2014 June

Hoochie Coochie by Band of Skulls

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Band of Skulls is a three piece out of England – Russell Marsden (guitar, vocals), Emma Richardson (bass, vocals) and Matt Hayward (drums). The band formed 10 years ago when they were all in college, and they released their first full-length album five years later in 2009 – “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey”. They had a few popular singles off of their debut album which spawned an international tour. In 2012 they released their 2nd album “Sweet Sour” and also had some successful singles. A few months ago their 3rd album “Himalayan” came out. The trio play a bluesy, gritty rock that has a mix of modern and retro in the sound. Their albums have a good mix of harder and softer songs. You may notice elements of The White Stripes and The Black Keys. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the band followed a similar path as the Black Keys and eventually move up as one of the top current rock bands. The Black Keys hit it big 5 to 6 albums into their career, and Band of Skulls have the same potential. One thing I do know about this band is that they are going to have a killer greatest hits album someday. You can count on at least 3-5 great singles on each release they put out.

I first thought their newest release “Himalayan” was the weakest of their three albums, but it’s been growing on me the more I listen to it. They’ve tapped a different producer for the new album and it has a slightly more glossier sound then they’ve shown before. It’s also a little more down tempo than their first two albums. Oh, there’s also a great song title on one track “I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying”. Only time will tell if they eventually “breakout”, maybe after the release of their fourth or fifth album?

“Hoochie Coochie” – is an up tempo song and never fails to make my son start cracking up when the chorus hits, which is simply “hoochie coochie – ahhh”. The song is built around a simple and catchy guitar riff. Richardson handles the vocals during the verses until the chorus when Marsden barks out the title and then they harmonize on the “ahhhs”. That’s also when the best guitar riffs are broken out. The song gains intensity as it rolls along and then quickly wraps up duringits short 2:39 length.

Sing by Ed Sheeran

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3 years after his debut album was released (+), Ed has finally provided us with some new music from his follow up album ‘x’. Thanks to the success from his debut album, Ed has been able to tap into various producers to compose his second album. This song was written by Ed and Pharrell Williams; Ed was quoted as saying that he gained inspiration for the song from Justin Timberlake’s albums ‘Justified’ and ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ (both of which Pharrell was the producer). Upon initially hearing the song on the radio, I honestly thought it was a new Justin Timberlake song because I caught the song during the chorus while it was playing on the radio. I used my Shazam app to find out the title and artist of the song and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was actually Ed Sheeran who was singing. This song is somewhat of a departure from what Ed provided to his fans during his first album. On his first album, he painted himself as a folk-y type of artist with key messages through his lyrics. In hearing this song, it has a strong R&B/pop feel and Ed expands his vocal styling to fit into this genre. It’s an upbeat song and Ed stays somewhat true to his folk roots with a strong guitar presence throughout the song. I must say that this new style is a departure that I totally support, primarily because I’ve been following Ed since he first popped up on YouTube and was posting numerous videos of himself singing. There are a few tracks that he posted in which he raps and beat-boxes effortlessly, and that is why I find that this departure is a step in the right direction for him. I like the fact that he is exposing his fans to the multiple musical styles that he has under his belt. Enjoy!

Love Never Felt So Good by Michael Jackson ft. Justin Timberlake

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I’m sure a summary on Michael Jackson isn’t needed. We all know he is the King of Pop and he has countless hits from 1968 (when he was just 10yrs old) till today. I won’t dive into Michael Jackson and how he became a star, how many hits he’s had, how many awards he has or anything like that. What I will highlight is that this song is part of an album (Xscape) that was put together by music producer L.A. Reid. He grabbed 8 unreleased tracks that Michael Jackson had recorded throughout his career, envisioning that these 8 tracks would be successful in the music industry today. All tracks have had some musical updates made to them with the help of various producers and the first single from the album is the track I’m bringing you today. This version of the song wasn’t originally planned to be on the album, but thanks to Timbaland producing the track he was able to add it to the album. Outside of the song being a Michael Jackson song, what I enjoy most about the song is the happy vibe that is present throughout the full course of the song. From the moment I heard the opening drum beat and add-libs from Justin Timberlake, I was immediately hooked. After the first verse from Michael Jackson, an infectious chorus kicks in and ascends the song to a level that just makes you want to get up and dance. Justin’s verse is very enjoyable as well and once his verse is over, the chorus comes back in to play with a great harmony from Michael and Justin. Overall, the song is very well put together and I have to admit that it’s nice to have Michael Jackson back on the radio. The official video for the song is probably one of my favorites that I’ve seen this year. It’s filled with various fans dancing and lip singing to the song, as well as having video snippets from Michael Jacksons previous videos; the video also includes Justin singing and dancing with some of the fans. In watching the video you can see how much fun they were having in paying tribute to Michael Jackson and his music legacy. Enjoy!

