My 30 Favorite Songs of 2022

Well we’ve hit the end of the year, the time where I spend hours writing about the music I loved for 1-12 readers! As with most years, I focused more on albums than individual songs, so a grand albums post will be forthcoming. But there were more than a few songs I loved at first sight listen, and unlike my albums post, I’ve decided to try and feebly do a ranking of them. I did not put much effort into the actual list and have absolutely forgotten something necessary, but I did work on the rankings. So here’s 30 songs I truly loved:

#30. Archive – “Mr. Daisy”

I came into this band by chance from a Facebook group talking about a song of theirs from 2009, only to discover that they’re still going strong and remain very popular in Europe. The band doesn’t contain themselves within genre, venturing anywhere between trip-hop and nu-metal. They released 2 albums this year, and a standout song is this track, a post-rock inspired alt tune that’s simple, fun and nostalgic. I’m excited to dive deep into this band’s catalog next year.

#29. Robert Stillman – “Cherry Ocean”

This is likely the most divisive and maybe the most obscure song on this list, as something that probably won’t appeal much to my core audience (those 4 people). Stillman’s soft, somber, 8+ minute jazz track sets the tone for the following album, though it’s the only song on it with lyrics. The song is sparse and drone-adjacent, but the scraps of melody are haunting and intriguing. Even though it’s a repetitive minimalist song, I find myself coming back to it repeatedly. It’s a warm and forgiving place to be.

#28. Meat Wave – “Honest Living”

This is my kind of thing – two-minute sucker punch of fuzz guitar and wicked vocals. I’m a sucker for even the worst garage rock, it’s my go-to and my comfort music, and Meat Wave’s recent album more than satisfies that crave within me. “Living” is a punk bruiser with depressingly satirical lyrics about the grind of the workforce. Throw in some good vocal rhythms to boot and you’ve got a memorable little garage punk tune.

#27. Gladie – “Born Yesterday”

A lot of indie-punk bands like to play it safe and merely threaten to go full throttle. Gladie aren’t that band, and they kick off their recent release with a amp-busting banger that makes a statement. I wasn’t aware of this band just a few weeks ago, and now I’m excited to see where they go from here. I’ve also just seen them live and can confirm that this track kills in a concert setting.

#26. Björk & serpentwithfeet – “Fungal City”

Leave it to Björk to make a “mushroom” album, a delightful and occasionally suspicious soundscape that makes it sound like you are lying on the forest floor. The album’s highlight and most on-point track is “Fungal City,” which barely hangs on to any rhythms to create a damp, foresty environment. It starts soft, gets heavy, and stays weird. I don’t know how you even approach crafting a song like this, but it is yet another Björk classic.

#25. The Smile – “You Will Never Work in Television Again”

I’m not really interested in debating whether Radiohead is done or what this offshoot means for their legacy – it’s a different project, no more no less. While the album mostly just sounds like Radiohead, this song has some rough energy that hasn’t been in the band’s music for many years. Very funny that they’ve played this on late night shows, hopefully they’ll play on Corden soon.

#24. The Beths – “Expert in a Dying Field”

If I were to somehow manage to actually list out my 10 or so favorite songs, the Beths would be the only repeat artist on that list. Count this one among the handful of their songs that I really love. Lush and heartbreaking lyrics and vocal melodies all contain themselves within a simple indie/punk song. This group always seems to find interesting ways to sing about despair and ennui, and this one is no different. Add in some of Elizabeth Stokes’s characteristically intriguing vocal rhythms and you’ve got another Beths banger.

#23. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – “The Harvest”

I treat doom metal like a sandwich – if it’s plain then fine, I’ll take it, but I probably won’t really enjoy it. Doom metal to me has to do something to tinker with the formula, and this song does just that. The Best Band Name in the World take a classic doom metal song structure and add synths and dreamy vocals into something fuller. It’s heavy and brutal, while still feeling fun and atmospheric. The band has always done stuff like this well, but this song and album is a high watermark for them.

#22. Van Buren Records – “FOUL”

One of my favorite rap records of the year came from a local group, Van Buren Records. The large collective makes fun and urgent music with a cascade of voices. The group is at their best when they’re moving quickly, as they do here. No voice or idea overstays its welcome, especially with key features. This is such fun stuff.

#21. Slipknot – “The Chapeltown Rag”

Slipknot’s new album was a divisive one – there was a lot of really stupid discourse around it including the phrase “Slipknot’s Radiohead album.” I loved it for the way it wraps together a more mature, balanced sound with some of their old angry bangers. Well this is the latter, just an old-fashioned Slipknot ear-gouger. Dopey lyrics about violence, manic drums (RIP Joey) and unexpectedly good vocals, this is classic Slipknot. It’s great that they’re finally moving past this kind of stuff, but it’s wild they can still do it so well, too.

#20. Billy Nomates – “spite”

Don’t you act like I ain’t the fuckin’ man” rips Tor Maries across the chorus of this indie banger. I’m very unfamiliar with her work – I’ve heard a few songs and keep forgetting to check out more. But, this one recently grabbed my attention on the radio. It’s bold and brash while staying well within an indie song, a contained anger that’s delightful as it is genuine. It feels like a victory lap set to music, a ceiling-puncher and a song that probably kills live. I’m on board, now.

#19. 8 Kalacas – “Frontera”

I’m aware the phrase “ska metal” sounds about as off-putting as fruitcake but this song is wild. I first wrote about it in my “Songs You May Have Missed” midyear post and I’m going after it again. This song has horns and riffs and it’s an absolute blast to listen to. A sonic assault that lies more in metal than ska, this really isn’t like anything I’ve heard before. Part of that also lies in the lyrics – silly music is mixed with a dead serious story about a Mexican immigrant realizing the American Dream is a lie and sadly moving back home. The band has Latin roots that add an authenticity to the music that is often missing in wretched, ironic white guy ska. I urge folks to give this one a chance.

#18. Big Thief – “Simulation Swarm”

Big Thief make so many songs that are so heartbreakingly gorgeous that it doesn’t feel fair to other bands. “Simulation Swarm” isn’t nearly as good as 2019’s “Not” or 2020’s “anything” (from singer Adrienne Lenker solo), and yet it still makes the list. The music is calm and patient, featuring the effortless, minimalistic melancholy that the band is known for, and it’s complemented by Lenker’s soft, earworm vocal rhythm. As always, her unique voice elevates this into classic territory. Big Thief forever.

#17. My Chemical Romance – “The Foundations of Decay”

It’s so amazing to me that this exists at all. MCR’s first new release in nearly a decade, and it follows their path of switching up their sound with each album. I don’t know if a proper album is to follow – maybe they don’t, either – but I’d be intrigued if it does. This is slower and denser than you’d expect from MCR, more grown-up now than before. As per usual, the song rests on Gerard Way’s deceitfully strong vocals, but the whole band sounds great. This isn’t as flashy as the group used to be, and therefore the song is a grower – I wasn’t impressed on first listen, but after getting to see it done live (twice!) it’s won me over.

