Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Listmas 2016: The Music

My twenty favorite tracks of 2016 included a song about space, a church baptism and apple pie. There was a song about the out-of-control past careening wildly towards the present and future, one that featured critiques of those that cut their faces up in order to be beautiful and a track detailing a rebound sexual romp after your man left you in some cheap warm gin. At the top of it all is a track that, despite the dark days ahead, kept me firmly planted in the brightness of the here and now.

Let's get on with Tender Branson’s Top 20 Songs This Year:

20. Sara Hartman - "Satellite"

What I said: I recently watched a Charlie Sheen movie about satellite communications and aliens wearing human skin as they infiltrated NASA. I found the movie hollow and meek, like a flavorless hummus. Sara Hartman's "Satellite" resides on the complete opposite pole from this movie. It is big, bold and filling. Everyone else will have you think it is the song of the summer. I tell you it is the song of right now.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

19. Gryffin/Bipolar Sunshine – “Whole Heart”

What I said: Aside from being a fabulous dance track, "Whole Heart" has actually performed quite a service for society. Before hearing the song I was a somewhat reluctant organ donor. I was totally cool with passing on my lungs, liver, kidneys and even my stomach. When it came to the heart, I was cool giving up my aorta, left ventricle and left atrium but I insisted on holding on to the right ventricle and atrium (I considered them my "lucky" heart parts). But hearing Bipolar Sunshine say over and over "you've got to got to got to go whole heart" convinced me that I was being selfish holding on to my "lucky" heart parts. So how exactly can this be labelled "quite a service for society?" Well, considering I have heard from upwards of a hundred people who have said they "want a piece of me" I've now fully committed to their having just that.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

18. Rafferty – “Apple Pie”

What I said: When I think of Apple Pies, I think of a mouthwatering blend of sweet, tart and crisp apples swirled superbly with cinnamon, brown sugar and, perhaps, a slight sprinkling of nutmeg or lemon (if I want to get a little funky). All of that is then blanketed and baked in a golden, flakey crust. Are you picturing what I'm describing? If so, I did my job. If not, I need to head back to my local writer's guild and tell them that their crappy (and free) descriptive writing class did not work. Maybe I'll even write up a bill and charge them for my time.

Back to that picture you had. Was the setting a church bake sale? Inquiring minds and s**t. Okay, take a gigantic brain eraser and get rid of everything you just imagined, except for the church. Because Rafferty's debut single, "Apple Pie," ain't sweet. It ain't the kind of thing that you'll want to dip your finger in and taste. You won't be clamoring to lick the empty bowl. A lemon? That's child's play. "Apple Pie" is grimy and sinfully fun. It is smokey and boozy and feels like a striptease at church. The music resembles something that your garage might house after you move that old organ that your grandfather's church just sold. There's blasting guitars that start and stop on a dime while the organ, oh that organ, pulsates in the distance. Rafferty brings the fun by incorporating a series of clap tracks, belting out an "Ahhhhh, ahhh, ahhh" chorus and taking a page from the preacher's book with an intense call and response. If he brought the fire and brimstone instead of just begging for some of that apple pie, it would seem right at home.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

17. The Menzingers - "Lookers"

What I said: "Lookers" depresses me. Don't get me wrong, it is a hell of a song (especially with pizza) but there is something about getting nostalgic about how good you used to look in the old days that makes me feel sad inside. I had trouble placing my finger on exactly what it was until my therapist gave it to me point blank. He said "Tender, you're ugly. You've always been ugly. This song speaks of a time when the characters looked good. You've never experienced that." To add insult to injury, he followed this up by telling me insurance hasn't covered our last few visits and I owe him $3,976.15. Broke and ugly. I'm getting drunk on wildflower kombucha tonight.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

16. Sleigh Bells – “Baptism by Fire”

What I say now: I really meant to review Sleigh Bells new album. I liked it that much. Unfortunately I never got around to it. But that doesn't mean I can't let you in on a squeaky clean little tidbit about the album. The best track on it, in my humble opinion, comes near the end in the form of "Baptism by Fire." For three albums I've listened to Sleigh Bells with reactions ranging from violent kick whirls to mild amusement to complete disinterest. "Baptism by Fire" was the first one that had me falling in love all over again with that special someone. Unlike other bands that have to sell their sound in order to write a love song, Sleigh Bells was able to meld their world with matters of the heart. The jittery starts and stops serve to put your focus on the band's beautiful pleading, "I wanna listen to your heart" and their constant suggesting that "when you love something so much, almost nothing can go wrong."

