Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Don't Mess Me Around"- Clare Maguire

























There isn't an inch of room open for debating who is in control on UK singer Clare Maguire's hurricane-sized single "Don't Mess Me Around." From the opening gut-shot handclaps and rumbling bass right through to the final few wails, it's obvious that Maguire "owns" everything around her. The pitiable boyfriend with the wayward eye. The overly jealous girl giving the death stare from the corner of the bar. Anyone who dare throw shade at her girls. They're all under her domain, the simple screams of "don't mess me around" is all it takes for Maguire to assert her dominance. 


Since she's a female Brit with a penchant for soulful reclamations of WOMANHOOD, the comparisons to Adele are going to come fast and furious, but they're unwarranted. Maguire's far more ferocious than Adele. The latter would never attempt a line like "you have been erased, that's how easy you are to replace," and she certainly wouldn't scream it. I can't remember the last time a soul/R&B track had me reaching to turn the volume down, but "Don't Mess Me Around" does. Earsplitting, domineering, grooving, this song is all of those things and so much more. Run from it if you want, you won't get far.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Blacker the Berry"- Kendrick Lamar (Prod. Boi-1da)

























Weird. Claustrophobic. Ferocious. Militantly black. Proud. Conflicted. I could be at this all day long and not exhaust the Oxford Dictionary for adjectives describing "King" Kendrick Lamar's head turning "The Blacker the Berry." The dude's grasp of the language and his knowledge of its potency is greater than entire English departments, so you're "better off trying to skydive..." than parse one of his tracks. It's far less of a Herculean effort to sit back and listen, though listening can be taxing too.

That's undoubtedly true of "The Blacker the Berry," which pummels you with Boi-1da's "Funky Drummer" percussion and makes you shiver with the zombiefied guitar circles. It most closely resembles "m.A.A.d. city" in terms of suffocating atmosphere, but even that feels tame in comparison to this. Lamar snarls a lot more on this one and plays into the utter paranoia of it all by suggesting schizophrenia in the intro. It's unnerving when he pointedly asks "you hate me don't you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture." Where before the city was "maad," now the kid is. And he's not sure what to do.

The "naïf," "idealistic" teen that accompanied us then has rotted into a man who can't come to terms with the fact that he's internalizing all of the racial hatred faced by Black Americans and unleashing it on his "kinfolk." He's weeping over the death of Trayvon Martin, and then killing someone "blacker than me." Whatever preaching he's doing with the Panthers is being negated by penitentiary trips. The chains binding his ancestors now entice Lamar to snatch and run, without the least bit of concern for his fellow man. Arguably that's the greatest tragedy of the Ferguson or Los Angeles riots; entire groups of people feel so "institutionally manipulated" that they stop giving a shit about their own communities. What's the smell of a dead neighbor when the trash has been picked up in weeks?

Despite the savior status he's often tagged with, Kendrick doesn't have any answers on "The Black the Berry." That's not what the song, which pays homage to the similarly conflicted "Keep Ya Head Up," is about. It's all about painful self-reflection, the sort that leaves you realizing "I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015." If you leave the piece unaffected that's your fault, not Kendrick's. He's doing everything he can to expose generational plots and see through deceits. What other "King" works that hard?




(Details on the new LP are still scarce, but I wouldn't be surprised if it dropped at some point between now and festival season.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"The Legend of Chavo Guerrero"- The Mountain Goats

























When you're a kid, you need distractions from all of the: boredom, bad romance and bad parenting that afflict you. Everything seems to loom much larger then, so if you don't have anything to cling to you can feel overwhelmed. That's the general conceit of "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero," a propulsive effort that's our first taste of the Mountain Goats' upcoming "wrestling album" Beat the Champ. In this case, the specter of John Darnielle's abusive stepfather returns to wreak all sorts of havoc. He lets a young Darnielle down every chance he gets and openly mocks his hero Chavo Guerrero, a member of the distinguished Guerrero wrestling family. The louder he screams the further Darnielle retreats into the blue light of a luchador broadcast. "Look high, it's my last hope, Chavo Guerrero coming off the top rope," Darnielle sweetly wavers during the chorus as his acoustic guitar and Jon Wurster's drums lock into place. As fake as wrestling is, there's a real joy to it that we all could use; regardless of age.