#16. Soul Glo – “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)”

I didn’t plan for this to be so close to 8 Kalacas but it’s only fitting. Soul Glo presents an equally scorned genre – rap-rock – in a way that’s genuine and refreshing. The opening track to their downright remarkable album Diaspora Problems is a manic, full-octane track that sounds dangerous. Inspired as much by hardcore punk and glitch as they are traditional rap and rock, this is “rap-rock” in the same sense that Death Grips is, not Machine Gun Kelly.

#15. Chat Pile – “Why”

Why do people have to live outside? is the simple question and refrain posited by post-hardcore upstarts Chat Pile. The centerpiece of a Top 5 of 2022 album is also one of the most bluntly political songs of the year (or ever, really). It’s a shakedown of America’s quiet housing crisis sung with a genuine, guttural anger. It feels like everyone in the country is boiling over with anger over their beliefs of choice, and that’s palpable on this barely-contained song. Anyone with an ounce of empathy can relate here, even if it’s abrasive on the ears.

#14. The Mountain Goats – “Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome”

It only took 21 studio albums for Mountain Goats to do their first true rock song. An album centered around low-budget action movies needed an energetic boost, so Darnielle et al up the energy for really, the first time in their storied career. Admittedly there are better songs across the unexpectedly great album, but this is my list dammit so I’m picking this one. Although the Goats have carved out their own niche in alternative music, I’d be curious to hear more of this side, too!

#13. Paramore – “The News”

I nearly disqualified this one for recency bias, it was released only a few days before I started this post. But it’s so damn good. Save for a pop-punk heavy debut recorded when they were all around 15, Paramore hasn’t released a bad song, and I’m delighted this stretch is continuing after a multi-year hiatus. The song abandons their more recent new-wave stuff for a return to fiery pop-rock, with more bite than they’ve ever had. There’s a fierceness that cuts through the music here, but also the melody is an instant earworm. I’ve only heard this song twice and it’s already so high.

#12. Fontaines D.C. – “Jackie Down the Line”

Imagine my frustration in 2019 when I first heard this group, a severely Irish post-punk group, only to be sufficiently bored by their album. I wanted to like it and decided to dive into the follow-up with an open mind and, thankfully, liked it much more. This is definitely the song I “sang” the most this year (as it’s not sung but spoken), because it allowed me to practice a ridiculous Irish accent. But it’s a great tune that’s simultaneously despondent and lively. There’s a lot of talk-sing post-punk bands coming out of the UK area (alongside IDLES, Black Country New Road and Dry Cleaning) and I’ve got varying opinions on it; this band has thankfully fallen in my good favor.

#11. MJ Lenderman – “Tastes Just Like It Costs”

Lenderman is an artist I ignored for a while because I thought he was the same brand of tired, acoustic stuff that Father John Misty occupies. My face was red when I finally spun an album, the great Boat Songs. This was my favorite song, a lively and fuzzy guitar track with a touch of humor but a melancholic vocal melody. This song, like much of the album, owes a debt of gratitude to the early alt groups like Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr. – a well I will never run dry. This is another catalog I will be diving into soon.

#10. black midi – “Sugar/Tzu”

I loved black midi’s debut only to be frustrated by the sophomore album. Their third righted the course and gave me what I think is their best song yet. “Sugar/Tzu” is one of the most raucous songs I’ve heard all year, manic talk-sung vocals mixing with a steady, revolving central rhythm and frequent…interruptions? The music video follows a boxing match, which is very fitting, as the resembles what it feels like to get beat up. The song sounds borderline improvised, closer to prime era Lightning Bolt than any of their more radio-friendly peers. I cannot overstress how wild this song is.

#9. L.S. Dunes – “Permanent Rebellion”

In most cases, I will side with any artist’s louder, more energetic tunes. This debut track from emo supergroup L.S. Dunes is no exception. The expectation-obliterating album’s penultimate song is also the loudest and most abrasive of the bunch, a throwback to all of the respective members’ heydays. The verses here are standard rock stuff, but the choruses hold a thrilling punch that separate Dunes from most supergroups; this isn’t a fun side project, this is a group with a statement to make. The emo revival will never die, baby.

#8. Weyes Blood – “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”

Natalie Mering is two albums into a trilogy that’s essentially about going through the rough of it. It’s sad enough on principle, and this album follows in the footsteps of 2019’s Titanic Rising by opening with the best song of the bunch. “Not Just Me” is a gorgeous chamber pop song, a heavenly ballad set over little more than vocals, harp and drums. It’s a dreamy, absorbing song with nightmarish lyrics about human suffering and ignorance. The album that follows is more of the same – and it’s one of the best of the year. But this one in particular is just a completely devastating yet rewarding listen.

#7. Weird Nightmare – “Searching For You”

When I heard that METZ frontman Alex Edkins was releasing a solo record, I had a feeling I knew what it would sound like – more melodic and alternative-based than his primary band, while retaining much of the energy. I was right, this song sounds like the crushing assault of (loudest band I’ve ever seen live) METZ filtered through the Minutemen. It’s loud and aggressive but it’s got a great rhythm and a more subdued approach. Like a few other songs on this list, it owes some to 90’s guitar alternative, revamped for today.

#6. Spoon – “Wild”

It’s very rare that a band can maintain a similar sound for decades and keep it fresh; they’ll either start to sound repetitive (AC/DC) or settle into a relaxed vibe (Wilco). But Spoon isn’t most bands, and “Wild” sounds like the same Spoon from 2005. They’re revamped and reinvigorated and they’re all the better for it. Britt Daniel’s odd singing voice remains the band’s best strength, as this would be a very standard song without it, but the Neil Young-like vocals elevate this to a Certified Spoon Classic.

#5. Leikeli47 – “Chitty Bang”

This song is just about as fun as music can get. The masked rapper kicks off her consistently excellent third album with this immaculately-produced bop. I don’t understand how this song isn’t topping the charts, I challenge anyone to spin it and sit still. A hip-hop song with pop structure and production, this song should really appeal to just about everyone. Although the artist has chosen to remain private, I hope 2023 sees her absolutely blow up.

#4. Gogol Bordello – “Fire On Ice Floe”

This one is circumstantial – after Peter Murphy checked into rehab and Bauhaus canceled their reunion tour, Riot Fest had to scramble to book a medium-big, evening act. Eugene Hutz and gang filled in, and delivered the best festival set I’ve ever seen (and went 10 minutes over, much to the chagrin of Glenn Danzig). I didn’t know this song when they played it, as it had only been released days prior, but they jammed on the chorus for an extended period. The easy, melodic refrain of “dance, dance, dance into the fire” had the massive audience all singing and dancing along. Although the band was there to promote defense for Ukraine, they still turned the set into an absolute party. This may or may not be a great song, but my vision will always be blinded by how I was first introduced to it.

