In a day and age where celebrity and worship is devoured, and where info and the personal loves of our favorite entities are known and dissected, Richard D James stands firmly in the shadows.
Now, while he’s nowhere near as known as Kanye( Even though Mr. West knows his music well enough to lift some of his work for his own use and then not credit him), James has made of career of sidestepping his “counterparts” and entrenching himself on the outside rim of what is mainstream.
For many people, their first encounter with the work of Aphex Twin came with the video of “Come to Daddy,” the super fucking creepy clip that helped to at least in part establish risk taking electronic during the late 90’s. Like Daft Punk, the Chemical Brothers and Autechre especially, the sounds of AT were different than the more guitar driven rock of the time period, but such is the way of the music world. It still remains one of the best plots of the world of music as we launched toward the next millennium.
When I first heard this “Come to Daddy” track and witnessed the nightmarish landscapes and construction of the video, it instantly stood out to me. It was gorgeously done and mixed, but it’s also terrifying and worrisome. That said, while he certainly has songs that are dark and foreboding in its mayhem, quite a lot of his material is engrossing, layered, and well soothing. When I look at an artist, I hope for continuity but also experimentation and growth. It can be tricky thing to pull off, but the rewards are often plentiful. During his music making career, Richard D. Has performed and recorded under the Aphex Twin moniker, but also over ten other names. some of the more known include AFX, the excellent Caustic Window, GAK and Polygon Window. Honestly it’s a lot to consider, but you can’t deny his prolific nature.
One of the best overall tracks during the first half of his career as Twin, is a single “Windowlicker,” that not only stands up these days but remains a core foundation of the growth for electronic music during the turn of the century. It’s a masterpiece that flows and cascades through various whimsy and delight. It’s just a chipper yet soothing song that is as captivating as it is plush. With the release of that song, alongside the release of his masterpiece Drukqs in 2001, he was on the map, but then retreated and didn’t start to reuse his Aphex Twin moniker for nearly 13 years. From there though, it got even weirder.
The return started in typical Aphex Twin fashion, with something out of the box and provocative: samples of music showing up on the dark web for fans to track down, stumbling through the darkness in pursuit of something musically exciting. The result of the campaign was the
release of James’ first AT album in over a decade, “Syro.” Musically it’s similar to what came before, but it’s still an excellent example of electronic music pushing boundaries and waking audiences up to something that perhaps they had forgotten.
Since then we’ve seen the release of two very good but quite different EP’s, titled “Cheetah,” while the other “Collapse” takes the route of weird even by Aphex Twin standards. My partner wasn’t a huge fan of either, but the whole sound of the project doesn’t really embrace drawing new fans. I think it’s likely because with Twin, you either gravitate towards it’s challenging nature, or you just don’t get it, or downright don’t like the minimal nature. Either way, Richard D James as Aphex Twin is a true trailblazer of electronic conjuring’s, and it’s excited to see more mininmal productions and sound engineering making their way back into a more appreciated musical landscape. Thanks for reading, hope y’all enjoyed.
Welcome to 2019! First I’d like to thank everyone who read my year end posts. I hoped you enjoyed it. Secondly, this year I’m planning more posts this year than I’ve been able to do in the last year or two. In the coming months, I’ll be sharing articles in Florence and the Machine, Radiohead, and many others. Some of these are likely to be long and in depth, while others will be more tight and to the point. I’ll also be doing some reviews of festival lineups, and also more articles in films and whatever else brings me inspiration.
But, before all of that gets going, it’s time to talk about the start of festival announcements season. That means, at least for me, sharing my thoughts on the brand spanking new Coachella Lineup. I won’t be going over every single artist, but rather will be discussing some of my favorite sections of the bill, as well as some of the choices that we see presented. I hope you enjoy.
THE BEST OF
For months rumors had been swirling that the headliners were set as Gambino, Justin Timberlake and Kanye. Well as we all know now, only one of those is actually happening. Choosing Gambino is a no brainer, especially given his fall concert cancellations that disappointed a great many, including myself. But maybe the best pick to headline is Kevin Parker, aka Tame Impala. With three excellent albums already under his belt and a fourth expected to drop sometime before Coachella begins, this is sure to be a big moment for Parker and his backing band.
Now while two of top three round out this list, the next options helped to define varied and eclectic world of music. For Kacey Musgraves, who garnered a giant 2018 with an amazing country record, while Solange looks set to conquer alternative R&B with an album that’s likely to be among the biggest hits of the year. Finally we have Lizzo, who creates independently of the previous two. Having seen her a few months ago at Voodoo, I can attest to her live energy. It’s a don’t miss set that might just catapult Lizzo to the upper echelon of the music scene.
SURPRISES, GOOD & BAD
Every year more or less Coachella reaches deep into their bag of off the wall bookings and lead the way in increasing visibility for artists that perhaps normal Coachella goers wouldn’t naturally gravitate to. This year is no exception. khruangbin and their style of laid back world music is amazing, and while Idris Elba is a head scratcher(apparently he’s been doing electronic music for years now), they still manage to snag a once obvious booking of Weezer, their placement on the lineup is dubious. Bummed down to fourth billed of their day, it’s sure to be a big crowd pleaser, even if they haven’t released an amazing album in over 15 years. Beyond that we have the K-Pop phenoma Blackpink, who I’m not familiar with, but from what I’ve read lately it seems like this is a big deal and a huge get for the festival. Finally we have Aphex Twin, who in my opinion towers over every other electronic artist on the lineup. He’s been consistently brilliant most of his career and had operated mostly in the background, choosing not to become a household name wit ridixulous build ups and “bass drops.” If you like intelligent electronic, this is the must see show of the weekend. If you like being a bro and chugging beers while acting like a douche, maybe stick to Diplo and some of the others. Those are way better suited for limited capacity brains than Aphex Twin is.
HMMM OKAY I GUESS:
Within the last few years, the festival has strayed away from their landmark reunions and going toward a more hip hop/ pop infused lineup. This year is no different, though not as extreme as last year’s lineup. Ariana Grande is a massive star, but is more overproduced than anything tye festival has ever had. It reminds me that these days, it’s less about the bands playing and more of a name dropping type of thing that lets people brag about being there. That not to say though that she isn’t currently relevant. Kid Cudi is well known, but his high billing is surprising, since he hasn’t been a landmark name for a few years, except for the moderately good Kids See Ghost project. The two most surprising and not exciting acts for me though, are Diplo and Jaden Smith, albeit for different reasons. Smith hasn’t released a single thing that gets me going, and it’s darkened by my thinking that he’s only getting these moments and opportunities because of his family entertainment history, not for actual skill. Diplo is a different beast the music is a relic of the glory days from 7 years ago when EDM was giant, but I’ve heard things about his sexist behavior, and it just doesn’t appeal to me. Finally we have the 1975. While nowhere near as off the wall as some of the others, frankly I just didn’t like the new album, and overall haven’t been hyped on them. It’s ok though. I realize I’m one of the few. Oh well.
Either way, the lineup was excellent for some, and as is tradition, the first weekend has already sold out, and I’m sure the next weekend will soon go.
I’ve read some of these lately that seem to suggest this year was a weaker one in terms of great albums. I still personally think it’s how and where you find out about great records. Either way I’ve managed to come up with 25 albums that are at least enjoyable and some you can completely fall in love with. Here’s my list of honorable mentions, as well as the Top 20 Albums of 2018. Enjoy!
LUCY DACUS: HISTORIAN
NINE INCH NAILS: BAD WITH
THE INTERNET: HIVE MIND
BEHEMOTH: I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST
SNAIL MAIL: LUSH
20. BLOOD ORANGE: NEGRO SWAN
Opening our list is the masterful soulful essence that is Dev Hynes led Blood Orange. The album is rich in texture and subcontext, and while I’m not a huge fan of the voiceover interludes, the depths of the record are enough to still make an impact. Picture a more woke version of Marvin Gaye and you’ll get Blood Orange, with his sultry voice cascading over various instruments including piano, keyboards and a variety of others. It’s a mostly smooth ride that can suck you in and make you want to make love to the aura of sound enveloping you. For that reason it opens up the countdown at number 20.
19. MOUSE ON MARS: DIMENSIONAL PEOPLE
On the German duos eleventh album, you get the sense that they’re going into uncharted territory even for a band that is known for taking risks. By utilizing the artistic gifts of members of the National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame, they create a profuse array of sounds and textures throughout the records 43 minutes. I spent a lot of time listening to this while driving, and it has the kind of focus and symmetry to make the minutes fly by as fast as the road does. It’s thoughtful throughout, and with the assistance from the previously mentioned contributors, it’s a testament to Mouse on Mars and their devotion to trying new things.
18. TEYANA TAYLOR: KTSE.
Seduction can be a great theme for modern hip hop, and what Taylor does on this record is draw you in with a sultry voice that oozes heartbreak and desire all in one, and it does so effortlessly. Even beyond the vocals, the beats are infectious and easy to sway to. It’s a relaxing record that fits in nicely on a slow, lazy day, and hopefully Taylor continues to exude the strength and passion she brings forth on “KTSE.” This is only her second full length album, but given the acclaim it’s received and her seemingly limitless talent, I expect to her great things to come in subsequent years.
17. ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER: AGE OF
Going forward, we have quite a few excellent and challenging electronic avant-garde albums filling the list, and while all of them are great, what OPN mastermind Daniel Lopatin continues to do is nothing short of rewarding and challenging. “Age Of” isn’t his most remarkable album to date, but it’s brimming with strange contributions and mixtures of instruments and elements that still make it engaging and thoughtful. It’s weird as fuck, and while only certain music fans will want to listen to it at length and on repeated listens, it’s worth a drop in if you’re the kind of person that wants a challenge.
16. DENZEL CURRY: TA1300
Late last year I saw Curry open for Run the Jewels, and frankly I wasn’t impressed. Having said that, this album completely won me over. It’s brimming with intensity while also being more sensitive than most other hip hop and rap music of the last few years. Gone for the most part are the brutal sounding screeching vocals I witnessed in the live setting, and to me it’s all for the better. The lyrics and flow are effortless, while the beats and usage of samples are pitch perfect in terms of joining everything to make a cohesive album. It’s still fundamentally a hip hop album, but Curry seems to be evolving, which is good.
15. FATHER JOHN MISTY: GOD'S FAVORITE CUSTOMER
Since “becoming” Father John Misty, J. Tillman has embraced the satirical nature of the often pretentious indie alternative to great success. Through four albums he’s captivated the fan base and continues to put out records at a pretty decent pace. That being said, “God's Favorite Customer” is at worst his best album since “I Love you Honeybear” and at best his best album under the FJM moniker. Songs like “The Palace” are sweet and soft in both lyrical content and instrumentation, whole opener “Hangout at the Gallows” has the downtempo music that makes his brand so enjoyable while still ejecting his brand of devilish commentary during the song.
14. WYE OAK: THE LOUDER I CALL THE FASTER IT RUNS
Plenty of fantastic bands from Baltimore have been gaining traction over the last decade(another great Baltimore band even makes this list a little later), and you might as well add Jenn Wasner and Andy Stacks Wye Oak to the list. “The Louder I Call the Faster it Runs” is a musical version of a kite flying dizzily through a clear blue sky overlooking a scenic lake or body of water. It weaves in and out of dreamy and centered, and Jenna voice shimmers through the synthy aspects of the song. It all works well though, and with this sixth album, the band gets even better than they were previously.
13. VINCE STAPLES:FM
Recently few have been better than Staples when it’s comes to an excellent hip hop tracks and albums, and “FM” is no exception. This barely made the list because of its sudden appearance, but it’s easily one of the best rap albums of the year. It’s energy is unflappable and the lyrical wordplay of Vince sees him just getting better and better. It’s both party rap and thoughtful, which is a profound statement given the quality of some mainstream hip hop. Staples has been crushing it with the last two albums, simply put. Either way it’s a great record that’s fit for a night of getting “turnt up,” and it lands at number 13.
12. YVES TUMOR: SAFE IN THE HANDS
Electronic based music can be very hit or miss for the casual fan, and while “Safe in the Hands by the Tennessee native Yves Tumor isn’t likely to start filling giant arenas anytime soon, the album has its merits. It’s a lush grove of experimental ambient noise, with the ability to be dark with tension bubbling up while occasionally bringing out the beauty and inviting the listener into the creation. He’s got a fair amount of recognition in the music snob department, and with this intriguing third album out in the world, I’d keep an eye out for even further explorations in the future.
11. MGMT: LITTLE DARK AGE
MGMT is a peculiar and often intriguing band. Since blowing up a decade ago, they have some awesome albums, and some that just didn’t click. “Little Dark Age” is one of the great albums. It’s shiny and high energy at times, while still being able to get weird when the time tome calls for it. The lyrics are good, but the instrumental aspects are the real crowd pleaser here, and they deliver time and time again. “Me and Michael” is a masterpiece of a song, and with moments like that, MGMT is poised to be as big of a band as they should have been all along, if they had consistently release records that are as smart and energetic as “Little Dark Age.”
10. PUSHA T: DAYTONA
Yes Pusha had a crazy beef with Drake filled year, but what he actually did that’s important is make one of the best hip hop albums of 2018. Recording during the same period where the recent Kanye and Teyana Taylor album was created, this seven song burst of creativity (barely) knocks out all the other albums made during that period in Wyoming. It’s a fast record to get through, but that’s part of why it’s so great. His flow is top notch and groove based, and as always he continues to shine for the right reasons, mostly. He should be playing arenas by now, but I’ll settle for continually great hip hop done right.
9. APHEX TWIN: COLLAPSE EP
Unlike the “Syro” sessions from a few years ago, this incarnation of Richard D. James finds his Twin domain being a little more streamlined while accessing some pretty frantically fast paced beats. It’s perfect for a late night party or just wondering in a haze through the streets, but it’s nothing if not incentive and interesting. This guy has been a legend of the electronic scene for decades now, and while it’s likely too out there for the vast majority, his music and this album always has a built in fan base of open minded individuals who will give it a shot. Without a doubt this is an artist that simply doesn’t care what the mainstream appeal of his music might or could be, but when you’re an innovator of Electronic music, you aren’t really looking for the kind of fame that artists like the chainsmokers or deadmau5 seem to thrive on.
8. LOW: DOUBLE NEGATIVE
On the Duluth trios 12th album, the band dives headlong into a substantial world of ambient songs and pulsating soundscapes, and for newer fans like myself, I’m left wondering why I hadn’t given this band more listens throughout the years. It’s engaging and hypnotic all at the same time, and Low really push themselves to make something challenging but also rewarding. I can’t say if this is their best album, but among the four or so I’ve heard, it’s damn good and lifts their memorable career a few more steps up. It’s just a shame more music fans don’t know about them. You could call this band post hardcore to a certain extent, but any resemblance to that genre is mostly lost here, not that it makes the album less valuable. Engaging and dark, “Double Negative” lands at number 6.
7. KING TUFF: THE OTHER
Seems like a fair amount of trippy albums this year, but you can’t really do much about that if the record delivers. That being said, King Tuffs “The Other” is one of the easiest albums to sit down and delve into that I encountered this year. It’s spacey at times, proggy as hell at other moments, but it’s all wrapped in a nice package that draws the listener in. “Thru the Cracks” shimmers like it was made to be played at dusk during an outdoor music festival, while standout track “Neverending Sunshine,” draws us closer to the end of the record with a glimmering night time sky descending young the listener. At times it’s thunderous and blistering, but the music presented wraps itself beautifully in a thick layered contrast to most popular music of the year.
6. THEE OH SEES: SMOTE REVERSER
If you know anything about this band hailing from San Francisco, you’re likely we’ll aware that although they’ve made over ten albums, the name of the band has changed quite often. On “Smote Reverser” the band stick with just “Oh Sees,” but the energy and cohesion is stronger than ever. The record has a lo-fi reverb happening to it that makes it all the more heavy, and the vocals are mixed in the way that make the entire album seamless. I got a chance to see them a few times throughout the years, and I always thought it was kind of hit or miss, but with “Smote Reverser” they’ve fully embraced their slowish drudgy psych rock ambition, and it excels at being a record that repeatedly delivers.
5. KHRUANGBIN: CON TODO EL MUNDO
I discovered this band during the early months of the year, and frankly I was floored by the wondrous sounds emanating from the speakers. It’s leisurely paced and doesn’t just speed it at random times, instead deciding to ride the wave that the music has provided. It’s mostly instrumentally driven also, which somehow never gets old. Songs like “Lady and Man” are best enjoyed with company lingering and chatting in the background, as joy and laughter fill the air, but so much of the album is like that that you can take your pick really. It’s refreshing and groove heavy in a way that none of the other records on this list are, and for that reason “Con Todo El Mundo” by Khruangbin opens up our top five albums of the year.
4. BEACH HOUSE: 7
As Beach House, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have proven that a deep, darkly polished synth pop sound can work and can even get the attention it deserves. On the seventh, appropriately titled record, the duo continues doing what has given them so much success in the first place. The album is dark for sure, but with added soundscapes combing through the proceedings, it’s clear that they haven’t lost any of the vigor and attention to detail. “Lemon Glow,” while mesmerizing and eery, stands out as one of the better songs on “7,” and it’s slow pulse reverberates through your brain like a nighttime glow party watching a creepy movie. While Beach House hasn’t taken some huge artistic leap in how the albums sound, they haven’t really had to because all of the outputs are often amazing and engaging in all the best ways. The same can be said for “7.”
3. KASEY MUSGRAVES: GOLDEN HOUR
Even I can be surprised by myself sometimes. When I first heard this record, I was stunned by how much I found to enjoy. On “Golden Hour,” Musgraves bridged the gap of country music in a way that even alternative music fans can find something to chew into it. Country music is hugely popular to a certain core group, but often times that popularity doesn’t translate to mass success. This is where Musgraves shines. She transcends the stigma of what a country artist is and creates a gorgeous record that’s as good as anything I heard this year. It’s a refreshingly easy record to listen to, especially if you find yourself outside enjoying some drinks and relaxing company. It’s the type of album that’s just easy, which isn’t meant in anyway as a put down. On this, her third proper album Kacey ventures over varied paces, sounds and concepts, but it all fits in to make this “Golden Hour” truly special.
