At the start of the year, I wasn't sure what awesome albums I'd be exposed to. Then spring came, and my list was still a little short compared to most years. Then over time, my 2014 Albums folder grew, and grew. In the end, these last two weeks, the list was getting difficult to navigate. I couldn't decide which albums would make the list. Some were easy choices, others were trickier. In the end, I picked what I felt was well rounded, and overall great. So without further adieu, here are my Top Twenty albums of the year, along with a few honorable mentions. Enjoy!
BEHEMOTH, THE SATANIST
LANA DEL REY, ULTRAVIOLENCE
PINK FLOYD, THE ENDLESS RIVER
SWANS, TO BE KIND
TEMPLES, SUN STRUCTURES
THE SLEER, WE ARE THE SLEER E.P.
20. HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF, SMALL TOWN HEROES
Our countdown begins with a taste of alternative country hailing from the same city as I do, New Orleans Louisiana. I've been hearing about this band for a bit now, and the notices and murmurings of their slow power have finally found their way into my music library. The album has a gentle soaring quality to it, and it's a perfect Sunday Morning Brunch record. Alnyda Lee Segarra's vocals are of a gorgeously honest tone and the album is the perfect compliment to the slowed down, Les Savoire Faire pace we in Crescent City have become accustomed to. Find a porch on a nice day, make a drink, and enjoy this album. Thank me later.
19. PHANTOGRAM, VOICES
Well Phantogram certainly has had a good year recognition wise. The band, who released their second full length this year, had definitely earned it. “Voices” opens with the pulsating “Nothing But Trouble,” and Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter don't lose the beat and tempo the entire record. This record goes perfectly with a new age dance party in a cavern, and to hear tracks like “Black Out Days” and “Howling at the Moon” you'd think they'd been doing this for decades. Sarah's voice has the power of a woman determined, while also remaining delicate when the time calls for it. The band's brand of electro mood rock hasn't been this good since Ladytron took over, and hopefully, the band will just get better as they continue to climb the world of music.
18. THOM YORKE, TOMORROW'S MODERN BOXES
I guess from now on we should just expect a new release from Yorke at any point. For the last few years things of all Thom Yorke related instances have been appearing with little to no notice, and we've all just sat back and enjoyed them. “Tomorrow's Modern Boxes” is no exception. It builds upon the basis of his first self-titled album, while still taking into account the history with his two other bands. What we get here is more of the same, which is fine since it works so well. Yorke's uniquely wonderful voice, mingled with various electronic beats, makes for yet another powerfully singular statement in his career.
17. FLYING LOTUS, YOU'RE DEAD!
On the fifth album as Flying Lotus, Steven Ellison continues to push the limits of what is prominent in electronic music. More or less in line with the style you hear on the other records, you just sense this explosion of emotion and sound on nearly every track. If you're looking for a electronic music record to move mountains in terms of depth and sheer scope, seek this one out. Featuring cameo's from Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Thundercat and Captain Murphy(If you get the joke), it really presses the question of why he doesn't do an album where he provides all the music while guests vocalists bring their own idea's to the table. It could be amazing, but until that day perhaps comes, we'll just have to settle for his sick ass beats.
16. CLOUD NOTHINGS, HERE AND NOWHERE ELSE
Another good rock band from less than worthwhile city. Honestly I feel bad for anyone who grew up in Cleveland, but clearly it's been good for some. The album itself is the next logical step for the group, and they're really starting to mesh as one gnarly outfit. It's a special kind of rock n roll, and it doesn't feel forced. To me it feels like when you were young and you only cared about thrashing out and making noise with your friends, except Cloud Nothings actually sounds good. They belong in the same category as Japandroids, and even after that they still remind me of Death From Above 1979 in a way. “Here and Nowhere Else,” their fourth proper album, combines the exact amount of punk elements with rock elements to not overdo it, and the vocals, provided by Dylan Baldi, really make the fists want to bash through the air joyously.
15. TV ON THE RADIO, SEEDS
On the bands sixth release, and the first without founding member Gerald Smith the band is doing more of the same in terms of voice usage, beats and percussion, while making the music resonate in a joyful, life affirming way. Perhaps this is the bands way of embracing the time they had with the departed Smith, and choosing to display color and positivity instead of dread and depression. The album overall has a more pulsating, late night beats feel than the other records, but it never sounds like it's a different band. TV on the Radio continue with this release to pump out body movers like “Careful You” while making you wonder why they aren't a huge, huge band. Seriously, it's time they broke out, and started playing before headliners at Coachella. They've earned it, and the music is only getting better.
14. MASTODON, ONCE MORE 'ROUND THE SUN
Even though the placement hear isn't super high, this is the best metal record of the year in my eyes. With the next step in their massive uphill trajectory, the Georgia metal sludge makers add more of everything. More singers, more depth, and more emotion. The lyrics to album opener “Tread Lightly” are some of the most positively uplifting words I've ever heard, and the sonic force throughout the album is the Mastodon we've all grown to love. Also, can we briefly talk about the ass shaking greatness that is the “The Motherload” video? It's immaculate to say the least. Mastodon has more or less been known for amazing concept albums, but much like they did on “The Hunter” they prove here that they can still deliver songs in a traditional, non-linear way. Lastly, most hallucinogenic album cover of the year.
13. ANGEL OLSEN, BURN YOUR FIRE FOR NO WITNESS
This women's voice, for real. While it's not as lovely as Hope Sandoval's from Mazzy Star, this record really brings me back to that type of world. The longing throughout the album, and the want in Olsen's voice is the type of desire you don't hear too often, but it stays with you and lingers on your skin for days after you are exposed to it. When it's not being sullen and lonely, the record also contains a bit of a Lo-Fi rocking quality, mostly seen in tracks like “Forgiven/Forgotten” and “High and Wild.” Overall, the album has a very dusty, midwestern feel to it, and would be great to experience while you drive through America's Heartland during the sun set.
