Sunday, January 25, 2015

White Album Redux #6: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

White Album Redux is an ongoing series in which I share notable or unusual covers of songs on The Beatles' White Album, one track at a time. 

Because the first part of the White Album includes such accessible, well-known songs as "Dear Prudence", "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", it can be easy to overlook how weird the rest of Side One is. "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" may be the strangest of them all.

Lyrically, "Bungalow Bill" includes a shout-out to Captain Marvel, oblique imagery, and an irreverent singalong chorus. Musically, it's not as unhinged as "Wild Honey Pie" - its immediate predecessor on the record - but it does feel like the band throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Trombone by way of Mellotron! Yoko Ono singing lead for a single line (and the only time this happens on a Beatles song)! Flamenco guitar! (There's a defiantly strange and unabashedly Beatles-influenced song called "Giant's Rolling Pin" on Tori Amos' newest album, and I can't help but suspect "Bungalow Bill" is one of its direct ancestors.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, professional covers of this song are few and far between, so it took some digging to find one that was notable enough for inclusion. Deerhoof's cover fits the bill. It's an off-kilter, sped-up rendition that still, thanks to Satomi Matsuzaki's cheery vocal performance, finds an unexpected balance between eccentricity and sweetness. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

25 Best Albums of 2014: #25 to #16

As with my list of best songs, it was very difficult to determine which twenty-five albums would make up this year's list. These are all records that had an impact on me in 2014, not only from current favourite artists but from new discoveries as well, and each deserves its spot here. Enjoy!

Honourable Mentions
Anjani – I Came to Love
Charli XCX – Sucker
Jessie Ware – Tough Love
John Southworth – Niagara
Mariah Carey – Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse
Sharon van Etten – Are We There
The Both – The Both
Yann Tiersen – Infinity

25. Future Islands – Singles
Singles doesn’t quite have the same immediacy and kinetic energy as the band’s now-legendary performance on Letterman, but the sweep and enthusiasm of the songs on this record is hard to resist.  

24. Wake Owl – The Private World of Paradise
The Private World of Paradise manages to evoke ‘60s folk-rock without feeling particularly derivative. A fine debut full of shimmery textures, anchored by frontman Colyn Cameron’s earnest vocals.

23. Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust
VanGaalen’s latest takes a few songs to figure out what kind of record it wants to be, but once it does, it establishes itself as one of the strongest, most gut-wrenching singer-songwriter releases this year.

22. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Trading in the beats and synths of Born to Die for a live band may be the best creative decision Del Rey ever made. A singularly hypnotic, deeply cinematic album, especially on “Shades of Cool” and “West Coast”.

21. Beck – Morning Phase
Morning Phase isn’t Sea Change 2.0, and it doesn’t need to be – it’s one of Beck’s most engrossing records to date, with a moody, string-laden atmosphere grounded by strong songcraft.

Head below the fold for albums #20 to #16.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

25 Best Songs of 2014: #15 to #1

You can read Part 1 of my Best Songs of 2014 list, including tracks by Future Islands, Sam Smith, FKA twigs and Run the Jewels, here. 

15. Hospitality – “I Miss Your Bones”
On “I Miss Your Bones”, Hospitality trades the wistful, NPR-approved pop of their debut for something more angular and aching. One of the year's unlikeliest choruses. 

14. Jenny Lewis – “Head Underwater”
Sublime backing vocals and instantly memorable guitar help make “Head Underwater” one of the most vibrant, and vital, songs Jenny Lewis has ever made.

13. Lana Del Rey – “West Coast”
Del Rey’s decision to swap her synths and beats for live guitar and drums ensures that even in its more languid moments, “West Coast” never drags. Del Rey truly comes into her own on this hypnotic, smouldering song. 

12. Nicole Atkins – “Girl You Look Amazing”
A playful Talking Heads homage, cautionary tale, and killer pop chorus all together in one undeniably hooky package.

11. Angel Olsen – “Forgiven/Forgotten”
"Forgiven/Forgotten" is an album's worth of conflict packed into two potent minutes, and demonstrates Angel Olsen's brilliant use of contrasts more than any other song on Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

Head below the fold for songs #10 to #1. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

25 Best Songs of 2014: #25-16

I had a very difficult time choosing the songs for this list, as demonstrated by my larger-than-usual Honourable Mentions section, but each and every one of these 25 tracks deserves their place as among the best songs released in 2014. 

Honourable Mentions
Anjani – "Song to Make Me Still": Few poems set to music work as well as this one. 
Hilary Duff "All About You": The first folk-pop song I've heard in years that actually has blood flowing through its veins. 
Imogen Heap – “Telemiscommunications” (ft. Deadmau5): Imogen understands both sides of the equation when it comes to technology better than any other artist. 
Jessie Ware – “Tough Love”: The highlight of a very strong sophomore release. Effortless and gut-wrenching at the same time. 
Pomplamoose – “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”: Proof that Nataly Dawn can, in fact, smile. 
The Both – “Milwaukee”: The breath of fresh air both Aimee Mann and Ted Leo needed. 

