Year in Review: Music 2015

BESTAdeleScreen shot 2016-01-12 at 4.57.23 PMOur final end-of-year wrap up in entertainment has arrived! Our music guru, Chris Azzopardi, ranks the top 10 discs of 2015.

10. Madonna, Rebel Heart. In 2015, it was strange hearing Madonna sound so… human. A cluster of cuts from the queen’s 13th studio album imparted a rare authenticity and striking vulnerability typically not ascribed to music’s self-proclaimed Unapologetic Bitch. Madonna caring about people’s opinions of Madonna — and confessing those feelings? Yup. At least on “Joan of Arc.” Madonna lifting you up, hugging your heart and making this “mad, mad world” just a little easier to cope with? Yes, that too: “Ghosttown” — also the heyday throwback “Living for Love” — reveals, for the first time in years, a deeper, more poignant pop queen.

9. Miguel, Wild HeartLook beyond Miguel’s piercing peepers, winning smirk and that perfectly coiffed just-after-5 o’clock shadow — just try real hard, you can do it — and what you’ll find is a real music man. That’s right: His underheard Wild Heart is as dreamy as he is, all SoCal Prince vibes and hypersexual playfulness (put a condom on when you listen to “the valley”), but also genuinely affecting. Highlights are the introspective, identity-questioning “what’s normal anyway” and “leaves,” an amping guitar-riffed wonder that hurts as much as it heals.

8. Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter“I miss the days when I was just a kid,” Brandi Carlile sings, sweetly, longingly. Now 34, and out and married and mothering, Carlile was self-reflective on her rustic release Firewatcher’s Daughter, living for tomorrow but remembering today and yesterday. On arguably the album’s most impassioned ditty, “Wherever Is Your Heart,” the Seattle-born singer-songwriter relishes being “born to roam,” which is precisely what this, her first major-label-less release, does. The journey pauses in the past but lives, powerfully, in the present.

BESTChvrches7. Adele, 25. “Hello.” One short, simple word, but it was enough. A gift. A gif. That brief salutation brought Adele back into our lives as if she’d been gone for a lifetime. In pop years, it sure seemed that way, and the meme-worthy lyrics of her first single served as a “Hi, I’m back, bitches” moment and also a searing reminder of the heartbreak the record-breaking belter can inflict when she powers through a sad song. Like “All I Ask,” a gutting assertion to an imminent ex. Like “When We Were Young,” a reminder that your youth is dead, gone, bye forever. So good, though. Yes: Hello from the other side of not-great album sales, Auto Tune and general imperfection.

6. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly. Kendrick Lamar changed hip-hop last year. Turned it up, down, sideways. And he even had time to team with Taylor Swift for “Bad Blood,” scoring him his first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Not that he needed Swift — Lamar’s second major-label album, To Pimp a Butterfly, speaks for itself. And it speaks boldly, declaring painful truths about race and his own personal demons with rage-filled cinematic flair and simmering jazz flavor.

5. Susanne Sundfør, Ten Love SongsIt isn’t just the ominous lure of mad love on the deliciously fuming “Delirious” — “I hope you have a safety net, because I’m going to push you over the edge” — that lands Susanne Sundfør a spot on the list. It’s certainly enough, though. She ravages every word of that song with a shark’s bite, and it’s a magical moment among many (give “Darlings” all the vocal awards) nestled within the front-to-back brilliance of 10 love songs that are equal parts euphoric, enchanting and enraged.

4. CHVRCHES, Every Open EyeI remember hearing CHVRCHES for the first time at a festival even before obsessing over their then-unreleased debut, _The Bones of What You Believe_. The music was alive, bursting with retro shimmer and sowing the same kind of emotional catharsis of, say, Robyn. I was hooked. The disc did not disappoint, nor did its follow-up, the also-marvelous Every Open Eye. CHVRCHES’ sound is still deeply rooted in the wondrous midnight-hour wheelhouse they shaped on Bones, and, once again, to staggering effect. A slump-less sophomore album as divine as their name.

BESTSufjan3. Patty Griffin, Servant of LoveWhat does the world need? Peace… and Patty Griffin’s voice. The former is especially apparent to anyone who, you know, is living right now, but: Have you heard Griffin’s most recent Grammy-nominated release? The alt-folk phenom sings like angels must; “Rider of Days” sounds like thousands of winged beauties, soaring to the afterlife, dancing through the clouds. It’s a sweet reverie, and one of the most gorgeous pieces of music this universe has ever heard. But also, it’s a rare sliver of light on yet another one of Griffin’s masterworks, a brooding, beautiful catharsis of a world on fire.

2. Carly Rae Jepsen, E•MO•TIONPeople, what gives? One of 2015’s greatest unsolved mysteries, Carly Rae Jepsen’s absurdly looked-over E•MO•TION didn’t find its commercial sweet spot. And fine. Their loss. Our gain: the charming Sia-written jam “Making the Most of the Night,” a punchy piece of pick-me-up pop; “Warm Blood,” a cuddly come-down; and “When I Needed You,” which sounds like her winning audition to be the fifth member of The Go-Go’s. And on and on and on. Yes, Carly: I really really really like this.

1. Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell. On Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens’ quiet descent into the dark corners of grief and despair after the loss of his mother, the sexually ambiguous singer-songwriter says so much with so little. Leaning on minimalist atmospherics, his open-book outing sounds as if it were recorded in the late hours of the night in the quiet of his bedroom, just Sufjan’s guitar and his lonely stream-of-conscious. It’s powerful and potent. And it’s death, and it’s life. The weirdly comforting truth that “we’re all gonna die” on the lullaby-like “Fourth of July” — a final exchange with his passing mother – is a stinging reality, and “Blue Bucket of Gold” feels like a dream.

— Chris Azzopardi

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Adele to perform at AAC in Dallas next fall; tickets on sale Thursday

AdeleAdele, who has a little album you may have heard something about, will bring her amazing voice to Dallas’s American Airlines Center… but it’ll take almost a year. Her tour has just been confirmed at American Airlines Center on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. Tickets go on sale this Thursday at 10 a.m. The links above will take you direct access on Thursday morning. Good luck!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

List of Grammy Award nominees — who’s in and who’s out



To the surprise of no one, Taylor Swift dominated the Grammy Award nominations this morning, but there are some other artists we were happy to see on the list. For those looking for Adele best album and song, though — don’t worry! The cut-off for qualifying was Sept. 30, so Adele won’t be eligible until next year.

Some notable inclusions and omissions: Amy Winehouse is nominated three years after her death — for the music to the documentary about her, Amy … “Uptown Funk” got a record of the year nomination (for production and performance) but not song of the year (for writing). I guess Bruno and Mark will have to settle for unbridled success and tons of money … Arlington’s Leon Bridges was overlooked for best new artist in favor of already-tired-of-her Meghan Trainor (Leon was nominated, though, for best R&B album) … Barry Manilow is up for a Grammy again for his Dream Duets album … local girl Kelly Clarkson was nominated again … lesbian musicians Brandi Carlile and Brandy Clark (who co-wrote the recent world premiere Moonshine musical at DTC), and gay heartthrob Ricky Martin were also nominated. But Shamir was overlooked, as was Madonna.

Album of the Year

Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Chris Stapleton, Traveller

Taylor Swift, 1989

The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness

Song of the Year

Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”

Wiz Kahifa feat. Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Record of the Year

D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Really Love”

Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”

Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel my Face”

Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett

James Bay

Sam Hunt

Tori Kelly

Meghan Trainor

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Florence + The Machine, ” Ship to Wreck”

Maroon 5, “Sugar”

Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”

Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood”

Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

JoshGroban9Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album

Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap, The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern

Bob Dylan, Shadows in the Night

Josh Groban, Stages

Seth MacFarlane, No One Ever Tells You

Barry Manilow (& Various Artists), My Dream Duets

Best Pop Vocal Album

Kelly Clarkson, Piece by Piece

Florence + The Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Mark Ronson, Uptown Special

Taylor Swift, 1989

James Taylor, Before This World

Best Dance Recording

Above & Beyond feat. Zoë Johnston, :We’re All We Need”

The Chemical Brothers, “Go:

Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me”

Galantis, “Runaway (U & I)”

Skrillex and Diplo With Justin Bieber, “Where Are Ü Now”

Best Rock Performance

Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

Florence + The Machine,”What Kind Of Man”

Foo Fighters, “Something From Nothing”

Elle King, “Ex’s & Oh’s”

Wolf Alice, “Moaning Lisa Smile”

Best Alternative Music Album

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color

Björk, Vulnicura

My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall

Tame Impala, Currents

Wilco, Star Wars

Best Urban Contemporary Album

The Internet, Ego Death

Kehlani, You Should Be Here

Lianne La Havas, Blood

Miguel, Wildheart

The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness

Best Rap Album

J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Dr. Dre, Compton

Drake, If Youre Reading This Its Too Late

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint

Best Country Album

Sam Hunt, Montevallo

Little Big Town, Pain Killer

Ashley Monroe, The Blade

Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material

Chris Stapleton, Traveller

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

Joey Alexander, My Favorite Things

Terence Blanchard feat. The E-Collective, Breathless

Robert Glasper & The Robert Glasper Trio, Covered: Recorded Live at Capitol Studios

Jimmy Greene, Beautiful Life

John Scofield, Past Present

Best Gospel Album

Karen Clark Sheard, Destined to Win (Live)

Dorinda Clark-Cole, Living It

Tasha Cobbs, One Place Live

Israel & Newbreed, Covered: Alive Is Asia [Live] (Deluxe)

