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Sunday, March 22, 2015

March is already drawing to a close and that also means the end of Q1 of 2015. Already. While many of my contemporaries are still partying it up in Austin at SXSW (someday), here's a peek at what I've been jamming to since we've last chatted. And no, Madonna's not on this list. 

Easily the best offering on Harris' latest and not just because HAIM is the best. Their initial comparisons to Fleetwood Mac are really well founded on this one and that only adds to how great it is.

The former Voice contestant continues to offer up great pop tunes with just the right amount of sass to round out her big voice. While her previous stomper "Must Be Love" really benefited from how driving the beat felt, "Cliche" relies more on the character and personality pumped into her vocals. If she and Tori Kelly are destined to be the future Current Queens of Pop, I'd be more than alright with that, thanks.

Winter is winding down (well...kinda, at least here in the North East) and as temperatures heat up, the race to find that one sizzler of a country pop crossover is on. The intensity of the lyrics add fuel to this already blazing fire that is "Bethlehem Steel". Color me intrigued for what comes next...

This left of center duo describe themselves as being a cross of Bjork and Katy Perry. "Running Behind" initially feels a little grating because it is slightly atonal but the chanty feel grows with each listen. Their hipster aesthetic fits right in to the landscape though -- and this song has already been used in a promotional campaign for Apple. 

Solid, straightforward pop single from this fab Candienne who was formerly a drummer for the band Roads (and you can see her drumming a bit in the video). Epitome of sparkly and catchy.

With every Le Youth release, it's a bit like Christmas for someone like me -- wondering what (R&B) song from my childhood lies in wait to be chopped up as a sample and re-envisioned for the current dance landscape. This time 'round, Brandy "I Wanna Be Down" gets the royal treatment.

FROOT is here! After hearing the lead up instant grat tracks, a part of me really feared the full FROOT basket (yes? no?) would be a little too slow and serious for my tastes and I'm happy to say that I was very wrong. Overall, it is definitely her most mature work to date but still has lots of fun wordplay (especially here with "Can't Pin  Me Down").

You've heard this a million times already but like with Adele before him, it doesn't get old. Adding John to the mix is just a cherry on top.

As much as I adore "Geronimo", Bombs Away left quite a bit to be desired for moi. Sheppard's sound is a little all over the place and while it's admirable that they are so versatile, in a debut set it's a little weird. Some songs I adore while others sound so different and not in a good way. "Let Me Down Easy" was the other big standout for its choral harmony bits. It makes me want to start a sing-a-long around a campfire. Who wants in?

BACK IN THE DAY: 'No Strings Attached' Turns 15

Saturday, March 21, 2015

For daily dose of "Do You Feel Old Yet?", *NSYNC's career-changing No Strings Attached album -- the one that sold over a million copies in a DAY -- turns fifteen years young today, March 21st, 2015.

Fifteen years ago to the day, I was playing this album over and over and over on a Walkman (for the children reading this: that was what we oldies used to use to listen to music while on the go before there were iPods). In fact, it was a long time before that garishly yellow-and-brown lacquered CD ever left that Walkman (may she RIP).

It also means it's been five years since a ranting of mine went "viral" in the still *NSYNC community -- long before my boys actual reunion took place! You can read that post here about just how much this album truly means to me.

Happy Anniversary, *NSYNC fans!


Monday, March 9, 2015

NYC-based brother band AJR was an unexpected favorite of my CMJ experience in 2013. Fast forward a year and a half. Adam, Jack, and Ryan (A-J-R, get it?) have signed with Warner Brothers (!), released that super catchy, Sponge Bob-sampling "I'm Ready" to lots of hype, and this past week dropped their debut full album set, Living Room.

It's hard to nail down the AJR sound and I think that is something they are quite cognoscente of. Seeing them live, they are instantly impressive because all three play multiple instruments on stage. Living Room the album puts on proud display how multi-functional each of them are, playing around with a variety of genres and sounds. 

Setting aside super catchy, "I'm Ready" (which can now be heard in the trailer for the upcoming Amy Schumer/Bill Hader comedy Trainwreck), I was initially most excited to hear "Livin' On Love". Since that fateful CMJ night at the Gramercy Theater in 2013, the group released two indie EP releases but neither showed any sign of a certain "Motown-esque" doo-wop-y jam that I mentioned here which truly solidified my genuine interest in them. I now know "Livin' On Love" is that track and it's just as good as I remember it being.

Despite that excitement, my favorite of their brilliant debut set is the final cut "Big Idea" which essentially reads as a biography for the group. (It instantly jumped to my fave cut for the "Good Music's still Good even if no one's watching" line. #Preach.) This band of brothers literally created their own material (with "ProTools and a mic and a big idea") in their own living room (get the title now?) and are now signed to a major label with a big potential for mainstream success. 

The album is available for download on iTunes now. Show you're love for the guys on Twitter (@AJRBrothers) and help spread the hype for their current single "Infinity", now gunning for radio. 

