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Tegan and Sara – Closer

tegan and sara closerWhile Canadian musical twins Tegan and Sara have never really shied away from experimenting with their song’s textures, the single “Closer” may be a little bit surprising to fans, with its unabashed, synth-based bubblegum pop anthem stylings. The song still features the sisters’ trademark catchy melodies and snappy harmonies, but now they’re sharing sonic space with various synth bells, whistles, flangers, and phasers that bring to mind late 80s dance music.

The video for Closer is a throwback to the 80s, showing the sisters singing karaoke (with Sara singing like a teen who’s been drinking way too many Red Bulls), interspersed with footage of a group of friends partying via different means – from dancing and singing, to spin the bottle, to simply bouncing around on a trampoline.

While Closer, due to its club-friendly danceable tune and lyrics that lend itself well to physical intimacy, is considered by many fans as a good song to make out to, Tegan Quin herself clarified that it was actually written as a reminder of a time when sex, complicated relationships, drama, and heartbreak are not yet part of her life, in a more innocent time when getting closer meant linking arms and walking down the school hallway.

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Matchbox Twenty – Overjoyed

matchbox-twenty-north-album-coverOverjoyed is the second single off of Matchbox Twenty’s fourth studio album, North. Unlike most of the songs that have built up Matchbox 20’s career, Overjoyed is not about heartbreak or a broken relationship or any negative emotion. As the title implies, the song is all about being happy and there’s nothing but sweet, sweet love involved.

Rob Thomas’ voice, along with his uncanny ability to sing a mid-tempo ballad while incorporating intensity reserved for a rock song makes Overjoyed one of the more unique ballads out there, as the emotions Thomas is able to express melds well with the slow, simple melody punctuated by cymbal crashes as the chorus enters.

If the initial video (the placeholder one with the picture of a bride and groom, not the official one) is any indication, Matchbox 20 knows that Overjoyed is going to work well as a wedding song. It certainly provides more options, so that people will have something else to march along to during matrimony instead of adding to the multitudes of couples who tied the knot to Adele and Bruno Mars.

Those of you who don’t plan on getting married soon (or at all) will still find plenty to like in Overjoyed, especially if you were one of those teens who wore out the stereo’s Play button to Unwell, If You’re Gone, and Push.

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Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas

3_Band_Aid_431x300The song Do They Know It’s Christmas? was written by Mdige Ure and Bob Geldof in 1984 in order to raise money for the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia. In order to raise a lot of media interest in the single, and the cause it supports, Ure and Geldof recruited several leading British and Irish musicians who were popular at the time and formed them under the name “Band Aid”.

The song is the standard inspirational anthem, with the main selling point being that each of the participating artists – all of them popular at the time – sing one line each, until it culminates into the outro “Feed The World, let them know it’s Christmas time again.” sung by everyone in unison.

The artists that participated in Band Aid include Wham!, U2, Bananarama, The Police,  Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Kool & the Gang, Big Country, Culture Club, The Boomtown Rats, Genesis, Ultravox, David Bowie, Paul Young, and Paul McCartney, making up a veritable Who’s Who of the billboard top charts at the time. Do they know it’s Christmas was revived twice since then, featuring new sets of artists and a few returning ones, dubbed Band Aid II in 1989 and Band Aid 20 in 2004.

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AWOLNATION – Kill Your Heroes

kill-your-heroesAWOLNATION’s Kill Your Heroes is one of those songs that tend to get overlooked because people see the title, look at the genre, and write it off as just another one of those heavy, guitar-driven alternative rock full of juvenile hate and angst, but the truth is that it’s actually the opposite.

For starters, Kill Your Heroes is synth-pop, featuring minimalist production elements instead of distorted guitars and crash cymbal-happy arrangements. The overall sound of the song is danceable, upbeat, and catchy. That’s not to say that there’s no strong emotions present – vocalist Aaron Bruno manages to show how strong his voice can be with some parts straddling the fine line between singing and shouting, all the while remaining melodic enough to still be singable even if you have no intentions of shouting.

Another aspect of Kill Your Heroes that runs contrary to expectations is the lyrics and the underlying message. Instead of a fist-pumping call for listeners to murder someone, the “Kill Your Heroes” part is actually just a figurative advice to let go of idolatry, to stop putting other people on the pedestal  and instead try to reach heights on your own accord.

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Melanie Martinez – Toxic

Melanie Martinez’s folk-inspired rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which was originally performed on the Sept. 17 episode of The Voice Season 3, is quite possibly one of the rare cases of a cover version not just improving on the original, but being so good that it stands well on its own, making the original obsolete.

The original version of Toxic was nothing special. The song was too simple, and does not justify even Spears’ limited vocal prowess. What it has going for it is the thumping, heavy beats framed by a gritty guitar hook. With Melanie Martinez’ version, it is the opposite – the slightly-danceable, rock riff is gone. What’s left in place is an acoustic guitar and a tambourine serving as backup. However, Martinez compensates for the thinner sonic framework by replacing Spears’ barely-considered-as-singing parts with a soulful, melodic, and ranged performance that brings the song to places that Spears can never reach even on her prime.

There are actually two versions of Melanie Martinez’ cover of Toxic. The first is the one she originally performed on The Voice, which only had an acoustic guitar and a tambourine as a backup, making it more rooted in folk, while the other version, dubbed as the Studio Version, has a more sophisticated and polished backup, resulting in the song sounding like something from Kelly Dayton-era Sneaker Pimps.

