Friday, December 29, 2017

Top 10 of 2017

10. Valerie June - The Order of Time

Valerie June's second full length album really solidified her as one of my favorite new artists. Pushin' Against a Stone could have been a fluke, it was so good - but The Order of Time not only continues the story June was trying to tell, it enhances it and strengthens her staying power in this industry. June also embodies that old school, bluegrass, Willie Nelson sensibility about her and seeing her in concert in Philadelphia earlier this year made me realize that even more. She's full of tall tales about writing her songs in Memphis at home - cooking onions while thinking about "Astral Plane" - the onions sizzling on the pan as her mind is racing through the lyrics. I love that stuff! And if you do too, you will love Valerie June and her music. Key tracks include "Shakedown," "Astral Plane" and "Got Soul".

9. Haim - Something to Tell You
This album really surprised me. Days are Gone was solid but nothing special to me. I did appreciate their singles off the album and could sense greatness in these three ladies. But they REALLY stepped up their game on Something to Tell You. Like, they went from "Oh yeah, here's some hipster ladies trying to be Wilson Phillips and oh, they're friends with Taylor Swift, that's cool, I guess" to "Oh wow, yeah. They're the second coming of Wilson Phillips now." Some of you out there reading might not be on board with that, but I certainly am. Another thing to note about this album - their videos. "Want You Back" would have been all over TRL in the early aughts. It's a great video. Sometimes I'll watch it if I'm feeling down just because it's something I know I love and something familiar. It just makes me happy. They really thought about their vision for this album and embodied it in everything they did - the music videos, the marketing for the album, the sound of the album. Everything seemed to me that it was a cohesive project that these three wanted to complete from beginning to end in the way they wanted - I dig that. Key tracks include "Want You Back," "Nothing's Wrong," "Little of Your Love" and "Right Now".

8. Dan Auerbach - Waiting on a Song
I still say that The Black Keys are one of the most important rock bands of today. Dan Auerbach is a very large percentage behind that importance - probably 75%. I love Patrick Carney too and he's a brilliant drummer but let's be real, Auerbach is the mastermind. This album really showed his songwriting chops and I wish it were a more popular album and even got awarded some Grammy nominations. It seemed like this fell way under the radar very quickly. Maybe it's because Auerbach has had his many chances in the limelight and is a Grammy award winning songwriter, performer and producer. But I'm calling out the The Recording Academy - shots are fired. Nominate this for at least Best Rock Album.

Auerbach has had some rough patches recently (yeah, about Turn Blue - can we pretend that never happened? Except for "Fever." That song is dope.) but this album, to me, was a great metaphorical punch back to all the Turn Blue haters - myself included. He's still got it!

Key tracks include "Waiting on a Song," "Malibu Man" and "King of a One Horse Town".

7. The National - Sleep Well Beast
Sleep Well Beast was my favorite album from this band since High Violet, which I just realized was seven years ago! Maybe it's because of the Hudson Valley connections this album has, but I was immediately drawn to this album. The cover, for one, could be from a Vincent Price short; it's totally bizarre and unsettling but also alluring. You want to know more. And once you listen to the music, it all comes together. It's a damn good album. Some of these songs are some of the best rock songs I've heard in years. This is the seventh studio album from this brotherly quintet and I think it's one of their best. Key tracks include "Nobody Else Will Be There," "Day I Die" and "Walk It Back" (It just so happens I love the first three songs of the album, okay? They like to start strong, I suppose.)

6. St. Vincent - Masseduction
It took me a while to actually listen to this but when I did, I was immediately hooked. Annie's songwriting is just wacky but she also can create a really good hook. Put those together and you have Masseduction. There are a lot of really good pseudo political statements on this album ("I can't turn off what turns me on,") but it's masked by electronic pop wonderfulness. There are also songs that are intentionally very stripped down like "Happy Birthday, Johnny" and "Hang On Me" that are just beautiful and don't need the bells and whistles - and Annie knows that. It's everything you'd expect from a St. Vincent album but for some reason, I'm always pleasantly surprised. Key tracks include "Hang On Me," "Pills," "Los Ageless," "Savior" and "New York".

5. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
This album cover is just bad ass - full stop. There's no other word to describe it. The album on the other hand...

When I heard that the former guitarist of The War on Drugs, and now solo artist Kurt Vile, was going to make an album with one of my favorites in the game, Courtney Barnett, I was like "Okay, I like some of his stuff. Let's see how it goes." I love Barnett but I know that Vile is hit or miss for me so I didn't have my hopes up. I also found out that Vile wrote more songs than Barnett on the album before listening to it, which was a slight gut punch being more a fan of Barnett, so it took a while to listen to this after it released. Vile wrote four songs on the album and Barnett wrote three. And one from each of their counts is a cover. But then I did listen to it and all of my assumptions about it wasn't true. It combined Courtney Barnett's random story telling and power chord choruses and Kurt Vile's twangy guitar and dylan-esque way of annunciation really well. It's a great album and these two have found a balance that doesn't completely over shadow the other. I'm really glad I came around and gave it a shot. Also really shocked and appalled that this didn't get a Grammy nomination but there's a possibility Justin Bieber could win a goddamn Grammy this year. Seriously, I thought The Recording Academy were doing better this year. Still a lot of work to do, obviously.
Key tracks include "Over Everything," "Let It Go," and "Continental Breakfast."

4. Arcade Fire - Everything Now
So, this was probably Arcade Fire's most disliked album so far, by fans and critics, but I loved it. From the Boston Globe:"the band has doubled down on snotty yet trite social criticism," while adding that "'Peter Pan' and 'Chemistry' could duke it out for the title of Arcade Fire's worst-ever song." Agreed with "Chemistry" but "Peter Pan" deserves better. I wouldn't say that Everything Now's social criticism is any more or less trite from The Suburbs either. They wanted to do something new. I'm okay with that - especially a band like Arcade Fire who have accomplished a lot in their tenure. As long as the experimentation is genuine and not intended to raise their paychecks, which I guess, is debatable if that was the intention or not, I'm not Win Butler, I don't know. It doesn't seem like it to me - I think there's still heart and hard work behind those songs. Regardless, there are some gems here. It's not what we're used to getting from Arcade Fire which is jarring at first, but my gateway to this record was "Signs of Life" - a song that could very well be plucked out of The Suburbs track listing. Then I listened to "Creature Comfort." Then I saw them in concert and they blew me away. Started listening to "Electric Blue" a lot. It just keeps growing on you and you notice something different every time you listen to it.
Key tracks include "Signs of Life," "Creature Comfort," "Electric Blue" and "Put Your Money on Me."

