Sunday, November 14, 2010

First Listen: Ke$ha - "Blow"

Another week, another Ke$ha track from the upcoming release of Cannibal. This one might be the Nashville pop diva's most hardcore dance track, but unlike with the deceptively raunchy lyrics of "Cannibal" and the not-so-deceptive smack talk of "Sleazy," "Blow" isn't nearly as R-rated as one might presume someone whose lyrics have included "show me where your dick's at" and "I can find someone way hotter (with a bigger...well...)" might do with such a title. No, the titular verb refers to the more family-friendly definition akin to its usage in Ke$ha's debut smash single "TiK ToK" - it's still a colloquialism, but for a metaphorical explosion involving a dance club rather than for the act of fellatio or a certain powdery controlled substance.

 As with the previous three Cannibal singles, "Blow" comes to us, initially at least, in the form of a "leak." Of course, as it has become more and more common for artists with looming release dates to periodically release a number of tracks as digital singles rather than depend on one make-or-break official lead single, given the regularity of these "leaks" and the fact that just one additional track has surfaced, it's probable that the "leak" is an authorized one to drum up interest for what I'd wager my firstborn will appear on iTunes as a digital single this Tuesday.

But since this whole controlled leakage strategy is still so new and untested, and because music labels have continued to be bafflingly inept at adapting to a digital, singles-heavy sales model, until an official "leak" or digital single emerges from an artist's camp, the distribution of the new track is still mired in legal uncertainty. It's not uncommon, for instance, to find numerous appearances of a recently leaked song on YouTube with an altered tempo (either sped up or slowed down), presumably to delay discovery by variously strict content violation detectives. Usually the difference, even if not admitted to by whoever posted the song (bad form, surely), is noticeable or even obvious, and most of the time the true incarnation of the track proves a refreshing relief. But what if, hypothetically, a leak emerges of a track that subsequently spreads across the net in an altered form that actually improves upon the official cut yet to be released? It's a rare occurrence, but surely it must have happened before, or if not, is bound to happen sometime.

Consider "Blow," if you will. I first heard the track on a certain pop music website whose writing style and journalistic integrity grate at my very soul on a daily basis but that is big enough to serve as a reliable source from which to find much of the newest releases and leaks. Later that day I spoke to Matt Burstyn, one of my contributing writers, who had found an mp3 for download elsewhere. Imagine our surprise to discover that his version was significantly slower than the one I'd been listening to non-stop for much of the preceding day. But when I introduced him to my faster cut, I was shocked to learn that he disagreed with my confident assertion that of course my version was preferable. We agree that his version is likely the closest to what the official product will turn out to be, but not on whether that's a-ok or a durn-tootin' shame. Since such a debate seemed worthy of publication, I thought I'd move it from a private battle, unlikely to ever be solved, to a more public debate on Vertigo Shtick, hopefully with some input from readers as to what they think!

Version One 
(or, Blow Faster)

"Blow" Ke$ha (130 BPM)

David: At 130 BPM, this pulsating, pounding dance track is sure to get the adrenaline pumping, and would transition seamlessly into or out of some of Ke$ha's other thrilling dance tracks, particularly the recently released "Cannibal" (130 BPM) or "Take It Off" (126 BPM), the latter one with which "Blow" shares both setting and sentiment. Critics pointed to "Telephone" as one of the most exciting tracks off Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster EP, noting that it was the most hardcore dance-style track the groundbreaking pop matriarch had yet released (and, if she pursues the more honky-tonk Elton John-inspired sound she's hinted she would for her second full-length album due next year, it may remain so for a while). "Telephone" was the record that helped cement Gaga's resurgent popularity after the blockbuster "Bad Romance" and its accompanying video set a frighteningly high bar for excitement and quality that she may not have otherwise been able to maintain in subsequent singles. With the desired sound and style of Top 40 continuing to center on up-tempo, electronic dance music (largely by female solo acts), "Blow" has the makings of a big hit for Ke$ its more engaging, addictive faster speed. Otherwise, especially with "Cannibal" already outdoing "Blow" in terms of beats per minute, and undoubtedly one or more additional tracks from the upcoming EP that have yet to leak, "Blow," at its glacial 120 BPM pace, is liable to be a letdown. That would really blow.

Version Two  
(or, Slow Blow)

"Blow" Ke$ha (120 BPM)

Matt: The sped up version is a leak, meaning the sound quality is lower, bass mixing doesn't factor in and, to my ear, it doesn’t capture all the higher production notes in the chorus.  This version is played at a tempo where one can actually follow what the lyrics, and is easier to sing along with and dance to. It has a much more anthem-like sound, which better connects with the audience. This production enhances the great usage of auto tune in the chorus (“this place about to Blow-ow-ow-ow-ow”) and the electronic manipulation of Ke$ha’s vocal, making it much more interesting to listen to. TA live performance would be very difficult at the higher speed, plus the pace of the synthesized notes on the faster cut sounds very unnatural. The run time of the faster version is 3:21, whereas the slower production plays at 3:40; a track that is closer to four minutes seems more likely to be on Cannibal.

