Tag Archives: Adele

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 9

You can find the previous Shuffle Lessons posts here.

1. “X&Y” – Coldplay, X&Y

This is one of my lesser-played tunes off of Coldplay’s third album. It just doesn’t have that initial catchiness that encourages repeat listens, yet it’s still a good song. I think I like/not love this song (and this album) because I’m prone to like anything Coldplay does, but this album definitely got a lot of flack when it was released for being kind of cold and emotionless. I can understand those criticisms listening to this song. Again, like/not love, there just isn’t anything in this tune that grabs you and emotionally shakes you by the shoulders like “What If” or “Fix You.” Listening to it closely, I feel like the guys in the band were swinging for the fences with another grandiose anthem but the end product seems a little overblown.

2. “Modern Nature” – Sondre Lerche, Faces Down

I first heard Sondre Lerche on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, when he performed the title track off of his sophomore album Two Way Monologue. I loved it, and I didn’t listen to him much again until he did the soundtrack for the movie Dan In Real Life. This song was the major song he’d already written that was featured in the movie, and it’s a nice one. It’s hard to describe Sondre Lerche’s music, but he’s got a very distinct sound. This song is a great example of it; plunky, a generous use of 7th chords, but not in an overtly cheesy way. It’s got a pleasing mix of acoustic/electric guitars, intriguing rhythm/percussion sections, and for this particular song, he’s accompanied by a female vocalist and their voices play very well against each other. Nice song.

3. “Love That Conquers” – The Swell Season, Strict Joy

This poor duo. They star in the movie Once and everybody freaks out about how great they are, and they can never live up to the hype of that movie or the soundtrack. Which is a shame, because if Strict Joy was a debut album and nobody had heard of them before, I think it would’ve been a bigger critical and commercial success. Remember how much everybody fawned over The Civil Wars when Barton Hollow came out? That album and Strict Joy are kindred spirits. Especially this song; it’s got a very strong Civil Wars vibe musically. Think “I’ve Got This Friend” with a different rhythm. In terms of the album, I gave this tune fewer listens than others, but it’s certainly a pleasant song. It’s got nice interplay between the acoustic riff and whatever acoustic instruments are adding ad-libs throughout the song. And as always, the voices of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová sound like a match made in heaven. Today’s pop culture music scene could stand have more music made by this pair.

4. “London Skies” – Jamie Cullum, Catching Tales

If you’re looking for the trademark sound of Jamie Cullum’s original tunes, look no further than “London Skies.” Oddly enough, this is not a piano-driven tune, but it still fits his sound so well. Fantastic guitar hook here, and it’s always nice to hear that from a piano player by trade. Lyrically, this is a beautifully-written love letter to London. What I love is that the London he’s writing about is not an all sunshine and roses city, but rather a city painted by gray. I read this as a hopeful song, even though it could be read as a depressing picture of the city. For the one day that I was in London, I saw this description come to life, and it was exactly what I had hoped it would be. I didn’t want the city to be sparkly, I wanted a little bit of dinginess with clouds that held back the sun, even though you knew it was there. The musical/lyrical complement in this song is what makes it so well-written; the lyrics on their own can read a bit sad, but when they’re put over the music, it adds that hopeful element that makes this song so great.

5. “Right As Rain” – Adele, 19

This tune is an exercise in scarcity. You’ve got drums, Adele, three or four back-up voices, and a bass and organ. Talk about simple. When you’ve got arguably the best pipes of our generation, you don’t need flowery arrangements. This song is built to highlight Adele. And she coasts through this thing. What’s crazy about listening to Adele is that it always seems effortless, she could sing anything thrown at her without breaking a sweat. This tune is just a simple ditty that was probably fun for her to sing. I also need to point out the insanely subtle back-up singers that show up in the second verse, providing a nice backdrop of “oooh’s” that complement Adele’s voice so well without overpowering it.

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Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 5

1. “Alright” – D’Angelo, Brown Sugar

My first thought when listening to this is that I almost heard this live a month ago…but didn’t. This is one of the songs off of Brown Sugar D’ had been playing live in the last few months, and we almost certainly would’ve heard it had he not cancelled his Chicago House of Blues show. Anyway.

This is one of the Brown Sugar songs I like most. Brown Sugar is a great album, but I too often fall into the trap of listening to it with the ears of what could’ve been. Had Questlove and D’ been collaborating earlier than they started and worked on this album together, could it have gone from pretty awesome album to stratospheric album? Most likely. So when I listen now I subconsciously look for things that could be improved upon, which is a listening mistake. There is a lot in this song to enjoy. I believe it’s one of the fastest-paced songs on the album (which actually isn’t saying a lot), and the fantastic bass work is what drives the song along for me. I usually love it when an exploratory bass line sits on top of a slow beat (a la “Lay It Down” by Al Green, anything off of D’Angelo’s Voodoo), so I can really dig my teeth into what’s happening. But in this tune, the pace is faster and the bass certainly keeps up well. It starts very controlled, adhering strongly to that main bass hook, and by the end of the tune it’s going all over the place.

