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?

Wrong.

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.

Enjoy!


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.




Volume 8 - Get Bangin':

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.



Volume 9 - Get Indie:

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.



Volume 10 - Deep Dark Pools Of Sorrow:

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.



Volume 11 - Get Classic:

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.



Volume 12 - Coachella Starters:

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.



Volume 13 - Get Nasty:

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.



Volume 14 - Kevin's 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!

Volume 1 - Best Of The Best:

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.



Volume 2 - Dem White Boys Sure Do Love Dem Blues (And A Few Of The Artists That Inspired Them):

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.



Volume 3 - Pop Grows Up (And Gets Kinda Weird):

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.




Volume 4 - 1966's Super Soul Spectacular:

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.




Volume 5 - Folk Rock Friendzone:

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




Volume 6 - Hey Joe, Over And Over Again (And Other 1966 Garage Rock Classics):

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!!!




Volume 7 - Painfully Dated (But Still Tons Of Fun):

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.




Volume 8 - Nancy's Favorites!:

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.


Monday, July 17, 2017

McQ's #58 Song Of 1967 - CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU - Frankie Valli

Coming in at #58 in our best songs of 1967 countdown, Frankie Valli's iconic pop standard Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You, cowritten by Bob Crewe and Frankie's Four Seasons bandmate Bob Gaudio.

Armed with its irresistible, endearingly schmaltzy "I love you, baby!" chorus, the song would become a Vegas / Cruise Ship / Wedding Band standard for decades to come, and was the biggest solo hit of Valli's solo career (peaking at number 2 on the 1967 weekly charts), until My Eye's Adored You became an even bigger charter for Valli in 1974.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

McQ's #59 Album Of 2015 - WHAT WENT DOWN - Foals

Foals is a talented band: An at-times inspired live act with serious chops, a knock-out rhythm section,  and a unique guitar sound built on the heavy use of harmonic tones; able anthemists capable of nailing classic Brit-rock crescendos; gifted sonic engineers who can claim some of the best produced songs of the decade (see Spanish Sahara from Total Life Forever or Late Night from Holy Fire) in their discography.

But they've also always flirted with blandness - average on their best day lyricists working fairly conventional catharthis-rock/arena-rock tropes lead by a brooding, aloof frontman with an occassionally effective but for the most part limited, less-effette Robert Smith voice - and unfortunately on their fourth time at bat, as the god-awful cover to their 2015 album What Went Down implies, blandness often wins the day.

That's not to say What Went Down is all bad.  There is some fantastic stuff here.

The title track finds the band returning to the metal-tinged direction first pursued on Holy Fire's Inhaler to promising effect, Snake Oil is a probably even better badass nut puncher, London Thunder closes in on some of that Spanish Sahara/Late Night magic, and Mountains At My Gate proves the band is still capable, when firing on all cylinders, to deliver a near perfect track.

But for the rest of the album the pickings are limited.  Albatross, though it sports the album's worst lyrics, is a fairly fun charger, but it reminds me of those harder-rocking, late career efforts by U2, Coldplay, and Midnight Oil in that while the band's instrumental talents, production skills, and sense of dynamics are too seasoned for the song to be a complete washout, the end result is just so much cheesier than what's come in years before. Several other songs (Give It All and A Knife In The Ocean) start with fairly intriquing opening verses (where lead singer Yannis Philipakkis is often at his best), but then devolve into bland choruses (where Philipakkis is usually at his worst).

Suffice it to say, though it's still better than many records I heard in 2015, and the band's sense of sonics and dynamics remain fairly awesome, What Went Down is my least favorite Foals album to date.  It may be technically better and more accomplished than their enthusiastic but uneven, jittery dance-driven debut Antidotes, but it lacks that album's youthful sense of mission, instead conveying the impression of a still formidable but road weary band who haven't yet given up the fight, but whose best days and best ideas might be behind them.

Let's hope I'm wrong, because this band has intermittently thrilled me both on stage and on record over the last decade. I want them to close out with something stronger than this.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: What Went Down, Mountain At My Gates, Snake Oil, London Thunder.



Track Listing:
1. What Went Down - 8
2. Mountain At My Gates - 9
3. Birch Tree - 6
4. Give It All - 6
5. Albatross - 7
6. Snake Oil - 8
7. Night Swimmers - 7
8. London Thunder - 8
9. Lonely Hunter - 7
10. A Knife In The Ocean - 7
Intangibles - Average To Slightly Low

Here are the offical videos for the album's opening two tracks, What Went Down and Mountain At My Gates.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

CONCERT REVIEW: U2 At The Rosebowl, Sunday May 21, 2017

With the possible exception of Bruce Springsteen, I can think of no other legendary band, so critically celebrated and adored by their own generation, that has been so firmly and completely rejected by the next.  We're not talking a normal level of disinterest here, as all generations feel to some degree for their parent's music.  No, with U2, we're talking abject millenial hatred.

Why, who knows.

