Tag Archives: Best of 2013

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!

Advertisements
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 , , , , , ,

NZY’s Best of 2013 (So Far)

And by “best” I just mean “my favorite” — since you and I both know that my tastes are eclectic and by no means the standard bearer for what is “best” of anything…  Disclaimer over, moving on…

2013 has been a year of massive releases (and massively underwhelming bombs).  Most of my favorite albums below have been accompanied by enough hype to drown them in outrageous expectations.  Most had to resort to very creative rollout campaigns to drum up interest.  And I’m happy to say that most managed to deliver on my crazy hopes.  For every album that really didn’t hit me like I wanted it to (see: Justin Timberlake, The Strokes), there was an album that I was so looking forward to that just rewarded me for being such a patient little fan (see: QOTSA, Daft Punk).  There’s some that have been overlooked in the glut of giant releases (see: The National, Vampire Weekend).  There’s still plenty I haven’t gotten around to (see: KT Tunstall) and one very big album coming in September that will likely shake-up the current Top 3 (see: NIN).  In any case, here are my favorite albums of the year, so far.  The top spot might surprise you.

 

10. DisclosureSettle
Key tracks: “Latch” — “White Noise” — “Simulation”
Sounds like: early ’90s techno; Bjork c. Debut; shopping at Uniqlo

 

09. Tegan and SaraHeartthrob
Key tracks: “I Was A Fool” — “Closer” — “Now I’m All Messed Up”
Sounds like: bopping your way through heartbreak with a Trapper Keeper; the ’80s, with better production values

 

08. how to destroy angelsWelcome Oblivion
Key tracks: “Strings and Attractors” — “How Long?” — “Welcome Oblivion”
Sounds like: nine inch nails — at its most atmospheric and experimental — with a female singer

 

07. Bruno MarsUnorthodox Jukebox
Key tracks:  “Natalie” — “Moonshine” — “Young Girls” — “When I Was Your Man” — “Treasure”
Sounds like: the best jukebox at the coolest diner that never existed

 

06. Ellie GouldingHalcyon
Key tracks: “Hanging On” — “Figure 8” — “Only You” — “Anything Could Happen” — “My Blood”
Sounds like: heartbreak on the dancefloor; ethereal dirges; something that should have been on my best of 2012 list… (because I’m aware this came out last year but I just got addicted to it this year, so whatever)

 

05. Yeah Yeah YeahsMosquito
Key tracks: “Buried Alive (Feat. Dr. Octagon)” — “Mosquito” — “Area 52” — “Under the Earth” — “Sacrilege” — “Despair”
Sounds like: creepy crawly subterranean glam punk

04. Kanye WestYeezus
Key tracks: “On Sight” — “New Slaves” — “I Am A God” — “Black Skinhead” — “Bound 2” — “Send It Up”
Sounds like: internal conflict; disgusting, violent and hateful shit set over amazing production; anger

 

03. Queens of the Stone Age …Like Clockwork
Key tracks: every single song, except “Fairweather Friends”
Sounds like:  a dark, grimy joyride through a sexually depraved and gritty part of a dystopian downtown you pray you don’t break down in…

 

02. Daft PunkRandom Access Memories
Key tracks: “Get Lucky” — “Giorgio By Moroder” — “Instant Crush” — “Touch” — “Fragments of Time” — “Contact” — “Lose Yourself to Dance”
Sounds like: the most sensually seductive robots creeping up on you after a long night out; interplanetary porn music

 

01. Empire of the SunIce on the Dune
Key tracks: “DNA” — “Awakening” — “Surround Sound” — “I’ll Be Around” — “Celebrate” — “Old Flavours” — “Disarm” — “Concert Pitch” — “Ice on the Dune”
Sounds like: the best dance record of the year; pure joy and elation

 

See you in January for the thrilling conclusion…

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

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.

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

Review: Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Excitement and delayed satisfaction are tricky things.  We all know that a project can collapse under ridiculous expectations, falling short of delivering something biblical for the hungry masses (see: The 20/20 Experience, for me at least).  Or a project can meet expectations in ways that are completely unexpected, delivering something so ahead of its time (and yet, not) that your brain needs time to catch up, like my first viewing of The Matrix (see: Random Access Memories).

Queens of the Stone Age haven’t put out an album that I love since releasing the classic Songs for the Deaf, one of my favorite albums OF. ALL. TIME.  The two follow-ups didn’t have that same oomph, that same liveliness, hunger or creativity.  They weren’t terrible; they just didn’t meet expectations.

My affair with their latest, …Like Clockwork, has been a rough ride.  Bootlegged clips of live performances left me cold.  First single “My God Is The Sun” didn’t impress.  Even my first couple viewings of their animated teasers failed to ignite my inner Queen.  And then they released a 15-minute short film of those animated snippets.

I think I’ve listened to this 15-minute song loop at least 20 times in the past couple weeks.  That’s, what, 5 hours?  Yeah, more or less.  And I’m listening to it right now.  Not only is the animation bloody, brutal, and twisted, it’s also a hypnotic visual glimpse into the “psyche” of this album.  It’s a creepshow, a violent, churning nightmare from the dark corners of our hearts and minds.  I credit the cartoon with plunging me headlong into a rewarding love affair with this new album.  You should really watch it.

