Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd

As far as seasons go, winter is the worst. It’s cold. It’s grey. It’s dry and uncomfortable. It’s depressing. The best day winter has to offer is Christmas, and since winter begins on December 22, that means the season peaks on Day 3. From there, things trend downward with three major upticks in excitement: New Years Eve, Superbowl Sunday and…

…the Grammys.

And so for the second year in a row, in anticipation of one of the seasons most (only) fun days, I’ll be reviewing the albums up for Album of the Year. Here are this year’s nominees:

  • Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd
  • 1989 – Taylor Swift
  • To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
  • Traveller – Chris Stapleton
  • Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes

The obvious heavy hitters are Taylor and Kendrick. There won’t be a dark horse like Beck this year. It’s a two horse race in 2016.

Noticeably absent: D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, which I think is better than all 5 of the albums listed here. It was nominated for Best R&B Album, and the track “Really Love” is up for Best R&B Song and Record of the Year. I thought for sure it would get a Best Album nom, but alas, it did not. Which sucks. Still, pretty good showing for a guy who’s been on the DL for 14 years.

I also hoped Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special, would make the list, but it seems it couldn’t escape the shadow of its own single, “Uptown Funk,” which is up for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. The album did get a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, but it’s only going to win if they change the category to Best Non-Taylor Swift Pop Vocal Album.

Those are my only gripes. Nothing against the 5 albums here, I was just rooting for those guys.

As with last year, I need to throw out this disclaimer: I am not a musician and don’t really have any level of musical understanding beyond being a consumer. So this is purely my take. If you’re interested in reading my past music posts, feel free to hit up my Grammys blog homepage.

***

The Weeknd is just one dude. His name is Abel Tesfaye, and he’s from Toronto. Apparently the name comes from “the weekend” when he decided to drop out of high school and run away from home at age 17. But “The Weekend” was already taken as a band name, so he dropped the third “e” and moved along with it anyway. Beauty Behind the Madness is Tesfaye’s third studio album in four years.

Let’s start with what I do like about this album.

If you’re a Michael Jackson fan – and let’s be honest, odds are you probably are – then you’re going to love sound The Weeknd. Tesfaye sings almost exclusively in that same angsty falsetto range MJ is known for. It’s not as groovy as Off the Wall or Thriller, but it’s not as poppy and clean as Dangerous or Invincible. If it sounds like an MJ album, it’s definitely Bad – songs like “Liberian Girl” and “Dirty Diana” and “Smooth Criminal.” (But not “The Way You Make Me Feel” because that song’s an overplayed up-tempo stinker.)

The high-range vocals provide a great contrast to the percussion, strings and bass-heavy instrumentation. It’s dark and damp. At times BBTM goes the route of a jazzy slow jam.

Okay now on to what I’m not a fan of.

The content is mostly about party culture, drugs and sex – but rarely the exciting side of that culture. It’s mostly shadow. Darkness. Sadness. There’s a sense of depression or hurt. It feels lonely in places. Again, angsty. Emotionally charged. I suppose the content isn’t really my jam, but the resulting sound is really compelling throughout. I guess you could say it’s hollow both stylistically and lyrically.

Even the up-tempo songs aren’t upbeat content-wise. “Can’t Feel My Face” is probably the happiest sounding track on the album, but, “I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb,” sure doesn’t inspire much joy.

There are a few solid features on the album: Ed Sheeran brings his acoustic guitar to “Dark Times.” Lana Del Rey’s creepy little nightmarish voice comes in on “Prisoner.” Track three (which I like to refer to as the “power placement” on an album) is the Kanye West produced “Tell Your Friends,” which sounds straight off of Yeezus. The whole album kinda feels like a scene out of Nightmare Before Christmas…only rated R. Or maybe Sin City or something. It would be almost entirely black and white. It’s got a very Tim Burton/Danny Elfman ominous feel to it.

Here’s something I wish I’d never found out: the The Weeknd was involved in the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack (which Danny Elfman was also involved, coincidentally), which makes the album take on a totally different feel than it did the first time I listened through it. I’ve said this before, but I don’t really listen to lyrics much. My mind gets wrapped up in the groove of music and not necessarily the subject matter, but when I found out the 50 Shades bit, it suddenly connected the dots between style and content and now I can’t escape it.

It’s good. His voice is incredible and the shadowy tone gets under my skin a bit and I find myself actually grooving quite a bit. If it hadn’t been for that last bit of info, I probably would’ve dug it more overall. Which is too bad, because I really liked the sound the first time through.

It won’t win Album of the Year. It’s firmly in the second tier of nominees. But if you’re Jesse Pinkman or Christian Grey (or Chandler Jones), this could be your depressing winter hot jam. If you want a similar sound, but a happier album, go listen to Justin Beiber’s Purpose. Or, I suppose, Bad.

Top Tracks: Losers, ShamelessReal Life, Can’t Feel My Face

-apc.

Back to The Grammys Main Page.

Independence Day: Resurgence – A scene-by-scene trailer breakdown of the best movie coming out in 2016.

“We always knew they would come back.”

There are literally dozens of us who consider Independence Day our favorite movie of all time. I confess this for myself with no reservation whatsoever. Empire Strikes Back is good. Back to the Future is better. But Independence Day…well, that’s just the pinnacle of cinematic achievements, if you ask me. It can’t be topped.

Independence Day has everything anyone could ever want out of a movie. Will Smith as the rugged, hilariously glib yet sensitive fighter pilot, Captain Steven Hiller. Jeff Goldblum as the tech savvy MIT dropout who cracks the alien code embedded in Earth’s satellites, David Levinson. His ex-wife happens to be the top assistant to the President of the United States, and say what you will about Daniel Day Lewis and the All State Guy’s performances, I’m sure we can all agree that the greatest POTUS ever cast was, without a doubt, Bill Pullman in ID4.

But wait! Don’t forget about Randy Quaid! YES! Uncle Eddie stars as the drunken crop duster who claims to have abducted by aliens. And he’s the first to tell everybody that he knows exactly what’s going to happen when those creatures make it into our atmosphere: “They’re going to kill us all!”

