Category Archives: Music

The best songs of the 2010s


Back when blogs still existed — including this blog — my friend Asher wrote about a musical contradiction: “If dance music should make you want to dance, it doesn’t make much sense that the best dance album of the year makes you want to do anything but move.” 

This was 2012. The album was Gossamer, Passion Pit’s second record. In 2008, Passion Pit had rocketed from dorm room novices to indie darlings because of the single “Sleepyhead.” The track is about a breakup, but that’s apparent only if you can understand the hard-to-decipher words sung in lead singer Michael Angelakos’s falsetto voice. “Sleepyhead” was part of a Manners album that, because of its emphasis on the beats and choruses, was a relatively light-hearted affair. 

Although Gossamer had a similar bounce, it was far more introspective and its lyrics far clearer. Angelakos wrote and sang about drugs, mental illness and anorexia. After a performance in spring 2012 that included songs featured on Gossamer, he told Pitchfork, “We tried as hard as we could to pretend that we were having a good time, but we were miserable.” A week before the album’s release that summer Passion Pit announced the postponement of the rest of its tour because Angelakos was seeking treatment for depression and bipolar disorder. The personal journey he undertook to create Gossamer had contributed to his illness. 

Could we dance to that music? Should we? Continue reading

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Top Songs of 2018/Sincerity is Amazing


Wikimedia Commons

Most of the rave reviews of the 1975’s album A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships are missing something. It’s true A Brief Enquiry represents “15 songs that are about possibilities over conclusions”, “a reflection of the times we live in,” and, maybe,  the “millennial answer to ‘OK Computer.’”  

But I think A Brief Enquiry is one of the best albums in several years for another reason (a reason aside from me being a biased, unrepentant The 1975 fanboy): Matty Healy and The 1975 have made sincerity cool again. The 1975 has made sincerity possible again.  Continue reading

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The top 25 songs of 2016


One reason I know this was a good year for music: My Spotify playlists. I saved dozens of new albums and made several mixes, probably at least twice as many as I have the last two years (and I make A LOT of mixes). There was so much diversity, too: As good of indie-pop as I can remember since 2013, insanely catchy rap songs by young, green artists, star power courtesy especially of Beyonce and Rihanna and, sorry not sorry to the numerous critics who hate the Chainsmokers, the Chainsmokers.

So here they are, the top 25 songs. Spotify playlist here and embedded at the bottom. Continue reading

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“50-inch screen, money-green leather sofa”: A middle class person could now live Biggie’s “Juicy” lifestyle

“Juicy” by the Notorious B.I.G. is perhaps my favorite rap song of all time. It’s a Puffy-produced, nostalgic ride through the early-to-mid 90s, the history of New York hip-hop and a brief autobiography of Big, how he goes from “a common thief to up close and personal with Robin Leach.”

It also came to my attention recently while listening to the song that the lavish lifestyle he brags about isn’t really all that lavish — certainly not anymore, given our advancements in technology. The life he live is more middle class to upper middle class than the Gilded Age boasted by Kanye and Jay-Z in “Watch The Throne.”

Because this is The Brewhouse and we tend to do awesome, pointless things I decided to see what it would actually cost to live like Big. Here’s a financial breakdown of the “Juicy” lifestyle. Continue reading

My Dark, Twisted, Beautiful Work Mix

A long time ago in yuppie years, I sat in a coffee shop in Dallas, uninspired on a Friday afternoon to complete something or anything that could be considered productive. In moments like this, I reach. I try to read something to pump me up, maybe an example of really good writing or something that just makes me laugh. Or I turn to music, which Brew House colleague Rustin Dodd once-termed a performance enhancing drug for getting work done.

So on this day I set out to create an HGH-Winstrol infused cocktail of music on YouTube, and I termed it “Work Mix.” I remember jamming out to this particular batch of about 20 songs off and on and then I kind of forgot about it. Until today. For some reason I was on my YouTube account and came across the prestigious “Work Mix.”

