Dana International – Yoter ve-Yoter (2001)

001300Dana International is probably most well-known for winning the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest (with ‘Diva’), but there’s much more to her than that. Her first album, Danna International, a refreshing blend of Middle Eastern motifs and house beats, was released in 1993 and kick-started a career that continues today – Dana has just released a new single (‘Hakol ze letova’) and a new album will follow in the summer.

Yoter ve-Yoter was released in 2001. Dana said of the album, “It’s the first time I’m truly proud of my work. I worked with a great team, and we invested so many hours of work in every second of it.” Those hours of work resulted in an album that took Dana’s music into the new millennium.

Her last album, Free, released internationally in 1999, did not do well in the charts and was considered a flop. Although Free has a few great songs, overall it felt uninspired and was a rather disappointing effort, especially coming after Dana’s Eurovision victory. Free featured Eurodance-infused tracks that seemed to lack the charm and cheek of her previous work. The album suggested that Dana’s music needed an update.

After releasing Free, Dana did not continue in the Eurodance direction, and instead began working with songwriter Dani Dotan and songwriter/producer Eli Avramov on a new album. Dana noted that this was her first time “working with a team that wrote everything for me.” That close teamwork produced a collection of songs with engaging lyrics that were much more personal than her earlier tracks, backed by fresh dance sounds with touches of electronica. This album also included two ballads, proving that Dana could tackle melancholy material just as well as dancefloor-ready tunes.

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The dance/electronica sound of Yoter ve-Yoter probably owes a bit to Madonna’s 2000 release Music, particularly the ballad ‘Shir,’ which takes after ‘I Deserve It’ with its wailing synths and acoustic guitar. The chopped-up production style heard in ‘Don’t Tell Me’ also finds its way into a few of Yoter ve-Yoter‘s tracks.

While Dana’s album certainly has roots in Music, the result is all Dana. She turns in a more mature, subtle vocal, years away from the shrieks and trills of ‘Sa’ida Sultana’. ‘Nizachti’ is a confident proclamation of victory, set to explosive synths and a hard dance beat. In contrast, my favorite track, ‘Hargasha Tova’, explains amidst downtempo beats and understated electronica elements that she doesn’t know if it’s love but she doesn’t really want to know, because he simply ‘makes me feel good.’

Other highlights of the album are ‘Shir,’ ‘La-qum ba-boqer,’ and ‘Ata hores’ – overall a very solid album, with only one track that I tend to skip (‘Ba-derekh el ha-chofesh’: over-long and with a chorus consisting of one phrase that Dana seems to be yelling!). Yoter ve-Yoter signaled the start of the second phase of Dana’s career: a move to a more mature, sophisticated style of dance music, with less overt cheekiness but with tongue still firmly in cheek.

Siobhán Donaghy – Ghosts (2007)

untitled88I’d heard about this Siobhán Donaghy person for awhile on music forums and blogs before I decided to check her music out. It was when I read a review of her forthcoming album Ghosts that posited that she was the ‘new Kate Bush’ that I decided I must check Siobhán out.

It turns out she’s kind of amazing.

I can’t overemphasize how much I enjoy listening to Siobhán’s vocals – she sings in a way that makes you stop and just want to listen to whatever she’s singing about. Her clear, pretty tone is accentuated by great instrumental arrangements and production by James Sanger (who has worked with Dido, U2, and Keane).

This album is going to be one of the best of 2007, even if it doesn’t achieve great commercial success. Artistically and creatively, the album succeeds, and I do hope that it does well because more people should be listening to good music. :)

Ghosts_coverTrack by track:
Don’t Give It Up: The chilled beat and electronic touches of this song are infectious. Siobhán delivers the lyrics in such a refreshing and engaging vocal that lines that talk of such things as “this total ache” are more hopeful and optimistic than melancholic. The chorus brings that spirit of hope to the fore with uplifting strings and Siobhán’s beautiful vocals imploring us to not “give it up” because “we all have the scars to show.” A great start to the album.

