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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/27/2016 Update

Today, in (I promise) our very last post before moving on to our 2015/1967 countdown proper, we listen to songs from two of the most exciting names to emerge in country music over the last few years.

Let's start with 2015, and in 2015, no country artist had a bigger commercial breakthrough than songwriter Chris Stapleton.

An industry veteran who had already written over 150 produced songs for other artists in the previous decade (including six number ones on the country charts), Stapleton finally branched out on his own in 2015 with his solo debut Traveller and boy did he hit it big.

Traveller went on to become the best-reviewed country album of 2015, won several Grammys, and spawned a number of fantastic tracks, including the rousing Parachute, featured on our 2015 Crowd Pleasers mix.

We'll talk at a later date about another Traveller track, Stapleton's unreal cover of the country standard Tennessee Whiskey, in our actual Best Songs Of 2015 countdown, but for now, here's the Saturday Night Live performance of Parachute.

Now let's move on to a song from 2014's biggest breakout country artist.

Turtles All The Way Down is a wonderful little faith-questioning ballad from a man many are starting to believe represents the future of country music, Sturgill Simpson.

A musical omnivore, Simpson is well versed in country tradition, but much like Kanye West with regards to hip-hop, has an innate ability and seemingly unrelenting desire to expand his music beyond those traditional genre boundaries, hence his logical inclusion on the 2015 Coachella line-up and his representation on our 2015 Coachella Starters mix.

The album from which Turtles was pulled, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, the top-reviewed country album of 2014, is excellent and well worth checking out, even for those that don't consider themselves everyday country fans...and in a bit of Best of 2016 foreshadowing, I can say his follow-up album A Sailor's Guide To Earth is even more expansively genre-bending and adventurous.

Without question, Simpson is one to keep an eye on.

Here's a nifty acoustic solo performance of Turtles from Live In The Morgue.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/26/2016 Update

Motown wasn't just a label in 1967, it was a cultural force...its songs often the one brand of music that could consistently get individuals both white and black to drop the racial tensions of the time and for a few brief minutes let loose together in shared celebration...and 1967 was among the label's best years ever.  No surprise then that Nancy has selected several of the labels top 1967 hits for her Nancy's Favorites mix.

I Was Made To Love Her wasn't Stevie Wonder's first hit, he'd had several by the time of its 1967 release, but co-written with his mother Lula Mae Hardaway, Sylvia Moy, and producer Henry Cosby, it was always one of Stevie's personal favorites and point of pride amongst his early compositions.

As Wonder declared in a 1968 interview, he felt it was his first truly complete song he had written.  It would go on to top the R&B charts for four weeks in 1967, but was blocked from the top spot in the pop charts by The Doors' Light My Fire, and finished as the #14 most popular single for the year.

1967 was an even more productive year for Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.

In addition to releasing the amazing Tears Of A Clown, co-written with Stevie Wonder and Henry Cosby, Smokey stumbled upon his biggest hit of 1967 while shopping for pearls for his wife Claudette with friend and fellow songwriter Al Cleveland.

As the legend goes, after making his choice, Smokey said to the to the sales clerk "I sure hope she (Claudette) likes them." Cleveland then added, "I second that emotion."

Clevenland had meant to say "notion," but both men were so amused, they immediately got to work shaping a song around the accidental turn of phrase.

I Second That Emotion spent three weeks at #4 on the pop charts at the end of 1967, and the song has only grown in stature as the years have passed.

Moving over to our 1967's Super Soulsters' Deep Cuts Review, but sticking with The Miracles, they also released what might be their most beautiful song ever in 1967 with the less well-remembered but gorgeous The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage.

Finally, a male/female Motown pairing that also had tremendous success in 1967 was that of established superstar Marvin Gaye and young ingenue Tammi Terrell.

Their very first recording, the classic single Ain't No Mountain High Enough, appears on Nancy's Favorites and will be discussed later, as it will land deep in our 67 Best Songs Of 1967 countdown, but the duo's follow-up single, Your Precious Love, was actually an even bigger hit for the act at the time, and is also included in our 1967's Super Soulster's Deep Cuts Review.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/25/2016 Update

Just four more posts before we get to our 2015/1967 countdown proper.

