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Archive | December, 2015

2015 SOTO Staff Picks

December 30, 2015

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Hey!  Here’s what the SOTO staff dug this year.  Enjoy.

Here you go!

1. Tobias Gesso Jr. – Goon

2. Shamir – Ratchet

3. Tame Impala – Currents

4. Mild High Club – Timeline

5. Ultimate Painting – Green Lanes

Assembled from my list other list of Best Albums of 2015, I wanted to give the fine SOTO readers who may not be into metal a little taste of what some of the borderline metal albums this year achieved. These bands can be classified as metal, but in reality when the non-metalhead hears these records will think, “I can understand the words,” and “They are actually singing a melody,” so I call this list the Best Non-Metal Metal Albums of the Year … enjoy!

5. Clutch – Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker)

The decision to stick with a more rock based approach for Clutch worked on Earth Rocker, and Psychic Warfare presents more of that same powerful attitude and emphasis on their abilities to write strong hooks and lyrically profound jams. A balanced album that seamlessly continues the trajectory of the band gives us some great new singable tunes … and, of course, mentions Texas (so I have to love it even more).

4. Soilwork – The Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast)

At some point Soilwork will write a terrible record – but The Ride Majestic is not that record. I am astounded by Soilwork’s ability to continually write albums that stretch what they do as a band, yet somehow fit perfectly into their catalog. This record has everything for the Euro-metalcore fan to celebrate.

3. Refused – Freedom (Epitaph)

While watching Refused on their reunion tour at Fun Fun Fun Fest, not one of their diehard fans could have possibly guessed that they could even put together another album, let alone a release as striking as Freedom. Almost two decades have passed since their ‘final’ album, The Shape of Punk to Come, and all we wanted was perfection. In many ways, Dennis Lyxzen and company have not only succeeded, but essentially created an album that did exactly what it needed to do: began the next era of punk to come.

2. Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things (Century Media)

The strange thing here is, whereas failing to pin down Paradise Lost made me move away from them, Intronaut’s similarly diverse catalog feels like a creative continuation, rather than a struggle to find a place amongst the ferns. The Direction of Last Things‘ breadth will surprise even the most hardened critic. If you aren’t BTBAM, prog metal is not an easy thing to make palatable – yet this record is undeniable.

1. Baroness – Purple (Abraxan Hymns)

Unlike the rest of the modern metal world, I did not hold Baroness’ last album in the highest regard. There were some great moments, but it was a double album that could have been boiled down to one spectacular album. So much has transpired for the band since then – setting aside the bus crash and the fallout of having to relearn how to do even menial tasks, rebuilding a band after two core members cannot continue must be daunting. After getting on the road and touring for a year with a new rhythm section, the iron seemed hot enough to get the recording going. As we hear the pieces of Purple, all that has transpired falls into the rear view. When consumed in full? Enlightened, transcendental, and mature beyond their years, Baroness’ Purple grows in stature with every listen. Heavier than the last two records, but with more subtle strides in structure, this is as close as we may get to a perfect album. Baroness tapped into something I hope they can channel for many years to come.

Enjoy!

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

2. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

3. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

4. Fashawn – The Ecology

5. Lizzo – Big GRRRL, Small World

1. Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down (Matador)

I’ve jammed this more than any other 2015 release. Vile’s songs are intriguing, yet detached. BIGD manages to say a lot about us as people and our continued course towards ultimate self involvement/destruction. It’s Vile’s own cosmic navel gazing that somehow speaks for the mass of all lost human beings looking for recognition while yearning to be left alone.

2. Dean McPhee – Fatima’s Hand (Hood Faire)

Over the course of Fatima’s Hand and its five meditative (and fully improvised) tracks, you are offered a range of solar spirituals. The depth and variance guitarist Dean McPhee is able to achieve with just a Telecaster, some pedals, and an amp deserves serious accolades.

3. Sun City Girls – Torch of the Mystics (Abduction Records)

Richard Bishop, Alan Bishop, and Charles Gocher’s finest moment gets its first reissue since 1993! Whether you consider it an underground footnote or THE best album released in the 1990s (which this writer does,) it’s easy to be pumped to not have to pay $150 for the original 1990 Marjora release on vinyl. Now Space Prophet Dogon can be jammed on wax for $17 thanks to Abduction Records.

