When At the Drive In broke up, leading members Omar Rodríguez-López and vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala made a left turn so surprising that many were uncertain. However, it worked, in spades actually and The Mars Volta became one of the great post rock, almost demented jam bands of the early 2000’s. Today we discuss the bands ten best songs, and try to make sense of it all. Enjoy, and wish me luck!
10. ABERINKULA, THE BEDLAM IN GOLIATH
One of the best mechanisms the band has is the ability to whirlwind this retro avant-garde prog rock with a type of trippy Spanish influences. Over and over again they mix the two to become a band that is as creative as they are free wielding shape shifters. This track is a perfect example of that artistry. It’s King Crimson meets Santana, and that mythological influence captivates everything in the song.
9. VISCERA EYES, AMPUTECHRE
Drawing an audience has never been a problem for this band, but I doubt they care immensely. This gives the band cause to do whatever they want. “Viscera Eyes” is a perfect example of that. Mixing Spanish and English lyrics captures both sides of the band while still expanding their sound. At over nine minutes in length, it’s another in a long line of adventurous tracks that make you feel like a fever dream setting out for your prize.
8. CICATRIZ ESP, DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
Quite a few of these selections come off the seminal full length record, and all these years later the album is still mesmerizing, along with this song which finds us at number eight. It’s got quite the drum beat, but the real show is the guitar work, which I think was done by Frusciante of the RHCP. It has this middle section that welcomes the calm before the storm, then welcomes the storm itself while Baxter screams “defender.” It’s a powerful moment for sure, and a great song to boot.
7. TETRAGRAMMATON, AMPUTECHRE
Easily the longest track to make this list, this sixteen minute journey exemplifies how the band delves into otherworldly grooves and hooks and never looks back. It meanders between weird Latin infused arrangements while embracing the prog rock nature of the band itself. At this point in the band’s career they were basically operating freely and away from normal operating procedures for most successful bands. Trusting their instincts and making something that is wide ranging yet thought provoking is what got them to where they ended up, so why not keep trusting it?
6. TEFLON, OCTAHEDRON
I remember hearing this song when they album released, and quite frankly it had me spellbound. It’s hypnotic and captivating in leaps and bounds. The swerving mechanics bringing forth the twilight zone-sequel instrumental section, while again the vocals roam like a once caged but now free animal. It’s curious and darkly mesmerizing and it’s one of their best, weirdly mid tempo classic. It’s even better to experience live, as I did finally at Bonnaroo 2009.
5. INERTIATIC ESP, DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
Maybe their best known song, but also their mass welcome to the music world at large. It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up for the entirety of nearly four minutes and thirty seconds. The drumming, coupled with the madness of the screeching guitar make it a truly dynamic song. Much of the vocals and words are non sensibility, but that finds its way into this band pretty often. It honestly works though. Sometimes, for certain songs I feel like the lyrical content isn’t as important as the overall quality of the song. But, this is part of where they thrive. We don’t have to understand everything.
4. METATRON, THE BEDLAM IN GOLIATH
I’ve used this before to describe this band, but the wild , free wielding nature is one of the best attributes of the Mars Volta. Strange unorthodox soundscapes lay the groundwork for a song that’s as heavy and verbose as anything the band has ever done. Much of the lyrical content is jumbled into an abstract context, but the real winner here is the drum work, I believe by Jon Theodore( they change members quite often) is electric and pummeling all at the same time. It’s one of the best aspects of the song, and it helps “Metatron” land at number four in the countdown.
3. ROULETTE DARES(THE HAUNT OF), DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
Many songs on “Deloused” are navigations into uncertain waters, but “Roulette Dares” actually ends up being one of the more straightforward, albeit jammy tracks on the record. The gradual opening begins with drums and off the wall guitar renderings, but with an explosion of other instruments joining the fold, the song becomes more epic than any other song found in this countdown. Cedric's vocals are strong and soaring, but he’s also able to bring it down a notch when needed. Honestly the contrast between the two vocal stylings show how powerful and capable he is as a vocalist, and the song is better because of it.
