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.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

McQ's #66 Song Of 2015 - SO OH - The Charlatans

Today, we take a listen to our #66 song of 2015, and I've got to tell you, I'm as surprised by this inclusion as many of you may be.

If you had asked me, back in 1989 when the Madchester scene first started attracting attention in the states, which of the era's three biggest breakout acts - The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, or The Charlatans - would go on to have the most enduring career, I for sure would have said The Stone Roses, the most instrumentally talented of the bunch, and then if pressed for a second, I would have probably gone with The Happy Mondays if only because they seemed to have a more restless, stylistic spirit that suggested an ability to keep things fresh over the years.  And though I loved The Charlatans at the time, an early show I caught of them at Chicago's Metro, where they blew through three of their debut Some Friendly's four best songs You're Not Very Well, The Only One I Know, and Believe You Me in the opening ten minutes, saving only Sproston Green to power the last forty minutes of their short set, left me thinking they might not be able to generate enough material for the long haul.

Boy was I wrong.

The Stone Roses, despite a few half-hearted comeback attempts, never regained their mojo, The Happy Mondays ended up sticking to what the knew for a few years more before disbanding, and then there's the The Charlatans, who've gone on to have a very consistent, if Los Lobos-like high quality but slightly below the radar, thirty year career. Kudos.

So in 2015, following the loss of founding drummer Jon Brookes to brain cancer, the Charlatans returned once again with Modern Nature, which while acknowledging Brooke's loss chose to focus most of its energy on positive, soulful reflection rather than wallow in despair.

Now sporting a sound that's more closely tied to classic rock than the psychedelic tones of the early rave movement, the album boasted a number of tracks I considered including in the 2015 mix collection, chief among them In The Tall Grass and the jammy Let The Good Times Be Never Ending, but in the end, I had to go with one of my favorite tracks of the year, and probably the most "Madchestery" song on Modern Nature, the awesome pop nugget So Oh.

With songs this strong, here's hoping Tim Burgess and crew can keep it going for another ten to twenty years.




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

McQ's #66 Song Of 1967 - SAN FRANCISCO (BE SURE TO WEAR FLOWERS IN YOUR HAIR) - Scott McKenzie

Coming in at number 66 on our 1967 song countdown is the one major hit for folk-rocker Scott McKenzie, an artist who probably would have had a much bigger career were it not for one ill-timed decision.

A childhood and lifelong friend of John Philips, he and Philips spent most of the early years of their musical career figuratively teethered at the hip...starting two significant east coast market bands in the doo-wap oriented Smoochies, and later the folk-rock act The Journeymen, who recorded three albums and several singles in the early sixties.

But with the rapid stylistic changes that came with the British Invasion, The Journeymen disbanded, and McKenzie choose at that moment to finally pursue a solo career rather than head out west and accept Philips' invitation to join him on the lineup of a fledgling west coast act  - The Mamas And The Papas.

Needless to say, at least career wise, things panned out better for Philips than they did for McKenzie,
but despite his sudden success, Philips never forgot his friend, and in 1967 wrote and co-produced McKenzie's one monster hit - San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) - the Summer Of Love's definitive anthem.

Peaking at #4 on the US charts, and #1 overseas, San Francisco would ultimately land the #48 spot on Billboard's year end Hot 100 and sell over seven million copies, and is attributed as a genuine motivating factor in the rush of teens and young adults who descended upon San Francisco in the summer of 1967.

McKenzie would go on to have the occaissional minor follow-up success as either a perform or songwriter for others, and spent a good chunk of time in the eighties and nineties touring with a reformed version of The Mamas And The Papas, but never came close to achieveing the rampant success of San Francisco again.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

McQ's #67 Album Of 2015 - PRIMROSE GREEN - Ryley Walker

Diving down a stylistic rabbit hole unusual for today's music scene, Rockford-born, Chicago-based Ryley Walker takes on the jazz/folk ghosts of Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, and especially father/son giants Tim and Jeff Buckley on his engaging if flawed sophomore release (and first for indie label Dead Oceans), Primrose Green.

And to a degree, Walker succeeds in carrying the torch of these past greats.