12. FUTURE ISLANDS, SINGLES
What a fucking year these Wham City(Baltimore) veterans have had. I've mentioned them before, and it's well deserved. I was introduced to them years ago when they opened for Dan Deacon, and from the first instant, I was confounded and mesmerized not only by the voice of, but also the stage presence of Samuel Herring. Without a doubt one of the best voices in music right now, and the synth healthy effects of the music do nothing to bring down the ship. It's so awesome to see a band whose worked their asses off to FINALLY be seeing some pay off for tireless effort. Lead track “Seasons(Waiting on You)” might be song of the year(it was to Pitchfork), but the other songs are just as strong as the opener. Future Islands. Love It. That is all.
11. ST. VINCENT, ST. VINCENT
Although I was later getting into the album than some of my friends, I think it's in due partly because I couldn't make sense of it at first. Sure it's great, but it doesn't sound like the Annie Clark I grew to love on the previous two albums. It's more electronic, way more production value, and she's got what color hair now? OK, so maybe that's not the best approach when trying to open your mind to new sounds, but once I got the concept and aesthetic she was going for, it made perfect sense. She's pushing herself in a new direction, and it's paying off. The incendiary guitar playing is still there, but all these new things are happily thrown in. “Digital Witness,” complete with synth and horns, for some reason seems like a hip hop song to me, but in a great way. David Byrne rubbed off on her in the best way possible.
10. PERFUME GENIUS, TOO BRIGHT
I will admit to just getting this album within the last week, but almost from the first listen I was digging it. For me, this is the biggest and best surprise of the year. I had never heard of him before, but man I'm glad I found it. To me this album almost feels like it's set in the world of a macabre fairy tale, and the drums and airiness throughout only sell my feelings even more. His voice is a unique blend of anger, desperation, and triumph. At parts he's deeply revealing himself, while at other turns he's pulling back and attacking like a stalker in the dark. His piano skills are impeccable, and they make songs like “Too Bright” really touch your soul.
9. DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979, THE PHYSICAL WORLD
Make an incredible album, break up, then reconvene nearly a decade later and make an album that combines what you attempted initially and make the record more raucous and thoughtfully paced. That's what occurred here. The album has everything a fan of the first album would want, and it's a bit more centered and mature. There are still quite a few carefree songs about nonsensical topics, but a track like “White is Red” wouldn't have been possible a decade ago. Drummer/ singer Grainger and keyboardist/ bassist Keeler grew a bit and you can tell in terms of tightness in music and also lyrics. For me, it's a triumphant return and a big leap in technicality, and if you were a fan in the first place, do yourself a favor and check out this long awaited and pined for second album, it's worth your time. Trust me.
8. FIRST AID KIT, STAY GOLD
These sisters from Sweden have over the last few years, become one of the most interesting bands I've come into contact with. For example, how do people from the cold lands of Sweden perfect American Folk Rock with a country twinge. It's really quite impressive. The landscapes they paint for us, intertwined with the soaring instrumental elements, makes for a relaxed, but exhilarating ride. Songs like “Stay Gold” warm over you like a reassuring friend nurturing you, while “ Shattered & Hollow” is a gut wrenching tale of discovery amid a troublesome world. Perhaps the best song on the album, which finds us near the records conclusion, “Heaven Knows” is a exultant dance that brings me back to a old country barn where gas lit lamps are providing the light.
7. THE WAR ON DRUGS, LOST IN THE DREAM
If you've been keeping track like I have, you know that this album is cleaning up on slots that very often reach number one on year end album polls. There's a good reason for that, but on this list is climbs to the number 7 slot. The album itself is a whirlwind of color, and deep contours. I've used this term before for other musicians, but it fits, so I'm using it again. The music, especially the vocals in areas, has a translucent quality to it, and it really makes the album have it's own identity. The drumming, brought to us by Charlie Hall, is also well executed. This is Halls' first record as a permanent member, and I say he very much earns his stripes. A year ago I wouldn't have thought I'd be so into this album, but the War on Drugs “Lost in a Dream” has cast a warm, hypnotic spell on me.
6. SUN KIL MOON, BENJI
A great thing about checking out various websites for new music is when you finally give a listen to a band you have heard of, but never heard. That's what happened this year with Sun Kil Moon, and his eerily still “Benji.” On this, Mark Kozelek's sixth entry as Sun Kil Moon, you're treated to mostly acoustic, yet strongly atmospheric songs ranging in topics from death(“Carissa”) to the trials of adolescence(“ Truck Driver”). While I'd never listened to his records before, the quality has the cognition to immediately embrace you and make you feel familiar. Not since the first Bon Iver record have I felt an album this cold, distant, and somber, while still able to feel close to it in a beautiful way. His voice alone beckons for a gorgeous winter day spent sitting on a pristine lake and huddling up for warmth. An album for winter reflection if there every was one.
5. RUN THE JEWELS, RUN THE JEWELS 2
With this album, El-P and Killer Mike not only took over underground hip hop, but they captured the Throne. I'm not even joking, they have slayed Kanye and Jay. Jay was a goner anyway, but Kanye is still amazing, so don't think I write that lightly. Not only is this the Rap album of the year, I can't remember the last time a “Supergroup” produced anything this fucking good. For years they've both been killing solo careers, and while being successful and underground, they've been on the verge of being well known for a hot second. This is that hot second. Even the vulgar lyrics on the song are awesome. “Fuck the law, they can eat my Dick, that's word to Pimp.” That's an actual lyric on a verse to probably the most bad-ass song on the whole record,”Oh My Darling Don't Cry.” These are the guys great enough to get a guest spot from Zach de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine to chime in on a track. That in itself doesn't happen often. If we're not gonna talk about lyrics, we can still talk about the endless beats that bust through the speakers and pummel the listener into submission. There are beats present here that make you laugh, bounce up and down endlessly, and nod your head from side to side like only a person listening to grade A Rap Music can. It's simply incredible, and to think, they've already been talking about Run the Jewels 3. They have arrived.
