It’s near the end of April, and as a music journalist, I have been privy to listen to a number of albums in differing genres. Even so, I have a soft spot for R&B, but am also very hard on it. Despite my criticisms, R&B and I have a relationship like a Whitney Houston song written by Dolly Parton: “I Will Always Love You”. That said, after listening to a number of R&B albums, I ranked 20 from 2014 (EPs and mixtapes included) in order from favorite to least favorite. Here goes nothing!
It took a juggernaut to knock John Newman from the top spot of the R&B rankings – his Tribute is a sensational album. However, SZA’s Z, an alternative R&B effort too is a truly special album with quite the innovative spirit, something so often absent from R&B these days. If anything, SZA needs to be receiving her just due. Previously of SZA I penned:
Ultimately, Z is a home run. With so many R&B albums that come and go lacking that ‘extra special something’, Z has it. Weird, yet beautiful, Z seems like a step in the right direction in which R&B should go. That isn’t to say that an alternative R&B album like this is the perfect blueprint, but it also doesn’t confine the genre to clichés or limiting trends. SZA is definitely a supremely talented young artist to watch.
“UR”; “Child’s Play”; “Julia”; “Green Mile”; “Sweet November”
Brit-soul definitely has something special about it – it’s as if overseas, the idea of retro-soul isn’t far-fetched or considered un-trendy or ‘old school’. While Tribute doesn’t have the abstractness of alternative-R&B or the trendiness and gimmickry of contemporary R&B, it does have legit authenticity, carried by an artist who can just flat out blow. Previously, I summed upmy review of Tribute as follows:
Ultimately, Tribute epitomizes musical excellence through and through. In an age where many question ‘where the soul has gone,’ Newman shows that soul music is still very much alive. For any further questioning if the British soul movement was a thing of the past in it self, well, question no more. John Newman is legit as they come and he has top-notch material working in his favor on this affair. For pop and R&B fans alike, Tribute should easily tickle your fancy.
“Tribute”; “Love Me Again”; “Losing Sleep”; “Out Of My Head”; “Cheating”; “Down The Line”
G I R L
Pharrell Williams second solo album G I R L eclipses his debut (In My Mind) easily. G I R L is one big ball of fun ultimately, with the quirky, incredibly talented artist flexing his muscles (and they’re big my friends, LOL). While it leans more danceable/groovy as opposed to relying on ballads, the material is solid and definitely enjoyable. When I had the pleasure of reviewing G I R L, this is how I concluded the review:
Ten tracks deep, G I R L benefits from its brevity and overall lack of filler. Sure, it’s not a perfect album, but ultimately, Pharrell Williams delivers an effort that plays to his musical strengths and is pleasant to the ear. He doesn’t over-sex R&B like so many of his contemporary and younger male artists tend to do; he keeps things classy. Mature and enjoyable, G I R L is definitely a winner worthy of numerous spins… or a high play count on the iPod, LOL.
“Brand New”; “Hunter”; “Happy”; “Come Get It Bae”; “Gust of Wind”
As I continue to listen to August Alsina’s full-length debut, despite giving it plenty of accolades, sometimes I think I should’ve bestowed even more. A 3 ½ star rating is a great one in my book/most critics, but perhaps Alsina’s Testimony deserves at least 4 stars. Here is what I previously wrote about Testimony when reviewing it:
Ultimately, Testimony showcases the great amount of potential that August Alsina has to offer as an artist. Vocally, Alsina easily has the pipes to succeed. Additionally, he has the backstory to truly fuel the fire. Sure, Testimony isn’t a perfectly crafted album, but it’s better more often than not. There are plenty of notable songs – filled with pain as well as the triumph of resolve. Maybe it’s not beautifully poetic, but isn’t grittiness a different take on beauty (or something like that)?
“Make It Home” ft. Jeezy; “FML” ft. Pusha T; “Ghetto” ft. Yo Gotti; “Benediction” ft. Rick Ross; “I Luv This Shit” ft. Trinidad James
Verdict: ★★★½ ★★★★
Days & Nights
John Newman may be the Brit getting the most buzz, but Daley shouldn’t be slept on – dude can flat out blow. Sporting a piercing, soulful tenor, Daley has some sick pipes. Daley can definitely count this music lover as a fan, something I attempted to convey enthusiastically in a previous review:
All in all, Days & Nights is an exceptional full-length debut from Daley. What is unfortunate is that there isn’t more buzz surrounding the Brit R&B standout. With such mad pipes, Daley deserves much more recognition. Regardless of his commercial lot, Daley has it going on strongly on Days & Nights.
