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5 Albums Celebrating Milestones in 2016

In our fourth installment of classic albums celebrating milestones this year, we take you back to some iconic firsts (and lasts). Get ready to reminisce on Freddy Mercury’s last piece of work with Queen, or how about the first time we all heard Gorillaz ?! Then there’s Tori Amos. Get ready for a roller coaster ride of music emotion with this week’s coveted list. 

Tori Amos/Boys for Pele/20 YO The third album by the singer songwriter, this had many firsts for her. It was the first album she produced herself as well as the first of her albums to reach #2 positions worldwide (from UK album charts to Billboard 100). ‘Boys for Pele’ saw Amos taking a different direction with harpsichords, choirs, orchestral work featured throughout the albums 18 songs. To radio, this album wasn’t single friendly, but critics and fans still cling to this as one of her greatest works.

While on tour promoting her previous album, Under the Pink her relationship with Eric Rosse fell apart. In her attempt to claim her own womanhood, she went in search of energy and experiences with Ayuhauasca. Much of the album was recorded in a church in Ireland, and down south in New Orleans. The theme of the album lyrically is about her relationship with men and what it meant for her to be a woman. The album further exemplifies this with her holding a rifle, her left leg exposed over the chair.

Queen/Innuendo/25 YO The final piece of music Freddie Mercury ever graced us, and the final album for Queen that was composed of new music. Riding the beginning waves of the 90s, ‘Innuendo’ was somewhat of a return to Queen’s rock roots. It would go on to sell 13 million copies, also going to #1 the first few months of its release worldwide.

Having been diagnosed with HIV in 1987, Mercury and the band kept it a secret until a few weeks before his death from AIDS in November of 1991.

Rolling Stone once having called ‘Innuendo’ “cartoon rock music”, it has since held up quite well despite the cheesy keyboards. If anything, it has one of the greatest pieces (other than Bowie) to say goodbye to the world…the iconic track “The Show Must Go On”. Written primarily by guitarist Brian May, it was the perfect way for Freddie to send himself off, a man who worked til the very end of his life. The video featured footage of the band from 1982 on since Freddie was too ill to perform. A live version featuring Elton John on vocals was released on Queen’s Greatest Hits III. EJ has since played it on many of his tours over the years.

Gnarls Barkley/St. Elsewhere/10 YO I remember the day I heard people talking about Gnarls Barkley and their performance at the Grammys. I had no idea who the they were. I thought it was one guy. I missed out on something great from the beginning !! But to know Gnarls and Barkley (aka Cee Lo Green and DangerMouse) we have to go further back into their careers. Cee Lo came from the southern hip hop group Goodie Mob. Danger Mouse had his claim to fame when he matched Jay Z’s vocals from ‘The Black Album’ with the music from The Beatles ‘The White Album’ and titled it ‘The Grey Album’. The two met while Green was on tour and Danger Mouse was the DJ. The two started working on material while on tour.

“St. Elsewhere” contains one of the band’s biggest singles “Crazy”. You could hear the track all over the airwaves, the music video circuit, live MTV performances. The album and track hit big in London before it hit anywhere else. “Crazy” was the first single to top the UK album charts based purely on downloads alone (remember kids, this was 2006).

The band has released one other album titled “The Odd Couple” with a third album slated for the future. Even though both DangerMouse and CeeLo had respectful and legendary careers before Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy” will always be the worlds introduction to both of them in the public eye (like Mark Ronson is to “Uptown Funk”…ugh I hate saying that).

Fugees/The Score/20 YO Based right here in Philadelphia, Ruff House Records (aka Phil and Joe Nicolo, Chris Schwartz) introduced the world to Fugees. “The Score” was their most iconic to date. Combining elements of Caribbean, Soul, and Reggae, the American Hip Hop trio went into the studio to record a masterpiece. Wycleaf Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras Michel were a perfect match put together. While the first album didn’t sell well, they were given an advance by Ruff House to do whatever they wanted in the studio…setting it up in Wycleaf Jean’s basement. The recording process was a “relaxing and calming pace” according to Wycleaf.

