Tag Archives: How To Destroy Angels

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!

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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

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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…

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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: 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: January 2013

Well that month went by fast, hunh?  2013’s first is already in the bag; 11 to go before this year’s edition of the Year-End music writer/critic/blogger self-love orgy.  To keep tabs on my diet, I’m going to be doing a monthly “Playlist” of songs that are on constant repeat on iTunes.  And since nobody reads this, then surely it’s just for my own record-keeping.  I am so clever.

Let’s kick this off, then.  For honest disclosure’s sake, I chose to arrange songs in order of my iTunes play count.  That way, I won’t be able to weasel all the “cool” stuff on the top of the list and hope that you didn’t make it to the bottom of the rankings to see that I’ve listened to Josh Groban’s new single an insane amount of times.  Tsk, tsk.

[Editor’s Note: these songs aren’t necessarily January 2013 releases; they’re just the ones that Neil’s been listening to non-stop.]

1. The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio

A lush, bittersweet tune, reflecting some of my recent (but not exact) woes of late:  “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/I never thought about love when I thought about home.”

2. Josh Groban – “Brave

Haha, sue me, I fucking love Josh Groban.  His songs swell with power and allow me to pretend I can sing.  Raising me up since 2003.

3. Churchill – “Change

This track is a fucking banger.  Lil’ bit of Fleetwood Mac, lil’ bit of Lady Antebellum.  Predicted to be a frontrunner in my year-end Top 20.

4. The Strokes – “One Way Trigger

Comeback singles are a bitch when a band tries to switch things up.  Like other songs that threatened to be crushed underneath nutso levels of hype (“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”, “Madness”, for example), this song turned out to be a grower.  I gave it many spins to prove itself and I’m glad I did.  Can’t stop listening to that falsetto.

5. How To Destroy Angels – “How Long?

The catchiest thing Trent has written since the last NIN album.  The groove is reminiscent of Year Zero, but there’s a distinct air of positivity to it all, likely injected by his wife’s vocals.  So pretty, so hypnotic.

6. Ellie Goulding – “My Blood

It’s hard to pick just one track off this perfect album, but I listen to this (and “Hanging On”) most.  I finally read the lyrics and see it’s about a breakup (damn you, Skrillex!): “And God knows I’m not dying but I bleed now/And God knows it’s the only way to heal now/With all the blood I lost with you/It drowns the love I thought I knew.”  Gaddamn!  Ellie makes injecting heart and soul (and blood) into seemingly cold electronic music.

7. Junip – “Line of Fire

Listen to this NOW.  It’s Jose Gonzalez and his band.  If you don’t know who he is, get into that back catalog (start with In Our Naturethere’s a cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” that is a stunner).  The band bolsters his sound in ways that make me squeal.  It’s positioned at #7 only because I downloaded it today, but I can’t stop listening to it.  Gah!

8. Tegan and Sara – “I Was A Fool

Seriously, thank God they went along with their pop sensibilities and made this fuckitall album of gems.  It’s my January Album of the Month.  This is one of my favorite tracks.  It starts off like an old J-Pop song (Ayu!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) but it’s all 80s synth-slow-jam.  They’ll be on the Top Albums of 2013 all over the place.

9. Noisettes – “Let The Music Play

One of my favorite bands.  One of my Top 3 albums from 2009.  This is their latest, Contact, released last year in the UK, yet to have a release date in the US.  Gone is the gritty punk-rock snarl from their debut; they’ve ramped up the pop and R&B throwbacks from Wild Young Hearts into some smart pop perfection.  This song is a good place to begin.

10. Chuckie and Promise Land feat. Amanda Wilson – “Breaking Up” (Bartosz Brenes & Tony Romera Remix)

Kids, I’ve been listening to this so-called “EDM” since before you were born.  That being said, there is no bandwagon to jump on.  If it makes me want to dance, I’m in.  If it fools me into believing that I can handle dancing from dusk til dawn without destroying my knees and back (old!), then it has to be good.  This song is HUUUUUUUUUUGE and makes me miss the good old dancing days in Shanghai.  Likely locked-in to be my favorite dance song of 2013.  We shall see; it’s a bit early.

Other tracks making the rounds that may rise or fall in the February rankings:
Santigold, “Disparate Youth” – the most pop-accessible track off her list-toppling 2012 album
Frank Ocean, “Wise Man” – achingly beautiful track that was dumped from the Django Unchained soundtrack.
Neon Trees, “Hooray for Hollywood” – driving, high-energy pop-infused rock with a huge oh-ooh-whoa chorus.
Jewel and Kelly Clarkson, “Foolish Games” – update of the ’90s classic into a crushing duet that we didn’t know we needed so badly… just wait until Kelly Clarkson hops in.  It’s like that moment I always talk about in “Lady Marmalade”: when Xtina swoops in and steals the entire show with a killer run.
Metisse, “Boom Boom Ba” – unofficial theme to an old canceled show (Dead Like Me), Buddha Lounge-y trip hop preciousness.
The Knife, “Full of Fire” – fuck a duck, this song is brutal.  More industrial-NIN than they’ve ever been, it’s 9+ (!!!) minutes of head banging dance music.

