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Favorite Albums of 2019

As we get closer to the end of this year, it’s time for my annual list of my favorite albums of the year. As always, numbers 20-11 will just be title and a video. The top 10 will have some notes from me included. All titles are also links to the album on Apple Music. Let me know what you think in the comments, what albums I missed, etc.

20. Sweet Insomnia – Gallant

19. Help Us Stranger – The Raconteurs

18. I Used to Know Her – H.E.R.

17. Everyday Life – Coldplay

16. Imagination & the Misfit Kid – Labrinth

15. Now, Not Yet – half-alive

14. Labrinth, Sia & Diplo Presents…LSD – LSD

13. Closer Than Together – The Avett Brothers

12. Lover – Taylor Swift

11. Father of the Bride – Vampire Weekend

10. Fine Line – Harry Styles

Ever since he’s embarked on a solo career, the music of Harry Styles has straddled the lines between modern pop and classic rock. A lot of the tracks on Fine Line and his debut album sound more similar to the soft rock and singer/songwriter tracks from the 70s, somewhere around Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. On top of all this, his fashion embraces the flamboyant while his sexuality is as ambiguous as his musical styles. The sum of these parts makes for an incredibly enjoyable career to watch and listen to. Let’s check out “Lights Up”, the first single (and most modern-sounding track) off the album:

9. KIWANUKA – Michael Kiwanuka

More popular in his British homeland, Michael Kiwanuka is probably best known in America for the theme song of the HBO series, Big Little Lies. His husky, calm voice is arresting in its simplicity and reminiscent of Bill Withers. The chilled vibe of his tracks hides the complexity of the instrumentation on first listen. After repeat listens, each layer reveals itself to the delight of the listener. Here’s the video for “You Ain’t the Problem”:

8. Happiness Begins – Jonas Brothers

Six years after a rough split of the band, the Jonas Brothers returned with a fun, new album. Leaving the pop-punk styling of their earlier music behind, the brothers leaned into the pop of Nick’s solo career and funky pop-rock of Joe’s band, DNCE. The album documents their current emotions as they rekindle their brotherhood and friendships and look for new beginnings in love and their careers. The first single, “Sucker”, showcases their joy of finding happiness with each other and their respective wives:

7. Red Hearse – Red Hearse

So Jack Antonoff is reaching the “can do no wrong” status musically for me. Whether it’s with his band Bleachers, songwriting and producing for the likes of Lorde, Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, or his new project Red Hearse, I love it all. This project is with the singer Sam Dew and producer Sounwave and consists of vintage keyboards mixed with modern hip-hop beats and incredible falsetto singing. Their stage performances are just the three guys sitting around a table with Antonoff at the keys, Sounwave at a laptop and Sam Dew just holding a mic. Really chilled vibe. This is their debut album and I’m not sure if there’s plans for more but I really hope so. The first music video they released is for “Half Love” and has a cameo from St. Vincent which was unexpected and amazing:

6. thank u, next – Ariana Grande

Last year, Ariana Grande’s album Sweetener appeared at number 5 on my favorite album list. Six months after that release, she was back with a brand new album. This quick turnaround is unheard of in the modern pop realm where it’s all about era’s with specific aesthetics, etc. Grande pulled it off spectacularly though and proved she can do whatever she wants. This album is more consistent than her last and has some incredible pop tunes to offer. Let’s watch the video for “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” and try to decide if she’s hooking up with the guy or girl:

5. Tales of America – J.S. Ondara

Earlier in the year, I wrote a post about this album so I won’t need to go into too much detail. Since then, he released a “Second Coming” version of the album with a few extra tracks and different versions of some of the original tracks. After months and months of repeat listens, Ondara’s songs have not grown tired but continue to offer more aspects of the music to pay attention to. Here’s a recently released video for “Days of Insanity” that wasn’t out when I wrote my original post. Check it out:

4. Dedicated – Carly Rae Jepsen

I’m not sure if an artist has perfected pop music as well as Carly Rae. Everything she releases is just pure pop, pure fun. It’s just the right balance of 80s influence and modern twists. All of this culminates in the lovely album Dedicated. Jepsen apparently wrote nearly 200 songs during the creation of this album, slowly whittling it down 15 or so tracks for the final product. Her appreciation in the mainstream hasn’t existed since the overplayed single “Call Me Maybe” but she keeps perfecting her sound and pumping out incredible albums. Here’s her playful, pre-date track “Want You in my Room”:

3. Jaime – Brittany Howard 

When I first heard of the Alabama Shakes hiatus and Brittany Howard’s plan for a solo record, I was a little worried because of how much I love the Shakes. I don’t know what the apprehension was for because she delivered a powerful, wonderful album that is so different from Alabama Shakes but so much a reflection of her as an artist and a person. The mix of genres and stories told makes for an album that demands repeated listens. No one track stands out more than the others and they all come from unexpected places. To give you a sense of the full album, here’s her Tiny Desk Concert at NPR:

2. Bank on the Funeral – Matt Maeson

This young dude created a really great rock album. Whether it’s his effortlessly impressive singing or his perfectly crafted songs, something makes me want to keep listening to this album over and over. There’s even one track, “Beggar’s Song“, that I always repeat at least one additional time while going through the album. It’s not even a complex song, somewhat repetitive, but it just sounds like one of those tracks that always should have been written but was waiting on the right person. If you listen to any alternative rock radio stations, you might recognize his single “Cringe“. Let’s start by listening to the opening track, “I Just Don’t Care That Much”:

I want to show you a live, acoustic recording of one of my favorite tracks. This video really showcases how easily he slips between his calm singing and when he’s practically screaming at you. It’s a lot of fun to watch:

1. Cuz I Love You – Lizzo

Here it is, the album I cannot get out of my mind. According to Apple Music, I’ve spent over 24 hours listening to Lizzo this year. This is my most played album and she performs the top 3 listened to tracks of the year (and 11 of the top 20 tracks [Matt Maeson sits in the other nine]). Her personality and performances are just as infectious as her music. Upbeat, self-affirming, and positive, it’s what we all need in 2019. I guess we’ll begin with her first single off the album, “Juice”:

Next, to showcase some of her powerhouse vocals and how she blends it with hip-hop, we’ll check out the title track:

I earlier mentioned her performances so it’s only right we watch one. The two tracks in this performance are actually much older than this album but have recently been rocking the charts. The first song, “Truth Hurts”, appears on the extended version of this album but “Good as Hell” appears on her 2016 EP, Coconut Oil:

 


Alright, that about does it. Hope you have a great holiday season and here’s to amazing things happening in next year… #warren2020

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2019 in Lists, 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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