Showing posts with label steven wilson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label steven wilson. Show all posts

Saturday, January 6, 2018

the top 25 best albums of 2017 (VIDEO)

Well, nearly forgot about this one... but not to worry, it's still here. Enjoy!

Next up, the debut of The Trailing Edge - stay tuned!

the top 25 best albums of 2017

Of all the years I've put together year-end lists for albums, this might be the hardest it's been - and believe it or not, it's for the best possible reason: I covered an abundance of incredible music in 2017, arguably more than I ever have before! Even though I didn't give out any perfect scores, this year showed multiple genres giving us the goods, from a revitalized rock scene to several country gems to underground hip-hop making a major resurgence to pop putting forward its best showing in years - and that's not even getting to the genre-defying oddities that utterly blew my mind!

But what this also meant were cuts... in a year where I could put together a top 50 and still feel like I'm leaving stuff off, this was particularly brutal. Once again, I was very tempted to expand this list, but again, I'm highlighting the best of the best, and that means while these could have made it in a weaker year, for 2017 they didn't cut it. I won't deny that hip-hop got hit hard in this, as I really wanted to include records from Quelle Chris, Jay-Z, milo, Armand Hammer, Tyler the Creator, Rapsody, Yelawolf, and yes, Kendrick Lamar on this list and I can't. And queue the outrage by everyone that DAMN. is not making this list, but considering there are  five hip-hop records that beat him out to get here, there isn't room for complaining. And I don't want to hear anything from the indie set either than Father John Misty, Kirin J. Callinan, Spoon, The xx, St. Vincent, and Alvvays missed the cut too - all great records, to be sure, but not quite good or consistent enough. Honestly, the most painful cuts for me came in rock - where Creeper, Chelsea Wolfe, and Ayreon all missed it - and especially country, where Natalie Hemby, Angaleena Presley, Dori Freeman and Chris Stapleton all didn't make it - again, great albums, but limited slots. Finally, we have three records that would have sparked controversy had they landed on the list so there is a part of me they just missed the cut: Jhene Aiko, Brand New, and Niall Horan - although there is another part of me that would love to see everyone's expression if Niall made my year end list and Kendrick didn't.

But again, those are my Honourable Mentions... and now onto the list proper.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

the top 50 songs of 2017 (VIDEO)

And there we go. Massive videos, really proud with how they turned out - enjoy!

the top 50 best songs of 2017

I said on Twitter a few months ago that of all of my year-end lists, this one is always the most complicated - because it's by far the most personal. With the constraint of a list of hits or talking about records in aggregate, you've manufactured some distance - but if you're just going through the list of the songs that spoke the most to you regardless of whether they were a single or not, there's no separation or barrier.

And when you add to the fact that 2017 was a tumultuous year - not just for me but for most of the world, although I did have my own share of trying times - it's a little unnerving to go through the cutting process and realize how dark it truly got. There isn't much escapism in this top 50, and what escapism does show up is very much colored by consequences waiting in the wings. I'm not saying it's downbeat - in comparison to the melancholy that colored a lot of last year, there are more pronounced moments of joy and triumph - but it is by far the most unsettled, pulling the least punches and ultimately producing a psychological profile of my year in 2017 I'm still not quite sure what to do with. But hey, all of these came from albums I covered this year, and I wouldn't have spent a month pruning this list to its form now if I didn't have faith in it - even though I can guarantee there'll be a fair few conspicuous entries that aren't here if you're comparing to other critical lists. So let's get this started...

Friday, January 1, 2016

the top 50 best songs of 2015

And now we're onto the list that's always the hardest for me to make, mostly because it requires by far the most work: the best songs of the year, overall. Not just hits, but singles and deep cuts from album ranging from widely successful to barely out of the underground.

And this year was harder than most, mostly because it was a damn great year for music. The charts may have been strong, but that was nothing compared to the cavalcade of great music we got, which meant that cutting this list down from thousands to around 630 to 165 to the fifty we have meant that there were a lot of painful cuts, so much so that I seriously considered instituting a one-song-per-album rule. In the end... I couldn't do it, because there were some records that were so unbelievably good that I had to include multiple entries. Now we'll be covering those albums in greater detail a bit later this week, but in the end I held to the rule that at most I could put three songs from any one album on this list - and that we easily had more of those makes my argument that was a damn solid year of music, probably better than last year's, all the more powerful. 

One more thing before we start: while I can describe music well and why it works for me on a technical level, most of the songs on this list cut a fair bit deeper than that, and thus I'll endeavor to provide some emotional context as to why they worked so well beyond a purely intellectual exercise. And of course it's my picks - there might some common overlap between my choices and other critics, but it would be disingenuous to choose tracks for 'cultural importance' rather than what really got to me more deeply.

So let's start with a track that completely threw me off-guard.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

the top albums/songs of the midyear - 2015 (VIDEO)

Almost forgot to put this video up. This was a ton of fun, really did love making this - always nice to talk about music that's actually all sorts of awesome.

So next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then finally I might have time for this new Vince Staples... stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

the top album/songs of the midyear - 2015

Last year when I put together this list, I was debating its very relevance. I mean, would it give away what would turn out to be my top albums of the year overall, or would it find an audience at all?