#3. Perennial – “Tooth Plus Claw”

Again I am blinded, because my first interaction with this band’s music was when I had a chance to interview them (they’re really fun people to chat with, folks). This song doesn’t eclipse 90 seconds, just a dance-punk whirlwind that’s extremely high energy and just as fun. It’s loud and brash, but – like the rest of their album – is done entirely as a party. This is a throwback to The Hives and Be Your Own Pet, bands with short songs and contained chaos, that always still rely on melody above all. Love this so much.

#2. Arlo Parks – “Softly”

Arlo Parks just missed out on both my favorite song and album lists last year, and her sole release in 2022 is better than everything she delivered in 2021. This is one of those songs that will have you crying in seconds even though it’s a wholesome love song. The vocal melody perfectly matches the pure lyrics, a quiet message to a (potential?) lover. Her voice dominates over the music, seemingly mixed at a higher volume than a normal song would be. I’m not one for listening to songs on repeat but I could easily play this one for an hour.

#1. Orville Peck – “Daytona Sand”

Big surprise, the guy who goes by Orville Shrek on twitter loves the music of Orville Peck. There’s something about the mysterious, masked, Canadian, queer outlaw country/alternative singer that just works for me. The opening track to his stellar sophomore album Bronco picks up where Pony left off; the forlorn western lyrics, the driving snare drum and Peck’s deliciously commanding bass voice all propel this to the #1 spot. It’s catchy, fun and yet melancholic, and it’s probably my favorite song of the year.

For fun, here’s some songs that didn’t make the cut:

Beyoncé – “Break My Soul” (should’ve made the list, but do I really need to tell you about this one?)

The Linda Lindas – “Racist Sexist Boy”

Interpol – “Gran Hotel”

Rammstein – “Angst”

HEALTH & The Body – “AD 1000”

Thanks for reading this far! I wouldn’t have! I’ll be posting more year-end stuff, specifically an albums post on NYE and a films post sometime when I feel like.

By Andrew McNally

David Bowie – “★”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Blackstar” “Girl Loves Me”

I wrote this on the day of the album’s release and decided not to change it after his passing. Rest easy, Starman. Thanks for everything.

Bowie’s return to weirdness has been so natural, it’s easy to forget he spent a decade in retirement and the previous decade in a creative decline. His new album, his 26th, is among the strangest and most provocative he’s ever released. It seems like Bowie spent his decade in retirement (2003-2013) reminiscing on his own career. Throughout all the characters Bowie has performed as over the years, there’s really only been two real ones – pop Bowie, and terrifying avant-garde Bowie. His excellent 2013 comeback album “The Next Day” was pop Bowie, middling, introspective rock songs and ballads about growing old in a culture that values youth. He sounded pained but not so much remorseful as satisfied with himself. It seemed like a final album, a send-off, a ‘thanks for listening.’ Then this happened.

The opening song on “Blackstar” (officially titled ““) is “Blackstar,” in spelled-out form. It is only 17 seconds shorter than his longest, the 10:14 classic “Station to Station.” It originally surpassed 11 minutes but Bowie and longtime co-producer Tony Visconti sliced it down to 10 so they could release it as a single on iTunes (Bowie is a man of the people). Bowie’s vocals mix with the free-form jazz to sound somewhat akin to Scott Walker. It’s less “Diamond Dogs” and more “Bish Bosch,” and it’s hard not to imagine Walker when listening, another musician who had a modest start before growing increasingly ambitious and experimental (and who has been around even longer!)

There’s only seven songs on this album, with the title track accounting for slightly under 1/4 of the album’s length. It is less rock, less pop, and more free-form jazz. Bowie and co. have said they were listening to “To Pimp a Butterfly” when they wrote this, saying Kendrick Lamar’s attention to blending genres inspired them to do the same. But it sounds more like Bowie was listening to himself. “Blackstar” and it’s video have maybe-references to satanist Aleister Crowley, who was a heavy inspiration to Bowie during the “Station to Station” recording session. And “Lazarus” includes the line “I used up all my money / I was looking for your ass,” which sure seems to mimic the self-description in “Ziggy Stardust,” “With god-given ass.” Elsewhere, he sings the plot of the 17th century play “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” in a song with the same name, an incestual, murderous tale.

Musically, the album walks the line of free-form jazz, almost always maintaining a steady beat but allowing for tempo changes (“Blackstar”) and avant-garde horn freakouts (“‘Tis a Pity…”). A majority of the songs are heavy on horns and drums, with less guitar. Bowie often, and sometimes unexpectedly, gives way to the music. The influence of Lamar is only a spiritual level, but “Girl Loves Me” does have a beat that sounds hip-hop inspired.

With all the characters and personae that Bowie has performed as over the decades, it’s easy to forget just how he became famous at all – he’s got an insanely good voice. It comes through here, especially on “Girl Loves Me” and “Lazarus” but across the whole album. “Girl Loves Me” is an enchanting, almost hymn-like song with Bowie’s voice in both the fore and background. It’s the strongest vocal song on the album. He sounds restrained throughout, like it’s all part of an avant nightmare. The only real exception is “‘Tis a Pity…” where his vocals sound more pronounced, more confident.

There is no character here. “” is a glorious and scary mess that is haunting because there’s no character – this is an album Bowie and co. wanted to make. It’s one of the least accessible albums he’s made in his entire career, and it will surely be placed alongside “Station” and “Let’s Dance” among his best work. This does not sound like a final album, but if it is, then Bowie is requesting demanding that we remember him primarily as an artist, an ambitious one unafraid to make something jarring and remote, and not as a successful pop songwriter. “I am not a film star,” he muses on the title track, even with great turns in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Labyrinth, and, sure, Zoolander. He’s deeper than those roles. He is a blackstar, something theoretical, something deep, massive and annihilating. He is also demanding that, like Lazarus, he live on far past his actual self. Don’t worry, Bowie, you’re going to.

-By Andrew McNally

Grimes – “Art Angels”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Flesh Without Blood,” “Kill V. Maim”

Grimes has never been known by one genre. She’s sometimes included in witch house, but she defies one of the basic principles of the genre. Her stage name – Claire Boucher, offstage – is short and easy to remember. “Grimes.” Template witch house artists do the opposite, names that can’t be found on Google. Like M△S▴C△RA, or ///▲▲▲\\\ (pronounced ‘Horse MacGyver’), or oOoOO. Her new album, her fourth, is predictable only that we’ve come to expect anything we haven’t heard from Grimes before. “Art Angels” is, more than anything, a pop album.

