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Favorite Albums of 2016

December is here and the temperatures are dropping. Amazon.com is getting all our money. But more importantly, it’s time for my annual list of favorite (not best) albums that were released throughout the year. Last year I started doing 20 albums instead of 10 but #s 20-11 had only a music video posted. The top ten will have comments by me with a video or two. Also, the titles will be links to iTunes (but please purchase/stream however you prefer). I guess let’s get started.

20. Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life

19. clipping. – Splendor & Misery

18. Dr. Dog – Abandoned Mansion 

17. Snow Tha Product – Half Way There…Pt. 1

16. Nick Jonas – Last Year was Complicated

15. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

14. Haley Reinhart – Better

13. Wilco – Schmilco

12. Gallant – Ology

11. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

10. Norah Jones – Day Breaks

So finally, some words. So back in 2002 I watched VH1 before school. I enjoyed the music videos and the variety of music they played. One morning a beautiful voice sang to me over some jazz piano. That moment, I fell in love with Norah Jones. Fast forward 14 years through multiple albums spanning multiple genres (loved them all) and we get to 2016. I saw she was releasing a new album and the first single was up on Youtube. What I didn’t know before watching was she was using this album to harken back to her first jazz-driven album. The nostalgia of 2002, the sultry melodies and tinkling of the keys hit me in the stomach. The album releases and I quickly listened to it. And it’s perfect. It has the structures of the simple jazz pieces she wrote for her first album but the music itself borrows from all the experimentation with country and folk and pop and rock and hip-hop that she has delved in through the years. It blends seamlessly and I can’t get enough. So to the music, here’s the first single,”Carry On,” that knocked me out so surprisingly:

9. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. 

A year after the release of the critically acclaimed and amazingly wonderful To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar surprised everybody by releasing a collection of demos and tracks from the recording of Butterfly. And although it’s supposed to be demos, untitled unmastered. has everything we loved about Butterfly. The experimentations with jazz, funk, soul, etc. are still there. The politically-driven lyrics are still there. The window into Lamar’s psyche is still there. This has to be one of the most solid collections of demos and outtakes from any band/musician. The first track from this album we heard was actually before the release of Butterfly on the Colbert Report. Here’s “Untitled:”

8. The Avett Brothers – True Sadness

A part of me feels like the Avett Brothers can do no wrong. They just keep pumping out great albums. Songwriting is consistently spot-on no matter what variation their albums take. We’ve seen them go further into country, into punk, into rock, into folk, pop, bluegrass. But they’re still two brothers that love to write the words that need to be written with the melodies that need to be sung. Some fans get hung up on what these words and melodies are placed over. Is the recording too polished? Is there too much drums? What’s with all the extra musicians now? Who cares. Let’s just enjoy the gift of their craft that they keep on giving us. “Ain’t No Man,” the first single:

7. Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman

So one day I came across the video of Ariana Grande playing “Wheel of Musical Impressions” on Jimmy Fallon’s show. It was too good. After it ended, I said out loud, “Well, hell. If she can sing that good, I guess I gotta give her album a listen.” Luckily, she had just released Dangerous Woman so I pulled it up and gave it a listen. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the album was. Even though she’s obviously a powerful singer, she uses that whispery voice a good amount of the time. At first it somewhat annoyed me but listening through the album, I realized it made the moments she really belts it out more powerful. You get the drastic variations in her vocal range. I kept listening to the album and I still love it. I still listen through it about once a week. One of my favorite tracks of her album is the title track, posted below.

6. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

I won’t spend too much time on this album because I wrote about it back in May. But I’m still listening to it pretty regularly. It’s just so upbeat and happy. Chance is young, talented and taking over the world. Watch any late night, SNL, awards shows, and you’ll probably see him pop up. Daytime TV? Sure. He performed on Ellen. So since you can read my last blog, let’s listen to a song. Let’s chill the vibe a little with a live performance of the last track off the album, “Blessings (Reprise):”

5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

So everything surrounding this album perfectly encompasses Kanye West as a person. On one hand you have genius production, religious undertones, incredible features and samples that blow your mind. Then on the other: disastrous release, editing songs and changing tracks after the release, obviously misogynistic lyrics and cancelled tour dates because of mental health issues. While it’s not always easy defending Kanye, these dichotomies make him who he is. And his final products always speak for themselves. “Fade:”

