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Best Albums of 2014…So Far

July 17, 2014 in Best of 2014, Lists



By Zachary Kaczmarek

Seeking out the best music from endless genres that are constantly evolving can be an arduous task. Reviews can dance around the subject and tend to take the drawn out approach instead of giving a simple thumbs up or down – admittedly this writer is guilty of this as much as any other. But to save you the reader hours of sifting and consolidating, we’ve compiled a list of the  best releases that 2014 has bestowed upon us to this point in time.

18. Katy B – Little Red

Katy_B_-_Little_RedKaty B’s debut represented the perfect mixture of Americanized R&B-pop a la Beyonce, Aaliyah, and so on, combined with house and funky UK beats that have catapulted names like Disclosure to worldwide success. Unlike her debut, Little Red invests in various ballads which tap into a more solemn place below the surface that goes beyond club bangers and a night out on the town.



17. Clipping. – CLPPNG


In the world of hip-hop there are the innovators, constantly incorporating previously unrelated elements into their compositions, and then there’s clipping. There’s no question that the industrial mix of glitch synth and snares limits the reach and appeal of clipping’s sophomore album, but the sound as a whole is cleaner and well-polished without sacrificing the bizarre off kilter approach on Midcity. Daveed Diggs does not posess the greatest flow or the most insightful lyrics, but his style fits in well with the abrasive lo-fi approach of Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson.


16. Protomartyr – Under the Color of Official Right


Upon first listen, Protomartyr sound disjointed and sloppy, simply flailing around for the sake of it – the vocals of Joe Casey which sound improvised and off the cuff at times have a lot to do with this. But this reckless style is also their greatest strength, plowing through multiple tracks without a care and somehow establishing a consistent rhythm along the way. It’s not random chance or dumb luck that Under the Color of Official Right sounds good by the time the gem of the album ‘Come and See’ tears into its reverb heavy chord progression. Protomartyr has its share of gaping flaws – an overabundance of chaos, scraggly, sloppy vocals to name a few – but they wisely turn those critiques into pillars of strength. Under the Color is meant to be enjoyed in an unhinged state of bliss, not in a coffee shop, analyzing the deeper implications of their uninhibited nature.

15. Warpaint – Warpaint


The self-titled release by LA-based quarter Warpaint, favors musicianship and slick grooves over the cavernous vibes that their debut, The Fool, relished and bathed in. There are certain moments that feel like more of an exercise than an impassioned LP, but in the end their strengths – psychedelic riffs and fills and a newfound mid-tempo druggy haze – win out and make up for a slightly generic sound. Each expert display of musical brilliance is accompanied by a Portishead style of shadowy appeal to love and everything else that comes with making brooding rock music.


14. EMA – Future’s Void


Tackling the theme of technology and some of the unintended negative consequences is not why Erica M. Anderson pervades a sophomore slump, but rather the way that she scores a dark, complex society with complementary sounds and loops, and the presence of dejection and anxiety looming overhead, is what prevents an overused concept from seeming empty. She adopts more abnormal samples and dramatic synthesizers than guitars this time around, but it’s fitting considering the disgust towards the modern obsession over technology and social media. The spooky part about her bleak perspective is that the future in question is not a post-apocalyptic world staring at us from afar, but a world that already exists, re-imagined with sinister electronics.


13. Lykke Li – I Never Learn


Setting aside the bright melodies and uplifting, dance-inducing arrangements, Li finds herself churning out one melancholy ballad after another. The percussion is softer, the lyrics are somber, and Li’s sound as a whole is perfectly retrofitted for a classic breakup album. I Never Learn may not have a defiant urge to seek independence or find confidence in a free fall, but it does show a toughness that aspires for more than just self-loathing. More than anything, Li masters the art of the bare-bones ballad, a skill that the pop of her last two albums – a pop which she now claims to hate – could not fully harness.


12. tUne-yArDs – Nikki Nack


If tUne-yArDs self-titled debut was the proper introduction to the zany mind of Merill Garbis, Nikki Nack serves as the collection of moments that solidify her brand of messy, avante-garde pop not as trend that ran its course, but as a viable sound that will carry tUne-yArDs for years to come. Garbis tightens down the loose structures and unleashes all sorts of havoc, lyrically with her politically/socially charged quips, and sonically with a full arsenal of popping, Afrobeat percussion and layers of spastic vocal samples. As strange as and chaotic as Nikki Nack can be at times, it never strays away from the idea that this is pop for a strange new generation.

11. MØ – No Mythologies to Follow


Riding the recent wave of Scandinavian pop that has infiltrated ears in each corner of the world, Danish singer-songwriter Karen Ørsted, or MØ as many now know her, fuses hip-hop laced beats and percussion with moody hooks that have a unique anthemic presence. Sure, the vocal delivery and inflections will have some making silly claims that Ørsted is aping Lana Del Rey, but the heights that Ørsted’s choruses soar to and the eclectic interaction between guitar licks, horn rhythms, and bass is undeniably hers and hers alone.


10. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Pinata


Gangsta’ rapper Freddie Gibbs is not the world’s most underrated MC or one that needs reexamination, his discography is, for lack of a better word, decent. But Madlib, whose influence runs through the veins of modern hip-hop, lays down some of his finest beats and production work to cast Gibbs in a different light, one that has Gibbs delivering the performance of a lifetime. The diverse samples and spacious layout draw the best out of Gibbs and his narration of street life, and to this point create the best hip-hop LP of 2014 thus far.


9. Eagulls – Eagulls

Eagulls-Album-Cover-608x608The debut from the Leeds post-punk group Eagulls do not take home any awards for originality – but to be fair how many completely original acts these days can stake such a claim? The influences are unashamedly worn on their sleeves – the Clash, the Cure, perhaps a heavier-sounding Joy Divison – and the truth is there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a remarkable skill that Eagulls have mastered; being able to parley the soul and contempt of their British rock heroes into fresh explosive brand of punk. It never sounds like a cover band trying to relive a golden age because the urgency and manic personality that Eagulls channel so well, is far too pulse-elevating and convincing to be a half-assed homage.

8. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream


What a criminal statement it would be to mistake Lost in the Dream as a stunted ode to classic rock. Despite the unmistakable traces vintage Americana, psych rock, and the folk of Dylan, Lost in the Dream finds its own personality by inserting a ballad or two and feeding off a newly added new wave component. There’s not a lot of parity from one track to the next – the similarities can become tiring – but the results are definitely more satisfying and consistent than if the band had recorded a diverse, scatterbrain LP that explores conflicting sounds for the sake of being well-rounded.


7. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

Small_Gold_Album_-_First_Aid_KitThe irresistibly heartfelt folk pop of Johanna and Klara Soderberg reaches new heights on Stay Gold, ditching the simple aesthetic for a beefed up sound that makes every climatic moment feel larger without sacrificing any purity or sincerity that made their first two records such a delight. While Stay Gold may not be sexy, unpredictable, or fringe, its consistency ends up being the saving grace – especially in an age where even the most veteran acts can put out a dud.


6. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness


Maintaining her love for the heartwarming twang of the 50s and 60s, Olsen turns away from the charming, quaint rock from her debut. The elements of garage rock allow Olsen to channel fuzz drenched, frustrated sentiments that were far too bold for the passionate, understated songwriting of Half Way Home. The grittier distortion that underlies Olsen’s lyrical chops show just how versatile Burn Your Fire can be – breaking hearts with silent acoustic ballads and generating unrest in lovers quarrels through psych rock. However Olsen chooses to frame her work – gentle or caustic – it tugs on heart strings all the same.


5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St_Vincent_artworkAnnie Clark’s fourth LP is not exactly the best jumping off point for newcomers. Clark’s self-titled record is lyrically stirring, taking sardonic jabs at selfie takers and consumers, and also fearless in its adventurous style sonically. The haywire personality that is characterized by freakish guitar tones and jazz-based rhythms is stronger than ever as Clark allows herself to explore new extremes while still working within a very broad definition of pop. It’s an undeniable marvel that marries pop and art like few other albums in the past decade have been able to do. Comparing the exciting gambles that Clark takes on this eponymous record to the work of her contemporaries does not feel right, not because it’s a discussion of styles that relate to each other like apples and oranges, but because it seems Clark could one day end up in far grander and more intriguing discussion, with the likes of Bowie and Byrne.

4. Royksopp and Robyn – Do It Again


When a collaboration of this magnitude occurs, it’s difficult not to expect something unparalleled and brilliant that ventures into new territory or redefines a genre. Unfortunately, Do It Again does not expand the boundaries or implement a shelved idea, but meets expectations and allows the unique pop sensibilities of Robyn to coexist and flourish inside the large array of synths and beats that Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland construct. Do It Again is the peak of sophisticated synth pop that has the potential to produce an enjoyable, dark horse, hit single of the summer (“Do It Again”) and still be incredibly daunting with all its complex and intricate parts.

3. Sun Kil Moon – Benji


Storytelling is often an underrated skill in today’s music but Mark Kozelek prides himself on constructing some of the most compelling and powerful lyrics that 2014 has brought us so far. The lengths vary between 3 minute cuts and 10 minute free form, evolving tales, both of which are equally gripping and heavy, even for the genre of folk. Kozelek effortlessly transfers all of his experiences, joys, and woes onto anyone who lends an ear. The art of being subtle or mysterious never crosses Kozelek’s mind as he thrives on songwriting that prioritizes being forthright and candid. Whether a line is embarrassing or demoralizing, Kozelek stands tall, because there is no charade or persona to which he is a slave, and his loyalty to honest storytelling is what makes Benji one of a kind.

2. Swans – To Be Kind


If Swans have proven anything it’s that a band is never over the hill and the freshest of rebirths could occur decades after forming. The experimental rock pioneers last album, The Seer, redefined the limits for expansive rock that almost feels too large to process at once, and To Be Kind possesses the same colossal weight. It’s not hard to feel engulfed in tracks that can reach the 30 minute range and morph countless times over, adding layers upon layers of eerie guitar noises or chants and mantras. There aren’t as many chilling moments that haunt the mind in the way The Seer did, but To Be Kind is every bit as versatile, meticulous, and unnerving as any album that Swans have released.


1. White Lung – Deep Fantasy

white-lung-1402422002Lengthwise Deep Fantasy might not seem like much to gawk at – the run time falls just short of 23 minutes – but Vancouver post-hardcore act White Lung make every second count on their third LP, which is nothing short of a swift kick in the ass musically. The opening blows of kick drums and overwhelming explosion of hissing riffs generate the kind of unhinged intensity that is impossible to fake and Mish Way’s Kathleen Hanna-meets-Karen O. vocal delivery propels each pummeling sequence of furry with a confidence that has a slight pop addictiveness. Albums of this kind usually don’t suck in the casual listener that fancies pop or charting alt-rock, but in an age that has less boundaries and more cross-over than ever, Deep Fantasy has the potential to do just that.

Album Review: White Lung – Deep Fantasy

July 15, 2014 in Album Reviews


white-lung-1402422002White Lung

Deep Fantasy

Release Date: June 17, 2014

Grade: 9.5

By Zachary Kaczmarek

White Lung possesses a high octane motor and the kind of ferocity that is impossible to fake. Sure, maybe for a track or two the average punk or hardcore band could match the blistering, relentless torrent of fury; but for an entire album? Not likely. This is a record that triggers all the right fervent emotions that lay below the surface and commands them masterfully. Vancouver has gained a reputation within the past few years of churning out white hot punk rock as if it’s their main export, and Deep Fantasy only elevates that status.

Biding time is something almost sacrilegious in the eyes of the quick, pummeling mindset that Deep Fantasy drapes itself in. As quick as the run time may be – a total of twenty-two or so minutes – the deliciously face-melting riffs, violent pounding kick drums, and piercing vocals of Mish Way are powerful, efficient, and achieve more than most bands could in forty minutes. The joys of this tightly packed album are not just based on pure rage alone as ‘Face Down’ proves, with breakneck melodies and in-your-face lyrical splinters like “The dumb won’t make a sound, when you want them/Ugly dies face down.”

Way’s kamikaze presence and hasty lyrics are inarguably the reasons Deep Fantasy kicks so hard and still manages to have addictive qualities without compromising any of the viciousness that was plentiful on Sorry and It’s Evil. The chaotic Way establishes herself as one of the best in the land due to her siren-like Fever to Tell-era Karen O.-meets-Kathleen Hanna, type highs that she calls upon, matched with chilling yells and screams.

