Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gary's Top 50 Songs of 2013

So, this exists, lest I unceremoniously continue onto the next year without an overly meticulous ordering of the closing year’s tunes that happened to hit my earhole (fairly certain that is the medically accepted term).

Self-deprecation aside, 2013 proved to be a staggering juggernaut in the music realm. From triple-A-listers to unassuming newcomers and the plethora in between, it seemed like everyone dropped at least an EP this year. Personally, I can’t remember such a stacked year in music releases. That might be due to the alcohol abuse, but I digress.

Due to increasing time constraints and all that, it felt overwhelming to attempt to keep pace with all of the releases this year. Alas, music was still enjoyed, dammit, and that admittedly microscopic sample of tunes was the pool of songs run through rigorous testing in order to qualify for this highly prestigious honor.

In my best Casey Kasem impression, let's count 'em down, shall we?

Listen along with this nifty Spotify playlist, too!

50. "Purple Yellow Red and Blue" by Portugal. The Man
49. "Bitter Rivals" by Sleigh Bells
48. "Rap God" by Eminem
47. "A Tooth for an Eye" by The Knife
46. "Say That" by Toro y Moi
45. "Tom Ford" by Jay Z
44. "Ya Hey" by Vampire Weekend
43. "By and Down" by A Perfect Circle
42. "Love Sick" by Sleigh Bells
41. "Sacrilege" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

40. "Proper Spirit" by Small Black
39. "Right Action" by Franz Ferdinand
38. "Pumpin' Blood" by NONONO
37. "The Walker" by Fitz and The Tantrums
36. "Tennis Court" by Lorde
35. "Came Back Haunted" by Nine Inch Nails
34. "One of Us is the Killer" by The Dillinger Escape Plan
33. "24 Hours" by Sky Ferreira
32. "Howl" by Beware of Darkness
31. "Pompeii" by Bastille

30. "The Mother We Share" by CHVRCHES
29. "IFHY" by Tyler, the Creator ft. Pharrell
28. "You're Not Good Enough" by Blood Orange
27. "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities
26. "Hurricane" by MS MR
25. "Biggie Bounce" by Diplo ft. Angger Dimas & Travis Porter
24. "Bound 2" by Kanye West
23. "Do I Wanna Know?" by Arctic Monkeys
22. "If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty" by Norma Jean
21. "Doin' It Right" by Daft Punk ft. Panda Bear

20. "Trying To Be Cool" by Phoenix
19. "Tunnel Vision" by Justin Timberlake
18. "Blurred Vision" by Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell
17. "Black Skinhead" by Kanye West
16. "Wild For The Night" by A$AP Rocky ft. Skrillex & Birdy Nam Nam
15. "Bubble Butt" by Major Lazer ft. Bruno Mars, Tyga & Mystic
14. "Black Out Days" by Phantogram
13. "Inhaler" by Foals
12. "Alive" by Empire of the Sun
11. "Stranger" by The Limousines

10. "Hold On, We're Going Home" by Drake ft. Majid Jordan
Two years ago, Drake released a stellar, minimalistic R&B single about a drunk dial. This year, Drake released a stellar, minimalistic R&B single about a good girl who could be The One. It is a rather simple love song littered with mushy lines like “I want your hot love and emotion endlessly”, but when contrasted with The Weeknd-aping backbeat, “Hold On” delivers as a pro-commitment ballad, which is almost shocking in today’s musical and real-world landscape, but certainly so for the seducing singer himself. Love songs are a dime a dozen; Drake’s love song effortlessly separates from the pack as a standout this year.

09. "Sex" by The 1975
“And this is how it starts”, frontman Matthew Healy sighs at the beginning of “Sex”, before detailing the carnal desires and foreplay of two would-be lovers fuckers. It is an undoubtedly and predictably sexy song, but there is one problem: “She’s got a boyfriend, anyway.” The listener is able to feel the palpable tension as it plays out over the evocative ‘80s pop backdrop. On paper, it teeters on cheesy, but the song always overcomes this with its sense of genuineness and emotion. Plus, who can’t relate to a song about fucking?

08. "Blood On The Leaves" by Kanye West
How does a narcissistic creative genius top a release that many lauded as near-perfection three years ago? With Yeezus, of course, which is nearly perfect in its own right despite being entirely distinct from MBDTF. ‘Ye is no stranger to unorthodoxy, and Yeezus oozes it, pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop sounds like yet again. It is an album so good that one’s favorite track can change on the daily (truth be told, I had a difficult time ranking the three that cracked the Top 50, as well as limiting it to just three entries). “Blood on the Leaves” masterfully works in a Nina Simone sample and some 808s­-y Autotune verses before the bombast hits, all the while simultaneously evoking lyrics about a breakup and racial injustice. All told, “Blood” and Yeezus are incredible and powerful accomplishments, yet seemingly par for the course for West.