He has definitely developed a fine 60s folk rock sensibility, the album's instrumentation is gorgeous and lush throughout, the playing first rate, and on first listen, his singing and phrasing feels right out of the Tim Buckley playbook.

But with repeat listens cracks do develop in the album's nylon-strung armor.

For one, while definitely a solid singer in his own right, Walker can't quite compete with the vocal power, crystal clarity or operatic virtuousity of the Buckleys.  Normally this would not be an issue, as "not as good" as two of the most naturally gifted singers in pop music history leaves plenty of room to still be great, but because Walker so directly emulates their singing style, a comparitive sense of warm Springsteeny blandness, as on only get "two-thirds of the way there to Buckley-Nirvana" tracks like Summer Dress, is the end result.

More significantly, while showing tremendous sensibilities as an arranger, Walker's songwriting is nowhere on par with the legends from whom he draws inspiration. Most of the tracks make a strong opening impression but quickly start to feel meandering, and those tracks with the sparest instrumental arrangements that lean on Walker's songwriting chops the most, particularly the homey On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee and closer Hide In The Roses, fare the worst.

That said, even though there are several moments on this album that suggest a not quite ready for prime time, Old Town School Of Folk Music striver, many others suggest a ton of promise.

Best of the bunch is Sweet Satisfication, a searing, aggressive, Starsailor-like number that is the album's high point on every level - musicianship, singing, songwriting - and one of my favorite tracks of the year. Other highlights include the more Nick Drakian opener Primrose Green, Same Minds, Love Can Be Cruel, and the gorgeously melancholy The High Road.

So while not a glowing review here, I do want to restate that Walker is a still young artist with a lot of potential exploring musical territory that's been all but forgotten by most of his contemporaries.

I hope he can keep it up, and if he can just sharpen his songwriting a touch going forward, he seems to have the potential to deliver something genuinely fantastic down the line.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Primrose Green, Same Minds, Sweet Satisfaction, The High Road



Track Listing:
1. Primrose Green - 7
2. Summer Dress - 6
3. Same Minds - 7
4. Griffiths Bucks Blues - 7
5. Love Can Be Cruel - 7
6. On The Banks Of Old Kishwaukee- 6
7. Sweet Satisfaction - 9
8. The High Road - 7
9. All Kinds Of You - 7
10. Hide In The Roses - 6
Intangibles - Above Average

Here are videos for Primrose Green and The High Road.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

COACHELLA 2017 WEEK 1 REVIEW

Hey Coachella fans, this is going to be a much shorter review of the annual festival than I usually do, primarily because I just didn't like Coachella 2017 all that much...but a lot of that has to do with my own mindset going in and then negative stuff happening once there (one of my children was among the reported pick pocket victims) that basically led to a three-day festival experience full of interruptions and unfortunate meet-up timings/locations with friends that led to watching way too many sets from beer gardens and distant locations.

So rather than complain on and on and call out the dud performances, of which there were several this year, I'll just highlight the sets that did make a positive impression on me, with one or two exceptions, and move on.

But first, a few words about the massive expansion the festival underwent this year...which to my mind ended up delivering an equal mix of good and bad.

On the positive side, with the expanded grounds, sound bleed between the stages, particularly the main and outdoor stages, has been significantly reduced. It's still a problem between the outdoor and the Mojave (which swapped spots with the Gobi this year), but by-and-larged, way better.  Also, despite selling an additional 20,000 plus tickets this year, crowding wasn't an increased problem when moving around the grounds...the added space did absorb the numbers.

But on the negative side, not enough was done to accomodate the added numbers from a food/amenities standpoint - expect much longer lines during peak hours at most food canteens, and an additional downside, it feels like over-21 sponsors had too much say in the new layout.  Most charging stations and other 21st century day-to-day festival necessities were move mostly inside the beer gardens, leaving the under twenty-one crowd with fewer options for phone charging locations, water stations, and food.

But by far the worst aspect of the grounds expansion was the increased distance between stages - which really changes how one most attack the festival and reduces how many sets one can realistically attended, especially if your a grazer who likes to catch 15-20 minutes of as many sets as possible.  Despite a less than fantastic sound system, the new punk/garage/latin music oriented Sonora tent was cool - fun graffitti design to its interior, air conditioned, with couches and bean bags available for those luck enough to snag them, but it's so far removed from the outdoor/Mojave/Gobi you need to plan at least 15 minutes travel time back and forth.

