Wednesday, December 31, 2014

the top 25 best albums of 2014 (VIDEO)

And that's it for me for 2014! The last of the lists, probably one of the more controversial ones, but hey, it's what you get.

I want to thank all of you for sticking with me this long - if it wasn't for you crazy cats, I wouldn't have gotten this far or I probably would have spent my time elsewhere long ago. As it is, let's keep up the hustle, and I hope to see you all with more album reviews, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and maybe something new in that new year. Stay tuned!

the top 25 best albums of 2014

And now, the final list, the most important and likely the most hotly debated selection, the top 25 albums of 2014. Some of these entries you will recognize as they've been acclaimed by plenty of publications already, but there are a few surprises here that definitely need their due consideration.

One thing to preface this list: while I have seen many year-end lists, these are all my personal choices based upon what stuck with me the most this year. And to qualify, they have to be one of the 210 albums I reviewed in full this year. And believe me, this list had a few painful cuts, but I'd prefer to keep this list smaller and respect the cream of the crop rather than reward albums that might not deserve the same acclaim.

But enough, wasting time, let's get this started!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

the top 50 best songs of 2014 (part ii: 25-1) (VIDEO)

And there's part two. One last list to come, stay tuned!

the top 50 best songs of 2014 (part i: 50-26) (VIDEO)

That's part one, now part two!

the top 50 best songs of 2014

And now onto the third list, and by far one of the hardest to make. This year I discussed 210 albums and from there I had just under 700 songs that I considered eligible for this list. From there, the task of narrowing it down and ranking them was excruciatingly difficult, because I want to make sure this list was of the best of the best, and even with that I had to make some painful cuts. And once again, keep in mind these are not the hits. We have singles and deep cuts here, from artists who are defiantly mainstream to those lodged deep in the underground. And one more thing: for a song to land on this list, it has to have been released from an album I reviewed this year. If it was just a single, it doesn't cut it - but on a contrary note, if the single dropped last year or even the year before and the album was only released now... well, it qualifies in my books.

But enough wasting time, let's get this started with...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

the top ten best hit songs of 2014 (VIDEO)

And here's list #2. Yes, I know it's excruciatingly early, but I'm posting this from the airport, it happens. Enjoy!

the top ten best hit songs of 2014

And now onto our second list, and the one that doesn't give me heart palpitations whenever I think about it, the Top Ten Best Hit Songs of 2014. 

Once again, let's go over some of the main rules: the songs need to debut on the year-end Billboard Hot 100 list this year - so while there are songs like 'Counting Stars' and 'Wake Me Up!' that came out last year and still made this year's Billboard 100, they already had their shot to make the list.

What gets a little frustrating because while the year-end Billboard Hot 100 didn't have as many outright terrible songs as last year, I'd also make the argument it didn't have as many genuinely awesome smash songs either. 2014 tended towards average all around, with only a few genuinely great songs and a whole sea of songs that were pretty solid but didn't evoke a huge amount of reaction from me, one way or the other. And once again, this is my list of my favourite hits - the list of the songs from across the entire year that never touched the charts is on its way - but that's not ripping into these songs, most of which had real genuine quality behind them.

But let's not waste time, let's get to the Honourable Mentions!

Friday, December 26, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 3, 2015 (VIDEO)

Yep, I'm aware of the glitch in the top ten. Damn fader settings get me every time.

So in case you all know, I'm going to be going on vacation - but never fear, I'll still be posting as soon as I get a stable internet connection, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 3, 2015

Today is the first official week of 2015 for Billboard - which is a little odd, considering they start their year and it still is December, but this was the year where we both got the long-awaited finale of The Voice that notched six new hits. And while J. Cole managed to hold a little more momentum, unsurprisingly, most of this week belonged to Nicki Minaj, for better or for worse.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

the top ten worst hit songs of 2014 (VIDEO)

First of our year-end lists, and sadly the one that will probably get the most traffic. Go figure.

Next up is the list of the best hit songs - stay tuned!

the top ten worst hit songs of 2014

So, another year, another Billboard Year-End list, another assorted collection of hits and misses, and another year end list from me where I take a long hard look at the biggest charting songs of the year and pick out the best and worst.

Now for those of you who aren't familiar, let's go over the rules. A song can only make this list if it first landed on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End chart for 2014. There may be songs from last year that qualify - I can think of a few - but it needs to hit the list this year. And of course there were worse songs that I heard this year on albums that could easily outstrip huge chunks of this list - I'm not going to mention them, they don't deserve more attention - but I want to make the point that we're looking at the hits that got under my skin and annoyed or angered me. Songs that are just excruciatingly boring don't really make the cut here - 'boring' can be a factor, but there needs to be something aggressively wrong with the song to join this august company.

The other important thing to mention is that 2014 has, on average, been a stronger year than 2013, or at least more consistent. Up until the frantic reshuffling at the end of the year, this has been a pretty stodgy year with a few absolutely massive hits that wouldn't go away and prevented a lot of turnover. What this has meant is that many of the songs that have landed on this list don't inspire the same amount of real anger from me - of the majority I wouldn't say they are as deserving of vitriol as some of the really terrible tracks from last year.

That said, I think it's time for our dishonourable mentions!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

video review: 'anybody wanna buy a heart?' by k. michelle

And that's the last of the album reviews for 2014. Bit of a short one, but I'm glad I got there.

Next up, we've got a whole slew of lists coming up, the ones you've all been looking for. Stay tuned, folks, it's gonna get crazy up in here!

Monday, December 22, 2014

album review: 'anybody wanna buy a heart' by k. michelle

If we want to speak about one of the biggest trends of 2014, we need to talk about R&B. Not only did it come back in force and with the exception of Taylor Swift do a number on mainstream pop, it also showed itself willing to experiment and brought a ton of different sounds to the table. I might not have been a real R&B fan a year ago, but I'm think with artists like FKA Twigs, Jhene Aiko, and the return of stalwarts like D'Angelo, I think I'm on board this time.

And since I'm one of the few critics who has covered the entire spectrum of R&B this year, from the stuff gunning for mainstream airplay to the underground, I figured that I should check out one last artist before the year's end - and one that I had significantly mixed feelings on going in. K. Michelle was signed to Jive Records back in 2009 before they bought out her contract, but she quickly accrued a lot more fame tied to the VH1 reality show Love & Hip-hop: Atlanta. I suspect some of that fame coloured the release of her debut album Rebellious Soul last year on Atlantic. Which was a bit of a shame, because it wasn't really a bad album. Not a great one, but if you're looking for some early 2000s-inspired R&B with modern synths and a surprising amount of texture from a woman with real pipes. Now I'm not going to say that era of R&B was always my thing, but I could definitely respect it and that K. Michelle had some real talent behind her.

