Archive for January, 2011

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Thoughts on American Idol: Audition Week 1, Part 2

January 21, 2011

Original Image From Wikipedia

Note: I am not a fan of the audition rounds on American Idol. I find the pace too fast, the montages inane, and the freakshows not that funny. Then again, I concede the audition rounds are the favorite parts of the show for a lot of people, specifically for the unintentional comedy. I try to keep up with the many contestants, but often it isn’t until the top 24 where I really feel like I can start picking favorites and diving into the contestants’ onstage personalities.

  • The judges’ intro: aaaaaannnnnnddddd Steven Tyler is still acting like a douchebag.
  • It wouldn’t be a New Orleans audition without Seacrest forced into some “Ah gay-ron-tee” patois.
  • This musician Jordan could have potential. He rocks the keyboard and I liked his interaction with his 6 year old student. To top it off, his double-time audition had some pop to it. That said, “Over The Rainbow” is another one of those audition songs that I feel like 1000 or so people trot out and I roll my eyes when someone sings it.
  • During Sarah’s audition, on the subject of her lips: “Steven, are you part of her family?” You know Randy, Steven Tyler has been touring a lot since the late 70s. Aside from that, I really liked her fashion sense and her smoky voice.
  • I was really feeling Jovany’s singing (and his suit!). I can’t remember the last contestant to come audition singing en Español. I hope he makes the top 12 and does more of this.
  • I hope Dave, the 16 year old with the big red hair and beard makes it through. His big hair and high voice remind me of Claudio Sanchez from Coheed and Cambria and that would be cool to see on TV. He did crack his voice a few times during his audition, and hopefully he will get over that soon lest I lose patience with him like I lost patience with Sanjaya Malakar.
  • Oh man, Gabriel: With his 70s haircut, striped shirt, acoustic guitar, and shit-eating grin, I want to punch this guy before he plays a note. Then he starts singing “Bad Romance,” and he hit a lot of the notes. The man sounded great! It was like Adam Lambert went all astral projection and took over Lee DeWyze’s body. It’s a pity the judges blocked him on song choice, because he performance style was a total surprise – down home on the outside, glam on the inside. I would have followed that.
  • I know the K-Fed lookalike was shown during the horror show reel and that guy was just a trainwreck, but seriously, I would like to see rappers audition and make it through the show. They have country weeks on the show, it’s only fair.
  • Idol Camp?
  • So when Randy started telling off an off-key contestant, he began to use many of the same Cowellisms, especially “Really, it was awful, really.” He is really taking charge of that top spot.
  • 15 year old Jacee sang in this high, “balls haven’t quite dropped” voice that made me want to yell at the judges – “Make him sing ‘Baby’!” Could he be the American Bieber that the show’s producers were dreaming of when they lowered the minimum age to 15?
  • Since this was only an hour-long episode, there weren’t too many contestants that horrified or annoyed me. I feel like most of the contestants they let through were at least mildly interesting or entertaining. Good episode.
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Thoughts on American Idol: Audition Week 1, Part 1

January 20, 2011

Original image from Wikipedia

Note: This is a new thing for me. I have watched American Idol for a few years (seasons 1, 5, 6, 8 and 9), and I’d like to throw my opinion into the mix. I watch these episodes on my DVR and review them as soon as I can watch them.

