Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Halftime: The 25 Best Albums of 2016 (so far)

I went through this same exercise at this time last year. It was good fun, other people seemed to dig it, and it helped me to make sense of all the great music happening, even just six months into the music year. Most of the albums I liked three months into this year are still working out nicely, with maybe only a few having fallen off.

I hear so many people say they can't think of twenty five new albums they have heard this year. Granted, listening to more music than most people have the time or interest to has always been my thing, basically for about forty years now. I can't actually think of a time when there was so much different music being made, and with so many ways to find or access it. That said, there is plenty of interesting new stuff happening right now, especially if you manage to stay clear of all the places really bad music is played.

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Definitely on the sleepier side of Radiohead, which is not my favourite Radiohead to be honest. Still, "Identikit" and "Burn The Witch" are as strong as any songs they have ever written. Radiohead fans will find things to love about it, as always. Radiohead non-fans will find reasons not to listen, as always. All fair really. The world keeps spinning.

The Field - The Follower
I have never warmed up especially to previous albums by The Field, but this one hit the spot for some reason. Nine to fifteen minute bangers. Lots of bleeps and blops. Definitely a record for specific moods and for those of us who occasionally or frequently enjoy albums that sound like R2D2 over bass and drums.

The Blessed Isles - Straining Hard Against The Strength of The Night
First album by this Brooklyn band. Has moments akin to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. A leading candidate for one of the year's best fuzzy, dreamy, new wave, shoe gaze type records.

Trashcan Sinatras - Wild Pendulum
One of my favourite bands of all time (in fact my wife's favourite band of all time). 90's BritPop vets who seem to make albums every six to eight years. Fortunately, this might be their best in twenty years. Flawless song craft. Unparalleled sincerity. Album of the year contender for this guy.

ABC - The Lexicon of Love II
You should not be able to make a follow-up album to a brilliant record released over thirty years ago and do it any justice. You also should not be able to sing as perfectly as Martin Fry still does at his age. Lexicon of Love II proves both those things can in fact happen.

Yeasayer - Amen and Goodbye
This is classic Yeasayer with groovy quirkiness and eclecticism aplenty. A return to form of sorts, after a slight miss on their last record, for my money. "Silly Me" makes you dance in a way only Yeasayer can make you dance.

Field Music - Commontime
The elements of prog and solid playing are still here, but these might be some of the most poppy songs the boys have written to date. Smart and fun as always, and likely a top five album for me at year's end.

Anohni - Helplessness
A gorgeous recording by Anohni (formerly Antony from Antony and The Johnsons), largely driven by her beautiful and distinctive voice. It's a bit busy in spots and probably a record that requires a bit of work, but well worth it.

Amber Arcades - Fading Lines
In some circles, Fading Lines could be considered a bit of a hype album this year. Lots of high profile and favourable ratings and reviews on indie music sites, and no shortage of online buzz. The Stereolab comparisons are fair, but this is a very contemporary bit of Danish art pop. Another refreshingly sincere album this year.

Suede - Nights Thoughts
In 2013, Suede re-grouped and released Bloodsports, thereby reminding everyone why they were the best 90's BritPop band. Here in 2016, they decided to do it again. This one leans a bit more to the Dog Man Star side of what they do, but it is worthy of every other bit of brilliance they have released, even in their heyday.

Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
This album just dropped last week, so I still need to spend more quality time with it, but Freetown Sound makes the list because it feels like the perfect evolution of where the artist has been heading for the last couple albums, to arrive at a really personal piece of art, that stretches across many genres seamlessly.

Methyl Ethyl - Oh Inhuman Spectacle
These Aussies may win the award for worst band name of 2016, but in the meantime, they have recorded a solid psych tinged indie rock album. Lower Dens and Tame Impala fans would likely have some time for this album.

The KVB - Of Desire
There might not be a better band right now at equally combining elements of classic shoe gaze, post-punk, goth, new wave, and dark synth, while making it all still sound terribly fresh and original. Another top five year end possibility.

Suuns - Hold Still
On their second album, Suuns seemed to embrace melody much more than on their debut, which was a much more raw and artier effort. Here on their third, they clearly decided to move even further from any notion they might be interested in even entertaining the idea they could be remotely mainstream. This is a challenging listen, but these guys are making some of the most interesting alternative music among all active bands.

Anderson Paak - Malibu
R and B seems once again to be reinventing itself, with clever under the bubble artists trying to carve out space away from high priced glossy major label rosters. This is some funky soulful business, and that's without considering the handclaps on "Heart Don't Stand A Chance."

Underworld - Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future
When Underworld released Barking in 2010, I remember thinking that Underworld had no business making an Underworld album that strong, at that point in their career. Here we are again, and this one is even better. Laser focused at seven tight tracks, most clocking in at over six minutes. This hits all the band's best sides, and "Nylon Strung" is as powerful a jam as they have ever written, over almost thirty years.

