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Jonathan Sanders

Jonathan Sanders is a freelance music critic currently writing for PJ Media, PopMatters.com and for his personal reviews site, "Hear, Hear!" (http://hearhearmusic.com) A 2008 graduate of Ball State University's journalism school, Sanders lives and writes from southern Indiana where he lives with his wife Aimee.
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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Dropkick Murphys and Twenty One Pilots Begin 2013′s Rocking Start

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 - by Jonathan Sanders

As if one needed further proof of a downward-trending music industry, Adele’s 21 became the first album of the Soundscan era to lead all album sales two years running. In other words, nothing released during all of 2012 could unseat an album released in the first month of 2011. All that with Adele sidelined by vocal-chord issues and her pending pregnancy.

Taylor Swift tried and failed to block that path, with Red falling 1.3 million from 21 despite having four top ten hits, none of which ranked inside the year’s top ten overall. The year’s big winners — Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and Fun — dominated single sales with their first Hot 100 releases. No one knew their names when the year began, and it remains questionable whether either can follow it up.

With the fresh start a new year brings, we need to face facts: LPs no longer draw long-term interest from fans, who prefer the instant gratification of a viral hit single. And no matter how many singles get parceled out to radio stations month after month, an artist lives or dies by the success of the last one.

Singles don’t drive album sales — they simply drive demand for more singles.

Having sacrificed the long-term stability inherent in developing artists over the long term, labels must now watch as newcomers either instantly dominate or free-fall. Veteran acts, meanwhile, either find ways to continually churn out successful singles to dying radio while courting fickle audiences online or they cling to the hope that their next album will prove different. Just ask Aerosmith how that worked for them.

Welcome to the new industry normal. Observing which bands find ways to use these trends to their advantage will provide the real fun of chart-watching in 2013.

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New Releases in Music

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Black Veil Brides – Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones (Universal Republic)

Broadcast – The Berberian Sound Studio (Warp Records)

Conor Maynard – Contrast (Capitol)

This kid’s already getting called 2013’s next pop superstar, and with production assistance from hip-hop / r&b heavyweights including Pharrell Williams, Ne-Yo, Stargate and Frank Ocean, he already has a leg up on the competition hype-wise. Too bad “Better Than You,” which features Rita Ora, doesn’t particularly shout “buy me!” for anyone outside the Bieber generation.

David Bronson – Story (David Bronson)

Dropkick Murphys – Signed and Sealed in Blood (Dropkick Murphys)

Though they once tried to whitewash the Irish music of their childhood from their blend of Boston-bred punk-rock fury, the stamp of Dropkick Murphys’ heritage remains indelible on the third track off Signed and Sealed in Blood. Thank God the band figured out that building upon one’s influences doesn’t have to mean the same as simply wallowing in them. With their latest effort, the band has crafted the exciting shot across the bow fans have long waited. Let the imitators struggle to keep up.

Never Shout Never – Indigo (All The Best)

Nolwenn Leroy – Nolwenn (Decca)

Skinny Molly – Haywire Riot (Ruf Records)

Solange – True (Terrible Records)

If you’re into hybrid pop which blends elements of disco with modern r&b club flourishes, “Losing You” has moments where it hints at a passable hook. But the remainder of this forgettable EP, getting a CD pressing after two months of online availability, simply showcases that Beyonce’s forgotten younger sister doesn’t have the pop know-how to rise beyond a mere curiosity.

Thorcraft Cobra – Count It In (Redeye Label)

Twenty One Pilots – Vessel (Fueled By Ramen)

Produced by Greg Wells, who earned Grammy nods working with Weezer and Adele, this debut effort morphs hip-hop, indie rock and punk in ways which shouldn’t work. Oddly, “Holding On To You” has the hooks of Fun and Paper Tongues, with a video which owes as much to Gotye as it does Panic! at the disco. This definitely warrants a second look if you’re a fan of genre-bending pop.

Wooden Wand – Blood Oaths of the New Blues (Fire Records)

Zatokrev – The Bat, The Wheel and a Long Road to Nowhere (Candlelight)

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New Releases: DVD / Blu-Ray

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Looper (DVD / Blu-Ray)

James Berardinelli of ReelViews calls Looper the year’s best movie, arguing that, unlikely any other film this year, it succeeds on three levels: intellectual, visceral and emotional. “I was engaged by the twisty, unpredictable narrative, which reached a hard-hitting, logical conclusion. I cared about the characters and the dilemma presented. And I was fascinated by some of the choices made with respect to how time travel is presented.” I’ll spare you any spoilers, but if you’re at all a fan of science fiction, you can’t skip this film.

Cosmopolis (DVD / Blu-Ray)

House at the End of the Street (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Touchback (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Stolen (DVD / Blu-Ray)

The Words (DVD / Blu-Ray)

A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man’s work. This film and Silver Linings Playbook showcase Bradley Cooper’s surprising acting range, making him much more than “that guy from The Hangover.” Deemed overly clever and dramatically inert by many critics, the movie could better forge a connection with audiences when viewed from the comfort of your sofa.

Jack and Diane (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Little Birds (DVD)

The Trouble With Bliss (DVD)

Anger Management: Season One (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Proving yet again that America loves Charlie Sheen in any form, these ten episodes showcase that as much as things change, they more often remain the same. If you liked Sheen on Two and a Half Men as a womanizing jingle-writer, you’ll probably feel pretty much the same about him as a non-traditional shrink specializing in anger management therapy. You’ll laugh, you’ll yawn, you’ll take a nap. And FX will produce 90 more episodes just like these, pleasing the syndication gods thusly.

Archer: Season Three (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Dallas: The Complete First Season (DVD)

Justified: The Complete Third Season (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Being Human: The Second Season (DVD/Blu-Ray)

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PJ Lifestyle Tech Watch

Belkin WeMo Home Automation Switch for Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

Every father who has ever complained his progeny leave too many lights on will love the latest tech innovation from Belkin. Think controlling all the electrical devices in your home by your smart-phone remains the tech of the future? Wrong! The Belkin WeMo switch works with the free WeMo app to give you wireless control of your home appliances and electronics, making it simple to set schedules for appliances and electronics, allowing you to control as much or as little of your home as you choose. As an added bonus, you can purchase the WeMo Switch and WeMo Motion Kit (sold separately) which allows you to program any light in your home to become motion-sensing!

LaCie 5big Office 2TB Expandable Network Storage

The perfect professional backup option for any small business, the LaCie 5big Office brings the networking professionals use at the proper scale for your individual situation. Protect your data using industry standard Windows Home Server 2011, with a powerful 1.6 GHz Intel 64-bit Atom processor, allowing you to secure and share your data both within and outside your office network, without suffering undue maintenance costs. For the at-home user, try the smaller-scaled LaCie Network Space 2 1TB Ethernet Network, which offers fast storage, secure backup and global remote access for your home network, making widespread data-loss from hard-drive crashes a thing of the past

Lego 8547 Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Robotics Kit

Forget about the old-fashioned Lego bricks we all had as kids. These days, you can build your first robot in 30 minutes or less, using Lego Mindstorms NXT, complete with new robot models, even more customized programming, and all-new technology including a color sensor.  Combining the unlimited versatility of those classic Lego bricks with an intelligent microcomputer brick and drag-and-drop programming software, only you now limit what you can create. This summer Lego will release its EV3 platform, expected to introduce an even younger generation to the excitement of building and programming robots. But why wait when there’s so much already at your fingertips?

Inventio-HD 720P Video & Audio Recording Sunglasses

For those adventurous folks among us who want the world to experience things exactly as you lived them, these Inventio-HD sunglasses make the perfect accessory. Advanced video stabilization technology eliminates shaky-cam issues, while an 8GB internal hard drive allows the intrepid user to capture extreme point-of-view video wherever a challenge leads! Don’t expect to sneak in under the radar wearing what clearly will never pass for Bond-style spy tech, but if you want to own “the most advanced video-recording sunglasses on the planet,” now’s your chance to have the best conversation starter $130 ever bought.

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That’s all for this week’s edition of Tuesday New Releases! We’re open to your suggestions as we develop this column to best serve you. If you have suggestions for future coverage, or if you have a product you’d like featured or reviewed here, simply email Jonathan Sanders at kroessman@gmail.com.

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A Premium Rush of New Blu-Ray and DVD Releases Leads Final Week Before Christmas

Monday, December 17th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
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The music industry’s annual holiday shuttering begins this week. Sure, Motorhead and Rush will battle on the reissue front, with a few other albums from smaller labels looking to pick up a few end-of-year sales, including a hip-hop concept album from Atlanta-based rapper T.I. Beyond that, the labels count on catalog sales carrying the remainder of the season, not wanting a major release crushed by the post-Christmas lull.

Hollywood loves this run-up to Christmas, choosing to issue DVDs and Blu-Rays this week on both Tuesday and Friday, in advance of next week’s annual Christmas new-release blowout in theaters. The studios’ big names set up for battle, including Matthew McConaughey’s NC-17-rated bloody black comedy Killer Joe, Richard Gere’s Oscar bait Arbitrage and Clint Eastwood’s unjustly maligned Trouble with the Curve. And with Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s third film outing and the Glee-light Pitch Perfect coming out the same week, welcome literally to something for every taste.

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New Releases: DVD / Blu-Ray

Premium Rush (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a bike messenger who puts his life on the line every time he sets out on a delivery run. But with someone truly out to kill him, this last-envelope-of-the-day “premium rush” run definitely ups the ante. High-octane action and enjoyable performances buoy this real-time bike messenger action flick, in a film the Minneapolis Star Tribune called “loopy, crazed, dangerous fun.”

Resident Evil: Retribution (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Red Hook: Summer (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

Pitch Perfect (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Killer Joe (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

The film which put the NC-17 rating back into public discussion, Killer Joe features a scheme which makes the depravity of Fargo look quaint. Tom Long, of the Detroit News, puts it best: “If you like your movies filled with twisted humor, sexual perversion, psychological intimidation and sudden violence, Killer Joe is the flick for you.” Surprisingly, the film comes in an unrated “Director’s Cut” edition as well, suggesting changes were made even to receive its original “kiss of death” rating.

