Reptile dysfunction

2014 probably won’t be remembered as the year that saw the release of a ton of songs about cold-blooded, scaly animals. This is partially because there really weren’t many reptile themed songs released during the year.

However, there were three good, or at least interesting reptile songs I could think of off the top of my head, so I thought I’d make a blog post about them.

While I fully acknowledge that lizard songs released in 2014 is sort of an odd subject for a listicle, this was almost solely focused on 2014 celestial reptile songs. Last year, at least two songs about sky lizards were released.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are some songs about lizards I enjoyed in 2014:

1. Sturgill Simpson- “Turtles All the Way Down”

 

 

The titular turtles have less to do with the slow-moving, shell-having and occasionally pizza-loving animals we’re all familiar with, and more to do with the planet-bearing God’s in Native American creation myth, or the benign being at the end of Stephen King’s IT. Still, inter-dimensional, luminescent turtles made of energy are still turtles.

2. St. Vincent- “Rattlesnake”

 

 

OK, so this song isn’t necessarily about rattlesnakes, but snake imagery is a recurring motif. This song is excellent, and it served as side-one, track-one for St. Vincent’s excellent eponymous release. It’s a disjointed, industrial dance-rock groove.

3, Nuclear Bubble Wrap- “Lizards in the Sky”

 

 

This is the second celestial lizard song. It’s a pretty straight-forward narrative about some lizard aliens coming across Earth, Earthlings and lizard people reaching a mutual hatred, and the nuclear annihilation that ensues despite the pleas of Cosmic Truth. I think this is the only song of 2014 in which the voice of Cosmic Truth served as a guest speaker, but I’m not positive. Incredibly silly, but worth a listen.

My 10 favorite albums of 2014

Happy holidays, I come bearing good tidings. After much soul searching, I’ve compiled a list of my 10 favorite albums of this year. Of course, this is an entirely subjective process, totally based on my taste. As always, this is not a cheer-ocracy.  In order of excellence, here are the 10 best albums 2014 had to offer.

10. Tacocat- NVM

It’s sort of brazen for a Seattle-area punk band to christen an album with an abbreviation of the phrase never mind, but with songs about teenage drug trips, menstruation and skewering suburban anarchy, Tacocat are kind of a brazen band. Like a slightly more well-known album called Nevermind by a slightly more popular Seattle-based band, NVM is packed with slick, catchy rock music. NVM is such an incredibly fun record, it can feel slight. However, the tunes are great, the songs have a unique perspective and the lyrics are wildly entertaining.

9. Vince Staples- Hell Can Wait

Hell Can Wait is an exceptional Hip-Hop album. It’s an uncompromising look at a life of knowingly doing wrong to survive. The lyrics are angry, socially charged, introspective and occasionally sad. There is even a pinch of broader social commentary on “Hands Up”. Production is crisp and interesting. Unfortunately, Vince Staples released this album the same year a pair of releases(see No.8 and No.2 on this list) used similar premises to greater effect. If you have a soft spot for West Coast gangsta rap, this is still a must listen.

8. Schoolboy Q- Oxymoron

This is another California gangsta rap album that displays complete awareness of its deplorable moral vacuum. However, Schoolboy Q has a magnetic charisma and sense of humor that make the bleakness of his subject matter both more palatable and more interesting. This is a rapper who has single handedly revived the bucket hatOxymoron is Q’s major label debut, and “Collard Greens” is the best possible result a studio mandate for a Schoolboy Q hit single could possibly have. Deep self-examinations of what it means to be an opiate-addict, drug-pushing gangsta and a dad mingle with oddball dance tracks, and despite some bloat, it totally works.

7 and 6.(tie) White Lung- Deep Fantasy and Perfect Pussy- Say Yes to Love

If you have a taste for noise rock made by angry women and can stomach some absolutely acrid lyrics, 2014 was a great year. It’s hard for me to talk about Deep Fantasy or Say Yest to Love without referencing each other. Perfect Pussy’s album features more fuzz and screeching, while White Lung’s album is more in-focus and aggressive, but these are two sides of the same exhilarating rock coin.

