Tag Archives: Frank Ocean

2016 in Review: Top 10 Albums

Last 2016 in Review post — I promise. That said, I lied about the “Top 10” part. I’ve included the rest of my top 25 at the bottom, as well as some albums that I couldn’t resist mentioning, because they’re also amazing.

Without further ado…

1. Lucy Dacus — No Burden

Lucy Dacus

Earlier in December, in a New Yorker piece about her favorite songs of 2016, Amanda Petrusich wrote something that helped me name the reason I so badly wanted to place Lucy Dacus’ No Burden at the top of this list:

Whole musical worlds were invented this year, and, perhaps most notable, listeners seemed better equipped than ever to accept and navigate them. I sensed both a collective ache for progressive work and a willingness to metabolize it.

Between the in-town excitement that accompanied the February release of No Burden, the wave of national acclaim that rushed in, the consistently excellent shows she played all over town, and the poised atmosphere she commanded at each of those performances, Dacus really did establish her own new world here in Richmond. It never ceases to amaze me how truly talented musicians can create something out of nothing but their own experiences and insights. It feels like an exception to the rule in physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

The second part of the Petrusich quote above also resonated — the idea that audiences are looking for something progressive. Something that will move us forward. I sense that in Dacus’ music in large part because meaningful change hinges on truth, and her writing displays an honesty that’s both outwardly and inwardly directed. It’s why she was such a joy to interview, and it’s why her lyrics have so much substance. Would this country still be in the mess it’s in if people took a hard, unflinching look at their own motivations? Probably, but the mess might not be quite so bad.

In these last days of December, I find it impossible to imagine what this year would have been like — what my world would presently be like — without No Burden in it. For that reason, it’s #1 in my book.

Lucy Dacus — “Strange Torpedo” [Spotify/iTunes]

2. David Bowie — Blackstar

David Bowie

In a word, transcendent. Blackstar turned out to be RVA Magazine‘s #1 album, and I was given the opportunity to write about it. I tried to put in context why it loomed so large over 2016, and talking about it ended up being strangely therapeutic. Here’s the first bit:

2016 will be remembered as at least these three things: The Year We Hated and Wanted to End Early, The Year Donald Trump Was Elected and Brexit Happened, and The Year All the Famous People Died. David Bowie’s death in January, just days after he released his dark and jazzy masterpiece, Blackstar, cast a pall over months ahead in which we lost one towering cultural figure after another. Like Prince, Bowie dying felt especially cruel, because of the life-affirming, self-empowering spirit he brought to his art. Bowie was evidence that you can take control of your identity and invent yourself in the image of your choosing, and he carried that artistic approach with him from life into death. His last artistic act was nothing short of transcendent.

David Bowie — “Girl Loves Me” [Spotify/iTunes]

3. Frank Ocean — Blonde

frank-ocean

It was an honor to blurb this one as well for RVA Magazinetake a look here. I couldn’t help throwing a little shade at the start:

While plenty of artists in the realms of pop and R&B were out there cultivating a public persona drenched in faux sensitivity, Frank Ocean was quietly at work, making some of the most powerfully vulnerable music I can remember hearing.

Frank Ocean — “Self Control” [Spotify/iTunes]

4. Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool

radiohead

Another one I wrote about for RVA Magazine’s year-end bonanza. Such a beautiful album, such heavy subject matter. A Moon Shaped Pool acts as a reminder that lists and rankings pale in comparison to the lived experiences that make music and lyrics possible.

Radiohead — “Burn The Witch” [Spotify/iTunes]

5. Car Seat Headrest — Teens of Denial

car-seat-headrest

To say that Teens of Denial grew on me would be misleading — you usually hear people say that when they were unsure about an album initially but learned to love it. But Teens of Denial did grow in my estimation in the sense that, every time I listened, Will Toledo’s genius would seem more profound. I was one of the people for whom Car Seat Headrest’s newest album acted as an introduction, despite the fact that Toledo’s already released more albums than many artists release in a career and a half. That said, I recently snagged a used copy of 2015’s Teens of Style at Plan 9, and I hear that same undeniable (sorry) gift for fusing melody and energy. I may be late to the party, but it’s great to be here regardless.

Car Seat Headrest — “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” [Spotify/iTunes]

6. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam — I Had a Dream You Were Mine

rostam

This one probably has the highest ratio of number of times I listened to it to number of words I wrote about it. I did write a quickie review of it for the Winter RVA Magazine, and here’s how I closed it:

Hamilton Leithauser’s smoky vocals ascend seemingly without limit; when paired with Rostam Batmanglij’s knack for producing in styles both old and new, that voice — “the same voice I’ve always had” — soars with an inspiring freedom.

