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Ashley’s Favorite Music of 2013

Well, here it is. The grand finale of my favorites of 2013. It took me two weeks to compose my thoughts on this topic… Or rather, I’ve been stupidly busy with work that I haven’t had a chance to write it. I like the first excuse better though.

Last year was a pretty damn good year. Favorites returned, new people surprised me, and there were some great indie stuff that popped up in my personal circle. I talked about some of it in the middle of last year, but what made it to the end? Well, let’s start with

Favorite Singles

Honorable Mention: ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry

I hate that I like this song. I hate that Katy Perry songs keep getting in my head and every time I say I don’t like it, it beats me into submission until I do. It happened again with ‘Roar’ to the point I would turn it up and belt Katy’s turn at an empowerment anthem after her divorce from Russell Brand. Though, due to Katy’s writing style, I still think she’s writing about Travis McCoy.

6.) TIE: ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk and ‘Holy Grail’ by Jay-Z feat. Justin Timberlake

Lots of people got sick of these songs rather quickly, but strangely, I never did. Even though I couldn’t get into Magna Carta Holy Grail the way I did Watch The Throne, there were several tracks on the album that completely stood out to me like ‘BBC,’ ‘Picasso Baby,’ and ‘Jay Z Blue.’ The lead single of ‘Holy Grail’ was completely entrancing. I think I might have ended up liking Justin on this track more than on most of his singles from The 20/20 Experience. Well… most…

As for ‘Get Lucky,’ it really was everyone’s song of the year. It was a fun disco track that felt more genuine than any other track on the radio this summer. It also probably sealed the deal for the awesome year Pharrell had. Well, maybe it was that OTHER song, but I refuse to acknowledge the existence of the Canadian Creep.

5.) ‘This Is Gospel’ by Panic! at the Disco

I really only liked about half of Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die. The half I really liked was sexy, catchy and weirdly emotional. The half I didn’t was boring to the point it began to run together. Thankfully, the second single ‘This Is Gospel’ was on the half I liked. It’s a stand out song on the record even without single status due to the sung in a church like feeling of the song and the pure brutal emotion. I’ve cried to this song, and I’m not afraid to admit that. Even if the rest of the album is dull, I’m glad that this is the song that shines.

4.) ‘My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)’ by Fall Out Boy

It’s been a year and a day since this song roared into my life and it hasn’t gotten old yet in the million times I’ve listened, screamed, drove and rocked out to this song. The band came back with a vengeance and this song did a great job of staking their claim in the year of music. Not to mention the Butch Walker handclaps certainly help.

3.) ‘Problem’ by Natalia Kills

This was the year I discovered Natalia Kills and I feel like it improved my life in so many ways. The album Trouble is full of gems, but the lead single ‘Problem’ was blowing cigarette smoke in my face with a smile and I was loving it. ‘Problem’ is an anthem for bad girls everywhere who love their vices and don’t give two fucks about who judges them. As I slipped into that side of me throughout the year, that song played in my head and guided my steps.

2.) ‘Closer’ by Tegan and Sara

I feel like a bad queer girl when I admit that I haven’t really listened to Tegan and Sara seriously. I know I would like them and I love the song ‘Hell,’ I just keep forgetting to listen to them. Still, even with my constant forgetfulness to listen to Tegan and Sara, I fell in love with the song ‘Closer.’ Never has a song so accurately reflected what it’s like to be so completely smitten with someone that all you want to do with them is get them to sit a bit closer to you. You bet I turned this up when I finally heard it on the radio.

1.) ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ by Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu

In an alternate universe, this song became a massive hit, Janelle Monae gets the fame she so rightly deserves, and everyone recognized ‘Blurred Lines’ for the date rape song it is and lets Robin Thicke wallow in obscurity forever. Unfortunately, my physical body does not reside in that universe. However, I still have ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ and I still have Monae rising, showing the world what she’s made of.

