Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 10 Albums of the Decade

Here's the final list of 2009! Keep in mind I have not listened to every album, so these are just my personal picks.

10. Tenacious D-Tenacious D
Sure, it's silly. But it's my favorite comedy album of the decade. Plus, the tunes are super catchy.

9. Oops!... I Did It Again-Britney Spears
So, I had to pick my personal favorite. This is a very biased selection, but it was the album I listened to the most this decade. Plus, on an objective note, I think it's the best album to come from the teen pop movement.

8. Funeral-The Arcade Fire
Sweeping, romantic, wistful, with a tinge of folk.

7. Fever to Tell-The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
This album goes from batshit crazy to hauntingly beautiful within seconds.

6. College Dropout-Kanye West
Sure, he's an ass. But here he proved he can walk the walk.

5. Tangled Up-Girls Aloud
The best pure pop album of the decade.

4. Van Lear Rose-Loretta Lynn
The best country album of the decade. It doesn't hurt that Jack White produced this.

3. Back to Black-Amy Winehouse
Although there are a thousand imitators, there will never be another Amy. Here's to hoping she doesn't die.

2. Elephant-The White Stripes
The riff heard round the world. The rest of the album is pretty awesome also.

1. Kala-MIA
Loud, worldly, and brilliant. It really says something that I think Paper Planes is the most out of place track on the album.

Top 10 Non-Singles of 2009

Here are ten songs that weren't released as singles in the United States (some were released abroad) that I think are worth considering. Enjoy!

10. Outta My Head-Leona Lewis
A different sound from our British diva. Clearly Max Martin is still a genius.

9. Revelry-Kings Of Leon
Simply beautiful. A softer side to these rockers.

8. No-Brad Paisley
A poignant life lesson condensed into a four minute song.

7. Cry Me Out-Pixie Lott
Britain's latest successor to the Winehouse throne. She has an exquisite voice.

6. In For The Kill-La Roux
Definitely counts for not being released stateside. Also, Bulletproof just barely missed my singles list.

5. Amaneci Sin Ti-Paulina Rubio
An interesting new look at a breakup.

4. When The Night-Annie
Considering Annie's reputation for sassy europop, this is a surprisingly tender moment. She pulls it off.

3. Untouchable-Taylor Swift
This could be a single someday. I think she'll have another huge hit with this one.

2. Bad Boys-Alexandra Burke
This song could be on my singles list next year. Allegedly it's hitting the USA come 2010. Watch out.

1. The House That Built Me-Miranda Lambert
The best song on the best CD of the year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 Albums of 2009

Here's my list of the Top 10 albums of the year. I'm very busy writing graduate school essays, so I don't have a lot of time to devote to explanations. I apologize for that. Perhaps later on, I'll come back and give more justification. However, I wanted to get this list out there while it was still 2009.

10. Don't Stop-Annie
Electropop of the highest quality.

9. It's Not Me, It's You-Lily Allen
I think time has been good to this album, as far as my personal opinion goes. Lily's lyrics remain one of her strongest suits.

8. Beasts Of Season-Laura Gibson
Simple and beautiful. Definitely a mood piece.

7. Rated R-Rihanna
Bold, angry, and introspective. Surprising depth from one of pop's princesses.

6. American Saturday Night-Brad Paisley
Country music is about storytelling, and Paisley is a master of that. This album never delves into country cliches.

5. Middle Cyclone-Neko Case
Beautiful neo-folk. Plus Neko has a great voice.

4. Merriweather Post Pavilion-Animal Collective
Swirling, haunting, and mysterious. Above all, very addictive. My Girls is a must-listen.

3. She Wolf-Shakira
A new, bold direction for Shakira. She pulls it off, with some of the weirdest and most memorable lyrics of her career.

2. It's Blitz-The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Although it's a "softer" side to this group, they still manage to find time to rock. This album has some of the best ballads of their career.

1. Revolution-Miranda Lambert
Revolution is the perfect portrait of a fully-formed artist. Entertainment Weekly called it the country album of the year for good reason. It's rare to find a work that conveys so many different emotions while maintaining artistic integrity.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 Singles of 2009

10. Untouchable-Girls Aloud
One theme I noticed this year, at least with my list, is an appreciation for bold single choices. Although Girls Aloud is one of the poppiest groups ever, this was a very curious choice. At almost seven minutes long, Untouchable is the longest song the girls have ever recorded. I was stunned that such a mammoth song was put on a Girls Aloud album. I was even more taken aback when it was selected as a single. Sure, it was trimmed for radio, but the song is still very epic. Starting soft, Untouchable is a master class in build-and-release. When Nadine begins to wail at the end of the song, she creates one of the most dramatic musical moments this year.

