Tag Archives: Jay Z

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 8

1. “December 4th” – Jay Z, The Black Album

This is one of my Top 3 Favorite Jay Z songs. I’m not sure what exactly hits so deeply with me. When this album was released, Jay Z was billing it as his retirement from hip hop, so it was a pretty huge deal. This song plays out like a fond farewell to a long and illustrious career. Hov is reminiscing about his early days and there is something sad when he says “Goodbye to the game / all the spoils / the adrenaline rush…” Jay is without a doubt one of the best rappers in the history of hip hop, and to have him looking back at his broken childhood and adolescence through the lens of his current state sounds bittersweet.

Just Blaze is the producer on this track, and I have to say he knocks it out of the park. I don’t have the Chi-Lites album that features the song that he samples here, but when the beat kicks in at 0:32 after the “that’s how long” hook, it resonates; it really hits deeply. There couldn’t be a better opener for, arguably, Jay Z’s finest album.

2. “Gravity” – Sara Bareilles, Little Voice

This is a superb closer off of a fantastic debut album by Sara Bareilles. The whole album is catchy piano hit after catchy piano hit, but she brings the mood way down low to close it out. This is not a particularly happy song, but the music seems to befit the sentiment very well. She seems to be trying to get away from bad love, hence the theme. It’s a sprawling ballad, complete with an Adele-like orchestral climax where she hits a note that is truly stunning. Bareilles’ has a breathtaking voice, and this is coming from a guy who prefers male voices over female. It’s clear, controlled, and it’s a perfect blend of strength and breath. Her voice is relaxing because you never worry about what’s going to happen with it. She makes the listener trust her because of how well she can handle her own pipes. There isn’t another song on this album that communicates that ability so well.

3. “Fragments Of Time” – Daft Punk, Random Access Memories

I read several reviews of Daft Punk’s latest album that referenced a slick, ’70s, breezy, California feel. All of those reviews were referring to this song. Honestly, this song sounds like the result of an insane musical threesome between Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, and Eagles, with some robotic noises thrown in for good measure. Definitely one of my favorite songs off the album, and the exact model of what I wish every other Random Access Memories song was like. Not even in sound, but more in structure. When Daft Punk put together a tune that is normal length and normal structure (intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge/solo, chorus, etc.), they create tunes I could listen to for days. That’s why I love Discovery so much; it is almost all “normal” tunes. Lots of Random Access Memories songs are great, but unnecessarily long and weird. This one is immediately listenable, where lots of their stuff actually isn’t. I can imagine my parents tolerating this, if not even enjoying it a little bit.

Musically, it’s incredibly similar to “Digital Love” off of Discovery, which is not too surprising, considering that is one of my favorite Daft Punk songs ever. This is just a well-paced, fun listen, with a kick-ass robot-voiced solo. Major props to Todd Edwards for delivering fantastic vocals, much like his vocal work on Discovery. When the robots make a song with a vocal, it’s almost always a winner. This one definitely is.

4. “Wheels” – Jamie Cullum, The Pursuit

If Cullum’s cover of “Don’t Stop The Music” had any competition for my favorite song off of this album, it would be “Wheels.” This is a tune that draws you in immediately. Another example of perfect understatement, the beat here is the real star of the show. Cullum sings with an earnestness that doesn’t cross into desperation, discussing the plans we make as youths which are so often abandoned as time changes us. The piano hook is so simple and cyclical, matching the lyrical theme. But as I said before, the rhythm of this song pushes this song farther than you’d expect. There is a quickness and circular nature in the beat that makes me think of a fast-moving train, plugging along in a way that we can’t stop. Much like time, and change. This is a sad song, and Cullum has dressed it up in such a gorgeously melancholy way.

