75 Favorite Albums of 2016

Well, kids, it’s that time of the year. This year has been brutal on all of us, but at least we got great music out of it, in every genre. 2016 was honestly so great that I had trouble cutting things out of my top 75 – and it’s not like I listened to that many albums this year. So, without further adieu, is my top albums of the year. I don’t think I’m able to form a proper order, even for the top handful. Therefore, I have formed two tiers, for 75-31, and 30-1. If your favorite didn’t make the cut, I possibly didn’t like it, but probably didn’t get to it. But here, 75 great releases for you to bask in:

Tier II: (75-31)

Anderson .Paak Malibu”

A man who had a breakthrough year, Anderson .Paak effortlessly and energetically fuses many different genres on an extremely fun release. “Malibu” is one of the only albums to give pure joy in 2016.

ANOHNI “HOPELESSNESS”

Easily the most political album to grace the mainstream this year, ANOHNI touches on subjects not universally recognized in other political works. “4 Degrees” addresses climate change, where “Drone Bomb Me” and “Obama” criticize our beloved but faulty president.

BABYMETAL “Metal Resistance”

The concept is a tough sell – three teenage Japanese girls singing heavy metal. But it works. The girls clearly have the energy, focus and ambition, and their backing band is surely talented enough to hold against more “traditional” metal bands. Rob Zombie-approved.

Bleached “Welcome to the Worms”

Bleached took the opposite approach of many punk bands – they ditched their only male member and strengthened their sound. Their previous, sun-drenched 60’s sound was eschewed for a sturdier 70’s punk throwback, with a shoegaze style production. One of the highlights in a year of great feminist punk records.

Blood Orange“Freetown Sound”

One of the best R&B albums of the year hits many different targets. It’s often as political as it is lovely. And with a wide array of guests from Debbie Harry to Ta-Nehisi Coates to Carly Rae Jepsen (see below), it’s a full force. While this type of music usually isn’t my forte, I was still engrossed for every second of it.

Seth Bogart“Seth Bogart”

The first proper solo album from the Hunx & His Punx singer strays far from the band – an indie-pop art/music odyssey centered around the fake lifestyles celebrities must adapt, complemented by a cheap keyboard and auto-tune. Think a better Ariel Pink.

clipping. “Splendor & Misery”

Hamilton, this ain’t. The main project of Daveed Diggs, now-Broadway star, released their second album, a hip-hop odyssey about a slave traveling through outer space. It’s inconsistent to say the least, but when Diggs lets go, and when the band rallies with music that borders on pure harsh noise, it sounds like nothing else that came out this year.

CryingBeyond the Fleeting Gales”

Crying bypassed their chiptune upbringing and instead released an album of 80’s glorification – the emotion of 80’s alternative, mixed with the energy and confidence of hair metal. Pretty interesting for a band whose previous album featured a Game Boy as a main instrument.

Death Grips“Bottomless Pit”

One of my favorite groups of the past few years, Death Grips always shock and surprise with their new albums. Although this one doesn’t hold up to many of their previous releases, the sheer volume pushes and constant flow still make for one of the more interesting rap albums of the year.

Deftones“Gore”

Sixteen years after their excellent album “White Pony,” Deftones have finally delivered another great release. In typical Deftones fashion, it came from in-fighting that nearly dissolved the band. But singer Chino Moreno’s push for more experimental music against guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s push for heavier music resulted in the disconnect that permeates this, their eighth album.

Dillinger Escape Plan“Dissociation”

The mathcore legends went out on a high note, with a brutally loud final album that cements their legacy. The album is jampacked with tonal left turns, ruined hushed moments, incomprehensible guitar riffs and dense layers of musicianship. It’s everything you want from a Dillinger Escape Plan album.

DJ Khaled“Holy Key”

Put DJ Khaled down for having the album with the best guest spots of the year; Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Future, Jay-Z, and Nas are just a handful that show up to work with the influential producer. Songs aren’t so much framed around Khaled’s beats as they are the strengths of the guests, which leads to many diverse, enthralling songs.

Future of the Left“The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left” and “To Failed States and Forest Clearings”

One of my favorite bands dropped a good album and a great E.P. The album, “Peace & Truce,” saw the band taking a more math-rock, trust-testing approach, with guitar riffs that edge closer to incomprehension than convention. The E.P., meanwhile, was a more familiar approach to the band’s viciously loud post-punk songs.

Gojira“Magma”

One of the best bands in all of metal had been striking closer to rock radio. Once the mother of two of the band’s four members fell ill and passed away, they took an even more subtler approach. The album is typically well-written (there’s only a handful of dull songs in the band’s discography), but is atypically conventional, to the point where it picked up Grammy noms in rock categories.

Gucci Mane“Everybody Looking”

Gucci wasted *no* time after getting out of prison – he recorded and released a song within 24 hours of its release. His follow-up album was his first great release in years, after many tread-water mixtapes from prison. Happier, sober and free, Gucci introduces a new version of himself – but in a typical southern style.

Hinds“Leave Me Alone”

One of the first notable releases of 2016, and unfortunately washed under everything else since, was the debut from the Spanish indie-pop group. It’s a slight album, one that focuses on individual notes in a way similar to The xx. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s a fun debut, and it’s clear the band put effort into every song.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion (Side B)”

Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album “E*MO*TION” proved such a hit that she released an EP of songs that didn’t make the cut. Even these songs – especially “Cry” – would be a standout for other singers. Truly a great pop icon of our time (buy her album!!).

Kvelertak“Nattesferd”

One of the year’s best metal albums comes, unsurprisingly, from Norway. Kvelertak forego recent trends in metal and instead put out fiercely driving garage rock, updated for an age where Deep Purple aren’t revolutionary, just great. If the Vikings existed today, they’d eat up this album.

Kendrick Lamar“untitled unmastered.”

Much like Carly Rae Jepsen, K-Dot’s 2016 release was a continuation of his wild 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Only he took ideas cut from the album and turned them into a small-serving E.P. that flows. It’s minor, but often incendiary, and proof that Kendrick can take even fragments of songs and make something extraordinary out of them.

Metallica“Hardwired…to Self Destruct”

Though far overlong, repetitive, and burdened with a terrible title, Metallica’s first album in nearly a decade is also their best album in nearly three decades. At its best, the band matches their 80’s highs of frantic energy, huge guitar solos and destructive lyrics. It’s the first time that Metallica sound like they’re enjoying themselves in…too long.

Mitski“Puberty 2”

Mitski’s breakthrough is a diverse and brutally honest indie album, one that balances restraint with heavy lyrical topics. Even more contradictory, Mitski forces herself into complete control, through the use of subtlety and occasionally awkward themes.

Marissa Nadler“Strangers”

A beautifully dark, ambient and absent indie/folk record from someone who has proven herself at those kinds of things. It makes sense that Nadler is signed to a label that prioritizes heavy, brooding rock – her’s just takes away the volume.

Oathbreaker – “Rheia”

A brutally heavy metal album brings fury in unpredictable doses. Various tracks feature regular vocals and even acoustic guitar, but the doses of volume get longer and longer as the album goes on, so a black metal hangover emerges by the end. Oathbreaker grab the torch in a recent, necessary trend of black metal bands breaking formulas and providing emotional and shocking records.

Frank Ocean“Blonde”

Admittedly, I just don’t have the same attraction to Ocean’s music that most people do; echoing my note on Blood Orange, it’s just not really my thing. But after a long absence, Ocean’s album still delivers in a very diverse, dark and minimalist set that immediately makes you forget how long you waited for it.

Angel Olsen – “My Woman”

Angel Olsen continued her trend of creating folksy indie rock songs that border on The Flaming Lips as much as they do Florence & the Machine; as in, they jump from being humorous to emotional, short to lengthy. She also continued her trend of getting better with each album.

Panic! at the Disco“Death of a Bachelor”

My head grew and shrunk three sizes when I realized I was enjoying a Panic! at the Disco album, something I’ve never done before. But this album is a circus affair; grandiose and attractive, like a Vaudevillian set without seeming too forceful about it. It is flamboyant, in a non-flamboyant way.

Pinegrove“Cardinal”

One of the only noteworthy breakthrough rock albums of the year barely qualifies as such; the band’s lowkey mix of lo-fi and emo makes for an honest and subdued record, that’s still filled with excellent musicianship. It takes a bit to get into, but it’s more than worth it.

Rae Sremmurd“Sremmlife 2”

Although it loses steam towards the end, the first half of the Brown brothers’ second album is filled with some of the year’s best party tunes, with enough diversity to make each one different. Some of the only musical joy of 2016 came from “Sremmlufe 2”

Red Hot Chili Peppers“The Getaway”

The weakness of every RHCP album prior to this one (10 of them) was an inability to make the less funky songs interesting. This, more than almost any other RHCP release, feels like a cohesive album with actual effort put into every song, not just the potential radio hits. It’s a very chill album, too, with little action in a high volume.

ROMP“Departure From Venus”

Around a year ago, I caught this band at a small gig in Boston and they blew me away. They followed suit with an excellent little pop-punk record that strays closer to the latter than the former. Keep this name in your heads, and find it on Bandcamp.

Paul Simon“Stranger to Stranger”

Using world music has always been a crutch for Simon – and not always with a good result. But this album is littered with South African rhythms and South American drums, and even uses a clock as an instrument in one song. With quick songs, hushed music and upbeat rhythms, it’s one of Simon’s better albums.

