WPTS Decade Superlative Extravaganza
Are you glum from the culmination of the seemingly endless stream of end-of-decade content of yesteryear’s late fall months? Or, are you absolutely livid that Uncut Gems (Daniel Lopatin included) was completely snubbed of any mention on this week’s Oscar nominations? Perhaps you are just having a bad day because the zipper broke on that jacket you just got at the secondhand store. Well, since we here at WPTS have been “takin’ ‘er easy” and didn’t even notice the decade changed, we’ve got a treat for you! A warm palm to hold, a tender embrace, a new scarf with “I’m sorry about your jacket” embroidered on it? Nay, MORE END OF DECADE CONTENT!!!!! Here are eight superlatives that the music staff at WPTS voted on, with some mini-essays on the winner of each. Happy 2020!
Guilty pleasures, we’ve all got em. Whether it’s ice cream or eating peanut butter straight from the jar, we all deserve to indulge every once in a while. Here at WPTS, we pride ourselves in providing you with the freshest emerging artists and groundbreaking music, but we all enjoy a little pop music, as a treat, whenever we get the hankering. Here are some of our favorites of the decade.
HARRY STYLES – HARRY STYLES
Guilty pleasure has never felt less guilty. Harry Styles’ debut album is everything I could have hoped for and more from the former One Direction heartthrob, aka the man of my dreams. I absolutely adore Harry Styles; he melts my heart. He is my man crush Monday forever and always. Every time I think there is no possible way I could love him more, he makes it happen, whether it be with his lovable smile, his unique style, or his charming voice. Harry was always my favorite member of 1D, and this album explains why perfectly. Harry lets the world see a different side of himself on his eponymous debut, taking rock and roll and making it his own. He puts so much of his lovable and charismatic persona into the music; you can feel the passion, energy, and emotion in every lyric. His voice is like honey running over the guitars and drums: raw and sweet. His voice is the most powerful part of the music for me, as he is an incredibly talented singer, and now that he is on his own, he doesn’t have to hold back or share the spotlight with anyone. This album is like a first real look into who Harry Styles is, and who he wants to be as an artist.
Harry Styles is an intoxicating, honest, flirtatious, emotional album that takes you on a journey through Harry’s mind while showcasing his undeniable talent and swagger. Harry embraces rock with confidence, adding yells, howls, and other flares of personality into the music like he owns the genre. Songs like “Kiwi” and “Carolina” make me feel like a hashtag dangerous woman, with lyrics like “I think she said ‘I’m having your baby, it’s none of your business’” and “gets into parties without invitations, how could you ever turn her down? There’s not a drink that I think could sink her”. With the one and only Harry Styles shout-singing those lyrics into your ears, it’s quite easy to start to feel like a bit of a badass. Like you’re right, it IS none of your business. And really, there’s not a drink in the world that could sink me; you should see how much water I drink in a day. If I was going to be sunk by a drink, it would have happened by now.
Those feelings of badassery quickly turn to those of innocence after one of my favorite tracks on the album, “Sweet Creature.” This song feels like driving down the backroads of my hometown on a summer evening. Harry sings, “wherever I go, you bring me home”; and that’s what this song does: its acoustic guitar and beautiful melody truly bring me home. His voice is soft and sweet, like a nice summer breeze.
“Meet Me in the Hallway” and “Sign of the Times” are the first two tracks on the album, giving it quite the emotional start. “Meet Me in the Hallway” is a slow, heavy song about pain and hurt that Harry experienced. The song is relatable to anyone who has ever gone through a tough time, evoking tangible feelings of being lost and alone. Listening to the song leaves me close to tears, and then “Sign of the Times” rolls along and seals the deal. “Sign of the Times,” the most popular song on the album, is nothing short of beautiful. Harry packs so much emotion into this ballad, breaking my heart with each word. I can’t help but give in to my emotions when I listen to this song, belting the lyrics while ignoring the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes. Harry perfectly captures so many feelings that I could never find the words to express in this song, and I will always shamelessly love it, and the rest of the album. —Sarah Worthington
Pittsburgh. The city that never stops releasing unforgettable music. You’ve heard of the Big Apple, but have you heard what the city of 446 bridges is made of?
