Music

The Music of 2016: A Year in Review (Part II)

In Part I of my review of the music of 2016, I assessed the state of our musical culture – the good, the bad, the trends, the overrated superstars, the surprises, and the let downs.

While the year was filled with social media hype-driven bullshit, there was undoubtedly classic material released throughout. And in the face of such a music culture that embraces cheesiness, cliches, derivative trends, and minimal original ideas, the artists who are making authentic, genuine art shine even brighter.

Instead of ranking all of my favorite songs of the year numerically, which I think is kind of stupid, I have compiled a list of my favorite songs of the year, with only one song per artist. Following the best songs of the year, I have ranked the best albums of 2016.

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The Music of 2016: A Year in Review (Part I)

Yeah, I know most of these lists are released before 2016 actually ends, but cut me some slack, I’m a busy med student. I had a three week winter break, but those days were reserved strictly for drinking, sleeping, and doing the least productive activity I could come up with at the moment. Without further adieu, let’s say peace to 2016 and review the year’s music.

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Album Review: Panda Bear’s “Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper”

Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear is best known for his contributions to Animal Collective’s catalogue.  However, in 2009, he made a name for himself as a solo artist with his album, Person Pitch, which was a massive critical success, deservedly so.

Panda Bear’s signature sound is comprised of repetitively looped dancey tunes that make you simultaneously want to dance as well as stare at one of those old warping Microsoft screen savers for an hour.

But one fallacy about Panda Bear and Animal Collective in general is that,  “oh you need to be on drugs to like them”.  That’s simply not true.

Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper follows suit with Noah’s dreamy sound, but also incorporates more glitchy electronic soundscapes than the preceding records. It’s a very easy to put on and get completely lost in, while hardly even noticing that it’s playing.

However, certain tracks completely suck you into Noah’s distorted vortex of musical sounds.  Namely “Crosswords”, which is a kaleidoscope of warping colorful sounds and reverberating vocals.  With its more traditional rhythm combined with Panda’s electronic sensibilities, this shit just makes you want to break out into a goofy dance.  Sort of like the indie electro version of Hotline Bling.  Peep the video to see what I’m talking about:

 

The other hit song is the sinister, cosmic “Boys Latin”, which infuses some industrial sounding elements.  Noah’s vocals soar over the track coming from every direction, leaving the sound echoing through your head long after it’s over.  It’s a dope song, but it might be a little too repetitive to make you want to keep it on for real long.  Again, it has an awesome sound and makes for incredible background music, but not much more.

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“Tropic of Cancer” slows down into a heavenly, fluttering six-minutes.  On first listen it sounds like you’re laying on a white puffy cloud while little midget angels play harps around you. But when you actually listen to Noah’s vocals you hear, “you can’t come back, you won’t come back”, and suddenly this peaceful dream seems more like a haunting nightmare.  Quite the dichotomy.  Great song.

Towards the end, “Selfish Genie” channels 80’s dance influences with some pulsating synths, but fails to ever really come to a great climax like you hope it will.

And in the end, that’s the theme of the album – really cool soundscapes on the surface that don’t have the ability to deeply pull you in as a listener.

While it features the same repetition as his previous works, you never totally get lost in the music like you do on Person Pitch, and even Tomboy‘s best songs (Alsatian Darn).

The distinct dreaminess of the instrumentation and Panda’s ethereal singing result in pleasant music to listen to.  It does have standout songs to keep coming back to (Crosswords, Tropic of Cancer), but as a whole, it’s hard not to want more from this album.  Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper simply seems a bit too tame to be a can’t-miss album.  However, if you’re a fan of Panda Bear’s style and previous work, you’ll find there’s plenty to enjoy about the album.

I swear Panda Bear’s music is better when it’s reverberating through your head after you’ve listened to it.  You’ll find yourself singing “soo good, it’s sooooo good” and humming the melody to Boys Latin for days after you’ve heard it.  While the album isn’t entirely exciting, it’s damn infectious.

