On The Road: Newport, RI

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This weekend, Tactile Tracks hits the road to scenic Newport, Rhode Island, for the 2014 incarnation of the venerable Newport Folk Festival. One of the longest-running (and most well-run) festivals in the United States, Newport Folk manages to deliver outstanding lineups, particularly for a festival which caps tickets at around 10,000 per day. This year’s (oddly and impressively diverse for a festival with “folk” right in the title) lineup features semi-recluse Ryan Adams, Jack “Party of the Century” White, pretty much the entire Third Man Records roster (including sets from John C. Reilly, the Haden Triplets and Pokey LaFarge), reggae giant Jimmy Cliff, Grateful Dead scribe and genuine American treasure Robert Hunter, a reunited Nickel Creek, Puss N Boots (aka the new country-ish group featuring Norah Jones, Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson but which pretty much everyone just refers to as “that new Norah Jones group,” which is unfortunate but kinda true), Jenny Lewis, Sun Kil Moon, Band of Horses, Reignwolf, Kurt Vile & the Violators, Jeff Tweedy, and then like dozens more including Deer Tick who are there every single year because Rhode Island.

If you made it through that monstrosity of a run-on sentence, feel free to follow us on Twitter (@TactileTracks) for sporadic updates and musings as the weekend progresses. Or not, who knows, we’re not so great at the Twitter and that seems like a lot of effort. Check back on Monday for photographs and our review of the festivities, which may just wind up being a long-form essay about all the great waves we caught at Second Beach, and how many oysters we ate at Benjamin’s.

Cheers folks. Enjoy your weekends.

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2014, In Progress

Well here we are, 2014 is more than half over, and we’ve been flat-out lazy thus far in our coverage and content.  Mea culpa.  In an attempt to kickstart our coverage for the rest of the year, four Tactile Tracks staff writers provide their thoughts on the year thus far.

Enjoy.

Tim Fenton

Ten Semi-Random Thoughts on the Year in Music Thus Far:

  1. My top ten albums of the first half are, in alphabetical order by artist, Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots; The Antlers, Familiars; Bear In Heaven, Time Is Over One Day Old; Behemoth, the Satanist; S. Carey, Range of Light; Duck Sauce, Quack; the Flashbulb, Nothing Is Real; Jungle, Jungle; Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun; and Warpaint, Warpaint.
  2. My top fourteen songs of the first half are, in alphabetical order by artist, “Autumn,” Bear In Heaven; “Himalayan,” Band of Skulls; “Unicorn,” Basement Jaxx; “Magic,” Coldplay; “0 to 100,” Drake; “Move That Dope,” Future feat. Pusha T and Pharrell, “An Introduction to the Album,” the Hotelier; “All Under One Roof Raving,” Jamie xx; “Girl,” Jamie xx; “Remurdered,” Mogwai; “Ascii Bot,” Percussions; “Do It Again,” Robyn & Royksopp; “Artifice,” SOHN; and “Disco//Very,” Warpaint.
  3. It took me a lot of work to get those lists together, and not because I was overwhelmed by too many worthy choices. This has been a boring year thus far, just a complete and utter paucity of new and exciting sounds. Right now I don’t think a record has even come close to matching Warpaint as my favorite album this year, though both Bear In Heaven and Jungle are making solid efforts for the top spot.
  4. If we’re being honest, I’m much more excited about the slate of releases still to come in the second half of the year than I am for almost anything already in rotation. Caribou, Basement Jaxx, Opeth, Pallbearer, Spoon, the New Pornographers, Rustie, FaltyDL, the Underachievers, Tricky, Banks, Simian Mobile Disco, Raekwon, Alt-J, Cam’ron/A-Trak, the Cool Kids, Jamie xx…that’s a murderers row right there, and my fingers are crossed that they deliver.
  5. Speaking of Jamie xx, his singles released this year (“All Under One Roof Raving,” “Girl” and “Sleep Sound” have catapulted him into the ranks of my favorite active musicians. Just a series of extraordinary steps forward which find him opening up his already considerable pallet to include new, yet familiar sounds.
  6. This has been the worst year for hip-hop that I can recall in a long, long time. Just flat out awful.  I’m getting angry, let’s just move on.
  7. Mastodon is (rightfully) getting press for their magnificent new album (don’t say I didn’t warn you), but I have a sneaking feeling that at the end of the year, the “token-metal-album-which-non-metal-fans-will-pretend-to-love” (aka the Deafheaven award) will wind up being Behemoth’s The Satanist, a crushing, monstrous record which is somehow also impossibly catchy.
  8. Several albums cited as early critical darlings have left me cold. Chief among these is The War On DrugsLost In The Dream, a limp, languid album which sounds like early-70’s Dylan singing lead for Dire Straits. It’s not a terrible album, but I feel as if it’s terrifically overrated. (See also, Future Islands.)
  9. Can people stop giving Drake top-flight beats and production, so I can go back to hating him unconditionally? That would be awesome.
  10. Finally, I need to give a plug to Nothing Is Real, the newest release from producer Benn Jordan which has flown completely under the radar. Recording as the Flashbulb, Jordan has created yet another cinematically extravagant and atmospheric record which ranks among the finest front-to-back albums of the year. This is not an album full of singles, it’s a uniquely engrossing listening experience which deserves to be heard in full.