If I had to guess, Pitchfork, with their unrelenting anti-classic-roc lean, has probably played a part, and clearly the band's tepid post-All That You Can't Leave Behind output hasn't helped.

Or maybe there's just something to the preachy, over-striving, baby-boomer earnestness of Bono/U2 and The Boss that rubs the less-grandiose-in-their-thinking millenials the wrong way,  and by extension then Pitchfork's attitude toward both acts is merely a reflection of this generational divide rather than a misguided taste-making forward charge.

But what millenials will probably never  quite understand is how completely right both Springsteen and U2 felt for their moment (I mean, sensitive, do-gooder, male earnestness was were it was at in the mid-80s - it's no accident Kevin Costner and U2's careers peaked and ebbed at the same times) - and never was U2 more completely connected to its audience than with its Brian Eno-sheparded masterpiece - The Joshua Tree.

So for me, an unabashed fan, it was with great excitement that I ventured with wife and friends to catch the band's Sunday Rose Bowl performance of their 1987 classic.

And what a fantastic show it turned out to be.

After a near-hour-long, engaging warm-up set by Colorado's Lumineers, the band finally took the stage - or rather the small secondary stage designed to look like a reflection of the Joshua Tree pattern that topped the set's huge projection screen - and launched into an opening assault for the ages.

BAM, BAM, BAM - Sunday, Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day, Pride - all knocked out with zero production assistance and as much force and tenacity as I've ever heard the band bring to them live.

It was, without question, one of the strongest starts to a live concert I've experienced.  We were on our feet, ecstatic.

And then it was time for the Joshua Tree.

Things kept on a clicking at an extremely high level through the first four tracks of TJT - Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, With Or Without You, and a positively badass rendition of Bullet The Blue Sky. And the video production work was awesome, in a deliberately reflective way as suits the majority of the material from the album.

Rather than hit us with all manner of flashing pyrotechnics (Bullet The Blue Sky, Exit, and a couple encore numbers excepted), the massive screen primarily favored long, flowing shots of vast vistas - a never ending dirt road through Joshua Tree park for Where The Streets Have No Name, vast desert expanses for I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and With Or Without, etc., etc,.  The early visuals were frankly awe inspiring, and did so much to put the themes of the album into clear focus.

But then, with Running To Stand Still, the show did hit a bit of lull over the next five songs.  At the heart of the problem was not the band, who were sharp throughout, but Bono's live singing, which is highly spotaneous and a bit too often, late, especially for the gentler more nuanced tracks of the album's second half like RTSS, Red Hill Mining Town (which received an all new brass anchored arrangement that many loved but I thought was the low moment of the entire show), and One Tree Hill.

Also, just a thought, but I don't understand why U2 always goes it alone stage, rather than bringing on additional musicians for those songs that will benefit from the added orchestration like so many contemporary acts follwing in the band's footsteps do.

But back to the Joshua Tree, In God's Country was excellent with that killer bass line and the stage's Joshua Tree all of a sudden glowing in psychedelic colors, and Trip Through Your Wires, always my least favorite of the Joshua Tree tracks, was actually damn good, though it provided the set's weakest video production moments.

But then Bono donned a hat right off of Robert Mitchum's head from Night Of The Hunter, and jumped into the strongest and most pyrotechnically flamboyant song of the entire show, Exit. An eleagic Mother's Of The Disappeared with a gorgeous slowly evolving back visual of a bunch of third world mother's somberly holding candles for lost loved ones closed out the Joshua Tree portion of the show, and after a kinda long break, it was on to the encores.

For the first encore, we got a politically charged version of Miss Sarajevo recast against recently shot footage of a Syrian refuge camp, and then a fabulous rendition of Bad, one of really only two ballads on the night, along with With Or Without You, to emerge unscathed from Bono's timing issues.

The final encore, while featuring mostly excellent performances of slightly more recent material Beautiful Day, Elevation, One, Ultraviolet and then second encore of BD, E, One, UV, and finally a new track, The Little Things That Give You Away - did get bogged down in too much, all-over-the-map, political messaging, and the visuals of female pioneers set to Ultraviolet, while an admirable gesture, were so busy they detracted from the song.

But those quibbles aside, this was for the most part an wonderful night of music - one in which the hard charging rockers consistently outshone the gentler material, but that overall left me feeling nothing but satisfied.

Not sure how much longer they are on tour, but if you can still catch them in this interation, do! This was the strongest tour they've put together in quite some time.

Here's fan captured videos of the first three songs from The Joshua Tree portion of the show.


Friday, July 7, 2017

McQ's #59 Song Of 2015 - BLACK EUNUCH - Algiers

Coming in at #59 in our best songs of 2015 countdown, one of two tracks to make our list from the most original sounding band of 2015, Black Eunuch from multi-racial, Atlanta-based Algiers self-titled debut.

Combining elements of gospel, rock, heavy funk and atonal industrial noise, this overtly political act's defining trait is their afrofolk backing vocals, which are typically processed to evoke the chain gang or plantation field hand chants of American centuries past.