“Time Travel”; “Blame The World”; “Love And Affection”; “Alone Together” ft. Marsha Ambrosius; “Pass It On”; “Broken”
Lift Your Spirit
“Go ahead and tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”. Aloe Blacc may not be “the man” in regards to the second coming of R&B, but his big-time hit was enough to bring some added relevancy to the genre. The album Lift Your Spirit ultimately was quite appealing, a sentiment I conveyed within my final thoughts of my review:
Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy. There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall. Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least. Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout. It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.
“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”
2014 is the year of Brit-R&B, and this music journalist is digging it. Sam Smith is the most ‘pop’ of the big three (Smith, Daley, and John Newman), but maybe British pop is naturally more soulful, at least in recent times. Regardless, Nirvana definitely builds some serious buzz for Smith’s debut album. Of Nirvana, I summarized it as follows:
All in all, Sam Smith sets his career up soundly on this introductory EP. Vocally, Smith joins a talented class of British vocalists in 2014: John Newman (Tribute) and Daley (Days & Nights). Smith more than holds his own in such elite company, making him one of the artists to watch closely this year. Nirvana EP receives my blessings for sure.
“Safe With Me”; “Nirvana”; “Together”
Give The People What They Want
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Traditional soul is hard to come by in 2014, particularly as R&B takes a more physical, less genuine turn. Give The People What They Want doesn’t follow this script, and even if it isn’t innovative given its inspiration from the 60s and 70s, the album feels incredibly refreshing. Of the superb Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings effort, I previously wrote:
Ultimately, Give The People What They Want is a fantastic album period. Brief at only 34 minutes and consistent from start to finish, there is truly little to criticize. Sharon Jones sounds superb throughout, as do the Dap-Kings. It’s not innovative, but the fact that Jones and company hearkens back to the classic sound, that is refreshing enough in itself.
“Retreat”; “We Get Along”; “You’ll Be Lonely”; “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”
Though it is neither flashy nor heroic, Recovery is a sound and enjoyable R&B album. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the album and artist Algebra Blessett is neither is well known or highly publicized. Still, my closing thoughts on Recovery were:
All said and done, Recovery is a fine R&B album, particularly to be released in a quiet January. There is a classiness and coolness about this effort that is appealing. Algebra never over sings; she always gives just the right amount of oomph and emotion to connect with the audience. Recovery is nothing flashy, but it doesn’t need to be. It is what it is – a narrative that a many of folk have experienced in real life, not merely an R&B album. Kudos Algebra – kudos.
“Recovery”; “Nobody But You”; “Struggle To Be” ft. Q. Parker; “Paper Heart”; “Mystery”
Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement. Don’t get me wrong, The Truth is no slouch, but comparing it to juggernauts like Lost & Found or Turn Me Loose may be a bit much. Still, the ten tracks that grace the LP are generally all worthwhile and do show Ledisi ensuring she doesn’t box herself in as only one type of artist. Maybe “That Good Good” (for example) is exactly the right answer, but it’s not that far off or too ‘left-of-center’ either. Overall, Ledisi gets it right once again. We (the fans) wouldn’t expect any less.
“I Blame You”; “Rock With You”; “Lose Control”; “Like This”; “88 Boxes”
Sigh, sometimes even the biggest artists make some of the most foolish decisions during their careers. 2014 hasn’t been shy of stupid choices from today’s musicians. There have been enough missteps to make one roll their eyes or simply shake there heads. What better way to ring in April, specifically April ‘Fools’ Day then to examine artist’s moments of shame? Here are four examples of foolishness that make me SMH.
#1: Justin Bieber’s Every Move
Salvaging a successful career initially characterized by its cleanliness continues to become more and more distant for one Justin Bieber. If 2014 was thought to be a year of mature growth and redirection for Bieber, it has been more of a repeat of 2013, only much more extreme. An artist who once thanked “God” and “Jesus” during an acceptance speech seems to have completely given into devilish intentions as of late. Too much noise continues to tarnish the Biebz’s image and definitely does nothing for delivering new music or truly establishing his artistic niche in his twenties. Additionally, the crowd the pop star chooses to hang with is questionable at best. Music seems the furthest thing from the artist’s mind at this point.
