Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

Tag: mansions

Make Up for the Silence - Best of 2017!

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2017 Mix

Make Up for the Silence - Best of 2017!

When I ambled and rambled my way through a year’s listening habits last December, I noted that for as awful as 2016 was purported to be, it actually wasn’t all that bad as it happened. No, the issue with 2016 wasn’t 2016 at all – it was the certain doom of 2017 floating on the horizon, casting its long and ugly shadow over the year prior, distorting 12 months so fully that, looking back, all we could see in them were the mangled visages of funhouse mirror reflections except, no, these mirrors weren’t funhouse mirrors at all, we actually were all squashed and stretched and made grotesque now. The recent past was a decent past, but all we could see in it was the refracted dread of what was sure to come.

Well, shit. It sure came, didn’t it?

Look, nobody needs another recap of the dumpster-fire-inside-a-tire-fire-inside-a-world-on-fire that was 2017. Living it was plenty awful enough. So let’s just stick to the music.

The eighth* edition of my year-end mixtape has a lot in common with 2017′s, compositionally – a few core songs that were destined to make this list from the moment I heard them, and then a lot of listening to the 300-odd songs that eventually comprised my Top Tracks of 2017 playlist**. I’ve once again avoided the pop hits –- sorry, Selena Gomez and… Charlie Puth? (Charlie Puth?! Chariie Puth!) – because, well, if you want to hear what’s at the top of the charts, I’m sure Spotify will have you covered with one of a hundred auto-programmed 2017 mixes, and if you want a full-on survey mix, others do a better job than I ever would (or would want to.) While some of those pop bangers were essential listening for me this year, I gotta make the cuts somewhere, so why not cut what you’ve undoubtedly heard before? This place was always intended to be personal, not a reflection of anything bigger than myself (or, at most, whatever bigger things reflect off of me).

So what got me good in the disaster year that was 2017?

Well, for one, a lot of shoegaze. While article after article asked when the rock bands would lift up swords against the onslaught, many of the best instead raised their shields – walls of fuzzed-out noise to block out the incoming barrage; cocoons of fire in which to seethe, or roll through the hordes like an American Gladiator-gyroball-juggernaut; or, in the case of returning vets Slowdive, tiny but explosive big-bang-galaxies, a vast and alluring internal starscape check-marked with life-affirming infinities to be stumbled across within.

Mostly, looking inward seemed to be the order of the day. It’s been clear from the start that 2017 was going to be a war, not a battle – who can really blame those who took a little time to lick their wounds after the first skirmish Examinations of interior spaces; self-reflection; self-bolstering; finding forgiveness, for those around us and for ourselves. Steeling ourselves for the fight to come; rediscovering–and reaffirming–the reasons the fight is right, and needed, and vital. Celebrating others, and celebrating our selves, and celebrating the world that’s worth fighting for, a world that’s every bit as full of magic and wonder as it was the year before, even if those things are a little more obscured now.

One thing that isn’t on my list – which is wildly incongruous with what is maybe 2017′s biggest musical story – is pretty much any hip-hop. 2017 was the year rap ate “pop”’s lunch on the pop charts, in a way it hasn’t in over a decade. A great story, but really, I was kinda bummed out by pretty much every major sonic development on the mainstream hip-hop front this year: the xanned-out, tuned-out, tune-free rap of everyone named Lil’ Something; that Migos-triplet thing that was so quickly imitated, even as the members of Migos themselves drove it into the ground; the white dudes (so many white dudes!); even Cardi B, whose Horatio Alger-Cinderella-bootstraps story would make a wonderful movie (one preferably soundtracked by someone else’s music. It was a year ripe with creative innovations and new directions… and none of them felt particularly listenable to me.

(Also, as in the past, most of my rap/hip-hop consumption has been via the radio, so, what the hell, let’s just pretend it was all ineligible anyway.)

