Conversations with Myself

•April 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The words psychedelic pop come to mind but I find Paul’s album to be less an experiment in musical styling as it is a prerequisite singer-songwriter album for an artist with much more potential. The first two tracks are saccharine at best and leave much to be desired in both production and quality while they’re not necessarily bad songs (poems put to music) I just find them to be well below par from a mostly melodic place. From the two songs opening the album, we enter very different territory about the 5 minute mark. the psychedelic aspects of the album kick in featuring some electronic production and more nuanced lyrical content that allows room both for interpretation and for the acknowledgment of altered states. Shimmering guitars lead [Misery] which sounds like something from the Beatles catalogue. My tiny amount of rock music expertise limits my ability to draw comparison. Pop continues in [Transcendental Hotel Room], a romantic account of an afternoon spent traversing the mind and the body. It’s repetitive and, therefore, catchy. The true gem of the EP is [Grandaddy Long Legs]. It’s a brooding, acidic rock track with chromatic guitars and atmospheric flourishes. A Bostonian river and champagne make appearances in the lyrics, at once as odd and unintelligible as they are purple and marked with hidden meaning. It’s easily my favorite.
With some encouragement we could have an excellent songwriter on our hands, one with the ability to craft a hook and produce: a male Lady GaGa which is to say a kind of David Bowie.


The Take Down

•March 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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[The Take Down]
March 25, 2013
Fluorescent Records

Like shadowy sirens of a new age, this duo plays on the digital heartstrings of my electronic palpatator. Working evocative lyrics through the octave-enhanced distinctive vox of Koda, [The Take Down] manages to tumbl through the chill vibes into something deeper. It is pop-y-er than I have ever heard from this style. Crystasis holds the melodic scene through the madness of glissando horns and synth, piano highlighting the stoic core of the piece. Dubstep influences sizzle down low and worldly hooks incorporate the layers of melody in setting a scene for dark repose. It sinks and twists in glorious passes of electronica and is the most beautiful thing I’ve heard this year.

Free Download


•November 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment


Def Jam

The most immediate problem with the new Rihanna album is that it features three of the best songs in her entire catalogue that pertain to love: [Diamonds], [Stay], and [Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary]. Beside these three tracks, which flame against such gems as [Fool in Love] (a bonus track) from Talk That Talk and [Firebomb] from Rated R, her seventh album in as many years encircles them as a tired rehash of what she has done since Rated R. Unfortunately for people of my ilk, though, I am not entirely tired of the typeface. Not to say that there are not some good songs on this disc or that this album has nothing to say.

There is the first track on the album, dance-floor-ready from Guetta and The-Dream: in the words of [Phresh Out the Runway] “Cake killer”. [Diamonds] I’ve reviewed previously. In the context of the album, its place serves to stop the party, like an awful memory after the first shot that merits the second, third, fourth, and the bump. In your twenties, you hardly ever party without a hole to fill. After that hole has been thoroughly silenced we get [Numb] which runs in the same back-arching vein as [Skin] from Loud with a decidedly raunchier kick. Jazzy sax ostinato; sex rhythms; chopped-and-skewed, Champagne lyric-ed, artificially-lowered backer; and a guest appearance by Eminem make [Numb] one of her most aggressive, realistic songs about her hyped sexual prowess. The next song, [Pour It Up], is filler of the highest grade; wrapping up, as if in conclusion, the two club bangers like that section is over…

One of the oddest songs follows. [Loveeeeeee Song], sounds like T-Pain’s studio reject. Without the weird guttural stops, the track is at least interesting and Rihanna’s parts are listenable, but overall a mediocre track at best, a waste of album space at the worst. [Jump] I found to be forgettable as well, it has some great production quality, but Rihanna doesn’t quite deliver these lyrics, in all their unbelievably ‘90s corn, with any real aplomb. She sounds even more bored than usual. The unimaginative cut-and-paste dubstep breaks sound dated. For [Right Now], David Guetta, I believe, creates another damnable track. This indistinguishable from anything he’s done for Nicki Minaj or anybody else in the last two years. The Ester Dean-penned ‘80s diva melody and “die tomorrow” lyrics are old hat for Rihanna but would have been better served with newer production blood.

Last I checked Taylor Swift had the monopoly on wispy, girlish vocals and directionless love and life odes. Namie Amuro didn’t know how to be a girl or cry. Rihanna being vulnerable is absolutely nothing new. All these critics saying how much they love this “new” vulnerability apparently haven’t been paying attention or don’t remember her catalogue. The best parts of [What Now] are, ironically, the acoustic and electric guitar moments not that crazy EDM. But something about this song made me angry. She is 24. She’s an adult. Why doesn’t she know what she’s doing? Doesn’t she know what she’s doing? And then I realized I wasn’t angry at her lack of discretion in, what I concluded, was a adolescent song choice. As it happens, I’m 24 and she is only five months older than me. And in a moment of actualization, I realized I am also wondering what’s next. I’m two years out of college, getting over a major illness which dashed my plans. I’m lovelorn and repeating patterns. In the words of the song, “What now? I just can’t just figure it out!” So, I guess, it probably might be one of her best songs because it elicited anger from a place I didn’t know existed. For all of Rihanna’s shortcomings and bullshit, she happens to occasionally be extraordinarily artistic, human, movable, and good at her job: to hold a mirror to her generation.

And after one homerun, she hits another one. Just by sheer songwriting alone, she gives you [Stay]. It’s a duet with Mikky Ekko. When she sang it live on SNL, she blew me away. I do hope, against all hope, that it was indeed live. If it was, it was the best live performance of her career. The song is a piano ballad about, what else, love. It does have subtle touches of electronic embellishment but otherwise is mostly acoustic. It feels like a classic song, one, with any luck, we may be listening too when [Umbrella] feels too idiotic for words.

[Nobody’s Business] features the fuck out of Chris Brown. I’d almost leave it at that, but at least the track is worth listening to for the Michael Jackson sample of [The Way You Make Me Feel] and the speak-sing and a sparkling chorus. [Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary] recalls the ‘80s majesty of Heart’s [Alone]. It sparkles with a simple repeated melody and beat. Her delivery, both urgent and fated, controls the song. It’s a masterful piece of rock, that changes mid-stride into a prayer: a requiem for a star-crossed girl “from the left side of an island”. The buzzy electronics accompany the quickened beat, sounding more modern right up until the last seconds as it fades out: easily, one of the best songs on the album, if not her discography.

A full string quartet accompanies a fully realized, harmonically glorious ode to marijuana, the roll, and the pains she takes. [Get It Over With] is gorgeous. The islander track follows, [No Love Allowed], tricky bassline. It’s reminiscent of [Man Down] only in its island-feel, unfortunately it’s nowhere near as interesting. [Lost in Paradise] is an electronic, bass heavy, semi-fun number produced by Stargate which fails to be, as she is known for, an awful ending. This one, at least, leaves us in paradise, albeit lost, but dancing.

Again, Rihanna gives us something to blast out of car stereos, out of club speakers two feet taller than ourselves, out of earbuds on the Greyhound going home from college on Thanksgiving, and to give our grandparents small but effective heart attacks. I appreciate the provacteur of [Numb], the easy drug use of [Get It Over With], the love songs, and the generation Rihanna, whether you agree or not, represents. 1988 brought you yours truly as well as Skrillex, Emma Stone, La Roux, Jessie J, Michael Cera, Rihanna, and Adele so far. And the Echo Boom is not done. These are our party years, our years to break our hearts, our years to figure it out, our years to find direction, the beautiful years. Rihanna represents many facets of these years, and this album explores a few, as each album has. I do hope, though, that she can explore a few different facets on her eighth album, which will no doubt drop next year.

Love: [Diamonds], [Stay], [Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary]
Party: [Numb feat. Eminem], [Phresh Out the Runway]


•October 8, 2012 • 1 Comment


Written by: Sia Furler, Benjamin Levin, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen (Stargate)
Produced by: Benny Blanco & Stargate
Debuted at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100

“Shine bright like a diamond, shine bright like a diamond,” intones another smash hit from Rihanna, the reigning face of American popular music. In less than a decade she’s become one of the most successful musicians in the world. In the United States alone, amassing nine number one singles, twenty-two Top 20 singles, and six Top 10 albums  in less than a decade (it’s actually only been eight years). [Diamonds], her fortieth single, is a crashing pop ballad that employs watery synth motifs, disco violins, a classic love-at-first-sight theme, and hints of soulful rock n’ roll / blues. Also, how did they get a KPop amount of hooks into that song? This first theme is established with the simple chord progression from a heavily reverbed grand piano and the hook, “Shine bright like a diamond”. Follow this opening, the first verse pounds fervently growing in power as it stretches through to a climactic pre-chorus which runs headfirst into the chorus, a telling moment of throaty, belting immediately juxtaposed next to the girlish first hook which is interpolated into another sing-song melody to form either a second chorus or post-chorus. There are perhaps five or six themes that recur in slightly different variations throughout [Diamonds], these four just covering the first few moments, but it’s never quite the same arrangement making it at once hard to learn and interestingly complex. It’s a very impressive piece of modern music.

For those not familiar with her entire catalog, this is a large departure from her usual: a wonderful aside in a field of hard-hitting R&B / dance music. . The song feels like the cloudy delirium of MDMA: both sharp and sweet, silvery and cinematic; which she references twice under its street pseudonyms of molly and ecstasy as well of acidic images of a lit sea and extraterrestrially reaching palms. She also contemplates a passionate relationship that is working, something Rihanna has been bereft of for years. Thanks to one exceptionally excellent round of singing or very deft producers (Benny Blanco and Stargate) she has produced one of her most evocative performances of her prolific career: on par with either [Unfaithful] or [Fire Bomb] both vocally and in songcraft, this by the troubadour of the moment, Sia Furler, of Christina Aguilera and indie fame. But after her IHeartRadio performance I’ve just come to the conclusion, that much like Ms. Taylor Swift, she is a phenomenal recording artist but just can’t tap into her instrument while live. I will buy this, her seventh album in eight years, because I know that it will be absolutely sonically stunning and interesting, not because I truly view her as anything more than an excellent celebrity, interpreter, and opportunist.

Civilized Man

•September 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes
Civilized Man

Fun. No, not the Queen ripping off, indie pop darlings. It’s the IRL emotion. Many artists releasing and consumers consuming songs about fun, seem to have been lied to about the definition. Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes have rediscovered the uninhibited state with their debut album: Civilized Man. The keyboard in almost every number stands out like a glittery star on stage. That star is the lead singer, a pseudo-conductor of sorts whose voice is gracious, welcoming, and earnest about his emotions. Chick magnet? Check. In fact, I’m pretty sure Daniel’s married. So, I guess not. Still, it comes through on the record how his voice is quite romantic and, at times, hypnotic: a mix of Elton John, Randy Newman, and Freddie Mercury. A duet with a newly happy Adele would fit in soundly on Civilized Man which attests to the type of sound that we could expect on her album.  In other words, Fans of Adele, you shouldn’t be afraid of this album. Hah.

As for the band, when I saw them last anyway, they had a blonde but he’s not on the site! He was the second guitarist. Wait, he’s dyed his hair blonde. Change is good. The group is very attractive and I’m so confused how they snuck under the major labels’ radar. I told them when I met them that they were extraordinarily marketable. Enough of that. Let’s get down to the music.

Lead Single: [Shoe Fits]

When they said it was their hit song from the album and that it was dance-y, my first thought was Metro Station. I was half right. They obviously had no idea who Metro Station was, so I forged ahead into the electronica revolution of the late 2000s and early Twenty Teens it clicked a little there. So, it had that repetitive soprano electronic melody like in many Neon Trees or The Killers songs. Difference would be that Ellsworth’s vocals are flirty and honest. It’s so feel-good it almost could count as a guilty pleasure. Rhythmically: four-on-the-floor club beat, pulsing bass line; up top: glitzy synth ostinato and handclaps. It’s all organic and played live! It’s what I had imagined my last summer after high school soundtrack would sound like after I saw “Sixteen Candles” for the first time.

Other Songs from Civilized Man:

Guitar riffs of an impressive magnitude find their way woven into the fabric of almost every song on Civilized Man. Noteworthy tracks include first track, [Bloody Tongue] a throwback to 60s blues and rock about a worse-off ex-girlfriend. [Edison Lightbulb] features a great instrumental break lead by guitar. An excellent Spanish guitar riff to set the mood of [Wolf is Me] which is mostly bluegrass. Real honkytonk goes down on [Follow Me Home], a wise choice for a second single. Mumford & Sons might fight you but it’s more entertaining than most of their stuff. [Hieroglyphs] is another blues-fueled number and they’re more Frankie Valley on [Only One for Me]. He jumps mercilessly around the modern singer-songwriters that are worth their salt from Regina Spektor to Sara Bareilles to Jason Mraz to Dave Matthews. All executed with great musicality, creativity, and passion. The only truly slow song is [Surrender] which tests the steadiness of the guitarist and pianist. Static piano, uneven bass, hypnotic guitar strum and the mood is patient, chill, and full of unrealized kinetic energy. At all times, harmonies are tight and in tune, live or recorded.

After seeing them live, and then listening to the mastered work here on Civilized Man I christen them musicians. Real-live, modern gentlemen musicians with a real knack for crafting gorgeous, spontaneously fun rock songs. They are quite hipster chic with their tweed suits, wool ties, and crafted suede shoes. Since most of the promotional photography has been taken, Daniel has lost considerable weight, Marshall’s “gone blonde”, and the Joel and Timon, already showing very positive self-style ideas, dress well and in genre and vogue. Their music screams to be played in stadiums and to be thoroughly enjoyed in dive bars. It’s an everyman’s sound and a relaxed civility that pervades and lifts bluegrass, blues, and rockabilly to new dimensions in Civilized Man, produced by Mark Nevers  (98°, Brooks & Dunn, Tanya Tucker, Lampchop, and Kirk Franklin). In short, they are incredibly fun entertainers, effortlessly charming men, and they represent all the music promise of a generation that listens to junk. Daniel Ellis & The Great Lakes are the real deal. Don’t blink, they’re on their way.

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