EPs

I should note that I usually never cover EPs, but this year had three that definitely stood out to me that are worth noting.

Who's gonna take you home tonight? [wikipedia.org]

Who’s gonna take you home tonight? [wikipedia.org]

3.) True Trans by Against Me!

This EP was more of a two-sided single to tide people over as they waited on Transgender Dysphoria Blues (that review is coming, by the way), but splitting hairs doesn’t take away from the fact that this EP is fantastic. It features acoustic versions of the song ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ and ‘Fuckmylife666,’ which are probably two of my favorite songs on the record. On the record, the songs are plenty emotional, but there’s a personal vulnerability in the EP versions that pack more punch than their electric counterparts.

Must Hear Track: The entire thing. It’s two songs.

2.) Pax-AM Days by Fall Out Boy

This eight song EP that the band recorded over a drunken weekend in Ryan Adams’ studio only clocks in at 13 minutes. It’s the very definition of loud and fast with the band only taking one or two takes for each songs. It was an interesting experiment considering how perfectionist they can be. It was loud, fast, and rage filled like the early days, but with skills that don’t make the record too painful to listen to for long. I’m sad I didn’t get to run around a field blasting this album like I originally planned. THIS SPRING IN THE MOUNTAINS…

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Hot to the Touch, Cold on the Inside,’ ‘Caffeine Cold,’ ‘Love, Sex, Death’

1.) Peachtree Battle by Butch Walker

Wherever you are, that's my home. [butchwalker.com]

Wherever you are, that’s my home. [butchwalker.com]

I cried like a baby listening to this EP. I’ve cried even harder hearing these songs live. Butch has always been an emotional songwriter, but Peachtree Battle drives right to the heart. When Butch began writing the songs, his father had been on a slow decline in health and Butch began writing the five song EP to come to terms with his father’s mortality. Before the EP released, Big Butch Walker passed away, which ends up magnifying the emotional impact of the songs even more. It’s a personal reflection on the effect one person can have on our lives, especially one as big as a parent. Still, it’s not all about death. There are plenty of life lessons that Big Butch taught Butch in these songs too. Ones that we can all learn from.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This,’ ‘Let It Go Where It’s Supposed To,’ ‘Peachtree Battle’

Favorite Albums

Well, here they are. The cream of the crop. What albums prevailed to be my favorites in 2013?

I’m up all night to get lucky.

5.) Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

I think I ended up liking this album less as the year went on, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think it gets ragged on way too much. Daft Punk has always been about bringing art to electronic music and this album was very much about exploring their roots in several ways. Some of it was disco like ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ and ‘Get Lucky.’ Some of it was more experimental. A lot of it really, but it works because there really isn’t anyone out there that gets it like Daft Punk. Just because I can get down to ‘Get Lucky’ doesn’t mean I can’t chill to ‘Touch’ or appreciate/rock out to the reverse engineering of ‘Giorgio by Moroder.’ It isn’t Discovery, but we need to stop expecting Daft Punk to make that album again.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Touch,’ ‘Get Lucky,’ ‘Doin’ It Right’

4.) ARTPOP by Lady Gaga

I was worried about this album, but it ended up pleasantly surprising me in the end. It’s not flaw free, but ARTPOP is definitely one of the best albums Gaga has released. It was an honest and beautiful look at the life of an artist trying to balance her life and art. With some catchy dance numbers and lots of modern art, of course.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Sexxx Dreams,’ ‘Do What U Want,’ ‘Artpop’

3.) Rated Heart by Professor Shyguy

I'll attack you once, you attack me back!

I’ll attack you once, you attack me back!

