Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Best in Music 2016

Here we go again.  2016 was another great year in music and these are my favorite songs and albums of the year.

10 Best Albums of 2016


1. Midnight Machines by Lights - In 2014, Lights released an album called Little Machines, full of fast-paced dance songs.  Two years later, and she drops this gem, almost a retelling of those same songs.  In Midnight Machines, Lights pares back her sound, letting her voice do the storytelling, and packs what were dance songs with an emotion that is staggering.  The songs are mostly accompanied by strings and the slow burn of each song is very impactful and just lovely.  It may have begun as an experiment, but it's stunning how these gems were polished off to reveal a beautiful gleam beneath the flash of synthesizers.

Key Tracks: Meteorites, Running with the Boys, Muscle Memory


2. 99 Cents by Santigold - Santigold has always been one to experiment with her sound, and she doesn't disappoint on her latest album, but she also crafts just great pop songs.  I love the build to the chorus on songs like Before the Fire, and the 80's beats of other songs like Rendezvous Girl are just delicious when blended into a more modern sound.

Key Tracks: Rendezvous Girl, Before the Fire, Who I Thought You Were


3. Royal Blues by Dragonette - Dragonette has embraced pop music with this album, complete with an unapologetic 80's sound and club beats.  This album is just bursting with happiness and you'd have to have no pulse to find yourself sitting still while listening to tracks like Darth Vader.

Key Tracks: Darth Vader, Detonate, Let the Night Fall


4. low kii savage EP by Kiiara - Kiiara has a unique sound, playing with electronics and vocals in fun and innovative ways for music that just hasn't been out there previously.  It's manufactured in a way that's just fun and fresh, taking full advantage of what the medium has to offer.  From the breezy sound of Feels to the playful beat of Gold, this is a very special album.

Key Tracks: Gold, Tennessee, Feels


5. Leo Rising by Karmin - This is an album full of catchy pop songs.  Karmin has never sounded better, and the duo's ability to craft hooks and songs that are hard to get our of your head, seems effortless.

Key Tracks: Sugar, Didn't Know You, Blame It on My Heart


6. Stranger Things Have Happened by Clare Maguire - Clare Maguire has a mature, beautiful album full of mostly pared back songs.  The strings are beautiful in naked songs like the title track, and she uses her voice like an instrument itself, almost operatically in Falling Leaves, but she also produces fantastic toe-tappers like The Valley.  Maguire proves that she is versatile, and somehow manages to make this album a cohesive whole.

Key Tracks: Elizabeth Taylor, The Valley, Stranger Things Have Happened


7. All My Demons Greeting Me As a Friend by AURORA - AURORA has vivid imagery in her songs, and has a Sia-like feel to her music that gives it a sense of fun, even when it's rather dark.  And it's clear from how playful she is with her voice that she's having fun creating this music, and the result is an album full of great tracks.

Key Tracks: Conquerer, Warrior, Running with the Wolves


8. Lady Wood by Tove Lo - Tove Lo is just cool.  It permeates her music, and shines when she experiments with her sound.  From the funky R&B vibe to the perfectly-constructed pop, she has a strong voice that she uses to make her sound all the stronger.

Key Tracks: True Disaster, Imaginary Friend, Vibes (featuring Joe Janiak)


9. Prisoner No More EP by INGLSH - INGLSH has a beautiful, haunting sound, complete with unsettling electronic sounds and breathy vocals.  Many of her songs have a powerful empowering vibe to them, and they almost seem to sweep you away in their wake.

Key Tracks: Russian Roulette, Future, Shots



10. Lauren Alaina EP by Laura Alaina - There's always at least one country standout each year, and Lauren Alaina is it for 2016.  Apparently an American Idol contestant, Lauren Alaina has put together an EP of sassy songs with great hooks, many of which are more pop than country, but are nonetheless entertaining and fun.  Unfortunately this EP doesn't look to be available through iTunes anymore, as her record label is releasing a full album early next year with several of the songs, but the key tracks all look available, and if you try, you can probably still find this out there.

Key Tracks: Road Less Traveled, Next Boyfriend, History

Honorable Mentions
ArrangingTime by Pete Yorn
Bubblebath EP by That Poppy
FMA by Grace
The Altar by Banks
Video Tapes EP by Happy Sometimes

30 Best Songs of 2016


1. Gemini Feed by Banks - I'll be honest: It took me a few listens to even like this song.  But then I became obsessed.  I love all of it.  The resentment and accusatory pain of the lyrics.  The distorted vocals and thumping bass.  The chorus that keeps getting angrier and noisier every time we hear it.  It adds up to something unexpected and divine.

2. Meteorites by Lights - This is a beautiful ballad with a refrain that radiates quiet strength.  You just sort of feel this song inside you.  Lights is a talented song-writer and this pared back song flows beautifully with her solid voice accompanied by strings and drums.

3. True Disaster by Tove Lo - This song hits every note you could want in a pop song.  It has a great energy, and culminates in a powerful refrain that is impossible to keep out of your head.

4. Don't Believe in Stars by Trent Dabbs - This contemplative song has an easy grace to it.  It's a beautiful slow number that effortlessly draws you in. 

5. Tennessee by Kiiara - Kiiara is great at playing with sound in her songs, and Tennessee is a great example of her playing with vocals in cool ways.

6. Sugar by Karmin - This is a damn good sugary-sweet pop song.  The chorus, like the title, is delicious. 

7. Heard It From a Friend by LOLO - The Bluesy feel of Heard It From a Friend is delicious in itself, but the ferocity that LOLO bellows into the refrain is jaw-dropping. 

8. Big Man by Dia - The dreamy, ethereal sound of Big Man, coupled with Dia's bitter lyrics, make for one hell of a song.  Haunting and absolutely lovely.

9. Hell of a Girl by Grace - This whole song is great, from the retro vibe, to the ferocity that Grace sings with in the refrain when she proclaims "You messed up!"  If her remake of Lesley Gore's You Don't Own Me doesn't convince you of her talent, this surely will.

10. Scar by Foxes - Foxes is a very versatile artist, but she excels in a song like this, where she can showcase her strong voice in a solid, empowering anthem.

11. I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix) by Mike Posner - This is a solid club song, with fun lyrics.  A great cool-down leads into a fun, frenzied chorus.

12. Summer Day by Zealyn - Aptly named, this is a breezy, beautiful song that absolutely personifies Summer.

13. Starboy by The Weeknd (featuring Daft Punk) - This whole song is perfectly constructed, but that lead into the refrain, and then the culmination of that build-up - it just all comes together for a very impactful final product.  Fantastic song.

14. Lit by Sometimes Happy - Lit is a great anthem from the excellent Video Tapes EP.  It sings in your blood and forces you to stomp along.

15. Water on Mars by Fauna Twin - From the very good The Hydra EP is this moody song with industrial sounds and a New Agey feel.  It's very different than anything out there and is just very hypnotic and kinetic.

16. Walking Up by Pete Yorn - Crooner Pete Yorn took five years off from releasing music, but came back with some great tracks on ArrangingTime, an album well worth the wait.  Walking Up is a slow-burner that has emotion brewing just beneath the surface.

17. Handclap by Fitz & The Tantrums - A fun, sunny song with a brisk pace that pulls you along, you'd be hard-pressed to hear this song and not clap your hands along with it.

18. Who I Thought You Were by Santigold - Santigold's funky sound gets an 80's makeover in this really catchy pop song.

19. In My Blood by The Veronicas - This is just a solid dance song that deserves a lot of play in clubs.  It has the feel of the great 90's dance songs I grew up with.

20. Darth Vader by Dragonette - This dance jam is frenzied, with a great refrain, and a delicious retro feel.

21. It's Quiet Uptown by Kelly Clarkson - From The Hamilton Mixtape, Clarkson sings one of the best songs from the musical, and utilizes her strong voice to great effect, injecting emotion into the song in all the right places.  A very lovely rendition.  Regina Spektor also performs Dear Theodosia beautifully with Ben Folds on the album.

22. Man on the Moon by Zella Day - This is a fun song that makes you want to sing along to the refrain.  It's a bit of a departure from Day's usual style, but I like this sort of sunny sound too, and it shows that she's versatile enough to be able to craft a variety of musical sounds.

23. Guys My Age by Hey Violet - A cheeky number, this song radiates cool.  Band Hey Violet throw a good amount of sassy could-care-less rebelliousness into their music.  They released an EP, Brand New Moves, this year with some other great songs too, like Pure and the title track, but unfortunately Guys My Age was not part of that package and it beat them out by a hair's breath for my favorite from the group.  Hopefully, a full album will drop in the near future.

24. Colours by Emma Louise - A slow-burner, Colours builds into a lovely chorus that has you swaying along with the music.  It feels effortless, but heartfelt at the same time.

25. Lost Youth / Lost You by How To Dress Well - This is another song with an 80's vibe that manages to sound fresh.  Great refrain.

26. The Equator (IV Fridays) by Brooke Fraser - Fraser released a series of these IV Fridays singles, many of which are really good, and will hopefully culminate in an album in the future.  Of the ones released thus far, The Equator is my favorite, with a strong chorus and haunting vibe.

27. Elizabeth Taylor by Clare Maguire - The retro feeling this song gives off is amazing, and demonstrates the strength of Maguire's songwriting.  With the piano and strings accompanying such a strong voice, she hits this one out of the park.

28. rEaR vIeW by  ZAYN - Let's face it: this former One Direction member is oozing sex on his debut solo album.  The way we croons, the longing in his voice...it all just mixes with that bad boy vibe for a final product that stirs something inside.

29. Couldn't Believe by Broods - This song has an awesome refrain accentuated by little grunts that actually really add to it.  It's interesting how a little sound can have you wanting to grunt along to a song.  But that's the power of songwriting.

30. Rebirth by Nina Diaz - This song radiates rage with Diaz' strong vocals conveying frustration and anger with a visceral force.  It makes you feel strong, like you're going to fight back, like some sort of mantra.

Honorable Mentions
Money by That Poppy
No Fear by Greyson Chance
Shore by Daniela Andrade
Siren Song by Jill Andrews
Way Down We Go by Kaleo

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Athena Corps

The seventh book in the Hunters of the Dark series is on sale now!  Get The Athena Corps from Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes & Noble now!


Friday, November 18, 2016

The Athena Corps Sample #2


Prologue II

Twelve years ago…

“You stay alert now, boy.”

Brett nodded, glancing over at his father, sitting next to him in the camouflage tent.  He took a swig of beer, and Brett averted his eyes.

A snapping sound to his left caught Brett’s attention and he looked over to catch sight of a doe.  It sauntered near the edge of the clearing he and his father were watching.  It grazed on some leaves from some brush, oblivious to the danger it was in.

Brett’s heart immediately began to thump furiously in his chest.

The doe was beautiful, with large black eyes, and muscles that moved just beneath a coat of velvety brown fur.  It was graceful and lovely.  It didn’t seem right to kill a creature so pure.

“I don’t think we’re going to catch any deer today, Pa,” Brett said loudly, hoping to startle the doe away.

“Not with you yammering on like that, we won’t,” his father muttered.  “But we came out here to make a man out of you, and that’s what we’re gonna do, if we have to stay out here all damn week.  You hear me, boy?  You’re returning home a man, with your first kill in hand.”

“A man,” Brett repeated automatically, two worlds at war with one another inside him.  On one hand, he wanted to please his father.  More than anything, he wanted his acceptance.  He wanted to make him proud, to have his father look at him like he looked at his brother.  But on the other hand, there was the doe.  Not just the one doe, but many other animals he would be forced to snuff out for the sake of pleasing his father.  Yes, they would make use of the animal.  They would eat its meat, maybe sell its coat.  But he would have to kill it.  And he didn’t want to do that.

“There,” his father breathed, slapping Brett lightly on the shoulder.  “See that there?  Didn’t have to wait too long after all.”

Brett swallowed hard as he watched the deer saunter into the meadow.  For a moment, the doe looked around warily, suspiciously, like it knew they were there.

Bolt, Brett pleaded silently.  Go away, and never return.

But the doe seemed satisfied that it was in no real danger, and returned to grazing, head down.

“Just like I showed you now,” his father whispered.  “Nice and easy.”

Brett breathed deeply and held the hunting rifle to his eyes.  He had the doe in his sights.

After a moment, his father sniffed.  “What are you waiting for?  We ain’t got all day here.  Shoot it before it gets spooked.”  He grabbed Brett’s arm roughly.  “I didn’t raise no mamma’s boy.  You ain’t no faggot, are you?  Shoot that doe down, and do it now.”

“Yes, sir,” Brett managed.  He let out another deep breath and got the doe in his sights again.  His hands shook slightly under his fingers.

“That’s it,” his father instructed softly.  “Now, just squeeze the trigger.”

Brett intentionally let his rifle slide just to the left of the doe, and squeezed the trigger.

The shot went wide, sending up a spray of dirt near the doe’s head and startling it.  In the blink of an eye, the doe had darted away.

“God damn, mother fucker!” Brett’s father raged, jumping to his feet and swatting his baseball cap against the tent walls.

“I’m sorry,” Brett said weakly.

“Sorry?  You’re sorry?” Brett’s father grabbed him by the front of the shirt.  “We are going to sit here until you bag us a deer.  You hear me?  Or are you some kind of lily-livered faggot?”

“No, sir.  No,” Brett cried, struggling weakly against his father’s iron grip.

Brett’s father shoved him to the ground in disgust.

“Next time,” his father spat.  “Your aim will be true, or you ain’t no son of mine.”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Athena Corps Sample #1


Prologue I

Fourteen years ago…

It was snowing.

Natalia should have been cold, but she wasn’t.  She was disoriented.  The snow layered everything in white.  Everywhere she looked, it was white.  She couldn’t see any paths in the forest anymore. 

She stopped and looked up, snowflakes falling fast around her.  Some landed on her face, but she didn’t mind as they melted against her warm flesh.  Tree branches were covered in snow, and some sagged under the weight until it was too much and the snow rolled off in clumps, the limbs bouncing back up again like springs.

She was supposed to be looking for something, she knew.  If anything went wrong, she was supposed to look for…a circle?  She frowned.  She couldn’t remember.  Her head was swimmy.  She put a small hand to her forehead and grunted at the pain the touch caused her.  She looked down at her hand, slick with crimson.  It was thick and dark and dripped from her fingers into the snow at her feet.  She stared at the red in the snow for a moment, mesmerized, and then turned her attention to a sound in the distance.  A rumble.

Cocking her head curiously, Natalia watched twin lights swing over her as they rounded a curve.  The lights stopped and the rumble grew louder for a moment before it stopped.

She had to…find a circle.  A ring.  A hoop?  She couldn’t be discovered.  That would be bad.  Or did she want to be found?  Her vision grew hazy for a moment and angry red and black spots swarmed before her eyes like a swarm of bees. 

“Honey?”

Natalia blinked until the spots faded and her surroundings came into focus again.  She stared at a woman in a gray wool coat and a fuchsia scarf.  She was peering down at Natalia through glasses with a concerned expression on her face.  Her glasses…were round.  Perfect circles.

Natalia sagged with relief, slumping against the woman’s legs.  She was so tired.  She just wanted to sleep.  And now that she’d found the circles, she could rest.

“Honey, are you alright?” the woman asked, holding her up.  “You’re bleeding.  Are you alone out here?”  She looked around, blinking into the surrounding darkness, before returning her gaze to Natalia.  “You’re ice cold.”  She pulled off her coat and threw it over Natalia’s shoulders.  “Come along.  I’ll see that you find your parents.  Come sit in front of the heater.”

Natalia followed numbly, wondering what the woman was talking about.  She had done what she’d been asked.  It was time for her to rest.

All she wanted was rest.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Top 5: Marvel Magic

Doctor Strange opens up this weekend at the box office, so what better time to take a look at my favorite magic users from the Marvel Universe?


1. Amanda Sefton (Daytripper, Magik)


2. Magik (Illyana Rasputin)


3. Selene (The Black Queen)


4. Daimon Hellstrom (Son of Satan)


5. Margali Szardos

Friday, November 04, 2016