4. Various Artists – The Hamilton Mixtape

So if you’ve been around me at any time over the last year or so, I probably talked to you about the Broadway musical Hamilton. I’ve been obsessed with the cast recording since it released. Halie and I saw the play on Broadway a few months ago. I pre-ordered and devoured the Hamiltome. All this led up to the release of the Mixtape a few weeks ago. Consisting of a few covers by pop and hip-hop stars, a few original songs influenced by the musical, demos cut from the play and covers of other demos, the album has a little bit of something for everybody. If you’ve listened to the cast recording as many times as I have, the covers might seem lacking. But the original tracks influenced by the play are incredible. And the covers of demos make me wish they were never cut. Before we hear a song, let me list a few artists on this mixtape: The Roots, Nas, Usher, Sia, Regina Spektor, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, Wiz Khalifa, John Legend, Chance the Rapper, etc. I know, I know. It’s crazy. Here’s “Wrote My Way Out” featuring Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Aloe Blacc:

3. DNCE – DNCE

So November was hard for a lot of people for…obvious reasons. Before that, Philly’s public transportation was on strike so I had to bike to work for a week. So I really needed something to get me through the rest of this year. And DNCE provided. They released the most fun album this year and I can’t stop dancing to it. From the first to the last track. From the upbeat to the chilled. They are all fun. They’re sexy, musical ear candy. Oh, and the lead singer is a Jonas Brother. So do what you will with that information. “Body Moves:”

2. Sia – This is Acting

So some of you might have forgotten about this album because it came out at the beginning of the year but Halie and I jam this an embarrassingly amount of times. Even though it’s a collection of songs Sia wrote for other pop stars that they ended up not using, this album sounds more cohesive than most artists’ releases. From beautiful ballads to infectious pop songs, I just can’t stop listening to Sia sing…anything. My favorite song, “Reaper,” was co-wrote with Kanye:

If you’ve watched any of her music videos, you probably know a little about Maddie Ziegler. She’s the young girl that does all the incredibly weird dancing for Sia. Whether it’s in a video or a live performance, I enjoy watching her dance almost as much as listening to Sia sing. Recently, Sia released a deluxe version of the album with the single “The Greatest,” a song and video honoring the victim’s of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.  Watch it:

1. Beyonce – Lemonade

This should be on the top of every “Best Of” list. It has some of the best songs written in a long time and by far the best songs this year. The album encompasses pop, hip-hop, rock, country. And she does it really, really well. She released a complete visual album to go along with every song and introduced us to the great poet from Somalia, Warsan Shire. She opened her heart and her anger to the world about the pain of dealing with a cheating husband. But ultimately the album just has one incredible track after another. I can’t stop listening. Also, all the features on this album were exactly what each track needed. Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd. Loved it. But let’s get to some songs. In “Hold Up” we get to watch Beyonce walk down the street with a bat. You can guess what she’s doing with it:

Sometimes a whole song is really good but there’s just one small section, one little musical aspect that makes it your everything. For this next song it’s the slight use of horns. They always show up right when you need them. Here’s “All Night:”

And let’s finish this out with the most powerful track from the album. This was the first single and ended up being the last track. To some, this song was controversial but they’re just looking for something to get upset about because I loved it as soon as it was released. I loved the biographical lines, the glimpse into her and Jay-Z’s relationship. Mainly I just loved the brashness of this track, “Formation:”


Well, there you go. Another year down, another list complete. Let me know what you think or what I missed in the comments. Here’s to a great holiday season and a new year. To new adventures!

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2016 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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MYNIYL – Chance the Rapper

I know it’s been a while since the last “Music You Need in Your Life” post. Sorry. But I need to tell you about 23-year-old Chance the Rapper, if you haven’t already heard him. He’s been working his way up in the hiphop world the last few years, just releasing his third mixtape, Coloring Book. “Mixtape” because he releases his albums for free. He refuses to sign with a label and refuses to sell his music. A truly independent artist that wants to control all aspects of his music, promotion, and brand.

