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You are Beautiful and You are Alone: The Top Albums of 2013 December 30, 2013

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearend.
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Omission or overstatement is always a possibility, and year-end lists thrive in risks, in flaws and fallacies, in misjudgment and misplacement. They exist for these reasons. They conclude a year the same way desserts complete a meal, hence at first they must capture one’s attention, and when eaten must be satisfying, must be gone in only a matter of seconds, leaving the plate and the spoon clean. Well, at least, that’s the idea. And the ideal.

This personal list tries and fails, but it has always believed in trying.

Honorable mention:

II, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Beyoncé, Beyoncé

Carrier, The Dodos

Faint Hearted, Miles

Field of Reeds, These New Puritans

The Flower Lane, Ducktails

Hummingbird, Local Natives

In Focus?, Shugo Tokumaru

MCII, Mikal Cronin

The Messenger, Johnny Marr

Push the Sky Away, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Season of Your Day, Mazzy Star

Slow Focus, Fuck Buttons

Stories Don’t End, Dawes

Sunbather, Deafheaven

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen

amok

10. Amok
Atoms for Peace

Contrary to speculations, Thom Yorke has friends. Outside Radiohead the music he makes may not be totally different but it gives way to his lighter side, the gentler and warmer side of his that blooms when he’s not around his usual band mates. Amok is the first LP of Atoms for Peace, but it’s a record so sure of itself, so strong and steady that there’s something humorous in calling it a debut, especially since the people involved in making it are industry heavyweights. The sleekness of it is far from overpowering. One after another, the tracks move with seeming complicity and make sweeping gestures through minimal use of elements. Although it boasts a deftly polished surface, Amok also holds surprises for those who listen closely.

Recommended: “Default,” “Ingenue,” “Judge, Jury and Executioner”

hurryharm

9. The Hurry and the Harm
City and Colour

Although The Hurry and The Harm sounds more refined than Dallas Green’s previous records, to an extent due to the sophistication of its production, one thing hasn’t changed: his ace songwriting. This gift for lyrical flourishes is coupled with melodies that burst at the seams, turning melancholy fears into personal realizations, opening all doors and windows to let the air in. At one moment he sings, “I don’t wanna be revolutionary / No, I’m just looking for the sweetest melody,” and it sums up neatly what he has been doing all these years.

Recommended: “Harder than Stone,” “The Lonely Life,” “Commentators”

hmarks
8. Hesitation Marks
Nine Inch Nails

The surprise on Hesitation Marks is not its arresting quality, which is expected from almost every Trent Reznor release, but the reason for it. Yes, it’s an album heavy with textures and atmospheres, and its starkness is breathtaking, but there’s less force and fewer demons, less brutality and more tenderness, as shown on its softer rhythms and looser tunes that feel like musical fondues: tasty and scrumptious, forcing the listener to dance in glee. Older but definitely wiser, Reznor has so much more to give.

Recommended: “Copy of A,” “Came Back Haunted,” “Satellite”

twtgthiftmilu

7. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Neko Case

“This record was really autobiographical because my mind didn’t have room for anything else,” says Neko Case, referring to her latest album. And The Worse Things Get…, driven by the unforgiving power of her voice, the cruelty of its tone, and the burning clarity of her words, swells with the need to be let out, to be remembered less for its stories than for the emotional rawness they carry. Case is many things (a man, a tornado, a murderer) and shows many things (love, aggression, anger, loneliness, fear), and this record presents her at her most vulnerable, which is also her most beautiful.

Recommended: “Night Still Comes,” “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” “Afraid”

likeclockwork

6. …Like Clockwork
Queens of the Stone Age

The recording of …Like Clockwork is marked by difficulties: the departure of drummer Joey Castillo, Josh Homme’s near-death experience at hospital, and a slew of distractions that have found the band members in a state of ennui, trying to figure things out after several years of not being at the studio together. But there have also been welcoming changes and additions, namely the contributions of former members Nick Oliveri, Dave Grohl, and Mark Lanegan, and the collaborations with Trent Reznor, Alex Turner, and Elton John, among others. All these make it feel like it’s a colossal, mind-blowing record, but it isn’t, for it is propelled by confident restraint and resolve to focus on the music, which remains intense and crunchy without losing that boldness to tread on uneven terrains. Truth be told, there’s not much to say about …Like Clockwork, except that every second of it drips with goodness.

Recommended: “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” “If I Had A Tail,” “Smooth Sailing”

julia

5. Julia With Blue Jeans On
Moonface

It’s sad that Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, arguably two of the finest rock bands from the 2000s, are no longer around. But Spencer Krug—an overly gifted songwriter and crazy singer; a sufferer, a poet of immense talent, and a storyteller of mad predilections—always finds a way to free his work from himself, to find an avenue for his compositions. Leaving Canada for Finland, he continues making records as Moonface, and this year, having gone through many changes like the characters in his songs, releases Julia With Blue Jeans On, a tempered work compared with his previous records. Accompanied only by the piano, this album also happens to be his most heartbreaking: his excesses, instead of acting as flourishes, create a haunting effect, and his voice remains compelling, beer-friendly. The moment the album reaches its final seconds, the listener feels completely heavy, skeptic of playing it again, and that’s how it is with everyone.

Recommended: “Barbarian,” “Dreamy Summer,” “Julia With Blue Jeans On”

mbv

4. m b v
My Bloody Valentine

Who would have fucking thought? After 22 years, there’s no way that a fan, possibly in his teens or twenties when Loveless came out, can confront m b v without eagerness, without looking forward to basking in its shoegazing glory, without hoping to place his hands in its embers. Its mere presence is enough to move him to tears. And thankfully m b v leaves no room for disappointment—it’s a constellation that keeps on twinkling, a record so generous that it gives its listeners plenty of reasons to press repeat. It’s an album with a long and rewarding life, with a soul that never leaves. Once people get past the comparisons with Loveless, all that’s left is this huge gratitude to a band that has suffered a lot to deliver this astonishing piece of work.

Recommended: “She Found Now,” “Who Sees You,” “New You”

AM

3. AM
Arctic Monkeys

Record after record, Arctic Monkeys prove one important thing: their growth is never tiring. Suck It and See finds them in a difficult situation as it sets down what seems to be their total strengths as songwriters and musicians, and what comes next may pale in comparison. AM, however, doesn’t, and this is a noteworthy feat that owes to their willingness to develop their sound without losing the verve and vibe that have made listeners cling to them over the years. Driven by the band’s captivating personality and tracks that are too irresistible to ignore, AM simmers after every spin, and the whistle it makes is a reminder that good things may come to an end but that end sometimes connects with better things.

Recommended: “Do I Wanna Know?” “R U Mine?” “Knee Socks”

tnd

2. The Next Day
David Bowie

While listening to The Next Day one is tempted to find a moment when it wavers, when David Bowie, a pop icon who’s had many fits of inconsistencies in his career, loses grip and indulges pointlessly, but there isn’t any. It sounds so brisk, spontaneous, and spirited that it doesn’t feel like a comeback record, it doesn’t feel that Bowie has been gone for long, it doesn’t feel that words will do justice to its seeming lightheartedness, to its exhilarating moments. Bowie’s well never runs out of interesting ideas, and every time the bucket emerges, it brims with pleasant surprises. The Next Day stands as proof of this.

Recommended: “Valentine’s Day,” “I’d Rather Be High,” “Dancing Out in Space”

twfm

1. Trouble Will Find Me
The National

What the members of The National have been consistently doing since 2005’s Alligator is shape their experiences into beguiling pieces of music, and though most of them teem with anxieties and forebodings of fathers in their thirties and forties, they are likely to strike a chord with any listener who revels in exquisite descriptions of dark feelings, who sees humor in the mundane, and who has always imagined rock music mixed with gentle poetry. High Violet may be a tough record to follow, but Trouble Will Find Me, in its searing moments of inscrutable joy, marks an achievement that is impossible to overstate, a record that only confirms The National’s intolerable kindness, their unbearable and stubborn greatness.

Recommended: “Sea of Love,” “Graceless,” “Pink Rabbits”

stars

Stars
February 16, 2013
Metrotent

bparty

Bloc Party
March 22, 2013
World Trade Center

XX

The xx
July 30, 2013
NBC Tent

japandroids

Japandroids
August 19, 2013
Hard Rock Cafe

EITS

Explosions in the Sky
October 30
Samsung Hall

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Heart Locked Tight: The Top Tracks of 2013 December 29, 2013

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearend.
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pophaim

Let’s begin with a confession: the finest pop song of the year is not on this list. Haim’s “The Wire,” which blends exquisite songwriting and an oddly fantastic fusion of simple melodies, boasts a frenetic cadence that has a life of its own, a sumptuous tune that feels as natural as air, as carefree as a walk in the park. It wears the crown before this countdown starts.

But the Haim sisters exist on a different list, a list that I won’t even bother to make because that kind of list is already done by many. I believe the point of doing juvenile things like this is to let out a voice that would represent a person and not a collective, and that way it becomes less immature and more consequential, the meaning is carried from ears to fingers, from musical notes to descriptive words, seemingly intact.

So I’ve tried to come up with an equivalent list, one without “The Wire” but still satisfies me, a list guided by a familiar tone, and here it is.

kelly

20. “People Like Us”
Kelly Clarkson

There’s always something iffy about songs of empowerment, for they have a tendency to simplify and give too much credit to themselves. But perhaps the only important point is to make the sentiment believable. And Kelly Clarkson, who has been there and done that, who has been ridiculed for her size many times, who has been caught in an embarrassing situation with Beyoncé, who has starred in a god-awful movie called Justin and Kelly, who else but she can deliver a commanding anthem of rise? “People Like Us” is clear-eyed, straightforward, and pushy, qualities that also make it off-putting, but her voice has always been the highlight of her singles, her voice dictates the beat and tempo, her voice can definitely cause some damage. The formula of “Since U Been Gone” is still here, but the moment her voice lilts, there is no way one won’t be swept away.

fob

19. “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)”
Fall Out Boy

Save Rock and Roll is a decent comeback, and its lead single, whose title shows Fall Out Boy’s difficulty to veer away from their emo roots, gives them enough muscle to stay ahead of the game. There’s too much going on: the hand clapping, the thundering drums, Patrick Stump’s howling, the second voice, the glossy and brooding atmosphere. Yet this kind of extravagance sounds cohesive—these elements are integrated well to create a convincing whole. It’s only three minutes long, but the feeling of being in a stadium full of people stays for quite a while.

hanson

18. “Get the Girl Back”
Hanson

Despite featuring celebrities, the official music video for Hanson’s “Get the Girl Back” is far from reaching a million mark on YouTube—a number extremely unimaginable in this age of Justin Bieber and One Direction, when YouTube hits equate with marketability and eventual success—and this only means that the brothers can never be as huge as they used to be, regardless of the material they come up with. It’s sad, but at some point it also doesn’t matter—commercial success is something they have already experienced, and in this cruel business they’re actually quite lucky that their return as “grownups” is welcomed with more cheers than jeers. “Get the Girl Back” boasts a big band sound, which serves only to emphasize its pop-rock goodness, Taylor’s vocals, and the squeeze of juvenile love. It flaunts a straight up, rousing tune, loud and proud, no frills, nothing tongue-in-cheek. Just for Hanson’s return to the pop charts after almost 10 years, how can it be so hard to raise one’s glass to them?

2NE1

17. “Do You Love Me”
2NE1

Hooks are 2NE1’s best friends, and their entry on every year-end list accounts for their ability to unwrap old-fashioned melodies and rhythms and wrap them new. “D-O-Y-O-U-L-O-V-E-M-E” is a predictable come-on, but when followed by “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me like the way I love you babe?” it turns a drab assembly into an irresistible party, like a centrifuge that puts every item that comes near it in rotation. This is slight compared with their previous singles, but even its slightness can poke all the stimuli in one’s body and cause euphoria of inexplicable heights.

mariah

16. “#Beautiful”
Mariah Carey feat. Miguel

Mariah is a flirt but she’s the best flirt in town, this song seems to say, and its video, full of her booty shakes and vagina monologues, seems to say better. “Don’t stop till you thrill me, oh how you thrill me!” is something said during cunnilungus, but she gets away with it the same way she gets away with her lusty Christmas records: everything owes to the dynamics of her vocal package. Miguel showers her with adulations and she accepts every bit of it—I deserve all of them!—and something happens as they exchange lines, a spark almost imperceptible in the naked eye, a gentle flicker producing strong electricity, something that not even a cheap hashtag can taint. Unmoved by objectification and unfazed by Ariana Grande’s threats, Mariah simply holds her head (and boobs) high.

myjaps

15. “Bakit Ngayon”
Julie Anne San Jose

Julie Anne San Jose is that rare breed of Kapuso star who doesn’t come across as cheap and trying hard like most of her contemporaries in her station. She’s no fluke. The weaknesses of her songs manage only to show her range and promise, and single after single there always emerges a reason to like her. On “Bakit Ngayon” she clings to the sappiness of ill-timed love, on and on until it reaches that magical middle eight, when she repeats “Dumating, nagparamdam sa akin” four times, each to different effect. And all the feebleness of the previous verses has been worth hearing because of this bridge, as it manages to tie up loose ends through something so dull and dreary, so humdrum in fact, but she sings it as though her world were about to crumble, as though her life depended on that stupid feeling.

paramore

14. “Still Into You”
Paramore

Goddammit, it’s about that guy from New Found Glory! And it’s a profession of love, of all nasty things! But Hayley Williams, almost always in danger of becoming a second-rate Avril Lavigne, is gifted with oomph, with a sparkle of youth that transforms her words into contagious glee, with a voice that over the years she is able to use with flair. It’s hard to find fault with “Still Into You,” for it’s a song driven by genuine emotion. Its candor allows its lyrics to flow flawlessly, and its chorus is cooked to perfection. The moment Hayley shouts “I should be over all the butterflies!” the song becomes a balloon that bursts suddenly, and the sound it makes brings a vibe of celebration: confetti, colors, candles, cake. It’s ridiculous, but what kind of love isn’t?

1D

13. “Best Song Ever”
One Direction

It’s easy for some people to conclude that most love songs ruling the charts these days are fluff: hits that speak of almost the same thing, hits that take up so much space and offer nothing of value. This judgment is reasonable, but fluff, even at its slightest, is subject to various conditions, which make it interesting. Take the case of “Best Song Ever.” Its composers are accused of ripping off The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” and though the similarities are blatant, the song becomes reduced to such reputation, which is a shame because it’s a single that does not aspire to be anything but be a One Direction song: a formidable piece of fluff, a pastry full of marshmallows. Parts of it are vexing, providing the boys more dead-ends than possibilities, but it’s the moment they are after, a silly fraction of a moment that happens in the chorus, a half-minute of unadulterated pleasure that puts a new spin on feeling blissfully stupid. The emphasis is on the adverb, of course.

littlemix

12. “Move”
Little Mix

Listen to “Wings” and “Move” alternately and there’s this difference between them that’s hard to articulate without reaching a contradiction. The disparity is both subtle and glaring— subtle because they sound almost similar, the group’s distinguishing melodic chops are exhausted on both, though upon closer inspection, it feels as though they were separated by long years, while in fact it’s only 15 months; glaring because the vocals on “Move” are more confident and graceful, the transition between singers more evenhanded, the dynamics among the girls tighter and snappier. “Move” moves in different directions, possessed, happily intoxicated. It’s a banger in the tradition of Girls Aloud and Sugababes, and these young X-Factor ladies take pride in managing to stand alongside these fantastic female groups. Their common denominator? The British fondness for risky song structures. Little Mix? More like Little Minx.

daniel

11. “Nasa Iyo Na Ang Lahat”
Daniel Padilla

Failure to acknowledge this hit gives the impression of denying, or even invalidating, the curious case of Daniel Padilla, particularly the hordes of fans who shower him with affection, and to whom a meaningless gaze from him is enough to send them to the mental ward. One fascinating facet of his popularity is that he evokes the peculiarities of a Korean star, from his image of vanity and virility to the way his mere presence prompts screams, which is a welcoming development as far as pop culture phenomena are concerned. His ode to Kathryn Bernardo, “Nasa Iyo Na Ang Lahat,” describes his personality aptly: it’s cute, juvenile, and silly, which means that it is intended only for those who like him. It may not age well, for it gets tiring after multiple listens, but it’s a song that knows the moment, a song whose effect matters only at present, the unreasonable here and now, a comforting reminder that good things don’t leave too soon.

katy

10. “Roar”
Katy Perry

Katy Perry doesn’t want to see you be brave. Unlike Sara Bareilles, she doesn’t offer any piece of advice or words of inspiration. She doesn’t tell you that “you can be amazing” or “you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.” That’s not her shit. That’s too churchy. Instead, she talks about herself—me, me, me, me, me—all for the sake of self-congratulation. But Katy has the ability to deliver clichés with exultation. She has the knack for debasing her personal experiences and enjoying it. She must have fallen asleep every time Russell Brand had one of those long discourses on politics, but she managed to catch the keywords for her personal use—rhyming “tiger” and “fire,” “lion” and “champion,” “zero” and “hero”—thereby producing “Roar” and its enjoyable display of narcissism. Perfectly assembled, cleverly foolish. It’s bullshit to call it a song of empowerment, made even more obvious by its facetious video, but it’s proof that charming songs, like attractive people, are hard to resist.

abra

9. “Ilusyon”
Abra feat. Arci Muñoz

Gloc-9 has been on top of the mainstream rap scene for years, so it’s only about time that someone takes his place to offer something new, that is, to have someone interpret clichés differently. A firecracker onstage, Abra fits the bill—he’s younger, bouncier, freer. In this business where everything that sticks out is scrutinized, his height seems to go unnoticed, overridden by his comely face and briskness. While “Gayuma” announces his arrival, “Ilusyon” confirms his stay. Its rallying cry, “huwag niyo ‘kong gagawing tanga!” captures the fury and resentment of dissatisfied people, a society drowned in poor options and bad choices. His rants are ear-friendly: they do not ask for sympathy; they are meant to make his listeners nod. And all the way through “Ilusyon,” one can’t help but submit to his words, enjoy the rhythm of his tirades, and feel the clutch of its shiny refrain.

thicke

8. “Blurred Lines”
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. and Pharrell

So many things have been said about “Blurred Lines,” from the ecstatic reviews prior to its massive success to the scathing comments after the release of its music video, not to mention the 10-paragraph diatribe by Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield that only highlights the song’s infallible appeal, but they all boil down to the basic truth that, indeed, up to this century, sexism sells. And when chauvinism is bundled nicely, when it’s delivered by good-looking men with money, compromise arises, and people get divided by the complexity of their sensibilities. The funniest thing about this whole kerfuffle is that the only person who has been able to break Robin Thicke is Miley Cyrus at the VMAs—she gives him what he wants, she twerks and sticks her tongue out, she makes him nervous, she makes people realize the utter filthiness of being objectified—yet what happens? She is disgraced and becomes the slut icon. People have shamed her for standing up to him. Congratulations, society.

