Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 In Music: The Author's Top Ten, Like, Albums

This being the third part of a year-end recap of the best and worst music that 2015 imparted to us.  As always, links to other sections are appended at the bottom.

Before I get to the meat of this post that you’re all dying to see (and can if you just cheat and skip to it), I want to honor some albums that by one or another stupid, technical rule weren’t allowed to make the cut.

First up we have the two-disk collector’s issue of Spoon’s classic Gimme Fiction.  I don’t think I can include this because it’s technically a re-release from 2005, but if you haven’t heard this or much of anything from Spoon’s decades-spanning catalog, then let shame fall on you from high!  It’s time to take a trip down non-memory lane and hear one of the more epic releases from one of the last truly epic years in entertainment.  The anniversary edition of this album comes with an extra disk of home demos and rejected tracks that’s well worth the extra whatever you’d pay for it because most are stripped down to just a guitar and occasional drums or piano (though not in a lazy ACOUSTIC COVER Youtube sense) and offer a distinct experience that’s just as affecting, energetic, and smooth as the recorded versions.  I don’t pay much attention to the lyrics in most Spoon songs, but the way they layer instruments, chants, and claps is so entrancing, especially on Was It You? They Never Got You, or the hit I Turn My Camera On, that the lack of angsty Kendrick-esque Poetry doesn’t matter.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to the live EP David Crowder released called Neon Porch Extravaganza, which is a takeoff of last year’s album Neon Steeple and which he was recording on his porch when it unexpectedly escalated into an extravaganza.  I don’t think the rap verse on Lift Your Head, Weary Sinner really fits with Crowder’s vibe, but the man somehow wormed in a cover of Drake’s awful Hold On, We’re Going On without totally destroying the project with cheese, so that wins Respect.  Crowder’s music generally doesn’t receive its proper resolution unless it’s performed live before a crowd of riled-up worshippers, so I’m glad he took the initiative to put out some official, high-definition renderings of Come As You Are and I Am.

2015 was also a pleasantly surprising year for movie soundtracks.  None of the tentpole franchise blockbusters delivered in my opinion on the heightened expectations people set for them, especially not Star Wars – the first in the series to have no standout musical moments after the titles crawl –, Jurassic World, Mission Impossible, etc., but a smattering of independent or less notorious films more than made up for what the big boys failed to do.  Though I don’t know if I’d listen to Tom Holkenborg’s score all by itself, Mad Max’s use of tribal drums, blaring guitar, and thick electronic thwoms elevated almost every scene they accompanied.  It Follows’ score by Disasterpeace was repetitive and harsh but likewise suited the inescapable horror of its film.

The simple but ominous strings of Ex Machina lent to the atmosphere of intrigue and doubt and ambiguity that pervaded probably the best, certainly the most thought-provoking film of the year.  One of the reasons the ending works so well is Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s haunting fusion of organic and computerized sounds, perfectly mirroring the theme of the cold, unsentimental alien assuming human form.

Despite originating from an overall mediocre film, the original score and lyrical selections from the Man From U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack were pure musical adrenaline, excellently paying homage to classic spy shows while capturing a thrilling, contemporary sound.  Not only did it suit the setting of the film but it also excelled as a boundlessly creative stand-alone album, phenomenal for studying, car rides, or really any occasion.  The interplay of the bass flute, furious strings, and bongo-driven percussion never fails to get my blood pumping, and I literally cannot sing its praises highly enough.  I don’t even know what that would sound like.  If Daniel Pemberton loses an Oscar nomination to John Williams or Alexandre Desplat or whatever dummy did the soundtracks to Spotlight or Brooklyn – which the 90-year-old Academy voters will shoo in for that category because they don’t remember any other movies and it’s easy just to blindly nominate the same five titles for all the technical awards –, there is no justice in showbiz.  And lose he shall.

