Friday, December 23, 2016

Top 20 Albums of 2016

2016 fucking blew.

The music of 2016, however, did not blow.

Proof of this is below, for your my reading pleasure.

I was never a huge fan of Tribe. They always struck me as a group more focused on their lyrics, and I am more inclined to listen to hip hop with a FAT BEAT.

Seeing them on SNL the Saturday after the end of the world was exactly what I needed though. Facing the world with a positivity rooted in realism is exactly how we should approch the next four years, or we're not gonna make it.

Although the album was written months before the election, the opening mantra of "Let's make somethin happen" carries so much more weight now than it could have. Aside form any cultural implications this record might have, the beats on here, and the way each MC weaves within those beats, is infectious. If your head sits still while listening to this one, you might wanna check your neck.

19. Kero Kero Bonito - Bonito Generation

We done being sad? Good. Cuz the KKB don't want none of that shit. The KKB wants you to turn up your radio, jump on a trampoline, and snap a selfie.

I am not entirely sure if Kero Kero Bonito is that passionate about taking selfies, or if there is something more satirical in their bubblegum lyrics. Perhaps in my old age I've forgotten how to care about trampolines the way I used to, but KKB is gonna force that sentiment down your throat until you too see the world as they do: gumdrop forests and my little ponies fucking everywhere.

18. Moonsorrow - Jumalten Aika

I think the main reason this record is not higher on my list is because it is too damn epic for its own good. Every song feels like a mini-epic. Entire D&D campaigns play out in my mind as I listen to each song. And honestly, if I'm ripping my shirt off and riding a Siberian tiger through downtown (aka the METRO Rail) by the end of each song, I am gonna run out of friggin shirts.

17. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

This album is all over the place sonically. We've got drugged out jazz, street bangers, and minimalist thumps, all while Danny yells overtop in his signature way. Despite how all over the place the record is, it never once stops feeling like a cohesive unit, and that's all credit to Danny's vision. This album could have been made by no one else. He's produced his most "complete" album yet, leaving him with only one mountain left to climb: Kathy Griffin. I wish you well on your quest, good sir.

16. The Drones - Feelin Kinda Free

I See Seaweed made my Top 20 list of 2013 purely off of Gareth Liddiard's vocals. He sings in contempt of the microphone, annoyed that we asked him to sing anything at all, let alone bear his soul to us in a public forum.

Feelin Kinda Free is a whole other beast. The instrumentation on here is exciting yet familiar, rooted in grungy garage rock, but plenty of weird flourishes and unexpected twists to keep a smile firmly planted on my face.

However, it's during one of the more straight forward anti-ballads where the album hits its peak. "To Think That I Once Loved You" perfectly expresses how the disdain you can have for an ex is only matched by your own self-loathing. It's a truly gorgeous song.

15. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Yo yo, it's your boi Thom and he's back to remind us that he's been right all along: the world really did go to shit.

I really thought Radiohead was done after The King of Limbs. That album felt uninspired (or inspired in all the wrong ways) and sounded like the beginning of the end for a great band. And here they come to put me in my place and punch me in the mouth. Not only can they still write a good song, they sound fresh and exciting, despite the mellow tones expressed on this record. The best part is that this does sound like a band in their 40s, and somehow it's a really good thing.

14. Deakin - Sleep Cycle

Deakin has long been my most underappreciated member of Animal Collective. He's on fewer records than Geologist, and when he is present, he's playing electric guitar. I mean, anyone can play guitar. And especially now, in a post-Centipede Hz world, I find it pretty hard to get very excited about new AnCo releases.

Lo and behold, Deakin knows what he's fucking doing! This album sounds like the long-awaited follow-up to Merryweather Post Pavilion. It expands on sounds heard on other Animal Collective releases, but doesn't sound like a retread. It's also blissfully short, expressing exactly what it needs to and then fades off leaving you with memories of brilliant melodies and an overall feeling of melancholy playfulness that I think works super well.

13. Solange - A Seat at the Table

This album is very clearly not for me. I've never had to deal directly with racism or sexism. But Solange brings me into her world on this album. Her soul is laid bare on this record, and it is full of the conflicting emotions one would associate with being human.

As with any hip hop album, I am not too enthused about all the interludes. The first time you hear them, they really paint a picture of what the artist is trying to say with this record. But if the record is any good (and this one truly is) then I want to listen to it on repeat. And every god damn time I have to listen to a guy talking over background music in between every song.

Blargh, interludes.

This album's great though.

12. Andy Stott - Too Many Voices

If Andy Stott released a record, you better believe it made my top 20 list. This guy is an endless well of creativity; always pushing his sound forward while retaining that cavernous dub sound he does like no one else. This album in particular feels influenced by Oneohtrix Point Never, another absolute favorite of mine. Combining strange loops and glitches with Stott's dub sensibilities is a winning combination. Instead of just glaring lustily across an abandoned warehouse, now we can stare lustily across an abandoned warehouse while also making these faces:

11. Gatecreeper - Sonoran Deprivation

I visited Tucson, AZ earlier this year for Southwest Terrorfest. Needing to fuel up for the mayhem I was about to experience, I headed into that bastion of sustenance known only as Jimmy John's. I struck up a convo with one of the sandwich artisans about metal and he proclaimed that local act Gatecreeper had been signed. Being from Houston, I'd never heard of this band, but promised him I'd check them out.

And holy shit, they fucking crush.

Gatecreeper plays no bullshit death metal. If you are in the mood for deep growls and buzzsaw guitars, look no further. But that classic death metal sound isn't enough to proclaim an album great. The songs on here are freaking masterful. The riffs stomp and are never boring.