Sonically, it’s hard not to gush over the versatility that White Lung discovers on their third go at it. The lighter, but still very aggressive ‘Snake Jaw’ utilizes bright chords and quick alternate picking that stand out among the ravaging bursts of distortion on heavier tracks like ‘I Believe You’. But as far as unparalleled sounds go, the epitome of Deep Fantasy proves to be ‘Drown With the Monster’, an anthem for thrashing around eviscerating everything in sight.

White Lung’s destructive masterpiece might not be for everyone – hell, mentioning a combination of words such as hardcore, post-hardcore, or punk in the same sentence could very well elicit a premature “that’s not really my cup of tea” from friends or colleagues as if it’s taboo. But if there ever was punk/hardcore album that could bust down the barrier between fast-paced jagged aesthetics of this caliber and the casual listener who consumes nothing but the finest middle of the road music, Deep Fantasy is it. It’s a devastating, nasty, and hellish ride – in repetitive doses – but by the end an immediate repeat listen or two is inevitable.

Essential Tracks: ’Drown With the Monster’, ‘Down It Goes’, ’I Believe You’, ‘In Your Home’

Album Review: Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

June 17, 2014 in Album Reviews



Lana Del Rey



Release Date: June 13th, 2014

By Zachary Kaczmarek

 Score: 7.5


There really is no gentle way of describing how messy and aggravating Lana Del Rey’s debut album, Born to Die, was in its understated Nancy Sinatra -“woe is me” – style of lounge-pop. It was the type of record that you desperately wanted to enjoy but ending up tossing away due to the cheap production, insipid arrangements, and the endless flow of clichéd lyrics that a teenager might resort to when depicting angst-filled love. But perhaps it was the unfair standard that was placed on the album by dazzling singles like “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans”, which led bloggers and fans alike to the conclusion that Del Rey was the troubled and poetic songstress that music was craving. Despite the embarrassing letdown that was Born to Die and the harsh speculation that Lana Del Rey might be nothing more than a cleverly marketed brand, the queen of crooning decided to return with an album that attempts to prove that she is more than a calculated image or a poorly executed concept – receiving a production makeover with from the Black Keys Dan Auerbach.

Unlike its predecessor, Del Rey’s much improved sophomore LP manages to give itself a fair chance by correcting a major flaw on Born to Die – avoiding the temptation of blurring all the musical elements into a bland soggy dome of sound. That’s not to say that a change in representation somehow portrays Del Rey like never before, but Auerbach’s approach does breakdown the unengaging sound barrier that Born to Die hid behind. It would be difficult to imagine “West Coast” having any sort of appeal without being able to distinguish the brooding synthesizers lurking in the background from the crisp drum fills that propel Del Rey’s vocals, or the chorus in “Shades of Cool” finding any sort of traction without the perfect amount of reverb to lace the vocals with. It would be criminal to award Dan Auerbach all the credit for the album’s successes, because Del Rey does belt out a few verses that are out of her comfort zone, but at the same time it’s foolish to pretend that he is not playing a vital role in revamping the sound of an artist who is not exactly known for enthusiastic melodies.

Stylistically Ultraviolence trades in the “misunderstood rebel with a dark past” for an equally cynical “hopeless romantic” persona. The best way to absorb some of the more self-obsessed lyrics and the self-loathing that characterizes the majority of the 12 tracks is to understand that Del Rey truly is a revolving door, a chameleon, and rather than gracing the stage or screen with her melodrama she chooses to create the musical equivalent of pessimistic soap opera by playing various roles. In near-identical fashion to Born to Die, Ultraviolence plays out more like a movie script where Del Rey is once again cast aside for her significant other’s addictions, leaving her to reflect on her self-worth, or lack thereof. The real difference in this sequel is that the main character isn’t playing a tragic victim, but instead an arrogant female Kanye West that demands attention and is not to be trifled with, as noted multiple times on “Money, Power Glory” – “You talk lots about God/Freedom comes from the call/But that’s not what this bitch wants/Not what I want at all”.

Taking a break the looming black cloud dramatics and hustler attitude, Del Rey moves past the usual themes and takes a stab at critics with the tongue-in-cheek “Fucked My Way to the Top”. The chorus – “I fucked my way to top, this is my show” – is not exactly a line that might end up in Bartlett’s Book of Quotes, but it serves as a reminder that regardless of the how or why, Lana Del Rey, for better or worse, is most likely here to stay. It also serves as proof that trying to consistently enjoy Del Rey’s music can be an exhausting task that involves too much give and take for the casual listener. For every enticing line or well-executed display of range, there’s a corny metaphor about love, and with every decent chord progression there’s an outro that drags on 30 seconds too long. It’s this unfortunate trade off that can make Ultraviolence more appealing as a list of singles shuffled into a playlist rather than a full dose of melancholy. But with a dedicated fan-base like Lana Del Rey’s comes the luxury of plateauing, or taking risks that isolate and cause lots of eye-rolling, meaning that this unique style of her’s is unlikely to change for even the harshest of critics. After all, it is her show.

 Essential Tracks: “West Coast”, “Brooklyn Baby”, “Fucked My Way to the Top”


Album Review: First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


Small_Gold_Album_-_First_Aid_KitFirst Aid Kit

Stay Gold

Release Date: June 10th, 2014


Score: 8.7

By Zachary Kaczmarek


First Aid Kit’s style of folk-pop –which may very well be one of the most fresh perspective’s the genre has had to offer in the last decade – masterfully flirts with the traditional twang-laden sounds of the 70s and the tight structured melodies of contemporary folk. With only three full length albums and one EP under their belt – Stay Gold being the third – the Söderberg twins, Johanna and Klara, already feel like mainstays in folk, constructing melancholic songs that are equally uplifting as they are heartbreaking, all while laying down greatly impassioned acoustic chord progressions and classic sounding harmonized vocals. Stay Gold builds upon First Aid Kit’s last album, The Lion’s Roar, and its successes – vivid storytelling, an energetic mix of instruments, and beautifully harmonized choruses.

