Twenty Sixteen

2016 was a hard. Like really hard. Again. Shit happened. First of all, people died. I don’t usually get overly sentimental about deaths of celebrities and public figures. When nearly everyone in my social media feed all make the same damn post about the same famous person dying, I tend to roll my eyes at how weird people are on the internet and then maybe feel sad for a moment. People get old and then they die. Even famous people. Sometimes they die when they’re not old.  This will never stop happening.  But then David Bowie died. David Bowie. The Starman. That really shifted my perspective.  This time around, I wasn’t annoyed by countless posts on Facebook.  I was amazed at the realization of just how many people were just as affected by his art and really, his existence, as I was. Then of course, Prince died. And Phife Dawg. And Leonard Cohen. Sharon Jones too. Meanwhile in the world of the living, black lives continued to not matter in America and yet a white man served 6 months in jail for raping an unconscious woman. A fascist who jokes about sexual assault was elected to the goddamn presidency. Everything is going to shit and I’m left here with all my privilege and a broken brain just trying to take care of myself.  While others fought the good fight for social justice, I just tried to stay afloat. My depression and anxiety reached new heights. It got really bad. Fortunately, I reached out, built up my support team, and found new coping skills.

There was a Sunday morning early in the summer of my nervous breakdown, I woke up and realized I maybe didn’t want to be alive anymore. That’s a horrifying moment.  Wanting to be dead and still knowing that I probably was not going to hurt myself.  I can’t honestly state that knowing I wasn’t going to kill myself was even remotely comforting at the time. Maybe more disappointing than anything. Somehow, I crawled out of bed and immediately made a playlist. I titled it You Are Not Going to Walk into Traffic. Mostly songs that conveyed a message of shit may be hard and horrible but you can and maybe should keep trying.  At least keep breathing. Right now. In this moment. I listened to this hastily pieced together playlist on repeat for much of the day while breathing through the anxiety and just trying to not be completely swallowed by the depression.

Speaking of anxiety, you may recall last year that my primary musical coping skill was none other than Taylor Swift’s brilliant work of art/stupid pop album 1989.  Yeah, I still don’t know how that happened but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least just a little excited to see what T. Swift does next. But I digress. This year, the Jason’s Best Musical Coping Skill award goes to my Calm the Fuck Down, Jason – Spotify playlist, an excellently curated body of ambient, drone, noise, and piano music. If you suffer from anxiety or if you just want cool background music on while you do yoga or masturbate or get high or whatever, follow my playlist. It’s fucking awesome.  No really, this playlist helped me through the absolute worst, most prolonged anxiety attacks of my entire life. When I couldn’t handle listening to much of anything, this playlist delivered.

Through all of this, I’ve also gone through a fucking arsenal of drugs trying to hold it together: hydroxyzine; buspar (lol, was that one actually supposed to do a thing); Celexa; Bupropion (150 mg, 300 mg, and back to 150 mg); then motherfucking Zoloft which maybe helped me through crisis but also wouldn’t let me orgasm for nearly 3 months. I couldn’t feel much of anything, really. I smoked a lot of cannabis during that time; at my absolute most desperate moments, I pilfered from my wife’s Xanax bottle; Then there was Mirtazapine; Vyvance (Holy shit, who would give stimulant drugs to a person in my condition?!); and most recently a mood stabilizer, Lamotrigine because my ARNP didn’t have the heart to prescribe me another SSRI.  I’m not sure if any of these drugs helped. Well, maybe 150mg of Bupropion is helping. Or it’s exacerbating my anxiety. I don’t fucking know.  I think maybe the mood stabilizer is starting to work. Therapy helped. Shit, maybe I should dedicate this year’s list to my therapist who I started seeing near the end of last year. She’s not reading this. That would be weird. But you should know that she’s great and I don’t know what I would have done without her.

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Aside from a barrage of prescription drugs, my other coping skills were the mountains. I spent as much time in the woods as possible. And music. That’s why we’re here, right? Why I write these words that a few friends enjoy reading.  I continued obsessively seeking it out. Looking for sounds that made my ears, brain, and body buzz with the excitement of discovering something new that’s really good. Something to help me feel something. Anything.  For all my efforts, I figured I should make a list again. Some of you seem to really enjoy it. Here we go…

 

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Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – Stranger Things, Vol. 1 (An Original Score from the Netflix Series)

In 2016, we all watched Stranger Things on Netflix and most of us loved it.  The soundtrack also ended up being surprisingly enjoyable as a standalone body of ambient music. Probably the best original score for a television series since Angelo Badalamenti’s stunning score for Twin Peaks.

 

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Solange – A Seat at the Table

I’m just now really getting around to giving this one some intentional listening time.  This is Queen Bey’s little sister, mind you.  I gave it a listen back in October and I found it to be a bit dull but not uninteresting.  But I recently came back to it and follow-up listens are revealing this one to be a neo-soul album with a great deal of depth.  The album is a far more subtle and nuanced affair than anything you’ll ever hear from Beyonce.  But it’s a cohesive, focused, and just goddamn gorgeous statement on black womanhood.  Listen to it. Then listen two more times. By then, you should hear it.

 

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Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN

Angel Olsen’s songs will never pass The Bechdel Test.  But that voice. Good god. Anyways, I snubbed her 2014 release, Burn Your Fire For No Witness. I did not make that mistake this time around. With both of these albums, this folk singer is increasingly becoming a rock goddess.

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Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Well, this is awkward. Radiohead released a new record and to date, I have not fallen in love with it. Don’t get me wrong; it’s the new Radiohead album so I do keep coming back to it. Over and over. It’s fucking gorgeous. But I haven’t obsessed over any of it, which is well, not how I tend to interact with a new Radiohead album. I can’t think of a single song on here that I absolutely must listen to the next time (if ever) I take acid. That said, it’s still Radiohead. So it’s really fucking good. For this album, I think the star of the show really is longtime producer Nigel Godrich. The production here is flawless and really captures an essence that gives the album a unified cohesive vibe, much more so than 2011’s The King of Limbs. The songs are beautifully orchestrated but also just a little…bland. I don’t know. Radiohead have an arsenal of masterpieces under their belt. Even a lesser effort is still better than just about anything anybody else out there can create. One nice surprise was that True Love Waits, a song that had previously existed only as a rare treat in live performances, finally found its way onto an album but with a completely different arrangement that the days when Thom would perform it solo on acoustic guitar. And yet I’m still not experiencing about Really Big Feelings about it. I don’t know. Radiohead are getting older. So am I. Like Abby texted me earlier this week, “It’s possible that it’s us, not him.”