Dealing with all these contradictory and propulsive musical elements isn't always a sure thing -- their sound can sometimes get quite muddy and jumbled -- but when it all comes together, as it did here on Black Eunuch and another track to be named later from their debut, the results were amongst the most exciting music of 2015. (PS, if you like this, early reviews on their 2017 follow up The Underside Of Power have been very strong)

Here's the official video.







Thursday, July 6, 2017

McQ's #59 Song Of 1967 - IF I WERE A CARPENTER - Tim Hardin

Coming in at #59 in our best songs of 1967 countdown, Tim Hardin's If I Were A Carpenter, which had already been a top ten hit for Bobby Darin the year before when Hardin decide to include his own version of his song on his 1967 sophomore album Tim Hardin 2.

One of the most enduring folk songs of the sixties, the Oregon native's composition would go on to be a top 100 hit three more times in cover versions by The Four Tops (my personal fav of the covers), Johnny Cash and June Carter, and Bob Seger, and was also given a gender reversal spin by Joan Baez.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

McQ's #60 Album Of 2015 (Tie) - FOIL DEER - Speedy Ortiz & FEELS LIKE - Bully

Coming in at #60 in our 2015 album countdown - efforts from two female-fronted 90s revival acts, both mild recommends, that strongly evoke the enduring alt-rock grandeur of the likes of The Breeders, Liz Phair, and Hole.

Of the two, Massachussetts-based Speedy Ortiz's Foil Deer, with its twisted, knotty time signatures, knife-edged vocals and spikey guitar attack is far and away the more original and sophisticated -- but also the more difficult -- of the two.

And while I am only giving the record a mild recommend, it needs to be said that Foil Deer is a huge leap forward from the band's previous effort Major Arcana.

Run Nirvana's In Utero and Liz Phair's Exile In Guyville through a meat grinder, and you've got a solid sense of what Foil Deer is offering up.

Feel Like, on the otherhand, from Nashvile-based Bully, is the more derivative and youthful album of the two, focused  on such eternal high school-aged concerns like waiting for one's first period or getting wasted, but done with such belief and vocal chord shredding, Hole-like verve from lead singer Alicia Bagnanno that in many ways it is the more likeable of the two efforts.

Beyond Trying, a band's breakout hit, I also really enjoyed Reason, probably the catchiest song on the album, and the ass-kicker Six.

Either way, if your looking for a fairly fresh alt-rock fix, you could do far worse than checking out these two promising early efforts from acts whose best work is probably still ahead of them.

Foil Deer's Best Bets: Raising The SkateThe GraduatesPufferMy Dead Girl.



Foil Deer's Track Listing:
1. Good Neck - 7
2. Raising The Skate - 9
3. The Graduates - 8
4. Dot X - 6
5. Homonovus - 7
6. Puffer - 7
7. Swell Content - 6
8. Zig - 6
9. My Dead Girl - 8
10. Ginger - 7
11. Mister Difficult - 7
12. Dvrk Wrld - 7
Intangibles - Average

Here's the video for Foil Deer's best track, Raising The Skate.


Feels Like's Best Bets: Reason, Trying, Six, Bully.



Feels Like's Track Listing:
1. I Remember - 7
2. Reason - 8
3. Too Tough - 6
4. Brainfreeze - 7
5. Trying - 8
6. Trash - 7
7. Six - 8
8. Picture - 7
9. Milkman - 7
10. Bully - 8
Intangibles - Above Average

Here's the video for Feels Like's hit song, Trying.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

McQ's #60 Song Of 2015 - LAKE SONG - The Decemberists

It's been fascinating tracking The Decemberists' evolution over the years.

Hyper-literate, thematically quaint and theatrically bent, their playful, broad indie-folk won over a huge number of fans throughout the aughts until band leader Colin Meloy's proggier tendencies got the best of him on the band's weakest, most bloated effort, the 2009 rock opera The Hazards Of Love.

Ever since that turning point, the band has been in clear "back to basics" mode.

2011 found the band teaming with the likes of Gillian Welch and REM's Peter Buck to move in a simpler, more alt-country direction with the surprise hit album The King Is Dead.

Then, after an extend hiatus, 2015's What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World found the band once again striving to keep things simple, but this time abandoning the countryish direction of King  to instead focus more on the subtleties of pure instrumentation than they ever had before.

The result, while not from their best album, is without question their most impressively arranged, with no better example of that additional attention to instumental detail than the album's immaculate, gorgeous centerpiece Lake Song.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

McQ's #60 Song Of 1967 - SO LONG, MARIANNE - Leonard Cohen

Coming in at #60 in our best songs of 1967 countdown, So Long, Marianne, Leonard Cohen's public parting gesture to his romantic partner of the previous seven years and one of the most famous "muses" in twentieth century lore, Norweigian Marianne (Ihlen) Jensen, whom Cohen originally met on the Greek isle of Hydra soon after her first husband, poet Axel Jensen, had abandoned her and their newborn son.