5. “Theme” – Jon Brion, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

This is a spell-binding two and a half minute instrumental, or as it’s titled, the “Theme” from the Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind soundtrack. This piece is truly one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard. I think a lot of the reason it affects me so much is because of the gut reaction I get from the movie. For me, it’s one of the most emotional movies I’ve ever seen, and that is manifested in a really special way through this music. This is the tune that opens the movie, and it always brings me excitement, pensiveness, and melancholy. It’s a beautiful piece of music, plain and simple. When the song starts, there is this gorgeous sound behind the bass and piano melody, much like waves on the ocean. Not the actual sound of ocean waves but it’s as though that specific sound could be expressed in a completely musical way. The subtlety of the sound makes it almost imperceptible. It forms the foundation of the song, on which every other part is built, and it’s the last thing you hear in the song. There is a simplicity in this tune that captures the innocence and bittersweet nature of the film. Just piano and bass. Hardly anything else. The bass plays a hypnotic and gorgeous riff while the piano plays a magnificently sad melody. How these pieces fit together captures me every single time.

If this was looked at as a one off tune, it would be considered a very beautiful instrumental. But within the larger context of the film’s score, it underpins every other musical piece. It is called “Theme” because every piece in the score is a variation or offshoot of this original tune. And to listen to the score once, you’d most likely not hear it. It takes many dedicated listens (or viewings of the film) before you begin to hear the “Theme” inform and haunt nearly every scene of the movie and every part of the score. On the first listen through, this score is disjointed and jarring, much like Jim Carrey’s character responding to the memory-erasing treatment. There are musical parts that are lifted from other scenes and things that are repeated or called back and it often sounds incredibly chaotic. But with time, you can begin to hear the nuances of the “Theme” running through the entire score and movie, and it adds an entirely new dimension to the experience. This is a truly captivating piece of music.

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Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 7

You can find the previous Shuffle Lessons volumes here.

1. “You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon, Graceland

If anyone ever needed justification for Paul Simon winning the first ever Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the phrase “roly poly little bat-faced girl” should be enough. Paul Simon’s got this frenetic lyrical style, where his songs begin to border almost on spoken word versus actual songs that are sung. It’s amazing how he fits a legitimate short story’s worth of content into a four and a half minute tune, but he pulls it off without breaking a sweat. I’ve never really understood what this song is about, but if I’m being honest, most of Paul Simon’s songs kind of fit that bill for me. This is one of Paul Simon’s most popular solo songs, and for good reason; it’s a fantastic song. Graceland marked a return to the critical spotlight he had been out of for a few years, and there are some strong flavors of international music throughout the whole album. He explores those musical themes even more on his next album, but for my money, the international influences are used to best effect on this album, and a great example is this song. Nothing in your face, just a subtle feeling and an odd background vocal here or there. And in terms of the music, look out for the sickest bass lick in reverse at 3:43.

2. “Gold Watch” – Lupe Fiasco, The Cool

I loved Lupe’s first two albums, because they were full of beats like this one. The entire beat is founded around this female voice saying “oh, give the drummer some, yeah…” and it’s chopped every so slightly, so when it’s put on top of a simple drum rhythm it creates a very unique rhythmic sound. It’s a really simple beat but if simple is done well, it creates some of my very favorite hip hop tracks. The linked video is not the exact song on the album, but it does incorporate the sample material really well and shows you where exactly it came from. Lyrically, Lupe uses the verses to essentially list every odd, non-mainstream, obscure cultural thing he’s into. Fashion, manga, international cultures, old school video games, music, etc. He’s calling out the 95% of hip hop culture that celebrates the same material objects; essentially tearing down the material idols (the eponymous “gold watch”) that have been constructed by hip hop culture of the last decade. It’s not too many shades away from identifying himself with black nerd culture and demonstrating how stereotypes are very often broken when you really begin to learn about a person.

3. “Pray” – Jay Z, American Gangster

This wasn’t one of first favorites off of this album, but its stock rises with repeat listens. Lyrically, you’ve got a pretty straightforward song where Jay Z discusses the two sides of the drug dealing culture. Who’s to blame for the society that pushed him into drug dealing, and was he even pushed into it to begin with? Should he be remorseful about his life’s success when he feels he was forced into it by the hand he was dealt? Ultimately, regardless of his success, he’s admitting that he falls back onto faith when he’s threatened. The beat here is good, but certainly not an attention-grabber. Again, it took me a fair amount of listens to begin to appreciate and enjoy this track much more than the first time I heard it.

