Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 250 Singles of 2011

1. King - The Story

Some of the imagery here is of a galactic nature, with references to the mothership, stars and such. Not uncommon at all in pop music, but very fitting since every listen to "The Story" feels like a journey beyond space, possibly on an astral plane. There's a magic going on here that's hard to explain, but something about paving your own path and following your own heart spoke loudly to the dreamer in me, in the sort of way that my favorite songs of all-time do. We sometimes have a tendency to sneer at anything that's purposefully positive in this world. Perhaps it's out of jealousy or maybe because we simply don't like being told how to feel. Whatever it is, I implore any cynics to not let that get in the way of enjoying this song. There is too much warmth in those keyboards and too much love in the harmonies to feel anything but empowered when your heart is fully opened to this track. In the seven years I've been doing these lists, never have I been this sure of what my #1 single would be.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best Albums of 2011

These are my favorite albums of 2011. This year, I'm trying something different by bringing Spotify into the mix. I've created a playlist with a song from most of the albums here. Check back next week for my list of the best singles of the year.

1. Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'

On his 2008 album, The Way I See It, Saadiq copped a retro sound that recalled some of the softer, romantic touches of Motown. As enjoyable as that album was, it often felt like a tribute instead of a creative exercise. For the follow-up, the sound is still of the past and just as accurate, but more soulful, freewheeling and raucous. By convincingly conjuring up the spirit of Stax and the eclectic side of Sly and The Family Stone, Stone Rollin' would have been pleasing to the ears of most by default as well. Instead, Saadiq completely reinvigorated the whole process of being retro by using the era not to justify the means, but as a catalyst for exploring just how vibrant his songwriting could be. The authenticity is part of the charm, but the joy lies mostly in listening to one of R&B's most intelligent and classiest artists at the top of his game.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Year-End Stuff and Best of 2011 Lists

It's about that time for best of lists. Next week I'll be doing albums and the week after that is singles. In the meantime, you can check out my 2010 lists for albums and singles. My movie list usually shows up sometime around February, so here is last year's too.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Are The Grammys Now Relevant?: My Reaction to the 2012 Nominations

The nominations for the 54th Grammys were announced tonight and there was no shortage of surprises (click here for full list). The precedent for past Grammys has been thrown into disarray and this could be the sign of a new era for the ceremony.

First, let's look at the obvious. Song of the Year nominations were conceivable for Mumford & Sons and Bon Iver, but for both of them to take slots in Record of the Year speaks loudly as to how the NARAS are trying to shake things up. Usually when there are surprises like this, it comes from the result of a weak year, but there were several other viable contenders that fit into the previous mold of commercial and critical acclaim (think "Super Bass," "Pumped Up Kicks," "All The Lights"). In spite of that, the NARAS seemingly went straight for critical acclaim in a category that rewards big records. It looks as if Arcade Fire's win for Album of the Year was no fluke and the blue ribbon panel is willing to overlook sales in favor of merit. "The Cave" was a much more feasible choice because of its success at radio, but "Holocene" did not gather much attention outside of the indie press and its inclusion here is colossal.

In another cred seeking move, the Best New Artist category this year has two hip hop artists (J. Cole and Nicki Minaj), which is a first and a "dubstep" artist (I have nothing against Skrillex, but I'd rather not disrespect the genre by identifying his music as such). The Skrillex nomination is most interesting because he is at the head of a movement that has a very devoted fanbase but hasn't really broken through mainstream America. Once again, this is not typical behavior of the Grammys. They've apparently been paying attention to what's current and have adjusted accordingly.

Monday, November 28, 2011

2012 Grammy Nomination Predictions

Nominations for the 54th Grammy Awards will be announced during their annual concert on Nov. 30. In what has also been a tradition for me, I like to predict who will get nominated.

Album of the Year

I'm not sure that I've seen anything as close to a sure thing for AOTY over such a long period of time, but Adele's 21 has been leading the charge since the beginning of the year with astoundingly consistent sales numbers from week to week. The album has been at or near the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 and the fact that her music is accessible and inoffensive pretty much makes her a lock. It also doesn't hurt that she's a previous Best New Artist winner as well. Things couldn't be set up any better.

