Due to the global pandemic, there was a disruption to “The Process” in constructing our annual best-of list for the year. However, we still wanted to recognize that music was in fact released during these difficult times, and sometimes it was even quite good. So once again, for the purposes of our records (and your shopping list), here are our favorite albums from the past year.
10. Idles – Ultra Mono; EOB – Earth
9. Wolf Parade – Thin Mind; Moaning – Uneasy Laughter
8. Fleet Foxes – SHORE; Muzz – Muzz
7. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters; Cults – Host; Deftones – Ohms
6. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud; Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
5. Pearl Jam – Gigaton; Hum – Inlet; The Strokes – The New Abnormal
4. X – Alphabetland; Washed Out – Purple Noon
3. Run the Jewels – RTJ4; Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today
David Bowie recently released a bonkers new video for the title track off his upcoming album Blackstar, and though Mos Def & Talib Kweli do not make a cameo appearance, the bizarre sci-fi vignettes are worth watching regardless.
M.I.A. also released a controversial new video for her song “Borders” from the upcoming Matahdatah, featuring a cast of dozens of refugees. You can view the video in the link above, since this YouTube copy will probably be taken down in the near-future.
Coldplay has probably the last big release of this year, with A Head Full Of Dreams coming out on Friday. The first single is the soaring “Adventures of a Lifetime”, accompanied by a video featuring computer-animated gorillas, because why not.
News, new videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…
The biggest news of the weekend was the announcement that David Bowie will be releasing a new album next year. There should be high hopes for Blackstar when it comes out on January 8, since Bowie’s last record (The Next Day) was pretty damn good. In other words, this is not merely the case of fans expressing nostalgia for the golden years of a legendary artist, but legitimate excitement for a new album–especially if it is as “completely bonkers”as one “insider” suggested.
Run The Jewels 2 was released a year ago today, and to celebrate the occasion, Run The Jewels has released a music video for “Angel Duster”, which features footage of the duo performing all around the country.
EL VY has released another lyric video from their upcoming album Return to the Moon, which will be released this Friday. This time the duo of Matt Berninger (The National) and Brent Knopf (Menomena, Ramona Falls) have a video for the bouncy “Need a Friend”.
In case you did not get your fix of write-ups on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Consequence of Sound has a ranking of all 28 tracks. Quibbles: the title track and “Here Is No Why” are underrated, “Galapagos” and “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” are overrated. But at least the top track is correct.
And finally, this list serves as a bit of homework for our readers, as Stereogum lists the 50 Best New Bands of 2015. We will definitely be consulting this list for the next few days, and it is probably a good idea if our readers do the same as well.
News, new music, videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…
After months of waiting, Run The Jewels finally released their highly-anticipated Meow The Jewels, a joke-remix album for charity that had several producers and musicians recreating the brilliant record Run The Jewels 2 using only cat noises. If you want to take a listen, a free download is available through the RTJ website, and yes, it is about as ridiculous as you would expect. As you enjoy such great remixes as “Paw Due Respect”, be sure to read El-P’s interview with Deadspin discussing the project.
Of course, if you want to listen to a more traditional version of Run The Jewels, we highly recommend that you check out their electrifying performance with TV on the Radio for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, if you have not done so already. Speaking of Mr. Colbert, he had a busy week last week, with the highlight probably being his vocal assistance on Pearl Jam’s cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” to close out one of his shows.
In other news, The Strokes informed announced to the crowd at their recent D.C. show that the band will soon be recording a new album, which we personally hope will be better than Comedown Machine.
Broken Bells premiered a new concert film over the weekend entitled Live at the Orpheum, and the group shared a new track to help promote the movie, an upbeat track with a jittery disco beat called “It’s That Talk Again”.
There were only a handful of articles worth perusing this week, but be sure to read this piece by legendary Rush drummer Neil Peart for TeamRock. The piece is a response to a compliment from Queens of the Stone Age/The Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore for one of Peart’s solos, and Neil explains the narrative behind the solo. It is fascinating to see the amount of effort and backstory that went into its creation, and also shows that indeed there is some “craft” to drumming.
Alternative Nation had another interesting piece with this interview with ESPN sportscaster Kenny Mayne in which he discusses his relationship with Pearl Jam, and includes some great anecdotes about seeing the group’s famous Benaroya and Wrigley Field shows, among others.
