Friday, May 27, 2011

Lady Gaga - Born This Way

"The greatest album of this decade" is what Lady Gaga declared Born This Way several months prior to the album's release.  That's a high bar to set for yourself no matter what genre of music you create, but either way she promised a record full of "avant-garde techno rock".  If you have no interest in Gaga or her music then the "greatest album" statement may sound cocky and egotistical, but if you're one of her Little Monsters, it sounds like the next level of her record shattering career.

There's no denying that Gaga has captured the world's attention, not only with her music and outlandish videos, but also through her persona.  She projects a message of individualism and equality.  The album's lead single, "Born This Way" symbolizes the theme as a complete piece of work.  That very single broke records upon its release back in February.  Now it has found itself as track number two on the seventeen track album, Born This Way.

Her first two albums, The Fame and The Fame Monster, consisted primarily of dance-pop music.  A great amount of growth was witnessed between the release of those albums.  The latter dabbled with gothic and industrial styles. However, with Born This Way, Gaga called upon artists from past decades for inspiration.  She tips her hat to Whitney Houston on "Fashion Of His Love", Bruce Springsteen on "The Edge Of Glory", Madonna on "Born This Way", Journey on "Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)", Queen on "Yoü And I", and countless other icons from as far back as the seventies.  It's amazing to hear her project the various artists that she loves back into her own music.

From the opening note of "Marry The Night", Born This Way is musically much more complex than any of her previous work, or perhaps it's simply the massive hooks and stadium sized power that gives off this illusion.  Every song is bigger than the previous as she experiments with new instruments.  On "Hair" and "The Edge Of Glory", Clarence Clemons of The E Street Band plays the saxophone.  I can't remember the last time I heard a saxophone on Top 40 radio stations.

"Americano" shows off her ability to grasp a completely new genre and morph it into a bilingual epic.  Gaga returned with her Spanish tongue to write a song about immigration and gay marriage.  It's a weird concept, but the mariachi-techno piece is one of the album's highlights.  The album also holds a good handful of French lines, while "Scheiße" is full of German gibberish.

Religion is another theme that is heavily stressed on the record.  "Judas", the metaphorical single that caused backlash from some religious groups, is only the beginning.  "Bloody Mary", an eerie track that could possible be the best part of the record, and the guitar driven "Electric Chapel" incorporate the subject even further.  "Black Jesus † Amen Fashion" intertwines fashion and religion, combining them together as one.

The racy Gaga is still present on this record.  "Government Hooker" and "Heavy Metal Lover" take on the dirty beats that were found on her previous albums.  "I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south" wraps up "Heavy Metal Lover" into a mellow droning pace that turns out to be one of the most interesting tracks.

Still, the core of Born This Way is simply self empowerment, acceptance, and equality with lyrics like, "Don't be insecure if your heart is pure - there's nothin' wrong with lovin' who you are - I just wanna be myself".  The bridge of the title track broke boundaries in mainstream music.  There weren't any complicated metaphors.  The message is loud and clear.  It's hard to classify Lady Gaga in the same category as other pop stars such as Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Ke$ha.  Gaga just has so much more meaning and musical depth as a songwriter, and that's what propels her music to the top.

Is Born This Way the best album of the decade? Well, we won't know for a long time, but it's definitely the best "avant-garde techno rock" album of the decade so far.  Many people say that Gaga's fifteen minutes of fame are almost over, but it actually looks like she's just getting started.  Sure, the album may be overly camp and outrageous at times, but that's what Gaga does best.

The one factor of Born This Way that may hinder its universal acclaim is how the album seems tailored towards her long time Little Monsters.  Gaga knows her core audience and that may push away the casual fans that buy the record on a whim.  However, shouldn't every artist write music that pleases their central fan base?  Why should she try to appeal to Top 40 radio standards when she already knows who listens to her music?  When you open the first page of the album's booklet, it reads "This album is for ü".  That one line tells you exactly what Gaga's intent was with Born This Way.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sondre Lerche - Domino

Sondre Lerche could be called a musical shapeshifter.  With every album released, he switches genres.  Two Way Monologue, the Norwegian musician's sophomore album, is full of acoustic folk-pop songs.  On his 2006 Duper Sessions record, he transformed into a jazzy crooner.  One can only guess what he'll do with his upcoming self-titled record.  It's set to be released on June 7, and until then we have "Domino".

"Domino" is the album's lead single.  The song is very organic with ringing guitars and a standard, yet teetering, beat.  Sondre's falsetto vocals during the chorus are pristine.  A bit of that jazz style can be heard in his phrasing. Although the single is fairly mellow overall, it does build up to a decent climax during the final chorus.

Upon first listen, I wasn't blown away by the track, but I did catch myself humming the melody.  It's one of those songs that grew on me the more I heard it.  Sometimes those growing tracks end up beating the easy access singles in the long run.  "Domino" feels perfectly fleshed out.  It isn't overdone.  There aren't any unnecessary frills.  It's just there for your enjoyment in perfect form.

Monday, May 16, 2011

SebastiAn - C.T.F.O. (Feat. M.I.A.)

M.I.A. completely polarized audiences last year with /\/\ /\ Y /\.  My initial reaction to the record was less than magical, as the screeching "Steppin Up" was the first track I heard.  As a whole, I enjoyed the album significantly more.  Tracks such as "Lovalot", "XXXO", "Story To Be Told" and "Born Free" really made up for the questionable parts of the album.  Since the album's release, we've seen a good handful of Twitter controversies and non-musical hubbubs from her.

M.I.A.'s latest musical project is with the French electro-DJ, SebastiAn.  "C.T.F.O." is a track from SebastiAn's upcoming debut album, and it features fuzzy vocals from M.I.A..  I love the production on the track.  It feels dark and dirty with a pairing of synth lines running under the beat.  "C.T.F.O.", short for "chill the f*** out", sounds like a club about to riot.

SebastiAn's record, Total, is out on May 30.  It features "C.T.F.O." and a massive amount of 21 other tracks.  Along with M.I.A., you'll hear contributions from Mayer Hawthorne and Gaspard Augé of Justice.  You can head over to Some Kind Of Awesome for a stream of the song.  Go ahead and try to resist dancing along, you won't succeed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Washed Out - Eyes Be Closed

Somewhere around the time of 2009's transformation into 2010, I sat down and listened to Life Of Leisure, the critically acclaimed EP from Washed Out.  After hearing the six track album as a whole, I initially forgot about it due to lack of interest.  I just couldn't get into any of the tracks.  Washed Out had captured the style that is known as chillwave, or glo-fi, but failed to capture my attention. The EP sounded like something that would've been worshipped a few decades ago.  While that sound may not be bad, it also caused me to neglect the album.

Fast forward to now.  Washed Out, which is a stage name for Ernest Greene, is prepping for the release of his full length album, Within And Without.  I stumbled upon the single "Eyes Be Closed" and rediscovered the artist.  This time around, my reaction was completely different.  I found myself replaying the track at an alarming rate.  The song isn't reaching too far from Life Of Leisure's realm, but the production sounds current.  The vocals aren't as muffled.  It's less demo-like and the instrumental choices aren't calling for a time capsule.  The eighties influence is still there, but in a less cheesy way.

It isn't often that an artist changes my opinion so strongly with just one single, but "Eyes Be Closed" has me interested in Washed Out's upcoming album. Within And Without hits shelves on July 12 and this single is available as a free download right now.  Check it out below for an airy preview of the record.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ida Maria - Cherry Red

Remember Ida Maria?  The Norwegian rocker girl who was peeling banana's two years ago is back with a new single.  "Cherry Red" is from her upcoming sophomore album, Katla.  The album is already out in Norway, and everywhere else thanks to the internet, but an official international release is slated for June 7.  Fortunately, we now have "Cherry Red" to hold us over until you can get your hands on the physical album.

This track isn't quite as blatantly bawdy as "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked".  It's more of a love and devotion song with a bit of that Ida attitude, but it's always humorous.  Ida has moved away from the punky sound a bit, as this single has an oldie rock style.  There are backup ooh's and ah's along with tambourines, all while still keeping a clear pop melody.

With less than a month until Katla's release, you can also check out "Bad Karma", which is up for downloading.  What do you think of "Cherry Red"?  Is it a good follow-up to Ida Maria's first album?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sleigh Bells, CSS, Mr. Dream, and Wet Witch: Live At The 9:30 Club

At around 7:00 P.M. last Saturday, the 9:30 Club had a line of people waiting outside the venue.  A group of all ages and buzzing with excitement.  Some wore neon outfits complete with matching headbands, while others took the term "hipster" to a new level.  They were all waiting for a night of frenzy.  Sleigh Bells and CSS were in DC for a sold out night of their co-headlining tour and they brought along Mr. Dream and Wet Witch for good measure.  Once the doors to the venue opened at 8:00, everyone rushed towards the stage for a good spot.  I settled down somewhere between the first and second row and was advised by an obviously concert savvy girl to keep a steady hold on my spot because, "It's gonna get crazy."

The show kicked off with Wet Witch at around 8:30.  Most of the crowd had no idea what to expect from them, so when the band's first song was an intense blast of noise, hands instinctively covered ears.  Wet Witch is a trio consisting of a guitarist, drummer, and vocalist.  The vocals were harsh while the drums shattered the room.  After the initial impact of the first song, the crowd loosened up. By the end of their set, there were mixed reactions.  Some were anxious and now noticeably pumped for the night to go on, while others got their ear plugs ready.  Wet Witch gave the club a good taste of what the mood would be like for the rest of the night, full of energy.

After a short set change, Mr. Dream prepared to take the stage.  The drum kit was moved to center stage with each vocalist on either side.  They started with one of my favorites, "Knuckle Sandwich".  The crowd warmed up to their sound much quicker than the previous band.  "Winners" caused every head in the pit to nod with perfect timing.  The combination of heavy rock numbers and lighter songs with sing-along melodies definitely turned some heads.  The bounce of "Knick Knack" under the dark red lights had me singing along all the way until the final note.  Their set seemed significantly longer than Wet Witch's quick spree and it ended with screams of "Mr. Dream!".

Once Mr. Dream left the stage, there was a decent wait until CSS would come out.  Although the majority of the audience was there to see Sleigh Bells, everyone was more than ready for CSS.  The entire venue roared when the lights went down.  Once CSS' Lovefoxxx ran onstage, the night changed completely.  She controlled the room with her wild antics, which included running through the crowd, spraying the room with everything she drank, and shedding her clothing.  When the opening beat of "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex" hit the air halfway through their set, everyone that wasn't already a CSS fan before the show was now converted.  Dance breakdowns during "Move" kept the night going at full speed.  The highlight moment of "Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above" transitioning into "Alala" topped off their set.  CSS had transformed a rock show into a dance party.

It was around 11:30 by the time CSS ended their set.  Sleigh Bells wasn't scheduled to take the stage until midnight.  This meant a long and restless wait was inevitable.  While many of the concert-goers wore CSS shirts, and some discovered new favorites in Wet Witch and Mr. Dream, it was clear that Sleigh Bells attracted almost everyone to the show.  The guitar amps, which took the shape of the giant wall, were pushed out closer to the edge of the stage.  The lights went out and after the first beat of the duo's "Iron Man" intro, the entire pit rushed forward causing the front rows to fall against the railing.  The now neon lights blinded the crowd.  Sleigh Bells had taken the night to another level.  Every strobe light was brighter and every noise was louder.  The crowd recited perfect lyrics back to Alexis Krauss, who donned a "SLAY BELLS" jersey over reflective and splattered leggings.  "Infinity Guitars" and "Rill Rill" were the crowd favorites.  Alexis surfed the pit, while guitarist Derek Miller sat on the rail during "Holly".

Sleigh Bells ended the night with a riot inducing rendition of "A/B Machines".  The back of the room surfed its way to the front.  People were thrown onto each other.  It was exactly how their music felt like it should be, chaotic and fun.  They played a fairly short set, about forty minutes which included almost every song that they had.  That didn't stop a group chant of "Sleigh Bells!" once the band left the stage.

The girl who told me to be ready for a crazy time was one hundred percent correct.  The concert, which let out at around 12:45, was explosive.  The glazed eyes and wide smiles were appropriate measurements of how hard the 9:30 Club was hit.  Each band played a completely different genre of music, but it only makes sense that they tour together since it was the raw energy that they all had in common.

Keep reading for more pictures of the show...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kimbra - Plain Gold Ring

This weekend is all about Kimbra.  Each day, starting Friday and ending today, The Soundtrack Of My Life will feature a different song from her upcoming album, Vows.  

The final song of this weekend's feature is "Plain Gold Ring".  If you start with "Cameo Lover", continue into "Good Intent", and then finish with "Plain Gold Ring", you can hear an evolution of sound.  "Plain Gold Ring" is the grand finale.

The song starts off a cappella, with a smooth misty tone.  If the music somehow forgot to kick in, I wouldn't even notice.  The vocal intro is like a chant from a wise storyteller, captivating.  On Kimbra's previous singles, she sounded confident and sure of herself.  This song is different.  There's a dreary undertone of despair.  "He belonged to someone, but not me - On his hand was a plain gold ring..."

"Plain Gold Ring" carries a similar production style as the rest of Kimbra's work.  The stacked vocal runs and enunciations are present, as well as the organic jazz influenced instruments.

Listen to "Plain Gold Ring"

This is the final day of the Kimbra takeover on The Soundtrack Of My Life.  If you missed them, you can check out day one and day two, along with the first single "Settle Down", for your listening pleasure.  While there's no official release date quite yet, remember to look out for Kimbra's debut album, Vows, later this year.