2. DEAFHEAVEN, ORDINARY CORRUPT HUMAN LOVE
Picking the best album of the year can be difficult, and this year it proved to be just as hard as previous years. For the last two weeks I’ve gone back and forth on the top two, and now finally, I can present the second best album of the year: the fourth record from the George Clark led Deafheaven, the California based purveyors of a style of black metal that is both evil and engrossingly beautiful, depending on which segments you here. With this record they’ve proven that the early signs of their greatness were accurate, and they’ve created an album that is steeped in true human emotions, while clashing those ideas with driven, pinpoint accuracy chord progressions and poignant undertones and segues. Tracks like “Canary Yellow” are spellbinding, while album closer “Worthless Animals” has a guitar section that’s so in tune with vulnerability that it’s impossible to not be engrossed in it. As the final vocals “ All who have forgotten Remember now, Remember now, Now, Now” bellow from Clark’s throat, it serves as reminder that Deafheaven aren’t simply a black metal band, but are in fact so much more.
1. MITSKI: BE THE COWBOY
The first thing you hear sung in the mesmerizing “Be the Cowboy” is the line “You’re my number one,” and while Mitski is talking about a romantic entanglement, that statement is true also in regards to her placement on this list. Over the last few years, with her “Puberty 2,” and now this record, Mitski has emerged as one of the most interesting artists to watch of the last few years. This album feels very much to me like a spiritual successor to “Masseduction” by St Vincent in that it sees the artist Mitski trying her hand at a shade of pop music not often heard, but it’s also very raw and open about the struggles we as people can face. A track like opener “Geyser” has an ominous background instrumentation that works well while Mitski and her silky, seductively open voice reign you in for a ride that’s as enjoyable as it is mature and direct about emotional states. Many of the songs here simply work, like “Washing Machine Heart,” and “Remember My Name” with its pure vocals and walloping drum section, but as the minutes close on the sadly beautiful closer “Two Slow Dancers,” you’re left with a void. The album, and this track especially embraces the profound highs and lows an average human being has to go through, and how those events help to shape our art, ideas and our impact our futures. As she says in “Be The Cowboy” and it’s conclusion, “To think that we could stay the same” is a beautiful, yet heartbreaking sentiment, but it’s fleeting all the same. Still, Mitski tries to stay in that perfect place, and the album is better for it. The best album of 2018, “Be the Cowboy” by Mitski.
Lots of songs moved music fans this year, so today we’re going to be going over what I consider to be some of the best. This list has everything from alternative rock, metal. To hip hop and even some mainstream rock pop, if that’s even what it’s called. Either way, enjoy!
10. PARQUET COURTS
BEFORE THE WATER GETS TOO HIGH, WIDE AWAKE!
Recently in the last year I got into this band, and well, I was easily converted. This song especially has that indie weird niche that latches itself to my liking more often than not. The instrumentation is somewhat upbeat, but the lyrics display a darkness of surrender under unimaginable difficulties and setbacks. It’s very end of the world and gloomy, but it’s still a great, albeit simple song. It’s unnerving among other things, and that aspect of memorability gives it the 10th spot in our year end countdown.
9. LET’S EAT GRANDMA
IT’S NOT JUST ME, I’M ALL EARS
Plenty of parallels exist between Let’s Eat Grandma, the British pop indie duo featuring Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, and the Scottish electro phenoms CHVRCHES. Its hard to resist and overlook, but Let’s Eat manages to stay afloat on their own merit. Songs like “It’s Not Just Me” help in that path. It’s one of the best, most darkly danceable songs of the year, and while the album has plenty of different sounds and styles coming from it, this track is the shining star among all of them. Honestly, vulnerability and rhythmic energy make the song great. Expect to hear more about this band in the coming months and years.
CANARY YELLOW, ORDINARY HUMAN CORRUPT LOVE
With their fourth album plowing ahead aggressively in their pursuit of brutality demonstrated in beautiful tones and energy, San Francisco based Deafheaven continue to raise awareness and momentum. The crowning jewel of their latest and brilliant album,”Canary Yellow” might be the best song they’ve recorded thus far. The opening is poignant and shines like a cloudless day spent under a shady tree, but it’s eventual evolution into darkness laden with meaningful lyrics and heavy construction make it all the better. There’s no band currently making music this seamless and varied right now, and it’s a testament to what George Clarke and company are capable of.
7. PANIC! AT THE DISCO
HIGH HOPES, PRAY FOR THE WICKED
For the record, I am not a fan of the Brendon Urie led Panic! at the Disco, but a great song is a great song. It’s super positive(which is something we can all use from time to time), but it’s also honest about the struggles of finding your own path. It’s hard not to resist that. The opening horns and the general upbeat energy joining up while Urie belts out great encouraging messages make for a truly unforgettable track. You just can’t not smile and want to dance when you hear it. For those reasons it lands at number 7.
6. KING TUFF
NEVERENDING SUNSHINE, THE OTHER
Much of Subpop artists King Tuff discography has left me wanting more, but finally on their breakout record “The Other,” the band seems to finally worked all their elements into an ingenious mix of psyche rock, funk and rhythm heavy instrumentation. The best example of this is “Neverending Sunshine,” with its lustful glimmer of magnetism and whimsy. The vocals are laid a little bit behind all the music, but the mix works well to ensure that all the elements of sing feed effortlessly and play off one another. If this band can keep amazing tracks like this a thing of the future, I’ll be keeping a much closer eye on their soon to be major stardom.
5. COURTNEY BARNETT
CHARITY, TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL
A few years ago I put Barnett’s “Pedestrian at Best” as my song of the year, and while “Charity” doesn’t quite make it to the top of the heap, it doesn’t lessen the greatness of the artist and this song. It’s a jingly indie rock track through and through, and Barnett’s honesty and trepidation burrow itself into the heart and soul of the track. It’s a high point for an album that isn’t as groundbreaking as her earlier offerings, but Courtney still has the gift of guitar playing, not to mention the very much biographical feel of her songs that make her so special in the first place.
4. PUSHA T
HARD PIANO, DAYTONA
Of all the best hip hop songs of the year, “Hard Piano” is without a doubt the one I went back to more than all the others. The introductory beat is infectious and worth of many heavy bobs, but there’s so much more to this song that makes it memorable. The brutal honesty on his feelings of the unfortunate need of the Me Too Movement splinter like an explosion. Pusha T delivers a meaningful, lyrically heavy track that shreds 90% of other hip hop artists in the world. Simply put he’s a genius of the English language, and this song is perfect example of why he deserves to be just as known as all the other blockbuster rappers making formulaic music these days.
TWO SLOW DANCERS, BE THE COWBOY
Oh Mitski how your voice and melodies soothe me so. Among all the incredible songs on “Be the Cowboy,” the most unrelentingly beautiful track finds itself at the very end of the record. “Two Slow Dancers” is a sad track full of remembrance, in which the two souls intertwined in a beautiful arrangement share a moment that will live in their minds and hearts forever. Many songs make me think long and hard, but few songs can convey just how real emotions can make art transcendent and meaningful. That’s what Mitski accomplishes in this song, and it’s masterfully done, to say the least. It’s capability to bring joy and memories from a dark sad place is remarkable, and it’s an instant classic.
2. MIDDLE KIDS
MISTAKE, LOST FRIENDS
Middle Kids is likely to blow up in the very near future, and if I’m right, a large part of it will have to do with the amazing qualities presented on “Mistake.” The indie rock trio from Sydney manages to be rock and roll that’s effortless but also thought provoking. We’ve all been in positions of desperation and uncertainty, which is why this song touches chords with the listen so much. The loud guitar work towards the final bridge of the song is also great. With Hannah Joy bellowing her unsure lyrics throughout, this song was never not gonna be a smash. It’s a remarkable first blow to the bands smaller fanbase, and if they haven’t earned a bigger audience from this song , I don’t know what will do the trick.
ME AND MICHAEL, LITTLE DARK AGE
For many of us, MGMT have fallen and regained their vision and popularity several times over, but with “Me and Michael” the duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have delivered what I think is the best album perhaps since their first album over a decade ago. The best song on the album, and the best song of the year is a triumphant mixture of bullish loyalty and synchronized mindsets that the band has always needed to make their best and most profound songs. I’ve listened to this hundreds of times this year, and it still fills me with hopefulness and optimism. Many bands aren’t capable of this, but Andre and Ben blow that away with a truly memorable song. It’s up there in my eyes with some of their early mega hits, and for that reason “Me and Michael” stands at number one on my countdown of 2018’s Song of the Year. I hoped you enjoyed this list. I’ll be back in a few days with my Top Twenty Albums of 2018. Thanks For reading!
Let’s just jump right into this, all of these shows were amazing!
