Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 250 Singles of 2013

Since we're in the Cloud Age, where things are headed more and more towards streaming seemingly everyday, I have to expand the definition of what exactly qualifies as a single. For the purpose of this list, any song that was uploaded to Soundcloud by the artist or their record label automatically qualified, even if it wasn't for sale or didn't have a video. By far this was the most most intimidating year to put together a singles list because there always felt like there was something new right around the corner that I might have missed, which is thrilling for a music fan. I've included a Spotify playlist of the songs and for those that weren't on there, I've included an asterisk (*) to help you out. If it's not on there, it's likely on Soundcloud and if it's in the top 100, I'd especially recommend putting forth the effort to search for it. Make sure to check out my albums list as well.

1. Pharrell Williams - Happy

"It might seem crazy what I'm about to say." Hard to believe that we're at the point where we have to almost apologize for being in a good mood. Often times, I find songs dedicated to joy to be the most fearless in today's cynical world and there are fewer that blare the horn of happiness louder than this one. For the purpose of full disclosure, The Neptunes are among some of my favorite artists of all-time, so there's always something welcoming for me when one of them hits their stride. Regardless, I think anyone would have won me over with such a jubilant gospel shuffle. It's a solid foundation to start with, but then there's that chorus. That sunny, carefree, defiant, Nobel Peace Prize-worthy chorus. So pure in its mission to save the world and help you leave negativity behind that it even brought along hand claps to ease the transition. It's true power isn't revealed until towards the end of the song where its repetition is so forceful that it won't be satisfied until vessels burst in your cheeks from smiling too hard. Music is at its best when the artist can project their feelings onto you and you're able to empathize. "Happy" was the best such example this year for me.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Best 50 Albums of 2013

Once again, here are my top 50 albums of the year. I've also included a Spotify playlist with selected tracks from as many as albums that were available on there. The amount of good music out there is so overwhelming that there are probably another 50 albums that had a shot at cracking the list that I didn't have time for. My head will likely explode one year when doing this post. Until then, enjoy!

My top 250 singles of 2013 list should be up within a few days.

1. My Bloody Valentine - m b v

Who isn't a fan of Loveless? To this day, it stands as one of rock's seminal albums and no matter what the moment, it's usually in my top 5 of all time. It was with that excitement, shared along with so many other music fans around the world, that I was looking forward to My Bloody Valentine's follow-up to that album, which was 22 years in the making. So yes, this is coming from the perspective of someone who was destined to enjoy m b v in one fashion or another, but the record is its own kind of monster. No matter if you've never heard one strain of their blurred melodies or the jagged crunch of their feedback, nothing can be taken away from moments as gorgeous as "Who Sees You" and "Only Tomorrow," which are indeed awash in a familiar sea of haze, beauty and chaos, but no less effective in the 2010s than it was in the '90s. Beauty is actually the one word that keeps popping up in my head whenever I revisit this album and it's the most fitting. My Bloody Valentine has never been about "beauty" in the traditional sense where we perceive it to be something that's symmetrical and pleasant, but by using elements that are more fitting for a mosh pit or a surrealist painting, our senses are challenged for the better. We're left with a piece of work that alters the colors we see, that soothes amidst the dissonance and ultimately gives us new respect for waiting patiently.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

2014 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Album of the Year & Song of the Year

The nominations for the 56th Annual Grammy Awards will be announced this Friday, Dec. 6, on a live concert special airing on CBS. The award ceremony itself will take place on Jan. 26, 2014. As usual, I will try my hand at predicting who will get nominated in the four general field categories: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist. Today, I'll take a look at Album and Song of the Year. I already made predictions for ROTY and Best New Artist yesterday.

Album of the Year

The conversation for the 2014 Grammys ends and begins with Justin Timberlake. Not only has he been nominated in this category twice before, but he also brings that magical combination that the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences) loves to acknowledge: popularity and respect (i.e., Adele, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill). Submitting both of his albums as one shouldn't hurt his chances, even if Part 2 was seen as a creative disappointment. As of right now, The 20/20 Experience is in the lead to win this whole thing.

By that same logic, I also like the chances for Bruno Mars' Unorthodox Jukebox. I think he's one of the few current pop superstars where the music is strictly the main attraction concerning them. Image and headlines have played such a small role in his success, which is something the Grammys will likely take notice of. Having him here won't tarnish the respectability of the category.