Over the years, Cohen would write many songs about Marianne, and his final brief letter to her just days before she passed in 2016 has already become the stuff of legend, but no song inspired by "the most beautiful woman" Cohen ever knew has stood the test of time like this one.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

McQ's #61 Album Of 2015 - STAR WARS - Wilco

Initially made available as a free download with no prior announcement in July of 2015, Wilco's 11th studio album Star Wars is as relaxed and off-hand an effort as one would expect given the album's super casual release strategy.

But despite, at least by Wilco's standards, the intentionally unambitious nature of record, there's still much about Star Wars to like.

A bit spikier and more rough hewn than we've grown accustomed to from this later, more stable edition of the band and devoid of any knock-out tracks, Star Wars is nonetheless a very light, playful record with an appealing "Super Hits Of The Seventies" vibe, easy with just one or two exceptions (see opener EKG) to take-in, and brings with its relaxed nature a welcome willingness to experiment (again see opener EKG).

Ironically, if there is there is a standout track, it's the song that most goes against the album's overall mood, the half-formed, surging murker You Satellite, which would have felt right at home on the band's all-time best effort, the darkly schizophrenic A Ghost Is Born.

On the playful side, Random Name Generator, That Joke Explained, and Pickled Ginger bring the most heat, while Taste The Ceiling is a nice, straight-forward alt-country ballad.

And that's all there really is to say about this album, not something that will be of much interest to more casual listeners, but a nice valentine for fans.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Random Name Generator, You Satelite, Taste The Ceiling, Pickled Ginger.



Track Listing:
1. EKG - 6
2. More... - 6
3. Random Name Generator - 8
4. That Joke Explained - 7
5. You Satelite - 8
6. Taste The Ceiling - 8
7. Pickled Ginger - 7
8. Where Do I Begin - 7
9. Cold Slope - 6
10. King Of You - 6
11. Magnetized - 6
Intangibles - Average To Slightly Low

Here's are live videos for Random Name Generator and Taste The Ceiling.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

McQ's #61 Song Of 2015 - THE WAIT - Tobias Jesso, Jr.

One of two tracks to make our 2015 top songs countdown from singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso, Jr.'s endearing debut Goon, the indelible, gentle-as-a-breeze The Wait, while clocking in at just 2:15, is possibly the sweetest, most earnest McCartney-esque song on an album loaded with sweet, earnest McCartney-esque songs.

Friday, June 2, 2017

McQ's #61 Song Of 1967 - SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK 'N' ROLL STAR - The Byrds

Coming in at #61 in our best songs of 1967 rankings, one of the first rock 'n' roll songs to go full on meta, The Byrds' So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star.

Released in January 1967 as the lead single for the band's soon to follow fourth LP Younger Than Yesterday, the song charted well in the United Kingdom, but didn't make much of a dent in the States.

Some attritibuted this failure to reach an audience in America to the song's bitter, ironic tone, a perception heightened by the widely held belief that that the song was a specific, cynical reaction to the rapid-fire ascent of the pre-frabricated Monkees. But in interviews over the years, while never dismissing The Monkees angles, the band has suggested other inspirations might also have been at work.

On the dark side, by this point in their careers, the band had been near the top of the game for over three years, so to them the song was as much about dealing with the pressures of staying on top after having already achieved success as it was about skewering the 1967 pop scene.

And on the lighter side, they've also referenced a 1966 moment when paging through a rock and roll magazine where they realized they hardly recognized anyone being profiled, and encouraged by all the rising enthusiasm for contemporary music, also wrote the song as a genuine, albiet humorously toned, nudge to all those future rock 'n' rollers eager to get in the game.

But whatever your own interpretation of the song, it's hard to deny the track its place, with Chris Hillman's insistent, innovative-for-the-times baseline, high in the upper-tier of the band's canon.

The song was also the band's first to incorporate brass into their sound, courtesy of South African Hugh Masekela, whom Hillman had been working with on a separate project at the time.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

McQ's #62 Album Of 2015 - EVERY OPEN EYE - Chvrches


It's a dilemna that's faced near every band that's produced a modest hit debut LP:

Do you push forward on your next effort, try something new, and broaden your stylistic range, or do you go to your strengths and double down on what your fans responded to in the first place.

In the case of Scottish synth-pop act Chvrches, there is no doubt than on Every Eye Open, their follow up to their 2013 full-length debut The Bones Of What You Believe, they have chosen to double down.

Gone is any trace of the light experimentalism, ala Science/Visions, that was peppered throughout Bones.  In its place, an unrelenting phalanx of maximal synth-pop bangers, tailor-made for today's mega-festival main stages.

And while the album is unquestionably aiming to expand upon the band's mainstream appeal, there is still a lot here that more indie-oriented sorts like me will find appealing.

Lauren Mayberry's pixie-throated voice, while not unique in tone or delivery, is clear, crisp, well fit to this kind of material, and has an appealing lilt to it as she emotes. Bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty definitely know their way around today's cutting-edge synths and sequencers, and most importantly, the band has an unerring ear for hooks.

