Emersynn McGuire highlights black midi, King Crimson, MARINA, and more in her year end suggested listening list

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It’s that time of year again! WOUB Culture has reached out to a variety of folks involved in various capacities with the music and arts throughout WOUB’s diverse coverage region to inquire: “what have you been listening to this year, my friend?” Find their answers on WOUB Culture all throughout the month of December. 

Emersynn McGuire (Photo by Sean Divine)

Emersynn McGuire is a 23-year-old local musician active in local progressive rock band, The Infinite Improbability Drive. Starting at the age of seven, she has studied under pianist Katie Fisher, percussionists Turner Matthews and Seth Alexander. She is currently studying guitar with local jazz guitarist John Horne and has been since she was nine years old. Emersynn is receiving her degree from Hocking College, double majoring in Audio Engineering and Music Management and Business.

Here’s what I’ve been listening to this year:

1. “EAT” – Poppy
My life has been taken over by this song (and EP!) ever since its release. Every time Poppy releases something, I know it will be incredible and so far I haven’t been disappointed. The direction of her sound moving into progressive metal really is my favorite part of her songwriting and releases, and she keeps getting better and better. She screams in this song, which was something that she never did before this EP, and the songs and the instrumentation are just as good and as they were on “I Disagree”!

2. “Slow” – black midi
I wasn’t a black midi fan until this year’s “Cavalcade” was released. “Cavalcade” is incredible! The praise that they have gotten for this record is well-deserved. With elements of jazz, progressive rock, and incredibly complex song structures and riffs, “Slow” in particular keeps my brain busy in the best of ways.

3. “21st Century Schizoid Man” – King Crimson
I went on a listening spree of a lot of King Crimson this past year, and of course, “21st Century Schizoid Man” makes this list. The rhythm of all of the instruments together is so tight and frustratingly perfect, the abstract feel of the middle section called Mirrors itches a part of my brain that I can’t describe, and alongside with Greg Lake’s heavily distorted lead vocals, you can’t help but bob your head to this song.

4. “My Old School” – Steely Dan
My guitar teacher, John Horne, showed me this song when I was probably about 14 or 15. At the time, I didn’t know that listening to Steely Dan made someone lame (this is what I’ve heard hahaha)! I really don’t know why, because this song in particular is a masterpiece. The ending solo is one of my favourites of all time, as Walter Becker rips an incredibly smooth and sexy solo as the song fades out into the next.

5. “Gave Up” – Nine Inch Nails
I began listening to Nine Inch Nails when I was 13, and the Broken EP was one of the first things I had heard by Reznor. The heaviness in this song gives me chills — and the lyrics are some of my favorite of all time: “Watching the hole, it used to be mine / Just watching it burn in my steady systematic decline / Of the trust I will betray, / Give it to me, I throw it away, / After everything I’ve done, / I hate myself for what I’ve become”. This song is raw, distorted, and just plain gritty. Not only is this my favorite EP by NIN, this is my favorite song by them by far.

6. “What’s up, people?!” – MAXIMUM THE HORMONE
After rewatching “Death Note” this past fall, I re-discovered the last opening of the show — “What’s up, people?!” by MAXIMUM THE HORMONE. The best way to describe this song is that it sounds like it was written by a Japanese System of a Down. I would say that the lead guitar parts are my favorite parts of this song, and I enjoy the lower-budget sound of this song in particular because it works so well with their sound as a band.

7. “Santé” – Stromae
I literally screamed when I opened my phone and saw the article that NPR Music posted about Stromae’s return single, “Santé”. Santé (literally meaning “health” in English) is a song about honoring those who can’t participate in the French tradition of proposing a toast during holidays and festivities (those that we love who have passed on). The chorus, “Et si on célébrait ceux qui n’célèbrent pas, (What if we celebrate for those who don’t,)  / Pour une fois, j’aimerais lever mon verre à ceux qui n’en ont pas, (For once, I would like to raise my glass for those who don’t have one,) / À ceux qui n’en ont pas (For those who do not have one)”. I really enjoy this song, as he is very good at writing incredible beats for his lyrics, and the juxtaposition between the two is very noticeable for the listener, and I adore it!

8. “Nuclear Burn”- Brand X
“Nuclear Burn” is a jazz fusion tune by Phil Collins’ jazz fusion/progressive project, Brand X. Not only is Collins’ drumming impeccable, the bass line is untouchable, the main riff of the song gets stuck in my head constantly, and the dynamic range of this song will take your ears on a rollercoaster, anticipating the next turn, twist, and loop, all the way until the end. I won’t spoil anything else, just listen to it.

9. “Animate” – Rush
“Animate” by Rush was my most played song of 2021 in my Spotify 2021 Wrapped playlist, which is insane to me because I didn’t realize I loved this song that much. Whenever I hear Neil counting at the beginning of the song, “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, …” and the ride cymbal/bell pattern, I immediately turn it up. The drums are powerful (as always, it’s Neil Peart), the vocal melody is top-tier (I know you’re thinking it, but I actually like Geddy’s voice), and as always, all three of Rush’s members have incredibly complex but tight parts.

10. “Venus Fly Trap” – MARINA
“Venus Fly Trap” from MARINA (formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds), is one of the first really good singles she has released in quite awhile. Marina Diamandis shines in the song and video — she and her team are very good at replicating classic 80’s-sounding bass lines and guitar tones, and her vocals are as smooth as silk. MARINA sings that she is ready to bring change to her industry, and she is at the top, writing her best music and living her best life as she criticizes mainstream stereotypes for female vocalists and musicians. She has made it this far by being herself and ignoring these stereotypes, and as she states in this song, “ Don’t underestimate me, / ‘Cause one day you’re gonna see, / you’re in a losing battle, /Babe, you’ll never stop me being me”.