And holy shit, I wonder what kind of drugs I was on, performance-enhancing or otherwise, that day. This mix is the worst/best collection of songs ever compiled. And I’m now in the second go-round of listening to them thing from beginning to end. And now I am going to share it. The greatest/most eclectic/this guy is huge weirdo/is there seriously a Miranda Cosgrove song on here?/ performance-enhancing work mix ever concocted. Continue reading

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Music and 2012


I hate many things about year-end lists. For one, I hate the phrase you see when you encounter a list —  “It’s that time of the year” — which is really code for “OK, here’s a list because we need to provide something to click on while everybody goes on a two-week holiday bender of eggnog and Christmas cookies.”

But I also love many things about these lists. Sure, they’re gimmicky and lazy. But they’re also important. Life is fast, and hard, and busy. And sometimes, we need people to remind us what happened. I have been doing this list here for a couple years now. And I’ll go ahead and recycle what I wrote last year. Sure, it’s lazy. But then again, so are lists.

When I think back to (2012), I know I won’t think of one monolithic theme or narrative. Life doesn’t work that way. Not for me. But I will remember certain moments… and certain songs. So here we go, finally, the 12 songs I will remember from 2012.

12 Civilian — Wye Oak


11 Same Love — Macklemore and Ryan Lewis


10 Swimming Pools — Kendrick Lamar


9 Hold On — Alabama Shakes


8 The House That Heaven Built — Japandroids


7 Take A Walk — Passion Pit


6 Ghost Fields — Murder By Death


5 Live and Die — The Avett Brothers


4 We Take Care of Our Own — Bruce Springsteen


3 Harlem Roulette — Mountain Goats


2 Bigger Than Love — Ben Gibbard & Aimee Mann


1 The King of the World — First Aid Kit

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On Internet fame, authenticity and Mac Lethal


His name is Mac Lethal, a rapper. He writes fast little rhymes. He posts them on YouTube. Sometimes, they go viral.

It happened again this week.

On Tuesday, Mac Lethal published his latest creation, a video titled “Oh My  God! You Need To See This!” (Or at least, I think it was titled that for a while. And then I guess it changed.) It (was) a fantastic title, especially for a video that, presumably, was made to go viral. But the content of the video isn’t all that important. In this case, this was a screed rap against the lunacy of the Westboro Baptist Church, an emotional outburst of words and beats in the wake of the wounds of Newtown, Conn.

But this post isn’t really about Lethal’s latest video, in and of itself. This is more about Lethal, or what he represents, or what talent and ambition represent in today’s free-store culture. I’ll pause to note that these thoughts are incomplete, these ideas bloggy and undeveloped.

But let’s start with Lethal. He is a Kansas City native. Put out a few albums. Raps about the Royals. A year ago, he was living in a somewhat crappy apartment in Overland Park. The kind of place any late 20-something would live.

And for me, this all makes him interesting. He’s been around the KC rap game for years, showing up at shows in Lawrence, hosting shows on the radio, playing a cultural character in a Midwest city with too few of them.

He is not famous. No, not in that way. But if you live in Kansas City, you may have HEARD of him, and you might think you should know who he is, and in this odd Internet age, that can be part of this bizarre realm of not-really-famous fame.

“Hey that’s Mac Lethal. He’s the Kansas City dude who raps insanely fast and writes sort of ironic songs. I guess I’ve heard of him”

Maybe if a Kansas City rapper would have made it big; maybe if Tech N9ne had produced a best-selling, top-40 single, the environment would be different. Not better, mind you; but different.

Last fall, Lethal released a YouTube video of him in a kitchen, spitting out some of the fastest lines you’ve ever heard, an ironically goofy cover (at least, that’s the way I took it) of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now”.

The fact that this YouTube video now has more than 27 million views is important to our overall thesis here. But it is, perhaps, just as interesting (although maybe not all that important) that Lethal could gain such click-ified success by rapping lines like: “Gotta butter up another one, and put it  on the skillet, another couple minutes until it’s done-done / ain’t nobody fucking with this kid, so tell Jerry Sandusky I’m gonna kill him with a stun gun.”

