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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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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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