Year End Music Countdowns #14: 2015

trumpexpressions

Donald Trump hearing my picks for the best songs of the year.

As much as I like lionizing the past, the fact is that finding the best songs of the year has always been a hassle. Even during the best years there were long dry spells where I’d spend hours shovelling through garbage to find one great song. So for all my bellyaching about the state of music this year, I ended up with a pretty solid year-end list that’s actually better than the past two years’ lists. There were, in fact, some good tunes this year among the many many disappointments.

Here they are:

The Top 25 Songs of 2015

Payola

 

 

 

25. Te Amo Camila VallejoDesaparecidos— Bright Eyes may be gone, but Conor Oberst continues to write and deliver masterful lyrics with his long dormant punk band.

Such Things

 

 

 

24. Bad IdeasSaintseneca— It was worrisome when the band called this their “most minimal, sparse song to date”, but that turned out to be a red herring and this is far from minimal. If anything there are more layers in this song than on most of their other material.

Angels & Ghosts

 

 

 

23. All of This and NothingDave Gahan & Soulsavers– A little time away from Depeche Mode did the frontman some good, as he churned out this triumphant rocker rather than another lifeless dirge found so readily on his main band’s last album.

Uptown Special

 

 

 

22. Uptown FunkMark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars— This song is just one hook after another. Not just that, but it’s one meme after another. It’s endlessly quotable and an instant classic.

Better Nature

 

 

 

21. ConnectionSilversun Pickups– The band goes back to shorter, more uptempo rockers after the sprawling, unfocused previous record and it pays off nicely with tracks like this one.

homepage_large.9daba456

 

 

 

20. Psychic Reader– Bad Bad Hats– A sort of compromise between early 2000s music trends. It’s Vanessa Carlton meets Rilo Kiley.

1989

 

 

 

19. Wildest Dreams– Ryan Adams– Imagine if the band Real Estate actually knew how to write a good song? It might sound like this. A golden-hued alt-country rendition of the Taylor Swift single that suits the melody far better than the original arrangement did. Particularly great is the way Adams revises the vocal hook, integrating the falsetto note into the lyrics rather than the weird hiccup-sigh Swift does in her version.

Jackrabbit

 

 

 

18. Emily– San Fermin– The band’s bid for the mainstream may not have gotten them the attention they wanted/deserved, but it gave us a pretty great song nonetheless.

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

 

 

 

17. The Party Line– Belle and Sebastian– There’s an air of ineffable coolness to Stuart Murdoch’s vocals that help sell the band as a dance act as opposed to their usual folk leanings.

42459-american-appetite

 

 

 

16. Irish Margaritas (RAC Mix)- Harriet– Some remixes simply add a new beat or speed up a song. This one fundamentally reshapes the original, changing the chord progression so that the song actually has a chance at being catchy. Harriet ought to be very grateful to RAC.

VEGA INTL. Night School

 

 

 

15. 61 Cygni Ave– Neon Indian– Tucked away the the end of a miserably bad album, this mutant funk track redeems the record by recalling the band’s history as a chillwave act.

Pray For Rain

 

 

 

14. Pray For Rain– Pure Bathing Culture– A good example of the fact that familiar parts can still be added up into a new and interesting song.

The Sunshine of Your Youth - single

 

 

 

13. The Sunshine of Your Youth– Cheerleader– Is there anything rarer in modern rock than three people with guitars, one on drums, making songs with two verses, one bridge and three choruses? Cheerleader recall a simpler, more straightforward time when songs ended with the fade out of guitar feedback. They’re also good at wistful melodies- but we’ll get to that later.

The Gates

 

 

 

12. Mercy– Young Empires– It seems like every band nowadays has to write their own adrenaline anthem, and this is Young Empires’. Fortunately they put their own spin on the formula and throw in some chopped indie-R&B vocals that give the track some nice accents.

The Desired Effect 1

 

 

 

11. I Can Change– Brandon Flowers– Flowers’ first use of a sample works out incredibly well, with a surging, straightforward piece of electro-pop.

