Christina Aguilera “Bionic” Review

While recently discussing Bionic with Out Magazine, Christina Aguilera explained her musical evolution, noting that “every album has been a 180 from the past.” Similar to the focus throughout her entire career, Bionic isn’t meant to be so much of a personal reinvention as another step forward in the singer’s ever-evolving style. While her statement leaves a lot to the imagination concerning what the album actually sounds like, if one thing was to be made clear when debuting the video for “Not Myself Tonight” in late-April, it’s that Bionic would definitely be a full-on examination of the 29-year old’s sexuality.

That said, the video should have come as little shock for those who have followed the singer throughout her career. Rising from the bubblegum-gone-wild pop scene of the late-’90s, Aguilera made headlines in 2002 with the release of her sophomore album, Stripped. In particular it was the David LaChapelle-directed video for “Dirrty” that would attract the bulk of the criticism aimed at the singer, Aguilera revving up the video with her grind-heavy dancing while shedding her clothes and her “good girl” reputation in the process. In discussing “Dirrty” with Blender, she explained, “I like to shock—I think it’s inspiring. I love to play and experiment, to be as tame or as outlandish as I happen to feel on any given day.” Again, that was nearly eight years ago. So with that in mind it’s not unimaginable that she’s landed where she has, with the convictions she has. Regardless, it still comes as a surprise when she repeats “The old me’s gone, I feel brand new, and if you don’t like it: fuck you” throughout “Not Myself Tonight.”

Bionic’s title track opens things up with a beat that relies heavily on the same rigid electronic sound that M.I.A. has helped popularize over the past few years; which is only fitting since the singer eventually joins Aguilera on “Elastic Love.” The aforementioned “Not Myself Tonight” follows, immediately shifting the album’s direction as the song primarily focuses on Aguilera’s voice rather than disjointed beats. Bionic continues by returning to a non-traditional sound with the fractured beats of the album’s second single, “Woohoo.” Co-written by Claude Kelly (Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson) and featuring a verse from Nicki Minaj, the song further drives home Bionic’s multi-layered theme, “let me hear you scream, but bitches keep it clean.”

“Let’s get glam” repeats Aguilera in “Glam,” a fun pop song that has as much in common with Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” as it does Daft Punk’s “Technologic.” The kitschy “Prima Donna” follows with the singer continually returning to the “I’m a prima donna” refrain while Lil Jon-like hollers shoot off like fireworks in the background. (Although uncredited, if it’s not actually Lil Jon in the song I’d be shocked.) It’s around this point in the album that Bionic begins to shift from Aguilera’s electronic-focused tracks to what might be best described as “Classic Christina.”

The far too short “Morning Dessert”—which is one of the most genuinely sexy songs on Bionic—introduces “Sex For Breakfast,” which boasts a slow groove suitable for R. Kelly. The track was produced by Detail who, to no surprise, has also worked slow jammer-turned yodeler in the past. “Lift Me Up” eventually sags as its sentimentality weighs the track down, Aguilera repeating “If you lift me up” to a point of redundancy. “Will you lift me even higher to rise above this earth?” It wasn’t good when Scott Stapp went down that road and it’s not particularly great now. The far-more-bearable “All I Need” follows, echoing a similar tone but with an odd, intangible depth to it. One of three tracks on the record co-written by Sia Furler, “All I Need” is followed by Sia’s other contributions, “I Am” and “You Lost Me.”

“I Hate Boys,” as playful as it is, is simply goofy and off putting when following what is clearly meant to be the most heartfelt stage of the record. Or maybe that’s the point? Either way, the Le Tigre collaboration track feels out of place, despite being followed by the equally silly team-up with Peaches, “My Girls.” Sadly, the pair of songs end up sounding more like they belong on a Spice Girls comeback album rather than an electronic-leaning record featuring the likes of M.I.A., Manja, and, well, Peaches. “My girls, we’re stronger than one, and sometimes we gotta have fun.” Exactly.

“I’m not cocky, I just love myself, bitch” opens Aguilera in “Vanity.” She continues, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the flyest bitch of them all? Never mind I am (that bitch is so fucking crazy), yeah I am (if I were her I would kiss me).” Considering the rest of Bionic—its ease in pace and general shift towards lightheartedness—the track comes as something far more out of place than its predecessors. While the song’s synths hold firm throughout, it’s a little hard to follow the album’s progression and still take Aguilera seriously when she puts on a straight face and flaunts herself as a “bad ass bitch” in the track. Further adding to the discomfort of “Vanity” is the song’s final line, “Let us not forget who owns the throne” which is followed by (presumably) Aguilera’s daughter son, who replies “You do mommy.”