  • I predict that this will be the last season of American Idol. I think Fox wants this show to go out with 10 seasons and I think that it wants to buy time until Simon Cowell can port X-Factor over to the States. The show’s ratings have been dropping over the past few years, it has had trouble holding onto its judges, and fratty-looking white guys with guitars have won the past three years. If there isn’t a turnaround with the talent and show themes, I predict a cancellation.
  • I’ve held a few factory jobs, both as an hourly worker and as part of management, and one of the things I’ve found is that to have an appreciation of your job, it helps to know how it fits into the greater process. I bring this up because I’ve read a write-up or two that say the “cattle call” auditions and the actual “judge auditions” are separate. They would have to be. There’s no way those three judges can judge thousands of people. Instead, only a few hundred people make it to the judging rounds. The show’s producers cut thousands during the “cattle calls,” but that is never shown. The show is edited to make it look like it all happens over the course of two or three days. It’s so deceitful. I’m not saying they have to show the producers going through every contestant. Just acknowledge that it exists and that they pass both the stars and the freaks for ratings.
  • Kathy brought up a good point this past summer: the original judging panel had a producer (Randy Jackson), a singer (Paula Abdul), and an executive (Simon Cowell). This dynamic worked because you had judges who had worked with singers, marketed singers, and found commercial success singing. Each brought a different perspective to their critiques. While Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez may look for different things in singers, they both come from performance backgrounds. Jimmy Iovine, not Steven Tyler, should have been the third or fourth judge. Leave the “mentoring” to the guest celebrities.
  • Tyler and Lopez have demonstrated some ability to deliver feedback, although the judges early hemming and hawing and high accept rates were annoying (probably the fault of the editors). I must give props to Randy for stepping into the role of the constructive criticism curmudgeon, although his personal taste still rings far too conservative for me.
  • Man, the judges just can’t process contestants with musical theater performance styles. When I looked away from the guy in the plaid shirt, glasses, receding hairline, and chest hair, he belted halfway decent. He would have done well on Glee. At least they put the manic pixie Britney fan through. If she performs consistently, she could have the quirk + cannon vibe that made Siobhan Magnus my favorite contestant from season 9.
  • That 16 year old from North Carolina annoyed the snot of me. Her singing voice was halfway decent, but her talking was high and grating. I completely understand if she makes it through to the top 24, because she seems wholesomely cute and can sing.
  • Alright Steven Tyler, I am calling you out! Stop being such a damn perv around the 16 year-olds! You’ve been in a relationship since 2006. You’re a grandpa. It’s not cool when R. Kelly flirts with teens and it isn’t cool when you do it either.
  • I was digging Devyn Rush, the singing waitress. She seems to come from a quirky performing background (when you serve burgers and sing in some Johnny-Rockets-type establishment for a living, you have to have a sense of humor about it) and she can belt like it’s no problem.
  • Hey Fox, what’s with the stereotypical Japan music intro for Yoji Pop? Hey J.Lo, what’s the deal with talking to him like he’s 5 years old? The man actually sang pretty well considering the linguistic barrier. Kathy made a good point – “I’d like to hear J.Lo sing a song in Japanese and know the song only by hearing the sounds.” Y’all are just mean.
  • So far, no fratty white guys with acoustic guitars. I can only hope this trend will persist.
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Internet Roundup: Wake Up To Something New

January 18, 2011

Image from Mike_tn @ Flickr

First, Ladytron is back! I remember bumping “Playgirl” and “Sugar” back in the day, and it’s great to hear some new material from Mira, Reuben and co. New material is coming out from the band, as they seem to be gearing up for a greatest hits package called Ladytron 00-1. One of the new songs is “Ace Of Hz.” You can grab the original mix and the Punks Jump Up remix from Hard Candy. The remix takes the Ladytron cold urgency and pops it into the dancefloor.

Let’s talk about Hard Candy. Kathy got me into this blog after hearing about the Duck Sauce remix of Chromeo’s “Hot Mess.” They deal music along the pop/dance/electronic continuum with highlights on popular streams (I first heard of the new Britney Spears song through the site), as well as up and comers for download (Oh Land’s “Sun of a Gun”). You also see posts around more conventional pop/rock/soul artists like Duffy and Adele. The site’s posts are prolific, you get a lot of convenient streams via YouTube and Soundcloud, and the free downloads are frequent. A good start is the new Pnau song “The Truth.”

Another site that has made its way onto my regular list is Popdust, which is a pop music news site that’s run by, among others, Maura Johnston. Johnston has been one of my favorite music writers, having followed her since her days on Idolator. You get quick reviews, opinion pieces, trend watches (like the expanse of pop stars wearing thick glasses as fashion), and recaps like Cee-Lo Green’s appearance on SNL. (By the way, if the fashion glasses piece interested you, head to Feminist Music Geek for more on “Nerd Drag.”)

Speaking of Cee Lo on SNL, I thought he did pretty well on the show. I thought that the number of jokes that the show made on his “Fuck You”/”Forget You” single were not that funny and kind of annoying, but he seemed like he was having fun. His duet of “Islands in the Stream” with Jason Sudekis as Kenny Rogers was cute, and the skit leading up to his performance of “Forget You,” had funny moments (“Did you mean ‘cat’?” “No.”). I’m just happy we got to hear more than one song from Cee-Lo, as “Forget You” has been the only song that has been coming out of media, at least here in the States. “Bright Lights, Bigger City,” was pulsing and fun. I ended up buying The Lady Killer the next day.

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Retro Review: Endtroducing…..

January 9, 2011

Buy it and stream clips on Amazon

Summary: DJ Shadow (real name: Josh Davis), a quiet, unassuming guy from California’s academic capital, channels his depression and sense of mortality through a gajillion old records, interviews, and film clips to make what would become a cornerstone of alternative hip-hop.

Fun Facts

  • Note: Eliot Wilder’s 33 1/3 entry on Endtroducing….., consisting of a series of conversations Wilder had with Shadow, is a pretty comprehensive look into Shadow’s backstory and creative process. If you’re interested in digging more into the backstory of this album and its creator, I would recommend picking it up.
  • Endtroducing….. is comprised almost entirely of samples from 90 or so different recordings (though only 7 are credited in the liner notes) The only non-sampled elements on the album come from the rappers Gift Of Gab (of Blackalicious) and Lyrics Born (of Latyrx). Both rappers also happen to be members of the Solesides crew, of which DJ Shadow is also a member. Gift of Gab chips in a few raps that Shadow scratches up in “Midnight In A Perfect World.” Lyrics Born (who is also the guy on the right side of the album cover) provides a few spoken word clips on “Untitled” and “Why Hip-Hop Sucks In ’96.”
  • Shadow samples some films as well, including Silent Running, Blade Runner, and Prince of Darkness (that’s where those “Transmissions” on the album come from), as well as the Twin Peaks TV show. It’s kind of interesting given that VHS was still the dominant entertainment medium in 1995. I just wonder what kind of rig had to be set up to extract the sounds. (Thanks to Wikipedia for that info)

Ups

  • In the 33 1/3 book, Shadow tells Wilder about how he suffered from depression over the course of making this album. Suffering can often be a boon for an artist, and Shadow turns it into some ominous, scary chillout music. “Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt” features this deceptively simple blend of piano, basic hip-hop drums, and a chorus combined into what ghosts might listen to in the haunted ruins of office buildings. “Stem/Long Stem,” begins with what sounds like a harp and a few chimes and builds from there. The intermittent double-time rock drums and crazy keyboards are chase scenes in a horror movie. The mellower sections are foreboding like when the last teen is hiding from the killer after one such chase scene.
  • Another inspiration Shadow cites is driving along the highways in California early in the morning when the sun is coming up. The more positive songs have a zen, hazy quality, like when a marijuana user has a moment of clarity on the nature and purpose of the universe and things feel right. “Changeling” best encompasses this feeling by employing elements similar to “Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt,” only with happier-sounding chord progressions and blurrier vocal samples. “Midnight In A Perfect World” reminds me of walking through suburban Chicago or Ann Arbor at night in the winter. Everything is covered in snow, which is reflecting the street lights and making everything feel brighter. Most people are inside because it’s so cold, so it’s very quiet outside. It’s a good time to be reflective.
  • The spoken word bits are the album’s best kept secret. When I hear the stoned lady talking about Xanadu and Darth Vader on “Mutual Slump,” I don’t know whether to laugh at the non-sequitur or get nervous when she suddenly mentions “five feet under.” The intro of “Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain” consists of a lone recording of a redneck-sounding guy inviting someone in for a game of chess. The original source is probably innocuous, but without any music to define it, it feels weird and foreign. The story about getting arrested on parking tickets that pops up about 4:25 into “Stem/Long Stem” comes from a stand-up recording by the late Murray Roman. It may have been funny, but Shadow’s recontextualization turns it into the scariest thing you can hear.
  • One way that DJ Shadow was a pioneer among producers was his use of samples that fell out of the funk/soul/jazz continuum that made up the bulk of the hip-hop producer’s sound pool. Even though artists like Tone Loc and The Beastie Boys sampled rock records long before Shadow began work on Endtroducing….., those were higher profile samples. It’s very doubtful that even the seasoned listener would recognize most of the sounds this album. This album was put together by diving into piles of records no one else wanted. Wilder writes that Shadow’s use of old, forgotten records mostly by people who no longer have careers is like rescuing lost souls from old civilizations. Death pervades this album, but not always in a scary way.

Downs

  • Getting into this album requires patience. It took me a few tries before I really appreciated it beyond the beats. More than half of the songs on the album are more than five minutes long and favor slow, repetitive builds as Shadow adds and removes loops from the mix. Luckily, they are spread out over the album and are mixed with palatable party cuts like “The Number Song,” which feature more conventional DJ scratch moves on top of the ambience.
  • After getting into this album enough to where I ended up listening to it twice in a row, the only song I still don’t care for on the album is the Giorgio Moroder-sampling “Organ Donor.” Now, “Organ Donor” is probably my favorite song by DJ Shadow, only in its full length version that appears on disc 2 of this album’s deluxe version, or on the Shadow singles compilation Preemptive Strike. Shadow essentially makes a kick ass organ solo through creative sequencing and then throws sharp beats and scratches on top of it. On Endtroducing….., it’s cut to 1:55 and never really builds to the point of being interesting. Instead it gets swapped out for a cheesy g-funk keyboard meant to symbolize the conventional g-funk style of mainstream hip-hop on “Why Hip-Hop Sucks In ’96.” Now, Shadow opens both songs with the same sample, and by juxtaposing them together in the track list, he makes a gambit in an attempt to be clever. I just don’t care for it or feel that it ages well.
  • The variety of themes and sounds in the album and within the individual songs makes for great listening on its own, but difficult background music for chilling out or for dancing. This is the kind of record that asks for the listener’s attention, and that may limit its appeal.

Conclusion: Endtroducing….. is considered a key album in both alternative hip-hop and chillout electronic music. The sheer number of samples DJ Shadow creatively combines makes for incredibly dense and rewarding listening. It’s alternately intriguing, inviting, warm, cool, cold, manic, and scary. Getting into it may take a few listens, but I can assure you it gets better every time you crank it up.

 

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I’m So In Love With That Star Guitar

January 8, 2011

Love In The Stars,” a new mashup by Kodiax

So we’re a week into 2011. Some of us made resolutions and/or are going back to work/class. In any case, I feel that times are weird because the fun and expectations and the holiday season are over and now there’s renewed responsibility and purpose. On a personal level I feel like not a lot has changed, but I can feel big changes coming on the horizon. Some of these changes will happen on their own or through the actions of others. I must make others happen and I have to be optimistic.

On a “big idea” level, that sentiment was the inspiration for this mashup. The Chemical Brothers’ “Star Guitar” came out in my senior year of high school. Its melodic dance structure is bookended by a big crescendo and decrescendo. Its bridge has a warm tone with a blissed out chorus. It’s playing at the roller disco in the afterlife. “OMG” came out early last year, during the final phase of my rotation training program. Usher sings in a more restrained style than on many of his other singles. The song’s theme about crushing on a beautiful woman in the middle of the dancefloor leave’s the narrator in awe. The vocals communicate a blissed out earnestness that doesn’t quite match the thumping, punchy production of the original song. I tried to combine good elements from both songs.

On a practical level, this mashup came out of a long-form mix session. I felt that the songs really fit together technically. Rather than play it as a part in a greater work, I decided to pull the songs out and edit them into a self-contained song for easier consumption. I edited both song elements to better synch up with each other. I chopped up the “OMG” vocal to fit the “Star Guitar” drum track and I cut out parts of “Star Guitar” to make it more pop song-length and to reference the robotic nature of the original version of “OMG.”

For a limited time, please download this mashup for your dancing pleasure.

Ingredients

The Chemical Brothers – “Star Guitar” from the Astralwerks album Come With Us (2002)

Usher featuring Will.I.Am – “OMG” from the LaFace album Raymond v. Raymond (2010)

 

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DJ On A Dime: The Day The Future Met The Past

January 3, 2011

Image from Gilderic @ Flickr

All right! First off, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! I hope everyone’s 2011 has been off to a fabulous start! We may have fish and birds dying en masse in Arkansas as well a bunch of angry legislators who are resolved to damage the common citizenry, but hey, it’s not all bad. First, if you’re awaiting the apocalypse, you can read about how social networking will carry over into the times when we’re all forcibly LARPing Fallout. I for one am not counting on the end times. It wasn’t after the first millennium, it wasn’t Y2K, and it won’t be now. Why worry when you can kick back and rock out to some past greats and some stars I hope to hear more from this year. It’s all good, it’s all free: this is DJ On A Dime.

On the past side, Fluxblog has the Janet Jackson classic “Escapade.” The song is Janet at her pop star best, and the theme of the getting away with your love on the weekend may provide some consolation to those of us heading back to work or class this week. Matthew Perpetua also sheds some light into the song by comparing it to the Michael Jackson hit “The Way You Make Me Feel” and couching both songs in the context of the Jacksons’ upbringing. Even if you’re not into the Jacksons’ oeuvre, the post is just really good music writing.

Going further back in time, Disco Workout digs into the origins of Detroit techno with the obscure dance cut “Sharevari” or “Shari Vari” (the song has had different spellings over time) by A Number Of Names. I don’t know much about classic techno outside of Cybotron, but I thought this song, both its original and the more current-sounding remix from techno stars Vitalic and The Hacker, holds up pretty well. The original has this dusty exoticism to it and the remix pounds on like an army of robots who figured out the loophole in Asimov’s Three Laws. As a bonus, the post also includes Detroit garage rock icons The Dirtbombs covering the tune and making it into some old school disco funk. Gotta love that singer’s affected accent!

Now let’s look ahead to two artists from whom I hope to hear more in 2011. First off is New Yorker Chris Glover and his band Penguin Prison. On paper, PP come off like Mike Posner with all of the different genre influences, artistic growth in college, and high-range singing voices. Where Posner fits in the radio sounds of today, Glover and co seem to taking the slightly corny electro dance blueprint drafted by bands like Chromeo into more melancholy territory. Still, when this guy belts it’s like “what if Phil Collins fronted Depeche Mode?” I can’t wait to hear this band’s album! Right now you can boogie over RCRD LBL to download the Penguin Prison song “Something I’m Not” along with a boatload of kickass remixes (check out the Royal Palms take on “Golden Train”).

Finally, I really got into the up and coming North Carolina rapper and recent Roc Nation signee J. Cole. Cole has a very effortless but incredibly on beat flow, similar to Will Smith in the late 90s or when Kanye West was considered a new talent and kicked ass in rap battles. The production that’s been attached to some of the free stuff that has come out, especially his Friday Night Lights mixtape (which you can get from Cole’s site), is very laid back and really classes up all the action that’s going on. That doesn’t mean Cole is all chillout though. Go to RCRD LBL for a bass-heavy banger called “Who Dat.”

Again, everyone have a happy 2011! Good luck and take time to indulge a little and love a lot.