Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

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My Top 10 Albums of 2016

(feat. track – Dinosaur Pile-Up – “Bad Penny” [spotify] from Eleven Eleven)

[Posted 1/3/18] So… I was going through the blog to make some updates and found my 2016 “Best Of The Rest” lost in a draft. Of course, I never did get around to doing write-ups of my top albums for 2016 – or even posting them on the main blog! – much less posting what didn’t quite make it. (The list is, and will remain, over at the Top Tens page.)

Still, this blog feels incomplete without the list living here, even sans commentary, so I’m popping in to retroactively post it, along with the Best Of The Rest list I had written up at the time.

So without further ado…

MY TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2016

10. Myrone – Drift Stage Vol. 1 [spotify]

9. Let’s Eat Grandma – I, Gemini [spotify]

8. 18th and Addison – Makeshift Monster [spotify]

7. Boys Night Out – Black Dogs EP [spotify]

6. Cash Cash – Blood, Sweat & Three Years [spotify]

5. Garbage – Strange Little Birds [spotify]

4. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It [spotify]

3. Kitten – Heaven Or Somewhere In Between EP [spotify]

2. David Bowie – Blackstar [spotify]

1. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo [spotify]

 

THE BEST OF THE REST

American Football – American Football [spotify]

Bon Iver – 22, A Million [spotify]

Brand New – 3 Demos, Reworked [spotify]

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book [spotify]

Dinosaur Pile-Up – Eleven Eleven [spotify]

The Downtown Fiction – Alligator Tears [spotify]

Frank Ocean – Blond(e) [spotify]

From Indian Lakes – Everything Feels Better Now [spotify]

The Hotelier – Goodness [spotify]

Jeff Rosenstock – Worry [spotify]

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat [spotify]

k.flay – Crush Me [spotify]

King Neptune – A Place To Rest My Head [spotify]

Lights – Midnight Machines [spotify]

Look Park – Look Park [spotify]

The Monkees – Good Times! [spotify]

Moose Blood – Blush [spotify]

Pity Sex – White Hot Moon [spotify]

Suede – Night Thoughts [spotify]

Tancred – Out Of The Garden [spotify]

My Top Twelve Albums of 2015

(feat. track – Twenty One Pilots – “heavydirtysoul” [spotify] from Blurryface)

[posted 1/03/18] I never got around to posting my Top Ten for 2015 here on the main blog, so I’m traveling back from the future to edit it in. I also never posted a Best Of The Rest from 2015, but I did find my list I had prepared at the time in an old iPhone note. I have neither the time nor the desire to do any retroactive write-ups, but for the sake of historical accuracy, here we go!

MY TOP TEN TWELVE ALBUMS OF 2015

12. The Maine – American Candy [spotify] / Covers (Side A) [spotify] / Covers (Side B) [spotify]

11. Pet Symmetry – Pets Hounds [spotify]

10. Foxing – Dealer [spotify]

9. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment – Surf [spotify]

8. Better Off – Milk [spotify]

7. Metric – Pagans In Vegas [spotify]

6. Chris Stamey – Euphoria [spotify]

5. Mayday Parade – Black Lines [spotify]

4. Veruca Salt – Ghost Notes [spotify]

3. Florence & the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful [spotify]

2. Turnover – Peripheral Vision [spotify]

1. Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface [spotify]

 

THE BEST OF THE REST

Baggage – Cheaper Than Therapy [spotify]

Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us [spotify]

Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect [spotify]

Brian Marquis – I Miss The 90s [spotify]

Coliseum – Anxiety’s Kiss [spotify]

Dariia – Petals [spotify]

Diamond Youth – Nothing Matters [spotify]

The Early November – Imbue [spotify]

Fetty Wap – Fetty Wap [spotify]

Grimes – Art Angels [spotify]

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly [spotify]

Modern Baseball – The Perfect Cast [spotify]

Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass [spotify]

No Devotion – Permanence [spotify]

Pentimento – I, No Longer [spotify]

Petal – Shame [spotify]

SayWeCanFly – Between The Roses [spotify]

The Sidekicks – Runners In The Nerved World [spotify]

Sundressed – The Same Condition [spotify]

Twin Shadow – Eclipse [spotify]

Inside Music MINI EPISODE #1 – Montage Of Heck (with Jesse Richman)

haulix:

image

On this special mini episode of INSIDE MUSIC, host James Shotwell speaks with music critic Jesse Richman about the new Kurt Cobain documentary, ‘Montage Of Heck.’ James and Jesse both saw the film together during its SXSW premiere, and now that the movie is becoming available for everyone to enjoy they decided to hop on a call to discuss what many are calling the greatest rock documentary of all time. Whether you consider yourself a Nirvana fan or not, this is one conversation you don’t want to miss. Here is the film’s latest trailer:

The music you hear in the intro to ‘Inside Music’ this week is “Come As You Are” from Nirvana. You can learn more about that song, as well as the album it hails from, on the band’s official website.