9. Boom Boom Pow-Black Eyed Peas
Well, I had a hard time here. Both Boom Boom Pow and I Gotta Feeling had amazing showings this year. Although the Grammy committee may disagree, I find Boom Boom Pow to be the better work. Bluntly, this song is weird. There are some sound effects that I’ve never heard before. The lyrics are meaningless but the beat is IN. SANE. Somehow everything manages to work together to form something odd but extremely enjoyable, even without a mazel tov reference.

8. Bad Romance-Lady GaGa
I’ve had an issue with Lady GaGa. I’ve always felt that her off-the-wall artistic persona did not match her music. For all the insane fashion choices, I still thought her recorded work was pretty standard pop fare. Until Bad Romance. This was the first song where I felt like her music and her style were more congruent. Because, again, this song is weird. The “Ga ga ooh la la” and references to Alfred Hitchcock are simultaneously disarming, ridiculous, and very catchy. Let’s see where she goes from here.

7. Acapella-Kelis
Yes, this song has been out for only a few weeks. Nevertheless, I feel confident declaring this one of the best songs of the year. I don’t count December releases for this list, so the fact that Kelis dropped this in the final days of November just barely qualified Acapella. I tend to have a stiffy for quality reinventions. Clearly Kelis has gone from R&B bad girl to potential disco queen. I can’t wait to see what 2010 has in store for her, because this is a slice of pop perfection. Gay clubs, beware. Kelis is coming. And on one final note, singers, this is how she spells the title of her song. I’m not making a typo.

6. You Belong With Me-Taylor Swift
Ms. Swift has had quite the year. Her sophomore album, Fearless, was the highest selling album of the year (well unless Susan Boyle keeps her momentum up) and she had some incredible singles. None was better than this, which showed that Taylor is one of the best songwriters in the business today. The lyrics are amazingly relatable and the hook is strong. Paired with one of the most adorable music videos of the year (sorry Kanye, did you even bother to watch this?), it’s clear that You Belong With Me is her crowning achievement.

5. Loba-Shakira
Remember what I was saying earlier about reinvention? Well, this is another example. Shakira went from Latin goddess to electropop princess with this twitchy, strange track (on a side note, I also have a stiffy for bizarre songs this year). I prefer the Spanish version, so for those that don’t know what a loba is, I’m referring to She Wolf right hurr. And let’s be honest. As kitschy as the wolf howl is, you know you love it.

4. Dead Flowers-Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert is my musical Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Nobody wants to give her a fair chance but the few that have generally find that her music is varied, heartfelt, and funny. Country music haters may never give her a listen, but they’re missing out. To fully appreciate her, I recommend listening to an entire album to really see the depth of character to her songs. However, this track is one standout. It’s a mature, poignant look at a dying relationship. Plus, Lambert sings the hell out of it.

3. Russian Roulette-Rihanna
Considering I just reviewed this song for my blog and gave it five stars, I don’t have a whole lot to add. This is such a brave single choice. It’s too angry for radio. It’s too slow for the clubs. This would normally just be a standout album cut. However, Rihanna chose it as her declarative musical statement after the Chris Brown incident. And wow, does it pack an emotional punch. Somehow in the course of four minutes, Rihanna manages to come across strong, vulnerable, resolute, and frightened. This is powerful stuff and proves that Rihanna is a fully-fledged, mature artist. I’d say this gamble was successful.

2. Zero-The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good build. The layering on this song is amazing. Just when you think the song can’t pulse any more or that Karen O can’t wail any harder, the song manages to surprise you. Discovering this song was one of my successful ventures outside of the mainstream. What did I learn? I found that a good hook transcends genre. I could hear this song on Hot 100 radio. Sadly, genre conventions won’t let it get there. They’re a zero.

1. My Life Would Suck Without You-Kelly Clarkson
Despite all of my proclamations that I’m exploring new music and discovering new artists, at heart I am a huge sucker for a great pop song. It doesn’t need to blow me away lyrically and it doesn’t have to break new ground sonically. As long as the hook is strong, the singing is genuine, and I can’t get the song out of my head, then it’s a success. To me, this is the single best piece of pure pop this year. The chorus just steamrolls you. Kelly sounds fantastic on it. And although this isn’t lyrically brilliant, I do love that the word “suck” managed to make its way into a song title. It’s got a piece of me, and honestly, my life would suck without this song. OBVIOUS PLAY ON WORDS!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Movie Review: The Blind Side

Maybe you can blame All About Steve for this, but I did not expect The Blind Side to work. From the previews, it looked like Sandra Bullock was putting on a cheesy accent and starring in another chick flick. Yawn. Yet, when push came to shove, positive reviews and good word-of-mouth convinced me that maybe this movie was worth watching. So, instead of seeing the depressing story of a black teenager forgotten by society (Precious), I opted for the wholly uplifting story of a black teenager forgotten by society. Let me say, you’d have to be one of the most cynical people alive to leave The Blind Side unaffected. It’s a charming movie that defies expectations and gives Sandra Bullock the chance to shine. And boy, does she shine.