2. THE WIDOW, FRANCES THE MUTE
After a huge debut like the band had, it was somewhat expected for most fans to be underwhelmed by what they cooked up next. It’s not because of the end product is bad, but rather I think it had to do with the length of the album and how many of the songs seemed to be one big long piece that had to be played as one. Thankfully, the second track on the album,”The Widow,” is a song that hides hardly any mystery and has few drastic changes throughout. This juxtaposition helps the album to find some common ground in its arrangement. It’s more of a straight ahead track than what the band is known for, but it also ends up being one of the best the band has ever recorded. The agony in Cedrics voice is obvious, and with all the other parts working together the song is able to become profound and ultimately engaging and rich.
1. TELEVATORS, DELOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
I’m not sure when this ended up being my favorite song by this band, but during the years I ended up falling in love with this band “TELEVATORS” always stood out to me as an imperfect masterpiece. It’s weirdly arranged but still maintains a more linear songwriting approach than many of their other contributions. The slowly building background sections are gorgeously layered, and when Baxter suggests that “the chalk outline will circle this city,” you get the feeling he’s weapons for a divisive culture on the edge of collapse. It’s a sobering song in a heap of exploratory songs that shows that the band isn’t all weird and alien like. In the end it ends up being the band’s best overall song, which is why it ends our countdown at number one. Thanks for reading, I hoped you enjoyed!
Artists by nature are allowed to be chameleons to a certain extent. The album or songs you write as a 20 year old might draw from very different places than it will when you’re gaining in years. It’s all part of the growth and maturity that comes with being a performer and an adult, as a matter of fact. That’s where we find the inspiration for today’s post, about up and coming, potential superstar in the making, Mitski.
Since arriving modestly in 2012 with her album “Lush,” her music has been about personally engaging emotions that overwhelm while also waking you up to how these deterrents can be fought and ultimately conquered. The record, along with her next self released album “Retired from Sad, New Career in Business,” are both engaging and worth a listen. On “Retired,” we get a more orchestral movements along with her silky yet sullen voice whispering from the darkness, trying to lull the listener into a dark, albeit engaging emotional place. One of the best tracks on the album, “Shame” features violin chords that cut deep with tension and a foreboding that is often not heard outside of film scores or during haunting symphonies. It’s an early testament to her pushing herself musically, and even without a huge budget and no name recognition, it stands proudly as an early sign of excellence that portents to what future Mitski works will showcase.
In 2016 though, at the age of 26, right as most adults are still trying to gain traction and make a name for themselves (in whatever field they happen to be in) Mitski took that dive and released a record that was not only hailed by indie music types, but also caused people to take notice to this soft spoken but direct Japanese American songwriter named Mitski Miyawaki. That record, “Puberty 2,” explores the dense and intimidating nature of things like growing up racially obscured in terms of how to balance the concepts of cultures that often wildly misalign in how events are felt, showcased and ultimately handled. Her experience in this is likely normal for others like her who grew up walking the line between having a profound culture from one point of view while still trying to fit in in whatever culture you spent more time. It’s a struggle that bleeds through the whole record, but it doesn’t ever get black and white in terms of what’s right and wrong. I’ve found in dealing with culture clashes there often isn’t a “this is right or this is wrong” standpoint. Certain people just do things differently from how my family might do it, but it’s not wrong or right. It’s just how it is.
Songs like the powerful opener “Happy,” are engaging in their sexuality but also frank about the turbulence of any potential romantic relationship. Her lyrics are dirty in message but they way she manipulates the words ends up being more romantically cathartic than perhaps it’s meant to be. It’s another example of her word play when she talks about “happy came into me,” as she’s describing the bliss of love making with the person of her choosing. Other songs like “Dan the Dancer” brim with immediacy courtesy of the rhythmic guitar sections. It’s moments like this that capture the listener while also making departures that an unknowing fan might not expect. It’s this variance of sound that’s makes difficult to anticipate what might come next. At least it’s exciting thought provoking music though.
One of the best, standout tracks on “Puberty,” “Your Best American Girl” finds its entrance about fifteen minutes in, but it’s musicality, vocals, and lyrical content stand as the best on the record. The trepidation composed throughout the track is palpable and agony driven. At the root of the track is the regret and uncertainty of being in love but of also feeling like the way you were brought up isn’t in line with what others perceive as being the best way. Again this speaks to the culture clash of being a Japanese born American and having to navigate the difficult task of being from two juxtaposing worlds and ways of life. “Puberty 2” ended up getting accolades from various indie music blogs, justifiably so, but Mitski’s next trick would be more eye opening and raw than anything else she has released thus far.
