Saturday, November 24, 2012

PLAYLIST: Delving Into What's New with The Faves

If you've ever happened to take a gander to my Spotify profile, you'd see I'm a little bit of a playlist ho. It's just the way I roll. And trust me, there's about 25 other playlists that are hidden for my eyes only, mostly because to people who aren't moi they would make zero sense. I've always been the type to categorize my music seemingly arbitrarily (when I was in high school, one day I decided to arrange my CDs by release date, down to the month and day -- no jokes). One of my most abused Spotify "hidden" playlists is my "Itching To Talk About" playlist. So today is all about satisfying that urge without creating 85 mini posts. You're welcome.

THE WANTED - "I FOUND YOU"
"I'm moving to the beat of her heart/I was so lost until tonight"
The boys of the UK's other big boy band, The Wanted, have taken another stab at breaking off a piece of One Direction's US dominance in the ace dance single "I Found You". Complete with fluttery, buttery falcetto, "I Found You" was written by Steve Mac and Wayne Hector and sounds like something out of a 90's dance days of yore, mixed with The Wanted's current penchant for Ibiza-sounding audio samples (also prevalent in "Glad You Came" and "Chasing the Sun"), although it's much less in your face than in prior singles. And that bridge -- you sing it, boy. Perhaps it's my age, but I find this song along to be more of a jam than 1D's entire US sophomore release combined.

ICONA POP - "I LOVE IT (FEAT. CHARLIE XCX)"
"You're from the 70's/But I'm a 90's bitch//I. Don't. Care./I love it!"
Aino and Caroline of the duo group Icona Pop are already legit icons of pop in their homeland of Sweden (the land of the Best Pop). "Manners" was their big breakthrough here in the States but "I Love It", which features UK hype artist Charlie XCX, puts them on a whole new level entirely. Their latest EP, Iconic, is a pure heaven for pop dance enthusiasts, so if you haven't heard it, please remedy this quickly. "I Love It" is repetitive, driving and completely relentless. Insert the obvious here when I say, "I Love It". Fave Remix of the Moment: surprisingly the Cobra Starship offering. Who would have thought?

KELLY CLARKSON - "PEOPLE LIKE US"
"We are all misfits, living in a world on fire/Singing for the people like us, the people like us"
It's been ten years since Ms. Kelly Clarkson became the very first winner of the very first American reality singing competition. Greatest Hits: Chapter One is a reminder of what a bright light she is in the pop world with three ace new songs tacked on toward the end -- single "Catch My Breath", country-soaked duet "Don't Rush" with Vince Gill and the power pop sum-up of her entire career, "People Like Us". "People" was produced by The Bird & The Bee member Greg Kurstin and features a rhythm guitar underlay that is notably reminiscent her breakthrough hit "Since U Been Gone". She sounds much more in her vocal element here than she does with "Catch My Breath", as "People" sounds like it very well could have been a single itself from Breakaway or Stronger.

BRUNO MARS - "LOCKED OUT OF HEAVEN"
"You make me feel like/I've been locked out of heaven/For too long"
The lead single from Bruno's upcoming sophomore release, Unorthodox Jukebox, is a bonafide worldwide smash for a multitude of reasons. The main one is it sounds like nothing else on the radio, choosing to harken back to the New Wave 80's pop. Depending on who you talk to you, folks will say it either sounds like a blatant rip off of The Police's "Message In A Bottle" or Michael Jackson's "Beat It". In an attempt to bridge the gap, let me just say -- there are worse things to try and sound like, mmkay? The song is a toe tapper and manages to take that vintage feel and still make it feel new and exciting. There is no denying Bruno's incredible vocal talents, put on perfect display with this groove. Another notch in the proverbial Win Column for The Smeezingtons production gang, in collaboration with -- excitingly enough -- Mark Ronson.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA - "ARMY OF ME"
"One of me is Wiser/One of me is Stronger/One of me's a Fighter"
When it comes to Xtina's latest album, Lotus, where exactly should I begin? "Your Body", a long overdue collab with Max Martin scored so high and after the fumble that was Bionic (or at least most of in anyway), I so ardently hoped for more just like it. Unfortunately, it was a red herring. Lotus in itself isn't a bad album as it is a safe album, too muddled down in ballads that sound too similar. Christina is still caught in that weird middle ground where she sings these self-deprecating, emotional powerhouse songs and then compliments them in the same breath with harsh, petulant shlock like "Shut Up" or "Circles". It's a waste of her obvious talent and it makes me mourn for what could have been. Is Lotus better than Bionic? Yes. Is that saying much? From a overall view of her talent and back catalog, no. I was hoping for more of a Stripped headspace and Lotus only manages to get halfway there. It does have some very high moments, like with "Your Body" or "Just A Fool", her duet with Blake Sheldon. Another spotlight is "Army Of Me", produced by Brit team Tracklacers (P!NK, The Saturdays). The first real cut on the record, it reads a bit like "Fighter (Part 2)" and its biting anthem call is actually believable in the wake of so much swirling criticism flung her way. Not only does she sound incredible, the song's tempo doesn't need to be at a snail's pace to prove it.

