Thursday, May 27, 2010

First Listen: Kimberly Cole - "Smack You"

Editor's Note: I am thrilled to publish the first post written for Vertigo Shtick by pop aficionado (and fellow Britney Spears apologist) Kurt Bitter, whose work will hopefully continue showing up here and there from here on out.


A few months ago I found myself in Tricia Miranda’s hip hop class at Debbie Reynolds Studio. I’d been expecting the type of routine that Tricia has become notorious for in the LA dance scene – either something full-out and hood, or something slow and sexy. You can probably imagine my shock when she first plays the song we’d be dancing to: a legitimate, certified pop song. It turns out Tricia had been hired as the choreographer for Kimberly Cole, an artist who first found success on Myspace Music and is currently attempting to break into the mainstream, and we’d be learning the choreography to “Smack You” that would later be used on her promo tour. And so I really had no choice but to listen to the first minute of “Smack You” at least 20 times over the next hour, during which time I grew to like the track.


Given its crass nature and up-tempo beat “Smack You” could easily be something that Katy Perry would record, which is hardly a bad thing. The song is aggressive, catchy, and very dance-able. The first verse and pre-chorus slowly gain momentum before we’re thrown into the frenzy of a chorus, which promises flying lipstick, thrown punches, and bruised groins. We exit the chorus with a daunting warning: watch out, because Cole’s ready to “smack a bitch.”

Musically and lyrically the song isn’t anything new, which may pose problems for Cole (pictured at right, with Miranda) as she continues to seek endorsements. But for us that doesn’t matter. The song is just damn fun, and she can definitely sing. She’s no Christina, but she’s on par with what the radio has forced us to become accustomed to. However, what I like most about Cole, and what will help her stand out amongst all the other dance-pop princesses striving for recognition, is her commitment to performance. I’ve seen one of Cole’s performances live and several others on YouTube and as a dancer myself I appreciate the effort she puts in to putting on a show. Not in terms of theatricality, but in terms of pure movement on stage. This is largely Tricia’s doing, and the two clearly work well together. Her performances are exquisitely choreographed and never dull, and sometimes feature contortionists, men on stilts, and gymnasts. Oh, and Cole roller skates. On stage. While singing and dancing. Watching a video of her performing really doesn’t do her justice; seeing her in person is a total visual overload, and exactly what I like to see from pop artists.

So give “Smack You” a listen, and watch Cole’s performance at The Choreographer’s Carnival (video at bottom) a monthly showcase in LA that regularly features some of the country’s most reputable choreographers. I’d love for her to gain a wider audience because I feel like her performances fill a great void in today’s live pop shows, and this post is my attempt to help this happen.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Agnes' "Release Me" - A Tale of Patience Paying Off

Sometimes a song can absorb a certain connotation based on the situation in which one is first exposed to it. That can have a positive or negative impact, or none at all, of course; a relatively unremarkable song can become a thrilling track if discovered at a moment of great joy, and vice versa. For me, for instance, the exciting and intense situation in which I first heard an advance copy of Britney Spears' album In the Zone, then still months from release, helped make "Toxic" transcend its already inherent greatness to something bordering on orgasmic in my mind.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Robyn Still Kills in New Video for "Dancing on My Own"

Robyn, the "killingest pop star on the planet," is back...with a vengeance. Starting next Tuesday Vertigo Shtick will be spending the three weeks leading up to the release of Robyn's new album Body Talk, Part 1 (the first of three due out within the year) by offering a complete retrospective of the Swedish diva's large body of work, but Robyn has offered a great kickoff head start with the new video released today for upcoming single "Dancing on My Own."


A followup to Robyn's masterpiece "Be Mine," the great song about losing someone you never really had in the first place, "Dancing On My Own" follows the singer to a club where she sees her erstwhile someone in the arms of someone else - not that she didn't know he would be there with her or anything. It's a touching, heart-wrenching testament to the way people tend to torture themselves in love, and judging from the video's rocking dance production, it's had a little tune-up from the early leaked album version I laid my hands on earlier this month. It's a stunning production and the pop star nails the look and the feel of the song, looking chic as ever and benefiting from solid production value in the Max Vitali-directed spot.