Jonathan McReynolds, Life Music: Stage Two

Best Contemporary Christian Music Album

Jason Crabb, Whatever the Road

Lauren Daigle, How Can It Be

Matt Maher, Saints and Sinners

Tobymac, This Is Not a Test

Chris Tomlin, Love Ran Red

Ricky2Best Latin Pop Album

Pablo Alborán, Terral

Alex Cuba, Healer

Ricky Martin, A Quien Quiera Escuchar (Deluxe Edition)

Alejandro Sanz, Sirope

Julieta Venegas, Algo Sucede

Best Americana Album

Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind

Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

The Mavericks, Mono

Punch Brothers, The Phosphorescent Blues

Best Dance/Electronic Album

Caribou, Our Love

The Chemical Brothers, Born in the Echoes

Disclosure, Caracal

Jamie XX, In Colour

Skrillex and Diplo, Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü

Best Contemporary Instrumental Album

Bill Frisell, Guitar in the Space Age!

Wouter Kellerman, Love Language

Marcus Miller, Afrodeezia

Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest, Sylva

Kirk Whalum, The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter IV

Best Metal Performance

August Burns Red, “Identity”

Cirice, “Ghost”

Lamb of God, “512”

Sevendust, “Thank You”

Slipknot, “Custer”

Best Rock Song

Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

Elle King, “Ex’s & Oh’s”

James Bay, “Hold Back the River”

Highly Suspect, “Lydia”

Florence + the Machine, “What Kind of Man”

Best Rock Album

James Bay, Chaos and the Calm

Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi

Highly Suspect, Mister Asylum

Muse, Drones

Slipknot, .5: The Gray Chapter

Best R&B Performance

Tamar Braxton, “If I Don’t Have You”

Andra Day, “Rise Up”

Hiatus Kaiyote, “Breathing Underwater”

Jeremih feat. J. Cole, “Planes”

The Weeknd, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”

Best Traditional R&B Performance

Faith Evans, “He Is”

Lalah Hathaway, “Little Ghetto Boy”

Jazmine Sullivan, “Let It Burn”

Tyrese, “Shame”

Charlie Wilson, “My Favorite Part of You”

Best R&B Song

Miguel, “Coffee”

The Weeknd, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”

Jazmine Sullivan, “Let It Burn”

D’Angelo and The Vanguard, “Really Love”

Tyrese, “Shame”

Best R&B Album

Leon Bridges, Coming Home

D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah

Andra Day, Cheers to the Fall

Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show

Charlie Wilson, Forever Charlie

Best Rap Performance

J. Cole, “Apparently”

Drake, “Back to Back”

Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”

Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

Nicki Minaj feat. Drake & Lil Wayne, “Truffle Butter”

Kanye West feat. Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney, “All Day”

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

Big Sean feat. Kanye West & John Legend, “One Man Can Change the World”

Common & John Legend, “Glory”

Jidenna feat. Roman GianArthur, “Classic Man”

Kendrick Lamar feat. Bilal, Anna Wise & Thundercat, “These Walls”

Nicki Minaj feat. Drake, Lil Wayne & Chris Brown, “Only”

Best Rap Song

Kanye West feat. Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney, “All Day”

Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

Drake, “Energy”

Common & John Legend, “Glory”

Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

Brothers Osborne, “Stay a Little Longer”

Joey + Rory, “If I Needed You”

Charles Kelley, Dierks Bentley & Eric Paslay, “The Driver”

Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”

Blake Shelton feat. Ashley Monroe, “Lonely Tonight”

Best Country Song

Lee Ann Womack, “Chances Are”

Tim McGraw, “Diamond Rings And Old Barstools”

Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”

Brandy Clark, “Hold My Hand”

Chris Stapleton, “Traveller”

Best Country Solo Performance

Cam, “Burning House”

Chris Stapleton, “Traveller”

Carrie Underwood, “Little Toy Guns”

Keith Urban, “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”

Lee Ann Womack, “Chances Are”

Best Pop Solo Performance

Kelly Clarkson, “Heartbeat Song”

Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do”

Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

Empire: Season 1

Fifty Shades of Grey

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

Pitch Perfect 2


Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

The Weeknd, “Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey)”

Common & John Legend, “Glory”

Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do”

Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

Lady Gaga, “Til It Happens to You”

Score Soundtrack for Visual Media


The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything


Best Music Video

A$AP Rocky, “LSD”

The Dead Weather, “I Feel Love”

Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood”

Pharrell Williams, “Freedom”

Best Music Film

Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways

James Brown, Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown

Nina Simone, What Happened, Miss Simone

Roger Waters, The Wall

Amy Winehouse, Amy

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The lesbian video to Adele’s ‘Hello’

Screen shot 2015-11-30 at 9.36.53 AM

This kind of breaks my heart. Read more about it here.

—  Tammye Nash

WATCH: Brandon Hilton’s “Set Fire to the Night”

When I heard that Dallas-based singer Brandon Hilton’s newest single was titled “Set Fire to the Night,” I tweeted him asking what would Adele say about it since she has her song “Set Fire to the Rain.” With a confident bravado, he quickly tweeted back:

That was back in December. It was kind of funny, but also significant of Hilton’s self-assurance. Like him or not, Hilton is relentless in his drive to be a viable pop star and his new video released this week proves he’s trying to step up his game. It may not have the slick production value of a major artist, but there is a sense of graduation as he attempts to say something here — or just get your attention. And the visual effects, while not big budget, do make a memorable impression.

