Len’s Top Albums of 2013

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As we come to the end of another year it’s time once again for a totally biased list of my favorite albums of the year. A few things of note this year: One, it appears disco is making a comeback. I think this is actually pretty cool, though I admit I did get awful tired of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” this summer. Two, Pearl Jam has easily become the 90s band with the most staying power, continually making very solid rock and roll albums (kiss my ass Nirvana). And three, the “Mumford” sound continued to drive good music in 2013 with great songs and albums by bands like The Lumineers, Dawes, The Avett Brothers and The Head and the Heart. All that said, here are the ten albums that I enjoyed the most this year, and if you like you can watch the videos for my favorite song from each album on a YouTube playlist I created.

  • Bad Blood — Bastille
    The debut album from this London-based band knocks it out of the park. Bastille is part of a new wave of bands that bring modern sounds together with a touch of the alternative 80s, and for my money these guys are the best of the bunch. I first saw them this summer on TV performing live at the Isle of Wight Festival and the crowd went nuts when they came out…it sort of reminded me in a small way of when U2 performed at Live Aid. I liked what I heard that day and the album is solid top to bottom. Bastille reminds me of a couple of exceptional 80s bands — Simple Minds and Big Country. Take a listen to Pompeii and decide for yourself.
  • Stories Don’t End — Dawes
    Dawes came on the scene a couple of years ago and I’ve really warmed to their sound. At first I wrote them off as Avett Brothers/Mumford clones, but in fact their sound is much less folk and much more 70s Los Angeles. Their sound has been called “Laurel Canyon” and I suppose that’s fair, but what’s wrong with being compared to the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac? Stories Don’t End is a great album — my favorite song is From a Window Seat.
  • Trouble Will Find Me — The National
    This Brooklyn band has been a staple on my “best of” lists over the past few years and for good reason. The National has carved out a unique sound amongst a wave of similar-sounding bands. You can have your One Republics, your fun, your Vampire Weekends. I’ll take the dark and gorgeous sound of Matt Berninger’s baritone. Trouble Will Find Me is another solid effort and remember, Don’t Swallow the Cap.
  • Lightning Bolt — Pearl Jam
    When I heard the first release from the new Pearl Jam album I wasn’t sure I liked it, which is odd for me as I love PJ, but one thing you can always count on with PJ is that they make complete albums and after a few listens I quickly became a fan of Lightning Bolt. It’s definitely harder rocking than 2009s Backspacer, which I LOVE, but Lightning Bolt is solid top to bottom. All things considered, PJ has secured its spot as the best and most consistent band from the 90s grunge era. Sirens is the best track on the new album in my humble opinion. Classic PJ.
  • Mechanical Bull — Kings of Leon
    KoL is a throwback. They consistently rock and seem to tour non stop. You know what you’re going to get with the Followill guys and if you like their sound you will love Mechanical Bull. I’m a fan and believe they are the best pure rock and roll band in America right now. 2008s Only By the Night was a breakthrough album and one of the biggest successes of the decade, and they followed it up with 2010s solid Come Around Sundown. I think Mechanical Bull is better than Come Around Sundown! So many great songs on Mechanical Bull, but my favorite is probably Temple.
  • Reflektor — Arcade Fire
    Surely no album had as much anticipation this year as Reflektor given the enormous critical success of The Suburbs in 2010. It was my favorite album that year and won the Grammy for best album as well. It has found a place on my all-time favorites list. A tough act to follow indeed, and while Reflektor is excellent it is not The Suburbs. Reflektor is, however, a beautiful concept album of Caribbean rhythms and mythological messaging. Leave it to Arcade Fire to produce an album that loosely tells the story of Eurydice with some voodoo thrown in. Reflektor is an album best listened to in its entirety. Sure there are some singles (like Reflektor) that will be hits and already are, but it flows together so well. Grab some headphones and a free hour or so and settle in.
  • Momentum — Jamie Cullum
    I’ve been singing the praises for Jamie Cullum for many years and his albums always seem to find their way onto my top 10 lists because they are so listenable. I continue to be surprised that Jamie is not a huge star in America like he is in the U.K. Dude even married a supermodel and still gets no love in the U.S. Well, America’s loss. Momentum is pure jazz/pop genius. If you don’t know Jamie Cullum you are missing out, and Momentum is a great place to start. Check out his beautiful cover of Pure Imagination or the synth happy Everything You Didn’t Do, which has one of the coolest videos ever.
  • More Than Just a Dream — Fitz and the Tantrums
    When Fitz and the Tantrums exploded on the scene in 2010 with Picking up the Pieces they could easily have been a one album wonder. Yes, the sound was a throwback and the look was pure 80s, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better song in 2010 than L.O.V. or Moneygrabber. But this year Fitz returned with the disco infused More Than Just a Dream and it’s even better than the first album. I was fortunate enough to see the band perform in Del Mar earlier this year and they brought down the house. Amazing sound and such a fun live band. 6 a.m. was my favorite song of the summer.
  • Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action — Franz Ferdinand
    Any fan of 80s music has to like Franz Ferdinand! If you loved their first three albums as I did, four years was way too long to wait for this year’s Right Thoughts. But it was worth the wait…another 80s and disco infused album of great songs from beginning to end. Right Thoughts set the tone and came with one of the best videos in a long while. The album has been a mainstay on my playlist since its release this summer. It’s hard to have a unique sound while simultaneously harkening back to the 80s and even 70s disco but Franz Ferdinand pulls it off like no other.
  • Bankrupt! — Phoenix
    No album got more plays for me this year than Bankrupt! and in fact I’m still listening to it a ton. The French band’s first album since 2009’s breakout smash Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (one of my favorite albums of the 2000s) is a slight departure from that album’s pure synth-pop goodness, but it’s fantastic in its own right. Bankrupt! topped several charts this year and for a while this summer Phoenix was everywhere. The first release, Entertainment, took over the airwaves in April when it came out and a few months later Trying to be Cool was equally ubiquitous. My only disappointment this year was that Phoenix cancelled its concert in La Jolla in October and I didn’t get a chance to see them live. Maybe they’ll tour again in 2014.

