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Music to Your Ears – Best of the Year: Elite Eight and Honorable Mentions

Well, there’s already been some surprising upsets in our first bracket music challenge! Both our 1st and 2nd seeds were knocked out (some may say our voters have no heart) as Selena Gomez fell to Liam Gallagher and Carly Rae Jepsen fell to Haim. Without further adieu, here’s the elite eight:

First, we have the British invading the States again as Liam Gallagher takes on St. Vincent:

It’s all about cardio in our second match-up as Cold War Kids try to unseat the racing Killers single:

Underrated Jidenna pops up in our third face-off, where he tries to fend of the sister trio Haim:

Kesha continues strong, but faces fierce competition from similar songstress Lorde:

Now, as for those songs that didn’t make the cut – some were victims of overexposure (Feel It Still, Portugal. the Man) and some were simply a victim of my strict sixteen limits. Anyway, here’s six extra songs for your enjoyment:

Honorable Mentions:

Edge of Town – Middle Kids

Early this year, a new band emerged out of Australia with a three-song EP. This snappy garage rocker earwormed its way into my head, and positioned this band as one of the artists I’m most excited about in the coming year. Eagerly anticipating their full release, we can live inside this for now – a mix of Yeah Yeah Yeahs tremble from vocalist Alex Lahey and guitar work that feels straight out of tour mates Cold War Kids. Elton John has lauded this tune, and now so am I.

Forgiveness – Paramore

The best song off After Laughter, the crisp follow-up to their best and self-titled 2013 album, ‘Forgiveness’ is a somber look at how heartbreak affects us. Take a look at this section – ‘Cause your voice is a gun / Every word is a bullet hole / Shot a hole in the sun / If I never look up maybe I’ll never notice. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but Hayley Williams has never written anything so poignant and relatable.

Sky Musings – Wolf Alice

As tremulous as the vocals were in Sleigh Bells’ great track ‘And Saints’, singer Ellie Roswell outdoes Alexis Krauss here in the best track off Wolf Alice’s latest album. Almost whipsering, Roswell searches her way under your skin with one of the darkest yet hopeful tracks you’ll hear all year. When you’re young you think your life is over when something drastic happens, but Wolf Alice is here to remind you that there’s plenty of time left to make sure you get it right.

I’m Stuck – Noah Cyrus

Miley’s younger sister nearly stole the show this summer with this catchy love tune that popped up in commercials and trailers all over the place. I hesitate to say it’s better, because I clearly placed ‘Malibu’ in the bracket, but I have higher hopes for where Noah’s future lies. She’s already got the knack for irresistible hooks, and I gather she’ll have the chance to win us over for many songs of the summer to come.

Lay It On Me – Vance Joy

A late entry in this – literally, I heard this again yesterday and realized I knew the lyrics only after a second listen. I’m already a big fan of Vance Joy’s 2013 hit ‘Riptide’ and that song worked its way into my heart over a year. This time it was clearly much faster, and Joy’s infectious vocals are just what we need as the year wraps up. Apparently this developed from a voicemail Joy kept on his phone for some time, and this is the quaint response.

Savage – Lights

I had limited my expectations of Lights singer Valerie Poxleitner after being underwhelmed by her previous efforts. Luckily this year’s Skin&Earth is a brilliant concept album that lives in a fantasy world, something that’s definitely up my weird alley. Somehow nerdier Lights became better Lights, and the best example of that improvement is ‘Savage’. A raucous declaration of unrequited love, Lights has truly outdone herself.

Here’s a full playlist of my top thirty-five songs from 2017:

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Music to Your Ears – Best of the Year: Songs Part Two

Here we are again, with the back four face-offs between some of my favorite songs of 2017. Tuesday we brought you the top seed alongside some other notable singles, so check that out and vote if you missed it. As for now, look out below for some pop darlings, some hip hop surprises and one of the most honest songs you’ll hear all year.