4. Joshua Abrams – Magnetoception (Eremite)

It’s not often that a double LP of extended ensemble performances can be so damned captivating. With his magical guimbri in tow, Abrams and crew are to put it mildly, fucking killing it. This side of music has not sounded this fresh and appealing in a long damned time. Abrams is proving that solar/fire music can and will last way beyond its original purveyors.

5. Jack DeJohnette – Made In Chicago

The best jazz release this year by a mile. Recorded in 2013 at Chicago’s Millennium Park, it features pieces by DeJohnette, Mitchell, and Threadgill as well as improvised group pieces – all of them stunning. Even as each of these players age, their work continues to be timeless and endlessly inventive.

With honorable mentions to Lithuania, Metz, Beach Slang, Mike Krol, OBN IIIs and Sweet Talk, I give you my five favorite albums of the year:

1. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

2. Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie

3. Bop English – Constant Bop

4. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

5. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

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Movie Breakdown: Concussion

December 24, 2015

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The Impression:

Will Smith stars in Concussion, the movie that the NFL doesn’t want you to see!  Well, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but the trailers have looked fairly Oscar-baity, and I’ll be surprised if the film doesn’t steadily try to come off as more important than it really is.

The Reality:

Concussion is one of those films that you’ll forget by the time you walk from the theater to your car.  That’s not to say you’ll be upset that you saw it.  Overall, it’s a well made, fairly compelling drama, and Will Smith turns in quality work as Dr. Bennet Omalu (he’s the guy who scientifically proved that repeatedly taking shots to the head is not good for you), but director/writer Peter Landesman doesn’t provide much of anything else to hold onto.  You merely get a glimpse at Omalu’s research and the way that the NFL chose to deal with it, and otherwise it’s just scene after scene with a serious-looking Mr. Smith earnestly shooting for an Oscar nod.  If that sounds like a solid time to you, then go for it.  Like I said, Concussion isn’t bad, it just doesn’t have as much to offer as it should.

The Lesson:

Don’t hit your head on stuff.

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Movie Breakdown: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Noah)

December 16, 2015

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The Impression:

Um, well, you know, it is the continuation of perhaps the greatest trilogy of all time. Let’s just say expectations are high.

The Reality:

J.J. Abrams has, by taking on the first film in a new trilogy of Star Wars’ films, challenged himself to do something almost entirely impossible. 38 years ago, people walked out of Star Wars: A New Hope in a euphoric daze, having entered for a brief two hours a fully realized science-fiction world unlike any they’d ever seen on screen. George Lucas didn’t just make a movie in 1977, he created fans, ardent supporters, normal folks so enamored with what he’d brought to their local cinemas that their love would be passed on to generation after generation. And now, almost four decades later, J.J. Abrams has tasked himself with doing it all over again. Because making the newest film in the recently shrunk Star Wars Universe, isn’t just about making a great, space-faring adventure story, it’s about the hordes of movie lovers who will stream out of theaters all over the world for weeks and months to come, and what feeling they’ll have emanating out of them. Will this introduce a new generation of Star Wars nerds to the world? Will kids learn to sing the Star Wars’ theme before they learn to talk? Honestly, I think so. J.J. Abrams hasn’t made a perfect movie – there’s some tone issues, and I think Abrams depended a little too much on previously accrued knowledge to drive some of the story – but he’s made a near perfect “Star Wars movie.” And I don’t just mean he’s paid lip-service to the Star Wars fans and I don’t mean because he’s captured the aesthetic of the first trilogy nearly perfectly or that he’s reintroduced the legends of Star Wars to a whole new audience, no, I mean Abrams has made a film that takes you, for a brief two hours, to a galaxy far, far away. I walked out of Star Wars yesterday overwhelmed by the emotion inherent in returning to the respectfully realized world of a film that I grew up loving. Abrams had an impossible task – make you feel like you were seeing Star Wars in 1977 – and though I was a glimmer in my pop’s eye in 1977, I can only imagine that he and I walked out of our respective theaters, 38 years apart, feeling pretty much the same way. And for that J.J. Abrams, I thank you.

