Sunday, December 28, 2014

FKA twigs 'LP1'

I didn't include this in my Best Albums of 2014 list because, despite its critical acclaim, I was pretty sure that I didn't like it. English musician FKA twigs' debut album LP1 is an eccentric and cerebral entry into this new era of "alternative" R&B (but twigs herself likes to describe as 'punk,' rather than alternative R&B). On my first listen of this record, I was baffled, confused, and left wondering why it was so acclaimed. It was praised for its subtlety, its sensuality and at times, its oddness--I didn't get any of that--Just a bunch of synths and weird non-melodic noises strung together with a feather-light vocal, interesting, it was not.

Admittedly, I had it on in the background, fading in and out of the tracks, so all of my attention, it didn't have. After a few weeks, I couldn't escape the acclaim; seeing it appear near the pinnacle of nearly all of the major music publications' Best of '14 lists. The use of words, "subtlety," "sensual," and the somewhat misguided use of the term, "alternative R&B," kept cropping up and also, comparison's to supposedly similar artists such as The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and a recent favourite, Banks. I thought, I like them all enough, why don't I like this critically acclaimed darling.

I wasn't going to force myself to like music I didn't enjoy, but LP1 had elicited some sort of cloud over my head. So, a few days ago, I put on my headphones and dedicated 40 minutes to listening to properly--and it clicked. I'd argue, the quickest an album as ever grown on me. While, I still don't enjoy it in its entirety (If I had given it a proper review, I'd probably have awarded it a 6 or 7 out of 10) I discover some of my favourite songs of the year on it.

Where the albums works is in its intricacy. It's amazing how an album that's simplistic, hollow and quiet is also complex and intricate in its composition. My current favourite track, "Lights On," begins with soft rapid bass glazed with an off kilter synth before mellowing out for the verse; a prelude to when the melody kicks in for the chorus ("When I trust you, we can do it with the lights on") a melody that's so infectious that it had me wondering what the hell I was listening to the first I listened to it. The song is definitely reminiscent of the sound black artists that are thought to make R&B music--but are actually more adventurous and versatile--I'm talking your Aaliyah's and Janet Jackson's. The song sounds like a avant-garde take on the traditional R&B song and I'm in love with it.

Other favourites include, "Pendulum," "Video Weeks," the single, "Two Weeks," and the almost gothic-inspired, "Closer." Check out some of the tracks below, if you're also late to the party:


UK Singles Chart, 28th December 2014

1. Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars

In the last chart of the calendar year, Mark Ronson's latest offering featuring Bruno Mars unseats our freshest X Factor winner, Ben Haenow's debut single from the top spot; topping the chart for a second non-consecutive week--clearing 187k in sales. In addition it also breaks its own streaming record this week--toppling the 2.3 million streams it garnered last week, with 2.4 million.

3. Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran
4. Blank Space - Taylor Swift

Sheeran spends an impressive 11th week in the top five with, "Thinking Out Loud," consequently blocking country-convert, Taylor Swift from ascending into the top three with her latest 1989 single, "Blank Space." This week, the single returns to its peak position of #4, after two weeks outside of the top five.

6. Heroes (We Could Be) - Alesso featuring Tove Lo

Swedish DJ, Alesso scores his third top ten single, and--I believe--first top ten as a lead artists. He's previously topped the chart as a feature on Calvin Harris' "Under Control" also featuring Hurts and at #8 on a remixed version of One Republic's "If I Lose Myself." This is Swedish singer, Tove Lo's second top ten, following her smash, "Habits (Stay High)."

11. Bang Bang - Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj
15. Shake it Off - Taylor Swift

This super-collab rebounds an impressive 23 spots up to #11--the longevity of this single is astonishing. It really is a shame it didn't do much to sell Jessie J's latest album Sweet Talker--which I believe was the whole point of this single. Unfortunately, Sweet Talker has yet to launch any other successful singles: Bang Bang's follow-up, "Burning Up," peaked at a lowly #79. And the fate of latest single, "Masterpeice," is to be determined.

Also re-bounding massively is Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off," climbing up 17 spots. If there ever was an obvious chart-topper that got away it would be this.