—————————————–

10. Half Life– Twin Shadow

Eclipse

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eclipse was thrashed severely upon release, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on any “Most Disappointing Albums” year-end lists. Make no mistake, the album is largely a trainwreck. But even though George Lewis Jr. failed at making a pop crossover hit, he also failed at being a failure. Buried amongst the 80’s soft rock ballads were two legitimately great songs- “Alone” and this one.

They seem to reinforce the notion that Lewis works best when he’s wounded. Dark drama has fed his best songs, and this one is no different. When his voice gets hoarse as he yells the last climactic chorus it shows that he actually cares about what he’s singing about. Let’s hope he keeps that sort of passion in mind for the next album.

—————————————–

9. First Song– Heyrocco

Teenage Movie Soundtrack

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although there’s been a lot of commotion about the “emo revival” scene, there hasn’t been much quality music to justify it. A few decent songs here and there, but no breakout stars or crossover hits, especially not from the Topshelf label that’s purportedly the epicentre of this revival. It’s unclear whether Heyrocco want to be grouped in with this scene, considering the connotation the label “emo” has taken on over the past decade, but “First Song” is a genuine, straight up emo song. It’s a throwback both musically and lyrically, and could have fit just as easily on a playlist in 1994 as it could have in 2001. It’s the undistilled essence of youthful angst, without the baggage of the “scene” to weigh it down.

—————————————–

8. Witness– Mew

+ -

 

 

 

 

 

 

The album…largely a mess. But thankfully there were two big, reliable Mew tracks on it, this being the best. Mew have long dealt in “epic”, but this is the first they’ve ever sounded “heroic”. That’s undeniably the best descriptor for the guitars that burst onto the scene at the start of the track. There’s someone else singing the verses, but Jonas Bjerre jumps in at the choruses like Harrison Ford in The Force Awakens, a welcome return to form that makes those parts sound even better.

—————————————–

7. Fade Out Lines– The Avener feat. Phoebe Killdeer

The Avener EP

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most underrated radio hits of the year, this rework of Killdeer’s 2011 song is a future club classic. It’s all the best parts of dark house wrapped up in one song Sultry vocals, a sinewy bass riff, smoky guitars and a string section all work together in one concise, perfectly climactic pop package.

—————————————–

6. Perfect Vision– Cheerleader–

On Your Side - EP

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine for a moment that One Direction hadn’t won a televised talent show and instead squirreled away in a flat somewhere listening to turn-of-the-millennium alternative rock. That’s what Cheerleader sound like. A more artisan version of 1D, or perhaps a less cheesy update of BBMak. Like the Replacements’ legacy taken to its logical conclusion. It’s straight-up-no-holds-barred pop rock, but there’s just enough haze in there to keep it from landing on the other side of the dial. The guitar hook here is much more simple than on “Sunshine of Your Youth”, but its simplicity works in its favour, bouncing along with the power-pop drums with an authenticity that Styles and co. have yet to display.

—————————————–

5. Glory– Jean-Michel Jarre feat. M83

E Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

As bizarre as it is to write, M83 has been having some bad luck with cinematic music lately. The master of widescreen electronic anthems had a terrible experience scoring the indie flick Black Hole, then had an even worse time scoring big-time movie Oblivion. Plus, the last two songs he’s done were for the Divergent movies and they’ve both been incredibly boring. He’s the king of music meant to be played in movies, but Anthony Gonzalez and movies just don’t mix.

Here he’s just a featured artist, teaming up with his role model, the inimitable Jean-Michel Jarre. The pairing works fantastically and shows that both French composers still have the touch. The video is once again iconic. Perhaps Gonzalez just needs to stay away from movies and focus on the music.

—————————————–

4. Pay No Mind- Madeon feat. Passion Pit

Adventure

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I really dislike Daft Punk‘s “Get Lucky”, and most of the accompanying album that was Random Access Memories. Not only did they betray their fanbase by completely ditching the groundbreaking sound they established, but they did it by taking on reductive, derivative funk. If that’s not bad enough, the sound caught on and soon every artist, pop and indie alike, were noodling around on jangly guitars. Even artists who had absolutely no business doing so, like Death Cab for Cutie and Nickelback.

