Leaving the City

It looks like I may be right about Joanna Newsom’s forthcoming album Divers being a more experimental work, because this second single (“Leaving the City”) is truly unlike anything else she’s ever done before. That’s not hyperbole. I honestly can’t compare this to any other song or even just general thematic sound from any album she’s done before. This is a flirtation with rock – a surprise coming from Newsom, but a very pleasant one!

Her weapon of choice – the Celtic harp – still has a strong presence throughout the track, but now we also get some kind of synthy sound (a Mellotron maybe? I’ll be honest, that’s based on quick research with little details. I have no idea what that instrument is), a bit of piano, some heavy drums, and something called a Marxophone. It makes for a very dark and sinister song. I was listening some thunder and wind noises from one of my favorite sites and all combined it gave me chills.

Now I’m pretty sure Newsom did move fully from New York City to LA (she bought a house out here a year or so ago with husband Andy Samberg), so maybe that’s what this song is about? It seems likely. “I believe in you./Do you believe in me?/What do you want to do?/Are we leaving the city?” It makes for an interesting contrast to the lilting playfulness of “Sapokanikan” which was definitely about NYC. I don’t think this song is about LA so much as it is about the move though. I am excited to see if she does have a song about LA though! I mean, she’s from California, but Northern California specifically – a teeny tiny little place called Nevada City. So who knows? I’m just excited in general to see what comes next.

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I think I first heard about FKA twigs about a year ago. There was a review of her first full-length album, simply titled LP1, in Bitch magazine. It seemed like a pretty good review, but then so do a lot of the music reviews in Bitch.  I didn’t really think much of it, until I started seeing pictures of her on Tumblr recently. She had this striking look about her, and this certain aesthetic that made me wonder how it reflected in her music. And so I decided to give her a chance and downloaded her album before I drove up to Big Bear Lake for my birthday last week.

I listened to it three times and then some all the way to the top of the mountain. Wow! This isn’t really like anything I’ve heard before. It’s a witchy fusion of chillout, R&B, and trip hop. It’s at some times eerie and other times seductive. It’s a slow burn but it’s hardly boring. It’s very experimental but seems confident it knows what it’s doing. I think it’s probably a really good sex album.

The album opens with a track just called “Preface” (a lot of the songs on here have rather succinct titles) which sounds like something that would be sung by a coven of witches in the woods at night. The lyrics are just this: “I love another and thus I hate myself.” Very short, but repeated like a chant, with ghostly electronic noises that creep into the tiniest crevices of your brain.

Then it goes into a track that placed itself in my favorites pretty much immediately: “Lights On.” The song starts in kind of an unsettling way with more electronic weirdness and sub-bass pulsing and you’re not sure where it’s going until we get FKA twigs’s hypnotic, deliberate vocals. But it’s the chorus that really seals it: “When I trust you we can do it with the lights on.” Both thematically and sonically (it’s those quiet, spooky electronic noises), it reminds me of “Hidden Place” by Björk, another one of my all-time favorite songs, in that it’s about sharing your vulnerability with someone. Well, and your body too, let’s not mince words here. Also, that car alarm at the end should seem jarring and misplaced…but it works.

“Two Weeks” is another seductive track, and it definitely goes all in. It’s got a lot of gusto for a song that sounds so smooth. You just feel it with your whole body. In the video, twigs portrays herself as a goddess in a temple, though that’s not apparent until we’re almost fully zoomed out. It’s the image you want to project when you’re trying to get someone to forget about their ex and realize how good they have it with you.

“Hours” is another stand out track for me on this album. “I could kiss you for hours/And not miss a thing.” Yes, that’s a thing you want to feel! A very good thing! This song has a fuzzy euphoric glow to it that matches those words. It’s pretty straightforward. But I mean it also sounds like it feels like to be in that state. I mean, it just goes to show you how much this album is, if not a sex album, a makeout album at the very least. Seriously, I feel like if you have someone over and things are going well and you put on this album they will start to go VERY well.

Okay, well, maybe some tracks are not so sexy lyrically (but who is listening to the words during makeouts?). Like “Pendulum” for instance, which is about feeling insufficient in your relationship because your partner has basically told you so. The video is gorgeous to watch at least and features some amazing (hair) shibari and suspension. It reminds me a bit of the video for “Pagan Poetry” by Björk but without the nudity and…extreme…body piercing. A different kind of kink then.

“Video Girl” is the creepiest song after the intro track, I’d say. This sounds like a song about a cheating partner (Is she the girl that’s from the video?/Stop, stop lying to me), but it’s really about twigs herself! She started her career as a successful backup dancer in music videos for several big artists (Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran, and Jessie J to name a few) and was kind of stuck in this role when she was trying to break off and make a name for herself as an artist (yay! She succeeded!). The video is even more unnerving, and features her watching and dancing on top of a man being put to death by lethal injection, like she’s some hallucination or succubus. There is some more creepy though not quite graphic imagery, like the stuff you see at the edges of your mind when you remember a nightmare you had, so just a heads up about that. (Oh, also also it starts with “Prelude”!)

