Archive for the ‘New Music’ Category

It’s pretty certain most us would like to put 2017 behind us, and move forward to the (hopefully) better and brighter 2018. Musically speaking, 2017 was a decent year, so let’s celebrate all it had to offer (Note: once again, these are solely my opinions, and as usual I didn’t listen to every single record that was released this year.)

Best Rap Album: DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

I’ll be honest: I didn’t fully get the “hype” behind Lamar until this album came out. It wins because Lamar’s lyrics are smart, honest, and he’s actually saying something. Plus, the album as a whole is a solid mix of rhymes, dope beats, and a whole lotta love.

Guiltiest Pleasure: “There’s Nothin’ Holding Me Back” by Shawn Mendes

He’s so plain and vanilla; boring and unoriginal. Yet this songs makes me dance, and I just can’t help it.

Worst Collaboration: “Something Just Like This” Coldplay + The Chainsmokers

Coldplay has been dead to me for some time now. The minute they shed everything that made them them, I cut the cord. The Chainsmokers were never on my good list, because there’s nothing good about them. This is a musical abomination on so many levels.

Best Collaboration – “I Know You” by Craig David feat. Bastille

David’s smooth vocals against Bastille’s rock operatic ones; David’s R&B sound, with Bastille’s rock-electronic vibe. Mash it all together and what you get is beautiful music. Not to mention: Craig David is back!

Best Latin Collaboration: “Mi Gente” by J Balvin, Willy William feat. Beyoncé

The original of this infectious track has over 1.4 billion views on YouTube alone. Add Queen Bey into the mix and it’s completely unstoppable.

Most Surprising Track: “Rockstar” Post Malone feat. 21 Savage

At first glance, Post Malone leaves nothing to be desired. That should teach me to judge a book by its cover. Although he screams drug addict trailer trash, with nasty grills and hair that hasn’t been washed in months, his music is actually pretty good (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

Most Disappointing Track: “Walk on Water” by Eminem feat. Beyoncé

This wins this category because in spite of its huge potential, it falls flat. The content of Em’s flow is pretty good, but his delivery is lazy, slurry and sounds a little too much like Macklemore (sorry Em!) Bey’s chorus makes the track listenable, but otherwise, it’s a bit of a snoozefest (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

Best Indie Track: “Nobody Else Will be There” by The National

It’s moody, dark, and puts your stomach in knots. Everything a National song is supposed to be.

Worst Indie Track: “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man

It’s so catchy that it very quickly becomes too catchy, which automatically makes it intolerable. It’s just trying too hard.

Best Club Track: “Unforgettable” by French Montana feat. Swae Lee

I dare you not to bust a move right now.

Best R&B Track: “Skywalker” by Miguel feat. Travis Scott

One of the best tracks off Miguel’s release War & Leisure, it shows off his velvety vocals, a sick beat, and also appeared on HBO’s smash hit Insecure.

Best New Artist: Amy Shark

Delicate vocals full of vulnerability and soul, Australia’s Shark is a singer-songwriter who has managed to dominate radio waves, in spite of the fact she’s only ever released a 6-track EP. Look out for her in 2018.

Worst New Artist: Cardi B

There are just so many things about Cardi B that, despite my best efforts, I just can’t.

Best Track from an Ex-Member of One Direction: “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles

This track wins mostly because the sound is just more to my liking. A little more rock ‘n roll, a little edgier. Niall’s offering was too cheesy boy band pop; Zayn’s was too over the top and all over the place.

Worst Track from an Ex-Member of One Direction: “Strip That Down” by Liam Payne feat. Quavo 

Payne just isn’t vocally strong enough to be a solo act. Everything about this screams someone who’s a little too keen on changing his image. Newsflash, Liam: it’s not working.

Best TV Soundtrack: Big Little Lies

It has everything from Leon Bridges, to Alabama Shakes, to Martha Wainwright. Oh, and this killer theme song.

Best Movie Soundtrack: Atomic Blonde

Question: what’s better than watching a stiletto-wearing Charlize Theron kick ass to the sound of new wave/rock/pop/punk 80s music? Answer: nothing.

Best Canadian Album: Everything Now by Arcade Fire

I will agree that Arcade Fire is definitely an acquired taste. But once you get into them, there’s something unique about the way they make music and put it all together, that sets them apart. This wasn’t their best album, but a solid one nonetheless.

Best Comeback: N.E.R.D.

It’s been 7 years since N.E.R.D. released an album, and 16 years (!) since their anthem “Rock Star” was released. This year’s No One Ever Really Dies is such a force, both musically and lyrically; there’s nothing out there that sounds anything like it. Bravo.