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Total Recall (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Sleepwalk With Me (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Liberal Arts (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Trouble with the Curve (DVD / Blu-Ray)

In an age of stat-crunching “moneyball,” Gus Lobel, an old-school scout, struggles to keep up despite a career’s worth of long-term success. Needing to scout the latest hitting phenom despite his failing eyesight, Lobel teams up with his adult daughter for a road trip, learning in the process that bodies fail us but family never will. Though critically reamed during its theatrical run, Eastwood’s sentimental film deserves a second look on Blu-Ray, playing better to its strengths on the smaller screen.

10 Years (DVD / Blu-Ray)

The Good Doctor (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Army Wives: Season Six Part Two (DVD)

Californication: The Fifth Season (DVD)

Arbitrage (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

A Madoff-esque hedge-fund manager attempts to pass off his trading empire to a major bank before anyone can expose his massive financial fraud, but an unexpected bloody error leaves him juggling family, business and crime. Richard Gere hopes to secure an Oscar nomination for his performance, among his all-time best according to Time and Rolling Stone.

Funny or Die Presents: Season Two (DVD)

House of Lies: Season One (DVD)

Shameless: The Complete Second Season (DVD / Blu-Ray)

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“You’ll shoot your eye out!” your mother cries, even as you’ll drool over the ultimate holiday gift for everyone who ever saw A Christmas Story. We’ve also discovered your own personal interactive R2D2 droid and a perfect pair of headphones for the online gamer on your list this week in last-minute gift finds.

PJ Lifestyle: Ultimate Holiday Gifts

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125th Anniversary Official Daisy Red Ryder Range Model Air Rifle BB Gun

For the kid in all of us, or the one living just down the hall, this Daisy Red Ryder youth BB gun brings rich tradition and dependable design together with a lever-cocking action and a 650-shot BB capacity. Whether you’re bringing back past holiday memories or creating new ones with your family, order now and you’ll protect your homestead from Black Bart’s men in no time.

Interactive R2-D2 Droid

What better way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Star Wars than by bringing this movie-accurate droid into your life? This electronic toy responds to commands, can find and follow you, and plays multiple games, responding to more than 40 voice commands. Though not for small children — the droid’s personality requires patience to learn features parts which risk breakage in small hands — few interactive gifts pack the punch of this 15-inch companion. Once you master R2’s “companion” and “game” modes, move on to “command” mode to plot real-time maneuvering or programmed courses, which your droid will learn to follow. I’m geeking out just thinking about it.

Turtle Beach Call of Duty: Black Ops II Gaming Headset

This headset combines premium stereo game sound with crystal-clear communication on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live and PC/Mac. For those who long for a truly engaging audio-gaming experience, this product combines a stereo headset for chat sound and an amplified stereo headset for in-game sound, featuring independent volume controls mounted right on the cloth-braided cables. Over-the-ear design allows for optimal comfort as well, making these perfect for any extended session.

Nikon D600 24.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera

Nikon’s most compact FX-format HD-SLR camera, the D600 allows you to share photos and cinema-quality HD video in 1080p, while the 24.3 megapixel sensor allows you to capture every detail in stunning clarity. From Amazon:

Passionate photographers who seek exceptional full-frame, high-resolution performance rely on Nikon FX-format HD-SLRs. For the first time ever, that level of performance is available in a compact, affordable HD-SLR. D600’s 24.3 megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor captures every detail with lifelike sharpness. Its EXPEED 3 processing system manages all that data with remarkable speed and accuracy, enabling up to 5.5 fps continuous shooting at full resolution. And the lowlight performance synonymous with Nikon is again proven deserved—shoot crystal clear images from ISO 100 to 6400, expandable down to 50 and up to 25600 for extreme situations.

If you’ve been looking for the right camera to push your passion for photography beyond the amateur level, consider the D600 while Amazon still has it steeply discounted for the holidays!

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Without many major-label albums getting a big pre-holiday push this week, there’s room to find a few nice surprises, including a 16-disc collection of Motorhead’s early albums, and live albums from Buddy Guy, The Pogues and Toots and the Maytals. Meanwhile, a soundtrack battle looms between Les Misérables and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

Tuesday New Releases in Music

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Beausoleil w. Michael Doucet – Hot Chilli Mama (Arhoolie Records)

Buddy Guy – Live at Legends (RCA)

Live at Legends features Buddy Guy’s last live recordings from the now-defunct Legends Blues Club in Chicago, captured during his 2010 residency at the venue. The album features a variety of hits spanning his five decades in blues, a perfect introduction to the music which earned him this year’s Kennedy Center honors alongside Led Zeppelin.

Chief Keef – Finally Rich

John Delafose – Zydeco Man (Arhoolie Records) – Vinyl

Memphis May Fire – Challenger (Rise Records) – Vinyl

Memphis’s post-hardcore answer to southern rock, Memphis May Fire’s latest features fiery grunge-fueled guitar riffs coupled with dueling vocals alternating from pop-punk choruses to full-throated metal-core screams. Out since June, this week’s reissue includes the album on both CD and vinyl.

Motorhead – Complete Early Years (Sanctuary) - 16 Disc Box Set

Rush – 2112: Deluxe Edition () – CD + Audio Blu-Ray (Mercury)

Soundtrack – Les Misérables: Highlights from the Motion Picture (Universal Republic)

Soundtrack – Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (Universal Republic)

T.I. – Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head (Atlantic)

The Atlanta-based rapper’s eighth studio album features collaborations with R. Kelly, CeeLo Green, Andre 3000 and Pink, alongside production from long-time collaborators Pharell and DJ Toomp. The LP’s concept, the first in a series inspired by Marvin Gaye’s Troubled Man, seeks to answer the question: “Could you learn to love a troubled man?”

The Pogues – In Paris: 30th Anniversary Concert at the Olympia (Universal)

Tilly and the Wall – Defenders (Team Love) – Vinyl Single

Toots and the Maytals – Live (Island)

Toots Hibbert’s career spans the development of Jamaican music over the last four decades, from ska and rock-steady all the way through contemporary reggae. This live performance from 1991 features his band the Maytals, mixing his own songs with creative covers including his take on John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” showcasing the range of his talents.

Venom – Fallen Angels: Limited Edition (Universal Int’l)

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That’s all for this week’s edition of Tuesday New Releases! We’re open to your suggestions as we develop this column to best serve you. If you have suggestions for future coverage, or if you have a product you’d like featured or reviewed here, simply email Jonathan Sanders at kroessman@gmail.com.

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

Premium Rush: The Bike Messenger as Action Hero?

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox Challenges Third Serving of Green Day This Year

Monday, December 10th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
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With two weeks remaining before the entertainment industry’s end-of-year Christmas shutdown, Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox should dominate its competition, though Green Day hopes Tre! also delivers their three-album experiment from the arms of commercial failure. Elsewhere, Lifehouse’s Almeria and Boys Meets Girls’ Crazy World look to make waves from the relative shadows.

With Grammy nominations announced in advance of February’s big night we have time to break down the albums you must hear this year across the pop spectrum. Meanwhile, Hollywood held over some big releases for these last few shopping weeks, including Seth McFarlane’s Ted and The Bourne Legacy.

Tuesday New Releases in Music

Adrian Sherwood – Recovery Time (On-U Sound) – Vinyl

An English record producer best known for his work on albums by Depeche Mode, Sinéad O’Connor and Primal Scream, Sherwood’s latest EP twists his dub innovations through the lens of modern electronic club music.

Alternative TV – Love Lies Limp (Fire Records)

Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (Def Jam)

Blue Sky Boys – Presenting the Blue Sky Boys (Arhoolie Records)

Boys Like Girls – Crazy World (Columbia)

Bruno Mars – Unorthodox Jukebox (Atlantic)

Hailing from the “go big or go home” modern school of pop R&B, Mars’ debut Doo Wops and Hooligans wildly varied in quality from track to track. This sophomore effort aims high for its unorthodox hooks, merging deep respect for classic R&B with Mars’ more prurient interests (hint: Prince). The pinnacle, “Locked Out of Heaven,” illustrates deft control over influences, while “Gorilla” satisfies itself with smug, albeit catchy, references to animalistic sex. Fans of ear-catching pop won’t want to miss this one.

Calvin Love – New Radar (Autumn Tone Records)

Circle City Band – Circle City Band (Luv N Haight)

Fairhorns – Doki Doki Run (Invada)

Flipron – Firework Shoes (101 Distribution)

Green Day – Tre! (Reprise)

Supposedly Green Day came to their senses after two consecutive concept albums turned them into this decade’s most pompous rockers (sorry, Bono.) Instead, they overindulged again, creating three albums when one would suffice. With the grunge of Uno! and the power pop of Dos! out of the way, Tre! stands as Green Day’s attempt at something epic. Instead they’d benefit from brutal editing. Your opinion of “Dirty Rotten Bastards” will determine your mileage for what Tre! delivers.

Howard Shore – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (WaterTower Music)

Lento – Anxiety Despair Languish (Denovali Records)

Les Misérables – The Original 1985 London Cast Recording (First Night/Red)

Lifehouse – Almeria (Geffen)

Without a hit to rival 2001’s “Hanging by a Moment,” Lifehouse spent the next decade releasing workmanlike albums every few years for their ardent followers, getting little traction nationally. Almeria, their sixth full-length, aims to change that, as “Between the Raindrops” builds an audience online. An inoffensive album, Almeria breaks no new ground, but does prove the band still has a few good songs left. That alone makes this one worth a listen.

The Game – Jesus Piece (Geffen)

The Racer – Passengers (MondoTunes)

Siobhan Fahey – The MGA Sessions (101 Distribution)

The Wonder Revolution – Firefly (Air House Records)

War – The World is a Ghetto: 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition (Xenon)

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With the Grammy nominations announced and two months remaining for research before you make your predictions, here’s PJ Lifestyle’s primer of thirty albums worth hearing from the 2013 class.

