About ememon

I write. I dance. I love chocolate and kitties. I'm a kitten in person, but a wildcat on the page. Nothing is more important than a well-balanced perspective, and I for one don't believe your brain can fall out, no matter how open-minded you are. And a little lime and cilantro never hurt anything.

Good Music Notes is back.

Hey, reader or two. 🙂

After an extended dormancy, I have decided I need to give my inner music lover another chance to speak. Pop music has undergone a massive transformation in the past seven years, and yours truly is starting to feel a bit in the dust. Staying engaged with music past and present is my directive. Join me.

One logical direction that I will pursue is familiarizing myself with the so-called greatest albums of all time. Because music is nothing if not logical. So today I will be offering my take on the #1 album of all time per the site besteveralbums.com. I hope to get a little further down the list in the future. But, one day at a time.

Album: The Dark Side of the Moon   Artist: Pink Floyd   Released 1973

This legendary record was released in the year of my birth. Which means we’re both… still pretty current-sounding!

I had never listened to this album before today. I think I’ve heard “Money” a handful of times, presumably because it’s the closest thing to a regular, catchy rock song one will find in the ten-track listing. I’ve rather studiously avoided the album because music only became real to me in 1983. Anything prior is old and brittle. Or so I imagined.

I tried my hardest not to approach my first Floyd listening party with any predispositions. This is just a collection of songs put together by some British band that will always live in the shadow of the Beatles and Zeppelin, no matter how many bazillion copies it sells or how many lists it tops. Right? I was prepared for it to be dated, or boring, or mediocre.

No such luck. You don’t get everyone to kiss your album’s butt for absolutely no reason. The album exudes an air of confident epic-ness. Brilliant, vibrant sound effects punctuate free-form song structures, and the lyrics, where they exist, simply encapsulate the Big Themes in life without coming off as pompous or forced.

Side One (or what I imagine was Side One when this was an actual LP–I purposely did no extra research, FYI, so as not to bias my reactions) paints a stark picture of the cycle of life, and Side Two covers our complex and dark dealings with our fellow humans and how those turn back on ourselves. There’s no fluff, yet there’s wide open spaces of sound where the album breathes and emotes in the form of guitar solos, sax solos–no, not the cheesy 80s kind–and plaintive soul vocalizations. The songs bleed easily into each other and are yet each singularly evocative.

Given the landmark nature of DSOTM, it would be very easy for the many riffs on its conceptual structure over the years to have bled it dry for newbies like me who have only heard the derivatives and not the source material. It’s a real testament to the strength of this record that it doesn’t sound cliche, dated, or passé.

Random observations:

  • David Gilmour reminds me of Don Henley. It’s a minor disappointment that his casual, almost offhanded vocal delivery is paired with such pristine instrumental and production craftsmanship.
  • “Us and Them,” in its structure, melody, and lyrics, reminds me strongly of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which was released two years earlier.
  • Gilmour’s vocals, the frequent vocal and instrumental swells prior to the start of their choruses, and the extreme gravity of their subject matter would seem to make Pink Floyd ripe for parody. Yet, I’m not aware of a single Weird Al version of any part of their catalog. Go figure.

My humble rating: 9.0/10.

 

 

Good MusicNote 10.2 timber PITBULL FEAT. KE$HA

Because “It’s going down” is becoming passé.

single: “Timber”

artist: Pitbull featuring Kesha

So… if Eminem and Rihanna are like the Halloween version of Jay Z and Beyonce, these two are like the high school talent show version.

“Timber” is much, much greater than the sum of its parts.

First, there’s Pitbull, who has made riding the coattails of hooks practically a science. His flows are just barely cohesive, remarkably similar to each other, and bereft of meaning. The most interesting thing he has to say here is an awful, awful gaffe: he opens the first verse by name-checking Miley Cyrus, who’s not only a stronger vocalist than Ke$ha, but would have made an infinitely better guest artist, given the country slant of this record. Way to make your vocalist feel inadequate.

Then there’s Ke$ha, whose bad-girl schtick has been rendered practically impotent by Miley’s 2013 antics. But she’s quite good at delivering hooks, whatever other deficiencies she may have.

Then there’s the concept: a Cuban rapper paired with a naughty pop diva, delivering an uptempo club stomp with a country-bluegrass arrangement. Unfortunately, “Cotton-Eyed Joe” beat them to the punch by about two decades and was so insanely irresistible that it is almost futile to even try to recreate.

But guess what? Many if not most contemporary pop consumers don’t even remember the Rednex dance smash (back in them days, dance songs where ghettoized and were barely heard on radio), so this track probably sounds wildly creative to them.