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Day of the Dead

Well, it finally happened. It’s become cool to like The Grateful Dead. Members of The National curated this beast of a compilation of Grateful Dead covers and the indie crowd is eating it up.  Clocking in at 5.5 hours, there is a vast body of covers and re-imagined versions of Grateful Dead songs.  Many of them are absolutely fantastic. Others are okay. Some just plain suck.  My personal favorites include performances from The National, Courtney Barnett, Bonnie Prince Billy, Angel Olsen, The War on Drugs, and Tim Hecker.

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Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

Sturgill has done it again. The modern outlaw country music artist continues to give the finger to the Nashville music establishment by making really good country music.  This time around, he draws from his years in the Navy and the birth of his first child, to create A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.  In a departure from his previous album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill eschews penning songs about encountering reptile aliens made of light healing his soul while in the depths of a DMT trip and instead gives life instructions to his infant son to “Stay in school/Stay off the drugs/And keep between the lines.”  This album has a rather insular feel of a songwriter who is suddenly spending a lot of time at home caring for an infant.  But it also gets a big soul music injection courtesy of the horns of The Dap Tones. Sturgill continues to impress.

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Bon Iver – 22, A  Million

People keep calling this Bon Iver’s “experimental” album. I don’t understand why. It’s not fucking experimental. Justin Vernon doesn’t come out of hiding to make an experimental album; he makes the next Bon Iver album. Sure, it sounds a little different, given its preference for bleeps and bloops and auto-tuning instead of Vernon’s usual lush acoustic guitar stuff and haunting untreated vocals.  With this album, the severity with which his personal work has been affected by his collaborations with Kanye West is undeniable. Combine that with his penchant for progression and building upon his previous work anyways, this album really does make perfect sense. Just don’t call it experimental.

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 Nicolas Jaar – Sirens

I’ve loved nearly everything Jaar has released to date, from his first proper album, Space Is Only Noise to the Psychic album from his Darkside project, and a slew of singles and other assorted oddities. Jaar has been releasing by far the most interesting electronic music I’ve heard in recent memory.  I’m beginning to hold him in the same regard as Four Tet, Flying Lotus, and The Knife. Jaar’s music is dark, at times a little sinister, and always unhurried. And masterful. On Space Is Only Noise, Jaar’s music meanders through some strange ethereal, ambient, and sometimes psychedelic places until late in the album when the build finally peaks with Variations, the only real dance track on this electronica album.  It’s not that the track is necessarily worth the wait. It’s all about the journey. And the fruit of that track is all the more sweet when taking the full ride.  The same is true with Jaar’s latest offering, Sirens. The album is only 6 tracks in duration. But what a ride it is.

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Anderson Paak – Malibu

Malibu was the album I needed earlier in the year while I waited patiently for new albums from Kanye, Chance the Rapper, and maybe just goddamn maybe, Frank Ocean.  And in that task, it was a success. But even after all those people released their albums, I still ended up coming back to it time and time again all year long.

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A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

One of my favorite hip hop bands of the 90s got back together and recorded an album. During those recordings, key member Phife Dawg passed away.  I was surprised by its release. I actually had no idea these recording sessions were even happening.  Well, here it is. This could have been one big boring nostalgia trip. Instead, it’s pure A Tribe Called Quest. In many ways, it sounds familiar, just like the Tribe you remember.  But it’s also fresh and new.  The beats and production are more complex than ever before.  The members more conscious. The message more political. And for this album to arrive right now? At the exact moment when that vile piece of shit won the election?  There’s something to be learned here. Phife knew he was sick during these recordings. He probably even knew he was near the end of his life and yet this album is full of joy. A gratitude for getting to be alive even during the darkest of times. Let’s try to hang onto that as we move forward in these dark days ahead.

 

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David Bowie – Blackstar

Only Bowie could orchestrate turning his own death into art of this magnitude.  The entire album is surprisingly strong but the title track and Lazarus really are the stars of the show. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the music video for Lazarus. Maybe someday. I want to say more but nearly a year after his passing, I still really just don’t know what to say. Fortunately, I have a small arsenal of David Bowie records to lose myself in again and again.

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Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

The most polarizing and easily the most hated person in contemporary pop music released his messiest, most unfocused album to date and you know what? It’s fucking brilliant. A big messy beautiful patchwork of glorious music. Yes, it’s a little disjointed at times. One musical idea crashes into another (listen to the last 90 seconds of Pt. 2.) and in the hands of another, it wouldn’t work. But this is Kanye West. No producer in music comes even close to Yeezy’s wizardry in the studio.  Goddamn, when he samples Bam Bam at the end of Famous and then tosses Nina Simone on top of it, fuck the haters. Kanye West is one of The Greatest of All Time.

But then there’s the rapping.  Kanye has never been the best emcee but here, as with most of his records, the verses are mostly competent, at times brilliant, and other times stupifyingly cringe-worthy. Like “what the actual fuck were you thinking, Yeezy?” kind of bad.  The Life of Pablo is no exception. There are some truly awful lyrical moments. And yet there was something perversely satisfying about seeing Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 as the opening song at his Seattle performance and instead of Yeezy singing the opening verse, he allowed 16,000 rabid fans to take the lead on vocals and sing in unison “If I fuck this model/and she just bleached her asshole/and I get bleach on my t-shirt/Imma feel like an asshole.” Transcendent, really.

There are definitely some duds on the album. There is also some of Kanye’s best work. Opening track Ultralight Beams is quite possibly the greatest song of 2016 and one of Yeezy’s finest efforts to date. Just an incredibly powerful performance featuring an excellently curated sequence of guest artists.  Most notably Chance the Rapper’s verse which is just pure heat.

Other noteworthy tracks include: Waves, FML, and Real Friends. For me, the album really ends at Wolves. The additional tracks feel like a welcome collection of bonus tracks. No More Parties in L.A.,featuring Kanye holding his own against superior emcee Kendrick Lamar quite nicely, is a real hip hop treat.

Over the years, many artists have played with new and interesting methods of releasing an album. In 2001, when the new CEO of their label refused to release their masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco released the album for free online. Nobody had really ever done that yet. In 2007, Radiohead, as a sort of social experiment, introduced  a pay-what-you-want approach to the release of In Rainbows.  And in 2016, Yeezy released an album and then he kept on working on it and releasing it several more times. The album was already released several days late because he was still making changes. Once it was finally released, the streaming version of the album went through several iterations over the ensuing weeks.  While there is certainly an obsessive-compulsive quality to this method (and Kanye does clearly suffer from some significant mental health struggles), it is still an innovative and previously unheard of approach to releasing music.