All this said, even with the larger crowd numbers, 2017 was not a 2010-like clusterF***.  As has been the trend in recent years, overcrowding was really only an issue at the biggest mainstream electronic, Hip Hop and teeny-bopper pop sets of the weekend, and crowds continue to get smaller and smaller each year for most of the festival's rock-oriented acts.

If you want to get a good seat for Hans Zimmer, Lady Gaga, Lorde, Kendrick Lamar and the other hip hop and club oriented electronic artists get to their sets early, otherwise you are fine showing up just before start.

Now on to those band's that made a positive impression. I've labeled those that were particularly strong with a DON'T MISS for Weekend 2ers.

FRIDAY

Dudda Tassa & The Kuwaitis - Radiohead's travel mates opening act for the entirety of their current US tour, The Isreali-based collective of Arabic musicians performing Iraqi music kicked off the fest with a pleasant and engaging international feel.

DON'T MISS - Klangstof - The Dutch/Norwegian art rock outfit delivered on of the first day's best early hours sets with a collection of slow burning, passionate Sigur Ros/Radiohead inspired songs.

DON'T MISS - Stormzy - I skipped this set for rock options, but my hip-hop obsessed children all attended and felt this was actually one of the weekends very best rap shows.

DON'T MISS - Preservation Hall Jazz Band - My top set of Friday.  These champion's of the classic New Orleans sound were positively on fire early Friday. If I had moved in closer early for this set, rather than watching first two-thirds from beer garden, could see this being my favorite set of entire weekend.  Loads of fun, think twice about skipping this set.

King Gizzard & The Lizzard Wizard - Fans will mostly likely love this set as band was in super high energy mode front-to-back for their late afternoon week 1 performance...but the extremely repetitive nature of their music does wear thin after a while - definitely try to catch, as they are the most rocking at on Friday's lineup, but don't worry about catch their full 50 minutes - see any 15 minutes of their set and you've basically seen it all.

Bonobo - Not sure the main stage late afternoon was best spot for this new agey electronic artist, but his internationally accented, new-agey music was appealing enough.

The Avalanches - A lot of attendees hated this first ever American performance by the legendary Australian DJ act, but I found it to be high energy and a lot of fun. Not as good as Father John Misty though, which is a problem as all those great Since I Left You Tracks came late in the Week 1 setlist after start of FJM's set.

DON'T MISS - FATHER JOHN MISTY - possibly the best sounding set of the weekend, FJM pulled more older material into his Coachella set than he has been on his recent tour promoting his dark, misanthropic new album Pure Comedy...and that's a good thing.  But backed by a 10-12 piece orchestra, this was a big, nuanced set. Could have used more stage banter, something FJM is typically celebrated for, but given how dark the Pure Comedy material is, I understand why FJM choice to mostly stay silent between songs.

The Xx - While still a very quite, subtle band, The Xx have added a layer of dynamics to more recent material, and those classics from their fantastic 2009 debut still pack a lot of punch.  A chill set, but worthwhile.

D.J. Shadow - The second of many mood-oriented electronic shows I took in over the weekend, this was an atmospheric but pretty low energy set.  Worthwhile, but skip if your in the mood for something that really pops.

DON'T MISS - Radiohead - Yes, the sound completely dropped out on Radiohead three times during the first third of their show, killing three songs - Ful Stop, 15 Steps, and Let Down - midflight.  But the legendary art rocks kept their composure and delivered a solid set filled to the brim with over a dozen of their beloved numbers in addition to the excellent Moon Shaped Pool material.  If they can avoid the sound problems on their second go-around - don't be surprised if this is the very best set of all of Weekend 2.

SATURDAY

DON'T MISS - QUITAPENAS - a lively, talented latin act out of Long Beach, CA well versed in a number of south-of-the-border and African genre's - this was one of the best dance parties of the weekend and definitely a stand out in the new Sonara Tent lineup.

