My favorite Bowie song

I was raised to revere the music of David Bowie, and I’ve always been a fan, but even more than his hallowed studio albums that are indisputably part of the rock canon, the bonus discs released with a reissue of Station to Station–recordings of a powerhouse performance at the Nassau Coliseum in ’76 has always been my favorite Bowie album.

It encompasses most of the essential tracks that would appear on any reputable Bowie greatest hits collection, but this absolute jam of a Velvet Underground cover might be my favorite track on the collection.

This is in part, because, well, listen to the song and try not to smile. It’s amazing,

It’s also partly because Bowie’s career was defined in a pretty major way by his relationship to other artists.Mott the Hoople can pretty much attribute the royalty checks that come in the mail to the benevolence of Bowie, and as an arbiter of cool, his influence shed light on varied, artistically interesting sounds and bands.

Plus he was friends (or in some cases rumored to be more) with Paul McCartney, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Mick Jagger and Lou Reed.

Knowing he’s covering one of his friends songs, hamming it up and injecting some pseudo-inspirational spoken word makes that total romp of a song even more enjoyable.

…or Grimey, as she liked to be called

I’m a little late in getting this post up, because I’ve probably been listening to the new Grimes record in high frequency for the past two weeks, but this is my blog, and I’ll articulate my love for music whenever I feel like it.

Claire Boucher, AKA Grimes, broke through in 2012, with the album Visions. It was a weird, ethereal but undeniably catchy take on EDM.

It’s success also allowed the not at all reticent Boucher to develop a bit of a cult of personality.

Almost four years later, Art Angels is finally out, and it’s a wildly different album.

The best way to describe it as the Yeezus of girl-pop albums. It’s aggressive, weird pop made entirely to the artist’s whims.

 

 

Of course, critics of the album might knock it for cribbing some obvious pop influences, but with lyrics about butterflies coping with deforestation, an entire song without English lyrics, and the catchiest reference to eye laceration since “Debaser” it’s hard to see this as a shameless bid for mainstream success or as being anything other than Boucher making art that pleases her.

Besides there’s fluctuations between genre country, EDM, rock and Taiwanese rap all enjoy moments.

This album finds Grimes pushing her music in new directions, with Boucher singing in ways I had no ideas she could.

Boucher produces her voice as another instrument in the mix. She bizarrely channels Chris Cornell on “California”, she beys like a hound to provide structure to “Flesh Without Blood” and simply sings some inimitably catchy hooks on songs such as “Belly of the Beat”.

The eclectic vocals are exemplified on “Kill v. Maim”. There’s bubble gum cheerleader chants, screams, chipmunk hooks and a conspicuous gender fluidity to the lyrics that makes for a truly singular listening experience.

It’s nothing like the slow-building, dreamy synth pop that came before it, but Art Angels is it’s own extremely dense, extremely enjoyable pop oddity.

Grimes bats 1.000 on this album, as there is not a single unenjoyable track.

This is quite possibly my favorite album of the year.

 

Do Dilly Dally

For once in my life, I can advocate Dilly Dallying. Cue rim shot.

Dilly Dally’s new album Sore is great.

The Toronto four-piece’s newest album mucks around in a sort of dark ’90s Alternative-inspired rock that’s immediately familiar without being rote or banal.

Bully, Courtney Barnett and Hop Along all follow a similar formula of excellent female vocals+interesting lyrics+’90s rock to excellent effect, but Dilly Dally feels dangerous in a way those artists don’t.

Lead singer, Katie Monks,tends to snarl in a way that could be best described as Kim Deal appropriating Frank Black’s sneering howl.

The music also embraces the darker spectrum of the alternative influence. Sore has more in common with Laughing Hyena, Slint, Jaw Breaker and, of course, The Pixies (in “Bone Machine” mode) than with Dinosaur Jr. or Hole.

There’s also a good bit of influence from The Pretenders in the album’s spirit.

It doesn’t translate to the song’s sounds, but it’s hard not to think of Chrissie Hynde given Sore‘s frank depiction’s of female desire. This subversion of the status quo of the rock song as a male expression of lust is pretty much omnipresent on Sore.

Despite the dark tone and male-objectifying lyrics (“I want you naked in my kitchen, making me breakfast”) this album isn’t a bleak, psycho-sexual landscape.

There is definitely a strong vein of humor present in Sore, and the songs are always too melodic to be fully threatening.

Sore is an excellent addition to a year already boasting an embarrassment of strong, feminist rock records.

Recipe for an earworm

  1. Mournfully bay about your social status.
  2. Repeat Step 1
  3. Come precariously close to plagiarizing Ke$ha by reformatting the “Die Young” buildup with jangle guitar
  4. Stay somber, ethereal and detached
  5. Follow a classic loud-quiet-loud to tremendous affect
  6. Keep it under 2 minutes 30 seconds.

