Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

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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.

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!


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]



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]

Makeup for the Silence – Best of 2015 Mix

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2015 Mix

A third of this year’s Makeup For The Silence – Best Of mix (the sixth* edition running!) is made up of no-brainer inclusions – singles that blew my socks off from the first listen and held up across the year. The second third was simply a matter of figuring out which of a number of great tracks from the same artists would slot in best. That third third, though… It was an ugly process this year, attempting to sort through the remaining 170-or-so songs in my Top Tracks Of 2015 longlist** – most of which were of roughly equivalent awesomeness – and arrive at something that both encapsulates what 2015 sounded like to me*** and finds some sort of flow.

As a result, this year’s mix would have been very different had I gone down any number of different paths. The mix that I settled on is one that’s a little harder to pin down than in years past. It’s more of a bummer than last year; while that mix had a lot of righteous anger, this one spends more time toying with melancholia. It leans  groove-heavy, like 2013′s mix; but that album was more sunny than this year’s downer disco. It’s sillier than one of these has been in a while, but more ruminative too.

Ultimately, it feels very true to a year where the big highs were nearly matched by big lows, with the two connected by a lot of unsettling space between – both personally, and on a societal level. Plus, not only does it make for a great front-to-back listen, it answers important questions, like: What if the ‘00s premier big dumb hair-metal revivalists set their sites on the sounds brainier heshers like The Cult? What if David Gilmour had been backed by Crazy Horse instead of Pink Floyd? What happens when a largely forgotten college rock fave gets a hold of Ryan Adams’ cast-offs? And, if you grind a man’s rib in a centrifuge, mix it with cardamom and cloves and then microwave it on the “popcorn” setting, what do you get?

Ok, enough blah, blah, blah.. Less talk, more rock I say! The Best Of 2015 is here. Download, listen, enjoy!

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2015

1. Heavydirtysoul – Twenty One Pilots
2. Give Thanks (Get Lost) – Pet Symmetry
3. Laughing In The Sugar Bowl – Veruca Salt
4. Beck And Call – Sundressed
5. The Shade – Metric
6. Black Heart – Carly Rae Jepsen
7. Valkyrie – Battle Tapes
8. Collect My Love (feat. Alex Newell) – The Knocks
9. Thank God For Girls – Weezer
10. Song Of The Sparrow – SayWeCanFly
11. Open Fire – The Darkness
12. Universe-sized Arms – Chris Stamey
13. Revelator Eyes – The Paper Kites
14. In The Clouds – Diamond Youth
15. Shock The Money – Local H
16. Hollow – Mayday Parade
17. Drag Scene – See Through Dresses
18. Dresser Drawer – Better Off
19. The Biggest Bar Night Of The Year – Baggage
20. English Girls – The Maine
21. Baby Love – Petite Meller
22. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd) – Elder Brother

click image to download****

Stay tuned, The yearly Top Ten will begin tomorrow soon*****.

*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 2015 list and rolled my 2016 one right on top, so if you were subscribed, you should be following 2016 now. If not, follow along right here.

***As always, my “no big pop hits” rule applies – and this time out, be thankful, or else you’d basically have a whole disc of nothing but Drake, Fetty Wap, The Weeknd and Kanye.

****Or stream (most) of it on Spotify here

*****Between caring for an infant, studying for the FL bar exam and some job-related things that are in the works, the timing of this year’s Top Ten may be a little erratic. That said, if all goes as planned, we start counting down… tomorrow!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

This Century – “Don’t Stop Now” (The Maine Cover)

This Century – Don’t Stop Now (The Maine Cover)

So this past week, I wrote 12,215 words on The Maine for one of my favorite blogs on the web, One Week One Band. It was a real honor, and an exhausting one – it’s been a while since I felt as mentally drained as I did yesterday evening after sending my final post into the ether.

Between that and SXSW, it’s been a while since I posted anything original here. I’ve got a handful of reviews to grind out in the next couple weeks, and a feature article I’m writing that I’m excited about, but I should find some time to do a little something over here as well, I think.

In the meantime, here’s something I found doing my research for One Week One Band but didn’t quite find a way to work into my week: a cover of The Maine’s “Don’t Stop Now” by their friends/proteges This Century. It’s radically different from the original, and a really beautiful reinvention of what was already a pretty great song.

Coming up: The Maine



Thanks, Max!

Next week, Jesse Richman is talking about pop-rock band The Maine, the stigma of the “emo” and “scene” labels, and the network of like-minded bands from the Phoenix, AZ area.