JACK STAUBER – POP FOOD
My favorite moments are the ones that feel like dreaming awake, where experience becomes a blurred assemblage of warm and wistful nonsensicality. Sight is said to be the most magical of the senses, like a mirage in the desert, but I find true magic in sound. If you close your eyes and listen, give your mind over to music, whole
worlds open up. Pop Food is no stranger to this magicality, born from the teeming interiority of Jack Stauber, creator of clay wonder, curious animation, and musical experience.
Pop Food is a 36 minute road tripped daydream, it is looking into the mirror and seeing yourself five years old, backpack larger than your body stuffed with instruments and candy bars, tin cans and playing cards, plus a few overdue library books.
The album feels like bobbing water, soft and strange and slightly electric, marginally misplaced and yet still familiar—like watching a movie you haven’t seen since you were a child. And just like Jack Stauber’s visuals, his music introduces us to a cast of characters except we have part in their creation, a picture birthed from sound
and our own imaginations.
We’re going for a drive, it’s nearly a whisper.
All at once you’re riding passenger in a silver 2004 Subaru Forester coasting above the sea, surrealist daydream with whispered electronic score.
They’re having a dinner party
out of the passenger side window they’re there, compressed around a small wooden table only slightly submerged in the nodding water:
Cat that only speaks in opera.
The man who sleeps in a suit and tie.
A robot who can’t stop dancing.
And then “Koi Boy” starts to play and we’re really moving into dreamland.
He wants you to come,
Koi Boy kicks out the chair for you, a warm invitation. You go, because you love love and because Koi is an answer in every crossword you’ve ever done. Plus, you love to be a part of things.
Your five year old self parks the car and on top of the water everyone is dancing like it’s an episode of Scooby Doo, and the robot turns into a disco ball and the landlords won’t stop laughing about the candy bars, and this imaginative world is both novel and nostalgic.
I can’t tell you where we’re going but we’ve been here before.
At the close of the album, “Candy Eyes” in another whisper,
I’m gonna do this real quiet because I think you’re sleeping—
curtains closing, sun rising, I think we’re waking up.
This is an album that doesn’t need to make sense,
it’s an ode to the fun we’ve had
and the fun we’re having.
There are moments that feel like coming into existence, moments where the sun seems to pass through you. Pop Food is a fantasia of welcoming absurdity steeped in childlike wonder; it is silly and imaginative, comical and dreamlike, and it is full of little and living moments. —Eden Petri
MOST LIKELY TO BECOME PRESIDENT
This category, the Most Likely to Become President superlative, is devoted to an album that has big plans. A likely president should present novel musical ideas, yet with widespread appeal. At WPTS, us music staffers often find ourselves rooting for albums for various reasons, and if you’ve ever found yourself rooting for an album too, you might’ve been listening to a great candidate for class president. So without further ado, WPTS’s formal endorsement…
BLOOD ORANGE – NEGRO SWAN
Blood Orange, or Devonte Hynes, has always been ambitious in his musical technique whether it be as a solo act, composer, or instrumentalist. Dev Hynes original stage name was Lightspeed Champion and he had a country, bluesy, rock vibe for his first 2 studio albums, Falling off the Lavender Bridge and Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You. Even before he was Lightspeed Champion he played guitar, synth and occasional vocals for the early 2000s punk rock band Test Icicles. Hynes has clearly had his fair share of musical experiences, and just when you think you have figured him out he throws another change up. Blood Orange refuses to let one thing define him and that is showcased in the beauty that is Negro Swan, enfusing themes of doubt and sexuality with a bold message of embracing identity and black pride.