Place the song on repeat and listen until your ears bleed.

Stop collaborate and listen (in this order): Ranking 2015’s joint-effort releases

As the world becomes more and more united through technology, humanity’s inherent good shines through in a glut of musical cooperation this year.

Not only have their been vaguely interesting cover albums and cat-sound remixes of last year’s hits, which required the work of multiple artists, but there has been a bounty of collaborative albums.

Of course, this may have less to do with collective goodwill bubbling over and be more attributable to how easy it is to record and email a high-quality vocal track in this digital age, but I’m not cynic.

What I lack in cynicism, so I’ve decided to rank this year’s collaborative efforts from worst to best.

5. Jack Ü by Jack Ü ( Skrillex and Diplo)

This album isn’t for me, and I suspect it isn’t for anyone.

I had a long, angry diatribe about bad haircuts, crappy music and how these two kindred spirits might be the musicians(?) I’d be least happy to meet, but it was obnoxiously mean-spirited.

Instead, I’ll just say their album isn’t good and shouldn’t be listened to.

4.What a Time to Be Alive by Drake and Future

It isn’t quite as instantly disposable as the average Aubrey Graham effort, but it’s also not as good as,  say a middling Future mixtape.

If you’re a modern Hip-Hop completist, give it a spin, but otherwise, it’s incredible easy and advisable to give this a pass.

3.Caracal by Disclosure

I suppose this is cheating, because technically, the brothers Lawrence aren’t collaborating with anyone in particularl, but almost every song on their sophomore effort features a guest providing vocals to match the glossy house beats.

The names are bigger this time around with Lorde and The Weeknd appearing, as well as old collaborator Sam Smith, but there’s nothing quite as catchy as Settle‘s earworms.

It’s not bad, but it is a bit let down. Instead of another A-album, Caracal represents a solid B.

2.Wavves x Cloud Nothings by Wavves X Cloud Nothings

This would have been a dream match-up for me in 2009, and in 2015, it’s actually still awesome. Nathan Williams and Dylan Baldi conspire together to create some super fun sneering, searing hooks. It’s a throwback to the fuzzy garage rock both Wavves and Cloud Nothings began with. It’s infectious as hell too.

1.Big Grams by Big Grams (Big Boi and Phantogram)

Phantogram showed up on Big Boi’s eclectic Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors to fairly positive effect, but the duo’s contributions were lost in the shuffle of a scattered album, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

Whatever vague notions I did have about the Big Grams project certainly didn’t prepare me for how much thoroughly I enjoy this spacey electro-rock-rap mix.

The surprise was especially compounded because Big Grams begins fairly inauspiciously.

Opening track”Run for Your Life” is basically a Big Boi song with a decidedly not hip-hop beat. While Big Boi’s mercurial cadence could probably keep time with anything, somehow his flow and the beat never quite mesh. It’s not a total fiasco, but it didn’t really inspire great confidence.

Of course, the next song absolutely knocks it out of the park and rights the ship dramatically.

Second track”Lights On” is more or less a Phantogram song with a few Big Boi bars tacked on the end, but his verse happens to be an appendage for an utterly fantastic Phantogram song that somehow manages to remind me of both Keyboard Cat and “Trip Inside this House” by Primal Scream.

From Track 3 on things seem to totally gel, particularly on “Goldmine Junkie”. It’s a slightly raunchy, very sweet love song that features Sarah Barthel and Big Boi exchanging talk-sing rap verses. It’s  all oddly perfect.

To add a level of collaboration to the whole affair, Run the Jewels tandem El-P and Killer Mike show up for “Born to Shine” and add appropriate bravado.

Big Grams totally subverted and surpassed my expectations.

Go listen to Big Grams.

I like that stuff there

Indie rock stalwarts, Yo La Tengo, have released a new album, Stuff Like That There, which is a collection of mostly covers.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable collection, especially if you’re the type of person for whom YLT covering jukebox staples holds an intrinsic appeal.

For me, the standout track, is the side-one, track-one, “My Heart’s Not in It”, a cover of a Darlene McRea tune from 1964.

“My Heart’s Not in It” is a sweet and simple torch song. It recounts a woman’s battle with heartsickness and her inability to escape the memory of her beau.

Whereas McRea’s original version is brassy, YLT’s take is breezy and subdued, which gives the track a The Velvet Underground and Nico-esque vibe.

The heavy-lidded take on the song is awesome, and I recommend it for anyone who is attempting to be aggressively relaxed.