Continue reading Music to Your Ears – Best of the Year: Songs Part Two

Music to Your Ears – Best of the Year: Songs Part One

So we’re trying something different this year, as I’ve mentioned the past couple of editions – I’m a big fan of brackets and tournaments, so I figured I’d pick my four favorite songs from each season of 2017 (Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn) and pit them against each other. I’m going to give the lowdown on why I chose them and all that, of course, signifying why they’re the best sixteen songs of the year.

This is where you come in: This week and the subsequent three Tuesdays I’ll be asking you to vote for what you think is the best of the best. The first four matchups are today, below, and on Thursday I’ll reveal the other four face-offs.

Continue reading Music to Your Ears – Best of the Year: Songs Part One

Music to Your Ears – Bjork, Frank Turner and Best of Autumn

At long last we come to the end of our time in 2017. There isn’t much more arriving in stores for music lovers until the dawning hours of next year. Annually this is a struggle we must undertake, listening for the gold at the end of the rainbow. Here’s three final albums that I’ve absorbed in the past two weeks:

Bjork – Utopia

I’m sorry, I can’t deal with this. Is Bjork truly music, or is it merely beeps and boops and long yowls that make you think you’re hearing art because she once wore that swan dress to the Oscars and made everything think she was edgy and fashion forward, thus equating “artistic”? Eh, I digress – but this is more of the same, meaning it’s incomprehensible drivel unless you’ve bought into it from the very beginning, or you really like out there shit like Yoko Ono or Merzbow. Move along.

Key Tracks: None

U2 – Songs of Experience

After so many years, you would think a band like U2 might be glad to shuffle along playing many of their classics. Bands like the Rolling Stones and the Who and the Eagles continued that way and did fine, so it only makes sense to make your money that way. Bono and company aren’t content to live on the past alone, and here they add to their continually growing retinue with aplomb. Sure, there are the political ballads typical of the Irish pop group, and the opening track “Love Is All We Have Left” feels a bit pretentious. Luckily, for us, this is not the dull album foisted upon iPhone users in 2014 (Songs of Innocence). As soon as first single “You’re the Best Thing About Me” appears, the mood of the album lifts to the heavens and guitarist Edge is allowed to let loose. The rest of the rollicking album is a breath of fresh air after the decade of oblivion that had left them on the horizon. I’m glad they’re back, and this is easily their best latter-day release.

Key Tracks: You’re the Best Thing About Me / The Little Things That Give You Away / Get Out of Your Own Way

Roy Woods – Say Less

Pulling teeth trying to dig up something else to talk about (yet again, December is a desert for good new music that isn’t Christmas-related) I hit on this to see if it might work for me. Having no idea what Woods’ genre even was, it was a pleasant surprise. Subtle vocals top off soothing beats to start off “Medusa”, but that gives way to some perfectly pulsating jams. He’s a skilled songwriter, if not repetitive. I see a good future, at least, and if this is only a one-off, it’s fine stuff to chill to.

Key Tracks: Little Bit of Lovin / Monday to Monday / Glasses


One more thing…

Finally, we have my picks for the best sixteen tracks from the autumn of 2017. Like I just said, it was rough going figuring out what truly actually belonged, but at least the top four are solid. That way we’ll have sixteen fantastic entries in next week’s Best of 2017 music bracket showdown! Tune in on Tuesday, December 5th to see the first four matchups!

Music to Your Ears: Gwen Stefani, Tove Lo and Sia

Can you believe it’s already nearing the end of 2017? An exhausting time for all makes the time seem to fly. Well this is our last week for regular Music to Your Ears – other than a U2 album coming in early December, we’re going to focus on a recap with our Best of the Year bracket, which you’ll see the first Tuesday of that month, December 5th. For now, enjoy the remnants of what we’ve got in November:

Tove Lo – Blue Lips

Tove Lo gives no fucks, as you may know from her songs “Habits(Stay High)” and “Love Me Like You Do” – upbeat yet somber ballads that lament that love is nearly always fleeting, and with lyrics like “You do your thing never wanted a future / Fuck if I knew how to put it romantic”, you know she isn’t messing around. Late in her new album, “Bad Days” is of the same vein as the first segment of her “Lady Wood” idea, but the rest are harder, faster, meatier hooks, so electric they might knock you out. Tove Lo must be a bit angrier as she reaches her thirties, and I can relate – you’re beaten down by the news, lost love, untrustworthy friends. What else can I say? You want good beats and incisive lyrics? Look no further.