This brings us finally to the Author’s Top Ten Least Worst Albums of 2015.  At first he thought he’d rank them, having a pretty firm idea in mind which ones he liked the most, but then he thought that if he pitted them against each other he’d only be encouraging impatient readers to skip right through his comments, look at the numbers, check out the top two artists, and flatly disregard the rest.  It also occurred to him that maybe, despite his efforts at comprehensiveness, he hasn’t yet heard all the albums he’d like from the year and could be setting himself up for someday having to re-arrange his list, which would be a pain.  In no particular order, then, here are five of his favorite current-day albums until the still unknown but fast-approaching day we get new Radiohead and Gorillaz.  Here’s to 2016, to making America great again, taking the country back, all that cal.

Lord Huron, Strange Trails

I had the chance to watch Lord Huron live at Beatissima for free no additional charge some time earlier this year, but I’m afraid the value of this chance encounter was completely lost on me, as I left about three songs into their act from a combination of harmonica and mediocrity fatigue (Best Coast had just preceded them with what sounded like one continuous hour-long song).  After retroactively listening to some of the finer cuts from Strange Trails, I kind of hated myself for not sticking through the boredom to hear the deafening, western-evocative epicness of The World Ender live in the park.  Your experience with the recorded versions of the Huron Jam will probably be much the same, as you sit through a slog of really similar-sounding, reverb-heavy folks songs to occasionally feel a rush of unadulterated excitement, preferably transmitted and received at maximum volume.  If you want the abbreviated, boredom-free edit – or the GPV, to put it in a more positive context – condense it down to Until the Night Turns and tracks 5-8, or maybe 9, if you favor incorporating at least one slower, grittier tune.  Darkness, no parents.

Lil Dicky, Professional Rapper –

If this website had a bigger following among hip-hop-heads, the statement I’m about to make would cause a bit of a stir, but since it doesn’t I can make it with impunity.  Lil Dicky is the best rapper working today.  He is the best because he has the humility and brains to acknowledge that his profession, even more so for a wealthy, college-educated Jewish guy, is really kind of stupid, and so he tries to have a little fun with it.  He is the best because in 2013 he wrote a song called White Dude in which he monologues over the outro about how much he loves being a white dude, knowing full well this would cause a furor in the media even though black dudes have written thousands of songs about how much they love being black.
“First off I’m a dude, so there was a one-in-two chance of that sucking. But now I can run a seven-minute mile, I can defend myself adequately, I can be logical, I can get along with my roommates, watch serious movies without being scared by them. And on top of that I’m white, which is like amazing because…”
He is the best because in 2015 he followed up that song with an original, ironically menacing beat called White Crime, in which he humorously slides through all the low-risk, unsung “dirt” that well-to-do people commit on a daily basis without incurring the judgment of other people.
“Walk in to the movie with my pants full / Twix, bag of chips, plus a Snapple / Stealing all the shampoos, from the hotel’s pretty bathrooms / Cheating, I’ve been peekin’ in the classroom / Looking like a nice guy, ‘til I take your mother_____ Wi-Fi / And torrent every single song in my library.”
He is the best because the album’s pinnacle, the braggadocios, lyrically unstoppable Bruh, utilizes nothing but drumsticks for the underlying beat but sounds more staggering than 99% of other rap beats.  He is the best not only because he managed to shoot the music video of his biggest hit to date, $ave Dat Money, for basically no money whatsoever, but also because he caps said video off by haggling a waiter over the value of the ice in his coffee and the bacon in the cheeseburger that he purchased on the side.  In speed or wit or wordplay or sheer verbal dynamism, no other rapper aspires to the awe-inspiring messiness of LD.  More importantly, he cracks me up.