4. WARPAINT, WARPAINT
These ladies are killer, in the subtle, slow type of way. On this, their second full length, Warpaint navigates lush gardens with starry nights, all while giving into ominous layers at every turn. The band really does get better with every release, and their self titled is no exception. From openers “Intro” and “Keep it Healthy” the vocals go back and forth between Theresa and Emily respectively, and it works very efficaciously. It's rare that a band seems to get not only better between releases, but this much better. They've become one of my favorite bands in a very small window of time, and the creativity they bring to the table is a welcome new air. While many songs don't exceed a certain speed(it's a very chill, contemplative record), the slow bear hug that Stella, Emily, Theresa, and Jenny give the listener is something you can't really break free from, even if you wanted to. Perhaps the most upbeat, dance oriented song on the album, “Disco//Very” isn't even what you might consider dance-able. Yet somehow, it still makes your hips gyrate and give in to the pleasure of the music. The band had a real breakthrough with the “Love is to Die,”(It was on True Blood for Christ sakes) and don't expect it to stop anytime soon. This is a band that is going to get even bigger, don't be late to the party.
3. APHEX TWIN, SYRO
This list has quite a few albums that took over five years to make, but in this instance, the wait for the next Richard D. James masterpiece leaves them all in the dust. Coming about thirteen years after his last release, the record has the same precision and ambient soundscapes you'd expect from any Aphex Twin album, and in the end, that's the most important thing. It's been reported that James has hundreds of pieces of work completed, and for whatever reason he doesn't put them out. I'm bittersweet about it. The albums are all so good you want to hear them, but you also respect someone for clearly doing whatever the fuck they want. Among classic electronic music, Aphex Twin is, and perhaps always will be a cut above the rest. On Syro, James is flicking his nose at industry standards, and in the process, giving us some of his best. Tracks lke “CIRCLONT6A [141.98] [syrobonkus mix]” present frantic beats while making you feel like you're in a video game. This is a exercise which James, who still records under multiple other aliases, does with ease. The music is layered to a point where a mere mortal would lose there mind, but as Aphex Twin, it's done precisely and with an exactness that to be honest, is greatly missing in music. This is a dude who couldn't care less about what the industry thinks of him, and that's great, especially when you consider how well produced and put together the albums are.
2. LYKKE LI, I NEVER LEARN
By this time in our knowledge about the Swedish gothic popstar, we should be growing tired of Li's sorrow filled music, yet we're not. The reason for that is her skill to be relatable. People can connect to lost love, and the ache of a broken heart. An album about heartache and a breakup is tricky to do. It requires complete openness and honesty, both in terms of how you want to convey the pain, but also in explaining how to move on. This is a thing she accomplishes with ease, even if she has to give her soul to the music. You can tell she took her time with this one, and the pay off is worth it. She got better in the three years since her last release. Tracks like album opener “I Never Learn” come fit with chamber bells, and her vocals almost have an echo, forlorn quality to them. You hear this numerous times on the record, and each time it's done in a way as to not feel played out. One of the best songs, “Never Gonna Love Again” hits at a critical point in an album where other records start to lose their nerve. “Love Again” is the declaration of love's ruthless abandon, and it creates a cold, but sobering reality that this is all part of the trial. She's spent the last three albums perfecting the art of a entity yearning for love and to grow from defeat, and while I'm interested to see how her style will change after this record, I wouldn't in the least bit be upset if she perfected her craft even more.
1. BECK, MORNING PHASE
Welcome back Mr. Hansen. This album comes to us six years after his last album “Modern Guilt,” and although it wasn't an easy journey for him, the work clearly paid off. A companion album of sorts to the melancholic, earthy“Sea Change,” “Morning Phase” is a more grounded, mature album with textures that put you in a type of head space that few artists can bring you to. Tracks like the ever haunting “Wave” bring you to a dark vulnerable place, while others like “Morning” and “Waking Light” are so gorgeously layered you never want to escape. /It's an album full of revelations not only about Beck himself, but of the listener. Listening to it I found myself being introduced to him for the first time again. That's what kind of record this is. I had almost given up on Beck, but this album shocked my love for him back to life in an emotional way. To say I was blown away by this album would be an understatement. Since it's released it's easily one of the album's I've gone back to most this year, and there's a reason for it. Beck took all the difficulties of the last several years, and turned it into one of his best, most emotionally appealing albums. My number one album of the year, “Beck, Morning Phase.”
I'll Be back January 5th with pieces on Arcade Fire, Massive Attack, MC Hammer, Bjork, and Daft Punk, as well as other gems. Happy New Years!!!
Mike Patton, for quite awhile has been one of my favorite musicians, period. Right after High school I became a Faith No More fan, and from then on, I slowly discussed his myriad side projects. Chief among them was the vastly off the wall, avant garde stylings of Mr. Bungle. Like many of his bands, quite a few of the other band members were pretty well known in strange circles, but Mr. Bungle was a different beast altogether. Often the albums had been exercises in randomness. Not in the Fantomas chaotic way, but in the you never knew what style was coming next way. Today another entry in the Albums of My Life series, the 1999 classic, “California.”
From the onset of the first track, “Sweet Charity” it's a very soothing sound. One of the best things about Patton is his ability to use his voice in a multitude of ways. It can cool, crisp, or angry and persistent. Rarely do you get a vocalist as good at various things, but with Patton it's never not there. During the first track, which has beach vibes that feel lifted straight from 1950's cheesy sun drenched romantic comedy, you feel totally at peace with the pace. Honestly, it's a great song for soaking up rays until a blue sky while you enjoy any choice of beverage.