Starwalker - Starwalker
Members from Air and Bang Gang make the album that Air has likely wanted to make (or needed to make) since their glory days. Charming and spacey electronic pop, done right.

David Bowie - Blackstar
All these months later, I find myself less and less able to properly describe how I feel about this album. It's a great David Bowie record, regardless of being forever timed perfectly to his passing. Still, when I listen to it, I can't help but feeling all this wasn't supposed to be over, for him or for us.

Kristin Kontrol - X-Communicate
I belong to the Dee Dee can do know wrong club, and her Kristin Kontrol project does nothing to change that. Aesthetically very different than the Dum Dum Girls albums, it still shows her natural and rare skill for writing quality pop songs. It also shows that regardless of the format, strong songs stand on their own. I have no idea if this album will push her from critical acclaim into broader popularity or recognition, but if that was the intent, nice to hear such an accessible record maintain it's integrity and sincerity. 

Mind Spiders - Prosthesis
Over the space of four records, this Texas band have settled into a spot where they seem at equal peace with their punk and new wave influences. They balance the guitar and synth quotient perfectly on almost every track. The singer's sneering vocals recall John Rotten at times, which only helps to keep the album's edge in tact. At moments the album sounds like old Interpol. Not nearly as much polish perhaps, but the corners are round enough to still make it a very listenable record for punks, indie kids, and aging alterna nerds alike.

School Of Seven Bells - SVIIB
The album was conceived before Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with cancer, and released after his passing. Obviously there is a melancholic sadness stitched through the record, but it largely feels like Alejandra Deheza saying goodbye to Curtis and celebrating their time together as artists and partners. A sad record if you think too long about its origins, but also as fantastic a pop album as we will hear this year.

Kaytranada - 99.9%
Montreal producer with links to high profile hiphop collaborations and electronic remixes. This is his moment to shine on his own. There is some great work here, but for my money, the best tracks are the four he creates on his own without collaboration.

Junior Boys - Big Black Coat
This album came out of the gates strong for me, and has settled into its proper place as another quality offering from the JBs. Maybe the best album they have made since So This is Goodbye. Greenspan's warm vocals are still the biggest differentiator with other synth pop type outfits.

DMA's - Hills End
Oasis may or may not decide to re-group in due course, but for the mean time this is about the most wonderful presentation of their influence I have heard in a long time. Three lads from Australia who made an album that sounds worthy of the Manchester elite. This is a fun one. Zero pretension, just a nice little new school BritPop album.

PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project
It must be nice as an artist when you can settle into a spot where you can do whatever you want. Not that Polly Jean ever really seemed to feel the pressure to write hits or make a certain type of album. Still though, this one carries on in similar vein from Let England Shake, but it is a trickier listen. Definitely a grower, even for hardcore fans I would suggest. Very rewarding if you can invest the time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Best Music of 2016...the First Three Months

There are still some heavy hitters like Radiohead and PJ Harvey with new albums expected to drop in the next few months, but in the meantime, there has been some pretty solid music arrive here already in the first quarter...that's Q1 for any business types reading. Here are 12 new releases I have settled on as my favourites so far in 2016.

The KVB - ...Of Desire

I picked up on these guys about three years ago with the release of their second full length studio album, Minus One. They are a duo from London, and they have been grabbing up momentum with every new release. With ...Of Desire, their fourth, they sound particularly settled and focused. This very much sounds like an alternative band making fresh 2010's alt rock, while throwing the net nice and wide across the seas of old school dark synth, post-punk, goth and shoe gaze. "Lower Depths" sounds like a Jesus & Mary Chain song, with the Bauhaus rhythm section sitting in, but like the rest of this record, it never sounds shamelessly derivative. It sounds fresh and inspired, while being mostly dreary and amazingly well executed. Probably my fave album so far this year.

David Bowie - Blackstar

I remember the lead up to the release of Blackstar being very exciting. The pre-release reviews were all largely exceptional. There was a sense Bowie still had a great album left in him. As it turns out, he did. We just didn't know it would be his last. That is the weirdest part about writing anything on this record now, even just three months after his passing. His death, understandably, shone a stronger light on this album and the timing of everything made the whole affair classically Bowie. Irrespective of it all, on its own this might be the most interesting and consistent Bowie album since 79's Lodger. Not that tricky an accomplishment given the spottiness of his last 25 years or so. Just the same, this album feels like him sitting perfectly in sync with his best and most innovative years, while not resting on his laurels whatsoever. Hopefully history will recall Blackstar as a classic album that just so happened to coincide with the passing of the greatest rock star of all time.