Micachu and the Shapes, Good Sad Happy Bad –

This is without a doubt the least accessible of all the titles in this list; I don’t even like it that much, but I don’t like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey either.  If you’ve seen the movie Under the Skin, which you probably haven’t unless it was your job to see it, you’ve already heard one of Micachu’s members even if you weren’t aware of it.  Mica Levi’s score to that film hinged on two or three extremely repetitive themes that were chopped and screwed and scrambled through as many variations as could fill an hour-long tape, evincing mixed reactions from your own Author.  Good Sad Happy Bad was significantly easier to endure, if not enjoy, without the baggage of any overwrought 7-minute tracks or ambient filler and a largely different timbre to each song, even the weaker ones.  On an album such as this, though, the greatest thing on which one can compliment it is its fidelity to its title.  At its best, this is a really fun and futuristic brand of fuzzily produced, experimental pop that nonetheless appeals to almost no one.  At its worst, particularly on Unity, which loops a sound of human gasping that makes me think of that one scene in Deliverance, it revels in a kind of defiant self-absorption that’s extremely abrasive and alienating.  If you’re looking for a trippy, emotionally disjunctive, err, trip with an emphasis on weird noises and disarming, childlike vocals over traditional melodies and relatable lyrics, look no further.  If you want the Almost Normal Parts Version, then preview Sad, Oh Baby, Relaxing, and Suffering, then come back and berate me in the comments for recommending weird stuff just for the sake of looking nonconformist.

Carly Rae Jepsen, Emoticon –

I already tasked my buddy Dom Forke last August with writing 12 or so unbelievable thoughts he thought on the new Carly Rae Jepsen album.  Five months later Emotion still holds up, especially Making the Most of the Night, LA Hallucinations, Run Away With Me, and, well, the rest I suppose, because there’s hardly any variation in it at all.  Sky Ferreira’s album and Ghost EP are ten times better, but at least this doesn’t bore me.

Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color –

Sound and Color isn’t consistently great, but when it is, it soars.  More musically eclectic than their debut album, this sophomore effort is based half on mesmerizing guitar riffs and half on lead singer Britanny Howard’s indescribably raw, transfixing voice.  The presence of the former always works to the album’s betterment, complementing Howard’s vocal intensity and making for a much more entertaining, replayable sound.  Consequently I think the album loses steam in the last four tracks when it foregoes its rock-and-roll edge, but if you’re drawn more to more soulful, vocally driven than instrumental music, you’ll probably enjoy Sound and Color throughout.  One can’t deny the singularity of Howard’s singing style: now masculine and harsh, then delicate and soothing, always raspy and impassioned.  Don’t Wanna Fight, Future People, and Guess Who would all be instant hits from their distorted guitar lines alone, but the entrance of the vocals takes them from merely good to hypnotizing.  I don’t feel I have the musical acumen to give a very useful or scientific explanation of the Alabama Shakes’ innovation, so you should just go and listen for yourself if you want something unique as well as catchy (at least most of the time).  I can neither create nor define what I understand to be good music, but I know it when I hear it, and the Alabama Shakes are it.

Fast-travel to other parts:

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 In Review: The Problematic Influence of Kendrick Lamar

This being the second part of a year-end recap of the best and worst music that 2015 imparted to us.  As always, links to other sections are appended at the bottom.

This should come as no surprise, but the #1 album of the year is Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly.

Psycheth!  Every clickbait internet writer worth his salt knows you have to start from the bottom of the list and count up it, not down.  And why would I tie it up with an album as lame as To Pimp a Butterfly?

I’m just kidding again.  To Pimp a Butterfly isn’t completely lame as an album; only 12 of its 16 songs/interludes/interviews with a dead guy are lame.  The other four (King Kunta, These Walls, Blacker the Berry, and i) are perfectly listenable and sometimes even entertaining.  That’s approximately 18.5 minutes out of an exhausting 79.  So why have no fewer than 11 magazines or websites dubbed it the best album of a year that’s witnessed many impressive albums?  Who do these critics think they’re fooling, and what is it about mediocrity they find so alluring?

Just a few of Kendrick's tools.

