Jan 31 2016

Cougar Microbes Writer Picks 2015: Emily


1. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

It’s hard to expect anything but absolute sonic perfection from Florence Welch, but this latest offering convinced me that she is simply incapable of missing. Welch channels her unique vocal spirit into album after album of driving, symphonic genius, and this one is no exception. Track 9, “Third Eye,” is pure energy, not to be missed.

2. Chvrches, Every Open Eye

Full Review Here

3. Stereophonics – Keep the Village Alive

Don’t tell me to grow up – I’m just not ready to give up the Stereophonics. This album is in the familiar vein of their last few: driving, raucous and playful, not the slightest hint of middle-agedness anywhere. I’ll always be sorry they aren’t making albums like their first four from the nineties and early noughties, but that will never stop me from enjoying the more pared-down guitar rock sound they’ve settled into. “Sing Little Sister” has a killer grove you haven’t heard since “Dakota.”

4. Ryan Adams – 1989

While I still at least try to resist Taylor Swift‘s insidious charm, once you slap Ryan Adams on it, my defenses fall. These can’t even be called covers, really – Adams strips down the sugary pop songs, seismically altering the melody, tempo, instrumentation and occasionally even lyrics (there’s a lot less “shake” in his version of “Shake it off,” (which by the way sounds like classic Bruce Springsteen). The track that rocks the most is “Style,” which surprised me since it’s pretty dull in its original form.

5. Disclosure- Caracal

It would be hard to recreate the lightening in a bottle that was “Latch,” but this album has all the elements that made the first a massive hit, and the chemistry is there in every track, strong from start to finish. It’s hooky and infectious, full of guest vocalists who bring unique style to their tracks. The Weeknd’s track “Nocturnal” is, unsurprisingly, golden disco dance perfection, and Lorde’s guest vocals make “Magnets” as haunting and kinetic as everything else she touches.

6. FFS (Franz Ferdinand, Sparks) – FFS
This album shows off the pumping momentum and unusual sound we’re used to hearing from Franz Ferdinand, with plenty of colorful layered vocals and occasional operatic touches. Most songs manage to sound stripped and essential even with plenty of instruments, layers and odd overdubs. The highlight is definitely “Police Encounters,” which starts with just synth and piano before cranking into a frenetic pop rock jam with the very singable chorus, “Bomp bomp ditty ditty bomp bomp ditty ditty police encounters.”

7. Mark Ronson – Uptown Special

There is something wonderful about ‘Uptown Special‘, and I think it may be the album’s total disregard for orthodoxy. This gives Ronson free rein to run up and down the decades, curating the best hooks from old school funk, the best vibes from disco, the heavy-handed vocals of the ‘80s, and maybe some bad taste from the ‘90s. The end result is an irresistible boogie album that is simultaneously referential to many past eras and somehow still very fresh and new. “Daffodils” is the most traditional funk track, so it gets my vote. Fans of Paula Abdul (admit it) will love “I Can’t Lose.”

8. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness

Full review here

9. Everything Everything – Get To Heaven

Everything Everything made my best of 2013 list, and two years later I’m still trying to find the right adjectives for their wonderfully bizarre, unique sound. They’re decidedly indie rock but with pop instrumentation, otherworldly falsetto vocals, heavy lyrics and gleeful harmonies. Their energy and avant-garde feel will always remind me of Bloc Party, but they’re clearly developing a sound that doesn’t really brook comparison. All four singles from the new album are solid, but “Spring/Sun/Winter/Dread” is my favorite.

10. Guster – Evermotion

Guster is a band that will always make the list, an alternative rock-pop jam band that got its start when I was still in kindergarten. ‘Evermotion‘ is a little more laid-back and dreamy than some of their earlier, more energetic releases, but it brilliantly features the soaring vocals of lead singer Ryan Miller. Guster has always had a sound all their own, and this album continues that trend. The first single, “Simple Machine,” is absolute perfection, a driving track powered by drummer BrianThundergodRosenworcel.



Jan 31 2016

CM Top Albums of 2015: The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness

the weeknd beauty beast

On his 2015 effort The Weeknd provides a soundtrack for before the party, during the party and after party all in one epic brooding mix. Roger called it “A long overdue return to form for Abel Tesfaye. He hasn’t sounded this good since ‘House of Balloons‘. Sin hasn’t sounded this good since either”.

