What I Listened to This Summer

(Photo Courtesy of YouTube)

A couple of music enthusiasts, Bridget Schaefer and Zac Hirschbeck, exchange their thoughts and share what music, good and bad, old and new, captured their attention this past summer. 

Zac: As summer sadly winds to a close, I think it’s a fitting time to assess the songs, artists, genres that dominated radio waves over the last few months. As a 23-year-old male, I’ll admit that I may not be the most suitable to analyze what popular songs stood out. A quick Google search of “best songs of summer 2014” revealed a collection of artists and groups that I’m not particularly familiar with. Perhaps that’s partially due to my personal taste, but I also believe it stems from a growing accessibility to fame. In a society that’s now consumed by social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube), it seems more and more new musicians are jumping to the forefront of pop music. Although there continues to be dominant mainstays within the industry (Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Pharrell, etc.), there’s also a collection of new hit-makers that have subsequently created new adoring fan bases. Sam Smith, Iggy Azalea, MAGIC!, and Ariana Grande have created memorable records that could potentially spawn lengthy careers. While I’ll share my opinions regarding some of these people in the paragraphs to follow, I’d like to start us off here by asking one simple question…

What artist or group won the Summer of 2014?

Bridget: His angelic voice can soothe a baby, your broken heart or whatever your day may bring… Sam Smith owned the Summer of 2014. His music exploded in the states during the past few months and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. His sound will easily transcend to seasons to come (especially Grammy season).

A friend of mine introduced me to his acoustic version of “Latch” and I could feel the heavens opening (dramatic, I know). It’s one of those songs that when you hear it for the first time you can’t do anything, or think about anything else. Sure, Sam Smith’s music may be kind of a downer for the fun, upbeat mood of summer, but this guy has the voice of an angel and he can serenade us no matter what the season.

 

 

Zac: Sam Smith certainly has had quite a year. I continue to hear “Stay With Me” on the radio pretty frequently. After avoiding it for an extended period of time, I’ll fully admit that I won’t turn the station once I hear the 22-year-old’s distinct voice. While I certainly can’t be the first to make the comparison, “Stay With Me” does remind me of Adele’s “Someone Like You”. Although it’s surely premature to say that Smith has the ability that his similarly styled peer possesses, the booming chorus and disheartening lyrics certainly seem familiar. I’m not sure I’m sold on Smith, but perhaps that’s my own doing due to the fact I’m unfamiliar with his other songs. That video above certainly does suggest undeniable talent. I’ll be curious to see how he follows up his first album.

Although Smith’s rise to prominence certainly was notable, I believe someone else has grabbed a far larger share of the spotlight. That person is Iggy Azalea. I can’t say I’ve ever been fond of any female rappers. I hope that doesn’t come off as sexist, but the two other more notable names (Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj) have failed to capture my imagination or enthusiasm. Iggy on the other hand has. “Fancy” is the song of the summer. Though I’m tempted to pop that video below, it’s difficult to imagine many people that haven’t heard it. Likewise, Iggy also featured on Ariana Grande’s chart-topping first hit-single “Problem.” Over the past few weeks, Azalea has even seen a third hit single climb the charts in “Black Widow” (with the help of Rita Ora’s chorus).

Despite the unsurprising successes of those songs, there’s another song of hers that’s become a favorite of mine this summer. Perhaps it’s because of yet another catchy chorus, or maybe it’s the shout-out to my favorite childhood baseball players (“Talking hits on hits, McGwire, Bonds, Griffey), but “Lady Patra” has frequently been featured in my car rides and on my iPod during runs. Make no mistake, I do not believe Azalea’s busting down barriers and changing the music industry for the better. However, for what it is, I’m a fan. Even if she isn’t writing all of her own lyrics (which she’s been accused of), she can perform the shit out of them.

 

 

What do you think Bridget? You a fan of I-G-G-Y?

Bridget: Obviously. The timing of her success could not have been more perfect. It’s similar to how Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” blew up last summer. Producers were spot on with the music video too, channeling the 90’s and taking on the hit movie “Clueless.” Iggy Azalea is someone we haven’t seen before. She’s bringing something new to the pop music scene that doesn’t make me want to immediately change the radio station when I hear it.

