Sunday, February 25, 2018

McQ's #1 Album Of 2016 - TEENS OF DENIAL - Car Seat Headrest

Car Seat Headrest's Teens Of Denial is not a perfect album.

Ramshackle and hyperambitious, it stretches on for over seventy minutes that will surely test some listerner's patience.

The mix, while a huge step up from bandleader / songwriter Will Toledo's debut Teens Of Style and his early lo-fi band Bandcamp releases, is at places still ragged and raw.

Nothing the band does musically screams "originality." Everything feels rooted in the influences of obvious punk, indie and classic rock tropes from decades past.

And the album is so heavily front-loaded with its highest energy numbers that the album's second half can only pale by comparison.

But at the end of the day, what is here gels magically, making Teens Of Denial far and away my favorite release of 2016.

No other 2016 indie release rocked harder, no other 2016 album wowed me more lyrically, no other 2016 album made me laugh harder, and talk about an innate ability to slam home a chorus!  Most rock artists will go to their whole careers without writing one rousing sing-along crescendo as good as the "It doesn't have to be like this!" refrain that ends Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales.  Teens Of Denial serves up another five or six every bit as irrestible.

So yeah, I liked Teens Of Denial.

A lot.

Loosely organized around, but never restrained by, the struggles of Joe, a depressed, substance abusing, mostly alienated high school teen (and obvious Toledo stand-in), Teens Of Denial follows Joe through all manner of musings, bad trips, rants, beatings, fears of adulting, relationship anxieties, and social ups and downs and downs and downs.

But despite the defeatist nature of it all, the album is so sharp in its sociological observations and so hysterical in its presentation of its whiny "the world is against me " stance (in the bridge from stellar opener Fill In The Blank, Toledo sings "I get signs from the cops saying 'stay the fuck down.' / I get signs from the audience saying ' stay the fuck down' / I get signs from God saying 'stay the fuck down,'" and in another song, he compares his privileged but failed, unguided life to the Costo Concordia, the Spanish luxury liner that sank off the coast of Italy and was abandoned by its captain before evacuations were complete) that it's nearly impossible not to get sucked in to Joe's travails. And though unusual, Toledo's slow drawl of a voice feels like the perfect delivery vehicle for these words.  In timbre, he sounds like a sluggish Ray Davies, but the attitude is pure Modern Lovers / Jonathan Richmond.

And then there is the music itself.

It's been a long while since I've heard an artist with such a encyclopedic grasp of all the rock 'n' roll tricks employed by the generation that came before (Elvis Costello comes to mind here), or such a startling command of sudden dynamic shifts (maybe Sleater-Kinney on The Woods and No Cities To Love or Justin Vernon on his Bon Iver debut For Emma, Forever Ago, but that's about it). To jump on Toledo's roller coaster narrative from its blistering three song opening peak of Fill In The Blank, the unbelievably propulsive Vincent, and Destroyed By Hippie Powers through to the more reflective musical valleys that pepper the albums final two thirds is to thrill to one of the best musical rides in modern times, and everytime, just when you think things have finally gotten too loose, too slack, another dynamite passages surges forward with impeccable timing to power you through the album's next few minutes.

But to say any more is to ruin the fun of discovery every rock fan should experience for themselves.

Suffice it to say, this is any easy call for me as my favorite album of 2016, and unless this decade's last three years far out perform it's first seven, I struggle to imagine a scenario where this isn't one of my top ten albums of the decade as well.

Status: Highest Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Fill In The Blank, Vincent, Destroyed By Hippie Powers, (Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't A Problem), Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales, Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An), Connect The Dots (The Sage Of Frank Sinatra)

Track Listing:
1. Fill In The Blank -  10

2. Vincent - 10
3. Destroyed By Hippie Powers - 10
4. (Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't A Problem) - 9
5. Not Just What I Needed - 8
6. Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales - 10
7. 1937 State Park - 8
8. Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An) - 9
9. Cosmic Hero - 8
10. The Ballad Of Costa Concordia - 8
11. Connect The Dots (The Saga Of Frank Sinatra) - 9
12. Joe Goes To School - 7
Intangibles - Very High

Here are the official videos for Fill In The Blank and Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales, and a KEXP live-in-the studio performance of Vincent.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

McQ's Best Of 2016 Mix Collection

Hey Rock 'n' Roll Friends,

Boy, these things just keep coming out later and later each year.

But in fairness to myself, 2016 was particularly troublesome, in that this year's top 25 critical consensus albums was my least favorite batch of any year since I starting putting this annual collection together in 2004.