Key Tracks: disco tits / stranger / bad days

Sia – This Is Christmas

For someone who flew under the radar for the better part of a decade, singer-songwriter Sia Furler is doing alright for herself, having snuck into the echelon of great pop of the last few years on the backs of fabulous hits like “Chandelier” and “Cheap Thrills”. So a natural next step for anyone on that level is to put out a Christmas album. One might be worried that she’s “selling out” but I’m here to assuage your fears. This even works as a Sia album on its on, full of original songs meant to delight and inspire. There aren’t as many biting lyrics, meant to flip flop your feelings about lost love, and there’s obviously some winter themed whimsy. I’m pleasantly surprised by this, and you should be as well.

Key Tracks: Santa’s Coming For Us / Underneath the Mistletoe / Puppies Are Forever

Gwen Stefani – You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Gwen Stefani has betrayed me. Where is our pop punk princess of the early 1990s? Somewhere along the way since No Doubt, Stefani transformed past her Harajuku girls and became a Christmas country chaunteuse. Her impending marriage to Voice collaborator Blake Shelton has clearly helped her image, but she’s sort of distanced herself by pandering herself into that middle America pseudo-Christian country style that her beau has squarely positioned himself in from the beginning. It’s great to hear some traditional Xmas music, including a mix of secular and Christian songs, and her voice is as good as it’s ever been. But isn’t this sad for the once stellar sparkplug?

Key Tracks: White Christmas / Santa Baby / Let It Snow

Franz Ferdinand – “Always Ascending”

The past decade has not been kind to Franz Ferdinand. After exploding in 2004 with their self-titled debut, no one seemed to care about their equally fantastic You Could Have It So Much Better except die-hard fans. The following two albums were uninspired, and a questionable team-up with classic British glam-rock group Sparks left everyone asking, “Why did Sparks bother?” Well, now that they’ve even lost founding guitarist Nick McCarthy, who’s spending time with family, the band has moved into “a new phase”. A particularly apt title for their first single, it reminds fans of their early days, but with a decidedly fierce new mood. Alex Kapranos’ growl has never sounded heavier, and McCarthy’s guitar is filled well by new members Dino Bardot (formerly of The 1990s) and Julian Corrie. As it has long been my favorite band, I’m excited to see what new heights they can achieve.


We’ll be a little slight next week, and more likely we’ll be preparing for the upcoming bracket-fueled championship that will find one track above the rest. That’s it, I’ll probably fit in what my favorite songs were for the last three months of the year, showcase a final 16 best of the season, then we’ll get right into the challenges.

Music to Your Ears – Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez and Sleigh Bells

Bogged down by the cold weather? Treading water till your new New Year’s resolution? Well never fear, there’s more music to distract you from the never-ending torment that is reality!

Taylor Swift – Reputation

I don’t know that you’ll ever find anyone more divisive than Taylor Swift in the world of pop culture today. Everybody has a hot take on her reputation, and she seems as though there is a heavily cultivated image set forth by her label and other people. Naturally, Miss Swift has made it super difficult for a simple blogger like myself to obtain her music in order to review. Not that I put a lot of effort in, but coming to write this, I found that there were no ways to even stream a full song other than hoping for songs to come back around with iHeartRadio’s “Reputation Radio” station. It took over four hours and several repeats of “Wildest Dreams”, “Back to December” and “Love Story”. Suffice it to say, that’s a much more annoying way to take in Reputation than I would have liked, but it didn’t cause the work to suffer. Despite the tracks being wildly out of order, I discerned the centerpieces. You might already be well aware of the “I’m Too Sexy” sampling “Look What You Made Me Do” or the recent single release “…Ready for It?” I’ve heard from many friends that this is clearly a forced attempt at darkening her image like Katy Perry did last album with 2013’s Prism and “Dark Horse”. If that’s the case, then it’s shamefully dull of her to copycat. I think she’s still trying to discover where, as a major pop artist, she’ll stand in the echelon of pop culture. I think there are certainly better artists, and Swift herself has done much better (1989 is her best). It was always going to be an uphill battle with the paparazzi, culture and generally because it’s a follow-up to 1989. There are definite bright spots, but this may be forgettable in a year. The irony is that much of the good stuff was written and produced by Bleachers/Fun/superwriter Jack Antonoff, including the best song “Getaway Car” which has several lyrics and beats that seem ripped right out of his own “I Wanna Get Better”. If that’s the case, it’s shameful too, but I kind of don’t mind. She’s still fun, at least, if a bit over-processed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get some lunch at McDonald’s