Yes, “Blurred Lines” is misogynist, indecent, and reckless. It is conceived by men who enjoy trivializing women; it is a song that actually understands its message and the impact it will have on listeners. And all of these are already clear at the onset, therefore making it an even more cunning piece of trash. And not to put too fine a point on it: it’s a pop song—teenagers dance to it at parties, it gets blasted at malls and supermarkets, people no longer give a fuck about its lyrics but continue to be carried away by its sonic luxuries, its “modern” beat, its “homage to Marvin Gaye.” Even the need to put words and phrases between inverted commas is its fault. Who says popular music is only about earning money? Obviously it can shake the ground like this.

GG

7. “I Got A Boy”
Girls’ Generation

At some point on Girls’ Generation’s “I Got A Boy” one is tempted to exclaim: Huh, what’s happening? Clearly it’s a song that takes pleasure in defying conventions—it’s messy, ambitious, and confusing; its transitions are loose and bumpy; its hooks sometimes out of place. But one is easily swept away by its demeanor, the way it takes pride in its arsenal of snappy verses, the way the beats keep up with the girls who have no time for lyrical costume changes. In five minutes the song is able to travel places, to enter an arena and exit a cave, to go on a trip with only the senses moving. It’s berserk. It’s magnificently careless. Second after second, “I Got A Boy” looks for rules to break and the girls do so with knives between their knuckles, like characters from a Takashi Miike movie about to run amok.

daftpunk

6. “Get Lucky”
Daft Punk feat. Pharrell

This won’t be an assessment of “Get Lucky” because at this point one is already resigned to its refreshing brilliance, one doesn’t feel the need to discuss why in this industry full of surprises and inconsistencies it is embraced with no questions asked, one listens to it without hesitation and understands every bit of sensation it brings, the effortlessness of its groove, the kindness of its beats, the grace of Pharrell’s presence, the wisdom of Nile Rodgers, the way Daft Punk continue to reinvent their music without changing it, how any annotation on every year-end list does not affect its actual worth, because the song itself is beyond the usual critical appraisal, and sometimes that’s a good thing, for it makes one realize that melodies have the capacity to hold magic, and it’s one of life’s wonderful gifts better left unexplained.

lorde

5. “Royals”
Lorde

“I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh,” and upon uttering these cold words Lorde makes her entrance, her voice a few steps ahead of her body, her voice more naked than her flesh. She’s 17, she’s from New Zealand, and this is her first record. One is not compelled to decipher her: what she gives is enough. She is straightforward: there is only fog between her lines, nothing with obvious shape. Even the success of “Royals” is unsurprising: all her producers have to do is release it, show her face on the video, and let her sing. The odds are in her favor. Singing about her insecurity has made her secure, has probably allowed her to afford the luxuries she mentions in the song, which is a funny twist of fate but also inevitable. “Royals” provides a sharp contrast to the noise and disorder that permeate today’s music, and it proves that it’s possible to simply come out of nowhere and rule.

ariana

4. “The Way”
Ariana Grande feat. Mac Miller

Brenda Russell lends the piano riff that kicks off “The Way,” and it not only sets a distinctly chirpy mood but also complements the texture of Ariana Grande’s thin voice. This backing track is the red lipstick to her soft lips, the bounce to her walk, the frills on her dress. Her initial delivery of the chorus can either be a hit or a miss, and she hits it, graciously. But she holds on to that riff only to gain momentum after Mac Miller’s twaddle—the moment she delivers her breathtaking verses she untangles herself and sprints, light on her feet, exhilarated by freedom. She pronounces every word with delightful flirtatiousness, singing as though she had to choose between holding the crown on her head and holding her skirt that’s being ruffled by the wind. “The Way” is by all means a splendid single, and perhaps no one in 2013 has turned the lights on as brightly as Ariana Grande has, and more importantly: no one has ever stepped on Mariah Carey’s shadow as threateningly as she has done, no one with such vigorous promise at the very least.

psy

3. “Gentleman”
Psy

Psy may be an anomaly in the landscape of global pop music, but his presence is a welcome deviation, a refreshing change from the tired formulas being churned out by Western music producers in the past couple of years. There’s no way he can top the rumpus brought about by “Gangnam Style,” but with “Gentleman” he proves that at 35, he remains the enfant terrible of K-Pop, and frankly the most gifted composer of joyful hooks. The dominant hook of “Gentleman,” which appears in the beginning, middle, and end, is a spectacle in itself, a quicksand that freezes the rapture contained in the song—the glee, the ecstasy, the gaiety, the fun, basically sucking in all degrees of happiness—and Psy, of all reasonable things to do, puts a hand under his chin and shakes his hips, introducing the world to a dance of utter smugness. There’s a lot to say about his polarizing popularity and his consistent critique of South Korean culture in his songs and music videos, but for now Psy’s genius for silliness of great consequence and magnitude is enough to consider him an icon of the offbeat, the heedless horseman of the bizarre.

sarahg

2. “Ikot-Ikot”
Sarah Geronimo

There are two live performances of “Ikot-Ikot” that are worth watching before one decides to embrace or dismiss it.

First is its debut on Sunday variety show ASAP. Since it’s unfamiliar to everyone’s ears, there is that atmosphere of tension and anticipation, and even Sarah herself, in her red blazer and red pants, looks serious and uneasy, probably hoping that the color of her outfit would absorb her nerves. But her face is fierce: it’s ready to be wounded. Following her habit, she enunciates words more than what’s necessary, but she brings the beat in, the hand gestures, the body language. Before proceeding to the bridge of the song, she walks to a stage closer to the audience. And then, to everyone’s surprise, she explodes. That bridge resonates deeply to her, and that bridge is meant to be sung that way: manic, hysterical, and greedy, Sarah almost flying off the handle towards the end. It’s a flawed performance—and no bullshit, that’s actually the point: pain isn’t supposed to be perfect—but that last part alone is enough to consider it the song of the year. Or, sadly, the heartbreak of the year, Sarah’s politest way of saying “Fuck you and fuck it, Gerald.”

Second is the performance on Showtime, where she takes more liberties with the arrangement and shows the delicate side of the song. These melodic changes also display its supple quality, which points at the skill of writer Thyro Alfaro and producer Bojam de Belen. But the spotlight is still on her, and in this performance one is inclined to notice the quality of her voice. It’s powerful, there’s no doubt about that, but in her 10 years in the business, it’s obvious that she’s still grappling with it—she is still trying to whittle it. And that nuance is not present in the studio version of “Ikot-Ikot”: that first flush of youth, those jagged edges she thinks sound good live but don’t, that insistence on her established style. The version on Expressions is clean and commanding, with less vocal calisthenics and fewer overtones, but even after multiple listens it continues to throb, and it’s a relief that finally, after several years of middling covers, Sarah releases an original composition worth aching for, worth losing one’s head for.

mileyc

1. “Wrecking Ball”
Miley Cyrus

“There’s method behind the madness,” writer Robert Copsey says in his review of “Wrecking Ball,” and obviously in addition to method there is motivation. Perhaps not even Miley has seen it coming, but the buzz she has created in 2013 is enough for another artist’s lifetime, and that she is still around, releasing and promoting the superb “#GETITRIGHT” as her next single, continuing to receive endless pieces of advice from self-important celebrities, it’s likely that the worst of it has already passed.

She has Liam Hemsworth to thank for “Wrecking Ball,” for despite being inferior to “We Can’t Stop” as far as novelty and technique are concerned, it has made an indelible icon out of her, which is always a great thing to carry, especially when your father’s biggest legacy is “Achy Breaky Heart.”

What more to say? Which stone to turn? Which angle deserves more light or shade? There’s no way to tell. Sadly, it feels that music critics, who, more than anyone else, should be immune to stigma, are turning their backs on Miley on account of her behavior this year; but truth to be told, it’s for this very reason that she is the most vital recording artist of 2013—not Kanye, not Katy, not Kendrick, not even Beyoncé—and it owes to her stunts that monotony has been dodged. Fortunately, when all her tricks have been exhausted, there still remains a soul in her, some dust to be collected, a completely talented person. Is it worth it? No. But it’s actually by doing something unworthy that worth is redefined, so there goes a perspective.

And “Wrecking Ball” is that unworthy thing that becomes worthy in light of all the fuss. Its ordinariness is striking. It’s a ballad filled with decent hooks, but technical composition is secondary only to the passion that Miley brings to the words and melody. She translates her pain into another form of pain, and her vocabulary of hurt helps her out. When listened closely, it’s the sound of a being about to die but doesn’t die, and Miley, like a word lost among phrases or a sentence hidden in countless paragraphs, lets out this final cry before submitting to rest. They say destruction creates new terrains and selves: in this new phase of her life and career, she may enter it completely hurt but at least she is in one piece.

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We Yell Like Hell to the Heavens: The Top Albums of 2012 January 22, 2013

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
6 comments

topalbums

Well, look who made a belated list.

2012 didn’t pass like a breeze. The days came in with unbearable force and slowness, a torturous year when I begged nights to end as soon as they started. Only concerts made me sober, hence my splurge on gigs, and I’m thankful for having friends who joined me in my madness for live music. In many ways 2012 was a turning point, the year when I lost the most important person in my life and when my dreams collapsed on their own, but it was also the year that had to happen, a time that made me realize the importance of concession, the inevitability of reaching such decision, and the need for a wise albeit weary acceptance of defeat. Sadly I didn’t have better options. It took me a while to say that I am doing well, and I guess the business of saying that to people closest to me slowly became natural, for it was an attempt to go past that point where hell is not other people but myself.

Needless to say, the albums below had been wonderful companions, many of which, if I were to be sentimental about it, helped me through. I remember all of them with fondness, sometimes with pain and regret, but often with a smile on my face, because even discomfort makes me grin or laugh. Some of these records serve as time stamps, leaving very distinct impressions on my mind. For instance, I was listening to Album #42 on the bus when my two sisters and I went out together, something which rarely happen these days, and Album #34 when I was on the car with my coworkers during those long drives from Taguig to Quezon City. My favorite record to listen to at the airport is Album #3. Once, when I was on the plane to Cebu it made me feel so happy and giddy that I cried. When my mother was at the hospital, I listened to Album #33 constantly, and several days before she died Album #5 was with me all along, holding my hand as I tried to hold back my tears. Listening to Album #46, #45, #28, #23, and #20 still makes me sad up to now, but nothing beats Album #2 in being so heartbreakingly beautiful.

But surely I had crazy moments, times when happiness was hard to contain, days when I looked high without being under the influence. Album #6 is the first contender for album of the year, pure crystal meth from start to finish, and heaven knows I’m miserable now for missing out on their Hong Kong gig today. Album #49 and #44 are punk rock at its wildest, and Album #39, #31, #21, and #9 are my ever-dependable hip-hop pills. Album #41 isn’t as bad as many critics and fans say it is (in fact, it has a lot of enchanting moments) and Album #25 has haters who may not have even listened to it in full. Normally I won’t put two albums by one artist but I made an exception: Album #30 and #12 are inseparable, brilliantly delivered by a musician who always comes up with heartfelt compositions. And of course, what to say about Album #4? It’s a landmark record whose commercial failure is completely upsetting, but in years’ time music snobs will look back and be blinded by its sheen. How about Album #1? Well, not even the end of the world could stop it from being on top of the list. It’s the record that I had been waiting for months, and when it came it ruined me. After several weeks it put me back together, then ruined me again.

So without further ado, here are the top albums of 2012, the best EPs, a list of the year’s overlooked songs, the most memorable concerts I attended, and more than 170 links to tracks I love, all in one post. See you again next year, friends!

tribes

50. BABY, Tribes

“We Were Children”

“Sappho”

“Himalaya”

holograms

49. HOLOGRAMS, Holograms

“Chasing My Mind”

“You Are Ancient”

“ABC City”

evansthedeath

48. EVANS THE DEATH, Evans the Death

“I’m So Unclean”

“Wet Blanket”

“Threads”

earth

47. ANGELS OF DARKNESS, DEMONS OF LIGHT II, Earth

“His Teeth Did Brightly Shine”

“The Corascene Dog”

“The Rakehell”

lostinthetrees

46. A CHURCH THAT FITS OUR NEEDS, Lost in the Trees

“Neither Here Nor There”

“An Artist’s Song”

“The Dead Bird is Beautiful”

theshins

45. PORT OF MORROW, The Shins

“Simple Song”

“It’s Only Life”

“For a Fool”

off

44. OFF! OFF

“Borrow and Bomb”

“King Kong Brigade”

“Feelings are Meant to be Hurt”

dinosaurjr

43. I BET ON SKY, Dinosaur Jr.

“Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know”

“Watch the Corners”

“Pierce the Morning Rain”

gravenhurst

42. THE GHOST IN DAYLIGHT, Gravenhurst

“The Prize”

“The Foundry”

“Islands”

animalcollective

41. CENTIPEDE HZ, Animal Collective

“Moonjock”

“Today’s Supernatural”

“Monkey Riches”

DDD

40. WHO NEEDS WHO, Dark Dark Dark

“Patsy Cline”

“Meet in the Dark”

“Tell Me”

bigkrit

39. 4EVA N A DAY, Big K.R.I.T.

“4Evanaday (Theme)”

“1986″

“Yesterday”

themaccabees

38. GIVEN TO THE WILD, The Maccabees

“Ayla”

“Pelican”

“Went Away”

catpower

37. SUN, Cat Power

“Cherokee”

“Ruin”

“Nothin’ but Time (feat. Iggy Pop)”

chairlift

36. SOMETHING, Chairlift

“I Belong In Your Arms”

“Take It Out On Me”

“Met Before”

acnewman

35. SHUT DOWN THE STREETS, A.C. Newman

“I’m Not Talking”

“Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns”

“You Could Get Lost Out Here”

jessieware

34. DEVOTION, Jessie Ware

“Wildest Moments”

“Sweet Talk”

“110%”

tindersticks

33. THE SOMETHING RAIN, Tindersticks

“Chocolate”

“Slippin’ Shoes”

“Medicine”

batforlashes

32. THE HAUNTED MAN, Bat for Lashes

“Horses of the Sun”

“Laura”

“Winter Fields”

kendrick

31. good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar

“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”

“Swimming Pools (Drank)”

“Compton (feat. Dr. Dre)”

mounteerie2

30. OCEAN ROAR, Mount Eerie

“Pale Lights”

“Instrumental”

“I Walked Home Beholding”

fionaapple

29. THE IDLER WHEEL IS WISER THAN THE DRIVER OF THE SCREW AND WHIPPING CORDS WILL SERVE YOU MORE THAN ROPES WILL EVER DO, Fiona Apple

“Every Single Night”

“Jonathan”

“Werewolf”

glenhansard

28. RHYTHM AND REPOSE, Glen Hansard

“Talking with the Wolves”

“The Storm, It’s Coming”

“Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting”

themountaingoats

27. TRANSCENDENTAL YOUTH, The Mountain Goats

“Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1″

“Cry for Judas”

“Transcendental Youth”

swans

26. THE SEER, Swans

“Song for a Warrior (feat. Karen O)”

“Mother of the World”

“The Seer”

johnmayer

25. BORN AND RAISED, John Mayer

“The Age of Worry”

“Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey”

“Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967″

GYBE

24. ‘ALLELUJAH! DON’T BEND! ASCEND! Godspeed You! Black Emperor

“Mladic”

“We Drift Like Worried Fire”

“Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable”

jenslekman

23. I KNOW WHAT LOVE ISN’T, Jens Lekman

“Erica America”

“Some Dandruff on your Shoulder”

“The World Moves On”

rebeccagates

22. THE FLOAT, Rebecca Gates and the Consortium

“& & &”

“Harlesden to Vals”

“Lease and Flame”

nas

21. LIFE IS GOOD, Nas

“Daughters”

“The Don”

“Summer on Smash (feat. Miguel and Swizz Beatz)”

grizzlybear

20. SHIELDS, Grizzly Bear

“Speak in Rounds”

“Yet Again”

“Sleeping Ute”

divinefits

19. A THING CALLED DIVINE FITS, Divine Fits

“Like Ice Cream”

“Would That Not Be Nice”

“Shivers”

theseaandcake

18. RUNNER, The Sea and Cake

“Harps”

“Pacific”

“The Invitations”

dandeacon

17. AMERICA, Dan Deacon

“USA I: Is a Monster”

USA II: The Great American Desert”

“USA III: Rail”

“USA IV: Manifest”

dirtyprojectors

16. SWING LO MAGELLAN, Dirty Projectors

“About to Die”

“Dance for You”

“Unto Caesar”

themen

15. OPEN YOUR HEART, The Men

“Candy”

“Animal”

“Oscillation”

SVE

14. TRAMP, Sharon Van Etten

“Warsaw”

“Serpents”

“Magic Chords”

flylo

13. UNTIL THE QUIET COMES, Flying Lotus

“Until the Colours Come”

“Electric Candyman (feat. Thom Yorke)”

“Tiny Tortures”

mounteerie1

12. CLEAR MOON, Mount Eerie

“Through the Trees Pt. 2″

“The Place Lives”

“Yawning Sky”

liars

11. WIXIW, Liars

“No. 1 Against the Rush”

“A Ring on Every Finger”

“His and Mine Sensations”

deftones

10. KOI NO YOKAN, Deftones

“Swerve City”

“Tempest”

“Goon Squad”

dashcalzado

9. RETURN OF THE PHUNKY JUAN, Dash Calzado

“Return of the Phunky Juan”

“Illegitimate Kingz (feat. B-Roc and Shirley Fuentes)”

Buy the album!