Sum 41“13 Voices”

It’s been a long time since Sum 41 released a decent record, but the band has gone through some changes – frontman Deryck Whibley was hospitalized with liver and kidney failure (as a result of excessive drinking), and founding member Dave Baksh re-joined. The result is an album far heavier than any in the band’s heyday, a punk-metal trip that’s corny, but effective.

Tacocat “Lost Time”

Another great feminist punk album this year came from Tacocat, whose rhythmic and deceivingly-joyful album included excellent track titles like “Men Explain Things to Me” and “Dana Katherine Scully.”

Tove Lo“Ladywood”

While I wasn’t too into Tove Lo’s debut album, her sophomore release was a more well-crafted pop record, with an inexplicable appeal to it like a smell in an old cartoon that makes someone float into the kitchen. It isn’t the most memorable album, but as a whole, it really draws you in as the world around you disintegrates.

Vektor“Terminal Redux”

A thrash metal concept album about an astronaut finding, and then canceling immortality is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. But if it’s yours, this is one head-bashing record. It’s a mammoth of pained vocals and guitar shredding, all in a palpable sci-fi setting.

Weezer“Weezer”

Weezer’s fourth self-titled record (this one, white), isn’t as memorable as their first two albums – but it’s the best one since then. Weezer’s best songs are usually feelgood fuzz-pop for a summery day, and this album is full of them.

White Lung“Paradise”

White Lung’s 2014 album “Deep Fantasy” is one of my most-spun and favorite records; it uses sheer volume and ferocity to impress. This album, though, only strategically deploys those ferocious moments, against slower songs (even a few ballads!) The lyrics, meanwhile, approach even darker (and memorable) territories, even with the recent marriage of Mish Barber-Way, using that event to craft murderous timelines.

Young Thug“JEFFERY”

Thugger’s third mixtape of the year didn’t reinvent the wheel, just turned it very, very well. It is packed full of great lines, youthful energy and well-placed guest spots. Every track is named after one of Thug’s idols (and, uh, Harambe). And the mixtape’s cover is easily my winner for Album Cover of the Year.

Tier I: (30-1)

AJJ“The Bible 2”

AJJ made a long-overdue rebranding by shortening their name and flattening out their sound. Their albums had seen the band move more progressively towards actual songwriting, instead of just furious and ceaseless acoustic guitar strumming, and the transition feels complete here. There are throwbacks to earlier albums; “Terrifyer” could have been 2006-2011, and “Cody’s Theme” and “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” could’ve been 2011-2015. But there’s more drawn out songs, with slow pieces and delayed themes. It’s a good mix of old and new for a band that – love them as I do – took a little too long to grow up.

Beyoncé“Lemonade”

What is there to say about the best album of the year? Bey’s concept album sees a narrator, presumed as herself, going through stages of grief after being cheated on. There’s sadness, anger, regret and acceptance. The eventual acceptance zooms way out, with Beyoncé putting her own issues aside to call black women to arms against more widespread injustice. Conceptual, convulsive and controversial, “Lemonade” showcases Beyoncé at her prime. It even zips through different genres, racking up bizarre guest spots and songwriting credits – Jack White and James Blake pop up, and everyone from Led Zeppelin to Ezra Koenig to Burt Bacharach get credited. Fans nitpicked lyrics trying to figure out specific details about Bey and Jay-Z’s relationship – because Beyoncé sells her material so well that everyone just assumed it was autobiographical. It could all be true, it could all be fiction, it could be inspired by something that happened. All we have to go on is Becky with the good hair.

The Body“No One Deserves Happiness”

Easily the most unsettling album I listened to this year was this behemoth. The metal duo’s full-length nightmare is often punishingly heavy, but can stop and start on a dime. With pitch-black lyrics (look at the album’s title again), hammering drums and guitar overload, it can be a lot to take in. And that’s before I mention the vocalists – Chrissy Wolpert, longtime collaborator, shows up on multiple songs, adding cold beauty to the noise around her. This complements vocals by Chip King, who shrieks like a rooster at full volume in a way that does not ever get comfortable. I only discovered this band this year and haven’t yet heard their previous albums, so let me just say – I’ve never heard anything like this before.

David Bowie“Blackstar”

Oh, boy. About a year later and it still hurts to listen to this album. But what an album it is – Bowie’s last album (intentional or not – designed as a goodbye, but Bowie allegedly worked on some demos about a week before his death) is his best since “Let’s Dance” and his most artistic since “Low.” With references to biblical figures and 17th century literature, it’s really just Bowie letting himself go. The album skirts on being conventional, but often opts instead for jazz infusions and experimentation, which demands many listens. This isn’t only one of the best albums of the year, it’s one of Bowie’s best albums, and an album we’re going to remember for decades.

Danny Brown“Atrocity Exhibition”

When you’re a deeply respected rapper with some ties to the mainstream, you’re really sending a message when you name an album after a Joy Division song. But “Atrocity Exhibition,” like the work of Joy Division, is an astonishing and uncomfortable roller coaster that jumps wildly between ecstasy (both emotion and drug), terror, apprehension, and a mix of all. Brown usually details his nightmares, but on “Exhibition,” he lets us live them, in an up-and-down, jarring ride. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s always great. Brown is one of the best rappers in the world right now – and certainly one of the most unpredictable.

Car Seat Headrest “Teens of Denial”

One of the year’s two best indie albums, and the only one from a relative newcomer, is a 70 minute guitar epic that jumps between tightly-wound fuzz jaunts and extremely longwinded, Dylanesque tracks. The result is not really knowing what to expect next. The album’s longest track is just over 10 minutes longer than the shortest. And there isn’t a moment to lose – the longer songs (in general my favorites) are often slowburning and tantric, spending minutes building to a big chorus or musical peak. Will Toledo, frontman and former-sole-member, is a master lyricist. The album is filled with hyper-specific lyrics that would border on being worrisome, if they weren’t so often tongue-in-cheek.

Chance the Rapper“Coloring Book”

One of the only joys of 2016 was watching Chance’s meteoric rise to stardom. He used a spot on Kanye’s album to mention his forthcoming mixtape, and built it up so much that it had to deliver to keep his career going. Thankfully, it does, and more so. Although the album does see Chance slip into brief moments of contemplation or reflection on the evils of the world around him (especially in Chicago), it is largely a time for rejoicing and celebrating. Fun beats and funky rhythms bolster lyrics that hit a wide range of lyrics and emotions, but ones that are usually delivered in Chance’s infectiously gleeful attitude. Life can be a party sometimes, and Chance is here to remind us of that. So pure. We don’t deserve him.

Leonard Cohen“You Want It Darker”

Cohen didn’t necessarily predict this album to be his last. Although in an interview he said he was ready for death, he later clarified that he meant he had lived a full life, and wasn’t ready – only to die a few weeks later. Whatever his intentions may have been, the album sees Cohen removing himself from social situations and prepping himself for death. The title track and “Treaty,” which comes up later as a reprise, seem like a demand to be taken by God. “Leaving the Table,” meanwhile, is the ode of someone reluctantly leaving. I’m still not quite sure what to make of this record. You do you, Cohen.

Crystal Castles“Amnesty (I)”

A little bit before this album was released, I made a comment to someone about how I thought it was wrong for Ethan Kath to continue the band without Alice Glass. I was wrong – the replacement he found in Edith Frances is not only great, but provides a foil for what Glass’s strengths were. Frances is more than content to let her voice slip into the music, complementing Kath’s manic beats instead of fighting for attention. Not to say Glass holding her own was bad – it was just as good. But Kath & Frances did well to introduce a new singer by flipping the switch on the formula. The album’s most manic synth tracks are among my most-played of the year, and this album sits comfortably at my third most-played new album of the year. If you liked the old Crystal Castles, the new image is nothing to scoff at.

Dinosaur, Jr. “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not”

Dinosaur, Jr. are at their very best when they’re doing just punchy rock songs. Their 90’s albums set aside time for J. Mascis to experiment with other ideas, and it was never bad. But when the band is locked and loaded, they’re at their prime. “Give a Glimpse” is just that – eleven great rock songs. The band’s biggest problem in the past was overlong songs, even in some singles. But there isn’t a wasted moment on this album, which cuts downtime. It’s just great guitar riff after great guitar solo. As usual, Lou Barlow sings two songs, very well-placed on the album. And the lyrics, with some patience, are among the band’s better outputs, too. Mascis sings about loneliness as a constant theme, with Barlow’s two contributions fitting in. It’s one of the band’s best records yet, and a strong contender for my personal favorite of the year.

DJ Shadow“The Mountain Will Fall”

Through 12 songs, DJ Shadow puts on just about 12 different masks. This album’s strength is diversity, and every song on this album is distinctly different from the next. The opener, titled the same as the album, is a somewhat soothing, slowly moving and wavy electronic song. The follow-up track features Run the Jewels. The album continues like this, with a serious unpredictability. Some have well-sought-out features, and some are just DJ Shadow. But the whole album is ear candy for anyone who respect Shadow’s deep record collection and love of music. The multitude of influences and ideas is on full display here.