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam — “Sick As A Dog” [Spotify/iTunes]

7. Drive-By Truckers — American Band

drive-by-truckers

Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley are in a really interesting position right now. They have roots in a red state but personal politics that lean blue, and because they’ve been consistently making some of the best and sludgiest Southern rock around for decades, they have the ears of fans from all over the political spectrum. In my mind, that’s why this album was and is so important — it represents a bridge spanning the huge chasm that separates America’s populated coasts from its rural center. It’s honest, just as the band is honest at their shows about where they stand when it comes to social justice. (“Black Lives Matter” was prominently displayed in their stage setup when they came to The National in November.) At a time when social media algorithms are making it harder and harder to encounter opinions that conflict with your own, the Truckers make me hopeful. Fingers crossed people are actually listening.

Drive-By Truckers — “Surrender Under Protest” [Spotify/iTunes]

8. Bon Iver — 22, A Million

bon-iver

I thought Bon Iver’s self-titled album would be a tough act to follow — maybe impossible — given that it was the realization of such a big, colorful, well-rounded vision. But 22, A Million is proof that Justin Vernon’s vision is a renewable resource. An unexpected joy this album has brought is seeing who it resonates with — identifying other people who like their musical beauty laced with a healthy dose of obfuscation. It’s like we looked at a Rorschach and all came up with the same answer.

Bon Iver — “22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]” [Spotify/iTunes]

9. Paul Simon — Stranger to Stranger

paul-simon

In terms of style, Stranger to Stranger is cut from cloth similar to that of Graceland, Paul Simon’s 30-year-old masterpiece. That said, his new album doesn’t feel retrograde, in part because Simon’s witty, acerbic writing seems sharper than ever. (Who else could turn concert wristband drama into a genuinely enjoyable, insightful song?) A piece of advice: If you missed Simon on this year’s tour — I did :/ — check out his recent Austin City Limits performance. It’s excellent and has probably earned squatter’s rights on my DVR by now.

Paul Simon — “Wristband” [Spotify/iTunes]

10. Angel Olsen — MY WOMAN

angel-olsen

I thought about splitting this year’s lists into weirder categories like “Albums I Was Going To Like No Matter What” (Hiss Golden Messenger, Sturgill Simpson) and “Albums I Know I’m Going to Like Later But Haven’t Spent Enough Time With” (Beyoncé, Solange). MY WOMAN made me want to create a category called “Albums By Artists Who Had A Whole Other Gear We Didn’t Know About.” I thought Angel Olsen had truly found her form with her last album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, but Olsen’s direct, intense writing is just as effective in a setting that calls to mind early rock and roll. This may be my dad’s Memphis roots talking, but I hear a ton of Roy Orbison in MY WOMAN, and “Shut Up Kiss Me” is quite simply one of the strongest songs of the year.

Angel Olsen — “Shut Up Kiss Me” [Spotify/iTunes]

Here’s the rest of the Top 25 I submitted for RVA Magazine

11. Hiss Golden Messenger — Heart Like a Levee
12. Wilco — Schmilco
13. Lambchop — FLOTUS
14. Clair Morgan — New Lions & the Not-Good Night
15. Sturgill Simpson — A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
16. Steve Gunn — Eyes on the Lines
17. Allen Toussaint — American Tunes
18. Dori Freeman — Dori Freeman
19. A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
20. The Lumineers — Cleopatra
21. Julian Lage — ARCLIGHT
22. Solange — A Seat at the Table
23. Avers — Omega/Whatever
24. Durand Jones & the Indications — Durand Jones & the Indications
25. The Head and the Heart — Signs of Light

…and here are 15 more albums I loved dearly but am too tired to rank…

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down — A Man Alive
Chance the Rapper — Coloring Book
Cian Nugent — Night Fiction
Daniel Bachman — Daniel Bachman
Kyle Craft — Dolls of Highland
Nels Cline — Lovers
The Avalanches — Wildflowers
Colin Stetson — SORROW
Anna Meredith — Varmints
Carl Broemel — 4th of July
Blood Orange — Freetown Sound
Animal Collective — Painting With
Negative Gemini — Body Work
James Supercave — Better Strange
Andy Shauf — The Party

OK, I swear I’m stopping now. If you’re still reading, you’re a peach. See you in 2017.

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Frank Ocean

frank-ocean

I tend to overrate coincidences — or worse, imbue them with meaning — and Black Friday’s got me all twisted up.

I woke up early this morning to line up outside a record store in hopes of landing a copy of The Lagniappe Sessions — the Aquarium Drunkard-facilitated covers compilation I wrote about on Wednesday. Those hopes were dashed, unfortunately; the store I chose to wait outside had disappointing Record Store Day policies that involved letting regulars in earlier than everyone else in line and not letting customers browse the exclusive stock themselves. It was weird, but hey — I am a visitor here.