Based on the second sentence of this review, you’ve hopefully deduced that The Blind Side is not a traditional chick flick. Rather, it is a sports biopic that has more in common with Remember the Titans than The Family Stone (ok, I had a hard time thinking of a reasonable chick flick parallel…but that further proves my point that this is not a chick flick). The movie centers on Leigh Anne Tuohy, played with grit and charm by Bullock, and Michael Oher, played by newcomer Quinton Aaron. Leigh Anne is a socialite who takes Michael under her wing after she sees him walking home alone in the freezing cold. Michael has just entered into a new school, but shuts himself off from those around him. Per usual, I won’t go much further into the plot, but the core of the film is the relationship between Leigh Anne and Michael, and director John Lee Hancock plays it out beautifully.

My biggest gripe with the movie is its tendency to play things a little bit too optimistically. Michael’s troubles are not substantially delved into and any of the challenges that the family faces are overcome easily and without a great deal of sacrifice. The family’s immediate acceptance of Michael is believable given the performances and script, but since this is based on a true story I wonder if the reality of the situation was a bit more difficult. This movie was built for the holiday season, so I suppose imposing a bit of the Hollywood formula is to be expected.

All that being said, the film is amazingly inspirational. Not only is Michael’s journey out of poverty very motivational, but also Leigh Anne’s commitment to Michael shows a strength of character that should inspire many people to be generous this winter. Bullock really does a wonderful job making Leigh Anne seem like a real person. For the first time in her career, I forgot that I was watching Sandra Bullock. Not all the time, mind you, but there were moments. An Oscar nomination might be too much to ask for, but I think she deserves all of the critical attention she has received thus far. Aaron also does a nice job with Michael. He plays him very reserved, a gentle giant of sorts. But he opens up as the film goes on and Aaron makes his character changes seem very believable. Finally, it was a treat seeing Kathy Bates appear towards the end of the film in a small, but important role.

So, go see The Blind Side. I think movie criticism these days has veered towards rewarding films that are particularly artistic or inventive. Perhaps The Blind Side sticks with convention for most of the film, but it is convention executed in the most effective manner. It reminded me that a predictable film can still soar if it is filled with wit, charm, and good performances.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top 10 Songs of 2000-2009: Songs 1-5

5. Paper Planes-M.I.A.

When it comes to alternative music crossing over to the Hot 100, it doesn’t get any better than this. I’m sure M.I.A. was more surprised than anyone else when this gunshot-toting gem hit Top 10 on the Billboard charts, partially propelled by Pineapple Express. If you had asked me three years ago if a Sri Lankan rapper could release a song about the mistreatment of immigrants and have a hit, I would have spit on you. I guess I was wrong.

4. Hollaback Girl-Gwen Stefani.

Haters, you’d better cope. Because this song, for all its gaudy ridiculousness, inspired a trend of over-the-top jams. Fergie probably wouldn’t have a career without Hollaback Girl. This song was the first digital download smash, breaking new records on the iTunes charts, and taught a legion of kids how to spell. Correctly. Even Fergie doesn’t do that.

3. Hey Ya!-Outkast

It was this or Bombs Over Baghdad, and I like this song better. Either way, Outkast had a profound impact on the rap crossover movement and this song is one of the highlights of that transition. Plus who doesn’t love shaking it like a Polaroid picture?

2. Get Ur Freak On-Missy Elliott

I officially declare this Timbaland and Missy Elliott’s magnum opus. I don’t just mean the best collaboration they had, but rather the best thing that either of them ever created. The best rap song of the decade, to this dude, and hopefully to several others. Plus this was when Timbaland really started to take off.

1. Beautiful-Christina Aguilera

I chose this song for its message. Self-love is the most important kind of love and, although the point of this song is simple, it said something that many young people needed to hear. This guy included. Seeing someone present a music video that showed gay love as acceptable was powerful and hopefully the other body image declarations were equally inspiring. This may not have changed popular music like many of the other songs on this list, but it said something so succinctly and powerfully that I think it is the most important musical work this decade.