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Ponytail “Celebrate the Body Electric(It Came from an Angel)

According to Wikipedia, Baltimore Art-rockers Ponytail have been inactive for almost four years. I knew it had been a while since the criminally underrated Do Whatever You Want All the Time , which is, of course, every Libertarian’s favorite album title ever, but I didn’t think it had been a full Olympics cycle.

I’m saddened to learn Ponytail doesn’t seem to be making new music, because their bizarre blend of math rock, burbling noises and surf grooves was entirely singular. Plus, for some reason (I’d guess an almost total lack of comprehensible lyrics) Ponytail never became particularly popular, and that’s a shame.

I think one of the best examples of the band’s appeal is “Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came from an Angel)” off of 2008’s Ice Cream Spiritual.

It has all the hallmarks of a Ponytail song, but has some moments that make it slightly more accessible than the usual fare.

Of course, this is thoroughly a Ponytail track, so there is a near cacophony of angular guitar noises, but eventually things settle into a tuneful, surf-rock groove. Triumphant, swelling group vocals and chanting of actual, identifiable words (Away we go now) join the mix. The almost conventional chanting and, “Oh’s,” give way to spastic gibbering, but occasionally walls of vocal noise or guitar blasts cede to focused tunes, and by the end of the seven-minute track, things are wonderfully in focus, as a two-minute guitar spectacle wraps up among a reprise of the group vocals.

“Celebrate the Body ….” lasts for seven minutes, and it essentially consists of three parts. Each part builds in intensity before finding an exhilarating rhythm, which in turn self-immolates and sets the stage for the next mellow portion of the song, which then begins to build. If atmospheric, energetic guitar jams are your thing, the tuneful stretches are mesmerizing. Stray strands from the oddball tapestry of sounds are woven into some great melodies.

If you’re interested in experimental rock, but think prog rock is  for wusses, check this out.

Kurt Style: b’lieve i’m goin down is genre experimentation through a familiar prism.

At this point, Kurt Vile is a known entity. He has put out four albums with the help from his regular backing band, the Violators. Vile’s fifth studio album, b’lieve i’m going down, is slated for a late September release, and it’s unsurprisingly excellent.

However, b’lieve‘s content is mildly surprising in places–especially considering Vile’s recent trajectory.

His last release, 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze was a wonderful, warm slice of meandering dad rock, which is fitful, because several songs, including one of my favorites of ’13, meditated upon fatherhood.

However, Wakin… was slightly more shambolic and zonked out than usual, and as much as I enjoyed it, a concern that future endeavors might be too mellow crept into the back of my mind.

Vile doesn’t necessarily tear the roof off, but opening track, “Pretty Pimpin” is a fairly immediate alert things are going to be different. The song approaches something resembling a stomping rhythm and builds steam as it progresses. It’s also a funny depiction of difficulty identifying self, which is a departure from Wakin‘s gentle self-assurance. Oh, and, of course, there’s gratuitous use of the word pimping as an adjective.

The next track, “I’m an Outlaw” continues the change of pace. It’s a twangy country tune complete with banjo. Repetitious, rhythmic twang and a drum beat probably haven’t existed in as much harmony since Beck’s earliest glories.

“Dust Bunnies” is a laid-back lamentation from an aging rocker, who bemoans the mild nature of an increasingly domestic life, while still preferring playing homemaker to an early drug-fueled death. Fitting the retrospective rock theme, Vile seamlessly slips in a fun paradoxical reference to The Band and Sam Cooke “Don’t know much about history/Don’t know much about the shape I’m in.”

The next four songs are all much more typical of Vile, which is to say, they’re excellent, gentle folk-rock-country hybrids, but as the album winds down some wrinkles creep back in.

“Lost My Head There” and the instrumental”Bad Omens” both feature enjoyable interplay between piano, simmering guitar drone and spacy sound effects.  “Kidding Around” actually ends with some electronic bloops.

However, album-closer “Wild Imagination” is a prototypical Kurt Vile song. It’s nearly six-minutes long, it’s very pleasant, and the lyrics are a bit goofy, while capturing a perfectly ordinary moment, “I’m looking at you, but it’s only a picture, so I take that back, but it ain’t really a picture, it’s just an image on a screen/you can imagine if I was though, right?/Just like I can imagine you can imagine it, can’t ya?/I got a wild imagination.”

b’lieve i’m goin down doesn’t totally deviate from what one expects from a Kurt Vile record, but it does explore some fun relatively novel terrain in addition to expertly traveling old ground. Plus, at this point, people expect Kurt Vile records to be pretty darn good, and b’lieve definitely doesn’t subvert that expectation.

Give Bully your lunch money

Despite Bully’s sound and their release of a black and white video featuring copious lip synching, Bully’s extremely enjoyable album, Feels Like came out this year, 2015, not 1995.

