Thursday, November 21, 2013

Antony And The Johnsons - Angel On Fire

Catching Fire, the middle book in the Hunger Games trilogy and follow-up to last year's film, hits theatres in the US tonight.  The first movie featured a soundtrack with contributions from a variety of big name artists, including Taylor Swift and Arcade Fire.  The entire soundtrack aesthetic matched the film almost perfectly and also turned out to be quite the money maker, so they're doing it again.  Catching Fire's soundtrack is getting plenty of buzz, thanks to names like Sia and Lorde, but the final track on the album is by Antony And The Johnsons and we need to talk about it.

First of all, Antony being associated with a young adult book sensation is an unexpected image.  I can't stop myself from imagining all of the young teens who will be introduced to his music through their love of Katniss.  With that said, the song is beautifully understated.  It starts out with sweeping strings that sound like both a Hunger Games score and a signature Antony track.  It has that hopeless yet hopeful sound.  Some of the music behind the song comes from an old 4-track recording that Antony used with his previous performances in New York City clubs.  Maybe "Angel On Fire" will manage to get a slot during the closing credits.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lady Gaga - ARTPOP

I've listened to Lady Gaga's ARTPOP countless times, already reaching to the extent of learning each lyric backwards and forward.  From the twisted cell phone quality intro of "Aura" to the final A-R-T-P-O-P of "Applause", there's so much to talk about.  It's overwhelming, really.  There are so many ideas and embellishments packed into this record and some of them are amazing and fantastic, while others are much less fortunate.  Have it be known that I love each of Gaga's three previous records and consider The Fame Monster to be her best.  The upcoming criticisms don't come from an unwarranted "hater" and the praise isn't from a "little monster" who harasses non-fans through social media.  It comes from expecting the best and receiving something less.

Let's start with the good news.  There are some real winning moments on ARTPOP.  Moments where you forget about the disappointing tracks and think, "Now this is Gaga".  "Venus" is her return to weird, something we've all come to know.  It's intergalactic and suggestive - what does Venus really sound like?  She pairs "Uranus" with "Don't you know my ass is famous!" and it's really a classic single for the Gaga vaults.  It also happens to be the first track produced solely by Gaga, quite the success.  "Fashion!" sounds like Madonna and David Bowie mind-melded "Holiday" and "Let's Dance". It's a definite highlight that begs for repeat plays and is insanely refreshing after hearing heavy tracks such as "G.U.Y." and "Swine".  I would've never guessed that and David Guetta took on the production duties.

The absolute centerpiece of ARTPOP is "Gypsy".  Everything about it signals the coming of Gaga's next signature tune.  "I don't wanna be alone forever, but I can be tonight" is the new "I'm on the edge of glory".  The lyrics are insightful and powerful, while the production and songwriting are prime. Other standout singles are "Aura" and "Do What U Want", sans R. Kelly.

Each of Gaga's past albums have focused on a precise and cohesive theme.  The Fame was about the rich glamourous life, The Fame Monster was the dark companion piece, and Born This Way was through and through a self-empowerment album.  ARTPOP is confusing.  Sure, she clearly states on the title track that "ARTPOP could mean anything", but the songs randomly touch on sex, drugs, fashion, love, and even pure unrestrained anger, which sounds completely startling after the extended anti-bullying message of Born This Way.  The chorus of "Swine", one of her most extreme ventures into straight up electronic dance music, actually includes a screeching "you're just a pig inside a human body... you're so disgusting".  Maybe the title of ARTPOP was really just a scapegoat to do whatever she pleases thematically.

Production credits on ARTPOP include DJ White Shadow, Zedd, Madeon, David Guetta, Rick Rubin,, and Gaga herself.  That's a pretty noticeable difference from her former crew that often recruited RedOne and Fernando Garibay.  It's obvious on the album, as well.  "Jewels N' Drugs", a rap song featuring T.I., Twista, and Too $hort, would not be missed if the master tape had been horribly lost after the recording studio caught fire. That song is a prime example of the questionable decisions on the album. Some of it ends up being hilarious, such as the synth on "Swine" that literally sounds like an oinking pig and her spastic tone during the "paint your face and, paint his face and, catch the beat" bridge.  There's also the sarcastic and artificial Versace ode, "Donatella", where she opens with an exaggerated "I'm so fab".

But then things start to get inconsistent again.  The sudden and horribly drastic differences in vocal production make ARTPOP sound like a singles collection rather than a complete piece of work.  When "Dope" flows into "Gypsy", you're lifted out of a pure untouched vocal take and placed into heavy reverb within the span of seconds.  The reasoning behind this is a transition from Rick Rubin to Madeon, and a lack of attention to detail.

It really sounds like she's desperately trying to appeal to the general public, something she doesn't need to do.  For the first time, she seems visibly concerned about record sales.  I mean, she asked fans to buy multiple copies of "Applause" on iTunes.  Why would she ever need or want to do that?  It's baffling because she's Lady Gaga.  She a label executive's dream come true, a sales monster.  Not because she begs for false number one singles, but because she creates music like "Bad Romance" and "Born This Way".  She writes music with progressive ideas and pushes the mainstream boundaries.  She brought politics and social issues to the VMA's and started a non-profit organization because she cared about the cause. ARTPOP doesn't match up with that track record.

Maybe she's been placed on a pedestal of higher judgement.  Would I even be writing something like this against Rihanna or Katy Perry?  Probably not, but that's why she's Gaga and that's why she hangs out with the likes of Elton John, Cher, and Yoko Ono.  She's projected herself out of the pop singer realm and into something higher, but somewhere in there the music still needs to meet that same quality standard.  She's always written lyrics about sex, but it's so blatantly straight forward on songs like "Sexxx Dreams" that it sounds lazy instead of clever or metaphorical.  The overflow of drug references is also a tacky sign of the lyrical slump.

I really feel like Gaga needs to take a step back and reconsider everything. Some of the songs sound like any other pop star could tackle it and do just as well.  Why do we need R. Kelly and a song where a trio of random rappers overshadow the star?  ARTPOP could've almost served a better purpose as a condensed eight track LP, since only parts of the album truly shine.  She said that Born This Way was created for her fans and those same fans might end up listening to that album again instead of ARTPOP. Born This Way was simply better.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lily Allen - Hard Out Here

In case you haven't heard, Lily Allen is back.  She just released her first new single since 2009's It's Not Me, It's You, and that was quite the album. Well, technically she was featured on that ear bleeder T-Pain track and then credited as Lily Rose Cooper on P!nk's "True Love", but those didn't exactly showcase the Lily "Fuck You" Allen that we all know.  Remember when she momentarily dropped the Allen?  Good times.

"Hard Out Here", a proper comeback single about the woes of image and sexism in the music industry, is overflowing with Lily's snarky attitude.  It obviously had to be released alongside a video that contains just as much commentary.  To sum it all up in one line from the single, "If you can't detect the sarcasm, you've misunderstood."

Now the music itself is interesting in multiple ways.  Lyrically, and based on the general public's reaction, she hit the target and succeeded at exactly what she intended to do.  But the production and actual song as a whole is riddled with "satire" auto-tune, the type of stuff that belongs on the previously mentioned T-Pain ear bleeders.  Not to mention the post-chorus consisting of "a bitch, a bitch, a bitch, bitch bitch".  It all works in context, but I wonder how it'll sound once it's on the tracklisting of her upcoming album.  It's not exactly a sing-along.  Check it out and see for yourself...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mr. Dream - Loud Tools

It's been a minute or two since Mr. Dream's last release, which arrived in the form of 2012's Fatherland EP.  Brooklyn's favorite post-punk, grunge trash rock, whatever you want to call them trio have stepped back into the game with the announcement of a new record and a couple tracks as evidence. Their most recent single, freshly arrived via yesterday, is "Loud Tools".

While their past music could often be described as a fury of rampaging energy, "Loud Tools" plays like a steady, yet equally forcible, machine. Over at Stereogum they brought up a Franz Ferdinand comparison, which actually isn't crazy, but it sure does sound like a far-fetched idea in theory. Nevertheless, hearing new material from the band has kickstarted anticipation levels for the upcoming album.

Mr. Dream's previously mentioned new album is titled The Ultimate In Luxury and it's due in January on GODMODE.  If "Loud Tools" leaves you wanting more of the Dream, then check out another cut from the LP, "Fringy Slider".

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dum Dum Girls - Lost Boys And Girls Club

The video for the new Dum Dum Girls track is directed by Cody Critcheloe of SSION and brought to you by H&M.  That'll surely strike up your curiosity.  "Lost Boys And Girls Club" is the first single off of their upcoming album Too True, which you can see the artwork for above with Dee Dee front and center.

The single is a dark eighties tinged rock piece and it's instantly addictive. That guitar line is most definitely the main attraction, once you twist your way through the other hooks.  Cody Critcheloe's directorial work has one solid performance record, watch any SSION video for proof, and he meshes perfectly with the Dum Dum aesthetic.

Too True will be released on January 28 and if you pre-order on Sub Pop's store, then you get some nice bonus bits, like colored vinyl and a 7" single. Dum Dum Girls also have some live shows lined-up, the dates of which can be found here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

David Bowie - Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix Edit By James Murphy For The DFA)

At this point, I'm just at a loss for words when it comes to Bowie.  The Next Day's promotional cycle has been completely flawless.  There's a steady output of vinyl releases and every music video has been a spectacle.  On November 4, The Next Day Extra will be released, an expanded three disc set featuring the original album, a ten track bonus CD with new material, and a DVD containing all of Bowie's Next Day videos.  However, one video that won't be included on the DVD is the new clip for James Murphy's "Love Is Lost" remix.

Featuring super creepy Scary Monster and Thin White Duke puppets from the archives, the video was apparently created on a total budget of $12.99, with all of the funds going towards a thumb drive.  It was shot by a three person crew consisting of Jimmy King, Coco Schwab, and Bowie himself. The entire production was conceived and finished in about a week at his Manhattan office.  Brilliant.