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Albums of the Year 2016

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*Best of 2016*

10) Porches
Pool
[Domino]

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09) Chance the Rapper
Coloring Book
[self-released]

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08) Bon Iver
22, A Million
[Jagjaguwar]

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07) Animal Collective
Painting With
[Domino]

animal-collective-painting-with

06) Young Thug
JEFFERY
[Atlantic/300 Entertainment]

jeffery_young_thug

05) Blood Orange
Freetown Sound
[Domino]

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04) Danny Brown
Atrocity Exhibition
[Warp]

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03) David Bowie

[ISO/RCA/Columbia/Sony]

blackstar-cd

02) Solange
A Seat at the Table
[Saint/Columbia]

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01) Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
[Def Jam/GOOD]

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Here is a list of my twenty favorite songs from 2016. These are listed in alphabetical order and has been limited to one track per artist.

Blood Orange – Best To You (Feat. Empress Of)
Bon Iver – 1 0 d E A T h B R E a s T
Cass McCombs – Bum Bum Bum
Chance the Rapper – Smoke Break (Feat. Future)
Danny L Harle – Supernatural (Feat. Carly Rae Jepsen)
David Bowie – Lazarus
Deakin – Golden Chords
DJ Diamond – Lab 2 This
Frank Ocean – Nikes
Kanye West – Real Friends
Kero Kero Bonito – Trampoline
KING – The Greatest
M.I.A. – Survivor
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Need You
Pusha T – Got Em Covered (Feat. Ab-Liva)
Radiohead – Ful Stop
Rae Sremmurd – Black Beatles (Feat. Gucci Mane)
Rihanna – Work (Feat. Drake)
The Weeknd – Starboy (Feat. Daft Punk)
William Tyler – Gone Clear

2012 Albums of the Year

Frank Ocean

*Best of 2012*

10) Grimes
Visions
[4AD]
Visions

09) James Ferraro
Sushi
[Hippos in Tanks]
Sushi

08) Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan
[Domino]
Swing Lo Magellan

07) Dean Blunt
The Narcissist II
[Self-released/World Music Group/Hippos in Tanks]
The Narcissist II

06) BEBETUNE$
inhale C-4 $$$$$
[Self-released]
inhale C-4 $$$$$

05) Wild Nothing
Nocturne
[Captured Tracks]
Nocturne

04) Death Grips
The Money Store
[Epic]
The Money Store

03) Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d. city
[Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope]
good kid, m.A.A.d city

02) Lotus Plaza
Spooky Action at a Distance
[Kranky]
Spooky Action at a Distance

01) Frank Ocean
Channel Orange
[Def Jam]
Channel Orange

Here is a list of my favorite songs from 2012. These are listed in alphabetical order.

Andy Stott – Numb
Austin Cesear – Cloud Hall
Beach House – Myth
Bear in Heaven – Sinful Nature
BEBETUNE$ – M A D N E $ $
Bob Dylan – Narrow Way
Dan Deacon – Lots
Death Grips – Hacker
Dirty Projectors – Dance for You
Farrah Abraham – After Prom
Frank Ocean – Bad Religion
Gary War – Superlifer
Grimes – Oblivion
James Ferraro – SO N2U
Jessie Ware – Running
Kendrick Lamar – Backseat Freestyle
Lotus Plaza – Monoliths
Lower Dens – Brains
Wild Nothing – Paradise
情報デスクVIRTUAL – iMYSTIQUE エジプト航空「EDU」

2011 Albums of the Year

John Maus

I’m not a great blogger that is for sure. The start of the year witnessed my streak of blog posts and reviews, until summer came and my time and resources went elsewhere. Now, at this year’s end I am back to give you my input of 2011 in music:

