Tuesday, December 15, 2015
A new year-end champ is crowned!
1.D’angelo Black Messiah: almost overnight, fifteen years of radio silence ended and the remarkable career of D’angelo resumed in the strongest way possible. We know he’s a perfectionist and its clear Black Messiah was worth the wait: you hear it in the sweetly-timed production one every song. The refrain in D’angelo’s voice isn’t praised enough but here it guides everything, like water gently cascading through a stream. He’s political too: The Charade keeps racial profiling in check with huge swathes of groove while Back To The Future takes prying eyes off his physique with nifty lyrics.
2. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly: modern-day masterpieces by Badu, D’angelo and Outkast come readily to mind when one imagines the playlist Kendrick must have been listening to when planning this album. It is a co-dependent relationship acknowledged, one he expertly masters time and time again on To Pimp A Butterfly, never skipping the truism emanating from the state of America’s constantly charged stance to the black male.
3. U.S. Girls Half-Free: as the second track of Meghan Remy’s remarkable album begins, a woozy reggae beats bleats out and when she utters the first line, Grace Jones pops out of her mouth. It’s a magical effect, one that Half-Free utilizes repeatedly, not caring if you’ve won over or not. In fact, Remy’s so confident of her goods that immediately she sneaks in the greatest interlude I’ve heard this decade, It’s a telephone conversation where she confesses that she was “hot stuff” as a little kid and sardonically ruing that she’s just another woman with low self-esteem. Low self-esteem dominates the rest of the album as the women in Remy’s tales get to work, settling into their bad choices and living silently with their lives.
4. John Grant Grey Tickles, Black Pressure: sometimes an artist has to undergo self-realization before the need to record becomes clear. Former Czars singer, John Grant has faced quite a lot the past few years and it shows on this stunning new album, one that Beck would kill for, with its deep-base pop and funk. Grant said he wanted to record an album in response to all the times someone called him a faggot. That makes Grey Tickles, Black Pressure his it-gets-better stand and a great one too.
5. Joanna Newsom Divers: five years ago, on the chorus (which she sang only once in the song) of Good Intentions Paving Company, I dawned on me that Newsom would have to bridge the gulf between her and adult contemporary fans put off by her fabulous lyricism. And here is Divers, that obvious compromise that sounds accessible yet still totally a Newsom project, one where only she could pull off. There’s no animal tale here or history legend sake for the absorbing Sapokanikan and yet Newsom reels us in, leaving us breathless from her steady, peerless craft.
6. Susanne Sundfor Ten Love Songs: while the music-buying public buys the new Adele record and swears she’s soul incarnate, critics are still in awe of Sundfor’s latest because its better, simpler and more soulful than 25 by a mile. This is the type of Nordic pop that has been topping year-end lists ever since we caught sight of Robyn. The opening arc here—all the way to the majestic Fade Away—is so awe-inspiring, so full of pure vocal magnificent that you’ll find yourself putting them on loop for days.
7. Julia Holter Have You In My Wilderness: Domino Records is virtually maintaining its own fabulous collection of freak/folk artists and now Julia Holter has finally put out the album that feels right at home. Right from the whimsical opening two tracks, the album draws you into its universe of sparse beats and her wild imagination. Joanna Newsom better watch out: there’s a new baroque pop deity rising.
8. Miguel Wildheart: at the same time when The Weeknd went mainstream only to lose his unique soul identity, Miguel fully realized his. Wildheart is a slinky collection of grooves that jangle with pop, hip/hop and alternative. And he doesn’t shy away from the corn-dog sex this new school tend to focus on but, here at last, he’s mastered it.
9. Grimes Art Angels: it’s hard to realize that Claire Boucher has been away for three years but her absence did make our hearts grow fonder for her insanely-catchy electronic music. With every release, Grimes has been embracing pop and Art Angels is no different, even if it’s a sort of night-life, DIY jigsaw model that no one else does better.
