Monday, December 29, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

It's time once again for my top albums of the year. I've decided to keep the ranking limit to 50, but I'm bringing the honorable mention section back this year. I have to add a little disclaimer that had it been officially released, Van Hunt's Popular would have been my #1 album of the year. It was the best piece of work I had heard all year, but I don't think it's fair to rate something if it's not widely available to the public for purchase. My singles list will be up tomorrow next week and keep an eye out for Best Movies of '08 list which I'll try to do sometime in January. Since I don't have the luxury of living in New York or L.A., I have to wait a while till a few movies go nationwide. Moving along, let's talk music!

1. Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...
For those unfamiliar with this group of Welsh rockers, I am not to blame for that exclamation point at the end of their name. Although I have been guilty of being extremely excited about bands, that use of punctuation is all their doing. One listen to their debut and you'll understand why that exclamation point has permanently etched itself in the band's name. Hold On Now, Youngster... is as hyper emotional and hyper literate as any album you're likely to come across this decade, with nearly every song being either furiously jubilant or deliriously wordy or a lot of times both.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Grammy Nomination Predictions for 2009

It's time once again to predict who will get nominated in the general categories for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards. Nominations will be announced Wednesday night, Dec. 3 in a one-hour special on CBS.

Album of the Year

The two strongest contenders to land a nod in this category are both past Grammy winners. Coldplay's "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends." is tailor made for a nomination here. They're one of the biggest bands in the world not named U2. The album was both a commercial and critical success and it shows the band tinkering with their formula while still making solid music.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Summer in Pictures 2008

For a complete picture (no pun intended) of my summer, go here and here.

Los Campesinos!: Empty Bottle: May, 26, 2008

Why some kids in the front started a mini-mosh pit, I don't know. I was conflicted by it for two reasons:

1.) Los Campesinos! is so far away from moshing music that it irked me a bit. Wrong concert, goofballs.

2.) Being bounced around to "Do The Math(s)" is actually more fun than you would think.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ten Years Gone: Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

This entry is part of an ongoing series in where I take a look back at landmark films and albums released 10 years ago.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill may very well be the last great artistic statement that Ms. Hill will ever make. A series of bad decisions and unfortunate events have made a follow-up look less and less likely with each year. Think about that; it's 2008 and we have yet to receive a second studio album. Considering all the critical acclaim and commercial success, a sophomore album seemed inevitable. If a follow-up album were announced today, it would immediately become one of the most anticipated albums of the year, which says a lot for the quality of Miseducation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tilly and the Wall - "Chandelier Lake"

It's songs like this that remind me why Tilly and the Wall remain one of my favorite current bands going. You can call them cutesy or whatever, but their pop intuitions are nothing but serious business. While their latest album, o, doesn't have as many magical moments as their 2006 effort, Bottoms of Barrels, there is still plenty of that Tilly and the Wall charm to go around and the evolution of their sound will still make it worth your time. The first album, Wild Like Children, established their trademark sound, relying heavily on Jamie Presnall's tap dancing as the percussion and a minimal splattering of acoustic guitars, pianos and harmonies. Bottoms of Barrels, a top 10 album for me in '06, added a fuller sound, bringing more bottom and live drums to the mix. o sees Tilly and the Wall sounding more like a traditional rock band than it ever has, with its heavy use of distorted guitars and live drums on nearly every track. The tap dancing is still there, but it's no longer the backbone of the group. "Chandelier Lake" shows that they can still excite and remain unique with their expanded sound. It has all the elements that've made the group so beloved in the first place. Of course, the tap dancing is there, but what I've always loved about its use in the group is that it never comes off as gimmicky. The arrangements add to the music without taking too much attention away from the song, which is all you can ask for of any musician of any sort. And what would a great Tilly song be without twee harmonies and a sunny chorus? On paper, it may not seem any different than your average Tilly song, but the heavy guitars provide an exuberance and energy that hasn't been seen in their catalogue yet. It makes you smile, but instead of simply tapping your feet, it makes you want to bounce from side to side.

