Wednesday, February 22, 2017

THE 2015/1967 COUNTDOWN - HERE WE GO!

Okay, after a long holiday/kid's varsity basketball season break, it's time to start our 2015/1967 countdown proper.

Here's how it's going to work.

We'll start at the bottom (#78) of our 2015 best albums list, slowly climbing our way to the top with a new ranking every few days.

When we reach #67, we will start alternating between our best albums of 2015 countdown and our best songs countdowns for both 1967 and 2015.

And when we reach #43, will we also begin counting down our best albums of 1967 and close out the rest of the way alternating between all four lists, so we conclude with our #1 albums and songs for both years at the same time.

For those who just want a quick glance at where everything stands to date rather than scrolling through all the individual ranking posts below, we will be updating our best songs and best albums rankings pages as we go, which are linked to here.

McQ's Favorite Albums Of 2015
McQ's Favorite Albums Of 1967
McQ's Favorite Songs Of 2015
McQ'S Favorite Songs Of 1967


And with that, let's begin...

McQ's #74 Album Of 2015 - MULTI-LOVE - Unknown Mortal Orchestra

A breakout hit for quirky, lo-fi bedroom psych-rocker Ruben Neilson, a.k.a Unkown Mortal Orchestra, Multi-Love finds the Portland-based artist drifting away from the mellow acoustic leanings of previous effort Unknown Mortal Orchestra II, and toward the pop-soul stylings of past D.I.Y. R&B/funk legends like Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Sly & The Family Stone.

It's an interesting stylistic shift, albeit a not always successful one given Neilson's limited voice and proclivity for sudden musical detours (generally an asset in exploratory psychedelic music but a no-no in R&B where staying on groove is usually much more important), but the change to a more soulful direction allows Neilson to dive into deeper emotional territory here than he has in the past, and he takes good advantage, delivering his most urgently heartfelt lyrics to date - all while retaining a good sense of fun

On the plus side, this record sports a couple of very strong songs in the title track and my personal favorite, the simple, direct Necessary Evil, which features an awesome horn-line from Neilson's father that feels ripped straight off of Sly & The Family Stone's gritty soul masterwork There's A Riot Goin' On. I also like Like Acid Rain, probably the album's best uptempo number, and Neilson's strategy to overcome the limitations in his voice by evoking a goofy Gonjasufi vibe on a couple of the records more experimental tracks, especially Extreme Wealth & Casual Cruelty.

On the downside, a number of the songs on this album, really almost half, fall flat, including for me the album's big hit Can't Keep Checking My Phone.

Those quirky turns knocking heads with R&B's more straightforward demands are part of the problem, but having seen how good UMO are live, I also feel that Neilson, very much like Prince, is a gifted live performer way too quick to sublimate his genuinely virtuosic guitar talents in the  "supposed service" of song on record. A little less holding back and a bit more soloing punch as one regularly gets when the band performs live might have gone a long way towards taking Multi-Love up another level.

Still, there's definitely enough good stuff here to warrant a few listens, and whatever your response to this album, don't let it dissuade you from checking UMO out live, they are one of the best on-stage indie acts playing the circuit today.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Multi-Love, Like Acid Rain, Extreme Wealth And Casual Cruelty, Necessary Evil


Track Listing:
1. Multi-Love - 8
2. Like Acid Rain - 7 
3. Ur Life One Night - 6
4. Can't Keep Checking My Phone - 6 
5. Extreme Wealth And Casual Cruelty - 7 
6. The World Is Crowded - 7 
7. Stage Or Screen - 6 
8. Necessary Evil - 8 
9. Puzzles - 6 
Intangibles - Average to slightly low

Here's are the official videos for the album's two best tracks Multi-Love and Necessary Evil and imho, it's most overrated track - breakthrough hit Can't Keep Checking My Phone.




Monday, February 20, 2017

McQ's #75 Album Of 2015 - GARDEN OF DELETE - Oneohtrix Point Never

Garden Of Delete, the latest electronic/experimental soundscape offering from Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never, is one ambitious album, a wide-ranging collage of sounds packed with juxtapositional meaning that seems sprung to life from the compost heap of deleted digital and musical tropes of eras past.

One of four intensely experimental albums to make our year-end countdown (the others being Death Grips' The Powers That B, Jenny Hval's Apocalypse Girl, and Holly Herndon's Platform), it's my least favorite of the four, not for a lack of interesting moments or ideas, of which there are many, but simply because of my knee-jerk rejection of some the experimental sonic elements that make up so much of the Lopatin's palette this time out.

At the heart of the problem is the album's ubiquitous use of the auto-tuning software program Chipspeech, and the awful, Alvin & The Chipmunks vocals that software produces.

Much as with Sufjan Steven's unrelenting parade of schizophrenic bleeps and farts on his 2010 release The Age Of Adz, the chipspeech vocals make perfect thematic sense as our tour guide throughout Garden Of Delete is ostensibly OPN's recurrent alien character, Ezra, but that doesn't make those vocals any less irritating, and they seriously diminish the impact of what would have otherwise been two of the album's best tracks - Sticky Drama and Animals.