But the party beat and slashed to hell editing makes the video work for me. Although I do wish he had followed up with that big smack in the beginning of the video. What happened to that bully? Did he get his? A bunch of different images and looks override the opening and we’re left hanging. Don’t forget the story, Hilton.

Watch the video after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

WATCH: Madonna’s “Give Me All Your Luvin'”

The eagerly awaited new single from Madonna’s new album M.D.N.A. is now official. She teased us with the album art a few days ago and now her first single and video. She dropped her single “Give Me All Your Luvin'” today. A smart move as usual to tease her halftime performed at Sunday’s Super Bowl, especially since she centered the video around cheerleader back up dancers and very assisting football players along with M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj along for the ride. She’s looking good with a sort of brushed out Adele-ish do. The song is both cute and cool thanks to its beat. She seems to be vying for her more pop-friendly days of True Blue and Like a Virgin than her more exploratory, complex stuff like Ray of Light and Confessions on a Dancefloor, so she may be coming full circle to her early days. Either way, she’ll likely score with “Luvin.'”

But enough about my thoughts on it. Here’s your new Madonna.

—  Rich Lopez

2011 Year in Review: Music


THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST | Chillwave specialist Ernest Greene of Washed Out turned ‘Within and Without’ into 2011’s best album — no matter what Adele thinks.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

You could say 2011 was the year of the superstar. Already-superstars Gaga, Beyonce and Britney dropped new albums confirming their status, while Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry became ones following the continued successes of 2010 discs. Kanye and Jay-Z teamed up to watch the throne and beardos Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver followed up their debuts with dreamy, though sometimes confusing releases.

Ultimately, it was Adele who ruled, leaving all others in the dust with an exercise in modern torch songs and declarative hits — so much so, she and 2011 are now practically synonymous.

But not exclusively. A few others made an impression on smaller fronts — and big ones, too. Each of the following resonated either through a chill groove or a strong beat, and ultimately made 2011 easy on the ears.

1. Washed Out, Within and Without What Ernest Greene does with this chillwave release is somewhere between a dream and astral projection. Each track floats in your ears as wonderful bubbles of music that are airy and delicate, but their impression is far more lasting. This isn’t just an album, but a luxury bath for the ears and soul, which made for practically infinite repeat plays. Key tracks: “Amor Fati,” “Eyes Be Closed.”

2. Caveman, CoCo Beware — In just two years, these Brooklyn indie rockers debuted their album with confidence to spare. Giving alt-rock sensibilities to Simon and Garfunkel folkisms, Caveman fits in the Grizzly Bear–Band of Horses vein and yet they still create a sound that will grow into their own. Those drums are to die for as is singer Matthew Iwanusa smooth tenor. Caveman’s release is more like a gift. Key tracks: “Decide,” “December 28th.”

3. Death Cab for Cutie, Keys and Codes Remix EP — By nature, most remixes are agony resulting in a soulless version of the original. That didn’t happen here in DCFC’s redux on their already- impressive Codes and Keys from earlier in the year. At times, the EP is even better than the original, with charged up versions of seven songs. Yeasayer, The 2 Bears and Cut Copy are among the remixers who don’t take away from DCFC’s spirit, but spike it huge with major beats. Key tracks: “Underneath the Sycamore,” “Some Boys.”

4. Adele, 21 This is very likely the album of the year for the entire world — and deservedly so. Adele channeled all the emotion of being done wrong by her man into a solid display of music. At times, she gets a little too sappy, but the strength of 21 isn’t just in Adele’s soulful voice, it’s also in her heart that is both pained and strengthened here. Plus, 21 pretty much just says “fuck you” to the ex the way we all wish we could. Key tracks: “Rolling in the Deep,” “Don’t You Remember.”

5. Adam Tyler, Shattered Ice — In his debut, Tyler broke through pop/dance music apathy to create a refreshing album of solid tunes. He recalls glorious pop of two and three decades ago but updates it with sexy lyrics and dynamic hooks. Tyler wrote all 11 songs and more than half of those are ready for the radio. Hopefully, someone will take notice, because Ice is too spectacular to be overlooked. Key tracks: “Pull the Trigger,” “I Won’t Let You Go.”

6. Real Estate, Days — Less is more with this complete package by the indie folk rockers from New Jersey. They smoothed out from their 2009 debut and bring a minimalist, but hardly simple approach to Days that shows off the band’s talents modestly, but considerably effectively with lush cascades of music. Days is a facile listen that may sound like background music, but you won’t forget it. Key tracks: “It’s Real,” “Younger than Yesterday.”

