INGRID MICHAELSON CELEBRATES “LIGHTS OUT” IN NYC

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She’s been performing for nearly a decade, but 2014 is shaping up to be Ingrid Michaelson’s biggest year yet.

On Wednesday, the 34-year-old played to a sold-out crowd of approximately 5,500 adoring fans at New York’s iconic Central Park SummerStage. It was the singer / songwriter’s largest headlining show to date, and Michaelson was very visibly moved by the turnout when she stepped onto the stage to commemorate the milestone.

But the size of the venue wasn’t the only reason that the flame-haired native Staten Islander was celebrating that night. “Girls Chase Boys,” the lead single off her new album Lights Out (iTunes), had just sold a coveted 500,000 copies. And her band surprised her by presenting her with a plaque lauding the achievement right before she broke into the song.

With an accompanying viral music video that pays homage to Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible,” “Girls Chase Boys” is Michaelson’s highest-charting single since her breakout “The Way I Am” peaked at #37 in 2007. The upbeat track can be found not only on the Billboard Pop Songs top 40 chart, but also in a Target ad, movie trailers, and an upcoming episode of The Voice. Not too shabby for someone who was discovered on MySpace and doesn’t have the support of a major record label (Michaelson still records under the Cabin 24 Records banner–a label she started so that she can keep full artistic control and rights to her music).

It’s not just the growing list of accolades that makes “Girls Chase Boys” a defining turning point in Michaelson’s repertoire. Upon its release, the song signaled an artistic evolution that found the singer straying away from her indie rock roots to exploring her pop sensibilities in ways she never has before. It became instantly clear that she’s now more inspired by artists like Sia and Lana Del Rey, who have managed to blend their unique styles with contemporary pop to form layered and distinct new sounds, than by musicians like Regina Spektor or the late Elliott Smith, whose influences were very apparent in her earlier work.

Ingrid Michaelson

When it came time to work on Lights Out, Michaelson decided to take a slightly different creative approach than with her previous albums. This time around, she chose to invite various other artists and producers to lend their talents to the record–including BusbeeA Great Big WorldKatie Herzig,Mat Kearney, and Trent Dabbs. This allowed her to turn it into a passion project that resembled a musical family affair.

“The first half of 2012 was pretty rough in terms of just my own health and my family’s health, and there was just a lot of darkness,” Michaelson recently told Yahoo! Entertainment, explaining what inspired her to switch gears and ditch her solo act. “When you have a really hard time it changes you in a lot of ways, and when I came out of it, I just wanted to do things differently. I had this change of heart and I wanted to embrace the idea of making a very collaborative record.”

During the recording of the album, Michaelson’s mother was battling cancer, her dog died, and she herself was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. As a result, the album is lyrically rather dark, despite its sonically poppier sound. “A lot of what I wrote about in the past was just straight up love and I have no problem admitting that,” she explained to The Wall Street Journal. In contrast, Lights Out is “more about coming to terms with losing people and your mortality.”

It’s fitting, then, that when Lights Out was released on April 5th, Michaelson performed an intimate concert at the gorgeous chapel in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. With a tiny audience that included celebrity pals Taylor Swift and Mariska Hargitay, the exclusive event quickly underlined just what an emotional and raw record Michaelson had created. Performing many of the tracks for a live audience for the first time, the chanteuse masterfully introduced her sixth record–which would go on to debut at #1 on iTunes and #5 on the Billboard 200.

Ingrid Michaelson / Lights Out

In May, when the official Lights Out tour first hit New York, Michaelson told another sold-out crowd at Terminal 5 that she had just learned the day before that her mother was finally cancer free. Two songs later, she helped an audience member propose to his girlfriend, further amplifying the celebration of life that the night had turned into. It was there that Lights Out became the work of someone who had emerged from a period of profound devastation, rather than that of someone still trying to work through it.

So when this week’s Central Park concert rolled around, Michaelson was ready to pull out all of the stops to make it her splashiest gig yet. All of a sudden, these songs of harrowing despair took on a new meaning of survival, and the singer was determined to show what that meant to her.

