Nocturnal Sunshine – Meant To Be

I’ve been digging some deep house lately, and as a result have been spending a lot of time around One great find that I’ve latched on to is Maya Jane Coles. She’s not exactly “underground” – more like the fastest rising DJ in the scene, but still, all of her productions have deep basslines that just sink right in with the grooves of her beats. I love this song for its coupling of a dark chill feeling with a momentum that keeps the track from falling asleep.

Dear M.I.A., thanks for Coachella

M.I.A. up on the stage at Coachella
M.I.A. up on the stage at Coachella

“They tried to make me do the Oscars, I said ‘No, No, No’.” Of all the banter M.I.A. threw into her hour-long set on the Main Stage at this year’s Coachella, this was probably the most pointed. When Amy Winehouse dropped off the lineup because she couldn’t get a Visa to the United States (surprise, surprise), M.I.A. was quickly announced to be her replacement. In my mind, there could be no better choice. I’ve missed the chance to see M.I.A. twice now, and I made sure not to pass her up again.

I’ve been an M.I.A. fan since Arular came out, and like everyone else,  Kala was one of my favorite albums of 2007. I know all the words to all her songs (well, at lease those that are audibly decipherable). You can imagine my disappointment when I found out that there aren’t as many people like me as I thought. Apparently, tons people are willing to stand around for an hour to hear one song. I really hope that the masses can get over “Paper Planes” and realize the true genius in all of M.I.A.’s songs.

Aside from that, the show was one of my favorite all weekend. Six neon glow-in-the-dark dancers started things off and led right into M.I.A.’s entrance at a podium rapping “World Town.” The party went on from there as she flew threw Rye Rye’s new song “Bang”, “$20”, “Boyz”, “Bingo”, “Sunshowers”, “Pull Up the People”, and “Galang”. A perfect set list.

M.I.A. at the end of her show coming out into the crowd
M.I.A. at the end of her show coming out into the crowd

Also included in her set was “Bird Flu”. Last year, M.I.A. only got through six songs in the Mojave tent because she wanted people to get up on stage, but the security guards thought otherwise. This year, she would get people up if it was the last thing she did. She called out, “I’ve already been banned from Coachella once, let do it. Hey hey, let ’em up! Let ’em up!” And something clicked in my brain.

In short, I jumped over the center barrier, ran as fast as I could towards the stage, got body checked into another barrier by a 300 lb. security guard, ran so as to not get thrown out, and jumped over another barrier back into the crowd. I didn’t make it onstage, but I did make it to the front row of the show. To those people who did make it onstage, good on ya; I hope you enjoyed yourself. I know I enjoyed my fleeting moment of excitement.

After “Bird Flu” came “Paper Planes.” And of course the crowd went wild for the one song they’d heard on TV and on the radio. While I’m still bitter that M.I.A. hasn’t received the mainstream success she deserves, I’m appreciative that anyone knows her music at all. It’s not everyday that a Sri Lankan girl with paternal ties to the Tamil Tigers makes it onto American radio waves.

I had a great time during M.I.A.’s third Coachella performance, and in the end, that’s what counts. That being said, if you ever go to one of her future shows, please listen to some songs that aren’t “Paper Planes” before heading out.

photo credit goes to flickr user Mick O

The Prodigy – Invaders Must Die

the official cover art for the prodigy's - invaders must die
the official cover art for the prodigy's - invaders must die

The Prodigy – Invaders Must Die

Unfortunately, Invaders Must Die isn’t the return to hardcore techno greatness that Fat of the Land begun… But don’t let that get you down, because there are some damn good bangers in there. Invaders Must Die is a vast improvement compared to their/his (Liam Flint was the only member to contribute) album, Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned (AONO).

As the first Prodigy album with all three members in 15 years, it’s nice to hear Maxim & Keith’s voices on many of the tracks. I think Liam went overboard with the guest vocalists last time around (Juliette Lewis, Liam and Noel Gallagher, Kool Keith, and The Magnificent Ping Pong Bitches), but it’s clear he’s reeled himself back in with IMD.

Starting with my favorite track on the album, Take Me To The Hospital knocks it out of the park. The traces of rave are clear in the synth stabs from the get-go, and the hard beat is brought in right after a short intro. What separates this track from the rest is that it doesn’t sound like an attempt to recapture some lost glory, it takes what the Prodigy is known for (knock-out beats & rave synths) and pushes it forward.

Immediately after Take Me To The Hospital comes Warrior’s Dance which is probably my #2 song on IMD. Instead of having ravy synths, it’s the vocal sample that gives the listener the hints. The bass line in this song is one that makes you wish you had a wall of subs because it would shake you to your core. It has a nice breakdown about 2/3 of the way through, and as expected, the buildup and climax are spot-on.

