Saturday, December 3, 2016

2016 The Albums: League of Their Own

This award started long before the site was even a thought, in one publication, radio show or another. Since 2000, I have handed out a "League of Their Own" Award to an album that is made by an artist who is the most forward thinking, open minded, revolutionary musician out there today. Their accomplishments in the past 12 months have either resurrected a sound, broke down walls and created new frontiers or have totally reinvented a genre all together. In the past winners have included: 

2000 - Radiohead - Kid A 
2001 - The Strokes - Is This It? 
2002 - NERD - In Search of... 
2003 - The White Stripes - Elephant 
2004 - The Killers - Hot Fuss 
2005 - The Mars Volta - Francis the Mute 
2006 - TV On The Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain 
2007 - Kanye West Graduation 
2008 - Santogold / Santigold
2009 - Mastodon - Crack the Skye 
2010 - Gorillaz - Plastic Beach 
2011 - Bjork - Biophilia 

2012 - Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes 
2013 -  Arcade Fire - Reflektor
2014 - Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2  
2015 - Kamasi Washington - The Epic 

See Our 2016 Honorable Album Mentions

...and now to add to that growing list is an artist that influenced nearly everyone who has won this award in the past as well as those who realized that being yourself is the greatest gift and power anyone could ever have. This artist doesn't really need a long introduction simply because he is the reason a League of Their Own exists because he spent his entire career there. Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2016 League of Their Own winner is...

David Bowie - Blackstar

The Thin White Duke released his 25th album, his best in decades and one of his best ever days before succumbing to a secret and long battle with liver cancer. Davie Bowie is the definition of a true artist and as his producer and friend Tony Visconi said Blackstar was the singer's "parting gift to fans." It was a fitting way to send himself off into the great ether as the musical spaceman traveled from his soul and into our heart and memories forever. Blackstar was his full life's work and his farewell to everyone. This was the record he wanted to be remembered for and remind everyone what he gave us. As we continue to mourn the live and love of David Bowie, we know he is resting easy somewhere above us and around us. The circumstances surrounding Blackstar may have been not the most ideal to craft an album but he went out on his terms which was the same way he lived. 

Learn More About 2016's Best New Artist

Stay Tuned Next Week For Our Top 10 Albums of the Year!

Speaking with Leon Else

As the year winds down and we begin to look ahead, the future seems to be bright following a dark 2016. As new music will arrive next year, one artist who has been burning up the dancefloor is ready for his close up. British singer, songwriter and performer Leon Else will release his Interscope Records debut sometime in 2017 and as he preps for it, the 24-year-old released his acclaimed EP, River Full of Liquor and has captured the attention of fans, critics and music lovers around the world. We caught up with the young lad about his new singles, "Black Car" and "Dance," as well as his battle with ADHD and depression, plus what lies ahead.

Take a look at our interview with Else below:

Off the bat, I want to say that your song "Black Car" might be the sexiest song of 2016. What was the influence behind the track?

Haha, ahhh thank you!  I appreciate that a lot. I wrote "Black Car" whilst in my then brown car (I know have a black car) that I hated. It didn’t fit my “look” or vibe and I loathed driving it. Therefore, one day I was driving to go hiking and I started singing the melody from "Black Car" with the lyric - “gotta get a black car, the blackest car you’ve ever seen,” and that's where the original idea came from. My vision of this dark, mysterious, sexy, cool menacing black car that I was so desperate to have and drive, so everyone could see me.  I developed it further and deeper into the whole allure of an object..and desire of having materialistic things can make you more attractive to people, and make some people do stupid tings, or get themselves into sticky situations ( like Suki Waterhouse in my music video haha).

There is so much soul in your music, who were some of your influences?

The people who I look up to are David Bowie, Prince, and Queen mainly. I do look to other musicians for influence, but these are my main ones. They are the best. They were themselves. They were trail blazers.

With a few singles under your belt, when can we expect your Interscope debut?