Finally, a couple of anniversary pieces from Stereogum, though you may want to skip over them. First, there’s a tenth-anniversary retrospective of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut, which is used as an excuse to bash on the concept of “blog rock” and take some undeserved shots at the group. The twentieth-anniversary appreciation of Blur’s The Great Escape is a bit better, though it is not one of the band’s best works. However, it does have the appropriate appreciation for “The Universal”, which is easily one of the greatest songs that Blur ever recorded.
On Wednesday night, America will say goodbye to David Letterman, a comedic genius who has been revolutionizing late night television longer than I have been alive. I missed out on the NBC years, so I learned about all his most memorable bits secondhand. Instead, for me he was always the guy on CBS facing off against the Leno juggernaut. As a kid, I appreciated Leno’s easy humor more, but over the years I began to appreciate Letterman’s sarcastic wit and his ironic take on comedic conventions, and eventually fully embraced his approach. In my mind, “Is This Anything?” is the pinnacle late night achievement.
An underrated part of Letterman’s legacy was his willingness to book unconventional musical acts. In our brief run so far, we have spotlighted performances from favorite bands on the show several times, and we probably should have shared several more. Over the years, the Late Show has provided several great groups with their first major exposure on a network, and it was always a joy to see Dave himself get a kick out of many of the bands that performed. Of course, let us not forget the contributions from the brilliant Paul Shaffer and the CBS orchestra; there were few things cooler to watch than seeing Paul join in when he was digging what he heard, like he did with Red Fang a few months back.
A few weeks ago, we linked to a piece from Talking Points Memo that featured the inflammatory headline “Face It, Live Music Kinda Sucks.” As expected, the article does not improve from its initial comparison that “live music is the grownup birthday dinner of cultural events”, and it certainly does not fulfill its stated promise of providing an “airtight case” of that assertion. Sometimes an essay can overcome its terrible arguments with some creative and compelling commentary, but there is absolutely nothing in the article that resembles anything that can be construed as entertaining.
Here is a breakdown of the author’s argument: 1). People don’t want to hear bands they don’t know; 2). Musicians can be boring/play for too long/other people suck; 3). Live music isn’t as good as studio recordings; 4). Good bands don’t get booked; 5). People suck and do bad things and somehow this is the result of live music. This last part didn’t get its own bullet-point, but was apparently tacked-on at the last minute to score some social commentary points, which is depressing in and of itself–you may have admirable aims in tackling issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of harassment, but if you use a lazy argument it just hurts your overall point, especially if it lacks relevance to the specific issue at hand. It is completely unproductive, and results in turning off the potentially impressionable as only the converted hear the message.
Even if one ignores the extraneous social commentary, it is not as if the author’s primary arguments have any merit. For the first point, there is the tautology that the author admits to in his own goddamn article that “nobody likes things they don’t like”, but there is no elaboration of this basic concept. Sure, it can be annoying to hear crappy opening bands, but for the most part it is rare to hear genuinely awful bands, so maybe it is possible to endure a half-hour of light annoyance in order to hear your preferred choice. Of course, as rare as it may be, there is always the possibility that you can find a new favorite band from an unknown opener; even if the success rate is rather low in this particular context, it is roughly equivalent to what you would find just scanning the radio.
The second and third points are even more ludicrous. If you like a band so much that you are paying money to see them live, why would you complain that you may be forced to endure a three hour show? Most fans appreciate hearing as much of a band’s catalog as possible. Of course, the solution for someone who thinks that a concert is running too long is rather obvious: leave early. The other argument has the appearance of some legitimacy, since it is true that there is often a fundamental tension in seeing a band live. It is a struggle for musicians to satisfy the demand of sounding similar to the studio recordings with which their fans are familiar as well as making the live experience worthwhile by offering a unique experience, but seeing how a musician handles that clash of expectations is half the fun of a live show. Some bands succeed, others do not, but that is how most things go in life. However, the fact that the author cites Beck as an example of a musician’s failure to meet those conflicting expectations casts some doubt on his ability to discern as to what makes a good performance; over the years, Beck has done an excellent job of assembling various groups of musicians that do a fantastic job of recreating and reinterpreting his studio albums in a live setting, including during his recent Morning Phase tour.