Tilly and the Wall - "Chandelier Lake"

To buy the CD, vinyl or MP3 of o from Insound, click here

Monday, August 11, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

Monthly Muxtape: August 2008


1. Little Boots - "Stuck On Repeat"

The real euphoria kicks in during the first breakdown when we're left with just one steady synth and a fugue of background vocals. It steadily builds and you know where it's heading next. Another wave of bubbling synths will eventually come in along with the drumbeat, but the breakdown is extended for so long that it almost teases you, and when it finally comes together, you're reminded of how exhilarating dance pop can be when it's handled with a mature approach.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Adventures at Lollapalooza 2008

Welcome again to my Lollapalooza recap for 2008. Armed with two frozen water bottles a day and a small umbrella, I made my way back and forth across Grant Park in the scorching sun for all three days with a smile on my face. It was also a treat since Saturday was my birthday and I usually can't think of a better place to be than surrounded by good live music. Also, I apologize for the quality (or lack) of some of the pics for the first two days. Stupid ol' me, I didn't have the same settings that I used last year and didn't figure out how to zoom closer until late Saturday. D'oh!

Day 1 - Friday

Bang Camaro

These guys started the festival off for me with a ton of power and presence. They play heavy metal covers with a ridiculous amount of bombast and musicians. Twenty vocalists in a rock band sounds almost like a parody on paper, but Bang Camaro was quite the opposite. I didn't dare laugh, but bobbed my head instead. I really didn't expect them to be that good.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Best Shows of 2007-08 Season

You know what I hate? When it's year-end list time and all the publications list their top television programs of the year. It has always frustrated me because half of the programs on these lists have seasons that are still in progress and they are therefore being judged on only half of the episodes. I understand how empty it would be to not include television shows when it's year-end time, but why don't people ever wait until the season is over and then come up with a list? As a lifelong TV addict, the season ends in May, not late December for me. With the upcoming Emmy nominations, now is a good time as ever to look at the best shows of the 2007-08 season (I counted shows that started and completed within June 2007 thru May 2008). Looking at my list, I can't help but wonder how different it would have been if it hadn't been for the strike. Heroes, which slumped for most of its second season, finally started to find its footing with the last three or four episodes. At that pace, it could have easily reached the heights of its debut season. And who knows? Shows like Reaper could have been bumped up a few extra spots with a full 22 episode season and the pieces were definitely set in place for Bionic Woman to become compelling. If the season hadn't been cut short, it could have eventually hit its stride, but a little thing like a strike could never stop me from making a list.

20. Celebrity Rehab (VH-1)
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world's greatest trainwreck captured on tape. I will give credit to A&E's Intervention for being the classier show, but there's an added sense of intrigue when looking into the not so fabulous lives of celebrities after the cameras go off. This is a side of them that we've never seen before and is unexplored terrain in the vastly diminishing land of ideas in reality television.

Ten Years Gone: Beastie Boys - Hello Nasty

This entry is part of an ongoing series in where I take a look back at landmark films and albums released 10 years ago.

You usually have to wait an eternity between Beastie Boys albums. Nowadays if you wait more than three years between albums, that's usually it for your career unless you have a Mariah-sized fanbase that will never go away. While the Beasties have had their fair share of success, they've never been at a Mariah level in terms of popularity, yet after a decade-plus in the industry, their albums still debut at #1.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Monthly Muxtape: July 2008

So I've hopped aboard the muxtape bandwagon. I will still post mp3s on here though. I often come across some songs that I really like, but they're only the first or second song that an artist has done. I don't want to contribute to the way a new act gets overhyped on the Internet based on a few recordings, but I still want to share good music. Doing a monthly muxtape allows me to put the spotlight on those up-and-comers without having to do an entire entry of me salivating over someone who has yet to even release an EP. And there are also a ton of individual tracks that I come across that I may not have the time to post about as well. It's all win-win.