Len’s Top Albums of 2012

Len’s Top Albums of 2011

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Len’s Top 10 Albums of 2012

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Time once again for my annual review of the top albums of 2012 according to me. No apologies here…these are not the “best” albums of the year, simply my favorite:

  1. Babel — Mumford and Sons – They may have gotten a bit overexposed this year, but when you release an album as great as Babel the attention is well deserved. No other album got as much airplay on my Spotify account this year and I still find myself putting it on even as background when I’m reading or doing other things. Such a great album. Thank you Mumfords!
  2. Blak and Blu — Gary Clark, Jr. – After Clark’s EP last year I couldn’t wait for his first full-length album and it didn’t disappoint. He’s a genuine guitar god with a hint of R&B and I always turn it up and melt into the riffs.  Best debut album in years.
  3. My Head is an Animal — Of Monsters and Men – It seems every year a single song sneaks up on me and catches my attention and this year I couldn’t get enough of “Mountain Sound” by Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men. And guess what? When the album was released in the U.S. in April the whole damn thing was great! Any band that incorporates a glockenspiel is all right by me. These guys are definitely taking advantage of the indie-folk resurgence and as you can see from my top 10 this year I’m all in.
  4. The Lion The Beast The Beat — Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – A solid follow up to 2010’s eponymous effort, which was my favorite album of that year. Grace has a rock and roll voice beyond comparison and her band can bring it. And it sure doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous!
  5. Brilliant – Ultravox – Yes, that’s right…Ultravox! Reformed after nearly 20 years, Midge Ure and company released Brilliant in 2012 and it was…well…brilliant! It’s hard to recapture the same sound after so long, but Midge’s voice is as great as ever and Brilliant could easily have been recorded in 1984. Love it.
  6. Sunken Condos — Donald Fagen – For his fourth solo album Donald Fagen dances with the date that brung him and the result is classic Fagen. If you don’t like Donald Fagen you don’t like music. Sunken Condos is nine jazz-infused pop gems.
  7. The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond – It’s pretty rare for a movie soundtrack to get much airtime in my rotation but when this soundtrack came out I couldn’t get enough. Great songs from The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Neko Case, The Civil Wars and Glen Hansard. And yes, two excellent tracks from Taylor Swift, whom I had no interest in prior to this but I love both of her songs on this record.
  8. The Sound of the Life of the Mind — Ben Folds Five – I’ll admit this “reunion” album is not as good as the old BFF or even Ben’s solo work, but it’s BFF and that’s good enough for me. There are some great tunes here including the title track and my favorite – Do It Anyway.
  9. Blunderbuss — Jack White – I’ve always been sort of luke warm on Jack White, but for some reason the songs from this album, starting with Love Interruption, hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. Shakin’ brought it home and it’s easily one of my favorite albums of the year.
  10. Halcyon — Ellie Goulding – By all accounts I shouldn’t like Ellie Goulding because frankly I’m not much into “dance” music and I am definitely not a fan of dub step or anything those weird deejays like Skrillex and DeadMau5 play. But from the first time I heard last year’s “Lights” I was hooked and Halcyon is a lovely mix of musical goodness, topped off by Ellie’s unique voice. Still not sure why she’s dating Skrillex though!

