Monday, December 1, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

Rounding Out The Top 20:

20. The Kills "Midnight Boom"

19. The Black Ghosts “The Black Ghosts”

18. Mates Of State “Re-Arrange Us”

17. Fall Out Boy “Folie A Deux”

16. A Fine Frenzy "One Cell In The Sea"

15. Why? “Alopecia”

14. MGMT “Oracular Spectacular”

13. Yelle “Pop Up”

12. Mother Mother “O My Heart”

11. Santogold “Santogold”

10. The Ting Tings “We Started Nothing”

By far the best party album of the year, The Ting Tings’ debut is an upbeat collection of eclectic indie rock that provides the formula for a night of crazy dancing. The sharply punctuated vocals and thumping bass lines makes it easy to hear this record as the soundtrack to any art house film where the protagonist teenage girl discovers drugs, sex, and nightclubs. It is a feel good album with intelligent pop lyrics and a unique sound that can please both mainstream radio and hipsters alike.

Must have track: “Great DJ”

9. Madita “Too”

One of the most unique artists in today’s music scene, Madita’s sophomore album far surpasses her already groundbreaking self-titled debut. Her originality comes in the form of genre fusing, as “Too” may be the first album to successfully accomplish the morphing of electronica and jazz. Think Imogen Heap meets Fiona Apple, and you have Madita’s sensual, tantalizing, and calming piano and synthesizer duets. With “Too,” Madita has strung together two completely different genres to create a unique, refreshing, and addictive sound that will make this record a constant in your car’s CD changer.

Must have track: “Because”

8. Sia “Some People Have Real Problems”

For her third album, Australian folk singer Sia sticks to her soothing, sensual, and melodic signature, yet incorporates layers of new electronic elements to create a brand new more evolved sound. Hands down her most personal and emotional album to date, “Some People Have Real Problems” explores life’s many tribulations, ranging from heartbreak to frustration to pain to sorrow. Think of this record as a really hurt and pissed off Feist drawing on her best Natalie Walker influences to get things off her chest in an attempt for inner peace. Do not be fooled, however, this album is far from a whiny cry for help. Instead, it proves Sia’s remarkable songwriting talent as it puts us on an emotional rollercoaster navigating us in feeling and understanding the various suffering life provides us along our journeys.

Must have track: “Academia” (featuring Beck)

7. Ida Maria “Fortress Round My Heart”

If Regina Spektor were ever to undergo an identity crisis and decide she was a full blown out rock star then she would be Ida Maria. On her debut album, Maria serves as a fresh dish of sass, honesty, sarcasm, sexuality, and rock and roll. Her singer/songwriter vocals make it seem like she should be playing an acoustic guitar at Lillith Fair opening up for Ani Difranco, however, her heavy percussion and electric guitar instrumentation makes “Fortress Round My Heart” sound like a collaboration record between Nirvana and Liz Phair. With intelligent lyrics that can be both vulnerable and abrasive, Maria has created a truly memorable and edgy debut that will keep her on the music map for years to come.

Must have track: “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked”

6. Jack’s Mannequin “The Glass Passenger”

Andrew McMahon’s return to the music industry after taking a medical hiatus for a few years comes in the form of his second solo album since his days as lead singer of Something Corporate. Incorporating vintage California piano-rock elements that made him a superstar of the Warped Tour generation in the first place, “The Glass Passenger” is arguably Andrew’s finest songwriting to date. Adding a full band behind his trademark god-like piano playing creates an epic musical experience that could fill and inspire stadiums full of people.

Must have track: “Swim”

5. Meiko “Meiko”

The re-issue of Meiko’s self-titled debut serves as a reminder that a pretty voice alongside gorgeous string arrangements can be the perfect accompaniment to a relaxing day. Her voice is both melancholy and soothing, creating an aura of zen that makes it impossible to not want to close your eyes and absorb all the sounds floating out of your speakers. After a successful stint on the Hotel CafĂ© Tour and appearing as a guest vocalist on albums by artists such as Joshua Radin and AM, Meiko re-recorded her album as it sought distribution by a major record label (in 2007, she self released it). The end result is a beautiful, floral-like compilation of fantastic songwriting being sung by a phenomenal artist that reinstates how alive and thriving folk music really is.

Must have track: “Under My Bed”

4. Jay Brannan “Goddamned”

Creating a name for himself through his countless YouTube videos and self-released demo EP, Jay Brannan’s debut full length record has made him a household name in the Lower Village art scene of Manhattan. Easily the most raw and personal songwriter around, his lyrics not only give us a lens to his perspective on relationships, but allow us to see all the obsessive, quirky, and sometimes ugly inner demons he faces. Never afraid of exposing too much, Brannan’s in-your-face songs and flawless tenor voice have quickly transformed him into an icon in the gay community as an honest and refreshing performer. He sings truths that you’re too afraid to ever say out loud but secretly relate to. Dealing with everything from love and sex to politics and religion, “Goddamned” is not just any piece of art, but a door to someone’s mind and soul.

