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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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Favorite Albums of 2011

Here’s my list for 2011. Notice the title says “Favorite” and not “Best.” I don’t think I (or anybody) can make that much of a statement about something as subjective as music. I also think albums being “better” than others doesn’t always mean they’ll be more of a favorite of mine. My definition of favorite is how hard an album is to take out of the CD player (or off the iPod). This year, I’m adding a music video for each album. Hope you enjoy. Without further ado, my 10 favorite albums of 2011:

10. Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials

Florence Welch might have one of the most haunting voices that just soars all over the place. Loved the bands debut record and really enjoyed this one. This record wasn’t as digestible (in a radio-friendly way) as the debut but that didn’t bother me any. I love their use of piano. I love the orchestral-styled percussion. Solid record. Here’s Shake it Out:

9. tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l

Want to hear a really weird record? Check this one out. This girl, Merrill Garbus, can do incredible, wacky things with her voice. Sometimes she sounds like a girl, sometimes a guy. Sometimes she sounds like a songbird, sometimes she’s screaming at you. And it’s all infectiously amazing. I didn’t pick this record up until recently; I was tired of seeing it on other top albums list and not knowing what it was. Imagine St. Vincent ate Paul Simon and joined Vampire Weekend…then ate them, too. Just listen to Bizness:

8. The Roots, undun

A hip-hop concept album based on a Sufjan Stevens song with plenty of rock, jazz, and freak-out infused into it. What else is there to say? Listen to The OtherSide:

7. Feist, Metals

I’d describe this record (and Feist) as mid-tempo, introspective pop music with some bluesy guitar riffs and dark tones. I love it. I also love her voice. You never know where she’ll go melodically or dynamically. She added a lot of interesting instrumentation on this record that she hasn’t had in the past and I really like what they do the music. Check out How Come You Never Go There:

6. Wilco, The Whole Love

Many people see the record as Wilco returning to form. I guess I agree. The only thing is when they say that, they’re actually saying this is their first good record in years. I totally disagree. But this isn’t about past records, this is about The Whole Love. Jeff Tweedy is an incredible lyricist and songwriter (as always). Glenn Kotche (drums) gets some breathing room to jam on the record. Nels Cline (guitar) is always at the top of his game. The last track, One Sunday Morning, might just be one of the longest, most beautiful, and most boring song ever written. It’s great. Yet, there’s not a music video for that song so you get to listen to Born Alone:

5. MUTEMATH, Odd Soul

This is one of my favorite bands. They ARE my favorite band to see live. If you get a chance, do it. No excuses. Anyways, after the difficult process of recording their last record, MUTEMATH’s guitarist quit on them. So they decided to hole themselves up and record a record sans guitar player. Ironically, the album that came out is the most guitar-driven record they have. This album is very heavy on blues-rock. Paul Meany leaves the Rhodes (with a few exceptions) to rock out on the B3 organ. Oh, and does he. It’s some great keyboard work. Here’s Blood Pressure:

4. Adele, 21

There’s really not much to say that you haven’t heard about Adele. Amazing vocals. Simple instrumentation. Soulful songs. Catchy melodies. Heartfelt lyrics. And she’s only 22. How do you top that? I saw a picture going around on twitter (which I can’t locate now) that showed the number of tracks on her single, Someone Like You. How many tracks? 6. SIX! If you know anything about modern recording…pick your jaw up off the ground, please. Here’s the song:

3. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne

After getting out of my comfort zone and into rap last year, I’ve been really digging Kanye’s discography and his work with Jay-Z. So when I heard about this record, I was excited. During the album, Kanye calls them “luxury rap.” And they do rap a lot about money and possessions. Yet, he doesn’t give them enough credit. There is great commentary on African American social issues. Also, this album was released before Beyonce announced she was pregnant but we should have known because Jay-Z has some great raps about his fears of being a father. It’s very touching. Anyways, let’s go back to the luxury rap and listen to Otis:

2. Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

The greatest songwriting duo this decade (in my humble opinion). Joy Williams and John Paul White’s voices blend together and leap around each other like they’re long lost twins separated at birth. The album weighs heavily on their voices and White’s guitar. Frankly, they don’t need anything else to blow our minds. Here’s their haunting track, Poison and Wine:

1. Lisa Hannigan, Passengers

I’ve had a major crush on Lisa ever since I discovered Damien Rice and her beautiful harmonies she sang with him. She stopped performing with him (which crushed me) and started a solo career (which scared me {beautiful voice does not equal great artist}). Her debut album, Sea Saw, was great. Seeing her live was magical. Seeing her perform “Lucky” with Jason Mraz blew me away. Well, this year she released Passengers and I can’t stop listening to it. Her voice whispers in your ear than suddenly exerts power. She does some yodeling with incredibly inventive melodies. Her lyrics are beautiful. But what I really love is her instrumentation and what she does with it. Not only does she have an eclectic mix of instruments but she puts melodies on what you would think are the wrong instrument. It sounds like the fiddle is playing the guitar part and the ukelele is playing the fiddle part. Just go grab the album. In Knots, Lisa combines an upbeat ukelele song with a disgusting amount of paint thrown on her. All done in one take:

And here’s Lisa in a bathtub singing Little Bird. Again, in one take:

Well, there’s my list. If you disagree, tell me what I missed in the comments. I love listening to new stuff.

Oh, here’s your honorable mentions: Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay, Strange Mercy by St. Vincent, Vice Verses by Switchfoot, King of Limbs by Radiohead, I’m With You by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Headfirst by Jillian Edwards, The Reckoning by Needtobreathe, Sweeter by Gavin DeGraw, and Lasers by Lupe Fiasco.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Lists

 

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