Jabes reflected that “cult fans of ‘House of Balloons‘, probably didn’t love how mainstream The Weeknd became this year, but it’s hard to deny the power of ‘Beauty Behind the Madness‘. Abel Tesfaye infused several other genres into this album, including New Orleans blues band vibes and dream pop – and paired up his gorgeous falsetto with the likes of Lana Del Ray and Ed Sheeran for a serious dive into the conventional. Tefaye‘s signature beautiful R&B production abilities still shine throughout the whole album, truly boasting how far his talent has come, and how much more we have to see from him”.

Emily carried on saying “I tried to resist the charms of The Weeknd, but it was a futile fight. If it’s not blasphemous to say, he has at least a measure of the magic that made Michael Jackson and Prince pop icons for the ages. I’ll admit that I could do without a few tracks that are more hip-hoppy R&B than my tastes typically run, but it’s clear that Tesfaye is hugely talented as a producer-songwriter, even before you consider that voice. Apart from the ubiquitous “I Can’t Feel My Face,” I’m constantly playing “In The Night,” which is pure dancefloor magic.




Jan 31 2016

CM Top Albums of 2015: Chvrches – Every Eye Open


Under all of the glossy, 80’s inspired euphoria, Chvrches simply write great songs. 2015’s ‘Every Eye Open‘, the follow up to the 2013 debut ‘The Bones Of What You Believe‘ was very simply a stronger slice of pop. Every single chorus is colossal and single worthy. Every emotion is conveyed with more depth and each arrangement more serving of the song over style. That is not to say they have lost anything in the style department. Chvrches still out-1980’s M83, the Flashdance soundtrack and a prawn cocktail, all with reverberated abandon.

Emily chimed “if you were hoping for a more complex, evolved Chvrches sound for their sophomore album, you might not find it here. But who would want that, really? The trio sticks to their considerable strengths with lush synth-pop and Lauren Mayberry‘s vibrant, punchy vocal delivery, and I’m happy to say that this album is every bit as magical as their first. “Clearest Blue” feels like the band’s climactic take on pop anthems of yesteryear”.

Yifat quickly added that “despite not being a huge fan of happy songs and/or synth-pop, this band made me fall in love with it. Lauren‘s vocals are piercing through and I found myself drawn to this album and playing all of it time after time without getting bored. If that doesn’t imply it’s a favorite album, then i don’t know what does.

Valya concluded that “Chvrches has managed to create a self produced musical masterpiece. Their electro pop mystical sound is something of another world taking you to a realm full of kaleidoscopes and stardust. Despite the light and fluffy beats if you listen closely the lyrics are actually very dark in describing relationships, reconciliation, and devastation. In my mind they have separated themselves from the likes of Passion Pit, Disclosure, and Purity Ring and have, as they claim, made themselves gold.



Jan 5 2015

CM Top Albums of 2014: Future Islands – Singles


I don’t often sing the praises of modern popular music, since in general my musical tastes scurry back through the decades at the slightest hint of auto-tune. But if I have any praise for our current musical landscape, it’s that there seems now to be more and more room in the mainstream for the sonically odd, the unconventional, the offbeat – those indefinable genre-benders who choose instrumentation we don’t expect and eccentric vocals that Simon Cowell wouldn’t let anywhere near the X Factor stage. Future Islands catapulted themselves to the top of that list with their March 2014 performance on Letterman.

The clip went semi-viral, which is when most of us met this oddball band from Baltimore – they performed “Seasons (Waiting On You),” the first single from their 2014 release, ‘Singles‘. Watching frontman Samuel T. Herring for the first time is equal parts exciting and unsettling, because he matches his raw vocals with fierce, stage-actor delivery in both gesture and facial expression. And all this while dancing frenetically, with perhaps the most aggressive step-touch ever attempted. Is it camp? Is it musical theatre? Is that Henry Rollins? Letterman and I were both a little speechless after.

I was slightly skeptical that Herring’s stage presence would translate well on the album, but his vocal eccentricities, and the almost uncanny range of voices he uses throughout, capture that kinetic, roiling energy perfectly. Herring experiments with his voice in unexpected ways through every track, occasionally layering vocals but not at all in a heavy-handed way. That growl he showed off on Letterman surfaces on several songs, and builds to near-metal scream levels in “Fall From Grace,” a slow-burner that also features gravelly speak-singing in the style of Leonard Cohen.

Though it’s officially synthpop, ‘Singles‘ touches on elements from well outside that niche. With heavy emphasis on dynamic basslines that first push rhythmically and then ramble melodically through each song, the album avoids that sugar-coated video-killed-the-radio-star synth style that hasn’t aged well for most. There’s brass and strings to swell the songs where needed, and to me it feels like The Killers, if they were less glam and Brandon Flowers a little darker.

