The Year In Music 2016: S&N’s Songs Of 2016


By The S&N Staff. Once again, a group of S&N contributors—Hendricks, Mark, Biff, and myself—have voted on our favorite songs of 2016, and we present them to you here as a Spotify playlist for your streaming pleasure. In a year where politics dominated everything, it shouldn’t be surprising that a number of the songs we picked delve into that theme. But it’s still satisfying, nonetheless, to see that two of the most powerful political statements of the year came from A Tribe Called Quest and Drive-By Truckers. To hear East Coast hip-hop and Southern country rock come together on common ground like that speaks to the incredible bridging potential of music, and maybe offers a little hope about our ability to start a meaningful conversation that connects us despite our deep cultural divides. And there’s plenty more here, too, from S&N favorites like Hiss Golden Messenger and Blood Orange and The Range to some under-the-radar artists who deserve far more of our attention, like Lucy Dacus, Pinegrove, Hinds, and Chairlift. Enjoy, and happy holidays! Continue reading

The Year In Music 2016: Antony’s Picks

hamilton-leithauser-rostam-album-artBy Antony. My “Year In Music” doesn’t say anything about what was important in 2016. If it did, then Beyoncé would be #1, followed closely by several other powerful hip-hop records: A Tribe Called Quest, Chance the Rapper, Common, Solange, and Blood Orange. But this list isn’t about important things; it’s a record of what I was listening to in 2016. This year, I didn’t seek importance from music; I sought solace. I understand why people turn to music when the world is in upheaval, when they sense a darkness descending upon us. In fact, I’m often one of those people, but for some reason, this year, I didn’t. Perhaps it was because of my necessary turn toward the domestic with the birth of my first child. Whatever the reasons, I only emotionally connected with music that would return me to myself and settle my spirit even if only for a moment. So here’s my list of the albums that made my year in music: Continue reading

The Year In Music 2016: Spencer’s Picks

radiohead--a-moon-shaped-poolBy Spencer. I’m going to make a bold statement: 2016 was the best year for music in S&N’s three-year history. And I mean that from top to bottom. The top five in my year-end list is a murderer’s row of absolutely ingenious albums—each of them practically perfect from the first track to the last and displaying both infectious listenability and grand artistic ambition.  But whereas in past years we saw a quick decline between the top five and everything else, 2016 presented so many good options that it was damn near impossible for me to even compile this list. Since science has yet to find a way to cram more than 20 albums into a top-20 list, though, I was forced to leave many worthy contenders out. Continue reading

The Podcast: Movies That Matter Discusses Arrival

cp8v8n0vmaadzn6-jpg-largeBy Spencer. For those who love our movie coverage but think there’s way too much reading involved, you’re in luck. This week, all you have to do is listen! I’m guest hosting the latest edition of the movie podcast, Movies That Matter, which focuses on “films going above and beyond the call of box office returns to boldly explore a social issue affecting people’s lives.” On this edition, host Nicole Funari and I share a wide-ranging conversation on this month’s surprise art-house sci-fi hit, Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, and directed by Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, Sicario). It’s a movie full of big ideas about communication, the nature of time, grief, and the things that bring us together as human beings. And naturally, we couldn’t help but get into a little political conversation as well, with some of the film’s themes proving timely in the wake of an election that exposed deep failures of communication between red and blue America. You can download the podcast here or via iTunes. And stay tuned to Movies That Matter, because they’ll be bringing in a number of other guest hosts over the coming weeks to explore some of the best year-end Oscar fare.

The Consumer: Fall Picks

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By Spencer. In these first days of the Age of Trump, music is a place we can go to seek distractions and maybe even pieces of answers. Several of our featured artists this month are speaking openly of the open political wounds that have been lingering all year, from black lives to women’s rights to the anxieties of small-town America. And if it still seems a little too early to pick at those scabs and you just need something to take your mind off the state of the world, well, we’ve got that covered too, with some earnest and even whimsical songwriting about less complicated matters like, ahem, love. Continue reading

The Mixologist: Dreaming In Color

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By Spencer. It’s been a while since we’ve done a new Mixologist, but with fall weather finally settling in, now seems like the perfect time for a batch of new tracks from Hiss Golden Messenger, Billie Marten, Amanda Shires, Big Thief, Okkervil River, Hamilton Leithauser, and other recent S&N favorites. These songs capture the vibrancy of the moment, drifting along the line between consciousness and trance. And while this is noticeably one of our mellower mixes, there’s an urgency to these melodies that keep it anything but sleepy. Continue reading