She brought her husband Greg Laswell (also a musician) to the stage to perform their Lights Out duet,“Wonderful Unknown,” a beautiful exploration of what new spouses have to look forward to together. “We make bread on Sundays and the little ones are climbing up the walls,” the duo lovingly crooned while Michaelson played piano and Laswell stood by her side. “Oh, nothing lasts forever but the sound of love astounds me every time that it calls.”

Ingrid Michaelson

And Laswell wasn’t the only guest performer joining Michaelson throughout the setlist. During “Over You,” Glee star Darren Criss sang the male part that usually belongs to A Great Big World. Irish folk-rockers Storyman came on stage for their collaboration, “You Got Me,” and singer/songwriter Eric Hutchinson assisted Michaelson on a rowdy cover of current MAGIC! summer hit, “Rude.” But nothing was more surprising than when former Journey lead vocalist Steve Augeri joined Michaelson during her encore for an energetic and unforgettable performance of the classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

While the night consisted primarily of cuts from Lights Out, the songstress also treated her fans to some of the most beloved tracks in her back catalogue–including “The Chain,” “Parachute,” “Soldier,” “Blood Brothers,” and a stirring medley of “Maybe” and “Everybody.” Additional highlights included one of Michaelson’s favorite songs to cover, “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” the always adorable “You And I,” and a gorgeously stripped down rendition of “The Way I Am.”

For her last song before the encore, Michaelson played Lights Out closer “Everyone Is Gonna Love Me Now.” A ballad that builds to a cinematic crescendo, the song feels like it’s specifically written for audience participation. After teaching the crowd how to sing their part, the voices started to slowly trickle in before it felt like everyone there was fully participating. While this made for a similarly poignant moment at the Green-Wood Chapel, it packed an even mightier punch to see and hear a group of people so large come together and release whatever inhibitions they had to form a united chorus and appreciate Michaelson’s extraordinary talent.

To wrap up the show, Michaelson sang “Afterlife,” the second single from Lights Out and the one for which she recently shot a music video. She prefaced the song by telling the audience that she has a tendency to neurotically worry about the past and the future, but has a difficult time living in the present. Yet that was all about to change.

“Living like you’re dying isn’t living at all, give me your cold hands, put them on my heart,” she triumphantly sang. “Raise a glass to everyone who thinks they’ll never make it through this life, to live a brand new start!”

To Michaelson, “Afterlife” is about living in the moment and appreciating being alive. It’s a theme that was there throughout the whole show, but it was no more evident than during that last song. Joined on stage by all the guest performers from the evening, Michaelson had a lot to celebrate. It was the culmination of what proved to be the most critically and commercially successful point of her career thus far. No artist–and no audience–can ask for much more than that.

Ingrid Michaelson and Alex Nagorski

Originally published on PopBytes

INGRID MICHAELSON TURNS ROBERT PALMER’S “SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE” ON ITS HEAD WITH “GIRLS CHASE BOYS”

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Ingrid Michaelson transformed into everyone from John Lennon to Lady Gaga in her 2012 music video for “Blood Brothers.” Today, she pays homage to Robert Palmer with her new single, “Girls Chase Boys,” a stunning, gender-bending salute to Palmer’s 1988 video for “Simply Irresistible.”

“Girls Chase Boys’ started out as a break-up song but took on a deeper meaning as I continued writing,” Michaelson explained on her website. “More than just being about my experience, its focus shifted to include the idea that, no matter who or how we love, we are all the same. The video takes that idea one step further, and attempts to turn stereotypical gender roles on their head. Girls don’t exclusively chase boys. We all know this. We all chase each other and in the end we are all chasing after the same thing: love.”

The song is a soaring anthem of self-empowerment and hope, not unlike her friend and collaborator Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” (Look for the inevitable Katy Perry knock-off soon.) The video finds the songstress looking smoldering against a backdrop of chiseled man-candy, who are fully made up and rocking skintight pink tank tops. As it progresses, the shirts come off, dance breaks are had, women join in, everyone butt-grinds and Michaelson remains as flawless as ever.

It’s impressive how Michaelson manages to tweak the sexualization of women in music videos without coming off like a buzzkill. We can’t wait to see what she has in store for the rest of 2014.

Ingrid Michaelson‘s Lights Out will be released on April 15. Pre-order it on iTunes now.