You may already know this, but ‘Inside Music’ is now available on iTunes! Click here to subscribe.

Keep reading

I hopped on the line with my buddy James at Haulix to talk about the new Kurt Cobain documentary. Hopefully I didn’t make a fool of myself.

#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.

Best of the Rest 2014

THE BEST OF THE REST

(feat. track – Paolo Nutini – “One Day” [spotifyfrom Caustic Love)

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 2014.

For the first time ever I believe, my Best Of The Rest list comes in with fewer entries than the year prior, 25. I’ve mentioned it before, but for some reason 2014 was more of a “singles” year than an “albums” year to me. Still, the collections below could have all, in a slightly different year, made their way into the numbered list, and all are worth your time.

Any writing I’ve done on any of these artists in 2014 is noted. Spotify (or other streaming source) links have been included, where available.

Alburn – Mouthful Of Glass [spotify]

Mouthful of Glass is Alburn’s first EP in two years; it sounds like it’s spent those entire two years in a shaken bottle, fizzing and roiling and waiting to explode. Daisy-era Brand New is the obvious touchpoint here, but Alburn bring something of their own to the mix. And acoustic closer “Sweetheart” aches like the most wounded of Kevin Devine or Andy Hull tracks.

Angels & Airwaves – The Dream Walker

I’m as shocked as you that, in 2014, a new Angels & Airwaves album is ranking on my year-end list. In opening his singular vision up by inviting in collaborator Ilan Rubin, Tom DeLonge has finally achieved what seemed impossible – creating a new album that isn’t merely a semi-blurred refraction of the album prior. DeLonge still knows his way around a pop hook, and the production, full of digitally frippery, has bite. (In particular, his bass sounds are gnarly in all the best ways on this one.) The Dream Walker is still recognizably AvA, but it’s AvA at it’s best-dressed.

Basement – Further Sky [spotify]

The defunct leaders of the scene’s grunge revival made their unexpected return this year with a series of triumphant tour dates (including a raucous, sold out  ‘big room” at Webster Hall here in NYC) and with this 3 song EP pointing toward the future. “Summer’s Colour” races forward on alt-rock nostalgia; “Jet” returns to grimier, more haunted fair. (Big love to the band for covering one of my all-time faves, Suede’s “Animal Nitrate,” for the EP’s final track, though I wish I enjoyed their rendition more.)

Being As An Ocean – How We Both Wondrously Perish [spotify]

How We Both Wondrously Perish finds [Being As An Ocean] pushing the boundaries of their sound. [Frontman Joel] Quartuccio’s shout on “Even The Dead Have Their Tasks” sounds coarser than ever, while on “Mothers,” he slips into a Morrissey-esque croon. On the instrumental title track, the band diverge into Thrice-like ambient soundscapes; on the closing “Nature,” they lay heavily processed vocals over washes of burbling low-end.

The addition of [guitarist/vocalist Michael] McGough, in particular, has added a sizeable new weapon to the band’s arsenal. His clean vocals (“Death’s Great Black Wing Scrapes The Air,” “The Poets Cry For More”) inject a newfound melodic sensibility into the band’s compositions. When paired with Quartuccio’s impassioned snarl, they open up dynamics – loud and soft, gnarled and smooth, soaring and rumbling – that the band’s prior work lacked.

– Me, “Faith Based Initiatives,” Alternative Press 311 [June 2014]

Betty Who – Slow Dancing / Take Me When You Go [spotify]

Betty Who made this list last year with her debut EP, The Movement. She followed it this year with a second EP, and then a full length that compiles all the best moments of both, along with a grip of additional new songs. As such, it’s hard to narrow down the goodness to a specific release; The Movement contains most of the essentials, but also most of the filler. Still, whatever its shortcomings, they pale compared to the album’s numerous triumphs.  Betty abandons her vague Whitney worship, embracing her Swedish ancestry through a series of wistful, wish-full disco numbers.

The Cab – Lock Me Up [spotify]

When I spoke to Alex DeLeon of The Cab in April, it had been nearly two years since the band had signed their major label deal – two years of silence. Lock Me Up was a fan-targeted surprise release packed full of Maroon 5-esque jams intended to hold over the faithful, but when asked about plans for a new full-length, DeLeon promised “definitely this year. I would say in the next few months.” DeLeon noted he had more than 100 songs written, and  while many of them were intended for other artists, it sure seemed as if he felt that writing for the upcoming Cab record was essentially complete. Since then, it’s just been more silence. Such is the life of a major label band.