Negro Swan is the epitome of Dev Hynes’ rising talent, amounting to one of the most ambitious neo-soul/hip-hop albums released this side of D’Angelo. The subtle, rock instrumentals of his debut, Coastal Grooves, combine with the electronic synth and vocals of Freetown Sound and Cupid Deluxe to create the masterpiece that is Negro Swan. It almost seems as if Dev Hynes was waiting his whole life to create Negro Swan, culminating the textures and themes of his entire career into a breathtaking, cohesive whole. Negro Swan implements a new spectrum of jazz with electronics, that is soothing yet immediately penetrating. An underlying gospel feel envelopes this album, finding a devotional home between programmed synth melodies, thumping bass lines and Hynes’ brilliant cello work. Hynes’ fantastic production is also complemented by some amazing like-minded artists, namely A$AP Rocky, Diddy, Project Pat, Tei Shi and Steve Lacy. The album is also narrated by Janet Mock, an African American gay rights activist, adding so much heart and passion to an album already overflowing Dev Hynes’ work with Solange Knowles also shows on this album: both artists masters of utilizing spoken word sequences with conscious, ultra-modern production.
While Negro Swan is an extremely pleasant listen, it is also extremely moving, touching on mental health, family ties and self-acceptance in a way that is unique to Dev, but doubly so universal. Blood Orange has truly done it all here, creating a work of art that utilizes and expands our once known concept of black music and genre conventions. Negro Swan has taken our melancholy fantasies and our once known definition of Blood Orange and destroyed it, giving us an album we didn’t know we needed and will be talked about for years to come. —Olivia Ivatts
One of the best things about growing up over the last 10 years, music wise, is sustaining attachment to releases that were formative in our coming of age. These are the ones that continue to stick with us, hitting us with a wave of nostalgia every time. It’s a hell of a drug.
ALEX G – TRICK
I was 14 when I first listened to Trick. A backpack strap-clutching, world-fearing freshman in high school, navigating around this crazy website my older brother Dan showed me called Bandcamp. A couple days before he had shown me a song called “Gnaw”, only leading it up with “hey check this out, this guy Alex G has the same name as you.” I put these two nuggets of wisdom together and—in a moment of musical drought after relistening to the Red
Hot Chili Peppers discography for the umpteenth time—decided to type Alex G in the search bar.
One cover of the few on the page stuck out to me. An image of a dog running in the aisle of a church. The only word on it was ‘TRICK’ in big, teal text.
It was the coolest looking thing I had ever seen.
“Change” was the first song in the player at the top of the page—about as fitting as you could get considering I was, at the time, sitting in a corner of the locker room during my first month of school by myself during one of my free periods. As a kid who idolized grandiose big-studio rock groups, I sat in that locker room and listened through an album of one guy making songs that sounded like they were ripped straight from an old copy of GarageBand.
Alex G is far from the most technically impressive singer or guitarist. And I think even Alex G knows this. Even on an album that is wholly his own, he never feels like the star of the show. Each of the songs is made more endearing because of this; the songs he writes are a canvas to share in the emotion he puts forward. They’re also all bangers.
“Advice” is exactly what is advertised by the title, “People” expresses the desire of wanting to do more and be more, “Animals” shares the familiar moments where it’s easier to talk to your dog than it is to your friends. “Kute” may be an exception to this thematic assortment, but it’s proof that Alex G is the only one who can write tracks like Alex G.
Trick became the backing track to most of my freshman year of high school and beyond, as I’m sure it did for countless other people who discovered this album. It’s a confounding assortment of tracks that expands on little slices of life that everyone can resonate with. From its opening track “Memory”, about sitting around and waiting for drugs, to the bittersweet conversation with a friend on the track “Change”, it captures the essence of what do-it yourself music should be. Anyone could technically do what Alex G did on Trick—we all know what he’s talking about, it’s a mutual feeling we can all share in. Even now, Trick feels like talking to an old friend. Even if I step away from it for months, it’ll still hold the same familiar feeling I can lose myself in. —Alex Gosek
Nearly everyone’s been scared by an album before! Maybe us weirdos in niche music communities chase those frightening memories night after night, tirelessly searching for something to once again challenge our concept of listenability. Here are some albums that really asserted their dominance on us this decade, but we couldn’t help but come back.