Head Wound City“A New Wave of Violence”

In 2005, two members of the Locust, two members of the Blood Brothers and a member of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs formed a noisegrind supergroup. In one week, they wrote and recorded an EP, and disbanded. In 2016, they reformed and put out a proper album. But with a decade of inactivity under their belt, the members had grown weary of noisegrind, and set their sights on traditional hardcore. Despite the name, and the lyrical content of some songs, it isn’t necessarily a dark record. There are love songs here. But there’s also volume, and violence. It is a deafening record, just one that has songs that take their time to get to that point. More than anything, the strength of this album is Jordan Blilie’s double-recorded vocals and their ability to pierce any setting. (My second most played album of the year)

Jenny Hval“Blood Bitch”

Jenny Hval is a musician who escapes genre – even in writing about her, I struggle to call her avant-garde, noise, art-pop or ambient. She fits uncomfortably within all. It’s a space she has occupied for a while, but her new album further accentuates her standing as a conceptual artist. “Blood Bitch” is a concept album, one that equates vampirism (and cult exploitation and cinematic depictions) with menstrual blood. Every track on the album is about blood, and it never lets you get comfortable. But it’s important – especially for a male reviewer, like me – to face truths about what we do or don’t experience. This album does so in every way.

Iggy Pop“Post Pop Depression”

If David Bowie’s final album took a tone of uncertainty towards his own legacy, his protege’s sure doesn’t. Pop’s probable final album straight up bemoans an Iggy Pop-less world in its title. Throughout the album, Pop hits every note from creepy love song, to introspective moodiness to poo jokes – his entire wheelhouse. It’s nothing more than a collection of songs, but each one is great. He’s joined by Josh Homme and Dean Fertita from Queens of the Stone Age and Matt Helders from the Arctic Monkeys, and the album is recorded in such a way that it sounds like each man is vying for attention. In reality, it’s four musicians clocked in and creating a raucous good time.

Alicia Keys“Here”

Alicia Keys put her hair up and let her guard down on a totally rebranded album suitable for 2016. Keys has made many statements about women in her music, but never as direct as she does on “Here.” The songs are more diverse in tone, influence and even length than on a usual Keys album. Like other albums this year, especially Solange’s “A Seat at the Table,” the album is framed around a narrative that emphasizes themes through spoken word skits and interludes. But more than anything, there’s a bunch of great jams here.

Lady Gaga“Joanne”

When Gaga first arose, there was a need for a real change in pop music. Pop music demanded someone new and different. So Gaga donned a meatsuit and made music headlines. But now that time has passed, she can just be a performer now. A fool might forget that Gaga got to where she is based on the fact that she can sing; she has a voice of gold. “Joanne” showcases that – it’s not so much a Top 40 album as it is an album for both parents and teenagers to enjoy. There’s ballads and energetic tracks, in a more throwback lounge singer style. But it’s all Gaga, so it’s all worth it.

Nails“You Will Never Be One Of Us”

Ten songs, twenty-one minutes. That sounds like a daunting record, especially before you take something else into consideration: the last track is over eight minutes long. The songs that come before it prove Nails to be one of the best crossover metal bands around right now. Their songs mix the rapidity of grindcore with the ferocity of powerviolence, into a mix of metal and punk that’s been done a million times – but never quite with the touch that Nails gives it. My vote for the loudest band in the world right now.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds“Skeleton Tree”

“Skeleton Tree” is an album permeated with bad situations and unfortunate circumstances. Although Nick Cave had a personal tragedy after much of the album had been recorded, his grief still comes across like he walked into the studio moments after it happened. The prince of darkness spreads the idea of grief and forgiveness across a minimalist, difficult set of songs. It might just be the saddest album of 2016.

Phantogram“Three

Phantogram’s third album is a much more eclectic work than their previous album, a pleasing mix of the duo’s strengths – interesting guitar riffs, trip-hop and memorable lyrics – as well as some detours into newer territory. It doesn’t always work, but they take a more experimental approach, and hearing them leave their comfort zone is a pleasure. Each track is unique and most are some of the best they’ve done.

Radiohead“A Moon Shaped Pool”

Based on recent output and general malaise from the band, it seemed like Radiohead might not have another classic album in them (or another album at all). But this album – which features multiple songs the band has played live for years, some decades – is the best the band has done since “OK Computer,” which is one of the best alternative albums ever made. Thom Yorke unfortunately split from his longtime partner, Dr. Rachel Owen (R.I.P., as she passed away very recently), and it inspired this incredibly somber, painful and dissonant work. Yorke shares his feelings with us, a departure from a band that usually works behind closed doors. Despite a disappointing title, it’s another Radiohead masterpiece.

Jeff Rosenstock“WORRY.”

Easily the year’s best punk record belongs to Jeff Rosenstock, and not just because he’s listed as my religion on Facebook. His new album is primal – the A side is standard Jeff songs, bemoaning the changing of seasons, landlords, the closing of a legendary punk venue. And it’s all great. But the B-side, inspired by “Abbey Road,” is a collection of frantic, changing tracks that rarely last over two minutes. It’s as inspired as the best Bomb the Music Industry! records, and the most ambitious thing he’s ever attempted. And it should be noted – and has been – that it is entirely effective. It’s a punk album for people who love more than just punk.

Savages“Adore Life”

Another strong contender for my favorite of 2016 is the sophomore album from the British post-punk band responsible for some of the most raucous shows of the year. The women in Savages took a step back from their riotous debut and leveled the playing field; this album is more thematically linked, mixing slower songs with huge climaxes with heavy, chugging guitar songs. The result is a cohesive, whirling record about love and loving life – even the bad moments, because there are many. The concept is a tricky tightrope but they pull it off throughout. (My most played album of the year! To be fair, it was released in January.)

School of Seven Bells“SVIIB”

It’s fair to say that School of Seven Bells didn’t have a great run. Originally a trio, the band consisted of just one member when their fourth and final album came out. But Benjamin Curtis appears posthumously on the album, so the group is at least a duo. And what an album it is. Easily my favorite dream-pop release of the year, the album struck me in a way that other dream-pop albums – or bands – haven’t. This album is completely immersive, creating a dream-like state that makes it feel like you’re in the studio with the musicians. But, just as you really feel it, it gets taken away by a short runtime, and the dream is dashed. And it’s a great way for this group to bow out.

ScHoolboy Q“Blank Face LP”

I’ll admit that I was surprised by this album. I didn’t know much about ScHoolboy Q, and while my limited knowledge of him being a profane rapper was correct, this album threw me a lot of curveballs. It’s a tonally and lyrically diverse effort, with honest and forward odes coupled with dirty rhythms and dirty lyrics. More than anything, it’s psychedelic, which isn’t a word thrown around in hip-hop too often. It’s a long LP, but there aren’t many wasted moments. C’mon TDE, where’s the ScHoolboy/Kendrick collab?

Solange“A Seat at the Table”

One of the only people to upstage Beyonce this year was her sister, Solange. Unlike many of the year’s lengthy albums, “A Seat at the Table” is a flowing, consistently changing narrative that is as concerning as it is groovy. The album centers a handful of excellent R&B songs around spoken word interludes and short tracks, so no one idea sticks around long enough to feel comfortable. It flows like one long epic, centered around the struggles of black America today. It has memorable tracks, but it constantly disorients the listener. As I said in a different post: it’s an album meant to be enjoyed by many, but understood by some.

Vince Staples“Prima Donna”

One of my favorite rap releases of the year is a brief, disturbing look into the psyche of Staples, one of the best young voices in the genre. The EP is unflinching, a few moments of unfiltered, uncomfortable moments like rapping about having “Kurt Cobain dreams” in a hotel. A full album of this material might be unsustainable, but in a brief dose, it feels like a bad trip down through our worst insecurities.

Swet Shop Boys“Cashmere”

Heems and MC Riz joined together to create a quick, rapid-fire rap album that somehow flew way under the radars. Both men are at peak form, tackling racism conventions and the idea of being Indian in America. By signaling out Indian pop culture that’s big in America, like Zayn Malik, and Life of Pi, they highlight what life is really like. But it’s also fun, the duo wrote a bunch of quick bangers chock full of incredible lines and quips. Heems remains one of my favorite rappers, and he is as high-energy and funny-sad as ever here. A delight missed by most – pick this album out.

A Tribe Called Quest“We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service”

Another of the year’s best rap albums went to the only group who could truly save 2016, a group that hadn’t released an album this millennium. But they picked up where they left off – with an eclectic, jazzy, bluesy and pertinent rap record that throws away any masks and directly tells Americans what Trump’s America will be like. It only deepens the album’s impact when you learn that Phife Dawg passed away months before the album’s release. An upfront and necessary farewell from one of the country’s most important groups – we’re on our own now.

Kanye West“The Life of Pablo”

I personally found Kanye’s seventh studio album to be like every one before it – hit-and-miss. But this time around, I have to admire his artistic ability. Kanye established himself as a true artist on this album, by ‘releasing’ the album, and then making frequent and consistent changes and additions to it on a streaming website. As a whole, it stands as art in a way no other album has. And also as a whole, it’s wildly inconsistent. Kanye’s best and worst desires are given in to. But the best tracks and the best moments outweigh the missteps, and even provide a few of the best songs to come out of West’s whole career, even if one of them is just a Chance the Rapper feature in disguise.

