I have finally crawled out of whatever black hole I fell into in order to give you a list of my favorite musical things from the past year! Apologies to loyal readers who waited patiently for another installment of ‘Strange Cinema’ (or any other sign of life, really). But I’m back and I promise to write more things in 2015!
It’s been a rough year for me, but I thought I’d end it by looking back on the music that got me through it (or at least distracted me from it). I haven’t written about much music on this blog, but I assure you, I’m an avid listener. Here are 10 albums that really impressed me this year (and will hopefully impress you):
10. Home, Like Noplace is There by The Hotelier
I always tend to gravitate towards nostalgic things, which can be both comforting and kind of depressing. In the past, I’ve latched on to albums that hearken back to the sweet-sounding distortion of the ’90s alternative scene, but this year, I’ve been obsessed with looking back on my pop-punk/emo days. Emo revival outfit The Hotelier makes me feel right at home with an album dedicated to a favorite subject of most bands in the genre: leaving home and coming back to find that everything’s changed. Home, Like Noplace is There definitely paints a sad portrait, but it feels genuine. The standout track for me has to be “Your Deep Rest,” which includes some of the most emotionally-charged lyrics I’ve heard all year: “Called in sick from your funeral / The sight of your body made me feel uncomfortable.”
9. Seeds by TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio has a unique sound, mostly due to each band member’s diverse influences. When you listen to this band’s discography, you hear everything from Bad Brains to Brian Eno. With Seeds, TV on the Radio delves into garage-rock territory, but maintains that same kind of urgency that made the band’s previous albums so electric. Most fans see this record as a tribute to the band’s late bassist, Gerard Smith, who succumbed to lung cancer back in 2011. There’s definitely a sense of grief in each song, and I’m sure Smith would appreciate the sentiment, however small.
8. Glass Boys by Fucked Up
Taking a detour from depressing albums, let’s look at a band that successfully combines two drastically different elements to create the musical equivalent of a punch to the gut. Fucked Up is a hardcore punk band, which is evident by its tour-de-force of a singer. Damian Abraham is the epitome of a hardcore punk singer–big, burly, and bearded–and he definitely plays the part both on the band’s albums and on stage. His vocals are bombastic (and possibly off-putting to those who don’t enjoy constant antagonistic screaming), but they’re complemented perfectly by the melodic guitars and background vocals. This could be two different bands, but each element balances the other. Glass Boys is one part intense dive bar music and one part mind-blowing sunburst of guitar-driven rock.
7. You’re Gonna Miss It by Modern Baseball
Back to my pop-punk roots. So many friends talked about this band with such high regard, so with one month left in the year, I finally decided to give this album a shot. Now I feel terrible for waiting so long. Much like The Hotelier, Modern Baseball likes to reflect on a hometown and all the people in it, but You’re Gonna Miss It takes a slightly different, more sarcastic tone. The opening track, “Fine, Great,” really sets the mood: “I’m so tired / Or maybe just bored / I can’t really tell the difference whenever I’m talking to you.” You’re Gonna Miss It is kind of an ode to openly hating the people you went to high school with and slowly realizing you haven’t changed much, either (this is more my personal reading of the album rather than the intended meaning). Bitter and oh-so-relatable, Modern Baseball really captures what it’s like to feel stuck at an age where you should be moving forward. Oh, and this album also contains one of my favorite lines of any song: “Bullshit, you fucking miss me / There, I said it / I guess I’ll talk to you in a few months.”
6. Broke With Expensive Taste by Azealia Banks
Ever since I heard “212” back in 2012, I was convinced Azealia Banks was the next big thing. Not only is she a tremendously talented rapper, but she also has a gorgeous singing voice. Not many rappers can seamlessly shift between rapping a verse and singing the chorus, but Banks makes it sound far too easy. After disputes with everyone from her former label to Iggy Azalea, fans and critics alike began to wonder if Azealia’s debut LP would ever drop. But it was worth the wait. Broke With Expensive Taste flirts with some bizarre samples that only Miss Banks can pull off, and features some damn fine production. There’s definitely a ’90s flavor to the album, but it doesn’t sound dated. A lot of artists like to talk shit even if they tend to lack something in the talent department, but Azealia Banks has proved that she’s a lot more than the tabloid darling of Twitter feuds.