07. "Royals" by Lorde
Unexpected ubiquity should not detract from the impressiveness of Lorde’s year. She released an unusually catchy single destined for endless replay that ended up topping the Hot 100 for weeks and earning her countless live performances and multiple Grammy nominations. Oh yeah, and she was sixteen, making her the youngest artist to top the Hot 100 in over a quarter-century. “Royals” is immediately etched into the listener’s mind once the chorus rolls around, with its singsong-y name-dropping that even your grandmother could rattle off by now. The laughably minimal finger-snap beat works to great success, and shifts the focus to Lorde’s lyrics deriding the “opulence” and “bullshit” of today’s mainstream music. Needless to say, “Royals” was a refreshing standout amidst the rest of the radio schlock this year and established Lorde as one of the year’s most exciting new artists.

06. "Latch" by Disclosure ft. Sam Smith
It’s pretty telling when a song I first heard this month can have enough of impact to land this high on a year-end retrospective. There is no overcompensation or short-term memory effect at play, either: Disclosure put out an outstanding debut this year, and “Latch” is the perfect entry point for any newcomer. The British duo do everything right by laying down a retro-tinged electropop beat that submerses the listener, and guest vocalist Sam Smith nails it with a dichotomous combination of a sexy, crooning verse and a dynamic, evocative (and falsetto-as-fuck) chorus. Throw in some words about digging someone so much that you want to latch onto them and never let them go, and it becomes easy to see why the song stands out as one of the year’s best. The one thing I wish about this song is that I discovered it sooner.

05. "Step" by Vampire Weekend
Despite two excellent records to their name, Vampire Weekend somehow out did themselves on Modern Vampires of the City, a more subdued, exceptionally written, and generally beautiful work when compared to its predecessors. “Step”, the B-side to the upbeat and more textbook single “Diane Young”, exemplifies such praise, with a brilliantly executed less-is-more approach. The end result is four-plus minutes of gorgeously minimalistic instrumentation, placing emphasis on the lovelorn lyrics of a lost lover and admission that “I can’t do it alone”.

04. "I Appear Missing" by Queens of the Stone Age
At this point, I am clueless as to what Queens of the Stone Age have to do to get the recognition that they deserve. To be fair, they are playing massive arenas and were just nominated for three Grammys, and perhaps I’m biased and overselling them (nah). But, dammit, …Like Clockwork may end up being the band’s best and most complete album. In an album filled with legitimate highlights, “I Appear Missing” stands above the rest as a six-minute opus that transforms into an all-out, immersive rock epic in its latter half. If you still think QOTSA is a “stoner rock” band for some reason, you’re selling them considerably short of where their true talent lies.

03. "Reflektor" by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire have yet to make a bad record. A potentially controversial statement for most bands, Arcade Fire’s track record has been so superb that it would be controversial to say otherwise. Reflektor keeps their winning streak alive and well, and the lead single and title track exemplifies what they do best: ­­­Larger-than-life, arena-filling anthems. Believe it or not, the song is seven minutes long, but its persistent vitality and urgency has listeners suddenly yearning for a replay. The song distinguishes itself from their past works while still remaining very representative. And to think, all of this musical greatness was because of a trip to Haiti.

02. "Prancer" by The Dillinger Escape Plan
Six seconds. That’s all of a warning shot you get before Greg & Co. bludgeon you over the head for the remaining 3:45 of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s lead single off of One of Us Is The Killer, the mathcore forefathers’ fifth full-length. “Prancer” is a contradictory combination of refreshing yet strangely familiar. One might consider it a “greatest hits” song, as it compiles all of the motifs, ploys, and elements of many of their prior works. Mathcore neophytes might be intimidated, even frightened, by such an intense song. Their unrelenting intensity is a staple, famously at their live shows, but somehow it faithfully translates to record. The song is a trip of near-constant brutality, off-the-wall time signatures and composition, and just enough of time in the middle for repose. No song this year could top the adrenaline rush that “Prancer” so effortlessly provided.

01. "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk ft. Pharrell
It was that rare love at first sound, really. When Nile Rodgers strums away on that simple-yet-elegant guitar intro of Daft Punk’s first legitimately new single in seven years, it was justified thinking to believe that they were onto something glorious. Countless plays and a summer’s worth of inundation later, and the song still holds as strong as that unforgettable first spin. EDM has become steeped in household ubiquity lately, and until “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk had essentially been on the sidelines watching DJs and artists popularize a genre that they had so carefully crafted and mastered over the past decade-plus. Rather than one-up their contemporaries, they did a 180 and decided to make an entire album as homage to the music that influenced and shaped their distinct sound. Although, as far as homages go, they one-upped everyone else by actually getting the dude in the band for whom they had such reverence.
And then there’s Pharrell, who single-handedly takes the song from “catchy” to “catchy-as-fuck” with his textbook sing-along lyrics about trying to get laid and, erm, phoenixes. The end result was a genre-blurring classic with mass appeal that dominated the summer (and this countdown) for good reason.