Jumping down four tracks, Piranha has the best groove on the album. I seriously can’t stop dancing to this one; it gives me the same feeling as Hot Chip’s Out At The Pictures (I just wanna dance). I could do without the lyrics though… “Teeth, grip, razor sharp / Bites hi-power, tear you apart.”

When I was listening to IMD for the first time, I was getting very worried before I hit Take Me To The Hospital and Warrior’s Dance (they are #5 and #6 respectively). Why? Because the first song Invaders Must Die is good, but all I can think about when I listen to it is how much it sounds like The Prodigy trying to be Pendulum. Not a great first impression. Next is Omen, which is OK and doesn’t sound like Pendulum but just doesn’t sit right.

Then came Thunder, which shouldn’t have any vocals at all. The beats are sick, but I can’t stand Maxim on the track. I also feel that they could have made much more with the synths; they don’t fit with the rest of the song at all. Finally comes Colours, which I thought what going to be the redeemer when it started (sound like Hotride at first), then came in the worst synth line on the album. I hate the synths.

Now that you know the songs I loved and hated, the rest sort of fall into the middle. Run With the Wolves is an excuse to have live drums on a hardcore techno track, World’s On Fire is forgettable (but brings the rave back again), Stand Up confused the hell out of me, and Omen Reprise is just a +1 to the total track count (completely unnecessary).

Look before for a simple breakdown of what I rate each track and what my average would be. I enjoyed this album, and there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be buying tickets when the Prodigy next comes around to LA.

Song Ratings

Here is a simple breakdown of what I’d rate each track on a 5 point scale. The average/mean (when converted to a Pitchfork scale) comes to 7.8, which I’d say is pretty respectable (even though I was praying it’d be a perfect 10). But I’m pretty sure that when the Pitchfork review comes out, it’ll be quite a bit lower than what I gave it (update: they gave it a 5.8).

  1. Invaders Must Die 5/5
  2. Omen 4/5
  3. Thunder 2/5
  4. Colours 3/5
  5. Take Me To The Hospital 5/5
  6. Warrior’s Dance 5/5
  7. Run With The Wolves 4/5
  8. Omen Reprise ?/5
  9. World’s On Fire 3/5
  10. Piranha 5/5
  11. Stand Up 3/5

Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak

the new and improved (?) kanye west
the new and improved (?) kanye west

It seems that ragging on Kanye West for anything other than his oversized ego and inappropriate public outbursts was off limits. Rightfully so, in my opinion. He was a producer-to-the-stars before The College Dropout, and he has gone nowhere but up since that first album came out in 2004. Unfortunately, rap’s megastar has decidedly turned his back on the genre in some misguided attempt to save pop music. 

808s & Heartbreak

In all honesty, I wanted this album to blow me away. I enjoyed Kanye’s previous albums, and while I found it odd that everyone of his songs relied so heavily on sampled material, he is without a doubt mastered the skill. Just as I hadn’t really listened to a TON of Radiohead before In Rainbows, I wanted 808s & Heartbreak to make me fall in love with Kanye, to look past the asshole persona and see some genius inside. 

This album has 2 (maybe 3) songs that are single material and the rest are filler. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need 12 singles to think an album is good; I wouldn’t even say that one is necessary (ie. BT’s This Binary Universe). But an album of filler does not cut it for me.

The first single Love Lockdown, which Kanye premiered live at the MTV 2008 VMAs deserves some credit for delivering on what was promised. It’s a well-intentioned crack at a minimal pop song (but the hip hop still lurks somewhere in the background). As far as the Auto Tune goes, I think it’s used appropriately here as an instrument and not as a coverup for poor vocals. 

The same applies for the album’s second single Heartless. I love the breathy flute/woodwind stabs featured throughout the song. On top of that, I constantly find myself singing the chorus to this song. And I don’t really try to ever get it out of my head, it’s just catchy. Solid song (but let’s not get into the music video).

And that’s as far as the complements go. From Paranoid (featuring someone with a very average voice) on, this album was torturous for me to listen to. The formula of using Auto Tune over every vocal paired with simplistic beats constructed on a Roland TR-808 makes a couple interesting experiments, not an album. Taken as a whole, it seems that Kanye wanted to break molds, so for some reason he picked the effect that has framed T-Pain as a one-trick-pony and the drum machine that everyone in electronic music has used at one time or another to make beats. Maybe it’s me, but this combo does not scream experimental or pop in any way/shape/form. 

Picking out the biggest offender, I especially loath the song RoboCop. I cannot figure this song out for the life of me. The majority of the lyrics don’t make sense, and those that do are just ridiculous. Again, let me clarify that every song in my library isn’t a deep, introspective on human emotions. But when Spank Rock raps about Backyard Betty, it’s tongue-in-cheek. If Kanye is just having fun with his lyrics and don’t mean anything by the references to Misery, the joke was lost on me. Aside from the lyrics, I also can’t stand the music to the song. The strings and glittery bells belong in a Christmas compilation album, and at some point in the song, Kanye ditches the Auto Tune. He needed to keep it on (so I flip flop about the Auto Tune… maybe he just shouldn’t sing).  

In conclusion, this album will sell tons. The first two singles were carefully picked, and they are doing their job. This doesn’t really bother me, because tons of crap gets passed as quality on top 40 radio stations everyday, but I did expect more from Kanye. If you have the biggest ego in the world, you better have some quality material to back it up.

Song Ratings

fyi: I do not have a standard rating system. I know I’ve done ratings out of 10 in the past, but I figured it would be easier to list what I have rated each song in my iTunes library.

  1. Say You Will 2/5
  2. Welcome to Heartbreak 4/5
  3. Heartless 5/5
  4. Amazing 3/5
  5. Love Lockdown 4/5
  6. Paranoid 3/5
  7. RoboCop 2/5
  8. Street Lights 3/5
  9. Bad News 3/5
  10. See You in My Nightmares 2/5
  11. Coldest Winter 4/5
  12. Pinocchio Story ???

ps: Would it kill Lil’ Wayne to speak in a normal tone of voice for once?

Daft Punk – Alive 2007

daftpunkalive2007-thumb.jpgRemember that post I did a while ago about Daft Punk’s incredible concert at the L.A. Sports Arena? This is the review of the live album for that tour, not the actual experience of the concert. If you are a dedicated Daft Punk fan, I’ll try to have some info in here that interests you, but with this review I’m looking more to those who don’t “get” Daft Punk or what it (as a movement) has come to encompass. Let’s get the obvious points out of the way. 1) Anything Daft Punk does right now blows my mind. 2) This album is the epitome of an electronic live album. Here’s why:

  1. Robot Rock / Oh Yeah: We begin with the chopped words “Human Robot” being spoken very slowly. The pace picks up, high hats are forging on, and bit by bit the beat comes in to play. After 2:20 of intro, Robot Rock comes in full force. This track off of Human After All, which has had its fair share of plays, starts the record off nice and hard. It’s repetitious, but rough enough so that we know that Alive 2007 definitely isn’t Discovery 2. As Robot Rock gets split and mangled, Oh Yeah, one of the straightforward Homework tracks, replaces the beat. We continue a bit to establish that bass will not be lacking here, and move on.
  2. Touch It / Technologic: In comes the sample of Technologic used by Busta Rhymes mixed with a modified Robot Rock beat. Please, try not to get overwhelmed by the variety of beats layered behind the vocals here. After a bit of straight Touch It is finished playing and our two robots kill every sample used, the true Technologic vocal comes in to speak every line of the intro. Some guitar sample is played with it, and after a whole minute without bass, Technologic’s trudging beat blasts out to keep the heads bobbing. Again, more shredding of sounds is done with Ableton Live and the other hardware located in the most elusive of pyramids.
  3. Television Rules the Nation / Crescendolls: The first empty second shows its face, but the vocoded line of “Televisionnn… Rules the Nationnn…” quickly covers that up and continues the Human After All laden first tracks. But then we are so rudely tempted with the lines of “Around the World,” and my favorite synth line ever gets its play time. This song really is better at a fast tempo. The song cuts straight into Crescendolls, which plays for a bit. Crescendolls is a party-ready song to begin with, but when they bring back Television, wow. The high-energy of Crescendolls and the industrial trudge of Television is insane to say the least.
  4. Too Long / Steam Machine: Time to come down. Television/Crescendolls was fun, but that energy can’t last too long. This song is an excellent example of how Daft Punk isn’t out to keep the energy at 10 all night; they recognize that by bringing it in waves, those highs are so much better when they hit. Regardless, this is a nice revamp of Steam Machine, which was one of the songs on Human After All that got too repetitive. Not so here. This song serves its function: to bring the energy down & give everyone a breather.
  5. Around the World / Harder Better Faster Stronger: Your breather is over, brace yourself. As you can hear, when the bass-line of Around the World comes in, it’s obvious that you’re in for a treat. As Daft Punk’s most singable song plays, another all-time classic works itself in. If you want to chant along, please feel free. These two songs are fan favorites for a reason, and when they are pumping at the same time, the energy is back up at 10. Throughout the song, never do these two monsters seem to be at each other’s throats. It’s as if they were meant to be torn apart and squashed together from their creation.
  6. Burnin’ / Too Long: Coming back down, the raw originality of Burnin’ shines. Straight from Homework, this 10 year-old song hasn’t aged a day. A fair amount of effects are thrown into the mix so as not to get repetitive. For the second and final time, Too Long surfaces for its showcase. It got 10 minutes on Discovery, why not another 5 here? As the song comes to a close, it is clear that Part I is finished.
  7. Face To Face / Short Circuit: The interlude between acts begins. Don’t worry, the energy doesn’t get too high here. To me, this song shows off Daft Punk’s ability to perfectly re-create their songs to form new entities that stand on their own. As if the original beat on Face to Face wasn’t sweat enough, Harder Better Faster Stronger is no longer a vocal section, it replaces the hodgepodge first beat. Ending this middle-ground, Short Circuit and then silence.
  8. One More Time / Aerodynamic: Hear those bells? Know what they mean? If not, just grab a hold of your seat, there isn’t much of a break until the end. As the One More Time synth plays sans bass, you can hear the crowd wanting to sing along before the vocals come in. 1/2 of a bass, and then it’s in full force. A classic indeed. Just sing with the thousands of fans with Daft Punk’s most famous song. A third of the way through comes Aerodynamic’s guitar solo and the following beat. Just as was done with Television/Crescendolls, two songs become one. This is an energy = 11 moment, revel in it. This song is the entire album wrapped into one: classics, rises, falls, loud crowds, etc…
  9. Aerodynamic Beats / Forget About the World: Slowing down a bit, but not too much, Daft Punk kinda flaunts an old mix here. It has a great synth that sweeps in and out that meshes with Brainwasher’s vocals near the end.
  10. Prime Time of Your Life / Brainwasher / Rollin’ and Scratchin’ / Alive: 4 in 1, that’s what you get here. Prime Time’s vocals are nice, but are pumped up a notch when Rollin’ and Scratchin’s single drum hit accompanies it. Both old and new are played here. One observation of this track is how well Human After All combines with Homework. For as much slack as Human has received, when played with Homework, they really do work well.
  11. Da Funk / Daftendirekt: Part III (of III). Da Funk has my second favorite synth in it. It bounces and stays consistent with its bitter sting throughout. As Daftendirekt follows and mixes with Da Funk the effects that can be applied live are shows off here. Stutters, EQs, and the like are all used here, making for a song that differs greatly from the original two from Homework. They don’t carry the same 90s French Touch sound that their originals do, they are brought into the 21st century with style and class.
  12. Superheroes / Human After All / Rock’n Roll: To be blunt, this song is all rise. But what else could you ask for from a finale? It begins with Superheroes’ simple bass and the looped vocal comes in gradually as the original does. And then, what’s that? Oh, that’s the best beat of Human After All. That beat hits SO hard. How a house track is made into a fist-pumper escapes me. This song was always meant to be a finale song. With lyrics that say, “We are human, after all. Thanks for comin’, after all,” it could be nothing else. Pitches are raised, volume is maxed out, and in the end, the beat is dropped for the final “After All.” Fitting. The crowd roars, and for good reason. They know that an encore is coming up.
  13. Encore: Human After All / Together / One More Time / Music Sounds Better With You: So if you were lucky enough (like myself) to get the limited edition version of Alive 2007, you know what this track is. If you were cheap or couldn’t find the limited edition, go and download this song. It’s worth it. Going back to basics, “Human” is repeated many times until the “Time” sample from Para One’s remix of Prime Time After All at 2:15 brings the song into swing. The beat continues and eventually “Together” is brought in. The song falls down repeatedly as the second part begins. And we come to the rise. You can hear it; the hi-hats are increasing. Now it’s all or nothing, and the crowd roars. Why? Because the red suits just lit up, and it’s the most amazing thing that they’ve ever seen. But the song continues with One More Time accompanying this mix of old/new hits and old side-projects. I can’t really say enough about this song, it completely blows me away. 10 minutes for a single-song encore is amazing. The show is over, your mind has been blown.

I hope you have enjoyed my explanation/review of each track. If you agree or disagree with any of my points, feel free to comment!

Justice – Waters of Nazareth

Justice - Waters of NazarethIt really isn’t fair. Chopped up samples that have been distorted and modulated to no end shouldn’t sound this good. Honestly, they shouldn’t be able to get away with this. Enough of the complaining, the point is: Justice hits you hard… in the face. From the moment you press play, you get a noise that makes you wish that you had bought another stereo with just a few more watts; you can’t ever get the bass heavy enough or the volume loud enough.

So, what genre does this three track EP fall into? My personal analysis is that it is a fusion of some kind of electro-clash, industrial, and house. It seems that every synth/sample has been run through some kind of distorting filter that makes it scream with fury, every drum line kicks a little more than anything before, and that repetition is the name of the game. As with many of the artists signed to the Ed Banger record label, Daft Punk seems an obvious comparison. Both are original, progressive, a duo, French, and insanely popular.

Whether this quick claim to fame through an EP is founded in any way is yet to be seen. But please don’t get me wrong; even with only 3 tracks, Justice won’t be leaving my playlists anytime soon.

Justice – Phantom Part I