Wednesday, March 15, 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 #69 Album Of 2015 - COMPTON: A SOUNDTRACK BY DR. DRE

It's been a long, influential haul since rap's first billionaire and quite possibly its most legendary producer released his last album, 1999's 2001.

In the interim, Dr. Dre has helped jump start or further the careers of many of the genre's most iconic talents, from Eminem to 50 Cent, The Game to more recent proteges like Anderson Paak, Whiz Kalifa and Kendrick Lamar, not to mention launching a monstrously successful celebrity headphone enterprise in Beats and the streaming service Tidal, both since sold to Apple for beaucoup dollars. So yeah, the doctor has been one busy man.

The only thing he hadn't been able to do up until 2015 was complete his next album.

For years, the studio perfectionist toiled intermittently between producing stints on planned third release Detox.  Fan anticipation grew and grew, often stoked by Dre's own plugs in featured verses on other artist's tracks or by actual dropped Detox singles, most notably the Eminem-fronted I Need A Doctor, which became the biggest hit of Dre's career.  But all that pent-up excitement was gradually dashed by 2014, when whispers began to circulate that Dre had decided to scrap the project.

In its place, he dove hastily (at least by his own glacial work-pace standards) into Compton, a new collection of songs inspired and informed by his work on the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, and lo and behold, in a short manner of time he had it ready for release in conjunction with the film.

Featuring turns from seemingly dozens of Dre's career collaborators, from the aforementioned Eminem and The Game, to other hip-hop luminaries including Ice Cube, Snoop Dog, Jill Scott, John Connor, Justus, BJ The Chicago Kid, King Metz, and Xzibit, it's a veritable who's who of gangsta / west coast rap and many make memorable contributions, though it's probably the youngest contributors, Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak, who shine brightest.

But the most interesting thing about Compton - the almost comically dated, Bill Kurtis sampling intro aside -  is how contemporary the whole affair sounds.

Never one to linger on his past laurels, what Dre has delivered here is no G-Funk encore, but rather a head-first dive into the styles and sounds of hip-hop today. For the most part, Compton was met with glowing reviews, and while it continues to grow on me and at some later date I may view this album in a much higher light, at present I can only give Compton a mild recommend.

To me, it feels like in chasing the contemporary sounds, in trying to keep up with the kids, Dre's lost a bit of himself in the process, especially with respect to the beats,  and in conversations I've had with friends and other long-time fans, I know that I am not alone in this thinking.

What emerges ultimately then is a very professional, stylistically expansive, workman-like album that will probably have tremendous appeal to the younger generation of hip-hop fans because it's so in-step with the times, but that may leave many older fans hoping for more of that old-skol NWA power-crunch or Chronic-styled super-funk a bit underwhelmed, if not straight-up disappointed.

For me, the material that works best has little to do with Dre's traditional Gangsta posturing, and more to do with where his head is at now regardng his ongoing creative process.  And even though in one way my favorite track on the album It's All On Me plays like a story-beat-by-story-beat synopsis of Straight Outta Compton the movie, what emerges most in the song is the unrelenting pressure and duty this top flight content creator feels to the huge pool of artists who remain dependent on him to keep their own careers going. Other tracks like All In A Day's Work touch on similar issues.

For those wanting harder-hitting grooves, the nasty One Shot One Kill featuring John Conner and Snoop is definitely your best bet. I also liked Satisfiction and the Anderson Paak-led Animals.

On the flip-side, I hate Loose Cannons, a gratuitous descent into Kim-styled woman-in-peril theatrics combined with a cheesy cliche Goodfellas-styled burial scene.  Unlike Kim or maybe Cube's You Can't Fade Me, Loose Cannons possesses none of those two tracks top-flight musical artistry or genuine personal connection to make the rampant misogyny in any way worth processing.

But my biggest issue with Compton is of a more general nature.

I just wish Dre hadn't gone so out of his way to sound current and had instead dug in his stylistic heels in a curmudgeonly way, for while hip-hop as message will never lack for content, especially in this racially charged Trump-era we've entered, hip-hop as music has a real beat problem right now.

