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Posts Tagged ‘Pop

Do TV Commercials Ruin Good Songs? (Yeah, Pretty Much)

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This week I was planning to write about Chicago pop-experimentalists, Walter Meego (the cool guys in the glasses), whose first studio album, Voyager (Sony 2008), was released last month. (Yes, Walter Meego is actually two people. No, neither one is named Walter or Meego). Unfortunately, an unexpected monkey wrench was thrown smack into the middle of my best laid plans.

Here’s what happened: I was watching some soccer on TV over the weekend when a new Heineken commercial promoting their idiotic “Beertender” home mini-kegerator came on. I guess it might not be so idiotic if Heineken didn’t taste like unfiltered Dutch canal water. But it does. So as far as I’m concerned it’s idiotic. Anyway, the song featured prominently in the “Home Bars” ad spot in question (watch the ad here) brought an instant scowl to my face. “Those Heineken beer-Nazi sonofabitches,” I said to no one but the television, “they jacked my fucking song — already.” The song was Walter Meego’s “Forever,” which just happens to be my favorite Walter Meego song. (Listen to it here).

Sonofabitches.

Now, it was ruined. Forever. “Forever” was ruined forever. Or so I felt. My favorite song from a relatively new and largely unknown experimental pop group (what the hell is experimental pop anyway?) had been reduced to nothing more than another cheap cog in the beer world’s mega-marketing wheel of death and societal detriment. Weren’t alternative/indie musicians like Walter Meego supposed to tell advertisers to fuck off when asked to use their songs anyway? What gives?

At first I wished that I had just never seen the commercial. That would’ve made everything okay. Unfortunately my Men In Black “Flashy Thing” has been broken for years. (Except when it comes to finding my keys). So that option was out.

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The Friday Writers’ Bloc: June 20th, 2008

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Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

Michael-Bradley’s Picks

1. Liars – Plastic Casts of Everything

This is the opening track off the the noisey New York rockers Liars’ latest and self titled album. This album terrificly just drudges along, with robust smears of melody and rhythm. Even though I’ve heard comparisons to newer noise rockers Health (who I admit share some styles  occasionally [less so in this album]), this album reminds me more of SF punkers Flipper, in their sludgy sounds. Plaster Casts of Everything is a great opener, setting up momentum that carries through the whole album.

2. Sebadoh – Not a Friend

This may not be the best song to be singing by a friend. But i can’t help myself right now, so I apologize in advance….. Sebadoh is a wonderful band from the 90’s with a sort of post-punk sensibility, that are really important for the development of lo fi and indie music.  Their soft analog distortion used on the guitar is part of that patented Sebadoh sound that had me hooked early on.  Bakesale is I think their finest album, where I think their style really came into it’s own- mixing between real rocking songs, to quieter jams like Not A Friend.  The open writing style of Sebadoh’s lyrics are really refreshing.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a singer talk to you in the way you would to them. The final track off this album, Together or Alone can just melt me down.

3. Suffocate For Fuck Sake – Blue Lights and Sunshine

Woah, right? Either you’re incredibly interested, or you’ve already moved on.  Suffocate For Fuck Sake is a really great band I just discovered from Sweden. This clearly won’t be for most, but I suggest giving the song a whole play through, cause you’re not going to find stuff like this on the radio.  They go from quiet and beautiful post-rock pieces with clips of Swedish talking sound bites (anybody want to translate), to some really heavy stuff! Post-Rock has been a genre that always bothered me. Bands like Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai always just frustrated me. Maybe I could just not appreciate their minimalism, but I found them totally boring. Their music never went anywhere. I always thought Post-Rock would be amazing if you use it in parts, while not being afraid to blast through others. I started finding a few bands like *Shels [sic] [http://www.myspace.com/shels], who did that, but was never satisfied with the results. UNTIL, i heard SFFS, and their brief titled first album “Blazing fires and helicopters on the frontpage of the newspaper. There’s a war going on and I’m maching in heavy boots.” They’ve found the perfect match of Post-Rock and heavy-[something] for me!  Don’t be afraid of the scream.This album is mind blowing. Interesting fact is that they are the poster child of music globalization. Swedish band, with a label and publisher in Mexico? Pretty cool.

Jonathan’s Picks

1. John Legend Feat. Andre 3000 – Green Light

I like John Legend. I’ve liked him since I first heard “Used to Love U” back in 2004. And I continued to like the man and his music through his first two albums, Get Lifted and Once Again. In fact, the first time I heard “Ordinary People” and “Again,” I think I was ready to add them to the pantheon of all-time great love songs. (Or at least all-time great lovers quarreling songs). I never minded the fact that Legend seemed basically stuck in one gear all the time, never venturing far from his R&B/Soul sound, even when it meant some of his material sounded borderline repetitive. But the man is a crooner. He’s old-school like that. And I like that about him. So when I heard the first single off Legend’s upcoming third studio album, “Green Light,” I was confused. Something like: “Wait, this is John Legend? Really? Wow, dude’s really going in a different direction on this one, huh?” And that he is. “Green Light” is a catchy uptempo synth-fest, which still allows Legend to get on his love story tip, yet sounds unlike anything he’s ever done before. And this new, loosened up John Legend is brought out of his shell by a jocular (and literally laughing at times) Andre 3000, whose guest verse appears to slip away from him towards the end, only for him suddenly reveal he’s been freestyling the whole time. Jokester. But Andre’s “throwaway” line directed at Legend as the track rides out really says it all: “Sometimes you gotta step from behind that piano!” He definitely did.

2. Lady GaGa Feat. Colby O’Donis – Just Dance

There’s something I want to say that applies to both my second and third picks: there was a time when “pop” music (aka “popular” music) meant that the music itself was easily accessible and enjoyable to the average listener. But it absolutely did NOT mean that the music had to simplistic, dumbed-down, or mediocre, and it did NOT mean that it was to be made largely by talentless artists with no skills or ideas of their own. The Beach Boys and The Beatles were a far cry from the modern-day no-talent-ass-clownery of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Thus, I want to highlight two new “pop” singers who bring a little more to the table. First, Lady GaGa. Horrible name aside, this 22 year old New York City lifer and downtown scenester actually possesses far greater talent than our average pop singers of today. The girl went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts at age 17 and Tisch isn’t like a record company — they don’t just let anybody in and hand ’em a mic. You gotta have more talent than 99 percent of the population, and Lady GaGa (sorry, but my god I hate that name) certainly has talent — the girl’s got a powerful and clear voice built for tearing down arenas and stadiums (in a good way). Her lyrics are fun, playful, and poppy to be sure, but they’re also slightly wacky and even a little edgy (gasp!) at times. “Just Dance” is the first single off her debut album, and it features rising male pop star Colby O’Donis. It’s just funny because I’ve never noticed that O’Donis had a weak or lousy voice before –and he doesn’t, really — but he is COMPLETELY outgunned and gets COMPLETELY shown up by the overly talented newcomer, Lady GaGa. So just try to forget about the clothes, the hair, and the makeup. That isn’t the point of pop music. Instead just remember the voice.

3. Keke Palmer – Bottoms Up

An even more interesting case of a new pop singer with a little too much actual talent is Keke Palmer, who’s still known mostly for her roles as a child actor in films like Akeelah and the Bee and Jump In!, though now seems to be transitioning into the music world. Now I haven’t seen either of those movies, so I have no idea if she can act. (I bet she can). But damn can she grab hold of song and take it for a ride under her control. And it’s not just that Palmer can actually sing well, it’s that she easily flits back and forth between her singing and some shockingly convincing rapping, which somehow (I have no idea how, seriously) manages to avoid sounding the least bit awkward or forced. “Bottoms Up” is clearly just a fun party track with a better-than-it-has-to-be beat before anything else — the title says it all –regardless of how you interpret the type of “bottoms” Palmer is encouraging us to raise. But here’s the thing: Palmer’s still young. How young, you ask? Very young. So now I ask that you take a good listen or two to “Bottoms Up” before running over to “the Google” to find out just how old the lovely and talented Ms. Palmer actually is. After hearing the song for the first time months ago and doing that very thing, my jaw practically hit the floor. Her self-confidence on the mic and her natural command of the song is utterly incredible for anyone Palmer’s age, so if this girl doesn’t become a star now, she damn well should be one someday.  

JustJake’s Picks

1. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine

This weeks picks are from my two favorite females in pop (I guess that’s what it’s called). This first one is the title track off Fiona Apple’s extraordinary 2005 album, Extraordinary Machine. Time and again, I keep coming back to this album which has proven that it deserves every bit of credit that it got when it was released. Under the tutelage of superproducer Jon Brion, Apple broke new ground on this record, not only for her but for female pop stars in general. This song, by far my favorite of hers, is just one example of the album’s quirky-beautiful arrangements and Apple’s subtly-perfect timing.

2. Joanna Newsom – Bridges and Balloons

Another opening track to a strange, sensory, and groundbreaking album, “Bridges and Balloons” is a fantasy and a journey. I haven’t really figured out where Newsom and her nymph-like voice is taking us, but it’s somewhere quiet, fluid, and pretty. Her harp is a flurry of beautifully constructed melodies and is the true star of Newsom’s music, although many don’t get beyond her voice. Her style can seem queer or even creepy, but after watching her captivate an entire opera house, with standing ovations to boot, I will defend her magic and its power, however odd they may appear.

roswellmueller’s Picks

1. Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma

I’ll start off by saying that I do not like Vampire Weekend. While I can sort of understand their appeal, I just really am not impressed in any way by this album – the exception being Oxford Comma. For the life of me I can’t decide why I like this song, I just know that I can’t get it out of my head and have kept it on my commuting playlist for weeks now. It might be the irritatingly catchy lick at the center of the song, or the simplistic drumming reminiscent of Ringo at his most unimaginative, I’m not sure. I just hope I either get sick of the song, or it stops getting stuck in my head sometime soon.

2. Maps & Atlases – The Ongoing Horrible

A month or so ago, Mr. Michael-Bradley put up Maps & Atlases – Trees, Swallows, Houses on Quick Hits. Now, I’ve never listened seriously to math rock but this record completely sold me, unbelievable musicianship. An early favorite (probably because it’s the most accessible from an outsider’s perspective) is “The Ongoing Horrible.” Lacking the frenetic pacing of the albums other tracks, the song highlights Maps uncanny ability to create intricate harmonic landscapes through crisp, meticulous technique and complex rhythmic structures.

3. Peter Gabriel – That Voice Again

I’m currently in the midst of a nostalgia binge, reverting back to some of the old chestnuts from my childhood. Specifically, the period where my parents’ music was still the only stuff I was listening to (I’ll spare everyone the Kenny Loggins and Gordon Lightfoot my dad was partial to around this time period). But, it should come as no surprise that Peter Gabriel was in heavy rotation for as long as I can remember being able to recognize the music that was playing around me. Either by osmosis or on its musical merits, which are considerable, “So” remains one of my favorite touchstone albums to return to every now and again.

Carman’s Picks

1. Lizzy Mercier Descloux – Sports Spootnick

The story of Lizzy is pretty cool actually: hot French chick comes to New York in the ’70s, befriends Patti Smith and Richard Hell, and records cool mutant disco. Mambo Nassau, her second album, was a departure from the sparse sounds of post-punk disco (like the ESG and Bush Tetras I posted before) that she helped establish with her debut album Press Color. Instead it was a globetrotting pastiche of world music that sounded like the Talking Heads on acid. Interestingly enough, it was recorded at the same studio in the Bahamas where Tom Tom Club recorded their debut album and Wally Badarou contributes synths to both Mambo Nassau and the Heads’ Speaking in Tongues.

2. Alice Coltrane – Sita Ram

Alice Coltrane is an unusual and incredibly influential figure in the jazz world whose impact cannot be minimized by the enormous shadow cast by her husband. Not only was one of her main instruments of choice rather unusual (harp), she was one of the primary figures in developing fusion by introducing Eastern spirituality to the music and also emphasised the organ (much like Larry Young and Jimmy Smith, but in a different way) as a lead instrument. On top of all that, her free jazz leanings not only continued to the idea of spotaneous spirituality and expression that John showcased, but also made emphasized the peaceful and meditative qualities of the style with her gorgeous string arrangements. Universal Consciousness, the album from which this cut appears, is her finest of these early records.

Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused? (Part II of II)

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(If you haven’t read last week’s post, “Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused? Part I of II,” click here to backtrack to it before reading Part II below).

First let me start by apologizing for taking so long to get you guys Part II of the Sam Sparro story.

Frankly, I blame the drugs.

(And Hillary Clinton).

That being said, buckle up for the longest post of all time. But I’m throwing in links to all the songs, as well as a few pictures to make up for it. Okay, here we go………

So I realize that giving up Sparro’s excellent first single, “Black and Gold,” as an introduction to his music is a little like having sex on the first date — I gave up the goods without making you work for them. But as is often the case after people have sex on the first date, I wasn’t merely placated or satisfied by hearing “Black and Gold,” rather my appetite was whetted, and I was left wanting more. (Um, more Sam Sparro, that is). If anything, “Black and Gold” succeeded in roping me into the house of mirrors that is Sam Sparro. Now, I was trapped.

But how does the rest of his first album hold up in comparison to its lead single? Does it pale or do the other tracks back it up? Exactly what kind of music does this kid make anyway? And what of the God references? Was “Black and Gold” a one shot deal that just happened to be about Sparro’s search for God? Or would I discover the world’s first “Electro-soul spoof-disco-pop mixed with religious-funk-house” album, with lyrics wrought with religious references and questions at every turn? Because while I like to consider myself as having an eclectic and wide-ranging musical taste — and with apologies to the elder Mr. Falson — Christian Rock just isn’t among my preferred genres, nor do I plan on making it one.

Well the truth is, Sparro’s self-titled album is, not surprisingly, much like he is — it’s a true reflection of himself. Not an exact reflection, that isn’t what I mean. But an honest reflection, a real one. Shrouded in mixed signals yet entirely open to interpretation. Questioning, yes, but only in his authoritative and ever-urgent voice. Bouncing from one genre to another, with only ambiguous connections in between. Serious and introspective in one moment, then bubbly and ridiculous in the next. A God-fearing man of faith who also happens to smoke mad weed. Maybe. Who hides his pain behind fun, friendly, and sometimes silly dance tracks. In other words, Sam Sparro the album and Sam Sparro the man are both, well…..consistently inconsistent. Complex and confusing. Unsurprisingly surprising. (Now how’s that for confusion?)

But that isn’t to say there’s no meat left on the album’s bones after “Black and Gold.” True, it is quite easily the best track on Sparro’s album — I’ll tell you that right up front. But that’s largely due to its accessibility. The track just somehow works, and you don’t even have to think about why. And though three different listeners might put “Black and Gold” in three different genres of music, none of the three would find themselves saying, “What the fuck am I listening to?”

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Sam Sparro – Complex or Confused? (Part I of II)

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Sam Sparro is an intriguing character. Everything about him seems not exactly mysterious, but at least somewhat cloudy: his name, age, heritage, sexuality, religious influences, musical pedigree, lyrics, intentions, and sense of humor are all cloaked in one way or another. Even his album cover is a bit disguising.

And then there’s his music.

Don’t even try to define that.

House?…Soul?… Spoof?…Funk?

Electro?…Disco?…Religious?…Pop?

Electro-soul spoof-disco-pop mixed with religious- funk-house??? It’s enough to make you crazy.

Or maybe it’s just plain fun. Because when you get past Sam Sparro the man, and instead just focus on his music, things can get extremely enjoyable. But whether or not Sparro wants his listeners to ignore his upbringing, lifestyle, and motivations in order to just hear his music is up for debate. Though I think he’d like us to be able to understand him, I’d still love the chance to ask him how he feels. But there is one thing about Sam Sparro that is neither mysterious nor cloudy, complex nor confused. In fact it’s not even remotely questionable:

“Black and Gold,” the first single off Sparro’s just-released eponymous first album (Island 2008), is absolutely and completely undeniable. It is currently sitting at Number Two on the UK Singles Chart, bested only by the musical atrocity that is “4 Minutes” from Madonna and Justin Timberlake. (What? Bitter? Who, me? Nahhhhhh.) Sparro’s voice is remarkably dark and soulful, especially for a young, white, hipster-looking kid. He sings with a tinge of yearning and palpable sense of urgency — when Chaka Khan first heard Sparro sing years ago she’s said to have exclaimed, “Damn! That white boy can sing.” — and the accompanying beat is utterly infectious. It seeps slowly into you, and doesn’t leave easily.

Now I’m not claiming “Black and Gold” is a great song, or even a good one, though I happen to think highly of it. It’s just that you can’t deny it. It’s insistent. Kind of like “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John — you may not even like their music (I don’t) or the song itself (meh), but there’s just something about it that ropes you in a little bit no matter what you do. The same is true of Sparro’s “Black and Gold.” You don’t have to be a loyal customer of whatever kind of music it is that Sparro is selling, you just can’t help but buy in, even if only for a second.

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Written by Jonathan

April 30, 2008 at 12:52 pm

A Belated Look: Mary J. Blige – Growing Pains

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I’ve been keeping Mary J. Blige’s latest album, Growing Pains (Geffen 2007), at the bottom of my record pile for months — unopened, unheard. I must confess this was not a matter of simple oversight, nor a case of procrastination.

I just didn’t want to hear it.

See, it’s borderline sac religious for a hip hop and R&B fan not to like Mary J. But despite her being a near-constant presence in the New York music scene for the last fifteen years, I’ve just never been able to get into the so-called “Queen of Hip Hip Soul.” She doesn’t have Whitney’s pipes — I’m referring to vocal cords here, people, not crack paraphernalia — Mariah’s range, Jill Scott’s soul-food soul, or India Arie’s earthiness. And she damn sure doesn’t have Janet’s dance moves. In fact, Mary J. Blige is one of the most awkward, out of sync dancers I’ve ever seen. She makes Dame Dash look like Savion Glover.

Now, I’m not saying she doesn’t have talent (she does), or charisma (definitely), or marketability (8x platinum, anyone?), but it has been her human vulnerability and open honesty (concerning her bouts with drugs, alcohol, and abusive relationships, not to mention being molested at age five) that has driven her record sales for the last ten years. Her music is real and it is genuine. And this is a good thing — I like that in an artist. But I’ve always thought Mary was…well, in a word: overrated. Historically almost all of her best songs have been collabos/duets: “Real Love” (Remix) with Biggie, “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By” with Method Man, “Love Is All We Need” with Nas, “Back 2 Life 2001” with Jadakiss, “Family Affair” (Remix) with Jadakiss and Fabolous, and “911” with Wyclef Jean. Not to mention everything with Jay-Z. The list goes on.

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Who the F**K is M. Pokora?

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At this point in time, that’s still a good question for most of us. Unless of course you happen to live in France. In which case you already know exactly who this guy is. And you’ve probably seen his nipples. Many times.

Huh?

Okay, let me start by saying it’s not an easy task to find a picture of M. Pokora (né Matthieu Totta, aka Matt Pokora, bka M. Pokora — something about lawsuits — don’t ask, it’s the French) with his shirt on. Kind of like Matthew McConaughey. The guy seems allergic to shirts. Or maybe it’s that shirts are allergic to him. Either way, he’s just that kind of, um, artiste, because what he really is…well, what he really was… is a French pop star. In fact, Pokora even got his pop start in 2003 on a dreadful Euro TV show aptly named, Popstars, which sounds like a gloriously hedonistic mash-up of American Idol and Diddy’s Making the Band: Part 47 on MTV.

In other words, just a level of awesomeness that us Americans cannot even fathom nor comprehend. (Oh well, our loss.)

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