Image features an open eye in the center of the image.


Slice it, dice it, and make it sizzle 

By Katy Nally

Image features an open eye in the center of the image.

Image by Brian Dionisi

There’s a reason why salsa is so popular. (And it’s not just because people love to say salsa. 😉) All those chopped up pieces combine to deliver spicy, tangy harmony in every bite. 

Did you know there’s a video equivalent of salsa? And, just like your favorite snack, it brings together lots of amazing bits in a bite-sized package with a little kick. It’s called a sizzle reel. And the one Brian just created for 2A is so yummy, you gotta have a taste. 

Let’s hear how this video chef created such a scrumptious sizzle reel. 

Katy: I love the opening imagery with the sun and eyeball. What was your inspiration for that scene? 

Brian: I wanted to really explore what I could do with the 2A color palette while using illustration and bold, dynamic transitions. The eyeball was an homage to 2A’s first sizzle reel, which was the first time it appeared in our work, and including it was a way to maintain continuity. The eyeball later made an appearance on our 2A hoodies

Katy: There are so many different clips in this sizzle reel, and you wove them together seamlessly. How did you balance such a wide variety of footage? 

Brian: I wanted to highlight some of the flashiest moments while still giving the reel spaces to breathe. Too much visual density can be overwhelming! It was also important to represent the different kinds of work we do—fully animated videos with characters, hybrid video and animations, UI explainers, and so forth. 

Katy: Many of our 2A animations are 2-ish minutes long. How did you choose just a few seconds from those longer examples? 

Brian: Because we could only choose a few seconds, a lot of it came down to finding ones with those stand-out moments. I also gave priority to animations with bold transitions (such as a rapid zoom in or out, or a left-to-right movement) that could be matched up with a complementary transition from another animation. 

Katy: Which 2A animations didn’t make the cut, and how did you make that decision? 

Brian: There was a clip from a Microsoft Viva animation featuring a paper plane that unfortunately didn’t make the cut. The animation itself was worth showcasing, but between the paper folding up into a plane, winding up, and then releasing, it was too many beats to cover in a short time. It would have slowed the overall pace too much. 

Katy: What’s your favorite part of the sizzle reel? 

Brian: The first few seconds right after the intro are paced very well, with bold, seamless transitions that also showcase a diverse sample of our work. The transitions around 0:13–0:15 also flow really well, in my opinion! 

Katy: This sizzle reel includes so many of our best animations that we created for clients. What is it about animations that make them great marketing tools? 

Brian: Marketing is largely about storytelling: Animated explainers remain incredibly popular because they grab and hold people’s attention, making them much more receptive to the stories we want to tell. Plus, when we see a well-crafted animation, the positive emotional response we get from it inevitably transfers, in some part, to the subject of the animation. 

Katy: How would 2A’s clients use a sizzle reel? 

Brian: When clients have several animations that showcase the same topic, we can create a sizzle reel for them by compiling the best moments into one short segment—like this one we created for Microsoft Viva. Our clients often use sizzle reels to generate hype before their keynote or meeting. They’re perfect for building anticipation and getting the audience excited about what comes next. 

Want to create your own animation that sizzles? 2A is here to help! 

Image features a hot air balloon with blue and yellow strikes on the right side. Reading left to write are the words


Dancing paperclip 2.0 is HERE

By Jane Dornemann

Image features a hot air balloon with blue and yellow strikes on the right side. Reading left to write are the words

Image by Suzanne Calkins

World domination 

  • Spain is getting a 2B Euro investment from Microsoft, in a collaboration with the country’s government, to beef up cybersecurity and inteligencia artificial, if you will. Also, Germany is getting a 3B Euro AI investment that will focus on expanding datacenters to accommodate the technology. 
  • What better way for AWS to celebrate Q4 earnings than upgrading datacenters, which it will, for Local Zone locations in Chicago and Houston. It’s also opening a new Local Zone in Atlanta
  • Mexico is getting $5B in AWS investments, which will include a new AWS Region and three Availability Zones. 
  • Türkiye is the next international Amazon CloudFront edge location. I’m visiting Türkiye in three weeks, and since I have anxiety, I read all about how it’s due for another major earthquake and then created five different action plans. (One of which involves hiding in caves! AWS, I’m willing to sell you these plans for undisclosed amounts of money, so hit me up.) 

Wheelin’ and dealin’ 

  • You know what will really help in an earthquake? Enhanced connectivity whilst traveling abroad, and wouldn’t you know it—Samsung, TELUS, and AWS are gonna make that happen. (But not in three weeks, so, time for ANOTHER plan!) 
  • More telecom stuff: Vonage, Ericsson, and AWS are collaborating on new solutions to improve the customer experience and help businesses use 5G, network APIs, and generative AI. (What I want know: Do caves get service? I mean, good enough service to stream 90 Day Fiancé in a cave?) 
  • New intel on Intel: The chip producer will manufacture semiconductors for Microsoft in a deal valued at $15B. This will, at least, help Microsoft expand its datacenters, and marks NVIDIA’s first AI foundry service
  • It’s existential-threat-to-humanity time! The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is doing things that are sure to end well, such as engineering cyborg insects and launching nuclear-powered spaceships, has renewed its funding for Microsoft Azure Quantum. Unironically for Microsoft, quantum computing poses some cybersecurity threats. (My only hope: That I live to see the day where a quantum-computing hive of bees fights a robotic infantry mule to the death while I pound five Red Bulls and scream my lungs out.) 
  • DeepScribe, an AI-powered medical scribe (I’m imagining a Renaissance-era guy with a quill scribbling doctor’s notes), is working with AWS to accelerate applications of large language models (LLMs) in medicine—starting with processing de-identified clinical conversations. (Also, that guy has pointy felt shoes. And a cape. But a small one.) 
  • AWS has joined forces with Mistral AI, and will lean on the machine learning startup to make two AI models. 
  • Financial services powerhouse BNY Mellon is migrating all its crap to Microsoft Azure. It’s also working with the Azure team to unite the cloud with BNY’s industry-specific data and analytics capabilities. 
  • Microsoft is partnering with media platform Semafor to help the two harried journalists remaining in any newsroom work with generative AI. Additionally, Meltwater, a media intelligence solution, is collaborating with Microsoft to…do exactly what Microsoft loves to do, which is jam everything so full of jargon you can’t understand what’s happening. Happy deciphering
  • Persistent has launched an AI-powered population health solution with Microsoft to determine patient needs and predict the cost of care. 
  • CrowdStrike and AWS have created a startup accelerator in the EMEA region (aka half the world) and have selected 22 companies for the first cohort. 