Special Jury Prize: The Bird and the Bee ft. Matt Berninger – “All Our Endless Love”
After years of rumours they were recording a followup to 2009’s Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, the Bird and the Bee – Inara George and Greg Kurstin – returned this year with “All Our Endless Love”, a song for the film Endless Love notable on its own merits. Matt Berninger of The National is an inspired choice for featured vocalist: not only do his baritone and George’s alto blend surprisingly well together, but his presence gives a cosmos-sized ballad necessary gravitas.


25. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
In its recorded form, “Seasons” doesn’t have the same emotional impact and immediacy as Future Islands’ performance of the song on Letterman, but if there was a better candidate for a purely sweeping, pulse-pounding anthem in 2014, I didn’t find it. Slow Club’s pared-back rendition was one of my favorite covers released this year.

24. Coldplay – “Magic”
After the Technicolor rush of Mylo Xyloto, the simplicity of “Magic” comes as a breath of fresh air. Kudos to the band for writing a song with a skeletal structure that still feels expansive and ingratiating.

23. Mariah Carey (ft. Nas) – “Dedicated”
Mariah Carey’s new album didn’t quite live up to the expectations created by its terrific advance singles; regardless, it was an intimate, warm, cohesive record from an artist who could very well have gone down the path of soulless dance hits instead. “Dedicated” best represents The Elusive Chanteuse’s aesthetic – it’s a song with not only the easygoing feel and flow of a casual conversation but wall-to-wall hooks. Why this wasn't released as a single still puzzles me.

22. Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”
Yes, the Darkchild version with Mary J. Blige got all the Grammy nods, but Smith’s emotional delivery and the song’s gospel-influenced chorus make “Stay With Me” arresting on its own, even without Blige’s support.

21. Jay Rock – “Pay for it” (ft. Kendrick Lamar and Chantal Kreviazuk)
The year’s second late-night TV success story, “Pay for It” opens with a jaw-dropping, powerful solo by co-writer Chantal Kreviazuk (who, after years of success in Canada and co-writing with a bevy of pop stars, finally gets her due) and only gets better from there. Both Kid Rock and Kendrick Lamar show off their stunning delivery – Lamar very nearly steals the show here, as he did on Saturday Night Live.

Head below the fold for songs #20-16. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

24 Best Albums of 2013: #10 to #1

You can read the previous two parts of my Best Albums of 2013 list here. 

10. Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
Ghost on Ghost is in some sense a continuation of the adult-alternative sound Sam Beam cultivated on his previous records The Shepherd’s Dog and Kiss Each Other Clean, but it also calls to mind the rawer, more acoustic work for which he first gained renown. Songs like “Grace for Saints and Ramblers” and “Lovers’ Revolution” are vibrant and passionate, full of detail without feeling overcrowded. Others, such as “Low Light Buddy of Mine,” so perfectly evoke the atmosphere and intimacy of a late-night jazz club that you can almost smell the cigarette smoke rising from ashtrays.

9. Beyoncé Beyoncé
I tend to like and admire Beyonce’s music rather than actively love it; individual songs have grabbed me in the past, but her records have been too uneven as a whole. Therefore, I was surprised to find that this record, which Beyonce refreshingly declared should be listened to as an album and not as an iTunes playlist, was a remarkably cohesive and rewarding work. Even in its lesser moments, Beyonce is still exciting and engaging.

8. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
The Worse Things Get is Neko Case’s most challenging record – it forces the listener to reconsider their idea of who Case is and the music she makes. Those expecting an album’s worth of fist-pumping anthems will be disappointed. Those who know the full extent of Case’s range will find an album full of piercing insights and irresistible lyrical collages.

7. London Grammar – If You Wait
I hadn’t heard of London Grammar until I read a glowing review of If You Wait on a pop culture website I greatly respect, so I had high expectations of the band’s debut, and wasn’t disappointed. London Grammar – Dot Major, Hannah Reid and Dan Rothman – have crafted an album that stands among such records as Stars’ Set Yourself On Fire as a chronicle of what one article about the band called the “quarter-life crisis.” If You Wait is more accomplished than its peers, however, and its best songs, including “Strong” and the astonishing “Wasting My Young Years,” achieve a remarkable sort of timelessness.

6. Haim – Days Are Gone
There’s no doubt that Haim owes a substantial debt to Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles among others, but Days Are Gone manages to wear its influences on its sleeves without coming across as mere pastiche. It's impossible to know whether we'll be talking about Days Are Gone a year from now, but if “Falling,” the sophisticated kiss-off “Honey & I” and the impeccable pop of “Don’t Save Me” are any indication, we’ll still be talking about Haim.