Chance_3

It’s pretty impressive how much he has accomplished while staying independent. He’s had incredible verses on Kanye’s last record (and co-writing numerous songs), Macklemore’s last record, Lil Wayne, Skrillex, Action Bronson, and many others. He was the first independent artist to perform on Saturday Night Live. He released a free experimental jazz/hiphop album with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment titled Surf. Well, let me stop talking about him and show you some music.

I guess we can start with a song off his newest mixtape. The song, “Angels,” is a lot about his love of Chicago, his daughter and a lot of other things. I love the shots of him on top the el:


We can work our way back in time. This next song is the first song I heard him rapping on. I had to do some research to figure out who was rapping because his name is nowhere on the Surf album. I fell in love with how much ease, how much emotion he can put in his rapping. It’s joyful, it’s truthful, it’s incredible. Plus, the video is a lot of fun. Here’s “Sunday Candy:”


How about a live performance? He always changes up his tracks a bit when he performs. Let’s let Chance take us to church with his performance on Jimmy Fallon:


“I don’t make songs for free, I make ’em for freedom.”

 

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2016 in Music, Music Review, MYNIYL

 

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Favorite Albums of 2015

Now that we’re in December, it’s time for all the “Best of” lists from every blog/magazine. And for whatever reason, I have always added my list to the group but with using the word “favorite” instead of “best” because I don’t think I (or anybody else) is really able to say what is best. Also, I usually do only my top 10 but this year I decided to tell you about 20 albums. But in the effort of not taking too much of your time, I’m only going to add comments to the top ten. 20-11 will be just a youtube link to one of the songs from the album. That said, let’s get to it. As always, the titles of the album are links to iTunes. Let me know why my list sucks, what you would have added and taken away, etc.

20. Billy Gibbons & the BFGs – Perfectamundo

19. The Lone Bellow – Then Came the Morning 

18. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

17. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

16. DNCE – SWAAY

15. Adele – 25

14. Wilco – Star Wars

13. Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect

12. Nate Ruess – Grand Romantic

11. MUTEMATH – Vitals

10. Ben Folds – So There

Eight incredibly fun songs recorded and written with the chamber pop group yMusic. A beautiful piano concerto written by Ben Folds and performed with the Nashville Symphony. All on the same album! How could this not be great? And that’s a rhetorical question because there’s only one option. It’s really great. Here’s Ben Folds and yMusic performing the track “Capable of Anything:”

9. The Milk Carton Kids – Monterey

I love this folk duo. They follow the traditional style of flat-picking harmonies. There songs are perfectly written, perfectly harmonized. You can barely tell if the songs were recorded this year or 50 years ago. And that’s exactly what they want. Everything I’ve heard from them has had the same emotional effect on me and all the tracks on this album are no different. Here’s their song “Poison Tree” that makes me want to cry every time I hear it:

8. Sara Bareilles – What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress

I’m always excited about any new Sara Bareilles music. She has perfected piano-driven pop music, she sings incredibly, and puts on a killer live show. I didn’t really know what to expect from her newest album. Let me explain. Sara Bareilles wrote the score for a musical adaptation of a movie titled Waitress. The musical was very successful and is opening on Broadway next year. But before all that happens, Bareilles wanted to record some of the songs from the musical as her own usual pop songs. And because of this we get a collection of her usual pop songs but with the storytelling of a musical. And Jason Mraz is featured on two tracks. So I loved it. Here’s “She Used to be Mine:”

7. Jamie Cullum – Interlude

Jamie Cullum continuously releases albums that explore connections between pop and jazz. He’s a prolific jazz pianist that writes pop music. Or a pop songwriter that plays jazz piano. Anyway, each album he releases falls somewhere different on the spectrum between jazz and pop. This most recent release is his first full jazz album. Recorded with a big band and IN ONE TAKE (!!!!!!!), the album consists of jazz covers and includes two great duets. Here’s the opening track, “Interlude,” performed live:

6. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Although this album opens up with what I consider a pretty weak song, the second track, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” is so good, I would still put the album in my top 10 even if it only had this song repeated a dozen times. And the rest of the songs are just as good. I don’t know another band playing right now that is as rock and roll, as raw, as good as this band. To prove it, here’s the band playing “Don’t Wanna Fight” live:

