Saying “what a strange year” is both such an understatement and so obvious that I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said, but I can’t help but say it anyway. What a strange, strange year. Mostly I turned to books to get me through it, but there were also plenty of standouts in other mediums that offered entertainment and escapism through the weirdness of 2020. Here are a few of my favourites from the year in music, tv, film*, and podcasts.Continue reading “My favourite music, tv, and podcasts of 2020”
Last week I was lucky enough to see two gigs by artists I have loved and wanted to see live for a long time. I still remember exactly where I was when I first heard Shakey Graves—down to which song (‘Dearly Departed’) on which radio station (NPR) and even which street I was driving on when it came on the radio (Davisville Road in Southampton, PA). And Hozier is one of the few artists I can say I listened to before they got big, although that was only because I was living in Ireland and so ‘Take Me To Church’ was on everyone’s playlists for months there before it ever hit North American airwaves.
It got me thinking about how strongly tied to memory sound can be. There are so many songs that make me think of a certain time or place, down to minuscule details about where I was or what I was doing when I listened to them. Often music conjures up memories of people or moments as well, whether it’s a fond memory of childhood and your parent singing your favourite lullaby or a song that you can’t listen to anymore because it reminds you too much of your ex. Sound is unavoidable. It can sneak up on you, a song coming unexpectedly on the radio or in the grocery store.
If I say I love Shakira, there may be one or two people who know me that might be surprised, but probably they already know too. (Certainly anyone who has ever gotten drunk with me is aware, given that for some reason one of my favourite topics of drunk conversation is how, while Shakira and her footballer boyfriend Gerard Piqué are a cute couple, she is a goddess and could still do so much better). Anyway, my adoration of her makes me predisposed to love anything she does, including her new, eponymous album. Still, even stepping away from my massive bias, I can say with certainty that Shakira is weird and wonderful and great.
Although there are a few of her songs that I adore in any language, I’ve always preferred Shakira’s Spanish music to her English songs, whether it is because the lyrics make more sense when not translated to fit the melody or just because I think her voice is meant for the language. I wish there were more Spanish songs on this album, but “Loca por Ti” is a gorgeous track that reminds me of Sale el Sol. And I definitely prefer the Spanish version of her first single, “Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte,” to the English.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy Shakira’s English music nearly as much. I immediately loved her second single, “Empire,” and so far it remains my favourite track on the album. It reminds me in a way of a James Bond theme in the way it starts slow and relies on Shakira’s vocals to soar. Surprisingly, a song I really enjoyed upon first listen was “Medicine,” the country track featuring Shakira’s The Voice co-judge Blake Shelton. Although I’m generally not a fan of country music or Shelton’s work in particular, Shakira’s famous vibrato is perfect for the genre and she harmonises well with Shelton; it’s not a great song, but it’s so earnest I find myself liking it anyway. Another track I love is “Chasing Shadows,” written by Sia, with the blend of beauty and quirkiness that is pretty much the epitome of all things Shak.
A few of the songs are cringe-worthy on the level of Taylor Swift’s most preteen-obsessive: mainly “23,” the track most obviously written about Piqué, and the bland but probably radio-friendly “Spotlight.” While Shakira has had some notably weird lyrics in the past (“lucky that my breasts are small and humble so you don’t confuse them with mountains“), “Girl meets a boy / surrender to his charms / leaves her old boyfriend / and crumbles in his arms” aren’t interesting enough to be memorable, and the music sounds more like it could fit into Swift’s Red than Shakira’s oeuvre.
Others suffer from similarities to previous, superior works, like the duet with Rihanna, “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” which I can’t help but compare unfavourably to her “Beautiful Liar” duet with Beyonce. On the other hand, while “Dare (La La La)” is meant to be this World Cup’s “Waka Waka (Esto es Africa)” and it’s not as good as that (because let’s face it, there aren’t many songs better than “Waka Waka” and you’re lying to yourself if you don’t love it) I can still see myself listening to it on repeat while running, cleaning, doing homework… in pretty much all aspects of my life, as I do the earlier track.
Musically, the album has more interesting sounds than some of her recent work. As mentioned, there’s the country song, but on other tracks its a Caribbean vibe that reflects Shakira’s Barranquilla Colombian heritage, a power-rock sound on others, a few stripped-down ballads, and the usual bellydance-worthy pop music.
Let me start by saying this: if you’re looking for an unbiased review of last night’s Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band concert at the Estadio Olímpico in Sevilla, go somewhere else. He could have played twenty minutes and done only songs from Human Touch and I would’ve still thought it was a great show. As it is, the three-hour concert featured old hits and new favourites. The show began just after 9pm with “Badlands,” (click to watch a video) and then two of the highlights from Springsteen’s latest album, “We Take Care of Our Own” and the title track, “Wrecking Ball.” The stage was simple, apart from the different levels to accommodate the numerous members of the E Street Band, and the effects mostly took the form of spotlights and the platforms in the crowd Springsteen often ran to for parts of songs.
I haven’t listened to the album enough times to say for sure, but I think “Wrecking Ball” is Bruce Springsteen’s best since 2002’s “The Rising.” I’m sure there will be some who say it’s his best in even longer than that (one review I read called it his best since the 80s), but I just really, really love “The Rising.” Either way, Springsteen has had a lot on his plate lately; in his personal/musical life was the death of long-time friend and saxophone player Clarence Clemons last year, and in his professional life… well, as one of the most well-known protest singers of the last forty years, and with so much to protest lately, I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering what the Boss would have to say.