If they’re simply looking to peddle safe, noncontroversial, and retweetable listicles to gullible Kendrick fanboys in college who can’t think for themselves and unquestioningly buy into the latest hip-hop craze so as to appear cool and up to speed, they’ve certainly succeeded in that.  Around eight months ago, Kendrick Lamar was basically the hottest musical act at Beatissima, second only to Taylor Swift.  I still remember the first time I listened through To Pimp A Butterfly in the lowermost den of a six-suite dormitory while playing a DC fighting game with two other residents of “The A Hole” who were also curious to know the object of all this media-generated buzz.  Around the passing of the fifth track, one of us gushingly remarked that this was the Blackest Album of All Time, a label Kendrick and his supporters would probably claim as a badge of honor.  Don’t take my word for it, though.  In Pitchfork’s yearly countdown of its best and/or most snob-appealing albums, “kris ex” proclaimed:
[To Pimp A Butterfly is] also Black as f***.  “Blackness” is a concept that remains fluid and intangible, but so solid that one can feel it when it’s present.  And it was all over Butterfly.  From the opening notes… to the closing—a fabricated conversation with Tupac Shakur—the album is packed with Blackness… Nowhere is Blackness more front and center than on the album’s second single, “The Blacker the Berry”.  It was the song that most clearly announced Kendrick's lack of f***s about the comfort of his white audience…
All of this Blackness is important.  Important because sometimes white people need to take a metaphorical seat—to sit down, shut up, and listen to conversations in which they are a cultural object, not the center.  This is not an easy task.  White people have been way too comfortable for way too long in this country, in this world.  Way too comfortable with the way they choose to see reality solely through their own gaze, way too comfortable with their sense of entitlement over the planet and its resources, way too comfortable with their appropriation of culture in ways large and small… But Kendrick was willing to discomfort the comfortable.  He took all of the acclaim he had received as a critical darling from his major label debut… and doubled down on his Blackness, not for the entertainment of white people, but in near-total disregard for their experience of his conversation… It’s an album by the greatest rapper of his generation… the voice of a moment in time.

I let him prattle on a while there, but all of this Pitchforkian prattling is important, even more important in terms of defining the cultural malaise of 2015 than the abundant Blackness you encounter on Kendrick’s record.  Kris’ orgasmic adulation of Kendrick’s racial politics, eventually spiraling into an exasperated plea for evil white-skinned people to shut up and silently take an overdue verbal drumming from some rapper who’s been metaphorically oppressed by a rigged system that’s enabled him to sell nearly a million copies of a barely tolerable album, epitomizes the collapse of modern art criticism into just another form of ideological propaganda, indistinguishable from the op-ed page in a newspaper you’d pick up for free at a hotel.  I wish I could say that Kendrick’s fanboys are just the edgier, grown-up versions of T.Swift, One Direction, or Justin Bieber listeners (assuming grown-ups don’t listen to the Biebs or 1D, which they sadly do), but their infatuation with their own rock star is based on something much more distressing and, ahem, Problematic.  The most vocal Kendrick scholars think they’ve stumbled onto a sage, poetic, and deeply necessary piece of social commentary that transcends the general parameters of art and fully earns the title of genius.

Kendrick scholarship is certainly transcendent, transcendent of intelligence, transcendent of reality, transcendent of its own interests and the interests of anyone else on the receiving end of Kendrick’s “lead showers”.  The entire critical breakdown of Kendrick’s magnum opus, typified by the likes of Pitchfork, high school teacher Brian Mooney, and Barack Hussein Obama himself, emphasizes not the beauty of its composition, writing, or delivery but the opinion that the work is fighting some deeply rooted social cancer that needs immediate addressing.  Simply, To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t the greatest album of the year because of its superior artistry but because its “importance” or relevance to current affairs effectively overrules all its competition.

Social importance, of course, cannot be used as an objective measure for criticsm, as every individual ascribes a different level of importance to things based on his frame of mind.  Serious presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has publically avowed that Global Warming is the greatest security threat to the United States – despite data from the pro-Global Warming NOAA showing a ten-year decline in U.S. temperatures and weather disasters – and also “directly related” it to international terrorism, but only 3% of respondents in Gallup’s most recent survey on the matter dared to label “environment/pollution” as the most important problem facing the country.  Racism also trends very low in this same poll, fluctuating mostly between 1 and 4% over the last 24 months, with peaks at 9 and 13% during months when the media was pumping Killer Cop stories around the clock.  Even from November to December, when fake racism seemed to reach crisis levels at universities around America, not excepting Beatissima (more on that later), public concern about race relations on this scale only rose from 3 to 4%.

