The QH Blend’s Records of 2014

Sample of The QH Blend's 2014 music selections

Sample of The QH Blend’s 2014 music selections

The QH Blend unveils its selections for 2014 via Blogcritics. Please click here to see which albums made the cut and my thoughts on said recordings. See below for individual reviews for albums included in my 2014 list.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Wanderlust / Johnnyswim: Diamonds / Kelis: Food / Kimbra: The Golden Echo / Lenny Kravitz: Strut* / Jennifer Lopez: A.K.A. / Kylie Minogue: Kiss Me Once / Jody Watley: Paradise

[Editor’s Note: *―denotes originally published on Blogcritics.]

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The QH Blend Elsewhere in 2014

OtherAssignments

The QH Blend had a very busy year with its essays being published on both PopMatters and Blogcritics. If you’ve missed the essays, I’ve collected them all here; see below for the specific link to the corresponding artist that you’re interested in.  My selections from 2014 will be appearing soon, so be on the lookout!

Beyoncé / Brandy / Madonna & Kylie Minogue / Alanis Morissette / SealDonna Summer / Kim Wilde

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The QH Blend’s Class of 2004

20042014

Hello readers! If you missed my 2004-2014 retrospectives from throughout the year, I’ve collected them all for you here. See below for the specific link to the corresponding album that you’re interested in. My selections from 2014 will be appearing soon, so be on the lookout!

Emma Bunton: Free Me (read here)

Vanessa Carlton: Harmonium (read here)

De La Soul: The Grind Date (read here)

En Vogue: Soul Flower (read here)

Janet Jackson: Damita Jo (read here)

Gwen Stefani: Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (read here)

Hikaru Utada: Exodus (read here)

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Small Break, Be Back Soon!

hiatus2copy

Hello all! As the title states, I’m taking a brief hiatus while I handle some other odds and ends in my life. I will be back in December with my “Records of 2014″ entry so keep your eyes peeled. I appreciate those that have continued to check in and support The QH Blend. See you sooner than you think.-QH

 

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2004-2014 Retrospectives on De La Soul, Vanessa Carlton & Gwen Stefani

 

Collage

 

 

Artist: De La Soul

De La Soul, circa 2004

De La Soul, circa 2004

 

Album: The Grind Date

Label: AOI / Sanctuary Urban / BMG

Released: 10/5/04

Singles: “Shoomp,” “Much More,” “Rock Co.Kane Flow”

Synopsis: One of the most prolific and expressive outfits in hip-hop started the 2000’s ambitiously. Conceived as a three-part album series the “Art Official Intelligence” movement produced two records: Mosaic Thump (2000) and Bionix (2001). The LPs were fraught with commercial and creative turmoil. De La Soul persevered and decided to debunk their longtime label Tommy Boy Records to finalize the third installment in the AOI arc. The title of their album series also ended up becoming the name of  De La Soul’s own indie label.

The Grind Date began as the third entry to AOI, but ended up becoming its own record apart from that trilogy―AOI remains unfinished. Despite that creative question mark De La Soul left hanging with the AOI project, The Grind Date became their strongest effort since their mid-90’s stretch. The Grind Date featured only the best production from the likes of J Dilla, MadLib, 9th Wonder, Supa Dave West and Jake One.

Perfectly pitched between acerbic rhymes (“Verbal Clap”) and their most tuneful music (“Much More”) De La Soul had found the bridge between musicality and contemporary acknowledgement. A decade has passed since The Grind Date’s appearance, but if this is De La Soul’s last album to date it’s a good way to wrap their legacy.

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “Shopping Bags (She Got From You)”]

Artist: Vanessa Carlton

Carlton, circa 2004

Carlton, circa 2004

 

Album: Harmonium

Label: A&M

Released: 11/9/04

Singles: “White Houses”

Synopsis: Carlton had ridden the crest of the post-Lilith Fair singer-songwriter boom with her debut Be Not Nobody (2002). It was easy to assume that her follow-up Harmonium would meet a receptive audience. Unfortunately, Carlton did suffer a “sophomore slump” commercially with the album―creatively the record struck gold.

Richer in its musical presentation (think Kate Bush or Tori Amos), Carlton still maintained lyrical intimacy throughout the record. The jaunty opener “White Houses” recalled Carlton’s own teenage youth, but could mirror anyone’s own “coming of age” experience. Carlton also continued to peer into the notion of love’s complexities with the two highlights of the LP being “San Francisco” and “Afterglow”. A nice compromise between the approachable pop of her debut and her newfound cerebral explorations, Harmonium gained a cult following among Carlton fans. The record influenced her next two records, notably the superb Rabbits on the Run (2011).