In that same vein, Taylor Swift's Red, with the best first week sales in a decade, also seems likely to get a nomination. The difference between her latest one and Speak Now—which did not get an Album of the Year nod despite gaudy first week numbers as well—is that there are more songs that the general public can identify with.

Monday, December 02, 2013

2014 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Record of the Year & Best New Artist

The nominations for the 56th Annual Grammy Awards will be announced this Friday, Dec. 6, on a live concert special airing on CBS. The award ceremony itself will take place on Jan. 26, 2014. As usual, I will try my hand at predicting who will get nominated in the four general field categories: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist. For today's post, I'll examine the races for Record and Best New Artist while tackling Album and Song of the year tomorrow.

Record of the Year

Just to clarify for those reading tomorrow's post as well, Record of the Year goes to the artist, producers and engineers who worked on the actual recording while Song of the Year goes to the songwriters who crafted the lyrics and melodies. Since this category tends to lean towards big hits and big artists, it never hurts to look at what and who was popular this year. By far, the track that had the most weeks at #1 was Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" with Pharrell & T.I. It defined the summer and fits in the same mold of respectable mega smashes such as Usher's "Yeah!", Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" and Gotye & Kimbra's "Somebody I Used To Know" in that ordinary consumers could perceive them as more than just soulless pre-manufactured pop hits. Despite the Marvin Gaye issues and Miley episode at the VMAs, I still like the chances of "Blurred Lines."

Justin Timberlake will likely have a lot of momentum this year for his return with The 20/20 Experience, which should carry over into ROTY with "Mirrors." He's one of the most adored pop stars we have and I think it would count as a huge shock if he didn't get in here.

Another artist who will also likely carry some goodwill for a great year is Bruno Mars. He has been a mainstay on the charts for about a year now, which helps the chances of "Locked Out Of Heaven," a song that was released closer to the beginning of this year's eligibility period than any of the other main contenders.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lulu James - "Sweetest Thing"

British singer Lulu James has been releasing slinky, sensuous singles for about a year now, with work such as "Be Safe" and "Closer" that is as visually distinct as anyone in the pop world is doing right now. Her latest track, "Sweetest Thing," is certainly memorable on the eyes as well, with a dark backdrop and bright lights to provide contrast, but the record itself is my favorite of hers so far. There's a fluidity to James' songs that gives off a very soulful effect and that side of her is further embraced here and also happens to share a kinship with the electronically hushed atmospheres of mid-1980s R&B along the lines of The Commodores' "Nightshift" and Gregory Abbott's "Shake You Down." There are obviously more modern influences at play here, but whenever I hear James hit those "ohh ahhs" during the chorus, I'm put in the same mind frame of an old Patti LaBelle or Tina Turner ad-lib, circa 1985. By drawing on the past and current trends, "Sweetest Thing" has arrived just in time to provide the perfect soundtrack for that bit of warmth and human company we all long for during the winter months.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Recent interviews on Noteworthy: Charli XCX, Bettye LaVette and Alice Russell

If you're not already aware, I host a weekly music show called Noteworthy every Monday night from 6PM-8PM CT at I play a lot of music on there, naturally, and I also interview artists from time to time. I've been particularly busy the past month and was able to chat with some notable folks, among them Charli XCX, Bettye LaVette and Alice Russell.

Charli XCX

Bettye LaVette

Alice Russell

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ten Years Gone: Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

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

When I think about what it was like during the time Outkast's fifth album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, was released, I can't recall ever sharing such a huge amount of optimism and trepidation concerning a project. Coming off the smash Stankonia, which was so hugely popular that it became one of the few hip hop albums up until then to be nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys, expectations were stratospheric. Outkast had managed to make each successive album contain fewer borders, rarely taking a step backward when it came to trying new things. By the time Speakerboxxx/The Love Below came around, the dusty, buttermilk-battered funk of their debut Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik was but a distant memory and only served as a slight reference point to the foundation of their sound. The increasing eclecticism no doubt helped to expand their audience and it was reasonable at the time to expect that their latest double album would be nothing short of mind-blowing.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Interview with Xenia Rubinos on this Monday's Noteworthy

On my radio show Noteworthy this Monday, I'll have an interview with Xenia Rubinos from 6PM-8PM at If you recall, she had my #1 single of 2012.

