The Year In Music: Tracks Pt. 4

Almost there! Here’s the fourth of five installments covering 50 standout tracks from 2014. Arranged in alphabetical order, this segment extends from roving stoners Parquet Courts to the white boy/girl soul of Slow Club. Click the track names for music videos and follow the links at the bottom of the page for more aural/mind stimulation. Enjoy.

Parquet Courts | “Instant Disassembly”

SUNBATHING_ANIMALParquet Courts are moving backwards and forwards concurrently and like most things they do its awe-inspiring and a little nauseating. They’ve cast off the cloak of myth they wore throughout the length of last year’s blistering Light Up Gold. But underneath that tattered cape was something weirder still: chops. Sunbathing Animal is a pummeling excursion through the roots and limbs of punk rock. This band is no stranger to krautrock but blues? “Instant Disassembly” doesn’t exactly swagger like Jagger or spill it like Dylan. Instead, it moves queasily through the steps of a half-remembered dance. The song’s subject, an otherwise unnamed beauty, is a poetic figure of some significance. She is savior and assailant simultaneously, at least in our messenger’s mind’s eye. “Instant Disassembly” is a disarming detour, something so commonplace yet so bizarre when placed in this context. Like a pizza in a lion’s cage. What’s enviable about Parquet Courts is how this brilliance just seems to slide out of them and, as such, Sunbathing Animal is a convincing self-portrait of modern day slacker genius.

PAWS | “Erreur Humaine”

YOUTH_CULTURE_FOREVEREverything you need to know about PAWS is made plain by the 30-second mark of “Erreur Humaine,” the opening track on their aptly titled Youth Culture Forever. Then again, their last album was called Cokefloat so chances are you knew what you were getting yourself in to. Either way, after a sulky opening the track explodes into a fist shaking, floor stomping, self-mutilating ballad of unrequited love. Like their emo predecessors, the band’s virtue is in their ability to go from the guy huddled in a corner at a house party sucking down Miller High Life to the same guy smashing a hole in the wall after a heated exchange with his ex during the same party. Youth Culture Forever contains plenty for the romantically unhinged human to relate to and even offers some pearls of wisdom to see you through your dark days the most important of which may be this track’s insistence that “one should never go back and fuck with the past.” Amen.

Perfume Genius | “Queen”

QUEENI’ve always appreciated Perfume Genius’ delicate beauty. Mike Hadreas’ permanently damaged voice pairs undeniably well with a simmering piano or shaky guitar. Hadreas has this sound down to a science, writing one quietly devastating song after another holed up somewhere in his hometown of Seattle. Perfume Genius underwent a profound transformation, sonically and emotionally, between Put Your Back N 2 It (2012) and this year’s Too Bright. “Queen” is the sound of that deeply self-conscious boy in the dark hoody putting on sequins and a little rouge and stepping out, unafraid, into the world. Hadreas’ music has never been totally defined by his sexuality but “Queen” is ruthlessly defiant in its queerness. In a country that is still largely torn up over a person’s right to marry someone of their own gender, Hadreas offers up a wrenching, funny and brilliant counter offer to homophobia and transphobia. “No family is safe when I sashay,” he promises triumphantly. Better run for the hills, haters.

Robyn & Röyksopp | “Do It Again”

DO_IT_AGAINWhat is it about Scandinavia that produces such genre-defying work. Consider the psychic similarities between Ingmar Bergman and Lykke Li, Swedes who reflect(ed) on the burdens put on us by others and those we hang on ourselves. There’s a clearly traceable lineage between The Shape of Punk to Come and Plowing Into the Fields of Love. And then there’s the inexplicable, singular artists whose very existence defies convention. And to top it all off, those of the frigid Northern lands seem to know how to make danceable pop music better than anyone else. After collaborating on her Body Talk series, Norway’s Röyksopp and uber-famous Robyn reconvened this year to put together some formidable dance music. The title track, five minutes of searing, in-the-red synths and bass is as addictive as you’d imagine. The real surprise is how strange the rest of the album is. The decision to bookend the EP with ten minute avant garde odysseys (the first of which closes with a two minute saxophone solo) recontextualizes “Do It Again”, its carnal pleasures lent a sense of urgent necessity. It also helps justify Röyksopp’s decision to break up, having capped their career with some of their best work in years. And yet with all this philosophy and history in mind let us not forget that this is music for the the body, the id and, most of all, the dancefloor.