And check out Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible,” below:

Originally published on NewNowNext

INGRID MICHAELSON’S “HUMAN AGAIN” TOUR: A CONCERT REVIEW

There’s an incomparable sense of community at an Ingrid Michaelson concert.

Last Thursday, Ingrid ended her spring tour with a homecoming show at Terminal 5 in New York City. Unbeknownst to the 32-year-old singer/songwriter, her management distributed glow sticks to all the audience members upon their arrival. The instructions were to keep them hidden until the encore and wait for the cue to take them out.

“This is going to be our last song,” Ingrid told the audience with a wink. “And by that I mean you’ll clap and we’ll all come back out on stage and sing a few more,” she teased before breaking into an explosive cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love” – disco balls, strobe lights and all. #HipsterParadise indeed.

Moments later, the crowd started chanting Ingrid’s name to beckon her back. At this point, a member of the tour crew came on stage with a giant sign to tell the audience that now was the time to whip out their glow sticks. All of a sudden, flashes of neon pink, yellow and green waving in the air interrupted the darkness of the venue.

Upon Ingrid’s return to the stage, her genuine surprise was written all over her face. And she was still choked up when the encore’s first song, “Maybe,” began to play. It was the type of reaction you see from friends when you ambush them with a gift that only someone who knows them really well would know to get. Except this time around, it was one person getting that surprise from 3,000 devoted people at the same time.

If you think about it, the synchronized display of glow sticks is a true testament to Ingrid’s artistry. After all, nobody expects thousands of strangers to group together and quietly choreograph a visual tribute to them.

Yet Ingrid’s music and lyrics are so accessible and introspective that it’s a huge challenge not to feel a personal connection to them. Her metaphors are simple but the imagery they evoke is usually so rich and vivid, it’s as though she’s holding a microscope to her listener’s soul. The desire to physically express the uniformity of her message is one that her fans can’t help but have. Even if it is in the form of a tiny gesture like keeping a glow stick in your pocket for an hour and a half and then taking it out at the same time as everyone around you. Her fans have always felt at one with Ingrid. It was time for her fans to show her that she was at one with them too.

This sense of community, however, did not end with the unspoken agreement about the glow sticks. Ingrid told personal, funny stories to the crowd just as you would gossip with your friend on your living room couch. And each time she told another one, it was like she was getting closer to everybody in the room.

“Only in New York would people scream ‘who are you?’ while you’re singing,” she recalled about performing at last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. “And I was like ‘bitch, I’m on a float. That’s who I am.’” The crowd broke into uproarious laughter. “And this one guy kept shouting it but as I approached closer to him he was like ‘oh alright but you hot, you hot’ and I stopped glaring at him because I was very flattered.”

The laughter continued until Ingrid began to play the opening notes of “Blood Brothers” on the piano. She was letting her audience get to know her outside of her music and for a moment, it was like she was friends with everybody crammed inside the sold-out venue.


For the quirky and sweet “You and I,” Ingrid brought her opening act, British folk/rockers Scars On 45, back on stage along with her own entire band and tour crew. Together, they all stood in a semi circle and took turns signing lines of the song as Ingrid stood on one end strumming away at her ukulele. When they sang the line, “baby how we spoon like no one else,” the vast group of people on stage piled on top of another and had to pause for a moment to regain composure after an outbreak of laughter. It was a moment that celebrated the six weeks of the tour together as much as it celebrated the comraderie of the evening.

When the house lights went on after the show had ended, it felt like the end of a party. Ingrid didn’t just stand up on stage and sing a collection of songs from all throughout her musical catalog. She invited her audience into her world and for those couple of hours, we all stared wide-eyed at her – some inspired, some with tears, and some with resentment towards their girlfriends for dragging them to this show.

But no matter how they felt about her music, every audience member walked out of that venue feellng as though they had gotten to know Ingrid better. That’s a true feat in our contemporary pop culture psyche that values spectacle over connection. Luckily for her fans, Ingrid Michaelson doesn’t play by those rules, and the result is unlike any other concert-going experience I’ve had since … well, the last Ingrid concert I went to.

Ingrid Michaelson’s latest album, Human Again, is available now.

Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW WITH GREG LASWELL


Greg Laswell
is sort of like J.D. Salinger.

When it came time to write and record his fourth album, Landline, Laswell relocated himself to a place where he could not be disturbed. A place where he would be free to create his art without the distractions of his everyday world. A place so peaceful that his cell phone literally couldn’t even ring to disrupt the tranqulity.

As it did with Salinger, the whole hermit schtick proved to really work out for Laswell. Landline is a gorgeous and expertly crafted record from start to finish. And it’s easily the indie singer/songwriter’s strongest and most musically sophisticated body of work to date (just think of all the possibilties, Grey’s Anatomy music-picking-people!).

Gearing up for Tuesday’s release of Landline (via Vanguard Records), Greg spoke with me about the album, the various ladies he collaborated with on it, his recent foray into dance music, what animal stands no fighting change against him, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: Landline has a much larger and richer sound than your previous releases – in that there seem to be many influences and musical styles on the record that haven’t been prevalent in your repertoire thus far. What inspired this musical evolution?

GREG LASWELL: I’m in a good place in my personal life these days. I think these songs reflect that. Plus, I had gotten a little comfortable with knowing how to make a “Greg Laswell” record. I wanted to start over in a way.

AN: Since you self-produced the album, what were some of the biggest obstacles/challenges you faced while crafting this expanded version of your signature sound?

GL: My problem is always knowing when to stop recording. I can be quite the perfectionist and more often than not, perfection is not what a song needs. There’s no one in the room to say, “that’s it! that’s the take!” But I love being alone in the studio. One of these days I’ll work with a producer, but not yet.

AN: You’ve mentioned that Landline is heavily influenced by hip-hop records that you were listening to while writing and recording the album. Specifically which musicians/albums were you referring to?

GL: Method Man, Eminem, Kanye, Nas, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G.


AN: You left Brooklyn to record the album in a small church-turned-house in a Maine lobstering town. Is it safe to assume that you can now cook the meanest lobster in New York?

GL: No, but it is safe to assume that I am a stone-cold murderer of them.

AN: After hearing the vocals that Sara Bareilles recorded for the album’s lead single, “Come Back Down” (which I reviewed here), you went back into the studio to re-record your own. What about Sara’s vocals triggered you to rework yours?

GL: The melody and phrasing all stayed the same, they just needed a slight energy boost next to hers. It’s easy for me to ease into what I know works for my vocal range, she helped me out of it momentarily.

AN: Your album features a wide roster of guest vocalists, including Sara Bareilles, Sia, Elizabeth Ziman (of Elizabeth and the Catapult) and your wife, Ingrid Michaelson. What triggered you to work with so many female vocalists on this record?

GL: It was an idea that I had been throwing around for years, and I’ve always had female vocalists somewhere on my records (Ingrid sang on a few songs on my last one). I thought Landline was the record to take it a little further on. I wanted these songs to be bigger than just me, and with the help of these four amazing singers, they are.

AN: Hypothetically, if you were to re-record another four of your songs as duets with male musicians, whom would you ask to sing with you and on which tracks?

GL: Honestly, I wouldn’t want to re-record four of my songs with male musicians.

AN: Can you tell me a little bit about your creative process behind the stop-motion video that Entertainment Weekly premiered for “Back To You”?

GL: It was a laborious one … 1500 pictures. However, it was by trial and error to get the motion right, so I ended up doing it three times (4500 pictures altogether). Take a picture, move everything an inch or so, take another picture. That, 4500 times.

AN: You recently collaborated with producer Morgan Page on “Addicted,” a track from his new album, In The Air. How did the experience of working on a club song differ from what you’re used to? And can your fans be expecting to hear your voice on any more dance tracks in the future?

GL: It was different because all I had to do was write the melody and sing it. Morgan did everything else. I didn’t have to obsess over the parts or the mix, or the song itself. I just got to come in, write lyrics and sing them. It was like taking your friend’s dog for a walk – you have a great time and then give it back. No responsibility.

AN: In a world run by cell phones, social media and instant on-the-go web access, imagery of a landline almost seems a bit antiquated. Can you talk a little bit about how you came up with the title track and why you felt naming your album after it was the most representative name for the record as a whole?