I would say they are introductory songs. The start of introducing people to the real me and my world. I think expect the unexpected, because you can’t predict me because I can’t predict myself. I’m different people everyday. I’m not one thing. I’m a thousand things on rotation. So much music changes with me, depending on how I’m feelin. It will still be pop, but just wrapped differently. i want to keep you guessing. I want to explore, and I want people to come with me on that exploration. There's so much out there, and I’m like a kid in a sweet shop with sounds and music - I want to try it all. So basically don’t expect, I want my fans to just be open.  Oh shit - I just realized that you ask what can we expect you were meaning my album. HAHA!. Oh well keep that bit in cause we spoke about it now. Debut out next year.

Your story is one of resilience, you grew up dirt poor in the UK, how important is it for you to make this career and life work?

It's everything. It's absolutely everything. I have no plan b, and I don’t intend to go back to where I came from. When you come from nothing you then know what having nothing feels like. I don’t and I won’t go back to that place. i just have plan A. I've worked eveyday since i was so young. I've sacrificed more than people will ever know or could imagine. I’ve over come things people wouldn't believe and that was not in vain.  I’ve lost so much for this, but I won’t stop. I will never stop. It's all I have, all I truly have, so I always make it work.

How has your upbringing influenced you?

It has made me learn when you want something, you get off your arse and make it happen. Don’t wait around for anyone or anything. Hard work is something I’m so grateful for, and the struggle of growing up I am also so thankful for as it has made me resilient, and so driven. It gave me that hunger to do something, and to make something of myself. So my upbringing’s influence on me has been pivotal.

You also have ADHD and depression, how important is it to erase the stigma of mental health in what you do?

It’s really important to me that I speak about it, and share my ups and downs with people. So many people pretend everything is ok because they are worried and suffer in silence because society judges us. I don’t want to just help erase stigma in the arts, but I want to help erase it in the world. So many of us have mental health issues, and I think it's something that should be bringing us together if we would just speak about it. We would realize more people, than not, suffer from some sort of mental health issues. No matter what class, or where you live, or how rich you are, mental health is something that effects everyone, and it should be something that we speak about and actually support each other. Life isn’t Instagram. Behind that picture, life is fucking tough. I just want to be open, and speak freely about my issues I face, and hope it helps someone else somewhere know they aren’t alone. Most people feel alone, when they don’t have to be.

Your music has so much release and emotion to it, both joyful and morose, when crafting a song how much of you is being put into the lyrics and subject matter?

Everything. Sometimes I'll push it slightly to change how honest I actually want to be, but everything I write is truth. The matter is me. The music has to be me. If it's not, then it wouldn’t be me and I couldn’t create it. 

Your single "Dance" is an instant club banger and the video shows you having the time of your life. How long have you been dancing and was it something you always saw yourself doing as a profession?

Thank you! I was friggin dying on set - 12 hours of dancing straight was tough!! I got into dancing as an escape to get out of my hometown. I was kinda like 'Billy Elliot.' I started late, and I would go and do ballet with the little girls when I’m tall, and was so out of place. But I kept at it. I worked peeling potatoes to save up and pay to get to London to auction for the top dance schools. I honestly didn’t think I would be good enough to get it, but I thought if I could just show them how much I’m willing to work. It paid off and I got scholarships to my surprise. I then moved to London and trained professionally for 3 years, and danced professionally for about 3 years.

You were also in the film, "Nine," a take off of Fellini's "8 1/2," what was that experience like? Also, much in character was Daniel Day-Lewis during filming?

It was the most incredible experience. Truly. To work with Rob Marshall was a dream. We were treated so well and that was amazing because most of the time dancers work the longest and hardest hours and treated the worst. However, not in 'NINE.' It was more like being treated like royalty. It will be something that stays with me forever. Daniel was properly in character, the whole time, no resting. It was inspiring to see someone get so into a character. He's amazing.

How did the role in "Nine" change your career?