The Lesson:

Clearly you noticed I avoided saying anything about the film in this review. I can’t, honestly, I won’t. This movie reminded me about how enjoyable a well-kept secret is, how much better it was when every film on Earth wasn’t ruined three months before it started. It made me want to stop obsessively watching trailers and going to movie sites and just let each film I see completely surprise me. Bitch all you want about Abrams Mystery Box methods, but wow, this film is so much better because of the bombshells it drops on unsuspecting viewers. See it soon, avoid spoilers, and hell, maybe the Force will be with you.

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Top 25 Albums Of 2015: Part 2

December 11, 2015

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Here are the final 10 entries in my Top 25 Albums of 2015 list!  You can see the whole thing on one page here.  Also, a Spotify playlist of most of the albums can be found here.  Enjoy.

PS – Just in cased you missed my Top 50 Songs of 2015, that list can be found here.

10) Bop English – Constant Bop

Constant Bop is my favorite album to come out of Austin this year.  I adore White Denim and want frontman James Petralli to get things back underway there, but I hope he doesn’t take too long to roll out another Bob English effort.

:Bop English – Dani’s Blues (It Was Beyond Our Control):

09) Youth Lagoon – Savage Hills Ballroom

It took me a few months to get around to giving Youth Lagoon’s Savage Hills Ballroom my full attention, but once I did it pulled me in and refused to let go.  It’s a sprawling effort that’s best experienced via headphones.

:Youth Lagoon – The Knower:

08) FIDLAR – Too

FIDLAR’s Too is a worthy follow-up to their 2013 self titled debut.  I love how sloppy, scatterbrained and loud it is.

:FIDLAR – 40oz. On Repeat:

07) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly has grown on me more and more as the year has gone on.  At first I liked about half of its songs, and now I think that from front to back it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

:Kendrick Lamar – Alright:

06) Annabel – Having It All

Whether or not you’re a fan of emo music, you should give Annabel’s Having It All a shot.  It’s really well crafted and the songwriting is fantastic.

:Annabel – Having It All:

05) Tame Impala – Currents

Currents is another stellar set of tracks from Tame Impala.  Now if only I could decide whether it’s their weirdest album or their most accessible.  It might actually be both.

:Tame Impala – Let It Happen:

04) Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett is a woman with a lot on her mind, and she shows it all throughout Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.  It’s such a charming, interesting album.

:Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian At Best:

03) Screaming Females – Rose Mountain

Every single song on Rose Mountain is fantastic.  I really thought the album would serve as Screaming Females’ big break, but the band seems to still be flying under the radar.  That’s all wrong.  They deserve all the love!

:Screaming Females – Criminal Image:

02) Doomtree – All Hands

Doomtree really hit it out the park with All Hands.  If you like intense, anthemic, energetic, brainy hip hop, then you need to make sure that the Minneapolis collective’s latest effort is in your rotation.

:Doomtree – .38 Airweight:

01) Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

I was packing totally unreasonable expectations for Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities To Love – their first album in a decade – and it not only managed to impress the hell out of me, but it kept me engaged for nearly the entire year (it came out in January).  That means every other album released in 2015 had the chance to dethrone No Cities To Love, and it never happened.  SK forever!

:Sleater-Kinney – A New Wave:

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Movie Breakdown: Macbeth

December 11, 2015

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The Impression:

It’s hard not to be exited for Macbeth.  The trailers have made the film look like a beautifully shot and crafty take on Shakespeare’s tragedy, and it stars two of my favorite actors – Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.  Not to mention I found director Justin Kurzel’s 2011 film The Snowtown Murders to be pretty darn good (in a totally twisted and messed up sort of way).

The Reality:

Macbeth is immensely easy on the eyes.  The costumes, the set pieces, etc. – it all looks and feels authentic, and the cinematography is simply stunning at every turn.  Hell, even if for some strange reason no sound had been available at my screening, I still would have at least enjoyed just watching it.