Bionic reflects a new direction for Christina Aguilera without abandoning the singer’s history and the sound that long-time fans have come to know. But there’s something there that still causes friction when listening. Unfortunately it is the most appealing part of Aguilera’s character that also works against her here: her outspoken openness toward her sexuality also acts as a barrier at times. It’s the singer’s insistence on relentlessly pushing her sexuality that becomes tiresome, not the album’s change in pace or awkward musical progression. It’s great that she’s standing for something and making it clear that she knows who she is—the tendency to be politically correct for the sake of not catching bad publicity has become all too prevalent. But eight years after “Dirrty,” Christina Aguilera is closing in on becoming routine rather than empowering, something which has been the downfall of far too many great singers.

Abstract Minimalism: Beneath These Idle Tides

Sounds like: Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II & Stars of the Lid’s Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of the Decline.

Upon initial inspection of Beneath These Idle Tides’ MySpace page one might be underwhelmed, if only by the lack of a “pimped skin;” background information is non-existent, there are only two streaming tracks available, and a few archived gig posters are offered as the only evidence that there is actually a person, or persons, behind the music. Despite the minimal dazzle however, the two tracks capture the listener as they wade through a total of 11 minutes of ambiant brooding.

Although a Google search returns but a few articles, which date back to 2005, they do offer a name—Myke Atkinson—and a few details about what lurks behind these gloomy songs.

The University of Calgary showcased Atkinson with a cover story in an August, 2005 issue of The Gauntlet. In discussing Beneath These Idle Tides’ debut album, This Night Is For You, Peter Hemminger explained,

“The music, influenced by Mogwai’s emotional intensity, Set Fire to Flames’ atmospheric noise, and the patient minimalism of Constellation Records’ roster, is alternately somber and bombastic. The album crafts soundscapes with the glacial beauty equally reminiscent of the isolation of Antarctica and the buzzing menace of a dystopian future.”

That same month Fast Forward Magazine added,

“If you don’t have your stereo cranked there is a good chance that you won’t be able to hear the first two minutes of ‘She Holds a Piece of Me.’ The minimal feedback that slithers out of the silence might garner comparisons to early U.K. shoegazers or tonal compositions by an experimental composer.”

Keeping the heavy descriptions in mind, further evidence of the act’s sound is given by, which hosts a set that was performed during the same month that the two articles were written, captured in Montreal as Beneath These Idle Tides toured across Canada. The site also adds a few details about those who accompanied Atkinson at the time: Marc (bass) and Chris Reimer (drums) of Azeda Booth, an act which earned a 7.9/10 grade from Pitchfork with its 2008 Absolutely Kosher release, In Flesh Tones. Collecting two improvisations and three additional songs in the set (“In Dreams of You,” “My Heart Collapses,” & “Whispers in Silence”), the band combines strings of feedback and abstract sounds before eventually erupting roughly three minutes before the performance quietly fades out. Think a less orchestral, relaxed Sigur Rós.

Move ahead four years to 2009’s Sled Island festival where Beneath These Idle Tides performed a standard set in addition to producing an audio/visual installation titled “Moments Of A Red Sun (In D Major).”

“‘Moments Of A Red Sun (In D Major)’ is an audio installment piece composed by Beneath These Idle Tides in which eight CDs that have approximately 60 tracks each are played on random and repeat over eight different stereos. The result is a ever-changing, continuous piece of music that will never be heard the same way twice. The music will be shown with a looped video created by Manny Golden specifically as the visual component to this project.”

Beneath These Idle Tides is equally intriguing and off-putting. Those same subtle tones which require you to “have your stereo cranked” are aggravating at times and spell disaster for anyone lacking patience. But they’re also touching, and as a deeper sound is channeled it becomes increasingly difficult not to become captivated as the dense, fluid tones progressively materialize. Whatever lies ahead for Beneath These Idle Tides, whether it be musical, visual, or a combination of the two, it can’t come soon enough.

Stone Temple Pilots “Stone Temple Pilots” Review

It has been nine years since the Stone Temple Pilots released Shangri-La Dee Da, the band’s fifth album which received a lukewarm reception and was quickly dismissed after its second single, “Hollywood Bitch,” failed to propel itself into “hit” territory. After talk of returning to the studio following the band’s 2002 tour flared up, tensions also peaked, erupting most notably with guitarist Dean DeLeo and vocalist Scott Weiland nearly coming to blows during the band’s last show of the year’s touring schedule.

In the coming years Weiland would join the bulk of Guns N’ Roses’ legacy members in Velvet Revolver for two successful records while also releasing his second solo album, and Dean and Robert DeLeo would pursue a new group with Ray Luzier and Filter’s Richard Patrick, Army of Anyone—though the “super group” would have as limited success as Talk Show, the brothers’ band with STP drummer Eric Kretz and Dave Coutts which released an album in 1997. But until a reconciliation in 2008 (subsequently following Weiland’s unceremonious exit from Velvet Revolver and Army of Anyone going on an “indefinite hiatus”) fans were left with a sour taste in their mouths and a curiosity for what could have been.

