Category Archives: Music

Bob’s 2014 Year in Music

Hey people!  Despite what Facebook told you, 2014 sucked ass in a lot of different ways.  Particularly if you were black or are against using torture in an unjustified war.  I had actually written something about how Facebook’s attempt to structure our collective memory as a series of individual successes is a dirty tactic used by those in power to distract us from the myriad failures that we’ve had as a culture and country.  But honestly, it was too depressing, even for me.1  The good news is that 2014 was a pretty good year for music!  One of my favorite things to do after Christmas is take a deep dive into the albums that I spent the most time with in 2014 and try to come up with a top 10 list.  It was tough to come up with a top 10 list since there was a lot of exciting and new stuff that came out this year.  I actually probably spent more time on this than I ever have in previous years, which is why I didn’t finish this until after the actual new year.  Anyways, here is my usual disclaimer – this will probably be most interesting to those people who really are into music.  If you just listen to radio or just listen to music as background music, which there is nothing wrong with, then chances are you’ve probably not even heard of half the people on the list and that’s totally ok.  This is purely a navel gazing exercise for myself and my list is no more valid than yours.2  If anything, I just really like sharing music with people and you can consider this my mixtape gift to you.  Anyways, happy new year and let’s hope that 2015 is as good as 2014 was musically.

Before we get started, let’s talk about some other interesting releases of 2014 that didn’t make my top 10 list.

Seriously, aren’t all of these artists kinduva the same thing?  Why do the critics want me to think these are great albums when they all sound mopey and boring and completely devoid of any musicality? 

  • St. Vincent – St. Vincent: She’s kinda the queen of this type of white female song writer that the more pretentious critics love fawning over in an attempt to appear progressive on the gender front.3 Never mind that these artists all kind fit the indie version of the manic-pixie-dreamgirl archetype, with one big difference……their music is BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRIIIINGGGGGGG.  But at least this album has some electric guitars unlike the next two…
  • Sharon Van Etten – Are We There?: Seriously, would it kill these women to write one catchy melody?
  • Angel Olson – Burn Your Fire for No Witness: Would it also kill them to shell out a little more money for some quality microphones so I don’t have to hear how breathy their voices are?

Fits into previous categorization but also has the distinction of being the worst album of 2014

  • Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence: If you think about it, Lana Del Ray and Iggy Azalea are two sides of the same coin.

Not the worst album per se (although it is pretty bad) but definitely the most disappointing album of the year, a.k.a. the when our heroes let us down award

I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT.

Albums that I don’t know what to do with because sometimes they sound pretty kickass to me but other times I check out pretty quickly

  • Alt J – This is all Yours: I feel like I should like this album in the same way that I feel like I should like Sufjan Stephens.  But I don’t because it just sounds like a bunch of people who were band dorks in high school and then even though they probably should have been classical musicians, they ended up trying to make pop music.  There are some interesting ideas on here, but it never really comes together for me.
  • TV on the Radio – Seeds: On the one hand, this is their most accessible album.  On the other hand, it sounds like they made a conscious effort to be more radio friendly and the results are kinda bland.  This album doesn’t annoy me,  but I almost think that they’re better when they’re being pretentious if that makes any sense.  Kinda like yours truly.

Really good albums, but I took points off for being the exactly the same as another album that they put out:

  • Beck – Morning Phase.  Seriously, how is this different from Sea Change?  Seriously, the opening tracks for both albums even use the same chords.
  • tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack. Still eminently enjoyable but not much of a departure from the last album, W H O K I L L.  I also took off points for the stupid aLtErNaTiNg CaPs thing.

Albums that weren’t released in 2014 but I got into them in a big way this year

  • The National – Trouble Will Find Me: I really really really regret not including this on my top 10 list from last year.  In retrospect, the inclusion of that Chvrcvhes album on that list seems pretty silly.
  • Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac: I know everyone thinks that Rumours is their best album, but I think that what people really like was the back story of Rumours.  The whole personal turmoil leads to superior art just makes more sense to us sometimes.  But really if you think about it, wouldn’t it make more sense if good art, especially for a rock band, happens when everyone is in tune with each other?  I think that song for song, Fleetwood Mac has catchier melodies, better lyrics, and is more cohesive as a song cycle.