 

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Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

In his verse on Kanye’s Ultralight Beams, Chance promised he’d “do a good ass job on Chance 3” and the kid has indeed done a good ass job. Coloring Book is easily the hip hop album of the year.  Here, Chancellor is at the top of his game and he is just so goddamn grateful for the opportunity.

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Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Music has always been one of my greatest coping skills. But two musical events this year provided significant care for my fragile mental health.  For all of my crippling breathe through it for hours on end anxiety, I had my Calm the Fuck Down, Jason playlist. And for the coping with the most brutal depths of depression of my entire adult life but also needing to hear some rocking guitars, there was Teens of Denial.   Here was a young man exclaiming “I’ve got a right to be depressed” because “I’ve given every inch I have to fight it.”  And that’s what I needed to hear in the summer of 2016.  I’ve tried as hard as I can to be okay and it’s not working so fuck you, I’m just going to be depressed.

I spent months not being able to feel anything anymore.  So to experience something resembling catharsis in screaming along to lyrics such as “They’ve got a portrait by Van Gogh on the Wikipedia page for clinical depression/ Well it helps to describe it yeah it helps to describe it yeah it helps to describe it.” Not bad for someone who was struggling to feel…anything.  Throughout the year, I tried a vast array of prescription drugs in failed attempts to find some sort of relief.  Half emptied bottles of drugs have accumulated in a cabinet in my kitchen.  Toledo captures that experience perfectly; “In the back of the medicine cabinet/You can find your life story/And your future in the side effects.”  Will fucking Toledo, man. This kid can write about depression.

One interesting aspect of getting older for me is being moved so deeply by artists who are now significantly younger than me. Listening this collection of songs, there was a part of me, maybe a parental or big brother kind of thing, where I wanted to reach out to Will and let him know it’s going to be okay (to which, if Cosmic Hero is any indicator, he’d probably just reply with a hearty fuck you). Then I remember that even at 36 years old, I’ve devoted a lot of time to feeling very much not okay and then remembering that imparting that kind of reassurance to another human struggling with depression is disingenuous and patronizing. At best.

Fuck depression. Yay, Car Seat Headrest.

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Beyonce – Lemonade

A few years ago, Beyonce released her self-titled video album.  I didn’t love it but it certainly got my attention.  This year, she dropped easily the most important album of the year. Not my favorite.  But goddamn, what an album.  I don’t feel qualified to write about this one. Therefore, as is becoming a tradition, I’ll pass this one along to the wife….

When Beyonce put out her last album, I really thought she was at the top of her game. A perfect pop album released without warning, accompanied by a video that was hot, hot heat. Holy fuck was I wrong. Queen Bey, the walking embodiment of the divine feminine, came to slay this year, bringing us another unexpected multimedia juggernaut that mixes spoken word, video, genre-defying music and pure fucking black girl magic. Not often does an artist put out a piece of work that is as multifaceted and impressive as this. On every level- musically, politically, emotionally, visually- this album was jaw dropping.
On the surface, Lemonade is the story of how Jay Z made the horrible mistake of cheating on Beyonce, and Beyonce put his ass on blast for the whole world to see. (Supposedly, Hova’s response album should be out in 2017.) But more than that, Lemonade tackles the emotional toll of a lifetime of misogynoir, the specific, intersectional hell that comes from being both black and female in this country. Lemonade shows us the lives of black women through both the micro and macro lens, and allows us to see the ways racism and misogyny lay waste to everything from women’s self-esteem to the homes of New Orleans. Set in a backdrop inspired by the Spanish-moss draped antebellum south, we see images of Louisiana under water, a black boy dancing in front of police in their riot gear, Blue Ivy running through the halls of her mama’s house, and Serena Williams twerking on a gilded throne (the ultimate middle finger to respectability politics). Woven within and between songs is the poetry of Somali-British feminist poet, Warsan Shire. Lemonade is as much a commentary on the modern day African diaspora as it is on the inescapable conflict of long term monogamy.
It is difficult for me to overstate how powerful and meaningful Lemonade was for me this year. 2016 was… well, it was annihilating. Jason and I had our marriage tested for the first time and both spiraled into incredible nervous breakdowns. My year was filled with vomiting panic attacks, soul wrenching grief, and the decision to take up smoking again. (Don’t worry, that horrible coping mechanism has been put back down.) Smack dab in the middle of this year of barely keeping a grip on my sanity, Beyonce drops an album about a marriage on the brink of falling apart. Thank you, Queen Bey, for the album I needed to survive.
In our culture, we don’t really prepare people for the realities of love and marriage. Everyone tells you “marriage is hard work” but never tell you what the fuck that means. They tell you your marriage will be tested but no one tells you that, one day, the person you love most in the world will look at you and ask you to sacrifice a piece of yourself you think you can’t live without. Many times this year, a line from Love Drought repeated in my head. “You’re my lifeline and you’re trying to kill me.” The album starts with Beyonce at her most ferocious and vengeful. She breaks car windows with a baseball bat. She sets a room on fire. “What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy?” she asks. “More like, being walked all over lately. I’d rather be crazy.” She snarls ominously at the camera and says “This is your final warning. You know I give you life. You try this shit again, you gon’ lose your wife,” and throws her wedding ring to the floor. For many people, when the shit gets hard, the marriage ends. We get very few examples of what it looks like to successfully get to the other side of your marriage falling apart. As the album continues on, rage gives way to sadness and acceptance. Vengeance is replaced with all of that hard work people talk so much about. “Ten times out of nine I know you’re lying. But nine times out of ten I know you’re trying, so I’m trying to be fair. And you’re trying to be there and to care.” In Forward, Beyonce is joined by the incredible voice of James Blake. “Forward. Best foot first just in case. When we made our way till now, it’s time to listen, it’s time to fight. Forward.” One day, something will change your marriage forever and you will have to choose. Once it’s all burning to the ground, do you walk away from the rubble, or stick around to see the phoenix that rises from the ash? “If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious.”
And just for one final middle finger, watch the video for Beyonce performing Daddy Lessons at the Country Music Awards, with the Dixie Chicks as her backup. Beyonce walked into that white ass room and reminded people that country music would be nothing without its black roots. Watch her laugh while all the old white men look uncomfortable and pissed off.
All hail the Queen Bee.
-Damn, The Wife is getting better at this than me.