Listen: Spotify

15. Hazel English – “I'm Fine”

What I said: "I'm Fine" is a beautifully blurry indie-pop track powered by transcendent melodies and caked in layers of Californian sunshine and redolent reverb.
-Hazel English Press Release

Did someone say cake? No? I swear I heard someone mention cake. Right now, while I was just sitting here listening to the new Hazel English single, "I'm Fine." "I'm Fine," like most of Hazel English's tracks, can best be described as sun drenched indie pop with a little bit of lo-fi on the side. Listening to her, I'm reminded a lot of Day Wave. The 25-year-old Oakland-based artist recently announced her debut 12-inch vinyl EP, Never Going Home, on House Anxiety/Marathon Artists. You'll be able to get your hands on it October 7th.

I'd pair this stunning track with some sort of sunshiney vegan cake. A vegan lemon sunshine layer cake seems like it would do just the trick.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

 14. Follin  – “Roxy"

What I said: Sticking with the whole sibling thing, Follin is what happens when Madeline Follin (of Cults) and Richie Follin (of Guards) take time out of their busy schedules to make some music together. Wanting to make it a truly family event, the two even got mom involved by doing some of the recording for their first batch of songs in her living room.

Listen: Spotify

13. John Joseph Brill – “False Names”

What I said: I have to admit that when I first read the email that accompanied John Joseph Brill's new release “"False Names" I very nearly deleted it. There is something about musicians with three names that turns me off. I think it is because they don't make good music. I can't think of one three named artist that I really liked. On top of that, John and Joseph are pretty normal names. This is also a huge strike because I find people with normal names also don't usually make good music. For some reason, I went against all my gut instincts and gave John Joseph a chance. I have to admit, I am really glad I did. It is John Joseph's warm baritone, the lines "We'll go spinning through the neon, winning new friends" and the his description of the track that won me over. About "False Names" he says "it's a song about a best mate, a tremendous, beautiful, flawed best mate who I wouldn't change for the world and how a mate like that can take you rampaging around a town and make all the darkness and nonsense disappear.”"

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

12. PSSY PWR – “Cocaine Girls”

What I said:  I ordered a batch of Buffalo Cauliflower while I was out celebrating a coworker's birthday on Thursday night. The texture was just right. The heat came with a warning, be careful, this stuff burns. It may cause permanent damage to your tastebuds. Also sent with a warning? PSSY PWR's new track "Cocaine Girls." +++ WARNING +++ Clunky, unpolished and unapologetic, PSSY PWR’s tongue in cheek lyrics and detonating sound must be played LOUD AF or your device will explode.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

11. Eat Fast – “Byker Drone”

What I said: I sat down tonight at my really old flip top desk to try and figure out what to make for dinner. With each dip of my pen into an inkwell, I found it more difficult to concentrate. It wasn't the coffee I drank this morning, that had long since worn off. It wasn't the preservatives my mom packed in my lunch because, well, there weren't any. The problem here is worms. More specifically, that damn little ear worm that Rick from Whiteboard PR snuck into my body. The ear worm has this scuzzy feel, it reminds me a bit of last year's darlings Black Honey. In real terms, because I only deal in things that are real, I'd say the worm is like a runaway train that hits one end of a tunnel at about the same moment that a family of five driving an SUV with a screaming teenager in back comes through the other. The two are on a collision course with no way around it. That's the music. The lyrics persuade you to "Take some time, be sure about it. Think it thru, be sure about it. Stay a while, make sure about it." There's some other lyrics intended to slow you down and get your mind right, still scuzzy, and then all of a sudden things turn sweet like carrots (or about as sweet as the aforementioned SUV and runaway train on a collision course can be). "She's just a little girl" they say, over and over and over. Try rolling that in some spicy sauce.

This worm has a name, "Byker Drone" by Eat Fast. It is the type of song that stays with you long after you quit listening. It is the type of song that suggests pulled bbq carrots need to be on the menu. It is the type of song that says don't forget Eat Fast. Of course it is also the type of song that says how could you.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

10. The Khanz – “Magazine Perfection”

What I said: Sometimes perfect beauty is just a photoshop or two away. Sometimes it is so much farther. And still, people go for it. That's what the fabulous "Magazine Perfection" is about. My favorite line, "I wanna change my face (so chop it off)." Take it from the guy whose therapist called him "ugly as f***," these changes, in the long run, are so not worth it.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

9. Gang of Youths  – “Strange Diseases”

What I said: When I Google searched strange disease and ketchup I came across an interesting question that I'm sure everyone has pondered at some time or another: Can I get AIDS from eating ketchup immediately after it has been injected by HIV?

