San Francisco

Is Foxygen satirizing sixties’ psychedelic rock extravagance or earnestly making an homage? Either way, they’ve recaptured it with uncanny precision. I suspect sincerity. There’s no need for satire when your subject is a genre that faded decades before your birth. Not to mention that a lot of the best psychedelia was pretty dang close to self-parody anyway. Foxygen manages to sound exactly like the work of some long-forgotten band whose performance at Monterrey Pop ended up getting cut from the documentary. Yes, it’s silly – a lot of sixties music was silly and self-indulgent – and that’s intensely endearing.

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Salty Sweet

I like my pop songs like I like my snack foods… or vice versa? There’s a joke in here somewhere. Anyhow. Congratulations if you remember this from 2013. That was the year I was listening to indie radio every day, and Ms Mr were all over it. Exciting times. I don’t know if maybe that was actually the peak for this particular brand of college-radio pop, but it does seem like a lot of the promising stars of 2013 are spinning their wheels now. Or it could be that everything just feels like it’s dragging because we live in a time of implied instant gratification that never comes. We want the next thing to happen right now because we’ve become used to the lightning speeds of the internet, but people aren’t actually moving any faster. We’re still getting more or less the same amount of sleep and it still takes the same twenty-four hours to get through a day. We’re not even that much more entertained.

Safe and Sound

Capital Cities are kind of an anonymous musical unit, starting with their nondescript name. The duo are former commercial songwriters who met through a Craigslist ad, presumably under the gigs section, but who knows maybe it was the m4m. The one with the beard is a Syrian national of Armenian descent, so you know he has valid cultural reasons for looking like that and is not entirely a hipster; the other one doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page. Lack of prominent personality aside, though, Capital Cities did make one pretty great record, and at least a couple outstanding music videos. Their names and faces may not count for much, but these songs stick in the brain.

Sacrilege

Raise your hand if you miss the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I know I do. I might be alone among purists, but I thought that Mosquito was their best record. Not everybody wants to hear their favorite punk rock band progress to recording with a gospel choir, but I live for that kind of fearless growth. I love a bold experiment even when it doesn’t succeed, and this one succeeded very much. I also think that you can’t underestimate the power of a well-placed gospel choir, and this is one of the best uses of one I’ve ever heard. I mean, it’s both totally apropos and kind of ironic. That’s musical growth, great production, total fearlessness, what have you.

Royals

Remember when an outsider from nowhere made a song mocking music video cliches into a chartbuster anthem of millennial angst? That was Ella Yelich-O’Connor, age 17, of Aukland NZ aka Lorde. Lorde is a real, grown-up pop star now, a major player in the music industry, a professional with a promising career ahead. She’s an insider now. Nothing she does from here on out can compare to how cool and fresh and unexpected her first big hit was. We’ll be talking about this song as a cultural flashpoint when we look back on the decade.

A Rose by Any Name

The first time I heard this song was in concert and I was both thunderstruck and confused. Where was this song from and how had I missed it? I thought I knew every Blondie album through and through. I though it sounded like it might be from the Rapture era. It turned out, of course, that I couldn’t place the album because it didn’t exist yet. It’s quite the honor, at this late date in history, to hear a new Blondie single directly from up on the stage. The point made being that Blondie still has a direct pipeline to the creative spirit that gave them their most euphoric hits. This certainly could have been right at home on one of their 80’s albums, when Blondie was a hit-making machine.

Ribs

If Lorde is still playing music when she’s actually old enough to worry¬† about ‘getting old’ the songs that made her famous will have an entirely different context. The petty concerns and posturing of youth, which the music industry is almost entirely built around, are notoriously difficult to outgrow, even for artists who were at least technically adults when they established themselves. Lorde came to fame as a teenage prodigy; outgrowing the material that made her famous will be a particularly hard challenge. Lorde is 21 now and just released her second full-length album. As a legal adult writing about breakups and life in the spotlight, she’s going to be sorely tested to keep her voice as fresh and original as it was when she was a precocious adolescent writing about getting on her first plane. How she makes her way remains to be seen, but she is gifted beyond her years and the ball is hers to drop. If she never matches the angst and innocence of her first set of songs, she’ll surely do something equally interesting.