Jesse is writing about music on his own blog Makeup for the Silence, and as a Senior Staff Writer at PropertyofZack. You can also find him on Tumblr and Twitter.

See you tomorrow.

— Hendrik

That’s right folks, I’ll be spending the next week blogging about The Maine over at One Week One Band. Come on over and join in the fun!

I’ll put up links over here to everything I post this week once it’s all done.

#4 Album of 2012 – The Maine – Good Love: The Pioneer B-Sides


(feat. track – “I’m Leaving” [spotify])

I don’t think I’d ever call The Maine my favorite band, and yet I seem to fall in love with everything they release. 2008’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop features the most consistent songwriting and catchiest melodies of the many neon pop albums which broke through that year. That December’s …And A Happy New Year featured “Ho Ho Hopefully,” a solid candidate for second-best holiday song to emerge from the power-pop-punk world (Fall Out Boy’s “Yule Shoot Your Eye Out” is #1, inarguably), one that’s endured in the years since as a fan (and scene) favorite. 2010’s transitional Black & White made my Top Ten for the year; the exceptional, experimental In Darkness And In Light EP would have ranked even higher, had it not been released in the last week of December. Similarly, it was only a December release that kept 2011’s mature Pioneer off of that year’s chart (it still managed to sneak its way into the Best Of The Rest). I’m fairly well convinced at this point that I’m The Maine’s biggest cheerleader (at least among folks who aren’t young enough to be actual cheerleaders), and yet I still somehow consistently underrate – and underestimate – the band.

I’ll have a lot more to say on why that might be in the fairly near future; I find The Maine fascinating not just for what they are but also for who they are, and why they are, and for what they represent. Until then, there’s plenty I’ve already written on them out there (see: every hyperlink in this post). Or better yet, just go listen to them; even without all the interesting context attached, the music speaks for itself. Good Love is as fine a rock and roll album as any released this year.

review of Good Love: The Pioneer B-Sides (published 10/09/12)

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2012 Mixtape

Makeup for the Silence – Best of 2012 Mixtape

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2012 Mixtape

For each of the last two years, I’ve posted here a copy of the CD I had made for that year’s mix exchange on Skyway, the long-running Replacements email list. Unfortunately, through some sort of mix-up, I didn’t end up participating in the exchange this time around, but the year doesn’t feel complete anymore if I haven’t made my mix*!

This year’s was the hardest I can remember, in terms of making my final cutdown; when I took my first pass, I ended up with something like 150 tracks. As with previous years, I’ve left off any big radio hits. That proved much more painful this time out than it did last year – there were a bunch of chart toppers I absolutely loved in 2012 (fun., I’m looking your way; you too, Bieber). But I still had such a glut of tracks to choose from that I don’t feel like I’m losing much by leaving off songs that will still be ubiquitous a decade from now. (OK, maybe we won’t be listening to “Gangnam Style” much in 2022, but we certainly won’t have forgotten it!)

The end goal for me is always to wind up with a mix of tracks I love which both flow together well and paint a reasonably accurate picture of what I was listening to during the year, accounting for genre and style and taste, while also highlighting songs that might have not gotten the notice they deserved during the year. I feel like I managed it well this time out**. But in the end, you get to be the judge: download***, listen, enjoy!

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2012

  1. Everyone Knows – Vacationer
  2. The Descent – Bob Mould
  3. I Guess We’re Cool – Cassadee Pope
  4. Happy As Fuck (feat. Pat Brown) – MOD SUN
  5. Deadheads (Demo) – Cold Crows Dead
  6. Timelines – Motion City Soundtrack
  7. As Good As It Gets (Rollerskate Remix) – States
  8. Find Our Way – Our Lady Peace
  9. Nothing At All – Steven Padin
  10. Scarlett (Tokyo) – William Beckett
  11. Ima Read (feat. Njena Reddd Foxxx) – Zebra Katz
  12. Head In The Ceiling Fan – Title Fight
  13. Maybe Our Days Are Numbered – Happy Body Slow Brain
  14. Oh. Hi. – Now, Now
  15. 25 To Life – Masked Intruder
  16. Street Spirit (Fade Out) – The Darkness
  17. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – Citizen
  18. Good Love – The Maine
  19.  –

click image to download

Stay tuned; the yearly Top Ten will begin on Monday!

