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: June 2015

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This was a feature that I used to do for the Daily Californian’s Arts & Entertainment blog. I decided to give it life again here. At the end of each month, I’ll post a feature highlighting five quality tracks released during that month.

1. Beck: “Dreams”

Beck is back! And in a big way. If you remember, last year he released Morning Phase, a gorgeously melancholy collection of songs that won an Album of the Year grammy and the ire of Kanye West (Kanye apologized soon after and recently reiterated that he was wrong about him). I thought Morning Phase was beautiful to be sure, but I also thought it was probably Beck’s worst album. It was monochromatic and often flat-out boring. Well it looks like Beck is ready to turn up again.

Beck said that “Dreams,” his new single, is the “opposite” of Morning Phase. He couldn’t be more correct. It’s huge and hooky, perfect for dance floors and car stereos. It kind of sounds like MGMT’s “Electric Feel” — in fact, it sounds a lot like it. But we’ll give it a pass, because it’s just so awesome. Beck has been a 90’s alt-rock god, a sampling master, a funk hero, and an acoustic sad sack, but he’s at his best in psych-rock/dance mode. Hail “Dreams.”

 
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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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