2011 was a fruitful year, although this year lacked a definitive “best” album (like last year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) it featured numerous quality releases. The list I’m writing for you here was limited to just ten, leading me to leave several albums I found great off of this list. Trends that began in past years continued, specifically the small-imprint trend, growing in quality and quantity. The exodus from bedroom to studio has continued from bands in the independent music scene, few artists are releasing anything that sounds like it came from modest production efforts. Listen to the production in albums like Bon Iver or Father, Son, Holy Ghost, they’re deep, round, and spacious. Yet on another hand, artists are still borrowing sounds of the past and re-appropriating them as their own, although now in ways that blur the past and the present. An example would be John Maus’ release; We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, this album sounds natively 80s, but, is it really? Despite synthesizers turned all the way up, nothing in the 80s could be related without argument. Better yet is Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never project, in his latest album, Replica, he samples 1980-90s daytime/late-night television commercials (which sounds like) straight from VHS. The final result is a creation that romanticizes one’s feeling of nostalgia.

Here are my top albums of 2011…

*Best of 2011*

10) Girls
Father, Son, Holy Ghost
[True Panther Sounds]
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09) Drake
Take Care
[Cash Money]
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08) Shabazz Palaces
Black Up
[Sub Pop]
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07) Bon Iver
Bon Iver
[Jagjaguwar/4AD]
Bon-Iver-Album-Cover

06) Gang Gang Dance
Eye Contact
[4AD]
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05) Atlas Sound
Parallax
[4AD]
alb_Atlas-Sound_full

04) Destroyer
Kaputt
[Merge]
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03) Future Islands
On the Water
[Thrill Jockey]
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02) Oneohtrix Point Never
Replica
[Software/Mexican Summer]
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01) John Maus
We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
[Ribbon Music]
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Here is a list of my twenty favorite songs from 2011. These are listed in alphabetical order.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears
Atlas Sound – Te Amo
Cass McCombs – County Line
Death Grips – Guillotine
Destroyer – Blue Eyes
DJ Diamond – Horns
Drake – Doing It Wrong
Ford & Lopatin – Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me)
Gang Gang Dance – Glass Jar
Girls – Alex
Jay-Z / Kanye West – Otis
John Maus – Hey Moon
Kids on a Crime Spree – Trumpets of Death
Lana Del Rey – Born To Die
Laura Marling – Sophia
Nicki Minaj – Super Bass
Oneohtrix Point Never – Up
Thee Oh Sees – The Dream
Tom Waits – Bad as Luce
2 Chainz – Spend It (Remix) (Feat. T.I.)

The King of LimbsIn 2007, Radiohead released the album In Rainbows and it was met with much critical acclaim. It had a pioneering “pay-what-you-want” marketing scheme and it featured music that pushed the band forward from their experimental-leaning Kid A and OK Computer albums. Then, in the years between 2007 and 2011, the band essentially kept quiet. In late 2009 we were able to hear the song “These Are My Twisted Words” which was generally OK, perhaps sounding a little like a forgotten track from the same mindset that created In Rainbows. Rumors then began to circulate about Radiohead releasing an album in 2010 from interviews with Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. This never came to be, but in February of 2011 Radiohead revealed that they were to release an album just a week after their announcement. This isn’t too surprising though as they did this same release-schedule with In Rainbows. Another thing that isn’t too surprising is that everyone began hyping the album to high expectations.

The King of Limbs is an album that sounds like a band just beginning to explore new territory, although ultimately it does retread steps taken in previous albums. It is more in-tune with Amnesiac or perhaps Kid A, but that doesn’t mean that great music isn’t to be heard here.

The album opens with “Bloom” and “Morning Mr. Magpie” and each sound chaotic, with the sense stemming from Jonny Greenwood’s quick electric guitar plucks and Phil Selway’s snare taps. On an early listen of the album I wrote them both off as sounding too similar, but with repeat-listens I was able to hear the exploratory electronic rhythms that set each track apart.