“Pay No Mind” is what Daft Punk’s 2013 release should have sounded like. It does incorporate a few funk signatories, but it melds them with modern sensibilities so the song actually sounds like something new, something fresh. It’s also the best Passion Pit track of the year, miles ahead of their stinkbomb of a new album. Madeon is a talent to watch out for, as he’s part of a new wave of EDM artists (along with Urban Cone and Porter Robinson) more concerned about melody and structure rather than pumping a crowd of drug-addled kids up. In time he could be as celebrated as the now-stale Avicii. Let’s just hope he doesn’t take a bizarre left turn like Daft Punk.

—————————————–

3. REALiTi- Grimes

Art Angels

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it was released as a demo earlier this year, the whole indiesphere was perplexed. “This is a demo?” they asked, referring to the decent production value and incredible songwriting. Grimes took the positive feedback to heart and rerecorded the song for her new album and for a moment there was hesitation among the fanbase. Would the song still be good? Or would Claire Boucher have the drum track drop out during the chorus? Or turn it into a minimalist dirge?

The fears were unfounded and the song went largely untouched, but it was cleaned up and the difference between this and the demo version makes clear why the first take was a demo. Everything about the new version is crisp and more confident, a strong and florid collection of hooks upon hooks. It’s exciting to be around during an artist’s best years, and it looks like Boucher’s are just beginning.

(note: link goes to demo version as album version not available on youtube)

—————————————–

2. Begin Again- Purity Ring

Another Eternity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before Daft Punk came around and derailed pop music with funk, the rising sound was maximalist electro. It yielded some great, huge, big hits and was on the cusp of evolving before everyone ditched it to pretend they were back in 1975. It’s starting to get back on track- pop singer Sia is a fan of the sound, and Purity Ring have adopted it as well.

It’s paid off immensely. While their debut album was interesting, it leaned a little too far into xx-aping territory, and the dark minimalist sound got stale over the course of the record. Here, they’ve gone from timid to unstoppable. A devastatingly powerful hook is coupled with a crushing chorus that explodes unlike anything on the radio nowadays. But let me tell you exactly what it is that makes this song great-

During the first part of the chorus, the chords stop and start. They’re dry. It’s still big, but then it gets bigger. The second part of the chorus lets the chords blend into each other, continuous. It also throws in a skittering hi-hat that makes the flow even stronger, and increases momentum tenfold. That is exactly what elevates this song to great status, and what music in 2015 should sound like. Why don’t other bands get this? This is essentially a perfect song, and what every artist should strive to create.

—————————————–

And the best song of 2015 is….

MISS COLOMBIA!!!!!

caee0cd0-852e-0133-3935-06e18a8a4ae5

whoops my bad it’s actually

1. Can’t Deny My Love- Brandon Flowers

The Desired Effect

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Flowers released his first solo album, he didn’t really know who he wanted to be. As a result, Flamingo felt unfocused and strangely rough at times, a sort of demo collection that wasn’t really fleshed out. On The Desired Effect, Flowers knows exactly who he wants to be. He’s the Dragonball Z style fusion of Bryan Ferry and Bruce Springsteen. A lounge lizard with a heart of gold. A Vegas crooner with dreams of the heartland. The album itself gets spotty at times, but it produces some of Flowers’ best material to date, with or without The Killers. It’s doubly fresh because the last two songs the Killers released before the hiatus were total soft rock duds and it seemed like that was the direction any new material would head.

Instead we’ve gotten a dark, almost sinister cut of 80’s-indebted synth-rock. It’s a kitchen-sink single where every part fits so well (that one flute part!) that it’s almost too much of a good thing. There’s almost too many hooks. There’s almost too many accents. But Flowers knows to rein it in and keep it from getting overly crowded, setting himself apart from overproduced contemporaries. It’s a fantastic song and hopefully a sign that The Killers will one day slay again.