Grammy Nominated Hits

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The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)
Record of the Year
, Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song (“Lonely Boy”)
Album of the Year
and Best Rock Album

Seven albums in, Dan Auerbach’s Black Keys found the recipe for success, ditching the slower, quieter tracks of Brothers to focus on “efficient rock-and-roll songs with minimal instrumentation.” El Camino lacks subtlety, but Auerbach lets the songs breathe, making them more widely accessible. From the Los Angeles Times: “Sometimes, a CD scratches an itch you didn’t even know you had, and El Camino is that record.”

Fun – Some Nights (Fueled By Ramen)

Mumford & Sons – Babel (Glass Note)

Gotye – Making Mirrors (Universal Republic)

Maroon 5 – Overexposed (A&M / Octone)

Jack White – Blunderbuss (Third Man / Columbia)

Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (ATO Records)
Best Rock Performance (“Hold On”)
Best New Artist

Boys & Girls, the full-length debut of this southern soul-rock quartet, introduces a band fully in control of its sound. Brittany Howard’s full-throated growl defines Alabama Shakes, proving the death of rock remains a premature prediction. That “Hold On” became a contemporary hit bodes well for the appetites of discerning listeners as we head toward the new year.

Muse – The Second Law (Warner Bros.)

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto (Capitol Records)

Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti)

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel (Epic)

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (Def Jam)
Record of the Year
(“Thinkin’ Bout You”)
Album of the Year
, Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best New Artist

Channel Orange stands out as this year’s clearest artistic breakthrough, utilizing an unconventional blend of electro-funk, pop, soul, jazz and funk to craft arrangements with free-form flow, defining modern R&B for today’s listeners. From Entertainment Weekly: “Ocean is less concerned with urban realism than with his own ’80s-noir fantasy … and his music captures that vibe perfectly, pulsing with electro-soul grooves [and] vintage jazz-funk.”

Drake – Take Care (Cash Money)

Nas – Life Is Good (Def Jam)

Eric Church – Chief (Capitol Records)

Eli Young Band – Life At Best (Republic)

The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter (Universal Republic)

The Lumineers – The Lumineers (Dualtone)
Best Americana Album
and Best New Artist

Denver’s Lumineers arrived as this year’s answer to Mumford & Sons, riding the Americana-inspired pop wave while pushing “Ho Hey” to #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100. From the Austin Chronicle: “The general expansiveness … make[s] this young group’s eponymous debut uniquely American in all the best ways: gritty, determined, soaked in sweat and love and drive.”

Bonnie Raitt – Slipstream (Redwing Records LLC)

John Fullbright – From the Ground Up (Blue Dirt Records)

Dr. John – Locked Down (Nonesuch)

Ruthie Foster – Let It Burn (Blue Corn Music)

Joan Osborne – Bring It on Home (Saguaro Road Records)

Hunter Hayes – Hunter Hayes (Atlantic)
Best Country Solo Performance
(“Wanted”)
Best Country Album
and Best New Artist

Consider Hunter Hayes a welcome surprise. The 21-year-old country songwriter’s debut album spawned three legitimate hits this year, including “Storm Warning” and “Somebody’s Heartbreak.” This refreshing debut warrants a second look, highlighted by his warm, distinct vocals and descriptive writing.

Ed Sheeran – + (Plus) (Elektra)

Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials (Universal Republic)

Deadmau5 – > Album Title Goes Here < (Ultra Records)

Skrillex – Bangarang (Atlantic)

Marilyn Manson – Born Villain (Cooking Vinyl)

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Seth MacFarlane’s Ted headlines this week’s new releases on DVD and Blu-Ray, competing against action thriller The Bourne Legacy and the latest Ice Age installment. Plus, before you see the latest Les Misérables update, watch Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Claire Danes in the 1998 non-musical adaptation, now available on Blu-Ray.

New Releases: DVD / Blu-Ray

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Ted (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Starring Mark Wahlberg and a foul-mouthed stuffed bear, Seth MacFarlane’s raunchy yet loveable ode to childhood and friendship finally hits the small screen after blowing up in theaters this summer. Grab your “thunder buddy” and make this a new Yuletide viewing tradition.

Backwards (DVD)

Why Stop Now (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Futurama Volume 7 (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Girls: The Complete First Season (DVD / Blu-Ray)

The Bourne Legacy (DVD / Blu-Ray)

A new CIA operative must put together the pieces of a complicated government conspiracy while outsmarting those who wish him dead. Who needs Jason Bourne? With this film, The Avengers and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol under his belt, Jeremy Renner enters 2013 as a true action star.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Year Nine (DVD)

Unraveled (DVD)

Dick Tracy (Blu-Ray)

The Joy Luck Club (Blu-Ray)

Ice Age: Continental Drift (DVD / Blu-Ray)

The fourth film in this franchise showcases a stretching, tired formula but kids won’t care. They just want to see Manny, Diego and Sid in a fresh series of adventure, something Continental Drift delivers with ease.

Heavy Weights (Blu-Ray)

Les Misérables (Blu-Ray)

Bill Cunningham’ New York (Blu-Ray)

Babes in Toyland (Blu-Ray)

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For those still searching for the elusive “perfect holiday gift,” we salute you and hope to provide solutions for your shopping dilemmas. Whether you’re looking for kitchen accessories any budding home chef requires or the ultimate boombox for the annual office party, PJ Lifestyle has something for everyone.

Ultimate Holiday Gifts

Top Chef by Master Cutlery: 15-Piece Knife Set

Pack your knives for kitchen glory with this officially licensed Top Chef set, featuring cutlery the pros on Bravo’s flagship show utilize daily. Though this set includes a wide assortment of blades appropriate for any cooking occasion, the company makes smaller sets depending on your needs, including a 9-piece set and a basic 5-piece set suitable for any novice on your list. As an added bonus, if you get them before Christmas, Amazon has each set steeply discounted.

Skybar 3-Chamber Wine Preserving System

For the wine aficionado in the family, this trendsetting preservation system chills, serves and stores up to three 1-1/2 liter bottles in individually controlled chambers. Each chamber holds its own temperature, whether you chose one of the nine presets or choose to adjust settings manually. The Skybar 3 keeps each bottle’s temperature steady for up to 10 days, so no need to worry over freshness or wasted wine!

Jawbone Big Jambox Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

The Jawbone Big Jambox turns any phone, tablet or mobile device into a portable, hi-fi sound system, bringing boombox technology into the 21st century! With the speaker’s wireless construction, steam all your digital media through any Bluetooth device, with a battery that lasts 15 hours. Meanwhile, don’t expect tinny audio — built-in LiveAudio technology provides a 3D immersive experience, equivalent to hearing the music in a live setting. With the Jawbone Big Jambox, the party never has to end, and weighing less than five pounds, you’ll never need to travel without it!

Belkin @TV Plus – Mobile Television Anywhere

For those among us tempted to cut the cable cord, the Belkin @TV Plus deliers a perfect reason to wait. Connect the @TV Plus to your DVR, cable or satellite system, download the appropriate app on your mobile device and the box transmits to your router and the web, and your mobile device receives TV programming through a WiFi, 3G or 4G connection! Even use your smartphone or tablet as a remote — “Swipe Surf” allows you to scroll through TV channels or record a show at the touch of a button. You’re paying for the television signal already, but with the @TV Plus you can more fully enjoy the experience, wherever you go. Welcome to entertainment nirvana!

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That’s all for this week’s edition of Tuesday New Releases! We’re open to your suggestions as we develop this column to best serve you. If you have suggestions for future coverage, or if you have a product you’d like featured or reviewed here, simply email Jonathan Sanders at kroessman@gmail.com.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Ke$ha’s Warrior and Hinder’s Freakshow Battle Good Taste

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Tuesday New Releases in Music

Though hip-hop star Wiz Khalifa and rockers Hinder hope to prove otherwise, this week’s expected sales leader, Ke$ha, controls her own fate with sophomore album Warrior. Despite an excited fan-base, the question remains: does anyone really care? Last week Rihanna’s album Unapologetic went to #1 as expected, but massive week-to-week sales drops by veterans Aerosmith, Green Day and Soundgarden proved more interesting.

Whether these sales woes reflect greater shifts in how people consume music, or merely showcase the “Holiday Album” effect on post-Thanksgiving sales, one truth endures for so-called legends: either bring your best, or stick to the reunion circuit. Heading into 2013, no such thing as a “guaranteed” hit exists.

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Blur – Parklife: Special Edition (Virgin Records)

Dream Boat – Eclipsing (Cloud Recordings)

El Perro Del Mar – Pale Fire (The Control Group)

Swedish artist Sarah Assbring’s melancholic lo-fi indie pop shines on her fifth LP Pale Fire, particularly on the fluid groove of “Walk On By,” her strongest single yet. From Blurt Magazine:“All ten tracks evoke surreal circumstance, given a delivery that’s atmospheric, amorphous and hypnotic.”

Flogging Molly – Live at the Greek Theater (Side One Dummy) – 3 LPs + DVD

Gary Clark Jr – Blak & Blu (Warner Bros.) – Vinyl

Hinder – Welcome to the Freakshow (Republic Records)

Jacob Morris – Moths (Cloud Recordings)

Ke$ha – Warrior (RCA)

Rolling Stone says we owe Ke$ha a debt, as she’s given us so many cancerous earworms. Otherwise how would we ever fill our heads with anything remotely catchy? With Warrior, she sets herself up for what befell Lady Gaga, who dared take pop too seriously. Drowned in Sound puts it more nicely: “Warrior is never dull, always fun, and frequently a thrillingly unpredictable ride.” Check out “Die Young” if this sounds like your cup of tea.

Memory Tapes – Grace / Confusion (Carpark Records)

Mogwai – A Wrenched Virile Lore (Sub Pop)

Olly Murs – Right Place, Right Time (Columbia)

Paloma Faith – Fall to Grace (Epic)

It took six months for this sophomore effort from English singer-songwriter Paloma Faith to get a US release. Fall to Grace combines elements of pop, soul and R&B, solidly showcased by lead single “Picking Up the Pieces,” (see video above) which puts her squarely in the realm of “the next Adele” competitors.

