Spell

I’ve been told that today is a holiday of some kind, celebrating outmoded hetero-normative ideations of romantic love, or sex in exchange for overpriced chocolate if you’re a being a realist about it. Clearly, this calls for a love song, and nobody writes love songs like Nick Cave does. Some people may find it disturbing, or unromantic at the very least, that a lot of Nick Cave’s love songs are also murder ballads. In the world of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, if you’re in love, you’re very likely to kill or to be killed about it, which… well, have you read the news lately? People really enjoy doing murder, apparently, usually male on female. Reading into the way we talk about “romance”, how we define it, and what actions we associate with it, we see subtextual patterns of implied violence and the implicit normalization of abusive behavior. The humble murder ballad is simply that same violent subtext, writ large and explicit. Perhaps, in the service of essential truthiness, murder ballads are the only real and true love songs. There is, of course, a middle ground between the insipid and the bloody, a way of writing about love without anyone dying, and yet without being willfully obtuse about the subject.

Speed Bump

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Well, I don’t know what more I can say to recommend this album, except, you know, it’s one of my favorite records of the decade. I expect that this kind of blissed out electropop will fade out pretty soon. I mean, there’s still people out there making EDM records with bass drops and they sound pretty cringe nowadays. Like, yeah, we all collectively became obsessed with dubstep for about 18 months, and that was probably one of the defining moments of the decade for a lot of people. But nobody wants to relive that. I do think that electropop is different, and hardier, if only because its success wasn’t linked to MDMA usage. What I’m saying is, I’m most likely on the brink of becoming a crotchety old person who wants them damn kids off the lawn, for still listening to records that came out in 2012, and it’s going to be a while before there’s a new generation coming up who wants to listen to and make music that sounds like it was made in 2012. But when it’s 2035, and your cyborg offspring are rediscovering the misty recesses of the 2010’s, this is going to be one of the records they swoon over.

Spectrum

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I want to inhabit Florence Welch’s world. It’s rich in tapestries, gold filigree and lace. There are also tempests and drownings to watch out for. And apparently the queen has an entire corps de ballet at her command. If lifestyle magazines are any indication, the real-life Florence has infused her gypsy faerie queene aesthetic into every corner of her domain, including but not limited to an antique claw-footed bathtub. Of course, she also has a stock of dragon gold and the benefit of collaborators like David LaChapelle to help her vision look its very best. But one can dream of living a similarly aesthetic-driven life.

Sparrows Will Sing

I like a little doom with my pastoral visions of chirping birds. Marianne Faithfull and Roger Waters are two artists who can’t envision a sunny day without an air strike on the horizon or a frolicking child without a tragedy to come home to. They’ve collaborated before, with Rogers writing songs for Faithfull, and she appearing in his stage production of The Wall. It’s a meeting of the minds, those two. She also likes hanging out with Nick Cave. Obviously, Faithfull is a lady who gazed into the abyss and the abyss gave her a fist-bump. Her last string of albums have been a mix of thoughtfully chosen covers and equally thoughtful originals, always exploring with both wit and wistfulness our collective 21st century blues. This track was written by Waters, and in very suitable fashion, makes a hat-tip to Lewis Carroll sound like something with much darker implications than a children’s rhyme.

Sparrow

Another gorgeous wave of dreampop from Savoir Adore. Their album Our Nature is one of my favorite records of the past decade, and probably the best example of dreampop as a genre, nebulous as it is. I haven’t listened to what they’ve done since they lost their original female vocalist. When you’re a duo, you can’t just replace your singer and pretend like it’s still the same band. Well, at least they’ve got the legacy of having made one great album.

The Spark That Bled

A Flaming Lips concert is a cynicism-free zone. With cynicism-free zones becoming increasingly endangered, if you should ever have the chance to see a Lips show, you should definitely jump on it. They have a great light show. Also, confetti and balloons like you’ve never seen. But mostly, what they have is a collective faith that all you need is love. All you need is love, an open mind, faith in humanity, some LSD and a shit-ton of balloons. That kind of positive spirit must be hard to hold on to, as artist and as a person, over decades, but the Flaming Lips have managed to stay weird, in the best possible way.

Space Boots

It’s not very often that we get a truly weird and weirdly fruitful experimental meeting of totally disparate minds, like when a former Disney teen drops a buttload of LSD and becomes – for one night only! – the lead singer of a veteran psychedelic band. Lots of Disney teen queens have fallen on drug-fueled times, and it’s usually an ugly cautionary tale. Miley Cyrus, it turns out, actually does her best work with unicorn cum all over her face. Never in a million years would anyone have predicted that chipmunk-faced Hannah Montana would make one of the best records of the decade, as an honorary Flaming Lip, no less. She jumped straight into her Sarah Lynn phase; it looked like it would be all gratuitous sexuality, blunts, bad tattoos and maybe an early death, but damn, she found whatever inner door it is that allowed her to be a creator rather than just a performer. Good for her.