Still not dead, still just resting

The semester is winding down, yay! Though of course that means that final exams and papers are winding up – not so yay. I’m gonna be busy until mid-May, so I don’t think I’ll get the last of my Best of 2009 posts up until then.

But! Until then, here are a few musical notes…

Mark your calendars:

  • KYLIE. APHRODITE. JULY 5. CAN’T WAIT!
  • Richard Ashcroft returns with his new band United Nations of Sound on June 7, when their album Redemption drops. The righteous first single from the album, “Are You Ready?”, and its video were released in January 2010, and the tune’s been getting stuck in my head ever since. A good thing, of course! The fan club-only (unless you know where to look, nudge nudge wink wink) digital download, “Third Eye (Colombus Circle),” has yet to make a big impression on me. Perhaps it’s a good thing it’s not an album track, because while it has some cool melodic and lyrical ideas, it strikes me as a bit under-developed. A sketch of a song, if you will. In any case, I’m still mega-stoked to hear the new album – my second most-anticipated release of the year.

2010 albums I’ve loved lately:

More on these gems later. :)

2010 songs I’ve been digging:

More on these later, too!

Hope everyone in the blogging ‘verse is doing well!

GaGa ooh la la

untitled2Have you seen Lady GaGa’s new video for her newest masterpiece, “Bad Romance”? It. Is. Phenomenal! I like the “Paparazzi” vid but didn’t quite get why everyone was so buzzed about it. The “Bad Romance” video, however, has made me love the Lady even more.

What I think I love most about this visually arresting video is that it defines Lady GaGa – she is not afraid to be “weird.” She doesn’t do safe. And yet, she manages to be sexy and fierce even while going outside the box. No, she’s probably not a super-serious artiste, but who cares? She’s fresh, fabulous, and fun – and the most exciting pop star out there right now. (Well, at least until Kylie comes out with another single! :) )

Also – because I seem to relate everything back to the Mighty Boosh – anyone else think of this…

3699475626_2838048d8a…during this part?

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Great minds, I guess! :)

Singles and such

You’d be forgiven if you thought I’d dropped off the face of the earth – it’s been eons since my last real update!

To start things off, here are some songs I’ve been adoring for… well, a good while. :)

  • Pet Shop Boys are back with their new single “Love Etc.” from forthcoming album Yes (which I’m so so excited about!). It’s classic PSB, with plinking synths and a wonderful chorus.
  • Bat For Lashes (aka Natasha Khan) will be coming out with her new album Two Suns this April. The first single from the album, the beautifully layered “Daniel,” is out with a fabulously freaky video. I tried to get into her first album, 2006’s Fur and Gold, but sadly could only find myself enjoying the first few tracks. I’ll be giving it another try now, though, because I’ve had a sneaky listen to Two Suns and it has already gained a place on my “best of 2009” list (yeah, I keep track of my faves in list form in my head all year!).
  • Sandra, of 80s Europop classic “Maria Magdalena,” returns with a gospel-flavored feel-good song called “In A Heartbeat.” Her last album, The Art of Love, felt like it was all spoken – it seemed like only the choruses featured Sandra singing! “In A Heartbeat” is a fine return to form, beautifully produced, really really catchy – and no spoken/sung bits! ;)
  • I gave the new single – “Wild” – from Valeriya a try, despite never having heard of her before, but now I’m definitely looking forward to more music from her! Actually, I’m not even sure if this is her new single – her UK website says something about another song called “Back to Love” being released in April. So I’m not sure what’s going on with “Wild”… Anyways – great beats and cool guitars. :)
  • Anjulie is a new artist with a voice like Nelly Furtado, but her tone is a little sweeter. She will be releasing her debut album, Boom, sometime this year (it leaked early though – and via another sneaky listen, I can tell ya that it’s really cool!). She released an EP in late 2008 so I guess “Boom” is the lead single. It’s got this awesome deep guitar riff, and then when the chorus comes in – “boom, sha-la-ka…” – that’s it. You’re hooked! :)
  • Calvin Harris, that electro kid, has a new club-ready dance single out called “I’m Not Alone.” Love those shrieking synths!
  • I’m addicted to Dizzee Rascal‘s “Dance Wiv Me (Jason Nevins Radio Edit)”, which features Calvin Harris and Chrome. It’s club, rap, and rock all rolled into one fab package. I didn’t listen to the original in 2008 but I’m loving this 2009 attempt to bring it to the USA. :)
  • I’m not a big fan of the album version of Beyonce‘s “Diva,” but “Diva (Maurice Joshua Remix)” – now that’s good stuff. So danceable, and a bit funky too! :)
  • Lily Allen‘s back with “The Fear,” the lead single from her neat new album It’s Not Me, It’s You. “The Fear” is pure pop with excellent beats and clever lyrics like “I’m a weapon of massive consumption.”
  • A new trio of musicians, Lal Meri, is out with “Bad Things”, from their debut self-titled album. Lal Meri features the smoky, delicious vocals of Nancy Kaye, who has previously released two albums under the name Rosey. I love her voice and it really suits the lounge-y, psychedelic trip-hop of “Bad Things”. Definitely a new group to listen out for.
  • Marina And The Diamonds have a couple of songs out, and I’ve gotten hooked on “Obsessions.” It’s a beautiful song, and Marina has a distinctive voice, almost theatrical but not in an annoying way. Can’t wait for their album!
  • Patrick Wolf is due to release an album this year and his first single from it, “Vulture,” is absolutely addictive. I really hope that this deep, dark, and rather sexy sound carries over to the rest of the album. :) (The video in that link is a little NSFW, so wait till you get home to watch it!)
  • Last but not least is Chester French. “She Loves Everybody” is a single from their forthcoming album, and it’s just great pop/rock. Synths flourishes don’t sound out of place in the largely guitar-based instrumentation, and I’ve gotta mention the beats – I’m a sucker for a good beat. :)

