Posts Tagged ‘music’

 

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(I do not own this image)

Well, ladies and gentleman, it’s that time of year again.  The winter months are upon us as is the end of the year, bringing snow, holiday spirit, eggnog, and countless “Best of 2013” lists. 2013 has come and gone and left us with an expansive library of new music through which to sift.  Naturally, as has been the case in the past two years, I have compiled my list of the absolute best albums of the past year as well as a list of other solid releases.   This year’s list proved more difficult to compile than those in the past for several reasons.  2013 saw the return of many long-absent artists, releasing massively hyped comeback albums that, often times, simply did not meet the high expectations set.  Case in point: David Bowie’s The Next Day, The Strokes’ Comedown Machine and Black Sabbath’s 13.  Additionally, as exemplified by the weak Grammy nominations, the quality of music simply was not as high or consistent as it has been in the past years.  While many, many decent albums were released in 2013, only a few were truly stupendous.  Moreover, the “best of” a mediocre year could include several mediocre records.  Thus, I believe that to make this list, an album has to truly be remarkable, which explains the awkward number of albums included. Keeping that in mind, below are the Sound Hound’s six favorite albums of the year from bottom to top.

#6. True – Avicii

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(I do not own this image)

This past year certainly saw a change in the electronic dance music world.  The genre continued to dominate the musical world, but dubstep was pushed aside for rap and more experimental releases.  That being said, don’t write off the Swede’s newest album just because you have no interest in hearing any more now standard fist-pumping dance numbers like his first hit, “Levels.” On the contrary, on his full-length debut, Avicii, in a bold and unprecedented move, mixed country, disco, funk and soul into his increasingly popular house music.  The record includes many incredible standout tunes such as the enormous lead single, “Wake Me Up,” the dramatic “Hey Brother,” “You Make Me,” the classic-sounding “Dear Boy,” “Shame On Me,” and the instrumental “Heart Upon My Sleeve.”  The album is unique in this world of consistent electronica that seems to blend into each other from one song to the next.  True shows that Avicii knows no limits, feels restricted by no musical guidelines and is a tremendously talented songwriter.

#5: Paradise Valley – John Mayer

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(I do not own this image)

John Mayer has come a long way from being that obnoxious pretty-boy with an acoustic guitar he was on the eve of the release the try-hard sensitive pop hit, “My Body is a Wonderland.”  We have all watched as Mayer has evolved to the point of embracing country-roots on his previous and underrated record, Born and Raised.  However, on 2013’s quick and direct Paradise Valley, Mayer combines his newfound love of country with his pop and blues beginnings.  From the first jangling notes of the opener, “Wildfire” through the delicate “Paper Doll,” the beautiful duet with ex-girlfriend Katy Perry on “Who You Love” and the acoustic noodling of the penultimate “Badge and Gun,” Mayer shows of his chops and his incredible ability to write a beautiful love song.  The album is consistent from start to finish and wonderfully exemplifies the songwriter’s wide range of musical tastes, while maintaining an unmistakably Mayer-esque vibe.

#4: Yeezus – Kanye West

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(I do not own this image)

I needed a few listens to properly digest Kanye West’s Yeezus, and when I compared it to Jay-Z’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail in The Brandeis Hoot I was still not a fan.  However, after listening to the album many more times and seeing it performed live, I finally was able to appreciate the genius of Yeezus.  What Kanye West has done on this record will change rap music forever.  Many rap artists will release a record with 12 to 15 heavily produced tracks highlighted by catchy hooks sung by other superstars.  However, Yeezus stresses minimalism in its musicality and anger and strength in vocal delivery.  While much of lyrical content leaves a lot to be desire, that combination becomes very powerful.  West and producer Rick Rubin pooling from electronic house music, reggatone, grueling electric guitar, swirling indie rock and bass-heavy gangster rap to create backbeats that are unlike anything the rap game has ever heard before.  The only reason Yeezus is not at the top of this list is the lack of lyrical focus, poorly written punch lines and its general theme of arrogant self-worship.  Otherwise, the record is a true work of art.

