Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

Tag: top ten (Page 1 of 11)

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 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]

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2016 Mix

Makeup For the Silence - Best of 2016!

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

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

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

I’m gonna miss it like candy.

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

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

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

Enough of the rambles; on with the show.

Makeup For The Silence – Best Of 2016

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

click image to download

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Still Here

… for now.

Turns out it’s been an entire year since I posted something over here. 

I hope you’ve been well.

Between moving and working and having a kid and Tumblr’s transformation from a repository of great music writing/writers to whatever you’d call a kudzu patch if kudzu was made entirely of animated GIFs of TV shows I don’t watch, it just hasn’t happened.  Indeed, if you were paying attention, you’d have noticed I never even wrote up last year’s Top Ten list. (If you want to see what albums made it, click over to my Lists page – it’s largely the same as what I voted for in last year’s Pazz & Jop.)

While I’ve slowed down a bit, I’m still doing regular music writing, albeit largely in print. Tumblr, in its infinite glitchiness, has eaten all of my links on a number of my subpages, including my clips page, so I’ve been very delinquent in updating it and linking out copies of my print pieces. That said, I’ve got some story ideas I’d like to pick up on in the new year, and while I should be more diligent on pitching new outlets, I also have a few that I don’t think will find a home if I don’t make one for them. (The nice part about having a day job – I can afford to pursue things I won’t get paid for, if I can find the time.) Plus, I’d like to start putting my small-but-not-Twitter-small ideas down again. So I’m hoping that in 2017, I’ll be doing more writing over here… kinda.

Kinda, because I’m sort of over Tumblr, and one of those first when-I-find-time projects will be to move Makeup For The Silence elsewhere. If you happen to visit via actually typing the site name in a browser or with a bookmark or something, you’ve got nothing to worry about – wherever I go, the URL will follow. If you follow along via Tumblr dashboard…maybe? I may still keep the blog portion of the site here (with a little necessary pruning) and just port all the static pages elsewhere. Or I might move my blogging to a WordPress or to Medium or somewhere else. If I do that, I’ll be sure to let you know, repeatedly.

But before those things happen, I’m going to proceed with the end of the year as I typically do, last year excepted. So, tomorrow, the year-end mixtape will go up. On Friday (or maybe tomorrow too), some thoughts on 2016 in music and outside of it, and maybe some numbers and links and stuff to go along with them. And then once the new year rolls around, my Top Ten Albums Of 2016 – with write-ups, I promise!

Here we go again…

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]

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!

Simple Math 2015: Simple Math Is Dead; Long Live The Gospel According To Saint Me

Simple Math 2015: Simple Math Is Dead; Long Live The Gospel According To Saint Me

Veruca Salt – The Gospel According To Saint Me

In October, a catastrophic hard drive failure cost me my entire iTunes library – more than 85,000 songs collected over just shy of two decades. (Really! I started building my digital library way back in 1996, with live Husker Du bootlegs acquired from online trading communities and handfuls of punk and ska rarities downloaded off of sketchy FTP servers.) It doesn’t seem recoverable, not without a small fortune, and very possibly not with one either. I haven’t quite decided if I intend to try and rebuild or not. The real value of the collection was the stuff that can’t be found online anymore (or ever); the parts I could replace are the parts that it might not be worth replacing rather than just resigning myself to streaming from now on instead of ownership. Fortunately, my life has been far too busy to spend time worrying about, or even contemplating, what to do.

Not that iTunes would have been much use for my tallying this year’s Simple Math anyway – over the last few years, it’s largely become an archive of non-digitally-accessible tracks and a repository of star ratings, something to track what I’ve listened to and whether I’ve liked it, but not how much I’ve listened to it. And the one thing it was most useful for – keeping track of which albums I listened to over the course of the year – fell by the wayside when I ceased to add albums to my library post-crash. Meanwhile, my Spotify “Year In Music” feature didn’t, so far as I can tell, include anything I played offline, and certainly doesn’t include anything I loaded onto my account locally. And my Last.fm, by dint of not scrobbling Spotify plays on mobile, is essentially useless in providing any kind of accurate stats about my listening this year.

Even if I were able to get accurate stats, I’m not entirely sure what I’d find – this year has been one of change and upheaval, and my listening habits have been as chaotic as the rest of my life. The latter half of 2015 saw the bittersweet end of PropertyOfZack; a relocation from the urban hum of New York City to suburban south Florida; a farewell to six years of steady employment and a hello to a whole lot of question marks; and, six weeks ago, the birth of the most beautiful baby boy in the whole world*. Heck, truth be told, I’ve probably listened to more lullabies – played via Lionel’s sleep machine, by way of a decade-old iPod – in the last month than music the rest of the year combined.

The bottom line is that, after a four year run, the yearly tabulation post I’ve been dubbing Simple Math is, for all practical purposes, dead.

That said, Makeup For The Silence has, from the start, been about music and storytelling and the places where those intersect. And if 2015 is the year I stop quantifying the music side of the equation, it is also the perfect year to shine a light on the storytelling I’ve done. While 2015 marked the end of PropertyOfZack, it also saw me making my presence felt more than ever at Alternative Press, as well as opening up new doors at Myspace and the Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. And though things are currently a little to busy to focus on pitching elsewhere, I’m hoping that 2016 sees my writing finding its way into even more new spaces.