I suppose you couldn't get a much more striking contrast between those Top 2 songs, which I had flipped back-and-forth almost daily before settling on the final 1-2.
Some last minute entries (Sky Ferreira, Disclosure) sneaked onto the countdown, but a bunch did not. I vow to give Deafheaven and Jon Hopkins some early 2014 lovin'.
That's about it. Here's to hoping 2014 provides as bountiful a selection of quality tunes as this year.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Traipsing The 'Net: Ides of March Edition

Back with a triumphant return for a second week is Traipsing The 'Net, where we compile the highest-selling and best-reviewed albums, as well as the highest-selling, most played and hottest tracks. First up, let's take a look at the best-selling albums this past week:

Billboard 200: Top 10 highest-selling albums:
1. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball (debut)
2. Adele - 21
3. Various Artists - NOW 41
4. Lady Antebellum - Own The Night
5. Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
6. Whitney Houston - Whitney: The Hits
7. Drake - Take Care
8. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV
9. Luke Bryan - Spring Break 4...Suntan City (debut)
10. Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself (debut)

The Boss's seventeenth studio album unseated the unstoppable Adele from the top position. Springsteen nabbed his tenth No. 1 album, tying him with Elvis Presley for third most. Only The Beatles (19) and Jay-Z (12) (?!) have had more. Even over a month after her untimely passing, Whitney Houston continues to top the charts like she used to in the '80s and '90s. Country fans continue to be a main driving force for fledgling album sales, as evidenced by Lady Antebellum and Luke Bryan. Indie darling Andrew Bird also cracks the Top 10 with his sixth LP.

New and Upcoming Music, by Metascore: Top 10 highest reviewed albums*:
1. The Mezingers - On The Impossible Past [93]
2. Burial - Kindred (EP) [89]
3. Anais Mitchell - Young Man In America [88]
4. Django Django - Django Django [87]
5. The Men - Open Your Heart [87]
6. Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas [85]
7. Goldfrapp - The Singles [85]
8. Karen Dalton - 1966 [84]
9. Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, Vol. 2 [83]
10. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory [83]
* Albums must have at least 7 reviews to qualify. "New and Upcoming Music" compiles all albums released within the last three months. 

Nothing too different here. The Mezingers jump up to the top spot, but the same ten albums remain. I don't expect this chart to change much, except when an album has been out for over three months. The number in brackets indicates the album's Metascore. If you don't know what the Metascore is...come on, man.

Billboard Hot 100: Top 10 most popular songs:
1. "We Are Young" by fun. featuring Janelle Monae
2. "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson
3. "Set Fire To The Rain" by Adele 
4. "Glad You Came" by The Wanted
5. "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye featuring Kimbra
6. "Turn Me On" by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj
7. "Take Care" by Drake featuring Rihanna
8. "Young, Wild & Free" by Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa featuring Bruno Mars
9. "Starships" by Nicki Minaj
10. "Part of Me" by Katy Perry

fun. has surged all the way to the top spot this week with their huge new single "We Are Young". fun. had always had a recipe for success, as evidenced by their infectious debut, Aim and Ignite, so good for them for getting the attention that they deserve (or to some cynics, "selling out").  Also, Gotye's surprise hit "Somebody That I Used To Know" cracks the Top 5.  Other than that, a lot of the same songs remain, with some flip-flopping here and there. 
, Top Tracks Chart: Top 10 most played songs by all users
1. "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye
2. "Rolling In The Deep" by Adele
3. "Born To Die" by Lana Del Rey4. "Paradise" by Coldplay 
5. "Video Games" by Lana Del Rey
6. "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster The People
7. "Midnight City" by M83
8. "We Found Love" by Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris
9. "Somebody Like You" by Adele
10. "Shake It Out" by Florence + The Machine 

Measured by how many unique listeners scrobble a particular track in a given week, this chart is notoriously stable, with this week being no exception.  Over 53,000 users played "Somebody That I Used To Know" last week, compared to "Rolling In The Deep"'s 44,000 and change. I've heard that M83 song is pretty good, too.

We Are Hunted Emerging Chart: Top 10 Hottest Tracks:
1. "Pillow Talk" by Wild Child
2. "Primadonna" by Marina and the Diamonds
3. "The Wave" by Miike Snow
4. "Before The Dive" by St. Lucia
5. "surely" by SBTRKT
6. "Be A Body" by Grimes
7. "Rained The Whole Time" by Shlohmo
8. "Neptune" by Lemonade
9. "Pouches of Tuna" by Action Bronson
10. "Numbers" by Logic

Click the link at the top to be sent to We Are Hunted's website, where you can stream the entire Top 99

Unlike the chart, We Are Hunted is constantly changing, making it an excellent source of brand new and up-and-coming songs. Literally no holdovers from last week, although another Grimes track enters the Top 10. Her new album, Visions, is quite good.

I figured I'd throw my own two cents into this mix, so here are five songs I'm currently addicted to right now:
1. "Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space" by Every Time I Die
2. "Express Yourself" by Diplo featuring Nicky Da B
3. "The Hope" by Scuba
4. "Arguing With Thermometers" by Enter Shikari
5. "Show Me" by Team Me

I'm still obsessed with ETID's lead single off of their excellent new record Ex Lives. It might be this year's "Good Neighbor" for me: Energetic and nearly relentless for nearly three minutes of bliss. The new Diplo song is simply extraordinary at scratching the itch that you didn't realize even existed. "Show Me" is a song I caught wind of via We Are Hunted, and it really reminds me of the lovechild between Passion Pit and Mew. Guardian says that they are "so full of glee, they make the Polyphonic Spree sound like a black metal band." Well put. I could easily see them blowing up in the near future.

