Okay, I’m thankful for plenty in my young life. One thing I’m most thankful for besides those traditional things like God, family, friends, employment, etc. is of course music. Previously, I issued a playlist of “Songs of Thanks” which featured titles that all had the words “Thank” included within them. This ten song playlist is a more ‘personal’ and merely my opinion of some songs I enjoyed. No this is not my top ten and no these are in no particular order. Yes, there are plenty of songs I left off and could’ve easily supplanted in favor of some I chose. Why didn’t I include them all? Well, that would just be incredibly time-consuming. So here’s Ten Random Songs I’m ‘Thankful For’ from 2013. Enjoy!
“This is for the girl that can get down low / the whole club wanna see you go / ay, shake, shake like you’r famous, girl / head back, lay it down like a Vegas girl…” Sigh, it’s truly something when I find myself nodding my head to some young kid’s jam. Sure, I’m not THAT much older than British pop star Conor Maynard, but I’ve got a couple of years on the recently turned 21-year old. Still, I just couldn’t resist “Vegas Girl” given the addictiveness of both the urban-styled groove and Maynard’s swag-tacular approach. Yeah, I know ‘swag-tacular’ is not even a word, but I can still wish. BTW, he’s a bit risqué too, see “Another One” from the same album (“For once I hit the spot real early / quickly spotted this beautiful girlie / she had me going damn oh la la / said she wanna pell my banana-na”).
From No Beginning, No End
If you say the words jazz or R&B, I’m usually there. José James offered the best of both worlds on his underrated, yet exceptional album No Beginning, No End which materialized in January 2013. While the majority of No Beginning, No Ending tickled my fancy, nothing did more so than the hip “Trouble”. Incredibly soulful, James bears his soul, epitomized by the refrain:
“I need someone like you to understand my heart and my soul / it’s on my mind babe, it’s always trouble, trouble, trouble / trouble, trouble, trouble / all my life lately call on me to / struggle, struggle, struggle…” I feel ya homie, I feel ya!
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
“We Can’t End This Way”
From Get Up!
I have a soft spot for a mix of blues and gospel music… I’m certainly the eclectic listener. Ben Harper’s collaboration with harp player Charlie Musselwhite Get Up! Was easily one of my favorite albums from 2013 and yet another underrated one. Out of all of the killer joints, the gospel-infused “We Can’t End This Way” was most relatable for me for some reason. Maybe its the gospel backing vocalist or perhaps that churchy, addictive 6/8 groove. It doesn’t hurt that my boy Ben has some serious vocal grit going on. Whatever it is, I’m thankful “We Can’t End This Way” graced my playlist in 2013.
Harry Connick, Jr.
“S’pposed To Be”
From Smokey Mary and Every Man Should Know
Harry Connick, Jr. Knew he had a good thing going with sensational gospel-blues infused number “S’pposed To Be” as he featured it on both his 2013 studio albums (Smokey Mary and Every Man Should Know). I’ll leave you with what I previously wrote about one of my favorite jazzy jams of the year:
“S’pposed To Be” is nothing short of a showstopper. Written in a distinctive southern gospel-jazz style, Connick delivers one of his more distinct cuts of his career, using a gospel choir on the chorus (“…Every road leads back to you / be with you when I’m s’pposed to be…”). Kim Burrell & Tara Alexander and the Frontline Vocal Movement guest, giving the brilliant number even more oomph. #LetTheChurchSayYes
“Strictly Reserved for You”
From Victim of Love
I adore soul music. While I know that soul music in its most pure form is a thing of the past, I also adore the retro-/neo-soul movements. Neo-soul has fallen by the wayside, but there are still some key proponents within the retro-soul movement still doing their thing. What’s more fitting than a 66-year old who’s been grinding for years just to get his chance to be doing what he should’ve been doing in his heyday? No matter though, as Charles Bradley is a true proponent of soul music. “Strictly Reserved For You” was Mr. Bradley’s electrifying promo single from an equally alluring sophomore album, Victim of Love. As you listen, you can hear the undeniable influences of the late great James Brown. Bradley’s grit is something many new-school singers couldn’t even hope to achieve.
In a ‘down’ week for albums sales this week, unsurprisingly given a lack of star power bowing… no offense to those artists releasing albums mind you. Eminem finds himself in a familiar spot once more as The Marshall Mathers LP 2 ascends to no. 1 after spending a week at no. 2 behind Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP. Eminem managed to sell another 120,000 copies of TMMLP2, putting its three week totals at approximately 1,122,000 copies sold (792K + 210K + 120K). Yep, Em has yet another platinum album to his name and selling another 120,000 copies – six figures, is impressive in this day and age. As for his fine feathered friend Lady Gaga, she takes a massive tumble from the penthouse to no. 8 after selling a somewhat disappointing 258,000 copies last week. This week, she only moves 46,000 copies, making her overall totals stand at just 304,000 copies over two weeks. Could Gaga end up merely achieving a gold record with ARTPOP? Only time and most importantly sales will tell.
There were some debuts, though as alluded to, nothing extremely anticipated. Five Finger Death Punch release their second album of the year, The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 2. The second volume arrives at no. 2 matching the peak of the first. What doesn’t match are the sales. Volume 1 moved 112,000 copies while this installment settles for a respectable, but lest robust 77,000 copies. As we know, if an artist releases two albums in one year with similar concept/theme, usually the second one receives less enthusiasm commercially. Justin Timberlake experienced this as his triumphant The 20/20 Experience sold 968,000 copies its first week while The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 was met with much less enthusiasm selling on 350,000 copies. Both debuted at no. 1, but the numbers and the sustainability have been markedly different.
