Tag Archives: Daft Punk

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 12

You can find the previous Shuffle Lessons here.

1. “Stuck In The Middle” – Mika, Life In Cartoon Motion

A fantastic hook is on display in this tune, one of many fantastic hooks on a really strong debut album from Freddie Mercury’s pop heir apparent, Mika. Granted, Mika hasn’t had the steadiest consistency in album qualities, but his debut is his best work; absolutely worth checking out if you need a smile in your life.

Lyrically, I’m reading this song as a dig at a strained parental relationship. Interesting how he dresses a heavy subject in such colorful clothes. There are several songs on the album where this is done, so if you don’t pay close attention, it’s just an overtly positive sounding album, but with a third or fourth listen, you start hearing the lyrical layers he’s created.

Musically, this tune is a really great representation of where Mika excels. It is built on an insanely catchy little piano riff. One of the best things about this song (and the album in general) is how well orchestrated Mika’s tunes are. Everything is added to that riff and it creates a lot of great kinetic energy.

It’s the little things like the rhythm guitar in the chorus or in the second verse, Mika’s fabulous at doing these instrumental flourishes that build the song out so well and create a very colorful tableau. The scat part at the song’s conclusion highlights this really well.

2. “Losing My Way” – Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds

Now that I’m thinking about it, this is the only solo song JT’s ever recorded that tackles an “issue,” unless you consider dressing fly and being a ladies man an issue. JT’s singing about the dangers of drug abuse from the perspective of a husband/father from a lower socioeconomic class.

Surprisingly, I like this song a lot (surprising because “issue” songs are often very trite; a four minute pop song isn’t really the best place to try and dissect a social issue). As far as song quality goes, it’s good enough that I’m surprised JT’s never attempted an issue song since.

Musically, this is a really subdued tune from Timbaland, with the usual Timbo touches gone, replaced here only with a “ba-dum-bah” refrain that underlays the entire song. Granted, the song ends with a gospel choir in the background, but in the context of the song, they fit perfectly and add a very soulful prayer-like flavor to the song. As this is a black sheep song in the Justin Timberlake catalog, it makes me think JT and Timbo could write more songs like this, especially to fill the space on the second half of The 20/20 Experience where it sounded like they were taking songs left over from *NSYNC days (I’m referring specifically to the last 11 minutes of the album, completely superfluous).

3. “Veridis Quo” – Daft Punk, Discovery

One of the things I love about writing these posts is that it forces me to give a really focused listen to songs I wouldn’t normally, or songs I’m surprised are even in my Top 1000. This is a perfect example, a song that was on an album I absolutely loved and listened to a lot, but for some reason, continually got forgotten about as I listened through it.

When I think about Daft Punk’s Discovery, “Digital Love” and “One More Time” are obviously the stand-out tracks, but there are tunes like “Veridis Quo” that are very unique and interesting in their own way.

This is an atmosphere track. No lyrics, just instrumentals of various kinds. It absolutely belongs in an outer space travel scene in an anime show (oh wait, they already did that).

What gives it this ephemeral, spacey quality is the fact that the synth upon which the whole melody is built never actually breaks. You know how with the guitar or a trumpet or a piano, to change notes you actually have to either let your finger off the fret, or take a new breath, or put your finger on a new key? With this synth melody, they’ve managed to connect it all in a way that sounds like an eternal instrumental loop. It creates a sound that just washes over you like the remnants of a supernova.

While it’s definitely not my favorite song off of Discovery, as far as the instrumentals go, it’s a very pretty song to listen to. My biggest complaint with this album in general is actually songs like this one, because with too many of them, you lose the listen-ability factor because the average music listener doesn’t want an album full of atmospheric synth instrumentals (this is the biggest problems with their albums pre- and post-Discovery, Homework and Human After All).

That’s not to say this song is bad though, especially considering it is a five minute long synth instrumental. I’d say it’s a little repetitive, but I don’t think Daft Punk care about repetition when they make their music. I’d almost say it’s one of their strong suits.

4. “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” – Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

Sufjan. Possibly the most complex and unique songwriter under the age of 40 that graces my iTunes library. This guy is incredibly intelligent, and each song off of his Illinois album sounds like it is the result of a graduate thesis. Or at least each song could be the subject of a graduate thesis.

