Dibder's New Music Series: Entry 12

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Dez 18 2009, 12h19

So here we are, as Bloc Party would sing... The end of the year... The end of the decade... The end of an era... The fucking end of it all!!!! Seriously, this year has been the most horrid one so far for me personally; this journal has kind of been one of the only things keeping me sane and with-it, so for those patient enough to read through it, thank you! And for those who've commented, thanks for your feedback! This will be one of a handful of entries for me this month, it being The End and everything, so keep 'em peeled for some more chart/award-based malarkey. But I digress, without further ado, let's crack on with December...

I Dreamed A Dream by Susan Boyle
Like quite a few UK TV viewers and YouTube subscribers, I got caught up in the whole Susan Boyle farrago in the early months of this year; the first time I saw her audition on Britain’s Got Talent, I too was quietly overwhelmed at the emotional turnaround that a humble, lonely woman achieved in the face of a viewership of millions, who were ready to scold her only to end up on their feet cheering for her still-stirring rendition of I Dreamed A Dream. A good part of a year later, Boyle and her team have finally dropped her debut album in time for Christmas, to the tune of record-breaking first-week sales, seemingly taking the time to prepare it with carefully chosen favourites for Boyle to sing. And whilst at least a couple of choices offer some moving moments (found on her polarising cover of Wild Horses and her rather lovely version of You'll See), the majority of the album’s songs bear the hallmarks of various Reality TV competition winner debuts masterminded by Simon Cowell, with most songs feeling cynically-engineered as to manipulate more suggestive listeners inescapably taken in by gospel choirs and syrupy crescendos. For some it will most likely do a disservice to Boyle’s enigmatic presence, her ardently religious nature in particular exploited rather ruthlessly on How Great Thou Art and Silent Night.

Graffiti by Chris Brown
Sure, given that his past efforts have never really struggled past the most general standards of mediocre R&B pop aside from his duet with Jordin Sparks, Brown’s third album was probably never going to break through to a new audience, but it still held a certain semblance of morbid curiosity following his arrest and resultant probation and community service for beating up his then-girlfriend, global R&B starlet Rihanna. Would it reveal something a little deeper about the man who once implored us to ponder whether we can breathe without oxygen, why his good-kid next door image was suddenly soiled by a moment of violent rage or if he could deliver on his promise of a genre-blending record reminiscent of his heroes, Prince and Michael Jackson among them? In a word: No. Though his songs feature some wonderful production by illustrious deck hands such as Swizz Beatz and Brian Kennedy (the latter sampling Eric Prydz’s Call On Me for some serious guilty pleasure on Pass Out featuring Eva Simons), Brown himself is distinctly devoid of charisma as a vocalist, and it doesn’t help that the songs are either pungently sex-obsessed (check out the passion-killer groaning on Take My Time) or find the poor star moaning about being famous (key offender being Lucky Me). It’s everything his ex’s new record isn’t...

For Your Entertainment by Adam Lambert
Adam Lambert at once represents everything that should be right and wrong with gay politics in celebrity culture. Unashamed, defiant and in possession of an undeniably powerful voice, there’s no doubt that the man fans like to call Glambert did well to avoid catcalls from the blogosphere and tabloid print media regarding his sexuality with a classy “go figure” attitude whilst performing on American Idol, where he finished as runner-up and capped off the contest performing a duet with Kiss, of all music outfits. Unfortunately, his performance on this year’s American Music Awards revealed Lambert to be just yet another so-called music artist relying on controversy surrounding an over-sexed, über-decadent persona and the tired old adage of violent sexual dry-humping to get his point across, even if the fallout surrounding it provided plenty of food for thought regarding conservatism in media coverage around the world. It’s a shame because, when he isn’t shrieking about how horny he is with such flagrant petulance (as on the title track), Lambert is still a phenomenal vocalist, proven on this debut disc with next single Whataya Want from Me and the rueful A Loaded Smile, though he is prone to overegging the key-vaulting on certain tracks (such as 2012 ballad Time for Miracles).

Out of Ashes by Dead By Sunrise
A sort-of solo project for Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington alongside Orgy members Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck, Dead By Sunrise plays a lot like Linkin Park with the hip hop/dance influence completely removed and replaced with a more traditional hard rock perspective, with Bennington’s enormous vocals more than taking up the whole of centre stage. There’s enough raucous screaming guitars and grandiose walls of noise to fill several stadiums, and Bennington’s vocals are never less than passionate, particularly on opener Fire; but it all amounts to little more than what Linkin Park have ever already done before now. It’s interesting as the same problems befall Derakh and Shuck’s Julien-K album, though both are working within different sub-genres of rock music; the formula starts off pleasurable enough, but grates too much in the long going and provides little in the way of imagination and versatility to keep the listener interested. In spite of Bennington’s still-impressive caterwauling, all the while you’re waiting for a breakbeat, distorted sample or Mike Shinoda himself to pop up and lay down some rhymes. You can find out how Derakh and Shuck’s own such project fared futher down the journal...