This year, we’re back to a mixtape that can’t be found entirely on Spotify. For reasons I can only begin to speculate on, sometime around the middle of the year, the two Hidden Ambulances tracks on this mix disappeared from the internet entirely – streaming, paid download, YouTube, everywhere. The band even vanished from Facebook. (Hoard your mp3s, kids!) So I highly recommend downloading this year’s mix.***

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2017

  1. Hang On Me – St. Vincent
  2. Heel Theme – Mansions
  3. Hole – Hundredth
  4. Everything Now – Arcade Fire
  5. Forgiveness – Paramore
  6. Take Me With U – Susanna Hoffs
  7. War & Wildflowers – Onlychild
  8. Don’t Let The Clowns – Hidden Ambulances
  9. Dawning – DMA’s
  10. Once In A Lifetime – The Night Game
  11. The Stack – White Reaper
  12. Nearby Catfight – Milk Teeth
  13. Shopping Is A Feeling – WHAT WHAT WHAT
  14. These Heaux – Bhad Bhabie
  15. Boys – Charli XCX
  16. A Better Sun – Sorority Noise
  17. Jaded – Winter
  18. Backyard – Sløtface
  19. How Do You Feel? – The Maine
  20. Aeronaut – Billy Corgan
  21. Star Roving – Slowdive
  22. Splendid Charm – Hidden Ambulances

click image to download

For once, I’m NOT going to promise to be back tomorrow with something-or-other and then not follow through on it. I do have my Top Ten Albums of 2017 prepared, at least in list form. I’d like to write about them, and I’m hoping that I’ll find the time over the next couple weeks to do so, though perhaps not as extensively as in past years.

One of my projects for 2017 is to move this blog from Tumblr to…somewhere else. WordPress maybe? I’m not really sure. Somewhere where I can restore my links page and better archive all the things I’ve written for publication. To be honest, between the death of the Tumblr music writing community (such as it was in, say, 2011 – there might be a whole new one now for all I know!) and the fact that Tumblr eating my HTML has rendered one of the key parts of this page useless – not to mention the uncertainty of Tumblr’s future itself – I’ve been left hesitant to invest much time over here. Especially because I know what a beast of a project relocating all of this will be.

I put myself on a couple social media diets in 2017, and while they were nice while they lasted, they were, like most diets, hard to stick to. For 2018 I want to take that break a little more seriously. I’d like to spend a little more time in the rich and unexplored (by me) past – I’ve got at least a hundred books in my office that I’ve been meaning to read and haven’t cracked – and a little less in the undifferentiated firehose of the present. I’d also like to spend more time focused on writing rather than constant consumption. (Turns out exposure isn’t the only Oregon-Trail-related death a writer needs to be concerned about in 2018!) (Let me be someone else’s consumption problem!) So, I’m going to spend the next couple weeks digesting the last bits of 2017 – reading end-of-year stuff I didn’t get around to for lack of time, hopefully writing my own end-of-year stuff – and then I’m going to flip off the lights on Twitter and Facebook for a while.

If I’m right, that means you might be seeing more of me here, or wherever “here” winds up being.

So, until then, friends. We’ve got to make 2018 better than 2017; we can’t afford not to. Time to get (back) to work.

*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 2017 list and rolled my 2018 one right on top, so if you were subscribed, you should be following 2018 now. If not, follow along right here.

***That said… you can stream what’s streamable here.

The Best of the Rest 2013

(feat. track – Kitten – “I’ll Be Your Girl” [spotify] from Like A Stranger)

Tomorrow, I’ll unveil my #1 album of the year.  In the meantime, here’s a whole lot of stuff that didn’t quite make my Top Ten Twelve but still left a big impression in 2013.

My Best Of The Rest list seems to grow longer every year – this time out, it’s a semi-ridiculous 37 (in a row?) albums, and that’s after some serious paring down on my part. But the bottom line is, there’s a ton of music released each year, and a whole lot more than twelve of those album are worth giving a serious listen to. Most of these albums, under different circumstances, could have cracked my Top Ten Twelve, and I have no doubt that, looking back five or ten years from now, I’ll hold some of these in higher esteem than some albums that made the final cut. So what I’m saying is: this stuff is worth your time too.

Any writing I’ve done on any of these artists in 2013 is noted. Spotify (or other streaming source) links have been included, where available.

Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True [spotify]

At this point, Alkaline Trio have settled into a steady mid-career groove – there really aren’t many new tricks left up their sleeves, they do what they do and they do it well. Still, My Shame Is True is a stronger set of songs than 2010’s This Addiction. If nothing else, tracks like the bouncy “She Lied to the FBI” and the Good Mourning-esque “The Temptation of St. Anthony” go a long way toward reassuring me that 2011’s weird semi-acoustic rehashing of old tracks, Damnesia, wasn’t an sign that the band had run out of ideas. A solid album from an old favorite, albeit one I haven’t felt much need to return to.

