BEST OF… JANUARY 2015

photo by Ryan Patterson | via Spacebomb Records
Natalie Prass | photo by Ryan Patterson | via Spacebomb Records

Well, that was a doozy! January is usually the month where film production companies and music labels take a step back, recharge their batteries, and get ready for a furious marketing push to sell their products during the next eleven months. While the motion picture industry certainly held up their end of this bargain in January (exception: American Sniper) record labels forgot where we stand in the yearly cycle. Lucky for us! Because this was one of the best years for January releases in quite some time. There were releases expected (Sleater-Kinney, Panda Bear), releases slept-on (Låpsley, Viet Cong) and releases no one was ready for (Björk). It all adds up to a stellar thirty-one days that will be hard to top. I’m looking forward to February through December’s efforts to prove me wrong.

This is a round up of the month’s best songs and albums, all in alphabetical order. While it’s fun to make charts and all, I’ll wait a little longer before I declare any one artist the true champion of the month. There are simply too many winners. Continue reading “BEST OF… JANUARY 2015”

CURRENT: Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrian At Best”

If there was any takeaway from Courtney Barnett’s 2013 release A Sea of Split Peas, it was that Barnett is undeniably one of the most charming, interesting songwriters of the 2010s. For those who slept on that release, “Pedestrian At Best” is as good a place as any to initiate a rapport with the Australian singer-songwriter.

The song is loaded with urgency, with electric guitars noticeably hijacking the acoustic strums of her 2013 release. But it is Barnett’s quick wit and deft songwriting ability that positions “Pedestrian” as a highlight in a month full of blinding successes. “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” she self-deprecatingly sings. But beneath the playful wordplay is a sinister core, as Barnett sings, “I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny.” Ouch.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit is out 23 March via House Anxiety/Marathon Artists, and a day later in the U.S. through Mom + Pop.

CURRENT: Torres – “Strange Hellos”

Torres burst onto the scene in the dead of winter 2013 with the stunning “Honey” and her debut self-titled LP. Her return has been much anticipated around this corner of the internet, and the first taste of Sprinter (out 5 May via Partisan) is cause for much celebration.

What begins barren and sparse transforms into a live-wire, shooting sparks in every direction. The song is bigger, darker, stronger than anything on her stunning debut, showing us an artist growing up in front of our eyes. As the song reaches its peak, MacKenzie Scott growls, “I was all for being real, but If I don’t believe, then no one will / What’s mine isn’t really yours, but I hope you find what you’re looking for.” We’ve all had to fake it at some point, and soon enough we’ll all reach a breaking point. Consider “Strange Hellos” Scott’s attempt to build herself back together.

CURRENT: Calexico – “Cumbia de Donde” [feat. Amparo Sanchez]

Calexico return with the first single from their forthcoming Edge of the Sun LP, “Cumbia de Donde.” The band wear the Spanish influence on their sleeve, with the horns and percussion recalling a mariachi band’s lively exuberance. Joey Burns and Calexico respond to vocalist Amparo Sanchez’s verses with Spanish incantations, asserting the song’s ethnic charm. Calexico gives their audience a glimpse of another worldview on songwriting with “Cumbia de Donde.” But when Sanchez sings, “I’m not from here, I’m not from there. Where am I going, Should I care,” it doesn’t get more universal than that.

Edge of the Sun is out 14 April through Anti-/City Slang.

CURRENT: Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds”

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Rihanna and Kanye West are no strangers to controversy. That’s why it makes perfect sense for the pair to release the sublime “FourFiveSeconds.”

The song works on many levels, from the understated production, the compelling lyrics, to the song’s main attraction: Rihanna. She delivers one of her best vocal performances, fully living within the song world she built with Kanye West and Sir Paul McCartney. “Just trying to make it back home by Monday morning,” she sings on the chorus. “I swear I wish somebody would tell me, that’s all I want,” she concludes. With so many people outraged over her relationship choices and her not being the role model they demand her to be, “Seconds” is Rihanna at her most sincere.

Kanye West opens his verse by singing, sans-Auto Tune, “I woke up an optimist,” before the world cruelly reminds him of his status. On “FourFiveSeconds” the trio try a little tenderness, try to recapture that optimism. While they succeed in that regard, they make the more crucial distinction that they’ve had enough of your shit. Luckily, they’ll keep on playing anyway.

CURRENT: Charli XCX ft. Rita Ora – “Doing It” (A.G. Cook Remix)

Sucker snuck into the 2014 release calendar when it dropped in late December. The timing took some shine off the True Romance follow-up, but the album is still packed with great moments from one of pop’s best voices.

Highlight “Doing It” first got a makeover when Charli enlisted Rita Ora for the single version of the track, and now with PC Music’s A.G. Cook turning the song into a SOPHIE-esque jam. Luckily, both remixes help flesh out “Doing It”, pushing the themes of female empowerment and unbridled revelry to their logical conclusions. More significantly, both work because of the original’s obvious charm. “It’s been a long time, since we’ve been around / So come on, let’s keep doing it like we’re doing it now,” she confidently sings on the chorus. Charli XCX has a lot of reasons to celebrate. Now, she has friends to party with.

CURRENT: Giorgio Moroder ft. Kylie Minogue – “Right Here, Right Now”

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As much as modern EDM is indebted to Giorgio Moroder, he was largely relegated to the margins of the movement until Daft Punk helped revitalize his image on their excellent Random Access Memories.

Moroder returns this spring with the new, awesomely titled 74 Is the New 24, featuring collaborations with Sia, Charli XCX, Britney Spears, and, on “Right Here, Right Now,” the ageless Kylie Minogue. The song celebrates with a nod to the disco era, which fits well over Minogue’s embracing, magnetic vocals. The romantic tone of the lyrics is punctuated by Minogue singing, “There’s nowhere else but right here, right now.” It’s as much a love song to a romantic flame as it is to Moroder’s enduring legacy and his influence on dance music, past and present.