The Black Eyed Peas “The Beginning” Review

The Black Eyed Peas’ sixth studio album, The Beginning, closes with a modern mission statement as announced by frontman will.i.am, “I pledge my allegiance to rhythm and sound/Music is my medicine, let the rhythm pound.” Now, long gone are the days when critics were able to relevantly bash the group for trading in their socially conscious vibe for a gorgeous female lead. Having pushed some 27 million albums worldwide, will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo have done little along the way to suggest that the modern version of the Black Eyed Peas isn’t what they had in mind when laying the foundation for the “BEP Empire” a decade ago. While this is old news and would otherwise be hardly worth mentioning, remembering the group’s progress is vital to understanding the motivation behind their music. Revealing the underlying meaning behind calling the new album “The Beginning,” will.i.am recently explained how it’s “about being experimental and taking songs we’ve liked from the past and playing around with sick, crazy beats.” The concept coincides perfectly with his claim in “Play It Loud,” and after absorbing the album it would be an uphill battle to argue that The Beginning doesn’t rely heavily on playing around with sounds from the past. The only problem here is that the album, itself, is largely stuck in this retro limbo, focused so narrowly on recreating latter day “sick” and “crazy beats” that it fails to formulate an identity of its own.

Opening with “The Time (Dirty Bit),” the album wastes little time in confirming this point. While it’s no sin to recreate hits from the past or manipulate iconic hooks, the disco-friendly vibe of the track bears a far greater resemblance to the 1998 recreation of “If You Could Read My Mind” used in the film 54 than it does a track with a forward thinking beat. Additionally, the progressive electronics that are to somehow spark a bit of energy during the “Dirty Bit” moments fail to project any sort of genuine enthusiasm; combined with apl.de.ap’s unfortunately limp verse, the single sounds like anything but a party anthem.

From there the production becomes arguably laughable as songs such as “Light Up the Night,” “Someday” and “Don’t Stop the Party” offer little audible fuel to ignite any fire on the dance floor. “Love You Long Time” is as offensively dense as its title suggests, the track’s digital augmentation stretched to its breaking point as will.i.am and Fergie work their call and response, “Would you let me love you, let me love you long time?” Sadly, the song is just one of many that might otherwise be forgivable had the group not relied on such lazily crafted lyrics. But rather than point fingers at Fergie for the clumsy vocal fodder, maybe blame should be aimed at the trio of MCs for phoning it in and hiring a staff of commercially-motivated songwriters when they have clearly proven themselves capable of so much more. Instead the group is reduced to “This shit’s money nigga, this shit’s green/This shit is terrifying: Halloween” (“Do It Like This”) and “I’ve got it all in my pocket and we gonn’ rock it” (“Light Up the Night”).

While it’s easy to focus solely to the negative, doing so wouldn’t allow for a fare assessment of The Beginning. The pulsating beat in “The Best One Yet (The Boy)” carries with it some honest depth and the Fergie-driven deluxe edition track “The Situation” projects itself with ample vocal flair. As is teased with the latter, there are a number of moments where the group produces a fresh and energetic aesthetic, but for the vast majority of the album the Black Eyed Peas carelessly put too much faith in marginally passable beats and generic, mindless lyrics; no different than with last year’s The E.N.D., or the two Fergalicious albums before it, really. A proven equation that will likely result in another multi-platinum chart-topper. In the end though it’s a shame that the group places such an emphasis on an “allegiance to rhythm and sound” when all they’ve ever needed to create a good album was the remotest bit of soul.

Thee Piatcions “Time” (Influenza)

Perhaps it’s a combination of variables that has left Thee Piatcions‘ sounding like a refreshing detour from the exhausted stereotypes that typically define shoegaze: “Wall of sound!”; “Reverb!”; “Distortion!”; “Etheral vocals!”; you get the picture. Hailing from a small town in Northern Italy (Domodossola), the band has remained below the surface for some years now, reshaping their psych and garage influences into their own sound. While it’s not as though each of those previous clichés can’t be heard within the group’s music, what’s ultimately so attractive about the band’s sound isn’t something which is so easily definable. Artrocker has introduced the band with an understandable “Nu gaze” label before settling on a vague (and hilarious!) sentiment, classifying Thee Piatcion’s sound as similar to “artyfacts from the first psychedelic era, kinda like the Sonics after dipping their cocks in a beehive.” While not only leaving one hell of a mental image, the quote also brings to light a balance which is expressed through the group’s music. Take for instance the band’s recent single, “Time.” While it apparently wasn’t even supposed to be released, the song is ultimately one of the finer examples of the glossy refinement that the band brings to the genre. In this installment in the Influenza series, the band recalls the song’s timeline, following it through the original recording process to its final product; adding how it has become a transitional track for them—one that bridges the old and the new.

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Actually, “Time” shouldn’t have been released. It was just supposed to be a demo for us, somehow an experiment for us us to check what we had become and where this could lead us. We weren’t that rough garage band anymore and we needed something to prove that change.

But the recording session went so well that the first time Monica (our manager) heard the songs, she suddenly decided to release it as an EP based on “Time” itself. And we were excited too, ’cause it wasn’t so bad after all… But we wanted a different view on the song, and Monica suggested James Aparicio (of Disc Error label) as sound engineer, to get a different mix. He also worked with Spiritualized, so he knew perfectly our idea of sound. He did few cuts and so the single version was born.

It has been a long year, finally we had a brand new rehearsal room, OUR rehearsal room (!), with all our stuff ready to be explored, letting us to focus on the main purpose: looking for our sound! It’s pretty hard making something new nowadays, especially in our kind of music, but you can always try to find your peculiar sound, that little thing you’re proud of…

Frankie fell in love with a lot of vintage fuzz pedals, and Dave too, who finally got a Space Echo (and trust me, it’s not just a “vintage” fever. When you touch one of these machines, you can feel how they’re alive! Very inspiring…). And a Sherman filterbank just became S.K.A.I.O’s new best friend. A totally weird way of raping an organ sound!

We used to have a lot of jams, testing our new stuff and “Time” came out in this way. Don’t forget about our continous fascination for Indian ragas and you get our little anthem. Definitely, “Time” means a lot to us: it’s the borderline between our musical past and what we are now but it’s also our way of clearing the shadow line, becoming adult, each one with his own direction and purpose that you won’t regret.

Scanner and the Post Modern Jazz Quartet “The Decisive Moment” (Influenza)


Scanner is the alias of one Robin Rimbaud, a veteran electronic musician whose works, it seems, are not to be easily defined. “[He] traverses the experimental terrain between sound, space, image and form, creating absorbing, multi-layered sound pieces that twist technology in unconventional ways,” explains the biography on his website. How, then, does such an artist exert himself within a traditional medium as jazz, combining his focused experimentalism with a genre that has evolved through some of music’s most important improvisers? Such is the quandry when approaching Blink of an Eye, the new album fom Scanner and the Post Modern Quartet, a collaborative effort by Rimbaud and celebrated jazz musicians Matthew Shipp, Khan Jamal, Michael Bisio and Michael Thompson. The Jazz Times‘ Jeff Tamarkin points a finger to harmony in describing the “jazztronica” album, “Blink of an Eye is a work of stunning sonic breadth, one in which the electronics augment, ornament and permeate the original acoustic work but never overwhelm the sounds laid down by Shipp and company.” In this installment in the Influenza series, Rimbaud and pianist Shipp explain their parts in the track “The Decisive Moment,” a looming piano-driven piece that utilizes the full band as it builds toward a focused conclusion.

Robin Rimbaud: [I] was drawn by the hypnotic nature of the playing on this track, the almost mesmeric piano riff and drums that wrap themselves around the motion. It’s in a constant state of falling forwards so I added a series of treatments to each instrument, filtering them and opening them. In the middle I created this glitchy break, where I added an additional synthetic bass line, keyboard pads, backwards slices of sound and dubbed out the beats with echoes and reverbs. I intentionally avoided all quantization on this track and indeed the rest of the album, as I wanted to maintain this sense of the real and the played, to bury my world inside the acoustic so at points you struggle to determine what is played and what is imagined almost. The track closes with the sound of resonant burning ash from the fire before it.

Matthew Shipp: I originally used this riff on a chamber jazz duo CD with violinist Mat Maneri. It was intended to be a short piece that built a hypnotic groove effect not unlike some vamps that occur in the music of Charles Mingus. When we went in the studio for the Post Modern Quartet I used this riff hoping that [Michael] Bisio on bass and [Michael] Thompson on drums would wrap around it and create some forward motion and some tension, and they did. It is ironic that we could end up with a funk piece where the material originally came from a chamber album. Enter Scanner into the equation who created a b-section that was needed to make piece into a whole. Thanks Scanner!