I don't have any other definite locks, but I feel very confident in a few other favorites. One of them being Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It may not have had the hit singles that his previous albums did, but it had universal glowing reviews in the same stratosphere as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and OK Computer, both previous nominees in this category. The fact that it wasn't the commercial juggernaut that his other AOTY entries were might be overlooked for the chance to reward what many consider a masterpiece by one of today's most important artists. One outlandish scenario where I don't see it getting nominated is if his collaboration with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, cancel both albums out and leaves room for Lupe Fiasco's Lasers to slide in. Lupe just happens to be a performer at the nomination concert and although he had a successful year, I don't think too many people saw him as a frontrunner for any of the general fields. It's definitely something to keep an eye out for since most performers who are asked to be at the nomination concert end up getting a nod in a big category.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ten on Tuesdays: Reasons Why I'll Never Lose Faith In Eddie Murphy

It's not easy being an Eddie Murphy fan these days. If you looked at his resume for just the past ten years, you would find a body of work that's mostly disappointing and not fitting for one of Hollywood's greatest talents. What's been so frustrating about Murphy is that he seems to be drawn to scripts that only a bank account could love. Despite his crap radar needing a tune-up, Murphy could still succeed even at this stage in his career given the right vehicle. Based on the reviews, his recent role in Tower Heist appeals more to his adult audience, which will hopefully be a direction that he continues in given that's what made him a superstar in the first place. There was the possibility that he could have reminded the world just how talented he was on a grander stage if he had stayed on as host of the Oscars, but a reminder shouldn't even be necessary given his obvious talent. That's simply what years of bad movies will do to a career. Throughout his many downs, I kept holding out hope that the next project would be the one to get him back on track. Needless to say, there has not been much encouragement for a long time, but here are ten reasons why I'll never give up on the man.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Little Jackie - "Time of Your Life" & "Cryin' For The Queen"

After only being available digitally since the summer, Little Jackie's second album, Made4TV, was finally released on CD a few weeks ago. It's encouraging because I think that a physical release causes a bit more hype and I firmly believe that the duo of Imani Coppola and Adam Pallin should already have a few songs on the Hot 100 under their belt by now. Made4TV picks up where The Stoop left off—which by the way, was one of my favorite albums from last decade—and continues to perfect their approach of marrying sunny hip hop beats with Motown-esque melodies. One of the highlights, "Time of Your Life," is a colorful track about taking a chance on love that feels youthful, but not wide-eyed. Coppola has always played the role of streetwise girl pretty well, so whenever she applies that same wit to a song that allows her heart to open up, she creates something that feels like its overjoyed with love without coming off as sappy.

Time Of Your Life (click here to download)

During the summer of 2008, The Stoop was my daily soundtrack. It was bright pop music filled with an attitude and its short running time made it easy to squeeze into my listening schedule. I still go back to it very often, especially now with the release of Little Jackie's latest album. One of the easiest ways to tell if I love an album is how often my favorite song changes. Sometimes it's "Black Barbie." For a while it was "The World Should Revolve Around Me." On many days, and as of right now, it has been "Cryin' For The Queen." Right out the gate, the song is gleefully profane and confident as Coppola chops down an entitled diva (I interpreted it as Amy Winehouse). It's a stretch to call this song hardcore, but from a pop perspective everything is blistering from the horns to Coppola's delivery.

Cryin' For The Queen (click here to download)

To download Made4TV from Little Jackie's Bandcamp website, click here and to buy The Stoop from Amazon, click here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Summer in Pictures 2011 (or Life is Complete Now that I Finally Saw Sade)

Loretta Lynn/Taste of Chicago/Jul. 1, 2011

Chosen Few Picnic with pictures of Frankie Knuckles and LisaRaye/Jackson Park/Jul. 9, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ten on Tuesdays: Best Musical Numbers by Disney Villains

After watching The Lion King in 3-D this weekend, I was suddenly in a Disney state of mind. For better or worse, the studio has provided family entertainment for several generations and shaped many a childhood. Despite any gripes I might have with some of the racism and sexism they've included in their films over the years, I can't deny that they've always enlisted the best storytellers and songwriters. Traditionally in an animated Disney musical, songs of triumph, joy and love are usually the most beloved, but while watching Scar sing "Be Prepared," I started thinking of all the great songs from Disney that promoted evil and were as equally worthy of admiration as their morally superior counterparts. This edition of Ten On Tuesdays will count down what I feel are the best musical numbers by Disney villains.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A look back at MTV's Video of the Year