What do you think? Are you excited for the return of this pop genius?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kylie Minogue Finds the Love in New Single

Fans from all over the globe are celebrating the return of dance music goddess Kylie Minogue, whose new single "All the Lovers," from upcoming album Aphrodite (due July 5) dropped Friday on YouTube and various blogs and websites across the net. Having conquered breast cancer and an unsympathetic American radio industry, Minogue looks to conquer a post-Gaga club scene energized and de-marginalized by the fabulously popular performance artist with a downtempo summer love song in the vein of recent club favorites like Lady Gaga's "Dance in the Dark" and "Monster," Ke$ha's "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes" and Robyn's upcoming "Dancing On My Own."


I admit that at first listen I was not much of a fan of the song, despite recognizing its technical merits. But since Minogue is one of my favorite artists and a musical force that should be treated with a certain extra amount of respect, I sat on my review for a few days over the weekend to see if it indeed had much in common with Gaga's music in its ability to initially elicit cool response but eventually invade the senses with pleasure and acceptance. Sure enough, on my ride home today I gave it another go, and everything clicked.

Lyrically, "All the Lovers" contains a depth and feeling uncharacteristic of much of Minogue's popular tracks, enough so to please even the Pitchfork crowd:

Dance. 
It's all I wanna do
So won't you dance?
I'm standing here with you
Why won't you move?
I'll get inside your groove
'Cause I'm on fire, fire, fire, fire

It hurts.
When you get too close
Oh baby, it hurts.
If love is really good
You just want more.
Even if it throws you
To the fire, fire, fire, fire

When Minogue coos these poignant words of desire, does anyone really think she's actually talking about dancing? Of course not, and when paired with the chorus, wherin she sings "All the lovers that have gone before,/ They don't compare to you./ Don't be frightened, just give me a little bit more," it is clear that the still uber-sexy forty year old isn't just all about sex, despite what her previous singles might suggest - and really never was, after all.

Musically, the single recalls Minogue's sizzler "Slow," although where the 2002 hit utilized the then-nascent minimalist trend in production to great effect, "All the Lovers" celebrates the similarly fresh style of deep, legato sound, which in this case comes to a head in the glorious, ecstatic climax. In those loud, joyous moments, you know that the immobile object of Kylie's affection has finally given in, and despite the fears that go along with the intensity of feeling that is love, begun to dance. It's a wonderful song, and it has all the potential to make this summer's club scene as uplifting and positive as Katy Perry's "California Gurls" does for mainstream pop. And that's something to really make you dance.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Robyn, Served with a Little Salt N Pepa

They say opposites attract, and it's certainly been demonstrated that the convergence of two individually meritorious but outwardly disparate entities tends to result in something fantastic, like H.B. Reese getting some peanut butter on his chocolate, or Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan, or Catherine Zeta-Jones doing Sondheim.

Send in those clowns already!

Or, how about Robyn the killingest pop star on the planet, mixed with the groundbreaking girl rap pioneers Salt N Pepa? Swedish music blog Stockholm Beat Connection today posted this mashup of Robyn's recent single "Fembot" from her new album Body Talk, Pt. 1 (out June 15 - my birthday! - and I've heard it and it is killer) and the 1987 Salt N Pepa classic "Push It." New Directions, eat your heart out! Check out the mashup here or at the link below.


\"Fembot Push It\" (A Rokk Pie N Mash Up)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Playlist For Yo' Mama

Good morning to all and a Happy Mother's Day to my readers stateside! In honor of the occasion I've put together a brief mom-centric playlist for your enjoyment. But beware before blindly presenting it to mother dearest you may want to scan through the playlist, as there's as much silliness as there is sincerity herein. Enjoy, and call your mother!

1. "Stacy's Mom" Fountains of Wayne (Welcome Interstate Managers, Virgin, 2003)

To start things off, what better way to make Mom feel special than this anthem of inter-generational infatuation?