It wasn’t a total loss. I multitasked during the chilly, hour-plus wait by listening all the way through Frank Ocean’s Blonde for the first time. Before I left this morning, I saw that Ocean has opened up a one-day window to order Blonde on vinyl, and because I had, for months, incorrectly filed it under “Albums I can’t listen to on Spotify and will wait to buy on vinyl,” I hadn’t gotten to know these songs very well.

After listening once while in line and a bunch more while driving around Northern Virginia, I was still on the fence. With shipping factored in, the price point is pretty high, and I’m not sure I’ll end up connecting with Blonde the way I did with Channel Orange. I reread Pitchfork’s glowing review to see if that would help me decide, then remembered I’d saved the link for a recent New York Times interview with Ocean, and that’s when I saw it: lagniappe. The titular word I’d waited faithfully for this morning. The word I’d uttered timorously to a clerk at the record store just after 9 a.m. and just as shakily to two other area stores over the phone later on.

Ocean used lagniappe — which is defined as “An extra or unexpected gift or benefit” and pronounced “lan-yap” — to describe how it felt to release Blonde after maneuvering out of unwanted business entanglements:

With this record in particular, I wanted to feel like I won before the record came out, and I did, and so it took a lot pressure off of me about how the record even would perform after the fact. Once the goal is met, everything else is lagniappe. It’s not essential for me to have a big debut week, it’s not essential for me to have big radio records.

Seeing that word again brought my day into sharper focus. How much of what we buy on Black Friday is extra? A bonus? I can certainly live without that Aquarium Drunkard compilation, just as I can carry on if I’m forced to keep listening to Frank Ocean via Spotify. And I promised myself, in the wake of the election, to slim down to a leaner, meaner version of myself. More exercise. Less excess. I bet there are a zillion ways I could use my record budget to fight the oncoming storm of discrimination and shortsightedness our government is set to unleash in the next four years. Austerity suddenly feels righteous. Political, even.

Then again, records make me happy — listening to them, reading about them, writing about them, keeping them organized. Is turning away from that happiness wise? And the monetary reward I’d send Ocean’s way by buying a vinyl copy of Blonde is greater than I’d ever be able to send via Spotify; is denying him that money helping in any meaningful way? I really don’t know. I’m scared about the future, like a lot of people are, and I’ve built up this particular decision to the point where it seems like there is no right answer. Things feel very hazy right now.

How’s this for a coincidence: The first song of Ocean’s I could find to embed (after failing to find anything official on YouTube) was “Self Control.”

Frank Ocean — “Self Control” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Friday News and Notes

rostam

Just a few quick things this Friday. Hope y’all have an awesome weekend ahead!

  • Be on the lookout for the return of CD Monday next week…
  • Haven’t seen it yet, but NPR has video of The Head and the Heart performing their new album at NYC’s City Winery. Definitely watching that. That album is very, very good.
  • And hot damn, is the Hamilton Leithauser/Rostam album good. “The Bride’s Dad,” y’all. You gotta hear it. NPR is streaming it — click here to listen and click here to sign my petition asking for them to be a band forever and for that band to be called RostHam.
  • Car Seat Headrest was excellent at the National on Monday. Was not expecting a Frank Ocean cover (“Ivy”) but was so excited when he announced it was about to happen that I guiltily videoed the whole thing. Then I listened to it on the way home and felt… OK, still guilty but I’m happy I can revisit it. Here’s a video someone took of him doing the song Asheville.
  • Lumineers tonight at RIR. The same RIR Denny Hamlin kicked ass at last weekend. OK, so it’s technically at an amphitheater near the track, but whatever. Something tells me the smell of victory (burnt rubber, beer, pee) is still floating around that place. Might need to wear some #11 merch tonight to soak the win in fully.
  • If you’re looking to go out Saturday night, there’s Ben Folds at the National and I heard from bass player Ted that Angelica Garcia is playing as part of a trio called Whatever Honey at Poe’s Pub.

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Friday News and Notes

104.3

Just a few quick news and notes items for your Friday enjoyment:

  • The picture above is proof that I was listening to the new, amazing throwback hip hop and R&B radio station 104.3 at 10:43 the other night. And proof that it was 91 degrees at 10:43, which is crap. It needs to stop being so hot.
  • Speaking of early 2000’s throwbacks, did you know that the men’s Olympic basketball team loves Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” and that Carmelo Anthony actually tweeted Carlton to apologize for looking cranky in this video? The joy all of this brings me is immeasurable. Let’s hope the result against Spain today is joyful as well.
  • I hope folks had a chance to check out this week’s Off Your Radar. I had the chance to thank three amazing benefactors for giving me the gift of Jump, Little Children, and I’ve enjoyed reading all the OYR takes on Magazine. I feel very lucky to be part of this newsletter. And I now know where Jump, Little Children’s name came from.
  • New Frank Ocean!
  • The new Head and the Heart album is shaping up to be really special. I’m wild about “Library Magic” — that type of magic being central to any marriage between two English majors (s/o Mrs. YHT) — and “All We Ever Knew” is blowing up.
  • Really enjoying this new song by Aaron Lee Tasjan. Very thankful bandmate Mark excitedly texted me from one of ALT’s shows and got me into him.
  • Also looking forward to new Bon Iver — I’ve grown very attached to “22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version].” And I really hope I copied and pasted that title correctly.

