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The Top Five Songs of 2013: Nikhil’s List

26 Dec

2013 was a great year to be into music. It’s hard to think of the last time that things have been quite this interesting. There have been stellar debut albums and big name comebacks (including a return to Blue Note bandleader after no less than 43 years). There has been major rap release after major rap release after major rap release after major rap release (with a very refreshing minor rap release thrown in for good measure). We even managed to see the return of science fiction. It’s been a great year with great music and here is my take on its top tracks

Honorable Mention: “Valentine’s Day” by David Bowie

Adding an honorable mention to lists like this is cheating, but I couldn’t write this without touching on this song. “Valentine’s Day” was both heartfelt and topical. With barely anything at all, Bowie manages to paint a complex picture of the eponymous Valentine. His description of the planned school shooting is extremely personal and that lets you fill in what pushed Valentine this far. The song itself shifts from tender as he goes over his treasured plans and power trips to frenetic as he is about to take action. Frightening and remarkable, this song is David Bowie as good as he’s ever been.

You can read our full review of his album here

5. “5 AM in Toronto” by Drake

It’s easier to laugh at Drake than to like him. Nothing Was The Same┬ádid nothing but reinforce how soft he is. I mean, have you seen “Hold On, We’re Going Home“? It wasn’t actually a bad album though and that speaks volumes about his talent. “5 AM in Toronto” though is Drake going hard and is excellent. Look at this

The part I love most is they need me more than they hate me
So they never take shots, I got everybody on safety
I could load every gun with bullets that fire backwards
You probably wouldn’t lose a single rapper
Niggas make threats, can’t hear ’em over the laughter
Yeah, that’s cause I’m headed to the bank, nigga

Why he chose not to put this in Nothing Was The Same is beyond me, but album complaints aside, this is just really good rap. At the end of the day, this boy has talent.

You can read our review of his full album here.

4. “Lies” by CHVRCHES

So, CHVRCHES have finally arrived. Now that they’re here, I was disappointed by their album, but had a ton of fun at their concert. I like intelligent pop with female singers, and this covers that in spades. This song pulls off the same sound that made me fall in love The Knife and Lauren Mayberry’s voice is glorious. Besides, that chorus just can not be resisted.

This is dark, beautiful and glorious to listen to. Her story of self-confidence through control over her lover is splendid and made much more so by the motif of lies. This is perfect pop.

Again, album review here and concert review here.

3. “New Slaves” by Kanye West

When I first heard Yeezus, it was actually “Blood on the Leaves” that straight up convinced me that Kanye West was still on top of the game. It has been a while though and “New Slaves” is the song I most return to. The menace on that opening beat is palpable. You could cut a block out of it with a knife and use its inner fire to heat a home for a month. And that’s before Kanye opens his mouth.

This song is rage. This is pure in the way so few songs are. This is Kanye upset and rightfully so and calling out things that are wrong. You shouldn’t have to be a god to do this, but of all of the players this year, no one else has proven godhood as convincingly. Everything I’ve said until now though does nothing but diminish the song. Rage and menace is worthless if not as crafted as this song. It may have been forged in a crucible instead of handwoven on an ancestral loom, but this is masterwork nonetheless.

Album review, link. You’ve got this by now.

2. “She Will” by Savages

The Savages’ debut album was one of the most intense things that I heard this year. There are very few albums that affect me so deeply that I need to carefully monitor when and how much I listen to it. Silence Yourself acts on me the way Unknown Pleasures does, and that is a very high bar to reach. Songs like “She Will” can absolutely break me.

Jehnny Beth is scathing and confident in her takedown of gender roles. Although takedown is far too mild a word for this song. Evisceration is much more apt. Fay Milton’s drumming is primal and the guitar and bass work could be a song in themselves. These individual points are meaningless though because their sum is so much more. Everything fits in, everything works together and as a listener all you can do is what it says. This picks you up and hurls you where it wishes. That repeated refrain of the title at the song end is far to commanding to ignore.

This is the kind of song that you need to sit alone in perfect silence and breathe after. You can still hear it though. You’ll never really escape it.

1. “Control” by Big Sean (feat. Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica)

Let’s be clear about this. No matter what the title may say, this is K.Dot’s song. I haven’t seen a song been snatched quite so hard since a young Eminem killed Jay-Z in his prime on “Renegade“. The other verses are fine, but I’m not even going to go over them.