Now that the album is up and ready to stream, of course I had to give it a go-round.  Here are my initial first-listen thoughts.

1. “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”
Chugging and lurching, this song sets the tone for the rest of the album: shit’s going to get twisted.  You’ll feel some despair, some anxiety, some sluggish sonic mud.  But there’s ghoulish harmony (with Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters?!?!??!), there’s aching falsetto, there’s some beautiful riffage — lest you forget which band you’re listening to.  I’m so excited for the rest of this album.  And what?  Sad violin at the end?  Yes.

2. “I Sat By The Ocean”
Man, this song is just a doozy of feel-goodery and groovy fucking riffage.  I think this and “If I Had A Tail” are my early favorites, only because they are so catchy.  One of the issues I had with their previous two albums was the lack of pop-centric focus — it was too many “ideas for songs” and not enough follow through.  This track just makes my shoulders shimmy and my head nod.

3. “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”
LOL this starts off sounding like a NIN Fragile-era track… then it becomes a sad piano ballad.  Break out them tissues!  There’s some old sci-fi lasers squiggling their way through the keys, but this is mostly sad, introspective suicide fodder.

4. “If I Had A Tail”
YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS, this is really my favorite track on the album.  It’s cool, full of swagger, like a Stones song.  This is the track with Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys, whose penchant for groove seems to have rubbed off on Josh Homme.  This is glorious rock and roll, especially the epic ending.  Gitchie gitchie, ooh la la!

5. “My God Is The Sun”
This song is a blast, a fist to the face, a riff-explosion to the bowels.  Something to put hair on your chest.  The bass churns, the drums smash and Homme sounds like he’s raising the dead with the power of these chords.  Grohl is on this song (and a few others), smashing the shit out of his drum kit.  Truly badass.

6. “Kalopsia”
Trent.  Reznor.  That’s pretty much all I need to say about this track.  OK fine, some words.  It starts slow, creepy.  Then the boys jump in with a lot of shout-singing, then harmonizing, then I’m just smiling like an idiot because I love when my musical heroes play together in the sandbox.  The overall tone of the track reflects its title: it does sound vaguely like a calliope, a twisted comedown from a dark Hell carnival.

7. “Fairweather Friends”
There was some promise at the start: I heard some bouncy jangles, some playful notes.  Playful?  Who am I kidding… it’s relatively straightforward…. and then there’s some guitar wailing that might save this track from the garbage pile.  But truthfully: if this is my “least” favorite on the album so far, that’s not bad at all.  And that ending is very LOL-worthy.  Oddest thing about this griping and whingeing?  It features Elton John (yes, really), Trent, and my girl (and Homme’s wife) Brody Dalle from Distillers/Spinerette.  It should be more awesome…

8. “Smooth Sailing”
FUNKAAAAAAY!  Damn bitch, this makes me want to STRUT… whilst not giving a fuuuuuhk.  “Bruises and hickeys/Stitches and Scars/Got my own theme music/Plays wherever I are.”  Fuck yeah: if that isn’t my new life motto, I don’t know what could take its place.  #1 Cool Song on this album.

9. “I Appear Missing”
This is a gorgeous, gorgeous song.  Full of power, full of purpose, driving and grand, perfect for a stadium.  The guitars soar, the harmonies blast into space.  I envision a lot of air guitar noodling in front of my bathroom mirror this summer.

10. “…Like Clockwork”
We end on a beautiful piano ballad that morphs into an old California-flavored track from the ’70s.  Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me.  This whole record, it sounds like we’ve been trapped in a filthy post-apocalyptic city full of dark alleys and festering sewers.  Now we’re finally back in old Queens territory: a wide open desert.  It’s an all-in jam session here, going all over the place, but returning to that pretty piano.  A fitting end to a tight record.

This album isn’t an epic Year-Changer like Random Access Memories, just a really great rock and roll album, which we are sorely, sorely in need of these days.  I’ll rank it in the top 3 QOTSA albums, up there with Rated R and Songs for the Deaf.

…Like Clockwork is out on June 4th on Matador.

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

Review: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

o-RANDOM-ACCESS-MEMORIES-570

It’s finally here.

I debated whether or not to listen to the leak, but I’ve been waiting for this thing for so long that I threw morals out the window.  You ready?  Here we go.

1. “Give Life Back To Music”
Simple, groovy intro of what to expect from the album.  It doesn’t go anywhere, really.  But it’s so smooth and comforting, I’m chomping at the bit.

2. “The Game of Love”
Light them candles, run a bath, get those scented oils ready: it’s time to get DOWN.  I started caressing my keyboard and slowly grinding my big swivel chair — totally naturally — about midway through this song.  A gazillion babies will be made to this track, guaranteed.  Mmm, mmm, mmm… I’m gettin’ all sweaty.

