Molars went on intermittent hiatus in 2013, which is a nice way of saying that I kind of lost track of everything for a while, then moved to California in April, and am now finally settled again. Or at least settled enough to listen to music and write clumsily, weirdly, and occasionally about it. With an average of 2.5 posts per month this year, this place has turned into a wan pink ghost of its former self, and I hope to actually rectify that in 2014--which is what I said last year, but I really mean it this time. Molars will turn 10 in September 2014 (though the archives don't reflect that; due to a technical snag in 2010, the old version of the site was abandoned), which is insane for a number of reasons, the least of which is that I can't believe I've been doing this, off-and-on, for a decade.
Below are the songs I listened to and enjoyed most in the past year, presented in no particular order. I've written about a few of them before, and I'm writing about some of them for the first time here, and--in the interest of getting this up before February--some are presented with very little (or no) comment. You can listen to or download them a la carte or get them all in one big file here. Thanks for reading, those of you who still visit and comment and check in from time to time.
Ricardo Villalobos, super genius. The original version of Portland is something like 4 minutes long. This remix is 13 minutes long (that's just part 1, part 2 is 20 minutes long). This track has these sonic envelopes that just keep unfolding. Everything progresses, slowly, shifting from one idea to another. This is what it means to truly inhabit a piece of music--what Villalobos has done to Portland.
Yvette is New York to me the way the goddamn subway is New York, the way Penn Station is New York, the way wandering around in Brooklyn looking for a place to piss is New York. Tough, yeah, but perversely pleasurable because of that toughness. One of the best records to come out this year--ambitious and immaculate, a coolly manufactured thing of abrasive beauty.
Lauren Mayberry's voice has a quality (brightness? clarity? resolution?) that's hard to ignore, maybe a little addictive. Like with Katie Crutchfield of Waxhatachee, there's a supremely human element to Mayberry's singing, which, when contrasted with those maximally synthy synths, creates some heavy drama in CHVRCHES' songs, real soaring-heart shit (every time I listen to this song, I think, bizarrely, of Southwest's logo).
Swanky pop. Two of the little riffs from this song will intrude upon your early morning dreams. Recall how to walk with a small degree of swagger while listening to this. A little reminiscent of King Krule in the fact that Roosevelt has a fully formed vision/voice at such a ridiculously young age.
[BUY Elliott, every song on the EP is amazing]
Chain My Name is such a busy song: it starts with what sounds like 100 different competing noises, including a bassline that is aggressively forward (putting a hand on the small of your back; it's not messing around). Channy Leaneagh sings with a desperate, vulnerable urgency, which gives the song the feeling of a roadside tragedy--piled wrecks, keening machines, metal and glass confetti'd everywhere.
Is it too weak an assertion to say this is one of the hardest songs I've ever heard? It is impossible not to feel totally transgressive while playing this song, even if you were, say, listening to it in your Kia Optima on your way to a dentist appointment. There are two main components to this song, and both are crushing. I don't think you can listen to Death Grips and acquire a taste for their music so much as Death Grips bend you to their will, to their ways.
Julian Casablancas's vocals have rarely sounded so bleak. Like every other human who heard it, I loved Get Lucky, and I have a lot of affection for Doin' It Right, but this was the song from Random Access Memories that stuck with me the most.
What was it about Demosthenes and the stones in his mouth? Archy Marshall sings like he's got small cinder blocks stuffed in his cheeks, or at least there's a sense of something rough, utilitarian, and heavy about his voice. After seeing him play live in Philly a couple years ago, I was beyond excited to hear this album. It's good (as thousands of others have said), but it seems like he got in his own way a little too much when he was recording it.
No Blues is easily the most consistently great Los Campesinos album. Totally entertaining from start to finish, and it ends with this heartbreaker. Like Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, Gareth writes lyrics that snap together phonetically but he delivers them in a (sort of insanely) declamatory manner--though on this one he's calm, he's past it, just going for a matter-of-fact self-elegy.
Like a rock tumbler filled with selections of Ragnar Grippe's percussion and Chick Corea's keyboard sounds. A whole album of little surprises.
I'm going to adopt the hyperbolic tone of mid-90s Sports Center anchors here for a second: The Proper Ornaments are a band that only knows how to write short, perfect songs. "Who Thought" is, much like the other two songs I've posted by this band ("Waiting for the Summer" and "You Still") incredibly fun to listen to, brisk, intricate, and supremely lovable. Sometimes you need music that is crafted to astound you, to confuse you, to confront you, and other times you need music that you can summon up from memory to provide a moment of sweet solace when no other music is available. "Catchiness" as a property is somewhat underrated, I think for this reason specifically--if I were left to my own devices in, say, Lençóis Maranhenses, at least I would have "Who Thought" knocking around in my head to keep me sane(-ish), whereas, as much as I love someone like Kevin Drumm, I'm not going to be humming the entirety of "Sheer Hellish Miasma" while falling down dunes and trying to recall the protocols of urine-drinking from the desert episodes of Man vs. Wild.