It's kinda like Star Wars Episode VII. They knew exactly what we wanted and gave it to us in spades. Gatecreeper knows what we want. We want riffs. We want to raise our cheap ass beer in the air and toast the fact that we are drinking cheap ass beer. We want double bass drum kicks at the exact right times and not overdone.

We want to do this:

10. Ulcerate - Shrines of Paralysis

I thought I knew furious music. But when I first heard Ulcerate, I was gobsmacked. What the fuck is even happening here? Ulcerate unleash a wall of oppressive noise on this record. I didn't know what I was listening to on the first listen, but I knew it was intensely powerful.

I had read that Ulcerate is the fastest drone metal band in the world, and as funny as that is, it pretty accurately describes how the band sounded to me on that first listen. Many, many listens later, and the album has come together as a death metal opus.

I saw Ulcerate live earlier this year and was astounded that there are only three members in this band. The lead singer's booming voice echoes across caverns of ever-changing, mutating riffs so epic you have only the option to stand slack jawed like a simpleton.

This is music you have to feel in your chest. Turn it the hell UP and let it wash over you.

I was never a fan of Post-Rock. It just feels too formulaic, too emotionally manipulative, too easy. Perhaps the lofty goal of presenting rock music as something akin to classical music falls short because it is first rooted in rock and roll. Maybe approaching the genre from the opposite direction is the better solution, starting first in classical and distorting those sounds until it is something else entirely.

Case in point: Colin Stetson's latest offering. Colin does not alter Gorecki's original piece, he only rearranges the instrumentation to better fit within a rock context, and the results are truly astounding. Stetson clearly has an affection for this symphony, it is virtually identical to the original. But the electric guitars, rock and roll drumkit, and saxophone flourishes really elevate this piece to something else. The instrumentation brings an added weight to this already heavy subject matter, and contrasts the beautiful portions exponentially.

How I wish Stetson would continue in this theme: bringing classic and lesser known symphonic pieces into a new age. I doubt we will ever hear anything like this from him ever again, but it will always serve as a shining diversion in his already stellar discography.

8. Deathspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones

Remember what I said about Ulcerate? Multiply it.

DsO has been making difficult black metal for over a decade, so hearing The Synarchy of Molten Bones for the first time was no surprise. That's not to say I understood what the hell I had just listened to. But I knew given time, the album would ingrain itself into my subconscious. I eventually found myself attempting to hum the most convoluted melodies as I folded laundry. Only Deathspell can create music this fucking complex and yet still tuck away melodies that seem impossible to dream up.

They operate in their own genre, and nearly every successful black metal band is compared to them in some way. In my view, modern black metal has one reigning champ: Deathspell Omega.

7. Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion Side B

The Queen is back, expanding on the 80s tinged synthpop she brought us with last year's Emotion. Carly has clearly tapped into the perfect sound for her voice, and she realizes it. I for one hope she pulls a Beach House from here on out and just keeps churning out the same music over and over again. I don't want progression, I don't want an acoustic album, I don't want Carly to show me her raw side. I want to feel like a 13 year old girl with a crush.

Keep it up Carly. Fuck being 30.

6. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch

Jenny Hval put out one of my favorite albums of 2014 with her collab with Susanna. The beauty of Meshes of Voice was Jenny's avant-garde pop sensibilities were given a structure to play within a folk context. However, her solo work has always been just a bit too off-kilter for me.

With Blood Bitch, I feel like she has finally found the perfect balance between exciting avant-pop and traditional pop ideals. At times, she channels the cool sensuality of  Fever Ray, at others her almost childlike voice is crying out above wispy synthesizers.

But the undisputed highlight of the album is in "Conceptual Romance". This song is simply incredible. Usually when you have a song this strong on an album, it overshadows the remainder of the tracks. Thankfully, this is not the case with Blood Bitch. Jenny really knocks it out of the park with this release, touching on many different sounds but sticking to a central theme.

5. Lemon Demon - Spirit Phone

Lemon Demon is objectively terrible. It's loud and obnoxious, like a bratty kid smashing pots and pans in the kitchen. But I'll be damned if I don't love this album.

I like to think that Spirit Phone is an album Pee-Wee Herman could have made. It's lyrics are playfully surreal and always a bit disdainful. It's as if the singer is inventing the weirdest stories alone in his room and then singing them to us like "You think this is weird? Well then you're the problem, jackass."

Aside from the bizarre lyrics about a man trapped in an arcade machine or embalming a loved one's corpse to preserve it for confectional purposes, the music here is really top notch. The interplay of various synth instruments reminds me of something Brian Wilson might have done if his drug of choice was speed instead of LSD. Ok, maybe if he was on both.

I encourage you to listen to this record. And when you think "this is actually terrible", trust me. Push through. You will not hear another pop album this good this year.

4. Zhrine - Unortheta

Comparing Zhrine to Deafheaven is pretty easy. Both bands infuse shoegaze and post-rock elements into their black metal. Both bands have short hair and dress like hipsters. (Zhrine looks a little less nazi-hipster and more black-shirt-in-a-coffee-shop-hipster.) Both bands are intensely emotional. Zhrine, however, focuses more on an atmospheric, almost symphonic sound.

Their debut album is so well put together that the band plays the album in its entirety when playing live. And that results in the best live act I saw all year. These guys are fucking pros. They play as a seamless unit, no note went unplaced. It's not like this is difficult music, and I am surely a fan of improvisation when I see a band live. But I think Zhrine realizes they have a goddamn perfect album on their hands. There's gotta be some sort of golden ratio thing going on here, because the album, when played front to back, is a storybook experience. What can I say, I am a sucker for arpeggios. And towards the end of the album, they unleash arpeggio after arpeggio. It is a gorgeous and headbanging ending.