The final point is just dumb, and is undercut by the author’s own admitted shittery. Congratulations, you were able to book shows despite the fact that your band was terrible (and judging by the photo you submitted for this piece, I have no problem believing this to be the case). In general, most venues care much more about their bottom line and simply will not book bands that fail to bring in an audience; half-assed sociological assessments do not usually enter into the picture. Good work on earning a few hundred bucks here and there by putting on a terrible performance, Mr. Kennedy, but there is a clear reason why we in the public at large have never heard about your musical exploits. Despite the fact that you didn’t give a fuck about your audience, it doesn’t mean that most bands follow your model. I have seen Of Montreal perform a gig for dozens in a basement bar in rural New Hampshire and play a sell-out show for thousands in New York City, and they played with the same gusto and enthusiasm for both shows. In other words, there’s a reason why they are the ones that still have a musical career.
Related to this discussion is the recent questions asked by some about the relevancyof live albums. It is difficult to think of a less vital position to take, considering that if you do not believe in the endeavor of creating a live album for fans you can choose to simply not to buy the album–it is not as if the existence of these albums crowds out the market for other non-live albums. But the answer is simple: fans find value in these recordings. At their most basic level, live albums benefit from the extra energy that infuse the performances, from both the musicians themselves and the presence of the crowd; even if the listener is not physically present for the show, there is still some benefit in hearing a live recording because of this factor.
These albums also allow fans to hear exciting new variations of their favorite songs; the studio recordings do not have to be a “finished product”, and bands can tinker and deconstruct various elements and rebuild them into something new. As an example, with each of their tours Eels emphasizes different parts of their sound and offer intriguing new takes on their songs, whether it be fuzzed-out rock on Electro-Shock Blues Show or delicate ballads on With Strings. Live albums also offer fans the chance to hear amazing displays of musicianship and improvisation; there are those that are content with hearing one version of Pearl Jam’s “Black”, but there are thousands of others that enjoy hearing Mike McCready create different beautiful solos with each performance. Plus, there’s always fun in hearing particularly memorable stage banter that a recording might capture, as many Pearl Jam bootleg devotees can attest.
The point is that live music is great any way you find it. There is no need to be an ass and try to find reasons to hate it.
For some reason, the Internet celebrated the FCC net neutrality classification decision with hours of chatter about a pack of escaped llamas. With all this talk about llamas, my mind turned to Vs., my favorite Pearl Jam album, because of its memorable album cover. Then there was a huge uproar on social media about the color of some random ugly dress, and my head began to hurt because of the light and my eyes and all the terrible arguments that confuse perception and reality and so on and so forth. After all this hubbub, I then conducted some additional research and found out that the animal on the cover of Vs. is not a llama at all, like I had assumed after all these years, but is in fact a sheep.
My mind has been broken. Llamas are sheep and gold is black. It is nearly impossible to function.
So we’re going to take things easy today, because it’s just too difficult to write a response to this terrible article about how “live music kinda sucks” (and please don’t click on the link for now, but just know it exists) when the mind is broken. We will instead delay our rebuttal for another time, in part because we will also the piece as a pivot to include a discussion concerning recent commentary on the purposes of live albums. But that’s for the future.
Videos, news, and other fun stuff as you recover from the worst playcall of all-time…
The coffee in Seattle probably tastes extra bitter today after yesterday’s Super Bowl loss, but the weekend wasn’t a total bummer for them since Friday night saw the “reunion” of supergroup Mad Season for a special event. Blabbermouth has videos of the show which featured original members Mike McCready and Barrett Martin joining the Seattle Symphony to perform a trio of the group’s songs. The evening also featured guest appearances from other Seattle grunge superstars like Chris Cornell, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Matt Cameron, as well as native Seattleite Duff McKagan. As an added bonus, the stars also performed a couple of songs from the classic Temple of the Dog tribute album.
We also have a couple of new music videos this week. First, Deerhoof released the video for “Black Pitch” from La Isla Bonita, and it revolves around singer Satomi Matsuzak enjoying the coastal scenery despite the cold temperature outside.
Then we have Run The Jewels’s second appearance in today’s linkfest, since they just put out a video for “Lie, Cheat, Steal”.
If you’re in the mood for lists which prominently feature the Pixies, we have a couple for you. First, there’s PASTE ranking the 80 Best Albums of the 80’s, and then there’s Consequence of Sound looking at the Top 10 4AD albums for that record label’s thirty-fifth anniversary.