Suede - Night Thoughts

I often talk about bands with "unfinished business." It is a weird and unfair judgement we assign to bands as music fans. So and so should pack it in and stop embarrassing themselves, while it would be great if so and so got back together. I firmly believe some bands had a special time and we should remember their music as perfect and untainted (The Smiths come to mind). Suede have proven twice now in the last three years since re-grouping, that they most certainly had unfinished business. Night Thoughts is a very different record than 2013's Bloodsports, but both albums sound like a band possessed to not only remind people of their place as the best 90's Britpop band, but a band who can write passionate songs that transcend niche genre or nostalgic eras. Anderson's voice sounds perhaps the strongest it ever has, and the playing is the tightest in their career. Where Bloodsports leaned more to their pop side, this album balances those hooks and melodies with a dose of the Dogmanstar introspection, without ever slipping into replication. Suede have no business being this amazing in 2016, but I am ecstatic they have proven in fact how much unfinished business they had.

Junior Boys - Big Black Coat

When I think of the synth pop elite of the last 15 years, for some reason I always seem to land on Hot Chip, Cut Copy, and Junior Boys. All very different bands, writing very different songs, but all anchored in the best type of common synth pop principles. A return to form would suggest the boys have fallen of course, which is not fair. I would say the bar was set pretty high coming off So This is Goodbye in 2006. Begone Dull Care was great. It's All True  was better again, and I would suggest Big Black Coat is in fact better than both of those wonderful records. Maybe it is because many of us fans had even given up expecting any new music after five years. As such, I approached this album with tempered expectations. What I found was a record that actually recalls some of their most substantial moments in years, with ghosts of their first album, Last Exit, even seemingly hovering around the studio. Greenspan still has no business owning a voice that sweet and soulful, as evidenced on "Over It", which is as strong a song as they have ever written. The lads sound rejuvenated and completely on point here.

Field Music - Commontime

"The Noisy Days Are Over" was released late last year as a first early release single in advance of  Commontime arriving this year. Talk about setting the tone for what would follow. Unbeknownst to most, this Field Music's sixth studio album. Since their self titled debut in 2005, they have been making clever, accessible, quirky pop music. Commontime certainly doesn't mess with this approach, but once again they manage to make an album that still sounds different than any of the previous ones. Field Music fall into the grouping of British bands from the last fifteen years who focus on musicianship and odd time signatures, without slipping into self indulgence or traditional prog. Think "math rock" but done as smart pop music ("Math Pop if you will...some arsehole wrote about that on this blog before). This album feels especially dialed in. Songs like the lead single and "Disappointed" are some of the hookiest and catchiest tracks they have written. You can actually hear some Steely Dan creeping in with respect to both composition and production. For a band that has never really mis-stepped, it is great to hear them still sounding so vibrant and progressive after eleven years. Tremendous outing here.

DMA's - Hills End

Every year, amidst the hundreds of new albums I check out, I latch onto at least one new recording that sounds unabashedly like something we have all heard before. A friend mentioned DMA's to me a while ago and reminded me about them when Hills End was released recently. They might be an Aussie band, but this is a Manchester album through and through. The obvious connection given the singer's Gallagher whine and snarl, would be Oasis, but there is a lot more than that going on here, and none of it is an accident. It takes confidence to pull of an album that can be easily relegated to the halls of nostalgia, especially at a time when no other bands are concertedly doing the same thing. There is nothing particularly original about Hills End, but it just does the thing that it does really friggin well. I hear the Roses, the Mondays, and even Brit poppers like Cast and The La's. I'm not sure if this record will spawn a full blown Madchester or BritPop revival (here's hoping), but regardless, this one sounds fresh and familiar and every song make me smile. Sometimes it is nice for even the most obnoxious music nerd to take a break from working hard at enjoying a new album, and enjoying it with ease.

School of Seven Bells - SVIIB

This is the fourth School of Seven Bells album, and one would sadly expect, also their last. It was put together about four years ago before Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with cancer. After his passing, Alejandra Deheza carried on (in due course) and the result is SVIIB. One might have (understandably) expected the album to capture Deheza's mourning as a natural theme of the record. It does, but moreover, it feels like a record released more as a celebration of Curtis. It is still dreamy and reflective like the previous albums, but some of the synth and drum programs really punch out songs like "Ablaze" a bit without losing its cohesion as an organic recording. She sounds re-engaged, almost like the album is the perfect bridge for moving on without forgetting. I remember when Curtis passed feeling like it was one of the saddest stories for such a talented young artist to leave with so much work yet to be realized, and so much life yet to live. SVIIB feels full of perspective and comes in tightly at 9 tracks, while saying everything that needs to be said. A beautiful collection of songs and a perfect final chapter.