4. “Postcards From Far Away” – Coldplay, Prospket’s March

Total time of this track: 48 seconds. A filler instrumental piece on this EP, released from Viva La Vida sessions. It’s a very beautiful solo piano piece, sounding like something from a Jane Austen book. It makes me wonder how many of these Chris Martin comes up with during any given writing session. I would assume most of his songs start as a seed of an idea, something very much like this ditty, then blossoms into a fully-fledged song with the help of the rest of the band. But since we only get around 12 songs on a Coldplay record, what the heck happens to the rest of those song seeds? Makes you think what these little things might’ve become.

5. “Charity Case” – Gnarls Barkely, The Odd Couple

Cee Lo and Danger Mouse! It’s sad to think what a fitting album title this was. It was almost foreboding; the world hasn’t heard new Gnarls Barkley in nearly five and a half years. This is the opening track to their absolutely brilliant sophomore album (love the opening projector sound). These two guys were able to create sonic landscapes unlike anything we were hearing in 2005-2009. They incorporated a bevy of styles, fashions, and rhythms into their music and the end result was just so special. I don’t imagine Cee Lo doing too much in the way of instrumentation, but that could be a naive perspective. He seems to have a very conductor-like way about him, orchestrating the grand spectacle that are his performances. What’s interesting is that Danger Mouse, especially within the parameters of Gnarls Barkley, seemed to have the controlling hand in the music, producing everything according to his very particular, eclectic style, aside from the singing. I’m curious if these two worked well during recording, as they both seem to have a pretty Alpha Creator persona towards their music. Whatever the case, they made fantastic music together, and this is, hands down, one of my favorite songs off of The Odd Couple. The track builds on itself very quickly, and you can hear so many parts blend right away. The James Bond vibrato guitar (Cee Lo must love that), the bass that just glides over the soft rhythm of the drums and the quickly paced hi-hats. Throw in some hand claps and some vocal percussive work by Cee Lo and it’s the perfect way to open a solid gold record.

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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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Top 25 Albums of the 2000s

I was hoping to get this one done closer to the beginning of the year, but this list is so freakin’ long that it took me awhile to write. So here we go.

25. Rockin’ The Suburbs – Ben Folds (2001)

This album became a go-to album during my first year at Iowa. I remember standing at the bus stop right outside of Burge after dinner, waiting for the bus to get back to my room in Mayflower, and listening to The Ascent of Stan over and over. The harmony starting right around minute 3:00 and especially at 3:10 just floored me, and listening to it now still hits me in a crazy way. There was just so much great stuff on here, and I hadn’t heard the piano used in such an effective, pop way before.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Not The Same
2. The Ascent Of Stan
3. Still Fighting It
24. Feed The Animals – Girl Talk (2008)
Watch out boys and girls, this one’s definitely not one you play on a family vacation. Girl Talk is just one dude, a computer, and the most brilliant mind for mash-ups ever. Greg Gillis has taken samples of music from the last 60 years and mashed them all together in a way that makes me want to start riots. This whole album is the most high energy thing I’ve ever heard; it’s basically just straight club gangster rap over samples like The Carpenters, The Band, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, etc. The beat never stops. It just goes, and goes, and goes, and the listener is just happy for the seemingly endless onslaught of pure rhythm and movement that is shot like a heroin syringe right into your musical arm vein. Awesome.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Set It Off (the Bubba Sparxx’s Heat It Up over a sample of Dexys Midnight Runner’s Come On Eileen is pure brilliance)
2. In Step (the Earth, Wind, & Fire sample of September underneath Ludacris rapping in Fergie’s Glamorous sounds SO good here)
3. Give Me A Beat (when Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted starts over Daft Punk’s Face To Face, it makes me want to dance for seven years straight. Unbelievably great.)
23. The Odd Couple – Gnarls Barkley (2008)
Their first album was good, but man this one was so awesome. It is such a bizarre album; I have no idea how exactly to describe it or label it because it has so many different sounds. It’s like soul electro pop cartoon circus music. Whatever you want to call it, it’s awesome. Cee-Lo’s voice over the production of one my favorite producers, DJ Danger Mouse, fits so perfectly.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Charity Case
2. Who’s Gonna Save My Soul
3. A Little Better
22. Back To Black – Amy Winehouse (2006)

