Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

Tag: against me!

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2016 Mix

Makeup For the Silence - Best of 2016!

So I’m a liar. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. Between some job-related scrambling and a three-day-long headache that ended with a CAT scan and a few many fistfuls of Advil/Tylenol/HeavierStuff, I didn’t manage to get this thing online before the new year swung around.

The good news is, three days in, this year is basically the same as the last, so you can still listen to this. It’s cool. I promise.

I know 2016 was supposedly an annus horribilis – and we did lose many more musical icons (not to be confused with Mandy Moore, Musical Icon) in a single revolution than we ever should* – but honestly, if 2016 had ended on November 7th, I think we’d all be talking about the year just past in much different terms. And while I’m pretty dubious that 2017 will be anything but a disaster for our most vulnerable and an introduction to vulnerability for a whole bunch more of us (who hadn’t considered we’d be there, perhaps ever, in our lifetimes), the truth is 2016 itself was actually a pretty good year – personally, and I think collectively. So while next year’s mixtape might just be a track-list etched by a thousand bent fingernails on the walls of the work camp, this year’s mix pretty fairly reflects what was, by and large, a positive experience when lived from day to day.

I’m gonna miss it like candy.

The seventh** edition of my year-end mixtape arrives in much the same way last year’s did: with maybe six songs that were locks to make this list from the jump, and then a lot of rooting through the 300-odd tracks on my Top Tracks of 2016 playlist***. I’ve, as always, avoided any big pop hits – otherwise this years list might just be O.T. Genasis feat. Young Dolph on loop – but I’ve backed away from the tradition of keeping tracks from my Top Ten albums off of the list. Truth is, even when I wasn’t listening to those albums, it was certain tracks from those albums I kept coming back to, and this year’s mix would feel incomplete without them. They’re the anchor pieces.

If last year’s mix trended darker, this year’s feels a little brighter, a little more hopeful. It’s not all wide-eyed; if anything, this year’s selections are a little more introspective than the last. But even its denser moments generally offer something to dream on.

It’s also the first mix I’ve made where every track is available on Spotify****. That’s probably largely reflective of my listening habits – Spotify’s ease of use, and of playlist compilation, led me to spending less time on SoundCloud and the like, because even once you find something good, it’s frankly a pain to grab music from elsewhere and then sync it to Spotify, especially when I often go weeks without touching my MacBook. I do 90% of my personal computing on my mobile now. The medium is the message, or something. (The message, however, is rarely on Medium.)

Enough of the rambles; on with the show.

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2016

  1. Empty – Garbage
  2. Purge – Frameworks
  3. Fall On Me – Kitten
  4. Bury It – CHVRCHES (feat. Hayley Williams)
  5. Tiger Hologram – Swet Shop Boys
  6. Zadok – Myrone
  7. Bottle It Up – Sherwood
  8. Me & Magdalena (Version 2) – The Monkees
  9. Sell My Head – Tancred
  10. Humblest Pleasures – Turnover
  11. Blood In The Cut – K. Flay
  12. Goodness, Pt. 2 – The Hotelier
  13. Broken Drum – Cash Cash (feat. Fitz of Fitz & the Tantrums)
  14. I Am Chemistry – Yeasayer
  15. No Time Valentine – Roy English
  16. All Night – King Neptune
  17. Rebecca – Against Me!
  18. U-turn – Tegan & Sara
  19. The Sound – The 1975
  20. May I Have This Dance – Francis & the Lights
  21. Deep Six Textbook – Let’s Eat Grandma
  22. 17th Street Treatment Centre – John K. Samson

click image to download

I’ll be back tomorrow with some more thoughts on the Year In Music and my personal listening habits, and then we’ll get into the business of counting down. I’m not sure I’ll go in quite as deep as I typically do this time around (that aforementioned work stuff, again), but I’m not ruling it out either.

*one of whom will be showing up on my Top Ten in the coming weeks

**You can always find the complete collection of mixes which have appeared on Makeup For The Silence, as well as all the playlists I’ve contributed to elsewhere, right over here.

***I’ve archived my 2016 list and rolled my 2017 one right on top, so if you were subscribed, you should be following 2017 now. If not, follow along right here.

****…for now. Of course, tracks on Spotify come and go on the wind and the whim, so I still strongly recommending downloading. That said, you can stream it here.

