2014 was a big year for Sam Smith, and the self-congratulatory new video for his new song "Restart" serves as a little time capsule of the British soul crooner's meteoric rise, featuring a compilation of behind-the-scenes antics and concert footage shot from this summer’s music festivals and tour dates. As Smith told The Guardian: “Restart is one of my favourite tracks on the album and I really felt like I wanted to visualise it. I had such an amazing time putting this video together, remembering some incredible moments from this year and also a recent trip with my team to Brighton this summer.” We get it Sam, ya did good.
The fourth quarter of the year is almost upon us — and for pop music, that means blockbuster season. We know a few things for sure (Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Foo Fighters, Lil Wayne, and One Direction all have albums on the way), but even this late in the year, some of the biggest potential releases of 2014 are still just rumblings in the rumor mill (Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar both say they’re at least trying to put new records out in 2014, and then there’s always the possibility that someone could pull a Beyoncé …). Because so many marquee names have waited until the end of this year to put their records out, it can feel like 2014 has been pretty uneventful so far. But I’d rather see that as an opportunity to dig a little deeper: As I start to think about the end of the year, the lack of big releases has given me time to focus on some lesser-known names. Here are my 20 favorite albums of the year so far — I hope you'll come away with some new recommendations.
Many people have not been enjoying Lauryn Hill's recent concerts, in which the singer has been showing up more than an hour late and performing "unrecognizable" versions of her hits. Talib Kweli hears those people's criticism, and tells them, respectfully, to shut it. "When you pay for a Lauryn Hill concert you are not paying for her to do what you want, you are paying for her to do what she wants," he writes on Medium. "She is not an iPod nor is she a trained monkey."
“I am a 45 yr old Luddite and proud of it,” Thom Yorke tweeted last November. He then added, for emphasis, “.. yawn.”
This was the counterpunch in what I still believe to be the most underrated celebrity beef of 2013: Thom Yorke versus Moby. It all began a few months earlier, when the increasingly Tolkien-esque Radiohead front man announced that he was removing some of his music from Spotify, to protest a service that he and producer Nigel Godrich do not believe compensates artists fairly. Many saw it as a noble gesture against the streaming behemoth, but others — well, Moby — were less impressed. “Artists who are adaptable are doing just fine,” Moby later said in an interview with Mashable. “A musician who makes records, tours, DJs, remixes, does music for video games and films is doing fine. I love Thom Yorke but when I heard him complaining about Spotify, I’m like, ‘You’re just an old guy yelling at fast trains.’” Moby — who, it must be said, is four years older than Thom Yorke — had recently tried something new for the release of his 11th album, Innocents: He offered tracks from the album as a BitTorrent Bundle and encouraged users to make and upload their own remixes. To many internet users, the phrase “BitTorrent” is still synonymous with piracy, and the Innocents bundle was one of the company’s most high-profile attempts at rebranding to show that it traffics in legal downloads, too. (One of Innocents’ promotional images is a webcam photo of Moby holding a bumper sticker that reads, “BITTORRENT IS NOT A CRIME.”) The experiment seems to have been a success for both parties: The Innocents bundle has been downloaded over 2 million times.
Here's the first bit of Lorde's curated The Hunger Games: Mockingjay soundtrack, "Yellow Flicker Beat" — which also happens to be her first new music since 2013's Pure Heroine. For this one, Lorde is going full Katniss, writing on her Tumblr: "it’s my first offering from what i hope will be a soundtrack you love. it’s my attempt at getting inside her head, katniss’. i hope you like it."
On September 21, Leonard Cohen turned 80. At an age where most people are happy just to be able to make it down to the shops and back unassisted, Cohen celebrated his birthday with the release of a new studio album, titled Popular Problems. It's the 13th album in one of the most celebrated and fascinating musical careers of our time. It seems like a fine time to reflect on his discography — so here are the great man's 12 studio records to date, ranked from worst to best.
Aretha Franklin's new album, Aretha Franklin Takes on the Great Diva Classics, is exactly what it sounds like: Aretha Franklin putting other "divas" to shame by singing their songs. Ha! Just kidding, although hearing Aretha take on "Rolling in the Deep" might just bring Adele back a bit faster? Maybe? Either way, Aretha's take on Sinéad O’Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" will be something special.
The long-awaited Fergie comeback is upon us ... and it sounds a lot like "Rack City." Blame DJ Mustard for that, not Fergie Ferg, who actually sounds a lot like her old self. "L.A. Love (La La)" just happens to be the Animaniacs' "Nations of the World" for our new pop generation — but it only features cool places like Puerto Rico, Vegas, Rio, Tokyo, São Paulo, Miami, and Jamaica. It's a party-hopper's geography lesson, okay?
Elizabeth McGovern — aka Downton Abbey’s Cora Crawley — will be taking a break from estate life, embarking on a 20-date U.S. tour with her seven-piece folk-rock band, Sadie and the Hotheads, in which she's the lead singer. "It's a slightly funny experience for fans of the show to come hear the music because it's such a different world to the show itself," McGovern told the Associated Press on Sunday. "When we first started touring there would be a lot of people carrying Downtown Abbey books ... and I could see a look of surprise on their faces because it isn't what you expect. I mean it's not a classical quartet of violins.” Suffice it to say the Dowager Countess would not approve.