10. WAR ON DRUGS, SHAKY KNEES
On day two at the Atl based Shaky Knees, a brief rain shower slowed the festival down for a little while. After it concluded, the opening of War On Drugs greeted the fresh aired, hazy aftermath of an afternoon shower. The colors in the sky were incredible, with blue and pink hues flowing through the air. The band sounded marvelous as the field opened up and the crowd truly gave themselves to the band for the duration of their hour long set.
9. THE NATIONAL, SHAKY KNEES
I’ve seen them four times now, and this was by far the best. The closing band of the fest, it was a departure from the bombast of the previous night, yet the members of the band truly showed that they can viably close and headline for a festival. The brothers Dessner, Devendorf and single Matt Berninger all delivered their best, and with humble moments like “Fake Empire” not to mention the closing beautiful two song combo of “Terrible Love” and the haunting “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” made for a truly moving end to a night, and a weekend.
8. SLEEP, CIVIC
When the chance came to be able to witness Matt Pike and his Sleep cohorts, it seemed like a no brainer. It turned out to be just the right choice. Minutes before the show, NASA messages were plugging away, but by the time the band opened with their magnum opus “Dopesmoker,” the crowd was fully exposed to the power of the trio. For nearly two hours they plugged away, and the let up never ceased. It was easily the heaviest show I saw I saw this year and it lands at number eight on the Ten Best shows of 2018.
7. MUMFORD AND SONS, VOODOO FEST
Mumford is a band that often gets a bad rap, but this hit after hit set that drove into a field of thousands on the opening night of Voodoo was stiff even cynics couldn’t deny. These guys know how to put on a rock show. Hits like “The Wolf” soared while newcomers “Guiding Light” only set the stage for the rock festival powerhouse that is “The Wolf.” Sure it’s somewhat cheesy at times, but they believe it wholeheartedly and that enjoyment from the band sells it like few can.
6. KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD, REPUBLIC
This being my second time seeing this fearsome prog rock titans, I knew some of what to expect, but it was still great. Choosing to focus most of the evening on their insane discography (Even if you just count last years 5 albums) the set delivered on the ridiculously heavy and trippy King Gizzard showed they’re ready for even bigger shows in the near future. I believe they can get there sooner rather than later. My lady might hate this band, but to see them play classic heavy prof rock like “Rattlesnake,” “Crumbling Castle” And “Vomit Coffin,” continues to be a joy.
5. ODESZA, VOODOO FEST
As the bubble of EDM continues to burst, we’ve not only found our way back to great electronic music, but also groups of artists that are able to cut into the mainstream and deliver something more than what we have been accustomed to. Odesza's Saturday night set at Voodoo was nothing short of spectacular, with high energy lasers, fire and guests vocalists showing up to energize the crowd. It was both refreshing and energetic, and comes in at number five on the list of the best shows of the year. It’s the type of music you might not always be down for, but in a festival setting they absolutely dominate.
4. NINE INCH NAILS, SAENGER THEATER NIGHTS
Having recently just spent two nights seeing Reznor and his cohorts, the shows are still fresh in my mind. Because both shows were so different and great though, I’ve combined them into one jumble. Both shows delivered plenty of tracks that aren’t in the normal rotation, but standouts like night 1’s “All the Love in the World,” “And All That Could Have Been” And the in your face “Last” from day #3 all helped to showcase that these middle age men can still blow away the younger bands in terms of sheer intensity. It’s not every day you get to see Reznor, Ross, Fink, Cortini and Rubin mix it up in an intimate venue, which makes it even more awesome and memorable.
3. ARCTIC MONKEYS, VOODOO FEST
Over the last ten years, Alex Turner has transformed himself and his band mates into an undeniable rock staple capable of pulling in big crowds. As the closing act on the final day of Voodoo, Turner and his Arctic Monkeys showcased their British tinted rock act, with plenty of smiles and rocking out to go around. Tracks like the blindingly fast paced “Brainstorm” mesmerized the crowd, with a shaven headed Turner eating it up throughout the over ninety minute set. It was my second time seeing them, but when you get virtually every song you were hoping for like “Crying Lightning,” “R U Mine?” And “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved the Chair,” it’s hard to walk away not being utterly blown away.
2. ST. VINCENT, CIVIC
The last year for Annie Clark has been nothing if not engaging and experimental. It’s a testament to how great this show was seeing as it happened in only the second month of 2018 and is still filling my brain with excitement. She captivated the crowd with older tracks like “Actor out of Work,” “Cheerleader” and the mammoth “Digital Witness” for the first half of the show, then set forth to spellbound the crowd with a full performance of “Masseduction,” which actually topped my year end albums list in 2017. So many songs were incredible it’s hard to pick one, but surrounded by friends dancing the night away proves to be a memory that is still filling my brain. High concept for sure but her conquering of the alternative music scene is nearly complete. It’s also rare to see a 90 minute one woman show captivate and deliver as well as this did, but she’s incredible so it’s to be expected.
1. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, SAENGER THEATER
Shows featuring my favorite bands are always a hard thing to judge, but when a band is this good, it’s hard to deny its enjoyment. Playing Nola about 8 days before their Shaky Knees show, Homme, Jon Theodore, Dean, Troy and Mikey proves why they continue to be one of the best rock bands on earth. Sticking around on stage for two and a half hours also ensured that the sold out crowd was left with nothing left to beg for. Taking tracks from all of their eight studio albums, the band poured through a magnetic set that you couldn’t turn away from. I’ve seen them several times now, but this was by far the best, deep cut heavy set I’ve ever seen the band play. When you get delivered rare tracks like “Lost Art of Keeping a Secret,” and the raucous newer track “Head like a Haunted House,” it’s hard to walk away unsatisfied. Simply put, it was the best show of the year, and because of that, they secure the number one spot on the “Top Ten Shows of 2018.” I hoped you’ve enjoyed this and I’ll be back with Best songs of the year, as well as the Top 20 Albums of the year in a few days time. Thanks for reading!
I was ten or eleven the year when what I imagined music could be changed. That was the year I discovered the band, or artist that would become not only my favorite all-time entertainer, but an artist and creator of a sound that would shape me as a person, and introduce me to a whole new world. That band is Nine Inch Nails.
In the late 80's, no one knew what “Industrial” Music was. At the time the biggest purveyors of the sound consisted of underground bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy. While both quite good, these bands were on the fringe, and weren't really trying to break out of their niche. That's where Trent Reznor comes in. Reznor, living at the time in one of the worst places I've ever visited, Cleveland, was trying to figure out a way to make music he felt wasn't being fairly represented. Like I mentioned earlier, Ministry is amazing, and has some very good records, but Reznor's approach was more in the form of mixing the world of Industrial as well as bringing more pop sensibilities to the environment.
The result was 1989's “Pretty Hate Machine.” At the time nothing like it had come out. It mixed cold electronic beats with a certain catchy aesthetic. The first track on the album, and one of the band's most popular songs even today, “Head Like a Hole,” found a interesting and wanting crowd of underground music fans who were willing enough to give the band a chance. Much of the album is subdued compared to what would be done later, but you can very much still hear the inspiration and how exacting Reznor was in creating this new sound. Songs like “Terrible Lie,” “Sin” and “Kinda I Want to” have beats unlike anything that were out at this time, and it's based on this foundation that the band would grow and become one of the most influential bands in rock music of the 90's.
The album also gives us a brief glimpse into how well rounded he is as a instrumentalist. The best example of this is the hauntingly dark “Something I Can Never Have.” Having been a piano player from a very early age, by this point Reznor was very proficient at the instrument. This is glaringly obvious here. He builds the tension quietly and deliberately at first with soft but ominous undertones, but the sound gradually progresses to a textural palette that is vibrant in ways that most dark music rarely reaches. One of the best uses of his voice is his ability to convey a certain pain, and even from early on he knew exactly how his voice needed to come across. This song is a early victory in that usage.
Like many musicians who are getting into the industry for the first time, Reznor felt unfulfilled by what his current label, TVT was willing to do to get the record out and heard. If you watched the amazing docuseries “The Defiant Ones,” Reznors recalls being told the debut record was “an abortion,” so you can see what he was dealing with. To get away from that awful aura, the band launched touring as part of the inaugural Lollapalooza tour, and alongside Jane's Addiction, the Rollins Band, and Living Colour, the band finally got to know a much deserved bigger audience.
During this period, feeling as though stuck and obviously pissed off, Reznor put togegher a short, violent EP called “Broken.” Recorded in secret and full of rage, it wasn’t until Jimmy Iovine of Interscope records fame was able to get nin, and by definition Reznor,out from under TVT that the existence of the record became known. It’s a simple and thorough fuck you to Reznors former Label and chief Steve Gottlieb. The album is insanely intense and very unlike PHM, but tracks like “Last,” “Gave Up” are stand out classics. “Broken” is also where the extremely violent content in videos started to appear. “Wish” essentially takes place in a chaotic, strobe lit, prison, and “Pinion” depicts a toilet being flushed into a man's mouth while he wears a lovely BDSM outfit. Even those don't top the list of intensity though. The two biggest examples of the change in tone are “Happiness in Slavery” and an underground video never officially released called “Broken.” “Happiness” sees a man who begins by getting pleasured by a machine, but quickly it turns sadistic as the man is tortured, killed, and eventually put through a meat grinder. You can imagine the curiosity of a 16 year old boy watching this.