Shura - For those needing a Robyn/Madonna fix, this young UK electro-popper was probably the closest thing in the 2017 line-up and put on a spirited show.

Arkells - Can't say I loved their music, a somewhat cheesy blend of new wave and Springsteenish bar band tropes, but as performers this band, and especially their frontman, were first rate, giving it their all. One of the weekends best and only bets if you are looking for bar band flavored rock.

Mitski - Not a positive review here - despite her monster 2016 hit Your Best American Girl I found this to be a very low key monotonous singer-songwriter set and not nearly at the level of the edgy standard set by the PJ Harvey, EMA, Torres artists she seems to want to be considered in the company of.

DON'T MISS - Floating Points Live Set - for my money going in (if you're not counting Hans Zimmer), the best of the many primarily instrumental electronic acts on this year's lineup, and their set confirmed that belief. Be sure to get their early as Silhouettes, their best track on record and live, was their show opener.

DON'T MISS - Kaleo - Didn't see this Icelandic, Black Keys like blues/soul outfit - but everyone of my friends there with me at the festival who did raved about their set.

DON'T MISS - Car Seat Headrest - As I assumed going in, Car Seat was kinda ragged live in a Japandroids/Cloud Nothings way, failing time and again to deliver many of the instrumental and vocal nuances on their fabulous 2016 major label debut Teens Of Denial, but this was still one of the hardest hitting, most forceful rock sets of the weekend - especially the opening double whammy of Vincent and Fill In The Blank.

The Atomics - most attractive band, male or female, at the 2017 fest - the Atomics, hands down - a brother/sister quartet, all for of the family members also models, they are all incredibly easy on the eyes, but surprise, the also play an infectious straight-forward brand of punk-pop that never feels out of style.

Two Door Cinema Club/Tycho/Moderat - I caught a good portion of all three of these acts around the next act I will mention who was a weekend 1 exclusive - but none made a very strong impression even though Moderat fans seemed to love their set.  I didn't.

George Clinton and Parliament/Funkedelic in the Heinken Dome - A weekend one only feature, my friends and I got in for second half of George's two hour set and it ended up one of our favorites - could barely see the band through the crowd on the tiny unelevated stage, but the band was rocking, closing out the portion of the set I saw with an extended version of We Got The Funk! It was awesome.

Tycho - Another big stage, New-agey instrumental electronic set that just like Bonobo had a huge crowd.  These guys were decent, though from my far back vantage point after coming late from George Clinton wasn't able to get too into their set, but they are a little more post-rock than Bonobo or Floating Points, so if you like this general style of music, but want a little more flair/punch, I'd go with these guys.

Moderat - This set was a favorite of many over the weekend, but I must have missed most of the fireworks, because after the opening twenty minutes or so, most of which was eaten up by an impressive but lengthy opening buildup, I felt I had gotten enough from this set and moved on.

Bon Iver - I'd call this a don't miss except most of the rap fans in attendance felt Schoolboy Q who went on twenty-five minutes before Bon Iver on the Outdoor theatre was one of the best hip hop sets of the weekend - so you'll need to make a choice here, but Bon Iver was excellent - as good in terms of dynamics/sound/elevating his material as he was in his magical 2012 set, but not quite as good, because the material he was working from this time, 90% from his latest album, isn't as strong as the material from his first two albums that dominated his 2012 set.  Still, if you want a textbook lesson in maximizing the sonic possibilities of the Coachella Main Stage - this is the set to see.  No one right now elevates his/her material in a live performance better than Bon Iver.

Nicolas Jaar - Thumbs down for me on the set for this exciting South American DJ/Producer who also moonlights as half of the rock/electronic hybrid DARKSIDE.  I only caught the first half of this set, which was bogged down by a tedious fifteen minute atmospheric but otherwise lacking introduction before the first song fit in proper.  Might have felt better for me earlier in the weekend, but after absorbing all the slower/moody electronics of DJ Shadow, Floating Points, Bonobo, Tycho and Moderat already - I just wasn't in the mood for another slow building/primarily instrumental electronic set. Word is it got much better in it's last twenty minutes, but I was long gone by then, having split for the start of....