2. "Mamma Mia" Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia! The Movie Soundtrack Featuring the Songs of ABBA, Decca, 2008)

It pains me that I couldn't get away with a playlist about mothers without this eponymous Abba hit, but at least I have the option to use the voice of the greatest living actress rather than the overplayed shrillness of the Swedish group.


3. "Bohemian Rhapsody" Queen (A Night at the Opera, EMI, 1975)

How better to show Mom how much you really love her than to admit to some heinous capital sin, like, oh, killing a man?

4. "Hey Mama" The Black Eyed Peas (Elephunk, A&M, 2004)

I don't quite think will.i.am and company had in mind the women who bore them when they wrote and recorded this dance hit, but we'll take it anyway.

5. "Oh Mother" Christina Aguilera (Back to Basics, RCA, 2006)

All right, this one actually IS about someone's mother, and it's very sweet and pretty, too. Too bad it's about said matron getting beaten up by a now-deceased father figure.

6. "What I Got" Sublime (Sublime, MCA Records, 1996)

I included this simply because of the lyric "I don't get angry when my mom smokes pot." Because really, who could?

7. "Dear Mama" 2pac (Me Against The World, Interscope, 1995)

This anthem to late rap icon Tupac Shakur's single mother has become the go-to rap song for Mother's Day efforts. Hey, those guys love they mamas better than most of y'all ever thought possible, so simma down!






Saturday, May 8, 2010

Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg - "California Gurls" (Single Review)

On her Facebook page on Friday, pop-rock ingenue Katy Perry unveiled a new, ultra-timely track (and accompanying cover art) entitled "California Gurls," an upbeat celebration of West Coast femininity featuring a delightful rap from certified Los Angelino Snoop Dogg.


Friday, May 7, 2010

From NPR News in Washington, I'm Lady Gaga

The "Telephone" spoofs keep coming...first from the right, and now from the left!

Lady Gaga and doppelganger...Nina Totenberg?

Okay, okay, it's NPR... Nina Totenberg, Robert Siegel, Ari Shapiro, Michele Norris, and others gamely participated in this delightful spoof/dance/music video, perfect for a breezy Friday. And how about Korva Coleman? That girl gets DOWN!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mike Posner ft. Big Sean - "Cooler Than Me" (Single Review)

I was fortunate enough to have access to a car this past week that a friend let me use while she spent a week out of town, and as I flipped through the preset radio stations I realized that due to a combination of my own decision to rid my life and ears of any Clear Channel owned pop radio and the subsequent premature death of my own car, it had easily been nine or ten months at least since I last listened to Top 40 radio at all. Of course, I now follow the current pop music scene closely and regularly enough to have a general idea of what is currently running in the typically limited and repetitive repertory, and for the most part I found no surprises over the week in what was played.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Threeway Calling: Gaga/Beyoncé/Britney "Telephone" Mashup


Boy do I love creative, technologically savvy music nerds with a lot of time on their hands (hm...that sounds familiar); not 24 hours have passed since Britney Spears' demo of "Telephone" started burning up the web and some glorious soul has taken the morsel of distorted fabulousness and some digital scissors and mashed it with the finished product from the Haus of Gaga (and Beyoncé). And suddenly two pretty wonderful things have come together as something reaching new levels of fantastic.

Ke$ha Immortalized in Simpsons Couch Gag

Last night I happened to be discussing my typically over-analytical rationale for the high opinion I hold of The Simpsons - in a nutshell, I appreciate the show's unique ability to coexist almost seamlessly on multiple comedy planes, from base/slapstick to erudite/academic humor, and thereby manage to entertain even the most dichotomous of audiences in terms of senses of humor. Of course, since this poor loan payment-addled mid-recession recent college grad does not yet know the luxury of television service, I was unaware that virtually at the same time I was droning on about the long-running cartoon's brilliance, the show was throwing a juicy bone to this  pop music journalist-blogger (and about a bajillion others), and to a recently rather maligned upstart pop starlet as well.