 

RATING:  7.1

Favorite Tracks:

  • Crosswords
  • Boys Latin
  • Mr. Noah
  • Tropic of Cancer

Skippable:

  • Davey Jones’ Locker
  • Principe Real
  • Come to Your Senses

 

 

BONUS: Panda Bear & Baby Bear

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Awww they’re SO FUCKING CUTE

 

 

Album Review: Currents by Tame Impala

It doesn’t matter what kind of music you’re into – everyone loves them some Tame Impala.  The band’s first two albums consisted of earthly, melodic psychedelic rock, and they were pretty fucking great. In fact, their sophomore effort, 2012’s Lonerism is one of the few classics of this decade.

Fast forward to March 2015 – Tame Impala release their earth-shattering single, “Let It Happen”.  You know that first day of spring when the sun is shining, you have unlimited energy, and you’re in a great mood?  Yeah, that’s what “Let It Happen” sounds like.  The spazzy guitars… the ethereal synths… the slapping drums… What the fuck is this sorcery?

This is music of the times, my man.

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I had that track on nonstop repeat for months. It sounds like watching a gorgeous sunrise while you’re peaking on MDMA. Pure ecstasy and euphoric bliss.

And the lyrics… Kevin Parker channels some sort of divine spirit into a soaring, angelic falsetto:

It’s always around me, all this noise
But not really as loud as the voice saying
Let it happen, let it happen (It’s gonna feel so good)
Just let it happen, let it happen

All this running around
I can’t fight it much longer
Something’s trying to get out
And it’s never been closer

Yeah, man. I feel that shit.  The feeling that your life has been building towards something that has been suppressed, finally being released. It’s the sound of letting go of any sort of inhibitions and just saying, “let it happen”.

In the second half of this psych-electro behemoth, the track morphs into a Daft Punk-esque vocoder-driven hypnotic dance jam. The fact that an indie band called Tame Impala can release a nearly eight minute non-mainstream track that gets played on my college bar’s dance floor goes to show how undeniably awesome it is.

Let It Happen is so great that even if the rest of the album were 40 minutes of recorded snoring from a fat man with sleep apnea, I would still call Currents a good album.

Lucky for us, the rest of Currents is pretty damn awesome.

Track three, The Moment, is a pretty dope Michael Jackson-meets modern recording type of dance track. Following suit, the rest of the album also follows this theme of 80’s pop sensibilities combined with Parker’s modern psych-rock expertise. With a sexy dash of R&B, too.

Next, we have the slowed-down standout, “Yes, I’m Changing”. If you’re ever feeling in a contemplative, transitory period in life, throw this track on and go for a night drive. Trust me. The whole gist of the song is giving a middle finger to what people expect you to be and embracing who you truly are, for better or for worse. And of course, the instrumentation is downright gorgeous.

Furthermore, a night drive in the car is the perfect setting to grasp the magnificence that is Currents. Here’s a visual representation of what that listening experience feels like:

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At track five is the epically shimmering “Eventually”, in which Parker pretty much says, ‘aight girl, enough is enough, I’m moving on and I’ll get over it’. Smooth move, in my opinion. Instead of being some sort of depressing ballad dwelling on heartbreak, it puts a pretty positive spin on the ordeal. Light at the end of the tunnel type shit. I should really show this track to some guys I know.

Between Let It Happen, Yes, I’m Changing, and Eventually, there is an overarching theme of leaving behind a past life in search of self-discovery and spiritual freedom. I can relate to that.

This concept seems to unfortunately disappear after Eventually as the albums gets a little more emotional and nostalgic.

Midway through, we have another heavy-hitter, “The Less I Know The Better”, where Parker croons over a groovy, head-nod inducing bass line.  To follow the whole heartbreak theme, he sings from some weak guy’s perspective as he finds out some girl he’s in love with is cheating on him. Ouch, dude. Catchy tune nonetheless.

“Disciples” is short little nod back to the pre-Currents psych-rock era of Tame Impala.