Conjure One “Like Ice” (Influenza)


Rhys Fulber might not be a household name, but to electronic music fans the Canadian musician’s resume speaks for itself. Standing as a one-time member of the veteran industrial group Front Line Assembly, and one half of the long-standing electronic duo Delerium, for the better part of the past decade and a half Fulber has focused largely on solo work; primarily recording as Conjure One. While technically a solo-effort, Fulber’s 2002 Conjure One album was ripe with unique collaborations which included the likes of Sinéad O’Connor and Poe; the latter of whom returned to assist with a selection of tracks on Conjure One’s sophomore release, 2005′s Extraordinary Ways. Following another Delerium album (2006′s Nuages du Monde) Fulber assisted the likes of Mindless Self Indulgence, Fear Factory, and Rob Zombie with production and remix duties before recently returning with a third Conjure One release, Exilarch. The album’s 10 tracks do well to extend the Conjure One sound—one which isn’t entire dissimilar to the foggy electronics of Delerium. That being said, Sputnik Music describes the album as one which demonstrates a new direction for the artist, “[Exilarch] skirts the limits between darkness and beauty, and does so in a very direct and concise way.” Leading the way as the album-opener is the single “Like Ice,” which features the ethereal vocals of Jaren Cerf. The song’s whirling introduction leads into a bubbling electronic landscape which is enhanced by a distinct drum beat and piano line that rotate around the singer’s airy voice. In this edition of Influenza, Fulber recalls the moment which first inspired the song, the collaborative process that helped develop it, and his online meeting with Cerf that resulted in her contributing to three of the album’s tracks.

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“Like Ice” was actually originally written on my laptop while on a ferry from Vancouver to Gibsons. I was up on the top deck taking in the spectacular scenery, where the mountains literally plunge into the sea, when I had this brooding, electro zeppelin idea come into my head. I then went below into my vehicle and drew it out on the grid in my laptop software. After that initial vibe was there, I took it into the studio and added all the analog synthesizers and tried to hark back to my love of ’70s electronic music, which seemed a perfect fit to the mood. The music was then built up almost as it is on the final version, then I sent it to one of my writing collaborators, Peter Wright, in London. He provides the “top line” and lyrics and did up a nice demo with all the vocal parts which I then got Jaren (the lead) and Leah [Randi] (harmonies) to re-sing. I’m not a lyricist, so I rely on the music to shape where the direction of the words go. A method that so far I have been very happy with. I heard a trance song on a BBC Radio 1 dance show that had this moving vocal that just grabbed me. I had to find out who it was, so I went onto the website and tracked down a playlist, to find out it was Jaren. I just found her on the web and asked if she would be interested in working together and now she’s on three songs on the new album—so a stroke of good fortune there. It’s now a favorite in our live set…

[Exilarch was released November 9 via Nettwerk. For an additional taste of the album, both "I Dream in Colour" and "Places that Don't Exist" are available for streaming on the label's Soundcloud page.]

Thunderball “Enter the Brahmin” (Influenza)


Smooth tempos, sitars, retro-future samples? It must be the return of Thunderball, the stylish kids from DC all grown up after half a decade spent tuning their forks as members of Fort Knox Five.” While succinct and to the point, Urb‘s introduction to the DC-based trio glazes over the near decade-long process of experimenting which went into the group’s latest creation. Thunderball’s new release, 12 Mile High, is a largely instrumental record which is both “stylish, exotic opus” (Snob’s Music) and “capable of surprising even the most world weary music fan” (Alt Sounds). But again, a written description alone only goes so far in helping shed light on the imaginative combination of sounds that makes the album so intensely compelling. One piece of the puzzle is a simple sitar–an instrument which is used heavily in the album’s opening tracks: “12 Mile High” and “Enter the Brahmin.” In this edition of Influenza, Rob Myers–the talent behind said sitar–explains the epiphanic moment that sparked the creation of “Brahmin,” also offering a detailed recollection of the production behind the track and insight into the difficulties of recording a sitar.

It’s no secret that there’s no real formula to writing a track. Sometimes they start off complex and shake down to something simple, sometimes they start simple and get overloaded with miles of exuberant studio tracking only to find their true shape after weeks of bloodletting. And sometimes they just write themselves with almost no coercion needed from the humans at the helm. But between all of our different Thunderball connected projects–Fort Knox Five, Speedy Consuela, International Velvet, See-I and DJ mashups–we thought we’d seen it all. That is until we started “Enter the Brahmin.”

Going back the better part of a decade, Thunderball was touring as an eight-piece live band in support of the album Scorpio Rising. Steve Raskin, Sid Barcelona and myself were joined by our friends Rex Riddem on percussion, Bert Quieroz on bass, Steven Albert on drums and Mustafa Akbar & Miss Johnna M on vocals. Steve and Sid were on keyboard duties, Steve playing the funky & dubby stuff and Sid keeping it smooth & cinematic. I was on guitar & sitar. All this was played on top of a backing track of light percussion (for the drums to follow via headphone), sub bass frequencies and special effects.

Since we were just dropping the sitar in on various tracks we felt there needed to be a showcase piece for it, simply because: why not? We’re dragging a sitar all over the place, might as well make a song for it. So we did… In less than an hour! Steve scrambled thru a bunch of old sketches, added some tablas to a wubbly bass track that had some ethereal strings ghosting thru it and “poof” a backing track was born. We called it “Intro Sitar” and it turned into a song the instant we all started playing on it. From the first basement rehearsals in Washington, DC to live on-stage in St. Petersburg, Russia. We jammed on it, banged on it, tried percussion breakdowns, sang on it, did pretty much everything we could to it for years and years… except: record it.

Flash forward to earlier this year when we were flushing out the vibes of the new album, 12 Mile High, and we realized it was time to attempt it in the studio. Naturally, we thought to ourselves, having played it so much, this is gonna be easy! But recording a sitar is seldom easy. Especially when the sitar take is not just being used as “riff fodder” but needs to weave the song together from section to section, playing through the entire track. It needs to maintain sonic presence and not change tone during takes so that it will cut and paste seamlessly into a final comp. We used two inputs, one from a microphone (Trion 8000) and the other from flat little piezo pickups (K&K Sound) on the sitar that I stuck on years ago for live performances. The two tracks come out with two completely different EQ curves that can be used to bring out the best in each other. Punch from the pickup and tone from the mic.

Tracking to the same “Intro Sitar” backing track we’d used for so long we kept the sitar recording to a minimum, two–maybe three–takes. The first sober and the second, um, un-sober. Again, two different curves that bring out the best in each other. Then, since the song always had a trippy, ethereal nature we piled on take after take of highly effected guitars using delay pedals (TC Nova Delay & T-Rex Replica) in-line so that we could vibe the performance and tons of modulation from the fantastic Line 6 “Purple Pedal” with myself on the guitar (Gibson Les Paul Classic) and Steve on the knobs tweaking thru the possibilities creating a whole library of “spacey” sounds to work with.

After getting the sitar line to make sense and reigning in the guitar effects we had the track sounding very close to what we’d remembered thinking it should kinda sound like. Only it just didn’t have any “magic” to it. So we had to confront our biggest hurdle: the backing track wasn’t cutting it. It was too hard to mix with just a stereo file that was carrying so much weight, and the original file was lost to the hard drives of eternity! We would have to rebuild from scratch the percussion and bass and strings, the things that had always cemented the “feel” of the track to us. Face it, we’d gotten used to the way it had always sounded and now we had to find new sounds that would make us feel the same way. An impossible task. Oh, we found a few things that worked: tablas that bubbled and MIDI strings that sounded just as good as the original, but no perfect low-end wobble.

So we let the track languish and continued working on the other 12 tracks from 12 Mile High. As those tracks started growing and making their way to their final mixing stages, something creepy started happening. “Sitar Intro,” which was always going to be the first song on the album, was no longer holding its own in the pole position. Actually, it was sounding pretty weak next to the other tracks. We needed a miracle. And since miracles only happen when you wait long enough to need them, ours came in the form of a random search for a tabla sound, which led to the discovery of the original tabla loop which led to the long hidden hard drive that housed the original build file! We now had all the components we’d grown used to and all the new stuff we’d found to replace them. Together they made an excellent team and it was quick work to get the track to mix.

Wanting something more cinematic out of the first opening moments of the album Steve started doing a Bollywood vocal scat over the intro. “Might have something for that,” I said and went to my buried bin of cassettes and found the lessons I’d recorded with my sitar Guru, Raj Bahn Singh, in Benares, India back in the late ’90s. We grab the perfect moment of him starting a lesson with the Eastern sentiment “Are you going to listen?” and then going into the rhythm count in Hindi. Titling it with some Bruce Lee-inspired cheek, “Enter the Brahmin” was born.

[Thunderball is presently on tour with Pretty Lights; tour dates and ticket information are available here.]

iamamiwhoami presents “To Whom It May Concern” finale



A “live concert” was teased from the mysterious iamamiwhoami this past September 30, with a tentative date of November 11 listed as the due date for the vague performance. Recently posting a video which hinted at a snag in the original plan, Joanna Lee and crew unveiled the 16th of November as the new kickoff for the performance. Announced to go live at 12:01 am (Swedish time… which I imagine it did… not living in Sweden, nor catching it as it debuted), “To Whom It May Concern” fully captures the wide-reaching artistic focus of the series and serves as a brilliant closing to the still-baffling narrative. Quietly the act matched the epic nature of Kanye West’s 34 minute “Runaway” video, while still retaining an earthy sense of mystical amazement. Were explicit answers given? No. But they weren’t needed either. Rather, just we were given all that we could ask for: an ending; even if it is only a conclusion to this particular chapter in the iamamiwhoami story. The ride, though a long and curiously vague one, was well worth it. Thanks for the adventure!

