Monday, July 26, 2010

Song for the Day: Christina Aguilera "Monday Morning"

I've been ragging on Christina Aguilera a lot lately, I realize, which is a shame because I happen to hold her in particularly high regard as an artist (which is a major reason I've been coming down hard on her recently). Back to Basics is one of the three or four albums of the last decade I have most admired both aesthetically and artistically, and - critics be damned - Stripped is perhaps the single most iconic and influential album of my past ten years, nearly as much as No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom and Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill defined my adolescence. Plus, I've discovered that ever since the cathartic release of my critical frustration with it last week, I've become able to actually enjoy Bionic exponentially more to the point that many of the tracks have found their way onto my weekly-changing pop attention deficit disorder on-the-go playlists.

So I thought I'd through Xtina a little bone today and spend a paragraph or so discussing something she's done recently that I thoroughly like. Hence, I present to you the bonus track "Monday Morning," which is among my two or three favorite cuts on Bionic (and, to be fair, at one point was my uncontested top pick). And hey, it couldn't be more timely. The breezy, hakuna matata bonus track fits thematically with its parent album but it could hardly sound more different, at least in terms of tempo and tone (the Hill & Switch production, centering on a boomeranging electronic descant, is an obvious little sister to the producing team's great "Elastic Love"). Actually, the first time I listened to Bionic start to finish I wasn't sure where album ended and bonus began (or I lost count somewhere in the eighteen-track bombardment) and heard "Monday Morning" as the album's closing track - and I have to say, considering the overwhelming and largely negative effect the album had upon me at first run, I found a bit of solace in "Monday Morning," finding it an enjoyable, grounding stress reliever that allowed me an easier comedown (in hindsight, the actual closer, "Vanity," is exponentially more appropriate). Now that I've gotten wise, I enjoy this little bonus gem in a way few tracks can be: as a pleasant, stand-alone morsel of music by an artist of whom I am fond, free from the burden or bond of any particular album or specific time.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Videos from Christina Aguilera, Nicki Minaj

Their cunnilingus-celebrating collaboration may have been 86ed (for now) as a single, but you haven't heard - or seen - the last of Christina Aguilera and Nicki Minaj for a while. The two spunky divas each released new videos last week for their respective sophomore singles, each attempting to regain ground after shaky performances by their previous single releases. It follows, therefore, that both the hard-edged solo artists went with a pointedly softer attack for their latest singles and accompanying videos, and while they have various levels of success, few would argue that each of them has improved her trajectory in doing so.

Aguilera, still following the uncannily familiar path as with her 2002 sophomore album Stripped, follows up the graphic video to lead single "Not Myself Tonight," whose chart performance was, in a word, disappointing, with the markedly dialed down ballad "You Lost Me." Although it was the catchy, vulgar stomper "Woohoo" (featuring Ms. Minaj) that was first slated to be Bionic's second single, negative reaction to "Not Myself Tonight" and, to a lesser but still notable extent, to the album itself apparently reminded someone on the Aguilera team of a little debacle called "Dirrty," and news of "Woohoo's" impending release was quickly hushed. (Read the Vertigo Shtick review of Bionic.)

After Aguilera performed the soaring Sia-penned ballad at the American Idol finale in May and for seemingly the first time received no barrage of critical vomit in response, the tune was quickly hoisted into place (somewhat like another little album-/career-saver known as "Beautiful"). Then, this week, the video arrived, with none of the over-the-top antics that made "Not Myself Tonight" so unlikeable; in fact, it's so stripped down some might find it downright dull. I, for one, happen to appreciate its bleak, simple art direction, with Aguilera perusing the symbolic remains of a ruined relationship with Kool-Aid color hair worn down and makeup (or lack thereof) achieving the astonishing effect of making the 29 year old look like the teenage naif of "Genie in a Bottle." Not a bad move, but as a friend pointed out, the video for "Beautiful," another ballad, was ten times as interesting as this subtle, simple mea culpa.

Nicki Minaj is rightly hailed as the most exciting new face and voice in rap music right now, and her talents have graced countless hit singles by some of the top artists currently working, from her star-making turn on Ludacris' "My Chick Bad" to being Usher's "Lil' Freak" to a segment of the number 2 hit "BedRock" in collaboration with Lil' Wayne's Young Money. It's easy, therefore, to forget that the 25 year old has yet to release - or even name - her debut solo album, which is currently slated for release November 23 of this year. Her first solo single, "Massive Attack," was a Nicole Scherzinger-worthy dud, peaking at number 22 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 singles chart - underperforming even among the also-rans. It didn't help that the bizarre music video was not just a mess, but a mess that all-too-closely resembled Rihanna's only slightly less disastrous if far more well-known "Hard" video from several months earlier.