That said, if I hadn't started getting requests - and I mean a lot of them - for this album, I probably would have passed it by - but then I started seeing other things, like how the critics who did talk about it called it one of the best R&B records of the year. That's a lot of high praise, and considering this was looking to be a mainstream accessible R&B record with no rap features - which is rare - I definitely gave a listen. Does it live up to the hype?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 27, 2014

This week, it was all about upward momentum. As the rest of 2014 continues to drop away, the new 'hits' for 2015 are rising to take their place, whether we want them or not. Plus, with the continued onslaught of Christmas music and The Voice, the biggest surprise arrivals came from the biggest album of the week that debuted with little promotion and no open airplay - and in a really nice change of pace, some of the best songs from that album are the ones that landed on the charts, which is awesome.

I'll elaborate more on that in a bit, but it's time to start with our Top 10! Lots of movement this week... well, outside of the top two, that is. Unsurprisingly, 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift has a stranglehold on #1 thanks to finally taking the top in airplay to match her dominance in sales and YouTube, but Hozier's 'Take Me To Church' isn't going down without a fight, with steady airplay gains supplementing strong sales and absolutely monstrous streaming. Yet right below that we've got 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars reaching a new peak at #3, with a very similar pattern to Hozier in that they're just waiting for airplay to catch up to strong sales and streaming. And at #4 we've got 'Lips Are Moving' by Meghan Trainor, who owes most of her success to YouTube, with only decent streaming and sales keeping her solid as her airplay slowly picks up. And with the first movement in three weeks we've got 'I'm Not The Only One' by Sam Smith stepping up to #5, who really owes his success to just being consistent across the board and those above him losing steam and dropping out. 

Now we'll get to those, but now we've got to talk about our surprise new arrival to the top 10 at #6, 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran, who really owes the majority of his success to massive streaming and YouTube and pretty damn solid sales as his airplay struggles to catch up. Honestly, I'm not the biggest fan of the song - it's a little too sleepy and Ed Sheeran has better songs off of x - but I've got nothing against the song and it works for what it is as a sincere, passionate love song and it's nice to see a guitar solo in the Top 10. But beneath him are two songs that look to be on the way out, 'All About That Bass' by Meghan Trainor at #7 and 'Animals' by Maroon 5 - effectively for the same reasons too, hemorrhaging airplay and weaker numbers across the board, with only YouTube giving Meghan Trainor the edge. 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd steps up to #9, holding steady thanks to consistent airplay gains and huge streaming even despite a weak sales week, which leaves 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift to cling to #10 pretty much on YouTube alone. I see it dropping out of the Top 10 next week, unless it somehow gets a boost.

Next up we have our drop-outs and losers, and there was a fair number of the former. '0 To 100/The Catch Up' by Drake, 'Day Drinking' by Little Big Town, and thankfully 'Burnin' It Down' by Jason Aldean all drop to recurring, but 'i' by Kendrick Lamar and 'Look At You' by Big & Rich lost even more steam to drop off after even less. And it looks like there's a few more on a similar path - 'Fireball' by Pitbull ft. John Ryan drops to 88, 'Yellow Flicker Beat' by Lorde continues its tumble down to 86 as more people forget about Mockingjay, and mercifully the disaster that I spoke at length on - 'God Made Girls' by RaeLynn - drops back to #71. Only wish I could claim credit for it. As for the other losers, there are only two major drops, 'Make It Rain' by Ed Sheeran - unsurprising, given it was a song tied to Sons of Anarchy and the show ended just over a week ago - and 'Mary Did You Know?' by Pentatonix. And I would be surprised this song dropped again, especially given the Christmas season, but it's been bouncing around since its debut, so no real surprise.

And speaking of Christmas, let's take a look at our gainers, two of which owe their success to the holidays. Mariah Carey unsurprisingly rises ten slots to #40 with 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', and Ariana Grande leaps back up #64 with 'Santa Tell Me'. And in other, less obvious examples of holiday cheer, Carrie Underwood continues finding Jesus with 'Something In The Water' rising to #38, Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe sing about exes trying to find solace together on 'Lonely Tonight' jumping considerably to #54, Usher's 'I Don't Mind' continues its steady climb to #37 by not judging a woman who's a stripper, and 'I Lived' by OneRepublic has that general uplifting holiday feel so I'm guessing that's why it jumped up to #67, along with 'Heroes (We Could Be)' by Alesso ft. Tove Lo bounced up to #35, the latter proving EDM isn't quite dead yet. Yet, there are other songs that got a boost that have significantly less holiday cheer. 'G.D.F.R.' by Flo Rida ft. Sage The Gemini and Lookas gains to #87 despite being the blatant 'Talk Dirty' ripoff that it is, and 'Just Gettin' Started' by Jason Aldean goes to #84 because 'Burnin' It Down' is gone and the charts need something to replace it. And yet worst of all, 'Only' by Nicki Minaj ft. Drake, Lil Wayne & Chris Brown rocketed up to #12. That's right, this is within spitting distance of the Top 10. I'll keep this quick: Nicki Minaj is the only redeeming feature of this song, the synth line is pathetically underweight, every single guest star embarrasses themselves, with Drake probably sounding the worst, and it's easily the worst track on The Pinkprint and single-handedly responsible for knocking that album back. It's an atrocious track coasting by on cheap gossip and controversy to be successful, and the fact Nicki put this garbage on her album instead of 'Win Again' or 'Truffle Butter' - the latter of which has Drake and Lil Wayne on it - is a sign Young Money's management need their heads examined. Preferably with 2x4s.

But ignoring that piece of shit, let's talk about our recurring entries!

Oh wow, I didn't expect this. I've never been a fan of Darius Rucker or his former band Hootie & The Blowfish - they were the sort of adult-alternative act that bored the piss out of me and generally catered to those who wanted the least threatening music possible. So Darius Rucker transitioning to make country didn't surprise me, but 'Wagon Wheel' was a damn good song - mostly because it was cowritten by Bob Dylan, but still! This, though - wow, talk about selling out. From the incredibly clean production to the by-the-numbers forgettable songwriting that features repeating words to fill up space for no good reason to Darius Rucker trying to add swagger to his voice and failing miserably, this is desperation personified in a song. Darius Rucker is desperately trying to leap on the bro-country bandwagon, but this is the end of 2014, and outside of a few exceptions, bro-country has effectively collapsed. This... this is just embarrassing for everyone involved. Next!