Honorable Mentions: Smilers — Aimee Mann; Little Broken Hearts — Norah Jones; Port of Morrow — The Shins; The Only Place — Best Coast; Synthetica – Metric; The Idler Wheel — Fiona Apple; Gossamer — Passion Pit.

A Life Full of Live Music

It poured last night in Phoenix and this morning my son Connor had an ear worm — he couldn’t get Rain in the Summertime by The Alarm out of his head. Why a 14-year-old kid even knows about The Alarm is a story for another day, but when he mentioned it I told him I saw The Alarm in concert in 1984 when they opened for The Pretenders at the California Theater in San Diego (remember that show Zac Shess?). This led Connor to remark: “You’ve been to a lot of concerts. Like 20,” he said. Well, more like 100 I replied. When he mentioned I was lucky to have seen so many cool 80s bands, I told him I was fortunate to live in places like San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area where great bands performed. I’ve lived in Phoenix for 18 years now and a lot of lesser known bands skip the desert when they tour.

I started thinking about how many live shows I’ve seen over the years and I thought it might be fun to try to list them all. It’s probably nowhere near 100 and it’s probably not all that impressive a list compared to some. I’m sure I’m missing some. Nevertheless, in no particular order:

  • The Kinks (my first real concert. 1979. San Diego Sports Arena)
  • The Who
  • John Cougar
  • Loverboy
  • Rush
  • Simon & Garfunkel
  • Adam Ant
  • Duran Duran
  • Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper
  • The Beautiful South (2)
  • Ben Folds
  • Counting Crows (2)
  • Maroon 5
  • Depeche Mode
  • Morrissey
  • Erasure
  • Everything But the Girl (2)
  • Gorillaz
  • Howard Jones
  • Joe Jackson (3)
  • Little River Band (2)
  • Jack Johnson
  • John Legend
  • Midge Ure
  • Mike Doughty
  • Crowded House
  • Ziggy Marley
  • Peter Gabriel
  • Inner Circle
  • Sinead O’Connor
  • Paul Weller
  • Peter Case
  • R.E.M.
  • Tori Amos
  • Indigo Girls (2)
  • The Untouchables (2)
  • X
  • Stan Ridgway
  • Steely Dan
  • Tears For Fears (3)
  • The B-52s
  • Sun 60
  • The Cranberries
  • Berlin
  • The Gap Band
  • Sparks
  • Madness (2)
  • Oingo Boingo (2)
  • The Police (2)
  • Billy Joel (2)
  • Squeeze (2)
  • The Hooters
  • Jill Sobule
  • Edie Brickell and New Bohemians
  • The Pretenders
  • The Alarm
  • The Beach Boys
  • Coldplay
  • G Love and Special Sauce
  • Zee Avi
  • Spyro Gyra
  • Chris Isaak (2)
  • Seal
  • U2 (3)
  • 10,000 Maniacs
  • English Beat
  • Sara Hickman
  • Deborah Harry
  • Red Rockers
  • NRBQ
  • KC & The Sunshine Band

What about you? Are you a big concert goer? What are some of the best shows you’ve seen over the years?

Len’s Top 10 Albums of 2011

As the end of 2011 approaches it’s time for everyone to publish their “Best Of” lists for everything from films to books to music. For the past few years I have posted my lists on Facebook, but now that I have this blog it makes more sense to post them here and share via Facebook. But if you’d like to look back at previous lists head over to Facebook and you can find them via my timeline.