(Beat the Champ is the Mountain Goats' first album since 2012's stellar Transcendental Youth and it's out April 7 in North America, April 13 in Europe, and April 3 in Australia/New Zealand, through Merge. For an explanation of the album you can check out Darnielle's Tumblr. Finally, the band's announced a tour to promote Beat the Champ and you can find the dates after the jump.)




Mountain Goats Dates:

1/24-25: San Francisco, CA - Sketchfest
4/2 Nashville, TN: Mercy Lounge
4/3 Asheville, NC: The Grey Eagle
4/4 Savannah, GA: The Jinx
4/7 Chapel Hill, NC: The Cat’s Cradle
4/8 Washington, DC: 9:30 Club
4/9 New York, NY: Webster Hall
4/11-12 New York, NY: City Winery
4/13 Philadelphia, PA: Union Transfer
4/14 Boston, MA: House of Blues
4/16 Cincinnati, OH: Bogart’s
4/17 Detroit, MI: Majestic Theatre
4/18 Chicago, IL: Vic Theatre
4/19 Minneapolis, MN: Cedar Cultural Theatre
4/21 Louisville, KY: Headliners
4/22 Columbus, OH: Wexner Center
4/23 Chicago, IL: Mr. Small’s Theatre
5/8-10 Atlanta, GA: Shaky Knees Festival
5/26 Denver, CO: Gothic Theatre
5/27 Salt Lake City, UT: Urban Lounge
5/29 Seattle, WA: The Showbox
5/30 Portland, OR: Wonder Ballroom
6/1 San Francisco, CA: The Fillmore
6/3 Los Angeles, CA: Mayan Theater

Monday, January 5, 2015

Top 50 Songs of 2014 (10-1)




















Like I said in Part 1
, "no one list, no matter how massive, could do the year justice." While that may be true, I'd like to think this countdown has done a service to the year that was. 2014 in music was an unwieldy year and this has been an unwieldy list. Joyous Britpop, devastating dance, apocalyptic post rock, emo and serene ambient music have all made appearances and there's still room left. This list factored in commercial success, critical reception, replayability and listener resonance, and you see that in the final 10 songs. But before we get to the best 2014 had to offer, let's seen where we've been so far.



50. "Picture Me Gone"- Ariel Pink (pom pom)
49. "Blank Space"- Taylor Swift (1989)
48. "I'm Coming Home"- Lil Boosie (Life After Deathrow)
47. "Say You Love Me"- Jessie Ware (Tough Love)
46. "Man of the Year"- ScHoolboy Q (Oxymoron)
45. "New York Kiss"- Spoon (They Want My Soul)
44. "I Love You All"- The Soronprfbs (Frank soundtrack)
43. "Interference Fits"- Perfect Pussy (Say Yes to Love)
42. "Webbie Flow (U Like)"- Isaiah Rashad (Cilvia Demo)
41. "And I Am Nervous"- Shy Boys (Shy Boys)

40. "Never Catch Me" ft. Kendrick Lamar- Flying Lotus (You're Dead!)
39. "Tearing Down Posters"- Jawbreaker Reunion (Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club)
38. "Try Me"- DeJ Loaf (single)
37. "Queen"- Perfume Genius (Too Bright)
36. "No More"- Jeremih & Shlohmo (No More EP)
35. "Jackson"- Cymbals Eat Guitars (LOSE)
34. "Fancy" ft. Charli XCX- Iggy Azalea (The New Classic)
33. "Holding on for Life"- Broken Bells (After the Disco)
32. "Who Do You Love?" ft. Drake- YG (My Krazy Life)
31. "Have a Party"- MBE (DJ Moondawg's: We Invented the Bop 2)

30. "Call Across Rooms"- Grouper (Ruins)
29. "A Little God in My Hands"- Swans (To Be Kind)
28. "One Time For"- Rome Fortune (Prod. Four Tet) (Small VVorld)
27. "Magic"- Coldplay (Ghost Stories)
26. "Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)" ft. André 3000- Future (Honest)
25. "Silver Line"- Lykke Li (I Never Learn)
24. "Attachment"- Hannah Diamond (single)
23. "i"- Kendrick Lamar (single)
22. "Unf***theworld"- Angel Olsen (Burn Your Fire for No Witness)
21. "Digital Witness"- St. Vincent (St. Vincent

