Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New Music Seminar - Review

A few weeks ago, we were fortunate enough to attend the New Music Seminar in New York's Webster Hall, courtesy of Workman Entertainment + Public Relations (thank you WE+PR!). While there, we went to a whole host of seminars on a wide array of music related topics, including blogging, songwriting, production, social media promotion, etc.  The entire experience was incredibly informative.  Here are some of our thoughts:

It was very interesting to see many well-known "personalities" both on and off stage. Many people were absolutely lovely. Those we most enjoyed talking to and learning from included Billboard Magazine President and Editorial Director, Bill Werde. Bill hosted a panel on blogging that included Daniel Petruzzi (President of Okayplayer), Christopher J. Kaskie (President of Pitchfork), Anthony Volodkin (CEO of Hypemachine), and Matthew Perpetua (Founder of Fluxblog and contributor to Rolling Stone Magazine). At the end of panel, Bill casually sat on the edge of the stage, welcoming people to approach him and ask questions. When we came up to him, he was incredibly kind and generous with advice. Real advice; not some fluffy lollipop follow the yellow brick road to your dreams advice. He also flattered us, saying that we had distinct looks and personalities that are marketable. Do you hear that, readers? We're distinct and marketable! (giggles - we can't help but laugh. We are still so flattered!).

The seminars on songwriting and production were particularly impressive.  We wish that the executives and songwriters/producers could be placed on a single panel because every so often, they contradicted one another.  The prime example of this was when the executives said that they look for artists with a clear hit single in addition to placing already signed artists with proven hit-making producers. On the other hand, the producers on the producers' panel claimed to not go into the studio with the intention of making a hit single.  They were vehement about this.  One of the producers went so far as to say that they wouldn't even go into the studio with someone if they know that his or her intention is just to make a chart-topper!

Interesting conflict of statements, isn't it?  It's not like it isn't true in most cases. We believe this when it's stated by producers like David Kahn, who prove to value artistry and experimentation, and thus, work with singers who possess similar values (Regina Spektor). However, when someone like Benny Blanco, who is known for making radio-friendly POP, tells the crowd that it's all about the art, we don't believe it. If it was really about the art, he and his mentor, Dr. Luke, wouldn't charge extravagant rates that only hit-makers can command. Even Marina has testified to the fact that you don't go to Dr. Luke for an album track; he's too expensive for anything aside from a surefire single.

Another example involved Desmond Child saying that well-produced okay songs get more attention than poorly produced, great songs because corporate A&R have no imagination when it comes to spotting potential. Of course, the record executives spoke to the contrary the next day, saying they're more than willing to develop talent and match it with the proper production team if they sense that the artists' homemade demos possess that special something.  Oy oy oy.

The people who we appreciated the most & our reasons why:

1. Bill Werde - for reasons stated above.  You rock our world, Bill.  Thank you for taking the time to speak with us!

2. Desmond Child - for being a successful gay songwriter, and thus, acting as a positive role model for anyone in the LGBT community hoping to break into this same profession.  We remember him saying to bring lots of coffee and cookies to songwriters/producers we admire until we get the chance to work with them.  We're currently on our way to pick up an order of 2 dozen choco chip cookies and 3 venti lattes.  We may be broke, but we'll brown-nose till we're bleeding success!

3. Billy Mann - for being a genuinely sweet, kind man and telling us to never forget our love of music, regardless of how frustrating it may to be to get our break. Also, we love that he fearlessly produced P!nk's two most political, socially conscious singles: Stupid Girls and Dear Mr. President.

4. Ammar Malik - for convincing us that first impressions can indeed be wrong.  He came onstage sporting a huge, grungy beard, hipster flannel, and a skateboarder backpack, so we automatically assumed he'd a be a total douchebag.  Instead, our presumptions made us the douchebags. When Desmond Child said something along the lines of, "If you don't find any success or aren't the best at making music, don't waste your time. Go be a doctor and actually help people," Ammar responded, saying (in paraphrased terms, of course), "I don't agree with that. I went to school to be an English teacher and wasn't the best at music, but I loved it. As I kept plugging away, I found a way to do what I love."  Since graduating from college, he's contributed to hits such as Moves Like Jagger, Stereo Hearts, and Payphone. Thanks for being such an inspirational sweetheart, Ammar!

5. Justin "Just Blaze" Smith - The hip-hop producer gave it to us straight. No, he wasn't all lovey dovey, which we'd prefer, but he didn't glamorize anything. When one of us asked how we little people should go about making music (to get our big break) without having access to the same resources he does, Justin said to not worry about it.  A poor, Garageband copy is better than nothing, and that made us feel better, regardless of whether or not it's true.  He emphasized that patience and loyalty are key, telling us stories of how various people he's helped along the way have betrayed him when they didn't find immediate success.  Furthermore, he talked about finances and the business-side of things.  In this world, real how to handle money talk (not "check out my new Maybach" money talk) is very rare and greatly appreciated.  On both panels he contributed to, Just Blaze was the most upfront and the most memorable.

6. Michelle Vice-Maslin - for telling us her stories and also explaining the business from a pragmatic point of view, as Justin did.  Like him, she also made a point to say that patience and loyalty are key.  She advised that we never steal a songwriting job from a friend.  Doing so will burn more bridges than it will build.  If we wait, our time will come.  There is more than enough work to go around.  Thank you, Michelle, for being so warm and gracious.

7. Ron Fair - for asking smart, poignant questions to the executives on the A&R panel. He could have easily done the opposite, since they are his peers, but he wasn't scared to show the holes in modern-day A&R by asking challenging questions. Plus, he just seemed like an all-around great, approachable guy, much like Bill Werde and Billy Mann.

We're very grateful for the opportunity to have attended the New Music Seminar. It was certainly an eye-opening experience.  Some people were as kind off the stage as they were on, while others immediately hopped off, reaching for their assistants and managers to save them from the swarm of approaching people.  That's how you can tell the difference between someone who is genuine and someone who simply cares about detailing his/her Maserati.  The juxtaposition between the struggling attendees and the super successful panelists with their chauffeured Town Cars and Cadillac Escalades waiting outside was made all the more palpable by the latter type of panelists, making us grateful for those who actually cared about helping us find our own success.  Thank you!


Gregory & Minna

P.S. Pictures to come!!!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

International Love

Hey Y'all!

We've got some special news. After a super successful year, we've decided to expand Unapologetically POP INTERNATIONALLY. That's right, we're opening Unapologetically POP, Tel Aviv. Our Israeli bureau will be headed up by our one and only Minna. We mean that literally. Aside from myself, she's the one and only correspondent. These are tough times, y'all.

Please take note that in Israel, her name is pronounced MEENA, because she's actually really really mean - at least Azealia Banks' cult of followers thinks so. They may have threatened to "knife that Jewish bitch," but she's still here, eating her kosher bagels with bacon cream cheese schmeared all over (sorry Rabbi Greenberg)! Now, she'll be bringing those bagels to the promised land. Just call her Mrs. Worldwide. 

Thank you for all your love, you naughty naughty lovers. We've always said we wanted to spoil our readers with gift bags and various goodies. However, since we have no money, we'll be spoiling you with L-O-V-E. Without you, we wouldn't be as internationally prominent (or locally unrecognized) as we are today. We really do love you, though. Truly. Like I seriously mean it this time...hugs and kisses.


Gregory, xx

Friday, July 13, 2012

Download a posh new mixtape made by The Good Natured & Vince Clarke from Depeche Mode for FREE!

It is a well-documented fact that everyone loves a free download. It's also well-known that music bloggers love to receive information from music companies in their inboxes. So clearly everyone is a winner here.

The Good Natured are enjoying that magical time when public exposure is just bubbling under the surface. When it's cool to meet someone who has "heard of them" because they're teetering on the edge of a larger audience. When it's still exciting to promote them because chances are your friends haven't heard their music yet.  So here I am, promoting them, & asking "damn, have you heard this shit?"

It seems that lead singer Sarah reached out to the legendary left-handed synthPOP artist Don Vince Clarke (of Depeche Mode brilliance, as well as Erasure & Yazoo).  The two somehow hit it off & began their collaborative music-making on Skype, eventually creating an exclusive mix for BBC 6 Music as well as a quite excellent POP noir song called Ghost Train.  Now, if you know a thing or two about Vince Clarke, you will know that this man doesn't go out & collaborate with just anyone.  But it's easy to understand why he took a liking to Sarah right off the bat: the hairdos say it all. 

Makes sense, right?

Ride the Ghost Train of love, below.  And while you're at it, download it, because it's not bad at all now, is it?

Note to our readers: Keep your eyes on these guys.  The Good Natured have all the snap-crackle-POP of Kate Nash with all the savory sexiness of Rihanna... with a much-coveted dash of alternative credibility.  For more on The Good Natured, check out their website & follow them on twitter.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Colette Carr's new song is better than Sex

Yea, that's right. I said it.  Colette Carr's new song, produced by the truly wonderful Martin Kierszenbaum, is better than Sex... that is, her last song, Sex ft. New Boys (which was also quite good).  The point IS: dammit, y'all, Colette's songs get better & catchier with each release (though We Do It Primo was not exactly a hard act to follow...).  I am a very happy POP-consumer with the Colette Carr project.  Cherrytree Records has yet to disappoint me with any their artists & I am very glad to see that they are taking Colette in the direction of total silliness. POP performers take themselves way, way, WAY too seriously. In short, I hope the princess of comedic-Californian-white-girl-swagger has more lines like "while you're at it give that culo some besos" up her sleave.  MAKE IT GO, GIRL.

(Also, Martin, you're just wonderful.  You're like the Xenomania that we can claim as one of us Americans. If I could give you & Greg Kurstin a big hug to thank you for all your wonderful music, I would.)



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kimbra Grows on Me

Remember Kimbra? Of course you do. She's the featurette who made Gotye's Somebody that I Used to Know warm and listenable. Unlike Gotye's distant vocals, Kimbra's pierced right through us, making the song a hit that connected worldwide.

Most people don't seem to be aware that she has her own music out - at least not most mainstream music listeners, like moi (though I am aware, obvi). While most of us can agree that the Vows album cover is FLAWLESS (seriously, gurrl is glammed OUT, looking like the female Prince), the music on the disc seems to be more divisive. It's actually quite interesting, but that's it. It's interesting. It's not instantly catchy. In fact, I find it quite sleepy. I want to like it so much because I want to see her live. Who doesn't want to see a girl with perfectly hair-sprayed brunnette locks, red lips, and poofy pastel and neon dresses perform? Her fashionable ensembles scream POP! Unfortunately, the record doesn't. Let me clarify; this is unfortunate to me, not to the indie fans who prize their left-field songstresses.

However, after multiple spins, the American version of Vows has grown on me. These songs explain why:

Cameo Lover - Imagine Duffy's Mercy sped up with stronger beats. (Sidenote: the other day I recreated the Duffster's video in a Bertucci's parking lot as the song played over the loudspeakers.) The chorus is retro POP perfection. There's nothing more to say! Just "open up your heart!" 

Old Flame - While this number ain't particularly catchy, the production is '80s heaven. Imagine a smooth, synthesized guitar (ahem, Dr. Luke, take notes) with 808 drums that literally POP (like balloons)! The lyrics are some of poetry's finest.

Come Into My Head - Produced by Mike Elizondo, I wasn't sure what to expect. While I don't love this song, I really appreciate the backing track. This man is famous for producing some of rap's kings, like Dr. Dre and Eminem, but drops the hip-hop beats when working with acoustic princesses like Fiona Apple (on Extraordinary Machine) and Regina Spektor (on Far and What We Saw From the Cheap Seats). Fortunately, here, he maintained the funk qualities of his hip-hop productions without compromising Kimbra's alternative sensibilities. I don't even like funk, but I find this track utterly intriguing.

Posse - This is the best song on the album, and it's all due to the genius who is Greg Kurstin. I love this song's melody and production, and I love love LOVE that this song is not about love (hey Fiona!). Instead, Kimbra chose to write about a bookish chick (herself, supposedly) who emphatically states that she doesn't want to be part of an elitist, uber cool, hipster girl's posse. I find this a bit strange, seeing as Kimbra is incredibly glamorous and not at all nerdy, at least not aesthetically, but I love the song's sentiment.

Warrior - While it took me a while to get hooked onto Warrior, I'm officially chained. The song was this year's Converse collaboration. Each May, the footwear company assembles a few artists from different ends of the alternative spectrum to create a promotional track. In 2012, they did a marvelous job, combining the production prowess of former Jay-Z and Kanye protege, A-Trak, with the vocals of Mark Foster (from Foster The People) and Kimbra. Bravo, Converse! (I still won't wear your shoes). Fortunately, Kimbra included this clubby collab on her American album release. This is the kind of music I wish Kimbra was making, but alas, she's not. At least she's willing to try out different styles.

So that's my take on New Zealand's hottest import. While rocking out to these songs, take the time to listen to Kimbra's vocals. She's extremely experimental with her voice, using it like an instrument to create a multitude of sounds. There's a sort of stop-and-go quality to her singing that reminds me (in a good way) of Katy Perry's first album vocals. Enjoy!



Monday, July 9, 2012

Is P!nk's new single POP Approved?

This week, P!nk's latest single Blow Me (One Last Kiss) was unleashed onto the masses. Here at Unapologetically POP, we were stoked upon first hearing that P!nk was collaborating with our fave produce, Mr. Greg Kurstin, so when the single became available, we were all ears.

Now that Blow Me is finally here, I have to say it's a little less satisfying than I expected from such an epic collaboration between two musicians.  I do think that Greg Kurstin is a great choice for P!nk, since he is very capable of crafting fresh alt-POP (most notably on the latest albums by the Shins & Santigold).  I absolutely love the intro & the over-arching production on Blow Me - it reminds me so much of Two Door Cinema Club's Something Good Can WorkGreg also did an excellent job of staying true to P!nk's raucous, party-crashing POP sound, using guitars in much more melodic way than Dr. Luke has ever done. That said, something is lacking in the melody & in the song structure.  The chorus just isn't as bombastic & satisfying as P!nk's other rock-POP jams.  Once I get a better look at the song credits I will be able to make more sense of why this is.  Either way, it's not my favorite, but I think this song will do well since sticks with P!nk's rough-around-the-edges POP sound.

Like Minna, I also thought Greg was a great match for Lady P!nk. Really, he's a great match for anyone, having worked with a diverse array of artists including Lily Allen, Tegan & Sarah, The Shins, Kylie Minogue, and Ke$ha (he produced her first record's title track, Animal, which bordered on Robyn-esque heartbreak heaven). Greg is a master at creating innovative alt-POP AND super-POP, whatever the artist's preference. However, I found Blow Me underwhelming. I was expecting a melody and chorus along the lines of Raise Your Glass, but with fresher, synthier production. I like the opening synthesized guitar line - it's far more airy and whipped than anything Dr. Luke's come up with, lately (aside from the guitars in RiRi's Where Have You Been - those are warm, snuggly perfection). Otherwise, the backing track is pretty standard. I knew that someday I'd have to let go my dream of P!nk becoming a dance diva (I've recently realized that I want just about everyone to become a dance diva...), and that day was like 10 years ago. Oh wellz.  

I find P!nk's voice in the verses annoying. When she sings, "white knuckles..." she sounds like a whiny teenager. The chorus isn't big enough, so P!nk attempts to overcompensate by oversinging the end of each verse before she hits the chorus. For example, in the first verse, she croons, "I let goooooooooooo." The chorus itself is too fast for P!nk to really display her vocal talents. That's what bothers me most. P!nk is an incredibly talented vocalist, yet she doesn't get a chance to showcase it in this number. Instead, she spends her time talk-singing, and there's already plenty of that on the radio. When someone can actually sing, I want him/her to SANGGGGGGG. 


Gregory & Minna

Friday, July 6, 2012

JFF - Nero remixed "Feel So Close" & for some reason we only just heard it now.

Once upon a time in 2011, people buzzed about drum 'n bass masters Nero.  They produced Example's songs & had hit singles of their own.  When you thought of dubstep, you thought of Nero.  All that changed with the unfortunate arrival of a man named Skrillex.  Suddenly the electro-house duo were pushed to the musical backburner.  No one seemed to buzz about them... ever again. UNTIL NOW.

So you wouldn't expect second-rate dubstep maestros to anything exciting to Feel So Close, would you?  But somehow, someway, they really did.  They made it riveting.  If this doesn't prove to you than Nero can hold their own in a Skrillex-obsessed musical world NOTHING WILL.  Alas, since Calvin's world conquest has only just begun, we hope the same goes for Nero... even if they are not touring with Madonna. (???)  Listen to the remix below.  You will never regret it.

Please tell everyone how amazing this is because really, isn't it?  BOOM.



Thursday, July 5, 2012

Maroon 5's Overexposed, and Adam Loves It

Everyone's giving Maroon 5 shit for making a POP album. I find this incredibly annoying because I was super-excited for their new record, Overexposed. Yes, this album is not about a band. It's about Adam as a POP star. So what? What did they have to lose? Their relevance was swishing straight down the drain until they changed their ways and decided to work with Benny Blanco and Shellback, proteges of power POP tag team Dr. Luke and Max Martin, on Moves Like Jagger. The electro-POP banger revitalized the Maroon Platoons' careers, and so when it came time to create a new record, they decided to follow the pot of gold.

I'll admit, I loathe Payphone. It's completely forgettable, but what do I know? The song reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Beautiful Goodbye is similarly blech-worthy. Fortunately, the rest of the album is a bit better.  Hit-factory boys like Benny, Shellback, Ryan Teddybear and the almighty Max Martin make this one slick production. However, nothing on this album is as good as Moves Like Jagger, and part of the reason seems to be that no one tested the tracks on the hips. For such glossy POP, these songs lack the expected clubby dance groove. Take the second single, for instance. One More Night is beautifully produced in an Ace of Base bubble-gum reggae fashion by Max Martin, the man behind Beautiful Life, but as glitzy as the track is, it's far too slow for Friday night gyration. On the other end of the spectrum we have Lucky Strike, with beats so fast that we have to take a quick dose of mdma before heading to the sorority house for some white girl high kicks. Speaking of back in time bands, Doin' Dirt features sliding synths heavily reminiscent of ABBA, also known as the gay man's Beatles. This is the one truly danceable track on the record, so even though it's not the best song ever, it's quite enjoyable. The dancing queen that I am, Doin' Dirt quenches my need for a fix.

Some of the songs are just so so beautiful. Daylight possesses a chorus worthy of high school nostalgia. Adam's voice soars and loops as he sings, "And when the daylight comes, I'll have to go, but tonight I'm gonna hold you so close / 'Cuz in the daylight, we'll be on our own, but tonight I need to hold you so close." Sad is a sugary sweet piano ballad, that, like Daylight, is perfect for that transitory time between the end of August and the start of September, when everyone mourns the end of summer and anxiously anticipates the (weather and life-related) changes autumn will bring.

Tickets is promising, but the bland verses never seem to live up to the beautifully melodic choruses. Ditto for The Man Who Never Lied. Take that and reverse it for Love Somebody, which has slightly sweeter verses than both of the latter, but a chorus that's a bit too mediocre, making for a song that, despite it's shiny synths, is altogether forgettable. Ladykiller tries to be cool and funky, like a '70s fro, but ends up sounding sleepy. Fortune Teller is just a bad song with stupid lyrics, "I never know how the future will go, I don't know what to tell ya, I'm not a fortune tellah." This is like when Katy Perry tried to rhyme "ah ah ah" with "sky sky sky" on Firework. Suddenly, her lack of a high school education became frighteningly clear.

Though the album itself is of mixed quality, I still love how unapologetically POP it is. ;) Not since Katy P's Teenage Dream have we seen such synthilicious froth. Adam was never a Marina, anyway. He never wrote material on his own; he was ALWAYS a collaborator, even on Maroon 5's gorgeous debut, Songs About Jane. Therefore, we're not missing out an opportunity to hear some beautiful artistry by having Maroon 5 lean in a more mainstream direction. That opportunity never existed to begin with.

What do you all think of the record? Do you appreciate Maroon 5's new sound? Do you despise it? Do you not care?



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fiona's Idle Wheel

Fiona Apple has always been POP's outsider, and she's never seemed to care, which makes me like her all the more. She's a standout. Unlike anyone else, she writes every single one of her songs completely on her own without any assistance from other songwriters. Producers only take her material and assemble it for distribution once all the songs' melodies and lyrics have been established by Fiona herself. Her most recent release, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver of the Screw, And Whipping Chords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, is perfectly representative. I've never listened to a full Fiona Apple album before this one; the only reason I made the effort this time around was because I planned on seeing her live, and wanted to be prepared. After all, a concert sucks when one is unfamiliar with the music, at least in my experience.

Half of the album is filled with sounds meant to sound completely grating, and half of it is actually quite melodic. Interestingly enough, these halves can both be found within individual songs, making each track a creative force. Though I do wish Fiona would write more gorgeous POP songs like Criminal and Shadowboxer, I respect her desire to color outside the lines, even if it means I won't be as avid a fan as I would otherwise. It's not as though she needs my loyalty; she has more than enough fans for a lasting career. Girl's been around since 1996.

The Idler Wheel... was produced by drummer Charley Drayton. Thus, the album has a very natural sound, with lots of piano and heavy percussion, giving the songs a jungle-like vibe. Though I don't do well in nature (as I like my four star amenities), I'll give Apple and Drayton the benefit of the doubt. This isn't how I would produce a record; I enjoy a sugary dose of synthesizers, but for what these two were presumably aiming for (a simple, beat-driven record), they did a great job. It ain't my cup of tea, but it doesn't mean I can' appreciate it.  Here are my thoughts on some of the tracks:

1.  Valentine - This song is so beautiful. Fiona starts out singing to ominous piano chords, "You didn't see my Valentine. I sent it via pantomime. While were you watching someone else, I stared at you and cut myself. It's all I'll do cuz I'm not free, a fugitive too dull to flee. I'm amorous, but out of reach, a still life drawing of a peach." Then the beat picks up, and the chords get a little weird as Fiona croons, "I root for you, you, you, you, you." However, when she gets back to the slow section, she capitalizes on her way with words, purring, "I made it to a dinner date. My teardrops seasoned every plate." I love how visually and emotionally descriptive she is. When she sings, "I cut myself" in that first line, I want to cry. Her self-harming desperation is such a relatable sentiment.

2. Jonathon - As one of the most aggressive songs on the record, it's quite unpleasant. It's my least favorite track. The music is very (intentionally) dissonant, and thus, not pleasant to listen to, but at least it's honest, right?

3. Werewolf - This song has the biggest hook on the record, making it another one of my favorites. Fiona howls, "I could liken you to a werewolf, the way you left me for dead, but I admit that I provided a full moon. And I could liken you to a shark, the way you bit off my head, but then again, I was waving around a bleeding open wound." Then, the hook comes in with the words, "...but you were such a super guy till the second you get away from me, and we're like a wishing well and a bolt of electricity. But we could still support each other, all we've got to do is avoid each other. Nothing wrong with a song that ends in a minor key." Gorgeous, just gorgeous! The concluding sample of children's joyful playground cheers provides an interesting contrast to a song that's quite sad. It reminds me of Marina's Teen Idle when a chorus of children sing, "feeling super super super," before Marina follows with, "suicidal."

4. Periphery - I don't like this song, as, once again, it features too much dissonance. However, I can't help but notice the ending, with another interesting sample of feet scrubbing against the sandy ground. Producer Charley Drayton certainly has a way of grabbing the audience's attention.

5. Anything We Want - This is third, and last, number that I've enjoyed off this record. Like Werewolf, it also contains a pretty hook when Fiona repeatedly sings, "And then we can do anything we want." Short, sweet, and simple. The end of the chorus/bridge (Fiona's songs don't follow a traditional songwriting format, so any particular portion is difficult to identify in standard structural terminology) is pretty, too, as the anti-diva hollers in a forceful yet restrained voice, "It's happening, it's happening, it's happening now."

6. Hot Knife - The very last piece of the puzzle, Hot Knife is more an experiment in percussion than an actual song. Fiona and Charley layer the singer's vocals. Toward the middle, one line, "If I'm butter, if I'm butter, if I'm butter, then he's hot knife, he makes my heart a cinemascope. He's showing the dancing bird of paradise" simultaneously plays with another, "If I'm a hot knife, if I'm a hot knife, if I'm hot knife, then he's a pad of butter. If I get a chance, I'm gonna show him that he's never gonna need another, never need another." When I first heard the song, I heard cinnamon instead of "cinnascope" (what is a cinemascope?), and thought cinnamon and butter sliced with a hot knife sounded quite appetizing, even though, in retrospect, it seems disgusting.

In summation, the grungey '90s Fiona is still apparent in each song. She is rock star in the purest, most artistic sense, channeling her anxiety into every lyric and note. There are no gimmicks and no gloss with this woman. You won't find any bonus material or commercialized deluxe editions, yet clearly this unformulaic formula works, as Fiona has no trouble selling out theaters and records. The Idler Wheel debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, with approximately 75,000 copies purchased in its first week of release. No, these aren't POP star sales numbers, but they ain't shabby in the least. I reckon Epic Records will make out just fine, as they've likely invested much less dough in this album then in a major POP release by semi-artists like Karmin and Cher Lloyd (who is quite talented). Thus, you've got to give this power girl her due credit. Good job, Fiona!



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Katy's Wide Awake

A few weeks ago, Katy released her video for Wide Awake. The song itself is quite beautiful. Though it took a while for it to grow on me, it eventually succeeded, and now I think it's one of the most refreshing pieces Dr. Luke and his protege Cirkut have put out in a while. However, I do feel bad for Tricky Stewart, who produced a solid portion of material on the original Teenage Dream and was waiting for the re-release for Katy to finally promote one of his songs, the tongue-in-cheek Dressin' Up.

Wide Awake's video was immaculately directed by Tony T. Datis, but I find the subject-matter overly self-aggrandizing. It centers around Katy protecting the child version of herself from fame's poisonous grasp. We find her eating a strawberry (a reference to the iconography of One of the Boys, Katy's debut, which made her famous) like Eve's forbidden fruit. I find this concept so annoying. Katy has always wanted to be famous. In an interview with CBS, she herself emphatically stated (allegedly), "I don't want to be the indie darling, because NOBODY KNOWS WHO THE INDIE DARLING IS." She clearly has the talent to be one, as is proved by the song Thinking of You, which Miss Perry wrote completely on her own. However, she has no interest in making the kind of music that she herself enjoys (M83, Empire of the Sun, Scissor Sisters, and other alternative fare). I remember another interview in which Katy allegedly said something to the effect of wanting to walk into a restaurant as an older woman and having people identify her as a world-famous singer, not as a D-List "oh, where do I know her from? She looks familiar" celebrity. This girl consciously got in the fame lane, so I highly doubt she has any regrets. Thus, as gorgeous as this video is, I find it nauseating.

Decide for you like the video? I've posted it below.



Monday, July 2, 2012

Usher Hasn't Found Himself, Yet

Two weeks ago, Usher released his seventh studio album, Looking for Myself. Though the critics loved it, the record doesn't seem to quench our thirst for some Grade A POPaid. Usher is such an interesting case. He's been around the bends, and we're still aware of him, so clearly, he has been successful and worked diligently in order to remain relevant. Still, he doesn't possess the artistic cache of a Jay-Z or Justin Timberlake, nor does he have the glossy performance icon status of a Beyoncé. Maybe that's why he's tapping the talent of artists like Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun, who Jay and Bey have worked with in the past. Personally, the things that separate someone like Justin from Usher is the fact that JT exercises a great deal of autonomy over his own work - he produces, and he's produced for other artists (Rihanna, Leona Lewis, etc.) without the helping hands of Timbaland, thereby proving his studio chops. When working with Timbaland and the Neptunes, Justin pushes them to create new sounds. The whole dance craze began with the FutureSex/LoveSounds album. Usher, however, seems to make the most of current trends (by working on dance tracks with hit-maker Max Martin, for example) as opposed to circumventing them in an effort to chart a new path. Here are our thoughts on his album:

I Care For U - Those who appreciated Climax will undoubtedly love this track- I Care For U is an excellent midtempo R&B song in a decent dubstep power-package.  Thankfully the characteristically corny chorus ("I, I, I care for youuuu") is overshadowed by an incredibly ballsy drum & bass beat.  Kudos to Usher for actually singing about something more mature than his usual sex/I am sexy/let's have sex lyrics - but the real praise goes out to producer Danja for his work on this one.  I wish he had done the whole album.  

Twisted ft. Pharrell - Pharrell & Usher are longtime collaborators, so it's a big, fat shame that they couldn't have pushed each other stylistically. Twisted is a great song for 2007, but today it's a filler track, one that feels particularly out of place on an album so purposefully wacky & inconsistent.  Still, Twisted stands out.

Hot Thing ft. A$ap Rocky - Out of all Usher's "indie" crushes - Luke Steele, Swedish House Mafia, Klas Ă…hlund -  the one that sounds the most natural as a guest star on Looking 4 Myself is rising rapper A$AP Rocky.  Where the aforementioned collaborations sound strained & unnatural, Hot Thing is charismatic & smooth.  "I'll take you to see URSHER," A$AP spits, cool as a cucumber.  Likewise, Usher is in his element... wailing about finding love in a sexy woman with a "booty that jeans can't hold."  Let's hope this is a bridge built for the two artists, because I'd love to hear more from A$AP - though he is not currently struggling for exposure (see: Lana Del Rey's latest music video) 

Dive - Penned and produced in part by Rico Love and Jim Jonsin, this is my favorite song on the record. Usually, I'd  be turned off by a song so explicitly slow and sexual. Most such songs simply capitalize on shock value, but Dive stands out from the pack. The melody is beautiful. The chime-bell synths and guitars are so warmly atmospheric, perfect for a rainy day in. They capitalize on the juicy lyrics, "I see the walls are looking like they might precipitate / Until I'm in so deep it's up to my waist / But I promise girl, I ain't afraid / It's raining inside your bed, no parts are dry / Loving makes you set wet, your legs, your thighs / And ever since we first me, I knew that I, I knew I was ready, baby, to take that dive." Never has making a woman cum sounded so sexy and romantic to a gay man.

Numb & Euphoria - These are the two tracks on the album written and produced by Swedish House Mafia. They're the two songs I was looking forward to most; up until now, no star has produced a track with SHM. Therefore, this was a great way to see if the DJing trio could translate their style to a POP audience. To be honest, I was expecting something as good as when Calvin Harris combined his talents with Rihanna's voice on We Found Love. Maybe my expectations were too high, as a result. While neither of the tracks are bad, they don't sound like hits. They're not very melodic, and I wonder if this was intentional on the part of SHM in an effort to maintain an "indie" character. Both feature the usual sex/love-related lyrics, but in a more generic, colder way than Dive. I'll drunkenly dance to both at the clubs, but I don't see myself listening to them on repeat. 
Scream - As Max Martin's sole contribution, this track surely represents an attempt on the part of label (and Usher) at a hit single. Unfortunately, it's not that great. It simply sounds like a bad knock-off of Martin's last collaboration with Usher, DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love, which I loved when first released. I truly enjoy the work of Max Martin and his protege Shellback, so I was disappointed when this song wasn't music to my ears. DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love was originally written and produced for Rihanna, and maybe that's why Scream, which was always intended for Usher, isn't as good. The 24-year old POP diva possesses more star power than this industry veteran, so material pitched to her is likely of a higher caliber.


Gregory & Minna

JFF - Little Mix has a new song & it's called "Wings"

So here is Little Mix, back with a song called Wings.  People are lovin' it.  It's a little bit R&B, a little bit Brit-POP, & a whole lot of girl power.  So why is it just not taking flight with us?  Well, it sounds like the theme song to a revamped Powerpuff Girls movie.  But there are ample melodies & "mama told me" moments to make up for the tedium.  We sure hope the music video features a lot of finger-wagging swag & lot less "save the world before bed-time." Listen here & judge for yourselves.