Black Me Out by Against Me!

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(Explicit) This is the final song on the album and it really does a great job closing out the record. It’s a kiss-off to the major record labels (their last album was self-released under Grace’s own label). Pretty much nails things down as far as feelings go in a very direct way. Again, the music is catchy but the lyrics are really setting the song apart. It starts off pretty mellow, which is a great set-up for the chorus which takes the song up a notch. But then the song really gets going after the first chorus and continues to build from there.

Video may not be suitable to view at work:

Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ by Against Me!

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(Explicit) This is track #5 is filled with vitriolic anger, but is still catchy. It’s the bass that I really like on this song. The first 25 seconds to lead up into the song are also great as it starts out with just the guitars and then the bass kicks in and then gets a little solo time before the song kicks off. Laura Jane Grace’s vocals are sung with the guitar line as the bass accentuates some of the syllables. This song which is sequenced in the middle of the album is all about cathartic release.

Who Are You, Really? by Mikky Ekko

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Mikky Ekko (whose real name is John) has been in the music business since 2008. He first entered the music scene as a song-writer but soon discovered that the wanted to sing his own music, which lead to the release of an EP in 2009 titled Strange Fruit (most songs were a cappella). His name might seem familiar to all of you since he was recently featured on Rihanna’s hit single “Stay” in 2013. Thanks to the collaboration with Rihanna, Mikky has enjoyed quite a bit of success and people are actively searching out his music. Before collaborating with Rihanna Mikky released 2 albums Reds(summer 2010) and Blues (early 2011); he also released numerous tracks on his own. The song I’m bringing you today comes from his Reds album. I actually stumbled upon this song a couple of weeks ago while watching a television show. Immediately upon hearing the song, I had to Shazam it to see who the artist was. From the opening of the song before Mikky starts singing, I was hooked. The song really ascends once the chorus comes up, with the whole vibe of the track taking an aggressive turn. I must say, the chorus portion of the song is by far my favorite! I love how the tracks ramps up and the way that Mikky’s voice is presented. It’s a quick track, coming in under 3 minutes, but it’s still very enjoyable. I hope that when he releases his debut album that some tracks have this type of vibe. Enjoy!

Open by Rhye

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As a duo, these guys are fairly new to the music scene; Rhye’s members include a Canadian singer named Mike Milosh and a Danish instrumentalist named Robin Hannibal. They ended up collaborating on a few songs together when they both were signed independently to the record label Plug Research in Germany. Eventually they both relocated to Los Angeles separately and as fate would have it, they began working together and formed Rhye. These guys wanted to stand out in a unique way, which lead to them releasing two singles, “Open” and “The Fall,” online without any specific details about themselves in early 2013. Interestingly enough, these 2 online postings led to much attention in the music industry and a mass following of fans. Upon first listen of this song, I thought I was listening to the R&B singer Sade (who had plenty of hits in the 80’s and 90’s); but once I looked at the track information, I found out it was this group called Rhye. It wasn’t until today that I realized the lead singer is actually a male. As you listen, you will find that Milosh has a very high vocal range that is somewhat androgynous. The duo’s musical styling is extremely reflective of Sade, hence the reason why I thought it was her. Rhye released their debut album Woman in March of last year. Unfortunately, they haven’t received much airplay in the US, but in Europe they are quite popular. If you like the song “Open,” chances are you will like “The Fall” as well; they have the same feel. The string play on this track stands out, especially during the introduction of the song before Milosh begins to sing. Once Milosh starts singing, you can’t help but be captivated at how melodic his voice is; it’s very feathery and light, which blends effortlessly with the string and horn play. FYI: the first 18 seconds and last 36 seconds of the video aren’t actually part of the song, its ambient noise that was only part of the music video. Enjoy!