Yeah, I can't even lie, I think this song is actually pretty damn good, regardless of whether this song is about Harry Styles or not - it's got that retro-old school glam vibe with the tight 80s synthpop guitar line that actually carries a melody throughout the whole song, punchy beat, and Taylor giving a surprisingly passionate performance. Yeah, there is an element of self-love to this song, but it's also balanced out by both partner in the relationship recognizing their own flaws and screw-ups. There's balance and nuance here, and I can appreciate that.

Okay, now we're onto our list of new arrivals - most of which I've already talked about in some capacity, which hopefully means this will be pretty easy. Starting with...

100. 'Break The Rules' by Charli XCX - I've already talked at length about this song in my Sucker review, but I will say it's got one of the better melodies from the record, especially in the synth breakdown right after the chorus. But as much as I like most of this song, there are still problems - the EDM crescendo over the chorus always feels a little overstuffed to me and detracts from a pretty damn solid textured bassline and lyrically... seriously, 'discotheque'? Who says that? And seriously, if that's her definition of 'breaking the rules', I'm not all that impressed.

98. 'When I Was Your Man' by Chris Jamison - we got a lot of piano ballads in 2013, and 'When I Was Your Man' by Bruno Mars was one of the better ones - pretty basic, but filled with genuine regret for being a shitty boyfriend, and Bruno Mars does a lot to sell it. But honestly, I might honestly like Chris Jamison's version even more. The thinner piano tone, the fragments of organ, and Jamison throws himself into it with a ton of passion and that falsetto... it was impressive, and it's not surprising he landed in the finals... only to lose, but we'll get to that.

95. 'No Role Modelz by J.Cole - of the two J.Cole songs that landed on the charts this week, this is definitely the weaker one, and it highlights a lot of the problems I had with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, especially with J.Cole's issues with women. Yeah, there's self-awareness in the song, about how thin his fame might feel being a 'b-list celebrity', and yeah, it's got a pretty damn slick melody line, but it highlights the incredibly shaky moral high ground on which J.Cole is standing. For as much as he rants about not wanting reality show starlets, he's still screwing them anyway and behaving like a condescending dick about it, spending most of the outro calling her shallow. Sure, it's the life she chose - hell, it's the life he chose too, and he tries to justify it by saying 'no role models', but with the self-awareness undercutting the track it doesn't justify his actions, and it sure as hell means you should treat her with some respect. And it really bugs me when he ends his verse with a shout, 'Martin Luther King would have been on Dreamville'! Yeah, evoking one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement on your track about calling women shallow - self-awareness or not, that makes you look like an asshole. The more I hear this song, the less I like it.

93. 'Come Join The Murder' by The White Buffalo & The Forest Rangers - okay, we've got another song from Sons of Anarchy on the chart, and unlike 'Make It Rain', this one is more on the country side of folk. And it's less of a murder ballad than a song about falling to temptation thanks to the darkness in oneself - and yet the tone of the song is a little weird to me. A lot of major chords on the chorus melody, reasonably clean guitar tones, the backing vocals coming in for the later choruses, it feels a little too upbeat, not quite as dark as one would expect for the subject matter. Solid guitar solo and some good texture, and the songwriting has some power, but I think this song could have afforded to go a little darker, and it does feel a little long. Still good, but it could have been great.

90. 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' by Sam Smith - okay, when you think of Christmas singers to evoke a jovial atmosphere of holiday cheer, Sam Smith would not be the artist topping my list. That said, 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' is one of the better choices for him, as it can be played with a melancholy touch, which Sam Smith does. As it is - look, I'm not a Sam Smith fan. He's got a good voice, but he's got a certain austerity to his delivery that lacks real driving soul to me, which means even by the standards of depressing Christmas songs, this doesn't really do much for me. Sorry.

81. 'Make It Rain' by Matt McAndrew - I already talked about this song last week when it was covered by Ed Sheeran, so with its sudden success I wasn't surprised to see it land on The Voice. And yet it doesn't work nearly as well, mostly because Matt McAndrew's voice or instrumentation doesn't have the snarl or raw potency to make it all that gripping. I can see playing it a little closer to gospel, but Ed Sheeran's rougher, more hollow production is just a much better fit for the song. In other words, McAndrew's cover fails because of something he really can't control - he's on a reality show designed to appeal to the mass-public, and what was once a song accompanying a grimy show about a biker gang becomes neutered as a result.

73. 'Wet Dreamz' by J.Cole - see, this is so much better, and it gets there by being a much better representation of J.Cole at his best. I've already talked about this extensively when I reviewed 2014 Forest Hills Drive, so I'll restate what I said before: one of the best songs of the album that works thanks to a great old-school beat and melody and J.Cole's deeper, more vulnerable songwriting in a story about losing his virginity. The details are what makes the song work as well - you can buy this high school story about him trying to be a big shot to win over a girl even though he was a virgin, only to realize she was relying on him for the exact same thing. It's the sort of aggressively real song you rarely ever see on the Hot 100, and the fact that this song landed while J.Cole's actual single from the album didn't even crack the chart is very tell. Damn great song.

59. 'The Old Rugged Cross' by Craig Wayne Boyd - okay, there's a bit of a story behind this song, which was written over a hundred years ago by George Bennard and has held up as a reliable country gospel standard that's been covered by dozens of artists from Johnny Cash to Al Green, from George Jones to Merle Haggard, to Alan Jackson to Brad Paisley. So after listening to a whole slew of those covers before checking out Craig Wayne Boyd - the best being a toss-up between Al Green and Alan Jackson - how does his turn out? Well, considering it's a country gospel song being played on network television, about as well as you can expect. It's not surprising Craig Wayne Boyd won The Voice, because he's one of the few singers who has vocal texture, but I can't say I loved the overstated vocals or bombast of his cover with the belting. Granted, I prefer it over Merle Haggard's downbeat monologue over one of the verses, but there's a middle ground, and I'm not sure he got there. Incredible voice, though.