Run The Jewels | “Early” ft. BOOTS

RUN_THE_JEWELS_22014 will be remembered as the year of Michael Brown, the militarization of police, and the point where the conversation about racism in the 21st exploded on a national scale. The victims of police brutality have many high profile supporters from Rand Paul to Lebron James. Perhaps the most outspoken has been rapper Killer Mike, who’s been trampling the hip-hop world as one half of Run The Jewels, his fruitful collaboration with veteran MC and producer El-P. The duo represents one of the most unlikely success stories of the decade thus far and they put their visibility to good use on Run The Jewels 2, the follow up to their excellent debut. A mid-album highlight, “Early” contains one of the best expressions of universal hopelessness pressed on wax this year. “I feel like the life that I’m livin’ man, I don’t control like everyday I’m in a fight for my soul,” Mike starts out, the sentiment to be echoed later by El-P, before exploring a tragically relevant and depressingly common scene of violent abuse of authority. While Mike’s storytelling on “Early” may lead you to believe that that his loss of faith in the law happened relatively recently, Mike and El-P’s disdain for the police is well documented. The night the St. Louis Grand Jury handed down their decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson, Run The Jewels took the stage at the Ready Room in St. Louis where Mike opened the show with an impassioned speech. “These motherfuckers got me today,” he cries, stunned by disbelief. In a genre that frequently sees real tribulations collide with ambitious visions of glory, Run The Jewels come down firmly on the side of the Real. In the words of Mike’s other half: it ain’t a game if the shit don’t pause.

Rustie | “Attak” ft. Danny Brown

GREEN_LANGUAGEAfter producing three tracks on his most recent album, Old, including “Side B [Dope Song]” which kicks off the album’s decidedly uptempo second half, it seems Scottish wunderkind Rustie decided it was time to turn the tables on rapper extraordinaire Danny Brown. As a producer who knows how to craft a pop song (his work with AlunaGeorge makes particular sense in this regard), Rustie is no stranger to working around the talents of another artist. But even the bangers he’s gifted Brown in the past can’t prepare listeners for “Attak”. Rustie declared early on that he wanted to do something “more serious” with Green Language and his collaboration with Brown is evidence enough. “Attak” represents the difference between producers who write for rappers and producers who write for themselves. In that regard, Rustie is closer in spirit to RJD2 than DJ Khaled. Still, it doesn’t keep him from enhancing Brown’s fire-hot spit, letting loose lines like, “I’m a maniac, brainiac when I’m aiming at/knock your brain out your hat when I cock that/you can’t block that it’s just brain out hat,” with such slippery ease you can imagine him out pacing most rappers in his sleep. The rest of Green Language has to work hard to overcome the historical levels of hype found on “Attak” and, to his credit, Rustie does an admirable job though without Brown things tend to feel only half done.

ScHoolboy Q | “Collard Greens” ft. Kendrick Lamar

COLLARD_GREENSOne of the more disappointing releases of the year, Oxymoron, ScHoolboy Q’s followup to Habits & Contradictions, did give the world “Collard Greens”, a showcase for the boy’s gifts as a party starter and justification for his unofficial title as second in command at TDE. Of course, “Collard Greens” also benefits from a verse by Kendrick Lamar in full on renaissance thug mode (“And I’m more than a man, I’m a God, bitch touche, en garde”). Still, this is ScHoolboy Q’s joint and his gummy flow proves more than adequate, mirroring the track’s bouncy bass. Even if he never seems to rise above sex, drugs and cups of lean, ScHoolboy Q is a solid, often unpredictable force to be reckoned with.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings | “Making Up and Breaking Up (And Making up and Breaking up over Again)”

GIVE_THE_PEOPLE_WHAT_THEY_WANTThe pride and joy of Daptone Records, Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings have been spearheading a soul revival that is authentic without being overly tied to formalites. If anything, Jones and company’s enthusiasm for a specific period of American soul and funk, one that is no more or less popular now than it was when the group first got started last decade, frees them up to experiment with the sonic toolkit of the most famous studio innovators of the late 60s and early 70s. Recorded on tape, mixed with the kind of aural precision that will leave any audiophile salivating, the band’s newest, Give The People What They Want, falls somewhere between D’Angelo’s Gladwellian chops and Slow Club’s studious, note-for-note take on classic soul. Even when she slows down to lament her own heartbreak, as on “Making Up and Breaking Up”, Jones’ confidence is abundant. The Dap-Kings follow her lead with playful arrangements and clever variations on soul archetypes. Though Jones and her band are blessed with having little to prove, they still rise to the occasion by paying tribute to an era of American music that, like Jones herself, becomes more vital with each passing year.

