Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best Albums of 2012

Once again, here are my favorite albums of the year. I've created a handy Spotify list that cribs a key track from as many albums as I could find.

1. Jessie Ware - Devotion

If Sade ever decided to work with producers under the age of 30, it might sound something like this album. While Sade has updated her sound slightly with each subsequent album, Jessie Ware provided a true 21st century vision of the places that chilled R&B can go. It's a sound that's been explored in various branches of trip hop and downtempo, but done so here with more emphasis on emotion than vibe, which Devotion actually exceeded on both counts. There is sensuality and tranquility in abundance, which means that the album barely goes above a whisper, only if because that's where its power is at.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My top 25 singles of 2012 on this Monday's Noteworthy

Last week, I counted down my favorite 25 albums of the year on Noteworthy and on this Monday, December 17, I'll be doing the same for my singles. It will be an early sneak peek at my full list which, I'll reveal in a week or two, along with my albums list as well. Make sure to listen to the show from 6PM-8PM CST at The show also has a Facebook page, which you can like at

After Monday's show, we'll be off the air due to semester break until January 7th, so make sure to check it out Noteworthy if you never have before.

To hold you over until then, check out my past year end lists:



Monday, December 03, 2012

2013 Grammy Nomination Predictions

The nominations for the 55th Grammy Awards will be announced Dec. 3rd. As always, I'm here to take a guess at who will make it.

The past few years have seen general field nominations for indie rock acts Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons. These acknowledgments show an increasing awareness of current trends by the NARAS' blue ribbon panel, which is a secret committee that selects the nominees for Best New Artist, Album, Record and Song of the Year. Before, it only seemed that Radiohead was capable of breaking through the "smart rock" mold and sitting at the table with the rest of the big boys, mainly due to universal critical acclaim and name recognition. With record sales not even close to the same level they were ten years ago, the Grammys have seemingly looked beyond the old standard for commercial success and have started heavily factoring buzz and quality into who should be rewarded. How else to explain the nomination of Bon Iver's "Holocene" in Record of the Year—a song that didn't even crack the Billboard Hot 100—in a category usually reserved for only the biggest mainstream hits?

The NARAS has taken their fair share of shots for years over not nominating acts that don't reflect the cutting edge of music and the past two years suggest that the days of honoring veterans whose best work is behind them may be done. Still, no one should start celebrating just yet: the NARAS did everything they could to make sure the victory for Adele's 21 did not come tainted in Album of the Year by snubbiing Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the clear cut critical favorite of that period. They still want people to watch, but to raise as few objections as possible. Without a behemoth such as 21 to vote for, this year's nominees may be a bit more centered between critical acclaim and mainstream success.

Album of the Year

The first week sales of Mumford & Sons' Babel prove that there is still some juice left in rock music on the Billboard charts. The band is already on the radar of the NARAS, being previous nominees in Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. They're popular, but they're also respected, which makes them an easy lock for this category.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Special 2002 edition of Noteworthy

If you don't know, I have a radio show on UIC Radio called Noteworthy that I've been doing for over a year. It comes on every Monday night from 6:00-8:00 (Central time). Next week on the Nov. 12 show, I'll be looking back at the year 2002 and playing songs that defined the year and also some that were just flat out great. If you have any recommendations, leave them here or head on over to the Facebook page and make sure to tune in next Monday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ten Best Music Moments From Spike Lee Movies

As a huge fan of music and film, one of my favorite techniques in cinema is when a song is used to score a scene for enhancement. When done correctly, it elevates both the song and the movie into a heightened connection with the audience. Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson are just a few of my favorite filmmakers who have both perfected this and have also created classic moments that are forever linked with a song (think of the Rolling Stones' medley during the "last day as a wiseguy" scene in Goodfellas or "Stuck In The Middle With You" from Reservoir Dogs).

While Spike Lee is among the most visually distinct filmmakers of his generation (hello dolly), I've also been very drawn to his choice of music in film. Just as much as the previously mentioned directors, Lee uses songs that we've long been familiar with and heightens whatever layers we've already associated with them, while also bringing to light some new ones. This year, he's delivered a new film, Red Hook Summer and the upcoming Bad 25 documentary. I figured now was as good a time to look back at the best of those moments. For all of you School Daze and Mo' Better Blues fans, I didn't include anything from them since they were mostly musical numbers and not scenes where the music served as the background. Opening credit sequences don't count either (sorry Rosie Perez and Public Enemy). ***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Disclaimer: I couldn't provide videos for all the scenes I discussed, but I hope you'll enjoy the ones I was able to embed.