YG“Still Brazy”

Another contender for my favorite rap release of the year is YG’s subtle nightmare, “Still Brazy.” The best tracks on the album are ones like “Who Shot Me?” where YG lets his insecurities filter through his usual tough demeanor. Unlike his debut, YG is imperfect here – not scared, but unsure of who his enemies are, and threatening to unload on anyone. But the album’s coda takes a serious and important left turn. The third-to-last track is the now famous “FDT,” which gets followed by two songs about police brutality. It’s a call-to-arms for the black community, to put down petty fights and turn to the bigger enemies.

The only albums I discredited from this list were Run The Jewels’ “RTJIII,” as the official release date lies in 2017, and Jack White’s “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016,” as it featured some previously-released songs. There were also many albums I didn’t get to.

Check back in next year! If we make it that far.

-Andrew McNally

Radiohead Through 10 Videos

On the release of Radiohead’s ninth album and their two excellent new singles, I thought we should take a look back on some of the band’s best videos. They’re a cultural institution as much as any classic rock band, with one of the best singers and a pair of the best guitarists in modern music. They followed a legendary-status album with two more, and even their worst album is still a pretty solid rock record.

When you ask someone what they think the greatest music videos of all-time are, you may get some stock answers: “Sabotage,” “Thriller,” “Sledgehammer.” But it won’t take long to mention Radiohead. The difference from person to person is which Radiohead video they think is the best. This is because there has never been a band who has captured the meaning of their own songs in video form as well, and on such a consistent basis, as Radiohead. The sound, tone and emotion of their songs is delivered expertly in exciting and often surreal videos. This is not meant as a list of their best videos; far from it. I’m not even getting to “House of Cards,” “Paranoid Android,” “There, There,” or “Go To Sleep.” It’s a celebration of what makes Radiohead so damn good at their own visual arts.

“Daydreaming,” 2016 –

Radiohead’s newest video may also be one of their most direct, or at least directly related to the song. The video, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is six minutes of Thom Yorke walking through doorways into varying locales – kitchens, hospital rooms, the beach, and finally a frozen tundra. While maybe too reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine, the video has the look and feel of daydreaming. It’s nice that this is the video that came out right when I decided to make this post, because it has that direct music-to-video correlation that Radiohead nails almost every time.

“No Surprises,” 1998 –

If “Daydreaming” seemed minimalistic, then “No Surprises” seems downright cheap. Whether the video is a tense look at someone testing their own mortality, or just using the title to taunt the audience, it’s one of their best videos. If you haven’t seen it, it’s one long shot of Thom Yorke in some kind of chamber, water rising up to and over his head as he stares blankly at the camera. When he blinks, the water goes rushing beneath him and he gasps for air as the song continues playing. It’s alarming and a little scary, even if it’s one long, unchanging shot. The minimalistic quality matches the song’s tone, somber, even by the band’s standards.

“Lotus Flower,” 2011 –

This video is also minimalism pushed to the fullest (or emptiest?), but in an entirely different way. By 2011, Radiohead seemed to know that they had hit a legendary status and, as they grew older, felt like they didn’t have to prove themselves. “The King of Limbs” received pretty mixed reviews, but I love it because they’re not trying to make the artistic statement that all of their other albums strive for. That, in itself, is a paradoxical artistic statement. And to celebrate, the album’s only video is just Thom Yorke busting out his worst dad-dance moves in a big, empty room.

“Karma Police,” 1997 –

Arguably their best video, “Karma Police” is yet another work in fantastic minimalism. The POV shot follows a car moving down a pitch-black Southern road at night, catching up to some poor, unfortunate man, until he can make the tables turn. It’s an incredible slow-burner (pun intended), that adds tension by beefing up the mystery. And it’s one of their many, very Lynch-ian videos. I shouldn’t have to explain how the video relates to the song. Even though we have no context for the video, we can feel empathetic for the man being hunted, and the karma he delivers.

“High And Dry,” 1995 –

So if you’ve never seen a Radiohead video and you’ve just watched these four, you might think they’re the kings of understatement (and you might also think that Thom Yorke is the only member). But this video is downright cinematic. It is reminiscent of the then-recent Pulp Fiction, with the band sitting innocently in a diner while a key to a suitcase is passed through a pie to a different table but, unfortunately, the wrong table. This is maybe the only video that would probably benefit by the band not being there, but their presence does add some authenticity. It’s a beautiful but tense song, and it plays out perfectly in this Shakespeare-cum-gangster video.

“Pop Is Dead,” 1993 –

Speaking of cinematic qualities, Radiohead allowed themselves to slip into weirdness in their videos before they did in their music. Their first album, “Pablo Honey,” is easily the least exciting in their discography (even if it does have their only true hit). It’s a fairly standard early-90’s wannabe-grunge album, and although this song was a non-album single, it shows. The video even looks like Alice in Chains’ “Them Bones” video. But with Thom dressed up like a corpse, and a funeral procession moving in a serpentine fashion through a field, it has a strong David Lynch aura. They may have felt constrained on their first album, but this video shows it didn’t last long.

“Fake Plastic Trees,” 1995 –

On top of being one of the band’s most beautiful songs, “Fake Plastic Trees” has a certain childlike innocence to it. Thom’s vocals and the band’s music resemble a child learning the harsh realities of the world. The lyrics are notoriously cryptic – rumor has it they’re about abortion – but it doesn’t matter. The feel is captured perfectly in the video, with band members riding around like children in shopping carts and make a ruckus in a faux-grocery store filled with bright lights. This is a song that transports you back to your childhood just to make pain even worse, and the video emphasizes it even more.

“Burn the Witch,” 2016 –

Radiohead have had a love affair with animation – aside from this, their other new single, they also have the videos for “Paranoid Android,” “Go to Sleep,” House of Cards,” “Pyramid Song,” and “There, There.” All of them have animation of some kind, and all strikingly different from each other. Their new video continues this affair – with claymation. “Burn the Witch” is a pretty bleak video from the get-go, with an inspector surveying a town and seeing a witch being attacked, a hanging square and a massive effigy to be burned – only to be put in it himself. The strings in the song have a confusing impact, sounding equally joyous and shameless, and the video’s irrepressibly morbid tone plays off of both.

“Knives Out,” 2001 –

Michael Gondry hadn’t yet directed the as-previously-mentioned Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he brings the same feel to Radiohead’s 2001 single. The video, done seemingly in one-take, details a woman being operated on and her lover sitting close-by, while their history plays out on a television. They love each other, but we also see them battling with axes. It’s surreal to the fullest – at one point, Thom’s head is replaced with a heart that opens and absorbs a picture of her – equal parts creepy and heartfelt. The video establishes a whole world within seconds, and makes a brief song feel like a whole movie.

“Just,” 1995 –

My personal favorite Radiohead video. “The Bends” provided some of the best (see above), this one being even better than the others. It’s another take on minimalism, with a middle-aged businessman walking to work and suddenly laying down in the street. A man, and then a few people, and then a crowd, try to figure out what’s wrong with him, even though he demands they just leave him alone. Eventually he tells them, but not us, and we see the whole crowd laying down. The song is not-so-subtly-but-poetically about depression, and having a man – an everyday man, but not the face of depression – suddenly take to bed on the sidewalk is a perfect encapsulation of how suddenly it can come on. The intercuts of the band playing in an apartment overheard are unexpected, especially since the members who aren’t Thom Yorke have become notoriously absent from their videos.

Radiohead have worked with some big name people, and here’s to hoping it continues. Some bands can make memorable videos, and some bands can make videos related to the song, but not all bands can do both – and Radiohead have been doing both since 1993. Their excellent new album, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” is available now, and I cannot recommend enough that you pick it up.

Grammy Predictions: Who Will and Who Should Win

(Photo Credit: The Grammy's)

(Photo Credit: The Grammy’s)

Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s the time for awards to distract you from taxes and the bitter cold. And music’s biggest night is quickly approaching! With performances from Adele, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Justin Bieber, a David Bowie tribute from Lady Gaga, a Glenn Frey tribute from The Eagles and Jackson Browne and a Lemmy Kilmister tribute from Hollywood Vampires (the band that includes Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp), it’s bound to be an eventful night. While I cannot comment on every award, I’m presenting the major ones with my predictions, as well as who should win and who should have been nominated. The Grammy’s are notoriously unpredictable (remember this?), so if I get every one of these wrong, blame them.

Best New Artist: Nominees: Courtney Barnett, James Bay, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly, Meghan Trainor

Will Win/Should Win: Meghan Trainor/Courtney Barnett.

Although Trainor technically isn’t even qualified to be nominated for this award – she was nominated for a major award last year – this is hers to lose. She’s an excellent songwriter and a talented performer, and does the kind of just-barely-biting-but-still-bubblegum pop that the Grammy’s love. Her album, uh, wasn’t great, though. Barnett deserves this award. Her debut full-length was a wholly original blend of 90’s guitars, Dylan vocal ramblings and suburban Australian apathy.

Should Be Nominated: Fetty Wap. Where was Fetty Wap?

Best Pop Solo Performance: Nominees: Kelly Clarkson, “Heartbeat Song,” Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Will Win/Should Win: The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face.”

Unabashedly one of the best songs of the year, The Weekned brought semi-subtle darkness to the best rhythm MJ never moonwalked to. The song’s explosive bassline counteracted the lyrics, that sound like a love song, until you realize they’re about an inevitable cocaine overdose. It was the second biggest hit of the year!

