Blown Away

•July 19, 2012 • 1 Comment

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Carrie Underwood
Blown Away
Arista Nashville
2012

Bluesy guitars and a mean bass line open up typical Carrie fare with [Good Girl], the quintessential revenge song that stands up well beside [Before He Cheats], [Cowboy Casanova], and [Undo It]. Some good stories fuel this standard country pop album from one of this decades’ best female vocalists belting about lying men, first love, hometowns, and shotguns. It’s what you expect from Carrie Underwood (and country, for that matter) and hardly anything new, with retreaded ground from Taylor Swift ([Nobody Ever Told You]) and Gretchen Wilson ([Cupid’s Got a Shotgun]). But the average is punctured not only by her golden vocals but also by songwriting gems like [Wine after Whiskey], jazzy piano ballad [Good in Goodbye], and the pitch-perfect country pop of [See You Again]. When it comes to country, unless you’re talking about the Civil Wars, you get exactly what you want and need from every release: nostalgic, rehashed songs; big vocals; and a few new, outstanding tracks worth the artists’ salt and Carrie doesn’t come close to disappointing.

Cinderella’s Eyes

•July 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

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Nicola Roberts
Cinderella’s Eyes
Polydor
2012

From the blistering, Diplo-sampled chant of [Beat of My Drum] to the dramatic glamor of [Porcelain Heart] and Eminem-inspired balladry of [Sticks + Stones], Nicola Roberts’ debut solo album is perhaps one of the best pop records to be released in the last five years. Her vocals are perfection: neither supremely overproduced nor are they left bare. She isn’t afraid of her voice and knows how and when to use her impressive vibrato to great and emotively masterful effect. Roberts and her main producer and songwriter, Dimitri Tikovoi, and songwriter, Maya von Doll, find so much tabloid-ready ground to cover and utilize lyrically, what little negative criticism to be found on Cinderella’s Eyes stems from typical lyrical content on songs not by that team; such as [Lucky Day], [Say It Out Loud], and [Fish Out of Water]. But each is so well sung and crafted that they sound fresh and sophisticated regardless.

On her list of references, she cited both Kate Bush and Robyn, whose theatrical touches resonate here, but a point of reference feels indebted to Gwen Stefani et al. on tracks like [Beat of My Drum], and especially critically-acclaimed [Gladiator] from her avant-garde pop music days of the mid-00s. Unexpected organ flourishes complement stand out track [Take a Bite] and viciously snarky lyrics find their home on [Gladiator] and [Cinderella’s Eyes]. But where Nicola really shines is in her spot on performance of her slower songs especially aforementioned anti-bullying anthem [Sticks + Stones] as well as third single [Yo-Yo], utopian prayer [i] and her award-worthy cover of The Korgis 1980 hit, [Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime]. If you are a fan of dance or pop music this album is and will be a classic.

Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation Part 4

•July 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

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Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation
Various Artists
Fluorescent Records
2012

The opening of the fourth and final arc of Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation is a sweeping, synth paradise. ian curtis wishlist’s [ai alone] is an astoundingly accessible track that features cascading synth; a bumping, trance-y bass; and every disco-house-euro-synth-k-j-pop inflection imaginable. It does bring to mind a lot of what made Ami Suzuki, Tiësto, and Perfume so special, but it’s behind such a powerful bass line and uses such interesting sounds that it evades any accusation of mimicking. The break down at the end, an unexpected, crackling meltdown is worth listening to for any diehard dance fan.

This melds into a slower groove set up by snarkily named Leon de Pounce’s [Athena]. Its beach-y, guitar-driven pop instrumental dances under a silky sheen of synth and distorted piano riffing through to Sambien’s [Mystic]. A serious downtempo moment after the two previous tracks, it sounds like heavily distorted Imogen Heap with a mechanical rhythm then a beautiful string section leads us out of the twilight. [Forever Life] begins as any good Coldplay song would but with more dissonance, less repetition. The Naadyn track even features a very melodic line which cinches it as a would-be pop song, only lacking vocals and about two more minutes.

Briefly we enter true indie pop richness with Chris Rehm’s [Coming Up Roses]. After the pop, we encounter a desolate musical landscape sawed by unrelenting noise. It’s at once flat and full of depth for upon deeper listening, the myriad notes form beautiful, dark chords in the noise. From full sound to minimalism, the track is devilishly acidic. It’s fades out but BLUE BLISS spins you back in with a sexy bass line and a disjointed cymbal-heavy track which features a little more reggae swing than you’d ever expect to hear here. In fact, I didn’t expect to hear any reggae so the fusion of ambient, hip-hop, and reggae come off as left field but still perfectly in tune with the rest of the last twenty minutes. Different genres will drop in and out over the almost seven and a half minutes of [Taranis Dub] but the ethereal ending steals the show, sending us flying out over space as the album ends.