Allison Weiss – Say What You Mean [spotify] / Sideways Sessions [spotify]

Allison Weiss has a songwriter’s playbook and a punk’s sensibilities. Say What You Mean gets mucked up a bit by production that smooths where it should crinkle, but Weiss’ songs are strong, and terrifyingly catchy, enough to shine through the occasional excess goop.

Balance & Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing [spotify]

The Things We Think We’re Missing didn’t grab me immediately in the way the Separation (my #8 album of of 2011) did. It’s less song driven, less melody driven, less heterogeneous, and trades angry aggro for a more melancholy slow burn. But for what it is, it’s undeniably good. One I should have spent more time with this year.

Betty Who – The Movement EP [spotify]

The obvious gem here is “Somebody Loves You,” a Whitney-Houston-by-way-of-Robyn jam of a dance-pop record. But The Movement has a certain charm throughout – quirky production touches like the Passion Pit-y vocal synths of “You’re In Love” and warm beats like those that burble underneath the daydreamy “High Society” make for a thoroughly breezy listen.

Boys – Demo 2013 [bandcamp]

Four tracks of skittering, sloppy, scrappy Lookout!-style pop-punk done right. The part of the ‘90s you wish people were busy remembering.

Butch Walker – Peachtree Battle EP [spotify]

Butch Walker’s last LP, The Spade, was the most straightforward rock record he’s released in nearly a decade. Peachtree Battle takes a step away from that ledge in favor of anthemic balladry and midtempo twang, placing the focus back on Walker’s exceptional chorus-crafting and smart lyrics. Walker’s an underrated acolyte of the rock-as-gospel school – something that was only reaffirmed for me at a whopper of a SXSW showcase at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church. Even on record, his zeal for life’s twists and turns shines through.

Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe [spotify]

Spry synth-pop with some serious emotional range and a powerhouse frontwoman that deserved every bit of hype it received, and probably more . Sure, it was an underground hit, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been an overground one too. One of those albums I wanted to spend more time with but never quite found the time to; I suspect if I had, it would have cracked my Top Ten Twelve.

The Front Bottoms – Talon Of the Hawk [spotify]

One day, the Front Bottoms will wind up with an album that captures the raucous, edge-of-control spirit of the bummer-punk duo’s live set. Today is not that day. But even if Talon Of The Hawk doesn’t distill what’s best about the band, the parts that it does manage to show off are pretty great all on their own. Brian Sella’s lyrical skill remains a marvel, and the exquisitely buoyant “Au Revoir” is the band’s best track to date.

Haim – Days Are Gone [spotify]

The not-talked-about-nearly-enough soft-rock revival continues! Haim were one of 2013’s buzziest bands, and all that buzz was merited. Days Are Gone is a wonderfully addictive update of Tango In The Night-era Fleetwood Mac, packed full of catchy hooks, smart melodies and a delightfully chippy vocal delivery. Tracks like “The Wire” and “If I Could Change Your Mind” were some of the year’s most welcome radio fodder.

The History of Apple Pie – Out Of View [spotify]

Every two to three years, I manage to fall for some random nu-gaze album. In 2008, it was Airiel’s The Battle Of Sealand; in 2010, Amusement Parks On Fire’s Road Eyes. This time around, it’s Out Of View. The band’s full-length debut starts with Sarah Records style cooing and lays a mound of cotton candy fuzz over the top, or maybe vice versa. I had the good fortune of catching The History of Apple Pie live at CMJ, and while their barebones setup didn’t provide for quite the volume of brainbending noise I had been hoping for, the songs more than held their own.

I Is Another – I Is Another EP [spotify]

This collaboration between longtime favorite Jonah Matranga (Far, Gratitude, Onelinedrawing) and Rival Schools’ Ian Love deserved way more attention than it garnered this year. Matranga hasn’t sounded this fired up in a long time; Love’s riffwork – alternately pummeling, warped and oblique – leave scuffmarks on some of the prettiness that Matranga’s been locked in to for his last few releases – in a lot of ways, I Is Another feels like picking up on where Far left off in the 90s, much more so than that band’s polished 2010 comeback album. As “Shake” and “Dear Departed” remind us, Matranga’s as compelling when screaming himself raw as he is while cooing quietly thoughtfully.

