I guess I’m supposed to do some sort of year-end round-up thing. These things always feel kind of forced and I really, really loathe pitting art against art in some kind of relative combat. This isn’t a competition. So, in the spirit of that, he is a short list of songs from this year that had a lasting effect on me. They are in no order except the order that they appeared in my head. I suppose that might be a gauge of how much I loved them, so maybe that’s my subconscious ranking them as such. There you go.
Sturgill Simpson – Turtles All The Way Down
Remember when the Highwaymen released “The Highwayman?” That was some real bad-ass mystical reincarnation shit. Maybe the titular Highwayman has found his way back in the form of Sturgill Simpson. It’s entirely possible, right? Who else has the balls to making such traditional country music singing about the positive elements of psychedelics? This isn’t about drinking beer down at the fishin’ hole shit, this is some serious expand-your-mind-and-learn-yourself-and-you’ll-love-your-brothersandsisters stuff here. Obviously all of this is just shtick if it’s not being delivered by an incredibly talented performer and writer, both of which Simpson most assuredly is. (Listen to “Just Let Go.” Fuck) His album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is pretty much great across the board and worth your $10 on bandcamp. It’s amazing watching this guy gain so much steam with no radio support whatsoever. Thanks Joe Rogan for using your mighty reach to bring the good Sturgill to the people.
Hilltop Hoods – Cosby Sweater
I’ve been listening to this song with alarmingly regularity since the release of Walking Under Stars (Which is a damned fine record you should listen to all the way through) this past summer and right now, listening to it again so I can write this, I am astonished at how great this beat is. It’s big and bright and simple and flat out radical. It’s so radical in fact, that my homey’s year-and-half old son learned to throw his hands up to this. The amount of groove this kid feels from this track is bananas. (Though, to be fair, he’s pretty much just into whatever Hilltop does.)
I do find the video oddly distressing as the only two females are clearly models and the males are obviously Hilltop and their also normal-looking homeys. They don’t have female homeys who aren’t whispy-Guess-looking models? Also, why aren’t Hilltop in their Cosby sweaters until the very end?! Shouldn’t they be wearing them THE WHOLE TIME!? It’s not called “Zoo York Sweater.” And, while we’re at it, why is that one model wearing a sweater cut above the stomach. Picture Bill Cosby in a half-cut tummy sweater…Yeah, that’s why I have a problem with it. Still, this song is really fucking good!
Kendrick Lamar – ‘i’
How much more can be said about Kendrick Lamar? I don’t think I can really add anything interesting to the discussion about this cat. But man, this is a damned fine jam. It’s good to hear a guy known for relatively dour music really spread his wings in the full flight of positivity. I really wish this was part of an album, and maybe it will be, but until we get a follow up to Good Kid… any individual releases will have to do.
Hail Mary Mallon – Whales
Pretty much everything Aesop Rock is involved with is going to be gold, and Hail Mary Mallon’s Bestiary is no different. With DJ Big Wiz’s dense beats and Rob Sonic matching Aesop’s bravado all throughout the proceedings, Bestiary doesn’t really miss the mark once. “Whales” is the perfect encapsulation of everything they’re about with that big, thumping drum beat and Sonic and Aesop trading hilarious lines poking fun at the extravagance of many mainstream hip-hops. Another example of a video helping an already great song worm its way deeper into your head. Watch this and you’ll be tickled in the eyes and ears and you probably won’t be able to get enough.
Sam Roberts Band – Metal Skin
I’ve always had a fondness for Sam Roberts. We Were Born in a Flame remains a staple of my listening repertoire to this day. This song more than anyone on this list is tied to a specific moment in this past year. My brother and I had been talking about taking some kind of trip together for a few years. It was always somewhere exotic and far away. But we decided to instead go on a road trip to just a short hop away in Alberta, through Jasper National Park, on our way to Shambhala and back home. On the way through Jasper, a bit hazy and full of the feels that come with a bit of a smoke, we crested a hill we came up in front of a towering mountain, sunshine reflecting like a prism off the lake next to the vehicle and Sam Roberts sings “The world gets too predictable/I wanna run with the animals/I wanna shed my metal skin/Wanna forget everything…” and right then I burst into tears. I was so overcome with feeling that moment…finally getting this trip with my brother, being in this beautiful place with this warm, beautiful song on and fuck, just the fact that I was alive. It all sounds very lame and cliché, I know, but it was a very real feeling and something I don’t think I’m soon to forget.
