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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October 13th, 2014 12:49pm

Heathens Come, Charlatans Go

Electric Six “Alone with Your Body”

It’s kinda amazing that it took Electric Six ten albums to make a fake Motown song, or more specifically, “white middle class bar band dudes playing soul music.” There’s about two layers of ironic distance in the music, and another added in the lyrics, in which Dick Valentine sings from the perspective of an ordinary lunk with zero sense of romance who’s just really honest about his focus on getting laid. The thing that really makes this song work is that the warm vibe of the music and the “hey, I’m just a simple dude” rhetoric in the lyrics make all of this seem friendly and cute, but the obvious irony punctures that, and makes you wonder why anyone would think this type of guy is anything less than pathetic, juvenile, and predatory.

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October 8th, 2014 12:52pm

Calling All The Human Race

Peaking Lights “Telephone Call”

I like the way Indra Dunis seems so guileless as she sings this song. There’s a pretty high level of kitsch in the music and the lyrics, but she’s just straight faced enough to make the whole song seem ambiguous and inscrutable. It’s a very ‘80s new wave move – being silly, but at the same time giving you just enough intensity or seriousness to keep you off balance and wonder if there’s something deeper and darker going on. The deeper, darker stuff subverts the goofiness, but I think it’s more important to realize that the goofiness also subverts the dark and deep side too.

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October 7th, 2014 12:18pm

You Could Be My Unicorn

Swick & Lewis Cancut featuring Tkay Maidza “Wishes”

“Wishes” is the sort of pop song that is so catchy and insistent that it dares to be totally annoying, but that’s sorta built into the sentiment of the lyrics. This is about feeling a very particular blend of ecstatic joy and nagging anxiety after connecting with someone amazing, and not being able to stop yourself from putting them on a pedestal and worrying that they are way, way, waaaay out of your league. Tkay Maidza sounds like she’s attempting to make sense of this in every line, and she’s mostly being positive about it. And thank god for that, because this song could so easily tip into being a more creepy or pathetic thing.

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October 6th, 2014 1:37am

Who Are Smart

Deerhoof “Paradise Girls”

One of the best things about Deerhoof is that their music often conveys a joyful physicality. It just sounds like the product of great fun, and the parts click together in this seemingly spontaneous way, even if it’s not improvised at all. John Dieterich’s guitar parts always feel particularly alive, and seem to jump around the beat like a hyperactive child. “Paradise Girls” aims for a sort of pop aesthetic, but because Deerhoof can’t really sound like anyone but themselves, it ends up in a more interesting place. The beat is busy but immediately engaging, and Satomi Matsuzaki pays tribute to female musicians in a way that’s sorta vague in language but highly specific in sentiment. You can hear a smile in every note she sings.

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October 2nd, 2014 2:57am

Kiss And Kill Me Sweetly


The narrative around The Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore has always been that it’s this bold departure from the band’s sound, but that’s only half true. Yes, it is an album that avoids the sort of heavy psychedelic rock that the band was best known for, but at the same time, there’s really nothing on the record that wasn’t rooted in what Billy Corgan had already done on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the Aeroplane Flies High, or the soundtrack hits “Eye” and “The End is the Beginning is the End.” In terms of aesthetics, Adore was definitely not a shock to anyone who was closely following the band in that era, and its particular palette of bleeps and washes and “beats” were very much in line with other major artists at the time – U2, R.E.M., Tori Amos, Madonna – were doing to chase a modern, millennial vibe.

Few records sound more 1998 than Adore, and I think that’s actually a good thing about it. It’s very rooted in a particular time and place, but it has a lot of moments that feel like a world unto itself. It was definitely a bold move, though, and I don’t think its relative lack of commercial success should be held against it. It’s basically the ‘90s equivalent of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk – there was really no way Corgan was ever going to top the extraordinary success and cultural impact of Mellon Collie, so if whatever came next was doomed to look like a failure, why not make it arty and personal and uncompromising? Lindsey Buckingham had the right idea.

(Thinking right now about just how much Corgan and Buckingham are alike as people and as musicians. It’s kinda amazing. I wonder if they’ve ever talked.)

The Smashing Pumpkins “Pug” (Matt Walker 2014 Reimagined Mix)

“Pug” has always been my favorite of the Adore songs, though “Shame” and “To Sheila” come close. I love the way “Pug” alternates between menace and sensuality, and how lovely and feminine Corgan’s voice gets on the chorus. The lyrics are similarly moody, with him trying to make sense of a relationship that’s just as full of lust and affection as cruelty and loathing. At some points the song is outright bitter and confrontational, but it rings very true when he shifts over to forgiving and pleading on the bridge. The thing that really gets me in this is how he sings “desire me so deeply, drain and kick me hard,” maybe because the emphasis on “desire me” sounds so much like a command. It’s like he’s trying to control the other person, but mostly because he can’t comprehend them desiring him without being implored to do so.

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