10. "Newborn Friend" by Seal, Clockers

The usage of Seal's "Crazy" and KRS-One's "Outta Here" in their respective scenes were much more dynamic and attention-grabbing, but I was really struck by the restrained approach employed here. Detectives Klein and Mazzili (Harvey Keitel and John Turturro) arrest Rodney (Delroy Lindo), a notorious but low key drug dealer in the middle of the day for the entire neighborhood to see. We know that the detectives are doing this to increase tension between Rodney and one of his main workers, who is a person of interest in a murder case. The three veteran actors provide the scene with more than enough weight and the light sound of "Newborn Friend" almost signals a shift in power of the movie. It sticks out from the hip hop heavy soundtrack and its appearance is immediately noticeable.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sofia Talvik - "Everyone's Favourite Concubine"

It's not that I'm a fan of most Swedish artists because they take on American genres I find favor with, but more so how they approach them. I feel that sometimes for such a decidedly American creation as folk and its long association as being music for the thinking man, there is more pressure as an American to create something that lives up to the sound of its predecessors and that sentiment can be all too obvious to the listener at times. That feeling doesn't come across when listening to Sofia Talvik's latest album, The Owls Are Not What They Seem. There is an effortless emphasis on melody that is influenced by the past, but never indebted to it. On "Everybody's Favorite Concubine," Talvik delicately glides along in a sparse setting that throws a few nods to the 60s and is relaxed in the way in it conveys emotion. Once the background vocals softly come in, everything's extra creamy.

"Everyone's Favorite Concubine"

Sofia will be on my show, Noteworthy, on UIC Radio this evening at 5:30 CST to talk about her latest album and the upcoming shows she has in the Chicago area:

Jul. 23: Elbo Room
Jul. 26: Swedish American Museum
Jul. 27: Cornucopia Coffee Company (Valparaiso, IN)
Jul. 28: Uncommon Ground on Devon

Click here to buy The Owls Are Not What They Seem.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An early preview of the 2013 Grammys

The nominations for next year's Grammys won't be announced until December, but it surely wouldn't hurt to take a brief look at the early field of contenders. I took a stab at three of the main categories, putting the likelihood of a nomination in order from strongest to weakest as of right now.

Album of the Year

1. The Black Keys - El Camino
What it will need to get the nod: If no other indie rock act manages to catch fire with the critics and the mainstream, El Camino would be the strongest candidate for the token rock slot.
What might work against it: It's been released so long ago that it might've been forgotten.

2. Jack White - Blunderbuss
What it will need to get the nod: The solid reviews and White's name alone could be enough to do the trick, but most past Album of the Year nominees needed at least one song to catch on with the majority of the public. Blunderbuss hasn't delivered yet.
What might work against it: The reviews have been solid, but not something that suggests it's an event LP.

3. Lionel Richie - Tuskegee
What it will need to get the nod: If it continues to sell consistently, it will definitely stand out in a year that has not seen many breakout albums, plus plenty of support from both country and R&B voters would help. A big sales push during the holiday season would also boost its profile.
What might work against it: The Grammys have been slowly leaning away from acknowledging older acts in this category for the past few years in an effort to seem current and hip.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Doctor L - "The Mistery Travels"

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard this track was how much it sounded like Antibalas, who coincidentally enough appear on Doctor L's latest album, The Great Depression. The basic rhythm and foundation are present enough to easily identify it as afrobeat, but with a higher fidelity there's no mistaking it's a current release. Regardless of what time it came from, "Mistery Travels" still evokes a dusty presence reminiscent of the past. The major difference comes from the ghostly textures sprinkled throughout that emphasize some of the jazzier leanings in the genre. It's like walking through a jungle, but instead of mist, there are clouds of smoke casually wafting around.

To download the track, click here, and you can also buy The Great Depression at Amazon.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ten Years Gone: Kylie Minogue - Fever

This entry is part of an ongoing series in where I take a look back at landmark films and albums released 10 years ago.

While gaining international success throughout the '80s and '90s comparable to her fellow pop icon, Madonna, at the beginning of 2002 Kylie Minogue's lasting legacy in the U.S. was her 1988 hit "The Locomotion" and small roles in viciously panned flops such as Bio-Dome and Street Fighter. Her status in the States forever changed course with the release of "Can't Get You Out Of My Head," the lead single on Fever. With its infectious chorus of "la la la" and a velvety robo-disco track, Minogue had her biggest hit ever in America. Not only did it peak at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it found its way onto several year-end lists, even managing a top ten placement in the yearly Pazz and Jop poll from The Village Voice.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Best Movies of 2011

Most people tend to do their movies list at the end of the year. I prefer to do them before the Oscars, that way I'm able to catch all the movies that open in limited release during the year, but don't become available nationwide until January. It does come late, but when I look back at my lists from past years, they feel well informed and not rushed. Moving on, 2011 had plenty of delights for cinema lovers, just like every year.