—————————————–

—————————————–

The 10 Best Albums of 2015

Here are the most well-rounded efforts taken into consideration as a whole piece of work:

Kintsugi

 

 

 

10. [Kintsugi]- Death Cab for Cutie

(Choice Cuts: “Little Wanderer”, “Ingenue”, “Black Sun”) 

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

 

 

 

9. [How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful]- Florence + The Machine

(Choice Cuts: “Pure Feeling”, “Hiding”, “Queen of Peace”) 

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

 

 

 

8. [What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World]- The Decemberists

(Choice Cuts: “Make You Better”, “Cavalry Captain”, “Beginning Song”) 

One

 

 

 

7. [ONE]- Kate Boy

(Choice Cuts: “Northern Lights”, “In Your Eyes”, “The Way We Are”) 

Savage Hills Ballroom

 

 

 

6. [Savage Hills Ballroom]- Youth Lagoon

(Choice Cuts: “Rotten Human”, “Highway Patrol Stun Gun”, “No One Can Tell”) 

As If

 

 

 

5. [As If]- !!!

(Choice Cuts: “ooo”, “Lucy Mongoosey”, “Every Little Bit Counts”) 

Another Eternity

 

 

 

4. [Another Eternity]- Purity Ring

(Choice Cuts: “Begin Again”, “Flood on the Floor”, “Heartsigh”) 

E•MO•TION (Deluxe)

 

 

 

3. [E-MO-TION]- Carly Rae Jepsen

(Choice Cuts: “I Really Like You”, “Run Away With Me”, “Your Type”) 

Better Nature

 

 

 

2. [Better Nature]- Silversun Pickups

(Choice Cuts: “Connection”, “Tapedeck”, “Pins and Needles”) 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Art Angels

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. [Art Angels]- Grimes

(Choice Cuts: “REALiTi”, “World Princess Pt. II”, “Flesh Without Blood”…and the rest of the album) 

[It’s hard to begin describing how good this album is, but the key point to take away here is that every single song is listenable. This is a true front-to-back record, which is unthinkable in 2015. Where other albums struggle to have 50% good songs, this one easily goes past 90%.

Claire Boucher has crafted an instantly recognizable sound with meticulous production, but more importantly, she has written good melodies to back up all that production. You can throw all the patches, samples, and augmented chords you want into a track, but it will amount to nothing if the song doesn’t have a catchy hook. This album has hooks in spades, outclassing not only every album this year, but possibly every album from the past 5 years. It’s a big middle finger to all the MOR indie-alternative acts trying to be experimental and failing miserably. The only problem is that now there is absolutely no reason to accept any less than this from anyone. Why listen to horrible music when something this good is capable of being made? Tolerance for generic music should now be at zero.]

—————————————–

THE WORST OF 2015

I change the format of this section nearly every year, sometimes even forgoing it. This year… it’s going to be just a short bit of me being right, followed by a list.

I’ve already done plenty of moaning and groaning about the sad state of affairs in the music biz, so more would be repeating myself. But just as proof of how bad it is, these were the only “hit” songs of 2015:

Uptown Funk– Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars

What Do You Mean?– Justin Bieber

Can’t Feel My Face– The Weeknd

Hello– Adele

Hotline Bling– Drake

That’s it. 5 songs for the whole year. Nothing else burrowed its way into public consciousness like those 5 songs. And just like in 2014, there was no song of the summer. This was one of the lowest years for #1 turnarounds on the charts (Uptown Funk stayed there for the better part of early 2015). Music as a commodity is almost completely dead.

But really, who can blame people? When the majority of albums released are as terrible as the following few, perhaps it’s time to pare down what is developed by the industry and place songwriting over marketability.

These are the most disappointing albums of 2015. Not necessarily the worst, because that would just be a lot of underground bands like Diamond Youth, Night Beds, and Painted Palms.

These were albums that were anticipated, hyped, and failed to deliver. So although they might be better than other albums as a whole, the listening experience was worse because of the magnified failure.

—————————————–

10. [Poison Season]- Destroyer— [This is some straight up goofy pretentious nonsense.]

9. [California Nights]- Best Coast— [Bethany Cosentino faces her second failed attempt at stardom with an album songs that are almost good but then… aren’t.]