 Groundskeeper Willy brushing his teeth with a bottle of Jack

Now, I know Ke$ha has had more than her share of detractors from the very beginning, and acknowledge that in the months since her debut single "TiK ToK" dominated the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for a whopping nine weeks this winter the glitter-loving, trash-talking performer has flirted sufficiently close to obnoxiousness to earn a steadily growing amount of what Mary J. Blige would call "hateration."


But I still challenge pop music lovers to sit through a listen of that joyous hit track without even a smidgen of glee. So its induction last night into the vast and storied halls of the Simpsons universe, in the form of an especially lengthy (and adorable) extended "couch gag" featuring the xanthous denizens of Springfield in a cleverly staged lip sync to the infectious tune, is in this blogger's opinion a worthy one.


One can only imagine how pleased the 23-year-old singer must be about such an honor of an homage (although it might come off as a bit incongruous to compliment the lip-syncing abilities of Edna Krabappel after lambasting Britney Spears for doing the same...just saying).

 TiK ToK on the clock...but the party don't stop. No.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sorry, Wrong Number? Britney Spears' "Telephone" Demo

One of the interesting side effects of the "factory style" process of songwriting within the ranks of the major music labels (which I have previously explained in some detail), for followers of the industry such as me at least, is that the nature of the practice is such that sometimes an artist scores a hit single with a song originally offered to or even written for an entirely different artist, or even pitched to multiple others before landing on a certain singer's album. Artists participating in the practice (which has been commonplace in popular music since its modern inception a century ago, so don't bother griping about "these singers today") typically juggle several dozen songs in preparing a new album. Some are considered and passed on based on just the sheet music or songwriter's demo tape; others are discarded after the artist records a basic demo cut; and still others are cut even after full recording and production is complete, until 10-16 or so tracks remain for the final official track list (some of the tracks in the third category have lately been offered as "bonus" tracks as a marketing tool).

The songs that don't make a certain artist's album, having been eliminated in one of the first two aforementioned stages, sometimes find their way onto the album of another artist usually on the same label, especially with songs written by contracted songwriters. Sometimes a new artist on the label will inherit the castoffs of one of the established stars, as with Kelly Clarkson's first non-idol single "Miss Independent," a song that had been turned down by Christina Aguilera. Other times the stars don't align in terms of timing and bureaucratic red tape, which for instance is the reason "Umbrella" became the biggest hit of Rihanna's career rather than that of its original target Britney Spears, whose label rejected the song before the star got a chance to weigh in, saying it had enough material for brilliant if sleepy dance album Blackout (at the time, of course, Spears was in no condition to make any kind of artistic decisions); or that of Mary J. Blige, who ironically was so sidetracked with obligations surrounding the 2007 Grammy Awards, where she was a major nominee and won three awards, that she was unable to commit to the song in time.

Contracted songwriter is a job that was once held by one Stefani Germanotta, who wrote for Sony/ATV Music Publishing before she was given the opportunity to record her own debut album and became Lady Gaga. While in that position, Germanotta penned at least two songs for the big comeback album of Jive legend Spears, and although neither made the ultimate cut for inclusion on the track listing for Circus, one of them, "Quicksand," was one of two bonus tracks for the European iTunes presale. The other, "Telephone," was cut from the album much earlier in the process, and Gaga ultimately recorded the song herself for the eight-track re-release EP The Fame Monster. The track, as you know, included a featured performance by Beyoncé, in a somewhat jocular pairing with the remix of the R&B superstar's track "Video Phone" from her own latest album I Am...Sasha Fierce, which in turn featured Lady Gaga. Beyoncé, however, was not the original intended guest star on the track; in early negotiations it was actually Spears who had been tapped for the duet. But Spears, by that time nearly ready to release her second "greatest hits" compilation and therefore in need of a new promotional single, apparently had the wise idea of using the previously discarded song with her headlining and Gaga in the featured role. Gaga, who has semi-subtly made known her disdain for performance-based acts like Spears (as opposed to singer-songwriters), was predictably less than amenable to the idea, and having since bought the rights to the song (that she wrote...yes, it's an odd system) essentially told Britney to embark on a strenuous walk along a nature trail.