Sufjan is hands down one of the most literary songwriters I’ve ever heard. This song can be read several different ways, with so many of his lyrics being just vague enough to encourage interpretation.

Here goes: I think the opening verse introduces us to the narrator, who is either in a lucid-dream state, not sleeping in the middle of the night, or just falling to sleep, as he sees something in his bedroom that reminds him of a childhood memory. The song then transports the narrator and the listener back to his childhood, to a time at a summer camp where he and his brother and/or friend came upon what they thought was a giant mutant wasp monster.

What I love about this song is how Sufjan takes a seemingly unrelated subject and turns it into a reflection on human nature and how we respond to the world around us. I read this song as a humble prayer to God about his Creation, the beautiful and terrible parts of it (i.e. the “great sights” of the land and the “terrible sting” of the predatory wasp). Sufjan is singing an ode to the beauty of God’s creation through the lens of the imagination and innocence of childhood.

Or he could be singing about a crush he had on a friend at summer camp. It doesn’t really matter, but it does display what depth Sufjan writes into his songs.

I haven’t even gotten to the music yet. This song starts with a very simple acoustic guitar pattern with some kind of woodwinds played on top. The finger-picked chords of the first verse are a perfect testament to how Sufjan can take something familiar and make it sound fresh.

The next addition is the very soft background vocals, which will come into play later in the song. And then we get into the first refrain, where Sufjan teases at the orchestration that’s to come. I hear a mix of accordion-sounding woodwinds (the accordion is not a woodwind but I can’t describe it any other way, maybe a glockenspiel?) over some piano chords and a tambourine. The blend is gorgeous.

Then right at 2:10, this horn comes in for a bar and is then followed up by another horn doing harmony. As gorgeous as the orchestration becomes just after these two bars and at the end of the song, this might be my favorite musical moment of the song. It’s so simple and so refined; you hear each element with so much clarity. This sound so perfectly encapsulates what Illinois sounds like as an album and why Sufjan excels as a musician. He’s able to create these sonic landscapes with a lot or a little, and he knows exactly where to add and where to abstain.

If you haven’t listened to this album, go check out this song. It’s a great representation of how dense Sufjan makes his music.

5. “Smooth Criminal” – Michael Jackson, Bad

If you are just about 30 years old, and didn’t listen to pop radio in the ‘80s, it is very likely that your first introduction to this song was a cover by a band named Alien Ant Farm in 2001. As I recall, it was a pretty huge hit (at least in Iowa, I remember hearing it on the radio all the time). And I remember thinking it was a pretty hard rockin’ tune.

Oddly enough, the main difference between it and MJ’s original is the metal-sounding guitars in the cover. Take those away, and you’ve almost got the original song.

Which is for the best, because obviously the original is the best. MJ somehow took a song about a breaking-and-entering/assault and turned it into a pretty intense club banger. It is a pretty dark tune, considering the hook that everyone knows is “Annie, are you O.K.?” when clearly she’s not.

But that doesn’t take away from how rockin’ MJ and Quincy made this tune sound. It all really comes to a head during the bridge, when a public service announcer’s voice tells everybody to “Clear the area, right now!” as a siren blares in the background. The song then launches into the bridge, which features an in-your-face mix of blazing synthesizer, a pan-flute-like rhythmic section, and of course MJ’s patented hee-hees.

The other thing that struck me as I listened to this one is how cinematic it sounds. From the beginning four-second intro before the song really hits to the atmospheric sound effects in the bridge, it’s really clear that MJ was moving toward a more cinematic expression in his music and art.

This is evident 100% in the music video, which I’ve linked above. While the song is about four minutes long, the video is a full five minutes past that, clocking in at over nine minutes. The whole thing is like a short film, and MJ uses one of the coolest effects in all of his videos, the anti-gravity lean. Be sure to check it out. The dude could dance like nobody else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 11

You can find the previous Shuffle Lessons here.

