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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 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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