3. Kesha - Rainbow
One of those albums where I'm like, "how do I even begin to write about this?"

It took five horrible, frustrating years for this album to see the light of day. I can't imagine being a musician and by law, not being able to release the music you've created. Being a musician and having to put your career on hold. Not being able to go forward. Having to deal with the aftermath of a man abusing you for years and when you finally have the courage to say something, being essentially punished for it. Her fans stood by her throughout the entire trial with Dr. Luke and Sony/RCA. She updated us on social media about what was happening. She finally decided to tour because at least it was performing her music and sharing new stuff with her fans. It seemed like that was something she did in order to cope. The idea that if she ever wanted to release new music, she possibly would have to work with a man who abused her and belittled her for years. She would have to work with a record company that did not support her concerns and refused to compromise with her regardless of how long this trial to get out of her recording contract went on would be.

Due to unfortunate decisions Kesha Sebert made as a young starlet, she ended up being unable to get out of her contract with Sony, which consists of a six album deal that profits her abuser. Even though they did settle that Dr. Luke wouldn't be involved in future recordings of these albums, he would still profit from her work. Which is totally ridiculous. But with the advice of her legal team, Sebert accepted it and she now has three more albums to go until she can get out of her contract with Sony. Rainbow was a huge "f*** you" to all of this, in pure Kesha fashion. Sure, it profited her abuser and recording company that didn't support her, but the entire album she released is about self love, having confidence and hope within yourself that someday it's all going to be okay. Kesha struck back with nothing but positivity. Every song on this album is explaining her journey through this legal mess. It's about what she was thinking for the five years she was unable to record, about finding herself again and making the best out of a shitty situation. I will seriously love and support Kesha forever. She's always been a smart songwriter and has that intuition when it comes to her music that makes a pop song from good to great. This album deserved the positive reviews, the popularity and the Grammy nominations. I hope she takes home a few of those in February. She deserves it. She put herself out there for the world to see. That's when the best music is created.

Key tracks include "Woman," "Praying," "Learn to Let Go," "Finding You" and "Hunt You Down." Brb, going to listen to this entire album and cry my damn eyes out.

2. Ryan Adams - Prisoner
This might be the first time I've done a top 10 of the year list on this blog and not have Ryan Adams as the number one spot, when he's released an album. I thought about this a lot and while I absolutely love Prisoner, every fiber of it's being and Ryan Adams in general, I can't with 100% certainty say it was my #1 album of the year. It was definitely a contender, but Adams music in recent years has stabilized and his last three or four albums have been ridiculously consistent and predictable. That's not a complaint, by the way. But it didn't excite me the way the self titled did. He's doing great, I hope he keeps up the inspiring work and is holding his head high after this Mandy Moore bullshit. Which I won't get into because that will be a rambling mess but let's just say, it's been hard to watch This Is Us when the woman who deeply hurt one of your favorite people possibly in the universe, starring right back at you from the television. Hey, at least we have Prisoner from all the pain and suffering that was experienced. On a related side note, finally, he has discovered the genius of The Beatles - praise be. Praise be. If you follow him on any social media, you'll know it's been a riot reading his comments while he goes through the fab four's discography.
 Key tracks include "Prisoner," "To Be Without You," "Anything I Say To You Now" and "Broken Anyway."

1. Sylvan Esso - What Now
This line from an A.V. Club review is too accurate: "a record so good it answers its own title question and makes you eager to ask it again." This Durham, North Carolina duo that are both seasoned musicians in their own rights, sound similar to a lot of other alternative/indie bands out there, but joined together, Amelia and Nick could make anything sound incendiary. Plus their use of electronic instruments pushes genre boundaries and makes something of their own. Some of their songs and lyrics are an uncomfortable matter-of-factness and some are for just dancing (hence "Just Dancing"). The cold, calculated production of "Die Young" gets me every time. Through Amelia's voice and Nick's sounds behind it all, there's this vibe of dark, unfortunate certainty that makes the song what it is.

It was an important album for the duo too because their first album was more of an experimental side project for them than anything else. Amelia Meath is part of the folk trio Mountain Man originating from Bennington, VT. and Nick Sanborn is a freelance producer and DJ, heavily collaborating in the past with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver,) and another Durham local band Megafaun. Nick and Amelia knew each other through mutual friends and started jamming together. Little did they know, their jam sessions would become an album and that album (the self titled,) would become more popular than either of their personal musical endeavors. After the success of the self titled, they got signed (because you know, that's important, I guess,) and decided to create a sophomore album. So when they created What Now, it was their first record as a full fledged band where they were able to prepare more and really figure out what they wanted to say, who they wanted to be as Sylvan Esso, what their vision would be, what instruments they wanted to use, etc. It's more polished than their self titled and the songs have more of a cohesive sound. Just when we thought they were showing off on self titled, they come out with What Now and totally blow the music industry away.