Other debuts? The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack debuts at no. 5 selling 55,000 copies. Daughtry underwhelms with his entry at no. 6 selling 55,000 as well. Those numbers are far off from Daughtry’s first two albums 2006’s Daughtry (304,000) and 2009’s Leave This Town (269,000). Yo Gotti debuts at no. 7 with I Am, selling a respectable 48,000 copies. Of the charts new debuts, Gotti has the most to be proud of. KTCZ’s Cities 97 Sampler, Live From Studio C: Vol. 25 bows at no. 10 with 40,000 copies. Holdovers for the week besides Lady Gaga and Eminem included Now 48 (no. 3), …A Robertson Family Christmas (no. 4), and Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red (no. 9).
On the Hot 100, Lorde’s “Royals” continues to be one of the year’s most unstoppable forces as the ‘little song that could’ spends its ninth consecutive week at no. 1. Even so, according to Billboard, Eminem’s hot joint “The Monster”, featuring Rihanna is looking for that no. 1 spot. As we know, Em and Ri-Ri have had some star power in the past with ‘monster’ single “Love The Way You Lie”. Watch out Lorde, you may not be ‘royal’ too much longer!
Who’s Got Next? No brainer, it’s One Direction. Mark my words, Midnight Memories, the quintet’s third album in two years will sell big. Besides 1D, the other new releases pack less of a punch. Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day) and Norah Jones release a remake of an album by The Everly Brothers entitled Foreverly (the remake is of Songs Our Daddy Taught Us from 1958), but it doesn’t seem to be a powerful commercial title. Pop/Vocal veteran Barbra Streisand can never be ignored as she releases Back to Brooklyn. Voice victor Danielle Bradbery releases her self-titled debut, but who knows if it will have match the numbers of previous victor in the country genre Cassidee Pope, who sold 43,000 copies of Frame by Frame. Regardless, the week will belong to One Direction.
- Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP Hits No. 1 (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 Debuts Big (brentmusicreviews.com)
- The 2013 Fourth Quarter Music Releases Underwhelm… (brentmusicreviews.com)
Need ten jams to spin? Here’s my list of ten of November 2013’s hottest joints!
“Do What U Want”
“Applause” may have been a bust of sorts, but Gaga got herself together with the help of one of R&B’s most salacious presences, R. Kelly. Playing on words, “Do What U Want” accomplishes Gaga’s love for double meanings. If examined sexually, Gaga presents herself as, well easy. But when examined less pervertedly, Gaga is suggesting she is more than her body and could care less how you scrutinize it, etc.
(Trill O.G.: The Epilogue)
Bun B probably isn’t most of the present generation’s ‘go to’ MC, but the veteran UGK MC is nothing short of a beast. Here, his late, great partner Pimp C delivers a masterful hook, while Bun is joined by Lil Boosie and Mississippi underrated MC Big KRIT. KRIT also handles the production work, which seems like the perfect match for the 42-year old Bun B. My favorite catch line, “Them thighs come with that shake / b**ch in yo mind, ho I got cake.”
R. Kelly may just be R&B’s most popular commodity again as Justin Bieber taps him for arguably his best Music Mondays release to date, “PYD” (“Put You Down”). Previously, the Biebz has been whining about heartbreak and Selena Gomez namely, but on “PYD” he wants to get… well, down. No more of the G- and PG-rated Bieber where “damn” is as far as he’ll step from his teen-pop roots… he’s ready to step it up a notch. And if we didn’t understand his intentions, him and Kelly repeatedly iterate the acronym throughout (“P-Y-D, P-Y-D”)
(Sail Out – EP)
From the first track “Vapors”, one knows that Jhene Aiko’s EP Sail Out is something special. Playing doubly as a weed-smoking joint as well as a yearning for an ex- who was good in bed, “Vapors” is both brilliant and highly representative of the newfound alternative R&B movement. “Can you hit it again?” never sound more telling from Aiko’s cool, calm, and collected vocal perspective.
“Water And A Flame”
(Loved Me Back To Life)
Celine Dion’s latest album has plenty of strong songs that tickled my fancy, with the Daniel Merriweather cover “Water And A Flame” amongst ‘em. The original is little known as Merriweather isn’t a big name in the United States. Regardless, if Merriweather never receives his deserved recognition, at least one of the greatest pop singers provides a stirring rendition here.
(The Marshall Mathers LP 2)
What more is there to say, Eminem delivered the hottest rap track of the year this side of Kanye West’s “Blood On the Leaves” and Kendrick Lamar’s epic rap verse on Big Sean’s “Control”. If I’d been Big Sean, I would’ve fought to have gotten “Control” on Hall of Fame, even if it meant delaying it (it’s sold abysmally anyways). But this is Eminem’s moment and quite an electrifying moment it is indeed.
