25. Panda Bear – Tomboy [US]
It is difficult to explain in words why I like Panda Bear when I know I’m dismissive of similar music. It could be brand loyalty, though I’d like to think it’s not. The other times I’ve written about him specifically here, I came up with the ideas that a) “you can sleep to it” but it’s not boring and b) his melodies are “the melodies children sing to themselves in playgrounds, the purest, most beautiful music“. One of those is underselling and the other is, in all likelihood, overselling. Both still feel, to some extent, true. Tomboy is hypnagogic music, one long psychedelic lope at a varying pace with varying melodic or semi-obscured lyrical hooks to provide the changes in pattern amongst the repetition. It’s at its best when you lose focus and it feels for a second like you’re hearing a nursery rhyme for adults, as if that’s a normal thing. It doesn’t have the lofty moments Person Pitch had, but they were just highlights, not the whole reason it was good. That’s still the same, I just can’t really express what it is.
Panda Bear questions existence and thinks about ▲.
Panda Bear – Slow Motion
24. Fair Ohs – Everything Is Dancing [UK]
For some reason, the ‘tropical’ arm of lo-fi music seems easy to dismiss now. It’s not as if there’s anything less earnest about having syncopated drums and afrobeat guitars than there is about “updating” 60s garage rock or anything else. Fair Ohs, or at least in their most easily defined manifestation, are bloodline successors of Vampire Weekend, Abe Vigoda and maybe even Surfer Blood in terms of messing around with African styles in a conventional indie rock set-up. It’s been done, I know, it’s not a unique selling point any more. But what if the band is good? There is a distinct element of something nebulous like ‘heart’ about Fair Ohs that makes the negative connotations of still doing tropical pop go away, and besides, their sloganeering choruses are infectious enough to negate any quasi-critical discussion. Baldessari, the opener, effectively has two choruses and nothing else. It’s simple, pseudo-naïve and impossible not to find fun.
Fair Ohs – Baldessari
23. Z-Ro – Meth [US]
You get the impression that, this far into his career, Z-Ro genuinely doesn’t care about the impression he gives off. There’s a disconcerting sense that he actually believes what he says, even when it’s well-trod territory for most rappers. He is very clear in his hatred of women, especially the mothers of his children, but he has no issue with stealing your girl, ostensibly just to flex alpha credentials. He is on his “fuck the world for no reason shit” on the song dedicated to proving that (No Reason) and everywhere else too. Everyone is getting slapped, and some people are getting shot. It’s actually unpleasant to listen to at times, but there’s something undeniable about how confident and unassailable he sounds when he rolls out the OG croon. The laid back Southern necksnap beats set you up and then Z-Ro sings on his tracks in exactly the opposite way that Drake (one of two people in the world given a dispensation to wear skinny jeans, coincidentally) does. There’s soul to it, real feeling. Even when he’s talking about being “an asshole – by nature”, that makes it ultimately relatable.
Z-Ro – Never Had Love
22. Male Bonding – Endless Now [UK]
There are two approaches presenting themselves here. The first, well-worn and not particularly interesting any more, is the fact that Male Bonding made a lo-fi record and then followed it up with this one, which is less lo-fi. Like Girls. And Pains of Being Pure At Heart. And Smith Westerns. And a million other bands. Bands aren’t beholden to something as superficial as an amount of vocal reverb, even if that was, embarrassingly, what drew you in in the first place. The second approach is to talk about how Male Bonding, a London band already dangerously close to pastiche of American music, went even further in that direction. Slower and less reckless, this is J. Mascis territory definitely, but if you’re a fan of anything approaching this style of guitar pop, you’ve necessarily gotten over the term “derivative” and you acknowledge that these records have to live and die by their songs, their contributions to the great power pop compilation in the sky. Endless Now is a good record by those standards, and songs like Bones also fulfill the secondary purpose of backing up the idea that it’s time to welcome Blink 182 back into the guitar pop canon.
Male Bonding – Carrying
21. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life [CAN]
I suppose it’s important to acknowledge the fact that this is a rock opera. Fucked Up are, after all, vestigially a hardcore band, and lyrics are all-important in hardcore. It’s something to do with a love triangle and a lightbulb factory. But even though the 78 minute consistent concept has dazzled reviewers and dominated the narrative surrounding the record, that’s not really anything to do with what makes David Comes To Life good. It’s good because it’s the perfect modern power pop record, not separating melody and aggression but wedding them. Pink Eyes’ singing is, of course, melody-free, but that just adds to the impact. Rather than being a record of excess and laudable but ultimately inaccessible ambition, it’s better to think of it as a distillation of the immediacy of hardcore (Pink Eyes spitting out the words “running on nothing” in a way that makes you feel like there’s a lot of phlegm coming out and he’s going to need to sit down afterwards) and the prettiness of pop rock (the Poptopia-sounding high guitar riffs that drive almost every song). At an hour and twenty minutes, sure, it’s difficult to stay open to melodies presented with that much drive, but if you can avoid simply letting it hit you in the face, it’s really a triumph of fun, feelings and an unexpected level of quality control.
Fucked Up – Queen Of Hearts