Emotionally, First Aid Kit maintain their conflicted view of the world by neatly juxtaposing life’s joys with its treacherous roads and deep-seated fears of fading and becoming a shell of what once was. The title track addresses these concerns with an ominous string section looming overhead and powerful chorus lines that slice right through the heart – “What if a hard work ends in despair?/What if the road won’t take me there?/Oh, I wish for once, we could stay gold.” Throughout the record the Söderbergs consistently hit the mark by unabashedly wearing their hearts on their sleeves and wrapping their best compositions around the raw moments and revelations. “Shattered and Hollow” makes a similar imprint in large part due to humble admissions – “I am in love and I am lost/But I’d rather be broken than empty” – the gentle pitter patter of snare drums, and a swiftly finger-picked guitar melody.

The nucleus of Stay Gold however, is not when First Aid Kit is at their lowest but rather when they’re triumphantly embracing their disposition. “My Silver Lining” pairs unyielding lyrics – “These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free/Be it for reason, be it for love/I won’t take the easy road” – with a fascinating interaction between Klara Söderberg’s guitar fills and the piercing downward-spiraling string section in the background, cementing it as one of their most endearing songs to date. Aside from being the marquee track on the album, it also shows how far the sister duo has progressed, stacking walls of harmonious sound and enough hooks to fill multiple songs, which is a far cry from simplified guitar and keyboard driven staples in their catalog like “Ghost Town” or “Tangerine”.

Softer confessionals like “Cedar Lane” serve as a reminder that before First Aid Kit stepped into this new realm folk that is littered with alluring pop hooks and dramatic arrangements they were a traditional folk duo capable of evoking tears with nothing the bare minimum. Whichever gear they choose to manipulate the heart, Johanna and Klara Söderberg do so with precision and grace, bridging the gap between the classic folk and the complex pop-infused songs that have elevated their status as songwriters. While Stay Gold may not be sexy, unpredictable, or fringe, its consistency in an age where even the most veteran acts can put out a dud ends up being the saving grace.

Essential Tracks: “My Silver Lining”, “Stay Gold”, “Waitress Song”, “Fleeting One”

Album Review: Lykke Li – I Never Learn

May 7, 2014 in Album Reviews




Lykke Li

I Never Learn


Release Date: May 5, 2014

Score: 8.5

By Zachary Kaczmarek


Reflecting on some of the all-time classic breakup albums – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space, and Beck’s Sea Change – it’s clear that the great songwriters are not merely speaking their unfiltered, broken thoughts on record or whining in a Morisette-like fashion, but transforming those disparaging emotions that swirl around love lost and creating something universal and transcendent. The mysterious power of the post-breakup album is that it satisfies the need to vent and purge the negative while simultaneously being empowered. Both the artist and the listener can listen together in awe and be at loss for words thinking about how a broken heart could be reworked into a compelling series of tracks, and sometimes be seen as a source of inspiration. On the contrary Lykke Li’s third LP, I Never Learn, manages to be just as forceful as any of the aforementioned, and it does so not by inspiring strength in others or finding a fire deep down inside her own soul, but by being brutally honest even if that reality is bleak and without hope. It’s the type of dark, realist pop album that values only the essentials, trimming any excess and filling the gaps with Li’s masterful vocals.

Starting off an album as somber as I Never Learn requires finesse, and Li understanding this very well, chooses not to open with the explosive banging of tribal drums or neo-soul synth, but tender, hollowed out acoustic chords that rest firmly on the sound of mournful strings rising and falling. The title track “I Never Learn” is quite the mix of joy and sorrow, highlighting the core of the record, which is an exasperated Li taken aback by the wondrous feelings of love, which unfortunately are nothing more than memories that leave her motionless and mesmerized. “I’ll die here as your phantom lover/I never learn, I never learn”, the final lines ring out, as Li emits vibes of helplessness, reliving a moment that she is convinced will play out time and time again.

In a similar fashion to how the opening title track relies on a stripped down palette, the most vulnerable cuts like “No Rest for the Wicked” and “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” hinge on the tension that is created by uncomfortable silences and complete surrender to which Li submits herself. For an artist who has left a mark by carefully layering and engaging the ear with constant activity, recording a bare heartbroken ballad like “Made of Stone”, which has the qualities of a spontaneous bedroom recording, is a jaw dropping moment. This track alone is one of the indicators that this entire experience is all too real for her, denying every instinct that has made her past two albums great and simply steering into the skid while embracing the void that she writes about. She no longer feels a connection with songs that seek out happiness and instead chooses to wisely reinvent herself in a way that draws on this new gothic side. While hearing more contrast from the Swedish songstress would provide alleviation from the relentless waves of bittersweet despair, it’s satisfying to see a talent like Li ascend to new heights as a songwriter and accomplish such a feat without the textured soulful pop that was once assumed to be a given with any song of hers.

For anyone hoping to hear brief flashes of the lighter sounds that characterized Li’s first two releases, Youth Novels and Wounded Rhymes, “Gunshot” may be enough to suffice, with its pounding drums in the chorus, slick grooves on the piano, and layered vocals during the refrain. Among a collection of melancholic confessions, “Gunshot” distances itself as one of the few moments where Li defiantly seeks to mend what is lost, only to be shot down; “And the shot goes through my head and back/Gun shot, I can’t take it back/My heart cracked, really love you bad/Gun shot, I’ll never get you back”. The placement as the center track of the album is perfect, allowing for a succinct peak of rage and frustration, before quickly devolving into a series of beautifully somber pop arrangements.

Rather than writing a contrived happy ending simply for the sake of ending on a high note Lykke Li closes out the album with some sobering lines – “If you save your heart for mine, we’ll meet again, we’ll meet again.” I Never Learn quickly run its course, lasting only 33 minutes and change, but constantly beckoning for another listen, and tugging on the heart with an addictively haunting charm. It’s a sequence of devastatingly beautiful black on black moments that pop music occasionally touches upon for a track or two, but never dares to embrace as a recurring theme. It’s common for most songwriters within the genre to recklessly spill their heart through a pen when documenting the emotional highs and lows of shattered romance, but rarely does an album of this kind hit so deep below the skin as swiftly as Lykke Li’s.

