Makeup For The Silence

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Makeup For The Silence

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My Top 10 Albums of 2016

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

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

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

So without further ado…

MY TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2016

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

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

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

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

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

5. Garbage – Strange Little Birds [spotify]

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

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

2. David Bowie – Blackstar [spotify]

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

 

THE BEST OF THE REST

American Football – American Football [spotify]

Bon Iver – 22, A Million [spotify]

Brand New – 3 Demos, Reworked [spotify]

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book [spotify]

Dinosaur Pile-Up – Eleven Eleven [spotify]

The Downtown Fiction – Alligator Tears [spotify]

Frank Ocean – Blond(e) [spotify]

From Indian Lakes – Everything Feels Better Now [spotify]

The Hotelier – Goodness [spotify]

Jeff Rosenstock – Worry [spotify]

John K. Samson – Winter Wheat [spotify]

k.flay – Crush Me [spotify]

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

Lights – Midnight Machines [spotify]

Look Park – Look Park [spotify]

The Monkees – Good Times! [spotify]

Moose Blood – Blush [spotify]

Pity Sex – White Hot Moon [spotify]

Suede – Night Thoughts [spotify]

Tancred – Out Of The Garden [spotify]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the Rest 2014

THE BEST OF THE REST

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

Tomorrow, I’ll unveil my #1 album of the year.  In the meantime, here’s a whole lot of stuff that didn’t quite make my Top Ten Twelve but still left a big impression in 2014.

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

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

Alburn – Mouthful Of Glass [spotify]

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

Angels & Airwaves – The Dream Walker

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

Basement – Further Sky [spotify]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cab – Lock Me Up [spotify]

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

Charli XCX – Sucker [spotify]

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

Dum Dum Girls – Too True [spotify]

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery Skulls – Forever [spotify]

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

No Somos Marineros – Lomas Verdes

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

Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love [spotify]

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

PUP – PUP [spotify]

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

Pvris – White Noise [spotify]

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

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams [spotify]

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

Set It Off – Duality [spotify]

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

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

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

Taylor Swift – 1989

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

Tiny Moving Parts – Pleasant Living [spotify]

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

Transit – Joyride [spotify]

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

VA – Whirr / Nothing split [spotify]

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

Veruca Salt – MMXIV [spotify / spotify]

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

White Lung – Deep Fantasy [spotify]

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

Xerxes – Collision Blonde [spotify]

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

You+Me – Rose Ave. [spotify]

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

#2 Album of 2014 – Darlia – Assorted Singles

#2 – DARLIA – ASSORTED SINGLES [spotify]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#8 Album of 2014 – Twin Forks – Twin Forks

#8 – TWIN FORKS – TWIN FORKS [spotify]

(feat. track – “Plans” from Twin Forks [spotify])

If you follow me on Twitter, odds are you’ve seen me fly the “Death To False Americana” flag repeatedly over the last three to four years. Coming from the perspective of someone who fell deep into the No Depression-shaped hole of the late ‘90s (in retrospect, clearly the least embarrassing of all possible late ’90s scenes), the current crop of Mumfordcore acts have consistently rubbed me in the wrong way. I think the concept of “authenticity” is a mostly a bugaboo, but when you’re dealing with a style of music that’s so strongly rooted in notions of the authentic, at least fake your sincerity well, you know? It’s been a real joy to see this new wave collapse in on itself, to see the Lumineers and Of Monsters And Men and their ilk revealed as the one-hit-wonders I always believed them to be. 

Embracing Twin Forks, then, the Americana project fronted by longtime Dashboard Confessional bandleader/songwriter/haircoiffer Chris Carrabba, comes with no small pang of agita. When I spoke with him in 2013 Carrabba insisted that his intentions behind the decision to shift focus from his ever-more-past-date emo mainstay to this new venture are pure, that they are merely an outgrowth of his natural desires and interests as a songwriter. Still, if the move wasn’t opportunistic, it has been at least quite conveniently timed.

Is Carrabba, in some sense, getting a “scene kid pass” from me? I suppose there’s an element of that, sure; then again, you’re not going to catch me raving about Oh, Honey or Young Rising Sons or American Authors anytime soon, and I spent too many nights at Angels & Kings with all of those folks.