Every song is very much its own animal, which could feel disjointed – but the clever track sequencing is smooth perfection, moving seamlessly between lighter, more lyrical tunes like “Sun in the Morning” through the first half of the album, and resolving with slightly darker, more driven tracks in the latter half. And then cap it all off with a soft and subtle slice of heaven, the band’s just-released second single, “A Dream of You and Me.”

I’m not often grateful for social media clickbait, and rarely does a viral video turn out to be anything worth watching with the sound on. But I will reluctantly admit it’s not all that bad if it occasionally leads my cynical pop music ears to something as redeeming as ‘Singles‘.


Words by Emily




Jan 9 2014

Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2013: David Bowie – ‘The Next Day’

David Bowie's The Next Day

The fact that ‘The Next Day‘ was released with no warning at all was remarkable enough in it’s own right but even the biggest David Bowie fan could not have expected such a consistently brilliant album.

David Bowie returned unexpectedly after nearly 10 years of silence upon which much speculation was had (depression, lack of inspiration, fear of the illness had in ‘last tour?). The lineup is the same as on his last releases ‘Hours‘, ‘Heathen and ‘Reality‘, and the trusty Tony Visconti is confirmed again on production duties.  ‘The Next Day’ turns out to be a gem of absolute value, with a handful of superb songs, like the nostalgic and hopeful “Where Are We Now” or the already classic “The Stars Are Out Tonight” – Mario

I loved this album after probably the third listen, but as a Bowie devotee for years, there was never really any chance that I wouldn’t. I have tried and failed to put my finger on where ‘The Next Day‘ fits in amongst his past albums and various reincarnations, but the closest I can come is that it reminds me of everything I love about weird but amazing songs like “Life on Mars,” but with a steady, rocking groove that extends through each track. It is deliciously melodramatic and yet feels subdued and mature, like Ziggy Stardust growing older and wiser.

Best track: “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” – Emily

Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2013



Feb 10 2013

Cougar Microbes Writer Picks 2012: Emily


Cougar writer Emily offers her top ten albums for our Top albums of 2012 feature.


Andrew Bird – ‘Break It Yourself’

Included in the Cougar Microbes albums of 2012 here.

Biffy Clyro - 'Blackened Sky B-sides'

Biffy Clyro – ‘Blackened Sky B-sides

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the band’s first album, a huge deluxe vinyl edition of ‘Blackened Sky’ was released earlier this year. The second disc (also available for download) is all rare B-sides, most previously unreleased and all expectedly amazing.

Mumford & Sons - 'Babel'

Mumford & Sons – ‘Babel

The band didn’t break particularly new ground with this release, but when the previously broken ground is so great, maybe it’s not necessary. ‘Babel‘ is tried and true folk songwriting genius, and I love it.

Guster - 'On the Ocean' EP.

Guster – ‘On the Ocean‘ EP

This is only 6 songs, but I love Guster so much that it still makes the top 10. Guster was once a little indie jam band from Massachusetts, who I discovered circa my 17th birthday by stumbling across an unmarked mix CD in a McDonalds parking lot. They are pretty famous now – especially if you’re into granola and eco-friendly tour buses.

Fleetwood Mac - 'Preaching the Blues'

Fleetwood Mac – ‘Preaching the Blues’

I made this little discovery (thanks Spotify) and haven’t stopped listening since. The album is a live recording of a Fleetwood Mac concert in February 1971 (post- Peter Green, pre- Stevie Nicks), but it’s all straight blues. The sound quality is amazing, but I think Best in Show goes to Christine McVie on the keys.

Fun - 'Some Nights'

Fun – ‘Some Nights’

My pop music guilty pleasure of the year. The album is full of exuberant harmonies and over-enthusiastic percussion, even if the lyrics might be a little on the melancholy side. It feels a little like a modern day, ultra-light version of Queen (minus the searing guitar solos).


Paul Simon – ‘Graceland

While this amazing album probably makes my lifetime top 10, it makes this year’s list because a special 25th anniversary extended edition was released earlier in 2012. With a few previously unreleased demos and bonus tracks, as well as a short audio clip about the making of the title track, the new release is most likely worth the hype.

The Dandy Warhols - 'This Machine'

The Dandy Warhols – ‘This Machine

I fall in and out of love with the Dandy Warhols, but this album is pure awesome. It varies from track to track, with elements of glam-era Bowie and grunged up Marcy Playground – and always that token Dandy Warhols weirdness. My personal favourite is their cover of “16 Tons,” a 1940’s Americana ‘mountain song’ about the life of a coal miner.

