My Favorite Albums of 2013 – So Far

I’ve not been too impressed with music released in 2013 so far. Last year at this time, I had no problem coming up with several albums for my list of favorites released in the first half of 2012.

This year, I’m not taken with certain albums that I had really been looking forward to hearing. New music from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Paramore leave me less than thrilled. The 2012 album from Tegan and Sara is okay, but not great. Otep gave us Hydra, which is too heavy with the amount of talking on the album. Jennifer Love Hewitt, whose voice I absolutely adore, released a new single from her show, The Client List, but I’ve not seen an album. I would have absolutely loved a new Jennifer Love Hewitt album.

As I’ve admitted on this blog before, while I’ve plenty of favorite music by male vocalists from last century, I’ve found that in this century my tastes are partial to female vocalists. So the list below is biased, leaning entirely to albums with female vocalists. Don’t get all bent because I didn’t include David Bowie’s latest release, for which he couldn’t be bothered to use some decent cover art. Maybe some day I’ll bother to listen to the album. I do love Space Oddity and other classic David Bowie tracks. But I don’t get the statement he was trying to make with the cover for this latest release. I don’t need anyone’s explanation about it either. Art should stand on its own.

I don’t have enough favorite albums from the year so far to create a top 10 list. So here are my top 5 favorite albums for the first half of 2013. Continue reading

My Favorite Artists and Songs for 2012, #10 to #1

You might wish to start at the beginning of this Top 40 series if you missed it.

Continuing from last post… This particular list is of favorite songs I listened to in 2012, allowing no more than one song by any artist in the list. I’ve restricted my list to tracks released in 2012 if the artist in question released any tracks in 2012. Otherwise, I went back to 2011 or, in one exceptional case in my top 10, back to 2008.

Here then is my list of favorite tracks played on my music player in 2012. In this fourth of four posts, I list tracks #10 to #1.

#10: The Ting Tings – Give It Back

The album Sounds From Nowheresville was a much anticipated album for me. Having fallen in love with the sound of The Ting Tings on their 2008 album, We Started Nothing, I was ready for more music in the same style. Sounds From Nowheresville feels more experimental in nature and I’m not so crazy about a couple of the tracks, but I can allow The Ting Tings their indulgences. While their defining hit may remain That’s Not My Name, they still have a lot of music in them, and I’m glad they brought some of it out and shared with the rest of us in 2012. I hope they don’t wait as long for album number three, but I know they will take the time to make it as perfect as they can, too.

#9: Fiona Apple – Hot Knife

The minimalist approach to music works for some artists. It worked for Fiona Apple with her 2012 release, although there is nothing minimalist about the album title: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. My favorite track from the album, Hot Knife, has many musical layers to it, which I find more intriguing than the album’s single, Every Single Night.

#8: Cher Lloyd – Playa Boi

After I heard some of Cher Lloyd’s music and had purchased her 2012 album, Sticks & Stones, I looked up some facts about her. She was a fourth place contestant on some reality show over in the UK. Whatever. I don’t know who she competed against or how good they were, but I like her music, and love love love the track Playa Boi. The song is based on one of my favorite 80s songs, Buffalo Stance by Neneh Cherry. Props to Cher Lloyd for bringing us a modernized version of a classic hip-hop song.

#7: Demi Lovato – Get Back

Demi Lovato didn’t have a 2012 album release. Her most recent album, Unbroken, was released in 2011. I listened to Unbroken some during 2012, but the one Demi Lovato track that I play over and over, year after year, is Get Back, from the 2008 album Don’t Forget. Although the song was released back in 2008, I can’t get enough of it. Sometimes I get in this mood where I want to listen to Get Back on repeat and listen to it all freakin’ day long. So while I like some of Demi’s other songs, including the wonderful Skyscraper, I have to list Get Back as my favorite Demi Lovato track for 2012, even if it’s four years old. I considered ranking it at #1, but it didn’t seem right to rank it that high when this is supposed to be a list for 2012. The #7 spot will have to suffice.

#6: Mazzy Star – Lay Myself Down

I was hoping for a Mazzy Star full-length studio album release in 2012. I didn’t see it. But they had released a couple of new songs in 2011. I didn’t find out about them until 2012. So I listened the hell out of them this past year. The track Common Burn was intended as the single, but I prefer the more subtle and dreamy Lay Myself Down.

#5: Garbage – The One

Yet another classic band who came back with a great album in 2012. Not Your Kind Of People is classic Garbage while being new at the same time. The One is a rocking song that also reminds me of Shirley Manson’s stint as a robot on a too-short-lived television show. But Manson’s vocals are the real draw, and not just on The One, but all of he tracks on the album. As a side note, I found the eponymous Angelfish album on Amazon, and it’s also full of tracks with Manson’s vocals. Love it, and played it a lot during 2012. I didn’t include it on this list because it’s from last century, 1994. :) But if you haven’t heard Angelfish and you like Garbage, you should check out the album.