10. Siskiyou Nervous: never heard of this Canadian band before, then join the club but it’s no surprise why it’s on the long list for the Polaris prize. Lead singer, Colin Huebert. Has a tremulous voice and his band quietly plays up, molding their sound to get in sync. Nervous is an apt title because the tension throughout the record feels in grating, personal yet deliciously so.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Here at last is the final section--closing out the year with history: for the first time since I started this list in 2007, one artist has four (4) songs in the top 10. Also, by virtue of having three (3) previous songs in the top 10, the artist (Kendrick Lamar) has passed Noah Lennox for the person with most overall top 10 songs (7).
Lamar, by virtue of claiming the top spot, now is the first artist on my lists to have a #1 album and #1 song....
It's been a titanic year for him but the rest as well. Here goes:
1.The Blacker The Berry (Kendrick Lamar feat. Assassin): is the obvious reference to the upheaval and hurt blacks still feel at police brutality post Trayvon Martin and Ferguson ( ‘sometimes I get off watchin’ you die in vain/ its such a shame/ they may call me crazy/ but homie you made me/ black don’t crack, my nigga…’). And that’s what makes The Blacker The Berry such a great song: amid the maelstrom of superlative production and lyricism, Lamar keeps everything dead honest and vulnerable. And unabashedly black.
Kendrick Lamar Ft Assassin- The Blacker The... by rawpa-crawpa
2. Fade Away (Susanne Sundfor): trapped between its obvious longing for 70s ABBA and early 00s Robyn-esque pop structure, Fade Away manages to maneuver both decades with delicious skill. The immediacy of Sundfor’s voice means this could be mid-week loneliness or Sunday church revivalism---it’s that fantastic.
3. Wesley’s Theory (Kendrick Lamar): references so many struggles while beating us relentlessly with an originality that reduces everything in his path useless. From sampling Jamaica’s own Boris Gardiner to slyly taking on Wesley Snipes’ public tax evasion case as a means of cautioning over-spending, it spins but never loses focus or its firmness.
Kendrick Lamar - Wesley's Theory (Feat... by bestofmusic1
4. King Kunta (Kendrick Lamar): the free-loading mentality gets a toxic shakedown on King Kunta, a track that slyly posits sexual politics with phallic power (‘bitch where you when I was walkin’?/ life ain’t nothing but a fat vagina…’)
5. Back To The Future (Part I) (D’angelo): after removing his presence from us for nearly fifteen years, D’angelo realized that a return track had to be on his album. And we all know what the return track contains: first, it confirms the artist is back, (‘no matter if you lose/ you got to come back again/ pay some dues…’). Secondly, it must demand respectful distance, (‘if you’re wondering about the shape I’m in/ I hope it ain’t my abdomen/ that you’re referring to…’). Thirdly, it has to fucking rock. D’angelo ticks off all the boxes in style, the ending dripping with so much spectral funk that it’s as if he never abandoned his crown.
6.Lazarus (VV Brown): when she steps into the club, VV Brown manages to construct shards of noise that’s in sync to the absolute best of what house/hop can offer and this is her best yet.
7.That Battle Is Over (Jenny Hval): not many self-empowering records are done aimed for women past child-bearing age. With that in mind, or, rather looming on her horizon, Hval prattles on the upside of those years. The titular battle of course is motherhood, wifedom, corporate-climber, any persona a woman has to acquire to please or to accommodate everyone else. Hval is previewing but cheating also and there’s rising guilt.
8. Billie Jean (Dawn Richard): a hustler’s spin on the Michael Jackson classic? Not quite but not totally off the mark either.
9. Sapokanikan (Joanna Newsom): she’s off telling stories again, Joanna Newsom is known to spin tales more grand than any contemporary artist and Sapokanikan is no difference. The title, as you might know, is the former name for Greenwich Village, and by the time she’s though, she’s thrown in figures painted by Picasso, poetry by Shelly as well as a tender scene of impending death and how gracefully it’s handled. As always, we’re left spellbound.