7. Beyonce, 4 — The diva missed out on big radio hits with this album, but she channeled her inner ‘80s-and-‘90s adult contemporaries and created a helluva fascinating album. Sidestepping the obvious, B dabbled in sophistication over aggression and came up with retro vibes without losing her style. She totally didn’t give up her skills trying for a big hit with “Rule the World (Girls)” but missed. That’s forgivable considering the brilliance of the rest. Key tracks: “Rather Die Young,” “I Care.”

8. CSS, La Liberacion — These Brazilian party rockers matured beautifully in their third album. For having a reputation of delivering queer-centric dance rock, earlier releases were a tad unfocused. CSS kept the same amped-up energy, but their songwriting and musicianship has grown into smart and sublime. From irreverence to slightly political, CSS looks like they have finally found their place. Key tracks: “City Grrrl,” “I Love You.”

9. Me’Shell Ndegéocello, Weather — Ndegéocello continues to bring the cool, and does so with the ultra-slick Weather. Her neo-soul chops have not been lost over the course of her almost two-decade career. Instead, she adds a layer of maturity with each new album and this year practically cultivated it into hip, soulful perfection. And that bass playing is so sexy, it’s borderline (but gloriously) obscene. Key tracks: “Chance,” “Dirty World.”

10. Emmeline, Someone to Be Coming in under the wire, Dallas singer Emmeline recently dropped off her disc personally to the Dallas Voice asking for a listen. Good thing she did, as she lies somewhere between Sarah MacLachlan and Regina Spektor. With earnest keyboards and charming vocals, she churned out one of the more delightful packages of tunes with a sugary edge that sticks just right and is wonderfully addictive. Key tracks: “Someone to Be,” “Dallas.”


2011’s top LGBT releases

Queer music was in full bloom over the last 12 months, with a wide range of LGBT artists — from veterans to newbies — strongly delivering great music. Here are some of the highlights that stuck out for us.
R.E.M, Collapse Into Now. Soon after this March release, the band announced they were breaking up after 30 years — with the appropriate greatest hits release in November.
Deborah Vial, Stages and Stones. The former Dallas gal showed off her chops from Hawaii in her soulful new album.

K.D. Lang and the Siss Boom Bang, Sing it Loud. Lang crooned, but also rocked gently with her new band.
Ariel Aparicio, Aerials. OutMusic Award winner Aparicio hit a strong note with his alt-rock album from August, fusing it with Latin flair.

Garrin Benfield, The Wave Organ Song. This scruffy folk-country artist relaxed into his fifth disc with a languid and poetic song cycle.

Girl in a Coma, Exits and All the Rest (pictured). The San Antonio rock trio made waves in 2011, landing on several year-end lists.

Brandon Hilton, Nocturnal. Hilton worked the web to his advantage to get his album on people’s radar and it worked both ways.

The Sounds, Something to Die For. The relentless alt-pop from these Swedes was one of the best music addictions of the year. And bi singer Maja Ivarsson sold it perfectly.

— R.L.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Mixed messages: Britney, R.E.M. deliver shiny, happy CDs … but not without some dents

NOT YET OUT OF TIME | R.E.M. breaks its 15-year slump with the release of ‘Collapse Into Now.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

2011 has already been an impressive year for major music releases: Adele and Jennifer Hudson’s strong sophomore albums have impressed, and Lady Gaga’s third is on the horizon.

But these relative newcomers aren’t scaring off pop and rock veterans. R.E.M. just released its 15th studio album, Collapse Into Now, and Britney Spears is halfway along with her seventh, Femme Fatale. Ultimately, it’s the hard rockers who prove their metal, while the pop princess struggles.


Spears declared Fatale “a club album,” as if that’s her excuse for putting out drivel. So be it: Fatale praises dancing, cocktails and sex, making her the voice of a generation of aimless twinks everywhere. While the production behind it is top notch, the CD is held back musically by two things — bad lyrics and Spears.

Opening with her single “Till the World Ends,” she sets the dance tone with a strong beat, but the moment she sings I notice that you got it / You notice that I want it / You know that I can take it to the next level baby, you just can’t help but think, “Really?” Ke$ha, credited here as a co-writer, is new enough that she can get away with such dumb sentiments; Spears should be striving for more at this point. Brit has always been her own worst enemy, and her poor judgment shows.

Using a joke of a pickup line and turning it into a hit, her team of producers and writers are on top of dance music trends, creating radio-ready tracks like “Hold It Against Me” while keeping the Britney formula intact. Instead of competing with current pop-stars sounds, Spears adheres to her own, jacks it up with modern, fresh beats and sticks to her guns with sex kitten tunes. Perhaps we can never expect much substance from her, but she knows at least who she is.

With some flat out dance songs, the first half is stronger than the second; that’s when Fatale peters out. “How I Roll” is a hot mess of vocal effects and pedestrian “bum-de-dum” skatting while her collaboration with Black Eyed Peas’ on “Big Fat Bass” is downright embarrassing, especially as she repeats I can be the treble, you can be the bass to a painful, idiotic degree.