Here is "Help" from her latest album Magic Trix.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

An early preview of the 2014 Grammys

The 56th Grammy Awards aren't until January, but I thought I'd make some early predictions at the contenders for the general field. I've ranked who is likely to get nominated, in my opinion, for the four main categories. Check back on the blog closer to nomination time for my final guesses.

Album of the Year

1. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
What's in its favor: Timberlake is one of the most beloved pop stars of this era and after a long break from music, he delivered an album that not only exceeded expectations, but nearly sold 1 million in its first week.
What might work against it: Not much actually. If there were any backlash against the album, it would have happened already. As of now, 20/20 is about the closest thing to a lock.

2. Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox
What's in its favor: Despite being released early in the eligibility period, having two #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 ("Locked Out Of Heaven" and "When I Was Your Man") has helped keep up its momentum.
What might work against it: While I'm very high on Mars' chances, I won't feel completely confident until his latest single, "Treasure," cracks the top 10.

3. Taylor Swift - Red
What's in its favor: Swift has the kind of starpower that the Grammys love to have on their show. Add to that, 1.23 million sold in her first week, solid reviews and a Record of the Year nod for "We Are Never Getting Back Together," Swift is still one of the most bankable artists around.
What might work against it: Speak Now also sold a million in its first week with decent reviews, but was shut out of the general field.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bunji Garlin feat. Nigel Rojas - "Differentology"

If there is any justice in the pop world, this song would become a summer anthem in the United States. By enlisting familiar seasonal sounds such as Chicago house, soca, Spanish guitar and a shout-along chorus, "Differentology" embodies summer with a combination of genres that were meant to unify the masses in the most festive of ways. It's fitting that the song itself is so communal in its goal of achieving a good time, which would make it ideal for an array of advertisements. Like the best backyard barbecues, "Differentology" offers a little something for everyone.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Alpine - "Gasoline" & KING - "In The Meantime"

It's only been four months into 2013, but I think I may have already found two of my favorite songs of the year.

Alpine - "Gasoline"

Since I came across this about a month ago, I haven't been able to let go of how much this song reminds me of Little Dragon. I kept picturing a world where they didn't sound as sinister and the keyboards had a bit more bounce to it. The result would likely be "Gasoline." It's deceptively chipper and doesn't sound anything like you would expect longing to, especially the way the lead singer delivers the word "night time" during the chorus, which feels naive and flirtatious at the same time.

KING - "In The Meantime"

Another song that's been in constant rotation is the latest single from KING, who I've been very high on in the past. It's a subtly potent display of quiet storm seductiveness filled with the typical warmth that these ladies bring. I'm not sure how often I've used "warm" to describe their sound, but I can't think of a better way to put it. From the vocals to the production, KING makes some of the coziest, lulling music right now, and I mean that in every positive way.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Best 50 Pop Albums from 2000-2009: #10-#1

This is the final entry in this week's countdown of the top 50 pop albums of the 2000s. The links for #50 - #11 are at the bottom of this post.

10. Yelle - Pop Up (2007)

If a 22-year old Madonna had been a hipster in the 21st century, she might have sounded something like this. The debut album from this French trio was an adventurous and sarcastic trip that was heavily influenced by house and a few strands of DNA from the early works of Cyndi Lauper and the aformentioned Madge. At its best, Pop Up yielded propulsive DJ staples such as "Je Veux Te Voir" and "A Cause Des Garçons" that had vocalist Julie Budet's sassy vocals to distinguish them along with some colorful splashes of 1980s electropop. Other rainbow-flavored cuts like "Mali Puli," "85A" and "Ce Jeu" provided the perfect excuse to bounce around with Pixy Stix as the drug of choice, while at the other end of the spectrum, the album's slower moments were equally captivating as well with the tender "Tu es beau" and the first half of "Tristesse/Joie." For an album attempting to bottle as much as sweat as Pop Up, slow songs usually produce a lull. That turned out to not be the case since there's rarely a duff moment to be found here.

Key tracks: "Je Veux Te Voir," "Tristesse/Joie," "Ce Jeu," "A Cause Des Garçons"

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Best 50 Pop Albums from 2000-2009: #20-#11

I'm counting down the top 50 pop albums of the 2000s this week. This is part 4 of 5.

20. Freeform Five - Strangest Things (2004)

The only proper studio album to date from British producer/DJ Anu Pillai took the flash of his previous house and electro tracks and provided a twist of funk to the songs here, allowing the music to expand beyond the remix audience that Pillai earned his name with. The album also found time to focus on less dance-oriented material, such as "Ask Me Tomorrow" and "What Are You Waiting For" that showed Pillai's diversity as a songwriter and carried over into helping make the uptempo songs so hook-filled.