Should Be Nominated: The utterly neglected Carly Rae Jepsen. Not for “I Really Like You,” but for the non-single “Run Away With Me.” It’s my blog, I can say what I want.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: Nominees: Florence & the Machine, “Ship to Wreck,” Maroon 5, “Sugar,” Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk,” Taylor Swift & Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood,” Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

Will Win/Should Win: Khalifa & Puth/Swift & Lamar

This one is really tough. Swift, Ronson and Khalifa all stand a big chance. But I have to give it to “See You Again.” While I have made my thoughts on Khalifa known, it is a genuinely great song. It also has two benefits: one of the 10 YouTube videos with over a billion views, and a now very famous spot in a movie – used in Furious 7 to commemorate Paul Walker’s untimely death. Plus, it was shunned by the Oscars, where it failed to even be nominated in a category it was expected to win. That said, “Bad Blood” was one of the most entertaining songs of the year, and brought together two artists that are usually hesitant with collaborations, and two artists who are otherwise competing tonight.

Should Be Nominated: Selena Gomez & A$ap Rocky, “Good For You.” Selena was among many former Disney stars who went through a whole career reboot this year, and the lead single from her great (and aptly named) album “Revival” is a sultry and engaging duet. Now, frankly, A$ap doesn’t help the song, and when it was released as a single, his verse was cut.

Best Rock Song: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” Elle King, “Ex’s and Oh’s,” Florence & the Machine, “What Kind of Man,” Highly Suspect, “Lydia,” James Bay, “Hold Back the River”

Will Win/Should Win: Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

I will hesitantly say that this one is almost guaranteed to the Shakes. “Don’t Wanna Fight” is not only one of the bluesiest and spine-tingling sons of the year, it’s one of the most this decade. Brittany Howard’s booming vocals are reminiscent of Ella or Aretha, but it a modern-tinged setting. It’s one of the best songs of the year, and the type of thing the Grammy’s love.

Should Be Nominated: After frustratingly finding out that Royal Blood’s “Figure It Out” was eligible last year, I’ll say Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian at Best.” It’s one of my favorites from the year. It would go under Best Alternative Song, but that’s not a category.

Best Rock Album: Nominees: James Bay, “Chaos and the Calm,” Death Cab For Cutie, “Kintsugi,” Highly Suspect, “Mister Asylum,” Slipknot, “.5: The Gray Chapter,” Muse, “Drones”

Will Win/Should Win: just throw a dart at the list/anything besides these nominees

Muse’s album was terrible, Death Cab’s album was worse. “Kintsugi” was the only album in 2015 I couldn’t make it through. Slipknot haven’t been relevant in years. I cannot say I am overly familiar with the music of Highly Suspect or James Bay and cannot comment on them further, I imagine they’re talented acts, to share the bill with three outdated artists. I have to make a prediction? Ugh. James Bay probably.

Should Be Nominated: METZ. Motorhead. Viet Cong. More than anyone else, Marilyn Manson.

Best Alternative Album: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color,” Bjork, “Vulnicura,” My Morning Jacket, “The Waterfall,” Wilco, “Star Wars,” Tame Impala, “Currents”

Will Win/Should Win: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color

With all due respect to Wilco’s phenomenal album, this is again the Shakes’ to lose. I mean, it’s also nominated for Album of the Year, so it’s a surefire. Through and through, the best rock album of the year. Might as well take this time to highlight on of my favorite songs of the year, Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen,” which vaulted the album into nomination.

Should Have Been Nominated: How many times do I have to say this? Courtney Barnett, for “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”

Best Rap Song: Nominees: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen,” Kendrick Lamar, “Alright,” Common & John Legend, “Glory,” Drake, “Energy,” Kanye West, Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney, “All Day”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

As much as I want to see Sir Paul McCartney pick up a Best Rap Song award, I don’t see the Grammy’s giving this to anyone other than Kendrick. His album is filled with topical and devastating muses on the state of black culture, and “Alright” cuts the deepest. It’s a true rap song for the ages. That said, if Fetty Wap wins, it is well deserved.

Should Have Been Nominated: anything from Nicki Minaj’s “The Pinkprint.” How about “Want Some More”?

Best Rap Album: Nominees: J. Cole, “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” Drake, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” Dr. Dre, “Compton,” Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Nicki Minaj, “The Pinkprint”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly

Easy. This is a stacked category – really, these are all great albums – but Lamar is fighting T. Swift for Album of the Year, and none of these will stand in his way. His album is one of the greatest rap albums ever, and the Grammy’s owe him one from last time. That said, “Pinkprint” was my favorite album from last year, and a win for Nicki would be huge for her career.

Should Have Been Nominated: I don’t really have a true answer for this one so a personal pick, Heems, “Eat Pray Thug”

Record of the Year: Nominees: D’Angelo & the Vanguard, “Really Love,” Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Will Win/Should Win: The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

So, let’s get this straight. I still don’t entirely understand the difference between this and the next category, Song of the Year. From my understanding, it relates to the overall production of a song, not just the writer/performer. All that said (or not said), The Weeknd made the best damn song of the year, and although he has competition here, I’m pulling for the Grammy’s picking him. It’s truly one of the grooviest songs in years.

Should Have Been Nominated: There’s a million answers to this. Elle King? I love “Ex’s and Oh’s.” The production on Bieber’s album was excellent too, it’s surprising not to see him nominated in this category.

Song of the Year: Nominees: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” Little Big Town, “Girl Crush,” Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth, “See You Again,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Will Win/Should Win: Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

This is a surprisingly weak category, given all of the great songs that came out this year. Khalifa could easily take it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Grammy’s give Swift this award as a consolation prize (see below). It is probably the best song of the bunch, and Swift is deserving of at least some awards for “1989,” which really is a great pop album. Maybe the name she’ll be writing is “Grammy” or something, sorry, that’s, never mind.

Should Have Been Nominated: Although chart success does not necessarily equate award success, there is a conspicuous lack of both “Uptown Funk” and “Can’t Feel My Face” from the list. The Weeknd deserves this award. End all, be all.

Album of the Year: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color,” Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Chris Stapleton, “Traveller,” Taylor Swift, “1989,” The Weeknd, “Beauty Behind the Madness”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

I saved this for last because I truly cannot decide if I think the Grammy’s will give it to Kendrick or Taylor. No discredit to the other nominees, who are all very deserving, but this is a two-person fight. There’s some factors here: 1) The Grammy’s love Taylor, who released what might be her best album yet, 2) The Grammy’s know they messed up by not giving “good kid m.A.A.d city” Best Rap Album in 2013, 3) “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a much better album than “1989.” I think it’s going to go to Kendrick. There will be upset if he loses, although Swift also deserves the award. But man, it’s been years since there has been an album as politically relevant and important as Lamar’s. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Vice, EW, Billboard, President Obama and me all agreed it was the best album of the year. If he doesn’t win this award, he’d better call for a permanent boycott of the Grammy’s. #GrammysSoWhite

Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow to see what I got right and what I got wrong. And tune in for next year’s coverage, to see how many awards Adele wins.

-By Andrew McNally

Best of 2015: Albums!

As my yearly best-of lists get comically later and later, I present my favorite albums of 2015. My Proper, Critic list can be found here, but this list is reserved for my exclusively personal favorite albums of the year. Songs from 23 of these 25 albums can be found in my previously-published 75 Songs of 2015 zenith playlist (#24 and #20 require outside searching, sorry). I am but one man and I did not make it to every album I wanted to in 2015; still, I listened to a big diversity of releases, and here’s my 25 favorite:

Well, almost. I have to honor five runners-up who didn’t make it: Grimes, Lightning Bolt, the Dead Weather, Cage the Elephant and Jenny Hval. Their albums are all worth mentioning, but I can only write about so many.

#25. Bully – “Feels Like” – This is an apropos album title, because it feels like 90’s alternative. The band can kick up the volume and anger when they want – see standout “Trash” – but they don’t rely on it for every song. Their ability to switch between indie and noise seems almost too innate for a young band. A beautifully talented group. Between you and me, I got to see them earlier this month, and they put on a hell of a show.

#24. Deafheaven – “New Bermuda” – With a title like “New Bermuda,” Deafheaven lead on that their follow-up to the perfect “Sunbather” would be another blackgaze album designed for indie kids. We were deceived. This is a black metal album, with 10+ minute songs and no breaks like “Sunbather” gave us. Deafheaven split the metal scene in half with their last album, and on this release, they’re pandering more to the purists than the newcomers.

#23. Meg Myers – “Sorry” – Myers falls somewhere in between pop and indie, as an unassuming singer armed with a guitar. The album is top-heavy, but early tracks like “Motel” and “Sorry” are some of the most desperate and emotionally affecting indie-pop songs you’ll hear all year.

#22. Father John Misty – “I Love You, Honeybear” – Father John Misty’s second album established the indie-folk singer as someone who isn’t one to shy away from jokes or uncomfortable topics. There’s so many songs about sex on this album (many of them graphic), that you’ll completely forget he was ever a part of Fleet Foxes. He’s vying for the role of class clown in the folk scene, although his album isn’t without serious moments too. “Bored in the USA” is an affecting ballad about America’s shortcomings.

#21. Jeff Rosenstock – “We Cool?” – Jeff Rosenstock, one-time singer of my all-time favorite band Bomb the Music Industry!, put out his first proper solo album and went on about 10 brief tours for it. Although the album has punk tracks like “Hey Allison!” and standout “You, In Weird Cities,” it also ends on some more rambling, other-worldly songs that wouldn’t have fit on any of the albums by Rosenstock’s previous bands. Is it maturity? Who knows.