But on the downside, while the hooks prevent even the weakest tracks from slipping too far off the rails, the repetitive design of these songs, coupled with a pervasive whiff of genericism (on many of these songs it even feels like the verses have been intentionally blanded out to allow the choruses to hit harder)  prevents any song from truly taking flight.

Of those tracks that do rise a touch above the rest, opener Never Ending Circles, Clearest Blue, and personal favoite Bury It are the best of the bangers.

High Enough To Carry You Over and Afterglow also stand out, though here less so qualitatively and more so just because they're the only two songs that differentiate themselves musically in any significant way - High Enough To Carry You Over featuring a nice Martin Doherty lead vocal,  and closing ballad Afterglow offering the album's one welcome repreive from all the hooky up-ness that dominates the rest of the record.

But in the end, as an overall assesment of Every Open Eye, I fear Chvrches have made the same mistake on their sophomore LP that Florence + The Machine did on their second effort Ceremonials - focusing in such a calculating manner on their obvious strengths at the expense of everything else that they've created an album that while hard not to like, is even harder to love.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Never Ending Circles, Clearest Blue, Bury It, Afterglow.



Track Listing:
1. Never Ending Circles - 8
2. Leave A Trace - 7
3. Keep You On My Side - 7
4. Make Them Gold - 6
5. Clearest Blue - 8
6. High Enough To Carry You Over - 7
7. Empty Threat - 7
8. Down Side Of Me - 6
9. Playing Dead - 6
10. Bury It - 8
11. Afterglow - 8
Intagibles - Below Average

Here's the official videos for the album's three strongest songs, Never Ending Circles, Clearest Blue, and Bury It.





Sunday, May 28, 2017

McQ's #62 Song Of 2015 - QUEEN OF PEACE - Florence & The Machine

Landing in the #62 spot of our top songs of 2015 countdown, Florence & The Machine's Queen Of Peace.

A world class belter, it's been said of Welch that the strength of her voice, and the primary source of its appeal, lies not in her vocal dexterity, but in the power of her single note sustains, and no song puts that strength to better use on the band's return-to-form third LP How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful than this surging, orchestral heartbreaker, my favorite among many strong tracks from the album, where Welch draws out a middle note in each line of the chorus to thrilling effect.

Here's the official video for Queen Of Peace and the song that follows it on the album, Long and Lost.



Saturday, May 27, 2017

McQ's #62 Song Of 1967 - DEAR MR. FANTASY - Traffic

Coming in as our #62 song in our best tracks of 1967 countdown, Dear Mr. Fantasy, the epic, psychedelic slow-jam title track to Traffic's 1967 debut album, Mr. Fantasy.

Featuring a wonderful lead vocal from the still just 19-year-old Stevie Winwood (he had started fronting hits for The Spencer Davis group at the meager age of 15) that had prompted Rolling Stone to label him as one of the definitive singers of his generation, and a final three and a half minutes that continue to thrill to this day, Dear Mr. Fantasy rates as one of the best tracks from the band's Winwood / Jim Capaldi / Chris Wood primary songwriting trio, though I still consider rhythm guitarist Dave Mason's Feelin' Alright to be the band's quintessential highlight.

Here's a wild, drugged-out 1972 live performance of Dear Mr. Fantasy with a revised and expanded lineup of the band. Winwood is clearly in the middle of an LSD trip as he performs - just watch his eyes - but manages to kill it nonetheless.

McQ's #63 Album Of 2015 - SOUND AND COLOR - Alabama Shakes

Description:  Let's get my one big negative in this review out of the way first so we can move on to the many positives there are to take away from Alabama Shakes' second LP Sound And Color.

To say that I've had issues with Alabama Shakes in the past - huge issues - is an understatement.

A potent live act with a one-of-a-kind force in monster-voiced, almost Joplinesque front woman Brittany Howard, I've always felt they were a band possessed of excellent chops and decent presence but piss-poor songwriting / conceptual ability.

For me,  listening to their 2012 full-length debut Boys And Girlsbig hit Hold On and second best song Be Mine aside - was a painful exercise, so glaring was the band's inability track after track to get decent Southern Rock ideas to coalesce into fully realized songs. Almost everything felt half-baked.

And while the songwriting is definitely better here, those issues still exist to a significant degree on Sound and Color.

There are a number of tracks here - Dunes, Guess Who, Miss You - that have that same unfinished/not-fully-thought-through feel, and a far smaller number (really just one song) that do feel fully realized.

But that said, it's important to remember one thing.

This is not a collection of seasoned studio stars that got together.

Alabama Shakes is a local, smal town band, formed very early in life, like U2, by a group of talented Junior High/High School friends with little formal training who've been taking their lumps and learning the ropes as they go.  True, they've received some guidance from some big time superstars, most notably White Strip Jack White, but there is still so much room for this band to grow, and viewed from the standpoint of artistic growth, it's hard to listen to Sound And Color and hear it as anything other than a huge step forward for the band.

Starting with the album's wonderful sense of stylistic adventure.

