Our Next Guests Are A Wonderful Rock & Roll Band: 20 Performances on Latter-Day Letterman Picked By a Later-Day Letterman Fan

635676571678420060-XXX-DAVIDLETTERMAN03-D01-dcb-001[1] So, it’s come to this. Pop culture as a collective is saying goodbye to a legendary talk-show host in the form of David Letterman. I’ve seen countless tributes pouring in on my timeline – celebrities and regular folk alike all have a Letterman story. I suppose I should share mine, although it doesn’t have the same weight to it as ones from my friends in their thirties and forties that quite literally grew up with the show.

I come into the picture in the 2000s. By this point, Letterman is an establishment. Appearing on that show means that you’re someone – if only for that moment. This much is especially true of the show’s musical guests, which were often the only reason I would tune in. One YouTube came into the picture, I’d often spend hours at a time down a rabbit hole with only the search term “live on letterman” to guide me. There was always such an interesting mix of artists – some well-established, some just coming through the ranks. To me, if you’d been on Letterman, you’d made it. That was your stage, your chance, your moment.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to share some of my personal favourite Letterman musical-guest moments. Please note that this is by no means a definitive best-of – I’ve picked exclusively from the last 15 years; and there is no Future Islands on account of there having been everything that one could possibly say about that performance already out there in the ether. These are just some performances that I’ve been enthralled with over the years for very different reasons. So, let’s take it away.

TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me (2006)

I still get the exact same electricity running through me nearly ten years after this performance first happened. I shared this with EVERYONE – even people I knew that didn’t like music. There was something monumental about this rendition – it took what was already bound to be one of the greatest songs of the decade and somehow made it even greater. Can’t you just hear how David Andrew Sitek makes his guitar squeal. How Jaleel Bunton punches through those drum parts. Kyp Malone practically jumps out of his suit at one point. This made me want to be in a rock band – my rock band at the time made this cover a staple of our set. It all started – my Letterman obsession, my TVotR obsession, the whole shebang – here.

An Horse – Camp Out (2009)

We cut to the end of the decade, and it’s one of the more obscure Australian acts to have appeared on the show – a Brisbane indie band who were championed by acts like Death Cab and Tegan & Sara. It didn’t turn them into arena filling sensations, but performances like this proved that achieving something on that side of the world was still a possibility. The vibe that you got from watching Courtney Barnett on Fallon or Ellen? That’s what we were feeling when An Horse pressed the flesh with Dave.

Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out (2004)

I’ve tried to shy away from the obvious performances in this list, but you just can’t go past the creativity and the energy of this one. It felt like a music video brought to life, and the mile-wide grin on Dave’s face at its conclusion makes it all worth it. This dropped right in a revival of Beastie obsession for me, so it was perfect timing. Fuck, I miss MCA.

Arcade Fire – Rebellion (Lies) (2005)

There’s such an urgency to this era of Arcade Fire that Dave almost doesn’t get their name out before the begin an all-instrument avalanche. This is a kitchen-sink type of Arcade Fire – one of them is even running around the place whacking a floor tom for the fuck of it. Centred in its universe is Win, who is far from the unleashed rockstar he would become in the Reflektor era. Here, he barely moves. He’s the last to arrive at this party and the first to leave – which somehow makes him more of an intriguing prospect.

Grinderman – Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars) (2007)

After years of concert halls and opera houses, Nick Cave wanted to fuck some shit up again like in the old days. Grinderman let him reclaim the mania of The Birthday Party yet keep the suit. It worked – and it resulted in one of the wildest performances on the show. Warren Ellis is playing some kind of electric mandolin while randomly smashing a hi-hat with a hammer. Cave is on the prowl, laying down organ parts and quite literally buzzing away. It’s impossible to look away.

Sparta – Breaking the Broken (2004)

At a time where fear-mongering was at a high and the American political climate was one of uncertainty for any that considered themselves creative, Sparta appeared on Letterman. Sprayed onto their shirts was the word VOTE – and, after putting everything into a performance of what I consider to be their best-ever song, it was quite clear which way they wanted you to do as such. Spoiler alert: They were not successful. At that point in time, though, it didn’t matter. It felt like anything was possible.