20. "Lookin' Ass N****"- Nicki Minaj (Young Money: Rise of an Empire)
19. "Kitchen Song"- Oscar (single)
18. "Can't Do Without You"- Caribou (Our Love)
17. "0-100/The Catch Up"- Drake (single)
16. "Words I Don't Remember"- How to Dress Well (What Is This Heart?)
15. "Talking Backwards"- Real Estate (Atlas)
14. "Close Your Eyes (And Count to F***)"- Run the Jewels (Run the Jewels 2)
13. "Water Fountain"- tUnE-yArDs (Nikki Nack)
12. "Eyes to the Wind"- The War on Drugs (Lost in the Dream)
11. "Aisatsana"- Aphex Twin (Syro)



10. "Move That Dope" ft. Pusha T, Pharrell & Casino- Future (Honest)




















Cue the longest, loudest, most obnoxious Ric Flair "WOOOOOOO" imaginable. Plain and simple "Move That Dope" from Future's Honest is inspirational. Sitting through 6 minutes of Mike Will Made It's futuristic burbles, you're bound to chortle or nod your head to the track at least once.


More important than the hypnotic beat is the effort of Future's collaborators, who're all hell-bent on offering up better dope-game advice than the dude who just wrapped up. A surprisingly lucid (read: no Auto-tune) Future bounces from "beating that China like Kunta Kinte" to splashing scales with "baking soda water." Pusha T, never one to shy away from dope dealings, is stuck in a helpless dealer dichotomy "young enough to still sell dope, old enough to know better." As he admits near the end of his snarled verse, the only thing growing at the same rate as his age is his ego.

Ferocious as he is, King Push is mere table-setting for the final two. Pharrell comes alive with the sort of rapping he's rarely delivered since In My Mind: Mixtape. He fields questions about his Grammy outfit and squeezes in a session of naked yoga. 2014 ended up being a plentiful year for Pharrell and "Move That Dope" was the start of the harvest.

What the grizzled Casino reaps is the closest any of the rappers come to being "honest." Future's cousin is unrelenting in his approach, he bulldozes through "purp and zan" with Spartan intensity. And while "keep a 45 in my coat while I'm serving dope" scans as boilerplate gun-talk, when it comes in a weathered yowl it crosses from idle threat to guarantee. It's the one reality in a room full of vibrant fictions.




9. "West Coast"- Lana Del Rey (Ultraviolence)




















There's no better way to describe Lana Del Rey's first single from sophomore LP Ultraviolence than "sensual." That said its sensuality is a better fit for the midnight hour. Black Keys-guitarist Dan Auerbach's hypnotic island groove to open "West Coast" turns a shade darker as Del Rey launches into her graveyard whisper. "Down on the West Coast, they got a sayin, if you're not drinkin', then you're not playin," she eerily philosophizes.

"Live fast and die young" has been an ideology of Del Rey's music since the beginning, but with the exception of the elegiac "Carmen" the dark-end of the tunnel has never seemed so close. Del Rey steps out onto balconies of rippling guitars and stuttering drum fills in the hook of "West Coast", but instead of stopping to enjoy the scenery she wildly proclaims "I'm in love." She's far too preoccupied with Golden-Age Cinema and "Rock N Roll groupies" to notice the flames climbing higher by the minute. By the time the vague chopped-and-screwed outro enters with a gloomy synth in hand, her fate is sealed. Living for the moment is fine until the future becomes the present.




8. "Do It Again"- Robyn & Röyksopp (Do It Again EP)




















Not since Daft Punk's iconic "One More Time" has the desire to keep losing control been so perfectly captured within a pop framework. I want more of "Do It Again" before the dancefloor burner can wrap up. Hit me again with
Röyksopp's pliable bass. Let those synthesizers forever wobble back and forth like a house on a cliff. Don't lose sight of the thudding metronomes. Never stop the beat that pulsates like a nervous heart. Whatever Robyn coolly hits you with, have her say it again. Whenever one massive buildup collapses, wait around for the next one. If it feels like an eternity, have patience. If you stay around, we'll just do it again and again and again.