Minaj's second single, "Your Love," is a down-tempo crossover track that can easily seem, to a pop audience at least, rather out of the ordinary: a slow rap song about love? Well actually, a quick glance at the top of the Hot 100 shows that those are hardly a scarcity: B.o.B. weaseled two top-ten hits recently with "Airplanes" and "Nothin' On You" (thanks in large part to the singing talents of Hayley Williams and Bruno Mars, respectively), while T.I. spent much of 2008 subjecting Top 40 listeners to his promises of "Whatever You Like." But female rappers talking about love? Not if they fancied a crossover hit and a spot in the upper regions of the Billboard Hot 100: leave the lovey-dovey stuff to Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson, we want our rap girls talking about their mad skillz at fellatio and their general hotness. It is encouraging and remarkable, therefore, that Minaj's sweet, Annie Lennox-sampling "Your Love" had a dazzling debut at number 18 on the singles chart last week, which is as much a testament to the charming newcomer's immense popularity as anything.

The accompanying video, too, tones down the spasmodic verbal and visual style for which she is primarily known, instead going with a simple narrative involving a samurai love triangle, using a visual theme inspired, appropriately, by that of Japanese drama (a fact most critics and commentators seem to have missed). The result is a visually enthralling, thematically poignant surprise of a music video that contradicts any preconception one might have when approaching a Nicki Minaj production (she even loses the climactic battle for the hunky samurai teacher, and even her death is tasteful and beautiful). In all, it's more than enough to make a skeptic fall for Nicki Minaj, even if practical sense suggests that it would be unwise to rush out and buy the upcoming album expecting a bunch of G-rated 80s throwback love songs.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Katy Perry Debuts New Single "Teenage Dream" and Album Artwork

As Eminem and Rihanna begin their reign atop the Billboard Hot 100, displacing Katy Perry's ubiquitous "California Gurls," Perry is striking back with a one-two punch that means the rap star and Barbadian princess ought not to get too comfortable. Perry yesterday revealed the cotton candy-themed album cover art designed by Will Cotten, who did the art direction for the "California Gurls" music video (below). Today, second single, the titular "Teenage Dream," was released to radio and has been picked up by several of the more connected music sites (until we get our hands on it, hear it at I had the chance to listen to the track last week, and I have to say it's pretty much a ripoff of Ke$ha's song "Animal" (also below) - et tu, Dr. Luke? - but it's a good one and is destined to do well (it may be the perfect mid-tempo followup for a second consecutive number one, but what do I know?).

What do you think? Is the album art sweet enough to eat? Is Katy ripping off Ke$ha? Have you figured out why she shoots whipped cream out of her boobies and how that manages to eviscerate the army of angry gummy bears? (Katy Perry's sophomore album Teenage Dream drops August 24.)

Listen to Ke$ha's track "Animal" from the album of the same name.


Robyn Reveals "Body Talk Pt. 2" Album Artwork and Track Listing

Swedish pop queen Robyn revealed the album artwork for Body Talk Pt. 2 today on her website, as well as a track listing. It is confirmed that her much hyped collaboration with Snoop Dogg (called "U Should Know Better") will appear on the second of the three album set promised for 2010, along with tracks with titles like "Love Kills" and "Criminal Intent" that feature "hypnotic repetition, propulsive beats and infectious hooks, and lyrics which display the kind of unabashed emotional vulnerability that only comes with true self-confidence," according to the official press release.

Body Talk Pt. 2 Track Listing:
8. INDESTRUCTIBLE (acoustic version) 

So what do you think? I am so excited about this album, especially since the second volume of a trilogy tends to be the most epic and explorative. And if the past is any indication, the second part of the Body Talk series may be giving us a preview of an upcoming dance smash with an "acoustic version" of "Indestructible," as Robyn only does "acoustic versions" when a different version is already released or on its way. Are you looking forward to this as much as I? (Body Talk Pt. 2 drops September 6 in the UK; no official US release date has been announced.)

Songs You May Have Missed...

Matt Burstyn, Vertigo Shtick Contributor

“Fever” – Adam Lambert (For Your Entertainment, RCA, 2009)
 For hardcore pop enthusiasts, you may know this as an unreleased track of our fair Lady Gaga. This song which didn’t make The Fame did find a spot on another flashy spiked artist. Listen to the final product of Glambert’s vocals with Gaga’s song writing. The result? A gay man complaining why his boyfriend isn’t putting out.

“Come Back To Mine” – Florrie
Keep this girl on your memory. Currently an unsigned popstarlet who’s done intrusmental work for Girls Aloud and Kylie Minogue. This multitalented musician is putting an electro club flair into some sparing lyrics that leaves you wanting more of her music. Luckily, she’s giving them free on her website while she’s still unsigned.

