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Favorite Albums of 2018

So, last year I somehow did not do my favorite album list. I apologize profusely. I’ll never know how to make up for it. Anyway, here’s my favorite albums of 2018. Number 20-11 will only be the name and a video, the top ten will have a few comments by me in addition to a video or two. Let me know in the comments what’s right and wrong about my list, what albums I missed, etc. Let’s go.

20. The New Respects – Before the Sun Goes Down

 

19. Jason Mraz – Know.

 

18. Florence + The Machine – High as Hope

 

 

16. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – Tearing at the Seams

 

15. Punch Brothers – All Ashore

 

14. The Suffers – Everything Here

 

13. Logic – YSIV

 

12. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born Soundtrack

 

11. The Milk Carton Kids – All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do

 

10. Lucy Dacus – Historian

Yay, I finally get to talk about some music. I listened to Historian solely because of the name while looking at new releases one Friday. It took less than 7 minutes (the length of the first track) for me to realize this was something special. The heartbreak, the darkness, the hope, the light. The whispers and the screams. The loss of loved ones and the escape from others. All emotions, all of life was encompassed in these songs. The album was released in March and even though we don’t deserve more, she released an EP with her supergroup including Julian Baker and Phoebe Bridges: boygenius. Well, let’s hear a song. Here’s “Night Shift”, the opening track I mentioned before. If you have 7 minutes to spare, listen to the whole thing. You won’t regret it.

 

9. Noname – Room 25

I first learned about Noname because of her verses on the last Chance the Rapper record. I didn’t know you could be so understated and calm while rapping some of the most intense lyrics around. I quickly listened to her first album and watched all the live videos on YouTube, especially her Tiny Desk Concert. Her vibe is consistently chilled. Her words are not. Here’s the second track of Room 25 titled “Blaxpoitation”:

 

8. MAJOR. – Even More

This dude is criminally underrated.  Classically trained vocalist for opera and stage, MAJOR. has a powerful voice that would be perfect singing anything. Secretly, I want him to play George Washington in Hamilton on Broadway (call me Lin-Manuel). MAJOR.’s debut album, Even More, is upbeat and poppy. It’s a lot of fun from beginning to end. He borrows influence from soul, R&B, theater, pop and hip-hop. There’s world beats mixed in. He tends to make big, bold statements about himself and what the world needs. For example, here’s how he introduces the album:

Even More is my official statement to the world that hope in love, culture, and our future is not lost. Like my heroes Michael Jackson, MLK, & Stevie Wonder, I’ve accepted the charge to bring fearless love through every lyric, melody, & moment. The world is hurting. Even More is the solution.”

Let’s listen to “Honest”:

 

7. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Being one of the biggest surprises of 2018, Cardi B’s debut studio album released to impressive critical acclaim and commercial success. Cardi B just has this presence that you can’t explain. Any verse from her is infectious. You’re required to listen. Whether you’re laughing or you’re shocked or even confused, you are still glad you did listen. NPR’s Ann Powers said it best: “She walks into a song and it changes.” It can be Maroon 5’s pop, Bruno Mars’ throwback funk or her own hip-hop. It doesn’t matter, she was meant to be there. The best example, “I Like It”, has her traveling between trap and salsa and R&B and hip-hop:

 

6. St. Vincent – MassEducation

Usually, I’m not a fan of most acoustic or stripped down albums. If you write an album with a full band, I wanna hear it with a full band. More often than not, these types of albums bore me. St. Vincent’s album MassEducation is an impressively lovely exception to this rule. In 2017, St. Vincent released one of the best albums of the year, Masseduction. Dark, sexy and infectiously poppy, I loved it. But when she stripped all the instruments and beats away and slowly sang the same songs over a piano, everything took a whole new meaning. The cute became sinister. The smiles became pain. Levels of emotion and sadness came out of the lyrics that were almost washed away behind the glitzy production of the original. Here’s a live performance of “Savior” stripped down to just a piano and her voice:

 

5. Ariana Grande – Sweetener 

2018 was the year of Ariana for all the right and wrong reasons. She showed strength and resilience after 2017’s horrific bombing at her concert in Manchester. She experienced heartbreak with the end of her relationship with Mac Miller, happiness with her dating and engagement to Pete Davidson then (I’d imagine) indescribable sadness with Mac Miller’s overdose and untimely death in September. The next month her and Davidson’s engagement was called off. In the midst of all the drama, she released an incredible album, Sweetener. This sugary, intimate album is a perfect snapshot of this time. She teaches us how to see the light in darkness, how to breathe during the pain, how to love the unlovable. And none of this touches on “thank u, next“, the sweetest breakup song ever.  But let’s listen to “breathin”:

 

4. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

NPR’s number one album of 2018 and for good reason. This afro-futuristic, pop and funk perfection has everything: catchy melodies, woman empowerment, funky guitars, political jabs, sexual fluidity, black empowerment, anger and harmonies, love and science fiction. And on top of all this, she also released a 50 minute “emotion picture” to accompany the album. Every song on here is damn near perfect so I’m having a hard time picking which to show you. Do you want pop? Or hip-hop? Let’s just keep it sexy with this Prince-inspired anthem, “Make Me Feel”:

 