Capping a hell of a ride [Taranis Dub], along with [Coming Up Roses], [ai alone], [phantom3], [ONE SUMMER], [Ghosts], [Drowning the Light], [10245], [Beth], [Free David], and [The Princess of the Internet is Dead] stand out as my favorite cuts from this extensive overview of independent, DIY artists. Completely worth your time and infinitely worth the money (it’s fucking free), this Fluorescent Records compilation of upcoming musicians undoubtedly deserves the space on your iPod this summer.

Available for free download on the Fluorescent Records site.

Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation Part 3

•July 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

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Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation
Various Artists
Fluorescent Records
2012

“Four Part Review by Who’s Afraid of Music?

The third arc features sampling. Drake’s [Crew Love] from Take Care is there in a stuttered, muffled form behind a fuzzy, booming background in AbdeCaf’s [Old Flame]. There also is a very straightforward sampling of Keith Sweat’s [Real Man], an awfully stereotypical R&B song from the late ‘90s. There isn’t anything new brought to the table with this track, it’s just the first few moments on repeat for two and a half minutes. Reminds me of what JPop producers do when they try to “do” R&B, except they don’t credit anyone but VΞRACOM’s [Sweat] definitely credits. PΛLM ΛRRΛY’s [GVLLΛ GVLLΛ ISL∑ND] finds a coastal atmosphere of ill-mixed lapping waves and staccato rhythms in the vein of witch house. Chipmunk voices also complement what feels like a witchy Rihanna / Akon track from 2006. I enjoy the simple bass line and deconstructed musicality of the track.

Khan Kurra’s track is one of the most hyped and I found it lackluster and honestly a little boring. [Nadjya] which is a variation on the Russian word for hope, is a tinkling, whispering track that continues to melt around itself for almost five minutes. Perhaps it’s a reference to Russia’s ongoing struggle between capitalism and communism; with the allure of money the background vocals caveat this exchange: black market. (I tried.) ARPEGGI8’s [CHOIR GIRLZ / PRAISE POSIEDON] is an exercise in basic choral arrangement featuring a pounding 4/4 beat with a little background syncopation to give a bouncy twist to the harmonious sea nymphs. This arc is short and sweet. It features none of the darkness found in the previous two and not anywhere near as much innovation. On the other hand, the next arc is glorious, so get ready. I’m going to gush about it.

Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation Part 2

•July 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

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Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation
Various Artists
Fluorescent Records
2012

“Four Part Review by Who’s Afraid of Music?

After the dark, house-y print that was the first quarter, a new sound opens the second.  Smesh Party’s auto-tune heavy [Oh Baby] is this genre’s take on T-Pain. It’s R&B, more gospel-inspired than our modern rhythm and blues. Towards the end it crashes with the cymbal-heavy rhythm and trips headfirst into Koda’s track: [Lycanthropy]. It’s definitely a Koda track, and that’s something I can say about Koda as an artist: when I hear it, I know it is Koda. It draws comparison to [Generator] on Shadows & the Wolf Below from earlier this year, but the similarities are fleeting. They are found mostly in the intervallic relationship of the melody. It’s also wonderful to hear understandable lyrics ahead of the clopping rhythm of witch house: “And if the light turns on, please return to your bed. Little children, little children; light at the end.”

[Dali] opens with what I can only describe as being in the massive cathedrals of Italy. Scattered speech bouncing of the walls and domes in a language I couldn’t understand and it returns at regular intervals. It has a great bass line underneath a distorted xylophonic rhythm section. [Drowning the Light] by DARK MOTHER, whose name and band name suggests something sinister, has nothing like that on their minds. There is a lot of synth in general in neon rainbow hues, but the female vocalist is a nice touch. And whoever put the POLYHYMNIΔ track next to this one is a genius, they run so smoothly into each other, I had a terrible time figuring out when one track ended and the next began. They sound like different movements of the same crystalline symphony. Rattling beats, the same type of synth as in [Drowning the Light] and whirling melodies combine to make this track a standout in this arc. They serve as early notification for a switch in the timbre of the album which goes into full swing in the third and fourth quarters. But all is not well in [Free David] because it turns dark fast with deep synth and the negative movements of the bass line, but just as quickly it’s back up above the clouds in the summer heat to finish off with a cool breakdown.

“It’s… just a sad summer song.” Immediately, we are thrown back under cloud cover with aptly titled [Sad Summer Song] by Pe† Ceme†ery featuring PrettyFaces SplitOpen. Full synthesizer chords fill the hallow space of the music left by the whining nodes and industrial beats. We continue on the industrial train of thought into the surprising indie rock of [phantom3] by ghostandthesong, a band I’d love to hear more of. Rocking guitars and thundering bass power this track onto my favorites list from this compilation. More heaviness follows with [The Princess of the Internet is Dead] by Drowning the Colossus and POLYHYMNIΔ. It’s a massive piece of music featuring a twirling synth array and those future garage beats from POLYHYMNIΔ’s record. I’m not sure who this princess is, but it’s an epic dirge.

