Best of ’13 Extravaganza?

•January 16, 2014 • 1 Comment

Chance

Hi!

So if you listened to the first episode of Brad and I saying words as the Incompletists recently, you learned that we think hierarchical Best Of The Year lists might be antithetical to the open-minded way in which both of us are striving to engage with culture. So I’m not gonna do a big listmania thing on here like I have the past few years. But you ALSO learned that we think lists are a nice, harmless way for critically-minded folks like ourselves to recommend things to our friends, so that’s the mindset I had in creating a few Spotify playlists that attempt to capture my listening life this year.

You might already be following my “rolling favorites of 2013” playlist, which kept throughout the year as a running tally of songs I was “obsessed” with at one or more points during 2013. Not all of them came out in 2013, but I did fall in love with all of them for the first time this year. KEEP IN MIND that there’s a lot of stuff on there that isn’t on Spotify; it should show up greyed-out in the list anyway but I’m not all that confident about that.

I also hastily threw together a thing of albums I really liked and one of songs that reallllllly pulled me into their orbit. These playlists are in an order that very, very vaguely reflects how much I care about these things, at this specific moment in time. Take it with a grain of salt but know that the things near the top are the ones I’m recommending to you HARD.

The albums list ended up being 41 albums, which is more than I wanted/intended to have on there, but hey. More recommendations for ya! I’m very bad at being judicious about this kind of thing. 5 of those albums are not on Spotify but you should ¡ABSOLUTELY! not let that prevent you from hearing them — those albums are Run the Jewels’ self-titled, My Bloody Valentine’s m b v, Beyoncé’s self-titled, Jai Paul’s self-titled, and ESPECIALLY Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap. This is maybe my favorite album of the year and it’s a $FREEEEEE$ mixtape! Go download it!

The fave songs list ended up being 14 (fun numerical symmetry!); I’m counting Meek Mill’s incredible, heart-wrenching “Lil Snupe” diptych (pt 1 / pt 2) as one song. That duo, along with Chance the Rapper’s effervescent “Cocoa Butter Kisses” are the only ones on that playlist missing from Spotify. Animal Collective’s “Safer” came out back in 2009 but it meant a lot to me this year.

Go forth!

Mixtape – “Eastern Parkway”

•October 31, 2013 • Leave a Comment

eastern parkway

cover photo credit Cooper Hardee! cover design credit, me.

Hi! I made a mixtape of songs I’ve been listening to with steady to alarming frequency for the past few weeks as the weather has changed. Many of them could be said to possess “autumnal vibes” but that could be said of like, almost every song that isn’t “What Is Love?”, and pseudo-synesthetic music/season association is such a subjective kind of thing anyway. The other commonality is that I’ve had sort of A Special Moment with each of these songs as I’ve biked down Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights on my way home from work; hence the title. You should support all of these artists and buy their music if you like these jams, but you should ESPECIALLY support Alpenglow, who are people I like a lot and deserve your dollars. They just released their sublime debut EP, which you can listen to and buy HERE.

I would just make this a playlist on Spotify or whatever but I wanted to do some crossfading of the tracks to make this thing flow, so it comes to you as a zip file. Can u handle that? Just think of it as…an artisanal playlist. Many artisanal touchpad clicks went into making this nice handmade digital object for YOU. So unzip that thing and let the patient folk and gentle psychedelia wash over you.

Point your eyeballs at the tracklist below and download it HERE!

01 Animal Collective – “Guy’s Eyes”
02 Brendan Canning – “Plugged In”
03 Arcade Fire – “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”
04 Alpenglow – “Catskills”
05 Fishmans – “Part 5″
06 The Acorn – “Misplaced”
07 Houses – “Soak It Up”
08 Vetiver – “Can’t You Tell”
09 The Walkmen – “Lisbon”
10 Cass McCombs – “Everything Has To Be Just So”
11 Andrew Cedermark – “Memories, Ah!”
12 Mutual Benefit – “Advanced Falconry”

Kanye West’s next moves

•May 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Whoops! I refer to Kanye and Kim Kardashian as being married at least two times in here. Totes thought they were married. Turns out they’re not.