Kanye West “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” Review

Much has been made of Kanye West‘s outrageous behavior, his perceived narcissism, egotistical public outbursts, and general air of superiority. But there’s something to be said for a man who lives his life as his own biggest fan; especially when symptoms of which materialize in efforts such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Winking in “Devil in a New Dress,” Kanye offers the bar, “Hood phenomenon, the Lebron of rhyme, hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on a JumboTron,” as not only a simple acknowledgment of this reputation, but also as a sort of explanation for his ego, where he’s coming from, and what’s at the core of his character. When you’re on a platform where seemingly everyone in the world is critiquing your every move—as has been the case with LeBron James—it has to be difficult to live your life without an inflated sense of self-worth. Just think of that feeling you get when someone acknowledges you for accomplishing even the most menial of accomplishments… feels good, right? Now multiply that feeling by 10 or 20 million times to account for every person wearing your jersey, buying your album, or tuning in to see you appear on television. His statement is simply asking how you would feel about yourself and how you would act under those same circumstances. The point here isn’t to give Kanye and those of his status a free pass to do whatever they want and act however they please, but rather to say: we’re all assholes in some way, shape or form, and it’s near-impossible to come away smelling like a rose, no matter who you are, when you’re under such a magnifying glass. That simple idea is the essence of what Fantasy is all about.

As Kanye has continued to grow as an individual he is learning more about himself and recognizing mistakes he’s made along the way. Since 2008′s powerful 808s & Heartbreak, the man’s had no problem remaining at the center of the public eye: he was involved in a high profile relationship with model Amber Rose, there was the whole VMA/Taylor Swift fiasco, then Kanye made his introduction to (and subsequent domination of) Twitter, and now there has been nearly a half-year of teasing (and releasing) new material directly to fans for free. But with such great celebrity comes an even greater level of attention paid to his moments of poor judgment; moments which Kanye is (now, at least) apparently far from blind to. In fact, much of the album is essentially the MC saying, “Hey, I fucked up—I realize this now—let’s toast to our mistakes and hopefully learn from them as we forge ahead”; or in the case of “Runaway,” exactly what Kanye’s saying.

In the track Kanye reveals that he is terrible with relationships, has problems with intimacy, prioritizes work over women, and when he does find himself on a hot-streak, he screws it up by calling a female “bitch” and sending her indiscreet pictures of himself. (If you have the internet and the remotest of ideas of how to use a search engine, you likely already have a visual in your mind of what he’s talking about there.) If anything, when internalizing things as a listener, as the album progresses Kanye begins to appear more human than human. “Me found bravery in my bravado,” spouts the MC in “Dark Fantasy,” opening the album by momentarily visualizing his strength to achieve confidence before tackling an issue that he took to the public recently with an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. While not standing as an excuse for his actions, Kanye explained that the drink had been getting the best of him and his clouded state of mind was leading him to make poor decisions, “The plan was to drink it till the pain over/But what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” “Gorgeous” continues with Kanye searching for relief, “This week has been a bad massage, I need a happy ending,” a glance into the mirror, with the MC searching for who he is in “Monster,” “Everybody knows I’m a mother fuckin’ monster… Are my eyes more red than the devil is,” and he finds an unsettling conclusion with the confused echo repeated throughout “So Appalled,” “Life can be sometimes ridiculous.”

Forever contrasting the confused Kanye West is the confident Kanye West though, and Fantasy has no shortage of the latter’s lyrical and sexual arrogance. The man takes on all who challenge him in “Gorgeous,” “Act like I ain’t had a belt in two classes/I’m comin’ after whoever who has it.” He blasts how he does “it better than anybody you ever seen do it” in “Power,” and continues by adding “At the end of the day goddammit I’m killing this shit/I know damn well y’all feelin’ this shit.” “Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh/I put the pussy in a sarcophagus/Now she claimin’ that I bruised her esophagus,” the MC brags in “Monster,” which is followed with Chris Rock (yup, Chris Rock) hilariously going of in the closing moments of “Blame Game,” asking “Who got your pussy reupholstered?” The female’s response? “Yeezy got my pussy reupholstered.”

For all the emphasis that’s aimed at Kanye and his progression with the album, it’s easy to forget that it is anything but a typical solo recording. If anything, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a product of a wide-reaching supergroup: Kanye West and the G.O.O.D. Ass All-Stars. Just as Raekwon adds some lyrical grit over a mean sample in “Gorgeous,” his Wu-brethren the RZA does the same in “So Appalled”; Rihanna excels with “All of the Lights,” performing a roll manufactured specifically to accentuate her talents; Jay-Z is in top form in “So Appalled” (“I went from the favorite to the most hated, but would you rather be underpaid or overrated”); Pusha T comes hard in “Runaway”; and Nicki Minaj consumes much of “Monster,” clowning over the track as the young vocalist toasts her way though one of her strongest verses to date. That doesn’t even touch the list of contributors on the album however—a list which includes everyone from Kid Cudi to Elton John to Rick Ross to Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon to John Legend—and that doesn’t even begin even include the small army of producers who worked with Kanye on laying down the musical masterpiece that lives beneath his rhymes; how the nine-minute “Runaway” fits so well with the winding, sentimental “Blame Game,” the sinister “Monster,” and the preachy outro “Who Will Survive in America,” is beyond comprehension. The beats are impeccable, the choice and use of guests is second to none, and all along the way Kanye appears quite content with taking a backseat to each. That, in and of itself, is a huge step forward in showing his maturity as an artist; arguably more so than anything Kanye does lyrically on Fantasy.
"How do you even send this in for reviews? Why would people even play, like, themselves to even review it? How do you review songs where Rick Ross comes in six minutes after a guitar solo? You haven’t even heard that before! And it’s just for the sake of showing you have some type of hip hop intelligence or knowledge or love of the first Wu-Tang album, you knock a half-star off of it. Y’know, I’ve never got a classic rating, or a perfect rating, but… ‘College Dropout’, ‘Late Registration’, ‘Graduation’ set a tone for all rap music after the fact. That thing was coming in and getting three and a half stars, and just dumb shit…"

That quote is taken from a recent interview where Kanye was addressing the new album. And as cocksure as his statement is, he’s right; if you come at the album with a narrow perspective, you’re going to miss out on the whole thing. Then consider his last point; that the pop and hip hop music scenes might wear an entirely different appearance had The College Dropout not been released some six-and-a-half years ago. Again, an argument you’d be hard-pressed to prove wrong. How many artists can you name who have had a deep and lasting effect on other artists, let alone entire genres? That’s where one of the most important factors of the album comes out: yes, Kanye is human, and with many of his lyrics he’s asking that you recognize this, but it is impossible for Kanye West, the artist, to create on the level which he does unless he lives with such extreme self-assurance. As listeners and fans, we ask him to be more humble, yet we lavish him with adoration at every turn. We become repulsed when he overshares his emotions or boldly speaks out of turn, yet we encourage him to keep doing it. As Kanye West is on the JumboTron we have to expect a bit of his internal struggle to bleed through and materialize in some sort of TMZ-moment, but what he’s aiming at here is that he is beginning to recognize his flaws and work on them. Where, in the past, he’s dominated his albums on his own while letting in a few select guests to appear in supporting roles, Kanye himself takes a backseat to his collaborators in many of the tracks. Where, in the past, he’s shown elements of lyrical confusion and swagger without appearing remotely grounded, he’s now showing a sliver of humility in his game; something unthinkable for the artist even a year or two ago.

The album dramatically opens with a voice soulfully asking “Can we get much higher?” And for the better part of the next 70 minutes that question is answered: Yes we can. To this point in his career, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the best work that Kanye’s done in terms of producing a complete recording. He’s showing that he’s growing as a composer, a producer, and a lyricist. Just as Kanye West will continue to be his own biggest fan, he will also do what it takes to ensure that he remains on the JumboTron. But just think of how many names there are on marquees throughout the world, how many people are famous for doing shit-all to deserve it, and how many people who are praised en masse for mediocrity. With Kanye West though, the trade-off is simply that in return for him being a bit of an ass sometimes—who does tend to offer up some fantastic quotes along the way—the public is given music that, as the past decade suggests, is likely to direct the flow of the medium for many years to come. Maybe that’s feeding into his ego… so be it. Maybe we should cut Yeezy a bit more slack and let him put his foot in his mouth from time to time without giving him such a hard time; when all is said and done it still seems like a pretty fantastic trade-off.

Oh Land “Sun of a Gun” (Influenza)



Nanna Øland Fabricius’ life has offered the vocalist an interesting series of events that, had the Dane had her way, would have likely never materialized into a career in music. While born to a classically trained opera singer, Fabricius adopted an obsession for dance as a child, and by the age of 10 she had enrolled in ballet classes. She actively followed her passion all the way to Stockholm where she enrolled in a prominent dance school, but at the age of 18 she was struck with a devastating back injury that crippled her chances of pursuing her dream. After a period of uncertainty and confusion, Fabricius made the decision to return to her roots and utilize her musical talents which had been nurtured from a young age. Moving to the Williamsburg in New York, and adopting the stage name of Oh Land in the process, Fabricius released her first EP in 2008, simply titled Fauna.