I've long given up hope that MTV will retain musical relevancy ever again. For a little over two decades, the cable network dictated trends while also breaking in new acts with graceful ease. Its dedication to showing music videos also pushed the medium forward, with its artistic heyday being in the 1990s when creative, visually distinct directors like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Stéphane Sednaoui, Hype Williams, Anton Corbijin and Mark Romanek, among many others, made regular contributions, therefore upping the ante for any artist trying to get their video into regular rotation. Since MTV has long abandoned showing music videos during regular viewing hours, you would almost think that their annual award show, the Video Music Awards, would no longer need to exist. There is a bit of humor to be found in the fact that a network that hardly airs music would pretend to care for one night while keeping up the facade that they follow everything throughout the year.

While the VMAs have never been mistaken as harbingers of quality, I do place a bit of value into the main award: Video of the Year. Having come up in the 90s, music videos became one of my first loves and Video of the Year is probably the highest honor one can receive in that field. The Grammys have made some solid nominations over the years for their Best Short-Form Music Video category, but hardly any attention is paid to it and MTV has a longer history of identifying the most striking and relevant videos in the art form.

Despite barely dedicating time to music programming and with the majority of videos being watched online, I feel the Video of the Year award still manages to hold prestige by coming up with at least one surprise nomination a year. It shows that they care just a little bit, at least for me. I understand that MTV is in the business of making money and attracting viewers, so they have no choice but to include popular, albeit inferior videos into this category at times. This is also a different era than the 80s and 90s when the music industry thrived and more money was able to be thrown at budgets for videos, which meant more good videos in general.

With me still being a music video fan, I'm usually eager to see what happens with Video of the Year. Over the course of the VMAs' history, MTV has at times proven that it can acknowledge quality, but the VOTY could have more prestige if the network had decided to be consistently more daring. Here is a look back at all the previous nominees and winners in that category and what was overlooked in that respective year. Keep in mind when discussing what should have been nominated, I narrowed it down to videos that could have conceivably landed in the biggest category of the night, meaning that it had to have been a sizable hit with MTV rotation. Also, it should be noted that viewers have been able to vote in this category since 2006, which has taken away from the surprise factor, meaning we may never seen an upset like "Nothing Compares 2 U" or "Virtual Insanity" ever again.


The Cars — "You Might Think"

* Herbie Hancock — "Rockit"
* Michael Jackson — "Thriller"
* Cyndi Lauper — "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"
* The Police — "Every Breath You Take"

What should have won
: While the campy humor of "You Might Think" still holds up very well, "Thriller" was an unprecedented accomplishment at the time and has not lost its luster.
What should have been nominated: Talking Heads — "Burning Down the House"; Queen - "I Want To Break Free"; Twisted Sister - "We're Not Gonna Take It"


Don Henley — "The Boys of Summer"

* Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — "Don't Come Around Here No More"
* David Lee Roth — "California Girls"
* David Lee Roth — "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody"
* USA for Africa — "We Are the World"

What should have won: The set design for "Don't Come Around Here No More" trumps the lush cinematography of "The Boys of Summer" for me.
What should have been nominated: Art of Noise — "Close (To the Edit)"; 'Til Tuesday - "Voices Carry"; Madonna - "Material Girl"; Frankie Goes to Hollywood — "Two Tribes"; Bronski Beat - "Smalltown Boy"


Dire Straits — "Money for Nothing"

* a-ha — "Take on Me"
* Godley & Creme — "Cry"
* Robert Palmer — "Addicted to Love"
* Talking Heads — "Road to Nowhere"

What should have won: A good deal of me wants to say "Take On Me," mostly for the mirror shot where the camera rotates around and reveals both the animated and live-action world, but overall, "Cry" is the most distinct. "Road To Nowhere" would have been a good choice as well seeing as how Talking Heads were miles ahead of everyone when it came to making videos around this time.
What should have been nominated: Kate Bush — "Running Up That Hill"; Talking Heads — "And She Was" ; Prince and The Revolution — "Raspberry Beret"; INXS — "What You Need"; Kate Bush - "Hounds Of Love"; ZZ Top — "Rough Boy"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Adventures at Lollapalooza 2011

Day 1 - Friday

Ryan Leslie

Although there weren't as many big name hip hop acts as there were in years past (which was an admittedly small list to begin with), it was refreshing to have a mainstream R&B singer at the festival. Ryan Leslie had an easygoing confidence about him that did not make it hard to be drawn into his show, but I felt it was lacking a certain punch, which could probably be remedied by adding more pieces to the band, which for this day was just a guitarist and a DJ. Still, Leslie is a talented songwriter and it would have been apparent to anyone passing by that he had an ear for beats and melodies.