Album that I spent a good part of the year liking and was going to put on my top 10 list until I realized the album sounded like the Freddy Jones Band/the BoDeans/Hootie and the Blowfish and other shitty Country-Rock bands that I thought I liked in college

  • Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams: I hate it when I ruin albums for myself.

Album that in an alternate universe I place as my favorite album of 2014

  • Taylor Swift – 1989: I may have converted to team T-Swizzle this year, but I’m still not brave enough to put this on my top 10 list.  I don’t deserve her.

Albums that probably could have made it into my top 10 but my objectivity is compromised by the fact that I want to make babies with the artist/certain members of the band

  • Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits

Sigh.

 

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

Swoon.

The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

I’m not going to lie, I’m very turned on thinking about Neko Case right now.

My favorite single of 2014

  • Teenage Wasteland – Wussy: I considered putting Attica!, the album that this song is from on my top 10 list on just the strength of this one song.  If you want to really know who I am as a person, know that this song about discovering the music of the Who very often reduces me to tears.4

Album released in December that I kinda feel like I can’t include on this list since I really haven’t been able to spend too much time with, but…damn, it might be better than any of the albums in my top 10.

  • D’angelo – Black Messiah:  I wrote this facebook comment on one of my friend’s post asking to discuss the D’angelo album.

I feel bad for Maxwell. Remember when Maxwell did his unplugged thing and we started to really pay attention to him. Tons and tons of column inches were dedicated to talking about the beginnings of a new kind of soul music and that Urban Hang Suite was some kind of direct descendant of Stax records and James Brown and Earth Wind and Fire, and the cutting edge of the future of soul music. Then Voodoo came out a couple of years later and we were all like “Oops, remember all that stuff we said about Maxwell, we were actually talking about D’angelo.”

Fast forward to 2009 and BLACKsummersnight comes out and we were all like “Hey Maxwell is back! That is some damned fine soul music after all this time. Good Show Maxwell!” And we felt nostalgic and bestowed Maxwell with some accolades as being influential on the current neo soul sound. Now Black Messiah comes out and we’re like “sheeeeeeet, this is amazing.” And we don’t have to even bring nostalgia into this because Black Messiah is an uninterrupted straight line from Voodoo and somehow despite sounding a lot like Voodoo, it also sounds completely fresh and different and revolutionary in the same way Voodoo was back then. And even though it’s a little unfair to compare the two now in the same way we did back in the late nineties-early aughts, the symmetry of D’angelo’s comeback outshining Maxwell’s comeback is all too obvious. Time is a flat circle.

Carcosa Bitch!

OK enough pretentious rambling!  Onto organized and ranked pretention!  Just a reminder that this list is limited to only those albums that I spent a significant amount of time with this year.  So maybe that Sun Kil Moon album is really as good as the critics are saying5, but I wouldn’t know because I checked out after the first two songs and never returned to it.

10. Warpaint – Warpaint: Did you guys see that Sleater Kinney got back together and are putting out a new album. I liked them a little less then most indie hipsters. The main reason I could never really fully get into them is because man did they love that lo-fi sound.  Like a good producer, someone to play bass full time, and some guitar overdubs would have done wonders for them.  Anyways, Warpaint does all that and I’m fully into them.6

9. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso: I have finally given up my quest to understand electronic music. I mean the beats are fine and catchy, but I just do not connect on any emotional level.  I just hear party music.  Anyways, this is as close as I will get to liking EDM I think.  Even though it’s not really EDM.  So whatever, it’s a great headphone album.  Amelia Meath’s voice carry this duo in the same way that Tracy Thorn’s voice carried Everything but the Girl’s foray into electronic music.

8. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream: Fun fact: in my 38+ years of being alive, I have somehow managed to never smoke pot. It’s not that I have any kind of moral aversion to it and I completely support the concept of chemically altering our state of mind to allow us to experience things we wouldn’t otherwise. No, rather, it’s just at some point in my mid twenties I realized that I hadn’t tried it yet, and it felt like my last bastion of innocence, so I’ve refrained since.  Why do I tell you this?  Because I imagine that this might be the reason that this album is not higher on my list like it seems to be on everyone else’s list.  It’s the best stoner rock that I’ve heard since…well since ever.  If you like Pink Floyd you will really like this album.  If you like the Psychedelic Furs you will really like this album.  And if you liked the movie Half Baked I think you might really like this album.

7. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker: This album really fills a gap in popular music in the US. It that accessible kind of music that serves as a bridge between current rock music and the blues from which it all rock music is based on. There are so few guitar riff based bands anymore and I think that’s a damn shame.  There is so much going on in the album – Jack White, the Strokes, Sam Cooke, Bo Diddley, the Kinks – really good stuff.

6. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise: If La Roux had been around when I was in high school she would be mentioned with the greats of that era and synth pop genre: Duran Duran, the Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, Yaz, Ashes to Ashes era Bowie7. This is what fun smart pop music sounds like.

5. Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else: The more I read about Lydia Loveless and the more I listen to her lyrics, the more convinced I am that she probably has a substance abuse problem of some kind and probably suffers from some form of clinical depression. Those things in real life are probably a real bummer, but they sure do make great source material for a sophomore effort. If you like boozy country punk ballads about hard livin’ and bad relationships, you’ll love this album.

4. FKA Twigs – LP1: Everyone loves this album, and so do I. I hope that Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus are paying attention. This is how you writes songs about sex that are actually sexy.8

3. Kelis- Food: Did you know that the lady who did Milkshake has been churning out really great soul music since Milkshake hit? Well, now you do. This album is so great that even your parents will like it. Seriously, play it for them, they’ll dance with you and it will be hilarious.

2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2: Did you know Killer Mike and El-P are older than I am? Well they are, and it really shows here, but in a good way. This album sounds exactly like two master artisans that have complete control of their craft. Everything is here – Humor, clever rhymes, political commentary, and top flight production.  Your head will be bobbing the whole time you listen to this album and you’ll make that face that jazz musicians make when they hear one of their bandmates playing a sick solo. This album hit me on a visceral level that no other album this year did with the exception of ……

1. Against Me! – Transgender Dyphoria Blues: If you know me at all, this shouldn’t surprise you at all. It is everything a Bob’s favorite album should be. A album filled with catchy aggressive guitar riffs and kick ass drumming.  It is also a touching chronicling of lead singer’s Laura Jane Grace’s transition from male to female.  Gender and sexuality are the obvious themes here, but the genius of this album is that it can serve as an anthem for a wide array of social issues as the overarching message is to just treat each other better.  And lord knows we needed a lot more of that in 2014.  Let’s hope we take the message of this album to heart in 2015.

If you’re into Spotify, here is a playlist!

 

  1. If you want the gist of that essay, you can read my last blog entry. []
  2. J/K, my list is totally more valid than yours. []
  3. I actually have a theory about how the male dominated music critic field asserts it’s hegemonic masculinity by writing a lot more about female artists and what they “mean” than anything else.  This is a direct response to the fact that straight white males make a lot less good music than they used to. []
  4. Extremely honorable mention to No Flex Zone by Rae Sremmurd. I have no idea what is happening in this song but it cracks my shit up.  Seriously, I cannot emphasize enough the pleasure to be derived from repeated listenings of this song. []
  5. It’s not []
  6. Yes I’m aware that I’m comparing one all female group to another all female group, but I swear, the comparison is actually valid in this case! []
  7. Shout out to FOTC fans. []
  8. I considered including Ariana Grande to this list, but since she still looks like she’s in middle school it kinda made me feel dirty so I took her out. []