2. “First Love” – Adele, 19

The lullaby song. This is one of those Adele tunes that can be overlooked due to the simplicity of the instrumentation. It sounds like it was recorded on a xylophone in a nursery. There’s nothing musically complex here. This is not a catchy song, but the oddness of the music draws out unique emotions from the pleading words of Adele. It’s a weird pairing of music that sounds like a lullaby and lyrics about tiring of your first love. It’s a sad mix because as a listener, the music makes me connect the singer with youth, and most likely immaturity. This is one of those relationships that’s sad when it dies because it will inevitably be one neither person truly ever forgets. It’s a tragic crime of the universe that we often fall in love before we know how to handle it and most often those loves leave us because of our immaturity or inexperience or inability to handle the emotion and responsibility of love. The fact that the singer is pleading for forgiveness for wanting to leave over what is essentially a nursery rhyme tune has a lingering, depressing effect.

3. “Don’t Stop The Music” – Jamie Cullum, The Pursuit

Nobody reimagines tunes like Jamie Cullum. He can take an old standard or a modern pop/rock song and his piano is his transmogrifier, injecting the DNA of the song being covered into this completely new creation. He’s covered the widest range of artists, from Frank Sinatra to Radiohead to Rihanna to Cole Porter to Jeff Buckley to Jimi Hendrix. And all to fantastic effect. This particular cover of the awesome Rihanna song was the first song I heard off of Cullum’s 2010 album The Pursuit and it was the first music I’d heard of his in a while. Needless to say, it completely blew me away. Rihanna’s song is suitable to be danced to while you’re clubbin’ with your girls. Cullum plays it like an unknown trio in a smokey jazz club in NYC. There isn’t anything pounding in his cover. It’s silky smooth, with brushes on the drums and an upright bass playing off his beautiful jazz piano licks. If you don’t know Jamie Cullum, look him up. He’s like Michael Buble, except not a vanilla-bland a-hole. He’s got the voice that delivers this old-school standard style so well, very much like Michael Buble, but his piano playing chops are other-worldly. His solo in this song is so beautifully understated and cements his genre-bending vision of this cover. It’s a testament to his talent that he takes this awesome dance track and morphed it into something completely different. If you’re not careful, you could easily listen to it and not realize it’s originally a Rihanna song. There are so few covers that truly elicit a different sound, a different genre or feeling from the original, and it’s such a delight to hear when it happens. It’s maybe my favorite song on this whole record, and absolutely the song that sold me 100% on Jamie Cullum.

4. “Lovers In Japan” – Coldplay, Unreleased

If you’re a Coldplay fan, that link is not the version you’re thinking of. I somehow got my hands on a very stripped down version of the tune, mainly acoustic with some percussion, and even in a different key. This version is very tempered, and I like that a lot because Coldplay is known for anthems. It’s almost like the version of this tune had they written during the recording of Parachutes. It’s nice to hear how they sound when it’s fewer instruments, or at least fewer grand, supernova-esque instruments. Chris Martin’s vocals are less energetic, which coaxes a different emotion out of this song, which is really cool to hear.

5. “Reminder” – Jay Z, The Blueprint 3

Not my favorite off of BP3, and I think it ended up in my Top 1000 mainly because the beat used to be a great pace for me to run with (it’s since become a little bit too slow to serve that purpose anymore). For me, the biggest issue with Jay Z is that he is the king. He won the game. He didn’t die young, he went from a poor childhood to selling drugs to survive to selling millions of albums and being one of the very biggest names in the rap game. He’s a billionaire. Hip hop is so very often fueled by lyrics about The Chase or The Game or The Struggle or The _____. Jay Z has beaten all of that. He is married and has a baby daughter. “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!” One of my favorite lines, but it illustrates why he almost certainly won’t reach the zenith that he’s already reached. Critically, he’ll never live up to the fantastic output earlier in his career. Reasonable DoubtThe BlueprintThe Black Album (among his others) are all recognized as seminal hip hop albums. So back to my original thought, “Reminder” is a song where he’s calling out critics who don’t think he’s hot anymore and giving them a reminder that he’s still the king. If I’m honest with myself, while I love his recent albums much more than I’ve loved other current hip hop (MCHG >>> Yeezus), a lot of it is grounded in this sort of defense of his royalty status, his place as king. Which can only really sustain a listener for so long.

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