LITTLE BIG TOWN - "TORNADO"
"I'm a tornado/Looking for a man to break"
I'm gonna go ahead and blame my recent infatuation with Fleetwood Mac circa Rumors for my overwhelming interest in country-flavored harmony rock at the mo'. This overhaul seemed to rear its head during the crazy weirdness that was in aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, so how appropriate would it be that a recent inclusion into this lovefest would be Little Big Town's latest single, the title track from their latest album Tornado? It's not as instantaneously earwormy as lead single "Pontoon" but it still really cooks.

SAM & THE WOMP - "BOM BOM"
"I'm the guy with the bass and drum/Goin' around like 'bom bom bom'"
"Bom Bom" is the debut single from UK group Sam & The Womp. It was released back in August across the pond and went straight to #1. I'm still undecided whether or not this irreverant style will gain a mainstream stronghold has in the UK (and leaning toward the feeling that it won't, but anything's possible), but it's still a fun little womp none the less (get it?). I mean, trumpets and driving dance beats with a nonsense chorus? I'm in. It reminds me a bit of those vaugely creepy 90's dance hits like "Groove Is In the Heart".

KATY TIZ - "FAMOUS"
"Don't act like  you don't know who I am/You just mouthed it to your friend/Ain't no question/You only wanna f*ck me 'cuz I'm famous"
I don't know much about Katy Tiz, other than she's a labelmate of Jessie J and she sounds a bit like a poppier Lily Allen mixed with P!NK's bold attitude. Part of her appeal is in her quirkiness -- in the second verse alone, she states, "You coulda been a keeper/If you weren't such a creeper/Go look for Justin Bieber".

BIG BOI - "MAMA TOLD ME (FEAT. KELLY ROWLAND)"
"Be careful how you play your cards/That's what Mama told me"
I'm convinced the reunion of Outkast proper will never happen. But if Big Boi continues to put out jams like this one, the pop world might be okay with that. Enlisting the help of Kelly Rowland, "Mama Told Me"'s real star power is in that doo doo doo doo dooda doo motive -- an earworm in itself -- mixed handslappy rhythm structure feeling both familiar and refreshing. Big Boi's sophomore solo release, Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors, is due in December.

JAY DABHI - "STOP MY HEART (FEAT. JADA)" (snippet "preview")
"Can you stop my heart from breaking?"
DJ & Remixer Jay Dabhi, arguably best known for remixes featured in the Dance Dance Revolution video games, enlisted my girls in JADA ("Beantown Beauties", haha) for his song "Stop My Heart", featured on his latest compilation, The WeekEND. Any new music from JADA is welcomed to the ears of yours truly, and this follows up on the strides they made with their Supersonique EP.

TARYN MANNING - "SEND ME YOUR LOVE (FEAT. SULTAN & NED SHEPHERD)"
"I'm on the darkest road to nowhere/And you're the better part of me"
Released back in August, Taryn's latest single is a dance h-i-t, peaking at the top spot on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs Chart. Three months later, it's still ranked in the top 15. A true bright spots for the club circuit, every remix of this jam sounds better than the last. My current fave is the KDrew version, which is a bit more piano-based, making it sound a bit like a DJ Sammy cover hit of old...until the dubsteppy bit stomps in after the chorus.