Charli XCX – Sucker [spotify]

I was incredibly excited by Charli XCX when she first hit the scene a few years back; since then, I’ve seen my interest wane with each subsequent release, her talents wasted on more-annoying-than-catchy hooks and lame-premised songs. And on that trajectory, “Break The Rules” and “Boom Clap” (the chorus of which I cannot stop from hearing as “*BOOM*, *crap*: the sound of my shart”) are the absolute nadir. There’s something exceptionally millennial (post-millennial?) about much of her songwriting that I just have a hard time relating to. Fortunately, Sucker redeems itself amply, especially in its latter half, where songs like the downtempo “Doing It” and the swinging “Need Ur Luv” mine real emotional depth that matches the sharpness of the hooks.

Dum Dum Girls – Too True [spotify]

I’ve never been a fan of Dum Dum Girls’ lo-fi garage pop; fortunately, on Too True they ditch that sound entirely for a gorgeously-produced album of synth-haunted darkwave, glimmering torch pop, and everything that generally made groups like the Bangles and Bananarama great in their time. 10 propulsive, catchy, thoughtful tunes you’ll find yourself humming for days after.

The Hotelier – Home, Like NoPlace Is There [spotify]

I wasn’t quite as taken by Home, Like NoPlace Is There as some folks were this year. Still I see why it was a Top 5 album on a lot of lists, even if not on mine  If nothing else, “Your Deep Rest” rides this perfect line between being the hoariest of cliches and the most cathartic anthem of the decade. Nothing could be more appropriate than closing the album with a track named “Dendron;” Home Like NoPlace Is There is like spending 36 minutes with the pulsating of a raw, exposed nerve.

Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell [spotify]

I discovered Hundred Waters this year entirely on accident – they were the act playing before Bob Nanna at a SXSW showcase this past March. I was taken with them almost immediately – taken as in intrigued. Indeed, it took me quite a while to figure out whether or not I actually liked the act – their unpredictable rhythms, broken soundscapes and breathy vocals ride the line between chaotic and tightly composed; The Moon Rang Like A Bell pogos across the map in tempo and density, yet somehow makes for a work of remarkable consistency. Live, the material becomes much more aggressive – there’s almost a dance-punk, Fuck Buttons-y enervation to the syncopated bottom-end, which really pulled me into their performance. Yet what they lack in coiled energy on record, they make up for in dynamics.

Mystery Skulls – Forever [spotify]

Ultimately, I think I would have been much more taken with Forever, the debut LP from electro-soul producer Mystery Skulls (a/k/a Luis Dubuc, who made my Best Of The Rest 2010 list under his previous guise, The Secret Handshake,) had I not spent the last three years listening to demos from the project, many of them better than the material that made record. Even with that, the funky charm of tracks like “Paralyzed” and “Ghost” (which received a marvelous video treatment) are undeniable. What I’m saying is, don’t give it short shrift just because I did; if you haven’t heard it before, there’s some great stuff here.

No Somos Marineros – Lomas Verdes

I’ve been raving about this Mexican emo act since I first came across them at SXSW in 2013. I caught them again this year (and even had the opportunity to interview them) – they only keep getting better. Lomas Verdes is the band’s first full-length release, and it delivers on all that promise with 9 tracks of wide-ranging emo, screamo and (post)-hardcore. NSM are capable of working up throat-shredding intensity, of generating hypnotic tribal rhythms, and of constructing beautifully fragile soundscapes – occasionally, all on the same song (“Guesjusbac”). The results can be a bit unfocused at times; considering that they’re nearly bursting at the seams with good ideas, it’s hard to fault them.

Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love [spotify]

Caustic Love is actually the first Paolo Nutini LP not to make my yearly Top Ten (These Streets was #9 in 2007Sunny Side Up made it to #2 in 2009). In part, it’s because Caustic Love’s missteps are more apparent – there are some wince-inducingly corny moments here (including the blustery, entirely un-self-aware single “Iron Sky”). In larger part though, it’s because Caustic Love finds Nutini really stretching out his sound: unfortunately, his takes on more modern pop and blues just aren’t as effective as when he sticks to blue-eyed soul. But oh, when he does, like on the soaring “One Day,” he’s as earth-rattlingly good as ever.

