Best Psyche-up music

I’m not entirely sure that ‘psyching’ yourself into something is even a term now. We used to use it a lot in the early 90’s about the same time as ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ hit our bookstores and shook up our inner demons . Standing up big and punchy to our anxiety (not that we knew what it was back then) took a lot of energy. A lot of psyching up in front of the mirror was going on. Whatever the positive affirmation, there was usually an accompanying energising track. For me it was often something by R.E.M or the Pixies.

So I was thinking today, what are my 2017 psyche-up songs? The songs that are required when I need something to push me out the door. I’ve picked 6 pearlers and, because this blog is about new music, I’ve kept it to any song released in the last three years. And, yes, I have yelled aloud the ‘woop” at 5:20 of ‘Under the Pressure’. It felt exceptionally good.

This is The World of The Theatre, The New Pornographers

No psych-up playlist of mine will ever be without a song by the NP’s. These guys are the all-time masters of the uplifting chorus. Stay with this track till 1:35 and you’ll see what I mean. If you love it, check out Challengers and Champions of Red Wine also.

Giant Peach, Wolf Alice

This is old-school gold, a drums and guitar driven big song. The difference is that all the members of Wolf Alice are under 25 years old. Oh so good when you need a short and fiery boost.

Let it Happen, Tame Impala

For those moments where there’s nothing you can do to change a situation. Pour a glass of wine, sit back and let it happen. Not so much a psyche-up perhaps but more a rise-above-it-all song. From one of my favourite artists and one of my favourite albums. Shifting and shimmering with the ghosts of Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk.

What Went Down, Foals

Get ready. This is a bloody angry song to be listened to when you’re bloody angry. Essential psyche-up for giving someone the verbal bird. And, more importantly, it’s got a wonderful bridge at 2:55. Love it.

Under the Pressure, The War on Drugs

Adam Granduciel is having the best time on this track. The pressure certainly doesn’t seem to be dragging him under. It’s got a lovely build starting just after the 3 minute mark. You may find the long drone at the end a bit much but try and hold on to the fist-pumping from earlier and you’ll be right.

Goshen ’97, Strand of Oaks

I’ve never come across a band who’s name is so incongruous with its sound. You’d imagine that the members of Strand of Oaks would be in billowing muslim shirts, holding hands in a circle and harmonising right? Well, actually, no.

I’d love to know what your psyche-up songs are? I reckon we can make a collective playlist…

Best Albums 2016

I saw a brilliant documentary last night. It was equal parts warmth and tragedy, and as funny as hell. The two subjects were eccentric, co-dependent and loved each other to bits. As I watched, the enormity of their deaths within a day of each other hit me. How could these vital, talented people be gone? But, two days after Christmas last year, 60-year old Carrie Fisher went into cardiac arrest on a flight from London to LA. She died four days later followed swiftly by her mother, Debbie Reynolds. After seeing ‘Bright Lights’ I now understand what dying from a broken heart really means. I’d felt the same poignancy listening to Leonard Cohen’s ‘You want it Darker’ and Bowie’s triumphant ‘Black Star.’ What courage – to square off against one’s own mortality. 2016 was a brutal year for many reasons that we’re all acutely aware of. A tweet I saw summed it up perfectly: Is Quentin Tarantino directing 2016? Luckily, out of the shambles, some excellent new music surfaced. And isn’t that one of the important things? The stuff that is created? The stuff that lasts? I think back to being curled in the corner of my bedroom transfixed by ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’; and drunkenly singing ‘Take it easy’ by Glen  Frey outside the Duke of Marlborough Hotel; and belting out ‘1999’ with beloved friends at Lake Taupo on the eve of Y2K. And, of course, I’ll never ever forget Princess Leia.

Here are 25 wonderful albums from last year (in no particular order):

Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool. This is why Radiohead is one of the best bands in the world. Sublime, but don’t rush it – it gets better with every listen. Highlights: Daydreaming; Burn the Witch; True Love Waits.

James Blake The Colour in Anything. Choir boy whose heart overflows with Soul. Highlights: Meet You in the Maze; Put That Away and Talk to Me; Radio Silence.

Frank Ocean Blonde/Blond. More a work of art than an easy listen. But THAT VOICE! Highlights: Pink and White; Ivy; Nikes.

Chance the Rapper Colouring Book. Joyous and spiritual, uplifting hip-hop with a raft of cameos. Highlights: No Problem; All We Got; Blessings.

Solange A Seat at the Table. Intensely beautiful RnB delivering a raw and powerful message. Highlights: Cranes in the Sky; Scales; Don’t You Wait.

Whitney Light Upon the Lake. Indie Rock. Perfect summertime roadie music. Highlights: No Woman; Polly; Follow; No Matter Where We Go.

Lambchop Flotus. Truly millenial, melodic and modern. Highlights: NIV; Flotus; Old Masters.

Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros. Gorgeous gentle pastorally-centred songs. Highlights: All of Part Two.

Yumi Zouma Yoncalla. Breezy electronic pop from this talented 4-member Kiwi band. Highlights: Text from Sweden; Barricade (Matter of Fact); Remember You at All.

Leonard Cohen You Want it Darker. A swansong masterpiece that personifies the master. Highlights: You Want it Darker; Leaving the Table; Steer Your Way.

David Bowie Black Star. A difficult first few listens give way to wonder. Jazz-oriented, experimental and unnerving. Highlights: Lazarus; Blackstar; I Can’t Give Everything Away.

The 1975 I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. The sound of a boy-band coming into its own. Highlights: Somebody Else; A Change of Heart; The Sound.

Anderson .Paak Malibu. Paak sounds like Stevie Wonder, James Brown, D’Angelo and Kanye West all at once. Highlights: Am I Wrong; Put me thru; Come Down.

Neko Case, k.d. Lang, Laura Veirs case/lang/veirs. Triple-whammy legends in a class of their own. Highlights: Atomic Number; Best Kept Secret; Song for Judee.

Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial. Energetic and clever guitar-driven rock. You’ll be richly rewarded by Will Toledo’s self-deprecating lyrics. Highlights: Destroyed by Hippie Powers; The Ballad of the Costa Concordia; Vincent; Fill in the Blank; Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.

Roosevelt Roosevelt. For lovers of everything 80’s. You’d have to be made of stone not to dance to this. Highlights: Night Moves; Moving On; Hold On.

Flume Skin. Hypnotic electronica from skilled Australian DJ Harley Streten. Highlights: Say It; Wall Fuck; Smoke and Retribution.

Angel Olsen My Woman. Olsen’s strong, unwavering voice is central here. Be patient – the album’s charms aren’t immediately obvious. Highlights: Sister; Shut Up and Kiss Me; Those Were the Days.

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. A near-perfect pairing of two celebrated musicians (The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend). Highlights: 1000 Times; Peaceful Morning; The Morning Stars.

Pinegrove Cardinal. Moving, nostalgic balladry. Wonderful story-telling in each song – the delight is in the small details. Highlights: Old Friends; Cadmium; Waveform.

Hiss Golden Messenger Heart Like a Levee. The sound of worn leather boots on a gravel road. Highlights: Happy Day (Sister my Sister); Tell Her I’m Just Dancing; Biloxi.

Bon Iver 22, A Million. Justin Vernon’s vulnerability is all over this record. There is no more lumberjack Vernon here. Beautiful but oh so strange with the most interesting track names I’ve seen in a while. Highlights: 33 “God”; 22 (OVER S–N); ooooo Million.

Drive-By Truckers American Band. This great American band has had enough.Highlights: What It Means; Ever South; Surrender Under Protest.

Michael Kiwanuka Love and Hate. This album aches. Melancholic and gorgeous. Highlights: Black Man in a White World; Cold Little Heart; Falling.

School of Seven Bells SVIIB. Written against the devastating backdrop of the death of one of the band’s members, SVIIB burns brightly with hope. Highlights: Ablaze; Signals; On My Heart.

Liking these 2016 tracks…

Here’s an eclectic playlist for you, songs that have caught my attention this year, songs I’ve meandered back to again and again. If I was to name a favourite I think it would have to be ‘Atomic Number’ by legends k.d. lang, Neko Case (aka ‘Lungs’) and Laura Viers, otherwise known as case/lang/viers, because it’s just so darn cool that these three have teamed up for our listening joy. Awaiting, with bated breath, their forthcoming album in mid-June.

Best 20 Albums of 2015

2015 was an extraordinary year for music. Candid memoir-albums were everywhere, keeping pace with their literary cousins; 90’s alt-rock burst forth from those conceived in that decade; and preternaturally gorgeous songs emerged from a gamut of broken hearts.

Here’s the complete playlist, with the exception of Joanna Newsom who is not on Spotify:

Continue reading

The Year of the Chimera – 2014’s Best Albums

2014 was an interesting year for music. Established names pulled out career defining albums, while new artists stomped over the rickety remnants of genre boundaries to produce brilliant debut hybrids. There was more than something for every type of listener. For me, ‘Lost in the Dream’ by The War on Drugs stood above the others. Every time I listen to it I think of The Boss’ third album ‘Born to Run,’ albeit with an aesthetic of smoke and mirrors and hazy psychedelica. ‘Lost in the Dream’ was also Adam Granduciel’s third album, a labour of love in which he worked through panic attacks and anxiety to produce what I reckon is an enduring masterpiece.

I haven’t ordered these albums in any meaningful way except alphabetically and, at the bottom of the page, you’ll find a spotify playlist with  a couple of songs from each one. Continue reading