20. All I Want for Christmas is You - Mariah Carey

Dips two spots down to #20. See you next year Mimi.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Singles of 2014

Since I haven't been keeping myself up to date on my personal chart (I'm still thinking of a cool way to rejuvenate it); this year I thought instead of listing the singles that would have done well on that elusive chart, I'd list the singles that I've enjoyed (notice the omission of the word best in the title) over the last twelve months instead, with a little help from my Last.Fm account:

1. Rather Be - Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne 

First up is the first major hit from English electronic group Clean Bandit. Carried by the soulful, almost Adele-like vocal of its guest star Jess Gylnne, it's hands down, my favourite single of the year; A sweet melody, fun synths and heavy piano-driven composition that re-calls that of the '90s. And for some reason, it was the song that I had on repeat near the top of the year, when I was gradually coming out of the closet to my friends--and for that reason holds a slightly more personal meaning. Unfortunately, I haven't enjoyed Jess Glynne's solo material as much as I have this. Her second collaboration with the group will show up later. (Play count: 1,071) 

 2. Shake it Off - Taylor Swift 

When this hit Spotify back in August (before Ms. Swift removed it a couple months later) it took a hold of me and wouldn't let go, and I can't quite tell you why. Sure, it's fun and has some catchy lyrics, but it's no more remarkable than your average Katy Perry track. But still I love it dearly; so much so that it went on to become my most played song ever--overtaking Lauryn Hill's "Doop Wop (That Thing)." (Play count: 1,586)

3. Love Me Harder - Ariana Grande featuring The Weeknd 

Sure, "Problem," and "Break Free," were catchy, but I wasn't completely onboard the Ariana Express until this single, which I was enjoying way before she dropped its accompanying video. It has that pulsating, moody atmospheric aura that I've enjoyed a lot in today's modern R&B. (Play count: 626)

4. Yours - Ella Henderson

It sucks that this lovely ballad didn't get the success it deserved--despite becoming a third top twenty for the singer. I seem to be one of the few that prefers this to its much bigger predecessor, "Ghost," (omitting the somewhat underwhelming "Glow"). (Play count: 20)

5. Brain - Banks 

I don't often look at lyrics when it comes to most songs, but this one is particularly poignant--it accommodates a moody atmosphere, with sporadic, hollow beats and synths, while Banks dips into a slight lower register for the first half of the song (in comparison to the rest of the album) before some exhilarating distorted belts towards the end. I particularly love the lyric: "Everything is game; always trying to calculate. Trying to look smart, but not too smart to threaten anything they say." (Play count: 45)

Monday, December 22, 2014

UK Singles Chart, 21st December 2014

1. Something I Need - Ben Haenow

Our latest X Factor winner, Ben Haenow, tops the chart this week with his debut single, cover of One Republic's "Something I Need," becoming this year's Christmas #1. The single drummed up sales of around 214k, significantly edging out last years' winner Sam Bailey, who debuted at the top on sales of around 150k, clocking in the lowest first-week sales for an X Factor winner's single since, first winner Steve Brookstein back in 2004. I fear this maybe the only victory Haenow may have (along with his X Factor win and inevitable upcoming moderately performing second single and album...) I hope I'm proved wrong though.

2. Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars

Somewhat plagued by its early release, Mark Ronson's comeback single dips to second place (I'm betting if it had stuck to its original date, it would have sold more that 118k last week, but never mind, aye). Currently sporting a 40% lead over Haenow on iTunes, it's a no-brainer that this will return to #1 next week. Also this week, "Uptown Funk" broke the record for the most streams within a single week--in the UK (2.7 million streams), toppling previous record-holder Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud," (1.72 million). This is definitely gearing up to be the, "Happy," "Blurred Lines," etc of 2015.

4. Up - Olly Murs featuring Demi Lovato

Crashing into the top five, Olly Murs' latest single debuts in the top forty at #4, landing him his eighth top five single and Demi Lovato's third top five and fourth top ten.

5. Got No Fans - Wealdstone Raider

It's nice that the UK has a sense of humour and I guess that's all that needs to be said about this entry.

10. All About the Bass - Meghan Trainor

Meghan Trainor's "All About the Bass," re-enters the top ten in its 16th week on the chart, after it topped the chart for a whole month back in October.

16. Go All Night - Gorgon City featuring Jennifer Hudson

English electronic duo Gorgon City lands their fourth top twenty single with their latest single, "Go All Night," that sees them collaborate with American R&B Singer Jennifer Hudson, who also scores her first top twenty single since her debut single, "Spotlight," peaked at #11 in 2011.

30. Yours - Ella Henderson

It saddens me that this wasn't a bigger hit--give the push it was given with an X Factor performance--I was convinced it was going to give her some sort of Adele moment, but alas, the British public weren't having it. It's unfortunate, because it really a gorgeous song.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Miguel drops surprise EP

It seems only good things can come from this whole 'surprise release' mentality that, seemingly, more and more artists are adopting (soon there will be no more artists lip-synching or screeching on Good Morning America in a bid to promote their albums). American singer Miguel dropped a surprise three-track EP on Soundcloud this morning--not quite the high-profile circus of Beyoncè or Black Messiah--but it's Miguel, and he got in my good books after the release of his brilliant sophomore record Kaleidoscope Dream and his collaboration with Mariah Carey on 2013's "#Beautiful."

