Music

BEST ALBUMS OF 2015

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

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Carrie & Lowell is the year’s most personal album, and probably the darkest. Driven entirely by a folk guitar, a muted piano and Steven’s vocals, each track creates a portrait of the past, as he intimately whispers stories, his deepest thoughts and his fears. Obviously, many of the songs sound the same because they come from the same place, but there isn’t a weak song of the bunch and it’s rare to find an album that flows so seamlessly, and knows exactly what is it. Not one song is out of place, too long or too short. It just feels like one, complete story.

I’m more partial to the piano tracks, and the best is “Fourth of July,” a subtle and sipping piano backed by echoes and ambient harmonics and the album’s best moment is the outro to the title track, which sounds like a striped down version of the Inception soundtrack. But whether the song uses piano or is almost entirely an acoustic guitar, the complexity of sounds he’s able to create with the same instruments (and a handful of effects pedals) over and over again is impressive.

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To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t perfect by any means, and ultimately doesn’t reach the same heights as Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City, but these isn’t an artist out there as confident in their own product as Kendrick Lamar, who recreated his sound without sacrificing really anything that made us like him to begin with. Each song on the album is heavily detailed, layered in production and lyrically on point and culturally relevant.

You know you’re in for something new right away when you’re hit with a Flying Lotus jazz track with a funky Thundercat bassline. He follows that up with by spitting hot fire over a furious drum track on what, for all intents and purposes, should have been a throwaway interlude. Then we get into “King Kunta,” a throwback track that sounds like early Eminem and references the likes of James Brown. Throughout the album, you never know what’s coming next, as songs shift suddenly in mood and in style.

The album’s best tracks are “Alright” and “The Blacker The Berry,” but my favorite moment of the album might be the opening two minutes of “u.” There’s raw emotion, an unorthodox, ever changing flow, and unbelievable production. The screaming, the slow build of the virtuosic saxophone and piano, the female vocals echoing him in the background. It creates so much in such a short amount of time. Another strong moment is “Mortal Man”, which in an album littered with great production, might be the strongest and musically sounds like a part two to “Sing About Me”.

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Where Lonerism had vintage 60s charm, with garage-rocking single “Elephant” and tracks with psychedelic rock long form bridges reminiscent of The Doors, Currents is a new direction for Kevin Parker’s act, with dance synthesizers and computerized harpsichords replacing most of the guitar work and standard rock and roll sounds. The album is more polished, more upbeat and more modern.

The album is sandwiched by two epics that are over six minutes in length. The opener, “Let It Happen,” is a driving and ever evolving symphony made entirely of synthetic sounds, from the looping drum track to the vocodered vocals. The closing track, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” is similarly intricate, but much more plodding and baroque. There are also three simple interludes each under two minutes, two being electronic samples and a third short rock song, “Disciples,” which gives the album a nice variety of song lengths.

The only problem I have with Currents (which is the same problem I had with Lonerism) is many of the songs fill the same role on the album. While the lyrics might be a little different between them, “Love/Paranoia,” “Past Life,” “Yes I’m Changing,” and “Cause I’m A Man” are instrumentally all slow synth ballads. “Eventually” seems  similar on it’s surface, but stands out because it shifts time signatures, changes pace and transforms from beginning to end, making it one of the album’s best.

The other prominent song archetype is the upbeat synthpop tracks, like “The Moment,” and “The Less I Know The Better.”  “Disciples” also fits this mold, but is more guitar driven and helps transition into the next upbeat tune, “Reality In Motion,” the one song tied this album with their last. While completely fitting in with the modern, electronic theme of Currents, “Reality In Motion” carries drums and guitar reminiscent of “Endors Toi” and “Nothing That Has Happened…” (more…)

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Best Albums of 2014

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

your dead

Flying Lotus’ electronic-jazz-rap fusion album You’re Dead! is not your typical top album. It doesn’t have singles, catchy hooks, or even discernible lyrics. Instead, You’re Dead! creates an atmosphere. Most of the nineteen tracks are well under three minutes in length and run together, making the album more like one, long jazz odyssey instead of a bunch of different tunes.  There are some trippy moments here and there, a lot of funky sound effects and flashes of absolute beauty, like the best track “Never Catch Me.” Flying Lotus’ production matches up with Kendrick Lamar’s style and lyrics flawlessly and Lamar’s smooth, yet decisive flow alone is as captivating as the intricate drumming behind him.  You normally don’t get a build from start to finish that’s as dramatic and ever changing on a hip-hop record.

run the jewels 2
The second installment from the duo of Killer Mike and El-P was the best hip-hop album of 2014, and it really wasn’t even close.  Both guys have great chemistry.  Listening to them play off each-other rhymes is like watching a chess match between two good friend that know the other’s next move.  The verses constantly get more creative, the references more obscure and the content more vulgar. Run The Jewels 2 is more brash and relentless than their first album, and although it does lack some diversity, it’s fun, concise and loud enough to keep your attention with ease. (more…)

2014 Grammys Recap

I probably should have posted my Grammy Predictions Sunday morning but I honestly forgot they were on until the last minute.  In any case, I’m posting things a little differently this year.  The first column will be the actual nominees with this years winner in bold, and my choice in Red.  Then the second column will be the people I would have nominated, and who I would have had win, if I ran the Grammys.