Recommended video on the topic: this performance of "Radio" from Jimmy Fallon is amazing. I love the clock in the background counting the seconds down.
Key tracks include: "The Glow," "Die Young," "Radio" and "Just Dancing" 

Honorable Mentions:

Ed Sheeran - Divide
Ed Sheeran needs to stop being so awesome. I don't want to like him as much as I do because music cred and hipster tendencies, but I do. I just do. Impossible for me to dislike. He's a great songwriter, a vibrant performer and he's got what it takes to stick around. "Shape of You" is pretty brilliant. Damn it.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
Alt Country? Check. Husband of Amanda Shires? Check. Friend of Ryan Adams? Check.
When I heard all three of these things about Jason Isbell, it intrigued me. Every time I told someone about Amanda Shires in the past, people would be like, "UH DO YOU KNOW HER HUSBAND?" like I'm going to stop raving about Amanda Shires after hearing Jason Isbell. This was my apprehension because the excitement was intense and I'm partial to people telling me what I will and will not like. (And yes, I see the irony in that.) But then I heard "If We Were Vampires" and sobbed like a baby. Check mate, Jason Isbell.

LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
I knew he'd come back.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Long List [Top 10 of 2017]

Best time of the year!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Things I need to catch up on

I know that Friday was a big day for music - St. Vincent, Beck, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile released albums. I haven't listened to them yet, I've heard the new Beck sucks unfortunately but we'll have to see. I've heard St. Vincent's album is fantastic. No word on Kurt and Courtney. And I just realized they have the same names as the Sid and Nancy of the nineties. Anyway - I'm not talking about those albums right now but if you don't know, now you do.

RIP Tom Petty - yeah, I'm not going to get into it too much but this was a really tough day. I remember it being a Monday because I was like, "really? Tom Petty has to die on a Monday? Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, now this?" I remember discovering him in high school and having a mix CD I made that had "Refugee," "Mary Jane's Last Dance," "American Girl" and "I Won't Back Down" on repeat. I listened to it a lot in the car going to school during my Junior and Senior year. Petty was a genuine, undeniable talent and I'm going to miss him a lot. Even though he wasn't really putting new stuff out, it was nice to just know he was still around and I could potentially see him in concert.

LCD Soundsystem, American Dream - He's back and I could not be more excited! There are a select few who I think has the right to touch a synthesizer. James Murphy is on that short list. It seems that American Dream has been ruminating in Murphy's mind for a while. The content of the lyrics is very politically charged and there are a lot of other various topics in the songs that have been happening throughout the years while he's been on hiatus. "Oh Baby" sounds like a second cousin to "Dance Yrself Clean" and that song along with "How Do You Sleep?" are classics in his not so extensive but solid discography. Definitely on my top 10 albums of the year.

The National, Sleep Well Beast - Oh. my. god. guys. This album is so good. It reminds me a lot of Utraviolet, which was probably my favorite album of their until this one. It came out in September and it's still on heavy rotation for me. Key tracks include "Walk it Back," "Day I Die" and "Born to Beg". Another album on my top 10 list, possibly even my top 5. We'll have to see how the next three months go.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Trust me, I've been Writing this year

I just noticed that 2017 has not been a blogging content heavy year for The Preston Beat. To be honest, I've been trying (i.e. struggling) to write a fictional novel this year and working on my freelance career. I think that being a Journalism major and writing articles has reduced my ability to write a long fictional story. Every story I try to write just doesn't cut it for me. I think it's also because I'm so used to creating short, informational stories now, it's hard for me to switch for some reason. Anyway, I'm still working on it. It's a process, I guess. But this is why you haven't heard from me a lot. Every time I have time to write, I'm experimenting with this and working on getting my groove back.

"If you're losing your soul and you know it, then you've still got a soul left to lose." - Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Arcade Fire & Kesha...

First, let's talk about Arcade Fire.
Yeah, this came out of left field for me. Arcade Fire released Everything Now in very late July, I listened to it on a whim and was totally surprised by how much I liked it. I heard the song "Everything Now," their first single from the album, and it was alright but I wasn't too impressed. Come to find out, I might even like it just as much as The Suburbs. It was produced by Arcade Fire and Thomas Bangalter (I just found out), one half of Daft Punk, so no wonder why it's dance pop amazingness. It's definitely different from their normal sound but there have been hints of Everything Now within their past discography, specifically "Sprawl II" from The Suburbs. People liked it when "Sprawl II" came out, but for some reason this album is getting a lot of shade from the purists. "Arcade Fire is selling out." What an easy phrase to say without any other information presented to prove this! It seems that like The Suburbs, they really thought about this as an album, not song by song. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I love that. Here's one of my favorites on the album for your listening pleasure, "Signs of Life" (Disclaimer: I have not watched the video yet so I'm not sure what number it is on the "so hipster it makes me sick" scale. Judging from the screen cap, I'm guessing an 11. I digress.).

The pop music world is rejoicing - Kesha's back!
I'm so happy Kesha is back. After years of dealing with nasty court cases and not being able to record music, she finally is back with her third album Rainbow, that comes out this Friday, August 8th. She's already released four songs off the album along with videos - "Praying," "Learn to Let Go," "Hymn," and "Woman," which might be my favorite. People who have already heard the record call it a "powerful, emotional and strongly feminist record that is worth the 4-year wait." Sounds good to me. Honestly, I think this album is important not only to her fans and for her career as a sustainable artist, but for her as well. It's an extremely personal record, just listen to "Praying," it says it all what she's been going through for YEARS. And as a musician, especially someone like Kesha who was a rising star (and I guess still is?) and obviously loves making music to share it with the world, it must have been extremely heart breaking to be unable to record or release any new music for such a long time. Warrior came out in 2012, for gods sake! She's got a lot of things to say! She is still Kesha, but different. If you're looking for the next "Tik Tok," you'll be sorely disappointed. But hopefully "Woman," a song that has more of a deeper meaning than any of the songs on Animal, will suffice. This is a side of Kesha the masses haven't seen before - more serious about her music but other than that, her ideas and opinions on things seem the same. A little bit more reserved, which is understandable. Even if I hate this album, I'm still going to support her. This quote perfectly sums up the reasons I will: "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."- ee Cummings

Saturday, July 22, 2017

RIP Chester Bennington

As I'm sure a lot of you have heard already, lead singer of Linkin Park, among many other side projects, committed suicide on Thursday. He was 41 years old and is survived by his wife and SIX children. That's right. SIX. Anyway...