“The Score” went 6 times platinum (6 times !!!! That’s more than Taylor Swifts entire catalog sold), making it a huge commercial success. It has since lived on as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time, as well as one of the best albums of the 90s. The single “Ready or Not” could be heard all over the place but it was the single “Killing Me Softly With His Love” that won the group a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. Still, to this day, you cannot get away from it on the radio. And why would you want to ?!

“The Score” is known as being a sonic landscape, and treating it as such gets rewarding at each listen. This lives in most Y and X Generations hearts as one of the most brilliant albums ever created.

Gorillaz/Self-titled/15 YO Gorillaz fans are divided just like the albums themselves. Who are the Gorillaz ? What do they actually play if anything ?!

Gorillaz is Damon Albarn (of Blur) and Jamie Hewlett (the comic book / designer responsible for ‘Tank Girl‘). In a desperate attempt to break away from Brit-pop and to tap into the American mainstream market, Damon started collaborating with many musicians. To this date, he and Jamie are the only constant. They duo crafted fictional characters that would comprise of the “band” (Damon is 2-D, then you have Noodle, Murdoc, Russel). This Gorillaz Universe is released time and time again through the band’s videos and website. Numerous guerrilla and underground marketing tactics were used to promote the music (including stickers sent to the fans with instructions to put over every bathroom stall in town).

It was the iconic single “Clint Eastwood” (produced by Dan The Automator) that put Gorillaz on the map. Without mention of who the actual contributors / members were, speculations were abound. All the press had to go on was the music video:

Their debut “Gorillaz” sold 7 million copies and landed them in Guinness Book of World Records as Most Successful Virtual Band. The album comes from every side of genre imaginable with other iconic singles such as the FIFA known “19-2000” (a sic Soulchild remix that seems to be bigger than the original), the lazy “Tomorrow Comes Today” and the old school hip hop breakbeat “Rock The House”.

While Gorillaz went off to create an ever more epic album (see “Demon Days”), this will always be the first, the most jarring, the most fun, and what shocked the world.

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2015 Music Video Reel

Thanks to several music videos shattering records on Vevo this year (anything Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Major Lazer, and, oh yeah, Adele) and the unstoppable force of You Tube and all things social media, it’s safe to say that the music video is back after MTV killed it all those years ago once they took TRL off the air. 

Since our tastes are always so different, Andrew and I both put our year in music videos spectacles on and came up with six of our favorites, with just one of them making our common lists. Mr. Johns is up first for you guys, spilling it all in about “FourFiveSeconds” about his favorite music videos of 2015. 

Ready…set…Adele is not on any one of these lists. 

There were so many videos this year. Lots I never even got to (I’m looking at you Madonna, Miley, Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, Chris Cornell, Ade…okay Adele, I did get to you and your now infamous SNL Thanksgiving dinner). For all the ones I did check out, I saw a lot of dancing going on, a lot of animation and guess what? It was every bit refreshing. Sometimes we just want to be entertained on a screen for a few short moments, so from me to you…here are my top six picks for favorite music videos of 2015. 

6.Courtney Barnett/”Dead Fox”Animals driving over humans as if they’re road kill…really drives the point home with Courtney Barnett’s lyrics. Clever but also…pretty ridiculously graphic. Saturday morning cartoons gone wrong…

 5.Ezra Furman”Restless Year” Watch Ezra hang around the bay area as death follows him and he ends up transforming into a woman…

4.Major Lazer/DJ Snake/MØ/”Lean On” This video is grand and epic and beautiful in its simplicity and family-pact nature. While the lyric video is just as epic, we finally get to hang with Diplo and Mo on this one.

3.De Staat/”Witch Doctor” This video has been making a lot of lists overseas. For a band that sounds just like a Queens Of The Stone Age ripoff (I ain’t mad about it)…this video is as epic as a 300 film.

2.Bjork/”Black Lake” As mentioned in Spin, this YouTube clip doesn’t do this video justice. “Black Lake” was an installment piece at the MoMa in New York City. The audio was in 3D, you (as the audience member) stood with about 30 other people in a black room with two wide screens on either side. Bjork moved from one screen to the other,  each one showing where she moved to…at different perspectives. It was the next part that made my experience…being brought to a movie theater full of comfy red couches where you sat and watched every music video Bjork made. We laughed. We cried. We were disgusted. We had differing emotions. An audience…watching music videos…it was quite possibly the most unique communal experience I’ve ever had with art and music together. And that’s why this takes a spot on the list.