Meanwhile, I ended up liking this album more. Maybe I’m a little biased towards my friends, but Professor Shyguy can write a damn good chiptune pop song. Even if I don’t always get what he’s singing about, I can get down without hesitation. I feel like I should have a deeper reason of liking this record so much, but I don’t. It’s geeky, catchy, and fun, which is all I need sometimes. As I said before, “the Poor Nerd’s Justin Timberlake” mixes geekdom and pop music with ease.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Keywords and Dubstep,’ ‘Weak,’ ‘Destroy Metroid’

2.) Trouble by Natalia Kills

I must confess, when one of my online friends asked me if I had heard the new Natalia Kills record, I had no earthly idea who the hell she was talking about. The album took forever to get on Spotify, but I ended up blasting ‘Problem’ for weeks until it did. Where I started to scream “I PUT MY HIGH HEELS ON SO I’M CLOSER TO GOD” at random points up until I finally bought the album and long since after. Much like ‘Problem,’ Trouble is an album about girls with their middle fingers in the air as they party, but it also shows the motivation and sadness that fuels it. Trouble isn’t just a party record, but a record about broken people putting on their best faces.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Problem,’ ‘Stop Me,’ ‘Devils Don’t Fly’

1.) TIE: Save Rock and Roll by Fall Out Boy and The Electric Lady by Janelle Monae

I don't know where you're going, but do you have room for one more troubled soul?

I don’t know where you’re going, but do you have room for one more troubled soul?

I debated this for WEEKS. I’ve talked at length about these two albums online and in person to anyone who will listen. I’ve listened to them over and over again that I sing along with instrumentals. I’ve cried and rocked out to both of these artists live. And in the end, I could not decide which album I really wanted to put as my #1 of the year: Janelle Monae’s genre bending entry of love, heartache, and standing up for what you believe in her Metropolis epic or Fall Out Boy rediscovering themselves and setting out to make a record to inspire the next generation of garage bands. Both records meant a lot me last year while being simultaneously fantastic. What else can be said?

Must Hear Tracks:

Save Rock and Roll: ‘The Phoenix,’ ‘Rat a Tat,’ ‘Save Rock and Roll’

The Electric Lady: ‘Q.U.E.E.N,’ ‘Givin Em What They Love,’ ‘Victorious’

janelle-monae-album-cover-electric-lady-homepage

Well, that finishes up my favorites of last year. What were your favorites of last year? What did you disagree with me on? And don’t worry, we’ll stop dwelling on last year soon enough. My review of Transgender Dysphoria Blues is next.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Music

 

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This ARTPOP Could Be Anything

I swear, I didn’t mean to neglect the Diary. Between writing for Nerdophiles and my

Album cover by Jeff Koons.

Album cover by Jeff Koons.

personal life, I’ve just been at a loss for what to write here. More personal stuff? Things I don’t get to write about for Nerdophiles? Perhaps more of the latter, which brings us back to Lady Gaga.

I had some fears for ARTPOP as an album when ‘Applause’ came out and was refusing to stick in my head. If this was the lead single, what would that mean for the rest of the album? Was this the end of Lady Gaga?

Well, I’ve had a few months to sit on it and I did end up warming up some to ‘Applause.’ Plus, the iTunes Festival performance she did alleviated some of my fears, but I was still curious as to what the album as a whole would be like. Yeah, I ended up liking Born This Way as a whole, but I rarely ever listen to it all the way through.

Lucky for me, ARTPOP is probably one of the best albums Lady Gaga has released.

I think one of the problems with Born This Way was that it was continuing from the dark lyrical and musical themes from The Fame Monster, but not in the same tight way that existed on the The Fame Monster. There are some amazing songs on the album that I consider some of Lady Gaga’s best songs, such as ‘The Edge of Glory,’ ‘Yoü and I,’ and ‘Marry The Night,’ but the album didn’t feel consistent. Cohesive, yes, but not consistent. ARTPOP manages to be both to the point I constantly find myself accidentally listening to the album when I only mean to listen to a song or two. It doesn’t hit as hard as The Fame Monster, but there’s a similar vibe and strength in ARTPOP. In fact, the only song I really don’t like is ‘Jewels n’ Drugs,’ but mostly because it feels out of place and doesn’t really have a whole lot of Gaga.