Album Review: St. Vincent – St. Vincent

February 25, 2014 in Album Reviews


St_Vincent_artworkSt. Vincent 

St. Vincent

Loma Vista/Republic

Release Date: February 25, 2014

Grade: 9.0

By Zachary Kaczmarek



The past few years for Annie Clark have been interesting to say the least, collaborating with David Byrne on a duet album, Love This Giant, touring for said album, and causing many to second guess what her next album would sound like. Would it lean more towards the jazzy art rock that Byrne brought to the table on their collaboration, or venture off into a bizarro new direction that could start where her last record, Strange Mercy, left off? The correct answer, which her self-titled fourth album provides, is both. Clark’s latest collection of sounds serve as a musical coronation on which she weaves back and forth between the funky brass that characterized Love This Giant, the dulcet melodies that made her first two albums so irresistible, and the electrified essence on Strange Mercy that bridged the gap between prog rock and pop.

St. Vincent perfects the seemingly impossible balancing act that Clark has been working towards since her debut, which is to craft something alluring and equally gutsy. “Birth in Reverse” is the epitome of this balance, taking the grim theme of death, and oddly characterizing it as a mundane happening with an infectious chorus, just another day in the life. Accompanied by Clark’s signature crunchy and freakish guitar tones, the second track on the album sets a course for an LP that thrives on embracing unorthodox moments and morphing them into compelling perspectives worth understanding.

“Bring Me Your Loves” embodies this off the wall mentality, broadening boundaries and throwing away any preconceived notions of what a St. Vincent song should sound like. The various interstellar sounding synthesizers overlap and bend in pitch, creating an eerie sci-fi vibe, backed by Clark’s spooky harmonized vocals. “I thought you were like a dog, but you made a pet out of me”, she sings, making a very disheartening realization about love.

In between the twisted romance and uncomfortable themes lies the critical David Byrne influenced anthem, “Digital Witness”, in all its brass tinged glory finds Clark ironically pointing out “people turn the TV on it looks just like a window”. But the message is really hammered home in a chorus that begs the sarcastic question “If I can’t show it you can’t see me/What’s the point of doing anything?” The quip is swift and witty enough to get the point across about living life vicariously through social media, but not so preachy and overbearing that one could imagine Clark as an out of touch adult wagging her finger and handing out dull life lessons.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, steady atmospheric songs like “Prince Johnny” and “I Prefer Your Love” succeed just as well without the waves of fuzz-drenched guitars and drum beats, providing spacious arrangements for Clark’s voice to ascend. “I Prefer Your Love” cuts through the perplexing abstract lyrics that are the cornerstone of songs like “Regret”, and reveals the songwriter at her most raw, showing her endless affection for her mother who was ill at the time she wrote the lyrics. It’s the most vulnerable three and half minutes that Clark has recorded to date, allowing a place of worry and tenderness to become very public and exposed. The weight of troubling thoughts is conveyed masterfully in one of the more poignant lines – “Sure as mother licking her finger to wipe the blush and smudge from my cheek, and wonder what will become of your little one”- as Clark contemplates what life would hold if her mother were to pass.

Attempting to categorize the prog pop masterpiece that is St. Vincent proves to be a frustrating exercise in futility. For the sake of convenience, it’s much simpler to analyze each element and notable influence of Clark’s sound as opposed to inventing a verbose genre title that describes what it sounds like. Musical trends often times prove to be cyclical, whether on a popular level or even in music that’s slightly off the beaten path or avant-garde. But for the time being, Annie Clark’s music seems to exist within a vacuum, taking no part in reemerging trends like disco and R&B, and possessing unique qualities that render comparisons with any current artist rather pointless. Clark has risen to new heights as an elite songwriter and musical adventurer, claiming the universe of guitar-driven art pop for herself.

Essential Tracks: “Birth in Reverse”, “Digital Witness”, “I Prefer Your Love”, “Bring Me Your Loves”

Concert Recap: Pixies w/ Best Coast @ Comerica Theatre (Photo Gallery)

February 25, 2014 in Concert Recap


Best Coast














Photos taken by Zachary Kaczmarek

Album Review: Phantogram – Voices

February 18, 2014 in Album Reviews


c333b420b1a9ad99ab6229a84d42910d Phantogram



 Score: 7.5

 By Zachary Kaczmarek


When Phantogram initially started out, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel were embracing the label of “street beat” and “psych pop”, which as their debut Eyelid Movies proved, couldn’t be a more apt description of their sonic freshness. Sure, there were a multitude of interweaving melodies, loops and riffs, but at heart of every great song on Eyelid Movies there was always an ear-catching trip-hop rhythm and the hauntingly catchy vocals of Barthel. Voices continues to stress the essential building blocks that made Phantogram stand out in the first place, and even makes a few bold attempts to create emotionally transparent moments that their debut was lacking.

In wild and hectic fashion, Voices hits the ground running with the tightly wound “Nothing But Trouble”. Starting out with a forceful drum beat and churning synthesizers, the song follows a typical Phantogram formula, but unexpectedly Carter ends the song with a haywire guitar outro, sending the track into funky noise pop territory. The second track and peak of the entire album, perhaps Phantogram’s greatest composition of their career thus far, “Black Out Days”, takes the duos greatest strengths and finesses them into an addictive 4 minute anthem. The buzzy synthesizers, durable beat, echoing guitar riffs, and Barthel’s siren-like vocals spliced and stacked on top of each other showcase Phantogram’s successful marriage of mesmerizing “psych pop” and hip-hop.

It can never be said that Voices doesn’t aspire for something grand with all its precise interlocking parts and smooth transitions. The intro for “Fall In Love” begins with a brief loop of a violin which startlingly transforms into with Barthel crooning over warbling bass and sharp backing strings, while Carter’s reverb coated cords provide depth and create the feel of a massive landscape.  If there is one improvement on how Phantogram composed songs five years ago versus the Phantogram of today, it’s the confidence they have in establishing a consistent sound that more often than not, delivers as promised. But the drawback to their format as it currently exists is the inability to work outside of that comfort zone.

