For those of you who are not yet privy to the rising music scene in Kansas City, now is the time to do your research. Boulevardia – the midwest beer and music fest that started to call Kemper Arena and the West Bottoms home five years ago – has exploded into a much bigger event, drawing crowds from all over the United States to tap brand new and limited run beers, check out bands in both rustic venues and in front of a very spacey-looking building (Kemper Arena, about to become HyVee Arena), and to ride a ferris wheel in an undoubtedly urban and growing area. This year featured forty bands – including, but certainly not limited to Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, Radkey, Manchester Orchestra, Sir Sly, Guster, Bleachers, and Kansas City’s own Tech N9ne -, craftspeople and artists from around the metropolitan area, and a silent disco experience. (The best part about that? It was outside, instead of in a tent, so looky-lous could stop and watch for a bit if life called for it.)
2018 featured an array of additional rides – you know, besides that vibrant, beautiful ferris wheel – and a Royals outfield experience. And even though this event seems to happen on the hottest and muggiest weekend of the year every single year, we were too busy watching numerous parades of contortionists and acrobats and clowns and people full of PRIDE and enjoying the midwest’s best in beers that we almost didn’t even notice it.
But that’s the magic of Boulevardia. Enjoy these Day 1 photos, and check back in to see some highlights from Day 2 as well!
…But, I did take a look afterwards, and a lot of these made OTHER top lists, so there! If you haven’t heard some of these, add them to a NYE playlist or sit at home and listen to them! They run the gamut when it comes to type, style, moods to listen in…heck, I even suggest wine with a whole album (whether that is 1 glass or 3 bottles…that is up to you)! Regardless, have a Happy New Year, and keep supporting music that means something as we move into 2018!
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
This was a close second to my most anticipated album of the year. This album tells a story, so for the best effect, listen to all the songs in order in one sitting! The way that Kendrick’s voice flows so naturally, it’s like it’s a narration to a deeper story, and this album is just the tip of the iceberg.
DNA – This is my favorite heavy lifting song, my favorite running song, my favorite tackle-the-challenge song…did I mention it’s my favorite? At first, “Humble” really had me hooked, but one listen to this, and it was over. And the video? One of my favorite EVER. It co-stars KC native, Don Cheadle (now, are you intrigued?)
P!NK – Beautiful Trauma
I was waiting for this one. For a VERY long time. And it just doesn’t disappoint. As P!NK has grown and changed over the years, you can very much hear that she is the same person that showed up – seemingly out of nowhere – back in 1997. Her power vocals remain the same, as does her knack for storytelling, but the stories change. This time around she tackles relationship woes, family life, and all those thoughts going on in her head – an open book, singing about all we wish to say. And I just want more!
Better Life – Hands down my favorite. Because, who doesn’t sometimes wonder if their significant other may want something different? And, somehow, she makes it catchy and thrilling!
I Am Here – A declaration that she is here, her voice is important, and she is not backing down for anything. A little nudge at permission for the rest of us to never let anyone silence us.
Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken – For those who might be a little overwhelmed or downtrodden, especially in our current political climate. Here is our rallying cry.
Miley Cyrus – Younger Now
Somehow, this slipped my radar when it released back in September, and I didn’t give it a listen until late November. Now, all I can think is: WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG? I am not, historically, a Cyrus fan, but she is finally coming into her own with a mix of country and pop that is not slippery sweet, but somehow raw and dreamy. And I wish there weren’t so few tracks!
Rainbowland – This one features Dolly Parton, and it DEFINITELY sounds like a more traditional Parton song…but it is positive and upbeat and makes you want to sleep forever and live in a damn Rainbowland – or maybe even try to make one of your own in real life!
Miss You So Much – This one is a bit on the stalker side, just without dark and creepy undertones. And it’s totally how I feel about my husband. I will just leave it at that.
Younger Now – The past handful of years of Cyrus’ life in a nutshell. She’s gone through a lot of changes and phases, and somehow has come out the other end feeling younger than she was then. I really resonate with it – maybe you can, too!
Harry Styles – Harry Styles
Harry Styles’ self-titled solo debut was my album of Summer 2017. Nothing I EVER thought I would say. Ever. There are no outright pop songs. Instead, Styles has chosen 10 tracks with melodies and instrumentation – even recording style – that calls back to Brit rockers of the1960s (think: Beatles, Rolling Stones). I know that may seem like high praise, but give it a listen. You will hear it. It’s not just the sound that has me turning this sucker up on an afternoon walk, evening drive, or even while I make breakfast in the morning, but lyrics that are a mix of fun, soulful, and a bit angsty.