That's it for this week's iteration of Traipsing The 'Net. As always, comments and suggestions are always welcome to help improve the segment and keep it another mainstay in the newly-revitalized Cassette Musique lineup.

Monday, March 12, 2012

This Week In Music News

In yet another Cassette Musique weekly feature (because we're pretty short on original content), we will give you a selection of music news and interesting links from the previous that week that we deem noteworthy and important enough for the frequenters of this blog to read.

For the week leading up to March 12th, 2012:

Westboro Baptist Church radicals deride Radiohead as "Freak monkey's [sic] with mediocre tunes keeps you busy and focused by lightness. It changes nothing, God is undoing and digging up and throwing down this nation." Other than the Westboro Baptist Church's apparent assumption that God does not care much about grammar, what can we glean from this? For one, they're quite astute when it comes to Radiohead's recent mediocrity. However, I really think they're attacking the wrong band.

Passion Pit is making progress on their new album, and it's going to be "expansive." I'm not sure what that means in relation to catchy synth-pop, but apparently singer Michael Angelakos is using something called a kaleidoloop to alter the pitch of his voice.  Apparently he already didn't sound enough like a girl on "Sleepyhead"...

The title of Fiona Apple's new album is, drumroll please....The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do. As acts such as Mew and Atlas Sound have shown, ridiculously long and incoherent album titles are a right of passage for pretentious indie bands. However, the lack of brevity in Ms. Apple's latest offering his child's play compared to her 1999 release, which featured an eight line poem for an album title. 

Diplo's new EP Express Yourself is being released in May. Do yourself a favor and listen to the lead single of the same name if you haven't already.

The music portion of South By Southwest (or SXSW for all you acronym-slinging hipsters) music festival, one of the several glorious musical gatherings that I desperately want but probably won't ever have the opportunity to go to, starts tomorrow. About 18,000 bands are playing, however some of the bigger acts include the aforementioned Fiona Apple, Lionel Richie, Skrillex, Bruce Springstein, Andrew Bird, Dan Deacon, The Magnetic Fields, John Mayer, and Norah Jones. 

Sleigh Bells has released a cover of Beyonce's "Irreplaceable."  Click here to hear the once bombastic noise pop duo further neuter themselves. Click here for a taste of what they used to sound like. 

The new EP from Burial, entitled Kindred, is the third most acclaimed original release of 2012 thus far. If you're a fan of downtempo/ambient dubstep, give standout track "Ashtray Wasp" a listen. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lazy Sunday Playlist: March 11, 2012 Edition

The bear in the middle has the right idea
In what will hopefully be a recurring segment on Cassette Musique, each Sunday I will detail a playlist of songs that encapsulate what Sunday is all about: slow moving, contemplative, and sedate. Although some will undoubtedly call these songs "boring" at first glance, I prefer to think of them as occupying a higher plane of existence. They distill a serene tranquility that is oft underappreciated in a schizophrenic society that favors fleeting gratification over properly developed, long-term satisfaction. So with that in mind, promptly turn off your mind, and escape into an unexplored realm.

(Oh yeah, make sure to listen with headphones. Laptop speakers do not do these songs justice!)

Eluvium - Prelude for the Feelers
Eluvium is the brainchild of recording artist Matthew Cooper who, like many other artists in the genre, draws direct influence from ambient behemoth Brian Eno. "Prelude for the Feelers" moves at a slow, consistent pace throughout, layering a consortium of synths and violins over a helplessly sweet piano melody.

Hammock - Floating Away In Every Direction
Readers of this segment will become very familiar with Hammock, as they're one of my favorite bands and required listening for anyone looking to delve into ambient music. "Floating Away In Every Direction" is typical Hammock fare, interspersing a subdued electric guitar melody with layered atmospherics and various crescendos.

The Field - A Paw In My Face
The Field's debut release From Here We Go Sublime is quite simply one of the best albums of all time and was ranked by metacritic as the most critically acclaimed album of 2007. "A Paw In My Face", the album's second track, lays down a chorus of hypnotic, trance-like beats atop a smattering of whimsical noises and is a good starting point for new listeners.

John Murphy - The End
Straight off the 28 Days Later Soundtrack (because nothing says ambient relaxation like a zombie apocalypse), John Murphy's "The End" is short and sweet, clocking in at just under two minutes and including the sparse guitar melodies and layered synths indicative of a Hammock song.

Balmorhea - Bowsprit
Balmorhea is a six-piece instrumental band from Austin, TX that likes to spice things up by throwing a variety of unorthodox instruments into their distinct brand of ambient music. "Bowsprit" follows course, featuring sweeping violins and what sounds like banjo-plucking throughout.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Artist of the Week: ENTER SHIKARI

Fresh off the release of their third and most recent album, A Flash Flood of Colour, Enter Shikari is making waves with their unconventional and intensely satisfying blend of music. Equal parts metal, pop, and dubstep, Enter Shikari's music defies convention and is likely to elicit a chorus of "WTFs" from many upon initial exposure. Should I sing to it? Dance to it? Mosh to it? All three, at the same time, actually.