#4: Marina & The Diamonds – Bubblegum Bitch

Overall, I listened to Electra Heart, the 2012 album release from Marina & The Diamonds, more than any other album in 2012. There’s not one bad song on the album. If this list were based on my favorite albums rather than my favorite tracks, Electra Heart would have ranked at #1. Bubblegum Bitch appeals to my irreverent, tongue-in-cheek side. Yes, I have such a side. But I don’t have liquor lips.

#3: Dragonette – My Legs

Some of Dragonette’s earlier songs, namely Jesus Doesn’t Love Me and Black Limousine, from the album Galore, are two of my all-time favorite tracks, by any artist. But Dragonette’s 2012 album, Bodyparts, is my overall favorite Dragonette album. My Legs is a favorite not only because of its outstanding vocals or how danceable it is, but also because I adore its lyrics. The album name, Bodyparts, is most appropriate for My Legs, and not just because of the track’s title.

#2: Halestorm – Love Bites (So Do I)

I discovered Halestorm by browsing YouTube. When I saw the video for Love Bites (So Do I), I fell in love with the song immediately, and had to hear more from the band. Lzzy is a screamer, and I like screamers when the screaming hits the right notes. After I purchased the album, The Strange Case Of…, I was playing some of the songs from the album in the car, and I left the CD in the player. My wife took the car out next, and the CD started playing automatically. I didn’t expect her to like Halestorm’s music, but she surprised me by asking me about the artist and saying how much she liked the songs. Her favorite track from the album is You Call Me a Bitch Like It’s a Bad Thing. If she and I were younger, we would have gone to a Halestorm concert when they were in Orlando recently. They are so good. On another note, the video for Love Bites is my favorite video of 2012.

#1: Siobhan Magnus – Pure Inspiration

Did I mention that I like screamers? The ultimate American Idol screamer was Siobhan Magnus. That was at a time when I was still watching American Idol. The show on which she was voted off was my last time watching AI. I just couldn’t take it anymore. So many of my AI favorites were being voted off, season after season, I finally figured out the show was too stressful for me to continue watching. But I’m glad I was introduced to a number of AI contestants who have managed to release music since their stint on AI, such as Stevie Scott, Leslie Hunt, Carrie Underwood, Katherine McPhee, Didi Benami, and Siobhan Magnus. And if you like screamers, give a listen to Siobhan’s Pure Inspiration from the album Moonbaby. She reaches heights with that song that exceed anything she did on AI. The lyrics are inspiring too, living up to the track title.

Here’s a playlist with the above songs, #10-1. Some of the songs in the playlist may be live versions or otherwise not the same as the MP3 versions.

So there you have my list of favorite artists and songs I listened to in 2012. Thank you for reading all the way to the end. I am compelled to write these yearly lists—I can’t not write them. But if someone out there enjoyed reading this list as much as I enjoyed writing it, that would be sweet. Maybe you can leave me a comment and let me know what you think of my picks, whether you agree with me at least in part or totally disagree with me.

Catch you in 2013.

Top 10 Classical Composers Part Two

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the second part of the Top 10 Classical Composers article! (The first part, composers #10 through #5, were listed in my previous post.)

Like I said last time, my taste is more geared towards the weird and the loud booming stuff. Flowery pianos and spanish guitar don’t really interest me much. Continue reading

Top 10 Classical Composers Part One

No, not like classical rock, but music with an orchestra! You know, folks like Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart.

These days most folks don’t seem to appreciate the intricacies that classical music allows for. Some of it is beautiful, some is boring, and some will shake your speakers.

As a disclaimer, I don’t mean ‘classical’ as a time period. This is an opinion piece, and most of my favorites aren’t even from that era. Rather, I enjoy romantic, modern, and post-modern classical music. Continue reading

Top Albums of 2012 – So Far, #1: Marina & the Diamonds – Electra Heart

Marina and the Diamonds - Electra Heart The first time I heard Marina & the Diamonds (a solo act despite an implication to the contrary by the artist’s name) was on Last.fm radio. The only Marina & the Diamonds track on the site was Mowgli’s Road. It popped up on my recommended-for-you radio station and caught my attention as the only recommended track played that day that I had any interest in. I took note of the artist’s name and decided to check out the act when I had time later to research them better.

That was in December, 2010. I heard the song a few more times on Last.fm radio after that, and finally in April, 2011, I just had to find the album for that track, because I wanted to hear other works by the artist. Fortunately, Amazon had the album, The Family Jewels, and the album became my #1 most-played album of 2011.

A year later, on April 27, 2012, Marina & the Diamonds released her latest album, Electra Heart, in the US. I’d had the opportunity to listen to some of the tracks from the new album before the album’s release, and I knew this album would be one of my most-played for this year. It will be difficult for any other album released this year to demand my attention more than Electra Heart does.

