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


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


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.