15 Uses for Taylor Swift’s Latest Single, “Shake It Off”

** This will make more sense if you have listened to this song at least once.  Although you will most likely be listening to it over and over again **

1.  Pep Squad audition song

2.  Soundtrack song for ”Protagonist forces herself to try new thing to get over ex but then finding out that she is actually good at and loves doing aforementioned new thing which gives her new outlook on situation” montage in standard Rom-Com

3.  Provide funding for Max Martin’s Helicopter Pad addition for his house in Hollywood

4.  Zumba!

5.  Soundtrack song for “Building relationship via fun urban leisure activities like bike riding in park and eating food from street vendors with someone whom protagonist only thought of platonically before but now she sees him in a whole new light and it confuses her, while ex simultaneously realizes he made a mistake in dumping protagonist” montage in standard Rom-Com tswiftparker

6.  Pedagogical exercise in race/sociology classes aimed to initiate discussion on cultural appropriation/the use of the ‘hater’ discourse to excuse problematic attitudes and behavior. tswifttwerk

7. Retooled lyrics used as basis for future Pillsbury marketing campaign – “Bake it off”

8. Soundtrack song for “Road Trip Dance Party in the Car” shot in standard female tween coming of age movie tswiftcrossroads

9.  Background music that is faded up at the end of an episode of Catfish after the catfished person tells Neve over Skype that the experience ended up being a positive one because it really “woke them up” and now they are doing much better and have gone back to school/found a new romantic interest

tswiftcatfish

10. Soundtrack for “Girlfriends take protagonist out for a night on the town to help her get over general romantic failure and they dance the night away but then wake up the next morning with a hangover and looking like hell when the doorbell rings and it’s a handsome new next door neighbor asking if protagonist knows the landlord’s number because the dishwasher in his apartment isn’t working” montage from standard Rom-Com

tswiftlopez

11. Battleground on which music critics rehash tired debates about the concept of authenticity and the career arc of pop starlets

12.  Lazy tagline written for Mario Lopez to use on Extra when talking about public feuds with Taylor Swift a-la “T-Swift has always known that the haters are gonna hate hate hate but she couldn’t have expected Ariana Grande to be one of those haters”

tswift slater

13.  Soundtrack song used for “Re-inventing oneself to get over ex and it is seemingly going very well, but then you hear a record scratch sound effect and that cuts off the montage because protagonist runs into the ex who is with her new boyfriend” montage in relatively new sub-genre of Rom-Com where the male is the protagonist

tswiftmatt

14.  Floor exercise/figure staking routine song used in those things that they do at the Olympics after the gymnastics/figure skating medals have already been given out and they just want to show the “girls just having some fun!”

tswiftgymnast

15.  The pop sugar cudgel used to finally force me to submit to the Taylor Swift New World Order

tswiftheart

Sad Song

Even though the album came out in August and I listened to it then, I’m only now getting around to really listening to the words of “I Should Live in Salt” by the National.  Holy fuck, what a sad beautiful song.  I think I am going to cry now.  Anyways, here is a nice cover of that song by some random artist who we’ve never heard of

Sometimes I miss hard rock

Before my wallet got stolen in 2003, I used to carry this picture around in my wallet.  True story.

Before my wallet got stolen in 2003, I used to carry this picture around in my wallet. True story.

Every couple of years I go through a phase where all I do is listen to David Lee Roth era Van Halen. These are not necessarily productive periods of my life, but there sure are a lot more bitchin’ guitar solos during these times.

2 thoughts on Macklemore’s performance at the Grammys

Watch the performance below if you haven’t seen it yet.1

1) The decision to include straight couples in the mass weddings seems like a choice made to soften the impact of the image of gay marriages on national TV. In turn this reduces the impact of the performance as a political statement. Last I checked no one is trying to prevent straight people from getting married. If your response to this is “The point of the song is that marriage is for everyone, gay and straight,” then I think you might have a real misunderstanding of the social problem of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Also, that actually may be the message that Macklemore intends, which speaks to the issues with using this song as some kind of protest song.  And when you think about it, it speaks to the problem of gay marriage as the principal LGBTQ issue in the public’s mind.