 1.Rihanna/”Four Five Seconds”
My pick for video of the year. All you need are 3 people who have no idea what they’re doing, a camera that features black and white, and millions of viewers trying to recreate it into Internet memes…myself and roommates included. Kanye’s mannerisms never get old.

Of course, my tastes in videos are a bit different (as is our taste in music, which makes it all werk), with some of my favorite divas (naturally) ruling my 2015 music video roost, and one DJ and diva who rewerked a ’90s classic this year and simply made it their own. Let my favorite music videos of 2015 get you below. 

6.Ciara/”Dance Like We’re Making Love” Can someone please explain why CiCi has stayed so underrated these past few years? After watching this sizzling video, you’ll be asking yourself the same question. Love those red Ray Bans, boo. 

5.Major Lazer/DJ Snake/MØ”Lean On” Mr. Johns said it best, Major Lazer’s visual offering for their monster offering, “Lean On,” is simply stunning and beautiful. 

4.Pia Mia/”Touch” Those dance moves, though…

3.Katharine McPhee/”Lick My Lips” 

Ms. McPhee’s cheeky video All wrapped up in handsomely slicked back gentlemen and cherry pie…lots and lots of cherry pie. 

2.Krystal Klear/Yasmin/”One Night Only” Demi Lovato/”Cool for the Summer” Both clips are loaded with ’80s neon lyfe and hair whipping for days. Do you really need anything else? 

1.Dave Aude/Jessica Sutta/”I’m Gonna Get U” Packed with so much ’90s nostalgia, it’s sort of ridiculous. Vogueing! Sheer backdrops! Fly Girl choreography! Kid N Play haircuts! It’s all here and so much more. Groove on with this one, Mr. Aude and Ms. Sutta. 

 

 

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Albums of the Year/Andrew’s Picks

This year is considered in some ways the ‘comeback’ year. So many artists from Kendrick to Madonna to Modest Mouse to Blur to Adele to Coldplay’s return to happiness…it certainly seemed as if there was another big named artist rotating the comeback spotlight every other week in 2015.

There were also some “underdog” music artists who came up to claim the throne–and most certainly succeeded–including Mark Ronson (yes, I consider Mark Ronson an underdog) Tame Impala, and Major Lazer, all of whom finally broke into mainstream territory this year and got the credit they most certainly deserve.

While all of these music moments and elements were epic and awesome, 2015 seemed to have a kind of lull in terms of quality life changing records (sorry, ’25’), but I somehow managed to succeed in picking out ten of my favorite albums of the year, and you can dive headphones first them into all of them below.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds/’Chasing Yesterday’ Of all the comeback albums this year (Blur, Fratellis, Decembrists, Modest Mouse, Ezra Furman, Chris Cornell, Chemical Bros, Madonna) this album is the one that everyone kept talking about. It is arguably the most soulful Noel has sounded. The production shines, it feels warm, and it is just cool. We also didn’t know Noel was going to do another album, so that was a nice surprise in itself. It’s better than his debut, and has only put Noel on the map as the most respectable member of such a dysfunctional band…as well as the biggest side project since.

Courtney Barnett/’Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit’This album is a sobering wake up call. I’m sure you’ve heard of her by now but you haven’t actually given her album a spin. Coming up out of the indie forest, Courtney Barnett put reality back into songs. In it’s quirk as well as bare bones instrumentation “Sometimes I sit…” is just so poignant to today’s too-disconnected-to-what’s-in-front-of-us world.  Where the production is the same throughout, the songs themselves are not…twisting and turning from lazy ballads into punk rock to country to mid 90s alt. If you pay attention to the lyrics and her whit, you’re sure to love this album.

Daniel Johns/’Talk’ This Aussie came out of left field, having been known for fronting grunge band Silverchair back in the day. 8 years of silence from die hard fans, Dan teased us all with being featured on some hip hop and then BAM…an album of 15 songs. “TALK” is unusual yet genuine, strange yet familiar, dark yet danceable, and every bit of an underdog/shadow to American radio and culture. Having mPhaze on production credits helps as the RnB / Funk grooves don’t disappoint. “TALK” pushes boundaries that a Justin Timberlake album could never (well…okay…maybe it could…which is where a lot of the influence seems to come from). This is one of those albums that get more and more rewarding with each listen. With lots of ear candy to keep you listening, it is sexy, beautiful, and modern. Have a listen.