It changed my career, because that was when I said to myself “fuck this, fuck being the background guy.” After that I decided that's it. I’m going to do my music, I had always continued to write music all this time whilst dancing. So being on that movie set was a changing point for me, since as a dancer I didn’t know how to top that. I had achieved so much, so early on, as a dancer that I needed and wanted so much more. Watching everyone stand in the spotlight as a star and the lead I thought I could that. I was done and never danced professionally again.

Where do you go from here?

Forward; I continue and carry on working my ass off, putting everything into my music and craft, seeing where it takes me. I want to be the best, I want to be the biggest, and I don’t intend to stop even when I’m there because I'll need something else. I want to do so much, with so little time. Time is just running away from us. I have an amazing label, amazing team, amazing fans, and together was just move forward. oh and I need to try and find time to enjoy it more, because I’m always onto the next thing. Or looking for something more..whatever more is.

John Legend on 'Fallon'

Watch John Legend perform "Penthouse Floor" on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Live Review: The Hold Steady at Brooklyn Bowl

A decade ago, Brooklyn's The Hold Steady released their third album, Boys and Girls in America. The record was a critical success and it ushered the band into a whole new realm of fans, including the creator of this website. The record single handily changed the band's life and they went from struggling musicians to a rock band that has been able to find success in an era when artists within that genre struggle. Since the release of Boys and Girls, they released three other records, lost members, gained members but stayed true to who they are and to their fans.

Listen To Our Essential Hold Steady Playlist on Spotify

On Wednesday night, they celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the album in the first of four sold-out nights at the 500-person Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg not far from where they all live in Greenpoint.

A photo posted by The Hold Steady (@theholdsteady) on

The band hit the stage just after 10, maybe symbolically, maybe pure coincidence and began a positive rage as fans rushed to the stage as the massive night began. As the six members walked on stage, fans saw Franz Nicolay for the first time since he left the group in 2008 and gave him thunderous applause as he took his keys. As he uncorked his wine and the band got to their positions they opened with "Stuck Between Stations" and played Boys and Girls from start to finish in perfect display.

At points they were joined by Jessica Louise Dye of High Wasted and  Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus, who were the surprise opener of the night, as the killer party continued through the night.

The reason for celebration wasn't just that the record thrust the band into the limelight it was also a raw rock record and might be the last real rock record to come in the last 10 years. While subgenres of good old fashion rock and roll have come about thanks to Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon, they stayed true to the bar band ethos they wanted from day one.

Boys and Girls in America is also a record about leaving the shithole town you grew up with and returning to see that you have changed but everyone else has stayed the same. It is about nostalgia. It is about growing up. It is about finding yourself and losing yourself at the same time. It is also the reason why fans inside the venue ranged from 25 to 55 years old.
A photo posted by The Hold Steady (@theholdsteady) on

Following the performance of Boys and Girls in America, the band went into a hits set that featured "Constructing Summer," "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," "Certain Songs," "Yeah Sapphire" and "How a Resurrection Really Feels."

As fans threw glitter on one another and singer Craig Finn smiled from ear to ear screaming "There is so much joy in what we do," he, like the people in the room, is a clear fan of his own work. After all, certain songs they get scratched into your soul.

Finally! Run The Jewels Detail 'RTJ 3'

After months of teasing, Run The Jewels have finally detailed the long-awaited RTJ 3. The record will arrive next month and features Danny Brown, Trina, Kamasi Washington, Tunde from TV on the Radio, and more. 

Take a look at the cover, above, and the tracklisting, below, and hear the new single, "Legend Has It," plus the previously released "2100," and "Talk to Me."

01 Down [ft. Joi Gilliam]
02 Talk to Me
03 Legend Has It
04 Call Ticketron
05 Hey Kids (Bumaye) [ft. Danny Brown]
06 Stay Gold
07 Don’t Get Captured
08 Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost) [ft. Tunde Adebimpe]
09 2100 [ft. Boots]
10 Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix) [ft. Trina]
11 Everybody Stay Calm
12 Oh Mama
13 Thursday in the Danger Room [ft. Kamasi Washington]
14 Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters

Quick News

Sad news to report, Micky Fitz, the singer of the oi! band, The Business, passed away after a battle with cancer. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and bandmates at this time.