“Bottom’s Up”  – KeKe Palmer (So Uncool, Atlantic, 2007)
The little girl we know from’s Akeelah And The Bee has grown and has got a good sense of swagger.  At age 17, she can spell all the right moves for pop and r&b.

“Sexy People” – Lolene (The Electrick Hotel, Capitol/EMI, 2010)
I’ve seen her perform this song live at the only 18+ gay club in Hollywood. It’s been almost a year since then and she’s having her debut album come out this summer! She calls herself "The Ambassador Of Love" on her twitter. Sexy people party with @lolene.

“Just The Way You Are” – Milky (Star, Robbins Entertainment, 2002)
Hitting a peak of position of #1 in the U.K. Dance Charts, and #8 in the singles chart for 2002. I remember when this Italian dance group created fond memories driving in my mom’s car. This is for you mom: I love you just the way you are.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Song for the (Hump) Day : 20 Fingers "Short Dick Man"

Even if the early '90s were something of a dark age for pop music, I have to give the era props: from Madonna's fantastic double whammy of "Justify My Love" and "Erotica" on through the first half of the decade, there was some raunchy stuff being put out there by some of the more sexually liberated women in the music industry. What better way to celebrate this Hump Day than striking a blow for censorship-free media with something from the R-rated archives of '90s pop music? Since I'm also feeling a little catty at present, for the first in what will become a regular midweek morsel here on Vertigo Shtick here's a snarky little ditty from 1994, 20 Fingers' thumping first single "Short Dick Man" as today's Song for the Day.

"Short Dick Man"
20 Fingers
(ZYX, 1994)

Trivia: "Short Dick Man" was written and produced by 20 Fingers, aka Charlie Babie and Manfred Mohr, with vocals by Gillette, who also included the track on her solo album On The Attack. The track was a big European hit and held the French number one spot for several weeks, although in the UK it was released in a censored version titled "Short Short Man."

I know, right?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

First Listen: Robyn "Hang With Me" (Single Version)

I've got some news for you: the lead single for Robyn's upcoming Body Talk Pt. 2 has arrived on UK radio in advance of the planned September 6 UK release. The track is a dance version of "Hang With Me," the orchestral "acoustic" version of which appears near the end of Body Talk Pt. 1 and serves as the emotional center of the album's second half as well as a stylistic and tonal lead-in to the minimalist folk song "Jag Vet en Dejlig Rosa" that closes the set. The single version essentially cuts and pastes the vocal track over a mid-tempo dance backdrop adapted from that of "Dancing on My Own," the lead single off Body Talk Pt. 1.

Here at Vertigo Shtick we tend not to put too much stock in first impressions when it comes to pop music, so my opinion may well change, but it seems to me that as great as the new "Hang With Me" is - because even a ripoff of DOMO is borrowing from the best, and because it's Robyn - it seems like a questionable tactical decision to have two singles in current rotation at one time that are so similar, especially when the second one doesn't exactly break any new ground?

But like I said, this is Robyn we're talking about... when has she ever given any reason to doubt? Can't wait to hear the rest of the new tracks!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Christina Aguilera - "Bionic" (Album Review)

The cover art for Christina Aguilera's formidable fourth studio album Bionic, her first since the sporadically brilliant 2006 release Back to Basics, tells much more about the album within than one might imagine. The classically beautiful singer, platinum blond hair in a tight do Eva Peron would admire, displays a face that's half flawless, airbrushed Aryan headshot and half electronic wiring layout: in other words, half lady, half bot. Of course, the whole supposed concept of the album is in the title, a mildly clever usage of a term that can mean both "anatomical or physiological elements replaced by electronic or mechanical components" and "having superhuman ability or capacity." Since this is, after all, a Christina Aguilera album, the overlengthy epic never entirely commits to its (inherently unnecessary) theme, and although there are numerous instances of greatness and even a couple near genius, the whole inevitably gets bogged down in its overstuffed, overbearing overimportance.

Bionic Album Cover Artwork
Bionic recalls Aguilera's sophomore album Stripped in numerous ways, far more than it does its mature, cooler predecessor Back to Basics, although certain similarities link all three albums produced under Aguilera's relative artistic control. Perhaps the main and most obvious parallel is the sheer size of each product, and none of the three has been the better for Aguilera's preference for lengthy breaks (four years on average) between epic albums over more releases more frequent and of manageable size, if more prone to the use of filler material.

And it is true, of the nearly sixty (!) full tracks across the three albums only a very small handful can really be denigrated as "filler," which is not to say every one is a winner but that each clearly receives the input, production effort and time generally granted to a potential single. But since Aguilera doesn't exactly spend all four years between albums making new music, that means she's preparing, on average, a whopping twenty new tracks for a new release (not counting the now ubiquitous bonus tracks), and even Stuart Price would crumble under that kind of schedule. Hence the hands of several different songwriters and producers evident on each album, only Aguilera has never been as adept as Britney Spears at selecting the best, most cohesive talent for her albums, and the already overlong track listings therefore take on a sometimes jarring rag doll quality.