The worst though, the “Broken” video is so insane it's only been known to circulate in unofficial states. What we see here is simple. A man convinces a younger man to come home with him, and various methods of torture ensue. The footage in intercut with the other proper music videos, but the damage is done slowly as you see the killer take his anger out on this poor, poor soul. It's so bad and realistic it was rumored to be investigated by the FBI. During this time the band decided to locate to Los Angeles and record in the house where the Manson family killed Sharon Tate. It's almost as if you can hear the effect it had on the music. This is when things start to change for the artist known as Nine Inch Nails. The underground success and reputation of the band had gained a noticeable following, and with their second full length album, the band exceeded all previous success and ended up making their best known album.
That album, “The Downward Spiral,” is not only a crowning achievement for forward thinking rock music, but also for Reznor himself. The instrumental aspects on this record are beyond anything you had ever heard from this genre before, not just in scope but in the array of sounds and textures conjured up in the studio. The album opens with a sample from “THX 1138,” and “Mr. Self Destruct” tears through in a vicious wave. To put it mildly, this album was a severe game changer for the band, and for Reznor himself. In a matter of months, and on the back of a legendary performance at Woodstock 94, Nin found themselves filling arena's instead of halls and theaters, and were the ire of concerned parents everywhere. They became the “edgy” bands lame television shows like the “Nanny” name dropped to make the kids seem rebellious.
The album itself, which tells the story of a man slowly descending into utter madness, is full of amazingly intricate beats, soundscapes and sheer madness for the duration. Unorthodox beats perfectly build the tension during songs like “Piggy” and “Ruiner,” while also managing to make beautiful and eye opening creations in a track like “A Warm Place.” Technically speaking, there really isn't a bad song on the album. “March of the Pigs” is still an brute force track, and one of the best to see in a live performance setting. Literally I remember seeing the band in Shreveport where the crowd got so intense during the track that I realized my feet were off the ground and I was just going with the flow of bodies for a good 15 seconds. When you hear Reznor scream “March!” there's this undeniable urge to be apart of a frenzy, and it's one of the best experiences during a concert I can ever recall. Like I said, intense.
If you had to pick out one song that played the biggest role in NIN’s transformation to giant band though, the song you mention more than likely is “Closer,” The chorus of “I wanna fuck you like an animal” is a little bit played out these days, but that's only because the song is so absurdly well known. In truth though, it's a fucking great song, and the overwhelming beat throughout is classic. Even the video itself is a masterpiece. The way the images are able to stay with you and haunt you is a great ploy by Mark Romanek to create a video creepy enough to compliment the song. If you live under a rock and haven't seen it, check it out. One of the classic video's from the decade. The song was at the right place at the right time, and for better and worse, it changed the whole trajectory of Reznor's career. By the time Downward Spiral's two year tour was over, Reznor was a mess. Slowly but surely, drugs and alcohol had taken over his life, and one top of that, people were greatly anticipating his return to the studio to create new music. Five years passed before we would hear anything new.
“The Fragile” years proved to be both amazing and horrible for Reznor. His grandmother, who had raised him, passed away, and on top of all that, his long time dog also passed away. Now I've dealt with my grandparents all dying, but I can't imagine the difficulty of losing both a grandparent and my animal in a small amount of time. As you can imagine, this didn't help the addiction situation much, and it just got worse.
Thankfully, after years of waiting, and years of Reznor working on the project, word slowly got out that the album was actually completed, and would be arriving very soon. While “The Downward Spiral” is the best known album, “The Fragile” remains the best record of his career. It's a monument to sadness, difficulties, and the emotional core of the record touches on things that still strike a chord. Most of the hardcore fans I know instantly recognize the album as a masterstroke, and it's been mentioned by Reznor more than once that it's his favorite album in the NIN cannon. To listen to it it isn't hard to understand why. At over twenty songs, and two hours of music, song after song delivers in ways that the previous song didn't. “The Day the World Went Away” bellows with an ethereal chamber quality, while others like the catchy “Into the Void” make you wonder what's coming next.
While not a direct sequel to “The Downward Spiral,” it has many of the same themes that are prevalent in “TDS.” It reeks of isolation, fear, contempt for the world, and most importantly, the continuation of exacting beats and thoughtfully concise movements that evolve at times over multiple songs. The album's diversity is pretty astounding, even today. During his career, Reznor had been known to toss in instrumental tracks on releases, and “The Fragile” is no exception. Some of these are among the best songs on the whole record. “Pilgrimage” hits you toward the end of the Left Disc, and the imagery painted makes you instantly think of a Nazi march. The best though, comes in the way of “Just Like You Imagined.” To put it bluntly, it's a killer intense song, and it's probably the best instrumental track ever made under the nin moniker. Now I use instrumental somewhat loosely. Some of the songs do contain voices, but often times it's impossible to make out if any words are used. I think it just helps with the overall tone he was trying to convey. Above all else, Reznor is an amazing producer and composer, and in the pursuit of his ultimate vision, he never missteps.
A big aspect of the album, obviously has to do with the loss of grandmother Clara. The song, “I'm Looking Forward to Joining you, Finally” always rang a chord within me, even long before the death of my own grandparents. This song is one of the most darkly honest on the whole album, and also gives a peek into the type of mindset he was in during that album. As you've likely read my earlier piece about my favorite albums of all time, I can talk and discuss this album for a long time, but yeah, it's my favorite NIN record, and it deserves to be hailed every chance it gets.
There are quite a few amazing things about “The Fragile,” to be more precise. For one, it's rare that a piece of music containing so much can at the same time be so effective and good, with little to no filler. Certain songs clearly aren't the strongest, but more or less the songs do an excellent job of showcasing various aspects of Reznor's unique sound. You have tracks like “The Wretched” or “Somewhat Damaged” that have the vibe from other records, filled with negativity, great beats, and some of the best usages of imagery on the entire album. As a composer, TR has always been able to make you feel part of the world, and on tracks like the two mentioned, you're instantly pulled into the world.
The next thing that stands out about this album is the thought process that went into it. By this point the man behind the Nine Inch Nails brand was heavily into assorted substances, and that's part of the reason the completion of the album took so long. Having said that though, to hear the finished product and to be aware of the giant mountain he was climbing during this makes “The Fragile” even more of a once in a lifetime, landmark album. The sounds emanating from the speakers when you press play are light years ahead of the previous albums, and the way it was produced by the great Alan Moulder really lays a underscored tension to the overall feel of the record.
In the end though, the album and the tour were big successes, although it nearly drove Reznor over the edge. He sank all of his money into the tour, and had been pushed to the edge of sanity. Much like the character he had portrayed for two albums, he had become a man who was on the verge of becoming “Ripe, With Decay.” In the end though, the album gave fans a goldmine if material, and years on, and with the subsequent release of the “Definitive Edition” vinyl, fans get to hear classics like “We’re in This Together,” “The Great Below,” and many others.
Again, a significant amount of time(five years), passed. What emerged was a completely different person. As news began to trickle out regarding the newly “reunited” and energized Nine Inch Nails, we found out a few things. One, he had been hiding the whole time, getting sober and getting his head right to make sure he still felt as though he had something to contribute to the world of music. Secondly, we found out that indeed, he did have something to give to us, and third, that album “With Teeth,” would be out soon. The album itself, while good, is often cited as one of their weaker records to date. Certain parts feel like NIN, but it's more rooted in rock then the industrial tinged, electronic effects of the past. Since the release of the album, Reznor has stated that the album was a little bit more forced, and also the result of him trying to make sure he could still write music.
Having said that, some of the songs are quintessential NIN. Our first introduction to the album, “The Hand that Feeds,” has a certain ability to be steeped in rock, but also embraces slight twinges of their beat driven past. Honestly, it's one of the better singles they've ever released, and one of the best songs on “With Teeth.”
Another among the other great tracks on the album, for my money, is “The Line Begins to Blur.” The thump driven quality of the beat works well, and the lyrics are utterly reminiscent of something you might have heard on earlier records. Again, this is a winner among some good but not great songs.
One thing that Reznor has always been great at, for lack of a better word, would be slower songs, or “Ballads.” The term itself makes me think of horrible 80's rock ballads from Poison, or Bon Jovi, but the types of slow pieces TR composes are in a league of themselves, and demonstrate his high ability to compose thought provoking music. Often times it's these songs that are the most honest, self aware, and poignant on the albums. This is very much true in the case of album closer “Right Where it Belongs.” It follows in the footsteps of awesome but slow album closers like “Hurt,” and “The Great Below,” and is haunting to both see and hear displayed in a live setting. The imagery he sets up with the line “You keep looking but you can't find the woods, While you're hiding in the trees” shows a world where the person is trying to fight for what he believes is right, but he's so engrossed in the bullshit that change is impossible. Major, major changes must be made, and with this record, Reznor took the first step in changing many of the things that troubled him over the years.