(Us Against Them)
“Homeless” is among the cream of the crop from Jake Miller’s debut album Us Against Them. Vocally, Miller sounds solid as he sings plaintively on the chorus: “Here I stand in the cold / I try to knock as you change the locks / now I’m all alone / where am I supposed to go / if you are where my home is, I guess that makes me homeless.” The serious vibe of the sung vocals is matched by Miller’s more agile, rhythmic rapped vocals. While it’s a ‘bummer’ as far as its overall tone, it is at least a standout ‘bummer’.
“The Art of Letting Go”
Mimi’s latest single, “The Art of Letting Go”, finds one of R&B’s preeminent divas doing what she does best, BALLADS. Whether she’s singing in her lower register or ascending to her upper register with every bit of her emotion, Carey compels the listener and makes us think of our own moments when we’ve struggled to let go. “The Art of Letting Go” is filled with exceptional, memorable, and prudent lyrical moments including “Evidently your words were merely lies / reverberating in my ears / and the echo won’t subside / there’s a deep deep loss of hope…” from verse two. The bridge confirms that “Baby letting go, baby letting go / ain’t easy…”
“A Song About Love”
Recently I reviewed Jake Bugg’s sophomore effort, Shangri La. While I had mixed feelings, I certainly had rave reviews for one particular standout in “A Song About Love”:
“Is that all you wanted? Songs about love? / Is that want you hoped you would find / when it’s burning inside / but a song about love’s not enough.” Poetic by all means, “A Song About Love” seems to be the most complete performance of the album. The metric shifting “A Song About Love” certainly offers the incredible nuance and an overall unique selection Where many of Bugg’s songs seem quite simple, “A Song About Love” definitely steps up the game.
Another Lady Gaga track really? Yep. “Dope” is completely different from “Do What U Want”. Sure, it sounds as if it shouldn’t be a substantive track, but Gaga’s intents are quite notable, more so than some of ARTPOP’s ‘looser’ cuts. On the sole ballad from the album, Gaga opens herself up to vulnerability, suggesting that despite her past screw-ups with substances, she needs her man “more than dope”. Sure she’s literal and dope doesn’t lend itself to the greatest heart-warming moment ever, but her personalized touch truly shines here.
- Bieber Strikes Gold on Surprising “PYD” (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Review: Bun B, ‘Trill O.G.: The Epilogue’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Review: Jhene Aiko, ‘Sail Out (EP)’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Justin Bieber and R. Kelly Join Forces on R&B Song (rollingstone.com)
Bugg’s second album has its moments, less thrilling than his debut…
Jake Bugg⎪ Shangri La⎪ Island ⎪⎪US Release Date: November 19, 2013
After his self-titled debut album appeared in the U.S. In 2012, Jake Bugg drew rave reviews as a the modern day Bob Dylan almost instantly. Sporting an acoustically-driven sound with his distinct, if raw, unpolished voice, the 19-year old Bugg seems like the ideal continuation of the Dylan lineage (no disrespect to you Jakob Dylan). That said and all things considered, the Bob Dylan comparisons are a wee bit overhyped as is the notion of Bugg being some sort of ‘savior’ of rock music in its most traditional form. Bugg has plenty to offer, as he shows on Shangri La, but he also has plenty of room for improvement. Shangri La has its moments, but it also has its flaws.
Among the best moments of Shangri La are tracks i “Slumville Sunrise”, single “What Doesn’t Kill You”, “A Song About Love”, and “Kingpin”. “Slumville Sunrise” reminds me of sort of a poor man’s “Two Fingers”; it is similar in conception, though by now means a supersession. “Slumville Sunrise” finds Bugg reflecting upon his life and the place he comes from (“My face upon the concrete, the dirt is in my mouth / I clench my fist and feet, I try to cry out loud…”). “What Doesn’t Kill You” is saddening but truthful, particularly upon its verses where Bugg references a friend (verse one) and a ‘flame’ (verse two) in which he “couldn’t face the world without her eyes…”. Through the pain, Bugg shows the utmost prudence on the chorus: “What doesn’t kill you / what doesn’t hurt / sometimes you feel you’re up against the world… this life it seems / to bring you to your knees / you try you bleed then finally you breathe.”
“Is that all you wanted? Songs about love? / Is that want you hoped you would find / when it’s burning inside / but a song about love’s not enough.” Poetic by all means, “A Song About Love” seems to be the most complete performance of the album. The metric shifting “A Song About Love” certainly offers the incredible nuance and an overall unique selection Where many of Bugg’s songs seem quite simple, “A Song About Love” definitely steps up the game. Throw in a brief, but rocking joint like “Kingpin”, and Bugg is able to lose some of his seriousness, which is a pro. Still, I wouldn’t call being a kingpin synonymous with ‘fun’, LOL.
Shangri La also has its less satisfying moments. While opener “There’s A Beast And We All Feed It” sounds true to its bold title, it also seems a bit rough around the edges. Perhaps it’s more aimed as an ‘interlude’ or ‘intro’, but it could stand a bit more polish. A track like “All Your Reasons” isn’t ‘bad’ by any means, but clocking in at over five minutes is a bit of a stretch, particularly given the fact Bugg’s voice is an ‘acquired taste’ of sorts. Another longer number “Kitchen Table” is more accessible, but still the prolonged length doesn’t lend itself as well as say a classic Dylan track might. Other tracks are ‘good’ or average without being stellar or memorable. The lack of another “Lightening Bolt” or “Two Fingers” certainly takes away from this effort.