So You Say: I have to admit, this song had to grow on me. But once it did, I loved it. Strings, guitars, and a leisurely beat play throughout the verses and build to the chorus, which has a heavier drum beat and a bright vocal from Siobhán. It may be a bit long at 4:19 and might have benefited from some trimming to leave it under the 4 minute mark (it’s a great song but seems to drag on a bit toward the end), but that’s a small nitpick for an otherwise nifty song.

There’s A Place: This is the one track on the album that I just can’t seem to get into, no matter how many times I listen to it. It’s pretty, to be sure, and pleasant enough – but as much as I love Siobhán’s vocals, they’re a bit… screechy in parts here. Still, I sometimes find myself getting bits of the song stuck in my head, so maybe there’s hope for me liking this song yet. ;)

Sometimes: Ah, here we go, back on form. Great vocal flourishes with a more up-tempo beat make this a lovely little tune. As I sit here trying to think of a word to describe this song, the only one that rings true is “glorious.” I think that suits the song perfectly. :)

12 Bar Acid Blues: I like this one a lot, but it doesn’t really gel with the rest of the album. (In contrast, even though I’m not too fond of ‘There’s A Place,’ it’s sound still works with the rest of the tracks.) ’12 Bar Acid Blues,’ a bluesy but strongly pop-infused song, might have made more sense as a B-side. It’s a fun song, but musically it is almost too ‘safe’ for this album!

Make It Right: I love this song. I find myself swaying from side to side and singing along when listening to it. I can’t quite explain why it’s such a great song, but it just works, you know?

Coming Up For Air: The intro to this song is reminiscent of Madonna’s ‘Frozen’ – ambient touches and a ‘dark’ atmosphere. This leads into a down-tempo groove with lyrics that, I’m guessing, give an insight to the period in her life when she was diagnosed and suffering from clinical depression. The song is ultimately one of strength and determination.

Goldfish: I adore the chorus of this song; the melody is so pretty and I love the piano/keyboard/synth. Whatever it is, it sounds great. The whole song is beautiful and if you give it a chance, you will fall under its spell.

Medevac: This seems to be the song a lot of people are talking about, and for very good reason. It’s quite brilliant. The pulsing synths and pounding bass underline the desperation in Siobhán’s voice. It’s an intense song with Kate Bush overtones (the line ‘if only you could wrap me up’ and the way it’s sung may be a nod to Kate’s genius ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’), which means that I absolutely love this song. The stand-out track of the album.

Halcyon Days: On my first listen to the album, this track stood out to me, and I thought it may end up being my favorite track. It did. :) The chorus is gorgeous and the whole track has a dream-like vibe. The vocals are played with in parts (‘it’s tender to behold’) and Siobhán’s voice is downright ethereal. Simply excellent.

Ghosts: This is probably my second-favorite song from the album (‘Medevac’ is the third, for those keeping track!). The vocals are reversed. I guess. I have no idea what is going on in this song, and I love that. This is the most daring, inventive track on the album and while it might not be radio-friendly, who cares? It’s a sublime conclusion to a sublime album.

Be sure to buy it when it is released on June 25!!

Moya Brennan – Two Horizons (2003)

th_05Moya Brennan (aka Máire Brennan) is one of my absolute favorite artists. She rose to fame as the main vocalist of Irish band Clannad, which began recording in 1973, and released her first solo album in 1992. Moya’s solo work has been described as ‘adult contemporary,’ ‘new age,’ ‘Celtic pop,’ and more recently ‘adult Christian contemporary.’ I personally don’t normally go for music that falls into that last category (I don’t like music that preaches at me!) but luckily Moya has a magic touch when it comes to lyrics and manages to keep her more overtly Christian-influenced tracks from becoming sermons.

I also don’t think that her music is very new age-y at all. To me, ‘new age’ implies flaky airs about fairies and forests with tinkling wind chimes and flutes. If I were to categorize Moya’s music myself, I would think my own made-up label of ‘adult Celtic pop with a bit o’ religion’ suits her quite well.