If I were to suggest one metal album to a non-metal listener who's a little metal-curious, it would be this one.

3. Death Grips - Bottomless Pit


Death Grips is a band again, everybody! And seriously, what more can I say about Death Grips. They are always... always... something to be reckoned with. This newest album is again incredibly creative, completely bonkers, and intense as fuck.

Highlights from this album:
- "Eh" is hilarious. MC Ride cares so little about everything that he made a song about how little he cares.
- Before the release of Bottomless Pit you could call a toll free number and "dial 1 for trash." This is how the world was introduced to their second single. A shitty recording of a song called "Trash" listened to over my cell phone line. Awesome.
- I had heard "BB Poison" was the shit, so as I listened to the album for the first time, I excitedly saw that song getting closer and closer. When I finally heard it, the hype did not disappoint. I immediately started cracking up and punching the air. This song slaps.

I will leave you with the lyrics from "Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood":

Nylons on VEAL
Side bitches don’t HEAL
Your table through my HEAD
My body through your BED

Pure, unadulterated aggression. Nails are possibly the heaviest band going right now. And while their previous albums were chock full of fist pumping, body slamming riffs, their new album introduces a new element that I'm calling "mosh parts".

Sure, their previous albums had plenty of energy and I am sure moshing happens at their shows (I wouldn't know because they broke up for a one month window that perfectly overlapped the Southwest Terrorfest that I went to specifically to see them... I'm not bitter...) But there are plenty of moments on this new record that feel like they were crafted for the specific purpose of causing chaos in their audiences. The best example of this is at the end of "Savage Intolerance". The drums break down, the guitars squeal, and then suddenly everything goes quiet for half a second before all hell breaks loose. I have almost dislodged my car steering wheel on numerous occasions because of that song.

If you have ever wanted to punch 2016 squarely in the mouth, put on this album. I swear after the 22 minutes runtime, you will feel better. Or at the very least, you will feel less like taking out your anger on that asshole at work.

You know the guy.

Fuck that guy.

1. מזמור - Yodh

This album is almost the exact opposite of that Nails record. It is slow, it is deliberate, it is sparse, and it is painfully beautiful.

When I think about why I enjoy this record so much, I think of many things. The guitars are great; they have the perfect tone for this type of music. The songs are great; each one feels like an epic unto itself. But what truly pushes this record over the top, causing me to play it again and again, are the vocals. ALN has an inhuman control over his voice. His voice is constantly changing to fit within the context of the song, truly becoming part of the music. There are no tricks here, no studio trickery to make it more interesting. Having seen מזמור (anglicized as Mizmor) in his first ever live performance, I can confirm he is a true master of his voice.

I don't want this to come off as soulless technique-worship. Technically proficient music means nothing if it doesn't also serve the emotional purpose of the song. The beauty is how Mizmor is able to change his vocals to underline an emotional theme.

And the emotional themes on this record run deep. Sadness, anger, introspection, optimism in the face of cruelty. Rarely are emotions presented this perfectly on a record. Every note is dripping with the artist's feelings.

This album is the perfect example of how much metal (or fuck that, music in general) taps into me unlike any other art form. Music is a part of us in strange, primal ways that I don't understand, and don't care to. Yeah, 2016 fucking blew. And I'd say there's a good chance 2017 will too. But as long as we have artists like Mizmor sharing themselves in such raw form, I think I'll make it through ok.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

I legitimately still like Korn

The other day I was travelling down a youtube rabbit hole and ended up seeing a video featuring a live performance from everyone's favorite Nu-Metal band: Korn. What got me to click, however, was the fact that this video was from a performance in 2016.

Two thousand and sixteen. In the year in which we are currently living, Korn is still performing concerts.

This idea was so jarring to me, that I had to click.

Lo and behold... Korn still kills it live. The whole experience was pretty surprising, so I decided I would go ahead and put on my favorite album from when I was a budding 8th grade goth kid: Follow the Leader.

What happened next was even more surprising. I really liked what I heard. Like, legitimately.

Should I be embarrassed by this? Absolutely. Am I? No. Therefore, what follows next is my track by track love letter to one of the greatest forgotten albums from my youth.

God help us.

When I was around 10 years old, my brother and I had a regular babysitter named Karen. Karen was a female, so I naturally fell in love with her. I remember one time, Karen was listening to music on her discman, and I asked her what she was listening to. She told me she was listening to a scary band named Korn, a name which I found hilarious. She let me listen to a few seconds if I promised not to tell my parents. What I heard terrified my 10 year old ears. I vowed to never listen to Korn ever again.

In 8th grade, I made friends with the goth kids, and they all wore Korn shirts. At 13, nothing is more appealing than listening to devil music behind your mom's back, so I borrowed my friend's Follow the Leader CD, loaded it in my parents' CD/tape player combo, and recorded the album to cassette. I played that cassette constantly for the next couple months, memorizing every "boom-dop-da-oom" and "rum-ba-dee-boo" sung by Jonathan Davis.

Here we go.

13. It's On!
First and foremost, the original CD started with 12 tracks of 5 seconds of silence each. Therefore the first song was track 13. My 8th grade mind was blown.

The song itself is one of my favorite opening tracks ever. It has these other-worldy wobbly sounds jostling for attention with the crushing downtuned guitars that Korn is known for. And the fact that the opening track is titled "It's On!" got me so amped every time I put on the album.