5. Say Yes to Love by Perfect Pussy
You may cringe at the band name, but…okay, you’ll probably cringe at the music, too. Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes to Love is abrasive, to put it lightly. A friend complained that it was just “ugly noise” after I made her listen to it. But to me, it’s powerful. This noise punk band puts its heart and soul (and even blood in some vinyl pressings) into making this music, and if you can get past the insane amount of distortion and effects, it’s a rewarding listening experience. “But I can’t understand what she’s saying!” you complain. Well, let me just give you the lyrics to “Interference Fits” to make it easier: “In the same way that shame changes love as we know it / Like your body moves into mine and outgrows it / And splits me from mouth down to thigh like a gun / What am I doing with somebody’s son?” That’s poetry that doesn’t need a discernible melody to be felt. Say Yes to Love is chaotic, but so is the subject matter.
4. Mess by Liars
My introduction to Liars was the song “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” from the 2010 album Sisterworld. The friend who made me listen to it liked to play it when he deejayed at our college radio station in a gleeful attempt to ward off listeners. Strange, I know, but I’m drawn to odd things. And this band is odd. Liars’ discography is impressively eclectic and varied enough to attract anyone. Despite what the title may lead you to believe, Mess is far from chaotic–it’s perfectly packaged. Though a bit dark and slightly off-kilter in terms of theme and lyrical content, this album is incredible (and actually quite danceable). What really drew me in was the opening track’s (“Mask Maker”) hypnotic refrain of, “Take my pants off / Use my socks / Smell my socks / Eat my face off.” Like I said, I enjoy the strange and unusual.
3. Manipulator by Ty Segall
I’m convinced that Ty Segall never sleeps–he just creates music endlessly, wired on adrenaline and critical praise. He drops at least three albums a year, either under his own name or with one of his many side projects. And what’s bizarre is that they’re all really fucking good. His Ty Segall Band project released one of my favorite albums ever (Slaughterhouse) back in 2012, and the man’s won my heart again with Manipulator. It’s a glam rock throwback with a garage feel that would sound great in 2014 or 1974. Ty Segall’s been pretty dependent on classic three-chord progressions in the span of his career, but he’s really stepped outside the box on this one. And as much as I loved his voice on previous albums, he sounds cleaner on Manipulator. It’s honestly reminiscent of David Bowie.
2. El Pintor by Interpol
The only album review I’ve done on this blog was for this album, and if you read it, you already know my feelings on it. El Pintor is classic Interpol–melancholy, atmospheric, and oh-so-dreamy. After some lacklaster follow-ups to 2004’s Antics, the NYC post-punkers got back to their roots and churned out a truly fantastic record. When I heard Interpol’s original bassist, Carlos Dengler, split, I was wary of hearing an album without him. But the bass work on El Pintor is just as good as Carlos D’s. I’ve always loved Interpol, but this album made me love them even more.
1. St. Vincent by St. Vincent
I liked St. Vincent years prior to this album. The first song I heard was “Actor Out of Work” off the album of the same name and I absolutely adored Annie Clark’s voice. I didn’t listen to this particular album until the month of my college graduation and it quickly became the soundtrack to my summer as a post-grad. Musically, St. Vincent is solid gold–it’s a bold contrast between jazzy, prog rock harmonics and jarring rock guitar. Clark’s voice floats effortlessly above any and all effects, and her talent as a musician is apparent in her onstage antics (please please please watch her performance of “Birth in Reverse” from Saturday Night Live). On a personal note, this album has been difficult for me to listen to in the past few months, mostly because it reminds me of better times. I listened to it religiously for two months after graduation, then immediately stopped. Listening to it again now does make me a bit sad, but I can’t deny how amazing it really is (despite the memories attached to it).