Originally hailing from Hertfordshire, England, the four-piece is still gaining mainstream popularity in the U.S. but is the benefactor of a strong radio presence and widespread support in their homeland. Their 2007 debut Take To The Skies debuted at #4 on the UK Albums Chart, while the aforementioned A Flash Flood of Colour charted at #1 in January. I was initially exposed to Enter Shikari's idiosyncratic stylings with the single "Sorry, You're Not A Winner," which was featured in EA Sports' NHL 08 video game and lays down one of the most creative closing breakdowns in metalcore history.

Fans of post-hardcore bands like Chiodos and Asking Alexandria will immediately identify with Enter Shikari's blend of clean and screamed vocals, metal-influenced riffs, and chugga-chugga breakdowns. However, what sets Enter Shikari apart from their peers has been a large and increasingly utilized dose of electronic elements, ranging from the nintendo-esque beeps in "Mothership," bouncy synths in "Labyrinth," to the heinously dirty dubstep wobble in "Arguing With Thermometers." The band has progressively embraced their electronic side with each additional release, culminating on A Flash Flood of Colour, which features four or five songs with significant electro-dubstep influences.

Vocalist Rou Reynolds, who has an amusing ability to maintain his British accent while singing, displays impressive vocal range, effortlessly segueing through spoken word, melodic croon, and guttural bark, sometimes all within one song. Reynolds' lyrics are highly political and activistic, typically deriding modern society's obsession with consumption and monetary gluttony at the expense of the environment and relationships. I could do without the overtly idealistic banter, but the band typically makes up for it with some killer instrumentation, such as in "Gandhi Mate, Gandhi." Like Reynolds' vocals, Enter Shikari's song structures are highly variable, with some displaying a typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus arrangement while others are the auditory transformation of a Jackson Pollack painting.

Fresh. That's the word that will continually come to mind when listening to Enter Shikari, particularly on their new record. No two songs sound the same, nor do they sound like songs from any other band. Fans of driving rock and electronic music, particularly those with an open mind, will likely dig the eclectic brand of dub-pop-core that Enter Shikari offers.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Traipsing the 'Net: The Week's Popular Music

Oh hi, followers. Despite being thoroughly entrenched in a Dante's Inferno hell that some call "medical school", I am going to try to resuscitate (alright, I promise, no science or medicine jokes) my fledgling writing skills by doing something entirely unusual here at Cassette Musique: Update regularly.

I heard that derisive laughter from over here. Hear me out: Once a week, I want to compile a list of the most popular, most purchased, most played, highest-reviewed and up-and-coming music, complete with links and the such for listening pleasures. This is mostly impulsive, but I figured I'd try it out for a little bit.

I plan to display a Top 10 songs and albums from Billboard (most popular and purchased), Top 10 songs from (most played by users), Top 10 highest reviewed new (i.e. nothing re-released or live) albums from Metacritic and Top 10 emerging songs from We Are Hunted (up-and-coming).

Any album or song available on Spotify is linked, the entire Hot 100 playlist on Spotify is linked at the top of the list and the We Are Hunted list is directly linked to their website.  Without further ado, here we go:

Billboard 200: Top 10 highest-selling albums

1. Adele - 21
2. Whitney Houston - Whitney: The Greatest Hits
3. fun. - Some Nights
4. Tyga - Careless World: Rise of the Last King
5. Various Artists - NOW 41
6. Whitney Houston - The Bodyguard
7. Adele - 19
8. Chiddy Bang - Breakfast
9. Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston
10. Various Artists - 2012 Grammy Nominees

New and Upcoming Music, by Metascore: Top 10 highest reviewed albums*

1. Burial - Kindred (EP)
2. The Men - Open Your Heart
3. The Menzingers - On The Impossible Past
4. Anais Mitchell - Young Man in America
5. Django Django - Django Django
6. Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas
7. Goldfrapp - The Singles
8. Karen Dalton - 1966
9. Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, Vol. 2
10. Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory

* Albums must have at least 7 reviews to qualify. "New and Upcoming Music" compiles all albums released within the last three months.

Billboard Hot 100: Top 10 most popular songs

1. "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson
2. "Set Fire To The Rain" by Adele
3. "We Are Young" by fun. featuring Janelle Monae
4. "Part of Me" by Katy Perry
5. "Glad You Came" by The Wanted
6. "We Found Love" by Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris
7. "Good Feeling" by Flo Rida
8. "Turn Me On" by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj
9. "Young, Wild & Free" by Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa featuring Bruno Mars
10. "Starships" by Nicki Minaj

Click the link at the top to be sent to the Spotify playlist, where you can listen to all of the available songs on the Hot 100. Top Tracks Chart: Top 10 most played songs by all users

1. "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye
2. "Rolling In The Deep" by Adele
3. "Born To Die" by Lana Del Rey
4. "Video Games" by Lana Del Rey
5. "Paradise" by Coldplay
6. "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster The People
7. "Midnight City" by M83
8. "We Found Love" by Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris
9. "Somebody Like You" by Adele
10. "Set Fire To The Rain" by Adele

We Are Hunted Emerging Chart: Top 10 Hottest Tracks

1. "Out The Blue" by Sub Focus featuring Alicia Keys
2. "Live Your Life" by Yuna
3. "Better Off" by Haim
4. "Nova" by Burial + Four Tet
5. "This Head I Hold" by Electric Guest
6. "Chin" by Sleep Party People
7. "I Thought I Was An Alien" by Soko
8. "Weekend" by Last Dinosaurs
9. "Show Me" by Team Me
10. "Darlin' You're Sweet" by Wise Blood

Click the link at the top to be sent to We Are Hunted's website, where you can stream the entire Top 99.