The Projects: More Horror Flicks That Don’t Suck

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By Spencer. If you hate costume parties as much as I do, then you’re probably in need of a few quality scary movies to watch on Halloween night after the trick-or-treaters are gone. Last year, I gave you a few of my favorite lesser known options, from It Follows to Suspiria to The House Of The Devil to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. And if you haven’t watched all of those yet, you’re making a grave mistake. But if you’re looking for even more horror flicks that don’t suck, then fear not, because I’ve dug up a few more—headlined by Sundance 2016’s haunting indie horror breakthrough, The Witch. Continue reading

The Consumer: September Picks

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By Spencer. It was a huge September for music, and it’s probably going to take most of October just to catch up. And while just about everyone is currently singing the praises of the new Bon Iver, we’re looking back to some less-heralded new releases from a batch of artists from all over the spectrum: art rock from Hamilton Leithauser, Local Natives, Okkervil River, and Warpaint; folk and country balladry from Billie Marten and Amanda Shires; and punchy guitar rock from Beach Slang and Cymbals Eat Guitars. Continue reading

The Contrarian: Musical Artists You’re Wrong About, Vol. 1

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By Spencer. This website needs a little more hate. Sure, we introduce you to a lot of great music here, and for that, you should clearly be thankful. But there are some other websites out there with somewhat wider readership who are hellbent on convincing you to listen to some truly godawful crap. And gullible as you, o’ hapless internet reader, might be, there’s a decent chance you’ve even convinced yourself that you actually—[head shaking]—enjoy this shit. I’m not just talking about these newer indie bands, either; some of these mistakes go back decades.

Well, it’s time to have an intervention. Because I can’t just keep standing idly by while the arbiters of taste keep gushing with complete impunity over the same overblown, pretentious, boring, hackneyed, obnoxious purveyors of shit music. These artists objectively and demonstrably suck, and it’s high time you realize it. So for those of you who have been suckered into some inexcusably bad musical tastes, I’m kicking off a new series, The Contrarian, that will hopefully save you from yourselves. You’re welcome. Continue reading

The Mixologist: S&N Singles Club, Vol. 2

By Spencer. Continuing last week’s Singles Club challenge, several of our S&N contributors are compiling playlists of songs from artists or albums we previously considered great, but whose star has faded over time—such that now you only really need one killer song from them in your collection. This week, it’s my turn, and I’m learning that the real challenge here is staying within the rules. Continue reading

The Mixologist: S&N Singles Club, Vol. 1

By Antony. The “Binge and Purge” series over at AV Club inspired these Singles Club mixes. Josh Modell, a music writer for the site, has amassed a 2,000-CD collection. He’s decided in 2016 that’s too many. His assessment of the records he’s keeping and those he’s tossing is sentimental and humorous, revealing something about how we age with our musical tastes. I passed it around to a few of the S&N writers, and from that sprung the Singles Club challenge:

Compile a playlist of songs from artists or albums that you, once upon a time, had some affection for, but which you now can reduce to a single song without ever missing the rest. Continue reading

The Stagediver: Ryan Adams Acoustic Show @ The Lincoln Theater, Washington, DC

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By Spencer. I wanted to write a review of Ryan Adams’s sold-out acoustic show at DC’s Lincoln Theater. It was probably a fantastic show, and you’d think I’d be more sure of that considering I was there and all. But instead of writing about Ryan Adams, I really have no other option but to write about “that guy.” You know the one I’m talking about, because you’ve probably seen him at many a concert yourself. He’s the guy who decides he’s going to dance wildly with his arms flailing around for the entire show, bumping and jostling anyone in a ten-foot radius. He’s the guy who wandered in from the year 1994 to start a mosh pit, when everyone else just wants to listen. He’s the guy who can’t stop checking his cell phone in a darkened room, or the guy who goes for ten beer runs, or the guy who thinks everyone came to hear his voice instead of, you know, the person whose name is on the ticket. And if you were sitting anywhere near Row S, Seat 17, in the upper left balcony last night, you know exactly which guy I’m talking about. Continue reading