Kaleidoscope by Tiësto
This year has positively bristled with songwriter/producers keen to seemingly out-glamour their peers with the amount of star wattage permeating throughout their own personal releases, be it within the hip hop dancehalls (see N.A.S.A.’s The Spirit of Apollo), the urban-glitter dance clubs (hear Simian Mobile Disco’s Temporary Pleasure) or even out-of-leftfield alternative electronica (the quite brilliant effort from Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse that will never see official release). What surprises on Tiësto’s latest release though is not so much the amount of guests on his effort, but the seemingly-loftier profiles of some of them; what could Jónsi of Sigur Rós, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke and Emily Haines of Metric possibly be doing on a cheesy Eurodance album? Still, it’s a good thing that the Dutch DJ/producer has managed to coral these disparate names into the mix, otherwise there would be nothing of keen interest to recommend on his fourth LP, which is prone to lapsing into the kind of grating cheesiness that has given dance music a more questionable profile from some music fans (though truth be told it never plumbs depths further than the likes of Scooter). Highlights here include Priscilla Ahn’s appearance on I am strong and Kele’s duet It's Not The Things You Say (as ever though, avoid the Calvin Harris track).

Death To Analog by Julien-K
Beginning life in 2003 when Orgy members Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck developed a side-project concentrating more on electronic rock music than their previous ventures, Julien-K’s debut album release arrives not just after several well-received DJ sets and assignments for computer-game scores, but also amidst a 2009 resurgence in electro-clash that has seen similarly themed releases from the likes of Fischerspooner, Peaches, Jeffree Star and many others this year. Though it leans a lot more heavily on hard-rock noise than the aforementioned artists' releases, Death still tries to straddle the line between Marilyn Manson-esque hard rock metal and ‘80s dance-pop signatures with a liberally swathed influence of Depeche Mode (frontman Shuck giving his best Dave Gahan impression on the enjoyably sleazy Systeme De Sexe in particular). It’s not nearly as revolutionary and kick-ass as the official website proclaims it as though, proving more of a guilty pleasure of bleak keyboards and guitars as opposed to the kind of grand opus the revolutionary-themed promotional prose would want you to believe, and by halfway through even that feeling starts to wear off as Derakh and Shuck insist on punching the same production buttons relentlessly, offering little respite or changes of scenery amidst the sullen goth-electro rock.

Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age by Broadcast and The Focus Group
What with the Birmingham-based duo having enchanted ardent fans with their brand of psychedelic indie pop for the good part of fifteen years and graphic designer/composer Julian House’s sycophancy for archived sounds and ditties from ‘70s British TV and radio bordering on Father Dougal-style delirium, Broadcast and The Focus Group couldn't appear to be better matched in aesthetics and moods when it comes to their music. And this collective tumble through at-times gorgeous, sweetly-disturbed psychedelic bucolia doesn’t offer anything less than beguiling results, the trio working together quite so well that it is hard to discern where Broadcast end and House begins. Essentially it finds them performing their way through a horror story with ominous supernatural trimmings, evidenced already by the titles but also drenched in the kind of distorted, reverb heavy miasma made eerily alarming by muffled voices and jolt-inducing sound effects (not to give anything away, but there are at least several in the divinely sinister A Seancing Song). The main niggle though is that these pieces for the most part are incredibly short, the trio seemingly eager to move into the next room of the haunted house ride they’ve created; still, it’s a ride any horror movie/alternative music fan should get themselves on at least once.

Til The Casket Drops by Clipse
Finally released from their contract at Jive Records after causing friction amidst claims of being overlooked in favour of more pop-friendly acts, Virginia Beach’s hip hop duo’s fourth album (their third to actually see release) arrives via their own Re-Up label working in conjunction with Chad Hugo and Pharrell’s Star Trak Entertainment. The Neptunes’ presence on the album isn’t as galvanising as the duo’s previous work though, with Malice and Pusha T actually working with a couple of different collaborators this time around, the most welcoming being the ruminative, almost downbeat sounds laid by Sean "P Diddy" Combs and LV on opener Freedom and Never Will It Stop. That’s not to mention some great guest spots from the likes of Kanye West, Keri Hilson, Kobe and Kenna (how’s that for hip hop/R&B artist allitteration!), and Pharrell can’t do well to keep away either, featuring on four out of eight of the cuts produced by himself and Hugo. Whilst not as rapturously received as their last LP Hell Hath No Fury, Clipse still do enough to cement their status as one of the more high profile acts in hip hop working in the world today, be they rhyming with Cam'ron about the haters on Popular Deman (Popeyes), flirting with disaster on Counseling or looking to the future on Footsteps.