Today we return to our 2015 Circuit Teasers mix, and take a listen to a new song from one of the funniest and most unique singer-songwriters of the last half-decade.

Disappointing is my favorite track from John Grant's solid third solo LP Grey Tickles, Black Pressures, which found the unpredictable but often riotiously witty singer directing his ire mostly towards the headaches of a being a gay man entering late middle-age this time around, all delivered with his typically acerbic, skewed panache.

British singer Tracey Thorn adds some excellent supporting vocals.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/24/2016 Update

Today, we return one last time before the start of our countdown proper to our 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars mix, and take a listen two a pair of 1967 garage hits that obtained even higher cache in the mid-70s with their inclusion of the opening edition of Lenny Kaye's infamous Nuggets compilation series.

Another 1967 garage single with a knotty start was The Strawberry Alarm Clock's Incense And Peppermint. At the time it was recorded, the band actually went by the name Thee Sixpence, and had already issued three singles under that moniker.  But in the Peppermint sessions, members of the band objected to the original lyrics by John S. Carter, and as acrimony developed in the studio, vocals were handed over to a friend visiting the session who wasn't even in the band, Greg Munford. Further complicating matters, producer Frank Slay denied fellow band members Mark Weitz and Ed King (who would go on to much greater success as a member of Leonard Skynyrd) writing credits for not coming up with the lyrics or core melody even though the song was primarly built around and instrumental composition of their own making.

Finally released as Thee Sixpence b-side to fourth single The Birdman Of Alkatrash, it was Incense and Peppermint that caught the attention of local DJs, and as it became clear the band was about to have a national hit, they quickly changed their name to The Strawberry Alarm Clock to avoid legal conflicts with another similarly named band. The song peaked at number 1 for one week in the weeklies, and finished 1967 in the #23 year-end spot. The band would produce a few more singles and a couple of albums, but would never have as big of a hit again.

For the Taft High School-forged Electric Prunes, songwriting credits were easier to sort through, as all of their hits and a heavy chunk of their album tracks were written by outside parties at the behest of record label Reprise, who loved the band's sound and commanding take on experimental feedback sonics, but felt they weren't quite strong enough songwriters to develop enough material on their own.

So the bulk of the songwriting chores fell to the slightly older female team of Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz, who penned both of their biggest hits, the LSD-pun on the classic age-old adage I Had Too Much Too Dream Last Night, featured here, and Get Me To The World On Time.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/23/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 2015 Nut Squeezers mix, and take a listen to one of the nastiest songs put on record in 2015.

Acetate was the lead single and best song off of Canadian hardcore/noise-rock outfit METZ chilling second album II.

If you're looking for music to put the fear of God, or maybe Satan, into you, Metz II is as good a place to start as any 2015 release. Frighteningly severe, the album's enslaught comes at you for twenty-nine minutes, without let-up, with an almost biblical and often thrilling intensity.

Here's the official video for Acetate.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The 2015/1967 Countdown - 10/22/2016 Update

Today, we return to our 1967's Super Spectacular Singles Superstars mix, and take a listen to a pair of harmony-driven hits from two of Englands biggest hitmakers of that era, each with a fun bit of trivia attached to it.

The Hollies Carrie Anne was their biggest hit of 1967 following a monster 1966. Written by Graham Nash, he much later admitted the incredibly appealing song was directly inspired by his unrequited romantic feelings for Mick Jagger's then girlfriend, singer Marianne Faithful, but he didn't have the courage at the time to use her exact name, hence the subtle shift in title.

And scoring the biggest hit of their entire career was the slightly older but equally consistent on the charts singles act The Tremeloes with their cover of the Four Seasons b-Side Silence Is Golden, which would be tops in the UK for three weeks.

As for the fun Tremoloes trivia - they can lay claim to being one of the only bands in history to best the The Beatles in anything music related - back in 1962, when Decca records decided they wanted to add one young beat act to their label, they audition two acts - The Tremeloes, and The Beatles - and yes, The Tremeloes won out, a decision many speculate was anchored mostly on geography, as The Tremeloes were based much closer to label headquarters.

Wonder if those Decca execs ever wished they could have that choice back?