I literally did this on a whim with some rare free time. There are a ton of things that could be done to improve the appearance and presentation, but the general idea appealed to me: Essentially combine reliable sources of different barometers for new music and put them in one place.

This is just a test run and suggestions would be just lovely. I would like to continue this, so hopefully it is useful to someone. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gary's Top 20 Albums of 2011

After 365 days of anticipation, my fifth-annual Albums of the Year list is finally complete.  It is hard to briefly summarize the list, but overall it seems that strangeness and extra effort were handsomely rewarded this year.
As with my Top Songs, each album has a link either to Spotify or Soundcloud for your listening pleasure.  Without further ado, let's start counting backwards from twenty:

20.  Danny Brown – XXX - THE RAW: Detroit’s Danny Brown is pretty difficult to ignore.  His delivery is manic and distinct, his rhymes are wildly entertaining and his beats perfectly parallel Brown’s hyperactivity.  Tyler, The Creator got a lot of buzz this year for a similarly striking album, but Danny Brown should not (and likely will not) be ignored.
KEY TRACKS: “I Will”, “Monopoly”

19.  Cults – Cults - THE SUMMERY:  New York outfit Cults has turned the infectious “Go Outside” into a full-length album of sun-drenched, low-fi indie pop.  Somewhat reminiscent of Best Coast’s Crazy For You, but more dreamy and less surf-rock, Cults is an exciting debut that is the definitive summertime album.
KEY TRACKS: “Go Outside”, “Abducted”

18.  My Morning Jacket – Circuital - THE SOUTHERN FRIED: Evil Urges was MMJ’s previous album, a divisive effort due to the somewhat eclectic and disjoint nature of the songs.  Circuital remains a more cohesive exercise of ever-brilliant southern rock ballads more apropos of the MMJ canon.
KEY TRACKS: “Victory Dance”, “Holdin On To Black Metal”, “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)”

17.  Panda Bear – Tomboy - THE HYMNAL: Tomboy is not nearly as grandiose as the outstanding Person Pitch, but it does feature more bite-sized pieces of filtered, hazy psychedelia and an optimistic hymnal feel, with pick-me-up axioms like “You can count on me”.  With Noah Lennox’s trademark über-reverbed vocals at the forefront, Tomboy is a dazzling exercise in euphoria.
KEY TRACKS: “Slow Motion”, “Last Night at the Jetty”, “Afterburner”

16.  Tyler, The Creator – Goblin - THE DEPRAVED:  Tyler and his rap collective OFWGKTA had a big year in 2011, with Tyler and Frank Ocean releasing critically-acclaimed albums and that outstanding “Yonkers” video making Tyler a household name (and VMA Best New Artist).  Goblin seems caustic upon first listen, with Tyler’s gravelly delivery and abrasive lyricism (see: “Bitch Suck Dick”).  It is not some attention-seeking gimmick, however, which is explained at the end of “Sandwitches”: “We don’t fucking make horrorcore, you fucking idiots. Listen deeper to the music before you put it in a box.”  Delve deeper into the album and the listener finds an emotionally confused, tortured guy pouring it all out to his “psychiatrist”, which turns out to be Tyler grappling with his own conscience throughout Goblin.  It is a concept album that works, keeping the listener invested and excited for the future of Tyler and OFWGKTA.
KEY TRACKS: “Yonkers”, “Sandwitches” (feat. Hodgy Beats), “She” (feat. Frank Ocean)

15.  Radiohead - The King of Limbs - THE SUBTLE:  Radiohead are so universally adored, when they release a new album, it becomes an event.  Their eighth LP was suddenly sprung upon unsuspecting fans, as In Rainbows was four years prior.  What fans got was not instantly gratifying or game-changing.  Instead, The King of Limbs was a subtle and patient record that was not out to overwhelm.  Instead, the eight tracks induce a constant, understated chill and tension absent on In Rainbows.  There are also hints of nature and the environment present: Other than the album title, “Feral” plays to its namesake, conjuring thoughts of a runaway animal.  The King of Limbs is not nearly the best album in the sacred Radiohead catalogue, but it is still rewarding for those willing to put in the time.
KEY TRACKS: “Lotus Flower”, “Give Up The Ghost”

14.  tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l - THE ECLECTIC: Everything about w h o k i l l is attention-grabbing, most noticeably the plasticity of Merrill Garbus’s voice from lulling coo to punk-rock yelp.  The music incorporates Afro-pop percussion, folky guitar plucks and horns to create some multilayered music, but it is Garbus’s vocals and lyrics that are always at the forefront and that allow the songs to transcend to the next level.  The greatness of w h o k i l l lies both in its irresistible sound and its dark lyrics about violence.
KEY TRACKS: “Bizness”, “My Country”, “Gangsta”

