November 7th, 2014 12:37pm

Life And Death Is No Mystery

Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar “Never Catch Me”

I feel like you drop Kendrick Lamar into most anything and he’d figure out how to make it work, so I’m not surprised that he’d be good on a Flying Lotus track. It is cool, though, how much they complement each other. Kendrick brings out a warmth and humanity in Flying Lotus’ music that can get buried beneath a trebly clutter, and Flying Lotus pushes Kendrick toward a pensive, melancholy tone you hear on a lot of Good Kid, mAAd City, but has been missing from a lot of his features work in the time since.

Buy it from Amazon.

November 5th, 2014 2:29am

Translating Poorly

Wilco “Handshake Drugs”

I can’t remember how often I listened to “Handshake Drugs” three years ago when the lyrics were basically my life, or if I’m only noticing that now. The sentiment of the song is extremely passive, with pretty much every line being about something happening to Jeff Tweedy, or someone or something influenced his actions. It’s a feeling of disconnection from who you are, and just floating through life hoping for something that makes you feel like a person. It’s a very specific kind of depression, where every feeling just flattens out and the ego gets vague. You’re willing to be shaped by someone, because you just figure they know better than you. But that’s terrible, because anyone who wants to change you so much that you’re basically someone else doesn’t like you at all. It’s not a great feeling, and yet this song always feels so comfortable and pleasant. There can be a lot of pleasure in feeling neutralized sometimes.

Buy the forthcoming Wilco best-of from Amazon.

November 4th, 2014 1:50pm

Dancing Circles Around Me

Lana Del Rey “Cruel World”

There’s a lot for me to love in “Cruel World,” but the part that really gets me is the way Lana sings “You’re young, you’re wild, you’re free / you’re dancing circles around me / you’re fucking craaaaazyyyyy” with this genuine sense of anguish and dread. Part of what makes it work is in the vocal production – the particular tone of the reverb brings out a cold, metallic quality in Lana’s voice, which has an interesting contrast with one of the most emotive performances of her career. But it’s also in the words, and the way she sets up this structure in which the pensive verses take place in a present where she wants to get away from a poisonous man, and the chorus flashes back to scenes that are thrilling, terrifying, and confusing all at once. There’s so much alienation in that chorus, and it’s a feeling anyone with introverted tendencies will recognize – knowing that you’re in a situation that’s meant to be fun, but only fills you with crushing anxiety.

Buy it from Amazon.

November 3rd, 2014 1:06pm

We Have So Much To Answer For

Museum of Love “And All The Winners (Fuck You Buddy)”

It’s been a very good year for DFA Records, with a lot of the former members and miscellaneous associates of LCD Soundsystem putting out strong music that lives up to the high standard set by James Murphy. Museum of Love, a band featuring LCD drummer Pat Mahoney, is the most interesting and moving thing that’s come out on the label this year, in part because he’s the guy who is really running with the element of the LCD sound that made the band as big as they were: introspective balladry set to beautifully layered, rhythmic music. “And All the Winners” would’ve fit in pretty well on This Is Happening, really – it’s got a similar tonal palette, and Mahoney sings it with a feeling of resignation that matches up well with where Murphy was at on “I Can Change” and “Home.” This is a song about having a deep ambivalence about the ideas of “winners” and “losers,” and how being on either side of that depends on someone’s point of view. But despite that, there’s no mistaking that this is a ballad for all the underdogs out there.

Buy it from Amazon.

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

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.

Pre-order it from Amazon.

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

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