7. "Micheline"- Sun Kil Moon (Benji)




















Mark Kozelek's sixth studio album as Sun Kil Moon, Benji, is a towering and exhausting record. For much of the record's 62 minute run time death is the topic of conversation. We hear about the deaths of cousins and uncles from trashcan fire explosions. In "Pray for Newtown" Kozelek meditates on mass shootings in Newtown, Aurora, San Ysidro, Portland, and Oslo. Serial killer Richard Ramirez is the subject of an entire song. A husband is lead to mercy kill his wife and spends the rest of his life in prison. When you listen through Benji it's nearly impossible not to get teary-eyed because there's so much death. Loss of life is rarely easy to accept.

The album's most affecting story though has nothing to do with death. Tenderly picking a nylon-stringed guitar Kozelek tells us all about his childhood admirer "Micheline" who "wore thick-rimmed glasses" and had a brain that "worked a little slower than the others." When she felt particularly brave, Micheline would knock on Kozelek's door and ask his father "Can I take a bath with Mark?" He would politely respond that his son wasn't home and shut the door to send Micheline on her way. There's no judgment in the way Kozelek tells the story, just an unlimited reserve of empathy. "She wanted love like anyone else," he warbles. He doesn’t stop at a simplistic reduction of someone who is mentally challenged being “different,” he dares to include her by singing "she had dreams like anyone else."

While Kozelek goes on to tell of a friend who suffered an aneurysm during band practice and a cancer-stricken grandmother, it's that first tale of the sparse number that hits the hardest. In that same story Kozelek fast-forwards to the time a neighborhood thug moved in with Micheline to took her welfare payments and life savings. You can hear him inhale when he recounts that journalistically specific detail and in that quietude a breakdown inevitably comes. We're trained to believe that the most "defenseless" among us will be protected, but "Micheline"'s story says otherwise. Those who have no real voice are taken advantage of. When that happens we need to do what Kozelek does and give them a voice. Ensure that their dreams matter as much as anyone else's.





6. "I'm Not Part of Me"- Cloud Nothings (Here and Nowhere Else)




















The memories we make are as a part of us as anything else. That's the central tension of "I'm Not Part of Me," 2014's greatest "RAWKER" by a mile. Lead-singer Dylan Baldi's gnarled plan to "leave all the memories of what we did when we were young," is doomed to fail because we are our recollections. We can't forget painful events at our convenience, try as we might. Our best chance to survive is to move towards new experiences, barreling forward with the power of Jayson Gerycz's drums. To rip out those troublesome parts we need nails as sharp as Baldi's shouted choruses: "I'm not, I'm not you, you're a part of," "I'm not telling you all I'm going through, I feel fine." We can move on from the way we were before, we just need to forget the past and focus on what we can control. More than an expertly made rock song, "I'm Not Part of Me" is a therapy session with expert hooks.

  



5. "Sanctified" ft. Betty Wright, Big Sean  Kanye West- Rick Ross (Mastermind)




















We could all be forgiven for thinking 2014 was going to be another year of musical dominance for Kanye West. He'd been a major part of a record release every year since the decade started, so when the gorgeous "gospel rap" track "Sanctified" appeared in early February there was every reason to believe it was business as usual. That wasn't the case. In reality "Sanctified" was the shimmering oasis in a desertous year. Our one morsel while we wait for "another Yeezus."


It doesn't really matter though because "Sanctified" is such a towering, opulent single. Big Sean raps about wanting "$100 million" in the infectious hook and it sounds like that amount went into the West/DJ Mustard/Mike Dean production. Rather than sample Betty Wright, the trio brought the R&B singer in to soulfully howl about being "sanctified" as a church organ cleanly pipes away. Underneath her you can hear every drum kick and bass thunk; the saved holding hands with the sinners.

So it is with the verses, particularly 'Ye's where he's "wildin' out" and washing his sins "in the blood of Jesus." He outright jacks the "Migos flow" at one point and it's impossible to complain because he sounds so good going into double-time atop a plinking grand piano. "I don't sweat it, wipe my forehead with a handkerchief" he raps on the other side, intentionally butchering the word "handkerchief" to the point of being unrecognizable. Rick Ross can have his "grilled cheese" as much as he wants; this is all about Mr. West. He's continually inventing his own language and I can't wait to hear what he says next.