The Mixologist: You Want The Sun

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By Spencer. Last week, we gave you our picks for some of music’s best early summer releases. And staying with the spirit of the season, they were heavy on pop, hip-hop, upbeat rock—you know, fun stuff. This week, we’re back with a monster-sized mix for you, and we’re keeping with that vibe. So enjoy this sampling of synthpop from the likes of Niki & The Dove, Christine And The Queens, Ladyhawke, and Blood Orange; upbeat blues from Margaret Glaspy and Julie Rhodes; breezy acoustic music from Roo Panes, Whitney, Sarah Jarosz, and The Lumineers; and of course, a few random curveballs. You know you want it. Continue reading

The Consumer: S&N’s Early Summer Picks

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By Spencer. The music media is already caught up in the game of trying to crown the “song of the summer.” But summer music doesn’t all have to be fluff. And ambitious music can still be plenty of fun. You’ll hear that theme across a lot of our early summer music picks, which feature hip-hop and R&B from the likes of Chance The Rapper and Gallant; synthpop courtesy of Ladyhawke and Niki & The Dove; uptempo rock from Car Seat Headrest and The Kills; the mellower sounds of Case/Lang/Viers, Sarah Jarosz, and Gregory Alan Isakov; and whatever the hell box the music of Blood Orange belongs in. Continue reading

The Projects: The Vintage Collector, Vol. 1

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By Spencer. Last year, I became part of the problem. After years of rolling my eyes at them, I’m now one of those assholes who buys records on vinyl. Naturally, such a complete reversal of everything a man stands for could have only one explanation: it happened because of a girl. But while that quirky hipster artiste is long since out of my life, the way I listen to music is forever changed thanks to the phenomenal sound I heard from her record player one night. A few notes of Otis Redding through a proper turntable and speakers and I was hooked. So when I finally threw down the $300 for an Audio-Technica phonograph and started spending $20 a piece for albums I already owned in digital form, it made complete sense that I started with mostly vintage artists—Redding, Miles, Coltrane, Sinatra, The Beatles, Led Zep. Because as my record collection quickly expanded, I learned the first rule of vinyl is this: if it was recorded during the era when vinyl was still the predominant musical format, it really does sound better on vinyl. Continue reading

The Mixologist: The Road To California

image4By Antony & Spencer. This weekend, three of our S&N contributors got to catch up in person for the first time in years. The occasion was our editor Spencer’s very first trip to California. (Editor’s Note: Yes, I’m writing about myself in the third person, for reasons that will be obvious later). Spencer is very much aware that it is inexcusable for this to have taken so long, especially now that the trip is over and he’s discovered just how much he loves the West Coast lifestyle. After a multi-day tour of Los Angeles that was (unsurprisingly) heavy on Hollywood history, Spencer’s trip gave him the chance to reunite with longtime friends and S&N contributors Mark and Antony over very large beers at San Diego’s Biergarten and Modern Times, where we talked music, dating, parenthood, tacos, and a whole lot more. And in honor of the trip, Antony compiled a little travel music for Spencer—who couldn’t pass up on sharing with the rest of you. (As you can see, these joint postings cause a lot of awkward drafting issues. Don’t complain, you’re getting free music). Continue reading

The Critic: Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool

radiohead--a-moon-shaped-poolBy Spencer. After a flurry of a week that started with mysterious leaflets mailed to fans with the message, “we know where you live,” followed a few days later by not one but two surprise music videos, we suddenly have a brand new Radiohead album. Its title, revealed only a few minutes before Sunday’s digital release through the band’s website, is A Moon Shaped Pool. And in the best surprise of this week-long rollout, it turns out that this is easily the best work of art Radiohead have achieved since Kid A. But in a twist no one could have predicted, the most groundbreaking thing about the album is how listenable it is. For a band whose style has so often flirted with the eccentric, whose entire identity is defined by their two decades as the standard-bearers for experimental music, A Moon Shaped Pool is a left turn of another kind: it’s just a collection of gorgeous sounds. Continue reading

The Consumer: March & April Picks

By Spencer. After a slow start, 2016 is finally delivering some great new music. So today we’re featuring a giant-size collection of March and April releases from old favorites and new revelations across every genre: Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson, Natalie Royal, The Range, Kevin Morby, Matt Corby, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, The Lumineers (pictured above), and Parker Millsap. Continue reading

The Stagediver: Smashing Pumpkins In Plainsong @ The Lincoln Theater, Washington, DC

