Album Review: Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Most of the way through If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late‘s “No Tellin'”, Drake implores “Please do not speak to me like I’m that Drake from four years ago, I’m at a higher place“. It’s a tossed-off line from deep in a five minute song, but it made me think: four years? Is that how long Drake’s been around? Shit, it is. And not just as the guy hoping to catch Lil Wayne’s runoff; Take Care came out for years ago this upcoming November. Then I realized that since Take Care, he hasn’t really gone away, and thought of something else:

When’s the last time Drake botched something?

Okay, sure, he’s got a solid album track record, but that’s easy.  Let’s just look at the guy’s 2014: pulling the rare hosting/musical guest double duty on SNL, hosting the muscled up snooze-fest that is the ESPYs, and forgoing an album in lieu of SoundCloud singles and features with buzz artists. And none of these were fuck ups. Drake, the most joked on entertainer working, is in some kind of extended can’t-lose zone. Even the infamous airball counts as a W, if only because Drake literally missing his big shot is the Drakeiest outcome possible, and we love him for that shit.

All of this is to say that a surprise album/mixtape is putting a lot of public goodwill and credibility on the line. Surprise album drops imply that this shit’s so good, you need to grab it now, without any hype or warning (it’s a strategy that worked on me. That and, as a sensitive mixed kid, I basically owe Drake tithe to begin with). I realize this is a weird thing to say, but if If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late sucked after paying for it, and you got “0 to 100/The Catch Up” for free, people would have been pissed. And then, given the nature of If You’re Reading This, it’s guerrilla release is baffling at first, then makes total sense.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is Drake’s fullest rap album. There’s no “Marvin’s Room” or “Hold On We’re Going Home”, and barely even something as radio palatable as “Miss Me”; the bulk of the album exists in the same loose flow, almost stream of conscious style Drake embraced on “0 to 100/The Catch Up,” free of sturdy melodies and powerful hooks. When he sings more than raps, like on “Now & Forever”, “Legend”, “Madonna” or “Jungle”, it’s melodically sparse and more a soundscape than anything else; outside of arguably “Now & Forever”, there’s nothing like a ballad here. And the fact that Drake mostly keeps to rapping is, for the first time, a really good thing. Drake’s always been a competent, not compelling, rapper, and you can hear him sweating through extended verses. He’s never going to have an absolutely bonkers song where he just goes for off seven minutes like Lupe Fiasco does on his new album (oh, by the way, there’s a new Lupe Fiasco album); he’s not that kind of rapper. And he’s finally stopped pretending to be. He’s perfected the delivery on his loose, cadence-heavy, stop-start flow, and sounds like he could do this shit all day.

No where is that more apparent than the album’s early hot streak between “Energy” and “No Tellin'”. “Energy” and “10 Bands” are more compact, relying on crisp snares and twinkling synth loops under Drake venting his frustrations at dealing with bullshit friends in the former, and boasting about his cash and hard work in the latter. “Energy” has already gotten buzz, and it makes sense; it’s If You’re Reading This boiled to its core. Despite that, I find myself more drawn to “Know Yourself” and “No Tellin'”. “Know Yourself” is one of the stronger headphone tracks here (see: Boi-1da’s drop), and “Running through the 6 with my woes is an early contender for the record’s meme lyric–try it out. “No Tellin'” is five minutes of Drake mugging, and it kinda works. Part of that’s the compressed effect on his vocal, part of it’s the varied flows he uses, and part of it’s the fact that he’s actually got a few clever riffs (“Beside Ricky Ross, Aubrey’s the biggest boss here, huh).

After the mostly sung mood-piece “Madonna” (the sixth song on the record, but the first 40 produces), If You’re Reading This meanders a bit. “6 God” and “Star67″ aren’t bad cuts, but feel redundant after seeing Drake achieve similar results earlier on. He’s perfected how to tell The Story of Drake, but it’s occasionally one he’s told before. PARTYNEXTDOOR shows up for two decent tracks, but “Preach” can’t help but feel inconsequential. In fact, length is the biggest woe on If You’re Reading This; there’s just no way to justify this thing’s 17 track/69 minute run time. It wouldn’t even require hard edits to pare this down a notch: ditch “Preach”, “6 God”, Lil Wayne collab “Used To”, “Company”, and maybe “6 Man” or “Jungle” if you’re feeling thrifty, and you’ve still got a solid album. Even after a midway stumble, “Now & Forever”, “You & The 6″, and “6PM in New York” (I’m also partial to the Frank Ocean lite “Jungle”) help If You’re Reading This stick the landing.