And even to haters like myself (and I readily admit to a bit of hate in this review), it’s a fun, catchy, danceable, accessible song. I’m just not dying to hear the unplugged version.

P.S. I apologize for briefly violating the spirit of this blog, but I’ve had a bad day. In addition, despite my love for all music, there are certain artists who push my buttons: Dionne Warwick, Jimmy Buffett, and Pitbull are right there at the top of my list. If the three of them ever get together and perform “That’s What Friends Are For” at the Grammys, I’m pretty sure I’ll snap.

Good Music Note 9.2 the monster EMINEM FEAT. RIHANNA

So, after a month away, I have to deal with these two again?

single: “The Monster”

artist: Eminem featuring Rihanna

 Does it even matter what this song sounds like? Putting Rihanna and Eminem together is as predictable as pairing chocolate and peanut butter.  The most bankable, accessible singer and rapper (respectively) of the past decade meet again (after their first monster song, “Love The Way You Lie”) for another dark-ish collaboration that snaps and resounds in the usual way that their respective singles often do.

 I like to think of these two as the Halloween version of Jay-Z and Beyonce. That gives me a giggle. It kind of illustrates the nature of their artistic compatibility, as well.

 But mainly it gives me a giggle.

Interlude

This blog has become very important to me over the past two months. I relish the opportunity I’ve allowed myself for expression on this page; I love that I’m actively chewing on music again rather than having it bottle-fed to me. I am eager see this space evolve as I gain more experience.

That’s the long way of saying that I will be taking a short break, and that my absence should not be taken as a lack of enthusiasm, interest, or dedication to this blog.

I’m not in the habit of divulging personal info on goodmusicnotes.com, but I will offer that work, personal, and travel commitments will make it difficult to devote sufficient energy to the site over the next two weeks.

I’ll be back.

Good MusicNote 8.20 demons IMAGINE DRAGONS

We get it… dangerous imagery sells records.

single: “Demons”

artist: Imagine Dragons

Fast on the heels of the poisonously catchy “Radioactive,” the mythically fiery Dragons now bring us the evil follow-up “Demons.”

There’s nothing particularly foreboding about the Dragons or their songs, but they are taking the appropriate cues from heavy metal and breading their innocuous songs with panko death crumbs. (Yeah, I made that up.)

The sound is a more mainstream rock, less electronic iteration of the sound most of us were introduced to on “Radioactive.” In terms of melody and arrangement, it resembles nothing more than Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” The verses begin with only keyboard accompaniment, then explode into a fully orchestrated chorus. The cadence of the chorus might actually cause Madge to consider a call to her attorneys.

Then maybe they would have a reason to sing about demons…

Good MusicNote 7.19 sail AWOLNATION

Drift is more like it…

single: Sail

artist: AWOLNATION

I’m tired of telling these convoluted chart stories. “Sail” was a smash alternative rock hit two years ago, dropped out of sight and re-emerged this summer after being used in various media. ‘Nuff said.

You may very well have heard this triple-platinum single at some point over the past two years, but in case you haven’t: imagine Kurt Cobain‘s unbridled rawness channeled through Rod Stewart‘s orderly rasp, laid over an electro-industrial-blues stomp that Trent Reznor might generate under a light sedative.

That’s Aaron Bruno‘s vocal performance and the perfectly complemented instrumental track that make this song primal and accessible at the same time. The anguished suicide-esque rumination of the lyrics complete the mood–not cheery, but musically satisfying.

Good MusicNote 7.18 gone KANYE WEST FEAT. CAM’RON & CONSEQUENCE

And back again, unexpectedly.

single: “Gone”

artist: Kanye West featuring Cam’ron & Consequence

The story of this hit single makes “The Fox” seem positively old-school.

While the viral video origins of “The Fox,” much like “Harlem Shake” and “Gangnam Style” before it, were pretty straightforward and at least bore some linearity between the release of the single and its subsequent viral-ity, “Gone” is an eight-year-old track from Kanye’s second album and was never intended to be a single, much less a top 20 pop hit.

“Gone” was used in a viral video as a kiss-off to an employer from a disgruntled employee who apparently never heard “Take This Job and Shove It.” Once the video went viral, the  song became a hit. No agency on Kanye’s part whatsoever. Completely random.

The song itself is widely regarded as one of the unheralded highlights of Late Registration, one of Kanye’s best-received projects. The track bears a strong structural similarity to the much-better-known “Gold Digger,” complete with a looped old-school soul sound byte (an authentic one from Otis Redding, not the fake one voiced by Jamie Foxx). Given Kanye’s strong use of motifs within his projects, this isn’t surprising. The verses are highly narrative and sing-songy, with strings providing punctuation in a clever and engaging call-and-response structure (again, like “Gold Digger”).