Key tracks: "Electromagnetic," "No More Conversations," "Eeeeaaooww,"  "Losing My Control" "Strangest Things"

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Best 50 Pop Albums from 2000-2009: #30-#21

This week, I'm counting down the top 50 pop albums of the 2000s. This is part 3 of 5.

30. Girls Aloud - Tangled Up (2007)

Coming off the disappointing Chemistry, Girls Aloud once again set the standard for British pop music with an invigorating fourth album that showed growth while keeping their trademark fierce attitude intact, ditching the ballads—long one of their weak spots on their albums—in the process. The group had always skirted with sex appeal, but Tangled Up felt like the first effort that made a conscious decision to show that the former reality show contestants had finally grown into women.

Key tracks: "Can't Speak French," "Black Jacks," "Call The Shots"

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Best 50 Pop Albums from 2000-2009: #40-#31

This week, I'm counting down the top 50 pop albums of the 2000s. This is part 2 of 5. 

40. Spymob - Sitting Around Keeping Score (2004)

While they gained most of their fame as the backing band for N*E*R*D, their own tunes have more in common with the power pop of Todd Rundgren and Jellyfish and the polished soul of Hall & Oates. The determined energy they showed on In Search Of... brought even more of a punch to choruses that already had their fair share of candy coating.

Key tracks: "Stand Up & Win," "It Gets Me Going" "Sitting Around Keeping Score"

Monday, April 01, 2013

Best 50 Pop Albums from 2000-2009: #50-#41

In a recent New York Times article, "The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food", it is discussed how certain foods and drinks are tested and manufactured to create a "bliss-point," which is basically that part of the brain that tells us to keep consuming regardless of what our bodies tell us. In a lot of ways, pop music is also about hitting that bliss-point, that point that brings us immediate pleasure and makes us repeat customers in the process. At its foundation, the purpose of most pop music is to hit that spot that makes us smile or dance without little thought or explanation as to how we got there. Much like how the scientists in that article went through exhaustive research to get the most out of a product, the same level of care and detail goes into making something aurally addictive in less than three-and-a-half minutes.

The previous decade provided us a renaissance in the genre, in which previously unheralded pop acts could now sit at the same table as some of the most acclaimed artists in respected fields such as rock, hip hop and so on. With the advent of the Internet allowing our tastes to broaden, there was no shortage of good music to be found, which makes the 2000s the perfect period to reexamine pop and with enough time having passed by, we can look at some of the later additions to the decade objectively and fairly.

The ranking of the albums are based mostly on how greatly I felt that "bliss-point" was achieved, overall quality and how well it has held up. I did take into account cultural and critical significance, but not very much, if barely at all. Pop music should be about that moment you flip out in the car when a song you like comes on, even if it's years old, not how a bunch of people bought into a hype for three months.

One more thing: since a good deal of these albums had months between the release in their native country and the United States, I often came across the international version first, which is what I'm judging on in a lot of cases. I'll be rolling out ten entries a day this week, with #10-#1 being revealed on Friday. But for now, let's get started with #50-#41.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Best Movies of 2012

I tend to do this list just before the Oscars, but I'm a little late, as you can see. There can't be too much harm in doing a best of 2012 list towards the end of February, right? The reason why I wait so long to do this list every year is that a lot of the major prestige releases for awards seasons do not get a widespread release until January, long after everyone else has submitted their lists. Since my access to film festivals and screenings are limited, I have to wait just like everyone else. The extra time does allow me to play catch up, which I think always tends to benefit my lists.

1. Cloud Atlas

Upon the first viewing, Cloud Atlas can be a lot to take in. As if the near three-hour runtime wasn't a clue as to how loaded this movie is, there are six different interlocking stories to follow spanning from 1849 to the 24th century with many of the same motifs and A-list actors. Add to that a philosophical underlining throughout and for some, watching Cloud Atlas may feel like homework trying to keep up with what it all means. Regardless, it was still my favorite film of 2012 and I don't think anyone should be afraid of a little hard work when it comes to watching a movie. I'll be the first to admit that a second viewing might be required to fully grasp Cloud Atlas, which I'm anxiously looking forward to, but there was plenty to enjoy the first time around. With directing duties split between the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, the movie has more than its fair share of terrifically executed action sequences and visual flair, along with some of the most impressive makeup work I've seen over the past few years. Cloud Atlas is quite unlike many high wire acts ever attempted before in cinema, working constantly to balance a jumble of threads and far-reaching ideas. The level of ambition shown here is admirable and enough to cause some initial intrigue, which makes Cloud Atlas one of those rare big-budget films that you can both marvel at and be enriched by.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Liveblogging the 2013 Grammys

It is Grammy time once again. I'll be liveblogging all night, so watch and refresh with me. To see how my predictions held up, just click here.