*you can always find the complete collection of mixes which have appeared on Makeup For The Silence right over here

**There’s one noticeable gap this time out; I spent a lot more time listening to pop-punk this year than shows up on this mix. Unfortunately, for as much as I heard, not much of it really stood out to me; I feel like this year the genre reached a plateau, with a large number of decent-to-good releases that sounded a little too much (or a lot too much) like each other to really stand out. Some of those will still get a nod on my Albums list, but it felt like there was a dearth of great singles among them.

***Just like last year, I’ve also gone ahead and made a Spotify version of the playlist; unfortunately, this time around a few of the tracks aren’t available, so you won’t get the full experience that way. But hey, if you really want to go that route regardless, who am I to stand in your way?

State of the Scene 2012

David Bowie – Changes

Turn and face the strange (ch-ch-changes) 
Oh, look out you rock ‘n’ rollers 
Turn and face the strange (Ch-ch-changes) 
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older…

[I don’t spend a lot of time talking about “the scene” over here; if anything, this blog is usually an outlet for me to write about my other musical interests, since most of what I write about at PropertyOfZack and on my personal blog involves that corner of the music world. But last weekend, in the process of sending in comments on my Pazz & Jop Poll* entries last week, I somehow stumbled my way into a 1,200 word “state of the scene” report, and it seems like a shame to let that go to waste, especially as it fits so well into the end-of-year stuff I’m doing right now. I don’t expect the Voice will be much interested in this, but perhaps you will be!]

Brand New’s Daisy may not be their best album, nor their most popular, but it is slowly proving to be their most influential. The 2009 album’s innovative interpretation and integration of early-90s grunge, alt-rock and second wave emo has provided the blueprint for a bevy of artists at post-hardcore and emo’s creative tip (Sainthood Reps, Balance & Composure), including two of 2012’s most intriguing releases: Title Fight’s wide-ranging Floral Green and Basement (UK)’s brilliant swan song Colourmeinkindness.

Of course, Brand New don’t get all the credit for this; Daisy’s release presaged a larger movement in the punk/pop-punk/emo/post-hardcore/“scene” world, away from the brighter, more pop-oriented sounds that dominated the scene’s “neon” phase in 2008-2010 and back towards grimier, less-cleanly produced sounds, heavy in signifiers of authenticity. That transition took root firmly in 2011, and in 2012 it bore some excellent fruit: DadsAmerican Radass (This Is Important), Pentimento’s Pentimento, The MenzingersOn The Impossible Past, Joyce Manor’s Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired, Misser’s Everyday I Tell Myself I’m Going To Be A Better Person, Such Gold’s Misadventures, Code Orange KidsLove Is Love // Return To Dust, as well as reunion albums by Further Seems Forever (Penny Black), The Early November (In Currents), The Jealous Sound (A Gentle Reminder) and Hot Water Music (Exister) which were as good, if not better, than anything those bands released during their initial runs.

But if this era has been a boon for a new breed of pop-punk and emo acts, and for labels like No Sleep, Run For Cover, Topshelf, Rise and Pure Noise, it’s been far less kind to many of the acts that dominated the “scene” as recently as four or five years ago, and who now find themselves in an impossible position. In 2012, these bands found themselves being rejected as too soft and un-serious by the punk and rock communities that had formed the core of their support. As always, they were too “commercial” and suburban-mall-teen-girl for the indie community (though, of course, the commercial prospects for “indie”-sounding bands in 2012 are far greater than for “scene”/power-pop/pop-punk acts, and though the most successful, or even moderately successful, indie rock bands are in fact frequently signed to medium-to-large labels, with fruitful publishing deals and cream-of-the-crop PR, holdover “scene” bands are at this point more likely to be flying solo, DIY either by choice or by lack of any remaining alternative, and getting it all wrong on their own).  Likewise, they’ve been rejected, or at least ignored, by a poptimist community that might theoretically be open to their pop songcraft and accessible sounds but seems to have written off the genre as too guitar-heavy (and, probably fairly, as too white-male-dominated).