After an hour plus of frigid aloofness and isolation, the triumphant “6PM in New York” rings in what might be Drake’s most technical accomplishment. It’s still overlong and wobbles in spots, but as a loosely experimental and daring release, it hits way more than it misses. Drake tops himself not just in his performance, but in the material; his writing’s sharper than it’s ever been, and on the oversharing conversation-with-Mom personal “You & the 6″ and “6PM in new York”, he’s actually compelling as a rapper. And this is technically a mixtape before the proper album. There are plenty of keepers here, I can’t wait to see what comes next, four stars out of five.

tl;dr: Drake aces the surprise release, and flips off his label while he’s at it, 4/5

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Radio Rant: Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk!

Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Who’s giving it up today?

I always expect it to blink.

First things first: who is Mark Ronson? Ronson, dutifully playing the role of Guy Striking Cool Poses To Disguise The Fact He Can’t Dance in the video, is a British DJ/producer whose been working in some capacity since the turn of the century. Read his full rap sheet if you like, but the takeaway is he’s got a fairly wide genre pallet, and collaborated heavily with Amy Winehouse, producing “Valerie”, “Back to Black”, and “Rehab”. He reads as solid enough if not earth shattering industry hired gun that’s been involved with greatness, but perhaps seldom its cause. Oh, and he’s a credited producer on a little tune called “Locked Out of Heaven”.

I get how Ronson and Mars can work together. Both these guys have a jack of all trades, multi-genre portfolio, the difference is that Mars was practicing Elvis routines and the dance in “Smooth Criminal” while Ronson was crate digging for New York hip-hop records. They update the sound of old favorites with modern flourishes so as to not get lost in their influences, and the result is something fairly distinct. This is why “Locked Out of Heaven” worked so well.

And you know what? “Uptown Funk” does it even better. It’s one of those songs that’s so fully formed, fun, and wholly aware of its “I am on my shit” status that it’s as hard to resist on the first listen as it is on the hundredth. Everything, from that vocal sample serving as the main bass line to the tight, Nile Rodgers-esque guitar riff to the post-chorus horn line to the gang vocals throughout, falls exactly into place, like an immaculate DJ set distilled into (a somehow too-short) four and a half minutes. The production’s spot-on, too; nothing gets lost in the mix, and all the elements sound larger than life, especially the drums.

Honestly, I think the drum sound and the beat here might be “Uptown Funk”‘s secret weapon. Lemme explain. For the last year or two, a lot of our soul-based pop music has used treble-y, syncopated, snare-heavy beats that work more for measured flailing and swaying around than full body dancing (this is one of four or five reasons why it’s hard genuinely dance to “Happy” or “Shake It Off” without feeling like an asshole). This kind of beat’s alright, but ultimately feels like dance music without a groove, which is hard to really get into.

There exists out there what I call “The Michael [Jackson] Beat”: an unfussy but unrelentingly powerful, bottom-heavy beat around which every other rhythm in the song is tied to. For a song to have The Michael Beat, no matter what else is happening, you have to not only be able to always find that propulsive, unchanging, beat driving things forward, but hear how every other aspect of the song ties back to it (see: “Remember the Time”). I recognize that this is hardly an MJ trademark–it shows up all over in Steve Wonder, Prince, James Brown, and Kool & the Gang, and modern acts like Janelle Monae and LCD Soundsystem (even Katy Perry used it once)–but listening to the first disc of HIStory extensively when you’re five and six tends to shape how you see things. “You Wanna Be Starting Something” is probably the purest example of The Michael Beat in action: every single fidget, riff, vocal, and handclap in the song is rooted in one, never deviating beat. And you can totally hear it at work in “Uptown Funk”, most obviously in the post-chorus breakdown when the horns come in. What makes The Micheal Beat so cool is that it’s percussive in a way that makes dancing to it look effortless, and anyone can perform the fuck over it.