Kendrick Lamar has put it down with this song. Rap is going to change because of this and with it music and with that society. The world has moved and his verse is what did it. Let’s start with the easy part to talk about. He just claimed both coasts. With one hand, no less. He name-dropped everyone. Even people performing on this very song weren’t safe from him. Enough nice-guy rap, things are going to go hard again and Kendrick has brought the golden age back.

Now, let’s get to the song. Kendrick’s flow is still impossible. He rides this beat so hard it dies the moment he gets off it. Honestly, its heart probably stopped beating minutes before and K.Dot pushed it anyway. That moment when in the middle of calling out competition he takes a breath because the list is so long, that’s as much of a statement of confidence as wearing the crown. Don’t even talk to me about the replies. The mic was dropped with that verse and not even Thor has the ability to pick it back up. We’re done.

@murthynikhil

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CHVRCHES at Fox Theater (17/11/2013)

18 Nov

You may recall that I was one of the many people who were very excited about the CHVRCHES album that released earlier this year. I was however disappointed by the album, which made the tickets I had bought earlier to see them live seem a bit foolish. Thankfully, their concert was highly enjoyable, proving that decisions made with limited information are the best kind of decisions.

I have a weakness for intelligent pop groups with a female singer and the CHVRCHES seemed right up my alley. Thoroughly anointed and highly hyped, they made a big splash before their album dropped and their singles were nothing short of glorious. It was just that the rest of their album could not match up to those high points. We all make mistakes and the world is littered with concert tickets of regret. Nevertheless, I didn’t dislike the album and I really liked some of the singles, so despite still feeling a little cheated, I made myself a little less unpresentable and stepped out.

The opening act Basecamp was a rather typical opening act. Their music was acceptable, but the crowd seemed more interested in their conversations than in the band. This was reasonable, as despite Basecamp actually sounding good, their set had nothing stand out. This is the kind of band you want playing at a pub when out with friends, something that sounds good when you want to listen to the music, but otherwise stays out of the way.

The CHVRCHES did not start out well. The beginning few songs were okay, but not quite up to the standard of their album. This culminated in a very sub-par version of “Lies“, by far my favorite of their songs. However, once their initial hiccups were out of the way and they fell into the flow of their music, the concert became quite good. I’m more than willing to forgive a few missteps from a jet-lagged and slightly sick band and the way they powered through the rest of their set made doing so trivial. “Science/Visions” was impossibly good and “The Mother We Share” was very strong.

There was also a very hammed-up “Under The Tide”, but these things happen and it was the only time Martin Doherty got the spotlight. There is a reason that Lauren Mayberry is the front of this band and for most of the show she had it. The band took plenty of time during their set to chat with the crowd, which incidentally was the most enthusiastic crowd I have ever seen. The teenagers at the Marina concert may have had more energy, but these fans made up for that in dedication. The talking was fun, if often inaudible, and honestly the band did need something to stretch out their performance a little. They only have so many songs to perform after all.

Maybe it was the concert setting, or maybe it was the intense light show that went on throughout the concert, but I think that it was just that they are a great live band. This was a highly enjoyable night for me and one that I will definitely repeat when they next come to the area.

Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe

27 Oct

The CHVRCHES debut album The Bones of What You Believe is one of the most highly anticipated releases of this year. Their singles were nothing short of glorious. Excellent synths, emotional tenderness and above all the wonderful voice of Lauren Mayberry. It was hard not to be excited for this release, hard not to get caught up in the flow of how good this was going to be and now that it is out, hard not to feel a little disappointed. This is a good album, with some exceptional moments, but it is a workhorse of an album, not a Khartoum.

The moments though are really, really good. For instance, I honestly don’t believe that it is possible for me to get tired of Lies. That song is everything about what the CHVRCHES are when they are good. The synths are everything you want them to be. They move, they shift and they destroy inhibitions. The lyrics are sharp and personal, and above all, they are just delivered so well. Lauren Mayberry’s voice has rightly been lauded universally and this song is the best justification of why that one can find.

Having said that though, the majority of the album is more like Under The Tide or Night Sky. I don’t actually dislike those songs, but I am slightly happier to have anything else play instead. The music just bores me. It does not change enough and it doesn’t do enough. The only time that I notice that Tether is playing is when it’s about to end because that is when Lies will start. All of the components are in place; hooks, lines and synths, but the whole is often just not enough to catch me.

The is often a good album, but the good parts feel the exception rather than the norm and on the whole, I’m looking forward to leaving it behind.

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