With that being said, I didn’t exactly like Macbeth.  It’s an incredibly dense film that seems as though it was made under the pretense that it could in no way be entertaining.  The dialogue, which is all very Shakespearean, is really hard to follow, as it’s often mumbled, whispered or said in a growl-like fashion.  The movie also meanders about, slowly unfolding in the artiest of ways possible so that you end up going mad along with Macbeth (Michael Fassbender once again doing quality work).  In other words, the film is practically in a foreign language, and it’s a Terrence Malick-esque take on the tragedy.  Talk about a taxing experience.

Unless you’re naturally equipped with a large amount of patience and/or you just really love all things Shakespeare, my advice is that you skip Macbeth in favor of something not quite so thick.

PS – I’ve been to a lot of screenings over the years, and Macbeth is the only one ever where I’ve seen people steadily get up, walk out and never return.  Ouch.

The Lesson:

Well made does not always equal good.

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Top 25 Albums Of 2015: Part 1

December 10, 2015

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Now that I’ve completed my Top 50 Songs of 2015 list, it’s time to rundown my Top 25 Albums of the year.  Entries 15-11 are just down below.  Jump back tomorrow for the final 10 selections.  Enjoy.

PS – As always, this list is made up of stuff that I legit listened to a lot throughout the year.

25) Carly Rae Jepsen – E-MO-TION

There are a couple of tracks on Carly Rae Jepsen’s E-MO-TION that aren’t great, but overall it’s definitely one of the most fun albums that I came across in 2015.  If you’re into lady-led pop jams from the 80s/90s, you need to become one with CRJ’s latest LP.

:Carly Rae Jepsen – Let’s Get Lost:

24) Joanna Newsom – Divers

If Joanna Newsom’s Divers had come out earlier in the year, I think it might have ended up higher on my list.  Like her other efforts, this album is beautiful but dense, and it needs to be digested over lots of listens.  In another month or two I’ll be able to decide whether it’s really good or really great.

:Joanna Newsom – Leaving The City:

23) Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

Protomartyr’s The Agent Intellect isn’t exactly what I would call an easily accessible rock album.  On the bright side, if you fully commit to it you get back a rather rewarding experience.

:Protomartyr – Why Does It Shake:

22) Desaparecidos – Payola

Payola is exactly what I wanted Desaparecidos to deliver on their sophomore effort – it’s loud, inspired, angry and crazy infectious.  Here’s hoping they don’t stick to the 13-years-between-albums thing that they currently have going on.

:Desaparecidos – City On The Hill:

21) Gal Pals – Velvet Rut

While it still bums me out that Gal Pals jumped from Austin to LA, I do like that the move got them to finally put out a debut full length.  Velvet Rut is 29 minutes of garage pop perfection.

:Gal Pals – Ex-Marionette:

20) Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last

This is the fourth year in a row that Thee Oh Sees have managed to crack my Top 25 Albums list.  I don’t mind.  They make me want to be a louder person.

:Thee Oh Sees – Web:

19)  Sweet Spirit – Cokomo

I’ve jammed Sweet Spirit’s Cokomo a lot since it was released back in October.  It’s an upbeat listen that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

:Sweet Spirit – Baby When I Close My Eyes:

18) Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter

Joanna Gruesome‘s Peanut Butter is a completely schizo (but really fun) album.  They continue to be one of the best noise pop acts around.

:Joanna Gruesome – Honestly Do Yr Worst:

17) Sweet Talk – Double Perfect

Sweet Talk are one of the best bands in Austin, and Double Perfect is one of the year’s best straight up rock albums.  You need it.

:Sweet Talk – Witness:

16) White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again

These fellas out of Kentucky really delivered the goods on their debut LP, White Reaper Does It Again.  It’s nothing but super catchy garage punk tunes.

:White Reaper – Make Me Wanna Die:

15) Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

A 29-track, 93-minute rock opera from the one and only Titus Andronicus?  Yeah, there was never a chance that The Most Lamentable Tragedy wouldn’t be on this list.

