Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2013, 61-80

Just one last set of 20 songs to go, and we're right at the edge of the New Year.  I've been a fan of 2013, generally, and the weeks to come should bring a toppling, effusive list of my favorite films of the year (good year for music, great year for movies) over at my primary blog - Love and Squalor. In the meantime, the penultimate list keeps running through all the eclectic business, including some picks I don't think I could have ever seen coming.  Read on...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2013, 41-60

Onward and upward. I'll admit, the list is being narrowed down and amended as we move from section to section. It won't be a finished product until the last thoughts on entry #100 have been posted, and the tracks vying for space are all good.  Battles are being waged in the iTunes master playlists, and tensions are running high. With this, we seal off part three. 60 songs down, 40 to go.  Hit play on the 8Tracks list at the bottom of this post. Read on...

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2013, 21-40

We journey on with our trek through my preferred nominees for the best tracks of the year in this, part two of our five part voyage. Here we have old favorites with new music (or, in one case, a revamped version of an old classic), new favorites with new business, and bands who hit a strong note or two on otherwise lackluster albums. Mixing up genre, making you work for it, I've no time to pepper this with Soundcloud bites, Spotify links, or YouTube inserts. Maybe later. For now? Use the 8Tracks playlist...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2013, 1-20

2013 was the year of epic returns and surprise album releases. From David Bowie to My Bloody Valentine to last week's Beyonce pop-up, there may be only a handful of days left to go, but it still seems possible that there may be one surprise left, that I may be kicking off this list too early.  Only time will tell, but for now, we have arrived.  We have reached the end.  Nearly every musical artist I have ever gone through periods of fanatical admiration/obsession/love with has released new music.  While not all of it was memorable, it did seem like there was as surplus of good songs, of good albums, and that this year it's all the harder to pick and choose the great ones.

Still, I will try. Of course, this is not a music site. This is a film site, primarily, and just a one-person operation.  I'm doing this mostly for the benefit of my own future self, though I do like making playlists and sharing sounds I have enjoyed.  As this list unfolds, it's important to note that it is a mix that leans generally more towards subjective favorites than out and out "BEST POSSIBLE SONGS EVER."  It's also, as always, in not particular order, and not -- in any way-- a countdown.  That said, the absolute favorites are more likely to jump onto the list in the first 10 or so. They're the definites though, naturally, tastes change with the weather and Number 100 may have just as much merit as number 15.

Presented with minimal commentary.

Read on...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Playlist: The 13 Guiltiest POPtimist Pleasures of 2013

**This year I've decided to double post the year-end music lists here as well as at my (largely defunct) other blog, Pop Candy Arcade.  If you're looking for a past history of year end music wrap-ups, though, you will find them there.** 

In the years that I've made 'best of' playlists, I've not regretted it.  The projects are, essentially, exercises in personal librarianship; a means of building a small time capsule to collect songs small and large and the memories that may go along with them.  They're also among my most frequently played song collections because, well, they're all the relatively recent things I love.  So, when the holidays come around, I begin to sort through the songs I've marked over the course of year and work on sharing them.  Those familiar with the process know that before the big, official list of goodies we must confess and excise the so-called 'guilty pleasures.'  These are the songs I enjoy, admittedly, but which I may feel the need to explain after I sing along.

For you judgmental, head-shaking, eye-rolling listening pleasure, I present you with these not-so-sweet 13 tracks.  Maybe I shouldn't like them, but I definitely do...

EDIT (12/31):  Zedd's "Clarity" and the Britney Spears track "Work B**ch" are now honorable mentions. Totally overlooked/forgot about two songs that totally need to take their place. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

First David Bowie Album in 10 Years

Woke up feeling like garbage, went to the computer, poured over the usual stream of junk and stumbled upon the miracle cure for morning stupor: it's David Bowie's birthday, and in celebration he released a new song, new video, the release details for a new album, as well as a redesigned website.  That's cause for any number of exclamation points, in my book, but because it's early, I'll keep a bit of dignity, won't make this like some tween's twitter account, and simply say: this is the first album in TEN YEARS from Bowie.  Right now, it doesn't matter whether it winds up being phenomenal or disappointing: it's just nice to hear him sing again, and good to know he hasn't completely given up the game.  The song is a slow ballad called "Where Are We Now?" and will appear on the artist's 30th album, The Next Day, slated for release in March.  I rarely do this, but because I'm a serious fan, I'm going to post the track list for everyone to speculate on:

1. The Next Day
2. Dirty Boys
3. The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
4. Love Is Lost
5. Where Are We Now?
6. Valentine's Day
7. If You Can See Me
8. I'd Rather Be High
9. Boss of Me
10. Dancing Out in Space
11. How Does the Grass Grow?
12. (You Will) Set the World On Fire
13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
14. Heat

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2012, 81-100

We have finally reached the end of the line. The last twenty songs, the first chance for anyone who stumbles upon the blog to shrug and angrily dismiss the validity of the list based on something that's too absent or too present on it (I just wasn't in to that Fiona Apple album, I fear).  Of course, this is a personal list, a subjective arrangement ultimately more for keeping track of where I was in 2012 than where we were.  Still, many similar sounds have surfaced.  There are repeated trends and patterns that make it easy to note that our decade is developing a definitive set of sounds with which to define itself whether we wind up liking them or not.  These are the final 20, fire up the complaint engine:

81. Anna Meredith / "Nautilus"  Anna Meredith isn't a DJ and doesn't want to make you dance. She's a composer of electronic sound with a classical, experimental interest that aligns her with Steve Reich or Philip Glass more than anyone else on this list.  "Nautilus" is a little more John Adams, though, and blasts a clear, regal course that builds and announces its presence with undeniable aplomb, a blaring alarm of repeated 'horns'.

82. Grimes / "Oblivion"  One more Grimes track. If you've been counting, that makes four. "Oblivion" is the song most likely to be found at the tip-top of a 2012 critical wrap-up, for reasons I can't articulate.  It's a sort of  Emily Strange theme song, cute, chipper, and pitch black.
83. Niki and the Dove / "DJ Ease My Mind"  A face-painted, electro-clashing, melodic stomper of a dance anthem that begs as much as it commands.

84. Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz / "Mercy" Say what you will about Kanye West ego, one thing is for certain: he's a brilliant, gracious collaborator who sets up and steps in to many a multi-artist opportunity with audible vigor. When it's team ego-mania, is it ego or aesthetic?

85. A$AP Rocky / "Goldie"  A flow that bounces out a melody mirroring the head-nodding instrumentals.

86. Pandr Eyez / "Physical Education"  Is it straight pop or something else?  "Physical Education" feels like an En Vogue or Salt-n-Pepa track that has been dismantled and reassembled with Frankenstein parts by a minimalist mad scientist.
87. Bear in Heaven / "Sinful Nature"  The other 'bear' band I tend to forget about! Technically, Bear in Heaven have always had a synth element, but somehow it swung darker than it does on the rather poppy "Sinful Nature," a track that sounds like New Wave B-side buried beneath a hazy cloud of ambient effect.

88. Beach House / "Wild"  I haven't managed to see Beach House live, but I hear they're a very, very different band on stage than they are in their recordings. They'd have to be, I suppose, if they wanted to put on a rock show.  Bloom is filled with songs for lazy, idle days, "Wild" prettier than the last.

89. Lana Del Rey / "National Anthem"  Whine if you must, but I love the artifice of LDR and I'd argue that all its posturing actually makes this song a sort of anthem to a very particular, very current mode of superficiality.  The lyrics are an absurd, faux-seductive commentary on excess while at once soaking in every lush, instagrammed and tumblr'd marker of consumption.

90. Jessie Ware / "Strangest Feeling"  Can we talk about how my parents used to have every radio in the house tuned to the local 'smooth jazz' station when I was younger and how every evening the programming gave way to this bleep bloopy ambient 'new age' that definitely included the Art of Noise song "Strangest Feeling" is built upon ("Moments in Love")? Because I feel like that should explain some of where I'm coming from on this...

91. Charli XCX / "You're the One"  This song is so adorably melodramatic.  Charli XCX is the New Romantic pseudo-goth chick of the next wave pop princesses, and the lilt that punctuates "dark" in the chorus shakily touches the darkness of the void in the midst of cheap and easy pop.

92. Pet Shop Boys / "Leaving"  I go through periods where I listen to "West End Girls" on a loop, I love it so, and while I wasn't a fan of the Elysium album, I came away with the blissfully understated, oddly soulful "Leaving."

