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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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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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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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