So that's our week - overall, a pretty damn good week for new chart arrivals, which makes my choice of a favourite this week tricky... oh, who am I kidding? Despite my harsh words, 'Wet Dreamz' by J.Cole easily walks away with it, with probably 'Style' by Taylor Swift as the runner up. Worst is no contest - Darius Rucker's ridiculous and embarrassing stab at bro-country with 'Homegrown Honey', with Matt McAndrew not managing to follow Ed Sheeran's lead with 'Make It Rain'. Overall, though, I can't complain, and let's hope it's a good sign for weeks to come - although knowing what I do in terms of album tracks that'll probably chart next week, I doubt it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

video review: 'black messiah' by d'angelo and the vanguard

Damn, this was definitely worth the wait. Fantastic record, one of the best of the year, and it's a good thing I didn't finalize my year-end lists yet, because this might just land on it.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and one final album review - what will it be? Stay tuned!

album review: 'black messiah' by d'angelo and the vanguard

So imagine you're a music critic for a major publication, and you've just finished submitting your picks for your year-end list of the best albums of the year. A stressful choice, and a list that will inevitably be inundated by angry protests and comments why other albums weren't chosen, but you're secure in your picks - it's not like anyone drops albums worth caring about in December, right - 

Wait, didn't I say all of this last year with Beyonce's self-titled album that came out of nowhere? Well, if anything, this release might be even more surprising, from one of the most critically acclaimed and respected and yet reclusive R&B artists to ever chart, one of the men responsible for starting the neo-soul movement in the 90s with music drenched in the iconography of the past while still making music that felt relevant and modern.

Yep, we're talking about D'Angelo, an R&B star who emerged a wave of potent buzz in the mid-90s with Brown Sugar, which eventually became a commercial success but was a critical darling right out of the gate. And having revisited that album since, I can see why: D'Angelo wasn't a forceful presence behind the microphone, but he didn't need to be - the man wrote slick, beautifully textured music, had buckets of charisma and sensuality, and was a pretty damn good songwriter to boot. This was a guy who was a peer of Usher, R.Kelly, Raphael Saadiq and Boyz 2 Men, and yet he stayed away from much of the histrionics of the times to stick with more subtle, restrained, yet just as passionate music. As such, his albums have a timeless feel to them that's impossible to fake. This is a guy who could cover Smokey Robinson's classic 'Cruisin' and do it justice, and that's pretty damn impressive. 

From there, D'Angelo took several years off and came back with Voodoo in 2000, and while I can't say I was the biggest fan to move more in a groove-centric direction over melodies, it doesn't make the album any less great. And make no mistake, Voodoo is a damn great record: smooth as hell, funky, poetic, and sexy as all hell. It was Voodoo's commercial hits that led to D'Angelo becoming a sex symbol in R&B - which sadly was one of the reasons he stopped touring. Between that and some personal problems, he took a long hiatus from recording his own projects, vanishing from the spotlight outside of a few scattered guest appearances. And while there had been rumours D'Angelo was going to make that third album, it was often compared to the long-nascent project Smile by Brian Williams - a record that was actually completed ten years ago after decades in development and is goddamn amazing.

And yet, in one of the biggest surprises of the new year, D'Angelo is back with a new album, and from the rave reviews and sheer panic from sites that already published their year-end lists to praise it, I had to hear this record. So I checked out Black Messiah - how is it?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

video review: 'sucker' by charli xcx

Well, this happened. Honestly wish it could have been a little better, but it is a step in the right direction.

Next up... okay, D'Angelo for sure, but what else... either way stay tuned!

album review: 'sucker' by charli xcx

There are a lot of pop acts that I wish I liked a lot more than I do, acts that might be very popular or who get a ton of critical acclaim and yet for many reasons just don't connect or click with me whatsoever. Because even though I'm a critic who likes all sorts of off-beat, weird material, I also cover the pop charts, and since there's nothing wrong with liking pop music in principle, I just wish more of it managed to connect with me.

Charli XCX is one of those artists, and how much I've liked or appreciated her music is really all over the map. 'I Love It', her feature on the smash hit from Icona Pop, was one of my favourite hit songs of last year, but having relistened to her last album since I reviewed it in written form, it still doesn't grip me. The heavy, fuzz-saturated beats, the gothic textures that recall a lot of darkwave's heaviness without the killer melodies, the lyrics that were sketched so broadly to be borderline insubstantial, and Charli XCX herself not presenting a consistent or all that likable persona. True Romance was trying to play itself as portentous and serious, but the writing or performances were rarely strong enough to hold up, and I was just left disappointed every time I tried to relisten to the album.

So with that in mind, I had a certain amount of trepidation in approaching her newest record Sucker, cited as a massive change in genre and focus to more of a pop rock sound. And while that was interesting, I haven't exactly been wild about either of her two biggest performances this year, her chorus on 'Fancy' with Iggy Azalea or her solo hit tied to The Fault In Our Stars 'Boom Clap'. It's not like they were bad, just lacking in distinctive flavour to really grip me, so I wasn't sure what I was getting with this record. But since this record has been getting rather shocking amounts of critical acclaim, I figured what the hell and dove in - what did I get?

video review: 'pom pom' by ariel pink

And that's the second review of the night. Whew.

Okay, Charli XCX, let's see if you've managed any sort of marginal improvement, so stay tuned!

Monday, December 15, 2014

album review: 'pom pom' by ariel pink

It's time we talk about one of the most artists in the indie scene, and one of the more polarizing ones too. This is an artist that critics and his cult audience absolutely loves, but to most others, even other indie music fans, he's considered either a joke or a disgrace. An artist that manages to fuse elements of the psychedelic and deranged with elements that either can come across as charmingly retro, painfully outdated, or just plain kitsch in the most mundane of ways.

Yep, we're talking about Ariel Pink, outsider pop artist and one of the most intriguing figures in the indie scene for over a decade. Originally a fan of gothic rock, he became enamoured of the lo-fi cassette culture of the 1980s, which combined for his knack for melody and odd vocal percussion led to a runny, smeared-over style of music that I'd call a gimmick if it wasn't so painfully sincere. The best way I can describe it is kitsch, the blend of old cast-off pop culture - bargain barrel long-forgotten disposable pop and rejected music for training videos and PSAs - with lyrics that often get a lot more dark and graphic than one might realize or be able to make out through his lo-fi recordings. It's unsurprising that his material doesn't translate well live, because it's material crafted from rejected and outdated normality, and that doesn't exactly fit well blown up to a stage. 