GL: I think the age of landlines and answering machines was romantic. I miss it. I’m thankful that I got to grow up without cellphones. That aside, the reason the album is called Landline is because there was little to no cell service where I recorded the record in Maine. So I had to use the landline. Easy title choice.

AN: As a songwriter, what’s the most moving response you’ve heard a fan have to your work?

GL: More than a couple times now, I’ve had someone tell me that they played “What a Day” during the birth of their child. I suppose there isn’t a better compliment than that.

AN: If you were to open your fridge on any standard day, what would you find inside?

GL: Another, smaller fridge. And one inside that, etc..

AN: This spring, you’re embarking on a national headlining tour. How will your shows supporting Landline differ from your previous tours? Any cities you’re most looking forward to playing in?

GL: Well, I’m taking out the largest band I’ve ever had. There will be six of us up there (including  a cello player). And Elizabeth, who sings on the record, will be playing and singing in the band as well. Pretty excited for these shows. I always look forward to playing my two hometowns, LA and New York.

Landline is available to preorder on iTunes now.

Originally published on PopBytes

THE TEN BEST SONGS OF 2012 (SO FAR!)


2012 certainly hasn’t been a quiet year so far. We may still have three fourths of the year to go, but we’ve already seen Mitt Romney show off his excellent rap skills, we watched our last season of Jersey Shore that didn’t have a crib in the smush room, and we helped The Hunger Games take a massive bite out of box office records.

From Madonna’s record-breaking Super Bowl performance to Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s first baby entering the Billboard charts just days after she entered the world, 2012 is also shaping up to be an unprecedented year for music. Check out my list of top ten songs from the first quarter of the year and share your favorites in the comments section below!

10. Madonna, “Gang Bang”

It seems almost reductive (see what I did there?) to point out that Madonna is the holy grail of pop stars. For proof, look no further than this Tuesday, when her 12th(!) studio record – the *almost* eponymous MDNA – is released.

Don’t let the ploy-for-attention title of “Gang Bang” fool you. Lyrically, it’s one of Madge’s darkest and most twisted tracks in years. “I’m going straight to hell and I got a lot of friends there,” her voice crescendos over the pulsing bassline. “And If I see that bitch in hell, I’m gonna shoot him in the head again ‘cuz I want to see him die over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.” So like … bye Guy Ritchie?

Musically, “Gang Bang” is explosive electro-pop with a sophisticated gothic twist. There’s also a dubstep breakdown sleek enough to grease up the proverbial (or not – we don’t judge here) stripper pole you’ll undoubtedly be clamoring to slide down whenever “Gang Bang” pours out your speakers. Plus, this past weekend during a live Facebook chat with Jimmy Fallon, Madge admitted it was her personal favorite cut off the new record.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether the song’s title comes from the gun metaphors throughout it or the fact that with this solid track, Madonna literally fucks the relevance out of all her “competition.”

9. WZRD feat. Desire, “Teleport 2 Me, Jamie”

WZRD is the moniker of rapper Kid Cudi and producer Dot da Genius’ alternative rock collaboration. Unfortunately, the band’s self-titled debut album is to Cudi what hosting the Oscars was to James Franco – an overambitious and subsequently failed attempt to try to prove there’s nothing he can’t do.

While the majority of this album lacks a sense of cohesion and feels awkwardly off, “Teleport 2 Me, Jamie” is a major exception. Sampling the moody ‘80s synth pop deliciousness that is Desire’s “Under Your Spell” (made popular on the acclaimed soundtrack to last year’s hit film, Drive), this song masterfully blends Cudi’s signature hip-hop flavor with longing lyrics and a mid-tempo rock backdrop. It’s the first and only time on WZRD’s album that this multi-genre exploration enhances rather than hinders Cudi’s words. And the end result is one of the most interesting and catchy songs to come out of 2012 so far.