No two songs on the album sound anything alike. “None of them Knew They were Robots” hits like bat out of hell, and it's at this point where I can realistically say this album would go perfect if synced up with “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” It's real treat of a record, and even more bizarrely, was released by Warner Brothers. This album would NEVER get released on that label these days. It just wouldn't happen. It's kinda sad actually.
During the tour to support this album, Mr. Bungle found themselves on the Sno-Core tour, alongside System of a Down and Incubus. Now I get how that would work, but for random fans of all bands included it must have been slightly funny and odd.
Song three, otherwise known as “Retrovertigo,” is easily my favorite song by the band. From the heart, it's a perfect all around sound. The gentle vocals of Patton make me think of glimmers of sun coming through clouds, and the acoustic guitar strumming is poignant and gorgeous. The chorus is another gem. “Now I'm finding Truth is a Ruin,” has always made me think of a periless journey through the mountains, only to discover whatever you were looking is a total rouse. The break open of the song though, is fabulous, and it's the crash of the song where the emotions truly come out for all to see. The effect they utilize on Patton's voice also plays the role of making it seem like a dream is slipping away, which I really like. Seriously though, one of the top ten songs he's ever been involved in, at least in my opinion.
“The Air-Conditioned Nightmare” comes next, and is just as random and strange as all the other songs. It goes from bongo dancing, to something reminiscent of an 60's go go routine, and in no time it's heavy as fuck, with all cylinders going full blast, The drumming by Danny Heifetz really drives that section home, and all around the album he's able to do exactly what needs to done to keep the music at an even keel, no matter where they might be heading next.
That's one of the things I most like about this band. It would be so hard for them get to where they did now I think, not because of the skill set, but because of how shitty the music industry and major labels are these days. Of course, Mike Patton has run Ipecac records for awhile, so they would likely be on that label, but it's a small imprint, and although it has many amazing artists, it simply doesn't compare of the Warner Brothers in the time that this record was made.
“Pink Cigarette” is textually, a gorgeous love song. It's always made me think of a Italian love song if only it was sang in English. From there, they tracks get weirder, if that was possible. “Golem II- The Bionic Vapour Boy” finds us at a jolly albeit slightly creepy meeting point, while the opening of “The Holy Filament” sounds a like cross between something in “Rosemary's Baby” and a weird Samurai film set in the future. I'm aware this might make little sense, but that's what I love about this band so much. Much of it can be left to interpretation, and many of the songs have alternating themes, styles, and arrangements. It's one of the most eye opening albums I've ever heard, and even to this day, it's always struck a cord in my odd mind.
The second to last song, “Vanity Fair,” is a doo-wop song straight from Mo Town, and it's the best representation of a love song on the record. This is the band in their black and white tuxedo best, and It makes me want to dress to the nine's and take my lady dancing underneath a darkly lit room and soak the night in.
“Goodbye Sober Day” meets us at the conclusion of the strange, but mildly brief excursion. It's another in a the line of weird tracks, but it's pretty awesome. Much of the song makes you feel like you're in an old school, campy as fuck horror film, and the technicolor vibe is creeping up on the couple trying to get through a haunted maze of trouble.
In conclusion, the album, while widely diverse, never feels like different musicians or bands, which ultimately works. It all sounds like the same group of guys, which makes you understand that this is a band that could do anything they wanted. It's one of the wildest albums I've ever heard, but it's still a solid gold record, and one that I'm grateful to have discovered.
Thanks for Reading, See you on Friday where I'll be posting the TOP TWENTY ALBUMS OF 2014 LIST, and mentioning some of the things we'll be discussing when I return in 2015. See you Friday!!
Kanye West is many things. He's controversial, a bit on the egotistical side, and he's a superstar of the likes rarely seen in pop music. He's also a musical genius capable of some of the best music the public has ever heard. There's a reason that even after all the drama and scandals, his albums are often hailed as masterpieces, and forward thinking in a genre where that concept isn't always accepted. With maybe two other artists, Arcade Fire and Radiohead, he's probably the most important musician or band creating music right now. Without a doubt, Kanye is simply amazing, and at the very least, his presence in hip hop and music in general is a blessing to music fans everywhere. Here's the top ten songs by the awesome, powerful Kanye West.
10. Good Life, Graduation
One of the more positive, summer time feeling songs, “Good Life” finds us at number ten on the countdown. This song to me is the epitome of fun. The beat is super fresh and clean, and a perfect example of what fun time rap can be when it's done properly. I mean seriously, don't you just imagine being on a yacht or some gigantic ship with the people closest to you as you rock out and enjoy the weather?
9. Flashing Lights, Graduation
Known for his creative videos as well as his music, this one has it all. The video is arresting to the eye, and it's simple plot really helps the music along. The song itself though is great. The song demonstrates the difficulties in a relationship, and the usage of the “Flashing Lights” theme throughout suggests the disorientation of being lost in a situation you can't control. The metaphor of “Like Katrina with no Fema” is a perfect one to explain the helplessness that the subject of the song feels at that moment. You feel powerless to help, but if you take the images of the video with the song, it makes it much easier to watch the downfall of a man.
8. Jesus Walks, The College Dropout
One of the key songs that made Kanye a household name. “Jesus Walks” is still a powerful song even a decade after it's release. And it's not hard to see why. The song's beat is masterfully done, and the lyrics, which are more or less serious in nature, is a indictment of a person trying to stay pure and good but also dealing with the incredible pressures of the music industry. Also this is the first instance of Kanye dropping hints and lines that are taken straight from really cool sources(I'm looking at you “Happy Gilmore” reference). The last chorus though, where the topic of how mentioning Jesus isn't prevalent in music is still dead on. You really don't hear it mentioned often, which I find strange considering most musicians thank the Lord after they win anything. Just some food for thought.