Jimmie Deeghan – Cheap Therapy EP [spotify] / Like We Know Us [spotify]

After Every Avenue split, guitarist Jimmie Deeghan made his way down to Nashville, and that city’s influence is written all over Cheap Therapy. Deeghan already had evinced a penchant for traditionalist, Americana-laced pop-rock; this time around, the songwriting has caught up with the sound. “Sad and Blue,” in particular, showcases his equal dexterity with a story and a hook.

The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law [spotify]

I kind of wrote off The Joy Formidable after catching an especially mediocre mid-afternoon performance by the band at 2011’s Bamboozle, but all is forgiven with the massive Wolf’s Law. “Maw Maw Song,” the album’s multi-movement seven-minute-long monster of an anchorpiece is a marvel unto itself.

Justin Bieber – Believe Acoustic [spotify]

The Biebs spent most of the year making all the wrong kind of headlines, so much so that it’s easy to forget this release even came out in 2013. But acoustic versions of tracks like “As Long As You Love Me” and “She Don’t Like The Lights” reveal the truly great songs that were hidden under the original versions’ (excellent) studio production. One day, when Bieber has put his youthful foibles behind him, he’s gonna release a back-to-basics singer-songwriter album, and it’s gonna be great. Bank on it.

Katy Perry – Prism [spotify]

In a year full of hit-or-miss superstar album releases, Prism is a high water mark for consistency. Beyond the album’s three excellent singles to date, tracks like the discofied romp “Birthday,” housey “Walking On Air” and breezy synthpop ballad “This Moment” have “future hit” written all over them. An eminently enjoyable full-album listen.

Kitten – Like A Stranger EP [spotify]

I got turned on to Kitten when my friend Keaton hooked on to do their merch while they toured with Paramore this spring. Like A Stranger doesn’t quite capture the incendiary dramatics of the band’s live set – for one, it lacks their positively scorching cover of “Purple Rain” – it’s still a solid slab of dusky revivalist new-wave. “I’ll Be Your Girl” didn’t get the critical attention, but it’s as good as anything Chari XCX or Betty Who put out this year. I had them pegged as future superstars, but recently singer Chloe Chaidez split with the remained of the band, so we’ll have to see what the future holds. (This actually happened once before, with the ex-members forming FIDLAR, so if the past is any indication, there’s a decent chance we get two great new acts out of the rift!)

Lacey Caroline – Songbird EP [spotify]

To quote myself:

Songbird largely avoids the grand gestures and anthemic bludgeoning of arena country and Mumfordcore clap-n-stomp in favor of quieter, more confessional fare — if it lacks the bite of a Kacey Musgraves or Ashley Monroe, it at least avoids the oversung mawkishness of fellow pop-punk-gone-country Cassadee Pope. The mandolins and chiming acoustic guitars of tracks like “Run Away” and “Anything but Me” pair surprisingly well with her songwriting sensibilities. Caroline’s voice — clear, pure, a little thin at the top of her range — only carries the slightest touch of a twang; close your eyes and you can hear Jewel (another singer who’s made the leap to country). Her vocals feel natural, unforced; they present themselves, rather than pushing themselves on you.

[feature]

The Maine – Forever Halloween [spotify] / Imaginary Numbers EP [spotify]

The Maine turned to Brendan Benson to produce Forever Halloween, and the result is the loosest album from the band to date. The Maine continue to push in a more rock-and-roll direction (this time it’s a little more stripped down than amped up), and while Forever Halloween is the first time the band have put out an album I’ve felt a little let down by – lyrically, it’s a hot mess, with John O’Callaghan’s attempt to write more personally mostly adding up to stacks on stacks on stacks of weak cliches – a lesser Maine album is still head and shoulders above most other bands’ best work. Tracks like “Love And Drugs” and “Run” are as good as anything they’ve done to date.

Imaginary Numbers is an EP of spare, moody acoustic originals. It’s the most emotionally raw work The Maine have done by a long-shot – there are shades of Ryan Adams at his most depressive.

While it doesn’t include either of these albums, I spent a lot of time writing about The Maine this year – see the links below for more.