I really like the track “Numbers” a lot, even though, again, it’s not thematically very sexy. “Was I just a number to you?” I mean, that says it all. But it’s so trip-hoppy and hypnotic, it just pulls you right in. It’s bitter and pining and devastated and seething with barely contained anger. There are also a lot of little creepy noises and whispers. It sounds like there’s a poltergeist in this song at times.

“Closer” makes for a pleasant follow-up track. It’s got this sort of church choir sound to it. Like a hymn or something. It’s definitely full of joy and praise, run through twigs’s trippy chillout stylings. It’s not my favorite track, but it’s a very nice one!

The next track, “Get Up,” is nice too, but it’s sad. You know, with a lot of these songs, I can imagine a unique dance assigned to them. I mean, twigs was a backup dancer after all, and a very good one at that. This one is graceful like a ballet and tragic too. I’m no choreographer, but I can feel my body moving to this one in a very particular way.

“Kicks” is the final track and it seems to answer the thesis set by the intro. Where twigs started hating herself, she now practices self-love. Literally. It seems like she’s hesitant to do so at first, but eventually she justifies it to herself. Because she deserves it, dammit! “When I’m alone/I don’t need you/I love my touch/Know just what to do.”

I’ve been thinking about what kind of person I would recommend this album too. I think if you like Björk, especially Vespertine, you would like this album. If you like iamamiwhoami (haha, how many people would that be again?), especially bounty, then you would probably like this album. I think you have to have a little patience to like LP1 because it’s not an album you jam to. It’s a good background album. It’s a good headphones album too. There are lots of interesting noises going on here, as I’ve mentioned multiple times. Sorry, I just really like music with subtle, interesting noises! It’s one of the reasons Vespertine is one of my favorites, and it’s why I draw so many comparisons between that one and this one. While I don’t think LP1 has quite as much lasting power as Vespertine, I think it’s still worth the listen and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the comparisons.

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Even More Music That Made Me

I bought some records recently and one of them (which I’ll get to momentarily) made me reflect on some more music that made me when I was growing up. The record that started this trip down memory lane was…

1) Weezer, Weezer (aka The Blue Album)

Yep, their debut album! The vinyl I got has the original master recording, so it sounds even better than I remember it – but then I think I ripped it from a burned CD when an old childhood friend visited years ago. I think I was in high school but this album came out when I was a kid and had no idea who Weezer was. Really, when I first heard of Weezer (again, in high school) it was the singles from their third album (also titled Weezer but better known as The Green Album) that I was familiar with. These were mainly “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun.” But my friend didn’t have The Green Album and so I burned The Blue Album. It would stick with me for several years and today still I enjoy coming back to it.


2) Moby, Play

I mentioned this one in my first Music That Made Me post. It was an honorable mention at the time, so here I’m giving it a full mention. I played this one A LOT in high school. I wasn’t really aware of how big an album this was at the time. I just saw the music video for “South Side” on MTV and liked Gwen Stefani and so I bought the album. Looking back, it makes sense and seems right that this would be one of the greatest albums of its time. (I think it still holds up even now.) Every song was like an audio landscape to me. They’re so distinct from one another and yet they belong on the same album. It’s like a quilt, and it’s one of my favorites as such.


3) Harry Connick Jr., 20

This one seems kind of random, eh? I went through a period where I really liked jazz (I mean, I still like jazz) and somehow I got ahold of this album. It belonged to my parents, but I had it in my walkman a lot for a time. I really liked how expressive a solo jazz piano could be. This album doesn’t have a lot of singing on it – well, less than a general pop album would, I guess – but it didn’t need a lot of sining. And even when there was singing, it flowed really well with the piano. Because I don’t forget the music that made me, I have a couple of Harry Connick Jr.’s other albums, but none of them quite did it for me like 20. I never stopped liking jazz, and I still love this album.


4) Dido, No Angel

Another album from high school! Like most people, I was introduced to this one via the single “Thank You” – the actual single, not the sample from Eminem’s song “Stan.” But “Thank You” wasn’t even my favorite song. The album overall is painted with sad tones and themes, but there was something very independent about it too. Dido’s presence was very strong throughout, and it made an impression on me. I don’t think I’ve heard the whole thing from start to finish in quite some time, but I think I may need to change that. This was a great album, start to finish, and I think anyone who likes a quieter pop album would really appreciate this one.


