The final quarter of 2014 began with a bang, as Panda Bear and Sleater-Kinney(!!!) announced their respective new albums (due in 2015) with the release of incredible singles. Tinashe made good on the promise of “2 On” with a stunning debut, while Run The Jewels continued to demonstrate their importance to modern day hip-hop. But the month, of course, belonged to Taylor Swift. There hasn’t been a release this publicized since Beyoncé’s secret release a year ago, and like that one, 1989 is pretty great.
BEST TRACKS (October)
1. A$AP Rocky, “Multiply” (feat. Juicy J)
2. Ariel Pink, “Black Ballerina”
3. Caribou, “All I Ever Need”
4. Chvrches, “Get Away”
5. Drake, “How About Now”
6. Flying Lotus, “Dead Man’s Tetris”
7. Foxygen, “Coulda Been My Love”
8. Katie Rush, “Dangerous Luv” (feat. Samantha Urbani)
9. Lorde, “Yellow Flicker Beat”
10. LUH., “Unites”
11. Panda Bear, “Mr. Noah”
12. Parkay Quarts, “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth”
13. Pix, “A Way To Say Goodbye”
14. Run The Jewels, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”
15. Sleater-Kinney, “Bury Our Friends”
16. Taylor Swift, “Clean”
17. Tinashe, “Bet” (feat. Dev Hynes)
18. Tove Lo, “Not On Drugs”
19. Viet Cong, “Continental Shelf”
20. Zola Jesus, “Hunger”
ALBUM OF THE MONTH
Taylor Swift’s shift towards a full-embrace of pop music was hardly shocking; her country hits have been crossing over to Top 40 for nearly a decade now, with her last album, 2012’s Red, featuring her most explicit tangling with Top 40 musical tropes yet. “Shake It Off” and “Welcome to New York”, two of three pre-release singles from 1989, are instantly two of the most unabashedly Top 40 tracks in her repertoire, yet luckily are outliers in the context of her new album. As much as those songs might ingrain themselves into your pre-frontal lobe, the relentless optimism of the tracks had some listeners worrying Swift was using this new musical outlet to explore the worst tendencies in pop. Instead, 1989 is Swift’s most intense record, as more often than not Swift cleverly uses her pop constructs as a gateway to examine the darker parts of her psyche and public persona.
“Bad Blood” features a singalong chorus reminiscent of “Shake It Off”’s bridge, but whereas on “Shake It Off” she brushes aside her critics, on “Bad Blood” she’s unapologetically confrontational. “If you’re coming my way, just don’t,” she venomously spits, verbally drawing a line in the sand.
Earlier, on the melodic “Blank Space”, Swift plays the same role she did on tracks such as Speak Now’s “Better Than Revenge,” although she makes much more interesting choices this time. She’s a “nightmare dressed like a daydream,” a point she drives home as she innocently coos “I got a long list of ex-lovers / They’ll tell you I’m insane.” In her earlier recordings, there weren’t many gaps between her lyrical content and musical choices. 1989, on the other hand, is full of contradictions. There’s an element of danger to a majority of 1989, due largely to Swift’s stunning vocal performances, which find the singer at her most urgent.
“Style” possesses a confident strut, but there’s a heavy dose of hesitation to her vocals when she sings, “I’ve been there, too, a few times” on the pre-chorus. There’s an interesting implication there; if being crazy is to do the same thing multiple times and expect different outcomes, then what does that mean for love? Is there a difference between the two? On “Out of the Woods”, she relives a horrifying, under-the-radar ski accident, and when she asks “are we out of the woods,” she knows what she wants to hear, yet how unlikely that response is.
Musically, Swift largely forgoes the prevailing pop trends of 2014; there’s no trace of DJ Mustard minimalism, of Tove Lo’s bombastic thrust or Ariana Grande’s playful exuberance. Instead, elements of Chromatics (on “Style”), Haim (“I Wish You Would”) and Jessie Ware (“This Love”) help create an album with depth and countless memorable moments. And for all the elements she borrows from her contemporaries, the finished products are undeniably marked with Taylor Swift’s imprint.
The bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of 1989 offer some of the best moments from these sessions. “Wonderland” finds Swift stretching her vocals to impressive lengths, her performance alluding to the collaborative efforts between Rihanna and Sia.
“New Romantics” is just as celebratory as “Welcome to New York” or “Shake It Off,” but there’s a strength in “Romantics” not even “Off” can match. “I could build a castle / From all the bricks they threw at me,” she sings on the chorus, embracing her detractors for the strength they inadvertently give her. “The rumors are terrible and cruel, but honey, most of them are true,” she sings, taunting her critics.
Then there’s “You R In Love,” a stunning ballad that perhaps best encapsulates the 80s’ sound she’s going for. It’s the quietest moment on the album, and Swift uses the sparse musical surrounding purposefully. “You can hear it in the silence,” she sings, letting the silence actually become a part of the song, turning it, as she does with her various life dramas, into captivating art. “You understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars, and why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words,” she sings in one of her most candid moments ever. As Caribou and Jessie Ware showed us earlier this month, love is an emotion that is ripe with musical possibilities, and as these artists prove, can be expressed in a multitude of ways.
On 1989, Swift shows a remarkable understanding of the public perception of Taylor Swift, what that name means to a general scale; more importantly, Swift appears to have a firm grasp of the artist she truly is, the one the public doesn’t get to see everyday. In lesser hands, 1989 would come across as a calculated, bloodless creation; but thanks to Swift’s ability to add humanity and personality to her compositions, this is the most vital collection of pop songs of the year, along with her best album to date. “Loose lips sink ships all the damn time,” she bitterly admits on highlight “I Know Places”. “But I know places we can hide,” she sings on the chorus, careful not to reveal where those places are. Because as much as we like to think we know about Taylor Swift, there’s always something else lurking behind the corner.
other notable releases.
Caribou, Our Love
Ex Hex, Rips
Flying Lotus, You’re Dead!
Iceage, Plowing Into the Field of Love
Jessie Ware, Tough Love
Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels 2