Aside from her decadent lifestyle filled with drugs and alcohol abuse, Amy Winehouse belongs in 1968. Or maybe with that stuff too. The reason I loved this album so much is because it has so much Dusty Springfield/Aretha Franklin/etc. soul with just the right pinch of ’00s beat. It’s really just Motown for Generation Y. And while Winehouse has got one hell of a voice, I have to give credit to Mark Ronson for that incredible production. He pulls some favors here, as you can hear the rich sounds of the Daptone Horns playing on most of these tracks. No wonder there is so much Rhythm & Blues on this record.

Top 3 Tracks:
1. He Can Only Hold Her
2. Back To Black
3. Tears Dry On Their Own

21. Room For Squares – John Mayer (2001)

I loved this album when I was in high school. Listening to it now, it’s still good, but certainly a first record. I will say this though, I’m really glad I found this album when I was 16 and not 23. If I heard this record for the first time this last year, I would’ve probably set it down right away and not even gotten to the good stuff. On it’s own, it’s a fine album, but compared to his later work, it’s pretty bland. Far more poppy than anything else. But if nothing else, it’s really a great indication of what a great artist John Mayer is. This was his first album. How does a guy write a song like 3×5 on his first record? Impressive.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. 3×5
2. City Love
3. 83

20. FutureSex/LoveSounds – Justin Timberlake (2006)

This is one of the best second records I’ve ever heard. Justin Timberlake went from the bubble gum pop of ‘NSYNC to pop with a bit more of a hip-hop edge (thank you Neptunes) on Justified, and then holy cow did he upped his game with this one. I didn’t get into this album at first, mainly because another of my very favorite records (spoiler alert, it’s #1 on this list) came out on the same day (my bday coincidentally). But once I really dug into this, it had so much to offer. There are layers upon layers of sexy, soulful, electro-pop on this album. The interludes alone are worth the purchase price.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. LoveStoned/I Think She Knows Interlude
2. Until The End Of Time Feat. The Benjamin Wright Orchestra
3. What Goes Around…/…Comes Around Interlude

19. 19 – Adele (2008)

I don’t want to sound sexist here, but I don’t groove on female vocalists as much as male vocalists. Maybe it’s just cause I can’t sing along. Adele is a grand exception (to the me liking her, not to the me singing along). She has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. Period. And to hear a voice of this caliber in our age of auto-tune and paint by numbers pop starlets is just astounding. Adele has such control in her voice, it’s remarkable. And on top of being floored by her voice, the music on this record is really great. It’s great modern British pop sounds with lots of homage to late ’60s soul. Plus one of the best Bob Dylan covers ever.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Hometown Glory
2. Tired
3. Right As Rain

18. Alive 2007 – Daft Punk (2007)

I had a hard time not putting this one higher on my list, but in reality, I only truly fell in love with the first half of this record. But holy cow what a first half it is. I think going to a Daft Punk show would be the best way to burn calories, EVER. They put on a hell of a live show which really just equates to one colossal dance party. This show consists of just a mash-up of killer Daft Punk songs. My only beef with this is my normal beef with Daft Punk: they give us too much of a good thing. Some of the later tracks are too long and too monotonous to stay focused and into the music but that is not the case for tracks 3-5, the most glorious continuous seventeen minutes and thirty-seven seconds in music I think I’ve ever heard. The triumvirate ofTelevision Rules The Nation / Crescendolls, Too Long / Steam Machine, and Around The World / Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger is breathtakingly and relentlessly awesome. Awesome the way my grandparents use the word. The whole time I’m just filled with wonder at how incredibly cool these songs sound. It is just an onslaught of sound and beat and melody and robots and guitars and cheering and beauty. Probably great for working out.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Around The World / Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
2. Television Rules The Nation / Crescendolls
3. Too Long / Steam Machine