And yet there's something real to this that I like. I dig the sincerity and the occasional unsettling or surprising elements in the lyrics, I like his focus on melody and the warm texture in the music. And most of all, I like that he takes the forgotten junk of pop culture and tries to cobble together something real. It's pop art, sure, but it's the best kind - pushing rejected junk through a singular artistic lens, and after getting noticed by Animal Collective and signed to their label, a vision that proved surprisingly influential. And suddenly, a guy who never intended to be popular dropped into the spotlight, and he and his band Haunted Graffiti dropped a critically acclaimed record Before Today in 2010. Now that album was pretty damn excellent, probably one of his best efforts to fuse his aesthetic to a record that proved incredibly compelling. It was also probably his most accessible album to date and with the success of songs like 'Round & Round' he drew a bigger fanbase than ever. And thus it almost seemed like this follow-up Mature Themes was designed to push them away, by going harsher, darker, and nastier in its lyrical content. And it wouldn't be hard to believe that - it was a shame the album lost some of the warmer textures and killer melodies along the way which made it a fair bit less compelling. And thus I wasn't exactly sure where Ariel Pink was going to go with his newest record Pom Pom, his first full-length studio record that was not made with his band The Haunted Graffiti, but I definitely made sure to check it out. How is it?

video review: 'the pinkprint' by nicki minaj

Well, this happened. Honestly less bad than boring, but eh.

Next up is that Ariel Pink review, stay tuned!

album review: 'the pinkprint' by nicki minaj

Rarely has there been an artist that I've approached with equal parts anticipation and dread than Nicki Minaj.

See, when she first broke into the mainstream definitively in 2010, I found myself in a distinctly awkward position. She started as a firespitter, a lyricist that wasn't afraid to take the unreal plastic trappings of pop rap and add a real edge beneath it. And yet while that was impressive on guest verses, the songs where Nicki Minaj began to find a lot more success were in a heap of mid-tempo dance and pop jams that didn't contain any of that distinctive edge - 'Your Love', 'Super Bass', 'Moment 4 Life', 'Fly', 'Starships', and 'Pound the Alarm', the last being a song that I unashamedly think is pretty damn awesome.

But putting that aside, like her mentor Lil Wayne Nicki Minaj's weaknesses became ever more obvious as the years past. She might have been successful making party jams, but the plastic nature of her brand of pop only emphasized the artificiality and had me waiting for the subversive moment that never came. And as a rapper... look, she's got a good flow and she did have a lot of personality and intensity, but go beneath the initial flash and her material got a lot less interesting. Technically, she had many of the same issues as the rest of the Young Money camp - sloppy rhyming, a tendency to fall into overdone cliches about drugs, money, and sex - and beyond that, her attempts to shock and get in my face just came across in the cheapest possible way. And this isn't even in a desensitized 'nothing's shocking anymore', but because I can look at a rapper like Gangsta Boo who relies on many of the same tactics, works with more interesting producers and collaborators like Clipping or Run The Jewels, and who is just a lot more appealing. At the end of the day, going into The Pinkprint, my biggest issues with Nicki Minaj wasn't that she was bad, but that her material was incredibly uneven, with the writing and instrumentation frequently letting down her personality. And considering none of the singles from this album enthused me at all about this record and some were actively repulsive, I steeled myself for the worst before diving in - what did we get?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - special comment - 'god made girls' (VIDEO)

I wish I could say I had planned this extended digression... but really, it's more of me just covering my ass. Eh, we all make mistakes.

Okay, I've got a busy final week here. PRhyme, K Michelle, Ariel Pink, Charli XCX, and Nicki Minaj to finish out the year - stay tuned!

Friday, December 12, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - special comment - 'god made girls'

So if you watched the episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN that came out last night, the episode for the Hot 100 week of December 20th, 2014, you might have noticed a curious omission from my list, a song that leapt up twenty slots this week. A pop-flavoured country song from a relative unknown that is her first major hit outside of the reality show that initially put her in the spotlight. A song that has earned praise, but also some considerable controversy, especially given the current country music scene and especially the act now topping the radio.

Yeah, some of you knew this was coming. It's time to talk about 'God Made Girls'.

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 20, 2014 (VIDEO)

Much easier to edit this one - which was a welcome shift, these videos take forever.

Okay, let's see how much I can get through before the end of the year. Nicki Minaj, Charli XCX, Ariel Pink, and PRhyme for sure, so stay tuned!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 20, 2014

For this episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, we've actually got a bit of a slower week as the holiday season comes even closer and major releases begin to slow down. This leads to a bit of an odd week, with major chart movement linked most to old songs being rotated out, the shift back to equilibrium after the American Music Awards last week that gave several songs a boost they subsequently lost, and the creeping dominance of The Voice as it heads towards its final episodes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

video review: 'it's album time' by todd terje (RETRO REVIEW)

Man, this record was a lot of unexpected fun. Definitely highly recommended, if you haven't checked it out already - and considering it came out about eight months ago, you don't have any excuses.

Okay, tomorrow is episode 3 of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'it's album time' by todd terje (RETRO REVIEW)

One of the biggest criticisms of 2014 in music as a whole is that it's been a bit of a boring year. Not in that things haven't happened or great albums haven't been released - I've got lists that are bursting at the seams of great songs and albums you'll be seeing very soon - but that there haven't been truly 'classic' records dropped or songs/events that really lit the world on fire. It's one of the reasons why there hasn't been a lot of critical consensus in terms of album picks on the year-end lists that have already been released - a few recurring names, but not a lot in common at the top.

And there is something to this argument. With few exceptions, music both in the underground and mainstream has seemed more reserved and less willing to shock or be in your face in comparison with last year, where there was a lot of that. Coupled with stagnation on the pop charts, it's led to a year where not a lot has seemed to have happened, and with rare exception, the top albums are a little more subdued, not as immediately quantifiable as outright awesome. And once again, with only a few exceptions, I can agree with that.

But discussing why this is the case is a little trickier. Some of it might just be burnout - too much of Kanye screaming and Miley's ass in our face might have just exhausted people and led them to be more accepting of quieter, potentially even less interesting material. As such, I've been wary of checking out the long-awaited debut album from Todd Terje all year. He's a Norwegian DJ who's been around in the electronic and disco scene for almost ten years, with a reputation for making what he himself has described as 'good, danceable elevator music'. In other words, it wasn't exactly a record that was screaming for attention - but, given some of the critical acclaim it has received, I was curious enough to check it out? So, is it really 'album time'?

video review: 'talking is hard' by walk the moon

God, another album I wish was better. I will say that it's one of the rare albums that mid-edit it did seem to improve a bit, but not enough.

Up next... hmm, maybe it's time to finally give Todd Terje a try. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

album review: 'talking is hard' by walk the moon

As many of you undoubtedly know, a lot of music pulls inspiration from older genres and styles, sometimes looking backwards to evoke a retro sound and style, sometimes looking forward to innovate. But with so much of pop culture pulling from different eras of itself, one needs to ask the question when it's less of an affectionate homage and more of a shameless ripoff, because in some cases it starts to become blatant, especially with pop music when you don't have a unique driving spirit behind it. And even then, taking the example of Lady Gaga, even she gets accused of outright ripping off Madonna when she does do more. Is it a factor of time, how many years that go by before an artist can draw from the past, or a matter of the influence's presence and clout and how sacrosanct one might consider their art, or how well the successor uses those influences or adapts them into something new.