The lyrics, rhythm, use of electronics, and Marina’s amazing vocal range—especially in the lower registers—are a combination that enthralls me. I can sit and listen to Electra Heart on repeat and hear something new every time through. There are layers upon layers of complexity in her music that you don’t typically find in pop music, and that you won’t notice if you only give the album a single listen or don’t pay attention.

I’m embedding below the official Marina & the Diamonds YouTube playlist for Electra Heart. Included in this playlist are video interviews, acoustic versions of tracks, and official music videos for some of the tracks from the album. I find the video interviews interesting, as they give you Marina’s perspective on her songs, and will help you to better understand what I’m talking about in saying that her music has layers of complexity, though even she admits that some of the tracks have deeper meaning than others, while some are just pure fun, like most pop music.

The acoustic tracks don’t have the same complexity in the music as the electric versions, but they allow you to experience Marina’s vocals in a more intimate way. I prefer the electric versions, although the instruments in the acoustic version of Primadonna are exceptional. If you’re already a fan of the electric version of Primadonna and haven’t yet listened to the acoustic version, I recommend you give it a listen. Continue reading

Top Albums of 2012 – So Far, #2: Garbage – Not Your Kind of People

Garbage - Not Your Kind Of People Released on May 22, 2012, Not Your Kind of People, the fifth studio album from Scottish-American rockers Garbage, didn’t exactly hit the sweet spot for many music critics. All I can say to them is: It’s not your kind of music, so go away and listen to your kind of musicians, your rappers and your whiny boys. For Garbage fans, Not Your Kind of People is the fix we needed after a 7-year hiatus. When it comes to Shirley Manson’s vocals and the high production values that she and the other band members—Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, and Steve Marker—bring to every Garbage album, there can’t be too much of a good thing. This latest album is at once nostalgic and fresh, and that isn’t an easy feat.

When I listen to Not Your Kind of People, I hear music that is familiar yet strange. It’s familiar because it has that distinctive Shirley Manson and Garbage sound, but it’s strange because the songs sound too familiar for having been released this year. On the other hand, while I get this feeling I’ve known these songs for over a decade, they give me unexpected twists in both the music and the lyrics.

Yes, I’ve been a huge Garbage fan since they released their eponymous debut album in 1995. Garbage was distinctly different from all the other bands in 1995. They sound today a lot like they did back then, but they are still distinctly different from all the other bands today.

Not Your Kind of People isn’t a perfect album. I admittedly like Garbage’s first three albums better than their last two, though I will be quick to add that I like Not Your Kind of People better than Bleed Like Me. The two tracks from Not Your Kind of People I’m least taken with are Bright Tonight and Beloved Freak, neither of which are terrible, mind you, but they each lack a certain spark, as though the band isn’t putting their all into the tracks. I’m not familiar with the poets whose work they allegedly sampled for those two tracks, so maybe that has something to do with my inability to relate. I’ve never been into poetry, which is curious since poetry and music are highly similar.

Two not-so-great tracks do not make for a bad album. Besides which, Bright Tonight isn’t on the standard edition of the album anyway; it’s only on the deluxe edition. But then, two of my favorite tracks, The One and What Girls Are Made Of, are also on the deluxe edition, and they more than compensate for the two less satisfactory tracks. The One should be a single. It is so spirited, energetic, and electric; it may well be the one best track on the entire album, so I can’t stress it enough that if you purchase the album, make sure to buy the deluxe version. I hope they make a music video for The One.

Speaking of music videos, the two tracks from Not Your Kind of People that Garbage has chosen so far to create videos for wouldn’t have been my first choices. While I like Blood for Poppies and Big Bright World well enough, I like several other tracks better, especially Automatic Systematic Habit, Felt, Man on a Wire, Sugar, and the two deluxe tracks I’ve already mentioned. The chorus for Blood for Poppies is what bugs me; it’s as much pop as it is alternative rock, which makes it feel less like a Garbage track. Likewise, Big Bright World is too big and bright for a Garbage track. Continue reading

Top Albums of 2012 – So Far, #3: Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do Fiona Apple apparently enjoys long album titles. The full title for her latest album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, is shorter than her second album’s full title, a poem consisting of over 400 characters, which most people simply refer to as When the Pawn. I think we should all start referring to her latest album as The Idler Wheel.

How can an idler wheel be wise?

Fiona Apple doesn’t think on the same wavelength as the rest of us. To say that she is quirky is like saying the sun is hot—an understatement of extreme proportions. But this is what makes her the exceptional artist that brings us the masterpiece of The Idler Wheel. We all find her interesting because she is different, like an alien creature observing us and telling us about ourselves, but in her own alien language, which sounds like our language, but we don’t fully understand it. The secrets of the universe reside in her words, if we can but grasp their truths.

