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01 Jan

The Top 11: Favorite Albums of 2013

If 2013 has taught me anything, it is to get back on board with this blog! Since I’ve been busy with my other blog, PopRedux80, I haven’t had time to concentrate on this one. Hopefully, I’ll rectify that this coming year. (Ah – a new year’s resolution!).

For the most part, music this past year was pretty good and I think an improvement over 2012. I discovered some new artists who delivered excellent debuts and also heard solid efforts by artists I’ve previously followed. I still found myself craving older stuff and got totally lost in collecting Northern Soul, fleshing out more of my old 80s faves, and deep diving into the Nilsson catalog. Although CDs are still my primary purchase point, I’m getting more digitally inclined and have downloaded more this year. Spotify has been a constant companion and despite those folks who think it’s bad for artists, it has opened up my ears to a lot more music that I would not normally have heard and I have purchased music and supported artists due to this access (and I subscribe to the service). I’ve taken part in Kickstarter and Pledge Music campaigns this year (including the one for my #1 album of the year) and look forward to doing more funding. I still think the business of music is in flux and will be for a while, but while this is happening it’s still the music that matters and here are my faves that kept the beat alive for me this past year.

1. “To Hell with You” by Bleu – Bleu’s second funding campaign proved to be even more successful than the first and along with that came his most adventurous outing to date. He takes you on a journey that starts with an orchestral overture and deftly moves through power pop, electronica, and even rap. Some fans grumbled about the side steps out of Bleu’s power pop wheelhouse, but I thought it was awesome to see an artist grow yet still maintain their identity. Hands down it was the disc I played the most through the year and each time I hear it, I end up thinking that I can’t wait to find out what he does next. This is one of my favorite tracks. The album should be available in iTunes soon and also on BandCamp.

2. “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk – I’m not the biggest fan of EDM, but when it is done like this album, I’m totally on board. Plus, Paul freakin’ Williams is on here! This one has made a ton of “best of year” lists and rightly so.

3. “Tales of Us” by Goldfrapp – Sumptuous and haunting, they tone down the hot 80s beats of their last outing for something quiet and beautiful. For me, they have yet to disappoint.

4. “Samson & Delilah” by VV Brown – Talk about a change of direction, this disc completely tosses out the fun pop of her debut in favor of dark electro grooves. When artists make such a drastic change, the odds are not in their favor that it will work. For Brown it does in spades and it shows the beginnings of a true chameleon, which is quite exciting. Too bad it virtually got ignored here in the US.

5. “Departure & Farewell” by Hem – It has been way too long since their last disc and this picks up where they left off. Their music is precious and almost fragile, but it seems with age there is an added strength that has made this effort more confident. I’m glad I finally got to see them live this year – they did not disappoint.

6. “The Next Day” by David Bowie – In a mega-long career like Bowie’s, there is that inevitable moment when a new disc is heralded as a return to their classic sound and it usually is not (and it usually disappoints). In this case, it was spot-on. There is a lot of sound here from various Bowie periods, yet he does it all in a way that makes it fresh.

7. “In Time” by The Mavericks – Absent for ten years, this group comes back as if they never left. Solid songs, tight playing, and Raul Malo’s voice still soaring, this was as good of a comeback as anyone could hope to have.

8. “Same Trailer Different Park” by Kacey Musgraves – Although technically not a debut (she had a couple self/indie discs), it was her first major release and so for me this was the best debut album of the year. Musgraves sounds great, but it is her writing that is the real star here. If she can keep up (or exceed) this quality, she has superstar written all over her.

9. “Swings Both Ways” by Robbie Williams – Released in the UK near the end of the year, this scattered disc of originals and standards plays surprisingly well. It can be fun, serious, and quite campy and Williams pulls it off like a musical magic trick. The wink-wink title kind of lets you know what you are in for and luckily it is for a good time.

10. “The Electric Lady” by Janelle Monae – Keeping up with the theme set by her prior two discs, Monae comes out again with another disc of interesting jams and oddities surrounded by a slightly incoherent story. It plays just as big as her last epic and can get a little tiresome, but she is always interesting.

11. “ARTPOP” by Lady Gaga – I never thought this would appear on my list. On first listen, I didn’t like the album. A lot of it seemed to replay stuff she has already done and was almost laughable (not in a good way). But the more listened to it, the more it stuck with me. She doesn’t advance her craft here, however the results become more interesting with each listen and I found myself digging it and her new family of characters.

Honorable Mentions:  “All’s Well that Ends Well” by The Candle Thieves, “Wonderful, Glorious” by Eels, “Speak a Little Louder” by Diane Birch, “Pure Heroine” by Lorde, “The Diving Board” by Elton John, “Heartthrob” by Tegan and Sara, “The Lone Bellow” by The Lone Bellow, “Forever Endeavour” by Ron Sexsmith, “Electric” by Pet Shop Boys.