At the very least this exposes a vast disconnect between what the commoner and the critical elite desire to see in music.  By extension, the universal acclaim for the identity politics of To Pimp A Butterfly has signified the almost absolute demise of valuable insight in critical American writing, now called “reviews”. Who’s to say which person’s taste is better, the culture writer’s or the consumer’s?  When one idiot thinks the purpose of art is to make him feel guilty for being born a rich white child and another idiot thinks the purpose of art is just to set a scene for heavy grinding on the dance floor, there’s no established criterion to definitively say that one creator’s art is better than another’s.  Straight Outta Compton and Amadeus must be esteemed each other’s equals in cinematic worth; hell, the bars of Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and Dr. Dre are just as essential as the symphonies, operas, and piano concertos of Mozart.  Both have been groundbreaking and “important” artists to different people in different times, but how much more important are the N.W.A. to the youth of today than that stuffy, old, orchestral classical music?  By the undemanding standards of Kendrick’s sycophantic groupies, Dre trumps Mozart in artistic merit for almost every demographic except babies watching VHS tapes and college music professors.  Does Mozart speak to the urban-born son of a single mother, beset by gangs and the po-po and institutional racism in the grocery store, or whatever?  To the son(s) of an immigrant who want(s) to be the president of the United States?  “To the victims of welfare, living in Hell here”, and so and so forth?  Who does Mozart speak to other than old, dead, white European males?  None of this whiteness is important!

I wish I could say that Kendrick has only just now driven the final nail into the coffin of musical analysis, of the days when the purpose of art was merely to be art, and not to force a political message endorsed by the critic.  The bitter truth is that those days have long since passed.  One of the six or seven books I read this year, an otherwise ordinary rundown on Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills, traces this dysfunction in the critic’s expectations all the way back to 1897.  Hills argues,
“[The myth of the Great American Novel] leads eventually into the same blind alley Tolstoi went to the very end of in What Is Art?, where he deduced that since what’s virtuous in human acts are those which promote the brotherhood of man, then that art is best which most promotes the brotherhood of man – hence he concludes with the greatness of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  This is what comes of asking art to be something other than art.”

I don’t believe the Great American Novel is a myth, nor do I deplore Uncle Tom’s Cabin as much as many literary critics, but it isn’t hard to imagine Harriet Beacher Stowe filling the same American Idol shoes that Kendrick’s walking in today.  All of Uncle Tom’s blackness is Important, raves kris ex for Pitchfork Media, whether or not it meets the highest standards of literature.  All of Imitation Game’s gayness is Important, whether or not the finer details are historically accurate or well told.  All of Lean In’s woman-ness is Important, whether or not it has anything useful to say to anybody.  All of Al Gore’s end-of-days alarmism is Important, whether or not it has any solid, scientific evidence backing it up.  All of Amy Schumer’s sexism is Important, whether or not it’s, well, sexist.

How did greatest Importance become tantamount to greatest quality in the verdict of people who are supposed to look above intentions and simply judge on execution?  To pose such a question is to presume objectivity from people who are not remotely committed to it.  Reviewers – I mean critics – are journalists, after all, and when have journalists ever allowed their ideology to get in the way of the truth?  Of the 2013 film Fruitvale Station, Wesley Morris wrote, “Sometimes what’s wrong with a movie suddenly no longer matters.  The rickety construction of a story, the awkward shift in dramatic tone, the acutely earnest attempt to find the right wattage for a martyr’s halo: They’re beside the point.  Sometimes a movie just needs to show us the light.  Sometimes it just needs us to see it.”  Who cares if Fruitvale Station is a really shoddy, even corny TV movie, weakly shot and written, manipulative at the expense of the truth, and completely pointless up until the last 5 minutes?  If it hits its viewers in the feels and propels misguided vendettas against The Racists, The Assault Weapons, or The Prison System, then Team Wesley Morris thinks it’s cool.  Three quarters of To Pimp A Butterfly can be disposed of without detracting from the record, but Alright is now the anthem of all jobless Black Lives Matter grumblers, so kris ex and the leftist hipster punching bag of the internet extol the album as a work of genius.

