Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hot Mix 2015: #40 - 21

More delays as usual. But there's some good news: Somehow the new format has made this year's list a lot less of a burden than during previous years. So if there's a Hot Mix 2016, we'll probably continue doing it like this. The bad news is that we probably won't be able to finish this up by the end of January.

Time flies. But also it doesn't.

| Hot Mix 2015 on Spotify |

| #200 - 166 | #165 - 131 | #130 - 101 | #100 -71 | #70 - 41 | #40 - 21 | #20 - 1 |

| All 200 Songs |

40. Earl Sweatshirt “Mantra”
"Mantra" gives us hope for a future Earl & Miguel collab. The beat suggests a painful struggle with intimate exploration. With Miguel, this would entail a more sensual (sexual) journey, while Earl's is entirely introspective - a drug song. Starting at 2:40, the warped coda sounds like the chemicals are finally starting to work their magic. By 3:20, Earl is painless and catatonic while the intro of a far more relaxed and polished beat slides its way into the picture.

39. Surface To Air Missive “Who Do I Think You Are”
The classic rock radio backlash continues growing. Its irrelevancy remains more obvious than ever not just because of their stubbornly unchanging playlists, but because once upon a time it seemed like rock stations cared about their audience. Today, the listener is treated like nothing more than an unwitting consumer, whereas the GM's and PD's of 20-25 years ago put actual effort into engaging their listeners. This became painfully obvious on December 4, 2015, and then again on January 11, 2016 when approximately zero commercial stations in the NYC area paid any type of death-date tribute to Scott Weiland or David Bowie, respectively, instead opting for a few extra spins of "TNT," "Rock N' Roll Hoochie Koo" and "Heartbreaker" segueing into "Livin' Lovin' Made." (It might just have been in our area - between New Haven and New York City - but we heard similar reports from the Baltimore/DC and Atlanta markets.) Rock radio is obviously in a very different place than where it was on the afternoon of August 14, 2002 when our local modern rock station played two hours of deep cuts from Drowning Pool (a band remembered for literally one song) following the announcement of their singer's passing (during the rush hour commute).

On the opposite end of that conversation, the years since Napster have shown an upsurge of appreciation for '70s rock bands who weren't nearly as overplayed as Side A of Led Zeppelin IV but were just as deserving. Back in 8th grade, I assumed none of my friends would ever obsess over Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything during my lifetime, but this surprisingly changed over the past few years. It's not nearly as difficult to find a Big Star or T.Rex t-shirt as it used to be. Badfinger's "Baby Blue" received a sudden increase of Spotify spins after its inclusion on the series finale of Breaking Bad.

Many of 2015's singer-songwriter-based projects like Surface To Air Missive are just as much a reflection of this shift in perception. "Who Do I Think You Are," an immediate standout from their third LP, borrows many of the same guitar tones, analog warmth, thematic and structural aesthetics once brilliantly exploited within the early years of power-pop: Rundgren, Alex Chilton, Emitt Rhodes, Cheap Trick. Hopes are up for more like this in 2016 and beyond.

38. Little Mix “Black Magic”
“Take a sip of my secret potion / One taste and you’ll be mine.” We hate to break it to you, but what people call "love" is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, and then it slowly fades leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. Little Mix are just a bunch of creepy creep-persons throwing around their roofie-juices. But if their witchery is good for anything, it’s passing down the classic formula once perfected by The Girls of Spice: Each group member takes a turn during the verses, and then everyone joins in for the singalong chorus. There haven’t been many truly outstanding songs in the past ten years to follow this method, although approximately one-thousand J-Pop and K-Pop groups have tried. But tried and true is nothing when the hooks aren’t instantly memorable like they are in “Black Magic.” As far as Girl Groups or Boy Bands in the 2010s, it’s the only truly great single for this decade so far.

37. Dilly Dally “Purple Rage”
Despite popular belief, there's a lot more Frank Black than Kim Deal injected into "Purple Rage," a jam that might have been the most perfect traditionally structured loud rock song of 2015. There's even a breakdown after the second chorus, plus plenty of opportunities for audiences at their shows to scream "YAAEEEEEEAAAAAA" while throwing their fists in the air. Slack is back - with a vengeance.