5) Coldplay, Parachutes

Should I say it again? Another high school era album for me. I mean, of course the music you listen to in high school has the greatest influence on you. Coldplay has been big practically from the start, but this was before they got really, really big the way they are now. Seeing as how I liked Dido, it makes sense that I liked Coldplay too. I mean, I guess I still like them! I have a few of their other albums that followed. But this one made the biggest impression on me. It was the quietest, yet it was just as powerful as the albums that would follow, for me anyway. I played this one a lot, a lot. But again, it’s been awhile since I’ve listened to it start to finish.


I’m looking from the top of the list to the bottom and I guess I’ve unintentionally listed them in the order I’d go back and listen to them – from sooner rather than later to later rather than sooner. I don’t want to say I’ve outgrown these albums – they’re still good and they were important to me – but I guess my musical tastes aren’t as fulfilled by these ones. It’s kind of weird to look back on these and think of the albums I play a lot now and how different they are. I don’t really see a pattern in my music that made me. Just an evolution, I guess.

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BoJack Horseman

Another week skipped. Oh well, here I am again, with a quick post! And it’s about…TV? Well, sort of. It’s about the music featured on a TV show, or at least a particular song. (Oh, I’ve done this a few times before!)

I started watching BoJack Horseman on Sunday and I haven’t been able to get the opening theme song out of my head. It doesn’t really have a name. It’s just called “BoJack Horseman Theme.” It’s performed by Patrick Carney and features Ralph Carney on the sax. That’s about all the hard facts I have on the song.

Wow oh wow does that opening punch me in the gut. The visuals are pretty straightforward. It’s just the title character staring ahead with a look that hardly changes while we watch his background change constantly over the course of an entire day. It’s monotony clashing with dynamism, and that’s great. I mean, I’m only halfway through the first season so far, but it makes perfect sense for the show.

I couldn’t get enough so I found a longer version. The full version even!

There’s just something so hypnotic about it. I love that weird, twangy sound and the reverb on that guitar. The drums make it feel like a meditation, and then that sax comes in and just blows my mind. It’s just so good. It’s painful and plaintive and a little soul-crushing, but in such a good way. Maybe that’s just me over-interpreting it. Or maybe, if reviews I’ve heard of the show in its entirety are true, I’m spot-on. We’ll just have to see.

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Stop the presses! Joanna Newsom has started making noise again! Gosh, how did I almost miss this one? Well, when an artist goes five years between albums (and doesn’t have any social media accounts or even their own website – just a page on their record label’s site), I guess it takes some time before the news reaches a fan. All I knew over those past five years was that she got married to Andy Samberg and bought a house in LA that Charlie Chaplin used to live in.

And so we have “Sapokanikan,” the first single from her upcoming album Divers!

It reminds me a lot of her very early work, at least vocally. There’s a lot of acrobatics and lilting and wild abandon going on here. Yet lyrically it makes me think of Ys. Though this track isn’t nearly as long as the shortest one on that album, it still has that epic poetic lyrical structure – there’s hardly a pause between verses. It’s really hard to pin down this one. It sounds like this album is going to be more experimental.

It’s hard for me to say what any Joanna Newsom song is about. This is usually because of that epic lyrical structure I mentioned earlier. It usually takes a lot of listens before I get a feel for it. And even then, a Joanna Newsom song requires more research, as she makes a lot of references to history, literature, and myths. Yeah, it’s a little hipstery, but if you can get over it, it makes for great music that transcends the casualness of most rock and pop. I’m sorry, that sounded pretty hipstery too. I can say that Sapokanikan refers to the Native American name given to the land that eventually became Greenwich Village in NYC. So it seems that this song is a musing on the history of the area. If you want a good breakdown, I’d head over to Genius. They’re usually pretty good about this kind of stuff.

As for the video itself, it makes me think of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” but in NYC, of course. It’s somehow fitting for Joanna Newsom to be prancing and skipping through the big city as she sings. The song certainly doesn’t make me think of NYC, but that just makes it all the more interesting. She should seem out of place and overwhelmed (coming from the little bitty town of Nevada City, California) but she’s not phased at all and seems comfortable as she winds her way through shops and parks. I like it.

This is probably not a good starter Joanna Newsom song for a newcomer – but if you’re a fan and you, like me, have somehow missed out on it, get to listening! And prepare yourself for something very new and different. I’m excited to see what October 23rd brings.

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Girl Gang

Everyone has that one song (or more) they love and sing along to every time – only to finally look up the lyrics and realize they’re completely different. Not many people then go and make that song with their misheard lyrics as a cover. But that’s what Kate Nash did when she heard the song “Cocaine” by FIDLAR and turned it into “Girl Gang”!

Not much changes other than the name (and every instance of it in the song). It’s a straight up cover, and a great one at that. Definitely makes me want to don my old patch covered jacket, find some brass knuckles, and dare someone to mess with me.

