Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Recap In Music: Part One

Another year has come and gone, and even with all the crap that’s struck this country politically, it’s hard to argue that 2015 has been anywhere near as bad for music as 2014, which I dare say in all my millennial naivety was probably the worst year for music in the history of human civilization, with such aggressively obnoxious tunes as Why You Gotta Be So Ruuude, Will Your Mouth Still Remember the Taste of My Love, When I Met You In The Summer, Don’t Act Like It’s a Bad Thing to Fall In Love With Meeeee, All of Me Loves All of You, the Pharrell Williams album, and the Frozen soundtrack.  Maybe I’m only inclined towards optimism because I haven’t listened to Top 40 radio for about a year and have done my best to isolate myself from the rest of the country’s musical pulse, but there was no shortage of strong new and familiar sounds in 2015.  I mean, Pound Sign It’s 2015.

None of those sounds are represented here, as this part is essentially a rejects list accommodating all the records I listened to (or was exposed to) this last year that wouldn’t make a list except perhaps my Feeling Masochistic one (which you can find on that music streaming service I won’t plug by name because I despise it).  Maybe you have completely different taste from me, in which case, these are for you.  If, on the other hand, your tastes align with mine more often than not – and they don’t – , check back later.  Links to other sections in this 2015 recap will be appended at the bottom.

The New Deerhunter Album –

This is an indie favorite from that a band that’s already ridiculously overrated.  It’s not at all unpleasant to listen to, but there’s certainly more exciting music out there in the relative wasteland that is the modern folk alt world.  Most of the tracks are rather down-tempo and dull, typified by the snoozer Leather and Wood in the middle.  This is strategically followed up by the unusually snappy, sonically rattling guitar-driven Snakeskin, which merits a listen by itself.  Ad Astra is also an entrancing and appropriately spacey song that would sound right at home in an 80s sex scene, or something.  I obviously don’t have a lot to say about this album if I’m talking about completely nontopical 80s sex scenes.  If you like your indie rock slow and stripped down and pretentious, Fading Fronter should fit right in with your records.

Fetty Wap –

He sucks, and by that mean he attracts a lot of suckers who like to hype up the newest rapper on the block as some visionary masterclass, instead of a hack who’s making the same generic, trashy pop-rap music they’ve always consumed and pumping it across the airwaves to swindle millions.  Please, make him go away.

Everything Kanye recorded –

Gossip, gossip, Yeezy just stop it.  Everybody knows you’re a sellout, not a monster.

Everything Drake recorded –

Drake produces junky, club-friendly, lyrically insipid (“I got a really big team / and we need some really big rings / we need some really nice things…”) bangers that appeal to a certain subset of hip-hop fans who may or may not know how good music sounds.  Those who aren’t within this subset look down upon his singles as ghetto or even “ratchet”, but in a year that’s given us Fetty Wap and new Nicki Minaj and Turn Down For What?!, Drake is relatively not that bad and has been doing society a major service by teaching us that 1800-hotline bling, well, that can only mean one thing.

Logic –

Formerly an underground rapper who put out a bunch of mixtapes and self-directed videos under the puzzling pseudonym Young Sinatra, Logic released his first album, The Incredible True Story, this year which I gave a shot on the recommendation of a friend who doesn’t listen to much of anything besides rap music (but doesn’t listen to M.I.A., Gorillaz, Massive Attack, Tricky, or anyone who produces truly experimental, rewarding rap music).  I put two tracks in my playlist out of charity, neither of which I can remember, and two others linger in my memory, one a rather mediocre song and the other a really annoying, lame one (“I am the GREATEST”).  Logic has decent flow and meter, especially for a pasty, privileged white guy who has no business appropriating a black art form, but his beats are kind of limp and the album is so padded with transitional sci-fi skits (dialogue and sound effects as a substitute for actual music; see Kanye West’s The College Dropout and every rap album since) that it ends up overstaying its welcome by about 30 minutes.  This thing is a freaking hour long, and about ten minutes of it are enjoyable.

Adele’s 25

I can’t actually listen to it unless I fork over $10, find a friend who has it (and none of them do because they all like Justin Bieber), or do what other people my age do when they want a certain album (far be it from me to emulate those stingy bastards), so I guess this is more of a non-review.  Regardless, what the previews give me sounds like rather boring, one-note soul music with the exception of Hello and Send My Love.  There’s certainly no Rumour Has It on this record that I’ve yet heard.  Maybe it’ll grow on me with repeated exposure.  Maybe Adele’s a little overrated.  Just a little.  I mean, she has sold 5 million more albums in a single month than my top 5 for this year have sold combined to date.

Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell

Sometimes, like right now, I deeply pity people like Sufjan Stevens.  Sufjan hails from Detroit, lives in Brooklyn, identifies himself as Christian, and makes folksy American music, but for some strange reason he won’t give up the stupid name some whacko cult leader cursed him with at birth.  On another note, I was fully expecting to hate his newest album simply being aware of its bare-bones production and the massive hype which hipster critics had built around it.  The actual result is a surprisingly relaxing, ethereal series of soft-spoken, melancholy tracks that all sound more or less the same but combine into a satisfying whole.  I picture myself falling asleep to this record many times in the future, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.  If the acoustic guitar licking fails to astonish at any point, Suffolk’s lyrics more than make up for his lack of instrumental flair, explicitly referencing religion, myth, a deceased family member, and other typically indie topics that mainstream artists try to cover up in their own songs for maximum appeal and propriety.  “Shall we beat this or celebrate it,” Soufflé wonders on All of Me Wants All of You. “You’re not the one to talk things through / You checked your text while I masturbated / Manelich, I feel so used.”  Gah, does this guy’s popularity irritate me.  Needless to say you won’t be singing along to this as with The Lumineers or Fleet Foxes, but not all music’s meant for singing along, thankfully.  Suffrage is fine, but you can skip him and you won’t be missing anything.  The Civil Wars are – were much better at this style.  Sniff.