The glitchy M83 influenced tracks, “Never Going Home” and “I Don’t Blame You”, which feature Carter on lead vocals, strive to generate deeper sentiments but instead lead to uninspiring results that muster only a fraction of the urgency and charisma that Barthel uncannily delivers in her best moments. The counterproductive lull from these overly sentimental instances ultimately zap Voices of any kind of momentum or excitement and leave Barthel to pick up the pieces. In contrast to the many successes on Voices that operate within Phantogram’s boundaries, the downfalls can all be attributed to the moments that peel back all the layers in order to create something heartfelt, like Carter’s somber performances, as well as a few of the more tepid tracks on the back end of the album, a la “Bill Murray”. 

At its finest, Voices is able to match the intensity and vigor that had listeners speaking high praise of Eyelid Movies. Instead of trying to encompass a wide scope of sound, Phantogram tightens their grasp on a riveting sound that they can call their own. Even though there’s not a significant amount of growth or an indelible mark left behind, Barthel and Carter orchestrate a reassuring statement that cements the duo not as a fly by night product of fads or trendiness, but an act that will continue to produce engaging albums for years to come.

Essential Tracks: “Nothing But Trouble”, “Black Out Days”, “Fall In Love”, “Howling at the Moon”

30 Best Albums of 2013

December 23, 2013 in Album Reviews, Best of 2013




By Zachary Kaczmarek


1. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Not only is …Like Clockwork now the quintessential album in QOTSA’s catalog, but its perhaps the seminal rock album in 2013, drawing on a very personal space emotionally for frontman Josh Homme, coping with feelings of isolation and searching for a sense of pupose after he was declared clinically dead on the operating table. The styles that the band presents are aggressive and equally vulnerable , blending their coined style of desert rock with a thick 70s influence. …Like Clock shows just how diverse QOTSA can be, employing gloomy hazy synthesizers and eerie piano riffs that had no presence on any previous album, creating more balance than they have ever had, catapulting them into an unparalleled class of their own.


2. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire-Weekend-Modern-Vampires-of-the-4.21.2013.jph_Modern Vampires of the City marks an unexpected turning point that strips away most of the influence from the previous works and attempts to start anew with a darker realist point of view. The band’s sound and lyrical content has always been perceived by some as pretentious and preppy, but Ezra Koenig shows that the transition to adulthood can still be paved with creative eloquent lyrics. Dealing with existential questions and crisis of the heart, Vampire Weekend solidify themselves as a band that is no longer a work of progress but instead a band that has reached the apex of indie rock.


3. Laura Marling – Once I was an Eagle

laura-marling-once-i-was-an-eagle-1024x1024Laura Marling wasn’t always so brave and fearless, at least not on record. The songwriter who once relied on brighter twangy folk compositions reveals a progression that has made her braver through a treacherous journey of agonizing romance.  Marling, bluntly painting herself as a jaded soul bitter and torn, refuses to be a victim as she cleanses the venom left over from past battles, descending into dark cavernous depths only to come out unscathed and more radiant than before. Folk has never seen such an honest and voluminous introspective album.


4. Haim – Days Are Gone

haim-days-are-goneThe value of writing a good hook tends to get lost amidst the need to be cutting edge and artistically relevant, but Haim shows no shame in their admiration for 80s pop-rock hooks driven hooks and lyrics about being a hopeless romantic. Drawing upon a bevy of influences, the sister trio creates a genre spanning pop confection that somehow makes dejected emotions sound joyous. The passion and chemistry that they put on display can’t be taught or easily replicated, making their debut a pop marvel.



5. El-P & Killer Mike – Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels marks the beginning of the robber mentality that El-P and Killer Mike hope to instill in hip-hop. In their world wealth and narcissism have no merit, and no ones safe from ridicule. What makes this effort the best rap release in 2013 is how arrogant and confident they can be while maintaining a certain humbleness that isn’t common in rap. Their boundless style recalls a previous age in rap where competitiveness was the driving force of quality and rivalries were essential. Aside from the ridiculious and witty rhymes, Run the Jewels production value, thanks to El-P, proves to be the pinnacle within in  the genre and in most music in 2013. Its hard to find another album that can goof off for a few bars here and there while still being ferocious and cool.


6. Savages – Silence Yourself

 Savages feel like a band from years past, constructing a post-punk style based on jagged bass lines, crunchy distortion and pummeling drum fills. But they possess too much subtlety to be pigeonholed into the riot grrl label or any other stereotype for that matter. Gracefully fusing distorted empowerment with brooding  moments Savages redefine what it means to be in control and yet so unruly.



7. Darkside – Psychic

Psychic lends itself as a seedy bluesy electronic dream, one that pushes the limits of electronic music. Nicholas Jaar and Dave Harrington develop a spacey atmosphere that hinges upon palm muted disco guitar riffs, fuzzy synthesizers, and steady processed beats. Its fascinating to listen to a few static noises build up over several minutes and form layers of sound that tells a story. Jaar and Harrington never stick to one particular genre or theme, and the freedom and space that it provides gives Psychic a unique feel.



8. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Arcade Fire’s modern day version of a Greek epic combines the tale of Orpheus with their own tribulations and worries. Musically, nearly every track feels like a bold risk, dabbling in moody disco vibes here, incorporating a punk intro there. On paper a double album based on Greek myth with a Haitian soulfulness wouldn’t be the type of venture you’d invest in or get a loan approved for. But as long as Arcade Fire finds themselves outraged and telling stories that warn against indoctrination, hypocrisy or fear mongering, and the man at the helm is Win Butler, the far-fetched and bizarre always sounds palatable.


9. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

 Random Access Memories could be best described as 2001 A Space Odyssey fused with the best cuts that the disco era had to offer. Album collaborator Panda Bear described it best, “Instead of sampling an old piece of music it was like recording things in an old way to make something that sounds like it was sampling something old which, in turn, makes it sound new.” Daft Punk didn’t exactly deliver the dance album everyone craved, but it’s the album that we never knew we wanted. Channeling 70s and 80s AM rock, the robot duo reinvigorate their appeal by going backwards in time and making disco palpable and universal yet again.


10. Lorde – Pure Heroine

Minimalism was all the rage in 2013 and no one succeeded at writing songs that featured nothing but bare bones more than Lorde. Being an outsider of pop culture and a privileged standard of living the 17 year old simply critique what she observes, particularly those from her own generation. The stripped down production gives her an abundance of space to take command and fill the hollowed out arrangements with her low register vocals. In terms of significance Pure Heroine is much more than a simple stripped down pop record, with Lorde waging a war against the vapid stars in the mainstream like Salena Gomez and being very critical of her fellow millennials. Years from now Ella Yellich-O’Connor’s debut could be seen as a turning point that revitalized mainstream pop.


11. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile has and always will represent the most lackadaisical form of folk rock, being a man who values his time and feels no need to rush anything. Wakin on a Pretty Daze still paints Vile as somewhat of a lethargic person, but instead of sitting at home all day, he wishes to be somewhere far away from people and everything that disturbs him. Vile’s song structure prior to Pretty Daze was simple and brief, but on his latest effort there’s more than enough musical experimentation where he expands on a riff or lengthens his melodies, reaching their full capacity. Wakin on a Pretty Daze is without a doubt Vile’s most complete and soothing effort, realizing how frightened he is by society and simply wanting nothing more than to find a calming place to escape from all the pandemonium.

12. My Bloody Valentine – m b v

The post-hiatus release rarely meets expectations, but after 20 year break the Scottish shoegaze rockers pick up right where they left off, creating a more abstract follow-up to the timeless LP that was Loveless. My Bloody Valentine still exudes nostalgia but is still very much adapted to the 21st century with its open- endedness and mesmerizing vocals courtesy of Kevin Shields. M b v acts as a record that sums up the legacy of a band who laid the groundwork for an generation of music, but one that can move forward and progress if they so choose.



13. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The first impression many first time listeners get is that the National are “bland”, “disengaging” and every other word that sounds more intelligent than simply saying “meh”. But their simple hooks and well blended chamber pop sound are structured to endure the long run and given a spotlight to Matt Berninger’s hyper personal lyrical depictions of mundane loveless relationships and recovering from love lost. Its hard to say that the National made a tremendous leap from High Violet, but their continuation of an established niche on Trouble Will Find Me leads to an equally heartfelt followup.


14. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

JANELLE-MONAE-ELECTRIC-LADY-e1376434058729Bridging the gap between funk, pop and R&B, Janelle Monae makes irresistible grooves without sacrificing any of her artistic vision. The Electric Lady is like a revolution in album form, complete with skits in between tracks that have listeners calling into a radio station and voicing their opinions about “the Electric Lady”, or rebel leader played by Monae. Through the 19 tracks on the album, Monae shows that not only is she an incredibly diverse songwriter, but shes also a talented storyteller, something that isn’t usually intertwined with modern day pop music.


15. Torres – Torres

Mackenzie Scott, more commonly referred to as Torres, embodies the spirit and hubris that every young songwriter strives to establish. Her debut album showcases this ability through a solemn lens that gives the world a clear glimpse into her raw point of view. The style varies between melancholy indie rock, restrained folk, and gloomy grungy synthesizers. There is rarely a moment where Scott does not appear to be candid and forthright when conveying these unfiltered thoughts. The production and concept is fresh, leaving in every blip and creak, showing just valuable and genuine a one take recording can be.


16. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

Chvrches isn’t the sort of group that has long winded verses about broken hearts and unrelenting darkness, or obsesses over composing 6 minute arrangements that vent every last thought. Every thought is compact and succinct, delivering more than enough sentiment with each infectious chorus. Upon first listen it can be difficult to understand the hype behind Chvrches and why they’re receiving praise from all ends of the earth. That is until the hypnotic vocals of Lauren Mayberry kick in and tug on every last heart string. Mayberry’s addictive voice takes the light 80s atmosphere and creates an otherworldly ambiance that is so unexpected, much like the majority of Chvrches debut, which sneakily throws out deep ingrained hooks that are fun and lovable at first, and then gloomy and heartbreaking later.


17. Sigur Ros – Kveikur

Kveikur presents an aggressive and less minimalist approach,where the focus is not on creating a delicate slow building or blossoming moment, but an angry and feverishly controlled mass of sound. For years now the majority of their listeners have had to Google translations of their Icelandic lyrics to fully decrypt the meaning of each song, but yet the passion can be felt in the music without understanding any of it. Sigur Ros yet again find a way to be brooding and dramatic despite the language barrier, which is something few acts can claim.



18. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law

The sophomore release for The Joy Formidable is every bit as overwhelming sonically as their debut, providing blistering distortion and mountainous choruses that are so easy to get lost in. But this time around the Welch outfit learns the important lesson of contrast, something they exceed at when they juxtapose serene landscapes with equally charged chaos. Wolf’s Law may not be as exciting as their debut, The Big Roar, but it definitely seems to have a better balance and ability to transition from unrestrained to tranquil.



19. Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Los Campesinos! might just be one of the cockiest and most honest rock bands to currently exist in the indie universe. On past albums they’ve never felt the inclination to pretend or mask their feelings, reeling out bold lyrics and wearing their heart on a sleeve. No Blues ups that level of confidence by ten fold, throwing out lines about wishing former lover to lives of celibacy and constant references to conquering death. But all these references sort of go unnoticed at first due to the bright synthesizers and lively tone of Gareth Campesinos! voice. To put it simply, whether they can or can’t, No Blues will always lead you to believe Los Campesinos! can.


20. Danny Brown – Old

On his third release, Danny Brown shows that his perception of life and having a fine ear for beats only grows with age. Rather than writing a sloppy followup comprised of nonsensical party anthems, Brown hunkers down and digs deeper with stories of emotional numbness growing up and tales of drug dealing. He documents such a wide array of feelings, from regret to grim recollections that he feels he needs to self medicate in order to forget, letting the world know that he is a man who has learned from tragic mistakes and been made all the more wiser. If his past two albums didn’t convince everyone that Brown has the skills of an elite rapper and producer, than Old surely will.


21. Arctic Monkeys – AM

The Arctic Monkeys have reinvented themselves many times over, from the ragged punk beginnings of Whatever People Say I Am, Thats What I’m Not, to 2011′s psychedelic Suck It and See. AM once again veers off in a new direction with bluesier funk inspired riffs and more soul than any of their previous efforts. And perhaps frontman Alex Turner described it best when he said AM was like “a Dr. Dre beat but we’ve given it an Ike Turner bowl-cut and sent it galloping across the desert on a Stratocaster.”



