Tag Archive | music

RIP Tom Petty, 1950-2017

I tend to remember my traffic tickets in relation to what song was playing in my vehicle at the time, what song I was enjoying so much I lost a little bit of my roadway sanity and started speeding or whatever. One of these songs was Tom Petty’s “American Girl”, probably my most egregious ticket to date, in which I blew a red light in front of a cop and didn’t realize he was flagging me down for a couple of blocks. That’s how much I loved this man’s music: it made me a road hazard while I was transported somewhere else entirely. I don’t excuse my infraction one bit– it was heinous– but if I’d been listening to something else, I might have at least noticed the cop. 

My first Petty song was “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” encountered on a lazy afternoon watching MTV as a kid, back in the olden days when they played videos. I was fascinated with his winking, mad-hatter persona as well as with the music itself, and he quickly became one of my favorite artists.  I’ll be the first to admit that “Freefallin'” was overplayed, but other tracks hold so many memories for me– “I Won’t Back Down” was a favorite of my late father’s, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was my gateway to the world of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, and the Traveling Wilburys were a level of cool all to themselves. 

Thanks for all the music, Tom– and the incredible memories. You can’t be replaced. 

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Katy Perry’s “Witness”:  A Long-Awaited (Mild) Disappointment

I am not ashamed to be a Katy Perry apologist in a world full of edgier, fresher artists. I’ve always identified with her sort of offbeat, goofy persona that almost dips into self-parody, and her music had all the hooks.  Notice I said had.  

I’m a sucker for a good hook; I like my pop campy and catchy, but sadly, there’s little of that this time around. If you’ve heard the three singles that preceded Witness‘s release, you’ve already heard the best this album has to offer (with the possible exception of the Mike Will Made It-produced “Tsunami”, which was robbed in not being selected as single #4). 

I’m late with the review as the album has been out for nearly a month already, but amid the publicity blitz surrounding it– the obligatory SNL performances, the interviews calling out rival Taylor Swift, the weird live-stream of Katy getting therapy and slathered with a lot of makeup– I stepped back to wait and listen with fresher ears. 

I wanted to like this album so much. For one thing, it actually feels like a cohesive album rather than the gleefully random collections of singles her past records have resembled.  However, there’s not a lot of fun being had here, and I couldn’t wait for some of the tracks to be over (I’m looking at you, “Save as Draft”). If Katy is trying to be more serious, that’s fine. That said, she’s painted herself into a box:  her expansion as an artist versus the expectations of her fans. It’s a similar situation to Miley Cyrus’s Miley and Her Dead Petz album– an anomaly in an otherwise steady stream of bangers. But Miley’s album wasn’t really promoted like this one has been, so expectations weren’t as high, and Miley has recovered nicely (“Malibu”, anyone?), while I’m frankly worried about Katy now.  It’s been years since she made a record, and I don’t think she can afford to take that much time on her next if she wants to stay relevant.  And this is coming from someone who likes her as an artist. 

Anyway, the album isn’t all bad;  you’ve just heard most of its best parts already.  Lead single “Chained to the Rhythm” probably comes closest to the patented Katy Perry Glossy Earworm of yore, “Bon Appétit” has all the sexy, silly swaggery you’ve come to expect, and “Swish Swish” is a sample-heavy, club-ready diss track featuring a stellar Nicki Minaj rap.  Anemic ballad “Save as Draft” has already been slated as the fourth single, and its selection just indicates to me that the album is already running out of steam. There are better tracks here: the spare, 80’s-retro bass figures of “Tsunami”, the slow-burning groove and spastic drum breaks of “Power”, the soulful “Pendulum”. The rest is so much filler, but I have to hand out a special mention to “Into Me You See” for sounding the most like my eighth- grade poetry of any song I’ve heard. (Sorry, long-ago eighth-grade me, but that’s not a compliment!)

Controversial writer-producer Dr. Luke is missing from this project, and with good reason (Google “Free Kesha” if you want background). There are a bevy of producers present here, but they’ve created a finished product that is both cohesive and not. Maybe a single producer could have gelled the album together into a whole– I’d have gone with Shellback or Mike Will Made It.  Katy is in fine voice but is occasionally overmixed and isn’t really given a chance to vocally shine, which is a shame. 

The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade:  C

RIP Prince, 1958-2016


As rough a year as 2016 has been in terms of losses within the entertainment industry, it still hurts when time claims another cultural icon. And this one really, really hurts.

Prince Rogers Nelson was already legendary by the mid-eighties, one of a handful of figures that helped define the decade for those of us growing up in the era. If Whitney was the girl-next-door and Madonna our cool imaginary big sister, if Michael was our impish alter-ego and Bowie the sexy bad boy we’d never admit crushing on, Prince was the older, wiser cousin who wouldn’t shy away from honesty in the face of those troubling questions that kids of a certain age always come across. He’d been there, and told us all about it in winking detail. I think an entire generation probably got a course in human sexuality from the man and his music.

