Monday, December 28, 2015

Merry Listmas 2015: The Music

My twenty favorite tracks included songs that made rednecks impotent, embraced the ideology of queer punk, lamented high school, woke up and smelled the flowers, shoveled goat excrement, sold out for more money and refused to dance. Let's get on with Tender Branson’s Top 20 Songs This Year:

20. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (featuring Eric Nally) – “Downtown”

What I said: My favorite Foxy Shazam story happened about three Christmases ago. I was at a family gathering, talking to my cousin, and noticed she was wearing a shirt from one of those redneck loving rock festivals that oftentimes setup shop at Hersheypark Stadium. On the shirt were tons of bands that rednecks love to get hard ons over (like Puddle of Mudd, Daughtry and     Buckcherry). At the very bottom of the list was Foxy Shazam. They seemed a little out of place. I decided to inquire about whether my cousin enjoyed them or not. When I brought up the name, you'd of thought that I just told her that I wanted to date her mom (yes, that would be my aunt). They horror. The hatred. The vitriol. I smiled to myself. I know that she was just part of a big ol' joke that Foxy Shazam had played on that audience. Why all this Foxy Shazam talk in a post about Macklemore's new song? Because Eric Nally, lead singer of Foxy Shazam, handles the downtown part of Macklemore's new single "Downtown." It's the best part of the whole show. I'm a pretty decent sized Macklemore fan, wore out the Heist before it had even been released, but I could do without his part in this song. Well, at least his first verse. I somewhat enjoy his second one. Overall, I think "Downtown" would be absolutely amazing if the first two minutes were snipped, clipped and dropped on the production floor.

What I say now: After two months straight of listening to this song three times a day (my daughter's fault) it has grown on me enough to think of it as one of my favorite tracks this year. I still get a larger hard on from the Eric Nally part than I do from the Macklemore part but the size differential is a lot closer now than when I first heard the song.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

19. Everywhere – “Shades at Night”

What I said: "Shades at Night" by Swedish band Everywhere is at its best and most memorable when it explores the concept of relationships through the lens of fashion. The song starts with a few lines about wearing clothes so tight that it hurts you and in turn these tight ass clothes succeed at covering up your virtues. A simple drone flight or two around your local Wednesday night church meeting and Saturday night club experience reveal firsthand exactly what the band is talking about. Now if we could just get those church dudes to hook up with those club girls, we could eventually breed loose fitting clothing completely out of existence. But that's a master plan for another day. Even more memorable is when Everywhere gets to their lines about wearing shades at night. Ever since Corey Hart put out his ridiculous homage to English weather, everyone thinks it is just so cool to wear sunglasses at night. But Everywhere has news for all you night shade wearers. What ends up happening with night shades is that you become blind to how hard the person in front of you falls. Sunglasses become just another disconnect in our already disconnected society.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

18. PWR BTTM – “Ugly Cherries”

What I said: At my last ugly foodie meeting, I rolled out PWR BTTM's new single "Ugly Cherries" and asked all those in attendance that it be considered for our chapter's fall theme song. Young upstart Sara, the ugliest of the ugly foodies, demanded that I tell the group a bit about the band. She was concerned that PWR BTTM might not fit our belief system. I told her that they are a queer punk band consisting of Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce. The two met while attending Bard College and quickly bonded over a mutual interest of combining elements of performance and drag artistry with DIY culture. I watched Sara, as all this information rolled off my tongue, and she slumped lower and lower in her seat after each word I spoke. She knew there was no way that a group concerned with celebrating the nuances and uniqueness of food could ever strike down a band consisting of members doing the same for DIY culture. It was either that or the fact that "Ugly Cherries" is just so f***ing rad that she couldn't fight against it. I'd tell you what her song nomination was but there's not point in wasting my breathe. It was that bad.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

17. Catfish & the Bottlemen – “Cocoon”

What I said: The video for "Cocoon" plays like some kind of gothic horror flick. Two lonely people are sent to a psychiatric ward where they are constantly fed pills and kept under the watchful eye of an evil nurse. She doesn't want any type of shenanigans taking place while she's in control. Shenanigans include, but are not limited to, long walks in the back yard, playing with flowers, stealing other patient's lunches to create a dinner for two and falling in love. The main character in the video, attempts all of these. Each of these plans for love are squashed by the overbearing nurse and her henchmen orderlies. The final moments of the video show our main character, our hero, attempting to take the girl of his dreams on a mad dash for freedom. Unfortunately, this fails too. After an emergency "surgery" he is forever relegated to sitting and staring out the window lost in some sort of mindless abyss. Of course, they finally let him hold hands with the girl of his dreams, as they are no longer worried about him running away.

