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Dec 10

Music to Code By – 2015, or, how I learned to love the Dire Straits

Standard Disclaimer: My favorite band ever is The Smashing Pumpkins, or possibly Nine Inch Nails. In recent years my favorite genres of music have been EDM and Post Rock. If it’s dark, and/or mopey, I probably love it. If it starts off slow and sad and crescendos with catharsis 9 minutes later, I probably love it. Consider yourself warned.

This is the latest in a series of these posts. Like what you hear? Check out older editions: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

This Year’s Playlist

I’ve made this year’s playlist in Spotify. It clocks in around 4 hours, mostly because of 8 minute post rock/EDM tracks, but there’s a fair share of pop songs in there too.

If you need it, here’s the link to the playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/1226261222/playlist/7ajRG03G6uPCj2rMqWHxht

I’ve designed the playlist to run in 2 acts. Act 1 is where you’ll find the pop, punk, and so on – and Act 2 is EDM / Post Rock. Act 2 begins with the track Los Alamos by Matthew Good – not a Post Rock track, but if you like that genre, you’ll love that track.

Best Albums of 2015

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Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

Hold on a second, I know what you’re thinking – “Seriously? Marilyn Manson, in 2015?” – Yes, seriously.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the guy’s last 3 or 4 albums have been garbage, but good news – by the looks of it the dont-give-a-fuck party phase is over.

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The Pale Emperor is basically Marilyn Manson’s take on the blues. This is has-been washed-up lounge singer crooning in the back of one of those Las Vegas casinos you walk right past without noticing, on your way to a newer, more shiny, casino – on your way to a casino that plays the beatles every night.

Relatable lyrics are back, sarcasm is toned down, there’s more than a hint of remorse throughout – it’s good.

Who knew Marilyn Manson would get better with age?

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Circle Takes The Square – Decompositions: Volume One

NOTE: None of this band’s tracks are on the spotify playlist, because the band isn’t on spotify unfortunately. Instead, listen to their entire album, for free, here: https://ctts.bandcamp.com/

Circle Takes The Square opened for Caspian’s tour this year, and the thing that grabbed me was how much damn fun and sincerity the band seemed to portray. Self described as “Visionary Punk Rock”, CTTS is a genre bending blend between metal, hardcore (whatever that means), and screamo. In my opinion, they’re a promising younger version of The Paper Chase, except metal.

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If you dig CTTS, you’ll probably love The Paper Chase, and visa versa.

I feel like CTTS is a gateway drug to metal and various subgenres of metal. Various friends said “if you like that (CTTS), you’ll love Dillinger Escape Plan.”

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Silversun Pickups – Better Nature

The latest from the Silversun Pickups has a healthy dose of electropop or what you might call 80s resurgence sprinkled throughout – it’s one of those albums that will probably “sound like the mid 2010s” in years to come, but right now, it sounds fresh, it seems incredibly relevant.

Part of me wonders if this album is the band’s “adore”, we’ll see, I guess.

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Caspian – Dust and Disquiet

A fantastic post-rock record, more cohesive than their previous effort (waking season) – that’s not a slight against the band, I *love* waking season, probably a top-20 if not top-10 lifetime record, it’s just that waking season feels a little all-over-the-map when you hear this followup record. The band’s matured, you can hear it in the cohesion – this one sounds like the band was executing a vision, and in my opinion they excelled expectations.

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The songs on this new record are *fantastic* live, particularly the track arcs of command – the only adequate way to describe that track is to say it’s fucking ferocious.

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Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool?

A buddy of mine describes Jeff Rosenstock as a modern day John Lennon. If ever there was an indie DIY musical messiah, Rosenstock‘s it.

