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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Countdowns Wrap-Up: Top 5 EPs

The music industry is in continual change, and one of the things I've noticed (especially internationally) is that more and more artists are choosing to release EPs rather than albums. I don't think it's fair to pit them against full-length albums, as it's easier to have five awesome songs than it is to have twelve, but I also wanted to make sure that these amazing releases got their due on my blog. So here they are... my top five EPs of 2013.

1. The Fooo
I used to not be enthralled with the idea of a boyband, but that was before they started churning out some of the best pop music around. The Fooo are young, fresh and bring an extraordinarily high energy to the pop scene. Best of all? Each song is a solid gold hit and comes with its own promo video. There's no filler here.

2. Anton Ewald - A
Fresh off of his Melodifestivalen success, Ewald opted for an EP rather than a full-length, and that was a smart choice because it allowed him to distill what was great about his hit single Beggin' and craft a handful of other tracks that lived up to its promise. No dreary ballads here, just great Scandinavian pop music.And from the sound of his new track (which I'm sure I'll write about next week), this is just the tip of the iceberg.

3. Henry - Trap
Probably the most Americanized K-Pop release of the year (it even has a song entirely in English), this still manages to take the best from both worlds and work as a really solid endeavor in international radio pop. No pretensions beyond those of making some incredibly catchy tracks.

4. Diviney - Sex Games
The Short Stack frontman stepped out with an extension of the sound from his band's most recent album. Self-financed through a Kickstarter-like format, I was delighted that he was able to get the music out in this way.

5. Seungri - Let's Talk About Love
Big Bang's youngest member released his second EP, and it definitely improved on the first with a string of excellent r&b flavored dance tracks. Guest spots from fellow bandmates G-Dragon and Taeyang certainly didn't hurt.

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 20 Albums Of 2013: 2-1

2. One Direction - Midnight Memories

They took the runner-up sot on my countdown and they’re back there again. The reason is simple: their albums are the most reliable source of high quality pop music in the world. Yes, they can afford the best songwriters and producers and managers, but I don’t want to belittle the band’s input or performance. They put more of themselves into this album than they ever have in the past, and it shows. They've also managed that tricky accomplishment--breaking through to a new audience and maturing in sound without becoming stale or irrelevant. This is a bold rock album, stuffed with skyscraper high choruses and energy. It may take some awhile to come around to it, but the guys have morphed into an actual rock band, complete with an army of the best in the business behind them. Manufactured? Maybe. But that doesn't mean the music isn't worth your time.

1. Lady Gaga - Artpop

To many, this will probably be my most controversial album of year since I started doing these countdowns. It’s national Hate on Gaga year, after all, and I've heard more undeservedly nasty comments being made about this album than any other this year, many from music critics who seem to prefer safe Gaga who writes with established, commercial producers and sounds like everybody else to the batty theater queen who I believe she really is. To me, this is Gaga's best work to date. I didn't go into it as excited as I’d been for her past two albums, and that’s just more testament to its quality that, even after having to win me over, I’m still putting it on top of my list. Sure, it’s not a perfect album. There are a couple of dubious moments and the lead single didn't do much for me, but the highs are so incredibly high. More than that, there’s a palpable excitement in the songs. She sounds recharged, and it’s definitely the best produced album of the year. It’s got an expensive, dense, theatrical sound throughout, marrying her rock, pop and dance influences better than on any other album she‘s released. Gypsy, in particular, needs to be heard by every single music fan.

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Top 50 Singles Of 2013: 5-1

5. Isac Elliot - New Way Home

The youngest act to ever land in my top ten, and that's thanks to this Avicii-like dance track that outdid Avicii himself. It's absolutely massive.

4. Ola - Tonight I'm Yours

I was always going to love this. Patrick Berger and Kristofer Östergren and Ola working together? It's a match made in pop heaven (and that string section certainly doesn't hurt)

3. Ulrik Munther - Tell The World I'm Here

I've always liked Ulrik's music, but with this song it was as if he was aiming straight for my specific tastes. Bombast, sweeping production, anthemic delivery and a positive message to tie it all together.

2. Darin - En Apa Som Liknar Dig (A Monkey Who Looks Like You) 

Not strictly a 2013 song, but I had to include it because I'm not sure if there was a track I played more often this year. It transcended its place as part of a Swedish reality show and became an enormous hit on its own merits.

1. G-Dragon - Crooked 

For the second year in a row, Korea (and specifically, a part of K-pop band Big Bang) has taken the top spot. G-Dragon remains the coolest pop star on the planet, and this stadium-worthy rock anthem is his best song to date. I knew immediately that it would be in my top five. The more I play it, the more I like it. A pure shot of adrenaline with a frustrated, melancholic core.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 20 Albums Of 2013: 4-3

4. Natalia Kills - Trouble

Going in to the new year, Natalia Kills was not on my radar. Like the other uninitiated, I think I stupidly considered her a pale imitation of Gaga. Shame on me. In September, she put me right by releasing an album of personal, melodic pop with a definite edge. It eclipses her debut by leaps and bounds and feels like a real statement, carving her own place in the pop landscape. On first listen, I knew that it was good, but it kept pulling me back over a period of weeks, revealing new highlights each time. This is the hallmark of an album with staying power, and it’s going to be hard for her to top.

3. Shinee - 2013 Studio Albums

Let’s see…. In the past twelve months, these guys have released nine singles, three albums and one EP. Hardest working band on the planet? I wouldn’t doubt it. The most impressive thing about this feat is that every release has remained remarkably consistent. So much so, that I didn’t feel it was right to separate their 2013 oeuvre. If I were to, I’d be sure to highlight their first album of the year, Dream Girl, a collection of fizzy, neon future pop with one foot firmly in the past. But then came Why So Serious, and later the lamely titled Boys Meet U, with its awesome psychedelic opener and summery title track.

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Top 50 Singles Of 2013: 10-6

10. Lady Gaga - Do What You Want (with R. Kelly)

After the underwhelming Applause, this grower of a track stood out as exactly the type of thing Gaga needed in 2013. Sounds ever better as part of the album.

9. Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

The song that transformed Cyrus' career, and one of the best pop songs of the year. It's just effortlessly cool and doesn't even seem to try.

8. One Direction - Best Song Ever

Is it their best single? If it's not, then it's definitely second best. If they can keep putting out big slabs of pop rock like this, I think they're in it for the long run.

7. Kang Seung Yoon - Wild & Young 

Perhaps the most surprising (and little known) inclusion in my top ten. This Korean rock track sounds a lot like The Ark to me. I played it out this year.

6. Nicole Saboune - Conquer Or Suffer 

Speaking of sounding like The Ark, I was instantly taken with this glam/punk/rock track by Saboune, an alum of Sweden's The Voice. I mean, that hook!

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