7. All of the Lights, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
It's really too bad Rhianna makes tons of money making her own marginally interesting msuic, when every song she guests on is a killer track. “All of the Lights” is perhaps the best example of this. The horns open up and her face rises above and beyond to drop this amazingly bumpy beat. It's just one example of how monumental this album was. Almost every song on it works, and this is one of the most clearly awesome tracks. The pain, anger, and resentment in the song are palpable, and you feel as though Kanye is walking through the track in a rageful haze. Imagine the camera work when Denzel Washington moves in the floating effect in the Film “Malcolm X” and tell me that same effect wouldn't work here. Maybe that's an obscure reference, but every time I hear this track I think of it.
6. Gold Digger, Late Registration
Before we talk about the potency of the track itself, it must be mentioned how ironic it is at who this impeccable artist is married to. Now, easily she's one of the hottest women on earth, and has done amazing things in her business, but I can't be the only one who finds the relationship a bit perplexing, especially considering this song and the tone it has. On to the song though, it was a giant smash, and with the chorus “She ain't messin' with no broke niggas,” Kanye as a force to be reckoned with had arrived. Seriously, do you remember how insanely popular this song was? The Ray Charles sample is also as vital to the song as the lyrical content is. It makes the song, and the inclusion of Jamie Foxx in the video was excellent. The lyrics here though are really the highlight. This fucking dude from Chicago with Polo's and a backpack showed up and murdered everyone with an album, and in less than three years he was the king of hip hop, a trophy I think he still has.
5. Blood on the Leaves, Yeezus
One of his most poignant, and honestly brutal songs. When I say brutal, I don't mean in the way that it's violent, but it's a song that is so cold, and uncompromising that you can't really distance yourself from the effects. Elements of the song differ greatly from the rough nature of the rest of the album, but that may be why the song works so well. It's a stark, wintry songs, and the horns are effective in the building of tension. Much of the album is West at his angry, intense best, but this song might be among the most concentrated in terms of musical anger. The VMA blackout performance was the perfect way to showcase the privacy of the song, and it's easily one of the best live Awards show performances I've ever seen.
4. Can't Tell Me Nothing, Graduation.
“Wait til I get my money right” is the absolute perfect opening to the song, and within seconds you find yourself bending your knees with hands in the hair swaying to the beats. This song is a clear portrayal, I think, of how West sees himself in everyday life. He completely recognizes how the public see's him, and he's aware of his transgression in the very public eye, but you get the impression that for one, he doesn't give a fuck, but also that his mind is so set on the finished product of his music, that anything else is of little importance. The female “ oh oh oh” highlighted through the song is likewise a great little added moment in the song that brings out the brilliance of this man to be album to mix and add touches here and there that most others wouldn't think of.
3. Black Skinhead, Yeezus
Right here, the ultimate collaboration between West and Daft Punk. The drumbeat is untouchable, and the hurried breathing's indicate a pace that is tough to catch up to. This is KW at his most racially dangerous, and he's unleashing his brilliant beast of lyrics on the unsuspecting public. He's totally unresponsive to the needs of others here, but that's what sets the song up to be so great. When he says “I'm aware I'm a Wolf,” you totally get that not only is he feasting on furious beats, but his hunger will not be laid to rest until he's damn good and ready. This album was polarizing, mostly because of the unabashed nature of the tracks, but even on an album of unrelenting tracks, “Black Skinhead” stands out as the ultimate warning cry of his career.
2. POWER, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
When I first heard this song, I really couldn't believe it. The skill at which he manages the beats, the chants, and the clapping only adds to the strength of the song. And also can we toast a motherfucker who has the depth and knowledge in music to use a King Crimson sample in modern rap music? That's why he's the best. He's not using tired or predictable anything in his creations, and that's the reason time after time he's hailed as one of our most important musicians. No one is doing anything near his league, and on song's like “POWER” he explains why he's at the top. He also has the gift of being completely honest with himself and how he's aware of the way the world perceives him, at least when it comes to the way in which he sometimes handles himself. While it only gets to number two here, it's a song that shouldn't be ignored, and is an all time classic in his career.
1. Runaway, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The performance of this at the VMA's a few years ago signified that one, West knew the wrong's he had committed, and also, that his music was about to go to another level. The honesty in the song is tough to comprehend, possible because no one in music is as honest as Mr. West is. You also get the feeling that as harshly as the public perceives him, it's nothing compared to how hard he is on himself when trying to stay relevant and push his music to the next height of originality. His art is everything. On “Runaway” the piano beat and shouted samples are as important as the lyrics are. The piano keys steadily moving through the song keeps the tempo at a unnerving pace, but this song isn't meant to be a love filled track. This song is an announcement of the mistakes he's repeatedly made, and the struggle he finds himself him. “Runaway” remains West's crowning achievement, and likely the only form of apology the world will ever get. That apology is fine though, because we're lucky to have him around to make compelling music, and I get the impression he's only getting started.
Thanks for reading, see you Wednesday.
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 song's 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 in his career, 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.
Album closer “Ringfinger,” it's one of the best songs they have while at the same time not really being mentioned often as a favorite among fans. It hasn't been played live in at least 15 years, but it still resonates the feelings of a relationship so one sided you want to help the person singing get out.
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. The band had managed to snag a spot on 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.
Following his acrimonious departure from TVT, Reznor and company began work on a quick, extremely intense E.P. Titled “Broken.” It's easily the heaviest, most in your face collection of songs ever done under the Nin banner. Songs like lead single “Wish,” “Happiness in Slavery,” have a certain fierceness and fire to it that quite frankly, isn't apparent on the previous album. This very much had to do with the state of mind of the band at the time. They hated being stuck on TVT, even to the point that they made “Broken” under a different band name so it wouldn't get taken by the company. Speaking on the name change though, I can't help but wonder if the choice to go even more heavy and dark on the E.P. was a conscious choice to sound like a different band.
