Saturday, January 4, 2014

Music Heard on the Island in 2013

I was going to start this by saying some disclaimer like, "This post is going to be a bit of self-indulgence." But then I realized that's what most of my posts are. And you know that, otherwise you wouldn't be here reading it. But I'm still on break, so I wanted to do a bit more writing before I go back to the excitement but complete lack of free time that is my third year of medical school.
So without further ado, a few musical delights from 2013 that I was excited about. I don't claim to be some smart music reviewer, but sometimes I like to pretend.
Oh wait - one further bit of ado: I'm not trying to sound elitist with this list. I know sometimes I come off that way when talking about music, and I know there are certain aspects of the Top 40 charts that annoy me. But I'm honestly not trying to dis any music you might like. And I don't pretend to be the best musicophile out there, either - my friend Gamy will inevitably be releasing his own mix of 2013's greatest music which will be much wider in scope and genre than my own. But hopefully you take a listen and like some of these.

"Get In My Way" - Robin Thicke
Obviously Robin Thicke was quite famous this year for a little ditty about how much he loves sex and how he hates when it's not quite clear what's appropriate. Or something. It was catchy and Pharrell is ageless (41 years old and he looks like that?!). Anyway, people became so sick of that little ditty, as people are wont to do when a little ditty is played 16 times a day on the radio, that they began to ignore Robin Thicke (there were also negative feelings due to the racy nature of the song or his performance with that girl who came in like a Wrecking Ball later in the year). And a few more singles were released from the album, but by then people were too inundated with Robin Thicke to care. But there are actually some really fun songs on Blurred Lines. This one is my favorite - it's a bouncy pump-up song with a dash of old school dance funk similar to the album's title track, but without the racy imagery or repetitive "hey hey hey."

"Instamatic" - Vertical Horizon
Yes indeed - THE Vertical Horizon. Matt Scannell is still making music - both teaming up with other artists (like my first musical idol Richard Marx) and with the band that brought you "Everything You Want" and "You're A God." Their 2013 release, Echoes From the Underground, shows mature modern alternative rock songwriting with beautiful lyrics that only come from experience and age in songs like "Frost" and the beautifully subtle "Lovestruck." But my favorite moment comes from "Instamatic" where Scannell brings in his long-time friend Neil Peart (drummer of my favorite band, Rush), who plays the crap out of this song. The blustering riffs and drum fills of the song scream prog rock while still retaining pop sensibility, and the made-up word of a title personifies the fun-but-emotional song perfectly.

"Unchain My Heart" - Hugh Laurie
Anyone who has watched House for more than a few episodes has probably seen Hugh Laurie play the piano. In recent years Laurie has indulged that side of himself by releasing a couple of musical albums showcasing his musical talent. He acknowledges in the liner notes the fact that purists may be quick to dismiss him as a Cambridge-educated white boy trying to play New Orleans blues (his first album) or old-school jazz (2013's Didn't It Rain), but if you give it a chance, Laurie's easy lilting piano, top-notch instrumentalists, and talented vocal guests lay your expectations calmly to rest and ease you into some beautiful piano-vocal jazz. The whole album is terrific - you'll only find this track on the deluxe version, but it's worth it - and if you don't think so, watch the video:

"'Til The Lights Come On" - Sun Rai
A few years ago my good friend Aaron introduced me to the website Noisetrade and since then a lot of my new music has come from there. Artists of all genres and monetary values have put their music up for free on this website as a matter of promotion and because they just want to get their art out there. One of my favorite Noisetrade finds in 2013 was Sun Rai. He's got catchy melodies and clearly looks like he has a lot of fun while he's playing. Here's a great sample of the fun of his music:

"Cry Cry" - Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots has had a long struggle over the years with Scott Weiland's endless relapses into drug addiction. Finally in early 2013, after decades of trying to make it work with him, they let Weiland go. They came out swinging later in the year with a new EP featuring Chester Bennington (the non-rapping half of Linkin Park's vocals). People love to hate LP as much as they love to hate Nickelback, and so fans were in an uproar. I'll be honest, I'm hesitant when bands make major lineup changes but keep the same name. And I will miss Weiland, but I'm sure it came to the point where working with him was just too hard for the other STP members. Despite that, I urge you to give this new line-up a chance. Regardless of your thoughts on LP, Bennington has a versatile singing voice, and he channels the STP vibe here much better than expected. 

"Colors (Remix ft. Tomahawk Pointe)" - Empire Theory
Previously blog entries have detailed my love for good EDM (electronic dance music), specifically dubstep. Another example of the variety of stuff you can find on Noisetrade, Empire Theory is a solid pop rock group with deep lyrics to supplant their catchy melodies. As a charity endeavor, they created this remix of their EP's title track and it brings a whole new dimension to the song. And it sounds wicked (plus, proceeds go to charity!).

"Power Trip" - J. Cole
You probably heard this one. I'm throwing it here because listening to rap is not something for which I'm known, but that I do occasionally. I have a major soft spot for the Notorious B.I.G., and I love it when they call me "Big Poppa." My delusions of grandeur aside, I'm not moved by a lot of today's rap, but there are good rappers, and J. Cole is one of them. I was instantly hooked by this slow wistful chorus, and found myself fascinated by the verses as he professes his forbidden love for this girl he's obsessed with. The music video adds to the picture, and its twist ending may surprise you.

Feel free to comment with your own favorite musical moments of 2013, especially the ones that weren't televised or controversially reported. I'm always looking for new music, so I'm excited to see what you liked last year!