17. The Black Album – Jay-Z (2003)

If you ever want to hear an artist at his zenith, listen to this album. One might argue that The Blueprint is Jay’s best work, but I have to stick with The Black Album. The Blueprint was the game changer for Jay-Z, and this one is the one that solidified his status as King of the Rap Game. First off, the production on this thing is just insane. He’s got Kanye, Just Blaze, Timbaland, Eminem, the Neptunes, even Rick Rubin produces on this record. What a line-up. And then on top of some of the sickest beats I have ever heard, you’ve got Jay at the top of his wordplay. This is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball in 1996. His verses are just crazy good. Jay’s got swagger cause he knows this is his “last” album and he’s going out on top. You can hear a bit of sadness on December 4th when he says “Goodbye to the game, all the spoils, the adrenaline rush.” This album was truly Jay’s “grand closing.”
Top 3 Tracks:
1. December 4th
2. Encore
3. 99 Problems

16. Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future – The Bird And The Bee (2009)

I heard the first single from this album back on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (the original, not Part Deux) and it absolutely blew me away. I even blogged about it I think. Yup I did. This woman’s voice is just perfect, so soft and pretty and melodic and overtaking. Her harmonies are gorgeous. The chorus on Diamond Dave has some of the prettiest vocal layering ever. And the music production is so weird, it’s like jazz/pop rooted in electronica. It sounds like an odd mix, but the sound combinations produce such a huge wall of breathtaking music.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. My Love
2. Ray Gun
3. Diamond Dave

15. Try! – John Mayer Trio (2005)

Who knew John Mayer could play the guitar? I did. And so many of his fans did too, but this album, along with the arrival of the Trio was the moment we could hold our heads up high and no longer be reviled for being fans. This is a powerful album from the guy whose record company had released Daughters as his previous single. He breaks out of that mold completely though, introducing his young fans to hits by Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix, as well as showing them what Daughters was originally written as (slow soul tune). And a seven and a half minute slow blues tune too? From the Wonderland guy? John Mayer effectively avoided getting pigeonholed with this album and started to dictate his own career rather than having it dictated to him by his record label. And in the process, you gave us a pretty bad ass record. Well done, John.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. I Got A Woman
2. Wait Until Tomorrow
3. Gravity

14. X&Y – Coldplay (2005)

The Joshua Tree for my generation. Coldplay had had a small hit with Parachutes, gained some notoriety with A Rush of Blood to the Head, but this was the album with hype. Everybody wanted to see where they would go next and they took it to another dimension with this one. A dimension where bands only play arenas. Every song on this album seems like it would fit a giant stadium better than anything else (coincidentally, Coldplay just performed an acoustic version of A Message on the Hope for Haiti TV special months ago, and it was SOOO great). I fell in love with this album. So many immense sounds and instruments and melodies and harmonies and it’s just so great. No one can write emotion that bursts out of your soul into song like Coldplay. And this album proved that.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. What If
2. Fix You
3. The Hardest Part