This album 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, “Broken” 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 for the band, 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 sounds 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 in 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 insanely brutal 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 inNIN'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 classic. 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 they ever made.
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 escellent 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 how 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.”
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 tinges 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.”
One of the best tracks on the album, for my money, is “The Line Begins to Blur.” The thump driven quality of the beat, 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 to 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.
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. It all began 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 view points of the resistance. 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 view point 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 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 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, I foresee the lesson of the album being lost on most everyone. 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 and diligent, that we didn't find out if was for nothing until it was too late. Like the track says, “All we ever were, just zero's and one's”
From there, the next year 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 moniker. 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've 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 & 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 this past summer. That was without a question one of the single best shows I've ever seen in my life. I wished more show's like that happened.
Which brings us to the now. What is Reznor currently working on? Who actually knows, but whether it's new NIN record, or a new How to Destroy Angels album, I'm sure it will be worth the wait. Over the course of twenty plus years he's made interesting, thought provoking music that no one dared to before he was unleashed on the scene. Personally I can't wait, and anticipate whatever it is with optimism. Hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for reading! See you Friday.
I imagine begin in a band with only one other person can be difficult at times. You have only one person to share it with, and you end up spending an extreme amount of time with that person. I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up feeling like a marriage. Anyway, today we're going to talk about some of my favorite, and some of the most well known. This isn't a long post, but hopefully you have heard of some of these, or at least can check out some new acts for your listening pleasure.
BEST ALBUM: Celebration Rock
These Canadians have only released two albums so far, but even the leap in quality between records have been impressive. They have intensity, spirit, and the ability to make you feel young and invincible again. Since releasing their first album “Post-Nothing,” they've begun to get bigger and have steadily moved up on festival posters. The show I witnessed at Bonnaroo 2013 was one of the better sets that weekend, and I really can't wait to see what the next album sounds like.
Simon & Garfunkel
BEST ALBUM: The Graduate soundtrack
So I'm a casual fan of the band, but by no means would I say I'm well versed in the world they've created with their gorgeous songs. Having said that though, you can't really discuss two member bands without at least mentioning them. “Sound of Silence” and the excellent “Graduate” soundtrack are some of the most loved pieces of music from that time period, and for good reason. Seriously though, one of the biggest bands of all time, and they deserved to be recognized for their massive contributions.
BEST ALBUM: Silent Shout
This band, who sadly just broke up, is one of the reasons I'm so into forward thinking electronica. Over the course of four proper studio albums, and two other very strange concept records, they shaped a sound that is both extremely interesting but also distantly cold. Their breakout album, “Silent Shout” remains one of my favorite all time albums, and while the last record. “Shaking the Habitual,” was a little bit out there for me, it was still a very thought provoking album. I wished more bands took their art and stance more seriously.
Run the Jewels
BEST ALBUM: Run the Jewels 2
Unless you've been under a rock this year, you've probably heard of the relatively new, but simply amazing super group consisting of El-P and Killer Mike. Both have been known for really great rap albums over the years, but together it's a little ridiculous. Seriously these guys are about to blow up big time, and it's much deserved. They've both been well known in underground hip hop circles, but I think it's finally time the conquer the big circles of the genre. They both have the skills to do so with ease, as long as they keep making awesome collaborative albums.
BEST ALBUM: Discovery
One of the most important bands of the last two decades. Since the 90's this act has been slowly releasing music as it sees fit, and never compromising for anything. At this point it's a bit silly how well known and popular they are. This is a band that will likely never tour again, but everyone continually wants them to do only that. Lucky for me I was able to see them three times, but it's likely to stay at that number. They have amazing beats, really cool visuals to add to the music, and the level at which they operate to get their precise goal is extremely high. In short, and for better or worse, this is the band that has changed electronic music for the forthcoming decades.
the White Stripes
BEST ALBUM: Elephant
Basically Jack White is a super prolific player, involved in a variety of things all the time, but it's hard to say if he would have been this way if things hadn't taken off with the White Stripes. Those albums with his ex wife Meg are some of the best rock n roll albums of the late 90's and early aughts, and the style they brought to the table helped to shape a sort of new rock revival. Sure the Strokes helped that too, but no way are the Strokes even half as good as White is by himself. The band may be over, but at least he's still making awesome music and we have all the great White Stripes albums to fall back on.
BEST ALBUM: Watch the Throne
Two of the biggest rappers in the world join forces to make an album. Both Jay and Kanye have been well known for years, and while Jay have slid in quality somewhat over the years,, Kanye is just getting better with each album. Having said that, the lone album so fair by the group is an example of just how great they are, not only at rapping, but also at production value. Hopefully the rumors of a beef aren't true and these guys get back together for round two, because I'm sure it would be just as fun and wild as the first go round.
Thanks for reading, see you Wednesday!
Some albums don't find you at the most opportune times. That's just how it goes. This is one of those records. If this had found me when I was struggling through personal turmoil and loss, it likely would have made an even bigger impact. Having said that, it's not too often that an album from someone I hadn't heard of hits you that hard. This album though, was a breath of fresh air for me, and getting to learn it and enjoy it with my now wife was a terrific experience, Today we add another entry to the Albums of my Life series, with Bon Iver's slow, thoughtfully crafted debut “For Emma, Forever Ago.”
By now, everyone knows the story. After a difficult breakup, main musician Justin Vernon was suffering from a very bad illness. I won't go in to that too much, simply because it's been beaten to death, but that's how he found himself in a cabin trying to recover both mentally and physically.
Even from opening track “Flume,” you can hear the singularity in the creation of the record. Most of the songs are primarily Vernon himself, while some tracks added things after the initial recording. It's very rare where an album goes so extremely well with the surroundings under which it was recorded in, but “For Emma, Forever Ago,” is undeniably one of those records. The coldness of the north stubbornly sneaks in to the album itself, and you can feel it's presence throughout.