Gossip (for nerds) 

  • Let’s go from the fruitful valleys of Europe to the barren wastelands of Becker, Minnesota, where Microsoft will build a datacenter. Whichever Microsoft person is assigned to oversee that second-rate Siberian prison probably did something wrong, like opening one of the many, many phishing emails hitting Outlook. 
  • Thanks to its innovations in AI, Microsoft is growing faster than AWS. The most recent earnings call revealed that Azure revenue increased 30% in just the last quarter and 24% year on year. AWS is still in the lead for cloud market share—for now. 
  • Meanwhile, AWS was like, IN YOUR FACE, ANALYSTS! after the company surpassed expectations on a Q4 earnings call. Interestingly, the cloud provider acknowledged that its generative AI earnings were “relatively small” but it expects that to change dramatically over the next several years. Anyway, pour one out for that $24 billion in revenue, a 12% jump from Q3. 
  • Cloud computing company Akamai has been fighting the good fight to become a cloud contender, and its geographical expansion is getting attention. For one, if Akamai’s broader availability wins it more market share from the big three, the giants might have to start cutting their pricing. Jk, this is late-stage capitalism—they have no chance. 
  • The VP of AWS Infrastructure Hardware, Ahmed Shihab—who is credited for building out all AWS storage and compute systems—has jumped ship for Microsoft to become the VP of Azure Storage. So, I guess we’re just straight-up ignoring non-competes at this point. CORPORATE ANARCHY. Burn it all down, Ahmed!!!!  

New stuff  

  • Let’s return to the little joys: Microsoft Teams. Coming soon to an endlessly pinging account near you is an AI-powered planner. It brings Microsoft To Do, Planner, Project, Copilot, and Microsoft 365 into one solution. 
  • This is from Fox News, so who knows if it’s true, but AWS has launched a program to help SMBs get smart on AI and other technologies. 
  • AWS is making serverless tech faster after launching an open-source project, LLRT. The company says it reduces runtimes and costs. 
  • Windows Copilot is getting a makeover with the trial release of a Power Automate plug-in (Kelly lives for this stuff), which promises to “banish boring tasks.” One example Microsoft gives is using this tool to “Write an email to my team wishing everyone a happy weekend.” What a nice idea…except for the part where you outsourced a two-sentence email to AI. 
  • Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose is now just Amazon Data Firehose. And AWS Glue can now integrate with Amazon Q, which can generate ETL script. 
  • The Copilot icon will start animating, like a Clippy 2.0, when it recognizes you could use its help. But it won’t come CLOSE to what our motion designer Brian could have done with it. 

Ma’am, I’m going to have to call security 

  • Hackers are using Amazon Simple Notification Service to pose as USPS, but really, it’s a smishing campaign. You can tell that it’s fake because the messages don’t inexplicably ship to Malaysia when they’re addressed to Ohio, then to Virginia, and finally to Ohio five weeks later. 
  • As Microsoft boasts that thousands of customers are using its AI tools, it’s good to remember that some of them are nation-state hackers. Malicious actors from Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China are employing generative AI for harmful cyber operations such as researching foreign think tanks, learning how to evade detection, and generating phishing content that “[attempts] to lure prominent feminists.” Oooooooh, so they wanna f*ck around and find out, I see. Greta Gerwig, they’re coming for you! Catch these hands, North Korea. (But for funsies, which campaign that sounds like a nail polish is your favorite?) 
  • In the last Cloud cover, I joked about that Microsoft breach targeting executives. Well, turns out, it was kind of a big deal. Like, the biggest breach in Azure history-level big deal. I’m just gonna say it: Microsoft needs to start shifting left. I’m talking about whatever the developer equivalent of Karl Marx left is. It needs to happen. 
    • Cybersecurity firm Proofpoint found new campaigns targeting executives’ Microsoft Azure accounts. 
    • Microsoft pushed some updates this month and called urgent attention to “at least three” of 73 vulnerabilities in the Windows ecosystem—including Outlook—that hackers are exploiting. 
  • All this is just in time for Microsoft to make Azure OpenAI available to our barely functioning government! I’m ready for a world where ChatGPT is speaker of the house. Azure OpenAI isn’t FedRAMP approved yet, but my guess is that approval will occur around NEVER O’CLOCK. 

Best Friends Forever 

Partner mischief this month was all AWS. 

  • New to the AWS ISV Accelerate Program: Verusen, a supply chain intelligence platform, and SmartBear, a provider of observability and software testing solutions. 
  • New to AWS Marketplace: Merge (what North Carolinians love to do at the last minute without signaling), a platform that lets businesses add product integrations. 
  • Consulting firm Pariveda has achieved AWS Nonprofit Competency status and Blackline Safety achieved AWS Public Sector status. 
  • API security company Salt Security has joined the AWS Lambda Ready Program. 
  • Lightning AI has signed a strategic collaboration with AWS to offer its customers an enterprise-grade platform. (If you’re not doing that, what ARE you doing?) 
  • Digital business services provider Teleperformance has achieved the AWS Well-Architected status…and announced it in an email with a typo in the first sentence. My heart bleeds for the PR intern or checked-out PR executive—either one is a candidate—who let it happen. RIP to you, friend. 


  • Microsoft is axing Azure IoT Central, a big part of the Azure developer platform. Developers at big companies like NVIDIA are allegedly “faced with uncertainty” about this, but given that it won’t die until 2027, they have several years to find certainty. And, bless Microsoft’s heart, it’s still soliciting new subscriptions for Azure IoT Central. 
  • Microsoft’s AI Red Team is in charge of finding risk in its generative AI systems. They’re now employing a tool called PyRIT, which will…automate risk discovery because manual efforts are taking too long. ::Lets face fall into hands and weeps:: 
Image features Ashley JoEtta at the center of the image on top of a background with a collage that includes a flute, a game controller and a classroom.


Dr. Ash—wordsmith maestro and online battle champ 

By Andrea Swangard

Image features Ashley JoEtta at the center of the image on top of a background with a collage that includes a flute, a game controller and a classroom.

Image by Julianne Medenblik

How did music, Japan, and videogames lead our new storyteller, Ashley, to 2A? We’ll begin that answer with another question: How do you know you’re good at playing the flute? When you land a scholarship because of your mad skills! This set the stage for Ashley’s college experience, where she double majored in music performance and English. When she advanced to graduate school, Ashley came across the TESOL program (teaching English as a second language) and discovered a passion for the art of teaching. That led to an internship in Japan teaching English to folks ranging from five-year-olds to senior citizens, igniting Ashley’s love for linguistics and inspiring the right learning approach for a specific audience. It also honed Ashley’s language abilities—in addition to Japanese, she speaks Spanish and Arabic. 