#2: Chief Keef’s ‘I.D.G.A.F.’ Attitude
Chief Keef is utter foolishness exemplified…I’m convinced that Chief Keef is going to destroy his own career pretty early on. He truly doesn’t give a buck. I’m no fortuneteller, but all indications would predict this given the irresponsible and rebellious tone of his music in addition to his highly publicized personal issues at such a young age. Songs like “I Don’t Like”, “Hate Being Sober” and the most recent “F*ck Rehab” certainly are neither positive nor redeeming, showcasing an artist who’s incredibly immature and irresponsible. Keef definitely means what he raps about, but perhaps he should choose both better lyrical choices and be mindful of his actions (“actions speak louder than words”).
#3: Miley Cyrus… Enough Said
Miley Cyrus is one of a kind – that’s an understatement. Ole girl took artist transformation to a new level in 2013 and never looked back. Maybe she should have… Personally, reinventing yourself is no sin or crime in the least – its making yourself relevant to gain a bigger and broader fan base. That said, isn’t there a limit to the reinvention that separates it from utter foolishness? Doesn’t shock value have a short leash before it grows incredibly annoying and in bad taste? “Wrecking Ball” wasn’t a shocking song in itself last year, but Cyrus opting for being nude on the wrecking ball was. This year, “Adore You” takes the prize, with Cyrus going so far as to touch herself, to put it kindly. Of course, there’s been all the stories of blunts, tongue action, viral prom date videos, etc. Foolishness – definitely!
#4: Reality Singing Competitions
The biggest reality television enthusiast (myself) has lost interest in reality singing competitions, so much so that I’ve avoided both American Idol and The Voice. And let me just say, I feel like a tremendous burden has been released! With X Factor already booted, how far behind are the rest? American Idol has proven that a viable music career can be built from success on a television show (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood among others), but it has also shown that it doesn’t consistently happen (Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, and Candice Glover). For every triumph on Idol, what about the disgruntled Idol contestant that didn’t taste that same slice of success? Then for every success, what about those who only got 15 minutes and no more?
The Voice at this point is arguably the more entertaining show of the two given Adam Levine and Blake Shelton’s inseparable ‘bromance’, but aside from an okay opening week from victor Cassadee Pope, the commercial success is missing big time. Entertaining these shows can be to an extent, aren’t they just toying with potential artists, who might benefit more with a different approach to achieving their shot? Foolishness – YEP!
The first four, second round, and third rounds of the NCAA Tournament are over my friends, and after numerous upsets and the birth of those Cinderella teams looking for another shot to slay the giant, the tournament marches on with the upcoming Sweet 16 and Elite 8. What better way to celebrate and prepare for these deep tournament runs with a playlist of 16 songs fit for the Sweet 16? Let’s go #TEAM!
“We Will Rock You”
Most spirited lyrics:
Buddy you’re a young man hard man / shouting in the street gonna take on the world some day / you got blood on your face, you big disgrace / waving your banner all over the place” (verse one)
“We will, we will rock you!” (Chorus)
Swag, swag, swag! The big boys are going to take down the little boys – the fakes are out! “We Will Rock You” isn’t ultimately about basketball, but the ‘fight’ within the lyrics of the song sounds much like the moxie and the mind-set required on the court. “We Will Rock You” is confident, much like a veteran, and experienced team that understands their roles should be. Nope, it’s not basketball specific, but there are more than enough parallels.
(From Lift Your Spirit)
“Well you can tell everybody / yeah you can tell everybody / go ahead and tell everybody / I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”
Athletes and musicians have something in common, even if they come from completely different worlds – they have a swagger, a confidence, sometimes an arrogance. A lead singer, guitarist, or lead trumpeter can be likened to the star player on a basketball team (regardless of the position he plays be it guard, forward, or center) in the sense there is that fearlessness and confidence. On “The Man”, Blacc wants everybody to know that he’s “the man”.
Jeezy featuring Kanye West
(From The Recession)
Most spirited lyrics:
“I put on for my city, on, on for my city…put on (east side)…put on (south side)…put on (west side) / put on”
Sure, Jeezy didn’t even mention basketball or championships in his song about representing his city, but the sentiment can be transferred into college basketball. After all, don’t all college basketball players want to represent both college and hometown? Winning the national championship would definitely be away to do so!
Wale featuring Meek Mill & Rick Ross
“For my ambition / easy to dream a dream, though it’s harder to lie it / They gon’ love me for my ambition…Beautiful music, painting pictures that be my vision.”
There’s a number of ways one could interpret the “ambition” of which Wale speaks. One such way is just having dreams in general, taken contextually within the tournament, means winning the national championship. A more liberal interpretation is that Wale is referencing the Cinderella teams, which aren’t favored to win, but ultimately ‘shock the world’. Yes, the Dayton Flyers (defeated Ohio State 60-59 and Syracuse 55-53) and Mercer (defeated Duke 78-71) among others. Sigh… if the slipper fits!
