Music for Your Workout

Nothing calls for the right music quite like an intense workout. Here are three of my picks to help get you through it!

Daft Punk Random Access MemoriesDaft Punk
Random Access Memories

Daft Punk is known to always deliver a surprise, and their latest work is no exception. The surprises began when one of the world’s best-know and best-loved Electronic Dance Music artists released an album that was much more ’70s/’80s pop, rock and disco  than it was EDM. As the opening track states, this album is a breath of fresh air; a work that announced its mission was to “Give Life Back to Music”.

The overall production quality of this album is absolutely superb; Daft Punk cut no corners on creating their latest statement. Although their music and instrumentals are fantastic, the real standout is their collaborations with artists they admire. Rather than pigeonholing themselves by working only with a certain type of artist, Daft Punk collaborates with artists young and old, spanning numerous genres, to create a truly well-rounded and interesting product. From Nile Rodgers’ and Pharrell’s turns in “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky” to vocals by famed house DJ Todd Edwards, Daft Punk proves themselves open to a range of influences.

Although the first half of the album gets off to a strong start with tracks like “Giorgio”, Random Access Memories comes alive in its second half. Cuts like “Touch” and “Contact” remind you why Daft Punk stole our hearts in the first place. “Get Lucky” may have been blaring through your speakers all year, but I promise: there’s workout gold–and musical gold–to be found in spades here.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Beyond”, “Touch”

Nas IllmaticNas
Illmatic

In 1994, 20-year-old Nas released an album that garnered very little attention. Fast forward 20 years (can you believe it?), and the up-and-coming rapper who wasn’t old enough to buy a beer is now one of hip-hop’s greatest stars. In those 20 years, Illmatic has become massively acclaimed; it is without a doubt one of the greatest (if not the greatest, but I’m showing my bias) rap albums ever released, and is a welcome counterpart to any workout.

This album is Nas’ homage to the Bridge, the housing projects where he was raised. True to its influence, it brought hip-hope back to New York in the days after West Coast star Dr. Dre released The Chronic. Most importantly, however, it casts Nas as a street poet, the voice of a generation. He narrates his story in a simple but thoughtful way, letting us in on the difficulties of life without losing hope. Nas is a storyteller: with each song’s end comes an unanswered question that leaves you waiting for the next.

My only complaint about this album is its brevity; less than 40 minutes feels like nowhere near long enough. You’ll find yourself on a run, inspired by each and every track, only to have the music end by around mile five. When I’m out running, though, I don’t skip to the next album. I just repeat it. This one’s that good.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “N.Y. State of Mind”, “The World is Yours”

David Guetta Nothing But the BeatDavid Guetta
Nothing But the Beat

You probably know David Guetta as the guy who brought techno sound to the records of everyone from Rihanna to Usher. There’s nothing more workout-inspiring than some guilty-pleasure Top 40 music, and Guetta is the mastermind behind many of today’s top hits. This album, however, proves that he’s not just the man behind the scenes–he’s created tracks that will take you from a run to a night out and back again.

Guetta does a great job of blending genres together to create an effortlessly smooth final product. His signature house-music inspired techno beats somehow fuse together with hip-hop and R&B, creating an irresistible mix of workout-worth sound. This album is nothing groundbreaking, but you can’t deny Guetta’s influence: from Will.i.am to Nicki Minaj to Usher, Nothing But the Beat boasts a star-studded turnout of collaborations.

Where Guetta shines brightest is bringing an artist into his or her element. Whether it’s lending a romantic club beat to crooner Usher or a pulsing, fast-paced rhyme to Nicki Minaj, he knows how to draw artists out and make them shine. That’s what makes this album memorable–Guetta has taken household names and helped them make their best a little bit better.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Titanium”, “Turn Me On”


Ally Boutelle
@arboutelle

Ally is a communications intern at Murfie, blogging about all things music. When she’s not typing away, she cooks spicy food, does hot yoga, and reads weird history books. She’s also a college student double majoring in history and journalism.


Sounds Like New York: The Best of the Empire State

This week, we’re heading east. Check out our reviews of three of the best albums by New York artists!

Paul Simon GracelandPaul Simon
Graceland

Simply put: this album is one of my absolute favorites of all time, and it should be on your list as well. As a solo artist, Simon is like a musical archaeologist, digging up influences from styles of music ranging from blues to salsa to reggae. Graceland represents his move even further away from the pop-rock mainstream charts he topped as part of Simon & Garfunkel. It’s heavily influenced by both South African music and culture, exploring both new sounds and new political statements.

Rather that simply merging African influence with traditional Western sounds, this album commits: Nine of its eleven songs contain elements of mbaqanga, or South African pop music. Much of the recording was done in Johannesberg, and the songs truly soak up the local sound. They also absorb the local politics; Simon’s collaborations with local musicians inherently address controversial issues like apartheid. On the standout track “Homeless”, harmonies by vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo suggest the possibility of peaceful resolution.

The title track, one of Simon’s greatest songs, best represents the album’s attitude. Although the song’s narrator is running from a broken relationship, he runs towards what he believes to be a place of happiness and redemption. Simon is unafraid to examine the dark sides of people and societies, but remains hopeful that there is always light to be found.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Graceland”, “Homeless”

Jay-Z Reasonable DoubtJay-Z
Reasonable Doubt

Although this album was rap legend’s Jay-Z’s first and lowest selling, he himself calls it his best album to date. I’d have to agree: This album is a classic that belongs on the top shelf of any rap lover’s collection. It’s a mastery of execution-—smoothly delivered, easy to listen to, and filled with top-notch collaborations and quick, clever wordplay. In a genre that’s all about delivery, few have mastered the craft as well as Jay-Z does here.

What separates this album from the hundreds of other rap albums released in the ’90s? Jay-Z’s steady flow, witty lyrics, and confident delivery that put him on the map. Although it certainly contains tried-and-true themes of crime tales and street stories, his charisma is all his own. His humor and presence on each track make him a relatable figure who can sell to Middle America as well as he can to his native Brooklyn neighborhoods. This album establishes Jay not only as a rapper, but as a storyteller.

Another highlight on this album is the fantastic array of collaborations that blends in seamlessly. On highlight “Brooklyn’s Finest”, Jay-Z raps along with New York legend Notorious B.I.G. in a track that allows them to work together as equals, but also suggests subtle competition between the two for the song’s title. It seems only fitting that one of rap’s all-time greats would lend a hand on the debut of one of modern music’s most recognizable figures.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Brooklyn’s Finest”, “Politics as Usual”

MI0000832128The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground & Nico

Velvet Underground vocalist and guitarist Lou Reed‘s death last fall brought this album back into heavy rotation in my collection. It was a reminder of how influential this band has really been: Despite the fact that this album only sold 30,000 copies when it was released, British musician Brian Eno famously said that “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”. Despite its initial commercial flop, this album has gone on to become one of the most influential of its generation.

This record is, in a word, fearless: In an era most noted for the Summer of Love, it combined lyrics about drug addiction and despair with pounding force and throbbing basslines. Despite its bold statement, it still contains surprising diversity. It moves from the smooth and stripped-down R&B sounds of “There She Goes Again” to the tough punk rock of “Waiting for the Man” without skipping a beat. Although the album’s controversial lyrics have ultimately gained it the most attention (and notoriety), they’re matched by a solid music backing that is equally unique and compelling.

What’s most fascinating is listening to this album after hearing decades of rock and roll develop from the late 1960s onward. After just a few songs in, it’s easy to see that nearly every brand of rock owes credit to this album.  From punk to new wave and everything in between, nearly everything in the rock genre has been influenced by the Velvet Underground’s sound.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “There She Goes Again”, “Sunday Morning”


Ally Boutelle
@arboutelle

Ally is a communications intern at Murfie, blogging about all things music. When she’s not typing away, she cooks spicy food, does hot yoga, and reads weird history books. She’s also a college student double majoring in history and journalism.


Mom-Approved Modern Music for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can often mean a trip back home to spend the day with a certain woman who raised you. I love a good family tradition (and I love my mom even more), but let’s face it: A day of listening to music released circa your mom’s high school years can get a little, well… old. Here are three suggestions to bring your mom into the 21st century, music-wise, this Mother’s Day. Take them for a spin this Sunday—they’re guaranteed to not contain too many lyrics that will make family listening time uncomfortable. (Author’s Note: All albums have been successfully test-driven by my mom.)

MI0003392585Channel Orange
Frank Ocean

This 2012 record was the beginning of something big: Frank Ocean is one of the most incredibly talented singers and songwriters of our time. This record is packed full of the stuff of legends: One-of-a-kind lyrics, an ambitious sound, and a sizable helping of passion and philosophy. Ocean is a storyteller, and his stories highlight the best and the worst of what it’s like to be alive.

Musically, this album is a mishmash in the best possible way. It fuses influences from decades past (think ’70s funk sounds and ’90s hip-hop) with a new and thoroughly modern groove, including truly awesome use of quiet electronic percussion. There’s also heavy soul influence here–moments on this album suggest flashbacks to Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. I rarely listen to R&B, but I sure would if it all sounded like this. The songs have tight verses that hit you with incredible impact. The sheer force of emotion on this album hits you hard, creating a soundtrack for those who have lived, loved–and most of all, lost.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Bad Religion”, “Pyramids”

MI0003341793Blunderbuss
Jack White

Up until now, Jack White has been part of a group, whether alongside Meg White of The White Stripes or the rest of The Raconteurs. On this album, however, he’s the star: Not only is this a great solo record, it also holds its own among White’s incredible discography as part of a band. White’s reflections on life and love might tear you apart, but you’ll manage to enjoy every moment of the gut-wrenching process.

For White, going solo means that all his crazy musical ideas and influences find a home. This album contains traces of everything from old-school R&B all the way through modern country music. From his cover of Little Willie John‘s 1960 hit “I’m Shakin” to his use of fiddles and mandolins on “Blunderbuss”, a lot of ground is covered here. Jack White isn’t an easy man to figure out-—nor does he want to be: despite track after track lamenting the heartbreak of love, his female backup chorus includes his ex-wife Karen Elson. A few listens of this album, however, leave you with the impression that Jack White does his best work when he’s a little shrouded in mystery.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Love Interruption”, “Sixteen Saltines”

MI0002921033Brothers
The Black Keys

For a group with such a stellar big-band sound, it’s hard to believe that The Black Keys are a two-man show. This album comes after both members took some time away from their main band, trying their hand at other projects. It was a well-needed break: This album is their best release in years, cementing their own unique sound and their position atop the blues-rock food chain. This is nothing incredibly new or different, but that’s why I love them: Consistency is key with a group that constantly delivers music that just sounds like a good time.

This album very successfully plays around with a variety of styles, incorporating everything from up-tempo beats on “Howlin’ For You” to quiet, haunting harpsichord on “Too Afraid to Love You”. My personal favorite addition, however, is vocalist Dan Auerbach’s incorporation of falsetto, For a band that’s made a name with its bluesy sound, a falsetto was certainly a surprise (and a welcome one at that). He nails the sound on tracks like “Everlasting Light”, bringing a much-needed new edge into the mix. For longtime fans like myself, this album set a new standard for the band, turning classic bluesy sounds into something fresh and creative.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Everlasting Light”, “Howlin’ For You”

#FreeFriday: The Mouse and the Mask

Time for our second edition of #FreeFriday! Each week we’ll review an album, and give it away to one lucky winner. For a chance to win the album, all you have to do is read this post, then share on social media at least one of these ways:

  • Share this blog post on Twitter—use the hashtag #FreeFriday and tag @murfiemusic
  • Retweet one of the #FreeFriday tweets we send via @murfiemusic
  • Share our #FreeFriday Facebook post (in a public post)

Now, on to this week’s awesome featured album…
mouse

The Mouse and the Mask (DANGERDOOM, 2005)

DANGERDOOM’s 2005 album The Mouse and the Mask begins with a very interesting question. The first voice on the album isn’t either of the group’s two members but rather the voice of Brak (the catlike alien you may remember from Space Ghost) asking the listener “Why did you buy this album? …I don’t know why you did, you’re stupid.” Aside from bringing up deep questions about the appeal of physical music in a digital age (which we at Murfie know all too well) this opening perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album. The Cartoon Network samples may make it difficult to take the album seriously, but the combined talents of Daniel Dumile and Brian Burton make it an album that, despite Brak’s protests, is definitely worth buying (or winning from #FreeFriday).

Dumile and Burton, better known by their stage names MF DOOM and Danger Mouse, are two of the most innovative and prolific hip hop artists of the last decade, and both were at the top of their game on this album. At the time of The Mouse and the Mask’s release, Dumile had released a plethora of material both lyrical and instrumental under several different names including Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah, and Madvillain. Burton’s history isn’t anything to sneeze at either. By 2005 Danger Mouse had already gained national attention from his mixtape The Grey Album, a mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album with The Beatleseponymous white album. He went on to start Gnarls Barkley with Cee-Lo Green and Broken Bells with The Shins’ James Mercer. Burton was also credited with production on GorillazDemon Days, The Black KeysAttack & Release, and Beck’s Modern Guilt. It really is quite the resumé.

DOOM’s intricate rhyme schemes, Danger Mouse’s sampling skills, and the duo’s extensive experience make this album a great listen, but they’re not the only big names on the record. Burton’s pal Cee-Lo croons the silky smooth hook on “Benzie Box” while Doom spits alongside fellow New Yorkers Talib Kweli (on “Old School”) and Wu Tang’s Ghostface Killah (on “The Mask”). The album also features dialog from various characters from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, including the casts of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and Sealab 2021.

The Mouse and the Mask follows a storyline in which Aqua Teen’s Master Shake keeps trying to convince Danger Mouse to help him produce a new rap album, but the goofy dialogue is just a frilly garnish atop a rich and complex musical feast. No matter where Danger Mouse goes with his samples, DOOM is right behind him with a mind-blowing string of carefully veiled puns and tongue-twisting alliteration. I’d love to tell you more about it, but in a single line Dumile gives a summary better than I could ever hope to provide with a thousand words. At the end of “Mince Meat,” he boasts: “Off a DAT tape of rap, country or deep house / I’ll make mincemeat out of that beat, Mouse.”

Share this post in one of the ways listed above, and we’ll let you know if you’re the winner on Monday! Good luck!



Andrew Hinkens

Andrew works in Operations at Murfie, taking great care to make sure all your albums are ripped quickly and accurately. He enjoys collecting vinyl, going to concerts, longboarding, and playing with just about any dog he can get close to.



Staff Picks: Ally’s Folk Picks

Up until recently, I definitely did not consider myself a fan of folk music—I barely could name a folk artist, and never thought to add folk music to my listening rotation. In the last few months, however, I’ve become hooked on folk as a new soundtrack to car rides, homework sessions, and everything in between. Here are a few of my newfound favorites.

The Head and the Heart - Let's Be StillThe Head and the Heart
Let’s Be Still

The Head and the Heart’s sophomore album has solved the problems of the bands overly fast-paced debut, slowing it down to allow for more thoughtful songwriting and lusher instrumentation. The melodies here are beautiful and complex, incorporating violin, banjo, piano and guitars into a smooth and mellow sound. Combined with singers Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell’s vocals, the album is the perfect combination of soulful and lighthearted.

This band masters the art of creating ballads that are heartfelt, not sappy, and it shows. Highlights like “Cruel” showcase the band’s excellent songwriting, which lends itself perfectly to their newly quiet and pensive sound. The result is a new kind of folk music—thoroughly modern, not lost or stuck in decades past—that seems to have real staying power. The Head and The Heart have discovered what works for them, and they’ll withstand any shifts in what’s popular in music. This album ultimately plays like a plea to just take a moment, be still and listen—the rest will work itself out in time, after all.

> Don’t Miss Tracks: “Cruel”, “Homecoming Heroes”

Indigo Girls - Indigo GirlsIndigo Girls
Indigo Girls

The Indigo Girls are everything a musical pair should be: they certainly collaborate, but their differences in style ultimately create a stronger and more interesting final product. This album at times has a split personality, moving from the upbeat, bouncy “Closer to Fine” (one of my personal favorite songs) towards brooding tracks like “Blood and Fire” that ruminate on topics like love and faith. Although the songs reflect each member’s individual personality, they nevertheless compliment each other seamlessly.

This album is raw and powerful—it feels almost unedited at times, but in a wonderful way. The tracks capture their passion and let their personalities and opinions shine through, never asking them to keep anything in check. The power that surges through these songs, however, suggests a musical duo whose talent will take them far. Combined with their truly poetic songwriting, the Indigo Girls create a commanding musical presence that captures attention and demands that you really listen to every last word they have to say.

> Don’t Miss Tracks: “Closer to Fine”, “Secure Yourself”
> Check out this Murfie Podcast that we recorded with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls!

Joan Baez - Diamonds and RustJoan Baez
Diamonds and Rust

Although previous installments of Baez’s work centered around her anti-Vietnam war activism, Diamonds and Rust brings her back to her soulful, yet commercial, roots. The album is flush with outstanding music influences, including contemporary jazz greats like Larry Carlton and covers of legends the likes of Stevie Wonder. Although Biaz shines on cover tracks, original songs like “Children and All that Jazz” reveal a new style that’s personal and extremely appealing.

The real hero of this album, however, is the title track “Diamonds and Rust”, arguably Biaz’s finest achievement as a singer/songwriter. Written about her relationship with Bob Dylan, the track reminisces about what once was in a way that is intensely intimate.  Her most popular track ever, the song is a folk classic and a whole new standard for the soul-baring love song category. The sheer power of “Diamonds and Rust” combined with the album’s other shining moments makes this album the best of Baez.

> Don’t Miss Tracks: “Diamonds and Rust”, “Winds of the Old Days”


Ally Boutelle
@arboutelle

Ally is a communications intern at Murfie, blogging about all things music. When she’s not typing away, she cooks spicy food, does hot yoga, and reads weird history books. She’s also a college student double majoring in history and journalism.


Sounds Like Florida: The Best of the Sunshine State

Last week, we brought you the best of the Garden State with New Jersey’s finest. This week, check out the best of Florida!

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd

This album is, in a nutshell, the Southern Rock album. Lynyrd Skynyrd, more so than any other band of their time, epitomized that sound by bringing together country, blues and rock to make an incredibly authentic blend. For a debut album—or any album—this is a raw and original sound.

One of this album’s strengths is how concise it is – with only eight songs, the band doesn’t waste a moment on anything unnecessary. Instead, each song is incredibly strong. Another bold move was the sheer variety moving through the tracklist. Opening with “I Ain’t the One” and moving on to the sadder, slower “Tuesday’s Gone”, the band moves through sounds and emotions seamlessly.

These pieces alone make this album good, but it’s Skynyrd’s one-of-a-kind sound that makes them great. It takes a great band to blend hard rock, country and blues into one, and that ‘s exactly what this album does. Not only was this album the birth of a great band, it’s the birth of a genre.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Sweet Home Alabama”, “I Ain’t the One”

Iron & Winehttps://www.murfie.com/albums/iron-wine-the-shepherd-s-dog
The Shepherd’s Dog

This album, to put it succinctly, made me an Iron & Wine fan. When it was released, it became the band’s most progressive and unique album to date; the kind of record that takes several listenings to fully appreciate. It’s also a turning point for the band, moving them away from lo-fi recordings towards a fuller sound.

Despite this transition, the album is still rooted in vocals, lyrics and guitar, as on its previous albums. These foundations are rock-solid, and the band builds on them by adding blues, dub and numerous other styles on top. These details, however, are the best part of the album: banjos, steel guitars, and vocal harmonies top off an already solid sound.

This album is a foray into new territory for Iron & Wine, and they executed that transition beautifully. It’s rare that I find a record that I can listen to over and over again, but this lends itself easily to repeat. The attention to detail and beautiful flow of these songs is addictive.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “House by the Sea”, “Love Song of the Buzzard”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
The Christmas Attic

Although this album is not exactly currently seasonal, I’m unashamed to admit that Trans-Siberian Orchestra has year-round rotation in my music collection. This album in particular is a favorite of mine—the orchestra showcases its mastery of composition, storytelling, vocals and instrumentation. It’s a captivating album that puts a great twist on classical musical and holiday tunes.

This album shines on its most animated tracks, which are flawlessly executed and brilliantly original. These songs mix traditional Christmas songs, including “’Tis the Season” and “Joy to the World”, with the Orchestra’s trademark touches. The Orchestra incorporates countless instruments, most notably strings and percussion. The real star here, though, is electric guitar, which shines through on tracks like “March of the Kings – Hark the Herald Angel”.

Although this album certainly draws comparisons to the Orchestra’s previous holiday releases, it’s strong enough to stand alone. Despite these comparisons, it’s impossible to overlook how beautiful the instrumentation and vocals are here, and to forget this group’s mastery of both arrangement and storytelling.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Midnight Christmas Eve”, “The Snow Came Down”

Sounds Like New Jersey: The Best of the Garden State

Last time, we brought you the best albums Colorado has to offer. This time, let’s head east to check out the best of the Garden State. Here are reviews of three albums by Jersey natives!

Bruce Springsteen
Born to Run

After two low-budget albums, The Boss released his third, Born to Run, with a superstar budget and big aspirations. Before this album, Springsteen was mostly propelled by local love and word of mouth; Born to Run was a make-or-break shot at the big leagues.

It couldn’t be more successful at this mission—Born to Run is a superb album that cemented Springsteen’s status as someone who would make his mark on rock & roll. Each track is full of both drama and familiar themes of American life. The songs are familiar stories, told in a new way that’s an unprecedented level of exciting and meaningful.

Most important, though, is that The Boss just makes music that’s what rock should be. Each track is filled with incredible instrumentals: harmonicas, pianos, organs, great guitar lines and fantastic chords—and it’s all tied together by an unshakable spirit and energy. Born to Run is an exhilarating listening experience.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Born to Run”, “Thunder Road”, “Backstreets”

Lauryn Hill
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Turns out 1998 was one amazing year for hip hop: between Outkast’s Aquemini, Talib Kweli and Mos Def’s Black Star, and Lauryn Hill, it was truly a year to remember. Even in a year of standouts, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill raised the bar. Hill’s hip-hop foundation with gospel, soul, reggae and funk layered on top made it the stellar album that won a record five Grammy Awards.

Hill’s music truly sounds like poetry, which, given its subject matter, is definitely appropriate. The album takes on the issue of love in many manifestations, ranging from deep happiness on tracks like “Nothing Even Matters” to sadness on “I Used to Love Him”. Rapper Nas described the album’s style as “the soul of Roberta Flack, the passion of Bob Marley, the essence of Aretha Franklin all wrapped up in one thing”.

What’s best about this album is that Hill created her own sound. Rather than trying to emulate existing hip-hop, she forged her own path—a brand new style. This album feels like a new artist—and genre—is born.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Doo Wop”, “Superstar”

Bon Jovi
Slippery When Wet

It’s impossible to talk about New Jersey without mentioning Jon Bon Jovi and crew. Listening to this album reminds you of every party you’ve been at when “Livin’ on a Prayer” comes on, and suddenly you’re singing along. This band has a way of sticking in your mind.

Bon Jovi may love his lyrical clichés, but there’s no denying how much fun this music is. In its best moments, like “Livin on a Prayer” or “Wanted Dead or Alive”, Slippery When Wet creates a melodic frenzy. The album introduces an appealing fusion of pop, rock and metal that brought hair metal onto the mainstream radio. Despite its metal influences, however, this album is most true to pop.

“It’s alright if you have a good time”, Bon Jovi sang on “Let it Rock”, and that’s the theme of this album: it’s an accessible, middle-of-the-road approach to rock that deviated from other hard-edged ‘80s music and created an appealing, carefree alternative that ultimately became an ‘80s soundtrack.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Livin’ on a Prayer”, “Wanted Dead or Alive”

These albums currently range from $1 to $4 on Murfie. Grab ’em now!