1. “Back Broke” – The Swell Season, Strict Joy

This is one of my sad favorites off of the Swell Season’s follow up to the smash hit Once soundtrack. It’s a gorgeous song, but I think it can serve as a weird warning signal to the Swell Season’s future. Marketa Irglova is almost nowhere to be found on this particular song. It’s mainly just Glen Hansard’s hushed vocals on top of a spare instrumental arrangement. He’s playing a mournful chord progression on his guitar that is just so softly complemented by a haunting combination of piano riffs, string accompaniments, and a restrained second guitar part. There is a whisper of vocal harmony, but rather than a clear harmony part sung by Irglova, it’s more a chorus of soft voices singing behind Hansard. The musical component definitely leads towards Hansard’s solo record. Lyrically though, this is right in the Swell Season’s wheelhouse. A song of a broken relationship that the singer can’t leave. Sad stuff, and it’s couched in a pretty depressing little musical tune. Incredibly beautiful.

2. “The Line” – D’Angelo, Voodoo

A powerful song from Voodoo; it reads very much like D’s manifesto coming off of the success of his debut album Brown Sugar. D’ had been working on Voodoo for nearly 4 years, and the pressure was on from his record company, the music industry, and his fanbase to release a follow up that was worth the hype. This song sounds like a response to that adversity. He lays all of his fears and trepidations on “the line” and says no one can judge him but God. I wonder if this was a therapeutic song to write and record, because its essentially a defense of his artistic method. Musically, this track is sparse, but the interplay between what you can hear is awesome. I’d hesitate to even say there’s a dedicated chord progression in this song. The one time the main chord changes is when the bass dips down for one bar right before the 5 minute mark, then it’s back to business as normal.

3. “Touch It / Technologic” – Daft Punk, Alive 2007

This is kind of a tough one because it’s a mash-up of two songs I’m either not crazy about or don’t really know. Alive 2007 is best listened in one straight shot, because the album is really faithful to the Daft Punk concert experience. Tracks change without you even knowing, so really, the entire album is like one giant mash-up track of lots of Daft Punk songs, not unlike a Girl Talk album. I will say that I certainly enjoy these songs spliced together more than I like either one on its own. It’s got a much better tempo than the originals, and when the song morphs from “Touch It” into “Technologic,” it really starts to pick up. The Nile Rodgers-esque guitar riff that comes in softly just after the 3:00 minute mark is a great transitional bridge between the two songs. Because at 3:42, the song really pops. This is a classic example of Daft Punk taking an album release and making it much better live. Makes you wonder what they would do with all of the awesome stuff on Random Access Memories.

4. “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – Eagles, Eagles

You know how you might have heard a song a hundred times in your life and then one day you hear it for what seems like the first time? I heard this song for the “first” time in March of 2013, cruising on a yacht in the Pacific ocean off Miami. I wouldn’t have thought to put Eagles on, but thankfully Chet did and I think we all immediately chilled out. Even though we were on the wrong coast, it just fit the moment, and we all immediately felt lighter. Lots of Eagles music has the tendency to make me feel light as a feather, probably because they are the musical equivalent of light as a feather. There’s so very little that’s complicated with Eagles, and this song is a perfect reflection of that. Soothing strummed acoustic guitars, a clean electric solo with a bit of twang, and a simple drum/bass complement that evokes a cool breeze. A perfect song for sailin’.

5. “I’d Rather Dance With You” – Kings Of Convenience, Riot On An Empty Street

If you’ve never heard Kings Of Convenience, this isn’t actually the most representative song they’ve got. It’s a great tune, to be sure, but it stands out from the rest of their songs as probably the most movement-based thing they’ve ever done. What I mean by that is that it might not be the most fast-paced song they’ve got, but it’s got more going on than any others. There is an actual, noticeable drum rhythm, which is rare for these guys. You’ve got the interplay between strings and keys and guitar, which is a hallmark of their style, but this particular tune is such a unique blend of these three and when laid on top of the drum track, makes this one an actually radio-friendly(ish) tune. It’s a lot of fun, although ironically, probably not the best song to dance to.

1 Comment

Filed under Music

Sweeping Declarations: The Aftermath or 2013 In Music: A Review

It is with an overwhelmingly heavy heart that I must report: my Sweeping Declaration made in March of 2013 did not come true.

Let’s rewind and take a look back at it:

This Year Will Be The Best Year Of Music That I Live To See.

