Tag Archives: california

The Top Five Songs of 2013: Neeharika’s List

23 Dec

With about a week to go before the end of the year, 2013 is being hailed by critics across the board as a good year for music. We saw the emergence of new, promising artists like Haim and Lorde, and saw great followups by established acts such as Arctic Monkeys and Daft Punk. My Bloody Valentine made a reappearance twenty-two years (!) after their previous album, while Kanye West released a mad-hatter album whose hype rivals, if not exceeds, that which surrounded his blockbuster from 2010. Chance the Rapper and Earl Sweatshirt, too, released important rap albums. All in all, it was a good year for music. Here’s my take on the top five songs of the year. Hope you like it!

– Neeharika

5. “The Wire” by Haim

Haim

There are a handful of songs in the world where all the elements – the music, the lyrics, the style and the influences – sync perfectly and irrefutably together. These songs are very, very few and far between, and are invariably propelled to ‘instant classic’ status. It can be said, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that “The Wire” is one of these songs.

Haim, a trio of sisters from sunny California, has been making all the right kind of headlines since their debut Days are Gone released in September. Even though they have been compared to everyone from Fleetwood Mac to the Dixie Chicks, Haim has an unshakeable foundation which lets them use their influences as flavoring rather than as the main ingredient. However you look at it, Haim is one of the most attractive and truly talented bands out there today.

“The Wire”, a confessional about wisely letting go of a failing relationship, is an irresistibly catchy example of Haim’s allure. Existing in a universe where The Bangles open for Madonna (or maybe the other way around), “The Wire” is one of the best songs of the year and perhaps one that 2013 will be remembered for, well into the future.

View our full album review here.

4. “Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand

In early 2004, a Scottish indie rock band released an eponymous debut album, smartly titled after a European archduke who catalysed one of history’s largest events. Fittingly, the album provided a similarly intense shot-in-the-arm for the indie rock world, which had been languishing since The Strokes released their unbeatable debut three years prior.

Franz Ferdinand’s post-punk/steampunk hit “Take Me Out”, which was coupled with a video that showcased the band’s monstrously creative art-school sensibilities, remained the band’s song to beat. Now, almost a decade later, Franz Ferdinand has finally created a true successor to their best-known song – and man, it’s good.

“Right Action” is an almost-love song (“Sometimes I wish you were here, weather permitting”) that paraphrases Buddhist tenets (“Right thoughts, right words, right actions”) over a relentless dance-party riff. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the song’s a riot and a half. The video, like all Franz Ferdinand videos, is mindblowingly artsy, and the boys are as slick and well-dressed as ever. Alex Kapranos has said that the band’s raison d’etre is to make music that girls can dance to. Franz Ferdinand may be a decade old, but you can bet your skinny tie that they can still own any dance party.

3. “Bad Girls” by M.I.A.

London-via-Sri Lanka swag goddess MIA has always been known for her ridiculous amounts of devil-may-care confidence. But nowhere in her career has she been as swagtastic as in the video for “Bad Girls”. In front of an audience of traditionally-attired Arab men, MIA drag-races – on cars tilted 45 degrees to the vertical – while repeating her feminist, fuck-you mantra: “Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.”

MIAThe implicit understanding that the video is taking place in Saudi Arabia – where woman drivers, let alone irreverent women atop cars, are forbidden – makes “Bad Girls” one of the rowdiest things that MIA has ever done. The song itself tilts, much like MIA’s cars, between exotic mysticism and gilded braggadocio, and in a way, it’s a metaphor for the artist herself. Whatever the angle, though, it’s just a ridiculously good song.

2. “Royals” by Lorde

Ironically aristocratic teenage sensation Lorde is, ironically, 2013’s It-girl. On “Royals”, her break-out, chart-topping lead single, Lorde sings about her inability to associate with the gaudy extravagance of popular musicians. “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair,” she asserts, placing herself firmly in the zone of the non-celebrity.

Over a deep-drum, threadbare beat, Lorde eschews the trappings of fame for a more localized aristocracy: “Let me be your ruler, you can call me queen bee,” she says. Ironically, though, this very song catapulted her into immediate pop royalty, charting her over self-indulgent pop mainstays such as Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. Not bad for a sixteen year old, wouldn’t you say?

View our full album review here.

1. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk

“Get Lucky” was first released into the world through a 15-second advertisement on Saturday Night Live in early March. The rabid craze that followed that brief snippet foreshadowed the near future: a particularly enthusiastic fan even spun that 15-second sample into an extended 10-hour jam (!).  At that point, the world didn’t even know much about the song – apart from a warm, glittering riff that somehow automatically brought to mind a disco ball. By the time Daft Punk released the song in April though, everyone knew all the words. It was, in mid-spring, already the song of the summer.

“Get Lucky” is musical perfection enveloped in four minutes. It’s the reckless abandon on a disco dance floor. It’s the magic of meeting someone more promising than you’ve met in years. It’s the realization that love keeps the planet spinning, that music rebirths from itself like a phoenix. “Get Lucky” is a gift from a pair of robots to humankind, reminding us of a forgotten truth: that the past is golden and the future holds endless possibilities.