I could go on about how sad it is that he decided to take his own life and how if anyone feels the need to commit suicide, please call someone, here's the hotline number, etc. but I won't go on about that. What I will go on about in this blog post, is how unfortunate it is that people have been downplaying his music career and talent since he died. Since Thursday, I've felt compelled to testify about this.

Since Hybrid Theory and Meteora, I haven't been the biggest fan of Linkin Park, I'll admit it. Maybe it's because I'm 30 now and their music just doesn't move me as it did when I was a teenager, much like Korn and Limp Bizkit before them. But I have always respected Linkin Park as a band because guess what? They've always been good at what they do. They've written their own songs, produced their own albums and pretty much dance to the beat of their own drum regardless of what's popular. They've never compromised their sound because of some arbitrary music business bullshit. And they've been doing this FOR OVER A DECADE. And you might not know this, but they still sell stadium shows out, have still made some good music ("Castle of Glass" and "What I've Done" comes to mind) and still have always stayed true to what they wanted to do in their band. That's a bonafide musician, to me. Regardless if I'm into their music or not, I can't deny that they are artists and have continuously worked on their craft without any outside pressures - they've always just wanted to do their thing. And that's pretty commendable, to me.

When people have even dissed Linkin Park in the past, I've defended them. Sometimes, people have put them in the same sentence as Nickelback, a band who are pretty much at this point, a stadium rock band parody and just going through the motions. But people will see both bands on the same level, which has always been weird to me. Allegedly, both bands music is "terrible" so obviously, they're the same. I'm sorry but no. Linkin Park has never been on the same level as Nickelback. Even though your ears may not be pleased to listen to Linkin Park sometimes, trust me, they're better. At least they're artists and trying to progress and try new things as their SUSTAINABLE career continues. I mean really, even Limp Bizkit and Korn couldn't do it. None of the others lasted. Linkin Park have.

Sure, their popularity has significantly decreased but they still have a huge fan base. People still love the "no one understands me" schtick and Linkin Park have always done that well. I think we need to recognize that. Unfortunately, finding out about Bennington's passing, it seems like it's not as much of a schtick as we'd like to think.

So can we please respect Bennington and Linkin Park during this traumatic time for the remaining band members and their families as what they are, regardless if we don't like them? If you're a fan of music and the craft behind it, I'm gonna go there and claim you can't deny that they have talent and a passion for music. Whether or not you like what they do with that passion and talent, that's on you. If people still like it, great, good for Linkin Park, is what I've always said. All of the members have kept working towards making solid music, even after their 15 minutes in the early aughts, and even outside of Linkin Park (Fort Minor > Linkin Park. Seriously, Shinoda, get together with Skylar Grey and bring it back! You guys were good!)

This concludes my rant because I could probably go on more but that's just writing in circles and also, I've got other shit to do. I will ask you to listen to the two songs I've listed - "Castle of Glass" and "What I've Done" if you're not familiar. Perhaps then you might understand what I'm trying to say.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Last.FM Randomizer Challenge 6.26.17

The number generator chose #18...Arcade Fire! Which is a total coincidence that their fifth studio album, Everything Now, is coming out July 28, which will give me some shit to say about them!

I have a love - hate relationship with Arcade Fire. Like The White Stripes, Arcade Fire are the shit and they know it - just no shame or inhibitions in their hipsterness. But damn it, they're pretty good. They made The Suburbs - a perfect album. HOW CAN I NOT?!

Funeral and The Suburbs have been my favorites, with Neon Bible in a close third. They create their music almost entirely on their own - if all the band members put their musicologist noggins together, I'm sure they know how to play at least 1,000 instruments. As James Murphy said, he hardly had to do anything when he produced Reflektor for them in 2013.

Here are some of my favorites:

"Spawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" (The Suburbs)

"Neighborhood #2" (Funeral)

"Ready to Start" (The Suburbs)

Another really cool moment I think about when I think of Arcade Fire are the 2011 Grammy Awards. You know the Grammy Awards, that thing I hate watch every year and one of the only times I actually use my twitter account. They won the damn Album of the Year in 2011. Which really stepped up their hipster game which is a necessary evil, in this case. It was a powerful moment in the award show's recent history and kind of is what made Arcade Fire what they are today. And that is the shit. And it made me think, just for a second, that maybe the Grammy Awards could represent different genres of music. Maybe we can get a wide variety of music to expose to the masses and give gifted talents their chance to shine, not due to fame, but from their musical talent and abilities. When Arcade Fire won that Album of the Year, I had hope for the ultimate music awards show that always left me feeling jaded.

And then you know what won in 2012? Adele's 21. Business as usual.

Anyway - something positive - I'll be seeing them live for the first time in September in Boston! I'm so excited!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Dan Auerbach's new album is dope, Sufjan Stevens comes out with a Solar System concept album because why not? Paramore however, falls flat...

So since I've posted, I've been sitting with Paramore's After Laughter a lot. I have to say, they really tricked me into thinking they were going to come out with something really ground breaking for their career and then when it actually came out, I was totally uninspired and bored. There are only four good songs on the album however, they are worth it: "Hard Times," "Rose Colored Boy," "Told You So" and "Caught in the Middle". All of these songs sound like the vibe they were going for on "Hard Times" and "Told You So" but the rest of these songs are dull and not too much going on. It's a bummer but I still stand by my post about Paramore previously.

Anyway, there have been some really interesting albums being released lately. The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach comes back with 1960s blues inspired awesomeness on Waiting on a Song. I have to say, after Turn Blue, I was skeptical. As some of you know, I have an affinity for The Black Keys and will fight to the death that they are one of the most important rock bands that has come out in the last decade or so, but I'm not a Pitchfork writer, so I critique when it's needed, even when it's reviewing a favorite of mine, and Turn Blue was a real disappointment. But it seems like Auerbach still has it and is making some really good music. His lyrics could be more varied - I've noticed that a lot of his songs at the end just repeat the same sentence over and over again.

