October 31st, 2014 12:22pm

Give Me One Small Sign

Camper Van Beethoven “Grasshopper”

This is such a simple, sweet, and empathetic song. It’s sung from the perspective of a broke Mexican immigrant who is just trying to make things work, and praying to god for any sort of blessing. The melody feels so warm and familiar; I’m sure I’ve heard it before somewhere before. The part that really kills me is how David Lowery sings stuff like “I’ll be a good boy for the rest of my life.” Something about that, maybe the way it’s something you’d literally think as a child, gets me in the gut.

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October 30th, 2014 12:37pm

Your Threshold Is Astonishing

Run the Jewels featuring Gangsta Boo “Love Again (Akinyele Back)”

The second Run the Jewels album is pretty great, but it’d be even better if Gangsta Boo was on all of it except for just this one song. Killer Mike and El-P have amazing chemistry, but this is like finding out one of your favorite foods is even better if you add another less obvious ingredient. Gangsta Boo’s badass femininity is the ideal foil to these guy’s extreme masculinity, and while her lyrical approach is intended to undermine their words in this song, her presence doesn’t undermine them at all. After hearing this, the rest of the Killer Mike/El-P songs feel like they’re off balance and need this female energy to seem truly complete.

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October 28th, 2014 12:29pm

On The Lips Of Millions

The Vaselines “Inky Lies”

I feel like the vast majority of songs about the dangers of gossip in the media come from famous musicians who obviously have a personal stake in the matter, but here we have a spirited attack on it from a band who are only famous in very, very small circles. I think this song works a lot better because of that – the lyrics aren’t poisoned by bitterness or disingenuous self-interest, and have a more clear-headed take on people’s petty fixations with strangers’ lives. I think this perspective also lends itself well to the style of the song too, which feels rather perky and light-hearted. It’s a song lightly mocking a common foible, not a shrill, paranoid rant.

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October 27th, 2014 4:59am

Become An Oaf Again

Panda Bear “Mr. Noah”

Have you ever had a hazy memory of a song you haven’t heard in a long time, and then heard the song again and noticed that it wasn’t quite as cool as the version that was there, half-formed, in your memory? “Mr. Noah” sounds like a vague memory of some ‘80s rock song, the super cool version that’s all fuzzed out and blurry because you probably heard it that one time from a bad radio signal in a moving car with the windows down. It’s not common to hear Panda Bear get as rocking as this, but it really works for him – his melodies can sometimes drift away without a strong rhythmic tether, and this vamping distorted riff provides a sturdy structure and lends a sense of momentum to one of the best vocal hooks he’s ever written.

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October 23rd, 2014 12:43pm

Somebody’s Having A Laugh

Andy Stott “Faith in Strangers”

A lot of songs that are built around a post-punk type of bass line end up having that part completely overtake the rest of the composition, and every other sound is just some decoration for this huge, thudding thing at the center of the track. But that’s not what’s going on in this Andy Stott piece at all – in fact, it’s pretty easy to not really notice it’s there since your ear is more likely to focus on the keyboard tone, the jittery and trebly drum programming, or Alison Skidmore’s lovely ghost-like vocals. The bass just sinks to the back, subtly adding this flat, depressive feeling that isn’t quite the dominant mood of the song, but kinda pulls you down with it, like an undertow.

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October 22nd, 2014 12:31pm

So Hard To See The Stars

Tenashe “Aquarius”

This song starts off in a fairly ordinary place – an R&B song in which a girl is telling a dude about how she wants to chill him out with sex that’ll be better than what he’d get with anyone else – but then makes a hard shift into astrology and paranoia about the government and media. It’s not as though those ideas can’t naturally fit together in the same conversation, but in context it’s a very welcome dose of eccentricity in a song that would’ve been pretty by-the-books if it kept going from the first verse and chorus. I feel like it earns its stoned, slo-mo vibe more by making that jump.