Which brings me to “Uptown Funk”‘s strongest asset: Bruno Mars. I don’t know who, and I don’t know when, but someone attached to “Uptown Funk” how to get the best out of Bruno: don’t tell him to be sweet, don’t tell him to try sensual, just slap him in a sportcoat, drop him in front of the guys, and tell him get cracking. We’ve finally coaxed this guy into the recording booth. And really, the song wouldn’t be as good without someone selling it this hard in front of the mic; it’s silly shit, but Mars makes “I’m too hot, make a dragon wanna retire, man” actually sound kinda cool, and the sneer on “Cuz uptown funk gonna give it to ya!” wouldn’t work if it was dialed down. And the backing gang vocals make the song stronger, too; the call and responses are not just a lot of fun and perfectly deployed, but give Mars something to play off of. I’m sure come next album cycle, Sweet Bruno, Brooding Bruno, and Sensual Bruno will all be back, but please, more Sportcoat Bruno, too.

Because “Uptown Funk” is one of the best hits we’ve had in awhile. It’s super catchy, danceable, well-made, a great performance, and even sharing space with throwbacky jams like “Lips Are Movin'”, “Sugar”, and “Thinking Out Loud”, incredibly distinct. I’m also relieved for Ronson, not just because he’s finally notched a massive hit with his name attached to it, but it sounds like “Uptown Funk” almost gave it to him during its seven month writing process. Ronson and Mars have always been great at blending styles, and they finally found one of their own.

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2015 Grammy Recap

Behold, your Grammys in five seconds.

Credit: Billboard.com

The image of Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige cruising through an extra cushy version of Smith’s already Ambien-friendly ballad “Stay With Me” sums up everything you need to know about the 2015 Grammy Awards. The stifling elegance! The suits! The ubiquity of Sam Smith’s face! The ballads! The strings! Everything you know about the crushingly comforting tedium of last night’s broadcast is all right there.

Ok, we’ll hit the performances first and then circle back around for actual awards and closing comments, because good grief this year was dreadful. The Grammys have kind of a shitty existence as far as award shows go: they lack the prestige of the Oscars, the camp of the Tonys, and the warm atmosphere of the Emmys. Even with a vested interest, you can’t watch them while pretending there are any stakes or real seriousness to the night (Grammy Twitter is the 100m dash of the Snark Olympics for this exact reason). The most you can hope for is some entertaining performers.

But we even got screwed out of that last night. I won’t line by line every performance, but any talent show that dumps Usher, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani, and Adam Levine in tepid balladry is making the wrong move. How do we get something as fiery as Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons last year, then a bunch of dirges the year after? The collaborations, for the most part, were either painfully obvious or utterly baffling: Chris Martin joining Beck on “Heart Is a Drum” is asking for soft-rock quips, there’s the aforementioned Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige, and then the “wtf?”ness of Tom Jones and Jessie J, or Ed Sheeran and ELO. Sheeran’s overqualified supergroup on “Thinking Out Loud” somehow managed to be both: putting John Mayer in what I honest to God thought was an especially hacky John Mayer single at first is so on the nose it’s almost audacious, but why on Earth would you hire renowned virtuosos Questlove and Herbie Hancock to keep time on this slice of cheese?

Credit: RapRadar.com

There were a few bright spots, though. Annie Lennox brought witchcraft and stage presence to “I Put a Spell On You” to lift Hozier’s gloomy “Take Me To Church” out of the muck. Pharrell’s wringing the last mileage out of “Happy”, but the kinda bonkers, Hans Zimmer-fied version was an entertaining spectacle for a night that needed it (ditto for Madonna’s “El Yeezus” performance). Juanes, Eric Church, and Miranda Lambert gave competent band jams, but three numbers really stood out. Kanye’s “Only One” is just such a damn sweet song, and the one-two of Beyonce doing “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and John Legend and Common’s “Glory” ended three and a half hours of Important Music with actual important music.

But, my favorite performance of the night was Rihanna, Kanye, and Paul McCartney with a loose and flat out fun “FourFiveSeconds”. It’s just a goofy, dashed off, surprisingly organic performance that features some of the best vocals Rihanna’s ever done. It’s the kind of thing the Grammys should be founded on that got bogged down by the like, double album worth of mournful songs that we heard.

Anyway, now for the mixed bag of the awards.

I’m calling it a mixed bag almost purely for the fact that Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy winnings went from 0 to 100 in the catch up from last year, picking up Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “i”. It’s a strike out from what I predicted, but I was happy to see St. Vincent win Best Alternative Music Album (“happy to see” meaning “heard about it on Twitter,” since the Grammys can’t be arsed to put more than 6 awards in a nearly four hour production), and Paramore nail Best Rock Song. The wins were kind of tedious outside that, though; yeah, Iggy lost, probably because the Grammys weren’t ready to die on the hill again for categories they can’t be bothered to air live, and the televised awards were mostly safe bets.