Doctor Who? Finding a path for a lover of language patterns 

While pursuing a PhD in Applied Linguistics with a focus in Second Language Writing and Rhetoric and Composition (with a prestigious fellowship from Purdue), Ashley taught a writing class for engineers. She discovered a gap in teaching methods for academic writing versus industry writing, and researched ways to create customized curriculums for her students. (Ashley also won a dissertation fellowship from the American Association of University Women, but we’re not here to brag…) A professorship brought her to the Pacific Northwest, where Ashley balanced her time teaching with keeping her brain tickled by puzzles and digital games. One of these—the online battle-royale game Apex Legends—brought her to 2A. 

Squad goals: From virtual comrades to real-life coworkers 

Ashley met 2A’s designer extraordinaire, Brandon Conboy, while playing Apex Legends. Their shared love for strategy, teamwork, and being gracious winners fostered an immediate connection. Brandon learned about Ashley’s talent for writing and invited her to explore opportunities at 2A. After a freelance gig where Ashley got to indulge her passion for research and delve deeper into the technology industry, she realized she’d found her true calling. 2A snapped her up full time, and the rest is history! Ashley’s love of language and her teaching experiences (and, let’s be honest, that creative and brilliant mind) bring a dynamic approach to finding the right words to engage a client’s audience. Case in point, a piece she penned about United Airlines is one of the most read AWS case studies of 2023! 

Ashley’s passion for the power of stories keeps 2A’s ebooks fresh and its case studies cutting edge. Whether she’s practicing a new musical piece to perfection or collaborating with other gamers to navigate tricky situations, Ashley loves a challenge. And her research continues to be top notch: Whether it’s finding the winning formula for compelling copy or tracking down the choicest donut in Seattle, Ashley always brings her A-game. 

Image features three ice cream cones in a horizontal row.


Which ebook flavor is right for your campaign? 

By Jane Dornemann

Image features three ice cream cones in a horizontal row.

Image by Suzanne Calkins

You’re ready to embark on your next content marketing campaign and you’ve decided an ebook is the way to go. This may sound simple, but the truth is, there are so many types of ebook that it can feel like going into an ice cream parlor—everything looks good, but only one flavor will win you over. And you don’t want to choose an ebook that will have you gazing at your companion’s double scoop, wishing you’d gone with a different option. 

In this blog post, we offer five criteria that will help you narrow down the type of ebook that’s right for your campaign. 

1. Audience: If your audience is at the beginning of their buying journey, then your flavor is… 


This ebook targets readers who are new to your brand and focuses on creating awareness. It spotlights basic business value propositions and how those differ from competing solutions. These ebooks provide a high-level overview of ways the solution(s) can help solve readers’ problems. Keep the content between three and six pages, as you don’t want to bombard your audience with too much information. Remember: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry: Set the stage by showing you understand the challenge, explain how the product works, and support your claims with a customer success story. 

2. Depth: If you need to detail product use cases and solution architectures, then your flavor is… 

Dark chocolate 

Product-centric ebooks are like dark chocolate—some people love it, nay, need it, while others are a hard pass for the moment—which makes knowing your audience especially crucial when choosing this flavor. Your readers should be mid-funnel and want to learn specifics about your offering and how your product compares to other options. Because this flavor is a more overt sell, keep the content straightforward and informative. Follow it up with a call to action that moves them closer to conversion, such as watching a demo, signing up for a trial, or speaking with an agent. It’s rich in flavor, it stands out, and it’s key to getting your reader to buy what you’re selling. 

3. Breadth: If you’re trying to appeal to a broad audience, then your flavor is… 

Rocky road 

Sometimes you want to mix it up—but this only works if everything makes sense altogether. (In restaurants, this is called a “chaos menu.”) If you want an all-of-the-above mash-up—product and feature descriptions, tips and advice, case studies, a predictive analysis on what’s next, and partners’ capabilities—make sure you delineate sections and arrange information so that it flows organically. Make it easier for a discerning reader to find the parts they’re most interested in while supporting read-throughs with clear connections from one item to the next. For example, if you spend one chapter highlighting a product and its features, transition into a product-centered customer success story or include a graphic illustrating how the product works with customer systems. If your ebook covers multiple topics, think about topic progression. For example, if you offer migration and modernization services, start with migration and move into modernization, (not vice versa, nor jumping back and forth between the two). 

4. Positioning: If you offer a new concept or framework that makes you stand out among competitors, then your flavor is… 

Lavender honey 

This ebook flavor is ideal for demonstrating your brand’s thought leadership by sharing expertise-based, innovative ideas. This isn’t for ice cream newbies; the content should target mid-to-late funnel readers, including current customers you want to upsell. Your readers don’t need to learn about what your business does or its value. Your already-invested audience wants confirmation that you’re deeply familiar with their industry’s unique challenges so they can turn to you for an effective, experience-filled approach to problem solving—now and in the future. These ebooks tend to be longer and can be up to 12 pages. They can include forward-thinking concepts such as perceived future trends, case studies, research, guidance, and scenarios. 

5. Collaboration: If you want to showcase how your organization or solution works with a large cloud provider, then your flavor is… 

Berries and cream 

Some campaigns are based on joint solutions that explain how two offerings provide something better together for shared customers. Create this flavor by turning the collaborative benefit into a theme throughout the ebook. You don’t want berries on one side and cream on the other. Chances are that your reader is familiar with your brand or your partner’s, but they may not have tried the mélange. Briefly describe each of your flavors and make evident why they taste so good together—better than any competitor combo. Explain what your reader can accomplish with your integrations, demonstrate your capabilities through a customer story, and wrap up with a summary of sweet benefits. Or a napkin. Either one. 

We’ve spilled many secret ingredients of our successful ebooks with you, but those are only the cherries on top. To recruit our Michelin Star–worthy word chefs for your next ebook, contact us

Image of a yellow and purple hot air balloon along the right edge of image with floating words that read Cloud Cover Volume 24 in purple font.


The name’s cloud, big cloud 

By Jane Dornemann

Image of a yellow and purple hot air balloon along the right edge of image with floating words that read Cloud Cover Volume 24 in purple font.

Ma’am, I’m going to have to call security 

  • Once again, Washington officials and private sector executives are accusing Microsoft of dropping the ball following another hacking incident. Russian spies (Is this real life?) breached Microsoft’s systems to gain access to senior executives’ emails. They were full of sensitive information like, “Re: Chipotle for lunch??” and Teams messages such as, “I slowly feel my soul dying with every second of this quarterly meeting.” All parties (except Microsoft) say this was a fully avoidable incident, prompting U.S. officials to publicly state that the government needs to “reevaluate its dependence on Microsoft.” 