#1 Album of 2014 – Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

 #1 – AGAINST ME! – TRANSGENDER DYSPHORIA BLUES [spotify]

(feat. track – “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” [spotify])

Last year, I ranked Against Me!’s two song acoustic True Trans EP as my #3 Album of 2013. I’d never ranked anything so slight so highly before, and I have a hard time imagining something like that happening again, but those two little songs, even in their prehistoric state, rocked in a way few others had over the course of the year (or, indeed, many years).

As I noted in that post, I went and listened to the full Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which had just been released, as soon as I was finished posting. From the first notes of the hard-charging album-opening title track, I had a good feeling. By midway through the first listen, any fears I might have had – that the album would be overproduced, that the rerecorded tracks would lose some of their fire, that the rest of the songwriting wouldn’t measure up – were entirely allayed. By the time “Black Me Out” wrapped, it had already secured a spot in this year’s Top Albums. And here we are, almost twelve months to the day later, and Transgender Dysphoria Blues  still reigns supreme.

Unlike last year, when I was out on a limb with a weird little 7″ from a ready-to-be-forgotten band, there’s been a largely universal consensus on TDB’s greatness, a great understanding of the whats and whys that make it such a remarkable work, that rare combination, raw in-a-vacuum exceptional work mixed with with perfect timing and circumstance, context that only increases its meaning and power. There’s very little that hasn’t been said; indeed, where I normally have a couple pages ready to knock out without much thought. I’m struggling to come up with something I didn’t say last time around, something that a hundred critics haven’t laid out before me. Because Transgender Dysphoria Blues didn’t do anything to change my perceptions; if anything, it amplified them.

I had the pleasure of seeing Against Me! numerous times live this year. There was a time – when AM! were touring behind Searching For A Former Clarity – that I declared the band the best live act in the world. One decade and half a new lineup later, they’ve unexpectedly, miraculously returned to take that crown. Current drummer Atom Willard – known for hitting like a beast for Rocket From The Crypt and Angels & Airwaves, among others – hits like a beast for 90 solid minutes. Meanwhile, bassist Inge Johansson (Refused, (International) Noise Conspiracy), goofy and oafish onstage, plays with a palpably childlike joy. For her part, Laura Jane is as fired up as ever, though I swear there’s a glint in her eye now that was never there before – even when she’s coming from a place of anger, it’s a different place, somewhere more healthily situated, more tempered by perspective. (Guitarist James Bowman remains the band’s rock / secret weapon.)

So yeah, it’s a bit anticlimactic, but Transgender Dysphoria Blues is my Top Album of 2014 simply because nothing else could possibly be. Against Me! are the best live band, writing the best songs, recording the best recordings, rocking both the hardest and the most meaningfully. They’re the best band on the planet in 2014, and they made the best album of 2014. And they shall be honored thusly.

Makeup for the Silence – Best of 2014 Mixtape

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2014 Mixtape

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been doing this as long as I have, and yet here we are for the fifth year in a row* with the annual Makeup For The Silence Mixtape.

The 2014 edition of my yearly mixtape feels darker, tetchier and more ruminative than last year’s compilation. Partly that’s deceptive: this year’s picks are angrier in their loudest, brightest moments, and more quiet when soft and sweet. Indeed, 2014 was my most blissful in recent memory, full of both personal joy (getting married) and professional success (my first print features in a decade), But as they say, energy flows where attention goes, and the tracks here that demand the most attention rage loudly enough to nearly eclipse the more subtle sweetness in between.

Only nearly, though. Part of the challenge of making the yearly mixtape is in the curation – there were more than 200 songs that made my running Top Tracks Of 2014 longlist**, and paring them down is some combination of making a CD-length document that actually flows as a well-sequenced album would without excluding anything absolutely essential to the year. I spend far more time than any human should working toward hitting the sweet spot each time out; hopefully, I managed it here.

The “no big radio hits” rule wasn’t really an issue this year (sorry Taylor); while I felt like 2014 was much more of a singles year than an albums year for me personally (more on that soon), it wasn’t because of anything on pop radio, which had a seriously down year compared to 2013. I feel like we’re headed toward an interesting intersection – it’s clear to me that the pop-EDM bubble has burst, and there’s definitely renewed interest in music made with traditional instruments, but nobody seems to quite know what to do with them yet (other than sample saxophones, ubiquitously). In the past that’s led to tremendously interesting and diverse years for pop music (think 90-91), but for some reason this year’s casting-about turned up little in the way of interesting experiments – at least not in the Top 40.

