"Day & Age" ~ The Killers
My faves: "I Can't Stay", "Human", "Joy Ride"
“Santogold” ~ Santogold
My faves: "Shove It", "Anne", "Unstoppable"
“Ladyhawke” ~ Ladyhawke
My faves: "Morning Dreams", "Professional Suicide", "Paris Is Burning"
“Seventh Tree” ~ Goldfrapp
My faves: "Cologne Cerrone Houdini", "Road To Somewhere", "Happiness"
“Evolver” ~ John Legend
My faves: "It's Over", "Good Morning", "Quickly"
"Disco Romance", “Remix Romance Vol. 1 & 2” ~ Sally Shapiro
My faves: Find My Soul (Norweigan Electrojazz Mix), I'll Be By Your Side (Rude 66 808 Remix), He Keeps Me Alive (Skatebard Remix)
“Some People Have Real Problems” ~ Sia
My faves: "Acadademia", "Playground", "Day Too Soon"
“Gossip In The Grain” ~ Ray LaMontagne
This album is surely the male counterpart to Me’shell N’degeocello
's ‘99 classic, Bitter
. Both albums skillfully weave folk, blues, and soul into melancholic, yet gorgeous pop tapestries. Despite the myriad of genre influences, there is an unmistakably acoustic quality to both discs that is never undermined.
Ray’s “I Still Care For You” is akin to Me’Shell’s “Fool Of Me” in theme and quiet delivery. And much like Me’Shell’s “Bitter”, Ray’s “A Falling Through” utilizes country music elements to masterly express a despair that was caused by another individual, and the fact that there exists no hope of reparation for that relationship.
This project - much like Bitter
- will require emotional stability prior to playing it. Otherwise, you run the risk of sinking deeper into whatever depressed mindset you were in prior to listening to it. Sometimes though, albums like these provide the necessary catharsis to cleanse your system of negative emotion.
“Rockferry” ~ Duffy
Although her voice may not be pitch perfect, Duffy uses it to great effect with her blues-tinged pop creations, much like Dusty Springfield
expertly did. This raw depthness is on display in “Warwick Avenue”, “Hanging On Too Long”, “I’m Scared”, and especially the title track. These songs exemplify what Duffy is a master of: expressing a palpable vulnerability through a legitimately self-assured delivery. If Mary J. Blige
can make a thriving career out of bending notes in unintended, yet emotive ways, then I don’t see why Duffy can’t either.
“Apocalypso” ~ The Presets
I hesitate in calling this a guilty pleasure album. The dark, ambient techno/house that litters the bulk of this project is most likely best appreciated during the weekend witching hours. When inhibitions have been lowered, there is no way to deny the clean, lush grooves and electronically altered, yet hauntingly effective vocals that have become The Presets’ musical trademarks.
Between “Anywhere”, “Yippoyo-Ay”, and “Kicking and Screaming”, this album is chock full of party-starters and burners. It’s easy to get lost in the dazed musical bliss of Apocalypso
. However, there are revelations on standouts like “This Boy’s In Love” and “If I Know You” that would jolt a casual listener into the realization that these guys aren’t accommodating to the hetero masses with their music. So, nah, I habor no guilt here.
“Discipline” ~ Janet Jackson
Though first single “Feedback” was a beast of a club track comparable in quality to many of her behemoth uptempo numbers, it still wasn’t my favorite dance song from Discipline
. The two follow-up singles “Luv” & “Rock With U” both coaxed even more burn out of my audio devices. Add “So Much Betta” to the mix, and those four tracks alone on a repeated playlist would motivate me during an hour-long workout.
“Can’t B Good” and “Never Letchu Go” were the satisfying sweet spots of this consistent album. Even my previously cited least favorite song - the album’s minimalist baby-maker of a title track - eventually managed to demand much more of my appreciation. But that was only after experiencing the pulsating, undulating live incarnation of the song during Janet’s whirlwind spectacle that was the 2008 Rock Witchu Tour.
“Frankisum EP”/Various non-EP tracks ~ Frankmusik
FrankMusik hasn’t even released a proper studio album yet. Still, his EP and various non-album tracks have made such an impression on me, that I had to include his work in my year-end best-of. In general, he is obviously musically inspired by the electricity of the early 80s new wave movement.
“Done Done” is hands down my favorite song of the year. Its repetitious chorus of romantic loss is juxtaposed against a brilliantly infectious piece of electropop. “That Much Is True” is similarly dour thematically, but it’s a bit more dancefloor ready than the former. Because of their dream-like sonic quality, both tracks will inevitably draw comparisons to the synthpop of groups like Eurythmics
– which I argue is a compliment to Frankmusik’s own production technique.
“Vacant Heart”, “Run Away From Trouble”, and the Black Gardenia version of “3 Little Words” are less heavily produced affairs that boast his capable vocals. This man is not only a wunderkind producer, but a vocalist who’s able to convincingly croon about the heartbreak that’s a common thread throughout the majority of his music. I can’t wait for the full-length album due in 2009!