PUP – PUP [spotify]

The debut album by Canadian punks PUP (which is, debatably, a 2013 release) didn’t quite grab me the way it did some other folks, but at its best moments, like the frenetic, frazzled “Reservoir”, it’s as compelling as anything I’ve heard this year. I could do without some of the bloozier numbers, but when their pop side shows, they remind me of a nerve-frayed Desaparecidos, or Rivers Cuomo on the urge of a freakout. Still, the real reason PUP make this list is because their live set is astonishingly great, and after hearing these pummelers in that setting, I get it.

Pvris – White Noise [spotify]

Combining the stridency of Paramore at their most alt-rock (think “Let The Flames Begin”) with the production bent of acts like CHVRCHES, Pvris’ sink or swim on the back of vocalist Lynn Gunn; here, on their debut full-length, they could span the English Channel. Gunn turns in a powerhouse performance, carried by songs that are universally solid (if a bit same-y). If White Noise is any example, Pvris are primed for big things to come.

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams [spotify]

I’ve been a fan of Ryan Adams since his Whiskeytown days; indeed, there was a time where I might have called him my favorite artist. He’s also remarkably prolific, and while there was a time where I would track down Suicide Handbook and his scads of unreleased material, I sort of lost interest somewhere in the Cardinals era. That said, this year’s self-titled album has reeled me back in. There’s nothing on here that doesn’t at least resemble some song Adams has release before, but what it lacks in novelty it more than makes up for in consistent greatness. Indeed, I’m not sure it’s a stretch that this is Adams’ most consistent work to date. A pleasure to listen to from beginning to end.

Set It Off – Duality [spotify]

Duality is a lesson in dichotomies. Musically, the album reuintes the chipper pop-punk of the band’s formative years with the darker orchestral pop of their newer material, and then slathers both with a heavy helping of au courant radio-pop and R&B. The results make for a diverse, stimulating listen: Tracks like “The Haunting,” with its music box twinkles, carry the torch for dark punk, but the uber-catchy “Forever Stuck In Our Youth” could pass for a lost track from Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock & Roll sessions with its loping bassline, octave vocal punches and soulful chorus. The verses of “Ancient History” immediately call to mind U2’s “Beautiful Day,” before bursting into a power-pop chorus reminiscent of SIO’s one-time tourmates Every Avenue.

But beyond the sonic reconciliation, Duality represents a unification of [frontman Cody] Carson’s divergent personae. The angry, put-upon kid and the upbeat pop-punker. The fanboy and the frontman. The affable friend and the outcast. On Duality, they merge into what might be for the first time on record, Cody Carson: Complete Human Being.

– Me, “Brand New Skin,” Alternative Press 317 [December 2014]

Taylor Swift – 1989

I did 90% of my music listening this year on Spotify. That largely kept me from listening to 1989; indeed, I think that might be the sole reason the album didn’t kick its way into my Top 10. (Which isn’t to say her withholding the album was imprudent – I think Taylor is going to be just fine without my promotional efforts). I also think that, especially on the tail end, there’s a little too much filler to ignore. That said, 1989 is so full of bangers, earworms, and perfect pop that it can’t be ignored. I was about to list off the album’s best songs here, but honestly, fully 2/3 of this album is absolutely transcendent. For her first “official” pop statement, 1989 makes a strong case that this is where Taylor Swift has truly belonged all this time.

Tiny Moving Parts – Pleasant Living [spotify]

Tiny Moving Parts deal in the sort of chaotic twinkly emo that I can only listen to in short doses, but when I’m craving it, they’re some of the best at what they do. Pleasant Livingbuilds on the foundation laid by last year’s This Couch Is Long And Full Of Friendship, but the band has grown more confident and self-assured, even if you wouldn’t know it by listening to the lyrics.

Transit – Joyride [spotify]

It’s a shame that Transit’s last album, Young New England, was so divisive, because I think it’s kept a lot of people from giving their excellent new album a fair shot. If anything, Joyride finds the band exploring similar territory as their earlier releases, with a sharper melodic tack and a sense of sanguine, wistful resignation, Joe Boynton’s lyrics as strong as ever. I’m not sure what a Tim Landers-free Transit will hold for the future, but tarnished as their reputation may be, Joyride deserved more attention.

VA – Whirr / Nothing split [spotify]

The best Smashing Pumpkins album released this year was actually this split by Whirr and Nothing, and it isn’t close. Whir’s two propulsive slow-burners suspend ethereal vocals right in the middle of fuzzy, flangey guitar. Meanwhile, Nothing’s touchstone here is more Smashing Pumpkins-circa-“Mayonaise”, with big melodic hooks that swirl and twirl up against their limits like snow in a snow globe.