5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

After the electronic perfection of The Age of Adz and the hip-hop collaborations under the names S / S / S and Sisyphus (both with Son Lux and the rapper Serengeti), I don’t think anybody really expected the understated simplicity and beauty that Carrie & Lowell is. After his mother died of stomach cancer in 2012, Sufjan Stevens used his songwriting to explore his grieving, his relationship with his mother, and his thoughts on death. The song “Fourth of July” is one of the most direct songs on the album, dealing with his mother’s cancer and death, opening with lines: “The evil it spread like a fever ahead / It was night when you died, my firefly / What could I have said to raise you from the dead? / Oh could I be the sky on the fourth of July?”

4. Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues

Consisting of five of the most talented musicians in the folk and bluegrass worlds, Punch Brothers released another great album this year. Each album explores the boundaries of what bluegrass instrumentation can accomplish. You never really know what sounds they’ll be able to create with their collection of instruments and it’s always fun to find out. And on top of all this experimentation, they just write some of the greatest songs coming out right now. Honestly, I don’t know how they continue to pump out all this music because they all have relentless touring, writing, and recording sessions as individual musicians and with other groups. When do they get together to write and record? Who knows. But I’m glad it happens. Here’s the band performing two tracks from the album, “My Oh My” and “Boll Weevil:”

3. Florence & The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

I think Florence Welch has one of the strongest and most interesting voices in music. Her and her band’s first two albums have some of the most ethereal, beautiful, and haunting music out there. But their third album is a little different. More raw, more in your face, more vulnerable. It’s so different but exactly what you’d expect. The album cover is just a picture of her staring into your soul with nothing around her and that is precisely what the album sounds like. Nothing between her voice and your ears. It just drives right into you. Every track, every melody just hits you in the bottom of your stomach. And I couldn’t stop listening to it for a long time after the album came out. On top of all the great songs, the music videos were cinematography masterpieces. They are being released as chapters in a story titled The Odyssey and so far they’ve released 6 chapters. I’m not sure how many chapters there will be. Anyway, here’s chapter 1, the video for “What Kind of Man:”

2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Now if I would have attempted at making this list the “best of” and not my favorites, this album would have been number one. This is the most ambitious, most talked-about, most important release this year. On top of all that, it’s just a really great album. Blending hip-hop with jazz, funk, and spoken poetry, each track is an adventure. The lyrics throughout the album thoroughly dissect the experience of black Americans. Racism, hatred, hypocrisy, violence, religion, money, politics, police brutality, Wesley Snipes, drugs, Obama…Kendrick Lamar leaves no rock unturned. And with all this dense lyrical content, the album is incredibly playable also. So many fun jams, funky beats, and great raps throughout the whole album. Also, every time he’s played a track from the album on a talk show, it’s been incredible. All of them: his medley on the Late Show, SNL, and Ellen for some examples.  But his music videos are really where he hits hard. Let’s watch the video for “Alright,” which opens up with some spoken poetry and intense video clips, goes into a section of a song that’s not on the album, and then finally into the funky beat of the song:

1. Original Broadway Cast Recording – Hamilton

So I just told you guys about this recording last month. There really isn’t much I can add to what I’ve already said so just go read that post. But I’m still listening to it as much as ever. I’m still just as obsessed. I probably have more of it memorized than I’d care to admit. I closely follow Lin-Manuel Miranda through his whirlwind life showing up on talk shows, news channels, and television game shows. He freestyles on Fallon, he gave answers on Jeopardy, wrote music for the new Star Wars movie, and who knows what else. But back to the musical. Since it’s a Broadway play, there aren’t any music videos like all the previous albums. There are a few clips from the actual play but not too many. So instead, I guess I’ll just post the first 3 tracks from the recording. This will give you a pretty good idea of the music. The first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” gives us some biographical information and background story to Hamilton arriving in New York:

This brings us to Hamilton meeting Aaron Burr, his frenemy and the dude that ultimately kills him in a Duel. Really the majority of the conflict in the play is Aaron Burr’s desire to advance his career and how he blames Hamilton for most of his setbacks. That said, we don’t really see that conflict yet in the second song, “Aaron Burr, Sir:”