Raime – Quarter Turns over a Living Line (Blackest Ever Black)

Shackleton – Music for the Quiet Hour / The Drawbar Organ (Woe to Skeptic Heart)

Scott Walker – Bish Bosch (4AD Records)

Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush)

The Bergamot – Static Flowers (Both Records)

This South Bend, Indiana, duo blends the folk-tinged pop smarts of Elliott Smith with hints of “mainstream Americana,” crafting the harmonious sounds of Static Flowers, the band’s debut. They also won “Best Unsigned American Band” in a competition sponsored by Bud Light, for what that’s worth. Standouts include “Smoke & Fire” and “Amy.”

Wiz Khalifa – O.N.I.F.C. (Atlantic)

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Last week nearly 50 holiday-themed albums jockeyed for position among the Billboard album chart’s 200 individual entries. And since we haven’t highlighted any of the festive albums this season, there’s no better time to get into the Christmas spirit. These twenty albums offer all the jingle you’ll need for any end-of-year celebration.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire Set to Ignite the Post-Thanksgiving Lull

Monday, November 26th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders


Tuesday New Releases in Music

A few big albums remain unreleased in the run-up to Christmas, but this week the industry still recovers from its post-Black Friday hangover. So Alicia Keys offers the only major-label new release of note this week, with Girl on Fire set for a strong debut. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a wealth of great music coming out this week, including an exceptional survey of Charlie Christian’s contributions to the development of bebop and jazz. Plus: Rage Against the Machine receives a 20th anniversary reissue, and the Winter Sounds prove you don’t need a huge budget to craft solid pop hooks.

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Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire (RCA)

Don’t call her prolific, as Alicia Keys releases just her fifth studio album in the last twelve years, her first since 2009’s The Element of Freedom. It’s worth the wait, however, as early reviews have praised Keys for taking things back to basics, focusing on intimate moments and what Uncut calls her “technical brilliance.” The strongest of those intimate moments, “Not Even The King,” serves as a highlight of what Girl on Fire offers.

Big Dipper – Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet (Almost Ready Records)

Blood of the Sun – Burning on the Wings of Desire (Listenable Records)

Breathless – Green to Blue (Shellshock)

Charlie Christian – The Genius of the Electric Guitar (Sony Legacy)

Fans of jazz and bebop already know the music of Charlie Christian, but fans of anything modern involving the electric guitar should care as well. This four disc collection brings that music into stunning clarity, focusing on Christian’s pioneering work with the instrument while a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet from 1939-41, along with a disc of rarities from his time in Goodman’s orchestra and the Metronome All-Stars.

Daniel Higgs – Say God (Thrill Jockey) – Vinyl

Fort Shame – Double Wide (Redeye Label)

Great Big Sea – XX (Great Big Sea)

Jefferson Starship – Tales from the Mothership (United States Distribution)

Jerry Cole – Surf Age (Sundazed Music Inc)

Flash back to the era of classic surf-pop via this reissue from Jerry Cole and His Spacemen. Surf Age attempted to merge surf music with the wider sphere of 60s pop, more carefully focusing Cole’s mile-a-minute recording process. Incredibly rare until this long-awaited CD release, enjoy the perfect holiday time capsule. Highlights include the title track and “One Color Blues.”

John Zorn – The Concealed (Tzadik)

Junkie XL – Synthesized (Nettwerk)

Lone Wolf – The Lovers (It Never Rains)

Mike Cooper – Life and Death in Paradise (Entertainment One)

Myriad 3 – Tell (Alma Records)

My favorite discovery of the year by far, this Canadian jazz trio builds on the collective nature of improvisation, crafting a nuanced debut you won’t want to miss. The album’s highlights include “But Still and Yet” and the band’s peerless interplay on “Disturbing Inspiration,” which will haunt you, guaranteed.

Nektar – A Spoonful of Time (Cleopatra)

Outasight – Nights Like These (Warner Bros.)

Piatcions – Senseless > Sense (I Blame The Parents Records)

Rage Against The Machine – XX (20th Anniversary Edition Deluxe Box Set) (Legacy)

Sonny Burgess – Live at Sun Studios (Cleopatra) – Vinyl

The Winter Sounds – Runner (New Grenada Records)

Serving up a hybrid of Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons and Snow Patrol, New Orleans’ the Winter Sounds craft shiny pop nuggets which stand strong on repeat listens. Highlights include “The Sun Also Rises” (video below) and “Run from the Wicked”. Also worth noting: the band funded the album entirely through $9,000 in fan contributions, proving pop this good doesn’t require a major-label budget.

Therion – Les Fleurs Du Mal (End of the Light)

Wild Billy Childish & the Spartan Dreggs – Coastal Command (Damaged Goods)

Wu-Block – Wu-Block (Entertainment One)

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With a new year looming and Christmas just around the corner, now’s the time to look back at albums already out in 2012 which may have slipped from your radar. Any of these, including the latest from Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and David Crowder Band, would make perfect stocking-stuffers for the music fan in your world.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Detroit Rock City: Kid Rock’s Rebel Soul vs Uncle Kracker’s Midnight Special

Monday, November 19th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

This week fans of OneRepublic regret that the band’s Native won’t arrive until at least 2013 after yet another delay. But in the lead-up to Black Friday plenty of new music still hits the shelves this week. Kid Rock will battle his protégé and former DJ Uncle Kracker, while Rihanna hopes her sales will come in strong despite that ridiculously trippy performance of “Diamonds” she gave us last week on Saturday Night Live. Meanwhile Phillip Phillips hopes his generic name and the diminished reputation of American Idol will still convert into fan excitement as his The World from the Side of the Moon arrives Tuesday as well.

In chart news, One Direction’s boy-band sophomore album extravaganza looks to debut atop the Billboard 200 when that chart updates Wednesday, as Take Me Home should sell more than half a million copies. Sorry, Taylor Swift, your reign has ended. Meanwhile, the truth of the new music industry reality becomes clear for veteran artists. Christina Aguilera has to mourn her album’s putrid sales — even her ubiquitous role on NBC’s The Voice won’t push Lotus past 75,000. Even Soundgarden, gone 16 years from the alt-rock landscape, expects to reach 80,000. Aerosmith’s album went top three last week, but a dismal overall performance suggests the title will plummet in the coming weeks.

Don’t even ask about Green Day’s latest – Dos! — which arrives comatose. Their supposed one, two, three punch serves more as a weak, desperate slap, the year’s biggest rock disappointment by far.

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3 Doors Down – The Greatest Hits (Universal Republic)

If you listened to radio during the years 2000 through 2007 you’ve heard the bulk of these post-Grunge hits, including Billboard top five smash singles “Kryptonite,” “When I’m Gone,” and “Here Without You.” This greatest hits collection compiles those and nine additional hits, including their most recent single “One Light.”

AC/DC – Live at River Plate (Columbia)

Bad Brains – Into the Future (Megaforce)

Crown the Empire – The Fallout (Rise Records)

David Vest – East Meets Vest (Ark-O-Matic)

Elbow – Dead in the Boot (Xenon Records)

Federale – The Blood Flowed Like Wine (Federale Records)

Inspired by classic spaghetti westerns, Portland band Federale re-captures that haunting, violent atmosphere through their third album. “Sarcophagus” blends a horn-driven western tribal rhythm with haunting middle-eastern inspired vocals to create a hybrid I’d describe as “Tarantino-esque.” It’s definitely worth a listen.

Il Volo – We Are Love (Xenon Records)

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – Live From Alabama (Lightning Rod Records)

Kelly Clarkson – Greatest Hits – Chapter One (RCA)

Kid Rock – Rebel Soul (Atlantic)

Kid Rock long ago abandoned rap-rock for the more sturdy role of “trailer-park troubadour,” as Entertainment Weekly puts it. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Rebel Soul’s over-reliance on various well-worn Southern Rock tropes, but he knows his audience and has no problem playing it safe, singing to the converted.

Matt & Toby – Matt & Toby (Tooth & Nail)

Naomi Punk – The Feeling (Captured Tracks)

Phillip Phillips – The World from the Side of the Moon (Interscope)

Pitbull – Global Warming (RCA)

Porcupine Tree – Octane Twisted (KSCOPE)

Rihanna – Unapologetic (Island / Def-Jam)

The ugliest album cover of the year aside, whether you love or hate her Rihanna has proven herself unsinkable over the years. So far she’s heading into release week without a guaranteed smash like “Umbrella” to keep the haters at bay. That and, unapologetic or not, it’s hard to get past all the songs about her undying love for Chris Brown, the man who savagely and publicly beat her just three years ago.

Sienna Skies – The Constant Climb (Invogue Records)

Solid Gold – Eat Your Young (Totally Gross National Product)

The Faint – Danse Macabre: Deluxe Edition (Saddle Creek)

The Maldives – Muscle for the Wing (Spark and Shine Records)

The Pharmacy – Stoned and Alone (Old Flame Records)

The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know – The Remixes (FatCat Records)

The Young Evils – Foreign Spells (The Young Evils)

Uncle Kracker – Midnight Special (Sugarhill)

Wanting – Everything in the World (Nettwerk Records)

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Among the list of overlooked albums we’re highlighting this week, Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave proves art-rock can have commercially viable overtones, while albums from Dirty Projectors and Midwestern indie-rock stalwarts Guided By Voices vie for your attention as well.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: The Rolling Stones’ Grrr vs. Every Beatles Album Ever Made

Monday, November 12th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

This week’s release schedule had more than its share of shake-ups, as One Republic’s Native shifted to next week, and 50 Cent’s Street King Immortal slouches its way to 2013. With Taylor Swift’s Red set for a third consecutive week atop the charts, does a surprise hit rest among the remaining 2012 releases?

Green Day had high hopes for Dos!, the second release of their planned three-album punch, but with a lead singer in rehab, it’s tough promoting new material. Christina Aguilera earned plenty of press for Lotus, thanks to her role judging The Voice, but the album’s songs aren’t building much buzz. OneDirection will get the teen girls hopping thanks to 2012’s boy-band resurgence, but the biggest battle this week has the Beatles and the Rolling Stones challenging each other for sales supremacy while Soundgarden releases its first album of fresh material since 1996.

With next week’s release window still swinging wide open, nothing’s a safe bet save for the likelihood that Adele’s 21, issued last year, stands to be this year’s most successful album by a wide margin.