Celebrities and celebrity musicians from Hugh Jackman and Zachary Quinto to No Doubt and a pregnant Alicia Keys gathered last night in Central Park for the Global Citizen Festival, which aims to end extreme poverty by 2030. (To get a free concert ticket, attendees had to pledge to do something for the cause such as sign a petition or tweet at global leaders.) But the mother of all celebrities, Beyoncé, came out and upstaged them all, when she performed "Holy Grail" and "Young Forever" alongside her husband Jay Z, the headliner. At the end of the former, Hova bellowed, "That's real life, New York!" Some of you will speculate as to why they're performing a song about a very tumultuous relationship amid rumors of an impending divorce. Maybe they're just trolling you. Or maybe it's just a song. Watch it below:
We (sort of) called it: All of Thom Yorke's mysterious clues were leading up to a new solo album. It's called Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, and it comes out ... right now, actually. Despite what some predicted, the album was not released to the world on 3-D-printed vinyl. Instead, Yorke and producer Nigel Goodrich did something even more 2014: They put the whole thing on BitTorrent (which is a very modern kind of box). You can buy it for $6 via the streaming panel below. It looks like there is even a music video included, so get ready to learn some more arm-dancing.
On Tuesday, a new eight-disc box set featuring reissues of George Harrison's first six solo records, called The Apple Years 1968–75, will be hitting shelves. In honor of the release, Conan O'Brien celebrated George Harrison Week, inviting Norah Jones, Beck, Paul Simon, and Harrison’s son Dhani to pay tribute to the late Beatle by singing some of his songs. Since the week — or, at least, the week in late-night talk shows — is now officially over, we've compiled all the performances here.
Spontaneous celebrity karaoke is one of our most vaunted art forms, and we can now welcome Samuel L. Jackson into the pantheon of greats (where he joins Bill Murray, Tom Hiddleston, and Vin Diesel). Here, as evidence, is an Instagram video, shared by model Daisy Lowe, of Jackson belting out an impassioned rendition of Robyn's "Show Me Love" at a charity event at London’s Abbey Road Studios. Jackson's command of party tricks such as celebrity impressions and slam poetry is well-documented, so we're not surprised to see him excel in this arena as well. Invite Samuel L. Jackson to all your parties, people.
The eternally delayed comeback album has become a running joke in the music business, instantly evoked by the words Chinese Democracy (finally released to a tepid response 15 years after Guns N' Roses' previous album) and Detox (it's been 15 years and counting since 2001, and now Dr. Dre maybe isn't calling it Detox anymore). But there are actually quite a few artists who manage to return after a really long break with an excellent album. This week, electronic-music pioneer Aphex Twin did just that with the widely acclaimed Syro, his first in 13 years. In his honor, here are the 11 best studio albums by artists who were away for at least a decade. (A criterion that rules out favorites like Patti Smith's Gone Again, Dr. Dre's 2001, and Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel ...)
Not only is Kanye West's new album basically done, but people have heard it — multiple times! According to Theophilus London's Instagram, Kanye hosted a listening party during Paris Fashion Week, which he spent "playing his new album three times in a dark room of 20 people ... and moshing drunk with mad babes." (London is apparently on the first single, so that is why he got to be there.) Kanye recently told GQ he wasn't sure whether the album should come out in September, October, or November, so he's only got five days before part of that decision is made for him.
Hilary Duff's first comeback single was kind of boring, but we're enjoying the Swiftian vibe of her second one, "All About You." That song now has a music video, in which Duff dances around a room that may possibly be the same one from "What a Girl Wants." Then she goes to the L.A. River for what can only be described as an American Eagle hoedown. It's like a classier version of "Timber."
Now streaming at NPR: the entire Gone Girl soundtrack and score, written by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Get a sense of the Fincher darkness before you even set foot in a theater. Also a fun game? See if you can place the song titles into what you remember from the book.
If this Instagram from tattoo artist Doctor Woo is to be believed, the inner forearms of everybody's favorite Canadian rapper now feature a brand-new tattoo of the controversial prayer-hands (or high-five) emoji. Was it just us, or did you always think Drake's first emoji-based tattoo would be the cry-face?
Vinyl records are getting cooler and cooler, says Nielsen, noting a steady rise in sales from 2007 until today. And that's mostly thanks to places like Urban Outfitters, whose chief administrative officer, Calvin Hollinger, bragged during a meeting with analysts yesterday: "Music is very, very important to the Urban customer … in fact, we are the world’s number one vinyl seller." It's not just a format anymore — it's a lifestyle.
A victory both you and your mother can agree on: Barbra Streisand's duet-packed album Partners (John Legend! Babyface! Billy Joel!) will hit No. 1 on the Billboard "200" next week, placing Chris Brown's X right below her at No. 2. Babs has got the No. 1 album thing on lock: This will be her tenth, with one in each of the last six decades.