The new Tame Impala album –

I’ve given this album multiple second chances but just can’t get into it.  All the songs are way too long and don’t go anywhere.  The Moment is OK, I guess.  So far the only great song they’ve produced is the percussively insane Mind Mischief.  If Tame Impala are one of your favorite bands, you probably don’t listen to enough music and are only latching on to one of the indie scene’s darlings for lack of knowledge of any better ones.  Check out Phantogram, Haim, or even Foster the People for Tame Impala done more memorably and melodically than Tame Impala.  Or just don’t check out Tame Impala.

Jamie XX –

I don’t get it, and I’ve tried it over and over again.  Why is this top 10 of the year material?  It’s flat and boring electronic music that’s nothing but electronic music.  Go listen to Amok by Atoms for Peace or Kinshasa One Two by DRC Music or Run Lola Run OST by Tom Tykwer, which got no accolades whatsoever, and tell me again that this is an amazing electro album.  Stupid, elitist hipsters, glorifying records none of their friends have heard of to sound cooler and more cultured.

Better than Jamie XX.

The “new” Muse album –

I hate to rag on Drones as a once major fan of this band’s shtick, but alas, they’ve become a slave to the shtick.  Psycho is an amusing but disposable copy of Uprising, and the so-so Dead Inside is the only song that sounds like an experiment for them.  Muse are an alternate universe version of Radiohead that never progressed beyond The Bends and naively think that bigger, louder, and more repetitive always mean better.  The highlights of their career will always be Origins of Symmetry and Absolution with Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-mad-mad-mad marking a fleeting glimpse of a different kind of greatness in 2012.

Better than Drones.

The new Imagine Dragons album –

Meh.  It’s another Imagine Dragons album.  If you liked the first one, and I might have if the radio and everywhere else didn’t play the crap out of Radioactive, Demons, and On Top of the World, then you’ll probably like Smoke and Mirrors too.  Every song sticks to a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, with the chorus getting slightly louder and fuller each time.  The lyrics aren’t as nonsensical as they were the first time around, and Gold might even be retelling a popular story.  I’m So Sorry is a good movie trailer song.  It’s just that the choruses in Imagine Dragons’ music aren’t complex enough to make me want to hear them three times in a row with no variation.  They make acceptable, formulaic alternative earworms for people who aren’t satiated by pop music but haven’t yet acquired a tolerance for indie or art rock.  You know who you are... except you probably don’t.  History has shown that people are very bad in general at knowing who they are, which is why 40% of voters in the United States are “moderates”.

Raury –

When I first fired up Raury’s debut album I was expecting something a little more hard-edged and, well, rappy, because black people haven’t been making white music since Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson or Prince… I actually don’t know what Prince’s music sounds like, and since I can’t preview it for free, I probably never will.  Anyway, I was more than a little surprised to hear generic acoustic-driven folk coming through my headphones, with hip-hop beats and rap verses playing a more ornamental, supporting role.  I didn’t like it enough to give it another listen, but I have to give the kid credit for taking a chance on something different.  If you want to claim you listened to Raury, just play Devil’s Whisper and skip the rest. Most of the album is about Global Warming and World Peace and social justice and other idealistic, youthful nonsense anyway, which makes it almost impossible for an adult listener to take it seriously.  The dude just needs to lighten up a little and learn the art of subtlety and maybe then he’ll have a winning record under his belt.  He also needs to stop annotating his own lyrics on Rap Genius as if they’re really important and hard to decipher, which is like James Cameron explaining the political messaging of Avatar to The New York Slimes.

The Oh Hellos, Dear Wormwood

If The Oh Hellos were already catering very openly to a very exclusive demographic – bookish Christian homeschoolers and Inklings nerds –, now they’re leaving no illusions to their shameless pandering, slapping C.S. Lewis on the very cover of their new release.  Through the Deep, Dark Valley and their debut EP offered up some decent, lo-fi folk tunes several years ago – more genuine and rhythmically interesting than Mumford and Sons’ insufferably exploitative stuff –, but Dear Wormwood isn’t all that precious.  I think I listened to half of it before giving up.  Oh Goodbye, am I right?  Get me another whiskey over here.

The new Björk album –

If you’re looking for an accessible entry point to the weird, wacky, and every so often wonderful art of Björk, Vulnicura isn’t it.  Out of all nine tracks, Lionsong, Notget, and Atom Dance are the only ones that sound like real songs, while the rest could honestly just be remixed Guild Wars or Skyrim exploration music that Björk sung impromptu over without notes, and most of them drag on for 6 minutes or more.  Try Vespertine or Debut or Post or the Dancer in the Dark soundtrack if you want to see what she’s all about, or find somebody’s Best of Björk playlist online.  If any musician justified the concept of a Greatest Hits album, which I usually find abhorrent, it’d be Björk.  She’s definitely producing, collaborating, and singing on a higher artistic level than most of the others mentioned in this and the following posts, but there’s not much joy, depression, outrage, or any other emotion to be wrung from Vulnicura.

Better than Vulnicura.  Also, Spike Jonze is a genius.  More on poetic "genius" in the next post.

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