A few thought before we start.  First, I see Record of The Year as the award to the year’s biggest song, hence why 90% of the nominees are pop songs.  Because of this I made two personalized lists, one for the biggest songs, and another for the best songs.  Next, I don’t really consider Kendrick Lamar or Macklemore new artists because they had songs out in 2011, and I would say the best new artist of 2013 was Haim, who wasn’t nominated (I have a feeling they, and Lorde, will be in 2015 even though they qualify this year).  But because Kendrick was eligible it’s hard to not give  it to him.  And finally, I don’t understand why there isn’t a category for best Alternative Performance if there is one for Alternative Album?  It makes finding nominations for Best Rock Performance really difficult, because you’re tempted to include Alternative songs in there even though it’s generally meant for more traditional rock tracks.

Enjoy, and feel feee to post your opinion about my picks or the real picks.  (All nominees must fall into this year’s award period and best performance/song nominees must be singles) (more…)

Top Albums Since 2000

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

My favorite albums since 2000.

Album Artist Year Stars Rating
1 Kid A Radiohead 2000 ✮✮✮✮✮ 99
2 In Rainbows Radiohead 2007 ✮✮✮✮✮ 98
3 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye West 2010 ✮✮✮✮✮ 98
4 The Suburbs Arcade Fire 2010 ✮✮✮✮✮ 96
5 Transatlanticism Death Cab For Cutie 2003 ✮✮✮✮✮ 95
6 Good kid, m.A.A.d city Kendrick Lamar 2012 ✮✮✮✮✮ 94
7 Funeral Arcade Fire 2004 ✮✮✮✮✮ 94
8 Hybrid Theory Linkin Park 2000 ✮✮✮✮✮ 93
9 Is This It? The Strokes 2001 ✮✮✮✮✮ 92
10 Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool Lupe Fiasco 2007 ✮✮✮✮✮ 92
11 Discovery Daft Punk 2001 ✮✮✮✮✮ 90
12 Total Life Forever Foals 2010 ✮✮✮✮✰ 89
13 All That You Can’t Leave Behind U2 2000 ✮✮✮✮✰ 89
14 Graduation Kanye West 2007 ✮✮✮✮✰ 89
15 Morning View Incubus 2001 ✮✮✮✮✰ 88
16 …Like Clockwork Queens Of The Stone Age 2013 ✮✮✮✮✰ 87
17 Merriweather Post Pavilion Animal Collective 2009 ✮✮✮✮✰ 87
18 Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace Foo Fighters 2007 ✮✮✮✮✰ 86
19 Antidotes Foals 2008 ✮✮✮✮✰ 85
20 Parachutes Coldplay 2000 ✮✮✮✮✰ 85
21 Carrie & Lowell Sufjan Stevens 2015 ✮✮✮✮✰ 84
22 Room On Fire The Strokes 2003 ✮✮✮✮✰ 84
23 Be Common 2005 ✮✮✮✮✰ 84
24 Meteora Linkin Park 2003 ✮✮✮✮✰ 83
25 Chuck Sum 41 2004 ✮✮✮✮✰ 81
26 Friend Of The People Lupe Fiasco 2011 ✮✮✮✮✰ 80
27 The Carter III Lil Wayne 2008 ✮✮✮✮✰ 80
28 To Pimp A Butterfly Kendrick Lamar 2015 ✮✮✮✮ 79
29 The Black Parade My Chemical Romance 2006 ✮✮✮✮ 79
30 Origin of Symmetry Muse 2001 ✮✮✮✮ 79
31 By The Way Red Hot Chilli Peppers 2002 ✮✮✮✮ 79
32 Hypnotize System Of A Down 2005 ✮✮✮✮ 79
33 Sing The Sorrow AFI 2003 ✮✮✮✮ 78
34 Channel Orange Frank Ocean 2012 ✮✮✮✮ 77
35 Goblin Tyler, The Creator 2011 ✮✮✮✮ 77
36 Modern Vampires Of The City Vampire Weekend 2013 ✮✮✮✮ 76