#3:  Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

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(I do not own this image)

Random Access Memories, French electronic duo Daft Punk’s first album in eight years, was met with mixed reception.  The music world was , if not expecting, then hoping, for a record filled with classic electric dance synths, Daft Punk’s crazy samples and plenty of funky beats.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter strayed from their usual tendencies and recruited an army of experienced studio musicians including Chic’s Niles Rogers, and drum kings of the recording world (get names) to track a mellow disco-pop album with a hint of electronica.  After listening to Random Access Memories objectively and accepting the fact that Daft Punk has not released another standard electronic album, it becomes clear that the record is simply fantastic.  The Parisians put out a solid stream of tightly delivered pop songs that both display their love for disco and funk and their sheer brilliance in composition.  The musicianship is simply outstanding and mixes many genres including traces of classical orchestration.  Nearly every song is a winner, but some standout moments include the dramatic opener, “Give Life Back to Music,” “Fragments of Time,” the jam section on “Giorgio by Moroder,” the hit of the summer, “Get Lucky,” the slow whirrings of “Beyond” and the team-up with Animal Collective’s Panda Bear on “Doin’ It Right.”  While totally different from Daft Punk’s earlier material, Random Access Memories is the band’s best work, second only to 2000’s Discovery.

#2: Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

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(I do not own this image)

Vampire Weekend has never been cited for creating the most technically complex music.  However, as the band’s excellent third release, Modern Vampires of the City shows, the group possesses a talent for building and experiment upon the standard “indie” sound, adding African rhythms, deep organs, electronic synths, vocal effects and utilizing a general appreciation for Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel.  With the help of such creative devises, Vampire Weekend have crafted a composed group of songs ranging from terrific rockers “Unbelievers,” “Worship You” and “Diane Young,” gentle and beautiful numbers including “Step” and “Hannah Hunt” and the bizarre, reggae-influenced “Ya Hey.”  Each song on the album is quite beautifully composed, both lyrically and musically and shows that the boys of Vampire Weekend are in fact quite talented songwriters.  Though not as poppy and straightforward as the band’s self-titled 2008 debut, Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend’s most mature, well-developed and finest work to date.

#1: …Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age

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(I do not own this image)

In 2011, The Sound Hound named The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light the best album, without a second thought.  Similarly, as soon as I first listened to Queens of the Stone Age’s newest, …Like Clockwork, I knew nothing could possibly surpass its greatness.  Maybe a couple records would come close, but like Wasting Light, …Like Clockwork was consistently fantastic from start to finish.  The musicianship on …Like Clockwork is literally perfect.  The quintet have unparalleled musical chemistry and are able to establish killer grooves with various superstars all across the record including Elton John, the Arctic Monkeys’ Turner, drummer Dave Grohl and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, amongst others.  Furthermore, Homme displays his weathered talent for writing vivid, intense and poetic lyrics on every song that perfectly reflect each song’s musical mood. Every song brings a new perspective on rock music to the listener’s attention while retaining a unified sound throughout.  Yes, you can sift through the album looking for standout tracks that resemble the band’s earlier hits, like “No One Knows” or “Little Sister,” but …Like Clockwork is best appreciated as a full album. The record starts with the slow and ominously grueling “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” shifting quickly but cohesively into the faster-paced “I Sat By The Ocean.”  While the two first tracks both sound as different from each other as they do from the stellar and epic “I Appear Missing,” or “Smooth Sailing,” every song on …Like Clockwork sounds unmistakably like a Queens of the Stone Age song.  Lately, many alternative rock bands have begun to all sound the same, but Queens of the Stone Age have managed to release a evolve internally and establish a sound distinct from their contemporaries, while simultaneously maintaining a familiar vibe that “goes down easily,” per se.

 

Honorable Mentions

I feel as though several fun and solid albums that perhaps are not quite legendary enough to fit into the above list hit the shelves this past year and I’d like to take a moment and mention them now.