All the Iggy talk got me thinking more about the top players in rap music this summer. While they may not have released new music this season, two individuals combined for one hell of a tour that created a ton of media buzz.

Music’s power couple, Beyoncé and Jay Z, set out for their “On The Run” tour on June 25th and wowed audiences around the country. It was a brilliant and obvious plot to have the two on stage together. The 20-city stadium tour was expected to be the second most successful tour ever, coming in after the highest earning U2 tour. Despite all of the positive buzz building, Jay and Bey couldn’t stomp the rumors surrounding their marriage. Long story short, divorce rumors were swirling after TMZ released footage of the infamous elevator fight between Beyoncé, her sister Solange, and Jay-Z. The couple held their own and are still together with their daughter Blue Ivy after months of speculation. Beyoncé released a new song, “Flawless” featuring Nicki Minaj, which briefly touches on the elevator brawl. All in all, Jay-Z and Beyoncé may not have had many new releases this summer, but all eyes certainly remained fixed on them.

 

 

Zac: I still will listen to “Blurred Lines” every time that I hear it. In retrospect, is there any confusion as to where the creativity behind that song came from? Thicke put out an album that set records for how horrendously it sold. Pharrell has continued to churn out singles that are addictive pop songs.

As far as Beyoncé and Jay Z go, is it troublesome that I’d be genuinely bummed if they separated? I’ve grown to love and appreciate the music that they’ve put out over their course of my existence. I’ve also grown to respect the dedication and somewhat maniacal approach they take towards crafting songs, performing those songs, and selling those songs. While I can confidently say that I devote very little of time towards the American infatuation with celebrities and tabloid happenings, I have remained curious as to what has, or will come of their relationship. I really hope those kids can work things out!

Did you happen to see Beyoncé’s VMA performance? Though I failed to continue watching past a flurry of iffy performances (the opener featuring Minaj, Grande, and Jessie J) and evident lip-synching (Taylor Swift), I did wake up to a Twitter feed full of praise for Bey’s performance. After watching it at full length that morning, I couldn’t help but be confused as to why the VMA’s organizers didn’t simply let her perform the entire night. And how about that Blue Ivy? It pays to have supergenes.

Your mention of their tour (which I sadly couldn’t bring myself to shell out considerable cash to go see) got me thinking of my next series of questions. Did you get to any concerts this summer? Were they good? And were there any shows that you regret not getting to?

Bridget: I felt like I was hibernating all summer since I went to zero concerts, and this past week was a wake up call.

I was able to see Lorde at Artpark and Foster the People at Canalside. Lorde was beyond bizarre and I loved it. She appeared on stage wearing a tuxedo-like pantsuit and started convulsing, literally. Her seizure like movements were kind of alarming, but the sound that was erupting from the speakers made everything seem normal. Lorde’s voice is no joke and the live performance was definitely worth the pricey ticket. She performed her full album, “Pure Heroine”, causing the show to be a little on the shorter side. She also belted out a cover of Kanye West’s Flashing Lights, bringing everyone to their feet (if they weren’t dancing already). This clearly proved that anything goes for the teenage singer from New Zealand.

A few days later, Foster the People ended a successful season of Canalside concerts. The band brought a ton of energy to the stage that continued to grow throughout their performance. They kept switching between their earlier album and newer tracks, providing a nice mix for the audience. And of course, their encore was the ever-popular “Pumped Up Kicks.”

Any shows I regret? For sure. The Black Keys are stopped in Rochester and it pained me not to be there. I also wanted to go to Kerfuffle, but didn’t end up making it to Canalside. There’s always next summer!

What were your stand out concerts this summer? Or what shows are you looking forward to this fall?

Zac: Like you, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get out to see more shows, but what I did see I really enjoyed.