Ultimately, Bugg’s second recording foray seems less thrilling compared to his debut. Yes the sound palette has increased, but that doesn’t ensure a ‘hit’ in the least. Shangri La overall is less memorable, even if Bugg basically picks up where he left off the first time. For me, my question for Bugg is has he reached his ceiling or does he have room to grow? I’m not sure that Shangri La clarifies an answer to this completely; it may confound even more. Still, the effort has its moments.
“Slumville Sunrise” ; “What Doesn’t Kill You”; “A Song About Love”; “Kingpin”
- Jake Bugg’s new album Shangri La released (meteamedia.org)
- Jake Bugg’s “Shangri La” fails to do, well, anything (americanoflondon.wordpress.com)
- First Listen: Jake Bugg, ‘Shangri La’ (npr.org)
- Jake Bugg – ‘Shangri La’ Album Review (deliciousmusicldn.wordpress.com)
Unsurprisingly, Lady Gaga finds herself at no. 1 once more with latest album ARTPOP. Selling 258,000 copies would be pretty impressive if it weren’t Lady Gaga. Born This Way moved 1.1 million, and while a special discounting offer helped to seal the deal there, 258,000 copies seems like quite the fall off from her previous sales best. Still, her Gaga-ness outsold her next closest competitions, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (210,000) and the debut of Now That’s What I Call Music, Vol. 48 (142,000). What is impressive about Eminem’s second week numbers and Now 48’s debuting numbers is that both buck the ugly trend where lately the second and third bestselling albums fail to move 100,000 copies. Billboard rightfully discusses the significance of Now 48’s sales in particular.
Even though Lady Gaga was the big thing, ARTPOP wasn’t the only new blood to the charts. Other debuts also make their respective splash into the top 10. The Beatles’ On Air: Live at the BBC, Vol. 2 bows at no. 7 with 37,000 copies. Jhene Aiko’s EP Sail Out lands at no. 8 with a respectable 34,000 copies. Holdovers within the chart aside from Eminem included The Robersons’ Duck the Halls: A Roberson Family Christmas (no. 4) , Katy Perry’s PRISM (no. 5), Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red (no. 6), Drake’s Nothing Was The Same (no. 9), and Lorde’s Pure Heroine (no. 10). And just because you asked, yes “Royals” is no. 1 on the Hot 100 for the eighth consecutive week.
Who’s Got Next? Well now… Daughtry’s Baptized could certainly make some noise. Yo Gotti releases his major label debut (after being an independent artist mind you) with I Am. Also Jake Bugg releases his sophomore album Shangri La. Basically, it seems like a ‘down’ week, compared to previous ones. No disrespect of course.
- Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 Debuts Big (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Why isn’t Lady Gaga’s ‘ARTPOP’ getting a sales boost from her ‘SNL’ appearance? (music-mix.ew.com)
- Interscope loses $25 million promotional bet on Lady Gaga ‘ArtPop’ bomb (kingsofar.com)
- Lady Gaga’s $25 Million Art Machine Can’t Buy a Real Hit (businessweek.com)
- Fumbled Lady Gaga Release Could Cost Interscope $25 Million (hypebot.com)
Direct Hits reminds us how great The Killers have been and are…
The Killers⎪ Direct Hits ⎪Island⎪⎪ US Release: November 11, 2013
Is it just me, or does it seem that artists and bands release their greatest hits compilations (or sometimes a holiday album) when their careers are at a transitional point? For The Killers, that period of transition seems to be what’s the next career step to take following the underwhelming chart performance of excellent fourth studio LP Battle Born. Direct Hits serves the purpose to remind fans of the band how great they’ve been since their 2004 breakthrough. Ordered chronologically, Direct Hits in its standard form features 15 tracks divided in four, three, three, three, and two-song groups respectfully by The Killers’ albums. Ultimately, Direct Hits proves to be a solid compilation, but not without some question marks.
Tracks 1-4 from
Hot Fuss (2004)
“Mr. Brightside”, “Somebody Told Me,” “Smile Like You Mean It” and “All These Things That I’ve Done” represent The Killers’ breakthrough debut album, Hot Fuss. If one of these cuts is an ‘unexpected’ inclusion on this greatest hits compilation, it is “Smile Like You Mean It”, which was the final single issued from Hot Fuss and easily the least notable. “Smile Like You Mean It” didn’t receive the same visibility as the other three, all the elite representatives of Hot Fuss. This group of four tracks initiate Direct Hits.
Tracks 5-7 from
Sam’s Town (2006)
“When You Were Young”, “Read My Mind”, and “For Reasons Unknown” hail from sophomore effort, Sam’s Town. Sam’s Town as an album had plenty of upside, including two out of three of the aforementioned cuts which were Billboard Hot 100 singles. “When You Were Young” was the most popular single, cracking the top 20 of the Hot 100. “Read My Mind” was my personal favorite, but it only managed to peak at no. 62 on the same chart. Excluded on this compilation is the set’s third single “Bones”, which didn’t match the success of the previous. “For Reasons Unknown” wasn’t a triumph itself, which makes it’s inclusion a bit of a head scratcher.