1. Hugo

Granted, I rarely see live-action movies in 3-D, but it's no secret that the general consensus is that a lot of movies that employ this technique are lacking. The extra surcharge that comes with admission has resulted in more revenue for certain movies, which has lead to Hollywood abusing 3-D and using it more as a gimmick instead of a tool. Hugo was the first film since Avatar that felt like it gave a damn about 3-D and used it in smart ways that helped embellish the story. The maximum enjoyment of this film is probably best experienced in that format, but it would have still been my favorite film of 2011 without it. Hugo is about a Parisian boy who lives in a train station during the 1920s and the setting plays a key part in the movie's magic. It's a film heavy on wonder and enchantment with the skill of one our greatest filmmakers in Martin Scorcese. When you go into a theater hoping to be entertained and moved, you want it to do so at the level that Hugo does.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Liveblogging The 2012 Grammys

6:54 So I'm back to liveblogging the Grammys this year. Just a quick update on my predictions. I totally whiffed on the R&B and dance categories. Skrillex is now a two-time Grammy winner and I don't think it's too farfetched for him to take Best New Artist. I know Bon Iver has the nods in Record and Song of the Year, but they still don't seem well known to me. The ceremony is starting in a few minutes and I'll be here for the whole show.

7:03 Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band are starting off the show. The new song is a typical Bruce anthem and this is the first performance I've seen them without Clarence Clemmons. Keep in mind he's got an album coming out next year and if touches at all on the loss, I could easily see them being an Album of the Year contender much like Dave Matthews Band when they lost a member.

7:06 LL Cool J just led the Staples Center in a prayer in remembrance of Whitney Houston. I have to admit that I was trying to spot any atheists who didn't have their head down. It is Los Angeles, after all.

7:11 How lucky were the Grammys to have a host this year with the unexpected death of Whitney Houston? I thought LL did a good job of paying respect to Houston without keeping things somber. The program is going to need that steady presence under these circumstances.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Grammy Winner Predictions for 2012

The main storyline for the 54th Grammy Awards will be how many awards Adele will win. There is no question that she is the heavy favorite to win the majority of the categories she's in, and after the year she's had it would be much deserved. This is also the first year where the the fields have been consolidated to create fewer categories and fewer filler nominees. If anything, it should make the overall competition that much more difficult and increase the standard for winning a Grammy itself. With moves like this and letting Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons into the general categories, I believe that the NARAS is making a strong attempt to stop any further dilution of the award ceremony and increasing their integrity. But of course, they'll have to hand out the statuettes to worthy people first. We'll be able to see this Sunday, Feb. 12 on CBS.

Also, I made predictions as to who would get nominated a few months back, so feel free to check back and see how my picks turned out.

EDIT: Check back here Sunday as I live blog during the ceremony.

Record of the Year

Adele - "Rolling In The Deep"
Bon Iver - "Holocene"
Bruno Mars - "Grenade"
Mumford & Sons - "The Cave"
Katy Perry - "Firework"

Will win: I'm not one to blindly follow popular opinion, but I sort of like Adele's chances here.
Should win: Sure, it's overplayed, but it's hard to find many faults with "Rolling In The Deep."
Overlooked: Kanye West - "All Of The Lights"; Nicki Minaj - "Super Bass"; Pink - "Raise Your Glass"; Wiz Khalifa - "Black and Yellow"

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rebecca Ferguson - "Nothing's Real But Love"

Although it hasn't even been a full year since the release of Adele's 21, the success of that album may have already paved the way for Rebecca Ferguson's debut effort, Heaven, who also happens to be British. A few years ago, a track like "Nothing's Real But Love" might have been seen as something strictly for the Starbucks crowd due to its traditional sound and the lack of frills, but the demographic for this type of music has certainly expanded since then. The comparisons to Adele end there as I think Ferguson's voice has more grit to it and could easily lend itself naturally to some Stax/rock fusion. It's that extra bit of smokiness that makes everything here feel so pained, which is why I've been playing it a lot recently. Her voice is as distinct as they come and I'm betting she'll probably be huge if the album makes it here to the States.

Click here to visit her official website.