On paper, you’d think I was dead on. The number of good artists to release new music this year? Unparalleled. In fact, higher than any year I’ve been alive and conscious of popular music. That’s why I thought my Declaration was nearly fool-proof. Unfortunately, just because an artist I like releases a new album doesn’t mean it’s going to be a 5-star affair. Let’s first take a look at the albums I listened to this last year:

  • Night Beds – Country Sleep
  • Jim James – Regions Of Light And Sound Of God
  • Madeleine Peyroux – The Blue Room
  • Eric Clapton – Old Sock
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1
  • Josh Rouse – The Happiness Waltz
  • The Strokes – Comedown Machine
  • Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream
  • She & Him – Volume 3
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Jamie Cullum – Momentum
  • Booker T. Jones – Sound The Alarm
  • Jay Z – Magna Carta… Holy Grail
  • Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest
  • Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Lickity Split
  • Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go
  • Buddy Guy – Rhythm & Blues
  • The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
  • Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Derek Webb – I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You
  • Jack Johnson – From Here To Now To You
  • Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wise Up Ghost
  • Haim – Days Are Gone
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 2
  • Amos Lee – Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
  • Teitur – Story Music
  • Brett Dennen – Smoke And Mirrors
  • Arcade Fire – Reflektor

If you look at the left side of that list, it’s pretty impressive to think this many awesome artists all released new music. It’s what they released that rendered my Sweeping Declaration false. Let me explain with more lists:

Top 5 Favorite Albums of 2013:

  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1
  • Haim – Days Are Gone
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Amos Lee – Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song

Top 5 Album Let-Downs of 2013:

  • Jamie Cullum – Momentum
  • Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 2
  • John Mayer – Paradise Valley
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind

These lists are weird one after another, especially because two albums appear on each. But this is the essence of what made this a weird year of music for me. Some of my favorite artists released music, really good music, but not stunning music. Let’s look at a few examples.

JM’s Paradise Valley is really a great album. Smooth sounds, a nice country/western vibe, nothing too difficult or inaccessible. Just nice tunes about love and summertime. But honestly, this felt like gussied-up outtakes from the Born And Raised sessions. Born And Raised came out hardly a year ago, and it was a perfect example of how JM has managed to continually evolve musically for over 10 years now. But with Paradise Valley (and again, I really loved the album), there wasn’t that same sense of musical growth that JM’s managed to pull off with every single new studio album he’s released. As a consumer, it left me happy we had new JM, but a bit hollow.

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is maybe the most disappointing, as they had the biggest build-up and their album was plagued by the same sorts of issues they’ve had in the past. However, it’s still an awesome album. Nobody can make a electronic song like Daft Punk. With the help of Nile Rodgers, they created some of my favorite tunes of the year. The album was just so 50/50 to me. Each song was either a solid gold hit or something I skipped (with the exception of the 3:21-4:11 segment in the middle of “Touch”).

And then Justin Timberlake wowed us all with two album releases. I’ve read that his return to music was due to a contractual obligation, and if that’s the reason for two albums, then I get it. But musically? Part 2 was the most unnecessary album of the year. Especially because of how powerful Part 1 was. Part 1 was a sonic safari through the minds of JT and Timbaland, and it was better than 100% of today’s pop music. Part 2 was overkill, with a few good songs but nearly all of them too long. Did we really need the last track and hidden track? The former was like a leftover from the *NSYNC days and the latter was the fluffiest bit of mush he’s made since the Justified ballads. Again, had JT just stuck with Part 1 and called it The 20/20 Experience, it would’ve been perfect. Part 2 was just excessive.

But truly, even if all of these artists had released their best albums all in the same year, there is still one event that needed to have occurred for me to fully qualify my Sweeping Declaration as true. Whatever year D’Angelo decides to release his third album, the follow-up to 2000’s Voodoo, will be the best year of music I’ll most likely ever live to see.

Rumors have been flying about this album for nearly a decade, but since January of 2012, the rumors have turned into something more than just industry ephemera. D started playing shows again, both in Europe and the States, Questlove began promising the album was close to finished, and Russell Elevado (sound engineer on Voodoo and the follow-up) started tweeted that the album was completely mastered and ready to be released. He’s even mentioned spring/summer of 2014 as a release date.