One of the big stand out tracks of the album, perhaps the most noticeable track, finds us at number three. “Skinny Love” is such a powerful, emotional love song that it stays with you long after you hear it. The guitar acoustically emerges quietly, and the next thing that arrives is Vernon's earnest, gentle but firm voice. Seriously he has one of the most genuine voices in all of music. You feel his struggle to make things work when he tells “you to be patient.” Since I was introduced to the song it had a big impact on me, and it's managed to stay with me for years. That's what makes a good song great.
The next track, “Wolves(Acts 1 and 2)” is one of the quietest songs on the album, but it's also one of the most beautiful. One of the most effective things utilized here are the very faint background vocals that bleed through every now and then. The song, while super quiet ad forlorn early on, gently builds to a wonderful crescendo at the end. “What might have been Lost” bellows out like a cloud over water while the strumming of the guitar and drums become more prominent. Then everything vanishes again and we're left with Vernon's soft, painful voice. It's really one of the best sections of the whole album.
The second half of the album though, is where you fully realize how amazing this record is. “Blindsided” has the soft reflection reminiscent of walking through the snow gathering wood for the coming storm. Much of the album has that quality to it, but since it's primarily the setting under which the album was created, it completely works and makes sense.
Listening to this, I always wonder what the relationship was like. Most likely it had it's ups and down. I mean, the relationship did end after all, but almost certainly it had it's good sections. Even more curious to me though is how the former partner of Vernon feels about potentially being the inspiration for the record. Like I mentioned earlier, it's also likely that the media and music buzz filters made more of this than was warranted, but I can't be the only one who is curious what this person thinks of the record right?
“Creature Fear” is easily one of the most powerful songs on the album. I don't mean powerful in terms of like, heavy or loud, but what he does here still has a good bit of force to it. At first you get a very quiet song, and again you feel his reservations about a situation, but then the guitar picks up, as does his voice, and you have this warm, full sound. It very much reminds of sitting in front of a fire, but most of this album does. After the fullness concludes though, it's back to sullen quiet and guitar picking, but it picks up again, and with it comes a textural background that wasn't as prominent previously. The drums are there, and they segue into the next track, “Team.” “Team” really isn't even it's own song, but rather a continuation, but I like that the drums from the previous track are still there, and the beat goes on. It's one of the few sections where music and not vocals is the most important function, but it works well. Also the whistling at the end is a unique touch that you don't hear too often,
“For Emma,” the second to last song, is not only the title track in part, but it's also the most upbeat song on the album. It utilizes the whole band, and the song is very complete. The beat also makes it really easy to move to. Next, the song has always reminded me, at least in terms of instrumentation, to Neutral Milk Hotel. NMH might be a bit more energetic at times, but the way Vernon melds the horns, soundscapes in the background, and the upbeat nature of the song automatically makes me think this was at least in part inspired by Jeff Mangum and company.
The last song, and most certainly the prettiest, is “re:stacks.” The track is pretty self explanatory, and to me tells the story of a man fully realizing that things aren't going to be all right, and that it's time to walk away and start fresh. I have no factual basis for this, but one of my favorite things about any music is the ability to take the source material and use it to form your own thoughts and opinions. Music can be many things for many people, but although everyone hears the same songs, each interpretation can be different.
The idea of the song's core to me is the memories of growing up, and the plethora of troubling times that come with it. Maybe I'm stretching here a bit, but that's what my theory of the song is. Anyway, Vernon on this track draws on back in to his world one more time, and relays the importance of what we just listened to. We end the album, much like we began it. A soft but glorious voice, quietly strumming an acoustic guitar, and working through his own difficulties.
It's not often an album comes along and is the perfect memory of a time that has already passed, but Bon Iver's “For Emma, Forever Ago” will always serve not only as a reminder that things get hard, but also as a reward for having made it through the bullshit with my sanity and self respect intact. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.
Over time, the Foo Fighters have managed to not only break out of the shadow of a certain Nirvana lead singer, but have also gone to be an extremely successful band. This is due to the genuine love of music by the band, but it also has to do with the great skill of song writing that the band has. With Dave Grohl leading them, Pat Smear, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel and Chris Shiflett have made hit after hit, and yet they just seem to be warming up. Here's the list of the Top ten Foo Fighters songs. Hope you enjoy
10. Stacked Actors, There is Nothing
Left to Lose
We start with the the album opener
from the bands third release, the highly underrated 'There is
Nothing Left to Lose.” The opening thump of guitar and drums is
particularly gnarly for this band, but we're quickly dashed up into
a more familiar sound from the band. I've always thought of this
song as pretty gritty and angry, and the lyrics don't do anything to
persuade you of otherwise. The song also has that more immediate
feel to is because unlike the other albums, this was recorded as a
three piece. It's been rumored this is a fuck you to the always
horrible Courtney Love, but no one has even confirmed this. Overall
though, it's a pretty heavy song full of angst and power, and if you
haven't checked it out, you should. It's the Foo Fighters at their
9. February Stars, The Colour and the
Among this album are many gems, but
this remains one of the tracks you don't hear mentioned too often.
The song itself is a more mellow, sweeter side than what we're used
to from them, but it never feels out of place or misguided. The
subtle buildup and hopeful lyrics really do make you want a certain
type of love and trust. “You ask for walls I build them higher”
is a perfect reflection of how one person is willing to do anything
for the person they love the most. Once the song hits the high notes
though, that's when the emotional core of the song really becomes
present. It's one of their most uplifting songs, and for a band that
has many of them, that's saying something.
8. All My Life, One By One
Maybe the best opening song in the
band's entire career, and also one of the most rocking they ever
created. The buildup is awesome, and the effect when the song
explodes is unavoidable. What's even more impressive about this
track is how it manages to have a immediate punk rock feel to it
while also feeling like a traditional rock n roll song. It also
happens to have one of the best guitar parts in modern rock history.