Despite listening to this album for a week, I haven’t really settled on a favorite song yet. ‘MANiCURE’ gets a lot of repeats, I have kept up three song loops of ‘Venus,’ ‘G.U.Y,’ and ‘Sexxx Dreams’ for an hour at one point, and I have really warmed up to ‘Do What U Want’ after seeing her performance of it on The X Factor UK. The one line in the whole album that stands out to me though has to be from the title track ‘ARTPOP,’ a song mixing meanings about love and art and how similar they can be. In the pre-chorus, Lady Gaga declares that her “Artpop could mean anything.” Which really is what drives the point of the album being a mix of pop music, art, and real life. We choose to express ourselves through creative means, but what we mean can be interpreted differently to those who listen/watch/read what we create.

Gaga performing 'ARTPOP' at the iTunes Festival.

Gaga performing ‘ARTPOP’ at the iTunes Festival.

So while the album could be about art and the relationship between Gaga and her fans, I think I purposefully read it as an album about love, sex and wanting to be desired.

I kind of got that feeling from ‘Applause’ after listening to Gaga explain it when she said it was less about living for the attention and more about living to make others happy, but it was really driven home at the iTunes Festival with ‘ARTPOP,’ ‘MANiCURE’ and ‘I Wanna Be With You’ (which later became ‘Dope,’ which I will talk about in a bit). However, I kept going back to ‘Sexxx Dreams,’ which I think really drives home the aspect of wanting to be desired from this album. It’s a great pop song on its own and a sexy one to boot. Like… “I probably need a cold shower after this” sexy. However, on a more personal level, I could relate to having a person populate your thoughts (especially when you’re trying to sleep) and wanting to know if they think about you the same way. ‘G.U.Y,’ ‘Venus’ and ‘Do What U Want’ drive this point home even harder. ‘Venus’ and ‘G.U.Y’ especially for invoking the gods and bringing it back to a long time artistic theme.

On the flip side, ‘MANiCURE’ becomes a song about needing to make yourself look good when needing that love drives you to a point of insanity. ‘Mary Jane Holland,’ ‘Fashion!’ and ‘Donatella’ have similar themes.

I think it’s fair to say this album makes me extremely sexually frustrated, but in the best way possible. Maybe that was Gaga’s intention. Maybe it is a metaphor for her relationship with her fans. Maybe it’s a retelling of some mythos I don’t even know about that. That’s the magic of ARTPOP. It could mean anything.

lady-gaga-nude-art-pop-coverThe most straightforward song on this album though is ‘Dope.’ Initially a song titled ‘I Wanna Be With You’ that could have easily been about her fans or a guy, it was rewritten and became a song about Gaga’s struggles with alcohol and drugs. It’s essentially a step nine, with Gaga asking for forgiveness and trying to make amends. From her lover. From her family. From her Monsters. From God. It was jarring at first to hear the song like this, but it’s probably her most personal and emotional song since ‘Speechless’ from The Fame Monster.

While ‘Applause’ is a good album closer, it feels more like an epilogue. ‘Gypsy’ gives me much more closure on the album. In an album that opens with the question ‘Do you wanna see the girl behind the aura,’ ‘Gypsy’ feels like a satisfying ending for this part of the story where Gaga finds someone who accepts that in her. Again, friend, lover, fellow artist, or fan, but it gives a feeling of love. It’s no ‘The Edge of Glory,’ but it gives that sort of feeling to close out ARTPOP. Grand and full of love. Plus, I love the callback to ‘Schieße’ from Born This Way.

The most constant thing I’ve seen in reviews of this album is that this album is uniquely Lady Gaga, and that is so very true. Other pop stars will try their best impression of this album for the next two years, but it can’t be duplicated. Love her, hate her, or mostly indifferent, you can’t deny Lady Gaga is definitely the most unique pop star out there in the current mainstream. She gives herself 1,000% to her art and it shows on ARTPOP. It’s catchy, unique, and crafted around the past while sure to shape the near future. I just wish the app had a bit more to give right now, but there seems to be future plans for that and I look forward to seeing them.