Veruca Salt – MMXIV [spotify / spotify]

One of the least expected and most satisfying comebacks of 2014, Veruca Salt’s return came backed with this three-track 7″, including two excellent new songs. “It’s Holy” picks up where “Seether” left off, an upbeat ripper with vocals so perfectly intertwined you’ll swear no time has past, even as the girls address their triumph-to-be in the lyrics. And “The Museum Of Broken Relationships” prove that the band is just as keen to revisit the more weighty material that kept the band’s first two albums from being mere radio single fodder.

White Lung – Deep Fantasy [spotify]

I was a White Lung fan prior to Deep Fantasy; I’d even had the pleasure of catching Vancouver’s hardest-charging punk quartet live at SXSW in 2013. Yet somehow, I put off listening to the album for most of 2014. That’s a shame; had I heard it earlier in the year it would have been in serious consideration for my Top Ten. Nothing they had done before could have prepared me for the dynamo the unleashed in 2014. Like a piston crashing ceaselessly into the head of injustice, personal and political, at thousands of RPMs, Deep Fantasy converts vocalist Mish Way’s explosiveness into a focused point of propulsion. A Dremel designed to carve the rot out of the West’s teeth.

Xerxes – Collision Blonde [spotify]

I couldn’t tell you much about the old Xerxes; I never paid them much attention. But by all accounts Collision Blonde is a new leaf for the band. Whatever the old Xerxes might have been, the new Xerxes incorporates more than a little bit of Touche Amore (especially in the vocal department), song structures that nod to La Dispute, crisp, propulsive basslines that call back to late 70’s / early 80’s post-punk and a sense of doomy melody that shines through the all-screamed vocals. Collision Blonde is, as Calvin Philley shouts in “Criminal, Animal,” an album written from, and for, those moments “with my head in my hands // and my heart in my throat.”

You+Me – Rose Ave. [spotify]

I honestly find it shocking that this Dallas Green + P!nk collaborative project didn’t get more press than it did. I know major labels are funny, and You+Me doesn’t exactly fit into the “how to sell more product” equation for either artist, but the songs here are generally great (with different vocals you’d have no problem passing this off as another lost Ryan Adams gem), and it’s often breathtaking how naturally the two fit together vocally – one play of album-opener “Capsized” should make it abundantly clear that this project works. Best of all is the stunning album-closing cover of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love,” P!nk’s delicate power lending just the right amount of oomph to Green’s soaring falsetto.

#2 Album of 2014 – Darlia – Assorted Singles

#2 – DARLIA – ASSORTED SINGLES [spotify]

(feat track – “Stars Are Aligned" [spotify])

If this were 1994, Darlia would be the biggest band on the planet; sometimes, in my head, it is, and they are. 

I honestly don’t remember the last time I’ve been knocked on my ass quite the way I was the first time I played Darlia’s debut single, ”Queen Of Hearts.“ Sure, there have been bands that I’ve fallen for from the first notes of my first play before – I was sold on the Gaslight Anthem’s The 59 Sound, my Top Album of 2009, from the opening vocals of ”Great Expectations,“ for one example – but this was something else, or rather it was something more. It was that same feeling, coupled with the sensation of being hurtled back into my own past, to the first time I heard Sloan’s ”Underwhelmed“ or Smashing Pumpkins’ ”Cherub Rock“ or Pearl Jam’s ”Animal,“ songs where I could feel my world shifting under my feet as I listened, thinking nothing could ever sound this good again.

Then they did it again, with ”Animal Kingdom*,“ and then again with ”Dear Diary,“ and then once more with ”Stars Are Aligned“ – for a band that has yet to release anything with more than three songs on it, Darlia managed to rocket four tracks into my pantheon in a single year. Indeed, if you listen to them as four singles off a hypothetical album, they track as if they had been A&R’d by a mid-90s major label – the cracking barnstormer debut, the slightly mellower second-tier second-single, the monster hit crowd-pleaser, and the killer deep cut that fans love.*Darlia aren’t just calling back to a sound that’s as deep a part of me as anything; they’re actually doing it better than most bands of the day did, and at times it literally leaves me breathless.

Now, I know vocalist Nathan Day hates when people call Darlia a grunge band; he confirmed as much for me during a recent opportunity to interview him. I don’t say it to be unkind. I think that Darlia are absolutely sincere in their protestations; they don’t spend time listening to grunge music (actually, Day doesn’t really listen to music at all – something you’ll be able to read more about soon), they aren’t retro-fetishists of some sort, and they don’t see themselves as marching to someone else’s drum. Of course, acts like Stone Temple Pilots were equally sincere (and, in retrospect, correct) about their own lack of connection to the "grunge” scene of their day; to not believe you’re of something is entirely different that to actually not be of it. Sometimes what counts (to the world at large) isn’t where you come from but where you arrive.