DON'T MISS - Lady Gaga - surprise, surprise - though not much of a fan of her recorded work - I have to give credit where credit is due - this gal is a tremendous singer and live performer who poured everything she had into each moment of this set, leading to what I felt was the strongest of all the headliner sets.  Much more rock oriented than the bulk of her more R&B/pop driven mega-peers (Beyonce, Rihanna,Katy Perry) this was a show that ended up appealing to a wide range of listening tastes.  It wasn't as freaky or as costume change driven as say her recent super bowl show, but it was a major production nonetheless.

SURVIVE - I didn't stay for long as my kids were getting tired, but if your in the mood for some creepy, John Carpenter-styled synth-rock, definitely check out this horror soundtrack outfit that's gained so much notoriety for their scoring work on the hit series Stranger Things.

SUNDAY

Overall, Sunday was my favorite day of the fest 11-6pm, and my least favorite day of the week in the evening hours.

Preoccupations - One of the top post-punk acts of the last few years, these Canadians who last year went by the name of Viet Cong (which itself was built primarily out of members of the even edgier, now-defunkt garage-rock outfit Women) possess a very difficult, acidic sound that won't please many but while delight a smaller portion of those in attendance.  I like a lot of their material, especially the Viet Cong, tracks, so it was a thrill when they unleashed Bunker Buster for the first time on tour in a long, long while.  Like Car Seat Headrest, the live renditions of their songs loses a lot of the nuances of the album, but also like Car Seat Headrest, this was still an impassioned show, and the bands drummer may be the best I saw all weekend - he's and absolute force.

DON'T MISS - Ezra Furman - While I admit there's a very difficult complete overlap with jam band Pond...I would highly recommend going with the snarkier, more indie, but still rocking Furman, who delivered my favorite set of the weekend.  Opening with a 4 song blitzkrieg of his liveliest early material, Furman then bit the hand that feeds him, taking on AEG head Philip Anschutz, who is  rumored to have financed anti-LGBTQ organizations (though none of these claims have been genuinely substantiated), and then, with that said, the band then settled into their less explosive but so good and humorous mid-tempo material of 2015's awesome Perpetual Motion People. Furman was overflowing with personality throughout the show, and the band's backing vocals were surprisingly first rate for an act with such a throwback saloon-type feel.

DON'T MISS - Lee Fields & The Expressions - This year's standout old time soul act was fully on point for the small portion of their main stage set I was able to catch betweeen trips to the Outdoor Theatre.

Whitney - Born of the ashes of Chicago's glam-pop act Smith-Westerns, the more folksy, alt-countrish Whitney put on a charming if somewhat light on fireworks midday set. If you like a band trying to recapture some of the sounds of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass - this would be a good act to catch.

DON'T MISS - Toots & The Maytals - this all-time, now 75-year-old reggae great has lost more than a step or two, but he's still got a hell of a voice when he chooses to serve it up, and in the moments in between in his joyous mainstage set got the crowd into a number of fun call and response moments.  While not nearly as sharp as Jimmy Cliff was a few years back - this is still the set to catch during this time slot.

Devendra Banhart - This was my first time ever seeing Banhart, and while the Aught's freak-folker wasn't great, there was an appealling chill vibe to most of this set and the band sounded fantastic. Highlights included fan favorite Long-Haired Child and the closing number, for which Banhart brought out Nirvana Bassist Krist Novocelic to rip things up - on accordian. Novocelic actually acquitted himself quite well.

Future Islands - One of my favorite acts of the last few years, while still quite good, this was not one of Future Islands best sets.  They are just not a band meant for bigger stages, which rob frontman Sam Herring of some of his singing right to you small venue power. Another drawback, the new Far Fields material, even though sounding exactly like their older material, doesn't cut through like those Singles and In Evening Air tracks.  Thankfully, two-thirds of their set was dedicated to older songs. But again, if you haven't seen Future Islands, definitely go week 2, but get up close.  If you have already seen before, I might skip - I find it unlikely given the stage they are on that this will top what you've seen before.

Twin Peaks - I skipped out of Future Islands a little early to catch one more Sonora act and was glad I did.  While their sound was quite muddy, tons of spirit to this rock ensemble with three lead singers, and a punkish cover of The Rolling Stones Dead Flowers towards the end of the set was to die for.