Brendan Flanagan

If 2013 was supposed to be a reawakening of hip-hop, a ceremonial torch-passing of sorts, then 2014 was the industry collectively going back to sleep. For a genre that’s lived at the heart of popular and modern music for over two decades, that has been the bass line that the rest of the industry marched to, it feels empty this year. It’s not for lack of releases, my Spotify has been ripping through middling hip-hop all year desperately seeking something to put a stranglehold on my headphones for a few weeks. But here we are, entering the middle of July and there are a mere handful of albums even worth mentioning. Piñata, the joint project between Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, is the leader of the class, and it’s not even close. In a year dripping in mediocrity, Piñata is a refreshing, classic hip-hop album. I could write 1,000 words on the four-song run from “Shitsville” to “Uno,” or pop in the instrumentals album and just bask in Madlib’s brilliance. But from there it’s an uneasy tip-toe through a minefield of abominations to the genre.

While there are some quality projects to be found along the lines of Oxymoron, Good To Be Home and Mastermind, these get lost in a sea of underwhelming and lifeless material. This could simply be a microcosm of what is an overall slow year in music, one that could be balanced out with strong second-half releases (and there are potentially a ton), but the get-off has been less than inspiring, to say the least. I just don’t see what others are seeing with acts like the homeless man’s Kendrick (Isaiah Rashad) or TDE’s resident art-school hipster (Ab-Soul). I refuse to consider Pharrell anything other than pop music and the Roots really don’t deserve to be pegged as a hip-hop act anymore, either. I really wish Young Money would stop sizzupring or whatever the fuck it is that has them all sounding like drunk little kids screaming random gibberish into a mic. I Honestly want Future to stop being hyped like he’s the second coming of Three Stacks and recognized as the mediocre, boring, unimaginative rapper that he is. Anyone who legitimately enjoys Riff Raff as something other than comedy needs to be pushed out to sea on an ice float. And if you put Die Antwoord on any list of “bests” please do the rest of us a favor and go play in traffic during rush hour.

Top 5 albums of 2014 (so far):
1. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
2. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
3. Future Islands – Singles
4. Cloud NothingsHere and Nowhere Else
5. Duck SauceQuack

Dan Goshorn

Maybe it’s the summer talking, but when I look back on 2014 today all I see are pop hits. Robyn & Royksopp’s club/running mix anthem “Do It Again” slots in among their best ever, while Nile Rodgers’ “Do What You Wanna Do,” an actual anthem for the International Music Summit, is a disco hit that more than absolves Rodgers of the sin of working with Avicii. Meanwhile, Beyonce’s self-titled album, although technically from 2013, is producing a seemingly endless stream of 2014 hits like “XO,” “Drunk in Love,” and “Partition,” while adding some refreshing depth and variety to her catalog. It also helps that the accompanying tours by Robyn & Royksopp and Beyonce & Jay-Z are a bright spot in a generally ho-hum year for live music.

