By: Brandon Tuzio

With Major League Baseballs All-Star Game marking the halfway point of the season, I thought it would be good to take a look at what’s been happening in the music world so far. Since the MLB has a rule that each team will have a representative, I’m going to use the alphabet as a similar format.

A: After The FallNorah Jones. Jones teamed up with busy producer/co-writer Danger Mouse for her 5th studio effort, Little Broken Hearts. The track is serene: lush arrangements with her subtle melodies and vocals leads Jones into musical territory we have never heard from her. The whole record is absolutely worth a listen.

B: Ballad of a PoliticianRegina Spektor. Spektor has always been known for her quirky yet serious songs, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint here. Ballad is a quick number, finishing off at 2:13, but from :01 you’re drawn into the soothing darkness. The production and arrangement reign supreme here.

C: ClimaxUsher. Climax is an incredible song, and for two reasons. One: Usher absolutely kills it vocally in a very well written song. Two, already a common theme: the production. Diplo, whose credits are seriously impressive, produces the track. Aside from being half of Major Lazer, he’s produced tracks for M.I.A., Santigold, Drake, Snoop, Lil Wayne, and tons more.

D: Disparate Youth – Santigold. By all accounts, Santigold led one of the biggest dance parties at this years Bonnaroo, due to her groovy-ness embodied by tracks like this. To stick with the theme of collaboration, this one is co-written with Yeah Yeah Yeahs Guitarist Nick Zinner.

E: Ekki MukkSigur Ros. Sigur Ros is an Icelandic band that many people cherish, and their 6th album Valtari will be embraced by fans for the next few months. If you’ve never listened to them before, imagine the music as the soundtrack to your dreams, or your inner dialogue. Ekki Mukk is beautiful, and honest music.

F. Feelin’ SingleR. Kelly. If you listen closely during the intro, you can hear the same theramin-esque melody that appears in Trapped in the Closet from Kel’s 11th album, Write Me Back. Though there isn’t as much unintentional (or extremely intentional) humor on the whole record, it’s a very good one with a very old school style. But don’t worry; his 2013 album is already named Black Panties so that will surely excite Kelly fans. Feelin’ Single shares writing credit with Mr. Bill Withers.

G. Gun Has No TriggerDirty Projectors. The new single from DP’s upcoming album Swing Lo Magellan. Very, very subtle compared to the sound of past DP songs, but a terrific song featuring the incredible female trio and minimal band. The whole album is amazing, and does showcase the jittery style normally associated with the group. I highly recommend the song Maybe That Was It.

H. Hold OnAlabama Shakes. Yes, the song everybody knows. I had to free up some other letters of the alphabet. But nonetheless; great song, great album, great band and one of the few true rock and roll bands doing their thing right now. Singer Brittany Howard is a true star.

I. Isn’t It TimeThe Beach Boys. The Beach Boys still have it, and not just in the studio with their first album with original music since 1992, That’s Why God Made The Radio. I saw the boys at Bonnaroo in June and they were unbelievable. Harmonies are still tight, and still solid musicians. And to make it even better, their new songs are really great!

J. JulieHospitality. This song reminds of early Broken Social Scene songs with Leslie Feist, just with better production. A bit mysterious, a bit playful, and very intriguing.

K. Kingdom of IzznessDr. John. New Orleans legend Dr. John teamed up with Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach to co-write and produce his latest album Locked Down. Just some good ol’ fashioned goodness.

L. LiquoriceAzealia Banks. From her 4 track EP 1991, which is categorized as hip-house, and that makes a lot of sense. You really do feel transformed to the 90’s house sound, but she fills the gap with fresh hip-hop of today.

M. MarySpiritualized. Spiritualized has been around since 1990, and have always been critically acclaimed, and under the radar. Mary is a great example of their signature psychedelic space and sound with solid songwriting.

N. No One Like YouBest Coast. Best Coast has done a terrific job keeping them selves relevant after their 2010 breakout Crazy For You. Bethany Cosentino really knows how to draw you in with her voice; you can only imagine that she is singing directly to you.

O. On and On and OnJack White. As a whole piece of work, the new Jack White solo album Blunderbuss doesn’t shine as bright as some things he’s done in the past. But there are definitely a few really great tunes on the record, with On and On and On at the top of my list. In terms of arrangement, I think it’s the best I’ve heard from White.

P. ParadeAir. French duo Air return in full force with their 7th full length album since 1998, Le voyage dans la lune, which translates to “A Trip to the Moon”, and they accomplish exactly that.

Q. QuasarSmashing Pumpkins.  I won’t lie to you; I only used the song because I needed to fill in a quality “q” song. BUT, Smashing Pumpkins do belong on this list. Quasar is a perfectly fine song. I actually like it, but the song that belongs on this list is  Violet Rays. If you’ve ever liked, or even thought you might like Smashing Pumpkins, their new album Oceania is absolutely worth a listen.

R. Rize of the FenixTenacious D. And this goes for the song, and the album; humor aside, Jack Black is a legitimate singer. He and Kyle Gass can write some serious tunes. Just listen to it; there are some tasty licks all over the place.

S. Stoner’s Anthem – Snoop Dogg. So far, I’ve read a lot of negative reviews surrounding Snoops new EP Stoners EP. If this is just a sample of Snoop previewing what’s to come for new album Reincarnated, I think it’s going to be a good one. I really enjoy the instrumentation on this one, and it though it’s been labeled as “lazy,” I think it just sounds like Snoop having fun.

T. Thinkin’ Bout YouFrank Ocean. Pretty much everybody at this point realizes the greatness of Frank Ocean. Like Ushers track, he tears off the vocals on this one. Wrap your ears around this track, and the whole album channel ORANGE, which was just released yesterday.

U. Sleeping UteGrizzly Bear. Okay, I’m really cheating on this one, utilizing the Ute for U, but I don’t care. Thank you Grizzly Bear! The new single from their upcoming record, Shields has got me very excited for their first release since 2009’s Veckatimest. Every Grizzly Bear record has been solid thus far, and even though it sounds like they’ve stuck to their signature style, they’ve certainly explored some other directions.

V. Valley of the DollsMarina and The Diamonds. If you’ve ever felt yourself close to enjoying Katy Perry’s music, but just couldn’t commit, Marina and the Diamonds are for you. In the realm of Madonna and Goldfrapp, Electra Heart is a story, not necessarily a concept album though.

W. WarsawSharon Van Etten. The New Jersey native songstress has released her 3rd album since 2009, Tramp. This opening track is a perfect welcome mat that leads into a mellow house of songs, produced by The National‘s Aaron Dessner.

 X. Since X is sometimes used to cross out things that are bad, or not wanted, I’m just going to go ahead and take this time to point out Nicki Minaj and her song Beez in the Trap. For it should not, exist.

Y. Ye, Renew the Plaintiff Of Montreal. I always get so excited when Of Montreal releases new music. This song clocks in at just under nine minutes, and is a real throwback to some of Kevin Barnes greatest epics. Jaunty guitar and leading harmonies guide the track from front to back, without going off the rails.

Z. Zed and Two NaughtsThe Mars Volta. For anyone out there that still yearns for a Mars Volta song to love, this is one of the closest I’ve found on their new album Noctourniquet. The song allows you time to breath, and actually soak in what’s happening while being arranged quite nicely.

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