And in fairness, this sort of music is territory Carrabba began to explore back in 2011 on Covered In The Flood – where he recontextualized the work of John Prine, Justine Townes Earle and Guy Clark, among others – and, to some extent, as early as 2007’s The Shade Of Poison Trees (released under the Dashboard imprimatur). If the timing of his pivot towards Americana seems calculated, it at least appears that the music itself has been in his blood all these years, lying dormant.

Indeed, it must be in his blood; I don’t have any other explanation for how else he could have delivered such an exquisitely crafted batch of songs, one that fulfills every promise of the band’s early EPs (the best of which are incorporated here) while expanding the project’s range to include more ruminative fare amongst the mandolin-and-handclap driven rave-ups. I honestly don’t think that it’s a stretch to say Twin Forks is the strongest batch of songs Carrabba has collected on one album since 2002’s The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most; it’s certainly the most consistent. Meanwhile, his voice, always an underrated marvel, has acquired just enough tarnish over time to add a weathered quality to his quieter moments without diminishing his ability to belt it out in the least. As such, Carrabba consistently gets the most out of the songs – I can’t imagine anyone doing these better.

Twin Forks, purely as a collection of music – removed from all the arguments and contexts and cultural detritus that can clog the journey between listening and enjoyment – is as pleasurable a listen as any album of 2014, one that I kept coming back to, and kept finding surprise in. It’s earned its way onto this year’s Top Ten, whether I like it or not.

#10 Album of 2014 – Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

#10 – SAM SMITH – IN THE LONELY HOUR [spotify]

(feat. track – “By Your Side” (Live on SNL) [spotify link to studio recording])

I read an article recently (which for the life of me I can’t find now – if you know it, please link me and I’ll update) which, in part, mused about what went wrong with Sam Smith’s critical reception over 2014. It’s something I’ve been wondering about as well. Coming into the year, Smith was the hot new voice behind Disclosure’s “Latch,” a massive hit in the UK – and in critical circles – which had yet to register a blip on the US pop charts. Smith himself was something of an enigma: a soaring falsetto that promised what we’d heard was just the tip of the iceberg, backing by all the right people, a man potentially on the verge of his big breakthrough.

Here we are only a year later, and he’s fading cracks like this:

Smith achieved all the success he was destined for and more in 2014, but somewhere along the way, he lost his cool – and along with it, the place he deserved in the year-end lists of any site with a whit of indie cred.

The shame of it is, In The Lonely Hour is an immaculate album: a mature study of all of love’s snares and dares, a concise ten tracks, gorgeous, superbly-crafted songs that breeze by on Smith’s effortless, marvelous voice. Unlike the aforementioned Michael Bolton, Smith never blusters his way through a song; indeed, while he never lacks for power, it’s the fragility in his voice, the way his falsetto flits upward ever so weightlessly, that makes him such a marvelous vessel for conveying precisely where love’s trusses and tensions lie. 

And yet, as good as the recorded album is, when I think of Sam Smith’s 2014, I always come back to his performance on Saturday Night Live, his de facto unveiling to American audiences (and, indeed, to me as well, who knew nothing of Smith at the time beyond “Latch”). Not the 11:55 performance of “Stay With Me,” which was pretty great in it’s own right, but the second performance – often home to weirder, stranger, newer or less-immediate material from the week’s musical guest – in which Smith, accompanied only by stately piano and a gently somber cell, lays waste to all of Manhattan with his lovesick quaver on “By Your Side.” It’s the most affecting single performance – on TV or live – that I had the pleasure of experiencing in the last year. 

If Smith had packed his bags and moved to a deserted island right after his SNL performance, we’d still be talking about him today as a marvelous talent, here and sadly gone. That the remainder of 2014 greeted him with continued success instead, changes nothing.

Cause & Effect’s Rob Rowe interview preview

Cause & Effect – “You Think You Know Her” from Another Minute

I discovered Cause & Effect when the band played a B104.1-promoted show in my hometown of Allentown, PA. I’m not 100% certain, but I believe it was at Mayfair in 1992. B104 was never my station of choice – their mix of past-their-prime hits and VH-1-core pop wasn’t exactly targeted at my 12-year-old tastes – but it was fairly inescapable in those days, the go-to background music in 90% of Allentown’s grocery stores and dental offices.