CTV

8. TRANSVERSE, Carter Tutti Void

“V1″

“V2″

“V3 (edit)”

“V4″

angbandangshirley

7. TAMA NA ANG DRAMA, Ang Bandang Shirley

“Nakauwi Na”

“Iyong”

“Di Na Babalik”

japandroids

6. CELEBRATION ROCK, Japandroids

“Adrenaline Nightshift”

“The House That Heaven Built”

“The Nights of Wine and Roses”

perfumegenius

5. PUT YOUR BACK N 2 IT, Perfume Genius

“Normal Song”

“Hood”

“Take Me Home”

CRJ

4. KISS, Carly Rae Jepsen

“Hurt So Good”

“This Kiss”

“Guitar String / Wedding Ring”

caspian

3. WAKING SEASON, Caspian

“Halls of the Summer”

“Hickory ’54″

“Gone in Bloom and Bough”

paulbuchanan

2. MID AIR, Paul Buchanan

“Cars in the Garden”

“Two Children”

“Mid Air”

updharmadown

1. CAPACITIES, Up Dharma Down

“Turn It Well”

“Thinker”

“Feelings (feat. Paul Buchanan)”

*

BEST EPs: UNDERSEA, The Antlers; SILENT HOUR/GOLDEN MILE, Daniel Rossen; KAYA MO MAG-SANDO? Pedicab

BEST OST: THE MASTER: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Jonny Greenwood

BEST ALBUM COVER: NO LOVE DEEP WEB, Death Grips

*

ANOTHER P-P-P-PLAYLIST (Best Songs not on the Albums and Tracks Shit)

1. “Under the Westway,” Blur

2. “Ill Manors,” Plan B

3. “Only In My Dreams,” Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

4. “Angels,” The xx

5. “Lost,” Frank Ocean

6. “Duquesne Whistle,” Bob Dylan

7. “The Celestials,” The Smashing Pumpkins

8. “Clique,” Kanye West (feat. Big Sean and Jay-Z)

9. “R U Mine?” Arctic Monkeys

10. “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It,” Stars

11. “Do Ya Thing,” Gorillaz (feat. Andre 3000 and James Murphy)

12. “Anna Sun,” Walk the Moon

13. “I’ve Seen Footage,” Death Grips

14. “I’ll Be Alright,” Passion Pit

15. “Adorn,” Miguel

16. “Heaven is a Ghost Town,” Minus the Bear

17. “Arena Rock Encore with Full Cast,” The Cribs

18. “Sixteen Saltines,” Jack White

19. “Watching You Watch Him,” Eric Hutchinson

20. “Hey Jane,” Spiritualized

*

MOST MEMORABLE CONCERTS 

1. Radiohead. The King of Limbs Tour. Nangang Exhibition Hall, Taipei, July 2012. With Ayn.

2. The Smashing Pumpkins. Oceania Tour. Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, August 2012. With Megan.

3. Sigur Rós. Valtari Tour. Fort Canning, Singapore, November 2012. With Ayn and David.

4. Morrissey. World Trade Center Manila. May 2012. With Megan, Beverly, and Jerrold.

5. Up Dharma Down. Capacities album launch. One Esplanade, Pasay City, November 2012. With Ayn and Bolix.

6. Keane. Strangeland Tour. SM Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City, October 2012. With Ali.

7. Lady Gaga. Born This Way Ball Tour. SM Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City, With Ayn, Leo, Dohna, and Ate.

8. Sting. Back to Bass Tour. Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, December 2012. With Tish and Tita.

9. Snow Patrol. Fallen Empires Tour. Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, August 2012. With Ayn and Ali.

10. Toe. NBC Tent, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, March 2012. With Gian.

11. Pupil. 70s Bistro, Quezon City, May 2012.

12. James Morrison. The Awakening Tour. Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, October 2012.

*Pop* Goes My Heart: The Top Tracks of 2012 January 11, 2013

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music.
15 comments

toptracks

Without further ado, here are the 25 songs that made the previous year sunnier and happier, the 25 songs between “Gangnam Style” and “Pusong Bato” that ruled the airwaves and the Internet, the 25 songs that lightened the world a bit and made everyone crazier than before. No guilt, all pleasure!

pink

25. “TRY”
P!nk
[The Truth About Love]

Although Robyn can make “Try” a much sultrier ballad, putting emotional twirls at the end of each line and turning “try try try” and “by by by” into something softer but more cutting, only P!nk can deliver its aches like a boxer: intense and livid, but also mindful of which rib to crack.

mariah

24. “TRIUMPHANT (GET ‘EM)”
Mariah Carey feat. Rick Ross and Meek Mill
[Apologize]

Whoever thought of planning to release a Mariah single on which she happens to come out as the featured artist must receive 50 percent of this song’s royalties, because seriously, Rick Ross and Meek Mill may own “Triumphant” but Mariah, being the diva that she still is, is unfazed. She beams with self-confidence and is bent on showing that she can give Rihanna a run for her money with just a shiny chorus and an impassive repetition of hooks.

biebz

23. “AS LONG AS YOU LOVE ME”
Justin Bieber feat. Big Sean
[Believe]

The Biebz’s second single from his third studio album contains some of the most awful lyrics of the year—a cringe fest, to be honest, from the icky “As long as you love me, I’ll be your platinum, I’ll be your silver, I’ll be your gold” to the gross  “I’ll be your Hova, you can be my Destiny’s Child on the scene girl”— but with the brilliant lo-lo-lo-lo-love hook, the giddy clapping, those freaking dubstep frills, and the revolting thought that Justin Bieber is still loveless (just broke up with Selena yo), how can it not be a pleasurable three and a half minutes?

cherylcole

22. “CALL MY NAME”
Cheryl Cole
[A Million Lights]

At this point Cheryl Cole seems to be in the brink of exhaustion, trying to stay in the game despite the multiplying number of pop stars being born every year, but when she delivers “Call My Name,” a Calvin Harris-produced track armed with a chorus to weep for, a manic pixie earworm that spins restlessly, the dance floor is full of go once again.

jojo

21. “DEMONSTRATE”
JoJo
[Single]

No question this is JoJo in her finest form: slow and sexy R&B does not only suit her—it changes her. On “Demonstrate” she sounds at ease shifting from one falsetto to another, the classy way she hits the notes an indication of an interesting musical direction. She keeps up with the overwhelming stagger-step beats, sweeping the song clean with a subtle finish.

GG

20. “THE BOYS”
Girls’ Generation
[The Boys]

Language doesn’t seem to be that much of a barrier, considering the English version of “The Boys” is able to take along the rapturous rhythm of the original, crammed with a range of whips and thumps that a feisty nine-piece group can offer. Although the military beats sound derivative, they provide the song an edge of familiarity, the flow of lines from one member to another as slick as the movement of their hips.

keane

19. “SOVEREIGN LIGHT CAFÉ”
Keane
[Strangeland]

Unmistakable is the wistfulness of this song, the sentimentality it attaches to sights and experiences, the memories that singer Tom Chaplin are reminded of when he visits them on his mind while on a busy tour, the comfort they bring, those charming spots in East Sussex, that café on the Bexhill seafront, the changing city kept beautifully intact by an English band that continues to grow.

cherlloyd

18. “WANT U BACK”
Cher Lloyd
[Sticks + Stones]

“Want U Back” is not something a casual listener takes seriously upon first listen. It shares the vexing quality of Ke$ha’s singles, only Cher Lloyd’s youth displays itself up-front, allowing her bitter rants to explode into pieces. She’s so keen on making frustrated grunts that they turn out to be the song’s main highlight, making it a giddier and crazier ride.

iconapop

17. “I LOVE IT”
Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX
[Icona Pop]

No song released in 2012 can match the force and ferocity of this unexpectedly wrecking club jam from Swedish pop duo/bitches Icona Pop. Filled with knives and cannon balls—“I crashed my car into the bridge, I watched, I let it burn / I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs”—the effect of its repetitions is nothing but exhilarating, and when their fury ends there’s no other option but to go through it all over again.

matchbox20

16. “SHE’S SO MEAN”
Matchbox Twenty
[North]

The funny thing about “She’s So Mean” is that it’s a work of forty-something dudes almost in the afterlife of their careers, yet it also sounds like something that The Click Five or The Cab, possibly at their most inspired, could come up with, the cutesy lyrics never getting in the way because Rob Thomas and company know how to woo a girl just by tickling their instruments, the drums and guitars in particular.

emeli

15. “NEXT TO ME”
Emeli Sandé
[Our Version of Events]

This what makes the landscape of pop music so irresistible: the emergence of talents with amazing vocal gifts and songwriting chops. Emeli Sandé is definitely on top of many of them, and fortunately in the years of Adele’s reign the soar of her voice stands out. On “Next To Me” she sounds so poised and spirited that the man she’s singing about must be so blessed to have her on his side.

sky

14.EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING”
Sky Ferreira
[Ghost EP]

This track is here because even though it’s not as mainstream as the others on the list, it suggests an interesting direction that pop music should take. “Everything is Embarrassing” is a piece of gem that seems to be stuck in its time, the melodrama of Ferreira’s words and delivery drowned in an ambiance of colorful and tuneful splashes, making it heavier but cooler, its presence like a brisk wind passing by.

nicki

13. “ROMAN HOLIDAY”
Nicki Minaj
[Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded]

A provocateur par excellence, Nicki Minaj has successfully reached a point when she can create smash hits without stealing the limelight from someone else’s singles. Her second album is full of them, any of which could be on the list, but its irreverently outrageous opener happens to take a piece of everything, touching on the wild, baffling, crazy, and clueless. From the theatrical rap delivery to the stunning transitions between verses, it’s pretty much a display of zing and verve, putting in a famous Christmas tune and referencing a controversial pedophile in a matter of seconds. Only a brilliant artist can deliver a wrecking ball this sick.

m5

12. “PAYPHONE”
Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa
[Overexposed]

How the hell did Adam Levine and the rest of Maroon 5 get away with something as ludicrous as this? Well, obviously, by stick-to-itiveness. Some of his sentiments are embarrassing—“Oh you turned your back on tomorrow, ‘cause you forgot yesterday / I gave you my love to borrow, but you just gave it away”—but when his face, body, and nasal singing are taken into consideration, it’s kind of pointless to resist. The guitars and piano conspire to create an arrangement that coats more sugar than needed, and the result is delicious.

alphabeat

11. “LOVE SEA”
Alphabeat
[Express Non-Stop]

“I was not looking for artsy-fartsy love,” sings Anders SG on “10,000 Nights of Thunder.” And Alphabeat’s singles, mostly cheery but also filled with longing, aren’t looking for anything artsy-fartsy either. Their lyrics are warm and relatable, carried by simple melodies that hang onto a sparkling chorus. “Love Sea” is a genial example of their ability to make platitudes sound refreshing, and at the same time it shares the glitters of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” the song like a bubble taking a long time to burst.

japs

10. “ENOUGH”
Julie Anne San Jose
[Julie Anne San Jose]

It’s a tough call. Julie Anne San Jose’s breakthrough hit “I’ll Be There” shares the sweet and novel wonders of Heart Evangelista’s “One,” Jennylyn Mercado’s “Kahit Sandali,” and Yasmien Kurdi’s “In The Name of Love,” but its lack of bridge, whose presence could have brought the song to wholly different heights, is too glaring not too notice. The follow-up single “Enough” makes up for this, leaving the mushy terrain of “I’ll Be There” and exchanging it for a bolder front, almost to the point of being too annoyingly driven, its glossy production values matched by San Jose’s confident singing. Her rap verse after the bridge is a risky move, but she pulls it off even without taking a deep breath.

ldr

9. “NATIONAL ANTHEM”
Lana del Rey
[Born to Die]

Like her other singles, “National Anthem” touches on obsession and loneliness, and here Lana del Rey is a lady with an insatiable greed for riches, clinging to her man and asking him to give her a Chevron and a standing ovation. Her self-centeredness is her strength: she loves herself so much she wants him not only to adore her but also to be patriotic to her, every time and everywhere, like a dying soldier to his country. She has earned the right to receive luxuries—at her best, she knows how to pretend emotion and make it appear regal, the foolishness of her words owing to her mania for success—but when it’s time to return the favor, she never disappoints. This song proves that.

kellyc

8. “CATCH MY BREATH”
Kelly Clarkson
[Greatest Hits: Chapter One]

There’s a strain in Kelly Clarkson’s singing that is not supposed to work to her advantage, but surprisingly it does. Her set of pipes is her massive weapon, and on “Catch My Breath” she puts it to great use, standing out amid the EDM flourishes and becoming its focal point. She has written inspirational songs before about her journey, but this one sounds fresher than the first.

demi

7. “GIVE YOUR HEART A BREAK”
Demi Lovato
[Unbroken]

As far as pop singles go, Demi Lovato has been easily eclipsed by her Disney contemporaries. But after the release of “Skyscraper” and “Give Your Heart A Break,” not to mention her stint in the second season of The X-Factor USA, she seems to have landed on a position that Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez have never been to, that distinct feeling of progression made evident by the kind of songs she takes on. While “Skyscraper” is a test of vocal vulnerability, “Give Your Heart A Break” challenges her with grander choruses, surrounded with a more complicated arrangement of strings, drums, and violin. There’s a fire in her voice that makes it a tad intimidating, but it’s infinitely better than anything with Auto-tune.

the killers

6. “RUNAWAYS”
The Killers
[Battle Born]

It’s hard to believe that The Killers could still come up roses after a terrible third album and a hiatus, but “Runaways” is nothing short of exhilarating, the effusive slushiness of it, instead of mashing the material, imposes a kind of emotion that requires a stadium full of people to feel. It’s the closest to a Hot Fuss euphoria that skeptical followers of the band have long wanted to experience again.

usher

5. “CLIMAX”
Usher
[Looking 4 Myself]

Comparisons have already been made, so one might as well be blunt about it: “Climax” is better than all of The Weeknd’s songs combined, and that’s because its brilliance isn’t daunting. It’s a dashing single in an elegant tux, Usher’s best in years and producer Diplo’s first marvelous stab, a four-minute bruise-cruise packed with exciting highpoints. Of course, there’s no way Usher will let go of being sexy, but he is careful with his transitions as he comfortably moves in and out of falsetto. The moment he yells “at all” and Diplo accompanies it with escalating synths and a heavenly second voice, the song rips in a fraction of a second, and then some islands begin to form.

1D

4. “LIVE WHILE WE’RE YOUNG”
One Direction
[Take Me Home]

Insanely good-looking faces and sexy voices aside, the success of One Direction owes to songs that tease about wanting to get laid. Some of them are easily achieved, thanks to their music videos and live performances, but the most successful efforts, the trio of “What Makes You Beautiful,” “One Thing,” and “Live While We’re Young,” are subtle invitations to sex, their lyrics carefully worded so that pre-pubescent girls and gays (even adults) will still be allowed to hear and enjoy them. The first single from their sophomore album is built on sexual nudges, a collection of come-ons introduced by a cleverly used Clash guitar riff and pulled together by a blissful chorus, the boys basking in the hedonism of youth and the shortness of it. At one point they say, “I know we only met but let’s pretend it’s love,” and it feels like an ordeal because pretending to love them is rather difficult.