Pusha T’s “Numbers on the Board” clearly ain’t meant for radio play. But it’s been given the full kanyewest.com splash-page treatment accorded to last year’s mega-smashes “Mercy” and “Clique”, not to mention “N***as in Paris”, “Otis”, “Power”, “Runaway”, and other monoliths of yore. This prompted me to expect a bit more from the new track on first listen, and when Kanye (who produced the track, obvs) pauses the bizarre, minimal beat to drop in a sample from Jay-Z’s “Rhyme No More”, I felt a momentary thrill that the song would erupt into a fierce posse cut, with a middle verse from Jay, and Ye running anchor leg. Instead, it’s merely an interesting, accomplished, but relatively minor cut — certainly not the crossover smash that Pusha has ostensibly been searching for since Clipse went on hiatus, the one that elevates him from respected-sideman status into rap’s current pantheon.

I didn’t quite know what to make of the release, presuming it to be one of those increasingly common “for the fans” press bump/mp3 dumps (like Jay’s “Open Letter”, released earlier that same day), but then last week I saw the video:

First, there’s the fact that they made a full-fledged video, which you don’t do for the one-off you drop on Soundcloud that never gets an official release. And the video itself — which, like the song, is strange, spare, and assembled with subtly masterful timing — communicates a thrilling sense of dread. With Pusha stunting like a demon, it has the feel of a nightmare, or more accurately, one of those slow, haunting dreams where even the most mundane image oozes foreboding. (This is a thing, right? I had one of these the day before Hurricane Sandy rolled in that still gives me chills when I recall it.) That foreboding left me feeling excited about forthcoming hell-ward moves in Kanye World; the cameos at the end of the video — from Kanye and, more tellingly, Chief Keef — mark it as not merely an unusual single, but rather an artistic beacon of what’s next for Ye and, by extension, his most closely-associated G.O.O.D. Music underling, Pusha.

If this seems like overreaching, well, it probably is. But aren’t we having fun playing detective? And, lest we forget, West is a man who long ago mastered the art of building hype for an album, an extension of his incredible ability to build a compelling, multifaceted, immortal pop star persona for himself. (He’s been doing this self-mythologizing from the get-go…but maybe you’ve forgotten, because when was the last time you listened to The College Dropout‘s interminable origin story “Last Call” all the way through?) He’s incredibly meticulous and controlling about how every extratextual detail feeds into a specific artistic vision. Yes, this includes his notorious award show outbursts, dick pics, unfathomable fashion choices, etc.

I’ve always argued that he’s more aware than he’s given credit for of how exactly his seemingly impulsive behavior has built him into the utterly engrossing pop star that he is. I’d feel silly arguing that September 2009’s Taylor Swift Incident was Kanye’s way of kicking off an album cycle for a record that wouldn’t be released for over a year, but look how perfectly it set him up to play the underdog leading up to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy‘s November 2010 release: the teary apologies on Leno, followed by the eight month exile. Then, kicking off an unstoppable run of free weekly singles in June with “Power”, not to mention the insane twitter account, the “living painting” video, the short film, on and on. Why not follow your worst impulses, as he often has in his public life, when they fit so neatly into an emotional narrative that reads like great fiction? Even when a mediocre album like Cruel Summer (which was great when he appeared on a song a disastrous when he didn’t) retroactively deflates some of a hype campaign’s grandiosity, his intuitive control of that hype is undeniable.