14. Freak on a Leash
The song they are most known for, and it's justified. I remember watching the video on MTV (at a friend's house of course. I wasn't allowed to watch MTV) and thinking it was so cool. What's not cool about a bullet flying around a shack as the band members bob and weave, a-slappin da bass? I still have the gibberish from the bridge memorized. Cuz I'm cool like that.

15. Got the Life
Fun fact: I convinced myself that Korn was singing "God's the Life", sending subliminal Christian messages to teens everywhere. It was essentially my justification to my 8th grade self that I was not going to hell for listening to this band.

16. Dead Bodies Everywhere
The deep bass drum combining with the childlike piano riff is straight out of a horror movie. Such an excellent intro to this heavy as fuck song. When the verse starts, you can really hear the downtuned bass strings rattling against the fretboard. Such an iconic Korn-sound.
8th grade Kyle's favorite lyric: "You really want me to be a good son. Why? You make me feel like no one."

17. Children of the Korn (feat. Ice Cube)
I had never heard of Ice Cube, and I totally forgot he was featured on this song until I listened to it again as an adult. I never liked this one as a kid as I wasn't really into rap. As an adult, I can confirm: it still sucks. Ice Cube plus Korn is just stupid.

18. B.B.K.
Another straight banger. The chorus riff is just two notes, and incredibly heavy. The drum break in the bridge is so 90s it's not hard to envision myself raving with neon glowsticks listening to it. 8th grade Kyle was pretty proud of his raving skills.
8th grade Kyle's favorite lyric: "Life sometimes pisses me off."

19. Pretty
If you haven't noticed, Korn really likes their loud-quiet-loud formula. The weird guitars during the quiet parts are really excellent, but it's the bridge that really grips me. The guitars sound like they are coming from a portal to another dimension, and Davis' vocals are super interesting.

20. All in the Family
This song starts out with the worst 90s rap song cliche: "Say what say what?"
I'll tell you what. Skip this track. Jesus christ it's bad. No redeeming qualities here.

21. Reclaim My Place
If you can get over Davis yelling "What the Fuck?" over and over again throughout this song, it's really great. Of course, that was 8th grade Kyle's favorite part.

22. Justin
My favorite song from the album, without question. I don't know what that sound is at the beginning of the song, but it's so awesome. Then the bass line kicks in, and it will really rattle your stereo. When the song finally explodes, they just play the same note over and over again, and I had never heard anything so heavy in my life. Love this song.

23. Seed
This was essentially the last song on the album for me, since the last two songs range from "Dog shit" to "Mediocre". Therefore, the album really ends well with this song. I love the repetitiveness of the main riff, and the vocals really play well within the guitars. The self-deprecating lyrics really resonated with me as a conflicted 8th grader. They're obviously kind of silly now, but I can't tell you how much I liked singing "Like some god damn fuckin freak" over and over again.

24. Cameltosis
Dog shit

25. My Gift to You


So there you have it. I wrote way too much about an album very few people likely give a shit about. But I was really surprised how much I still liked this album. I like to think I am a bit less angsty than my 8th grade self, but my adult self really had fun hearing these lyrics and thinking how cathartic it was at the time to hear a band express these feelings in the heaviest way possible.

So give it a listen. Make your parents mad.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

מזמור - Yodh

I was fairly certain I was finished posting on this blog. I just lost all motivation to write about the albums I was enjoying.

But that changed when I heard Yodh by מזמור (anglicized as Mizmor). This album has completely consumed me these past couple weeks, and is the front-runner for my AOTY. It's so damn good.

My obsession really started back when I was one of the privileged few to witness Mizmor's first ever live performance at Migration Fest in Olympia, WA. To that point, I enjoyed the few Mizmor songs I'd heard on bandcamp, but one song really rose above the crop, the appropriately titled "I".

Mizmor opened his set with this song, and it turned out to be 15 minutes of some of the most expressive black metal I have ever seen performed live. I couldn't understand a word he was singing, but the pain and hope he expressed was palpable. He followed this song up with another 15 minute blast from his newly released Yodh. I was immediately hooked.

In addition to absolutely crushing and lifting my spirits in the same 30 minute span of his set, I was inspired to embark on my own journey; one I have never before attempted: I am going to grow my hair out.

Me soon.

OK, we all know I am not going to make it another inch before I decide to cut it for my job, but for now I am still holding on to this delusion that I could pull this off. This is the only picture I could find of A.L.N,, the sole member of Mizmor. But damn.

I want that hair.

Since seeing Mizmor's performance, I've been listening to Yodh on endless repeat, only taking a break once or twice to give the new Carly Rae Jepsen album a spin. (Sidenote: an album of B-Sides has no business being as good as Emotion Side B. Carly sounds like she's really buying into the sound she brought us on Emotion, and I can't wait to hear her forthcoming LP.)

Yodh is in a word: devastating. A.L.N. is a master of expression on this record, but the funny thing is that as I listen to it, I am not brought down to a level of deep depression. Instead, this album is surprisingly uplifting. There's something about hearing someone record their sadness so eloquently onto a record that is strangely comforting. 

The musicianship on this record is also second to none. These songs are each 10-15 minutes of blackened doom metal, which may seem like a dirge. But Mizmor is constantly changing tempo, changing theme, and most impressively, changing his vocals to keep these epics interesting throughout. There are times when A.L.N.'s voice is downright operatic in nature. I am constantly amazed by the vocal range this guy shows on this album.