And oh, they try. And they’re wildly successful those buggers. They take out a dozen or so major cities – New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, most major European cities. The Americans unsuccessfully try to “nuke the bastards” over Houston, so that city goes to crap too. But just when everything seems lost, Jeff Goldblum saves the day by giving the alien technology a computer virus – “a cold” – long enough for Randy Quaid and others to fly in there and “take em down…do your…stuff.”

Queue the dramatic presidential speech before the attack – only the third most dramatic moment in United States history following only Al Michael’s call of the USA hockey team defeating the Soviet Union in the 1980 winter Olympics, and – also from Miracle (my 4th favorite movie) – Herb Brooks’s pre-game locker room speech about tonight being “your time.” Pullman works a few dozen make shift “fighter pilots” into a victorious reverie before they all fly off to attack the giant saucer hovering above Las Vegas.

And wouldn’t you know it, but Goldblum’s crazy harebrained idea works. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum pilot an undercover alien spacecraft into the mothership. They upload the virus. They get stuck. They smoke celebratory “fat lady sings” cigars after the mission turns into a suicide mission. They deploy the nuke with a 30 second timer. They somehow manage to escape the mothership, and – just before the alien craft explodes in a Death Star II white orb – Goldblum regretfully does an Elvis impersonation.

Meanwhile, Randy Quaid and President Bill Pullman are engaging in close-range maneuvers with the local craft over Vegas. Everyone uses up their missiles except Quaid, who has to fly his craft straight into the ship’s mega-weapon in order for it to go off. It does. And the entire ship goes down.

They spread the word, and soon there are Randy Quaids in every nation taking out hostile alien crafts around the world.

Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum land in the desert. They’re somehow still smoking the same cigars, because somehow traveling between Earth and space is 15-20 minute process.

But that was 20 years ago. That was the War of 1996, as they’re calling it. It lasted just two days, but cost millions of lives. This is 2016, and the buggers have finally come back, just like we all knew they would.

***

About a year ago I remember hearing through the grapevine that they were making a sequel. I probably danced a jig of some sort in the moment, but then promptly forgot about it until Sunday afternoon when they released the trailer for “Independence Day: Resurgence” during a mid-afternoon Cleveland Browns football game. As all major movie releases do.

I had a mild freak out as it aired. I hopped on YouTube and watched the trailer again. And again. Things escalated quickly, one thing led to another, and I changed my Twitter avatar to a screen shot of Jeff Goldblum in an astronaut suit.

The trailer looks awesome. It’s embedded at the top if you want to take a look. Or it’s on YouTube here.

In a simultaneously executed marketing maneuver, a website was launched with the chronology of events that’s taken place in the world since 1996. The website is Warof1996.com if you’d like to be fully up to date.

Essentially, there are 6 major bits of information we need to know about the earth in 2016…

  1. Twenty Years of World Peace – Earth has experienced 20 years of World Peace essentially, since the enemy is no longer each other, but is now a different species entirely.
  2. Earth Space Defense – Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is appointed as head over the Earth Space Defense program (ESD).
  3. Technology – The earthlings learn to utilize the alien technology, creating things like “smart phones, bladeless fans, drones and airport security scanners.”
  4. RIP Will Smith – Tragically, we learn that Will Smith’s character, Steven Hiller, has died. Apparently while they were trying to harness the alien’s weapons there was some malfunction and he ‘sploded. Sounds like they just didn’t have Willie in the budget.
  5. Moon Base – There’s a base on the moon that is fully operational (and, perhaps, based on one of the images on the website, bases being built or planned for Mars and one of Saturn’s moons). I can’t find anything on the site that denies the fact that this Moon Security Base is actually called the Death Star and is also a mega-weapon of some sort. It’s a working title, for now.
  6. Aliens in the Congo – Okay this is the final and probably most important bit of info: when all the Randy Quaids were able to take down the alien ships, one of them went down in Central Africa, in the Congo, and had survivors! According to the interactive site, it took them 10 years to neutralize that group, but based on the trailer I just watched, it seems to me this is where everything new begins.

There’s more than that, but it’s the nuts and bolts. I encourage you to take a gander at the site yourself. Again, warof1996.com.

None of that is a spoiler alert, by the way. All of that is stuff they want you to know. It’s not like this Star Wars: Episode VII secrecy business. ID4 is freely giving you the storyline between July 4, 1996, and July 4, 2016.

The world is united, but, again, we always knew they would come back.

***

Can we talk about the trailer? I’d like to talk about the trailer. Let’s take it scene by scene…

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It opens with a convoy headed, presumably, into the Congo where the aliens survived in some capacity for a decade after their initial invasion. Some woman has found something that only Jeff Goldblum would understand…

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..creepy alien skeletal structures? They’re present, but is this what they’ve found? It’s not stated that they’re out in the Congo, but the terrain certainly would suggest it and those structures look a lot like these from the @IndependenceDay twitter handle advertising the interactive site:

My best guess: ever since they finally took out the surviving aliens, archeologists and anthropologists and scientists have been going ape trying to learn about the species. And they’ve found something, but it isn’t just these creepy remains that they found, but something much larger.

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Enter Goldblum to raucous applause in theaters across the globe: “Oh my God.”

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What is THAT?! Is it some sort of civilization? Are those ruins from the alien ship coming down back in 1996? What is it they are looking at from that bluff? Is it Mos Eisley? Hard to say, but whatever they found out there is likely some sort of signal that the aliens are returning, or, at minimum, not entirely dead.

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Wait…Gale?! What are you doing here? It seems Liam Hemsworth is taking over the Will Smith role for the sequel. Here’s what I want to know – was it Will Smith’s decision to not come back, or was it Team ID4? On the one hand, Will probably doesn’t look as cool in dog tags in 2016, but c’mon, the guy just put out Focus where he plays the quintessentially smooth broseph. The Fresh Prince still gots it.

Anyway. Liam seems to be the new cool kid in town. Moving on..