I saw Kate Nash a couple of years ago at the Troubadour here in LA and she actually played this song. She even explained that the song did indeed result from misheard lyrics as I mentioned at the top of this post. She’s a big fan of FIDLAR, an LA based punk band, so much so that her bass actually has their inscription. Or did they give her their bass? I can’t remember exactly. But they’re well-acquainted with each other and she’s even performed on one of their songs.

Anyway, I love what she’s done with the song. It definitely fits in with her current riot grrl style/aesthetic/image. She even turns it into a sort of feminist track. I wish this one had made it onto a single as a B-side.

So it’s common knowledge these days that you should never look at the comments, and yet against my better judgement, I’ve done it anyway! They mainly consist of a three types of people:

  1. People who hate punk
  2. People who hate women
  3. People who miss “the old Kate Nash”

I’m really not sure who to roll my eyes hardest at here. Here is an example of type 1:

“She is trying really hard to sound ‘punk’ which kind of goes against the punk aesthetic, she has a genuinely nice voice and is just pushing really hard to ‘grunge it up'”

Also various disagreeable comments on how she “ruined” the original. Never mind the fact that this is a straight up cover and I’ve heard the original and they’re doing the exact same shouty/screamy thing so I guess you just hate punk – I don’t know what to tell you, Mansplainer McGee. (Yes, we’ve got some bonus mansplaining going on here!) This is just totally ignoring that the voice is an instrument, so she can (and SHOULD) test her range and push her limits and do whatever the fuck she wants which, last I checked, is pretty goddamn punk.

Then we have an example of type 2:

“No soy machista… pero esta canción en mi opinión no queda oara nada bien cantafa con la voz más fina de una mujer. Simplemente no me gusta”

Which basically translates to:

“I’m not sexist … vut in my opinion this song is not at all well sunf with the beautiful voice of a woman. I just do not like it”

I included the typos so you can get the full experience of Manly McWomen-Hater here. Do I need to say anything else? I really could have stopped at “I’m not sexist … vut”. There’s no need to go further.

And finally there’s type 3:

“As of late she’s gotten a little anti-man or something but her previous work is good, she’s awesome not this song. :p”

Here we have a superb example of “I Don’t Understand the Meaning of Feminism”, which is really a bonus to type 3. Yup, Kate Nash hates that fictional male character in her music video for no gosh darn reason! I mean, he looks like such a nice guy! Did anyone who listened to My Best Friend Is You really not see Girl Talk coming? Scratch that, reverse it: Did anyone who listened to Girl Talk not look back at My Best Friend Is You and say to themselves “Huh, guess I should have seen THAT coming”? Go back and listen again and if you don’t like it, you’re more than welcome to listen to Made of Bricks on repeat; your ignorant ass is forbidden from listening to My Best Friend Is You ever again.

Gosh, these are just a few precious gems. What’s that saying again – that every comment on an article about feminism only justifies the need for feminism? We’ve got poetry in motion right here, folks.

Anyway, enjoy the song and just imagine the duder in the video is one of these commenters. Check out the original FIDLAR track and video while you’re at, just for comparison! It’s silly (and NSFW) and it’s got Nick Offerman in it, which works perfectly. I’m off to rally up the girl gang.

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((Sorry for my two week absence! I had a really bad pain in my neck (literally) and then I came down with an awful cold. I’m taking it easy for now, so this will be a quick post.))


Well, it looks like M.I.A. is back in the swing of things! I’ve been seeing these random teaser videos on her Facebook page, and a few weeks ago an actual song finally dropped. It looks like audio visual albums are the big thing now, as that’s what this next project, Matahdatah, is shaping up to be.

Right now, it looks like you can only watch the video on Apple Connect, but you don’t necessarily have to sign up. You can also just buy the thing on iTunes if you want. I just bought the single but the video is very cool and you should definitely go watch it. It also features a video she recorded for her song “Warriors” from her previous album Matangi.

The video for “Swords” is amazing. Not quite as jaw-dropping as “Bad Girls” but I’m still pretty flabbergasted at how deftly these young Indian girls handle swords (and staffs) that are nearly as big as they are – like they’re simply a third limb. Where did Maya find these girls???

There’s not a lot of information out there (the album only has an unlinked mention on the discography section of M.I.A.’s Wikipedia page – not even on the discography section itself), but this Stereogum article gives us enough for now. I’ve been through this audiovisual concept album thing before with other artists (iamamiwhoami in particular) so I’m looking forward to see what she does with it. Maya’s always enjoyed turning her camera on other people from around the world, specifically people we don’t see a lot in the mainstream (i.e. “world’s sexiest” A-list celebrities from developed Western countries). I’m pretty excited to see what other countries and people will feature in these future “scrolls,” as I’m guessing they will be called.