36. Kamasi Washington "Re Run Home" / Kamasi Washington “The Message”
Not gonna lie here: We don't know enough about jazz to correctly identify which sections of The Epic sound closest to John Coltrane or Chick Corea. But we listen to Miles Davis's On The Corner a lot. It's probably our favorite '70s fusion record. Disc 3 is probably the one we like the best because it sounds closest to On The Corner with its wah-organ and mild drugginess. And it might contain the album's catchiest hook. However, the solos in "The Message" - the album's closer - are probably our personal highlight. Soulful guitar solo between 1:40 and 3:20. Wait for it: Kamasi's sax solo climaxes with a intense eruption right around 5:50. It's been a while since we've actually enjoyed any song with a drum solo. Again, we're not really in a position to pretend we know what we're talking about. With that said, in the same way that Black Messiah was a handbook for soul music history, we'd like to think The Epic acts as a handbook of '60s and '70s jazz history fused with plentiful soul elements. If anyone's had the mildest interest in '60s and '70s jazz but hasn't been sure where to start looking, this record would be a very appropriate introduction.

35. Stove “Dusty Weather”
We found two other online reviews of Stove Is Stupider that individually note the ignition of the Big Muff in "Dusty Weather's" outro as an album highlight. And while we're inclined to agree, the preceding 3 minutes and 20 seconds of quiet restraint are equally crucial. Within the album's sequencing, it's the first moment on this record that doesn't rest comfortably on the line between Ovlov and what happened afterwards. The Stove era feels more introspective than ever, and possibly as a consequence, slightly more aligned with the textures of Jimmy Eat World's Clarity and The Get Up Kids' Something To Write Home About (both from 1999). But what's truly remarkable is that any randomly chosen song from Is Stupider might actually prove itself just as timeless as almost anything from either of those albums.

34. Dornik “Stand In Your Line (Single Edit)”
This refers to the 3:34 version posted to Soundcloud back in July and (for some reason) only available for streaming from its Stereogum review. (We can't figure out how to embed this link so a slightly longer 4:35 edit has been posted below, which is still an improvement from the "bloated with bonus interlude" 6:19 album version.) Dornik might be the most unfairly unsung of the modern day disciples of MJ. In a year with no new music from Justin, Usher or Ne-Yo, a freshly subdued reflection of this style might have considerably livened Top 40 or R&B stations beyond what The Weeknd was able to accomplish.

33. Ava Luna “Billz”
Sources have reported that Ava Luna's creative process involves brainstorms and organization so extensive that their notepads might be incomprehensible to average humans. Whenever any band does a song about money or bills, we always say it's "their official commentary on the nation's economic climate," and we're usually half-kidding. But in this case, Ava Luna seem to have sonically captured a frustrating balancing act between responsibility towards both money and relationships. The complexity in the lyrics reflect its "mini-symphony" arrangement, soulful vocals that wouldn't be out of place on a Hall & Oates record, and drum mics pushed into the red. Its arrangement seems oddly balanced as well, with an earwormy singalong chorus that doesn't return the same way twice.

32. Philadelphia Collins featuring Ellen Kempner "Sofa Queen"
We regret not throwing together a few interviews for this year's Hot Mix. In this instance, it might have been helpful to know if "Sofa Queen" was remotely composed, like that Postal Service album. In either case, we stand by our initial assessment that we've probably already drunkenly confessed to the three musicians involved: "It sounds like Ellen singing on a Grass Is Green song," which for us is a "Breaking News" headline worth far more than "Check Out Josh Homme and Dave Grohl's New Band." You know those instances of big business collaborations where the headline is worth more than the actual music? Dave Grohl is usually involved in a lot of these. "Check Out Kanye and McCartney's New Single On Tidal." You get the point.

In a way, we agree with whichever reviewer stated that Derp Swervin' functions as an EIS sampler of sorts, but it's also its own separate entity. There's definitely a specific juxtaposing atmosphere that connects the 5 songs on this EP resting outside of anything else Devin or Theo have played on (bearing in mind that we haven't heard literally everything they've played on). It's kinda slacker and stoned, but also so precise. Mathy, but never labored. Once it's over, it feels final and complete but leaves the listener wanting more.

31. Nicki Minaj featuring Drake & Lil Wayne “Truffle Butter”
Fact #1: As an official Beyonce-dubbed title, "The Queen of Rap" is still an understatement. Nicki is the indisputable No. 1 rap icon of this decade. Fact #2: "Truffle Butter" was originally intended as a throwaway - one of a small handful among The Pinkprint's iTunes-only bonus tracks (technically a lower tier than the 3 bonus tracks on its "Deluxe" edition).

