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:
First Round Matchups: The Sweet 16:
(16) Ashanti, BraveHeart vs. (1) John Newman, Tribute
As the 1-seed, John Newman’s Tribute gets a great draw with Ashanti’s BraveHeart. BraveHeart isn’t a bad album in the least – it’s arguably one of the R&B artist’s strongest – but it is outclassed by the soulful Brit’s juggernaut debut effort. Ashanti tries her best to compete, but Newman jumps to the early lead and never looks back. Just like in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the 16- has yet to beat the 1-. Ain’t nothing changed here.
Results: Newman 64, Ashanti 37 (2014 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Second round (16) Cal Poly vs. (1) Wichita State score)
(9) Daley, Days & Nights vs (8) Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes
8-seed and 9-seed matchups are evenly matched, yet in this case, 9-seeded Daley has the leg-up on a veteran Bruce Springsteen. High Hopes is another fine Bruce Springsteen effort, but it isn’t completely ‘new’ per say. Sure “American Skin (41 Shots)” is incredibly moving and seems appropriate that it has been dedicated to Trayvon Martin, but it was originally recorded on one of the Boss’s live sets. Daley, on the otherhand, is quite an underrated British contemporary R&B artist trying to breakthrough. On Days & Nights, the material is there, driven by standouts such as “Time Travel”, “Blame The World,” and single “Broken”. It’s a physical game with fouls being charged everywhere, but somehow a tough-minded Daley steals one from decorated champion Springsteen.
Results: Daley 71, Springsteen 66 (2014 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Second round (8) Memphis vs. (9) George Washington score, only the 9-seed wins)
(12) Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit vs. (5) Rick Ross, Mastermind
Upset alert! Rick Ross’ Mastermind is another excellent addition to his discography by all means. However, even with strong showings with the Jay-Z assisted “The Devil Is A Lie” or the reggae-tinged “Mafia Music III”, I ranked Ross’ Mastermind a notch behind both Teflon Don and God Forgives, I Don’t. That leaves the door open for Aloe Blacc, who is on his third album, but still an up-and-comer even at 35 years of age. There is enough satisfactory material on Lift Your Spirit to give even a Mastermind a run for his money – and he does. Not unusual though – those 5-seed/12-seed matchups are usually an upset waiting to happen. Sometimes those 4-point plays can change the entire ending of the story!
Results: Aloe Blacc 77, Rick Ross 75 in OT (2014 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Second round (12) Stephen F. Austin vs. (5) VCU score)
(13) Algebra Blessett, Recovery vs. (4) Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Give The People What They Want
This matchup is sort of like the (13) Manhattan vs. (4) Lousiville game in this year’s tournament. It nearly ended up being an upset for a surprisingly even-matched Recovery album that kept a vintage-sounding Give The People What They Want a run for their money. After Recovery takes a three-point lead, a couple of three-point jumpers later, Give The People What They Want survives to eke out a hard-fought victory.
Results: Sharon Jones 71, Algebra Blessett 64 (2014 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Second round (13) Manhattan vs. (4) Louisville score)
(14) A Great Big World, Is There Anybody Out There? vs. (3) Pharrell Williams, G I R L
Despite tremendous efforts with “Rockstar”, “This Is The New Year” and the definitive statement “Say Something” which gets Christina Aguilera into the act, A Great Big World fall short of pulling off the (14) Mercer vs. (3) Duke upset. Face it, it is hard to beat one a veteran musical industry fixture like Pharrell Williams, even if G I R L is only his second solo album. “Happy” was enough to weather the storm.
Results: Williams 93, A Great Big World 75 (2014 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Second round (14) NCCU vs. (3) Iowa State score)
(11) Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce vs. (6) Beck, Morning Phase
Could two more opposite albums have to fight for an elite 8 spot (it’s rhetorical BTW)? Toni Braxton & Babyface reignite each other’s career with a fine duets album, but don’t call it ‘innovative’ – just good ole adult contemporary R&B centered around, um, its title. As for Beck, Morning Phase isn’t his most exciting album, but it is beautiful, with the hipster going more acoustic on his first album in 8 years. The first album in 8 years would be enough to give Beck another shot at a title.
Results: Beck 74, Braxton/Babyface 60 (2014 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Second round (11) Nebraska vs. (6) Baylor score)
(10) Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron vs. (7) St. Vincent, St. Vincent
A bad matchup for Schoolboy Q – perhaps it is. Schoolboy Q comes in off excellent momentum from last year’s high-flying “Collard Greens” not to mention some other standouts like “Los Awesome”, “Prescription/Oxymoron”, and “The Purge”. Still, the oddly fascinating St. Vincent proves to be a tough out, with “Digital Witness” being one of the keys to winning the game. Oh and by the way, it’s a defensive-minded, half-court, slugfest (score is indicative of this).
Results: St. Vincent 58, Schoolboy Q 53 (2014 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Second round (10) Stanford vs. (7) New Mexico score)
(15) Kid Ink, My Own Lane vs. (2) Against Me, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
15-seeded Kid Ink gives 2-seeded Against Me a run… for a while. Kid Ink’s My Own Lane has its moments, enough which match-up with the edgy narrative of Against Me’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Still, when it’s all said and done, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the better album with more weapons. I mean cuts like “F*ckmylife666” or “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” would be fuel enough for the fire – or igniting the offense at least!