Another reason I stopped writing on here is I have no idea how to end posts. So...


Sunday, May 8, 2016


I've had this post sitting in my drafts for nearly a month. I keep meaning to make the finishing touches and post it, but I keep pushing it off.


Death Grips and Radiohead demand attention. These albums below are excellent. But Christ... Death Grips and Radiohead, people.

Stay Tuned...

Here's what I was listening to in a pre-Bottomless Pit/Moon Shaped Pool world.

Lemon Demon - Spirit Phone

When I sit and think about this album, I am positive that I should hate it. It's silly. It has maximalist, almost grating production values. It features a song about a man who becomes fused with an arcade video game and says "I won't hurt you unless you cheat." But dammit, when I listen to this album, I fucking love it. 

This thing is pop gold. The hooks on here are incredibly infectious. And behind that cloying, maximalist production is actually a lot of little moving parts that really add to the character of this thing. 

This album kind of sounds like Ford & Lopatin's Channel Pressure, but if they had been more influenced by ELO and if it had been written by a frustrated 12 year old with strange notions of what is "totally rad". So, basically this album was written by Pee-Wee Herman. It's simultaneously innocent and raunchy in weird ways, and the lyrics play more like surrealist lit than they do as immature self-expression. 

There are plenty of highlights on this album, but one I absolutely must mention is the song "Sweet Bod". It's about a guy who wants to encase his deceased(?) lover(?) in honey to preserve that "sweet bod". And hands down, the most catchy moment on the entire album comes when he sings:

It isn't sexual (It isn't sexual)
Strictly confectional (Strictly confectional)
Strictly medicinal (Strictly medicinal)
If a little nontraditional


Colin Stetson - Sorrow, a re-imagining of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony

This Colin Stetson record is nothing short of breathtaking. Anyone familiar with Stetson's work knows he absolutely slays the saxophone. Just watch the video below as proof:


On Sorrow, however, Stetson introduces the first movement with low rumblings from his baritone sax, but is soon overshadowed by the growing swell of strings, horns, voice, and electric guitar. Stetson's sax is not the star here. While it provides an invaluable deep register to these songs, the true star is literally everyone else. The strings are sweeping, the horns have a muted sadness to them, the guitar soars, and the lone vocalist evokes an emotional performance the likes of which I've never heard before (but then I am pretty unfamiliar with operatic singing).

But therein lies the genius of Stetson. His arrangement is an ode to the piece itself. There are no sax virtuosos to speak of. The arrangement is minimal yet integral; if you took away one instrument, it would lose a critical part of the piece. Stetson's arrangement is both traditional and modern; true to the original arrangement while breathing new life into the piece.

I realize this music is about as far from "rock" as one can get, and the addition of electric guitar and drumkit does not automatically make it a rock album, but I can't help but make this snarky comment: Colin Stetson has made the first Post-Rock album worth listening to.

Death Grips and Radiohead in one weekend. Shit, what a weekend.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

PC Music

The more I think about pop music, the more uncomfortable I get. Why is it so easy to like pop music? Why is pop music so popular? Is it because everyone happens to have similar music preferences? Or is it because our brains are wired in such a way that certain sound structures are more pleasing than others? If our brains are wired to like pop music, is it not a little concerning that there is a massive industry taking advantage of our unconscious gravitation toward these sounds? And then there's the psychological effect music has on a person. People can't help but define their self-identity around music. They dress a certain way, talk a certain way, even get tattoos of their favorite lyrics because of the effect music has on them. If music is manufactured by corporations taking advantage of our brains' reactions to certain sounds, do we really have a self identity at all? Is that manufactured as well? Am I anything more than what I purchase?

Then I distract myself with some Ariana Grande and I feel much better.

There is a music label called PC Music that is making music that perfectly embodies this duality in pop music, simultaneously pleasing and disconcerting. They crystallize pop music into it's most basic form: instantly pleasing, comfortable, and fun. However, they strip something else away in the process: the music's very humanity. PC Music lives in this fascinating "uncanny valley" that is somewhere between human and artificial. Imagine if a computer generated a love song. Does a computer understand what love is? Even if the music hit all the right notes, it would still feel empty in some way.

My two favorite artists on this label are Hannah Diamond and SOPHIE. Hannah is incredibly sweet. Here she is fantasizing about meeting boys in person after building them up in her head after viewing their online profiles.

And SOPHIE makes wickedly fun trap and dance songs with chipmunk female vocal samples laid on top. Had I heard SOPHIE's PRODUCT last year, it would have easily been in my top 5 albums of the year. It's so fucking good.

However, my favorite aspects of PC Music are the fan-made videos I've found on youtube that perfectly express the weird cute-yet-harrowing nature of this music. Here are my favorites:

Sufficiently weirded out? That's ok. We still have Ariana Grande.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Top 20 Albums of 2015

As I walk to work, coffee in hand, I am not thinking of what I need to get accomplished that day. I am not thinking about my plans for after work. Nor am I thinking about what I will have for lunch (that one's easy. Peanut butter and honey... errday).

I am thinking, "Which Beach House album was better this year? Is False's maelstrom of Black Metal better than the jazz bass stylings of Thundercat? Did Death Grips release an album this year?"

The answer to all of these questions are answered below.

Honorable Mention:

I considered expanding my top 20 to a top 25 to include these albums, but you gotta have rules, man! Otherwise what separates us from the animals?! Stop thinking crazy, Kyle!

Regardless, these albums are great and deserve some recognition.

Viet Cong - Viet Cong: Almost convinces me that Women are still a band.