This brings us two the third track, “My Shot.” Lin-Manuel Miranda said he spent a year writing this song because he wanted every line to be perfect. This song encompasses his ambitions and his fears and introduces us to some of his friends. Listen:

From there it goes into the American Revolution and Hamilton meeting his future wife. After the war we get to the political battles between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, his sons death during a duel, and then Hamilton’s eventual death. You can listen to the whole cast recording on youtube. I highly recommend it. I mean, it is my favorite album of 2015.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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Music You Need in Your Life (MYNIYL) – Stromae

First, let’s get through the mouthful of a title I have up there. I decided to make a name for when I share artists I think you should be listening to. Music I think you need in your life. Now. So from now on I’ll just title the blog “MYNIYL” and the name of the artist/band. Anyways, with that out of the way, let me introduce you to somebody.

So a few months ago NPR did a story about this Belgian pop star. I really enjoyed the story and the music but by the time I got home, I forgot his name. Then the other day I stumbled across this news article and video on my Facebook and re-found Stromae.

Singing in French over infectious, piano-driven pop music, Stromae is fairly huge pop star in Europe. Relatively unknown in America, I was excited to find his music. And even without understanding any of his lyrics, I can understand most of the stories he’s telling us through the music. Emotions know no language boundaries. Well, enough words, let me allow his music to speak for itself. I want to start off with “Papaoutai,” a song that is about disconnection from a father (side-note: Stromae’s father was killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994):

I really love his music videos. They really push the meanings behind the lyrics that I can’t understand. I also love the use of choreographed dance that is prevalent in all his videos. This next video, “Tous Les Memes,” is really incredible. From what I can tell, the song is about how the different genders react differently to situations. But what makes the video such a joy to watch is that Stromae plays both a male and female character. And he seamlessly switches back and forth between the two. The impressive choreographed dancing I mentioned earlier is also here. Just watch:

Just to show you how powerful a singer he really is, here’s a stripped down performance of “Formidable” live at a Seattle radio station:

So…go buy his most recent album:

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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Music, Music Review, MYNIYL

 

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Favorite Albums of 2014

I always look forward to the beginning of December because I get to start putting together my favorite albums of the year. Just like every year I can’t wait to hear your comments and complaints. Let me know what albums should have made the list and what albums obviously shouldn’t have been there. And I always like to point out that I purposefully used the word “favorite” instead of “best” because I can’t really argue the latter. As usual, I’ll have some videos for you to watch and listen to and the titles of each album are links to iTunes if you’re interested in purchasing the music. Alright, let’s do it:

10. Jason Mraz – YES!

So let’s start the list off with an old favorite of mine, Jason Mraz. I’ve been a fan of his since the beginning and I always enjoy his albums. Each one is different than the last without losing the Mraz sound and YES! is no exception. What makes this record different is the change in backing musicians. YES! was recorded with an all-female band named Raising Jane playing everything except for Jason’s parts. And on the tour (that Halie and I was lucky enough to attend) Raising Jane opened and played with Jason. They had a great chemistry amongst themselves and between them and Jason and the night was filled with an incredibly positive vibe and enjoyable music. As always, Jason’s voice is still one of the strongest in the business even if he doesn’t use it to it’s full potential all the time. Let’s listen to “Hello, You Beautiful Thing” so you can get a feel for the album:


9. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with St. Vincent (stage name of Annie Clark) but she’s really, really good. She started as a member of The Polyphonic Spree and moved on to be part of Sufjan Steven’s touring band. Finally she started her own band under the name St. Vincent and has been making infectious music ever since. This self-titled album is actually her fourth and you can hear the expertise and experience in every note played. She’s an inventive guitar player even though she doesn’t force her guitar into the forefront of her music. With that said, seeing her live consisted of her relying much heavier on the her guitar which created a completely different vibe than her album has. And both are great. Anyways, here’s “Digital Witness:”