13. Miles Remixed – The Apple Juice Kid (2008)

This one is maybe the least well known on my list. Okayplayer.com (The Roots website) featured this album as a free download by kind of famous producer The Apple Juice Kid. I had never heard of him but the album cover looked sweet and I had a fairly large Miles Davis collection, which I enjoyed listening to from time to time so I thought I’d give it a try. Glad I did. This is one of the smoothest sounding albums ever. It combines the jazzy melodies of Miles Davis from the ’50s and ’60s with some beautifully smooth hip-hop beats. AJK has just taken bits and pieces from some of Davis’ seminal works and cut them up, rearranged them, and mashed them together in a way that is just so easy on the ears. That’s one reason I liked this so much. I listened to this when I studied, I listened to it playing darts in our duplex garage, it was perfect mood music. There were so many nights that Kevin and Colleen and I would stay up late, throwing darts, drinking a bit and just talking while this was playing in the background. It creates a very tranquil atmosphere in which to hang out. Jazz often turns lots of people off due to its grand or seemingly pompous nature. This is an album that takes jazz and makes it completely listenable.

Top 3 Tracks:
1. SnapMusic
2. Masco
3. ViolinGreen
12. Catching Tales – Jamie Cullum (2005)

This album finds its strength by being very catchy pop, but rooted in something that isn’t ubiquitous in today’s music scene. Jamie Cullum has the jazz piano chops to pull this album off super well. He’s got crazy chords all over the place and sexy progressions and melodies, it’s just so much fun to listen to. His voice can be a bit grating at first listen, but with time, one comes to realize how much control he’s got and how easily he can manipulate his voice. And hoo boy can this guy scat!
Top 3 Tracks:
1. 21st Century Kid
2. My Yard
3. Nothing I Do

11. Parachutes – Coldplay (2000)

It’s remarkable that Parachutes is a debut album. Coldplay writes and sings and plays with depth, emotion, and some real sexy piano music. Chris Martin might not have the most technically perfect voice ever, but he does exactly what he needs to do song after song here. Listening back to it, it’s amazing to hear how much depth these guys wrangle out of their acoustic guitars. One of my favorite records ever.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Trouble
2. We Never Change
3. Sparks

10. Late Registration – Kanye West (2005)

Another great sophomore album. I liked The College Dropout fine enough, but this is when I knew for sure that Kanye could deliver and his debut wasn’t a fluke. There are so many great tracks here, and the music is insanely eclectic. Kanye brought in an outsider not really known for producing hip-hop, Jon Brion. He is known for scoring movie soundtracks such asMagnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (one of my personal favorites), and Synecdoche, New York, among many others. And his influence on this record is key. Kanye is great but pushed the boundaries of his own style with Brion’s help. This is a bizarrely eclectic albums with sounds you’d never expect from a huge hip-hop star. Also, Kanye lays down some amazing samples all over the place here, including, but not limited to, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield and Bill Withers. How much more soul can you fit onto one record?
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Gone Feat. Consequence and Cam’Ron
2. Crack Music Feat. The Game
3. Gold Digger Feat. Jamie Foxx
9. Heavier Things – John Mayer (2003)

There is so much growth between this record and Room For Squares. He went from writing pretty run of the mill pop songs to songs with some punch to them. Sure, these are mostly all pop songs again, but with just enough soul hidden inside that they can catch you off guard. One of the strengths of this album is that it matches sonically with what he’s singing about. The feelings evoked by the words of Wheel is exactly the feeling evoked by the music of the song. And many of these songs just hit bullseye in that regard. Clarity, Something’s Missing, Split Screen Sadness. There is emotion that lines up just perfectly between music and lyrics. It is a very satisfying listen.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Clarity
2. Wheel
3. Something’s Missing

8. Discovery – Daft Punk (2001)

I know I’ve written about this album somewhere else. Thinking about it now it might be in an unpublished Top 5 Favorite Artists blog somewhere. Anyway, this album rules. For me, it’s the sum of everything good about Daft Punk’s strengths. In their older stuff, the “techno” sound of their music overtakes everything and they don’t use any restraint. On this album, they take the techno sound and turn it into songs that are listenable. Real songs, not just seven minute club tracks. Songs with different parts, verses, choruses, the occasional bridge here and there. It’s that complex of a thing, but when they start writing real songs in their crazy robot sounding style, it’s so awesome.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Digital Love
2. Something About Us
3. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