The world, or at least some parts of it, was not ready for Prince. The soundtrack of his semi-autobiographical movie Purple Rain featured a little song called “Darling Nikki” that single-handedly spawned the PMRC, Parental Advisory stickers, and the political relevancy of Tipper Gore. (I wonder how many disgruntled Prince fans wouldn’t vote for her husband because of her.) There were many other songs and artists that Tipper & Co. found just as offensive, but Prince was the most publicized, his music sitting at the number one position on the PMRC’s infamous, so-called “Filthy Fifteen” list. Prince never personally weighed in on the censorship debate, choosing to stay increasingly out of the spotlight.

His next film, the undeservedly underrated Under the Cherry Moon, was critically panned and failed to garner much notice at the box office, but its soundtrack album, titled Parade, performed well and produced the hit song “Kiss”. Prince’s live performances became a rarity, but he continued making trendsetting music for the rest of his life. He penned or cowrote songs for many other artists, often under pseudonyms, including the Bangles (“Manic Monday”), Sinéad O’Connor (“Nothing Compares 2 U”), Stevie Nicks (“Stand Back”), and Cyndi Lauper (“When You Were Mine”). A dynamic multi-instrumentalist and prolific songwriter, he is widely considered to be the forefather of the “Minneapolis Sound” and helped to break many other important acts such as the Time, Sheila E, and Vanity.  His influence is still apparent in pop and R&B music today, and his Super Bowl halftime performance in 2007, in a downpour fitting for “Purple Rain”, is appreciated as one of the best ever.

Though notoriously private, Prince was nonetheless outspoken about what he perceived as the very flawed nature of the recording industry, famously butting heads with the Warner Brothers label and changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol to stymie their efforts to promote him.  Over the years he presided over several different backing bands as his sound evolved, including the Revolution and the New Power Generation.

The thing which stands out to me most about Prince, his music and his life, is the sense of unflinching honesty it evokes. He sugar coated nothing and was always true to his own artistry. It’s a rare thing, almost impossible to find in today’s corporate, fill-in-the-blanks music business. There will never be another.  Good night, sweet Prince.

 

iTunes Single of the Week: Milky Chance, “Stolen Dance”

Milky%20Chance%20credit%20James%20Kendall%20This week’s free single comes all the way from Germany.  The oddly named duo Milky Chance hails from Kassel and consists of singer Clemens Rehbein and DJ Phillipp Dausch.  Their debut album, Sadnecessary, has made the charts in Europe– in their home country as well as Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and has spawned two hit singles overseas with this song, “Stolen Dance”, which went to number one in several countries, and “Down By the River.”  Rehbein has roots in jazz, having played bass in a quartet called the Flown Tones before joining forces with DJ Dausch to form Milky Chance.  The album was self-produced, and a third single, “Fairytale”, is making its way up the charts in France.

“Stolen Dance” has been their biggest European hit, and is a lively introduction to the duo, whose sound can best be described as techno-folk.  Rehbein’s jazz influence is readily apparent in his vocal stylings;  his delivery is smooth and easily slips from major to minor keys with an enviable grasp of accidentals.  Dausch’s musical backdrop is spare, rhythmic, a bit bouncy, and slightly insidious in its catchiness.  At first listen I wasn’t blown away, but having listened to other music since and still finding the background melody happily shuffling through my head, I realized why it’s been so popular.  It’s instantly memorable melodically, and while not an easy singalong piece, would make an excellent song to close a bar with– fun and sprightly, it’s an invitation to bad dancing, and it boogies right out the door with a masterful ending fade that leaves one sorry it’s over but ready for more, and the prospect of drunken voices trying to capture all the flats and/or sharps is truly chortle-worthy.

As I said, I wasn’t instantly hooked on this song, but it has an unusual staying power all its own, and is ultimately a solid pick.  The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade:  B+

iTunes Single of the Week: Colbie Caillat, “Try”

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The free iTunes Single of the Week usually showcases unknown or little-known talent deserving of a larger audience.  It can be a bit of a pig in a poke– the genre might not be your favorite, a singer’s voice might rub you the wrong way;  you never know exactly what to expect.  This week, however, we’re in for a treat– not only is the single courtesy of big-name singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat, but it’s an excellent one with a lovely and timely message about self-worth and empowerment.

Caillat dropped a surprise EP, Gypsy Heart: Side A on Tuesday featuring “Try” as the lead single.  Produced by industry vet Babyface, the song is signature Caillat, a spare, gentle acoustic number that allows her sweet, airy voice to take center stage.  It’s both beautiful and powerful– its lyrics detail the sort of pressure-cooker that women and girls are expected to endure in the never-ending and unwinnable quest for perfection that society foists on them from an early age.  In an age of Photoshopped models presented as the norm, it’s a breath of fresh air, and every woman alive can relate.  Who hasn’t felt discouraged when every magazine, every billboard, bombards you with perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect makeup, perfect size 0 bodies?  When bullying and its consequences are so frequently in the national spotlight, why is this subtle and even more insidious form of intimidation still a thing?  Sadly, most advertising aimed at women targets our insecurities.  It’s been this way for decades, centuries even, and the practice has stuck around because it works.

“Try” promotes a different point of view:  how about taking a good look at yourself and liking what you see?  To that end, Caillat released a lyric video for the song featuring herself and other celebrities, including Jessie J, Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow, Hayden Panatierre, and Christina Perri, and many fan photos, wearing little to no makeup to better drive home the point:  we are all perfect in our own unique ways.  The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade:  A

I’ll close with the video itself, in all its unvarnished glory:

iTunes Single of the Week: LP, “Night Like This”

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This is the latest I’ve ever been with my Single of the Week review.  I guess it’s because in recent weeks I’ve been less than floored by the picks, and I have actively started dreading having to listen to them.  That changes for the better with this week’s offering, “Night Like This” by LP (nee Laura Pergolizzi), who has previously been known more as a songwriter, having co-written songs with Christina Aguilera (“Beautiful People” from the Burlesque soundtrack) and Rihanna (“Cheers (Drink to That)” from Loud ).  I will readily admit that I turned on the ‘pod prepared to be a hater again, and while I listened with a skeptical ear and was not wowed at first, repeat listens to the track have found it growing on me.  LP’s voice is really something.  I can’t decide who best to compare her to.  She has the inflection of Cyndi Lauper, the vocal acrobatics of Tori Amos or Dolores O’Riordan, the wispily powerful delivery of Kate Bush– but ultimately sounds like none of these.  The song itself is beautiful, haunted with the promise of new love, effortlessly sexy, and both slow-dance-worthy and eminently hummable.  I really like it.  I was sleepy and a little cranky when I first listened to it, and it relaxed me enough to find my namaste, but I found it in my drowsy state a little forgettable.  I think it was me.  Definitely me.  Because in an alert state, I’m really enjoying it and have listened to it about four times while writing this review.

LP has been a music festival staple for years, appearing at South by Southwest, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo, and previously released two critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums, 2001’s Heart-Shaped Scar (God, I love that title!) and 2004’s Suburban Sprawl and Alcohol.  Her music has also been featured on the TeenNick show “South of Nowhere” (“Wasted”) and MTV’s “The Hills” (“Damage is Done”) as well as an advertising campaign by Citibank (“Into the Wild”).  Perhaps now the recognition she is due will follow– she doesn’t deserve to be the industry’s best-kept secret.  It’s happened for other Single of the Week artists– Rixton’s “Me and My Broken Heart” is now climbing the summer charts, I hear American Authors on the radio all the time, and the Orwells have been featured in Entertainment Weekly as an act on the rise (and Dave Letterman’s newest fave band).  I called it then.  I gave great reviews to all these bands (Rixton warranted my first-ever A+ grade), and I’m calling this one too.  It’s awesome.  (As I finish a fifth listen, I’ll close this review.)  The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade: A

iTunes Single of the Week: Afrojack ft. Jack McManus, “Three Strikes”

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I think I’m a bit burnt out on the entire dubstep phenomenon.  There was a time when Skrillex, the Presets and Alex Clare really enthused me (Alex still does, but his output is backed with solid songwriting).  It’s fun to drive to, its overly dramatic musical structure begs for choreography, and it’s awesome club music.  However, I think that it’s reached a point where the genre isn’t particularly fresh anymore.  Which brings us to this week’s free iTunes single, “Three Strikes”, by Dutch DJ Afrojack featuring vocals by British singer Jack McManus.  I’ll admit it’s catchy and fun in the short term, but it’s ultimately quite easily forgettable– standard issue paint-by-numbers dubstep.  It sounds like a million other tracks by a million other artists and that’s gotten me thinking perhaps the genre has finally reached a critical mass, a point of over-saturation which is just a bit ironic, since the point (I think) is to sound futuristic, and now futuristic feels stale.

Afrojack (Nick Van de Wall in real life) is from Spijkenisse, Netherlands, and has contributed to several hit songs for other artists over the past few years, including Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything” and Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)”.  However, this track feels a little lackluster in comparison.  McManus provides a strong, able vocal, but the overall effect is phoned-in and just a little too slick.  Like I said earlier, it’s a fun jam, but you won’t remember anything about it five minutes later.  Based on his earlier work with others, Afrojack seems capable of much better than this song, which probably should have been relegated to album filler rather than released as a single.  It’s like the Chinese takeout of dubstep:  you’ll enjoy it for its duration, but it won’t stick with you.  Pick up some Daft Punk instead– you’ll get more mileage from it.  The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade:  C