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Hemsworth flies one of these bad boys. They appear to be a hybrid fighter jet/alien craft. Kinda disappointing. They look more like a Nerf dart/football product than they do a plane or ship, but whatever.

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Obligatory moon shadow shot.

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Then it appears some men are playing laser tag. This suggests that unlike the original, there is actually going to be some individual battles between aliens and humans and not just between flying vessels. Hand to hand combat even. I’m assuming the gun this gentleman is holding is one of the updated technologies humans have managed to harness from the aliens. During this shot, there’s a gravely voice talking about how the aliens haunt his dreams, which ends by saying, “They’re coming back.” But who is talking?

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Gasp. It’s Pullman! He’s hardly recognizable with his grey beard and receding hairline, but it’s him, and he’s as intense with his monologues as ever. In the original, the alien enters into the mind of Bill Pullman and takes him as a hostage or something. I was never totally clear how that worked. Anyway, after the fact, the President reveals that he saw it’s thoughts and saw what they planned to do. If Bill is saying that the aliens haunt his dreams, you wonder if the former POTUS is able to communicate or at least have some level of vision into their world and existence. It seems as though Pullman is the one who is first aware that they’re coming back.

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And look there – it’s another familiar face! It’s Julius Levinson! The actor is Judd Hirsch, and he play’s Jeff Goldblum’s dad. The outspoken Jewish man is probably the most underrated character in the original. He has some of the greatest one-liners in ID4, and it’s encouraging to see that he’s making a return performance. But what is he looking at?

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Ah. Of course. I tell you what, if Independence Day was able to win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects back in 1996, imagine what it’ll be able to accomplish in 2016?! I have high expectations, and this shot is a beautiful start.

Thus completes the set up. Now we enter into the sequence of characters we don’t know yet…

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First up. This has to be Will Smith’s son, right? I mean, he’s the only black guy in the original, so it’s the only explanation. I’m assuming this is adult-Buckwheat until I hear otherwise. But what will his role be? It appear Liam is already filling the fighter pilot role. Perhaps this kid has some other purpose? He looks pretty fierce.

Next up…these three…

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No idea. But I’m sure their plot line can’t be more riveting than the tertiary characters in the original. Randy Quaid’s three kids – the Responsibly Oldest Miguel, the Sickly Middle Child and the Angsty Crop Top Daughter from Mrs. Doubtfire – their roles are so vital to the story! I can’t wait to see what deeply moving parts these folks have.

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Woah. Carnage. 

I’ve only spent about 12 total hours in D.C., but that’s clearly the nation’s capitol. You can see the Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial in a line on the right. That smoke is where the  White House sits, but it was blown up in the first movie, so this has to be a flashback or something – what it looked like out the window of a plane nearby when it was smoldering after the aliens moved on to Baltimore or whatever major city came next on their annihilation tour. Will there be flashbacks in Resurgence? Hmmmm.

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It’s Hemsworth and Goldblum running on the moon while missiles or meteorites or something explode behind them. One of the two astronauts gets launched…not sure which one though. Things are starting to look like Armageddon.

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The money shot. This appears to be inside some command center. On the War of 1996 website it says that the moon base is commanded from Bejing, China, but we just saw Goldblum on the moon, so my guess is this is inside the moon base. But since space travel only takes a cigar’s-length, it’s possible he could make the trek off-planet during the film.

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She has to be the new President, right? The guys next to her start shooting through an open door moments later and she just stands there. Highly protected individual. Gotta be some politician or world leader.

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Then there’s this scene with some woman chasing down a trio of helicopters. Sure reminds me of the scene when the First Lady’s chopper gets taken out by the White House explosion. As in the original, it seems that the battle is happening on two fronts simultaneously: Earthside and in space.

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Okay, I think I’ve got it – Not Jaden Smith follows in his father’s footsteps and becomes a fighter pilot too. Duh. While Gale follows Jeff Goldblum into space to do…whatever he’s doing up there.

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Okay now it REALLY looks like Armageddon. What is that guy doing there?! He’s going to sabotage the whole mission by trying to revert to a secondary protocol against Bruce Willis’s orders! No! The drill has to keep going! Get more water on it to cool it down! It’ll work!

Then there’s a smattering of dramatic looking faces and some explosions that I can’t really make sense of, but the final moments are very clear:

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The title screen followed by one more Goldblum one-liner…

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“That is definitely…bigger than the last one.”

The aliens are coming back, and this time it’s more dire than 1996. Ahhhhhh!

Kinda makes you forget Star Wars is coming out this Friday, doesn’t it? Will it be as good as the original? Impossible. Without Will Smith it’s bound to lose some of what it had. Liam Hemsworth doesn’t provide the level of humor and whit Will Smith brought – but perhaps the other kid will be the humor while Liam is just the eye candy. Who knows.

That said…we’ve already gotten to see Jeff Goldblum in a spacesuit, so it’s got a lot going for it as it is, and as long as he’s the main character of this operation it’s bound to be a true treasure.

It’s too early for more theories than I’ve already mentioned. Thankfully, we have over 6 months to continue to surf the fan sites and dig into ID4 Reddit and what not to keep up with the overwhelming buzz a movie like this generates. Try to keep yourselves under control.

See you at the theater at midnight on June 24, 2016 – exactly 20 years after the first one was released.

This is going to be so fun.

-apc.

2015 Kentucky Derby: Cooper Family Live Draft

It’s Derby Day. Cooper Family, unite!

The Tradition

This is one of the most exciting days of the year in my family, and it centers around an event that not one of us pays attention to the other 364 days of the year. Maybe there’s a tiny bit of research that takes place in the week leading up, but ultimately it’s a fun tradition based on…well, based on tradition, I guess.

There have been highlights – Thunder Gulch in 1994, Smarty Jones in 2004. War Emblem in 2002. There have been heartbreaks too – namely the death of the filly, Eight Belles, in 2008.

Last year, Karlie was the winner by selecting California Chrome with the first overall pick. It’s always disappointing when there’s such a clear favorite. The whole thing boils down to a randomly selected number out of a hat. Karlie landed #1, so she won it all.