JPEGMAFIA – VETERAN
JPEGMAFIA’s second album, Veteran, doesn’t waste time getting into his high energy exposé of American Culture as he turns the tables on the face of deep seated issues within American society and politics. With extensive use of erratic samples and unconventional beats, we’re immersed into this project that, while very creepy, also ends up banging. His breathless bars push through his teeth and choose as they’re delivered whether they wish to be abrasive or muted; sometimes they escape in shouts and other times they’re sparsely heard from the end of a damp cave. With its cascading beats and piercing screeches bouncing through my headphones, I can see why this album may scare people, and thus win this category. Peggy went against pretty much all norms in hip hop in 2018, both in its ear-challengingly textured production and in his unconventional deliveries and vocal choices. JPEG deliberately censors himself with samples of yells and “bleeps” in some cases, but not all the time, allowing us to parse out some elements of what he may have been trying to communicate. This way of addressing censorship is one of the many ways he pushes on norms and political culture on this album, such as with his 2018-news-headline-madlibs style adlibs, notably “Bitch I shop at Whole Foods ‘cause I’m BOUJEEEEE” and “I’m tryna give this dick to Kelly Conway.” His connection to internet culture is showcased enormously in these adlibs, using dark internet humor to mask political unrest. These songs are songs made to riot to.
I know that this album won our stockholm syndrome superlative, which is to be scary but keeps us coming back, and I think that is almost the point. It’s time to look at the scary things. This album is supposed to be offensive, and to be calling out the offensive, which isn’t seen often. It makes sense why it puts some people on edge; pointing out clear issues in such an abrasive, offensive way emphasizes the level of urgency at play, in a way that manners could never do. But the state of American politics in 2018 adds to the already unstable racial climate that’s showcased on the news daily. There’s injustice in daily American life, and people are increasingly noticing since the 2016 election. This institutional injustice that has been present for centuries is traumatizing, and Peggy has explored it before (see “I Just Killed a Cop Now I’m Horny” on his debut Black Ben Carson), but Veteran as a whole sees Peggy pointing it out in a way that simply can’t be ignored. —Margie DeSantis
CELESTIAL VISITING MUSIC
In a decade where the “death of the album” seemed to be coming every year, there were so many examples of albums that exist in a world of their own creation. Some of our favorite albums this decade play by rules they establish themselves from start to finish, plopping us inside their world for a while. Whether it’s the hazy, infinite summertime of Wildflower, the Blade Runner hellscape of We Must Become, the slow-motion lounge of Skiptracing, or the spaced out, futuristic desert of Soft Sounds, this decade saw the album transcend its tracklist to have Watchmen levels of world-building.
JAPANESE BREAKFAST – SOFT SOUNDS FROM ANOTHER PLANET
The winner of the celestial visiting superlative goes to Soft Sounds from Another Planet, an album by Japanese Breakfast. Although the name of the album makes it an almost too perfect fit, the superlative was not made for this album. It was made because we, the people, deserve to know just what album is best to zone out, relax, and feel tranquil to. At the end of one Mad Men episode, Jon Hamm’s character pours himself a cocktail, turns the last song of Revolver on, and simply relaxes. It could be argued that Revolver, an album by The Beatles, was the winner of this superlative from that decade. However, we need to determine the winner for this decade, 2010 to 2019. Sure we could always resort back to the Beatles, but we deserve something new and fresh to listen to. It would be comforting to know an album from our generation that promotes distant daydreaming and puts a smirk on our faces.
The album is not quite the drug-inducing haze of Revolver, but it is genre-bending and psychedelic. The album can be classified, but is far from limited to, indie rock. Michelle Zauner, the woman behind Japanese Breakfast, does include some tracks on the album that use effect pedals heavily and are somewhat passive sounding, however these songs also include components that aren’t commonly found within indie rock: orchestral samples, percussion, synths, a choir, and even a song that includes everything except a guitar.
The album starts out with hyper-smooth synth notes at a bpm whose speed is impossible to ignore but not too fast. Though the album is not constantly at the same bpm, the songs tend to tug at the rate of time in order to make it feel as if you are in slow motion. The album continues to show off different ways to embellish and add ornaments to a repetitive chord. The result is very spacey, tender and dreamy celestial music.
Some of Zauner’s music seems like it is recorded in an infinite space as if the sound emits from her voice and returns moments later in the song. It is some sort of ebb and flow echoing that you may not hear, but rather feel. Some of her thoughts even echo through songs as her album’s motif comes back to the forefront. She seems to be alone in this album. At the beginning she is very comfortable and fulfilled; however, after the loneliness continues throughout the album, she feels very self conscious about it and expresses more emotion.