Petga from the ARTPOP app creating the user aura.

Petga from the ARTPOP app creating the user aura.

Is it about love and sex? Is it just about art and being an artist? Whether yes or no, that’s the beauty of this album. ARTPOP could be anything, and Gaga leaves it in our hands to interpret it as such.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Music

 

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A couple of announcements and some ‘Applause’

Hello readers! Long time, no see.

Well, I guess I should be honest outright about why I haven’t been writing here lately. Recently, I was picked up as a writer at the collaborative blog Nerdophiles. I’ve written three pieces for them so far, including a Dragon Con Survival Guide that has gotten a lot of traction since it went up yesterday. The experience of writing there has been delightful so far and I can’t wait to progress into the future with them!

Speaking of Dragon Con, I will be there! I’m not attending as press or as a performer, but I’ll be hanging around for sure. It’s likely that you’ll see me at the Pacific Rim fan meetup on Saturday and the Airship Races representing Steampunk Chronicle. Probably the Comic Book Pageant as well, knowing my dearest Lady Swales. At least I’m prepared!

Okay, onto the review.

Last week, Lady Gaga released her newest single ‘Applause’ into the world a week early to combat hackers who leaked the track. She followed this quickly with the official lyric video (which reminded me of how long its been since I’ve been to a drag show) and the gorgeously shot, but very bizarre official video.

Now, I was a little worried about sharing my thoughts on the song after Gaga posted this:

Ruh Roh...It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence about writing in your blog about your thoughts on the song when you opinion is regarded as not relevant.

Then I remembered a very stupid detail: I’m a blogger, but I’m also a fan. Sure, I haven’t been able to see her live, but since the days of ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face,’ I’ve considered Lady Gaga one of my favorite pop stars. I was deliriously excited when the ‘Telephone’ video came out. I still cry about her ‘Speechless’ performance at the AMAs. I wrote a whole blog about how Born This Way grew on me as an album. I’ve cosplayed her. TWICE. I even bought and regularly wear her perfume.

It smells like fame, poisoning your boyfriend, and a little like apricots.

So, I think I can say the following with confidence:

‘Applause’ is one of the most boring pop songs I’ve heard in the past year. It seriously sounds like an unmemorable song from a 90s Europop band.

And I hate saying that! I’ve tried to like the song, but it’s like The Silence. As soon as it’s off, I forget I’ve heard it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I can remember the chorus pretty well, but the song doesn’t make me want to go and listen to it on repeat. It doesn’t make me want actively avoid it the way I avoid ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke either. It just… exists.

The thing for me though is that Lady Gaga isn’t suppose to just exist. She’s loud and memorable. Even if you don’t understand her, she’s making you talk about her. She’s digging your way into your head, even if it’s a song that offends multiple ethnic groups at once. I shouldn’t have to say I remember and like a Katy Perry song full of Dr. Luke’s lazy songwriting better than a Lady Gaga song, but that’s what’s been happening.

Of course, this isn’t me pitting one artist against another. It just makes me a bit concerned about ARTPOP if I’m not gelling to the first single. Then again, I wasn’t the biggest fan of ‘Born This Way’ and I ended up enjoying the album for the most part. Plus, it seems like Gaga is going a similar route that Bjork did with Biophilia and is including an app that goes along with the album. I’d like to see if it takes off and popularizes that approach.

Still, I’m not feeling the ‘Applause’. I know Gaga can do better and I hope she will do better with ARTPOP. Since I won’t know until November, I think I’ll just put The Fame Monster and ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ and ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ by Janelle Monae on repeat in the meantime.

lady-gaga-applause-cover

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Music

 

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