With these 2 facts in mind, and with utmost respect for our favorite rapper, "Truffle Butter" includes an unfortunate example of "time to rap about my easily Googleable sales stats," a.k.a. Nicki's least flattering indulgence. It was endearing and logical within the context of "Come On A Cone" ("Pink Friday, 2 milli / Super Bass, triple plat") whereas in "Truffle Butter" ("I'm still the highest sellin' female rapper, for the record / Man, this a 65 million single sold") it seems like she was running low on different ways to say "I'm the best out there." We'll give benefit of the doubt: Who could have forseen an iTunes bonus track dominating hiphop radio for 7 months? And either way, her swag still radiates with conviction (as usual).

However, Lil Wayne and Nineteen85's production steal the show. It's Wayne's best radio verse since Carter IV, and a sad reminder of how long we've been waiting on Carter V. For a minute, it seemed as if Wayne was considering retirement after this album's release. So in a way, Birdman's reluctance to oblige Wayne's demands resulted in a rejuvenation of his creativity, releasing Sorry 4 The Wait 2, Free Weezy Album and No Ceilings 2 all within the next 12 months (probably his most productive calendar year since 2007).

30. Kanye West featuring Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney "All Day"
2015 may have been "the year of lead singles from promised albums that never got released." While Missy's "WTF" and Rihanna's "BBHMM" were among the most notorious, many Kanye fans must have been tipped early on that the odds of these McCartney collabs ending up on Swish were just as likely as "Mercy" or "Clique" winding up on Yeezus. All three songs arrived within the first 3 months of 2015. By the time October arrived, it was pretty certain that Kanye had moved onto other things. A lot of fans couldn't help noticing the similarities between the intros of "All Day" and "Black Skinhead" - loud, ugly, dirty, catchy as fuck, and possibly the year's #1 riff most worthy of a singalong from Beavis and Butthead. With its verse's disorienting beat, it's the only song he released in 2015 that might be considered quintessential 2010s Kanye. We're skeptical of Paul's "involvement" with this one. It sounds more like a leftover from the Yeezus sessions with Paul's eight bars hastily inserted. [Note: This was written when Kanye's album title was still Swish.]

29. Krill "Tiger"
On their tour following the release of A Distant Fist Unclenching, Krill would frequently close their setlists with a strategically placed emotional earthquake: "Brain Problem," "Infinite Power" and "Tiger" were not always played in that exact order. But sure enough, all three of these songs did appear within the final 20 minutes of Krill's very last show in October 2015 (along with a surprise throwback encore featuring Frankie Cosmos' Greta Kline). "Tiger" always felt like the fiery epicenter of not only this trifecta but also the whole of Distant Fist, starting with just an innocent spark from Ron Ratoff's guitar intro and eventually spreading to its apocalyptic coda. We know it's not the last song from their last record, but it was sequentially the last song from their last record to be played at their last show. It feels like it should be their literal swan song.

28. Alex G “Kicker”
Our favorite moments on Alex G's last few records are the darker, more bizarre moments, if only because they're always more unexpected among the larger, more traditional fraction. The oddities have been showing up more frequently since 2012's Trick. "Salt," "Look Out," "Brite Boy" and "In Love" might be the weirdest, darkest and arguably best sequence on any of his albums so far, while the more traditional singer-songwriter parts of Beach Music are as strong as ever. There's a very good possibility that it's his best album yet. The quiet dissonant guitar feedback in "Kicker" suggests a madness creeping underneath all the coolness. "Big plan for a big man / Tough change for a tough guy." A definite album highlight.

27. Carly Rae Jepsen “Run Away With Me”
Here's a great example of visuals in a music video capturing the essence of a song. The Youtube viewer gets to literally run away with Carly Rae as she escapes to Paris, NYC and (possibly) Tokyo. The production elements and sax riff help it to fit within the current fake-'80s trend (M83's "Midnight City," Taylor Swift's 1989, Hotline Miami, Moonbeam City) while still maintaining accessibility and Top 40 crossover potential. We're interested in seeing if the massive love "Run Away With Me" received from 2015's end-of-year lists has any impact on its radio spins like how it helped "Midnight City" a few years back.