I am, of course, talking about the regime of dullness that is Sam Smith’s near sweep. Smith went home with Best Pop Vocal Album, Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year; he was denied the coveted sweep with Album of the Year (more on this in a second), probably because someone getting all Big Four would have been exciting. I have mixed feelings on Smith. This has been lost in the year’s Grammy narrative so far, but it’s important, especially only a year after The Great Straight Savior, to acknowledge that Smith is openly gay, and that his sexuality informs his music. The acceptance speech where he thanked the man who broke his heart was hands down the best one of the night.

But Smith’s sexuality is the only progressive thing about an otherwise suffocatingly conservative artist; In the Lonely Hour and “Stay With Me” mine every classicist whim the Grammys cater to, and not in an interesting way. He’s an exceptional singer, but I’ll give him a better chance when he writes stronger material. Or gives Disclosure another call, either/or.

So, let’s jump into this Album of the Year debacle. Beck won for Morning Phase. I thought it was an okay album, but I would have called it the 4th most likely to win until holy shit, Prince just said Morning Phase and I was not ready. Then again, neither was Beck. I get it, though; Morning Phase is a good, carefully sculpted, warm, singer-songwriter album that just feels comfortable to listen to. The same could be said for chunks of last year’s winner Random Access Memories, or Mumford & Sons’ Babel from the year before. If you’re so inclined, you could even construct one of those “It’s for lifetime achievement” arguments for Morning Phase. It’s a safe, predictable bet, and c’mon y’all, the Grammys are nothing if not predictable (and, minor aside, Beyonce occasionally glides by on aesthetic to cover lesser moments). It’s almost a truism that the least challenging and most random seeming choice will usually win Album of the Year. Is it a backwards and unfulfilling choice? I’ll leave it up to you to answer, but I’m currently three songs deep into Morning Phase, and trying to will myself into a universe where it sounds like the AOTY. I can imagine the little stickers on the jewel case, though.

God bless Kanye West. Just when you thought he’d mellowed out into his dad and probably-barbecues-with-Jay-Z phase, he goes off on the Grammys, calling Beyonce‘s loss “diminishing the art and not respecting the craft.” Per tradition, there’s been a lot of people reacting to Kanye instead of what he’s saying (with the added, weirdly ingrained idea that music made by one guy is somehow more ART than music/visual media made by a team led by an individual executing a very specific vision), which has been lost somewhere in translation. But I get it. To see Beyonce get the nomination amid non-threatening records like Morning Phase, x, G I R L, and In the Lonely Hour felt kind of token. Not only was Beyonce a quite good but not #FLAWLESS, carefully sculpted, personal record, it’s 21st century artistic event; Morning Phase is just another Beck album. I how one lost and the other didn’t, and I can see the other way, too. But one takes fewer logical leaps than the other.

So was Morning Phase winning Album of the Year a triumph of artistic merit over a hopelessly overrated hype machine, or is it the racially motivated assassination of Queen Bey by the coward Grammy committee? The answer, as it usually is with the Grammys, is somewhere in a disappointing middle.

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Album Review: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

It’s kind of odd, but Sleater-Kinney’s managed to somehow fly under the radar while being an indie rock institution. Recording since 1995, and with at least three classics (Dig Me OutAll Hands on the Bad One, and The Woods) in ten years, they deserve some serious acclaim. But, they seem borderline unheard-of outside indie music nerd circles, at least less so than Radiohead or Modest Mouse. S-K went on hiatus in 2006, but they left behind an underrated legacy: here’s a band that barely stumbled, and went from a riot grrl side project to one of the most respectable acts in indie rock.

And with a legacy like that, it’s no small wonder (but not unfortunate) that No Cities To Love is one of 2015’s first powerhouse releases. It doesn’t really sound like a Reunion Album, it sounds like whatever Sleater-Kinney album would come after 2004’s The WoodsThe Woods is one of indie rock’s outright largest rockin’ albums, and No Cities To Love basically takes that record’s massive guitars, diamond-cut riffs, and pummeling rhythms and doles it out in two and three minute histrionic blasts.