The song itself is pretty great too. I like that she recorded the sword strikes to use as a beat. If this is an indicator of the theme, then this album may turn out to be pretty upbeat, which is the mood she wanted Matangi but her record label didn’t like that. I’d like to hear an upbeat, empowering album from M.I.A. For now, we just have to wait and see what comes next!

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Working Girl

I’ve been seeing a few random articles about Millennials and the work-life balance posted on my Facebook news feed by friends. Usually they’re scoffing at whatever the articles are about, so I imagine it’s the baby boomer generation (or possibly Generation X) shitting on my generation. I haven’t actually clicked any of the articles to find out because the term “Millennials” kind of makes me grimace – same goes for the term “90’s Kid” (even if I’ll occasionally reminisce about the things I enjoyed in my childhood – like I maybe have before). Anyway, I don’t think I need to read the articles to figure out what they’re about and what tired old lines they’ll be using. I don’t need an older generation to tell me what’s wrong with mine. I’ve got a David Bowie song for them (it’s “Changes”) and I can tell them where to put it (in their ears – where else?).

Anyway, enough of my inane rambling. The whole reason I brought up the work-life balance and Millennials is because it seems to fit with the themes of this week’s post, which will be about Little Boots’s hot-off-the-fax-machine release Working Girl! It just came out on Friday and, while I’ve been away at San Diego Comic-Con (I just got back Sunday evening), I was able to download my pre-order over my phone and have been playing it pretty much nonstop! I’ve been saying that Little Boots has just gotten better and better with each album, EP, and single she’s released, and Working Girl just proves it. This is a FANTASTIC album! My favorite so far!

Another thing I’ve been saying is that with each progressive album, EP, and single, Little Boots (aka Victoria Hekseth) has been sounding more and more like herself. The music feels true to her. Not that I know her personally, but Working Girl as a whole sounds more natural and familiar than every previous release. I thought I had read somewhere that her previous label, Atlantic, had still had a hand in the pot with her previous album Nocturnes, but I can’t remember where I read it, so take that with a grain of salt. If this is truly her first fully independent record with her own label On Repeat, then it really shows. Working Girl is full of personality and roars with an identity all its own.

The album introduces itself with a phone call and a monotone recorded message by Hesketh, which ends by challenging the listener to “make something happen.” We then dive into the title track “Working Girl,” a very modern and introspective track, but also danceable. When she strikes up the mantra “It’s so hard, it’s so hard for a working girl” I’m reminded of the Above and Beyond remix of Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For A Girl.” The whole track bears echoes of a resemblance to the Queen of Pop’s single – thought it’s clearly its own entity – down to the feminist undertones. It’s a great, great track to start on.

We follow up with “No Pressure,” another introspective track, though a sadder one too. There’s a frustration and cynicism that’s heavy in lyrics like “You make it sound so easy when you say/No pressure…Anything is possible/You just need a miracle!” Though the album has themes of corporate culture (which Hekseth has maintained across social media – and it’s been great), there’s a criticism of it as well that’s pervasive throughout the track. There’s a freedom to admitting it all though – and this track is very freeing.

If you’re feeling a little down after the first two tracks, then “Get Things Done” is there to energize you. This track makes me want to put on a pantsuit and do some aerobics. Okay, maybe not so much, but it does get me pumped. It’s so confident. It’s that Victoria in the intro telling you in a commanding yet encouraging voice to “make something happen.” It makes you want to get up. Sonically, it’s got some disco influences that are smooth and subtle, making this one easy to dance to with a familiar sound.

I’ve talked briefly about the following track before – “Taste It” – though it was mostly about the video. It’s so good though, I can’t help but associate it the sinister and uber-creepy vibe of the video. It actually manages to fit in with the theme of the album: work. I guess I just think “So close I can” before the words “taste it.” In that way, the song is kind of taunting. “Think you cannot be broken/You’re a drop in the ocean.” “Did you think that you were innocent/When you’re really not that different?”

Next up we have one of my favorite tracks on this album, “Real Girl.” I pretty much loved its synthy beats right away the first time I heard it. I read somewhere that the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” has gone out of style, but I’m going to use it here anyway and I think you’ll forgive me when you see the context. Because this song is about the rejection of being seen as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Hekseth sings about being tired of being treated as an untouchable goddess. “Were you hoping I’d be flawless?/Were you wishing on a movie star?” (Googling the lyrics tell me it’s “wishing I’m a movie star” but the I wrote it is the way I hear it, and I like the play on words much better.) It’s a punchy and confident track, a lot like “Get Things Done” but lighter and more fun.

