Friday, November 25, 2016

McQ's Favorite Albums Of 2016

Just in time for Black Friday, I wanted to get my first listing of 2016 album recommendations online. 

I'm still at least six months away from assigning a final ranking to these records, but if I had to call the year in music today, this is how it would play out. 

I've listed everything I've given at least one listen to so far, but in truth the only albums I'd enthusiastically recommend as gifts are Teens Of Denial for indie rock fans, My Woman for fans of alt-country leaning female singer / songwriters,  Love & Hate for soul fans who also have a classic rock lean, A Sailor's Guide To Earth for country fans who aren't sticklers for traditional styles and also like Van Morrison a lot, Lemonade for mainstream R&B listeners, Black Star and/or You Wanted It Darker for older, classic rock-oriented listeners, and A Weird Exits for Psychedelic Music fans who like their rock bikery, crazy and super jammy.  

Skeleton TreeA Moon Shaped Pool, The Glowing Man, and Hopelessness are all excellent records, but all are either very dark/depressing in tone/lyrical content, or way outside the mainstream spectrum stylistically, or both.  Only recommend these as gifts for the very adventurous, edge-loving listener.

Happy shopping everybody!

Highest Recommends
1. Teens Of Denial - Car Seat Headrest (Lively Indie Rock)
2. Skeleton Tree - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (Very Dark Ambient Art Rock)

Strong Recommends
3. My Woman - Angel Olsen (Singer/Songwriter / Alt-Country)
4. A Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead (Dark Art Rock)
5. Love & Hate - Michael Kiwanuka (Expansive Proggy Neo Soul)
6. A Sailor's Guide To Earth  - Sturgil Simpson (Eclectic Country)
7. The Glowing Man - Swans (Punishing Post Rock / Art Rock)
8. A Weird Exits - Thee Oh Sees (Lively Psych Rock / Jam Rock)

Solid Recommends
9. Hopelessness - ANOHNI (Electronic / Indie Rock)
10. You Want It Darker - Leonard Cohen (Singer/Songwriter)
11. Coloring Book - Chance The Rapper (Warm Hip Hop - Free Download Only)
12. 22, A Million - Bon Iver (Indie Rock / Soft Rock / Electronic)
13. Lemonade - Beyonce (Inventive Mainstream R&B)
14. Preoccupations - s/t (Post Punk)
15. Puberty 2 - Mitski (Alterntative / Indie Rock)
16. Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future - Underworld (Electronic)
17. Blackstar - David Bowie (Art Rock / Classic Rock)
18. case/lang/veirs - s/t (Singer/Songwriter / Alt-Country)
19. Sirens - Nicolas Jaar (Electronic)
20. Freetown Sound - Blood Orange (Chill Neo Soul)
21. Atrocity Exhibition - Danny Brown (Eccentric Hip Hop)
22. Light Upon The Lake - Whitney (Light Indie-Pop)
23. Cardinal - Pinegrove (Alt-Country / Indie Rock)
24. Post Pop Depression - Iggy Pop (Hard Rock / Proto Punk)
25. A Seat At The Table - Solange (Mellow Mainstream R&B)
26. The Ghosts Of Highway 20 - Lucinda Williams (Spare Alt-Country)
27. Weezer (The White Album) - Weezer (Lively Alternative)
28. Livin' On A High Note - Mavis Staples (Gospel)
29. Pretty Years - Cymbals Eat Guitars (Edgy Indie Rock)
30. Malibu - Anderson Paak (Soulful Hip Hop)
31. Blonde - Frank Ocean (Mellow Neo Soul)
32. Wildflower - The Avalanches (Electronic / Sample Pop)
33. Good Times - The Monkees (Pop / Classic Rock / First New Album In Decades)
34. Nonagaon Infinity - King Gizard & The Lizard Wizard (Psych Rock / Jam Rock)

Mild Recommends
35. Goodness - The Hotelier (Emo / Alternative)
36. Paradise - White Lung (Female Punk)
37. Huma Performance - Parquet Courts (Art Rock / Indie Rock)
38. SVIIB - School Of Seven Bells (Shoegaze)
39. Adore Life - Savage (Female-Fronted Post Punk)
40. Untitled, Unanswered - Kendrick Lamar (Hip Hop / Pimp A Butterfly Outtakes)
41. Sunlit Youth - Local Natives (Soft Rock / Indie Rock)
42. Junk - M83 (New Wave Flavored Electronic)

2016 Albums Of Critical Note I've Yet To Assess In Full
Too many to list at this point

Monday, October 17, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/17/2016 Update

Today, we return to the 2015 edition of Nancy's Favorites, and listen to a fantastic song from an emerging retro-soul artist nurtured by White Denim's Justin Block and Austin Jenkins.

