Franz Ferdinand’s Always Ascending was one of my favorite records of 2018. As its name implies, it provided some much-needed uplift. You can’t underrate the spirit lifting value of some good, snappy, tight rock songs. Franz Ferdinand long ago proved that they’re about as deep … Continue reading Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow
It’s time to take stock, yet again, of the year past and – yep! – it was a shitty one. I don’t know where we go from here, but I suspect it’s nowhere nice. In the meantime though, we can enjoy the one upside to witnessing the fall of civilization in real time: the myriad ways all that angst and turmoil can be fueled into art.
1. Negative Capability – Marianne Faithfull
In a world burning with senseless violence and Orwellian horror, what we really need is to hear from one of the Summer of Love’s last survivors. The survivor’s place, it seems, is a lonely and sorrowful one. Faithfull laments the passing of old friends, she laments the fear that haunts our time, she admits that her own faith in love is deeply shaken. Did she really need a third re-recording of As Tears Go By? Yes, as the song’s melancholy deepens with the singer’s voice. Did the pagan feminist anthem Witches’ Song need to a revisit? If it means throwing Nick Cave into the mix, absolutely yes.
2. Always Ascending – Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand proves, as they have been for years, that all anyone really needs is killer hooks, killer riffs and great stovepipe trousers. FF are rock dandies who could have been early-60’s mods, 80’s New Romantics or 90’s Cool Britannia lads – their brand of crunchy rock and swaggering attitude is that timeless, whether or not they choose to add synthesizer arpeggios or just lean into the three-guitar format. When you’re handsome and clever, the whole world’s an afterparty.
3. God’s Favorite Customer – Father John Misty
For a change, FJM is actually one of the less depressing entries on the list. His last album, as much as I loved it, was far from bright. He must have gotten tired of gazing into the abyss; this time he’s looking at his own celebrity lifestyle, and finding it absurd and amusing. His humor has always been one of his most appealing qualities, and it’s nice to more focus on that, rather than the total failure of all mankind. The vibe wouldn’t be out of place on the record charts in 1972, and that’s high praise.
4. American Utopia – David Byrne
How did David Byrne, long one of rock’s great neurotics, become a self-appointed champion of “reasons to be cheerful”? He set himself the challenge of writing only optimistic songs, making it the theme of his last tour and of this album. That may feel counterintuitive in these trying times, but Byrne, when he’s not being acerbic, has always known just how much joy a good pop song can incite. Cheerful doesn’t have to be boring or earnest, either – in these hands it’s gratifyingly bonkers, from the wordplay to the herky-jerky tempo changes (so reminiscent of his famous dance moves.)
5. Tell Me How You Really Feel – Courtney Barnett
Like me, you were probably waiting eagerly to see how Courtney Barnett, the grandmaster of turning the most intimate and mundane of everyday things into clever and insightful pop poetry, would develop as an artist now that she’s world famous. I was expecting a lot of songs about hotels and airports. Barnett, however, is several levels above that. She’s ready to tackle the whole fucking world and the constant battle of living in it as a woman. From walking in the park to appearing on television, being a female person is a constant confrontation with danger, and Barnett is taking none the bullshit that comes with the territory.
6. High as Hope – Florence + the Machine
I fell in love with Florence Welch for her baroque aesthetic. Her lyrics evoked mythology classic and pagan, her productions shied away from no harp solo. But more than anything else, it was always about the voice. This time, she sheds most of the theatrics and focuses on the very real. Even the most magical witch person struggles with bouts of self loathing, faces heartbreak and leans on her own role models for inspiration. Those are the personal revelations Flo is ready to make, turning her voice and gift for drama towards the intimate. Every artist has to strip down to the roots of what made them become an artist in the first place.
7. I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life – Tune-Yards
If you were listening to a lot of indie radio in 2014, you’ve probably heard Water Fountain by Tune-Yards, and you may have dismissed it as a novelty song. However, Tune-Yards is no novelty act, but an avant-garde musical project. Their new record is, indeed, boundary-pushing and just plain weird, in the best possible way. It’s also inspired by the state of the world we’re in, so file it under the ever-growing and trending banner of angry feminist protest art.