Another track from her EP Business Pleasure comes next – “Heroine” – which I also talked about in that post I linked two paragraphs ago. There’s a deep house sound to this track. Much of this album falls into the house genre, but it’s most obvious here, I think. It’s a dreamy, late night track that sounds like it was made while driving fast down a dark, empty city street. It’s a good final track before the mid-album “Interlude” telling us that we are number 2,048 in the hold queue.

And then we dive into “The Game” another confidence-boosting track. One thing I noticed on this album is that it’s lacking in heartbreak and love songs – quite the contrast to her debut album Hands and even Nocturnes. (I like that a lot!) Instead, this album has a lot of themes about taking charge of your life, taking the initiative yourself, and not waiting for serendipity to stumble across your path. It’s all about counting on yourself (and putting yourself) first. Sonically, the house influences are strong here too. This one straddles the line between house and pop actually, and it works really well!

Actually “Help Too” may be the only song that dabbles in themes of love – but it’s not looking through rose-colored glasses. This is a troubled relationship that’s all take and no give…which may make it seem like a song that could have been on Hands. And that is true, but it fits just fine on Working Girl, especially in sound. It’s got a dreamy almost underwater tone to it. Appropriate for when she sings “I’m calling out your name, but my lungs are full of the ocean.” Her voice is high and clear on this track – it’s just beautiful.

We get one last track from the Business Pleasure EP – and that is “Business Pleasure.” Refer again to that earlier link where I talk about the entire EP, including this song. It’s one of my favorites. It makes me want to dance – or do aerobics again. It’s full of energy and confidence. I really like the lines “I’m not your girl in the machine” and “Lost in the city with no power, hour after hour.” Whenever I hear this song, I just want to charge through whatever I’m doing and get it done!

The penultimate track is “Paradise,” a sad and wistful track about finding the perfect place to escape and be free, while knowing you can’t stay forever. Boy, did I feel like that on the drive home from Comic-Con! “I found a place that is holy/Somewhere to feel like a child…Back to the real world/All the color’s fading.” Yeah, sounds about right. Though it’s a sad track, it’s still a good dance track. Just about every song on this album is. Just because it’s sad and a little weepy doesn’t mean this one can’t be danced to.

Finally, we end with “Better In The Morning,” which I talked about before, and as I mentioned then is still now one of my favorites! It’s a great track to end on. So upbeat and perky, especially with that keyboard-synth noise that sounds like a bird chirping. It just puts a skip in your step. I see that I was hopeful for an awesome video, and Little Boots did not disappoint! I am loving this ready-for-gifs video! Simple, bright, and colorful! It’s reminiscent of the video for “Taste It” but I’d say this one is more mischievous and playful than sinister and disturbing.

Well, those were the last tracks…unless you got the bonus tracks! The first one is “Desire.” It’s a cool little epilogue, dreamy and soaring. Even considering that, it’s still got a powerful beat and it’s still commands attention. Hekseth’s voice is great here. I feel you can really tell how wonderfully it gets along with synths. “Desire” may be just a bonus track, but it’s hardly forgettable.

The other bonus track is an acoustic version of “Working Girl.” I’m so glad she put this one on here! I always love hearing the acoustic versions of her songs because you can really hear how structured they are. The acoustic translates perfectly to the electronic and vice versa, and they both sound amazing. Electronic music really isn’t that much of a stretch away from acoustic when you get down to the bare bones.

Get this album! Little Boots just keeps getting better and better. I get so excited every time I hear she’s working on something new because I know it’s going to show off her growth and evolution as an artist and I can’t wait to hear how. Also, I’m going to see her live at the Echo here in LA tomorrow, so I’m eager to see how these songs translate to the stage. I would highly encourage you to see Little Boots live if you get a chance. She’s a master performer on stage. She always amazes me with something new. I’ll report back next week!

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Lily Allen

Sorry I skipped another week! No excuses, no excuses. Let’s just jump right into this week’s post, shall we?

This week I’m going to talk about some selections from Lily Allen’s sophomore album It’s Not Me, It’s You. The reason I’m not doing the entire album is because, well, it’s kind of boring. At least to me. Yes, Allen showed a lot of maturity in her songwriting and themes compared to her debut album , but sonically, there’s nothing really interesting going on. It’s an ordinary pop album. It’s mostly forgettable. But there are 3 stand out tracks I’ll be discussing here.

The first is the succinctly-titled “Fuck You,” which preceded CeeLo Green’s track of the same name by 2 years. The song has a couple of different origin stories, the first being that the song was written about the BNP (an extreme right-wing political group in the UK). The second origin story, and a much more interesting one in my opinion, starts with a song being initially titled “Guess Who Batman.” GWB. George W. Bush. Listen to the lyrics and it’s obvious that’s who the song is about. “You want to be like your father/It’s approval you’re after”? I mean, come on. Allen might have played it a little coy though because the song was first previewed on Myspace in 2008, but it didn’t come out on the album until 2009 – George W. was on his way out while Obama was on his way in. So there’s that.

