Monday, December 29, 2014

Best 50 Albums of 2014

At first I thought 2014 was kind of an off year for music, but doing lists like this remind me that there can't possibly be such a thing. I made a Spotify playlist, which you can also listen to at the bottom and make sure to check back soon for my top 250 singles list.

1. Beyoncé - Beyoncé

Of course this album should be under 2014 consideration. How else to explain all the widespread adoration but only so few appearances on critics' year-end lists in 2013? It was released late last December, which was much too close to the end of the year for me and a lot of people to put into proper context of what it meant at the end of the calendar. Twelve months have passed since then and I can confidently say it's still the best thing I've heard in that span. One of the more intriguing developments of the pop world within the past few years was how her previous album, 4, felt like more than just an attempt to put together a radio-ready collection of songs and strove to keep up with some of her more adventurous contemporaries. This was surprising in that it felt like the first LP where we got a glimpse at Beyoncé The Artist and not just simply Beyoncé The Ridiculously Talented & Fierce Superwoman, which we had seen time and time again. The seeds of that experimentation fully blossomed on Beyoncé, her most challenging work yet. The usual Beyoncé trademarks were there, but instead of embracing their more commercial aspects, we were treated with more details that gave everything a personal feel. Girls still ran the world, but novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adicihe was there to explain why. You could still get her bodied, but you had to solve the riddle, and so on. It's a very rare thing when artists of Beyoncé's talent and stature make such bold moves while at the top of their game. That they pay off and in result in an amazing piece of work that's as dark and sexy as this is even rarer.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ten Years of Singles, Ten Years of Spotify Playlists: 2004 - 2013

While we're in the midst of year-end list season (and as I'm preparing my own, so check back soon), I got to thinking about the history of this blog, which started back in 2004 as a project for an English Comp. course. Ten years is a long time to be doing anything and if anything, my past best-of lists have been a reliable snapshot of the culture at the time which I often use as a reference, along with how I've grown as a person (some of my earliest Lollapalooza recaps were so cruel, they embarrass me now). I've only started employing Spotify into my year-end singles posts the past few years and thought it would be a great idea to go back and give the others the same treatment. If you ever need a good idea of what went on in music from 2004-2013 and you have a few weeks to spare, I think this post would be a good place to start. Click on a year for the full list.


Song that should have been higher in hindsight: Alicia Keys - "If I Ain't Got You" (original rank: #84)
Most guilt-wracked omissions: McFly - "Room On The 3rd Floor"; Mousse T feat. Emma Lanford - "Is It 'Cos I'm Cool"; Teddybears STLHM - "Hey Boy"


Song that should have been higher in hindsight: Out Hud - "It's For You" (#188)
Most guilt-wracked omission: Fefe Dobson - "Don't Let It Go To Your Head"


Song that should have been higher in hindsight: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Cheated Hearts" (#113)
Most guilt-wracked omission: The Long Blondes - "Once And Never Again"

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2015 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Album of the Year & Song of the Year

The nominees for the 57th Grammy Awards will be announced this Friday, Dec. 5, during a concert special airing on CBS. The actual hardware will be handed out on Feb. 8, 2015. Back in May, I took a look at the early contenders in the general field and just yesterday, I gave my final predictions for Record of the Year and Best New Artist. I'll be referring to a few of my choices, so make sure to read that post if you haven't yet. For today, I'm providing a breakdown for Album of the Year and Song of the Year, along with my final guesses as to who will be nominated.

I'll go ahead and get this out the way: Beyoncé. She's an obvious choice. If you've been in a coma or have been stuck in a time travel stasis, I'll briefly list why: the album crashed the iTunes website upon its stealth release, said album was accompanied with music videos for each track (unheard of for an artist of her stature), and it still sold over 800,000 in a shortened sales week without any promotion. And she's also Beyoncé, one of the most adored pop stars in the world and a perennial Grammy favorite. Last year, I had Justin Timberlake pegged as a sure shot, but I didn't take into account that him submitting both 20/20 Experience albums would go against him (I still believe he would've gotten the nod if only Pt. 1 was included). But make no mistake; this is Beyoncé's award to lose.

The rest of the field is more up for grabs, but smart money says to go with Sam Smith's In The Lonely Hour. His music is the kind that is endearing across multiple demographics and he has an authentic, soulful voice. While he hasn't had any major solo hits beyond "Stay With Me," his talent is not in doubt and already is a recognized name. That makes him a lock for Best New Artist, but the album itself, while a solid effort, may be deemed too ordinary for a revitalized blue ribbon panel (the secret group of voters that selects nominees for the general field from the top votes) that's trying to show that they can be hip (in the past five years alone, they've nominated Frank Ocean, Jack White, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys and Daft Punk). If their criteria is indeed tougher, In The Lonely Hour could be on the outs, but there are so few albums that have had the same impact both commercially and with critics.

