HEAR THIS: Mark & Bruno Shoot for "Uptown Funk"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I'm well aware that the fab new single "Uptown Funk" is the lead offering from producer wunderkind Mark Ronson's upcoming fourth album project, Uptown Special. However, he can give Mr. Bruno Mars all the credit due for me having any interest in this project at all.

I'm no Ronson Hater -- it's hard to be a fan of modern music and not feel the weight of Ronson's production brilliance (Amy Winehouse, Adele, Christina Aguilera, Solange, even Bruno himself). But for me, I personally feel like Bruno Mars can do no wrong (and the weight for Album #3 is truly killing me).

"Uptown Funk" plays to Bruno's vocal strengths and relishes in the style that Ronson is so gifted at crafting -- a throwback feel to times long before everything was Auto-Tuned, Four on the Floor. The layered handclaps, guitar, and vocal bass takes everything right back to the 70's. The Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire, KC & the Sunshine Band, awwww, yes honey! "Funk" in the title is no accident.

2015 is a breath away but this remains to be a late entry to one of the best songs released in 2014. I'm saying, though.

BACK IN THE DAY: Retro Rewind in the Q4 Time Machine

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Those of you who know me know I'm a bit of a Chart Nerd. Today, in the vein of a Back In The Day meets my old What's Going On columns of yore, we're going to take a trip in the DeLorean (if you don't get that reference, you're too young for me) and see how music (and the Hot 100) has changed in the past twenty years. Let me know what you think of this format in the comments -- I'm really enjoying it.
1994 - Dance Hits & True R&B Strength

10. Craig Mack - "Flava In Your Ear"
9. Janet Jackson - "You Want This / 70's Love Groove"
8. Immature - "Never Lie"
7. Brandy - "I Wanna Be Down"
6. Madonna - "Secret"
5. Bon Jovi - "Always"
4. Real McCoy - "Another Night"
3. Sheryl Crow - "All I Wanna Do"
2. Ini Kamoze - "Here Comes the Hotstepper"
1. Boyz II Men - "I'll Make Love To You"

Twenty years should feel like an eon ago, but when you also followup that statement with the year 1994, it's pretty hard to believe the two equate to the same thing. I was seven years old and there was so much fantastic dancey R&B on the radio. Janet Jackson's iconic janet. album, now 21 years old and among the first I ever bought, continued to spawn hits, "You Want This" being one of the lesser remembered among the era of "If" and "Again". Brandy burst onto the scene with her first song ever, "I Wanna Be Down". Boyz II Men were slaying everyone with yet another beautiful, timeless ballad.

In the midst of this, Sheryl Crow was also in the midst of making her first mark on the industry, promoting "All I Wanna Do" off her debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club. Heavyweights Madonna and Bon Jovi were releasing ace ballads that would continue to hold up through the test of time. 

Remember Real McCoy? "Another Night" was the namesake for their debut album for this German dance group and also contained radio staples in "Come And Get Your Love" and "Run Away". 

1999 - Pop Staples

10. Len - Steal My Sunshine
9. Jessica Simpson - I Wanna Love You Forever
8. Whitney Houston - My Love Is Your Love
7. TLC - Unpretty
6. Puff Daddy - Satisfy You (feat. R. Kelly)
5. Mariah Carey - Heartbreaker (feat. Jay-Z)
4. Marc Anthony - I Need To Know
3. Lou Bega - Mambo #5 (A Little Bit Of...)
2. Brian McKnight - Back At One
1. Santana - Smooth (feat. Rob Thomas)

Ahhh, 1999. It was the time most pop afficionados recall to be the last big music boom -- CDs were still being purchased (and in mass quantities), MP3s were still a somewhat foriegn concept, and there was a new teenaged popstar being hustled out to the masses every week. As for me, I was in the seventh grade and the key demographic for the teen pop fluff that was so utterly popular during this time.

The Top 10 contained not one but two "one hit wonders" (Len, Lou Bega), although many would be keen to also toss Marc Anthony into that fold (at least in terms of his mainstream catalog). America was knee-deep in the 'Latin Explosion' as it was dubbed with Anthony's debut English song, the dancey "Mambo #5" (although it should be said that Lou Bega is actually German), and the iconic Santana and Rob Thomas keeping it "Smooth" at #1.