Must have track: “Half Boyfriend”

3. The Veronicas “Hook Me Up”

Twenty-three-year-old twins Lisa and Jess Origlassio make up this dynamic pop duo that at home in Australia are as huge as Beyonce is in the United States. For their sophomore release, the girls evolved their sound from simple Kelly Clarkson-esque pop/rock to a more dance floor influenced album with not a single bad track. Heavily inspired by the L.A. electronica scene they immersed themselves in for the past year, the record draws on their previous sound and enhances it by adding disco elements and synthesizers. Although the album serves as nightclub dancing material, the lyrics stay true to their style as they are intelligently written, metaphorically rich songs about heartbreak and moving on with life after a traumatic experience. The album serves its’ purpose by still being rock heavy and pleasing the old fans, while experimenting with new genres to draw in new ones. Already having five successful hits from the record in Australia, their debut American single “Untouched” has finally began garnering Top 40 airplay, and it’ll only be a matter of time before The Veronicas become a global pop phenomenon.

Must have track: “Revenge Is Sweeter (Than You Ever Were)”

2. She & Him “Volume One”

Although released in 2008, the debut collaboration between acclaimed singer/songwriter M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel sounds like it could be your parents’ best kept secret record from the ‘60s. Drawing on various influences, “Volume One” sounds like what Bob Dylan’s early recordings may have sounded like if he were a woman. From original songs to covers of The Beatles and The Miracles, this is more than just a stellar first record but a gate-way to becoming underground superstars. The conclusion of the album has listeners begging for the 2009 release of “Volume Two,” as it may just be the sequel to one of the absolute best indie/folk albums of the decade.

Must have track: “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”

1. Adele “19”

With her sultry, mysterious, seductive and sometimes even haunting vocals, Adele has become the United Kingdom’s best musical import. Paying homage to legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Adele’s debut record is a compilation of the finest quality jazz, with just a hint of pop mixed in. Upon listening to the album it is hard to believe that she is only nineteen and is not in fact a classically trained middle-aged woman who has been performing at upscale blues clubs her entire life. Sometimes accompanied by a full orchestra and sometimes backed by nothing more than an acoustic guitar or a piano, the track listing is entirely unpredictable as each song offers something fresh and new to the mix. Written completely by herself, “19” is the album Amy Winehouse dreams of being able to record, and establishes Adele as a powerful musical force not to be taken lightly.

Must have track: “Hometown Glory”


Friday, November 28, 2008

Looking Back On Fall Out Boy Fandom

In high school I was the most pretentious music snob in the world. This does not mean that I am not one now, but back then I was really intense. I thought I was super anti-conformist by bringing the conformist “emo” look to my high school, and I listened to bands that I and (what I believed to be) about twenty other people in the tri-state area knew. One of these bands was Fall Out Boy. Pre-“From Under The Cork Tree” album stardom, they were my best kept secret. Their music filled my headphones with the perfect excuse to avoid social situations and their lyrics seemed as though they were written to be quoted all over my angsty Livejournal page.

Then all of a sudden, pop music decided that pop/rock was the new bubblegum and that Fall Out Boy was the new NSYNC. Out of nowhere, all the same kids who made fun of me for my skinny jeans and Tim Burton inspired outfits starting wearing FOB t-shirts to school. At first I was obviously pissed because I felt like my favorite band had sold out to mainstream radio and that their unique and original flavor was lost. Everywhere I went that damn “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” song was playing and I felt like slitting my wrists and bleeding all over the band paraphernalia I had collected over the years.

Being the Hot Topic poster boy that I was, I couldn’t listen to the same music that everyone else did, duh. When all hope seemed to be lost and my ties with Fall Out Boy looked to be completely severed, an incredible turnaround happened. Always the avid fan, I was in on the gossip scene revolving around the band. Rumors were circulating that Fall Out Boy would be performing a secret headlining show at The Knitting Factory, one of the most intimate concert venues in New York City. On The Knitting Factory’s website, there was a headlining band listed by the name of “Saved Latin” on the day that FOB would allegedly be performing. I figured, “What the hell, I might as well buy tickets and if it’s them then great, if not then maybe I’ll discover a new band to replace these burn outs.”

After a few local garage band type opening acts, I was beginning to get restless. The Knitting Factory after all is no larger than my kitchen, so needless to say that with a couple hundred sweaty people pressing up against one another it was slightly uncomfortable. Every other time I had been there it was for a band that literally a handful of people knew, so I was not used to not having the space to, oh I don’t know, move my arms and maybe breathe? FOB fans, however, are pretty diehard, so even just a rumor managed to sell out the venue within one day of tickets going on sale. To my luck and pleasant surprise, the rumors were correct.

The concert was incredible. I was in the third row and felt like I was on stage with the band. If I had the ability to reach my arm out, I could physically touch them and their instruments. To say it was the most intimate rock concert of my life would be an understatement of epic proportions. Guest musicians such as Travis McCoy from Gym Class Heroes, Gabe Saporta from Midtown/Cobra Starship, and Mikey Way from My Chemical Romance all joined the band on stage throughout their nearly two hour set. To my delight, FOB decided to also play the majority of their first album, the one that made me fall in love with them from the very beginning. Intertwining those songs with songs from their new release made me actually appreciate the musicality behind it, rather than write it off as a sell-out record. As it turned out, I actually kind of liked it. Once I get passed my pretentiousness, I realized that “From Under The Cork Tree” was actually a phenomenal record, and to this day I can honestly say it is my favorite Fall Out Boy album.

The high of the night never died down. During “Dead On Arrival” I started to crowd surf, only to have lead singer Patrick Stump scream sing into my face as the security guards were pulling me down. I felt like a complete bad-ass and I stopped caring about how many other people liked this band, because I knew I had a connection with them through this experience that could not be shared and was exclusive to me.

When the concert was over, I hung around the venue and was chatting away with Mikey Way for a while before Fall Out Boy came out. I ended up being pressed in the hallway by the door directly on bassist Pete Wentz, causing my hormones to spin out of control while externally trying to play it real cool. I made small talk with him and congratulated him on the success of the band before shaking hands and parting ways. I was literally on top of the world.

Looking back on it, I realize that as sad as it is, my love for Fall Out Boy would have died had it not been for this concert. Even today as my music change has completely shifted away from the genre that Fall Out Boy does, I eagerly await their new releases and always support them by buying whatever record they put out. True, if I discovered them today I would not be the devoted fan that I am, but ever since that March night in high school, I’ve felt a loyalty to them that I just can’t back out on. I’ve pre-ordered their new album “Folie A Deux,” which has already been hailed by various music publications as one of the best albums of 2008. And when they tour again, let’s be serious, I’ll most likely be one of the first people on Ticketmaster buying myself a seat in whatever gargantuan stadium they play in next.

Going to the Knitting Factory that night was probably one of the most significant concert experiences of my life because it was as if my favorite band came into my living room and performed a private show for me. Now, watching Fall Out Boy play sold out stadiums like Madison Square Garden and then thinking back to that night makes me feel like I have a secret - and no matter how many thousands of fans they may have, that night will forever be mine.

Like it? Buy it here


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Britney’s “Circus” Makes Her The Ringleader Of The Greatest Comeback In Music History

There’s a lot that can be said about Britney Spears. The truth is that over the past ten years, we have all either taken a stance on loving her or loving to hate her. One thing that both sides cannot argue, however, is that she is an icon and a huge staple in the pop culture of this generation. From pop princess to train wreck, Britney is determined to regain her status as leader of the charts and the world’s most notorious superstar. In coordination with her 27th birthday on December 2nd, she is releasing her 6th studio album, “Circus.” Appropriately titled due to the whirlwind of craziness surrounding her in recent memory, this gem of a pop album is sure to have Britney reclaiming her crown and thrown as she proves that no matter what, she is the untouchable and reigning queen of pop.

Opening the album is “Womanizer,” the first single. Sounding like a mash-up of previous hits “Piece Of Me” and “Toxic,” Spears establishes the electro-dance fused pop sound for the “Circus” era. In true Britney fashion, the song comes along with a steamy and controversial new music video, making it her first number one single since she debuted on the scene with the forever classic “Baby One More Time.” It is a truly catchy song with an infectious chorus that makes it impossible not to want to bust out and dance to. Like the majority of the album, the lyrics are incredibly cheesy and uncreative. Unlike other pop artists (such as Lady GaGa), however, Britney doesn’t pretend to have substance to her lyrical content and isn’t ashamed to admit she doesn’t write it completely herself. The purpose of her music is to have fun and dance while listening to it. With “Circus,” this goal is beyond accomplished.

The following track is unarguably the best on the album, which is perhaps another reason why the record is named after it. “Circus” starts out as a mid-tempo song that builds up into a crazy and upbeat club friendly number. Intelligently slated to be the second single, it is not difficult to picture an epic and lavish music video to accompany it. With a killer hook, a dance break, and constant changes in pace, the song is produced by Benny Blanco and Dr. Luke, those responsible for Katy Perry’s recent hits “I Kissed A Girl” and “Hot ‘N Cold.” It is a guaranteed smash, as both radios and nightclubs will eat it up like candy. The song throws us back to Britney’s “In The Zone” era, as it goes back to the roots of pop that made songs like “Me Against The Music” so big, and draws upon them to create a more evolved and sophisticated mature sound.

One of the most refreshing things about this album is the fact that Britney actually allows herself to really sing on it. When you compare her “Baby One More Time” album to last year’s “Blackout,” you can’t help but wonder what happened to her voice? No, it was never on par with Christina or Mariah, but she still had something. Why then as time evolved did her voice slowly morph into what ultimately sounded like a computer doing her vocals for her? Regardless of the reason, “Circus” goes against this trend and allows Britney’s voice to overpower the AutoTune.

“Blackout” was also failed to include any ballads. With Britney not afraid to sing to her full extent again, “Circus” provides us with both of these missing factors. We hear the maternal glow in her voice with “My Baby,” an ode to her two children. On “Out From Under,” Britney really showcases the range of her voice, proving those who say she can’t sing completely wrong. It’s another bonafide smash, most likely to be the single following “Circus,” and will easily join the likes of other Britney ballad classics such as “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” and “Everytime.” “So let me go, just let me fly away, let me feel the space between us growing deeper and much darker every day. Watch me now and I’ll be someone new. My heart will be unbroken, it will open up for everyone but you,” she croons with so much vulnerability in her voice, making the song seem that much more genuine and thereby even lovelier.

Britney is clearly no longer going after the 13-year-old demographic like in the olden days of her career. She understands that her fans have grown up with her and that she’s working to please a young adult to adult crowd now instead. Easily the catchiest song on the album, “If U Seek Amy” is also the most controversial. There is no way that this song would have ever made it onto a previous Britney album, due to its blatant sexual imagery. At first, it might be hard to decipher the word play it consists of, but after listening to it a few times, what is really being sung will hit you over the head like a ton of bricks. “All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if u seek Amy,” Britney sings. Huh? Rewind. “All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to F-U-C-K me.” Ooooooohhh. I get it now. Very, very clever Britney. It’s a play on words that may even go so far as allowing it to be played on the radio, while still being able to get away with the dirty talk she’s trying to accomplish. It’s an electronic club banger that makes me picture flashing lights, glow sticks, and disco balls coming at me from every angle in a dark room surrounded by the most high fashion of people in the East Village.

Other album favorites include “Shattered Glass,” the S&M friendly “Lace And Leather,” and “Unusual You.” These songs all showcase extreme sides of Britney that her music has never done thus far. In them, we get perspective on her outlook on divorce, sexual fantasies, and the sadness that is her confusion when people don’t leave her because she’s so used to it. However, her and her team has successfully been able to translate these emotions into upbeat dance numbers, making their inclusion make “Circus” sound more like a “Greatest Hits: Volume 2” record, than just a new album. There really are no filler tracks, as each one of these songs was handpicked to produce the best possible comeback record in music history, and guess what … it worked.

Unlike when “Blackout” was released, Ms. Spears is planning on doing heavy promotion for the release of “Circus.” A couple of weeks ago, she performed on stage with Madonna (whose recent album “Hard Candy” clearly heavily influenced “Circus”) during the L.A. stop of her tour. She is slated to go on a quick European promo tour which includes performances on television shows such as the UK’s “X Factor” and France’s “Star Academy.” On the day the album is released, she will be performing on “Good Morning America,” with the following day devoted to lighting the Rockefeller Christmas Tree at the annual ceremony. The biggest and most exciting news, however, is that for the past few months she has been in rehearsals for a worldwide tour, to kick off at the beginning of next year sometime. With a phenomenal new album and tour to follow it, Britney has proven that not only is she back, but she is ready and determined to conquer and dominate the world of pop music all over again.

Out Of 4 Stars: 3.5

Must Have Track: "Circus"

Like it? Buy it here


Monday, October 20, 2008

Lesley Roy's "Unbeautiful" Inner Demons Surface On Debut Record

The angsty teenage girl has been one of the core targets of songwriters in search of an audience for decades. Albums such as Carole King’s “Tapestry” had every female high school senior at the time singing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” the night before graduation. Fast forward a few years and you’ve got Evanescence performing the soundtrack to every Hot Topic wearing teen girl’s Livejournal, along with Taylor Swift singing “Picture To Burn,” threatening to spread rumors about her ex if he won’t shut up. In 2008, the insecure, misunderstood, sometimes vengeful, and all around filled to the brim with emotions female heroine comes in the form of Lesley Roy.

Hailing from Dublin, Roy released her debut album “Unbeautiful” on September 30th via Jive Records. It’s the female empowerment record that the girls who think they’re too old to listen to Miley Cyrus but too young to listen to Alanis Morissette have been waiting for. The album kicks off with the lead single “I’m Gone, I’m Going,” Roy’s best attempt at emulating Kelly Clarkson’s superstar making “Since U Been Gone.” It’s got the same energy and independent spirit, but lacks the vocal power and infectious pop anthem formula that Clarkson provides. That being said, the song is still incredibly catchy, and if you’re a reality TV junkie then you’ve most likely also heard it as the theme to MTV’s “Exiled.” It’s not difficult to picture a 16 year old girl blasting this song in her Jonas Brothers poster splattered room after her crush has moved on to someone else.

The following song “Here For You Now,” is a complete fusion of the two polar ends of pop music. In one hand you have the verses with the edgy, scratchy vocals and heavy versus little instrumentation of a Meg & Dia song. Then in the other hand you’ve got the chorus sounding like cheesy S Club 7-esque pop hooks trying to disguise themselves as rock by adding guitar licks. Regardless of the awkwardness this synthesis of sounds would be assumed to make, it actually works and creates a good balance that evens out the song into a bonafide radio hit.

The lyrics within the title track skip around from pleading to questioning to a self deprecating decision to give up trying to win back Roy’s love. This variety of feelings, however, is not only reflected in her raspy to smooth vocal transitions, but is also consistent throughout the record as whole. When describing it on her website, Roy wrote that “There are a couple of themes that run through the album, evolving around the many different aspects in relationships, whether it is loss of love, not wanting to be in love, trying to help a friend through their own issues, struggling through death of a friend, unrequited love and the happiness and excitement of being in love. There is also a sense of not wanting to be hurt and trying to stand up for yourself after a difficult relationship.” With an entire spectrum of emotions to choose from, the deliberate lyrical unsteadiness of “Unbeautiful” was certainly the most appropriate track to name the album after.

Coming after “Unbeautiful” is the most memorable song on the record, “Psycho Bitch.” The lyrics sound like the thought process Carrie Underwood had after she made her man think twice “before he cheats” again. Hands down the heaviest rock song on the record, Roy lets out her inner jealous ex-girlfriend and confesses to a rancorous outburst. “Bet you never thought that I would be the psycho bitch like the kind of girl that’s gonna smash your headlights” she sing/screams after learning that her former lover is “hooked on someone” other than her. Although in hindsight it can be rather funny to picture the bitter ex lashing out, it makes the listener never want to be on Roy’s bad side, just in case there’s ever an “Even Bigger Pyscho Bitch” on her second album.

Next is “When I Look At You,” the most sexual song on the record. In it, Roy moves from her regular themes of the emotional aspects of a relationship to the physical side. After “drinking cheap wine,” her libido skyrockets and all she can think about how she wants to “get a room” with this sexy “James Dean” like guy. It’s not the album’s finest moment, but it’s a fun song nonetheless. Thing of it as a reject from Ashlee Simpson’s “Bittersweet World” album, in that the lyrics are overly simple and clichĂ© but are still attempted to be sung like there’s substance behind them. However, the placement of this song on the record rounds out Roy’s personality because it demonstrates that she’s not just the somber and misunderstood lonely ex-girlfriend, but that she does in fact have a fun side and there’s more to her than just being a bucket of misery.

Following soon thereafter come the two most lyrically conventional songs on the record. It is almost as though they were written specifically for angsty teen girls to quote in their away messages and scribble throughout their diaries. “Dead But Breathing” sounds literally identical to every Avril Lavigne ballad ever recorded, yet still manages to tug the heart strings a little if you’re willing to move past its overwhelming cheesiness and conformist approach to breaking up. Then there’s “Misfit,” which upon first hearing, one would swear was a Fefe Dobson song from her self-titled album. In a way, the song can serve as a female alternative to The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ hit “Face Down.” No, it’s not the story of a man who beats his girlfriend, but rather about the abuse one inflicts upon them self in an attempt to feel alive. “See the one nobody wanted, shattered by a world of lies, see the misfit in the mirror die,” sings Roy. It’s a noble effort on her part to bring awareness to these situations, but I can’t help but not take the song seriously. Even though I’m sure it was written during a very troubled time in her life, the lyrics are just so ridiculously over the top that it sounds like a parody of every emo song ever written. Getting my 20 year old cynical male opinion out of the way though, the song is guaranteed to serve as the music of a few dozen hot pink skull decorated MySpace profiles.

While Roy’s debut album is nothing we haven’t heard a million times before, it’s still a rather decent pop record. Her lack of lyrical originality is made up for with her unique overly raspy voice that allows her to be half rock star and half belting diva. Unless you’re a die-hard fan though, the songs do begin to blend in together and sound the same after a while. They get to the point where you want to throw a Prozac prescription at her and tell her to move on with her life. However, I must give the album credit for completely achieving the goals of appealing to a certain audience demographic, because it can easily be the launching point to Roy’s inevitable stardom amongst outcast teenagers. It just goes to show that with a little emotional overflow and a guitar, you too can make a name for yourself in today’s MTV infused world.

Like it? Buy it here


Monday, October 13, 2008

Joshua Radin Returns With "Simple Times"

Sophomore slump. It’s every musician’s biggest fear when releasing a follow up to a successful debut record. For some, the second album solidifies their careers and skyrockets them to complete stardom. Take for instance The All American Rejects. They had a hit single with “Swing Swing” from their first album, and then came back a few years later with “Move Along,” which produced three mega-hits for them. That ensured a diehard fan base and established them as one of the biggest and most popular acts in pop/rock today. Then there are other acts like Maroon 5, whose debut garnered four top ten singles, but only managed to have one song from their second album break onto regular mainstream radio rotation. In other words, the second record can make or break a musician, and arguably there’s far more pressure surrounding its release than is the case with a first album.

On September 30th, Joshua Radin released his second album “Simple Times.” A musician who has already made a name for himself by appearing on soundtracks to films such as “The Last Kiss” and television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “One Tree Hill” and “Scrubs,” Radin is known to his fans as the father of the “whisper rock” genre. His soft singing sounds like powerful whispers over luxurious acoustic folk rock. He was asked recently to perform at the wedding of TV personality Ellen DeGeneres, and is known to be one of actor Zach Braff’s best friends. Having found success among fellow celebrities, the question then remained: will he be successful outside of the Hollywood crowd and break into the regular public’s eye?

The answer is “yes.” “Simple Times” surpasses Radin’s already stellar debut “We Were Here” and takes his signature sound to brand new levels. The album begins with “One Of Those Days,” a traditional Radin song that sounds like a good friend trying to comfort you after a long, bad day. His singing and lyrics evoke a conversational tone--so much so that you, the listener, are convinced he understands you. It’s as if he’s offering his shoulder for you to lean on as he serenades you back to a level of comfort.

Following is the lead single, “I’d Rather Be With You,” a mid-tempo song that clearly establishes Radin’s romantic side. It also leaves no doubt why chick flicks and primetime soap operas are eating up his music like candy. It’s a really cute song that talks about all the risks he has to take in his life, mainly allowing himself to fall in love and be with the person the song is written about.

Next comes “Sky,” a duet with fellow singer/songwriter Meiko. It’s another mid-tempo pretty song. However, the demo version of the song that Radin released earlier this year on his “Unclear Sky” EP was far superior to the album version; it should have been the one featured on the record. The demo featured Ingrid Michaelson instead of Meiko and it sounded like a true duet, as the two singers traded verses and then came together to harmonize in the chorus. On the album, Michaelson is replaced by Meiko (who is also phenomenal, don’t get me wrong) and the difference is that the song isn’t as much of a duet so much as Meiko providing background vocals, leaving most of Michaelson’s parts to be sung by Radin. True, it is his CD. But any fan who is familiar with the demo version and the beautiful simplicity of the blending voices may be thrown off by this change. Still, it’s a lovely track--and if you aren’t familiar with the demo, then this song may easily stand out as an album favorite.

The album’s most poppy moment is found in “Vegetable Car,” an upbeat track that deals with lusting after a beautiful eco-friendly stranger. “She drives a vegetable car, Diesel, Mercedes, green, two-door. I barely know who you are. Lisa Loeb glasses, I’d sure like to ask you to stay,” he sings. The lyrics credit her sex appeal to how “green” she is and create a pun based on one of his influences, Lisa Loeb’s biggest song “Stay.” It’s both cute and cheesy, but in the best possible way. After listening to it, you’ll find yourself singing it in the shower to get your day started.

The record then takes a more serious turn, moving from the feel good theme to darker, more sorrowful lyrics. The song “Free Of Me” deals with Radin’s emotional instability and how incapable he is of remaining in a relationship because he will only hurt his lover. He sings about how everything around him is falling apart and how he needs to be alone so as not to bring people down with him. It’s a genuinely sad song in which the listener feels badly for both him and his lover. His raspy voice and soft whisper singing give the illusion of crying, making it hands down the most sincere and raw track on the album.

Following next is “You Got Growing Up To Do,” a heart wrenching duet with songwriting icon Patty Griffin. The deliberate placement of this song directly after “Free Of Me” appears to serve as his lover’s response to the previous track. It’s as though Radin wrote the same story twice, but from the perspectives of the two opposing characters. The lyrics reply to the cry of help in “Free Of Me” by granting understanding and saying that the “best thing I can give to you is for me to go, leave you alone, you got growing up to do.” This gives Radin the space he needs to figure both himself and his life out. It perfectly hits the chord of the tragic realities couples sometimes face when they realize that, even though they might be meant to be together, their timing may be all off.

The album closes with “No Envy, No Fear,” a slow nostalgic track that almost sounds like parental advice about not letting opportunities slip away. The song has a much more dominant folk “twang” about it than the rest of the album, as the acoustic guitar is the featured instrument and gets plucked in ways not previously heard. This fits in well with the storytelling aspect of folk music’s origin. Radin’s “carpe diem” theme serves as his way of projecting his own experiences onto his listeners so that they don’t make the same mistakes he did. He informs us of the pain and heartbreak life might bring us, but that it should not deter us from love or living life as fully as we possibly can.

“Simple Times” is an album perfectly described by its title. It deals with the simplest human emotions and behaviors in ways that are thought evoking, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Radin’s trademark vocals, acoustic music, and sincere lyrics provide the formula for a beautiful folk album that will be long cherished by his fans. It blends just the right amount of everything that should go into songwriting and performance, and should not be missed by anyone who appreciates what it means to be a true artist.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Britney's "Womanizer" Draws On Past To Build A Future

On October 10th, fallen pop-star Britney Spears premiered her brand new music video for “Womanizer,” the lead single from her upcoming “comeback” album, “Circus.” In recent years, the focus on Britney in the mainstream media has completely changed from her music to her embarrassing personal life. Her most recent album did not sell a fraction as well as her previous records, and her career was cited by many to be officially over. Rather than giving up though, Britney is back and on a mission to regain her queen of pop title and position on top of the charts. Her way of doing that is by taking all the things that made her famous throughout the years and combining them all into one stellar music video.

One of the first things a viewer might think after seeing the “Womanizer” music video for the first time is how similar it is to the video for “Toxic,” one of Britney’s biggest songs to date. In both videos, Britney puts on multiple personas and disguises to fool men into getting what she wants, which in both cases is revenge. The nearly identical plotlines collide when dissected. In “Toxic,” she dresses up in an array of costumes and wigs to make her way through and find the toxic poison to punish the man who has been cheating on her. In “Womanizer,” she plays the same character dressing up in various disguises to catch her lover in the act of cheating. She follows him around and tempts him to see how he reacts to other women, and in the end makes him pay for his wrong doing.

Besides the fact that both videos were directed by the same person, yet another similarity between them are the costumes and the various characters Britney plays. In both videos, she shows changes in character by different outfits and hair colors. She goes from the sexy blonde to the vengeful redhead to the mischievous brunette. In “Toxic,” she is completely naked, covered up by strategically placed diamonds, whereas in “Womanizer” she sheds all of her clothes where it is the deliberate placement of her fingers that prevents the revealing of too much. Also alike is her role as a transportation officer, where in one video she is dressed as a flight attendant and the other she is dressed as a limousine driver. By emulating her massive hit, Britney is hoping to recreate the success she once had. It is a stabilizing function to remind her fans and a new generation of pop music listeners that she is a professional performer. It brings clarity to her image as an artist and sex icon, as opposed to her recent tabloid princess status.

The main factor in Britney’s initial claim to fame was not her talent, but rather her sex symbol image. For years, Britney would send shocks through the airwaves with her controversial performances and suggestive attire. Whether it was in a music video that featured her in nothing more than underwear dripping in sweat or a completely topless photo shoot (with her hands carefully placed so nothing was actually showing), Britney’s usage of her own body always kept her in the headlines and at the top of her game. When she lost her sex appeal, however, she lost her high status and her career went downhill from there.

Seeing this downward spiral as a result of letting her body go, Britney knew that the only way to be successful again was to regain her sexy image. The “Womanizer” video intelligently plays on this concept by showcasing her newly toned body and solidifies her as a sex symbol all over again. As sad, corrupt, and anti-feminist as it may seem, nobody wants to see a fat, bald Britney – instead they want slim, sexy, seductive Britney, and the only way for her to be successful is to be that image of every man’s fantasy again. Via sensual body maneuvers and revealing outfits, she uses this video as an outlet to take the already “known to make headlines” tactics from her past, and apply them into making a future.

Britney achieves this goal through her provocative choreography and scantily clad to little costuming. The video opens with shots of her in a sauna, completely naked lying down on a bench. She is glazed in sweat and suggestively rubs her hands all over her body as she begins to sing. Her knees are perched up in the air as she begins to move them closer to her and then stretch them out. The lighting perfectly hits them so that they look like they belong to the flawlessly sculptured body of a Greek goddess. Britney then slowly sways her hips back and forth in a seductive manner that immediately captivates and sucks in her audience. She then thrusts upwards while the camera zooms in on her face, which is being lightly traced by her fingers as her arms are crossed over her breasts. Britney is later seen again in the sauna but this time sitting up, with one arm covering her breasts as the other one rests on her leg, with her hand falling in between her legs in a very sexually evocative manner. Her long hair drapes her back as she flips it over her shoulder and turns around to stare enticingly into the camera.

The “in your face” sexuality of the video continues in an office scene, in which Britney is dressed in sexy work attire. The first shot of her in this outfit is seen as she bends over to drink from a water fountain, with the camera focusing in as her mouth slowly opens to let in the drink and her vibrant red lipstick gets wet. Her low cut top and skin tight leather mini skirt accentuate the idea of the working man’s sexy secretary fantasy. A group of men cat calls her in a degrading manner and crowds around her as she pushes them all aside to get to her lover. When she gets to him, she pushes him down into his seat and proceeds to push all of his supplies off his desk, arch her back on top of it before ultimately kicking him away to leave room for a dance break. Britney bends her knees as she straddles the man in the chair and gets inches away from him. Her teasing choreography is seen a few frames later when the man outstretches his arms from his chair to grab her buttocks (which is bent in front of him), but she grabs his hands before they touch her and throw them away. Similarly, Britney teases her audience by making them think she’s going to go all the way with the sexuality of the video, but instead leaves them hungry and wanting to come back for more. This is both an intelligent marketing strategy as well as a behavior she used in previous videos (such as “I’m A Slave 4 U”) to get people to keep tuning in.

In another scene, Britney is shown as a blazing sexual vixen with red hair in a cut off leather cat suit with her breasts practically pouring out of her top. Her outfit looks like the grown up version of her infamous “Oops! I Did It Again” video red rubber costume. She pulls her lover from the table with his tie, suggesting some sort of aggressive sexual activity, but then proceeds to dance in front of him singing about his degrading womanizing ways. The next shot finds her in a kitchen as she throws her man on top of the counter and mounts him before thrusting back forth and gyrating to the beat of the song. She flips her hair as she lightly picks up a maraschino cherry and plops into her open mouth. Britney pulls out just the stem, which she tied in a knot using her tongue. She places it into the man’s mouth suggesting he too does something to it with his tongue, making them indirectly sexually connected before the actual deed of intercourse occurs. Again, the theme of teasing is seen as the camera then goes to the next shot and the audience can only assume what happened on that table.

After a quick few shots of Britney the limo driver playing seductress in the backseat as her stiletto controls the wheel of the car, we see her back in her apartment in her lingerie. With an open robe that ends only inches past her waist revealing her sexy black bra, Britney for the first time is seen in a sexual light in her own element. She’s no longer playing a character, which is made clear when all the other video personas she portrayed stand behind her before they vanish and only plain Britney is left. It momentarily takes you back to the “Born To Make You Happy” video, where she was in her pajamas in her own room waiting for her boyfriend to call. Enter “Womanizer” ten years later, and she’s waiting for her lover to come home, only to throw him on the bed as if to fornicate, but instead begins to kick him and holds him back as he tries to run away.

The final shot of the video shows Britney symbolically making her bed even though her lover is in it. When she tucks in the sheets, however, he is no longer there. It answers the questions of what exactly Britney is going to do about her cheating lover and provides both her and the audience closure. This message of female empowerment (that staying with someone who cheats is not a healthy decision) solidifies Britney’s original image as someone girls looked up to. Back at the peek of her fame, legions of young girls idolized her and worshiped her every move. Britney memorabilia was scattered across every other bedroom in the country. When she lost her high status, she lost the reasons people had of looking up to her. Now, she gets to take the sexy factor and reapply it to her career, as well as be able to send her fans a message through the art she performs.

When you get used to something it is hard to say goodbye to it. There once was a time where Britney Spears ruled the pop music world. Then out of the blue she went from superstar to super-joke. In an attempt to regain the title she once had, she used essences of old performances to recreate the image of her past. There is nothing that she performed in her new music video that she has not already done in some way or another, but by resorting back to what she knows will culturally put her back at the forefront of her game, she intelligently mapped out a successful comeback strategy. Given the amazing response and #1 chart status of both her new single and video, Britney Spears is living proof that the further you fall, the higher you rise.

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