Monday, December 01, 2014

2015 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Record of the Year & Best New Artist

Nominations for the the 57th Annual Grammy Awards will be announced this Friday, Dec. 5, on a live concert special airing on CBS. The award ceremony itself will be taking place on Feb. 8th, 2015. Back in May, I took an early look at possible contenders in the Big Four categories, but these predictions right here before you are definite and I'm ready to commit to them. I think. For this post, I'll be taking guesses for Record of the Year and Best New Artist and come back tomorrow when I'll examine the field for Album of the Year and Song of the Year.

Record of the Year

As always, I like to start off with my locks. Despite what I consider a pretty lackluster year as far as the quality of top 40 hits are concerned (2013 alone gave us "Royals," "Get Lucky," and "Wrecking Ball" just to name a few), there are always definite contenders. I'm a bit shakier this year than most, but overall, I feel like Beyoncé will be the one to beat this night. While "Drunk In Love" featuring Jay-Z was not the monstrous, axis-shifting hit like some of her other past general field nominations ("Crazy In Love," "Irreplaceable," "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"), it had a two-month stay within the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 and could certainly be classified as one of the most meme-worthy songs of the year.

I really like Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" in this category as well. I'm a bit confused as to why the Darkchild version with Mary J. Blige was submitted instead of just the solo version since the song is already well-liked enough in its original incarnation. The only theory I have is that Smith's people might view Beyoncé as the biggest threat and deduced that Blige's inclusion might help be able to draw away some votes from the R&B voting contingent or probably those who would love to see Mary J. Blige rewarded in the general field after a 22-year career. There's also the risk that some voters might just be plain puzzled at having to vote for only a version with Blige, which is just a small portion of why I feel shaky about this year. Nonetheless, with or without Blige's vocals, it's still a very heartfelt song with a lot of emotional power behind it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pharrell Williams - "It Girl" music video

I gave a spin recently to Pharrell Williams' G I R L album after not playing it for a few months. When it got to the final track, "It Girl," the imagery for the recently released video couldn't escape my mind, which is pretty rare for me. I love the language of music videos and all of the life-altering moments that they have brought me, but I think that it is more truer and organic when you can connect with a song and create your own imagery, thus strengthening that thing we are sometimes forced to make weaker as we get older called imagination. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the video for "It Girl," but I can't stop looking at it. It's a digital rainbow amalgamation of anime and 16-bit video games that flirts with overkill, all set to the unlikely sounds of relaxing funk and R&B, but is eye-catching nonetheless (and I'm all for Genki Rockets' "Heavenly Star" being referenced to American viewers). There have been dalliances between mainstream artists and video games before (some examples are Redman's "Da Goodness" and Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication"), yet I feel like "It Girl" is one of the first from someone with a high profile to embrace gamer and anime culture in a way that feels authentic and respectful to its core audience (for what it's worth, I consider Junior Senior's "Move Your Feet" the apex of music and video games). After this video and Kanye West's "Good Morning," I would love to see Takashi Murakami (who produced "It Girl," Mr. and Fantasia Utamaro directed) add his distinct style to more videos for hip hop and R&B artists and not just those that are afraid to embrace their inner nerd. The nods to Tecmo cutscenes, blinking credits and extended shots of "gameplay" may only excite a select few, which makes it pretty notable that someone with a hit album on a major label went as hardcore as this video did.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

One Direction - "Steal My Girl"

With school gymnasiums and slumber parties already proven as certified venues for songs of adolescent longing and buoyant dance beats, One Direction has turned a slightly unexpected eye toward the arena with this latest song. It seems like a logical step after their flirtations with power pop on Midnight Memories, but considering where they started, it might be a bit hard to swallow for casual followers. Complete with reverberating drums and classic "na na na na's", "Steal My Girl" is the heavy, anthemic sound of smalltown teenage dreams that existed in a time where getting a car with a cassette player was a rite of passage.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

#classicalbumtweets: Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#classicalbumtweets: The Score

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Go Home Productions - "Prototype (USSR) (The Beatles vs. Outkast)"

Mark Vidler, AKA Go Home Productions, has been in the mash-up game for so long that he's pretty much outgrown the genre that had its boon in the early 2000s. What I've always loved about his work is how he forgoes the novelty factor that can be so tempting in mash-ups in exchange for something with more depth and emotion. Not to say that his stuff can't reach joy-inducing heights, but the appeal lies in more than just the comfort that comes with the familiarity of certain songs, but in the execution of it all. It's all so fluid that once you've gotten over the initial curiosity of songs from two separate genres being mixed together, it holds as something that could organically come about in a world where time machines existed. "Prototype (USSR)", which combines Outkast and The Beatles is another great example of how Go Home Productions operates, turning Paul McCartney's vocals--vocals which are forever associated with a rollicking background--into something refreshing and surprisingly tender with the help of "Prototype"'s syrupy funk. McCartney's cadence fits into a sort of double-time delivery that has been the norm in R&B for the past 15 years, providing us with something that's unquestionably modern with the most traditional of parts.