Ratking – So It Goes
Another group that has had a lot written about them, Ratking is incredibly deserving of all the praise they’ve been getting. “So It Goes” is a beautiful slice of downtempo hip-hop, built on equal parts beautiful poetry and gritty street lyricism. From the sky and the streets, the duo on the mic (Wiki bringing the elastic, bouncy first verse and Hak with the slower, ethereal second verse) drops an inventive, distinguished bit of street art. The Sporting Life’s beat is fascinating and skeletal. It’s a slow-burner, perfect for a smoky headphone session or a long walk through the city.
Slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark – I Know, Didn’t I
Jurassic 5 and the Pharcyde remain two of the most definitive west coast hip-hop acts of all times. Their music is locked into a certain time and feeling for sure, but it never sounds dated or whack. DJ Nu-Mark (Uncle Nu) and Slimkid3, two of the founders of those groups combined this year for a fucking phenomenal full-length album that sounds as fresh and awesome as anything released this year while still sounding wholly familiar and comfortable to those who haven’t listened to serious hip-hop in awhile (Many of my friends, former heads in their own right, fall into this group.). If you like your beats and rapping smooth and thoughtful, this is the track for you.
This song also has the distinction of being the track this year that found me at the right time and explained almost everything I was feeling about a situation I was in. So, that’s another reason I love it so much. Much props to the masters.
Andrew Jackson Jihad – Temple Grandin
Before I heard this song I had been talking with a few friends about the increasing use of the term “killin’ it.” I get why it’s a good term, it’s fun as hell to say. It’s succinct and badass, but there’s part of me that wonders about how we use language and how these things affect us in the long haul. Why is “killin’ it” a positive term for doing well? Why aren’t we using something like “nurturing it?” Yeah, these are the things that I think about.
Anyways, I hated this song the first time I heard it. Sean Bonette’s voice immediately made me want to poke him the eyes and stomp on his foot. It’s the first song on their Christmas Island album and unfortunately I had to listen to the whole thing for Rice & Bread Magazine’s ALBUM CLUB. (Which you should be reading, not only because I’m a regular there, but because it’s generally awesome.) And oh, did I listen! I listened over and over again, trying to absorb what I could. Then one day, walking home after a particularly smokey hangout session, something clicked. I think it might have even been a different track on the record, but of all a sudden I got it. Whatever the Jihad was trying to do seeped its way into the synapses of my brain and opened up a vault of feelings. They kind of busted me open like a video instillation of Linda Ronstadt. The whole album is a win and you need to have it in your life. Don’t make the same mistake I made and get your Jihad on.
Five Alarm Funk – We All Scream
I’m going to be honest here, I wanted to use a different song from Five Alarm Funk’s Abandon Earth record, “Higgs-Boson” to be exact, but it wasn’t available on YouTube or Soundcloud, so here we are with “We All Scream,” a video that was released in mid-2013, after which I had to wait almost a whole fucking year for this record, but it’s okay. It’s worth it. These guys deserve ALL OF YOUR ATTENTION and while their music might not translate entirely outside of the live setting, this is the best you have until you get to stand in their mighty presence. I’ll take any excuse to post this video wherever the opportunity reveals itself because I LOVE THIS BAND.
Chromeo – Jealous (I Ain’t With It)
I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with some deep piece of writing about the whackness of jealousy and all that, but really, I just like this song a lot. It’s catchy and it makes me want to dance like crazy and sometimes that’s all you need from good music. Also, I am with it, in that I too get jealous but do my damndest to not let it affect me and my decisions. I don’t really have much to say about this one, sorry. Enjoy dancing.