Ah, who doesn’t love a good ‘come-up’ story? Schoolboy Q has reason to celebrate as his third LP Oxymoron takes over the no. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Apparently, them “Collard Greens” were pretty potent, as 139,000 people decided to add Oxymoron to their music collection. 139,000 copies isn’t the ‘end all be all’ in regards to album sales, but its definitely sound for what could be considered an up-and-comer, even three albums into a rap career. Compared to his colleague Kendrick Lamar, the numbers are less favorable (Good Kid M.A.A.D. City missed the top spot, but sold 241,000 copies), though Kendrick also had bigger buzz surrounding him at the time, not to mention the fourth quarter to propel him.
Schoolboy Q fended off that feisty Frozen Soundtrack, which continues to put up respectable numbers. This week, the magic number for the runner up was 91,000, which according to billboard.com was an increase from the previous week. Frozen kept another new release and veteran, Beck from the runner-up spot. Beck settles for no. 3 with 87,000 copies sold of Morning Phase, his first album in six years. Even though Beck couldn’t match a previous high watermark – a no. 2 peak for 2005 effort Guero – or its robust 162,000 copies start, he managed to outperform prognostications.
Surprise albums seem to be all the rage these days, with Kid Cudi’s oddball Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon fitting right into the trend. Kid Cudi doesn’t quite have the Beyoncé effect, but does debut at no. 4 with 87,000 copies. Compared to last year’s slightly more accessible Indicud, the numbers are down for the left-field rapper. In fact, Satellite Flight is Cudi’s lowest debuting album as of yet. The next closest in terms of his discography was his debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, which sold 104,000 good for a no. 4 bow. Previous album Indicud debuted at no. 2 selling 136,000 copies. Indicud was a drop-off itself, specifically from Cudi’s sophomore album, Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager, which debuted at no. 3, but sold 169,000 copies. Is Scott Mescudi just too odd for sustainable commercial success? Perhaps.
Keeping things close (and new), Romeo Santos debuts at no. 5 with Formula: Vol. 2. Formula sold 85,000 copies, awesome numbers for a Latin album. Dierks Bentley didn’t quite get in on the “80s” action (80K that is), but Riser did debut at no. 6 with 63,000 copies. 63,000 copies doesn’t have much of a ceiling itself, but Bentley isn’t exactly country’s most consistent selling male artist. Still, 63,000 copies isn’t too shabby. The Fray would’ve enjoyed being even remotely close to 63K; they settle for a no. 8 bow and 37,000 copies sold of Helios. Seems like the popularity of “Over My Head (Cable Car)” hasn’t translated to the band’s more recent efforts. Other than Frozen, the only holdovers are Eric Church (The Outsiders), Now 49, and Beyoncé (Beyoncé). Good sales week – finally!
Pharrell Williams goes into next week’s chart with the momentum of retaining no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (“Happy“). Pharrell’s second solo album GIRL is one of the competitive albums fighting for the top two spots on next week’s chart. Second solo album you ask? Well ole boy released In My Mind a couple of years back and snagged a Grammy-nomination for the LP. Rick Ross should have no. 1 locked up as he releases his sixth LP, Mastermind. With the exception of Ross’ best LP (in my opinion), Teflon Don, Ross has locked down no. 1 four previous times. Lea Michele wishes she could muster up the numbers expected from Ross or Williams, but according to Billboard prognostications, she won’t come close. And as for Eli Young Band, well 10,000 Towns is far behind. I won’t even mention Ashanti’s Brave Heart – it doesn’t have a shot.
Oh and going back to the Billboard Hot 100, what about my homeboy John Legend breaking into that top four (last week I believe)? Who would’ve thought that “All Of Me”, an old school, piano-driven ballad would be a hit in 2014? It remains at no. 4 this week according to Billboard. Rock on John, rock on!
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.
I don’t blame her in the least – Not even an ounce! Candice Glover, like millions of others, went into American Idol with the dream of being a superstar. And the thing is, Glover has superstar talent, sporting one of the better voices to win the competition. But as has been proven time and time again, it takes more than talent to win over America… and I’m not talking about the American Idol viewing audience. By win over America, I’m referring to those near-extinct, extremely archaic things called album sales. Judging by the title, you can tell my girl’s sales are… “U-G-LY/ you ain’t got no alibi” Yes. What’s the word on the street? That on tomorrow’s Billboard 200 Chart, Candice Glover’s Music Speaks is a new entry at no. 14 with 19,000 copies sold. 19,000 copies! “Damn” (Track number four BTW). I won’t bore you with the stats of other victor’s albums sales, but know that comparatively, the robust-voiced Glover truly ‘laid an egg.’