Wheelin’ and dealin’ 

  • Hold the (Voda)phone, there’s a big new deal in town: The telecom company signed a $1.5B, 10-year agreement with Microsoft. (They stole the deal right out from under me because I didn’t have change for a $20.) The goals of this deal run the gamut, from targeting SMBs to improving financial inclusion in Africa. And of course, transforming the customer experience with generative AI. Can’t take a single breath without that these days. 
  • Space Force (Again, real life?) is tapping Microsoft to build a cloud-based, simulated space environment. It will incorporate augmented reality via HoloLens headsets and serve as a training vehicle that allows participants to interact with digital copies in orbit. (Can you imagine tripping on LSD in that thing?! PLUTO LOOKED INTO MY SOUL and then he gave me a bucket of fried chicken.) 
  • Walmart, everyone’s favorite spot to get really depressed about the state of humanity, is working with Microsoft on new AI solutions for Walmart customers. For example, using AI to answer a customer’s query and generate personalized responses. Naturally, the sample photo is of someone buying one bag of Doritos from Walmart online. Because we are Americans and that’s what we do. 
  • The Walmart stuff arrives just as Microsoft announces its play to bring generative AI to retailers, particularly through Copilot. This includes Copilot templates that retailers can personalize across the buyer journey, AI to generate insights, and generative AI for marketing campaigns. SymphonyAI is working with Microsoft to bring predictive and generative AI to retail. 
  • Choice Hotels International, a large hospitality chain that includes Comfort Inn and Econo Lodge, has fully migrated to AWS for all its operations. But what’s really important here are the (real life) online reviews for Choice Hotels, such as, “There were meth syringes by our truck in the morning and the room smelled like piss” and “I was given a king suite with blood on the covers and zero hangers.” ZERO HANGERS!!!! 

World domination 

  • Nothing makes a $1.5B Microsoft-Vodafone deal look bad like moving the decimal mark over a whole place, which AWS has done with its $15B investment in Japan. Those dolla dolla bills are going toward expanding AWS Cloud infrastructure and supporting AI computing needs in the country. Google and Microsoft have also been going heavier on investments in Japan, and all three have deals with the country’s government, but this gives AWS the largest presence of them all. 
  • AWS had some spare change left over after that, and decided to invest in…Mississippi? Uh, OK…I guess why not. The company is spending $10B to build a data center in the greater Jackson area. Well, that’s great because this project should bring some much-needed funds to the area…EXCEPT that it’s 100% corporate-tax exempt. During a “special session,” they decided that the state itself has to provide $44M in funds for tasks like workforce training. For AWS. Also, the state must loan a ton of money to the county to build a sewer system. For AWS. But hey, what a deal (for AWS), amiright! 
  • As tensions rise between the U.S. and China (Americans are asked to “reconsider travel to China”)—along with an Executive Order limiting chipmakers in Chinese business dealings—Microsoft is uncertain about the fate of its Beijing-based AI lab. With China accounting for $212B in Microsoft sales, Microsoft doesn’t yet have an answer to the Biden administration’s request to pull the lab entirely. 
  • Is it just me or is it Chile in here? AWS got the green light to build a $205M data center in Santiago. This will be the first AWS data center in the country. 
  • AWS has won three contracts with the UK government—valued at about $1B dollars—a sign that the British government is deeply locked into AWS services. 
  • Microsoft customers can now store all their personal data in the EU, a place with real privacy laws…a place where people don’t order Doritos online from retailers that take out “dead peasants” life insurance policies on their employees. ::Looks longingly toward the Atlantic:: 

Gossip (for nerds) 

  • After beating Apple to briefly become the most valuable company in the world (and becoming the second company to ever reach a $3T market cap), Microsoft reported a 33% profit increase and an 18% jump in revenue. (Can’t wait for more layoff news. Oh, wait…) 
  • AWS has hired a guy who makes shirt choices that are bold but still socially acceptable. “Damn it! Honey, the AWS folks need a new headshot, and I told them I’m still on vacation! Ugh, just snap me right here. How’s my hair?” “You look great, sweetie, and don’t worry, this will probably just go on some ID badge and not in globally available news.” The new CFO was formerly Amazon’s operations and logistics manager. Now that I know his name I’ll be calling him for answers on what happened to Prime’s 24-hour delivery promise. 
  • Ashish Dhawan, who was the managing director of AWS enterprise workload sales, has moved to NetApp
  • Google hired a former Okta and Microsoft exec to be its new AI leader, driving the company’s AI go-to-market strategy. 
  • It’s official—the FTC is poking around the partnerships between Microsoft (and four other big tech companies, including AWS) and AI companies. Reading between the lines, this feels less about concern for society and more about the government fearing a loss of power to tech companies. I can’t WAIT for this hearing, where we’ll surely be entertained with questions from officials along the lines of, “Could the Google make me into an AI? This feels dangerous,” and, “It is my understanding that AI can connect to the internet, is that really necessary?” 

New stuff 

  • Please find the most gossipy person you know and have them apply to AWS, because I NEED to know where this new AWS Secret Region is. It’s only for the U.S. Intelligence Community, which frankly I think I should be working for, because you wouldn’t believe what strangers have felt compelled to tell me on my travels. I basically already work for the Intelligence Community and should know where this is. 
  • AWS has introduced a new SME partner competency: SMBs. 30 Partners (including Trellix) have already achieved the Small and Medium Business Competency and offer a range of services and solutions specific to SMBs, such as security, storage, migration, and AI. 
  • To make OpenAI even more accessible, Microsoft is working on a smaller, cheaper version for those of us living in the gutter. It has compiled a team to develop a conversational AI that requires less computing power. In this case, they just have to “do less with less.” 
  • You can now get Copilot Pro for $20 a month, meaning I can use that $20 from my failed Vodafone deal. For small businesses, there’s a Copilot virtual assistant that Microsoft 365 customers can purchase. 
  • Microsoft has launched new partner benefits, which include access to Copilot, product licenses, and Azure credits. 
  • Check out this announcement for Microsoft Mesh, featuring avatars that, for some reason, have no bottom half to their bodies. Mesh “powers 3D immersive experiences” for hybrid workers so interactions “feel more face-to-face” (except for dunno why, the bottom half of bodies). 
  • Microsoft and Norwegian software company Cognite are collaborating to build data tools and copilots to help industrial companies improve operations using Microsoft Fabric. 
  • Digital and cloud transformation company Mastek is strategically collaborating with Microsoft to build industry-specific solutions using Azure OpenAI. 
  • Sony, Honda, and Microsoft are one big happy family that will make Afeela, an electric car. Here we go: Afeela a joke coming on. 
  • Siemens, which does things like pay half my mortgage, has formed another strategic partnership with AWS that will boost AI usage in engineering and manufacturing markets, primarily through low-code offerings. This deal allows AWS to ride the coattails of Siemens’ credibility in these markets, and helps Siemens move more aggressively into the software field. 
  • Panda is a new proposed framework from AWS that aims to provide a large language model–based debugger for databases. It will help people troubleshoot and debug databases for better performance—something AWS demonstrated when it threw Panda at ChatGPT to show how vague and incomplete the generative AI’s recommendations are. 

Best Friends Forever 

  • Now on Microsoft Azure Marketplace: MIT and Harvard’s Broad Institute’s open-source Terra platform, used for biomedical analysis; FintechOS, which allows banks and insurers to design, build, and deploy digital banking and insurance products and customer experiences; Cranium AI’s security platform; and Cognigy.AI, which I dunno what it does ‘cause the release was bad, which feels like a requirement these days. 
  • New to AWS Marketplace: Rackspace Technology’s Cloud DBOps, a managed service for commercial and open-source databases running on various AWS services, and Harbr’s “last mile” data solution. 
  • Sacré bleu! Starting at the end of 2024, Capgemini and Orange will have formed a joint venture, Bleu, to help French companies adopt Microsoft Azure and 365 through its “cloud de confiance” (trust) services. 
  • BAE, which reads like I’m yelling across the house for my significant other but is actually an ISV, has earned its AWS Migration Competency. 
  • Dragos, which sounds like a company Daenerys Targaryen established, has achieved the AWS Manufacturing and Industrial Competency. It provides cybersecurity for operational technology. 
  • TierPoint has earned two new Microsoft Solutions Partner designations, Data & AI and Digital & App Innovation. 
  • Dentsu, which sounds like a Japanese denture shop, is expanding its AI tool offerings using Amazon Bedrock. 
  • SourceFuse, a digital transformation company that’s also apparently a braggart, has officially achieved 100 AWS Certifications. 
  • Revenue lifecycle management solutions provider Conga earned the AWS Life Sciences Competency. 
  • DevOps software provider JFrog has integrated its Artifactory platform with Amazon SageMaker to streamline the process of building, training, and deploying ML models. 
Image features a hand drawing coming from the right edge, drawing a line of upward stair with three human figures walking and running up them towards the left edge.


4 steps to getting the most out of your contract talent 

By Nora Bright

Image features a hand drawing coming from the right edge, drawing a line of upward stair with three human figures walking and running up them towards the left edge.

Image by Emily Zheng

In the fast-paced world of cloud technology, hiring managers often turn to contract talent to fill critical roles and execute projects with agility. This approach can bring fresh perspectives, specialized expertise, and flexibility to your team. However, integrating new contractors seamlessly can be challenging, especially for short-term projects or maternity leave coverage roles. 

Contract engagements often require a rapid ramp-up period, leaving less time for a traditional onboarding process. Additionally, contractors may not have the same context or institutional knowledge as full-time employees, making it crucial to provide them with the right information and support quickly. 

Below are four key steps to setting your contract talent up for success: 

  1. Start with clarity: Establish clear expectations before the engagement starts by providing a detailed job description and scope. This will help the contractor understand the role and feel confident they can meet your expectations within the time frame of the position. Need help getting the role’s responsibilities down on paper? We often collaborate with our clients on the job description. Here’s how we approach writing job descriptions for openings here at 2A.  
  1. Be ready for day one: Before the start date, make a plan for how you will provide a company orientation and introductions to key stakeholders. Send calendar holds for the people you want your contract hire to meet and include context on the purpose of the meeting and the roles of each meeting attendee. Gather all the necessary tools, software, and access to company resources before the role starts so they can get started on day one. 
  1. Make communication a priority: Like full-time employees, contractors do their best work when they have consistent feedback and open lines of communication. We recommend having 20 to 30 minute 1:1 meetings at least every other week to facilitate great communication throughout the engagement. We also meet regularly with both our Embedded Consultants and clients so that we can flag potential issues and support the feedback process. 
  1. Show your appreciation: Acknowledge the contributions of your contract talent and celebrate their work. We do our part to make our Embedded Consultants feel valued by surprising them with gifts and swag, inviting them to in-person and virtual events, and providing professional development opportunities. And feedback shows that the feeling is mutual! 

There’s no better way to get a contractor started on the right foot than by setting them up with the right agency. Our practice is built on the principle that treating people well helps them shine in their roles. We focus on providing a top-notch employee experience, comprehensive benefits, and a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.  

Reach out today to learn more about how our Embedded Consulting practice can find the perfect contract hire for your next project and set them up for success. 

Emily looks beyond the obvious to craft designs that captivate


Emily looks beyond the obvious to craft designs that captivate

By Richa Dubey

Emily looks beyond the obvious to craft designs that captivate

Image by Suzanne Calkins

Visual storytelling is where Emily thrives. It’s her chance to dig into an idea, push through the surface, and pull together a design that’s fresh and captivating. As you can imagine, she likes it here at our storytelling agency.  

Emily’s story is, in some ways, the classic one for artists who’ve always been drawn to their work. As the artsy kid in school, she would fulfill requests for art or help friends with their illustrations, whether for school projects or fun. While growing up, she contained it to a hobby because “I was worried that doing anything artistic professionally would kill my love for it.” But some things are meant to be. 

“At every single internship or club that I joined in college, I realized that people always wanted me to do design work anyway—and I eventually realized that I would miss it if I didn’t do something creative.” So, she undertook a host of design-based internships and part-time jobs, including an art teaching assistant post in college. 

After these, being Emily, she put her family first during the COVID pandemic, helping out at her family restaurant. Then 2A caught her attention. Why?   

“Stories! The job description included the word ‘storytelling,’ which was one of my search keywords. I loved how it sounded, and when I looked at the 2A website, I thought, “This is the most fun group of people I have seen in a long time, and I love how they tell stories.” 

Visual stories are where it’s at for Emily— bringing art, illustration, and design together in service of a narrative (take this complex and fun illustration for Microsoft). With quiet courage and commitment, Emily unpacks the concepts until she arrives at the eureka moments when a design clicks into place. “When I can look beyond the obvious and pull the right pieces together in a design that works, it is so exhilarating.”   

If Emily had a theme song, it would probably be beyond the obvious—not only because of her approach to design, but also because it rings true for her life outside 2A. You probably wouldn’t guess this, but Emily will always commit to the bit in improv comedy. She boulders (“because I’m a little scared of it”), reads children’s books, and watches bad movies (“everyone watches the good ones, and I enjoy being a hater for a while”).  

Whatever Emily does, she brings her whole self to it.  

Decorative image of a hot air balloon, with text on left side that says, 'Cloud Cover, vol. 23'


Don’t get quiet fired! 

By Jane Dornemann

Decorative image of a hot air balloon, with text on left side that says, 'Cloud Cover, vol. 23'

Image by Evan Aeschlimann

New stuff  

  • I covered the big stuff from re:Invent in the last Cloud cover, but here is a good roundup refresher in case you also killed your brain over holiday break with cheese, chocolate, wine, and binge watching Naked and Afraid
  • This edition of “White Men in Space” is Lasers! Amazon’s Project Kuiper, which involves sending laser-based communications satellites into space, has hit a milestone, and is set to broaden access to the AWS Cloud. The U.S. military is running tests on these also, culminating in the perfect marriage of unbridled capitalism and the military-industrial complex. What could possibly go wrong? The initiative is a challenge to He Who Shall Not Be Named (because every time you say his name he gets more power!!!) of SpaceX, so expect some juvenile, bitchy tweets in the next few weeks. Like he writes any other kind. 
  • Cancel next Christmas for nerds because it’s here early! Microsoft announced a new tool, AppCat (Azure Migrate application and code assessment tool for .NET), which will help developers who are migrating .NET applications from on prem to Azure. 
  • Microsoft is planning to “drastically expand” its AI studio with ChatGPT-4 Turbo, dubbed by some kid who was playing with his G.I. Joes when asked for a good name. It will also fold in open-sourced AI model Llama 2 to the Azure AI Studio. 
  • Button, button, whose got the button? The Windows keyboard will look different following the first change in three decades, which is the addition of a Copilot key. It will be available to some starting in February and can carry out tasks, such as text and virtual meeting summarization, across Microsoft’s web and productivity apps. Waiting for the day I hit the Copilot button and get, “This could have been an email.” 
  • Microsoft has launched AI Odyssey, a program to skill 100,000 India-based developers in AI technology and tools. 
  • Amazon Aurora Serverless v1 is doing something Millennials will never be able to—retire! While AWS is discontinuing support, the newer Aurora Serverless v2 is still around—though users have some complaints about it. 
  • New stuff from AWS this month: a fourth-gen Graviton processor (Graviton4), which provides more memory and better compute performance; Amazon Braket Direct, a fully managed quantum computing service; and additional support for AWS IAM Access Analyzer that provides automated detection of unused access. And, now AWS customers can establish zero-ETL connections among certain data services. In the future, it will be available to those running those services on Azure and Google Cloud. 

Gossip (for nerds) 

  • Microsoft’s AI Image Creator has been generating realistic images of public figures, such as Joe Biden and the Pope, along with people from ethnic-minority groups, being flayed, decapitated, and mutilated in other graphic ways. Wall Street Journal reminds readers, “and [this has been] built right into your computer software.” Microsoft blames customers for using the tech in ways it was not intended and for employing cleverly worded prompts. Microsoft’s executive in charge of AI safety did not grant WSJ an interview, which is always a good look. 
  • The New York Times is suing OpenAI for copyright infringement, based on how the tech platform uses the publication’s stories to train chatbots, piling on to recent lawsuits brought forth by prominent authors like John Grisham and R.R. Martin. 
  • Meanwhile, a new AWS study revealed that business leaders want to get serious about responsible AI use—and also that some people don’t even know what that constitutes. 
  • Regardless, the AI frenzy will only continue, according to a new survey from CNBC. More than half of large organizations plan to purchase generative AI software like Copilot in the next six months. 
  • Dee Templeton, Microsoft’s VP of Technology and Research Partnerships and Operations (who also wears a leather jacket in her LinkedIn photo because SHE MEANS BUSINESS…but in a COOL motorcycle way) has secured a seat on the newly formed OpenAI board. 
  • Enterprise tech company Lumen has hired AWS’ former global AI leader as its new product officer. He will probs do important stuff and make boatloads of cash. Yay for him! 
  • So, I learned that if Business Insider gates the article you want to read, you can go read it on Business Insider India—kinda rude, tbh. But ANYWAY, apparently AWS is doing this PsyOps thing called “quiet firing” where they don’t fire you, they just take away your role and tell you to find a home somewhere else internally. The interviewee is one of (allegedly) several others who aren’t allowed to do anything at the office, are sent to the basement with their red staplers, and are still collecting a paycheck. Employees report that AWS is waiting them out until they get so miserable they find another job. ALLEGEDLY. Shout out to my homies at Business Insider India for this free tea! 
  • On the sales side, AWS is reorganizing. The 60,000-person department will consolidate some sales teams and change to how technical staff help customers because AWS clients “expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s existing practices.” 
  • Microsoft may overtake Apple as the most valuable U.S. company, with a “slim margin” of $100B difference between them. The change is attributed to Azure revenue and the AI frenzy, and Apple’s stagnant value is attributed to the fact that nobody wants to be a little Apple fanbitch anymore. That’s right, I said it. You wanna wait outside a store overnight for the iPhone 105 or whatever, that costs $1,200 and is as delicate as a butterfly, well you go on ahead, while the rest of us nurture our common sense…with Copilot. (Too soon?) And yes, I have an Android and my green messages are coming for you. 
  • There’s a cloud guppy out there trying to compete with much bigger fish. Postgres-based cloud database startup, Tembo, is taking on AWS, Snowflake, and Oracle. The company thinks its open-source appeal will win it some significant market share. I personally think Bezos would never let that happen and I personally think Tembo’s founder is going to trip and fall onto an ether rag and will conveniently wake up on a laser in space or something, I dunno. 

Wheelin’ and dealin’ 

  • A big government cloud project is off to a slow start, no way!!! A YEAR after committing $9B to upgrade its computing tech with AWS and Microsoft, the Pentagon has progressed only 2%. Word on the street is that a big part of the delay is concern over the security of commercial cloud tech—which could influence how quickly other public sectors move to the cloud.  
  • Microsoft can’t move its own company to its cloud. LinkedIn paused plans to move away from its on-prem data centers to Azure because of issues with LinkedIn using its own software tools instead of those from Azure. The project was codenamed “Blueshift,” which I imagine is because it made everyone so sad, but no. The pivot is allegedly Microsoft wants to save Azure resources for paying customers. Which kinda sounds like the “Sorry, I have plans tonight (but don’t)” bullcrap. So, now LinkedIn is going in the exact opposite direction and scaling their on-prem infrastructure. 
  • Navigation and map technology company TomTom is partnering with Microsoft to bring generative AI to connected vehicles. The joint solution will use Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service, Azure CosmosDB, Azure Kubernetes, and some other elements to enable natural conversations with vehicles. 
  • AWS and Salesforce have expanded their partnership and will build deeper product integrations across data and AI. In a win for joint customers, Salesforce will put some products on AWS Marketplace for the first time, and AWS is bringing some of its services to Salesforce’s Einstein One.  
  • IT services and digital engineering company Virtusa has signed a strategic collaboration with AWS around Virtusa’s data and AI lab. The goal is to make it easier for customers to move to the cloud and modernize their IT services with AI, ML, and generative AI. 
  • Persistent, which sounds like it does the same stuff as Virtusa, has ALSO signed a strategic collaboration with AWS. See, nobody is special anymore. The goal even sounds like the same but I don’t have time to thoroughly read this press release AND make a sandwich and I choose the sandwich, so here you go, have at it

World domination 

  • Backward fairytale time! What if a princess doesn’t turn into a pumpkin, but a pumpkin turns into a princess? That freaking happened when a Wisconsin pumpkin farming family sold their land to Microsoft at a ridic overvaluation of $76M so the tech giant can build a data center. Good look on ever seeing that ROI in the next 100 years on that data center, which people who are still alive in the climate apocalypse will be using as shelter to rub twigs together for warmth, and possibly to eat. 
  • Canada is getting its second cloud region, in Calgary! Yeehaw. And I guess AWS is all about the cold weather since they opened a new Ground Station in Alaska. Maybe some of those people getting “quiet fired” can apply to be the warmer-uppers for these new locations! 
  • In less freezing parts of the world, AWS is investing in Nigeria’s digital economy and tech boom—turns out the Nigerian princes who email me just don’t have the funds to do this (because those funds are frozen and they need my help!!!!). Halfway through this article we find out exactly how AWS plans to invest, which includes AWS Academy (creepy?), AWS Educate (for training but also feels creepy), and AWS re/Start (ok, fine, I like that one. Feels fresh.). 
  • Industrial companies around the world are poised to benefit the most from AI, according to this article where the very first sentence is missing a period. Microsoft’s and NVIDIA’s CEOs agreed at a conference that there will be three waves of AI impact: first to startups, which is already happening. The second is “enterprise generation,” which you can read about in a sentence where there IS a period but no space after. The third wave will be the industrial sector. So, we can chill on that for now, but FYI. 
  • Oh god please don’t hallucinate meltdown orders!!! Microsoft wants to use nuclear power to support AI’s massive electricity needs. My husband, who served on a nuclear submarine, says nuclear power is OK but also seems to forget that three guys on his sub got ball cancer. But since AI doesn’t have those, should be fine. 

Best Friends Forever 

  • RapidScale is a Raleigh-based tech company that recently achieved a Microsoft Azure Expert Managed Service Provider (MSP) designation. And maybe RapidScale doesn’t know this, but the Raleigh area is absolutely bursting with 2A talent. We can’t be contained, and I think someone at RapidScale should reach out to us to learn more—or risk falling behind competitors, as those who do not hire 2A are known to do. 
  • Precisely has achieved the AWS Data and Analytics Competency. Who knows, maybe the MPF we created for them helped? 
  • Red Canary has achieved the AWS Security Competency.  
  • Consulting and digital transformation firm Capgemini won seven AWS 2023 Partner of the Year Awards, which include recognition in AI/ML, an industry partner of the year for automotive, and a sustainability partner for the Greater China Region. 
  • Duality AI, a digital twin simulation company, has joined the AWS Partner Network. 
decorative image of Carolyn as a superhero with the word


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s 2A marketing hero, Carolyn! 

By Jane Dornemann

decorative image of Carolyn as a superhero with the word

Image by Rachel Adams

Meet Carolyn, marketing writer turned marketing consultant…turned marketing writer. It makes sense—writers are curious by nature, a trait that 2A is happy to accommodate.  

Carolyn studied medieval literature, earned a master’s in English, and taught at the college level before embarking on her B2B marketing quest in earnest. Her eagerness to learn about all corners of the world has been the driving force behind her varied career, during which she created compelling content for just about every industry you can think of. Her stellar work landed her opportunities to craft copy for all kinds of companies, from tech to healthcare to HVAC and plumbing. 

After all that, she went on to perfect her marketing chops through agencies, where she wrote content for a world of different products and services. Her demonstrated ability to market just about anything—and her experience as both a consultant and a writer—is what makes her such a superhero of an addition here at 2A. 

While Carolyn’s outside-the-box ideas led to director positions in B2B and big tech marketing, she found herself on a quest for a more stimulating work culture. That’s what drew Carolyn to 2A, where she first employed her diverse skillset as a consultant before moving over to a storyteller role. 

Carolyn thrives in 2A’s collaborative environment, where she’s focused on helping clients find more effective and innovative ways to resonate with their audiences through stories. There’s no kryptonite here—the more complex or unusual a marketing challenge is, the more Carolyn is inspired. Approaching each project with the dexterity and improvisation she’s accrued over the years is her M.O.  

Perhaps that panache for the complicated has been bolstered by her literary leanings, from publishing her poetry in literary magazines to doing The New York Times’ crossword daily.  

“Doing puzzles is a lot like content marketing,” she said. “It can be a fun challenge to communicate ideas in a certain number of words or decide how text and design can best work together.” 

In her personal life, Carolyn is committed to service. Thanks to the Be the Match registry, she was able to help save the life of a patient with leukemia through peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC), a method of retrieving blood-forming cells for bone marrow transplants. 

The curiosity continues. From roller-skating to embroidery, Carolyn’s sense of adventure extends beyond her (new) role at the office. Whether she’s saving lives or solving the scrappiest of marketing puzzles, Carolyn is the kind of storytelling superhero our clients need and want on their team. 

decorative image of different stickers from 2A's favorite albums


2A’s favorite albums of 2023 

By Nora Bright, The 2A Team

decorative image of different stickers from 2A's favorite albums

Image by Thad Allen

Every year at 2A, members of our team share their favorite album of the year—and last year we started compiling a playlist so folks can dance along. This year’s soundtrack is a vibrant tapestry made up of everything from ambient chill to Bollywood beats, experimental sounds to indie anthems, each chosen by a music-loving 2A-er. 