Tab The Band

I think I enjoyed their stage banter the most out of all the bands over the weekend ("This song was on Major League Baseball 2K11. It's on the screen where you choose baseball players to do shit. Like play baseball, I guess.") Overall, they were fun and played some good time rock n' roll that provided a good jumpstart to Lollapalooza.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mixed Reaction: my other blog

So I've started a new blog where I take a look back at all the mixtapes I've made for myself, starting back in 1996. It's called Mixed Reaction and I post new entries every Tuesday. Check it out because it will be a long journey.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Betty Black - "Spring Blossoms"/Kudu - "Let's Finish" & "Physical World"

Kudu's 2006 Death Of The Party is an album that remains in constant rotation for me and is often played on those weekend nights when I'm getting ready to go out to a party or dancing. With some booze and company, it could almost be a fitting substitute for a night out if you decided to stay in, as it's already a practical journey through NYC's underground with electronic nods to ESG and Blondie thrown in. Even though the album has nicely filled a niche in my life, like most artists that I enjoy I'm usually left clamoring for new material. It now appears that 2011 will see my wishes come true as they are slated to release a follow-up album under their new moniker Art World Killer, but not before vocalist Sylvia Gordon churns out a trilogy of EPs as her alter ego, Betty Black.

Part of what makes Kudu/Art World Killer so unique is the diversity of Gordon, who seems to be one of the few contemporary female vocalists that uses Siouxsie Sioux as a reference point. On "Spring Blossoms," which will be on the upcoming Slow Dance, Gordon continues to retain the Goth stylings that influenced her youth to an enchanting and subdued use. The sound of Betty Black is centered around 50's girl groups and meant to evoke David Lynch films, according to Gordon, and that description is pretty spot-on. The relative sparseness of songs such as The Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and The Ronettes' "You, Baby," along with countless others from that era, have their blueprint all over this track, but with an added tinge of darkness.

"Spring Blossoms"

To listen to more songs from Betty Black, head on over to her Bandcamp website. Slow Dance will be released through iTunes on June 28.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

White Shoes & The Couples Company - "Sans Titre" & "Matahari"

White Shoes and The Couples Company are one of my favorite current groups going right now. They hail from Indonesia and thrive on a sunny, jazzy sound with shades of American pop from the 1960s. Their second album, Album Vakansi, which was released late last year in their native country but as of now doesn't have U.S. distribution, takes more chances than its predecessor by playing heavily on the jazzier aspects of their sound. I'll always hold their debut album in very high regard due to its ability to instantly brighten my mood, but here are a few tracks from their latest one which I've been constantly repeating.

"Sans Titre" marks a departure for the band as it's their first record to be sung in neither Indonesian or English, but in French. It's also the most eerie that the band has sounded, with theremin-like sounds floating in the background and a few other experimental touches that wouldn't be out of place in the world of trip-hop. It also happens to be one of their most delicate-sounding songs as well.

"Sans Titre"

Click here to download.

"Matahari" falls more in line of what one would expect of White Shoes and The Couples Company. The song gives off a bright feeling that's reminiscent of spring and is another showcase for the musical ability of the group, which I sometimes tend to gloss over when basking in the melodies. I'd be interested to know who some of their influences were as far as the world of jazz and if they're fans of any other kind of world music since I definitely hear some West African guitar picking going on here.


Click here to download.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

KING - "The Story"

The debut EP from KING has been one of the more pleasant discoveries so far in 2011. All three songs from The Story showcase a fresh, new R&B trio not confined to just relying on aesthetic and groove, but heavily focusing on the intricacies of songwriting and arrangement. I get a sense of enchantment when listening to their songs that I can't quite put a finger on. Part of me thinks it has something do with two of the members being twins and that somehow enhances their musical communication. My favorite track from them is "The Story," which has traces of an Oriental melody and a lite synth sound that is reminiscent of some of Prince's sensual moments. Although this is their first release, I'm hoping to hear more of those electronic textures from them in the future because it seems to be their strong suit and part of what makes them so unique.