Björk - Vulnicura: I wouldn't be surprised if this album grows on me more over the years. An album about divorce by Björk is perhaps too much for me to take. One thing is for certain, "Stonemilker" might be the greatest song Björk has ever written.

Disasterpeace - It Follows: This soundtrack is one of the greatest soundtracks I've ever heard. It stands really well on its own without the movie, too. I listened to this thing for months before (finally) seeing the (excellent) movie.

Horrendous - Anareta: Another album that I think will grow on me in time, this is death metal with a ton of catchy riffs and fun moments.

D'Angelo and the Vanguard - Black Messiah: I considered putting this album at #9 on my year end list, but it technically came out in 2014, so I couldn't bring myself to do it. This album sounds like it's from another decade, but feels so now. It's one of the freshest albums I heard all year.

Here we gooooo

20. Melechesh - Enki

Not only do Melechesh bring an awesome Middle Eastern sound to their brand of black metal, but their songs are incredibly catchy, fist-pumping anthems. There is no doubt in my mind that this album would be higher in my list if the album art weren't off-center. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY.

19. Krallice - Ygg Huur

You want impenetrable black metal that will make even die hard black metal fans scratch their heads? I present to you Krallice's most recent offering. As chaotic and random this album seems, I found myself anticipating certain passages as if they were the next logical progression of sounds from what came before. This band is operating on another level, producing music equally challenging and headbanging. 

If you had told me that Mgła was going to release an album this year, and that it would only reach my #18 spot, I wouldn't have believed you. Perhaps it speaks to the strength of the rest of the albums on this list that the almighty Mgła has fallen so low? Or maybe the the superb I, II, V, and VI couldn't make up for the weakness of tracks III and IV? Regardless, Mgła's worst album is better than most music, so don't let my lackluster review hold you back.

17. Death Grips - Jenny Death

Yes, I am counting this as a separate album from niggas on the moon. You can call The Powers That B a double album all you want, but I think releasing the two discs 6 months apart with completely different sounds warrants its own spot on my list. This album is almost a return to their rock-sampling roots on Ex-Military. It's got one of their best songs in "On GP", but my favorite is hand down "Pss Pss". This song is absolutely bonkers. "Pss Pss Pss" is probably their most genius hook since "it goes it goes it goes it goes YUH".

16. Beach House - Depression Cherry

If you're into buying vinyl, BUY THIS RECORD. The record sleeve is covered in velvet. VELVET dammit. I am baffled that this is the first time Beach House has encased their musical magic in such a seductive fabric. Just holding this record is the perfect accompaniment for the lush sounds held within. The lead-off single for the album, "Sparks", is simultaneously the most exciting and most disappointing thing Beach House have ever released. Its noisy guitars and repetitive, almost tinny vocal samples create an atmosphere that is so unique and so "Beach House" at the same time. But it's the only song on this album, and their entire discography, that sounds even remotely like this. The song pokes fun at us, as if to say, "We could go full on Cocteau Twins if we wanted to. But we don't want to. #sorrynotsorry." Please Beach House. Please release a Cocteau Twins album. 

Pale Chalice really have a way of writing simple black metal songs with such emotional gravitas. This album is one song after another of songs with an extra "something" that I find difficult to place my finger on. The vocalist is pretty great too. However, perhaps the best part about this album is this picture inside the record sleeve:
So metal.

 14. Tame Impala - Currents

I just started listening to this album in earnest this week. I knew I needed to give it a fair listen and I knew it was going to be great, but other things always got in the way. Well, there is a definite benefit for an album to be heard the week I am finalizing my list. This thing is rocking my world right now. It climbs higher in my list nearly every time I hear it. As good as this album is, nothing comes close to the pop masterpiece of "The Less I Know the Better". This song is unfuckwithable. The bass line is incredible, the synths are so perfectly textured, and the part where he breaks it down and sings "Oh my love..." is just so heart-wrenchingly incredible. The music video also takes the spot of my favorite of the year (linked above). It took 3 albums, but Tame Impala finally won me over.

It's hard for me to begin talking about this album. Do I focus on the technical abilities of Stephen Bruner? Because he absolutely crushes it on this album. Or maybe I can point out that the songwriting on this album is miles above any of Thundercat's previous output. It might be best to focus on the emotional impact his music had on me when I saw him live. Every song he played was at least twice the length on record due to lengthy solos. But his solos were so full of emotion and character that it colored his music with a new life that I hadn't originally noticed on this album. I don't have any special connection or association with Austin Peralta, but Stephen's tribute to him during that show was incredibly moving. Instead of gushing, I think I'll just say "This album is too short" and leave it at that. 

12. Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars

I fulfilled a life goal and saw Beach House live this year. It was awesome; they are somehow able to perfectly translate their sound to a live setting. It was perhaps the warmest sounding concert I've ever been to. One thing that did not happen was they did not play any songs from their then-as-yet-to-be-released Thank Your Lucky Stars. I can only imagine how hard their heads would have banged when playing "One Thing" or "Elegy to the Void". This album cements Beach House as a band completely on top of their game. I mean, for christ's sake, they essentially titled this album "You're Welcome". They are too fucking cool.

