best new artist

19, 21, 25

No the title of this post does not refer to lottery numbers. Nor are they the “lucky numbers” I received on the back of a fortune cookie. If you’re in tune to the music world, no pun intended, you’ll know those numbers are more than just numbers. They’re the album titles of three records made by one of the most popular musical artists in recent time.

Almost five years ago, right before I became a hipster in style and music taste, I bought an album from the local record store. I don’t even remember what album it was. Along with the album though, I received a free compilation CD of newly released music. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. From time to time, the store gave out these compilation CD’s when you made a music purchase. I would always listen to them to see if I was missing out on any new music. On this particular occasion, there were a few songs that caught my ears, but there was one that really stood out. It was a song called “Rolling in the Deep” by a singer named Adele.

Pop singer/songwriter, Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, from Tottenham, London, England grew up with a strong affinity for music. She attended the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology and graduated in 2006 (Jessie J. and Leona Lewis were among her classmates). The same year she was given her first recording contract from XL Recordings after a friend posted her demo on Myspace. By 2008, she released her debut album, 19. It went seven times platinum in the UK and double platinum in America. She received the Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2009 for her work on it. Her second album, 21, was released on January 24, 2011. The following year she swept the Grammy’s winning a record-tying six awards including Album of the Year. 21 reached number 1 on the charts in more than 26 countries, has been certified 16 times platinum and is the fourth best selling album of all time in the UK, certified Diamond in the U.S., and has sold over 30 million copies world wide. It’s safe to say 21 surpassed the success of her debut record.

However, for the last four years, Adele has been on hiatus. The only music she released was the song “Skyfall” for the James Bond movie of the same name in 2012. She received a Grammy, an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe for the song. A few weeks ago, on October 23rd, Adele dropped the first single from her third studio album entitled “Hello”. In its debut week, the single sold over one million digital copies. The music video for “Hello” surpassed Taylor Swift’s video for “Bad Blood” by 7 million views on Vevo in the first 24 hours after its release. Finally, today, after almost 5 years, Adele released her new album, 25. If the success of “Hello” is any indication, this album is bound to go far in the music world.

To put it bluntly, Adele is a big fucking deal. The woman has the voice of an angel. Her music is incredibly full of soul and power. It’s been known to make entire civilizations weep. Between her singing, the music, and the lyrics, the whole message she sends with her songs can deeply touch the toughest of souls. It’s truly beautiful. She is one of the greatest singers of this generation.

When I first heard her single “Rolling in the Deep”, I had no idea who Adele was. I just liked her song. I even purchased 21 a few months later because of that sole reason (and I guess because I thought she was a good singer). At the time I was a senior in college on the verge of graduation and since high school, I was a self-proclaimed pop music hater. I guess Adele sort of changed that, but if you ask me I don’t think she creates and sings the same kind of pop music that singers like, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, or Lady Gaga do. It’s a different kind of pop music. It’s not something you really rock out to on the radio or dance to in a club, but more so music you sing along to at the top of your lungs on a long drive (or listen to in your bed with a tub of ice cream, box of chocolate, and tissues after a bad day), which is kind of how my love grew for Adele in the first place.

I purchased 21 right around the time of my college graduation. Three weeks after I graduated I went on vacation with my mother and our very close family friends. It took six hours to reach our destination and the whole trip I alternated between listening to 21 and Foster the People’s Torches. That’s when I truly fell in love with Adele. When we were about 15-20 minutes from our hotel, I blasted “Rolling in the Deep” and “Rumor Has It” on repeat partly because I loved those songs and partly because they were upbeat, it was around midnight, and I was trying not to fall asleep. For those reasons, 21 (and Torches) will always remind me of that trip.

As for 25, I picked up my copy earlier today. Like the rest of the world, I’ve been anticipating it for weeks. I’ve actually been listening to it on my boombox (cause yes I still buy CD’s) on repeat while I wrote this entire blog. I can’t say I have any complaints either. Much like Adele’s singing, the album is flawless. The message in 25 is much different than her previous works though. 19 and 21 were break-up albums, full of angsty, heart-breaking tunes. Just like a lot of us out there, Adele was once an emo kid and now she’s in her 20’s, she has child, and she’s done some maturing since her last album. 25 is about growing up. Being in the same generation as Adele, this album is so relate-able. When you’re in your 20’s, you’re caught between youth and adulthood, and that’s really the whole theme of the album. The songs are filled with nostalgia. “Hello” is a heartbreak apology. “When We Were Young”, “I Miss You”, and “Remedy” reminisce an old love. “Water Under the Bridge”, “Love in the Dark”, “All I Ask”, and “Sweetest Devotion” show maturity and understanding of what being in an adult relationship is about, and “Million Years Ago” is a reminder of youth. As much as I love all of Adele’s music, my favorites are the more upbeat songs. One of my favorites on the new album, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”, has this pop/folk feel to it, and I fell in love the first time I heard it. The same is true for “River Lea”. It’s an upbeat track full of memories. Target also released an exclusive version of the album containing three extra tracks, “Can’t Let Go”, “Lay Me Down”, and “Why Do You Love Me?”. Since I didn’t buy the album from Target, I’ve yet to hear these songs. Don’t worry though, I plan on hearing them and loving them soon enough.