Without further ado, here are my favorite albums of 2011:

Honorable Mentions

  • Superheavy by Superheavy — Ordinarily I’m not a big fan of so-called “supergroups” but this album tears it up and got major airplay in my car this fall. This genre-bending record features Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, A. R. Rahman, and Damian Marley. It’s R&B meets reggae meets rock and it’s great from top to bottom. Dave Stewart is really the brains behind this collaboration and that shouldn’t surprise anyone given his body of work. Jagger gives the band a rock and roll edge, and Joss Stone is her usual soulful goddess. Throw in Rahman (the Indian guy known for the for the Slumdog Millionaire music) and Damien “son of Bob” Marley and you have one of the most intriguing combinations ever recorded. Miracle Worker was the big hit this summer but I loved the whole album. Have I mentioned that I’m in love with Joss Stone?
  • The Goat Rodeo Sessions by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile — I saw these guys on The Colbert Report and was truly blown away. What would happen if you took four of the world’s best classical musicians and put them together to record a classical/bluegrass album? A Goat Rodeo apparently, which is their term for a chaotic situation. It’s friggin amazing. Take a listen to Attaboy and you’ll get the idea.

Top 10

10.  Sky Full of Holes by Fountains of Wayne — I suspect this album isn’t going to make too many “best of” lists for 2011 but FOW is one of my favorite bands and even though this isn’t one of their best efforts it’s still Fountains of Wayne and that means I like it. Sky Full of Holes is not as upbeat as the band’s last few releases, but the slower songs are still full of the story-like lyrics and biting wit that defines these guys. It’s a solid listen with a few gems. Richie and Ruben is definitely one of the highlights.

9.  Different Gear, Still Speeding by Beady Eye — Yes, it’s pretty much Oasis without Noel Gallagher but it’s Oasis nevertheless! If you are an Oasis fan (and you bloody well should be) then you’ll really love Beady Eye. This record begins where (What’s the Story) Morning Glory left off and delivers on the Oasis sound. Love it. Check out The Roller for your Oasis fix.

8.  The Awakening by James Morrison — This record sneaked up on me this year and provides some proof that Spotify is great for introducing people to new music. I’ve liked Morrison’s voice for years now but never listened to an entire record — but Spotify changes the game so I was able to hear the whole album. It’s wonderful and has inspired me to go back and listen to his older records. Take a listen to I Won’t Let You Go for a sample of his unique sound. Sure, he looks like Chris Martin but he sounds like Seal!

7.  Yes & Also Yes by Mike Doughty — This guy has been making great music since the 9os but I only discovered him a few years ago when a neighbor dragged me down to Tucson to see a live show. He has been in heavy rotation for me ever since and his new album is classic Doughty. The former lead singer of Soul Coughing keeps on rockitty rolling and his voice is one of a kind. My favorite tune on the new record is Na Na Nothing…enjoy this great song and amazing video!

6.  Ukulele Songs by Eddie Vedder — This is one of the most beautiful records in years and the combination of ukulele music and Vedder’s tremendous voice makes me want to run away to Maui for good. The ukulele is awesome and Vedder plays it like a true fan, but let’s be honest — the voice is the star of this record just like every Vedder/Pearl Jam record ever made. If you liked the Into the Wild soundtrack he did from a few years ago you’ll love this. Longing to Belong is my favorite song on this moody and gorgeous album.

5.  Codes & Keys by Death Cab for Cutie — I love DCFC and Codes & Keys is a great album. These guys keep getting better and better and I can’t get enough of their sound. Check out this amazing video for Home is a Fire directed by artist Shepard Fairey.

4.  Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay — I’m still a huge Coldplay fan and consider them one of my all-time favorite bands…so there! I’m still spending a lot of time with Mylo Xyloto to fully take in all the nuances and beauty but I have to say it’s another very strong recording from the band. Like all of Coldplay’s albums the more I listen the more I like. The hit songs are always solid, but some of the lesser known songs also rock…for example Charlie Brown which I love. I was looking forward to this release all year and it does not disappoint.