Beck – Nausesa (2006)

Nevermind that this is a thoroughly jamming version of one of Beck’s most underrated singles – Borat turns up! MY WIFE! Also worth pointing out that, by a complete luck of the draw, this performance shares a drummer with the very next one in the form of one Matt Sherrod.

R.E.M. – Imitation of Life (2001)

R.E.M. were legacy guests on Letterman. In 1983, they appeared for the first time and performed two songs; both of which have become seminal singles of the era. They went on to appear four more times on the show, with this being their last before they split up a decade later. The contrasts between 1983 R.E.M. and 2001 R.E.M. are centred around Michael Stipe – once an enigmatic, mumbling long-haired twenty-something; now an extrovert and a true frontman in every sense. It was the band coming full circle.

Tom Waits – Make it Rain (2004)

You must understand that I hated Tom Waits when I first discovered him. Hated him. Thought his voice was fucked and that he looked like he’d been run over. Of course, that’s exactly the same reason that I love him now. I look back on this performance that once made me squirm and see one that is all class. The addition of two-thirds of the Blues Explosion laying it down certainly helps matters.

Feist – 1234 (2007)

She may hate this song now, and may well never play it again. There was a time, though, where we all fell in love with it. For many, that came with this performance, which enlisted an all-star choir of people from The National, Grizzly Bear, The New Pornographers, Mates of State and Broken Social Scene. It’s all horns, ba-da-bas and pure unadulterated joy. You can’t help but smile when you see this one. Plus, how on-point are those handclaps?

Liam Finn – Second Chance (2007)

Two offspring of Australasian rock legends combine forces here, Liam being the stock of Neil Finn and his counterpart being one of Jimmy Barnes’ daughters. The similarities, of course, stop there – this is a psychedelically-tinged slice of indie-rock that goes into overdrive once Finn sets up his loop station and goes fucking WILD on the drums. Even a slight fuck-up makes this imperfectly perfect.

Red Fang – Blood Like Cream (2014)

I don’t know – are Red Fang considered a “metal” band? Like, are they metally enough for the Metal Club? Whatever the case, it’s always a surprise and a joy when stuff like this makes it onto network television. They hit this one out of the park, and even Paul Shaffer himself gets in on the fun by adding in some spooky organ drones. Bonus points for Dave’s sick burn at the end: “I’ll talk to your drummer about growing a beard.”

Neko Case – This Tornado Loves You (2009)

There’s this idea that if a song can still sound good through AM speakers, it’s bound to be a good song. This performance of the opening track from Case’s Middle Cyclone sounds like a masterpiece in 480p, so make of that what you will. The triple-guitar layering works beautifully alongside the four backing vocalists, which include Kelly Hogan and Lucy Wainwright Roche. Stunning, understated and a true credit to Case as a performer and bandleader.

Mastodon – Curl of the Burl (2011)

When Mastodon first came on Letterman in 2009, Dave introduced them by saying “I’m not gonna lie to you… I’m frightened” before cutting to a close-up of Brent Hinds’ face tattoo. It was a funny bit, but it was also reflective of a wider preconception about metal and the people involved in it. Seemingly, Dave got over his initial fright once he saw how awesome they were – the band were invited back two more times. This is my favourite of the three, if only for Bill having the words “HI MOM” taped onto his guitar.

LE1F – Wut (2014)

Potentially the first gay rapper to ever perform live on network television? Potentially the only? This fantastic performance from the bold and brassy LE1F was a huge moment for both LGBT and POC visibility, not to mention a massive step up in a live setting. While the MC and DJ set-up certainly works for LE1F, a full band (featuring Dev Hynes on bass) and two back-up dancers works even better.