93. Polica / "Lay Your Cards Out"  Poli├ža uses autotune in a subtle, economical way that seems to almost repurpose the tired mechanism.

94. Miguel / "Adorn"  I said I didn't think "Adorn" deserved the high high rankings its receiving on so many lists, yes, but I didn't say it didn't belong on those lists at all.  The vocals are impressive: flying high over a restrained, safety net of a song oddly punctuated with animalistic little cries.

95. Frank Ocean / "Bad Religion" A beautifully melancholy song that emotes through stretches of organ, falsetto, and serious Prince vibes (this similarity should be discussed more).

96. Kanye West, Pusha T & Ghostface Killah / "New God Flow"  Oh man, the braggadocio touches the damn sky on this one, doesn't it?  I'll allow it.

97. Philip Glass & Beck / "NYC: 73-78" I can't tell you how much I love the repeated piano patterns of Philip Glass. Official sounds of science, here made glassy and dimensional in a new and different way. 

98. Burial / "Loner" A grimy, dirty warning sign that feels like the drugged out after effects of a night spent poorly.

99. Frankie Rose / "Interstellar" Frankie Rose has been a member of Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls, and Crystal Stilts - and you can tell. She's struck out on her own, now, but "Interstellar" is a sparkling, distorted sound that floats over the void suspended by a kick drum.

100.  Spiritualized / "Hey Jane" A repetitive, unceasing, meat and potatoes rock song that merrily keeps itself running through twists, turns, and reversals.

Honorable Mention:
 Adele / "Skyfall" For a second I wasn't going to put "Skyfall" on here, mostly because I have a history of being blindly tolerant of all the faults of your average 007 theme song.  But I love James Bond theme songs.  I love the credit sequences.  This is no exception.

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2012, 61-80

I'm running down my available blogging time and this list is becoming exhausting, so I decided to skip out on finding a band photo or delightful illustration or music video for every one of these fine entries.  So, if you will: imagine that before every new song there's an accompanying image of approximately one to five people with potentially interesting haircuts leaning or sitting or singing into something and looking generally apathetic or faux-candid.  As you imagine that you should press play on the 8tracks playlist to hear the songs listed.  As you do that, if you really like the song, you should acquire it because here's the thing: Spotify and Pandora are not the same as curating a library of your own tastes.  So, get the song.  Perhaps you're a good and honest person and wish to buy the song and thus encourage and assist the artist you like to continue doing what they're doing while building your music library?  If so, click on the title and it will lead you to one of your many options to do just that.

61. Dirty Projectors / "Gun Has No Trigger"  I'm admittedly not much of a Dirty Projectors fan.  While everyone was fawning all over Bitte Orca a few years back I simply didn't approve.  So, the band's inclusion on this list comes as a personal surprise. There's something about "Gun Has No Trigger" though, and I think that thing may be the back-up harmony...

62. Tame Impala / "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" Can you tell that this part of the list is entering into a little bit of an indie rock groove? It's for the sake of the playlist, you know, I don't want to be jumping all over the damn map.  The thing in indie rock? 60's throwback. Imagine, if you will, the landscape from Yellow Submarine.

63. Grizzly Bear / "Speak in Rounds" Grizzly Bear is a band I often take for granted. This sounds bad, I know, but I often forget that when I'm listening to them I like them and tend to think things like, oh yeah, Grizzly Bear is really quiet and boring and stuff.  While they're not exactly loud, the sound is a rich one...and one I need to remember to actively appreciate more.

64. Lianne La Havas / "Au Cinema"  Lianne La Havas is here to inherit the quirky, coffee shop singer/songwriter type space.  I don't mean that negatively, though the connotations may open up thoughts of impulse buy CDs at a Starbucks counter.  Lianne could sell a lot of those, I'd imagine, but I like "Au Cinema" because, seriously, did I mention I have a film blog?

65. Cloud Nothings / "Stay Useless" This is the part where I throw down two tracks and then a couple of my friends are all like "WAIT. YOU LISTEN TO THINGS THAT DON"T HAVE ROBOTIC ELEMENTS?" and I am like...exasperated by their overstatement. I enjoy "Stay Useless" though, because despite what they say I've always liked Pavement.  Similarities.

