Mitch Marzuola- “Kanye Horseman”

I haven’t heard many hip hop-related remixes or mashups that have left an impression lately, but this one caught my ear recently with its playful, effective use of TV theme music. It uses the opening theme to the new Netflix Original cartoon “BoJack Horseman” as the backdrop to the vocals from Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” Kanye’s vocals pair well with the chill, slightly offbeat theme music, and the production sounds well-arranged and pretty flawless. If you’re a Kanye fan, this is a fun, intriguing new way to experience one of his best (but not especially popular) songs.

SOHN- “The Chase”

I was delighted to see that SOHN posted a new song recently. His debut album, Tremors, is one of my favorite albums of 2014, and this new song, “The Chase” would have fit perfectly on that album. It’s a dark, but sweet, downtempo number that’s less bass-heavy and just a little more stripped down than most songs on Tremors. SOHN’s vocals shine through the composition with a crystalline intensity and an emotive longing, creating a beautifully chilling listening experience that’s perfect for late nights.

Raury & Vancouver Sleep Clinic- Superfly

Raury, who has received lots of attention of late for his “Cigarette Song,” recently teamed up with Aussie wunderkind Tim Bettenson (a.k.a. Vancouver Sleep Clinic) to record a new song, “Superfly.” The two artists make a great pair and create a winning combination of soulful and ethereal. Bettenson’s soothing, shimmering falsetto provides the perfect backdrop to this buoyant, breezy, hip hop/soul-infused collaboration. It’s especially catchy, but just offbeat and unique enough to prevent it from reaching massive radio hit status.

Jessie Ware- “Say You Love Me”

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Based on the two singles I’ve heard so far, Tough Love could be the album that catapults British songstress Jessie Ware into pop stardom.  Her latest track, “Say You Love Me,” is a slow- burning ballad featuring slick production from a duo known as BenZel (Benny Blanco and Two Inch Punch) that’s in turns minimal and dramatic.  The song most notably showcases Ware’s stunning vocal range.  Wait until just after the halfway mark, and prepared to be blown away when a choir comes in to accompany her.  

Tough Love comes out on October 21.  In the meantime, stream “Say You Love Me” below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-g4TkugrmdQ

Taking the “guilt” out of “guilty pleasures”

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What do All Time Low, Yellowcard, Ke$ha, Chingy, and Taylor Swift all have in common? Before you start formulating a bunch of judgy, sarcarstic answers, I’ll just go ahead and say that they’re all artists I’ve typically considered to be “guilty pleasures,” a term I’ve recently begun to deconstruct and reevaluate. What leads us to define a band or an artist as a “guilty pleasure,” and why do we attach a sense of guilt to music that we sincerely enjoy? As someone with an especially eclectic taste in music, I’ve come to accept that my preferences encompass everything from emo, post-hardcore, and indie-folk, to hip hop one hit wonders and even a few irresistibly catchy pop songs that eventually climb their way into the iTunes top 10. And while I wouldn’t have included Miley Cyrus’ “Bangerz” on my “Top 10 Albums of 2013” list, I don’t feel guilty about having enjoyed listening to the entire album multiple times when it came out last fall.

We all have songs in our iTunes or Spotify libraries that we feel slightly embarrassed about, just as we all own music that we consider a little more “cutting edge,” which gives us a certain “indie cred” or makes us feel as though we have more refined tastes. This same description could also be applied to our Netflix queues or our bookshelves; most of us enjoy supplementing our typical cinematic and literary diets with at least a few rom-coms and beach books. Our tastes and desires are often unpredictable; a song will catch our ear or a movie or book will appeal to our senses “just because,” and it’s a bit ludicrous that we feel the need to justify our reasons for liking it and attach so much meaning to something that gives us a certain pleasure.

I certainly have different reasons for liking bands such as The Smiths or From Indian Lakes as compared to bands like All Time Low or New Found Glory. The former are bands I appreciate for their strong musicianship, unique songwriting and lyrical depth, whereas the latter are bands that feel fun and carefree to listen to and usually find their way onto my running or road trip playlists. It wouldn’t feel fair for me to say that From Indian Lakes are a “better” or “more talented” band than All Time Low; they’re just different bands who appeal to different audiences and sensibilities. I’ll admit that the more nuanced, intricately constructed songs that From Indian Lakes write tend to appeal more to my general tastes and senses, but I’ll also admit that All Time Low’s tightly crafted melodies and soaring choruses are total ear candy to me, and I admire the way in which they’re able to deliver such consistently strong, catchy pop punk songs.