Because Moya happens to be Enya’s sister, there are bound to be comparisons between the two. I was an Enya fan before I listened to Moya, and after having listened to both for years now, I honestly think Moya and Enya have entirely different ‘sounds.’ For one thing, most of Enya’s work is piano and synth-based. Moya has her own backing band and is a harpist herself. Of course if you’re looking for similarities to Enya’s music in Moya’s solo work (because that seems to be the way people see it, not the other way around), you’ll probably find it, as there’s no doubt that their music pretty much fits into the same category (sans the religious bit in Enya’s case). To put it another way, their theory may be similar, but the way they practice – you can definitely hear a difference.

fiercd07_lgeMy favorite Moya album is Two Horizons. It’s just wonderful and so lushly produced; it’s more like an experience than simply something you listen to! The album tells a story: Moya meets a stranger who tells her she has been chosen to find the lost harp of Tara. This harp had been played once in a peaceful time and Moya is to play it once again, so that, as Moya said in an interview, ‘maybe it would bring back that peace that we so longed for within ourselves or within the world that we live in or even in Ireland itself.’

In that same interview, Moya described the recording of Two Horizons as being like painting a picture, all full of colors and shades. That’s a perfect way to think of the album, really – a bit of a work of art! The songs have electronic touches and those classic Irish flourishes that Moya does so well. Moya deftly mixes the traditional with the modern and comes up with a beautiful, almost ethereal, product.

Make sure to visit her official web site to hear her thoughts on the album and track-by-track commentary. Well worth a listen!

Sandra – The Wheel Of Time (2002)

untitledSandra, originally from Germany, is a popular singer/songwriter/entertainer in Europe. Her professional career began in 1976 (credited as ‘Sandra Ann’) at age 14 with the release of her first single, ‘Andy mein Freund.’ After leading the German disco group Arabesque from 1979 to 1984, Sandra struck out on her own (aided by Michael Cretu) and found solo fame with ‘Maria Magdalena’, from her chart-topping debut album The Long Play (1985). Since then, Sandra’s many hit singles and albums have helped to build a loyal fanbase for this excellent artist.

Wikipedia has this to say about The Wheel of Time:

Sandra’s first studio album in seven years came with The Wheel of Time in 2002, reaching number eight on the German album charts. The first single “Forever” had moderate success… Although some criticised the fact that The Wheel of Time contained no less than four cover versions of 80s songs, including the second single release “Such a Shame” by Talk Talk, the album was received well by her fans… However, The Wheel of Time faded away quickly.

The album really shouldn’t have, as Wikipedia so eloquently says, faded away so quickly. I think this is Sandra’s most sophisticated, mature album to date. (Her most recent release, The Art of Love, is great, but just doesn’t seem to have the same freshness as The Wheel of Time.)
sandrawheelProduced by Enigma collaborator Jens Gad and Enigma mastermind Michael Cretu, the album has wonderful, atmospheric production and is chock full of chilled beats and delicate synths. At times the songs venture into trance, dance, and even techno/electro areas – ‘Forgive Me’ has a drum ‘n’ bass-style breakbeat and bassline and ‘Such A Shame’ features a mid-tempo trance drumbeat and house piano touches.

Every song is great – I never skip a track when I listen to this album. My favorite songs are ‘Forgive Me,’ ‘Footprints,’ ‘Perfect Touch,’ ‘Such A Shame,’ and ‘Free Love.’ (OK, so that’s like half of the album. They’re really cool songs, though!) Check this album out – you won’t be disappointed! :)

Hey You!

from liveearth.msn.com

“Inspired by Live Earth, Madonna has written a new song titled “Hey You,” which is available exclusively on MSN, free of charge, for seven days. “Hey You” was produced by Pharrell Williams and Madonna and recorded in London. Madonna will perform “Hey You” as one of the headliners for Live Earth U.K.… at Wembley Stadium in London on July 7, as part of the 24-hour, seven-continent Live Earth concert series.

As the exclusive online destination for Live Earth, MSN is pleased to offer this song in conjunction with Madonna and is proud to donate 25 cents for each of the first 1 million downloads to the Alliance for Climate Protection, in support of Live Earth.”