And yet the 23 tracks here barely tap the surface; there was tremendous breadth, if not depth, just below. This year’s mix features a pair of refugees from collapsed bands, each digging out of the rubble and starting anew in their own way; two tracks from the best band in the world you’ve never heard of; four minutes of guts-searing #emorevival; and four more of glorious, gossamer #softshread. It’s all in there, Frankensteined together into one rather dapper monster, if I do say so myself.

Enough talk. Download***, listen, enjoy.

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2014

  1. Free – Brent Walsh
  2. Royals (Remix) – T-Pain ft. Young Cash
  3. Tongue Talk – The Holidays
  4. Canyon Moon – Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
  5. Coming Of Age – Foster the People
  6. Unconditional Love – Against Me!
  7. Queen of Hearts – Darlia
  8. Don’t Die in Yr Hometown – Antarctigo Vespucci
  9. American Beauty / American Psycho – Fall Out Boy
  10. Exclusive Coupe – MYRONE
  11. Long Night – Guster
  12. Nervous Kids – Tigers Jaw
  13. Brutal Truth – Foxy Shazam
  14. Your Deep Rest – The Hotelier
  15. Dear Diary – Darlia
  16. Giving Up – Allison Weiss
  17. I Told You So – Dazy (The Girl) ft. Derek Sanders
  18. Tear The House Up (Edit) – Herve & Zebra Katz
  19. Digital Witness – St. Vincent
  20. Eyeshadow – No Devotion
  21. Erosion – Cymbals
  22. Come Alive – Rachel Taylor
  23. XO – Roy English

click image to download

Stay tuned, The yearly Top Ten will begin in just a few days!

*you can always find the complete collection of mixes which have appeared on Makeup For The Silence, as well as all the playlists I’ve contributed to elsewhere, right over here.

**if you’d like to get a headstart on 2015, feel free to follow my running Top Tracks Of 2015 So Far playlist on Spotify. It’s barren right now but that won’t last long.

***just like the past two years, there’s a Spotify version of 2014’s mix available, but also like those years, there are a handful of tracks on the mix which aren’t currently available on the service. I love Spotify’s convenience, but I recommend downloading if you want the real deal – otherwise, you miss out on a few great songs, and also the sequencing. If you’re a Spotify user, it’s easy to import downloaded files into Spotify, I promise.

#3 Album of 2013 – Against Me! – True Trans

#3 – AGAINST ME! – TRUE TRANS [spotify]

(feat. track – “FuckMyLife666″ [spotify])

So, that aforementioned shortest release on this year’s Top Ten Twelve? True Trans is a digital single / 7”, only two songs long, but they’re two of the absolute best songs of the year, and almost certainly the ones I listened to most in 2013, especially b-side “True Trans Soul Rebel”. I wouldn’t have felt right not including it here.

In a total coincidence, today happens to be the day that Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which includes finished versions of both of these songs, is out. In a fit of masochistic self-importance, I’ve refused to listen to the new album until I finish this piece; I didn’t want hearing these songs with the full studio treatment to color my thoughts on the versions I’ve listened to all year long*, which frankly are tremendous just the way they are. Vulnerability is a new pose for Against Me!, and they manage it here without sacrificing any of their power. Laura Jane Grace’s voice retains its strident bite even sans bark; the high-pitched ambient feedback that undergirds the acoustic guitar on both tracks lends them a depth and resonance that doesn’t make itself obvious until repeated listens.

The upside of that coincidence with the release date is that a thousand thinkpieces and, more importantly, interviews have covered the subject of Grace’s decision to come out as trans. It’s not something I really want to delve too deeply into here. It’s apparent that the vast majority of attention Against Me! are getting right now is due to Grace’s apparent otherness, to our curiosity at the things we don’t quite understand (and, I imagine, can’t really understand at a deep level rather than just, say, an intellectual one, without having been there ourselves.) Let’s not pretend otherwise. Hell, I’ve gone from a big Against Me! fan back in the Searching For A Former Clarity days to one who hardly gave more than a cursory listen or three to White Crosses; I’m not sure I’d be paying much attention this time out if it wasn’t for extra-musical interest.

But what makes True Trans so great is the way Grace universalizes that experience without ever losing hold of its personal meaning – indeed, it’s the deeply personal nature of the songs that grants them their universal power. I’ll never know what it feels like to ask myself “who’s gonna take you home tonight, who’s gonna take you home? // does God bless your transsexual heart?” But the confusion, the fear, the bitterness and the bravery in Grace’s vocal reflects images of places I know, places we’ve all known – we may each carry weights of different shapes and sizes, but we all know the struggle of shouldering a heavy load. And being specific her personal struggles casts them as so much more real than more generically “relatable” lyrics ever could, and definitely more so than the more metaphoric lyrics of the last few Against Me! albums (not to mention the political songs). It’s been a long time since I’ve found Against Me! this compelling.