I derive a great deal pleasure from listening to pop punk bands and pop singers, and even though I have friends and colleagues who give me shit for listening to them, I don’t attach any guilt or shame to these pleasures. I probably listen to “poppy” bands and artists just as much as I listen to artists in the “indie rock/emo/post hardcore” vein, and I don’t see one grouping of artists as “less than” the other. Rather, I feel like both groups complement each other and lend a nice sense of balance to my listening habits. I mean, I gotta have a little Miley alongside my Morrissey…

Maybe we should consider replacing the term “guilty pleasure” with “just for fun.” It still provides an accurate description of bands and artists who you might not take too seriously or whose lyrics don’t necessarily make you pause and reflect, but it sounds way more positive and accepting. If we reframe our language in this way, it might free us up from feeling that silly sort of guilt and embarrassment that sometimes comes with admitting to your friends that you’re kind of a huge Britney fan (even though you mostly listen to indie rock…) We all have a wide array of preferences and things that appeal to our senses, and sometimes they have no real rhyme or reason. So let’s embrace them all, whether we think they serve to enhance our intellectual prowess or whether they’re “just for fun.”

Chet Faker & GoldLink- “On You”

Chet Faker and GoldLink teamed up as part of a recording series by Yours Truly and Adidas called #songsfromscratch. As the name implies, the series pairs two artists, who collaborate on and record a new track from scratch.

“On You,” the end result of this particular collaboration, is an interesting hybrid of soulful electronica and hip hop that seamlessly blends Faker’s falsetto with GoldLink’s freestyle flows.

Stream it below.

Sam Smith vs. Lana Del Rey- “Pretty When You Latch” (Carlos Serrano Mix)

Just when I think I’m “over” the whole mashup thing, someone like Carlos Serrano creates one that’s so well thought out and perfectly blended that I just have to share it. He layers Sam Smith’s signature vocals over the instrumental tracking to Lana Del Rey’s “Pretty When You Cry” with dazzling effects. The powerful, emotive qualities of the original Disclosure/Sam Smith track are not lost at all in this mashup; rather, they’re transformed into something more haunting and stark, but equally stunning.

This is the REMIX 6

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I meant to post this at the end of June…but here it is now, my carefully curated monthly playlist of all the best remixes I’ve come across. As always, it’s super eclectic, with artists ranging from Drake and James Blake to Gorillaz and Daft Punk, then winding down with more chill stuff.

It’s just shy of 2 hours long and makes for a pretty fun, varied listening experience. Check it out here:

The Best Albums of 2014 So Far…

2014 is half over already (whoa!), so here are my picks for the best albums of the year so far (in no particular order):

1.) Nothing- “Guilty of Everything”

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After seeing these guys play one of the loudest, but most blissful shows I’ve seen in a while, I fell further in love with this album. “Guilty of Everything” is a seamlessly crafted 38 minutes of hazy, shimmery, “shoegaze revival” marked by just a touch of post-hardcore influence. Frontman Dominic Palermo’s previous project was the hardcore band Horror Show, which might explain the rather heavy sound that characterizes his unique brand of layered, distorted dream-pop. Imagine a slightly darker, more sedated, but still somewhat intense version of My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins and you’ll get a rough of idea of their sound.
It’s a deep daydream-inducing sort of record that I find myself listening to in bed with my eyes closed, and it definitely makes for an interesting listening experience, as it alternates between being all warm, fuzzy and blissed out, then intense and assaulting with bursts of swirling dissonance.

2.) Taking Back Sunday- “Happiness Is”

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I’ve been a devoted TBS fan since their much loved debut album “Tell All Your Friends,” and I’ve absolutely loved everything they’ve released since. Their latest LP, “Happiness Is…” is no exception. It finds the band in a strong, confident, and nicely varied place with their sound, melding their signature soaring melodies and explosive choruses with beautiful harmonies, bouncy rockers, poignant minor key songs, and an acoustic ballad that works so well as the finale to a very thoughtfully put together album. It’s impressive how they’ve maintained the youthful sound of the summer anthems that have made them such an iconic band, while adding in the more mature, reflective and refined edge that comes with being guys in their 30′s. “Happiness Is” will take its place right up there with TBS’ other albums and with the best releases of 2014. It’s thoughtful and nuanced, it packs the punch they’ve always been known for, with a little extra wit and wisdom, and it’s just plain fun to listen to.

3.) You Blew It!- “Keep Doing What You’re Doing”

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With the resurgence in popularity of the nebulous genre known as “emo” and a Weezer tribute EP on the horizon, You Blew It! are definitely a band that will receive even more attention as the year progresses. Their latest album, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” will definitely appeal to longtime fans of old school emo in the vein of Braid, The Promise Ring, and Cap’n Jazz. It’s angsty, emotional, and punchy, but also showcases a refined, nuanced sound and lyrical style from a band who has clearly come of age. You Blew It! are a shining example of the fact that emo never really died after all, and this album shows that the genre is more than alive and well in 2014.

4.) Manchester Orchestra- “Cope”

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From its darkly powerful opening track, “Top Notch,” this stunner of an album pulls you right into its onslaught of heavy hitting rock that’s lyrically laced with themes of overcoming fear and grief, letting go, absolution, and even finding happiness. While the band’s 2011 release was more sprawling, orchestral, and varied in sound, “Cope” just hits you head on with straightforward, heavy indie rock. It’s chock full of some of the best riffs and hooks I’ve heard on a rock album in a while, and it’s a refreshing new direction for this ever evolving band.