Frankly, I’ll believe it when I’m holding the album in my hands. 2013 was pretty good as far as music goes, but without a doubt, the year of D’s return will be better.

Here’s my Best of 2013 Playlist:

  1. “Ramona” – Night Beds
  2. “Wild Child” – Brett Dennen
  3. “Waitin’ On The Day” – John Mayer
  4. “Out Of My League” – Fitz & The Tantrums
  5. “Back Seat Lover” – Mayer Hawthorne
  6. “Let The Groove Get In” – Justin Timberlake
  7. “Somewhere In America” – Jay Z
  8. “Fragments Of Time” – Daft Punk
  9. “Don’t Save Me” – Haim
  10. “Our Love” – Josh Rouse
  11. “Reflektor” – Arcade Fire
  12. “Indonesia” – Amos Lee
  13. “Take Me Out (Of Myself)” – Jamie Cullum
  14. “Manhattan” – Sara Bareilles

3 Comments

Filed under Music, Review

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 8

1. “December 4th” – Jay Z, The Black Album

This is one of my Top 3 Favorite Jay Z songs. I’m not sure what exactly hits so deeply with me. When this album was released, Jay Z was billing it as his retirement from hip hop, so it was a pretty huge deal. This song plays out like a fond farewell to a long and illustrious career. Hov is reminiscing about his early days and there is something sad when he says “Goodbye to the game / all the spoils / the adrenaline rush…” Jay is without a doubt one of the best rappers in the history of hip hop, and to have him looking back at his broken childhood and adolescence through the lens of his current state sounds bittersweet.

Just Blaze is the producer on this track, and I have to say he knocks it out of the park. I don’t have the Chi-Lites album that features the song that he samples here, but when the beat kicks in at 0:32 after the “that’s how long” hook, it resonates; it really hits deeply. There couldn’t be a better opener for, arguably, Jay Z’s finest album.

2. “Gravity” – Sara Bareilles, Little Voice

This is a superb closer off of a fantastic debut album by Sara Bareilles. The whole album is catchy piano hit after catchy piano hit, but she brings the mood way down low to close it out. This is not a particularly happy song, but the music seems to befit the sentiment very well. She seems to be trying to get away from bad love, hence the theme. It’s a sprawling ballad, complete with an Adele-like orchestral climax where she hits a note that is truly stunning. Bareilles’ has a breathtaking voice, and this is coming from a guy who prefers male voices over female. It’s clear, controlled, and it’s a perfect blend of strength and breath. Her voice is relaxing because you never worry about what’s going to happen with it. She makes the listener trust her because of how well she can handle her own pipes. There isn’t another song on this album that communicates that ability so well.

3. “Fragments Of Time” – Daft Punk, Random Access Memories

I read several reviews of Daft Punk’s latest album that referenced a slick, ’70s, breezy, California feel. All of those reviews were referring to this song. Honestly, this song sounds like the result of an insane musical threesome between Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, and Eagles, with some robotic noises thrown in for good measure. Definitely one of my favorite songs off the album, and the exact model of what I wish every other Random Access Memories song was like. Not even in sound, but more in structure. When Daft Punk put together a tune that is normal length and normal structure (intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge/solo, chorus, etc.), they create tunes I could listen to for days. That’s why I love Discovery so much; it is almost all “normal” tunes. Lots of Random Access Memories songs are great, but unnecessarily long and weird. This one is immediately listenable, where lots of their stuff actually isn’t. I can imagine my parents tolerating this, if not even enjoying it a little bit.

Musically, it’s incredibly similar to “Digital Love” off of Discovery, which is not too surprising, considering that is one of my favorite Daft Punk songs ever. This is just a well-paced, fun listen, with a kick-ass robot-voiced solo. Major props to Todd Edwards for delivering fantastic vocals, much like his vocal work on Discovery. When the robots make a song with a vocal, it’s almost always a winner. This one definitely is.