Back in 2013, I penned a post entitled “Five Reasons Why Candice Glover May Have an Uphill Battle”. The give reasons were as follows back then: (1) low American Idol ratings, (2) unremarkable single sales (“I Am Beautiful”), (3) R&B continues to trend down, (4) lax promotion, and (5) major record labels tend to have a ‘short leash’. I went on to make the following prediction to conclude the post:
“Candice’s first album may compromise her talent/potential talent level by being rushed by a quick ‘turn-around’ date. The album will likely have insufficient promotion, hurt by ailing Idol ratings, poor single reception/sales, and a lack of deeper monetary investment. Because of this, the album will likely fall short in the sales department… Hopefully my pessimism is a Worst-case scenario. I wish Candice the upmost success and career.
As much as I hate to say it, many of my guesses were accurate. Believe me, as a hardcore fan of Glover, I hoped that my fortune-telling ways truly stank. But, having seen how often an album is “done” before it even has a chance over the years, this is no surprise. Of those five reasons, Glover’s ugly numbers are directly related to – DING, DING, DING – all five. The sole reason you could argue might be excused is the downtrend of R&B. R&B is still cooling, though there has been some success with albums by Beyoncé (Beyoncé) and Toni Braxton & Babyface (Love, Marriage & Divorce). That said, those are all established artists and Candice Glover was the winner of the least heralded season of an aging show. Oh well. Can’t cry over spilt milk?
Sooooo…What’s a talented artist to do? Keep on hustling another day. Make the most of the lot that is being given. The ceiling of the numbers is definitely discouraging, but as Ellie Goulding said best, “Anything Could Happen.” Do I believe it will… it’s another pessimistic no, unfortunately.
The Frozen Soundtrack is sort of like winter itself – it just don’t stop! Once more, Frozen finds itself atop the Billboard 200 Albums Chart selling 89,000 copies. It is surprising that Frozen was able to rise to the top once more, particularly after Eric Church blew the competition out of the water with last weeks no. 1 debuting The Outsiders, which had sold 288,000 copies. This week, Church takes a step back to no. 2 with only 74,000 copies sold… yuck! Country newbie Cole Swindell debuts respectably with 63,000 copies of Cole Swindell, good for a no. 3 bow. Issues – an up and coming rock band – lands at no. 9 with Issues, selling 22,000 copies. Notice Candice Glover misses the top 10 with debut album Music Speaks. What a shame. Also no signs of Phantogram‘s Voices.
By the way, the “Dark Horse” has been dethroned… Pharrell Williams takes the incredibly fun “Happy” to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. First he “got lucky” at no. 2 and now he’s incredibly “happy” at no. 1. Top spot baby! Who’s got next on next week’s charts? Beck (Morning Phase), St. Vincent (St. Vincent), and Schoolboy Q (Oxymoron) are all strong candidates. Where they will land, well only time will tell.
Phantogram • Voices • Republic • US Release Date: February 18, 2014
If you haven’t heard of one incredibly talented duo named Phantogram, well, peeps, you are missing out on a treat! Recently, Phantogram, comprised of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, released their sophomore album, Voices. From start to finish, it is a sheer pleasure to listen to, using a combination of various samples and electronics to establish its musical identity. Sure, different people have different opinions in regards to sampling, but it is incredibly difficult to deny how masterfully all things work together on Voices. I mean, this duo put it work… not the kind that A$AP Ferg was referencing though, LOL. Normally, a full-length review would’ve been ordered up, but with time scarce, I chose to share and reflect upon the tune nearest and dearest to my heart – “Bill Murray”.
Simply put, “Bill Murray” never sounded so gorgeous… I know it sounds totally wrong, ha! The point is that this ballad is arguably the set’s strongest showing – it’s simply stunning and strange. It’s not merely the lyrics or the overall haunting air about the song, but the elements from “The Coldest Days of My Life”, a classic soul song courtesy of The Chi-Lites. Sure, “The Coldest Days of My Life” may not get the same love that “Have You Seen Her” or “Oh Girl” gets (not many could trump those), but the inspiration of the soul classic drives “Bill Murray” and reminds people just how important and everlasting old-school joints really are.