Now these are heavy subjects to deal with the succession and progression of art, and are probably a little too heavy to be linked with Walk The Moon, an indie rock act who first burst onto the scene in 2010 and have been slowly gaining some steam thanks to some strong singles with quirky videos. And as I mentioned in the last Billboard BREAKDOWN, instrumentally they remind me a lot of The Killers, just minus some of the self-serious posturing, the grander lyrical scope, and the decadent insanity that used to characterize some of The Killers' best work. But bands that sound more like The Killers isn't a bad thing, and Walk The Moon have a loose, electric energy that made them fun. I wasn't sure how much it would really grip me, but at the end of the year, why not throw on a fun indie rock record, so I chose to check out their newest album Talking Is Hard, which has actually been getting some critical acclaim - is it worth it?

video review: '2014 forest hills drive' by j. cole

Another record I dearly wish I liked more than I do. Gah, that's frustrating.

Okay, next up... I honestly have no clue. Probably Walk The Moon, but I've got a fair number of records to cover before the end of the year, so stay tuned!

Monday, December 8, 2014

album review: '2014 forest hills drive' by j.cole

You ever have one of those rappers that you like, but ultimately don't quite love, that might be a talented MC with good wordplay and a lot of personality, but is just a shade away from being truly amazing? For me, J.Cole falls into that category, and I'll admit I've been hard on him since the very beginning of his career. His early commercial singles originally presented a really poor picture for him, and while I've come to respect him more since then, he's never really struck me with a great album. 

And the frustrating thing is that I keep seeing snippets from J.Cole that suggests he could make that star-making record. He's introspective and personal, he's got a decent ear for beats and samples, he's one of the few rappers who has ever had the balls to tackle legitimately serious topics, but maybe it's the tone he takes, which is very melancholic and serious and can make his albums - which always feel overlong - tough listens. Part of it is that I can see a lot of his direct influences in his sound, especially from Kanye, and while it does not quite make him a wannabe, it doesn't help him stand out. As much as I like Cole World and Born Sinner, I still got the feeling that J.Cole hadn't quite found his lane yet.

And yet I had a strange feeling that that might change coming up with his newest album 2014 Forest Hill Drive. On the one hand, it was the longest J.Cole project to date, which didn't exactly enthuse me, but on the other hand, J.Cole taking more direct control and not having any features on the record did look interesting, especially with J.Cole's outspoken reaction to the political and social strife that has erupted across 2014, especially tied to Ferguson. For everything I've heard, he was looking to make an artistic statement with this record, with no singles released ahead of time or any promotion. Well, besides controversy relating to a lyric that some have taken as a shot against Eminem and might lead to J.Cole being banned by Trick-Trick from performing in Detroit. But putting aside hip-hop politics, how is the album?

Friday, December 5, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 13, 2014 (VIDEO)

That went a lot easier than I expected - good to see.

Okay, next up I want to talk about Walk The Moon, which I should have time for thanks to Lil Wayne's repeated delays for his newest album. Until then, stay tuned!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 13, 2014

For this episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, we have a much more chaotic week on the pop charts than last time. Roughly the same number of debuts and re-entries, but the real chaos was courtesy of a chart reshuffling, one that's fairly typical around this time of the year in order to usher out the old and bring in the new. This led to all sorts of strangeness, including our highest debut song from a movie that came out a few weeks ago from Academy Award winner and overall pretty awesome human being Jennifer Lawrence.

But before we get to that conversation, let's start with our top ten, where there was actually a bit of change. Not really in the top five - 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift easily holds onto number one with even more radio airplay dominance, 'All About That Bass' by Meghan Trainor is barely holding on only thanks to radio airplay at #2, but even that's decreasing fast against the rise of 'Take Me To Church' by Hozier at #3, which is crushing streaming and slowly gaining traction on the radio. Coming it at number #4 is 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift, which is dropping across the board but isn't dropping as quickly as 'Animals' by Maroon 5, where they swap positions this week. 

It's in the next five where we get some real movement. Coming in at #6 is our highest arrival to the top 10, Selena Gomez's 'The Heart Wants What It Wants', arriving partially off the back of her first Greatest Hits album For You, which has gotten her huge streaming and respectable sales, and probably is Selena Gomez's best single since 2011 - I might not be a fan of the choppy piece at the end of the chorus and the lyrics that are a little clumsy with the fairytale references - but the more restrained production and Selena's performance reminds me of why I used to be a fan of hers until Stars Dance flushed all of that down the toilet. Next up is Sam Smith staying solid at 7 with 'I'm Not The Only One' thanks to gains across the board, and then we have our second new arrival at #8 with 'Uptown Funk!' from Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, which simultaneously has been getting better and worse every time I listen to it. I love the bass, the slick guitar groove and punchy drums and yet the synth tones just feel off and that crescendo that leads into the sax just doesn't work as well as it should. The lyrics are swollen with arrogance, and yet Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson make them surprisingly convincing. I think I might have to deliberate on this one a little more, but thankfully I know exactly how I feel about the next two tracks. 'Habits (Stay High)' by Tove Lo tumbles to #9, having peaked at airplay despite respectable streams, and 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd slightly dips to #10 only because sales were slightly underweight, being held up by massive streaming and stronger airplay gains. Oh, and both songs are awesome, in case you need more reminders.

Now onto our big changes, and let's start with the major drop-outs: 'All Of Me' by John Legend, 'Bailando' by Enrique Iglesias, 'Boom Clap' by Charli XCX - although I expect to see it return with her album dropping in less than two weeks - 'Happy' by Pharrell, 'Sunshine And Whiskey' by Frankie Ballard, and 'Dirt' by Florida Georgia Line. Unsurprising, considering all of these songs had their twenty weeks or more last year and are getting shuffled out. And yet our losers this week are more songs that haven't caught on as strongly and are getting slowly rotated out at the end of 2014 regardless. Gwen Stefani's 'Baby Don't Lie' shows the No Doubt frontwoman's second comeback losing all steam to 97, Kendrick Lamar's odd attempt at a self-esteem anthem 'i' dropping to 80, the absolutely gutless 'Stolen Dance' by Milky Chance dropping to 51 and not leaving the chart fast enough, and the Chris Brown/Usher collaboration that gave Rick Ross his only real hit this year dropping to 48. But it wasn't just songs that wore out their welcome - Nicki Minaj and Skylar Grey's underwhelming debut from last week 'Bed Of Lies' drops to 81 although I suspect the second Nicki releases a video for it around her album's release it'll regain traction, 'Ghost' by Ella Henderson unfortunately loses steam to 67, Pentatonix's hot debut last week 'Mary Did You Know' drops to 60, and Carrie Underwood's finding Jesus and her inner Christina Aguliera on 'Something In The Water' dips to 52. Most perplexing to me was One Direction's 'Steal My Girl' dropping down to 45, propped up mostly by streaming. Eh, maybe the listeners finally clued in how much those opening piano chords are reminiscent of 'Faithfully' by Journey.