Marika Hackman also came out with her second full length on Sub Pop Records yesterday, I'm Not Your Man which I have yet to listen to but it's on my radar. Bleechers and Halsey came out with their second full length's as well, Gone Now and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom respectively.

Bryce Dessner of The National, jazz drummer Nico Muhly, and Sufjan Stevens released a collaborative effort on Friday which I'm excited about. Planetarium is a concept album about the solar system! Because you know, Sufjan Stevens, basically. There are songs for every planet as well as songs inspired by black holes, Halley's Comet, the Kuiper belt, the Moon, and the Sun. Sounds like it will be weirdly interesting.

And that's it for new music! There are plenty more on the horizon but these are my current picks for now.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

HAIM is back with Something to Tell You

Same bass face, different songs.

HAIM is coming back after riding high on their debut album, Days are Gone in 2013. Their sophomore album Something to Tell You comes out July 7 and was produced by  Ariel Rechtshaid, who works with Adele a lot.

Here are their first two singles off the album, "Want You Back" and "Right Now" - they also played these on SNL last week (which was great! They are pretty damn good live, I've never seen a bad HAIM performance.)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Let's Talk about those new Paramore songs

Every year when music journalists predict which bands are going to break up, I always say to myself, "Paramore." That's the first band I think of when this question is raised, since around 2011, when the Farro brothers left. But they surprise me every year and I think at this point, they're surprising themselves, judging from this NYT feature just recently published for the promotion of their fifth full length album releasing May 12, After Laughter. Hayley Williams is quoted saying, "There was a moment when I didn’t even want it [another album] to happen. Then it was like, I want it to happen, but I don’t know how we’re going to do it."

And now here we are, in 2017, with two new Paramore songs! That was kind of a surprise for me but I welcomed it, unlike other die hard fans who have been listening to them since Hayley was sixteen, yelling her heart out on All We Know is Falling, who embedded "Misery Business" in their MySpace profile in 2007, when RIOT! was everywhere. A lot of people abandoned them after their self titled in 2013 because they had to pull the sell out card from their back pockets. It was bound to happen - Paramore has been around for a while, so it's understandable that maybe they want to experiment a little bit. One thing I've discovered from writing my own (not as good) music is that sometimes as a songwriter, you just want to try it out - see if it works. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't but if it does, why not keep at it if that's what you want to focus on? Song writing is so personal not only for the songwriter, but for the fans as well and it can be hard to balance that. Regardless, I think the term "sell out" is so unfair. Especially after trying to write songs, I can see why professional musicians can struggle with this.

Paramore are so resilient, not only in their struggle to remain a unit with Hayley being the Gwen Stefani of the band, but in their songwriting too. Hayley Williams, Zac and Josh Farro were a songwriting team to be reckoned with. Nothing could stop their momentum of creating pop punk classic hooks with uniquely poetic and truthful lyrics. I've been listening to RIOT! more lately, the trifecta's masterpiece, and it really is a great album. It inspires me and makes me feel like I can do anything after listening to it. The way they say things through their lyrics is unlike any other band that's out there right now, in my opinion. It's more poetry and conveying a feeling rather than just saying stuff. And ten years later after RIOT! has released and many band member changes, they still haven't lost that momentum. Sure, their music has changed a lot but their lyrics still get you right in the feels! And because of that, Paramore still remain strong in a world of rap music that took 15 minutes to make on their Tenori-On (which I'm not necessarily knocking by the way, Tenori-On's are cool, but literally anyone can make a beat with it,) and Lorde and Taylor Swift owning the pop charts.

Some articles such as this one in Variety and this one in Spin, suggests that Paramore has actually gone to the dark side (pop,) and "never looking back," as the Spin headline suggests. I'm not so sure if that's true. Okay, Taylor Swift is going pop and never looking back, that I can get behind but if you go through Paramore's discography, every album is different! Literally every album. All We Know is Falling, RIOT! and Brand New Eyes have similarities, but I would say they're all different in their own ways. The self titled and probably After Laughter will follow suit. So don't assume things about Paramore, they're unpredictable but unpredictably brilliant.

It's funny, Paramore is a band I can ramble on about forever - there are a lot of assumptions about them due to their pop punk Fueled by Ramen background, their band lineup is always changing and always dramatic ("Oh, Zac Farro left, he's gone," "No, Zac is back in the band now, what are you talking about?!") and Hayley is of course, always being talked about, being judged. I can tell you one thing about Hayley though I think we all know is true - homegirl can sing. We should never over analyze that. I will however, judge her choices in men because I'm sorry, why Chad "I give out a sketch vibe and all my solo music is terrible" Gilbert? So anyway, After Laughter comes out on May 12 and I'm sure when it does, people are going to either say, "this is their best album yet," or "oh my god, I can't believe how hard they sold out," or "David Byrne called, he wants his big suit back...and now that you mention it, his entire music career too, give that back while you're at it."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A lot of bands really like the date April 28

Yesterday while driving home from Ithaca, I had a lot of music listening time and what better day to do that than Fridays - now the day albums release in the United States. The following albums came out yesterday:

-Sylvan Esso, What Now
-Feist, Pleasure
-Gorillaz, Humanz
-Drake, More Life
-New Found Glory, Makes Me Sick

Among many others including Thurston Moore's new band, The Best Day, The Cranberries and Glee alum Lea Michele. Spring has sprung in more ways than one. Evidently, I have three picks from the variety of new music choices:

Gorillaz, Humanz
I have to say, I love Gorillaz very much - "Clint Eastwood," Damon Albarn's first single under the cartoon band creation and the band's first big hit, came out in 2001, which is when I started high school, so their prime continued throughout my teenage years. I have many good memories of "Feel Good Inc." playing at high school graduation parties - that came out in May 2005. But even their alleged last hurrah, The Fall in 2010 was not the best. Boring is a word that comes to mind but I think that's because the people making the music were also bored. Humanz is still not Gorillaz, Demon Days or Plastic Beach but it definitely seems like the guys behind this project are rejuvenated and ready to create again. The music on Humanz is fresh and if you've looked at their YouTube channel recently, they're releasing a lot of story line content about the band members and unique, plot heavy music videos, which is part of why Gorillaz are so awesome. The band is not only audio, they're also visual and they think about that aspect way more than other bands, probably due to the fact that they're people behind cartoons; an obvious conscious decision they made when starting this project. So it makes sense the visuals have to be on point with the music. It's impressive when you can still make music, have all these different characters/personas on screen and then you can go about your day and go to the bodega without being noticed in 2017. Damon Albarn might be the exception since he does have previous success from Blur. The last two things I will say about this revamped version of Gorillaz are:

1. I've noticed they're focusing more on the rap and hip hop elements of their music. I wish they wouldn't do that but it's not my decision, I guess. "Ascension," their first single off of Humanz, was like, 95% rap. That's okay. I guess.