The music video isn’t very interesting. This is pretty much the case with all the Allen videos from this album and even the ones from Alright, Still. This one in particular is kind of petty and has nothing to do with the themes of the song at all. Here it is anyway.

Next up is “Not Fair,” one of my favorites from this album. I still find myself returning to and enjoying it. It’s got an distinct sound right away that instantly makes you wonder if this is supposed to be a country track. It’s a great fusion of pop music with country themes that makes it stand out from the rest. Also, it’s about being in an otherwise perfect relationship that is sexually unsatisfying. Like REALLY sexually unsatisfying. I like that there’s this brief back and forth that goes on in her head where she’s asking herself if she’s just being picky (she’s not), and the frustration that comes through in the chorus is great. The video is cool thematically and fits with the sound of the track, but other than that, it’s nothing spectacular.

Lastly, we’ve got my other favorite track from this album, “The Fear.” This is one of her smartest songs, in my opinion (but then I haven’t heard anything post-It’s Not Me besides “Hard Out Here” which was a total failure as a commentary-style track). Allen adopts this character throughout the song who’s mindlessly overfed themselves on pop culture to the point of being jaded (“I am a weapon of massive consumption/It’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function”). This is made eerily clear to us early on in the song though (“I want loads of clothes and fuckloads of diamonds/I heard people die while they’re trying to find them”). This song tackles every issue related to pop culture that, even though it wasn’t that long ago, still holds true today (“Everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner”). Also, the acoustic version is fantastic – just Lily, a piano, and a guitar.

Sadly, for a song this powerful, I think the music video fails again. It just feels like Allen couldn’t decide on an emotion (total disinterest would have been my advice) much less focus on whatever she was supposed to be doing. The direction is also not that great. There are some weird cuts and when interesting things are happening, we don’t get to look at them long enough before the angle changes or the camera jumps to another shot. I’ve got a totally different vision for this video, but it’s not worth describing because, well, music videos are visual and this one is kind of complicated. Plus, that’s not what this post is about. So here’s the official video!

I don’t really recommend this album in general. I mean, give it a listen and preview it by whatever means you can, but these are the only tracks I would spend money on (if I hadn’t already spent money on the whole thing ages ago myself).

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I think I’d always had Madonna in the periphery of my pop culture awareness, but it wasn’t until high school that I really got into her music. I’ve mentioned before that her 1998 album Ray of Light had some influence on me, but so did her 2000 follow up Music, and that’s the album I’ll be talking about today. (I should note that I somehow managed to pass up Ray of Light during that time, so Music came first for me – though I came back to the latter not too long after.)

I think it was the sound of the album that drew me to it. I wasn’t really into pop at the time – I was very anti-boy band and -pop princess at the time actually (although I liked the Spice Girls and even a little Hansen strangely enough). So it was kind of weird that I got into the Queen of Pop. But at the time, while she was still making pop, she was making a different kind of pop. She was setting herself apart from the likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. And I really dug it.

“Music” was the first single to be released ahead of the album, and so it was the first time a Madonna song had truly grabbed my attention (it’s also the first track on this album). While it distinguished itself from the rest of the pop scene at the time, it was also very accessible. Madonna wrote and produced the album with the help of  DJ and producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï, whose odd sounds caught her attention. You can hear his influence right away on the title track “Music.” There’s a lot of electronic noise on behind Madonna’s electronically manipulated voice, but it works so well here. The production on this track is amazing. Start to finish, there isn’t a dull moment.

There are some club influences on this album that are most apparent in the following 2 tracks “Impressive Instant” and “Runaway Lover” (though you can absolutely hear them in “Music” too). These first three tracks are among my favorites from this album. In “Impressive Instant” her voice is distorted throughout by a vocoder, Auto-Tune, and other electronic effects, which could have been a disaster, but thanks to Ahmadzaï’s production, it’s just pure magic. The lyrics are pure nonsense, but who cares? It’s just a fun, danceable track and it sounds great regardless.

After that we have “Runaway Lover,” a track which, to me, is kind of a bridge between Ray of Light and Music. It almost would have fit in on either, but makes its home just fine on the latter. (Madonna worked with producer William Orbit on Ray of Light and brought him back for this track and a couple of others, so there’s that.) It’s one of the more intense and fast-paced songs on this album.

We get some respite from the previous intense club sounds on the dreamy track “I Deserve It.” It’s really nice to hear a minimal song with just Madonna’s unaltered voice and some soft acoustic guitars. It’s an introspective track, so it deserves some quiet, though the accents of electronic noise help it to fit in with the rest of the album. They do a good job of meshing with the more organic sounds, rather than distracting from them.

