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Arctic Monkeys, Kanye West among the year’s best albums

- December 28th, 2013

In 2013, the music world saw Miley Cyrus twerk her way into everyone’s living room, the polarizing figure that is Kanye West had tongues wagging once again with a new album (as well as a new baby), Beyonce shocked the industry by dropping a new effort out of the blue, and the Thin White Duke made a triumphant return after a decade-long absence.

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My best albums of 2013 include some of these artists, but there were plenty of other notable musical acts that served as my soundtrack this past year. You’ll also see a few big albums from Canadian superstars, while lauded by many, I took a pass on — you won’t see Drake or Arcade Fire’s latest efforts on this list. Please, don’t strangle me with the red and white flag.

Take a listen, and let me know what you think in the comments.

10. Chvrches
The Bones of What You Believe
(Universal)

’80s-influenced synth pop was back in a big way this year, and leading the charge was this Scottish trio, showcased by the sweet, catchy, melodic vocals of frontlady Lauren Mayberry. I dare you put this one down.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “The Mother We Share,” “We Sink.”

The Mother We Share by CHVRCHES on Grooveshark

9. Nine Inch Nails
Hesistation Marks
(Universal)

To my delight, Trent Reznor is just as dark, miserable and powerful as he’s ever been on NIN’s latest.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “Copy of A,” “Came Back Haunted.”

Copy of A by Nine Inch Nails on Grooveshark

8. Kings of Leon
Mechanical Bull
(RCA)

The Kings make a triumphant return after going on hiatus following lead singer Caleb Followill’s now-infamous boozy concert in Texas a few years back. Their best since 2008′s “Only by the Night.”

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “Temple,” “Beautiful War.”

Temple by Kings of Leon on Grooveshark

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Mosquito
(Universal)

The art-rock threesome — led by flamboyant singer Karen O — spent four years on a new canvas, and it turned out to be a picture of beauty.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “Sacrilege,” “Slave.”

Sacrilege by Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Grooveshark

6. David Bowie
The Next Day
(Sony)

He may have been away for almost 10 years, but judging by the power and range of “Next Day,” Bowie never lost a step. Let’s hope his follow-up is not titled “The Next Decade.”

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” “Love is Lost.”

Love Is Lost by David Bowie on Grooveshark

5. Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
(XL Recordings)

These Vampires have more than enough bite on their third try, and were a big highlight at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival back in April.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young.”

Unbelievers by Vampire Weekend on Grooveshark

4. A$AP Rocky
Long.Live.A$AP
(Sony)

Rakim Mayers, a.k.a. A$AP Rocky, took the rap world by storm by hitting No. 1 on the Billboard charts with some big hits and a pretty good guest list of stars.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “F***in’ Problems,” “Wild for the Night.”

Wild For The Night feat. Skrillex by A$AP Rocky on Grooveshark

3. Queens of the Stone Age
…Like Clockwork
(Matador)

A brush with death left the coolest guy in rock, Josh Homme, feeling like a mere mortal. What results is some of the most dark and beautiful tunes the band has ever put out.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “My God is the Sun,” “If I Had a Tail.”

My God Is the Sun by Queens of the Stone Age on Grooveshark

2. Kanye West
Yeezus
(Def Jam/Universal)

You see there’s leaders and there’s followers,
But I’d rather be a d*** than a swallower

Yup, Kanye made his mark in 2013 – and that’s even without the Kardashian sideshow. The most polarizing figure in modern music unleashes a torrent of firecrackers — from the kick-ass intro “On Sight,” you know the self-anointed rap god is about to back up his big mouth.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “Blood on the Leaves,” “Black Skinhead.”

Blood on the Leaves by Kanye West on Grooveshark


1. Arctic Monkeys
AM
(Domino)

One of the most consistently good rock bands in recent memory is finally getting tons of attention on this side of the Atlantic, even without a stand out hit track. Let’s hear it for the old school way of making it big — with great albums.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: “Do I Wanna Know,” “Arabella.”

Do I Wanna Know? by Arctic Monkeys on Grooveshark

David Bowie exhibit closing at AGO, hours extended

- November 13th, 2013

Ground control to Canadian David Bowie fans.

The exhibition, David Bowie is, taking place at Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, is ready for liftoff to another town after Nov. 27. With this in mind, the AGO has extended the hours and offered a $5 discount for weekday visitors.

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The popular show, which features hundreds of items from the 66-year-old British legend’s personal archives, has been a huge hit for the AGO and is a must-see for fans of the Thin White Duke.

Here’s the extended hours:

Friday, Nov. 15 – open to 8:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 22 – open to 8:30 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 25 – special opening from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 27 – open until midnight (closing day)

For full details, go to ago.net/david-bowie-is.

