Five Quality Tracks: November 2017

 

1. Pinegrove: “Intrepid”

No band makes me feel things quite like Pinegrove. This might sound dumb to anyone who doesn’t care about sports, but the first time I heard “Intrepid” was at my computer browsing the Internet, trying to take my mind off the fact that the Dodgers were currently on the verge of losing Game 7 of the World Series after a season’s worth of build-up and excitement. I wasn’t despondent — that had happened after they lost an insane, drama-filled Game 5 by a score of 13-12 in extra innings — but I was feeling pretty dejected. But when I played “Intrepid,” I started to feel comforted. It struck the exact tone that I needed — not too happy, not too sad, but affirming and warm. Understanding. “Don’t let it get to you, you said.” So then I played it again, and again, and again…

 

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Five Quality Tracks: October 2017 (+ September 2017)

 
OCTOBER

1. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: “Over Everything”

You know that feeling that comes every so often when you’re surrounded by people you like and you feel as comfortable and content as possible? “Over Everything” gives me that same feeling. It might be partially due to my undying love for both the artists featured here. Courtney Barnett, of Melbourne, Australia, has charmed me with her music since the release of one of my favorite songs, “Avant Gardener”, as well as her amazing 2015 album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Her ability to rock hard (like on “Pedestrian at Best”) and pull back and reflect (“Depreston”), all with extremely witty lyrics to boot, is amazing. Philly-native Kurt Vile has also been a staple of my music listening, appearing on many a year-end list of mine (my favorite song of his being the quietly cathartic “Wild Imagination”). No one had any inkling that the two would make music together at all, let alone for a full album, but they formed a mutual respect of each other’s work, which led to a friendship and collaboration.

Aside from my feelings for the artists, “Over Everything” just feels like putting on a huge warm sweater. Vile and Barnett trade verses, not to mention trade both acoustic and electric guitars, as they kick back and let the groove wash over us. “Over Everything” is the pure essence of contentment, diluted into song form.

 
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Five Quality Tracks: August 2017

 

1. Grizzly Bear: “Mourning Sound”

The kind of indie rock that was popular from about 2007 to 2011 has fallen out of favor with a lot of music critics nowadays, and the new Grizzly Bear album, Painted Ruins is the latest to fall prey to a lukewarm reception. That’s a shame, because Painted Ruins is a gorgeous work of art, beautiful in its many intricacies. The record as a whole takes some time to reveal itself, but the most immediate track of the bunch is “Mourning Sound.” The song relies on a nice, plodding, round bass line, with countless other instruments adorning it. I wouldn’t be able to name all the instruments on here if my life depended on it — definitely a bunch of different types of synths and guitars, but is that a harp? A harpsichord? Flutes? It’s hard to tell, but they all weave together to form a tapestry of beautiful (mourning) sound.

 
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An Analysis of My First Ever Mix CD from 2002

The middle school years are awkward, and nothing represents that pre-teen angst better than a snapshot of your music tastes at the time. I’m lucky enough to boast the Beatles as my favorite band since the age of 6, but that doesn’t mean I was impervious to the songs of the moment in the early 2000s, and some of those songs were… not so good.

As luck would have it, the first mix CD I ever compiled and downloaded from Rhapsody in 2002 is still intact, which I named KROQ Hits. For those that are unfamiliar with the airwaves of Southern California, KROQ 106.7 FM is the local alternative rock radio station. It’s what my mom played in the car during my formative years, which is why my favorite song at the age of 2 was “Give it Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and why it feels like Nirvana runs through my DNA. I would venture to say that whenever you turn on KROQ, 65% of the time they’ll be playing a good song. I wasn’t quite as discerning at the age of 13.

Now, it’s time to dive into KROQ Hits and judge each song. For each of the 15 tracks, I’ll rate the overall quality of the song on a scale of 1 to 10, and then determine whether that song still fits my tastes by answering a simple question: Would I put it on a mix in 2017? I was prepared to annihilate and ridicule this mix, but while listening to it again, many of the songs I assumed I would hate nowadays are still pretty appealing to me. Let’s go through it.

 

1. Sum 41: “Still Waiting”

We’re certainly starting off with a bang. “Still Waiting,” by the skate-punk blink-182 contemporaries, Sum 41, is the epitome of spiky-haired, middle-school angst. Pop punk has kind of received a positive reappraisal since its heyday in the late ’90s and early 2000s, partly due to nostalgia, but also because the melodies and riffs were definitely catchy. I would never choose to listen to anything by Sum 41 anymore, but I still dig the energy and hooks on “Still Waiting.” Plus, bonus points for sending up the Strokes in their music video.