[One Week One Band – The Maine] [interview]

Mansions – Doom Loop [spotify]

Two years ago, Mansions’ Dig Up The Dead ranked #3 on my yearly list. Doom Loop is less immediate than that album – it’s louder, crankier, more prone to lashing out than in.  It also came out too late in the year for me to really give it the time that a new Mansions album deserve. Two months from now I might well be kicking myself that it didn’t crack my Top Ten Twelve; even now, I listen to tracks like the searing, accusatory “Two Suits” and wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake.

Pentimento – Inside The Sea EP [spotify]

Inside The Sea comprises the four most powerful, catchiest, most cathartic, flat-out best tracks from the young band to date. Pentimento’s name never seems to come up in #emorevival discussions, but Inside The Sea injects a heavy dose of midwestern pathos into the band’s sound, overwhelming their earlier pop-punk leanings. It’s a change for the best.

Puig Destroyer – Puig Destroyer EP [spotify] / Wait For Spring EP [spotify]

Like everything great in this world, Puig Destroyer started as a joke – an off the cuff remark during a Productive Outs podcast. It still might be a joke, kind of. Who’s to say? Not me; I don’t know a grindcore from a grundle. But I do know awesome, and the psychotic howls and brain-pureeing blastbeats that comprise Puig Destroyer and Wait For Spring are fucking awesome. 80 power, 20 control makes for one hell of a fun prospect.

Real Friends – Put Yourself Back Together EP [spotify]

2013 was a breakout year for pop-punk kids Real Friends. The show of theirs I caught at the Studio at Webster Hall a few months back was one the craziest I attended all year – the sheer bizzonkers enthusiasm of the crowd reminded me of that for The Story So Far and The Wonder Years right as each was on the edge of blowing up. Real Friends’ sound borrows from both of those bands, but leans more heavily on the poppier sounds of the mid/late ’00s; perhaps that’s why I like Put Yourself Back Together so much.

Rhye – Woman [spotify]

Upon first listen, in early 2013, I mentally penciled Woman into my “good, but not Top Ten good” column. At the time, I presumed that it would garner that sort of year-end accolades from the more indie-leaning music sites. Seems that, as time went by and the hype cooled, those sites wound up closer to my position than I had anticipated. That shouldn’t take away from Rhye’s enjoyability, though. Delicately romantic, if not altogether memorable, post-Sade pop, Woman is a good example of both the strengths and weaknesses of the soft-rock revival.

Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines [spotify]

Between the debate over whether “Blurred Lines” is “rapey” (I generally take the Maura Johnston line, though I’m not sure that, as a guy, I’m exactly capable of an informed opinion) and the controversy over whether it ripped off Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” (dirty secret – it’s better than that Marvin Gaye track. There. I said it.), there’s been more ink spilled on “Blurred Lines” than maybe any song this year, and while it’s a deserved smash, that chatter has unfortunately overshadowed how excellent the remainder of the album is. Tracks like “Give It 2 U” and “Ooo La La” (no, not that one) should be launching the (already successful, lest we forget) Thicke to extended stardom; instead, odds are strong he winds up as 2013’s Carly Rae Jepsen.

roboteyes – roboteyes EP [bandcamp]

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I find the 80s revival way more interesting than the emo revival. roboteyes are a great example of why – their ebullient vocals and buoyant melodies carry every bit the emotional sway of their glummer counterparts, and even in their drollest moments, vocalists Kate LeDeuce and Ryan Ford sound emotionally engaged.The lovely melodies only add to the enjoyability.

Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals [spotify]

Bitter Rivals garnered wildly mixed reviews on its release; I find that strange, because to me, the album seems like a quintessential Sleigh Bells album. It the combination of redlined riffs and cheerleader chirping no longer feels as wildly inventive as it did the first time out, 2010’s Treats, the band have still applied enough little twists to their formula here to make Bitter Rivals worthy on its own merits. Even if they were merely doing what they’ve always done, there’s value in what Sleigh Bells do beyond the once-groundbreaking nature of their sonics. And the title track here is as good as anything the band have done, period.

Smallpools – Smallpools EP [spotify]

Sean Scanlon, the voice behind faux-indie dance poppers Smallpools, made this Top Ten in 2009 as the lead vocalist/songwriter/keyboardist for piano poppers Making April, and if Smallpools doesn’t share much in common with that group’s musical sensibility (nor their melancholy), it carries with it the same penchant for big singalong choruses and bright melodies. “Dreaming” was a minor breakout hit for the band this year – the popular notice is both well deserved and a long time coming.