With Kanye’s ironclad grip on pre-release album details in mind, let’s look at some more clues. Oh boy! First, there’s Album Six’s bonkers list of rumored collaborators: unsurprising inclusions like Odd Future, 2 Chainz, John Legend, No I.D., The-Dream, Malik Yusef (formerly Mos Def), and Hudson Mohawke. Skrillex and Daft Punk bring the WTF factor. And, perhaps unsurprisingly (as they share a home city), but most tellingly, Chicago drill scene standouts Chief Keef, Young Chop, and King L. That “I Don’t Like” remix that closed out Cruel Summer was a mess, but it’s exciting to imagine how Kanye will graft drill music’s nihilistic minimalism onto his typically maximalist style. The inclusion of dance music producers indicates he’s favoring bleeps and bloops over MBDTF‘s lush analog trappings (funny, considering Daft Punk just took a gigantic leap in the opposite direction). The exposure we’ve had to his new material, while incredibly limited, confirms this hypothesis: peep the murky Vines taken by A-Trak and Jaime King at the Met Ball, and the slightly-less-murky video of new material dropped into a Hudson Mohawke set in Poland:

Most of all, there’s the thrilling video from a couple months back of Ye closing out a show by screaming like a man being burned alive and hurling the mic down on stage at the end of “Touch the Sky”:

Some, I think, viewed this video as the source of a good LOL, but I find it quite powerful. It reminds me of the primal scream therapy Lennon injected into Plastic Ono Band on “Mother” and “Well Well Well”. Yes, I’ll grant that it’s a bit counterintuitive for us plebs to imagine that men like Lennon or West, who ostensibly “have it all”, can feel such overwhelming loneliness and anguish. But this disregards the obvious fact that those emotions are a huge part of what makes their art so compelling — not to mention it denies their basic humanity — so I don’t really understand why anyone ever gripes that such feelings are unreasonable or surprising, coming from the uber-famous. In any case, A-Trak’s Vine assures us that visceral screaming will play some role in the new album, as does this quote from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter on their visit to West’s Paris studio: “It was very raw. He was rapping — kind of screaming primally.” In case it’s not clear, this is GREAT news.

Oh wait, I started this off talking about a Pusha T single, didn’t I? It’s not as if I don’t care about My Name Is My Name: I’m a huge Clipse fan, I’d love to see Push produce a work more coherent than the spotty Fear of God and Wrath of Caine mixtapes, and I’d really love to see an undiluted purist like him cross over to real-deal tier-one rap superstardom, though I fear it’s unlikely.

But Kanye is Kanye. Why am I currently writing thousands of words that have been solicited by absolutely nobody? Because Kanye, that’s why. And Pusha being Ye’s G.O.O.D. right-hand man, it stands to reason that his upcoming album will be at least somewhat aligned with Ye’s vision. Both “Numbers on the Boards” and lead single “Pain” reaffirm this.

Back to Yeezy: his original education-themed trilogy of albums aimed to cover a great deal of stylistic and thematic ground, and succeeded almost universally. But it’s useful to think of 808s & Heartbreak (which closely followed the death of his mother) as the turning point in his career: with that album, he became singularly devoted to exploring a void at the center of the human heart that no amount of money nor adulation can fill. Ever since that left-turn of an LP, he’s been trying to access that raw darkness from different angles. In 2009, he turned away from Auto-Tune and seemingly tapped into a previously undiscovered vitality as a rapper, stealing the show with every guest appearance he made (see: “Run This Town”, “Maybach Music 2″, “Knock You Down”, “Kinda Like A Big Deal”), up until the VMA debacle. With MBDTF, he used excess to express a nihilism and a loneliness greater than anything he had communicated before. (“Runaway”‘s dying-robot denouement leads directly into “Hell of a Life”, which is followed by the schizophrenic internal monologue of “Blame Game”. Bleak shit.) Watch the Throne — being, as it is, an album fundamentally about bromance — made some more room for good times, but it marks the beginning of West’s interest in “street”-inspired sonics as a way to access that rawness. Which brings us up to Cruel Summer, which I’ll mostly choose to ignore, with the exception of the aforementioned “I Don’t Like” remix.