Indeed, what makes Darlia’s objections so ironic is that they’re the same objections that were leveled by the bubblegrunge wave 20 years prior. Protesting one’s presumed company is a strategy right out of the bubblegrunge handbook, along with things like 1) lyrics that occasionally misread the cryptic, abstract imagery of Cobain for evocative nonsense*** and 2) massive pop hooks that put anything in grunge’s seminal Scratch Acid-meets-stoner-rock wave to shame.

A third commonality much of that bubblegrunge wave shared was that band members were often thought to be cravenly, grossly desirous of fame (see: Corgan, Billy), a venial sin in the best of times, but a mortal one in that moment, when the ideal of hipster authenticity was the disaffected, heroin-nod cool of a Layne Staley or a Mark Arm.**** Day doesn’t seem to be concerned with putting up a front either, but times have changed – thirst is the new slack, and the odds of being burned for his ambition seem much lower than they were for, say, Gavin Rossdale. He makes no bones about the fact that he’s been plotting Darlia’s future for something like a decade. During our talk, he discussed intentionally avoiding the spotlight out of fear of becoming a here-and-gone sensation, stockpiling hundreds of songs while charting Darlia’s course to avoid the pitfalls of, say, YouTube stardom. Clearly, these are not the concerns of a man without a healthy dose of ego self-confidence or a fear of calculation.

So yes, the shoe indeed fits, even if it’s a fashion Day would never take off the shelf. And yet, ultimately, I’m not sure how much it matters. Much as acts like Pearl Jam and Silverchair greatly transcended the pigeonholes they emerged from, Darlia have the talent and potential to take their music somewhere singular. Indeed, their upcoming mini-album Petals veers off into new directions – shoegazey psychedelia, acoustic fragility – even while reinforcing their core sound. I’m excited for what Darlia might become, even as I know I’ll miss what they’ve already done. Will it hit me like a hammer, the way “Queen of Hearts” or “Dear Diary” did? Maybe not. And yet, if any band ever had a chance…

*Yes, technically “Candyman” was the second single, but b-side “Animal Kingdom” is twice the song, and this is my list so I get to make the rules!

** Alive,” “Evenflow,” “Jeremy,” “Black// "Smells Like Teen Spirit,“ ”Come As You Are,“ ”Lithium,“ ”In Bloom“ // ”Somebody To Shove,“ ”Black Gold,“ ”Runaway Train,“ ”Without A Trace“ // ”Photograph,“ ”Cup of Tea,“ ”The Freshman,“ ”Villains“ // ”Them Bones,“ ”Angry Chair,“ ”Rooster,“ ”Down In A Hole“ // ”Longview,“ ”Basket Case,“ ”When I Come Around,“ ”She“ // ”Selling The Drama,“ ”I Alone,“ ”Lightning Crashes,“ ”All Over You“ // we could play this game for hours.

*** I may be selling Day short here – after our interview, revisiting "Queen Of Hearts” revealed a clear meaning in what was seemingly gibberish, a massively important secret hidden in plain sight. I won’t give away too much right now; maybe when the time is right. “Oh, aurora borealis” indeed.

**** Cobain was secretly the most meticulous planner of them all, but he famously presented a too-cool-to-care public image – whether because he was an exceptionally unknowable chameleon, or merely that he was “first to market” with the pose, Cobain’s authenticity generally went unchallenged in his day.

#3 Album of 2014 – Myrone – Myrone EP

#3 – MYRONE – MYRONE EP [bandcamp/ ASSORTED SINGLES [soundcloud]

(feat. track – “Exclusive Coupe” [soundcloudfrom the Myrone EP)

Who is Hugh Myrone?

The simple answer is: I have no idea. I don’t even know if the name Myrone, which he records under, is his real name. I don’t know where he comes from. Until I heard his voice on a podcast this week (more on this later), I wasn’t even sure he was a native English-speaker – his interests, if not his roots, reach from 80’s euro-guitar prodigies to Japanese vaporwave and net-culture. He posted some Instagram photos and videos recently from NAMM, the annual music industry trade show that leans toward the shreddy and technically-proficient; naturally, his face is obscured. Prior to that, I couldn’t have even proved he existed in meatspace – he might as well have been a digital creation.

What I do know is that Myrone is making some jaw-droppingly great music. Mining a vein that has sat relatively untapped since the days when Shreddasaurs walked the earth, Myrone’s trademark #softshred (which I swear is going to be this year’s #seapunk) combines the technical wankery of a Vai or Malmsteen with an incredible ear for instrumental pop hooks. To that end, while his playing has a super-melodic quality that reminds me a little of Satriani, maybe the most apt comparison is to Eddie Van Halen – though their styles differ wildly, both put forward a technical prowess on the guitar which often overshadows the fact that, secretly, they’re super awesome synth composers. Bottom line is, Myrone can play, but so can lots of folks – it only matters because he writes such great songs.

And, oh man, how great they are! ”Exclusive Coupe,“ the second song Myrone released and the centerpiece of his debut EP, evinces an fully-formed aesthetic – pulsing synth bass, loping, stretchy guitar leads that occasionally break apart in a crystalline shatter of notes, deceptively killer synth hooks, and a sense of forward momentum and tight pop composition. (Either Myrone has been incubating his talent for years, or he’s a born genius… or both.) Later tracks collected on the EP find Myrone at play within that established framework, pushing up against the boundaries with the urban funk of ”61“ and the soaring shuffle of ”The Pump Master.“

His later Soundcloud singles do one better, breaking out of that framework entirely. ”Net / Knowledge“ is a gorgeous, play-over-the-credits power ballad. ”Kinda Epic“ proves that Myrone is an exceptionally skilled songwriter and sideman; even with vocalist Azeem taking center stage, it’s Myrone’s blistering, exuberant synth- funk composition that stars. ”Heating Up“ kicks on the afterburners, a blazing, high-tempo workout with a perfectly constructed tension/release chorus. Best of all is ”Virtual Island Paradise,“ a song I once described as “the background music from a Baywatch montage”  – except Myrone does it better than the real thing. It takes both skill and understanding to create something so deeply evocative of a specific time and place, and yet the song is so catchy, so endlessly listenable, that it never rings hollow the way period pieces often do. Myrone’s songs are full of the one thing that so much guitar-oriented instrumental music lacks: soul.

Late in 2014, Myrone connected with the developers of indie retro-racer Drift Stage; his soundtrack is set to be a key element of the gaming experience. One listen to “Drift Stage [Main Theme],” with its whammy-ed up, overdriven lead, should make it clear just how natural a pairing this is. I only hope that soundtrack composition doesn’t slow down his development as a writer; as naturally suited as Myrone’s music now is for a racing video game, I would hate to see anything artificially limit where, when and how he grows. Myrone’s music is my #3 collection of the year just as it exists right now; yet somehow, when I listen, what I hear most of all is potential.

So who is Hugh Myrone? I discovered Myrone just shy of a year ago, when an industry acquaintance – someone who has worked in management, A&R, publishing and more – began tweeting about some of his earliest work. And, see, that’s the rub. I could find out from that acquaintance who this guy is – but I’m not sure I want to. The #softshred legend he’s building; the visage of a guitar superhero, the kind that seemingly vanished from the earth decades ago; seems inevitably more fascinating than the reality of the man behind the mask. I’m content to just listen to the music and imagine.

#4 Album of 2014 – Bleachers – Strange Desire

#4 – BLEACHERS – STRANGE DESIRE [spotify]

(feat. track – “Shadow" [spotify])

I’m a longtime fan of Jack Antonoff’s work. Fun.‘s Some Nights checked in at #8 in 2012’s Top Albums; Aim and Ignite made 2009’s Best Of The Rest; and, frankly, I fucked up in not ranking the 2010 self-titled album by Steel Train – though that album’s marvelous lead single, "Bullet,” earned a spot on 2010’s Mixtape. (Not to mention that I can’t even count how many times I marked out to 2007’s “Kill Monsters In The Rain” live which, if you never had the chance to catch Steel Train in person, you owe yourself to at least look up on YouTube.) So it’s really sort of predictable that the debut album from his newest project, Bleachers, would wind up somewhere on this list. At the same time, though, there’s always a little, welcome rush when an old favorite manages not only not to let you down, but to exceed all expectations. In that sense, Strange Desire is a wonderful surprise of an album.

Strange Desire’s heavily ’80’s-influenced production – whether the gloss was inspired by the participation of Erasure’s Vince Clarke, or whether the material’s native gloss made Clarke an inspired choice to produce, we may never know  – is a new direction from a man who’s constantly moving in new directions. Steel Train metamorphosed from dank-stank hippie bummer jam dealers to strident Jerseycore enthusiasts; Fun. evolved from purveyors of pretty-but-painless orch-pop to beat-embracing, rule-rewriting anthemicists. Each album, a new guise (if not new guys).