2ne1

3. “I LOVE YOU”
2NE1
[New Evolution]

The sky’s the limit for 2NE1, their brilliance somewhat reminiscent of Girls Aloud’s in the first half of the 2000s, loved not only for their consistent placement in the charts but also for their innovations in the pop scene, delivering songs that expand and go outward, awe-inspiring compositions that take risks and produce breathtaking results. Like “Biology,” “I Love You” has more than three hook verses, and the four ladies travel from one to another with oomph and ease, the listener lost in the seamless intricacy of it all. By the time it reaches its loudest at 2:45, it lands on its most elegant part and emits sparks.

carlybaby

 2. “CALL ME MAYBE”
Carly Rae Jepsen
[Curiosity EP]

It’s only more than a year old by now, but it seems that everything has already been said about “Call Me Maybe.” Is there any stone left unturned? Any nook as yet undiscovered? Perhaps. But any kind of fumbling only adds to its composite quality. No one can say how time will treat it, but as early as now it’s easy to tell that it will age well, people will look back and say, “That’s it!” with a silly smile, because the moment “Call Me Maybe” came and conquered, it rolled like a snowball trundling across the globe, getting bigger and bigger every time it’s played and parodied, a phenomenon of staggering proportions so enormous that months later even its bloated state is a charming sight. It’s a piece of manufactured merchandise that listeners have embraced and endorsed, but more than just a commercial item it’s a cultural product, a huge and unmistakable one, which intimidates only the snobbish. This song has reserved its place on radio for more than 50 years, but in the heart of its generation, it knows no expiry date.

taylor

1. “RED”
Taylor Swift
[Red]

Possibly the only presence that’s bigger than “Call Me Maybe” in 2012 is Taylor Swift, and for good reasons. Her fourth studio album is her best to date, filled with tracks that flirt with perfection, neck and neck with Kiss as the top pop record of the year. She did not cross over from country to pop-rock—she owned both. She pulled it off the way she parted ways with her boyfriends, sharp and self-assured, and there’s no denying that she uses these highly publicized break-ups to market herself better. She has created an indelible image that teens can easily relate to, giving the impression that she has actually learned from these experiences. She’s a clever bitch, but one that’s hard not to love.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is too snarky, and it’s the kind of cheery derision that she must put to rest from time to time (it’s a fan bait, of course) considering she’s capable of doing something grander and more expansive like “State of Grace” and “Red.” The latter, which finds her playing with a bunch of crayons and similes, puts together one of her best songwriting efforts in many years. She knows that as much as she aspires to be Joni Mitchell or Carly Simon, she can never be either of them, but she has reached a point where her two idols, no offense to both, have become irrelevant to her accomplishments, creating an impact on a significant group of listeners that Joni and Carly didn’t in their heyday.

“Red” is the finest pop song of the year because it does not only make use of physical triggers—apart from its catchy hooks and lyrics, it boasts a bridge that gleams with seemingly nondescript brilliance, allowing the song to soar and alight on the ground in seconds, and a post-chorus that proves an abundance of thought, an excess that doesn’t feel like one—it also shows a deep affection for the genre that’s been easily taken for granted by listeners and critics alike, its singer completely aware of her massive influence, and instead of competing with her contemporaries, she does something that most of them are loath to do, and that is, to make a return to basics. Without a doubt, the pop throne is now hers.

Now My Heart is Full: My Top 20 Songs by Morrissey May 12, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music.
10 comments

Artwork by Megan Diño

Some people tend to overlook the fact that Morrissey has actually released more successful singles as a solo artist than as the vocalist of The Smiths. Fans will always remember him as that charming man who appeared on Top of the Pops sometime in 1983 holding a bunch of flowers, moving awkwardly onstage, and doing a lip-sync of sparklingly beautiful lyrics that left an effortless smile in everyone’s faces. His accomplishment as the band’s lead songwriter and singer, not to mention his status as an icon for the lonely and the loveless, is a feat he has never attempted to surpass nor forget: nostalgia hasn’t got the better of him. In fact, nostalgia has made him even more vulnerable, encouraging him to compose songs he couldn’t have written if he were in a band. Morrissey loses Johnny Marr and the jangly guitar riffs that turned the emotions in “What Difference Does It Make” and “Hand in Glove” sweetly deceitful, but he gains something in return—the pleasure of aloneness, the courage to say “I find I’m OK by myself and I don’t need you or your morality to save me,” that spark of genius to create timeless, unconventional, and unabashedly pop songs that capture the nature of his enigma.

As luck would have it, Morrissey is set to perform in Manila tomorrow night. But that luck is laced with fear and anxiety, of emotions tangled in cobwebs of apprehension, of constipated excitement. Where are these feelings coming from? Why is Morrissey capable of evoking such morose sentiments from the most fervent of his supporters? Why can’t the wait for the concert just be something utterly pleasant? Well, we’re all boys and girls with thorns in our sides. This moment formed in our heads some years before, and now seeing the reality of it take shape is simply insane. We all long for a Smiths reunion, but this is the closest way to that dream. Morrissey includes at least five Smiths songs in his recent set lists, and as he mentions in an interview, “I do sing the songs, and I will sing the songs. They stand the test of time.”

Furthermore, the range and immensity of his catalog from Viva Hate to Years of Refusal disposes the myth of the nosedive that people expected to happen when The Smiths called it quits; on the contrary, his career path from the late 80s to present is one paved with overwhelming unpredictability and imperfection. His attempts at ambitious storytelling (“Late Night, Maudlin Street,” “Life is a Pigsty”) works even more strangely than before, redefining artistic subtlety by way of unsubtle words and arrangements. He matures after every record, yet still stays pretty much the same.

Therefore, making a list is both timely and unnecessary, but on account of childishness, I have decided to create one, and the labor in doing so makes me regret it in the end. Morrissey is literature, music, and cinema rolled into one, and those three arts are the most precious to me, so it’s a tough job. Another thing is that the list is ranked—to challenge myself and to cause discomfort every time I think of it. But here you go, without further ado, as deceivingly plain and simple as this idea of writing about Morrissey came to me this morning, my favorite songs by Morrissey, all twenty of them dear to my heart, always offering a spare blanket in times of need, almost interchangeable with those unmentioned.

20. “The Youngest Was The Most Loved”
Ringleader of the Tormentors

How come Morrissey can write a song about a killer and make it sound like he is the most attractive person in the world? Also, have you ever pondered on the idea of Mozza being a father after singing about rearing a child? Every time he sings that line “there is no such thing in life as normal,” a flock of birds flies freely in the sky.

The youngest was the most loved / The youngest was the cherub / We kept him from the world’s glare / And then he turned into a killer

19. “The Boy Racer”
Southpaw Grammar

This is another one of Morrissey’s compositions that fashions his fixation on the male psyche, this time purportedly about James Dean. The buildup towards the refrain is sumptuous, the arrangement teems with energy, and everything is rounded out by Morrissey’s amusing words and passionate singing.

Boy racer! Boy racer! We’re gonna kill this pretty thing

18. “Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness”
Bona Drag

Morrissey and Stephen Street wrote this song for British singer Sandie Shaw, and she released it as a single in 1988. Without letting a good opportunity pass, Morrissey recorded a demo of this for Viva Hate, which hasn’t been officially public until the release of Bona Drag’s expanded edition in 2010. As expected, Morrissey’s version brims with youthful angst and torment, sung in beautiful carefreeness.

I don’t mind what time you come round / If it’s a weekend then I just might be dead, oh / I’m so very young I am so really, really young

17. “People Are The Same Everywhere”
Unreleased

This is one of the new songs he performs at recent gigs. Complemented by heavy drums and jaunty guitar riffs, Morrissey derides critics who accuse him of racism in the past. The line “land of the free and home of the brave exists nowhere” is nothing short of brave, considering his popularity in America, and at some point he starts to howl and everything becomes surreal.

Set me aside, you’ll find, people are the same everywhere / Hoist me from the herd and people are the same everywhere / Then our creator had to stumble and stall and our creator had to make the biggest mistake of all / Yeah, yeah, yeah

16. “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris”
Years of Refusal

It’s a simple ditty that opens with a beautiful riff before Morrissey dives into a sad figure of speech. Eventually it becomes an earworm, the candor of his delivery as delightful as ever, his tongue-in-cheek wit never missing a mark.

I’m throwing my arms around / around Paris because only stone and steel accept my love

15. “Glamorous Glue”
Your Arsenal

Is it really about sniffing glue…from a jar…in L.A.? No one knows. Politics is written all over, but the rhythm of the song, not to mention the jumpy vibe, is gonna get ya first, for sure.

London is dead London is dead London is dead London is dead / Now I’m too much in love / I’m too much in love

14. “Satan Rejected My Soul”
Maladjusted

How can you resist the idea of Morrissey talking to Satan, offering his soul, begging for acceptance, and being refused? Wow, Satan must be so picky.

Satan rejected my soul / He knows my kind / He won’t be dragged down / He’s seen my face around / He knows heaven doesn’t seem to be my home  

13. “The Last of the Famous International Playboys”
Bona Drag

Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce, and Craig Gannon are featured in this track, a collaboration which makes it sound like a Smiths single, and it really does sound like one: suave and hooky. Make no mistake: the title is not Morrissey’s reference to himself, but to this notorious pair of gangsters from London in the 60s, a theme also present in “First of the Gang to Die.”

I never wanted to kill, I am not naturally evil / Such things I do to make myself more attractive to you / Have I failed?

12. “Boxers”
World of Morrissey

You’d feel how obsessed Morrissey was with the sport and its players, and nothing gets in his way of telling a story tinged with weary sadness. It’s a bit different from most of his hits—the theme, the dispassionate feeling, the machismo—but how could you not be charmed?

Losing in front of your hometown, the crowd call your name, they love you all the same / The sound, the smell, and the spray / You will take them all away / And they’ll stay till the grave

11. “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”
Your Arsenal

It contains one of the happiest hooks ever arranged, in which Morrissey laughs with cheery derision. Also, I can’t help but agree how perfect that title is.

We hate it when our friends become successful / And if they’re Northern, that makes it even worse / And if we can destroy them / You bet your life we will destroy them

10. “First of the Gang to Die”
You are the Quarry

It is easy to understand why this is one of Morrissey’s most popular songs: the words are arrestingly visual, the melody is compelling, and the sentiments are heart-tugging. Who wouldn’t like someone named Hector after hearing this?

And he stole from the rich and the poor and the not very rich and the very poor / And he stole our hearts away

9. “Bengali in Platforms”
Viva Hate

It’s funny when someone speaks of race and makes a remark that doesn’t seem fair to everyone concerned, some people are quick to jump to a conclusion that the statements made are racist, while in fact race-related comments are what enrich the understanding of cultures in the first place.  If I were a Bengali and Morrissey tells me that life is hard when I belong there and asks me to shelve my Western plans, well, wouldn’t I consider the truthfulness of that? There is more to the song than the issue of race: there’s migration, work equality, stereotypes, Westernization, nationality, an awful load of things. The complexity of it should have eclipsed the accusation of Morrissey’s alleged racism.

Bengali in platforms / He only wants to embrace your culture / And to be your friend forever / Forever

8. “There’s A Place in Hell for Me and My Friends”
Kill Uncle

Accompanied by an ominous piano piece, Morrissey talks about hell in such a positive light it doesn’t seem like a place of doom and suffering. It’s short and sweet (clocking at less than two minutes) and pours its emotions so smoothly the final note feels like divine intervention.

Oh, there is a place a place in hell reserved for me and my friends / And if ever I just wanted to cry, then I will because I can

7. “I Have Forgiven Jesus”
You are the Quarry

In “You Have Killed Me” Morrissey references the great Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who directed The Gospel According to St. Matthew, arguably the best retelling of Jesus Christ’s story. It couldn’t have been more appropriate: in “I Have Forgiven Jesus” Morrissey makes some of the sharpest statements not only on religion but also on his ever-talked-about sexuality. It doesn’t help that in the music video, in which he wears clerical clothing, he exudes sexiness that is very sinful to look at.

Why did you give me so much desire when there is nowhere I can go to offload this desire / And why did you give me so much love in a loveless world when there is no one I can turn to / To unlock all this love

6. “Everyday Is Like Sunday”
Viva Hate

An image in mind: Morrissey drives into a seaside town, pulls over, and sits on a bench. He observes tourists walk by, munches on a sandwich, feels bored by the view, and returns to his car. He speeds away with thoughts on nuclear war and greased tea, pulls a fancy pen from his pocket, and writes this song.

This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down / Armageddon, come Armageddon! / Come, Armageddon, come!

5. “Life is A Pigsty”
Ringleader of the Tormentors

Without a doubt the outstanding centerpiece of the album, “Life is a Pigsty” is an epic and powerful piece of work, not just lyrically but sonically: the 80s synths, thunderstorms, and cannonballs add to the sinister feel of the entire track. Morrissey conveys misery at its most wounding, and it’s an opus that illustrates how commanding his voice can be.

I feel too cold  / And now I feel too warm again / Can you stop this pain? / Can you stop this pain? / Even now in the final hour of my life  / I’m falling in love again

4. “Let The Right One Slip In”
Viva Hate

If this list depends on how much I pattern my life after a Morrissey song, this would be on the top spot. He may be a douche, but he gives the damnedest piece of advice.

Let the right one in / Let the old dreams die / Let the wrong ones go / They cannot / They cannot / They cannot do what you want them to do

3. “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get”
Vauxhall and I

Is there any love song as creepily brilliant as this? Yes, there is. But none with the mesmerizing charisma that Morrissey injects all throughout. The tenderness puts you in a spell, like downing a glass of vodka straight on one hand and holding an unsent love letter on the other. It’s flawless.

I am now a central part of your mind’s landscape / Whether you care or do not / Yeah, I’ve made up your mind

2. “Late Night, Maudlin Street”
Viva Hate

It’s a confessional, a masterful piece of prose filled with self-pitying lyrics that only Morrissey can piece together, a depiction of a man in various states of misery, struggling with “sixteen stitches all around his head,” remembering many things as he sits alone, talking to a loved one no longer with him. Haven’t we all experienced this? Has Morrissey sneaked into our diaries and written a story of us? Needless to say, it’s sweepingly sullen and hits the sorest part of our hearts.

When I sleep / With that picture of you framed beside my bed / Oh it’s childish and silly / But I think it’s you in my room, by the bed

1. “Speedway”
Vauxhall and I

Drama is something Morrissey is closely associated with, and the drama in this song, the heaving sentimentality of hurt and understanding, the way he speaks to his fans, the hammer he sends across to people trying to bring him down, the mad beauty of it all—by all means, the storming temper present here has never been equaled since.

And when you try to break my spirit / It won’t work because there’s nothing left to break / Anymore

Honorable mention: “Alma Matters,” “I Will See You in Far-Off Places,” “Dagenham Dave,” “Now My Heart is Full,” “Suedehead,” “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me,” “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” “That’s How People Grow Up,” “Irish Blood, English Heart,” “The World is Full of Crashing Bores, “The National Front Disco,” “You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” “Seaside, Still Docked,” “Jack the Ripper”

The Amazing Sounds of Orgy: Toe in Manila March 25, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music.
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“I sat in the dark and thought: There’s no big apocalypse. Just an endless procession of little ones,” Neil Gaiman writes in Signal to Noise. What do we call them then—those will-o’-the-wisps resting on tree branches, flickering and bullying fireflies that pass through needle holes, struggling to escape from cobwebs before landing on our skin? Little apocalypses? Epiphanies, astral projections, out-of-body experiences? What’s sadder than the fleetingness of them all?

Toe playing in Manila is one of those telltale signs that the world is indeed ending, though from the looks of it there’s nothing frightening about the looming possibility. On the contrary, every moment is highlighted by occasional fireworks, every song building up to an explosive midsection and cathartic end, every climax bursting into a blaze. Toe’s stage is located at the center of the venue, and though this setup has its shortcomings, it’s hard not to be impressed by their boldness. With barely a word between songs, Toe members busy themselves with their instruments and give everyone a fantastic time, unleashing an army of sonic spectacles that fly high like a G6.

Photography was not allowed, so I kept my point-and-shoot camera inside my bag for the duration of the show. However, as much as I was enthralled by the music, not to mention the weightlessness of the night rubbing in like a sweet cat’s head, I wanted to steal some keepsakes. The bouncers were on the lookout for people with bulky cameras, spinning their flashlights and hauling those who didn’t take heed out of the venue. All my shots were blurry and out of focus, but didn’t they perfectly capture the experience? The exhilarating cacophony, the rousing change of moods, the invisible cups of strong coffee? These photos were taken a few minutes before the band finally left the stage. I was still shaking.

Sleepwalk Circus opened the night. They were good, but the second band, Encounters with a Yeti, was undeniably better. Tersely put, they were nothing short of amazing. They were as close to a fitting front act that we could ask for. Almost an hour later (the show started at 10 instead of 8) Toe stepped onstage. Every one of them was in the zone. The combination of the three guitars provided textures of indescribable rhythm, the syncopations progressing and flying out to different places. It felt like listening to the songs for the first time, their freshness and rawness cutting through like a hot knife.

The most exceptional sight of the night belonged to Kashikura Takashi: he was banging the drum kit like he was sexing it. He was incredibly tense and vehement, never wavering from start to finish. I bet even the official photographers had a hard time taking a steady shot of him as he performed.