Morningwood – Jetsetter (2006)

In 2006, I was obsessed with a band called Morningwood. I believe I was one of two whole people in all of Australia that even knew who they were. They may have been a blip on the radar to many, or simply cool by association (lead singer Chantal Claret is married to Little Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence). On this night, though, they were the talk of the town – particularly after Claret did her now-famous Matrix dance during the guitar break. Power-pop for life.

The Orwells – Who Needs You (2014)

The performance that divided the internet right down the middle. Was it a mess? Was it staged? Were they high? Was it rock & roll? Was it all premeditated? The answer, naturally, is that it’s exactly what you see. It’s what you make of it. It’s like the Vines’ infamous performance in 2002. Whatever the case, Paul Shaffer lost his fucking mind over it. You can see why.

Tokyo Police Club – Nature of the Experiment (2007)

22 didn’t seem all that far away at 17. When I realised how old Tokyo Police Club were, and I saw them on Letterman, I felt that maybe I’d know where I was going at that age. Naturally, I didn’t; and neither did they – they’ve scarcely been heard from since this peak point of exposure. It’s worth revisiting, though, both for the drummer going hard on just a bass/snare/hi-hat set-up and the entire CBS Orchestra joining in on a tambourine flash-mob. The kids were alright, weren’t they?

The National – Afraid of Everyone (2010)

The National make everything special in their own understated way, including their TV appearances. Here, they played a non-single (not to mention one of my favourite National songs) and brought out a horns section, a pump organ and a casual cameo from Sufjan Stevens. It builds up into something unbelievable – this, to me, is the definitive version of this song.

U2 – Beautiful Day (2009)

Here’s something you should know: From the ages of 8 to 24 (the age I currently) am, I was a huge U2 fan. I still am. Yep, even through some average albums and the whole debacle last year. There’s something about this band that always puts me in the exact right mood. I can’t imagine my life without a song like “Beautiful Day,” as pathetic as that seems. It’s a light in the dark for me; a crack of sunshine let into the shadows. It’s impossible for me to be unhappy when it’s on. So when U2 performed it as a part of U2 Week on the show, in which they did a song every night, I fell in love with it all over again.

On this night, Bono is determined to get the crowd up on their feet. You think it’ll happen in the first chorus. They’re still down. Second chorus. The clapping along is louder, but they’re still down. It takes until the second bridge for them to finally lift – but it’s worth the pay off. I smile like an idiot everytime I see that bit. It’s so daggy, but it reminds me exactly of what “Beautiful Day” does for me.

Thanks, Dave.

Goodnight, everybody.

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Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Four: 20 – 11

Quick catch up over this-a-way: Part one, then two, then three.

Let’s finish this!

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20. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love
Spotify || Rdio


Cut the crap. That’s all Perfect Pussy want. Say Yes to Love cuts deep, fast and often. As far as the grand scheme of guitar-oriented music was concerned, it felt as if it was one of the more dangerous releases to make itself known within the calendar year – it fumed, it radiated and it sent the levels into a constant bubble of blood red. Beneath its thorny exterior, a further layer was revealed – Meredith Graves shrieks and screams out mantras, rhetoric and personal essays that added to her already-stellar reputation as one of contemporary music’s more important voices. It’s love.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Interference Fits, Driver, VII.

WATCH:

19. TV on the Radio – Seeds
Spotify ||Rdio

“This time, I’ve got seeds on ground.” TV on the Radio sewed new life roughly three years removed from throwing dirt on the late, great Gerard Smith. Seeds allowed them to explore a more straightforward, streamlined approach to songwriting; allowing for their open-book honesty to shine through new love, old friends and healing wounds. It also allowed the band to let itself exist as an entity far greater than the sum of its parts – a chance to completely realise what they have created, what they have so wisely kept alive. Seeds is life after death – it’s not easy, but achievable.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Lazzeray, Careful You, Happy Idiot.

