Category Archives: Albums

Sufjan Stevens

Favorite Albums 2015

A late winter bus ride through the rolling, tree-lined hills of Appalachia not only introduced me to my two favorite albums in 2015 but confronted me with thoughts of pain and healing, injustice and equality while seated next to a stranger for hours on end. One album brought tears as I pondered the mortality of everyone I loved and my complicated feelings about the West Coast. The other brought anger – and a sense of awe – as it tackled racial inequality from a place of undefeated strength and joy.

2015 featured the aforementioned albums from Sufjan Stevens and Kendrick Lamar plus so many more I loved. Here are my Favorite Albums 2015 listed in descending order.

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Favorite Albums 2015 Halftime Edition

On Carrie and Lowell, Sufjan's search for meaning in the wake of his estranged mom's death is arguably his finest work in a superlative career.

On Carrie and Lowell, Sufjan’s search for meaning in the wake of his estranged mom’s death is arguably his finest work in a superlative career.

Today marks the third and final installment of Listicles Week – my Favorite Albums 2015 Halftime Edition. Be sure to check out my Favorite Concerts and Favorite Songs lists too.

2015 will be remembered in music critic circles as the Twenty-Teens best year, I predict. Yeah, only half the year is in the books but what a half-year. Sufjan Stevens and Kendrick Lamar dropped classics, Sleater-Kinney and Bjork returned with a vengeance and Alabama Shakes, Florence + The Machine and Drake cemented their commercial standing with critically adored records. Plus Courtney Barnett and Leon Bridges performed like seasoned vets not album rooks.

And the year’s second half looks filthy. The promise of scheduled releases from personal faves Disclosure, Frank Ocean, Jason Isbell, Miguel, Tame Impala and Titus Andronicus (to name a few) in the next few months are making my ears salivate – yes, that’s a thing.

That’s one way of saying I might have to rip up my Favorite Albums 2015 Halftime Edition list in short order. For the time being these are my favorite albums released thus far.

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Purity Ring Sticks to Signature, Of Montreal Goes Nuts On New Albums

Of Montreal's Aureate Gloom released this Tuesday on Polyvinyl Records.

Of Montreal’s Aureate Gloom released this Tuesday on Polyvinyl Records.

You changed. I changed. We both fell down. Think of this as my version of “London Bridges” for sad and soon-to-be single adults.

The concept of change is integral to relationships, in both how we connect with our significant other and artists we adore. Accept each other’s changes and your relationship grows. Fail to do so and the relationship will disintegrate at best, implode at worst.

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My Grammys Crystal Ball Is Cracked

Queen Bey, the Album of the Year winner?

Queen Bey, the Album of the Year winner?

Beyonce will win four Grammys Sunday night. Book it. If she doesn’t Brit old/new soul Sam Smith will win four. Again, book it. Or Taylor Swift will win three. Maybe don’t book it. Ya know, maybe they will split the awards among themselves or someone else like Iggy Azalea, Ed Sheeran, or Meghan Trainor. Yeah, that could happen. All I know is Grammys will be awarded.

On Friday I made Grammy predictions on Mixology‘s web site. One day later, my Grammys crystal ball is cracked. I dropped it on the slick NYC pavement. Beyonce, Sam Smith, and Taylor Swift each sold millions of records that launched inescapable singles. Beyonce and Sam Smith are performing at the Grammys. It would seem a two-horse race. Except, in every category, it’s a five-horse race so I am back to square one.

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The Dodos: Individ

The Dodos' new album, Individ, is out now on Polyvinyl Records.

The Dodos’ new album, Individ, is out now on Polyvinyl Records.

Am I becoming a grumpy, old bastard incapable of writing anything positive? This question, in all its negative glory, lodged in my brain a few weeks back after I submitted my second album review for Spectrum Culture, a Portland-based arts site. I didn’t exactly pan the first two albums I reviewed – Ty Segall’s Mr. Face ep and The Sidekicks’ Runners in the Nerved World – but I didn’t have much good to say about them either.

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Cajun Tomato’s Favorite Albums 2014 Edition

Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio performs during Governor's Ball 2014 in NYC. Photo: Cajun Tomato

Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio performs during Governor’s Ball 2014 in NYC. Photo: Cajun Tomato

I reached a point in 2014 when the album, as a musical document, stopped mattering to me as much as it had in the past. If I had to venture a guess when this happened I would bet it was a subconscious result of me having to cut music from my 16 GB iPhone 4s for the hundredth time to make room for new tracks.

2014 offered little in the line of defenses of the album’s necessity as an art form. In particular, the consensus albums of the year – Sun Kil Moon, the War on Drugs, St. Vincent – failed to jolt or excite me.

The albums below featured four or five songs I latched onto and loved. That is not the standard definition of an album of the year candidate, especially when that means ignoring half of a band’s new songs. Alas, my standard way of assessing what constitutes a good album, much less a favorite album of mine, is ever-changing, and does not resemble what it did, say, in 2007 or 2013, for that matter.

Without further delay say hello to my favorite albums of 2014. Also, look for my Songs of the Year and Concerts of the Year early next week.

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Favorite Albums Of 2013

Ringing in 2014 with Vampire Weekend

As the final hours of 2013 vanish I am enjoying my warm apartment’s comforts for a while longer before going out into the cold clench of death that is the New York City winter night. All that last sentence means is today I am doing what I should have done weeks ago – posting my favorite albums of 2013.

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Album Review: Reflektor by Arcade Fire

The Reflektors

NOTE: My distinguished former journalism colleague Lloyd J. Nelson III requested I review Arcade Fire’s latest album as a means, I believe, to start an argument. With this review I (gleefully) oblige his request. Let the disagreements begin!

Death need not be depressing. It can spark dance parties. I’ve seen it happen. In my hometown of New Orleans it’s called a second line. People celebrate the departed with brass instruments and umbrellas and colorful outfits. And they shake their sorrow away. Which is the kind of catharsis through movement I hoped the Grammy Award-winning rock act Arcade Fire’s fourth LP, the double album Reflektor, would achieve when I learned LCD Soundsystem ringleader James Murphy produced its lion’s share.

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Why The Strokes Should Retire After Comedown Machine

Out March 26

From the moment Is This It? dropped in 2001 The Strokes’s retrofitted sonic palette appeared destined to be the musical equivalent to the law of diminishing returns – factor of production (i.e., more albums) while other factors held constant (i.e., the band’s sound) then returns would diminish.

“Is This It?” erected a monument to bored, disenfranchised, effortlessly cool garage rock so immediate, so timeless, so staggering that it promised to cast a shadow over all the NYC quintet’s future recordings. Their trajectory seemed clear. Imagine a graph where the first line touches the ceiling, and all subsequent lines are jockeying, in vain, to stand as tall.

And yet The Strokes’ career has confounded convention despite the band’s seeming unwillingness to experiment. Sophomore album Room On Fire proved a worthy successor to Is This It? Third album First Impressions of Earth lacked inspiration for the most part but fourth album Angles recaptured some of the old, drunk at 4 in the morning Strokesian spirit that existed, ya know, before the band members had wives and children.

Their fifth album, Comedown Machine, doesn’t hit stores for another month, but if “One Way Trigger” and “All The Time” – the first two tracks released – are any indication, this could be the album where the law of diminishing returns kicks into high gear for the Strokes. If that’s the case, The Strokes should retire after Comedown Machine – at least as a studio outfit – rather than continue to recycle from their past albums and drift toward irrelevance.

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