Monday, February 20, 2012

Reductive: How Dr. Luke & RedOne Gave Katy Perry, Jessie J, Flo Rida & Nicki Minaj the Same Old Song

Once upon a time, the biggest pop stars in the world could at least be counted on to deliver music that was moderately new, if not necessarily revolutionary or even good. New means a particular series of words, notes and accompaniment that the artist in question has not yet utilized in a previous official release, nor has any other artist with the exception of covers and samples, and even then some new elements are necessary (exempt from this rule is Britney Spears, whom we tend to let get away with a lot). This doesn't seem like a tall order - if we expect our top music biz moneymakers not to offer us last week's leftovers and cheap designer knockoffs, at least not for full price, are we asking too much? Judging from the landscape of consumer-available music seven weeks into 2012, it appears we just might be.

Look it up.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Skrillex for Dummies (Part 1 - The Basics)

By Techno School, Vertigo Shtick contributor and dance/electronic correspondent 

My job is killing me. The hours are long, I'm constantly extinguishing metaphorical fires, and I find myself growing more cynical and bitter every day. I've found myself wondering what it was about this job that was so alluring as to take me away from the culture and cool of the Pacific Coast.

But I am in no position to leave yet. And giving up is for sissies. So what do I do? I strap on some headphones and crank up the Skrillex. And I blast that shit into my ears on repeat until I can't hear the voices screaming in my head to cut my losses, pack up, and GTFOH. Or at least until my ears hurt so much I forget it's the job, not the music, that I'm pissed at.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Oscar Tunes, Cabaret Style: "Red Carpet Memories" (Live Review)

With the Grammys now in the bag, Hollywood turns its sights to the next and final event of the year-end entertainment awards spree: the king of kudosfests known as the Oscars. While within the Grammys the Recording Academy throws some institutional loving toward nearly all other major art forms - film and television (Song Written for Visual Medium; Film Score Soundtrack; Music Videos Short and Long), theatre (Cast Album); literature (Spoken Word and Comedy Albums, Album Notes), and even visual art (Album Package), few of them reciprocate. There's no Pulitzer or Nobel Prize for Songwriting; the Tonys can honor Mamma Mia! without recognizing ABBA; and there are, to my knowledge, few exhibits of 21st century album artwork touring the major museums of fine art (yet...but that would be very cool). Perhaps worse than omission, though, is the current treatment of music (especially songwriting) by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, whose newly implemented eligibility rules and voting procedures display such hasty disregard for the category that only two songs from 2011...TWO...managed to secure a Best Song nomination this year. (Never fear - there are still separate categories for Sound and Sound Effects Editing. Whew!) Fortunately, in the heart of Hollywood mere yards away from where the Oscars will soon be doled out, a small but gifted consort of theatre folks are doing their part to pick up the film industry's slack with Red Carpet Memories, an intimate and entertaining musical revue composed of 21 songs that scored Oscar nominations over the years.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ingrid Michaelson - "Human Again" (Album Review)

God bless Ingrid Michaelson.

In a world where popular musicians, especially female ones, face increasingly vile resistance from "fans" who feel an inflated sense of ownership over them and are emboldened by the visible anonymity of the internet to say so, an artist looking to explore or expand her musical horizons must suffer the protestations and abuses of proprietary fans afraid of change or insecure in their own taste. The latest and most publicized example of this sort of brouhaha surrounds Lana Del Rey, which before it became a cause celebre/opportunity for condescension (either to her on one end or to those who condescended to her on the other) was simply the collective bitching of a segment of Lizzy Grant fans whose feelings were hurt when their little hipster darling went - *GASP* - mainstream.

While nowhere near the degree faced by Del Rey, such is some of the current ridiculousness the cult fave Ingrid Michaelson faces in the wake of her splendid, engrossing sophomore LP Human Again. On the album, Michaelson, to great effect, augments her trademark idiosyncratic realism with minimalist elements of contemporary electronic production techniques, thus breaking the confines of the ho-hum Lilith Fair '98 singer/songwriter identity (overtly and by suggestion) and opening herself up to a wider audience without abandoning any of what makes her such an appealing musician.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bittersweet Memories: Remembering Whitney Houston

When I was nine years old, my family moved from a suburb of Los Angeles to a remote mountain town of two thousand people, one hundred miles from everything I knew. I was never terribly outgoing, but was fortunate enough to become quick friends with a boy in my fourth grade class. I often went to sleep over at his house, and I remember hearing his older sister, a young singer on whom I had something of a crush, singing the chorus of a song I didn't know, over and over again for several months. No matter how many times I heard her belting "And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII will always love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu" I never tired of it (unlike the rest of the family, who although thoroughly supportive admittedly had to put up with much more than I). It was years before I learned about the context of the song and the superstar who made it enormously famous, but I recognized the incredible power of a legendary performance long before hearing it first-hand.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Give Robyn the Grammy Already

The 2011 Grammy nominees for Best Dance Recording include Skrillex, deadmau5, Swedish House Mafia, Duck Sauce, David Guetta, and... Robyn? In a category long populated by dance-ish pop tracks (last year's trophy went to Rihanna's "Only Girl (In The World)" and Britney Spears won her only Grammy here, for "Toxic") "Call Your Girlfriend," the fourth single off Robyn's experimental time-release opus Body Talk, is the only nominee that looks comparatively pop-like. That in itself is an effect of the seismic shift toward electronic/techno, now lumped under the clunky but serviceable term "EDM," that popular music has seen over the past year. This is not to say a "Call Your Girlfriend" victory would be indicative of resistance to this trend on the academy's part, not only because Robyn's work is so extraordinary but because "Call Your Girlfriend" is closer to EDM than its credentials might suggest.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Exclusive: Kimberly Cole - "Robot" (Unreleased)

Peerless pop songstress Kimberly Cole excited fans last week with the announcement of her upcoming single, the first since "Arrow Through My Heart" arrived in August and only the second release since her precociously brilliant debut album Bad Girls Club dropped Christmas 2010 (remember?). Cole is as under-appreciated as she is masterful at the art of dance pop, which is to say quite a bit, but luckily for pop fans she and her equally talented long-time producer Jean-Yves haven't given up on us yet. Cole reunites with the "Arrow Through My Heart" team of house producer Eddie Amador and brand new rapper Garza on "You Make Me Wanna..." which lands March 6 from Big Beat/Atlantic Records (yes! A real label!).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

2011 Grammy Guide: Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

As the 54th Annual Grammy Awards approach, Vertigo Shtick will be taking a look at the nominees for some of the 78 statuettes that will be awarded at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 12, 2012. Check back daily for previews of the pop, dance, r&b, rap, and general awards, as well as some of the more interesting standalone categories, and wow (or annoy) everyone at your viewing party with your dazzling Grammy knowledge!

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

This category remains the same from previous years and honors a newly recorded performance by artists (singing vocalists and rapping artists who do not normally perform together. Both artists must be credited as featured artists, and there must be "significant performance by the collaborative artist(s) beyond what might be considered merely accompaniment." The award is given to and based on the performances of the artists, not on songwriting, production or mixing. (Info)

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