What’s always made Sleater-Kinney stand out in their field is that this is a band without a clear successor; there’s no one out there doing quite what they do. Sure, they’ve influenced the likes of Savages and Perfect Pussy, but no one’s done a good imitation, not in the same way that Nirvana or Hole inspired a field of also-rans. I think this is a matter of pedigree; this band only exists because each member brings a distinct flavor to the table. Carrie Brownstein (yes, her) fires off tortured, angular guitar leads mixed with knotted, discordant riffs (see: “Surface Envy”). Janet Weiss is one of modern rock’s great drummers, and her hyperactive playing gives even the non-overt rockers like the title track a sense of urgency.

Doubling that urgency is Corin Tucker’s howling vocals, possibly the most unique thing about Sleater-Kinney. Tucker’s vocal style is heavy on yelps and teasing, drawn out enunciations, but features a surprising range. The style’s an interesting listen because half of Tucker’s range sounds like she’s ready to crack at any moment, but she has remarkable control, even when letting loose on “No Anthems” or the dynamic jump on “Price Tag” (her vocal control, plus the great melody, are what make “Hey Darling” memorable). And Tucker’s low-end guitar playing provides a great sometimes counterbalance/sometimes compliment to Brownstein’s. Sleater-Kinney’s combined sound, then, is the punk-y, muscular, and frequently sophisticated sound this combination makes when it goes barreling down a hill.

But, getting back to No Cities to Love as an album. It’s pretty great. At 10 songs in 32 minutes, it’s the shortest Kinney album since ’96, yet it’s still one of their most realized and accessible. On one hand, that means there aren’t any towering, singular statements like “Let’s Call It Love”, and the album’s unerring consistency means it’s a little easier for “Fangless” or “Bury Our Friends” to get swept up than it should be, but these feel like slight complaints in the face of how strong the whole product is. My favorite part is the four song run from “Surface Envy” to “No Anthems”: “Surface Envy” is a whirlwind of guitar fuzz and hysteric vocals grounded by Weiss, the title track is built on a two chord riff and an infectious vocal melody, “A New Wave” is the purest pop on the album, and gets contrasted with the tense, buzzing, bass-heavy “No Anthems”. The back half focuses more on that same scuzzy sound, culminating in “Fade”, which most resembles The Woods in terms of walls of distorted guitars.

Let me clarify what I said about No Cities to Love not sounding like most Reunion Albums. Most reunion albums have a low bar to clear because, even with a decent single or two, it’s hard to justify their existence as anything beyond a reason to back on a lucrative tour (with them in the new recently, it’s hard to not think of blink-182’s Neighborhoods as the textbook example of this). But No Cities to Love doesn’t sound like a band slumming it for some festival slots, it sounds like a band putting their momentum forward. Sleater-Kinney only came back because they had something to say, and I’m more than happy to listen. Four and a half out of five stars.

tl;dr: Sleater-Kinney come roaring back to life, 4.5/5.

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Radio Rant: Meghan Trainor – Lips Are Movin

*yawn*

Hello, and welcome back to Radio Rants. Let’s keep it friendly today; I’m still recovering from the holidays. How about that Hozier song, or something?

Did I miss a memo? When did Meghan Trainor notch a second hit? We’re still sort of dealing with overplay and bad, bad jokes from “All About That Bass”, and now she’s already on a new song? That seems odd, especially since this wasn’t on that EP she released. …hang on, let me check something. Quick factcheck to Wikipedia, and yep, eminent album confirmed. Meghan Trainor wants to be a pop star.

I have mixed feelings about this.

Ok, so I liked “All About That Bass” enough for it to get a passing grade. Not a high one, but still, it was a charming, catchy enough accidental hit that was hard to dislike on its face. What it didn’t do is convince me that Trainor is someone we need to hear more from. When it comes down to it, the song just isn’t that interesting as a composition, and the same holds true for Trainor as a singer/songwriter; she’s competent and distinct, but nothing suggests she deserves more than being a one hit wonder.

In fact, “Lips Are Movin” is practically Exhibit A for MT’s One-Hit-Wonder status because it’s a wholesale rewrite of “All About That Bass”. Trainor like-rapped her verses on that song? She makes Iggy Azalea sound like Ghostface Killah here! Did you enjoy the horns with jaunty piano on “AATB”‘s chorus? Guess what! “Lips Are Movin” has jaunty piano with horns for its chorus! I hope y’all liked hearing a body part-based title repeated from here to eternity, because that bullshit’s back like Shady’s back, too. Some of the same melodic ticks and backing vocals make a reappearance, and Trainor even mentions her bass by name four fucking times. Hey, she wasn’t kidding when she said it was all she’s about.

