Friday, December 28, 2007

Best Albums of 2007

These are the 50 albums that I dug the most in 2007. In past years, this list has gone to 100, but I figure that 50 albums sounds more reasonable and believeable coming from one person. My singles list, which always goes north of 100, will be up next week.

1. Amy Winehouse-Back To Black
Without a doubt, the album I played the most in 2007. Part of that is due to the short running time, but Back To Black is long on quality. While there isn't as much attitude as there was on her debut, Frank, the songwriting is embellished more and Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi's production is engagingly retro without hitting you over the head with it's 60's girl group references. Back To Black is one of those albums that as soon as the final track is over (the wonderful "He Can Only Hold Her" in this case), you want to immediately play it again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas. Now dance.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone out there. This is an unusual post for me since I'm not really big on modern Christmas songs. Songs can't be seasonal for me. They have to hold up all year round. That's part of what makes The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" and the entire Phil Spector Christmas album so great. I'd play them in the summer without any problem. They're well-crafted modern pop songs that don't venture too far into Sapsville, which itself is usually a requirement for most Christmas songs.

I think one of the better Christmas recordings this decade comes from Mariah Carey. The So So Def Remix of her 1994 hit, "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is that rare holiday song that's not embarassing to dance to. The Spector-like melody from the original is mostly intact with a more urban R&B approach this time around. Producer Jermaine Dupri borrows heavily from "Planet Rock" and the result sounds like a lost Miami bass song from the 90's akin to Ghost Down DJ's and INOJ. What really puts a smile on my face is that original melody, which still sounded good in the original, but is now stripped down with only drum machines and backing vocals surrounding it, giving it a true chance to shine. Also of note is hearing a young Bow Wow (back when he still had the Lil' in front of his name) decrying the myth of St. Nick at the beginning of the song by simply claming, "Ain't no damn Santa Claus."

Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You (So So Def Remix)

To buy Mariah Carey's Greatest Hits from Amazon, click here.

Oh, and my best albums of the year list should be up later on this week, with singles shortly to follow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Unedited "Paper Planes" video

Because I love "Paper Planes" so much, I was going to post the video whenever it was released, but apparently the video has been making news on its own. MTV has removed the gunshot sounds from the hook and it's got M.I.A. in a tizzy. It's not surprising any more how MTV edits videos (oh, how you ruined My Chemical Romance's "Teenagers"), but hopefully all the fuss will get more attention for such an excellent song, and Kala overall.

And I told you that we won't stop

I've been teasing my stance on Puffy AmiYumi for a while. I've constantly said that they're probably in my top 20 or top 30 favorite artists of all-time. You may scoff, but their catalog is probably one of the most diverse you'll ever come across this side of The Beatles or ABBA. In recent years, Ami and Yumi have ditched the genre-hopping that defined the early part of their career in favor of a more power pop sound. They continue on in that vein with their latest album, honeycreeper, with electrifying results. The album, which is only available in Japan and at Puffy concerts right now, clocks in at under 45 minutes and is a nonstop fast-paced sugar rush. After honeycreeper, I can no longer carry on with the lie that Puffy is merely a top 20 band for me, but a deadlocked top 10 act. My favorite song from the album right now is "Kimi to Motorbike". It wastes little time getting the satisfaction started and begins with a melodic "doo doo doo" refrain with minor chord changes. What follows next is pure frenzied pop bliss. If The Go-Go's and Buzzcocks ever had an orgy, this is probably what it would sound like.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ten on Tuesdays: Ten Lingering Questions About The Grammy Nominations

This year's list of Grammy nominees raised even more eyebrows than usual. With it being a weak year overall for sales and quality, there was the chance that anything would be up for grabs, and it most certainly was. This edition of Ten on Tuesdays is my attempt to make sense of it all

1. Herbie Hancock? Vince Gill? WTF?
I think that one of the biggest surprises announced last Thursday is that two lauded, but unexpected artists managed to get nominated in Album Of The Year, pulling one of the biggest surprises in a general category since Diana Krall got an AOTY nomination in 1999. With all due respect to Mr. Hancock and Mr. Gill, I never once thought that their albums would have a fighting chance in 2007. While a diluted field of contenders definitely paved the way for their nominations, their inclusion is not totally unexplainable.