Smooth Sailin', a silky slice of mid-tempo soul, comes to us courtesy of Leon Bridges off of his decent 2015 debut Coming Home

The song, produced by Block and Jenkins, is a perfect introduction to Bridges' work, as it highlights the Fort Worth, Texas native's predilection for the more restrained, super-smooth stylings of early 60s crooners like Sam Cooke and young Marvin Gaye over the funkier, slightly rawer late 60s soul sound that most of today's other retro-soul artists - including the Dap King collective and label-mate Raphael Saddiq - gravitate toward today.

Another Bridges' track from Coming Home, The River, will make our countdown proper, but for now enjoy this ridiculously easy listen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/16/2016 Update

Today, we are going to take a look at a quartet of songs scattered across three of our 1967 mixes - 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars, 1967's Super "Sensational' Summer Of Love, and Nancy's Favorites, to examine how much quicker the music industry moved in the 60s compared to today, in this case as exemplified by quickly hit songs were regularly repurposed for other artists.

The Holland-Dozier-Holland-penned Motown classic You Keep Me Hangin' On was a hit twice in 1967, first entering 1967 still clinging to the #21 spot for Diana Ross & The Supremes after having landed at number 1 on the charts for two weeks late in 1966. Then later in the year, the Long Island psychedelic cover band Vanilla Fudge released their own ultra-heavy version of the song as their debut single. Powered by some exceptionally thunderous drumming, their recording also became a hit, peaking at #6  in the weeklies.

Another song that proved to be a two time winner in 1967 was Cat Stevens' The First Cut Is The Deepest.

Though Stevens had recorded a demo of the song as early as 1965, he was still primarily focused on his songwriting rather than performing career in early 1967.  So, considering it just another song he had written for other artists, he sold it to the hot at the moment American ex-patriot soul singer P. P. Arnold (already mentioned in our discussion of The Smal Faces Tin Soldier) for a mere thirty pounds. The song, recorded with The Small Faces acting as her backing band, became a huge hit for Arnold, reaching #18 in the British weeklies.

Later that year, Stevens would record his own singer-songwriter version of the song and include it on his second album New Masters. It didn't chart as well as Arnold's version at the time, but is now considered by most the definitive version of the song, no matter how much Arnold or other artists who scored hits with the song like Rod Stewert or Cheryl Crow may disagree.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/15/2016 Update

We're getting very close to the actual start of our countdown, so today, we're going to do a bit of punk house cleaning, quickly spotlighting five punk acts featured on our 2015 Coachella Starters mix.

Historically, Coachella always has a strong punk presence, as festival founder Paul Tollett cut his teeth as a Los Angeles punk promoter and his ties to the punk community run very deep, but even along the festival's normal booking trends, 2015 featured a heavier than normal punk lean.

From the classic-styled Brit-punk of the Jarman Brothers-anchored The Cribs (Chi Town), to the dronier post-punk stylings of their Leeds-based compatriots The Eagulls (the awesome Possessed), to Chicagoland bad-boy act The Orwell's (Let It Burn) and youthful Orange County-based punk-poppers Joyce Manor (Christmas Card), punk was everywhere on the 2015 bill.

Even artists not principally associated with punk, such as indie folkster/alt-countrier and Bright Eyes founder Connor Oberst, chose to appear in 2015 in their most aggitational form - in Oberst's case bringing back his aggressive, early years punk side-project Los Desaparecidos (The Left Is Right).

Videos for all the featured songs from all five acts follow, though unfortunately, good performance videos with decent audio quality from the 2015 festival no longer exist.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Six Deep Cuts I Would Cry If I Heard At Desert Trip Weekend 2

So, so stoked to be heading out to Desert Trip this morning to see six of my favorite legends perform together for the first time.

In honor of the event, I thought I'd take a break from our 2015/1967 countdown, and post one deep cut from each artist, not played in Weekend 1 (and in truth, likely not to be played Weekend 2 either), that will literally bring tears to my eyes should the artists choose to perform them Weekend 2.

1. Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan's 115th Dream

Quite possibly the silliest and most playful song in the entire Dylan catalog, this surreal tale of trying to bust Captain Arab from jail after discovering a fully-settled/contemporary America that closed the revolutionary Dylan-goes-electric side one of Bringing It All Back Home possesses some of the funniest and punkiest couplets Bob ever wrote (some favs amongst many brilliant turns of phrase in the song. "They asked me for some collateral/And I pulled down my pants." and "I said you know they refused Jesus, too/He said you're not him."). Cannot express how excited I would be to hear this one live.