3.  21 by Adele — By now there is no denying that Adele is a superstar. 21 has taken the world by storm and tops many a “best of” list for 2011. It deserves all of the accolades and it will likely add to Adele’s Grammy count. She’s such an unassuming superstar, especially when you compare her to the likes of the other artists at the top of the charts like Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. She has an incredible voice, and for such a young woman she writes songs like she’s seen it all. I surprised a lot of my friends by listing 19 as my favorite album of 2008 and 21 came close to topping my list this year. I loved 21 top to bottom from the very first listen and apparently most of the world agrees — the girl can sing. My favorite song from 21 is Set Fire to the Rain but every song is special.

2.  El Camino by The Black Keys — It has only been out for a few weeks but it’s already wearing out my iPhone and testing the speakers in my new car. El Camino is everything you want in a rock and roll album and I’m thinking I already like it more than last year’s Brothers. It’s upbeat from start to finish and the Keys’ play their instruments like each performance is the last they’ll ever have. There’s not much you can say about this besides turn it up! Here’s a clip from SNL last week of the Keys doing Gold on the Ceiling.

1.  The King is Dead by The Decemberists — I have to admit it was a tough call this year because I liked so many albums equally, but if I’m being honest the album that I enjoyed the most this year was this one. I think it all starts with Colin Meloy’s voice and then you add in all the unique and interesting musical sounds from the band and this record just delivers. I’m not sure where you stick them in terms of genre because there’s elements of folk, rock, country, baroque, you name it. All I know is that I love it. The more I listen to The King is Dead the more I hear early REM, which is not too shabby of a comparison. I absolutely loved 2009’s The Hazards of Love which was sort of a folk-rock opera, but The King is Dead delivers the same sound plus a handful of really great memorable pop songs like Down by the River, This is Why We Fight and my favorite…Calamity Song.

‘Grammys’ Best Days are Behind Them

The 2011 Grammy Award nominations came out today and boy has this contest jumped the shark. There are so many things wrong with the Grammy’s that it’s hard to know where to start. But for argument’s sake I’ll start with the ridiculous list of nominees for Album of the year:

  • 21 – Adele
  • Wasting Light – Foo Fighters
  • Born This Way – Lady Gaga
  • Doo-Wops and Hooligans – Bruno Mars
  • Loud – Rihanna

How can you lump these five albums into one category and pick a winner? Based on what? Best R&B album it’d be Rihanna. Best Rock album, Foos. Best pop album, Adele. Popular music has become so cross-genre that these awards don’t make sense. Here are a bunch of additional nominees that make no sense:

Bon Iver for best new artist? Been around since 2007.

The Black Keys for Best Pop Duo/Group? Pop? Really?

Foo Fighters are nominated in Best Rock and Best Hard Rock categories. What’s the difference? Not much if the Academy can’t even decide where they belong.

Coldplay gets nominated for Best Pop and Best Rock song. Huh?

Wilco gets nominated in the Best Rock Album category but not Best Alternative Album or Folk or Americana? What the heck is “Alternative” anyway?

The Civil Wars get nominated for Best Country Duo song for Barton Hallow. Country? Not folk or Americana, or alternative? Oh wait, the Civil Wars did get nominated for Best Folk album as well. Along with Fleet Foxes and Eddie Vedder. You heard me right, Eddie Vedder. What, no ukulele category? WTF?

Why do we have all these Latin music categories? Isn’t there already a Latin Grammy Award ceremony?

The Grammys are a joke. Popular music can no longer be categorized in the old ways, which is why everyone was so upset when Arcade Fire took home the top award last year (not me by the way…The Suburbs was one of the best albums of the year, it was just not in the right category). Something needs to be done. I don’t like to miss the Grammys because we are inevitably treated to some magical “once-in-a-lifetime” performances like when Elton John backed Eminem or last year when Mumford and Sons played with Dylan.

This year I’m hoping for a cool tribute to Amy Winehouse. I’d like to see Nikki Minaj join Foo Fighters and Lady Antebellum for a Winehouse medley!

Spotify After One Month — A Review

Sitting here listening to The Decemberists on Spotify, I realized it has been about a month since the Swedish import landed on American shores. The interwebs have been jam-packed with reviews, some enthusiastic and some…well…not so much. I really am not in the mood to discuss the  music business or the future model for which musicians will or will not be appropriately paid for their work. I simply like listening to music and I have a few thoughts on Spotify after a month. So here goes.