Jukebox by Priscilla Renea
The second track on YouTube star Priscilla Renea’s debut album, Lovesick, opens with a pop platitude of the most risible order (“If loving you is wrong/I don’t want to be right...”); yet Renea manages to turn this into something cute by following it up with a wink and a nudge as she admits “I bet y’all knew I was gonna say that... But it’s true!” It’s this self-effacing charm that permeates throughout Jukebox, featuring production wares from established hitmakers such as Soulshock & Karlin and Power Entertainment, and also what helps her transcend her hip pop sound into something tangibly her own rather than blandly anonymous. On first listen, Dollhouse and Pretty Girl sound like little more than knock-offs of Katy Perry and Jordin Sparks, but Renea sells them with a unique enough charm for the listener to appreciate them as pop hits in their own right. It may be a little too winsome and cute for some (particularly on the absurdly cute Mr. Workabee and it’s dog-whistle pitched intro), but it is nice to hear someone trying to make a pure pop record that is light, lithe and not especially up on being salacious and raunchy, whilst still summoning up enough likeability so as not to sound overly preening to the kiddie crowd.

No Ceilings by Lil' Wayne
The big winner at the year’s Grammy awards (four including a mention for his featured spot on Swagga Like Us), you can forgive Lil’ Wayne for being in more than a good mood on this fourth mixtape collection, rapping over tracks first brought to life by Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas and Kid Cudi, smoking blunts continually throughout and prone to exclaiming that his state of mind and profile in the rap world as of now knows no limits, even if it’s obvious that this compilation (his first such work without the aid of DJ Drama) was signed, sealed and delivered before he pled guilty to attempted criminal possession of a firearm in October, which may see him do time before his rock album ReBIRTH drops next year. Offering witty retreads of D.O.A. (Death of Autotune) and I Gotta Feeling as well as making way for some new MC’s to ply their wares (star among them Shanell, featured here on That's All I Have and Wayne On Me), it’s not hard to hear why even Barack Obama himself has been prattling on about his skills as an MC; sure, his songs concern themselves with typical hip hop macho tropes of guns, bitches and self-aggrandising, but Wayne doesn’t just shoot them through with enough wit and cadence to make them listenable, but also to make listeners sit up, take notice and enjoy the show.

Gorilla Manor by Local Natives
For fledgling artists and bands, the pop world can be a dangerously anonymous place, the latest would-be casualties being this charming five piece from Los Angeles, already pegged as this year’s Fleet Foxes, just because they sing alt-pop-folk songs with a particular penchant for lovely harmonies. Now, not only does this statement give the inkling that Fleet Foxes are either a) a venerable enough institution in the world of rock to be compared in cornerstone terms to a new band or b) are already after a year so past it that the latest model has come to usurp their Next Big Thing crown (which are both, in fact, very wrong) it also robs these lovely fellows of any defence against being written off as cynically introducing themselves as soundalike noiseniks with nothing new to add... That may very well be true, but at least they have more than a few good tunes with which to back the yeasayers up, certainly being a couple of notches above the morbid gorgeousness of Foxes’ debut in terms of elation, stand outs being the rabble of Camera Talk and the warmly inviting harmonies of World News; or rather, an introduction to a band who need a fair bit more credit than lazy plaudits will strictly allow.

Real Estate by Real Estate
Some soothing, spaced-out surf rock now courtesy of these New Jersey natives, another indie act to capture a Next Big Thing plaudit courtesy of the ever-elusive Best New Music tag from buzz-tracking critics site, Pitchfork. Thankfully, there are enough whimsical melodies drifting throughout this debut disc to provide a justifiable inkling as to what should surely turn into something of a minor hit over the next few months; nothing strictly new or revolutionary going on here, but effortlessly keyed in to the kind of timeless indie rock that boozy nights in with recreational substances seem to be made for. A lot keener than most bands of their ilk to let the instrumentation do most of the talking before lead singer Martin Courtney’s vocals soothingly moan away in a woozy haze (the best example being the six minute Suburban Beverage), their eponymous premier work is one where all of the elements flow accordingly thanks to the emotional synchronicity of each of the members, bereft of the isolating grandstanding that normally occurs when lesser bands wish to draw attention to themselves. A worthy first effort from a band to most certainly catch live before the future reveals the promises made by that ever-increasing buzz...

Glee: Season One - The Music, Volume 2 by Various Artists
The second soundtrack compilation for this breakout comedy/musical TV hit to see release in as many months, the second volume of Glee’s first season’s music should feel a little thin on the ground with regards to the amount of quality arrangements, given that it covers half of the amount of episodes that the first collection did. Fortunately, that’s not the case, not only because the last four shows were seemingly crammed-to-bursting with so many performances from its robustly talented cast anyway, but also due to the shrewd choices made by the music supervisors with regards to the pieces chosen. Even the obvious selections (John Lennon’s Imagine and Dreamgirls anthem And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going among them) are simply performed with too much pep and good feeling to instantly dismiss. This disc features a few more welcome lead vocals from the supporting cast (from Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz in particular), but much like last month’s release, this show belongs to Lea Michele, who powerhouses as if her life depended on it on Barbara Streisand-standard Don't Rain on My Parade only to follow up with as much prodigious likeability on Rolling Stones classic You Can’t Always Get What You Want. And anyone who doesn’t even smile at the kids’ version of Van Halen’s Jump is officially dead inside, is all I’ll say!

Central Market by Tyondai Braxton
Having been propelled into indie-rock stardom with his bandmates from Battles after their rapturously received debut Mirrored was unleashed in 2007, Braxton has been said to have had more than a few reservations with regards to how well his sophomore solo effort would be received, given his background in avant-garde classical/jazz music was characterised by sounds and pieces quite different from the muscular avant-rock of the supergroup’s work. However, Central Market does well to marry both the classical and avant-rock genres to give a unique bent on Braxton’s loop-heavy symphonies, marrying orchestral scores with bewildering samples and effects that often sound like Looney Tunes scores at their most darned weird (specifically that episode where Porky Pig flew across the world to find the last Dodo!), whilst also suggesting just how overt an influence his work was on the math-rock collective; key pieces here that suggest Braxton’s influence on Battles was certainly more than a factor include the tumultuous Platinum Rows and the wild peaks and valleys ravaged through on closer Dead Strings. It may be a little too idiosyncratic for some Battles fans, (The Duck and The Butcher is just yearning for a Tom & Jerry style music video though), but it’ll certainly sate the appetite before the band’s return next year.

The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga
It says a lot about a pop star’s ascendancy in the international consciousness when, after less than a year, you honestly couldn’t tell what the rest of the months past would have been like without them. 23 year-old Stefani Germanotta (,’:^/) can pretty much claim 2009 as her year, starting out with a golden bullet of a debut single and supporting New Kids on the Block for their reunion tour and finishing up a world tour of her very own, five Grammy nominations, unit-shifts in their millions and a knowing sass that has defiled the umbrage from even the most snooty music fan (even if her attempting to out-glam Beyoncé in their new video together falls down epically flat!) Either as a triumphant riposte to those who doubted her pop authority or as a gracious kiss to those who’ve helped her achieve global pop infamy, GaGa has bestowed her own gift for Christmas in this mini-album, which would normally reek of cynical cashing-in if the songs weren’t actually better than anything on The Fame (yes, even Just Dance or Paparazzi!) Monster and Dance in the Dark are the kind of fool-proof disco hits that would get anyone spinning on the tiptoes and, with Speechless, Germanotta gives us her most tantalising taster for the future; a semblance of empathetic soul... A very dramatic turnaround from January, certainly!

Rated R by Rihanna
Her first album out of the gate following the intense publicity surrounding former beau Chris Brown’s attack on her, 21 year-old Robyn Fenty was faced with what would surely be the most critically-scrutinised work of her already-prolific career, most keen to find out the of the album’s overall mood and emotional pull as well as whether or not it contained hits to rival Good Girl Gone Bad’s Umbrella and the underrated Take a Bow. A sigh of relief must be felt then because Rihanna belies her years with an album so consistent, assured and even impressive in its intensity and emotional shades that it will mark a turning point in her development as an artist as opposed to just a singer. Gamely breathing in her darker hues from the likes of The-Dream, Ne-Yo and English producers Chase & Status, with critic-baiting allusions to violence, gore and gun culture, it’s an album steeped in regret, anger and wounded pride, grandly giving those interested in her private life food for thought and then plenty more (even the upliftingly arranged Fire Bomb is strewn with more than its fair share destructive imagery and Russian Roulette is one of the most legitimately distressing singles to see release this year); in short, it’s more daring, emotional and crystal clear in its motives and darkness than any hip pop princess album has any right to be.