As a brief aside, one of the things that has always stood out about Reznor's output has been his multiple re-mix albums, soundtrack selections, and b sides. “Burn” off the Natural Born Killers soundtrack (which Reznor oversaw, and produced) is one of the best tracks in the whole canon, while the “Things Falling Apart” album is just as good as anything that he's released as a proper solo album. He's released four remix albums, contributed to at least three soundtracks, and even completed an album of slower versions of many previously released songs titled “Still.” And then there's the live albums, live concert DVD's, remixed albums where other bands take their shot at NIN tracks, and last but not least, various B Sides that have never been officially released. One of the best of those, “Non-Entity” was only released at part of the second disc of the live concert DVD “ Beside You in Time.” The song, along with the “With Teeth” b-side “Home” are two of the best tracks not easily available on proper albums or streaming services. After the success and tour of “With Teeth.” I was among the people that expected Reznor to take years to release a new album. Thankfully, I was very mistaken.
This part of the story begins with hidden portable hard-drives being discovered at various venues over the lands of Europe. A new world was being unraveled piece by piece, and this new world, this “Year Zero” was eventually announced. Among all the years I've been a fan of this band, this time period was easily the most refreshing, and exciting time to be a NIN fan. The websites, part of a brilliant and wide sweeping ARG campaign depicted a country ruled with an iron fist, where a mythological hand known at the “Presence” “came down from the sky” and horrified citizens of this country. Trying to find the sites was super fun too. Every time a new billboard, or website was unearthed, I'd run to it, finding new clues, and wondering what it all meant.
The resulting album, “Year Zero” is one of their best albums period. It tells the story from various viewpoints of the resistance and of the state of those in power. Songs like “Survivalism” are both oppressive and inventive, and have the trademark sound not entirely heard in quite a long time from the band. The opposing forces in this universe unveil themselves in many songs, across many lives and perspectives. Songs like “Capitol G” come from the perspective of a corrupt yet still hungry for power politician, while the uprising takes form in early track “The Beginning of the End.”
The album as a whole though, re-establishes Reznor's proclivity for stories and cohesiveness in albums,and it's one of the best, yet most unappreciated concept albums of the last fifteen years. Many of the songs here are simply amazing. There's a reason this album stayed, playing over and over again in my car for well over a year. It had been years since I had been so excited to be a fan and to be part of something that rarely happens in the music industry. The whole album is very much made to make to listener contemplate the world we're living in and what we're allowing our “leaders” to get away with. Sadly, seeing as what we’re currently dealing with in terms of our nation's politics, the lesson and darkness surrounding the albums seems to have been a message many of us missed. It’s sad but true that in our current landscape, where politicians run spirits into the ground, while factioning sides are debating the pros and cons of slights. In short, We simply care too much about the next iPhone launch, or what a reality TV star might be doing. The closing track of the album, the underscored and honest “Zero- Sum” finds us vulnerable, having been through a battle and having potentially lost it. The song is the defeated battle cry as both sides realized they were being made to fight against the other side by an enemy so intelligent, large and diligent, that we didn't find out if was for nothing until it was all too late. Like the track says, “All we ever were, just zero's and one's”
From there, it was a crazy time to be a fan. In the year following “Year Zero,” not one, but two albums came straight out of nowhere. The firsts “Ghost I-IV,” is by far the most interesting and left of center album(s) Reznor ever released under the Nine Inch Nails banner. Consisting of over thirty purely instrumental pieces, it's really impressive and eye-opening. Every song more or less, has elements that really hadn't been done by TR up until that point.
In all honesty, it's likely the album I go back to the least. I am though, extremely grateful for it. One of the reasons it's so well put together, for me, is because I think this was the stepping stone for Reznor starting to branch out into film. Seriously, those scores are probably better than anything on the “Ghosts” records, and they may have not been possible if he hadn't attempted it.
Following that, “The Slip” arrived with only a little bit more warning. More in line with the rest of his discography, “The Slip” has really amazing tracks. From the moment of the second track, “1,000,000” you feel right back inserted to world the band fans have grown to love. It's not the best regarded album per se, but the tour that came with it was one of the best productions I've ever seen. Multi-layered screens filled the “Lights in the Sky Tour,” along with two full hours of chaos, and tracks from every album. It encompassed all of what Reznor wanted the band to be on the road. Honestly, seeing it the three times I was fortunate to was something I'll never forget, and I'm willing to bet a lot of other people feel the same way about that stage production.
Following the tour, it was announced that the band would be putting up their touring boots, and a very brief final run was announced. Over a few weeks of shows the band hit New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The performances were among the longest, and most historical in the bands history. On two separate occasions, the band played the breakout album, “The Downward Spiral” in full.
Moving along, it would be another few years before Reznor showed his face as the creator of the band. Having done some great score work on a few David Fincher films, it had been four years since the world has witnessed Nine Inch Nails. Around that time, new music started to be recorded, under the pretense that would be part of a greatest hits collection, but eventually the songs morphed into a full length album. The result, “Hesitation Marks, would come out just in time for a round after summer festivals, and a full fall tour was planned.
The album itself is another exercise in TR pushing his limits and and the limitless potential of the band and the sound they helped to shape. Quite a few of the tracks are instant classics and among the bands best songs. “Copy of A” opens the album and is purely electronically driven, while “Came Back Haunted” and the subsequent David Lynch directed video is literally a sight for sore eyes.
The two best songs on the album though, are the full on funky and out of character “All Time Low,” which at once seems distant and familiar to fans of the previous works, and the slow, methodical “Various Methods of Escape.” “VMOE” especially is a stand out track, and upon hearing it was instantly thrust into the list of some of my favorite works ever created by Reznor.
The album's music, and even the artwork, were thought of largely as a companion piece to Spiral. In interviews, Reznor mentions that he came to view the album as a kind of witnessing what the character from that album might have been like if he went back to him. Long time fans were very much able to see the connections.
The band, of course, set out to tour for over a year, and saw many great stages and shared them with some awesome bands. Perhaps the best portion of the tour, was the Soundgarden tour from the summer of 2014. That was without a question one of the single best shows I've ever seen in my life. I wished more shows like that happened.
Again though, silence approached. This natural silence didn’t exclude any but official nin material though. In recent years, Reznor and now official band member Atticus Ross has begun to be known for the masterful score work. In the last few years alone, we’ve received blisteringly intricate scores for “ The Vietnam War” series, “ A Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and many others. But much like a sleeping beast, the time has come for new nine inch nails to enter the world.
and then of course the announcement comes. A new 6 song Ep titled “Not the Actual Events,” comes out on Christmas eve. its typical intense in chunks, but it finds Reznor and Ross stretching in ways they haven’t in awhile. “Branches/Bones” is a short rocket into the atmosphere, while other songs like. The foreboding nature of tracks like “She’s Gone,” paints a picture of a smoky forest, then the final song “Burning Bright (Fields on Fire)” sets the musical landscape ablaze with thick swatch’s of sound and thickness. No the question is, could the next installment be better? What exactly were they going for.”
With “Add Violence,” we got a very firm,”most of the time. “Less Than” is a political anthem that’s not completely meant to be, and one of the better of nins late stage career. Honestly the only not amazing song is “Not Anymore,” and still it’s pretty good. The record is nothing short of a brighter moment in Reznor and Ross’ career. “This Isn’t the Place,” is slow and deliberate, and nothing if not ominous. Then we glimpsed into “The Background World. This song is an instance classic to me, and it tors in much of what nin excelled at. The beat, vocals and finale are some of the best he’s cooked up recently.
Sadly, with all the fuss of the last section of the trilogy, it ended up not being quite on par with the other two, although it has its moments for sure. “Shit Mirror” is decent opener for the band, but the best part for me is the experimentation. The visibility of the saxophone usage is great in itself, because it shows then still going and trying new things, which more bands should do.
After that though, a unique styled theater tour was announced, and with it fame much excitement, and a little bit of confusion. These exclusive multi night stops in cities were the first if style of these nin had done in a tour format, but the added surprise of fans having to actually go to the venue to buy tickets in person was something that simply isn’t done these days. It proves to be a decent hit, with fans being able to mingle and share in the excitement of actually getting tickets. I myself got a pair for the first and third night stand in New Orleans, and with the first show happening tomorrow, I couldn’t be more pumped.
The setlists for this tour has been remarkable, to say the least. Many deep cuts and b sides have been appearing, starting with never before played songs like “The Perfect Drug,” and the somber build of “And All That Could Have Been.” Last but certainly not least, the band opened the tour with a full performance of the brutal Ep “Broken,” which has so far appeared a few times throughout. These shows are bound to hold special places for nin fans and the band themselves, and they still aren’t done. It’ll be interesting to see where they go after this, but I’d be being selfish if I said I didn’t think the band didn’t deserve a nice restful sleep after all of this. We’ll see I guess…
A few years ago I shared my list of the top ten Nine Inch Nails songs. Well, as it is bound to happen from time to time, it’s time to revisit the list. Some songs are off the list, others are added, and new entries are worked and squeezes in alongside modern classics. This list is short on obvious hits, so if you’re expecting it to be a countdown of their biggest hits, you’ll end up mistaken. Either way these songs are all just as relevant to a nin fan as some of the other more obvious ones. Today to celebrate the upcoming three night Saenger stand by Reznor and the boys, I give to you the Ten best nin songs. Enjoy!
