2016: Favorite Tracks and Albums

Favorite Tracks (Outside of my Favorite Albums)

15. Joyce Manor “Fake I.D.” – Most awkward exchange at a party.

14. Danny Brown “Really Doe” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Sou, Earl Sweatshirt – Danny Brown’s experimental album had this more traditional, bangin’ posse cut right in the middle.

13. Brvndon P “Coolin” ft. Beleaf – 2o16’s best pitch corrected hype man lines.

12. ANOHNI “4 Degrees” – Coolest vocal tones

11. Ariana Grande “Let Me Love You” ft. Lil Wayne – Sexiest song of the year

10. Mutual Benefit “Not For Nothing” – From the saddest album of the year.

9. Gallant “Bone + Tissue” – best use of falsetto.

8. Joey Purp “Girls @” ft. Chance the Rapper – best instrumental

7. Kanye West “Ultralight Beam” ft. Chance the Rapper – best Chance verse.

6. Run the Jewels “Legend Has It” – the most RTJiest song to date.

5. Baauer “Day Ones” ft. Novelist, Leikeli47 – best song to crank to 11.

4. Lizzo “Good As Hell” – best feel good song

3. Into It. Over It. “Adult Contempt” – best percussion part

2. Jack Garrett “Worry” – best PBR&B tune

  1. Dawes “When The Tequila Runs Out” – best lyricist of 2016.

Favorite Albums of 2016

10. Jeff Rosenstock WORRY.

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While this album is nowhere as nuanced as Rosenstock’s previous record We Coo?, WORRY. has all the trappings of a great pop punk record – 1/8 note bar chords blasted through tube amps, a substantial helping of crowd “woahs”, and the blistering shouts from the front man himself.

Standout Tracks: “Festival Song” “Wave Goodnight to Me” “Blast Damage Days”

9. Swet Shop Boys Cashmere

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Heems’ project always capture my attention; whether its the Das Racist mixtapes or his solo projects, his use of humor and ad-lib skills make for an enjoyable listen. Here, the content becomes more politically-themed as he tag teams with Riz Ahmed, a Londoner of middle eastern heritage. The instrumentals sample sounds and artists of southern Asia (similar to Heem’s debut album Eat Pray Thug) thanks to the brilliant work of Redhino. Unlike the mixtapes, this project has no slack or throwaway moments; it’s all solid and important rhetoric communicated through club rap tracks.

Standout Tracks: “T5” “Aaja” “Zayn Malik

8. Modern Baseball Holy Ghost

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The emo rock world has been catching a new wave of energy: 2016 saw great music from Into It. Over It., Joyce Manor, Useless ID, Real Friends, and TTNG. The project that floats to the top of that powerful list is Modern Baseball’s newest LP Holy Ghost. It’s simplicity works in its favor as the heart-on-sleeve lyrics take a front seat.

Standout Tracks: “Note to Self” “Wedding Singer” “What If..”

7. Regina Spektor Remember Us To Life

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Regina Specktor’s newest album is a very theatrical project: each song is an independent vignette telling specific stories, some with fleshed out characters. Many musical moments are musical theater tropes, or that of a film score, and inform the lyrics and mood much more than the poppier piano projects Specktor has released previously in her career.

Standout Tracks: “Grand Hotel“”Small Bill$” “The Light

6. Weezer Weezer [The White Album]

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It’s hard not to adapt the opinions of others in our formative years. I did not know, for example, that Weezer had bad albums. I bought what turned out to be, critically speaking, Weezer’s least popular records: The Red Album and Raditude. It wasn’t long after diving into diverse musical realms through college that these albums began to wain in quality, and some if it upon re-listening sounded horrendous.

2014’s comback-ish Trouble Will Find Us In The End turned out to be an album-long drum roll to the real surprise: 2016’s The White Album. The melodies are fun and within Weezer’s wheelhouse. The guitars rule, as they did in 2o14, and the subjects while not as eclectic are explored in odd ways…ways familiar to early Rivers Cuomo lyric sheets.

California Kids” “Jacked Up” “King of the World

5. Anderson.Paak Malibu

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Raspy-throated crooner Anderson.Paak went from behind-the-scenes producer for Dr. Dre’s Compton to front man extrordonare. Now grammy nominated, Paak unleased his varied talents as rapper, James Brown impersonator, band leader, drummer, and all around classy chap in this funky record. It’s meaty and yet airy, with thick product that somehow keeps the songs light. It’s a musical magic trick to behold.

Come Down” “The Dreamer” “Parking Lot

4. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – A Man Alive

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2013’s We Are Common also made it onto my AOTY list, and Thao has only upped her game since then. With production help from the brain behind tUnE-yArDs, this LP unleashes a torrent of quirky rock tunes circling the singer’s personal search of her birth father. It’s deep, thought-provoking, and catchy.

Standout Tracks: “Departure” “Astonished Man” “Nobody Dies

3. PUP The Dream is Over

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My favorite album of 2015 was FIDLAR’s Too, and this album takes the same musical influences and creates an equally raucous track list. The earnestness of the lyrics and the group shouts create an effective woe-is-me pathos, but the song structures are exceptional: multiple bridges, key changes, an incredible drummer, and time signature experimentation make this album an excellent record for all kinds of music lovers.