11. False - Untitled

While we're speaking about incredible live performances, False made me experience something I have never felt before at a concert. There I was, listening to one of my favorite bands-of-the-moment, sweating my ass off in the putrid, stagnant air in Black Barbie. It was July in Houston, and the venue has no A/C or ventilation of any kind. As the first song barrels through its nearly 15 minute duration I begin to enter an almost trance-like state. There are only 15 people in the crowd, but it feels like it is just me standing in the middle of the room, mere feet way from the snarling lead singer. She looks directly at me, and it felt like she was looking into me. I don't know how long this lasts, but I swear to you I did not feel like I was me. I felt like I was the concert. Before I knew it, the concert was over. I don't know how many songs they played, or for how long. My best guess is two 15-minute songs, but I can't be certain. It sounds pretty stupid, I realize, and I've never really done any drugs, but if I had to guess, I would say that I was experiencing ego-loss. I bring this up mostly because False's lyrics at times focus on the destruction of self; not in a suicidal way, but in a humbling, "you are a human, and no more special than those you share this world with" sort of way. The concert was a truly eye-opening experience that made me feel less like myself and more like a part of the music I was listening to. It's something I will never forget.

It also could have been heat stroke.

10. FKA Twigs - M3LL155X

Twigs garners more and more respect every time she releases music. With EP2, I proclaimed that Twigs' vocals fit nicely within Arca's music, but that Arca completely stole the show. Since then, Twigs keeps getting better and better and Arca worse and worse. Twigs shall not be fucked with, son. As if there was any doubt, she released a 16-minute music video featuring insane visuals and hands down the greatest dance routine I've seen since JT's "My Love". This short album frames the excellent centerpiece "In Time" perfectly, and gets me so excited for what's next in her already impressive career.

9. Elder - Lore

I want you to take a moment and ask yourself the following question: "Do I like metal?" If the answer is yes, listen to this album immediately. If the answer is no, I want you to ask yourself a follow-up question: "Why not?" If you are of the opinion that metal is an unartistic onslaught of harsh noise, or immature in its lyrics about gore, death, and satan, or maybe you just can't get past screaming vocals, please take a moment and listen to Elder so each of your opinions about metal can be invalidated. This album is psychedelic, heavy, fun, and beautiful. Lore is the new gateway drug into a genre so full of satisfying diversity that its a shame more people don't venture into its murky waters. Give in to the metal. It is calling to you.

8. Deafheaven - New Bermuda

Speaking of gateway drugs into metal, Deafheaven proved that they are (or should be) the biggest metal band going right now. Memes aside, Sunbather was a statement album, bringing Deafheaven to the forefront of hipsters' minds and bringing new fans into a genre that intimidated many. With that level of exposure comes pressure to reproduce the same magic on the follow up, and I believe Deafheaven have shattered my admittedly low expectations. New Bermuda exhibits a nice progression from Sunbather, with faster riffs and throaty vocals that set a different tone for this record. I had the pleasure of seeing this band perform every song on this album live, and while the only person on stage who was killing it was Clarke, the audience was enraptured. Deafheaven may not make the most technically proficient metal, but the effect they have on their listeners is undeniable. Emotions ran all over the place, spilling from one person to the next. That same exuberant energy can also be felt when you listen to the song above alone in your room. It's a truly special quality that not many bands are able to possess.

7. Sulphur Aeon - Gateway to the Antisphere

Motherfuckin C'thulu. A giant squid-dragon-god that sleeps deep below the ocean floor waiting for the right time to rise up to destroy the world and send its inhabitants into madness. Arguably the most heavy metal thing aside from this dog:
C'thulu is the primary focus of Sulphur Aeon's music. There is a heavy foreboding atmosphere from the very outset of this album, as a voice whispers incantations from another dimension, calling for The Great Old One to rise. Gimmicks aside (and what metal band doesn't have gimmicks?) the song writing and riffage on this album is insane. It is an onslaught of heavy. The guitar tones are so perfect for the subject matter: epic, dark, and massive. I like to imagine this band standing on a grey cliff, blasting their hymnals toward a crashing black ocean. If you listen to the song above and your head stands still, then what the hell is wrong with your neck?

6. Ava Luna - Infinite House

When I reviewed Ava Luna's Electric Balloon, I compared them to Talking Heads' sardonic punk energy. The band sounds like they don't give a fuck, but their song writing truly suggests otherwise. Seeing Ava Luna perform live just solidified everything I thought about this band. They showed such an electric irreverence that I found incredibly endearing. They play all of the wrong notes at the right time, and all the right ones to get you moving. Just listen to the contrast between the funky bass line and the stuttering plucked guitars in the song above. And those backing vocals at 0:56 ooze an infectious confidence. One moment I loved during their concert was when Carlos said "this is the first tour where each of us think that we might be a good band." I hope that added confidence carries over into their next release. This band continues to excite.

5. Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat

As this album opens with a deep breath followed by a deep, inhuman sounding voice, you know you are in for quite a show. After the foreboding intro, the album explodes into the blistering pace that Napalm Death fans expect. And it is unrelenting. As brutal as this album is, the songs are catchy, and the tracklisting is punctuated with excellent changes of pace where Napalm Death include clearer vocals in perfect spots to prevent listener fatigue. Easily my favorite Napalm Death album, I really hope this signifies the direction the band will be taking in the future. That last statement is not typically one associated with a band 30 years into their career, which is definitely part of the charm to this album. That a band can still be crushing it this late into their career is beyond respectable. 

4. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete

Daniel Lopatin never, ever, ceases to surprise. Last year I said that R Plus Seven sounded like an art gallery, walking through examining each work, trying to figure each one out. This album is more immediate, sounding like pop tunes from another dimension. The sounds on here are instantly familiar, but warped in such a way that is at times jarring, and others comfortable. The vocals are an excellent touch that I really enjoyed. Just as with other 0pn releases, this album leaves me thinking about it when I am not listening to it. There is no hope of singing along with these tracks, but the vocal melodies get stuck in my head regardless. I can't comprehend how a musician is able to so consistently produce excellent, exciting, and thought provoking work. Lopatin is truly the greatest musician going right now.

3. Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion

Not just good, damn good. Carly Rae Jepsen has emerged as the best pop act of the moment, and if my projected trajectory for her is correct, we are witnessing the rise of the next Robyn. Jepsen rose to insane levels of fame with her song "Call Me Maybe", but Emotion exhibits a focus that is not typically seen on mainstream pop albums. It (criminally) did not do well on the charts, but much like Robyn, Jepsen has found a niche audience that will hopefully inspire her to continue to make music she wants to make, all with the pop sensibilities that made her a smash hit in 2012. The dancier songs on here put Daft Punk to shame, and the ballads are heartfelt and portray Carly as the girl-next-door who just wants a nice boyfriend. The feelings she conveys in each of these songs are universal, and the music behind her lyrics match the subject matter perfectly. It's not overly sweet, but it definitely has the cute charm that you expect from a pop singer who sings the word "really" 6 times in the album's leadoff single "I Really Like You". In fact, I'd say that that song perfectly encapsulates Carly's aesthetic. If the hook "I really really really really really really like you" does not resonate with you on some level, have you totally forgotten what teenage love is like? Do you not want to feel that way again? 30 year old Carly takes us all back to that innocent crystallization of what love can be. Give in and listen to the most underrated album of the year.

2. Joanna Newsom - Divers

Divers is Joanna's crowning achievement. It takes the orchestration from Ys combined with the concentrated song structures from Have One on Me to produce one of the most ambitious albums of the past 5 years. The instrumentation is so dense, but not overdone. Playful at times, orchestral the next. "Waltz of the 101st Lightborne" is perhaps the best example of this. Piano gives way to violin, which fades seamlessly into piccolo, transforming perfectly into country western guitar. A choir of Joannas sing over piano in the distance, and an accordion/violin duet responds in kind. This is all over the course of the final minute in the song. It's a compositional masterpiece. The sounds on this album are also so varied. The honky-tonk swing on "Goose Eggs" adds an incredible dimension to this album. "Things I Say" transforms from a simple piano folk ballad into a psychedelic atmosphere with backward vocals. This song leads into the greatest song Joanna has ever penned in "Divers". This song's lyrics not only resonate with me on a personal level, the chord changes are incredibly powerful. There is a longing to this song indicative of the song's themes, and a palpable sadness mixed with a twinge of hope. It is impossible explain how incredible these chords work together, you really must listen above. Joanna closes the album with "A Pin-Light Bent" and "Time, As a Symptom", two songs that so poetically put on record Joanna's philosophy of death, and therefore life. They are, in my opinion, words to live by. Stand brave, life liver. 

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

I think I should get this out of the way early: To Pimp a Butterfly is the greatest album of the year. I am not stating my opinion. I am openly declaring that anyone who says otherwise is attempting to go against the grain and be different.  But deep in their hearts, they know it to be true. To Pimp a Butterfly is the greatest album of the year by a long shot. I will personally go so far as to say Kendrick has produced the greatest hip hop album of all time. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I always maintained that Kendrick was the most talented rapper going since 2011, but Section.80 and good kid M.A.A.D. city were just "okay." With the opening notes of To Pimp a Butterfly, everything I knew about Lamar went out the window. This album commands attention. It begins with a song that is funky, soulful, and exudes the feeling that you are about to hear an album by a guy who knows he is making the greatest album of the year. There is no question in Kendrick's mind or mine. This album is different.

After the tone is set, it goes into "For Free?" an interlude that is so much more than an "interlude." It exhibits exuberant jazz saxophone and off-kilter beat that is perfectly rapped on top of by Kendrick. How this man can rap so elegantly and with such fervor over such a crazy beat is astounding. After hearing this song for the first time, I was sold. This album is so unique, so soulful, so fucking perfect.

"King Kunta" continues the funk and takes it to a new level. It even proclaims "By the sound of the next pop, the funk shall be within you." And if it's not within you when the beat comes back, you are simply not listening. 

I don't know if I should go track by track and break down just why this album is so great. But every time I listen to the album, I think "no, this is my favorite song," for every damn song on here. 

There are many snippets of mini-songs or interludes that are as good or better than the songs they precede. Take for example the first minute of "Institutionalized". I challenge you to find a moment on any other album released this year that is more satisfying than singing "If I was the president, I'd pay my momma's rent" and launching into the excellent beat that persists throughout the remainder of the song. Similarly, the first 30 seconds of "Hood Politics" are incredible enough to form the basis of its own song, but work so well as an interlude before the heavier beat on the rest of the song. And as long as we're talking about beats, the beat on "Momma" is so warm, and the vocal samples complement the song incredibly well. 

To single out one song off this album is impossible, but thankfully Kendrick did that for me when he released "Alright" as a single. This song is an anthem for right now. It shows unwavering optimism in the face of a world that tries to break you down, repeating "We gon be alright" throughout. Speaking of optimism, being in a crowd of fans singing the lyrics to the song "i" in unison was such an uplifting experience. Thousands of people singing "I love myself" was such a cool moment. 

I can obviously gush about this album at length, so I guess I'll just stop and tell you to listen to this album. Even if you have heard this album, take a moment and listen again. 

This blog is obviously full of opinions. For christs sake, I have both Napalm Death and Carly Rae Jepsen on my top albums for the year. I think we all realize that these are just my opinions about what I was listening to this year. 

But Kendrick Lamar produced the album of the year. And that is a fact.