Now for our gainers, we've got a whole collection of songs I talked about last week gaining some major traction, whether we wanted them or not. I mean, I'm happy that 'I Don't Mind' by Usher and especially 'Night Changes' by One Direction went up to 54 and 31 respectively, but that's really the only changes I'm happy about. Elsewhere, 'Booty' by Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea goes to 75, 'I Bet My Life' by Imagine Dragons goes to 56, and because mainstream hip-hop has no real direction and has chosen to rely on the decision making skills of the Internet, 'Coco' by O.T. Genasis somehow rises to 38 entirely thanks to streaming. Okay, Internet, this was fun, we all had a good laugh, but I don't want a badly made trap song about cocaine to become the next big 'thing', alright? But thankfully we've got a couple better songs to round things out, some solid gains from 'Yellow Flicker Beat' from Lorde and Pitbull getting a boost thanks to his recent album for 'Fireball', which is one of the better songs from that release and features him channeling his inner Run-DMC.

We'll get back to Pitbull in a bit, but now it's time for our recurring entries!

I think I get why this song wasn't the Meghan Trainor song that caught fire - because it's kind of insufferable. Sure, the retro doo-wop vibe isn't bad and I like the key change, but maybe it's Trainor's self-satisfied delivery, the way she wants to get her own way, and the increasingly desperate way that she expects said future husband to accommodate her craziness and just buy her a ring already and even with that said future husband can count on not seeing his family more than hers. Normally the way these songs go is supplement the demands with what she brings to the table, and yet this song is too concerned with preserving its innocent nature to actually include the appropriate rhyme for 'I'll be sleeping on the left side of the bed / Open doors for me and you might get some... kisses'. Yeah, this is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and as such I can't get mad at it, but I don't have to like it either.

Wow, this song should be a lot better than it is. To me Ne-Yo has always been stuck a half-step behind Usher, and it's a little amazing that a week after 'I Don't Mind' debuts on the charts, Ne-Yo is here with his own forgettable Juicy J verse. It's a shame that it's a fair bit worse, mostly thanks to the instrumentation, with the horn-sounding synthesizer obnoxiously blaring to start against the pitched-up vocal that sounds like a baby. Thankfully, the song does get a little smoother, and Ne-Yo is still a slick performer, but with a little less going on in the lyrics which aren't as smooth or detailed, it's just not as good, at least for me.

Oh, it's nice to see The Killers back with another hit from Battle Born... wait, this isn't The Killers? Okay, I'm just being snarky, but come on, from the U2-esque guitar flutter to the more chugging riffs, the lead singer belting at the top of his lungs with a voice that's somewhere between Brandon Flowers and Josh Ramsay, I'm a little inclined to brand Walk The Moon Killers-lite and move on. And even lyrically, it does fall into that mold - say what you will about all the real problems Battle Born had, at least The Killers cranked the lyrical subject matter into the broad strokes that worked with the bombast, whereas Walk The Moon isn't quite that ambitious. And yet, given this is the pop charts and there's no sign of another Killers album in the near future, and I did like that chiptune keyboard line on the bridge... eh, it works pretty damn well for what it is, it gets a pass.

Man, this song is underwhelming. I wasn't a fan of the last time Sia collaborated with Eminem on the deluxe edition of The Marshall Mathers LP 2, and her new collaboration for SHADY XV isn't much better. The verses are quite literally about how Eminem having writer's block and not being able to break out of his mold with production pulled straight from Recovery. It doesn't develop any real energy until he starts spitting on the second verse, but even that feels recycled. Granted, Eminem's not at his best is still above average, but I don't get why he's throwing money behind this when the title track or 'Vegas' were so much better.

Believe it or not, this was one of the few songs from Beyonce's self-titled album I liked, especially with the intro from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that actually did a lot for amping up the feminist themes that tried to underscore that album. This remix with Nicki Minaj aims to do a lot less - and unsurprisingly, it's a lot less listenable - and unsurprisingly, it charted a lot higher. At this point looking for any feminist subtext is pretty much pointless because Nicki Minaj makes it very clear with her verse that this song is about dissing other women who aren't as rich or bad as them. And you know what, fine, the song is more shallow brag rap that they tries to infuse with some populism and some raw power, especially with Nicki going off on her verse, I can give that a pass - if it wasn't for the production. Between the pitch-shifting, how everything is swallowed copious reverb especially the horns for no good reason, the chorus never gaining the dramatic swell, a complete lack of consistent momentum, the abuse of autotune, and the shrill grating synth over Nicki's final bars that just drops out and makes the song feel unfinished. I know I can't expect much from a remix, but I'd take the original any day over this.

And now that I've pissed off a considerable chunk of my audience, let's move onto our newest arrivals, starting with...

94. 'Time Of Our Lives' by Pitbull & Ne-Yo - I already talked a bit about this song when I reviewed Globalization last week, which is the reason this song is charting, but overall it's one of the more likable songs on this album. I still don't understand why Ne-Yo always sounds so inert on Pitbull's songs, but it fits a little better than on 'Give Me Everything' because the song is about ignoring real problems in your life in order to find a moment of solace in the party. And to Pitbull's credit, while his verses are as sleazy and ridiculous as ever, I liked how they stripped things back for the bridge where he actually showed a little weariness and sympathy for his audience and it's a surprisingly human moment. Combined with one of his more restrained beats, I'd argue the song works.

93. 'Sledgehammer' by Fifth Harmony - we're now at our second single from that long-delayed debut album from Fifth Harmony after 'Boss' failed to impress with one of the cheapest sounding horn sounds, an abuse of percussion and ridiculous assertions of dominance with some of the dumbest lyrics I've heard in a while. Thankfully, 'Sledgehammer' is a little better if only because it's bland over being ridiculous. Most of this is a factor of bottom-shelf Syco Records production that abuses percussion over everything else and that terrible pitch-shifted voice on the drum break in the chorus, but the girls doing a decent enough job selling the track and the lyrics aren't bad. But if 'Ghost' by Ella Henderson can't catch fire here, I don't see 'Sledgehammer' doing much better, and stealing a title from an iconic Peter Gabriel song doesn't help your case.