You want freedom with your love? Is love truly all you need? Can you handle that nasty looking beef concoction that is served in the psychiatric ward? Those are the questions one is left to ponder after seeing this video.

Listen: Spotify

 16. Machineheart (featuring Vanic)  – “Circles"

What I said: Not wanting to be outdone by their Thin Mint brethren, Tag-a-longs went all raw vegan this week. The ball is in your court disgusting, disgusting Samoas. For all you Girl Scout Cookie traditionalists, fear not, despite their new vegan attitude Thin Mints and Tag-a-longs are still coming in their circular shape (at least there's that). In that same vein, Machineheart traditionalists are also still getting the "Circles" treatment but this time it comes with the added magic of Vanic.

Listen: Spotify

15. All Dogs – “That Kind of Girl”

What I said: Albert Camus wrote "in order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion." Those words never resonated more than they did this weekend. I had a hard time understanding what caused those high school kids to hit a referee and, disgustedly, I took to mindless housework and Soundcloud as my drug of choice. Sometime during my failed attempts at an explanation, the lines "And I know I am always f**king up your world, you are better off not messing with that kind of girl, what does that mean when they say, stay away from me?" came across my speakers. And suddenly everything seemed to make sense. People imagine themselves a destructive force, one that needs to avenge the perceived atrocities that others have committed. We all want to be Batman, to stick up for the "citizens" that don't know better. It doesn't matter where this plays out, in life, on the football field. Problems arise when a person's perception of what is atrocious doesn't mesh with society's version. That didn't make it better, just made it seem less insane. As far as the song goes, I was enamored by its introspection, which seemed almost journal like in its presentation. It hinted at late 90's or early 2000's indie music. But the music that surrounded it, played more like pop punk. Who was doing such a thing? And why hadn't I noticed it before? An extensive investigation revealed that the who was an Ohio band called All Dogs. Their track, "That Kind of Girl," had been floating around the web for months. At the end of August their debut album was released and its accolades included an Album of the Week designation on Stereogum. That's to say everyone already knew about these guys but me.  My take away in all this Camus, All Dogs, high school football cluster? The years between 14 and 17 are not pretty at all and I would never, ever want to repeat them.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

14. New Arcades – “Let's Get Away”

What I said: The Germans certainly know how to make meat but can they make vegan meat? That was the topic I hoped to answer as I trekked across the state to the Atlantic Ocean and Daytona f**king Beach. The short answer...Daytona's version of Germans don't know how to make vegan meat. At least they've got that speedway. During my speedway tours and vegan meat failings, I spent a lot of time dwelling on New Arcades and their song "Let's Get Away." It's a fabulous, upbeat, electro-pop rocker of an affair that doesn't flow well with the downtrodden boardwalk arcade located on the beach. Maybe that abandoned Ferris Wheel was the way to go?

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

13. Oscar – “Daffodil Days”

What I said: My introduction to Beautiful Words (well, the North American version of the EP) came in the form of "Daffodil Days", the fourth track on the album. I'm not sure when I heard it the first time (a trip back through Hypem doesn't clear this up in the least). What I do know is that I was intrigued by the song right away. I blame this completely on Oscar's rich baritone voice. I just couldn't turn away from it. Even so, I didn't necessarily like the song. I listened to it more in the way that a rubbernecker gazes at a deadly accident. But with each listen my feelings slowly shifted. I liken "Daffodil Days" to the potatoes in this recipe.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

12. Fat Heaven – “Night of the Dead”

What I said:  It took all I had to finish the tacos in one sitting. After the last bite I immediately felt like *thumbs quickly through CD collection, ah, here it is* I was in Fat Heaven. That’s why they are the perfect match for a Give & Grub visit. That and they pay homage to Roaming Hunger’s locale. Check out the band’s “Night of the Dead." Its what happens when zombies trade in their love of eating flesh for gigantic, hockey themed, tacos.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