The year to date has also brought a few exciting pop breakthroughs from Ariana Grande, Sia, and Sam Smith. This week, Grande followed up this winter’s promising “Problems” with what will no doubt be the pop-EDM song of the year, “Break Free.” Sia and Sam Smith both demonstrate their refreshing vocal chops with “Chandelier” and “Stay With Me,” the latter being so popular it has given new life (and Top-40 airplay!) to Smith’s 2012 single with Disclosure, “Latch.”

But, despite my love for 2014’s pop music, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge we’re on the verge of a guitar renaissance. Guitar-centric albums by War on Drugs, St. Vincent, Mark McGuire, and Strand of Oaks are bound to top numerous year-end lists (my own included), and the new Mastodon album is tickling the fancy of the growing numbers of metal fans. It seems clear that we’re collectively inching toward a new era of pure rock music, but in the meantime, I’ll take another listen to Todd Terje and anxiously await the new Caribou album.

Jeff Pearson

It’s interesting that Dan mentions what is seemingly becoming a sort of re-taking of music by rock and rollers as of late and his subsequent rejection of all things guitar; while Dan is selling his guitar and buying a turntable, I’ve been doing quite the opposite. The overwhelming majority of the records that have stuck with me thus far in 2014 have been those guitar-centric returns to my classic rock upbringing, basically a continuation of last year where I felt myself becoming disillusioned with the state of Big Indie and electronica.

Perhaps it’s just a bit of the remnants of a music burn-out I’ve been going through, but the things that are appealing to me the most are more and more those that feel simple and real in a way that I don’t have to think about. I don’t have to try with Mastodon, or Cloud Nothings. Behemoth make things very easy for me by appealing to that sixteen-year old who permanently resides somewhere inside me, twiddling away at pentatonic scales on his Statocaster. It’s been a massive year for rock and metal, with artists like Agalloch and Woods of Desolation peeking through the rubble of the doorways knocked down by Deafheaven’s crossover success last year. The aforementioned Behemoth, a band who has enjoyed a long tenure of critical acclaim in the metal world is now poised to shake things up on year-end lists webwide thanks to mammoth tracks like “O Father, O Satan, O Sun,” and Indian’s latest absolutely slays, garnering its own fair share of buzz.

As the year progresses, it doesn’t look like metal’s grip will be loosened in the slightest; fellow Arkansas boys Pallbearer are sure to stun with their sophomore LP — if the ten-minute “Ghost I Used to Be” is any indication, which it likely is; Judas Priest is coming stateside; Earth is coming out of hiding. If anything, I’m just thrilled that guitar is becoming cool again, even on a personal level.

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True Detective Season One Finale: “The Light’s Winning”

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Nic Pizzolatto, the breakout writer and showrunner behind HBO’s character-study-masquerading-as-cop-drama True Detective, has been adamant in interviews that Detective is not a show as interested in serial killers or grand conspiracies as it is in telling the story of its two central characters, Rust Cohle (portrayed brilliantly by Matthew McConaughey 2.0) and Marty Hart (portrayed just as brilliantly by Woody Harrelson). Certainly, the underlying themes of TD—chief among them being Pizzolatto’s obsession with down-south mysticism—inform the story of these two, but the chief concern has always been the psyches of our two captivating leads. When viewed through that lens—that of a character study—, it’s clear that True Detective’s season finale this past Sunday was not only captivating, thrilling television, but a complete and utter success in what it set out to do.

There was plenty of entertainment in the episode: Errol’s sexual relationship with his half-sister is chilling and almost darkly humorous in a Twin Peaks kind of way as he offers to “make flowers” with her, the scene in which Rust asks if he seems like “more of a talker or a doer” before shots are fired from a sniper in the distance evokes a pivotal scene from Breaking Bad’s finale (before he drives off with a friendly “L’chaim, fatass”), and the production design and camera work of the heart-stopping sequence in which Rust chases Errol through the woods is gorgeous and brilliant in a The-Shining-meets-Pan’s-Labyrinth kind of way (a quick side note to give credit to Cary Fukunaga for the brilliant technical work he did all season long: the color palette of this season was perfectly rendered, the camera movement was graceful and methodical, and all the extreme long shots—not to be confused with the long take at the end of episode four—of the bayou were gorgeously filmed).