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October 21st, 2014 12:21pm

The Drums Of The City Rain

Gerard Way “Brother”

The majority of Gerard Way’s first solo album sounds like Britpop filtered through alt-rock and grunge, and you’d think I’d be the biggest mark for that. But as it turns out, my favorite on the record is the one that sounds the most like his old band, My Chemical Romance. “Brother” is a big theatrical power ballad that sounds distinctly mid-‘00s to my ears, and it dramatizes the feeling of hesitantly reaching out for help after every self-destructive thing you’ve done to deal with a deep depression has left you at rock bottom. The dead giveaway that this song is set in the past is in how grand and triumphant it feels, especially as it builds to a climax – that’s not the feeling of being at bottom, but recognizing later on when you’ve had the strength to make a decision that saves your life.

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October 20th, 2014 12:17pm

Reflecting Your Eyes

Thurston Moore “Forevermore”

I’ve spent enough time listening to Thurston Moore over the past 20 years that his particular rhythms and tics are burned into my mind, enough that I can hear a new song by him and accurately anticipate his every move. He’s basically been on autopilot for a long time now, but I don’t really hold that against him, since I think a lot of great musicians just sorta become more and more themselves over time, and lose interest in “reinvention” and focus more on what they can do within the boundaries of their style. In this way, he’s a Neil Young type.

Unlike his last few records, which pushed him to acoustic and punkish extremes, The Best Day basically sounds like the songs he probably would’ve brought to a new Sonic Youth album, if Sonic Youth was still going at the moment. Since Steve Shelley is pretty much always his drummer, it’s at least half a Sonic Youth song, but the ringers on second guitar and bass aren’t really bringing much to the table, certainly nothing on par with Lee Ranaldo’s inherent grace or Kim Gordon’s rawness. A song like “Forevermore” scratches an itch for me, but I’m too familiar with how all the players in Sonic Youth fit together to have it feel like the same.

And look, I don’t begrudge Thurston Moore’s happiness with his new girlfriend, but there’s just no way I can hear a song like this, which is all about how much he loves her, and not have it feel weird to me. It’s just too much like a dad trying to sell his children on his new lady after splitting from mom.

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October 17th, 2014 12:53pm

How I Learned Not To Care

Foxygen “How Can You Really”

One of my friends made a joke that Foxygen’s …And Star Power sounds “like disc 47 of the Their Satanic Majesties Request sessions box set,” and yes, it definitely does. (With a bit of Todd Rundgren in there too, I suppose.) This isn’t surprising – a lot of the best stuff on their previous record was flagrant Stones mimicry – but the thing here is how much it all feels like outtakes. This isn’t a slight on the songwriting, which is often quite strong, but rather the sense that everything is being recorded at the point where the musicians either haven’t fully clicked on a song, or have long since moved past the point of exhaustion. There’s a feeling of looseness on the album that feels like hearing a band that doesn’t care about sounding perfect, but is getting a lot of “feel” on the tape. You really get a sense of a room, and people interacting, and a performance that is lacking in self-consciousness even if it’s otherwise rather affected.

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October 14th, 2014 12:44pm

We Gotta Do It Metaphysically

Prince “This Could Be Us”

Prince’s music over the past 20 years doesn’t have a good reputation, and there’s good reason for that – he’s spent a LOT of that time being very indulgent and making records that satisfy his creative urges but test the patience of even his most devoted fans. You really do need some kind of sherpa to guide you through all that music. But despite this, Prince periodically shows us that he can still do exactly the kind of music he’s loved for, and that he can do it with a real spark of commitment and soul. “This Could Be Us” is one of those songs. It’s a slow jam that breaks no ground for him whatsoever, but it’s lovely and sexy and his voice is gorgeous on it. There is no shortage of other artists who have attempted to mimic Prince in this mode in the past, but when you hear him do a track like this, you get how effortless it is for him. A lot of other music he does – certainly a bunch of other tracks on the Art Official Age record – seem like he’s working, but this is just what Prince is like when he relaxes and goes to a default setting.

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