8. [Wiped Out!]- The Neighbourhood— [Once again the band ruins incredibly interesting sonic
textures with embarrassing lyrics and flat, meandering melodies. Title track is a huge total mess
too.]

7.[Descensus]- Circa Survive— [A sad reminder that nearly all hard rock bands from the 2000s are now long past their prime.]

6. [Bones]- Son Lux— [You’d think being in a Gillette commercial would give him the idea that making music people like to listen to is a good thing, but nope, Ryan Lott prefers to self-sabotage every single song and turn it into an incoherent mess.]

5. [Death Magic]- HEALTH— [We waited 5 years for this? All that talk about new sounds and pop crossover hits for a half-baked, unfocused filler album?]

4. [Drones]- Muse— [Muse have almost completely devolved into total meathead rock.]

3. [Kindred]- Passion Pit — [Lacking the emotional core of their previous album, Kindred displays Passion Pit as a shell of their former selves.]

2. [Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper]- Panda Bear— [An unlistenable mess that seems intent on proving Panda Bear hates writing enjoyable music.]

1. [Wilder Mind]- Mumford & Sons— [Ditching the banjos is one thing, but aping every “big indie” act on the radio is another, leading this album into entirely disposable MOR rock territory. Every single song sabotages itself somehow, whether it be with unconventional song structure (“Believe”), an anticlimactic ending (“Snake Eyes”), or terrible sound mixing (“Wilder Mind”). ]

—————————————–

On that note, bye!

 

Year End Music Countdowns #13: 2014

rob-ford

We’re all adults here, right? If you aren’t, what are you doing on my blog, you weird baby? Get out of here! Go back to weirdbabycentral dot com.

For the adults, I’m gonna be straight with you: it’s getting harder and harder to find good music. Aside from the reliable January, May, and September release windows, quality tunes are few and far between. 2013 was particularly dire, and 2014 took some intense scouring to find audio gold.

Basically what I’m saying is, you better appreciate this cuz it took some crazy prospecting to unearth all these.

 The Top 25 Songs of 2014

Supermodel

25. A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the MoonFoster the People — Their sophomore record was a challenging listen, but ultimately satisfying. The easy, occasionally lazy hooks of Torches are nowhere to be found on Supermodel, but swirling psychedelia and a definite vision are.

Hesitant Alien

24. Action CatGerard Way — Most solo projects nowadays, particularly those of commercially successful rockers, tend to go in two directions: folk-pop and electro. So it was a nice surprise to find that My Chemical Romance’s former frontman went down neither of those avenues and instead went full 90’s with his first solo record. A little shoegaze can be heard in this first single as well.

Darlings

23. You Got CaughtKevin DrewBroken Social Scene frontman’s understated new record is free from that band’s shambolic, raucous clutter, with more heartfelt lyrics to boot. 

House Of Spirits

22. Bells of PaoniaThe Fresh & Onlys — A verdant, sprawling track with almost no rhythm section, this song coasts along on a wash of massive, melancholic guitars that buoy the downcast lyrics.

artworks-000096692234-5212zm-t500x500

21. FractalsKeep Shelly in AthensThe Greek duo’s melodic approach to synth-pop has yielded nothing but sterling singles up to now, with this fourth offering featuring an extended shimmering keyboard outro. 

Hold My Home

20. FirstCold War KidsA combination of Band of Horses’ cyclical guitar hooks and Imagine Dragons’ stomp-pop, Cold War Kids follow a great 2013 record with another surprise crowd pleaser. 

This Is All Yours

19. Every Other Frecklealt-JThe fantastically weird UK band tightened their focus on their sophomore release, reining in their every-instrument-ever approach for a more accessible record that at once sounds diverse and cohesive.

It All Might Be OK - EP

18. Got To My HeadWATERSThere’s a rare immediacy to this song, heard particularly as singer Van Pierszalowski launches into a loud yelp by the third line. It’s almost as if he can’t wait to get to the huge finale of the song where all the hooks converge in a giant high-five party. 

Alvvays

17. Archie, Marry MeAlvvaysToronto’s biggest buzz band of 2014 deserve all the accolades they get, with their power pop style uncompromising in its authenticity.