37 Currents Tame Impala 2015 ✮✮✮✮ 76
38 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb U2 2004 ✮✮✮✮ 76
39 Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Phoenix 2009 ✮✮✮✮ 76
40 It’s Blitz! Yeah Yeah Yeahs 2009 ✮✮✮✮ 76
41 Late Registration Kanye West 2005 ✮✮✮✮ 76
42 Good News For People Love Bad News Modest Mouse 2004 ✮✮✮✮ 76
43 A Beautiful Lie 30 Seconds To Mars 2005 ✮✮✮✮ 75
44 Boxer The National 2007 ✮✮✮✮ 75
45 Sigh No More Mumford & Sons 2009 ✮✮✮✮ 75
46 Reflektor Arcade Fire 2013 ✮✮✮✮ 74
47 In Colour Jamie XX 2015 ✮✮✮✮ 74
48 Random Access Memories Daft Punk 2013 ✮✮✮✮ 74
49 Hot Fuss The Killers 2004 ✮✮✮✮ 74
50 Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor Lupe Fiasco 2006 ✮✮✮✮ 73
51 Demon Days Gorillaz 2005 ✮✮✮✮ 73
52 Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit Courtney Barnett 2015 ✮✮✮✮ 73
52 You’re Dead! Flying Lotus 2014 ✮✮✮✮ 72
53 A Rush Of Blood To The Head Coldplay 2002 ✮✮✮✮ 72
54 The College Dropout Kanye West 2004 ✮✮✮✮ 72
55 Lonerism Tame Impala 2012 ✮✮✮✮ 72
56 Why Make Sense? Hot Chip 2015 ✮✮✮✮ 72
57 Art Angels Grimes 2015 ✮✮✮✮ 71
58 Wincing The Night Away The Shins 2007 ✮✮✮✮ 71
59 Wasting Light Foo Fighters 2011 ✮✮✮✮ 71
60 Synthetica Metric 2012 ✮✮✮✮ 71
61 Poison Season Destroyer 2015 ✮✮✮✮ 70
62 Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge My Chemical Romance 2004 ✮✮✮✮ 70
63 Afterwords Collective Soul 2007 ✮✮✮✮ 70
64 Run The Jewels 2 Run The Jewels 2014 ✮✮✮✰ 69
65 Hozier Hozier 2014 ✮✮✮✰ 69
66 Trouble Will Find Me The National 2013 ✮✮✮✰ 69
67 Run The Jewels Run The Jewels 2013 ✮✮✮✰ 69
68 Yeezus Kanye West 2013 ✮✮✮✰ 69
69 Louder Now Taking Back Sunday 2006 ✮✮✮✰ 68
70 Neon Bible Arcade Fire 2007 ✮✮✮✰ 68
71 Kintsugi Death Cab For Cutie 2015 ✮✮✮✰ 68
72 Tetsuo & Youth Lupe Fiasco 2015 ✮✮✮✰ 68
73 Plans Death Cab For Cutie 2005 ✮✮✮✰ 68
74 Mezmerize System Of A Down 2005 ✮✮✮✰ 68
75 Bable Mumford and Sons 2012 ✮✮✮✰ 68
75 Revolutionary, Vol. 2 Immortal Technique 2003 ✮✮✮✰ 67
76 Sylvan Esso Sylvan Esso 2014 ✮✮✮✰ 67
77 Life Is Good Nas 2012 ✮✮✮✰ 67
78 Angles The Strokes 2011 ✮✮✮✰ 67
79 Black Holes & Revolations Muse 2006 ✮✮✮✰ 67
80 Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes Thom Yorke 2014 ✮✮✮✰ 67
81 Morning Phase Beck 2014 ✮✮✮✰ 67
82 Holy Fire Foals 2013 ✮✮✮✰ 66
83 Section.80 Kendrick Lamar 2011 ✮✮✮✰ 66
84 Weatherhouse Phillip Selway 2014 ✮✮✮✰ 66
85 Hail To The Theif Radiohead 2003 ✮✮✮✰ 66
86 Toxicity System Of A Down 2001 ✮✮✮✰ 66
87 Take Care Drake 2011 ✮✮✮✰ 66
88 Days Are Gone Haim 2013 ✮✮✮✰ 66
89 Viva la Vida Coldplay 2008 ✮✮✮✰ 66
90 Cherry Bomb Tyler, The Creator 2015 ✮✮✮✰ 66
90 The Magic Whip Blur 2015 ✮✮✮✰ 65
91 Silent Alarm Bloc Party 2005 ✮✮✮✰ 65
92 The Eraser Thom Yorke 2006 ✮✮✮✰ 65
93 The King Of Limbs Radiohead 2011 ✮✮✮✰ 65
94 Lights And Sounds Yellowcard 2006 ✮✮✮✰ 65
95 If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late Drake 2015 ✮✮✮✰ 65
96 Break The Cycle Staind 2001 ✮✮✮✰ 65

(updated Jan 1, 2016)