I probably had issues with the stage design and lighting, but they were compensated by the music. Standing close to the stage, I could see how each band member uniquely reacted to the uproar, how their dynamic movements added to the overwhelming energy of the show, how their fingers eagerly twiddled with the guitar strings. It was a night of joyful beauty, and with my ears still ringing several hours later in my bed, I was just happy with these tangible souvenirs:

Come, Armageddon. Come, Armageddon, come.

The set list:

1. “Nike”
2. “I Dance Alone”
3. “I Do Still Wrong”
4. “Tremolo + Delay”
5. “Kodoku no Hatsumei”
6. “Esoteric”
7. “Long Tomorrow”
8. “Last Night”
9. “1/21″
10. “After Image”
11. “Ordinary Days”
12. “Goodbye”

Encore:
13. “Past and Language”
14. “New Sentimentality”

Walking with Spiders: A Night with The National February 8, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Oh You Know.
7 comments

In one of Alligator’s rapturous moments, Matt Berninger takes a walk in the clouds and sweeps them away, narrating a story purportedly inspired by a low-key neighborhood in New York City. He sings in “Daughter of the Soho Riots”: You were right about the end / It didn’t make a difference / Everything I can remember / I remember wrong. He talks less about the place than the relationship he associates with it, his words sounding very affectionate, lodging small stabs in the chest every time he utters, Break my arms around the one I love, and be forgiven by the time my lover comes. More than once I asked myself during the concert, who must have known I’d do this someday? Here watching them live?

The experience has brought about several realizations. One is that I bring music with me everywhere I go. I can’t imagine my life without it. I associate people and places and things with songs, and every time I hear a familiar tune my face either lights up or frowns upon remembrance of an event or moments spent with someone. The National, for one, has provided me with an awful lot of memories. In fact, if I were to make a list of bands that have left an indelible mark on my life, they would be on it, alongside Radiohead, Blur, The Clash, The Smiths, and The Beatles.

The night before the concert, Jade, Mario, and I agreed that among the artists that became popular in the 2000s, it was really The National that hit us the hardest. They may not be as huge as U2 or Coldplay or Arcade Fire, but they are huge—we just don’t know how to approximate it. Out of the blue we started singing, poking fun at misheard lyrics—Corinne, Monster, and Raymond joining our conversations—and we couldn’t hide how excited we were for tomorrow, like kids waiting for their dates on prom night.

And the night came. Three days before my birthday. November 6, 2011. 8 P.M. at the Esplanade. I dressed up for the occasion. I planned wearing a tie to match my long-sleeved polo but hell, it would just make me feel uncomfortable. I saw some friends while Kriz and I were lining up to buy merchandise. Carina, Sarie, Luis, Kathy, Khavn. I went to the bathroom and someone was humming “Fake Empire.” We hurried to our seats and saw another batch of friends. The theater, which reminded me of a more sophisticated CCP Main Theater, started to be filled up, stall by stall, row by row, seat by seat. It was sold out. And we were lucky to be seated near the stage, right in the middle.

Well, “seated” is not exactly right. When the band came onstage, people rushed towards the front row and occupied the space there. I didn’t think twice about running—it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Standing for the entirety of the show, which ran for almost two hours, wasn’t bad at all. In fact, that’s how I imagined it to be: full of dancing, swaying, and shouting. And that’s what happened.

Matt was sipping beer or wine between songs and he joked about it, which made everyone in the audience chuckle. The band sounded excellent the whole freaking time. I looked around. People were everywhere, almost my age, young and alive, numbed by happiness, and their thought balloons read “!!!!!!!!!!!!!” There were some elderly couples too, enjoying the euphoria of the event, which ironically was brought about by songs about grief and sadness. I looked around and all I saw were happy faces in tears. Ninety percent of the photographs I took were out of focus, but every one of them made me remember the feeling, that formidable feeling of exhilaration, that thrill of seeing your favorite artists perform in front of you, carry your heart, and caress it.

As I write this, three months have already passed, but I still recall things very clearly. I must have said “Oh my god” over a hundred times. Kriz was right about the opening song, and I couldn’t have been more thankful that it was “Runaway” since it’s the track from High Violet that I first loved. The guy to my left kept looking daggers at me because I was flailing around every time a new song came in, but the girl to my right was cool—she didn’t even notice it when I shook her shoulders the moment “England” ended. A bunch of Asian dudes in my row was shouting “All the wine! All the wine!” during breaks and unfortunately for them the song wasn’t played.

“Slow Show” took me by surprise because it had a different arrangement. It was the first time I cried that night. There were horns! We were clapping in unison! And they transitioned smoothly to “Squalor Victoria,” which had a spectacular intro that encouraged some of us to whistle. When silence came after “Apartment Story,” I managed to shout “That’s my favorite song!” and Matt responded with a smile. I burst into tears, which lasted only for five seconds because “Abel” started playing and it made me leap. I’m guessing they were smoking pot when they arranged the set list. It was a roller coaster of emotions.

They returned with four more songs, and Matt was probably tipsier than he thought. In the middle of “Terrible Love” he waded through the crowd, walked his way through the seats until he reached the end of the room, turned left, and was hounded by fans, myself included. I touched him, making myself believe that this was truly happening, and unconvinced, I pinched him. What could be gayer than that?

Back onstage, he sang one last song, this time only Aaron and Bryce’s acoustic guitars accompanying him, with several moments of violin playing. It was a stripped-down version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” a perfect song to close a wonderful night. Matt sang with his eyes closed, and so were most of us. I sang along and my voice was quivering. Everything became so clear and images flashed before me. I was out of breath, and I thought, “Shit! I must not die now!” Recognizing the weight of the entire experience made me weep, and I didn’t have the drugs to sort everything out.

The stage lighting, among other things, is fantastic.

I was afraid.. I’d eat your brains.

It’s hard to take a picture of Bryce, but here he is.

On a bloodbuzz, all through the night.

All the very best of us! String ourselves up for love!

The set list:

1. “Runaway”
2. “Anyone’s Ghost”
3. “Mistaken for Strangers”
4. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
5. “Slow Show”
6. “Squalor Victoria”
7. “Afraid of Everyone”
8. “Conversation 16”
9. “Available”
10. “Sorrow”
11. “Apartment Story”
12. “Abel”
13. “Daughters of the Soho Riots”
14. “England”
15. “Fake Empire”

ENCORE:

16. “Lucky You”
17. “Mr. November”
18. “Terrible Love”
19. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

<EVERYTHING WAS BEAUTIFUL AND NOTHING HURT> 

The Top 50 Albums of 2011 January 23, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
15 comments

Truth: it was the year when I listened to too many albums. I checked my notebook and realized that I listened to five new albums every week in 2011. I couldn’t help it. I needed things to occupy my time and found these records. I devoured them like a madman, re-listening to them on my way to the office or back home, when I had my lunch, waited at airports, traveled on a bus or jeepney, took the train, walked to nowhere. These albums had been wonderful companions through the good and the bad, carrying me through the rough times and keeping me sane. I neglected books and movies because of them, and to what end? A certain kind of happiness, bittersweet, heavy, and forgiving. In Peter Silberman’s words, I was “pulled together but about to burst apart, rolled together with a burning paper heart.” Sappy yet true.

Below is a summary of the finest records I loved and continue to love from last year. Links to songs are provided, as well as a few notes on other stuff. Do listen to them if you have the time.

HONORABLE MENTION

WOLFROY GOES TO TOWN, Bonnie “Prince” Billy

NO TIME FOR DREAMING, Charles Bradley

LAST SUMMER, Eleanor Friedberger

SOUND KAPITAL, Handsome Furs

HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART 2, Beastie Boys

LA JOVEN DOLORES, Christina Rosenvinge

NOSTALGIA, ULTRA, Frank Ocean

YUCK, Yuck

EL CAMINO, The Black Keys

THE KING IS DEAD, The Decemberists

50. NO COLOR, Dodos

49. HEARTS, I Break Horses

48. UNDUN, The Roots

47. OPUS EPONYMOUS, Ghost

46. TAMER ANIMALS, Other Lives

45. 12 DESPERATE STRAIGHT LINES, Telekinesis

44. DYE IT BLONDE, Smith Westerns

43. ONEIROLOGY, CunninLynguists

42. SAFARI DISCO CLUB, Yelle

41. IMPOSSIBLE SPACES, Sandro Perri

40. TOMBOY, Panda Bear

39. TAKE CARE, TAKE CARE, TAKE CARE, Explosions in the Sky

38. GLOSS DROP, Battles

37. CIRCUITAL, My Morning Jacket

36. LAST NIGHT ON EARTH, Noah and the Whale

35. BLANCK MASS, Blanck Mass

34. FADING PARADE, Papercuts

33. SMOTHER, Wild Beasts

32. STRANGE NEGOTIATIONS, David Bazan

31. HELPLESSNESS BLUES, Fleet Foxes

30. THE MAGIC PLACE, Julianna Barwick

29. ARABIA MOUNTAIN, Black Lips

28. TURTLENECK & CHAIN, The Lonely Island

27. SKY FULL OF HOLES, Fountains of Wayne

26. PARALLAX, Atlas Sound

25. A CREATURE I DON’T KNOW, Laura Marling

24. BLACK UP, Shabazz Palaces

23. NOTHING IS WRONG, Dawes

22. SKYING, The Horrors

21. HURRY UP, WE’RE DREAMING, M83

20. THE KING OF LIMBS
Radiohead
[XL]

Listen: “Codex,” “Lotus Flower”

19. LEAVE HOME
The Men
[Sacred Bones]

Listen: “If You Leave…” “Bataille”

18. WIT’S END
Cass McCombs
[Domino]

LSS: “County Line,” “The Lonely Doll”

17. WASTING LIGHT
Foo Fighters
[Roswell]

Listen: “Arlandria,” “Back and Forth”

16. APOCALYPSE
Bill Callahan
[Drag City]

Listen: “America!” “Riding for the Feeling”

15. SUCK IT AND SEE
Arctic Monkeys
[Domino]

Listen: “She’s Thunderstorms,” “Love is a Laserquest”

14. SKYLINE
Yann Tiersen
[Mute]

Listen: “Forgive Me,” “Exit 25 Block 20″

13. DAVID COMES TO LIFE
Fucked Up
[Matador]

Listen: “Queen of Hearts,” “The Other Shoe”

12. RAVEDEATH, 1972
Tim Hecker
[Kranky]

Listen: “The Piano Drop,” “Analog Paralysis, 1978″

11. NINE TYPES OF LIGHT
TV on the Radio
[Interscope]

Listen: “Will Do,” “No Future Shock”

10. ECHOES OF SILENCE
The Weeknd
[XO]

Listen: “D.D.” “XO/The Host”

9. NAPOLEONETTE
Matthew Friedberger
[Thrill Jockey]

Listen: “What A Weird Weird Weird Weird,” “Shirley”

8. AESTHETHICA
Liturgy
[Thrill Jockey]

Listen: “Generation,” “Glory Bronze”

7. COIN COIN CHAPTER ONE: GENS DE COULEUR LIBRES
Matana Roberts
[Constellation]

Listen: “Libation for for Mr. Brown: Bid Em In…” “How Much Would You Cost?”

6. TAPE CLUB
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
[Polyvinyl]

Listen: “Dead Right (Wilmington Demo)” “Cardinal Rules”

5. NEW BRIGADE
Iceage
[What's Your Rupture?]

Listen: “White Rune,” “Remember”

4. D
White Denim
[Downtown]

Listen: “Is and Is and Is,” “Street Joy”

3. PAST LIFE MARTYRED SAINTS
EMA
[Souterrain Transmissions]

Listen: “California,” “Milkman”

2. BURST APART
The Antlers
[Frenchkiss]

Listen: “I Don’t Want Love,” “Putting the Dog to Sleep”

1. LET ENGLAND SHAKE
PJ Harvey
[Vagrant]

Listen: “The Words that Maketh Murder,” “In The Dark Places”

BEST EPs

HALLS EP, Halls

AN ARGUMENT WITH MYSELF, Jens Lekman

OH SUNSHINE, Oh Sunshine

GUARDS EP, Guards

WHAT A PLEASURE, Beach Fossils

QUADRUPLE SINGLE EP, Big Business

BEST OST

DRIVE, Cliff Martinez

SUBMARINE, Alex Turner

THEY’RE OK, BUT….

BON IVER, Bon Iver

FATHER SON HOLY GHOST, Girls

GO TELL FIRE TO THE MOUNTAIN, Wu Lyf

LOOPING STATE OF MIND, The Field

WATCH THE THRONE, Jay-Z and Kanye West

CULTS, Cults

DAYS, Real Estate

METALS, Feist

THE ENGLISH RIVIERA, Metronomy

EYE CONTACT, Gang Gang Dance

BEST SONGS NOT ON THE ALBUMS LIST

“NOTHING BUT HEART,” Low

“SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW,” Gotye feat. Kimbra

“MEASUREMENTS,” James Blake

“LOTS SOMETIMES,” Glasvegas

“THE DAILY MAIL,” Radiohead

“MEET ME IN MIRAMAS,” Matthew Friedberger

“BABY MISSILES,” The War on Drugs

“QUANTUM LEAP,” John Maus

“ROMANCE,” Wild Flag

“WHERE I’M WAKING,” Slow Club

“I FOLLOW RIVERS,” Lykke Li

“ORIGINAL SPIN,” Mother Mother

“LIPPY KIDS,” Elbow

“BRAIN ON A TABLE,” An Horse

“HOW CAN YOU LUV ME,” Unknown Mortal Orchestra

“SHOULDA,” Jamie Woon

“BUBBLE POP!” Hyuna

“HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE,” The Rapture

“SANTA FE,” Beirut

“UNDERNEATH THE SYCAMORE,” Death Cab for Cutie

“WAKE AND BE FINE,” Okkervil River

“ME AND LAZARUS,” Iron and Wine

“BLUE EYES,” Destroyer

BEST CONCERT ATTENDED

THE NATIONAL at the Esplanade in Singapore, November 6, 2011. A trip worth taking and a dream come true. Everything about it is made of happiness and fun and sad memories and getting high.

BEST SONGS 2011

BEST ALBUMS 2010

BEST SONGS 2010

BEST ALBUMS 2009

BEST SONGS 2009 

So lighten up, Squirt. January 20, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Oh You Know.
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See you in July, I guess?

The Top 20 Songs of 2011 January 18, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
19 comments

Pop music is my drug, and the more I withdraw from it the more I suffer. No matter how many folk or dubstep or black metal albums I listen to, a song full of irresistible hooks will always turn me into that mindless six-year-old kid dancing to Backstreet Boys and weeping to the tune of Westlife’s songs. Pop music has forever taken me hostage, and what do I get? Joy. Thrill. Fixation. That juvenile feeling of keeping a treasured secret. That accomplishment in being able to appreciate nuances of a song that most people think is junk. That delight in acknowledging the stupidity of it all but not being able to walk away from it. What else is there to get? Instead of pleading freedom, why not embrace it?

In a seminal essay, writer Tom Ewing talks about pop music and says, “[...] the primary tactic of the new pop critic was to bypass that and twitch back the showbiz curtain to locate these records in a production system. What made the tracks important wasn’t how they made you feel, but the innovative tricks creators used to get those effects. Intricate drum patterns, Bollywood samples, fake-harpsichord frills, or brutal minimalism—anything with an angle got love.” The first impulse is always one of love, of course, so why exempt feelings? Isn’t how music affects you more significant than how it is made, and consequently, how you respond to it?

Locally, 2011 is a year dominated by “Teach Me How to Dougie,” “Super Bass,” Adele, and Anne Curtis, each one of them inescapable, straightforward, and confrontational, and their ubiquity on television and radio easily switches between charming and annoying. Two of them appear below, and the other eighteen are for you to find out.

How about a nice shuffle before you read through the list?

20. “THE SHOW GOES ON”
Lupe Fiasco
[Lasers]

The song that announced the arrival of Lupe Fiasco’s third album was ripe with risks. The much talked-about fight he had with his producers who insisted on controlling every aspect of the record resulted in the delay of its release, but it only made the song’s title even more fitting. Lupe gets away with the dull lyrics and lousy rhymes because they are wrapped in a nice, shiny flow that gets better every time the chorus kicks in, owing its flaps and bounces to Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” carrying his rough disappointments in a sleigh ride and pulling a neat pop song from a hat caked with filth.

19. “DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH”
Nicole Scherzinger
[Killer Love]

The Pussycat Dolls are second rate and trying hard, and it takes Nicole Scherzinger’s second single from her first solo record to prove that. She doesn’t need the girls—she can nail a smashing hit single of her own. “Don’t Hold Your Breath” splashes with an ear-friendly mix of synths, bass, and piano, and on top of it is Scherzinger’s breathy vocals, steamrollering with lyrical punches and hip-shaking conviction. When she sings, You can’t touch me now, there’s no feeling left, imagine, how can a guy ever think of laying a hand on her again?

18. “BEFORE IT EXPLODES”
Charice
[Infinity]

By now Charice should have graduated from doing covers and started performing songs of her own, but these matters are clearly beyond her control. It would take a while before people get used to her without a song or two from Momma Celine and Whitney. Her image is fragile, and appropriate songs have yet to come her way. “Pyramid” helped her immensely, and though club music wasn’t something that fit her puniness, it displayed her potential as a well-rounded recording artist, given a proper team of writers and producers.