Where as Boys And Girls was a fairly straightforward Southern Rock affair, Sound and Color is all over the map musically, often in strikingly unexpected, weird ways, and all the better for it.

In that regard, the record reminds me very much of The Black Keys' 2010 release Brothers, another album that seemed locked in on exploring as many different instrumental textures it could shoehorn into its relatively classic style as possible.

From the so inviting electric keys (or maybe they're vibraphone or xylophone accents) that launch the opening title track, it's clear Sound And Colors is going to be exactly what the album's title suggests, a record about sonic palette, and through its twelve tracks we are treated to all manner of instrumental arrangements and mixing board trickery, from those striking opening keys, to Gemini's super fuzzed-out tones, to the chilled Duane Allmanish southern groove of Shoegaze, to the almost garage-y The Greatest.  And it all makes for a dynamic listen even when the songwriting struggles.

There is also an appealing greater emphasis on the soulful side of Howard's voice that can be quickly summarized as less hystrionics (though they're still hear in abundance), and more heart.

Best of all are this This Feeling, with its strikingly subtle verses, Gimme All Your Love, with its monster close-out, and the searing, stone-cold classic Don't Wanna Fight - which as the album's one fully realized song usurps Hold On as the best thing they've ever done and showcases just how much potential this band does have when they put it all together.

So again, while the band's songwriting inconsistencies prevent me from rating Sound And Color beyond a mild recommend, this is an adventurous record with above average intangibles, and from the standpoint of future promise, a tremendously encouraging record.

So here's hoping Sound And Color, to revive my U2 analogy, is Alabama Shake's October, and their War, Joshua Tree, and Achtung, Baby! are still lieing in wait around the corner.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Don't Wanna Fight, Gimme All Your Love, This Feeling, Gemini.



Track Listing:
1. Sound And Color - 7
2. Don't Wanna Fight - 10
3. Dunes - 6
4. Future People - 6
5. Gimme All Your Love - 8
6. This Feeling - 8
7. Guess Who - 6
8. The Greatest - 7
9. Shoegaze - 8
10. Miss You - 6
11. Gemini - 8
12. Over My Head - 6
Intangibles - Average to Slightly High

Here's are the videos for...




Friday, May 12, 2017

McQ's #63 Song Of 2015 - HERE - Alessia Cara

Coming in at the #63 spot in our 2015 song countdown, one of maybe only four or five mainstream hits to make Billboard's 2015 year-end Hot 100 list that I actually loved, teenage Canadian neo-soul singer Alessia Cara's debut single, Here.

Released in April of 2015, the song struck a chord with introverts and really all young adults who want their social lives to be more than just an ceaseless parade of appearances at drug-and-alcohol-fueled parties, and as a result, ended up spending more than half of 2015 on the charts and making the majority of critical year-end best lists.


McQ's #63 Song Of 1967 - ONCE I WAS - Tim Buckley

Coming in at #63 in our 1967 song countdown, a gorgeous, elegiac track that still cuts me to the core, Tim Buckley's  Once I Was.

Part of a strong collection of stylistically adventurous, poetic songs that made up Buckley's second album, the minor psychedelic standard Goodbye And Hello, Once I Was was in some ways one of the album's most conventional songs, an almost traditional folk ballad.

But thanks to Buckley's stirring vocal performance, especially on the song's stunning, almost overwhelming final verse, Once I Was became not only a fan favorite and one of the era's iconic anti-war anthems ( it was used to moving effect to open the 1987 documentary Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam), but years later the song also helped launch the stalled solo career of Buckley's estranged son Jeff, whose 1991 acoustic peformance of the song in Brooklyn's St. Ann's Church to close a tribute concert for the father he never knew, the last moments of the song done accapella after a guitar string broke, earned Jeff amazing reviews and has since become the stuff of New York concert legend.

Here's Tim's original version as it was used in Dear America, and then a rough audio recording of Jeff's St. Anns performance.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

McQ's #64 Album Of 2015 - THE THINGS WE DO TO FIND PEOPLE WHO FEEL LIKE US - Beach Slang

Coming in at #64 in our 2015 album countdown, is the full length debut from Philadelphia-based punk rock quartet Beach Slang.

Fronted by James Alex, a forty-three-year-old, chorduroy-loving singer/songwriter with an ginormous Paul Westerberg fetish, everything Alex and his band does seems to come straight out of The Replacements playbook,  particularly the 'Mats classic Let It BeTim / Pleased To Meet Me period.

And while I will grant you that to the classic Westerberg style Beach Slang has added an extra dollop of heavy guitar fuzz and over-the-top emoting, the truth is Beach Slang is at its own best - on songs like Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas, Hard Luck Kid, or the Here Comes A Regular-ish Too Late To Die Young - the more it sounds like the original Replacements. It's when Beach Slang starts to sound like a band unique to itself, as on the album's more emoish back half, that things tend to fall apart.

On the plus side, nearly every song on The Things We Do... bursts out of the gate with tons of pent-up, youthful energy, literally screaming "This Is A Rock Song!" The band truly does have that Replacement's anthem vibe down cold, and the album is much better produced than that of other popular contemporary punk acts (Japandroids, Cloud Nothings) playing in this same stylistic arena.