2. Their animation game has gotten way more advanced! I'm not sure if I like that either. I liked the DIY, gritty feel to them.

Feist, Pleasure
I surprisingly absolutely love Feist's new album, Pleasure. Metals didn't do anything for me, so I thought maybe The Reminder was just a fluke. But Pleasure reminds me of a Feist album that is on quaaludes and I'm okay with that. It's slower than my usual liking but there are some gems on there - for example, "I Wish I Didn't Miss You," "Century" and "Any Party". Definitely recommended for some late night studying or if you're sick/need to rest in bed and want to listen to something mellow.

Sylvan Esso, What Now
I save my favorite recommendation for last - Sylvan Esso! I feel like there is a lot more pep to their songs on the self titled but regardless, What Now is a great sophomore album and there are still some really good songs on there like "Radio," "Die Young," "The Glow" and "Just Dancing." Out of all the albums that came out yesterday, this is of course, my favorite and most recommended choice. I'll be seeing them in Albany (they're playing at the mall, of all places,) at the end of May so definitely look out for a concert review of that.

Friday, April 14, 2017

In Defense of Girls. And Here's Why.

Since the beginning of Girls, I've always been intrigued by what was described at first as, "Sex in the City for a younger generation" and yes, it definitely is, but I think it explores friendship in very different ways than Sex in the City. The friendships formed in Sex in the City were shown on a surface level and nothing more. There were fights occasionally, ups and downs but it never felt as authentic. The four ladies in Sex in the City were so different from each other but somehow, it just "worked". Regardless of what they were going through in life and how they disagreed with the way they were living their life. And that never felt believable to me. In Girls, like Sex in the City, their friendship "worked" until it didn't after the first two seasons. And that's when I think it really deviates from Sex in the City quite a bit. When Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna start navigating life after college and actually figure out what they want to do and who they want to be (or maybe some of the ladies at least try to do those things and not succeed,) that's when it starts getting interesting. In Sex in the City, we were never able to see this stage in their lives and this is where Girls is not like Sex in the City at all. The show portrays pretty truthfully what it was like to be out of college right after the recession (that's what we're still calling it, right?), with no job prospects and an expensive liberal arts degree you can't even use if you wanted to. And not only that, but being entitled to boot! All four girls have been offered a privileged lifestyle since they've been born - Jessa, Marnie and Hannah all going to Oberlin College, a very old money institution, (where Lena Dunham actually attended college,) and have been able to get pretty much anything they've wanted.
          A lot of the negative feedback I hear from people about the show is "all those characters are terrible people" and yes, yes they are (except Ray and I will defend that to my death, he's just trying to make it in this world,) but that's kind of the point and every time someone says this to me, I twitch a little bit. Because yes, you're supposed to hate them but then they do something in an episode that makes you realize you know this person in real life. You know a Marnie. You know a Hannah. You know Elijah. Regardless of them being unlikable, you cannot deny the badass writing chops of Lena Dunham and her crew. To write characters that are relatable, but also so annoying and unlikable, you say "that reminds me of ____", is a pretty successful feat when you're a writer of the fiction variety.

       People aren't likable all the time. Your Charlotte's and Carrie's are few and far between. Women especially have been judged if they're having a bad day and aren't "on" 24/7. Girls challenges this concept that women always have to be fun, flirty and nice all the time. Women, like men, also have their moments. We sometimes don't like our friends either, but they're our friends and we understand when bad days arise. Most times in the show, the girls' suffer from a little more than just a bad day, but you get the idea. You know, like when the publisher who is releasing your e-book unexpectedly dies and now your book deal is kaput. Or when you broke up with your first love and want to have sex with a random hotel door man. Or when you connect with someone you never thought you would; who also happens to be very ill and asks you to end their life. There are a lot of feelings and emotions swirling around and they're not all going to be admirable.
          I also love the fact that these characters have changed and progressed throughout the show. Even if it's a change for the worse, (I'm looking at you, Marnie seasons 3-6,) the viewer can notice distinct changes in these characters and goes through their journey with them to continue learning. And that's something that happens in life that isn't depicted on television too much.
         For these reasons, I'm going to miss the show terribly but I also understand why Dunham has decided to end it. They're transforming into thirty-somethings, getting engaged, getting new job opportunities or maybe they're picking up the pieces from their mistakes and starting a brand new chapter. SPOILERS - I would like to see if Jessa will even survive her thirties, if Marnie will stop this nonsense with Desi and snap out of it, if Shoshanna's new fiance, Byron is actually deserving of such an individualistic and resilient woman (albeit, sometimes selfish, but aren't they all? Yes. The answer is yes.) And probably the biggest mystery of all - is Paul-Louis going to be involved with his child?! Because I kind of ship him and Hannah together. That first episode of this season was magical and you could totally see that he brought out a side to Hannah that normally doesn't show. I hope their story isn't over. Jessa and Adam deserve each other and at this point, Hannah is too good for Adam. And Jessa for that matter but I guess they're trying to cultivate their friendship again? I am hoping these questions get answered in the finale this Sunday but knowing Lena Dunham, there won't be closure. And I get it - people are constantly learning and changing. She has always wanted to convey that in the show. And because of that, their story won't be over until it's over.