DVP” “Sleep in the Heat” “My Life Is Over And I Couldn’t Be Happier” “Familiar Patterns”

2.clipping –  Splendor & Misery / Wriggle

The experimental Rap trio released two excellent, yet very different, projects in 2016. The first was an EP called Wriggle that delivered more of what we knew made clipping great: creative instrumental beats (one made entirely of gun noises), motor-mouth bars from Daveed Diggs, and memorable guest verses. It’s catchy, raunchy, and a powerful punch for an EP.

Fast forward a few months, and the group releases Splendor & Misery. A 40-minute rap-opera of a runaway space slave trapped on a cargo ship. Yup. Diggs runs wild with the imagery and the narrative while the instrumental production serves more like the sound effects of a radio play than that of a rap album. Both projects are excellent, and both deserve to be recognized.

Standout Tracks: “Shooter” “All Black” “Air ‘Em Out“”Back Up

1.Car Seat Headrest –  Teens of Denial

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Will Toledo has a runaway hit of an album: a debut album in the sense that it is the first with a nation-wide market release, but is technically his 12th album, most of which were dropped on bandcamp. The garage rock band is pure pathos, with Toledo yelping his emotions, ripping them off his sleeve and throwing them directly into your face. The guitars are rough and agitated, but hold together for melodic hooks, building most of the wall of sound. i had the privilege of seeing them live, and you know a band resonates with a generation when the crowd, during “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” sung so loud that it through off the band, missing a cue to move into the final chorus. The record makes me equally jealous and understood; Toledo makes a fine mouthpiece for a lot of sullen youth.

Standout Tracks: “Drunk Driver/Killer Whales” “1937 State Park” “Fill in the Blank” “Destroyed by Hippie Powers”

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Favorite New Music: March 2016

  1. Into it. Over it. Standards

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Evan Weiss’ project as Into It. Over It. sounds like the best versions of emo-rock from the mid-late 2000s. There’s chord progression, and even guitar tone, that one might find on Death Cab For Cutie’s Narrow Stairs. Even Weiss’ vocals have Ben Gibbard gloss all over tracks like “Closing Arguments” and album opener “Open Casket.” The drummer, on the other hand, it let loose on the albums best tracks and the duo create some exciting indie rock tunes.

Standout Track: “Adult Contempt

2. Miike Snow iii

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Britney Spears’ pop monolith “Toxic” is my favorite pop song. It’s my go-to karaoke song. It’s one of two cover songs my band has learned. It just rocks. Turns out, two of the three members of Swedish electro-pop group Miike Snow produced that song over ten years ago! Miike Snow’s previous releases (apply titled i and ii) have both had songs on my best-of-the-year lists and this release proves to be no different. The sonic textures here remind me of Foster The People’s debut record Torches when it comes to syth tones and melodic phrasing. And just like FTP, this trio is groovy as hell on some tracks, and pulls out some great lyrical play on others. Not only to mention, the music video for “Genghis Khan” may be hard to beat as my favorite music video of 2016. We’ll see!

Standout Track: “Genghis Khan

3. The Knocks 55

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The Knocks debut album is like listening to the best party playlist your cool friend painstakingly pieced together, but without their incessant sleeve-tugging quips to distract and annoy you. This LP is all over the place, but its core is steeped in nostalgia for places (“New York City”) modernized takes on antiquated grooves (“Classic”) and coupled with like-minded artists just as eager to live in bygone eras (e.g. Carly Rae Jepsen, X Ambassadors, WALK THE MOON). A majority of these songs dip into that anti-party sound akin to Alessia Care’s work, but the party is the point on every track here.

Standout Track: “Collect My Love” (feat. Alex Newell)

4. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down A Man Alive

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Back in 2013, when I first caught wind of Thao Nguyen’s band, it ended up on my favorite albums of the year list as well as setting the benchmark for great band names. Three years later, Thao releases an album that is like a tUnE-yArDs art-rock project. As it turns out, Merrill Garbus herself produced this latest LP and it is cut from the same sonic cloth: distorted mic effects, choral vocal backup melodies, heavy drums, and endlessly interesting lyrics. A huge win here for Thao!

Standout Track: “Departure

5. M. Ward More Rain

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M. Ward has been a busy man as one half of She & Hims many releases, but he’s back for another solo record, and it is just as classic and moody as one might expect. The hollow-body guitar sounds beautiful soaking M.Ward’s usual reverb and delay effects. More of what we love here on More Rain.

Standout Track: “I’m Going Higher

More Solid Releases: Primal Scream Chaosmosis; Baauer Aa; Bent Shapes Wolves of Want; Policia United Crushers; Wussy S/T; Cub Sport This Is Our Vice;

 

 

2013: Favorite Music, Part 2

Boy, there’s always too much music to digest and never enough time. Let me know if your favorite slipped by me. I am always excited to hear more great music. These are my favorite albums, not the BEST albums of 2013. I don’t know enough about music to make that kind of a statement. Pitchfork does, I guess.