1. Ebony Bones - "We Know All About You"

I don't think I've anticipated an artist's full-length this much after two songs since M.I.A. first came on the scene. This apocalyptic post-punk track would sound right at home in a DJ set mixed in between Siouxsie and The Banshees and ESG, but there isn't a sense of revival just for the sake of revival. This is a track whose influences are obvious and doesn't use them to coast.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ten Years Gone: The Truman Show

This entry is part of an ongoing series in where I take a look back at landmark films and albums released 10 years ago.

In 1998, the concept of The Truman Show seemed inconceiveable. How could the entired world be caught up in a television show that claimed to be real, but was in fact artificial and manufactured? And how could a program that tracked the life of a man 24/7 even make it onto the air in the first place? Indeed, at the time, it did feel like a fantasy. Flash forward 10 years later and we find ourselves not all that far from a Truman Show-esque world. Two years after The Truman Show, a little show called Survivor captured the attention of a nation. It surprisingly kickstarted a genre and gave birth to a new phrase: reality television.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Why I Can't Wait To See Speed Racer

Surely you all have seen the trailer for the upcoming Speed Racer movie, right? If not, please take a gander.

I'm sold. I have to admit that when it was announced that a Speed Racer movie was going into production, I didn't have high hopes, even with the Wachowski Bros. attached. I was pretty sure there would be some nifty action with them helming it, but the whole idea of a big-screen adaptation made me groan. The show was so goofy and frenetic to begin with and any real life interpretation would likely result in an empty and soulless product.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Tally Hall - "Taken For A Ride"

Tally Hall isn't really all that new. Their debut album on Atlantic Records, Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, is just a remixed and remastered version of the same album they released on an indie label a few years back (it even cracked my top 100 list in '06). But even a couple of years on, the songs are still fresh. I remember the first time I ever heard of these guys. I saw them open up for Puffy AmiYumi and had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that a lot of tweens were there solely for them and they had quite a following. They opened up with "Good Day", which I thought didn't completely suck at the time, but it didn't raise my hopes. Then came another so-so song which I can't recall and I thought I was going to be in for the longest 45 minutes of my life. Not too long after that, they went into "Welcome To Tally Hall" and I was won over by its mix of goofy hip-hop charm and power pop. The next song after that was "Taken For A Ride", which is where they totally earned my respect. It was a composition that seemingly had a surprise at nearly every turn. It started off in ELO territory, turned into a Beatlesque ballad for the choruses and somehow became a new wave tune before it was all over. It was there where I understood the appeal of Tally Hall. More than just the gimmicky ties, they deservedly earned their following with their chops and songcraft. Even in 2008, "Taken For A Ride" still gets major spins from me and with good reason. Tally Hall have learned well from their power pop forefathers and taken the most melodic and vibrant elements and injected them with a heavy dose of glee. I honestly think these guys have the potential to blow our minds away after a couple more albums.

Tally Hall - "Taken For A Ride"

To buy Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum from Amazon, click here

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Latest in Singles

Flo Rida F/ Timbaland - Elevator

Flo Rida sure does love the ladies. I'm all for guys making strictly dance cuts to get the floor filled, and so far he's 2-for-2, but for all his massive success, I just wish the guy had a little more personality in his songs. I really can't tell the difference between him and a hundred other guys. The production saves the day once again, but barely. Rating: 6

Girls Aloud - Can't Speak French

Enjoy this while it lasts. There will come a time when Girls Aloud isn't the greatest singles group in the world and we're left to deal with someone far less exciting. They've covered a multitude of genres through their short career and this time up, they've given us a delicious slice of pop-funk. Relish the moment, people. Rating: 9

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ten On Tuesdays: Ten Movie Characters I'd Like To Meet In Real Life

Mary Poppins from Mary Poppins, played by Julie Andrews
Being around someone who's practically perfect in every way could make you feel a bit inferior at times, but her cheery disposition would brighten even the gloomiest day. The woman makes drawings come to life and has an out of this world vocal range. She's automatically on the guest list for any party that I'm throwing.

