Posts Tagged ‘Trip-Hop’

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Thoughts on The Voice: Audition Round 5

February 27, 2012

Image from &y at Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Alright people, I think the coaches have fewer than 10 picks to make, so hopefully they can wrap this up and we can get to the much more fun and very probably rigged battle rounds.

Contestants’ Notes

-Whitney Myer is giving off that Nikka Costa vibe, and it’s not because of just her curly red hair. It’s also that light, uptempo, janky R&B. She’s doing “No One,” which I think was originally by Alicia Keyes, and I quite light this bouncy rendition. She earns turns from all four coaches. Whitney goes with Adam, whose experience fusing pop-rock and R&B might help develop her overall brand with minimal genre clash. What a good start to the show!

-David Boreanaz lookalike David Dunn goes the lite-rock route on “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.” When I heard the first few notes of this song, I thought this was going to be another jerk with an acoustic guitar, but I saw him with just a mic, which was a relief. David tried to make the bleh song lively with some walking around the stage, but he just didn’t have the emotion or charisma in his voice (and he just blew that falsetto section.) No turns for you!

-The Shields Brothers seem like some kind of rock n roll Coreys. At least their dual-tenor duet of “Dancing With Myself” is different than the usual schtick duo acts pull. Nonetheless, they have the same problem most of the duos on this show have – neither one of them is a very good singer individually. They skate by on their uptempo style and their harmonizing. They end up on Team Cee Lo.

-I must compliment Cheesa for taking on Beyonce, especially on the midtempo clunker “If I Were A Boy.” She starts off sounding way, way, way too low for her range at the start, but she pulls out the stops for the big, soaring chorus and knocks out most of the notes. I didn’t care for the performance because it felt like so much oversinging. Still, I respect her vocal prowess and she definitely has the charisma worthy of a Beyonce song. She gets a turn from Cee Lo.

-I think Preston Shannon could have used a sparser arrangement for “In The Midnight Hour.” singing was rough and solid, but it couldn’t quite stand out against the big, clean arrangement of the house band. While Preston seems to come from a blues background, he kept the soloing to the beginning and end. He was good on the axe, but it’s called The Voice, not The Guitarist. It’s too bad, and I hope this guy finds a good avenue for his art.

-OK, so the alliterative Lex Land lands two turns (Adam and Cee Lo) within the first 8 notes of the song, but damn she is undersinging the hell out “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” I heard serious mush mouth problems in her singing and the dulcet, plinky music didn’t help al all. Maybe if she did something with more menace and smokiness (Portishead, Goldfrapp, early-2000s Moby, etc.) she would have come across better. Then again I just want trip-hop to make a comeback. Eh, maybe Blake can help bring out her inner torch singer.

-Cameron Novack starts out strong, doing a weird Savage Garden-esque soft sell of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” Then he gets bogged down in the flow of the build up to the chorus (back off the freestyling, dude.) He then shifts to oversinging the chorus. Overall Cameron’s performance wasn’t too bad, but his abrupt shift in delivery style for each part of the song might have been too jarring. If he stuck to the restrained pop style or even charged in with aggressive oversinging I feel like he could have done better. Also, letting the coaches “cheat” and pick him after the turn would have set the worst precedent for the show, because then every hot contestant who walked up onstage would have a second shot, and that would be shitteous!

-At the start, Orlando Napier comes across as a low-key guy with a piano (which is still better than an acoustic guitar.) He got away from that once he got up from the piano, but he failed to win me over. The John Mayer song choice and Randy Newman singing style was a bad combination. Also…ENUNCIATE! Adam picks him has his final team member.

-Lee Koch has guts for taking on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which karaoke connoisseur Brian Rafferty called one of the worst songs to sing since the verses are so rambling and weird against the familiar chorus. Lee is trying his best with the material and doesn’t flub any of the lines, but he just could not hit those “how does it FEEL” lines in the chorus. He earned a turn from Christina through his harmonica playing, which in my opinion is a bad sign. I don’t like when competitive singers use instruments as crutches. It feels like cheating. I predict that he’ll get eaten alive in the battle rounds.

-WADE (is the all-capitalization really necessary?) tries something kind of cool with a warm Stax-ed out soul rendition of “Rehab.” Vocally WADE (and that’s the last time I’m all-caps-ing that) has bursts of greatness, especially in the verses, though he hit some rough spots in the other parts. He just needs a little practice. Otherwise he’s a good combination of traditionalism and risk-taking. Cee Lo should be able to work his voice out, as Wade becomes his concluding pick.

-Adley Stump takes on Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name” (uh-oh) and it’s a bit of a wreck. She wasn’t bad, just mediocre. You could walk into any karaoke bar, and someone singing that song would sound just as good. Frankly the performance felt like so much mediocre singing except for those few belts (which I concede gave me chills.) She really couldn’t sustain her run and stick the landing. Predictably, she heads for Team Blake, and I think he’ll have more faith in her. Maybe he’ll coach her on fashion as well (go-go boots, star bandana, and Victoria Jackson hair?) She is the last pick of Team Blake.

We get a brief montage of failed singers (the Beta lady who sang Jason DeRulo sounded kind of interesting to me.) Also, Danny Devito sings “Three Times A Lady” during a Lorax crossover commercial skit. I was just wishing he’d sing “Troll Toll” from The Nightman Cometh. Then….

-Sera Hill pulls out every trick in the traditional R&B singer book – up and down runs, extended holds, power belting – and she kills every one. I thought her song choice was super slow and boring (and way too Idol) but damn she was good! She was a pro doing her thing, and that’s just wonderful. She becomes the final pick of the show as the last contestant to join team Xtina.

And now a summary of tonight’s winners, in the order they were announced:
-Mark Ronson should pay attention
-“I can’t tell Corey Feldman from Corey Haim.
-Charisma without the power
-Will Beth Gibbons come on as a mentor?
-Bad meets icky
-Karaoke cannon fodder
-Tradition meets risk
-A lot of people could do that
-She could have a good run on Idol

And there we have it! We have our Top (shudder) 48! Tune in next week for the theatrical battle rounds and tune in tomorrow for the start of my recapping of American Idol’s Live Top 25 rounds. SO MUCH SINGING!!!

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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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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.