:Titus Andronicus – Dimed Out:

14) Colleen Green – I Want To Grow Up

Colleen Green’s musings throughout I Want To Grow Up are both insightful and relatable.  Also, there isn’t a single track on it that isn’t catchy.

:Colleen Green – TV:

13) Leon Bridges – Coming Home

Leon Bridges pretty much owned 2015.  Coming Home is a warm, inviting effort, and it may just be the year’s most accessible album.

:Leon Bridges – River:

12) Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

Admittedly, it took me a little while to fully come around on Foil Deer.  I think I was expecting a simple extension of Major Arcana, but their sophomore LP is way more than that – it’s them really evolving, expanding their sound and becoming an overall better band.

:Speedy Ortiz – Raising The Skate:

11) Ratatat – Magnifique

I think Magnifique is Ratatat’s best album.  From start to finish it’s loaded with really interesting sounds, and all of the songs move incredibly well.  I left it on repeat a lot in 2015.

:Ratatat – Cream On Chrome:

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Movie Breakdown: In The Heart Of The Sea

December 9, 2015

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The Impression:

Ron Howard is the man behind the adaptation of the true story that was adapted by Herman Melville for Moby Dick.  Or something like that.  Either way, it’s Thor battling a giant whale out on the open sea, and that sounds like a solid time to me.

The Reality:

In The Heart Of The Sea does feature a worthwhile story (obviously).  A hardworking whaler (Chris Hemsworth) who is next in line to have his own ship (the newly refurbished Essex) is instead given first mate status and saddled with taking care of a snobby, entitled greenhorn captain (Benjamin Walker).  Naturally, they don’t get along, but that changes once a massive whale turns the tables and starts hunting them.  Sounds like an intense adventure, right?  Well, it isn’t.  While In The Heart Of The Sea is an overall moderately enjoyable time at the theater, it’s a pretty vanilla affair.  At no point did I feel wowed, or concerned for anyone in the film, and even the whale – the mythic, pissed off, ship-sinking whale – comes across as fairly tame.  It’s very much as if Ron Howard set out to make the least offensive version of the story as he possibly could.  Nailed it!

If you’re hoping for a swashbuckling adventure centered around a vengeful whale, then In The Heart Of The Sea is technically for you.  You just shouldn’t expect any measure of swashbuckling to transpire in the film.  Also, the whale stuff is alright but you’ll probably instantly forget all of it once the credits roll.  Matinee it, if anything.

The Lesson:

I won’t lie – I was really hoping the movie would be fantastic so that I could describe it as a “whale of a good time.”  Missed opportunity.  There’s a 79% chance that I’ll never forgive Ron Howard for this slight.

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Raised Eyebrows: The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Randy)

December 9, 2015

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I love Christmas music. It something of a weak spot for me. The genre has long been a cash-in for artists looking to capitalize on their fame or for those past their prime. Despite this sad fact, there is some truly great Christmas jams out there to feast on each and every year. This playlist merely scratches the surface of the bounty of rad yuletide melodies available for those willing to dig a little bit. Merry Christmas Everybody!

Guided By Voices – Father Sgt Christmas Card (Pollard would be a great mall Santa.)

Cardinal – If You Believe in Christmas Trees (One of those obscure wonders that deserve so much more recognition.)

George Harrison – Ding Dong, Ding Dong (The best of The Beatles solo Christmas songs, even though they are all so good.)

Canned Heat – Christmas Blues (The Heat wish you a deep fried Holiday Season.)

Chuck Berry – Run Rudolph Run (It’s this, then Jingle Bell Rock.)

Jerry Lee Lewis – I Can’t Have A Merry Christmas Mary (Without You) (The Killer delivers serious on this one.)

Bob Dylan – She Belongs To Me (Self Portrait era Dylan deliverin”.)

Merle Haggard – If We Make It Through December (Merle says it all.)

Dolly Parton – Hard Candy Christmas (A classic Dolly cut.)

Willie Nelson – Pretty Paper (Willie gets it right here.)

Jerry Jeff Walker – Twelve Days of Christmas (Gonzo rewrites this classic for the cowboy in all of us.)

John Prine – Everything is Cool (A prime Prine outtake.)