Primal Scream - Chaosmosis

Sometimes when I listen to a Primal Scream album, I want to say out loud "get your shit together boys." For as long as I can remember, this band seems to take vacations every once in a while. I'm not talking about downtime between albums, but full on laziness on actual recordings. There is something endearing about a band that is inherently manic, eclectic and prone to switching it up all the time. Scream just seem to miss the mark more than they should. At a minimum, they seem intent on validating the critical notion that they always follow a gem with a dud. Their Stones influence has always been tempered by versions of electronic music and psych, but sometimes they drift too far in one direction or the other, with what seems like a classic lack of focus. On Chaosmosis, they sound the most focused and consistent to my ears as they have since Xtrmntr (my personal fave by these cats). There are no noticeable spikes here, except maybe "Private Wars" which doesn't really fit. Critically some seem to be calling this an off album compared to 2013's More Light. I thought that album had its moments, but in retrospect it was sloppy even for the Scream and largely forgettable. This record on the other hand, is carried by classic Bobby Gillespie swagger and songs with corners that are mildly reminiscent of Screamadelica at times. Regardless of whether my opinion is in the minority, I plan on enjoying this gem in anticipation that their next one could very well be a dud, if Primal Scream history is any indication.

Underworld - Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future

Seven songs and not one of them under five minutes. The shadows of "Born Slippy" have long since lifted and the pressure to constantly be viewed as an electronic music leader has dissipated as well. To this point, Underworld sound super comfortable here. I was a big fan of Barking, their last album (2010), but Barbara Barbara sounds like one of those nothing to lose type recordings. We can be who we are, who we were, and who we want to be all at once. Set against a landscape of electronic music where kids are using tools and methods that weren't even available to artists like Underworld even just twenty years ago, this sounds like a clinic. A gentle reminder you can use whatever toys are at your disposal to create sounds , but you still need to be able to write songs. I have no issue with kids making music on the Macs in their bedrooms. We need them to. But you don't become Underworld without starting with a solid core song. These tracks will translate beautifully to the club dance floors or work wonderfully in your headphones. There is a wonderful progression through the album. A natural hum that peaks with the final song, "Nylon Strung", which is as great a song as they have written since 1988 when they formed.

DIIV - Is The Is Are

There was just enough hype around the debut DIIV album that many of us indie nerds were understandably suspicious a follow-up could be worthy of its predecessor. Is The Is Are is as good as the debut and its also as good as jingle jangle post punk type shoe gaze gets in 2016. It suffers from being on the long side at seventeen songs, but most of them track at around three minutes and some are short vignettes, so I can forgive the indulgence. The simplicity of layered echoes and reverb works so well here again. Smith's vocals are necessarily detached at times, both thematically and sonically, and the feedback when used is under the surface enough to avoid the album ever tripping into the gratuitous noise trap. At it's best, the album is a perfect blend of The Cure and My Bloody Valentine, while never filling out as much as the former and being more consistently listenable and accessible than the latter. Really glad this album came together so well.

Savages - Adore Life

Savages are another band who had many eyes on them after their debut album garnered so much attention.  Adore Life almost sounds like a great big we don't care about silly things like the sophomore slump. In fact we're going to blast away so hard there will be no doubt how legit our first record was. This one comes out of the gate at 100 miles per hour with "The Answer." A rolling rager with minimalist chording and chunky rhythmics. The playing is tighter, but never sterile and if anything the boldness of their songs are accentuated here with the benefit of slightly more precision. Jenny Beth's vocals recall mid 90's PJ Harvey at times. Every song sounds urgent, even when they dial it down for the beautiful and eerie "Adore." There is a marked increase in emotional depth on these songs and a sense the band wanted your attention on the debut, yet are planning to command it on this one. A consistently firery record that draws on the best elements of classic punk and post-punk while finding a unique and refreshing place in this year's roster of new releases to date.

Bob Mould - Patch The Sky

Yes, he is a legend, and on Patch The Sky , Mould reaffirms once more he deserves the rating as much now for his solo work as he does for his contributions to Husker Du and Sugar. For me, the last three Bob Mould solo albums (including this one) are the best he's sounded at least since Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain.  All his best sides are on display here. Even right off the hop, "Voices In My Head" could slot easily onto one of those first couple Mould albums, and then "The End of Things" rips into one of the most Sugar-esque songs he's written in ages. Both are indicative not only of the album's tone to come, but that even while sounding familiar, Bob is not interested in repeating himself. The last number of years have seemed to be about him coming to terms with all his sides and all his various projects and styles. It feels more and more like he can settle into what he does well, without worrying that he's no longer innovating. On the contrary...a really Bob Mould sounding Bob Mould album in 2016 is not only good for his fans, but it's good for music, because there isn't a single artist making music right now that can come even close to sounding quite like Bob Mould or any of his various wonderful past lives. He sounds peaceful here. Fuzzy and peaceful.

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