As a result, a number of excellent albums befell the same fate that struck Patrick Stump’s critically-beloved (if polarizing), commercially ignored Soul Punk in 2011. Kenneth Vasoli (The Starting Line, Person L), disguised his own presence in Vacationer for as long as he could, but despite touring with indie darlings The Naked And Famous and Now, Now (whose exceptional Threads lives up to every column inch of hype the Chris Walla-backed trio received in 2012), the breezy, buoyant Gone never seemed to catch the indie ears that adore bands like Beach House and Washed Out. The Maine, having negotiated the independent release of 2011’s Pioneer after label WMG refused to issue the album, followed suit in 2012 with the stellar Good Love EP, to the thrill of their core fans and the attention of no one else. Similarly, William Beckett (late of The Academy Is…) issued a trio of EPs (Walk The Talk, Winds Will Change and What Will Be) that found his songwriting growing by leaps and bounds, to little notice. All fared better than This Providence; kept on the shelf for nearly two years by Fueled By Ramen, in 2012 the band finally broke free of the label  and released the refreshingly retro Brier EP, only to discover that even their core fanbase had wilted away in the intervening years. (When your following is largely teenaged, a two year absence might as well be a death sentence).

It’s been interesting, if disheartening, to see how these bands have adapted (or at least attempted to adapt) to a newly-hostile climate. The genre’s biggest lights, blink-182 and All Time Low, took advantage of large core audiences built (in part) by major label dollars during the “scene”’s heyday and released strong albums (the Dogs Eating Dogs EP and Don’t Panic, respectively) on their own. Similarly, Motion City Soundtrack followed up the best album of their career with the new best album of their career, the independently-recorded, Epitaph-released Go. But for most, continued success on their own unwavering terms simply wasn’t an option. Sparks The Rescue released a self-titled EP that garnered the best reviews of their career, but ended the year shedding three of their five members, primarily for economic reasons; Detroit power-poppers Every Avenue packed it in entirely, openly declaring that they were splitting not out of any interpersonal enmity but because they could no longer afford to be a band. One outlet that has become increasingly popular is NBC’s The Voice; following the success of Dia Frampton (Meg And Dia) and Juliet Simms (Automatic Loveletter) in the first two seasons, 2012 saw not only victory for the Pete Wentz-cosigned Cassadee Pope (formerly of Warped Tour vets Hey Monday) but also a strong run by Joe Kirkland of pop-punks-turned-balladeers Artist Vs. Poet.

Perhaps most intriguingly, established acts like The Summer Set have decamped for Nashville, where they’ve been joined (spiritually, and often literally) by a number of new acts (Bonaventure, The Tower And The Fool, American Authors, all of whom issued significant releases in 2012) risen from the wreckage of pop-punk past – whether these bands are motivated by a love of Tom Petty and pop country borne of childhood radio consumption, or are merely grasping for the patina of authenticity that the Americana label confers, is something of an open question. A Rocket To The Moon, who already had something of a country-pop thread running through their strain of pop-rock, have found their full-length held over until 2013, but the early-look EP That Old Feeling is encouraging. Of course, none of this takes into account that Nashville has been notoriously insular and unwelcoming to those from outside the establishment; even bringing their best, all these acts may be swimming upstream.

Ultimately, these changes might well be a good thing, change and struggle typically breed creativity. Of course, that’s assuming all the breeders don’t die off (or, like, quit the creative side of the biz to go work for music publishers or management firms or something) The upheaval in the “scene” hasn’t stanched the flow of great music in 2012; it just, as ever, takes a little bit of work to find.

*This is the first year I’ve submitted to Pazz & Jop, and I’m hoping that in the future more of the folks writing about / analyzing / thinking critically about “the scene” will do so as well. Pazz & Jop was conceived as an extremely broad critics poll (hence the name), with writers specializing in every (sub)genre from indie to pop to metal to hip hop to r&b to electronic dance submitting, and yet there’s been almost no participation from (and, thus, almost no visibility for) the pop-punk/emo/post-hardcore/etc. world. I think that lack of participation does a disservice to both the readers – who remain in the dark on what has been an exciting and vital music scene for quite some time – and to the artists whose work merits attention. I’m not saying I expect The Menzingers to win the albums poll or anything, or even that they should. But, for example, in 2011, Balance & Composure’s Separation was a top 10 pick on virtually every site that documents the scene, a consensus-building album that successfully crossed the scene’s many sub-genre divides, and yet it failed to receive a single vote in P&J. That’s just silly, and everyone deserves better.

The Maine – “Thinking Of You” and Notes from CMJ

When life gets busy this blog gets quiet, and between work, CMJ, and a trip to Houston for a wedding I’ve hardly had time to gather my thoughts. Couple that with the fact that I’m backed up on things I’m supposed to be reviewing (sorry Zack!), and in the beginning stages of work on a large writing project I’m undertaking (to be revealed at a later date), and there hasn’t been much time for posting over here or, really, for any internet fun at all. So, instead, a couple quick hits:

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