Emmylou Harris and Neil Young – Star of Bethlehem (One of my favs.)

JJ Cale – What Do You Expect (Mumblin’ bout Santa Claus.)

Hiss Golden Messenger – I’ve Got A Name For The Newborn Child (This record doesn’t stop.)

Leo Kottke – Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (Leo chills us out.)

REM – Deck The Halls (Athens outfit breaks out the sleigh bells.)

Alex Chilton – The Christmas Song (The BEST rendition of this song.)

Steeleye Span – Gaudete (An ancient carol from Hutchings and Co.)

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Top 50 Songs Of 2015: Part 5

December 3, 2015

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This is it!  The end of my Top 50 Songs of 2015.  Dive into the final 10 tracks and then let me know your thoughts.  Enjoy.

PS – You can check out the entire song list on one page here, or the majority of it (47/50 tracks) on Spotify right here.

PS – Look for my Top 25 albums and my Austin Essentials mix next week.

- 50-41
- 40-31
- 30-21
- 20-21

10)  :Chairlift – Ch-Ching:  I never would have guessed that Chairlift had something this edgy in them.  I hope there’s more of the same to come.  From the land of one-off tracks (though I assume it’ll pop up on an album next year).

09)  :Tame Impala – Let It Happen:  This is such a sprawling, wonderful number from Tame Impala.  If I were to rank out all of their songs, I’d put this somewhere near the top.  From Currents.

08)  :Ratatat – Cream On Chrome:  While I’ve been a fan of Ratatat for a long time, this is the first song of theirs that I’ve truly been crazy about.  It’s so very groovy.  From Magnifique.

07)  :Annabel – Having It All:  Earlier in the year my care-level in regards to the resurgence of emo was roughly a 6/10. This Annabel track is what shoved it to 10/10.  It’s just about perfect.  From Having It All.

06)  :Speedy Ortiz – Raising The Skate:  When I ran into front-lady Sadie Dupuis at Fun Fun Fun Fest I had the urge to nervously ramble about how much I love this track and how I think it’s Speedy Ortiz’s most complete sounding effort, but instead I just played it cool and helped her find the bathroom.  Nailed it!  From Foil Deer.

05)  :Sheer Mag – Button Up:  This fuzzy, Thin Lizzy-esque song from Sheer Mag is just about as infectious as it gets.  I blame Christina Halladay’s rad voice.  And the rad guitar riffs.  And all the other rad bits, too.  From the II 7″.

04)  :Built To Spill – Living Zoo:  I don’t remember the last time that Built To Spill sounded so inspired.  The build-up at the beginning of this is something I’ll never tire of.  From Untethered Moon.

03)  :Ought – Beautiful Blue Sky:  Yes, there’s a strong Talking Heads vibe at play here.  Yes, this song is rather pretentious.  Regardless, not much else has captivated me quite like it has over the course of numerous listens.  Good work, Ought.  From Sun Coming Down.

02)  :Kendrick Lamar – Alright:  If I were to sort this list based on “times played” then it’s likely that this hope-themed track would have landed at #1.  It’s one of Kendrick Lamar’s best. From To Pimp A Butterfly.

01)  :Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian At Best:  I like that most artists these days feel lifted out of the 90s, but it’s probably time for everyone to shift gears.  This Courtney Barnett song is as good as that throwback sound is going to get.  Even the video is 90s perfect.  Also, I think “Put me on a pedestal, and I’ll only disappoint you” might be one of my favorite lines ever.  From Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.

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Top 50 Songs Of 2015: Part 4

December 3, 2015

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We’re nearing the end of my Top 50 Songs of 2015 list!  Ah!  Check out entries 20-11 down below.  Enjoy.

- 50-41
- 40-31
- 30-21

20)  :FIDLAR – 40oz. On Repeat:  There’s a pretty solid chance that this FIDLAR track is the year’s most relatable song.  Now, let’s have drink some alcohol, it’ll make us who we really want to be.  From Too.

19)  :Screaming Females – Criminal Image:  This is one of my favorite Screaming Females tunes.  It’s got a big, meaty riff and frontwoman Marissa Paternoster sounds indestructible.  From Rose Mountain.