Rating: 5/10
Would I put it on a mix in 2017?: Nope

 
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The Shins: “So Now What” / James Mercer’s Saving Grace

2017 has been a banner year for 2000’s indie zeitgeist-dominating blog rock. We’ve already gotten albums from Fleet Foxes, The xx, Phoenix, Dirty Projectors, and Grizzly Bear, with full-lengths soon to come from the National and LCD Soundsystem. It may come as a surprise to you, due to the relative lack of fanfare, but the Shins actually released a new album this year as well, just a few months ago. I guess they aren’t changing many lives anymore.

The record, entitled Name For You, is pretty unremarkable. It’s not bad per se, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the same sense of possibility and whimsy that defined James Mercer and the Shins of the 2000’s. “Kissing the Lipless” thrills you, “Pink Bullets” drips with potent melancholy, and that underwater synth line on “Sleeping Lessons” is magical. Even Port of Morrow, released in 2012 with a brand new lineup after a five-year hiatus, was solid all the way through (check out the insanely fun “Bait and Switch” or the leisurely and rewarding “40 Mark Strasse”).

Name For You is bland though. Songs like “Painting a Hole” and “Half a Million” are fine enough, demonstrating some interesting sonic touches, but where’s the emotion? Where’s the sense of wonder? It’s all so run-of-the-mill, and it makes me sad.

HOWEVER. There’s one song on Name For You that stands out, called “So Now What.” The track was actually first released three years ago, as a part of the soundtrack for the 2014 Zach Braff movie Wish I Was Here. It makes complete sense that “So Now What” was written long before the rest of the album. Mercer must have been riding a creative high in 2014 that didn’t hold over. “So Now What” is not flashy or attention-seeking, but the mid-tempo groove and simple melody have staying power. Mercer’s voice drifts through the clouds, dreamily singing “I had this crazy idea / Somehow we’d coast to the end.” At their best, the Shins are a band that can take you places other than where you’re currently sitting, and cause you to think about life and relationships and the past. Mercer couldn’t do it for a full album this time around, but at the very least, I’m glad we have “So Now What.”

Five (*15!) Quality Tracks: May, June, July 2017

 
I fell very far behind on Five Quality Tracks, and for that I apologize. Here are 15 tracks from the last three months that grabbed me, surprised me, and moved me. (By the way, I should note that these tracks are NOT in order of how much I like them. The order is arbitrary.)

1. The National: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”

When I saw that the National had released a new single, I knew it would be good. But I didn’t know it would be this good. The National don’t “rock out” that often, usually opting for more deliberate mood pieces, but they let their hair down a little bit on “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.” The song is built on an insanely catchy drum beat and bass line, with that punchy five-note guitar riff punctuating the song throughout. There’s even a guitar solo! Matt Berninger’s comforting baritone, the one we know and love, is present here, but my favorite part is when he passionately raises his voice an octave, exclaiming “I cannot explain it, ahh-ahhh, any other, any other way!” The song is incredibly gratifying and portends well for the coming album.

 
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Summer Mix 2017

Every summer needs a soundtrack. Whether you’re rolling the windows down on a road trip, mixing it up at a barbeque with friends, or chilling in a paradise somewhere with sand between your toes, the perfect tone-setting music is a requirement. Allow me to be of some assistance, with a collection of choice tracks by everyone from the Velvet Underground and Spoon to Lorde and DJ Khaled.

1. Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos: “Slide”
2. Hurray for the Riff Raff: “Living in the City”
3. Spoon: “Can I Sit Next to You”
4. White Reaper: “Judy French”
5. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: “French Press”
6. Drake: “Passionfruit”
7. Vampire Weekend: “Bryn”
8. Generationals: “You Say it Too”
9. Mac Demarco: “One Another”
10. The Black Keys: “All Hands Against His Own”
11. Kehlani: “CRZY”
12. The Velvet Underground: “Sweet Jane”
13. Ryan Adams: “Doomsday”
14. DJ Khaled feat. BeyoncĂ© and JAY-Z: “Shining”
15. Lorde: “Green Light”
16. The Courtneys: “Silver Velvet”
17. Father John Misty: “Real Love Baby”