Posts tagged "music"

New Boyz ft. Tyga - Cricketz

The Bangz ft. New Boyz - Found My Swag

Music critic time machine question!


If you could have reviewed any record in history at the time it first came out, which would you choose and why?

Apart from Sgt Peppers, so I could pan the shit out of it (and not recant like whoever it was who actually did call it out for the drivel it was), I’d like to have reviewed Illmatic back in 1994. It’s a great album that’s nearly impossible to approach critically because of its the extremely high esteem within which its held. (That said, I am interested to see what Michael Eric Dyson and cohort have come up with.) Nas was already hyped by the time the album was  released, but it would have been fun to react to the album as a new work from a promising MC, and to be a part of the process of defining what it was and what it meant.

We Still Need the Beatles, but…

June 18, 1967, The New York Times

The Beatles spent an unprecedented four months and $100,000 on their new album, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” (Capitol SMAS 2653, mono and stereo). Like fathers-to-be, they kept a close watch on each stage of its gestation. For they are no longer merely superstars. Hailed as progenitors of a Pop avant garde, they have been idolized as the most creative members of their generation. The pressure to create an album that is com plex, profound and innova tive must have been staggering. So they retired to the electric sanctity of their re cording studio, dispensing with their adoring audience, and the shrieking inspiration it can provide.

The finished product reached the record racks last week; the Beatles had super vised even the album cover a mind-blowing collage of famous and obscure people, plants and artifacts. The 12 new compositions in the album are as elaborately con ceived as the cover. The sound is a pastiche of dissonance and lushness. The mood is mellow, even nostalgic. But, like the cover, the over-all effect is busy, hip and cluttered.

Like an over-attended child “Sergeant Pepper” is spoiled. It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, as sorted animal noises and a 41-piece orchestra; On at least one cut, the Beatles are not heard at all instrumentally. Sometimes this elaborate musical propwork succeeds in projecting mood. The “Sergeant Pepper” theme is brassy and vaudevillian. “She’s Leaving Home,” a melodramatic domestic saga, flows on a cloud of heavenly strings. And, in what is be coming a Beatle tradition, George Harrison unveils his latest excursion into curry and karma, to the saucy ac companiment of three tambouras, a dilruba, a tabla, a sitar, a table harp, three cellos and eight violins.

Harrison’s song, “Within You and Without You,” is a good place to begin dissect ing “Sergeant Pepper.” Though it is among the strongest cuts, its flaws are distressingly typical of the album as a whole. Compared with “Love You To” (Harrison’s contribution to “Revolv­er”), this melody shows an expanded consciousness of Indian ragas. Harrison’s voice, hovering midway be tween song and prayer chant, oozes over the melody like melted cheese. On sitar and tamboura, he achieves a remarkable Pop synthesis. Be cause his raga motifs are not mere embellishments but are imbedded into the very structure of the song, “Within You and Without You” appears seamless. It stretches, but fits.

What a pity, then, that Harrison’s lyrics are dismal and dull. “Love You To” exploded with a passionate sutra quality, but “Within You and Without You” resurrects the very cliches the Beatles helped bury: “With our love/ We could save the world/ If they only knew.” All the minor scales in the Orient wouldn’t make “With in You and Without You” profound.

The obsession with production, coupled with a surprising shoddiness in composition, permeates the entire album. There is nothing beautiful on “Sergeant Pepper.” Nothing is real and thare is nothing to get hung about. The Lennon raunchiness has become mere caprice in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Paul McCartney’s soaring Pop magnificats have become merely politely pro found. “She’s Leaving Home” preserves all the orchestrated grandeur of “Eleanor Rigby,” but its framework is emaciated. This tale of a provincial lass who walks out on a repressed home life, leaving parents sobbing in her wake, is simply no match for those stately, swirling strings. Where “Eleanor Rigby” com pressed tragedy into poignant detail, “She’s Leaving Home” is uninspired narrative, and nothing more. By the third depressing hearing, it begins to sound like an immense put-on.

There certainly are elements of burlesque in a composition like “When I’m 64,” which poses the crucial ques tion: “Will you still need me/ Will you still feed me/when I’m 64?” But the dominant tone is not mockery; this is a fantasy retirement, over flowing with grandchildren, gardening and a modest cot tage on the Isle of Wight. The Beatles sing, “We shall scrimp and save” with utter reverence. It is a strange fairy tale, oddly sad because it is so far from the com posers’ reality. But even here, an honest vision is ruined by the background which seeks to enhance it.