Never has this been more obvious (nor more distracting) than on Bionic, which utilizes no fewer than eight different production teams for the eighteen primary tracks. The first half of the album, wherein the "bionic" theme remains at least tenuously intact (although sex, not so much electronica, is the aggressively apparent item being sold), is buoyed by the strongest productions on the album and, in some cases, some of the best and most interesting producing yet to come out of the current electronic pop movement. The gold medal goes to Santigold producing team John Hill and Switch, whose two contributions, "Bionic" and "Elastic Love" (hear it below) win them the dubious honor of successfully transforming one middling and one truly awful song into tracks so fascinating in their experimentation and effect that one would be forgiven for not noticing their writing flaws. ("A rubber band was an analogy," Aguilera helpfully explains in the second verse of "Elastic Love:" "Some may even say it's a metaphor.") Agit-pop troublemaker M.I.A. supposedly guests on the latter track, but after multiple listens with headphones I still could not tell you which of the two ladies is "singing" at which moment, so thoroughly does Aguilera commit to the "Paper Planes" songstress' amateurish, tonal accuracy-optional vocal style. Still, especially if you happen to be lucky enough not to understand English, the track is a thrilling, off-the-wall highlight of production and robotic melange, although as I unfortunately did hear the lyrics I cannot often bring myself to play the track even on my own.

Polow Da Don helms two of the most solidly successful tracks on the album and certainly two of the highlights of the first half: the underperforming lead single "Not Myself Tonight" and its even poorer-performing followup single "Woohoo," the latter featuring the fabulous and exciting new rap girl on the scene, Nicki Minaj, whose presence is always welcome on any track and is especially effective here. "Not Myself Tonight" is another example of cutting-edge production whose weaknesses lie elsewhere, this time not so much in the song itself but in the singer. If anyone believes the girl behind "Dirrty" is "normally in the corner just standing" or that really any of the supposedly wild things covered in the song are anything close to shocking or "outside the norm" for Xtina, I haven't met him. (The track took on an even less veracious air upon release of the not-at-all shocking one-upmanship music video, in which Aguilera takes the sexualities of Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Janet Jackson and strips them of any and all of the teasing, holding back and calculated non-explicitness that made them so effective, out-sexing them indeed but without being the least bit sexy.)

"Woohoo," on the other hand, is one of the better tracks Aguilera has put out, with its schoolgirl chant cleverly recalling Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" or Lil' Mama's "Lip Gloss," its refreshingly fun and frank demonstration of female sexuality serving a rebuttal to hip hop chauvinism like "Say Aah" and "Lollipop" that their male counterparts have been getting away with for years, and Minaj's hilarious and wacky accent-shifting rap verse. The only track on the brazen, sexualized first half as strong is Tricky Stewart's sexy Spanglish strip-club track "Desnudate," (hear it below) notably the first time on the album Aguilera's voice displays its usual aesthetic quality (it's the fifth track), and it comes as an odd surprise, really...not that this detracts from "Desnudate," instead fueling the sensuality of the sexual song, one of the few times on the album Aguilera actually manages to be appealing. Of course, a good Britney fan will instantly notice the song as a rewrite of "Get Naked (I Got a Plan)" with a faux Latin twist, but that was a pretty great song to begin with, and Aguilera's take on the disrobing question is nearly as enjoyable regardless. Stewart's other two tracks, "Glam" and "Prima Donna," are similarly competent if slightly tame following the delirious excitement of the opening five.

Barely do you have time to enjoy the sensual new wave sounds of "Sex for Breakfast," which is about exactly what it sounds and would have fit comfortably on No Doubt's new wave masterpiece Return of Saturn or even on Aguilera's own Stripped, when suddenly Bionic switches gears dramatically, and it takes a few tracks to fully recover. This means that the decent Linda Perry ballad "Lift Me Up" might easily go unappreciated, a fate much more suitable for the wretchedly sappy interlude and song that follow. It seems to me that if you don't want to seem like you're copying your career-long rival, in this case Spears, you oughtn't ignore what made her successful while stumbling over the same ridiculous missteps as she, especially if you're going to out-stumble her. I understand that mothers, particularly new mothers, are required to think of their offspring as royalty, but did Aguilera really think we needed not just a syrupy ballad of love for her toddler but also, worst of all, an interlude in which presumably his father coaxes the child to talk or sing or babble or whatever it can do for the microphone? This coming, not to mention, not five minutes after the diva was still singing about the filthy sexual side orders she planned to offer with her eggs? Sure, it's much more accomplished musically than Spears' deadly "My Baby," but even if you manage to make it through the tune the taste of vomit can't help but cancel out anything good about "All I Need."

