Wednesday, January 27, 2016

25 Best 90s Britpop Songs

I say this a lot, and have probably said it here any number of times, but the internet has been the great equalizer for people who think they know a lot about music. I used to think I knew more about music than most people, in my safe little face to face circles of friends of course. These days though, with most music chit chat happening online, I feel like I know as much as many, yet far less than just as many again. Except when it comes to a few things, and one of those things is 90s Britpop.

I obsessed over these bands. Some of them were not even particularly good in retrospect, but anything that got labelled as Britpop landed in my CD collection. The last time I posted about Britpop was when I took a run at The 20 Best Britpop Albums of the 1990s (I would change some of this now, but why bother). There were a couple things I debated then, which I find myself debating again. I still do not strictly consider Radiohead or The Verve to be Britpop bands to the letter of whatever law I seem to apply. I do concede there were periods or songs in their catalogue in the early to mid 90s which fit the bill, so they are represented on the song list. Sometimes it is hard to believe the Radiohead we know now are even the same band who wrote "Black Star."

Like with any of my music lists, I try not to shy away from a band's biggest hit or signature song, but I also don't choose the most obvious songs by default like some silly and predictable Rolling Stone magazine list. For instance, there is no denying "Common People" by Pulp is a tremendous song. I just don't happen to think it is their best song. I also went the route of one song per artist, in the interest of showcasing a more broad section of Britpop. Otherwise there might have been twelve Suede tracks and no Spacehog. No commentary either, as these are all perfectly written songs, and there is nothing I could offer that wouldn't sound trite and repetitive after a few.

So yeah, I know quite a bit about music, but I feel comfortable in saying I can hold my own comfortably with all manner of obnoxious music nerd when it comes to Britpop. This might not be the best list of the best Britpop songs on the internet ... just kidding ... it is probably the best list of Britpop songs you are going to find. Don't listen to the internet people. I got this. I know what I am talking about.

Related, a while back I made a fairly exhaustive Spotify playlist with almost 10 hours of Britpop classics. I tinker with it all the time, and believe it to be a pretty solid compilation (145 songs).

You can check that out here if you're interested.

25.  Spacehog – “In The Meantime”

24.  Mansun – “Stripper Vicar”

23.  Marion – “I Stopped Dancing”

22.  Shed Seven – “Let It Ride”

21.  Inspiral Carpets – ‘Dragging Me Down”

20.  The Boo Radleys – “Wake Up Boo!”

19.  The Auteurs - "Light Aircraft On Fire"

18.  Sleeper – “What Do I Do Now?”

17.  The Bluetones – “Cut Some Rug”

16.  Ash – “Girl From Mars”

15.  Elastica – “Connection”

14.  Gene – “Sleep Well Tonight”

13.  The Verve – “Space and Time”

12. The La’s – “There She Goes”

11. Supergrass – “Going Out”

10. Oasis – “Acquiesce”

9. The Charlatans – “Crashin’ In"

8.  Blur – “Charlmess Man”

6.  Radiohead – “Black Star”

4.  Cast – “Alright”

5.  Trashcan Sinatras – “Obscurity Knocks”

4.  Pulp – “Do You Remember The First Time?”

3.  James – “She’s A Star”

2.  The Stone Roses – “Here It Comes”

1.  Suede - "Beautiful Ones"

Monday, January 18, 2016

The 25 Best David Bowie Songs by Album

David Bowie released 25 studio albums. It is essentially impossible to nail down a favourite song from each one of them, but I gave it a try anyway. Some of them were big hits. Some of them were not. All of them were fabulous.

She's Got Medals - David Bowie (1967)

Space Oddity - Space Oddity (1969)

The Supermen - The Man Who Sold The World (1970)

Queen Bitch - Hunky Dory (1971)

Suffragette City - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars (1972)

Watch That Man - Aladdin Sane (1973)

Rebel Rebel - Diamond Dogs (1974)

Fame - Young Americans (1975)

TVC15 - Station To Station (1976)

Sound and Vision - Low (1977)

Blackout - Heroes (1977)

Boys Keep Swinging - Lodger (1979)

Because You're Young - Scary Monsters (1980)

Modern Love - Let's Dance (1983)

Blue Jean - Tonight (1984)

Time Will Crawl - Never Let Me Down (1987)

The Wedding Song - Black Tie White Noise (1993)

The Heart's Filthy Lesson - Outside (1995)

Strangers When We Met - The Buddha Of Suburbia (1995)