There are moments that break from the pack. “Inside Out” delivers a surprisingly crisper voice. She’s not a great vocalist, but we get a glimpse of some actual prowess here that isn’t hard on the ears. The final track “Criminal” follows suit. We’re not pounded with the song; instead, it contains some nice intricacies and has the most narrative. Musically, it’s fresh with actual guitar touches. Is that a pan flute in there? I wish she’d take this direction more. It’s not so bad to hear an actual story.

Femme Fatale is a nice workout album, but Spears remains trapped by heavy production. We always hope she’s smarter than that, but Fatale doesn’t lend itself to brilliance, only to working up a sweat on the dancefloor.


R.E.M. rediscovers itself with Collapse. Gone is the overwrought tone of late, which has been in apparent search of recapturing Out of Time. Letting go of those expectations, R.E.M. is back to delivering the edge of their early days, And we feel fine.

The band launches the CD with the raucous and strong “Discoverer” and “All the Best.” The flat-out abandon Mike, Michael and Peter play with here is a harbinger of mostly good things to come. “UBerlin” suffers from some underproduction, but the fourth track, “Oh My Heart,” is a beautiful song of pain. I came home to a city half erased is a simple but devastating line, yet sung without sadness. The band doesn’t spend emotion needlessly here and still gets a point across.

What is funnily unnerving is Stipe’s voice. Most noticeable on “It Happened Today,” he sounds older, which will remind early fans they are getting older, too. But the wisdom behind it is comforting, like when your father first talks to you as a fellow adult, not as a child.

I can’t quite figure out what the message of “Mine Smell Like Honey” is, but with lyrics Climb a mountain, climb it steeper, steeper / Dig a hole, dig it deeper, deeper / Track a trail of honey through it all, I feel like my imagination is allowed free rein to interpret it. The energy is infectious but again, underproduction cuts into Stipe’s vocals. He sounds muffled, being swallowed by drums and guitars.

Initially I wanted to hate “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter” for it’s ridiculous title and it’s opening line I feel like an alligator, climbing up the escalator, but it recalls that vivaciousness of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” followed by the equally strong “That Someone Is You.”

Going for a slower finale with “Me Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” and the spacey “Blue,” the album has a lackluster finish. After a rowdy ride, R.E.M. opts for a poignant, slower ending.

Collapse allows us to remember what R.E.M. can still do. With the help of friends like Eddie Vedder, Peaches and Hidden Cameras’ gay frontman Joel Gibb, the band has found its mojo. They probably didn’t think they lost it, but listeners had. That should likely change.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.

—  John Wright

Adele-ized: Soulful Brit’s new CD sort of confuses but still wins over

FINALLY OF AGE | Adele’s rich voice is the centerpiece in her second album ‘21,’ but her songwriting also shines.

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer

Since the wave of the Amy Winehouse-led British soul invasion of 2007 has winded down, we can now focus directly on the work of Adele. She rode that tide with an impressive debut, 19, that garnered her two Grammys. But where 19 showcased her husky soulful voice, her sophomore album, 21, shows us her emotional side. And it’s kinda schizophrenic.

Adele explodes out of the gate with “Rolling in the Deep,” also the first single. A powerful song reflecting shades of Florence and the Machine beats, it’s also a declarative opener that this isn’t the meek 19-year-old we were introduced two years ago. She’s empowered — we think.

Following that with “Rumour Has It,” a similarly strong (and groovy) track, and the ballad “Turning Tables,” Adele clearly wants us to know that she’s not taking shit from her man. Lyrics like Next time I’ll be my own savior / Standing on my own two feet really define her attitude and set the tone for 21.
Until track four.

Adele does a 180 with “Don’t You Remember.” Structurally, the ballad is delicate, but she almost begins apologizing for her feelings, singing words like I know I have a fickle heart and a bitterness. It’s almost a let-down to hear her cave in as if her strong will didn’t work for her; now she’s gonna beg for her man — and do it for the next four songs.

If her emotions change mid-album, her sound changes distinctly for one. “I’ll Be Waiting” may not have the twang, but it’s boisterousness is distinctly pop-country and would be right at home on a Carrie Underwood album. Despite the shift, the album refreshes here. Horns blare and piano keys are abundant, but her voice in this capacity has wonderful effect.

The one real hiccup in the album is her cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong.” The idea behind it sounds curious and with minimal guitar arrangement behind her, it should work. Instead, it seems random. I’m never sure what it adds to the album and it doesn’t improve so much on the original. Perhaps she thought 10 tracks weren’t enough, so “let’s throw in a cover.”

Regardless of her emotional turns, what really keeps 21 afloat is Adele’s voice. The musical arrangements are slightly veiled in their production, giving Adele’s voice center stage. That gravelly sound is so beautifully rich that you just want to bathe in it and never get out. She goes places vocally Winehouse or Duffy can’t.