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Tuesday New Releases in Music

Aaron Lewis – The Road (Blaster Records)

Aaron Lewis’s second solo album fully transitions the former Staind front-man from by-the-numbers alt-rock to straightforward radio country. “Red White and Blue” aims for the Veterans Day crowd and hits the mark, though nothing quite has the lyrical punch of “Country Boy” off his debut Town Line.

Altered Five – Gotta Earn It (Conclave / Cold Wind Records)

Bambi Lee Savage – Darkness Overshadowed (Bambi Lee Savage)

Black Forest Fire – Transit of Venus (Sedimental)

Brian Eno – LUX (Warp Records)

Christina Aguilera – Lotus (RCA)

Clinic – Free Reign (Domino)

Crystal Castles – III (Casablanca)

Deftones – Koi No Yokan (Reprise)

Green Day – Dos! (Reprise)

How to Destroy Angels – An Omen (Columbia)

Jozef Van Wissem and Jim Jarmusch – The Mystery of Heaven (Sacred Bones)

Lana Del Rey – Paradise (Interscope)

Whether you love or hate her overwrought “gangster Nancy Sinatra” pose, Paradise adds depth to Del Rey’s much maligned debut Born to Die, showcasing an artist still searching for her real hook. With months separating these new songs from January’s hype, they stand successfully on their own, boding well for her second wind.

Lust for Youth – Growing Seeds (Sacred Bones)

Midnight Magic – Walking the Midnight Streets (Midnight Sun Sound)

OneDirection – Take Me Home (Columbia)

Oneida – A List of the Burning Mountains (Jagjaguwar)

Soundgarden – King Animal (Universal Republic)

Chris Cornell and Soundgarden haven’t put out fresh material since 1996, yet King Animal and the lead single “Been Away Too Long” prove you can pick up right where you left off. Forget ‘90s nostalgia – Soundgarden’s making great alternative music in the here and now.

Stephen Lynch – LION (What Are Records)

Stumbleine – Spiderwebbed (Monotreme Records)

Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold (Asthmatic Kitty)

Susan Boyle – Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs from the Stage (Syco Music)

The Babies – Our House on the Hill (Woodsist)

The Beatles Stereo Vinyl Box Set

For fans of both the Beatles and vinyl in general, there’s no better holiday gift than this newly reissued collection. Reproduced in 180-gram audiophile-grade vinyl, this collection includes all 14 of the Beatles’ original studio albums, plus an elegant 252-page hardcover book showcasing a wealth of photographs spanning the band’s entire career. As a bonus, this is the first time the band’s four earliest albums will receive North American stereo vinyl treatment.

The Rolling Stones – GRRR! (ABKCO / Interscope)

Travis Barker and Yelawolf – Psycho White EP (Lasalle Records)

Vinyl Williams – Lemniscate (Salonislam)

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While this week’s release slate gears up for Black Friday with heavy hitters, a number of albums from the last month still merit consideration as last-minute stocking-stuffers, including new pop-punk from All Time Low and a rarities collection from the best Athens, Georgia band not called R.E.M.

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VIDEO: Disney’s Re-education of Princess Leia

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
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Now that Disney owns Star Wars, clearly Princess Leia needs a little “re-education.” Lucky for her, the others willingly teach her the Disney Way.

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Related at PJ Lifestyle:

Disney Buys LucasFilm For $4.05 Billion

In the New Star Wars, Will Mickey Mouse Shoot First?

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Aerosmith Goes Multi-Dimensional, Third Day Prays for a Miracle

Monday, November 5th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Tuesday New Releases in Music

According to early predictions from Billboard (the final charts aren’t out until Wednesday) Taylor Swift will dominate the charts yet again this week, with even a weakened Red proving too much for her challengers. Tuesday’s release schedule features tougher competition as Aerosmith mounts its long-awaited comeback against competition from Ne Yo, Saigon and contemporary-Christian artist Third Day.

Next week the rush for pre-Black Friday releases begins, as 50 Cent, OneRepublic and One Direction each launch new albums. With the major labels holding their expected biggest sellers for the last seven weeks of the year, nothing’s a sure thing.

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Aerosmith – Music From Another Dimension (Columbia)

Fifteen albums in, Aerosmith still aims to rock America, though their latest leans heavily on the ballad formula. After an 11-year absence do we really mind if we miss a thing? Highlights include “LUV XXX” and “Legendary Child.” Avoid “Freedom Fighter” at all costs, unless hearing Johnny Depp sing about terrorism floats your boat.

All That Remains – A War You Cannot Win (Razor & Tie)

Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)

Dionne Warwick – Now (Blue Horizon Venture)

Graveyard – Lights Out (Nuclear Blast)

Isis – Temporal (Ipecac Recordings)

Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick: 40th Anniversary Edition (Chrysalis)

Katie Melua – Secret Symphony: Bonus Edition (Dramatico)

Kylie Minogue – The Abbey Road Sessions ()

Mike Doughty – The Flip is Another Honey (Snack Bar)

Ne-Yo – R.E.D. (Motown)

Peter Gabriel – So: 25th Anniversary Edition (Real World Productions)

The ultimate holiday gift for fans of the seminal album, includes Gabriel’s classic album remastered plus “Director’s Cut” vinyl featuring unreleased tracks. The set also includes two previously unreleased DVDs, including Live in Athens (1987), produced by Martin Scorsese, and a 60 page case-bound book with new liner notes and rare photographs.

Prince Rama – Top Ten Hits of the End of the World (Paw Tracks)

Public Enemy – Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp (Eastlink)

Public Enemy – The Evil Empire of Everything (Eastlink)

Saigon – The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses (Suburban Noize)

After a two month delay, East-coast rapper Saigon issues the follow-up to last year’s mainstream break-through The Greatest Story Never Told, featuring guest spots from Killer Mike, Dead Prez, Chamillionaire and Styles P.

Slingshot Dakota – Dark Hearts (Topshelf Records)

Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve (Victory Records)

Teen Daze – The Inner Mansions (Lefse Records)

The Epilogues – Cinematics (Red General Catalog)

Third Day – Miracle (Provident)

Christian contemporary’s equivalent to Nickelback, the Georgia band’s 11th studio album features lead single “I Need A Miracle.” Fans by now know what to expect from these musical journeymen, but strong sales could catch uninitiated chart-watchers off guard.

Vesen – This Time It’s Personal (Soulseller)

Vitalic – Rave Age (Different Recordings)

While She Sleeps – This is the Six (The End Records)

Yousef – A Product of Your Environment (Circus Recordings)


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We’ve covered recent releases closely over the last month, but what about albums you may have missed earlier in the year? These twenty albums, across the spectrum of country, rock and pop, stand out among those deserving a second listen.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill vs. Toby Keith’s ‘Girls That Drink Beer’

Monday, October 29th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
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Click to jump to your section of choice in today’s PJ Lifestyle Review of New Releases, Hot Products, and Holiday Gifts:

Popular Fall Hits

New Releases: DVD / Blu-Ray

PJ Lifestyle: Ultimate Holiday Gifts

Current and Upcoming Releases: Video Games

Best of 2012 Preview: Music

 

Tuesday New Releases in Music

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Taylor Swift’s Red proves that with enough hype a contradictory release plan can still produce insane sales results. No, you cannot stream the album via Spotify, yet the album features four teaser singles already racking up YouTube hits. None of that hurt sales in the least. The album should still exceed 1.15 million, without the stimulus of 99-cent downloads on Amazon, Lady Gaga’s weapon of choice while promoting her most recent album.

This week smaller names battle for their moments in the sun, with new albums from the ever-present Cee-Lo “I’ve had one hit and won’t go away” Green, an epic double album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and a new effort from country superstar Toby Keith which could quietly dominate them all. Enjoy the less-crowded week, folks … things will get decidedly more complicated as we push toward Black Friday!

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Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory (Mom & Pop Music)

Indie folk’s most interesting songwriter, Bird’s music merges genres generally seen as incompatible. Hands of Glory, the Chicago songwriter’s latest EP, serves as a companion piece to last year’s Break It Yourself, prominently featuring his cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”

Black Country Communion – Afterglow (J&R Records)

Calvin Harris – 18 Months (Sony)

Cee-Lo Green – Cee-Lo’s Magic Moment (Elektra / Asylum)

Chad Valley – Young Hunger (Cascine)

Cody ChesnuTT – Landing on a Hundred (Redeye)

Ending People – Fill Your Lungs (Cash Cow Productions)

Flyleaf – New Horizons (Octone)

The last album by these Christian rockers featuring Lacey Sturm on lead vocals. Revolver magazine writes: “New Horizons is emblematic of a band embracing change. Hopefully for Flyleaf, fans do the same.”

Indian Handcrafts – Civil Disobedience for Losers (Sargent House)

Jonathan & Charlotte – Together (Columbia)

Kamelot – Silverthorn (Steamhammer / SPV)

Lulu Gainsbourg – From Gainsbourg to Lulu (MBM Records)

Meek Mill – Dreams & Nightmares (Warner Bros.)

Mixtapes – How to Throw a Successful Party (Animal Style Records)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (Reprise)

Neil Young’s latest album featuring Crazy Horse experiments with psychedelia, and with that in mind, he’s opened things up to a lot of sprawl – “Driftin’ Back” comes in at just shy of 30 minutes. If you’ve got the patience, All Music writes, “[Psychedelic Pill] deliver[s] a state-of-the-union garage guitar blast that rivals past landmark albums from the group like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory.”

Parkway Drive – Atlas (Epitaph)

Raindance – New Blood (Animal Style Records)

Rod Stewart – Merry Christmas, Baby (Verve)

Sean Price – Mic Tyson (Duck Down Music)

T&N – Slave to the Empire (Rat Pak Records)

The Soft Moon – Zeros (Captured Tracks)

Thrice – Anthology (Workhorse Music Group)

Toby Keith – Hope on the Rocks (Show Dog / Universal)

Hope on the Rocks‘ release date shifted forward two weeks thanks to the rabid reception he’s received from fans while on tour this fall. That’s a smart move on the part of his handlers – Country Weekly calls the album “mature” among his other 15 albums, and for those who can’t stand Swift, Keith’s album serves as the ultimate veteran antidote.