8. Little Dark Age – MGMT
The world needs MGMT. They’ve had some creative ups and downs since their moment of peak success in 2008 (my god, has it really been so long?) It’s hard living down a big hit, especially when you never set out to be hitmakers in the first place, but it seems like MGMT have made their identity with or without oceans of hype. They just make really catchy, sometimes trippy, sometimes snarky, always recognizable tunes. Eccentricity should always be this much fun.
9. Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt – Moby
Moby is another artist who outlived his moment at the top of the Zeitgeist, who kept working and evolving slightly below the big-hitmaker radar. He was never the pop star type, anyway. His music reflects his mild-mannered persona: just a regular guy who loves animals, cares about issues and thinks about his place in the world. And composes music that ranges from ambient to uptempo, music that’s been equally melodic and melancholic lately, but ultimately positive in spirit.
10. Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae
This is the year Janelle Monae went from acclaimed outsider to for-real superstar. This is one of those albums that will be remembered as a definitive part of its cultural moment. Not just a good record that fans enjoy, but an important record that contributed to the conversation far beyond the confines of one fandom. It’s been a year when artists like Monae – women, women of color, queer women of color, et al. – who used to be relegated to the dusty ghetto of ‘special interests’ swung into the center of the conversation and announced that their voices would be heard whether the gatekeepers liked it or not. And then it turned out that everyone did like it, and can we have more of this, please?
11. Shake the Spirit – Elle King
In 2015 Elle King’s Exes and Ohs was the gleefully naughty bad girl anthem of the year. Then she disappeared. Was she going to be yet another promising young artist lost in record label purgatory or burned to death by the insane strobe lights of fame? Almost. She lived the shooting star trajectory that should take decades – hype, hits, rock bottom, rehab, comeback – in just a few years. Being a bad girl is tough, it turns out, and Elle King is here to tell you just how much. It’s the insecurity, the desire to be liked at war with the urge to rebel, the judging eyes of others, the thirst for more thrills, the wild ups and downs of it all that make the tough girl who she is. Elle King is the bottle-blonde, zaftig floozy with the heart of gold that every girl who’s ever been slut-shamed can relate to.
12. Isolation – Kali Uchis
Kali Uchis is the surprise big pop breakout of the year. She is the standout in a dense field of young pop divas with obscurely exotic names: Rita Ora, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, Sky Ferreira, etc. etc. Kali Uchis can outsing each and every one of them. Her voice is way better than any mere pop star’s needs to be, and her music, while unmistakably heady pop sugar, draws on her Colombian background with touches of salsa and Reggaeton, and also harks back to the girl groups of Motown and the breezy sound of 70’s soft rock, among a myriad other influences. It is so refreshing to hear a pop record that’s this fun, smart and diverse. Is this the new Shakira?
13. Castles – Lissie
Lissie has somehow, inexplicably, been flying under the radar, although she’s been making records since 2010. In that time she has consistently delivered smart songwriting, powerful vocals and a down-to-earth sensibility. Once again, she doesn’t disappoint. She knows how to write a good pop hook, but she also leans into 70’s-style country rock influences. Her vocals can be folksy or tinged with gospel. Her approach to the commonplace topics of love and heartache is levelheaded and honest, revealing emotion without resorting to sentimental cliche – as befits an artist who chooses real life over glamorous artifice.
14. Remain in Light – Angelique Kidjo
When Talking Heads incorporated African beats into their post-punk rock music on their 1980 album of the same name, it was many Americans’ first introduction to what we know know as ‘world music’. When Angelique Kidjo emigrated from Benin to Paris in 1983, she heard her first Talking Heads album and felt instant recognition. She understood the unbroken musical lineage that connected the folk music of Africa to modern-day rock and roll, and grasped that Western audiences were open and hungry to rediscover rock’s African roots. Now, so many years later, she pays homage to that culture-bridging moment and the record that made her feel that the European world was open to her and her music. And it’s far from being an exercise in nostalgia: Kidjo makes every song relevant in entirely new ways. When Kidjo sings “All I want is to breathe” it’s a whole new message with a whole new context.