13.  Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact - THE EXPERIMENTAL ODDBALLS: There seems to be one of these albums every year that are wrought with experimental electronica and psychedelia that are near-impossible to ignore (see: 2010’s Odd Blood and 2009’s unforgettable Merriweather Post Pavilion).  Because of its strangely hypnotic uniqueness, Eye Contact is 2011’s iteration, by yet another NYC-based experimental troupe.  At a trim seven songs (plus the three “” interludes), each one is stylistically distinct from the next.  “Glass Jar” is a trippy, eleven minute opener that shimmers before erupting, “Adult Goth” is reminiscent of an otherworldly Fever Ray song and “MindKilla” is a surprisingly catchy slice of upbeat bliss.  Overall, Eye Contact is a solidly distinct set of quirky electronica.
KEY TRACKS: “Adult Goth”, “Glass Jar”, “MindKilla”

12.  Atlas Sound – Parallax - THE INTROVERT: While Bradford Cox may have tried to make a distant album following his nervous breakdown, it is also his most accessible and warm album yet.  His vocals are not obscured by haze this time around, and the music is shimmering with a soft fragility and confidence that gives Parallax a strange, dichotomous nature: As enveloping and radiant the songs may be, there is still an unsettling isolation that makes the album even more intriguing and likely Cox’s best solo effort so far.
KEY TRACKS: “Te Amo”, “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs”

11.  Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica - THE ATYPICAL: Replica is the strangest, least accessible album on this list, likely due to the unorthodoxy of the song creation.  Sprinkled with haunting piano throughout, it is the use of an abundance of abnormal samples that makes this ambient album somewhat unusual.  The progression of the album seems eerily natural, as if it is the recording of nature at nighttime.  The centerpiece is the title track, which is laden with somber piano plinks and a whirring buzz that becomes prominent at the strangely beautiful end of the song.  At one moment still and droning and at the next jarring and uncomfortable, Replica rewards patience and open-mindedness.
KEY TRACKS: “Replica”, “Sleep Dealer”

10.  The Black Keys - El Camino - THE HEIR APPARENTS: When The White Stripes disbanded in early 2011, they left a large void in the annals of music in general, specifically critically-adored blues rock.  The Black Keys seem to have solidified their role as the proper heir of that throne with their seventh LP.  A constantly thrilling set of rock ‘n roll with blues, surf and even glam rock influences, El Camino is, at its core, a fun-filled record filled with upbeat riff-driven tracks and an unmistakable swagger.  Very few albums this year demanded repeated spins quite like the ever-enticing El Camino.
KEY TRACKS: “Lonely Boy”, “Gold on theCeiling”, “Little Black Submarines

09.  The Field - Looping State of Mind - THE ENTRANCING: The formula is so painfully simple that Axel Wilner pokes fun of it in the title of his third LP: Loop until its appeal has faded, then change it up, even if it is ever-so-slightly.  Regardless, The Field has mastered the formula and produced another set of captivating minimalistic ambient electronica.  The subtle layers and textures at play here work wonderfully, creating moods out of gorgeous repetition.  Whether it is the delicacy of the piano on “Then It’s White” or the woozy, swirling “Is This Power”, the end result is the same: The songs on Looping State of Mind are evocative without words or typical song structure, making it all the more impressive.
KEY TRACKS: “Is This Power”, “Then It’sWhite

08.  Neon Indian - Era Extraña THE CHILLWAVE: The fringe subgenre chillwave gets a bad reputation, but Neon Indian have expanded upon their initial sound from Psychic Chasms to add a psychedelic haze and ambience to the low-fidelity, 8-bit synth-pop.  The album is also seeping with nostalgia and melancholia, which is excellently demonstrated on “Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)” and “Arcade Blues”.  The latter’s title perfectly sums up Era Extraña: Glitchy, bummy aural bliss.
KEY TRACKS: “Polish Girl”, “Arcade Blues”, “Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)”

07.  Girls - Father,Son, Holy Ghost - THE TIMELESS:  Like 2009’s Album, Girls’ follow-up album is chock-full of polished rock ‘n roll that could easily be mistaken for a relic from decades ago.  Its influences range from surf rock on opener “Honey Bunny” to the heavy metal-aping of “Die”.  However, Father, Son, Holy Ghost consistently makes a living by borrowing heavily from gradualism classic rock of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, as best demonstrated on the standout slow-burners “Vomit” and “Forgiveness”.  Despite its unabashed borrowing from the past, Girls somehow create a powerful album that is undeniably fresh.
KEY TRACKS: “Vomit”, “Die”, “Forgiveness”