PSY - "GANGNAM STYLE / 2 LEGIT 2 QUIT MASHUP (FEAT. MC HAMMER)"
"Ehhhhhhhh, sexy lady!"
Because, I meannnnnn. The little KPOP song that could that literally stole America's focus to become the Macarena of 2012 mixed with one of the early 90's best guilty pleasures? (Funny Story -- I vividly remember my two older male cousins physically fighting with each other over who was better and would "last longer" -- Vanilla Ice or Hammer. I always enjoyed when this would happen, as it would mean I would have the original Nintendo at my aunt's house all to myself. Oh, to be five again.) Hell yeah. PSY, I'm so happy you get it, bro.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

LIVE FROM NEW YORK: Melismatic Turns 4 with the Queen of Pop

When Madonna says 'Turn Up the Radio', you better f*ckin' do it.
If any of you have glanced at your calenders recently, you probably already know -- tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of Melismatic in cyberspace. I know. I feel so old. My Mama Melismatic decided that was a good enough reason to celebrate a week early with, you know, just a friend of a friend of a friend that the world over knows as the 'Queen of Pop'.

Yep, that's right, ya'll. Melismatic's 4th Birthday Party was spent at Madison Square Garden with Madonna.

It was my first time seeing the Queen in concert, and it was a certainly an experience to behold. It was one of the last dates in the US of her MDNA World Tour. The night kicked off with DJ Martin Solveig, whom I best know for his collabs with Dragonette rather than with Madonna, who managed to get the crowd pretty hyped. However, the momentum curtailed a bit as after his set, the stage was empty until 10:45PM when Madonna finally hit the stage. I'm well aware (now) that Madge never really performs until past 10PM but, you know, perhaps you shouldn't mark your tickets as 8PM then so your audience isn't just sitting around waiting for almost three hours. Just, you know...thinking out loud.

Once Madonna hit the stage, however, she was unrelenting. Given her expansive hit catalog, a lot of the show was mini mashups or songs within songs. While much of the set was taken from her latest album, MDNA, many of the classics were performed in full and remained highlights for me, most notably "Vogue", "Human Nature" "Express Yourself" (complete with Gaga "Born This Way" references and "She's Not Me" kissoffs) and her closer "Like A Prayer". To see those iconic pop songs performed live (yes, really live) was pretty overwhelming -- they don't call her the 'Queen' for nothing.

The majority of MDNA went right through me when I listened to it initially, but some of my favorite bits translated very well to the stage. This was especially the case with "Girl Gone Wild" (which mixed in "Material Girl" and "Give It 2 Me") and "Gang Bang", complete with Madonna 'hiding out' in a hotel room and shooting down quite graphically her troupe of dancers who attempt to sneak up on her. The initial first act is very gun heavy, which I was somewhat expecting, but it  blurred a bit by the middle section as she spoke quite solemnly of the events of Hurricane Sandy and the recent Election. Madonna's gonna 'express herself' the way she wants to, but to me, it seemed a bit...unnecessary. 

Despite the gripes some people have with "Gimme All Your Lovin'", I felt it was another great highlight of the show, performed with cheerleader/majorette outfits not totally unlike the music video itself. The call and response "L-U-V! Madonna! Y-O-U! You Wanna?" was actually used more than a few times during Solveig's set.

Two thirds of the way in, prior to performing a slowed down, intense version of "Like A Virgin", she stripped off her pants from a prior performance and encouraged the crowd to throw money at her because "What do you do when a girl takes her pants off? You throw money at her." I'll be honest -- Madonna looks incredible and has an insane amount of stamina to be dancing around the way she does during this show. I sometimes get winded walking up my stairs, okay? But that comment was unnecessary. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it (probably), but it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, she was donating all the money "thrown" to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, but if she really wanted an impact, she could have donated all of her proceeds from that concert in New York to charity. Honestly, she wouldn't have missed it.