Most spirited lyrics:
“I’m a balla (say what) high, roller baby (baby, baby) / shot caller (that’s right) aint nobody this crazy (like me) / you a hater (you a hater) why you tryin’ to play me (I don’t think he know) / Fake player (fake player) ain’t nobody killin’ (hey, I’m a balla for real)”
There’s really not a lot that needs to be explained here… Chingy is the point guard (“Shot caller”). We all know that besides the coach that the point guard is like the coach on court. And if the point guard doesn’t have a clue, the team is toast. Horrendous guard play definitely kills the vibe. Word.
“I am a fighter and I / I ain’t gonna stop / There is no turning back / I’ve had enough”
I know what you’re thinking – why the hell is a Christina Aguilera song about a broken relationship on a March Madness-related playlist? Well it’s the ‘sentiment’ of ‘fighting’ more so than the lyrical content. Aguilera is a “fighter” because she decided not to play the ‘victim’ card and has shown strength from a bad situation. College basketball players and teams face a different sort of fight – the fight to advance further in the tournament and to live up/meet expectations whether they are realistic or unrealistic. Blue blood schools in particular are expected to be competing for championships, not merely a sweet sixteen. That “fighter” mentality that Aguilera refers to apply to collegiate basketball after broken plays whether it’s poor transition defense, a bad foul, a missed shot, etc. “Fighter” mentality!
Drake featuring Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Eminem
“…I’m shutting down sh*t in the mall…I want this sh*t forever, man” (Hook)
“Forever” is the ultimate baller’s anthem. Sure, the song really has nothing to do with being on the court, but like many of the cuts on this playlist, there are parallels to having ‘swagger’ on the court. Drake’s opening rhymes from his verse exhibit the grit and confidence players must show: “Last name Ever, first name Greatest / Like a sprained ankle, boy I ain’t nothing to play with.” Kanye West’s swagger is even more pronounced on the second verse, in which he claims “I stuck my d**k inside this life until that b**ch came / and went hard, all fall like the ball teams.” Ignore the overt sexual references, and West is the MVP…he’s already claimed victory. For good measure, Lil Wayne references Space Jam while Eminem just goes H.A.M.
DJ Khaled featuring Ludacris, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg & T-Pain
“All I Do Is Win”
Most spirited lyrics:
“All I do is win, win, win no matter what / Got money on my mind, I can never get enough / and every time I step up in the building / everybody hands go up / and they stay there, and they stay there…” (T-Pain, on the hook)
Confidence is essential to playing sound basketball – it’s part of the whole teamwork aspect. The best teams have the confidence knowing they will be playing deep into March. Teams that lack the resolve and the “winning” spirit exemplified by “All I Do Is Win” go home with their heads hung down. T-Pain sings it best on the hook – ‘nuff said.
Ah, there is no better time of the year than March Madness… well maybe except for Christmas, LOL! It is a time where brackets continue to be devastated by college basketball teams many haven’t heard of upsetting highly favored giants. As disappointing (when my John Wall-led UK Wildcats lost to WVU in 2010 in the Elite 8) as it is exciting (when my UK Wildcats won the 2012 Championship), there are few things less satisfying than weekends filled with toughly contested basketball games. Still, what better way to celebrate all the basketball madness with some music madness?
I chose 16 albums released between January and March 11, 2014 to play off against each other, tournament style – hey can’t get enough of the “Madness” (Muse btw). Teams were seeded based on my opinion of their quality and how I believe they might be ranked (opinion). Don’t worry, there are some upsets based on basketball tournament trends to keep things interesting (again opinion). Additionally, each game is assigned an actual score from this year’s tournament or tournaments in the last couple of years. The score is meant to be indicative of how well matched respective albums would be in a playoff. Nerdy and pointless – perhaps, but I think its an interesting concept and read (opinion, self-promotion, LOL).
Here’s the bracket:
Kid Cudi is one of the most unique artists of recent times. He’s classified as a rapper, but he’s definitely from the left-field breed. Ultimately, Scott Mescudi is incredibly eclectic, and for hardcore fans, they wouldn’t have the artist without his eclectic spirit. Over the course of five years, the Kid has managed to release four studio albums (a fifth as part of WZRD). All four are quite captivating in their own way but let’s face it – they can always be ranked by level of importance, quality, and creativity. Coincidently, personally, I rank Cudi’s four albums in the order they were released.
Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon
Following the new ‘shock value’ trend of releasing albums, Kid Cudi joined the bandwagon by surprising everyone with his fourth album, Satellite Flight. Compared to his previous efforts, Satellite Flight might be the rapper’s oddest effort yet. Of its ten tracks, four are instrumental, or 40% of the album. To be a ‘hip-hop’ album, that is definitely a healthy portion. The standouts, such as “Going To The Ceremony” or title track “Satellite Flight” are reminiscent of Cudi’s work on Indicud from the previous year. Ultimately a solid effort despite feeling more ‘mixtape’ than studio LP, Satellite Flight is the rapper’s fourth best album, but contextually, it is still a worthwhile listen, particularly for hardcore fans.
Indicud was much more anticipated than Satellite Flight; it had been three years since Cudi’s sophomore album bowed. Indicud featured more production from Kid Cudi himself, something that some were indifferent to. Overall, Indicud was a shade less enthralling than Man On The Moon II was, but not too far off base. Tracks like the confident “Unf**kwittable”, The Kendrick Lamar assisted “Solo Dolo, Pt. 2”, and “Girls” were bright spots. The Father John Misty sampling “Young Lady” was interesting as well, not to mention “Just As I Am” and “Beez”. At 71 minutes though, Kid Cudi was perhaps a bit too profound. Still, there were plenty of highlights.
Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
Man On The Moon II was a solid continuation of the excellence of Cudi’s debut, Man On The Moon: End of Day. Like Indicud is to Man on the Moon II, Man on the Moon II is a hair less notable than Cudi’s debut album. That said there is plenty of ‘meat’ for one to sink their teeth into. “REVOFEV” is incredibly bright and unique, while the Mary J. Blige assisted “Don’t Play This Song” is incredibly emotional and honest (“Wanna know what it sound like when I’m not on drugs / Please, please don’t play this song”). Then there’s a whole joint (no pun intended) dedicated to Mary Jane entitled “Marijuana” (“Pretty green bud all in my blunt, oh I need it”), the cocky and confident “Mojo So Dope” and of course the infectious, cleverly titled “Ashin’ Kusher”. Ultimately, Man on the Moon II is stacked with plenty of songs that open the door to deep analysis and personal revelations into Scott Mescudi.
Man On The Moon: End of Day
When I first heard Man On The Moon: End of Day, I considered it to be one of the oddest albums I’d ever heard. Even so, it was brilliantly odd. Rather than getting your standard rap effort, Man on the Moon: End of Day was conceptual and completely left of center. It wasn’t an album for everybody, particularly if your idea of hip-hop is what pops in the club, but I considered it one of the more notable albums of the past decade. “Day ‘N’ Night” would be the breakthrough Kid Cudi would need to get commercial footing, even if the track was by far extraterrestrial. Still it would peak at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Make Her Say” would give Kid Cudi another hit, pairing him with Common and Kanye West, not to mention an incredibly-timely (in 2009) Lady Gaga sample (“Poker Face”). “The Pursuit of Happiness” brought some positivity despite dissatisfaction, led by it’s irresistible hook: “I’m on the pursuit of happiness and I know / everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold / hey, I’ll be fine once I get it, I’ll be good.”
The list of standouts could go on and on; Man on The Moon was just that good. No matter how consistent successive albums have been by Cudi, his first is truly his masterwork. All hail King Wzrd’s best.
On March 3, 2014, Rick Ross released the sixth album of his career, Mastermind. At this point, Rick Ross has established himself as one of the more consistent rappers, scoring four number one albums, one number two album (Teflon Don missed no. 1), and five gold-certified albums. Six albums in, an examination of where Ross’ five albums rank seems appropriate. Let’s go!
The Academy Awards was filled with a lot of predictability ultimately, but there were some interesting moments as well. For the music world itself, there was plenty to rejoice about. Jared Leto, who’s been more associated as the front man of 30 Seconds To Mars as opposed to acting as of late, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for an exceptional role in Dallas Buyers Club. 20 Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers), a brilliant documentary that focuses the attention on the background singers as opposed to the star, won deservingly for Best Documentary Feature. Darlene Love, one of the featured background vocalists gave praise to God, belting out a powerful rendition of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” onstage while accepting. And what about the victorious Documentary short, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, about a Holocaust survivor Alice Hertz Sommer, a pianist? Sommer passed away just a week before the telecast, making the victory for The Lady in Number 6 even more special.