4. "Seasons (Waiting On You)"- Future Islands (Singles)
 



















As memeable and GIF-worthy as vocalist Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands dancing around The Late Show was, the success of "Seasons (Waiting On You)" doesn't happen if it isn't a flat-out incredible song. The strutting is an oddity story for a day or two, the song is one of those undefinable, indescribable works that people perpetually return to to figure out. Are we dealing with dance music? Does Gerrit Welmers' restrained, yet wonky, keyboard playing make this synthpop?
William Cashion's chugging bass brings to mind vintage-Strokes, so maybe garage rock's the comparison?

Fine then, we've figured the music out? What about Herring's singing? There are the guttural hollers of Tom Waits in his voice, but also the operatic clarion of Antony Hegarty as he wails "As it breaks the summer will wake, but the winter will wash what is left of the taste." What he's saying is abundantly clear, we'll have to wait indefinitely for some people because humans don't naturally change their minds or hearts the way seasons turn over. Holding a torch for someone for too long can burn. How Herring is saying all of that though is the real mystery and it won't be solved anytime soon, so we'll keep hanging on.








3. "Do You"- Spoon (They Want My Soul)
 



















One of the best measures of greatness for a band is their ability to make the difficult look easy, to have listeners vacillating between "I could do that" and "how did they do that?" Using that standard, Spoon are America's greatest rock band. Just listen to the "do do do's" that open up They Want My Soul's catchy anchor "Do You." That's a simple little "gimmick" that's been in popular music since the beginning, but the way Spoon does it defies reproduction. Each one bounces and echoes around every corner of the speaker, buried under gobs of reverb and delay effects. Jim Eno plays maybe one drum fill the entire song and it still stands feels like a commanding performance because of the way he hammers at his kit. The brief little electric guitar solo that Britt Daniel's performs would take forever to tab because of the way it interlocks with the shuffling acoustics. The way they play is a perfect fit for a song that centers around romantic understanding. Spoon know who they are and what they're doing. 




2. "Two Weeks"- FKA twigs (LP1)
 



















Darkly sexual or sexually dark. Take your pick with FKA twigs' druggy trip-hop/R&B hybrid "Two Weeks" because either is accurate. Even before twigs delivers the year's most overt come-on with "my thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in," it's never clear if you should be terrified or turned on. The hairs that stand up on the back of your neck could be from the line or the decaying electronics that undergird it. It could be a vibrant dream or a bleak nightmare. The way twigs' material can go either way is impressive, but not as much as her ability to take control while being so utterly calm. It recalls no less than Aaliyah, but R&B's "baby girl" never sounded this liberated or skin crawling. Twigs is in another lane altogether, she owns it and she owns you. So get you're mouth open.
 
 



1. "Tuesday" ft. Drake- iLoveMakonnen (I Love Makonnen)
 



















"Put the world on a sound," that's precisely what Drake the tastemaker did when he hopped on iLoveMakonnen's "Club Goin' Up on a Tuesday" in August.
It's impossible to overstate how important Drizzy hopping on this joint was. The original was already catchy, those constantly rewinding synths and inebriated synths are hard not to sway to, but the initial song was one of those cult pieces that only music nerds are talking about five years later. Drake's cosign let everyone know it was okay to like this something inherently weird and helped launch it into the stratosphere. He turned us on to an Atlanta eccentric who counts Adele and Lil B as inspirations. We were given a guy who croons like the Smiths' Morrissey if he got his start 20 years later and listened to 808s & Heartbreak nonstop. Here was someone so committed to having a good time that he was going to celebrate on the most ho-hum day of the week. His infectious attitude was something everyone within reach was going to catch. Sure his eyes were bloodshot from graveyard shifts and slinging molly, but that wasn't going to stop him. When we look back on 2014 we're going to think how unstoppable "Tuesday" was.



(Regular features on the blog return tomorrow. If you love the songs included, say so in the comments. If you hate them and have nothing but righteous indignation for the countdown, express that to.)