So what's a music geek to do?

Accept the reality that some year's just aren't as strong as others and put together a smaller mix collection. Right?


True-to-form, I dug deeper, listening down to more full-length releases and highly regarded songs for this year than ever before.  And as a result, I was able to get some awesome individual mixes out of it.  Three of the best this year -- Get Jangly, Finding Emo, and Get Southbound -- would have never come to fruition if I had just built from the top tier of the critical consensus lists as I typically do.

But, due to all that extra digging, there is now an overwhelming abundance of music presented here, 14 volumes, 20 hour.

For those of you that like these sorts of things more, shall we say, manageable, you have my apologies, but however little or however deeply you ultimately choose to dive in.... here's to the endless inspiration that comes from music.


Each year's Best Of The Best has its own flavor, and this year’s mix, more than anything else, focuses solely on pure musicianship. Starting with my favorite two songs of the year – Michael Kiwanuka’s Cold Little Heart (which will be immediately recognizable to fans of HBO’s Big Little Lies) and Car Seat Headrest’s ultra-adrenalized, feedback-drenched Vincent, and then moving on thru Whitney’s delicate pop orchestrations, Plastic Plant’s explosive guitar tones, and Lazarus’s disturbing, mournful saxophones, it’s just one damn stunning instrumental moment or arrangement touch after another.

Rather than poach a dozen gems from me this year as she typically does, Nancy went full-on protest mode here. If you, like us, are not fond of the current presidential administration, you’re going to love this mix. If for some reason, you are still a supporter of our narcissist-buffoon of a president, prepare to be offended.

Probably my favorite of 2016’s themed mixes –zeroes in like a laser beam on that jangly guitar / rock–bottom bass sound that’s been with us since the mid-60s folk-rock days and has evolved through the years to define several genres, from shoegaze to C86 to indie-twee. Mostly lower profile artists here, but the songs synergize wonderfully.

Our annual electro-pop mix. Same stew of Madonna-esque girl pop, John Hughes soundtrack-ish stuff, and edgier electronic tunes.

Young (and a few older) white males whine their over-privileged hearts out in this punk-poppish collection of emo-focused tunes. Not sure why every emo lead singer has to sound just like Ted Leo of the Pharmacists, but no matter, with four tracks from Teens Of Denial leading the charge, this is the best rock mix of the 2016 collection.

This year’s Alt-Country mix, though lively in spurts, emphasizes a number of female singers with gorgeously breathy, after-hours voices, especially the fabulous Angel Olsen.

With Moderat, Underworld, Sterolab spinoff Cavern Of Anti-Matter, and Stranger Things soundtrack artists S U R V I V E leading the way, this year’s collection of ambient and cerebral electronic music might be the best we’ve ever done in this vein.

My 2016 favs in Hip-Hop and neo-soul get their due here. Please note, Beyonce would be all over this mix if she weren't the one artist whose 2016 release isn't available on Spotify. Standing in for the three tracks of hers I wanted to include (Daddy Lessons, Freedom, and All Night) are cuts by Young Thug, Maggie Rogers, YG, and Schoolboy Q.

Admittedly, a hodge podge. A dumping ground for songs I couln't let go of that got squeezed out of Volumes 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, and 11. That said, there’s a lot of sweet tunes here, especially in the mix’s stronger front half.

A lot of 2016's very best albums were serious downers, including two that were literally recorded on death beds in David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker. Add in cuts from Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, recording just after his fifteen-year-old died in an accidental cliff fall at an national park, and Radiohead’s A Moon-Shaped Pool, recorded as Thom Yorke was separating from his girlfriend of over twenty-years, and it's clear we’re talking heavy, provocative, moving stuff here.  Swans, The Drone, Bat For Lashes, and ANOHNI also contribute to the artfully orchestrated malaise.

Nothing earth-shattering here, just a warm, agreeable check-in with a number of old musical friends, broken into separate retro-soul and classic/alt rock suites.

Our annual review of the little guys who made that calender year's Coachella Festival memorable. As always with this mix, the emphasis is on eclecticism.

If it’s mean, cynical, abrasive, bizarre, unlistenable, off-putting, experimental, metal or “post-anything,” it ended up here in this vicious double-length (two CD) mix. But despite being the roughest of all this year’s mixes, it is also definitely one of my favorites.

My eldest son Kevin, a huge contemporary rap fan, asked at the 11th hour if I would let him put together a mix for this year's collection, and who am I to deny my child a role in the family tradition, so here it is.