Music was well recognized at the 86th Annual Academy Awards. All Original song nominees would have their chance to perform, with perhaps the most infectious being Pharrell Williams’ no. 1 hit, “Happy”. The performance itself was enough to brighten even the cloudiest day, especially to see children and actors alike feeling the good vibes. Idina Menzel would have her name butchered by John Travolta before performing “Let It Go” from Frozen, but a questionable performance of the ubiquitous children’s favorite wouldn’t undo the momentum or ultimate win in a tightly contested category. U2 would evoke some magic with “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom while Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) would mysteriously and quietly perform “The Moon Song” from Her. The multiple times victorious Gravity (winner of seven), would also get some music swag, with Steven Price snagging Music – original score.
Other non-award related performances are worth noting. Bette Midler, who is 68, performed her classic ‘ace in the hole’, “The Wind Beneath My Wings” following the In Memoriam segment. Midler’s performance couldn’t be called technically perfect, but at her age and having never performed live at the Oscars, it was solid. P!nk surprising eschewed being suspended in air (surprisingly), to perform “Over The Rainbow”, with Liza Minnelli in the audience. Don’t call it a classic performance by Moore, but it worked.
Ultimately, this years Oscars not only recognized a Mexican Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity), or the first black Best Picture winner (Steve McQueen becomes the first black producer to win) for 12 Years A Slave, but it also recognized the music world too. Whether directly or indirectly, the academy has truly embraced music and shown the world its importance and relevance.
2013 has been quite the momentous year in music and pop culture, no questions asked. There were ample things to rave about as well as some to gripe about. The good and the bad go with the territory of being a music enthusiast and music journalist. Even so, the best music journalist – just like the most angelic person – has New Years resolutions. Yeah, journalists may seem like cocky, over-opinionated SOB’s, but we’ll admit we have room to grow and evolve as well. Enough chattering though, let’s get to some musical New Years resolutions!
Review more country albums…
As hateful as this may sound, I personally found much of country music to be a snooze fest in 2013. Folks, much if what I heard was blasé. Luke Bryan was the biggest attraction, and all he seemed to care about was next beer. Commercial evidence also seems to support the assertion country music was a bit ‘down’ as well. The numbers, save for a few exceptions weren’t particularly kind. Even so, whatever is released in 2014, the resolution is to review more country albums. Even if the album is painful and forces me to deliver the ugliest, most scathing review ever, well, I gotta do it! Gotta do better for my country audience!!! Ye-haw!!!
Provide more review / buzz opportunities for up and coming artists…
One of my personal goals as a music journalist – particularly in 2013 – was to provide as many opportunities to support new artists and give as much buzz as possible. Part of the reason for this is because of my own personal aspirations within the music industry on both the artistic and business side of things. While I was honored to hear many unfamiliar new voices, I also had to be selective therefore someone equally hungry to achieve the dream didn’t get their slice of the pie. Yeah, I know it sounds cold, but I’m human and part of life is about taking ownership. I hope to provide more opportunities for newer artists in 2014.
Be even tougher when penning reviews and opinion posts…
I consider myself pretty tough when it comes to being impressed. I may enjoy an album, bu that doesn’t mean I’m ready to call it the album of the year. However, aside from reviews and opinion editorials, I’m a nice guy with a big heart. Sometimes this ‘charitableness’ influences reviews and might add a 1/2 star or so the the rating, aka that thing known as the ‘benefit of the doubt.’ In 2014, the resolution here is to eliminate any ‘benefit of the doubt’ or wavering and be as tough as possible. Hey, The Bible does say “the truth will set you free…” (just don’t ask for the exact location of the scripture though).
Oh and by the way, yes, that means teen-pop artist and shallow rappers don’t stand a chance!
Ranking the very best albums of any year is incredibly difficult; there are always misses. 2013 was filled with some triumphant musical moments, though not all of their parent albums were necessarily ‘worthy’ of being considered the best of the year. Because of various factors, this list has its surprises and like any album reviewed, its triumphs and flaws. One thing’s for sure – the top ten to fifteen albums are pretty close to the cream of the crop from my perspective. Here are the 50 (+1) best albums of 2013!
Modern Vampires of the City
Recommended Spins: “Obvious Bicycle”; “Unbelievers”; “Diane Young”; “Finger Back”; “Worship You”; “Ya Hey”
Seals The Deal: “Obvious Bicycle”
Give credit to Mr. West where credit is due – previously Yeezus probably wouldn’t have landed in the top five, let alone the top two. But as with certain wines and cheeses (Swiss namely), there is an aging process to provide a delicious and satisfying taste. The same could be said of West über-ambitious Yeezus – or something similar that is!