The Last Thing You Should Do - Earthling (1997)

Something In The Air - Hours (1999)

Slow Burn - Heathen (2002)

Looking For Water - Reality (2003)

Valentine's Day - The Next Day (2013)

LazarusBlack Star (2016)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

British Math Pop. Trust Me. This is Important

Sadly I cannot take credit for coming up with the genre name British Math Pop. At least I don't think so anyway, and I am still not even sure it technically exists. I feel almost certain I read about "Math Pop" somewhere, and perhaps I added the geographic distinction just a few moments ago. Regardless, I have never been a big fan of silly made up music sub-genres like Adult Alternative, Sadcore, Screamo, or Cowpunk, but I see how it happens, so far be it for me to not perpetuate that wrong.

In the interest of moving this important initiative along, the internet describes "Math Rock" as...

...a rhythmically complex, guitar-based style of experimental rock that emerged in the late 1980s. It is characterized by complex, atypical rhythmic structures (including irregular stopping and starting), angular melodies, and dissonant chords

So naturally, it should make sense that Math Pop is all of those things, but maybe with less muscle and perhaps more focus on melody and harmony. Regardless of whether a case could be made that British Math Pop is in fact a genre, here is why it is important. Over the last number of years, there are a gaggle of UK based bands who are making what could be described as mathy, arty, melodic alternative music, and for my money they are the best new bands making music anywhere right now. No matter what you call it, these bands are best thing happening right now across all real and made up music genres.

At a basic level, the bands seem like mostly trained and highly competent musicians, with solid chops and capability that stop short of Prog Rock stuff, but air out well beyond your basic lo-fi, tin can, stripped down indie stuff. They incorporate synth, dance and electronic elements here and there, but remain very much rooted in traditional bass/drums/guitars. The songs have hooks galore and are absolutely listenable, but the time signatures and vocal stylings are often quirky and odd enough that these bands don't fit nicely in any sort of mainstream rotation. Similar to Math Pop's more dense counterpart, these songs tend to be rhythmically tricky compared to straightforward pop stuff, without venturing into self indulgence or free form instrumental styles.

So I am pretty sure Math Pop is a thing, and many of those acts seem to be British, which technically means British Math Pop is also a thing. This technically means that if you have never heard of it before, then you should tell everyone I came up with it, because I am pretty sure I did.

These are not only 10 of my favourite Brit Math Pop bands, at least two of them (Wild Beasts and Everything Everything) are currently my favourite bands on the planet, period.  The tracks I chose highlight recent selections, as well as some classics from bands who have been around, in a few cases, for over 10 years now.

Everything Everything

From: Manchester
Best Album: Get To Heaven

Dutch Uncles

From: Manchester
Best Album: Out Of Touch, In The Wild

Wild Beasts

From: Kendal
Best Album: Present Tense


From: Oxford
Best Album: Total Life Forever


From: London
Best Album: War Room Stories

Field Music

From: Sunderland
Best Album: Tones of Town

Tom Vek

From: London
Best Album: Leisure Seizure

Bombay Bicycle Club

From: London
Best Album: So Long, See You Tomorrow


From: London
Best Album: Galore


From: London
Best Album: The Age of Fracture

Friday, January 1, 2016

Most Anticipated Albums of 2016

Most of the lists of potential new releases to expect in 2016 include things like Drake, Kanye, Gaga, etc. Not so sadly, I cannot speak to super popular mainstream music, because even after recently turning 44, it is just simply not my thing. I can however, share a list of bands and artists I think are exciting and interesting, who are also expected to release new stuff in 2016. Some are well known. Some are not. All of them are either due or have confirmed new stuff is on the way.

David Bowie
Blackstar is confirmed for release on January 8. The title track and "Lazarus" were already released in advance, resulting in ridiculous online chatter and excitement. Every early indication would suggest this is the most ambitious and classically strange and wonderful album Bowie has made in years. A weird Bowie is a good Bowie. So amazing that this cat can still push his luck and draw a crowd after all these years.

People who lost interest in Radiohead after Ok Computer, will most likely not be excited about a new Radiohead album in 2016. People who are fanatical and lack objectivity regarding anything the band releases (present company included), will most likely be obnoxiously excited about a new Radiohead album in 2016, much to the protest of the former group. People who think Radiohead suck, will most likely still think Radiohead suck. Unquestionably polarizing and undeniably relevant, I for one cannot wait.