What I say now: Gang of Youth's "Strange Diseases" continues to make me Google "the world's strangest diseases" months after I originally heard it. What makes the song so itchingly great: the kick drum that pulsates through every fiber in your body, the backing strings that come in and out of prominence and David Leaupepe's powerful pipes. This is one strange disease I'm glad I was unable to discover a cure for.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

8. Freedom Fry – “Shaky Ground”

What I said: Near the end of the year, one of the girls in my class told me that her summer plans included learning a new language. Seeing as she was already bilingual (English and Spanish) I expected her newest language to be French. That seems to be the play in America. Learn Spanish or French, maybe both. When she announced that her newest language would be Cantonese, I was definitely caught a bit off guard. Her explanation, business reasons, seemed to make sense but really, what third grader says that they want to spend their summer months learning Cantonese?

So what does this have to with Freedom Fry's "Shaky Ground"? Well, the video for "Shaky Ground" is one of the more unique ones I've seen in recent years. This uniqueness has nothing to do with the singing coconuts that periodically show up throughout, although the two foodie-music bloggers in the world certainly rejoiced about that one. What really drives me to call this video unique is that it is presented bilingually. Within the video, the actual single for "Shaky Ground" plays through twice. The first go round finds Bruce and Marie singing in English and dancing with friends at a US style house party. Their is a momentary pause and then the single starts up again. This time through a French version of Bruce and Marie make their way to the states and put on an empty pool concert/dance party. The verses are presented in French during this second go round.

Listen: Spotify

7. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”

What I say now: In “Your Best American Girl,” Mitski makes peace with the fact that she won't live up to other's expectations, that she is exactly who she is. Throughout the track, which musically moves from an acoustic one, to a twinkling dream pop number with momentary blasts of Kyla La Grange style feedback, Mitski ponders whether the right choice is to keep on going with a relationship featuring two very different people or she should just let it all go.

It was Mitski's very real musical photograph of one of life's most chaotic dilemmas that first attracted me to "Your Best American Girl". It was her rational dissection of motherly approval that kept me coming back, over and over again. I know this, I can relate, although maybe not so rationally. Mitski speaks in as calm and profound a manner as any artist I've heard this year.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

6. The Dirty Nil – “Wrestle Yu to Husker Du”

What I said: When "Wrestle Yu to Husker Du" (it appears the umlauts are gone on Higher Power), kicks into gear I find myself again thinking of Rivers Cuomo. This time around I see the Weezer leader drunk on cheap gin while lamenting previous love losses. While this is going on, his current girl snuggles up next to someone else. Next thing I know it is all romps in the hay and playing doctor in the reeds. But, as the Dirty Nil points out, there is no moral conflict taking place while stealing another man's girl because "I don't care about your man, oh ya, f*** him, he left you in a glass of cheap warm gin." This track is reminiscent of the sweet potato based "nacho" cheese that is slathered overtop of the burger. Think about it. You've got a party going on. In the corner, milk, rennet and the cultures are all smoking weed and getting drunk. While they aren't paying attention along comes sweet potato, nutritional yeast and coconut milk. They don't give a f*** about what those other three are doing, tradition or unspoken rules. All they know is that there is one hot, bulgogi covered burger needing some cheese on top. They work their magic and the rest is history.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

5. Dreamers – “Never too Late to Dance”

What I said: "Never Too Late To Dance" is another in a long line of songs about dancing that actually make me want to leave the kitchen and turn some ballroom full of fussy bottoms on its head. This track is catchy as hell thanks to the rhythmic background, pulsating drum beats, the grouped out oh oh ohs and the "can we chase the fire from a lost romance, it's never too late to dance" chorus.

Playing the same catchy as hell, fiery, stay drunk on your kiss role in the Po' Boy is the cauliflower. Dredged in corn meal, spices, soy milk and hot sauce, and then baked in the oven, the cauliflower is hot, carby and difficult to resist. Sometimes I plan to make three or four sandwiches but only wind up with two because of my sneaking cauliflower pieces between sandwich construction. My favorite part of the sandwich, my favorite song on the album.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

4. Japandroids – “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”

What I said: When I was a child, I ate like a child. My mac and cheese came powdered or in a squeezable foil packet. Now that I am a man, I eat like a man. My mac and cheese comes from cashews, contains Brussels Sprouts and is spicy as hell. This manly version of mac and cheese cooks up so well with "Near to the Wild Heart of Life" by Japandroids. First, there's the constant reference to fire in the song (including the repeated "and it got me all fired up"). That's the same fire that bites my tongue and stabs at my cheek with each bite I take. Then there's the ever present "I used to be good but now I'm bad." Despite the fact that the powdered and foil wrapped processed version of mac and cheese is full of dyes and junk and nothing nice, my friends and family continue to try and convince me just how "good" these versions are. They refuse to even give the time of day to my cashew laden, protein packed, veggie filled version. Fine, you continue to be "good." I'll put that life in the rearview and hang out here on the "bad" side of the dining room table.