You can buy the EP from Amazon for just $2.97 by clicking here. Also, the video, which they crafted by hand by themselves, is as cute as buttons and has been making me smile for about a month now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I've been told I should take more pictures

I get asked a lot by people who read my blog why I don't post more pictures of concerts. It's a very excellent question, one that I really didn't have a decent reply for. To be honest, I haven't been taking that many pictures of anything, probably due to my newfound reluctance to snap portraits of myself, but that's another story. I've been trying to get into the habit of bringing my camera with me whenever I go out, so hopefully it will be a semi-regular thing. Here's what I found as I looked through it for this post.

Asobi Seksu/Bash On Wabash/Sept. 5, 2010

This was my second time seeing them and I got a chance to hear some new songs from the album they just recently released. Once I found that they were going to be at this street fest in the South Loop, I knew that my Sunday night had been decided.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Best Movies of 2010

As I always mention whenever I do my best films of the year list, I like to wait till around February or so to allow myself to be able to see some of the movies that don't go nationwide until the new year. I'm on a modest budget and I don't get to go to film festivals, so it's impossible for a Midwesterner such as myself to catch all the prestige films that are rushed to release during the Oscar season that manage to land on a lot of critics' year-end list. I feel that as long as I can do my list before the Academy Awards, it can still remain somewhat relevant and topical. This was also the first year that I got a subscription to Netflix and if you haven't jumped on board by now, I highly recommend it if you're a movie buff such as myself. It allowed me to watch more movies in a year than I have in a very long time and is partly the reason why this list is close to 60 and could have potentially been higher if I had the time to fit in everything I hoped to see.

1. I Am Love

One of the most visually impressive films of the year was not a flashy, big-budget Hollywood effort, but a brooding family drama from Italian director Luca Guadagino. The set design and wardrobes are rich with vivaciousness and detail that pop off the screen in an effective, subtle manner and reflect the tone and personalities of its scenes and characters beautifully. This is a movie that deals with contrast at nearly every corner, since the main character, a Russian woman played Tilda Swinton who married into an affluent Italian family, is an outsider in her own family and that idea is delicately exposed in nearly every frame. Technically, I Am Love is masterfully produced, but when it delves into the intentions and actions of its characters, the effect is poetic as it can be interpreted in many different ways. Even the film's final, grainy shot could have several connotations after repeat viewings (I've seen people refer to it as having the qualities of an ultrasound). I know I've come across a great film when I can't get it out of my head days later and I am constantly thinking it over in my head. As is the case with a lot of revered art, everything may not come to you the first time around, but along the way it forces you to ask yourself questions you never thought of before and enriches you in the process.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Live Blogging the 2011 Grammys:

6:49 Showtime is near. Checking out some of the awards handed out before the show and seeing how they matched up with my predictions. Some things of note: Black Keys won Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group and also took Best Alternative/Music Album, which was supposed to be a gimme for Arcade Fire. Huge upset. Also, "Empire State of Mind" taking Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration over Eminem suggests that it may not be his night after all. This could have huge ramifications for the general categories, specifically Album of the Year where Eminem is favored.

I'm probably more excited than I should be that "Empire State of Mind" won those categories. For one, it makes Record of the Year more interesting and "Empire State of Mind" is simply the better song.

7:05 Tribute to Aretha Franklin to kick off the show featuring Martina McBride, Florence Welch, Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson. Right now, Xtina is winning. Florence seems like the only who doesn't belong. Will have to wait till she gets her solo turn. Martina McBride is making a very strong case for 2nd place.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Grammy Predictions & Live Blogging

It's Grammy time once again and I'll be live blogging the event as usual this Sunday, Feb. 13. I'll be getting things started here a couple of minutes before the big ceremony. Also, make sure to check out my Grammy predictions posted at Prefix.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 250 Singles of 2010

1. Janelle Monáe F/ Big Boi - Tightrope

It was only just a few weeks ago that I listed The ArchAndroid as my #1 album of 2010. Now Janelle Monáe can also lay claim to my favorite single as well. The steady groove of "Tightrope" was deceptive to me at first and made everything appear simple. Having been a fan of Monáe for some years, I was used to expecting something more explosive and colorful.