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The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army

The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, off of their “Elephant” Album, was released as a single back in 2003, and is most notable for reaching the top spot on the Modern Rock Tracks for 3 consecutive weeks, as well as winning the Best Rock Song award at the 2004 Grammy Awards.

Seven Nation Army’s most recognizable part is the underlying riff that plays throughout the major parts of the song, which sounded like a bass guitar. This is worth noting because The White Stripes is famous for never using a bass guitar up until that point (the band is made up of a single guitarist/vocalist, Jack White, and a drummer, Meg White). The bass-like sound is actually Jack White’s semi-acoustic 1950s style Kay Hollowbody guitar, run through a digitech whammy pedal and set down an octave lower.

Seven Nation Army is possibly the best representation of The White Stripes trademark minimalist, garage rock style – no bass guitar, no keyboards, no overdubs. Just a guitar, a thumping drumbeat, and Jack White’s strained, yet powerful vocals. If there ever was a good reason why the White Stripes are credited as the frontrunners for the garage rock revival during the early 2000s, it would be this song.

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Pitbull – Don’t Stop the Party

Released last September 25, 2012, Pitbull’s Don’t Stop the Party is the third single from the Cuban rapper’s seventh studio album Global Warming, and is one of his most popular songs to date, currently peaking at eighty-one at the Billboard Hot 100. The song became infamous due to its accompanying music video, which was banned from airing in the United Kingdom.

The song itself was originally written by house/DJ producer TJR as “Funky Vodka,” and was played heavily at the Miami Winter Music Conference, where it was heard by Pitbull. Taking a liking to the song, Pitbull asked TJR to work with him on a new version of the song and retool it for his Global Warming album.

Don’t Stop the Party already became a viral success even before the equally viral video was made, with the old school sample-based house tune proving to be as infectious and club-friendly as many of Pitbull’s hits. Majority of criticisms levied against the song consist of labeling it as repetitive, which is a non-issue as house and rap music, especially sample-based ones, are repetitive by nature.

As for the video being banned in the UK, it is because the entire video consists of Pitbull partying while surrounded by nearly naked women and tons of vodka. A “clean” version of the video has since been made and distributed in lieu of the bad one.

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Nicki Minaj – Va Va Voom

Va Va Voom is the first single from the UK an International release of Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded – The Re Up album. The song was originally intended to be the lead in single for the standard release of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, but was passed over in favor of Starships.

Va Va Voom contains influences of dubstep, but is at its heart a simple electropop and electonic dance song that features the Trinidadian singer Nicki Minaj’s trademark radio friendly rap and dance melodies. The song’s lyrics is once again full of double entendres, which seems to be a mainstay of Minaj’s bag of tricks, with the song’s title itself referring to sexual activity towards a male.

Despite the risqué subject of its lyrics, Va Va Voom received praise from music critics, probably because nobody really cares about the messages in a Nicki Minaj song, or that nobody really understood what she was saying. The key takeaway is that Va Va Voom is a good crossover between hip hop and pop, extremely catchy, and radio friendly. Best of all, it’s easy to dance to…and when it comes to dance music, sometimes that’s all that really matters.

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Bruno Mars – Locked Out of Heaven

Locked Out of Heaven is the lead single from Bruno Mars’ upcoming sophomore album titled Unorthodox Jukebox, which is slated for a December 11 release. The song was first launched by the crooner in his Google+ Hangout last October 1, with fans from around the world listening in via the Internet (Mars’ seems to be part of the new breed of artists who know how to take advantage of social media in order to develop more intimate bonds with fans.)

Locked Out of Heaven shows that Bruno Mars has not strayed away from the things that made him such a success with female listeners – it still features his smooth, melodic vocals that don’t rely on fancy studio magic to stay in tune, and lyrics that describe a wide range of emotions involved with falling in love.

As for the song, Mars has opted for a different, 80s-like aura. In fact, a lot of listeners have compared Locked Out of Heaven to a Sting, or Outfield song. The music video for the song further underscores the 80s vibe, as it features a slightly stylistic yet vintage style similar to a VHS tape, with Mars singing the song with his band, interspersed with shots of him having a good time with his friends.

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Cassadee Pope – Over You

On the September 25, 2012 episode of the reality music show The Voice, emo-rocker Cassadee Pope captivated the hearts of America with a magnificent rendition of Over You. The song showcased her versatility in music, temporarily veering away from her usual pop rock performances, and performed not just a country melody but a song written by one of the judges: country crooner Blake Shelton and his equally talented wife Miranda Lambert.

Over You is a melancholic melody inspired by Shelton’s grief over his brother’s death and originally performed by his wife Lambert. The song which debuted in early 2012 won Shelton and Lambert Song of the Year in the recent Country Music Awards and peaked at #1 on the US Country Songs chart.

A smart move by contestant Cassadee Pope, her heartwarming cover of Over You not only won her Shelton’s vote but also the rest of America. Over You made her one of the strongest frontrunners of the contest and made her an overnight sensation. In less than 24 hours, her performance shot through the iTunes chart eventually beating out Korean discovery Psi’s Gangnam Style on the #1 rank.

Whether Pope wins the top honors on The Voice or not, Over You has already cemented this talented lady’s future in the music business. The country song has announced to the world, that pop rock Pope is one versatile performer who’s ready to conquer the music industry.