Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Latest 'Free Wired' Movement

Left and right, it seems the boys in Far East Movement, a DJ Collective signed to Universal/Interscope's Cherry Tree Records branch (obligatory "CHERRY CHERRY BOOM BOOM!" chant) that also houses Robyn, Natalia Kills, the American careers of La Roux and Ellie Goulding, and is too often associated with the sensation that is Lady Gaga, are labeled an overnight sensation. Nothing could be further than the truth (as is usually the case when a musician is labeled as such), but they are certainly taking advantage of their newfound "overnight" fame.

I had the pleasure of seeing Far East Movement live in person at Webster Hall a few months back when they were opening for labelmate Robyn herself along with Kelis. It may have only been back in August, but it was also firmly before their overnight radio takeover (okay, I've them that one) thanks to the earworm that is "Like a G6", now sitting firmly at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and threatening to de-throne Bruno Mars. Their energy was infectious, and given the immediate crowd reaction (despite being the very first opening act and literally beginning their set as people were being let in to the venue) told you right away, these boys had the undefiniable X-Factor, and this was on the verge of something else

Did I think "Like A G6" with its petulant getting-drunk-in-da-club hook would become an overwhelming smash? Uh, no. I don't even know what a G6 is. I still don't. But I knew that, even if their genre of music was pretty mindless party racket, it was fun, and it put a silly grin on your face despite your best efforts. In this way, FM reminded me quite a bit of Black Eyed Peas, and I said so. In fact, I think most of us can remember when the Peas themselves were a more serious "funk rap" kind of troupe, without "Glamorous" lead singer eyecandy, until the force of nature that was "Where Is The Love" and the Elephunk album that forever changed them in the eyes of the public. Depending on who you speak to, their music, image and meaning has gone to seed in the days since Elephunk, but perhaps Far East Movement can learn from their assumed mistakes.

In terms of sound, if you ex-out the melismatic and husky warblings by Ms. Fergie, Far East Movement and Black Eyed Peas sound strikingly similar, especially in their current re-inventions (fair to note -- FM formed back in 2003, back in BEP's initial Top 40 heyday). "G6" employs all kinds of synthy goodness, and much of FM's most recent (and major label debut) album release, Free Wired, follows a familiar sonic soundpath that inhabits much of Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies). However, while the Black Eyed Peas are quick to flout the surreal, they also tend to be strangely insistant on preaching about changing the world, attempting to showcase themselves as "serious" musicans with a message. I'm definitely not here to blast them on that, it's something I find quite endearing, but when you insist on these things, while also spouting nonsense like "I've got that boom boom pow" (again, what does that even mean?) or "My Humps", the message starts to lose it's punch a bit. 

Far East Movement feel like such a breath of fresh air because they are a party band, first and foremost. They are here to get you hyped, and they don't take themselves too serious. It doesn't feel pretentious, forced or, dare-I-even-say conceptual via their label (::cough::Ke$ha::cough::). They aren't trying to save the world, they just want you to forget your troubles for a few minutes and sweat out your cares on the dancefloor. You can't really say no.

Much of the Free Wired album was produced by Stereotypes, longtime collaborators and friends of FM who really broke through in the Top 40 market in 2007 with Danity Kane's "Damaged". Since then, they've worked on decent cuts with Natasha Bedingfield, Mary J Blieg, Melanie Fiona, Agnes Carlsson and yes, even Justin Beiber. Thanks to Far East Movement, there's no question this will up their ante in terms of visibility and viability in a market currently looking for the next big "trademark sound" producer, like Max Martin/Dr. Luke, Timbaland, RedOne and now David Guetta before them.

The reviews from my peers of the record have generally been pretty positive, which encouraged me to look into the album despite the fact that "G6" is already starting to tire on me. I was glad I did. It's chock full of danceable jams that can help get you through the workday and keep you dancing well into the night. In fact, it's almost difficult of me to choose a favorite. I quite like "Don't Look Now", featuring Keri Hilson, which is in contention for the second official single from the disc. "She Owns the Night" is another great cut, and "If It Was You (OMG)", featuring Snoop Dogg, rated high on my likability meter immediately for that background beat alone (despite the filthy lyrics -- but hey, it's a Snoop cut). Who would have thought Snoop D-O-Double G would be working with artists I really dig, creating a brand new sound for himself -- first with Robyn, and now with FM? Touche, Snoop. Touche.

In terms of radio sound, I was more attuned to "Rocketeer", not just because it features Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic fame singing the chorus, but its a total 180 from "G6" and will show how capable they are of being more than just the right-place/right-time "Let's Get Drunk" Party Band (hellllllll, yeahhhh!). The song was the original slated single but that was put on hold when "G6" took off like a....well, G6, I guess. Granted, Tedder has developed a bit of a stigma against him (whether it's warranted or not, I'll leave that up to you) for his songwriting, so perhaps it was better to just leave the song as an album cut. Either way, it's still a fun breezy number to break up the predominately heavy synth dance on the album.

Is Free Wired album of the year? No. Are they in danger of being forgotten after the buzz for "G6" rides out? Yeah. But considering how geniunely happy they were when I saw them live, and the sheer fact that they have been rocking since 2003, release four albums prior to Wired, and have amassed for themselves a legion of underground fans, I think they'll be alright doing their own thing, no matter where it takes them. Sometimes, you have take music at face value, and for what it's worth, Wired packs serious punch to keep it in DJ's playlists for years to come.

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