Adam Lambert/’The Original High’ The adult/mature/heartbroken Adam Lambert I can actually get behind. This album is a tasty combination of folk, country, dance, pop, RnB, and EDM. While focusing on his core audience, it also intensely focuses on the “song’. Each one is perfectly written, with many collaborations, but it’s the theme throughout that keeps me listening. It’s just a great pop album with heartfelt emotion spread throughout. 

Mark Ronson/’Uptown Special’ Bruno Mars overshadowed this album entirely. Released at the beginning of winter it really didn’t gain traction till the summer…which really is what I consider it…a seasonal album you put on during the first rainfall in April until the first rainfall in September. It creates a strange distant nostalgia and takes you on a journey throughout the city from the good parts to the bad parts from the beginning of the day to the end of the season. Ronson packed his influences in on every single song, combining lots, even featuring some of them (Stevie Wonder anyone?). This is sure to break in the lists and gain some awards.

Mutemath/’Vitals’Coming in at the tail end of 2015, “Vitals” is a welcome return by a band who not enough people know of. Ditching most of the guitar, soul, and funk found on their last album, “Vitals” brings back the cool soft-synths and feel-good-vibes that made us fall in love with them in the first place. A little more dance, a little happier, this album not only comes out of left field for MuteMath fans but for a year so dominated by EDM and Indie Rock.

Mumford & Sons/’Wilder Mind’ So I think the M&S craze has worn down a bit. Too mainstream to be “groundbreaking” or “cool anymore. Diehard fans hated the direction they took on this album, likening to their arch nemesis Coldplay. But the reality of it is, this album really was overlooked just based on the fact they were Mumford and Sons. More of a melancholy vibe, laden with seas of keyboards and chimes in the background…this is the album the band themselves always wanted to make. I consider it one of the best of the year. This is everything I hoped Coldplay would go back to (that’s a sad reality that won’t happen). Nontheless, Mumford picked up the challenge, picked up their electric guitars, and rocked the fuck out. More introspective, more in the gut, more focused on London, this is country heavy rock band finally showed us their roots…and their dreams.

Modest Mouse/’Strangers to Ourselves’ Arguably everyone has listened to their “The Moon and Antarctica” album or knows a song from it. “Strangers to Ourselves” was a welcome surprise return to how amazing, strange, and otherworldly Modest Mouse is. It grows with repeated listens, is everything we’ve come to know and love about the band. There’s just not a bad song on it. The production makes the band sound heavier…though it could also be the amount of musicians on stage. They are a bit more driven by rock this time around. After a short few year hiatus, Mouse fans weren’t sure what to expect next. This is a welcome come back. Definitely check this album out.

D’Angelo/’Black Messiah’ Coming in at the end of December 2014, this album just didn’t get enough love. A welcome return by D’Angelo, and the album that inspired Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece “To Pimp A Butterfly”, “Black Messiah” is, at its core, one long piece of music. It is a musical journey that demands repeated listens, genre hopping, at times twisting and turning. And when the album is done, your head goes WTF did I just hear? Classy, nostalgic, and yet unplaceable, ‘Black Messiah’ demands your attention.

Chris Cornell/’Higher TruthEvery single one of the songs are epic, heartbreaking, beautiful. While I have qualms with the actual production of this album, I still hear the performances shine. With the sheer volume of material packed onto this album, this deserves a spot on this list. Well done, Mr. Cornell. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Sufjan Stevens/’Carrie & Lowell’

A very delicate album full of ballads and stripped down to minimal arrangements. Stevens’ writing is harrowing and heartbreaking as ever through the use of characters and driven by their stories.

 Le1f/’Riot Boy’

Coming out at the tail end of 2015, this album was very much anticipated by Le1f fans, having been and up and coming artist for a few years. The second half of this album is pure gold, innovative and interesting for hip hop and EDM. It is a game changer for a new genre that only Le1f is leading currently. 

Hot Chip/’Why Make Sense?’
This is such a great album bridging indie electronic funk, deep house, weirdness, nerd rock, everything all in one.