Maya Explores Union City

I took Maya over to the park behind the BART station in Union City, then to the Dog Park. A fun time on a warm January day.

Most Played Songs of 2013

Here is the list of my 30 most played songs of 2013, according to iTunes play data. You can see that “Axis” was my most played song, including a total of 91 plays across all versions and remixes.  The placement of Pet Shop Boys, Men without Hats, Franz Ferdinand, and Ixtahuele shouldn’t be a surprise since I blogged about all of them.

I listened to a total of 1836 songs at least once. That’s the largest total since I started tracking this statistic, and is quite a bit higher than past years 2009 (1431), 2010 (1539), 2011 (1337), and 2012 (1479).

Song Name Artist Plays
Axis (Video Version) Pet Shop Boys 45
Vocal Pet Shop Boys 40
Antarctica Men Without Hats 39
Inside a Dream Pet Shop Boys 38
Axis Pet Shop Boys 33
Thursday (featuring Example) Pet Shop Boys 29
Heaven Depeche Mode 28
Right Action Franz Ferdinand 26
The Last to Die Pet Shop Boys 26
Flourescent Pet Shop Boys 24
Love Illumination Franz Ferdinand 23
Never Let Me Go (Aeroplane Remix) The Human League 23
Bolshy Pet Shop Boys 23
Lights (Single Version) Ellie Goulding 21
I Like Men Without Hats 20
The Great Ones Remember Men Without Hats 19
I Got the Message Men Without Hats 19
Leaving Pet Shop Boys 16
Secret To The End Depeche Mode 15
Stone Gods of Bimini Ixtahuele 15
The Safety Dance (Video Version) Men Without Hats 15
Welcome To My World Depeche Mode 14
Angel Depeche Mode 14
Stand On the Horizon Franz Ferdinand 14
Memory of the Future Pet Shop Boys 14
Evil Eye (Todd Terje Extended Mix) Franz Ferdinand 13
Fresh Strawberries Franz Ferdinand 13
Black Sand Ixtahuele 13
Living In China Men Without Hats 13
Ban the Game (Full Version) Men Without Hats 13

This is obviously very skewed to the Synthesizer music that came via the new albums from Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode, and my concert attendance where Men without Hats played.  I resolve to listen to more rock music in 2014, but some of that’s dependent on what new music gets released.

The Best Thing on the Internet This Week

As has been previously chronicled, I’m a big fan of attraction posters from Disney theme parks. So, it was with wonder that I saw this week’s blog post from the Disney Parks Blog detailing some tidbits from the upcoming holiday overlay for the Jungle Cruise. There was a preview of some of the decorations for “The Jingle Cruise” but the attraction poster that was released truly got me excited to experience the attraction with the new elements.

jingle-cruise

You can compare this poster with the original from back in the 1950’s (the original Jungle Cruise attraction poster was #3 on my list of all-time attraction posters). I love how this new poster riffs on elements from the original, like the kid with a candy cane instead of a 1950’s cap pistol.

The Jingle Cruise is coming to both the Magic Kingdom in Florida as well as Disneyland in California. We’re heading down just before Thanksgiving and this is already the top of my “must do” list.

junglecruise

Top 10 Pet Shop Boys Albums

To celebrate this week’s release of the Pet Shop Boys outstanding new single, “Thursday”, I thought it would be interesting to rank the English duo’s best albums. Given the group’s pop sensibilities, they are typically considered a “singles band” and given their vast numbers of pop hits it’s not hard to fault this line of thinking. That thinking is especially timely given that three of their four singles this year are among their best ever (the previously mentioned “Thursday”, video shown below, and the previously blogged about “Axis” and “Vocal.”).

But to truly appreciate the Pet Shop Boys you really need to dig into their albums for songs that often deal with more complex topics than is typical in a single release. Musically, there’s often an opportunity to “stretch” as well. And in my mind the best albums follow some sort of theme or at the very least pull together a great collection of songs.

For my criteria I eliminated collections of previously released songs. This meant that 1995’s amazing B-sides collection, Alternative, wasn’t able to make the cut. But, as an “album” you typically are looking at what the record says about “right now” musically or at least what’s going on with the group and so compilations don’t really make it.