Key Tracks: New Year’s Day / Getaway Car / King of My Heart

Jennifer Lopez – Amor Amor Amor

One artist I’m surprised I’ve missed is Jennifer Lopez. A stalwart of my high school years, as her image was repeatedly up whenever flashing by MTV – particularly the afternoon benchmark TRL – she sort of faded away from my radar after 2005’s Rebirth. I recall her popping up now and again, particularly as a judge for five of the later seasons of American Idol. I always admired her, especially as an actress (Selena is great), but I never really kept up with her music in the post-TRL universe. I’m glad she’s wrapped herself up in her Hispanic heritage with songs like this, sort of like Shakira has always maintained a Spanish-language first mentality. As for the song itself, it’s catchy and pumped me up on first listen. I could see this getting a lot of airwave time, so perhaps Lopez will re-emerge in my mind for this next album, Por Primera Vez.

Sleigh Bells – Kid Kruschev

This mostly seems like b-sides to last year’s phenomenal album Jessica Rabbit. Many of the tracks could be inserted anywhere in that and not seem out of place. I’m perfectly happy with it, because it’s seven new songs from singer-songwriter Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller. Oh, okay – I looked it up, and apparently the duo moved out of Brooklyn and can’t stop creating music. In addition, Miller says that they “like the idea of putting out shorter records at a more consistent rate, so we’re gonna give it a shot for a while, see how it feels”. Hey, if that means more Sleigh Bells on an annual basis, I am definitely behind it. If you love the band, this is easily worth it.

Key Tracks: And Saints / Florida Thunderstorm

Walk the Moon – What If Nothing

With the megahit “Shut Up and Dance” forcing the band into one-hit wonder discussions, there’s a lot riding on this follow-up to 2014’s breakout Talking Is Hard . Lead vocalist Nicholas Petricca starts off by stretching his vocals, lowering the bass in “Headphones” in order to mirror their high-range dance songs of the previous album. Don’t worry, they haven’t lost their rhythm tenderness, as the next two tracks “One Foot” and “Surrender” prove. If you’re new to them, think of the band as a little cousin to Imagine Dragons.

Key Tracks: One Foot / Kamikaze / Can’t Sleep (Wolves)

Evanescence – Synthesis

This is a neat oddity for Evanescence fans – the group has reworked much of their best material, and rather than forcing a best of album, they’ve crafted a remix version in the best veins of their genre. Lacrymosa now has violins and dripping pianos behind the original synth and vocals. Bring Me to Life is entirely different, orchestrally symphonic – the piece is like a prog version a metal butterfly emerged from the cocoon of their hiatus. It’s not a lot of new material, but people who grew up with Amy Lee’s melodic vocalizations will be enamored with this post-Halloween treat.

Key Tracks: Bring Me to Life / Imperfection (original song!) / Lithium

Seal – Standards

What’s with everyone getting into doing the classics? Recently it was former French first lady Carla Bruni, a year ago it was Bob Dylan. To each his own, I guess, and it’s usually a quick hit with fans and a nice cash grab, even when you’re actually a fan of the standards you’re singing. Seal sounds solid here, and he certainly has always had the chops to perform these songs. Of those recent performers, he’s easily the best. Heck, I want him to do another album already.