3. “Giorgio by Moroder”
Giorgio Moroder talks over the slick, funky bass of this cool cat track.  It’s like that weird Baz Luhrmann graduation song that was big all those years ago.  Except awesome and badass because it’s Giorgio fucking Moroder talking over Daft fucking Punk.  The breakdown at the end is just buzz-out freaky great.  Oh and it’s 9-minutes long.

4. “Within”
Setting: cyborg piano bar.  Song: this.  Vocoder vox over a lush chillaxed melody.  I’m drifting off into space.

5. “Instant Crush”
Indeed, the robots say with a wink.  The groove throws me back to some Police/Alan Parson’s shit, steady and thrumming.  Is that Cyborg Julian Casablancas on vocals?  Oh yes, it is.  SURPRISE.  I’m still on a high as the synths come in to get the body moving.  Then the electric guiltar solo comes whizzing by.  Is this still Daft Punk?!?  It’s still fucking AWESOME.

6. “Lose Yourself To Dance”
Let me just take a pause here, as the guitars squawk and jive: this is their most human album to date.  It’s so vibrant, so organic, so — oh hey guys, Pharrell’s here early! — groovy.  Pharrell’s falsetto (phallsetto?) pops up a couple songs before “Get Lucky” arrives.  Hand claps, bass squiggles.  Hawt dayum!  This is no club banger, but it’ll keep me slinking and snapping until the end of time.  I feel like it’s a good time to pop on a suit and go strut through my neighborhood.  (but if I’m being honest, it does drag a little if you’re not drunk or high off pheromones… don’t ever say I’m a complete Daft Punk fanboy apologist ;P)

7. “Touch”
We Are Drifting Into Spaaaaaaaaace.  “TOUCH…”  Who is that old guy singing?  It’s Paul Williams (no relation to Pharrell).  Who?  This guy.  I was iffy at first, but then BAM, it explodes into some Mos Eisley cantina type shit.  But classier.  And there’s some angelic choir at the end.  This AOR, borderline elevator-music is not my type of thing, but it’s a pleasant enough journey to take before….

8. “Get Lucky”
…fuck yeah: there’s an additional 2 minutes tacked onto the album version.

9. “Beyond”
OOOOOOH MYYYYYY GAAAWWWWWWD.  Triumph!  Cinematic epicness!  This is some “I Keep Forgetting” Michael McDonald shiiieeeeeet.  Ga-roo-vaaaaay.  The lost in space riff at the end is absolutely delicious.

10. “Motherboard”
I think I hear a flute in there.  Yeah, that’s a flute.  Where was the Collaborator video for that?  This sounds like a come-down song, something to break the monotony of spacing out/making out/gittin’ down/gittin’ it UP.  (There’s some strings in there too.)  but oh wait goddamn THE ENDING.  Are we back in the midst of the ’90s UK rave scene?  LOVE.

11. “Fragments of Time”
This will throw your parents back to their childhood (or grandparents?  how old are you?)…  It’s SO good.  Todd Edwards handles vocals on this track.  You may remember him from Discovery gem “Face to Face.”  Another happy surprise on an album already chock-full of impressive and respectable guest spots.  (there’s even a Discovery alluding keytar freak-out at the end)

12. “Doin It Right”
This sounds like classic Daft Punk — in case all of the relatively mellow stuff on this album is really angering you young “EDM” kidz — but it’s still no club banger.  I guess there are no 4-on-the-floor showstoppers here?  Anyway, this is the one with Panda Bear, oh he of Animal Collective.  This indie hipster inclusion rubbed me the wrong way at first (Daft Punk’s talent is a bit weakened because this sounds like any other Pitchfork/Stereogum-baiting throwaway), but the track is harmless.

13. “Contact”
Is this M83?  JK! JK!  It’s an astronaut in space and yeah yeah we get it, you’re robots.  The doom-and-gloom organ brings back that cinematic feel from “Beyond” and ohmygod this will be a great closer.  Sounds like the closing song to a really badass movie, right before it abruptly stops and the credits roll.  I love the drum and metal breakdown.  Just a not-so-subtle reminder that no matter what you thought of the album, Daft Punk will still kick your ass.

 

Verdict: of course this is fucking awesome hahaha… DUH.

Personal faves: “Fragments of Time”, “Giorgio by Moroder”, “Instant Crush”, “Get Lucky” (duh), “Beyond”, “Motherboard”, “Contact”

Next single: “Fragments of Time”, hands down.

Let’s face it: this album could never, ever, eva eva evah live up to the expectations piled upon it (see: The 20/20 Experience).  No way in hell.  So stop bitching.  But goddamn, is it a smooth, smile-inducing groovefest.  You want bangers?  Head to Homework.  You want more outrageous synths?  Do Discovery.  You want to get bored to death and wish you were really a robot so you could turn yourself off?  Human After All.  Solo dance party in your undies until you collapse from exhaustion?  Alive 2007.  A good warm feeling of joy, life and chest-bursting affirmation?

Random Access Memories.

Out *officially* on 5/21 via Columbia.

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