Results: Against Me 73, Kid Ink 53 (2014 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Second round (15) Milwaukee vs. (2) Villanova score)
Second Round Matchups: The Elite 8:
(9) Daley, Days & Nights vs. (1) John Newman, Tribute
Newman comes in highly favored in this matchup, while Daley comes in as the underdog, unlikely to give the top-ranked seed a run for his money. Ultimate Daley’s Days & Nights ends up being a surprising album that matches up well with Newman’s. Much like the game of which the score is referenced below (Temple vs. IU, 2013), Daley goes toe-to-toe with his opponent with Newman pulling out a close one when it’s all said and done. Honestly, at least for the majority of the game, it looked like Daley had the upset within his fingers.
Results: Newman 58, Daley 52 (2013 Men’s Basketball, third round (9) Temple vs. (1) Indiana score)
(12) Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit vs. (4) Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Give People What They Want
Sharon Jones & The-Dap Kings came into this match-up as the favorites to march on. It’s hard to deny the soulfulness of the band and the previous round Jones was able to pull one out against Algebra Blessett. Although promo single “Retreat” proves to be a massive weapon, Blacc counters it with the more familliar “The Man” as well as the Pharrell Williams assisted jam “Love Is The Answer”. While Jones had athletic tracks to match Blacc’s intensity, the youthful Blacc had enough juice to pull out the upset, with some three-pointers in that mix.
Results: Aloe Blacc 66, Sharon Jones 60 (2013 Men’s Basketball Tournament, third round (12) Cal vs. (4) Syracuse score (reversed winner))
(6) Beck, Morning Phase vs. (3) Pharrell Williams, G I R L
Can you say dogfight? Two of music’s most intriguing artists go up against each other in nothing short of a defensive battle for the ages. On one end, Beck is the under-seeded underdog with plenty of upside, while Williams hasn’t endured such a tightly contested battle as this one as of yet. After being evenly matched throughout, whether it was William’s “Gust of Wind” or Beck’s gorgeous, haunting “Morning”, the higher energy level of G I R L was enough to nip Beck’s miraculous run.
Results: Williams 62, Beck 56 (2012 Men’s Basketball Tournament, third round (6) Cincinnati vs. (3) Florida St. score)
(7) St. Vincent, St. Vincent vs. (2) Against Me, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
After running right through the tournament, Against Me gets its first legit challenge in St. Vincent’s self-titled effort. St. Vincent is filled with clever lyrics and overall exceptional production and songwriting. While St. Vincent had creativity on its side, particularly with the alt-/indie- soul sound of “Digital Witness”, Transgender Dysphoria Blues as a whole continues to ride its unique concept. It’s just barely enough here to stave off the upset-minded St. Vincent, but it is sufficient.
Results: Against Me 63, St. Vincent 59 (2013 Men’s Basketball Tournament, third round (7) Illinois vs. (2) Miami FL score)
Third Round: The Final 4:
(3) Pharrell Williams, G I R L vs. (2) Against Me, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Two extremely different albums are paired together within the final 4. The 2-seeded G I R L finds the ever-adaptable Pharrell Williams at his best vocally and artistically. Much of the pop-soul effort G I R L is top-notch with Williams’ falsetto nothing short superb. On Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the themes/messages are heavier, but that doesn’t keep the effort from rocking out hardcore. If this decision were merely preference of style, William’s G I R L might be the personal choice. However, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an extremely special effort deserving even wider recognition than it has. Critically, it edges G I R L, but not without a hard contested, gritty fight.
Results: Against Me 74, Williams 67 (2011’s Men’s Basketball Tournament, Sweet 16 (3) UConn vs. (2) San Diego St. score)
(12) Aloe Blacc, Lift Your Spirit vs. (1) John Newman, Tribute
Soul goes against soul in this spirited matchup between two sensational artists in Blacc and Newman. Blacc isn’t a new artist, though his third album is certainly his most high-profile, notable release thanks to hits “Wake Me Up” (Aviici) and “The Man”. As for Newman, “Love Me Again”, like “The Man” is a superb mix of pop and retro-soul. “Losing Sleep”, another compelling track, similarly shows an exceptional stylistic amalgamation, not to mention all the glorious nuances and cracks in Newman’s stellar vocals. It’s a closer race than many might envision given the seeding (12 vs. 1), but newcomer Newman gets the slight edge in a tightly contested battle of soulfulness.
Results: Newman 77, Blacc 69 (2013’s Men’s Basketball Tournament, Sweet 16 (12) Oregon vs. (1) Louisville score)
(2) Against Me, Transgender Dysphoria Blues vs. (1) John Newman, Tribute
Two of the years finest albums – both 1- and 2- seeds according to this faux bracket – meet up at the end. Transgender Dysphoria Blues educated and captivated about the emotions behind being transgendered, something many can’t relate to or know very little about. Previously, Transgender Dysphoria Blues was summed up as follows:
Ultimately, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an exceptional affair. It both educates and compels, giving voice to a group of people who many don’t understand or know very little about. While Transgender Dysphoria Blues may not answer all the questions those who are green in regards to transgender/transsexuals, it does give the listener a snapshot. Overall, nothing short of high quality from Against Me!”
Newman’s Tribute wouldn’t be dubbed as ‘innovative’, but it successfully crossed-over pop and soul in an incredibly appealing way. Vocally, Newman is nothing short of awesome – call him the male Adele. In my January review I summed up 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.”
Results: Newman 82, Against Me 76 (2013 Men’s Basketball Championship (4) Michigan vs. (1) Louisville)
Final Rankings/Tournament Wins