There are things that you will always love. Javier Marias wrote something about the possibilities you carry within yourself from your birth--to your detriment or benefit--and I often think it must be the same situation with whatever it is that you find yourself drawn to, whether it's people, places, or art. I will always love people who are quick to laugh, and I will always love places that remind me, in one way or another, of my first hometown in Pennsylvania, and I will always love Gabe Hascall's voice. Since the Impossibles, since Slowreader, he's known how to handle a melody, and he never lost that skill, which is on full display here in "Absolutely." This song first appeared on his myspace page following a long and frightening absence, and it was the most welcome sign: he was back, he was okay, he was writing again. Haunted, restless, a weird memory that springs forth without provocation.
Bonkers. Just listen to the first minute and try not to be astounded by the way Karin Dreijer sings "January 2012."
[BUY Shaking the Habitual. $5 on Amazon, which seems pretty criminal, though it's no longer on emusic for some reason.]
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is a special band. They are capable of much. They persevere. In a lot of ways this band reminds me of the Impossibles--another personal listening fixation--in that they have released album after album of great songs (I feel like this is a band that engenders strong feelings of loyalty in its listeners), a compilation of b-sides, demos, rarities--they've done a lot for band that's not exactly 'celebrated.' "Harrison Ford" is another perfect example of what they do so well: quiet vocals, clever lyrics, weird and wonderful melodic turns. Let's agree to cherish bands like this, you know, that make simple and beautiful songs for decades on end.
Obligatory (for me) DFA song. Larry Gus followed through on the promise of his awesome (and free) Silent Congas album from last year. Years Not Living is a good time.
That riff. Also good sketch of the attendant emotions/shittiness of trying to guess how others may or may not feel about you.
One of the best songs they've ever written, a totally beautiful downer, sadsack-enabling and simultaneously heartening. I wrote earlier this year about Confidence, which I also love, but The Ocean is what I keep coming back to.
A soft and sweet and brutal lament. "It was back/in my hometown/drinking whiskey/from the bottle," Alela Diane sings like a ghost looking back on her life. "I didn't know/it was the last time. You never know/when it's the last time." Oof. This is the song I'd recommended if you badly want to chase (or abet) your own melancholy with someone else's.
Such a calming comedown song. Especially at the end of that album. I was discussing Young Lion with my brothers, and we decided that the thrust of this one is basically, "It's okay. Be easy on yourself." If you'd asked me in May or June or July what I would've chosen from Modern Vampires of the City, my answer would've changed every day--Ya Hey, Diane Young, Hannah Hunt, Don't Lie, Finger Back, all extraordinary, all kind of harrowing in different ways (for me). But Young Lion--a quiet miniature, hopeful and weird--I've loved the whole time.
A false song. Familiar components—shining guitar, reverb, a beautiful voice—served alongside strange sentiments. “Empty Beach” is a man, walking in his neighborhood on a sunny day, feeling good about life (got some solid yardwork done, thinking about making steaks on the grill for dinner, wife: happy, kids: happy), whistling, and then a sinkhole opens up, he falls into it, and a meteor smashes into the sinkhole, obliterating the man, his happiness, and his aspirations for steak. “Empty Beach” is a song that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, pretty and desolate simultaneously.
[BUY One Kiss Ends It All. It's wonderful]
What do you miss about it most? There is a qualitative difference between the air there and the air here, no doubt. That air is thicker, more sustaining. This air here is easy for the wind to move through. Kites get cut by gusts here, not so there. While it's not true that I ever took a bite out of the actual air there, I can say it also did taste better on the tongue.
My favorite song.
I have to confess that I halfway hated this the first time I heard it on the radio. It seemed too straightforward, with not enough of the fractured wire-and-steel framework that made songs like Before I Move Off sound so new and exciting. But I was wrong. Made to Stray is astounding, for that susurrating echo-beat that becomes deeper and more complex as the song progresses, for those alternately swarming and hovering horns, and for the vocals that come in 60% of the way through. So many of Mount Kimbie's songs feel like formal dares, somehow, as if Dom and Kai challenge themselves to synthesize pieces of exquisite sound design into catchy, hummable tunes. It works. They do it. "Made to stray around both coasts/when grace is close to home."
Drive around at night and listen to this song with your windows rolled down (in the summer) and a cigarette in your mouth (even if you don't smoke) and a hat on (doesn't matter what kind, though porkpie works) and blood in your arteries (preferably type O) and a kind pet (dog or cat or snake) in the passenger seat and try not to feel like a real king.