She has since gained attention for not only her dreamy, atmospheric pop, but also her paralyzing beauty; a combination which becomes even more overwhelming in the live setting. “A tall, stunningly gorgeous Danish woman takes center stage, looking like a hipster Heidi Klum, with a DJ/beat specialist off to the left,” described NYC Taper of a performance earlier this year. “It is perfection.” Now with a second EP to behind her, the singer has turned her attention to her full-length debut which will be released early in 2011 via Epic. “My criteria was to only write songs I couldn’t live without,” she explained to Interview Magazinerecently. One can only imagine that she had a track like “Sun of a Gun” in mind when making such a statement. The song accurately showcases Fabricius’ simple vocal style, casting it alongside a fairly nondescript pop beat. It is the combination of the two, however, that magically materializes as an irresistible musical delicacy. In this edition of Influenza, Fabricius explains the creation of the song, its melody, and discusses the video which was released in support of the track.

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Last summer I watched a beautiful sunset over Griffith Park and after three months of L.A. heat I wished the sun would stay down. This absurd thought inspired the title “Sun of a Gun,” a story about love. It’s about being stuck in rotation around someone who is not good for you. The feeling of wanting to release yourself from this person but not being able to. The sun is playing the main character. We’re dependent on it and rotate around it but it can be dangerous if it’s too much and we need to protect ourselves from it.

I often find that I get inspired to write songs from really silly thoughts. Conversations that make me laugh or a crazy idea… it triggers my creativity because it makes me see things in a new way. There are often many layers and different meanings in my lyrics. Like with “Sun of a Gun.” It’s a love story but also a tale about nature and the sun. “Once burnt twice shy, too much of your light made me blind.”

Melodically I draw a lot of inspiration from old music, like spirituals, psalms and classical music and then I like to put them into a really modern production. The contrast is interesting. When we took the song into production we wanted to have as few but important elements in as possible. I worked together with Dave McCracken and I think we pretty much had the whole concept of the song within half an hour. I started singing this “oo” rhythmic thing that is the main vocal through the whole track. We always base all production around my vocal harmonies and concepts. With this song I was inspired by a mix between Laurie Anderson’s “Oh Superman” and Björk’s Medulla. I like to draw from as many different genres and directions as possible. That’s when music will sound different and interesting, I think.

In the video we created this magical snow landscape. The directors, thirtytwo, came over from London and we had a lot of fun making this shoot. We wanted to show different sides of me, when the sun is up and when the sun is down. How that affects me. Like I was possessed by a force of nature. When you are in love you also feel out of control and strongly affected by the person you love. I was improvising the whole dance sequence but I had to always remember exactly what I did because we were editing between the two costume sets and it had to look smooth. I also had to learn the song in half speed and double tempo because they would do some fun things with it in post to make it feel other worldly and mysterious. It was very fun to play with all the things you can do in a simple setting.

Metric “Black Sheep” (Influenza)



No strangers to acclaim, Metric‘s Polaris Music Prize and Juno Award nominations have contributed heavily to the Toronto-based quartet being recognized as one of Canada’s highest regarded rock acts. That said, the band is seemingly perpetually on the brink of something greater. With the release of last year’s Fantasies—which debuted atop Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart—the band was once again greeted with acclaim from critics and fans alike, but failed to make the jump to the “next level.” While not conquering the world with one swift blow, the (relatively) smaller victories continued: Metric was once again included on the shortlist for the Polaris Prize, the band garnered an Alternative Album of the Year win at the Junos, and the group landed key placements on a number of high profile television shows, movies, and video games including Grey’s Anatomy, Rock Band 3 and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. No surprise then that director Edgar Wright reached out to the band during the process of adapting Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels into a motion picture. Meeting with Wright and Nigel Godrich, who curated the soundtrack to the film, guitarist James Shaw and vocalist Emily Haines addressed the duo’s ideas and suggested a track which they felt would best serve the film. “Black Sheep,” a long-developed song which had been in the group’s live repertoire for years, had failed to make the cut for Fantasies, but as fate would have it, made perfect sense for the film. In this edition of Influenza, Haines explains the development of the track over the years, why it remained on the cutting-room floor despite being so popular with the band, and how Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has given the track an outlet to live on.

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“Black Sheep” is a track Metric started working on back in 2007, in the early writing sessions for our album Fantasies. It was always an unusual number, and it went through various road tests and revisions throughout the making of the record. In the end, it didn’t make the cut, even though it was always a real banger live and we all enjoyed playing it. Mostly this was due to the fact that no one, including me, could get a handle on what the hell the song was about. I wrote the lyrics all at once in this full on stream-of-consciousness moment, and I couldn’t explain where all the imagery was coming from. Take this line from the pre-chorus for example: ” Now that the truth is just a rule that you can bend/You crack the whip, shape-shift and trick the past again.” Come again? That’s all well and good, but who am I talking about? At the time, I couldn’t say. “Black Sheep” was plucked from the unknown. To make matters worse, I insisted that the song begin with a creepy chanting intro. At one point, I had the whole band in the vocal booth whispering the words “black sheep come home” without knowing why.

It wasn’t until April 2008 that this song revealed its destiny in the form of a phone call from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World director Edgar Wright. Edgar explained the film he was shooting in Toronto, the various bands and characters in Brian’s graphic novel, and his ideas for the soundtrack which would be curated by Nigel Godrich. Later, over dinner with Jimmy Shaw and myself, Edgar and Nigel described what they were looking for and it was suddenly very clear that “Black Sheep” was meant to be in this movie. Lyrically, musically—even the intro!—this song was exactly what Nigel and Edgar needed for the pivotal scene at Lee’s Palace. Actress Brie Larson makes it her own in the film (sings it completely differently than me!), and we’re proud to have the original Metric version on the soundtrack alongside T-Rex, the Stones, Beck, Black Lips… and of course our pals Broken Social Scene. “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” is a very special song I wrote & recorded with BSS back in 2003. Like “Black Sheep,” Edgar and Nigel brought it full circle. I’m honored to be on such a slamming soundtrack twice.

Eric & Magill “Old Man Winter” (Influenza)



To put it bluntly, the journey leading up to the release of Eric & Magill’s new album has been a long and arduous one. Dating back to the late-’90s, during their time together in the Milwaukee-based band Camden, Ryan Weber and Eric Osterman have had a long and trying relationship, but one that has ultimately lasted due in part to a meaningful friendship and a mutual passion for creating music; this despite some spots of typical band drama including Osterman leaving Camden around the turn of the millennium which would drive a divide between the duo which lasted the better part of a decade. All Those I Know, which was released independently last month, has generated quite a bit of buzz in the Milwaukee-scene with the general consensus being that the album is nothing if not a proper representation of the duo’s tremendous talents. On Milwaukee‘s Bob Purvis notes how the band’s “textured indie-folk” “draw[s] comparisons to the lush orchestration of bands like Midlake and Grizzly Bear”; Ryan Matteson of Muzzle of Bees reflects on the group’s music by commenting on how it “travels many genres from folk to electronic under a warm blanket of guitar fuzz”; and Dan Oberbruner of the AV Club reveals how the album is focused on “rectifying the divide between simple, earnest, nostalgic folk-rock and highly polished, manipulated pop.” Just as the duo’s history dates back quite a few years, so too does the story behind one of the closing tracks on All Those I Know. “Old Man Winter” is an effect-laden slow-roller that glides along quietly, gently cascading over a chorus of unusual voices and a calm, repetitive guitar stroke. In this edition of Influenza, Weber traces the history of the song all the way back to a random meeting in the late-’90s where the duo were introduced to a musical influence who would end up capping off the song through an unlikely collaboration.

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I’ve been tasked with dissecting a song on my new record. I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now, and I have so many cool stories about recording this record. I fooled around with it for almost three years. It has something like a hundred guest musicians on it. I started working on it in a tiny bedroom in the house of an unfamiliar family in the Republic of Armenia. There are stories at every twist and turn and voice and blimp and bleep of this record. Three years is a lot of time. I got married, the economy collapsed, and I lost my job.

Reviews have been coming back, and as could be expected they mention that I collaborated with members of Shearwater and Dirty Projectors and Owen, and Volcano Choir and others depending on who the author deems most noteworthy. One artist, however, has not been mentioned as of yet and is perhaps the collaboration that is most noteworthy in my mind. Though the story that follows might sound like a couple guys that had a couple too many drinks in a hot tub and went online, I think it affected me in a profound way. It was the universe letting me know that what I wanted from it was there for the taking, and all that I had to do was pursue it. So in this story I will attempt to dissect how there came to be a yodel at the beginning middle and end of the ninth track on the Eric & Magill record entitled “Old Man Winter.”

We’ve got to go back to 1998 when my musical partner, Eric Osterman, and I began playing music together. We were part of the band Camden and toured throughout the country playing with a host of indie bands. One of the more noteworthy things about Camden was that we recorded two records and toured with the now famous Death Cab for Cutie. Back then, outside of their hometown Seattle and our hometown of Milwaukee we were lucky to play to 40 or 50 kids a night. Fast Forward to the fall of 2000. We had just played a bunch of shows in the Pacific Northwest. After the shows we stayed in Seattle and recorded some songs for our upcoming record Pieces of Places with Chris Walla from Death Cab. Instead of driving straight back to Wisconsin after recording we set up a few shows along the way. On a day off we did an interview on a college radio station in Moscow, Idaho.