10. Alright (Kendrick Lamar): the opening lines of the brilliant Alright echoes Sofia’s (Oprah Winfrey) lament in The Colour Purple (‘alls my life I has to fight, nigga…’) over a jazzy web of resentment and misogyny ( ‘what you want/ a house or a car/ 40 acres and a mule/ a piano, a guitar/ anything, my name is Lucy, I’m your dog…’). Indeed, the entire second verse rapped by Lamar is the closest thing any rapper has ever come to beat poetry on record: it’s that on point with its rage and hideousness.
11. WTF (Missy Elliott feat. Pharrel): with Timbaland apparently too busy to produce, Elliott’s highly anticipated return was produced by Pharrell but who misses Tim when the result is this exhilarating?
12. Worth It (Danny Brown): no matter how hard he tries to shed his joker image, Danny Brown cant, at least not yet but Worth It makes the case that there’s goodness in the role. Make no bones about, few can rival Brown’s bravado and even fewer could topple this effort. Brown has this effortless way of tossing off these types of gems but their experimental feel is greatly undervalued. We’ll look back at this phase in his career one day and appreciate—and nod our heads—all this goodness.
13. Sugah Daddy (D’angelo): the way D’angelo hypnotizes with his grooves, you’d be excused for not realizing how fuck-boyish this track is. Embedded within its coda are lines like, “I hit it so hard I made the pussy fart” and, right after, “she said it’s talkin’ to ya daddy”. Let those lines sink in next time you’re bobbing your head to it.
14. Prisoner 1 & 2 (Lupe Fiasco feat. Ayesha Jacko): containing one of the year’s best lines (‘hate is habitually accelerating terror…’), Lupe constructs a modern tale of life in prison. After spitting out darts for just over four minutes, we hear a gate close and then the track spins upon its head into some unique territory, with Lupe the ringmaster, breathlessly holding it all together.
15. Blur My Hands (Lupe Fiasco feat. Guy Sebastian): seen as a flip-off to Atlantic, Lupe holds nothing back but even he’s upstaged by Sebastian’s soaring vocal work on the chorus. But if Blur My Hands is indeed a veiled diss track, it’s also Lupe’s clearest show of appreciation to his fans who’ve stuck by him throughout the turbulence.
16. Flesh Without Blood (Grimes): Boucher terms the music on Art Angels as “bro art” and the more I think about it, the more I think she’s fucking with us. In fact, I think she must be slightly amused at the great reception the album’s been getting because, as becomes obvious if you listen her pack catalogue, she’s been spinning these gorgeous songs for four years now.
17. Everytime Boots (Julia Holter): fans of Holter must be brimming with pride that they stuck with her, now that she’s arrived to pop and fashioned something s breath-taking and catchy that even Joanna Newsom must be a little envious. The last verse is gloriously held in refrain before cutting off the rush of blood to our heads.
18. Voodoo Doll (John Grant): pop music is littered with great pep talk tracks but I reckon no one’s ever made one this funky before. Voodoo Doll is the stuff Prince would be adding to albums thirty years ago or even Beck too, you know. If he still had a sense of fun and daring. It’s been a tough time for Grant but he knows it makes no sense moping about it s he’s gone to his mirror and slapped both jaws and put this on blast.
19. Ratchet Commandments (Tink): that Timbaland sonic reign just won’t let up and here he tosses a gem to Tink, who’s just 19, and she outlines the new rules of what’s not acceptable in her generation’s dating life. She takes no prisoners or sides here, both men and women get lined up against the wall, whether its hoes, (‘if you know your pussy loose/ you a ho/ so do better…’) or gen X-ers desperate for social media significance, (‘every night doing the most up on Instagram/ maybe that’s the reason why bitches they can’t keep a man…’).
20. Damn That Valley (U.S. Girls): one of the unforgettable scenes in Spielberg’s brilliant ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was that shot of the army car driving up to the farm. The mother sees it from the kitchen, turns the front door slowly and as the general steps out, collapses. She knows the news will be horrible but wasn’t prepared for the moment. It’s the same shocking reaction Meghan Remy has on the track, camouflaging the pain with a sumptuous reggae beat and Grace Jones affectations.
Saturday, December 12, 2015
the penultimate edition...