With the “All About That Bass” Radio Rant, I mentioned that Trainor would do best if she kept writing songs that became accidental hits, not planned ones. This is partly because chasing your own song from a few months ago is kind of tacky, but also because the soul/doo-wop sound she explored on that song was a novelty genre blend you can only squeeze so much life out of. Like, if you were feeling disingenuous, you could say that “AATB” sounded like an Old Navy commercial (the “pretty people doing pretty dances in pretty clothes” video didn’t exactly help), but the song was fresh enough and the iota of social commentary kept that charge from sticking. Now, remove any of that song’s smarts–lyrical or production–and you’re left with “Lips Are Movin”, the Target advert Amy Winehouse never had to write for drug money. Perhaps tired of the “is she a good feminist or nah?” commentary that’s surrounded her for months, Trainor opted for the most tepid kiss-off song ever.

“If your lips are moving, if you’re lips are moving/If your lips are moving, then you’re lyin’, lyin’, lyin’, baby” “If I copy my lyrics, I’ll stop tryin, tryin’, tryin’, baby”

“Boy, look at me in my face/Tell me you’re not just about this Bass” I was kidding, dammit.

“You really think I could be replaced?/Nah, I come from outer space/And I’m a classy girl, I’ma hold it up/You’re full of something, but it ain’t love” Dear God, I’m having “Black Widow” flashbacks, and I don’t know who I’m supposed to be insulting with that.

“I know you lie/Cuz your lips are moving/Tell me do you think I’m dumb?/I might be young, but I ain’t stupid/Talking around in circles with your tongue” This stanza would be okay, except there’s no elegant way to use “tongue” in a song.

“You can buy me diamond earrings and deny/But I smell her on your collar so goodbye” This couplet in such an upbeat voice that the lyrics barely register. Meghan Trainor takes infidelity better than I take the Chipotle line being too long.

Look, I get that Trainor’s in an uncomfortable position. She’s got a few Grammy nods, but the Title EP was met with a collective shrug, and no one wants to be a One Hit Wonder by 22. But shamelessly rewriting your first hit right down the the lyrical references is a bad look on anyone; Carly Rae Jepsen at least had the good sense to try something different on her album than write “Maybe Call Me”. Trainor’s biggest problem is a very real lack of depth; “Lips Are Movin” might be a hit, but she needs to sound exciting or fresh. This song is neither. I compared her to Lorde, but this song makes her career strike a lot closer to Taio “Two Hits For the Timing of One” Cruz. The lips might be moving, but I don’t hear a damn thing.

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2014 Superlatives and Odds n Ends

Welcome to Day 7 here of Listmas ’14. Thanks for reading this week, and all year long with Ranting About Music! If you want to check out the rest of Listmas, links to everything are at the bottom. There might be a new Radio Rant or one-off review from this year I missed going up soon, but this is more or less the end of new coverage until January. It’s been fun everyone. Thanks for reading again!

Albums That Weren’t Favorites But I Quite Liked Anyway (“Favorite Album” Honorable Mentions):
YG – My Krazy Life
Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other
Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien
The Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments to an Elegy
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Weird Al – Mandatory Fun

Albums Most Hurt By Being Released in the Middle of December When We’ve All Stopped Paying Attention
Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint
Charli XCX – Sucker

Album I Kept Meaning to Listen to, but Never Got Around To: The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

Album I Couldn’t Get Into Because the Artist Spent the Year Acting Like an Asshole: Sun Kil Moon – Benji.

Album I Could Get Into Despite the Artist Spending the Year Acting Like an Asshole: Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste, Thurston Moore – The Best Day

Most Underrated Album: Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien. Way made an album of glammy alternative rock that’s a little weirder and a lot more likeable than anything he ever did with MCR. That this got slept on by just about everyone’s a damn shame.

Most Overrated Album: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2. Don’t get me wrong, I love this thing, but I know full well we’re still on the post-release hype train. I doubt it would get as many accolades with an earlier release date.

“Sleeper” Album of the Year: Sharon Van Etten – Are We There. This thing’s a fall album that had a spring release date.