The Positive

  • The most obvious place to start is with the selection of music available on the service. Holy crap! Spotify has millions of albums from every genre and frankly it’s a bit overwhelming. I have tried to “stump the band” and so far Spotify has won most every time. In fact, of all the artists I’ve searched for I can only think of one that wasn’t available — Arcade Fire. I’m sure I will find more as I look around, but the selection is incredible. Additionally, I have found a bunch of relatively obscure albums and some different versions of albums that are not readily available on purchase sites like Amazon and iTunes.
  • On the technology side, Spotify impresses. I have the application running on my Mac at home, my PC at work and my iPhone and the music streams seamlessly and the apps work great. I was worried the mobile app might lose connection to the service, but so far I’ve had very few interruptions whether I’m listening in the car or at the gym. In fact, since I loaded the iPhone app I haven’t listened to anything but Spotify and love it. I can see where I might want to listen to a radio style app now and then, so I don’t have any plans to kill Pandora, but if Spotify adds a radio-like service Pandora will be in deep shit. I understand Spotify has a feature called “search operators” which allows you to create playlists based on various search terms but I have not yet had the chance to try that. I have been so obsessed with listening to bands I like that I haven’t had time to explore the playlists feature at all.
  • I have been running a one-month free trial of Spotify premium so I’ve been able to use the mobile app and that has made all the difference. In order to get the full Spotify experience you really have to have the top-of-the-line service which truly lets you listen to anything, anytime, anywhere. But at $10 per month it’s a no brainer…I am definitely going to subscribe once my trial ends.
  • Along with listening to my favorites, and digging up some blasts from the past, one great side benefit of Spotify is that I have been able to explore full albums by bands I had heard about but hadn’t heard beyond a single or two. A good example is the latest from Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi. I had heard the song “Two Against One” with Jack White on vocals, but I wanted to hear the whole album and certainly didn’t want to buy it based on one song. I called up the album on Spotify, listened to it all the way through, and it’s amazing. So I starred it and now I can listen to it whenever I want. And I didn’t have to buy it. Cool.

The Negative

  • I’m unimpressed with the way you organize the albums and songs you like in Spotify. I am used to iTunes, where I can easily sort through my music by artist, genre, album or song and hit play. Spotify may have millions of albums and songs, but the interface is awkward for keeping music you like and want to listen to often. The service lets you “star” songs or albums you like, and you can click to see your starred music, but it’s not easily sortable. They have work to do here.
  • I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but so far the hardest part of using Spotify has been deciding what to listen to. I’ve literally sat in my car for minutes before driving off trying to think of what to queue up. The application does not make for good browsing, so you have to search through the invisible music bin in your mind to choose what to play. It’s harder than you think! One thing I love about iTunes is that it’s tailor-made for browsing and then choosing what to play. The browsing process helps me decide what to play and I miss that with Spotify. To solve this issue, I have tried to think about what I’d like to hear before I get in the car or get on the treadmill, but even that is tough because there are so many choices. I know…tough problem to have!
  • I’m not really sure what to do with the social pieces of Spotify. On the right side of the app I can see all of my friends who also have Spotify, and I can see what they are listening to and can “subscribe” to any of their playlists and listen to them. I haven’t fully explored this part of Spotify yet and haven’t even made a single playlist of my own yet. I am sure I’ll figure out the value once I play around more. Also, from my PC at work I’ve clicked on the social share feature a few times, which is supposed to post what I’m listening to on Facebook or Twitter, but each time I’ve tried that it hasn’t worked. Might be a work firewall issue though so I’ll have to try it at home or on the mobile app.
  • The home page sucks. It profiles only a handful of new releases and does not offer a “since you like X you might like X” feature. Amazon does this well, but Spotify is seriously missing the boat on promoting artists and helping users find new music they might like.

Overall I have to say I love Spotify and I’m sure they will address some of my minor complaints in the future. But truthfully, for $10 per month it’s the musical steal of the century. I’m hooked.

Will Sweden-based Spotify be iTunes’ Waterloo?

Lost in all the hype this week about Google Plus was perhaps the biggest news in the music industry since Dylan went electric — the Swedish are coming, the Swedish are coming! Online music service Spotify announced it is coming to the U.S. after several years of false alarms and rumors.