In reference to the string of numbers for album titles, each title obviously reflects the singer’s age when she wrote the music. It’s a pretty clever way of categorizing your work, if you ask me. 19 launched Adele’s career and who knows if she will ever release an album as successful as 21. I’m sure 25 is on its way to put up a good fight and earn Adele a few more accolades in the process. If you don’t feel like missing out on this completely relate-able musical journey of Adele’s life, I would recommend listening to her music and buying/downloading a copy of 25. To get you started though, here are some other songs to check out:

  1. “Rolling in the Deep”
  2. “Rumor Has It”
  3. “Someone Like You”
  4. “Set Fire to Rain”
  5. “Chasing Pavements”
  6. “Hiding My Heart”
  7. “Hometown Glory”
  8. “Make You Feel My Love”

 

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Good Winter

In the beginning of 2007, I was a senior in high school. I listened to primarily punk/alternative rock music with the occasional ska and hardcore mixed in. I had just started a band with my three friends so we could play together in our school’s senior talent show. I went to shows, hung out with my band, and felt completely in my element. At the time, I had no idea my music taste would change again four years later (no pun intended) as it abruptly did when I was a high school freshman. I had no idea what album was in the process of being created and how it would come into my life when I was in an entirely different place.

In the winter of 2007, Justin Vernon (who I mentioned in my Grammy’s post) decided to spend 3 months in his father’s Wisconsin cabin after a rough time in his life (band break-up, relationship ending, battling mono). His intention was to recuperate from those circumstances, but what happened was the creation of an incredible work of musical art. He wrote and recorded songs completely by himself. He named his project “Bon Iver” which was his own variation of the French expression “bon hiver” meaning “good winter”.

Bon Iver’s first album was released in limited capacity in late spring 2007 (500 copies). The album entitled For Emma, Forever Ago contained the original recordings Vernon did while in seclusion in the cabin. The CD release show took place at the House of Rock in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (now home to Eaux Claires Music Festival which Vernon created). After the release show, the album received some attention from blog sites and indie publication site, Pitchfork, which lead to an eventual signing with indie label Jagjaguwar. The album was re-released in February 2008 under the new label, and went on to have much success, especially the song “Skinny Love”.

In 2009, Bon Iver released the EP Blood Bank featuring three new songs, “Beach Baby”, “Babys”, and “Woods”, and previously recorded song “Blood Bank” which didn’t make the cut on the first album. Bon Iver’s sophomore self-titled album was released on June 17, 2011. The album slightly differed in its sound compared to the first which featured a more intimate approach that really focused on Vernon’s vocals and guitar playing. The sound in For Emma, Forever Ago was so beautifully simplistic. The self-titled album kept the same mellow Bon Iver feel, but featured a more advanced sound quality. Obviously it wasn’t recorded in the same type of environment as the first. It used more instrumentals and had less of a focus on the vocals and guitar. Nonetheless it was still a beautiful compilation of music. In fact, the following year the album received a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and Bon Iver received the Grammy for Best New Artist (which always struck me as amusing considering he was not at all “new” at the time).

I had not even heard of Bon Iver until after the release of the second album. Like I said before, I was in a totally different place musically when the first album was released. When the second came out, I had just started to get into the indie scene. It was still a few months later when I first heard “Skinny Love”. I really can’t remember how or when I first heard the song. It might have been a recommendation from a friend or it might have been on a Pandora station, which I frequently used to find new music at the time. Either way, it was in September of 2011 that I first heard it. I immediately took to the song. It was much softer than other things I listened to at that time. I would tend to listen to it when I was feeling upset. I was upset often then too. I went through a difficult transitional period around that time where I began questioning a lot of things regarding my future and aspirations. To say music is what I turned to is an understatement. Music always helps me, no matter what I’m feeling, and it helped then too. “Skinny Love” was just a part of that. Within the next few months I purchased both For Emma, Forever Ago and Bon Iver. I also became a big fan of the song “Holocene”. I’ve always felt that Bon Iver’s music is the perfect soundtrack for fall and winter. It’s possible because that’s when I first listened to it. It’s also possible because it has a peaceful, mellow sound that mixes well with the cold air and lifeless conditions the seasons bring. You can be the judge if you listen to my song recommendations.

Anyway, Bon Iver went on hiatus in 2012 and has not released any new music since. Recently though, Vernon confirmed that the hiatus has come to an end as the group intends to play the inaugural Eaux Claires Music Festival in July. New material should follow. Until then we just have to wait to see what’s in-store for Justin Vernon and his band.

1. Skinny Love

2. Holocene

3. Blood Bank

4. I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt cover) (so much better than the original)

5. Flume

6. Blindsided

7. Towers

8. Creature Fear

9. Hazelton

10. Perth