Zauner’s life, like everyone else’s, had obstacles. She was able to overcome them, but it is impossible to forget them. Here, she shows us a beautiful outlet that we can all join in and listen to in order to escape our own obstacles. She was able to create a musical space that was so versatile, original, and extraterrestrial that WPTS believe it deserves this superlative for the 2010s. —Tom Schwaba
MOST LIKELY TO EMPTY THE TISSUE BOX
There are definitely some less elegant names for this category, but we here at WPTS tried to sum up what it’s really all about: getting out that raw energy that only a good cry can. These albums were there for us on the bad days, whether relishing in regrets from the past or just soakin’ in the dread of the future!
SUFJAN STEVENS – CARRIE & LOWELL
Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is an emotional journey that guides us through suffering and grievance in some of the most beautifully orchestrated instrumentals this decade has seen. Stevens is renowned for his music experimentalism, from his folksy albums like Michigan to his dabbles in electronic and hip hop sounds in The Age of Adz or The BQE; but in this album, Stevens exposes himself in a raw manner never before seen by his audience. This masterpiece explores grief and coping with loss following the death of his mother three years prior. Though this album’s songs on their own may not stand out among the decade’s creations, its purpose and sheer beauty reflect some of the changes this decade has undergone. Stevens’ album stands out in its lyrical composure, beauty, and its ability to embrace societal transitions.
Let’s get to the main reason this album is renowned for: the lyrics. Sufjan Stevens is one of those artists people tend to disagree in terms of genre, but everyone admits that his lyrics are a literary work in themselves. Throughout this album, there are very heavy undertones in each song due to the death of his mother, and these lyrics set that reality in hard. Their relationship already tumultuous, Stevens somehow illustrates the complexity of family and loss with an abstract sense of the personal. A singular story to Sufjan, yet somehow immediately alluring. The album begins with the song “Death with Dignity” where Stevens begins to explore his memories of his mother along with his occasional trips to Oregon:
“Somewhere in the desert there’s a forest, and an acre before us / But I don’t know where to begin … Again I lost my strength completely, oh be near me tired old mare / With the wind in your hair”
This song kicks off the album with the raw exposure to emotion you need to vibe with once in a while. If there is an original “sad boy” in this world, it is Sufjan Stevens and he will help you through it. In all seriousness, these lyrics feel very close to anyone who has coped with loss in their life, from feelings of being overwhelmed to utter disbelief. I wish I could copy-paste the words from every song on this album, but it should be appreciated as a whole, the soft emotive sounds backdropping Stevens’ words. These lyrics absolutely stand out in this album and are one of the greatest achievements in his musical career.
I want to begin this final section with a disclaimer: I am not some sociologist who can expertly evaluate the societal changes or transitions of the decade. But I do feel that there were some major changes that I have noticed, and I see these changes reflected beautifully in Carrie & Lowell. Of course this decade has seen some serious changes in technology and the music industry, with many albums being recorded on just laptops with single microphones in bedrooms. Now anyone with an iPhone and some Soundcloud knowledge can release their own music, which is why Stevens’ sounds are so unique to this time. Stevens’ recorded samples of his songs in the hotel rooms he visited in Oregon while grieving. This makes Carrie and Lowell one of the most emotionally raw albums in my opinion, and truly embraces the new mediums available to artists. Instead of sticking to the standard high quality studio, Stevens’ invites a “bedroomesque” feeling into his recordings.