It’s a standout track, but it feels hopelessly retro. Kanye has hashed through about six different musical styles since 2005, so it comes across as clean, but not fresh.

Good MusicNote 6.11 23 MIKE WILL MADE-IT FEAT. MILEY CYRUS, WIZ KHALIFA & JUICY J

I think that’s how many times Miley sticks her tongue out in the video.

single: “23”

artist: Mike WILL Made-It featuring Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa & Juicy J

Mike WILL Made-It (hereinafter “Mike”) is the It producer of the moment, following in the footsteps of Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, Rodney Jerkins, and the like. Smartly, he has capitalized on the buzz by releasing his own single, complete with immaculate, crisp hip-hop flourishes.

Much like DJ Khaled, he has maximized his own lack of innate star power by enlisting members of the current A-List in hip-hop: Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J.

The wildcard (with emphasis on “wild”) is Miley Cyrus, who was added to the single late. Mike is the production wizard behind Miley’s breakout coming-out jam “We Can’t Stop.” After recording Miley’s song, she offered to record a verse for MIke’s song.

And wonder of wonders, it works. Miley is not a rapper or a rap hook singer by nature, but what she is… is talented. She bites off exactly as much as she can chew, channelling Trina and Ke$ha to lay down a simple but effective verse, then deliver a killer hook with aplomb, without reaching to sound “hood.”

Miley, Wiz, and J are rapping about some standard-issue recreational nonsense, with a general Michael Jordan motif (Jordans sneakers and his jersey number, the inspiration for the song title). It’s cool nonsense, delivered just as crisply as Mike’s arrangement.

But that’s really the point of this record: Mike’s in charge, and his production skills are on full display.

And so are his music connections.

 

Good MusicNote 6.19 mirrors JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

A reflection of earlier successful singles.

single: “Mirrors”

artist: Justin Timberlake

As this rather ancient chart-dweller (the single, not JT) enjoys a resurgence in position, likely due to the buzz surrounding part two of The 20/20 Experience, I relish the opportunity to catch a quick review on the way down the charts.

“Mirrors” is yet another installment in JT’s Dead-Serious-Mid-Tempo-Well-Written-Reflective-Heartache series. His first record had “Cry Me a River;” the second had “What Goes Around Comes Around.” And now there’s “Mirrors.” Apparently, JT and Timberland keep a track template handy to recreate the magic every five years.

Although I like the gotcha! element of uncovering this trend, I have no complaints. “Mirrors” is every bit a goose-bump song as the first two. Justin handles melancholy in an inimitably commercial fashion, managing to draw emotion from the listener without making him depressed. Timberland’s familiar underbrush of polyrhythms mimics the complex series of thoughts and feelings JT describes.

(Disclaimer: I realize that “Mirrors” is ultimately a happy song, but the rumination involved in getting there is bittersweet at best; ergo, it’s still a heartache record in my eyes.)

The overall effect is a gem of a record. Insanely catchy without being gratuitous. Well-written without being self-conscious.

And entirely fresh in spite of being hopelessly derivative of his past work.

Gotcha, JT.

Good MusicNote 5.13 the fox YLVIS

…I think it says, “Cha-ching!”

single: “The Fox

artist: Ylvis

“The Fox” sounds like what would happen if Bjork sold out and got a lobotomy. It’s a wondrously wide-eyed, full-blown EDM version of the See ‘N Say, except there’s a wildcard animal in the henhouse: “What does the fox say?”

What follows that hook… is hilarity: a wide array of guesses about what noise we could assign to the fox, each more absurd than the one before, all set to propulsive dance breakdown synths.

Ylvis is a Norwegian comedy duo, heretofore unknown to Americans, who were innocently shopping around for a silly song for their TV show. In an absolute coup, they enlisted fellow countrymen, production team Stargate (as in Rihanna, Beyonce, and Ne-Yo–yes, THAT Stargate) to produce the parody ditty.

The result: a comedy record cloaked in such a convincingly deadpan earnestness and pristine production values that it actually is more musically satisfying than the “real” songs it’s parodying. Remember how Weird Al Yankovic’s backing tracks always sounded like a cheap karaoke version of the original? None of that here.

“The Fox” is a testament to a remarkable development in music: the democratization of the pop charts, now that YouTube tallies are included in the Billboard Hot 100.

It’s also a tribute to the power of music. Although the parody here is dead-on, it teeters on the verge of imploding; half of me was doubled over in laughter, yet the other half was becoming quite absorbed in Ylvis’s quest for the fox’s voice, sheerly on the strength of the excellent arrangement.