Michael Jackson nomenclature aside, GREATBEER’s [L.Y.N.F. (Lovely, Young, & Fresh)] is a throwback to a 60s indie soundtrack with all the bass and boom you’ve come to expect from any Fluorescent artist. It ends with a coaxing, sporadic wind out and into… [Beth]: a standout with its fratricidal, fucked up pseudo-rap behind an equally dark, choir-ornamented track. Like a cat afraid of change, it pulls all the stops out to fuck your mind before you go into the next two arcs of music. That rounds out this quarter of Summer Vacation. This arc definitely straddled two different sides of this genre, one dark and sinister, the other poppy and sparkling. The next two quarters feature much lighter music with more pop inflections, so prepare yourself: we’re only half done.

Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation Part 1

•July 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

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Fluorescent Records Presents: Summer Vacation
Various Artists
Fluorescent Records
2012

“Four Part Review by Who’s Afraid of Music?

Starting a summer compilation with a song about being locked in a [Coffin] is either highly ironic or, perhaps, my definition of summer is not the compiler’s: “There are some loves that are eternal, that you take to the grave with you, you know?” I’m all about minor progressions but after a few listens I realize that perhaps what I think of as summer isn’t all summer’s made out to be: beaches, bikinis, shirtless men, palm trees, humidity, long drives, and hasty romance. There are those cool, damp nights, dying campfires, broken hearts, and musty clubs at dawn that also entail summer from Palo Alto to the Jersey Shore. Perhaps the first few tracks of this compilation draw inspiration from these things.

[Coffin] by BL▲CK CEILING, Elburz track [Ghosts], VS//YOUTHCLUB’s [10245], and [You, you, you] (which uses a Katy Perry interpolation, however microscopic) by Snakethread open the album with as little sunshine as possible. Deep, pounding bass lines; skittering synthesizer; and hardly any vocals characterize the first thirty minutes of Summer Vacation. All are heavily influenced by witch house as well as ambient music of the most acid-dripped variety. VS//YOUTHCLUB’s track is perhaps the most accessible in this set with easily followed melodic devices and chord progressions straight out of the Europop catalogue.

Sunlight does eventually crack through the clouds with CROSSPARTY’s [ONE SUMMER]: a bridge between these two conflicting worlds. A much more adult Owl City, it does little to really engage other than offer a reprieve. Hauntingly beautiful [Montgomery] by PrettyFaces SplitOpen is a standout in the first quarter of the compilation and perhaps most aptly named [Bummer Summer] showcases the Witch House genre’s form of both ambient, ghostly sounds (buzzing and thunder) as well as a 90s synth-pop hue. Ceremonial Dagger’s track feels like a mid-level boss interlude: there’s a save point, a random merchant for health potions, and a warning to not go any further. It’s a perfect go-between to begin the next arch of music which will take us up through the clouds, but not quite out into the wild blue though we will catch glimpses of it.

Dreams Everlasting

•July 10, 2012 • 3 Comments

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Bijou Winters
Dreams Everlasting
2012
Fluorescent Records

After hearing Bijou Winters vocals on Koda and POLYHYMNIA’s latest albums, Dreams Everlasting had a high bar to vault over. I was expecting an eerily beautiful jaunt into her dripped world; instead what I was given was a slow build of ambience to the only real coherent thought on the album, [She Fell from the Sky], a melding shadow of crisscrossing dissonance and a rhythm of an apneic heart rate. Also, this and [Alourr] with Koda are the only tracks where I can discern actual English words.  Her vocals meow and mellow in her Emilíana Torrini-esque tremble but as one of the only “vocalists” I’ve heard from this movement, her sheer lack of enunciation is disastrous to whatever she is trying to get across. But, she is one to watch. Her voice is otherworldly, something unique and worth honing. There is talent here, no doubt. As a vocalist myself, I find that music with vocals has a beautiful advantage to instrumental music: we can say what it is, not just hint at it. Without a clear lyric from her, I find the vocals unnecessary when surrounded by all the dreamy soundscaping. It is beautiful, though; the production is gorgeous and even the most asleep-at-the-wheel tracks on Bijou’s part are masterfully mixed at Producer Winters’ hand. Stand out production in [Exposed] has an Enya sort of ring while the final track [Sea of Dreams] uses a fantastical use of tidbits of her vocals to dot an oceanic terrain of distortion. Dreams Everlasting is lost, directionless and afloat in its own atmosphere, but not without merit. I feel like Bijou has the opportunity to voice a movement, and she hides behind her boards. Step up, Bijou, and be understood, not just heard.

It’s available for free download here. Enjoy, courtesy of Fluorescent Records!

To clear up any confusion one might have over music journalism or musical criticism from yours truly: I, when I dislike an album, am never saying do not listen to it. Of course you should listen to it! You have your own opinion and since you’re here, I assume you’d like to know mine. I’m not trying to be hurtful or pessimistic or rude. I’m simply stating what I believe and it’s as subjective as music itself. Listen to everything I post, if you’d like. Especially when there is a link. Music touches people and moves people in a myriad ways that I can only muse about. What I say here isn’t set in stone: I don’t have that big of an ego. Perspective changes everday, mine included. Music is never worthless. Music is my life. Music transcends infinitely. We are music and I just want to share it.

 
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