Key Tracks: Luck Be A Lady / Autumn Leaves / I’ve Got You Under My Skin


Apparently next week we’re seeing the Revival of Eminem, that Trump-slaying raconteur, and we’ll be getting some Blue Lips from songstress Tove Lo. We’re also finally into the Christmas season, as Sia has an Xmas album, while we’ll finally review Gwen Stefani’s month-old dip into the holidays. Stay tuned…

Music to Your Ears – Maroon 5, The Fratellis and Weezer

Yes, it’s been a bit of a time – much like last year, October and November see a dip in both quality of releases and my interest in them. Luckily, there were a handful of pick-ups you just have to hear from the last few weeks:

Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues

I don’t want to lower my expectations for this album, but we all have to face the fact that while Maroon 5 has “grown” as a band, they’ve clearly distanced themselves from their original rock sound. This is definitively a product of the current pop scene, best represented by frontman Adam Levine’s extended stint on The Voice. While we can’t say any of the band members are untalented, particularly Levine, they’ve sort of sold out too. There’s nothing wrong in it, as I’ve always hoped for the greatest of successes for one of my favorite bands. The truth is that their first album, Songs About Jane will be the only truly ‘rock’ infused work by Maroon 5. From then on they were reaching for the stars, and now that they’ve gotten there, they’re sort of dull. Sure, they’ve got massive hits, but the hooks propelling them are more intriguing when their guests join in (Kendrick Lamar in “Don’t Wanna Know”, SZA in “What Lovers Do”, Julia Michaels in “Help Me Out”). I’m sure the boys are still as talented as ever, they just don’t get a good showcase here – particularly James Valentine, so good on the first two or three albums, but pushed to the background by boops and whistles. At least he’s rich beyond his wildest dreams. Also, I can’t hate on Adam Levine if he’s willing to dress as a mascot bug to reference Kafka in his videos. The guys are still a least a little clever.

Key Tracks: Denim Jacket / Girls Like You / Don’t Wanna Know

The Fratellis – “The Next Time We Wed”

As the harbingers of the Chicago Blackhawks’ approaching dynasty, “Chelsea Dagger” was played constantly for the six years that team dominated the National Hockey League. Hoping to avoid one-hit wonder status, The Fratellis have plugged away touring and writing music, turning up now with their first single from the upcoming In Your Own Sweet Time, out March 9th next year. While it doesn’t have that hammer hook shout along of the older track, this is still a fun time. “Give me half a chance and you can be my next obsession”. Knowing that major radio stations have latched on to Fitz and the Tantrums and Portgual the Man in recent years for their “indie rock of the month” this has a chance to catch on over the winter months as a bit of an alternative infatuation to your moody Taylor Swift driven journeys.

Weezer – Pacific Daydream

Weezer has long made it a tradition to throw caution to the wind and make the same damn album nearly every year since 2008. They’ve been riding the coattails of their much better early work, which can seem to be the same thing as what I accused Maroon 5 of doing above. That, of course, is different here as I believe Weezer doesn’t really care about their public image, instead turning in song after song about lazy beach rock, reveling in their ability to maintain the mundane. That being said, they’re phenomenal live performers, and to churn out such dreck does not diminish the concerts they endow upon us. Of course, there’s still highlights to be had here, which entitle them to a few more songs in their playlists. Rivers Cuomo will live it up as long as he can, and more power to him – it’s almost as if he’s trolled us all into realizing Weezer is still a legitimate rock band.

Key Tracks: Weekend Woman / Feels Like Summer


That’s it – hopefully the rest of November picks up the same, but if it doesn’t, don’t fret – you can look forward to the Music Bracket Challenge, where you can pick which songs are the best of 2017! I’ve mentioned it in three previous articles, where I’ve chosen the best of each season:

 

When December rolls around, we’ll have a final twenty to add in to the mix, and from those four chapters we’ll cull four each to make a sweet sixteen symphony! I’m looking forward to it hopefully as much as you will be, so stay tuned!