18)  :Modest Mouse – Lampshades On Fire:  Out of all the quality songs on Modest Mouse’s latest album, this one is my favorite.  For whatever reason, I dig that it essentially sounds like Dashboard: Part 2.  From Strangers To Ourselves.

17)  :Conner Youngblood – Stockholm:  This track from Conner Youngblood is hypnotizing.  You just have to love the way he uses the harp here.  From The Generation Of Lift EP.

16)  :Leon Bridges – River:  Leon Bridges absolutely blew up this year, and I like to think it was largely because of this stunning slow burner.  What a song.  From Coming Home.

15)  :Bop English – Dani’s Blues (It Was Beyond Our Control):  James Petralli (of White Denim fame) is Bop English.  There’s a playful, retro pop sound on display here that’s really great.  From Constant Bop.

14)  :Diet Cig – Harvard:  Diet Cig’s front-lady Alex Luciano is in full-on bitter mode throughout this track, and it’s fantastic.  I hope she never loses that sarcastic edge of hers.  From the Over Easy EP.

13)  :Titus Andronicus – Dimed Out:  Whenever I want to jump around like a madman in my living room, I put on this sloppy jam from Titus Andronicus.  It’s such a raucous good time.  From The Most Lamentable Tragedy.

12)  :Mos Def – Sensei On The Block (Featuring Ski Beatz):  This song is vintage Mos Def (in the best of ways), and it totally makes me yearn for his pre-Yasiin Bey days.  From the land of one-off tracks.

11)  :Purity Ring – Push Pull:  I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about Purity Ring’s sophomore album – some of it works for me, some of it doesn’t.  This beautiful number is definitely the best track on it.  From Another Eternity.

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Top 50 Songs Of 2015: Part 3

December 2, 2015

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Here’s the next set in my Top 50 Songs of 2015 list.  Enjoy.

- 50-41
- 40-31

30)  :Chvrches – Never Ending Circles:  This is such an infectious song.  Here’s hoping that Chvrches never ditch their anthemic pop routine.  From Every Open Eye.

29)  :Mas Ysa – Look Up:  I love me some Mas Ysa (aka Thomas Arsenault).  You should slap on some headphones for this ambitious track, which features big vocals and a wonderfully textured arrangement.  From Seraph.

28)  :Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle:  If you like your music to feel as sincere as possible, then look no further than this Julien Baker song.  Her voice here cuts right through me.  From Sprained Ankle.

27)  :Kurt Vile – Pretty Pimpin:  Kurt Vile is such a great songwriter, and he shows it all throughout this silly, but really clever track.  From B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down.

26)  :Yung – Blue Uniforms:  I’m all about noisy, shoegaze-esque indie rock, and this Yung song is six and a half glorious minutes of it.  Had to put it on my list!  From the These Thoughts Are Like Mandatory Chores EP.

25)  :Protomartyr – Why Does It Shake?:  This Protomartyr track is not exactly an easy listen, but it’s totally worth the attention it requires.  Hit play, dial in and get rewarded.  From The Agent.

24)  :Amen Dunes – Song To The Siren (Tim Buckely/This Mortal Coil Cover):  Amen Dunes covered a cover (The Mortal Coil –> Tim Buckley) here, and I just really dig the way it came out.  Be warned, you’ll want whiskey about midway through this.  From Cowboy Worship.

23)  :Girlpool – Before The World Was Big:  Growing up is hard!  This Girlpool song makes me feel nostalgic (not sad, thankfully) about life before adulthood rolled in and took over.  From Before The World Was Big.

22)  :Fred Thomas – Bad Blood:  Fred Thomas and the definition of word vomit go hand in hand in this track, but that’s fine.  If only because the numerous things bouncing around in his head are all interesting and/or relatable.  From All Are Saved.

21)  :Black Milk – I Guess:  This is just an all-out, good time sort of effort by Black Milk.  He will always be one of my favorite voices in hip hop.  From the land of one-off tracks.