“Art Angels” is a very mixed album. As always, Grimes blends many influences and ideas to create a wholly original, bastardized sound not unlike the baby on the cover. It isn’t as consistent, this time around, although the high points are just as high as ever. The album takes a much more conventional format, overall. This might be due to Grimes famously scrapping the album she was working on last year because she felt it was “too depressing,” keeping only “REALiTi,” an altered version of which shows up here. Something about the album feels familiar, in the song structures, as if Grimes was leading us by hand into a dark forest but keeping us from being afraid.

Generally, the album’s better songs are the ones that have density and energy. “Flesh Without Blood” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, regardless of lyrical content. There are catchy tunes throughout. “Easily” is a dancy (if not somewhat lacking) song. “REALiTi” and “World Princess, Pt. II,” although similar, are both exceptional and engrossing late-album bangers. “SCREAM,” which heavily features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, is also an excellent track.

“Belly of the Beat” might be the album’s lowpoint, a largely acoustic track that might sound better if there was a different artist’s name attached to it. Some of the ‘lighter’ songs are disappointing. “California” borders on being too poppy, especially as it’s placement as the first real song, after the intro “laughing and not being normal” (which is a great track, while we’re on it). It centers itself as a lyrical ode, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

Still, you have to pride Grimes on trying new things. She’s included just about everything she can into her music, and she’s even made conventionality work for her. “Art Angels” tells us that, yes, Grimes can occasionally do wrong. But even when she does, she’ll right it on the next song and she’ll still sound great when she does. Her vocal screams – you know the thing she does – permeate the album, breaking up the songs from being too radio-friendly (“California” lacks them, and suffers because of it). It’s also impossible to ignore the power she holds. Grimes learned how to play multiple instruments after recording her last album, the near-perfect “Oblivion.” She does everything herself now. After realizing that only men were being allowed to use the production equipment for her music, she’s begun producing herself. Now she writes, performs all music, produces, choreographs shows and designs the album art and videos. And the video for “Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” is really something. And although she defies all genres, she’s generally lumped in with electronica music, which is chronically male-heavy. Grimes can release albums that aren’t perfect, and it doesn’t really matter, because she can tell young girls listening that they can do this, too. It’s why the collaboration with Janelle Monae makes sense – they’re two drastically different artists, but they’re both energetic, genre-bashing feminist singers.

Sorry. Went on a little tangent there. But Grimes is an incredibly important musician, and even if this album is frustratingly inconsistent, it could stand as her bid for greatness. “Flesh Without Blood” probably isn’t going to pick up any radio play, but it’ll gain more new listeners than “Genesis” or “Go” did. I’m worried about her next projects, that Grimes scrapped an entire album and ended up with an album like “Art Angels,” which flirts with greatness but rarely gets to it. But, she remains one of the most interesting artists in music today, and the album works well enough for the listener to forgive the sagging moments. “Art Angels” works because Grimes makes damn sure of it.

-By Andrew McNally

Snoop Dogg – “BUSH”

Grade: C

Key Tracks: “Peaches N Cream” “Run Away”

There’s a question I’ve had about ridiculously famous rappers for a while – what path do they follow, when they grow older? Classic rock singers like Rod Stewart and even Bob Dylan have been going the route of covers albums, so I’ve been wondering where a rapper like Snoop might go. Turns out, he doesn’t really know either. “BUSH,” his thirteenth album, meanders around basic funky rhythms with the aura of a man who hasn’t given up, but just doesn’t feel he has anything new to say.

It’s safe to say that the music that Snoop has put out in this millennium hasn’t tried to be revolutionary. “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” even as a potential candidate for one of hip-hop’s greatest songs, doesn’t try to prove anything. His Snoop Lion phase didn’t prove anything we didn’t already know (nor was it taken very seriously). So now that we’re 15 years into this century and Snoop Dogg is ever-increasingly just a family man, his music has taken a natural progression towards the fun and breezy. It often is, but it begs to wonder why it exists in the first place.

After a midtempo intro with Stevie Wonder, the next four songs on “BUSH” are all Snoop solo, and they could all really use the kick of someone else. “This City” serves as the best, centered around a hypnotic vibraphone rhythm, going on only slightly too long. The weakest of the four is “R U A Freak?,” with some groan-worthy punny lyrics and an uncredited appearance from Charlie Wilson so prevalent that I’m honestly not sure Snoop even shows up on the track.

There are brighter points later on the album. At the sixth of ten tracks, “Peaches N Cream” is the first one that really feels inspired. It’s the only song that credits Charlie Wilson, although he shows up on four tracks. “Run Away” features a surprising collaboration with Gwen Stefani, who channels her No Doubt years instead of her solo pop career. She adds a late spark to the album that’s missing elsewhere. And the album’s finale, “I’m Ya Dogg,” has guest verses from Rick Ross and Kendrick “some of ya’ll share bars like you got the bottom bunk in a two-man cell” Lamar, who called it himself – although the song is great, and really the album’s only true rap track, Snoop takes a vocal backseat and gets lost in the mix.

The funk revival of 2015 doesn’t seem like something planned, more coincidental. Snoop, Lamar, and Mark Ronson have all released funk-heavy albums, but each with a foundation coming from a different place. It’s going strong nonetheless, and the music is at least funky. Wonder is wasted in a lifeless opener, but “BUSH” does have it’s funky moments at times. It’s fun, and I think that’s all that Snoop’s going for now. If so, then it’s a minor success. But even so, he seems too content to be releasing placeholder, schlocky albums. This is the man who was vaguely involved in murder charges; the man with a drug rap sheet longer than Willie Nelson’s. It doesn’t seem right that he has settled into such a steady and easy life that he can release self-serving, basic funk. From reggae on “Reincarnated” to funk on “BUSH,” it seems like Snoop is closer to forfeiting the rap game rather than leaving it behind. But, it answers my question. When a successful rap artist can make enough and settle down, provided they didn’t marry Beyonce, then what are they to do? Keep it easy.

-By Andrew McNally

Alabama Shakes – “Sound and Color”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Don’t Wanna Fight” “Gimme All Your Love” “The Greatest”

Alabama Shakes’ “Sound and Color” is their sophomore album, but you wouldn’t know it. They sound like veterans, who have earned the right to indulge themselves in whatever they want. They spend most of the album resembling bands that have come before them – anywhere from TV on the Radio, to Citizen Cope, to the MC5. But all the while, aside from a few digressions, they’re a Southern blues-rock band, in total control of their sound. If they want to have fun, they’re damn well going to have some.

The opening song is the title track, a minimalist song based around layered vocals and beats. Intentional or not, it harkens strongly back to TV on the Radio’s opener “I Was a Lover” (from “Return to Cookie Mountain”), as a hushed song that gives the impression that the band could, but isn’t necessarily going to, erupt. The album follows exactly as it’s presented – usually calm and ethereal, but with occasional, noisy flourishes. The second track, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” establishes a smooth guitar line that’s instantly more melodic than the whole previous song. Brittany Howard’s vocals come in as a prolonged squeak, because, why not? Smooth blues vocals are expected to complement the music, and she gets to that point. But fighting the grain is the album’s mission statement.