Two Ghosts – This one is all about a love gone cold. How everything is the same as it always has been, but the passion and feelings that once were there have left the building. It’s something in between a break up and a love song, and it is heart-shattering.
Her. Voice. Is. HOLYSHIT. So soulful. So smooth, so powerful, so seemingly effortless. I truly have no other words. Give her album a listen. Especially her newest release, “Dream”.
Sam Smith – The Thrill of It All
I truly didn’t think that so much more emotion could come out of one person into an album, but with his sophomore album, I can FEEL more sadness as he sings. And, it doesn’t make me sad. It just makes me FEEL.
All I can say is that you need to grab a bottle (or two) of cabernet, draw a bath, and listen to the whole damn thing.
Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life
Does anyone remember Katy Perry’s recent album? Well, this did everything that Perry intended, and THEN some! Lana’s sultry voice lends itself to a story of awakening in our country’s current state, and somehow surviving it all – like every generation before us. These aren’t idyllic pop songs, but songs that make you feel a part of a bigger whole. And, with just a year and a half between her last release and this one, you KNOW it was spurred by current events.
God Bless America – And All The Beautiful Women In It – Hauntingly gorgeous.
When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing – MESSAGE: Don’t stop living when our country seems to be falling apart around you. Hopeful without being too idealistic.
Khalid – American Teen
In his debut album, Khalid let’s us know that he is fully aware of how disconnected and digital the life of an American teen has become. He doesn’t embrace it like – seemingly – every other young person. He rips it apart as he flows through each track. Though, I am sure many teenagers have held tight to this album as their anthem, it is a great one to give a listen no matter what you are doing if you want smooth vocals and music you can dance or relax to.
Kesha – Rainbow
It’s been awhile since we had a new Kesha album…and, to be honest, I was OK with that. Her previous music was NOT my jam. It should have been my college party soundtrack – and, trust me, I LOVE glitter – but I just couldn’t get behind Kesha. Now, I can. And it’s not just knowing her full story and struggles and the WHY behind it all. It’s also not just my feminist tendencies to support women who are into creating great things. Kesha is finally using her voice. Never have I been so happy when autotune is taken out of the equation. She can REALLY sing, and sing she does! Her album is a rallying cry for everyone who has felt like any part of their lives is a struggle. Every single song involves messages of independence and empowerment, whether they are set to ballads or party beats.
Bastards – …and this is just the FIRST song! Once you hear it, you will understand why the rest of the album is necessary listening!
Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
This is NOT what I was expecting from Tyler. But, why should I expect the same from someone who has always done what he wants, and sounds good doing it? This is a much more mellow album from one of my favorites, and it brings some heavy and big messages along with it. Also: please, if you choose to listen to this, appreciate the instrumentals as well! YESSSSS
Where this Flower Blooms – Ever feel different from everyone else? Or, confused because you don’t want to be “normal”? This song gives EVERYONE permission to do whatever the hell they want, no matter their age. Give it a listen…
Glitter – I love glitter. And this refers to someone feeling like glitter when they are around the person they love. Ka-ching!
Ed Sheeran – ÷
Every single Ed Sheeran album that comes out has about 5 years worth of “first dance” wedding songs on them. This one is no different…and this time he calls on his current romantic relationship as his muse! And, I like romantic songs as much as the next person – who isn’t currently going through a breakup – but those weren’t my favorites on the album! Watch the videos for the songs below and really listen to the lyrics…and dance along for the best experience!
Shape of You – I don’t care what I am doing, I drop EVERYTHING and groove to this one!
Castle on the Hill – Somehow he has made a freeing song that makes you feel like you are running across the hilltops of Ireland out of pure nostalgia. Mmmmm
Galway Girl – modern Irish jig based on his grandparents’ relationship. What more could you ask for?
Sza – CTRL
All I can really say about this one is: FINALLY. She says all the things you are thinkin’, girl, and puts some amazing music to it, too! You can FEEL the emotion in this one!
The Weekend – Ready to feel like the sexiest person in the room? Give this track a listen NOW!
Jay-Z – 4:44
At first, I thought this one was a cop out. Beyonce releases Lemonade, so Jay-Z feels the need to respond, right? But, then I thought, “Oh, wait, he needed to release something new.” And he does. And it’s personal and raw and real and a near masterpiece!
Favorite: Just listen to the whole thing. It only takes up 35 minutes of your time, and I don’t think any one song is as good as all of them together. Also: watch the videos if you can! Bey really challenged him to step up his game in the visual department, and it is paying off in dividends for fans!
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
Can I just take a moment to declare that 2017 has been FIRE for MOVEMENT? And, this album is a movement in itself to eradicate oppression and seek social justice for all. All delivered in a VERY listenable package with beats that would make your grandma shake it!
Call Ticketron – I don’t need to explain it. Trust and give it a try!
Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost) – In response to recent riots. Yet, not fuel for the fire, but definitely a soundtrack for the movement. There is a flow to it unlike any other
Hanson – Middle of Everywhere
Can you believe it’s been 25 years since the brother band, “Hanson”, decided they should form a band? To celebrate, they released an album with some new tracks, as well as oldies-but-goodies.
I Was Born – Here we have one of the new tracks. It’s a great, poppy, inspirational song written for the band’s kids. And the stars of the video? Their kids!
Broken Angel – Not a new one. But SO happy it’s getting a little spotlight being featured on this album! It features the youngest, Zac, on vocals. And his voice is so smooth and soulful, you will wonder if you are actually listening to the same band!
Bleachers – Gone Now
This sucker opened to mixed reviews. But, I loved it from the first time I heard it through live, and it has since become a very nostalgia and dance-filled experience for me. Sounds from decades before and inspired by many musicians – including Springsteen – I can’t help but feel Jack Antonoff’s reaching for the stars and sharing the span of his life in music on one album, with the album title referring to past him being gone now. Feel it with me, and take a listen!
Everybody Lost Somebody – It is the early 90s anthem for us NOW. Bringing humans together around the idea that everyone has felt pain, and everybody has lost somebody. Doesn’t hurt that you can also dance to it!
Moon – Hang On EP
The best EP that most people haven’t heard made my list because, well, they are BADASS. The lead vocalist, Chelsea Davis, adds power to the words while also somehow drumming simultaneously. Seeing them live is a necessity, so that you can feel it while listening to the EP.
I Got a Fever – Sensual power and soul wrapped into one song.
Alright, folks. I am pretty darn open-minded (if I do say so myself), but I never thought I would find myself saying (typing) the following:
Harry Styles‘ self-titled solo debut is my album of Summer 2017.
I will admit that One Direction wasn’t a half bad boy group, but I never would have put them anywhere near the top of any list. But, it seems that they are finding much more success (at least in playtime by me) since each went solo.
Styles solidifies his singledom by self-titling his debut album. And, it works, but if it were me, I would have named it something much more pretentious. Maybe: “Rockstar,” or “THE Album of Summer 2017”.
There are no outright pop songs. Instead, Styles has chosen 10 tracks with melodies and instrumentation – even recording style – that calls back to Brit rockers of the1960s (think: Beatles, Rolling Stones). I know that may seem like high praise, but give it a listen. You will hear it. On top of that, his voice – solo – can be compared to Adam Lambert if he were to tone it down and take out the theatrics. Or maybe even Bruno Mars…if he were to tone it down and take out the theatrics. His voice is actually quite similar to fellow boy-bander, Zac Hanson.
If you haven’t checked out Hanson in awhile, give a listen to “Broken Angel” or “Misery” off their 2004 album, “Underneath”…the resemblance is striking.
My point with Harry’s voice is: It is very smooth, remarkable, and easy to listen to.
It’s not just the sound that has me turning this sucker up on an afternoon walk, evening drive, or even while I make breakfast in the morning, but lyrics that are a mix of fun, soulful, and a bit angsty. No, he hasn’t left the teenage angst behind, but do any of us, really? He croons about love, lust, the past, and growth, never letting us forget that we are all constantly in a state of change, regardless of if we are in our early 20s or our late 50s.
My favorite, “Two Ghosts”, is all about a love gone cold. How everything is the same as it always has been, but the passion and feelings that once were there have left the building. It’s something in between a break up and a love song, and it is heart-shattering.
Harry isn’t just covering light and airy teeny-bopper stuff anymore, folks.
**Originally on Impose.
Childish Gambino (given name: Donald Glover) has my heart for so many reasons. And I don’t mean romantically.
He has been operating on his own terms professionally for as far back as I can remember. A perfect example of this? When, in his early twenties, he left the writing staff of the wildly successful “30 Rock” to pursue other projects – much to his parents’ chagrin. This pattern – if you can call it that – has continued. From 30 Rock, to Community, to rapping as Childish Gambino, to Magic Mike XXL, to Atlanta (his brainchild, which he also happens to write, direct, and star in). Each venture is more unpredictable than the last.
And now, his most recent – and much anticipated – Gambino album, Awaken, My Love! is out for us to devour (released Dec. 2). But, guess what? Though he isn’t shedding the persona, he has moved into a completely different genre of music – but, we shouldn’t be that surprised…right?
I was certainly surprised. In fact, I was thrilled when I heard just a couple of weeks before that he would be releasing new music! Donald Glover has kept audiences on their toes since day 1. Heck, he even told media that he may never rap as Childish Gambino again. And, maybe he won’t. But this experimental, genre-bending album he dropped last Friday…it’s all I ever needed that I never event knew I wanted!!
Midday last Friday, I hit DOWNLOAD on Google Play, drew a bath, and lit some candles. The minute I hit PLAY, my ears delighted in smooth vocals, soulful instrumentals, and a relaxing – yet, somehow funky – listening experience. This was a total departure from past Gambino, but maybe not from the REAL Donald Glover.
Pop/funk, bass-full, with a 70s feel…much of it reminiscent of THE Prince! I was a little off-put by the very experimental vocals and repetitiveness of the track, “California,” but the rest of the album totally made up for that. Especially “Zombies,” and my absolute favorite, “Redbone.”
Awaken, My Love! is perfect for dancing the night away at a disco, as background music for creative work, the soundtrack to a hot tub session, or maybe even a retro-style swinger’s party (if that’s how you choose to roll). This may be different from anything else he has ever done. But believe you me: It has the same soul and lyrical prowess you would expect from The Gambino. If you loved him before, you will continue to love him.
And if you didn’t? Well, it’s time you hopped on this bandwagon with the rest of us.
**Originally published to Impose.
Keep up with Donald Glover here.
The notorious rock collective Kings of Leon dropped their new album Walls last fall. Being a massive fan of the band myself, I needed help getting more objective opinions on the piece. So, in the dimly lit dining room of my parents’ house after a dinner of fried chicken, my immediate family (and grandmother) sat down to add our two cents about the work. (This is one of my favorite posts from my Impose days.)
The first track of the album, “Waste a Moment”, allows swirling guitar to bring in a good little melody. It’s the uptempo single you may have heard on the radio, lending itself to the typical sound Kings of Leon is known for. But after that first track, the band seems to have attempted to deviate from their norm, nabbing bits and pieces from different genres to make the album into a diverse, warm body of tracks to feast your ears on. For example, when second track “Reverend” begins, you immediately notice the vintage 70’s feel to the keys, a mid-tempo track that starts slower as lead singer Caleb Followill reaches for octaves we didn’t realize were in his range, providing a hazy, more ethereal sound to his vocals during entire stretches of the song.
While “Around the World” may begin with a lightweight guitar riff, there is a solo that is borderline earth shattering awaiting your ears. It definitely makes us want to pack our bags and escape to a place unknown. “Find Me” comes in deeper, and gets straight to the point. 44 seconds in, Caleb starts to sing and the song loses some of its momentum by reducing the instrumentals for his vocals. The song gives off the impression that he is singing while he’s driving a car, and the momentum picks back up during the chorus. “Over” has a darker feel to it with the deep, consistent guitar riff. Sounds like The Killersblended with some David Bowie, something my entire family picked up on. (I will note that my grandma claimed it had a Phantom of the Opera feel to it.) We all agreed that Caleb’s vocals sound blatantly different on this track, although no less beautiful.
The song “Muchacho” proves the notion that when you add castanets to a song, it automatically becomes more vibey. Slightly reminiscent of some of our favorite R.E.M. tracks, Caleb’s voice is delivered at an even deeper range, if that’s possible. It’s slower, with a very tropical disposition and a tempo that reminds us of Bruce Springsteen‘s “Brilliant Disguise”. (Which was a brilliant move on their part.) Percussion leads in to “Conversation Piece” slowly, with lyrics like “take me back to california, to those crystal neon signs” allowing the listener to reminisce on days past. The song is low key, like the majority of the album, and could easily be played in the background of a back road drive with your significant other during the autumn months.
“Eyes On You” brings the tempo back up, the instrumentals noticeably reminiscent of some of our favorite Weezer tracks. The song deviates to a punk spectrum, although the way the melody is composed is actually very beautiful and works perfectly with Caleb’s scratchy bravado. “Wild” brings the album back to a warmer instrumental composition, and we’re led to a place of relaxation. The album rounds out with its title track, which sets in at a glacial – but incredible gorgeous – pace. Simple instrumentals allow the vocals to be highlighted moreso than its predecessors. Lyrics like “I can’t get there on my own / You can’t leave me here alone / I’m just trying to do what’s right / A man ain’t a man unless he’s fought the fight” make this a very introspective and personal piece. It’s a delicate way to end the album, and slows your heart rate down immensely. “Walls” can be summed up as an existential piece that leaves you questioning life, love, and your own pursuit of happiness.
As you may have noted, our evening included quite the roundtable discussion. As fleeting as it was, we all maintained the opinion that the album is experimentation at its finest.
Walls is available now.
**This review was written with the help of:
Elizabeth & Stephen Schneider
Erin & Tim Zimmerman