As if that’s not enough, Adele wrote or co-wrote all of the original songs. The tracks are mature but don’t sound too big for her to handle. The album shines on her strong writing as well and the potential of what it could be down the road for her. Which could be greatness.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

MUSIC NEWS: PJ Harvey, Bright Eyes, Rihanna, Radiohead, Arthur Russell, The Sounds, Teena Marie, Oh Land, Adele, Green Day

PJ Harvey


Guestblogger Norman Brannon is a pop critic, musician, and author based in New York City. He presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad and writes regularly at Nervous Acid.  

Follow Norman on Twitter at @nervousacid.


Pj-harvey-let-england-shake PJ Harvey Let England Shake (Vagrant)

There's definitely something vaguely dystopian about the tone and tenor of Let England Shake, but that's not the discomforting part. On her eighth full-length album, PJ Harvey chronicles a dark and morally ambiguous history of England as a present-tense proposition: In other words, the dystopia is now. Of course, Let England Shake is not as much a polemic as it is a meditation on what it means to be English, so while this album has already found itself positioned as Harvey's first truly outward examination, the internal conflict still plays a role in its narrative: On "The Last Living Rose," Harvey mourns, "Take me back to England!" before noting its "grey, damp filthiness of the ages," while the narrator for "The Words That Maketh Murder" helms a first-person wartime lens for a truly relevant consideration of the personal cost of nationalist rhetoric. But the extent of Harvey's pop acumen is most clearly demonstrated by her seemingly effortless ability to convey these criticisms without the oppressive trappings of a so-called Serious Album, and it is, perhaps, that lack of explicit navel-gazing that makes it all the more profound. On some level, it could be argued that the rigorous introspection of Harvey's previous albums may have inevitably led up to this one — because you can't make sense of the world around you unless you know your place inside of it.

Bright-Eyes-The-Peoples-Key Bright Eyes The People's Key (Saddle Creek)

In the almost four years since Cassadega, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst has become equally as recognized for his progressive political activism and newfound interest in spiritual mysticism as he was for being "the new Bob Dylan" when he was only 22. At 30, Oberst has clearly outgrown the comparison, and with The People's Key, he introduces a newly liberated version of his personal and musical identity: "I take some comfort in knowing the wave has crested," he sings on one song, "knowing I don't have to be an exception." On the surface, this is a deceptively complex album that draws from the wide spectrum of Oberst–related collaborations that have surfaced over the last several years — his electro-tinged work with The Faint, that shamanic folk of the Mystic Valley Band, and the fuzzy punk chaos of Desaparecidos among them. But instead of resigning itself to pastiche, The People's Key teems with a sense of cohesion that even his strictly acoustic records often fail to muster, and if there's a Conor Oberst album less maudlin than this one, I've never heard it: It's psychedelic, but crisp; rife with metaphor, but still sometimes hazy. Which — when it comes from a songwriter whose tendency to be literal once inspired him to write songs called "It's Cool, We Can Still Be Friends" — turns out to be a refreshing, game-changing surprise.


The Sounds: "Better Off Dead"

In preparation for the March 29th release of their fourth album, Something to Die For, Sweden's best-known new wave exports The Sounds are offering Towleroad readers a free download of their first single in over a year: "Better Off Dead" largely strips the band of its guitars for a dynamic, unambiguous four-to-the-floor club track which probably won't quell those persistent Dale Bozzio comparisons any time soon. But in my book, that's not a comparison you'd necessarily want to shake.


Rihanna Road Rihanna went through a bit of a censorship controversy this week when the BBC began airing a version of her latest single, "S&M," that had been edited of any references to "sex" or "chains and whips" and renamed as "Come On." Rihanna took to Twitter to express her displeasure, stating that she was "absolutely not" OK with the change, and really, she shouldn't be — especially when it was only a year ago that BBC Radio aired this rendition of the Velvet Underground's "Venus In Furs," as performed by Gary Numan and Little Boots. Sample lyric: "Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather … Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart." Rihanna's lyric is a cute metaphor in comparison.

Road Radiohead announced surprise details for a new album yesterday, and true to form, they're only giving us five days notice:The King of Limbs is being called "the world's first Newspaper Album," and will feature two 10-inch records on clear vinyl, a compact disc, digital downloads of all the music, and over 600 pieces of "tiny artwork." (You also have the choice to just download the digital album by itself.) The music will become available on February 19.

Road Her new album, 21, celebrates its official release next week, but until then, British songstress Adele has announced dates for an upcoming North American tour — which begins on May 12 in Washington, D.C., and aims to hit most of the major American markets. Adele's stunning sophomore album is streaming at NPR right now.

Road Muse, Foo Fighters, and, umm, Eminem have been announced to headline Lollapalooza in Chicago this summer, but my money is on the openers announced so far: Best Coast, Girl Talk, Crystal Castles, and Lykke Li are all slated to perform.