Not only is it the music of “The Coldest Days of My Life” that inspires, but also the lyrics. Take a lyric as simple yet as emotionally stirring as “Lord take away the pain…” – that says it all. Lyrically from the Phantogram end, “Bill Murray” can be considered both simple and complex. The lyrics are poetic, spaced out, and mysterious, still embodying the sentiments of the classic. What isn’t hard to decipher is that love and loneliness definitely have their roles (“Am I lonely…wave goodbye and your heart’s not in line”), and perhaps references to that Bill Murray film that also had Scarlett Johansson in it called Lost in Translation. Hey, it’s perfect inspiration for any indie-pop/rock act…
Ultimately, “Bill Murray” is just one of 11 great pieces that makes Voices a truly sensational album. Still, it’s hard to deny a true ‘ace in the hole’ as this one, particularly when one of the cooler comedic-actors provides the title. But don’t just go purchase “Bill Murray” with all its lushness; buy the entire album Voices. It doesn’t disappoint.
“Nothing But Trouble”; “Fall in Love”; “Howling At The Moon”; “Bill Murray”; “Celebrating Nothing”
When I reviewed Katy Perry’s PRISM, one of my very favorite songs (besides “Roar”) was current number one single, “Dark Horse”, featuring Juicy J. Definitely laden with swag, Katy Perry’s current single has hip-hop, crossover appeal. As much as I love the original, there is one cool cover via YouTube by vocalist Peter Hollens, who has delivered a number of worthwhile covers (“Shenandoah” is one of my favorite performances). On the incredibly clever cover of the Perry single, Hollens enlists the help of Sam Tsui, another incredibly talented vocalist. Adding to the excellence of the vocal performance itself is a cool video using strobe lights and other cool production effects. I won’t ruin the audio/visual experience – I’ll let you check out the cool video yourself.
After much delay, Candice Glover finally delivers her debut album
Candice Glover • Music Speaks • 19 • US Release Date: February 18, 2014
Honestly, it seemed like an urban-sounding artist might never win American Idol again, let alone a female contestant after a string of victorious males. Candice Glover became the first female victor since Jordin Sparks, though bad timing kind of killed her vibe. Glover was brilliant throughout a season where everything seemed dead WRONG. The judges’ panel lacked chemistry (and sometimes tact) while many of the contestants seemed, um, blasé. The ratings were down and despite a set summer 2013 release for Glover’s debut, it was pushed back to the Fall. After being pushed back to the Fall, well, the album again was pushed back… until 2014. Finally, Glover delivers Music Speaks to her fans. Unfortunately, what little buzz surrounded her or the show seems nearly mute, and winning single “I Am Beautiful” doesn’t even make the album cut. Still as Lupe Fiasco would say, “The Show Goes On” and Glover definitely shows she has considerable talent throughout Music Speaks.
Promo single “Cried” opens Music Speaks incredibly. A well-written, heart-wrenching track (co-written by R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan), “Cried” showcases the power, finesse, and nuance of Glover’s voice. As far as being a single that truly elevates Glover to stardom or commercial aspirations, “Cried” is likely not the answer. Another minor rub against the notable cut is its specific placement within the track list; perhaps it could’ve been even more effective elsewhere besides the opener. Regardless, Glover gives her all on the incredibly underrated single.
“Die Without You” isn’t a shabby follow-up in the least, sporting a “cool, calm, and collected” sensibility about it. “Die Without You” succeeds at being both modern yet old school. “Die Without You” has enough swagger that it falls in line with the tenets of adult contemporary R&B, but also has that ‘grown folks’ sexiness (“I’d die without you”). If there is one nitpick, it is that Glover could have even freed her voice more on the ad-libs. Still, that falsetto towards the end is pretty sweet. Two tracks in, Glover is on the right track.
“Same Kinda Man” benefits from its retro-soul production, which proves to be a perfect fit for Glover. Glover feels as if she’s found her niche here; it doesn’t seem far-fetched that she’s an old soul. Something about the ambience of horns and a compelling, powerhouse voice makes “Same Kinda Man” extremely appealing. “Damn” is equally captivating, even if the full production of “Same Kinda Man” is traded for a more stripped, piano-driven backdrop. Regardless of less instrumentation, Glover truly sells the “I love another woman’s man” narrative. Sure, the concept is ‘tried-and-true’, if not completely cliché, but even if Glover doesn’t seem to be the type to experience what she sings of, it’s still a treat. “Damn, damn, damn / I fell in love with someone else’s man,” she sings on the simplistic, but addictive chorus. So far, so good for Candice Glover.
“Passenger” from a first listen comes off a bit of a bore; its length certainly doesn’t help either. After a couple of spins though, the adult contemporary track has some magic about it, specifically the chorus (“I’ll be your passenger / I’ll go where you want me too / I’ll let you navigate / just let me ride with you”). By the end, Glover’s rousing ad-libs certainly atone for any miscues. Perhaps it isn’t quite as ‘elite’ as the opening quartet; “Passenger” is another solid, love joint. “Forever That Man” and “Kiss Me” also lack the same fire/intensity of the opening tracks. Both are solid listens ultimately, but they don’t necessarily separate Glover from other artists in the same vein. “Forever That Man” gives Glover a pop-oriented ballad, which does at least open the door for crossover appeal. Even so, it isn’t quite a perfect match. “Kiss Me” lacks a bit of excitement, though Glover certainly performs it well.