Built On Glass

16. Talk is CheapChet Faker Australian loopsmith Nick Murphy’s chilled out jams carve their own niche in the indie R&B scene and this one is a great representative of his sultry style.

Singles

15. Seasons (Waiting on You)Future IslandsIt was a pretty good year for Sam T. Herring and crew, becoming a meme on Letterman and scoring the #1 spot on Pitchfork’s Top 100 Tracks of the Year with this song. It seems people have finally caught onto the band’s strong songwriting and Herring’s unique voice, which has only gotten more visceral as the years have gone by.

Ryan Adams

14. Gimme Something GoodRyan AdamsAmerica’s most underrated singer-songwriter unsurprisingly releases another great record, with a first single that sounds like a classic rock radio staple. 

Tremors

13. VetoSOHNUnjustly shunned by the hipster elite, Vienna-based SOHN is another solid competitor in the indie R&B scene. Smoother than Active Child but not as decadent as the Weeknd, he specializes in cold, sterile atmospheres that evoke strong emotions while remaining sonically chilly.  

Brill Bruisers

12. Brill BruisersThe New PornographersCompletely unshackled by modern trends, “Brill Bruisers” is a song that could have existed at any time in the past two decades and sounded fresh. It lives up to its name, a muscular alt-rock jam in a climate where most acts don’t dare crank their guitars past 5.

Love Letters

11. I’m AquariusMetronomyA sinister, brooding take on doo-wop, “I’m Aquarius” is a strangely hypnotic throwback that burrows itself into your brain with its two hooks and leaves you wanting to repeat it in order to find more dark secrets in its lyrics and analog hiss.

—————————————–

10. Visions- Saintseneca

 Dark Arc

It’s a criminal offense that in 2014 the most popular “folk” acts are wimps who gently strum their ukeleles and banjos and sing aural pablum about Michelle Pfeiffer. Saintseneca are folk with guts. They’re bombastic and a little off-centre, like a scuzzier version of The Decemberists. “Visions” is pounding folk-punk, and in a just world would be the topmost representative of the genre on mainstream channels.

—————————————–

9. Rude (Zedd Remix)- MAGIC!

 Rude - Single (Zedd Remix)

Most popular EDM songs nowadays get at least one thing wrong; most choruses are boring, or repetitive, or anti-climactic. Sometimes there isn’t even a chorus! This song is the rare exception that gets absolutely everything right. Starting off by taking an already endlessly melodic song, Zedd slaps a full-throttle beat and an even catchier  synth hook on the chorus. He then does something rare and doesn’t kill the chorus momentum with stop-start backing synths. He then does something even rarer and puts lyrics over the second part of the chorus! It’s fan service of the best kind, resulting in a song that is a genuine candy-coated rush of adrenaline.

—————————————–

8. Sailing- Leisure Cruise

 Sailing - Single

You’d be forgiven for thinking Leisure Cruise are from Australia or New Zealand. The prickly guitars, sprightly vocals, and sun-splashed melody sound like they’ve arrived straight from the Gold Coast. They’re actually from New York, and the band was inspired to form by a HURRICANE. It’s a wonderful ironic contrast to the boundless joy the song exalts.

—————————————–

7. A Sky Full Of Stars- Coldplay

 Ghost Stories

Critics lambasted Coldplay for “selling out” with this song, produced by Avicii, but the truth is that it’s still essentially a Coldplay song. Tweak it slightly and it would fit on any of their other records; an acoustic version wouldn’t sound out of place on their debut Parachutes. They’ve always had a fascination with the celestial, most evident on 2005’s X & Y, all they’ve done here is dressed up their wide-eyed, widescreen yearning in a hip modern outfit. It happens to fit them very well.

 —————————————–

6. I Wanna Get BetterBleachers

 Strange Desire

When was the last time you heard a genuine guitar solo in a pop hit? Chances are it was probably Jack Antonoff’s other band, fun. He’s got one in here too and, for lack of a better phrase, it totally rules. Antonoff is the kind of guy who gets both rock and pop conventions and although he leans heavily towards the latter he incorporates as many Springsteen-isms (along with a vaguely Talking Heads-ish chorus) as he can into his craft. It’s an 80’s melody in a decidedly non-80’s song, an unabashed celebration of straightforward kitschy pop with rock sprinkled in at just the right moments.