“Before It Explodes,” the first single from her sophomore record, fulfills the promise of a pop star Charice who is not only confident in her vocal abilities but also in her shortcomings, as she becomes more disciplined in adding dramatic shifts to her singing. For someone who earns praise for excessiveness, she has managed to lose the fat and lop off the curls from her routine. Her voice lives up to the woman that Bruno Mars has envisioned for the song, and every time she hits the line, let’s stop the madness before it explodes, she roars with cockiness made even more impressive by the way she rolls herself around the bridge.

17. “FRIDAY”
Rebecca Black
[Single]

All right, all right, it’s a pain in the ass. But this musical monolith deserves a spot on a list that glorifies the popular and the dumb, and more so because “Friday” is a mix of the divisive and the comical and the ubiquitous—everything a pop song should be.

16. “HELENA BEAT”
Foster the People
[Torches]

After the massive success of “Pumped Up Kicks,” it seems that Foster the People have nothing much to worry about. Three or four tracks from Torches carry the same thump and wallop, and one or two of them are potential chart-toppers. However, there’s a fat chance that any of them will be played on Gossip Girl, Homeland, Entourage, or CSI: NY and be covered by The Kooks or Weezer. Being in the shadow of a kid in a shooting spree singing You better run, run run sucks big time, but “Helena Beat,” which vaguely speaks of alcoholism and drug addiction, possesses the earworm qualities that made its predecessor click: remarkable hooks, gutsy synth arrangements, androgynous vocals, and a slideshow of disturbing images. The glee that comes from “Pumped Up Kicks” spills right through here, filtered and moderated, which makes the song longer but tighter and loonier. It’s tough being a follow-up single, but apparently these trigger-happy guys from L.A. have more upsetting stories to tell and they send them in colorful boxes of sweets.

15. “SINO NGA BA SIYA”
Sarah Geronimo
[One Heart]

All things considered, Sarah Geronimo should be thankful for Rayver Cruz. If not for him, she won’t have someone to throw virtual darts at every time she sings about heartbreak. “Forever’s Not Enough” is a superior song on all levels, but “Sino Nga Ba Siya” depicts her at her most wounded, and no one connects to listeners better than a woman who got hurt by her first love. Her words aren’t only clear—they are sharp, razor-sharp, cutthroat sharp. Her questions aren’t only straightforward—they are candid, honest, and undemanding. In fact, she might have been talking to Siri and asking for advice. It’s the song in Sarah’s catalog that may be the hardest for her to perform, but it captures her frailty and defenseless that her other hits cannot match.

14. “CHARLIE BROWN”
Coldplay
[Mylo Xyloto]

The best song from their weakest album, hardly because of the fuzziness of the songwriting—Took a car downtown where the lost boys meet, Took a car downtown and took what they offered me, lines which Chris Martin can scribble in his sleepbut by virtue of a rare kind of magic that their instruments manage to muddle up, the audio tracks that leap from everywhere, most especially the wailing guitars that burn the mawkishness and make the song frosty, slowly Zooropa-ing the mush away.

13. “THE EDGE OF GLORY”
Lady Gaga
[Born This Way] 

A large portion of Lady Gaga’s persona is smokes and mirrors. Subtlety is never her strong suit, but she easily uses that to her advantage by channeling her diverse musical influences to her compositions. On Born This Way, she offers such huge servings of rock, metal, opera, and disco that listening to it becomes thoroughly exhausting. By the time the record hits the final track it’s all hot and heavy, and “The Edge of Glory” seems to add more weight with its slosh of techno synths that befits her larger-than-life ambitions. It’s a monster quite different from “Bad Romance,” “Poker Face” and “Born This Way”—it’s softer, richer, riskier in terms of structure, and her voice is fuller and fiercer. It’s a dance anthem for the weepies—it’s mad, manic, and maudlin, like the feeling of downing consecutive shots of vodka—and Gaga’s eclecticism has finally found an appropriate direction to go to. She never believes in “less is more,” so she asks Clarence Clemons to fashion a sax solo towards the end, batter the heart even harder, and pour more syrup.

12, “UNIDENTIFIED”
Taken By Cars
[Dualist] 

Taken by Cars manage to refine their sound in Dualist, yet what stands out in their sophomore release is the unabashed dedication to hooks, specifically the eye-squinting polish and smoother texture that each song exudes. “Unidentified” follows the gleam of album opener, “This Is Our City,” and throws all the energy at the dance floor, punching holes in hearts as Sarah Marco spreads disco fever with her infectious singing. It’s more hypnotic than erotic, preferring spins and glides as the verses, chorus, and bridge seem to outrun each other’s slickness. There are no wasted seconds on the track—a cunningly seamless production is as scarce as hen’s teeth nowadays— and like every untouchable pop song, it pulls the ripcord at the most unexpected and breathtaking.

11. “WHO SAYS”
Selena Gomez and The Scene
[When The Sun Goes Down] 

“Who Says” is Selena’s response to Facebook and Twitter haters who hounded her after she started dating Justin Bieber, and it’s wise of her to turn such torment into something sweet, into a celebration of individuality and self-worth. Hitting two birds with one stone, she is not only able to inspire her fans but also establish and reiterate, by dropping the word “beauty” countless times, how pretty she is, as if referencing to herself provides an impression of experience, an authority to speak on every girl’s behalf. Every time she repeats the verse, I’m no beauty queen, I’m just beautiful me, who can blame her self-confidence? Who dares to cringe after that figure of speech, It’s like a work of art that never gets to see the light? And who cares if the most expressive line in this song is Na na na na na na na na na na na? 

10. “LONELY”
2NE1
[2NE1 2nd Mini Album]

Far from the feisty and gutsy techno-warfare singles the group is known for, “Lonely” wallows in simplicity. It takes away the Auto-tune, bombastic beats, and rap intrusions and lets the girls’ vocal abilities shine—the absence making its presence felt deeply—and such risky undertaking pays off in many exuberant ways. Invisible is the transition among the singers, and it shows how confident and comfortable they are in slow tempo. Stripped down, “Lonely” leaves 2NE1 in a state of utter nakedness, but there’s nothing to hide here but talent, which reveals the glitter and teeth marks of sadness.

9. “TNT”
Pupil
[Limiters of Infinity Pool]

Ambivalence doesn’t work all the time, but in Ely Buendia’s case, when he drops words like a threatened man who finds comfort in poetry, it kills the monotony of a predictably dark and dull atmosphere. “TNT,” the lead single from Pupil’s Limiters of the Infinity Pool, starts with a flaming guitar riff that signals the clash of instruments about to inundate Ely’s vocals, peeling the layers until they reveal a door of sonic surprises. One can’t help but make a Teeth comparison after the nifty bridge, but that only adds to the song’s charming mysteriousness, which builds a fortress before finally drawing the curtains in a split second.

8. “TELL ME IT’S LOVE”
Westlife
[Gravity] 

There was one touching moment during the Westlife concert in Manila when Nicky Byrne recounted a conversation with a Filipino staff member at the hotel they stayed in. The woman came up to him and said that she was a huge fan of the band and that their songs helped her get through elementary school. After making fun of his mates’ age, Nicky asked who among the audience was listening to their songs during elementary and more than half of the crowd raised their hands, which made the band members chuckle even louder. Shane started to sing words from “My Love” in a cappella and Nicky grabbed his camera to film the people singing along, and for the nth time the night was drowned in memories, all coursing through from the bright stage.

“Tell Me It’s Love” was never sung in the concert, but it was tucked somewhere in the band’s tenth and final studio album, Gravity. A throwback to their early singles, it is as generic as any Westlife song can get, alternating between Mark and Shane’s sweeping vocals, building up towards a chorus that looks back as much as it looks forward. Wrapped up by Nicky’s maudlin bridge and Mark’s trademark torch singing, the rendition of the song is close to perfect, which explains why the band’s breakup is a little hard to embrace.

7. “PATULOY ANG PANGARAP”
Angeline Quinto
[Angeline Quinto]

Angeline Quinto came at the time when the local music industry was consciously and unconsciously looking for someone as good as Sarah Geronimo. With the arguable exception of Christian Bautista, whose popularity is only hyped by his international fan base, Sarah’s contemporaries have all been passé—Erik Santos, Sheryn Regis, Rachelle Ann Go, and Mark Bautista are still out there but they’re only as negligible as anybody—and even she has been making constant efforts to reinvent herself to avoid the sharp fangs of oblivion. ABS-CBN knows that the solution is to come up with another talent search, even if it means producing another mediocre show.

Angeline bags the title among the hordes of Sharon wannabes , wins a recording contract, and eventually becomes the reliable provider of soundtracks for soap operas. Her breakthrough single, “Patuloy ang Pangarap,” maps out her journey, from dreaming dreams to finally realizing them, imbued with banalities that fail to make her flinch. Angeline’s careful singing gives her away: she means all the words she says. The song is about her, for her, and by her. By the time she reaches the peak of the song, she has nothing left to do but hold all her aces, flap her wings, and soar.

6. “ROLLING IN THE DEEP”
Adele
[21]

In the year that witnessed a tug of war between Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, Adele just stood in the middle: she took the cake and ate it by herself. She’s the corporal opposite of Amy Winehouse, but she shares the late singer’s knack for emotional lift, vulnerable to every proof that love is indeed a losing game. But unlike Amy, Adele prefers screams and histrionics, favoring drama and towering arrangements in lieu of sublimity, her quivering voice a reminder of hurt and willingness to suffer. From the guitar strums in the beginning to the thunderous claps in the bridge, “Rolling in the Deep” describes Adele at her most sorrowful, glimpsing at her healing heart before patching the holes of regret and despair. But the song also depicts her strength and sobriety. She takes all the pain in and lets it all out, her soul emptied out and filled again, showing everyone her breathtaking needlework.

5. “TAMBAY”
Spongecola
[Araw, Oras, Tagpuan]

It is possible that the members of Spongecola, who have long been creating some of the most vexing pop songs in the past few years, are not aware that they have released their finest composition, lyrically and melodically, this year. “Tambay” is not a risky undertaking—it still makes use of the band’s trite songwriting and ostentatious chord arrangements—but now it is fine-tuned from start to end, progressing from a run-of-the-mill ditty to an irresistibly catchy courtship song that stands alongside the best of Parokya ni Edgar and Kamikazee. Yael Yuzon gives up the overbearing screams and delivers well-adjusted bellows, accompanied by guitar screeches and eager beats that fit the teenage vibe nicely, flashing a three-minute wonder worthy of numerous repeats.

4. “SUPER BASS”
Nicki Minaj (feat. Ester Dean)
[Pink Friday]

In the past two years, a Nicki Minaj verse means gold. Whenever she makes a guest appearance, she turns a so-so song into something remarkable (“Up Out My Face”) and a good song much, much better (“Woohoo,” “Raining Men”). Sadly her own songs from Pink Friday lack the pump and kick of her collaborations, and if it weren’t for Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, to whom “Super Bass” owes its break, she’d be quickly reduced to a novelty, a trinket to be discarded over time. In a span of three minutes and a series of wild verses, fortunately, she changed all that. “Super Bass” is one of the year’s loudest and proudest turning points, an arsenal of all things weird and wonderful made even weirder and more wonderful by Nicki’s skill at catapulting, robbing every word and stuffing all of them into her mouth before launching an impeccable chorus. How the song turns affection into something worth sinning for is no easy feat, but the way she declares her fondness for a guy and sugarcoats it to the point of intoxication, there seems to be no other feeling happier than that.

3. “WE FOUND LOVE”
Rihanna (feat. Calvin Harris)
[Talk That Talk] 

There’s something very hormonal about Rihanna’s songs that liking them equates to being instinctive and juvenile, her tunes teeming with immediate vibrancy that burst with force and color the moment the chorus hits and repeats. What makes “We Found Love” different, however, is that the listener’s expectations are only as good as the surprises she pulls, something which producer Calvin Harris has structured so slickly the sparseness of the words works surprisingly well to the song’s advantage, the blaring synths even catchier than the hook line itself. We found love in a hopeless place shines with peerless ebullience—it’s 2011’s tallest skyscraper as far as earworms are concerned, and Rihanna, who feeds on sadomasochism and doom, chants it with a mix of lust and despair, throwing daggers with her eyes closed. Knowing that she suckles on excesses, Harris gives her less, and one of the most trifling pieces she has been asked to work on turns out to be an exceptional gem.

2. “OTIS”
Jay-Z and Kanye West
[Watch the Throne] 

The kind of lifestyle that Jay-Z and Kanye promote doesn’t come close to the kind of lifestyle that the two lead in real life. Their richness goes beyond money, fame, and luxury. They no longer need a territory to conquer and a culture of contradictions to turn upside down. “Otis” seems purposely arranged to sound like an effortless exercise—the two rap titans trading verses that show off and underline their skill and influence—but in all its tremendous superciliousness there hovers a luster that never wears off despite the lack of anything that resembles a chorus, apart from the sample of “Try A Little Tenderness” that provides the song a charming pockmark. It’s a pronouncement of fortune, a statement of infinite assets and zero liabilities that no longer sees the sky as the limit. Nothing in it breaks new grounds except for Jay-Z and Kanye breakdancing on top of their careers with no one to challenge them but their own vanities, the throne left to no one but to their shadows.

1. “COUNTDOWN”
Beyoncé
[4] 

Sasha Frere-Jones describes Beyoncé as “a quiet meritocrat, celebrating the pleasure of doing things well and not making a particularly big deal of it.” She dashes from one huge triumph to another without making a fuss, a diva and a hustler at the peak of her career who never runs out of novelties to offer, challenging herself in every career move she makes. After successfully headlining Glastonbury last June, she is now a proud mother at 30, giving birth not only to her first child but also to a number of songs that would soon inspire and make up her subsequent albums. Filled with references to her happy married life, 4 captures Beyoncé’s finest form as a singer, gracefully bending genres from soul to RnB, supported by an excellent team of producers that enables her to sharpen what’s already sharp and churn new classics.

“Countdown” stands out in the record’s stream of blues and spikes. In pure “Crazy in Love” fashion, Beyoncé delivers a maniacal confession of love that bleeds as much as it thrills, a song whose only idea of rest is a beaming smile. It is built on Beyoncé’s temper, a kinetic ball that rolls far and fast regardless of the flight of stairs it needs to climb, the topnotch quality of her voice complementing the mad instrumental crescendos. It champs at the bit, it tosses and turns, it jumps and sizzles—there are so many things happening in the song that it’s impressive how she manages to keep up and march along, but that’s her gift: being able to hold out her hand and touch numerous places at once. She sweetly talks about her relationship with Jay-Z, telling it like a school girl reminiscing a first kiss, and she is backed up by a cathedral of beats and colorful syncopation that lift her from the storm. Never has Beyoncé shown any sign of wavering; on the contrary, she goes up and up. polishing the structure of the song before returning to its centerpiece, rarely pausing for breath, hovering in midair for three and a half minutes, and then poof: she disappears.

NEXT: The Top 50 Albums of 2011

2011: A Year in Album Covers December 23, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearender.
6 comments

Guiding you through some of the most memorable pieces of album artwork from this year’s music releases:

(1) Comix

Brilliant! Tragic! - Art Brut

B-Sides - Noah Gundersen

(2) Women

Indestructible Machine - Lydia Loveless

A Creature I Don't Know - Laura Marling

(3) Water

Civilian - Wye Oak

Shapeshifting - Young Galaxy

(4) Colors

Group Therapy - Above and Beyond

Echoes of Silence - The Weeknd

(5) Abstract

Native Speaker - Braids

The People's Key - Bright Eyes

(6) Architecture

Helioscope - Vessels

Neighborhoods - Blink 182

(7) Gray

Wounded Rhymes - Lykke Li

In Waves - Trivium

(8) Skull

Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions - Enablers

The Seventh Degree of Separation - Arena

(9) Portrait

Fjree Feather - Forest Swords

Tomboy - Panda Bear

(10) Patterns

Realism - Shine 2009

Massless - Graviton

(11) Dogs

Goodbye Bread - Ty Segall

Blue Suicide - Coma Cinema

(12) Kiss

Suede (Reissue) - Suede

Total - SebastiAn

(13) F is For…

Forever Today - I'm From Barcelona

Metals - Feist

(14) Minimal

Suck it and See - Arctic Monkeys

The Rip Tide - beirut

Looping State of Mind - The Field

An Argument With Myself EP - Jens Lekman

(15) Space

Flumina - Fennesz + Sakamoto

Space is Only Noise - Nicolas Jaar

(16) Cross

Audio Video Disco - Justice

BlackenedWhite - MellowHype

(17) “Elephants”

The Moonlight Butterfly - The Sea and Cake

Yuck - Yuck

(19) Kids

The Gaddabouts - Edie Brickell

Several Shades of Why - J Mascis

(20) Skyscraper

Azari & III - Azari & III

Zonoscope - Cut Copy

(21) Black and White

Ravedeath 1972 - Tim Hecker

Dropped Pianos - Tim Hecker

FIVE BEST ALBUM COVERS

Blanck Mass - Blanck Mass

Ukulele Songs - Eddie Vedder

Nursing Home - Let's Wrestle

Biophilia - Bjork

All The Way - Nightlands

FIVE WORST ALBUM COVERS

Shangri-La - Yacht

Crazy Clown Time - David Lynch

F.A.M.E. - Chris Brown

The Great Escape Artist - Jane's Addiction

Born This Way - Lady Gaga

The Top Music Videos of 2011 December 14, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Music Videos, Yearender.
17 comments

It’s the time of year again when indulgence in list-making is tolerated and forgiven, especially when it comes to music. In light of 2011’s abundance of gifts to offer, it is only proper that music lovers recognize them one by one. Picking only five among the music videos released this year is obviously wrong (many remain unseen and many hardly win against the fluctuating Web connection) but picking five is how everything will start, and starting is always the key to doing things right. Anyway, here they go. Click on the titles to watch.

