  (Social Network castoff?)

The problem with NewTrent (i.e. post-drugs, clean-living buff TR) is the quality of the output.  It used to be that we had to wait fucking YEARS between NIN projects.  As a kid, this felt like an eternity.  OldTrent would drop off the face of the earth and, being the time before Facebook and Twitter, we had to rely on news websites and rock mags for any news of his whereabouts.  Then he’d magically reappear, drop a new single, and heads would explode.  This is why I’d wait in line for a midnight release of a new NIN album.

Then, starting in 2005, NIN came roaring back with With Teeth (in my opinion, their last good album) and it’s been a steady outpouring of project after project of whatever NewTR feels like tossing to his fans.  Year Zero.  Niggy Tardust.  Ghosts.  The Slip.  Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Social Network.  This.  It’s too much.  I’d rather he release something mindblowing twice a decade instead of the same old bloopy-blippy shit, stretched out over ten volumes with various scores and soundtracks in the mix.  May God help me, but I’m sick of wading through this muck and mire just to find one or two songs that connect.

Their self-titled debut EP is still their best output, by far.  Because SONGS.  Four of six tracks from the Omen EP appear on Welcome Oblivion, making that EP a waste of time.  Yet I still buy them all.  And I’m still going to the concert in April.  I trust Trent’s vision and will at least appreciate this as an artistic statement.  But this is yet another project where I’d be just as satisfied downloading a couple songs and getting on with my life.  I’m happy Trent is keeping the creative juices flowing, but I really need the new NIN album to be a banger.

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Playlist: February 2013

February is a short month, but seriously, this year is pretty much almost over.  So while I prepare for April (at this rate, March is already done), here’s what I was blasting out of my boombox this month.

[Same note as last month: I’m going by iTunes play count, so I can’t be a weasel…]

<> on April 13, 2012 in Indio, California.

1. Frank Ocean – “Eyes Like Sky
Good Lord on high, this is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.  These LYRICS.  The soft acoustic number reminds me of something from the early ’90s that would have fit nicely on the “grown up” stations (alongside Des’ree and Tracy Chapman or something).  Don’t let that fool you.  I tear up every time I hear this part:

I said I wish you could see the ocean/He said I wish you could see hope
I said have you ever seen a mountain?/He said no but my faith can move those
I said I wish you could see the stars/
He told me I should see love”

*Neil rips out heart strings* D:

He delivers it with such aching sincerity that I should just stop writing the rest of this list because I haven’t stopped listening to this song for about a week.

2. Taio Cruz – “Higher” (feat. Kylie Minogue)
Anything (ANYTHING) that “features” Kylie Minogue is guaranteed to be good.  Because Kylie Minogue.  (Editor’s note: for all of you hipsters scoffing and rolling your eyes, go listen to “Where the Wild Roses Grow“, her duet with Nick Cave.  And then shut the fuck up.)  It’s upbeat Euro-pop and, even though it came out in 2010, my sister just discovered it and we loves it, precious.  Like Usher, but less skeevy and trying-too-hard.  [Note: the US version has Travie McCoy… hahahahahahahahahaha, I don’t even know what to say to that….]

3. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – “Thrift Shop” (feat. Wanz)
Yeah, Neil finally joined 2013.  I was so resistant to this song for months but then I finally listened to it all the way through (it’s on the radio every few minutes).  The Nate Dogg-ripoff chorus hooked me.  Then I read the lyrics and, after LOL’ing for a while (FYI, R. Kelly’s sheets smell like “pissssssssssssssssssssssss”), I decided that I liked the message (This validates my unabashed love of secondhand shops).  In his defense, I love the throwback early ’90s vibe.  And his other songs are surprisingly thoughtful.  I’ve been schooled.  This is fucking AWWWWSUMMMMMMM.

4. Azealia Banks – “Harlem Shake
I know, I know… just like #3 above, this is racially divisive and played out.  Cry me a river.  Bauuer’s version is pretty boring (I still think that the best of the meme videos improve the song, i.e. the Matt & Kim BESTCONCERTEVERHOLYSHIT); Azealia’s rap gives it a ton of aggressive grit and, frankly, cred.