Worst Comeback: Theory of  a Deadman

Technically ToaD put out an album in 2014, but let’s be honest – it’s been at least 12 years since they released anything anyone heard, and, frankly, it should’ve stayed that way. They are, and have always been a poor man’s Nickelback.

Most Underrated Artist: Billie Eilish

Ms. Eilish released her debut EP, Don’t Smile at Me, this summer. At only 15 years old (!), she blew me away.

Most Overrated Artist: Ed Sheeran

Look, I know it’s easy to come down hard on Sheeran, but it’s just as hard not to. His music is formulaic, his vocals aren’t anything special, and he’s a ginger. Somehow, he’s heralded as the best of the best, and his smugness exacerbates with each accolade. I will never understand his appeal.

Best Cover Song: “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by London Grammar 

The key to a good cover song is to maintain the integrity of the song, while putting your own spin on it. London Grammar has done exactly this with The Verve’s 1997 classic. Grammar stripped it down, and made it more haunting. As far as covers go, it’s perfection. Not to mention, lead singer Hannah Reid kills it on vocals.

Worst Cover Song: “You Get What You Give” by Felix Cartal

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if you’re going to cover a song, make sure it’s a song that’s worth covering. The New Radicals’ original from 1998, wasn’t a good song. It was mediocre at best. Then completely changing the sound from pop/rock to techno is an even worse decision.

Best Live Show: The xx 

I’ve been to my fair share of concerts, and I can say without a doubt, The xx came out on top this year. Their music builds up so subtly, until it takes over and pulls at every emotion inside your body. The only option you have left is to dance off the emotional wreck you have become – it’s the best way to heal.

Worst Album: Reputation by Taylor Swift

Swift needs to take a chill pill. Her attempt at shedding her “good girl” image is so predictable, and so not working. No one believes her to be this villainous vixen (except maybe her millions of fans.) She tried to throw shade at the Kardashian-Wests, her music gets worse and worse with every album, and she needs to stop with the red lipstick.

Album of the Year: I See You by The xx

This album has the ability to make you feel things you never thought you could feel; it’ll make you hear things in ways you never thought possible; it’ll break your heart, sweep you off your feet; it’ll understand you like your best friend, and hurt you like your past love. All while making it impossible to resist dancing like no one’s watching.

Worst Song: “Take a Knee…My Ass” by Neal McCoy

This requires zero explanation.

Song of the Year: “Performance” by The xx

The first time I heard this song, it permeated through my skin, invaded my soul and sunk my heart; time actually stopped. The story it tells is one that resonates with us all, and its honesty is so real, it hurts. In a good way.

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Brooklyn-based The National has been around since all the way back in 2001, but I didn’t quite jump on their bandwagon until 2007’s epic Boxer. I can’t remember if it was a friend or boy of interest at the time that swayed me on to them, but whoever it was, I am forever indebted; I’ve been enamored ever since. Matt Berninger is on vocals; brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitar; brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf, on guitar and drums, respectively. If you haven’t done so yet, here’s why should give them a shot.

 

The sound: the best way to describe The National’s sound, is emotive. They’re able to masterfully evoke the sentiments of each track, pulling you deeper and deeper into their thoughtful realm. They don’t commit to any one sound exclusively, but rather to several equally. They sometimes slam the drums, and crush guitar riffs, while Berninger loses his mind on the mic. Other times, the noise is faint, the vocals barely audible, but everything is perfectly timed, building up and up with each line. You never know exactly what you’re going to get with them, which urges you to keep exploring.

 

The lyrics: there’s no hiding that The National puts out some of the most thought-provoking words out there, and with each listen, you gain more insight into their minds. They’re executed so perfectly, so delicately, ensuring every lyric has its moment to shine. Each time, their soft claws sink deeper and deeper into your soul until there’s nowhere else for them to go. You get hooked, addicted to that intense feeling. They get you to exercise that part of your brain your day-to-day life ignores. That part of your brain, that’s full of questions; that’s confused about why things are the way they are, that is full of all your vulnerabilities. They make you wonder. As heavy as that sounds, it’s also incredibly liberating.

 

The vocals: Berninger’s voice can be deep, quiet and heavy, creating a sound that reverberates in your ears, long after the music has stopped. It’s the voice we all use when we talk to ourselves, while trying to sort out everything in our minds. Berninger’s voice can also be louder and more musical, full of emotion and passion, and all the reactions to what he’s feeling. It’s the voice we use when we’re done thinking about everything and just need to let it all out. This back and forth between vocal stylings makes the lyrics and the songs all that much more relatable because we’ve all been there, we’ve all felt that.

 

The albums: when you listen to any of The National’s albums, you really have to listen to them. The albums reveal themselves more and more with each repetition, and the only way to truly understand any of them, is to pay attention. Their live shows take all of this, and heighten it even further. No song is like any other, no album is like any other. Go on their journey with them: they’ll lift you up, bring you down, and make you feel all over, but they’ll never let you go. Once you get them, you won’t be able to forget them.