And yet, what I find most interesting about Jack’s work is that, underneath the production du jour, each one of his record sounds distinctly like a Jack Antonoff composition. His choice of style, of genre, is merely an avenue to that sound – each one takes this already-extant set of coordinates and opens up a new avenue with which to explore it. Here, the big gated drums, dry reverb and clipped guitar jangles imbue the typically massive gang choruses with a goofy, self-aware charm; it cuts away all the know-nothing ego, loosing him to play with Queen-sized statements, dance like a Bowie with two left feet, somehow score a Yoko Ono cameo without coming off as pretentious in the least, and at long last, wail on his guitar like a motherfucker.

The end result is that Strange Desire, rather than feeling indebted to an era, sounds positively freed by it – wild, reckless. exuberant, joyful and life-affirming at every step. Of all the many looks Jack Antonoff has sported through the years, Bleachers might well be the clearest – and the best.

#5 Album of 2014 – Beach Slang – Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?

#5 – BEACH SLANG – WHO WOULD EVER WANT ANYTHING SO BROKEN? [spotify] / CHEAP THRILLS ON A DEAD END STREET [spotify]

(feat. track – “Filthy Luck" [spotifyfrom Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?)

Over on PropertyOfZack, we’re running our annual Artists To Watch feature tomorrow. To quote from my future self:

[Beach Slang] has released two EPs to date. Each one of them, each of the eight tracks, is perfect. The sound – Replacements and Hold Me Up-era Goo Goo Dolls melodies, sandblasted with reverb borrowed from the nu-gaze revolution – is custom-designed to tickle that sweet spot at the center of the Venn diagram where hipsterized indie-punk and crewnecked teenage scene-punk meet. Even the backstory – risen from the ashes of faded underground heroes Weston, a terrifically unlikely second chance – screams "LOVE ME!”

I’m not sure what else needs to be said. I fell hard and fast for Beach Slang from the first peals of the electrifying triplet that opens “Filthy Luck,” the lead track of debut EP Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? It echoes, in sound and in spirit, the punchy lead-in of the Replacements’ “Hold My Life,” and it sets both the tone and an impressively high bar, one which they then proceed to leap with bewildering ease for three more tracks and then another four times on the just-as-good follow-up Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street. Their lyrics, though downmixed until just another brick in the wall of feedback-y reverb, are endlessly quotable. The songs combine classicist composition with just enough edge to catch you off guard if you let your attention wander. I got to see the band live this fall and they were just as dynamic, just as fist- and heart-pumping as on record, a triumphant, sweat-soaked tornado of a band. They’re everything I want out of their kind of music.

There’s a reason every indie and punk website has Beach Slang marked as their “next big thing” this year. For once, I’m on the same page as all of them.

#7 Album of 2014 – Allison Weiss – Remember When

#7 – ALLISON WEISS – REMEMBER WHEN [spotify]

(feat. track – “Remember When” [spotify])

Allison Weiss’ 2013 LP Say What You Mean made my “Best of the Rest” list last year; in fact, it was one of the last albums cut from my longlist as I narrowed it down. The songs were certainly strong enough to crack through, and Weiss is as dynamic a performer – both on record and live –as they come, but production that sanded down the points it should have sharpened made for the album’s ultimate undoing.

Remember When, a five song EP released by Weiss this year, has no such issues; indeed, the production choices here (by bandmate and partner Joanna Katcher, who deserves to be recognized by name for her stellar work) are spectacular, across the board. The title track breezes by on galloping drums and rich, warm guitar tones with just the right touch of fuzzy delay; the spare, fingerpicked solo electric guitar and layered harmonies on Weiss’ gut-wrenching reinterpretation of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” compliment the fragility in her voice and the emotional ambivalence of the lyrics with precision. Even the simple reverb-heavy, demo-quality recording of closing acoustic blues strummer “Take You Back” works, because the arrangement and style suit the song so well. Weiss’ songwriting is so strong that all that’s really called for is production unobtrusive enough to let her talent shine through; here though, the production actually lifts the material.

Of course, even produced as well as it is, Remember When wouldn’t rank if it wasn’t for the quality of the songs, and this is Weiss’ most consistently strong batch to date. Yes, it’s only five tracks (with one being a cover to boot), but all five place among Weiss’ finest. Weiss has a very distinctive way of addressing the standard tropes of love and loss, a certain empathy that’s hard to describe outside of the effect that it has on you, a magnetism that pulls you into the songs characters (if they are even characters) and gets you inside their heads, as though you were experiencing the longing, the resignation, the trepidation right along with them. Sure, that’s what lots of songwriters aim to do; Weiss just happens to be one of the few who gets it consistently right.

Indeed, “consistently right” pretty much sums up Remember When in one pithy phrase. Remember When is an understated but fully realized joy of a record.

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