Amélie Poulain from Amélie, played by Audrey Tautou
Has there ever been a sweeter character in cinema who was also bright and this fully rounded as a protagnoist? Her presence makes me smile all the time because her heart never fails to be in the right place. Ideal for riding bikes together along the lakefront.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Personal Kelis Retrospective

Jive just released a Kelis career retrospective, titled The Hits, this past Tuesday. They did an okay job, but I think there are some key songs missing. For starters, I'd get rid of "Got Your Money". It's an important track in Kelis' career since it was her first major appearance, but she's only on the hook. I guess it makes sense if you're trying to move units, but it probably won't make any new fans. Here is what my tracklist would look like.

1. Caught Out There
2. Young Fresh N' New
3. Trick Me
4. Good Stuff
5. Get Along With You
6. Suspended
7. Millionaire
8. Help Me (w/ Timo Maas)
9. Bossy
10. Blindfold Me
11. Milkshake
12. Rolling Through The Hood
13. Daddy
14. Perfect Day
15. I Don't Think So
16. Flash Back
17. Lil' Star
18. In The Morning

Wow. After compiling that, there's still some stuff I'd like to see on there. Kelis is awesome. Even if this thing is probably over 80 minutes.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ten Years Gone: Madonna - Ray Of Light

This entry will be the first in what I hope will become a regular thing on this blog. I'm going to take a look back at certain albums and movies on their 10 year anniverseray and examine the impact they've made. First up is Madonna's Ray of Light.

So why Madonna as the first entry? Well, after looking at the list of '98 albums and films that I enjoyed, Ray of Light's release date was the earliest and I want these entries to coincide with their respective 10 year anniversaries.

So you still might have the question: Why Madonna?

Ray of Light is a very special album in the catalogue of one the world's most beloved pop icons. Madonna's work has always been provocative and ever-changing, but never before had she let us this deep into her personal life. A lot of Madonna songs have a narrative that could be ambigiuosly biographical ("Papa Don't Preach", "Secret"), but there is no confusion that Madonna herself is the subject for most of Ray of Light.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Stephen "Static" Garrett 1974-2008

Deaths like these are usually the hardest to take when the person is so young and it comes unexpectedly. I really feel for Garrett's family and the folks at Blackground, who had to deal with another tragic event with Aaliyah back in 2001. One look at Stephen "Static" Garrett's songwriting credits and there is no doubt that he left behind an impressive body of work which stands up there with some of the best the modern R&B era has seen. Here are some highlights.

Ginuwine - "Pony" (1996)

"Pony" is one of those songs that appear to be amazingly raunchy on the surface, but is clever in its wordplay. There is a fine line between sexy and silly when dealing with songs about about sex. They either make you giggle or want to gyrate your hips. For a song that uses a pony as a metaphor, it's lasciviousness is pretty powerful.

Aaliyah - "Are You That Somebody?" (1998)

The thing I love about this song that probably gets overlooked a lot is the speaker's desire to not give it up so easy. Even back in 1998, radio was still not a place for patience. "Are You That Somebody?" was so refreshing at the time because you had a young lady saying, "Hey, I dig you, but you gotta show me some respect first," which is a message that I've always found admirable.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Van Hunt - Popular

As some of you may have heard, Van Hunt has been dropped from Blue Note/EMI. This does not come as much of a surprise since EMI was one of the latest of the Big Four to have massive layoffs and his previous two albums, Van Hunt and On The Jungle Floor, failed to garner much attention. In such hit-starved times, Mr. Hunt would eventually be the odd man out. The news of his departure from Blue Note came only several weeks before his third LP, Popular, was to drop, leaving the album's release date in limbo.