Go Home Productions: Prototype (USSR) (The... by gohomeproductions

You can download Go Home Productions' latest album, Spliced Krispies Vol. 2 from his website and also check out the videos for each song on his YouTube account.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#classicalbumtweets: Voodoo

Every 2nd Wednesday of the month, I go on Twitter and listen to a classic album. I tweet about the experience and whatever thoughts come to my mind. I try to make sure it's an album that I haven't played to in a while, but one that I'm very familiar with and that others are as well. For June, I did D'Angelo's Voodoo. Come back next month for Fugees' The Score.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

An early preview of the 2015 Grammys

Although Grammy nominations won't be announced until December and the ceremony itself doesn't take place until February 2015, it's always fun to take an early look at the current standings of who's likely to get nominated. At this point we're already 3/4 of the way through the eligibility period, so we have possibly already heard most of the nominees, but there is still a lot of time left, so don't take these predictions as definite. Once it gets closer to nomination time, I'll post my final guesses, so make sure to check back for that. For this post, I'm only examining the general field categories: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. Here are the current contenders for the 57th Grammy Awards, as I see it.

Album of the Year

1. Beyoncé - Beyoncé
What's in its favor: The world was turned upside down when Bey released her fifth album unannounced without any promotion and a music video created for each track. It became one of the biggest musical events of the decade. It also doesn't hurt that sales have been robust and it got not only some of the best reviews of her career, but for the year in general.
What might work against it: Albums by superstars in this category tend to have more than one big hit. So far it's only been "Drunk In Love."

2. Pharrell Williams - G I R L
What's in its favor: The momentum from all the goodwill he received during the summer of 2013 has carried over thanks to a little song called "Happy." The album has also been well-received by critics and yet to fall below #20 of the Billboard Top 200 nearly three months after its release.
What might work against it: Unless the critical reception has been absolutely astronomical, nominees here don't make it off the basis of just one song. Its chances hinge mainly on the chart performance of new single "Come Get It Bae" at this point.

3. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
What's in its favor: I've talked before about how the Grammys are trying to slowly regain credibility by rewarding acts that are seen as hip and purveyors of quality music. Arcade Fire has one of the strongest combinations of hip and mainstream going for them, which will continue to make them perennial contenders in AOTY. Reflektor was highly lauded upon release and in case you forgot, they actually beat out Eminem and Lady Gaga in this category a few years ago.
What might work against: The Suburbs, their past AOTY winner, was released during the summer and the surprise at its #1 debut shot them up in the eyes of the mainstream. By the time the eligibility period concluded at the end of September, the album was still relatively fresh. Reflektor was practically released at the beginning of the eligibility period, so there's a strong case it might already be forgotten.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

#classicalbumtweets: Rumours

This is the fourth time I've done #classicalbumtweets. Each time I feel like there's more that I can do to make it better, so if you have any constructive feedback, I'd be willing to listen. Next month, I'll be doing D'Angelo's Voodoo, so make sure to come back for that one. The focus will still be on blockbuster albums that nearly everyone has heard, but from time to time I also want to take on critical faves that were extremely popular and have a large following as well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Recent interviews on Noteworthy: Alice Smith, Adeline Michele of Escort, Speedy Ortiz & more

Back here again to share some interviews I did on Noteworthy. If you want to listen to the show live, you can do so every Monday from 6PM-8PM CST at There's even an app you can download for your mobile device as well on that site. Here's what I've put in the vault since my last round-up.

Adeline Michele of Escort
One of the things that I didn't take into account was the amount of bands on the concert bill for that night. What that meant was that there was nary a quiet spot to be found at Metro, so portions of this interview with Adeline was recorded on a stairwell. It was slightly chaotic, but it felt fun because it made us feel like little kids.

"Came Out Of A Lady" is such a well-crafted pop tune and it's not very often that you find folks with jazz backgrounds able to create something that catchy. We discussed a bit about what it was like to transition from a world of theory to one of modern songwriting.

Cloud Control
I was fighting off a cold, which is why my voice sounded extra seasoned here. One of my favorite things to do when interviewing a band is to ask them a fun question to begin with. For me, it helps to distinguish the different personalities as a listener. Cloud Control was pretty game when the topic of Harry Potter movies came up and I think that helped to set the tone for the rest of the interview.