6. Protomartyr- Under Color of Official Light

Protomartyr’s sophomore effort, Under Color of Official Light is an amazing, offbeat piece of art. The album is the exact sonic intersection of KYUSS and Joy Division. Heavy, murky guitar riffs with post-punk drum beats and angular, brooding vocals. Somehow sludgy and energetic, it’s one of the year’s most original releases and definitely worth a few spins.

5. Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings found the perfect balance between Attack on Memory‘s raw aggression and the bubblegum hooks of Dylan Baldi’s earlier work. These are hummable melodies created by a full-fledged rock band absolutely pummeling their instruments. In modern rock music, there are few things capable of eliciting as much involuntary body movement as the spastic head nods caused by the moment on any given track on Here and Nowhere Else when Baldi and Co. decide to kick things into the next gear.

4. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

St. Vincent’s eponymous release is a perfect encapsulation of everything Annie Clark does extraordinarily well. There’s angular robo-rock, spacey dance tunes, oddball lyrics and, of course, exquisite guitar work. If there is room in your heart for interesting art-rock, you’ll love this album.

3. Ex Hex – Rips

This is a power pop album ripped straight from ’70s AM radio in the best possible way. Everything slightly derivative, but it’s impossible to listen to without a dumb grin plastered across my face. At any given moment, Rips is never more than 20 seconds from the next near-perfect guitar lick. Everything is driving, catchy and instantly familiar in a wonderful, comfrotable way. Because it already sounds classic, Rips is probably this year’s most re-listenable album, and the fantastic, catchy melodies make those repeat listens downright compulsive.

2. Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels 2

RTJ2 is maybe the most intense release of the year. It tackles large social concerns–race relations, police brutality, poverty, etc– while also hurling some of the most colorful, hilarious insults of the year toward anyone, usually deemed a “fuck boy” who dares to oppose Killer Mike and El-P. The chemistry between Mike and Jaime is jaw-dropping as the two MC’s fluidly drop tag-team rhymes. Once again, El-P’s production is spot on, and the beats sound like no one else in rap music. This album is positively visceral. Run the Jewels made the perfect soundtrack for an often tumultuous year and committed fully to filling the airwaves with their own angry truth.

1. Strand of Oaks- Heal

From the opening moments of “Goshen ’97” I strongly suspected Heal would be my favorite album of the year, and I was 100 percent correct. It’s a snapshot of a man’s head space as he moves past addiction, isolation and marital issues. It explores a variety of a sonic terrain ranging from ’90s alt-rock radio to shimmering synthesizer rock to piano balladry. The common through lines are giant choruses and an unapologetic love for musics. References to artists, media formats and respected musicians dot the entirety of Heal, and the album’s first five songs form an incredibly satisfying emotional arc. It combines the “beer commerfcial” guitar of a War on Drugs album with the weightier meditations of Sun Kil Moon in a year, when it was decided those two qualities were dichotomous. Heal is a deeply personal statement made in the most broadly appealing way, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Honorable mentions(in no particular order): War on Drugs- Lost in the Dream; Sun Kil Moon- Benji; Sturgill Simpson- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music; D’Angelo-Black Messiah; First Aid Kit-Stay Gold; Perfume Genius-Too Bright; and Jenny Lewis-The Voyager

My favorite albums of 2014 so far

It’s roughly halfway through 2014, which means it’s a convenient time to take a look at my favorite musical releases from the past 6 months.

As Steven Hyden pointed out, in his Mid-Year Music Report, there has not been a universally adored blockbuster release this year.  On one hand this means the music released so far this year can seem inconsequential. This years biggest commercial success is the soundtrack to a movie released during the 2013 holiday season. Of course, a year’s critically acclaimed or influential music can be just as important to a year’s perceived legacy as which songs received the most airplay. For example, last year Yeezus seemed ubiquitous despite not actually being one of the 10 best-selling albums of the year. As of June 14, 2014, the vast majority of albums generating critical reverence are reissues. Still, this makes 2014 a year perfectly emblematic of its time. Niche markets, streaming services and the ability to generally listen to any music at any time mean the release of Fucked Up’s Glass Boys can be as momentous as the release of Jack White’s second solo album, Lazaretto, for listeners who seek out hardcore rock while eschewing folk-tinged tunes.