This song is somewhat ballad-y but I’d say it has more than a little of an anthem quality to it. It’ll sound excellent performed live and will definitely get the crowd pumped. The song is free of charge until May 24th so don’t put off downloading it! :)

Various – Ultra 80s Vs Electro

I don’t consider myself a great expert on music genres, so my thoughts on this great compilation will likely not be those of a true electro fan. Pretty much all I know about electro comes from what I’ve read in Q magazine and a Mighty Boosh episode called… “Electro.” And strangely enough, it was around the time that I started watching The Mighty Boosh (early 2006) that I picked up this album.

Perhaps that’s why I like this album so much – when I listen to it, it reminds me of winter break from my first year in college, a magical time of being lazy whilst noodling around on the internets and… er… digitally obtaining episodes of my new fave show. (C’mon now, I live in the US – until the BBC sees fit to do the sensible thing and release TMB DVDs playable in US DVD players, I shall have to continue digitally obtaining the show! I did buy the radio series CD, though. I’m a good fan like that. :) )

Someone else who listens to this album will not have those nifty memories attached to it. So is the music good?

u80sWell yes, of course! Why else would I write about it? ;) The only track I ever skip is the first one on Disc 1, “Shout,” by Tears For Fears. It’s far too 80s-tastic for my tastes. So my Ultra 80’s vs Electro listening experience begins with “Trans-Europe Express” by Kraftwerk. (Upon listening to this track, I realized that Madonna’s “Music” owes a lot to this song, as has been noted by reviewers before.)

Like I said, I don’t know much about electro, and from what I’ve read about this compilation it doesn’t do electro any justice. And I don’t give one toot about that. It’s a fun album with some really excellent tunes and I think if you put your musical pretensions aside, you’ll like it too. :)

Mylène Farmer – Dance Remixes (1992)

Mylène is considered the most successful and provocative female French recording artist of all time, and the only artist to have each of her studio albums sell over a million copies in France… Mylène’s refusal to record in English leaves her virtually unknown outside of continental Europe. Farmer gained fame with songs featuring ambiguous and/or shocking lyrics, and somewhat explicit music videos… (Wikipedia)

Or, to put it more simply, Mylène Farmer is pretty much the French Madonna. I only very recently started listening to Farmer but it didn’t take very long to fall in love with her voice and music. She is famous for her sophisticated pop tunes and ballads that deal with themes of love, death, and spirituality. Do yourself a favor and check out some of her songs – you won’t be disappointed!

Mylène Farmer’s Dance Remixes (1992) features remixes and extended versions of songs from her first three studio albums, Cendres de Lune (1986), Ainsi soit Je… (1988), and L’Autre… (1991).

mfdr

They’re fairly straightforward mixes that don’t stray very far from the sound of the original tracks (particularly in the case of the extended versions). Tracks like “Libertine” are played around with, vocals are manipulated, new instrumental passages are introduced – and the result is excellent.

The tracks that stood out to me are “Libertine (Carnal Sins Remix),” “Plus grandir (Mother’s Live Remix),” and “Sans Logique (Illogical Club Remix).” I was slightly disappointed with the remixes of “Je t’aime mélancolie” and “Pourvu qu’elles soient douces” as they didn’t really match the strengths of the album versions. I still find myself getting the stuttering beginning of the “Pourvu” remix stuck in my head, though! :)

This album is a great introduction to Mylène Farmer’s earlier work. If you like what you hear, then I would suggest also trying one of her more recent albums, because they are really gorgeous (Innamoramento is beautiful!).

Kate Bush – The Dreaming (1982)

untitledIn her own words…

“I think it needs two or three listenings. What I wanted to do throughout the album was almost to bury things.” (1982)

“I’d like them to sit there with the lyrics in front of them and the record turned up really loud giving themselves to it.” (1982)

“I wanted it to be a long-lasting album, because my favourite records are the ones that grow on you – that you play lots of times because each time you hear something different.” (1982)

The Dreaming was a decisive album for me. I hadn’t recorded in a very long time until I undertook it, and that was the first time that I’d had such liberty. It was intoxicating and frightening at the same time. I could fail at everything and ruin my career at one fell swoop. All this energy, my frustrations, my fears, my wish to succeed, all that went into the record.” (1985)

I think it’s extremely sophisticated.
“Do you? Sophisticated? Well, I’d rather you say that than turdlike.” (1982)

(Source of quotes)

KATE BUSH: Kate Bush is, quite frankly, a genius. There’s a great article on Wikipedia about her, but really, all you need to know is that she’s absolutely brilliant.

tdMY THOUGHTS: The Dreaming is my favorite album by Kate. It’s just… amazing. It’s the kind of album that you get lost in, that makes you lose track of time. When the final track concludes, you feel sad that the experience is over.