“Trying” is arguably the standout track on an album filled with grungey, catchy tunes. A swaying bassline and the revelation of a pregnancy care in the song’s opening seconds instantly grab attention, and the rest of the tune justifies the investment.

This song’s focus ping-pongs off the various hard surfaces of lead singer Alicia Bognanno’s neuroses–sexuality, level of education, self-esteem and appearance are all name checked.

The specificity of these concerns breeds empathy, which gives more power to the moment Bognanno’s husky voice shout-sings the chorus. The specificity recedes and relents to the universal sentiment of the chorus  “I am
Trying to hide from my mind.” The listener doesn’t need to be told the efforts are ultimately futile, because the mind and its pitfalls of self-doubt always lie in wait.

In addition to encroaching on some heady territory, “Trying” is an awesomely buzzy, fun song.

“Trying” is tailor-made for cathartic shoutalongs. Also, and I mean this in the most complimentary way, it would easily be my favorite, or second favorite, radio single by Hole if it had been released in ’95.

Titus Andronicus’ newest is a most laudable tragedy

Titus Andronicus’ newest album, The Most Lamentable Tragedy, is a 29-song, 93-minute behemoth. As most double-albums of this scope are wont to be, it is a rock opera.  It tells the story of a man who meets his exact double, and discovers his double is of the opposite disposition. Also, for the most part, it’s a damn fine album.

As with most rock operas, I’m not entirely sure it’s imperative to fully grasp the machinations of the plot to enjoy the album, but I’m definitely eager to see the sometimes murky plot cohesively diagrammed.

A more succinct, detailed summary–along with a ton of insight into the circumstances of what could be one of the last decade’s best rock group’s swan song — can be found in this Grantland piece.

The moribund doppelgänger plot is naturally a way for Titus Andronicus’,principal singer/songwriter, Patrick Stickles, to explore the opposing highs and lows of his depression.The dichotomous nature of the album is further reinforced by the presence of both typical Titus Andronicus guitar-anthem-shout-along songs and more ornate arrangements.

In interviews, Stickles has compared the more baroque tracks to Lou Reed’s Berlin and the straightforward howlers to Zen Arcade.

However, instead of Hüsker Dü or Lour Reed, this album’s kindred spirit is really Brian Wilson, because as are eggs to Danny DeVito, mania v. depression is just The Most Laudable Tragedy’s jumping off point. Titus Andronicus’ latest offering is a sprawling, spiraling effort, which draws elements from every one of the band’s past releases to create something close to punk rock’s SMiLE.

Instead of Wilson’s muses, beaches, morality, love, America and the passage of time, Stickles draws from New Jersey, Shakespeare, “Seinfeld”, Terrordomes and eating disorders. Also, whereas Wilson’s grapples with wellness were whispers that gradually became more evident, Stickles places his mental health in the forefront of the songs, which include a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “I Had Lost My Mind”.

Interestingly, SMiLE and The Most Lamentable Tragedy both repurpose standards–“You Are MY Sunshine” and “Auld Lang Syne” respectively– in interesting ways.

Even with cover songs and standards in the mix, this album is still definitively a Titus Andronicus album. I predict much will be made about the growth and audacity on display, but, for me, this album seems like a natural progression.

While it may seem odd for what is ostensibly a punk rock band from New Jersey to record a grandiose, concept album, it’s important to remember this is a band named after a Shakespearean play, and their debut album contained an almost 6-minute suite called “Arms Against Atrophy”. Plus, the previous two Titus Andronicus albums have been concept albums of sorts.

The strings and brass which punch up a few songs are definitely a change of pace, but considering they’re sometimes backing a man absolutely caterwauling in utter despondency, it’s not a particularly jarring change of pace.

While I have nothing but praise for the execution and ambition, which created The Most Lamentable Tragedy, it’s tough for me to pinpoint exactly how strongly I should endorse this record. It’s sheer size is almost an obnoxious novelty.

There are certainly a multitude of catchy songs, which find triumph in the universal nature of humanity’s dark feelings and dread, which is always a plus, but when I reach Track 14’s intermission, the 78 seconds of silence are appreciated. Titus Andronicus’ brand of music is intense and emotionally draining.

While Titus Andronicus’ music is almost always a joy to hear, 93 minutes might be too much of a good thing. Plus, with an overarching plot and a multitude of heartfelt themes The Most Lamentable Tragedy is a ton to take in.

Still, in smaller doses, this album is much more manageable. I probably can’t unequivocally recommend it to everyone, but ultimately, I suppose The Most Lamentable Tragedy is good album aiming for great things.

For anyone, who has been following Titus Andronicus for a while, or to anyone who is interested in ambitious projects for the sake of shaking the status quo, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is definitely required listening.