11. Little Wander – “The Wild”

What I said: Two weeks ago Little Wander clicked it up with their cover of a Sam Smith track. Now that they've officially got your attention, it's time for some original work. First up, "The Wild." This track was put together after Aaron and Devin returned from a volunteer farming trip in Europe. The two went up some mountains, ran with some bulls, shoveled goat shit for a few hours in 100 degree heat, ate reindeer, got soaked in Arctic rain and largely lived off the grid. The two agreed to call the track "The Wild" only after their first choice "Shoveling Goat Shit in Heat" didn't poll too well amongst menopausal women.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

10. The Eiffels – “More”

What I say now: Remember that friend of a friend of a friend that you wound up stuck with when your friend and your friend of a friend snuck off to make out in a secret room? The two of you spent all night talking about green urinals, vegan baking and the Bourne movies. By the time you next looked at your watch you realized the sun was coming up and your friend and friend of a friend had long ago finished making out. The two of you part ways. The whole next day you can't help but think that you had found your soulmate and the previous evening was just the beginning of a long future together. Right now the two of you exist on a level that is slightly above strangers. But with a little pressure in just the right places you two could take the path forged by the Eiffels in their single "More." Maybe, just maybe, you can be more.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

9. The Chainsmokers (featuring Rozes) – “Roses”

What I said: The Chainsmokers want you to know a few things about their new track "Roses" (which features and was co-written by Rozes). First, it is more important than all of their past songs. If you have been following since the beginning, it won't take much of a listen for you to figure out why they say this about "Roses." The song represents a shift for the band, one they call an "inherent change in the right direction not the beginning but the end of the transition." The track is the first one that the band co-wrote with someone else. This is pretty amazing considering that the end result is one that the Chainsmokers suggest is them "through and through." Finally, you should know, that Drew sings on this track. That is a first (but not a last). My thought with "Roses" is that it might not be as instantly catchy as a "#selfie" or "Kanye" but the staying power and connections that it creates are much stronger than either of those tracks.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

8. Waterstrider – “Frayed”

What I say now: "Feel the heat but don't embrace it. Keep me on my feet but I can't take it, no. I feel. I'm feeling frayed."

Waterstrider did something this spring that I had been struggling with for years. They wrote some poetic lines pretending they are a favorite pair of well worn blue jeans. Thanks to "Frayed" I can now officially announce that my new poetry anthology, Frayed: Clothing Poems Stolen from Other People's Music Lyrics, is out just in time for the holidays. Each poem takes an article of clothing and sees the world from its perspective. Please buy it for everyone you know so I can stop blogging and just focus on my terrible poems.

Listen: SpotifySoundcloud

7. Sundara Karma – “Flame”

What I said: I'm not sure what Sundara Karma means but when an email came across my computer announcing their new track, I didn't take my finger far from the delete button. I mean, not trying to judge or anything, but that sounds like snake charmer kind of stuff. There is a time and place for that but its not on this blog. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by what "Flame" had to offer. It was certainly catchy with repetitive lines like "hold my fire screaming inside, hold my flame". Musically the kept a pretty even flow throughout, though there were moments of jangle to break things up. There's even a whole jangle solo around the 2:45 mark which makes for some pretty sick dancing. It also makes for some pretty sweet snake charming. I guess Sundara Karma can play both sides of that dial.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

6. Transviolet – “New Bohemia”

What I said: So what pairs nicely with this world of wet and dry? I'll go with Transviolet's new single "New Bohemia." This single is the follow up to their killer "Girls Your Age" and "Bloodstream." In "New Bohemia" Transviolet delve into a mindset that suggests individuals have the power to change the world as long as they let go of the prejudices and stereotypes that keep everyone divided. Our current generation has the power to eliminate negative forces like racism, sexism and homophobia. We can also choose to put an end to war, police brutality, violence, destruction of our environment and dry cornbread (that was my addition). In order to do this, we must speak up. Everyday we wake up, we decide what the world looks like. We create our own reality through the choices we make. Everyone is wonderfully different but we all strive for the same thing. We all want to be loved. We all want to be human. We have the ability to paint that canvas any color we like.