4. “Wheels” – Jamie Cullum, The Pursuit

If Cullum’s cover of “Don’t Stop The Music” had any competition for my favorite song off of this album, it would be “Wheels.” This is a tune that draws you in immediately. Another example of perfect understatement, the beat here is the real star of the show. Cullum sings with an earnestness that doesn’t cross into desperation, discussing the plans we make as youths which are so often abandoned as time changes us. The piano hook is so simple and cyclical, matching the lyrical theme. But as I said before, the rhythm of this song pushes this song farther than you’d expect. There is a quickness and circular nature in the beat that makes me think of a fast-moving train, plugging along in a way that we can’t stop. Much like time, and change. This is a sad song, and Cullum has dressed it up in such a gorgeously melancholy way.

5. “Theme” – Jon Brion, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

This is a spell-binding two and a half minute instrumental, or as it’s titled, the “Theme” from the Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind soundtrack. This piece is truly one of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard. I think a lot of the reason it affects me so much is because of the gut reaction I get from the movie. For me, it’s one of the most emotional movies I’ve ever seen, and that is manifested in a really special way through this music. This is the tune that opens the movie, and it always brings me excitement, pensiveness, and melancholy. It’s a beautiful piece of music, plain and simple. When the song starts, there is this gorgeous sound behind the bass and piano melody, much like waves on the ocean. Not the actual sound of ocean waves but it’s as though that specific sound could be expressed in a completely musical way. The subtlety of the sound makes it almost imperceptible. It forms the foundation of the song, on which every other part is built, and it’s the last thing you hear in the song. There is a simplicity in this tune that captures the innocence and bittersweet nature of the film. Just piano and bass. Hardly anything else. The bass plays a hypnotic and gorgeous riff while the piano plays a magnificently sad melody. How these pieces fit together captures me every single time.

If this was looked at as a one off tune, it would be considered a very beautiful instrumental. But within the larger context of the film’s score, it underpins every other musical piece. It is called “Theme” because every piece in the score is a variation or offshoot of this original tune. And to listen to the score once, you’d most likely not hear it. It takes many dedicated listens (or viewings of the film) before you begin to hear the “Theme” inform and haunt nearly every scene of the movie and every part of the score. On the first listen through, this score is disjointed and jarring, much like Jim Carrey’s character responding to the memory-erasing treatment. There are musical parts that are lifted from other scenes and things that are repeated or called back and it often sounds incredibly chaotic. But with time, you can begin to hear the nuances of the “Theme” running through the entire score and movie, and it adds an entirely new dimension to the experience. This is a truly captivating piece of music.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 4

1. “In Step” – Girl Talk, Feed The Animals

This track kicks off with Drama’s “Left, Right” over a mash of Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” and Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” Gotta love that spray paint can rattling noise over Orbison singing. Second part kicks off with “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa over Nirvana’s “Lithium,” which is an insanely creative appropriation of that grunge riff. It’s interesting that Girl Talk opted out of the instantly recognizable (to ’90s kids) hook of the Salt-N-Pepa song, that synthey “bah, BAH bah bah bah…” and instead just used the rap and some of the beat I think.

This track definitely starts low and crescendos by the end, with Ludacris’ verse from Fergie’s “Glamorous” over Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” The “take your broke ass home!” chant over EWF’s “bah-dee-yah” refrain is just awesome. The song caps off with Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” over what I’m assuming is chopped up beats from Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine’s “1-2-3” OR Diddy Feat. Keyshia Cole’s “Last Night,” but in reality I can’t hear the beat element in either of those original tunes.

Overall, not one of my favorites off of this album. There are some alright mash-ups (EWF x Luda is pretty great), but no real “oh no he didn’t!!” moments like many of the other tracks.

2. “Choux Pastry Heart” – Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae

One of the many understated beauties off of Corinne Bailey Rae’s self-titled debut album. The entire album is essentially an experiment of combining jazz, folk and soul genres and seeing what happens. The result is fantastic, and it’s probably only made better by the fact that you can occasionally hear CBR’s soft English accent in her voice. So pretty. This song is, as many of this album’s songs are, easily ignored. “Ignore” has too negative of a connotation, what I mean is that it very easily fades into the background of the listener’s environment. If you want to truly hear this song, get some headphones and quiet everything else down. What is she singing about? I never know. I never really need to though, because her voice naturally emanates a kind of melancholy in the way she hits notes, how she controls her breath and the cadence of her lyrical lines. I just gave this song a solid three listens in a row, and I still don’t know what the song is about, but I sure do know she’s heartbroken. I love CBR and this song for that reason; she has this emotional command over her voice that is memorizing, but only if you work for it. The second you start to pay attention, she’s got you hooked.