But the brilliance of this finale starts with the end (time being a flat circle and all that); the last 15 minutes of the episode (everything that happens after Errol is shot in the head by Rust) are nothing short of a perfect way to end this season-long story, particularly the incredibly moving closing lines, delivered by Cohle: “If you ask me, the light’s winning.” As Pizzolatto repeatedly states in intereviews, in True Detective, the two central characters—the experiences they’ve been through and the ways in which they’ve changed over the course of a decade and a half—have always taken precedent over the identity of the Yellow King or how far and wide the Carcosa cult and Tuttle cover-up conspiracy spread. In this regard, there is a hugely important, yet relatively subtle, tonal shift that takes place in the seventh episode of the season, when Rust asks Marty about his personal life. As a viewer, the immediate reaction to this is probably one of surprise; you might even find yourself trying to formulate some ideas on what Rust’s ulterior motives might’ve been to ask Marty about his personal life. Even Marty himself comments on how much of a change this represents for Rust, as the Rust Cohle of 1995 or even (perhaps especially) the Rust Cohle of 2002 would never in a million years ask Marty (or any other co-worker for that matter) about his personal life.

Looking back on that moment now after the finale, it seems likely that after all Rust had seen and been through and lost, and after all the time he spent ruminating on that loss and that experience, he realizes that Marty is the closest thing to a friend he has in this world. What’s so beautiful about these last two episodes is how much Marty and Rust have changed over the years, and how that change has made them realize how much they really mean to each other. There are two separate moments in the finale that illustrate these changes quite poignantly.

The first is with Marty. The book on Marty, throughout the entire life of the season, has been that he’s not the best detective; that he is smart, and could be a great detective if he had a different psychological constitution, but that he all too often succumbs to his vices and lets things fall to the wayside (his family, his smarts, his temper). Marty’s always had the potential to be a great detective, though, which is what makes it so poignant when he makes the breakthrough in the case—the green paint on the house—, noticing a detail so obscure that even Super Detective Rust Cohle can’t muster up anything to say other than, “Fuuuuuuck you.” Marty ends up doing detective work that even Cohle can only stand and admire, detective work that 1995 Marty wouldn’t have or couldn’t have done.

The second is with Rust. This one’s fairly obvious. The show had been gradually building to big changes in Rust’s character over the last two episodes, and the final scene perfectly shows the viewer how those changes were cemented in Rust. Here’s a man who has spent a decade and a half believing that everything is meaningless, that human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution, that time is a flat circle…then that man nearly dies and he feels the warmth of God and the presence of his dead daughter and father in a near-death experience. This might not work so well if the viewer wasn’t already seeing changes in Rust in the way he deals with and talks to Marty, but when he breaks down crying, it’s not because he’s been wrong about everything he’s ever believed. He breaks down crying because it’s all about the grief he feels over his dead daughter, and it’s always been about that grief. What’s been buried under Rust’s nihilism for a long, long time is his deep, deep love for his daughter; the nihilism is just a coping mechanism, and it takes going to the brink of death for Rust to realize that his love for his daughter was what permutated everything for him. The things Rust has been through, including nearly dying, are liable to change a man, and I think they certainly changed Rust, which makes it devastatingly beautiful when Rust argues to Marty that “the light’s winning.” Compare that with the nihilistic grandstanding Rust engages in in the first episode; here’s a display of unfiltered optimism from a character who has been loudly, stubbornly, vehemently nihilistic for a long, long time.