Miguel sounds just as soulful and erotic as ever, I mean just look at the cover. First up we have, "nwa" featuring rapper Kururpt (who stylistically re-calls that of Snoop Dogg and upon further investigation turns out that he's actually on Snoop's record label) which sports a minimalistic production with raw instrumentation packed beneath bursts of guitar, backed with a vocal that's reminiscent of Pharrell Williams.

"Hollywood Dreams," picks up the energy; pushing a bigger and more prominent beat and a slightly heavier electronic guitar line beneath the production.

"Coffee," illustrates moody and spacey atmospherics that feels plucked out of Kaleidoscope Dream--thus making it my favourite out of the three tracks.

Check it the EP below:

Madonna Preps 'Rebel Heart'

Madonna's thirteenth album is up for pre-order on iTunes. The release is proceeded by the album's first six tracks that are instantly available when you pre-order (the full 19 tracks is unlocked March 10)--("Living for Love," "Devil Pray," "Ghosttown," "Unapologetic Bitch," "Illuminati" and "Bitch, I'm Madonna," featuring Nicki Minaj)--collectively a mix of hard-synths, undercutting piano lines and big electronic beats--"Ghosttown" is particularly ear-catching. And it's instantly sounds better than 2012's MDNA in its entirety. Check out, "Ghosttown,' below.

Best Albums of 2014

I've been itching to get back into blogging and discuss popular music once again. I'm hoping in 2015, I'll get back in the regularity of it all again--like I did 2008-2012. But anyway, here is my list of my best... or rather, favourite albums of 2014: 

1. Jessie Ware - Tough Love. Whilst the critics loved it, I wasn't a fan of English singer, Jessie Ware's debut album Devotion. There's no eloquent way to put it: I just simply found it boring and a little meandering. However, this sophomore offering is quite the turnaround. Tough Love takes the sensuality that the critics loved about its predecessor and injected life, delivering a set of beautifully crafted take on pop that comfortably stretches over R&B, soul and sort-of modernist Motown. Best Track: Kind of... Sometimes... Maybe.

2. D'Angelo & The Vanguard - Black Messiah. I believe this is the album that made every music enthusiast appreciate neo-soul again. American singer, D'Angelo delivered his first album since 2000's Voodoo fourteen years ago (which is still a regular fixture in my music-listening routine). Aside from the fact that this is a great soul record, what's more impressive is how effortlessly D'Angelo makes it seems like no time has passed since Voodoo, and seems to pick up where that album left off. Best Track: Really Love.

3. Sam Smith - In the Lonely Hour. As far as lovely ballads that tug at the heart-strings go, Sam Smith delivered the years' most beautiful and lovelorn record, carried by his incredibly emotive and soulful vocal. Best Track: Leave Your Lover. 

4. Hozier. Irish singer/songwriter Hozier weaved together elements from blues, soul and indie rock, overcut with his booming, soulful, versatile vocal, to create his wonderful eponymous debut album. Best Track: Take Me to Church. 

5. Taylor Swift - 1989. Taylor's fifth album is the year's biggest success story in more ways than one: Becoming only one of three albums (with the Frozen soundtrack and Sam Smith's album) to sell a million copies--which it did in its first week (her third record to do so) and just all-round being a successful detour from the country/pop that she had showcased on her last four albums (maybe sans Red) Best Track: Out of the Woods. 

6. Tinashe - Aquarius.  It didn't hit me until this year that there is a new age of R&B arising (PBR&B), popularized by the likes of Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and FKA Twigs (who unfortunately doesn't feature on my list). The general sound is  moody, atmospheric soundscapes with hushed synths and a soft vocal: American singer Tinashe's debut is another entry into this new sound and it's pretty good. Best Track: Feels Like Vegas. 

 7. The Veronicas. The last Veronicas album, seven years ago, is still one of my favourite pop albums ever. I'm not sure why the follow-up took so long, but it was definitely worth the wait. Capitalising on their signature mix of rock, pop with electronic undertones. Best Track: Line of Fire. 

8. Banks - Goddess.  Similar to Tinashe's debut, but with a more alternative edge, Bank's debut album is downbeat, synth-laden and mood stricken, with a vocal reminiscent of that of Aaliyah. Best Track: Brain.