The Element of Freedom by Alicia Keys
Not that we needed any more proof as to how awesome she indeed is, but with the assistance of the Jiggaman himself Jay-Z, Alicia Keys arguably gave 2009 its finest single with Empire State of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys); what a fabulous, stirring surprise then that her own solo version Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down that closes her fourth album trumps even that, Keys sounding more alive and in rapturous love with her city and its inspirations than she probably ever has done. And up until that beautiful moment arrives, the rest of Keys’ LP still stands as a finely made, elegant and sexy piece of work in its own right, the title being particularly apt in that Keys hasn’t sounded so confident and serene, especially captivating moments being found on the lovely Doesn't Mean Anything and her collaboration with Drake, Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready). As ever, she’s best when behind the piano tinkling away as the production hitmakers mix their state-of-the-art beats underneath as she softly sings above it all, key collaborators this time around including Jeff Bhasker (fresh from his work with Jay-Z and KiD CuDi) and the seemingly ubiquitous Swizz Beatz, who whips Keys and a certain global superstar of the moment into a sultry pout-fest on Put It in a Love Song (feat. Beyoncé).

Warm Heart Of Africa by The Very Best
One of the most enjoyable mixtapes to be released last year was from this exultant trio, comprised of brother dance DJ outfit Radioclit and singer/songwriter Esau Mwamwaya, one which saw them tackling on hits of Vampire Weekend, M.I.A., Akon and Michael Jackson with a truly lovely bent on Afrobeat mixed with the finest studio effects today’s pop music can offer (their version of Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa in particular is something of joyous wonder). Now on their own with original material, The Very Best have one heck of a namesake to prove to their listenership, and its a minor shame that Warm Heart Of Africa doesn’t quite reach the heights of their earlier doodling; truth be told though, it still knocks several shades and teeth out of most pop music around today, infusing the warm harmonies and buoyant instrumentation and arrangements found in Mwamwaya’s traditional Malawi roots with beauteous pop hooks and effects to make a truly refreshing combo. Highlights on here include the sun-drenched Mfumu, the gorgeous opener Yalira and the childrens choir backing of Nsokoto; not to mention a couple of high profile alt-pop celebrity guests from the Western world to help stir things up. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more uplifting record this year, that’s for sure...

Number Ones/The Best by Janet Jackson
Though her later career has been relatively quiet compared with the success enjoyed in the late ‘80s and all of the way through the ‘90s, one need only to glance over the track list of this latest compendium of her hits to be reminded of just how impressive her work has consistently been for over twenty years; granted, most would have been thinking about her dearly departed brother in one way or another this year certainly, but it’s not taking anything away from Michael’s star when merely suggesting that Janet is an icon in her own right also. Numbers Ones, or The Best as those residing outside of North America would know it to be (especially in the UK, where she has never actually had a number one at all), not only gives an overview of an accomplished body of work, but perhaps most impressively, sees Janet portray a degree of versatility, sexiness and strength no matter what genre she decides to tackle, be it the friendly R&B pop of The Best Things In Life Are Free, the dirty rave-up of Go Deep or the slow-burn swoon of That's the Way Love Goes. Granted, the most recent work doesn’t register quite as strong (particularly the duet with Nelly), but as proven with new song Make Me, Janet may yet have a few more surprises up her sleeve in the next few years.

Seek Magic by Memory Tapes
And it’s back over to New Jersey for another debut album, this time from electro musician Dayve Hawk, who has also been enjoying a steady head of hype over the past year thanks to his well-received remix assignments and independently released singles. Like the better debut releases to see light this year, Seek Magic is one that is at once completely cohesive in its vision and signature sound, but doesn’t do well to sit still in just one designated genre, taking in light guitar-led indie pop, ambient electronic sequences and moments of gossamer-light pop mastery, often within the same song, the best example being the disturbed disco-based slow-build of Stop Talking, which deals with a particularly acrimonious break-up. It’s a lovely, ruminative, serene and spiky record that always manage to offer up something new every time that you listen to it and an immensely accomplished debut from a singer/songwriter/producer who defies the blogpop generalising afforded by so many solo-producer albums with assured talent and credibility.

And that is why Seek Magic is my Album Of The Month For December...

So, 2009 is approaching a close; for those who've bothered to read all of the way through this and are interested enough to maybe read a little bit more (you masochists, you!), I will be putting up my Top 100 albums of 2009 very shortly over the next couple of days, as well as the final part of my Best Of 2009 CD set and a few other knick-knacks... Don't say I don't spoil you!!!

Until then, Merry Christmas (FFS!!!!) and Happy New Year... I can actually safely say that without fear of how horrible next year would be because, seriously, IT CAN'T GET ANY WORSE!

On that note... Keep listening! xxx

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