The Range
I was still kind of recovering on this one as well (although I'll never admit to being fully sick). Overall, he was pretty excited to talk about his creative process and I feel like with electronic artists, there's always so much more to delve into than the time I usually allow for interviews. If you listen to the songs, there's all kinds of things one could explore as far as moods and certain techniques.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Classic Album Tweets: Jagged Little Pill

This month's choice for Classic Album Tweets was Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. You can always click here to check out past editions. I try to do them every 2nd Wednesday of the month.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Classic Album Tweets: Purple Rain

Once a month I'll take to Twitter and tweet about an older album that's widely popular with American audiences as I'm listening to it. For February I did The College Dropout and in March I took on Prince's Purple Rain.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Best Movies of 2013

As usual, here is my list of the best films of 2013. I try to do this sometime before the Oscars since a lot of limited releases don't make their way to Chicago well after the New Year, so I just that extra time to get caught up so that I can provide as comprehensive a view of a year. Without further ado, here are the movies that stuck with me the most in 2013.

1. 12 Years A Slave

The cultural significance of this movie will probably cement its place in the canon for years to come based on its unflinching portrayal of slavery, which was unmatched in its brutality. Importance and quality do not always go hand in hand, so as much as I would like to state that this is a great film because it gave an unfathomable reality to those only familiar with the relatively sanitized versions of the era delivered by Hollywood, it worked much deeper on an emotional level. There have been few cinematic experiences like 12 Years A Slave, the true story of freeman Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and sold into captivity. The brutality of the film was a necessary truth that could not concern itself with what's palatable for audiences and every heartwrenching moment served as a reminder of America's dark history. Steve McQueen, whose previous films Hunger and Shame also didn't hold anything back, has once again proven adept at being an expert observer of a gritty world that holds little hope. His films resonate with you long after the credits have finished rolling, all without any significant flash and grounded in unforgiving realism. The trio of excellent, anguished performances from Chiwitel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender provided as close to a breathing historical document of the period as we've ever gotten and transcended it into art, conveying the torment and pain of past generations that no viewer will ever forget.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Classic Album Tweets: The College Dropout

As a lot of you may know, the 10 year anniversary of Kanye West's The College Dropout was this week. I had intended to write about it for my Ten Years Gone series, but ultimately I felt that I would have made the same points there for a future Kanye album I also considered worthy of a decade retrospective. With my desire to somehow acknowledge The College Dropout, I put the two ideas together by taking to Twitter last night and getting familiar with an old friend. Hopefully this will be a regular feature on Hectic But Eclectic.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Liveblogging the 2014 Grammys

7:17 Smart move by Lorde to put a different spin on a song that people have a hundred times over by now. Sparse, haunting and with plenty of room to show what she can do vocally. It also sends a message that she's interested in sticking around for a while.

7:25 Closing in on the half-hour mark and only one award has been handed out. I could think of several awards that I would rather see than a Hunter Hayes performance.

7:40 Katy Perry and Juicy J take the stage for "Dark Horse." Never been too high on the song, but the performance featured some interesting set pieces. Very witch influenced. Unfortunately I'm still not sold on the song.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Grammy Winner Predictions for 2014

The 56th Annual Grammy Awards will air this Sunday on CBS. As always, here's who I think will take home some hardware. Check back here during the ceremony for my live blog of the event.

Record of the Year

Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams - "Get Lucky"
Imagine Dragons - "Radioactive"
Lorde - "Royals"
Bruno Mars - "Locked Out of Heaven"
Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams - "Blurred Lines"

Will win: Daft Punk - "Get Lucky"
Should win: "Get Lucky"
Overlooked: Kendrick Lamar - "Swimming Pools (Drank)," Kanye West - "Black Skinheads"

Album of the Year

Sara Bareilles - The Blessed Unrest
Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, m.A.A.d City
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist
Taylor Swift - Red

Will win: Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Should win: Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city
Overlooked: Haim - Days Are Gone; Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer, Different Park; Kanye West - Yeezus

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Most Anticipated Albums of 2014

After plowing through my year-end lists, it's time to turn the focus onto what 2014 will bring. Along with albums that have confirmed release dates, I've also decided to include those that seem very likely to see the light of day this year. I feel that 2013 will go down as an extraordinary and very loaded year, but regardless, there's always something to look forward to as long you've got a healthy, adventurous love for music.

15. Cibo Matto - Hotel Valentine
Long-awaited comebacks were in fashion last year (My Bloody Valentine, David Bowie, Justin Timberlake) and Cibo Matto looks to continue that trend with their first new album since 1999's Stereo * Type A. A lot has changed since then, but they now find themselves in a music landscape where their trippiness might be even more welcome.

14. Clipse's fourth album
What could possibly be bigger news than Pusha T rejoining his brother No Malice in the recording studio? The fact that Pharrell Williams AND Chad Hugo will be joining them. The output with these four men has always been strong and the potential for a classic is high.