So what? Why all the hype? Well, several music services (Rhapsody, MOG, Pandora,  iTunes Cloud) have threatened to change the way we buy and listen to music, but none have the success rate of Spotify. In Europe, Spofity has more than 10 million users and a million paying subscribers. That’s a huge user base and from what I’ve read its both comprehensive and easy to use. If the pricing structure rumors are true…and they probably are…for $10 per month American users will be able to listen to  “any track, any time, anywhere.” As my 13-year-old son says: “nobody buys music anymore dad!” If he’s right…and I believe he is…I won’t be buying music anymore, but rather I’ll be buying the right to listen to whatever I want wherever I want and at only $10 per month that’s a hell of a deal.

The news media has been all over this story this week, and many of them are warning us not to assume Spotify will change everything. But it already has. Plenty of my friends have jumped into Rhapsody and I’ve stayed on the sidelines. Spotify comes with something Rhapsody doesn’t have — customer loyalty and brand appeal. Spotify is cool. Wired compares the service to “a magical version of iTunes in which you’ve already bought every song in the world.

If you’re like me you’ve always bought the music you want. I have hundreds of CDs gathering dust, and even some casette tapes in neat carrying cases tucked away in my closet. And with the switch to digital music I still buy music when I find something I like. It’s natural for my generation to want to own the music. But with Spotify comes the tipping point for the subscription model. Why store CDs or even gigs of digital music on an external hard drive anymore? What’s the point? The music is in the cloud and it will always be in the cloud…the question becomes not whether to buy the new Eddie Vedder album, but rather which service to listen to it on. With Spotify you can stream the album on your computer, on your iPhone, on your iPad…in your car, at the gym, at work. It’s always there and you can listen on any platform. It is truly like having a Tower Records in your pocket.

Owning music is so last century.

The Definition of Eclectic: Steppin’ Out with Joe Jackson

All of us have a favorite band or musical artist, and more than likely there is a personal story behind why that artist is our favorite. I listen to a ton of music across a wide range of genres, and while certain artists may spend some time in heavy rotation in my collection there is only one artist that qualifies as my favorite — Joe Jackson.

If you’re not a fan of Joe Jackson, you may be thinking to yourself “isn’t that the guy from the 80s who sang Steppin’ Out?” Yep, that’s the guy. Like a lot of so-called one-hit wonders, there’s a lot more to the story. The truth is, Joe Jackson has been recording consistently amazing music for five decades and his newest album — a collection of reinterpretations of classic Joe Jackson songs from across the decades called Live Music— will be released June 7 in North America. It will be JJ’s 29th album all tolled. You can bet I will be downloading it on release day.

If you don’t know much about Joe Jackson, it’s probably because there hasn’t been much place for him on commercial radio since the early 80s. He has had six songs chart on the Billboard Hot 100, the first 1979’s Is She Really Going Out With Him? and most recently 1984’s Happy Ending. Chart success in his native U.K. hasn’t been much better — he’s charted eight times in the U.K. and not once since 1986 (Left of Center with Suzanne Vega). Yet I’d argue that no other artist has a more diverse and wonderful collection of albums. He’s a genre buster and mainstream music has little place for an artist that they can’t fit neatly into a little box. Just check out what Wikipedia lists for his genre: Punk rock/ska (early), new wave, jazz pop, jazz, and classical music! That is the very definition of eclectic in my mind (I’m still waiting for JJ Sings Nashville Hits)!

I “discovered” Joe Jackson in 1982 with the release of Night & Day, his most mainstream record ever and the album that brought us the aforementioned Steppin’ Out along with Breaking Us in Two. I was immediately struck by the jazzy feel and the witty lyrics. It wasn’t long before I went back to listen to his earlier work including Look Sharp, I’m the Man and Beat Crazy, an energetic trio of punk-infused pop classics. And then just when I thought I had JJ figured out he released 1984’s Body and Soul, a jazz pop album inspired by Blue Note greats like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. You may remember the one hit from that album — You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want). I saw Joe Jackson for the first time on that tour at the outdoor amphitheater at San Diego State with Howard Jones, the first of three times I’ve been fortunate enough to see JJ live.