But it wasn’t just my reach that grew this year – I think I’m more proud of the writing I did in 2015 than any year prior. So, instead of recapping my musical stats, I thought I’d instead share some of the highlights of my year behind the keyboard. Welcome to The Gospel According To Saint Me. It’s gonna get loud; it’s gonna get heavy.

It Just Isn’t Like The Old Days Anymore – Mayday Parade [Alternative Press Magazine 328 / November 2015]

My first cover story for a national publication would have been the highlight of my year in any year. Mayday Parade, pop-punk’s ultimate play-it-safe band, bucked all expectations by growing darker and more daring at the exact time when most career-minded bands would have dialed back on the Risk-O-Meter. I suppose the jury is still out commercially – though it’s hard to imagine the band’s camp wasn’t disappointed by the precipitous fall-off in album-over-album sales, the band’s first in three outings – but Black Lines is an artistic triumph, and I think I did justice to the story of the album’s genesis.

Sting, Bon Jovi And More Help Celebrate 80 Years Of Overtown Legend Sam Moore [Miami New Times]

Writing for the New Times might not come with the paycheck or the prestige of other publications, but the access it’s granted me to big-name artists from across the pop spectrum is priceless. This year I had the good fortune to chat with everyone from piano-pop legend Ben Folds, to Emily Haines of Canadian indie heavyweights Metric, to up-and-coming tropical house DJ Bakermat. But none topped interviewing Sam Moore, one half of Sam & Dave, the voices behind “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and a dozen more hits that defined the sound of Memphis Soul at the turn of the ‘70s. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, chatting with a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame would have been near the top.

Crawling Towards the Sun: The Hush Sound’s Bob Morris Starts Again, Again [PropertyofZack]

It’s easy to forget that 90% of the hot new buzz bands you’ll have served to you on a platter this year will be the ones flipping the metaphorical, and often literal, burgers a decade from now – talent (and, often, fanbase) be damned. Morris is back with a new project, Le Swish, but he’s also got a new outlook on life and some new ideas on where and how music should fit into it. His story isn’t unique, but you might think it was for how rarely it gets told.

SXSW Wrap-Up: These Things Happened. These Things Mattered. [PropertyOfZack]

South By South West is a strange chimaera, a beast of many looks that serves many masters, but it often only gets photographed from its “good” side. Truth is, there’s a lot more than happens at the industry’s yearly bacchanal than the anointment of next big things and the grousing of never-will-bes. There are other stories to be told and, while they’re not sexy, they’re frighteningly easy to find. But when the hype-makers are the ones charged with creating the official record, they develop a nasty habit of only recording what’s hyped. SXSW is so much more than anyone seems to talk about, and it deserves better treatment. With what will be a 3-month-old son, I’ll be missing out on SXSW 2016, but you can be sure my heart will be there, in all the corners the cool kids aren’t.

Andrew W.K. Isn’t Partying Hard Anymore, He’s Got Too Much Else Going On [Myspace]

Conversing with Andrew W.K. was everything I could have imagined it would be; the man is a whip-smart deep thinker and a master of introspection, and better yet, he uses his powers for good. It felt almost criminal to have to edit down Wilkes-Krier’s soliloquies on art, feeling and life into interview-sized snippets.

Start Today: Bad Religion [PropertyofZack]

Bad Religion aren’t only foundational figures in SoCal punk and stalwarts of the current scene, they’re a remarkably consistent machine that’s churned out excellent album after excellent album for more than 30 years. That voluminous output makes their catalog as intimidating as it is deep, and made them the perfect candidates with which to launch our Start Today feature.

Matisyahu Spent The Past Five Years Discovering His True Self [Broward-Palm Beach & Miami New Times]

When your bizarre musical schtick is just a reflection of your unusual real life, what becomes of your career when that life drastically changes? It’s a question to which Matisyahu’s fanbase is still working out the answer, even if the man himself seems more certain than ever of who he’s supposed to be.

10 Things You Should Know About Phoebe Ryan [Myspace]

Pop singer/songwriter Ryan’s star is on the rise, but with only an EP to her name to date, it doesn’t seem that anyone has really plumbed her backstory yet. There’s nothing groundbreaking in our conversation, just some fun and revealing anecdotes that I haven’t seen told elsewhere – and really, isn’t that what this is supposed to be about? Sometimes the workaday pieces are the ones you’re happiest with.

Matter Of Time: A Chroma Q&A With Cartel’s Will Pugh [PropertyOfZack]

I first saw Cartel live in 2004, opening for Brandtson and the Rocket Summer in support of their debut EP. The full length they were writing at the time, Chroma, would top my very first Yearly Top Ten list in 2005. I’ve interviewed Will before, but sitting down with him before the band played that album in full, on occasion of its 10 year anniversary, felt especially significant. What followed was a marvelously candid discussion of not just the album’s stratospheric rise, but the band’s slow and steady descent over the decade that followed – one that’s landed them at a true career crossroads today.

Links to everything else I wrote this year after the cut.

Features:

Interviews:

Reviews:

Live Performance Previews:

Other Music Writing:

If you enjoy these, as always, you can find a complete archive of everything I’ve written on the Clips page.

*every new parent says this about their child. All of them are correct.

If you are in the future, you are about to read my Top Twelve Albums of 2014

if you are in the present, we now return you to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress

(which is to say things are getting back to normal around here!)

((and don’t forget, you can find all my past Top Ten’s right here!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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.

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