They both received favorable reviews and also featured a bevy of quality artists on their work. The guest list for Vince Gill includes Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt, Alison Krauss and Gretchen Wilson while Herbie Hancock had Corinne Bailey Rae, Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell to lend a hand. Not a bad way to get attention.

The other thing that helped them stand out above other artists of their caliber was the concepts behind their albums. Vince Gill's These Days is a 4-CD box set of original songs, with each disc focusing on a single one of his styles (country, rock, acoustic, etc.). Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters is a tribute to the works of Joni Mitchell. These weren't just 40 minute CDs with a simple all killer/no filler approach, but carefully constructed albums with unique ideas.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Grammy Predictions for 2007

Grammy season is upon us once again, which means that it's time for my annual predictions of what I think will get nominated in the top four categories: Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist. Nominees will be announced the morning of Dec. 6 and the ceremony itself takes place on Feb. 10, 2008.

Record Of The Year

There is never a shortage of contenders in this category and it's usually one of the hardest ones to narrow down to just five. This category typically has a mix of ubiquitous pop songs that are hard to escape and songs that although are not as widely popular, are still very much adored. I think there is no more ubiquitious song in 2007 than Rihanna's "Umbrella". This has been her year and it was hard not to forget about this song, even after the summer had passed.

Another thing that the NARAS loves to do is give nominations to past winners. It also doesn't hurt if their career is still red hot. Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" seems destined for a Record of the Year nod. It was another one of those songs that was inescapeable upon release and has the right amount of depth and pop drive that usually gets nominated here.

After "Umbrella" and "Irreplaceable", things get a little tricky. I wouldn't quite say that the field is wide open at this point, but things become a bit harder to gauge. I feel safe in saying that I think Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" will likely get a nod here as well. She's widely loved by critics, has a platinum album, and the "no no no" refrain in the song is one of the most memorable hooks of the year. The Grammys have a fondness for widespread acclaim and commercial success, which is another reason why I think Justin Timberlake's "My Love" also has a shot. Justin's only other nomination in this category was for the Black Eyed Peas collaboration, "Where Is The Love?", which is surprising considering the amount of hit singles that he has had. But upon further glance, it would make sense that "My Love" would be the one to finally get a ROTY nomination. FutureSex/LoveSounds has been out for a full year and Timberlake's light has yet to dim. The academy would probably still like to honor one of music's biggest stars, and since FutureSex, was already nominated last year, "My Love" is a good excuse for him to make an appearance on the show. Add to the fact the song is actually really good.

Now we're left with only one spot. In these cases, it's typical to look at other hugely successful songs. Kanye West's "Stronger" is another strong possibility, but it's success and impact is not on the same level as "Gold Digger", a previous ROTY nominee. In Fergie's case, all you would have to do is close your eyes and pick any of her hit singles for consideration. Although "Glamorous" is probably the strongest of her eligible singles, I get the sense that her music is too polarizing. Either you like it or you hate it with no indifference. I see her getting some nods in the pop category, but nothing here. Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" might have had a stronger chance if it sustained life after the summer. It doesn't help that his follow-up singles have failed to keep the focus on him. If the academy is deciding to feel generous to Timbaland this year, who's had a great year as not only a producer, but as a recording artist, "The Way I Are" is his best shot in this category and I would also consider it one of the stronger contenders. Seemingly, one of the most obvious contenders is Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats", but according to the eligibility rules, it had its shot last year. And in the case of Alicia Keys' "No One", I think it would have stood a better shot for next year's Grammys, but it's eligible only for this one.