Maybe it’s a sign of aging, but I find myself longing for music of the past more and more these days. I’ve never hidden the fact that the current state of music is deplorable compared to when I grew up. But this isn’t a post about that. It’s a post about trying to (rhetorically) figure out what truly connects a person to music, and if that changes over time, across generations and through individuals.

(Note: Everyone’s experience with music is different; I’m not trying to make all-encompassing blanket statements. These are just my observations over the years.)

When I was a kid, all my musical influences lay in the hands of my older family members. As such, it was all 80s rock – U2, INXS, Duran Duran, etc. At that time, cassette tapes were the only vehicle for music, and I still remember this INXS tape we had – 1987’s Kick album, loaded with classics like “Need You Tonight” and “Never Tear Us Apart.” I used to play that tape over and over and over again on my small pink tape player (that came with earbuds!) I would just lay on the ground, headphones in, and listen.

I continued on like this, album after album (including The Little Mermaid Soundtrack) until U2 essentially took over my entire world. I had this one U2 mixtape that I spent hours upon hours crafting, timing every track to perfection. I must’ve listened to it countless times over years and years. At the time, I had a shiny silver Sony Walkman that automatically switched the tape’s sides. I knew every single word to every single song on that tape – they were my first favourite band of all time, and felt like a part of me.

Adolescence is a time when one is easily influenced, inspired. We hang on to things that (we think) mean something to us. If we’re angry, we like loud music. If we like to dance, we pick dance music. Our minds are so malleable and spongey, we can absorb anything. During such a precious time, it’s also easy to just follow what your friends are doing, so you won’t feel left out. For me, it was a combination – my entire school listened to grunge in the 90s, therefore I did too. However, I also enjoyed the music, and felt some connection to it, because it became about learning about an entire genre, and all the bands involved.

But here’s what I’m trying to figure out: when I hear 90s music now, do I love it because of that previous connection to it, because of nostalgia? Is it attached to specific memories, or a more care-free time? Or do I truly think it’s better than a lot of the music of today? If I heard that same music now, what would I think? Would I enjoy it the same way, would it speak to me in the same way? Or was it just a right time, right place scenario? Let’s be real, grunge doesn’t exist anymore (in spite of some pitiful attempts at a comeback); it died a long time ago – is that why it has such a pull over me?

Same would go for those who are fans of 60s-70s music – maybe that attachment comes from the notion that there currently isn’t any music out there that resembles anything from back then. Maybe they feel like they experienced the birth and demise of a genre. Its evolution and inability to survive in the current world. Maybe they just miss it. In previous decades, music had so much more to say. Musicians used their voices to make statements.

Nowadays, the industry has gotten soft. No one (rather, not many) talk about anything real, which is why everything is so interchangeable and unrecognizable. It all kind of blurs together. For example, millennials all think Drake is the almighty – but will they still think that in 10 years? Or is it because they hear his songs at clubs and bars right now? In 10 year’s time though, will they still be going to clubs? Moreover, even if they did, would Drake still be playing over the speakers? Has the music scene just changed now?

These days, music can be heard anywhere and everywhere – which is great. But that also makes a lot of room for noise. I wonder if in this day and age, it’s possible to really connect to an artist, and still feel connected years later. If it is possible, I feel like it’ll still be different than how music was felt in the past; when you earned the ability to listen to a track over and over. You had to save up. You had to really want it, and if the album wasn’t all that good, you wouldn’t delete it or toss it, you’d make yourself listen because you invested in it. You would give it a real, solid chance.

Year after year, there’s so much turnover in tracks too, so many singles released, that it’s tough to really feel the impact of any of them, due to so much output volume. It seems as though Selena Gomez releases a track every week, so how does one even keep track? With programs like Spotify, essentially every single song you could ever want in life, can be found there. You don’t have to buy the album and only play it on your CD player, or if you’re lucky, in your car. You don’t have to commit to an artist.

You can download a track just as easily as you can delete it. No one has Walkmen/Discmen (RIP) anymore, so all music on-the-go comes from their phones. The flow of which can easily be interrupted by phone calls, txt msgs and taking photos. How are young people supposed to understand how to truly value music? People these days don’t get obsessed with albums; they get obsessed with songs. One track.

Don’t get me wrong, I use Spotify too – guilty as charged. It’s the easiest, fastest way to get a track I want when I want it. I don’t have invest so much time/energy in its acquisition. But here’s the thing: I kind of miss that process. I kind of miss getting to know the music, the artist. I kind of miss opening the plastic wrap around the CD. I kind of miss analyzing the album art, and flipping through the lyric books and footnotes. I kind of really miss that connection.