Tracey Thorn – Tinsel and Lights (Merge Records)

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Despite covering much ground in the last few weeks in this column, bands with solid albums still struggle to find wider acclaim. Presenting for your approval: Dr. Dre’s strongest find for Aftermath since Eminem, underground Americana from Iris DeMent and Tift Merritt, and a new album from Heart, which rocks as though the 35 years since “Barracuda” never happened.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Seeing Red, Taylor Swift Plots Chart Domination

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Contrary to expectations, Jason Aldean’s Night Train looks to be a Mumford-slayer when this week’s Billboard 200 is updated later this week. Estimates suggest the new album will break 400,000 and easily dominate last week’s slate of new releases. He won’t get much time to enjoy his first-ever No. 1 album, however, as this week’s juggernaut release, Taylor Swift’s Red, is set to be this year’s biggest-selling album. Her sophomore album, Speak Now, broke one million in first-week sales back in 2010, and Red has already spawned four top ten singles, two of which had opening week sales of more than 400,000. Nothing else on this week’s slate can touch that.

See Last Week’s Picks: TUESDAY NEW RELEASES – “A Fine Frenzy in the Shadow of Mumford”

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… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead – Lost Songs (Superball Music)

Bebo Norman – Lights of Distant Cities (BEC Recordings)

The most consistent songwriter in all of Christian contemporary music, Norman’s eighth studio album features his strongest material yet. Standout track “Outside Her Window Was the World” successfully channels Coldplay through Third Day, subverting expectations both from the pop and CCR perspective.

Being As An Ocean – Dear G-d… (Invogue Records)

Billy Ray Cyrus – Change My Mind (Blue Cadillac Music)

He who brought us the torture of “Achy Breaky Heart” coupled with his overhyped offspring Miley, Cyrus attempts a comeback and, at least with the title track, comes up with by-the-book modern country which won’t disappoint casual listeners.

Bridgit Mendler – Hello My Name Is… (Hollywood Records)

Colbie Caillat – Christmas in the Sand (Universal Republic)

Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional (Astralwerks)

Further Seems Forever – Penny Black (Rise Records)

Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu (Warner Bros.)

At 28, Gary Clark Jr’s blend of contemporary soul and hip-hop with classic blues and r&b plants him firmly at the lead of today’s young tastemakers. Of his new album, Rolling Stone calls the album “uneven, [but] occasionally thrilling” and touts Clark’s willingness to experiment with blues in the age of auto-tune.

Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City (Aftermath)

P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here (Rhymesayers)

Paul Banks – Banks (Matador Records)

Rick Berlin – Always On Insane (The Whitehaus Family Record)

Shiny Toy Guns – III (Five Seven Music)

Taylor Swift – Red (Big Machine)

This album is critically bulletproof, but when you strip away the hype, Red is a surprisingly strong album from a songwriter who isn’t afraid to leave country in the dust for the pop music she clearly longs to make. “I Knew You Were Trouble” flirts with dubstep flourishes and proves to be her strongest pop contribution yet. Haters, prepare to be surprised!

Titus Andronicus – Local Business (XL Recordings)

Tony Bennett – Viva Duets (Columbia)

Tweaker – Call the Time Eternity (Metropolis Records)

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Week after week albums continue to surprise, as this Fall’s releases prove there’s always plenty more great music worth highlighting. This week, KISS’s twentieth album gets surprisingly solid reviews. Plus crazy cabaret-inspired alternative from former Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer, new music from Muse and fresh material from Jack White’s latest revival project, Wanda Jackson.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: A Fine Frenzy in the Shadow of Mumford

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

With so much new music, movies, and technology available on a weekly basis, even the most plugged-in people find it difficult to find the truly interesting products. Here at PJ Lifestyle we’re all about keeping it simple. Check in each Tuesday for information about current album and DVD/BluRay releases, along with hot new technology and gadgets you’re sure to want to make your own.

Tuesday New Releases in Music

Mumford and Sons’ Babel continues to rule the Billboard 200 after two weeks in release, and very little on this week’s release schedule suggests that’s going to change in the short term. Next week Taylor Swift storms the charts with her upcoming album Red, which leaves a void this week for albums heavily slanted in the indie direction. Though none of these should unseat Mumford, there’s plenty of room in the top ten for a few surprises. We’re open to your suggestions as we develop this column to best serve you. If you have suggestions for future coverage, or if you have a product you’d like featured or reviewed here, simply email Jonathan Sanders at kroessman@gmail.com.

A Fine Frenzy – Pines (Virgin)

Singer-songwriter Alison Sudol’s third studio album, Pines, features a companion book and animated film in addition to the CD release. The album of songs plays as a succession of chapters, according to the songwriter. Her last album, Bomb in a Birdcage, made an indie splash in 2010, charting among Billboard’s top thirty albums on its debut.

Anberlin – Vital (Universal Republic)

Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man

Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives (Barsuk) – of Death Cab for Cutie

Boys Noize – Out of the Black (Ingrooves)

Brandy – Two Eleven (RCA)

Conor Maynard – Contrast (Capitol)

Daphni – Jiaolong (Merge) – Dan Snaith a.k.a. Caribou

Dethklok – Metalocalypse: Dethklok Dethalbum III (William Street)

The “virtual band” on Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse, Dethklok features music from the second, third and fourth seasons of the television show. The deluxe edition CD / DVD contains a 32 minute behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of the album, as well as music videos.

Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos (Reprise)

Double Naught Spy Car – Western Violence (Eleven Foot Pole)

Earlimart – System Preferences (The Ship)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)

In Fear and Faith – In Fear and Faith (Rise Records)

Jamey Johnson – Livin’ For a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran (Mercury Nashville)

One of the most successful songwriters in country music, Hank Cochran mentored Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard among others. This tribute revives Cochran’s songs, including “I Fall To Pieces” and “Ocean Front Property,” as performed by Johnson, himself among Nashville’s finest modern songwriters.

Jason Aldean – Night Train (Broken Bow)

Jason Lytle – Dept. of Disappearance (ANTI Records)

Kem – What Christmas Means (Xenon)

K’naan – Country, God or the Girl (A&M/Octone)

J. Charles and the Train Robbers – Upon Leaving (End Sounds)

Martha Wainwright – Come Home To Mama (Cooperative Music)

Mika – The Origin of Love (Casablanca)

No Bragging Rights – Cycles (100% WOMON)

Pinback – Information Retrieved (Temporary Residence)

Rah Rah – The Poet’s Dead (Hidden Pony)

This Canadian indie rock band’s latest album fits right in with the current crop of folk-inspired alternative. But they blend these influences with pure pop hooks. The band’s latest single, “Prairie Girl,” has something to please fans of Metric as much as it will those who prefer Mumford’s Babel.

Scotty McCreery – Christmas With Scotty McCreery (Mercury Nashville)

Smoke & Jackal – EP No. 1 (RCA)

That’s Outrageous! – Psycho (Invogue Records)

TKTTSM – TKTTSM (Sumxuni)

Trey Anastasio – Traveler (Ato Records) – of Phish

Though the holiday release season frequently doesn’t hit its peak until November, this year has seen a surprising number of high-profile album releases over the last four weeks, making it difficult for even the most discerning music listener to keep track of every noteworthy album. Here are a few you might have missed.

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The 10 Essential Hip-Hop Albums

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

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Hip-hop stands as one of the few uniquely American cultural developments of the last century, yet the genre remains misunderstood. The artistic subculture first combined spoken poetry with instrumental beats, original compositions and sampled elements from across the spectrum of blues, jazz and rock and roll, building on what came before to create a cultural juggernaut and global phenomenon.

Because the lines between pop and hip-hop have blurred over the last two decades, a majority of casual listeners continue to define the genre based on what they hear on the radio. Many music fans paint the entire hip-hop world with the stereotypical brush rather than take the time to understand it.

Whether you’re a hip-hop fan since birth or just looking for an intro to the genre, these ten classics deliver.

And Parental Advisory Warning: many videos feature lyrics NSFW.

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#10 – Dr. Dre – The Chronic

Dr Dre The Chronic

The Chronic marked the solo debut of Dr. Dre, formerly of N.W.A., who staked his claim as one of hip-hop’s most respected production innovators. Released in 1992 on his own Death Row Records label, the album features guest appearances by Snoop Dogg, who used the album as a launch-pad for his own career. The album peaked inside the top five on Billboard, going triple platinum and widely popularizing the G-Funk sub-genre within gangsta rap. This album remains among the most influential of the nineties, known for its top-notch production values. Dre waited a decade to release a sophomore effort, but as far as singular debuts go, this one’s a can’t miss.

Essential Tracks: “Let Me Ride,” “Nothing But A ‘G’ Thang,”

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Peter Gabriel + 46 Piece Orchestra = Surprisingly Dull Listening Experience

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Peter Gabriel Live Blood

Just a few hours ago Rolling Stone launched a free stream of Peter Gabriel’s latest, Live Blood, which doesn’t officially come out until next week. The album, recorded live at London’s Hammersmith Apollo last March, is a sprawling double-disc opportunity for the legendary songwriter to preen in front of a live audience. These arrangements of songs from 2011′s New Blood and 2010′s Scratch My Back, with the added “benefit” of a 46-piece orchestra, prove to be a case-study in overindulgence.

The real issue with Live Blood is that we’ve heard the material before. These arrangements are not significant improvements on the re-imaginings we’ve already heard on his two most recent albums. Set the gigantic orchestra aside and there’s little left but a bloated money grab.

It isn’t even particularly relevant as a live album, since we already have Peter Gabriel Plays Live, which showcases his music when in his touring prime. That double LP remains among the best rock recordings ever put to vinyl. Live Blood, however, leaves the most energetic songs for the end, to be heard only by the most ardent fans. “Apres Moi,” his Regina Spektor cover, hints of the raw power the orchestra could provide. But it isn’t until we reach “Red Rain,” “Solsbury Hill” and “In Your Eyes” near the end of the second disc that the album comes anywhere near success.