3. “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson, Thriller

I’ve been a little nervous to get a song like this in this series. What the heck do you write about one of Thriller‘s deeper tracks, let alone the arguable grand daddy of them all? I’m just going to take it at face value and run with it.

So I’m a huge fan of this song, mainly because I’ve only really known it for no longer than 10 years. One of the very few advantages of not growing up on secular music is the older-aged discoveries of all of this incredible music I essentially missed out on (I’m looking at you, Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes”). This is one of those songs that I never listened to as a kid and subsequently never got sick of. However, contrary to popular belief, I hate hearing this song at weddings or organized group events where I’m expected to dance to it. As much as I love this song, it’s just a little too slow for me (or most white people at the weddings I go to) to feel comfortable dancing to it. It’s almost too stripped down for reserved people to feel able to let loose and dance.

But it’s exactly that sparceness that makes this tune so great. The drums, that ridiculously catchy bass line, the funky rhythm guitar, each element here has been meticulously chosen to form this cohesive end product. Like nearly everything on Thriller, it’s a beautiful example of how MJ knew how to write an infectiously catchy tune and what a genius producer Quincy Jones was/is.

4. “Something About Us” – Daft Punk, Discovery

Easily one of my Top 3 Favorites off of Discovery, my favorite Daft Punk album. One of only two legitimately slow songs on the album, this is just a heartfelt and romantic song sung by a robot. One of the greatest things that Daft Punk has ever been able to do is play with this robot persona they’ve had for almost 20 years and juxtapose it alongside true emotion in their music. This song is all blips and bloops and synth and yet it’s got this inherently sad feeling to it. This robot is pleading for love and connection. This song exudes the most authentic emotion capable from artificial intelligence. This song is the best way to slow down the relentless pace of great song after great song on Discovery.

5. “Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

My iPod must be sad today cause it grabbed three sad songs out of 1000. Here is another pretty depressing song about the heartbreak of being left and the remorse of leaving. This is one of the songs that originally hooked me from Rumours. I’m not in love with Stevie Nicks’ voice, but it grabs me in this song. “Dreams of loneliness, like a heartbeat, drives you mad, in the stillness of remembering what you had…” Yikes. Hell hath no fury, amiright Justin? I also love the under-instrumentation in this tune. The verses are basically just the steady drum beat and heartbeat-like bass line, with the occasional sliding guitar riff thrown in. There’s not a lot more on top of that, and that serves to highlight Stevie’s part even more. This is a very pretty, very sad song off of a decently happy album.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

SWEEPING DECLARATION…

…This Year Will Be The Best Year Of Music That I Live To See.

It’s a ballsy statement to make, mainly because it’s contingent on a few artists releasing their newest albums this year, when none of them have made firm commitments. However, all signs are pointing to good things.

First, let’s look at the second tier of good music coming out, because obviously the first tier is the most exciting. As of the end of February, only one album has been released that I’m excited to listen to, Jim James’ Regions of Light and Sound of God. Jim James is the frontman for My Morning Jacket, one of those bands who I never think to listen to, and then every time I do I kick myself for not listening more often. They are awesome. James’ solo debut has gotten pretty solid reviews, and especially from Questlove, upon whom I bestow the highest musical regard. If an album gets Questlove’s endorsement, it becomes a must-have for me. After Jim James’ performance with The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Questlove tweeted, “most beautiful song i ever played on @latenightjimmy. this will be the new say anything ‘in your eyes’ @jimjames” Good enough for me.

The next set of second tiers are all albums with set release dates in the next six months. Keep in mind, this is only half the year.

  • Jimi Hendrix (March 5th)
  • Eric Clapton (March 12th)
  • Josh Rouse (March 19th)
  • The Strokes (March 26th)
  • She & Him (May 7th)
  • Fitz & The Tantrums (May 7th)

Are you kidding me? HALF THE YEAR. Who knows what else will be released in the back half? Other artists that have teased new albums are Jamie Cullum (more than teased, I’m convinced he’s days away from making a confirmed album release announcement), The Bird and The Bee, and Cee-Lo.