[feature]

Sombear – Love You In The Dark [spotify]

Sombear doesn’t sound anything like Now, Now, the day gig of Brad Hale (and the authors of my #7 album of 2012). Hale’s one-man electronic project is as expansive as that band is insular; Love You In The Dark runs the gamut from shimmery Transatlanticism (“Incredibly Still”) to piston-pumping NINtronica (“LA”) to Daft funk (“Never Say Baby”). But just like with Now, Now, there are hooks for days in Love You In The Dark; if they’re maybe not as sharp, they’re a whole heck of a lot quicker to reveal themselves.

[feature]

Sparks The Rescue – Truth Inside The Fiction EP [spotify] / The Secrets We’ve Kept [bandcamp]

Sparks The Rescue have fallen out of the popular spotlight, and while that’s surely been trying for the (few) remaining members, it’s also freed them to expand their range without pushback. Truth Inside The Fiction explores breezy pop, plaintive folk and more – it even tries its hand at Americana, reggae and white-boy funk, often (though not always) very well. Alex Roy’s singularly distinctive vocals are the remaining constant, tying the EP back the rest of the band’s catalog.

The Secrets We’ve Kept collects b-sides, demos and unreleased detritus from throughout the band’s career, and to be honest I haven’t spent much time with it yet.

The Strokes – Comedown Machine [spotify]

I get it. The Strokes aren’t cool anymore. Arcade Fire are. How else to explain why the latter’s James Murphy-ized Reflektor rode in atop a massive wave of hype, while the similarly-discofied Comedown Machine went virtually ignored?Recognizably Strokes-y but working from a whole bag of new production tricks, Comedown Machine is the best surprise of the year, and the best Strokes album since Is This It. I didn’t think they had this in them anymore.

Tilian – Material Me [spotify]

Tilian Pearson is best know for his work in the progressive post-hardcore scene, primarily as the soaring, near-falsetto clean voice behind Tides of Man (and, soon, Dance Gavin Dance). But as well as those vocals cut through the dense, heavy arrangements of rock bands, they pair just as well with dancey electro and blip-n-loop ballads. Material Me is inconsistent at times, but at its heights, like on the irrepressible “Waste  My Time,” it’s hard to imagine Pearson’s golden throat is meant for anything but pop perfection.

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Touche Amore – Is Survived By [spotify]

Typically, the token hardcore record on the hip music blogs’ year-end lists makes it there precisely because it incorporates sounds and ideas from outside of hardcore’s sphere (see: Fucked Up – David Comes To Life. Or even Husker Du – Zen Arcade). Touche Amore, on the other hand, have managed it by simply making a traditional hardcore record that’s so damn good it can’t be ignored. Jeremy Bolm’s has been the best lyricist in hardcore for a while now, but on Is Survived By, he’s gone next-level.

Transit – Young New England [spotify] / Futures & Sutures [spotify]

From my review of the controversial Young New England:

Credit Transit for not burying the lede. Young New England, the band’s knotty fourth full-length, wrestles with those titular twin poles of identity — age and place — in each of its thirteen songs. […] Young New England is the stormily evocative depiction of a band working through that transitional time between legal adulthood and the real deal, as seen from the center of the maelstrom. As such, it can be a tough listen at times, but also a rewarding one, precisely because its flaws are its most interesting parts.

Futures & Sutures remakes tracks from both Young New England and past releases with new recordings and instrumentation.

[review]

Twin Forks – Tour EP [youtube] / Twin Forks EP [spotify]

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I have a serious aversion to Mumfordcore clap-n-stomp bullshit, but Chris Carrabba’s new project  – which also includes Suzie Zeldin of The Narrative (who made my #2 album of 2010) and Favorite Gentlemen’s favorite gentleman, Ben Homola – has its heart in the right place. Carrabba’s dabbled in this territory before – the lovely cover of Gillian Welch’s “Hard Times” on the Tour EP seems like a good indication that the project is more than conveniently-timed trendhopping – and his songwriting chops translate well.

I was also honored to score the first interview with the band, during SXSW, so I’ve got a soft spot for them for sure.