Magna Carta…Holy Grail ­– Jay Z:

Notable tracks: “Holy Grail (feat. Justin Timberlake),”Picasso Baby,” “Tom Ford,” “Oceans (feat. Frank Ocean),” “Nickels and Dimes”

Old – Danny Brown:

Notable Tracks: “25 Bucks (feat. Purity Ring),” Side B (Dope Song),” “Dip,” “Smokin & Drinkin”

Sound City – Real to Reel – Dave Grohl & The Sound City Players:

Notables Tracks: “Mantra,” “The Man That Never Was,” “From Can to Can’t,” “Cut Me Some Slack,” “Your Wife is Calling,” “Centipede,” “You Can’t Fix This”

20/20 Experience – Parts 1 & 2 – Justin Timberlake:

Notable Tracks: “Pusher Love Girl,” “Let the Groove Get In,” “Mirrors,” “That Girl,” “Take Back the Night,” “Gimme’ What I Don’t Know (I Want)”

Settle – Disclosure:

Notable Tracks: “When A Fire Starts to Burn,” “F For You,” “Stimulation,” “Latch (feat. Sam Smith),” “White Noise (feat. Aluna George)”

Save Rock and Roll – Fall Out Boy:

Notable Tracks: “The Phoenix,” “Save Rock and Roll,” “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em’ Up),” “Alone Together”

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action – Franz Ferdinand

Notable Tracks: “Love Illumination,” “Evil Eye,” “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action”

Signed and Sealed in Blood ­– Dropkick Murphys:

Notable Tracks: “The Boys are Back,” “Rose Tattoo,” “Jimmy Collins’ Wake”

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Attached is a link to my review of a Timeflies concert in The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis University’s community newspaper:

http://thebrandeishoot.com/articles/13571

Enjoy!

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Here’s my latest article in The Justice, picking up basically where the last one left off.  This time, instead of reviewing the movie, Sound City, I tackle the album of original material recorded by Grohl and friends featured in the film both as the soundtrack as well as the main attraction of certain scenes.  The link is below:

http://www.thejustice.org/soundtrack-chronicles-story-of-recording-studio-1.3011440#.UUgWx3NetTA

David Bowie, Glam Rock superstar, has donned countless personas and experimented with many musical styles over the course of his twenty four studio-album and forty four-year-long career. Thus, when the singer-songwriter announces a new release, the music industry never knows what to expect.

Nonetheless, “Where Are We Now?,” (featured above) a build-up piano ballad with a beautifully uplifting finale, seems to touch upon themes that resonate throughout much of Bowie’s classic material, including loss of connection to society, mystery and the power of human contact.

On his 66th birthday, Bowie published a post on his website regarding a new studio album, “The Next Day,” his first since 2003′s “Reality.” “The Next Day” will drop on March 8th, 2013 and will feature fourteen tracks plus three additional bonus tracks:

The Next Day Tracklist:
01. The Next Day
02. Dirty Boys
03. The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
04. Love Is Lost
05. Where Are We Now?
06. Valentine’s Day
07. If You Can See Me
08. I’d Rather Be High
09. Boss Of Me
10. Dancing Out In Space
11. How Does The Grass Grow
12. (You Will) Set The World On Fire
13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die
14. Heat
Deluxe Tracks:
15. So She
16. I’ll Take You There
17. Plan

Listen to the above song and then think about the following:

Sometimes, when we hear a band say, “Okay, now we’re gonna’ do a cover,” we hope that they’ll play the song exactly as it was originally performed. As humans, we feel more comfortable with something familiar. “I often prefer songs I know to new ones,” says Miriam Akabas, a New Yorker who frequented many Grateful Dead concerts during the band’s prime. The Dead were known to constantly cover other artists’ work, but their covers sounded so incredibly Grateful Deadish that it was usually near-impossible to differentiate between an original Dead composition and a cover.
Nonetheless, isn’t it somewhat creatively lacking if an artist covers a song exactly like the original recording? Sure, it’s seriously bold to try to perform a song just like the original artist who actually wrote that song, especially if that artist is an established and renowned musician, but it’s even ballsier to take that song and make it your own.