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Bryn Davies

So the Grammys were this weekend…

I know, I know.

A sizable percentage of you are probably groaning, closing this tab of your browser and saying something like, “Ugh, I can’t stand hearing about those self-congratulating millionaires and the mass-marketed, radio-friendly, auto-tuned crap they give each other awards for making.” Maybe a few of you even added air quotes when you said “making” to drive the point home. Would have been a nice touch.

As much as I enjoy and care about the Grammys, I can’t blame people for detecting, and reacting to, a degree of fakeness. Sunday’s broadcast certainly had its share of artifice, with a Maroon 5/Alicia Keys duet that perfectly embodied pop music’s insider culture and a Bob Marley tribute that hit so far off the mark it seemed genuinely bizarre. (Speaking of which, I made a note a little while ago to write a post about how Bruno Mars might not be human. He’s too good. His voice, stage presence and skin are all unreasonably perfect, and he has this general aura of unreality about him. I’m starting to think that birthers have been rooting around for the wrong Hawaii birth certificate…)

But here’s the thing. There are real people at the Grammys, too. Actual human beings who buy garlic and orange juice at the grocery store and make music that finds success on its own terms. I thought I’d use today’s post to tell you about one of those people, someone whose appearance on the TV screen during Sunday’s ceremony made me cheer out loud as reflexively as I would have if someone had told me that Chris Brown was stuck in an airport somewhere and wouldn’t be available for reaction shots. That someone is Bryn Davies.

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David Bowie

David Bowie

The 2012 installment of the Pazz & Jop critics poll hit the interweb this week, and to the surprise of no one, especially not Robert Christgau, Frank Ocean’s breakout effort came out on top. I mention Christgau not because of his 33-year tenure organizing the Pazz & Jop poll, which invites hundreds of critics to assign point values to their top 10 albums, but because he published this preactionary piece, correctly guessing which 3 albums  would sit atop the list and examining the consensus that sucked the suspense out of those top 3 spots.

I’m a fan of the piece he wrote for a few different reasons. His admiration for Todd Snider’s Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is one; Snider struck me as a cross between a savant and a messiah when I saw him open for Justin Townes Earle in May, but I’m ashamed to say that a lack of external validation eroded my enthusiasm. It’s like Christgau’s words gave me an opportunity to say “I told you so” to myself, if that makes any sense. Felt good.

One part of Christgau’s piece struck me as especially thought provoking — the part in which he talks about the role his age may be playing in his lack of esteem for 2012’s anointed triumvirate:

If twentysomethings want to like Kendrick Lamar’s album more than Loudon Wainwright’s, I say more power to them. The Cloud Nothings’, even — there’s an imagined future there that neither Loudon Wainwright or I will ever know firsthand again, and why shouldn’t someone whose life stretches ahead cherish that? But it bums me that it doesn’t go the other way — that the residual formal mastery of someone like Wainwright seems incapable of touching musical aesthetes of a certain age…

He makes an excellent point, though I think there’s more at work here than just age (of the listener or of the artist’s recording career). I think the “mastery” itself deserves some of the blame.

I’m not a critic, and I certainly didn’t have a Pazz & Jop ballot to fill out, but I do know that writing about music that approaches perfection is difficult. When everything’s done well — great composition, great backing band, great performances, great recording — it’s hard to zoom in on what makes the song or album special, which I’d imagine would be frustrating if your livelihood depended on coming up with an angle that the rest of the Internet hadn’t already chewed up and spit out. It’s hard for me to believe that wouldn’t affect your enjoyment of a recording, or at the very least incentivize pumping up something that’s also brilliant but contains charming or revelatory flaws.

I felt this effect as recently as last week.

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5×5, Part 1: Songs

5x5, Part 1 - Songs

A few weeks ago, when the time came to start working on my 2012 Top-Whatever post, I started think about how much effort went into last year’s Top-10 albums post, and how the silly thing ended up being more than a thousand words, and, with no small amount of lazi/restless-ness, I decided I didn’t really feel like doing that again this year.

So what did I choose to do instead? Something even more time-consuming of course! Taking inspiration from the squirrel in that creepy White Stripes song, I’ve decided to split my year-end post up into 5 parts, each one a Top-5 unto itself (with a bonus, Christmasy Top-5 tomorrow). First up? My favorite 5 songs of 2012, in the order in which I’d put them if I was assembling a mini-mixtape.

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