10. Nightlife - 1999. A pretty uneven record, though there are some highlights that are amongst the group’s seminal efforts. Two non-single tracks in particular, “Radiophonic” and “In Denial” (duet with Kylie Minogue), are among my favorites. The club-oriented “For Your Own Good” opens the album that leaned in an urban/disco direction.

9. Very - 1993. More dance oriented than the group’s 1990 mellow downer, Behaviour. The record embraces current dance trends and avoids being a rehash of their late 1980’s sound. Check out the rich arrangements of “The Theatre” and “Young Offender.”

8. Yes - 2009. After two very uneven efforts, the Pet Shop Boys returned with a contemporary album featuring one of their best singles in years, “Love, etc.”

7. Relentless - 1993. An EP of sorts that was paired with Very as a special edition release. The tracks here are very club oriented and electronic to the extreme. Some songs feature very little vocal content. The song “We Came From Outer Space” definitely is well named, though my favorite track is “KDX 125″ (named after a motorcyle, not a synthesizer).

6. Introspective - 1988. An interesting album that featured “long versions” of songs that were eventually released in shorter versions as singles. Features the group’s last big US hit, “Domino Dancing” as well as their good time anthem “It’s Alright.”

5. Bilingual - 1996. There a pronounced Latin influence on this album, with outstanding tracks such as “Discoteca” and “Se A Vida E (That’s The Way Life Is).” A great example of the more complex material you’ll find in a non-single track is provided by “Metamorphosis” which describes Neil Tennant realizing “he was that kind of guy” and includes an always-welcome vocal appearance by keyboardist Chris Lowe. The lyrics and musical themes are extremely tight on this album.

4. Disco - 1986. Smart readers might consider this album to break my “no compilation” criteria, though the album pre-dated the single releases for a re-recorded version of “Suburbia” as well as Chris Lowe’s signature vocal appearance with “Paninaro.” So, in a way, the singles did function in a way to promote the upcoming album release. In any case, Disco was the prime example of how the Pet Shop Boys embraced dance sensibilities rather than “careerist sensibilities” as well as highlighting their single remixes to a more mainstream audience.

3. Actually - 1987. This album probably has the strongest selection of singles from any album, including “It’s a Sin” and “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” There’s some great material here, including the UK singles “Rent” and “Heart”, plus a great re-recording of their original B-side “One More Chance.” It’s a great album but some of the album tracks including “Shopping” and “Hit Music” weigh down the rating just a tad.

2. Electric - 2013. The group’s most thematically solid album ever. And for someone who prefers the “dancy” records to the “theatrical” ones this is maybe the group’s best ever representation of that kind of material. As noted, this album has some of the group’s best singles ever, plus some outstanding non-single tracks including “Inside a Dream” and the Bruce Springsteen cover “The Last to Die.”

1. Please - 1986. One might look at this album and think the sound is pretty uniform and thus penalize it for not trying to branch out into different musical directions. Or you might look at how you could reorder the tracks to tell the story of life in London in the mid 1980s. You know the singles such as “West End Girls” and “Love Comes Quickly” but equally excellent are album tracks such as “I Want a Lover” and “Tonight is Forever.”

Favorite Song Right Now: “Never Let Me Go (Aeroplane Remix)” by The Human League

I heard a version of this remix when Jacques Lu Cont opened for the Pet Shop Boys last week. It sounded similar to this remix by Aeroplane. It’s a killer track from The Human League’s 2011 album Credo and  does a great job of combining the group’s signature synth-based sound with some modern touches. Love the driving beat and synth riffs in this remix.

You can compare the remix to the original version of the song, which features an incredible music video:

Franz Ferdinand Rocket Back with Killer Single, “Right Action”

Franz Ferdinand’s last album Tonight was my favorite album of 2009 and their 2009 single “No You Girls” was my most-listened track of the year as well. The band has been quietly working on new material and is set to release Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action (iTunes link) at the end of the month.

The lead single is the title track of sort, “Right Action.”  This is by no means a reinvention of the Franz Ferdinand sound, though I do sense a tiny bit of a funky undertone in this toe-tapping number that’s a bit new for the Scottish post-punk revival pioneers. I like the sitar as well. This is a killer track but honestly the music video completely overshadows the song with some great visual design and use of color. Check it out!

Another track from Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action is “Love Illumination”, which I also happen to find engaging. The music video for this one is pretty interesting too.