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18. Willis Earl Beal – Experiments in Time

Sometimes, it’s suggested that an artist has “done a 180” as a hyperbolic expression to indicate a change in style. It’s rarely the case that the saying is justified in its use, however. This, along with several other contributing factors, is what makes Experiments in Time such a unique experience. Beal, formerly of the lo-fi blues and proto-folk category, turned his attention to music that is ambient, delicate and cautiously quiet. So radical is the departure, one may even be found double-checking that it is indeed the same man. A completely-unexpected sensation and a welcomed reinvention.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Slow Bus, Waste It Away, Same Auld Tears.

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17. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Spotify || Rdio

They may wander off for years at a time, but the Pornos are never really gone. You couldn’t kill those mothercanuckers with all of the weapons in Liam Neeson’s arsenal. Theirs is an undying spirit, which resurfaces on arguably be their best LP since Twin Cinema. The bombast of the title track, the defiant stride of “Marching Orders” and the Superchunk wig-out of “War on the East Coast” are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Perhaps the best thing about Brill Bruisers is that everyone will walk away with their own highlight – and there’s absolutely no wrong answers here.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Champions of Red Wine, Brill Bruisers, Marching Orders.

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16. Harmony – Carpetbombing
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

Australian children’s entertainer Don Spencer once sang that “The greater part of every state is off the beaten track.” It’s certainly not what he meant, but this much is true of Carpetbombing – while most local releases concerned themselves with the inner workings of city streets or behind the closed doors of suburbia, Harmony’s second LP was covered in the grit, blood and petrol of outhouses, country yards and battered shacks. It’s a grim, confronting and occasionally terrifying record. It’s more Australian than most albums have a right to be. Carpetbombing is the sounds of then and the sounds of now.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Big Ivan, Do Me a Favour, Carpetbomb.

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15. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Spotify || Rdio

Against Me! began in the bedroom of a teenager named Tom Gabel. It began again on the global stage, lead with aplomb by a thirty-something named Laura Jane Grace. The never-say-die punk spirit that was aflame with its origins continued to flicker defiantly, albeit guiding the path of significantly different subject matter – street-walking, identity crises and parenthood, to name a few. Transgender is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s what they – and we – needed more than anything. This, friends, is the first day of the rest of Against Me!’s life. God bless its transsexual heart.

THREE TOP TRACKS: True Trans Soul Rebel, Two Coffins, Transender Dysphoria Blues.

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14. You Beauty – Jersey Flegg
Spotify || Rdio

It doesn’t matter if you win or lose – it’s how you play the game. This has been drilled into the heads of countless children, and it sticks for a reason – it reflects on more than just its immediate point of reference. Case in point: Few played a better game in the year passed than You Beauty, the supergroup-of-sorts that brought to life a nameless NRL star of a bygone era. It didn’t even matter if you didn’t know your Joey Johns from your Freddie Fitler – the storytelling was just that enticing. Jersey Flegg was a shoe-in for best and fairest.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Now Her Skirt, Rabbits, Ann-Maree.

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13. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else
Spotify || Rdio

There were a lot of notable lines scattered throughout the eight tracks that made up Cloud Nothings’ third studio album, but perhaps the most telling comes in its closing number: “I’m not telling you all that I’m going through.” It’s rung true throughout the collected works of the Dylan Baldi vehicle; perhaps never moreso here – revealing a sliver of introspect and innermost struggle, but always pulling back before a complete reveal unfurls. Nowhere Else also takes the band further into the sprawling, incessant drive of noisy alt-rock, making it a true crowning achievement with the promise of continued future greatness.

THREE TOP TRACKS: I’m Not Part of Me, Now Here In, Pattern Walks.

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12. Young Fathers – Dead
Spotify || Rdio || Soundcloud

Regardless of what you perceived to be its benefits or its drawbacks, the referendum to decide on its independence is generally perceived to be the biggest thing to emerge from Scotland within 2014… at least, it would have been for those that didn’t hear or discover Young Fathers. The collective’s debut LP was one conceived under cover of darkness, revelling in pitch blackness while also taking the initiative to lead the procession toward distant lights. This is hip-hop that wants to be a part of the revolution – and when it comes, those not with them will be first to go.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Am I Not Your Boy, Get Up, Low.