So with that said, I’m going to hit “Post” and go listen to Transgender Dysphoria Blues. And, if True Trans is any indicator, I’ll find myself scribbling preliminary notes for 2014’s Top Ten.

*I have heard both songs, as well as most of the rest of the album, live a couple times, both acoustic and full-band; they’re only more powerful in person.

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2013 Mix

Makeup for the Silence – Best of 2013 Mixtape

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2013 Mix

Though I’ve done an annual mix each of the past three years*, this year was the first time I actually compiled an ongoing list of my favorite songs throughout the year. You’d think that would make this process easier; instead, I wound up with a glut of sincere favorites, and a lot of hard choices to make. For some reason, I insist on keeping this thing to a >80 minute playtime, i.e. the length of an actual CD. I’m not under the pretense anyone is actually burning this to a disc (I’m certainly not), but there’s something to be said for this mix being digestible in a single sitting, for it being something I can listen to on repeat and actually get familiar with – I like the way albums ebb and flow and tell stories through sequencing and pacing, and it’s something I’ve always put a lot of care into when making mixes. That gets unwieldy in a lengthy playlist. I enjoy getting to the point where I feel unsettled if I hear a song in my mix and it’s not followed immediately by the track that’s supposed to come next.

As always, I’ve elected to leave off any sort of big radio hits (well…kinda. You’ll see what I mean in a second). That’s a challenge in any year – for a guy who mostly writes about punk and other music of that ilk, I’m really a pop fan at heart. But this year was especially challenging. 2013 was the biggest year in recent memory for Superstar Pop – if you’re a musician people call by just their first name, odds are good you put out an album this year. A lot of those albums were genuinely great, and even when they albums were merely OK, or weren’t particularly pop-radio friendly, each seemed to contain at least one or two killer singles.

Not only that, but two artists who I normally would have found room for here, Fall Out Boy and Paramore, came back in such a big way this year that I couldn’t justify squeezing them in – both “My Songs Know What You DId In The Dark (Light Em Up)” and “Still Into You” found Top 40 radio ubiquity, and nobody’s going to be overlooking those acts just because I didn’t squeeze them onto my list. (Unlike, say, in 2011 when Patrick Stump made it onto my mix with a track from his criminally underappreciated solo album).

Finally, this year’s mix wound up especially upbeat; there’s a lot of bright, synthy, dancey pop that really hit home this year (and some moody, synthy, dancey pop to go with it). There were a number of songs I really loved – Defeater’s “Bastards”; View From An Airplane’s “Stayed Awake”; Sparks The Rescue’s “Ceara Belle”; many others – that just didn’t fit here stylistically, and even more – anything by The 1975, for one – that felt too similar to other tracks on here to make the final cut.

That said I’m really happy with how the final mix came out. Download**, listen, enjoy!

Makeup For The Silence – Best of 2013

  1. Feeling In The Night – The Reign Of Kindo
  2. Paper Royals (Lorde vs M.I.A.) – Mashed Pot8er
  3. In For The Kill – Kelsey Chaos
  4. Waste My Time – Tilian
  5. Dresden – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  6. Baby Shakes – Shone
  7. I’ve Been Waiting For This – Butch Walker
  8. Sad And Blue – Jimmie Deeghan
  9. Keep Me In Your Heart – The Here And Now
  10. Take A Picture – Carly Rae Jepsen
  11. Dreaming – Smallpools
  12. Excalibur – TEAM
  13. Supernatural – roboteyes
  14. Love Is A Dog From Hell – The Limousines
  15. Forget You – Cady Groves
  16. Hanging On A Honeymoon – William Beckett
  17. All I Know – Washed Out
  18. The Way Back – Whitewaits
  19. True Trans Soul Rebel – Against Me!
  20. Au Revoir (Adios) – The Front Bottoms
  21. Etc. – Francis and the Lights

click image to download

Stay tuned; the yearly Top Ten will begin tomorrow!

*you can always find the complete collection of mixes which have appeared on Makeup For The Silence, as well as all the playlists I’ve contributed to elsewhere, right over here.

**just like last year, there’s a Spotify version of 2013’s mix available, but also like last year, there were a handful of tracks on the final mix which aren’t available on the service. I totally understand Spotify’s convenience – after dabbling with it for a couple years, in 2013 I really converted to using it as my primary listening spot, ahead of iTunes – but I recommend downloading if you want the real deal.

2013 Year In Review

Motley Crue – Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)

Last year, I wrote up a lengthy State Of The Scene report, almost inadvertently – it began as a few stray comments I intended to send in along with my Pazz & Jop ballot, and spiraled out into something much larger.Those comments, unsurprisingly, didn’t get printed (though two of my picks did manage to get called out in this piece!)

The irony is that, this year, there would be no sense in me sending in something similar. What, last year, seemed to me so far off the critical radar that I felt compelled to shine a spotlight on it, is this year such a glaringly obvious trend that there’s nothing I could write that wouldn’t be redundant of the excellent, and well-read, work this year by folks like Ian Cohen and Leor Galil. What was a thousand words last year can, this time out, be reduced to an #emorevival hashtag and a few links.

The real kicker? Not a single artist that could reasonably be called an emo revival act made my list of albums or singles that I submitted to the Voice this year, nor will any make my Top Ten here. I don’t think any are even making the final cut on my 2013 Mix. These acts are calling back to a generation of emo which precedes the discovery of melody, or theatricality, or ambition, or edge, even cartoony edge. There’s precious little of that sort of stuff in my personal canon – American Football’s album and the first two Owen CDs; Mineral‘s The Power Of Failing; early Bright Eyes, if you want to count that – but noodly sadboy navelgazing has never really been my scene.

Even the stuff I liked most from that era, like Jimmy Eat World‘s Clarity or Death Cab for Cutie‘s The Photo Album, place song structure, harmony and production values at their fore. Of all the things you could ape about late-90s emo, “lack of vitality” seems like a poor choice, and yet it’s the dominant mode of the day. So you can write an intricately fingerpicked, multi-movement suite without a single memorable hook or any shift in emotional tone? Congrats, you’re Yngwie Malmst-emo! Pick up your award at the circular file under my desk.

What excited me this year?Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace waving her identity like a battle flag on True Trans. Bands with guitars that made me want to dance, from Haim’s Days Are Gone and Chvrches The Bones Of What You Believe to SmallpoolsEP and The 1975’s self-titled album. Wonderful comeback albums from two acts that could be called emo revival, except that they were part of the terribly uncool* era of emo we’re currently trying to pretend never happened: Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock And Roll and Paramore’s Paramore.

*Even a metal purist acknowledges hair metal as a part of the genre’s history, even an important (if embarrassing) step in it’s development. Why is it that old-school emo fans consistently privilege cool over historicity and narrative?

Follow-ups from acts that made my list a year or two ago and managed not to disappoint, like OMD (the perfectly-titled English Electric) and Mansions’s Doom Loop. Nu-twang that sidestepped clap-n-stomp blustering of Mumfordcore in favor of something a little more personal, like Twin Forks’ EP and Lacey Caroline’s Songbird and Jimmie Deeghan’s Cheap Therapy. Side projects of old favorites that not only delighted but surprised, like WhitewaitsAn Elegant Exit (Rob Rowe of Cause & Effect) and The Here And Now’s Born To Make Believe, Part 1 (Alan Day of Four Year Strong). My every-third-year nu-gaze treasure, this time around from The History Of Apple Pie, Out Of View.

And pop. Pop! So much pop! It was the year of the superstar: Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Jay Z, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Drake and Katy Perry all put out albums that were deeply intriguing, each one for vastly different reasons. Some were great; most weren’t; even the failures contained some combination of perfect singles and deeply ambitious overreaches that made me want to figure out what went wrong, and why, and how.

And if this was the year pop superstars reasserted themselves, the pop underground held its own too. Some of my favorite pop jams came from folks who didn’t even register a blip on the mainstream radar, like Kelsey Chaos’ Out Of This World and Tilian’s Material Me, Cady Groves’ “Forget You” and roboteyesself-titled. Even Carly Rae Jepsen, the most unfairly-scarlet-lettered One Hit Wonder in recent memory, got in on the fun with maybe my favorite song of the year, ”Take A Picture“.

So you can count me out on scenes for now. This is the state of my scene, and that’s a scene of one. It’s a post-genre world, and the freedom to run from what doesn’t click with you is just as exhilarating as the freedom to dig into something new or uncool. That’s where I stood for a long time, before the 2000’s emo revolution sucked me in, and it’s to where I gladly return. Everything old is new again. It’s the same old, same old situation.

Against Me! – “The Ocean”

If I could have chosen, I would have been a woman
My mother once told me she would have named me Laura
I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her 

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén