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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The Major Rise and Minor Fall of Danger Mouse

How my favorite producer’s impeccable musical taste and respect for history has been both his biggest strength and biggest weakness.

danger mousePhoto: Dave Lichterman, KEXP

“It was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project.”

If the Beatles had The White Album and Jay Z had The Black Album, that’s just asking for a Grey Album, right? Brian Burton thought so. Now, over twenty albums and three Grammys later, Burton, otherwise known as Danger Mouse, has been proclaimed not just “Producer of the Decade,” but one of the most influential people of the 21st century so far. Hyperbole? Yeah, probably. But he has certainly been one of the most influential people to me. He has created both chart-topping hits and critically-acclaimed masterpieces. In my opinion, he has even claimed a spot alongside George Martin and Rick Rubin in the pantheon of transcendent music producers.

However, something troubling has developed over the past two years — lately, Burton has been coasting in neutral. Where his production was once fresh and original, it has gradually become a little stale and overbearing. It’s something we need to analyze.

Burton’s career can be broken up into four phases:

  • Phase I: Danger Mouse the Hip-Hop Producer
  • Phase II: Danger Mouse the Genre-Blender
  • Phase III: Danger Mouse the Excellent Neo-Psychedelic, Ambient, Indie Rock Producer
  • Phase IV: Danger Mouse the Stale and Overbearing Neo-Psychedelic, Ambient, Indie Rock Producer
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    Best Albums of 2011

    For some reason, Facebook decided by Best Albums of 2011 post broke some kind of copyright, so it (and all of its HTML) got deleted. For those who are interested, here was my list (with a little less pizazz unfortunately).


    25. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming


    24. Yuck – Yuck

    23. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

    22. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

    21. Atlas Sound – Parallax

    20. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread

    19. Real Estate – Days

    18. Generationals – Actorcaster

    17. Adele – 21

    16. The Strokes – Angles

    15. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

    14. Radiohead – The King of Limbs

    13. Cults – Cults

    12. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne

    11. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

    10. The Roots – undun

    9. Wilco – The Whole Love

    8. The Antlers – Burst Apart

    7. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

    6. Beirut – The Rip Tide

    5. Drake – Take Care

    4. The Black Keys – El Camino

    3. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

    2. Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

    1. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

    Grammy Recap

    Did you watch the Grammys? Yeah me neither, but following the live blogs is just as entertaining, if not more so. The big story was Adele’s sweep, winning Album of the Year with her transcendent breakup album 21, and Record of the Year and Song of the Year with 2011 staple “Rolling In the Deep.” Kudos to the Grammys for getting something right, but they’re known to make some pretty laughable choices, and not even so much relating to what they pick as to how they pick them. Let’s go over some of the notable winners–ridiculous, deserving, and otherwise.

    BEST NEW ARTIST: Bon Iver

    Are you kidding me? Bon Iver made the big time last year with the self-titled Bon Iver, his sophomore album. Key word though: sophomore. Bon Iver’s debut record For Emma, Forever Ago was incredible, one of the best of the last decade. Oh, did I say “last decade?” Yeah, it was self-released in 2007 (before making a wider release the year after). I love the audacity they have to not just nominate him but choose him as the best new artist simply because those fossils finally recognized him. I know I’m belaboring an obvious point, but humor me for a second–take the Shins, for example. They made their last album in 2007, the same year as For Emma. The Shins are finally coming out with a new disc this year and we’re lauding them for “[taking] back their throne”, after “a long hiatus. If the time between 2007 and now is “a long hiatus,” then I’m baffled as to how Bon Iver, around since 2007, is a new artist. (Btw in my opinion, the award should have gone to Nicki Minaj).

    BEST RAP ALBUM: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

    Say what you will about Kanye’s persona (Insert “I’mma let you finish” dig here), but the man is a genius. MBDTF rightfully won as the best rap album, but it’s insane that it wasn’t nominated for Album of the Year. Bruno Mars was nominated. Yeah, Bruno Mars. Badly done, Grammys. Badly done.

    BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE NOMINATION: The Black Keys – “Dearest”

    So actually the winner in this category was a collaboration between the late Amy Winehouse and Tony Bennett, which I haven’t heard and don’t feel like checking out at the moment (no disrespect, I dig me some Amy Winehouse). Actually it’s pretty crazy that it won considering it was going up against “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, “Paradise” by Coldplay, and “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5. Anyway, I just want to direct your attention to the other nominee, The Black Keys’ “Dearest.” It appeared on a tribute album to Buddy Holly called Rave On, featuring covers of Buddy Holly songs from Paul McCartney, Julian Casablancas, Florence + the Machine, Cee-Lo Green, and others, including the Black Keys. I’m surprised and impressed that the Grammys dug this track out of relative obscurity to nominate it because it’s a gem. Check it out below:

    OK I’m bored. I was thinking of writing more, but the Grammys are useless anyway. If you’re feeling in the mood to reminisce on the best of this year’s show though, just crack out the Adele, Bon Iver, Kanye, and Foo Fighters and have at it.