“Sound and Color” is an album that sounds like it was designed around individual songs, not around an album format. What I mean – take a classic like “Dark Side of the Moon” or “Abbey Road.” Excellent albums, but not every song sounds great when it comes up on shuffle. They’re centered around an album format. Blues (and blues rock) is usually centered around songs, and nearly every track sounds like the band worked out the components that would make it unique. “Dunes” has a quick section where the band gives way to a dissonant pair of acoustic guitars. “Future People” has a synth-y drone in the background that would’ve sent John Lee Hooker to the hospital. Best track “Gimme All Your Love” sounds like an improved version of any song by any boring alt-jam band, occasionally bordering on near-silence. And then it picks up, suddenly, and unexpectedly. And “The Greatest” is a straight, worn punk track, one that sounds like it’s going to have a deceiving, disappointing red herring intro but doesn’t, keeping the energy up for nearly four minutes.

Every member of Alabama Shakes is clearly exceptional. Howard’s voice goes from low and subdued to high and shrieking at any turn. Zac Cockrell’s bass bumps the band through the whole album, more audible than on most rock releases. Heath Fogg’s and Howard’s guitars drive funky, usually melodic but occasionally dissonant rhythms. And Steve Johnson’s drums keep the rhythms afloat, expanding the band’s whole sound. The band occasionally works in group vocals, and sometimes not. Sometimes, they sound like a collective, sometimes they’re supporting one member. But always, they’re laid back and just enjoying what they’re doing. Without the band’s pure enjoyment of the music they’re making, half of the songs on “Sound and Color” would sound unoriginal, played out. But the band seems to understand that they’re playing some pretty hybrid genres, and they roll with it. “Sound and Color” probably isn’t going to be an album we’re looking back on in twenty years, but for an immediate time, it’s a hell of a ride.

If you like this, try: TV on the Radio, but as great as “Cookie Mountain” is, their follow-up “Dear Science” was even better.

-By Andrew McNally

Lightning Bolt – “Fantasy Empire”

Post also featured on seroword.com

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “The Metal East” “Mythmaster”

Lightning Bolt is 21. Lightning Bolt is living on its own, balancing school and work. Lightning Bolt can drink, vote and smoke with no consequence. On their seventh album, they embrace being 21 as an actual 21 year old might – by accepting the rigidity of adulthood, accepting the routine of routine, but not embracing it.

The band, still comprised of just Brian Chippendale on drums and indecipherable vocals, and Brian Gibson on bass guitar, give the impression they’re cleaning things up. The songs on “Fantasy Empire” feel more rehearsed. They’re more rhythmic, more practiced, more worn-in. The band even recorded in a proper studio for the first time in years. This is a trajectory most bands tend to follow – they’re crazy while they’re young, but once they get a taste of success they straighten themselves up. But, Lightning Bolt has been unpredictably successful for many years, so to hear a more straight-forward, repetitive version of the duo is surprising, to say the least.

Or at least, that’s what they want us to think. Lightning Bolt’s rigidity on “Fantasy Empire” is only surprising because we’re used to their wild inconsistencies. Their songs weren’t improvised, but they sure damn sounded like it. 2005’s “Hypermagic Mountain,” one of the albums that got me into noise music, is an hour of Chippendale beating the drums into submission and Gibson shredding wildly. On “Fantasy,” there’s central rhythms and tempo changes. The vocals are rhythmic and coordinated (if not still wholly indiscriminate). But they’re still the same band. On opener “The Metal East,” the band rages on like an ambulance driver in a snowstorm – an experienced one.

The Brians were really just growing tired of the recording process and wanted a change. “Fantasy Empire” is their first album since 2009, and some of these songs have been in their concert rotation since 2010. Musical maturity is a different route for the band. Sometimes, it works, like the sudden tempo change and crescendo on “Mythmaster.” Other times, like on “Horsepower,” the lack of insanity leaves them focus-less. More often than not, things come together. The band nods to metal, like on “Runaway Train,” and to pop, like on the surprisingly rhythmic vocals of “Over the River and Through the Woods.” They’re more leveled, letting you know when you’re going to be assaulted and by which instrument. Things come together more, there’s a semi-structured cohesiveness. And the level to which the listener finds it either off-putting or a breath of fresh air, is really up to the listener. It does leave a hole, as they begin to sound like the bands they’ve inspired. But it’s a small hole, because even in it’s maturity, Lightning Bolt is still a 21 year old band – not yet rid of a few pranks, a few tricks up it’s sleeve, and a whole lot of energy.

If you like this, try: The best recent comparison to “Fantasy Empire” is Melt-Banana’s 2003 “Cell-Scape,” where they held back and wrote catchier, more accessible songs – and in doing so, their stance as the most ferocious band on Earth was only heightened, through the power of planned blasts instead of a full-on attack.

Sorry Guys, Women Won Music (Again) in 2014

Man, us men really spent the year treading water. As 2014 comes to a (well-deserved) close, and we discuss the best and worst in music, one thing in evident – women really lead the way. Women released better songs, better albums and had more progressive things to say than men did. So although men can boast, dick around and talk big, it was women that paved every path this year. Aloe Blacc was the man? Well Beyonce was Flawless. From Laura Jane Grace to Ariel Pink, Wiz Khalifa to Mish Way, both men and women helped women become the beacons of music in 2014.

2013 was an exceptional year for women in music, too. I almost wrote this article last year, but I was then too devoted to keeping this blog strictly reviews. It’s amazing to think it was only last year that unknown teenager Lorde nearly overtook Robin Thicke for biggest song of the year. But where 2013 was all about new acts establishing themselves in new niches of music (like one Crutchfield sister in Swearin’ and the other in Waxahatchee, both redefining punk), 2014 was all about the big names taking sides and taking stances.

2014 began on December 13th of last year, when “Beyonce” dropped unexpectedly. Not even the album’s guest stars knew there was an album coming out. Only Beyonce could have a release that huge, that unannounced and that coherent. It would go on to champion a year full of feminism and sexuality where women dominated, with only minimal exceptions.

Women Dominated Albums

“Beyonce” may have been the year’s best album (if you count it), but it was one of just many great albums from women. Charli XCX and Nicki Minaj followed in Beyonce’s path and released December albums – a month usually reserved for contractual-obligation Christmas albums. Tinashe and FKA twigs released two of the year’s best debuts, two R&B albums that establish each singer’s other-worldly confidence. And speaking of other-worldly confidence, the year’s best album unabashedly went to St. Vincent. Annie Clark’s guitar-drenched songs of surveillance and snakes were nothing else we heard all year, in both scope and confidence.

Taylor Swift did something usually disastrous for musicians and switched genres (Remember “Forever“?). But she went passive, attacking armchair critics on “Shake it Off,” not coincidentally one of the year’s best/biggest songs. “1989” was a big mess of a pop album that convinced many people (myself) that there really is more there than angry break-up songs.