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Carly Rae Jepson, Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, Rixton & More

Sunday, March 8, 2015

This past week was a biggie for 2015 New Releases. It saw the comeback of a Career Artist (Kelly Clarkson) and a potential fire-breather single (Carly Rae Jepsen). Read on for my favorite nuggets from this week and click the titles to hear the song for yourself.

Carly's brand of sugary pop is the English-language version of Girls' Generation's "Oh". I don't want to like it, but it's so effervescent and infectious that you can't help it. There's no telling if it will top "Call Me Maybe" and I quite prefer some Kiss b-side material to this but it makes me hopeful for what is to come for this new era of Jepsen.

When I found out teenage, budding popstar Franceso Yates was Canadian, I really was surprised. After listening to his latest "Nobody Like You", I assumed he was of that Scandinavian pedigree! He's inked a deal with Atlantic and is/has been working with Pharrell. Danger Will Robinson, this one could explode. 

Every. Single. Thing. this Swedish act puts out makes me happy. "Higher" is the new cut on the Kate Boy EP that was released this week (the rest of the EP is familiar terrain of fabulous already-released singles and should be blared at 11, stat).

It's the most "modern" sounding cut on Piece By Piece, a decidedly personal album that read like a mostly positive reflection of how happy Kelly currently is at the moment. It can be thought of like the more optimistic twin when paired with also personal (and also underrated) My December album. If you were waiting for a banger (like I was), you'll be disappointed. But when it comes to Career Artists like Kelly has proved herself to be, it's more about overall quality and it's clear she's in a great place.

Post-"Battlefield" (& Jay-SON De-RULO), Jordin is on a decidedly more urban bend. While her mixtape post-breakup Eff-You single "It Ain't You" still felt at least a little pop friendly, "Double Tap" is not. The beat is sparse and ridiculously catchy and very much en vogue right now (a la Tinashe) but the jury is out on how I feel about a whole song about getting likes on Instagram (have we not learned from Fifth Harmony?). Perhaps I'm just too old. 

Rixton had racked up a whole row of really rad midtempos ("Me & My Broken Heart", "Wait On Me", "Hotel Ceiling"). Despite that being a fact, I was still surprised how much I enjoyed the full set which dropped this week. Mostly I was stuck on the album opener and title track "Let The Road" which is largely a capella and is stunning.

I plead the fifth. Technically, this positive anthem is out this week only in the UK (and it was already a single in their native Australia). But it's an excuse to squee about my love for this underrated gal duo. Their third album, The Veronicas, was released with little fanfare in the US at the end of February but hope still lingers for more Stateside promotions.

Like with Kate Boy, every crumb that Brooklyn(!)-based Verite (pronounced: Ver-it-tay) releases rocks my socks. My seeing her at CMJ this past year only stoked the fire and I can't wait to see her live again and in an even more intimate setting at the Mercury Lounge next month. I don't know how she's not signed (unless it's a personal choice).

HEAR THIS: The Mutya Keisha Siobhan Project LIVES with "Back In The Day"

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Despite sinking suspicions (including on my part), Mutya Keisha Siobhan (MKS) are still a thing even though this obviously-going-to-be-brilliant album is totally M.I.A. "Flatline" was, after all, released over a year and a half ago!

A few weeks back, this gem of a harmonic ballad below leaked, restoring hope to the pop universe.

This wait is literally killing me. What. Is. The. Hold. Up. At this point, they could release this ish on their own on (International!) iTunes and call it an effing day and we'd still be happy.

NOW KPOPPING: Junsu's Lovely (but Intense) "Flower"

Pretty sure I've rocked those mirror surface silver press-ons, too.
Leave it to Kim Junsu to give you quality pop that's more than a little left of center.

Aside from currently being 1/3 of JYJ, he typically releases solo music under his original SM Entertainment moniker XIA (pronounced: She-uh). Unarguably one of the best male voices in KPOP (try to debate me on that, bro), Junsu not only provides quality vocals but some of the biggest visual head-scratchers as the promotional wrapping for some really great songs. 

Gone are his mainstream pretty boy days as a part of TVXQ! -- it's clear that Junsu's years of excelling in musical theater have influenced his solo work tremendously. "Tarantellegra" was almost as intriguing visually as it was to say aloud (seriously - trying saying "Tarantellegra" three times fast) but his latest solo single, "Flower", takes it all one step further into a kind of acid-trip-y, post-Oz type of dramatic alternate reality complete with machine skeleton heads, gelatinous golden coffee, monster fish for dinner, and glowing blue vomit.

The song itself is the epitome of anthematic despite being on the slow side of mid-tempo. You all know I'm more of a fan of uptempos rather than straight ballads but Junsu was always the exception to the rule because his beautiful voice made him stand above the rest. It also includes a rap by another legendary artist in the game -- Tablo of the group Epik High

It lacks the punch of dark "Tarantellegra" or steamy "Intoxication" of yore to present a whole other side of XIA. KPOP artists often brand each new promotional song as a "fresh concept" to promote but no one does this term more justice than Junsu. The only real common thread with his visual components is his voice and that is something to be praised. "Flower" is presented a bit like a rich painting -- its melodic but still intense and is brought to life (blossoms, if you will -- what, too much?) by Junsu's big, capable voice.