#20. Vince Staples – “Summertime ’06” – Staples long-awaited debut album feels very laid-back, which is odd considering that it is overflowing with both rhymes and emotion. Staples crams his album full of guests, with everyone sticking lines in everywhere they can. The fact that its a double-album for no real reason contributes to the mood – Staples has a lot to say, but he gets it out quickly. Never have chill and frantic intertwined so well.

#19. Carly Rae Jepsen – “E*MO*TION” – Look, I love Adele just as much as the next person. But this year’s best pop album belonged to Carly Rae Jepsen. It’s a shame that no one in America bought it because we missed out on a real classic. The album, Jepsen’s second and first since “Call Me Maybe,” is just her having fun in the studio and trying on some different outfits. Sure, some work better than others, but it is fun throughout. “Run Away With Me” especially is one of the pop gems of this decade so far.

#18. Le1f – “Riot Boi” – After Macklemore stole the “Thrift Shop” beat off of Le1f’s “Wut,” it was expected that his first full-length would be angry. And it is, although Le1f keeps it contained. Really, it’s an avant-garde rap album. Le1f uses his standing as a queer rapper to make a rap album that stands out against any other album. It ranges between angry and content, but it’s always unexpected.

#17. Will Butler – “Policy” – If you’ve ever found a piece of an Arcade Fire song that’s unexpectedly fun or upbeat, it’s because of Butler. As the multi-instrumentalist in AF, and younger brother of lead singer Win, Butler doesn’t quite share in the band’s downtrodden emotions. He showed that on his debut solo album, a brief collection of fun indie-rock that’s brimming with comical and unexpected lyrics. There’s an innocence to his odes to “beating the shit out of some birds” and “pony macaroni.” It’s the most fun on an indie record this year.

#16. Motorhead – “Bad Magic” – No reason to fix what isn’t broken. On what proved to be Motorhead’s last album, the band marched on with yet another collection of hard-rock grooves. Songs like “Thunder & Lightning” rock harder than almost anything done by younger contemporaries. And as Lemmy’s last album, it’s a proper sendoff to an extraordinary career. Rock on, Lemmy.

#15. The Weeknd – “Beauty Behind the Madness” – After a few EP’s and a false-start LP in 2011, The Weeknd finally delivered the big-league album that was expected of him. Okay, it does bleed over with casual misogyny, certainly, and that can’t be overlooked. But he also made sure he didn’t center the album around a few singles. “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills” both became #1 hits, but every other song on this album could’ve done just as well. “Earned It,” has, in fact, picked him up an Oscar nomination.

#14. FIDLAR – “Too” – Man, FIDLAR got less fun. But it’s okay, because people have to grow up. And after their self-titled debut (one of my all-time favorites), some traumatic things happened behind the scenes. Their sophomore album was written and recorded amidst tragedies, and it switches between “drugs are fun!” and “drugs are bad.” It isn’t coherent, but it leaves messages both ways. The album’s first four tracks show the band’s full width, and are four of the best songs in their catalog.

#13. Death Grips – “The Powers That B” – According to Spotify, Death Grips was my most-played band of 2015, which is, well, embarrassing. Death Grips is only exciting on first listen of under the age of 17. But their “””final””” album (they have another coming out soon) is still a great listen, especially in the latter half. The album was split into two sides – the disappointing “Ni***s on the Moon” and the enthralling “Jenny Death.” Both sides have great songs (and both sides have Bjork), but the second side has standouts like “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie” and the excellently-titled “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States.”

#12. Viet Cong – “Viet Cong” – One of the most hotly debated bands of the year released an undeniably great debut album. With excellent tracks like “Continental Shelf,” “March of Progress” and “Death,” it’s easy to see that the post-punk band mean trouble. The songs jump from catchy to grainy to discordant in no time, like post-punk quartered and sliced. Unfortunately, their damn name has cost them. Change your name, guys, please change your name.

#11. Torres – “Sprinter” – I didn’t know anything about Torres jumping into this album and, based on critical acclaim, expected an indie-folk singer. What I got was far darker. One of my favorite songs of the year, “Strange Hellos” literally starts the album with a song about dementia. The album follows with songs about missed connections and identity. The album also continuously gets lighter, from guitar crunch to acoustic ballads, like someone fading away.

#10. MisterWives – “Our Own House” – I had the opportunity to see this band play three years ago in a hole-in-the-wall NYC club opening for Pyyramids, and was so taken aback that I wrote their name down in my phone. Two years later, their song “Reflections” is racking up Spotify plays. Their debut album is a piece of gorgeous indie-folk, with varying influences. Mandy Lee’s voice drives the band, a sweet and unique voice that fits any mood. I usually don’t care for the lighter indie fare, but I make exception for MisterWives.

#9. Wilco – “Star Wars” – About a decade ago, Wilco was dragged through such a hell that they really don’t care anymore. What I mean is that they titled a new, free album “Star Wars,” knowing there was a movie coming out months later, with no proper permission to use the phrase. Wilco have always fought titles, and just as they were starting to settle into a “dad-rock” phase, they fought against it. This is their shortest album, and filled with their shortest songs. They feel comfortable in guitar blasts and quirky little tunes that feel like older Wilco. It’s nothing revolutionary, but when Wilco is great, they’re great.

#8. Heems – “Eat Pray Thug” – The first solo album from Heems sets up amazing parallels. He is a native New Yorker, a city he loves more than anything. But he is also Indian, and as he watched the towers fall from a classroom on 9/11, and after learning about the ethnicity of the terrorists, he knew NYC would never love him back. The album is equally political and funny, and full of parallels between humor and seriousness. Rappers tend to be rigid in their image; Heems aims to be the direct opposite.

#7. Nerina Pallot – “The Sound and the Fury” – British singer/songwriter Nerina Pallot has been continuously putting out stellar releases for years, and her new album is no different. Compiled largely from recent EP’s, the album switches courses on almost every track. “There Is a Drum” has a haunting Tibetan rhythm, “Rousseau” is a simple but effective guitar track and “The Road” mixes in some other cultural influences. It is a tremendous indie record from start to finish, and I’m going to do my damndest to get her known here in the States.

#6. Sleater-Kinney – “No Cities to Love” – Sleater-Kinney originally disbanded around a decade ago, partially because they felt their message was becoming outdated and partially because they didn’t want to tarnish their legacy of seven excellent albums. But they’re back, as politically energized as ever, and with another great release. It was no accident that the album was released early in January, with opener “Price Tag” heralding a miserable but sweaty ode to the economy. The girls haven’t missed a beat since 2005 and really, they’ve only become more important.

#5. Peach Kelli Pop – “Peach Kelli Pop III” – Peach Kelli Pop is the project of Allie Hanlon, who’s three albums under the moniker only stretch to 63 minutes. This album, 20 minutes total, sounds just her like her first two. It’s the direct mix between hardcore punk and mermaid imagery. Ostensibly, it’s power-pop, but really it’s ultra-fast punk songs set alongside bells and girly-girl vocals. There’s nothing else really like it. It’s only fitting that she covers the Sailor Moon theme song. Catchy at it’s catchiest.

#4. Courtney Barnett – “Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit” – Courtney Barnett had high expectations going into her debut album, and she didn’t disappoint. The Australian singer/songwriter blends an incomprehensible mix of early Dylan and Pavement. She muddles her way through existential and empty odes to suburban Australia, seemingly disconnected to the music around her. But a closer listen proves that’s not the case, as Barnett really sticks her poetical words in every spot she can, around the music. It is crunchy, existential, 90’s alt at it’s best.

#3. Alabama Shakes – “Sound and Color” – The best rock record of the year was also my favorite. The band’s 2012 debut was an excellent Southern rock record, but the follow-up saw the band exploring their own influences. The band blisters through punk and avant-garde, among other stops. But the Shakes are at their best when singer Brittany Howard is howling above everyone else. “Don’t Wanna Fight” is one of the best vocal rock songs of the decade, at the very least. This group can switch from fun punk tracks to sending chills down your spine at a moment’s notice.

#2. Kendrick Lamar – “To Pimp a Butterfly” – This is a subjective list, okay? It’s #2, sorry. Still, this is one of the best rap albums ever produced. Lamar starts many, many storylines here that he doesn’t entirely finish. He raps about Compton, about his childhood, about depression and addiction, about police brutality, about rap itself. And he twists and turns all of them as the album goes on. It features almost no guest stars, but does include Snoop Dogg, and invokes Tupac, telling of how Lamar knew this album would be perceived. There’s nothing to say about this album that hasn’t been said already – he’s the greatest of our time.

#1. Nicki Minaj – “The Pinkprint” – Technically this album came out in 2014, but it’s release came alongside my lists then. Honestly, this is one of the most diverse and open rap records I’ve ever heard. It’s got older, flashy Nicki in “Anaconda,” and it’s got newer, mature Nicki in “All Things Go.” It also hits every point in the spectrum in between. There isn’t a weak track, and not even a weak moment on this album. Ballads like “The Night is Still Young” sound just as good as bangers like “Trini Dem Girls.” I’ve listened to this album so, so many times this year and I urge you do the same. Nicki has been through heaven and hell, and puts them both on record. In five years Nicki has become the highest-grossing female rapper of all-time: here’s why.