On the downside, while most of these songs are real collar-grabbers, many don't quite deliver on that opening power chord promise as they progress, and often, it's the heavier guitar fuzz, the one thing that genuinely differentiates Beach Slang from a straight up Replacements tribute band, that most gets in the way.  Add to that the fact that Alex, while wonderful at channelling Westerberg's classic angst,  possess little of Westerberg's lyrical wit, insight, dexterity, or left-field unpredictability, and you're left with an album that consistently gives the sense of being better than it really is.

Still a fun listen, though, and worth checking out for any fan of Replacement's style rock.

Just know going in that there's no inspired Androgynous, Answering Machine, or Seen Your Video zaniness to be found amonst these ten cuts.  Every song on The Things We Do is basically going for earnest Bastards Of Young uplift start to finish, and while a few come damn close to pulling it off, none quite match the impact of the original masters.

Status: Mild Recommend



Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Throwaways, Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas, Too Late To Die Young, Hard Luck Kid.

Track Listing:
1. Throwaways - 7
2. Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas - 8
3. Noisy Heaven - 7
4. Ride The Wild Haze - 7
5. Too Late To Die Young - 8
6. I Break Guitars - 6
7. Young & Alive - 6
8. Porno Love - 7
9. Hard Luck Kid - 8
10. Dirty Lights - 6
Intangibles - Average to Slightly Low

Here's the official video for one of the albums better tracks Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas.


Monday, May 8, 2017

McQ's #64 Song Of 2015 - FALSE HOPE - Laura Marling

As I said in an earlier post regarding Gurdjieff's Daughter, Laura Marling's Short Movie was probably the best 2015 album I won't review in full.

The album, which found Marling adding all manner of eclectic and electric instrumentation to her normally placid acoustic sound, was the most musically dynamic of her career, and of the many strong tunes on the record, the urgent, insistent False Hope, its chaotic, emotional uncertainity wonderfully accented by a jarring, almost punkish rhythm guitar, was my absolute favorite.


Saturday, May 6, 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 #64 Song Of 1967 - PLEASANT VALLEY SUNDAY - The Monkees

Here's the thing.

The Monkees may have begun as a completely synthetic, manufactured for television act, but when all is said and done, by the end of the sixties, they had emerged as one of the best pop acts of the decade, with a expansive number of huge hits that stand with the best output from any of the decade's other great second tier acts.

Aided by excellent songwriters like Neil Diamond, the duo Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, and several Brill Building regulars, not to mention Monkee Mike Nesmith, who contributed several of his own more country leaning compositions, The Monkees reached the absolute peak of their popularity in 1967 (yes, it's true - they outsold The Beatles and The Stones combined that year, the same year that Sgt. Pepper's was released), and of all the Monkees '67 tunes, my personal favorite, without question, is the single Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Originally written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, supposedly as a subtle dig at the consumerism and status-focus that dominated life in several suburban communities along Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange, New Jersey, Nesmith would later contend the song was actually written about life in a mental institution.

But either way one interprets the song and its gentle lyrical bite, none of this detracts from the song's fantastic, up tempo, folk-rock groove - one of the most energized in the band's repetoire.

Friday, May 5, 2017

McQ's #65 Album Of 2015 - KING PUSH - DARKEST BEFORE DAWN: PRELUDE- Pusha T

Originally intended as merely a sampler to a much bigger primary release tentatively titled King Push, fans of Pusha T, founding member of the celebrated Aught's Hip Hop duo Clipse and now president of Kanye West's Hip Hop label G.O.O.D. Music, have been forced to appease their yearings for that epic with this brief ten track prelude for now more than two years running.

And while Pusha has indicated in recent statements that a King Push release is imminent, the truth of the matter is there has always been plenty here on Darkest Before Dawn: Prelude to ponder while one waits.

Never a rapper interested the slightest in moral edification, this is a hard-edged record, focused on two things - the bullshit in the rap game, and life in drug trade (something Pusha has mucho first hand experience in), and while I only love one track on here, the super-sinister Keep Dealing, the album sustains a pretty cool vibe throughout, with beats that, as with his work with Clipse, are very spare but highly experimental, and after multiple listens tend to have a serious eureka factor.

And as a rapper, it's astonishing to me on this album how similar Pusha's flow is to Kanye's, but how also, in a subtle way, he's so much more melodic, which may be the reason he's able to pull off these songs with such minimalistic beats, a trick other, vocally flatter rappers could never pull off.

Case in point, album highlight Crutches, Crosses Caskets, which is basically just a drum loop, a little bass, and a few very interesting sound effects, but because of Pusha T's flow, the whole song carries.

The same thing could be said for the track that follows M.P.A. 