The record may come off as a respectable but possibly forgettable generic punk record, but then you see this photo of Rosenstock performing at his always-mandatory all-ages shows in the middle of who-knows-where:

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After seeing that photo, you start to wonder who this guy is, because he’s clearly fantastic. Then, you learn he’s from Bomb The Music Industry, and you hear his previous effort there, the Vacations album. Then, you see this fantastic trailer for a documentary that sums up Rosenstock’s mission in life in less than 5 minutes:

Then, you realize all of Rosenstock’s music is always free or pay-what-you want. Then, you realize my buddy’s right, if ever there was a second John Lennon, a Bono without the icky feeling that somehow a profit margin is being sold, Rosenstock is it.

When you realize Rosenstock’s the second coming of John Lennon, and you listen to his lyrics, you stop thinking generic punk record, and you smile every time you hear it.

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VNV Nation – Judgement

I heard of VNV Nation a lifetime ago. They’re a second or third wave EDM band heavily influenced by depeche mode. If you’ve heard depeche mode or erasure, you’ve heard VNV Nation, more or less. VNV Nation is 21st century depeche mode with a heavy-handed social-commentary lyrical style. In other words, VNV Nation is *awesome*.

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If you like Nine Inch Nails, or Marilyn Manson, or Depeche Mode, or Blaqk Audio, or Crosses, or AFI, or Deftones, or Erasure, or BT, or a thousand other Depeche Mode inspired acts, then you have to listen to VNV Nation.

The playlist contains tracks from several VNV Nation records. Judgement, Future Perfect, Matter and Form, Automatic, and Transnational are all worth a listen (all the way through, all tracks), in that order.

Judgement is my most recent favorite of the records I hadn’t heard before, but it’s incredibly hard to pick a favorite, because, in my opinion, many of their records are incredible.

Honorable Mentions

There’s a few tracks from Trifonic in the playlist. A friend of mine found him randomly on spotify or pandora radio. It turns out the Trifonic guy was a programmer on several of BT’s records. If you like BT, you’ll like this guy, and visa versa.

My wife discovered Telekenisis at random in a record store this year, the entire record is awesome. Highly recommended if you like the track from him/them on the playlist.

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I don’t think I mentioned Queens of the Stone Age last year at all, though a track or two from their album Songs for the Deaf was on the 2014 playlist. The meme above is accurate. Queens of the Stone Age are the shit. I listened to Songs For The Deaf probably 100 times this past year – such a great record. I’m enjoying Like Clockwork a fair bit too, which has a badass video to accompany it:

HBO published a pretty cool documentary on Kurt Cobain called Montage of Heck this year. In that docu, there’s this haunting choir version of smells like teen spirit. Turns out, there’s this badass choir from belgium called Scala and Kalacny Brothers. They have a few records full of choir covers of pop songs. Their version of Nothing Else Matters is also on the playlist, haunting, powerful, awesome. If you like this stuff, see also Vitamin String Quartet.

Two thirds of Sigur Ros put out a soundtrack to a film this year, the album and film are called Circe. It’s pretty good, forgettable, but good.

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The C418 guy is the guy who made the minecraft soundtrack, he has a couple albums out of minecraft music. Enjoyable for probably anyone, especially enjoyable for minecraft players.

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There’s a lullaby version of the track Cherub Rock by The Smashing Pumpkins on the playlist. That band, or person, Rockabye Baby, has a ton of lullaby albums covering various artists. Some are amazing, some not so much. Very interesting listening to some of them and realizing how many songs an artist has that are essentially lullabies already, especially the pumpkins and The Cure.

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Like everyone else who saw the Beach Boys biopic Love and Mercy this past year, I went through a bit of a Pet Sounds / Smile kick for a little while. I even bought a copy of Little Deuce Coupe on vinyl for $3 at one point. After seeing the film, I can appreciate the genius, and the madness, in Pet Sounds and Smile. God Only Knows is such a great song.

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Father John Misty is notable, because his lyrics are incredible. Not my style of music genre wise, but how can you not like a guy who sincerely croons something like the following?:

Someone’s been told too many times they’re beyond their years
By every half-wit of distinction she keeps around
And now every insufferable convo
Features her patiently explaining the cosmos
Of which she’s in the middle

Yeah. Father John Misty, check out his records, any of them.