I can't say how much of a shame it is since Popular is one of the finest albums I have heard in this young year. Building on the wild and daring attitude of On The Jungle Floor, Popular continues in the same boundless vein with a collection of dark and sexy songs sure to please his fans.

Van Hunt's kinkier side has been hinted at in a few songs and the sound of his compositions have never lacked sex appeal, but he has become more explicit in his thoughts. Before, Hunt simply replied "Yeah" three times to a woman who asked him "If I take you home, will you still respect me in the morning?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

American Idol Shocker: Songs That Don't Suck

I have not tried to hide the fact that I'm an American Idol fan. I think it has always made for fantastic television and once the competition starts, it's hard not to get addicted. Now, I'm also a music fan, and sometimes good music and American Idol don't neccessarily go together. Some contestants have gone on to release decent albums (Fantasia, Carrie Underwood) and only one, in my opinion, has had a legitimately good recording career (Kelly Clarkson). But every now and then, you'll hear a song from a former contestant that's surprisingly solid and repeat-worthy. After the first season only yielded one star, a song from an Idol runner-up comes pre-packaged with low expectations. It's expected for the winner to have at least one strong song, but whenever the runner-ups release something good, it's always a shock.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When Ad Execs Show Hip Taste #1

I love how over the past decade, the songs in commercials have become incredibly chic and hip. I'm not the kind of person that will decry the use of a song in a commercial just because I view it as selling out (a term that gets thrown around too loosely nowadays). I actually welcome it as long as it makes sense artistically and the commercial doesn't overly bastardize the theme of the song. A lot of my favorite artists don't get mainstream attention, but that doesn't mean that I don't think people should know about a good unknown song.

While The Chemical Brothers aren't neccessarily obscure, it's not often that the casual music listener will come across one of their album tracks. "Dream On" is the closer to their last great album, 1999's Surrender, and it provides the soundtrack to the latest commercial. Good deal, Monster!

To buy Surrender from Amazon, click here

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Live Blogging the 2008 Grammys

Okay, I got in the house a little later than I expected, but I recorded the first 10 minutes, so I will get back to them at the end of the night

7:19 First off, great to see Morris Day & The Time onstage again. Along with Rihanna nonetheless! Singing "Umbrella" over "Jungle Love" and then seguing into "Don't Stop The Music". If there is a better moment tonight, this will already be better than last year's ceremonies.

Also, for those wondering whether Amy Winehouse would take home one of the big 4 categories, I think her win for Best Pop Vocal Album at least secures Best New Artist and/or Record Of The Year.

7:25 I love The Beatles and all, but didn't we just have a Beatles tribute on the Grammys a few years ago? Hopefully they do a better job this time around. Oddly enough, Pharrell Williams on drums was the only thing that made sense.

7:29 Okay, they've somehow made the tribute from a few years back look like a stroke of genius. This whole Cirque du Soleil thing just doesn't translate well at an awards ceremony, even though I'm sure it would be amazing live. The best thing about this I guess is that there are probably some kids out there who were listening to "A Day In The Life" and had their mind blown.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Alice & Janelle

This entry is particularly exciting for me because I have been in love with these two songs for some time. I know that I say that a lot on this blog, but I am always very sincere whenever I say something like that. This entry is also exciting because I think it will be enjoyable for some of my readers who may not exactly listen to R&B.

Alice Smith and Janelle Monáe are two of R&B's brightest young talents, but describing their sound as just R&B is still a stretch. Alice Smith's debut, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, is full of melodies better suited for pop and rock, but Smith's bluesy delivery makes her overall sound hard to classify. Monáe's music goes beyond what is considered modern R&B and is reminiscent of the experimental territory covered by Kelis' first two albums and Gnarls Barkley.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Plastic Constellations - Stay That Way

The band responsible for my 3rd favorite album of 2006 is getting ready to release a new album. If I had to do my anticipated albums list today, The Plastic Constellations' We Appreciate You, which is being released in April, would place somewhere in my top ten. They've quickly become one of my current fave bands with the release of their previous two albums, 2004's Mazatlan and Crusades. Their sound combines the festive shout-along style of anthem rock with aggresive but melodic pop metal riffs. That's pretty much the formula for everyone of their songs, but it's still very distinct when compared to other bands. "Stay That Way" doesn't stray too far from the recipe and if you dig this, you'll probably dig their entire catalogue.

