Saturday, May 28, 2011

Anjulie - 'Brand New Bitch' (Single Review)

It hardly makes sense that the Western popular music landscape is all but devoid of the Asian race. Japan, for one, is home to perhaps the most fanatically devoted pop scene this side of a Lady Gaga concert, and there is a comparable appreciation of pop from home and abroad in the Philippines. Then there's the immensely popular Indian cultural phenomenon of Bollywood, its lavish and frenetic movie musicals teeming with music heavy on electronica and dance beats. Of course it's entirely possible that pop-minded Asians see little incentive in attempting a career in a country with internment camps in its recent history and only a quarter the population of India, but for whatever reason, that the population of Asians is miniscule in the Western entertainment industry is disappointing. It's no coincidence that the first Asian-American group to reach the top of the singles chart bears the name Far East Movement. That's just one of many reasons that amid the dust of this Monday's monster release, I was delighted to discover that this week also brings the welcome return of Anjulie, a Canadian singer of Indian heritage, with the delightful new dance single "Brand New Bitch."

You may remember Anjulie from her exotic, sexy "Boom," the lead single off her self-titled debut album that topped the US Dance Club Play chart and was featured on a number of television shows (see my review from early 2010). "Brand New Bitch" is a departure from the exotic, Bond Girl-esque style of "Boom," centering on the solid four-to-the-floor beat that's very Dance 2011, but the new single stands out from the pack for a few reasons. First there's Anjulie's distinctive voice, an odd combination of powerful and nasal that is simply a pleasant one to hear, even though it would be hard to explain or understand exactly why. On "Brand New Bitch" the singer gets to show off the power more than in her earlier tracks, especially on the pounding, joyous chorus, but there's also a lot of benign sass and personality to her delivery. I was honestly surprised to see the artist release a single with an expletive in its title, "Boom" and its contemporaries having been rather chaste, and I worried about this being a failed attempt at a good-girl-gone-bad makeover I didn't think Anjulie could pull off, and frankly wouldn't have liked it much if she had. But one listen to the celebratory tune, from the same topical school as "Since U Been Gone" and "Stronger" but with more attitude, and it's clear Anjulie has found a way of pulling off calling herself a "Brand New Bitch" without compromising the likeability that makes her so charming.

The song structure is fundamentally simple but with a few tweaks that add the delicious moments that help make "Brand New Bitch" an indelible dance-pop treat. The lyrics stretch across the measures in such a way that emphasizes some syllables that would normally not be so in regular speech, and vice versa - a trick Alanis Morissette used to use to fit her tormented poetry into conventional song structures regardless of meter. This draws attention toward the words being sung, or in this case simply to the singer herself, which in a genre that de-emphasizes the central importance of the vocal that exists in most others is a noble design on Anjulie's part: she is not merely providing a producer with one of many elements of a piece of his design, this is her song, and she's the star.

Anjulie has control of the song from the very beginning, her stinging "Don't need your sad face/Sorry baby/But I've made up my mind" striking before the end of the second bar rather than waiting the usual four to eight or more that make up a typical intro. She is even more biting in the second half of each verse, where instead of defensively lashing out at an erstwhile lover's sexual inabilities she acknowledges the steamy past, but only as she pointedly takes credit for teaching him how to do it in the first place. Anjulie talks about sex frankly without being a turnoff, and throughout the song she maintains control and confidence that never waivers or admits residual guilt or uncertainty the way women tend to do in this type of song; the closest she comes is her admission that "Ooh, I was so fucking blind."

Predictably, the single is also available in a clean edit (with the guessed it: "Brand New Chick." So what if it actually better suits the rhyme? Ugh.), but if you ask me, this is the kind of empowerment anthem I can stand behind. Unlike feel-good, low-rent songs about being a firework or getting sloshed because you're just born that way baby, "Brand New Bitch" faces the inevitability that even being who U R isn't going to keep various assholes from fucking you over every so often. When that happens you have a choice: you can mope around until Katy Perry's boobs ignite and make it all better, or you can "get your red lipstick'" and do like Anjulie. In her welcome return, as she sums up on the single cover art with her "face to the sky/ Sunglasses on/ Turning up the beat so sick," Anjulie's a brand new bitch indeed. It's good to have her back.