So many of the present instrumental trends in the genre, while at times interesting and clearly sorting through the possibilities of some new technologies, are just so bland and lacking in punch when compared to what's come before, that sadly, at least for me, in embracing today's sounds so fully, this most dynamic and exciting of hip hop producers has allowed too much of today's blandness into his sound as well, and every time I listen to Compton, though I do enjoy many moments (this is in no way a bad album), the relative blandness of the beats on Comptom compared to Dre's past body of work is always my enduring final impression.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: It's All On Me, One Shot One Kill, Satisfiction, Animals

Track Listing:
1. Intro - 7
2. Talk About It - 7
3. Genocide - 6
4. It's All On Me - 8
5. All In A Day's Work - 7
6. Darkside/Gone - 6
7. Loose Cannons - 3
8. Issues - 7
9. Deep Water - 7
10. One Shot One Kill - 8
11. Just Another Day - 7
12. For The Love Of Money - 6
13. Satisfiction - 7
14. Animals - 8
15. Medicine Man - 7
16. Talking To My Diary - 7
Intangibles - Average to slightly low

There are no official videos for any of the songs from Compton presently available. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

McQ's #70 Album Of 2015 - B'LIEVE I'M GOIN DOWN - Kurt Vile

As its contradictory cover photo and inner sleeve artwork imply, Kurt Vile's I B'lieve I'm Goin Down is an album with two primary goals that would seem, on initial impression, to be at cross-purposes; create a set of songs with the low-key, homespun, hanging-on-the-front-porch intimacy of 2011's primarily acoustic Smoke Ring For My Halo, but also give those songs the nuanced, highly processed studio work over of 2013's heavier, more psychedelic Wakin' On A Pretty Daze.

And on the surface, Vile appears to succeed.

This is unquestionably a collection of laid-back songs that sounds, on first listen, like you hearing it seated in that open chair next to Kurt on the cover, but which upon closer examination couldn't even exist without that plethora of distortion pedals and gear depicted in the album's inner sleeve artwork.

Unfortunately, while Vile does attain his overall stylistic goals, this is a record that only triumphs in the second arena.

I cannot say enough good things about the quality of the production on this album and the fascinating, subtle, wonky touches, but it is all in the service of the of some of the laziest, most lyrically insipid songs Vile (or frankly anyone I've listened to regularly in recent memory) has written.

While the album has no goofy laughter, it's not much of a stretch to say that otherwise many of I B'lieve I'm Goin Down's lyrical passages hit with the same stoned-out "Hey Bro," intellectual anti-wallop of a Beavis and Butthead conversation.

There are a few exceptions. Lost My Head There is a forthright, genuine attempt by Vile to deal with some personal anger-management demons, and best song Pretty Pimpin, while intentionally silly, just works on hitting a relatable moment of positive self-evaluation we've all experienced a few times in our life in a charming, offhand way.

But aside from that, what develops over most of B'lieve I'm Goin Down's twelve song run is one of the most schizophrenic listening experiences of 2015, dragged down by the unrelenting low energy of the music and the barely trying lyrics, but constantly elevated by the exceptional studio work.  If I were judging this album purely on song quality, it would end up second-to-last in our rankings, but because of that production work, I've moved the album up several notches in our year-end assessment.

So while I would still direct listeners checking out Vile for the first time to the much better Smoke Ring and/or Wakin', from Lost My Head There's killer coda, to Stand Inside's awesome electric guitar and piano accents, from Kidding Around's ethereal backing vocals to Wild Imagination's gorgeous closing vibes - I B'lieve I'm Goin Down is an album well worth hearing for the production and arrangement touches alone, no matter how limited the songs.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Pretty Pimpin', Dust Bunnies, Stand Inside, Wild Imagination



Track Listing:
1. Pretty Pimpin - 9
2. I'm An Outlaw - 7
3. Dust Bunnies - 8
4. That's Life Tho (Almost Hate To Say) - 6
5. Wheelhouse - 5
6. Life Like This - 6
7. All In A Daze Work - 6
8. Lost My Head There - 7
9. Stand Inside - 7
10. Bad Omens - 7
11. Kidding Around - 7
12. Wild Imagination - 8
Intangibles - Slightly Low

Here are the official videos for Pretty Pimpin' and Life Like This, and a live in-studio performance of one of the album's other better tracks Dust Bunnies.