Now to the good stuff. I have already written about how excited I am for Justin Timberlake’s return to the music scene, especially after his earth-shattering Grammy performance. “Pusher Love Girl” was so insanely unexpected, both in how awesome it was going to be (I secretly had lowered my album expectations for fear of being severely disappointed) and also just the structure of the song itself. It struck me immediately as a rhythm-heavy song, not in volume but rather in what fundamentally grounded the whole song from going off the rails. But married to that rhythmic element was the most bombastic mix of strings, voices, horns, all culminating a melodic piece of music that floored me. The minor chord in the chorus kept surprising me every single time I heard it, and seriously bore itself into my brain. All of this makes me think that JT is set to release his most musically powerful set of songs yet, but also his most fun. I am psyched out of my mind about The 20/20 Experience.

And here’s where my Sweeping Declaration might prove to be premature. The last two huge album releases have not been confirmed yet, and truly only teased.

Thirteen years ago, D’Angelo released Voodoo and the music world has been waiting for a follow up since then. We might finally see it this year. D had all but retired completely from the scene until January of 2012, when he played his first shows in Europe in over a decade. Later that year, he played his first shows in the U.S. Everyone got excited. Then we didn’t hear anything about a new album. Then Questlove started actively tweeting about studio time with D. Then Russell Elevado, the sound engineering yoda behind Voodoo, started tweeting about finishing up recording and working on mixes of songs off of the new album. THEN in an interview with Billboard just weeks ago, Questlove made a series of seriously exciting statements about the new album:

  • “Right now, we’re just tightening up the loose ends. But I still stand by, 99% of it is done.”
  • “I would not be far off by saying this is probably my generation’s version of Sly (and the Family Stone’s) ‘There’s a Riot Goin’ On.’ It’s potent. It’s funky. It’s an extremely hard pill to swallow.”
  • “If this record is not turned in by February, then something is extremely wrong. Because we worked to the bone in the entire month of January just to tighten up all the loose ends.”

Considering that February is over, I can only hope and assume it’s been handed in to get bundled up for release into the real world. And after seeing this performance video from last year, there’s no way this album won’t be a groundbreaking, watershed musical moment in my life.

And while I would much rather have a new D album than any of the others on this list, I just heard about this next release this morning and am extremely excited about it. Daft Punk have begun seriously teasing a new album release this year. Now I’d heard rumors that they were working on something new, but just recently several things are in place to give those rumors some real weight. First, Nile Rodgers stated he had been working with them in the studio on some upcoming material. Even if you don’t recognize that name, you’ve heard his music everywhere. Rodgers was a co-founder of the band Chic, whose numerous ’70s hits include “Good Times” and “Le Freak” (YouTube them, you will recognize them instantly). He followed up his stint with Chic by producing loads of the most hugely successful music in the next couple decades (Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, The B-52s, to name a few). So fingers crossed, Daft Punk’s new material has a serious R&B/Disco flavor to it.

Second, in the last few weeks, Daft Punk’s website was changed to nothing but this picture:

Image

And in the corner, the tiny little logo of the Columbia record label. This is significant because they had previously released their albums through EMI Records, and a label change means big things are in the works. And let’s be honest, how awesome is that picture?

Third, and by far the most significant, last night during SNL, this came on during one of the commercial breaks:

Oh my goodness. While it is only a 15-second snippet, this is the most blaringly obvious hint that new music is coming down the pipeline SOON. And my previous hope that this music would bear the hallmark of Nile Rodgers’ production has been overwhelmingly confirmed. This snippet sounds like a B-side off of RisquéIt is groovy and it is funky. A breath of fresh air from Human After All, which ironically sounded incredibly unhuman. Much more reminiscent of Discovery, but as if it had been released in 1977. Cannot wait.

With a fantastic line-up of second tier album releases, and the heavy-hitting triumvirate of JT/D/Daft Punk, I think my Sweeping Declaration is a winner. Now if John Mayer surprised everybody by secretly releasing an album of instrumentals he made while he’s been off the grid, there’d be no question.

-Jon

1 Comment

Filed under Music