No. I’m not bitter.

That said, I proposed a new idea for future years. Starting in 2016, we’re going to base our pick selections on the results of the previous year’s race. Last will pick first and vice versa. It’s too late to do it that way this year – as one of the worst finishers in 2014, of course I’d like to pick earlier.

In the spirit of fairness, we’re going to start that in 2016 based on 2015 results.

This is a great year to do it too because there’s no true favorite like there has been the past few years. Last year, California Chrome was a no brainer. This year there are multiple options. American Pharaoh has the best current odds at 3-1. But Dortmund (4-1), Firing Line (8-1), Carpe Diem (7-1) are all perfectly viable first picks and horse like Mubtaahij (12-1), Frosted (9-1) and Materiality (14-1) are not dumb first round picks either. Everyone will get a contender this year.

Here’s the complete list of horses and live odds here: 2015 Kentucky Derby Odds.

Those odds will likely change significantly between now and this afternoon’s race too – any of these horses could be considered favorites by the time the horses are in the gate.

The field is wide open, and for the first time in a few years, it’s actually anybody’s race. Which makes for way more trash talking and a lot more drama.

The decision was also made to give the last four picks to those who have the worst opening round picks. So whoever gets picks #7, #6, #5, and #4 will have picks #15, #16, #17, and #18, respectively.

For more on the Tradition, check out last year’s post.

The Family Draft Order

This picture was just texted in from The Judges. The draft order is set.

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  1. Karlie (my wife) – Picks 1 & 14. Last year’s winner gets first pick again in 2015.
  2. Janice (my mom) – Picks 2 & 13.
  3. APC – Picks 3 & 12. Love this spot, I’ll tell you why.
  4. Greg (my dad) – Picks 4, 11 & 18. Good luck with Frammento.
  5. Anna (my sister, youngest) – Picks 5, 10 & 17.
  6. Holly (my sister, younger) –  Picks 6, 9 & 16.
  7. Quniten (bro-in-law, holly’s husband) – Picks 7, 8 & 15. Bummer, dude.

I’m crazy about the #3 pick. The pressure of choosing incorrectly on the #1 overall pick is a real one. Karlie has all the options available and no excuse for picking wrong, plus, by the time the draft comes back around to her next pick, the potential winners are probably gone. She’ll only really have one horse in the race. All your eggs are in one basket, as they say.

With pick #3 I also get #12 which means I’m guaranteed to get one of the top options in the race along with one of my favorite dark horse options: Horses like Upstart (21-1), Danzig Moon (20-1), Ocho Ocho Ocho (24-1), Bolo (36-1) or Mr. Z (30-1) all have a shot at landing at #12. I truly believe there are 12 horses that could win this year.

The #18 pick is mostly worthless. Let’s be honest, we’re all excited to make fun of my dad getting stuck with Frammento (99-1). Anna’s burn is the best thus far: “So is Frammento a Shetland pony or what?”

The Draft

LIVE NOW: The draft is taking place at 2:00 PM CST. Check back if you want to follow along, I’ll be posting riveting live updates.

And here come the picks…

Pick #1: Dortmund (Karlie) 

All the pre-draft talk was that Karlie was going to take Firing Line out of the gate. In a last minute change of heart, Dortmund was the pick instead – and a better one, in my opinion.

Pick #2: Carpe Diem (Janice)

Wouldn’t have been my top pick, but It’s not a bad one. Seize the day, Mom.

Pick #3: American Pharaoh (APC)

Shocked that the favorite slid to this spot, and I’m thrilled about it. I was prepared to have to choose between Carpe Diem and Firing Line here, but Mom’s pick bailed me out.

Pick #4: Firing Line (Greg)

This was an unfortunate spot to pick. It was pretty clear that these four horses were going to drop first. I anticipated Carpe Diem being the last one left. I think Firing Line is the better option.

Pick #5: Frosted (Anna)

The logical choice. Best available. The Cooper consensus is that Frosted is the ugliest horse. Exhibit A:

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Pick #6: Upstart (Holly)

This is a reach, but I really like this horse. I was actually targeting Upstart for my #12 pick. But hey, if you like a horse with the #6, you might as well pull the trigger, amiright?

Pick #7: Danzing Moon (Quinten)

I would’ve gone with Mubtaahij here. Or Materiality, but its hard to pass on such a lovely name like Danzing. I assumed that selecting Danzing Moon meant he would pick one of those two with his next choice…

Pick #8: Tencendur (Quinten)

…nope. This is a terrible choice. As of this moment, Tencendur is currently going at 53-1. One of the worst in the race. It’s like Quinten is trying to lose.

Pick #9: Materiality (Holly)

Somehow, someway, Materiality and Mubtaahij are still available here. Materiality is the pick.

Pick #10: Mubtaahij (Anna)

And there’s the other right choice, in my opinion. I would’ve taken “Mubby” at #6, yet somehow Anna gets him at #10 instead. Amazing draft for Anna to this point.

Pick #11: Itsaknockout (Greg)

Pretty awesome name, and appropriately timed in light of the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight. Was really happy Dad took Itsa here. I had two horses I was targeting for my #12 pick. Upstart and….

Pick #12: Ocho Ocho Ocho (APC)

Here’s what I think will happen in the race this year: two horses will jump out to pace the pack: American Pharaoh from the outside and Ocho Ocho Ocho from the inside. They’re the two speed horses. I don’t think 888 will hold on, but he might!

Pick #13: Bolo (Janice)

Who is left at this point?

Pick #14: Far Right (Karlie)

“I’ll take Far Right because the jockey looks so nice.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 3.00.01 PMFair enough.

Pick #15: Frammento (Quinten)

Quinten’s just being a nice guy at this point. First Tencendur and now Frammento? He must have all the faith in the world in Danzing Moon, because these two are mostly worthless.

Pick #16: Keen Ice (Holly)

Cool name. Bad horse. But the best one left.