Jimi Hendrix, considered the greatest guitarist of all time, ironically covered folk legend Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” but the original and cover versions sound totally different. Dylan’s version sounds like most of his work: soft acoustic guitar topped with his distinct harmonica noodling whereas Hendrix’s “Watchtower” starts with one of rock’s most famous and raunchy guitar solos.

Joe Cocker, an underrated singer from the 1960’s and 70’s who actually played at the 1969 Woodstock festival in Bethel, New York, covered The Beatles “With a Little Help From My Friends” off the Fab Four’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles’ version is a poppy song traditional of British Invasion style music whereas Cocker’s cover is a heavy jam filled with power chords, organ solos and texture upon texture of solid rock and roll.

Ben L’Oncle Soul takes the White Stripes classic hit, “Seven Nation Army,” a raw, riff-driven blues song and transforms it into a happy reggae-soul track. The funny thing is…it works…really well. Sure, some might attack L’Oncle Soul saying that he destroys the Jack White’s (singer, guitarist and main songwriter for the White Stripes) initial intention for the song’s emotional impact. The White Stripe’s “Seven Nation” is slow and dark, but that’s not the vibe L’Oncle Soul is going for. The way he approaches his vocals and the way he delivers the lyrics, line after line after line, jives with the positive mood of his cover. If he sang as ominously as White, then perhaps the song would not work. However, since this is not the case, this is a track that proves that covers can be extremely relevant

Rock: The Rawer the Better

Posted: April 5, 2012 in Editorials
Tags: ,

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Rock and Roll has always been as much about the attitude as the music.  However, in recent years, the sheer power of the genre has somewhat dissipated.  Robert Plant, the lead singer of the legendary Led Zeppelin, exemplifies the raw energy that Rock is purely based on.  While Plant is primarily a singer, he sometimes reaches a point where he is so into his music that he starts screaming, yelling and shouting.  Those bold moments are part of what made him such an outstanding musician and performer alike.

Nowadays, it’s very hard to find music that sounds as unprocessed and fervent as the old tunes.  Artists overproduce their music so tremendously using computer programs like “Pro-tools” that listeners may often wonder whether singers actually sound like their voices are projected on the record.  The older recording devices also gave songs a distinct sound.  Bands such as Coldplay or Nickelback layer every instrument frequently and delete all errors, thus giving their tracks a perfect sound quality production-wise.  However, they have difficulty recreating the same sound live, an issue that few older bands struggle with.  The Grateful Dead are even considered to sound better live, in fact, than in studio, as they are not restrained by having to make sure a song is “radio friendly.”

Countless modern rock bands claim to have been influenced by groups such as the Ramones, Sex Pistols and Nirvana.  These bands made their living off wavering from the tide, refusing to make “better sounding” music.  While it is not easy to make out all of the Ramones’ lyrics due to the quality of their sound recording, it would go against everything “Ramone” if they allowed for their music to be “cleaned up.”

As soon as you play a classic rock record, listen for the quiet fuzz of the tape turning that is audible even on re-mastered tracks.  Even that tiny announcement of the start of a song has been eliminated by modern production.

True Rock and Roll is a man sitting in a room, playing a guitar and singing.  Put that on a record and you have music; that is, music full of attitude.

Here at the Sound Hound, I predicted the Grammy outcomes perfectly!  9/9.  If you want to see who I chose, check out the article I posted a few weeks ago.  Last year, my predictions, which were published in my school paper, were incorrect for all except for Best Rap Album of the year, which I said would be Eminem for Recovery.  Naturally, I’m a little more satisfied with my outcome.

Now as for the performances, I was decently impressed.  The Foo Fighters, of course, rocked both alone and with Deadmau5, though I was not as baffled as I usually am by them, probably because this was not their show: they were not the headliners, although they were up for 6, I believe, Grammys and appeared three times.  Deadmau5 should have let them keep playing.  I’d rather have heard the rest of “Rope” then a snippet of “Raise your Weapon.”