5.) Bombay Bicycle Club- “So Long, See You Tomorrow”

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After experimenting with several genres and styles and going through quite an evolution, these British indie rockers have released their best, most cohesive album yet. “So Long, See You Tomorrow” is full of intelligently crafted indie-dance beats, and lush, eclectic arrangements that create quite a dynamic, refreshing listening experience. If you’re bored with the current crop of more popular indie rock/pop and haven’t discovered this gem of an album yet, then get on it.

6.) Tokyo Police Club- “Forcefield”

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After a nearly four year hiatus, it’s not at all surprising that Tokyo Police Club’s sound has shifted quite a bit from their excellent 2010 album, “Champ.” This latest LP, “Forcefield,” feels a little lighter and more mature than the louder, slightly frenetic sound they crafted in their earlier work. But it’s still totally fun, bouncy indiepop that you’ll want to turn way up. The band has achieved a well-honed electro-pop-meets-power-pop type of sound, and it really works. Imagine what would result if you crossed Passion Pit with The Strokes, and you’ll kind of get the idea. Standout tracks include the instantly catchy “Hot Tonight,” and “Toy Guns,” and the more chill closing songs “Through The Wire,” and “Feel The Effect.”

7.) SOHN- “Tremors”

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SOHN’s debut album is a compelling journey through a dark, moody, R&B tinged electronic landscape, with his soothing but emotionally powerful vocals to guide you through the ebbs and flows. Each song is wrapped in delicately crafted layers of sound, ranging from intriguingly catchy, poppy loops to more somber, austere, crystalline creations. SOHN navigates a musical territory that’s somewhere between James Blake and the Weeknd, and he does it brilliantly.

8.) Seahaven- “Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only”

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Three years after their pretty impressive first LP, “Winter Forever,” Seahaven have emerged quite a different band, presenting a much more subdued, stripped down set of beautifully melancholic songs. Gone is the grungy, gritty post-hardcore sound they’ve been known for, and it’s actually a welcome change that gives the band a unique edge, allowing them to stand out in a genre that has grown a bit tired. The sparse instrumentation of these slow burning songs makes frontman Kyle Soto’s achingly sorrowful lyrical material that much more poignant and fascinating to listen to.

9.) Sisyphus

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Like combining chocolate with bacon or potato chips with soft serve ice cream, this strange collaboration between Chicago rapper Serengeti, New York producer Son Lux, and the elusive, genre defying indie prodigy, Sufjan Stevens, doesn’t seem like it would work on the surface. But put aside your skepticism and you will realize that it is oddly delightful and fascinating to listen to. The variety of beats and textures and the pairing of Serengeti’s witty, unconventional rapping with Sufjan’s dreamy singing coalesce to create a diverse album that will surely satisfy music fans with slightly offbeat tastes and cravings.

While the album is marked by a fair amount of dissonance and clashing styles, it manages to come across as playful and charming rather than jarring or inaccessible. And while they present some powerful lyrical themes, the three artists make it clear that they do not take themselves too seriously at all, a stance which is evident right from the bouncy opening track, “Calm It Down.” The overall vibe of the album may be one of experimental, freestyle fun, but several of the songs soar to beautiful, majestic heights; namely (and not surprisingly) those that more prominently feature Sufjan’s vocals: “Take Me,” “I Won’t Be Afraid,” and “Hardly Hanging On.”

10.) Say Anything- “Hebrews”

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Featuring an all-star cast of guest vocalists and impressively orchestrated arrangements that use several string instruments to effectively replace guitars, this might be the most ambitious and Say Anything album to date. And that’s saying a lot for a prolific, iconoclastic musician such as Max Bemis, the frontman and brainchild behind this genre-defying band that has gone through a rotating cast of characters since its inception in Bemis’ high school days. He weaves together this wonderfully varied, intelligently crafted set of songs with his signature dramatic wit, biting sarcasm, and self-deprecation, all through the lens of a married man and new father whose 20’s are now behind him.

Honorable mention (only because it’s an EP, not an album):

My Mouth Is The Speaker- “In Focus”

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I stumbled upon this band shortly after this stellar EP was released and wrote a piece on them back in April. Since then, Alternative Press has named “Your New Apartment,” the first song from the EP, as one of the “Best Songs of 2014 So Far.” Here’s a selection from my earlier article on MMITS:

“…Aside from feeling overcome by a huge wave of nostalgia for Hot Rod Circuit and other late 90s/early ’00s emo/pop-punk bands like Piebald, The Movielife, and Midtown, I was blown away by the way MMITS seem to revive aspects of that signature sound that defined my teens and early 20’s in a way that’s completely fresh and unique. There are lots of newer bands out there whose sound is clearly influenced by that “old school” emo/pop-punk sound, but who just don’t stand out to me. They get lost in a sea of bands that sound too similar or generic. MMITS are completely different. While I hear hints of the music I loved in high school in their songs, I also hear a style of indie rock/pop-punk marked by songs that are melodic and tightly crafted and also a little raw and gritty. It’s a style of rock I wish I heard more often, but maybe the fact that I seldom find bands who have crafted this quality and caliber of sound means that MMITS are rare breed…”