Released last year to widespread acclaim, “Be the Cowboy” has everything her fans have grown to love, but it’s pouring with dark pop tendencies. Take the first track “Geyser,” it’s a blustering harmonization of dinky lit synth, with Mitski’s voice calling from the darkness for us to join her. From there the album delves into what the artist Mitski has described as her “saddest record” to date. And boy let me tell you she wasn’t joking. Over the 38 minute run time, you feel her pain and desperation. Tracks like “Washing Machine Heart” might seem more upbeat than others but the lyrical content still makes you want to weep with her and tell her it will be ok.
Albums like this can be difficult to get through. Mostly what it boils down to for me is how closely do I want to be engaged to these forbidding, often deceptive thoughts. Many of the songs here simply work, like “Remember My Name” with its pure vocals and walloping drum section, it’s vaguely heartbreaking in scope, with the listener hoping for recognition in a world that pretty much lets everyone ignore everyone else at will. It’s small moments and observations like this that gave the album growing room and high praise. It’s also why among many publications and websites this record, this “Be the Cowboy”, came bursting through and landed atop most of the year end albums lists of the year just completed. Hell even this very website named it the top album of 2018.
For some that classification speaks to what was perceived as a lukewarm music year, but to me it means the album was incredible and moving. To get to a point where your album is named “the best” means that you’re taking risks in your creation. That point brings me to the track “Lonesome Love.” It’s a bittersweet piece about attempts to convey your happiness through your outward beauty but then being let down. Included during the vocals is a line regarding how well she can take care of herself sexually. Twenty years ago a female musician likely would’ve been chastised for being “too graphic” or any of the other things bullshit men who don’t want women being too overly sexual to be. The point I’m trying to make is that to stay strong and independent and well, human, we have to be able to convey our feelings and to do so without being frightened of perception. The album is seething with these types of abandoned or pushed aside emotions, but in its final minutes Mitski takes a leap and manages to pull all the other messages during the album into one last, gorgeously layered track.
This track, “Two Slow Dancers,” is the type of song that breaks into your heart, making you remember all the times you were wrong, ill informed, or downright fucked over. I can feel the pain of being part of something that ends tragically or miserably- and in that moment we’re transported to a time where lovers held each other under soft lights. The picture she paints here is regrettable, not because we don’t want to deal with it, but because we all already have, and the weight of the pain in going back is just too much for our souls to handle. When Mitski harmonizes “To think that we could stay the same,” it brings moments fluttering into your subconscious. Moments that you’ll never forget, even if you want to, and also the joys and free wielding nature of being in love during the early highs of our 20’s, without a care into the world. That can’t last of course, and even though we hear the beautiful vocals of Mitski as she exclaims that “we get a few years and then it wants us back,” we know that life is filled not with ultimate second chances, but of regret and sadness. Like I said, the record is incredibly sad and vulnerable, but the best music was never made from a confident, happily reassured place. But rather from a place deep within us as we try to move past our own hang ups and mistakes. Thank you for reading.
It’s hard to make one truly amazing film. It’s entirely more difficult to become one of the most innovative auteurs of our time. Both of those are traits Scott holds, and oftentimes the execution is obvious, grandiose and spellbinding. Today we’re gonna discuss what I consider to be his five movies. Picking his best is difficult and many great films of Scott’s had to be left off the list. I tried to include a mixture of his exercises in filmmaking, and this list features horror, science fiction, crime drama and others. What they do have in common is their ability to create a world through a lens that is at times heartbreaking, shockingly scary and poignant. Without further adieu, I give you Ridley Scott’s best. Lastly, there will be spoilers throughout, so hopefully you’ve seen these. Enjoy.