Another one of the year’s best albums came from Lana Del Ray, who listened to criticisms and improved her music in every way. “Ultraviolence” was dark, brooding and seductive – a 60’s minimalist pop work that’s ready to defend itself from Youtube comments. With songs like “Fucked My Way to the Top,” Lana owned her identity, to the chagrin of many. In comparison, Sam Smith provided one of the year’s best songs – “Stay With Me” – but struggled to find his own musical identity, with a lackluster debut and less of a personality than his minimalist pop peers.

And this brings us back to last year’s minimalist dear, Lorde. Lorde didn’t release any music in 2014 save one song, “Yellow Flicker Beat.” But the song came from the soundtrack to the recent Hunger Games movie, a soundtrack she was assigned to curate. That, itself, is a huge deal for anyone – especially someone still in their teenage years. And, she chose people of a like mind – CHVRCHES, Tove Lo, Tinashe, HAIM, Bat For Lashes, Charli XCX and Grace Jones (!!!) all make appearances.

Women Dominated Songs

“I got one more problem with you, girl”

“I go on too many dates / at least that’s what people say”

“Fuck the skinny bitches in the motherfucking club”

Women seemed to rule the radio this year, too. The year’s best songs and most provocative lyrics belonged to women. Let’s look at these three examples – Ariana Grande dominated the charts this year, with no bigger song than “Problem,” with Iggy Azalea. It was a horn-blasting, bombastic pop song influenced by DJ Mustard’s production but without any unnecessary DJ attachment. Taylor Swift tossed critics askew in a side of her we’ve never seen before, and Nicki Minaj rallied against pro-look pro-anti-feminists. “Anaconda” was one of the year’s best songs – she took a comedically remembered hit from ’92 about the male gaze and repurposed it into a song about female body positivity. What’s better than that?

Elsewhere, there was the female talent showcase of Jessie J/Grande/Minaj on the excellent “Bang Bang,” a song that’s just about bangin,’ and it’s great. It’s just a fun, upbeat pop song that shows off some talent. Grimes’ only contribution to 2014 was “Go,” a crazy, pseudo-steampunk song that reflects your every mood when you listen to it. Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” might not be one of the year’s most revered songs, but it tied Janet Jackson for most weeks at #1, and it’s just another notch in her book.

Women Owned Feminism & Sexuality

So let’s talk about the most important woman of the year, alright? Laura Jane Grace, of Against Me! In 2012, after Against Me!’s miserably regressive “White Crosses” album, Tom Gabel announced that he was going to start living as a woman, Laura Jane Grace. Grace joined Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, among others, in a year where the transgender movement finally came to a public eye. So Against Me!’s 2014 album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” opened a wide audience to a previously closed movement. And while the album had some weak points, tracks like “True Trans Soul Rebel,” “Unconditional Love” and “Drinking With the Jocks” illustrate Grace’s struggles with gender identity in the way of some of Against Me!’s most abrasive lyrics yet.

And while we’re on punk, two of the year’s best feminists were Mish Way and Meredith Graves. Mish Way’s band, White Lung, released one of the year’s best albums in “Deep Fantasy.” The album is heavy and real from start to finish, but it’s centered around its second best song, “I Believe You,” a song that’s written from the POV of a surprisingly understanding friend of someone who’s admitting they’ve been sexually assaulted. The song is both musically and lyrically the heaviest thing they’ve done, and it’s one of the year’s most important minute and 42 seconds.

Meredith Graves, of Perfect Pussy, had a busy year. Perfect Pussy’s debut, “Say Yes to Love,” was secretly modeled off the line, “Why do we say yes to love?” The album has a feminist tone throughout, with Graves frequently taking on the established male punk precedent (if you can hear the vocals). Punk music needs a reason to be energetic; Graves and co. don’t hold back about that reason.

Outside of the band, Graves published essays on being a woman in the music industry, comparing Andrew W.K. to Lana Del Ray, and on male pattern violence after Mark Kozelek made an unnecessary, public feud with the War on Drugs.

On the sexuality side, it’s easy to say that sexuality in music as all about confidence – whether it’s outward, like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love,”  Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” – or sultry and subversive – FKA twigs “Video Girl,” Tinashe’s “2 On,” this year was full of strong, confident women, and it’s been a joy of a ride. Keep it up, 2015.

There Are Always Exceptions

Of course there’s exceptions. With Azealea Banks finally getting to release her excellent debut, “Broke With Expensive Taste,” came some harassing, homophobic Twitter rants that diminished credibility. (I won’t link to them – know that they’re out there).

She also started an ongoing feud with 2014’s most problematic female, Iggy Azalea. For those of you reading this, by now you’re surely at least familiar with the name – she had a number of huge hits in the summer – “Problem,” with Ariana Grande, “No Mediocre,” with T.I., and her own songs “Fancy” with Charli XCX and “Black Widow” with Rita Ora. I have to admit, from a music standpoint, I think they’re all great songs. But I wish I didn’t know anything about her when I listen to them. Azalea is Australian by birth, British by upbringing, and whiter than a jar of Hellmann’s. But she raps in a fake, black Southern accent (see: Atlanta) to mimic those who “influence” her. She’s trying way too damn hard and yes, it’s really racist. And yes, she has dropped the N-word.

Lana Del Ray also sparked some controversy by saying she would rather talk about space travel than feminism. The degree to which it’s just to fit in with her old-money, Gatsby-befriending persona is debatable, but it’s something that was said and can’t be forgotten.

Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus also made trouble with some serious, continuous cultural appropriation, done for their own “artistic benefits.” Both artists have remained silent when asked by fans to stand up for actual black issues like Ferguson.

But Here’s What Men Did This Year

Men accomplished little this year, in terms of music (and most other things). As always – exceptions. Pharrell’s “G I R L” album was a great, feminist work (and acted as an unintentional apology for “Blurred Lines”). Perfume Genius’ song “Queen” was one of the most honest, heartbreakingly rattling songs of the year. Patrick Carney, of the Black Keys, had a year spent on the offensive where he called out people like Jack White for their actions. And, artists like John Legend and J. Cole led the movement to recognize the need to acknowledge Ferguson, with ?uestlove adding that we need more Bob Dylans and Rage Against the Machines – artists with political motivations. But for every Run the Jewels, there’s at least one Eminem, so let’s look at men being men:

Eminem. Eminem released a song where he threatens to punch Lana Del Ray. Why? To what purpose? Eminem is 42 years old, and his fight for relevance includes threatening the most passive, pacifistic singer you can think of? That’s not intimidating. If Eminem wanted to stay popular, he’d retire and let his record speak for itself. Or, he could actually focus on the quality of his music, since he hasn’t had a good song since “Lose Yourself” (arms spaghetti) and his 2014 contribution was a Shady greatest hits compilation no one asked for.