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Frank Ocean – Blond

Approximately one year ago, a beautiful and terrifying shift happened in my life. I fell in love with someone. Someone who is not my wife. So many things were so difficult at that time but this just sent me over the edge. Wife freaked out. I freaked out. I had no idea what the fuck to do. It was eating me alive. We tried and tried to figure out a solution. I figured, why not just start collecting therapists, and my wife and I immediately started couples counseling to try to make some sense of all of this. This was a smart decision.  Time went on and we did the best we could. We learned more about ourselves as individuals and as a couple. We began to forgive each other and ourselves. Over time, a lot of time, a paradigm shift began to unfold. We had some big realizations and we started to come up with some creative solutions.  We were finally on the same page again so we learned some new skills and decided to make some radical changes in our relationship. At the beginning of August, after some significant time apart, we reconnected with this other person and made some decisions about how to move forward.  After months of struggle, there was finally hope that just maybe everything was going to be okay.  That just maybe we could do this and make it work. And then Frank Ocean showed up. Right on time.

On August 20, Frank Ocean released the new album. Many didn’t think he’d do it. My own wife was certain that he was going to pull a D’Angelo. I wasn’t so sure, but I was definitely starting to have my doubts. Maybe this really isn’t going to happen, I thought.  And then it arrived. I’m finally feeling a glimmer of hope about my life, my loves, and my mental health and one of my favorite musicians releases the album I’ve been waiting for.  It actually happened. One evening immediately after the release, we came home from an intense conversation between me, my wife, and this other person. The wife and I sat in our living room, listening to this album that is so beautifully bittersweet, and grinned at each other. Everything in life is painful, but maybe, just maybe, everything is going to be okay.

Frank Ocean is not comfortable with fame.  I don’t think he wants to be famous at all. But Frank Ocean needs to be heard. 4 years after Channel Orange, it’s here. It’s glorious. It’s unlike anything anyone else is doing.  It’s unlike anything he has done before. Frank Ocean gets pinned down as an R&B artist but this is goddamn psychedelic pop music from the future. Many of the songs are wrapped up in this trippy, cannabis-infused haze. There’s hardly a drumbeat to be found.  Instead, it’s slinky guitars, synthesizers, and an occasional organ. And yet this music is built of layers upon layers. There are so many sounds to dissect with repeat listens. Meanwhile, lyrics flow in a stream-of-conscious fashion. The album begins with entire verses subjected to an absurd amount of auto-tuning.  It’s nearly 3 minutes into the opening track Nikes before we actually hear Frank’s unfiltered voice. We waited 4 years to hear it again. I guess he figured we can wait an additional 3 minutes.

I find myself at a loss for words about this album. I’m crying right now just thinking about this beautiful thing that was created by a human being on the planet Earth.


 

Well, thanks for reading, everyone. For all the talk about depression, I want you to know that I’m mostly okay these days. So don’t worry too much, okay? Meanwhile, take care of yourselves and each other, especially during these dark days ahead. Life is hard. But I am alive and my heart is full of love.

Here’s a mixtape I made for you.

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2015: A List

2015. Shit was hard. Music made it easier. Here are some observations.

So a lot of you, dear readers, know about the Taylor Swift thing. So let’s just go ahead and talk about it right now because it did happen. Released in 2014, 1989 became the album I needed in 2015.  I don’t entirely understand it. I also don’t apologize for it. Appreciation for contemporary mainstream pop is still relatively new to me. I struggle with it and rarely find any singles I can stomach, much less a full album, but in the last few years (it started with Katy Perry. I won’t explain here.) I’ve sort of grown to understand its value and sometimes I can connect with it.
So 2015 was a shit storm of pain, sadness, and depression over here. Taylor Swift, she was there for me through all of it. It might be safe to say that 1989 was my primary coping skill of 2015. I’ve listened to this stupid record so many fucking times. I honestly don’t know how many times I shook it off. I hashtag’d #cantstopwontstop on countless social media posts. I learned to own it. I even briefly considered trying to score a cheap ticket to her concert at the local football stadium but I was really high at the time and that seemed like maybe not the smartest undertaking.

So yeah, it took some time but I learned how to stop worrying and love T Swizzle.

What else? Oh right, Frank Ocean told everybody he would drop his new album in July. Then he didn’t. My wife thinks he is not pleased with his recent taste of fame and is going to pull a D’Angelo and disappear entirely for a very long time. I’m still holding onto hope that he will deliver but regardless, for yet another year, Frank Ocean has not released his follow-up to Channel Orange.
Enough about albums that weren’t released in 2015; a bunch of music was released and, due to some pathological need to consume as much of it as possible, I listened to a lot of it. Then in the early winter, I kind of freaked out and thought I wasn’t going to write this blog. I’m sorry. I was a mess. But now it’s January and the readers (okay, maybe 10 of you) have been demanding it. So here we go. This will be quick and dirty. Cuz I can’t really deal. This year it’s 15 albums.

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15. Thee Oh Sees – The Mutilator Defeated at Last

California garage rocker John Dwyer’s new album rocks really hard. As with any Thee Oh Sees record, Play it loud. If you’ve ever followed my advice about Ty Segall and you were pleased with the results, here’s another fantastic SF garage psych revival band with an extensive catalog to dig into.

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14. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

Deerhunter is my favorite band in the world that I largely don’t talk about anymore. Here’s why. Imagine you discovered Radiohead before any of your friends, let’s say circa The Bends, and you share it with them and none of them like it. The band keeps releasing more albums, mindblowing stuff, fuckin’ OK Computer, and still your friends don’t give a shit and eventually, Kid A, and now you want them to die because what the fuck. Yeah, that’s kinda how Deerhunter is for me. So I’m not going to talk about them so that we can still be friends, but they always make the list. It’s also possible I’m overstating all of this.

Bradford Cox nearly died after getting hit by a fucking car this year. As if the guy doesn’t have it bad enough having been blessed with goddamn Marfan Syndrome. Then he recorded pretty much the mellowest of all Deerhunter albums. The first few tracks are solid. The middle kinda sucks. And then Snakeskin starts and for the final three songs, the record just kills.

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13. Vince Staples – Summertime ’06

My friend Daniel said that Summertime ‘ 06 was better than Illmatic. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about but I understand why he said it. It flows much like the timeless Nas album in the way the artist creates a sonic environment that really captures his world and then just spits pure hip hop over it. One of my favorite producers in hip hop today, Clams Casino, is all over this record too.  It’s definitely worthy of a listen.

