These days, it's refreshing to hear something that isn't drenched with synths and heavy beats. So, X Factor winners Little Mix's latest single, "How Ya Doin?" the fourth taken from their debut album DNA is indeed a breath of fresh air. The single sports an awesome downbeat '90s R&B vibe--almost reminiscent of some of Jamiroquai's early stuff.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Over the last two years American rock band The National have become one of my favourite bands. Their fifth album High Violet (click for review) introduced me to a style of atmospheric and somber rock that I hadn't experienced listening to any other band that wasn't Radiohead. The album became their first commercial success, debuting at #3 on the Billboard 200. Their follow up album, Trouble Will Find Me, is out in May. I cannot wait!
Check out their performance of, "I Need My Girl," taken from the forthcoming record.
Posted by J.Mensah at 19:15
I once had a dream about a contemporary pop LP, in which the majority of the tracks clocked in at nearly ten minutes a piece. I awoke from said dream laughing, deeming no sane contemporary pop musicians would even dare. Well, I didn't really, but if I did, that dream would probably have been foreshadowing Justin Timberlake's third album 20/20 Experience. For instance, only three of the tracks runs under seven minutes, which is hard enough to digest on its own, but no--there's a second half which arrives later this year, because 70 minutes just isn't enough.
That said, the albums longest track, second single, "Mirrors," is fantastic and indeed the best track on the album. It's soft electronic guitar flushed undertones, its beat-box stapled backdrop and its gulping beats. It's classic Timberlake that wouldn't feel out of place on his last album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. It also has a "Cry Me a River" essence to it. Unfortunately, for such a magnificent song, it's a shame that it doesn't end at the five minute mark, but instead adds another three minutes with a plodding assortment of piano keys, soft beats and distorted background noise--almost like an extended interlude. It might be the ninth track down, but it mimics a problem that the majority of the album has and why it's so hard to love. However, there are times where Timberlake's sense of melisma works pretty well. Opening track, "Pusher Love Girl" re-calls Prince at his most soulful. The track straddles a choppy electronic guitar, horns and bulky beats. The beats become more prominent and Timberlake's vocal becomes more distorted in its last three minutes. The drug metaphors ("I'm just a junkie for your love") are fun too. Closing track, "Blue Ocean Floor," is another stunner. It's a rather somber ballad, which begins with an interesting atmospheric reverse-effect before soft pulsating beats and piano keys emerge.
Now, the rest of the album isn't bad by any means--the main problem here is that they don't need to be as long as they are. Sometimes melisma, length and experimentation are mistaken for artistry whereas in cases like these, the length should accentuate and compliment the song not over-blow or minimalise it. "Don't Hold the Wall," has an interesting composition with its rhythmic backing--a nice experimental take on R&B that, again, wouldn't sound out of place on FutureSex/LoveSounds. It's latter half pushes the heavy beats to the forefront while Timberlake and Timbaland mutter beneath the composition. "Strawberry Bubblegum," is less impressive with its ho-hum production of clattering beats and bleeps.
"Tunnel Vision," is nice slice of downbeat pop, with bursts of strings and heavy beat-backing. "Spaceship Coupe," follow on its heels, another downbeat track with a heavier R&B edge and a little more sultry--it sounds very Usher--to be specific, it sounds like a mix between "Burn" and "Promise" by American R&B singer Ciara. There's also a great guitar solo in its mid-section. The last two minutes are spent with sexual moaning beneath the composition and Timberlake's murmuring. "That Girl," is albums only normal length track (along with the '70s influenced R&B of lead single, "Suit & Tie") and seems take inspiration from the doo-wop era, motown and Prince's melisma.
It's difficult to class 20/20 Experience as a good or bad album. Its sound is certainly cohesive and it's a magnificent sound he's a exploring--a not quite so ambitious but still interesting and captivating modern take on classic pop, R&B and soul. But it's hard to enjoy when one listen through this ten-track LP is exhausting and unnecessarily bloated.
Best: Mirrors, Pusher Love Girl, Blue Ocean Floor, Tunnel Vision
Posted by J.Mensah at 18:52
Monday, March 25, 2013
It took awhile but it finally happened--Rihanna decided to take a year out and not release an album this November--but even more importantly, British girl group The Saturdays finally landed their first chart topper with, "What About Us," the lead single from their forthcoming fifth album (or fourth if you count Headlines! as an album) and their first ever single over in the states. And it only took six years worth of singles. Moving 114,000 in its first week, it's the years fastest selling single, eclipsing One Direction's Comic Relief single, "One Way or Another." Here's a look back at their previous singles:
If This Is Love (#8)
This frothy inoffensive pop ditty was released on the heels of the impending hiatus of fellow girl band Girls Aloud. So in true music industry fashion, The Saturdays were touted as their replacement. But this Cutfather produced track didn't quite hit the mark--a little too sweet and void of distinctive energy--it made sense that it entered the charts at a modest #8. Even its accompanying video lacked certain something that they would soon exhibit in droves in their later work.
Now, where "If This Is Love," lacked in energy and "that certain something," its follow up single, "Up," more than made for it. Coming in just a that little bit more stronger, more polished and feisty--with its sirens, prominent bleeps, heavy beat and burst of synths. The single scored the band their first top five single, peaking at #5. The group's debut album Chasing Lights was released shortly after.
After the upbeat dance-pop of the previous two singles, this mellow guitar-backed number was a welcomed release. The single landed the group their second top five and bested "Up," becoming their highest charting at the time.