9. St. Vincent. Four albums deep into her career, this is the first record I've heard of American singer St. Vincent and it's brilliant--an eccentric and stylish exploration of different types of rock to thrilling results. Best Track: Birth in Reverse. 

10. Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow. Great follow-up to A Different Kind of Fox, another captivating record from the British band. 

11. Azealia Banks - Broke with Expensive Taste. After numerous delays and run-in's with celebrities on Twitter, rapper Azalea Banks finally dropped her much-awaited debut album--ambitious, creative, assertive and at time strange--it's everything I expected and ultimately, wanted. Best Track: Desperado.

12. Beck - Morning Phase. Up until this release, I hadn't listened to a Beck album since 2002's Sea Change, but with all the acclaim I couldn't resist. Understandably, he's in a different space musically than he was twelve years ago as the deep hypnotic, spacey instrumentation I loved about that record has been replaced with a country/folky mentality that's just as satisfying and enjoyable. 

13. Mariah Carey - Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse. There was no way I wasn't going to include this. It hasn't been the best year for Mariah--a flop album, divorce and criticisms over her vocal--but still, through the bullshit, managed to deliver a stellar R&B album. Best Track: You Don't Know What to Do.  

14. Royal Blood. Think Disclosure and then think unapologetic early 2000's rock. Heavy guitars, drums and vocals to die for (almost Matt Bellamy like)--British rock duo Royal Blood delivered an impressive debut. Best Track: Little Monster.

15. Ariana Grande - My Everything. Ariana's first album was great because it reminded me of '90s R&B (my favourite genre of music) a sound that she was able to pull off effectively thanks to her silky, Mariah-esque vocals. This follow-up definitely wasn't a '90s throwback, but enjoyable nonetheless: A masterclass in mainstream pop. Best Track: Love Me Harder.  

16. Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear. This album delivered one of the year's biggest pop hits ("Chandelier"), thankfully there was more to it than that, abliet a lot it more commercial than her previous work, but there's nothing wrong with that. Best Track: Free the Animal. 

17. Ed Sheeran - X. My best friend said Ed Sheeran's sophomore album sounded like Ed Sheeran parodying himself. For a while I agreed, however eventually the set grew me. What's not to love, even if it's just for the lovelorn "Thinking Out Loud." Best Track: Thinking Out Loud. 

18. Interpol - El Pintor. Interpol delivered their best album since their debut: Hollowing, textured galvanising guitars and drum work. 

19. Charli XCX - Sucker. Following a high-profile feature that put her on the map, British singer/songwriter Charli XCX dropped her fun, indie-punk/electronica pop-infused eponymous debut. Best Track: Break the Rules 

20. Nicki Minaj - The Pinkprint. If we pretend that, "Anaconda" doesn't exist, Nicki Minaj's third album isn't bad--there's a lot to like, it's relieves us of the hyper-eccentric and disjointed nature of her last album delivers more downbeat and introspective. Best Track: All Things Go. 

21. The Black Keys - Turn Blue. Eight album from American rock duo and third full-length collaboration with producer Danger Mouse landed the band yet another solid offering in their inventory. 

22. Alt-J - This is All Yours. The second album English band Alt-J wasn't as interesting as their debut, turning in something more downbeat, a little experimental and odd-Miley Cyrus sampling, but still thoroughly enjoyable. 

23. Kiesza - Sound of a Woman. From the, "ooh ah" screech of lead single, "Hideaway," to the '90s house beats of, "No Enemiesz," Canadian singer, Kiesza's major label debut is an album filled with '90s nostalgia. 

24. Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways. There aren't that many rock bands I like that are as consistently good as the Foo Fighters. And this album is no exception--it didn't hit me as hard as 2011's Wasting Light, but the energy is still as potent as ever. 

25. Iggy Azalea - The New Classic / Reclassified. Think of this as a pop album, rather than a rap one and then the controversy surrounding Iggy Azalea as a rapper fades away. Best Track: Fancy. 

Significant mentions: 

Silk Rhodes - Growing Pains
Lykke Li - I Never Learn
FKA Twigs - LP1 (Critically acclaimed, but just too skeletal and minimalistic for me to enjoy)  
Jhenè Aiko - Souled Out
J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hill Drive
Tove Lo - Truth Serum EP
Ella Henderson - Chapter One
Ben Howard - I Forgot We We Were
Thom Yorke - Tomorrow's Modern Boxes (Not really for me, I appreciate what he tried to do)
Lana Del Ray - Ultraviolence (Interesting, but didn't enjoy it as much as her last album)