6:52: According the awards handed out before the ceremony, I'm 8/15 on my pics so far. My main regret is not tabbing Skrillex to sweep the dance categories. Also notable is Gotye's win over fun. in Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. I think that favors him and Kimbra for Record of the Year, which I predicted "We Are Young" would win.

7:03: Taylor Swift kicks off the show with " We Are Never Getting Back Together" with a carnival concept. I'm still getting used to Taylor The Pop Star instead of Taylor The Pop Country Star. I believe it in the studio, but she doesn't have that Shania vibe though. Still, decent performance.

7:10: Ed Sheeran is joined onstage by Elton John. What would the Grammys be without a collaboration with Dwight? I prefer it more when it's not expected (Eminem, Lady Gaga). This is just to basically give a stamp of approval to someone most Americans have not heard. The just okay performance reflects that. It was pleasant, but I already forgot about it. I want some hardware handed out already!

7:18: Come to think, I'm not sure there has ever been a good performance on that small stage in the middle of the audience. Nothing memorable at least aside from maybe The Civil Wars last year.

7:21: Would have rather seen Kelly Clarkson or Carly Rae Jepsen take Pop Solo Performance, but Adele is still loved. 9/16 on picks.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Grammy Winner Predictions for 2013

The 55th Grammy Awards will be handed out this Sunday night on Feb. 10 on CBS. As always, I'll take a crack at guessing who will walk away with some hardware. Make sure to come back during the Grammys since I'll be liveblogging and providing on the spot analysis on the event as usual.

Album of the Year

The Black Keys - El Camino
fun. - Some Nights
Mumford & Sons - Babel
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
Jack White - Blunderbuss

Will win: The most competitive AOTY race in years essentially comes down to The Black Keys, fun., Mumford & Sons and Frank Ocean. The rock vote will be split all over the place, but based on how hard the Grammys are trying to regain credibility, El Camino will probably come out on top since it seems to be the album that even non-rock fans can agree on.
Should win: Channel Orange was my #2 album of 2012 and just about every publication had it in their year-end top ten.
Overlooked: Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do; Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream

Record of the Year

The Black Keys - "Lonely Boy"
Kelly Clarkson - "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"
fun. feat. Janelle Monáe - "We Are Young"
Gotye feat. Kimbra - "Somebody That I Used to Know"
Frank Ocean - "Thinkin Bout You"
Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"

Will win: I can't really think of any other recent song as popular and uniting as "We Are Young."
Should win: This is the first time that I can recall not having a problem with either of the nominees winning, even though my Channel Orange bias has me rooting for "Thinkin' Bout You."
Overlooked: Carly Rae Jespen - "Call Me Maybe"; Jay-Z & Kanye West - "N----s In Paris"

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Top 250 Singles of 2012

Here is my annual singles list. I've included a Spotify playlist which I hope you'll enjoy. For tracks that you can't find on there, I put an asterisk (*) next to it just so you don't miss anything and can look elsewhere on the Internet. Keep an eye out for my best films list in February.

1. Xenia Rubinos - Hair Receding

Since I started getting intensely into music during the mid '90s, I've always been attracted to eclecticism in my songs. Getting a daily dose of Beck, Cibo Matto and various others will do that to your tastes. "Hair Receding" doesn't have any of the quirkiness or irony often associated with alternative acts from that decade, but its willingness to mesh genres is just as enthusiastic. One moment it's free jazz, then the next it employs an American dubstep break and Rubinos makes the whole mixture even more off-kilter with a folk-styled vocal approach. As dizzying as that all is, Rubinos essentially pours her entire soul over the track, giving the song a stronger than expected heart, especially when her voice ascends during the bridge. That emotional lift is a huge part of what keeps me coming back. The pieces here come from familiar places, but the combination forms a sound that's truly original.