We got along really well with the station director and she was kind enough to offer us a place to crash that night. We bought some beers and hung out all night with her and some of her friends. After numerous beers were consumed someone pulled out an old record with a cheesy photo of some guy kind of dressed like a dorky cowboy (picture your grandpa playing guitar). It was kind of country music but with one main difference… there was yodeling on it. Everyone thought it was hilarious and, as hipsters from the late ’90s, we were happily lost in the irony. We drank and listened to the Idaho Yodeler record over and over again. The next day we said our goodbyes to Moscow, Idaho and started our trek back to Wisconsin.

I never kept in touch with Christina (the station director) but she must have had my address from some promotional materials I sent her. Over a year later a strange package arrived at my house and there was a note inside that read “I saw the Idaho Yodeler at the Idaho State Fair last week and thought you guys would enjoy this.” It was a cassette of the Idaho Yodeler himself, Mr. Buzz Goertzen—it was his new record! I was 23 at this time and kept that tape in my Dodge Neon for laughs for as long as I had the car.

Around the end of the year 2000 on one tour, Eric met his future wife and ended up moving to Michigan. He and I ended up falling out of touch for several years after that. Starting in 2001 I began playing bass for the Promise Ring. I ended up touring with them and recording Wood/Water. Around the same time I also started to play in and produce the band Decibully. Since being introduced to the Idaho Yodeler I have managed to record 7 full-length records with various groups and shuffled around on tours with many of today’s more well-known indie bands. I’m not mentioning this to talk about what I’ve done, but really to point out that though I’ve had a “career” in music by some standards, since first hearing the Idaho Yodeler; I’m still struggling but still putting out music like the Idaho Yodeler himself.

In 2007 Eric and I ran into each other again in Milwaukee and decided to record music together. Shortly after this meeting I moved to Armenia. Throughout the next three years we managed to write material by exchanging tracks back and forth over the internet. Because it was so easy for us to send tracks back and forth over the internet, it gave us an idea. We began to ask musicians we had known to collaborate with us. This proved to be a huge success. For some tracks the sound quality wasn’t that great, but it proved to be an aesthetic that we loved and incorporated into songs. We then pursued the idea of collaborating with friends even further and began asking more and more people to contribute vocal tracks to a song that we called “Old Man Winter.” We came up with the term “Internet Choir” and ultimately stopped asking for tracks after we ran out of friends on Facebook to ask for them from.

I find myself in January of 2010, and Eric and I are preparing to do some of the first mixes for the record. I drove out to Michigan with my laptop and hard drive in hand. It has now been 10 years since we had been introduced to the Idaho Yodeler, the legendary Mr. Buzz Goertzen. After mixing all day on Friday January 15, Eric and I retire to the hot tub in his back yard with a case of beer. We reminisce for hours while drinking and soaking. From somewhere in the back of my mind the Idaho Yodeler emerges. Eric had moved to Michigan before I received the mysterious Buzz Goertzen tape in the mail and he was absolutely blown away by the story. At this point we were not ready to mix “Old Man Winter” yet as we were still waiting to receive tracks back from friends and fellow musicians. Without much deliberation we both get out of the hot tub with one goal in mind… we need to get the Idaho Yodeler to sing on our song.

We grab our laptops and begin to scour the internet looking for Buzz. To our delight, the Idaho Yodeler not only has a website, but he has his e-mail address and home and cell phone listed as well. It is about three in the morning and the idea of calling and waking Buzz up to ask him to Yodel on our record is absolutely thrilling to us. We don’t call, but we do stay awake for another hour just talking about how amazing it would be to get Buzz Goertzen, the Idaho Yodeler, to sing on our record. After looking at his website and admiring his long career (no longer out of pure irony nor mockery) it is very clear that we need this man, who dresses like your grandpa if he was a cowboy, to Yodel on our record.

All of the songs posted on his site are beautiful and very heart felt. There are songs about his religious beliefs and others that were fun and more lighthearted. The fact that most Americans haven’t heard of the Idaho Yodeler does not mean that the guy isn’t extremely talented. He has been putting out records his whole life. He did a record with his whole family, and another with just his daughter. The more I listened to this man’s songs the more I find myself truly loving his music. As I continued to sift through the site I began to feel a kind of kinship with Buzz. I have been putting out records my whole life and I am still an obscure musician living in Wisconsin; I’m nowhere with my musical career. I’m just a dorky guy that—the older I get—the more I appear to be dressing like Buzz Goertzen in his promotional photos. I am not the same asshole indie rock hipster that I was when I was 23. I’m married and my wife sings on just about every song our record. Eric is teaching his kids to play music. Though both of us think that having the Idaho Yodeler on our record would be ridiculous, we both truly, from the bottom of our hearts, want him to sing and have a great deal of respect for him. We manage to compose ourselves and then send this letter to his email address…

Dear Buzz, 
First of all I want you to know that I am a huge fan of yours. I was first introduced to your music in 2000 while I was on tour and passed through Moscow, Idaho and I’ve been a fan since. My best friend and I have been working on a record for the last year. We do a lot of harmonies, but neither one of us are able to yodel. We would sincerely love it if you would be able to sing/yodel on the song that I have attached. If you are able to record onto your computer and e-mail me a yodel track I would be so thankful. You will hear the part where the yodel belongs. Please e-mail me with any questions. All the best and much respect. 
Sincerely,
Ryan Weber

Eric’s five and a half year old son and two and a half year old daughter wake me up about four hours after I fall asleep. After the late night hot tub & drinking my brain is hardly prepared for this. I check my email…

Hello Ryan, 
What a pleasant surprise this morning as I woke up early and seeing your email waiting for me. Thank you for your compliments. You made my day. I will be glad to help you out anyway I can and I listened to your song this morning first thing. Let me explain the problem I’m having. 
First, I am now in Yuma, AZ. Spending the winter down here away from the cold and living in a camper. I have with me my lap top but don’t have a microphone on it nor the know-how to add a yodel to the song if I did have a microphone. My speakers to listen to the song are the little tiny ones found on a laptop so the sound leaves a lot to be desired. I am very ignorant when it comes to doing anything but email on the computer. Anything done with a computer for me is done by someone else who knows what they are doing. I don’t know how to begin to fulfill your request nor do I know anyone down here who could help me. So you see we have a problem and it’s one I’d love to help you on but just don’t have a clue how to do that. 
As I listened to the song I wasn’t sure where you’d want the yodel if I was able to add it in. I will listen some more and try to figure it out in case I find someone who could help me help you. Again thank you for your letter and for being a fan. I always like to help anyone who likes what I do. One other problem. (and this isn’t a small one) is I’m having a very serious problem with my right leg and will probably be hospitalized this coming week. 
Two years ago I was run over by an SUV while standing on my lawn. (Driver fell asleep and lost control.) After having several surgeries including a new knee I have complications with that knee. As I write this I am in terrible pain. Unable to walk I was helped to a clinic yesterday where x-rays show I need surgery. I’m having to wait until Tuesday since Monday is a holiday. With the help of strong pain pills I will have to hold on until next week when I can be admitted into a hospital for surgery. I hate to give you this news and am willing to help anyway I can. Just don’t know how I can at this time. 
Where do you live and would I be able to help you in the spring when I get back to Idaho? Waiting for your response. 
Buzz Goertzen

We can’t believe Buzz Goertzen, the Idaho Yodeler, not only wrote us back, but he offered to sing for us if he could figure out the technology. He wrote some really tough and personal shit just about four hours after we emailed him. We have been completely blown away by some of the people that we have gotten in touch with for this project. Even though Buzz’s turnaround time and circumstances seemed so bizarre, we now felt that it was meant to be that the Idaho Yodeler would join us in song.

I really couldn’t offer much more than my sympathy. My heart truly went out to Buzz since he is in so much pain. Since we feel as though destiny is bringing us together, Eric and I decide that we need to find a way to get Buzz to yodel for us. We respond with this letter…

Dear Buzz, 
First of all, I can’t tell you how much it means that you took the time to write me back. Second of all, I’m very very sorry to hear about your injuries. I’ve had some people close to me that have also had extreme problems with knees and legs and I understand that can be difficult and painful. My thoughts and prayers are with you. 
I also understand that if you don’t have the know-how to record with your computer that would be difficult. I can say that I’m in studio right now and I’m wondering if it would be possible for you to yodel or whistle a track over the phone while listening to the song I sent, or just doing a slow yodel in A min. (similar to your version of home on the range). I know this may seem unorthodox, but it would be such an honor to have legend like you join me in song. 
Unfortunately I’m only in the studio today, but if this is something that you might be able to do today (Saturday 1/16) please write back and arrange a time or call anytime so we can discuss. Again I can’t thank you enough for getting back in touch with me. Keep a yodel in your soul! I look forward to hearing from you. 
Sincerely,
Ryan Weber

Eric and I are in the studio that morning by 10:30 am. This letter was sent at 1:06 pm. I should point out that the “studio” that we rented from a friend was under construction. It also wasn’t really a studio yet. It was a guy’s house and we weren’t told any of this prior. I had just driven six and a half hours from Wisconsin and Eric had taken off work. This was our one shot at mixing together and the guy who ran the studio had his stuff set up in some little closet room off the side of his main living space. The laundry room was connected to the mix room as was the furnace and what seemed to be the sewer line. The owner was sanding a concrete floor in the room next to our mix room and half of the time we couldn’t use the bathroom because his girlfriend was in the tub. The girlfriend was home the entire time that we were there… this place was a hive of activity.