DON'T MISS - Hans Zimmer - Feel bad for T.S.O.L because the reunion for that little remembered but important early LA Punk band goes head to head against one of the best sets of the weekend. But the call here is easy - go with Zimmer - and get there early to get a good slot, as his orchestra isn't fully mic'd and the sound drops of in patches around the outdoor stage quickly as one moves back.  But just an epic collection of reknown movie sound track moments - thought they could have done more with the visual aspects of the show, but the music on it's own was more than enough.

Lorde - Sporting a straightened out hair-do and a sleek glittery pant suit, this was a sexed-up pop star Lorde compared to the teenage every girl that played the outdoor theatre, but she still managed to connect big-time with her youthful fan base and boy, has she improved as a liver performer.  Probably the biggest positive surprise of the weekend for me...I had no interest in seeing her again, was dead set on Real Estate into New Order, but my son talked me into joining him to stake out a good spot for Kendrick.  So yeah, this 51-year-old saw Lorde again.  Some may have been turned off by her chattiness between songs, but I felt it was fairly endearing, and liked the weird glass cage on mounted pedastals that was utilized in various ways throughout her production.

Kendrick Lamar - I am in a significant minority here.  Most attendees seemed to have loved Kendrick's closing headliner set just two days after dropping latest album DAMN!, I was really disappointed.  Some of it had to do with the set list - as much as I admire Kendrick for his rapping skills, his thoughtfulness, and his conceptual daring, I've never felt he is an elite beat maker on par with Kanye, Dr. Dre, Ghostface Killah, The Bomb Squad or the rap royalty of eras past, so for Kendrick to leave two of Pimp Your Butterfly's hard hitting tracks - Blacker The Berry and I - for a heavier smattering of material from the just released new album was disappointing and frankly a poor substitute.  Then there was giving up fifteen minutes of his already brief 70 minute set to Future, Travis Scott, and Schoolboy Q to perform hits they had already performed in their own shows earlier in the festival. And finally, throw in the fact that despite being a forceful rapper, Kendrick just doesn't exude much personality, and you end up with a show that despite a first rate production design, (including dubbed interstitial Kung Fu movie spoofs), just wasn't all the exciting for me with the exception of 5 knock your socks of minutes of King Kunta. Even with Radiohead's audio problems, this was without question my least favorite of the three headlining sets.

Friday, April 14, 2017

COACHELLA 2017 - SUPER QUICK RECS FOR (older) ROCK FANS

So here we go again.

In a few hours, I will be hitting the road with my kids to meet my regular group of friends from college for our 10th consecutive Coachella Music Festival.

And while there's no question the festival has gone through massive changes over the years and now skews to a younger, more EDM and Hip Hop driven audience than the alt-rock and indie-rock audience that made up the bulk of its attendees during its first 10-12 years of existence, there is still plenty here for rock fans, especially if you are willing to get to the polo grounds early.

Start with the new Sonara Tent, dedicated exclusively to Punk, Garage, Indie and Latin music.  No new wave, EDM, soul or hip hop here.  A lot of the artists here are younger up-and-comers and/or smaller local acts, but you do have reknowned indie mavericks Guided By Voices closing the tent tonight and legendary LA Hardcore punkers T.S.O.L. closing the tent on Sunday, so if you are a rock fan, be sure to give this tent a look early in the weekend...you may end up making camp there all three days.

As to the bigger tents and stages - Shoegazers Kayves at 12:25 pm in the Mojave, Scandanavian Radiohead/Sigur Ros accolytes Klangstof at 1:25 in the Mojave, and the goofy Lemon Twigs at 2:30 in the Mojave are all good options, and then whatever you do, make sure you get to the festival before 4:10 so you can catch ultra-prolific Austalian jam band supreme King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard on the Outdoor Theatre.

As you move into Friday evening Glass Animals, Father John Misty, Mac DeMarco, Jagwar Ma, and the Rancid-mentored The Interrupters are all there to keep the rockish grooves going until the evening's headliner, Radiohead - without question the very best act on the entire three day lineup.