Tracks 8-10 from
Day & Age (2008)
“Human”, “Spaceman”, and “A Dustland Fairytale” represent the Killers’ 2008 effort, Day & Age. “Human” was the ‘crown jewel’ from Day & Age, though only peaked at no. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100. Still, the line “Are we human? Or are we dancer” rings clear in my mind, five years later. “Spaceman” rightfully makes the cut as a single that peaked in the 60s on the Billboard Hot 100, while “A Dustland Fairytale” was the least successful of the three, only denting the Modern Rock Tracks chart. As insinuated, it’s “Human” that is definitive here, with the rest of the cuts serving as bridesmaids. If I were to include another cut or replace say “A Dustland Fairytale”, it would be the album’s epic closing cut “Goodnight, Travel Well”. That said, seven minutes on a greatest hits compilation where most of the cuts trend under five might be a stretch.
Tracks 11-13 from
Battle Born (2012)
If there was one unheralded Killers album, it was the underrated Battle Born, which was quite enjoyable and well done by my estimations. Among its included cuts on Direct Hits are “Runaways”, “Miss Atomic Bomb”, and “The Way It Was”. Like Day & Age’s group of standouts, “Runaways” is the definitive showing, hailing as the first and best single. Compared to the previous singles issued by The Killers, “Runaways” was easily the least successful and impactful. That said, “Miss Atomic Bomb” nor “The Way It Was” electrified radio and didn’t touch the Hot 100. There’s very little to scrutinize given the commercial deficiencies that plagued Battler Born overall, though I wouldn’t have minded the inclusion of album opener “Flesh and Bone” or even lovely ballad “Here With Me”, regardless of them not being singles.
Tracks 14-15 (Newbies)
and 16-18 (Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks)
As is customary for the greatest hits compilation, some newbies are included to tide over fans to the next studio effort. “Shot At The Night” and “Just Another Girl” serve in that capacity here, with “Shot At The Night” serving as the set’s promo single. Both cuts sound very ‘The Killers’ like, using the 80s as a top influence, particularly “Shot At The Night”. Also included on the deluxe version of their Direct Hits are cuts “Mr. Brightside” (Original Demo), “When You Were Young” (Calvin Harris Remix), and “Be Still” (originally from Battle Born). The inclusion of “Be Still” from Battle Born seems the oddest of the three bonus tracks.
Ultimately, there are few missteps in a compilation that highlights the ‘singles’ from a band’s overall successful career. There are some nitpicks here and there, but ultimately, Direct Hits delivers without a hitch. If nothing more, it reminds us of how awesome Brandon Flowers and company have been over nearly the past decade.
“Mr. Brightside”; “Somebody Told Me”; “When You Were Young”; “Read My Mind”; “Human”; “Runaways”; “Shot At The Night”
- The Killers Yearn for ‘Just Another Girl’ (rollingstone.com)
- The Killers – Direct Hits: Album Review (citiblogmk.co.uk)
- Calvin Harris Remixes Killers’ ‘When You Were Young’ – Song Premiere (rollingstone.com)
- The Killers Roll Out the Hits on ‘Kimmel’ (rollingstone.com)
- Listen: The Killers Lament Lost Love on New Song ‘Just Another Girl’ (kroq.cbslocal.com)
2013 has produced many notable albums overall. Among the many triumphs include an alternative juggernaut (Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City), a soulful return (John Legend’s, Love in the Future), an atheistic Brit-metal reunion (Black Sabbath’s 13), and an electronic thriller (Daft Punk’s, Random Access Memories). Those aforementioned titles are just some of the sound efforts that thrilled us in 2013. That said, it is usually the fourth quarter (October through December) in which the record companies roll out those unstoppable commercial blockbusters. Some arrive in September as well, though the first week sales totals tend to ascend to loftier heights during the month of October. The problem for fourth quarter releases in 2013 is that there seem to be fewer of these sure-fire blockbusters or worse yet, the expected blockbusters are flops.
In October, the ‘big-time’ releases included Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 (released off-cycle on September 30), Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz, Pearl Jam’s Lightening Bolt, Katy Perry’s PRISM, and Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. That’s not a bad list in the least with all of these albums debuting at no. 1. The numbers for these releases were superb contextually given album sales in recent times. That said, it wouldn’t be until Eminem’s November 5th release of The Marshall Mathers LP 2 that sales would move past that 500,000 threshold. In fact, the top release of the October collective of albums was Timberlake’s second album, which sold 350,000. That paled in comparison to the near million that The 20/20 Experience sold just earlier in the year. The smallest of the no. 1 bows impacting the charts came from Arcade Fire’s Reflektor with 140,000 copies sold. 140,000 copies are solid numbers, especially for an alternative rock band, but those numbers can’t dig music sales out of their recession.
On a related note, what’s been more troubling when analyzing chart numbers has been the top-heaviness of the chart usually with only the ‘star’ album. This week, Eminem gave the charts nearly 800,000 copies boost, BUT the week’s second bestseller, Celine Dion’s Loved Me Back to Life, sold <100,000 copies (77,000 to be exact). If fourth quarter sales continue at this tepid rate, particularly with former bigger names like Celine Dion and Avril Lavigne underperforming, the fourth quarter certainly won’t make up for the sales issues of 2013; The effect of an 800,000K blockbuster wouldn’t be sufficient.