89. 'I See You' by Luke Bryan - of all the songs that showed up on this list, this is the one that surprises me the most. I mean, seriously, we're this desperate for Luke Bryan singles that we need to pull a deep cut from a year and a half ago? And it's not exactly a pleasant listen either - the guitar tone is sour, the pseudo-rap cadence Luke Bryan does not sound good with his lower voice, the backing vocals are pitched too high - but then again, this is a song that's intended to sound bitter and angry, an inability to get over being dumped and friends who are trying to help and it's not working. Believe me, we've all been there, but at the same time, the sourness isn't quite hitting the right note for me - it's more pissy than torn up or legitimately pissed, and it's written in a way that comes off as a little too young for Luke Bryan's older voice. Overall, not a bad song, but it could have been better.

84. 'I Walk The Line' by Craig Wayne Boyd - our Voice cover of the week is of one of Johnny Cash's more well-known hits, and I actually like this cover a fair bit, mostly because it's played in a slightly different way. Johnny Cash kept a rollicking tone that had a certain curt efficiency to it - Craig Wayne Boyd lowers the tempo, adds strings, and has a much more expressive delivery and presentation, and his rougher, incredibly powerful vocals and greater sincerity does a lot for his presentation. Traditionalists will probably think covering Cash is a travesty, but I like Boyd's interpretation - it works.

71. 'I Lived' by OneRepublic - I knew it was too good to last. I had hoped with 'Counting Stars' and 'Love Runs Out' that OneRepublic were taking their brand in a darker, rougher direction, and while you get some of that in the production texture of 'I Lived', this is very much in the vein of older, inoffensive OneRepublic singles that aren't bad, but are nothing special, especially in the lyrical department, which is standard 'you only live once' pablum that isn't all that interesting. Instrumentally, I like the punchier drums, but that's off-set by some backing vocals that don't quite work as well as they should, especially over the bridge. In other words, the song is fine, but nothing special.

65. 'Santa Tell Me' by Ariana Grande - I really shouldn't be surprised that Ariana Grande is releasing a Christmas song. Like her idol Mariah Carey's landmark Christmas song, it's pretty lightweight and basic in terms of production and composition, although the strings are pretty solid, but Ariana's lyrics are, well, more complicated. The story is Ariana reaching out to Santa - if he's really there - to have him confirm whether her new boyfriend is going to stick around into the new year so she knows it's okay to have sex with him. So let me reiterate, she's disrupting Santa's valuable time delivering presents all around the world to ask for sexual advice. And the tone of the song is all over the place too - the lyrics are written fairly straight, and yet Ariana's delivery is so girlish and when the full gospel choir comes in to sing the chorus about giving it all away... look, I don't think this song works, but on some level I want this to be huge like 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' because it is absolutely hysterical. Ho ho ho indeed...

18. '7/11' by Beyonce - no, not like that, I didn't mean 'ho ho ho' like...

Oh by the Nine Hells, am I the only one who remembers what music Beyonce used to make? I didn't love Beyonce's first decade or so of material, with Destiny's Child or solo, but in the past year her brand of songwriting has gotten dumber, sloppier, and nowhere near as dignified as it used to be. When a Rihanna/Shakira collaboration that played like a telenovela melodrama had more dignity and class than this, you've got problems. And it's not that I've got issues with Beyonce showing off more of her ignorant side for a dumb dance song for a deluxe reissue song that was clearly written in less time than it took for me to put together this episode - but Beyonce can make better music than this, because she's not that good at playing her ratchet side. She's got raw intensity on this track, but that's about it, because the beat is generic, reverb-swallowed trap with pitch-shifted vocals laid over the 808s, sloppy pitch correction, and only fragments of a good melody line that mostly come up on the end, and lyrics that alternate between overdone bragging and completely forgettable dance shouts. With this and 'Flawless', I don't get why Beyonce feels she needs to make this kind of music - nothing wrong with a good party song, but this doesn't even have the ambition of 'Flawless'. It's dumb, forgettable, and will likely be destined for the soundtrack of plenty of Worldstar videos. Next...

12. 'The Hanging Tree' by James Newton Howard ft. Jennifer Lawrence - okay, I'll be honest, the weekend when Mockingjay Part 1 was released, I went to go see Dear White People instead, which all of you should go out and see, by the way, because it's awesome and all the more relevant today. 'The Hanging Tree', cowritten by Suzanne Collins and the Lumineers, shows up in the movie as a dark little poem that obviously telegraphs parts of the plot, and musically is reminiscent of 'Hoist The Colors' in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. It's apparently a song that Jennifer Lawrence absolutely hated performing in any capacity and you can tell in her delivery, with her tempo increasing with each half-murmured line as she seems like she just wants to get it over with. But apparently audiences loved it and now it's charting across the world.

And while I don't see it becoming the next 'Let It Go' or lasting all that long on the charts, 'The Hanging Tree' is a decent enough song - at least when it stays a simple, dark, downbeat folk song. I liked when the chorus came in behind Lawrence, but the heavier classical instrumentation eventually swallows both with the more traditional symphonic choirs and horns made it hold a little less impact than it should. You could argue it's unintentionally reminiscent of the film's themes, swallowing the solitary voice of the figurehead into the heavier, blunter message of the cause that doesn't have the words, but I get the feeling that transition wasn't symbolically intentional for the music - and as such, it doesn't quite hit me the same way some similar instrumentation did. For a counterexample, do you all remember the unique flute melody or the mournful violin piece Howard Shore wrote for the hobbits and Rohan in Lord of the Rings? Those pieces worked so well because they didn't feel the need to drive the melodic motif into the ground by amping up the symphonic element, and some of the most powerful moments of the film are from those melodies being played simply, which carried so much more impact, at least for me.

But I'll rant about film scores another day. Overall, another mixed bag on this week of turmoil, and a little weaker than last week. For the worst, it's a toss-up between '7/11' and 'Flawless', one a remix that took a dump on the original and the other one that pretty much irredeemable from the start. For best... you know, it might be Killers-lite, but I'll take it, 'Shut Up And Dance' by Walk The Moon, with the runner up being either 'The Hanging Tree' or 'Time Of Our Lives', depending on my mood. Let's hope things improve next week.