Sisyphus | “Lion’s Share”

SISYPHUSThe union of Serengeti, Son Lux and Sufjan Stevens was unexpected to say the least but the end result proved enjoyable and occasionally inspired. Split between Serengeti’s vivid stream-of-conscious and Sufjan’s new age flourishes, their self-titled debut can occasionally feel like switching between wide-angle cinemascope and telephoto close up without much warning. There are moments throughout their debut where it seems the collaboration was not only fun but beneficial for its participants. “Lion’s Share” finds Sufjan reining in his maximalist approach and Serengeti giving himself space to think about things like verses and choruses. Sacrificing the airless atmosphere of his solo work, Serengeti’s tale of Banks and Conley (“the two greatest outlaws America’s ever seen,” apparently) is little more than a quickly paced outline of a jailbreak thriller. But Sufjan’s breathy hook and Son Lux’s slinky funk fill in the cracks in this abridged tale. Though it eventually devolves into booty talk (it somehow always does with Serengeti) for a blissful moment the disparate trio works in total synchronicity.

Slow Club | “Not Mine to Love”

NOT_MINE_TO_LOVEThe glut of 90s-indebted indie rock bands made up of dudes who were barely in grade school by the time that infamous decade came to a close goes a long way toward proving our current cultural obsession with decade fetishizing. While the sun shines brightly on all things grunge and the current San Fran-centric garage rock scene continues to spread out across the US, there are other genres and movements waiting (eagerly? in dread?) for the constantly roving searchlight of discovery to land upon them. While Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, Lee Fields and the whole of Daptone Records are pushing the revival out of “soul revival” through truly progressive arrangements and performances, England’s Slow Club delivered the year’s most shamelessly straightforward homage to classic soul. It’s uncanny to the point of being occasionally comic how the formulas and elements of soul are so carefully and intentionally arranged. In that regard, Complete Surrender can sometimes feel like homage by numbers. “Not Mine to Love” is as straightforward as heart broken ballads come though Slow Club commits to its mechanics admirably. Rebecca Taylor represents the better vocal half of Slow Club, though she can’t quite harness the raw power of her forebearers. Still, the track’s arrangement more than compensates for her lack of presence and the band’s focus on sonic authenticity does pay off. Though they feel implacable in the 21st century, Slow Club, like so many backwards-gazing bands before them, serves as a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the real thing.

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The Year In Music: Tracks Pt. 1

Herein lies the first of five installments covering 50 standout tracks from 2013. Arranged in alphabetical order, this segment extends from hip-hop duo Action Bronson & Party Supplies to soul revivalist Charles Bradley. Click the track names for music videos. Enjoy.

Action Bronson & Party Supplies | “Amadu Diablo”

BLUE_CHIPS_2The boy’s come a long way since those Ghostface comparisons. Action Bronson’s second outing with producer Party Supplies, Blue Chips 2 some how manages to improve on its predecessor while sticking to its tried-and-true formula of popular samples and ridiculous rhymes. Case in point: “Amadu Diablo” finds Action spitting about sex (“I nutted in like three strokes/now that ain’t no way to rep the East coast,” drugs (“coke shits in the toilet”) and, of course, food (“turkey sandwich in aluminum foil”) over Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” What is perhaps most impressive about Bronson is that this album, which sounds initially quite off-the-cuff, reveals, under closer analysis, something more like linguistic Olympics, a phrase I can imagine him using to describe some nasty nighttime activity. Mmm….gross.