The best bets left to impact the charts in a big way seem few and far between. The biggest impacters are likely Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP (November 14), One Direction’s Midnight Memories (November 25) and Britney Spears’ Britney Jean (December 3). Lady Gaga’s numbers are quite underwhelming based on early prognostications; she may sell 260,000 copies. As for One Direction, big numbers wouldn’t be shocking, particularly considering Take Me Home debuted at no. 1 last year with over 500K, but how much will Midnight Memories move, particularly given a younger demographic? Can they match or exceed their former numbers? Britney Spears certainly can have a huge week, but has she cooled off since her heyday? What I’m basically saying is, the fourth quarter seems a couple of releases short of a definitive hit.
The other problem or a question with the fourth quarter is, will their be that Christmas album that puts the music industry on its back to infuse some charting numbers? There have been holiday albums released by Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Susan Boyle, and The Robertsons (of Duck Dynasty). Will any of these become that hot selling commodity leading into Christmas? The best bets would be Clarkson or Duck Dynasty as Susan Boyle and Blige haven’t made much of an impact as of yet. Also what about this albums lingering in or around the top ten such as Drake’s Nothing Was the Same, Katy Perry’s Prism, Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz, or surprise Lorde’s Pure Heroine. Can any of these gain a second wind and salvage the fourth quarter glory?
As stated earlier, personally, I feel this year’s fourth quarter feels a piece or two short. Time will tell if this is the case of course.
- Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 Debuts Big (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’ Hits No. 1 On The Billboard 200 (huffingtonpost.com)
Various Artists⎪ NOW That’s What I Call Music, Vol. 48⎪ UMG ⎪⎪ US Release Date: November 11, 2013
In some respects, the term ‘compilation’ is synonymous to a swear word. Maybe it’s not quite as obscene as the f-word itself, but it’s at least worthy of a baby-curse word, LOL. Why? Because compilations – particularly music compilations – seem to always be filled with flaws, period. The main reason is not only the choice of song that makes the compilation versus those that miss the cut, but also because of timing. Generally, I’m a firm believer that all compilations would be better if the songs included were just nearing that peak and were still considered ‘hot’ you might say. Unfortunately, NOW That’s What I Call Music, Vol. 48, like former installments of the NOW series, doesn’t see my perspective obviously.
Among smart inclusions on this particularly compilation include “Roar” (Katy Perry), “Treasure” (Bruno Mars), “Wake Me Up” (Avicii), “Applause” (Lady Gaga), and “That’s My Kind of Night” (Luke Bryan). The aforementioned numbers all seem to still have a ‘hotness’ and relevance and relevance about them. While Lady Gaga’s “Applause” is lukewarm compared to her more risqué “Do What U Want” featuring R. Kelly, you can still see the logic of its inclusion. “Roar” has truly been a beast (no pun intended), while all things Luke Bryan seem to be in.
Among more questionable inclusions on Now 48 are “Blurred Lines” (Robin Thicke), “Get Lucky” (Daft Punk), “We Can’t Stop” (Miley Cyrus), “Slow Down” (Selena Gomez), “Sail” (AWOLNATION), and “Brave” (Sara Bareilles). Yes, there a some big name songs that were big time hits included within that list. The problem is, many of these should’ve and could’ve been included on earlier compilations. “Blurred Lines”, “Get Lucky”, “We Can’t Stop” and “Sail” all seem too late. Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” is definitely late, but also an questionable inclusion when you look at the company it resides alongside. Similarly, “Slow Down” by Selena Gomez seems out of place, particularly given that “Come & Get It” was the notable hit from a cooling off Stars Dance.
Other arguments could be made for and against Now 48 as well as the franchise as a whole. I appreciate the fact that it does offer listeners with a slice of popular music. However, as shown by my nitpicking, I think that the assembling of such a ‘slice’ could be even better executed. No compilation will ever be perfect or tailor-made for every music listener, but couldn’t Now 48 come just a wee bit closer?
New Zealand trio The Wyld impress on their debut EP Abstract
The Wyld⎪ Abstract (EP) ⎪ Fontana North ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 29, 2013
The Wyld are:
Mo Kheir: Sudanese poet, lyricist, rap wizard
Joe Pascoe: Kiwi guitarist & producer
Brandon Black: American vocalist & producer
Like my homeboy Drizzy says, “[I’mma keep] it real from the jump.” When I hear the word rap and rock put together, sometimes I want to run for cover, really! Rap-rock is one of those things that can work brilliantly or fall right on it’s…yeah, you catch my drift. Often, it seems like middle ground in rap-rock just doesn’t exist. Thankfully for the genre, New Zealand rap-rock/indie trio The Wyld create a bright spot with debut EP Abstract, which was released October 29. Abstract doesn’t fall into the horrid, shameful pitfalls that can undo so many crossover endeavors. Instead, The Wyld appear to be nothing short of ‘pros at this’. In other words, the ‘swag’ is there. There seem to be ample influences in play on Abstract.
