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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.

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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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New Music – October

Next month has a good bunch of records that I’m very excited about. So. I wanted to tell you about them. So. Let’s go.

October 1:

B-Room – Dr. Dog

Dr. Dog is one of those bands that have a relentless schedule of new music released. I love every record and always look forward to anything they put out. This is no exception. Here’s “Broken Heart:”

The 20/20 Experience 2 – Justin Timberlake

If this record is as half as good as the first one, it will be worth the price of admission. Timberlake knows how to make great, thought-provoking pop music. The first single is more upbeat and a little less fleshed out as anything off the first 20/20 but it’s still a killer tune:

Pure Heroine – Lorde

Lorde, 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Conner from New Zealand, is making incredible pop music. You might have heard her first single and might not know who she is. I’m not sure if this song is going to be on her debut album but I can’t get it out of my head. Here’s “Royals:”

October 8:

Melophobia – Cage the Elephant

This is just one of those fun rock bands that are just great to listen to. I saw them open for Manchester Orchestra and they put on a really good show. This is the first single from the new album, “Come a Little Closer:”

October 15:

Magpie and the Dandelion – The Avett Brothers

I’m so excited that there was such a quick turnaround since their last album. You can’t have too much Avett Brothers. Saw them last year at ACL. Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers came out and played a song with them. Anyways, I’m looking forward to this new album. The first single:

Make a Move – Gavin DeGraw

For 10 years, Gavin DeGraw has been putting out great piano pop music. He has a very distinctive voice and songwriting style that is his own while still fitting onto pop radio. I still think his debut record is one of the best debut pop albums. Since then, I still look forward and jam out to every subsequent release by him. His first single is just as catchy as anything he’s written:

New – Paul McCartney

There’s not much I can say about Paul McCartney that you don’t already know. As one of the greatest and most prolific songwriters in the world, I look forward to any new stuff from him. And from the first single, this album sounds like it’ll be a great one.

October 29:

Reflektor – Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire’s last album was considered the best album of 2010 by numerous publications (and rightfully so). Because of that, everybody has high hopes for this new record. And guessing from the first single, the album will live up to any hype and expectations that people have. The music video is great, the song is killer. I can’t wait for this album.

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Anyways, support your favorite artist. Buy your music. Or not. Whatever. Just listen to great music.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Lists, Music

 

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Pop Goes the Music

Throughout history, popular music has existed as different genres of music that “have popular appeal.” This has always been short, simple, and easily digestible music that can be sold to and memorized by the masses. Usually, pop music has a derogatory connotation to those that write, study, and play more serious types of music. Every once in a while, artist will come out of the pop music genre as pushing the boundaries and making great music, whether it’s considered pop or not. Historically speaking, some recent examples would be The Beatles in the 60’s and Michael Jackson in the 80’s.

I believe we are having another resurgence of great pop music. And it’s not being led by one person. Let me speculate on where it started and who’s doing it right.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, not much was happening in the pop world. Cookie-cutter singers releasing cookie-cutter pop songs. Then a rock band came on the radio playing funk-influenced pop music. Nobody knew what to think. Most “serious” musicians wrote them off as pop music even though they were a 5-piece rock band playing their instruments more impressively than a lot of bands on the rock stations.

Maroon 5 continues to make great pop music into this decade.

Later in the first decade of the 2000’s, more and more “rock” bands starting playing with sounds that most people would consider only pop bands using. This lead us into the next decade when the resurgence really got going. In 2011, we had a piano-driven rock band released an incredible “pop” record:

I always pictured Coldplay getting ready for this record and saying, “Look at all the rock bands trying to write a pop record. Let’s show them how it’s done.” And did they.

About this time, people started realizing that there are a lot of great bands doing pop music that just aren’t getting popular. For example, the band Phoenix have been releasing great pop music since the early 2000’s out of France. The masses didn’t know until their breakout album of 2009, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.

This brings us to 2012 and the release of a perfectly amazing pop record by fun., Some Nights (and a self-promotion of my Feb 2012 review of said album).

We finally come to this year with what might be one of the greatest pop records in a long time. The funny thing is this artist was part of the cookie–cutter pop of the 90’s I was speaking about earlier. Of course, it’s Justin Timberlake.

I think Relevant Magazine had one of the best reviews of the record. They summed up the whole thing pretty well with this one statement: “The 20/20 Experience is getting criticized for not having enough pep or urgency, which is sort of like criticizing an opera for not having a clown.” The record is a very fleshed-out experience of classic and modern pop music. The tracks are long and the danceability is only there for a few tracks. All that said, it is such a great listen.