Pick #17: War Story (Anna)

Jimmy Fallon’s Kentucky Derby Puppy Predictor is all you need to watch when it comes to this dog.

Pick #18: Frammento Mr. Z (Greg)

I was prepared to make a “Mr. Irrelevant” comment here, but it’s Mr. Z instead. Surprising to see a 31-1 be the last pick. Really didn’t see Quinten’s earlier pick coming, so somehow Dad gets a somewhat relevant house in the end.

So here’s how things ended up…

  • Karlie: Dortmund & Far Right
  • Janice: Carpe Diem & Bolo
  • APC: American Pharaoh & Ocho Ocho Ocho
  • Greg: Firing Line, Itsaknockout & Mr. Z
  • Anna: Frosted, Mubtaahij & War Story
  • Holly: Upstart, Materiality & Keen Ice
  • Quinten: Danzing Moon, Tencendur & Frammento

There you go. Assuming the favorites – and by that I mean Dortmund and American Pharaoh – do not win, I think Anna and Holly had the strongest drafts. I think Frosted, Mubtaahij, Upstart and Materiality are all potential winners if the race falls the right way out the gate.

I anticipate the pace to be fast, which is why I’m very happy to have the two horses I do. But like I said at the top – this year, it’s anybody’s race. Shoot, even Danzing Moon stands a chance to win.

As of this writing we are 2 hours, 4 minutes and 51 seconds away from race time. Race is at 5:44 PM CST on NBC.

The Results

That’s a winner, folks! American Pharaoh for the win!

It was a great race actually. Dortmund broke quick out of the gate and led Firing Line and American Pharaoh through the halfway point. Firing Line managed to overtake Dortmund there, but rounding the home stretch, American Pharaoh put on the afterburners around the outside and came away with the victory.

All three horses were neck and neck for the majority of the stretch run. Firing Line retook the lead for a moment, but it turned out to be too soon. American Pharaoh was strong enough to take it back.

Very fun race as all five top picks were in the mix for the majority of the race. Ultimately, Carpe Diem faded, but it truly felt like anyone’s race. Very fun year.

In my years of drafting horses with my family I’m fairly certain this is my only win. Most years I never have a chance since the winning horse is gone by the time I pick.

Here is how we ended up ranked…

  1. APC – American Pharaoh
  2. Greg – Firing Line
  3. Karlie – Dortmund
  4. Anna – Frosted
  5. Quinten – Danzig Moon
  6. Holly – Materiality
  7. Janice – Carpe Diem (10th)

Looks like I’ll be picking last in 2016, but that’s alright. I’m going to enjoy my year on the champs podium.

-apc.

Photo cred: accessed here.

Shuffle Lessons, Volume 4.

Let’s do some shufflin’, shall we? This one is a lightning round: I’m only giving myself until the end of each song to write about it.

For a refresher on the process, you can go back and read other lessons.

Drunk and Hot Girls – Kanye West

Blah. Rough start.

The lowest point on Graduation. Well, the only low point on Graduation, really. Along with “Barry Bonds” (which I admittedly like from time to time), this makes up the sad 9/10 spots on the album. Skip it 90% of the time. Although, it’s hilarious when Kanye makes fun of her singing. It’s good for a laugh, but for the most part this is…blah.

From Above – Ben Folds & Nick Hornby

I don’t listen to this album enough. Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity, wrote the lyrics. Ben then composed, played and sang them. Brilliant stuff.

It’s a track about soulmates. Everyone has one, but we rarely end up with them, according to Hornby. Personally, I think the idea of soulmates is a buncha baloney. I think there are probably dozens of mates we could marry. Maybe more. The trick is finding someone who feels the same way, but I mean, c’mon – you’re telling me my soulmate just happened to coincidently live right around the corner from me? Of anywhere in the world? Nah. I think we just meet people we like and love and decide to commit. Connection? Sure. But “soulmates” is a made up romantic ideal that I refuse to buy into. Sorry, Karlie.

Late – Ben Folds

MOAR BEN. Songs for Silverman is probably Ben’s most beautiful album. It lacks his Five goofiness, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking as an album. It’s just serious business.

“Late” is no different. It’s a tribute to Elliott Smith. Smith was a singer-songwriter who suffered from depression and died from stab wounds that may or may not have self inflicted. The lyric “the songs you wrote got me through a lot just want to tell you that,” is particularly meaningful – I wish more of us would take the time to share why we are important to one another. Perhaps Elliott Smith (if suicide was the cause of death) would still be with us had Ben shared this with him earlier?

Bloodstream – Ed Sheeran

How is Ed Sheeran already on my Top 2000 played list? He ascended quickly. I guess I gave this album 4 or 5 listens before writing my GRAMMY post about it.

Bloodstream is one of the better tracks on x. (It’s pronounced “multiply” – lame.) The song is about drugs/drinking – as most of Ed’s songs are. It’s dark and eerie – an outlier on x since most of the songs are either poppy fresh or acoustic chill. Here’s the whole album review.

Smile Away – Paul & Linda McCartney

Ranking the Beatles without thinking about it…

  1. Paul
  2. George
  3. John
  4. Ringo

Now, ranking the margin of victory between each ranking without thinking about it…

  1. George to John
  2. Paul to George
  3. John to Ringo

Paul is my favorite by a wide margin, but George is my second favorite by an even wider margin over John. And the fact that John is close to Ringo at all speaks volumes of how I feel about Lennon. Too political and ideological for me most of the time. Gets annoying.. George is the most talented, but Paul is the most fun and his Wings career is way too good.

Ram is one of my all time favorite albums. It stands alone as an album by  only Paul & Linda McCartney, before the rest of Wings was formed. “Smile Away” is fun and lively. The story is simple: Paul runs into a friend on the street who says he can “smell your feet/breath from a mile away.” Paul decided to brush it off and smile away. I guess it’s about positivity/not giving a rip about what others think. Which is maybe what got Kanye to tap Paul to co-produce his new album, So Help Me God, whose title was announced today.

-apc.

Religion and Hip Hop at Rice University

This popped up in my Twitter feed today via both okayplayer and BLUNTIQ and I thought I should pass it along here. 