Grohl's focus and unrelenting screams towards the end of the song
solidify the song as a hard core rocker, and for many it's their
favorite song by the band. When this song came out it served as a
reminder that they could still rock the fuck out, and they still
haven't let up.
7. Arlandia, Wasting Light.
Probably my favorite song off of this
album. I was lucky to see it live not once, but twice. The opening
blast gives way to a simple guitar and drum part, but what really
stands out here is the overall message. I feel like it's directed at
a imaginary relationship that has long run it's course. It also has
a certain hint of hypocrisy to it, and the main character in the
track seems less than desirable. Truth be told, the song serves more
as a letter to the area of Virginia where Grohl grew up, but there's
no denying certain aspects of the song remind you of a specific
person. Having said that, the vocals near the bridge of the song are
some of the best delivered lines I've ever heard, and it really
proves to take the song in a different, albeit interesting
6. Let It Die, Echoes, Silence,
Patience and Grace
The acoustic opening is very well
managed, and the accompanying sounds that slowly build up get the
song off to a solid but gentle start. Honestly I wished Dave Grohl
would sing softer a little bit more often because it's so enjoyable.
I'm aware he won't use it if it's not warranted, but it's really
good. This song though is one of the darker tracks, and it's pretty
obvious it's a song about suffering and loss. I'm going to assume
the focus is of the struggles of becoming overwhelmed by addiction.
Personally I've been through difficult situations, but thankfully
hardcore addiction to something has never been one of them. I'm
unaware if band members have struggled with it, but at least we can
be sure that people affiliated with the band have. It's a difficult
thing of course, and the power of song is a reminder that we can all
fall at times, but that strength and perseverance is one of the most
important tools to have in that fight.
5. Hey, Johnny Park!, The Colour and
One of the most amazing songs I've
ever heard from this band, without a doubt. The drums are the real
kick starter to the song, and with that as a lead off the song never
dissipates. Although scattered lyrically, the full sonic force of
the track can easily be felt. For a long time I though it was about
reaching an unattainable goal, but lately certain lyrics have made
me feel like it might be more about forced love, tendenices towards
stalking, and resentment. Either way, the ending section has some of
the most powerful lyrics I've ever heard, and it's a main reason why
the song has stuck with me for so long. “Now that I've found my
reward, throw it away long before, I share a piece of mine with
you” speaks to me about the courage to be honest in a difficult
situation and feeling like after you've made your peace, everyone is
free to go about their lives.
4. Times Like These, One by One
I was hearing this song a lot during a
severely tricky time in my life, and as cheesy as it is, it really
did help me to learn to not get overwhelmed and sucked down by
negativity. The positivity bleeding through the entire song serves
as a great indicator that life goes on, even when we think we don't
want it to. When this song reached me, it relayed all the pain, fear
and torment I was going through and made it more bearable and easier
to deal with. You can tell also that the song is genuinely powerful
to the band. It helps when you can tell the band believes in what is
coming through the speakers, and without a doubt, you can feel it
here. Next time you're struggling, try to think about something
good, and soon enough, things will seem better.
3. Best of You, In Your Honor
This song is a fucking force of
nature. Relationships are incredibly hard, and life is hard also.
The song, which tells the story of a couple whose lives are
increasingly at odds with the foundation they once nourished. While
it's not a super optimistic song, it's one of their best and most
solidly well written songs. When I do these lists, I try not to pick
the most well known songs, but there are times you simply can't
avoid it. Songs like this are both amazingly wonderful and very well
regarded, and there's a reason for it. The Foo Fighters have the
uncanny ability to relate to real life troubles. One reason for
that, I think is because they never lost sight of why they were in
the game. That what makes them still so awesome after so long. When
a band loves what their doing, it's extremely obvious. And for the
Foo's, it's obvious
2. My Hero, The Colour and the Shape
Another very worthy track in regards
to their legacy of great rock n roll. The guitar part is so simple
and bad ass that even after hearing this song hundreds of time, it's
still one of the stand out parts for me. Just listening to the track
makes me think of days as a younger kid, playing with my dad, and
laughing and joking. Per se, I guess I don't have a hero, although
the lyrics have always made me feel like it's a song that has a
fatherly feel to it. Whether it's from the point of view of a
father, or a child looking upon with amazement of a parental figure,
I can't be sure. The video very much ties into that also. The man
saving the family, and then simply walking away after the work had
been done. He does it gladly, and he's grateful he could do it. The
video is pretty powerful, but it doesn't compare to the force of the
song, and that's saying a lot. The song, in the end though, remains
one of their most pure, honest, and among the best that they've ever
graciously given to the world.
1. Everlong, The Colour and the
I feel like this was very obvious. Not
to say it isn't totally worthy though, because without a second
thought, it is. Their are few times in music where the awesome
quality of the song is matched perfectly by the greatness of the
music video, but “Everlong” is one of the rare moments. The
video is full of majesty, and while it's a bit silly, to me it's one
of the most original videos of the last twenty years. Getting to the
song though, it's completely amazing in almost every way possible.
The brooding but quickly guitar opening, giving way to the initially
subdued lyrics, paints a perfect picture of a happy, loving
relationship. As a person who has shared incredible moments with the
person I love, I can't help but smile when I think of that. The
chorus is also very easy to sing along to, which I think makes it
even easier to allow yourself to be taken captive by it. This
remains a song that I'll always crank up and scream the lyrics to,
simply because it's a fucking amazing track, and when a song this
unreal and magical appears, it doesn't do it justice to just quietly
hum and sing along to it. A powerful song needs to be met with a
powerful reaction, and every time I've seen it performed live, it's
been met with the kind of love that only comes from a song being
Thanks for reading, See you Wednesday!
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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