AlunaGeorge | “Your Drums, Your Love”

YOUR_DRUMS_YOUR_LOVEOn paper, AlunaGeorge doesn’t sound all that interesting. Their take on 90s club music and R&B is fairly repetitious and lacking in conventional dynamics. The production borrows heavily from hip-hop/pop crossover hits while singer Aluna Francis’ voice is admittedly kind of weak. The capstone of their frontloaded debut, Body Music, “You Drums, Your Love” initially stood apart for its use of simple verse-chorus structure. Yet after a dozen or so listens I began to wonder what is was that really kept bringing me back. My best guess it that the track’s verses are as great as its choruses, a trick that’s more difficult to pull off than you’d think when your choruses is as infectious as it is here. Otherwise, it’s an inexplicable, addictive mystery.

Arcade Fire | “Reflektor”

ReflektorsingleEarlier this year, I called the title track from Arcade Fire’s latest album the “speed walking around your old neighborhood anthem of the year.” Allow me to explain: Arcade Fire’s Funeral (2004) was my preferred “aimless driving around with friends” record in high school. An intimate album full of swells and bursts, Funeral’s sing-a-longs were private yet joyous affairs. Nearly ten years later, Arcade Fire have changed their sound but still retain the same ability to inspire emotional and physical movement. In “Reflektor” there’s an emphasis on the latter without sacrificing the former. A disco gem with James Murphy’s fingerprints all over it, this track, like much of the album that bears its name, brings the rhythm section forward to meet Win Butler’s esoteric pronouncements about “the reflective age,” whatever that means. Of course, when the chorus drops with its jangly guitars and big horn blasts, Butler could be reading out of the phonebook and it would still be intoxicating and electric. “Reflektor” has power and control, the signs of true song craft. Listening to it is like traveling forwards and backwards in time simultaneously, much like a quick jaunt through the place where you grew up.

Arctic Monkeys | “No. 1 Party Anthem”

AMAll I have to say is: where the ballads at? I hadn’t spent much time with Arctic Monkeys since 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare but AM brought me right back to those post-punk revival glory days when Bloc Party was still burning through hits and the next Franz Ferdinand release was worth getting excited about. Sorry. That was harsh. I actually quite like Franz’s new album. Surprisingly, Arctic Monkeys, who exploded in 2006, have actually gotten better with age. While the riffs may be bigger, the band’s early brashness has been replaced by razor sharp observances, as if the party starters are now the guys hovering around the bar wondering when the last train home is. “No. 1 Party Anthem,” the best-named track of 2013, brings this mood home without ever becoming dour. “I just want you to do me no good/and you look like you could,” singer Alex Turner moans with reluctance. He knows exactly where this night is going but just can’t help himself. And that’s an anthem I think we all know the words to.

Autre Ne Veut | “Play by Play”

ANXIETYI’m still not sure what to make of Autre Ne Veut. Sharing the distinction of an unapologetic love of 80s pop and 90s R&B with Devonte Hynes’ Blood Orange, Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety is spectacular for how weird and effusive it is, playing like a kind of experimental American Idol. “Play by Play” is a shape-shifting masterpiece, which begins with sparse drums and synthesizers while Arthur Ashin warms up his voice like an aging Olympic gymnast preparing for their last shot at glory. Building up from an epic breakdown, the track launches into its climatic glory. “I just called you up to get the play by play,” Ashin chants adding, “never leave me alone.” “Play by Play” is one of the unforgettable moments of the year, exhaustingly passionate and achingly beautiful. It captures something universal about the nature of longing and independence. It wants like a child and stands tall like an adult. While the music may borrow from the past, the emotion is all now.

Boy | “Little Numbers”

MUTUAL_FRIENDSBetween the piano bass line and the handclaps, the Swiss/German duo Boy easily filled the Feist-shaped void in indie pop this year. “Little Numbers” is full of stray observations made by a lovesick narrator waiting on a call from her special someone. “Red cars are quite rare, I realize,” she notes before following it with melancholy, “I wonder which color you’d like.” A delicious nugget of sing-a-long verses and sweet harmonies, Boy’s best asset is their sense of dynamics: the bare bridge explodes into a chant-worthy chorus, lending “Little Numbers” anticipatory momentum that’ll carry you through your own days of waiting.