And For The Obsessives - The Next 100:

If, after all this listening, you are not completely exhausted, here, in no intentional order, are the last one hundred 2016 songs to miss the cut.

Monday, August 21, 2017

McQ's Best Of 1966 Mix Collection

All right! 1966!

For some, this was rock 'n' roll's finest year, and there's no question that when judged purely on the  strength and impact of its top three albums, only a handful of years can compete with 1966's powerhouse trio of The Beatle's Revolver, The Beach Boy's Pet Sounds, and Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde (though I actually have one of these three albums rated fourth on our best of 1966 list).

But for me, that's where comparisons to other top contenders for the "greatest rock year ever" ends.

As great as it was, 1966 just didn't quite deliver the same amazing depth of classic full-length releases that other all-time great contenders like 1967-69, 1971, 1977, and 1994 did.

That said, 1966 was still a phenomenal year for rock, both in how it set up the explosive flowering of new styles and genres that would land in 1967 (for a sense of that, check out our 1967 retrospective here), and also in how so many of the decade's defining sub-genres -- early garage, blues rock, folk rock -- hit their absolute zenith during 1966's twelve month span.

This eight volume mix collection aims to capture all that and more!

So what are you waiting for? Jump in and enjoy!

My choices for the very best singles and top tracks from the most significant albums of 1966, minus whichever hits Nancy selected for her mix, which was fewer this year than normal.

The 60's guitar gods take center stage here, as filtered through their devoted love of the blues.  While Eric Clapton, (through his blistering 1966 work with both John Mayall and Cream), and The Yardbird's Jeff Beck dominate, there are all manner of '66 white-boy blues to be found in this mix, as well as a few tracks from established African-American artists of the day like Slim Harpo and Koko Taylor, and a blistering early live recording of The Jimi Hendrix Experience for BBC Radio. This is definitely a standout of the 1966 collection.

The impact of Revolver and Pet Sounds on pop music is almost immeasureable and still being felt today, but there were several other fantastic pop efforts in 1966.  The Who landed the silliest album of their career with A Quick One. The Kinks started their classic "quaint English life" triology with the often brilliant Face To Face, L.A.'s Love dabbled in all manner of orchestral pop and folk rock experimentation on a pair of memorable '66 releases (their self-titled debut and the more psychedelic Da Capo), and the world witnessed the arrival of its all-time favorite made-for-television band The Monkees. 1966 efforts from these artists and more are featured here.

For those familiar with the soul mix from our 1967 collection, this mix stands as another testament to the unbelievably rich landscape of mid-sixties soul.  Tina Turner, with an assist from the demonic duo of husband Ike and producer Phil Spector, plays a big role here, and Wilson Picket, Marvin Gaye, and Jr. Walker carry a bigger portion of the burden this time around for the Motown / Stax crews, but from start to finish, this is just another fantastic soul romp and a great mix for parties.

Yeah, folk rock was big in 1966.  Just saying.  All the year's heavy hitters are represented here.

1966 was, by all practical measures, the year of the decade as far as garage rock was concerned.  Yes, The Sonics debut and The Standell's Dirty Water hit in 1965, and '67 sported its share of classic garage hits as well, but take one scroll through this track list and it's staggereing how many of garage rock's all-time hits landed in 1966. Another one of my favorites mixes in this year's collection, but for maximum impact on this one, you've got to play it loud. Really loud!!!

1966 was in many ways the cutoff, the last year where the more saccarhine, old-fashioned acts of the previous five-ten years could still ply their trade and be taken seriously.  Your first instinct hearing many of these tracks will be to laugh, but stay with it,  of all this year's mixes, this one's got  a special Ronco-styled synergy going on. It's become my favorite mix of the entire collection.

Another upbeat Nancy classic - served this together with Volume 1, and you'll hear the majority of the 1966's top tracks.

Monday, August 14, 2017

McQ's #57 Song Of 2015 - ROCK & ROLL IS COLD - Matthew E. White

It was a quite a year for Matthew E. White.

For starters, the multi-faceted Virginian produced singer-songwriter Natalie  Prass's lovely self-titled debut, which we will hear more about later in this countdown.

But between those production duties and running his own record label, White also managed to release his own second LP, the short, to the point Fresh Blood, and on that LP was one of my favorite throwawy tracks of the year, the joyous Rock & Roll Is Cold.

A silly, gimmicky play on words and our love of various music genres, it's the farthest thing from a deep, heavy song, but its bouyancy and sense of celebration is near irrestible.