Radiohead's last three albums have all landed on the mellower side of the spectrum, so don't expect constant fireworks, but recent set lists show that they are working a significant portion of their back catalog into their present tour - so it's very likely you'll hear more than a few favorites from the bands The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A, Amnesiac era to augment their chiller but still excellent more recent material.

And, for Friday's non-rock acts - I highly recommend trying to catch The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, ambient producer Bonobo, turn of the century sample gods The Avalanches, ultra-romantic elecro-rock subheadliners The Xx, and DJ Shadow (who's set  may feature a Run The Jewels guest appearance for recent hit Nobody Speak).

For Saturday, try to get to the fields before 1:00 for the very exciting young LA-based Latin act Quitapenas, who work the full spectrum of Latin-styles - and have a Santana-esque jam or two in their repetoire as well. Then Blossoms, Arkells, the PJ-Harveyish Mitski, LA soft-rockers Local Natives, and soulful electro-rockers Kaleo all have their charms, but the biggest rock act of the day - by far - is Pennsylvania indie up-and-comers Car Seat Headrest at 4:15 in the Mojave.  There 2016 album Teens Of Denial, from which 90% of their set will be based, tops this site's best of 2016 rankings and is chock full of wonderful classic rock riffs and explosive, almost sing-along choruses.  As with King Gizzard and Radiohead Friday, if rock is your thing - DO NOT MISS THIS SET.

Following Car Seat Headrest Friday - Chicano Batman, The Atomics, Two Door Cinema Club, Warpaint are your best Rock n Roll bets.

Among non-rock acts Friday, I'd start with subheadliner experimental folk-rocker extraordinaire Bon Iver, whose gotten increasingly more experimental in recent years, but elevates his material in a live setting to an extent few other contemporary artists do. Trust me, however mellow his music is on record, this will be a dynamic set. After Bon Iver, the day is loaded with fantastic non-edm oriented DJ acts - Tycho, Moderat, Four Tet (performing with Daphni and Floating Points in the Yuma), Nicolas Jaar, Stranger Things soundtrack artists SURVIVE, and my top electronic recommendation for the entire weekend - Floating Points' 3:05 full band live set in the Mojave.

Sunday, on paper, is actually the strongest rock day of the weekend, but scheduling overlaps have watered it down quite a bit.  Still, in the earlier hours - Preoccupations, Ezra Furman, Pond, Whitney and Devendra Banhart are all well worth checking out, leading up to Future Islands at 6:10 who are more synth rockers but one of the best and most reliable live acts on the planet at present. If you've never seen them before, frontman Samuel Herring is not to be missed. Unfortunately, as has been the trend in recent years, once the sun sets Sunday evening, EDM takes over and this year is no different. You're only rock acts in the late hours are chill beach rockers Real Estate, and quintessential 80s band New Order.

For the best non-rock acts of Sunday's bill - you have to start with reggae legend Toots & The Maytals and headliner Kendrick Lamar - arguably the best and most important rapper in the world at this specific moment in music history. I also highly recommend soul outfit Lee Fields & The Expressions, and movie composer Hans Zimmer, who will be playing an hour long medley of his many Oscar winning compostions backed by a near full orchestra.

And that's it folks, my down and dirty recs, and for those joining me this weekend, stay hydrated, and I hope you have an amazing time.

Monday, April 3, 2017

McQ's #67 Song Of 2015 - TRIUMPH - Screaming Females

The first track to make our 2015 songs countdown is Triumph, just one of many lean, mean, blistering highlights from veteran New Brunswick, New Jersey indie power-trio Screaming Female's 2015 venture towards a more classic hard-rock/old school heavy metal sound, Rose Mountain.

I've rocked out to this track too many times to count since hearing it.  Hopefully, after giving it a listen, you will too.

Here's an awesome live-in studio performance of the song.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

McQ's #67 Song Of 1967 - WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD - Louis Armstrong

Landing the #67 spot in our Favorite Songs Of 1967 countdown is one of the most beloved standards of the last century, Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World.

But it wasn't always that way for Armstrong's last major single.

Written with Armstrong in mind but first offered to Tony Bennett by songwriters Bob Theile and George David Weiss, it became the elder jazz statesman's to record after Bennett turned it down.