Pity Party Moment: I found out a day later that the show was attended by Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa (and her husband Mark Consuelos). I wouldn't be surprised to find out more celebs were in attendance. It satisfied me a little because while we were waiting for Madonna to take the stage, we kept dreaming what if she brought out a surprise celebrity guest performer during the show? It is New York after all, and one of the last shows in the US. Wasn't Justin Timberlake just here? Or maybe even Rihanna, who had just performed on "SNL"? Or maybe she could convince Nikki Minaj to travel back to her hometown. Alas, there was no such luck. So imagine my utter chagrin when I found out during the second show a day later, she pulled onstage none other than PSY and performed "Gangnam Style" in a mashup with "Give It 2 Me". Madonna, waeeeeeee. Waeeeeee.

Bitterness aside -- given I've seen both Janet Jackson and Madonna live in concert, it's safe to say I've gotten all of my Pop Music Mentors covered. (Considering we can't bring Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston back, at least.)

Overall, it was a reminder to me of the pop shows I had come to know, growing up with a generation who was directly influenced and inspired by Madonna herself. She knows how to create a storyline show, something few artists are able to pull off anymore -- it's a sign of a dying breed within the pop community. Not only did the show have a structure and storyline with defined "acts", it was literally non-stop. When she wasn't onstage, something else was there to draw your attentions, including slightly disturbing hypermobile dancers, dancing on tightropes a la her Super Bowl performance, a folk Afghani musical trio or her moving set pieces themselves. It was truly something to behold.

As Madonna herself sang during her encore, It was a Celebration. Here's to many more years in the pop realm (for myself, obviously -- but for Madonna, too. Ha.).


Saturday, November 17, 2012

HEAR THIS: Little Mix's Sin City 'DNA'

My stanship of UK X-Factor winner Little Mix was certainly not for naught. The group is preparing to unleash their second official single, "DNA", and is proof that debut single "Wings" was no fluke. Because if its possible, "DNA" is even better than "Wings" for all the best reasons.


While "Wings" was decidedly sunny quirk-pop with clap-stomp rhythms, choruses-a-go-go and a heavy spotlight on the group's four part harmony, "DNA" manages to be its darker twin sister. Don't be fooled by the midtempo feel of the song at first -- "DNA" boasts a smashing, repetitive chorus, stutter drops and an operatic vocal bridge.


See, its for all these reasons that I don't understand why the UK won't let the US have nice things. You're all for sending us your boy bands that don't dance (not complaining, just saying) but when it comes to your girl bands with the powerhouse vocals and/or the sassy fierceness, you decide to hold back? Not fair. Not fair at all. Learn to share, damnit.


Check out the 'Sin City'-esque music video below. The group's debut album, also titled DNA, will be released in the UK on November 19th. My copy's already pre-ordered.



Tuesday, November 06, 2012

HEAR THIS: Travis Garland is 'Fashionably Late'

Friends, my impatient wait for Travis Garland to become a proper popstar continues.

The Texas Vocal Stunner dropped another new, free EP this week by way of the soul-drenched Fashionably Late and it. Is. So. Amazing. I. Can't. Even. Speak. The EP is available for download and general consumption here. Merry Christmas, because seriously -- that ish is incredible. Spoiler Alert -- at just four tracks long, it's wayyyy too short. Cries. Travis continues to surprise and impress me with his burgeoning pantheon of styles and genres, and it's proof positive that if you have killer pipes, you can pretty much sing anything.

My favorite song at the moment is "Abby Lee", a Prince meets Gospel Choir type of jam complete with organs, proclamations, buttery melismas, falcetto and wail or three. Trav, you can take me to church anytime you want to, bb.


Boy, you better take your cute Texan butt to New York. Why does LA get all the love? NYC is overdue for some Garland.

Monday, November 05, 2012

HEAR THIS: BLUSH goes 'Electric'; Vanquish goes 'Harder'

First on the docket are two non-US girl groups that have stolen my heart as of late.

My love for Alisha, JiHae, Nacho, Angeli and Victoria of the Pan-Asian girl group BLUSH has been well documented on this blog. The girls already have a handful of dancey hits to their name ("All Stars", "Up Up And Away", "Dance On", this past September's "Miss Out" and my personal favorite "Undivided"), and now we can add another to the list in "Electric". The song landed on iTunes the day before Halloween (aka, the day Sandy hit the East Coast).

"Electric" is more than just a great single to help display a maturing BLUSH, it's a great bridge song connecting BLUSH's two main strengths as a teen pop group -- it's more of a straight ahead pop ditty akin to previous singles like "All Stars" and "Miss Out" which will lend itself to the Radio Disney swing of things but still has traces of their harder dance-floor ready stuff ("Dance On" and "Undivided" which were hits on the Billboard Dance Charts). The song was a fan favorite from live performances despite it remaining unreleased till now -- complete with sexier choreography involving chairs (I feel Britney flashbacks) and metallic corset-esque outfits (I feel Wonder Girls "Like Money" connections). However, despite being called "Electric", it's definitely not as dancey electro as I was expecting -- it's actually pretty mid-tempo.




Next up -- Holly, Rianna, Lizzy and Kayleigh of Vanquish, a superb new girl group from (surprise, surprise) the UK. I can't take total credit for this one, as I first discovered the group thanks to my lovely friend Paul over at FizzyPop, who pointed me in the direction of their super-de-duper, imaginative, unplugged medley mashup of a handful of boy band songs (obviously -- UK girl group that can sing acapella + boy band songs = win for Melismatic) last September. Their medley featured The Wanted's "Chasing the Sun", JLS' "Eyes Wide Shut", Lawson's "Taking Over Me", One Direction's "One Thing" and Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way". So basically, it's awesome.

The group has already opened for the likes of Westlife, STEPS and The Wanted over in the UK and their upcoming debut album is boasting the writing talents of  Jorgen Eloffson (Britney, Kelly Clarkson, Agnes, and Girls' Generation amongst so many others) and Wayne Hector (Westlife, The Wanted, JLS, and the most recent Girls Aloud single -- we'll get to that in a second). All signs are pointing to very good things being in store for these ladies.

Their debut single, "The Harder You Love" was released back in May and it's a great corker of a tune in a early The Saturdays-before-they-tried-to-take-themselves-too-serious kind of way. The video also conjures up those kind of nostalgia feels for me.


Such a singable, fun song. Definitely looking forward to seeing what comes next for these lasses.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

LIVE FROM NEW YORK: Hurricane Sandy

Well, hello there. Updates have been a little sparse lately due some bitch named Sandy who ripped through almost the entire American East Coast last week.
 
A view of the island of Manhattan on Tuesday, October 31st (Halloween). Virtually everything south of 34th Street had no power.

For those of you who don't already know, I may be originally from Upstate New York, but currently reside in Brooklyn (although luckily, in a "safe" area that was not in one of the designated 'Evacuation Zones'). However, for a good year, I did live in what is known as Battery Park City, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center site with a picturesque view of Battery Park and the Statue of Libery in my "front yard". This area was on the front lines of the storm surge flooding that happened last Monday and was basically underwater. My old building was evacuated.
 
With subway lines from Brooklyn to Manhattan literally flooded with water instead of people for the entirety of last week, I was forced to take a bus into the City for the ol' day job (it should also be noted my office is on 26th Street, an area that is in the new trendy Manhattan neighborhood known as SoPO, or South of Power Outage). That bus detoured all through Lower Manhattan and to see my old 'hood waterlogged, empty and dark was a bizarre, sobering experience. The commute may have taken longer, but at least I had an apartment with power and heat to come back to at the end of the day and it reminds you of what's really important in this life. My heart goes out all of the people affected from Superstorm Sandy, and I encourage all of you to give what you can to the RedCross to help their relief efforts.
 
Rather than focus on the sad, let's move on to the thing that is getting me through this weird time of living in the NYC metro area -- good, dancey pop music. Expect more posts shortly.

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