7. Fly Or Die – N*E*R*D (2004)

This album is the summer of 2004 for me. There is hardly anything that makes sense on this album musically, considering who N*E*R*D is and the kind of music they made before this. Since some of N*E*R*D’s members make up the hip-hop production team The Neptunes, you’d think this album would be rooted in hip-hop. Not at all. While there are some flavors of hip-hop throughout, this is far more of a crazy pop-rock album than anything else. Am I supposed to dance to these songs or “rock out” as the saying goes? Who knows. You listen and you love it.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. She Wants To Move
2. Maybe
3. Breakout

6. Once – Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (2007)
Most soundtracks are comprised of songs from which clips were featured in the movie. This one is different; almost all the songs from the soundtrack are performed in their entirety in the movie. Which, now that I think about it, makes the movie more of a musical than anything. Tangent. These songs are breathtaking. The voices are simple; his voice warbles from time to time, but you can tell he means every word he sings. That is truly a rare trait in music today. Her voice is beautiful; so simple and it fits right where it needs to. She doesn’t overpower him and only adds to him. It’s perfect. Their combination is so well-matched. It might be such an emotional album for me because it’s so intimately tied to the movie. When I hear these songs, I think of the relationship between these two characters and that they are really singing these songs to each other. They are singing about hurt, about loss and pain and failure and love and hope. When The Guy really lets his voice loose in Say It To Me Now, it is chilling because you hear what he is feeling. That is where the strength in this album lies. There isn’t anything technically out of this world, it’s mainly just two simple voices over simple instruments. The beauty lies within the feeling behind each voice and how much they can communicate with just their voices. Amazing.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Say It To Me Now
2. Lies
3. Once

5. Graduation – Kanye West (2007)

Highest ranked rap album on my list here. Kanye reached his zenith with this album. He had a great sound on The College Dropout, tweaked it just enough with Late Registration and hit the nail on the head with this album. Just great production here, all the way through. The craziest samples ever. Steely Dan, Daft Punk, Elton John, Curtis Mayfield, and one of my absolute all time favorite samples ever, Michael Jackson’s P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) samples in Good Life. Maybe the hottest sample ever. So clever too. P.Y.T. is such an incredible pop song, and Kanye just took it and slowed it waaaay down, until it’s almost unrecognizable. It took me lots and lots of listens before I realized he was even sampling anybody, and then I had to really focus to catch the sample. So subtle but man the end product is just so hot. And can I talk aboutFlashing Lights for a second? I don’t even think I should. This is definitely on my Top 5 Hip Hop Songs list. It is undeniable how great the beat in that tune is. This album isn’t perfect (Drunk And Hot Girls and Big Brother are two huge blemishes), but where Kanye gets it right, he REALLY gets it right. Beats and rhymes both. He was completely on top of his game here.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Flashing Lights Feat. Dwele
2. Good Life Feat. T-Pain
3. Homecoming Feat. Chris Martin

4. Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends – Coldplay (2008)

It has to be hard to release albums each better than the last. Coldplay has pulled it off for the last decade. Impressive. I had a lot of high hopes for this album and was totally blown away by it. The sounds here are just crazy. The intro song, Life In Technicolor, just starts with the craziest sounding weird piano instrument and opens into a huge rolling sea wave of sound that overtakes you and doesn’t let you come up for air until the end of the album. The band paints so many landscapes with the songs. If I was to make a music video for Cemeteries Of London, I would have the band playing the song amidst a giant Revolutionary War battle. Cannons firing all around them, soldiers bayonetting each other. The song just sounds like a colossal battlefield to me. And how about Viva La Vida? Maybe the most inspirational sounding song I’ve ever heard. Really though, this whole album boasts songs that are just big. They belong in another universe. Just like X&Y, I feel like the only place they could ever truly live is in a giant stadium arena. I can’t imagine Death And All His Friends any other way than the whole band performing it in front of tens of thousands of fans. All the way through, this album just sets my heart on fire.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Lost!
2. Viva La Vida
3. Life In Technicolor