Wednesday, March 8, 2017

McQ's #71 Album Of 2015 - I WASN'T BORN TO LOSE YOU - Swervedriver

Returning in 2015 with their first record of new material in over fifteen years, UK shoegaze act Swervedriver delivers an album that seems sure to delight their small but dedicated fanbase.

Always one of the warmest and hardest-rocking bands to emerge out of the genre's late-80s/early 90s golden era, Swervedriver hits all of their signature touchstones on I Wasn't Born To Lose You - the wildly varied, inventive guitar tones, the driving, jangly riffs, and tons of lyrics about driving in cars - and it's a solidly crafted record, but one that doesn't add up to much more than a pleasant surface listen for me.

Much of this is just a reflection of my personal relationship with shoegaze - a genre I've consistently liked, but rarely loved - but some is directly related to the band.

Compared to most other shoegaze acts, the band's mid-range, male-only vocals, though by no means bad, tend to lack the more hypnotic pull of peers like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Lush or recent acts like School Of Seven Bells.

There is also a bit of clunkiness to some of the album's harder rocking songs, especially Setting Sun and Red Queens Arms Race.

But those limitations aside, there is still much to appreciate about I Wasn't Born To Lose You, some of those experimental guitar tones are downright inspired, and the album does boast a few tracks that rise above the general swirl.

Autodidact is a nifty, propulsive, jangly opener, lead riff-heavy single Deep Wound is a first-rate, straightforward rocker, For A Day Like Tomorrow is yet another 2015 track that obtains its glory mostly through an extended, beautifully orchestrated instrumental denouement, and then there's the album's one near-masterpiece, English Subtitles, a pysch-rock tour-de-force that achieves an almost Eight Miles High-level of vocal and instrumental grandeur and is without question one of my favorite tracks of the year.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Autodidact, For A Day Like Tomorrow, English Subtitles, Deep Wound



Track Listing:
1. Autodidact - 8
2. Last Rites -7
3. For A Day Like Tomorrow - 7
4. Setting Sun - 6
5. Everso - 7
6. English Subtitles - 9
7. Red Queen Arms Race - 6
8. Deep Wound - 8 -
9. Lone Star - 6
10. I Wonder? - 6
Inangibles - Slightly Low

Here is the official video for Deep Wound and I believe stylistically similar fan-created videos for my other two favorite tracks from the album Autodidact and the glorious English Subtitles.




Sunday, March 5, 2017

McQ's #72 Album Of 2015 - SHACKLE'S GIFT - Zun Zun Egui

Shackle's Gift is the at times dynamic second release from the now defunct Bristol, England-based multicultural jam band Zun Zun Equi.

Formed in 2008 after a chance meeting between Mauritian vocalist/lead guitarist Kushul Gaya and Japanese keyboardist Yoshino Shigihara who had both recently expatriated to Bristol, the band's music is an unpredictable, propulsive polyrhythmic stew of various international genres - tropicalia, afrobeat, psychedelia, funk,  Ethiopian Jazz - not that dissimilar from the music of much older American acts like The Dave Matthews Band or Poi Dog Pondering, but harder hitting.

And like those bands, Zun Zun Egui is an exceptionally talented collection of musicians (Gaya's guitar fills, in particular, are impressive), but a collection whose music is constantly toeing that very fine jam-band line between pyrotechnic transcendence and outright cheese.

For the first half of Shackle's Gift, transcendence clearly wins out.

Opener Rigid Man kicks things off with a rollicking, afro-beat-driven start, then after the decent African Tree, we hit the album's two best tracks, the slow, punishing, almost industrial-flavored Ruby, which really builds up a lot of internal tension, and the earnest I Want You To Know, which concludes with a weird, extended, spiky guitar outro that for my money is the best moment of the entire album.