This album was and still is seen as her “difficult” album – “The Dreaming was my ‘She’s gone mad’ album, my ‘She’s not commercial any more’ album,” Kate said in 1993. It is the lowest-selling album of her discography to date (although it did hit #3 on the UK albums chart). What this shows, quite conclusively, is that the general music-buying public are very very silly indeed.

Truly meaningful songs inspire an emotional response and this album’s tracks do so in a variety of ways with penetrating lyrics, poignant vocals, and rich, intense production. The subject matter ricochets from the pursuit of knowledge to glimpses of God to fighting in Vietnam to Irish smugglers to… This album may not be easily accessible – for some listeners, it may be hard to “get” – but then the most satisfying music, in my opinion, has many levels and can’t really be comprehended and appreciated with just one listen.

There is no less-than-excellent track here. Seriously. I never skip a track when I listen to this album. I urge you to check out the album – you won’t be sorry. :)

Buy The Dreaming @ Amazon.com

Ofra Haza – Show Me (1997)

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BACKGROUND: Ofra Haza was born November 19, 1957 in Israel and raised in a traditional Yemenite home. Ofra joined a theatre group at 12 and recorded several albums with them, eventually leaving to start a solo career managed by the founder of the group, Bezalel Aloni.

Her first three solo albums yielded many well-received singles, including the #1 hit “Shir “, but her career reached a new level when she placed second in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1983 with “Chai.” She became a hugely popular singer in the Middle East, comparable to Madonna’s popularity in America.

Ofra received international recognition and praise in 1988 with “Im Nin’ Alu” (a reworked version of a track from an earlier album, Yemenite Songs). Her subsequent albums garnered critical acclaim and even a Grammy nomination (for 1992’s Kirya). Her music was strongly influenced by her Yemenite roots and Israeli culture but also adeptly incorporated elements from other cultures, resulting in a compelling fusion of world music.

1997 saw the release of Ofra’s final album (Ofra Haza). Sadly, Ofra passed away on February 23, 2000, reportedly due to organ failure or pneumonia as a result of complications from AIDS. Israel mourned the death of one of its greatest and most significant icons. Then-Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak noted, “Ofra emerged from the Hatikvah slums to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all.”

ofrashowme1
“Show Me” (1997)

MY THOUGHTS: I adore Ofra Haza. Her voice is gorgeous and her music, like I said above, is a wonderful blend of Israeli rhythms and melodies and world music elements. “Show Me” was the first Ofra Haza song I ever heard and to this day, I can still remember thinking “This is something special” as I listened to it. Her 1997 album, from which “Show Me” is taken, remains my favorite, and I think that “Show Me” is a great representative of that album’s sound. If you like what you hear here, you might want to pick up her 1997 album, but to get a truer sense of her career you should pick up one of her earlier works like Adama or Desert Wind. Ofra Haza is an absolutely amazing album, but it is a bit more dance-influenced than her previous works.

“Show Me” was the only single released from the album and was backed by two remixes. The drum’n’bass-ish X-Citement mix is all right, but never really goes anywhere. It also speeds up the vocals to the point that they sound, well, sped up – kinda choppy in some places.

The Trouser Enthusiasts remix, on the other hand, is nothing short of epic. I love Trouser Enthusiasts remixes, probably to an unhealthy extent. Case in point: I got this single – with only 3 tracks – off of GEMM. Nothing strange there, except it was $30.00. For three songs! But such is my love for Ofra and the Trouser Enthusiasts that I did, in fact, get the single.

The TE mix doesn’t use all the vocals, which happens sometimes in their mixes. Rather, phrases and syllables are taken and played around with. The synth strings (I’m guessing they’re synths?) and deep bass sweep across the track amidst swirling synth effects and trance beats. When the main string/synth riff comes in, oh man. Just listen, it’s fantastic. :)