So JT brings us to what is currently incredible in pop music. On the flip side, this means that other artists cannot continue to make mediocre pop music. If the listeners are buying JT’s new record and fun.’s record by the millions and millions (they are), then the listeners want good pop music. A great example of mediocre pop music not making the same splash in the world is will.i.am’s new record, #willpower. This album currently has 2.5 stars on iTunes. I know you can’t put a lot of weight on online reviews but I have never seen a rating that low on an album from somebody popular. For reviews from actual publications, this is about how they all read.

That said, mediocre pop music will still sell but I think it will become harder and harder to not be great and try to compete with what’s killing the charts right now.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Music, Music Review

 

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Hijo del Rio – National Parks

Imagine this: you’re taking a hike up a mountain in Oregon. You get to the top to find a beautiful panorama of the Columbia River, Washington State, and miles of forest. While you’re enjoying the view and the solitude, you hear something that sounds like an acoustic guitar. On the other side of the peak you find a twenty-something that might or might not have a beard playing a few simple songs. Then you notice a small orchestra behind him…

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This poorly illustrated scene and incredible photo is what happens in my head every time I listen to Hijo del Rio’s upcoming album, National Parks. At it’s core a singer-songwriter record, each track leads to beautiful yet subtle orchestration. The instrumentation ranges from voice and acoustic guitar to drums and electric guitars organs and string instruments. But first, the band.

Hijo del Rio consists mainly of singer and guitar player Tommy Read, from Silsbee, Texas. Other instrumentation was provided by friends and family members. I have been following Tommy for a few years through his different musical endeavors. I always enjoy whatever music he is making and Hijo del Rio is no exception. He always make simple songs (folk, singer-songwriter, blues, etc.) so layered and complex. His lyrics simultaneously touch on the very personal while reaching all issues of life. Which brings us to the new record.

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National Parks is a collection of 12 songs. Songs of life and love, death and cigarettes. It’s not an upbeat album. Most of the tracks are slower, introspective songs. But that’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s beautiful:

The recorded version of When the Summer Came is probably my favorite track on the record. Half way through the song, a simple half-note melody comes in. Played by a pump organ, the single notes almost sound like a clarinet. Slowly, a cello is introduced. Then more strings. Finally, the last 45 seconds give us a chilling, incredibly divine orchestration played over the acoustic guitar that I don’t want to ever stop. Alas, it does. Luckily, I have the record on repeat (you will too) and I just have to wait for the song to come back around.

Released on April 26th, National Parks can be purchased on their bandcamp page. When you but this record (because I know you will), you get immediate downloads of all the tracks at any quality level you desire. Listen to the tracks now and click on the album title or cover to go pre-order the record for a measly $7:

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**5/16/2013 UPDATE**

Noistrade.com is currently showcasing National Parks under their “New and Notable” section on their front page. Because of that, Hijo del Rio is offering the complete album with a bonus track for FREE! Click here to get it!

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**4/28/2013 UPDATE**

Friday night, my friend William and I were able to drive up to Waco to see Hijo del Rio’s CD release show. It was a great event with music from a few bands and an art show by the album cover artist, Colby Crelia. Hijo took the stage with full band (including two violinist) to perform most of the tracks off the album. It was incredible to see these songs live. My favorite song to see performed was probably Perfect Ghost. Tommy’s guitar was beautifully dirty sounding. The solo was perfectly sloppy. It was a great moment.

Here’s a shot of the band performing (with the incredible Hannah Read of Lomelda on bass):

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And here’s a shot of the band with the two violinist performing my favorite song from the album, When the Summer Came:

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Anyways, go buy the record. Now.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Music, Music Review

 

Concert Review: fun. @ Bayou Music Center

I have found the definition of a band “making it.” If you can open a show with a mid-tempo bonus track and the audience reacts like it is your biggest single, you have made it. And that is exactly what fun. did last night.

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Starting with Out on the Town, the bonus track off their hit album Some Nights, fun. played a blistering hour and a half set to a sold out crowd at the Bayou Music Center. The audience sang every word and loved every note played. Bananas and Mardi Gras beads were thrown on the stage, Nate (the singer) informed us that we were all his Valentine, and a great time was had by all.

Now, if you read this blog, you know I’m a big fan of this band. I reviewed their album last February (with stupidly obvious pun and all) and named it #2 on my favorite albums of 2012. But wow, their performance was incredible. Live, musically speaking, they play more like an orchestra. The drummer didn’t do the standard 8th note high-hats with snare on 2 and 4. His playing reminded me more of a timpani player. Or a hip-hop song. Either way works. Andrew’s piano parts were the driving force of so many songs and as a piano player, I loved that. Jack always plays his guitar energetically and his parts always fit the song perfectly. That said, during an acoustic set, Jack really showed his talent on the acoustic guitar. His finger picking, his strum patterns, and even his solos on the acoustic were incredible. And of course, Nate was all over the stage singing all over the treble clef. Damn, he can hit some notes. On pitch, too!

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Anyways, great band. Great concert. Great night. I’m ready to see them perform again.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Music, Music Review

 

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