8. Ingrid Michaelson, “Ribbons”

On her latest album, Human Again, singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson decided to spice up her signature song recipe. If a sampling of Michaelson’s previous catalog suggests that her music was a one-pot-wonder with few ingredients more than a ukulele, an acoustic guitar and a pinch of percussion, Human Again transformed the songstress into a master chef. Instead of serving the same dish again, Michaelson baked layers of multi-instrumentation and sprinkled exotic new flavors into her signature sound. And while upon the first bite, Human Again may taste like something that you would expect from Michaelson, you’ll soon realize that this time around, the serving she’s put on your plate is significantly richer, bolder and more original.

“Ribbons” acts as a perfect example of the marriage between’s Ingrid’s acoustic roots and the full-band feel of her edgier musical evolution. While an acoustic guitar takes lead on the song’s orchestration, it no longer headlines a solo show. Guided by driving percussion and soaring strings, “Ribbons” becomes an ensemble piece, shining spotlights on its various supporting players to become a more lavish and detailed overall production. Lyrically, the song is composed of Ingrid’s classic poetic and subtle metaphors, securing that this is a woman spearheading a new and exciting movement of indie pop.

(Read my full review of Human Again here)

7. Mouth’s Cradle, “The Fever”

With their debut album, 2010’s The Next Big Thing, local Pennsylvania duo Mouth’s Cradle released one of the most refreshingly kick-ass records in recent hip hop.

The band is to their respective genre what Cory Arcangel is to contemporary visual art. By often crafting their beats out of obscure samples (i.e. the Pokémon theme song), Mouth’s Cradle uses a postmodern approach to create something completely new out of their twisted interpretations of pre-existing material. This invites their listeners to experience a seemingly familiar piece of art in an entirely new way. And thus Mouth’s Cradle’s songs take on their own artistic identities while simultaneously challenging the tools used to craft them.

Gearing up for the release of their next album (set to drop next month), Mouth’s Cradle has just released the record’s lead single, “The Fever.” Think B.o.B meets Freelance Whales meets the Pacman theme. Just don’t listen to this song any place you want kept clean because one play count in and your mind will be blown all over the place.

6. American Royalty, “Matchstick”

While describing American Royalty’s music video for “Matchstick,” Interview Magazine (who also exclusively premiered the clip) wrote that, in keeping with the band’s genre-bending ethos, psychedelic images are paired with bluesy-sounding interludes, and the 1950s intro shows down with the 1970s aesthetic until an unequivocally modern chorus confirms the timelessness of American Royalty’s sound.”

While “timeless” may not have been the first word I would have used to describe a sound reminiscent of what you would imagine a collaboration between Elton John and Sleigh Bells sounding like, it’s perhaps a fitting adjective in that “Matchstick” is a track unafraid to scale the musical timeline by paying homage to both classic rock and contemporary thrashing electronica. Intrigued? You should be because when their first full-length album drops later this year, American Royalty is not a name you’ll be hearing infrequently.

5. Childish Gambino, “Heartbeat” (Tommie Sunshine Remix)

As one of the founders of Derrick Comedy (the comedy troupe behind such viral sensations as “Bro Rape,” “Blowjob Girl” and “National Spelling Bee”), an award-winning writer for TV shows such as 30 Rock and The Daily Show, and as one of the stars of NBC’s current cult-favorite sitcom Community, Donald Glover appears to have his hands completely full.

It’s no surprise then that on his debut major-release album, Camp (released last November via Glassnote Records), Glover (under the persona Childish Gambino) cheekishly raps, “I won’t stop until they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover.”

“Heartbeat,” the album’s largest single to date, is also arguably the record’s best track. A rapid-fire slice of electro-rap, this club banger tells the story of a pair of star-crossed lovers in a cheating scandal. Self-aware as he is funny, Glover writes lyrics that both comment on and have ironic fun with the often-regarded notion that hip-hop is a genre that demeans women. “I’m going straight for your thighs like the cake you ate,” he confidently spits out on one of the verses in “Heartbeat.”

The recently released Tommie Sunshine remix of “Heartbeat” extends the track by one minute by adding in a prevalent machine-gun bassline and speaker-thumping trance. And while the original cut of the song remains superior, this remix is the first can of Kerosene to truly set fire to the dance floor in 2012.