Over the next several years Joe released a series of great pop albums like Big World, Blaze of Glory and Laughter & Lust, and he threw in a few classical releases as well just to keep his fans on their toes. In 1997 he released Heaven & Hell, a collection of songs based on the seven deadly sins with guest vocalists including Suzanne Vega, Jane Siberry and Brad Roberts from Crash Test Dummies. And then in 2000 he released a sequel to Night & Day called Night & Day II, which has since become my favorite Joe Jackson album. In 2000 he also released Summer in the City: Live in New York, a live CD made up of great takes on his own hits and covers as diverse as The Beatles, Steely Dan and Duke Ellington. His most recent studio release was 2008’s Rain.

I love Joe Jackson for his unique style, his brilliant and edgy lyrics and his musical fearlessness. His lyrics spoke to me as I was growing up. What did it mean to be a man? What was love about? What made life worth living? He wrote songs about politics (Right & Wrong) and songs about sexual desire (Jamie G). He wrote about the difference between men and women (It’s Different For Girls) and about recapturing youth (Nineteen Forever). He wrote about longing for home (Hometown) and about chasing your dreams (Go For It). Basically he wrote about the things I was thinking about. He may not have the best vocals of all time, but he can sure write a great song and he can play the piano like nobody’s business.

If you like Joe Jackson, then I’m sure you’re excited about the new record. If you don’t know much about JJ, give him a try. Start with the early punk stuff, move into the jazzier stuff, and then listen in to some of his latest work from the past decade or so. You won’t be disappointed! If you need a place to start, take a listen to one of his various greatest hits or live albums. You can find everything you need at www.joejackson.com. And let me know what you think.

A Rose by Any Other Name is Still Oasis

If you enjoyed music in the 90s you probably listened to your share of Oasis. For a while they were the biggest band on the planet, and of course Noel and Liam Gallagher did everything they could to throw it all away in a series of drunken stupors — now that was rock and roll! Oasis tried to stay together over the last decade, and even made some records, but nothing came close to classics like 1994’s Definitely, Maybe and 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? which is one of the best records of the decade in my humble opinion.

Looks like they decided to try again, this time without Noel. Last year Liam formed Beady Eye along with former Oasis members Gem Archer, Andy Bell and Chris Sharrock and their first album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, was recently released in the U.S. The first track getting airplay is called The Roller and it really caught my attention when I first heard it the other day. Here it is for your listening pleasure:

It sounds just like Oasis to me; in fact, it sounds like early 90s classic Oasis. Fan reviews have been solid and Beady Eye concerts are selling out across Europe and Japan. As of right now they are only making a few North American tour stops this summer before returning to Europe for more shows. I plan to give the record a good solid listen before making any major declarations about the return of Oasis, but I’m definitely, maybe impressed with the first song. The video for another tune, The Millionaire, is on their website at http://www.beadyeyemusic.com/ and it has a wonderful 60s sound to it that is a nice homage to the band’s influences like The Jam, The Kinks and of course, the Fab Four. What do you think?

Sing it Loud with k.d. lang

One of the downsides of the demise of commercial radio is that it’s hard to know when your favorite artists are releasing new music. It’s not as if you’re going to hear anything progressive on the local Top 40 station, so if you’re like me you get your new music news on the web or stay in touch with your favorite artists by liking them on Facebook and following them on Twitter. If you don’t do that, you probably had no idea k.d. lang was releasing her first studio album in three years tomorrow.

For my money, k.d. lang has the best voice in popular music and she’s been thrilling fans with her golden pipes for 25 years. I first discovered k.d. back in 1989 with the release of Absolute Torch and Twang, the first time I ever purchased anything even remotely similar to country music. I vividly remember turning up the volume really loud on “Pulling Back The Reins” and letting the music wash over me like a summer storm. I was hooked.

Over the years she has gone from alt-country crooner to pop star (see 1992’s Ingenue and 2000’s Invincible Summer) and back a few times, always relying on her amazing voice to inspire fans new and old. She did duets with Tony Bennett. Did a great soundtrack to a terrible movie based on a great book (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues), and last year released a retrospective. But it was perhaps on the biggest stage ever that she showed the world just how gifted she is when she performed an unforgettable version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The first cut from the new record is called “I Confess” and here is the video. It’s classic k.d.: