Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Alice & Janelle

This entry is particularly exciting for me because I have been in love with these two songs for some time. I know that I say that a lot on this blog, but I am always very sincere whenever I say something like that. This entry is also exciting because I think it will be enjoyable for some of my readers who may not exactly listen to R&B.

Alice Smith and Janelle Monáe are two of R&B's brightest young talents, but describing their sound as just R&B is still a stretch. Alice Smith's debut, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, is full of melodies better suited for pop and rock, but Smith's bluesy delivery makes her overall sound hard to classify. Monáe's music goes beyond what is considered modern R&B and is reminiscent of the experimental territory covered by Kelis' first two albums and Gnarls Barkley.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Plastic Constellations - Stay That Way

The band responsible for my 3rd favorite album of 2006 is getting ready to release a new album. If I had to do my anticipated albums list today, The Plastic Constellations' We Appreciate You, which is being released in April, would place somewhere in my top ten. They've quickly become one of my current fave bands with the release of their previous two albums, 2004's Mazatlan and Crusades. Their sound combines the festive shout-along style of anthem rock with aggresive but melodic pop metal riffs. That's pretty much the formula for everyone of their songs, but it's still very distinct when compared to other bands. "Stay That Way" doesn't stray too far from the recipe and if you dig this, you'll probably dig their entire catalogue.

Plastic Constellations - "Stay That Way"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

HBE's Most Anticipated '08 Album Releases

It's a brand new year, which means a brand new slate of albums. Based on confirmed dates, rumors and a whole lot of wishful thinking, this is what I'm looking forward to most in 2008.

1. Portishead-Untitled
The trip hop outfit from Bristol have been laying low for a decade and any sign of new music comes as a welcome surprise. Their only two studio albums, Dummy and Portishead are defining albums of the 90's, so it will be interesting to see if their new output will be as fresh.

2. Los Campesinos!-Hold On Now, Youngster...
Judging from the first couple of singles and a recently posted video of them in the studio, Los Campesinos! stands to release one of the best debuts of the year, and also one of the giddiest albums of the year. If it sounds anything like the hyperactive joy of "You! Me! Dancing!", count me in.

3. Van Hunt-Popular
There's not exactly a guarantee that this album will be released since it is currently without a home after Hunt's exit from Blue Note, but the year is young, so there's hope. For that reason alone, I can't put it at #1 since its future is uncertain. But based solely on the leaps and bounds he made from the relatively safe debut to 2006's funky and wild On The Jungle Floor, this album could never see a release date and I would anticipate it forever.

4. Ladytron-Untitled
Ladytron is another group who has shown improvement with each album, and it's not as if their first one was a slouch to begin with. Their latest album, Witching Hour, saw the synth pop quartet take their sound to a darker place, but nonetheless still enriching. Another great album and I would gladly put Ladytron amongst indie's current elite.

5. Nas-Nigger
If the album had been named anything else, I might not be anticipating this as much. Nas has still managed to release solid albums, but he set the bar too high early in his career. As soon as I heard the title of the album and who was recording it, I knew that I had to listen to immediately. Nas is one of the most socially aware mainstream artists that we have right now in any genre and him dedicating an entire album to race relations has no doubt sparked a creative fire in him. He is one of the few relevant elder statesmen of hip hop and the commentary that he might provide on this album could result in a career-defining effort for him.

6. Erykah Badu-Nu AmErykah
While Worldwide Underground was enjoyable in some spots and went gold, I can't consider it a successor to Mama's Gun. Despite its long running time, that release is still considered an EP and never really felt like a proper follow-up with its loose jammy vibe. Nu AmErykah will be two discs and looks to be more cohesive.

7. Franz Ferdinand-Untitled
One word: Xenomania. The teen-pop production collective is responsible for hits by Girls Aloud, Sugababes and Cher, to name a few and the news that they would be producing some tracks for the upcoming Franz album raised a few eyebrows. It elicited nothing but glee from me. Xenomania's productions are as adventurous as anything you're likely to hear in pop or anywhere else, which I think complements Franz Ferdinand just fine. Franz Ferdinand have always had catchy hooks while Xenomania's work has always retained a bit of edge. The pairing should be more natural than that of The Mooney Suzuki and The Matrix.

8. Madonna-Untitled
Four out the last five Madonna albums are arguable classics. American Life is the only stinker she's had in a while, but she rebounded with the amazing Confession On A Dancefloor. She's built up a lot of goodwill, so even though a few of the early leaked tracks with Pharrell did not prove promising, you can't really count out Madonna.

9. The Avalanches-Untitled
Their last album, Since I Left You, is one of the best debuts of the decade and is still talked about to this day. Judging from the carefully constructed use of samples on their first album, it's no surprise that a follow-up would take nearly seven years to arrive. They have kept busy in recent years with solid remixes for The Concretes and Belle & Sebastian, so there's little worry on my end about whether they can deliver another quality album.

10. Al Green-Untitled
The big news here is that Al Green is hooking up with ?uestlove and The Roots in the studio. I say it's about time that the Reverend hooked up with some young blood to bring some life into his recording career. His last two albums on Blue Note had some decent moments, but proved ultimately forgettable in the long run. ?uestlove feels like the perfect person to helm an Al Green record. His knowledge and appreciation of classic soul will no doubt bring out shades of the Al Green that we all first fell in love with it, and he's well on his way judging from some of the leaked studio jams.

11. Estelle-Shine
Estelle's debut, The 18th Day, delivered an engaging mix of soulful beats and conscious rhymes, but her recent excellent single, "American Boy", with Kanye West suggests a happier approach. If the album does turn out to have less rapping than its predecessor, I can only hope that the quality of the songs will remain as strong.

12. N.E.R.D.-untitled album
Recent pictures from the BBC blog show N.E.R.D. in the studio with Spymob, which is a great sign, seeing as how their tight sound is part of what made the live version of In Search Of... a success. Their rhythmic punch was sorely missed on 2004's Fly Or Die and Pharrell alone in the studio has not turned out to be a good thing so far (see In My Mind).

13. The Game-LAX
The Game is such a student of hip hop history that it's hard to believe that he could ever release a duff album. He's so self-consciously aware of the ingredients that while he may not deliver anything surprising, it will still be worth spending money on. The initiative to make a classic will be even higher if this turns out to be his last album as he has been claiming recently.

14. Pas/Cal-I Was Raised On Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura
One of the most underrated indie pop acts in America will finally release a full-length album. After a few years of delivering fantastic EPs, the name Pas/Cal could finally be on the lips of music lovers across the nation.

15. Paula Campbell-I Am Paula Campbell
This Baltimore R&B songstress has been kicking around on Columbia for a few years, but it appears that she may actually be close to releasing her major label debut. The songs posted on her MySpace suggest a pretty solid and refreshing debut.

And the rest...

David Banner-The Greatest Story Ever Told
Be Your Own Pet-Get Awkward
Big Boi-untitled
Mariah Carey-That Chick
Cherish-The Truth
Dengue Fever-Venus On Earth
Dr. Dre-Detox
Eminem-King Mathers
Goldfrapp-Seventh Tree
The Like-untitled
Lil' Mama-Voice Of The Young People
Lil' Wayne-Tha Carter III
Ludacris-Theater Of The Mind
Man Man-Rabbit Hats
Missy Elliott-untitled
Teedra Moses-The Young Lioness
Murs-Murs For President
No Doubt-untitled
Q-Tip-The Renaissance
Rakim-The Seventh Seal
Rick Ross-Trilla
The Roots-Rising Down
Slim Thug-Boss Of All Bosses
Sons and Daughters-The Gift
The Streets-untitled
Vampire Weekend-Vampire Weekend
What Made Milwaukee Famous-What Doesn't Kill Us
Yo Majesty-untitled

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's been a retro kind of week

Candie Payne is one of my current obsessions right now. She's a UK singer with a penchant for hazy 60's spy music and lounge pop and also has family members in The Zutons and The Stands. Her sound is very cinematic and remniscent of early Portishead in certain spots, but it always has a melodic dazzle to it. "By Tomorrow" still has the essence of the 60's , but its go-go rush and psychedelic pop leanings are more rocking than anything on I Wish I Could Have Loved You More.

Candie Payne - "By Tomorrow"

I've also been listening to some tracks from Broadcast's 2003 album Haha Sound, which is just as retro as well. It also has some 60's sparkle to it, but it has more in common with The Velvet Underground and French pop. I almost forgot how much I loved "Before We Begin", but I'm glad to say that my love affair with it has been rekindled. It's probably one of the most accessible songs you'll find in Broadcast's catalogue and as good a place to start if you've never taken a chance on the group. And obviously, if you enjoy Stereolab, you'll enjoy the album as a whole as well.

Broadcast - "Before We Begin"

To buy Candie Payne's I Wish I Could Have Loved You More (import) from Amazon, click here

To buy Broadcast's Haha Sound from Insound, click here

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ten On Tuesdays: Ten Best Mary J. Blige singles

In honor of knocking off Josh Groban and claiming the top spot on this week's Top 200 chart, I've decided to make this edition of Ten on Tuesdays all about Mary J. Blige and what I feel are her ten best singles. So why Mary J. Blige? Well, why not? She is one of the most consistent artists that this generation has ever seen. She and Diddy revolutionized the R&B genre in 1992 with the gritty hip hop inflected What's The 411?,and she's still managed to stay relevant since then. Her career is the standard that most R&B stars, male and female, are held up to today. Plus, she's released a lot of good stuff.

10. "Be Without You" (2005)
Album: The Breakthrough
Peak chart positions: Hot 100 (3), R&B (1)

One of Mary's biggest hits to date finds her showcasing her vulnerability as well as anyone in the business. Blige's content rarely varies, so it is a testament to her beat selection and her skills as a song interpreter that she still sounds fresh after a decade-plus of recording. "Be Without You" also boasts one of the best choruses of her career. Most of her hits have been groove-oriented, but you can tell that special attention was paid to that part.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Top 200 Singles of 2007

There's usually never a lack of great singles in a year, but living in the Information Age, it is no longer possible for there to never be a great year in singles again. It is no secret that the pop universe revolves around the United States. The biggest hits from this country are usually international hits, and unless it comes from the U.K., it's very rare that a hit from another country has the same impact that an American one does. But thanks to filesharing, blogs and YouTube, our pop borders are expanded to music from other countries we would have never been exposed to. The fact that this list is 200 songs long is evidence of the abundance of great stuff around the world. A lot of the singles on this list have yet to see North American release, but don't let that stop you from enjoying them. It didn't stop me.

1. UGK F/ Outkast - International Player's Anthem
I know it's totally cliche for blogs to deal in hyberbole, but I honestly think that five or ten years from now, this song will be considered one of the all-time classics in hip hop. Looking past the fact that this was Pimp C's last hit before his untimely death, the circumstances surrounding the record already have the plate set for a legendary moment. UGK, one of the premier hip hop duos of all-time and arguably the most influential Dirty South artists, were finally reunited after Pimp C's incarceration. Since they never got the chance to cash in on the momentum of "Big Pimpin'", anticipation was high for the album. The accolades for Outkast are already pretty well known, but let me state that as disappointing as some songs on Idlewild were, they can still lay claim to being one of today's most important and respected artists. Add to that Andre 3000's recent hot streak of guest appearances and we can see that there is still plenty of life left in the group. Not only that, the production is done by none other than Three 6 Mafia, who despite all their sonic innovations in hip hop are just now finding mainstream attention thanks to an Academy Award win. So on paper, you have three of the greatest hip hop artists to ever rise from the South collaborating on one track. Sounds like it should be a classic, right? Well, it is.

"International Player's Anthem" is the rare collaboration without one weak spot and where everyone involved is still in their prime. And even though UGK, Outkast and Three 6 Mafia have a combined three decades-plus in the business, the track still manages to surprise. Take for instance the opening verse by Andre 3000. It's expected that Andre would give us content to make us think and to blow our minds at the same time, but he's rapping over nothing but the Willie Hutch sample with no drum or bass. Vocals, strings and horns. That's it. And it's like that for the entire verse. As extravagant as the productions in modern hip hop have become, there is always at least drum and bottom prevalent, but right from the beginning, we're warned that this song is going to be special and we should hang on to every word.