2016 Albums of the Year: Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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The Telescope presents: the top albums of 2016. We gathered best-of lists from staff and contributors, crunched some numbers and came up with a list of records that unanimously wowed us this year.

Welcome to the new era of music: a band self-releases eight albums, signs to a label, puts together a greatest-hits record and obtains overnight success. This is the story behind Will Toledo and the project he named after the place where he came up with his songs.

Car Seat Headrest wasted little time moving on from that best-of, Teens of Style. Seven months later, we had Teens of Denial, a critically-acclaimed follow-up that captures a youthful and all-too-familiar time of experimentation and discovery. And like all great albums that succeed in this, it did so without time stamping, focusing on the confusion and confidence and leaving specifics out of the equation.

Teens of Denial talks to the listener like every teenager who thinks they finally figured it all out. The tone helps you rewind to those naïve days, knowing now that it’s a beginning rather than an end. Toledo’s slacker vocals leave plenty of room to attach to the feelings he’s trying to capture, too. This album has a way of sounding like the sequel to your favorite album from your mid-teens.

The video for “Vincent” takes us back to that chapter in our youth where that guy is cutting too loose and ends up wrecking himself and the night for most of the folks involved. Two open chords played through a basic distortion: the uncomplicated arrangement really helps the song hit its mark. It’s tunes like this that make this record so easy to listen to over and over again.

-johnnysomebody

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2016 Albums of the Year: Twin Peaks – Down In Heaven

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The Telescope presents: the top albums of 2016. We gathered best-of lists from staff and contributors, crunched some numbers and came up with a list of records that unanimously wowed us this year.

Down In Heaven’s opener, “Walk To The One You Love,” boasts such an obvious melodic nod to “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” that you may not believe what you’re hearing. You get the sense pretty quickly, on this one, that Twin Peaks have no interest in limitations—“a band that doesn’t know how to play it safe,” says their bio.

There’s plenty more T. Rex lingering in this album. And the Stones. Maybe some Kurt Vile. Twin Peaks took the last 40 years of rock ’n’ roll, threw it in a sack, shook it and pulled out 13 singular vibes to use as jumping-off points. They employ at least three lead singers on top of it—this is peak eclecticism.

They’re caught up in the same pitfalls that four decades of rock has failed to resolve, as well: longing; self-pity; failed relationships. “Life seems to be all confusion and woe,” they’ve decided, but they pull off a cheery disposition in the face of that conclusion. Down In Heaven is a celebration of despair, in the style of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl or any Deadly Snakes record; check out “Butterfly,” up above.

-Scott Bryson

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2016 Albums of the Year: Mitski – Puberty 2

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The Telescope presents: the top albums of 2016. We gathered best-of lists from staff and contributors, crunched some numbers and came up with a list of records that unanimously wowed us this year.

2016 found New York sensation Mitski vaulting to new levels of success with her dare-to-be-me fourth album, an in-depth look at coming to terms with mid-20s sexuality and romance while finding your way in the world. It’s a record of how our viewpoints change in the post-grad era of our lives—how we see that love and relationships are nothing like the first chapters we lived through in high school.

Puberty 2 is sort of a Sex In The City or post-Felicity for people who want a more honest look at a young woman’s struggles with courtship, acceptance, and giving a fuck about other people. Many artists are praised for their take-charge persona; Mitski finds a way to bring all of this to her story while enjoying life as the “little spoon.” She’s only speaking for herself on this album, and she’s telling us that you can be heard and be passive at the same time.

In her video for “Your Best American Girl,” you can see how she struggles with being an American who isn’t of European descent, and how she comes to terms with the realities and complexities of being different (this is her ‘second puberty’). All this and songwriting that’s as powerful as Annie Clark’s, and she does it without ever trying too hard to be artistic. Mitski Miyawaki’s album is infectious and deserves to hold rank on any year-end list.

-johnnysomebody

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2016 Albums of the Year: Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

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The Telescope presents: the top albums of 2016. We gathered best-of lists from staff and contributors, crunched some numbers and came up with a list of records that unanimously wowed us this year.

2016 wasn’t just a series of high-profile losses. It was a year of fighting to keep the progress made instead of taking steps backwards; protecting people no matter their colour, background, orientation, or sex. It was a vocal year, and Dev Hynes made sure his voice was heard loud and clear.

Hynes has recorded under several monikers over his career (including Lightspeed Champion) and has written for music heavy hitters such as Florence and the Machine, Chemical Bothers, and Kylie Minogue, to name a few. With the release of 2013’s Cupid Deluxe, Blood Orange moved his way up the indie music ladder

The overall mood of 2016 is captured in the spoken word by Ashlee Haze on Freetown Sound‘s opening track “By Ourselves”:

You are not my competition
As a woman in my arena your light
Doesn’t make mine any dimmer
Dear Missy:
I did not grow up to be you
But I did grow up to be me
And to be in love with who this woman is
To be a woman playing a man’s game
And not be apologetic about any of it
If you ask me why representation is important
I will tell you that on the days I don’t feel pretty
I hear the sweet voice of Missy singing to me
Pop that pop that, jiggle that fat
Don’t stop, get it til your clothes get wet
I will tell you that right now
There are a million black girls just waiting
To see someone who looks like them

I don’t need to tell you how powerful those words are, or how well they reflect the issues at hand. You’re all up on your current events, dear Telescopers – you can piece it all together.  But Blood Orange didn’t just front-load his album with political messages, they’re peppered throughout every track, including “Augustine” above.

The more accessible music with a message can be, the wider its reach. If this wider reach can make enough of an impact, we may not have to give up on progress just yet.

-Michelle Farres

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2016 Albums of the Year: David Bowie – Blackstar

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The Telescope presents: the top albums of 2016. We gathered best-of lists from staff and contributors, crunched some numbers and came up with a list of records that unanimously wowed us this year.

Me: “The new David Bowie is amazing.”

My brother: “I know, right? It’s like he said ‘fuck what everyone’s doing, I’m recording with a full on jazz band’.”

This was the actual exchange by text between my brother and I when Blackstar first came out.

David Bowie’s sound always stood out amongst his peers, yet rather than imitate the current musical trend of the time, he listened, adapted, and made the sound his own. He could’ve easily partnered up with Coldplay and Red Hot Chili Peppers when they reached out at various points during his career; thankfully, Bowie’s ear was sharp enough to hear that a poor collaboration is a poor collaboration, regardless of who asks.

Blackstar could’ve easily fallen victim to a guest-star studded mess of an album, as do so many later albums of once music legends, but with Bowie being Bowie, that of course did not happen. He took inspiration from Kendrick Lamar’s incredible To Pimp A Butterfly and moulded another musical master piece to add to his repertoire.

January 8, 2016 started the year on a high note on  and then quickly unravelled. Here’s to a much better 2017.

-Michelle Farres

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2016 Albums of the Year: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years

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The Telescope presents: the top albums of 2016. We gathered best-of lists from staff and contributors, crunched some numbers and came up with a list of records that unanimously wowed us this year.

The prevalent trajectory for modern American rock bands is an easy one to trace: first, a celebrated debut. Next, a flop of a sophomore record, or at best, a carbon copy of the debut. Third album, the flop, if it hasn’t happened already.

Cymbals Eat Guitars managed to forge a different path. Each of their four albums improves upon the one before, when it seemed a sure bet that those prior records represented the pinnacle of the New York band’s abilities.

Joseph D’Agostino, singer, is the group’s only constant; he’s been there since 2009’s Why There Are Mountains, watching a cast of nine other players rotate around him. You can’t understand half of what he’s saying, and that’s the best sort of album to get involved with. It may take years to fully crack this one, if that’s even possible [they kindly provide us with lyrics in the video for “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY),” above].

Just when you think D’Agostino is singing about a relationship, you catch the words “event horizon” for the first time and have to stop and wonder if he’s on about a black hole instead (or maybe the two are the same thing in his mind?). It wouldn’t be a surprising shift in subject matter; he also dives into “infinite repeat” (perhaps eternal recurrence?) and ponders the possibility of many selves across the multiverse (again, see the video above).

What does come through clearly, is that Pretty Years is about capturing memories—those few we’re each allotted that are so wild they only grow in stature as the years pass (again, see video).

-Scott Bryson

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She & Him – “Christmas Memories”

There’s the lonely, diminutive tree, but that definitely isn’t Charlie Brown throwing it into the back of a pickup truck. Looks like it’s a trip to the dump, rather than the school pageant, for this fir.

It’s probably for the best—as we see, some trees are too dangerous to be allowed inside the home.

“Christmas Memories” comes from She & Him’s new Christmas Party album.

-Scott Bryson

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