Fortunately, Aguilera redeems herself, and her much celebrated new collaborator Sia, with the two ballads that follow (Sia also wrote "All I Need"); "I Am" is a beautiful if somewhat unconvincing display of emotional vulnerability that Aguilera interestingly and effectively delivers in a voice noticeably stronger and less emotional than she's displayed in the past, and the many contradictions within the track somehow create a compelling and beautiful result. "You Lost Me," which has quickly become the go-to vocal showcase in the wake of "Not Myself Tonight" and "Woohoo"'s chart struggles (in other words, it's the "Beautiful" to the latter two's "Dirrty"), is admittedly the best ballad of the four, and Aguilera delivers it with a mixture of uncharacteristic restraint and pure, clandestine vocal power: she still belts the pants off anyone in the business, but it's almost as if she is no longer trying to show off, shelving the overdramatic melisma and shouty high notes that have peppered if not defined her previous work. The only thing working against "You Lost Me" is the singer herself, in terms of persona and not musicality, and quite unfairly I might add. Should the perhaps inescapable difficulty of being famous enough that certain aspects of one's life - for instance, marital status - are common knowledge preclude an artist of Aguilera's caliber from performing a heart-wrenching tour-de-force power ballad about a man who done her wrong when we know there "ain't no other man can stand up next to" her real life husband? [Edit: Obviously the news of Aguilera's recent divorce from husband Jordan Bratman has made me look like a fool with that last little know-it-all moment...touché. (12/17/10)]

Aguilera has never been terribly adept at knowing when to stop, and she stays true to form on Bionic, with the three final uptempo tracks feeling as haphazard and sloppily placed as the three superfluous ballads with which Stripped limps to the finish (Back to Basics handled its overload more deftly, aided by the use of two disks). None of them is as good as any of the tracks of the hard-pounding first half, although the disparity would hardly have been as obvious had they been included with their stylistic peers. The effect is not only musically distracting, but any credibility Aguilera has left with the more soulful subject matter of the early second half is dissolved handily by the puerile "I Hate Boys," another drumline/cheer style track with a subject just about as polarizing as "Woohoo" and with none of the redeeming qualities of the earlier, far superior track. A note to dance-pop divas: for your tracks to chart as singles in a still largely R&B/hip hop/male band-dominated industry, the gays are key; alienate them at your peril. You know, gays: "boys" who tend to regard the female genitalia with queasiness.) The song might have worked on Aguilera's debut album, or even on Stripped, when her audience still included young and teenage girls; is she so out of it that she still believes that demographic is among her major followers? If not, at whom, then, are "I Hate Boys" and the energetic but ill-placed Peaches collaboration "My Girls" aimed? The gays, men in general, and women put off by the rampant egotism that abounds in Bionic are out, so who's left?

The first five seconds of the closer, "Vanity," (hear it below) may hold the answer: on my second listen I had a sudden epiphany in these meager moments as Aguilera growls "I ain't cocky.... I just loooove mah-self.... Bitch!" As one hears "Vanity," especially after the seventeen tracks that precede it, one can't help wondering if the only demographic who might potentially make it through Bionic unscathed is drag queens. This brings up a main flaw of Bionic: there is a noticeable lack of regard for or even concern about the audience, whether in decisively adapting to one in particular or casting a broad enough net to attract and accommodate a wider range. Artists, certainly ones with the talent Aguilera has, are certainly permitted to decide at some point to make music however the hell they want to without catering to consumers, but such rebellions typically come with a realistic expectation of the likely effect on sales figures. It has been partly entertaining and partly disheartening to watch Aguilera's camp reacting to undeniably disappointing critical and commercial response when little to nothing that has happened thus far with the album's reception would have surprised most moderately aware spectators. As for content, the uncanny similarities Bionic and its release have had with the shaky stumbling surrounding Stripped (oops...she did it again!) are especially concerning in the wake of an artistic achievement on the level of Back to Basics: surely a major talent like Aguilera should have no trouble moving forward, not tumbling backward.