Familiar heavyweights abounded. Mariah Carey sexed it up with "Heartbreaker" (with Jay-Z by her side -- pre-Beyonce and pre-mainstream acceptance and embrace, it would be ten more years before Miley Cyrus is name checking him in her own hit). Whitney Houston's "My Love Is Your Love" was written by Wyclef Jean, produced by Darkchild, and was from arguably her last great effort in the album of the same name. TLC's "Unpretty" was off the heels of the groundbreaking "No Scrubs". "Back At One" was essentially Brian McKnight's final "big" hit despite making an indelible mark on mainstream R&B (and many mainstream male pop artists including Justin Timberlake).  And Diddy (back then known as Puff Daddy) was the biggest rapper in the game.

The Teen Pop I was so partial to is also present here. While Christina Aguilera's debut "Genie In A Bottle" and Britney Spears' early hit "(You Drive Me) Crazy" would land just outside the Top 10 at this point in time, the Bronze Blonde Bombshell -- Jessica Simpson -- tried her hand with her debut single "I Wanna Love You Forever". It wouldn't be for a few more albums (and a reality show where she confuses chicken with tuna) that she'd really gain a footing from outside the two aforementioned's shadow.

2004 - Party Rap is King

10. Eminem - "Just Lose It"
9. Ja Rule - "Wonderful (feat. R. Kelly & Ashanti)"
8. Trick Daddy - "Let's Go (feat. Lil Jon & Twista)"
7. Maroon 5 - "She Will Be Loved"
6. Kelly Clarkson - "Breakaway"
5. Ciara - "Goodies (feat. Petey Pablo)"
4. Nelly - "Over & Over (feat. Tim McGraw)"
3. Destiny's Child - "Lose My Breath"
2. Snoop Dogg - "Drop It Like Its Hot (feat. Pharrell)"
1. Usher - "My Boo (feat. Alicia Keys)"

By 2004, it was clear that the majority of mainstream hip hop was no longer about talking about real world issues but more about making you dance (while using choice vocabulary). At this time in 2004, I had entered my senior year of high school.

Much of the "hip hop" (term used loosely, I suppose) that littered the top ten was at the hands of familiar faces. Undoubtedly, the three biggest artists of the time were Eminem, Ja Rule and Nelly -- all three having huge successful runs despite their styles of rap being starkly different. "Drop It Like Its Hot" marked the true "return" of OG Snoop Dogg and the world was officially introduced to a young Pharrell Williams who showed us "these ice creams" with a rap verse in this now iconic jam that was produced by his production group The Neptunes. Who would have thought ten years later we'd all be jamming to him singing instead on G I R L?

I remember giving Nelly a lot of props for "Over and Over", a departure from his usual works that featured country star Tim McGraw. The song received mixed reviews, mostly because Nelly himself was singing (interesting juxtaposition when you compare him to Pharrell -- the difference being Pharrell can really sing). Nelly tried to replicate this weird bit of magic somewhat recently when he jumped on a remix of Florida Georgia Line's breakthrough hit "Cruise".

Trick Daddy's "Let's Go" was a dark horse and mostly gained spins due to its heavy reliance on the Ozzy Osbourne song it sampled ("Crazy Train"). You might recall this was during the height of fame for The Osbournes reality show on MTV.

Maroon 5 and Ciara were rookies back then, both promoting their debut albums. Meanwhile, Destiny's Child returned to the game as a trio following Beyonce's runaway solo success with her Dangerously In Love album. The Usher and Alicia Keys duet was a tacked on addition to his brilliant and ridiculously successful Confessions album, that drew comparisons to Michael Jackson for the amount of hit singles it spawned.