One thing that’s for sure is our eclectic playlist matches the diverse backgrounds of the team members who contributed—including a former journalist, small business owner, nonprofit director, and cupcake baker. Our hobbies range from fly fishing, making miniature models, filming shorts, DJing for community radio, to beer brewing! We’re a talented bunch and we’re all bringing a different flavor to the table. So if our playlist feels a little all over the place, it should! 

Happy listening—and we hope you enjoy our wild music mix! 

Metro Boomin Presents Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse (Soundtrack) – Various Artists (curated by Metro Boomin) 

With a great franchise comes great responsibility, and Metro Boomin delivers! The entire album showcases Metro’s super-producer abilities to weave a sonic web of synths and strings into a cohesive universe of sound. In an album packed with rap heavyweights, it’s the production on the quiet, more intimate songs that grip my attention, like  “Hummingbird” and “Calling.” – Madeline Sy 

I Killed Your Dog – L’Rain 

L’Rain’s album I Killed Your Dog fuses experimental sounds with soulful melodies, creating an experience that is as haunting as it is beautiful. Each track is a blend of eclectic rhythms, bold textures, and L’Rain’s rich, emotive vocals. We’ve had this one on repeat. – Mitchell Thompson 

New Blue Sun – Andre 3000 

While New Blue Sun is not the rap album many waited 17 years for from Andre 3000, it still delivers. If you are anything like me, you have been following the Andre 3000 seen with flute sightings, a la Where’s Waldo, on social media. Andre 3000 channels Coltrane and other experimental jazz greats with his improvisational flute playing and adds atmospheric ambient layers to bring you along on his recent travels and latest inspiration. This album tells a story without using any words. Be ready to read the energy to follow along on the journey. – Alyson Stoner-Rhoades 

Suntub – ML Buch 

ML Buch (pronounced “book”) is a Danish musician whose sound is very hard to place. Her music is both naturalistic and uncanny, analog and electronic, radiantly warm yet detached, and reminiscent of 90’s alt rock while ahead of its time. She manages to accomplish the rare feat of making something entirely new, challenging, yet completely accessible. – Brian Dionisi 

Everyone’s Crushed – Water from Your Eyes 

The first time I heard a song from Everyone’s Crushed I instantly perked up and focused—I’d never heard anything quite like it. The albums has off-tune singing, dissonant sounds, and intricate and strange textures. Occasionally, a beautiful pop moment emerges from the chaos. Water from Your Eyes makes you work for it and it’s so worth it. – Nora Bright 

Principia – En Attendant Ana 

Parisian indie outfit En Attendant Ana effortlessly merges sweet, pop melodies with a garage punk sensibility on their third album. Take a dash of the Velvet Underground, mix it with heap of Stereolab, a pinch of krautrock, a drizzle of early French pop, et voilà—you’d have something that sounds like Principia. – Suzanne Calkins 

Nothing for Me, Please – Dean Johnson 

The 15-years-in-the-making debut album from Seattle bartender/musician will have you wondering if maybe you, too, are in fact a cowboy ‘neath faraway skies. Folky, alt-country tunes paired with a unique voice. It’s either the soundtrack to your neighborhood dive bar, or some ranch in Wyoming, or maybe both. But either way, an all around lovely set of songs.  – Mike Lahoda 

Mo Lowda & the Humble – Mo Lowda & the Humble 

There is no such thing as too many indie rock bands in the world. Mo Lowda & the Humble bring a cool mix of moodiness and freshness. Caiolas’ vocals? They’re like a rollercoaster—sometimes contemplative, kinda mournful, then suddenly triumphant, all with a catchy vibe. – Michelle Najarian 

Flaws in Our Design – ODESZA, Yellow House 

ODESZA can do no wrong in my book, and their collaborations are no exception. A slight departure from their typical moody electro sound, this EP with Yellow House is bright, upbeat, and the perfect soundtrack to a summer day (or for channeling summer feels in the depths of winter!) – Andrea Swangard 

Cracker Island – Gorillaz ft Tame Impala 

The Gorillaz keep the core of their sound while expanding into a slightly more commercial approach, incorporating collabs with artists like Beck, Tame Impala, and Stevie Nicks. It gives each song a slightly different bent, though it keeps them all recognizable to Gorillaz lovers. Some songs are lazy and dreamy, and others you can dance to, but they’re all easy listening. What’s not to like? – Jane Dornemann 

Rush – Måneskin  

“I’m still rock and roll!” I whisper to myself as I stand in my kitchen after getting my kids to bed, grab a soapy spatula, and treat my dog to evening Måneskin kitchen karaoke. It’s a little rock. It’s a little punk. It’s a little pop. It’s very glam. I love bopping around to “KOOL KIDS” and “SUPERMODEL.” – Erin McCaul 

Rush – Måneskin 

I fell in love with Måneskin because of “SUPERMODEL,” which was released last year but was added to this year’s album called Rush. But I now think all their songs are great. Their sound reminds me of the rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Rolling Stones, the Hollies, the Doors, and Led Zeppelin were raw—but there’s some grunge in there, along with bands like the Damned. That kind of popular music was my first love, and it really takes me back. Interestingly, the leads of the band were born in 1999 and 2000. – Forsyth Alexander 

Paathan (Soundtrack) – Vishal-Shekhar, Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara 

More than just a comeback vehicle for one of the biggest stars in Bollywood, the success of the song “Jhoome Jo Pathaan,” and the film, were a testament to India’s enduring love of Shah Rukh Khan despite all the right-wing attempts to kill his career. The album flies in the face of bigotry, embraces love across the border, and celebrates spectacle both through the music of the talented duo, Vishal-Shekhar, and singers Arijit and Shilpa Rao. And of course, the syncopation and scattered Spanish influence makes the album eminently danceable in true Bollywood style. – Richa Dubey 

Pizza Tower (Soundtrack) – Various Artists 

Pizza Tower was a surprise favorite video game for me this year, a weird little indie game with style and character to spare. But what really enhances its gonzo cartoon nature is the soundtrack, a wild and funky electronic blast of energy. The music team blends golden-age hip hop samples, 90s house beats, and 00s video game chiptunes into an eclectically-textured high-NRG soundscape that is just as engaging to listen to outside of the game. – Thad Allen 

The Maine – The Maine 

After 16 years as a band, The Maine has released a self-titled album and they’ve never sounded more like themselves. You can tell they have honed their craft over the years and are enjoying the ride with this ninth LP added to their discography. This album is introspective and honest but still has some really fun beats to get you grooving. – Julianne Medenblik