Great comedy releases:

I usually do a separate piece for comedy records and specials, but frankly, there wasn’t many released in 2015. So here’s a rundown of the seven comedy releases I paid attention to in 2015:

#7. Sara Schaefer – “Chrysalis” – The former co-host of Nikki & Sara Live put out her first true stand-up album, and although it might rank last on my list, it’s still absolutely worth a listen. Her bit “Pumpin’ Pussy Like Gas” had me in stitches on John Oliver’s stand up show on Comedy Central a few years ago. The twenty-track album is full of brief musings on sex, love, tattoos, and teenagers.

#6. John Mulaney – “The Comeback Kid” – Mulaney’s previous special, “New In Town” is my all-time favorite comedy release, audio or video. And although he doesn’t quite live up to his peak, his new special hits all the right marks. His stories are longer here, but the standouts are his memories of working for a start-up with a really, really old, quirky boss, and a closing story about the time his mother tried to bed a young Bill Clinton.

#5. Brooks Wheelan – “This is Cool, Right?” – It takes a real stand-up to make an album that’s actually comprehensive, and that’s what Wheelan has done on his first try. Wheelan, as you might not remember, was a cast member on SNL for one season. The best bits on his album cover New York, his time living there and his time on the show. He ends by mentioning all the pitches of his the show rejected (a 9/11 one elicits massive groans from the audience even in Madison, Wisconsin). The whole set seems to be aimed around youth in a way, with the title emphasizing that Wheelan is still new at this, just give him time! Honestly though, this is a great stand-up album.

#4. Jen Kirkman – “I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)” – The title says a lot. Kirkman’s last album, “Hail to the Freaks,” was a mix of introspective-cynicism and reflective-optimism, as she had just gotten married. Four years later, she’s divorced and more famous than before, and her cynicism hits far more deeply. Kirkman’s stories about other married couples, children and hooking up with a 20-year old drummer are among the best material she’s ever done.

#3. Eugene Mirman – “I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome)” – Perhaps the most innovative comedy album ever produced, this 9-disc, 4 1/2 hour odyssey is like nothing else ever made. The first disc is actual stand-up, with great riffs on religion, hipsters, and the internet. It also includes the stories of the time Mirman got a parking ticket in New Hampshire and took out a full-page newspaper ad to fight it, and the time he got mugged in Mexico by police, alongside Michael Stipe. The other discs? One is voice mail messages, one is sound effects, one is orgasms, one is basic Russian, one is the effects of hard drugs presented through music, one is a full-body massage in audio form, and one is just him crying for 45 minutes. The zenith is available on LP, CD, and in the form of a chair or a robe, both with the MP3s embedded and, for one fan, a puppy.

#2. Ron Funches – “The Funches Of Us” – As a cast-member on “Undateable” and the all-time winning-est guest on @midnight, Funches capitalized a huge 2015 with an excellent debut album. At the album’s best, Funches presents himself as an innocent, relatable comedian. His big laugh and giggly attitude make him seem like the snuggliest comedian in the land. But he also occasionally goes into dark territory, making jokes at the expense of his autistic teenaged son. No, we probably shouldn’t be laughing, but Funches is able to show us how much he cares through his jokes, even if they are dark. Rarely do we feel warm and comforted through stand-up, but Funches is able to do that.

#1. Kyle Kinane – “”I Liked His Old Stuff Better”” – Kyle Kinane’s sharpest special sees him slowly creeping into a middle-aged life. Kinane is uncomfortable, with the aches his body makes now, and reminisces on old parties. With all of the innovative comedy albums this year (and the youngsters releasing debuts), Kinane was able to blow them all out of the water with a sharp and cynical-but-not-mean take on the differences between youth and whatever it is that comes after. Also, all of the track titles are based off of the tracks on “Straight Outta Compton,” so, one extra point there.

Thanks for reading, maybe next year I’ll have my 2016 best of out by St. Patrick’s Day.

Best of 2015: Songs!

Now that it’s halfway into January, I finally have time to do my personal best-of lists. As a critic, I’m obliged to do a “Best Of” list, but that can be viewed over here. Here is my “best of,” list, less capitalized, less formal. Posted right below is a Spotify playlist of 75 songs that I loved from 2015. It’s not in order of love, but ordered to make a nice playlist. I was originally going to make a 50-song one but there were too many songs I was leaving out (quick shoutout – I finalized this playlist and realized I forgot Selena Gomez’s “Good For You,” I love that song, so 76 songs). Under the playlist you’ll find a spelling out of my top 25 with a short description. Listen at your leisure.

 

spotify:user:amcnal2:playlist:5dzcokWcJN6TpKyqvOq2Vu

Top 25 Songs of 2015! (Relative. Take with a grain of salt.)

#25. “I’m a Ruin” – Marina and the Diamonds – This is an utterly tragic, introspective look into personal failures. As Marina sings about the inevitability of ruining someone in a relationship, we feel it. With a big chorus and a guitar rhythm that masquerades as catchy, this song doesn’t shy away from emotion.

#24. “Thunder & Lightning” – Motorhead – Lemmy’s last album on planet earth gave us this parting gift, an angry, raging song against…ambition? It doesn’t matter. This is premium Motorhead, and an unexpected final track from an ambivalent legend. Wherever you are, Lemmy, rock on.

#23. “Dreams” – Beck – Beck’s follow-up to the Grammy-smashing “Morning Phase” is proving to be funkier, with this single. Although lengthy, “Dreams” is an energetic jam like 90’s Beck. Unlike 90’s Beck, it’s focused and polished, ready for the radio.

#22. “Switchblade” – Holy White Hounds – I know nothing about this band/artist, and I only came across this song on western Massachusetts rock radio (in between Seether and Disturbed, probably). What I do know is that it’s a cool, innovative rock song that uses the provided instruments very well. I don’t know where this person or these people are right now, but I bet they’re wearing leather jackets.

#21. “In the Clouds” – Diamond Youth – The band responsible for my favorite song of the emo revival (“Cannonball”) put out another solid song in this pop-punk track. While their debut album was middling, this song from the album’s mid-point is a strong vocal track, layered over gaze-y guitar.

#20. “In the Night” – The Weeknd – One of 2015’s biggest breakout artists put out an album full of bangers. This was my personal favorite, as The Weeknd channels his inner Michael Jackson in a song about pain. Even a song as dark as this did well on radio – because the Weeknd is that good.

#19. “Truffle Butter” – Nicki Minaj (feat. Drake, Lil’ Wayne) – One of my favorite albums of the last year ever is Nicki Minaj’s “The Pinkprint.” This track was only on the expanded version but served as the fifth single. It’s one of the least subtle songs on the whole album, especially when Lil’ Wayne raps about a woman snorting cocaine off his penis. That probably didn’t happen, but who cares, it’s a fun song.

#18. “Price Tag” – Sleater-Kinney – The opening track to Sleater-Kinney’s comeback album is about, well, the economy. Sl-K always had a political message, and in the 10 years since their original departure, it’s welcome to see they’re still angry. It’s a raging pseudo-punk song with a brutal chorus. If they weren’t angry, what would Sleater-Kinney even be?

#17. “Feel Right” – Mark Ronson (feat. Mystikal) – Throughout his career, Mark Ronson has made an effort to bring other musicians into the mix, especially ones that might be out of their comfort zone. But “Feel Right” digs deep, bringing long-lost Mystikal back into the fold. On one level, the song is creepy, knowing Mystikal served time for sexual battery, but on the other hand, it’s a groovy song that shows an underappreciated rapper at his prime. Your call.

#16. “Sometimes” – Heems – “Sometimes” served as a mission statement for Heems’ first proper solo album, “Eat Pray Thug.” Unlike other rappers, Heems serves to point out differences and paradoxes in his own life. The album – which will be in my top list – serves as two parallels. Heems loves New York, he was a student when he watched the towers fall on 9/11. New York doesn’t love Heems, an Indian man. The whole album sets up a political parallel, but in “Sometimes,” Heems examines what it’s like to be human. Very sad and very funny, which are congruent, and exactly the point. Catch the topical ‘Mad About You’ reference.

#15. “WTF (Where They From)” – Missy Elliott feat. Pharell – If this is a song of what’s to come on Missy Elliott’s first album in 11 years, then rejoice. The song is a rapid-fire attack on Miley Cyrus young girls who appropriate black culture, with Pharrell in his truest form. Make way, Missy is back.

#14. “Sucker” – Charli XCX – This song stands as my favorite opening track of 2015, a surprisingly tough competition. No one can open an album like Charli XCX – “If you wanna bang, well fuck you, sucker.” Its just a great, energetic pop banger through and through.

#13. “The Metal East” – Lightning Bolt – The band Lightning Bolt has been going strong almost as long as I’ve been alive, and their 2015 album “Fantasy Empire” showed no signs of stopping. “The Metal East” is a ripping noise-rock song designed to make you sweat and let me say, I’ve seen it done live, and it is loud and magnificent in every single way.

#12. “Run Away With Me” – Carly Rae Jepsen – One of the best pop songs of the year wasn’t released as a single, and it kills me that I don’t know why. Although her sophomore album sold well in England and her native Canada, it didn’t in America, and we missed out on a real masterpiece. Please, buy E*MO*TION.