5. I AM THE BEST, 2NE1. Directed by Seo Hyun Seung.

Everything here screams with extravagance: flashy outfits, luxurious production design, strange sci-fi elements, excessive display of swag, too much emphasis on glam. But in 2NE1’s glitzy universe, over-the-top ideas are a beauty to look at, and even the scantiness of dance moves doesn’t hurt much. Who run the world again?

4. THE WILHELM SCREAM, James Blake. Directed by Alexander Brown.

The song is lovely, but James Blake is lovelier. Even the shaky camera says so, capturing him in profile and toying with effects and colors, soft blues and luscious greens, ambivalence and swoon, eye contact and sexual distance.

3. BEST THING I NEVER HAD, Beyoncé. Directed by Diane Martel.

It’s not the lacy corset that looks terribly good on her, nor the extravagant details on her Vera Wang gown, nor the playful wedding ceremony and the hilariously bad home video that turn this into a spectacle: it’s Beyoncé’s face—the way it shines with happiness and satisfaction, the way it achieves revenge without actually doing it, and the way it shoots daggers at every douchebag who deserves a bloody kick in the face. Look at her. She’s contagious.

2. THE GREEKS, Is Tropical. Directed by Megaforce. Animation by Seven.

A no-nonsense depiction of kids in the age of counterstrike who fire guns at enemies and strangers, produce and sell meth, speak French in drug deals, throw explosives, and enjoy the inanity and insanity of it all. “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” Right. Totally fun.

1. LOTUS FLOWER, Radiohead. Directed by Garth Jennings.

Longtime Radiohead fans like myself were not supposed to be surprised when this came out in February—Thom’s sporadic movements (or seizures?) and crazy gyrations every time he performed onstage bore the seeds—but for some reason we were: not only surprised but also astonished, affected, and bemused, and later on the surprise turned into intense euphoria, exaltation, and rapture, exhilarated by the sight of Thom Yorke careening, cavorting, frolicking, jitterbugging, jiving, prancing, swinging, waltzing—whatever you call those moves or gestures of trying to survive a fit. The moment this video was released, the world became better every second, and dancing no longer needed talent: it only required joie de vivre.

2011 in Music: October Tweets November 2, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Twitter Reviews.
5 comments

(144) PORTAMENTO/The Drums: pierce dons robert smith and talks about things heavier than heaven and sadder than the sound of one hand clapping #7.5

(143) NO TIME FOR DREAMING/Charles Bradley: bradley is 62 years old and this is his debut album. get ready for soul punches #8

(142) THE RIP TIDE/Beirut: the lightest beirut album so far, and by lightest it means most accomplished #8

(141) PERFECT DARKNESS/Fink: aches and trembles and fans the flames that rise from its bonfire, blowing and kindling the wind #7

(140) LOOPING STATE OF MIND/The Field: it sure lives up to its name, but the wide stretches lack will-o’-the-wisps #5.5

(139) LUPERCALIA/Patrick Wolf: some tracks cut through like a hot knife through butter; some go from one ear to another #6.5

(138) WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN/Selena Gomez and The Scene: miss bieber drops pop missiles and makes sweeping gestures of self-worth #6.5

(137) NEW BRIGADE/Iceage: 4 Danish lads pull together a punk-spit-punk helter-skelter debut of flaming riffs and anarchist sonic youth shrapnel #9

(136) GRAVITY/Westlife: doing original songs is still the best way to impress #6

(135) AN ARGUMENT WITH MYSELF/Jens Lekman: jens leans closer to paul simon, his anecdotes and litotes sending forth gleams #7

(134) WALLS/An Horse: kate cooper bleeds it out, switching between her heart and brain damn too many times, and lands every kiss with a fist #7.5

(133) BLANCK MASS/Blanck Mass: after witnessing nuclear accidents, an alien hides in subterranea, records his experiences, & beams someone home #8

(132) WATCH THE THRONE/Jay-Z and Kanye West: not as beautiful, dark, or twisted as MBDTF, but their crack fantasies together play for keeps #6

(131) DUALIST/Taken by Cars: dance gurus are able to even out the splats of noise and make the irresistible hooks and a-one textures float #7.5

(130) UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA/Unknown Mortal Orchestra: rags and tatters of analog wavering in low-key gaieties, itching to help you get laid #7

(129) TORCHES/Foster the People: contains loops of hoops and trapezes that are supposed to disappoint but they don’t #7

(128) WITHIN AND WITHOUT/Washed Out: takes on a trippy glo-fi cruise before dipping its heart in slimy collagen high and low #7

(127) ON A MISSION/Katy B: occasional fistfuls of swell pub-club decoys signed, sealed, and delivered from calm #5.5

(126) REPTILIANS/Starfucker: from the clever band name to the tunes that bask in torrential synths, STRFKR’s childish fun is hard to dismiss #7

(125) DYE IT BLONDE/Smith Westerns: “…love is lovely and when you are young.” a soundtrack to many nights of long walks and short kisses #7

(124) ANG SAYAW NG DALAWANG KALIWANG PAA/Various Artists: fans of the movie will be delighted. fans of vic robinson will be in seventh heaven #6

(123) FADING PARADE/Papercuts: thick and heavy, heady and textured, oftentimes more melodic and melancholy than Beach House #7.5

(122) LAST SUMMER/Eleanor Friedberger: eleanor steps back from her brother’s excesses and rollicks in the skating rink of her blues #7

(121) STRANGE NEGOTIATIONS/David Bazan: the wonderful weariness of bazan’s introspection makes up for the album’s shortness on surprise #7.5

(120) LIMITERS OF THE INFINITY POOL/Pupil: shares the sobriety & might of the first & second, though the sonic handcuffs here are more adventurous #7

(119) ATTENTION PLEASE/Boris: its pop knives stab deep, the blood drowning the meagerly arranged tracks and hanging them wet #6.5

(118) HEAVY ROCKS/Boris: the metal prefixes and suffixes connect and disconnect amid the billows of icy fire and smoke #7

(117) NEW ALBUM/Boris: a ravishing J-pop/rock start gets shaky and leans on abstract towards the middle and end #7

(116) GROUPLOVE EP/Grouplove: vocal tidal waves and robust harmonies open the door to unexpected come-ons #7

(115) HOW YOUR INFLUENCE BETRAYS YOU/Typecast: the sentiments are lame and juvenile, but the drums and guitar work are made of massive #6

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R.E.M. (1980-2011) September 23, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, RIP.
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It didn’t sink in yesterday, but today it did. The moment I played an R.E.M. song on my iPod this morning, I burst into tears. I wanted nothing but a space for myself away from the office.  Fuck.  It’s supposed to feel fine, as Stipe sings about the end of the world, but no, not this time at least.

Thank you Stipe, Berry, Buck, and Mills. For the most part of my childhood I was the man on your moon, supernatural superserious, a nerd carrying a Walkman on the way to school, comforted by your music. You don’t know how much I owe you. Until then, until always.

Rakenrol (Quark Henares, 2011) September 22, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Music, Noypi.
4 comments

Written by Quark Henares and Diego Castillo
Directed by Quark Henares
Cast: Jason Abalos, Glaiza de Castro, Ketchup Eusebio, Alwyn Uytingco, Diether Ocampo

It takes a rather distant observer, someone whose knowledge and experience of local music are no match to Quark Henares and Diego Castillo’s, to put Rakenrol in some kind of sober perspective. Two observations are worthy of mention: first, if Rakenrol were intended to pay tribute to the glory days of Pinoy rock music, then the film misses the point. By piling details on details and cameos on cameos, the movie lays more tracks than its narrative can maneuver into, most of which split in the middle and spoil some of the film’s heartfelt moments. Second, among the people from that era who bear witness to its humble beginnings and touching end, Henares is the best person to tell its story. Sadly, he blew that precious opportunity. His insistence on sidetracking and celebrity grazing ends up in drudgery, showing his bad habit of biting off more than he can actually chew.

Contrary to popular belief, movies whose main firearm is nostalgia are not foolproof. Since their attack aims straight at the heart, they expose their weaknesses as much as their strengths, making them more vulnerable to scrutiny. At the center of Rakenrol is Odie (Jason Abalos), who falls in love with his best friend, Irene (Glaiza de Castro). They share CDs and posters, talk about songs on the radio, and watch gigs of their favorite bands together. He writes songs about her and records them. She eventually gets around listening to them, oblivious that they speak to her, Odie too shy to admit his feelings. Driven by their passion for music, they decide to form a band. Mo (Ketchup Eusebio) and Junfour (Alwyn Uytingco) join them, completing Hapipaks’s lineup and in a way forming a circle around the couple, allowing Odie to express her affection for Irene less implicitly. But a douchebag named Jacci Rocha (Diether Ocampo) gets in the way. Irene is besotted with her obsession for Jacci, the egotistic and megalomaniac vocalist of Baron Münchausen, and Odie has no choice but to stay put as Jacci breaks her heart and his.

Rakenrol‘s story looks good on paper. Inevitably it brings to mind many music-driven movies—High Fidelity, Once, Almost Famous, Empire Records, 24-Hour Party People, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, heck, even The School of Rock. A tale of heartbreak sells anywhere, and coupled with music it only becomes more painful. Every song plays like a drug slowly taking effect, resonating like a childhood daydream. Had the story been told well, Odie and Irene’s romance would have been trapped in a magical time capsule of some sort—their love waving from such great heights, lodged inside a beautiful snow globe, entombed yet boundless—something that the filmmakers had actually envisioned for the film. Henares and Castillo, however, are too busy inserting cameos and references, which are fairly reasonable since Rakenrol is an attempt to bring back the feeling of those times, but they indulge so much in breaking the film in fragments, resulting in uneven pacing and hodgepodge plots. The film resembles an apartment where Hapipaks members throw a party: every person they know knocks and enters, and no one remembers who pukes on the couch or leaves early.

There are way too many details, and most of them are rather negligible. Gay music video director Ramon Bautista, cuckoo artist Jun Sabayton, talent manager Matet de Leon, and shady Japanese businessman Ricardo Cepeda, though quirky and entertaining to some extent, are just there for laughs. Considering that humor is better appreciated if it isn’t too eager to please, these characters don’t serve much purpose, unless the intent of the film is to show off what its filmmakers are capable of achieving. Henares and Castillo are obviously more concerned with recreating cultural atmosphere, which is not only limited to music, and that would have been commendable if the narrative isn’t so gangly. In fact, its lankiness is disturbing; remove the fat and what’s left is a story that relies so much on the periphery. For instance, it should have been a joyful moment when Ely Buendia appears fortuitously near the end—the idea of chancing upon him at Ministop feeds on every 90s kid’s fantasy—but by the time he rambles on life and inspiration, all fluffy and frothy, seemingly embodying the entirety of the movie, it turns out to be a failed suicide attempt. That short scene is totally unbearable, worse than Ely’s worst song, and it’s because the movie can’t decide whether to humanize or dehumanize him.

The saving grace of the movie would have been Hapipaks, but the band is reduced to a convenient pretext for Odie to be with Irene, something that happens in real life when love messes up with one’s priorities. Irene makes it sweeter, but in fact Hapipaks is Odie’s dream with or without her. He is a songwriter, a musician, an avid fan of rock music. Hapipaks is more than Irene. Even if she doesn’t say yes, Hapipaks is a reminder of memories before she became part of Odie’s life. Rakenrol loses sight of that. As the credits start to roll, the idea of forming a band, finding a manager, performing at bars, and releasing a record all seems superficial. More than anything else in the movie, no matter how thin it is, the love story sucks everything in, the joys and struggles of being in a band, the bittersweet smell of success, the comfort of good music. Odie and Irene should have taken the sinking boat and pointed it home, but they wasted their time.

Also published on:

2011 in Music: July Tweets July 31, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Twitter Reviews.
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(114) DAYPLAYER EP/Dayplayer: john francis daley forms a band and everyone’s feeling that mushy high school goo again #6

(113) KISS EACH OTHER CLEAN/Iron and Wine: sam beam is snug as a bug in a rug, singing from a hilltop, having a hunky-dory, pleasant ball #6.5

(112) SKYING/The Horrors: in many shoegazing ways a majestic trip all the way back, basking in the splendor of auricular fissures and cascades #8

(111) SOUND KAPITAL/Handsome Furs: synth-heavy follow-up does not whirl as much as the first, but boeckner manages to lock the grid and fire it #7

(110) MIDDLE STATES/The Appleseed Cast: a bullet of lilting arpeggios and soaring sonic gravitas following the trajectory of a mopey soccer ball #7

(109) WASTING LIGHT/Foo Fighters: a crashing clusterfuck that throbs wild before flinging a couple of jackknifed juggernauts #8.5

(108) COLORING BOOK/Glassjaw: they had me at “vanilla poltergeist snake”—the title, not the song—and the annoying riffs that don’t stop #5

(107) BADLANDS/Dirty Beaches: the sound of lo-fi without the fi #3

(108) CODES AND KEYS/Death Cab for Cutie: an overlooked gem that fits snugly into the band’s ever-growing woebegone playlist #7.5

(106) NOTHING IS WRONG/Dawes: sophomore release knocks it out of the park, way way out, deep deep in #8.5

(105) LET ENGLAND SHAKE/PJ Harvey: revolutions happen like refrains in a song, and this record is one of those historic battlefields #8.5

(104) DEERHOOF VS EVIL/Deerhoof: as bizarre as it is wonderful; satomi matzusaki winks and an atomic bomb falls somewhere else #7

(103) HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART 2/Beastie Boys: the boys never lost the license to kill and the flow to thrill #7.5

(102) THE KING IS DEAD/The Decemberists: Meloy the Scrabble King and company return to basics and pull together a fragile yet satisfying whole #7

(101) THE PEOPLE’S KEY/Bright Eyes: the sum of all fears and evangelical motion sickness, florid and affectionate, but never—never—ironic #6.5

(100) EUREKA/Mother Mother: the unabashed headless-chicken pop goodness of the first half weighs heavy and drags the slack second #7.5

(99) THE NEXT RIGHT THING/Seth Glier: a gifted singer-songwriter whose stories strike a chord and whose voice can lead an army and make it weep #7

(98) GIMME SOME/Peter Bjorn and John: the icy dreamscapes are harder and more cluttered, but the derivative melodies manage to stick and work #7

(97) 2071/Magic Places: a cocktail of finite subjective realities #6

(96) MIRRORWRITING/Jamie Woon: twenty-something british producer is unafraid to tread on borderline sap and trip over doleful hanky-panky #7.5

(95) CULTS/Cults: sugar eclipses the light, crackling guiltless pop until gleam turns dim #6.5

(94) OUTSIDE/Tapes ‘n Tapes: a firehouse of anthems running away from a bee sting #6.5

(93) WONDERVISIONS/Delicate Steve: steve hopscotches in rainbows, sliding from one confounding guitar window to another #7.5

(92) SEVEN SWANS REIMAGINED/Various Artists: a touching tribute in which a couple of tracks (harrod’s esp) stand out and dissolve the rest #6

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2011 in Music: June Tweets July 2, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Twitter Reviews.
3 comments

(91) YUCK/Yuck: the glory of the 90s complete with gold soundz, dinosaurz, fanclubz, and lemonheadz #7.5

(90) W H O K I L L/tUnE-yArDs: garbus’s coos and lilts and sonic jabs grate as much as they captivate. but still and all, funk’s not dead #6

(89) WIT’S END/Cass McCombs: someone whose future epitaph reads “Home At Last” is bound to give you onerous shivers and lovely lullabies #8

(88) LET THEM TALK/Hugh Laurie: greg house will never be the sexy blues musician he always wanted to be, but it’s fun to watch him try #6.5

(87) BON IVER/Bon Iver: wake me up when winter ends #5.5

(86) 4/Beyoncé: the diva’s still a vocal hustla, topping Sasha Fierce and torch singing her way through schmaltz and splinters #7

(85) WITH U/Holy Other: spooky robodub-sublimities form a glacier before evanescing from the thick of it #6.5

(84) LAST NIGHT ON EARTH/Noah and the Whale: our self-centered and self-conscious teenage Kinks are happier than before, sincere as always #7.5

(83) TALUMPATI/Gloc-9: at the center of it is not gloc-9’s trite poetry and hypnopompic confessions but the guests whose verses shine through #6

(82) OLD REGIMES/Matthew Friedberger: the harp bleeds sinister and dissolves all hooks and crooks #6

(81) 21/ADELE: a soap starring adele and her vocal prowess ends when she has finally grown wings and soared #8