Or maybe it’s only nonsense.

He makes my heart a CinemaScope screen
Showing a dancing bird of paradise

She is saying that he makes her happy and excited, right? But what a unique way to say it. I love it.

The above lyrics are from Hot Knife, my favorite song from The Idler Wheel. I enjoy the imagery of the song and the harmonies of the layered vocals. It probably won’t be released as a single because it’s not mainstream enough, and an official video for it will probably not be produced for the same reason, but here’s a quirky fan-made video for the song. The video doesn’t portray for me what the song is really about, but then neither would a fan-made video featuring a CinemaScope screen and a bird of paradise. Continue reading

Top Albums of 2012 – So Far, #4: The Pierces – You & I

The Pierces - You & I You & I by sister act The Pierces was released in the UK in 2011, but according to Amazon it was released in the US on March 26, 2012, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s a 2012 album. I first discovered The Pierces on Amazon while surfing for inexpensive albums from artists I’d never heard before, and came across their third album, Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge. (Prices fluctuate on Amazon, so if you keep an eye out for good deals, you can find them. I seldom pay more than US $5.00 for an MP3 album.) I was so taken with their third album, I purchased a copy of their latest album, You & I, shortly after it was released in the US.

Allison and Catherine Pierce, aka The Pierces, are a New York-based duo. They released their first album, the eponymous The Pierces, back in 2000. They followed that up with Light of the Moon in 2005. Neither album made much of an impact on the music scene in the US. Their third album finally earned them some recognition, both in the US and the UK. Two of the tracks from that album, Secret and Boring, are my favorite tracks by the duo.

The Pierces

While their fourth album, You & I, doesn’t deliver my favorite tracks by The Pierces, it does deliver 11 solid alternative folk-rock tracks that I can listen to over and over. The standout track is You’ll Be Mine, the first track on the album. The song has great rhythm and the sisters’ vocals harmonize perfectly. Catherine is smashing on the lead vocals. Continue reading

Top Albums of 2012 – So Far, #5: The Ting Tings – Sounds From Nowheresville

The Ting Tings - Sounds From Nowheresville Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings was my most anticipated album of 2012. I’ve listened to their debut album, We Started Nothing, more than all but two other albums over the past five years, and was ready for more new tracks from the duo. They had announced work on an album to be called Kunst, but they decided not to stick with that title, and for a while I didn’t hear anything further about their sophomore attempt. I began to wonder if they had ditched the whole album and were starting over from scratch. They released Hands, but it wasn’t clear to me if it was to be on their second album or not.

The Ting Tings - Sounds From Nowheresville Deluxe Edition Then they announced that the title of their second album would be Sounds From Nowheresville, and they sounded sure of themselves this time. Sounds was released in the US on February 24, 2012, and I grabbed my copy right away.

Sounds From Nowheresville isn’t an attempt to repeat what The Ting Tings did with We Started Nothing. I believe Katie and Jules were trying to avoid releasing a sophomore album that sounded like a rehash of their debut album. If so, they succeeded, but perhaps too well. For me, We Started Nothing is the superior album. It’s as if they had poured their best ideas into their debut album, and didn’t know how to top it.

Having said that, I can still say that I like Sounds From Nowheresville. It won’t replace We Started Nothing as my #3 album of the past five years, but it’s still in my top 100, and I’m still listening to it regularly.

The best song on Sounds From Nowheresville is the rap-styled Hang It Up. I say that despite my admitted dislike for most rap-style songs. Continue reading

Top Albums of 2012 – So Far, #6: Halestorm – The Strange Case Of…

Halestorm - The Strange Case Of... There have been a few brother/sister acts who have done well in the music business. My favorite brother/sister acts to date are The Carpenters and Boomkat. Now I’m adding Halestorm to that short list. The Hale siblings, Arejay and Elizabeth “Lzzy,” started out as a teen duo in the late 90s, releasing their first EP in 2000. They’ve since picked up two other band members and released two full-length albums, the eponymous Halestorm and their latest album, The Strange Case Of…, released in the US on April 3, 2012.

If I were a younger man, I’d have a crush on Lzzy. But in addition to looking fine and ferocious, Lzzy has a voice that seduces as well, especially when singing the lyrics to some of Halestorm’s sexually charged tracks. At times her voice is soft and gentle, and other times hard and rough, even within the same song. Sometimes she screams, but even then she maintains control of her vocals.

My first taste of Halestorm was Love Bites (So Do I), their first single from their latest album. I’ve always been partial to songs about love hurting or stinking, not that it always does, but such songs have a way of striking a nerve and having a cathartic effect, helping a person release pent-up emotions about bad past experiences. Halestorm’s Love Bites goes even further—if you think love hurts or stinks, fine, let bad girl Lzzy show you her thousand different ways of making you forget about your love problems. Continue reading