Led Zeppelin - 'Celebration Day'

Led Zeppelin – ‘Celebration Day’

This album is the audio recording from Zeppelin’s 2007 reunion show at London’s O2 Arena. Since I tried desperately and failed miserably to get tickets to that show, it was a given that I’d go for this when it was finally released in 2012. The track listing is pure greatest hits (my favourite “Good Times Bad Times” as the opening track), and John Bonham’s son Jason did all the drumming.

Tallest Man on Earth - 'There’s No Leaving Now'

Tallest Man on Earth – ‘There’s No Leaving Now

This album is simply unmissable; singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson is a Sweden-based mountain of talent. If you listen to one song, make it the title track – it best showcases his unique voice, stellar songwriting, and penchant for recording everything live, as opposed to on isolated tracks. I loved the live sound of the vocals and guitar on the album, but it also means just a little bit more (to me) that each astounding vocal is one continuous take, and not spliced to perfection like most modern tracks. I hesitantly name this my MVP of the year, if only in the hopes that you will all go listen to it right now.

topalbums2012 Cougar Microbes Writer Picks 2012: Sam

doublecougar Cougar Microbes Writer Picks 2012: Sam

Jan 13 2013

Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2012: Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself


Having released two albums in 2012 it’s quite easy to add “prolific” to the list of reasons to be jealous of Andrew Bird. ‘Break It Yourself‘ remains an undoubted highlight reproducing all the elements you associate with his past work- naturally violins and whistling- but can be considered stripped back by the standards set by the talented multi-instrumentalist.

Emily said  “I gave this album a full run down in May, but the short version is that ‘Break it Yourself‘ is a folky alternative masterpiece. The songwriting is near flawless, and Bird is disgustingly talented in general”.




Break It Yourself - Andrew Bird



Aug 31 2012

Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” one year later

It was a year ago this week that Gotye released ‘Making Mirrors in the UK, the album that unleashed upon us one of the catchiest tunes to ever spread its viral wings over the internet: “Somebody that I Used to Know.” In the UK it gained momentum through word of mouth and social media shares, but by the time it hit the US and went to number 1 in April 2012 (thanks Glee), it had already been glorified, parodied, and meme-ified for months over here. Thanks to the intercontinental split in my social media connections, I got hit by the wave of shares twice. While the US was spanking itself over the head with that amazing video, my Facebook wall (sorry, ‘Timeline‘) was already blowing up with “Some Rabbi that I Used to Know.” And that group of people who all wanted to cover Gotye but only had that one guitar.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not totally psyched about all this; I am more than anything amazed that me and popular music have for once agreed upon a great song, probably one of the best of the year. I also might be one of the few remaining humans with ears who can listen to that song without cringing, as I hear from both continents that over-playing has crushed its initial novelty charm. Have over-zealous DJs the world over ruined Gotye for posterity? I (admitted fangirl) have faith that the almost extreme diversity and versatility of his songbook can carry him through the threatening waters of one-hit wonderland, but only time will tell.

I think, at least, that we don’t need to worry that fame and success have gone to Wally de Backer‘s shaggy head. When “Somebody that I Used to Know” became viral, I inwardly worried that it would turn into the next “Sex on Fire,” the song that catapulted Kings of Leon to enormous fame and success, while simultaneously revealing them to be an ungrateful and snobbish pack of backwoods hipsters who distinguish between ‘real‘ fans (pre-‘Only by the Night‘, of course) and ‘mainstream‘ fans, and still find time to scoff dismissively at their own hit song.

But happily Wally seems as down to earth as ever, and you can imagine that the success of this one virally massive tune won’t change much about his recording digs (a barn) and production process (he records and produces primarily by himself). It should also be noted that ‘Making Mirrors‘ was not his first big album if you’re talking about Australia or Belgium, and “Hearts a Mess” was a hit single in those countries (thanks in part to another amazing video) long before stop frame animation body paint was blowing up YouTube.

Gotye himself recently released a YouTube remix called “Somebodies: The YouTube Orchestra.” The act itself is irresistibly apropos; the remix video is assembled from clips of covers, instructional videos, and parodies posted to YouTube by others. The process seems apt because this practice of layering samples and borrowed cuts is how de Backer originally constructed the song. But the video also feels like a nod of notice, appreciation, and perhaps even gratitude to the medium and participants who boosted a small Australian success story into a worldwide musical phenom with the click of a button.


Post by Emily / Twitter: @public_emily