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “White Houses”]

Artist: Gwen Stefani

Stefani, circa 2004

Stefani, circa 2004

Album: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.

Label: Interscope

Released: 11/23/04

Singles: “What You Waiting For?,” “Rich Girl,” “Hollaback Girl,” “Cool,” “Luxurious,” “Crash”

Synopsis: It had been a long time coming, but No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani unleashed one of the defining pop records of the decade with her solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Drawing from a wealth of influences―musically and visually―that included Harajuku culture, 1980’s pop and hip-hop, Stefani’s album was full of hits and strong non-single material.

The production muscle allowed Stefani’s lyrical ideas to soar: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Tony Kanal (bassist of No Doubt), Dr. Dre, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Andre 3000 (of OutKast). Whether waxing irreverent (“Rich Girl”), wacky (“Bubble Pop Electric”) or just creating something beautiful (“Cool”) Stefani was brilliant throughout the LP. It was the first single pulled from Love. Angel. Music. Baby. that hit hard―“What You Waiting For?” With a clever lyrical nod to the No Doubt b-side “Beauty Contest” (“Born to blossom, bloom to perish!”), Gwen’s awareness of her of solo flight risk was intriguing to hear.

One of the last great American pop records to emerge, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. proved that Stefani could be hip, smart and fashionable and that none of these concepts were mutually exclusive when it came to crafting pop music.

Ranking: Classic

[Watch / Listen: “What You Waiting For?”]

[Editor’s Note: All three albums are readily in print digitally and physically. Please see the respective official websites for current information: De La Soul / Vanessa Carlton / Gwen Stefani-QH]

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Lenny Kravitz’s “Strut” Reviewed on Blogcritics

Kravitz, circa 2014

Kravitz, circa 2014

My essay on Lenny Kravitz’s new album Strut is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. Kravitz hits it hard and fast on his 10th album in his third decade of recording. The record is in stores today. Make sure to check it out!

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Lindsey Stirling Wants to #MakeMusicSocial

Stirling in performance

Stirling in performance

Has technology and social media removed the face-to-face component from popular music? Record shops, ever persistent, have become an endangered species in the age of iPods, playlists and Spotify.

With the boundlessness of the Internet, music should cross all barriers. However, most of us are so plugged in to our devices we don’t communicate out loud about music anymore. This “tech-Pandora’s Box” we’ve opened isn’t all doom and gloom though; enter Lindsey Stirling, a product of this age.

Seizing her chance to platform her abilities as a professional violinist and dancer, Stirling used outlets such as Youtube to take her art to the masses. Bypassing the routes many have had to utilize to achieve visibility, Stirling’s intense contemporary fusion style (think Vanessa-Mae) hooked listeners. Her eponymous debut appeared in 2012 and went gold in a fair amount of time.

Stirling continued to hone her skills even after she broke into the mainstream, performing any and everywhere; earlier this year Stirling’s second LP manifested―Shatter Me. The LP arrived in the higher regions of the U.S. Billboard 200 (#2); it’s evidence that Lindsey Stirling’s momentum is gaining quickly.

Shatter Me album cover

Shatter Me album cover

In addition to her career, Stirling has always given back to the arts communities.  A recent example includes Stirling joining the growing roster supporting #MakeMusicSocial. Created by the wireless speaker company UE BOOM, the movement seeks to “make music social and rekindle the love of listening to music out loud”.

Released last month as the third single from Shatter Me, “Master of Tides” is a mesmeric slice of Stirling’s style. The music video―in conjunction with #MakeMusicSocial―was filmed live in Glendale, California at the Americana at Brand Mall.

The “Master of Tides” clip begins like a modern day flashmob performance before transforming into a combination of steampunk, nautical theatrics and classical music. The audiences seen in the video are clearly spellbound by Stirling and Cirque Berzerk’s energy. The dance troupe, choreographed by Suze Q, was masterfully matched to the Stirling composition.

“Master of Tides”

Directed By: Mike Green

Stirling’s thoughts on the “Master of Tides” music video sums up her overall mission as an entertainer: “The reason I’ve always wanted to do a spontaneous performance is because you get to surprise people; you get to make people, hopefully, smile that weren’t expecting this. And I’m looking forward to hopefully, you know, making a memorable night for someone”.

Through #MakeMusicSocial, Stirling takes the next step forward as the bridge between the old and new schools of popular music culture thought. If her commitment to quality remains consistent, Stirling will continue to captivate for years to come.

[Editor’s Note: The link to the UE Boom campaign #MakeMusicSocial is featured above in the essay. Stirling’s records are available in all digital and physical music outlets. For more information on Lindsey Stirling, visit her official website.-QH]

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