In 2013, musicians around the world made music that impacted some of us in certain ways. In 2013, Daft Punk made a song that could – and should – eventually be sent out of our world into endless space as a symbol of what humankind can achieve… with a little help from robots, of course.

View our full album review here.

So there you have it! Stay tuned for more Top Five lists coming up soon, including our Top Five Albums of 2013!

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John Mayer: Born and Raised

14 Jul

 

Born and Raised is a pretty important album, career-wise, for John Mayer. The last few years haven’t been too kind to him. From gracing the cover of Rolling Stone in 2007 with John Frusciante and Derek Trucks as the new Guitar Gods to an almost-career destroying interview in the same magazine three years later, it’s clear to the public eye that John Mayer the celebrity has taken precedence over John Mayer the musician.

He once had it all: backing Jay-Z one night to jamming with Buddy Guy or B.B. King or Eric Clapton on another; forming a successful blues power band (John Mayer Trio); living it up with the ladies during his acoustic coffeehouse heartthrob phase. But he lost it all, and quite publicly, that too. In a whale of personal trouble, Mayer shut himself off from the world and started working on Born and Raised. And as for the inspiration, Mayer seems to have looked all over California, especially the Laurel Canyon folk scene of the late 60s and early 70s. Quite a few American iconic artists make their presence felt on this album, as do legendary American session men like Chuck Leavell (of The Allman Brothers Band), Jim Keltner and Greg Leisz. And that makes the album very interesting indeed.

As we’ve explained, California is all over the album. Aptly enough, the album kicks off with the beautiful country folk song “Queen of California”, a retro Laurel Canyon folk tribute that should be heard around a bonfire with a hip-flask in hand. As Mayer name-drops both Young’s After the Gold Rush (“Lookin’ for the sound of neon, hun/After The Gold Rush of 1971“) and Joni Mitchell’s Blue  (“Joni want blue, a house by the sea“), the influences of the iconic songs are clear. Built on a vintage Grateful Dead groove and a classic Neil Young acoustic riff, it channels The Allman Brothers Band in its silky hooks and fills. Mayer’s in top form here, with beautiful vocals and soulful harmonies reminiscent of CSNY in all its glory, accompanied by some beautiful pedal steel playing.

 

 

On this album, John talks often of the decisions in his life. “The Age of Worry”, one such song, is a lyrical ode to fortitude. Starting off with some great acoustic picking, it segues into a plush string ornamental gusher, where Mayer’s recent acrimonious past seems to be heavy on his mind. On “Shadow Days”, backed by bristling lead guitar, shimmering piano and pedal steel (in the tone of mellow Southern Rock), Mayer is both confessional and a tad chastened about his past relationships. He admits to living in the vicious cycle of self-delusion with his relationships and paying for it: “It sucks to be honest/And it hurts to be real,” he confesses, going on to insist that, on the brighter side, these experiences have given him self-forgiveness and self-acceptance.

 

 

The title track “Born and Raised” is a vintage Mayer blues track, with the tambourine adding in a Dylan flavor and the sharp pedal steel bringing in a rootsy feel. This track has Mayer talking about the passage of time and age, as well as his parents’ divorce, and features none other than Crosby and Nash (!) guesting on backing vocals. Album closer “Born and Raised (Reprise)” is more Laurel Canyon, with a touch of harmonica and a lot of rootsy cheeriness. The harmonica again makes an appearance on the delightful “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey”, an acoustic ballad about the wonderful combination of sports and booze.

In fact, the album does well to balance the new Californian influences with dashes of vintage Mayer. “Something like Olivia” is a delightful track that features the legendary Jim Keltner on drums. This gentle soulful song, supposedly about House actress Oilvia Wilde, benefits greatly from the church organ and the peppy spunky groove giving it a a Soul flavor. “If I Ever Get Around To Living”, channeling the Grateful Dead in all its jam band glory, has Mayer reminiscing about his pre-fame 17-year old self playing guitar alone in his room alone (“When you gonna wise up boy?” he asks himself).

Speaking of vintage Mayer, his coffehouse avatar especially makes an appearance on the tracks “Love is a Verb” and “A Face to Call Home”. The former, a bit of a slow-dance-love-stoker built on a simple acoustic guitar arrangement and pleasing resonant piano, has Mayer insisting that that love is something you do, not just a word you say. His quirky lyrics (“You can’t get through love, On just a pile of IOU’s“) only make the song better. This one’s a sure-shot inclusion on the present wedding season playlist. The romantic “A Face to Call  Home”, the second last track on the album, is vintage Mayer, and easily more peppier and happier than the rest of the album. The song is capped off by a fully-drawn arrangement which extols the triumph and relief after this rather arduous journey of self-realization and self-awareness.