The third track of the album is “Little by Little” and it is probably the album’s best track. It continues with the chaotic soundscape from the preceding tracks, but an acoustic guitar is brought in during the track’s chorus. As this track is written more like a pop song I feel that it can resonant more with the listener, instead of washing over them like “Bloom.” Thom Yorke’s famous falsetto and his ever-cryptic lyrics comment on the hardships associated with monotonous everyday life. “Obligations/Complications/Routines and schedules/A job that’s killing you.” “Feral” is the track that follows and it is the album’s only instrumental, which is actually uncommon for Radiohead. This is the track that has the band exploring new sounds, particularly UK dubstep as it has a huge sense of space, bass, and a vocal loop of Thom Yorke’s voice that picks up tempo to give the track an idea of urgency.

The second half of the album (or so I am to assume, since I don’t have a physical copy of this recording yet) starts with the most poppy song of the album, “Lotus Flower.” Before The King of Limbs was released this song was released as (essentially) its single, with a music video. The video has Thom Yorke dancing around and singing, reminiscent of an R&B music video, and in actuality, it sounds like an R&B song. With Yorke’s ever-present falsetto, ear-perking hooks, and handclaps, the track sounds radio-ready. The chaos of the first five tracks is left behind during the rest of the album. “Codex” and “Give Up The Ghost” are percussion-less and full of space, with keys, strings, brass, and chirping birds. The latter is an album highlight, most importantly for its songwriting. The repetition of the lyrics “In your arms” offers emotion to an album that has an otherwise critical and cold outlook on today’s societal norms.

The King of Limbs could become Radiohead’s divisive album simply because of the hype that was generated when this album was announced. Many found In Rainbows to be Radiohead’s best (although I will counter that notion) so the hype surrounding its release was justified, to an extent. The album does not sound like In Rainbows but it does explore new territory with limited success. If one wanted a continuation of their rock sound from In Rainbows, the album may disappoint.

Another important aspect of this album that hasn’t been mentioned is how it will be released. Initially as a digital download, The King of Limbs will be later released as a newspaper titled “The Universal Sigh” (a lyric taken from “Bloom”). I can’t comment on this newspaper (as I had previously mentioned, this is a review of the digital download), but it contains art and poetry. However, I will comment that this album, and how it is released as a newspaper, continues with Radiohead’s trend of commenting on how music, or any other form of art, is represented as a tangible item and how the item can be distributed. The music industry (or lack thereof a music industry) must adapt to the changes that have occurred in reference to society’s ideas of how music is received by an audience. Fortunately for us, we have a creative group of musicians pioneering this change.

(Reviewer’s Score: 3.9/5)

Destroyer - Kaputt The Canadian independent rock band Destroyer has released their ninth LP, Kaputt, and it is the best fusion of musical genres since Deerhunter dropped Microcastle in 2008. Whereas the latter blended ’50s-pop with shoegaze and punk, Kaputt takes indie rock and mixes it with pop, disco, and smooth jazz. And, we’re talking about Dan Bejar here, so let’s not forget about the stellar songwriting (of course) that flows throughout this album.

I’m typically one who forgets to listen to lyrics when hearing music, often getting caught up in the different melodies and sounds, which is very easy to do with Kaputt, but Dan Bejar is just too poetic to not reach out for the liner notes and analyze what he just sung. There isn’t one track that specifically exhibits his songwriting skills more than others; they’re all superb works of writing that move synchronously, even elaborating the soundscape. It all sounds very natural, which is probably just the way it left his pen originally.