Road Nanna Øland Fabricius — better known as Oh Land — was discovered by minimal techno producer Kasper Bjorke in her native Denmark, but the singer eventually moved to America where she released an EP last fall that went criminally underrated. Apparently, Sony Music thought so, too: The label quietly rereleased Sun Of A Gun last week and they slipped in an extra track: "We Turn It Up" is the first collaboration between the Brooklyn–based singer and the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams. Is it too early to talk song-of-the-summer?

Arthur russell Road Before tragically losing his battle to AIDS in 1992, Arthur Russell had become one of the most respected and influential musicians of his century — leaving an indelible mark on avant-pop, disco, and even modern classical music. Earlier this month, a group of Russell's friends and collaborators released an album under the name Arthur's Landing featuring new arrangements of some his best work — including the Loose Joints classic "Is It All Over My Face?" — but for those unfamiliar with the originals, Strut Records has enlisted DJ/producer Pocketknife for an 80-minute mix of Arthur Russell classics available for free download HERE.

Road Fans of Björk and Sigur Rós will likely appreciate this beautifully shot 30-minute documentary about the Icelandic music scene, quite literally titled Iceland: Beyond Sigur Rós. The film features interviews and video clips from classical-electronica artist Ólafur Arnalds and longtime indie-pop advocates Seabear, among others.

Road Following the departure of Billie Joe Armstrong from his featured performance on Broadway with American Idiot: The Musical, it has been confirmed that AFI's Davey Havok will bring his gothic glam to the role of St. Jimmy for a two-week run. Also set to star with Havok: American Idol alum Justin Guarini.


Teena marie icon When news of Teena Marie's death surfaced in December, many Americans remembered her primarily for "Lovergirl" — the 1984 hit that signaled the second phase of her career following an acrimonious split with Motown two years earlier. But that first phase was incredibly significant, and Icon, which comes out today, celebrates Marie's tenure at the label with a comprehensive collection of material that leaves little doubt to the legitimacy of her "Ivory Queen of Soul" status — as if "I'm A Sucker for Your Love," featuring her late mentor, Rick James, or the truly unforgettable "Square Biz" couldn't do that on their own.

For their new EP, Derealization, The Forms recast a handful of songs from their 2007 self-titled debut for a considerable upgrade. The songs themselves do most of the heavy lifting — the swirling and rhythmic "Steady Hand" is a clear standout — but members of The National, Pattern is Movement, Shudder to Think, St. Vincent, and Dirty Projectors all lend a hand to make this revision truly necessary.

Trax Trax Records is to house music what Sun Records is to rock 'n' roll: Founded in 1984, the label didn't just release pioneering house records as much as it actually guided the genre's progression from American post-disco to Chicago acid and underground house. Trax Re-Edited harnesses 21 of the label's most classic tracks and hands the masters over to contemporary producers like Ray Mang, Toby Tobias, Swag, and Freaks' Justin Harris for a near-perfect compilation of modern dancefloor edits.

A couple of years back at the Merge Records anniversary festival in North Carolina, I watched Telekinesis leader Michael Lerner find out that his band was too sick to play, assemble a new band on the spot, practice once, and then go on stage and totally kill it with the kind of precision reserved for veteran artists — all within the span of a four-hour window. To say that his second album for Merge, 12 Desperate Straight Lines, is a virtuosic display of power-pop, then, may be an understatement. Also, it never hurts to have Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla on production duties.

Also out today: Mogwai — Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Sub Pop), Ginuwine — Elgin (Notifi), Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx — We're New Here (XL), Mark Farina — Mushroom Jazz 7 (Om), Sonic Youth — Simon Werner a Disparu (SYR), Lifeguards — Waving at the Astronauts (Ernest Jenning Record Co.), East River Pipe — We Live In Rented Rooms (Merge), Twilight Singers — Dynamite Steps (Sub Pop)


Erykah Badu — "Baby, Don't Be Long"

For the third single from New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), Erykah Badu enlists the video tricknology skills of Flying Lotus — whose own experimental hip-hop career on Warp Records likely informs the Jetsons-on-blueprint-paper aesthetic of this clip.

Mirrors — "Into The Heart"

They call what they do "pop noir," and there might be something to that: "Into The Heart" is particularly memorable as far as 21st century synth-pop goes, like a young Orchestral Manouevers in the Dark in need of antidepressants.

Toro Y Moi — "New Beat"

When your real name is already Chazwick Bundick, I'm not sure why you'd need a pseudonym. Whatever the case, Toro Y Moi's first single from the forthcoming Underneath The Pine reminds me of those lo-fi disco records that DJs used to play off of reel-to-reel machines back in the 1970s. This is, by the way, a ringing endorsement.

Sanso-xtro — "Hello Night Crow"

Australian ambient electronic artist Melissa Agate returns with Fountain Fountain Joyous Mountain, her first new album in five years. The gorgeous glitch of "Hello Night Crow" serves as a perfect soundtrack for this visually stunning exercise in stop-motion video.

Towleroad News #gay

—  David Taffet