Who said drum solos were passe? I’ve never yet had the fortune to see Franz Ferdinand live – it’s on my bucket list – but it’s clear from any number of clips that they’re mighty fierce on stage. And if they haven’t evolved much in … Continue reading Outsiders
If this song makes me feel one thing, it’s the thrill of the hunt. This is a sexy modern classic, doing what sexy songs are meant to do. That is, making things that are dreary sound like an absolute blast. And when I say dreary … Continue reading No You Girls
“Beautiful boys on a beautiful dance floor…”
Sexiest song ever. Or one of, at least. In a long time. And of course, the gayest song by a very straight-presenting band ever. Because handsome men in skinny black pants singing about other handsome men in skinny black pants is just about as universally appealing as anything I can think of, including kittens. Am I right? AMIRITE?? But seriously, this appeals to me on so many levels. One, great song you can dance to, obviously, by a very handsome group of men in skinny black pants. Two, lusting after sexy boys is something a lot of us can relate to, but remains mysteriously undeserved as a topic. Lust is, of course, on of the biggest topics for songs, but it’s still overwhelmingly directed at women, often in a horribly skeezy manner. Non-heteronormative desire hardly ever gets any airplay, and when it does it’s usually presented with a heaping platter of stereotype that makes it easy to make fun of and then dismiss. Not since the binary-challenging heyday of the glitter gods has there been such a matter-of-fact declaration of bisexual appetite. Franz Ferdinand have made an outstanding contribution to the small pool of straight-boy-gay-sex-desire representation in pop music. Not quite as career-torpedoing as it would have been back in the day, but still taboo enough to raise eyebrows.
To make up for the long absence, a near ten minutes of Franz Ferdinand guitar pyrotechnics. You’re welcome. Although Franz Ferdinand haven’t really evolved as much as I would have liked to see them do, they remain an always-welcome source of great party music.
Franz Ferdinand have mastered the fine art of the anti-romantic love song. Not to be confused with an anti-love song or a hate song. Love songs that don’t follow the usual rules of love songs. Ambivalent love songs. I guess you could say they have kind of a brusque laddie attitude towards lovey things. But without any hateful or offensive undertones, which are such a common scourge upon pop music. It’s kind of an interesting, honest approach to writing about relationships, and it’s refreshing to visit that zone in between boinga-boinga sexy and lovey-dovey syrupy sweetness. (With lots of bisexual references.) These guys deserve an honorable mention for intelligence in pop music.
Franz Ferdinand have been out of the loop so long I’m beginning to suspect they’re not the cool thing anymore. You have to keep constantly doing stuff if you want to stay hip. These guys have been promising to deliver a fourth album for about three years running. It’s an encouraging sign that they toured last year and even debuted a couple of new songs. Perhaps the new album will materialize sometime this year. It will be about fucking time if it does. Franz Ferdinand was one of the most important bands in the great rock’n’roll revival of the 2000s, but they haven’t bothered much about keeping themselves in the spotlight since then. They need to come out with something great, lest people forget or dismiss them.
Franz Ferdinand. One of the best rock bands of our times, no? Anthemic, high-spirited, cheeky, and hot. Everything you want, right? Lots of bands play well, and a few write catchy songs, but who many do it with flair? Flair is important, people. Personal style, musical style, a well-honed sense of image, self expression… Here, a keen lesson in how to make a visually arresting video armed with little more than greenscreens. I am continually excited about the nebulous prospect of a new album. May it be. Soon.
As usual, some dumb person who ruins everything tells me this song is about taking heroin. Why everything has to be about taking heroin I don’t know. Or why ‘fade’ is an approved term for various getting-high type activities. Though it does sound like he’s singing about getting high. What your youth counselor told you notwithstanding getting high together is a great way to bond with your object of desire. Just doesn’t necessarily have to be heroin. Even humble old alcohol will do in a pinch. So long as the vestibules of perception are opened you’re good to go. Then you can feel like you’re communicating on a higher level. But you gotta be careful who you choose as your copilot. I’ve had cases where I got absolutely blitzed with someone only to realize we were not on the same trip at all. It really harshed my buzz, dude. But you know what, I bet this song isn’t in any way referring to substance abuse of any kind. It’s probably about staying up too late watching TV. What would the boys of Franz Ferdinand know of shady illegal things? Would a good,clean, wholesome rock band like them ever dream of such a thing? I refuse to believe it. Ha ha, that was sarcastic. It’s totally about taking heroin.