Perhaps it is time for Peter Gabriel to put aside his greatest hits and get to work on a proper follow-up to 2002′s Up, his most recent stab at new material. These orchestral indulgences only back up the theory that the living legend hasn’t done anything of consequence since 1986′s So. Long-time fans will know that isn’t the case. Still, it’s a shame to see someone with such untapped potential to innovate choosing merely to tread water. When an artist can’t let go of his past, he’s doomed to forever miss out on the future.

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Tupac To The Future

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
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It wasn’t nothin’ but a gangsta party when Tupac stormed the stage at Coachella last weekend to take part in a relative orgy of west coast hop-hop nostalgia.

Of course the long-dead rapper did so as a three-dimensional hologram. Whether you see this as Star Wars meets Hip Hop or merely an ill-advised, unnecessary stunt, let technophiles quibble about the quality of the hologram.

What’s interesting will be the future discussions of the implications of this concept. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to see the Beatles put together a full reunion tour, or the Who with Keith Moon back behind the drums?

It is often difficult to differentiate Tupac’s many posthumous album releases from each other, since the rapper is more prolific dead than he was alive. So imagine for a moment the day when his estate decides to release an album of new material and send Hologram ‘Pac on the road to perform the material “live” from beyond the grave.

Rock and roll history is littered with musicians who lived hard and died young. The blurring of life and death made possible through technology should at least give us a moment’s pause. It may soon be possible for fans to pay to see favorite rock stars rise from the dead for one last performance.

But we should at least question why we’d truly want to.

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The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb In a Coma in London

Saturday, April 14th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Robin Gibb

Rolling Stone and other media sources report today that the BeeGees’ Robin Gibb lies in a coma at a London hospital, suffering from pneumonia, “seriously ill” according to the legendary singer’s son. Gibb has long been in poor health, undergoing surgery for liver cancer in March. Gibb remains active in the world of music, recently releasing his album The Titanic Requiem, an orchestral work uniting him with his son RJ as the two performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the RSVP Voices choir.

You can hear a performance of the song “Don’t Cry Alone” from the new album below, along with a medley of the Bee Gees’ most famous hits, performed by the band during its 1997 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Why Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Should Win Best Picture

Friday, February 24th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
Hugo

When was the last time you looked at a movie with pure wonder?

Heading into Sunday’s Oscar telecast, one category considered a lock is Best Picture. Seven pictures might compete but only one (The Artist) continues to generate serious buzz. That’s a real shame, because the best film I saw this year, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, received a nomination but seems unlikely to score anything beyond technical awards. And while mainstream audiences will find Hugo more accessible than The Artist, they have yet to realize it.

Perhaps we can forgive Academy voters for feeling there’s no reason to pay much attention to Hugo – aside from the double-fistful of nominations the film received. They’ve already handed Scorsese his lifetime achievement award via the Best Director honor he won for The Departed. So any recognition for Hugo comes as mere gravy for a director already lauded as a master. This thinking, however, refuses to judge Hugo on its own merits.

Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and set in Paris in 1931, Hugo starts with tragedy: the title character (Asa Butterfield) orphaned when his master clockmaker father dies in a museum fire.

This leaves Hugo to live within the walls and secret passages of the railway station Gare Montparnasse, setting the many clocks and stealing what parts he can to finish building an automaton he and his father began restoring.

Hugo begins as a Dickensian orphan but later emerges as a talented mechanical genius who shares his father’s love for the machines they build together. George Méliès (Ben Kingsley) starts out as a potential villain for Hugo, but develops into a man who lives his life hiding his past as a filmmaker. Hugo discovers a love of film and imparts it to Méliès’ granddaughter Isabelle; the two then show her father how much of an impact his early creations had.

In the relationship between Hugo and Méliès the film shines brighter than any of the others I’ve seen this year. Méliès first sees Hugo as nothing more than a thief, but by the time the credits roll the two develop a deep bond.

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Country Alternatives: 10 Reasons To Change Your Mind About Hating Twang

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
Country Alternatives

No need to fear -- there's more to country than what radio would have you believe.

It’s safe to say country music gets a bad rap. Sure, having grown up in the heartland, there’s the safe argument that this critic is more than a bit biased, but hear me out: there’s a lot more to country music than you’ll ever hear on your local Clear Channel station. And when it comes to contemporary music with its lyrical finger on the pulse of life in America as we see it in 2012, there’s little out there which can rival the honesty of a good country song. You just have to dig for something a little more “alternative” to the mainstream drivel. There’s not a Taylor Swift to be found on this list – rather, the emphasis is on variety, which is both the spice of life and the ultimate ingredient in the best music you’ve spent way too long being afraid to enjoy.

#10 – Middle Brother

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With lead vocals drawing heavily on early Neil Young, this alternative country super-group features members of Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit. The combination of three top-notch singer songwriters into one group makes for the ultimate headphone fix, and their self-titled debut out last year is one of those keepers you find yourself pulling out time and again when you need country-tinged rock with real soul and grit.

You can’t go wrong with either of their initial bands either, but throw these three together and the result is hard to ignore.

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Beyond Lionizing the Dead: Why Whitney Houston Matters

Thursday, February 16th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
Whitney Houston

Remembering Whitney Houston means more than deifying her.

As Americans, we tend to be a celebrity-obsessed culture. We constantly prowl for the next big thing, and when we find it we latch on with all our strength and demands for perfection. This can lead to incredible rises, but more often the resulting crash is just as precipitous. In our modern musical landscape, the booms and busts often happen quickly, but not long ago the biggest stars in the business shone so brightly that they dominated the landscape across numerous genres.

Regardless of how you look at it, Whitney Houston was one of those superstars who left a colossal imprint on the music world during her quick rise to fame. Like Michael Jackson, she paved the way for a generation of young black women to make their way in the world of popular music. While Jackson broke MTV wide open for young black men, that door had remained obstinately closed for women of the same age. Then Whitney put Houston, just 22 at the time, on the global music map, conquering radio and television to become one of the biggest star-making vehicles of all time. Rolling Stone and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named the album one of the 500 greatest of all time, and it launched her voice into the top echelon of great female voices.

That doesn’t make Houston’s death such a critical loss. Neither, really, is the fact that she’s one of the biggest-selling female artists of all time, and by far the most “awarded” of her or any generation. What stands out above all else is how widely she influenced music over the ensuing 25 years. Houston recorded seven studio albums and played a major role in several of the biggest soundtracks of the ’90s while building her career in film. But her magnificent voice directly influenced Mariah Carey and Celine Dion in the ’90s, setting a template for virtually every major female R&B singer of the current generation in one way or another.

Above all her voice will be her legacy. “Her voice is a mammoth, coruscating cry,” wrote Rolling Stone in 2008, when naming her among the 100 greatest singers of all time. “Few vocalists could get away with opening a song with 45 unaccompanied seconds of singing, but Houston’s powerhouse version of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’  is a tour-de-force.” Dubbed the Queen of Pop for her influence on adult-contemporary pop in the ’90s, she was one of those few singers who could build a tour on little more than her voice, not needing the trappings of a contemporary touring show. A pop diva in every sense of the word, when Whitney sang people listened. Even when recording something as traditional as our national anthem, she blew away the competition and proved that well-known melody could be as worthy of top ten status as any other song.

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5 Things I Learned While Live-Blogging the Grammys

Monday, February 13th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Like most of America, I’ve spent plenty of time badmouthing the Grammys over the past few years without pausing to reflect much on the fact that I rarely watch the show. So this year would have to be different. The wife and I sat down and braved the three-plus hour spectacle to see if Adele could single-handedly save a moribund award show on sheer moxie alone, even while performing for the first time since undergoing vocal chord surgery. Hey, she’s “saved” the record industry with her album 21, hasn’t she? Why should the Grammys be different?

Here are five things which we learned in abundance from this year’s telecast (not counting the fact that the show could have easily been trimmed by an hour without missing a beat).

#5. Adele has to be the most unassuming superstar in years.

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Adele appearing on 60 Minutes prior to the Grammy telecast.

She still sees herself as an underdog, despite having sold three times as many albums last year as her next closest competitor. And she proved that her voice is truly enough when she had the balls to come out tonight and make her first performance since her vocal chord surgeries take place in front of millions. More important, she knocked the ball out of the park, laying bare a powerhouse performance at the heart of the show which was only approached in quality by the Whitney Houston tribute later in the hour by Jennifer Hudson. Adele was by far the biggest winner of the night in more ways than awards can quantify. And if there’s much market she hasn’t saturated with 21 prior to the show, it’s only clearer now that once she actually gets to hit the road and tour to support it, the album’s only going to get bigger.

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Overexposed: Lana Del Rey, Saturday Night Live, and How Indie Music Hype Cannibalizes Its Young

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey: Indie music critics are turning on their supposed "next big thing."

Lana Del Rey has been built up over the last few months as the great white hope for music in 2012, a songwriter with the creativity to push herself in a unique direction while crafting music with hooks that are timeless and unforgettable. She’s “the gangster Nancy Sinatra,” a sultry musical minx who pouts her lips and controls the world.

Two weeks before her album Born To Die was set to release, she became the second artist to appear as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live who had not yet actually issued an album. She was a YouTube sensation, a modern example of where internet marketing can get you.

Hours after her performance, however, the ground was shaking beneath her career as a backlash mounted and the internet which built her up began rabidly tearing her down.

To get a better idea of what happened, it’s worth taking a look at a sketch which had aired earlier in the episode of SNL called “You Can Do Anything.” Vanessa Bayer and Bill Hader are hosts of a talk show touting the modern generation of YouTube sensations. “Now, thanks to technology, and everyone being huge pussies about everything, it doesn’t matter if you have skills or training or … experience, you can do it!” Hader says, describing a trio of inept performers who all feel they’re more famous than they truly are.