Just Can't Get Enough (#2)
Technically, this was the first Saturdays single to see the top of the charts. Their cover of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough," was released head to head with Flo Rida's "Right Round." They topped the midweek chart, but Flo got the last laugh by Sunday--the same thing would happen again four singles later. But this indeed became the group's highest charting single at the time, debuting at #2. And it also gets the award for their sexiest video.
After a consecutive string of four top ten singles, then came their first flop in the form of "Work," peaking at a disappointing #22. The single sported a more distinctive urban flavour than their previous singles, accompanied by its similarly raunchy video--inspired by Britney Spears' infamous "I'm a Slave 4 U" clip.
Forever Is Over (#2)
The lead single from their sophomore album, Wordshaker, "Forever Is Over," scored the group their fifth top ten, debuting at #2. While it's one of their more underwhelming single for me, it showcased a move from their more glossy dance-pop and to a more rock-studded venture in pop.
British pop doesn't get more decent than this (well, British pop by a girl group). Wordshaker's second single was indeed their best single and probably still is. Melody-studded production, catchy chorus and plenty of synths and beats--it had everything needed for a great modern pop tune. It is quite the shame it only managed the lowly peak of #9.
Missing You (#3)
Another #1 that got away (this time thanks to Flo Rida). Doped with vocoders, mellow synths and a shimmering backdrop, it's doesn't strike the biggest chord but it's still nice.
What do you do to the person that's stopped you from hitting the top spot twice? You collaborate with them. Unfortunately, it's not a magic potion for a chart-topper. "Higher" debuted at #10 becoming their eighth top ten. But charts aside, where the majority of their previous singles had a rather melancholic lyrical undertones, this was there first dance with unadulterated fun.
The lead single from their third full-length album On Your Radar was a rather misguided and a little disingenuous venture into dance-pop. From its clunky production to the unfitting lyrics--it didn't quite work. Still, the single debuted at #8 scoring another top ten.
All Fired Up (#3)
There's no question that with the right producers, the group can produce some great pop. Where, "Notorious," underwhelmed, its follow up, "All Fired Up" more than made up for it. Its glorious synth-drenced production (and mesmerising video) knocked it out of the park. Behind, "Ego," it's their best single, which was also reflected in its chart performance, debuting at #3.
My Heart Takes Over (#15)
One could have only assumed that after the flop of this melancholic ballad, it would have been over the group. With each single up until this point barely scanning 100,000, underwhelming album sales and no chart topper, things certainly looked dim.
30 Days (#7)
Things continued to slope with the release of their blandest single to date, which peaked at the bottom half of the top ten and left just as quickly.
What About Us (#1)
The Saturdays finally have a #1, so what's changed? The group have an air of new found life, which could only stem from their mildly successful attempt at success stateside. While the single isn't particularly interesting--it's synth-driven production is interesting enough to tantalise the commercial minds of its mainstream audience. Where their previous singles barely sold 100k, this moved that much in its first week, which is a feat in itself.
Posted by J.Mensah at 19:28
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
From what I've read, the seventh album from Canadian duo Tegan and Sara brings with it a switch up in sound, which sees them moving away from the indie folk-rock that they explored on previous albums and into a shimmery world of synths and dance-pop.
Right off the bat, first track, "Closer," launches the album into a synth-charged euphoria, backed with prominent drum patterns and pulsating bleeps, perpetuating that spacey and atmospheric sensation. It's great dance-pop, with a blustery chorus and catchy reptitive lyrics ("I won't treat you like you're typical") intact. I believe it was featured in this week's episode of Glee. "Goodbye, Goodbye" follows swiftly. And where the message on the previous track was to "get a little closer," things take a bitter turn on here as they sing, "you never really loved me." Stripping back the glistening production for the verses--where the drums and guitar chords pluck beneath the layers of soundscapes--before letting loose on the chorus.
"I Was a Fool," the albums first mid-tempo begins with melodious piano keys, before it's layered beneath drums and then synths for its Ellie Goulding-esque chorus. It's a great track; making way for its follow-up mid-tempo, "I'm Not Your Hero," which boasts a slightly skittering synth-beat and guitars. It's melody-charged chorus is particularly nice--it's sounds very synth-rock--the production comes together perfectly. "Drove Me Wild," is another winning synth-charged number. Re-calling dance-pop of the '80s somewhat, with its layering of distorted guitars, heavy synths, prominent backing beat, which make up the fantastic chorus.
Third mid-tempo, "How Come You Don't Want Me," feels a little Robyn with its pulsating backdrop. The chorus isn't as flashy as the previous tracks--it's more stripped down--bringing the duos boisterous vocal to the forefront. "I Couldn't Be Your Friend," starts with a persistent high-pitched guitar chord before the drums and synths kick in for the chorus. Excuse the barrage of comparisons, but it sounds like something Katy Perry would sing--even the vocal sounds a little like her.
"First time I saw your face, I knew I was meant for you," begins lovelorn, "Love They Say," which introduces layers of acoustic guitar for the first time, which dissolves into the synth, drum and soundscape in the chorus. "Now I'm All Messed Up," has a cool skittering synth-drum production, alternating between that a subtle section of distorted keyboards and twingy synths. "Shock To Your System," closes on the album on a somber and slightly anthemic note. The production is dramatic and haunting--an aura that is stapled beneath the prominent drum beat, synth, piano keys and the blustery vocal that repeats, "what you are is lonely."
Heartthrob might stay strictly within synth-charged dance-pop genre, but it still has a lot going for it. It's a cohesive collection of mostly fun pop and (what I now know is called...) synth-rock, that's pretty hard to argue against.
Best: Closer, Goodbye Goodbye, I'm Not Your Hero, I Was a Hero, Drove Me Wild
Posted by J.Mensah at 00:49