#11. “Motel” – Meg Myers – Rarely is indie-pop this affectionate. Actually, that’s not the right word to use, because this song is downright existential. Over relatively simple music, Meg Myers is able to transform a simple tale about someone holed up in a motel room into a sad tale. Throw in an audio sample of a 23 year old Townes Van Zandt interview, and you’ve got yourself the saddest pop song of the year. Myers’ voice in the background of the song is going to rip through your spinal chord.

#10. “Acetate” – METZ – Although their second album doesn’t stand up to their first, Canadian noise-rockers METZ put out their best song with “Acetate,” an extremely metrical and sweaty song with just a hint of a groove to it. Unlike some of their non-stop songs, this one has a lengthy breakdown section that leaves the ending pummeling you even harder. Coincidentally, I just saw this band last month, with opening act…

#9. “Trash” – Bully – …Bully! This might be from a debut album, but the folks over in Bully sound weathered. Namely, they sound like they ate nothing but Dinosaur, Jr. and Pavement records for breakfast. Their debut album alternates between alternative and more noise elements, but “Trash” is the most abrasive of the album. Alicia Bognanno’s screamed vocals propel the song into very angry territory.

#8. “Lampshades on Fire” – Modest Mouse – The first album from Modest Mouse in nearly a decade was subpar, but the leadoff single ranks among my favorites of their career. An environmentally-friendly single rocks with a steady beat and a vocal rhythm that could only belong to Isaac Brock. Modest Mouse at its best.

#7. “Don’t Wanna Fight” – Alabama Shakes – The most emotionally charged rock song of the year came from ‘Bama, with Brittany Howard’s vocals howling above the rest of the song. An ode to a troubled relationship, the band draws emotion from volume and intensity, escalating a quiet beat into a wholly consuming tune.

#6. “Figure It Out” – Royal Blood – I think this song technically came out in 2014, but I first heard it in the latter half of 2015. Inspired by bands long gone, Royal Blood have crafted a near-perfect ode to garage rock, but with better production. “Figure It Out” is like the best part of Foo Fighters mixed with the best part of Count Five. Bring it on.

#5. “Death” – Viet Cong – The longest song in this playlist, this 11+minute odyssey is post-punk at it’s finest. The band, lambasted for their offensive name, still put out an impressive debut, culminating in this noisy epic. It is an aural assault, with repeated guitar rhythms being driven into the brains of the listener. The closing song of the year, listen to as much as you can.

#4. “Let It Happen” – Tame Impala – One of the most sonically engaging songs of the year, Tame Impala’s intro to “Currents” is like this generation’s “Blue Monday.” This song builds even as the vocals disappear, into a sonic abyss, carrying a ship throughout. I cannot overrecommend listening to this song with headphones – it’s a journey. Without full engagement, it’s background music.

#3. “Pedestrian At Best” – Courtney Barnett – Courtney Barnett had a career year in 2015, releasing an acclaimed debut and a flurry of great singles. This is her at her best, no strings attached. Poetic lyrics that alter between apathetic and angry mix over Malkmus guitar rhythms, resulting in a song thats far more fun than it should be. Like the 90’s? Listen to this.

#2. “Flesh Without Blood” – Grimes – Grimes went for gold in 2015, finally releasing her follow up to “Visions,” after scrapping a whole other album. Although the album was inconsistent, certain songs struck out, namely the first single. At first, I was somewhat cold to it. But it got stuck in my head almost immediately and still hasn’t left. With a pop-punk bassline and ambivalent vocal line, it’s a song to pay attention to. The nod between “Remember when we used to say……./………I love you almost every day” is utterly devastating in its dual meaning.

#1. “King Kunta” Kendrick Lamar – Look, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is one of the greatest hip-hop albums, ever. No ifs, ands or buts. The album’s mission statement was also my favorite and most played track of 2015. It’s funky as hell, which drives the song through the political and introspective lyrics. The album has a bunch of different messages, and they all come into play on this song. It’s a whirlwind of political, social, and personal remarks to America, with looks at Compton, Kendrick as a kid, Kendrick as an adult suffering from depression and a premonition of the Drake/Meek Mill beef. There’s simply no one like Kendrick working today. In any genre.

(Also a quick post-posting shout to “Magnets” by Disclosure/Lorde and “<” by Waxahatchee, which originally sat at #25 and #24 before I realized I had forgotten “Trash” and “Acetate”)

If you don’t want to sparse through my 75 song playlist to hear these, then listen here:

spotify:user:amcnal2:playlist:6jNIpYyDWO4q38UhCiA5Bk

An Intimate Night With the Greatest Punk Band That Ever Was

(Photo by me)

Whomever said punk is a young man’s game is sorely mistaken. Last night, I got to see Television live, and even in 2015 they absolutely crushed it. I’ve been doing some thinking lately, nothing more than shower musings, about who I think is the best band in each genre of music, the one that defines it the most. I haven’t come to many conclusions, but one that I did come to was that Television was the best punk band. Sorry, Clash. The band’s attitude and style is what did it, but they convinced me as much in 2015 as they would have in 1976.

Punk, as I have come to understand in my years transitioning from Rancid to Patti Smith, is more a spirit than a genre. It’s not necessarily about anarchy and destruction, though a part of it. It’s about doing what’s unexpected, unwanted; breaking the status quo. Iggy & the Stooges did this in Detroit, so did the MC5. They rallied against the sex, drugs and blues-rock and roll of the time in the same way Black Sabbath did. They upped the volume and came out angrier. The Ramones changed the game again by setting a template – power chords, 2:30 songs with apathetic or political lyrics. This template is still in place today – everyone from NoFX to the Dropkick Murphys to FIDLAR follow this format in some way. But that’s the problem – it’s a format. Punk, itself, has an incredibly tired and ironic template to it.

Television was one of a few CBGB’s bands in the late 70’s that seemed to foresee this template problem. Blondie and the Talking Heads added pop elements, and took off a whole new genre. Patti Smith was setting her spoken word poems to music. Television looked less at the music and more at the template – short songs, fast, loud music, and did away with all of it. Their classic album “Marquee Moon” is marked with slow-burners, tracks over (or well over) five minutes, and long, technically proficient guitar solos on every song. A virgin ear might mistake them for a classic rock band living in the wrong part of the city. Their songs are restrained, but the band has an energy to them – noticeable on the very first chord of “See No Evil” – that says they can run with the big dogs, they’re just choosing not to.

Tom Verlaine’s lyrics, making allusions to poetry and art (the Venus de Milo, for instance), didn’t stand on the same platform as, say, “I Wanna Be Sedated.” Maybe Television was in the right place at the right time. Or maybe, when we look back at them today, we still consider them a punk band because their music demands so. Technically remarkable lead and rhythm guitars interlock across albums, with Verlaine’s and Richard Lloyd’s tension almost palpable. And with the general lack of guitar distortion, and a clean, jazzy sound, it was the purest of music. It was what the other bands weren’t doing. It was punk.

I truly had no worries about Television ruining this legacy for me. I knew that if they couldn’t sound great live, they wouldn’t tour. And they delivered, from a performance standpoint – next to nothing was changed in the songs. At first I was disappointed in the lost opportunity for longer solos, but then I remembered that their albums aren’t punk statements, they’re works of art, and fine art should not be tampered with. And as such, their setlist consisted of every song off “Marquee Moon,” out of order. Verlaine played piano sections on his guitar, muting his strings to sound like piano keys. And on a number of songs, he self-indulged and plucked and warped the strings to sound like a one-man string section. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and I still can’t.

The crowd was as diverse as expected – fathers and sons, lost young scuds like me, and older burn-outs. A man in front of me who could have passed for Hilly Kristal wore a Patti Smith Group sweatshirt and jammed to every song like it was his 200th time seeing the band, gleefully ignorant of the 35+ years behind him. To the right of me was a pretentious 30-something who played air guitar the whole night, despite having a drink in one hand and his other arm over his girlfriend’s shoulder.

But aside from the performance, Television delivered in the punk spirit as well. Permanent Lloyd stand-in Jimmy Rip came out in a bowl hat and beard that looked like a high-dollar Tom Waits Halloween costume. Verlaine, in an unzipped hoodie that may have been a size too big (he hasn’t gained a pound since they shot the “Moon” cover). The setlist consisted of “Marquee Moon,” but the encore was pure unpredictability – “Little Johnny Jewel,” a cover of Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” (always a staple of their live show), and an unreleased track called “I’m Gonna Find You.” Their second two albums “Adventure” and “Television” were left untouched. The show itself had an aura of unpredictability – opener Dennis Driscoll performed with an improvised saxophone, courtesy of Morphine’s Dana Colley, and his set ran long. Soon into Television’s set, someone behind me yelled to turn the bass up, to which Verlaine pointed to Fred Smith and said aloud, “Move closer to him.” Verlaine was louder when he was talking to the audience than when he was singing into the mic, the vocals lost in the music. And in the encore, when they were transitioning between “Reaction” and “Find You,” a game being played by an excruciatingly bored security guard on his phone was audible. For a show with 65+ year old men on stage, in a small but classy venue and a randomly assorted audience, a punk spirit still came through. The Ramones may have passed, the Sex Pistols riddled by death, the Clash riddled by maturity. But for one night, the spirit of 1976 came through, if only briefly. Television, keep doing your thing.

-By Andrew McNally (photo credit is mine)