26. The Internet “Get Away”
"NOW she wanna fuck with me...". She sounds like she's dealt with this many times before. This lyric accompanied by a abruptly warm and dark introduction kicks off an otherwise outstanding 4-song front-load and the year's most sadly unheralded song sequence. If '90s nostalgia is still considered hip, then Ego Death arrived just in time for what appears to be a brief revival of neo-soul. Syd Tha Kid's understated coolness recalls Amel Larrieux's vocals on Groove Theory's "Tell Me," while the verse section of "Get Away" almost brushes against the slow-crushing subtitles of NIN's The Downward Spiral.

25. Homeshake “Heat”
Homeshake is a home recording project of Mac Demarco's former rhythm guitar player. The sleepy, melancholy aura within "Heat" somehow aligns pretty well with its unauthorized cut-up of a late '70s episode of The Dating Game. We were unsure why at first, but the answer occurred to us a few days later. "Heat" sounds like Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke having a heart-to-heart in bed while stoned out of their minds on some of that purple kush. It's a weed song.

24. Vince Staples “Norf Norf”
In October 2014, we were fortunate enough to visit the Odd Future store on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles (which closed down the following January). The items were a bit pricey, but Devin bought socks, and we picked up some "GOLF" bumper stickers. It was pretty empty with the exception of 1 or 2 clerks and 2 or 3 dudes at the front of the store who were loudly playing FIFA 2014 on XBOX. And by "the front of the store," we mean you had to walk right past them since the TV was above the entrance. And by "loudly," we mean they were laughing and yelling expletives at each other creating a less-than-typical environment for a retail store. And if memory serves correctly, there was no music, so these FIFA dudes were the only audible sounds throughout the entire time you were there. We'd like to think that those 2 or 3 dudes were employees who were paid to help generate an OFWGKTA-approved atmosphere.

We're not sure why "Norf Norf" reminded us of the O.F. store, but those dudes reminded us of Odd Future's rambunctious early years. When we think of Vince, we can't help but still think of the "bodybag" verse from 2010's "epaR", a song which has almost no thematic connection to the bulk of Summertime '06. Vince's beats still sound equally as musical as they did 5 years ago, but the immature horror-core nature has been replaced with depth rooted in eeriness, mystery and paranoia.

23. Palehound "Healthier Folk”
Palehound's knack for strong melodic hooks is probably the most obvious attribute at the heart of "Healthier Folk's" dopeness, alongside their excellent usage of careful restraint. But the structural twists and turns are what might make this their quintessential jam. Like the finest Simpsons episodes, it "wraps up in a neat little package," effortlessly flowing despite concluding in a different area from where it started. Because sometimes that's what happens. We're led to some unexpected areas throughout the journey.

22. Janet Jackson "No Sleeep"
A welcome inclusion to any of her future Greatest Hits packages, "No Sleeep" chronicles Janet's sexual excursions confined within some lavishly decorated house or apartment throughout a rainy 48 hour period - one in which Janet and the object of her desire receive no sleep despite surrounding themselves with very soft and comfortable beds, couches, blankets and pillows. It sounds like they start to run out of steam around 2:51 as the beat switches back to the heartbeat-sounding kick drum from the intro. Janet starts to doze off here, but then gets awakened for another round. "No Sleeep" might also a strong candidate for the "fade out hall of fame" (alongside Aaliyah's "One In A Million," Beck's "Loser," Bowie's "Space Oddity") as the heartbeat resurfaces throughout its final 15 seconds. (Sadly, this is the portion of the song that J. Cole raps over in the album version. But fortunately, R&B radio has avoided this version.)

21. Rihanna "Bitch Better Have My Money"
We may have blown our #BBHMM load on our blurb about the video. But there's one crucial aspect of this song that critics and fans may have overlooked: If she had sang this song in the same style as "What's My Name" or "Umbrella," it simply wouldn't have worked. If Beyonce or any other ubiquitous diva had sang this, it just wouldn't have been the same. The minute inflections make all the difference. If it hadn't been for such an inspired performance we probably wouldn't give a shit about this song or its video. She's a better vocalist now than at any point in her career so far, and for the first time ever, we're actually anticipating a new Rihanna LP - one that might actually challenge her fans, functioning far beyond a showcase for 2 or 3 mega-huge Top 40 hits. I mean come on... It's called Anti. If there was ever a time for her first huge statement as an album artist, this is that moment. [Note: ANTI coincidentally dropped just a few hours ago, well after this blurb was finished.]

| Hot Mix 2015 on Spotify |

| #200 - 166 | #165 - 131 | #130 - 101 | #100 -71 | #70 - 41 | #40 - 21 | #20 - 1 |

| All 200 Songs |

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