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Hit songs with shocking songwriters

- August 21st, 2013

There are some extremely talented artists out there who have a real knack for writing a great pop song — and in some cases, for other acts.

Heck, Prince could have his own hits collection with the songs he’s dished out to other singers.

However, it’s not just stars writing for other stars. As you’ll see below, there are some bizarre ones — including a notable serial killer who wrote a tune for a legendary surfer group and the King of Pop mysteriously penning a hit for a popular TV cartoon character.

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So next time you have a physical copy of an album, don’t forget to check the fine print in the liner notes — you never know what names will show up beside your favourite track.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable (and some downright creepy) songs written by other famous, and infamous people: (add your own popular ones at the bottom of the page):

Songwriter: Prince

Song: “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Sinead O’Connor), “Manic Monday” (The Bangles), “Stand Back” (Stevie Nicks), “Glamourous Life” and “A Love Bizarre” (Sheila E), “I Feel for You” (Chaka Khan) and “Jungle Love” (The Time).

411: The Purple One had many of his songs turns to gold, but none more than Sinead O’Connor’s version “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Originally written for a 1985 funk side project of his called The Family, Sinead re-did the soulful ballad five years later and made it into one of the the biggest hits of the ’90s.

Songwriter: Michael Jackson

Song: “Do the Bartman” (Bart Simpson)

411: Rumours began to swirl that Michael Jackson, who was a huge fan of the show, had actually produced and written the pop/rap song (performed by Bart’s voice Nancy Cartwright) when it was released in 1990, but “Simpsons” exec James L. Brooks vehemently denied the claims. It wasn’t until eight years later, when creator Matt Groening fessed up and admitted to MJ’s hand in the project. The reason for the secrecy? Jackson couldn’t be given credit for the tune since he was under contract to another music label.

Songwriter: Neil Diamond

Song: “Red, Red Wine” (UB40), “I’m A Believer” (Monkees).

411: UB40 turned Diamond’s acoustic ballad and turned it into a reggae smash hit around the world. Ironically, the band didn;t even realize it was a Diamond song when they recorded it — they thought they were covering a song from Jamaican artist Tony Tribe (who had done a version in 1969).

Songwriter: Jessie J

Song: “Party in the U.S.A.” (Miley Cyrus)

411: Jessie J, who is best known for her hit “Price Tag,” thought the track wasn’t provocative for her, passed it on to Miley Cyrus. We’re sure Miley sends her a Christmas card every year — it has become one of Cyrus’s biggest hits to date.

Songwriter: Bruno Mars

Song: “F**k You” (Cee Lo Green — obvious caution — explicit lyrics)

411: Bruno Mars began singing the No. 1 hit while in the studio with Cee Lo Green, and contemplated whether the expletive-laden cut was even worth recording. Yes, it was Bruno.

Songwriter: Charles Manson

Song: “Never Learn Not to Love” (Beach Boys)

411: Dennis Wilson helped out a struggling musician named Charles Manson in 1968 by recording a track he wrote titled “Cease to Exist.” After getting word that Wilson had altered the lyrics and changed the name of the tune to “Never Learn Not to Love,” Manson threatened him with death. Although he never followed through with his threat, Manson became a household name the following year for the Manson Family murders.

Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen

Song: Because the Night (Patti Smith)

411: The Boss had it originally earmarked for his 1978 album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” but wasn’t happy with it. With Patti Smith recording in a studio beside him, he handed the track over to her and it became one of her best-known songs of her career.

Songwriter: Ke$ha

Song: “Till the World Ends” (Britney Spears)

411: The popular party song was co-written by Ke$ha, and a remixed version features her vocals on it.

Songwriter: Dan Hill

Song: “I Promise You (With Everything I Am)” (Backstreet Boys)

411: Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Hill (come on, you know “Sometimes When We Touch” was regularly tapped by other artists for his tunes. This Backstreet Boys track was one of the biggest — their “Black and Blue” album has sold over 24 million copies worldwide. Cha-ching.

Songwriter: Avril Lavigne

Song: “Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)

411: After being thought of as unsuitable for Avril Lavigne’s debut 2002 album “Let Go,” it was handed to Kelly Clarkson. She recorded it for the soundtrack for the film “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” and it became such a big hit that she included it on her then upcoming new studio album. The name of the 2004 album? “Breakaway.” Don’t mess with success.

Songwriter: The Dream and Milian

Song: “Baby” (Justin Bieber)

411: Don’t pretend you don’t know the song. The annoying little ditty that put the Biebs on the map was — you guessed it — NOT written by the pride of Stratford, Ontario. It was penned by R&B singer Christina Milian and then husband/producer The Dream. When they split, a “Baby” battle ensued — the pair fought each other in court over the royalties to the song. Here’s a hint as to why: As of July 2013, it is the best-selling song in U.S. history, as it is the only song ever to have been certified 12x platinum.