But the best song on the album is the profound, plaintive “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967” , which might even be his best song ever. Here, Mayer spins a tale of a discontent husband/eccentric scientist who undertakes a flight of fancy – across the Pacific – in his homemade underwater machine. The trumpet extends grandness to the song’s dreamy landscape, which is complemented wonderfully by the rolling, almost martial rhythm pattern. But like any truly good song, the rhythm and the melody propel this song forward, accentuating it without intruding on the narrative. More than any other song on the album, this song reminds us that John Mayer the teenage heartthrob is gone; and in his place is a mature and steady songwriter who questions and welcomes life in all its facets and hardships.

John Mayer has definitely matured as a songwriter and as a lyricist. While his understated blues playing is as beautiful as ever, one wishes it had a larger presence. The album has a quite a wonderful range of Californian influences; but at the same time, it has Mayer stamped all over it. Sure, the album will probably alienate his detractors even more, but it will definitely please his fans more than that. Born and Raised may just be his best album yet.

As a special bonus, we’ve made a neat little top five list of our favorite songs on this album, for your easy listening pleasure. Without further ado:

5.  If I Ever Get Around To Living

4.  Something Like Olivia

3.  Shadow Days

2. Queen Of California

1.  Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967

Verdict: Born and Raised is arguably Mayer’s best and most mature album till date. Mayer fans, go listen! And non-Mayer fans, this would be a good album to convert you.

– Sayid.

Joyce Manor: Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired

2 Jul

Last year, a young British band called Yuck channeled the apathy of 1990s’ teenagers into a near-perfect indie rock record. This year, a young band called Joyce Manor from Torrance, California does something similar, translating the manic restlessness of the 2000s’ into one of the best punk records in recent times. The nine songs on Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired will fill you with an agitated, sustained urge to dance and/or start a band: all within the album’s thirteen (!) minutes of running time.

Similar to Japandroids’ Post-Nothing, the chaotic jumble on Of All Things works well without ever veering into dissonant hipster nonsense (for example, Micachu). The headiness of youth takes you over for thirteen minutes and nine seconds, in bite-sized songs of pure energy.

“These Kinds of Ice Skates” sets the tone for the album, with tight drums, apathetic vocals and an exceptional skill at writing clever lyrics (‘And I don’t think you’re confusing refusal to heal/ With all your selfishness singing, “I know how you feel,”’), all within a minute and a half. “Comfortable Clothes, is a terse tribute to the energetic, fuck-all freedom of youth, reminiscent of Bows + Arrows-era Walkmen. Tracks like “Violent Inside”, “Bride of Usher” and “I’m Always Tired” are heart-felt paeans to youth’s insecurities and melodrama. Despite the mild anguish, however, the band faces as always towards Sunset Boulevard, reminding us of their heritage: that, whatever may come, it’s always sunny in California. (Sorry.)

A classic bass-line drives along the laid-back “See How Tame I Can Be”, but the groovy song bubbles with an undercurrent of adolescent angst (‘And it’s too much to take and so I say to myself, “I never told you that I loved you because I don’t.”’). However, one soon gets the impression that the angst may actually be a joke: that the song’s title – and tameness – is actually a back-handed, precocious compliment to Joyce Manor’s hyperactivity. And the result, hipster aspirants, is irony done right.

Another great song on the album is the mellow “Drainage”, an unexpected, seventy-one-second simple love song, complete with gently-plucked acoustic guitar and faint cello. “If I Needed You There” is Panic! At the Disco with an irreverent buzz cut; against all odds, the minute-long sonic blast not only comes across as a legitimate song, but its chorus even manages to embed itself in your brain.

All through the album, Joyce Manor subtly showcase their many talents underneath the mess and clutter. The band takes pop music, and gives it back to us – trodden, deconstructed and reassembled – and yet somehow pays tribute to it. They are highly skilled editors and arrangers: there isn’t an out-of-place or unnecessary second on the album. And finally, the band is entirely audio-oriented in today’s world of VEVO and pop superstars: they demand – and get – your undivided, aural attention. All of this, and more, comes together on the best song on the album, a cover of 80s one-hit wonder band the Buggles’ signature track, “Video Killed the Radio Star”. We honestly think it’s one of the best covers of the often-covered song, ever.

There are a few criteria that all great songs possess: they grab your attention, pack in as much passion as possible, showcase musical skill, provide intelligent lyrics and have melodic sensibilities. Joyce Manor’s songs rarely cross the two-minute mark, but every single one of them hits all these criteria. The album really is a study in brevity and (there’s no other word for it) genius.

The genius extends to the album cover and title too. The neat capital letters on the cover, defiantly but aesthetically jumbled, give you a good taste of the music that’s inside. The album title, too, strikes us as particularly ingenious. Joyce Manor is a band with enormous talent and very little patience for bullshit. They are confident enough to cut down their album to less than 90 degrees on the clock. Naturally, mundane things in life tire them, and this album is a divine distillation of all that.

Verdict: Of all things Joyce Manor may soon grow tired, but of Joyce Manor you will not very soon grow tired. If you have thirteen minutes and nine seconds of time, listen!

– Neeharika

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