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is an engaging curio, but nothing more. It is drenched in reverb, echo and other studio distortions. Tone overtakes meaning and we are lost in electronic mean dering. The best Beatle melodies are simple if original progressions braced with pungent lyrics. Even their most radical compositions retain a sense of unity.

But for the first time, the Beatles have given us an album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent. And for the first time, it is not exploration which we sense, but consolidation. There is a touch of the Jefferson Airplane, a dab of Beach Boys vibrations, and a generous pat of gymnastics from The Who.

The one evident touch of originality appears in the structure of the album itself. The Beatles have shortened the “banding” between cuts so that one song seems to run into the next. This prod uces the possibility of a Pop symphony or oratorio, with distinct but related move ments. Unfortunately, there is no apparent thematic de velopment in the placing of cuts, except for the effective juxtaposition of opposing mu sical styles. At best, the songs are only vaguely related.

With one important exception, “Sergeant Pepper” is precious but devoid of gems. “A Day in the Life” is such a radical departure from the spirit of the album that it almost deserves its peninsular position (following the reprise of the “Sergeant Pepper” theme, it comes almost as an afterthought). It has nothing to do with posturing or put-on. It is a deadly earnest excursion in emotive music with a chilling lyric. Its orchestration is dissonant but sparse, and its mood is not whimsical nostalgia but irony.

With it, the Beatles have produced a glimpse of modern city life, that is terrifying. It stands as one of the most important Lennon-McCartney compositions, and it is a historic Pop event

“A Day in the Life” starts in a description of suicide. With the same conciseness displayed in “Eleanor Rigby,” the protagonist begins: “I read the news today, oh boy.”

This mild interjection is the first hint of his disillusion ment; compared with what is to follow, it is supremely ironic. “I saw the photograph,” he continues, in the voice of a melancholy choir boy:

He blew his mind out in a car 
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and 
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure If he was from the House of Lords.

“A Day in the Life” could never make the Top 40, although it may influence a great many songs which do. Its lyric is sure to bring a sudden surge of Pop tragedy. The aimless, T. S. Eliot-like crowd, forever confronting pain and turning away, may well become a common symbol. And its narrator, subdued by the totality of his despair, may reappear in countless compositions as the silent, withdrawn hero.

Musically, there are already indications that the intense atonality of “A Day in the Life” is a key to the sound of 1967. Electronic-rock, with its aim of staggering an audience, has arrived in half-a-dozen important new releases, None of these songs has the controlled intensity of “A Day in the Life,” but the willingness of many restrained musicians to “let go” means that serious aleatory-pop may be on the way.

Ultimately, however, it is the uproar over the alleged influence of drugs on the Beatles which may prevent “A Day in the Life” from reaching the mass audience. The song’s refrain, “I’d like to turn you on,” has rankled disk jockeys supersensitive to “hidden subversion” in rock ‘n roll. In fact, a case can be made within the very structure of “A Day in the Life” for the belief that the Beatles — like so many Pop composers—are aware of the highs and lows of consciousness.

The song is built on a series of tense, melancholic passages, followed by soaring releases. In the opening stanza, for instance, John’s voice comes near to cracking with despair. But after the invitation, “I’d like to turn you on,” the Beatles have inserted an extraordinary atonal thrust which is shocking, even painful, to the ears. But it brilliantly encases the song and, if the refrain preceding it suggests turning on, the crescendo parallels a drug-induced “rush.”

The bridge begins in a staccato crossfire. We feel the narrator rising, dressing and commuting by rote. The music is nervous with the dissonance of cabaret jazz. A percussive drum melts into a panting railroad chug. Then

Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.

The words fade into a chant of free, spacious chords, like the initial marijuana “buzz.” But the tone becomes mysterious and then ominous. Deep strings take us on a Wagnerian descent and we are back to the original blues theme, and the original declaration, “I read the news today, oh boy.”

Actually, it is difficult to see why the BBC banned “A Day in the Life,” because its message is, quite clearly, the flight from banality. It describes a profound reality, but it certainly does not glorify it. And its conclusion, though magnificent, seems to represent a negation of self. The song ends on one low, resonant note that is sustained for 40 seconds. Having achieved the absolute peace of nullification, the narrator is beyond melancholy. But there is something brooding and irrevocable about his calm. It sounds like destruction.