But all this Internet fame, all this viral success, all this bizarre creation of art, well… it leads to few questions.

What do you do after you create a video with 27 million views… and then go viral again? And has Mac Lethal passed a threshold … an invisible barrier of internet fame, never to return again? I guess what I’m saying is this: If Mac Lethal has ambitions, dreams about being an artist who supports himself on his work… does becoming an Internet sensation hinder this pursuit?

Part of Lethal’s appeal, part of what makes him unique, is how home-made it all feels. He creates a beat on his iPhone, he sits on his couch, he spits out a perfect rhyme on the “first” take, and then he turns the camera off. This is not Rebecca Black, we’re told, or some methodically planned lip-dub proposal; this is hip-hop in its purest form.

And it’s quite brilliant, in its own little way. But here’s the question: When you get 27 million views while rapping about flapjacks, can you maintain authenticity?


Seattle is a music city. This is the rep, anyway. For years, a young rapper named Ben Haggerty plowed away in the local hip-hop scene. He performed at local shows, appeared at Seattle sporting events, and earned thousands of clicks on YouTube.

He was not famous. But he was notable. A white rapper from Seattle with a little bit of talent. If you asked people around  the Seattle scene, they might say something like… “Yea, I’ve sort of heard of him.”

But how does somebody like this break through?

Earlier this year, Haggerty released a song called “Same Love”. It was a serious song about serious stuff.

Within a few weeks, it viral. A few weeks later, it went to No. 1 on iTunes.  At some point during all this, Haggerty performed on the Ellen Show with his producer, Ryan Lewis.

She introduced him as her hero: His name is Macklemore, a rapper.

I thought off Macklemore the other day when I watched Mac Lethal’s latest creation. Maybe it was the similar names. Or the thought of two underground musicians taking on an admirable, emotional issue.

And then I scrolled through the “About” section on Mac Lethal’s Westboro rap.

It had the lyrics, and some info on Lethal’s facebook and twitter pages. And then it had this  message:

“Please send this to Ellen Degeneres ASAP!!!!”

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The Apocalypse by Hip-Hop

So the world might end later this week. If civilization does go all Cormac McCarthy on us, I think I owe a beer to Nas, a spliff to Busta Rhymes and whatever the thinking-man’s drug is to Chuck D. Now, I won’t actually be able to make good on this promise on December 21. I mean, I’ll be dead, probably roasted by nuclear lasers, and I don’t personally know any of these musicians. It just feels like I do. Their apocalyptic thoughts and predictions have been swirling around my head for way too damn long.

Yes, it’s true. Hip-hop musicians actually do have something in common with Glenn Beck: They preach apocalyptic messages all the freaking time. Continue reading

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Unsolicited Endorsements IXX

Album: Big Boi — “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors”

I’ve always been an Andre 3000 guy. When Outkast kinda-sorta split up to create Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003), you had to choose a favorite. At the time, I was partial to Andre’s mix of soul, rock and hip-hop.
Since Outkast’s last project dropped in 2006, Andre has lent his vocals and production skills to a collection of strong singles and become the immaculately groomed face of Gillette razors. Big Boi has used that six-year stretch to author two solo albums: 2010’s very good Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty and this week’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. Continue reading
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Tilly and The Wall

The other night, on a Sunday in Lawrence, I walked down the street and watched the band, Tilly and the Wall, perform at a place called the Jackpot Saloon.

This was surprising for a few reasons, namely that I didn’t know that Tilly and the Wall was still a thing. So, yes, that would have to rate as the most surprising aspect of the night. A little background: When I was in college, I worked for the student radio station at KU, KJHK, perhaps the most hipster thing in a really fucking hipster town.

I was on the sports staff, mostly doing play-by-play for KU basketball games, and occasionally going to staff meetings that looked like the editorial staff at VICE went to a bar in Greenpoint and the whole thing exploded into one mess of scarves and glasses and plaid shirts from the 1970s.

Continue reading

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