 
And last but definitely not least, my good pal, Stephen Frost, with his new single, “Age of Gold.”  There’s a little Sean Lennon in there, some classic old-fashioned-y pop.  I’m just waiting for some Phil Spector Wall of Sound production to make it a classic.

 

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2012 Song Favorites: Videos and Moments

If you survived — or even bothered to read — that overblown list of songs, thank you and congratulations on many years of extended life.  If you discovered even one new “favorite” from that enormous glut, I’ll consider my time on earth to be a success.  Here I present my favorite videos of the year, as well as the “moments” — the brief glimpses of songs that keep me coming back over and over again.  Call it an addiction to goosebumps.

 

Favorite Videos

psy

1. PSY – “Gangnam Style

I’ll never forget the first time I saw this video and thought it was the most amazing thing ever.  Then a couple weeks later, the rest of the world had the same realization.  Yes, I just hipster-cred’ed PSY.  Witty, hilarious and the catchiest thing to come out of Korea since plastic surgery, I’m still not sick of this song.  I know, I can’t believe it either.

2. Coldplay – “Princess of China

Shaw Bros x Coldplay x Rihanna = amazing. 克利斯 马丁 万岁!

3. Of Monsters and Men – “Little Talks

Gorgeous, magical little clip in the vein of Tim Pope’s old cutout videos (ref. Coldplay “Trouble“).  I’m hipster cred’ing this bitch too, as you can refer to my post from the beginning of the year.

4. Alt-J – “Fitzpleasure

Goofy band (in the vein of Battles and Hot Chip) greenlighting a dark, lush video dripping with sexual and religious imagery?  Sold.

5. Juliet – “My First Hardcore Song

I still get a kick out of this 8-year old Aussie growling about her dog Grommit and opening up a mosh pit on a trampoline with her stuffed animals.  She kicks more ass than many bands these days…

6. The Black Keys – “Lonely Boy

Chubby dancing nerd.  No, not Psy.  This is Carlton Banks at 50.  Amaaaaazing.

7. Bjork – “Mutual Core

This is what it looks like when rocks fuck and fight.  And vomit and bleed and rage.  Such an elemental and visceral experience for the hardest thing Bjork has recorded since Homogenic.  Churning, pulsing, and thrusting with buzzsaw hardcore breaks.  It’s amazing.  And all a little terrifying.

8. The Rolling Stones – “Doom and Gloom

Noomi Rapace’s boobs.  Because I didn’t see enough in the Millennium trilogy movies.

9. How To Destroy Angels – “Ice Age

Trent, wifey and his pals hole up in a cabin at the edge of the earth during the apocalypse, playing a sparse tune that is oddly warming and organic.

10. Lana Del Rey – “Blue Jeans

Wanky.

 

My Favorite Moments

These are the points of the song where I get chills.  Go crazy.  Giggle with anticipation.  Turn up the volume.  Cry uncontrollably.  Strip my clothes off.  Play the broom like a guitar.  Not all at the same time though…

  1. Joshua Ledet – “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World
    There’s a point at 2:32 where he unleashes such a pure and passionate “HOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” that it just sends shocks of goosebumps through my brain.  Like every single time.  You can’t even fucking come close to this kid’s power.  Like Winehouse hijacking “Valerie” from the Zutons and Hendrix swiping “Watchtower” from Dylan, this will forever be his song (sorry James Brown).  Gatdayum! 
  2. Florence and the Machine – “No Light, No Light
    The moment at 3:07 with the synth line, when the heavens open and Flo belts out a sustained 15 second wail.  Fuck. Me.
  3. Bat for Lashes – “The Haunted Man
    At 2:54 (3:13 on the live video link), there comes a swell of low-end rumbling goodness that, if you’re sitting in a car, will surge from the bottoms of your feet up through the hairs on your head.  It is so blissful that sometimes I just sit and wait for it with my eyes closed (parked, of course).
  4. Muse – “Madness
    The prettiest delivery of any Muse love lyric.  Ever.  4:10 “I need your looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove” followed by a smooth and sweeping crash.  Thank you, Kate Hudson.
  5. Ellie Goulding – “Holding On
    The drop at 1:22.  Whoooooooooooosh.
  6. The Black Keys – “Little Black Submarines
    When it turns into a Led Zeppelin song at 2:08.  *Neil strips, grabs the broom-guitar, and tears up the kitchen*
  7. Regina Spektor – “Open
    At 2:38, something so jarring, so unexpected, and so uncomfortable happens, that your previous enjoyment of the song is suddenly shaken.  And yet it has its intended effect: you feel suffocated, gasping for air like a fish suffocating to death on dry land.
  8. Taylor Swift – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
    The lines: “This is exhausting” (2:23) & “… with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine” (1:19)
  9. Howard Shore – “Song of the Lonely Mountain/Thorin’s Song
    When the dwarfs start singing.  Awesome.  And then the sweeping orchestra comes in a wave over the Misty Mountains.  Goosebumps.  I think I watched the trailer a couple hundred times just to keep hearing this segment.

 

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