And we can also make it as wet as we want.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

5. Cold War Kids – “First”

What I say now: Like last year's Walk the Moon selection, I can’t take complete credit for this. J-Fur said I had no choice, I had to try out the new Cold War Kids album. I explained to her that my love of Cold War Kids is such a hot/cold one (you could say that sometimes I think of them as the Cold War Kids other times I consider them the Hot War Kids). I usually wind up liking about half (okay, slightly less) of the songs they put on their albums. So I gave her one shot. I asked her what song off the new album will make me love them. She said "First." I said "Yeah, I want the one I should listen to first." She said "No, the song is 'First'." After playing some who's on first for a few minutes I finally realized that "First" was the name of the song she wanted me to listen to. I liked the song decent enough on my first listen. But when I saw it performed live I really connected with it. J-Fur must've pulled the same "First" schtick on music directors across the bay area because radio stations currently play the track like forty times an hour.

Side note: I'd shoot myself if I only had the radio to listen to.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

4. Fidlar – “40oz. On Repeat”

What I said: You might think I don't have much in common with Fidlar. I don't use beer to talk to others, I do have someone at my side, I've eaten from no less than six silver spoons so I've got money stored away in Applebee's stocks. But even someone in my position has bad days. And when I'm lying in bed with a pounding migraine because my Applebee's stocks have allowed me to buy way more Brazil nuts than my body can physically handle, I turn on "40oz. On Repeat" and my problems seem to melt away.

What I say now: Instead of having my problems melt away, I should've said that this song allows me to jump into bed with the 99 percent. That's the power it has.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

3. Flor – “Get Behind This”

What I say now: Spotify sent me one of those year end summaries of my music listening habits and I must say, I was pretty surprised to find that Flor's "Get Behind This" was the song that I listened to more than any other. Part of this is by choice and part of it is that Spotify's random selection is so random that sometimes it plays the same songs every time you get into the car. In fact, I read an article in 2015 that said Spotify's randomness was so random that it pissed people off because, before they made adjustments, you might've just heard the same songs back to back. While people disagree, that is the essence of random.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

2. The Colourist – “When I'm Away”

What I said: The Colourist’s “When I’m Away” is a crazy good, catchy as hell, electro-pop number. It features everything that a good pop song needs: a smidgen of vocal effects, strategically placed chanting, bits of repetition, easily relatable lyrics and a chorus that makes me want to end every night dancing epically to it. Damn, I think I’ll do just that. For the next 365, this is the song my day ends with.

What I say now: It seems I wasn't the only one to recognize the brilliance of this song. Hulu picked it up in the summer. That meant that even days I skipped my dance to watch some Brooklyn 99 I still wound up ending with a healthy dose of "When I'm Away."

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

1. Dutch Party – “Storm of the Century”

What I say now: Z-Bot and I are on the way to Denver, traveling Frontier, and a fight breaks between a mother of a two year old and a middle aged balding man. The two year old has repeatedly been kicking the bald man's seat and he and his wife/girlfriend/high class escort flip out and start yelling. This causes the mom to yell back. In the middle of it the dude turns towards my seat and points at Z-Bot (who is sleeping) and says "Why can't your kid be more like that one." Of course this wakes her up, the stewardess finally arrives and tries to diffuse the situation by telling the mom and the bald man to quit talking. They don't listen. She yells louder and threatens to ground the plane. I look around for someone to talk to about this theater of the absurd and realize that I have no one. The person beside me is lost in her music and courtroom art, Z-Bot is too young to understand (plus she is now crying because bald man woke her up). As I realize that I am alone in my enjoyment of this ridiculous moment lyrics from my favorite song of 2015, Dutch Party's "Storm of the Century" pop into my head:
"Standing on the opposite coast, from the girl I love the most..."   
The beauty of Dutch Party's "Storm of the Century" is the lyrics. These little philosophical snippets embedded in a story of separation and artistically illustrated by references to natural disasters can be applied to numerous settings. I could tell story after story similar to the one above where a situation lent itself to some of Dutch Party's lyrics. "Storm of the Century" was the perfect song for my 2015.

By the way, the irony that one of the most danceable songs on my list is the one that has the lyrics "I don't want, don't want to dance, tears that fall like an avalanche..." has not been lost on me.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

Hear all twenty tracks in one playlist: