Sunday, May 30, 2010

Imogen Heap: Live At The Warner Theatre In Washington DC

On May 29, 2010, Imogen Heap played at the Warner Theatre in Washington DC as part of the sixth leg of her Ellipse tour.  Ellipse, her third album, saw commercial success in 2009 reaching #5 on the US Billboard charts.  The album was later nominated for multiple Grammys, giving Ellipse the title of "Best Engineered Non-Classical Album".  Imogen Heap is known for her use of technology and unique instruments to create one of a kind electronic music.  When I got tickets on the day before the show, I knew I was in for a treat.

The show didn't focus on only her newest album, Ellipse.  Imogen played a range of songs from all of her albums including her work in the electronic duo, Frou Frou.  The set started with "The Walk", from Speak For Yourself.  It was an amazing opener, and started the show on a high note.  She then continued with a block of songs from Ellipse including "Swoon", "First Train Home", and "Wait It Out".  The majority of Ellipse was heard.  It was also great to see her play a select few from her debut album, I Megaphone.

For every show on this leg of the tour, Imogen is playing a completely improvised song.  She asked the crowd what key the song should be in and whether it should be fast or slow.  After much debate from the audience, she wound up playing a very melodic ambient piece based on the piano.  After every show, the improv piece will be available as a charity download.  Here's a list off the current available downloads. The proceeds will go to a local organization.

In between songs, Imogen talked with the audience and explained the stories behind each song.  The crowd participation was at an all time high during "Just For Now".  She separated the entire venue into three sections and had each one sing part of her layered voices from the recording.  This performance used no music at all, only Imogen and the choir-like audience.

Loops were a major element of the performance.  Imogen would record her voice, or any other instrument or obscure sound, and loop it on repeat.  She would continue doing this until she had an entire band, consisting only of her own doings, behind her.  Watching her during this process was incredibly fascinating.

One of the many highlights of the show was "Tidal".  Imogen explained that it was her absolute favorite song to perform live, and now I know why.  The song took full advantage of the stage lights, creating a more "rock concert" feel.  She ended the song with an extended keytar solo.  After "Tidal", the band left the stage and she played two more songs.  "The Moment I Said It" and "Hide And Seek" closed the show.  During "Hide And Seek", she asked once again for the crowd's participation for the bridge of the song.  Once she finished the final song, she took a bow and the show ended.

Imogen is an extremely active artist on Twitter.  When I read a tweet on the social networking site that she frequently talks to fans after the show, I knew I had to wait for her.  After the show, I waited behind the venue at the stage exit.  I waited for about an hour when she came out and talked with the fans.  She signed my Ellipse shirt and stayed for some pictures.  It was an unbelievable experience, and she was as kind as you could ever imagine.

The concert was even better than I could have expected.  The setlist was nearly twenty songs, and the opening acts Ben Christophers and Geese, both part of her band, were great.  If Imogen Heap ever comes to your city, I strongly recommend you go see her.  The show will make you sing, dance, and even laugh.  You can go here for a list of upcoming tour dates.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reader Request Playlist: Piano Pop & Electro Pop

This is a new permanent feature that I'll be writing.  Every week I'll take all of the music requests that I receive, and I'll be featuring them in one post.  It's the "Reader Request Playlist".  Leave a request in the comment section of this post, or here, and I'll feature your songs in the next playlist.

"White Houses" from the album "Harmonium" - Vanessa Carlton
Requested by Amanda

Everyone remember's "A Thousand Miles".  Even today, I still hear that song on the radio.  It's become a pop standard of the 2000's.  When Vanessa released her second album in 2004, I remember hearing the lead single, "White Houses", on the radio.  The album failed in sales terms, but I always thought of this single as a success.  It's more mature than "A Thousand Miles", and it still has a just as memorable piano line and melody.  It's extremely catchy.  In 2007, Vanessa released another album titled, "Heroes & Thieves".  It faired much better than her previous album.  She's currently working on a new album.  While there's no official release date yet, you can expect some solid piano pop.

"Keep Up" - Hyper Crush
Requested by Saved Individual

Prior to this request, I had never heard of Hyper Crush.  After hearing them, I was surprised that I had never heard them on the radio.  Their electro style seems perfect for Top 40 radio stations.  The song's "Spin me like a record..." hook is really similar to "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)" by Dead Or Alive and "Right Round" by Flo Rida, but only lyrically.  The melody is completely original.  While it's not something that I would listen to constantly, it's a great club song.  The chorus is incredibly memorable.  It's the kind of song that you'll be humming without even noticing.

Remember to submit your requests for next week's playlist in the comment section, or here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Natasha Bedingfield - Touch

Natasha Bedingfield's
single, "Unwritten", took over the world several years ago.  It was released in the UK in 2004, but its worldwide release in 2005 made it shoot to the top of the charts.  Everywhere you went, the song would be blasting over someones speakers.  She released several more hits off of her debut album, but none of them could top the success of "Unwritten".

Natasha went on to release two more albums.  N.B., her second album, was released worldwide except for in the US and Canada.  It failed to live up to the success of her debut.  While the US and Canada missed out on this album, they received Pocketful Of Sunshine.  This album was a major success, and held the hit single, "Pocketful Of Sunshine".  She had finally matched the success that was "Unwritten".

Her new single, "Touch" was released this week.  The single is a new direction for Bedingfield.  The song is a dance-pop anthem.  It has the same "feel good" type of chorus as her two biggest hits.  The change of style isn't too drastic.  The song still feels like it's Natasha Bedingfield.

The verses are very non-traditional.  She sings a rapid story of her meeting a guy.  The lines sound very awkward at times.  If she had extended the verses and spread out the lyrics a little more it would have sounded much better.  It just doesn't seem natural enough.

The chorus is really the highlight of the song.  "Touch" will be extremely popular in clubs.  It has a pulsing beat made for the dance floor.  Bedingfield's vocals are great, as usual.  Her use of falsetto adds a nice touch to the song.  It adds a little variety.

I would check out "Touch" if you like dance or pop music.  The song is very clean and innocent, something that's becoming more extinct every day.  "Touch" definitely has the potential for radio success.  Natasha just needs to find a way to get around Gaga and Ke$ha...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sleigh Bells - Tell 'Em

Sleigh Bells is a hard band to fit into a box.  They dip into so many genres.  You may say that the cheerleader-like melodies make it pop, but the hardcore bass could also make it electro.  Add in the guitars that sound like an anthem, and you have a mess of styles.  That doesn't mean the music is literally a mess, though.  It actually works out.

Sleigh Bells is made up of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss.  Miller plays the music, while Krauss sings.  The one characteristic that all of their music has, is distortion.  Every song is filled with fuzz.  It can be a little overwhelming at times, but at the right volume, it sounds great.  The right volume is, of course, as loud as it can get.  The louder you play their music, the more you'll enjoy it.

"Tell 'Em" is the opening song to their album, Treats.  The song has a continuous guitar riff that is the perfect counter to the pounding beat.  The heavy beat sounds like a cannon blasting.  Krauss' vocals are very airy and smooth.  She reminds me of an alternate version of M.I.A., as does the music.

Many would classify this song as "noise".  I wouldn't argue with them.  "Noise" is a fitting term, but the "noise" sounds great.  Their album, Treats, was released earlier this month.  I would get it if you like really heavy pop or electro music.  Sleigh Bells have made a strong entry into the music industry with critical praise.  You should see what all the talk is about.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid

About two months ago, I wrote about a new artist by the name of Janelle Monáe.  Her unique style and story interested me immediately.  Her music is a story.  She tells the story of her alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, in the futuristic city of Metropolis.  Cindi is an android who falls in love with a human.  The story takes off from this intriguing plot.  Her tale is split into four suites.  She released Suite I, The Chase, as an EP in 2007.  Suites II and III are to be released as Monáe's first full length album, The ArchAndroid.  This highly anticipated release is an epic of the music world.  At eighteen tracks long, this isn't just an album, it's a piece of art.

The ArchAndroid starts with "Suite II Overture".  The orchestrated instrumental is the introduction to the second part of Cindi's story.  This track proves that the listener is in for more than just every average record.  The orchestration sounds as if you're watching the opening credit's of a sci-fi film.  From here, the music runs directly into "Dance Or Die".  This track features Saul Williams.  Monáe's rapid lyrics push the album off to a fast start.  Most of the tracks run directly into each other, with little or no breaks.  The highlight of Suite II is definitely "Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)".  The song is not only incredibly original, but Monáe's vocals are outstanding.  "Mushrooms & Roses", a mellow psychedelic number, closes the second suite.

The third suite starts with another introduction. "Suite III Overture" focuses heavily on the piano, strings, horns, and a choral section.  The suite separates the two halves of the record and really gives the audience a breather.  Unlike Suite II, the third suite starts slower with the smooth "Neon Valley Street".  The highlight of Suite III is the album's closing track, "BaBopBye Ya".  At over eight minutes long, it wraps up the suite and leaves you waiting for Monáe's final chapter of the Cindi Mayweather story.

Because of it's epic nature, The ArchAndroid should be experienced form beginning to end, in one sitting.  Otherwise, you won't get the entire emotional impact of the package.  The record can't be defined into one genre label.  It has a little of everything, from rock and R&B, to jazz and classical.  Monáe's album is due out on May 18.  I would definitely check it out.  This debut album is one of a kind.  Janelle Monáe is something you don't see often nowadays, a true artist and storyteller.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Like - Fair Game

The Like is a band from Los Angeles that is mixing classic rock with modern rock elements.  The all-girl band formed in 2001 and released their debut full length album, Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?, in 2005 after recording several EP's.  The album gave them success in the alternative rock scene.  They soon toured with Muse, Kings Of Leon, and The Arctic Monkeys.  This is a major accomplishment for a band that started while still so young.

The band released their single, "Fair Game", last year.  It starts with an infectious drum beat, supplied by Tennessee Thomas.  The snare heavy beat continues through out the entire song.  It's one of the highlights on the record.  The primary guitar riff goes back and forth with a keyboard riff. When you add the light melody and voice of vocalist, Z Berg, the song is reminiscent of classic rock from the 60's.  The Monkees and The Beatles are some of the bands that I think of when I hear their unique styling.  "Fair Game" also has some punky band shouts mixed in.  These add some variety to the song.  Z Berg's voice sounds very similar to Kate Nash at times.  It's very quirky, yet smooth.

The Like are releasing their second album, Release Me, in June.  I would definitely look out for this band.  They have a unique upbeat sound that never fails to entertain.  "Fair Game" is available as a free download on their website, here. What's to lose? Check it out, you may love it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Katy Perry - California Gurls (Feat. Snoop Dog)

After the success of Katy Perry's debut album, the pop singer has the level set high with her next release.  Her first album, One Of The Boys, spawned four hit singles.  If she can do that with her upcoming sophomore album, Teenage Dream, then she has proven herself as a successful pop singer.  The first single from Teenage Dream is "California Gurls". The upbeat song features Snoop Dog.  There's only one problem with it and it's not the spelling of "Gurls".  Katy Perry's new single sounds exactly like Ke$ha's hit song, "TiK ToK".

The song starts with a synth tune.  Perry then joins in with her bright vocals.  She sings of palm trees and bikini's.  It's a great song for driving by the beach in a convertible.  Teenage girls (or "gurls") will be blasting the song with their sunglasses on.  Basically, the same crowd that loves Ke$ha will enjoy this song.

I feel that the song structure and melody are way too similar to the singles by Ke$ha.  From the "ohs" in the chorus to the prominent use of a synth line, it's something I've already heard.  Snoop Dog's verse matches the song great.  It keeps the fresh and sunny theme.  The two artists may seem like an odd couple, but they work well together.

One thing is certain, Katy Perry's vocal abilities are much better than Ke$ha's.  While neither of them are amazing, Perry could knock out Ke$ha in two seconds.  If you're interested in "California Gurls", you can find it on iTunes now.  Her album, Teenage Dream, is out August 24.  I would pass on the song for now. Unless she has an incredible album planned, I doubt Perry will replicate the same success as her debut.

Friday, May 7, 2010

B.o.B - Airplanes (Feat. Hayley Williams)

B.o.B, also known as Bobby Ray, is an American rapper.  He released his debut album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray, last month.  Since then, he has been receiving critical praise over his ability to fuse genres and create original music in an ever so dull rap scene.

"Airplanes" features Hayley Williams from the alternative rock band, Paramore.  She sings the catchiest hook featured in a rap song since Alicia Keys on "Empire State Of Mind".  In between her chorus, are B.o.B's verses.  Unlike many of today's hip-hop and rap artists, B.o.B uses absolutely zero auto-tune or vocal distortion.  This is very refreshing, especially compared to the standards of Lil Wayne and Kanye West.

The instrumental is also more than just a beat.  The track features a piano melody that is run through out the entire song.  Add this to a bass filled beat, and you have a mainstream masterpiece.  The song's chord progression is reminiscent of an upbeat pop ballad.  While that may seem out of place in a song of the rap genre, it works perfectly.

"Airplanes" has the potential to become a summer anthem.  It's light enough for pop radio, but at the same time, rap and hip-hop stations will play it as well.  It's already climbing the charts at an incredible pace.  Both B.o.B and Hayley Williams are great in "Airplanes".  I would check out the single, or B.o.B's album, if you're a fan of modern rap or pop.  This song can really reach out to fans of different genres.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

3OH!3 - My First Kiss (feat. Ke$ha)

"My First Kiss" is a single from 3OH!3's upcoming album, Streets Of Gold.  3OH!3 is an electronic duo made up of Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte.  Electro-pop newcomer, Ke$ha, returned the favor of "Blah Blah Blah" by singing in the verses of this song.  While "Blah Blah Blah" wasn't a standout song on it's own, "My First Kiss" lacks even more.  The song doesn't make progress from their previous hits and Ke$ha's addition seems more like a gimmick than anything.

The song features a clapping beat similar to "Hollaback Girl" or even "Blah Blah Blah".  The song starts with back and forth verses delivered by the two artists.  Kissing sounds can be heard several times through out the song.  This seems to be the hook that they hope radio stations will pick up on.  Overall, the song just lacks star power.  The chorus is bland, unlike "Don't Trust Me" and "Starstrukk" from their previous album, Want.

Recent fans of Ke$ha or 3OH!3 will eat up this song so fast that they'll want more.  The problem is, I doubt the group will gain any new followers from this single.  They may even lose some long time listeners due to the Ke$ha cameo.  I would pass on this song.  The melody, beat, and lyrics aren't memorable or innovative.  If you do decide to check it out, the single is available for download now and their album, Streets Of Gold, is out June 29.