“Odyssey” rolls things right along from the start, no BS. The rhymes from Mo Kheir are sharp, particularly moments like “Young rapper, no silver platter / stop your stutter boy, smooth as butter / frozen runner on a track made longer / by a verse that sharp and a hook made stronger.” Not only does “Odyssey” pack a punch with its rhymes, but also the production, most notably the pummeling drums and a dark, moody timbre. A hella catchy hook doesn’t hurt either: “Never going back alone / going back alone / no one’s left, lost my home / living, sleeping in the zone / places where the dark is from / going back alone / never going back alone…fear lives inside of me / move in no direction…”
Keeping up the momentum, “Always On The Run” takes over right where “Odyssey” left off, intact with catchy hook, agile rhymes, and rocking, ‘hip-hopping’ production. Throughout the intro of the track, the chanted lyric “I’m always on my grind” is distorted, gradually becoming clearer and clear before signaling the addictive, well-sung hook. Single “Confusion” proceeds and slows things down, but its even more relaxed tempo doesn’t cause The Wyld to ‘miss a beat’. “Confusion” finds the trio grinding things out with an infectious, druggy-sounding, head-nodding groove. There may be confusion somewhere, but there’s nothing confusing or confounding about the quality or creativity of this track, period.
“Walk Away” somehow manages to combine both silliness and interpretably existential thinking… yep, I kid you not. The existential part comes from the chorus vocals: “I dunno why, but it’s got harder everyday / it’s got so hard in every way / and why do I feel like the only one / like I’m the only one who’s ever here / will I ever make it to the other side? ..so don’t try to walk away…” Mo Kheir’s is on fire, even if his agile flow is at times ludicrous. Case in point, the first verse: “Rapping disaster / hit you up and blast you / then get away with back flips / grind hard like Taylor Swift / so I can grind hard on Taylor Swift / uh yeah…” Adding to the intensity are some truly awe-inspired guitar heroics combined with awesome hip-hop cues.
On “Wake Up”, the trio kick up the tempo while keeping things soundly ‘in the pocket’. The highlighting moment is the unapologetic, energetic rapped hook: “Wake up there’s no one to please / I don’t give a damn what the world wanna see…” There it is! Like preceding tracks, “Wake Up” has some truly nice production craft behind it, playing a role equal to Mo’s rhymes. “Revolution (New Edit)” closes the intriguing EP solidly. While “Revolution” doesn’t necessarily suggest that The Wyld are a part of a new music revolution or a ‘revolution’ themselves, “Revolution” truly showcases the trio’s distinct and fresh sound.
So it’s verdict time. Decisions, decisions, decisions. No, the decisions are not in regards to whether this is a good EP or not; it’s quite impressive. The decision regard which tracks are my favorite when they’re all so fly. The Wyld have it going on and personally, I can’t wait to hear a full-length album.
“Odyssey”; “Always on the Run”; “Walk Away”
Let me first state that I have no agenda with this feature, none in the least. My goal is to present some examples of atheism within popular music in 2013. Why? Because it is interesting how artists include their various beliefs and philosophies within their music. It is even more interesting in some cases where references to atheism and religious skepticism aren’t necessarily overt in the forefront. Again, there is no Christian, agnostic, or atheistic agenda. None. NADA! Now with that off my chest and “all minds and hearts clear…”
Atheism (and agnosticism as well) in popular music, particularly rock and roll music definitely isn’t ‘brand new’. That said, the prevalence of religious skepticism in 2013 seems to be in resurgence. Numerous songs and albums have questioned the church, Christianity, and God/God’s existence you might say. I have highlighted a few notable examples that come to mind.
“God Is Dead?”, “Age of Reason”, “Live Forever”, “Damaged Soul”, and “Dear Father”
Boy, oh boy. Who better to highlight the skepticism of God’s existence than Black Sabbath, right? The Brit-metal band’s first album with Ozzy in 35 years definitely had the critics and fans onboard; it debuted at number one on the Billboard Albums Chart. I was onboard too, as I couldn’t resist a little Ozzy Osbourne in my life. Would my pastor be proud? Yeah, probably not. In the intro of my review of 13, I wrote this:
Oh and back to the whole ‘Satanism’ thing, Ozzy and company may not embrace Satanism per se, but raise enough criticism about ‘God’ himself (“God is Dead?” and “Dear Father”). Atheistic themes might tick some off, but the flip side of that is, you know what your getting into with a band named Black Sabbath, right? Right.
So yeah, it’s no hot spot for the extremely devout. The whole album definitely seems more hellish than celestial.
Of the biggest question mark of God’s existence, “God Is Dead?”, I penned:
Having the nerve to title a song “God Is Dead?” takes some serious cojones. Then making the polarizing number a single – that really takes some! But honestly, “God Is Dead?” is the crowning achievement. The assumed-to-be atheistic jabs appear prominently throughout the song, most notably as Osbourne sings on Chorus 1 “The blood runs free / the rain turns red / give me the wine / you keep the bread / the voices in echo in my head / is God alive or is God dead?” Then towards the end of the cut, a loop is thrown: “I don’t believe that God is dead”. What does it all mean? Well, it seems as if Black Sabbath have multiple meanings going on, which actually makes the song even more awesome.
While it suggests multiple interpretations, do we really think Ozzy is, um, a believer? On “Age of Reason”, Ozzy states that “…Politics, religion, love of money too/ it’s what the world was built for / but not me and you…” On “Live Forever”, a theme that could reference God or heaven itself, Ozzy doesn’t seems indifferent and nonchalant about afterlife: “Well I don’t wanna live forever / but I don’t want to die / I may be dreaming or whatever / I live inside a lie.” On “Damaged Soul”, “a preacher tried saving my black damaged soul / possessed by a demon that had full control…” – Ozzy’s soul I suppose? Later the frontman is “…losing the battle between Satan and God.” And to further damn themselves, the band closes with “Dear Father”: “Dear father, forsaken / you knew what you were doing / in silence, your violence / has left my life in ruins…” Um yeah… that’s some deep, fiery, hellish stuff right there.