One of my friends facetiously told me that Kendrick Lamar is the closest thing we have to a modern-day Antichrist, but I don’t think that Kendrick’s purposely trying to be the Antichrist.  I don’t hate Kendrick Lamar, nor would I go so far as to say that he sucks, even if it would get you to click on this article.  It’s not his fault he accidentally reminds us all of the stupidity that’s infested our agenda-driven media, so desperate to anoint the Most Important Fiction of the Year they forget the reason for criticizing fiction in the first place.

Is To Pimp A Butterfly the album of the year?  Absoeffinlutely.  And I think that Kendrick’s laughing all the way to the bank.  Thug life, indeed.

Fast travel to other parts:
Part 1 – Not Worth The Effort 2015
Part 3 – Top 10 Part 1 and Honorables
Part 4 – Top 10 Part 2 and the Inadvertent Individualism of Grimes

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Recap In Music: Part One

Another year has come and gone, and even with all the crap that’s struck this country politically, it’s hard to argue that 2015 has been anywhere near as bad for music as 2014, which I dare say in all my millennial naivety was probably the worst year for music in the history of human civilization, with such aggressively obnoxious tunes as Why You Gotta Be So Ruuude, Will Your Mouth Still Remember the Taste of My Love, When I Met You In The Summer, Don’t Act Like It’s a Bad Thing to Fall In Love With Meeeee, All of Me Loves All of You, the Pharrell Williams album, and the Frozen soundtrack.  Maybe I’m only inclined towards optimism because I haven’t listened to Top 40 radio for about a year and have done my best to isolate myself from the rest of the country’s musical pulse, but there was no shortage of strong new and familiar sounds in 2015.  I mean, Pound Sign It’s 2015.

None of those sounds are represented here, as this part is essentially a rejects list accommodating all the records I listened to (or was exposed to) this last year that wouldn’t make a list except perhaps my Feeling Masochistic one (which you can find on that music streaming service I won’t plug by name because I despise it).  Maybe you have completely different taste from me, in which case, these are for you.  If, on the other hand, your tastes align with mine more often than not – and they don’t – , check back later.  Links to other sections in this 2015 recap will be appended at the bottom.

The New Deerhunter Album –

This is an indie favorite from that a band that’s already ridiculously overrated.  It’s not at all unpleasant to listen to, but there’s certainly more exciting music out there in the relative wasteland that is the modern folk alt world.  Most of the tracks are rather down-tempo and dull, typified by the snoozer Leather and Wood in the middle.  This is strategically followed up by the unusually snappy, sonically rattling guitar-driven Snakeskin, which merits a listen by itself.  Ad Astra is also an entrancing and appropriately spacey song that would sound right at home in an 80s sex scene, or something.  I obviously don’t have a lot to say about this album if I’m talking about completely nontopical 80s sex scenes.  If you like your indie rock slow and stripped down and pretentious, Fading Fronter should fit right in with your records.

Fetty Wap –

He sucks, and by that mean he attracts a lot of suckers who like to hype up the newest rapper on the block as some visionary masterclass, instead of a hack who’s making the same generic, trashy pop-rap music they’ve always consumed and pumping it across the airwaves to swindle millions.  Please, make him go away.

Everything Kanye recorded –

Gossip, gossip, Yeezy just stop it.  Everybody knows you’re a sellout, not a monster.

Everything Drake recorded –

Drake produces junky, club-friendly, lyrically insipid (“I got a really big team / and we need some really big rings / we need some really nice things…”) bangers that appeal to a certain subset of hip-hop fans who may or may not know how good music sounds.  Those who aren’t within this subset look down upon his singles as ghetto or even “ratchet”, but in a year that’s given us Fetty Wap and new Nicki Minaj and Turn Down For What?!, Drake is relatively not that bad and has been doing society a major service by teaching us that 1800-hotline bling, well, that can only mean one thing.