5. THE MARTIAN, 2015
What could have been a film as depressing and downtrodden as any other survival type movie manages to be not only tough skinned in tone and delivery, but also quite funny throughout. Much of this is due to the screenplay for the film, based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir is thoroughly funny throughout, with sarcasm and snarkiness permeating through. Much of that is due to how well Matt Damon delivers in his role as Mark Wattley. You sense his desperation in the face of almost certain death, but the levity he brings to his trials helps the movie goer, and the character himself, brave the more difficult parts of the film. You ache for him when his crop dies, yet you laugh with him when he’s explaining the poor choices in music that his captain has. It’s a harrowing adventure sci-fi film, and it’s thoroughly rewatchable. The whole cast, which includes Jeff Daniels, Donald Glover, Jessica Chastain and more are all great, but this is Damon’s show and he owns its power.
4. AMERICAN GANGSTER, 2007
I went to see this with my former partner over a decade ago, and her reaction to loving the film still creeps out in my head. She hasn’t heard much about it. But was uninterested all the same. Nearly three hours later she was excitedly ranting about how great it was. In hindsight it’s hard not to expect Washington and Crowe to deliver the kind of top tier acting they’re known for, but this movie still wasn’t a completely sure thing. The plot involves a crime lord working his way up while working himself into the spotlight long pointed at his mentor, who passes away during the early moments of the film. On the other hand you have a cop, played by Russell Crowe, who’s similarly working his way back into the good graces of his police cohorts, while also trying to get his law degree. Both of these masters trade back and forths as they circle each other until the tension can’t be held anymore. It’s an excellent drama led by another insane cast, with Josh Brolin playing a huge asshole corrupt cop, and plenty of others. The tale spans years, continents, provocations and of course the ultimate fight among cops and the drug dealers who work to control the means of production.
3. ALIEN, 1979
John Landis once commented that Alien isn’t actually a science fiction film but gothic horror. To some extent he’s correct. However, in my opinion it’s able to be both sci -fi and gothic horror. It’s scary and futuristic, but the setting of the Nostromo makes the sense of dread even more palpable. Essentially it’s a film about a creature torementing the residents of a ship, but that’s just the beginning of the nightmare. Ellen Ripley, played brilliantly by Sigourney Weaver is a powerhouse of raw energy and instincts that she utilizes to defeat the Xenomorph in the film. Simply put this film is a masterpiece, and its success spawned decades of at times exciting film making and plot twists. But if not for the memorable moments of the first film, none of the others would have ever done to fruition. Between the infamous chest bursting scene, or all the grizzly deaths carried out by the “Alien,” Aliens was a different kind of horror tale, and it worked to massive success and the emergence of a female heroine that everyone could root for, even if the story of Ripley is ultimately heartbreaking and seemingly never ending.
2. GLADIATOR, 2000
From the epic battles and plot, to the grandiose set design and feel of the time, Gladiator is a rare Epic that did extremely well with both casual audiences and critics alike. Nearly twenty years later, it’s still a marvel to watch, and it only gets better with time. As Maximus, Russell Crowe is amazing in his role, and expels determination and brutal methods in his race to be welcomed to the afterlife where his family is waiting for him. Running close to three hours long, it’s easy to lose interest in some films, but Gladiator sucks you in and won’t let you go until all the wrongs of Commodus are undone and made right. It’s poetic and poignant, but also deeply dark and sinister, especially when Phoenix begins his descent into madness. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but it’s also just a really really good film. For that and all the other reasons I’ve explained, Gladiator lands at number 2 on our countdown, and it’s well deserved.
1. BLADE RUNNER, 1982
Really, where to even begin? Among Scott’s best films there tends to be a large division among the top choice. Some choose the coldness of Alien, others the engaging battles of films like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, while others like his softer more compassionate side with The Martian. For me though, Blade Runner tops all of them. I’ve always been a fan of dystopian science fiction, and this is widely considered among the all time best. From harrowing performances by Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young, to the gorgeously layered rubble of Los Angeles, it’s basically perfect. One thing though, they have multiple cuts of this film, so make sure to avoid the voiceover version. Stick with the final cut. It’s longer and more dense, but you get snapshots of the world more and it ends up being more thoughtful also. It’s honestly beautiful in its portrayal of humanoid machines trying to figure out what the right way to survive is. It’s a struggle for the characters, but understanding it is really a cinematic treasure and a joy to experience. It makes you think long and hard about our future and the unnerving future that is racing towards us. One of the best movies of all time, it only gets better and more relevant with age. I hope you enjoyed this little variety in the programming, and I’ll see y’all later. Thanks for reading.