And how can I forget Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s opener, “We Take Care of Our Own?”  That song has gotten mixed reviews but I actually like it a bit.  The version from the Grammys is actually really great and I gained a lot of respect for the tune after seeing it performed live.

Adele completely nailed Rolling in the Deep (but how could she not be used to singing it by now.)

Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj’s performances were extremely weird, too much so for me.  Minaj completely neglected the killer chorus of “Roman’s Revenge” (Rah Rah like a dungeon dragon!) and a great feature from either Eminem or Lil Wayne.

Speaking of Weezy, the performance with David Guetta, Chris Brown and Wayne was less than impressive.  Wayne could have been a lot better.  Chris Brown’s solo performance also failed to impress me.

The best part of the night for me was the Paul McCartney’s grand finale, a medley of Abbey Road songs featuring guitar monsters such as Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh and McCartney himself.  Every guitarist brought their own personality, agression and musical talent to the performance and it would have been different and worse if any one of them were absent.  I also want to give a shoutout to the lead guitarist of McCartney’s band who really blew me away.  Great show by all.

Solid Grammy Night this year.  I was pretty happy with the outcomes (but it would have been nice to see the Foos take Album of the Year.)

In August of 2011, I posted an article introducing the up-and-coming Floridian rapper, Bottaboom and since then, I’ve posted updates in his regard on The Sound Hound site as well as on Twitter an Facebook.  So finally, after months of hype, seven singles and a rescheduled album drop, Bottaboom released his debut mixtape, Sleep Well, on January 9th, 2012.

Immediately upon first hearing Botta perform, I knew he possessed a special talent, such a hunch that was confirmed by the release of seven tracks from Sleep Well, “Don’t Know Me,” “Lust Confidence,” “Everyone Else,” “Sleeping,” “In Your Life,” “Epic Meal Time,” and “There.”  I was predicting Botta’s mixtape to be truly excellent, but Sleep Well, a fourteen-track release that paints a full picture of “Alec Bahta,” managed to surpass all expectations ten fold.

I’d continue raving about Sleep Well, but I figure that you’d rather hear Botta talk about it himself.

The Sound Hound: You mentioned there was a concept to Sleep Well and to me as a listener it seems like you’re trying to really show yourself in every way (ideas, background, passions) and paint a picture of who Alec Bahta is.  What was your intention for Sleep Well?

Bottaboom: Sleep Well started out as an EP, but I quickly realized that I had too much to say and extended it to a full length project. I really saw this project as an introduction. Although it was quality, I realized that this would not be the one that helps me “blow up.” I talk about my passions and background so that listeners can get to know me. I want them to see me, the real me, and fall in love with that. I feel like establishing your persona from the beginning gets you genuine fans.

SH: Absolutely, and it seems like you’ve gotten a bunch of really dedicated fans but also a huge amount of followers.  Did you expect to get this much attention, I mean, you’re all the way up to 1,000 on Facebook?

BB: I wasn’t really sure what to expect, honestly. I was just making the music that I wanted to make. It was amazing to see all of the people who really connected it. My growth was pretty quick due to social networking mostly, and, with the release of music videos and more blog posts, I hope that it grows even more!

SH: Follow up question: where did the name “Sleep Well” come from?

BB: At first it was going to be an EP called “SleEP,” but after I made the decision to lengthen it I changed the name. I wanted something that I could brand (and tweet) that kept people curious and still kept the same concept. “Sleep Well” really stems from the frustration I was going through when nobody would listen to my music and people didn’t take me seriously. They were “Sleeping” on me, and I address that on the track of that name.

SH: That must have been really frustrating especially since in a bunch of songs you mention other passions like basketball. What were your other passions and how did music come in and take over? How did you cope with the struggle with negative feedback, which you discuss on a bunch of Sleep Well‘s tracks?

BB: I’ve played basketball for as long as I’ve made music. At one point I realized pursuing a career in music and pursuing basketball would not coincide. I figured that I only planned to play high school basketball, whereas with music, I want to make it my job, ideally. I address a lot of the negative feedback in the track “If You Give a Kid an iPod.” I just used it as fuel. Half of Sleep Well was trying to prove everyone wrong. I’ve gotten messages and tweets from people who used to make fun of my music saying that they love it now. I remember everything though.