Mark Kozelek. Sun Kil Moon’s 2014 album “Benji” was remarkable, but the 47 year old singer is also fighting a losing battle with aging, as he started a one-sided, unnecessary feud with the War on Drugs, a band that has looked up to him, and has taken no part in this imaginary feud. It all culminated with the admittedly silly and meta but still homophobic single, “The War on Drugs Can Suck My Cock.” The fact that these attacks are unresponded to amounts to nothing more than Kozelek trying to prove his manliness and yelling at a crowd that isn’t listening.

Ariel Pink. Human clickbait Ariel Pink’s 2014 album, “pom pom” made a lot of year-end lists. I didn’t listen to it. Ariel Pink called out Grimes, for some reason, calling her “stupid and retarded,” insults I never realized people used after the age of 12. Pink said he was contacted by Madonna to record for her new album only to say she’s been on a big downward spiral. Madonna’s publicist said he was lying, that she had never heard of him. Downward spiral? Meet Ariel Pink.

Robin Thicke. Thicke! Thicke was quiet in 2014, but he wasn’t trying to be. Black metal bands be damned, the creepiest album of 2014 went to “Paula,” Thicke’s in-depth, hyper-specific public apology to his ex-wife. First week sales counts: USA – 24,000. UK – 530. Australia – 158. 158 copies in Australia didn’t crack the Top 200.

Phil Rudd. For a band that sings constantly about manly stuff like rocking and violence, AC/DC’s first controversy didn’t come until this year, when drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife. The band was as shocked as it’s fans, where was this rock and roll stuff in 1977?

Future killed the good fortune he’d set up with one of the best albums of the year, “Honest,” by admitting he cheated on Ciara and by guesting on the atrocious “Pussy Overrated” with Wiz Khalifa. Jack White did interviews where he groomed his image by verbally attacking respected artists like Adele, the Black Keys, and even Meg. Chris Brown got arrested a few more times, and had the gall to release a song about disloyal girlfriends. I could keep going on about men in music, but these are the biggest examples. Most of the best music of the year was done by women, and women made the bigger stories. They’ve had to, because to be anything less than extraordinary is going to get them shelved under male musicians. Let’s keep this going. 2015 should be the return of Adele, and Beyonce might even give us another album. We’re starting on the right foot.

-By Andrew McNally. Inevitable responses can be directed to amcnal817@gmail.com. Article can be reprinted or referenced, with citation. Feel free to remove links if ya do.

Crying – “Get Olde/Second Wind”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Bloom,” “Bodega Run”

To people who have never heard Crying, this double EP is something really new. To fans, it’s very literally not new. The first half is just a reprint of last year’s “Get Olde” EP, combined with a new “Second Wind” EP. So it can’t technically be labeled as an album, and the combination does not answer the listener’s question of why this was done in the first place. Still, “Get Olde” is an excellent EP, and their blend of emo, indie and chiptune is incredibly unique.

What separates Crying from Run For Cover Records labelmates like, say, Pity Sex or Tiger’s Jaw is definitely, unequivocally the use of the digital, video-game-y sounds. It’s a primary focus of their music – the main instrument on every track. Sometimes it’s shrill, sometimes it’s melodic, other times it doesn’t seem to fit and you wonder if you’re going to get a break from it. Luckily, Crying take it upon themselves to differentiate every track, so their unique sound doesn’t become an automatic staple after the first go-around.

It’s easy to describe Crying as a chiptune band, one instrument is literally a Game Boy. But where other bands have experimented with this before, they’ve never roped in such unexpected lyrics. Similar bands often take goofy tones, mimicking the video game world they’re trying to engross. But Crying sing on a real plane – real people in a real, crushing world. “Vacation” namechecks Costco and flip phones, proving they’re living in a globalized society. And frequent references to bodegas cement the band as New York apartment-dwellers, not suburban basement-surviving nerds. It’s a distinction, because Crying’s music has a dense aura to it.

Both EP’s have their up and down moments. They both end on slow tracks (“ES” and “Close,” respectively), and neither really works that well. But both EP’s have honest and devastating lyrics, often delivered in Elaiza’s exasperated vocals. And while “Get Olde” stays right by the Boy’s side, “Second Wind” lets up some room for some drum (“Easy Flight”) and some guitar moments (“Batang Killjoy”). The second side is more varied and denser than “Get Olde,” although the band is more consistent in the release’s first half. I’ve been on to Crying for a while now; their first full-lengthed release is an extremely interesting listen. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun, desperate mess, and it’s a promising release for the future.

-By Andrew McNally

Prince’s “Art Official Age” and 3RDEYEGIRL’s “Plectrumelectrum” – A Review From the Uninitiated

Grades: Art Official Age: B+

Plectrumelectrum: D+

As a music critic, there’s been plenty of times where I’ve faked knowledge of an artist to give some insight into the recording of an album. I’ll admit it, I can’t say I’m on an equal playing field when I talk about both Ariana Grande and Foxygen, I have to look up information on someone like Grande because I’m much more inclined to listen to Foxygen in my own time. But I can’t fake Prince. Not admitting that I don’t know the first thing about Prince’s back catalog and topsy-turvy history would be unfair to him. Prince is a legend; a hero of pop music, and trying to fake my way through a review would not do him any justice. I know that he and Warner Bros. got into a bitter, bitter feud in the ’90’s, partially the reason for him to change his name to a symbol – so Warner would have to find a way to market it. And I know that he’s both feminine and seductive, yet legendary and encompassing enough for the NFL to pick him to play a Super Bowl halftime show (and one of the better ones). What I do know about Prince is that his music has jumped all around, and that’s exactly what his solo album, “Art Official Age,” does. So if you’re not familiar with his music, know that the album is inconsistent but often fun and honest. And if you are familiar, then you probably made up your mind before it even came out. Okay? Okay.

“Art Official Age” starts with a track titled “Art Official Cage,” and it’s a song that would have never existed in the “Purple Rain” years. It couldn’t have. It’s ripped from hip-hop and EDM, with big beats and air horns. It’s fun, and there’s way too much going on, but that’s part of the joy. The album jumps across fun, funky songs and big ballads, all of which are distinctly Prince and neither of which are aligned with any other pop artist. It’s the album’s best and worst quality, that it jumps so frequently and unexpectedly. Luckily, it’s good far more often than it’s bad.

The ballads come early, with the third track “Breakdown.” Prince hits some cringingly high notes, and pulls them off, obviously. “U Know” is a pseudo-ballad two tracks later, but one that has Prince rapping a bit. The hip-hop element is palpable on “U Know,” and is throughout the album. Prince constantly feeds off of genres that fed off him thirty years ago. Ballads aside, the album is a lot of fun, and Prince sounds like he’s truly enjoying it. Late album track “Funknroll” is exactly what it sounds like, a huge disco bash that’s a ton of fun and could easily be thrown on repeat for an hour without getting old. Second track “Clouds” is a strange track, with a strong spoken word that sets up the album’s loose premise of waking up in a world without gender pronouns. And leadoff single “Breakfast Can Wait” is an oddly specific, sexual song that’s exactly what you’d expect from Prince.