06.  Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch TheThrone - THE OPULENT: ­ The two biggest names in hip hop team up to produce a celebratory lap for the 1%.  On paper, that has potentially disastrous results.  On record, it is a delightfully enjoyable and decadent ride.  With overpriced samples (Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” on the irresistible “Otis”), capital-A-list guest stars (Beyoncé makes “Lift Off” soar) and countless lavish namedrops, Jay and ‘Ye consistently remind the listener that, yeah, they make more money than you do.  They also rap better than you do. Hov is the best he has been in years and Kanye is still in peak form from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  Or, to put it into their words, “What more can I say? / We killin’ ‘em.”  Watch The Throne is escapism rap done wonderfully well.
KEY TRACKS: “Niggas In Paris”, “Otis”, “No Church In The Wild”

05.  The Weeknd - House of Balloons - THE SEDUCTIVE:  Where the hell did The Weeknd come from? At the end of 2010, a few of his tracks were just made available via YouTube.  One year later, he has self-released a trilogy of great mixtapes, his identity as Abel Tesfaye has been revealed, and he has been linked with fellow Canadian crooner Drake (both on the Thursday cut “The Zone” and the Take Care standout “Crew Love).  It all began with House of Balloons, arguably the best of the three mixtapes.  Balloons defined The Weeknd’s sound as seductive, syrupy R&B, driven by Tesfaye’s distinct high-pitched delivery about sex and drugs.  The whole album plays like the perfect soundtrack to a late-night, drug-addled party.  All in all, there is a brooding sense of realness that separates The Weeknd from his contemporaries, making him one of the most exciting new artists of the year.
KEY TRACKS: “High For This”, “House of Balloons”, “The Morning”

04.  Destroyer – Kaputt - THE RETRO:  On the surface, Kaputt can sound like cheesy ‘80s adult contemporary or soft rock, musicianship not usually held in the highest regard. However, Dan Bejar essentially turns this initially cheeseball subgenre into something much more endearing.  Bejar counteracts the breezy strings and horns with at-times dark lyrics delivered oh-so-casually.  It is an unlikely combination that works to perfection throughout Kaputt, creating a retro/disco-tinged blithe dreamscape from opener “Chinatown” to the eleven-minute sprawling closer “Bay of Pigs”.  As introspective as it is expansive, Kaputt is a warm, beautiful trip from beginning to end.
KEY TRACKS: “Chinatown”, “Bay of Pigs”, “Kaputt”

03. Drake - Take Care - THE TRAILBLAZER:  Last year, Kanye West pushed the typical boundaries of a hip hop album to overwhelming success.  This year, Drake raised the stakes by creating an album that deftly incorporates hip hop, R&B and pop into a refreshing sound.  Singles “Headlines” and the Nicki Minaj-aided “Make Me Proud” are great, upbeat radio songs and “Lord Knows” is brimming with bombast (thanks to the soulful, choral backing) and swagger (thanks to Rick Ross).  However, the true greatness of Take Care lies in its sparser, more minimalistic moments.  Case in point: “Marvins Room” is uncomfortably still, exposing the raw emotionality as the listener eavesdrops on a Drake drunk dial.  Take Care covers a lot of bases, but does them all well.
KEY TRACKS: “Marvins Room”, “Take Care”, “Crew Love” (feat. The Weeknd)

02.  Bon Iver - Bon Iver - THE EVOCATIVE:  No album this year was quite as evocative from front to back as Justin Vernon’s excellent sophomore LP.  Between the delicate yet intricate layering of the instrumentation and Vernon’s trademark fragile falsetto, every moment of Bon Iver is powerful and moving, conjuring distant memories and painful yearning.  From the slow, subtle build-up of “Perth” to the poignant reminiscences of ‘80s soft rock closer “Beth/Rest”, Bon Iver is a brilliant expansion of Vernon’s initially introverted folk rock to a richer, larger and more masterful expression of emotion.
KEY TRACKS: “Calgary”, “Holocene”, “Perth”

01.  M83 - HurryUp, We’re Dreaming. - THE EPIC: The “epic” descriptor gets sprinkled liberally into an excessive number of album reviews, but no album fulfilled or redefined its qualifications quite like Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.  Anthony Gonzalez continues his winning streak by blending the ‘80s synth-pop of Saturdays = Youth with his more ambient earlier works.  The result is a near-flawless double album that could fill a stadium or one’s headphones.  The album title succinctly sums up the listening experience: Lucidity with striking immediacy.  This striking dichotomy is best illustrated by “Intro” and “Midnight City”, which seamlessly segues between woozy dreamscape and huge, brimming electro-pop (and those irresistible saxophones).  It is decidedly difficult to determine the ranking of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming within the prestigious M83 canon, but its ranking amongst peers thrusts it into a stratosphere by itself.
KEY TRACKS: “Midnight City”, “Intro” (feat. Zola Jesus), “New Map”

For the third consecutive year, my top song and album have been occupied by the same artist: In 2009, it was Animal Collective's "My Girls" and Merriweather Post Pavilion and last year it was LCD Soundsystem's "All I Want" and This Is Happening.

This closes the book on music in 2011. I know I missed some great albums this year that will hopefully get some spillover love into 2012. Last year, I mentioned that Das Racist and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti would get said treatment, and they did.  This year, I plan on giving Toro y Moi's Underneath The Pine and St. Vincent's Strange Mercy some love.

Have a lovely New Year's Eve and Day, and here's to hoping that The Avalanches get their shit together and finally release their new album in 2012.