Finally, Steven’s album guides the listener through his own self care and growth in a decade where mental health has become a bigger topic than ever before. He emphasizes all the struggles of loss in such a unique manner that makes feelings of confusion or depression a subject worth talking about. One of the finest ways Stevens’ addresses mental health in his album is when he sings on “The Only Thing”:
“Should I tear my eyes out now? / Everything I see returns to you somehow / Should I tear my heart out now? / Everything I feel returns to you somehow”
These lyrics are gracefully somber and address so much in so few words. As someone who personally went through a rollercoaster of emotions and events throughout the decade, these songs make me feel a little less crazy and alone. His emotional confusion completely relates to fans like myself who need reconciliation. I could go on for hours about Carrie & Lowell’s lyrical composure; however, YouTube user QueenCarrotFlowers sums it all up in her comment “Sufjan has written an album that will help people keep it together during their darkest crises.” Sufjan Stevens was able to capture raw emotion with beautiful sounds that was frankly needed by many in this decade, translating to one of the most cathartic albums of the decade. —Jasmin Al Rasheed
MOST LIKELY TO HAVE CAVITIES
Cavity: Your dentist has never been so proud to see a cavity. This album will have your dentist rethinking their entire philosophy on dental health, because anything this sugary sweet simply cannot be bad for you. If you have a sweet tooth, you are in luck, because this album puts the bubbles in gum.
KERO KERO BONITO – BONITO GENERATION
Sophomore year, while at a small party in South Oakland, a song came on that sounded like the opening theme to an anime about competitive nightclubbing. This tune, “Lipslap,” was both insanely familiar, yet felt so strange to my ears; it took everything I knew about pop music and pushed it into overdrive. I was so taken aback by the silly sound effects and how in-my-face it was, but I just couldn’t say no to the super sticky melody and that expertly crafted beat. When I listened to Bonito Generation in full the next week, I was completely floored by Kero Kero Bonito’s sheer mastery of pop music and their knack at pushing it to its absolute breaking point, threatening to wipe out every top 40 song from existence. Bonito Generation is able to be so forward thinking, not by being experimental, or heavily relying on some post-internet gimmick, but by being the most concentrated form of pop music I’ve ever heard. The writing is so pure, funny, and honest, that anyone can be impacted by these twelve songs. The melodies on this thing are criminally good; I really think this album would live up to this category’s name, that a dentist would be able to tell you listened to “Trampoline” 15 times while waiting to be probed right in your pearly whites. Listen to that song once and you’ll seriously be humming it all week. And not only that, but it’ll be the best week of your year. That’s the Bonito guarantee.
If Bonito Generation were a cappella, it would be noteworthy, sure, but the proverbial rug that ties the room together is the inventive beats from Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled. 2016 gave us a landscape shifting album in the form of Blonde; genre blending seemed to be immediately present in every corner of the music world after August 2016. However, KKB may be the Leibniz to Frank’s Newton, because this album, while unabashedly pop, draws from J Pop, hip hop, video game music, indie rock, house, not to mention the “genre” of wacky sound effects, to create the most fun album of the decade. KKB are masterminds at building complex beats with dynamic effects and insanely slick breakdowns, while making them so damn digestible and making it look way too easy. Every time I listen to it I’m drawn to a new singular effect or noise that I hadn’t thought much of before.
Again, if Bonito Generation was just insanely good beats with the catchiest of melodies, I’d probably like it quite a bit, after all isn’t that the appeal of most dancey electronic music? Yeah, KKB could make a phenomenal house album, but what makes Bonito Generation such an important pop album is Sarah Midori Perry’s skill at singing and rapping about everyday topics (waking up, having parents, taking pictures) and making them sound like an amusement park. Its general outlook on life is strictly positive; it turns dwelling on not being able to remember that song stuck in your head, into creating it yourself (“Heard a Song”); it turns drowning in nostalgia into letting the past take you to new heights (“Trampoline”); it even makes resumes sound fun (“Try Me”). Yeah, Daft Punk has been able to make me have a better day, sure, but the humanity of how Bonito Generation approaches its subject matter has completely shifted my state of mind countless times. It’s not just fun or silly simply for the sake of it, Kero Kero Bonito really want you to have a good time, and they sure know how to get us there. All of these award winning albums face the tumultuousness of the last decade, whether it be through confronting death (Carrie & Lowell), not conforming to the point of making fun of the status quo (Veteran), or embracing what makes you different and feeling comfortable in your own skin (Negro Swan). Bonito Generation recognizes that things aren’t always optimal, but being alive is truly a wonderful thing, and I think we all could use this jolt of positivity KKB has bottled up. —Nick Jacobyansky