Anyway...I will end this post with a sweet moment between ladies...something that seems so far away from a possibility, especially after watching last week's "group meeting" in the bathroom during Shoshanna's engagement party.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Last.FM Randomizer Challenge 3.14.17

The randomizer chose #46 which happens to be Band of Horses on my Last. FM list of most played artists of all time - haven't even thought about this band in a while!

I absolutely love this band's three first albums - Everything All the Time (2006), Cease to Begin (2007) and Infinite Arms (2010). Mirage Rock (2012) and Why Are You OK (2016) have been sleeper hits, at best, and I haven't been able to get into them the same way I got into the previous three. The songs on the first three albums just grabbed you and from my experience, songs on Mirage Rock and Why Are You OK seems to be more...mellow? Uninteresting? I hate to say it but, yes. Uninteresting.

This Americana folk rock band formed from Ben Bridwell's, formally of Carissa's Weird, (a band with a strong cult following,) vision of a pop version of folk adding elements of older Country and current alternative rock. Results from that have been "The Funeral," "No One's gonna Love You" and "Laredo", some of their best work to date. If you don't know any Band of Horses songs, you probably have heard "The Funeral" in a Grey's Anatomy promo commercial or even a 2008 Ford Edge advertisement during the superbowl (true story). If you couldn't tell, yes, they've sold out hard but has it really worked for them and I'm not someone who judges "selling out" harshly. It kind of depends on the circumstance, in my opinion. Now their blimps on the map and they can record in Asheville, North Carolina, be signed to SubPop and have a comfortable music career. And like Carissa's Weird, Band of Horses has gotten a loyal following but with that oompf they've received from using their songs from advertising, it's given them a leg up that will prevent them from stopping or founder any time soon.

Even though I wasn't into their last two albums, I can still hear that the talent is there - they just are experimenting with it in a different way that I'm not into. Hopefully (for me!), their next one will be more reminiscent to Everything All the Time or Cease to Begin.

Also, just a extra, special tip for you - "Detlef Schrempf" can make me weep like a baby when the timing is right. This is the verse that really gets me:
So take it as a song or a lesson to learn
and sometime soon be better than you were.
If you say you're gonna go, then be careful
and watch how you treat every living soul.

Highly recommend you listen and it's one of the instances that make this band pretty fantastic.

Remember Feist? She's coming out with a new album.

I couldn't be happier! This will be her first album and new music since 2011's Metals.

Check out the track listing on Stereogum. It is set to release Friday, April 28! Same date as Sylvan Esso's What Now - it's going to be a good day.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

5 Women who are Killing it in the Music Industry

In honor of Womens History Month, I decided to write something about the ladies in music I love...

-Natalie Prass
We need more of Natalie Prass. Her self titled debut, which released in 2015, was written in 2009 and recorded in 2012. Her record label had to delay the release due to Spacebomb Records being a small outfit and just not having the funds and manpower to release more than one or two albums at a time. “And I remember my stomach dropped,” Prass says in an interview when she was informed the record would be released in 2013 (and later on, had been pushed back even more,) , “I just pictured myself standing on that mountain again, a year later. That just seemed like an eternity to me at the time.” In between the date of her release however, she wrote more songs and went on tour with Jenny Lewis to play in her backing band. She writes and composes all of her own songs, hires her own musicians for tours and is as far as I can tell, in charge of her career and destiny. That's definitely killing it in the music industry.

-Valerie June
I might be a little biased because I just saw Valerie June in Philadelphia and she was insanely good. She has so much energy on stage and does the perfect amount of talking during songs (even though she thinks she talks too much). She dances like no one's watching, dresses however she wants and has total ownership of her career. Her songs are enigmatic and interesting but somewhat familiar – very reminiscent to 70's soul and Blues in its heyday. Her new album The Order of Time just came out yesterday (March 11) and it's pretty fantastic. Go listen to it!

-Margo Price
Like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette before her, this midwest farmer's daughter is writing about her life in a sincere and relatable way. The Illinois born, Nashville, Tennessee transplant is keeping busy with touring right now (just found out she's going to be in Albany this Summer! Yes!), but I'm really hoping she'll get back in the studio soon.

This might be a controversial choice, but I really like Sia and dig her songwriting abilities, regardless of her weirdness just for being weird. She writes some of the catchiest, consistent and authentic pop songs of today. In a world of rap degrading women and saying the “n” word every other sentence that's sprawling all over pop radio, Sia is a breath of fresh air and one of the only surviving legitimate pop song writers who not only writes for herself and other people, but maintains a career that she takes ownership of.

-Jenny Lewis
Well, duh. Jenny Lewis is just the shit. She's honest and raw in her songwriting, her instrumentation is usually experimental with every album she writes and she's always collaborating with other artists, finding a sound that's their own. She's still riding pretty high on the success of The Voyager, released in July 2014 (it's a really good album, okay?), but like Price, I hope she comes out with some new music soon.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Albums I'm looking forward to in March

February was all about Prisoner for me, despite what Pitchfork said about it (but I guess for Pitchfork, this review is pretty good,) but March is up in the air regarding what album I'm going to be obsessed with. There are a couple contenders, but really I just want the new Sylvan Esso album to come out right now (but it's due out April 28).

Ed Sheeran, Divide: "Shape of You" is growing on me but I wasn't a huge fan of it when I first heard it. It actually releases today! (March 3,) and is Sheeran's third studio album. It's gotten pretty good reviews so far too.

Laura Marling, Semper Femina: Marling's follow up to Short Movie is released on her own label, More Alarming, and comes out March 10. It sounds like this is kind of a concept album for her. This is what she said in Pitchfork: "I started out writing Semper Femina as if a man was writing about a woman,” Marling said in a press release. “And then I thought it’s not a man, it’s me — I don’t need to pretend it’s a man to justify the intimacy of the way I’m looking and feeling about women. It’s me looking specifically at women and feeling great empathy towards them and by proxy towards myself."