The thing is, within this overlarge average-to-good album are two potentially great albums: imagine the opening half along with the intoxicating experimentation of bonus track "Bobblehead" and the comfortable electro-pop mood elevator bonus track "Monday Morning," and see a techo-dance pop album that could have been a trendsetter like The E.N.D. or The Fame Monster and greater than either. Alternately, the three top-notch ballads and even the gross baby one when removed from context would couple handsomely with "Sex for Breakfast" and perhaps a couple more of the smoother but still compelling and modern torch songs and piano numbers from Back to Basics to make an adult contemporary pop gem to rival Madonna's Something to Remember. But that's not how Christina Aguilera operates, and unfortunately her potentially great, barrier-breaking bionic ideas become buried in the muck of ego, overzealous competitiveness, and questionable choices. As rocky as Stripped was, there was at least never any doubt that Aguilera was running things, or at least thought so; Back to Basics succeeded despite its own imperfections partly due to Aguilera's veteran-worthy confidence and ownership of material that was foreign to many pop consumers. Bionic suffers from a lack of control, and a lack of ownership, that raise the question of how involved Aguilera was in the process, or how much she really gave this time around. It is perfectly acceptable to give birth and decide to pour all one's creative and physical energy into the family, but less so if you release subpar work back at your old job and assume no one will notice the difference.

Christina Aguilera may well return four or eight years from now with her masterpiece, a manifesto with the artistic ingenuity and skill of Back to Basics with the loose ends tightened and the edges polished up, and on that day I will doubtless be over the moon as a longtime fan of the artist side of Christina Aguilera. And in five or ten years know-it-all critics will probably look back at Bionic and pompously extol it as a trailblazing, underappreciated classic that was simply before its time. That's all well and good, and better than most pop stars ever manage in their careers. But in order to truly blow it out of the water, the bionic elements alone are insufficient: the human touch is the key to taking a technical triumph to the level of great music.

Read More about Bionic on Vertigo Shtick:

Song for the Day: Christina Aguilera "Monday Morning"

New Singles from Christina Aguilera, Robyn ("Not Myself Tonight")

The Joy of Cooking: Aguilera Not-So-Surprise ("Not Myself Tonight" Music Video)

New Videos from Christina Aguilera, Nicki Minaj ("You Lost Me" Music Video)

Kylie Minogue - "Aphrodite" (Album Review)

Fembots (Have Feelings Too) - Part 1
Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite

In recent years, pop and dance music has been infiltrated by robots, from the playful European electronic duo Daft Punk (who even dress as robots for live performances) to the digitally manipulated sounds from hip-hop crossovers like T-Pain, Lil' Wayne, and even Kanye West, who not only sampled one of Daft Punk's robo-hooks on his hit "Stronger," the rapper went and recorded an entire album of himself singing, with more than a little help from a now much reviled technology known as Auto-Tune. Even back in 2006, the last time there was a bonafide male dance-pop star making waves, Justin Timberlake was dropping tunes from an album half of whose title referenced the future.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Songs You May Have Missed…

Kurt Bitter, Vertigo Shtick Contributor

Below I’ve listed several songs that, for whatever reason, you may have not heard yet. Some are from once-popular artists whose failed comebacks nonetheless resulted in good music; others are from artists who never quite made it to begin with. All the songs, I think, are worth at least one full listen.

“Heard ‘em All” - Amerie (In Love And War, Def Jam, 2009)
I’d forgotten about Amerie until I happened across this song in a dance class several months ago. Its urban jungle drums and heavy bass give it a killer beat that Amerie’s voice blends well with, unlike her previous single “1 Thing”, which gives me a splitting headache if I play it too loudly.

“Took the Night” - Chelley
If you’ve been to any club (especially a gay one) in the past year you’ve probably heard this song’s background instrumentals, if not the full song itself. It’s become somewhat of an anthem for voguers across the country, and after a listen it’s easy to understand why. It’s vocals are horribly repetitive, but that’s the point.

“I Like to Fuck” - Hot Rod ft. Tila Tequila
Umm… it’s exactly what you expect. Good, dirty fun.

“We Break the Dawn” - Michelle Williams (Unexpected, Sony BMG, 2008)

Turns out the least successful member of Destiny’s Child (you know, the one who isn’t Kelly or Beyonce) has been releasing her own solo albums since the girl group’s disbandment. Admittedly this is the only track of hers I’ve heard (it was upon the recommendation of a friend), but I ended up quite liking it. Williams has a very distinct, somewhat raspy and soulful voice, and I think this song suits her well. There’s also a great remix featuring Flo Rida out there.