8. Lily Allen – Sheezus

Speaking of odd women. This lady makes some really great pop music. And her lyrics are hilarious, thought-provoking, inappropriate, and everything else you’d ever want from words. There are so many things about this album that make me love it. First, the name. As far as I know, she got the name from Kanye West’s album Yeezus. In the song “Sheezus” she sings about all the female pop singers and how awesome they are but she ends the chorus with “Give me that crown, bitch, I wanna be Sheezus.” My next favorite thing about her album is the humor and wit she puts into every song. One of the funniest tracks is “URL Badman” in which she mocks all the online commentators that have only horrible things to say on every youtube video, especially for female artist. But Lily Allen also has the beautiful on her record. There are numerous love songs about her, her husband, and her children. She speaks candidly about the great and the mundane when it comes to marriage and having children. And within all of these, she continues to make feministic statements that really question society’s views on what women artist should and should not talk about. I guess the best way to introduce this album would be to let her tell you about being “Sheezus:”


7. Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love

So when I was in college I regularly would get the iTunes free single of the week. For some reason I forget to do that now but over the years I’ve come across a lot of great music because of this. One example: Paolo Nutini and his first single “New Shoes.” I’ve followed his career since that first single in 2007 and have always jammed whatever he releases. His newest album, Caustic Love, has everything I love about Paolo Nutini: incredibly strong vocals, upbeat funky jams, slow soulful crooners, a great backing band, and music that continuously surprises you about where it’s going next. This year at ACL I finally got to see him perform live (and I was front row). He put on a great performance and I can’t wait to see him again. Listen to “Scream (Funk My Life Up)” to hear what he can do vocally and musically:


6. TUNE-YARDS – Nikki Nack

Now let’s get to a really odd woman. Merrill Garbus, the lead singer of TUNE-YARDS (or tUnE-yArDs), creates percussively bombastic pop music. Her vocal range is anywhere between a manly growl to some of the sweetest high notes you’ve ever heard. Her lyrics can go from nonsensical to depressing in one verse. Her stage performance is a sight to see with most members on stage playing some type of percussive instrument while interweaving intricate harmonies and layering it all over a funky bass line. Which brings us to her new album, Nikki Nack. From “Water Fountains” infectiously funky beat to the smooth vocals all over “Wait for a Minute,” the album gives us an unpredictable landscape of what pop music can be. I want you to listen to “Real Thing” to really hear the range in her vocals and what she can do with pop music:


5. Spoon – They Want my Soul

So if you’ve paid attention to my favorite albums list for the past few years, you’ve might have noticed less and less rock bands show up. And I’ll tell you why. Over time rock music has become bland and boring to me. I just feel like hearing a four-piece rock band play the same few chords has been driven into the ground. That said, there are exceptions. Bands doing something unique, creative, or just so damned well you can’t not like them. I’d say Austin rock band Spoon meets all these exceptional standards. They consistently make great, minimalistic, funky rock music. Every record doesn’t disappoint. And their newest, They Want my Soul, is no different. Here’s the opening track, “Rent I Pay:”


4. A Great Big World – Is There Anybody Out There?

Every once in a while I’ll use iTunes radio’s First Play to listen to an album from a band I’ve never heard just to see if anything good is slipping through my fingers. One day I decided to play this album. And it starts. Piano pop. Almost punk vocals and harmonies. Then it starts sounding like a musical. I almost feel like I’m listening to a Glee soundtrack. Later into the album there’s some incredible piano ballads. A few great lyrics slip into my ear. Then a few hilarious songs. And by the end I’m confused. Then I listen to the whole thing again. And again. And then I pre-order the album. And it’s been on repeat pretty regularly ever since it’s release. You almost need to hear the whole album to appreciate this band. Each song only shows one facet of this larger picture of a great, almost perfect, pop band. They have a few music videos you can look up on youtube but here’s the audio from the first track, “Rockstar,” so you can hear what I heard first:


3. Pharrell Williams – G I R L

Now speaking of pop music, Pharrell Williams. Every freaking popular song over this past summer either was written by, produced by, or featuring Pharrell. And then he released his full album, G I R L, and that was it. That was all the music anybody needed for the summer. One killer jam after another. Upbeat, sexy, and incredibly fun. From beginning to end. It never got old because you wanted to dance to the record over and over. Of course everybody knows (and some hate) his single “Happy” but you can’t judge him off that one song, even though it’s a great song albeit overplayed. But there are plenty of more great songs on the record. And as an ode to all women, how can you hate it? Anyways, I guess we’ll continue with the opening tracks of each. Here’s “Marilyn Monroe:”


2. Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy

So these next two albums are from bands that have taken long hiatuses (announced and unannounced) and have finally released new music. First we have Damien Rice, the musical love of my later high school years. He pretty much disappeared from the spotlight until this past year and released My Favourite Faded Fantasy after a long (and difficult for fans) 8 years. The album is everything I wanted it to be. All the emotion, raw power, and inappropriateness of his earlier work brought up to today with Rick Rubin’s clean and lushly orchestrated production. Even with only 8 tracks, each song gives us so much. His vocal performance is as great as ever, his lyrical genius still shining through. This is the only official video released so far for the album, “I Don’t Want to Change You:”


1. Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line

And finally we have number one. Nickel Creek. Playing their first show in 1989 with the oldest member being 12, they started releasing incredible bluegrass albums with folk, country, pop, and rock influences during the early 2000s. Their last album was released in 2005, a hiatus announced in 2007. And finally, we have a new album: A Dotted Line. If you don’t know anything about Nickel Creek, I’m not really sure how to explain the music to you without letting you listen. If you are familiar with them, get this new record. It’s all the goodness of the last few albums blended in with more drive, more emotion, and more creativity than they’ve ever shown together. I say “together” because during their hiatus all the members have been creating incredible solo work or work with other musicians, my favorite being Chris Thile’s band Punch Brothers. Anyways, Nickel Creek has three members who all sing. So let’s try to get a track for each of them. Here’s violinist Sara Watkins leading “Destination:”


Next we have the oddest track from the record, “Hayloft.” Although Sara sings the chorus, mandolinist Chris Thile sings most of the song:


And last but not least we have the slightly more traditional bluegrass track “21st of May.” Really listen to these lyrics because they crack me up. If you can pick it up, he’s singing from the perspective of Pastor Harold Camping wrongly predicting the rapture on the 21st of May:


And if you can’t get enough of all this awesomeness, here’s their incredible performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. Although two of the above tracks are repeated, it’s worth watching them play it all live to really drive home their musical and storytelling abilities:


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There you go. That’s all of them. Until next year.
Oh, yeah, let me do the honorable mentions. 5 artist (in no particular order) that released really good albums this year that almost made my list: Coldplay, Heath McNease, Elizabeth & The Catapult, Jack White, and Kimbra.

Okay, hit me with your comments. What albums did I miss? Which ones am I completely crazy for having on here? Why am I an idiot?

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Music, Music Review

 

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Favorite Albums of 2013

It’s that time of year again! I love collecting my favorite albums of the year into a blog post every December. I always get a great response about what albums I missed or why I’m stupid for having a certain album on the list. Anyways, another great year for music. So here they are:

10. The Ash & Clay – The Milk Carton Kids

This duo has some of the most haunting and most beautiful folk music around. With an incredibly unique writing style, harmonies that are very reminiscent of traditional folk, and impressive guitar playing, everything these guys do is magic. Here’s one of their few upbeat songs, “Honey, Honey” featuring Amanda Seyfried driving a car:

9. The Great Gatsby (Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film) – Various Artist

Whether you love or hate this adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, there’s no denying that this is a killer soundtrack. Produced by Jay-Z, the recordings perfectly blend 1920s jazz and todays pop and hip-hop. Some might be turned away by the modern music but I think the reasoning is to make comparisons between the excess and extravagance of the ’20s and of today using music to show the parallels. And it’s great. Here’s Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody.” Give it a shot:

8. Foreverly – Billie Joe + Norah

Now I just recently reviewed this record so there’s no need to go into too much detail. Quick overview: Jazz pianist Norah Jones and punk singer Billie Joe Armstrong team up to recreate an Everly Brothers album of traditional folk and country songs. Here’s “Long Time Gone:”

7. Bankrupt! – Phoenix

Every Phoenix record is full of great pop/rock music. Of course, this record is no different. From the Asian-sounding melody at the beginning all the way through, they never let up. Seeing them live at ACL this year was a great experience that gave me a new side to all the songs. Live, they put way more emphasis on the drums and guitars and it seemed way more of a rock show than their records ever do. I guess we’ll listen to “Entertainment,” the first track and single off the album:

6. The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

This band is what happens if a folk band listens to too much U2 and lives in New York. And it’s great. I reviewed their record when it first came out and still love it now as much as I did then. Also, being front row at their ACL performance was an incredible experience. They were such humble performers and even had to play on borrowed instruments because an airline lost their luggage earlier that day. Anyways, here’s “Bleeding Out:”

5. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

One of the few bands deserving of their name. First, their music and lyrics have always been about conflict and dissonance. Then the two singers (Joy and John) are now so mad at each other that they aren’t on speaking terms. So we now have a real civil war inside the band. And this record exemplifies all of this perfectly. Dark, haunting, dissonant, and beautiful. “The One That Got Away:”

4. Reflektor – Arcade Fire

After winning Album of the Year at the Grammy’s a few years ago, everybody knows and loves Arcade Fire. And for good reason. They make great rock music. Thought-provoking, heavy, and complex. And danceable..

3. Yeezus – Kanye West

Well, let’s get kind of controversial now. Rap music with incredibly minimalistic production. Lyrics touching on fashion, racism, religion, and some of the most misogynistic lines ever. And of course, Kanye himself is a love him or hate him character. All that said, this record is beyond killer. It’s polarizing sounds draws me in over and over. I can barely go a week without having to spin this another time. There’s no video for my favorite song, “New Slaves,” but you can listen to it here:

2. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

Really, this was the surprise album of the year. I’ve always enjoyed Vampire Weekend’s stuff. Fun and simple rock music. Then they came out with this record and it’s pretty unbelievable. Boundary-pushing vocals, layered and deep lyrics, and some incredibly beautiful songwriting. The whole album is a great journey through their perception of New York and really, any city. I want to share two songs with you. First is their only “fun” song from the record, “Diane Young.” After that will be the track titled “Step” that has some great vocal melodies.

1. The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

Originally released in two parts, this has to be the perfect pop record. Containing everything about classic, modern, and future pop, there’s a little bit of everything. These songs are way more fleshed out than you would expect from a pop star. The track lengths range from 4:32 to 11:31 with most falling in around 7 to 8 minutes. And not all of these songs are dance tracks. JT proved that pop music can be art (as Lady Gaga weeps). The first single features Jay-Z and is a great track, “Suit & Tie:”

A few months later he announced part two with this disco-influenced single, “Take Back the Night:”

Then in October, he released his most recent video for the single “TKO.” This one sounds a little more modern then the last two videos:

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How about some honorable mentions? Here’s 10 artist in no particular order that almost made my list: Sara Bareilles, Janelle Monae, Portugal. The Man, Jack Johnson, Jay-Z, The Avett Brothers, Gavin DeGraw, Jamie Cullum, Paul McCartney, and Lorde.

Well, that wraps it up for this year. I guess we’ll meet back again next December.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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Punk/Jazz/Pop/Blues/Country…

Now this combination might sound strange. But don’t knock it until you give it a chance. Greater things have come from weirder combinations.

Let’s start off with the singer of the punk band Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong. He finds an old vinyl by the Everly Brothers of them covering traditional folk and countries song titled Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. He decides to recreate the album. Needing another singer (because the Everly Brothers are obviously known for their close harmonies), he tags jazz pianist Norah Jones. She has previously dabbled in country music on a few of her songs and numerous collaborations so it was a perfect fit.

Billie_Joe_Norah_Foreverly

Titled foreverly, this album is a beautiful homage to country, traditional music, the Everly Brothers, great singing, and everything else I can think of. Well, let me let you hear some of it before we go any farther. Here’s the first song they released in the form of a lyric video, Long Time Gone:

It reminds me of the album Robert Plant and Allison Krauss did a few years ago. Two voices, a few acoustic instruments, and heartbreaking lyrics. Honestly, I don’t think Norah Jones can do any wrong and as of yet, she hasn’t. Want to watch their second single, Silver Haired Daddy of Mine? Let’s do it:

Anyways, go buy it. Good stuff.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Music, Music Review

 

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