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MIXTAPE: CURRENT Q2 FAVES with Brandon Flowers, Carly Rae Jepsen, Erik Hassle, Nikki Flores, & More!

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Now that the year is officially heating up (literally and figuratively), there's a ton of new music to jam to. Here's what's been topping my list lately:


Don't like The Killers? Don't be fooled by this song being attributed to the band's lead singer. It's 80's synthpop at its best. It's a little bit Genesis, a little bit Sting, a little bit Roxette, and a lotta bit awesome and is easily my favorite song of the moment.

Nikki continues to plug away posting gorgeous covers on her Soundcloud that show off her beautiful voice. None do it better than this Mariah cover. Basically what I'm saying is if you love Mariah and/or that Fifth Harmony "Like Mariah" jam, you need to blare this. Loud.

We are far from "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies" territory. Panic! has basically reinvented themselves to be much more mainstream pop instead of their emo pop-rock feels. (Considering Fall Out Boy has also done much of the same, maybe we're all just growing up, huh?)

This 90's dance revival is everything. And Max Martin doing 90's revival by way of the ever-capable Adam Lambert? Hello, Summer! And yes, it slays Madonna's "Ghosttown." There. I said it.

These big, emotional Dev Hynes midtempos can really do no wrong, at this point. "All That" is offering big Prince vibes and should be everywhere. Unfortunately for Carly, it's more of a slow burn -- but nonetheless amazing.

New from Gin but still sounds familiar. Lots of crunchy electric guitar and synth.

Hear me out. I may not be into Taylor Swift being shoved down my throat but the Imagine Dragon guys have re-invented the far too familiar "Blank Space" by playing it to the tune of the infamous Ben E. King classic and it really works. The cover mashup is available via their recent Spotify Sessions release and they also performed it at the Radio 1 Live Lounge in the UK. Like Rixton, I love these proper bands also using so much vocal harmony in their music. It just feels so full.

Adding the former DJ to this title tag aggravates me a little bit since this AlunaGeorge jam has been around for quite awhile before he only slightly re-tooled it. Still a great song (and a great album).

I guess the singer-songwriter-y acoustic vibe just wasn't catching flame, huh? Cut to Hil dying her hair blue-green and releasing this Tove Lo co-write. Well....alright.

What a great disco summer jam! Why is he so underrated?


WGO: TIDAL, SPOTIFY, & THE FUTURE OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS AS WE KNOW IT

Sunday, April 5, 2015


Reader Beware -- an opt-ed-y ranting lies ahead.

Let's take a quick second to think back to this time six years ago. Your girl was an intern at a prominent sub-label here in NYC, a newbie to the Big Apple after three and a half years spent as a Music Industry major at a small state university upstate. The experience was a golden one, one I hold very dear. Not necessarily for what I got to do on a daily basis but for the nuggets of knowledge and insight I gleaned over those precious five months. 

I feel lucky enough to say that I didn't just have one mentor -- I was surrounded by them. Young, smart, forward-thinking individuals who didn't box themselves into the prescribed Music Business Handbook that I was essentially taught verbatim in school. I remember vividly one day in particular when one such mentor sent around a email to the entire (small) office team. It was a link to an article about the launch of the music streaming service Spotify in the UK, and the succinct statement of "The future of the Music Business is now."

Not long after, we had a "town meeting" of sorts to have a general conversation as to why music streaming was important. Physical sales had long since been on the decline. We were in this strange grey area of between. It had been eight years since iTunes had launched. The MP3 player of your choice was the preferred conduit of music listening (whereas in my middle school years -- the early era of MP3 music files -- the idea of downloading music was taboo). The idea of having a cloud-based service that allows you to play any song on-demand for one small low fee (weekly, monthly, year?) was still new and exciting and it just made sense.

(I should also mention the same mentor also would say he just "knew" that one day there would be a singular Release Day worldwide. Smart guy.)

Fast forward to now. Plenty of streaming services have begun to crowd the marketplace. Spotify has been on the market in the US for over four years. And it's presence has been felt. However, unlike when the digital age first emerged and (most) record labels -- for lack of a better phrase -- freaked the freak out at the potential lack of income from sales and the artist was immediately viewed as the victim, the divide morphs into the age old David & Goliath among the artists themselves.

Part of this discussion is brought on by Jay-Z's new TIDAL streaming service. The service is still utterly brand new, the jury is out on whether it will be as openly as embraced as Spotify was (and lest you forget, that took plenty of time and energy on their part). Like Spotify, TIDAL was crafted in Sweden (home of the good pop) and it's main marketing ploy is the "high quality" sound its streaming offers its customers. That's all well in good for audiophiles like you and me but to the Average Joe, who is lifting music for free off of platforms like YouTube, as long as the song sounds alright, you're pretty much good with that. 


The service's press conference included a who's who of musicians from every genre -- Madonna, Rihanna, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, Jason Aldean, deadmau5, Nicki Minaj, and so many more -- presented as "owners" of TIDAL. Here is where the service's real strength lies, in its teased exclusive content by infamous artists. Already, heavyweight Beyonce has offered up a new song exclusively to TIDAL subscribers.

