Posts Tagged ‘Chillout music’

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Review: Beth Ditto EP

July 7, 2011

Image from Amazon, where you can buy the EP

Summary: The Gossip singer strikes out on a cold urban dancefloor sojourn.

Fun Facts

  • Though this is Beth Ditto’s first solo record since her days in Gossip, this is not the first time she has worked together with Simian Mobile Disco, who produced this EP. She guest-starred on “Cruel Intentions,” which is on the SMD album Temporary Pleasure.
  • As far as I know, this EP has been released in two versions, one with the short “radio edits” of the songs and one with the longer cuts. For the purpose of this review I will be reviewing the shorter version you can buy on Amazon.

Ups

  • Ditto is a very pleasant singer. Her quavering, slightly hollow singing style is perfect for the yearning lyrics, yet powerful enough to command a dancefloor, as she demonstrates on “Do You Need Someone” and “Open Heart Surgery.”
  • Speaking of the lyrics, they capture the romantic uncertainty that occurs at a club or a house party. “I Wrote The Book” covers the guarded feelings of someone who has been burned by love and is going out newly single. “Good Night, Good Morning” reminds me of the ambiguity of dancing with a stranger for the first time. “Open Heart Surgery” conveys the damage that one lover can do because they’re in high demand and dangerous but you’re going to move on, dammit! “Do You Need Someone” closes the EP out with outreach to a new partner. The music brings imply the physical connection and Ditto’s lyrics hint at something beyond lust.
  • Musically Simian Mobile Disco split the EP between the dance tracks and the sexy chillout/makeout numbers. “I Wrote The Book” is a catchy lead single with its retro synthetic bassline, but “Open Heart Surgery” is the real burner on the EP. The keyboard line and percussion section reminds me of some of Madonna’s early 80s numbers, but the melancholy bassline is pure deep techno. It makes for a cool contrast. Meanwhile “Do You Need Someone” percolates with gurgling rubberband bass, rising keyboard arpeggios, and oscillating beats that make a great soundtrack for getting close.

Downs

  • Objectively I find several of these songs to be good for the dancefloor, but the dancefloors they remind me of are in dark, sparsely populated clubs and basements with low ceilings (particularly Smartbar inChicago.) That’s due to SMD’s cold and retro overall production, which had me nodding my head but left me feeling emotionally underwhelmed. Without Ditto’s charismatic presence to hold the whole thing down, the songs would put me to sleep.
  • The low point of the EP is “Good Night, Good Morning,” which comes off a little too rough and bleary with distortion to be romantic or optimistic.

Conclusion: This EP is a nicely balanced, albeit slightly alienating first solo outing for Ditto. If she expands on this effort for a full-blown album, I feel that she could increase her impact by collaborating with catchier producers and/or going back to her dance punk roots. Still this EP is musically solid, emotionally wide-ranging, easily relatable, and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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Retro Review: Breath From Another

August 15, 2010

Image from Amazon

Summary: Who knew trip-hop could rock? The Canadian singer/songwriter kicks off her recording career with an album that expands on the conventions of what chillout electronic music can sound like.

Fun Facts

  • Like Goldfrapp or Bon Jovi, Esthero is the name of both the singer and the band. Esthero sings, Doc plays the instruments, and both have production credits.
  • The band was a studio creation – Esthero and Doc wrote and performed the music on the album, but their partnership was engineered by Michael McCarty, then president of EMI Publishing Canada.
  • There’s a secret instrumental track (“Anywayz Pt. 2”) buried in the album about 5 minutes after “Swallow Me.”

Ups

  • Esthero’s smooth and smoky singing is beautiful but still has this warm quality to it. Her singing’s warmth makes it more approachable compared to that of Beth Gibbons of Portishead or Shara Nelson of Massive Attack.
  • Doc’s production sticks to the basic trip-hop conventions of hardcore hip-hop rhythm sections with jazz and worldbeat influences but expands on the genre through the frequent use of guitars in singles like “Heaven Sent” and “That Girl.”
  • The string sections are the album’s X-Factor and make the album stand out from other R&B and trip-hop records. They can make a song sound cinematic (“Heaven Sent”) or exotic (“Half A World Away”). The hook on “Country Livin’ (The World I Know)” makes me think of zipping around Monte Carlo in a sports car circa 1967.
  • There are just these other cool touches like the Deliverance sample that opens “Breath From Another”, the neat double-time shuffle drumline on “Lounge,” and how “Superheroes” uses effects processing to tweak an otherwise garden variety bassline into something spacey and dreamy.
  • The combination of the warm soul singing and classy, slightly edgy beats make for a very sexy total package. After the hip-hop of “Breath from Another” and the hard rock of “Heaven Sent,” the remainer of the record is straight-up makeout music.

Downs

  • The album runs out of steam towards the end. “Indigo Boy” plods along at too slow a pace, the sax on “Lounge” borders on Kenny G-esque smooth jazz, and the singing on “Superheroes” is a little flat. Luckily Esthero closes out the album with “Swallow Me” a Chick Corea-sampling electronic number that explains what drives her music – “Music was the lamb that made a lion out of me.”

Conclusion: This is another forgotten relic from the late-90s electronic music boom. Growing up near Detroit at the time, I first heard Esthero through 89X, the local alternative station which was based in Windsor (gotta love those Canadian content laws). I love this album because it’s warm, sexy, exotic, hard, and just a little weird. Unfortunately, this album isn’t available for digital download, but you can still track down copies through online resellers. If you like chillout electronic music, I would recommend checking this out.