11. Bjork Vulnicura: A lot has been made about the production value of Arca and The Haxan Cloak on the album but any Bjork album really only focuses on one thing: that sultry voice. A few tentative moments aside, when she lets it caress songs like Lion Song and Family, the familiar blissful awe of Bjork’s stature as the greatest female pop musician since the mid-1990s is strongly reinforced.
12. Jazmine Sullivan Reality Show: on the verge of quitting the music industry, Sullivan reconsidered and here it fueled her best work yet. Every track bristles with so much passion and now she’s added grit to them, in line with those divas she’s idealized for so long. Sullivan is adding her own individual flavor however.
13. Lupe Fiasco Tetsuo & Youth: a record he claims is partially inspired by his youth in Chicago, revealing how much pop suffuses his hip/hop consciousness. It’s always challenging when merging both genres but Tetsuo & Youth succeeds because it leaves conflict to resolve itself lyrically and up to whatever perspective you grasp from whatever tale Lupe is spinning.
14. Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper: no one’s made my year-end list more than Noah Lennox and it’s because dude knows how to made great music. While Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper doesn’t climb as high as previous efforts, it’s the sweet craft and production that remains firmly intact. His solo efforts have always reinforced those tenets.
15. Gem Jones Wurm Man Dubiosity: if the band was reveling in Prince-mania on their debut last year then now they’ve ditched him for psychedelic 1960s Jamaican ska. And it’s quite a revelation: the wobbly production and acid-trip vocals all coalesce to form one fully approved transition with the only regret being that they didn’t include more songs.
16. Tyler, the Creator Cherry Bomb: citing Stevie Wonder as the influence for your album is sure to garner attention but when the second track (Blowmyload) starts to revel in eating pussy topped off with accompanying sounds, that’ll raise even more eyebrows. Tyler is known to skirt controversy but here he didn’t need it: the mash up of ideas work fiercely and the lyrical flow is his strongest work yet.
17. Of Montreal Aureate Gloom: after the failure of their last album, it’s nice to see Kevin Barnes getting back to what attracted me to them way back in 2007: the wacky, queerness of the lyrics and production. There’s sadness here too (‘sometimes you get the punishment somebody else deserves’)—the album partially being inspired by his separation from his wife but the scattershot nature of Aureate Gloom enhances the listening experience rather than sink it.
18. Nadine Shah Fast Food: with Adele releasing her new album at the end of the year, most people will now forget the other British women who released stuff during the year. Such a pity because Shah’s Fast Food is by far superior to 25. Here is an album comfortably straddling the pop/rock divide on tracks like The Gin One and Fool. Fast Food as a title is misleading—in fact, one can argue that what Shah has offered here is the polar opposite: great, slow-paced pop/rock that builds to several climaxes that leaves one breathless.
19. Bop English Constant Bop: James Petralli spends more time in the band White Denim but whereas he is just a piece in that group’s aura, he shines brightly here solo, mark you, with the band providing help at turns. These eclectic songs move along at a snappy pace but still have tenderness, like the standout Long Distance Runner.
20. Erykah Badu But You Caint Use My Phone: only Erykah Badu would have the temerity to dare do an entire mixtape based on one of her own songs (Tyrone) and Drake’s inexplicably popular Hotline Bling. The moments are crazy fun: the funk abstraction of Dial Afreaq to the unstated tenderness of Hello, featuring her ex Andre 3000. Badu continues to find amazing ways to reinvent herself without hiccup in her two decade old career.
Friday, December 11, 2015
It was a good year for albums but already we are ready for next year so let's hurry and get this list out of the way:
21. Viet Cong Viet Cong: it’s been out for nearly a year now but the potent punk/rock riffs never fail to lift the spirit. Tracks like Pointless Experience and Silhouettes rattle on with so much force that the Interpol comparison is inevitable. Elsewhere, this self-assured debut shows range within its modus operandi, as it should: these guys have been drumming along for a while now.