Stefani Vara

ghshgssI got an email about Stefani Vara, an up-and-coming R&B/pop singer, and I was more than happy to give her singles “Water” and “Lately” a spin. It wasn’t until Stefani was in high school that she decided to pursue a singing career. She left her home in Houston, Texas for New York, met Siri Music CEO Chauncy Jackson, and the rest is history. Stefani is now signed to Siri Music and worked with Chauncy, Kim Croft, the Insomniax, and Keynon Moore (among others) on her debut album Storybook Diaries (the release date is yet to be confirmed).

The sumptuous synths, guitars, and beats of Stefani’s latest single “Water” are perfectly complemented by her sweet, breathy voice. Her previous single, “Lately,” is a dreamy, uptempo R&B-flavored pop tune that really suits her pretty, almost whisper-light vocals. With her vocal talent and great music-makers supporting her, Stefani is sure to do well!

You can watch the video for “Water” on Stefani’s official MySpace, and download her songs on iTunes! You can also read an interview where Stefani answers fans’ questions at Pop Nation!

AGF – "Disturbia" cover (2008)

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AGF

I just signed up at The Hype Machine and have been having fun browsing the blogs and the tunes. I came across a cover of Rihanna’s “Disturbia” that I just have to talk about. :) AGF (a.k.a. Antye Greie) is an artist (read her full bio here) who took the lyrics and melody of “Disturbia” and twisted them up into a distorted, awesomely frightening electronic concoction (free download!). Washes of her ghostly, at times incomprehensible, vocals zoom in and out of the white noise that flickers throughout the track while synth bass notes fall heavily into the mix. The end of the song is especially chilling, as her cries of “Disturbia!” are cut-up and affected, before the song finally concludes with one final interrupted “Distur–“.

I knew I couldn’t be the only one who thought that “Disturbia” went a little deeper, a little stranger, than most pop songs go. Or at least that, in other hands, it had the potential to do so. If you’re into music that isn’t afraid to be really, really weird, check out AGF’s cover of “Disturbia.” :)

Now on the flip side, I also found a cool remix of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” by a band called My Dear Disco. Funky bass and disco beats make this one fine mix. :)

Anavi – "Mustapha" (2007)

Back in 2007, the Lenny Bertoldo radio edit of “Mustapha” by Anavi was included on the May Promo Only Dance Radio compilation. I wondered, before I listened to it, if the song was a dance cover of Queen’s mighty “Mustapha,” from their 1978 Jazz album. I was right! Now, some might consider this sacrilege – I mean, why even try to match Freddie Mercury’s amazingness? It simply can’t be done.

But! As I noted in my post about the remixes of Queen’s “Flash”:

You can’t improve upon the original. But you can have some fun with it!

And I really do believe that. I also believe that Freddie would probably have been amused and delighted by this trashy dance version of “Mustapha.” So you shouldn’t feel any shame while bopping along to this hot mess!

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Musically, Queen’s “Mustapha” is a rock song, with awesome guitar work by Brian May and glorious layered vocals from Freddie (and Brian and drummer Roger Taylor, I guess). Lyrically, however, the song is rather different compared to the rest of Queen’s work. (Of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody” famously uses the word “Bismillah,” an Arabic phrase that means “in the name of God,” in the “let me go” section of the song, so the lyrics of “Mustapha” are not too much of a departure.)

The song’s lyrics are often thought to be in Arabic, but this is only partly true: though never officially confirmed (like, by the band or anything), the lyrics are probably a combination of English (“[will/we’ll] pray for you”), Arabic (“Salaam Aleikum”), and either Farsi or Gujarati. That said, I really don’t have any idea what the lyrics are, or what they mean. I can pick out “Salaam Aleikum” and the English bits, but nothing else. Someone transcribed the lyrics on YouTube and allexperts.com, but I can’t personally verify how true they are, so I just dunno!