And that has pretty much been the extent of the story of "Telephone" up to this point; Spears hardly suffered, scoring a record-breaking chart topper in Circus' lead single "Womanizer," a fifth number one album, three more top 40 singles, and a world tour second only to Madonna's Sticky and Sweet Tour in ticket sales and gross (over $35 million) among female artists in 2009, plus a third number one chart debut for the promotional single that ultimately supported her compilation album, "3." (One might also argue that despite the "Umbrella" and "Telephone" near-misses, Spears' song karma is balanced by her Grammy-winning hit "Toxic," which had been passed on by Kylie Minogue.) And, of course, Gaga has been doing all right for herself as well in the meanwhile.

But wait...there's more! Turns out, despite how the situation has seemed based on Gaga's public explanation of the "Telephone" backstory, the song was not merely swept aside by the Spears camp without much second thought. No, iLeaks.com has uncovered what in the pop music world is something of a rare gem: the original demo recording of "Telephone" done by Britney Spears herself! The key word here is "demo" - I wouldn't want anyone to go into it expecting anything resembling polish or production; rather, the cut is a basic run-through of the first verse, chorus, and bridge sections of "Telephone," with a bit of light harmony in the chorus (which is probably the best and most different part of the demo rendition) and some bizarre electronic manipulation of Spears' lead vocal on the verse. She doesn't sound bad at all when the distortion lets up on the chorus and bridge, so I'm not entirely sure what the goal was there, and while the general tone and attitude differs significantly from Gaga's final cut, I actually prefer Britney's playful "my telephone!" repetitions at the end of the track over Gaga's sassy monotone.

All in all, Spears' demo offers an interesting look at what might have been, and while we'll never know how the final product would have turned out and how it might have compared to Gaga and Beyoncé's, it is fun to sneak a rare peek not only at a part of the recording process not generally publicly accessible and an example of how different artists impact (or don't) the same material in different ways. And for Britney fans out there like yours truly and superstar reader Kurt, who alerted me to this nice little find, it's just fun to hear the legendary Miss Britney Spears sing anything at all.

What do you think? Would Britney have done a better "Telephone," or how at least would it have likely differed? Would the Gaga/Britney duet have worked out, better or not as well as the Gaga/Beyoncé teamwork? And wouldn't Britney have been the only person who could have possibly made the video even campier than the Queen B and her Hostess snacks?

The Day the Music Dies

In a discouraging blow to digital music consumers, the pioneering online digital music sales and streaming service Lala announced on its website and in emails sent to members Friday that it will shut down on May 31, 2010. Web songs (previously available for 10 cents apiece for unlimited streaming on the website), wallets (credit balances), gift cards, uploads to the site and new memberships have been suspended, although current members will still be able to purchase and download mp3 songs. The site announcement for members promises "in appreciation of your support, you will receive a credit in the amount of your Lala web song purchases for use on Apple's iTunes Store," and unused wallet balances after the 31st will also be reflected as iTunes credit, although members can request reimbursement by check for the latter.

Apple purchased Lala at the end of 2009, and until Friday's surprise announcement it looked like the company might in fact allow the service and its unique, cutting edge business model, continue, although pundits predicted that at some point the web songs and streaming technology and business model would be reformulated as iTunes.com. While this may still turn out to be the case, as of now no obvious acceptable replacement is apparent for Lala's streaming and sharing technology (with the licensing rights that have to date come with it).

Not only has Vertigo Shtick used Lala for most of the site's media needs since the blog's inception in December 2009, major music websites including Pitchfork and Billboard.com have similarly depended on Lala. In its news item about the closure, Pitchfork said that it is "exploring new media possibilities" and said to "stay tuned." I too will be exploring the depths of the world wide web in the hopes of finding an alternative to allow me to continue offering, well, music, on this blog about...music.

Stay tuned.

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