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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Best Albums of 2016

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With the gradual proliferation of streaming services and curated playlists, for a while it didn’t look likely that the “album” format would survive. Yet here we are, at a time where the biggest pop stars are releasing cohesive, fully developed ALBUMS, in capital letters. I will always have a soft spot for the album as a concept, whether contained on discs of vinyl or within links to Spotify pages. Smash hits lie alongside deep cuts to form one 30-70 minute statement reflecting the artist’s pain and joy, their view of the world, their quest to express the words in their head and the riffs in their gut. Here are my 25 favorite albums of 2016.

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Five Quality Tracks: March 2016

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It’s an indie rock/pop kind of month! Except for Kendrick.

1. Car Seat Headrest: “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

Car Seat Headrest is my current obsession. The band’s mastermind, Will Toledo, has been making home-recorded music since 2010, but after almost 6 years, he’s finally getting some much-deserved attention. Last year’s Teens of Style was #17 on my Best Albums of 2015 list, but after listening to it a lot over the past month or so, I regret placing it so low. In retrospect, it was one of the 5 best albums of last year. Despite the record’s lo-fi, muddled production, Toledo’s songwriting ability and knack for melody still shone through (especially on “Times to Die”).

In May, Car Seat Headrest will release Teens of Denial, the follow-up to Teens of Style, and I can’t freaking wait. With recognition comes access to a real recording studio, and Toledo is taking full advantage on his new singles. He first released the 8-minute epic “Vincent”, but then topped it with “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.” It’s a sobering song that compares drunk drivers to, you guessed it, killer whales, but it doesn’t do so in any kind of preachy way. Toledo makes his faults and rationalizations abundantly clear, but advocates the song’s subject to listen to the voice in your head: “But you know he loves you, and he doesn’t mean to cause you pain. Please listen to him, it’s not too late. Turn off the engine, get out of the car, and start to walk.” The music itself is powerful — it’s pretty by-the-book indie rock, but so well-executed, paced perfectly, and with an excellent melody. Toledo’s voice is like a cross between Julian Casablancas of the Strokes and Ray Davies of the Kinks. With some people, you can instantly tell whether they have that certain songwriting “spark” — the spark that takes what could be “good” songs to “great, stay-in-your-head” type songs. Toledo has that spark.

 
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