Recommended Spins: “Black Skinhead”; “I Am A God”; “New Slaves”; “Blood on the Leaves”; “Bound 2″ featuring Charlie Wilson
Seals The Deal: “Blood on the Leaves”
The Electric Lady
Don’t put the fork in R&B music just yet – Janelle Monae delivers the year’s most intriguing R&B album that brilliantly encompasses numerous styles and keeps things both classic and progressive. One of a kind, all should bow down to JM.
Recommended Spins: “Give Them What They Love” featuring Prince; “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring Erykah Badu; “Primetime” featuring Miguel; “Dance Apocalyptic”; “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”
Seals The Deal: “Prime Time” featuring Miguel
Random Access Memories
The best, and arguably most exciting electronic album of 2013, is shockingly less futuristic compared to its colleagues, drawing back to old-school pop, disco, and soul. Throwback it is, Random Access Memories is one of the year’s finest albums regardless of genre, and stands a solid shot of winning the Grammy for album of the year.
Recommended Spins: “Give Life Back to Music”; “Giorgio By Moroder”; “Lose Yourself to Dance” featuring Pharrell Williams; “Touch” featuring Paul Williams; “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams; “Fragments of Time”
Seals The Deal: “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell Williams
Love in the Future
John Legend redeems himself big time on his fourth studio album Love in the Future following a somewhat disappointing effort in 2008′s Evolver. While there are some more contemporary ideas here, Love in the Future is more about Legend flexing his soulful muscles, a niche he perfectly fits.
Recommended Spins: “In The Beginning”; “Who Do We Think You Are?” featuring Rick Ross; “Made To Love”; “All of Me”; “Stay The Night”; “Tomorrow”
Seals The Deal: “Who Do We Think We Are?” featuring Rick Ross
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
Blues albums rarely rack up huge accolades on a ‘big stage’, but Get Up! is that incredibly worthy exception. Soulful and consistent through and through, Get Up! Easily ranks highly among the year’s gems.
Recommended Spins: “We Can’t End This Way”; “I Ride At Dawn”; “Get Up”
Seals The Deal: “We Can’t End This Way”
More than just the agnostics, atheists, and secularists will be pleasantly surprised with Black Sabbath’s most important album in years. Why is album 13 so important? It reunites the whole Black Sabbath crew (save for the drummer) for the first time 35 years! Dark and foreboding, yet ‘sinfully’ appealing, 13 is quite the epic heavy-/black-metal album.
Recommended Spins: “End of The Beginning”; “God Is Dead?”; “Zeitgeist”; “Live Forever”; “Dear Father”
Seals The Deal: “God Is Dead?”
Nothing Was The Same
Drake didn’t necessarily ‘step his game up’ on Nothing Was The Same – he just continued to flex his emo-/ alt-rap muscles like the pro that he is. NTWS is filled with gems, all completely different from one another. One thing’s for sure, he may have “Started On The Bottom”, but Drake is on top of the game by all means.
Recommended Spins: “Tuscan Leather”; “Started From The Bottom”; “Wu-Tang Forever”; “From Time”; “Hold On, We’re Going Home”; “305 To My City” featuring Detail
Seals The Deal: “Wu-Tang Forever”
Beyoncé shocked the world with her surprise fifth studio album, Beyoncé. Even so, that’s not the reason ‘Yoncé makes this list. Ultimately, the R&B chanteuse delivers a sharp, risqué fifth effort that separates itself from the rest of her discography and many of the other releases from 2013. Both shocking and alluring, Bey does her thang.
Recommended Spins: “Pretty Hurts”; “Haunted”; “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z; “Blow”; “Rocket”
Seals The Deal: “Drunk in Love” featuring Jay-Z
Few might’ve expected for Arcade Fire to follow-up their album of the year winning effort The Suburbs with an album like Reflektor (I didn’t). However, as all-over-the-place as Reflektor is, there are plenty of moments for alt-rock fans to cheer about. Danceable, conceptual, and ultimately incredibly unique, Reflektor cracks the top ten best of the year, easily.
