Best Albums of 2015

One thing I noticed as I reviewed my Best-of list for 2014 was that several of the albums were notably brief. My #1 album from last year (Sleepy Kitty’s Projection Room) clocked in at a tight 37 minutes. This year – not so much. My top 3 albums this year are all over an hour, and my favorite album of 2015 is, well, a bit longer than that. Long winded? Not when what you have to say is so compelling.   Honorable Mention: Jon Benjamin, Well, I Should Have…* – As in, “Well, I should have learned how to play piano.” Comedian and voice-over artist extraordinaire recorded a jazz album featuring himself on piano. No, he does not play piano. Instead, he created an absurd, Andy Kaufman-esque experiment with some legit studio guys lending support. It seems like the shtick would wear thin over a full album, but somehow it remains hilarious.   Essential Listening: “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 3”, “It Had to Be You”     17) Wilco, Star Wars – Though not as expansive or experimental as some of their recent output, Wilco returned this year with a surprise (and free!) album featuring A.M.-esque roots-rock. Contributions from more »

Best Albums of 2014

If there’s one common thread among the 20 albums to make my list this year, it’s eclecticism. The emergence of services like Spotify and even YouTube not only make finding a wider gamut of music possible, it also undoubtedly influences those who make the music. Not only do the artists represented here exemplify a wider spectrum of genre than I’ve ever had before, the albums themselves often integrate several styles within their own confines.   In a true testament to the quality of music I discovered this year, this was probably the most difficult year-end ranking I’ve ever had to form, and the gap from top to bottom is probably narrower than any I can remember. I can’t claim to have listened to all of the musics, but I have expanded my field from years past because there was just so much good music out there this year. For your enjoyment:   20) Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2 – Well regarded as solo artists, the styles of Killer Mike and El-P complement each other nicely, and they creatively mix their roles by trading both verses and lines. El-P’s production is also solid, and he adds subtle unexpected twists more »

New Smell: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and The Craft of Arranging

“My thing is change it up completely or leave it alone.” – Robert Glasper For whatever reason, arranging is seen as a lesser craft than composing. I’ve never really understood this. Granted, composing entails the creation of entirely new material, while arranging depends on previously existing source material. Aside from this, though, I see far more similarities than differences between them, particularly when arranging is done with the same creative spirit as composition. Both have the potential to bring something new and wonderful into the world of music, and a great arrangement can take even the most well known song and transform it into something radically unique and refreshingly relevant. Take, for example, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which is arguably one of the most influential pieces of music of any genre from the past 25 years. Even people who never listen to rock music know this song, and it has been played and covered so often that you can understand if people have grown tired of it. Despite this, there is still fertile ground for creativity within its seemingly constricting bounds. After examining some of the basic musical elements of the original, I will discuss how three unique arrangements more »