3. Leon Bridges – Good Thing

I feel like this is the forgotten album of 2018. When the best of lists started coming out, this one was missing from most (if not all). And as you can see from my high placement, I have no clue why. Leon Bridges was able to get everything that made his debut incredible and bring it into the modern world. He brought his unmistakable voice and vibe into today’s R&B, soul and pop. And he did it all while still looking like the 1950s dressed him. I’m mad at all y’all that aren’t listening. Remedy this, quick. “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)”:

 

2.  Rosalía – El Mal Querer

I’m so happy to have found Rosalia this year. This Spanish singer seamlessly combines flamenco and pop music. Her traditional vibrato singing intertwines with trap beats, flamenco claps and Spanish guitars. She samples modern music like Justin Timberlake while telling the 13th century story of a woman accused of infidelity. El Mal Querer is a drastic shift from her debut album, a collection of flamenco classics performed with Raul Refree. I don’t speak Spanish and don’t want to translate songs so I have to guess what the songs mean based on the emotions portrayed by her voice. Frankly, it isn’t too hard. Enough with words, here’s “Di Mi Nombre”:

 

I mentioned sampling Justin Timberlake earlier. The next song has a Spanish version of “Cry Me a River” as the foundation. The song is “Bagdad”:

 

1. Christine and the Queens – Chris

I cannot stop listening to this album. Daily, weekly, I keep coming back to it. Christine and the Queens is the stage name for the French artist Héloïse Letissier. She sings in French and English and her performances are heavily choreographed, taking on a theatrical production. She blurs the boundary of music and theater, male and female, sex and love. Dance tells one story, while words tell another. Her voice is seducing you while her body is pushing you away. It doesn’t matter what language she chooses, her message is still clear. Actually, her album was released as a double album, the first half in English and the second with all the same songs in French. I listen from top to bottom, from English to French, every time I play it. She can sing to me in whatever language she wants.

All that said, let’s hear some songs. In “5 dollars”, she shows hickeys, scratch marks and bondage equipment, all covered up in a 3-piece suit:

 

“It doesn’t matter, does it / If I know any exit / If I believe in god and if god does exist / If I believe in god and if god does exist” is sung over playful choreography in a parking lot. “Doesn’t matter”:

 

The first single off the album, “Girlfriend”, gives serious Broadway vibes. Some 80s musical with a sultry, blue-collar love story or something. I’d watch it.

 

Christine and the Queens performed a 30 minute concert for Apple Music live at the Salle Pleyel, Paris. For whatever reason, it’s no longer on Apple Music but I did find it on some sketchy website. So I highly recommend watching it but can’t vouch for the website.


 

There it is, my favorite 20 albums of 2018. Here’s to a new year of music!

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Posted by on December 10, 2018 in Lists, Music, Music Review, MYNIYL

 

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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.

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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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MYNIYL – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

So for this episode of Music You Need in Your Life, I have to tell you about my obsession of the past few months, the original cast recording of the new Broadway musical Hamilton

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I really don’t know where to start with this one. Let me try to explain what it is then we can get to the music. A Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and our first Secretary of the Treasury. A musical that uses hip-hop, R&B, and pop to tell the story. A musical that is incredibly historically accurate (Chernow’s Hamilton biography was the inspiration for the musical). A musical that uses a predominately black and brown cast to tell the story of a bunch of dead white people. A musical with a cast recording so good, it’s the first 5-star review by Billboard and the only Broadway recording to ever hit #1 on Billboard’s Rap Chart.

So let’s get to the music. The man who wrote the music and lyrics (and plays Hamilton) is named Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is his second Broadway hit. He started writing Hamilton as a hip-hop concept album that ultimately turned into the musical we have today. He actually performed what would become the opening track in 2009 at the White House:

And Lin-Manuel Miranda is probably one of the weakest singers/rappers on the recording (musically speaking). Every time I listen to this, I’m blown away by the strength of Leslie Odom, Jr.’s voice. He plays Aaron Burr, the man who spent most of his life as Hamilton’s frenemy and ended up shooting Hamilton in a duel. Here’s Leslie Odom, Jr. as Burr singing about his jealousy towards Hamilton because Hamilton is happily married and Burr is in love with a married woman (amongst other things):

Now, I can’t talk about this musical without mentioning the cabinet rap battles between Hamilton and Jefferson (played by Daveed Diggs). There’s two of them and they have some incredible rapping all while arguing over the financial structure of our country or whether we should get involved with the French Revolution or not. Here’s Cabinet Battle #1:

There is one more song I’d like to show you. Jonathan Groff plays King George and he has three tracks where he sings the King’s reactions to the events in America. The songs are perfectly written examples of British pop and they’re pretty hilarious too. Here’s the first one, You’ll Be Back:

Since we’ve heard a few tracks and hopefully you want to go ahead and listen to the whole cast recording, I want to talk about this decision to cast an impressively diverse group of people to play all these white men and women. Since I’m not a person of color, I don’t really feel like it’s my place to vouch for the importance of this. But I think the following quote from the 60 minutes episode by cast member Leslie Odom, Jr. really makes the point for me: “He’s made these dead white guys make sense to a bunch of, you know, black and brown people. He’s made them make sense in the context of our time with our music.” What more could you ask for from a historical musical? Or even from just any Broadway?

 

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Music, MYNIYL

 

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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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