—————————————–

5. Forever (Giorgio Moroder Remix)HAIM

 Forever - Single

Leave it to Moroder to effortlessly channel his inimitable style into a low-key indie track and make it sound completely natural, as if this is how the song had always existed. The earth-shaking piano stabs and vocoder are Moroder trademarks but coexist with HAIM’s guitar chug without any problems. The new disco drum track and soaring keyboards filling in the empty space of the sparse original, and the arrangement ends up bringing the melody to the heights it deserved.

—————————————–

4. Without You (The Rebirth)Dillon Francis feat. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs

Without You (Remixes)

Usually when an artist records a song, that’s it. They’re done with it, and it’s up to others to give it a remix. So if the song is good up until a point and then screws up, we as listeners are forever stuck with a disappointed feeling of a wasted opportunity. Dillon Francis himself took control here, realizing that the original “Without You” was good but lacked drive, and recreated it to give us a song that delivers on all cylinders. It’s a full-fledged concise pop EDM banger, better than every other Top 40 dance hit out there. The hook alone puts Avicii’s entire last underwhelming record to shame, and hopefully gets Francis on songwriting and production duty in the upper echelons of the industry.

—————————————–

3. Wildest DreamsRLMDL

 Bilingual EP

Toronto’s most popular bands all sound nearly exactly the same: like a jangly, whimsical, upbeat Target commercial. So it’s comforting to hear that there are a few artists in the Big Smoke that break from that tradition. RLMDL is a one-man project that doesn’t really sound like what anybody else is doing. “Wildest Dreams” is simultaneously glacial and balmy, with swaths of deep January synths meeting a voice pillowed in July reverb. It also carries the unmistakeable spirit of Toronto in its blue-hued keyboards and rattling hi-hats. Sure, it’s Toronto 1984 as opposed to Toronto 2014, but it’s hard not to imagine the project’s mastermind Jordan Allen being influenced by the city’s industrial waterfront and flashy entertainment district. Look out for this one, Canada.

—————————————–

2. Red EyesThe War on Drugs

 Lost in the Dream

The general consensus among the music journalism community: this is, hands down, the best rock song of the year. And that’s an important distinction to make in 2014 where everyone is trying everything and genre crossovers are ubiquitous. This is not a pop rock song, it is not indie rock, hard rock, folk rock, psychedelic rock, or wizard rock. This is unadulterated rock music that contains Adam Granduciel’s heart and soul; a tumbling, effusive celebration of life itself.

—————————————–

And my favorite song of 2014 is….

1. All the Rage Back HomeInterpol

 El Pintor

After having their 2010 self-titled album critically mangled and losing their bassist, Paul Banks and company took a bit of a breather and dropped out of the spotlight.

They came back this year with the best song they’ve ever written.

A dark, sleek post-punk anthem, it gallops along on an uncompromising rhythm section, powering relentlessly even through the bridge where most songs would reprise a drumless intro. The bass and drums are in lockstep with each other, a tense partnership that proves Paul Banks fills Carlos D’s shoes pretty well. It all culminates with the percussion suddenly getting louder, then ebbing away like the waves in the song’s video, pulling the song out to sea and fading to black. It’s a genial touch and proves that in the end, Interpol were the best band that came out of the early-00’s NY revival.

—————————————–

—————————————–

The 10 Best Albums of 2014

Here are the most well-rounded efforts taken into consideration as a whole piece of work:

This Is All Yours

10. [This Is All Yours]- alt-J (Choice Cuts: “Every Other Freckle”, “The Gospel of John Hurt”, “Left Hand Free”)  

They Want My Soul

9. [They Want My Soul]- Spoon (Choice Cuts: “Outlier”, “New York Kiss”, “Let Me Be Mine”) 

TBK

8. [Turn Blue]- The Black Keys (Choice Cuts: “Fever”, “In Time”, “Bullet in the Brain”) 