Released in October 1967, the song was at first ignored in the United States. Hated by the head of Armstrong's American label ABC, the track received no promotion, and sold less than 1000 units in its initial run.

But in the UK it was a monster smash, making Armstrong, at 66 years in 1967, the oldest performer at the time to ever top the British charts. So popular was the song in the UK that not only did it quickly rise to number 1 in the British weekies, but it held on to become the top selling UK single in all of 1968 as well.

Then, over the years, after a never ending string of television and film soundtrack plugs, the song gradually solidified its standing as the revered classic it's viewed as today.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

McQ's Super Prolific Singles Artists Of 1967 Shout Out

Okay, we're at that pont where we are going to start counting down our favorite singles of 1967 and 2015 along with our favorite albums of 2015.

But before we do, I want to give a quick shout out to three acts who were just so off-the-charts prolific and consistently great in 1967 that I simply had to cut off how many songs of theirs I included in our final 1967 singles countdown lest they eat up near half the spots and leave many other great artists completely acknowledged.

I am, of course, talking about The Beatles, The Doors, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, each of whom released not one but two full-length albums in 1967, and some historically famous singles to boot.

For the best sense of how great these artists we're in 1967, just check out this videos and spotify links for the singles I left out of my countdown - the volume and average quality level is jaw dropping.

THE DOORS



The Crystal Ship

People Are Strange

Soul Kitchen

Moonlight Drive

Back Door Man

When The Music's Over

THE BEATLES


Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

With A Little Help From My Friends

Hello Goodbye

Baby, You're A Rich Man

The Fool On The Hill

When I'm Sixty Four

Lovely Rita

The Magical Mystery Tour

All You Need Is Love

THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE


Stone Free

Red House

Fire

Manic Depression

Castles Made Of Sand

Hey Joe

Love Or Confusion

If 6 Was 9

I Don't Live Today

Bold As Love

Are You Experienced?


Monday, March 27, 2017

McQ's #68 Album Of 2015 - 25 - Adele

The mega platinum follow up to her megaplatinum break-out album 21, Adele's 25 can be neatly summarize as more of the same as 21, but less - much, much less.  

On near every level - lyrical themes, vocal styling, orchestration, song sequencing and pacing - 25 seems determined to capture lightning in a bottle a second time out, but whereas 21 was powered by the sincerity of the genuine heartbrake Adele was going through during that album's creation, 25 comes off as a calculated and insincere attempt to reproduce that moment, and the material is all the worse for it.

That's not to say that there aren't some good songs on this album, or that the production isn't first rate, or that Adele is in poor voice, but anyone who hasn't already heard 25 should knowgoing in that the thrills are far fewer this time around.

Opener Hello was a huge hit striving for the same bigness of Rolling In The Deep, but it just comes off as bombastic and overwrought to me, and several of the ballads, especially When We Were Young, Love In The Dark, and All I Ask, play treacly and bland.

Better are I Miss You, which also plays to Adele's hugeness of voice but has much more emotional urgency to it than Hello, Send My Love (To Your New Lover), which successfully hits the quirkier, bouncier second track vibe occupied by Rumour Has It on 21, the 60s flavored, Spanish guitar accented torch song Million Years Ago, and my favorite track, the rousing closer Sweetest Devotion.

But again, however professional, well sung, or well-produced 25 may be,  the air of crass studio calculation hangs over every note.  Fans of monster-voiced, female British belters would be far better served checking out Florence And The Machine's not great but more stylistically daring minor comeback How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, which will finished much higher in our 2015 year-end rankings.

Status: Mild Recommend



Track Listing:
1. Hello - 6
2. Send My Love (To Your New Lover) - 7
3. I Miss You - 7 
4. When We Were Young - 6 
5. Remedy - 7
6. Water Under The Bridge - 7 
7. River Lea - 7
8. Love In The Dark - 6
9. Million Years Ago - 8
10. All I Ask - 6 
11. Sweetest Devotion -  9 
Intangibles - Below Average 

Here's the official videos for 25's opening two tracks - Hello and Send My Love (To Your New Lover).