2009 - Girl Power + The Rise of Production Houses

10. Beyonce - "Sweet Dreams"
9. Rihanna - "Russian Roulette"
8. Britney Spears - "3"
7. Lady Gaga - "Paparazzi"
6. Miley Cyrus - "Party In The U.S.A."
5. Jay Sean - "Down (feat. Lil Wayne)"
4. Iyaz - "Replay"
3. Jason DeRulo - "Whatcha Say"
2. Jay-Z & Alicia Keys - "Empire State of Mind"
1. Owl City - "Fireflies"

2009 marked the end of one era for me and the beginning of another. I had graduated from college that May and my one year anniversary of living in New York City was looming. This blog was also celebrating its one year anniversary!

Clearly its true what they say about trends coming back into vogue every ten years -- while 2009 wasn't quite as utterly poppy as 1999 turned out to be, it didn't do too badly for itself. Half of the songs in the Top 10 were by female pop powerhouse brands that continue to have hits (although in some cases, more minor ones) to this day.

Following the Pre-Grammy Fight Heard Round The World, "Russian Roulette" marked the beginning of a darker, tougher Rihanna and the true beginning of her image change post-Good Girl Gone Bad that made her a star. Lady Gaga was still spinning hits from her debut set while Miley Cyrus made one last big pop bow (with a song co-written by a pre-fame Jessie J) before making twerking a word on everyone's lips. Interesting that she sings "And a Britney song was on!" as Britney sits just below her at #8.

It was also the era of the Franchise Producer. While Max Martin and the Cheiron gang were carrying the torch with Britney's "3" (and Martin continues to to this day), 2009 saw the rise of RedOne ("Paparazzi"), Dr. Luke ("Party In The U.S.A.") and Beluga Heights/J.R Rotem ("Replay", "Whatcha Say"). 

2014 - International, Multi-Genre Mainstream

10. Hozier - "Take Me To Church"
9. Ed Sheeran - "Don't"
8. Bobby Shmurda - "Hot Boy"
7. Jeremih - "Don't Tell 'Em (feat. YG)"
6. Iggy Azalea - "Black Widow (feat. Rita Ora)"
5. Jessie J - "Bang Bang (feat. Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj)"
4. Maroon 5 - "Animals"
3. Tove Lo - "Habits (Stay High)"
2. Megan Trainer - "All About That Bass"
1. Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"

While it's arguable that 2009 marked a true pop boom, the scales in 2014's mainstream pop music landscape have shifted to be a party where everyone's invited. The current Top 10 can be noted for relying more on the ladies. It features five female popstars (Rita Ora, Jessie J, Tove Lo, Megan Trainor, and arguably Taylor Swift) and a teen pop starlet (Ariana Grande), along with not one but two female rappers, undoubtedly the two biggest in the game for this current generation (Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea).

In addition to being female heavy, the current American landscape is wrought with international acts taking up the majority of the space. Irish alt-rocker Hozier, Brits Ed Sheeran and the aforementioned Jessie J, Australian Iggy Azalea, and Swedish pop-upstart Tove Lo account for almost half of the artists represented.

Maroon 5 who appear here at #4 remain to be the only act that also had relevancy not just five years ago but ten years ago. Five of the acts in the current Top 10 can be considered "rookies", promoting songs on their debut album (Hozier, Bobby Shmurda, Tove Lo, Megan Trainer, and Iggy Azalea).

While still relevant five years ago, it's unclear to tell when was the true Era of Taylor Swift -- her record-breaking sales have always been impressive since her rise with "Teardrops On My Guitar" all those years ago. Her change-over to pop should be nothing new, she's been emulating Shania Twain long before Red hit shelves. "Shake It Off" is an interesting jam because not only does she poke fun at herself (for once) which I respect, it also has shades of Toni Basil's "Hey Mickey" (and Rihanna's "Umbrella").

LIVE FROM NEW YORK: Nick Jonas breaks from his group "Chains" (& Gets "Jealous" with Tinashe) in Brooklyn!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Paging Kevin Jonas. He's officially the only remaining Jonas Brother for me to see live in the past two weeks.

Last night, I headed to the Music Hall of Williamsburg -- which is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues -- to see the youngest (professional) Jonas Brother, Nick Jonas, assuage all my qualms that ditching the final JB record in favor of going solo was the right decision. Yes, I'll finally admit it.