Here's the official video.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

McQ's #57 Song Of 1967 - LAZY ME - Moby Grape

Coming in at #57 in our top songs of 1967 countdown, one of only three of the thirteen tracks from Moby Grape's legendary self-titled debut that was not released as a single, Lazy Me.

In hindsight, it's easy to see why Lazy Me was one of the few songs on the debut Columbia did not rally behind.

 Released just as the Summer Of Love and pyschedelic music was hitting peak popularity in June of 1967, the album was specifically marketed to the hippie/pro-drug-experimentation crowd, but Lazy Me, though itself an exploration of the acid-fueled headspace, not to mention a searing two-minute soul jam featuring some knock-out acoustic and electric guitar work, presented a much darker view of the LSD experience, closing each short verse with a couplet that suggested there were no real answers to be found in such substance-driven explorations, only apathy and decay.

Given how quickly the "Summer Of Love" in San Francisco devolved from a genuine utopian cultural moment at summer's start to a crime-riddled, near humanitarian crisis by summer's end, the song feels cleared-eyed and prescient when compared to the more hopeful, optimistic tone found in the majority of the year's other psychedelic songs, the very anti-thesis say, of Scott McKenzie's San Francisco.

Friday, August 4, 2017

McQ's #58 Album Of 2015 - BIRDS SAY - Darlingside

Stepping away from high profile, internationally recognized releases for a moment, Birds Say, our number 58 album of 2015, comes from a young Massachussetts indie-folk/bluegrass quartet still in the early stages of breaking their way into the listening public and music industry's consciousness.

In fact, I still probably wouldn't know who they are today if it weren't for fellow New Englander Patty Griffin, who asked Darlingside to join her on her 2015 Servent Of Love tour (more on that album in a few weeks). My wife and I were lucky enough to catch both acts in their November 2015 performance on the outdoor stage at Pioneertown's legendary Pappy & Harriets, and as soon as I saw Darlingside, I knew I would want to include a piece of their music in our 2015 collection.

So I bought their merch. And boy, am I glad I did.

The music in Birds Say is far from earth-shattering - basically straighforward contemporary indie-folk that falls very much in the broad male-harmony-driven camp that includes the likes of Fleet Foxes, Trampled By Turtles, Local Natives, and Mumford & Sons -  but at the end of the day, the band just harmonizes beautifully.  We're talking jaw-droppingly well, both live and on record, and that one talent basically overpowers whatever flaws of inexperience (of which, at times, their are many) exists in their music.

What emerges, then, is a light, positive, very well-produced collection of acoustic songs. Songs that are more pleasant than impactful, but that do portend of better things to come for the band as it continues to push forward, sharpen their vision, and grow.

For me, the crowd-pleasing White Horses and sad, Celtic-tinged, immigrant tale The God Of Loss are the definite standouts, though if you can ignore the clunky lyrics, Do You Ever Live is a definite musical/melodic highlight. My Gal, My Guy, the most Fleet Fox-y of the songs here, probably has the album's best melody line, but is diminished slightly by a weak extended ending.

If you're cherry picking, skip the sticky safe title track and Volcano Sky, a failed attempt at an epic pentultimate closer, but otherwise, the rest of the tracks on the record, are, like the band as a whole, quite agreeable and well worth hearing.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: White Horses, My Gal, My Guy, The God Of Loss, Do You Ever Live.

Track Listing:
1. The Ancestor - 7
2. White Horses - 8
3. Harrison Ford - 7
4. Clay & Cast Iron - 7
5. Go Back - 7
6. My Gal, My Guy - 8
7. Birds Say - 6
8. The God Of Loss - 8
9. Water Rose - 7
10. Do You Ever Live - 7
11. She's All Around - 7
12. Volcano Sky - 5
13. Good For You - 7
Intagibles - Average

Here's the official videos for my favorite two tracks on the album, White Horses and The God Of Loss.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

McQ's #58 Song Of 2015 - IN FOR THE KILL - Shamir

Coming in at #58 in our best songs of 2015 countdown, In For The Killmy favorite track from young genderqueer Las Vegan Shamir Bailey's Rachet, one of my favorite 2015 synth-pop albums.

And while much of the emphasis when talking about Shamir focuses on his gender identity or the equally fluid, hard to pin down in traditional genres nature of his music, my enthusiasm for In For The Kill comes from a much less complicated place.

I just love that crazy, off-kilter opening horn line and how it sets the musical tone for everything that follows in the song.