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By Spencer. When Billy Corgan announced that the Smashing Pumpkins would be doing a special acoustic tour of small, intimate theater venues called In Plainsong, I was intrigued. When he announced Jimmy Chamberlain would be returning on drums, I was sold. The Pumpkins were my favorite band growing up. They were my very first rock concert (way back in 1994). This would be my fourth time seeing them live, but my first since their initial breakup in 2001. It was a chance to reconnect with all the teenage angst that Billy Corgan so perfectly voiced during the 90s. But just like I have grown in the years since, so have the Pumpkins—and the “acoustic-electro” concept behind this show would be a chance to see them in a newer, more mature light. Continue reading

The Mixologist: Back In The Old Country

By Spencer. A recent article in GQ Magazine profiled three country artists who are shaking up the Nashville establishment: Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, and Sturgill Simpson. We’ve raved about all three on S&N, but the truth is, they’re just the tip of the spear. There are dozens of other songwriters out there defying the cheap conventions of Nashville country. You know what I’m taking about—hokey, jokey, manufactured pop songs about sexy tractors and beer-drinking horses, dressed up in a little steel guitar and just enough contrived twang to appeal to the goatee-wearing NASCAR crowd. It’s this brand of “bro country” that has given the genre a bad name among music lovers, turning a once-thriving strain of quintessentially American art into a punchline (at least outside of the South).

Then came Chris Stapleton, who struck a major blow last year when his album, Traveller, came out of nowhere to sweep the 2015 Country Music Awards—taking down more established (and embarrassing) mainstays like Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, and Jason Aldean along the way. It was hailed as a possible turning point for country music after years of decline. Meanwhile, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell have each enjoyed adulation even among the indie rock press for recent albums that re-embraced a truer songwriting and a more faithful devotion to vintage country sounds. Continue reading

The Projects: Interesting Failures

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By Spencer. By now, many of you have already seen Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice—and been disappointed. I haven’t. Putting Superman and Batman together in a movie was an easy lift, and yet it’s been obvious from the very first trailer that director Zach Snyder completely and utterly blew it. And I just can’t keep rewarding this kind of mindlessly shitty filmmaking with my dollars. See, that’s what they count on. They think that all that matters is the brand. They think that if their marketing campaign can establish it as an “event movie,” that you will literally have to plop down your fifteen bucks to be a part of it. They think they don’t have to earn it anymore. And of course this phenomenon is strongest in the area of franchise movies—where the perception that they have a guaranteed fan base inevitably breeds laziness.

Look, making movies is an incredibly difficult craft, and there will always be more bad ones than good ones. I get that. Even with a premise as exciting as pitting our two most popular American superheroes against each other, there are all kinds of things that can go wrong. But there are movies that fail for the wrong reasons and movies that fail for the right ones. Movies that fail for doing too little and movies that fail for doing too much. Movies that had the best of creative intentions and movies that shrugged that off in the name of making a quick buck.

So whenever we talk amongst ourselves about bad movies, I think it’s crucial that we maintain a dichotomy—between the truly terrible, and another category that I’ll call the “interesting failures.” Continue reading

The Mixologist: I Will Love The Twenty-First Century

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By Antony. So I wrote a rant about the evils of nostalgia and then deleted it. For me, there’s nothing worse than finding myself in a public place and realizing that they’re playing the 90s Nostalgia Channel—or whatever Sirius XM, Beats, or Spotify call their versions. They cater to the walking dead. Those who stopped growing two decades ago. If your music taste has stagnated, I consider that a moral failure. Continue reading

The Consumer: January & February Picks

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By Spencer. The first couple months of 2016 were a little slow on breakout albums, and I’ve frankly been playing catch-up on a few things. However, as I think back over my listening habits so far this year, there are a handful of new releases I seem to keep coming back to. They’re growers—albums that may not grab you right away, but that reward repeated listens. And if past experience is any guide, these growers often end up being my favorite albums in the long run; past examples include Radiohead’s first three discs, Ryan Adams’s Gold, Travis’s The Man Who, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and pretty much the entire collected works of PJ Harvey. So while it may be too soon to put any of these new releases in that illustrious company, keep an ear out. Continue reading

The Critic: S&N’s 2016 Oscar Picks

 
By Spencer. This year’s Oscars will barely be about the movies themselves. It’s pretty clear by now that the controversy over the lack of racial diversity among the nominees is going to be the storyline that hovers over this year’s entire ceremony. That, combined with the lack of a picture that feels like a truly historic achievement, leaves these Oscars feeling more than a little flat. That’s a shame because we’re seeing one of the most competitive years in recent memory, with several races looking like potential photo finishes. Here’s a look at how I’d vote—and, setting aside my own subjective favorites, who I think the Academy will ultimately reward. Continue reading