Let's be real here. This is the third official time I've seen Nick perform live (if you don't count when I saw him on Broadway in How To Suceed... -- and he was fantastic there, too) and the prior two times, although admittedly were during the height of his fame with his brothers, were in considerably larger and less intimate venues. Nick could easily have chosen to showcase the material for his upcoming "debut" solo record (if you don't count Who I Am, the Nick Jonas & The Administration album that was out back in 2009) in more mid-size venues, at least in the New York metro area. The Beacon Theatre, maybe, or the Best Buy Theatre. 

Instead -- he chose three relatively small spaces in the Gramercy Theatre, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and the Rough Trade (the former in Manhattan, latter two being in Brooklyn). This kept ticket prices quite low and allowed almost everyone in the room to have a great view of just how hunky he is (I'm saying, though!). But all three shows sold out in a matter of minutes, a real testament to the in-roads he made with his brothers.

Doors opened at 7PM, which wasn't too surprising giving the show was 16+ (that should have been a give away, Mel, that this show would be filled with young girls wearing crop tops in November and too much eyeliner shrieking "I LOVE YOU, NICKKKK" when they should be enjoying the music, but oh well). However, we didn't make our way inside till past 7:30 and Nick didn't take the stage til after 9:30. There was no opening act. I'm not sure what the point of just waiting around was. Shrug.

Given that Nick Jonas is slated for release this upcoming Tuesday, only about half of the songs had already been premiered. Nick and his band walked out to the tune of a canned version of the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Til Brooklyn" (appropriate) before diving right in to "Wilderness" and "Numb" (sans Angel Haze). He wore black jeans, a long-sleeve (damnit!) white shirt and a leather jacket that was later discarded (to the soundtrack of teenage squeals) and a hat he wore backwards.

Nick Jonas & special guest Tinashe. (C) MelismaticBlog.com
The material he had to perform was truncated compared to how well known he already was. His set was augmented by one predictable Jonas Brothers tune -- inevitably "A Little Bit Longer", a song he'll no doubt be performing for the rest of his career, with or without his brothers -- and two Administration tunes in "Who I Am" (on acoustic guitar) and "Vesper's Goodbye". The latter featured a surprise interpolation of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" (complete with crowd singalong).

In fact, covers were a common theme. He also belted out a falcetto-drenched version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and -- my favorite of the night -- strummed out a minimal version of Prince's "I Would Die 4 U". (You can see a bit of the latter via my Instagram here.) A handful of young girls around me weren't familiar with the song (sigh) and one kept saying he (Nick) was "such a good writer!" and that she hoped it was on the album.

Of the album songs that were new to my ears, the obvious gut-wrencher is "Push", allegedly one of Nick's favorites, which he wrote when he was "feeling really vulnerable and not liking that feeling". I was also an immediate fan of "I Want You", which coincidentally enough was co-written by Erik Hassle and Taio Cruz. Overall, the album is truly shaping up to be a solid work from beginning to end.

Michael Jackson meets Pharrell-esque "Teacher" was a big highlight as it felt like a real funk party, complete with a choreographed bit with himself and his two backup singers (both of which were stellar). His backing band really was phenomenal and very tight.

He closed the night with the single, "Jealous", complete with a surprise addition of nu-R&B chanteuse and "2 On" hitmaker Tinashe (for those of you who are like me and assumed her name was pronounced "Tin-EH-SHUH", you're wrong. It's "Tin-AH-SHAY". Now you know.). Girlfriend is gorgeous in real life, it was a treat to see her live even if it was just for that one song.

The show was short and sweet -- just over an hour with no encore. But Nick played the majority of the upcoming record and sounded predictably just as good if not better than the recording. I've always said it; the kid is phenomenally talented and it's still jarring to me to internalize he's still only 22 years old and yet has so many commercially successful albums, soundtracks, and awards under his belt. Fun Fact: Nick's true first recorded release in his "solo" Christian indie album Nicholas Jonas is celebrating a ten year anniversary this year!