22. Julia Holter – Loud City Song

Typically Julia Holter has not been one to embrace being loud or piling blankets of sounds on top of each other. But Loud City Song finds her doing just that, and creating a tightly packed space for all the trumpets, horns, and synthesizers to blur into one. The pattern that the album follows is a calm moment for thought in between the hectic jazziness that flavors the album. Holter said in an interview that the album is “about someone trying to find love and truth in a superficial society”, which makes sense considering the album is a series of peacefulness among the noise of the loud city that surrounds.


23. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

The brother sister duo of Karin and Olof Dreijer live in the moments that many consider to be unnerving and strange. Shaking the Habitual thrives in that atmosphere as the Dreijer siblings leave behind the dark synthpop of Silent Shout, introducing gritty industrial pop that sets so no rules for itself. The bare machine like drum machines and wobbly bass sounds make it sound like it was manufactured in a factory of some kind, but the distorted vocals of Karin Dreijer  add an off balance human aspect, as the Knife seeks to highlight all the misconceptions and bias in society. Its truly a haunting but educational album if there ever was one.


24. Kanye West – Yeezus

Lyrically, West is far from his finest hour on Yeezus, but his newly engineered spastic brand of industrial rap is engaging and spellbinding enough to make his most experimental album to date quite a gem. Implementing gothic Reggae hooks, Queen styled guitar solos, seismic bass, and screeching synthesizers, West pushes the genre into another realm that hasn’t been tested to such a degree. There is hardly a trace of any traditional hip hop elements, instead shooting for something that could be considered abstract rap. Its hard to say whether this will influence future artists to adopt such an abrasive and captivating style, but for now it stands as one of a kind.


25. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty

Pain is Beauty is the epitome of bittersweet gothic pop in 2013, with the ominous piano and keyboard tones that are spread around Chelsea Wolfe’s evocative singing. The album title indeed does sum up the general feeling of each song, advertising right up front the gloomy disposition that is viewed through an aesthetic lens. Wolfe excels in this new found 80s inew wave, 90s industrial manner of writing and composing, which is reminiscent of the emotions and musical tones that Nine Inch Nails displayed on their debut Pretty Hate Machine.



26. Iceage – You’re Nothing

Punk isn’t exactly an easy genre to thrive in like it once was, thanks to the watered down punk pop and one trick ponies. But Iceage proved on their debut that they’re the closest thing to the hardcore punk of the 80s. However, on their sophomore LP the Danish group show that they aren’t just another band driven by noise or chaos, and some of the ambient and softer arrangements exhibit the sheer talent that they possess. You’re Nothing strives for more than just punk or hardcore, displaying a complete palate while still holding onto the apathy from their debut.


27. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

Sky Ferreira has had a rough go in the music biz, trying to generate appeal with the teens of the world using a popstar image and ultimately having her full length LP shelved by Capitol Records. But since shedding that teen sensation image, doing things on her own terms has brought her an uproarious pop style to latch onto, one which draws upon some lighter 80s influences as well as a heavier 90s style similar to Garbage. Ferreira isn’t looking for sympathy or tears, she simply tells it like it is and you end up empathizing with her pain in the process.


28. Deap Vally – Sistrionix

Deap Vally’s debut, stands out among a sea of electronic and Avant-garde music, with a primal garage rock sound that consistently hits with a mean and sassy attitude. Each track, so invigorating like a rush of blood to the head, making no apologies for choosing to be rambunctious rather than aesthetically pleasing. Thanks to Lindsey Troy’s Rober Plant meets Jack White vocal style and Julie Edwards breakneck drum intensity, Sistrionix embodies the kind of old fashion rock n roll that makes it the most blunt and straightforward rock album in 2013. What you hear is you what you get.


29. Phoenix – Bankrupt!

The vintage sound that Phoenix uses as a vehicle for recurring themes involving monetary, moral and emotional bankruptcy,  provides a great experience that could be mistaken for a top of the line pop record made three decades ago. It all feels like its taking place in 80s California, with the VIP lists at nightclubs, phony personalities, fast lifestyles, and rich adolescence. Phoenix brings the synthesizers to the forefront, making the jittery guitar heavy pop a thing of the past. Bankrupt connects  the retro with the present, musically and thematically.



30. M.I.A. – Matangi

 M.I.A.’s approach since her career began has been fluid and resistant to any one particular sound or outside influence. Whether it was ridiculed or praised each decision that she made was on her own terms, and Matangi continues that progression of breaking genre constrictions. The glitchy beats, sub woofer bass, and varied rhyme scheme break up any type of consistency, allowing the mood to shift from modest hip hop to ear-splitting bangers without notice. M.I.A. strikes so many different moods and tones from being socially critical to free spirited and without a care that its hard to find an album that’s comparable  in terms of predictability.


Honorable Mentions: 

David Bowie – The Next Day

Charli XCX – True Romance

Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

Mikal Cronin – MCII

Thundercat – Apocalypse

Charles Bradley – Victim of Love

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine

Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

Best 30 Songs of 2013

December 13, 2013 in Best of 2013


Image and list by Zachary Kaczmarek

1. Chvrches – Recover


2. Arcade Fire – Reflektor


3. Janelle Monae – Q.U.E.E.N.


4. Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey


5. Lorde – White Teeth Teens


6. Queens of the Stone Age – If I Had a Tail


7. Daft Punk – Doin’ It Right


8. Haim – Don’t Save Me


9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Sacrilege


10. Savages – Shut Up


11. Lorde – Royals


12. Torres – Honey


13. MØ – XXX 88 ft. Diplo


14. The Knife – Full of Fire


15. El-P & Killer Mike – Sea Legs


16. Haim – The Wire


17. Laura Marling – Master Hunter


18. The National – Pink Rabbits


19. Daft Punk – Get Lucky


20. Mikal Cronin – Weight


21. Vampire Weekend – Step


22. Earl Sweatshirt – Hive ft. Vince Staples


23. Savages – I Am Here


24. Queens of the Stone Age – My God is the Sun


25. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Day


26. Cage the Elephant – Come a Little Closer


27. M.I.A. – Bring the Noize


28. Atoms for Peace – Default


29. Rhye – Open


30. Phoenix – Trying to Be Cool

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