Still, the album worked for a lot of listeners better than it did for me, finishing top-15 in the 2015 year-end consensus polls, so if you're a fan of OPN or other aggressively experimental artists like Battles who autotune their vocals in similar ways, you should give Garden of Delete a shot.

Tracks that worked the best for me here include the short, hard-hitting SDFK, which has more of a Tim Hecker/Ben Frost IDM feel, the strong starting Freaky Eyes, No Good, the one song where the autotuned vocals go in deeper, more soulful Bon Iver-y direction, and my favorite track, the more ambient but often beautiful Child Of Rage.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: SDFK, Child Of Rage, Freaky Eyes, No Good.



Track Listing:
1. Intro - 6
2. Ezra - 7
3. ECOJAMC1 - 7
4. Sticky Drama - 6
5. SDFK - 7
6. Mutant Standard - 6
7. Child Of Rage - 8 .
8. Animals - 6
9. I Bite Through It - 5
10. Freaky Eyes - 7
11. Lift - 6
12. No Good - 7
Intangibles - Below Average

Here's the creepy, Val Kilmer-starring official video for Animals.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

McQ's #76 ALBUM OF 2015 - CURRENTS - TAME IMPALA

Dear Lord, what has happened to this band?

Not that I've ever bought into Tame Impala as the elite artists so many tastemakers in the industry would have us believe. I've seen them several times and they've never been a particularly inspiring live band. But back when they hit in 2010 with their debut Innerspeaker, I, like many others was intrigued by the promise of leader Kevin Parker's vision and the band's fresh psych-rock sound - a swirling, soaring wash of Lennonesque Tomorrow Never Knows-psychedelia that seemed simultaneously possessed of both ethereal beauty and a fair amount of rock and roll balls.

The pounding track Elephant aside, the band's celebrated 2012 sophomore effort Lonerism significantly dialed back on the tempo and punch, but was such a leap forward in left field inventiveness and textural sophistication, and such a virtuosic display of Parker's savant-like studio brilliance, that few listeners noticed or cared how lacking in momentum most of Lonerism's songs actually were.

But all the problems inherent in Parker's increasingly obsessive focus on texture and sound over songwriting, crunch, and rhythm come home to roost big time on the band's third, and by far least satisfying effort, the staggeringly effete Currents.

Parker has steered the band in a much poppier, synth-driven direction this time, to my ears, basically aiming to produce the psych-rock equivalent to Daft Punk's Discovery...and there are a few moments that work well. Shifting opener Let It Happen, though way overvalued in the year-end polls, is a solid, adventurous tune that does in some way forge a Pysch-Rock/Daft Punk aesthetic, and the bass work in the album's best song The Less I Know The Better is freaking unreal.

But throughout, the album is done in by a pervasive sense of wimpiness so irritating it honestly makes me want to punch my hand through a wall.

It's a weird core criticism to have towards an artistic work, especially when there are so many soft rock and gentle/sensitive/introspective pop efforts out there similar to Currents that I love - but I just can't get past it here. Every time I listened to Currents, by the time I'm three or four tracks in all I can think is "God, this has to be the most unmanly album from a group of straight white males I have heard in years."

The wimpiness factor reaches near comic proportions towards the album's end.

About thirty-five seconds into the short track Disciples there is a brief synth line so lame, so cutesy, so, yes, wimpy, it encapsulates everything that is wrong with this album. And then that track is followed by 'Cause I'm A Man, an unapologetically macho, almost predatory song lyrically which actually caused a minor stir with some feminist watchdog groups, but which for me, in the context of how effete the whole album sounds, just comes off as laughably unaware, even though it's still probably the album's third best song.

Obviously, given Parker's genuine studio talents,  the album sounds fantastic on a sonic level, and like the Beach Boys Smiley Smile, another album mostly done in rather than empowered by its creator's growing obsessions, those core unique talents that attracted fans to the artist in the first place are still there to some degree bubbling under the surface, making the occasional moments sing - which is why, even as harsh as this review comes across, this album gets a Mild instead of a Not Recommend rating.

But as much as I understand how important it is for every artist to change things up and grow and follow their passions, Currents is proof positive that sometimes the opposite is also true, and just sticking to what you already do well is the best course of action.

Here's hoping Mr. Parker realizes this next time out.

Status: Mild Recommend



Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Let It Happen, The Less I Know The Better, 'Cause I'm A Man, Love/Paranoia

Track Listing:
1. Let It Happen - 8
2. Nangs - 5
3. The Moment - 6
4. Yes I'm Changing - 6
5. Eventually - 6
6. Gossip - 6
7. The Less I Know The Better - 8
8. Past Life - 6
9. Disciples - 4
10. 'Cause I'm A Man - 7
11. Reality In Motion - 6
12. Love/Paranoia - 7
13. New Person, Same Old Mistakes - 5
Intangibles - Low

Here's the official videos for my two favorite tracks from the album The Less I Know The Better, and Let It Happen.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

McQ's #77 ALBUM OF 2015 - RANGE ANXIETY - THE TWERPS (2015)

Returning in 2015 with their sophomore release, now as part of the Merge roster of artists, Austrailia's Twerps deliver another batch of easy-going, low-key, jangle-pop charmers.