But after a massive reunion tour and an extended recording session it was announced that fans’ answers would be provided in the form of Stone Temple Pilots. And with the release of the band’s first single from the album, “Beneath The Lines,” it seemed as though STP had found redemption. While opening at the #40 position on Billboard’s Rock Songs chart, the track would make history by jumping to number two the next week, marking the largest single-week bump on the chart ever. The song would later reach number one, solidifying it as the band’s most successful single since “Sour Girl” which landed squarely in Billboard’s Hot 100, amongst a number of other charts, in 2000. “We’ve got our best record so far. I hope to have four or five more great records with this band,” Dean DeLeo explained recently in an interview with Music Radar. But aside from the success of the album’s breakout single, is the band’s eponymous release really their “best record so far”?

Not even close.

As Weiland croons in “Between The Lines,” “There ain’t no magic pen to get back what you lost.” And even if he’s not talking about the band here—it’s actually a love song, of sorts—he’s right. But in all fairness Stone Temple Pilots takes a musical direction which hasn’t honestly been explored in the band’s past: Classic rock, or at least as close to classic rock as STP might come. Where Tiny Music… had a lingering crush on grunge, No. 4 leaned on heavier riffs, and Shangri-La Dee Da worked in a psychedelic flavor, the band’s self-titled release greatly relies on a lot of familiar sounding riffs, harmonies, and melodies, although it still retains STP’s thumb print.

Following the record’s soaring second track, “Take A Load Off,” Stone Temple Pilots deliver the dirty stomper “Huckleberry Crumble” (there’s a classic rock title for you if I’ve ever heard one). Late in the song Dean DeLeo breaks out into a solo that embraces a bit of Southern-fried reminiscing which sounds as though he’s anticipating Steven Tyler to jump in over his head and bring a stadium-sized ’70s audience to their knees. But in the end Tyler never shows and the audience isn’t moved. “Hickory Dichotomy” and “Dare If You Dare” do little to impress and “Cinnamon” harvests vocals so unusually light that it’s hard to imagine them actually coming out of Scott Weiland’s mouth.

“Hazy Daze” opens with a fierce riff and has Weiland slithering in and winding himself around the song. Like “Huckleberry Crumble” it’s a solid track, and DeLeo jumps in with another enjoyable solo, but little is ultimately made of it and STP allows an opportunity to erupt go unrealised.

“Bagman” and “Peacoat” both coast by before “Fast As I Can” kicks in and revs up the pace of the album again; Weiland accompanying the track with a floating chorus that levels things out nicely. Channeling Bowie in both song title and vocal style, “First Kiss on Mars” kicks off with another crunchy riff. “Maver” follows but is largely unmemorable, and “Samba Nova” closes out the record (oops, sorry, I was working with a non-”standard” release, sorry) with a relaxed bongo that flows soothingly behind a wave of melody as the album winds down. Offering one of the few noticeable changes of pace throughout Stone Temple Pilots, “Samba Nova” sounds much like a suitable complement to 1996’s Tiny Music… opener, “Press Play.”

Stone Temple Pilots isn’t without its enjoyable moments, but for the majority of the record it unfortunately succumbs to classic rock syndrome: you can listen to an hour’s worth of enjoyable music, but very little of it actually stands out and leaves an impression. Stone Temple Pilots is a good enough album, but there are a lot of “good” bands out there & STP has the potential for so much more. Time will tell if the band’s members can stand each other long enough to make those four or five more albums DeLeo had in mind, but if the band’s self-titled release ends up being STP’s final album, they’re not exactly going out on a high note.

LiveStyle 2010 B-Boy Competition at Olympic Plaza (Calgary, AB)

Video coverage of the 2010 LiveStyle $2000 winner-takes-all 2-on-2 B-boy competition, featuring Original Rudes (Presto & Rein) vs. Maximum Efficiency (Piecez & Handles), Floorwookies (Nerve & ?) vs. Maximum Efficiency (Piecez & Handles), and Floorwookies II (Calgary) vs. Soul Felons (Vancouver). The LiveStyle event took place May 1, 2010 at Olympic Plaza in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

De La Soul at Olympic Plaza (Calgary, AB)

Video of De La Soul performing “Getting’ Down at the Amphitheatre,” “Stakes is High,” “Pass the Plugs,” “Ego Trippin’ (Part 2),” “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays,’ ” “Me Myself and I,” and “Oooh” May 1, 2010 at the Olympic Plaza in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.