(80) GLOSS DROP/Battles: laser/beams, fridge/magnets, electro/limousines, and dance/turbos flailing around in a frantic shambles #8

(79) CIVILIZATION EP/Justice: the track itself is a little shy, but the remixes will certainly prep you for the new record #6.5

(78) DAVID COMES TO LIFE/Fucked Up: “enormity” & “enormousness” are interchangeable in this bloody zen arcade epic hoo-ha of loss & hysteria #8.5

(77) THE MAGIC PLACE/Julianna Barwick: the gospels have never sounded this persuasive and powerful yet so light and generous #7.5

(76) LA JOVEN DOLORES/Christina Rosenvinge: “a thing of beauty is a joy for ever” #7.5

(75) TURTLENECK & CHAIN/The Lonely Island: wack sucker punches coming on like gangbusters from the cast of “Glee on Marijuana” #8

(74) THE IMMINENT FAILURE OF FRANÇOIS PEGLAU/François Peglau: he’ll never be alain delon, but peglau manages a sly hitchhike to lennon’s catalog #7

(73) THE FLYING EP/The Flying Ipis: spiky and nittty-gritty punk/garage ditties delivered by (spice) girls don’t-wanna-be’s #6.5

(72) NATIVE SPEAKER/Braids: montreal quartet hurls lush harmonies before running out of glitter and grease #6

(71) O, EVELYN…/Owen: “all that I need is to know that I’ll know you when you’re older” daddy mike matures and remains a sweetie #7

(70) MOMENT BENDS/Architecture in Helsinki: why quit child’s play and replace it with YA/boyband/techno mishmash that doesn’t work? #5

(69) GOBLIN/Tyler, the Creator: nobel prize for fucking literature #8

(68) HALLS EP/Halls: sumptuous and scrumptious—cloudy with a chance of buzz-balls—skittering before it finally explodes #8.5

(67) BLACK UP/Shabazz Palaces: space(d out)(t)rap “50 years in the making,” at the center of which are fidgety monuments about to keel over #8

(66) OH SUNSHINE/Oh Sunshine: emily’s voice takes you in before mikio’s guitar takes you away; one reason you should dump she and him #7.5

(65) SOMETHING LEFT BEHIND/Transit: a group of boys got an A+ in Platitudes 101 #3.5

(64) STONA ROSA/The ACBs: it tastes like the best tasting lemonade you ever gulped down and you can’t find anything like it anywhere else #7.5

(63) OPUS EPONYMOUS/Ghost: Swedish doom metal crawling between holy blasphemous and arty pop, something your mother might actually like #7.5

(62) I REMEMBER ME/Jennifer Hudson: a producer’s paradise in which the ballads echo the best (gorgeous) and worst (strained) of whitney #7

(61) SMOTHER/Wild Beasts: thorpe’s tremulous turbines turn and each song waxes dainty even without meaning to #8.5

(60) BURST APART/The Antlers: sunk in the abyss, silberman’s hair-raising caterwauls reach harrowing heights #8

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A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan, 2010) June 21, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Book Reviews, Literature, Music.
8 comments

Quite a number of epiphanies permeate Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, and each of them, discernible only to the sensitive reader, drifts and lingers before coming together at the end, leaving an impression of heavy and heavenly daze. A blurb from The New Republic couldn’t have said it better: “It ends in the same place it starts, except that everything has changed, including you, the reader.” Two men introduced in the first chapter meet in the last, and the bridge that connects them, a woman that once struck their fancy, is missing. On our part as readers, and for quite some time secret admirers, it is rather heartbreaking not being able to tell Bennie and Alex why Sasha is no longer around, where fate is about to take her, and how, in our desperate wish to witness a reunion, we’d love to see her make an unexpected and outwardly casual entrance, coming down from her old apartment, waving at them, “stealing” their thunder.

Technique is Goon Squad’s strongest suit, Egan weaving thirteen chapters through a mirage of varied storytelling styles, each of them rife with a keen sense of introspection, a rollercoaster ride that moves between funny and touching, warm and aching, honest and illuminating. The book’s structure is architecture at its most breathtaking. Marveling at it is enough eye candy, but walking towards it, seeing the details up close, and eventually entering its premises—admiring the staircases, stained-glass windows, elegant light fixtures, spacious rooms; opposite Egan’s words and sentences, her knack for building eerie rhythm, her deft control of pace, the way she lets her phrases flow like a quiet river, crisscross, time-travel, their inner monsters hidden but there—is proof that this is one of those novels that no one puts down unsettled.

But beyond technique, there’s an undeniable pathos hovering around, a deep feeling of recognition, a tinge of familiarity with Egan’s descriptions, particularly the kinship we develop with her characters, their lives narrated like she has actually sneaked into our diaries and rephrased some of our entries. Closing the book, I realize it took me a while to finish it because I didn’t want the experience to end, that in my desire to stay in touch with Egan’s wonderfully flawed creations I was also confronted by the fact that only a fraction of their lives was accessible to me, that upon reading the last sentence—”But it was another girl, young and new to the city, fiddling with her keys”—I was burdened by the idea that I could only look back at their stories like a sweet childhood memory, their existence validated only by whim, their meaning becoming less painful and more beautiful as time goes by.

The force of Egan’s writing lies in its vulnerability, how, just by opening a random page, her sentences can presume a different and oftentimes curious meaning when taken outside their context. Holding the book now and opening it in page 48, I relish a few lines, sentences that are probably meaningful only to myself. “Jocelyn and I shriek and hug onto Bennie, which for me is like touching something electric, his actual body in my arms. I remember every hug I’ve given him. I learn one thing each time: how warm his skin is, how he has muscles like Scotty even though he never takes his shirt off. This time I find his heartbeat, which pushes my hand through his back.” Something in that excerpt makes me smile, like a rush of endorphins is squiggling to leap out of my body, but I’m sure that Rhea, the girl telling it, knows she can never have Bennie and has resigned herself to the idea that he loves someone else. I’ve read it so many times, and its repressed intimacy always moves me. How come unrequited love can inspire such wonderful thoughts? How come Rhea, whose juvenile frustrations have been her freckles, seems to have accepted failure rather easily that when she meets up again with Jocelyn several years later, when Lou is frail and dying, and when Jocelyn remembers her fondest memories with Rolph, she affects the look of a strong woman yet deep inside she has regrets?

Although its strands are not always present, the music in Goon Squad is the thread that connects the pieces together. Egan strikes a balance between overt details and implicit ones, and those hints, those pieces of information wheedling our imagination, enrich the reading experience even more. Unlike Nick Hornby in High Fidelity, she places the songs away from the center; and as with any silly infatuation, we are strangely attracted to them. Our interests are piqued just by the mere mention of their singers. Moreover, the records mentioned in each chapter seem to exist only in the periphery. Even in that phenomenal Powerpoint chapter, in which a thirteen-year-old is obsessed with the pauses present in rock and roll songs, the focus is on the drama, on a family weighted by the past, on each member conflicted with his or her own idiosyncrasies.

A recurring trait of some characters in the book—Sasha, Ted, Charlene, Scotty, Ally, even Jules—is their penchant for remembering the past, a theme that enfolds the narrative neatly. Aside from the epigraph, this is Egan’s way of making an obvious reference to Proust. She translates Proust’s manic writing style into a surfeit of musical nuances that give the impression of a time capsule, history in freeze frame, a decade of music in several pages. Although I am not familiar with some of the tracks cited in Goon Squad, they compel me to listen to them, to share Lincoln’s fanaticism, to understand what Blake didn’t but tried to, and perhaps, for some obsessive reason, to get to know these people better. And maybe I did understand them after all, because whenever I return to a particular memory of reading the book, the gaps I made before starting on another chapter, the breaks I had from disembarking the train to boarding a bus, the mandatory pauses I made to let it all in, what I remember is the sound of soft cries and whispers, echoes of hurt and sadness, all music to my ears.

Goon Squad is one of those novels that earns its reputation through word of mouth, a type of work that leaves the reader either excited or indifferent. Happily, I belong to the former. Many times have I laughed while reading Jules’s account of assaulting Kitty; or Kitty’s horrifying trail to having herself killed; or Ted’s vacation in Naples; or the mere mention of a bar called “Mabuhay Gardens” where The Flaming Dildos used to hang out; or the thought of Scotty Hausmann as Scotty McCreery, a product of post-9/11′s bothersome clique, charming yet confounding, starting off as an underdog but contrary to popular expectations someone who has the ability to win millions of hearts. Coincidences, anyone? I’ve cried many times too, reduced to useless shit and goo, especially when I realized that two of my beloved characters, Rolph and Rob, have met a tragic end; or that time when I found myself pondering over Lincoln, a bright kid who has an air of weakness in him that connotes early death. Great books always give the reader that feeling, that he or she and the novel’s characters share some history together that hasn’t happened yet, or perhaps a kind of history that happens in some other place and time that only the keeper of memory knows. In Goon Squad such keeper is actually a friend.

*

MUSIC FROM THE GOON SQUAD: A collection of songs from the book

Download: Mediafire

Tracklist:

1. Supervixen – Garbage
2. Roxanne – The Police
3. Please Forgive Me – David Gray
4. Bernadette – The Four Tops
5. Faith – George Michael
6. Satin Doll – Duke Ellington
7. Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin
8. Rearrange Beds – An Horse
9. Mighty Sword – The Frames
10. Foxy Lady – Jimi Hendrix
11. Young Americans – David Bowie
12. Fly Like An Eagle – Steve Miller Band
13. Long Train Running – The Doobie Brothers
14. Please Play This Song on the Radio – NOFX
15. Closing Time – Semisonic
16. Time of the Season – The Zombies
Bonus Video: The Sleepers – Sister Little (Live at Mabuhay Gardens)

*With special thanks to Aldrin Calimlim and Jansen Musico

“Sugar Water” (Cibo Matto/Michel Gondry) June 1, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Music Videos.
2 comments

To this day I have to admit that I am a stranger, like a fly in a glass of milk, to the music of Cibo Matto. I have never had any peculiar interest in them, for I thought the genre they play is too arty and clubby, something I couldn’t see myself sincerely enjoying. Sometime in college I came across their music, unexpected rather than intentional, when one of my professors lent me the Directors Label DVDs of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Chris Cunningham. The discs feature the works of these young filmmakers, most of which are music videos that came out in the 90s and early 00s. My love for all of them was immediate, Jonze and Cunningham leaving me inspired and insecure at the same time, but it was with Gondry whom the affection stayed the longest.

His imagination strikes me as this vast warehouse of concepts where no idea is repeated, where no decision is done on account of insipidness, and where boredom is not an enemy but a character to be dolled up. Suffice it to say Gondry has become a convenient source of encouragement: a confession you’d expect from a film nerd who used to stay in the library until 12 midnight. Aware of the obvious posturing, I’m under the impression that he has pushed me to be continuously creative regardless of the result, good or bad, interesting or not, liked or hated. When I’m asked what my favorite Gondry video is, the lovely split-screen, one-take video for “Sugar Water,” a single released by New York-based Japanese duo Cibo Matto in 1996, is the first thing that comes to mind.

The song is heavy on atmosphere, the beats at the beginning are characteristic of any post-trip hop classic, and the background “woooos” and “la-la-la-las” provide an eerie and enchanting vibe. Yuka and Miho build a refrain that sucks everything in, filled with soft touches of mood and uncanny temper, sashaying steadily without being too indulgent. But veering away from their usual food fetishism, clearly, it’s the lyrics of the song that stand out amid the melody. “A black cat crosses your path,” seems straight out of early Breton. “I’m riding on a camel that has big eyes / The buildings are changing into coconut trees / Little by little,” is a familiar setting from a tableau done by an eighteenth-century Japanese painter. Strong is the song’s sense of origin, evoked by the unusual English, but it only fits the feel of the track even more. The images, brought to mind by Miho’s angelic singing, make “Sugar Water” a pleasant earworm, one that could have inspired Gondry to create one of his iconic videos, a work that looks deceivingly simple yet proves to be a difficult task to pull off.

In an interview he says that the song’s symmetrical quality makes him think of a palindrome. Interestingly, what he does is translate that observation into film. He cuts the screen in half, Yuka occupying the left side and Miho the other. Yuka moves forwards and Miho moves backwards. They get up from bed, take showers of sugar and water, dry themselves up, put on their clothes, and walk outside the flat. When they meet in the middle, in a conspicuous car accident, the role is reversed. Miho transfers to the left, Yuka to the right, and the video ends where it starts: on the bed. Watching both screens, the film is indeed a palindrome: what you see on one side is reflected on the other from beginning to end. Gondry fills the video with quirky details: the letters exchanged between the two women, the words in them that says “YOU KILLED ME,” the mysterious black cat crossing their way, the cramped staircase, the sunglasses and the helmet, the flower pot falling from the window.

See, the true mark of creativity is when the artist madly falls in love with his or her idea and executes it regardless of success or failure. More often than not it’s the most ridiculous of ideas that linger in memory and leave an impression of sincerity. In “Sugar Water” Gondry has managed to fulfill his childish ambitions: a kid so keen on telling a story, on sharing with the world a beautiful discovery, so happy with a creation resting in his own hands. Moreover, he has introduced to a wider audience a band whose music is often overlooked, a genre whose few members are outside the limelight, taking their time, exploring and experimenting, never giving up on possibilities.

*A version of this article appears in Papermonsterpress’ S/Trip-hop Issue. Pick up a copy (with a free CD) while it’s still available. The goon squad will be happy. Shoot the editors an e-mail at papermonsterpress@yahoo.com.

2011 in Music: May Tweets May 31, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music.
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*

(59) LIFE LOVE & THE MUSIC/Karen Esco: soul is always threatening, but karen simply hikes up her skirt and licks our bruises oh so sweetly #7

(58) ARABIA MOUNTAIN/Black Lips: a series of sixteen fortunate events rolled in one screwball “season finale” #7.5

(57) THE BUTCHER/SUPERCOLLIDER/Radiohead: the eraser bonus tracks #6

(56) BORN THIS WAY/Lady Gaga: high-fiving a million angels! http://bit.ly/mUit45 #7

(55) KAPUTT/Destroyer: dan bejar’s sweet nothings and dilly-dallies inflict wounds like broken shards of poetry #7

(54) SUCK IT AND SEE/Arctic Monkeys: the makings of a splendid album: classic cover, come-hither tunes, old school swag #8

(53) BLUE SUICIDE/Coma Cinema: shiny happy melodies for lazy lonely travelers #7.5

(52) JAMES BLAKE/James Blake: not that i mind, but this record has loads of this http://bit.ly/juEw0g a toss between “boys” and “voice” then? #5.5

(51) SO BEAUTIFUL OR SO WHAT/Paul Simon: “dear dad, you still got it. lovelots, harper” #7.5

(50) IS GROWING FAITH/White Fence: happiness is a warm gun #7

(49) ASLEEP ON THE FLOODPLAIN/Six Organs of Admittance: silky babbles floating on heavenward guitars and luminous reverb/echo baths #6.5

(48) PAST LIFE MARTYRED SAINTS/EMA: ghosts escape from the machine and turn every sound into epiphany and every confession into scripture #9

(47) COMMON ERA/Belong: you’d be surprised how articulate drones can be #7

(46) THE JANUARY EP/Here We Go Magic: brimming with colors, lacking in whirlpool #6

(45) MUSIC SOUNDS BETTER WITH YOU/Acid House Kings: full of belle-and-sebastian and saint-etienne dreamy ditties drowned in candied twee #6

(44) THAO & MIRAH/Thao & Mirah: two hot girls do harmonies that leap over high hurdles before exiting with a big hug #7.5

(43) HELPLESSNESS BLUES/Fleet Foxes: tracks saunter like a parade of shooting stars falling slowly from a pitch-black night sky #8

(42) THE KING OF LIMBS/Radiohead: suck it hard and see how a mix of vim and hankering drips from its seductive mess #8.5

(41) ALL ETERNALS DECK/The Mountain Goats: funny, sad, emotional, exasperating. john darnielle’s songwriting never gets old #7.5

(40) HIGH MAINTENANCE/Miranda Cosgrove: another proof that bubblegum pop has reached its peak with josie and the pussycats #3

(39) GUARDS EP/Guards: new adventures in lo-fi brimming with rent-a-drool smiles, fizzling like ice-cold coke on a cloudy summer’s day #7.5

(38) PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE: SINGLES 2002-2010/The Radio Dept.: fourteen singles and fourteen b-sides sailing from rapture to rupture #8

(37) ANGELINE QUINTO/Angeline Quinto: record’s obviously rushed, but she manages to shine on at least 3 songs. minus 2 stars for the remixes #5

(36) EUPHORIC HEARTBREAK/Glasgow: part-stadium music, part-teleplay. blood, tears, and gold ra ra ra #6.5

(35) RAVEN IN THE GRAVE/The Raveonettes: too cold for comfort. half of the record too fleeting to be noticed #5

(34) MEET ME IN MIRAMAS/Matthew Friedberger: writing talent undiminished. guitars on high amounts of crack. subtle subdued subliminal firework #7.5

(33) NAPOLEONETTE/Matthew Friedberger: the piano is a monster and it’s going to eat you up. a dazzling opus raining cities & colors #9

(32-1)

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