This year, the debate was different: I knew I had to do a midyear review for 2015 because there was so much quality that came out in the front half of the year that I'm honestly a little concerned I'm not going to get a chance to highlight it all. Between comebacks that delivered in spades, debuts that blew my mind, and records that seemed to have an abundance of creativity more than I would have ever expected, the first six months of 2015 have been overwhelming strong, to the point where keeping my list of albums to twelve was insanely difficult. It'll be incredible if the rest of the year keeps up this momentum, but for now, here is my top albums of 2015, thus far:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

album review: 'hand. cannot. erase.' by steven wilson

So by now the majority of you know that I'm a fan of progressive rock and metal, and as such it shouldn't really be a surprise that one of my favourite acts in that vein coming out of its brief revival in the 90s was Porcupine Tree. While I wouldn't say every album they dropped was stellar - there definitely were moments that were indulgent, overwrought, or experiments that just didn't quite come together - they had a unique sound that distinguished them from their roots while still calling back to their past, and they wrote some truly gorgeous material.

So when their frontman and mastermind Steven Wilson split off to go solo, I was optimistic. The man was a gifted songwriter and he had a solid voice, I had reason to expect good results. But my reception to the three albums Wilson has released since Porcupine Tree has been... complicated. A comparison that I've made in the past between Steven Wilson and Kanye West - stay with me on this one - in that they're both musical geniuses with a unique sound, they both use plenty of vocal effects to accent their personalities, often more than they should, they both can be introspective in releasing vulnerable and evocative records, and they both are kind of insufferable. I might have liked Insurgentes and I respect his commitment to audio fidelity and dynamics, but only releasing a digital copy as FLACs which can't be played on most players and making a short film where he smashed iPods reeked of pretentiousness in the worst possible way. And this would have been fine if the music was good - and for the most part, it definitely was, but then he followed it with the more jazzy experiment Grace For Drowning. Which wasn't a bad album, let me stress this, but it pushed Wilson's more indulgent side and my patience to the limit and lacked a lot of cohesion.

Fortunately, he pulled things tighter with the significantly stronger The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), and with this record Wilson was stating he was moving more towards electronic or even pop music structures, I was definitely intrigued, especially when he described the themes, inspirations and story he was trying to tell. And hell, even though his solo work hadn't always gripped me, I'm still a fan, so I checked out Hand. Cannot. Erase. - what did we get?

Monday, March 11, 2013

album review: 'the raven that refused to sing (and other stories)' by steven wilson

I wish hipsters were more sincere.

Now, in a previous review I wrote about hipster music and culture, how most of it is rife with condescension, shallowness, and capricious exclusivity, and how most of their art is praised for the superficial aesthetic rather than deeper meaning. But as hipster culture has been embraced by the mainstream, I will say there is one thing about it I can praise, and that is that there is nothing wrong with liking different things. It's gotten people to check out and try new things they've never seen or experienced before, and I think that's only a good thing, particularly for the artists who have been struggling in the underground and are now getting more attention than just Pitchfork.

That being said, with mainstream acceptance comes rampant cynicism and naked commercial exploitation, and since hipster culture is built on consumption, the effects have been all the more stark. More than once I've caught myself wondering if people are listening to weird material not because they actually like it or appreciate its value, but because it's the 'in thing' to do. They're still following a herd - just one that's a bit more scattered.

But while hipster culture has introduced a plethora of new acts to the spotlight, it's also done something I really despise, and that is to drench everything in 'irony'. This is something I've never liked about hipster culture, because it's disingenuous and more than a little disrespectful to the artists who care about their work. Furthermore, it adds an additional asterisk to questions of what people like - are they liking it because it's something they genuinely enjoy, or because they're being 'ironic' or just running with the crowd? As someone who is deeply sincere about his likes and dislikes, I find quite insulting when people claim to like something 'ironically' because it's not just condescending to their audience, it's condescending to the artist. It's the hipster saying that their artwork is only worth anything as a punchline, not related to any merit or message. And the more time I've spent on Pitchfork, reading their 'style over substance' album reviews, the more I have to wonder whether or not any of their appreciation for the music is sincere in the slightest. 

And thus it's absolutely no surprise Pitchfork has tended to completely ignore the genres of progressive rock and metal, even though one would think both music genres would be right up their ally. Musical complexity, expansive soundscapes, a strong literary and classical tradition, these are all things Pitchfork loves, yet new prog albums, even independent ones, are never reviewed. But it becomes fairly clear when one considers that prog, in nearly all of its forms, is incredibly, achingly sincere music. These are artists pouring a ton of work and depth into their craft and delivering that message completely straight. It's a mindset that allowed Jethro Tull to make Thick As A Brick, an album spoofing the ludicrous excesses of prog rock that later came to be celebrated as one of the greatest prog albums of all time. And I think one of the reasons that album is so well-liked today isn't just because prog is sincere, it also actively demands that its listener be sincere, and thus Jethro Tull's spoof ended up being less of a joke and more of a tribute to the genre - or at least that was how the fans considered it. Perhaps to the genre's detriment, the majority of prog takes itself way too seriously, and it expects the listeners to do the same.

But, you know, most of the time, prog's seriousness and complexity can work well. Yes, the worst of prog rock and prog metal earn the 'pretentious' label right out of the gate, and one of the reasons the genre is considered near-extinct in modern times is because that bloat and pretentiousness got too unwieldy to be tolerated, but the best prog rock is timeless, delving into deep issues with intellect and surprising insight. Thus it shouldn't come as any surprise that prog rock and prog metal are two of my favourite genres of music, even despite my acknowledgement of some of the inherent ridiculousness and pretentiousness. In fact, I'll be the first to admit that often the musical complexity and dynamics are what redeems some of this genre from really not being nearly as interesting as the artists seem to think it is.

And on that note, let's talk about Steven Wilson.