PJ Harvey
Polly Jean has never made the same album twice. It is unlikely this will change when her new record comes out this spring. Like many, I plead guilty in the past to calling PJ Harvey the most important female artist of the last 25 years. She is, but the gender distinction is insulting and should be irrelevant. PJ Harvey is one of the most important artists of the last 25 years. Period. Always a treat and an event when she creates new art for us.

Local Natives
This L.A. band have now released two perfectly intricate indie pop records. Clever and so terribly balanced and consistent for a young band. Their second album, Hummingbird, was even stronger than their fantastic debut, Gorilla Manor. A band with song craft and maturity well beyond their years. Can't wait to see where they take us next.

Field Music
Veterans in the current wave of arty British math type pop. The first single, "The Noisy Days Are Over" from the forthcoming record came out late in 2015, and was case positive that no matter how many side projects these lads involve themselves with, they always come back to Field Music with a firm sense of brand and nuance. Easily one of my favourite bands of the last ten years.

I am always suspicious of reunions, but in some cases, bands have unfinished business. Such was the case with Suede's Bloodsports from 2013. It was their first album in eleven years and it perfectly captured a band willing to revisit their 90s Britpop strengths while very much making a fresh and relevant sounding modern alternative record. Fingers crossed that they can fire on all the same cylinders again on January 22 when Night Thoughts drops.

Warpaint seem like the kind of band who could continue to build on their dreamy shoegaze and post-punk influenced indie rock, or perhaps completely change gears if they record a new album this year. I feel like they don't like to be painted into any corners, and could come out with something no one expects. I also feel like they are the type of young band with enough confidence to try anything they want. We'll see.

The XX
News feeds confirm the band went back into the studio in late December. Unlike many, I was not a huge fan of their second album compared to their debut, but still thought it was a more than respectable effort. It will be interesting to see where things shake out for The XX in 2016.

The Horrors
The full catalogue for this band gives new meaning to the notion of manic. Skying from 2011 is a masterpiece. The follow-up, Luminous, admittedly in many ways feels like a lazy albeit well executed sequel. This band has way too much poise and capability. Here is hoping they can blow everyone away again this year if they manage to get some new music out there.

School of Seven Bells
A wonderful band with a tragic story involving a founding member, Benjamin Curtis, passing away much too soon in 2013 due to cancer. Remaining member, Alejandra Deheza, has finalized SVIIB, a project that was near completion when Curtis received his diagnosis. Posthumous releases can be quite tricky, but this album (due out on February 12) feels like both a necessary final chapter and a fitting tribute for a group with wonderful songs and unrealized potential.

Junior Boys
It has been four years since the boys released It's All True. There have been two tracks released in advance of Big Black Coat hitting the shelves on February 5. The first, "Big Black Coat" was pretty good, and the other, "Over It", was tremendous. Regardless of how this new album sounds, the world is a much better place when there is new music from Junior Boys.

Over the span of eleven plus years now, Chromatics have shape shifted regularly and seamlessly. Kill For Love from 2013 remains a five star classic. There are high expectations for the new project, and most are hoping for a continued evolution of dark and shiny atmospheric stylized electronic songs you can grow into. At least that's what I am hoping for.

Sigur Ros
Depending on who you speak with, Sigur Ros have fallen slightly into a pattern of perhaps going through the motions with their more recent recordings. I don't actually agree. If you listen to their earliest and most critically acclaimed records, it feels more like no one else was quite doing what Sigur Ros was doing, thereby creating an unfair standard for innovation. All their albums explore different levels of accessibility and energy. Nothing has been confirmed yet for 2016, but I can't wait to see what they come up with next, even if it does not strictly push these little weirdos too far from their comfort zone.

It has been four whole years since Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, and the unexpected hit single "Midnight City" it produced. Truth be told, many older M83 fans (self included) far prefer 2008's Saturdays = Youth,  so it will be interesting to see if Anthony Gonzalez and his crew make some new music this year, and if it leans more toward pop as in popular, or back toward a heavier synth and introspective sound.

Essentially a side project for Zachary Cole Smith from Beach Fossils, DIIV made some waves in indie pop circles when they released Oshin in 2012. Like many side projects that garner attention, time becomes a challenge, specifically getting back into the studio. The new album is out on February 5, and my hope is it leans toward some of the more jangly guitar songs from the debut.