“Make My Heart” - Toni Braxton (Pulse, Atlantic, 2010)

You probably haven’t thought of Braxton in a while unless you’ve gone through a recent break-up and put “Unbreak My Heart” on repeat. Regardless, she’s back in 2010 with a new album that dropped in May, and “Make My Heart” is its second single. Its verses feature some funky trumpets that at first sounded a bit jarring to me, but its chorus is a dance-pop frenzy you can totally get lost in, and there’s an awesome dance break thrown into the bridge. But while you’re listening try to ignore the music video, it’s exceptionally terrible.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sara Bareilles - "King of Anything" (Single Review)

For such an outwardly positive and classically beautiful young woman, poor Sara Bareilles seems to have some bum luck when it comes to men. The antiheroes of Bareilles' best-known songs aren't physically abusive or compulsive cheaters; they're more just, well, losers: needy, passive-aggressive, bossy, childish, selfish, clingy, and so forth. They're a particularly bourgeois kind of soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, dwelling most commonly in the hallways of college dorms, the coffee shops of upper middle class New York or Los Angeles neighborhoods, and television sitcom neighborhoods. So while they may not be all that dangerous or frightening, they're pesky and annoying and mostly harmless - in other words, excellent fodder for a light pop single by a young white solo female performer.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kylie Minogue in the 2000s: A Playlist You Can't Get Out of Your Head

I got a wonderful little email last night from iTunes, helpfully reminding me that I had pre-ordered Kylie Minogue's eleventh studio album Aphrodite, which is released today worldwide (and Kylie is notoriously adept at preventing leaks of her new material, so it's a bit more exciting a release date than usual around these parts). As I believe the only way to be able to discuss the merits of an album is to listen to it the entire way through, in order, at least once (I believe, and I'm not alone, that the packaging of the tracks selected for an album can and should be done with as much artistic care as anything else about it), which I will have a chance to do sometime today, and I will try and assemble some preliminary thoughts before the critical consensus becomes solidified, which should I succeed I will post here posthaste.

Meanwhile, I thought I'd gather up some of my favorite singles from the Aussie legend, initially for my own nostalgia but also to present to readers, whether you take it as a conveniently packaged soundtrack to mark the day while at work or leaving it or wherever you choose, or if, instead, as a relative newbie in Minogue terms you find yourself introduced to some of the best work of a dance pop pioneer who for the past ten years or so has been putting out consistently high-quality music, a feat even many of the greats cannot claim. I wanted to include, as a personal delight, the music video that captured me during my impressionable freshman year of college and introduced me to Kylie Minogue...with the help of one fantastically designed white hooded outfit that still thrills me to this day, even if the fear and ignorance of the female body I had then are...well, less an issue nowadays, at least. But unfortunately EMI hasn't gotten with the program and figured out that free music videos=singles sales, and it is not available for embedding (indeed, the only version I have been able to find for years is rather poor quality...very disappointing for reasons that may become clear in a second).

 Yep, that's the one!

Which is your favorite single from the past decade? "Can't Get You Out of My Head," obvious choice thought it may be in this country, is probably my favorite in so many way and for as many reasons, although I've become a recent convert to "Chocolate" as I've grown able to understand the concepts more over time; I have also had a soft spot for "In Your Eyes," a tune that reminds me of some good times with some very good friends years ago, and one of the rare songs I never skip when it happens to come up in shuffle. Vote in the poll to the right, and share which you chose and why in the comments if you'd like! I know I'd enjoy hearing about others' appreciation of an artist for whom I have a certain unique respect, whether her album blows me away as Body Language did or merely amuses as with X (and even at her worst she's thoroughly listenable anyway!). I'm excited to find out later today.

Ehhhh, how about one more before I go?

Excellent. I'm all set.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

And Now, To Honor America...Slugs!

Happy Independence Day to my fellow American readers (and happy Sunday to those abroad)! Though I've taken some of this holiday weekend off, I have only done so preparing some of the great new features that will be debuting on Vertigo Shtick throughout the summer, so never fear: much more music, commentary and criticism is coming your way very shortly!

In the meantime, I thought I'd try and help in case anyone else shares my unfortunate inability to watch any fireworks displays this evening, in a way that relates to one of my favorite things/areas of relative expertise: music, of course! (Also, musical theatre knowledge, close harmony, and anything obscure but appropriate.) I remember that every year for many years of my childhood my family would watch the wonderful film version of Meredith Willson's musical The Music Man, since much of it takes place around an Independence Day town celebration. One of my favorite musical moments in the movies (the song was actually added for the film) has always been when the four quarelling members of the school board, whom lead character and swindling traveling salesman Harold Hill has by then turned into a barbershop quartet (in order to distract them from his shady doings), serenade the July Fourth revelers in the park with the song "Sincere," complete with fireworks that burst helpfully during the final chord.

Imagine my delight when years later, in college, I went looking for a video of the scene and along the way discovered something even greater: some wonderful digital artist at one point inexplicably decided to recast the number as a computer-animated short film...with slugs. And the fireworks are even still present.