Bun B is co-teaching a course on religion and hip hop at Rice University with Professor Anthony Pinn. There is an on-campus version of the class, but also a free online version as well. The course is six sessions. I’ve enrolled. If you have even a cursory knowledge of hip hop music, I encourage you to look into it for yourself at EdX.org.

If you enroll in the next month maybe we can go through it together!

I’m a fan of anything that reframes religion in new ways. I’m a believer that we all experience God in different ways, and that there are huge spiritual/religious intersections in all areas of life. It’s is a driving driving force behind the book project I’m working on, and in my opening chapter, I hope to encourage all people do discover where it is that they see God connecting in ways traditionally understood as non-religious or secular.

I’m not a hip hop guru like these fellas in the video (plus I’m white, and I’m unable to fully grasp the black experience that much of hip hop is rooted in), but I do love the genre and have come to appreciate it on a deeper level. I’d say I’m mostly plugged into mainstream stuff, but I was raised listening to DC Talk in elementary school (to which I’m not remotely embarrassed, but Rosenberg jokingly brings up in the interview as the band kids would pass out CDs of in the cafeteria – that wasn’t me as far as I remember). Bun B brilliantly responds that there “probably wouldn’t be Lecrae without DC Talk.”

I’m deeply invested in church culture, a current seminarian, and have great concern for how the gospel is extended in our world. Everything Eblo says regarding “Christian music” resonates strongly with my experience of the genre too – which is why I get so excited about Lecrae breaking into the Best Rap Performance category at the GRAMMYs this year. I’m tired of Christian music being labeled separately from “secular” music. It fragments the music industry and cheapens music both within and without the “Christian” genre. As if non-“Christian” music has nothing to say about God (which it does), and often “Christian” music, frankly, isn’t very good, but can survive by marketing themselves as such. There’s also a session on Islam, which excites me.

I’m enrolled in the course beginning in late March. Excited to see what Professor B has to say about the overlap between religion and hip hop.

-apc.

Image cred: EdX.org.

The 2015 Grammys in Review

Phew. Last night was crazy. I started the 2015 Grammys in the airport in Denver and finished them at home in Kansas City. I missed certain performances live due to boarding and safety information protocol, but I was able to catch up this morning on the major moments I missed the first time around.

The Grammys are a highlight for me each year. It’s basically a 3 hour concert of the greatest musicians in the world, so when people say they just can’t get into the Grammys I visualize myself giving them a wedgie before calmly responding, “that’s understandable.” No. It’s not really understandable. I mean, how often do we get to witness John Mayer, Questlove, Herbie Handcock, ELO and Ed Sheeran playing music in the same place at the same time?

It’s just a special night. It’s loads of fun.

If you’ve been following along here at all over the past month you know that I took some time to review all 5 albums up for Album of the Year, which I believe is the most important category. Last year, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories took home top honors. This year, it was Beck’s Morning Phase.

Beck over Bey

Going into last night, I had Beyonce as the clear favorite and Beck as a dark horse. If there was someone who was going to take down the Queen, I thought Beck had the best chance among the others. I didn’t really think it would happen, but wouldn’t you know it, the dude pulled it off.

And he deserves it. He really does. Morning Phase is a beautiful album. It’s perfect for waking up on a grey Saturday morning, dropping the needle on the turntable and sipping some coffee for the next 47 minutes.

Twice last night, Beck tried to give the spotlight to someone who was a bigger star than he is. When he accepted his award, Kanye West stood up and “pulled a Kanye” by running up like he did to Taylor Swift back in the day. He ran up and acted like he was going to do it again but pulled away at the last second, laughing. Meanwhile, Jay-Z and Beyonce were absolutely mortified until they realized he was joking.

“No, Kanye, no…bahahahaha.” And just look at Jay shaking his head. It never gets old.

Except Kanye wasn’t really joking. He made comments after the show saying that Beck should give the Grammy to Beyonce and that Beck isn’t a true artist. Major jerk move. To which Beck responded later that he thinks Kanye is a genius regardless of what he thinks of him in return.

It’s hard for me to say this because I spent a decade of my life borderline obsessed with Kanye West’s music, but I’ve finally had enough of his ego. I justified his antics when he embarrassed Taylor Swift by remembering that he was standing up for his friend, Beyonce, even if it was at the expense of someone else. You can think someone else was more deserving, but you cannot publicly claim that someone isn’t a true artist. Art is not objective, and Kanye West is not the absolute rule.

Clearly Kanye’s never seen this:

Yeah. Put a sock in it, dummy.

Anyway, when Kanye started walking away, Beck told him to come back. He invited him on to the stage with him. Weird. Then later, following his performance with Chris Martin of Coldplay, Martin intentionally faded into the background to give Beck the spotlight. Beck noticed this at the last second and ran back and tried to pull Martin back into the front.

There’s something selfless and open about Beck that is very likable. Like when he began his entire speech with “Hi, Prince.” Just so genuine and friendly. It’s sad Kanye’s antics took the spotlight away from him. Because he deserves the spotlight.

By the way, during his speech Beck also thanked David Campbell for doing the strings on Morning Phase. David Campbell is Beck’s father. Campbell has quite the resume of arrangements and I encourage you to take a quick scroll through the list on his Wikipedia page.

Top 10 Performances

According to LL Cool J at the top of the show, there were 23 performances during last night’s show – probably why the winners only goy 6 seconds to give their acceptance speeches – and while I’d like to talk about each one separately…I’m not going to.

But what I am going to do is list my Top 10 performances with a line or two about each one.

10. Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – Cheek to Cheek – This song is cute, but every time I hear it, it makes me miss Amy Winehouse. She would’ve been the right choice for this song. Lady Gaga is fine, but Amy…

9. Beck featuring Chris Martin – Heart is a Drum – Listening to one song from Morning Phase is like being forced to only eat one potato chip. The performance was good, but I wanted more of the album than just this sampling.