I’m certain that live appearance was the only reason the station was even spinning “You Think You Know Her,” a propulsive, vaguely goth-y bit of synthpop with echos of mid-80s Depeche Mode. It certainly didn’t sound like anything else they played, which made it an instant standout in my ears, a song that stuck with me well after it ceased getting airplay (presumably the day after the show).

Still, it wasn’t easy to keep track of a band in those pre-internet days, and it wasn’t until the video for “It’s Over Now,” the lead single from Cause & Effect’s second album, 1994’s Trip, popped up on 120 Minutes that I caught back up with them. That was the track that sold me, a doomy, wounded coming-to-terms with serious emotional heft and big, dark hooks for days. I ran out and bought Trip; it remains a favorite to this day.

Since then, I’ve made an effort to keep up to date on their sporadic activity: an independent CD, some remixes, and a series of EPs, including the still-in-progress Artificial Construct trilogy. And while the band’s sound has morphed over the years, from full-on electronica to hushed ballads and back around again, the core of vocalist/songwriter Rob Rowe’s style has persisted recognizably throughout. It doesn’t hurt that, though releases from the band have been rare, they’ve all been consistently good.

Last year, Rowe launched a solo project under the name Whitewaits. That project’s first LP, An Elegant Exit, is the best thing he’s done since Trip, a dynamic work packed with smart, well-crafted songs, and it made its way into my 2013 Top Ten. Indeed, it was my posting here on An Elegant Exit that led him to reach out to me.

After a brief email exchange and a couple games of schedule-tag, I had the privilege of chatting with Rob Rowe for over an hour this past February. Our wide-ranging conversation touched on Cause & Effect, Whitewaits and the music industry, past, present and future, all filtered through the lens of Rowe’s life as a musician and a man, wrestling with the stuff life throws at all of us.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting the results here. I hope you read – aside from being a bit of personal wish-fulfillment, it’s one of the most enjoyable and insightful interviews I’ve conducted. As I’ve done more and more work for other outlets over the last few years, I’ve sadly grown negligent about posting original content here at Makeup For The Silence. Let this be the start of that changing.

Put a Ring On It

Beyonce – Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)

I liked it a lot, so I put a whole bunch of rings on it

Happy New Years (to me!) Year-end posts to commence tomorrow.

SXSW 2013 Coverage Round-Up

No Somos Marineros – Gisarol Profesales


So after a week of baking in the Austin sun and a couple days to recover my wits, I’m officially back from South By SouthWest. While I was there, I saw a ton of bands, and also did a ton of work for PropertyOfZack. It was an exhausting grind – most of these days I was out seeing music til 2am, and then up for another two hours writing/filing these pieces before catching a couple zzz’s and doing it all over again. If you weren’t following along, below you can find links to all of the pieces and daily blogs I filed for SXSW. (There are links on the Clips Page to all of these as well).

I also conducted something like seventeen interviews over the week, all of which should run on POZ in due time – the first, featuring Chris Carrabba (of Dashboard Confessional)’s new band Twin Falls, is live now. There will be links to all of those on the Clips Page as well as they go up. And I spent a full day trailing and interviewing Allison Weiss for a profile piece that will be published in a few weeks, around the time her new album Say What You Mean is released. It’s been a really long time since I’ve written a profile, and I’m looking forward to changing things up a bit.

__________________________

I don’t know much about Mexican twinkle-dudes No Somos Marineros yet, but I caught two sets of theirs while I was down in Austin and was really impressed by their musicality, their power, and their tightness. They don’t have a lot of stuff online that I can find (maybe because I don’t speak much Spanish?), but this video of them from a Fest a month back captures at least one side of them fairly well; I love the way the song explodes midway through. There are bits that remind me of 90s experimental emo like Appleseed Cast, there are bits that smack of Pinback, there are even little bits that remind me of my favorite indie rock up-and-comers Edelweiss

The Isotopes – The Ballad of Rey Ordonez

makeupforthesilence:

The Isotopes – The Ballad of Rey Ordonez

[…]

You might remember me posting this last year right around the start of baseball season.

Well it turns out that Isotopes lead-dude Evan Wansbrough is up for a spot in this years MLB Fan Cave; I’m sure he’d appreciate your vote. I love baseball, but even I can admit it gets a little…dry at times. It could surely use a lot more of this, no?

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