“The Way I See It” ~ Raphael Saadiq
To be honest, I’ve never been an avid fan of Raphael’s solo material. Both of his previous studio albums were too inconsistent in quality, and each only possessed a handful of decent tracks. The Way I See It
has bucked that trend for me. Interestingly, I think “Instant Vintage” would have been a perfect title for this album. There is a cohesiveness with the old school 1960s-inspired flavor to this project that lends itself perfectly to such nomenclature. But alas, he’d already wasted the perfect album title on a lesser worthy previous effort.
“Just One Kiss”, “Callin’”, & “Oh Girl” are great examples of songs that were obviously inspired by a specific musical era in soul music, but that don’t come off as a schlocky ripoff of a specific song or group from that time period.
“Funhouse” ~ P!nk
If you assumed that the anthemic first single “So What” was a representation of what the rest of Funhouse
is about, then you would be so wrong. Granted, concocting clichéd anthems ala “So What”, “Stupid Girls”, & “Trouble” is P!nk’s speciality, but the majority of the rest of the album is much more… hushed.
Never before has Ms. Moore been as tender and vulnerable on record. Her failed marriage seems to have unearthed a more contemplative, even melancholy P!nk that you didn’t know existed until now. “I Don’t Believe You” is a torch song to trump all torch songs. The sadness she emotes in songs like that, “Glitter In The Air”, and “Please Don’t Leave Me” are effective because her self-deprecating delivery is so believable. Despite its rebellious aggression, even the aforementioned “So What” contains lyrics that describe a woman in pain following the dissolution of a relationship. At least her sense of humor has remained in tact.
”Human” ~ Brandy
Whereas ‘04’s Afrodisiac
was gritty, raw, & dark, this year’s Brandy release is more polished, refined, optimistic. An arguably comparable transition would be Janet’s evolution from ‘97’s The Velvet Rope
to ‘01’s All For You
. This sentiment in no way diminishes my appreciation of Afro
– it’s simply an observation that Ms. Norwood is keeping it moving, in regards to her music career. She’s certainly not resting on her laurels. And she’s infusing more personal - yet universal - themes into this new project that increase my respect for her as an artist.
The majority of the songs here are deftly crafted, lyrically and sonically, especially “Warm It Up (With Love)” and “A Capella (Something’s Missing)”. The layered vocalizing on both of these remind me again of Janet. Some of both of these ladies’ best moments on record have been in songs where self-harmonizing was a focus. But with the latter track, Brandy manages to one-up Miss Jackson by using her own vocal effects for the track’s instrumentation. And she does it beautifully.
“The Definition” is perhaps the most ‘urban’ of the songs here, which makes it stand out as another favorite of mine. It provides just enough balance to an otherwise non-urban, pop album. And because most of her projects have skewed more r&b, crafting this type of project was a risk – that paid off.
“Sam Sparro” ~ Sam Sparro
Sam Sparro single-handedly became my musical solo superhero in 2008. He is a 20something Australian with the pristine vocal clarity and soul of Al Green
in his 1970s heyday. Yet, he uses his vocal instrument to ride early 80s p-funk and soul inspired beats that are mashed up alongside the contemporary clubland dj’ing circuit's output. If Parliament
and early Prince
procreated with Daft Punk
and Basement Jaxx
, then Sam would be their soulful, funky, clubkid seed.
Though “Black & Gold” was (quite understandably) his breakout hit earlier this year, Sam’s self-titled debut includes wildly addictive tracks like “Sally”, “Sick”, and “Pocket”. These songs cemented his status not only as a wicked groovemeister, but also as an elevated lyricist who can compose songs of substance while still filling the dancefloor.
And, the fact that he covered Estelle’s own “American Boy” more convincingly than she is yet another reason why the S on Sam’s chest is more than a reference to his last name.
“SugaRush Beat Company” ~ SugaRush Beat Company
Comprised of three disparate artists who have each achieved an appreciable measure of solo success, SugaRush Beat Company - the group - proves that, indeed, the whole can be so much greater than the sum of its parts. The synergy of Rahsaan Patterson
’s soulfully (and androgynously) nimble Chaka Khan
-like alto, Ida Corr
's distinctly feminine rasp, and Jaz Rogers’ futuristic - yet familiar - brand of funk music production work
The preceding sentence feels like an understatement to me. The synthesis of these three individuals’ talents has created a masterpiece of an electrosoul dance/funk/pop album. Kinetic energy sonically pops and crackles throughout the project’s dozen+ tracks. There are so many standout songs in SBC’s eponymous album that to cite only one or two highlights is impossible for me. “Love Breed”, “Ladies n’ Gents”, “Sugarush”, and “No Parking” provide adrenaline-inducing moments that ultimately carry heavy replay value. Even the more subdued tracks like “The End”, “The Number One”, and “All Of A Suddenly” are sublime thanks to passionate, inspired contributions from each member of this talented motley crew of a triumvirate.