While I appreciate the thought behind creating a service that's essentially "by" the artist, "for" the artist, this display of power feels much less "We Are The World" and much more like "We *THINK* We Run The World"...and they do. These artists have serious muscle in persuading music fans to shell out the $$ to subscriber, sure, but they are also brands in themselves. TIDAL's mantra is to take the Music Industry back for the artist but when artists who are already monetarily successful are used as its face, it feels less like a social movement and more like petulant strong-arming in order to pad their already impressive payouts in the existing streaming world.

The main complaint made by artists against the Spotify concept is that they make very little money per stream in a landscape that is already overcrowded and in the case of lesser-known artists, this is certainly true. Time Magazine offered up an estimated payout breakdown of the "most in demand" songs on Spotify at the time -- inevitably featuring artists that were already popular at radio and in pop culture on the whole. Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" made her an average of $335,000 in the month of October based on streams alone before she pulled her catalog from the service entirely. On paper, Taylor's complaints make sense (Spotify was claiming her material earned her millions, while Swift's camp is saying they saw a mere fraction of this payout). But they ring false when they are coming from a career artist like Swift who could essentially give away her music and still make lots of money through other revenue channels. 

To an artist like Taylor, that payout number may be considered chump change. But to an independent artist -- fighting to be heard, fighting for exposure to potential new fans -- it's life-changing. Earning less then a penny for one stream is arguably worth it if it transforms the listener of that one stream into a fan who will in turn pay to see the artist live (or at least, rave about the song to their friends who may then become fans themselves).

It's for this reason that I say, if TIDAL is for the artists, by the artists as it campaigns, it's face should be the bubbling under artists of today rather than artists like Rihanna who would already be making thousands of dollars off streaming. It's the reason why so many indie artists are staying indie -- they aren't just getting away from the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen mentality of many modern record labels, they can also find their one lane in an marketplace that is overcrowded by successful brand names.

I'm not alone in the camp that's suspicious about TIDAL. My girl Marina & The Diamonds said it best: 



Spotify may seem dull in comparison, just as it did when Beats Music launched -- but we all know how that turned out. At least it's a leveled playing field. What happens when two of the "owners" promotional cycle ramp up at the same time? Who gets prime real estate? This feels less like "Music For All" and more like a pure popularity contest.

Have you subscribed to TIDAL? How do you feel about it?


LIVE FROM NEW YORK: TOVE LO AT THE HIGHLINE

Image Courtesy of @colbymakeup on Instagram
A few weeks back I had the pleasure of seeing live in concert the artist I was most excited about discovering properly last year. Swedish pop starlet Tove Lo stopped by NYC's Highline Ballroom (a mid-size venue that feels like a theater with multi-level seating on its periphery that fits around 600-700 people) for a sold out show -- her first "headlining" show in New York.

While her Queen of the Clouds debut album was easily my favorite release of 2014, Tove is still a relative unknown to the US pop audience beyond her catchy single "Habits (Stay High)". You wouldn't know it at the Highline that night -- the show was at capacity, filled with a screaming fanbase that was gratuitous with their adoration. (One potentially drunk girl next to me: "OH MY GOSH, YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!")

The show opened with L.A.-based indie alt pop soloist Phoebe Ryan, a self-described Tove fan herself. She recently just unleashed the music video for her single, "Dead". The main highlight during her short set was her mashup offering of R.Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" (I honestly don't know why this is considered such a coverable classic to my generation but it really is).

Tove bounded on stage shortly thereafter with her hair put into mini braids on one side, weighted with white fabric, large beads, and feathers. She wore a black trench coat with her legs bare. Not long into the set, she ditched the jacket to reveal skin-tight, high-waisted shorts and a tank top, covered with a iridescent-but-sheer shirt overlay. For much of the performance, she was barefoot.

The name of her album was not a fluke -- for the entire performance, Tove looked like she was on top of the world. The energy in the room was palpable. Everyone knew all the words to even the more obscure album tracks and was singing along at full volume. Tove would consistently interact with the fans, grabbing hands and constantly dancing. 

Towards the end of her set, when single "Talking Body" was cued up, she encouraged the crowd to take off their clothes and throw them on stage (sorry girl, you lost me here). Quite a few fans acquiesced, however. One fan threw her bra, which Tove picked up and held to her chest and proceeded to take with her when she left the stage (to do what with, the world will never know).

All in all, she put on a great show and will clearly be a hit on the festival circuit. Much of the Queen of the Clouds album was ran through and even "older" songs like "Over" were also performed. Vocally, she sounded great but the performance was more about the energy in the room -- it vibrated with a kind of intensity that only comes from the sheer respectability of an artist. What makes Tove so exciting as a popstar is because her lyrics are real. They don't feel sugarcoated or fabricated. And the response from the crowd spoke volumes to just how effective that realism is.

For more on Tove's stage look and how to re-create it at home, check out my style blog entry here.


FRESH OUT THE BOX: MARINA & THE DIAMONDS, LE YOUTH, CHRISTINA GRIMMIE, & More

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!

HEAR THIS: AJR's RALLYING CRY "Big Idea"

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?


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