So Queen’s “Mustapha” has amazing vocals, flawless music, and tongue-twisting lyrics that no one seems to be able to pin down. What kind of fool would attempt to take all that and put dance beats and synths on top of it?! Anavi, that’s who.

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Turns out Anavi isn’t that foolish. Her version of the song actually works. Anavi has a nice voice, better and more intriguing than the average dance diva’s. Whether or not her vocals are used well depends on the remix. Now, the remixes I bought from iTunes are almost all mislabeled. Using the samples on Anavi’s official website and the samples from another single on iTunes, I was able to correct the titles for my own iPod.

In case you decide to invest in some “Mustapha” remixes on iTunes, use this handy guide!

Track 1. Phunk Generation Radio Edit is really Original
Track 2. Lenny Bertoldo Radio Edit is OK!
Track 3. Klubjumper’s Radio Edit is really Phunk Generation Radio Edit
Track 4. Robert G. Trancelicious Remix is really Mr. Ali Club
Track 5. Original is really Robert G. Trancelicious Remix
Track 6. Mr. Ali Club is really Lenny Bertoldo Club Mix
Track 7. Lenny Bertoldo Club Mix is really Klubjumper’s Radio Edit
Track 8. Klubjumper’s Club Remix is OK!
Track 9. Phunk Generation Club Remix is OK!

OK, so let’s get on with the reviewing, using the correct titles! :)

The Original uses synths, keyboards, and guitars in the production and thus stays truer to the original. It rocks! The Lenny Bertoldo Club Mix and Radio Edit don’t use all of Anavi’s vocals, so they’re more like a dub, but those “Mustapha” chants still sound great the way Lenny uses them. The Phunk Generation Club Remix and Radio Edit are my favorites of the bunch. The mix follows the chord progression of the Queen original and the synths are spectacular. It makes me want to dance, and trust me, I am not a dancing kinda person! ;)

The Mr. Ali Club is an extended version of the Original, and it’s all right. It’s almost ten minutes long and does get sort of tiring. But the Original acts as a condensed version of all the good bits of the Mr. Ali Club so all is right with the world. :) What is not right is the Robert G. Trancelicious Remix. It sounds like crap. It’s badly edited and really sounds like an amateur put it together. (I mean, even I could probably do better! ;) ) Finally, the Klubjumper’s Club Mix and Radio Edit sound like a classic 90s house track but updated for today. My second favorites on the single. :)

So take a chance on this song, you just might like it! :)

Liz Scott – "Angel" (2008)

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I got an email about Liz Scott, a US-based Australian singer who has been working recently with Markus Moser of electronica duo iiO. She just released her first single, “Angel,” on December 16 – and it’s such a promising debut! Her voice is sweet and light, but never lightweight – this is a voice you’re going to remember. “Angel” has a fab bass groove and sweeping synth strings that weave in and out of the laid-back beats and little keyboard motifs. If you like chilled but soulful electronica, like Jennifer Paige’s 90s hit “Crush,” you’re going to love Liz Scott and “Angel”!

Liz will be releasing her debut album, Princess, on February 10, 2009 – mark that date on your calendar! Check Liz out at her official site or her MySpace, and be sure to pick up “Angel” on iTunes!

90s Singles

Ah, the 1990s. A great decade with great tunes. Here are two singles from the 90s that I picked up recently at one of my fave CD stores. :)

Part rap, part hip-hop, and all excellent, “No Diggity” (1996) by Blackstreet is one of those songs that as soon as you hear it, you’ll never forget it. With a strummed guitar backing and a pounding piano hook, and that “hey yo hey yo hey yo” interlude bit, this is a 90s classic. They don’t seem to make ’em like this anymore.

The remixes are good bits of 90s hip-hop, but none of them replicate the rather dark, grimy goodness of the original. The All-Star remix is lighter and sounds a bit too polished, the tinkling piano and subtle synths sounding too conventional. In contrast, the Will Mix has a very bass-heavy beat and background effects that, combined with a piano loop, make for a nice (if slightly monotonous) alternative version of “No Diggity.” The “Billie Jean” remix is sort of a mash-up of “No Diggity” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” (but performed by Blackstreet). The arrangement is cool, for example, the way the backing vocals of “No Diggity” are used as backing for “Billie Jean,” and the song works well. The last track on the single is the instrumental of “No Diggity” and it’s neat to listen to, but of course just isn’t the same without the vocals!

En Vogue were responsible for some fab R&B/Soul jams in the 90s, and “Don’t Let Go (Love)” (1996) is a perfect example. The version of the song I love is the Soundtrack Version, a beautifully harmonized and produced ballad. Driven by piano and bass but with flickers of guitar in the background, “Don’t Let Go (Love)” (Soundtrack Version) is a decadent 90s treat.

The single I got has a few remixes, plus the EP version of “Whatta Man” (a great collaboration with Salt-n-Pepa) and the Club Remix of “What Is Love.” The 2000 Watts Remix of “Don’t Let Go (Love)” isn’t that good – the vocals sound sped-up and it just sounds kinda cheesy compared to the lush Soundtrack Version. The Club Remix of “What Is Love” has fun 90s house production, and “Whatta Man” sounds just as good today as it did when it was first released. Lastly, the Fulton Yard Mix of “Don’t Let Go (Love)” is fortunately not sped-up and has some great bass and beats. The horn hits are a bit distracting but all in all, it’s cool.

We’ve only got four minutes…

… to save the world! You simply must hear Madonna’s newest single, “4 Minutes.” I wasn’t so hot on it the first time I heard it (it was a rather poor quality radio rip, so that may have had something to do with it) but now – oh man! This track is awesome and will get you moving, even if you’re a couch potato like me! ;) What I like best about it – aside from those fantastic horns! – is that it follows Madonna’s recent trend of singing about life, the universe, and everything, but packages the message in a cool hip-pop sound.

gcomadonna4minutes11sv2To be perfectly honest, the leaked “The Beat Goes On” had me a little scared about the forthcoming album, and the leak of “Candy Shop” had me positively frightened. (I’ve since warmed a little to “The Beat Goes On” – though I stand by the criticisms I leveled at it last September – and look forward to hearing how it has been reworked for the album, but I’m still not big on “Candy Shop”.) With “4 Minutes,” however, my fears are gone. Hard Candy (dig that title!) is going to rock. (“I’m gonna kick your ass but it’s going to make you feel good”, incidentally, is how Madonna describes the album. And that’s why she’s the Queen!)

By the way, here is the official cover and track list for Hard Candy in case you haven’t seen it yet!

4910707a15Hard Candy
Global Release: April 28 2008 / US Release: April 29 2008

1. Candy Shop
Written by: Madonna and Pharrell Williams
Produced by: The Neptunes

2. 4 Minutes
Written by: Madonna and Justin Timberlake
Produced by: Timbaland

Background Vocals by: Justin Timberlake
3. Give It 2 Me
Written by: Madonna and Pharrell Williams
Produced by: The Neptunes

4. Heartbeat
Written by: Madonna and Pharrell Williams
Produced by: The Neptunes

5. Miles Away
Written by: Madonna and Justin Timberlake
Produced by: Timbaland

6. She’s Not Me
Written by: Madonna and Pharrell Williams
Produced by: The Neptunes

7. Incredible
Written by: Madonna and Pharrell Williams
Produced by: The Neptunes

8. Beat Goes On
Written by: Madonna and Pharrell Williams
Produced by: The Neptunes

9. Dance Tonight
Written by: Madonna and Justin Timberlake
Produced by: Timbaland
Background Vocals by: Justin Timberlake

10. Spanish Lessons
Written by Madonna and Pharrell Williams
Produced by: the Neptunes

11. Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You
Written by: Madonna and Justin
Produced by: Timbaland
Co-Produced by : Danja
Background Vocals by: Justin Timberlake

12. Voices
Written by: Madonna and Justin Timberlake
Produced by Danja
Co-Produced by: Timbaland
Background Vocal: Justin Timberlake

David Bowie – Fame ’90 (1990)

David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ really can’t be improved upon, but for some reason in 1990 this set of remixes was released. As with the remixes of Queen’s ‘Flash’, though, if you take the mixes with a grain of salt you’ll have fun listening to them.

The first track on this single updates the track with a more funky style and a rap by Queen Latifah. More of a novelty than a solid track, and not many of the original vocals are heard. The House Mix does just what it says – sets ‘Fame’ to a pumping house instrumental, complete with classic house piano riffs and deep bass. Some lines (‘is it any wonder?’, etc.) are played around with and repeated rhythmically; a fun and very early-90s remix!

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The Gass Mix gives a slicker, fuller sound to ‘Fame’ but doesn’t really add anything unique to it – it just sounds a bit over-produced. (The bassline is good, though.) Up next is the Hip Hop Mix, setting ‘Fame’ to crackly drums and plucky bass. It’s a rather tired mix that doesn’t go anywhere, although the flute-y thing is a nice touch.Saving the best for last, the single closes with the Absolutely Nothing Premeditated/Epic Mix. They weren’t joking – it clocks in at over 14 minutes!! The mix starts out as a fairly average, funky version of ‘Fame’, but as it chugs along it gets better and better. Basically, this mix is simple but very effective at extending ‘Fame”s groove. Everyone’s supposed to have 15 minutes of fame, but 14:25 is all right too…! (Stupid pun, I know!)