Brainstorm | “She Moves”

SHE_MOVESBrainstorm got a lot of play over on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” earlier this year. Bob Boilen’s comparison of the band to British post-punk legends Gang of Four had me hooked before you could say “melodica.” While Brainstorm’s post-punk has a little more production meat on its bones than Gang of Four’s lean and dry punk blasts, they retain their predecessors propulsive spirit and predilection for call and response. “She Moves” has a wide, hip-shaking groove driven by a massive bass and syncopated guitar chops. While lines like “I got no money/only tea and honeycomb” lack any sort of concrete significance, there’s an undeniable fusion of melody and rhythm that will keep you shaking for days on end.

Caitlin Rose | “Waitin’”

THE_STAND-INCaitlin Rose makes country music for the skeptics. As a genre, country is about as maligned as they come. Talk to enough people and someone will invariably tell you that they don’t like “opera, techno, metal or country.” Each of those genres have impressive, dedicated followings and appear relatively closed to outsiders. If the accessibility and sentimentality of Kacey Musgraves left you cold, then this Nashville-by-way-of-Dallas singer may be more your speed. Rose’s “Waitin’” pairs the singer’s impressive pipes with a spunky slice of authentic Grand Ole Opry-style country. An undeniable stunner, Rose keeps things tight but never rigid as she muses on Cupid’s fickle spirit. “Cause there’s love that’s new and all the rest/ but the love that’s gone, baby, hurts the best,” Rose proclaims. “Waitin’” won’t melt your heart so much as set it on fire.

Chance The Rapper | “Good Ass Intro”

ACID_RAPThe new king of free association rap is barely out of high school. Chance The Rapper, a bubbly, energetic talent from The Windy City, is a welcome addition to the growing crowd of fresh-faced rappers from around the country who are ushering the old hands into retirement. “Good Ass Intro”, the opening cut to his latest mixtape, Acid Rap, is instant ear candy. Chance’s playful, rubbery flow (“I keep a tab on my ex’s/keep some X on my tongue”) is augmented by a slippery bass line, soulful background singers and chugging percussion. Chance is a rapper who occasionally gets so caught up in the internal rhythm of his rhymes that it can sound like he is losing the beat. Yet, his skills as an emcee far exceed his age. Brimming with insights over his lost youth and the condition of his home, Chicago’s infamous South Side, Chance brings a good deal of emotion to the table which serves as a breath of fresh air in a field that is chokingly crowded with empty braggadocio.

Charles Bradley | “You Put the Flame On It”

VICTIM_OF_LOVEWhile the millenials dig through their older siblings’ record collections the internet to discover Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, Sonic Youth and all the other bands that inspired Yuck, Charles Bradley is doing the Lord’s work. Alongside the unstoppable Sharon Jones and the entire Daptone crew, 60s soul is getting a much deserved revival. Bradley has one of the most expressive voices in music and he puts it to great use on “You Put the Flame On It,” a highlight from his second album, Victim of Love. Bradley croons and croaks with tenderness and passion in a display of genuine attraction that’s becoming distressingly rare in popular music. Next time you need to heat things up, forget Drake and Beyonce. Just let Charles in.

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Libby’s First Mixtape//play::pause::stop

Libby’s First Mixtape is an ongoing series of music mixes I make for my younger sister, Libby. The genesis of the series dates back to roughly 2005. Since then I’ve been putting these mixes together on a 4-6 week basis, give or take. In effort to circumvent the tyranny of media conglomerates, I will be putting links to these mixes online via Spotify. 

“play::pause::stop” was a labor of love. There were at least three alternative versions of this mix that didn’t make the cut. Mixes are a wildly unpredictable art form for me. At their most basic, they require an attention to thematic and musical sequencing. At any given time I’m drawing on a selection of songs either just long enough to fill the LP length runtime that I’ve pretty much ingrained as “correct” in myself (my mixes rarely top over 45 minutes) while at other times my cup runneth over with a wide range of musical choices. Either way, I try to curate my selections for overall listening pleasure and surprise. This installment is mostly culled from 2013 releases. Some are singles from forthcoming albums (Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Majical Cloudz “Childhood’s End”) while others are exciting cuts from bands whose full length debuts I’m terribly excited about (in particular “Husbands” from UK post-punk and all female quartet Savages) and still others are just infectious little gems from some of my favorite artists (“Millions ft. Rick Ross” by Pusha-T and “Electric” by The Men).

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