As mentioned earlier with the smooth jazz influences present in this album, there are sentiments that evoke the feelings of an after-hours night club in the early 1980s. Men and women dressed dapper, with martinis, cigarettes, and cocaine, back-lit with soft neon lights. Although somehow, Destroyer is able to pull it off in a good way without making it feel contrived or cheap. It sounds completely sincere as if it could be no other way. On nearly every track there is a MIDI groove that makes the album feel dance-y too, something that isn’t necessarily surprising for Destroyer. Although the band is rooted in Canadian indie rock (think Sunset Rubdown or The New Pornographers), this isn’t a left turn for the band by any means. The album’s final track, “Bay of Pigs” which is specifically the “danciest” track on the album, sheds light on the sonic direction Destroyer was heading when this track originally appeared on an EP two years ago. Even with the smooth jazz and MIDI samples, Kaputt is substantially guitar-driven. Examples include the subtle finger-tapping segment that appears out of nowhere on “Blue Eyes” to the riffs during the middle of “Savage Night at the Opera.” The way that Destroyer is able to let elements float in and out before you can even notice they’re happening allows this album to engage the listener throughout its 50-minute (70-minute vinyl) playtime.

Unfortunately, the album has one soft spot. Smack in the center of the album is the song “Poor in Love,” while not necessarily a bad tune, it just doesn’t weight up to the rest of the album. I’m willing to forgive this, considering that “Blue Eyes” will definitely get “Song of the Year” nods from me, it’s an amazing pop song that has help from Vancouver-vocalist Sibel Thrasher. She appears several times throughout the album and her voice is used to add emotion to Bejar’s poetic lyrics. Her voice is also used effectively in “Downtown,” a track that owes its sound to southern soul, until a glittering synth washes over everything.

It is just February but this is a must-hear album of 2011. Bejar has already proved that he is a standout singer-songwriter with his previous albums and this continues to defend his case, despite the brief hiccup of 2008’s Trouble in Dreams. The elements of jazz (be it smooth or free-form) and pop coupled with Bejar’s songwriting abilities is what let’s this album shine. I’m sure Kaputt will stand up to any other album that is released later this year.

(Reviewer’s Score: 4.4/5)

LogosFinding an album in a “used bin” which hasn’t been released yet should typically throw up a few black flags. This was the case when I discovered the latest Atlas Sound album in a record store on the Penn campus. Luckily for me and my eight dollars, the album must have been placed there mistakenly and I became the benefactor of such a mistake (the most likely case in my finding it there was what I bought was actually a promotional copy). This specific album had been my most anticipated release during the preceding months. In the first place, lead-off single “Walkabout” features guest Noah Lennox (Panda Bear of Animal Collective), another track features Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, and the album itself is the solo project of Deerhunter’s frontman Bradford Cox. The last Atlas Sound album, Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, has played a minimum of 43 times on my iTunes (not to mention that I own the record on vinyl as well).

Logos lives up to the precedent set by Let The Blind… immediately with its first two tracks. “The Light That Failed” and “An Orchid” sound like what could have been b-sides to Let The Blind… These two sound hazy and lonesome. But, excitingly for the listener, the third track “Walkabout” brings in new sounds for the project. This song is upbeat, fun, and vibrant. According to the press material that was sent to promote the album, Bradford Cox and Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) collaborated over their European tour to create the song. It takes what is typical for Panda Bear, specifically pop melodies, and loops them into what is a bona fide summer dance track.

Following “Walkabout” are two tracks that unveil the folk side of Bradford Cox. “Criminals” and “Attic Lights” both tell stories while being toned down much in the way in that the album’s first two tracks are presented. The eighth track, “My Halo” is another which could be bunched into this grouping. When I saw Atlas Sound live, Bradford Cox actually performed “My Halo” using a harmonica. In a recent interview with Pitchfork Media, Bradford Cox reveals that he has been listening to Neil Young as of late, the influence is definitely visible throughout Logos.

Returning to the upbeat quality of “Walkabout”, the sixth track of the album “Sheila” is the most blatant pop song of the entire record. Yet the song is quite deep despite its upbeat guise. The songs plays on themes of longing and death, but most importantly the song is about living. After “Sheila” though the album plays into its centerpiece. The eight and a half minute “Quick Canal,” featuring vocals and words by Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, is a dizzying and cryptic opus that proves to be a beautiful segue onto the album’s latter half. This latter half is also the most electronic sounding part of the album. “Kid Klimax,” “Washington School,” and the eponymous “Logos” continue with the vibe that “Quick Canal” started.