66. Japandroids / "The House That Heaven Built" I'm not thoroughly on board with Celebration Rock as the joyous wondrous thing so many people (at least on NPR) constantly want to tout it as being, but I get the strange nostalgia it seems to dredge up for those folks, and this song, I think, is something kind of special.

67. King Tuff / "Bad Thing"  One of them dancey time rock songs. If so inclined, one could manage the twist and the pogo on this.

68. The Men / "Open Your Heart"  I KNOW, RIGHT? There are so many guitar songs in a row! It's nuts. Also, I KNOW, RIGHT? I totally hear the Buzzcocks there too.  Hits all the right notes.
69. Savages / "Husbands" Right now Savages has only released a couple short songs for download and that's not enough because I need to see some more.  The evidence suggests the post-punk girl group is working to channel all the right influences, Siouxsie, Poly Styrene, and a seriously seriously weird female Ian Curtis/Joy Division vibe.  This is the real shit.

70. Actress / "Shadow From Tartarus"  R.I.P. is an album unhinged, and when a real beat surfaces, it's somehow all-encompassing.  I like to picture giant drunk robots dancing about to this.

71. Grimes / "Genesis"  I just realized that I think the aesthetic of this video was basically the theme of my NYE party.  Also, I've sort of run out of things to say about what Grimes is doing and why she keeps making it onto this list.  I love it. It's witchcraft.

72. Iron Galaxy / "Attention Seeker" House music. The real house, you know, not like that Tiesto shit.  Seriously, though, I know nothing about Iron Galaxy apart from that I enjoy this track a lot.
73. Ke$ha / "Die Young" Oh, that's right. I went there. Ke$ha jumped off the guilty list and onto the main stage.  You know why? Because this is a hedonistic pop song that effectively blends the bad with the good, the cheesy raps with the undeniable hook, the live in the moment anthem with fatalistic pop wreckage.  It doesn't matter if she uses 'beat' twice in one sentence, you only noticed because you sang it to yourself over and over and over again.

74. Chairlift / "Amanaemonesia" Clever lyrics disguised in slick, oddly New Wave trappings. The chorus is built for singing, and the turns are surprising.

75. Marina and The Diamonds / "Primadonna"  Electra Heart is like a 'hipster' Teenage Dream; an album that's all affectation, candy hearts, lip gloss, and sour gummies wrapped in a cotton candy cloud.

76. Major Lazer / "Get Free (feat. Amber Coffman)"  Amber Coffman is from Dirty Projectors, which means they're infiltrating in sneaky, sneaky ways. Major Lazer is partially a cartoon band, a collaborative project headed up by Diplo that brings in vocalists and tends to produce big, mixed up, electrified world sounds.  "Get Free" is a slowed down dance hall track that sways and bounces like a lazy carousel.

77. Rye Rye  / "Boom Boom" Rye Rye was on the scene for a hot minute a few years back and then found her career suddenly sidelined. 2012 saw the release of her first full album, and "Boom Boom" is a killer, wildly exuberant piece of pop hop that manages to rework a Venga Boys sample in a way that makes you pick up infinite extra lives.

78. Frank Ocean / "Super Rich Kids"  A loping, piano backed track that makes you feel like a million bucks even if you aren't near the Gossip Girl levels of living Ocean describes in his lyrics.

79. Jessie Ware / "110%" I don't know how she does it, but Jessie Ware takes a slow jam that should belong to your mother and makes it something light, breezy, and undeniably fresh.

80. Sharon Van Etten / "Give Out" The most beautiful social anxiety has ever sounded. Good lord, this song makes it work in a big way. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2012, 41-60

...and we set forth into the New Year. The furious 100 continues. In this edition you'll find a sampling of more specifically pop, hip hop, and R&B bent jams.  As mentioned, it was a good year for all of the above, and we've seen a concentrated return of sampled sounds from 90's genres blended to create new sounds by enigmatic, interesting artists off mixtapes, on underground releases, and in the mainstream top 40.  Collect them all!

41. Santigold / "Disparate Youth"  Santi returns with a sound that defies easy categorization, but which here sounds like the long lost twin of the AWOL Res (what happened to her?).