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10 Feb

The Top 11: Favorite Albums of 2012

If I could choose a word to describe the year in albums, I’d probably go with “bleh.” While there was some quality discs done, there was nothing released that would even come close to making it into my all-time favorites list. In fact, for a good chunk of the year I was hooked on older albums by artists I recently discovered. For me, there were no potential classics in the bunch and none that I listened to so intently and so often that I know the album front to back. But there were some that caught my attention and the following would be my favorites for the year.

1.  “Making Mirrors” by Gotye – Okay, yes, I know that chances are good he will come and go like yesterday’s dinner, but I really liked quite a lot of this album. It may not be the best and may only be remembered by its one major hit, but I think of all new albums listened to this year, I spun this one the most.

2.  “Some Nights” by fun. – I thoroughly enjoyed the updated retro sound of this disc. Parts of it are very Queen-esque and it sounds wonderful. They are an appropriately named band.

3.  “Blunderbuss” by Jack White – This one surprised me. The White Stripes were hit and miss with me so I never fully jumped on that bandwagon. But “Love Interruption” bowled me over and “Sixteen Saltines” stomped on me. I doubt it will win but I’m pulling for this to get the Grammy for Album of the Year.

4.  “Someday” by Susanna Hoffs – Again, another great surprise. Although it really shouldn’t be. She had been doing great work with Matthew Sweet on a couple of duet albums and the Bangles put out a fine collection last year. But I think it was just the expertly breezy and effortless sounding songs that hooked me. It sounds like an artist in her prime to me.

5.  “NORDO” by Air Traffic Controller – The crazy, catchy “Hurry Hurry” is the highlight, but the album is filled with terrific songs from this Boston-based band, produced by the brilliant Bleu.

6.  “Heaven” by Rebecca Ferguson – A runner-up on the UK’s “X-Factor,” the disc does not sound like the typical singing contest release. It sounds like a full-fledged artist who had some control over direction and writing her material. Once in a great while these show do find someone truly talented, and she is one of them.

7.  “Our Version of Events” by Emeli Sande – Another British singer/writer who I just happened upon while watching videos on a plane from the UK back home. I loved her song “Heaven,” but the album goes way deeper. This was the best-selling album in the UK last year and it is well-deserved. It’s a shame it didn’t catch fire here in the US.

8.  “The Sound of the Life in the Mind” by Ben Folds Five – The group’s return to the studio was welcomed and did not disappoint. The sound is there as well as a lot of the material, but at this point in time they are too long in the tooth to get college-quirky with “Draw a Crowd” stating “draw dicks on a wall.” But overall, a solid return.

9.  “The Truth About Love” by P!nk – She always has quality singles and solid album cuts, but it really all comes together on this disc. Probably her best overall album.

10.  “Out of the Game” by Rufus Wainwright – Oh, thank ye Mr. Wainwright for getting out of the dirge funk and getting back to what makes you special. It’s not all sunshine and roses (and shouldn’t be), but this was like the parting of the clouds and rays of light warming things up.

11.  “Fanatic” by Heart – Their previous album “Red Velvet Car” was outstanding. This one doesn’t quite match that quality, but it is still damn good. While some long-standing rock artists have softened their sound and struggle writing quality material, it’s great to see someone like Heart still out there, still rockin’, and still writing solid tunes.

Honorable Mentions:  “Wrecking Ball” by Bruce Springsteen, “Magic Hour” by Scissor Sisters, “Release Me” by Barbra Streisand, “Tinsel and Lights” by Tracey Thorn, “Skulk” by Jim Moray, “4th Street Feeling” by Melissa Etheridge, “A Different Kind of Truth” by Van Halen, “Synthetica” by Metric

Categories: Music, The Top 11 Tags:
01 Jan

The Top 11: Favorite Songs of 2012

I’m not sure if I was a big fan of the music put out in 2012. When going back over the albums and songs that I either purchased or listened to, I realized that there were very few that I spun over and over again. There was quality stuff released, but just not as much that really hooked me. But like every year there are always songs that stand out and received repeated plays (and tweets) over the year. The following are my personal favorites for 2012. They may not be for everyone, and that is okay. Music is very subjective and that’s what makes lists like this fun to share. You never know when you may discover something awesome on one!

1.  “I Feel Better” by Gotye – His other song was the top chart single of the year, but this track from his album was the one that hooked me. A little retro blue-eyed soul ala Steve Winwood. I played this track more than any other this year.

2.  “Into the Wild” by LP – This song I had heard on a commercial and it was the voice that drew me to it. I found the song and was blown away. Seek out the live version on YouTube. It is awesome. Can’t wait for a full album.

3.  “Shoulder to Shoulder” by Rebecca Ferguson – A contestant from the British X-Factor, she released a terrific album that didn’t catch here. It is unfortunate as this really lovely ballad should prove. Y’all missed out on this one.

4.  “Sixteen Saltines” by Jack White – A massive blast of White Stripey-ness that I could not get out of my head. Grabbed me from the opening line and never let up.

5.  “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye – I discovered this track long before it was a single in the US and I played it for someone and told them “this song is gonna be huge.” I was not wrong.