Modern Vampires of the City
“Unbelievers”, “Worship You” & “Ya Hey”
Let me just say, I don’t think that Vampire Weekend are running to the altar anytime soon, judging by multiple examples of skepticism that grace their valedictory effort Modern Vampires of the City. “Unbelievers” is perhaps the most overt example of ‘liberal’ views of the spiritual:
“Unbelievers” proves to be even sharper, serving as an overt statement of the influence of religious/spiritual ideas that recurs throughout Modern City of Vampires. Several memorable lines are dissectable, including “We know the fire awaits unbelievers / all of the sinners the same / girl you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train”, which seems like a nod to atheism – open to interpretation of course. Later on the ‘big’ refrain, Koenig sings “I’m not excited / but should I be / is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?” Also interesting about the cerebral cut is the incorporation of what sounds like a liberal take on Shaker Hymn “Simple Gifts” towards the end. How one takes “Unbelievers” message, it is filled to the brim with musical excellence.
Later on, “Worship You” definitely seems to question the most high. Hey at least it is in poetic, indie-rock fashion:
…Adding to the adrenaline rush is followup “Worship You”, which is similarly uptempo, with Koenig singing rhythmic, hip-hop speed vocals during the verses. The most memorable, eyebrow raising lyric? “We worshipped you / your red right hand / won’t we see once again / in foreign soil, in foreign land / who will guide us through the end?” Koenig, whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?!? cough… atheism… cough, cough.
The biggest slap in the face to the religious right comes with “Ya Hey”, a definite play on Yahweh or God:
“Ya Hey” continues with the upmost consistency and the questions marks. “Ya Hey” certainly seems to making reference to Yahweh (aka God). Continuing on the inquisitive path, Koenig sings “Through the fire and through the flames / you won’t even say your name… only “I am that I am” / but who could ever live that way?” Sure to piss extremly devoted people off, the song itself is superb showing VW at their best.
What’s most interesting about alt-rock atheism is that it may be the most missed among Christians. Sure, hip-hop has plenty of devilish and irresponsible themes that certainly have no place in the church, but what about how Ezra Koenig and company seem to ‘mock’ God titularly on “Ya Hey”? Wonder how many people didn’t notice?
“Here Comes the Night Time”
If anything, alt-rock band Arcade Fire seems like they would be more likely to be associated with God/religion than not – or maybe sophomore album Neon Bible was a mirage or illusion. Regardless, song “Here Comes the Night Time” doesn’t necessarily take too kindly to today’s churches. Maybe it’s a stretch to dub the Montreal band as either agnostics or atheists, but they seem to have some skepticism for sure:
Verse two [from “Here Comes the Night Time”] definitely seems to have some skepticism of religious practices, which seems a message throughout: “And the missionaries / they tell us we will be left behind / been left behind / a thousand times, a thousand times…” Read into the title, and you have to question if the “the night time” refers to the fiery pit or church itself…DUN DUN DUN! I’d say yes: “Now the preachers they talk up on the satellite / if you’re looking for Hell, just try looking inside”
Alt-rock is known for its poetic, widely-interpretable lyrics. Still, from my perspective, I think reading into the criticism of the church isn’t really a stretch here.
Don’t Look Down
Even though she’s ‘worn out’, it doesn’t show on “Religion”, a popular topic of secular music in 2013 (have you noticed). While Grey doesn’t go ‘atheistic’ in the same sense her colleagues (see Black Sabbath or Vampire Weekend), she offers herself as being her boo’s ‘religion’ you might say: “When you don’t know what to believe in / let me be your religion / it’s a f*cked up world that we live in / so let me be your religion.” The world might be messed up, but Skylar, you make it a better place with your music.
As previously stated, Grey isn’t a hardcore atheist in the context of this song, but she certainly doesn’t seem like a ‘believer’.
Falling in Reverse
“F*ck The Rest”
Falling in Reverse definitely don’t seem to be within the Christian ranks, or any other religion for that matter. When I previously reviewed Fashionably Late it was the brash “F*ck The Rest” that sported skepticism of all things religious:
“F*ck The Rest” opens with a WTF moment from the onset, courtesy of a dog named Charlie. Yes, I’m being serious. Anyways, much like Black Sabbath (and numerous other open-minded rock bands), Falling in Reverse deliver the expected ‘I don’t believe in heaven or hell’ sentiment on “…the devil and the Lord won’t keep waging a war…” as well as the bizarre “Gotta March in like an army wearing black-on-black / power of a thousand of these motherf*cking zombie cats / none of them can do it quite like I can…”
Months later, I still don’t know what Falling in Reverse are talking about, but I’m pretty sure they don’t like the church, God, or even Satan.
There were other instances of agnosticism and atheism aside from this rock-driven examples. Tyler, The Creator is an atheist, and he references his non-belief on 2013 album Wolf. While Jay-Z hasn’t associated himself as a nonbeliever, he does have some issues with the church, according to song “Crown”. And with all the ‘god-status’ assertion taking place in hip-hop music, you wonder if any of these rappers are associated with God himself.
- Review: Vampire Weekend, ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ (brentmusicreviews.com)