I saw The Hold Steady at the Town Ballroom a few months back. That’s a band I’d highly recommend to anyone unfamiliar with their music. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me, but I was shocked at the limited audience that was alongside me that night. To me, The Hold Steady is a band that could be selling out any venue. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed their performance.

In a sharp contrast, I also saw Bruno Mars at the First Niagara Center. Bruno is quite the showman. While I’m not a huge fan of his, the Super Bowl performance won me over in terms of acknowledging how great a performer he is. His stop in Buffalo definitely reaffirmed my initial thoughts.

Unlike you, I did manage to snag a couple of tickets to The Black Keys in Rochester. They certainly lived up to my high expectations. Two impressions that I came away from the performance: Dan Auerbach is a far better guitar player than I realized. Second, both Auerbach and drummer Patrick Foley have zero stage presence. While that second impression might seem like a criticism, I find it kind of endearing. They had little time for stories, audience interaction, or even breaks between songs. The Black Keys just wanted to play some goddamn music. And they did so very well.

I was pleasantly surprised with the opener for The Black Keys, Cage The Elephant. While I knew a couple of their more popular hits (“Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked, “Shake Me Down”), I had no concept of who they were, what they looked like, and most importantly, how awesome they were live. While I initially found myself laughing at lead singer Matt Shulz’s mannerisms, my amusement quickly turned into admiration for their 45-minute performance. Perhaps it’s my existing knowledge of The Black Keys and my fresh exposure to Cage The Elephant, but I’ve found myself listening to far more of the latter since seeing them live. This song has been stuck in my head since last Sunday:

 

 

The last concert I attended was The Gaslight Anthem at the Town Ballroom. As a lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen, I had a very basic understanding of the type of music they played. However, aside from that understanding, I had little knowledge of the group. Needless to say, I came away impressed. As a new fan, I’m naturally drawn to their more catchier hits, so I’ll share their most famous song below. Quite addicting.

 

 

To wrap our back and forth up here, I’ll answer your second question and shift our attention away from summer music. While I can’t say there are any shows that I’m eagerly anticipating (perhaps out of lack of exploration), there is a pair of albums that I’m curious to listen to more: Ryan Adams’ self titled album “Ryan Adams” and U2’s iTunes release “Songs of Innocence.” I have yet to listen to each album, but as a fan of both Adams and U2, I’m excited to give each a listen as the weather gets a little cooler.

What about you? As summer shifts to fall, what, if anything, are you looking forward to listening to?

Bridget: The Black Keys and Cage the Elephant show sounds like the perfect way to wrap up the season. Wish I was there!

Summer obviously calls for bubbly music that that makes driving with your windows down that much more enjoyable. I tend to slip into a mild seasonal depression in the fall and winter, causing a more melancholy playlist. Once again, I’m not trying to be dramatic, but when the weather gets cold and dark, so does my choice in music. There are a few albums I’m looking forward to this season.

Alt J has a new record coming out (September 23rd) and I’m fully prepared to buy it, which is a purchase I only make when I’m borderline obsessed with a group. In my own weird mind, my purchase of their album at Target (instead of online streaming) will make a serious impact in record sales. While that’s obviously not the case, I find that it justifies me spending 13 bucks on a CD. Anyways, my friend who lives in Germany turned me onto Alt J two years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. A few tracks from their new album This Is All Yours are already out including “Left Hand Free” & “Hunger of the Pine.” Some fans find their new sound too “mainstream” and argue that it’s straying too far from the bizarre sound featured on their first studio album An Awesome Wave Personally I love it and can’t wait to listen to the entire album when I buy it at Target.

 

 

I’m also looking forward to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s album, Cheek to Cheek, which also comes out September 23rd. Gaga has an incredible voice and Tony Bennett is a legend, so really why wouldn’t they team up? They’re bridging a 60-year gap, which is impressive. The idea of this album is marketing gold because of its enormous reach demographically speaking. Younger Gaga fans will go gaga over any new music from the singer and Tony Bennett will have the older demographic covered.

Will I be buying this album at Target? Probably not. But I’m still looking forward to hearing it. Who knows, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised and have to go back to snag it off the shelf.

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