The rise of Lana Del Rey mirrors that sketch in a way which makes it seem oddly prescient in regard to what was coming when the singer would soon take the stage to perform her biggest hit to date, “Video Games.” She’d worked under her birth name, Lizzie Grant, for years and even got a recording deal with an independent label, but when “Video Games” became a hit on YouTube, she soon found herself signed to Interscope Records, which gave her the ability to fully eliminate the Lizzie Grant background details and fully become Lana Del Rey. Then the press run began, building her up relentlessly as the next big thing in music, when really her only experience had been in the studio.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you’re good at making videos, in an arena where you can tweak things until they’re exactly the version of your inner thoughts you want to release to the world, that’s perfectly reasonable. So is recording music in a studio, where a good singer can sound confident and assured, never having to step outside her comfort zone.

But on a live stage – particularly SNL’s live stage, appearing before millions on an iconic television show where image and sound don’t always blissfully mix – there’s not always a guarantee that you’ll get it right. One take, in front of a live audience, can make or break your carefully crafted public image. In the space of ninety minutes, a carefully built world where Lana Del Rey could be considered one of 2012′s surest things becomes one where the two-week wait to actually hear her debut album becomes a gauntlet she’ll have to run, hoping that she can survive the backlash and emerge at the other end unscathed.

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The 20 Best Songs of 2011 You (Probably) Haven’t Heard

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 - by Jonathan Sanders
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There's plenty of amazing music from the past year you still likely didn't hear.

Though many still argue that 2011 was a year with below average music dominated by a few bands of dubious distinction, those of us who consistently dig through the underground know differently. For “genre whores” like me, 2011 was an unbelievable success, with bands of varied persuasions proving that just because an artist lacks success it often has little to do with whether their music’s amazing. This list is for those sick of hearing about the latest pop superstars, the winners of reality shows, and the makers of disposable pop trifles. These are twenty songs I think are the best indicators of where 2011 went and where 2012 could go if we keep clawing our way beneath the skin-thin surface of what radio-pop force-feeds us. And though it’s not an exhaustive list of every excellent piece of music I’ve heard and treasured this year, it’s a hell of a way to start the discussion. Dig in!

#20. Will Currie and the Country French – “City”

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Will Currie and the Country French prove there must be something special in the Canadian water supply to explain the nation’s ability to produce an incredible variety of music across genres. In this case, Currie and company take on piano pop in the vein of Ben Folds, and this six-piece band delights in twisting the musical knife into your brain as you listen, helpless to stop from singing along and relishing the oddly syncopated time signature.  They’re still so obscure this is the best online version of the song I can provide, but rest assured, this is a band fully capable of going mainstream with the right promotion. So enjoy them before they get steamrolled by commercial expectations.

#19. Alexander – “Truth”

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Taking a break from his role as the leader of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Alex Ebert arrived early in 2011 with this fully-formed solo pop nugget. Opening with whistling over drums and a shambling, easy-going melody, Ebert bursts into frame with his vocals and the song’s officially in overdrive. Clearly this one’s inspired by modern reggae-pop in the vein of Matisyahu, with vocals akin to the laid-back slur of Citizen Cope. It’s by far the best song on the album. It stands so far above the rest of the material on Alexander that fans of the song will feel the album’s blatant genre-hopping is merely inscrutable bait and switch. That said, it’s a strong enough song that it’s worth remembering long after you forget the rest of his schizophrenic musical  output.

#18. Great Caesar – “Everyone’s a VIP to Someone”

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We’ve been prime for a ska revival since the third wave fizzled out in the late 90s, and Great Caesar is ready to pick up that mantle and run with it. The song is upbeat, blisteringly catchy and addictive as hell. And the band deserves mention for going their own way, building a fanbase from the ground up, maintaining full control over what they produce. Plus you’ve got to love the full horn section which takes on full focus two minutes in. For fans of the more ska-leaning tracks of bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Great Caesar is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Who says Brooklyn’s only got room for hip-hop?

#17. Baby Teardrops – “Smooth Sailing Ahead”

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Baby Teardrops is perfect music for fans of jangle pop who are looking for the next best alternative now that R.E.M. has broken up for good. The songs on their debut, X is for Love, are bare-bones from a melodic standpoint, choosing a few chords and running with it, as the band builds hooks on the power of repetition. “Smooth Sailing Ahead” was one of several early singles from the album, and its chorus, repeatedly echoing the title of the song over crunching guitars and drums, is the ultimate garage pop antidote to lame, overly commercialized drivel. The rest of the album does an equal job of getting to the point, letting the hooks do the talking, setting Baby Teardrops up to be among the most interesting new bands of the year who nobody got the chance to hear.

#16. Noah and the Whale – “Tonight’s the Kind of Night”

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Noah and the Whale is one of those bands which forces you to look beyond expectations. They folllowed up on 2009′s The Last Days of Spring, one of the finest post-breakup albums since Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, with this year’s Last Night On Earth, which plays out as the most earnest Springsteen tribute ever to come from a bunch of artsy Brits. “Tonight’s The Kind of Night” sums up the album’s thesis perfectly, with a sense of lyrical verisimilitude which you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Plus, the backdrop to those lyrics hooks you so immediately upon first pressing play that it’s damned near impossible to get the chorus out of your head once you hear it. “Tonight’s the kind of night where everything could change,” Charlie Fink sings, and though you suspect making that change could prove difficult, the song’s upbeat nature suggests it is more than worthwhile to push yourself to find success rather than waiting around for things to happen to you.

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How Musicians Use Social Media to Bite The Hand That Feeds

Monday, December 19th, 2011 - by Jonathan Sanders
Mike Doughty

Not looking fondly back through the rear-view, Mike Doughty is now taking his hate for Soul Coughing directly to individual fans via Twitter

It’s a fact of life that at some point in the creative process we all lose control of our work to those who actually consume it. Once I put the finishing touches upon a music review or piece of commentary, my portion of the creative process is complete; it is up to readers to decide what to make of it. But it’s easy to forget sometimes that for all the meaning we ascribe to our favorite songs, their creators may have had completely different associations with the work.

Ask any band that struggled to find succcess, happened upon a hit single out of nowhere, and then just as quickly was sloughed back to obscurity. You’ll hear a similar tale. That same band might go on for ten more years writing perfectly workmanlike music but they’ll forever have their name and musical reputation tied to that song which made it. So what happens when, decades on, you’re ready to admit as an artist that the music you’re known for is complete rubbish?

At a certain point the artist’s creation moves beyond his or her control, and becomes the property of the listeners who define its real value or meaning.

All of which makes this critic wonder: is there a point where artists should step back, shut up, and admit that, while they may hate something they recorded in their past, it has meaning to the fans, and therefore there’s a value to not dumping artistic baggage on music beloved to fans?

Apparently Mike Doughty has pondered that question and decided that the answer is a resounding no.

Doughty has spent the last decade writing low-key pop music in an acoustic vein, twisting bits of electronica into his sound as he sing-raps songs like “Looking At The World From The Bottom Of A Well” and “Na Na Nothing.” And he’s been lucky enough to be able to continue to make a living in the world of music, despite the fact that he left Soul Coughing (the band which made him famous in the first place) more than a decade ago. Still, hearing fans request Soul Coughing songs at his shows has apparently aggravated him so much he’s reduced himself to lashing out at fans individually on Twitter:

Doughty's Tweets

"No, I really hate green eggs and ham!" Doughty's pre-Thanksgiving tweets re: Soul Coughing


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Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto and Why Sometimes Pop is Just Pop

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 - by Jonathan Sanders
Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto may be 2011's most misunderstood pop gem.

Expectations can be a beast in the world of music criticism. Bands can blow up overnight thanks to blog reviews, even when they don’t have an album to promote – the live shows are that good. Then, when the album drops and it isn’t as magnificent as people expected, the band is dropped like a hot potato, while sites like Pitchfork leap to the next flavor of the week they can’t help hyping to death.

The dreaded sophomore slump isn’t so much named for a significant drop in quality or artistic vision, but rather for the frequent sales drop-off when fans don’t like a band’s second album as much as the one they worshiped maybe a year prior. Worse is the fate doled out to bands who initially sound like another popular act; they initially get a benefit from that comparison, only to have fans turn on them when their music either doesn’t follow closely enough in the footsteps of the iconic act, or conversely fails by following too closely with the original.

Such has been the fate of Coldplay, a band which clearly can’t win for losing.

If you were to spend too much time reading what the majority of the criticsphere has to say about Mylo Xyloto, the latest Coldplay album, you’d have to wonder if this one collection of songs happened to be the worst thing to happen to music since Kevin Federline’s rap abortion. “It’s a bit uplifting, but ultimately insipid,” was the write-up they received in the UK’s Observer, while the Guardian referred to the album as “standard issue Coldplay” in the perjorative, as though a band’s fifth album sounding like anything recorded prior to its release is somehow a brutal disservice to all appropriately cultured music fans.

It’s almost been a competition to see who can damn the album with the faintest praise. You see, what’s worse than a sophomore slump is the brutal crash to earth which comes when a band previously christened as a “hipster alternative to pop” decides to continue recording pop music long after the hipsters have decided to throw said band to the dogs.

I, for one, was never a particularly huge fan of Coldplay. “Yellow,” off their debut Parachutes, bored me to tears with its repetition and was doomed by radio overplay. And A Rush of Blood to the Head, the band’s sophomore effort, featured solid songs but frequently seemed to this critic as though the band was trying too hard to come up with songs to match what radio wanted from a follow-up to Parachutes. That, and the band was fighting to avoid becoming overly pretentious. While many have always lumped them in with the 90s brit-pop of Oasis and the rousing stadium rock of U2, with others clamoring for Chris Martin to follow in Thom Yorke’s avant-garde footsteps, the band was merely at the time trying to find its own voice and follow its own path.

Over the last eight or nine years, however, the band has grown on me. They’ve proven to be willing to push the envelope and try experiments with style, while sticking primarily to the world of pop music. While Radiohead saw a chance to go mainstream with the uber-success of OK Computer and then turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction, choosing to avoid pop at all costs, Coldplay wants to be the pop band everyone likes, with hooks that stick in your head and won’t leave, like tiny musical viruses. They finally found songs that led in that direction on Viva La Vida, which had a title signaling pretension even as the music was more mainstream than ever: I dare you to keep the tribal hook that is “Lost!” out of your head once it sneaks in.

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NEXT: Why Mylo Xyloto is far from the abomination critics have made it seem.

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