What I say now: Like a fine vegan mac and cheese, this track just keeps getting better with age. I get more excited about the Japandroids upcoming album with each passing day. To all those people I work with that ask if the Japandroids are my personal band I say: I wish I could sing/play music/write lyrics like this. If I could, I probably wouldn't be hanging out with third graders all day.

Listen: Spotify

3. Car Seat Headrest – “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

What I say now: If "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" was a cake, it would quickly find its way to the garbage can. You would rub the upper and lower sections of your mouth together a few times just trying to get the denseness to go away. When it doesn't disappear, you'd have no choice but to grab a cup of your favorite plant based milk and wash that sh** away. As an indie rock track that denseness is magical...if you let it be. What is so brilliant about "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" is the self-awareness that lead singer Will Toledo imparts into it. He sings about putting on an act as a negative person and how easily that facade can be stripped away. That's a level of thinking that few people reach. You think I'm joking? Right now I'm hanging out in a house full of humans and I can count on one finger the number of people that currently reside at that level of awareness (*hey, leave the three year olds at this birthday party out of it*).

Car Seat Headrest likens drunk drivers to killer whales. They are both forces that are unpredictable and unstoppable. At some point, possibly the not so distant future, another indie rock band will come along and attempt to craft a comparison of unpredictable and unstoppable forces. They will start with hurricanes, struggle to find another comparison, before remembering "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales". At that point they will pen their comparison of hurricanes and Car Seat Headrest. These guys, if they let themselves be, can be unstoppable.

Listen: Spotify

2. Rubblebucket – “If U C My Enemies”

What I said: Rubblebucket is many things and nothing at all; it’s a mindset, a legend, a feeling, a mystery; a mischievous, playful, boundary-smashing blast of sound that you can sit still and wonder at, or turn off your mind and dance wildly to. Or both at the same time. As Kalmia (Traver) said, when she handed me one of her now-famous peanut butter, cheddar cheese, cabbage, honey tacos, “This is the weirdest, most delicious thing you will ever taste.”

After a few vegan exchanges, I'm eating those tacos like wildfire.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

1. Will Joseph Cook – “Take Me Dancing”

What I said:There is this annoying loudmouth at my work that has a desk right beside mine. For years I've tried my best to ignore her. I've done everything from noise canceling headphones to putting in a formal request to have me moved. Last week I had enough. I grabbed a stapler and shoot some staples in her general direction. Because of my excellent placement, they severed her vocal cords and I've experienced nothing but peace and quiet since.

There is this redhead at work, a real looker. She always wears these Marilyn Monroe style dresses. For weeks I've encouraged her to place a fan on the floor, step over top of it and do her best Seven Year Itch impression. Yesterday, she finally did. I used a hole punch to pretend I was paparazzi.

One of my co-workers owns a penny farthing. Every Wednesday she rides it to work. I dress up like a bike messenger and transport my mountain bike on top of my car. The two of us ride through the office halls.

So, unfortunately, my office space is nowhere near cool enough for this kind of stuff to take place. These were all dreams I've had throughout the years dozing in the cafeteria. Will Joseph Cook's video for "Take Me Dancing" has brought all my dreams to life. In the video Will and his "co-worker" do all of the things I mentioned above (minus the penny farthing). They also karaoke into a vacuum, complete numerous synchronized dance numbers, play a shortened version of hide-n-seek, drink fancy drinks, race on wheelie chairs, hold a budget meeting where the more dancing that takes place the higher the profit goes and eat a bagel, banana and apple with a fork and knife. The track itself is a hugely addictive slice of indie pop. It features an intense melody and massive hook, which is reminiscent to a lot of Will's other work.

What I say now: Will Joseph Cook's "Take Me Dancing" is the lightest and brightest in a dark, dark year. When I think back to 2016, I don't want to dwell on all those things that went wrong, all those terrible, terrible decisions that others made that will forever effect me. There's a time and place in the future that I will have no choice but to face that head on. For 2016, I choose to embrace the light. I choose to remember that somewhere, sometime, I was the answer to someone else's prayers. I was also part of a process that brought others to dance. I was Will Joseph Cook's "Take Me Dancing." Look, this isn't a conceited thing. If you think about your 2016 long enough, you will realize that at some point, you did those things too. At some point, you too were Will Joseph Cook's "Take Me Dancing." At some point, you were my favorite song of the year.

Listen: Spotify | Soundcloud

Hear all twenty tracks in one playlist:

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