Five Quality Tracks: January 2016 + Bonus: Five Great Bowie Moments

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These “Five Quality Tracks” posts stress me out. I want to pick 15 tracks, not 5. January was a really good month, and I’m passing over a lot of good songs from Hinds, Wet, Eleanor Friedberger, and even the guy who you see everyday in the header photo of this very website, Ty Segall! I can’t believe I didn’t include them. That must mean these next five songs are really good. Also, keep scrolling after the tracks for a bonus section with some of my favorite David Bowie moments.

1. Chairlift: “Moth to the Flame”

The indie pop duo Chairlift have been around for a few years, but they’ve always been somewhat of a footnote to me. They had a song in 2012 called “I Belong in Your Arms” that I really liked, but I hadn’t really heard anything else by them. They just released their new album Moth and it’s chock-full of jams. I was *THIS* close to selecting another track, the slightly emo but deeply affecting and equally awesome “Crying in Public” as my Chairlift representative. But I couldn’t ignore the sugary, danceable beat to “Moth to the Flame.” This is catchy, reach-for-the-stars, indie pop at its finest.

 
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Our Unique David Bowie Experiences

We can agree on why we all miss him. But we can’t agree on his best work. And that is beautiful.

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David Bowie passed away two days ago after an 18-month battle with cancer. I have never been so sad and shocked at the death of an entertainer, which took me a bit by surprise. I’ve never considered myself a Bowie expert or anything, but I’m realizing just how strong of a personal connection I had to the man and his music.

Why do we miss him so much? I think we can agree on a few reasons.

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Best Albums of 2015

When I was a freshman/sophomore in college, I insisted that my “best albums of the year” lists were unequivocally correct. Whichever top 25 albums I listed were, by all measures, the absolute “best” of the year, no questions asked. With a little perspective, I now know that that was completely ridiculous. The 25 albums represented here are the “best” to me, according to my limited world view. I try to keep that world view as open as possible so that all albums are welcome here. I also try to take into account an album’s importance, reach, and influence on a larger scale. But ultimately, these 25 albums are the ones I loved listening to the most. I immensely enjoyed them, and I hope you did/will too.

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Best Songs of 2015

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We were provided with an embarrassment of riches in 2015. Beloved artists returned with flawless albums (Sufjan Stevens, Sleater-Kinney), artists in their peak pushed the boundaries into completely new territory (Kendrick Lamar, Grimes, Tame Impala), and newcomers hearkened back to classics from days past (Leon Bridges, Natalie Prass, Tobias Jesso Jr.). This was my favorite year for music since 2012 — there were so many songs that would have qualified for this list if they had come out any other year, but the competition was just too much in 2015.

D-Brad’s Best Songs of 2015: Spotify Playlist
D-Brad’s Best Songs of 2015: YouTube Playlist

Also, special thanks to Taylor for the awesome cover art.

Before we get to the top 50, here are 15 honorable mentions that it killed me to exclude.

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The 10 Grittiest Songs by the Rolling Stones

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In honor of the Rolling Stones’ recent reissue of Sticky Fingers, perhaps their grittiest album ever, let’s celebrate the 10 “grittiest” Rolling Stones songs. These are the ones where Keith Richards’ riffs are dirty and Mick Jagger’s yowl hits you right in the stomach. These are not the ones with cheesy keyboards or smooth-jazz sax solos or wannabe-Beatles piano pop or Mick’s yellow pants. The Rolling Stones could excel when they put on the sheen and glitz (see “Miss You”), but nothing beats the Stones at their most gritty and grimy. Here are the 10 best examples. (Note: All the songs are collected in a Spotify playlist at the bottom!)

10. Brown Sugar | Sticky Fingers (1971)
The opening guitar riff is one of the best of all time, and Mick’s voice is all blues. Plus, this is one of the few songs where a sax solo actually adds to the grit rather than subtracts from it (it probably helps that it’s a tenor sax).

 
 
9. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction | Out of Our Heads (1965)
Take yourself back to 1965. The “Sixties” as we know it hadn’t taken hold yet. The hair was still short and slicked back, and the culture at-large was still a little uneasy over the foothold that rock and roll was taking. Then out come the Rolling Stones, more sinister than the Beatles, with easily the grittiest song to ever reach #1 at that point in time — “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” This was when the Stones first introduced their brand of grit to the masses.

 
 
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10 Beck Songs to Listen to Instead of ‘Morning Phase’

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I love Beck. I say that about a lot of artists, but I really mean this one. While I was still in my “classic rock is the only acceptable form of popular music” phase, Beck was one of the few post-1980 musicians I actually liked. His breakout hit “Loser” is an all-time favorite. His celebrated follow-up album Odelay was not only great, but introduced Beastie Boys-style sampling to an even broader audience. I love almost everything he’s done, from the funk of 1999’s Midnite Vultures to the muted psychedelia of 2008’s Modern Guilt. He’s a weird, eccentric guy with an extremely diverse catalog, incorporating almost every genre under the sun.

But Morning Phase is not good. Sorry.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s probably his worst album. It didn’t deserve the Grammy for Album of the Year. Let me be clear: it’s not bad. It’s actually quite pleasant, with a few tracks that are undeniably beautiful (“Morning” and “Waking Light” are highlights for me). But stacked up against Beck’s body of work, it’s just incredibly bland.

The inferiority of Morning Phase is especially apparent when you compare it to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change, which is similarly melancholy, with its slow, swooning songs, sweeping strings, and sad melodies. But Sea Change is impeccably gorgeous. Many heralded Morning Phase as the sequel to Sea Change, which is very true, but instead of maintaining the same quality as its predecessor, it plays like a collection of Sea Change B-sides.
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2014 in Music: Album Awards

I hate to start it off like this, but 2014 wasn’t a great year for albums. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of solid releases, but it wasn’t like 2009 or 2011 or 2012, when we were knee-deep in near-classics. Before coming to this realization though, I thought I was going crazy, wondering if music just didn’t provide me with the same enjoyment. Luckily for my sanity’s sake, other music critics also thought 2014 was kind of an off-year.

Here’s Matthew Perpetua, music writer for Buzzfeed:

But just because there weren’t as many excellent albums as years past, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some transcendent pieces of music. To my ears, there were five records in particular that stood out among the rest. Without further ado, my top five albums of the year:
 
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