8. Sia – Chandelier  – So Sia just stands in the corner and sings with her face to the wall while Kristen Wiig runs around dancing dramatically? Goofy stuff. But a powerful song.

7. Ed Sheeran featuring John Mayer, Questlove & Herbie Hancock – Thinking Out Loud – The first time I saw this performance, I was so entranced by John going nuts on his pink guitar that I totally missed Herbie sitting on the piano behind him. Quest is awesome. I wish he’d hung around for the ELO performance. Wish it was a funner song too – TOL isn’t my favorite of his, but I’m a big fan of large chunks of x.

6. Usher featuring Stevie Wonder – If It’s Magic – “If It’s Magic” is track two off side four of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Last year, Stevie performed “Another Star” which comes two tracks later on the same side. The song in between these two is “As” which is my all-time favorite Stevie Wonder track. Since it seems the Grammys are now attempting to cameo Stevie Wonder as much as possible while he’s still around, I’m holding out hope for an “As” performance in 2016.

5. Pharrell featuring Lang Lang – Happy – What a fantastic rendition of the song that Pharrell obviously realizes is starting to get a bit redundant in the world these days. Lang Lang provides an epic piano solo while Pharrell and his backup dancers do the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” motion. The Great Hans Zimmer comes out on guitar. I am itching for new N*E*R*D in 2015.

Pharrell continues to plow an amazing path in the world of today’s music. He’s come a long way in a really short amount of time. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes in the future with the success of not only GIRL, but also his many collaborations and productions in recent years.

4. John Legend/Common – Glory – The final performance of the Grammys. Common has one of those voices – similar to Morgan Freeman, I think – that commands attention. He’s not necessarily the best rapper, but what he lacks in cadence he makes up for in clout. He has a powerful presence and the subject matter is obviously wonderful.

Also, I love the word “glory” – in Hebrew, the word is kavod which means something has significant weight. When we glorify God, we are recognizing that God has kavod. And when we ask for his glory to reign, we are asking that his weight overcome the heavy burdens we feel in our world. Appropriate image for this performance, I think.

3. Hozier & Annie Lennox – Take Me to Church/I Put a Spell on You – Four comments about this performance: 1. Hozier looks like Madison Bumgarner. 2. You may know Annie Lennox (that woman who looks like Ellen Degeneres) from The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and her song “Walking on Broken Glass.” 3. Her new album includes a cover of “I Put a Spell on You.” 4. A song originally by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins that you might recall from this Pringles advertisement…

2. Beyonce – Take My Hand, Precious Lord – Chills. Just chills. Over and over and over. The more I watch it, the more I love this performance. Power singing about power. Creates some exponential biological singularity situation. Brings me to my knees. Another “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” here too.

1. ELO featuring Ed Sheeran – Evil Woman/Mr. Blue Sky – I had no idea ELO was going to be performing, so when Ed announced them, I exclaimed “YES” in the airport loud enough that the woman at the gate raised her eyebrows in my direction.

In the summer of 2004, I found Electric Light Orchestra’s Greatest Hits on cassette at a used bookstore. It was one of the three cassette tapes I had in my car for about a year until I sold my 1991 Geo Prism for a new ride in 2005. Mr. Blue Sky has the power to put anyone in an immediately positive mood (most of their music has this power, I suppose). That piano in Evil Woman just gets me immediately bumpin. These two tracks probably round out my top five ELO songs along with Livin’ Thing, Don’t Bring Me Down and Strange Magic (you can keep Xanadu, no thanks).

But the best part of this performance – for the second year in a row – was Paul McCartney dancing along in the audience. In case you’ve forgotten, in 2014, we had Snap and Wiggle Paul during Daft Punk’s performance:

This year, we were awarded with an equally wonderful moment. Behold, Sing Along Standing Paul:

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Sir Paul, in the very front row, appears to be the only one standing in the entire Staples Center. But what happens here? It seems Paul makes eye contact with someone to the left of the camera, nods, then throws his hands up and sits down.

DID SOME JERK HAVE THE AUDACITY TO TELL SIR SING ALONG PAUL TO SIT DOWN?!? No one tells Paul to sit down. No one. Ever. This is unacceptable and must be addressed. But I’m not really worried. The Illuminati will likely take care of it in one quick silent movement. It’s possible that’s what Madonna’s performance was all about.

Sam Smith Wins a Bunch

Best New Artist. Record of the Year. Song of the Year. Best Pop Vocal Album. He also performed with Mary J. Blige.

Whatever. I will not argue that the dude has some crazy pipes, but the sound of his voice give me the creeps. He’s got some weird lisp thing going on along with a glottal situation that makes me want to run away when he sings. It’s unfortunate.

I can see how he could win all the categories above – people really seem to love the guy – but Taylor Swift should’ve won at least one of the two song categories for “Shake it Off.” I’m just thankful he didn’t win Album of the Year because In the Lonely Hour is just one big cryfest that never goes anywhere else.

A quick bit on Kanye

What are these new Kanye songs? “Only One” sounds like something off 808s and Heartbreaks only there’s no 808 and instead of heartbreak it’s heartfelt. So maybe it’s the opposite in terms of content, but the autotuned voice and stripped down style is NOT working for me. “FourFive Seconds” is maybe a little bit better, but if these are the tracks that are supposed to launch a new album you’re counting down to…sorry Kanye. You may have finally lost me.

But what I don’t understand, is how Paul McCartney’s touch has created this stuff. Paul is quirky and goofy and way out of the box. So is Kanye West. I’d think that if this partnership is actually going to create something, it would have to be waaaaay out there. Paul has never been one to make boring music. Kanye certainly hasn’t either. But these two songs are boring. They offer me nothing exciting and I don’t get it.

Couple that with the comments I mentioned earlier, and I’ve all but given up on Kanye West. The only thing I can figure that might save him is if this album turns out to be another stepping stone on to another chapter in his musical discography. Perhaps his forthcoming album will act like an interlude like 808s ended up doing. Who knows. But he’s on really thin ice.