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12. Dan Deacon – Glass Siffer

If you ever go to a Dan Deacon concert, he’ll likely split the crowd in half and choose you, no really he’s pointing at you, to engage in a dance battle with another person he has chosen from the opposing side of the audience and you have to dance in the style of “Avatar if it had actually been a good movie.” No seriously, that happened at the last Dan Deacon concert I attended.
Anyways, Dan creates insanely silly but surprisingly danceable electronic music that is great fun.

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11. Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m goin’ Down

Not as great as his epic Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze from a few years ago, this one is still really fucking solid. Really great stoner jams from a guy who can barely make the effort to even sing the words but still drops these words of wonder alongside the most deadpan observations.

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10. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

First time I ever heard this band, I was driving to work listening to KEXP. She was doing a live set and holy shit, she had my attention almost immediately. Seriously, Courtney rocks so fucking hard. You might say it’s pedestrian at best, really…

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09. Bjork – Vulnicura

Lots of really depressing releases this year. Bjork released her newest album that basically chronicles her devastating divorce from artist Matthew Barney. It’s heartbreaking…and musically, it’s a little dull. From a sonic perspective, a very important perspective when discussing Bjork, she already covered this ground years ago with Homogenic. That said, it’s the new Bjork album so it’s fucking gorgeous. And Black Lake, oh man, it’s an incredible 10 minute odyssey through what is essentially Bjork’s entire reality crumbling in front of her. Listen to it.

grimes

08. Grimes – Art Angels

This shit is unlike anything on her previous album, Visions. Grimes went pop. Like pop pop.  Well, kinda. Like last summer she released a song that she wrote for Rihanna that Rihanna politely declined.  That’s what happens when a squeaky weirdo art school kid tries to write a song for freakin’ Rihanna.  A few months after that, she reportedly scrapped all the material she’d recorded for the new album and started from scratch.  Well, the  resulting material must have been more to her liking because here it is and it’s pretty great.  The first two-thirds of the record is particularly fantastic.  I do tend to lose interest after that though and rarely make it all the way through the album.

 kamasi

07. Kamasi Washington – The Epic

Kamasi Washington hangs out with Brainfeeder collective guys like Thundercat and his holiness, the great Steven Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus. He played sax on much of Kendrick Lamar’s latest album. He also released a 3 hour long bombastic jazz album. Apparently, jazz *can* be good again.

FJM

06. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Narcissistic probably misogynist douche writes gorgeous collection of songs dripping in a style of sarcasm that intrigues me but also makes me uncomfortable…and also leaves me laughing and at times genuinely moved. FJM’s Josh Tillman wins extra bonus points for taking the piss out of Ryan Adams’ 1989 cover album. Because the world really needed Ryan Adams to mansplain Taylor Swift for us. Anyways, the day after Adams’ appropriation was released, Tillman released to the internet two hastily recorded T Swift covers of his own…in the style of Lou Reed. And well, it really fucking sounds like The Velvet Underground performing Taylor Swift songs.

sufjan

05. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

Surprising to no one, Sufjan released another batch of songs about death. Like really, on one song, the chorus is “We’re all gonna die/We’re all gonna die/We’re all gonna die/We’re all gonna die/We’re all gonna die.” Fuck. If you like Sufjan, then you’ll probably find this to be not necessarily your favorite Sufjan album but it’s easily his most focused. Thematically, Sufjan is on point with every one of his records but his execution is often sprawling and one can lose interest along the way. But this album is tight…and beautiful…and really depressing. My four favorite tracks all end with these slightly extended and terribly heartbreaking atmospheric soundscape that were absolutely breathtaking to hear performed live.

SK

04. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

Sleater-Kinney got back together after 10+ years apart. Big surprise, lots of bands get back together. But S-K got back together and then recorded what might be their best and best produced record yet. Again, turn it up loud.

four tet

03. Four Tet – Morning/Evening

In the grand scheme of Four Tet records, this will probably be considered a minor album. But I kept coming back to it over and over. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard from him while also the culmination of his explorations to date. This LP consists of only two tracks, Morning and Evening, each spanning the near-20 minute mark. It all begins and ends with a grounding simple house beat. In the space between, there’s some extended sampling of this gorgeous female Hindi vocalist. From there we travel into some extended spacey ambient territory last visited by Brian Eno and now made new again by Four Tet. And then slowly we begin to return to this astral plane in the form of a modest four on the floor house beat. What a ride. This is the #1 record of the year I’d recommend for anyone considering a soundtrack to their own psychedelic adventure.

jamie xx

02. Jamie xx – In Colour

I’ve never really been a huge fan of The xx but goddamn, Jamie xx’s first solo record plays like the greatest mixtape that I will never be able to make for you. It’s a perfect dance record. Even with that cheesy “You’re in ecstacy” lyric at the apex of Loud Places, it’s still that fucking good. With tracks like Gosh, (There’s Gonna Be) Good Times, and The Rest is Noise, I’ll forgive this misstep again and again.

K Dot

01. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

All hail King Kendrick. I’ve been talking about this record all year so I’m gonna let the wife take over for this one. Our favorite record of 2015.

The wife:

This album is near perfect. To Pimp a Butterfly takes a few listens to really grok. I will admit, KDot makes some questionable artistic choices at times. Namely, his overwrought weepy vocals on u and his decision to end the album with a meandering manufactured conversation with Tupac. The vocals on u end up feeling a little heavy handed and the convo with Tupac… well, it just gets boring after the first listen. But taken as a whole, To Pimp a Butterfly is an ambitious album with incredible sociopolitical implications.

With To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick marries his hip hop to jazz, funk, beat and slam poetry.  For Free? showcases his quick tongue and unique writing with one of my favorite verses on the album. When a woman berates Kendrick for failing to buy her a nice car and fancy extensions, Kendrick delivers a slam verse that ends with “Oh America,you bad bitch/I picked cotton that made you rich/Now my dick ain’t free.” Kendrick wrestles not only with systemic racism but also the impact of internalized racism, the desire to smoke weed in the White House, steal Rolodexes from the rich celebrities at the BET awards and the ways in which his fame has made him rich but failed to “take the hood out tha homie.” There is a lot of pain on this album as Kendrick wrestles with self hatred and hopelessness but one of the jewel’s in this album’s crown is Alright. As bitter as it is redeeming, Kendrick performed the song on top of a police car at the 2015 BET awards, exclaiming “We hate po-po/wanna kill us dead in the street fo’ sho’… I’m fucked up homey, you fucked up but if God got us then we gonna be alright.” Its definitely been one of the anthems of my shit-ass year. And a review of the album can’t be complete without a mention of King Kunta. As Jason would say, “I can’t describe it . Just go listen to it loud.”