But right after I Want You To Know comes the well-meaning but tedious Soul Scratch, a song that should have served as a nice change of pace after all the pyrotechnics before but instead just brings the whole affair down, and after that point, that undercurrent of Aaron Bruno AWOL Nation-type cheesiness that lies latent in all of Gaya's vocals rises to the surface, and aside from decent closer City Thunder, which gets to the heart of the band's sense of dislocation, the back half of the album never fully recovers.

Still for the first half of this record alone and the band's interesting, unpredictable sound, Shackle's Gift is well worth checking out.

And I'm seriously P. O.'d at Coachella for never booking these guys before they broke up - this is a style of music that screams to be heard live.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Pickers Best Bets: Rigid Man, Ruby, I Want You To Know, City Thunder

Track Listing:
1. Rigid Man - 8
2. African Tree - 7
3. Ruby - 8
4. I Want You To Know - 8
5. Soul Scratch - 5
6. Tickle The Line - 6
7. The Sweetest Part Of Life - 6
8. Late Bloomer - 6
9. City Thunder - 7
Intangibles - Average To Slightly Low

Here are videos for the tracks Ruby and African Tree.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

McQ's #73 Album Of 2015 - DS2 (Deluxe) - Future

Our first rap album (or to be more subgenre specific, "trap" album), to make our countdown - Atlanta-based rapper Future's DS2 (Deluxe) is both one of the most artistically committed, stylistically forward-looking and important rap albums of 2015, and also one of 2015's most tedious.

A slow-burning, druggy, psychedelic hip-hop album drenched in dark, moody layers of synths and heavy, heavy bass that garnered a ton of year-end praise - DS2 has a fascinating off-kilter sound, a sound further amplified by Future's unique use of autotune, which he employs to steer his voice into deeper, more hallucinogenic territory.

And make no mistake - despite a few songs (Blood On The Money, Slave Masters) that zero in on trap's more common lyrical focus on the brutal hardships of inner city life - hallucinations and the hedonistic pleasures of a drug-fueled lifestyle are what DS2 is all about, with most of the album's songs conveying the sense that we've been locked away in a high-end hotel room with Future and his lover (or lovers) for some hardcore, multi-day bingeing.

It's a creepy, amoral environment to be sure, but one that Future generates evocatively in a way I've never quite heard before, and with a lot of lyrical creativity, so in that regard, DS2 deserves most of the praise it's gotten.

But for me, DS2 has one huge flaw that I cannot get past, and that's the brutal same-i-ness of the material as a whole.

This is just not music for which the album is the ideal method of delivery or consumption.

No matter how good or interesting some of these individual songs are (including several of the bonus tracks available to listeners only on the deluxe version of this album),  they are all so similar in pace, style, and mood that they gain nothing from being listened to back-to-back-to-back.

No matter where I start on DS2, I am initially fascinated, but by the fifteen-minute mark, I'm bored, really bored.

So relatively high marks for the sound and style of DS2 and what Future has accomplished here, but low marks for the album listening experience as a whole.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Thought It Was A Drought, Where Ya At, Blow A Bag, Blood On The Money, Trap Niggas, Fuck Up Some Commas 


Original Track Listing:
1. Thought It Was a Drought - 8
2. I Serve The Base - 7
3. Where Ya At - 8
4. Groupies - 6
5. Lil One - 6
6. Stick Talk - 7
7. Freak Hoe - 7
8. Rotation - 7
9. Slave Master - 6
10. Blow A Bag - 7
11. Colossal - 7
12. Rich $ex - 7
13.  Blood On The Money - 8
Bonus Tracks:
14. Trap Niggas - 8
15. The Percocet & Stripper Joint - 7
16. Real Sisters -7
17. Kno The Meaning - 7
18. Fuck Up Some Commas - 8
Intangibles - For Style - Above Average, As An Album-Length Listening Experience - Low

Here are the official videos for my favorite cut on the album Blood On The Money, the very typical of the album as a whole Rich $ex, and one of Future's biggest hits, the deluxe version bonus track Fuck Up Some Commas.



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

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.