Head below the fold for albums #5 to #1. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

24 Best Albums of 2013: #20 to #11

This is the second part of my Best Albums of 2013 list. The first part, containing albums #24 to #21, can be read here. 

20. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
I hadn’t paid any attention at all to Chvrches before The Bones of What You Believe was released, so the album took me somewhat by surprise; I went in expecting little more than catchy dance-pop and found a resonant and frequently moving record instead. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry, who could be Emily Haines’ kid sister, brings unexpected darkness and depth to the exhilarating rush of “We Sink” and “The Mother We Share.”

19. Kanye West – Yeezus
Yeezus is not the easiest album to love, or even like; indeed, the most preferable way of listening may be to hold it at arms’ length. The only real way to listen to this record, however, is to engage with it on its own terms, and it’s then that you realize how emotional, irreverent, startling, contradictory, bizarre and deeply personal Yeezus is.

18. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Despite Random Access Memories’ technology-inspired title and its creators’ strict adherence to anonymity (as the controversy over a helmetless photo of Daft Punk on Twitter last year illustrates), it’s actually one of the most personable records released last year, with a willingness to experiment and an excellent lineup of collaborators. 

17. Lorde – Pure Heroine
I wouldn’t go so far as to label Pure Heroine as “anti-pop” (by which I mean the opposite of pop, not a criticism of the genre), but its relatively short length, unfussy arrangements and overall sense of restraint made Lorde’s debut a change of pace from the occasionally overindulgent records put out by many Top 40 artists this year.

16. She & Him – Volume 3
With Volume 3, Zooey Deschanel once again proves her status as one of the most underrated songwriters working in indie pop today. The originals on Volume 3, along with a few well-chosen covers (including a poignant rendition of "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me"), show a further refinement of the blend of '60s pop and country that has always characterized Deschanel and M. Ward's work. Deschanel's enviable gift for breezy yet insightful lyrics and earworm choruses is on full display in such highlights as "Turn to White," "Something's Haunting You" and the rollicking "I Could've Been Your Girl."

Head below the fold for albums #15 to #11. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Best 24 Albums of 2013: #24 to #21

2013 was an exceptional year for music – not just for one or two genres, but for music, period. So many artists released so many great records that it became impossible to listen to everything, and what one listened to largely depended on one’s own personal tastes. I spent most of the year with indie-rock and -pop records while indulging a long-time passion for folk music and Americana. There are quite a few albums I know I missed, and while I feel some regret that I didn't get to them, well, that's what 2014 is for.

Honourable Mentions:
Federal Lights - We Were Found in the Fog
Josh Ritter - The Beast in Its Tracks
Los Campesinos! - No Blues
Nataly Dawn - How I Knew Her
Royal Canoe - Today We're Believers

24. Diane Birch - Speak a Little Louder
Diane Birch’s first album Bible Belt was widely acclaimed as not only one of the most assured debuts of 2009 but also for the way Birch incorporated influences from the ‘70s singer-songwriter pop of Carly Simon and Carole King into her own fully-formed aesthetic. Four years later, Birch has returned with Speak a Little Louder, a record still grounded in the music of her debut while owing more of a debt to Elton John and Hounds of Love-era Kate Bush. This stylistic shift, to her credit, doesn’t sound like selling out – rather, it feels like a natural evolution from one of this decade’s most promising young artists.

23. Brendan Canning – You Gots 2 Chill
The first word that comes to mind when I think of You Gots 2 Chill is ‘mesmerizing.’ Brendan Canning has constructed an intricate record that still feels organic, as the oddly danceable "However Long" and the quiet intimacy of "Late Night Stars" aptly demonstrate. Easy to dismiss as ‘bedroom music’, You Gots 2 Chill becomes more compelling with each listen.

22. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
Thankfully, despite its lengthy and complex origin and development, Sky Ferreira’s debut was worth the wait. The best songs on Night Time, My Time are remarkably perceptive; they’re potent distillations of the messiness within the human mind and heart.

21. Laura Veirs – Warp and Weft 
Singer-songwriter Laura Veirs is one of American folk music’s best-kept secrets. She’s been releasing consistently strong records over the past decade – her last two were the sublime July Flame (#7 on my 2010 best-of list) and the refreshingly unsentimental children’s record Tumble Bee  with increasing critical and commercial success. Warp and Weft, her eighth album, is one of her most eclectic releases yet, ranging from the Americana of “Sun Song” and “Shape Shifter” to the haunting, electric guitar-driven lamentation “Dorothy of the Island.” All in all, an excellent addition to Veirs’ already impressive discography.