Saturday, December 31, 2011

MY MOST ANTICIPATED MUSIC RELEASES OF 2012

by ALEX NAGORSKI


2011 was without a doubt the year of the diva. Adele snatched Taylor Swift’s wig to become the reigning queen of the charts. Katy Perry broke Billboard records by continuing to brainwash America to buy the cyclically re-packaged singles from her intolerable 2010 album, Teenage Dream. Britney kept on “dancing” until the world ended. Rihanna found love in many-a hopeless place, including guest spots on albums by Coldplay and Drake, while Beyonce learned the hard way that critical and commercial success are two very different things.

Kelly Clarkson decided to endorse both Ron Paul and the notion that she’ll never relive the success of “Since U Been Gone.” Lady GaGa struggled to separate church and pop. Melissa Gorga essentially remade Lindsay Lohan’s seminal classic, “Rumors.” And Jessie J. and Nicole Scherzinger continued their “survival of the fittest” flop-off to see who would be more irrelevant by the time the ball drops in Times Square to ring in the new year.

So what’s in store for 2012? It looks like the diva reign won’t be letting up anytime soon as new albums from Madonna and Cher are sure to usher in a new era of meno-pop. Christina Aguilera will be coming out with her first record since deciding to shop exclusively at Lane Bryant. And the impact of pre-release blogosphere hype will be tested with the release of Born To Die, the first album to come out of Lana Del Rey since her Taylor Armstrong-esque makeover and signing to a major label.
Below, check out my list of top 16 most anticipated releases coming in the new year and let us know in the comments section below whose upcoming albums you’re most looking forward to in 2012.

 

16. The Shins, Port of Morrow

In March, The Shins will release Port of Morrow, their first studio album since 2007’s Wincing The Night Away. The record, produced by industry superstar Greg Kurstin, also serves as the band’s first major label release. Frontman James Mercer (who last year released the eponymous debut album of his side project, Broken Bells) and the rest of the band plan to announce a supporting tour in the coming weeks.

 

15. Madonna, LUV

Already confirmed to perform at the Super Bowl, Madonna will also be releasing Luv, her twelfth studio album and first on Interscope Records. Confirmed tracks include the lead single, “Gimme All Your Lovin’” (feat. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.), the Martin Solveig-produced “Turn Up The Radio,” and “Masterpiece,” the Golden Globe-nominated theme from her upcoming film, W.E.. Look for the album in stores this March.

 

14. Rufus Wainwright, Out of the Game

Produced by hitmaker Mark Ronson (Lily Allen/Amy Winehouse), Out of the Game is Rufus Wainwright’s seventh studio album. And it seems as though the Canadian singer/songwriter will be experimenting with a more radio-friendly sound. “The main objective … is to be danceable,” Wainwright revealed to Rolling Stone about the May release. “I just want to make something that you love, driving around in your car listening or losing your mind to on a dance floor.”

 

13. Phoenix, Title TBD

Following the incredible success of their 2009 album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (which picked up the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album), French rockers Phoenix will be returning to the music scene in 2012. “It’s very … nostalgic, futuristic. It’s very experimental,” band member Thomas Mars told MTV about their upcoming record.

 

12. Passion Pit, Title TBD

With their debut album, 2009’s Manners, Passion Pit blended electro pop and indie rock together in an unprecedented way. Their eagerly anticipated sophomore release promises to continue evolving their signature sound while simultaneously continuing to blur the boundaries between genres to create what promises to be another unique and convention-defying record.

 

11. Sara Bareilles, Title TBD

It’s no surprise that for her upcoming EP, Sara Bareilles is collaborating with the prolific Ben Folds. Not only do the two of them share a love of the keyboard but they also recently became co-judges on reality TV competition The Sing-Off (which Bareilles joined this past season). With Folds serving as the producer, Bareilles’ upcoming EP is sure to be the perfect melding of flawless vocals, songwriting and piano-infused pop hooks.

 

10. American Royalty, Title TBD

With El Ardemo, Los Angeles trio American Royalty came out with one of the most refreshingly original and grittiest music releases of 2010. Mixing the raw and bluesy aesthetics of Mumford & Sons with the pulsing and thrashing electronic beats of Skrillex, the EP was one of the most solid debuts in recent memory. In 2012, the band will be releasing their premiere full-length album and if it consists of tracks even half as brilliant as “Sun Day” or “Lately,” then American Royalty is a name you’ll certainly be hearing a lot more of in the coming months.

 

9. Various Artists, G.O.O.D. Music: The Album

Announced by Kanye West via Twitter this fall, G.O.O.D. Music: The Album is the first compilation record to come from the rapper’s self-founded record label and management firm. While specific details have yet to emerge, expect new tracks (and inevitable collaborations) from the label’s artists including Kid Cudi, Mr. Hudson, John Legend, Mos Def, Common, and of course, Kanye himself, to set the tone for the hip hop world in 2012.

 

8. Ben Folds Five, Title TBD

Ben Folds Five had so much fun recording new tracks for Ben Folds’ 2011 career retrospective, The Best Imitation of Myself (which I reviewed here), that the band decided to stay in the studio and churn out a full, brand new album. Based on the versatile sounds of the three songs they recorded for the retrospective (“House,” “Tell Me What I Did” and “Stumblin’ Home Winter Blues”), Ben Folds Five will be sticking true to form by releasing a collection of catchy Lite FM-ready songs that merge scattered musical influences with the band’s classic ironic tonic.

 

7. Mouth’s Cradle, Title TBD

To put it simply, there’s no other band that sounds like Mouth’s Cradle. They’re part indie rock, hip hop, trip hop, electro pop, folk and Nintendo theme music. In 2010, the Pennsylvania duo released their debut album, The Next Big Thing and followed it up with the mixtape, Mouth’s Cradle vs. The Hype. In 2012, expect more slick rhymes and sophisticatingly original beats from this yet-to-be-discovered goldmine with the release of a brand new mixtape.

 

6. Freelance Whales, Title TBD

Upon its release in 2010, Freelance Whales’ debut album, Weathervanes, immediately drew comparisons to The Postal Service’s Give Up (which many critics and fans alike cite as one of the most brilliant and influential albums to be released since 2000). “It’s the best electronic indie-pop debut since Ben Gibbard last tuned his laptop,” Entertainment Weekly wrote of the record. In 2012, the band (which features Glee heartthrob Darren Criss’ older brother) plan to challenge The Postal Service’s legacy by releasing a follow-up album. Will all the hype help the band strike lightning twice or will it be the catalyst for a sophomore slump? Either way, I’m making sure the “pre-order” option on my iTunes is ready to go.

 

5. The Veronicas, Title TBD

This past fall, Australian twin sisters The Veronicas performed new tracks from their upcoming third album at two separate showcases in Los Angeles. Songs like “Cold” and “Let Me Out” had fans fiending for new material from the duo, whose last album, Hook Me Up, was released in 2007. The record will feature production by various industry VIPs including Nellee Hooper (No Doubt/Gwen Stefani/Madonna), Fernando Garibay (Lady GaGa) and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan (who Jess of The Veronicas also happens to be dating). On their website, the girls provided their fans with an update by saying that the album will be “citing influences from The Subways, The Dead Weather, Mazzy Star, Ladytron and Peaches.” With a single release date rumored to be on the horizon, it’ll only be a short matter of time before The Veronicas’ global pop domination commences.

 

4. Jukebox The Ghost, Title TBD

“He’s been doing a killer job and we had a great batch of songs to pick from, so I really think this is going to be my favorite record we’ve made,” Jukebox The Ghost’s Tommy Siegel told me about producer Dan Romer’s work on the band’s upcoming third album. “I really couldn’t be more excited about this one.” And neither could i. The pop/rock trio’s new record is set to be released in late spring following their tour with Jack’s Mannequin.

 

3. Ingrid Michaelson, Human Again

It’s been two and a half years since Ingrid Michaelson’s last album, Everybody, was released. Hitting stores this January is the long awaited follow-up, Human Again. So far, we’ve heard two songs from the record: “Ghost” and “Blood Brothers.” These tracks act as indicators that the album will be a versatile range of acoustic singer/songwriter folk and rugged pop/rock. Bring it on, Ingrid.

 

2. Two Door Cinema Club, Title TBD

Although released in 2010, Two Door Cinema Club’s debut album, Tourist History, remained one of my top played albums of 2011. Their sleek blend of indie pop is infused with equal parts electronica and classic rock. From start to finish, Tourist History is a masterpiece – making its predecessor one of the most hotly anticipated records of the year.

 

1. Local Natives, Title TBD

Local Natives’ Gorilla Manor remains one of my top 5 albums of the millennium so far. Their majestic harmonies alone serve as prime examples of how the band is creating some of the most intelligent music this side of indie rock. With their long awaited sophomore album, Local Natives promise to deliver more grand tunes of sunshine and asphalt infused pop/rock that will be sure to once again leave their listeners completely breathless.


Originally published on PopBytes 

And a very special thank you to USA Today's Pop Candy blog, Ben Folds, The Veronicas, Rufus Wainwright, Mouth's Cradle and Yep Roc Records for linking to this article!


 

Monday, December 26, 2011

THE NECESSITY OF LISBETH SALANDER

by ALEX NAGORSKI


Lisbeth Salander
has multiple piercings across her face. Her eyebrows are bleached and her skin is whiter than Ramona Singer’s attempts at belly dancing. Like the majority of her wardrobe, her hair is jet black. It’s purposefully jagged and sharply frames her thin face. The makeup that circles her eyes is dark enough to make Taylor Momsen and Johnny Depp cry Lauren Conrad-esque mascara tears of jealousy. She wears ripped t-shirts that read “Fuck you, you fucking fuck” (a quote from David Lynch‘s 1986 classic Blue Velvet) and she literally kicks ass with the lace-up combat boots she tucks her baggy cargo pants into. She travels by motorcycle and, despite her gaunt figure, lives off a diet consisting primarily of McDonald’s Happy Meals. Her body is a canvas that she tattoos as a physical manifestation of the incredible amounts of pain she’s experienced. She is the girl with the dragon tattoo.

So how did such a seemingly anti-mainstream punk chick steal the interests and hearts of millions of readers and film audiences across the globe?

It’s quite simple, really. Because Lisbeth is not the ingĂ©nue of the stories she stars in. She’s the hero. The hero who is so ruthless in her actions that she makes a femme fatale like Lara Croft look more like the damsel-in-distress Princess Zelda.

In the American adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which hit theaters last week (there was a Swedish version back in 2009), Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) is an expert cyber-hacker who finds herself assisting Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), an investigative reporter hired as a personal detective by an elderly man (Christopher Plummer) looking to discover the truth behind his grand niece’s disappearance forty years earlier.

With this film, director David Fincher has crafted a piece of art that will play a central role in the continuing evolution of Hollywood’s portrayals of women. At the core of this movie’s significance is the character of Lisbeth, who propels The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to the forefront of feminist cinema. After all, this is a woman whose SIDEKICK is literally James Bond.

Much like a honey badger, Lisbeth is fearless. When she is brutally raped by her state appointed guardian, she has no problem tazering him, shoving a metal dildo in his ass and tattooing “I’m a rapist pig” on his chest. When she thinks she’s found a serial killer, she doesn’t blink twice before entering his home. In fact, she doesn’t even come armed and instead relies on finding a random object in his house to protect herself with. And when she wants to take down one of Sweden’s most powerful and corrupt businessmen, she has no trepidations about putting on a Lady Gaga-esque wig for the cameras while she drains all of his bank accounts.

In the bedroom, Lisbeth does not limit herself to the parameters set by a particular label. Instead, she makes emotional connections with people regardless of their sex. In one scene, she wakes up naked next to a woman named Miriam (who fans of the books know plays a much larger part in the next two installments of the story). In another, she strips for Blomkvist and proposes that they sleep together. And what middle-aged single, heterosexual man would turn down a sexy and dangerous 23-year-old woman already half way done unbuttoning his pants? Exactly. And obviously, Lisbeth is always on top.


Part of what makes Lisbeth so captivating is that she refuses to be a victim. When someone wrongs her, she doesn’t sulk. She takes matters into her own hands and regains the power that was stolen from her in the moments when she was wronged. For instance, she could have easily reported her guardian for raping her. But instead, the prey becomes the predator as Lisbeth exacts a degree of revenge and punishment that no amount of time behind bars could. Her actions ensure that not only will her guardian never rape someone again, but also that he’ll be forced to live for the rest of his life with a constant reminder of how disgusting a person he is.

It’s women like Lisbeth that Hollywood needs more of. Women who refuse to be subservient and are unafraid to be completely self-sufficient. Too often, movies employ Sex and the City-like clones that “just want to find Mr. Right.” And sadly, many of the films that pride themselves on their “progressive feminist stance” in fact still adhere to patriarchal values.

In 2010, the movie Salt was released and was marketed as a female counterpart to The Bourne Identity. Originally written as a starring vehicle for Tom Cruise, it was ultimately Angelina Jolie who stepped into the lead role. But as Scott Mendelson of Salon.com pointed out, an Entertainment Weekly article by Chris Nashawaty about the film’s alleged “pro-feminism” actually confirmed how flawed it really was.
“‘In the original script, there was a huge sequence where Edwin Salt (the original male protagonist) saves his wife, who’s in danger,’ says Noyce. ‘And what we found in the new script, it seemed to castrate his character a little. So we had to change the nature of that relationship.’ In the end, Salt’s husband, played by German actor August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds), was made tough enough that he didn’t need saving, thank you much,” the article read.
In other words, if Tom Cruise is playing the main character, it’s okay for him to save his helpless wife. But if Angelina Jolie is playing that same character, the spouse no longer needs saving due to a fear of emasculation. Oh.

It’s comments like these that make it easy to picture industry people like Noyce and Nashawaty lighting up cigars with the boys as they congratulate themselves on their “liberalism.” It’s also comments like these that really hit home the idea that the art we subject ourselves to is still skewed towards preserving the idea that men are on a higher level than women.

Thus, films like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are far more necessary than one may even initially realize. We’re in dire need of female characters like Lisbeth Salander who are defined by their actions and not by their genitalia.

When the novel was first published in Sweden, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo had a different title – one that translates to Men Who Hate Women. While it’s actually quite infuriating that author Stieg Larsson’s original title wasn’t kept for the English translation (most likely due to a fear of a lack of commercial appeal), the film remains a powerful tale about that theme—and, of course, about the woman who retaliates against the men who hate women.

The success of the franchise proves that audiences want to read about and see women like Lisbeth. In fact, she’s become such a cultural icon that people are even willing to physically emulate her by purchasing the Lisbeth-inspired collection at H&M (which – as a side note – I find hysterical and completely ironic because the idea of a fashion line designed after her is something that Lisbeth would absolutely detest).

But the point is that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a story that is exposing a huge void in our pop culture psyche. And audiences are beginning to take notice.

Lisbeth Salander, I salute you.

Originally published on PopBytes