6.  “Hurry Hurry” by Air Traffic Controller – The brilliant Bleu co-wrote this immensely catchy and fun song and turned into a major earworm for me earlier this year.

7.  “Some Nights” by fun. – I really liked “We Are Young,” but when I got the album, it was this opening track that caught my attention. They really did bring a lot of “fun.” to this year.

8.  “Love Interruption” by Jack White – The chorus of this song got tattooed in my head for a while and it was a real ear worm. But in a good way.

9.  “Fall From Grace” by Meat Loaf – His new album slipped through the cracks here although it was a hit in other countries. This track was co-written by Bleu (the second on this list) and is the best song on the disc. Should have been the lead single.

10.  “Maybe” by Emeli Sande – I was on a plane back from the UK and was playing videos as I didn’t want to watch a movie and this artist came up with her song “Heaven.” I thought it was pretty great so I got the disc. This ballad was my favorite from the album.

11.  “Run Run Run” by The Explorers Club – This was one of those freak things were I just happened to listen to an album by chance. It was total retro love at first listen.

Honorable Mentions:  “Picture Me” by Susanna Hoffs, “Big Love” by Jim Moray, “Home” by Phillip Phillips, “Bite Your Tongue” by Chantal Claret, “If I Didn’t Know Better” by Sam Palladio/Clare Bowen, “Undermine” by Charles Esten/Hayden Panettiere, “Safe and Sound” by Taylor Swift/Civil Wars, “Heaven” by Emeli Sande, “What Now” by Rihanna, “Oh My!” by Haley Reinhart, “Wild” by Gregory Douglass

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04 Nov

Recipe: Caramel Apple Dip

I realized the other day that part of this blog was supposed to be about food. I love to cook and bake. I’ve done it since I was a kid and one day I asked my mom to make some cookies and she said she was busy and that if I wanted them, I had to make them. So she got out the recipe and had me follow it and make the cookies. Of course, as a kid my attention span was short, so I made one tray and that was all I need. Mom finished up the rest. To this day, I still hate baking trays and trays of cookies. But it gave me the bug to start making things on my own. I seem to have a knack for doing it and I really enjoy creating in the kitchen. My favorite thing is making Sunday dinner. It is rare that a Sunday will go by that I’m not making a big meal. My best dishes (and experiments) and usually reserved for that day. So for those that know me, if you are in the area give me a call – I always have plenty to share!

A friend reminded me of this the other day so I thought I’d share it. This is incredibly simple, yet so very good. It’s great for a party or just as a snack or dessert. Anyone can make this and if you have kids it is also something that they could do. Enjoy!

Caramel Apple Dip

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

apples

Beat the cream cheese in a bowl with an electric mixer (or stand mixer) until smooth. Add brown sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until smooth and fluffy. Scrape into a serving bowl. Cut a couple of apples, remove core, and slice into 12 or more pieces. Serve apples with dip.  (Note: if apples are to stay out for a while and not eaten right away, you can put a little orange juice in a bowl and toss the apple slices with the orange juice. This will prevent any immediate browning.)

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16 Sep

A Blip of a Movie Review: “Possession”

Alternative Title: “What’s in the Box, Bitch?”

Short Plot: Supposedly based on a true story, a young girl from broken family finds a cool box at a garage sale, it starts talking to her, she opens it, moths fly around, she changes, dad is confused, mom is pissed, the girl gets freaky, and Matisyahu tries to save the day.

Pros: Sad to say, not much positive here. The girl who gets possessed (Natasha Calis) is very good. She goes from adorable to demonic in a flash. The high points of the movie are when she is on screen. If this had been an excellent film, I think there would have been valid comparisons to Linda Blair’s “Exorcist” performance. Unfortunately, she will get overlooked because the movie is just not good. And the box is cool, called a Dybbuk box, it is said to hold a Jewish evil or demon. Look for one at your local garage sale…

Cons: With Sam Raimi producing, I was hoping for something good and scary. Didn’t happen. When you find yourself chuckling in scenes that are supposed to be intense, it’s a sign that this is not working. Plus, the dad is a macho-assed basketball coach who flips from not knowing what is going on with his daughter to fully believing she is possessed within a matter of minutes. And the mother’s character is just as bad in believing her ex physically abused his daughter and then all of a sudden unites with him over their daughter’s possession. And the exorcism itself is practically laughable especially when it takes place in a hospital basement physical rehab room where no one goes and no one can even hear the screams and other stuff going on. Girl, please.

Verdict: For me, I know when I’ve seen a good horror film when I’m nervously trotting from my car to the house in the dark, or when I get up for something in the middle of the night and I avoid looking outside or in mirrors, or if thoughts of the movie keep me awake – especially days later. After this film, I slept peacefully and never gave it a second thought. If you are going to make a possession/exorcism film these days you should automatically know it will get compared to “The Exorcist.” So you better bring something new to the table in order to stand out. Alas, nothing here except big disappointment.

Rating: 1 out of 5 Blips

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