2. The Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues

A dicey choice even this raunchiest of acts is wary to play in today's election/cultural environment, but this Beggar's Banquet tale of a sexual predator luring reckless fifteen-year-olds into his loft with its horrifying refrain of "Bet your mama don't know you bite like that" has always been, in my opinion, the most  unnerving song in the entire Stone's catalog, as well as one of the the genuinely elite non-Hot Rocks-rockers from their classic Beggars thru Exile period (along with Live With Me, Monkey Man, Bitch, Rocks Off and Can't You Hear Me Knocking).

3. Neil Young - Love And Only Love

An easy choice here.

Unlike the other, prodigy level talents that will grace the stage this weekend, Neil's strength has always come (not unlike Lou Reed) from how much he's able to convey through such limited natural chops (as friends and I often say, he's the best bad guitarist the rock world has ever produced), and this ten-minute garage-rager from 89's Ragged Glory captures that tension found in the desire to communicate artistic passion through instrumental limitation better than any other song in his entire fifty-year canon.

Here's a fairly recent live performance of the song.

4. Paul McCartney - Mother Nature's Son

After Blackbird, this spartan, delicate whisp of a track from The White Album is one the most unusual and contemprary feeling acoustic ballads The Beatle's ever recorded. Just listen to In Rainbows or A Moon Shaped Pool and tell me Radiohead hasn't drawn inspiration from this song over the years.

5. The Who - The Ox

I'm as big a Who's Next fan as the next guy, but I've always found the sheer energy on the band's debut album, 1964's The Who Sing My Generation, extraordinary, and no song brings that energy into focus more than this positively possessed, years-ahead-of-their-time firestorm of an instrumental.

6. Roger Waters - Sheep

A very personal reason here, and probably one Water's himself would be troubled by, but this song - my favorite from 1977s Animals and the only track not played from that album Weekend 1 - was a critical component of my college fraternity's hazing rituals back in the late 80s. As I will be attending Desert Trip with some of my closest college friends and fellow fraternity brothers, hearing this song on the polo fields would summon up all sorts of extra meaning.

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/14/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967 Nancy's Favorites mix, and listen to another producer-created single, but one that rather than just generating another one-hit wonder, launched the career of a significant late-sixties hitmaking act and its legendary frontman, Alex Chilton.

Of course, that song is the Box Top's The Letter.

Written by Nashville-based country artist Wayne Carson Thompson, the song found its way into the hands of Carson Thompson's friend Chips Moman, owner over Memphis's famed American Sound Studio, who agreed to record the song with a new band.

When one of Moman's young assistant producers, Dan Penn, grew tired of collaborating with others (particularly Moman himself) and asked for a chance to record an act - any act no matter how low on the totem pole - on his own, Moman gave him the shot, and also let him run with some of Carson Thompson's songs, including The Letter.

To record the song, Penn found emerging blue-eyed soul teenage-act The Devilles, fronted by the 16-year-old Chilton, who had been regular competitors in a local weekly battle of the bands.

Despite the Penn and the band's youth and inexperience in the studio, they all proved to be quick studies. The sessions did include instrumental contributions from more seasoned hands, but all but one original band member played on the original recording.

Once the single was cut, the band changed their name to The Box Tops to avoid legal conflicts with another similarly named recording artist, and the rest is history.  The song, I believe the shortest to every top the Billboard charts, was the #2 song on the year, selling over four million copies, and the first in a string of Box Tops hits over the remainder of the 60s before most of the band members, quickly jaded by the myriad ways they were being ripped off by industry insiders, choose to leave the music business and attend college instead.

Chilton, obviously, went on to much acclaim as a solo artist and leader of the highly influential mid-70s power-pop trio Big Star.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/13/2016 Update

We're now down to a final twenty-seven songs to discuss before getting into our 2015/1967 countdown proper, so to keep things moving, we return today to our 2015 Coachella Starters mix, and a retro tune from one of the most eccentric and unique rappers working today.

Easy Rider comes to us courtesy of the Brooklyn-based, Wu-Tang Clan-loving, ex-chef Action Bronson, from his uneven but sometimes inspired full-length debut Mr. Wonderful.

Known for returning thematically time and again to songs that echo Bronson's passion for early east-coast gangster rap but that seem more preoccupied with tales of world travel and the culinary delights of various regions, this album closer cops a pyschedelic biker groove intentionally reminiscent of the counter-culture film classic with which it shares its name to send Bronson out into the sunset once again in search of further adventure, trouble, and of course, his next meal.