Portugal. The Man have confirmed on social media that they are working with Beastie Boy Mike D. for their new album. The record is slated to arrive sometime next year.

Speaking to The Breakfast Club, Pete Rock confirmed that he and CL Smooth will release their first album in over 25 years next year. No other information was given but that it is "awesome." 

Ride have confirmed that they will release their first album in over 20 years next year. The band are currently working on new music in England with producer Erol Alkan who broke the news on Instagram Thursday.

Elbow have confirmed they are working on a new record which they hope to have out by February. The band posted a video of their work on Twitter Thursday.

J. Cole will release his new album, 4 Your Eyes Only, next week. Take a look at the cover, below:

The Lox took to Twitter Thursday night to announce that they will be releasing a new album this month called Filthy's Beautiful.

Kid Cudi Announces New Album

Kid Cudi took to Twitter on Thursday to announce the details to his first album in four years, Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin', which will arrive later this month. 

It is the first time Cudi has released music since his stint in rehab last month. We hope he is doing better and stoked about the record.

Take a look at the cover, above, and the tracklisting, below, and hear the first single, "Frequency."

01 Frequency
02 Swim in the Light
03 Releaser
04 By Design [ft. Andre Benjamin]
05 All In
06 ILLusions
07 Rose Golden [ft. Willow Smith]
08 Baptized in Fire [ft. Travis Scott]
09 Flight at First Sight / Advanced [ft. Pharrell Williams]
10 Does It
11 Dance 4 Eternity
12 Distant Fantasies
13 Wounds
14 Mature Nature
15 Kitchen
16 Cosmic Warrior
17 The Guide [ft. Andre Benjamin]
18 The Commander
19 Surfin’ [ft. Pharell Williams]

Rising Artist: Astronoid

Meteor showers happen all the time and as the giant rocks fall from space, I often times wonder what they sounds like. When I first heard Boston's Astronoid, I fully understood what the sound of something coming from the greatest regions of our universe and into our atmosphere would sound like. The band, who released their debut, Air, in May, take a sound that mixes the black metal of Deafhaven the atmospheric progressiveness of Circa Survive and the intricate rhythm changes of Dillinger Escape Plan and roll it into one collective being that brings an intensity and beauty that only music could offer. The band, who formed in 2012, from the ashes of the prog band Hetfield and Hetfield have been releasing music independently including their debut this year. As the band continue to tour and perform, here is looking out to seeing them in 2017.

Underrated Classic: Terminator X & The Valley of the Jeep Beats

In the early 90s Public Enemy were at the top of their game and along with NWA were leading a charge of bicoastal hip-hop that was conscious, raw, powerful and aggressive. Striking while the iron was blazing, Public Enemy DJ Terminator X released his solo debut that featured samples from Black Flag and guests like Chuck D, Sister Souljah. In 1991, Terminator X and the Bomb Squad produced the 47-minute Terminator X and the Valley of the Jeep Beats. The album, full of break beats, instrumentals, early drum and bass, was something for every car in every city and suburb to blast while driving down the highway. Producing two successful singles, "Homie Don't Play Dat," which went to No. 1 and "Buck Whylin," the debut from the DJ was simply the perfect hip-hop record for the summer when it arrived in May of that year. As young hip-hop seems to be looking for wisdom from the founding fathers of the genre as each new era begins, here is a hidden gem to relisten and learn from.

Movie of the Month: 'To Rome with Love'

After Woody Allen decided to leave New York City during the early Millennium he began crafting some of his best work in ages. His films set in London like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Cassandra's Dream, among others. In France he took his viewers around Midnight in Paris, he brought us to Spain with Vicky, Christina, Barcelona and in 2012 he went to Italy for To Rome with Love. The film, which received mixed reviews was the first time the auteur went to Italy and took his love of Fellini realism and escapism and combined it with the humor of Roberto Benigni, who also starred in the film. Leading an all-star cast of Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenburg, Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig, To Rome with Love was a delightful romantic comedy that only someone like Woody Allen could conjure up.