10. BURN, NATURAL BORN KILLERS SOUNDTRACK
Easily in the top five moments of Reznor at his angriest. Originally meant as part of the “Downward Spiral,” and eventually included on the B – Sides, you can clearly understand it’s placement. The buildup is epic, and seeing it live for the first time was awesome. At the breakdown of “I’m gonna burn this whole world down,” you couldn’t even hear the band over the capacity crowd. It sent the crowd into an even crazier frenzy then we were already in. Speaking again of videos, this one is very, very strange. While Trent has maintained his place in music innovations, sometimes I wish he’d come out with a song like this again, if not just to remind people he still can fuck shit up.
9. WISH, BROKEN
Another angsty song, I see a pattern. This is always a sure fire killer at the concerts. I may be wrong, but for this song I believe they have consistently used similar lighting patterns at every show I’ve seen. It’s a whirlwind, and the video, set in a very dark, slavery like cage, is appropriate. Also, seeing them perform this song alongside Dillinger Escape Plan at Bonnaroo 2009 was the perfect amount of destruction. Dillinger clearly has learned well how to wreck instruments.
8. JUST LIKE YOU IMAGINED, THE FRAGILE
I’ve never seen song used better as an accompaniment to a film trailer until I saw it in the 300 trailer. It works perfectly, in terms of the trailer and in terms of the Spartan warriors themselves. Once it has its mind made up, it doesn’t stop, and it will never let up. It will keep coming until it gets what it deserves. In short terms, it’s just like you imagined. Over the running time of the song it launches you high speed into tense moments, and the song is better for it. Of all the shining moments represented on “The Fragile,” one of the most consistently entertaining is when we enter into a situation where everything is “Just Like You Imagined.”
7. SOMEWHAT DAMAGED, THE FRAGILE
Of all the great opening songs in the Nin catalogue, this certainly has to be among the best. The rising drums, accompanied by the ever evolving synth beats makes for a marvelous beginning track for the phenomenally deep “The Fragile.” The song signifies tragedy at the realization that the world isn’t what it’s supposed to be. That we can always try to posses the best qualities and be the best people we want to be, but sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. We’re all “Somewhat Damaged,” and because of that knowledge we have, the song is all the more powerful and regrettable in its content.
6. GAVE UP, BROKEN
Of all the songs on the violently fast paced “Broken,” “Gave Up” is likely the most powerful. Again using an ever aggressive beat as the backing track, the track is pushed forward by the early minimum usage of classic Reznor whispered spoken word. By the chorus though, the track is operating on all cylinders, using the drum machine in conjunction with the overall beat and Reznors “steady systematic decline” of anger to propel the song. On this list it comes in at number six, and proves an early indicator of the kind of layered, noisy brilliance Reznor is capable of. A true classic track.
5. LESS THAN, ADD VIOLENCE
Clearly a newer song on the list, and perhaps a surprise to those reading, but trust me the song deserves a spot on this list. It has everything a nin fan could want. The beats are as great as the production value, but the magic lies in the lyrics. Initially thought to be a rebuke of our current trump issues, the song instead revolves around the general attitude of right and left wingers, who thrive to push their agenda, whether good or bad on the mass population. I imagine the heat coming from the pot when listening to this song, and the dialogue throughout is genuine and also heartbreaking. I believe the moral of the song is not to force our wants on opposing viewpoints, but to instead try to be the best we can be, and to of course not be Fucking assholes to those if there’s another way around it.
4. MARCH OF THE PIGS, THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
March of the Pigs,” to this day, remains a rabid favorite among fans and it’s inclusion during shows has become the standard by which you measure the intensity of the crowd, and the band overall. It’s a shorter more intense song than many of their others, but in this immediacy the song is able to move like a beast, exacting it’s revenge on those who have spurned it. It’s wildly chaotic with no give, but it’s because of that quality and it’s placement in the tracklisting, it provides its best assets to use. You get crazy vocals, gut wrenching beats and drums, and the wild brutality that is nine inch nails in its most raw form.
3. RUINER, THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
I really don’t know what this song is about, but it reminds me again of dominance. TDS album as a whole is about a man slowly losing his sanity and seeking destruction, in many different forms. The great part about the album is that you’re never sure exactly at what point his mind betrays him, and if you’re even hearing the same person. As the album progresses (This song is right in the middle) you can clearly see the forces working against our main character, but he simply is no match for whatever he’s facing. Some albums slow down towards the middle. It helps to give listeners a rest. For this album, a rest is simply not an option. There’s a reason this album is still one of the best from the 1990’s. Reznor brought us, and showed us a place that was cold, and wretched, and we loved him for it.
2. IN THIS TWILIGHT, YEAR ZERO
One of my favorite time periods of being a nin fan was without doubt the YZ ARG campaign. Finding new clues all over the internet, looking at images in a post apocalyptic United States was the perfect way to get fans pumped. This song is more hopeful again, but in it hopefulness there's a certain amount of hesitance. The album is about a very close future that we could see ourselves involved in if we keep on with our current lack of priority and care for our system and care of our environment. It’s a grim fucking place. I always imagined this song as an amazing opener, but for people who saw the “ Lights in the Sky” tour, it also is an amazing closer.
1. WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER, THE FRAGILE
This album suffered from what I call the Pinkerton effect. It’s a brilliant album, but for the more casual fans wanting a Downward Spiral 2, it simply wasn’t enough. Having said that, the Fragile builds on the sounds and technologies of TDS and goes further. For one, this song is one the first time we hear anything even remotely positive and reassuring. It’s not a mellow song, but it accomplishes its tasks. I’ve probably heard this song two thousand or so times, and it still makes me smile and giddy like a child. It overshadows all of the other songs on the album, yet still it’s one of the least played songs in the NIN live catalogue. Years ago I remember an interview where TR said it was the best song he ever wrote, and he knew he couldn’t do it justice in concert, so he let it be. Maybe one of these days I can stop spending endless amounts of money seeing them live. But first, I must have my WITT live.
Since forming right before the heyday that was the so called “Nu Metal” movement, Chino, Abe, Stephen, Chi, and later Frank have never been comfortable with the bag they got lumped into. But as times often change, the Sacramento gang was able to find their own niche and create music that embraced briefs moment of hip hop, but also cautiously crafted soundscapes, wailing screams filled with terror, and experiences of gorgeous beauty that still hasn’t been touched among peers. They've maintained their high level of creativity, and after all these years, are still able to move fans in a way that their modern metal peers can only hope to get close to. Here’s the countdown of the five best, most important Deftones albums.
5.Saturday Night Wrist, 2006
While by this point the band has certainly found their footing in terms of what constitutes their own original sound, they still manage to get on the ledge of what was acceptable during their early years. Track four, “Beware” is a muddy, night sky filled trek into gradual darkness, that's only accentuated by Moreno’s trademark hollowing vocals during the chorus. It’s also probably known more as their least forceful, most textured album since the pinnacle of what ended up being “White Pony.” Sure they have heavily in your face tracks like the onslaught that is “Rats!Rats!Rats!,” but they also slow is down various times and bring you into a lush world with the instrumentation of a song such as “Xerces,” that for my money still stands as one of their best tracks, from any album. Towards the end of the session though, “Kimdracula” shines a light through the hazy, biting atmosphere as Moreno soars using his voice, all the while the backing band crashing down like a wave onto rock of jagged rock as the sun sets on another fruitful recording session.
4. Gore, 2016
At this juncture in their career, the ‘tones are able to both stay true to themselves as musicians while also pushing limits. As an album, “Gore,” was a show of strength but apparently quite a few older fans still long for the brutality of the “ATF” era. I get it, but as they’ve evolved over the course of twenty years, it’s been rewarding as a music fan in general to see what new things they can make stick. This album still has the upbeat angst you love about the band.“Doomed User,” with its distorted and thick guitar sound comes to mind, but it also exposes weakness in lyrical content, open to vulnerability from the mind of the person expounding the lyrics themselves. Shortly after that they nuzzle you into a layered, glum track called “Hearts/ Wires,” where the band turns down the notch while still delivering. Coming near the end of the record, the title track has a kind of scat musicianship happening, with Cunningham’s drumming making the listener uneasy as the explosive breakdown comes during the moments of the chorus. It’s an easy enough strategy but takes skill and craftsmanship to sell, which they do with ease. As the album closes with “Rubicon” it’s clear that the bands unique sound is still intact, and what would you know, they picked up a few new tricks to lure fans even deeper into admiration.