Unconditional Love by Against Me!

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Against Me! has been around for some time now, the band first formed 17 years ago in Florida. Against Me! started out as a solo acoustic performer – Laura Jane Grace started playing shows when she was 17. By 2001 she had a full band to beef up the sound – guitar, bass and drums. They blended folk and punk and performed socially conscious and impassioned music. They released three albums (plus a live album and some reworked song releases) on an Indie label (Fat Wreck) before signing with Sire Records in 2005. Their major label debut in 2007 was much more rock-oriented and produced by Butch Vig. They got decent reviews and did extensive touring. They released another album produced by Vig in 2010, which would be their last album with Sire.

In 2012, Laura Jane Grace announced that she was going to transition to living as a woman and abandon her birth name, Tom Gabel. Yes, Against Me! was fronted by Tom Gabel since their inception in ’97 and now Laura Jane Grace has stepped out to lead the band for the first time with their January 2014 release of “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”. The band also added a new rhythm section with only Laura and James Bowman on guitar returning as prior Against Me! members. I have never listened to the band prior to the new album, so I can’t speak to what they sounded like or how much they changed on the new album. I will state that the new album really is great. There’s interesting and diverse music, intriguing lyrics and it’s a well-sequenced album. I would describe the music as poppy punk rock, not unlike Green Day’s American Idiot, but with more bite and edge. Many of these songs have potential to be radio anthems, but the lyrics push the envelope enough that they probably won’t be on the radio too much. When you release your first single with the song title “Tuckmylife666” (yes the “T” is a typo) you’re not expecting a whole lot of airplay. Just glancing at the song titles, you can tell it’s probably going to be an interesting listen – “Drinking With the Jocks”, “True Trans Soul Rebel”, “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ”, “Dead Friend”, the title track and the list goes on. And since its 10 tracks clock in at under 30 minutes, even shorter attention spans can stay engaged throughout the album. Since most of the music is pretty high energy and the singing is fiery and passionate, this record is a good listen for workouts, cleaning or other activities. So here’s 30% of the album. Unfortunately the tracks on YouTube are not the highest quality audio. The album sounds much better than the audio on these links.

“Unconditional Love” – is the third track on the album and is a good example of a catchy pop punk anthem you’d expect to hear on the radio. The music on this song is very straightforward, ringing guitar, simple drumming and impassioned singing. And the lyrics on this track could be played on the radio.

For those of you who like performance clips, here’s a bonus link of the band performing the first single on Letterman earlier this year:

Stupid by Kacey Musgraves

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“Stupid” is a much harder driving song and shows the tougher side of Kacey. I like how the song moves smoothly along, especially how she is able to keep her words quickly flowing through the chorus. Plus I can’t resist the banjo accents on the track.

Am I Wrong by Nico & Vinz

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Nico & Vinz come to us from Norway, where they have been taking the music scene by storm. They originally developed under the name ‘Envy’ back in 2010, but earlier this year they decided to change their name to consist of their first names. In 2010, they became a huge success for winning multiple music festivals throughout Europe. Thanks to the success from the music festivals, the duo released a mixtape Dreamworks: Why Not Me. This mixtape lead to the release of a debut album in 2012 titled The Magic Soup and the Bittersweet Faces. Their debut album was considered a success in Norway, thanks to peaking at #37 on the Norwegian charts; this album also spawned a hit song for the group. In early 2013 the duo released 2 singles that haven’t been tied to a album yet, “Am I Wrong” and “In Your Arms.” “Am I Wrong” has been the groups most successful song to date; it has peaked at #2 in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. I imagine that the success of this single will soon have these two guys jumping into mainstream radio here in the US. From the moment I heard the opening of the song where there is humming before the verse starts, I was hooked. The song come across as a very happy/poppy tune and the chorus is outlined with a nice percussion beat, horns and a harmony that is infectious. Both Nico and Vinz contribute vocals to different verses on the track and often harmonize during the chorus. What I enjoy most about the song is how happy it sounds, not to mention the fact that the lyrics are uplifting. The chorus is outlined with the lyrics, “Am I wrong, for thinking that we could be something for real? Now am I wrong for trying to reach the things that I can’t see? But that’s just how I feel!” These lyrics definitely resonate with me, which is probably why I enjoy the song so much. Enjoy!