Saturday, while again trying to mix in these less than ideal circumstances, we spent most of the day watching my inbox for something from Buzz. We also kept a close watch on my phone to see if there are any missed calls. Somehow it just feels like we are seconds from the Idaho Yodeler calling us. At about 6:00 pm, just as a computer program crashes and the “studio” is full of people dropping things off, I feel a vibration in my pocket. The number is not in my phone contacts nor do I recognize it. Eric and I look at each other like it was John Lennon calling us from the dead. I answer… It is Buzz.

Buzz sounds exactly like I expected him to sound: like a really nice grandpa that wouldn’t be uncomfortable in cowboy garb. I had a plan to get him to yodel into the phone. Technology has come so far, I can edit him and for my purposes he could pretty much mumble three blind mice into the phone and I can make it work. Buzz is a professional and has been in the studio enough times to know that this was not going to sound like a sweet track. He started telling me that “this is not going to work,” “this is a terrible idea” and “this will sound horrible.” In between asking me how I planned to do this and where I wanted him to yodel he kept on interrupting me by yodeling and saying, “something like that?”

The whole scene from what I remember was chaos. Between Buzz “phone yodeling” in my ear, trying to get the guy who ran the studio to help me set something up, guys dropping off guitars and the computer crashing my brain was melting. I had to bail.

I told Buzz that I would have to figure out some technical things and then call him back. Eventually we rigged the 1/8” output of an iPhone to the mixing board. The plan was for Buzz to listen to the song on his computer in his camper in Yuma and yodel into the phone. The catch was, I would have to have Buzz call the iPhone’s number and just start yodeling. We would not be able to answer the phone due to our crazy rig. After a little persuading I managed to get Buzz to agree to phone in a yodel. Eric and I wait with bated breath for the iPhone to ring. Three minutes go by and my cell phone rings: it’s Buzz and he’s not happy. He must have mis-dialed.

We go over the number again and it is correct but he is not getting through. Buzz says that he will try again. A minute goes by, the iPhone rings, we pick up, and over the studio monitors we hear our song crackling in the background while being played from Buzz’s computer. Then we hear “it”: What is perhaps one of the best sounds that either of us has ever heard in all the years in the studio, the Idaho Yodeler himself, Mr. Buzz Goertzen, lending a hand and a beautiful yodel to one of our songs. We got Buzz on the record. We are both in shock. In a twist it might be important to note that Buzz was escaping winter in Idaho by going to Yuma, one of the core themes of the song. After he is done Buzz gives me a call and I thank him over and over again. We say our goodbyes. I was left in awe.

The legend of Buzz Goertzen the Idaho Yodeler is demystified. He was a real person that was kind enough to help some strangers out even though he was in pain. Buzz continues to demystify himself as I occasionally get some right wing spam he forwards out to his friends, but although I disagree with him politically, when I see his name in my inbox it still puts a yodel in my soul.

Thank you Buzz, you are a talented and kind person and the without the tiny piece you contributed to our puzzle, the record would not be complete.

Rihanna “Loud” Review

It’s hard to believe that Rihanna‘s new album, Loud, is already the 22-year old’s fifth studio effort. Actually, with all that the singer has accomplished to this point in her career, it’s also hard to believe that she’s still only 22 years old. The way she presents herself in public and on stage is reminiscent of a seasoned veteran who has embraced her unique voice and personal style. She has been through a Hollywood-level breakup-to-makeup relationship with singer Chris Brown (which made headlines in 2009 when Brown was charged with assault following a domestic dispute) and has painted herself a sexual icon for a new generation with such provocative videos as those for “Rockstar 101” and “Disturbia.” The fact that Rihanna has developed into one of the most revered names in pop music over the last couple of years only increases the awe behind the realization that she’s still six or seven years younger than the likes the Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. With all that behind the vocalist it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Loud will do little to discourage Rihanna’s continued celebrity. What the album offers musically, however, is another glimpse into the range which the singer possesses, as well as a look at her ability to shine even when surrounded by mediocrity.

What immediately stands out amongst Loud‘s 11 tracks is its attraction to club-friendly production. There is little experimentation going on here, which would only reflect poorly on the singer if she seemed lazy in her approach to the music. A track such as “What’s My Name?” doesn’t stand out musically on Loud, but cast against an utterly forgettable verse from Drake, Rihanna’s enthusiasm and sexual bravado (“I want to see if you can go downtown with a girl like me”) carries the song, giving it the charisma to stand out as a solid single. The electro-fusion of “S&M” translates as a bit over-done, but as Rihanna finds her place in the track she is able to lend it some much needed lyrical excitement, no matter how cheesy it may be: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.” Even at its most lyrically basic, Loud still has a capacity for dynamic music. “Cheers (Drink to That)” is one such track, as it wraps itself around flaccid lyrics about getting your drink on and partying, but ultimately comes across as one of the more enjoyable tracks due to the drinking anthem’s deep, filtered bass and refreshing production as provided by the Runners (the duo behind Rick Ross‘ “Hustlin’”). “Raining Men,” Rihanna’s collaboration with Nicki Minaj, rolls through with Ri Ri adopting Minaj’s flow and style, adding a unique flavor to the album’s flow late in the recording. Lead single, “Only Girl (In the World),” offers one of the finest vocal performances on the album—second only to “Complicated”—as a pulsating club beat intensely raises Loud to its energizing climax. But the only problem here is that the album simply peaks far too quickly.

The generic beat in “Fading” and slow moving acoustics of “California King Bed” both fail to gain any momentum. “Skin” relies on the vocalist’s ever-present sexual empowerment, “Don’t hold me, you know I like it rough,” but its slow atmospheric sound never finds its rhythm; the track is further bogged down by the late addition of a guitar solo that clashes with the song’s fuzzed out background vocals. “Man Down” floats by with Rihanna channeling her Barbadian blood with an unusual off-beat dub that reflects a deep reggae influence. The track isn’t a bad one, but its placement in the album leaves it sounding unusual and out of place. Much has been made of the album’s final collaboration and closing track, “Love the Way You Lie Part II” which features Eminem alongside the sultry vocalist. Just as with “Man Down” the track isn’t poor by any measure, but as it retains the exact same sound and format as the original, which appeared on Em’s Recovery earlier this year, it begs the question: what is the point? Sure, it offers Rihanna’s “side of the story,” but Eminem’s uninspired verse is bland, and when combined with an unimpressive performance from Rihanna what’s left is an unremarkable shell of the original.

When taking Loud in as a whole—despite its failure to come together as a full-bodied recording from start to end—the album still showcases Rihanna’s dexterity to comfortably move between slow ballads, club bangers and odd musical excursions. Ultimately though, even as she settles into her own skin with these songs, Loud doesn’t come together like an album that fully makes the most of the singer’s talents. The irregular production and curiously dull lyrics cannot be overlooked here. Perhaps with a stronger base to work from, Loud might be a better platform for Rihanna to launch the next phase of her career. Instead, it’s just an adequate album that continues to spark one’s curiosity of what classics might still be to come as the vocalist continues to blossom as an artist.

Kid Cudi “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager” Review

On the surface Kid Cudi‘s Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager is an ambitious 17-track drug-fueled diary detailing dark times and the forces behind them. Beneath the surface however, Rager is a cautionary tale which captures Cudi’s shift away from one stage of his life to the next. As he explained to Spin‘s Sean Fennessey recently, “It’s a chapter of my life I’m closing.” He continued by describing the album as being “for those whom cocaine does not work.” Following a year which included a high-profile arrest and a trail of drug use which seemingly followed Cudi everywhere he went, the MC now claims a clean(er) lifestyle, relating his new perspective during the cover story for Complex magazine’s fall issue. “Yup. No more blow. People do drugs to camouflage emotions and run away from their problems. Now I’m going to deal with certain things as they come, prioritize shit—man up, so to speak.” So where does that leave Cudi now, and how does all of this personal growth translate through his new album? In short: a clear mind is apparently of little detriment to the 26 year old superstar.

The dark themes that run throughout Rager can be largely summed up by a lyrical blast in the second of the album’s five acts. With “Mojo So Dope” Cudi lays out the blueprint for the hour-long journey, “Damn, you must understand, when I speak about a song this is really how I am/Yeah, this is how I really think, you could see what I see, yes I really think/Yes I really drink, I really do rage.” And as referenced in the vocalist’s statement which lumped drug use and emotional instability together, there are indeed many issues which need to be uncovered here, and Rager simply appears to be the first step in Cudi’s emotional rehabilitation.

Enhanced by Cee Lo‘s stunning chorus, the album opens with “Scott Mescudi vs. the World,” a track which sets the stage for conflict immediately with the opening bar, “What up?/How’s everyone doing?/You’re now in a world I’m ruining.” The track’s thumping beat sets a musical tone which is felt throughout, but it’s the young MC’s confusion and struggles which push the album to its full potential. The hollow beat in “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” only goes to reflect the emptiness portrayed through the lyrics, Cudi speaking of his late father’s habits being passed down to him. Sampling St. Vincent‘s ominous “The Strangers,” “Maniac” finds Cudi appropriately joined by underground MC Cage/ whose 2009 release wholly focused on “exorcising demons.” Late in the album “All Along” again points out the insecurity which has hidden at the core of Cudi’s life, “All along, I guess I’m meant to be alone, out there on my own.” Self-admittedly however, Cudi’s emotions took a back seat to the drug use in his real life, and the same can be said for much of the stories in Rager.