Then is the 80’s stoner sesh slow jam, “Cause I’m a Man”. As the name implies, Kevin Parker is singing unapologetically about his manhood over a glimmering 80’s prom night under the stars type of instrumental.

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Resemble anything?

The penultimate track, “Love/Paranoia”, is downright stunning, really encapsulating the sonic themes of the record and putting Parker’s recording talents on full display. The song goes through transitions between spaced out, minimal, contemplative instrumentation into moments of twinkling sentimentality.

I’ve heard those words before
Are you sure it was nothing
Cause it made me feel like dying inside
Never thought I was insecure, but it’s pure
Didn’t notice until I was in love for real
And if we’re gonna cross the line
Just to find what shit’s happening
If only I could read your mind
Oh I’d be fine, I’d be normal
Now’s my time, gonna do it

Sounds like something I’d write as a naively sappy seventeen year old. Regardless, it’s beautiful.

Currents is indeed incredibly sappy and cheesy at times, but manages to own it by being such a sonic masterpiece. To give the album a fair listen, first, you need to hear it at night. And second, you either need to be in the car on a night drive or have some A1 quality headphones (I’m not talking about those garbage Dr. Dre Beats, either).

If you know a friend going through a tough time or a break up, do them a favor and slide them a copy of this record (if they have good music sensibilities, that is). It seems to be written for just that state of mind.

What this album really proves is Kevin Parker’s musical prowess, ability to branch out into a different genre, and totally murder it.  If Lonerism was sunny-day psych rock, Currents is cosmic nighttime bliss.

Should be interesting to see what he’s got up his sleeve for LP #4.

From the energizing euphoria of Let It Happen, through the late-night reflection of Yes, I’m Changing, to the downright dreamy Love/Paranoia, Currents is one record that you just can’t miss.

RATING:  9

Favorite Tracks

  • Let It Happen
  • Yes, I’m Changing
  • The Less I Know the Better
  • Love/Paranoia

Skippable

  • Past Life
  • Reality In Motion

 

Do People Actually Like 21 Pilots?

Do people actually like 21 Pilots?  Or is this some sort of joke?  Am I missing the punchline?

I won’t lie, I’ve only heard about five 21 Pilots songs, but they were bad enough to cement the fact that I would rather jump out of a car speeding down the highway than have to sit through an entire album of that garbage.

21 Pilots sound like they would’ve fit very nicely into my Myspace profile when I was 12.  However, I am not 12, and I don’t have a Myspace account, so the band (can you even call them that?) named 21 Pilots has no place in my life.

They seem to have made their rise to stardom by tricking youngsters into thinking they’re good.  Pretty sure this Tyler Joseph dude sits down to write lyrics and thinks, ‘hmmm what’s the cheesiest thing I could possibly write?’

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his bike

I mean, come on.  That has to be a joke right?  Yikes.

They sound like if Eminem grew up in the suburbs and had a taste for shitty EDM.  In fact, these guys probably thought the Marshall Mathers LP 2 was a good album.

He then scribbled down “Car Radio” and thought, ‘this is fucking terrible, the kids’ll love it!’  Preying on the tasteless minds of our nation’s youth.

From what I’ve heard, 21 Pilots is really sick live.  Apparently during their performances, the singer climbs up on the rafters and starts rapping from up top.  I’m not saying I wish it upon him, but I’m also not saying I wouldn’t laugh hysterically if he were to fall someday.  That would be quite the spectacle.

I guess if your music is that bad, you need to do something to distract the crowd from how stupid your lyrics are.  Very tactical, maybe this guy isn’t so dumb after all.

However, despite all of my obvious distaste for this group, I do believe they have some redeeming qualities.  Well, maybe only one quality – I’ve come to notice that quite a high number of hot girls happen to like them.  So, if you were at a music festival and felt so inclined, it might not be a bad idea to head over to the 21 Pilots show to see if you can pick up a cute girl, permitting you have some downtime and you are drunk enough to tolerate the music (.14 BAC minimum).

What’s really strange to me is that this group seems to have a pretty high degree of indie cred (that sounds pretty lame).