3. Voodoo – D’Angelo (2000)

Remember that sexy music video from about ten years ago of that super buff black guy singing the song with no clothes on? The camera rotated around his whole body, just showing his insanely ripped torso? That was D’Angelo. And that video basically communicates what this album is all about. SEX. But it really is so much more than that too. But the sexy is the most obvious element of this album. I’d never heard music made of silk before this one. Each song is a study in not just how to get a certain feeling behind the music, but how that feeling can be communicated by the musicians. True, the feeling here is sexual/sensual soul, but it’s so well communicated by how the instruments are played. The bass is pushed so far back behind the beat, it’s like a game between the musicians to see how off kilter they can take the music without completely tearing everything apart. Imagine musical notes dancing around each other like they know some sexy business is going down soon. That is this album in a nutshell. Reading over that again, that’s the worst comparison I could come up with but it’s the only way I can communicate how much soul this album has. So much.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Greatdayindamornin’ / Booty
2. One Mo’ Gin
3. Feel Like Makin’ Love

2. Al Green – Lay It Down

Al Green is one of those classic artists that has enough credibility from the last fifty years that basically most anyone you ask would say “Oh yeah, I love Al Green!” when really the only songs they know are Let’s Stay Together, Love And Happiness, and if you’re lucky, Call Me (Come Back Home). I used to be one of those people, at least until two years ago. And then he released this album. After the opening bass riff of the first track, I was sold. Not only on this album, but on Al Green as a musician in general. This was the album that did it though. Produced by ?uestlove and James Poyser, both from The Roots, this album is like the incarnation of the ’70s Al Green soul imputed into the R&B of today. Holy moly is it fun to listen to. Soft guitar, bass lines that are just out of this world, horns that could only have come from James Brown’s band, and all of this lays the setting for that silky falsetto of Al Green. A few great guest spots too, John Legend, Anthony Hamilton, and Corinne Bailey Rae. And the songs are just good songs. Songs about love. No politics here. No messed up relationships. Just simple love songs, of which good ones are very hard to find nowadays.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. Just For Me
2. Lay It Down Feat. Anthony Hamilton
3. What More Do You Want From Me

1. John Mayer – Continuum

It might be a while before Mayer tops this album. This one came at just the right time; he was at just the right spot in his musical timeline to coalesce so many different genres and influences into a modern masterpiece. He touches on blues, jazz, funk, lots of pop, and in general just music that can be enjoyed by such a wide range of humans. And that’s just the music. Lyrically, he reaches into the deepest depths of anything he had done (and even stuff he’s done since this album). There are truly universal themes here, themes that at some point or another, everybody thinks about this stuff. Everybody has issues with seeing their parents age. Everybody has issues with dealing with the good and the bad in life. Everybody deals with the concept of belief in one form or another. Everybody deals with fighting off the world in order to hold onto their confidence. There is genius writing all over this one. And back to the music again, every song can be traced back to its influence if you listen closely enough. This album sent me on a hunt to find what inspired it. Here’s a short list: Curtis Mayfield, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, George Harrison, Steely Dan, Coldplay, and Ray Charles. And that doesn’t even cover all of the songs. It’s hard to find things that aren’t really, really great on this album. And that’s why it’s on the top of this list. It’s so difficult to pull together such a great mix of elements and pull it off so perfectly as Mayer does here. Great album art too.
Top 3 Tracks:
1. I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)
2. Slow Dancing In A Burning Room
3. Stop This Train

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2 videos.

i’ve come across 2 videos lately.

1: this one is 10 minutes from jay-z’s 9/11 benefit concert at madison square garden in new york. he had loads of guests but this is a clip of my favorite guest.
man i find this funny. i’m assuming this is just a edited version of an awful longer version. this is from the twitter page of neal brennan (created chappelle’s show with dave chappelle). hilarious at 2:37 when the cat looks to the cameraman for help.
-jon

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