Early on in the album Mary J. Blige steps in with “Don’t Play This Song,” working behind Cudi as he rumbles over a low-key beat, “HBO, that Vitamin Water: that’s money to blow.” And as history has proven time and time again, an excessive amount of expendable income mixed with mental instability and a taste for candy rarely ends well. “Marijuana” find a repeating chorus take precedent over any real substance, “Pretty green bud, all in my blood” (the song closes at four minutes and twenty seconds with Cudi cheekily adding, “aaaaaaand 4:20”). Blige returns for “These Worries” as Cudi parallels his substance intake and subsequent abuse with his teetering sanity, “It’s a full-time job not to lose my faith”; adding an aural coke snort and morning-after inventory (“So much whiskey all in my liver”) for good measure.

The main focus of the album is Cudi’s alluded-to twist in perspective though, and the greater part of Rager reflects that shift. Coasting through the album’s infectious production—supplied by any number of talents ranging from Bruno Mars‘ Smeezingtons crew to Jim Jonsin to Cudi, himself—is a series of key tracks which help direct the artist toward his conclusion found in album-closer “Trapped in My Mind.” “REVOFEV” finds Cudi checking himself, “Wake up, things might get rough/No need to stress, keeps you down too much,” while “We Aite (Wake Up Your Mind)” thematically follows Cudi as he opens his eyes to the world, and “GHOST!” finds Cudi dumbfounded in his density, “Got to get it through my thick head that I was so close to being dead.” Most interesting is the epiphany found in “Ashin’ Kusher” however, where the vocalist takes a step back from the static and blasts those who have judged him for his past indiscretions, “If you know me man, I don’t really worry ’bout a nigga tryin’ to judge: Who are you, Judy?”

While those approaching Rager with any expectations are likely to be surprised, most are likely to be satisfied with the results. That being said, there are some tracks that stand out for their inconsistencies. “The Mood” is out of place, lyrically, as it follows a story of sexing it up with a French female, and its beat isn’t strong enough to demand that it make the final cut amongst the album’s already-lengthy track list. Just as those who went into Man on the Moon I with only “Day ‘n’ Nite” in mind to prepare them, those who are only familiar with “Erase Me” are in for a shock. The song is enjoyable, and Kanye West‘s cameo stands as one of the highlights of the record, but the song isn’t musically representative of Rager and is merely a palette cleanser that Cudi himself has brushed off for having been created on a whim.

As the story comes to a close with “Trapped in My Mind,” Cudi seems to have answered the question of whether or not he has made it out of the past year with a shred of sanity. Concluding that being trapped in his mind is no longer a curse, Cudi digresses by simply embracing his new found comfort, “Hey it’s not that bad at all.” Therein lies Cudi’s mission statement as he goes forward with his next projects: to hold true to himself his feelings, and continue to learn how to approach them in a healthy fashion rather than suppressing them as he’s done in the past. While he’s known for proudly wearing an ego so self-assured that it might only be on par with his good friend Kanye, what Kid Cudi has created with his sophomore album shows exponential growth, as an artist and as a person, from the tight-pants MC who made it big a few years back. Now all that remains is to go forward and keep progressing; as GLC rhymes in “The End,” “My brother told me a long time ago, don’t focus where you bein’ G, focus where you tryin’ to go.”

Thomas Dolby Interview


Thomas Dolby might best be introduced by TED, where the musician is acknowledged for “blinding us with science,” before mention is made of his propensity to have “always blurred the lines between composition and invention.” Since first assuming his place as one of the pioneering stars of MTV in the early ’80s, Dolby, born Thomas Robertson, has led — and this is to put it lightly — an unconventional life. Playing an integral role in the development of synthesizer-based pop music throughout the decade, Dolby found fame through singles such as “Hyperactive!” and “She Blinded Me with Science,” two tracks which Dolby is eager to dismiss as being his “best.” Just how hot was Dolby in the ’80s, you ask? Well, he acted as the keyboard player for Def Leppard during the band’s Pyromania sessions — suffice it to say, the sky seemed the limit.

Fast forward to 1993 where Dolby established Headspace, a tech company which has since changed its name to Beatnik that specializes in mobile phone audio. As Dolby would explain, the company’s technology has shipped on over 3.5 billion mobile phones since 1999. Despite such success still fully gaining momentum, Dolby stepped down from his role as CEO in the company in 2002, moving on to a variety of other small(er) projects including RetroFolio, a ringtone content provider. But when all was said and done Dolby still figured himself “a musician through and through” and slowly creeped back into the area he remains most passionate about: music. Through the process of returning to his first love Dolby assumed the position of musical director for the TED conference in 2001, a position he still holds. In this interview Dolby explains his role in TEDx, a project which will feature the likes of William Orbit, David Toop, Louis Lortie, and Imogen Heap when it takes place November 6 in Aldeburgh, his new release, A Map of the Floating City, and what still drives his creativity after some three decades of performing.

TED’s blog lists you as their “musical director” — what does that position entail and what is your role in TEDx?

Thomas Dolby: I help choose the “talent” — i.e., the musicians we have come and play a set between speakers at TED. We pick musicians that will blend well with the TED community, as all performers there mingle with the audience over the course of the four days. We pick music that will work well as a kind of palate cleanser. There’s such a barrage of great ideas coming at you, you need a second to let it all sink in. So we put a lovely Scottish folk singer on stage, or a brilliant Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, and the audience just goes “aaahh!” I also usually have a house band that plays a little mood-setting overture at the start of each session. A few of these you can see on TED, or on my YouTube channel.

What was the crux of your decision to refocus yourself on music this past decade and what has kept you inspired after three decades of performing?

I’d been away from music for too long. Because of my relative success in Silicon Valley I was focused on my company Beatnik, on lecturing and talking about technology, and I had no time to think about music. But I was a bit like a fish out of water, because at the end of the day I am a musician through and through. So when I found a suitable moment to step back from Beatnik, I moved back to the UK and concentrated on writing and recording new songs. I think my time away means I can approach it in a very fresh and un-jaded way. Plus, I feel no need now to wow people with electronics and grooves. There’s so much of that going on now, whereas when I started I felt like a pioneer. Instead I focus on what’s unique in my songwriting and storytelling ability, which these days is a much more rarified possession.

Do you find yourself inspired by other musicians, or do influences bleed into your music from other aspects of life?

Yes, I have a few heroes that constantly inspire me, mostly with their music and sometimes with their personalities, the way they conduct themselves. I look at Peter Gabriel, how he has elevated his music in spite of not rushing it, and how well he uses the talent he has to get to the core of something that matters to people. Or Brian Eno, who is the Leonardo Da Vinci of modern music — Leonardo invented the helicopter and painted the Mona Lisa, while Eno invented ambient music but still helped a series of rock acts reach the very zenith of their careers. Or Björk, who sounds to me like a creature from another planet bravely trying to come to terms with our alien atmosphere here on Earth.

If, miraculously, you had the ability as a teenager to look into the future and hear A Map of the Floating City, what do you think your reaction would have been?

I was always in awe of artists who made no compromises, cut no corners in making beautiful records that stood alone. That’s what I’ve tried to become in this the second chapter of my musical career. In many cases my heroes were consigned to being consigned to being viewed as cultish, marginal, uncommercial. But now that the music industry has collapsed, the world is an open book and we can dream again. I think I would have recognized in AMotFC the values I held dear as a teenager. But I probably would have thought “who’s that old fat bald guy making those beautiful sounds?”

Regina Spektor is noted as a contributor to “Evil Twin Brother” on the album, playing the role of an “East European waitress” in the song — while immensely gifted as a singer and classically trained pianist, her music has never led me to instinctively view her as a technological innovator. The same goes for Mark Knopfler. How do you approach these sort of collaborations and do you expect a certain willingness to experiment on the part of your collaborators?

I don’t think technology has anything to do with it. Certain musicians just have a natural affinity and we know we speak the same language, regardless of current trends or fashionability. Regina is a blistering talent and simply a sweet human being, while Mark Knopfler is one of the greatest guitarists that ever lived, and certainly the most appropriate to help me tell the story of “17 Hills.” I am glad they saw it the same way!

Do you think you’ll return to the format of the music video in the future, or pair music with video as you move forward?

Well put it this way. The most viewed clip on my YouTube channel, by a factor of about 10:1, is the clip of my cat peeing on the toilet. This makes life very simple. I can use that as the video for each of my new songs, and even put him on the record covers to sell more copies, and pay him in Friskies.

As technology continues to evolve exponentially, how has your ability to create been affected or enriched by new tech developments (in recent years), and what innovations do you see taking place in the near future?

It starts with the software on my laptop which is many times more powerful than the professional recording studio where I paid hundreds of pounds an hour to make my first album. Then there’s the distribution, the ability to upload a clip and have it heard by millions of fans almost instantaneously — read the reviews in the morning and then re-write the second verse and put a new version up alongside the first, if the mood takes me, or not.

A few years back a fellow blogger commented on the future of mobile digital music and how it was quite possible for phones to become the single most important peripheral in terms of music consumption. This would seem to go hand in hand with some of the ideas behind Beatnik. Now looking in from outside on the everyday activities of the company — and that entire sector of the industry to some degree — what do you see as the future of portable music?