Finally, There’s a Dire Straits song on the playlist, the track Brothers in Arms.

My father’s been on a huge Dire Straits / Mark Knopfler kick of late, and it’s spilled over onto my life.

I wouldn’t call myself a huge Dire Straits fan, but I can see how my father digs them. Years ago he was incredibly into Dave Matthews Band, primarily because the band was immensely talented and incredible, but also because the guy was a regular working class bar tender before he was a phenomenon. Dad’s also into Pink Floyd, aka the geekiest college educated nerds you’ve ever heard of – but they have a way with subversive sarcasm and taking you somewhere, on a trip almost, with their music. It’s no surprise to me then, when I hear echoes of Pink Floyd in the Dire Straits records my father’s played for me, and incredible talent, like Dave Matthews. Bonus: Mark Knopfler was a working class hero before the Dire Straits took off, too – he was just an average journalist, or something like that.

I’ve been watching the west wing far too often over the past two years. Seriously, I’m on my fourth watch-through in two years – I have a problem. I love the show, truly, beginning to end, all 150 or so hours of it – but there are a handful of episodes that get me every time, one of those being the season finale from season two.

Hang on! – Don’t go watch the season finale or the montage with the Dire Straits song finishing the season without watching everything before – the show’s like a post rock song, it makes no sense unless you’ve started at the beginning and listened to the full 9 minutes BEFORE the crescendo for full effect. When you take any one episode out of context, the west wing is just another law and order snoozefest, but when you play them all in a row, you realize there’s a common set of themes strung throughout – ambition, self-discovery, failure, overcoming obstacles, and so on.

The season finale to season two closes with the Dire Straits song Brother in Arms with incredible effect. The characters are going through an awful period in their career – death of loved ones, failure at every turn, incredibly important career-ending lies exposed, all of these things.

In the beginning of the episode, there’s this seemingly discardable plot line about a door that swings open from time to time due to a faulty latch. The president is annoyed by the door and wants it fixed. Over and over, throughout the episode, the door swings open at the most random times – a mild background annoyance among many hidden under these incredibly heavy major plot lines of death and doing the right thing, even when you’ve been caught in your lie.

As the episode goes on, the weather takes a turn – blue skies give way to a powerful and frightening thunderstorm – a torrential downpour that just won’t stop.

The president is alone in his office when the opening bars to Brothers in Arms start to kick in. A moment later, he is visited by an unexpected visitor and everything starts pouring out as the conversation between the president and the visitor escelates. At the most perfect moment, like the crescendo in a song, like the sound of a baby’s very first cry, the door with the faulty latch explodes open. Torrential amounts of rain pour in through the door, the door swings wildly in the wind, and the president stands in silence, letting the weather have its way with his life in that moment.

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He lets the waves of catharsis and emotion wash over him, and again, the faulty latch is almost meaningless background noise to the major plot lines of his life, indeed, it seems as if the faulty latch has all along been a key instrument in the president’s life of late – playing just the right tune to carry him through.

Anyway, I didn’t really notice The Dire Straits until I saw that montage set to the song. In my opinion, after seeing that, and listening to the record on my father’s couch, my father’s right: The Dire Straits are fucking incredible.

2015 has been a somber year for me and mine. There have been a thousand precious moments intermixed between the distractions of career and everything else that doesn’t matter. In some ways, I think the playlist plays like a soundtrack to my 2015 just perfectly, a dozen pop songs with frozen-in-time poignant moments that really matter to me in between.

I hope you like it.

Thank you:

  • Amanda for Telekenisis and the Smile Sessions.
  • Cory and Danny for the QOTSA recommendations.
  • Justin for finding Trifonic.
  • Lisa (nincure) for introducing me to VNV Nation a lifetime ago.
  • Brian for introducing me to Jeff Rosenstock and a thousand other bands.
  • Dad for introducing me to the Dire Straits.