This album is a snapshot of African American struggles in 2015 and a cry for change and revolution. Several schools across the country have started teaching this album alongside classics like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I always give an imperfect piece of art more credit when I can see it inspire its audience to dream of a better life, and To Pimp a Butterfly definitely does that. This album is gorgeous and Kendrick is one of the best writers in the music industry today. Listen to it.

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Oh shit, you made it this far.  Thanks so much for reading.  Here’s a Spotify mixtape I made just for you.  And if you don’t have Spotify, there’s another version for those who have been following me since the days of the email version of this blog.  Anyone else who is interested, just ask.

Bowie

This list is dedicated to The Thin White Duke.

Best of 2014

Hi everybody! Welcome to my Best Albums of 2014 list! Before we get started, I’d like to dedicate this years list to an artist whose band didn’t make the list, Ms. Laura Jane Grace.  Laura Jane Grace is the leader of the long established pop-punk band, Against Me!  I’ve never really been a fan of her band but goddamn, did she inspire me this year.   A few years ago, the lead singer/songwriter for Against Me! came out to her band and audience as transgender.  She informed us that henceforth, she would be living her life as Laura Jane Grace. This year, she released Against Me!’s best album in years, Transgender Dysphoria Blues.  It is a brave and fierce record by a brave and fierce artist and even though pop-punk sucks, this artist and her new record totally deserve respect and admiration.  It doesn’t hurt that the title track totally fucking rocks as well.  Here’s to you, Laura Jane Grace.  Thanks for reading, everybody.  I hope you enjoy my list.

20. How to Dress Well – What Is This Heart?

How to Dress Well

I’m pretty much over it now but during the summer, this indie R&B album was my jam.  The album’s centerpiece, Words I Don’t Remember, is quite stunning. Having followed this guy’s development, it’s quite nice to witness him transition from sounding unsure of himself and hiding behind a wall of LoFi noise to becoming a fully realized confident and cleanly produced experimental R&B artist.

19. Amen Dunes – Love

Amen Dunes

Speaking of LoFi, this ramshackle folk album was my sleeper hit of 2014.  This record evokes artists such as Will Oldham, Wooden Wand, Lay Lady Lay-era Bob Dylan, Syd Barrett, even a little Devendra Banhart and Fleet Foxes while also sounding entirely new and unique.  Particularly noteworthy tracks include Lilac in Hand, and I Know Myself but my favorite is by far Lonely Richard, a simple but driving ditty about having yourself a good time that feels like it’s propelling you to the top of a mountain.

18. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

Album Time

This is easily the disco-y dance album of the year.  And yet, with the exception of Daft Punk,  I don’t really like disco-y dance music. But I loved this album.  Oh boy, it gets pretty weird too. This album is the Mr. Bungle’s California of dance music.  Also, Bryan Ferry randomly pops up mid-album for an incredibly unexpected and deeply moving intermission track.

17. The Knife – Shaken Up Versions

Shaken Up

The Knife’s follow-up to their 2007 masterpiece Silent Shout, the ambitious and ultimately alienating album Shaking the Habitual was featured in my top ten last year. This year, The Knife embarked on their final tour before calling it quits as a band. I was fortunate enough to witness their Oakland concert on a very limited US tour.  This release – a studio treatment of many of their songs as they were performed live on this tour- gives just a glimpse into the live experience of Shaking the Habitual. A delightful treat for the fans, it also might attract some new fans with its infectious beats and ethereal rhythms.  I’ll miss The Knife and will mourn their demise but I respect their reasoning.  Karin Derijer Andersson and her brother Olof made it very clear that The Knife would exist only as long as it served a purpose.  With Shaking the Habitual, they have fulfilled what they aimed to accomplish. The Knife is dead.  Long live The Knife.

16. Sturgill Simpson – Meta-Modern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill

LSD munching, Waylon Jennings in the 70s sounding, Kentucky native makes good ingesting various psychedelic drugs and creating a trippy country music record about consciousness expansion and finding love in the far corners of the universe?  Yes, please.

15. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

Shabazz Palaces

Seattle’s very own Shabazz Palaces have created perhaps one of the most deeply psychedelic hip hop records of all time.  Lese Majesty is a strange mythical journey through time and space disguised as a hip hop album. Clearly, rap music is not only thriving in Seattle, it’s reinventing the genre.  But Macklemore still sucks.

14. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Perfume Genius

On the single, Queen, a fancy, awkward gay boy sings “No family is safe/when I sashay” with the command, confidence, and swagger of a fucking god and I believe him.  Though my favorite track on this new album from Seattle artist Mike Hadreas is easily Grids.  Upon first hearing it, it immediately reminded me of the throbbing Suicide track, Ghost Rider, which of course, was later sampled by M.I.A on the only standout track from her album Maya, the amazing Born Free.

13. Ty Segall – Manipulator

Manipulator

I’m still trying to make amends for some dumb shit I said about Ty Segall a few years ago when he dropped 3 albums in a single year. As stated on last year’s list, I have since seen the light. Well, true to form, Ty Segall released multiple records with multiple bands this year but Manipulator is without a doubt the jewel in this year’s Ty Segall crown.  On this double album, Ty’s blend of psych, garage, and glam reaches its culmination in terms of refinement and production. Ty also plays every single instrument on this beast of a recording.  If you listen to this record, there is one important caveat; play it fucking loud!

12. Caribou – Our Love

Caribou

In many ways, the new Caribou record delivers exactly what one would expect from a new Caribou record; incredibly solid execution from beginning to end and an ever evolving sound. This latest offering has all the cerebral aspects of past work but shifts focus to create a much more groove-oriented album than past Caribou efforts.  This is a delightfully textural headphone album that could also inspire a dance party at any moment.

11. Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – High Life

Eno and Hyde

This is without a doubt the least boring thing Brian Eno has done in years. This album, one of two that Eno recorded this year with Underworld’s Karl Hyde, is driven by steady, repetitive, sometimes syncopated beats and rhythms.  The opening track, Return, evokes Eno-produced U2 albums in the form of an extended drone. Meanwhile, Lilac sounds like Eno-produced Talking Heads albums in the form of a krautrock-informed melody.   The track DBF, with its glitchy afrobeat rhythms, sounds like Aphex Twin taught Fela Kuti how to make electronic music. And all of this is has Hyde’s unmistakable Underworld sound to it as well. I’m really amazed by how well this record works. In my opinion, Brian Eno is a god. This record is a fine reminder of that belief.

10. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

LDR Ultraviolence

 With Ultraviolence, the Lana Del Rey Character has become fully realized.  This record comes out swinging with a barrage of incredibly beautiful songs. Shades of Cool is still my favorite track but there is greatness to be found in many others including the title track, Brooklyn Baby, and West Coast.  On Brooklyn Baby, Lana bests Karen O’s classic line from Fever to Tell closer, Modern Romance,”Well I know I’m just a fool/But I know you’re just as cool/and cool kids/they belong together.”  Lana’s take on things is a little different; “Yeah, my boyfriend’s pretty cool…but he’s not as cool as me.” Mid-album, things start to get dreadfully dull , languishing in some themes that ultimately just become redundant, particularly the Sad Girl/Pretty When I Cry combo.  From there, the album struggles to recover with Fucked My Way Up to the Top and others.  Overall, this record is pretty fucking amazing, particularly the first half. It’s light years ahead of the often terrible Born to Die album. That said, if LDR is going to continue to develop as an artist, I hope she can squeeze more depth out of this character she has created for herself. Otherwise, this record might be the peak of her artistic output.

9. Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal

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 This record is punk rock meets Pavement.  These guys did pretty well with their debut record a few years ago but here, they have stepped up their game tremendously.  I don’t feel like saying any more. It’s freaking awesome from beginning to end. It’s also about a kitty. Listen to it. Here’s the title track:

8. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

You're_Dead!

With each release, Steven Ellison takes us on a thematic journey.  1983 explored new beginnings.  Los Angeles took us on a journey through the artist’s city.  Cosmogramma, oh sweet Cosmogramma, is an epic interstellar journey (and my favorite FlyLo album). Until the Quiet Comes was a subtle meditation on dreams.  With You’re Dead!, well, I trust that you can imagine where FlyLo will be taking you.  And if this album is any indicator, death is freaking awesome! Rest assured, the exclamation point in the title is quite deliberate. This record is at once his most esoteric and experimental album and also maybe his most accessible.  Who knew that exploring death would involve a whirlwind of speedy free-form jazz motifs? As always, the hip-hop influence is deeply present; FlyLo’s alter-alter-ego, rapper Captain Murphy even shows up to the party. The record also hits some incredibly soulful peaks. Flying Lotus delivers the goods once again. Enjoy.

7. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days

Salad Days

featuring guest writer Megan

Hi folks! It’s the wife! I’m so excited to be asked to play along. For much of the year, this album has been vying for my #1 spot, toe to toe with War on Drugs. Here’s my review of this great laid back rock album.

Salad Days is a quirky, playful, low-fi record. Not a single note on this album is approached head on. Every melody is slid around, bent under, fallen towards as though staying in tune just took too much effort. The effect is inebriating. Mac’s vocals provide a wonderful juxtaposition to the intoxication- steady, warm and comfortable, though not so perfect as to be disingenuous. Jason has been listening to a lot of bands lately that make me feel like I’m 19, drunk on new found freedom, driving around the corn fields (see Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs.) This album makes me feel similarly bittersweet, like a long night of partying is coming to an end and I’m passing out in my boyfriend’s well-worn flannel.

Don’t let that romantic description fool you. Mac DeMarco is a fucking weirdo. The one moment when Mac’s guitar stands still is on Let My Baby Stay, a simple love song reminiscent of Tonight You Belong To me, that’s either written about a loved one or some smack.  Hard to say. Then there’s Passing Out Pieces, a dreamy track that sounds like Sgt. Peppers on acid. Or… Sgt. Peppers on more acid. Or maybe that’s just my impression after watching this WTF of a music video. Gotta love a musician who gains mainstream attention and still can’t be bothered to buy a new t-shirt or comb his hair.

After all is said and done, if you aren’t in love with this quirky stoner, his charming as fuck ending to the album will make you fall. “Hi guys, this is Mac. Thank you for joining me. See you again soon. Bye bye.” Aww.

6. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

 St Vincent

I often find myself complaining about that lack of rock goddesses in a post-90s musical landscape.  Looking back, it seems like we had so many to choose from.  These days, they’re fewer and farther between. But this is the year that St. Vincent’s Annie Clark joined the lineage of rock goddesses; evident by an album cover featuring Annie perched on her throne, looking like something straight out of the introduction to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film The Holy Mountain.

This self-titled record, St. Vincent’s fourth, is Annie Clark at her most confident…and her most weird. One of my favorite things about Annie is her distinct and innovative style as a guitarist. She prefers are harmonic approach rather than big sprawling solos.  Her jazz-informed guitar licks come in short and concise bursts of psychedelia. Here’s those chops at work in a live performance of Birth in Reverse.

5. Swans – To Be Kind

 Swans

Michael Gira’s Swans project began a few short years after I was born. For over 15 years, they pioneered the proto-industrial drone/noise rock scene. In the late 90s, Gira disbanded the project to pursue some other musical ideas.  Around 5 years ago, he decided to reunite Swans but made it very clear that this wasn’t some cash grab from a nostalgia act. Gira asserts he wanted to achieve new goals as an artist that could only be accomplished with the resurrection of Swans. True to his statements, the new Swans is anything but a nostalgia act. Gira is making the most masterfully executed music of his career. As with 2010’s The Seer, To Be Kind is a gigantic record, clocking in at over 1.5 hours. This music is loud, abrasive, and frankly, disconcerting. It isn’t easy music to listen to. I recommend diving into it in 30 minute bursts, allowing yourself time to wade through the horror to find its cathartic industrial crescendos, metallic drones, acidic vocals, and ultimately to moments of majestic beauty.

4. Aphex Twin – Syro

 FINAL MASTER SYRO DIGIPAK.indd

Syro is the first proper release under the Aphex Twin moniker in 13 years. The landscape of electronic music has changed quite dramatically since the days when Richard James was the trendsetter for an entire genre.  And while Syro may not be a revolutionary release determining the new directions in music, it still possesses such masterful execution that it makes all other artists just look silly. Here’s the thing: it’s the new Aphex Twin album. It’s beautiful.  Shut up and listen to it.

3. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

 RTJ2

On the night of the grand jury announcement that Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson would not face charges for killing an unarmed black man named Michael Brown, El-P and Killer Mike were performing as Run the Jewels across the way in St. Louis. What a concert that must have been. Killer Mike spoke to the audience during the performance and had some powerful things to say. Check it out here.

RTJ2 is easily the hardest hitting –I’m talking Public Enemy level shit- and easily the most important hip-hop record of 2014.  While El-P and Killer Mike’s longstanding careers as independent performing artists are respectable, their efforts combined as the Run the Jewels project are something else entirely.  Juggernaut is the word that comes to mind. I mean, seriously, with  lyrics such as “Top of the morning/My fist to your face is fucking Folgers” and a song called Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck), how can one even argue?  Yeah, they rap about having sex and smoking weed A LOT but this record is also an indictment on the racist power structures and the injustices faced by people of color in America.  This is one of those records that dropped at precisely the right moment in history. This is music for a revolution.

2. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

WoD

For most of the year, one of my favorite hobbies has been naming bands that the new The War on Drugs record sounds like.  To name just a few, I came up with the following:  Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan in the 80s, Mellencamp (God, I fucking hate Mellencamp), Wilco, Paul Simon, Don Henley, Tom Petty, that Rod Stewart song Young Turks, and some Bryan Adams. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for album of the year, eh? Combine that sound with a slew of ambient post-rock bands that aren’t nearly as fun to list and you end up with something completely original because most of all, The War on Drugs sound like The War on Drugs.  Goddamn, this record is beautiful.  My first day listening to it, I strongly considered calling in sick just so I could stay home and lose myself in it over and over.  The album is terribly cohesive and the production is flawless.  Adam Granduciel suffered something bordering on a nervous breakdown mixing this record and for his efforts, we remain grateful. Some of my favorite moments are when Granduciel goes Full Dylan, like when he sings “But it won’t be eeeeeeeeeasy” on Eyes to the Wind or when he knows exactly where to place an appropriate “Woo!” like on An Ocean in Between the Waves or Red Eyes, which is easily one of the very best songs released by anybody this year.  But I think the sandwich of ambient track The Haunting Idle segueing into the epic Burning really showcases what The War on Drugs can do.

This record has been slated for #1 status from the moment I first heard it. It’s so damn good.  Yet, to be honest, I’ve spent quite a few months wishing someone would come along and usurp its position. Unfortunately, neither Kanye nor Frank Ocean finished their new records in time for that 2014 release I was hoping for. It was really starting to look like it wasn’t going to happen.  But hey, life can get a lot worse than a record like Lost in the Dream being your album of the year.  And yet life can still drop a big fat surprise when you least expect it…

1. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah

Black Messiah

You gotta be kidding me.  Two weeks before the end of the year proper, this happens? I’m just sitting at home trying to bang out this list. I have nearly all of my choices finalized.  I’ve written at least half of my content. I’m comfortable with my choice for Album of the Year. I feel really good about it. And yet I still can’t help but long for something more.  Even this late in the game, anything could happen, right? Shit, Beyonce dropped her video album this time last year.  There’s still time for Frank Ocean or maybe even Kanye to drop another bombshell. Then out of nowhere, it happens. The long-anticipated third album from D’Angelo is announced only hours before it hits the internet and it’s called Black Messiah. I instantly knew something extraordinary was about to happen, possibly the album event of the year.

Fourteen years in the making, it’s finally here, and the story of its long delay is wrapped in the usual sad stories of self-destruction and redemption, a fascinating story better suited for another time. My friend Zak joked, “This is the Chinese Democracy that America deserves”, a joke sure to be played out in essays all over the internet. I laughed.

Q-Tip and Kendra Foster (of Parliament/Funkadelic fame) were involved in a lot of the lyricism of this album. The guitars sound, at times, like pure Hendrix and other times like Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel. Rumor has it that most of the guitar work is actually D’Angelo. Apparently, D has been honing his guitar chops in the 14 years since Voodoo.  Pino Palladino is once again D’Angelo’s bassist and his riffs are tight and in the pocket but also get taken for a walk in exciting ways.

The opening track, Ain’t That Easy, feels like Sly and the Family Stone with a little Jimi Hendrix and features this really trippy slight lag on the syncopation of the vocals with the music that just tickles the senses. 1000 Deaths is driven by this aggressive ugly pulsating rhythm.  I couldn’t help but associate it with some of that freight train-like sound permeating parts of Yeezus combined with the title track from Kid A with its deeply distorted vocals laid over peculiar rhythms. Then on the next track, The Charade, you think you’re hearing songs culled from Prince’s peak years.  The Charade is fucking gorgeous and the political punch of “All we wanted was a chance to talk/ Instead we only got outlined in chalk” is heartbreakingly beautiful in a way that reminds me of Stevie Wonder’s Black Man.

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Suggah Daddy has a final lyric that would have made Prince blush, even at his dirtiest.  Back to the Future (Part I) is driven by a simple beat married with ragtime and a muted guitar picking that sounds like a banjo. It’s utterly infectious. Meanwhile, Prayer conjures up pure Sam Cooke soul with this infectious hip-hop beat that culminates in a guitar solo reminiscent of Eddie Hazel’s famous guitar solo on the Funkadelic track, Maggot Brain. All of this is held together, much like on Voodoo, with a hip-hop element that reveals deep reverence for the late great producer J-Dilla.

The production is flawless.  There are layers upon layers of textures on this record. You know, when I got turned on to Frank Ocean’s 2012 album, Channel Orange, I spent a lot of time thinking about D’Angelo’s last record, Voodoo, and marveling at how a music form as seemingly done to death as contemporary R&B (or rock and roll for that matter) can still occasionally birth another game-changing giant.  This is another such occasion.

It’s clear that this record is both deeply personal and urgently political. Pitchfork is reporting that this record wasn’t slated to be released until next year but in light of recent protests about the police killing black men in America, D’Angelo insisted that the album be completed before the end of the year and ensured that all involved participated in many an all-nighter in the last month to make it happen.  14 years in the making and in the end, it still required a frantic rush to completion. Outstanding.

After watching video footage of Eric Garner repeating “I can’t breathe” over and over before dying at the hand of the police, and for what, not even a fucking indictment,  not even a hint of justice, nothing, I honestly don’t know that we deserve this record. But D’Angelo certainly seems to think we need it and we are grateful for it.

D'Angelo Notes