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11. Moon Hooch – This is Cave Music
Soundcloud

The title of Moon Hooch’s second LP stems from what they refer to their music as from a categorical standpoint. You’ll certainly be thankful they did the groundwork for you, as what they do cannot exactly fit directly into any given spectrum. It’s a niche carved on the outside of alternative music – if such a thing is even possible – that digs deep. The trio implement thunderous horns and pitting them in a duel atop ricocheting drum patterns; locking the gates until a victor emerges. This is love. This is war. This is jazz. This is rock. This is cave music.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Bari 3, No. 6, Contra Dubstep.

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Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part One: 50 – 41

It’s the most magical time of year — list season! A couple of days ago, I kicked into my top 100 songs of the year, which you can catch up on over here. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing that as well as my top 50 albums of the year. While there was a lot of controversy over the fact that no album went platinum this year, I feel it’s more a sign of the times than an indication of the quality of the music released in 2014. Across the 300-plus albums I experienced throughout the year, I completely ran the entire spectrum; from the uplifting and inspiring to the menacing and terrifying and back again. Let’s take a look now at the records that defined the year for me and see what you think. Love them? Hate them? Haven’t heard them? Let me know!

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HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Hilltop Hoods, Lanie Lane, Indian, Colossvs, Panopticon, Fishing, Swans, Xerxes, Sturgill Simpson, Collarbones, Mary Lambert, Cynic, OFF!, Shellac, Mastodon, The Roots, Woods of Desolation, The Magic Numbers, Spoon and Pharrell Williams…

50. La Roux – Trouble in Paradise
Spotify || Rdio

Did you honestly ever expect to see or hear from Elly Jackson again? After her universe of hype imploded in her early twenties, she’s made sure that if La Roux was to ever return, it was going to be precisely calculated and on her own terms. The hooks are just as sharp, the production just as crystallised and pristine – but it’s delivered with a smarter and more restrained look at broken hearts and ambiguous relationships. Think of Trouble in Paradise as less of a sequel to the project’s exceptional 2009 debut and more of a reboot of the franchise.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Silent Partner, Kiss and Not Tell, Tropical Chancer.

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49. IDYLLS – Prayer for Terrene
Bandcamp

From the depths of Brisbane, a firebrand of heavy Australian music re-emerged with a new lineup and a new approach to their tactical, cacophonous grindcore. The introduction of squealing, churning saxophone mixed in a touch of the avant-garde, while the album’s longer songs allowed the band to explore their own musical surroundings with arresting, impressive results. Prayer for Terrene was more than just some sort of post-apocalyptic soundtrack – it was the sound of a band realising its full potential and making the most out of it. An essential step forward from a band leading the pack in their field.

THREE TOP TRACKS: PCP Crazy, Crashing Boar, Lied To.

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48. Behemoth – The Satanist
Spotify || Rdio

Everything about The Satanist is defiant. A band venturing into its tenth album should have none of the vitality and maintained-rage that is omnipotent and omnipresent within the tracklisting here. Furthermore, The Satanist is defiant in respects to to Behemoth itself still being here – frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski was struggling with leukaemia for a couple of years, a devastating blow in any context. Perhaps it’s this that has given the band the rush of adrenalin it needs – a scream to the heavens, a clear and open statement of unfinished business. The devil rides on.

THREE TOP TRACKS: The Satanist, O Father O Satan O Sun!, Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.

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47. Loudon Wainwright III – Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet)
Spotify || Rdio

At 68 years young, the senior Wainwright has a lot of grief with you people. His dog’s misbehaving, there’s nowhere to get a beer, the news is always awful and – to top it all off – he might have depression. Maybe. If he doesn’t, he will soon. At least, so we think. It doesn’t matter what subject he tackles – it’s always given a unique spin and approached with Wainwright’s distinct kind of wry, often black, humour. With The Blues, the Third remains one of the more underrated songwriters around. He just hasn’t had his respect paid – yet.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Harlan County, Harmless, Man & Dog.