Therefore, on this July 4, 2010, I "sincerely" wish you a happy holiday, by means of an invertebrate barbershop quartet...and fireworks.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Song for the Day: Jill Scott - "I'm Not Afraid"

As a 26 year old white boy with a deep appreciation of female-driven soul, R&B and hip hop music, I am used to being something of the odd man out among fellow fans. No artist, though, unleashes the black woman hidden within this pasty male body quite as much as Jill Scott (to whose music I was introduced, interestingly, by one of my similarly Caucasian fraternity brothers, whose ambiance playlists for pot brownie evenings were second to none). The subtitle of each of her three studio albums thus far, "Words and Sounds," may risk seeming pretentious, but a Jill Scott album is not your usual parade of a dozen or so tunes in standard length and form: it is instead, in fact, a collection of poetry set to deep R&B music and beats, some freeform, some verse, some package-ready standards, some lengthy ruminations, and some brief spurts of feelings or ideas. It helps that Scott possesses an instrument every bit as strong and compelling as her words, not to mention a remarkably and consistently groovy and relaxed artistic phyche.

I had a bit of a time trying to select just one track from Jill Scott's discography for Song for the Day purposes, although I was probably leaning from the start towards "I'm Not Afraid," the opening track (after a minute and a half of "Warmup") on Scott's strong second album Beautifully Human. I was always particularly drawn to the deep bass and reliably syncopated beat underneath the lyrical pronouncements of empowerment, the alternating high and low electronic chords that span the three and a half minute track without resolving. As I became more familiar with its place in Scott's discography it only took on more significance, even without ever feeling especially significant in itself, so it has, in a way, always haunted my visits into Jill Scott's realm.

After barrelling onto the R&B scene with her critical smash debut Who is Jill Scott, in 2000, the singer virtually vanished from the scene just as Lauryn Hill had following her even bigger game-changing debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (a departure from which she has yet to return), so when four years later Scott's new material finally arrived, critics were bowled over by a followup that defied all industry logic by being even more brilliant than the first under circumstances that seemingly made such success beyond improbable. The album is a marvel, indeed, but the reasons are all there in "I'm Not Afraid" on its own: the 32 year old was no longer singing breathtakingly sensual and sincere tunes about loving her man, instead delivering a thoroughly adult album that discussed politics, responsibility and mature optimism without once seeming to preach, and all the while it was simply good music as well. Scott's fourth studio album is reportedly due later this year, and the singer, now 38, is currently touring with Maxwell to sold-out arenas nationwide.

"I'm Not Afraid"
Jill Scott
Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2
(Hidden Beach, 2004)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Song for the Day: Are You That Somebody?

The music industry has had more than its share of notable figures who have met unfortunate and premature ends, airplane crashes having a particularly eerie prevalence among their causes. Certainly one of the biggest losses came in 2001 when R&B singer Aaliyah died at 22 in a plane crash following a music video shoot in the Bahamas. The loss of such a uniquely promising artist was a devastating one, but as she had been signed to Jive Records at the green age of twelve, Aaliyah contributed a good eight or nine years' worth of music from her 1994 debut, appropriately titled Age Ain't Nothing But a Number, through her groundbreaking, self-titled 2001 studio album, and then some. Gifted with solid musical chops, Aaliyah also was the biggest early successes of the brilliant hip hop producers Missy Elliott and Timbaland, who worked as a producing team in the late '90s and were behind most of Aaliyah's second album One in a Million, the success of which made stars of all three.

While she would later get the bite of the acting bug, Aaliyah made her first marks in the film industry with her contributions in 1998 to the soundtracks of the animated film Anastasia and the Eddie Murphy comedy Dr. Doolittle. The latter, in fact, was the unlikely origin of one of Aaliyah's most popular and important singles, "Are You That Somebody." To say the single was groundbreaking would be a gross understatement, not so much on the part of the singer but that of its producer, Timbaland, who with that track both shattered pop conventions and laid the groundwork for one of the most successful producing careers in modern pop history. To today's ear the production does not come off too far outside the box, but this is only because minimalist production has been adopted and adapted widely by Timbaland and high profile followers like the Neptunes in the years since in hip hop, R&B, and mainstream pop music alike. As the New Yorker put it, "the beat refuses to fully engage, using more dead space than you would have thought possible in a hit," and in 1998, when the Max Martin style of dense, saturated production had began running the show (or at least doing it the loudest), this was even more of a departure. And that's not to mention the mouth clicks, finger snaps, and the baby giggle. A baby giggle. I would kill to have been in the label exec's office when they first got a load of this one.

And yet, the track, released as an airplay-only single at a time when Billboard had not yet allowed airplay-only singles to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 (although that policy was changed midway through "Are You That Somebody?"'s chart run), was a huge hit, reaching number four on the main airplay chart and number one on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay. The record is included on "Best Of" lists by the likes of Blender (#387 on The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born), Spin magazine, and even the Village Voice, and is easily my personal favorite of Aaliyah's strong if sadly too brief discography.

"Are You That Somebody?"
(Atlantic Records, 1998)

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