42. AlunaGeorge / "Your Drums, Your Love"  Sugar rush pop vocals over draped over warped voices and skittish beats, a lovely, adult pop song.

43. Schoolboy Q / "Hands on the Wheel"  Distant, looped echo chamber instrumentals weave a hazy backdrop for the capable rhymes of the drugged out Schoolboy Q.

44. Katy B x Geeneus x Jessie Ware / "Aaliyah"  Sneaking in right at the close of the calendar, UK popster Katy B drops "Aaliyah" as part of a free EP and the world dances into the sunset.

45. How to Dress Well / "& It Was U"  Patterns upon patterns, sadness upon deceptively cheery beats.

46. Nicki Minaj ft. 2 Chainz / "Beez in the Trap" A ice cold, positively frigid single beat leading into an equally chilly diss track dripping with sneering apathy.

47. John Talabot ft. Pional / "Destiny" The best kind of dance track is one with a slow build that opens at exactly the right moment. Producer John Talabot weaves a soft, glittering tapestry of pure dance bliss.

48. Andy Stott / "Luxury Problems" The title track of Stott's album and another stable slow-build with rich deep bass and a creeping, unbearably cool menace.

49. Azealia Banks / "Fierce" Azealia Banks exploded this year, and if you've yet to hear of her, you have some serious catching up to do.  While the free tracks and mixtapes seemed to drop constantly, my favorite track may be this quiet, Paris is Burning based dark vibe that -in a way- serves as an understated showcase of the things Banks does best: fashion beats and monotone rhyme.

50. Angel Haze / "New York" Haze and Banks are feuding as of today, I believe, but each earns equal standing on this list. Haze takes no prisoners, spits raps far fiercer than those of Banks, and announces her presence with a middle finger raised.

51. Scissor Sisters / "Let's Have a Kiki"  I'm sorry, but lists that are ignoring "Let's Have a Kiki" need to take a break and just have fun for a little bit. The song may not be great, but it's an instant, dance floor classic with delightfully campy lyrics and a simple, easy to imitate dance far more fabulous than "Gangnam Style" on any day ending with a y.

52. Saint Etienne / "Tonight" Saint Etienne are pop veterans with a sound that hasn't shifted too much in the decades since their inception. In a way they've been making -for ages- exactly the kind of pop that's recently come into vogue. It only makes sense that they'd return now...

53. Rihanna / "Diamonds"  If you can shake this song from your head, you're a far better person than I. It's a damply sappy track that weakly attempts to sweep up the cosmos into a sad little love song, and I know this.  But...it's got something that may make it last long after the Top 40 stations get over it.

54. Kendrick Lamar / "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" Mellowed out, west coast hip hop that flows free and makes you wish for a convertible and a sunny day in the dead of winter.

55. Usher / "Climax"  A restrained, evenly tempered R&B track that, perhaps ironically, never reaches an actual climax.  As surprising as it is melodic.

56. Grimes / "Be a Body" I latched on to this Grimes track above all others for reasons I can't quite explain. The ethereal becomes hypnotic, the beat punches and kicks and cycles and seems to demand that you immediately invent some kind of lava lamp choreography for it.  You should.

57. Captain Murphy (Flying Lotus) ft. Earl Sweatshirt / "Between Friends" We now know that Captain Murphy is just a rapping Flying Lotus, which makes the way he vocally presents himself on his Murphy tracks super odd.  The instrumentals, though, are the right kind of acid jazzy, tripped out sound we've come to expect from the man behind all the action.

58. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis / "Thrift Shop" A hook-filled, singable, likable, homegrown little ditty about thrift shopping and bargain hunting that flies in the face of the overproduced business side of slick production values and conspicuous consumption.

59. Carly Rae Jepsen / "Call Me Maybe"  At first, I really hated this song.  I came around to it after innumerable plays by every single one of my friends in every possible situation. Still, I don't love this song, and at this point the sugary quality of the catchphrase has worn its welcome.  I almost didn't put the song on here at all, and then I thought...you know, in a few years I'm going to have mad nostalgia whenever I hear this.  Done.

60. Odd Future / "Oldie" Ten minutes of the whole Odd Future crew introducing themselves, taking turns doing what they each do, and quietly one-upping one another and lovingly pushing themselves in ways that are almost charming and which make a non-believer understand the potential in each member of the group.


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