Now that you've heard both versions, let us know what you think! Do you prefer the faster version or the slower one that's more likely the official version from the upcoming release? [Edit: it is]

Comment below!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First Listen: Robyn - "Call Your Girlfriend" and "Time Machine"

With just under two weeks to go until the final installment in Robyn's ambitious and deliriously fantastic Body Talk trilogy, the Swedish dance diva has returned to the States for her second U.S. tour this year, this time as a solo headliner (British dance-pop singer Natalia Kills joins her to open), and yesterday two of the five new tracks set for the third release, which collects five tracks from each of the two previously released Body Talk EPs to make up one helluva killer full-length set, appeared as if by magic to hold us over and whet our appetites all at once. Word has it that the opening stop in Miami last Friday played to well under half capacity, which is both incredible and terribly frustrating as Robyn is easily - far and away - the best live performer currently working in pop music. It's a superlative for which I can personally vouch after catching the first stop of the "All Hearts Tour," her recent joint venture with R&B-turned-dance singer Kelis this summer, and eagerly look forward to confirming at her Los Angeles stop, one week from today.

The first, "Call Your Girlfriend," is a deceptively inventive electropop tidal wave, wherein the timelessly adorable singer takes on the role of the other woman, instructing her lover to give his ball and chain a Dear John already - even helpfully micromanaging the details of letting the wronged one down easy, but only because it'll get the job done faster, all with the same disarming sweetness that gave "you're a selfish, narcissistic, psycho-freakin' boot-licking, slimy pimp" its lingering bite in her 2005 single "Handle Me."

The second marks a reunion with none other than Max Martin, the now famous Swedish pop producing legend who first brought Robyn to fame over a decade ago with her 1997 debut album Robyn is Here, which exploded in Europe and sent two singles to the top ten of the US singles chart. Robyn and Martin haven't collaborated since then, despite their geographic proximity (both are still based in Sweden, which, let's face it, ain't all that big), but on the aptly titled "Time Machine" the now veteran hitmakers create music as sweet as it was then and could possibly be now with a near flawless track that perfectly represents the kind of confident, thoughtful, layered and understated expertise with which both artists have come to show in their artistry. It's a track I may likely choose to explore and discuss further but I wanted to share before anything else, both for the general welfare of anyone fortunate enough to stumble upon the blog and, on a semi-cryptic personal note, because it happens to relay a message and sentiment I need to express to a certain special person to whom I'm dedicating this post.

What do you think? Are you convinced, as many critics now seem to be, that Robyn really can do no wrong? Nor, for that matter, Max Martin? Comment away!


Monday, November 8, 2010

Album Giveaway - Win a Copy of Rihanna's Upcoming Album "Loud"

As Vertigo Shtick's first birthday approaches, some lucky readers will be able to win some very sweet gifts with one of the number of giveaways that will be featured here leading up to the special date. One of the two current giveaways will conclude just one week from today, when one lucky Facebook follower will win a copy of Rihanna's new album, Loud!

Featuring hit singles "Only Girl (In the World)" and "What's My Name," Loud marks a return to the early dance days of the Barbadian pop princess, with productions by Stargate and David Guetta and guest spots by Nicki Minaj, Drake and more. The album drops November 16 and is certain to be the latest in Rihanna's long line of smash hits. And it could be yours for free, simply by clicking one little button...this one below, in fact! To enter the giveaway is so simple it almost hurts.

Vertigo Shtick

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By following the Vertigo Shtick Facebook page you'll be able to keep up with all the new posts, new music, new videos, news, and reviews from Vertigo Shtick...and hopefully spread the word to your own Facebook friends and help the only intelligent pop music blog this side of the Atlantic spread its gospel of substance and thoughtfulness throughout this Clear Channel/Ryan Seacrest/Heidi Montag world of ours!

*Contest ends at 12:00am PST Tuesday, November 16, 2010. All followers of the official Vertigo Shtick Facebook page as of 12:00am PST Tuesday, November 16 shall be considered entrants of the giveaway, excluding Vertigo Shtick contributing writers and immediate relatives of the creator and editor. The winner will be selected in a random drawing from all eligible entrants, and will be notified by email or, if not available, by Facebook message. Winner will receive one digital copy of Loud, by Rihanna, via iTunes (if winner is unable to receive music in said format, an audio CD will be shipped to his or her shipping address), and will be requested to provide an email address where the prize can be sent.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pink - "Fuckin' Perfect" (Single Review)

Pop rock icon Pink is, among many other things, a bit of a conundrum, for critic and consumer alike. Take her discography, for starters: the singer, nee Alecia Moore, first broke onto the scene in 2000, amid the highest point of the teen pop boom when artists such as Britney Spears were racking up five-figure weekly sales numbers, with the defiantly (and, particularly in hindsight, moderately unconvincing) R&B-oriented Can't Take Me Home, which sold an impressive two million copies but was easily overshadowed by the eleven million, ten million and eight million figures of N*SYNC, Spears, and the Backstreet Boys, respectively. Then Pink unleashed her groundbreaking sophomore hit Missundaztood, a showcase for the singer's now familiar but then unexpected blend of pop, rock, and hip-hop that went five times platinum in the U.S. and has sold over twelve million copies worldwide.

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