Ra Ra Riot
I maintain a tremendous soft spot for this Syracuse collective. They surfaced in 2008 with a fabulous and eclectic debut record called The Rhumb Line. They return with their fourth album, Need Your Light, on February 19. Here is hoping they stick to the wonderful melodies and orchestral influences that have made all their albums so unique and engaging.

Animal Collective
It took me a while to warm up to AC. Much of their earliest material is still admittedly quite elusive to my palette, but their last few albums, to me, represent some of the most fascinating compositions of the last ten years. Still not for everyone, they have tended to be much more comfortable with hooks and melody in recent times, much to the chagrin of some older hardcore fans who prefer the noisier and more abrasive side of AC. Regardless, Painting With drops on February 19, and will undoubtedly sound a lot like Animal Collective which also means it will sound like nothing else out there right now.

The Jesus and Mary Chain
The band is working on a new album. They have not released an album since Munki in 1998. For a band that seems to have been around forever, it is only their seventh record. It has been described by Jim Reid as being "mature." Fans of the band will recall Stoned & Dethroned (my favourite JAMC record) being described similarly at the time in 1994, and most agree that worked out just fine. A tremendously influential band, who are welcome to bring us new fuzzed out jangly music any damn time they wish.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The 100 Best Songs of 2015

Generally speaking, when putting this particular list together, I look for well crafted songs, and I try to sequence them in a manner that ranks them based on how much I like them, as well as how well them flow into each other. Usually the average song length is about three minutes. Except in years like this of course, where David Bowie decides to release a ten minute masterpiece, which now requires a home somewhere in the list.

The other thing I have always done over many years of making this list, is only allowing one song per artist, with a mind to capturing more cool songs by more cool artists. This year though, I decided to allow multiple songs per artist. The result is probably a more solid and accurate list of 100 songs. Usually I second guess these things before even hitting post, but this really feels like 100 songs I thought were most of the best ones I heard this year. Colour me momentarily happy about all my hard work.

With the pending demise of Rdio, I have made the reluctant switch to Spotify, but I have compiled and and made these fabulous songs available in both streaming services.

Spotify playlist

Rdio playlist

As an aside, this was my 50 Best Albums of 2015 blog post from last week.

100Bassem SabryOf Montreal
99Johnny DelusionalFFS
98Oh DonnaLibrary Voices
97The ShadeMetric
96Leave A TraceChvrches
95KillerNew Division
94Eternal (On & On)Grave Babies
93Running WildDrenge
92Museum of Broken RelationshipsVeruca Salt
91Burning For No OneThe Cribs
90The LightEZTV
89I Can't ExplainSurfer Blood
88We Lost EverythingThe Dears
86DisappointingJohn Grant
85In A Future WorldTelekinesis
84GiudecaGhost Culture
83Are You Ready?Mercury Rev
82To Die In L.A.Lower Dens
81Reality In MotionTame Impala
80Heart Of OakRichard Hawley
79Compound FractureMy Morning Jacket
78So OhThe Charlatans
77Minimal AffectionThe Vaccines
76A New WaveSleater-Kinney
75Where You At?The Bohicas
74Pontiac 87Protomartyr
73English SubtitlesSwervedriver
72Lost On MePeace
71Boys LatinPanda Bear
70Decided KnowledgeDutch Uncles
69First LightDjango Django
68Lonesome StreetBlur
67DetroitGaz Coombes
66Turn AroundMikal Cronin
65At 45 rpmBrideshead
64Ready To ShineYoung Galaxy
63Fade AwaySusanne Sundfor
62Classic ManJidenna
61The Right TimeTuxedo
60Tell MeHumans
59Too Much Space ManDiane Coffee
58EmoticonsThe Wombats
57SuperheatedNew Order
56repetitonPurity Ring
55Slow RotorErrors
54Dark NightHot Chip
53DeliriousSusanne Sundfor
51Spit You OutMetz
50Foolin AroundCrocodiles
49WildflowerBeach House
48Life Like ThisKurt Vile
47What Part Of meLow
45Flesh Without BloodGrimes
44Need You NowHot Chip
43BrosWolf Alice
42Pretty Torn UpEZTV
41Different AngleThe Cribs
39Bunker BusterViet Cong
38Living ZooBuilt To Spill
37MansplainerLocal H
36I'm A GirlPeace
35Made My Mind UpMikal Cronin
34Young GirlsPINS
33The PatternCeremony
32Quo VadisLower Dens
31Get To HeavenEverything Everything
30When The Lights Turn OutTwin Shadow
29Real GirlLittle Boots
28Saturday NightYukon Blonde
27The Noisy Days Are OverField Music
26Go OutBlur
25RestlessNew Order
24Over ItJunior Boys
23Let It HappenTame Impala
22No ReptilesEverything Everything
21Black StarDavid Bowie
20Courtesy PhoneTelekinesis
19A Hunger ArtistGirls Names
18SilhouettesViet Cong
17For A Day Like TomorrowSwervedriver
16Eyes On YouVeruca Salt
15Crybaby DemonCrocodiles
14Pretty PimpinKurt Vile
13Heart Of The MatterThe Libertines
12In n OutDutch Uncles
11Birch TreeFoals
10Mr. NoahPanda Bear
9FreazyWolf Alice
8Huarache LightsHot Chip
7Kathleen Sat On The Arm of Her Favourite ChairHooton Tennis Club
6Dust In The SkyEZTV
5Feel LikeMikal Cronin
4OndineLower Dens
3The Less I Know The BetterTame Impala
2The SeparationCeremony
1Distant PastEverything Everything