Recommended Spins: “Reflektor”; “We Exist”; “Here Comes the Night Time”; “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”; “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”; “Porno”
Seals The Deal: “Reflektor”
Cutting straight to the chase, Justin Bieber probably had the crappiest year of his entire career. Honestly, it was plumb terrible. It was sort of like my favorite college basketball team, the Kentucky Wildcat’s fall from glory during the 2012-13 season after dominating the previous season with their eighth NCAA title. Yeah, it was that bad. The problem is, even experiencing so many PR miscues, few – save for the most loyal Beliebers – ‘gave a what’. Personally, feeling sympathy for one of the most privileged 19-year olds in the world, whose living a dream that only a select few ever reach just isn’t an emotion that registers at this point. Maybe, as Bieber suggests, it is because he is Justin Bieber that there is such an outcry against him. Perhaps, it’s more that Bieber, who became a success overnight at such a young age, just comes over as an arrogant a-hole, something he specifically said he didn’t feel one Kanye West was (“Kanye West isn’t really an a$$hole…”). Personally, his cockiness has been my rub on Bieber throughout his recent career.
The most recent FAIL speaks to at least partially to the arrogance of the Bieber brand as well. The expectation for the tatted teen-heartthrob has become that everything that he touches turns into gold. Basically, anything that is associated with the Bieber name or brand, will generate a tone of the green stuff for the labels, managers, and of course Bieber. As many apparently didn’t know judging by the numbers, Justin Bieber released his second movie, Believe on Christmas Day. While this film has been referenced a couple of times, the most overt promotional campaign directed toward this documentary seemed to be “all wrong from the start”. Don’t let its seemingly lackadaisical promotion completely fool you though; the PR team has had some subtle tricks up their sleeves. They haven’t been successful per say, but they did do some ‘work’.
Is it such a coincidence that Justin Bieber released and completed his ‘Music Mondays’ just prior to the release of Believe the film? The Music Mondays series were centered on Bieber’s ‘journals’, obviously positioned to be more personal than his bubblegum pop music. In other words, Music Mondays tries to eschew anything remotely sounding like “Beauty and the Beat”. The word ‘journals’ was thrown around not so subtly, leading one to believe that Bieber’s promotional team had bigger plans for random contemporary R&B tracks being thrown around. If there weren’t bigger plans in the works, the release of the mature “PYD” featuring R. Kelly surely had to signify something… it actually drew critical praise throughout online circles, including from me. The ends of those ‘journals’ – an iTunes promotion that groups the tracks together for a brief period of time right before Christmas (December 23) and even more strategically the same week that Believe the film drops. So – If the movie bombs, then that means Bieber is still getting paper from Journals? Seems that way!
While Completing Bieber’s Journals was a huge promotional trick, another risky one failed miserably, in theory. Bieber tossed around this idea he planned to retire at the age of 19… Most hilarious, if ‘hopeful-it-does-really-happen’ joke I’ve heard all year… Anyone who serious thinks this dude is going anywhere – unless his sales completely go under – is cray cray. Bieber has become a fixture, regardless of positivity or negativity, and is quite prosperous to both him self and the industry. Sources seem to confirm that this was another one of Bieber’s completely horrid jokes, much like when he showed his booty on Instagram. While it may have been Bieber just playing around, the timing could also suggest this was another way to drive home some sales for that Believe film.
My beloved beliebers I'm officially retiring—
Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) December 25, 2013
The media talks a lot about me.They make a up a lot of lies and want me to fail but I'm never leaving you, being a belieber is a lifestyle.—
Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) December 25, 2013
Ultimately, the promotions have not worked for Believe as it has underperformed even with lowered expectations according to first day numbers. Fear not Bieber, your movie may not have a chance in the least to top the movie charts, but you did manage to top Billboard’s Social 50 chart, if that’s any consolation. That said, the Social 50 chart certainly doesn’t make the rich any richer, unless your fuel is publicity… BUT, does his social popularity, particular with his most devoted fans, still signal Bieber has plenty of pop life in him? Perhaps. There is always a new teen-pop star as well as a fresher trend waiting (likely Austin Mahone), but Bieber’s empire may not come completely crumbling in 2014. Time and the climate of music will be the big predictor of how Bieber will fare in the future.
- Justin Bieber ‘Believe’ Movie Review Roundup: What Do Critics Say? (rightcelebrity.com)
- No One Saw Justin Bieber’s Movie (thewire.com)
- Justin Bieber Enjoys a “Confident” Lady on Music Monday’s Latest (brentmusicreviews.com)
- The Man Behind Justin Bieber (esquire.com)
- Director Jon M. Chu Talks JUSTIN BIEBER’S BELIEVE, Comparing Concert Tours to Feature Films, G.I. JOE 3, RUN, MATCHED, and More (collider.com)
- Justin Bieber Movie Bombs at the Box Office (thehollywoodgossip.com)
- ‘Justin Bieber’s Believe’ Review: Portrait of an Artist Who’s No Longer a ‘Baby’ (thewrap.com)