Plastic Constellations - "Stay That Way"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

HBE's Most Anticipated '08 Album Releases

It's a brand new year, which means a brand new slate of albums. Based on confirmed dates, rumors and a whole lot of wishful thinking, this is what I'm looking forward to most in 2008.

1. Portishead-Untitled
The trip hop outfit from Bristol have been laying low for a decade and any sign of new music comes as a welcome surprise. Their only two studio albums, Dummy and Portishead are defining albums of the 90's, so it will be interesting to see if their new output will be as fresh.

2. Los Campesinos!-Hold On Now, Youngster...
Judging from the first couple of singles and a recently posted video of them in the studio, Los Campesinos! stands to release one of the best debuts of the year, and also one of the giddiest albums of the year. If it sounds anything like the hyperactive joy of "You! Me! Dancing!", count me in.

3. Van Hunt-Popular
There's not exactly a guarantee that this album will be released since it is currently without a home after Hunt's exit from Blue Note, but the year is young, so there's hope. For that reason alone, I can't put it at #1 since its future is uncertain. But based solely on the leaps and bounds he made from the relatively safe debut to 2006's funky and wild On The Jungle Floor, this album could never see a release date and I would anticipate it forever.

4. Ladytron-Untitled
Ladytron is another group who has shown improvement with each album, and it's not as if their first one was a slouch to begin with. Their latest album, Witching Hour, saw the synth pop quartet take their sound to a darker place, but nonetheless still enriching. Another great album and I would gladly put Ladytron amongst indie's current elite.

5. Nas-Nigger
If the album had been named anything else, I might not be anticipating this as much. Nas has still managed to release solid albums, but he set the bar too high early in his career. As soon as I heard the title of the album and who was recording it, I knew that I had to listen to immediately. Nas is one of the most socially aware mainstream artists that we have right now in any genre and him dedicating an entire album to race relations has no doubt sparked a creative fire in him. He is one of the few relevant elder statesmen of hip hop and the commentary that he might provide on this album could result in a career-defining effort for him.

6. Erykah Badu-Nu AmErykah
While Worldwide Underground was enjoyable in some spots and went gold, I can't consider it a successor to Mama's Gun. Despite its long running time, that release is still considered an EP and never really felt like a proper follow-up with its loose jammy vibe. Nu AmErykah will be two discs and looks to be more cohesive.

7. Franz Ferdinand-Untitled
One word: Xenomania. The teen-pop production collective is responsible for hits by Girls Aloud, Sugababes and Cher, to name a few and the news that they would be producing some tracks for the upcoming Franz album raised a few eyebrows. It elicited nothing but glee from me. Xenomania's productions are as adventurous as anything you're likely to hear in pop or anywhere else, which I think complements Franz Ferdinand just fine. Franz Ferdinand have always had catchy hooks while Xenomania's work has always retained a bit of edge. The pairing should be more natural than that of The Mooney Suzuki and The Matrix.

8. Madonna-Untitled
Four out the last five Madonna albums are arguable classics. American Life is the only stinker she's had in a while, but she rebounded with the amazing Confession On A Dancefloor. She's built up a lot of goodwill, so even though a few of the early leaked tracks with Pharrell did not prove promising, you can't really count out Madonna.