So again, while not in love with a lot of the songs on this album, there are a lot of intangible factors at play here that King Push - Darkest Before Dawn:Prelude well worth multiple listens.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: M.F.T.R., Crutches, Crosses, Caskets,  M.P.A., Keep Dealing



Track Listing:
1. Intro - 6
2. Untouchable - 6
3. M.F.T.R. - 7 (interesting string close-out to it)
4. Crutches, Crosses, Caskets - 7
5. M.P.A. - 8
6. Got Em Covered - 7
7. Keep Dealing - 9 - Very moody, dramatic tract, a standout, my personal favorite - great guest rap at end by Beanie Segel.
8. Retribution - 6
9. F.I.F.A. - 6
10. Sunshine - 7
Intangibles - Above Average

Here's the official video for M.F.T.R.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

McQ's #65 Song Of 2015 - LA LOOSE - Waxahatchee

For our #65 Song Of 2015, the first of two tracks from Waxahatchee's excellent 2015 release Ivy Tripp to make our countdown, La Loose.

Much has been made of the album's exploration of the drifting aimless of contemporary twenty-something life and those ambivalent, hazy, in-between emotions that fall between love and heartbreak, and La Loose, with its bittersweet portrayal of a young woman willfully hanging on to a mostly one-sided romance, definitely falls in line with the record's thematic concerns.  

But musically, the song is a bit of an outlier for the Katie Crutchfield-led outfit, one of the lightest, bounciest, poppiest numbers in their entire discography, and all the more notable for it.

McQ's #65 Song Of 1967 - POURING WATER ON A DROWNING MAN - James Carr

For the #65 spot in our best songs of 1967 countdown, my favorite song ever from my favorite 60s southern-soul singer not named Otis Redding, James Carr's performance of the Drew Baker/Dani McCormick composition Pouring Water On A Drowning Man.

The opening track to one of the best soul albums ever, Carr's You Got My Mind Messed Up, we will have much more to say about this song, the album, and the artist later in this countdown.

For now, just enjoy...



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

McQ's #66 Album Of 2015 - HONEYMOON - Lana Del Rey

For most artists, by the time they reach their fourth full-length release, they are ready to break free, at least to a degree, from the formula that got them their start.

Not Lana Del Rey.

If anything, Honeymoon finds the enigmatic, of-this-era-but-not, ennui-drench pop chanteuse doubling down on, nea stripping down to, the most elemental trademarks of her music - the seductive but bored vocals, the otherworldly orchestral instrumentations, the often kiddie-pool shallow lyrics that nonetheless convey a sense of conniving femme fatale menace - and the end result is an album that highlights both the best and worst of Del Rey's music.

Wonderfully produced and tremendously atmospheric, the album is also way overlong and in many instances tediously monochromatic, even by Del Rey's narrow-niche standards. Because of the unrelenting mellow consistency of Honeymoon, I much prefer her previous effort, the Dan Auerbach produced Ultraviolence, which at least found a way to sneak in some instrumental blues and jazz electricity into Del Rey's trademark style. But that said, I do also feel that Honeymoon is still a more accomplished/mature effort than her first two releases.

Another interesting revelation for me, by album four it is abundantly clear that Del Rey possesses a voice tailor-made for delivering compellingly whispery, dramatic verses but that same voice is not a strong vehicle for delivering memorable choruses.  I can't think of one song on this album where the chorus passage is more enticing than the verse leading up to it or the coda that follows. Not one.

But my most interesting take-away from Honeymoon is how slim her margin for error is when trying to deliver music of this specific style.

Tiny qualitative differences in the strength of melody lines, instrumentation, or sense of drama end up having huge qualitative impacts on the overall success of these songs, leading to an album that exudes a potent hit and miss vibe even though the performance/songwriting differences between the "hits" and "misses" are in a more reductive sense almost negligible.

As for those songs that worked the best for me, in addition to cherry picker recs Music To Watch Boys To, Terrence Loves You, God Knows I Tried, and Religion, I also liked The Blackest Day, the reworking of the Animals/Nina Simone track Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, and the short spoken interlude Burnt Norton, which has a cool, Twin Peaks-y feel to it.

On the flip-side, I can't stand the chorus to High By The Beach, it's just so nothing there, and several other lesser tracks leave me similarly bored.

So very mixed review here.  I do love some of the atmospherics and there are really nice versus build-ups or post chorus passages throughout, but this an album where less would have definitely been more.  We'd probably be talking at different recommend status for Honeymoon had it been pared down to nine or ten tracks.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Music To Watch Boys To, Terrence Loves You, God Knows I Tried, Religion.



Track Listing:
1. Honeymoon - 6
2. Music To Watch Boys To - 8
3. Terrence Loves You - 8
4. God Knows I Tried - 8
5. High By The Beach - 4
6. Freak - 6
7. Art Deco - 7
8. Burnt Norton - 7
9. Religion - 8
10. Salvatore - 6
11. The Blackest Day - 8
12. 24 - 6
13. Swan Song - 6
14. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - 7
Intangibles - Average To Slightly Low

Here are the official videos for one of my favorite tracks on the album, Music To Watch Boys To, and my least favorite track on the album, lead single High By The Beach.