"Brand New Bitch"
Single (iTunes, Amazon)
Universal, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Ke$ha Project: "31 Seconds Alone"

By now we know that Ke$ha has a definite sexiness about her. It has been flourishing throughout her transition from the garbage chic look of her public image accompanying her major debut in late 2009 with Animal to the sleek electro-glam punk of the late 2010 followup EP Cannibal and her just-wrapped "Get $leazy" tour, nowhere better exemplified than in her stellar music video for the single "Blow." Loyal readers of this blog as well as any member of the small but mighty group of enlightened folk I like to call the Ke$ha Congregation also know that Ke$ha is a genius, one who could projectile vomit onto a Paris Hilton track and thereby render it a venerable piece of art (much like she once did to said heiress' wardrobe). It has been a while since the last look inside Vertigo Shtick's vast (and, I hope, comprehensive) vault of unreleased gold for The Ke$ha Project, our ongoing campaign to proclaim and prove Ke$ha's brilliance to the skeptical masses. Fortunately, our friends at Idolator recently uncovered a new artifact, an unreleased demo called "31 Seconds Alone," and it has knocked me head-over-ripped stockings (I don't exaggerate: my every last hair stood literally on end), and thus The Ke$ha Project revs back into action.

In my pop music, two things I enjoy more than mediocre sex, although the two rarely converge, are Ke$ha and close female harmonies (this is likely the reason "Stephen" became the tipping point that won me over on Ke$ha and Animal), and "31 Seconds Alone" teems with both. It's a wistful, sultry, mid-tempo dirge, somehow both sensual and sad all at once; it sounds like a cousin to Zero 7's "In the Waiting Line" or perhaps the Sneaker Pimps' "6 Underground" though not nearly as melancholy. The meticulously rhymed and evocative lyrics tell of a close encounter with an especially magnetic stranger on an overpopulated dance floor, and that thrilling but disappointing moment when the instinct suggests the possibility of something magnificent, if only you weren't the D.D. and your friend hadn't just vomited on a bouncer and you could have caught a name over the blare from the speakers before the enticing stranger disappeared into the night.

And if you haven't been lucky enough to have had such an experience, well, Ke$ha pretty expertly sums it up in every way. Friends and Ke$ha Congregants, I give you "31 Seconds Alone," and hope you enjoy it with half the intensity as I did. Unless you're driving or operating heavy machinery.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Beyoncé's "Run The World (Girls)" and Major Lazer's "Pon De Floor" - A History Lesson

As I've discussed, a major tenet of postmodernist pop music is the strategic and deliberate referencing of the past, or what is known as pastiche. In 2011, examples have ranged from the merely suggestive (Beth Ditto's Madonna-esque "I Wrote The Book") to the arguably ripped-off (Lady Gaga's much more Madonna-esque "Born This Way"). Then there is the process of "sampling," a fancy term for cutting and pasting directly from the original into a new product. Sampling is no new fad: hip-hop and rap has used it for over a decade to supply a thought-provoking (or maybe just free) chorus, and beats are sometimes recycled on entirely new tracks.

Gotta say, love the single cover art.
What Beyoncé has done on her new single "Run The World (Girls)," along with her producer/henchman Switch (of Santigold/Christina Aguilera fame), stretches the usual boundaries previously observed when dealing with samples. I'm still not sure how I feel about that, and once I work it out a bit more I will almost certainly elaborate here, but for now let's set ethics and aesthetics aside and have a little history lesson. First, here's Beyoncé's number.

For those who are unaware (and I say this without condescension, as I myself had to be informed of this fact by my trusty dance-oriented contributing writers), that wacky, exciting mess going on underneath Sasha Fierce's rather childish girl power hokum is not just a bit of sampled beat here and there: it's an entire song. And it's not even a particularly old song, either, which allows "Run The World (Girls)" to be simultaneously derivative and edgy all at once (again, more on that another time). In other words, it's like a painting on top of another painting, like the canvas-strapped impressionists used to do at the turn of the last century: Beyoncé has plopped her tempura on top of the base laid by a pair of relatively big-name dance producers, Switch and Diplo (of M.I.A. and occasional Robyn fame), working under the collaborative name Major Lazer.

"Pon De Floor" appeared on the LP Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do, which was released in June 2009. It features Jamaican dancehall artist Vybz Kartel, who inserts the occasional bizarre comment here and there throughout the track, which is basically a pair of hot DJs showing off for three and a half minutes.

Diplo is very hot.
So while I do have considerable respect for Queen B, I just want to make sure I represent the menfolk here and call bullshit on a song about women being awesome (which they are) and running the world and so forth when really, when you get down to it, this show belongs to the dudes.

We run this motha...
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