What makes Logos so entirely satisfying is that it offers a pot pourri. Call it pop, electronic, or even folk, they’re all here and they all melt together into a fantastic and wholesome album. The album paces itself along the same lines of the latest Deerhunter full-length, Microcastle. Microcastle is beautiful, sampling genre after genre to create a sound of its own. The same can be said with Logos.

Near the end of the aforementioned Pitchfork Media interview, Cox says that he wants to develop a fanbase that will stay loyal no matter what direction he or his band decides to take. He is well on his way. The fact that another “digital 7′” was released under his Atlas Sound moniker just last week on the Deerhunter blog, which sounds completely different from Logos and is completely amazing, shows the musical genius that is Bradford Cox.

(Reviewer’s Score: 4.2/5)

Psychic Chasms Well, I think I just blew-out the speakers in my DMC Delorean. Alan Palomo’s first album as Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, is a treble-overloaded, sun-washed trip to 1980s nostalgia.

“Glo-fi,” an indie music aesthetic that developed out of the Brooklyn music scene this year will most likely die over the winter. All of the songs that came out of this fad have seemed to really benefit by the fact that they were released over the summer, given that all of the songs from this aesthetic had a distinct summery aspect. Bands like Washed Out and Small Black produced solid singles, but Neon Indian appears for now the only to have used the aesthetic successfully in an album format.

Every song on this album produces visions of washed-out swim trunks, warm air, beaches, and blonde hair. That is what gives the album the summery-feel, but what gives it the 1980s feeling is how the album plays. The albums sounds like a cassette that’s tape has been stretched out over repeat listens. Synths, cheap MIDI guitar, drum machine, and the aforementioned treble-overload also play a role.

The premier single, “Deadbeat Summer,” which received a good amount of airplay over college radio stations this year and, “Terminally Chill,” are the best examples of Palomo creating the distinguishable “stretched-out” sound (which he was able to do by using 70s & 80s italo-disco samples, thank you for the tip “Anti-Neon”). Although the best track on the album has to be “Ephemeral Artery,” the club-banging track on the album. I can just picture a Pontiac Trans-Am screaming down a desert highway with this song playing. My only criticism about the album is that it could have done without the intro (“(AM)”) and outro (“7000”), which seem to only be present for the sake of filling space. The opening to “Should Have Taken Acid With You” is a bit harsh and out-of-place as well. Nevertheless, the album is undeniably fun.

Unfortunately, it seems that if Neon Indian releases another album in the future, it won’t be appreciated in the way that Psychic Chasms has been. This is because the aesthetic is most likely going to be ruled by the music community as a fad. The 2000s are soon to be over and it won’t be long until music artists are recycling something else. The early-2000s saw the post-punk revival (bands like Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and the late-2000s saw the development of neo-1980s music (Crystal Castles, Neon Neon, any “glo-fi” band). Post-punk got old quick, and so will “glo-fi.” Artists that are to release music under this “glo-fi” aesthetic in the future are, in my opinion, late to the game.

(Reviewer’s Score: 3.5/5)

Beast Rest Forth Mouth Upon listening to Bear In Heaven’s second full-length album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth, I initially thought that Bear In Heaven was a band ahead of their time. Fusing together 00s emo with 70s progressive rock. But, as I thought progressive, it made me feel that Bear In Heaven are instead borrowing more from the past. “Borrowing” has been a major trend in music this year. “Lo-fi,” and the latter “glo-fi” borrowed deeply from the 60s and 80s respectively. Now that Bear In Heaven is drawing from the 70s, it isn’t something unexpected. Their previous release, Red Bloom in the Boom, sounded like Pink Floyd to some critics. This time around, Bear In Heaven sound more like Neu!, yet more pop than avant-garde.