“Art Official Age” isn’t all great. The theme of waking up without gender pronouns are neat (and Prince to the max), but it never shows up outside of spoken word bits that are great on “Clouds” and finale “affirmation iii,” but are weak on the other tracks. And Prince seems to be borrowing just a tad too heavily from Daft Punk’s disco playbook – in that he tries lengthy, funky songs, but doesn’t pull them off as well as the duo. There are two tracks, “The Gold Standard,” and “Time,” that are far too long. The former is almost six minutes, the latter almost seven, and there isn’t much of a reason. They just inflate the album’s 53 minute runtime. But it starts strong and it ends strong, and it’s fun in between. People hanging out under rocks like myself should find a lot to groove to on this record, and find a lot of originality in it’s melting of both genres and themes.

On the inverse of that is the debut album from Prince’s backing band, 3RDEYEGIRL. Their album, “Plectrumelectrum,” flows through different genres and influences just as “Art Official Age,” but does so in a much more murkier and standard way. The band, who Prince is proudly touting as being all-female, gets off on the wrong foot with the lackluster “Wow,” a song that lacks the energy to be a true leadoff song, but has enough energy to not be a cop-out slow intro. After that, the album is a topsy-turvy ride, hitting high highs and low lows.

A low low is “Boytrouble,” an overlong and inane pop song that’s stylistically similar to far too many songs that have come before. Another low low is that the album appears to start off with a classic rock vibe for the first four or five songs, before slowly diverging into funk and hip-hop, without seeming to have any real reason. It flows well at the beginning, but the longer it goes on, the more it becomes a collection of songs instead of a fluid album. The album never seems to come to having any point, other than Prince showing off his (talented) backing band. Likewise, on “Fixurlifeup,” he sings lead, and he sings about misogyny in music and how bands shouldn’t be called “female” bands, yet he prides himself on showcasing his handpicked female backing band, contributing to the problem himself. (Not that he shouldn’t have an all-female band, just that he’s being pretty hypocritical about it).

The album isn’t all bad, though. There’s some great, exploratory songs. The title track (and longest on the album) is an instrumental classic rock jam that shows just how talented the band is. And the follow-up, “Whitecaps,” is a pleasant vocal-based pseudo-ballad. And the album has a better pacing, clocking in at a tighter 42 minutes, with some fat trimmed. The album certainly has it’s moments, it’s just very inconsistent and never has a sense of purpose. Perhaps the thing that summarizes it best is that the album’s final track is a different version of “Funknroll,” from “Art Official Age.” It’s a slightly different version that’s still good, but just not as much.

Not knowing anything about Prince didn’t harm me in listening to 3RDEYEGIRL. Their album is more direct, even if it hits different genres. It isn’t a great album and I give only a reserved recommendation for Prince fans only, but it still has some fun moments. And, they’re talented. they’re extremely talented. Non-Prince people like myself can at least enjoy it just as much (probably more) than Prince fans. As for “Art Official Age,” it’s also inconsistent, but it’s fun and energetic, and it might be a refresher for his fans. Or at least that’s what it sounded like to me.

-By Andrew McNally

Pharmakon – “Bestial Burden”

Grade: B

Key Track: “Bestial Burden”

One of my biggest regrets of 2013 was never getting a chance to review Pharmakon’s proper debut album, “Abandon.” Pharmakon, industrial-noise based project of Margaret Chardiet, is one of the harshest acts out there, and “Abandon” still serves as just a brutal listen start to finish. Due to unforeseen health circumstances, Chardiet had to cancel the first major Pharmakon tour and get emergency surgery. While she was recovering, she wrote a follow-up: “Bestial Burden.” The album is menacing and brutal, more inward and deprecating, but also with its moments of honesty and musicality.

I take notes when I listen to albums. For the first track, “Vaccuum,” my notes only say “just breathing.” It’s an intro, one that is just the sound of heavy, panicked breaths. Sure, it’s nothing compared to the sonic assault of “Abandon,” but it sets the album’s tone. This album is frantic, not just devoted to volume but to dissonance and to issues of health and well-being. The first true track, “Intent or Instinct” is noticeably more industrial than anything on “Abandon.” For eight and a half minutes it soldiers on – the first scream comes in around the three-and-a-half minute mark, and the industrial beat never sways, even as the screaming gets more intense.

This constant, industrial tone is one that stays throughout the album. It marks a departure from the abrasive synth blasts of before, although it is still an assault on the ears. But the album is structured in its noise. The tracks have steady, unfaltering industrial beats that oftentimes border on the verge of being rhythmic. Or at least, consistent. Pharmakon have always had a way of finding rhythms in pure noise, but this album does it more cleanly and more directly than before.

After Chardiet had to undergo emergency surgery before her first European tour, she began writing a more introspective work. This album is the result. It’s noticeable in the album covers alone – “Abandon,” with a pair of skinny legs (presumably Chardiet’s), covered in maggots, to this one – insides. This album is inside the body. Songs about health and the body. The title track has the repetition of the line “I don’t belong here,” coupled with laughing.

Both “Abandon” and “Bestial Burden” have bonus tracks, and they’re indicative of the albums themselves. “Sour Sap,” from “Abandon,” is a blistering 27 minute hell journey through screaming and pure white noise. But “Bang Bang,” on “Bestial Burden,” is the straightest song Pharmakon’s ever done. Sure, it’s about getting murdered, but it gives Chardiet a chance to actually sing, instead of screaming, and she has a pretty accommodating voice. The longest track on “Bestial Burden” is “Intent or Instinct,” at eight and a half minutes. Though longer than any of the non-bonus songs on “Abandon,” the album’s songs feel shorter. And they are – there’s more shorter pieces, instead of a few long ones. It allows the album to feel like a journey through the mind and body; a disturbing trek through a broken and disturbed being. Interlude “Primitive Struggle” is just a man coughing over an increasingly fast heartbeat – so simple, but so demanding.

To jump into Pharmakon, you have to know to expect screaming, slammed-down synth notes, and a perpetual feel of pure terror lurking around the corner. “Bestial Burden” takes an inward stance, and the result is more structured, but no less full-frontal. If “Abandon” challenged insanity, then “Bestial Burden” challenges injury. It isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s abrasive and brutal, almost palpable in its intensity. Industrial-noise is called so for a reason, and although the album might not be as immediately terrifying or numbing as “Abandon,” it is still confounding and abrasive, and only for the most committed and toughest listeners. Have fun picking through it, Pharmakon is here to stay.

If you like this, try: Spinning Death Grips records backwards or something, I have no idea.

-By Andrew McNally