What a shame that “A Day in the Life” is only a coda to an otherwise undistingished collection of work. We need the Beatles, not as cloistered composers, but as companions. And they need us. In substituting the studio conservatory for an audience, they have ceased being folk artists, and the change is what makes their new, album a monologue.

For the Ladies.


I do believe Drake and The-Dream have cracked the pop radio Rubik’s Cube of the “For the Ladies” (FTL) song. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you do: it’s the horrible, condescending and often transparent tenet of yesterday and today’s hip-hop and r&b albums that’s supposed to make women feel singled out and taken care of, thereby selling more albums because This Isn’t Just Street Shit. Think about Ne-yo’s entire career, but notably the uncreative “Miss Independent”  (and “She Got Her Own” remix) or the non-breakup parts of 50 Cent’s “Do You Think About Me,” recently, or that “felonious” Jay-Z and Usher collabo (and Pharrell a lot, too).

This style makes up 2/3 of Dream’s output (“Sweat It Out,” “Kelly’s 12 Play,” etc.) and Drake certainly dabbled on So Far Gone.

I really can’t agree with the idea that Usher, or Ne-Yo, or The-Dream make For The Ladies songs, because in the rubric that understands Street Shit and Music Ladies Like as being separate things, rap codes as masculine and R&B feminine. R&B stars don’t have to devote a sub-set of their material to women because it’s assumed that no men are listening to them anyway. That’s why when rappers do the For The Ladies song, they’ll draft an R&B singer for support. Like Kelefa Sanneh said: “Rappers can frame their gruff demands and commands as the perfect antidote to all that schmaltzy stuff. And crooners can frame their gentle, sentimental pleas as the perfect antidote to all that nasty stuff.”

But the For The Ladies jam is one of the many, many reasons I can so rarely take seriously the people who complain about misogyny in rap. All these whiners getting hung up on who’s saying “bitch” or “ho” and whose sex rhymes are a bit too brusque, without ever really considering the role such talk plays within the context of the song, or within the history of African-American music (There’s a good essay from round 1993 that discusses this, and if I can find it I’ll put up some quotes.) But For The Ladies really is misogynistic, imbued with a sense that women need to be condescended to with these limp gestures at sensitivity, and that they’re too stupid to see through the charade. They sound like songs sung by men who, other than perhaps sexually, have never had much to do with women, and have no interest in starting. This is the rap that dehumanizes women, not the other stuff. And when people start talking about this I’ll believe they’re actually interested in combating misogyny in popular culture. Right now they’re just further fucking up radio edits by requiring more words be cut out.

Ever since the golden age of the thug-love duet (roughly five years ago, which must mean someone’s already working on a lavishly packaged boxed set), the two camps have grown better at borrowing from each other: no one is at all surprised, these days, to hear R. Kelly rapping or 50 Cent singing.

Kelefa Sanneh, “Crooning and Rap, in Harmony,” The New York Times, November 24, 2005.

I don’t mean to say that the For The Ladies formula necessarily creates bad music though. Sometimes it leads to material men and women can enjoy. And as for a lavishly-packaged thug-love duet box set, let’s add it to my list of projects. (Or lavishly concocted iTunes playlist, anyway.)

Jessie James - Blue Jeans

Even the country-pop singer Jessie James tried it out on “Blue Jeans,” a song that practically owes a publishing check to Dem Franchize Boyz for appropriating the cadence and concept of their 2004 song “White Tee.”

-Jon Caramanica, “Changing the Face (and Sound) of Rap,” The New York Times, December 23, 2009


10 plays
Mar 31

Veruca Salt - Seether

Wanted in 2010: A candy-grunge revival, please.

(Note to those outside the States: Can y’all see this video? I can’t work out whether YouTube Vevo clips work overseas. Some help?)

Mar 31

Captured By The Game


Tom Ewing helps me out a bit with this post:

The best counter to the more sweeping conclusion is that users are also very keen to listen to songs by women. The same songs, often. But the initial conclusion - the kind of music listeners are ashamed of is overwhelmingly by women - stands, I think.

Tom’s right; my contention that “ users can’t bear to let people think they listen to songs by women,” was sloppy and hyperbolic. We’ll stick with the initial conclusion.

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