And despite Range Anxiety's low standing in our year-end rankings, I do want to be clear that I really enjoy this album. It's just a bit of a victim of its own unassuming slightness.

Like that old Chinese dinner stereotype, pretty much everything on Range Anxiety sounds good going down, there's just not a lot on it that sticks.

But that said, I know there is a subset of indie-pop listeners for whom this album will be pure manna from heaven, so if the Flying Nuns or Luna/Galaxie 500 or The Vaselines or any number of the more relaxed C86/jangle-pop bands over the years are among your personal favs, you'll definitely want to give Range Anxiety a spin.

As for individual track standouts, after a decent, short instrumental, the album kicks off proper with two of its three best songs with the fantastic I Don't Mind, featured in our 2015 mix collection, and the bouncy Back To You.  Other highlights include the Real Estate-ish New Moves, the band's lone foray into more post-punkish territory Fern Murders, and the lingering, plaintive closer Empty Road.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Pickers Best Bets: I Don't Mind, Back To You, Fern Murders, Empty Roads



Track Listing:
1. House Keys - 7
2. I Don't Mind - 9
3. Back To You - 8
4. Stranger - 7
5. New Moves - 7
6. White As Snow - 6
7. Shoulders - 6
8. Simple Feelings - 6
9. Adrenaline - 6
10. Fern Murders - 8
11. Cheap Education - 7
12. Love At First Sight - 5
13. Empty Roads - 8
Intangibles - Average

Here's the official video for Back To You, and a live studio performance of my favorite cut from the album, I Don't Mind.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

McQ's #78 Album of 2015 - CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON - Hiatus Kaiyote


There are two albums I purchased in 2015 that did not end up represented in our year-end mix collection.  The other, Girl Band's Holding Hands With Jamie, I feel bad about omitting.

This album I do not.

Choose Your Weapon, from Melbourne, Australia experimental neo-soul quartet Hiatus Koiyote is many things - adventurous, intricate, sharply played, jazzy, bursting with life, hard to classify.

The one thing it is not is my cup of tea.

In fairness to this specific effort, neo-soul as a whole is really not my cup of tea. I personally struggle to get much satisfaction from even the best works of absolute masters in the genre like D'Angelo and Erykah Badu, let alone the genre's many lesser acts, but still, for me, this album is very tough going, often straight-up irritating. I'm giving it a mild recommend as opposed to a not recommend for two reasons. One, there are brief, inspired stretches here and there that show how much potential the band has when the vocals calm down a touch, and two, because it has received such a vastly positive critical reception and has so many fans around the globe, I don't want to completely turn new listeners away before they take a moment to hear it on their own.

But for me, Choose Your Weapon is a very problematic record, and ninety percent of the album's problems begin and end with band leader/guitarist/singer Naomi "Nia Palm" Saalfield's vocals.

Gymanstic, scale-running, diva-ish soul singing has always been atop my list of least favorite vocal styles ever, and on Choose Your Weapon Saalfield pushes that style to almost cartoonish levels.

Why limit any syllable to a single note when a run of five to twenty-seven will do?

Making matters worse, unlike most pop and soul music, where songs are built up structurally from a rhythm and core chord progression foundation, the music here feels like it has all been built top down with Saalfield's highly non-linear vocals leading the way...leading to an album possessed of an endless series of dynamic starts, stops, grace notes and flourishes in response to the shifts in Saalfield's vocals, but all at the expense of the album ever building up an ounce of musical momentum over it's way-too-long, seventy-minute run time.

Lyrically, the album isn't much better, for the most part silly, flowery, pagan-y, mystical dreck, but the lyrics really aren't the primary issue here as most are rendered unintelligible by Saalfield's singing style.

On the positive side, this is, without question (and I'm including Saalfield's guitar work here), an extremely talented band on a technical level, incredibly tight, and able to shift direction in the blink of an eye.  So there's hope going forward.

But to paraphrase what the great science fiction writer Gene Wolfe once told me in an evening writing class years ago with tough but well-intended honesty - the band's style needs a lot of work.

Status: Mild (Very Mild) Recommend

Cherry Pickers Best Bets: Shaolin Monk Motherfunk, Breathing Underwater, Swamp Thing, By Fire.


Track Listing:
1. Choose Your Weapon - 7
2. Shaolin Monk Motherfunk - 7
3. Laputa - 5
4. Creations Part One - 6
5. Borderline With My Atoms - 6
6. Breathing Underwater - 7
7. Cicada - 5
8. Swamp Thing - 7
9. Fingerprints - 7
10. Jekyll - 6
11. Prince Minikid - 5
12. Atari - 7
13. By Fire - 7
14. Creations Part Two - 6
15. The Lung - 5
16. Only Time All The Time / Making Friends With Studio Owl - 6
17. Molasses - 6
18. Building A Ladder - 6
Intangibles - Low
Spotify / iTunes 

Here's the official video for the album's Grammy nominated song - Breathing Underwater.



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