3.Koi No Yokan, 2012
The status of the band before the release of this album was difficult, heartbreaking one, to say the least. Following the untimely death of founding member Chi, and the ultimate scrapping of an album called “Eros” no one knew exactly what this band still had left to prove. In typical fashion, however, they came out swinging and ready to show their resolve to fans eager to know if they should, or could continue without Chi. The whole album is like a monument to the bass player, and it’s one of their most poignant albums. From the bounce qualities of “Swerve City,” to depressing but clear minded conclusion of “What Happened to You?” the five members are able to pour their energy into positivity when it’s needed the most. That’s not to say that all of the heavy, bombastic qualities are gone. “Leathers” has a quiet danger to it’s opening, but as the wielding blade that is Chino’s voice slashes into the forefront, you’re reminded that this band can turn the beautiful into the brutal in a blink of an eye. The radio hit “Tempest” struck a chord with audiences too, and once again they found the mainstream success that had had periodically since the days of that wonderful third album.
2. Around the Fur, 1997
I was still very much ingrained into the metal of that year, but much of it lacked the staying power that “Around the Fur” seemed to dwell on even more than twenty years after it’s touching down onto the musical landscape. Unabashedly the bands most violent, reckless album, it’s also one of its crowning achievement. I doubt the band could be as harsh these days as they were then, but artists always grow and evolve. From the low down rhythm section of the opener “My Own Summer,” the band takes you on a trip of veracious brutality and syncopated timed signatures that both disorient and engage the listener. Songs like the one two punch of “Mascare,” and “Around the Fur” come across as dynamic, but within seconds the intensity of a track like “Rickets,” with more than your share of full throated screaming washes away anything that was left standing. In short, this album doesn’t let up for much of it’s duration. It also has massive fan favorites like the brilliant “Be Quiet and Drive,” which propelled the band to a new level early on in their career, which helped them to gain even more attention when a certain ‘Pony” came prancing along...
1.White Pony, 2000
When this first came out, or should i say “leaked,” back when that kind of thing rarely ever happened, my group of friends were flabbergasted at the sound emanating from the record. It was futuristic, melodic, dreamy and energized all in one. It wasn’t like the music we were normally hooked on, and frankly it's a great thing we latched onto it in a way that made it part of ourselves. This WAS the record of that year to us, and it completely changed how I looked and accepted music. I found myself trying more and more new things that hadn’t interested me before, and at the core of all that was the superb nature of the songs themselves. “Teenager” still reminds me of song you’d hear on a rainy night in the world of “Blade Runner” while “Digital Bath” had this unease romanticism to it that swayed you to contentment. The band was going way out there in terms of what might or might work, but in the eighteen years since its release, it’s still hailed as their best, most beautifully open album. It also doesn't hurt when Keenan from a little band called Tool assists in what i always looked at as an unofficial sequel, or retelling of “BQAD” in the form of “Passenger.” Nearly every song still has the ability to touch a cord, from the female sounding wails on “Knife Prty,” to the band's biggest hit overall, “Change(in the House of Flies). Since trying something new and groundbreaking on this record, the band has managed to delve into certain elements form this epic effort in a more careful, thoughtful way, but without the breakthrough of this one album, who knows where the band would have ended up. It’s for these reasons that “White Pony” stands as the bands epic masterpiece.
Thanks for reading!
Hey guys so a few things have been added/ rearranged on the site and I wanted to make all of you reading aware. There's been some rebranding on the top of the page, and hopefully soon I'll be adding another link to the Reaching Out section to stay abreast of my other social media outlets. I already have the twitter feed and the The Death of the Mix Tape facebook page up, but once the instagram is up you'll be able to keep an eye out for all the show clips i post there. For the time being though my handle on instagram is @rickshawlando for anyone who wants to check it out.
Lastly, and this is the biggest new update: There's a new tab that's been up for a little over two weeks presenting a countdown of the Top 100 songs since 2000. I'm not posting that on the main page simply because it's too much to keep track of. It also just seemed redundant since I planned to create a seperate space for it in the end anyway. The list is being added 10 picks at a time, and as of today picks from number 100- 61 are available to read.
i sincerely hope whoever is reading this is enjoying the picks and opinions, and obviously I'd love any of you to comment, share on social media and whatever else. Thanks everyone!
Among hip hop fans, there’s always plenty of ever changing evolution when it comes to being a hit maker. Some play and safe and still do great, but others push the bounds of what is considered hip hop or rap. Among the best, or as he would say, “The Best,” is Kanye West. since breaking out in the early aughts, West has continually used his beat making and vast musical knowledge to make some of the most forward thinking hip hop of all time. Today we’ll be starting a series of top five lists from an array of artist covering music that has a certain sound, but also artists who naturally grow and extend themselves outside of their respective genres. Here’s my list of the top five Albums by Kanye West.Dig it!
5. The College Dropout, 2004
As soon as you heard the mouthshut vocal range West produced on the breakout track “Through the wire” you knew this was something special. It’s not often a man that committed to a vision sees the light out day, especially when his back is up against the wall and he feels like he has to break through. Multiple tracks have since become legendary among music fans. Standouts like the melody driven “All Falls Down,” or the in your face aggression of “Jesus Walks” converted naysayers into believers, but Jesus is a statement that finds West exploring topics that are rarely breached in hip hop culture. One of the best songs not heavily mentioned are the “New Workout Plan” which depicts various slouches following the training to make themselves new and improved. It’s a brilliant first album in a discography that unfolds in unexpected and rewarding ways.
4. Graduation, 2007
By this point in his still early career, West was sky high surrounded by the flashing lights of media everywhere. Yet on this blockbuster album he easily expelled rumors that he couldn’t keep the winning streak up, which is to say one of his biggest accomplishments. He’s always put himself in vulnerable places, but with each step he cements himself as an artist worth watching. A song like “Can’t tell me Nothing” is a perfect example of where his mind was, but it also doesn’t hurt when he can puncture that sense of attitude with a genuinely upbeat, fun track like “Good Life,” which has the ability to do a feel good rap song better than nearly anyone, even if he’s known for being a provocateur. Let’s also not forget the colossal hit that was the Daft Punk inspired “Stronger,” which led him to increase his fan base two fold at least, by bringing in the legendary robots to a new fan base but also getting electronic nerds into the mix for something they might not normally try.
3. Late Registration, 2005
“Diamonds from Sierra Leone” may have been the first introduction to Kanye’s second album, and while it’s a great song featuring another stellar collaboration with Jay Z, that was all but forgotten when the world first heard the words “She take my money, when I’m in need,” which of course is the opening to the year’s biggest hit “Golddigger.”to say the song is infectious is a vast understatement. I remember not being able to go anywhere and not hear this song and everyone seemingly enjoying it. The rhythms on the track are a blistering critique of lazy woman everywhere who expect something back, but at its core “Golddigger” is also an incredible song. It also doesn’t hurt that with an opening skit from Bernie Mac and songs that follow like “Heard Em Say” and “Touch the sky” all coming before “Gold” which is is the fourth track, it’s hard not to reel from the track list and the momentum. It’s likely one of the best three song movements every committed to a record, and that’s a huge reason why this album is so Fucking good all these years later. He captures your attention early and doesn’t release it until he’s said all he needs.
2. Yeezus, 2013
After “MBDTF” sent everyone into a tailspin, Yeezus was a complete flip of the script in how West compelled and produced an album. Rumors swirled for months that the production of the record was a mess, but after getting much needed guidance from the incomparable Rick Rubin and slimming the album down drastically to the ten songs that formed the album, it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth it. From the early moments of tracks like “Black Skinhead,” which finds West again working with Daft Punk and putting white people on notice for practices that we as a people might not even know is wrong. It’s a great mindset though when an artist is angry but also willing to not shy away from difficult issues. The whole album is easily the most aggressive and angry of his catalogue, but it’s also his most potent in terms of originality. “Yeezus” also shows that he can carry an album with minimal guests(unlike the other records, not to say it’s a bad thing) as he circumvents his critiques of culture with unrelenting songs like “New Slaves” and the eye opening sincerity and pain behind “Blood on the Leaves.” Personally I can’t wait for another record like this to explode from his brain. Angry Kanye is the best Kanye.
1. My Beautiful Dark twisted Fantasy, 2010
This album man is so strong from start to finish that is damn near impossible to truncate it into a post that’s not an in depth look at every song. I’ll try my best though. Let’s start with the multitude of guests on this record. It’s staggering and the various voices force West not only to bring his A game, but it also sets the tone of of unpredictably that finds the listener at every song. Guests like Jay, Rhianna, Raekwon from the 36 Chambers respectfully shows up, as do Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, and dark horses like Chris Rock(who’s monologue at the end Blame Game is hilarious and dirty) and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon all show up and give their best in function of West’s vision. An early cut like “All of the Lights” is a triumph of hip hop history, and while I rarely like solo Rhianna, this is another example of how great she is as a guest star. But then you have a song like “Runaway,” which is a nine minute monolith of artist is displays that blows away anything he’s done before or since. The way the track uses the minimal beats early on and grows and build from their is quite simply brilliant musicianship 10. Is recommended listening to this record all the way to fully immerse yourself in the darkness West has composed for us, because it works best as one singular piece as opposed to different tracks for different days. It runs the gamut of musical imagination, and it’s for that reason this stands as the best work of Mr. West's career, so far at least.
I'd also like to announce that starting next week I'll be posting my TOP 100 SONGS SINCE 2000. It will be massive ten part post. Hope you enjoy!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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