In my opinion, the single greatest band of the last twenty years. What was wrongly assumed to be a no brainer one hit wonder band, the British powerhouses of nuance-Yorke, the brothers Greenwood, Selway, and O’Brien have consistently been able to transcend modern music and make thought-provoking music that’s not easily digestible but nonetheless has engrossed a massive following that is as fervent as the band is stubborn in pursuit of new exciting sounds and emotions. As another entry in our series of top five albums, I present to you the five best albums from the one and only Radiohead.
5. Amnesiac, 2001
Released just one year after Kid A (we’ll get to that later), this record is weird, yet motivating, but also with a sinister undertone, like a foreboding apocalypse. “Pyramid Song” is a masterpiece and maybe their best song period, while closer “Life in a Glasshouse” is a solemn, worrisome track that whimpers passionately, under a cloud of horns and uncertainty. So much of the album is opposite of its predecessor, yet it still manages to be a poignant reminder of the potential of the band. I feel like it’s often overlooked when discussing the bands best moments, but if you’re a fan of the band through and through, it’s a classic album that deserves accolades.
4. The Bends, 1995
Pablo Honey has come and gone, and while most people simply wrote them off as that one hit wonder band, the quintet set out to push themselves to make something more memorable than the first go ‘round. The result, 1995’s “The Bends” is a British arena rock album just waiting for a crowd big enough to rock arenas. The title track is snarky and conquering all in the same, and the guitar work on the track, as well as the accompanying record proved to everyone that they weren’t correct in writing the band off as the next big thing that went nowhere. “Fake Plastic Trees” is perhaps the most unusual ballad of the decade, while still being a beautiful soaring moment. “My Iron Lung” bristles in the sunlight before diving deep into anguish, while “”Black Star” is melancholy and honest. The album got people to put more stock into the band(at least critically), and by the time the band released their next album they were no longer a forgotten name from the early 90’s.
3. In Rainbows, 2007
Pay what you want, and get a record. I still remember the announcement of the bands seventh record, and definitely not understanding the angle. Either way, once you downloaded “In Rainbows” you were welcomed into a record that ended up being a landmark for the band. It has all the constructions and effects that a fan can recognize as being Radiohead, but it’s more casual and easy going then some of their more experimental records. It’s has the slow building moments like “Nude” and “Videotape,” but it also has measured angst and raucousness during segments like “Bodysnatchers” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place.” This record is hard to escape, even 12 years after the fact. It shows a band maturing in gorgeous but painful ways, and sees the band enter a new landscape of musical direction.
2. OK Computer, 1997
The album that changed everything. One moment they were a quite good but obscure band, and then the turn approached and the band went balls to the wall to break out of their earlier shell. The result is simple- the best album of the 90’s. In 1997 it was hailed as a masterpiece, which it is, but we hadn’t yet met this “new” Radiohead. Every track on “OK” works and sits nestled in comfortably with each other track. “Paranoid Android” is a whirlwind of sounds and energy, while “Let Down” is a thick mess of emotions and soundscapes. The point is, every song compliments the tracks before and after it while staying true to the theme of failing systems prevalent through the running time of the album. The fact that every song is an illumination of the bands strengths make the album that much more of a landmark. Even after 22 years it’s still often regarding as a perfect album, but that’s only because it actually is.
1. Kid A, 2000
And now we come to the number one. Obviously this is just my opinion, but when a band does a complete and sudden 180 in regards to their sound, and it ends up being this goddamn good, you have to take notice. The cold electronic elements beaming through the record put the listener in a lonely, thoughtful place, but again, it simply works. “How to Disappear Completely” is a slow burn of emotion, with Yorke’s detached voice acting as a compass as you wander through the dark looking for safe passage. Note, this record is less about showing safe passage than it is opening up your subconscious in a way that’s measured but sullen. I could listen to this all day and still find new things to get excited over. “Idioteque” is more upbeat and energetic in instrumentation, but it still has the hunger and depraved moments the band is known for. If “OK Computer” was the best album of the 1990’s, than “Kid A” stands as the moment that the band not only made two of the best albums in different decades, but also the moment that the mass public really started to get hooked into the wondrous, illuminating sounds that make this band so timeless and engaging.
Thanks for reading!!
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…
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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