9. The Avalanches-Untitled
Their last album, Since I Left You, is one of the best debuts of the decade and is still talked about to this day. Judging from the carefully constructed use of samples on their first album, it's no surprise that a follow-up would take nearly seven years to arrive. They have kept busy in recent years with solid remixes for The Concretes and Belle & Sebastian, so there's little worry on my end about whether they can deliver another quality album.

10. Al Green-Untitled
The big news here is that Al Green is hooking up with ?uestlove and The Roots in the studio. I say it's about time that the Reverend hooked up with some young blood to bring some life into his recording career. His last two albums on Blue Note had some decent moments, but proved ultimately forgettable in the long run. ?uestlove feels like the perfect person to helm an Al Green record. His knowledge and appreciation of classic soul will no doubt bring out shades of the Al Green that we all first fell in love with it, and he's well on his way judging from some of the leaked studio jams.

11. Estelle-Shine
Estelle's debut, The 18th Day, delivered an engaging mix of soulful beats and conscious rhymes, but her recent excellent single, "American Boy", with Kanye West suggests a happier approach. If the album does turn out to have less rapping than its predecessor, I can only hope that the quality of the songs will remain as strong.

12. N.E.R.D.-untitled album
Recent pictures from the BBC blog show N.E.R.D. in the studio with Spymob, which is a great sign, seeing as how their tight sound is part of what made the live version of In Search Of... a success. Their rhythmic punch was sorely missed on 2004's Fly Or Die and Pharrell alone in the studio has not turned out to be a good thing so far (see In My Mind).

13. The Game-LAX
The Game is such a student of hip hop history that it's hard to believe that he could ever release a duff album. He's so self-consciously aware of the ingredients that while he may not deliver anything surprising, it will still be worth spending money on. The initiative to make a classic will be even higher if this turns out to be his last album as he has been claiming recently.

14. Pas/Cal-I Was Raised On Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura
One of the most underrated indie pop acts in America will finally release a full-length album. After a few years of delivering fantastic EPs, the name Pas/Cal could finally be on the lips of music lovers across the nation.

15. Paula Campbell-I Am Paula Campbell
This Baltimore R&B songstress has been kicking around on Columbia for a few years, but it appears that she may actually be close to releasing her major label debut. The songs posted on her MySpace suggest a pretty solid and refreshing debut.

And the rest...

David Banner-The Greatest Story Ever Told
Be Your Own Pet-Get Awkward
Big Boi-untitled
Mariah Carey-That Chick
Cherish-The Truth
Dengue Fever-Venus On Earth
Dr. Dre-Detox
Eminem-King Mathers
Goldfrapp-Seventh Tree
The Like-untitled
Lil' Mama-Voice Of The Young People
Lil' Wayne-Tha Carter III
Ludacris-Theater Of The Mind
Man Man-Rabbit Hats
Missy Elliott-untitled
Teedra Moses-The Young Lioness
Murs-Murs For President
No Doubt-untitled
Q-Tip-The Renaissance
Rakim-The Seventh Seal
Rick Ross-Trilla
The Roots-Rising Down
Slim Thug-Boss Of All Bosses
Sons and Daughters-The Gift
The Streets-untitled
Vampire Weekend-Vampire Weekend
What Made Milwaukee Famous-What Doesn't Kill Us
Yo Majesty-untitled

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's been a retro kind of week

Candie Payne is one of my current obsessions right now. She's a UK singer with a penchant for hazy 60's spy music and lounge pop and also has family members in The Zutons and The Stands. Her sound is very cinematic and remniscent of early Portishead in certain spots, but it always has a melodic dazzle to it. "By Tomorrow" still has the essence of the 60's , but its go-go rush and psychedelic pop leanings are more rocking than anything on I Wish I Could Have Loved You More.

Candie Payne - "By Tomorrow"

I've also been listening to some tracks from Broadcast's 2003 album Haha Sound, which is just as retro as well. It also has some 60's sparkle to it, but it has more in common with The Velvet Underground and French pop. I almost forgot how much I loved "Before We Begin", but I'm glad to say that my love affair with it has been rekindled. It's probably one of the most accessible songs you'll find in Broadcast's catalogue and as good a place to start if you've never taken a chance on the group. And obviously, if you enjoy Stereolab, you'll enjoy the album as a whole as well.