Songwriter: Kris Kristofferson

Song: “Me and Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin)

411: The Kris Kristofferson song was originally performed by Roger Miller and also covered by Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot, but it was the famous version recorded by Janis Joplin that skyrocketed to No. 1. Kristofferson wasn’t even aware that she recorded the track until after she died.

Songwriter: Bjork

Song: “Bedtime Story” (Madonna)

411: The Icelandic singer was given the opportunity to write a song for Madge, and she made it count. Madonna used the song, which was originally titled “Let’s Get Unconscious,” on her sixth studio disc, “Bedtime Stories.”

Songwriter: Lenny Kravitz

Song: “Justify My Love” (Madonna)

411: Lenny Kravitz wrote the trip-hop inspired song for Madonna based on a poem written by his friend Ingrid Chavez. Here’s where it gets dramatic: Chavez was never credited on the track, so she ended up suing Kravitz. She received an out-of-court settlement, and gained a co-writing credit.

Songwriter: Paul Shaffer

Song: “It’s Raining Men” (Weather Girls)

411: Before he was David Letterman’s musical guru, he wrote a song that become an international smash. After being rejected by the likes of Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Cher, and Barbra Streisand, the Weather Girls turned it into an instant disco hit in 1982. It was then later covered by RuPaul and Spice Girls star Geri Halliwell.

Songwriter: Nas

Song: “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” (Will Smith)

411: If you look up the songwriting credits, rapper Nas is nowhere to be found. Trust us, though, he helped (ghost) write it.

Songwriter: Dolly Parton

Song: “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston)

411: Unless you live on the moon, you already know that country legend Dolly Parton wrote this 1974 track originally.

Songwriter: Cat Stevens

Song: “First Cut Is the Deepest” (Rod Stewart)

411: The song, written in 1969 by folk singer Cat Stevens, became a massive hit for Rod Stewart in 1976, after it was released as a single from his album “A Night on the Town.”

Songwriter: David Bowie

Song: “All the Young Dudes” (Mott the Hoople)

411: After finding out the glam-rock band Mott the Hoople were about to split due to a lack of success, David Bowie quickly penned the track for them in 1972 (they first rejected “Suffragette City”). It became one of their signature songs in their catalogue.

Songwriter: Lennon-McCartney

Song: “I Wanna Be Your Man” (The Rolling Stones)

411: Share and share alike, they say. The song, which was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was recorded by both the Stones and the Beatles, and released by both, two weeks apart in 1963.

Songwriter: Neil Young

Song: “Lotta Love” (Nicolette Larson)

411: This cheesy easy-listening hit from 1978 was written by Neil Young, and given to Nicolette Larson after she did vocal work on Young’s 1977 album, “American Stars ‘n Bars.”

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David Bowie’s wife Iman sparks tour hopes

- March 13th, 2013

A slip of the tongue by David Bowie’s wife Iman may have sparked tour hopes for fans of the Thin White Duke.

In an interview with Britain’s Grazia magazine, the model accidentally let slip that she would not be joining the music legend “on tour” because their 12-year-old daughter, Alexandria, is still in school full-time in New York, where the family lives.

“We have a 12 year old in school, so we are stuck, we can’t travel. Our schedule is around her, so I don’t know. We’ll have to go visit him, but we won’t be on tour with him because she’s in school.”

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Bowie has remained very tight-lipped over any plans to showcase the album live, so we imagine that she’ll be hearing from her hubby today over the comments.

In January, he shocked fans by suddenly announcing his comeback after years of silence, with the release of a single “Where Are We Now?” on his 66th birthday.

We previously reported that his long time producer Tony Visconti had dashed concert rumours, saying to NME: “He’s fairly adamant he’s never gonna perform live again… One of the guys would say, ‘Boy, how are we gonna do all this live?’ and David said, ‘We’re not’. He made a point of saying that all the time.”

Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, is out now.

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David Bowie taps Tilda Swinton for new video

- February 26th, 2013

David Bowie has recruited some star power for his new music video.

“Michael Clayton” actress Tilda Swinton plays Bowie’s onscreen wife in “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” his second single off his upcoming new disc “The Next Day, due out on March 12 in North America.

Swinton isn’t a stranger to music videos – the Oscar-winning actress appeared in Orbital’s “The Box” back in in 1996.

The bizarre video shows Bowie coming face-to-face with the 70′s version of himself, played by Norwegian model Iselin Steiro.

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The promo is directed by Floria Sigismondi, whose extensive credits include Pink’s “Try,” Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter,” Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People,” and Bowie’s “Little Wonder” and “Dead Man Walking.”

Bowie shocked fans by suddenly announcing his comeback last month after years of silence, with the release of a single “Where Are We Now?” on his 66th birthday.