Without critical or commercial behemoths to rank and reckon with, this means everyone’s musical experience in 2014 is going to be different and extremely personal. This is definitely freeing, because it means I can feel better about any omissions or oversights. In no particular order, these are the five albums, which I have enjoyed the most during the first six months of 2014.

 

1. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

Annie Clark is having an awesome year. She got to perform with the surviving members of Nirvana at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. She also put out an incredible, self-titled album chock-full of humor, rocking hooks and interesting arrangements. St. Vincent is one of the most vibrant, self-assured releases of the year even when it deals with the minutiae of Clark’s modern neurosis. This album is a must-listen for fans of everything from straightforward rock to more avant-garde Brian Eno-inspired dream pop.

2.Schoolboy Q- Oxymoron

Without a doubt, Oxymoron, is my favorite rap album of 2014. This album combines hooks and wordplay with heartbreaking voice overs from Schoolboy Q’s daughter and lurid personal details from the Californian rapper’s gang-involved youth. It also contains the monstrous single, “Collard Greens”. When listening to Oxymoron, it becomes clear Kendrick Lamar’s ex-hype man is ready for and deserving of the spotlight.

3.The Men- Tomorrow’s Hits

The Men first captured attention by releasing incredibly earnest rock songs with a healthy dose of garage rock fuzz and punk attitude. Over the course of their discography The Men’s sound has matured. The coyly titled Tomorrow’s Hits is a collection of gorgeous songs, which pay homage to classic rock’s golden age. The songwriting is solid, and the rootsy throwback vibe never seems like a gimmick. This is one of 2014’s most purely enjoyable albums.

4.Cloud Nothings- Here And Nowhere Else

Cloud Nothings continue to grow and improve. The hooks and energy of Dylan Baldi and company’s earlier works are approached with the intensity and relative polish on display on 2012’s Attack on Memory. The blending of old and new is fitting, because Here And Nowhere Else is an album full of contradictions. It blends sweet tunes with sick sentiments. The lyrics proudly display Baldi’s insecurities. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but Cloud Nothings do it incredibly well.

5. The Both- The Both

Ted Leo and Aimee Mann teamed up to make an incredibly pleasant pop-rock record. The Both is not a grand artistic statement, but it is a collection of well-crafted,, mostly good-natured pop songs. With its guy-girl lead vocals and  anthemic chrouses, The Both is the best New Pornohraphers’ record since Twin Cinema. It isn’t ground breaking, but it is ridiculously listenable indie rock.

 

 

If it Saint Baroque Don’t Fix It: Annie Clark’s latest complex pop offering rocks

Annie Clark, best known by her performing moniker St. Vincent, has always displayed impressive rock’n’roll chops for someone who primarily trades in dreamy, baroque pop, but the opening one-two punch on her new self-titled album ramps things up considerably.

Album opener “Rattle Snake” and  the proceeding track”Birth in Reverse” both vibrate with an electric energy entirely befitting Clark’s  recent switch to shock-white hair.

“St. Vincent” then moves on to spacier territory, which will be familiar and pleasant for fan’s of 2011’s superb “Strange Mercy”.

The strange, tuneful art-pop on this album will make her collaborator David Byrne proud.

Genre bending also abounds throughout “St. Vincent”. “Bring Me Your Loves” flirts with an industrial sound, “Digital Witness” is a brassy dance song with hints of Prince-like funk and closer “Severed Cross Fingers” is a fairly straightforward ballad.

The humor and genuine feeling present in this album provides warmth to the angular music on this album, and a pulsing energy gives this excellent album a sense of momentum, even if it never quite tops its opening rush.