Presented in alphabetical order, here are my favorite albums from this past calendar year.

The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

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As most others have noted, part 1 of the two-parted 20/20 Experience holds together better as a stand-alone work. Are these songs twice as long as they should be? Most of them, yes. Is Jay Z’s verse on Suit and Tie sub-par? At least. But the classy(ish) charm JT brings to his post-FutureSex/LoveSounds sound is more delightful than monotonous. And as far as best pre-album hype marketing techniques go, JT’s week-long stint on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon trumps Kanye West’s and Arcade Fire’s strange building projections and Jay Z’s  pseudo-platinum deal with Samsung. Notable Tracks: Mirrors, Pusher Love Girl, Spaceship Coupe

Acid Rap – Chance the Rapper

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I don’t have to do drugs because Chance the Rapper has done all of them. He’ll tell you about it on Acid Rap, a mixtape dropped in the first half of 2013. The rapper has the kookiest personality in the Chicago scene and his vocal fills (nya nya nya nya nya nya) somehow feel carefully constructed rather than time-fillers and could perhaps replace Kanye’s HEH! or  or 2 Chainz’s TWO CHAAAAAAINZ. Chance (don’t forget the rapper) the Rapper has lots of fun and let’s us into his world. Notable Tracks: Pusha Man ; Cocoa Butter Kisses ; Everybody’s Something

All That I Hold Dear – Homeboy Sandman

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The world of underground hip-hip is fun and exciting because the genre hosts MCs who lean more toward the poetic rather than the profane. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but often the former is dropped for the latter in major label hip hop. Homeboy Sandman (I know, right?) dropped two EPs this year and All That I Hold Dear is the stronger of the two. Sandman hits the classic topics without falling into the pitfalls other artists find so easily now: He defends his own talents without performing the Kendrick Lamar “Control” list-off-my-peers-and-diss-all-at-once blanket verse, and he delves into his personal emotional battles without getting overly self-indulgent in melancholy like Childish Gambino or even Hopsin. This stuff is short, fun, and catchy. Notable Tracks: King Kong Got Nothing On Me, Musician, Relapse

Beta Love – Ra Ra Riot

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Ra Ra Riot has been slipping by me for a long time. I probably would have been a fan back when The Rhumb Line was released in 2008 back when bands like Spoon and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were filling up iPod Nanos across the western world. But alas, the world has too much music and it was only until 2013 that I finally got to hear Ra Ra Riot (and only because they released Beta Love so early in the year). Here, the band keeps the tempo up, the mood poppy, and the singing high. I just wish the mixing was a little better, it still seems kind of off. Whatever. Notable Tracks: Dance With Me; Beta Love; Angel, Please ; When I Dream

Excavation – The Haxan Cloak

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This is what the nightmares of Autobots sound like. Notable Tracks: Excavation (Part 1) ; Mara ; Miste

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Heroes For Sale wins for most time spent in my CD player in my car. It also wins for being the only album I have ever pre-ordered. Ever. Mineo’s debut album hits highs early and often and only give up in the last couple tracks. Christian Hip Hop only seems to maintain life through Reach Records, which is terribly sad, but also convenient if you struggle to find and CHH worthwhile (we all do). This record beats the other big Reach release this year, Derek Minor’s Minorville, in both lyrical content and production. Mineo’s lyrics trump the production save for Gavvi’s You Will, which left my mouth hanging open the first time I heard it. Thanks Reach Records! Notable Tracks: Ayo! ; You Will ; Cocky

Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

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Vampire Weekend keep doing what they do well: being pretentious and relatable simultaneously. I’m not going to pretend I understand whatever Ezra is singing about and if I do find out all of his references in this new LP, he’ll have another lengthy set of obscure references in the next release. The guitar loses its tremolo strumming and moves into a more groovy style (I mean, as groovy as you can get with a harpsichord). Also, Steve Bushemi is related to the bassist, Chris Baio? Notable Tracks: Diane Young, Step, Ya Hey

Pure Heroine – Lorde

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New Zealand teenager Ella Yelich O-Connor has a bed time still. She gets grounded from using her smart phone. As Lorde, she is a worldwide sensation. An Avril Levine on Ritalin stuck inside the chilliest computer game ever, a robo-Lana Del Rey, Ingrid Michaelson getting cozy with a drum machine….All of Pure Heroine must be listened to laying down on soft carpet staring at the popcorn ceiling while cooler kids go out at night dancing to electric music with way more wubs. Notable Tracks: Royals, 400 lux, The Love Club

We The Common – Thao and The Get Down Stay Down

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Thao and The Get Down Stay Down win for coolest name in 2013. This debut (wow, there’s a lot of debuts on this list. Huh) delivers the sunshine with sing-along melodies, fun drum patterns, and the most indy-sounding female indy voice you’ve heard since tUnE-yArDs. Notable Tracks: We The Common (for Valerie Boldon) ; City ; Holy Roller