5. The Pierces – “You’ll Be Mine
This hot sister duo made of my favorite records of ’07, the catchy and witty-as-fuck Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge.  Coldplay’s hot bassist handles instrumentation on the 2011 album that spawned this track (You & I).  It’s not as immature, playful and sarcastic as Thirteen Tales, instead sounding like earnest adult stuff, much in the vein of recent KT Tunstall.

6. Stephen Frost – “All The Lovely Things
Playful.  Cabaret.  Whistling.  Tap-dancing.  FRENCH.  This is the song they played in the saloon from the MJ/McCartney video for “Say, Say, Sayafter Michael, Paul and Linda continued on their quack-journey.  My favorite track so far.  Good job, kid.

7. Justin Timberlake – “Suit and Tie” (feat. Jay-Z)
Hey, did you hear JT is back?  Of course you did.  This was in heavy rotation at the start of the month (I actually liked it!) but it’s getting so played out that I don’t really care anymore.  I’m not even getting tickets for the Legends of Summer throwdown at Fenway.  Whatever.  In regards to this song, I’ll let my mother handle my thoughts:

“Wow, this is so nice!  They need to bring back music like this….  Mmm, nice!”  Continues dancing.  Jay-Z abruptly jumps in.  “No.  Oh no.  Now it’s ruined.  Whyyyyy’d they have to do that?!???”  Stops dancing.

I love Jay, but his verse is so jarring and distracting that it loses me.  T.I. is a perfect compliment to JT.  He should be brought back.

8. Marina and the Diamonds – “E.V.O.L.”
Another clever kiss-off/fuck-you to love.  She is unstoppable.  This b-side would fit nicely on her first album, but it boasts the slick production from her latest.  I had this shit on repeat for days, so I’m not sure why it’s all the way at #8.  It should be at #5.  Blast this one, jilted guys and gals.

9. MS MR – “Bones
“OHMYGOD, IT’S THE GAME OF THRONES SONG!!!!!!”  Thank you, GoT s3 trailer.  This song is gloriously dark and grim.  Bits of Florence.  Bits of Bat for Lashes.  Flourishes of orchestral strings, gut-booming drums and spooky wailing.  So good.  Their EP is only $2.99 on iTunes.  Check it out.

10. Olly Murs – “Troublemaker” (feat. Flo Rida)
Yeah, this isn’t Maroon 5.  I know you thought it was Adam, but you are mistaken.  Being an Olly fan for a couple years now (Murs hipster!), this is a jarring shift from his fun, throwback British Pop (not Britpop) that ranged from Robbie Williams to One Direction to Estelle.  This is clearly THE big grab for the US market.  If you haven’t heard it on the radio yet, you will.  Oh you will.
Album of the Month

January belonged to Tegan and Sara.  Their pop breakthrough is untouchable and beloved by critics, ensuring you’ll be hearing about it until next January when all the 2013 lists come out (this one included).  My February record is from 2012, but I just got it (thanks HEG).  It’s so effortlessly good that it’s criminal.

Bruno Mars – Unorthodox Jukebox
My favorite tracks are “Moonshine,” “Natalie” and “Money Make Her Smile” (the bass line on that track is filthy good).  This album drips throwback, whether it’s of the Michael Jackson variety (“Natalie” is “Dirty Diana”/”Billy Jean” 2013.  The chorus reminds me of this, for some reason) or old fashioned ’50s doo-wop pop rock (“If I Knew“).  It’s all short too, clocking in at less than 40 minutes.  Way to leave us wanting more, Bruno.  It’s split into two personalities: the earnest, less bombastic tracks (“Young Girls“, “When I Was Your Man” and my aforementioned favorites) and then there’s the party-starting jams.  From the ridiculous lyrically-NSFW sexcapades of “Gorilla” and daft funk of “Treasure” to the ubiquitous “Locked Out of Heaven” and the reggae smoke track, “Show Me.”  Like the eponymous machine from the title, this album plays like a selection of greatest hits from decades long passed.  This little guy is awesome.

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