SH: You’re a pretty mellow guy and I think that shows through in the musical tone of the album, but as you just mentioned, Sleep Well discusses some pretty serious and deeply personal topics and sometimes your vocal tone sounds ambitious and even a little agressive. I never noticed that kind of stuff coming out in your personality, but do you ever think it does?

BB: I think it does. We all have good moods and bad moods. One advantage I believe I have is that when I make a track, I do it because I use the actual situation I’m in for inspiration. I made the tracks “There” and “Don’t Know Me” when I was angry, which I think is very evident. I was in the best of moods when I made “Everyone Else.” I think its good to show different sides of yourself to fans. We’re all human after all.

SH: simple question: What’s your favorite song on Sleep Well?

BB: My favorite song is probably “Starry Night.” I think I really said it all and created a really nice mood with the track.

SH: I like that song too and I actually want to talk about that one for a second: that samples “Go Now” by the Moody Blues. I’ve seen them in concert, but out of pretty much everyone I know under 45, I am one of the few people that knows them and then here you come out of nowhere sampling one of their really obscure songs. That’s ballzy and really respectable. How did you choose “Go Now” and the other sample songs like “Stairway to Heaven” on the opener, “Midnight Sun?”

BB: Well. Before I wanted to be a rapper I actually wanted to be a rockstar [laughs]. During my middle school days I played in a band, and I’ve been playing electric guitar for 5 years. I’ve always appreciated a lot of different types of music and rock is one genre I delve into. My favorite bands are probably Red Hot Chili Peppers, Band of Horses, Led Zeppelin, and Nirvana.

SH: So you play a lot of instruments then, and you obviously rap. A lot of people might not know that you produce beats as well, so overall, what’s your favorite thing to do musically?

BB: It honestly depends on my mood. I can’t choose one!

SH: Are there any other releases we can expect from you?

BB: The next project I release will not be like a Sleep Well Vol. 2. I think you will see some evolution in my sound especially because I’m producing most of it and working one on one with producers that I have befriended. Otherwise, I think it’s too early to tell. I will definitely be dropping tracks for the fans, but I’m not sure about another project in between at this point.  Just be on the lookout for more…

And there you have it.  As you can definitely tell from Botaboom’s thoughts about Sleep Well, the mixtape is really deep, focused and special.  To reiterate what I said in an earlier post, download the tape here: http://www.datpiff.com/Bottaboom-Sleep-Well-mixtape.302767.html.  It’s great.  It really is.  So please, give Botta the support he deserves.

Recently, The Sound Hound posted its list of the best albums of 2011.  Some albums that may not have been good enough to make it to that list, however, may have one or two excellent songs.  To advertise those songs and further advertise the songs that may be been included on Sound Hound’s previous list, I have posted a new list below of Sound Hounds 25 Favorite Songs of 2011. These are the songs that got stuck in my head the most this year….

In alphabetical order by artist:

Rolling in the Deep – Adele

Make Some Noise – The Beastie Boys

Gold on the Ceiling – The Black Keys

Lonely Boy – The Black Keys

After Midnight – Blink 182

In Your Life – Bottaboom

Blue Tip – The Cars

Bonfire – Childish Gambino

Freaks and Geeks – Childish Gambino

Every Teardrop is a Waterfall – Coldplay

Paradise – Coldplay

Rox in the Box – The Decemberists

These Days – Foo Fighters

Walk – Foo Fighters

The Summer Place – Fountains of Wayne

Irresistible Force – Jane’s Addiction

Six Foot Seven Foot – Lil Wayne

Holdin’ On To Black Metal – My Morning Jacket

City Kids – OCD: Moosh & Twist

Dream On – OCD: Moosh & Twist

Look Around – The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Machu Picchu – The Strokes

No Church in the Wild – The Throne

Can a Drummer Get Some – Travis Barker

Second Song – TV on the Radio