The Shins, Heartworms: Just when you think the Shins are done and James Mercer is doing another Broken Bells album (which I really hope he and Danger Mouse do in the future,) he comes out with another Shins album. This is their fifth studio album but you would think it's their eigth or ninth with how much music they put out and how relevant their music still is in the media. I did think Port of Morrow was a little on the safe side but now that I keep listening to it, I don't think that anymore - they've been pretty consistent and I think this one is going to be just as awesome. They've released two songs from the album already - "Name for You" (my favorite of the two,) and "Dead Alive". The album also comes out March 10.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Stream Prisoner on NPR!
Listen to Adams' upcoming sixteenth studio album in full. It releases this Friday.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Grammy Awards are on Tonight!

I don't blame you if you don't care, no worries.

But if you're watching, I'll be live tweeting them again like I do every year:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hey, I like Musicals too, ya know.

After watching the Golden Globes, I saw "La La Land" like many other people I'm sure, and I loved it! First of all, I had no idea it was a full on musical coming into it. I knew there would be music, but I didn't know it was like "no, we're not beating around the bush, we got songs to sing." Not only is the music great, the movie was also pretty damn inspiring, to me, at least. Here's to the ones who dream, indeed, Emma Stone!

After seeing this film, I started thinking about compiling a top 5 list of my favorite musicals for this blog because I feel like that's a form of music I haven't covered yet - and guess what? I like musicals. I mean, it has music in them, I'm going to be at least a little interested.

West Side Story (1957) I want to say this is probably my favorite musical OF ALL TIME. That's right. Caps lock. Not only is it based on a Shakespeare play, part of the reason I was interested in this musical in the first place as a 16-year-old, (Romeo & Juliet,) but the music is on point. Not to mention the whole forbidden romance thing, teenagers love that crap, right?! The harmonies and the way voices blend together due to the way alto, soprano and male parts were written by the amazing Leonard Bernstein (Where's REM when you need them to yell this out?) melting together but then breaking apart and coming back together again. One really good example of what I'm trying to explain comes from a song at the end, "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" performed by characters Maria and Anita. Anita's part is alto, Maria's part is soprano. The entire song they've been going in different directions with their voices and then at the end of the song, they come together and drop the mic metaphorically: "When love comes so strong, there is no right or wrong. Your love is your life." The way they both sing that ending line - CHILLS. And speaking of alto's, this is another reason I love this musical. They represent the alto's! Sure, Maria is a soprano, who is the main female lead, but Anita is pretty up there too and normally, female leads in musicals are soprano's. It gave us lady alto's hope in high school chorus that we matter.

Chicago (1975) Everything about this musical is perfect - except for maybe Roxie Hart, but Velma Kelly totally makes up for it. Not only is this musical important for the songs and dancing (cause Bob Fosse, worship,) but I think the actual story really captured a brief time in history that shaped and changed some things that are even evident today in America. Just go ahead and YouTube search "Cell Block Tango" because I'm linking another one of my favorites below from the 2001 film adaptation, and tell me it's not bad ass. I'll wait.

The Music Man (1957) The Music Man is very nostalgic for me. It's one of my dad's favorite musicals and he played these songs a lot while I was growing up. Not to mention every time a company theater was performing it around us, we would go. Then, when I was a teenager, our high school drama club performed it and I rediscovered how familiarly quaint this musical is and I never stopped loving it after that. Plus, the female lead is a librarian! I also love that a lot of these songs really rely on word play as well as instruments that usually aren't common - since it's about a marching band. Bring out the trombones, tubas and the piccolos cause Harold Hill has got shit to do! Fun fact: Me and a couple of girls that were in the drama club rendition of this in high school, were supposed to be in this scene I'm linking here (probably my favorite scene from the musical) and I was so excited but then all the girls got cut because, I don't know, #patriarchy? If you're curious, I played a pick-a-little lady in the show. Their songs involve a lot of fast rhyming with "say that 10 times fast" lines. Even today at almost 30 years old, I can still recite some of the fast lines: "She had a golden glint in her eye and a silver voice with a counterfeit ring." The train scene I love because it doesn't only incorporate peoples voices into the song, they also use background noise to enhance this rapidly distressed chant from traveling salesmen complaining about people taking their business. It almost sounds like a train rolling onto the tracks, faster and faster until the next stop. It's like they did that on purpose or something...

The Sound of Music (1959) Where do I begin with this? Another very nostalgic musical/movie from my childhood. There were a few movies I used to watch over and over again when I was a kid: E.T., Now & Then and The Sound of Music. Although I do find it funny that right before all the nazi stuff goes down, is when I would turn the movie off or rewound it to the beginning. Like, right after the puppet show. Maybe coming from a German family, where my grandparents lived in Germany during WWII, subconsciously my family was like, "let's not watch that part". But I did sometimes fast forward for "Climb Every Mountain". I'm not a big fan of that type of soprano voice but damn that woman sang the crap out of that song! I couldn't find out who exactly sang the song in the movie, but I did find out that apparently the actress who played Mother Abbess, Peggy Wood, did not. I'm really bummed I can't find a video of "I Have Confidence" where Julie Andrews is running down the sidewalk with her guitar and two huge suitcases - it's my favorite part! But oh well, here's just the song.

Gypsy (1959) Probably the most unpredictable on this list besides The Music Man, I remember the movie version when I was a kid as well although, it was the newer one with Bette Midler. I think as a kid, I had no idea what was going on in terms of the sexual nuances but I loved Louise and I loved Rose. But when it all comes down to it, I realize, I love this musical because it's sad. It doesn't necesarily have a happy ending and that's something a lot of musicals are too scared to do. But Julie Styne and Stephen Sondheim gave no shits - although Sondheim not giving any shits is not anything new. No wonder why it's sad, to be honest. I couldn't find a video of the 1993 version of "If Mama was Married" so I'll post the original movie's version which is still pretty good.

Honorable mentions: Guys and Dolls, Annie Get Your Gun, Into the Woods and Bye Bye Birdie