K

7. [48:13]- Kasabian (Choice Cuts: “Stevie”, “Bow”, “Doomsday”)   

Singles

6. [Singles]- Future Islands (Choice Cuts: “Seasons (Waiting on You)”, “Spirit”, “Like the Moon”)

Ghost Stories

5.  [Ghost Stories]- Coldplay (Choice Cuts: “A Sky Full of Stars”, “Another’s Arms”, “Oceans”) 

Supermodel

4. [Supermodel]- Foster the People (Choice Cuts: “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon”, “The Truth”, “Pseudologia Fantastica”)  

Happiness Is

3. [Happiness Is…]- Taking Back Sunday–  (Choice Cuts: “Nothing At All”, “They Don’t Have Any Friend”, “Better Homes and Gardens”) 

Ryan Adams

2. [Ryan Adams]- Ryan Adams (Choice Cuts: “Gimme Something Good”, “My Wrecking Ball”, “Kim”)   

El Pintor

1. ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

[El Pintor]- Interpol (Choice Cuts: “All the Rage Back Home”, “My Desire”, “Everything is Wrong”)

—————————————–

THE WORST OF 2014

Screen shot 2014-10-22 at 1.00.44 AM

What do you criticize when there’s nothing to criticize? As I’ve made perfectly clear, popular music isn’t in the greatest shape. I guess the most annoying trend this year was that there was no trend. A few artists tried to copy Pharrell’s “Happy”, with its 60’s throwback sound (“All About That Bass”, “Shake it Off”, “Bang Bang”), but there was no unifying 2014 theme. There wasn’t even a song of the summer!

There were, however, a lot of blatant corporate attempts at “big events” this year:

– Iggy Azalea’s various squabbles and public image.

– The indie rock Frankenstein that is “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors, a sickening menage of every commercial twee cliche there is.

– Nicki Minaj’s controversial lyrics and videos.

– Ariana Grande’s entire career, but more specifically, the desperate grab at a gimmicky hit song that was “Problem”.

– The engineered “love-to-hate-it” faux-outrage about that “Selfie” song.

– Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift’s hollow re-inventions.

All of these embarrassingly obvious ploys were utterly bereft of any semblance of naturally occurring popularity. It’s a sad display of the industry fumbling to create buzz without anything buzzworthy. They’re shoving these various stories into our faces screaming:

“Whoa! Look how EDGY Taylor Swift is now!”

“Whoa! Nicki Minaj used NAZI imagery in her video!”

“Whoa! Don’t you just HATE that Selfie song!”

There are just no big names anymore. The only legitimate event album of the year was Taylor Swift’s 1989. As far as big songs go, the Grammy nominees for Record/Song of the Year are essentially……the only songs people will remember from 2014. A measly 5-6 tunes, only one of which (“All About That Bass”) reached collective consciousness. Sad.

A few miscellaneous grumpy notes:

– Our Lady Peace tried to channel Modest Mouse/Passion Pit about 10 years too late and made a song so completely out of touch that the drummer left the band. The song was so bad it barely received any airplay. It was a trainwreck!

– Indie powerhouse TuNe-YaRds (or however you stylize it) had a chance for a breakthrough album and……totally blew it. Obnoxious lead single “Water Fountain” instantly killed all hype around the record.

– Pharmakon made what is perhaps the best example of “2 kool 4 skool” noise that people associate with unlistenable hipster drivel with the song “Bestial Burden”. It’s Yoko Ono level bad.

And that is that! Thanks for reading!

Year End Music Countdowns #12: 2013

hey i have a cool idea instead of endless pontificating how about we get right to the list ok cool dusty let’s go.

Continue reading

Year End Music Countdowns #11: 2012

These lists are bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-N-A-N-S

These lists are bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-N-A-N-S

Wowie zowie, what a year for music! Despite some occasional bombs here and there, the diagnosis shows that good music is alive and well in 2012.

Continue reading

Year End Music Countdowns #10: 2011

Happy 10th anniversary to this countdown! 10 years, whoa I should go eat a celebratory cake. But I won’t keep you waiting any longer, I’m just going to keep eating my cake as I write this. Continue reading