Logic –

Formerly an underground rapper who put out a bunch of mixtapes and self-directed videos under the puzzling pseudonym Young Sinatra, Logic released his first album, The Incredible True Story, this year which I gave a shot on the recommendation of a friend who doesn’t listen to much of anything besides rap music (but doesn’t listen to M.I.A., Gorillaz, Massive Attack, Tricky, or anyone who produces truly experimental, rewarding rap music).  I put two tracks in my playlist out of charity, neither of which I can remember, and two others linger in my memory, one a rather mediocre song and the other a really annoying, lame one (“I am the GREATEST”).  Logic has decent flow and meter, especially for a pasty, privileged white guy who has no business appropriating a black art form, but his beats are kind of limp and the album is so padded with transitional sci-fi skits (dialogue and sound effects as a substitute for actual music; see Kanye West’s The College Dropout and every rap album since) that it ends up overstaying its welcome by about 30 minutes.  This thing is a freaking hour long, and about ten minutes of it are enjoyable.

Adele’s 25

I can’t actually listen to it unless I fork over $10, find a friend who has it (and none of them do because they all like Justin Bieber), or do what other people my age do when they want a certain album (far be it from me to emulate those stingy bastards), so I guess this is more of a non-review.  Regardless, what the previews give me sounds like rather boring, one-note soul music with the exception of Hello and Send My Love.  There’s certainly no Rumour Has It on this record that I’ve yet heard.  Maybe it’ll grow on me with repeated exposure.  Maybe Adele’s a little overrated.  Just a little.  I mean, she has sold 5 million more albums in a single month than my top 5 for this year have sold combined to date.

Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell

Sometimes, like right now, I deeply pity people like Sufjan Stevens.  Sufjan hails from Detroit, lives in Brooklyn, identifies himself as Christian, and makes folksy American music, but for some strange reason he won’t give up the stupid name some whacko cult leader cursed him with at birth.  On another note, I was fully expecting to hate his newest album simply being aware of its bare-bones production and the massive hype which hipster critics had built around it.  The actual result is a surprisingly relaxing, ethereal series of soft-spoken, melancholy tracks that all sound more or less the same but combine into a satisfying whole.  I picture myself falling asleep to this record many times in the future, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.  If the acoustic guitar licking fails to astonish at any point, Suffolk’s lyrics more than make up for his lack of instrumental flair, explicitly referencing religion, myth, a deceased family member, and other typically indie topics that mainstream artists try to cover up in their own songs for maximum appeal and propriety.  “Shall we beat this or celebrate it,” Soufflé wonders on All of Me Wants All of You. “You’re not the one to talk things through / You checked your text while I masturbated / Manelich, I feel so used.”  Gah, does this guy’s popularity irritate me.  Needless to say you won’t be singing along to this as with The Lumineers or Fleet Foxes, but not all music’s meant for singing along, thankfully.  Suffrage is fine, but you can skip him and you won’t be missing anything.  The Civil Wars are – were much better at this style.  Sniff.

The new Tame Impala album –

I’ve given this album multiple second chances but just can’t get into it.  All the songs are way too long and don’t go anywhere.  The Moment is OK, I guess.  So far the only great song they’ve produced is the percussively insane Mind Mischief.  If Tame Impala are one of your favorite bands, you probably don’t listen to enough music and are only latching on to one of the indie scene’s darlings for lack of knowledge of any better ones.  Check out Phantogram, Haim, or even Foster the People for Tame Impala done more memorably and melodically than Tame Impala.  Or just don’t check out Tame Impala.

Jamie XX –

I don’t get it, and I’ve tried it over and over again.  Why is this top 10 of the year material?  It’s flat and boring electronic music that’s nothing but electronic music.  Go listen to Amok by Atoms for Peace or Kinshasa One Two by DRC Music or Run Lola Run OST by Tom Tykwer, which got no accolades whatsoever, and tell me again that this is an amazing electro album.  Stupid, elitist hipsters, glorifying records none of their friends have heard of to sound cooler and more cultured.

Better than Jamie XX.