This change that Rust goes through–along with the aforementioned changes Marty goes through from episode one to the finale–, finally realizing that the important people in his life like Marty and his dead daughter are why life matters, ARE the arc of True Detective. The greatest accomplishment of this show’s instant-classic of a first season is the portrayal of Rust Cohle’s journey from cold-hearded nihilist to a man who can’t help but nod at the interconnectedness of humanity, that we live this life for the ones we love. This show is and always has been about these two characters, and if the vast ideological and personal changes these two men go through, their going through hell and back to realize how damn important they are to each other and how much they love each other…if that’s not satisfying enough, if that’s not enough of a “twist,” well then you were just watching the show the wrong damn way. It may’ve been more satisfying to the part in all of us that craves clean resolution to see Rust and Marty take down the Tuttles and pull the curtain back on the entire cult and resulting cover-up, but as Marty eloquently says to Rust in the hospital: “We ain’t gonna get ‘em all. That ain’t what kind of world this is. But we got ours.” So did we.

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This Week In Bleep-Bloops: 2/3/14

Actress, UK producer Darren Cunningham, rarely does interviews, seemingly more comfortable laying in the shadows just outside notice. His reticence with reporters is somewhere in between Burial’s total reclusiveness and Zomby’s twitter brusqueness. However Cunningham did step out to give some context for his new record, Ghettoville, in an interview with Pitchfork this week, “I wanted this record to sound brittle, as if you were an addict and you feel like the world is crumbling around you.” The early word on Ghettoville was that it was a sequel to his first record, 2008’s Hazyville, but whereas that record sounded fully formed, Ghettoville is falling apart, it’s edges less defined, blurring from one sketch into the next. I’ve been listening to this walking around lately, insulated by layers of cloth and sonics, the lurching dub-techno of “Grey Over Blue” and “Skyline” matching the moon terrain of my own frozen city. There’s a certain beauty to the determined ugliness of Actress’ palette that fits this winter’s failure to thaw, a kinship in brutality. Actress has stated Ghettoville will be his last record; and while he certainly could be taking the piss, it sounds like the collapse of something.

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Recap: 2014 Grammy Awards Live Blog

Update 2: We’ve finished our live blog, but you can still read all our witty insights right here.  Start from the bottom and work your way up!

Update: We’ve started our 2014 Grammy live blog.  Follow our commentary from the bottom up, as we discuss what’s in store for tonight and recap the pre-awards.

 

This Sunday, Jan. 26, please join Tom Lundregan and I at Tactile Tracks as we provide live coverage of the 2014 Grammy Awards. Our amateur commentary will begin at 7:30 pm ET with a half-hour recap of the nominations (and a little red carpet gawking). This year’s awards telecast, beginning at 8 pm on CBS, will feature nearly a dozen performances including: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr; Daft Punk with Nile Rodgers; Robin Thicke and Chicago (seriously); Katy Perry; and will conclude with a collaboration by Nine Inch Nails, Queens Of The Stone Age, Dave Grohl, and Lindsey Buckingham. Also, Lorde will probably battle a dragon or something.

In between performances, Tom and I will breakdown this year’s award snubs and surprises. Can Daft Punk upset Macklemore for Album of Year? Why was Justin Timberlake shut out of the major award nominations? Will Lorde win multiple Grammys but not the award for Best New Artist? How many of my predictions did I get correct? And why on earth was “Roar” nominated for anything?

Let’s find out together, shall we?

For nominee information, check out Grammy.com/nominees

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Hip-Hop Time Capsule

Hip-Hop Time Capsule

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he main criticism I’ve seen of A$AP Rocky’s “Fashion Killa” is the lack of “true” lyrical dexterity; the blossoming Harlem superstar is essentially name-dropping designers in a possible attempt to fill out his closet. Critical purists insist that hip-hop must mean something significant, culturally, but for some reason tend to discredit artists referencing the culture that they represent. So to some critics, Rocky’s laundry list (no pun intended) of designers isn’t to be taken as serious art.  However, the very next track on his breakout album, “Phoenix,” has lines that chronicle the struggles his family faced growing up.  These lyrics admittedly paint a more vivid picture of who he is as an artist, and consequently “Phoenix”doesn’t get the backlash of “Fashion Killa.” This is a problem in the hip-hop world, because while a rapper building up his or her personal mythos is important in telling the listener who they are, the cultural mile-markers that references laden in the lyrics represent are important in telling the listener who we are.

