Archive for May, 2010

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A Fresh Start

May 26, 2010

Let’s talk about that word, “reinvention.”

I want you to think about Madonna. Think of her early songs: “Holiday,” “Borderline,” “Like a Virgin,” “Like a Prayer,” “Vogue.” While there are stylistic differences in her songs, overall they are pretty similar (seriously, listen to The Immaculate Collection from end to end). Now let’s think of the hits of her next 10 years as depicted in her second best of GHV2: “Deeper and Deeper,” “Ray Of Light,” “Music,’ “Don’t Tell Me.” There’s a little bit of difference both among those songs and between her first and second ten years. Her musical and stylistic reinvention is gradual.

Meanwhile, Christina Aguilera knocks out a new self like a pro with every new album. Let’s break it down:

1999: Blonde ex-Mickey Mouse Club teen pop pre-diva with R&B beats, baggy clothes and compressed vocals.

2002: Powered up gothic stripper thong feminist ready to bring you to your knees with a voice to match her convictions.

2006: Greatest Generation big band jazz singer with platinum blonde hair, big curls, and a new-old take on the idea of “the greatest singer in the world.”

After picking up Christina Aguilera’s best-of Keeps Getting’ Better: A Decade of Hits, this chameleonic cannon  could never be more apparent. It also made me realize which versions of Christina I like.

The first four songs on the album come from her self-titled debut when she was ready to emerge hot on the heels of Britney Spears. I almost always skip past them. It just reminds me of how similar those teenybopper acts sounded in the late 90s and early 2000s. The stuttering click-and-pop beats that were the style at the time come off as dated (especially “Come On Over”), the vocals aren’t that daring (“What A Girls Wants”) and frankly sound more processed than her later work (“Genie In A Bottle”), and she fails to distinguish herself from her contemporaries. To be fair, she was a new artist and her label probably didn’t want to take as many risks until she was proven.

The next three songs are from her 2002 album Stripped. As her teenybopper peers dropped out of the game (Mandy Moore), started breaking up (N Sync), or amplified their act harder (Britney Spears), Christina ditched her management and started to play by her own rules. She got raunchier, but unlike Britney, she never pleaded innocence. Christina used her provocative material as means of self-expression and empowerment (hence “thong feminism”), as is indicated in “Dirrty.” The idea of power is also seen in striking out against an ex (“Fighter”) and in bringing up herself and the listener despite what others say (“Beautiful”). Sadly, that album’s fourth single “Can’t Hold Us Down,” is not included on the compilation, which is crummy because song also extends the power theme in taking on male privilege, plus it has a cool slowed down, minimal old school beat. In addition to her thematic divergence, Christina also expands her sound via her collaborators. Borrowing from the Mariah Carey playbook, she hooks up with the criminally underrated rapper Redman and the producer Rockwilder on “Dirrty.” She blurs the lines between pop, rock, and hip-hop on “Fighter” where Dave Navarro of plays guitar over Scott Storch’s hard-ass stadium production. Linda Perry, fresh off of helping Pink morph from an R&B singer to a confessional, self-deprecating pop-rocker, runs the show on “Beautiful.” I love these songs, even the slow one, because they feel so full of life and purpose and they are catchy to boot.

Four years later, Christina had made some changes in her personal life. She got married, dyed her hair platinum blonde, and turned into the Marilyn Monroe of the 21st century for Back To Basics. For the three songs included from that album on this best-of, you can really feel the jazz and swing influences in the music, reflecting Christina’s growing up. DJ Premier makes brassy breakbeats on “Ain’t No Other Man,” and Mark Ronson joins the Aguilera/Perry writing team on “Hurt,” but the A-game from this period is on “Candyman,” a very catchy, very dirty swing song. The difference in the dirty between the song and “Dirrty” is its air of classiness. It’s more of a burlesque, warm dirtiness, and it speaks to her maturity as an artist. “Candyman” is one of my favorite songs on this compilation, but as a group, I don’t find the Basics tracks quite as likable as the Stripped songs. They are still some neat songs from a pretty cool version of Christina.

Keeps Gettin’ Better concludes with a 4-song set of new songs and remixes from Christina and Linda Perry. The 2 remixes are passable, but the new songs are solid dance pop with an electro flavor that match the compilation’s mini-reimagining of Christina as a comic book superhero. I was really feeling “Keeps Gettin’ Better,” but that may just be because of its shuffle beat and grinding bassline, and I love a good bassline.

I would say that this compilation is a neat introduction to the singer for new fans or casual listeners like me who passed on the songs when they first came out. Keeps Gettin’ Better is also a great study of how a pop singer can reinvent herself every 3-4 years, in sometimes radical ways, and still come out swinging.

So, Christina Aguilera’s new album Bionic is coming out June 8th. It’s her first new album in 4 years. Between the new video and the album cover, Ms. Aguilera looks to have reinvented herself yet again, this time as some sort of cyborg dominatrix from Mars.

Bring it on, Xtina. Bring it on.

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DJ On A Dime

May 25, 2010

 

With all the messy business about the poverty line and student loans, people need their money. But there is this music out there and sometimes you want it! Save a little money for hot tracks by getting your dance fix below!

First David Guetta along with his main man on the mic Chris Willis teams up with Fergie and LMFAO for the remix of the single “Gettin’ Over.” While “Sexy Chick” seems to get all of the radio airplay, at least here in Denver, “Gettin’ Over” is a damn catchy single. The always-solid RCRD LBL has a few free remixes of the single from Thomas Gold and Sidney Sampson.

Next, Electrorash has some hot underground dance from the brand new record label Ghetto Division straight out of Chicago. The free tracks from Rob Threezy and Louie Cue are more solid grooves than peaktime scorchers, but sometimes its good to have substance over style. Play these songs against the Guetta tracks from the previous paragraph and see what I mean.

Finally, for something a little different, Dave Nada has a free EP called Punk Rock Latino. Dave Nada takes slowed-down house music and matches Spanish-language acapellas into a style he calls “Moombahton.” I haven’t heard bootlegs like this in a long time.

Keep those mixes coming!

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The New Art Glam

May 24, 2010

 

Lady Gaga makes mainstream pop that should be OK for hipsters to like.

Her music is hyper-weirdness turned on its head. How do people like this stuff? How is she in the top 40 pulling the kind of stuff she pulls? Were her dance pop predecessors that different? Was her acceptance gradual? Did she worm her way in with lowest-common-denominator jokes alternated with depressing pathos like Eminem?

She is showing progression. Her most recent EP, The Fame Monster, is a scary progression from her album The Fame. The beats and diva moves are still there, but tales of the Paparazzi and Boys, Boys, Boys are replaced with vampire domination and violent, psychotic love. Even an innocuous song like “Telephone” is accompanied by an epic prison video to rival “Thriller.”

But she is not a punkish art thug who has a message but can’t play her instruments like the Sex Pistols. She knows what she is doing and she can do things no ordinary people can. She is a superhero (or supervillain). She can play the system with a less-riskier record and then up the ante. Since it is she who is writing the songs and playing the instruments, she has more control over what she does. Her art is one of competence. She made herself.

She is the new Andy Warhol. In addition to her music she continues to write songs and produce. She has her own fashion lines and she is seeking a milliner internship to learn more. Her music featured in South Park and led to its inclusion in Rock Band as DLC. She is famous and may get others famous, if only for 15 minutes. But Andy Warhol, while popular in the counterculture, likely never got Chelsea Girls nominated for best picture or The Velvet Underground and Nico on American Bandstand.


What differentiates her from her artier ancestors is that she is way more accessible. By wrapping her message, whatever it is, in these hyper-catchy club beats in order to parody them, she also makes straight-up good pop music one can hear on the radio.

Like both her glam and pop predecessors, fashion is a big thing for her – it seemed like she didn’t wear pants for the first year and half of her career. Since she got popular about the same time as Katy Perry did, it seemed as though she was another trashy pop tart. After her songwriting past and her burlesque history came to light, along with that SNL performance where she played piano while wearing an orbital apparatus, I started to look at her in a different light. Those crazy no-pants outfits and hoofy high-heels started to be signifiers of something else, almost barriers to misdirect her audience away from her personal life, which I think we won’t be hearing about until a long time into her career.

You have probably decided your opinion on Stefani Germanotta already. Her media presence is big enough that most casual listeners know who she is. Nonetheless she serves an important purpose in pop culture. She makes questions for us to ponder and while we ponder we can groove.

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Pop Pop Pop

May 20, 2010

 

Today I feel like pop music is fun again. By fun I mean a lot of records that get played on the radio have that electro, techno, and/or house sounds attached to them. The credit goes to artists, DJs, and producers like Kanye West, Will.I.Am, Lady Gaga, David Guetta and Dr. Luke, who are taking that electro-pop sound and matching it to big, catchy vocals.

But there are other ways to go with electro pop. It’s time to head to Norway and meet Anne Lilia Berge Strand, but you may know her as Annie.

Let’s talk about her second album Don’t Stop.

What I like about Annie as a singer is that her limited vocal range makes her sound shy, but her songwriting comes with confidence and emotion so on her best songs she comes across as a shy person bursting out of her shell or making the big romantic confessional in a John Hughes movie. Coming from a singer with a more whisper-and-boom range, the party songs would sound trite and the confessional songs would come across like Simon Cowell wrote them.

Annie’s performance style also holds the whole album together. She worked with a number of different producers and musicians. The resulting is stylistic diversity which would break an album under a lesser singer, but comes out like a very quirky and smart dance pop record.

Two of my favorite songs on this album illustrate this dichotomy. “My Love Is Better” is a dance rock roller rink extravaganza with Xenomania and Franz Ferdinand teaming up to turn Annie into a nerdy disco queen.

Meanwhile “Take You Home” finds Annie taking us back to her house and serenading us with her organ. But things don’t get all lovey-dovey or even emo. They get complicated and sad and give this otherwise cheerful album a melancholy center.

“I don’t love you / I want to take you home”


This album leaked to the internet in 2008 and came out for real in 2009 with 5 more songs, but only if you buy it on CD. I have had yet to see this album at my local Best Buy or Borders, but I have seen it at both Twist And Shout in Denver and Earshot in Greenville. Support your local record store and support awesome dance pop artists.

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The Latest Crazy

May 19, 2010

In America, new media, including music, comes out on Tuesday. A new batch of records has hit today, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Today I want to talk about a new batch of crazy stuff that has been going on in the music world.

First, did you know Charles Miner was a rapper? It’s news to me! I know there have been many rappers, including Mos Def, Ice Cube, and Ludacris, who have made solid transitions into acting from their main hip-hop careers. However, the reverse is rarer. How many actors (or athletes for that matter) can you name who have gone onto commercial success and/or commercial credibility as MCs?

Honestly I think King Driis’s song has a neat organ beat and his accent rides nicely over the sun-scorched riddim. The video doesn’t aim for too much, but it’s a solid party. And hey, dude was in RocknRolla.

It’s at least as good as when Boy George made a dancehall record.

In other news, Lady Gaga is hitting the job market! Specifically, she has applied for an internship with milliner (a kind of hatmaker) Philip Treacy. PT has a record for crazy high fashion haberdashery, and Ms. Germanotta is no stranger to the fashionably freaky, so from my perspective of ignorance, they seem like a good match. I just feel bad for the other aspiring interns because no one can compete with Lady Gaga for an open job. You could be interviewing for a software engineering position at Oracle and all the credentials in the world won’t stop the Gaga from knocking you out of the box.

Finally, David Shields has a new book, Reality Hunger, that is composed almost entirely of quotes from other written works. What does this have to do with music? Marco Roth’s really long review of the book at n+1 doesn’t make the comparison directly, but it reminded of reviews I read about sample-based albums like DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing and The Avalanches’ Since I Left You, albeit in a more critical light of the idea of crate digging. The book is generating controversy and I find myself on the fence about giving it a go. While I regularly listen to music comprised of samples and have engaged in making mashups and bootleg remixes myself, I find myself hesitating to buy a copy and I think that has to do with the medium of books. While the remix culture of the internet has made music, film, and video games easy to revise and repackage, is the same true with the written word?

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All Over The Dancefloor

May 17, 2010

Oh man! So much going on

As usual, RCRD LBL comes through with the dancefloor fire. The Scissor Sisters have generously leaked a preview track for their forthcoming album Night Work due out next month. “Invisible Light” is like a trip to some 80’s dystopian pleasure dome, which is a lot like the Sisters’ first album. Could this be a return to form for the band? I’m just happy to see that they keep making music.

Meanwhile, XXXChange, the producer from Spank Rock, goes to work on Kele Okereke. Kele is fresh out of Bloc Party with some new solo material, and XXXChange’s remix of “Tenderoni” takes the song into pounding, pounding techno territory.

By the way, if you dug the Kele/XXXChange song, XXXChange switches up the game with a more disco-fied mix of Cee-Lo’s hot “Hello Miss,” which is a totally free download on the ATL RMX compilation. The mix also features tracks and remixes from Young Jeezy, Flying Lotus, B.o.B., Prefuse 73 and more. Adult Swim has pulled together a cool fusion of southern hip hop and electronic music. Personally I feel that the compilation is crazy uneven, but free is free.

I would like to get more into this later, but Ninja Tune, one of my favorite record labels, is counting down to its 20th Anniversary. Not many labels outside of the majors last 10 years, let alone 20 in these turbulent times. They’ve set up a Ninja Tune XX site with a 20 week countdown to the big Two Oh. Get to it!

Rest In Peace, Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010).

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Internet Roundup

May 12, 2010

Yee ha! It’s time for a roundup of a few things on the internet range!

One of the up and coming dance acts that I’m finding just so freakin’ fun is Monarchy. They have that 80s disco sound, that’s for sure, but what sets them apart from similar new electronic duos is this vibe of sincerity that I get from both their tracks and remixes. There’s some restraint there too, which is a nice change of pace from the balls-to-the-walls hard dance perpetuated by Steve Aoki and his Dim Mak gang that seems crazy popular. You can dance if you want to, but you can also sit back and listen. DISCODUST has a solid intro to the group if you’re interested.

GarlandGrey at Tiger Beatdown has an essay in defense of women’s music, specifically women’s voices. Literally. Not just music from the “voices” or perspectives of women, but literally songs sung by women. The defense comes in response to male music critics who claim that they don’t like the sound of women’s voices. I know, I was initially surprised to hear that anyone would make such a claim, but…damn. Come on guys, how can you knock on the voices of more than 50% of the world’s population? Imagine the opposite, not liking men’s voices. That’s from Adam Lambert to 50 Cent to Andrea Bocelli to HRRRGGNNNGH. That kind of blind prejudice is just sad. I must give props to GG for calling this out, for sometimes in music critic circles this kind of thinking goes unchecked.

Finally, the Onion AV Club has another funny nostalgic piece in its series of recaps on the Now That’s What I Call Music Compilation Series. This time it’s Vol. 7. If you can think back to what was hot in 1997 and go from there, these are great essays.

I’ll have some music up later this week. Happy reading and happy rocking!