Broadcast - "Before We Begin"

To buy Candie Payne's I Wish I Could Have Loved You More (import) from Amazon, click here

To buy Broadcast's Haha Sound from Insound, click here

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ten On Tuesdays: Ten Best Mary J. Blige singles

In honor of knocking off Josh Groban and claiming the top spot on this week's Top 200 chart, I've decided to make this edition of Ten on Tuesdays all about Mary J. Blige and what I feel are her ten best singles. So why Mary J. Blige? Well, why not? She is one of the most consistent artists that this generation has ever seen. She and Diddy revolutionized the R&B genre in 1992 with the gritty hip hop inflected What's The 411?,and she's still managed to stay relevant since then. Her career is the standard that most R&B stars, male and female, are held up to today. Plus, she's released a lot of good stuff.

10. "Be Without You" (2005)
Album: The Breakthrough
Peak chart positions: Hot 100 (3), R&B (1)

One of Mary's biggest hits to date finds her showcasing her vulnerability as well as anyone in the business. Blige's content rarely varies, so it is a testament to her beat selection and her skills as a song interpreter that she still sounds fresh after a decade-plus of recording. "Be Without You" also boasts one of the best choruses of her career. Most of her hits have been groove-oriented, but you can tell that special attention was paid to that part.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Top 200 Singles of 2007

There's usually never a lack of great singles in a year, but living in the Information Age, it is no longer possible for there to never be a great year in singles again. It is no secret that the pop universe revolves around the United States. The biggest hits from this country are usually international hits, and unless it comes from the U.K., it's very rare that a hit from another country has the same impact that an American one does. But thanks to filesharing, blogs and YouTube, our pop borders are expanded to music from other countries we would have never been exposed to. The fact that this list is 200 songs long is evidence of the abundance of great stuff around the world. A lot of the singles on this list have yet to see North American release, but don't let that stop you from enjoying them. It didn't stop me.

1. UGK F/ Outkast - International Player's Anthem
I know it's totally cliche for blogs to deal in hyberbole, but I honestly think that five or ten years from now, this song will be considered one of the all-time classics in hip hop. Looking past the fact that this was Pimp C's last hit before his untimely death, the circumstances surrounding the record already have the plate set for a legendary moment. UGK, one of the premier hip hop duos of all-time and arguably the most influential Dirty South artists, were finally reunited after Pimp C's incarceration. Since they never got the chance to cash in on the momentum of "Big Pimpin'", anticipation was high for the album. The accolades for Outkast are already pretty well known, but let me state that as disappointing as some songs on Idlewild were, they can still lay claim to being one of today's most important and respected artists. Add to that Andre 3000's recent hot streak of guest appearances and we can see that there is still plenty of life left in the group. Not only that, the production is done by none other than Three 6 Mafia, who despite all their sonic innovations in hip hop are just now finding mainstream attention thanks to an Academy Award win. So on paper, you have three of the greatest hip hop artists to ever rise from the South collaborating on one track. Sounds like it should be a classic, right? Well, it is.

"International Player's Anthem" is the rare collaboration without one weak spot and where everyone involved is still in their prime. And even though UGK, Outkast and Three 6 Mafia have a combined three decades-plus in the business, the track still manages to surprise. Take for instance the opening verse by Andre 3000. It's expected that Andre would give us content to make us think and to blow our minds at the same time, but he's rapping over nothing but the Willie Hutch sample with no drum or bass. Vocals, strings and horns. That's it. And it's like that for the entire verse. As extravagant as the productions in modern hip hop have become, there is always at least drum and bottom prevalent, but right from the beginning, we're warned that this song is going to be special and we should hang on to every word.