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46. Chumped – Teenage Retirement
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The cover art of Teenage Retirement is a photo of a dude on his lonesome, chilling out in his pool and watching the world go by. It’s reflective of perhaps the best way to enjoy the debut album from this exceptional Brookyln outfit who, in a way, are picking up where albums like the Speedy Ortiz and Waxahatchee records from 2013 left off. It all ties into forward-thinking alternative rock with an all-important and oft-ignored central female voice – and as far as that realm was concerned, few dominated with such aplomb the way Chumped did. We’ll all float on.

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THREE TOP TRACKS: Hot 97 Summer Jam, Old and Tired, December is the Longest Month.

45. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

Country’s crazy ex-girlfriend next door doesn’t do things by thirds. Her albums are always packed to the brim, with an A-team of producers, co-writers and instrumentalists filling each song. It’s this that has allowed her to rise to the top of the food-chain on her own terms – while her bro-down peers want any random girl up in their truck, she’s telling the same dudes that they “can’t ride in her little red wagon.” She may as well be saying that they couldn’t lace up her boots – and she has the songs to back it up. Giddy up.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Priscilla, Platinum, Old Shit.

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44. Vales – Wilt & Rise
Bandcamp

Sometimes, what you need is a record of furious, unforgiving post-hardcore. Not that fringe-flicking shit with the superfluous keyboardist and the neck tatts – we’re talking about the purest definition of the term, insofar as that it’s a progression from the standards and moulds set. Wilt & Rise goes beyond your average tough-guy shit and is completely devastating on its own terms, delivered with pure conviction and a seething, unshakable rage. The band are not only the most important new voice being heard above the drone in their native UK, they’re threatening to do the same on a global scale.

THREE TOP TRACKS: White Horse, Dead Wood, Wildfire.

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43. Copeland – Ixora
Spotify || Rdio

Immediately, there was a sense that Aaron Marsh and co. were headed far beyond any cash-in reunion territory when they announced their reformation – there was a new album on the way, six years removed from their finest hour, You Are My Sunshine. If Ixora did anything as an album, it validated their return to the fold. Copeland remains Aaron Marsh’s most important vehicle, with each new song delivering on stirring indie rock and heartstring-plucked balladry that stand up with any of their prior works. Ixora blossoms and blooms, reminding listeners to never take bands such as these for granted.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Ordinary, Erase, I Can Make You Feel Young Again.

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42. Neil Cicierega – Mouth Silence
Soundcloud

User:neilcic has been responsible for more internet sensations than you’d ever begin to think. Put it this way: If the phrase “Snape, Snape, Severus Snape” means anything to you, then there’s plenty more where that came from. Here, Cicierega delivers a sequel to his Smash Mouth-obssessed debut, and no-one is safe. He continues to terrorise the world of pop culture and 90s nostalgia with some truly nightmarish pairings – Soundgarden and The Carpenters, System of a Down and Elton John, Oasis and Oasis. It’s jarring, it’s bizarre and it’s hypnotising in its brilliance. Keep the internet weird, son. BEST!

THREE TOP TRACKS: What Is It, Wndrwll, Crocodile Chop.

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41. Mariachi El Bronx – Mariachi El Bronx
Spotify || Rdio

Barely a year after yet another exceptional record from The Bronx, their alter-egos have emerged in a fanfare of trumpets, percussion and enough sing-alongs to last until The Bronx V. Despite an all-too-simple game plan and a very specific stylistic palette to draw from, MEB have substantially matured their sound across three albums; adding in a much-needed personal touch to the traditional folk music. There’s a lot of introspection going on in regards to the album’s lyricism, which serves as a beautiful contrast to the outward and extroverted music. Their greatest achievement yet – it’s high-time you joined the procession.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Everything Twice, Sticks and Stones, Right Between the Eyes.

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