(Official music video for “Heartbeat.” Purchase the Tommie Sunshine remix on iTunes)

4. Regina Spektor, “All The Rowboats”

After the lackluster critical reception of her last album (2009’s Far), singer/songwriter Regina Spektor knew that she had to break out of her comfort zone when working on her follow-up record, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats (out May 29th from Sire Records).

To assist her on this quest, Spektor took a page from Fiona Apple and enlisted the help of producer Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Eminem, Alanis Morissette, Rilo Kiley). Together, the duo has given Spektor’s erratic folk/pop sound a dark, electronic makeover. This time around, when Spektor pounds away at her trademark piano, the sound leaving the ivory keys is accompanied by moody synth-pop.

Lyrically, the song uses the metaphors of paintings hanging in a museum to evoke imagery of feeling helpless and trapped. “Masterpieces serving maximum sentences/It’s their own fault for being timeless/There’s a price to pay and a consequence,” Spektor sings with clear agony in her voice.

If the overall direction of What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is to be discerned from “All The Rowboats,” it seems Spektor has reinvented herself to usher in a new era of brooding piano pop with a surprising and welcome twist.

3. Animal Kingdom, “Strange Attractor”

Since being named iTunes’ “Best New Alternative Act” after the release of their single, “Tin Man,” in 2009, British rock band Animal Kingdom have added quite a few more notches to their belt. For instance, they’ve toured alongside bands such as Snow Patrol, Vampire Weekend and Band of Horses and have had their music featured in TV shows like Big Love and movies like Never Let Me Go.

This spring, the band is set to release their sophomore album. Lead single “Strange Attractor” has the same melodic urgency as “Tin Man,” but with a heavily cranked up dosage of synthesizer. And it’s got a chorus so catchy, you’ll be mentally replaying it every quiet moment of your day.

It’s a good thing that “Strange Attractor” is a song big enough to fill a stadium. Because that’s exactly where Animal Kingdom will be performing it in the not-so-distant future.

2. Chiddy Bang, “Talking To Myself”

Philadelphia hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang had the industry abuzz long before the release of their debut full-length album this February. After all, what’s not exciting about a band that was endorsed by Kanye West on his blog, holds the Guinness World Record for Longest Freestyle Rap, samples indie musicians like MGMT, Ellie Goulding, Passion Pit, Sufjan Stevens and Yelle, and shares their weed with Keith Richards?

Upon my first listen of Chiddy Bang’s Breakfast, I immediately knew “Talking To Myself” was my favorite song on the album. The mid-tempo track perfectly represents Chiddy’s sound: a hipster-approved cocktail made from two parts awesomely written hip hop and one part toe-tapping indie rock. It’s a concoction that goes down so smoothly, it’ll have you constantly thirsting for another round.

1. Fun., “Some Nights”

For Fun.’s sophomore album, Some Nights, the band expanded on their anthemetic folk-laced harmonies to really push the limits of both their own music and pop in general. Some Nights is infused with soaring 70’s rock, trance-saturated beats, expertly crafted theatricality and a hearty dosage of hip hop influences.

It’s no coincidence that one listen of Some Nights evokes memories of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Both albums feature heavy production by Jeff Bhasker, whose additional credits include tracks from Jay-Z, Beyonce, Drake, Lana Del Rey, Kid Cudi, Mary J. Blige and Robin Thicke to name a few.

With Bhasker behind the wheel, the title track off Fun.’s Some Nights is the perfect sampling of this brilliant record. Blending tactful AutoTune with slick pop hooks and punch-you-in-the-gut lyrics (“My heart is breaking for my sister and the con that she called love/But when I look into my nephew’s eyes/Man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from/Some terrible lie”), “Some Nights” is a soaring triumph that both rejuvenates and challenges the rest of today’s pop standards.

Other notable tracks of the year:

  • “Marathon Runner” by Yellow Ostrich
  • “September” by The Shins
  • “Do My Thang” by Estelle feat. Janelle Monae
  • “Anna Sun” by Walk The Moon
  • “Happy Pills” by Norah Jones
  • “Perfect World” by Gossip
  • “One Engine” by The Decemberists
  • “Black Tin Box” by Miike Snow feat. Lykke Li
  • “Dark Paradise” by Lana Del Rey
  • “Happiness” by Sam Sparro

Originally published on PopBytes