What Rocky is doing isn’t new. In fact, the concept of encapsulating American culture through hip-hop lyrics goes all the way back to its roots; in 1979, The Fatback Band referenced Burger King in what is considered by many to be the first hip-hop single (“King Tim III”) while the Sugar Hill Gang were touting their Lincoln and Cadillac town cars and Holiday Inn in “Rapper’s Delight.” These are all things that we still can choose to enjoy thirty-five years later, and the motivation of those emcees was probably far from providing future listeners with a cultural time-capsule of sorts in the first place, but that tangential benefit is hard to ignore. While some parts of American culture withstand generational gaps, the anachronisms in the lyrics capture the nuances of a particular time more than anything else. As we look back at the history of hip-hop, we can find interesting common threads that provide snapshots of trends, cultural events, and what life was like around the time of the songs’ releases. For that reason, the life of America that is forever preserved inside of hip-hop lyrics is as important of a cultural history lesson as any.

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The Problem With Being Critical

Deerhunter is possibly my favorite rock and roll band currently working today.  Every time I’ve seen them I’ve been filled with a complete sense of awe at how they can recreate the joy, confusion, mystery and anarchy of both their albums and the best rock and roll on stage while projecting their own unique personality.  I’ve seen Bradford Cox wear a dress and spit blood, drone on a chord for 4+ minutes and be the most charismatic front man you could ever ask for.  The real reason that I’m so inspired by the band, however, is that they write great music that consistently connects with me at a very deep and human level.  So, when I listened to Monomania for the first time and was left a bit cold, I was shocked.  “Where,” I wondered, “is that mysterious sense of space, the ennui embedded into what could otherwise be a ’50s pop song?  Where is that special Deerhunter punch I’m so used to?”

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The Year In Review: Honorable Mentions Of 2013

For all the music that we were able to cover over the past week, there are still so many things that we haven’t touched on. We want our year-end coverage to be as thorough as possible, so we decided to leave you with one last look at what really loved this year. Each staff member has such different listening habits that, though the top 100 tracks list and top 50 albums list are indicative of our commonalities, so many of our individual favorites got left out in the cold when those lists were compiled.

We hope to leave you for the year with a look at 2013 through more personal lenses, as we take you through the records and songs that didn’t make the big lists and important musical moments that affected us as individuals this year. We wholeheartedly thank you for sticking around through a late-year lull in coverage, and we are devoting ourselves to putting forth quality content on a more consistent basis in 2014. We hope you have enjoyed our end-of-the-year coverage of the music world, and look forward to guiding you through another.

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The Year In Review: Top 50 Albums Of 2013

Top 50 Albums Of 2013

We understand that by this point in the year, you have probably seen just about every solid-to-great record pop up on some sort of year-end list. We also understand that December can be tiring as social media surges with hundreds of reasons why this list is wrong, or that site is idiotic. Furthermore, we understand all too well that the list you see below doesn’t really matter in pretty much any sense. But we want you to understand that we don’t care. We love making it. It’s flawed, your favorite band might not be on it, but it’s a representation of what our staff loved this year, and we had fun putting it together.

A blog-wide top fifty albums list always seems to come to you as if descended down from the HTML that makes up the blog itself, with no real explanation of how this group of albums seems to have become ordered in this very particular way, so we like to try to provide you with a little background as to how the ballots fell in line and why things are the way they are. Each staff member who submits a year-end ballot has their list considered with equal weight, with their top three records more heavily weighted than the rest. Any time an album is listed by another staffer, that album sees its score grow more weighted as well. Everything below is listed from records that received the most “points” to those who received the fewest. Pretty simple, and fair.

Some of the lists in years past have seen cases where not a single album was unanimously voted into every staff member’s top fifty, but that is not the case this year, despite the fact that there were a total of 214 albums submitted. Actually, the #1 and #2 records both were unanimously chosen, with our #1 record appearing in the top ten on 9 of 10 lists. Every record you see below was voted at least three times by our ten voters, and there were actually (sadly) records that voters had as their personal #1 that didn’t make the overall cut. There was a lot of lobbying, ridicule, guilting one another into including records, but this is where we ultimately stand at year’s end. There isn’t a lot of science behind this; these are simply our favorite fifty records, as a staff.

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