The “new” Muse album –

I hate to rag on Drones as a once major fan of this band’s shtick, but alas, they’ve become a slave to the shtick.  Psycho is an amusing but disposable copy of Uprising, and the so-so Dead Inside is the only song that sounds like an experiment for them.  Muse are an alternate universe version of Radiohead that never progressed beyond The Bends and naively think that bigger, louder, and more repetitive always mean better.  The highlights of their career will always be Origins of Symmetry and Absolution with Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-mad-mad-mad marking a fleeting glimpse of a different kind of greatness in 2012.

Better than Drones.

The new Imagine Dragons album –

Meh.  It’s another Imagine Dragons album.  If you liked the first one, and I might have if the radio and everywhere else didn’t play the crap out of Radioactive, Demons, and On Top of the World, then you’ll probably like Smoke and Mirrors too.  Every song sticks to a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, with the chorus getting slightly louder and fuller each time.  The lyrics aren’t as nonsensical as they were the first time around, and Gold might even be retelling a popular story.  I’m So Sorry is a good movie trailer song.  It’s just that the choruses in Imagine Dragons’ music aren’t complex enough to make me want to hear them three times in a row with no variation.  They make acceptable, formulaic alternative earworms for people who aren’t satiated by pop music but haven’t yet acquired a tolerance for indie or art rock.  You know who you are... except you probably don’t.  History has shown that people are very bad in general at knowing who they are, which is why 40% of voters in the United States are “moderates”.

Raury –

When I first fired up Raury’s debut album I was expecting something a little more hard-edged and, well, rappy, because black people haven’t been making white music since Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson or Prince… I actually don’t know what Prince’s music sounds like, and since I can’t preview it for free, I probably never will.  Anyway, I was more than a little surprised to hear generic acoustic-driven folk coming through my headphones, with hip-hop beats and rap verses playing a more ornamental, supporting role.  I didn’t like it enough to give it another listen, but I have to give the kid credit for taking a chance on something different.  If you want to claim you listened to Raury, just play Devil’s Whisper and skip the rest. Most of the album is about Global Warming and World Peace and social justice and other idealistic, youthful nonsense anyway, which makes it almost impossible for an adult listener to take it seriously.  The dude just needs to lighten up a little and learn the art of subtlety and maybe then he’ll have a winning record under his belt.  He also needs to stop annotating his own lyrics on Rap Genius as if they’re really important and hard to decipher, which is like James Cameron explaining the political messaging of Avatar to The New York Slimes.

The Oh Hellos, Dear Wormwood

If The Oh Hellos were already catering very openly to a very exclusive demographic – bookish Christian homeschoolers and Inklings nerds –, now they’re leaving no illusions to their shameless pandering, slapping C.S. Lewis on the very cover of their new release.  Through the Deep, Dark Valley and their debut EP offered up some decent, lo-fi folk tunes several years ago – more genuine and rhythmically interesting than Mumford and Sons’ insufferably exploitative stuff –, but Dear Wormwood isn’t all that precious.  I think I listened to half of it before giving up.  Oh Goodbye, am I right?  Get me another whiskey over here.

The new Björk album –

If you’re looking for an accessible entry point to the weird, wacky, and every so often wonderful art of Björk, Vulnicura isn’t it.  Out of all nine tracks, Lionsong, Notget, and Atom Dance are the only ones that sound like real songs, while the rest could honestly just be remixed Guild Wars or Skyrim exploration music that Björk sung impromptu over without notes, and most of them drag on for 6 minutes or more.  Try Vespertine or Debut or Post or the Dancer in the Dark soundtrack if you want to see what she’s all about, or find somebody’s Best of Björk playlist online.  If any musician justified the concept of a Greatest Hits album, which I usually find abhorrent, it’d be Björk.  She’s definitely producing, collaborating, and singing on a higher artistic level than most of the others mentioned in this and the following posts, but there’s not much joy, depression, outrage, or any other emotion to be wrung from Vulnicura.

Better than Vulnicura.  Also, Spike Jonze is a genius.  More on poetic "genius" in the next post.