Let’s talk about Chief Keef for a second. By now, you know the story: in early 2012, a nascent rap scene arises out of Chicago’s staggeringly violent South Side; Chief Keef releases “I Don’t Like”, which promptly blows the fuck up; controversy ensues. Inserting Keef into the “Numbers on the Board” video as a sort of spiritual talisman may seem incongruous: what could a 17-year-old from impoverished Englewood possibly have in common with Kanye West, who jets around the world on a whim and debuts songs at fashion shows or Facebook’s headquarters and marries Kim Kardashian? Well, the spiel on “I Don’t Like” goes that an inner-city male like Keef has already been so numbed by violence that he’s too apathetic to even hate – he merely doesn’t like. That’s a nihilism more all-consuming than anything Kanye could ever capture; Ye can only ever, will only ever care SO MUCH. But in trying to wrench his own darkness out of the depths of his soul into the daylight, for all the world to see, I imagine Kanye is drawn to the soul-deadening sentiment expressed in “I Don’t Like”. Whether or not drill’s influence is evident in the new album’s sonics, I imagine it’ll provide one of its primary philosophical tenets.

Presumably, married and with a baby on the way, Kanye has more reason to be happy than he’s ever had — so why now dive further than ever into the abyss? Well, for one, he’s an artist exploring a theme; people seem to have a harder time separating artist and IRL human being in music than in other media, and this is even more true with rappers, due to the genre’s often-autobiographical nature and, let’s face it, some underlying racist assumptions. We can never know the true nature of Kanye West’s inner life (though he willingly makes it more available to the general public than most figures of his stature), but let’s just pretend that we do know for sure that all the rage and anguish expressed in his music are his truest feelings. Doesn’t that make for some truly fascinating art, for one of the most beloved musicians of all time, married to a famously beautiful woman, obscenely wealthy and infinitely respected by his peers, to feel nothing but contempt for the world around him? Think of “So Appalled” and how it took the world of ultra-wealth and made it sound, hypnotizingly, like a soulless, apocalyptic wasteland. Observe, in the mic-slam video, how he takes the formerly triumphant “We on top of the world!” from the end of “Touch the Sky” and makes the top of the world sound like the loneliest, most desolate place in the universe. “I Am A God” is rumored to be the name of the song debuted at the Met Ball; Mount Olympus actually did sound like a pretty terrible place to be a lot of the time.

“Why would I pity a man with the unfathomable hubris to name a song ‘I Am A God’?” is the final hypothetical question I will insert in my imaginary contrarian reader’s mouth. Therein, I answer, lies the crux of what has made Kanye so exciting from day one: his egotism and his anguished self-doubt form a perfect ouroboros, feeding off each other infinitely. What begets radical egotism if not an unkillable self-hatred? Anyone who writes off Kanye for being merely egotistical (which, like, why do you care if someone whose actions will never impact your life is egotistical, especially if it makes their art more interesting?) is missing out on his career-spanning examination of the nature, origins, and consequences of egotism. If the album’s a dud (always a possibility) or if it espouses nothing but good vibes (not really a possibility), then I’ll look like a fool for writing this already foolishly long missive. But I have my hopes up that he’s about to take us on one of the most thrilling journeys yet into the muddy depths of his soul.

P.S. I wrote this on Wednesday night, and the word on the webs is that Ye is playing a private show at Roseland tonight, so we’ll probably know more by the time this is posted.

Best of ’12 Extravaganza

•February 7, 2013 • 2 Comments

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TODAY: 11 Favorite Albums of 2012, 38 Also-Favorites and 54 Almost-Favorites
SOON: 11 Favorite Songs of 2012 and a Spotify Playlist with a Bunch of Other Songs That Are Also Really Good
ALSO SOON: 11 Favorite Music Videos of 2012 and a Very Long List, Longer Than I’m Willing to Count, of Other Music Videos That I Like (I Watched a Lot of Music Videos This Year)

Welp, a month and change late, I’m raising The Ashtray Says from the dead to humbly present to you my favorite musical things of 2012, in groups of 11, because it’s a way more fun number than stodgy old 10, don’t you think? My 11 favorite albums, unranked, followed by two more tiers (“love” and “almost love”) of great albums, presented alphabetically. 11 favorite songs (also unranked), with a link to a Spotify playlist containing 74 more songs that got under my skin in a serious way at some point this year. And 11 favorite music videos (you guessed it, unranked), followed by a very long list of other great videos you could peruse if you’re really trying to kill some time.