[interview]

Vinnie Caruana – City By The Sea EP [spotify]

Vinnie Caruana, when he’s not fronting I Am The Avalanche, is one of my favorite solo singer-songwriters to catch live. His shows tend to be spirited, dynamic, rough-edged and drunkenly unpredictably, and by those standards the relatively staid City By The Sea, with its reserved arrangements and production shmaltz, is something of a disappointment. That said, it’s a solid little EP; tracks like “Somehow The World Keeps Turning” and “Boy You’re In Heaven” are winners, even if old favorite “To Be Dead and In Love” has been completely neutered by its arrangement.

William Control – Skeleton Strings [youtube]

A collection of acoustic covers (including a few rearrangements of his own prior work), Skeleton Strings is a reminder of why I so enjoy Wil’s acoustic material. His deep, gothy croon fits all of the material here exquisitely, and combined with the simple arrangements, the album glows with a lushly arch romanticism.

The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation [spotify]

The conclusion of the Wonder Years’ trilogy ranged further afield sonically than its predecessors, spending too much time dabbling in mid-tempo mid-90’s-style alt-rock to reach the heights of 2011’s taut Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing (my #10 album of that year.) That’s the price you pay for ambition sometimes. Still, when The Greatest Generation hits, like on “The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves,” it hits hard.

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.

#3 Album Of 2011 – MANSIONS – DIG UP THE DEAD

(feat. track – “Seven Years” [spotify])

Christopher Browder, who records as the one-man band Mansions, is one dark dude.  Sometimes he’s dark and brooding.  Sometimes he’s dark and seething.  Sometimes he’s dark and sad.  Sometimes he’s just plain old dark. If you think you’ve spotted any light in Dig Up The Dead’s ten tracks of bummer rock and folky slowcore, reconsider.

And yet Dig Up The Dead couldn’t be further from the lachrymose self-involvement of baby-bat goth or acoustic emo.  There’s no flourish here; where there’s pain, it’s pain as felt, not pain as acted out. Music this unabashedly sad is often a “look at me” ploy, but one gets the sense that Browder would prefer to be hiding in a dark corner right now, if it weren’t for the pesky fact that he makes his bones as a performing songwriter. He seemingly lacks even the will to quit.  As he puts it on the album-opening title track, “I have never been free // but I have always been cheap.”

Still, no matter how dour, how plodding (when bro sings “adrenaline is not my blood // amphetamines are not my love” in “Not My Blood”, he ain’t lying), how bleak Dig Up The Dead feels, there’s something weirdly life-affirming about it. It takes a hopeful and rebellious heart to shout into the void, even if you’re just telling that void how void-y it is.  As down as the album may be, when listening I never feel like I’m getting dragged down with it.

A lot of that can be chalked up to Browder’s skill as a craftsman; every hook is memorable, every phrase quotable. The recordings themselves are largely minimalist, but not underproduced; little moments like the dissociative self-harmonies on “Call Me When It’s Over” or “Blackest Sky”’s near-false ending coda give lie to the tremendous care Browder’s put into his recordings.

It’s rare that I can listen to any album with an unwavering focus on one specific emotion regardless of my mood at the time, much less an album this intense, but somehow Dig Up The Dead plays well to all my dispositions. I can’t remember a single instance where one of its tracks came up on shuffle and I felt the compulsion to hit skip. The songs of Dig Up The Dead are very precise and strong evocations of a particular mood, yet they manage to consistently transcend that mood. I always feel like coming back for more.

(If you can find it, early copies of Dig Up The Dead were released along with an acoustic recording of the full album, and while it’s not essential, it’s more than just a quieter recreation. “Blackest Sky” takes on all sorts of new dimensions, and not just because it’s the heaviest track on the original recoring; when transposed to a different key, it turns from a dark and desperate lament for lost youth to an almost wistfully elegaic paean to those years.  Meanwhile, “Yer Voice”‘s tentative declaration of purpose twists into something approximating a love song. It’s a welcome complement to an already exceptional piece of work.)

Makeup For The Silence Best Of 2011 Mix

Makeup For The Silence Best Of 2011 Mix cover art

Last year, I posted my yearly Skyway mixtape exchange disc here, and hell, if once is good then twice is better, right?

