It's been a looong few weeks for yours truly. With 2016 literally weeks away, it's already about that time for 'Best Of' lists and 'Year-End' wrap-ups. I'm putting together a few of those but before we get to that, here's what I've been playing quite a bit of since we last talked.
CARRIE UNDERWOOD - "Church Bells" (listen)
Carrie's latest album is titled Storyteller and I think it was well chosen. Country never was and most likely never will be my "thing" but Carrie is a forever exception to the rule so long as she keeps to the Shania playbook. "Church Bells" was an immediate standout because it just felt like classic "soap opera story" country. Co-penned by Brett James (who also co-wrote her hit "Jesus Take The Wheel"), it rollicks along on the road already paved by "Blown Away" and "Two Black Cadillacs".
CHRIS STAPLETON - "TENNESSEE WHISKEY" (listen)
I'd argue that Stapleton (thanks largely to his television performance with Justin Timberlake) became one of the great breakout acts of 2015 -- alongside pop phenom Halsey. Like with the current hoopla surrounding Adele, Chris resonates because of his strong vocal performance, effectively make his version of blue-eyed soul pan-demographic and unrestricted by genre boxes.
DNCE - "PAY MY RENT" (listen)
It's a real bummer "Doctor" wasn't included on DNCE's debut EP, SWAAY, but no matter. I'm still predicting big things for this Joe Jonas-led band.
ELLIE GOULDING - "WE CAN'T MOVE TO THIS" (listen)
Man, Delirium was a great album. 2015 was the beginning of Ellie's transition from electrospective to proper popstar and it was very kind to us as listeners. My current fave is this one, particularly because of its super sing-along-y chorus.
FLEUR EAST - "SAX"
Yeah, it's basically "Uptown Funk" but who cares? It's so much fun! Fleur's vocal sounds effortlessly fab (just like Bruno) and she casually calls out Kim and Kanye. I mean, does it get more 2015? And from a Brit popstar, no less.
GRIMES - "VENUS FLY (feat. JANELLE MONAE)" (listen)
I think if we were to pass the Robyn torch to anyone, it might be Grimes. Left of center in the best ways, her latest album Art Angels is a triumph not just because it swings from strength to strength (literally), it was entirely written and produced solely by Grimes herself. After being public with her disillusionment with the industry, largely owed to how little say she had over her own material and how often her ideas were cut down simply because she was female, she chose to take the reins of her own project and the result was this album -- her highest charting and best selling to date.
HAILEE STEINFELD - "YOU'RE SUCH A" (listen)
Flying high off her debut single "Love Myself", Hailee Steinfeld's debut EP, HAIZ, is full of unabashedly pop gems including this super tongue-in-cheek romp.
JUSTIN BIEBER - "I'LL SHOW YOU" (watch)
I know, I know. I'm not quite drinking the Purpose campaign Kool-Aid -- but I can freely admit that the Beebs, when putting pen to pad, can really write a hook. I also find it admirable that he chose to write so candidly -- whether you feel he's grown up in his personal & professional life or not. This one in particular stood out to me because the lyrics are so honest and relatable. "It's like they want me to be Perfect... / This life's not easy / I'm not made out of steel / Don't forget that I'm human / Don't forget that I'm real." He's not wrong...
KATE BOY - "LION FOR REAL" (listen)
Kate Boy's debut album, One, released back in early November, basically reads like a deluxe version of one of their flawless EPs -- the majority of the material we've heard before and it's all brilliant 90's-esque dance. "The Way We Are", "Higher", "Self Control", "Open Fire" -- all great jams. Give this transcontinental (Swede/Aussie) group a spin and you won't regret it.
KIESZA - "GIVE IT TO THE MOMENT" (listen)
You can ditto my feelings on Kate Boy with my girl Kiesza. I'm waiting for both artists to be huge because they are both so utterly talented, sitting on a goldmine of great tunes. I'm so ready for Album #2, girl.
LITTLE MIX - "I WON'T" (listen)
I won't say Album #3 for La Mix was a let down because it wasn't -- it's just we heard all the bangers before the album even dropped. Now with another midtempo being serviced to (UK) radio ("Secret Love Song" with Jason DeRulo), I'm kind of bummed that "Lightning" was passed over as a b-side. "Grown" is also brilliant and not just because it was a Jess Glynne co-write. "I Won't" -- a deluxe add on track -- was also co-written by Glynne and to me is much more befitting to the Little Mix mantra of never giving up for your dreams.
MIIKE SNOW - "GENGHIS KHAN" (listen)
Forget "Heart Is Full", this song makes me excited for the new Miike Snow album. Welcome back, fellas.
MISSY ELLIOT - "WTF (WHERE THEY FROM) (feat. PHARRELL WILLIAMS)"
Splashy, funky, silly, dancey. I'm hoping this just a taste of what's to come from rap's female headbanga.
NOONIE BAO - "PYRAMIDS" (listen)
What a find! I want her to be massive everywhere.
PANIC! AT THE DISCO - "LA DEVOTEE" (listen)
I feel like the Panic! boys are watching what Fall Out Boy is doing with their mainstream conversion comeback and are trying it on for size. Not complaining.
SEINABOY SEY - "Easy" (listen)
In need of a mantra song to help get you out of bed in the morning? Look no further.
ST. LUCIA - "PHYSICAL" (listen)
Jean-Philip Grobler (aka "St. Lucia") is not playing games with us for album #2.
STRAIGHT NO CHASER - "LOST" (listen)
SNC has returned with another album's worth of "twisted" a capella hits via The New Old Fashioned but "Lost" is their second original song offering and it's fabulous. Leads are by hunky Mike Luginbill but the song itself was written by baritone Don Nottingham in the vein of The Script. Given Pentatonix really taking off in 2015 (and beating Demi Lovato for a #1 album position!), I'm ready for 2016 to be SNC's year.
WHO IS FANCY - "BOYS LIKE YOU (feat. MEGHAN TRAINOR & ARIANA GRANDE)"
Had this been December 2014 instead of 2015, a lineup featuring not one but two young popstars would have been a slam dunk. Ariana was releasing hit after hit and Meghan was an overnight smash with "All About That Bass". Fast forward to now and we're hearing a lukewarm response -- post-Doughnut Gate, Ariana is fighting her own battles for "Focus" and Meghan is facing being saddled with a two-hit wonder moniker. It doesn't make this jam by underrated Who Is Fancy any less fantastic, but I hope there's a solo version (and a debut album) still coming down the pike.