A quick bit on country music

A quick comment on country music here: this years performances were good. Miranda Lambert (who I think is adorable) played early in the show, but the two that I really enjoyed were Eric Church and the Brandy Clark/Dwight Yoakam back to back performances around the halfway point.

Last year, I had a serious issue with the country music performances. I left struggling to understand the genre. What makes something “country” music these days? Is it storytelling? Because then Ed Sheeran is a phenomenal country artist. Is it the sound of their voice? Because then anyone can play country music if they just change up their twang. I don’t understand.

But this years performances seemed to fit the bill. There wasn’t an over the top voice alteration to fit the genre, and there was plenty of storytelling to go around. It wasn’t the poppy, boy band country, and it wasn’t stereotypical subject matter either. All that to say, it didn’t leave the same bad taste in my mouth as it did in 2014.

Cats on the Red Carpet

Finally, I have to share this shot of my cats – Desmond (right) and Hugo (left) – from the Red Carpet last night.

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A thousand shout outs to Maureen for her photoshopping brilliance.

That pretty much does it for the Grammys this year. Another amazing year in music comes to a close. Looking forward to the 2016 Grammys, AKA “D’Angelo Wins Everything.” Although, Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special will get some nods, and if Frank Ocean decides to exist again, I’m sure he’ll make his presence known too. Until then, it’s back to baseball for me.

-apc.

BACK TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

In the Lonely Hour – Sam Smith

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Most every romantic comedy has this in common: a minute-long segment, deep into the storyline, when everything is falling apart between the protagonist and his/her primary love interest. Both are sad and lonely but don’t if know if that sadness is reciprocated. So they flounder for a bit while they figure out their emotions.

You know the section I’m talking about – the movie cuts back and forth from one side of the broken relationship to another checking in on how each individual’s life is progressing without their other half.

It goes like this: First, she’s reading a book at a coffee shop but can’t concentrate. Cut to him distractedly working in his office glancing periodically out the window at…something. Cut to her walking a dog in the park. Cut to him shooting hoops at the gym. Then cut to her teaching preschoolers or something. Cut to him sitting in his apartment typing her 555 number into his phone, but he can’t bring himself to hit the “Call” button. He’s probably listening to Boyz II Men too. Meanwhile, she’s staring at her old corded phone on her bedside table wondering if it’s going to ring or not. And it doesn’t. Because he won’t call. It hurts too much.

And that is what we have here. That is this Sam Smith album in a nutshell. This album is angsty and melancholy and emotional and whiney…

…and it never resolves anything.

From start to finish of In the Lonely Hour – from “Money on my Mind” to “Lay Me Down” – Smith pours out his soul. It’s vulnerable. It’s gut-wrenching. It takes some serious guts to bare your soul so publicly, and admire Smith’s openness and honesty on this album. Bravo on stepping out with authenticity and boldness. Unfortunately, this album just doesn’t go anywhere. It starts bleak and ends in bleak. It’s flat. One dimensional.

As many of you know, I spend my weekends sitting in seminary classes discussing God, Church, Scripture, etc. I’m currently in a class on Worship – what is it? how do we do and why? – and part of what we have been learning is how a worship gathering is constructed. What is the goal of each element in the order of events and how does it move/lead the worshiper from normal life and into something that transcends the normal? Do the elements of worship – songs, prayers, sacraments, sermons, etc. – take the congregation somewhere religious/spiritual?

I often look for a similar movement in music: does an album move or lead the listener into something that transcends their norm? Do the songs progress and take the listener on a journey somewhere?

Good albums do this well. Past “Album of the Year” winners have done this well. Last year’s Random Access Memories by Daft Punk does this. Adele’s 21 – the 2012 winner – does this. Arcade Fire did this in 2011. Taylor Swift did this in 2010. OutKast did this with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004. Norah Jones did this in 2003.

D’Angelo’s Black Messiah does this, which is one of the bazillion reasons it will win everything in 2015.

Fellow AOTY nominees Beck and Beyoncé and Pharrell do this.

But In the Lonely Hour does not do this. It’s deep and emotional, sure. But that’s kind of it. It never goes anywhere. It’s one long plateau of emotion and it gets old really quick. Drop the needle at any moment on this record and you’re going to hear basically the same thing.

That said, Sam Smith has quite the pipes. His range is incredible. He’s got the range of Whitney Houston and the emotion of Norah Jones. The only gripe I have on his voice is that it sounds like he has a perpetual glottal bubble. I just want him to clear his throat or swallow.

It’s hard to find tracks that are favorites among an album that doesn’t really go anywhere. Most have the same feel to them. I guess I’ll just highlight the ones that are most popular and move along.

These are the top tracks from In the Lonely Hour

Stay with Me Sam would rather hold hands than have a one night stand, but mostly because he’s the most emotional being on the planet. This is a real heartbreaker…and so are all the others.

Lay Me Down The last song on the album. It’s basically the same song as “Stay with Me” lyrically. More heartbreak. More desire to lay next to someone. Work through your emotions, please. ZzzzZZzzz.

Money on my Mind – This is the first track on the album and probably the high point for me. It’s fun and snappy. Meh sings about doing music for the love of it…he’s not in it for the money. I could say the same thing about youth ministry.

I’m Not the Only One Wah-wahhhh. Sam knows he’s not the only one his lover (who is a dude, by the way) is with. But rather than tell it to his face, he’d rather just let it eat him up inside and sing a song about it.

***

So where does In the Lonely Hour rank among the other four albums up for the top Grammy? Probably in lower half. Beyoncé and Beck are the top options. Pharrell’s album is very strong but people won’t look past the success and annoyance of “Happy.” Ed Sheeran is fun and poppy, but gets old quick – plus I’m not into the slow stuff at all. It’s all subjective at some point, but Sam Smith probably slides in between Pharrell and Ed. I’d put him last.

Don’t get me wrong – Sam Smith is talented, has a wild voice and puts out good music, which is why it’s up for Album of the Year. Just not my jam.

Looking forward to the Grammy’s on Sunday night. Hope these posts come in handy for at least one person when the big night gets here.

-apc.

For other reviews up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

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