I’ve backed off the rules a bit this time around.  There were a number of albums I absolutely loved this year as a whole where no one track really stood out; so, not all of my Top 10 Albums are represented here. Likewise, there seemed to be a ton of albums this year that largely disappointed, but had an absolutely stellar song or two buried in the muck. (I don’t think I’ve had such a hard time cutting one of these down to a single disc in a while; I could easily do a part two made up of equally-great stuff).

Also, last year, I made a point of avoiding any big radio singles in favor of stuff that might have gone overlooked; this year, it hasn’t really been necessary because I don’t think there has been a big radio single all year that I’m Gaga about, pun intended.

All that said, if you want a pretty good picture of what this year’s peaks sounded like to me, well then here you go.  It was a pretty poppy year in general for me even as the edges got more ragged than they had been in a while, and featured a serious sideline into robo-funk.  While it leans pretty heavily pop (I generally find that that’s where the strongest “singles” come from) I tried my best to find the right balance here.  Download*, listen, enjoy! Consider it my [insert any holiday you might celebrate here] present to you :]

Makeup For The Silence – Best of 2011

  1. No Church In The Wild – Jay-Z & Kanye West
  2. Came Out Swinging – The Wonder Years
  3. Someone Like You – The Summer Set
  4. History Of Modern (Part 1) – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
  5. Kill The Beast – Go Radio
  6. Bullet Believers (Rah Rah Rah) – The Bigger Lights
  7. Saturday Skin – Sparks The Rescue
  8. Without You – Nocturnal Me
  9. With You – LMFAO
  10. Cryptozoology – Patrick Stump
  11. Icarus – Edelweiss
  12. See You Around – We Are The In Crowd
  13. Blackest Sky – Mansions
  14. Grass – Little Bombs
  15. Always – Panic! At The Disco
  16. Until I Die Alone – Never Shout Never
  17. Amor Fati – Washed Out
  18. No One’s Gonna Need You More – The Dangerous Summer
  19. Watch The World – Every Avenue
  20. Condolences – Touché Amoré

click image to download

*Also, if you’re one of those shiny future-people who digs things like “clouds” and “streaming”, I’ve gone ahead and Spotified this ish up for ya, just like that.  You’re welcome.

The Music Diary Project 2011

Mansions – “City Don’t Care”

This past week, I (along with a whole bunch of internet folks) participated in the Music Diary Project.  It’s the brainchild of Nick Southall, who among other things wrote for my all-time favorite internet music site, the dearly departed Stylus (if you missed its too-short moment, think “Pitchfork For Humans”).  The idea was, simply, to keep a diary of what you listened to every day.  It was a largely open-ended project; folks were free to engage with it any way they chose. Some merely posted lists.  Others added data about when and where they were while listening, and other context.  Some reflected on the music itself; some on the act of listening; some on the act of reflecting on the act of listening.  (It really made a beautiful opportunity to get meta).

I posted my listening daily, along with commentary, on my day-to-day Tumblr; rather than leave you with an epic post here, I’ll drop links to each day to peruse at your will.  If you’re curious about what other people listened to (and perhaps their reflections on such), just pop #musicdiaryproject into the search either here on tumblr or anywhere else on the internet, or look to Nick’s site, where he has a fairly substantial list of folks who participated.  I’m not sure any of you will find this interesting; as much as anything else, this post is just an excuse for me to have all this stuff in one place.  That said, if you’re a regular reader here, maybe you’re curious about how I listen to music in my day-to-day life?  (I will say, this past week did turn out to be pretty well representative of a typical week for me).

I don’t think I want to comment too much more above and beyond what’s already in each day’s diary, at least not yet, but I will say that while it started to feel like a chore by the end of the week, the end of my day feels a tad empty tonight without it.  Ultimately keeping such a diary, for those of us who are (for better or worse) serious about music requires some real engagement in self-reflection.  It definitely made my world a little more interesting for the week.

My music diary entries:

Monday, April 4

Tuesday, April 5

Wednesday, April 6

Thursday, April 7

Friday, April 8

Saturday, April 9

Sunday, April 10

[I was having trouble figuring out what music to post along with this. I decided to go with my favorite of the new things I’ve listened to.  Seriously, the new Mansions record is exceptionally good; it’s on the short list for a spot in my yearly Top 10 right now.  It just came out this past week; if you like what you hear, I believe it’s still streaming a couple places online.  It’s worth your time.]

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