2) I saw the West coast broadcast so it wasn’t live and I don’t know how it played out on live TV. However it was obvious that on the broadcast that I saw, the editor/director made sure to show as little physical affection between same sex couples as possible. Every time a same sex couple would move in for a kiss, the camera would cut away abruptly to Macklemore or Queen Latifah.  I can’t emphasize how super shitty this is.  Basically, someone took a giant crap all over the political statement that the song was making.  Whether it was for personal beliefs or whether it was in the interest of avoiding angry phone calls or emails – it shows that even with more and more states legalizing gay marriage, we are no where near where we want to be on this issue.  If something as simple as two newly married people kissing each other immediately after getting married is still something that needs to be edited out of a national television broadcast, then we as a culture are still discriminating based on who you want to make out with.

I promise that I’m not just trying to shit on a shitty rapper.2  After all, it was nice that some kind of social justice issue was engaged with at all on national TV.  But what should have been a very nice and touching moment was marred by CBS’s desire to ‘sanitize’ the broadcast, so you know, eff those a-holes.

Bonus thought on Grammys unrelated to Macklemore’s performance as political statement – Macklemore3 winning best rap album over Kendrick Lamar is like a poop on rye winning best sandwich over the Monte Cristo.

Both of these white guys have extremely stupid haircuts.

  1. Before it gets yanked from Youtube that is []
  2. See what i did there? []
  3. Did you notice I never mention that clown Ryan Lewis.  He doesn’t do shit except press buttons on his Macbook and jump around like an asshole.  A John Oates for the new century []

Bob’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

Obviously, I’m not a professional music critic, so this is limited only to the music that I’ve been able to spend quality time with.

1. Rhye – Woman
The androgynous mystique of the vocals only enhance an already lush and full album.  I would have never thought that an indie version of Sade would work so well but it does. Basically, I want to make out with this album.

2. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Everything that the critics are praising HAIM for, Tegan and Sara did it first on this album. They also did it way more successfully.

3. Lorde – Pure Heroine
While I am not sure that the narrative of Lorde as Kurt Cobain is completely accurate, the combination of her ethereal voice with the expertly produced minimalistic drum and bass is irresistable.

4. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Third albums in three part concept albums about bisexual androids have never been more funky.  I regularly twerk to this album.

5. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Neko continues her streak as every album she’s made since 2006 have been clinics in songwriting.

6. Icona Pop – This is…Icona Pop
Very worthy heirs to the great tradition of Swedish pop music. Perhaps it was due to the wild success of the single “I Love It” as a club anthem, but the rest of this album has been very overlooked.

7. Kanye West – Yeezus
This is a little surprising since this album is not nearly as good as the previous two.  But even Kanye’s B-roll is catchier, more interesting, and more compelling than almost anything else out there.

8. Brandy Clark – 12 Stories
Pretty much all the good things about country music before it went full redneck-son-of-the-south around 2002.  Like Neko Case’s album, this is a showcase of extremely competent songwriting.

9. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
The critics pretty much nailed it with this one – this album is the complete fulfillment of Daft Punk’s potential as the ones to take electronic music mainstream.

10. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
I’ve had trouble figuring out exactly what I like about this album so much.  All I can tell you is that I play the crap out of it when I surf the web.

Came close but no cigar
Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety (It killed me to not put this one in the top 10)
Beyonce – Beyonce (This might have made the list if I was able to spend more time with it)
Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Didn’t come out in 2013 but I started listening to them this year and love these albums
Lydia Loveless – Indestructible Machine
Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (High School Jazz Band Drummer Bob here – this album is a stunning achievement)

Album that I have to admit I liked at least a few songs despite hating their last two albums
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Albums that the indie kids seemed to like but I didn’t get at all
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Arcade Fire – Reflektor – I seriously hate this album, but not as much as….

Worst Album of 2013
HAIM – Days are Gone