“Amazing” is another Madonna-Orbit track – and another one of my favorites. It’s got a psychedelic, hypnotic intro and I really, really like Madonna’s vocals here. She sounds so desperate and plaintive and a little bit pained. I especially like the part at about 2:23 where almost all the noise drops out and we hear her voice with the subtle piano (that now becomes more pronounced) before diving right back in to the frantic beats. It’s a very noisy track overall but it’s pulled off just right. It seems like Orbit may have been taking some cues from Ahmadzaï here.

I have to say “Nobody’s Perfect” is my least favorite track on here. Blatant/Obviously intentional Auto-Tune is tricky for me. M.I.A. can pull it off really well, for example. As for Madonna, there are other instances on this album where it DOES work. But here, I just can’t stand it. It just sounds ridiculously corny and annoying, and it distracts from the otherwise well-done background melodies. About the only part I like is about 2:44 in, when the Auto-Tune goes away and we get to hear her voice with some distorted acoustic guitar (which is a fantastic sound). Still, it can’t save this song, and so I always skip it.

But it’s okay, because then we have the next track (and next single) “Don’t Tell Me” – one of her best tracks not just on this album but maybe one of the best of her career. Sure, it’s not as epic as “Like A Prayer,” nor is it as peppy as “Material Girl.” But right from the intro, the stop-and-start guitars make this one instantly unforgettable and recognizable. It’s hard to categorize this one because the guitars give it this country flavor, but the beats make it more like a hip hop track, while the strings give it a sweet softness. It’s made up of all these different sounds that shouldn’t fit together but they do. Apparently, Madonna’s brother-in-law wrote the song though it wasn’t originally meant for her. It was his wife (her sister) who suggested he send it to her. They both had their doubts; he didn’t think it was the right song to send to her, and she wasn’t sure it would fit with the sound of her album. But with his permission, she rearranged it without changing the lyrics and, with some production magic from Ahmadzaï, pulled off an amazing track that surprised everyone and would still sound great 15 years later.

Another great track follows with “What It Feels Like For A Girl.” The beats and background noises here are much simpler, which is important for this song. This is very much a track where the lyrics need to stand out the most. The intro features a spoken word sample of Charlotte Gainsbourg from the movie The Cement Garden. Even if you haven’t seen it (I haven’t) or maybe especially if you haven’t seen it, the line is instantly recognizable and resonates with the listener. Even long before I was calling myself a feminist, this song resonated with me. It lists just about every double-standard a woman faces. 15 years later, it could be said not much has changed, and the song still stands strong lyrically, aurally, and morally even today. However, what this song is perhaps most remembered for is the music video (featuring a dance remix by Above & Beyond), which was banned from MTV:

“Paradise (Not For Me)” is unfortunately my second least favorite track on this album, though depending on my mood, I may or may not skip it. The background melodies are great here, and Madonna’s voice is nice enough, but it’s kind of corny and heavy-handed. The drama is just overdone in places. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it sounded sincere, but it just doesn’t here.

“Gone” is the closing track, appropriately enough, Some of that country flavor returns here with the acoustic guitars, punctuated by simple but deep-hitting beats. I like this as the closing track. It rounds the album out nicely and, well, it makes sense. Actually, it even sums up the album pretty great. “Selling out is not my thing” she sings, letting you know that while she may still reign as the Queen of Pop, she’s not going to feel threatening by younger pop stars nor is she going to give into pressure to be more like them. (Although, for me, she would betray that promise with Hard Candy – but that’s a post for another day. If I’m up for it, ugh.)

Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of Madonna, at least not when you consider her entire body of work. But this is still among my favorite Madonna albums. It just felt so natural and true to her. I haven’t given Rebel Heart a chance yet, but it feels like she’s lost some of her spark as of late. There’s been the occasional glint of brilliance (Confessions On A Dance Floor) but other than that, it feels like she’s trying to play catch up to today’s pop scene rather than just go at her own pace. I feel like that might be due to pressure (probably from record company executives) to “stay relevant,” whatever the fuck that means. I guess while indie artists can go pop, there’s no such thing as going the other way. Ray of Light and Music are my favorite sounds from her career. I’m not asking that she just make more of those from now on but…damn, I wish I knew what I wanted to hear from her these days. I guess I wish she would just do her.

I didn’t mean for this post to end in a depressing ramble! So, uh, how about that Music? Certainly a pop tour de force by Madonna. I still place it behind Ray of Light, but just barely. These albums practically go hand in hand. If CDs were still as big a thing as they were 15 years ago, I’d loan this one to anyone who hadn’t actually heard the whole thing. It’s that kind of album.

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