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Movie Breakdown: Chi-Raq

December 1, 2015

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The Impression:

Spike Lee takes on Chicago’s gang violence problem via a modern interpretation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, which, according to Wikipedia, is a “Classical Greek comedy in which various women withhold physical affection from their husbands as punishment for fighting in war.”  Honestly, the whole thing looks kind of bonkers.

The Reality:

Chi-Raq is a total mess.  There’s just no other way to describe it.  Seriously – I’ve had Spike Lee’s latest joint on the brain since my screening wrapped, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is truly a film that can only be described as a complete and total mess.  What’s wild about it though is that it isn’t bad.  Lee pulls out all of the stops to try and clue the world in on the terrible things currently happening in Chicago, and the end result is a bizarre beast of a fever dream that’s both inspiring and infuriating.  It’s a steadily entertaining movie, but it’s far too long.  Its “this whole gang violence thing is bad and we need to address it now” message is fantastic, but it’s also very heavy handed and isn’t particularly focused.  I dig that Lee used the Greek comedy Lysistrata as his basis for Chi-Raq, but it often comes off as too gimmicky with its moderately clever rhyming dialogue and too many satirical bits that fall flat.  Teyonah Parris, John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are great in it, but Nick Cannon as a rapper/gangster is laughable and I’m still not sure if the film featured the actual Jennifer Hudson or a robot version of her.  Again, it’s an equally triumphant and frustrating film.

So, should you see it?  I’m going to hesitantly say yes.  The film certainly baffled me, but I still walked out of the theater feeling as though I saw something important.

The Lesson:

“It’s better to deliver a heavy handed message than no message at all” – Someone, Somewhere.

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Top 50 Songs Of 2015: Part 2

December 1, 2015

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Naturally, the listing continues on today.  Check out entries 40-31 down below.  50-41 can be found right here.  Enjoy.

40)  :Big Grams – Fell In The Sun:  Just in case you’ve been off on an adventure, Big Boi + Phantogram = Big Grams.  Both are equally great here in this sparkly ear worm of a song.  From the act’s self titled album.

39)  :Kiiara – Feels:  I came across Kiiara over the summer and instantly became a fan.  This song is super hooky and wonderfully dramatic.  From the land of one-off tracks.

38)  :Ringo Deathstarr – Guilt:  This one from Austin’s own Ringo Deathstarr is a big, catchy wave of distortion.  Only listen to it with the volume cranked up high.  From Pure Mood.

37)  :Torres – Special (Garbage Cover):  I’m not even sure how many times I’ve gotten lost in this spacious, six-minute cover of Garbage’s SpecialTorres (aka Mackenzie Scott) really took the song and made it her own.  From the land of one-off tracks.

36)  :Car Seat Headrest – Something Soon:  Car Seat Headrest signed to Matador this year, and then promptly remastered and re-released some older material.  So, technically, this song is only partially from 2015.  Regardless, I think it’s a very inspired tune and I love the angsty lyrics – “I want to sing this song like I’m dying.”  From Teens Of Style.

35)  :Deerhunter – Snakeskin:  It still flips my brain around whenever I remember that the sometimes proggy, sometimes noisy rockers Deerhunter put out this funky, accessible number.  Who knew they had it in them?  From Fading Frontier.

34)  :Bully – I Remember:  This little two-minuter from Bully just rips.  I think singer Alicia Bognanno sounds like a less obnoxious version of Courtney Love (the 90s version, not the currently burned out one).  From Feels Like.

33)  :Lee Bains III And The Glory Fires – Sweet Disorder!:  I’m pretty sure I could toss this on a mixtape of nothing but classic rock tunes and no one would catch it as being from the year 2015.  On another note, Lee Bains III And The Glory Fires is a great name.  From the Sweet Disorder 7″.

32)  :Mikal Cronin – Made My Mind Up:  Another year, another charming pop song from Mikal Cronin that I can’t seem to get enough of.  He completes me.  From MCIII.

31)  :Diane Coffee – Everyday:  Shaun Fleming (Foxygen’s drummer) is the main brain behind Diane Coffee.  This track is as soulful and retro as can be. From Everybody’s A Good Dog.

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