22. Drake If You’re Reading This Then It’s Too Late: while American critics haven’t realized it yet, it’s clear Drake has been inspired by Jamaica of late. Specifically the dancehall culture that many rappers view as so real and cutting edge—the jargon keeps popping up all over his current projects and though this is a toss-off mixtape, it’s his roughest yet.
23. Deerhunter Fading Frontier: it matters little whichever skin Bradford Cox inhabits: the music that streams out of him is so grounded in a sure sense of audio perfectionism that it’s easy to spot the freakish genius moving his every fibre. While critics haven’t embraced Fading Frontier as wildly as the band’s past work, it’s because they’ve been spoiled by so many riches before. That said, they’ve never recorded a more tender album and though it was done after Cox suffered a serious car accident, there’s nothing fatalistic here, just steady hands and reflective times.
24. Oddisee The Good Fight: hailing from the old school of conscious hip/hop, Oddisee’s focus is on observations and lyrics. Never too preachy, he gets an admirable flow once he gets going, building furious momentum—especially on Counter-clockwise—that is met with sufficient production to not only raise his demons but banish them as well.
25. Chelsea Wolfe Abyss: forgotten on most lists but Wolfe has shown greater dedication to her beautiful gloom rock, piercing its fog with subtle shades of emotion, the type of emotion that Lana del Rey once had to pop. Abyss never sinks under the weight of its heaviness: instead Wolfe maneuvers the production by staying at the fray, only coming in to show her hand when the bleakness reaches awesomely on point.
26. Young Thug Barter 6: Young Thug has stated several times how Lil Wayne has influenced him but with Barter 6 (a dig on Carter 6) we realize the extent of his obsession. Like, if Lil Wanye ever went missing, we’d know who the number one suspect would be. That said though, the imitation here is flattering: so much so that a carving off from the original model has established itself into something interesting and formidable. The sexual politics alone employed by Young Thug (‘I might put out the bitch and call Tyrone’) is spinning the rap game on its head.
27. Vince Staples Summertime ‘06: prefaced by a touching Instagram post, Summertime ’06, is the encouraging start by Staples. The focus is on lyrics, looking back at a crucial time of his life a decade earlier. Though there are a plethora of collabs, when he drills solo on tracks like 3230 and Summertime though then that’s when the real gems get delivered.
28. Will Butler Policy: Butler, more known as a member of Arcade Fire, states that he wanted his solo debut to capture “American Music”, and he’s surely captured the fun rock n roll aspects throughout the decades. His own style comes through best on insane tracks like What I Want, where he lets he funkiness speak for itself.
29. Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell: a deeply referential work, Sufjan returns after five years to sing through the pain of losing his mother. It’s even more poignant when one reads the back-story to their relationship. Sufjan crafts the album as a forgiveness piece, a sort of testament to what such a loss represents. In Carrie’s death, he’s found life in everyone else and its new and appreciative.
30. VV Brown Glitch: buoyed by the glorious opener Lazarus, VV Brown again sucks us into her world of nightclub denizens dancing their problems away. Brown’s move away from pop to dance had been commendable before Glitch but here she’s moving full throttle to establish herself as a brand ambassador, kinda like the less bratty Brit version of Azealia Banks.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
The penultimate batch...
21. Hotline Bling (Erykah Badu):
22. Fangless (Sleater-Kinney):
23. News Or Something (Future):
24. Energy (Drake):
25. Floridada (Animal Collective):
26. The Charade (D’angelo):
27. NWA (Miguel):
28. Kill Vs .Maim (Grimes):
29. Broader Than A Border (M.I.A.):
30. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) (Jamie XX, Young Thug & Popcaan):
31, Circles (Ty Segall):
32. What I Want (Will Butler):
33. Pedestrian At Best (Courtney Barnett):
34. In The Air (Azealia Banks):
35. Counter-clock wise (Oddisee):
36. Brand New (Jasmine Sullivan):
37. Everyday (ASAP Rocky feat., Rod Stewart and Miguel):
38. Leaving The City (Joanna Newsom):
39. Hell You Talmbount (Janelle Monae):
40. Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins) (Father John Misty):