Although coming from the deep-south (actually New York City via Alabama and Georgia), one would expect the band to be hailing from Berlin. Several of the tracks on this album utilize a “motorik” beat, a characteristic of krautrock (a genre which developed in 1970s Berlin). This pattern is something that is utilized during the albums most pleasing passages. The lead-off track “Beast in Peace” is a fine example, and the swirling synths of “You Do You” is another.

Yet what allows this album to stand out among other releases this year are the lyrics, and Jon Philpot’s intriguing vocals. This is where the aforementioned 00s emo draw comes from…Usually when one thinks about emo, one thinks of pop music, and that is exactly what Bear In Heaven executes here with such success. The first single off of this album, “Lovesick Teenagers,” on its first listen comes through to the listener as simple pop. Despite how simple it does sound, it is appealing how John Philpot conveys so much emotion. While meditating on such emotions, it never comes off as overly emo. It is actually satisfying that the band isn’t afraid of spilling too much. The subsequent track, “Ultimate Satisfaction,” comes across as even “poppier,” with its stadium-filling sound and anthemic “Coming Down!” chorus.

If you’re getting turned off by the praises that this album is getting from my appreciation of pop, side 2 comes across as much more mellow. What side 2 does offer is that it makes the album more full and encompassing. Side 1 definitely has the hits, but side 2 plays as more distant, but equally as satisfying.

To say that this was an album I was looking forward to this year would be false. I honestly knew nothing about this band until this release on Hometapes. I’m glad to have heard of them now as I am fully impressed. This will be an album that will royally mess up my “best of 2009” list.

(Reviewer’s Score: 3.5/5)

The Blueprint 3 Album Cover At the start of 2009, I honestly felt that it could be the year where hip-hop stole the limelight from other music scenes. Jay-Z’s latest studio album was heavily promoted, rumors ran around Dr. Dre dropping a new album, and Kanye West was potentially going to release a proper rap album during the summer. Something unlike his pop album from last year, 808s & Heartbreak. I’m also awaiting Rich Boy’s sophomore album that features his promising single “Drop.” However, the year has been rather disappointing for hip-hop (save Raekwon’s long awaited Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II). Dr. Dre’s album never dropped and Jay-Z’s BillBoard Top 200 topper is undoubtedly his worst studio album to date. Even more disconcerting is that his latest album shares the moniker of his classic Blueprint. I really don’t want to associate this album with that, nor do I want this to be known as a blueprint for future rap albums.

The album begins with the first of seven Kanye West produced tracks. Five of his beats have co-producers, which gives a “too many cooks” feeling that arises time and again throughout the duration of the album. Kanye’s traditional brass and futuristic sounds are there, but often sound muddled by other instruments, typically guitar. Even without the additional producers, none of the beats are anywhere near the quality one would expect from Kanye.

As for Jay, as it is his album, some of his verses do sound promising. This is really unfortunate because the chorus sections plague the album on nearly every track. They come off as simply annoying, most notably on the album’s two lowest points; “Thank You” and “Young Forever.” The only track that deserves a listen is the New York City anthem “Empire State of Mind,” featuring Alicia Keys who does a great job on this track. Considering it neo-Nancy Sinatra may be a stretch…but it still did come to mind. “Run This Town” may be worth a listen too, but only for pop culture purposes. Young Jeezy features on “Real As It Gets,” which has the only non-annoying chorus, he also steals the spotlight from Jay-Z on this one.

Now to say that I expected a great album would be completely false. I almost figured it wouldn’t be hot when I saw the track list for the first time. The original Blueprint was a Jay-Z album. Blueprint 3 has a featured artist on 11 of its 15 tracks, a medley of top 40 artists, which is simply just too many egos to deal with. The album’s cover almost foreshadows what to expect…a mess that’s painted the same color. Here, it is a mess that sounds the same throughout. Dismal choruses, poor production efforts, and intriguing-at-best verses. Sorry Jay, perhaps the game really has changed.

(Reviewer’s Score: 1.5/5)