I’m presenting these favorites in a format both more condensed and more sloppy than I have in the past two years, because instead of burning myself out on the process, I’d prefer to use this listifying as a way to ramp up back into music writing in 2013 after a rather long hiatus. And, in my mind, it’s better to do this a month into the new year, when you’ve had some time to sit with the year’s music, than to do it in late November, a ridiculous deadline that most major music publications seem to have adopted.

So, why leave everything (relatively) unranked? I mean, obsessing over numerical rankings can be fun (for nerdly nerds like myself), but let’s face it — on an individual level (versus, say, a magazine’s voting system), it’s pretty thin facade of objectivity. Love for music (or any cultural work, obviously — but music especially, I tend to think) just doesn’t work that way; if I re-ranked the albums on my 2010 and 2011 lists today, the order would be utterly different. And also, like, priorities, right? That shit takes a long time.

I almost considered not putting anything at all together this year, because listening to music with the intention of slotting it somewhere into a list in the distant future is a pretty silly habit. But fortunately, a few members of the small but loyal group of people who pay attention to these blobs I write specifically requested it. (These are people I know we’re talking about here, I’m not trying to say I got, like, emails about this. Ha.) My buddy Ryan, in particular, was adamant that I do this, and it was his birthday a few days ago, so happy birthday Ryan, hope you enjoy it.

Favorite Music Videos of 2012

•February 6, 2013 • 2 Comments

Commence youtubing:

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Dan Deacon — “True Thrush”

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Favorite Songs of 2012

•February 5, 2013 • 5 Comments

Without a lot of jabber from me, here are the 11 songs that seem to be my favorites from this year. At the end, you’ll find a link to a Spotify playlist filled with many other songs that made a big impression on me this year. And a handful of songs I loved can’t be found on Spotify, so I packaged them up in a .zip file, if you’re interested.
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Anaïs Mitchell
“Young Man In America”
from Young Man In America

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Favorite Albums of 2012

•February 4, 2013 • 3 Comments

Here you have it: my 11 favorite albums of the year, presented alphabetically. After that, a bunch of albums that I loved almost as much as these 11, followed by another group whose minor flaws caused me to love them only slightly less.

Yes, I really did listen to enough music this year that there’s more albums I heard that don’t appear than those that do. And that is not, in any way, meant to be a boast — in fact, I think it’s a pretty silly thing to do. But I love trying to expose myself to the full spectrum of the music people are making every day, and seeing what sticks, so I’ll probably continue to do so.
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Anaïs Mitchell | Young Man In America

As silly as my reason is, I have to admit to a bias, or at least a sort of favoritism, when it comes to Anaïs Mitchell. Our connection ends at the fact that we both attended Middlebury College, but her approach to songwriting feels akin to something I love about the spirit of Middlebury’s approach to academia. Her songs, and their relationship with folk tradition, are heady but organic, intellectual but still soulful, reverent of history but not anti-modern.

I’ve been following her career for years, hoping she’d begin to get the attention she’s received this year in the wake of this beautiful, deserving record. With her ability to take a scholarly approach to old fashioned musical forms & idioms and imbue them with personal insight and unique character, each song speaks unequivocally to the present moment — even when their events ostensibly take place in a bygone time. Add to that the newfound ease and confidence apparent in her already interesting voice, as well as a stunning arranging and recording job, and you have Young Man In America, a folk record for the ages.

>>>Check out: “Young Man In America”, “Ships”, “Shepherd”, “Venus”, “Annemarie”

Continue reading ‘Favorite Albums of 2012′

 
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