“In The Middle” is a surprise once it begins playing, particularly following somewhat more conservative cuts like the trio preceding it. The interpolation of “Ting A Ling” is obvious, but it definitely works contextually. If anything, compared to the previous three cuts, “In The Middle” has more sass and personality. Worth noting is that former American Idol champ Fantasia serves as a co-writer. The personality of “In The Middle” also translates onto “Coulda Been Me”, a six-eight cut using some chopped-n-screwed vocals for flavor. Don’t worry folks; Glover’s talented pipes remain intact and flawless.
Penultimate cut “Thank You” has a vintage nature about it, given its main idea and production, but it shows Glover truly in her ‘zone’. Like “Cried”, “Thank You” may not be the lift to propel Glover to commercial success, but it is definitely enjoyable and inspiring. “Love Song”, Glover’s ‘ace in the hole’ on American Idol, concludes the brief 11 track affair. The performance is solid, but similar to Fantasia’s cover of “Summertime” is a performance that just can’t be perfectly replicated in the studio setting. Still, “Love Song” caps off Music Speaks sincerely and appropriately.
Ultimately how does Glover’s Music Speaks stack up comparatively to former Idol debut albums? It’s respectable, though not classic. There is enough solid material and magnificent vocals from Glover to make the album sound and enjoyable, but there is nothing that makes it a contemporary masterpiece. The greatest pro in regards to Music Speaks is its potential; that potential is certainly grand.
“Cried”; “Die Without You”; “Same Kinda Man”; “Damn”; Thank You”
Sam Smith’s Nirvana EP serves as a sound preview of his upcoming debut album
Sam Smith • Nirvana EP • Capitol • US Release Date: January 28, 2014
Every year there are a number of new artists looking for their breakthrough. Sadly, only a few hopefuls have their dreams realized. Sam Smith is the latest newbie who looks to break through. One of several standout British soul/pop artists, Smith definitely has the pipes to shine and deserves success to knock on his door. Whether or not his commercial aspirations actually come to fruition, critically, Smith is already there; he’s surpassed the test. Nirvana EP is Smith’s springboard, and even at just seven songs, it’s a pretty good springboard at that.
Nirvana EP opens with the experimental R&B track, “Safe With Me”. The track is characterized by its highly rhythmic, pummeling drums and its overall mysteriousness. Vocally, Smith sounds exceptional, delivering a nuanced, complete performance. The refrain finds those soulful vocals transformed through vocal effects – specifically pitch effects. “Don’t you know your secret’s safe with me / all your worries can be put to, can be put to sleep,” Smith sings on the refrain. Regardless of the experimentation, the identity of the track is steeped in R&B while having crossover abilities.
Title track “Nirvana” very much embraces R&B in its lush production and lyrical content. Essentially, Smith can’t get over a past flame, and has decided to stop running from his feelings so to speak. “Its too late to run away from it all,” sings Smith on the pre-chorus before eventually giving in, “I’m done with running so I give it to you.” He goes on to pour emotion on the cleverly penned chorus, where he believes his ‘heaven’ (Nirvana) is too good to be true: “This moment has caused a reaction / resulting in a reattachment / girl, you take me to Nirvana / I don’t think this will last / cause you’re here in my arms.” Deep and thoughtful, “Nirvana” is a second straight knockout punch for Nirvana EP.
“I’ve Told You Now” (Live at St. Pancras Old Church, London) continues to find the British singer flexing his pipes, particularly on the hard-hitting chorus. Accompanied by piano, guitar, and strings, Smith’s performance is highly inspired. It may not match the more liberal “Safe With Me” or the clever “Nirvana”, but “I’ve Told You Now” continues to show the newbie at his best. On “Latch”, Smith’s former collaboration with Disclosure, the production is set in a beautiful acoustic setting. Unsurprisingly, Smith continues to perform at a high level vocally.
Three more tracks conclude the overall sound EP. The electronic funk of “Together” is fueled by Disclosure, making Smith sound something of a contemporary D’Angelo, falsetto and background vocals intact. “Money On My Mind”, Smith’s ‘ace in the hole’ follows compellingly, even if the notable British hit doesn’t necessarily supersede a stacked opening duo. A remix of “Nirvana” (Harry Fraud Remix)” is the final statement and it is definitely a ‘fresh’ one.
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”