Least Essential Album of the Year: Maroon 5 – V

Pop-Punk Album Power Rankings
5. Fireworks – Oh Common Life
4. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
3. Candy Hearts – All The Ways You Let Me Down
2. Joyce Manor - Never Hungover Again
1. The Hoteliers – Home, Like Noplace There Is

Favorite Hot 100 Songs That Didn’t Make the Year End Chart
Childish Gambino – “3005”
Big Sean ft. E-40 – “I Don’t Fuck With You”
Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk” (next year, baby)

Pop Honorable Nominees (Best Hits Considerations)
Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea – “Problem”
Lorde – “Team”
KONGOS – “Come With Me Now”
5 Seconds of Summer – “She Looks So Perfect”
Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”

Pop Dishonorable Nominees (Worst Hits Consideration)
Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX – “Fancy”
5 Seconds of Summer “Amnesia”
Chris Brown ft. Usher and Rick Ross – “New Flame”
Maroon 5 – “Animals”
Jason Aldean – “Burnin’ It Down”

Best #1 Hit: Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass” (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Worst #1 Hit: MAGIC! – “Rude” (yuck)

Most Boring #1 Hit: Pharrell – “Happy”

Respected But Not Liked #1 Hit: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Pop Career Whose Grave I Was Ready to Dance On and Then Fucking “Animals” Happened: Maroon 5. V wasn’t awful numbers-wise, but “Maps” and initially “Animals” failed to catch on. The latter’s latent ascension is proving me wrong, though.

Pop Career I’m Most Curious For in 2015: Charli XCX. Come on, y’all, let’s make this happen. I don’t want to sit through a year of Iggy Azalea verses.

And, Introducing Ranting About Music’s Resident Intern
Cinder
This is Cinder, guys. He used to chill out in the living room of my old place, but now that I moved, he sits with the CDs and stereo on my desk. His duties include DJing, running social media, and answering the mail. He also likes hats. Refuses to get my coffee, though.

Listmas 2014
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty: 50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends

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The Gibby Fifty: Favorite 50 Songs of 2014

It’s Saturday guys, no heavy reading here. List is arranged alphabetically by artist, limited to one entry per main artist, and nothing from the best hits list qualified because you can already assume it’d be here. Spotify playlist is at the bottom, although you’re on your own if you want to hear Taylor Swift’s “I Wish You Would”.

Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – “Grapefruit”
Against Me! – “FUCKMYLIFE666″
Allison Weiss – “Giving Up”
Azealia Banks – “Ice Princess”
Beck – “Waking Light”
Beyonce ft. Nicki Minaj – “Flawless (Remix)”
The Black Keys – “Turn Blue”
Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better”
Bleeding Rainbow – “Time and Place”
Candy Hearts – “Something’s Missing”
Charli XCX – “Break the Rules”
D’Angelo – “Another Life”
Death From Above 1979 – “Government Trash”
5 Seconds of Summer – “She Looks So Perfect”
FKA twigs – “Pendulum”
Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”
Foo Fighters – “The Feast and the Famine”
The Gaslight Anthem – “Get Hurt”
Gerard Way – “Millions”
HAERTS – “Call My Name”
Hozier – “Take Me to Church”
Interpol – “All The Rage Back Home”
J.Cole – “’03 Adolescence”
Jack White – “High Ball Stepper”
Joyce Manor – “Heart Tattoo”
The Juan Maclean – “Here I Am”
Julian Cassablancas and the Voidz – “Where No Eagles Fly”
Kendrick Lamar – “i”
Kitty – “285”
Lana Del Rey – “Shades of Cool”
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”
Modern Baseball – “Rock Bottom”
Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”
Paramore – “Tell Me It’s Okay”
Pharrell ft. Justin Timberlake – “Brand New”
Restorations – “Separate Songs”
Run the Jewels ft. Zach de la Rocha – “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”
Sharon Van Etten – “Your Love Is Killing Me”
The Smashing Pumpkins – “Anti-Hero”
St. Vincent – “Huey Newton”
Taylor Swift – “I Wish You Would” (close enough)
Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q – “2 On”
Tove Lo – “Thousand Miles”
TV On the Radio – “Happy Idiot”
The War on Drugs – “Red Eyes”
Weezer – “Cleopatra”
Willow ft. SZA – “9”
Xerxes – “A Toast”
YG Ft. Drake – “Who Do You Love?”
Youth Culture – “Grocery Store”

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion, or catch up below!

Listmas 2014
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty–50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends

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