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The 50 Best Albums of 2015

Man...I don't know. This was a strange year. It feels like there were a whole lot of "good" to "very good" albums released, but very few "great" to "amazing" ones. The bands or artists who had good momentum leading into their third or fourth albums, seemed to rise to the challenge to make some great records. Some elders showed they could still hold their own, making better than expected records. Then there were some new kids who made some positive noise, and it will be interesting over the next couple years to see what they do with it.

For my part, I started the year once again hoping to focus my listening, by not throwing the net so wide. I listen to less music than some people, but more music than most people. I have become increasingly adept at hearing something quickly and knowing if it is going to work out for me, and moving along. That is not to say some albums don't grow on me in due course, but more than in previous years, there were so many albums this year that my ears thought were cool for a good time...just not a long time. Hence why this fun little project sees us back at a Top 50 this year versus a Top 100. 

Generally speaking, I feel comfortable that my sequencing and ranking methodology up to 50 with any pop culture list, works well and mostly without too much bias or outside influence. After 50, it can get a bit dodgy. So the fact that I really only truly liked about 70 albums this year, made it tricky to get down to 50, but pretty easy to stay inside 100. 

As always, melody, harmony, song craft, attention to detail and listenability generally make these albums winners for me. I could have thrown in a few metal and hip-hop albums I liked in 2015 I suppose, but it would have been disingenuous and only served the purpose of optically balancing the list. Plain and simple, I like well put together songs. They can be guitar songs or synth songs. They can be fuzzy, heavy, or jangly. They can be dreamy, gothy, mathy, quirky or bouncy. 

All I really ever want to hear from an album, are a bunch songs where somewhere cared, someone was honest, and someone gave something a try.

50Ghost CultureGhost Culture
48ProtomartyrThe Agent Intellect
47Local HHey Killer
46The CribsFor All My Sisters
45Mercury RevThe Light In You
44Gaz CoombesMatador
43Dave Gahan & SoulsaversAngels and Ghosts
42GrimesArt Angels
41The CharlatansModern Nature
40New OrderMusic Complete
39PINSWild Nights
38BattlesLa Di Da Di
37Sleater-KinneyNo Cities To Love
36Godspeed You! Black EmperorAsunder, Sweet and Other Distress
35Susanne SundforTen Love Songs
34Built To SpillUntethered Moon
33PeaceHappy People
32LowOnes and Sixes
31SwervedriverI Wasn't Born to Love You
30Veruca SaltGhost Notes
28Little BootsWorking Girl
27BlurThe Magic Whip
26Young GalaxyFalsework
25Beach HouseDepression Cherry
24Surfer Blood1000 Palms
23Beach HouseThank Your Lucky Stars
22Yukon BlondeOn Blonde
21The LibertinesAnthems For Doomed...
20Wolf AliceMy Love Is Cool
19ErrorsLease Of Life
18Kurt Vileb'lieve i'm goin down...
17TelekinesisAd infinitum
16Dan DeaconGliss Riffer
15FoalsWhat Went Down
14Viet CongViet Cong
13The DearsTimes Infinity - Volume One
11Girls NamesArms Around A Vision
9Panda BearPanda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper
8Dutch UnclesO Shudder
7Tame ImpalaCurrents
6Hot ChipWhy Make Sense?
5CeremonyThe L-Shaped Man
4EZTVCalling Out
3Lower DensEscape From Evil
2Everything EverythingGet To Heaven
1Mikal CroninMCIII