The song itself originally reads like a cry for help before overcoming extreme adversity or depression. "Come take my hand / Drench my dried up heart...So I can live for you again". But later, with Tablo's rap, it can also be viewed as the reach of a helping hand to a person in pain from someone who has already overcome this burden. "Your world / They cannot kill it / Look at me, I died but opened my eyes again / I killed it ... Piercing through the storm of snow / A deeply rooted flower blooms / This is the truth."

Heavy. Heavy. Hard not to equate this to the troubles Junsu & Co. have gone through post-TVXQ!pocalypse, no?

The video is a bit like a slow-motion car accident -- you can't look away. I don't mean in a negative sense, it's simply because despite the deep metaphor of the song I really don't know what the hell is happening. It is coming from the Beautiful Mind of Kim Junsu afterall. For all of the naysayers who say too much of KPOP is generic and predictable, I insert Exhibit A that you clearly weren't looking hard enough.

I'm not sure if it's 100% Junsu behind all of these strange concepts but if it is, I sincerely hope he goes into directing. Can you imagine?

HEAR THIS: Ida LaFontaine Gives Us An "Anthem"

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I think I might need to move to Sweden. January 2015 gave us Zara Larsson and now I have yet another proper popstar in the making to rave about: Ms. Ida LaFontaine.

Like Zara, Ida is no rookie when it comes to making quality pop. She's sung with Mans Zelmerlov, was mentored by Danny Saucedo, and signed her first label contract when she was just 15 years old. Fast forward a few yeas and Ida is now older and wiser, now signed with the Swedish branch of Universal Music Group and prepping her upcoming album.

First out the gate is the stellar pop single that is "Anthem", an appropriate title since lyrically it is the anthem of any pop music fan. The song is the epitome of meta as Ida waxes poetic on how "everybody needs an your heart's a kickdrum" -- a happy feeling that "Anthem" (the song) eagerly provides to the listener.

The beat is unrelenting while her vocal performance walks the line from initially quite melancholy to full-fledged joyful in the chorus. The video at times echos the carefree realness that helped propel Meghan Trainor here in the US. 

Take a listen and get your anthem on below.

PS - There's an equally lovely "acoustic version" that shows off just how fantastic Ida's voice really is available here.

HEAR THIS: Wrathschild Finally Unleashes 'Birds' EP

Monday, March 2, 2015

"It's like life on Mars, this life of ours
This life of ours out here."

My only complaint is that I want this EP to be longer.

My indie faves in Simon Curtis and Ro Danishei aka Wolfy have finally made good on their promise of new Wrathschild music via the release of Birds EP, a futuristic set of dream-pop that also includes their two ace singles "Fall In Love" and "Angeles".

While "Phoenix" and "Everest" further expand on how well Simon and Wolfy's voices are able to seamlessly blur together as a unit, I found myself more drawn to the more unique offerings on Birds. "Cosmonaut" features Wolfy talk-rapping her verses. Namesake "Birds" offers smart lyrics suggesting the freedom of being a bird rather than enduring heartbreak. It practically screams for a dance dub for  the clubs. 

And of course, there's my personal favorite, it the scorching "Mars" which stands apart from the rest of the Wrathschild material if only for its multi-layered use of instruments (so many guitar sounds!) and synth. It plays with the overall intensity -- dark and mysterious during the verses but also light and ethereal at the chorus. This duality is part of what makes the Wrathschild project so exciting. They are simply so versatile as popstars.

The Birds EP is now available for your purchase on iTunes and for perusal on Spotify.

HEAR THIS: Tori Kelly Slays "Nobody Love"

America, your next popstar is waiting on Line 2. You can stop relying on Taylor Swift. And that's an order.

Around this time last year, I was jamming out to Ms. Tori Kelly's stellar Foreward EP. Fast forward to now and serious strides have been made toward her upcoming full-length debut album with Capitol Records by way of the very. big. single. that is "Nobody Love".

Pay Attention, please. "Nobody Love" is co-written by Max Martin. That alone should be enough to get you to want to listen but there's more. Tori co-wrote the song with Max. It is 100% her transition song toward PopStar Status -- decidedly more Top 40 than any of her previous material.

Her big voice isn't forsaken however. The song is a bit schizophrenic with tempo changes and beat hiccups, lots of 90's flair, a crazy range of sung notes, and Tori kills the bridge with almost fifteen solid seconds of serious melisma that literally makes me exclaim out loud "YES!" whenever I listen to the song.

"Nobody Love" has cracked the Top 40 of Billboard's Pop Songs chart but currently sits outside the Hot 100. Help change that by buying this jam on iTunes and you too can tell folks you knew about Tori when.

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