A blizzard of guitars, duh, thick and slow. This album helped me survive the clearcutting cold of Pennsylvania's January and February. She Found Now just lurches around so beautifully (I always picture something like a broken Greek caryatid coming to life, finding her feet eroded away or chipped or straight-up plundered, extricating herself from her pedestal, and still stumbling away gracefully).
Heavy Feet is the kind of song that would have dominated my brain for months/years when I was between the ages of 19 and 25. I still find this type of song affecting now, even though I'm happily past the quotidian-in-retrospect-but-intense-at-the-time events of my early twenties, but for different reasons. Those lyrical details at the beginning of the song, for instance: 'styrofoam cup/held between your teeth.' Sets that scene so perfectly.
Truly sinister-sounding. Just like Clipse circa Hell Hath No Fury. Love everything about this, especially the Michael Kors line.
Super crepuscular. A big housewarming party with odd conclaves of sorrowful guests, here and there, throughout the night. High Road is nice to behold, hard to apprehend.
The first music the Impossibles have released in twelve years. It's trite to say, "it's like they never broke up," etc., but that's true here. This band can write a melody. Unlike Weezer--one of the bands they modeled themselves on way back when they first started--the Impossibles haven't lost the desire or ability to write simply great songs, with loud and catchy choruses, funny/insightful lyrics--songs shot through with passion. I never thought they would return, but they did, and it was better and more surprising and more wonderful than I ever could've hoped.
I still love this song, and I still don't know why.
When I first moved to Oakland, Mosquito had just recently been released, and I probably listened to Wedding Song 100+ times while sitting in my sublet studio apartment (which was situated in the backyard/garage area of a very nice couple's house) contemplating whether I had made a tremendous and insane mistake by moving to California. So I have spent many quality hours with this song and have a lot of affection for it, though it is linked to a period in my life that I would generously label 'not fun.' Wedding Song is half-kin to Maps (in my mind), but better and richer. Not a lot of talk about this album, for one reason or another--maybe because of that insane cover art (?)
Obligatory DFA song #2. Nothing about this is familiar though. Fall Back is half-built house, emptier than other songs of its kind. It sounds like it was assembled in the studio, all happy accident and groove-hypnosis (which is the best). Also, not enough songs have this much interrogative lyrical content.
Sometimes I think people like John Roberts, Cio D'Or, Ricardo Villalobos, Old Apparatus, et al. are the the ones most truly carrying on the 'new music' tradition, exploring combinations of disparate sounds, seeking out new noises, pushing their genre as much as they can. This is less dance music than sound design, really, but you can definitely dance to this (I have neither the talent nor the flexibility to execute the dance I imagine accompanying this song, but trust me that it is breathtaking and deeply weird). Is there already a genre name for this? Philosophical dance music--like the equivalent of a paper architect? I don't know. Anyway, this is gorgeous, John Roberts can do no wrong.
One of my co-workers is obsessed with Canadian music, which has totally been to my benefit. She introduced me to Guillaume Arsenault, a singer from the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. I don't know how to explain this song: cold-weather cowboy music? It is defiant and intense, raffish, but kind of slick too.
It's Divine Fits. Of course it's good. Though the title of this song is the most Spoon-ish one yet. Hard to stop listening to this one. Sounds like it was fun to write, record, everything.
Holy Ghost and Drake. I prefer this to Drake's version, which (sacrilege) I had only heard half of, once, before revisiting it after this cover. This moves better. Or it makes more sense. Holy Ghost is decimal, Drake is binary. Whatever. (obvs. I am at the top of my criticism game here).
This starts off sounding so, so bizarre, like a lazershow Alice in Wonderland soundtrack, maybe (this is what they're hinting at with the title, no doubt), and then it gets going for real. Similar to the above regarding John Roberts and Mount Kimbie. These are sounds that if presented discretely might be somewhat off-putting, or straight-up revolting, but together make for a bewildering and enchanting whole.
Foxygen's album annoyed me so much at first, I think because a lot of their songs sound like they're composed of pieces from other songs. Annoyance quickly turned to indifference and then to total affection, as it does so often in both my professional and personal lives. This is just a good tune.
Guitars that adhere and abrade, but in a pleasurable way. Songs that are knotty, complex. Music with personality. Viet Cong contains two members (Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace) of the long departed and much-loved Women, so it's no surprise about those guitars, that sound. "Oxygen Feed" in particular is like a slight continuation of the ideas in Women's "Black Rice," but turned and twisted, perhaps a little more more cheerful in a weird way. Viet Cong's debut release, the mini-album "Cassette," is challenging and strange and utterly enjoyable. Dig in.