I’ve always felt that the phone was a remote control for your life. You should be able to hear a song wherever, whoever you are, like a giant jukebox. Or, if you’re too lazy, listen to someone else’s playlist: a tastemaker you trust, or just let an algorithm pick for you. Music is becoming a commodity, and utility like water — you don’t stop to worry about the cost of filling a glass of water from your tap when you’re thirsty, and at the end of the month you’re happy to pay the utility bill as it’s part of your life. Where the song resides should cease to be important. You’ll just punch a few keys and within seconds you’re hearing it.

Beatnik, actually, had no idea behind it. I wanted to affect music at a core level, and for many years (in the early to mid ’90s) we did that by making some highly innovative musical experiences that had no business model behind them at all. We were able to sustain a company like that for as long as the “irrational exuberance” of the dot-com boom lasted. When the bubble burst, we were left with one single line of business that had teeth: mobile phones. So we gambled everything on that one idea, like betting all your chips on red 37, and seeing it the ball drop in the hole. Since 1999 over 3.5 billion mobile phones have shipped with our technology in, making Beatnik arguably the most popular synthesizer of all time! For a synthesist like me, that feels pretty good.

What is there left that you hope to accomplish with your career? Call it a musical bucket list of sorts…

Oh, there’s plenty. For a start I’m not happy that I’m best known for songs that I don’t rate as my best. It pains me that “Science” and “Hyperactive!” were huge hits, but “Screen Kiss” and “I Love You Goodbye” were overlooked. That was a bi-product of the way the industry worked back then. The industry has evaporated now, and it’s a whole new ballgame, so we can dream again. I dream that a song like “Oceanea” will one day be as popular as my hits of the ’80s.

Do you ever find yourself looking back, or are you constantly attempting to look forward?

I look back, but I never pine for the olden days. I feel my best work is still ahead of me, and I have the ability to equal or even surpass some of the musical heroes I was in love with as a youngster. And I feel that the possibility of making great music is a huge gift to humanity, and for those of us lucky enough to have it within our grasp, we have little choice but to pursue that dream to the ends of the earth.

Hissy Fit “Outdoor Life” (Influenza)



Over the past couple weeks alone, under his Hissy Fit pseudonym, beat-maker Matthew Hiscock has already released a live podcast via Swing and Skip Records and an EP via Phuturelabs. He also has a another full-length 12″ on its way next month via S&S, and still the Newfoundland-born producer finds time to currate a bass-friendly music blog. In speaking of the Crosstrainers EP, which is available in its entirety as a free download here, Passion of the Weiss‘ Sach O recently explained the album’s “off-kilter beats” as both “a sugar rush” and “pastoral,” the latter referring to the “Outdoor Life” single. The song opens with a heavy-handed beat that later collapses into a smooth trance with a bubbling bass line which, as explained by Hiscock, might lead you to break into Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” In this edition of Influenza, the Montreal-based producer dissects the track and its emotional context, comparing it to a feeling of awaking from a harsh winter to once again enjoy life in the great outdoors.

Apparently there’s a magazine called Outdoor Life—this tune has nothing to do with that.

Montreal gets oppressively cold in the winter. I live here despite that, not because of it. The title comes from that point in the spring at which you can start to open your windows once in a while and move your life outdoors; sit in a park and read, or have a picnic. It’s always a really nice time, and this tune was made right at that point in early 2010.

I played the guitar part. It sounds pretty 1980′s because of the delay unit I used, which is a Memory Man Deluxe. It’s great if you want to sound like The Edge circa 1983, which I personally think is a good thing. I put it loud in the mix because: 1) I like it, and 2) to separate the men from the boys; make it a love-it-or-hate-it-type of thing. To have that buried amongst the other elements would have been a bit cowardly in my opinion.

The first big play it got was from Dusk & Blackdown, who played it on their Rinse FM radio show but who, due to mixer problems, failed to take it off before the guitar came in. They immediately cut the track and put on the next one, asking why anybody would put on a “Kate Bush solo” on that track. Made me chuckle.

It being a warm weather tune and all, it made sense to have some kind of chord structure that moves around, so you get the chords that come in about 30 seconds in. You can sing the chorus of “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper over top if you like—it’s not intentional. The bass line is part of my continuing romance with all things acid. Not sure why, but there’s something gratifying about the sound of an analog synth with a very resonant filter, in this case my home brew Franken-synth—it’s artificial to the highest degree, a type of “I’m making my ‘fake’ instrument as ‘fake’ as it can be, now DANCE!”

Cee Lo Green “The Lady Killer” Review

Goodie Mob notwithstanding, Cee Lo Green was introduced to many a mainstream music listener through the universal success of Gnarls Barkley‘s “Crazy” in 2006. His soulful voice acted as the perfect complement to Danger Mouse‘s production, and the duo made the most of their new-found fame by touring the globe and gaining a vast fan base while supporting St. Elsewhere. A second Gnarls Barkley album and numerous collaborations later, Cee Lo (born Thomas Callaway) returned to the mainstream conscious this past summer with the viral success of the music video for “Fuck You,” a track which also serves as the first single from his new album The Lady Killer. And just as “Crazy” did, the song (largely due to its radio-friendly version, “Forget You”) has once again introduced the veteran to a whole new group of eyes and ears. Perhaps The Lady Killer isn’t the best album Green’s ever released, and it’s quite possible that any number of songs he’s written and recorded will live on far longer than those found on the album. But one thing that is hard to dispute is the timelessness that resonates throughout every last track, a characteristic of Cee Lo’s that is often overshadowed by his incredible style, but one that is no more apparent than it is here. But unlike much of his past work, The Lady Killer is intentionally timeless; it’s crafted to reflect a sound from the past while maintaining a flair for prevailing musical trends. Well, with one exception that is: throughout The Lady Killer, the slightest shred of autotune is nowhere to be found.

Opening with “The Lady Killer Theme,” the mood is quickly set with what sounds like a soundtrack to a caper or heist scene from an old television series. Fading away, the intro bleeds into an updated funk that sounds wholly suited for Michael Jackson; had the legendary vocalist still been alive to hear it, one can only imagine how much he’d enjoy the track. All at once “Bright Lights, Bigger City” looks to the past, reflecting a “Beat It”-aesthetic while blasting a strong pop-synth line that echoes a modern sound just as it does ’80s funk. The aforementioned “Fuck You” follows with its momentous rhythm assisted by Bruno Mars and his Smeezingtons production crew. Like “Fuck You,” the entire album is full of strong production from a diverse supporting cast including Fraser Smith (who has worked extensively with the likes of Kano and Tinchy Stryder who arose from the UK’s grime scene), Paul Epworth (who has worked with the likes of the Rapture and Bloc Party, while recently manning the board behind Florence and the Machine‘s breakout hit “Rabbit Heart”), Salaam Remi (who produced some seminal ’90s hip hop tracks including Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes the Hotstepper” and the Fugees’ “Fu-Gee-La”), and Jack Splash, who along with Cee Lo comprise the Heart Attack.

As the songs continue to flow, Cee Lo seemingly becomes increasingly comfortable vocally; comfortable and confident. The up-tempo flow of “Wildflower” is contrasted by the sharp thumping bass and sexy strings of “Love Gun”; a track which also features Lauren Bennett of the Paradiso Girls. “Satisfied” rolls through its three and a half minutes far too quickly as a female chorus accompanies Cee Lo in heavily annunciating their verses (a la 1950′s girl groups), before the horn-based soul of “I Want You” and the snappy “Cry Baby” play out.

“Fool For You” adds another element of unexpected excitement as Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Baily joins in on the track; Cee Lo further drives home his style with a mean, funky tone. Positivity flows as “It’s OK” passes by, leading up to two of the album’s most important songs. The aptly titled “Old Fashioned” coasts along as it gently romanticizes a the sound of a generation gone by. “It’s right on time (right on time), and it’s timeless (timeless)/It will be right here for always.” Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what music you were raised with, or what music you listen to yourself, “Old Fashioned” is crafted to draw an emotional response from the listener that carries with it a sense of genuine warmth. What follows is Cee Lo’s stunning cover of Band of Horses‘ “No One’s Gonna Love You,” a track that translates as far more touching emotionally despite being built with a similarly comforting musical base. The two tracks bring the album to a close as they lead into “The Lady Killer Theme” outro which bookends the LP nicely.

For those who are familiar with the man’s work, The Lady Killer is hardly about to change your perspective of what Cee Lo’s capable of. His range is extensive, his ingenuity is plentiful, and his creativity is daunting—again, if you knew Cee Lo before The Lady Killer, this is all likely old news to you. But one of the more interesting aspects of the solo album—Cee Lo’s third, and first since 2004′s Cee Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine—is that it’s poised to once again rejuvenate the vocalist’s perpetually acclaimed career. Over the past decade you’d be hard pressed to find a moment when Cee Lo wasn’t succeeding, and this last statement isn’t meant to imply that he’s on his way back up after a period of downtime. Rather, it’s simply to suggest that Cee Lo Green is again doing something that so many artists have failed to do: take their talents in a new direction by expanding their range. Just as he did with his two Gnarls Barkley albums, as well as the many that came before it, Cee Lo has once again proven his multi-dimensional approach to music to be in a class of its own.