Like brunch, I guess there are some things in life that I will never understand.

Moving on.

 

 

Album Review: Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”

It had been nearly six years since the French House duo, Daft Punk, released their underwhelming rock-infused LP, Human After All. It had been over a decade since the release of their Magnum Opus, Discovery, which featured house classics such as “One More Time” and the Kanye sampled track “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.

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According to urban legend, Daft Punk was the single greatest live act to grace live audiences in the 21st century. I’ve watched videos of their near-mythical 2007 Coachella performance countless times, hopelessly dreaming of someday seeing the spectacle live.

Consequently, Daft Punk had reached an untouchable legend status. Despite their reputation, new music from them didn’t excite me. Because if we’re being honest, Human After All sucked.

Also, it seemed that “EDM” had been played out and driven to the ground by the likes of Skrillex and friends.

Conversely, what I couldn’t foresee was Daft Punk’s grand ambition and deviation from the their old house dance brand.

I fondly remember the day of Random Access Memory’s release, as I rushed to Best Buy to grab a copy before embarking on a road trip (I don’t think there is any better way to hear a new album). As the album unfolded over the next hour, I was completely mesmerized by the beauty and texture of each and every track. Not every song was memorable, but the ones that were exceeded any expectation I ever had for a Daft Punk album in 2013.

And as a fan of music, there isn’t a much better feeling than the rush in your chest when you’re completely blown away by a new song.  The feeling is sort of like asking out your crush in the seventh grade and her saying yes.

In particular, the thumping ballad “Instant Crush” is my favorite on the album and remains a staple in my rotation over a year after it’s release. How could it not?tumblr_mxdnmrq0bo1rs4m56o1_250 It was one of the best songs of the entire year. Julian Casablancas has always had a knack for catchy melodies, and he delivers one of his best ever here in a swooning falsetto.  Lyrically, he’s far removed from his drunken early Strokes days, and has morphed into some sort of lovelorn metaphysical poet. Soze Pro Tip: Put this track on with a cute girl.

Another bonafide masterpiece of a song on Random Access Memories is the divinely robotic “Touch”. For three minutes, the song builds with layering like any other on the album, only to arrive at dancing fiesta, before bridging into the most awe-inspiring musical moment of the year, as a choir sings “hold on, if love is the answer you’re home” over a densely orchestrated electronic backdrop.

Now, you’ve probably been waiting for me to mention the hit song “Get Lucky” with Pharrell. Is it a good tune?  Hell yeah.  Do I ever listen to it?  No.  I know I’m in the vast minority here, but I don’t like listening to Pharrell.  Don’t really understand how anyone above the age of 14 likes him.

But it doesn’t matter how you look at it – this song is a fucking home run (Mark McGwire esque) and a true achievement for the group.

In contrast, “Lose Yourself to Dance” was just downright annoying.  I mean the song is a calling to dance and I have never once wanted to dance while hearing that song. So I think it’s safe to say that song blows.

Towards the end, one of the songs I loved upon first listen was “Doin’ it Right”, featuring none other than Animal Collective electro-savant, Panda Bear. I don’t care who you are or what you like, that song is dope. Bonus points if you hear it on a dance floor.

Random Access Memories would totally be 10/10 if they replaced the two (even one was overkill) Pharrell songs with more Julian Casablancas and Panda Bear.

But seriously, as the album showed, Daft Punk’s ability to recruit perfectly placed outside talent is the album’s strength, which ultimately allowed them to musically go places not possible with just the robotic duo.

My expectations were met and exceeded with Random Access Memories, which is solid front to back, with moments of magic sprinkled throughout. Unforgettable melodies, ambitious vision, and an abundance of feel-good groovy tunes make this album an absolute essential of the decade.

RATING: 8.5

Favorite Tracks:

  • Giorgio by Moroder
  • Instant Crush
  • Touch
  • Doin’ It Right
  • Contact

Skippable:

  • Give Life Back to Music
  • Lose Yourself to Dance
  • Fragments in Time