The material on Nick Jonas sounds very current and coupled with his strong voice and sex appeal, my fingers are crossed that it will do well. Whether or not its the real Nick Jonas, however, remains to be seen. This decidedly "urban" jaunt is clearly influenced by the success of Bruno Mars, Miguel, and Justin Timberlake. Given all the JoBros ardent love for Stevie Wonder and Prince, perhaps they would have been wiser to get on this train earlier than now rather than attempting to go the Springsteen route as Nick did with the Administration a few years back. Basically, I'm not hating this shift in sound to say the least -- I just hope it goes over better than the change in direction did for big brother Joe and from what I saw last night, it probably will.

Who else is picking up Nick Jonas on Tuesday?

(STILL) FRESH OUT THE BOX: Jessie Ware, The Ting Tings, Blake Lewis, Gwen Stefani, Jessie J, & more...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Work has taken up all my time and energy but when I get home what do I do? Blare my Spotify. While the rest of the world flails and chirps about Taylor Swift's latest, here's what's been getting the most playlist abuse by yours truly recently.

JESSIE WARE - "Kind of...Sometimes...Maybe"
Top to bottom, Jessie's sophomore album Tough Love is stellar. This is my current reigning favorite album cut.

THE TING TINGS - "Communication"
The group's third album, Super Critical, shouldn't be overlooked. "Communication" is another one of those 90's jams -- and who better to be jammin' it throwback style than the Tings?  Dancey first single "Wrong Club" is also fab.

IGGY AZALEA - "Beg For It" (feat. )
Featuring the fabulous , co-written by Charli XCX. This may be just about the bouncy, dark beat, but whatever. I'm jammin'.

NICK JONAS - "Wilderness"
Dirty & Sexy. I'm seeing him live TONIGHT and I. Can. Not. Wait. What is life?

TONY LUCCA - "Delilah"
Soulful. Homegrown. And Tony's husky voice.

BLAKE LEWIS - "Back to Life" / "Your Touch"
Blake's latest album, Portrait of a Chameleon, was clearly a labor of love and is finally available for perusal. 

SAM HUNT - "Ex To See"
If you are into poppy-country a la Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town like I am, give this one a spin.

Not as anthematic as prior singles but still great.

ANDY ALLO - "Tongue Tied"
Utterly ethereal.

GWEN STEFANI - "Baby Don't Lie"
Nothing about this really screams "first single comeback" to me but she's Gwen, so...yeah.

JESSIE J - "Sweet Talker" / "Seal Me With A Kiss" (feat. De La Soul)
I wish Sweet Talker the album had more uptempo jams on it but these two (and "Bang Bang") are worth the album purchase alone.

JIMMY FALLON - "Ew!" (feat. will.i.am)
It's ridiculous and silly (and it has will.i.am. on it...) but hear me out. It's a joke song, obviously, but it's kind of a on-point, totally-nailed-it statement on 2014 youth culture. And isn't that sad?

HEAR THIS: DANITY KANE finally unleashes "All In A Day's Work" (Hoot!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Despite disbanding again for good this time(?), Danity Kane has released via their production group Stereotypes (who brought us "Damaged") their unofficial/official third/final album DK3 last week. Unfortunately, it was largely anticlimactic as much of what is great about this album, we've already heard during live performances ("Rhythm of Love", "Rage").

It should be praised that this effort ever saw the light of day to be honest, so I will give them that. I'm also proud that Ms. Shannon Bex is finally audible on a recording as her vocals were often lost in the mix/shuffle on previous albums.

While I would prefer to have the version with the incomparable Aundrea Fimbres, it's at least worth purchasing the strut-inducing "All In A Day's Work". Too bad the gals could hold it together to truly be the "Show Stoppers" we know they could have been....

HEAR THIS: KATE BOY continues the 90's trend with "Open Fire", "Self Control"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It remains to be a huge bummer that I never got to see Kate Boy live during CMJ week, but it is what it is, I suppose. If you aren't familiar with this Scandipop dance group and are all about this wave of 90's dance pop a la Kiesza, Gorgon City, Jess Glynne, etc. -- it's time get in the know.

Their latest jam, "Open Fire", just hit the nets two weeks ago and its predictably amazing.

But my favorite remains (and will probably always be) the ridiculously hooky "Self Control".

This 90's revival is giving me life, guys.

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