Saturday, September 8, 2012

Popologist Panel: Elle Varner, Alanis Morissette, Neon Hitch, Mariah Carey (...we think)

August is traditionally a slow news month. It's no exception in pop music, which had a rough month: Carly Rae Jepsen, after a Ke$ha-esque reign atop the Hot 100, was deposed by Flo Rida's "Whistle," but the following week he was replaced by Taylor Swift after she broke Ke$ha's digital sales week record with "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," a song on which Swift pretends that she is Ke$ha. Then after two weeks, Swift was overthrown by the all time digital sales week record holder, none other than Flo Rida again (whose record-setting single features a hook sung by Ke$ha). It what Techno School says true: is everyone really trying to be Ke$ha? Or is it like the way one mistakenly thinks he sees an absent lover nearly everywhere he goes? Ke$ha came up eight separate times in last month's panel; let's see how the new crop does. We've got new albums by rock legend Alanis Morissette, R&B newcomer Elle Varner, and Britney Spears songwriter Coco Morier; two bombastic music videos by Nicki Minaj and Jessie and the Toy Boys; and new singles from artists new(ish) (Neon Hitch, Carly Rae Jepsen, Example) to not-so-new (Mariah Carey...we think).

There's a good crop of new stuff here you may or may not have heard, so we hope you'll check out anything here you think might interest you. For an extra bit of fun, each panelist has selected one of this month's selections as his or her "Top Pick." What's yours? Enjoy, share and please send your thoughts, whether you think we're right on or full of shit. We're very likely both.
*   *   *   *   The Popologist Panel   *   *   *   *
  • The Pop Messiah - Dean Boudreau is our lone Canadian panelist, which means he's pretty much like us but can't get Spotify and you can't send him iTunes gifts. That doesn't stop him, and his witty but wise blog, from getting it right when it comes to pop music (if not Ke$ha, who is in fact the pop Messiah). (@thepopmessiah)
  • Taking Over the Universe - Gaosalad's fabulously enjoyable young blog is another interesting mixture of two interests pop music and drag queendom.(@gaosalad)
  • Popledge - Sarah runs one of the hardest-working respectable pop music news blogs around; follow her on Twitter and you can get top-notch critical thought in betwixt posts like "One Direction – full webcam video from their Hasbro chat, plus Niall Horan eats head!" (v.g.) (@popledge)
  • Vertigo Shtick - The spark that grew into Vertigo Shtick came when one overly critical-thinking arts writer noticed that there were almost no pop songs on Pitchfork's Best of the 2000s list, nor most other outlets either; it now exists to question, decipher, explicate and dispense the critical and artistic elements of mainstream pop, down to the nitty gritty details. (@vertigo_shtick)
  • Lost in a Melody - Mike Jennings is a blogger and pop aficionado from across the pond. He's more of a tweeter, though, which is why (@mikeinamelody)
  • Techno School - You may know Techno School from contributions on Vertigo Shtick as dance/electronica correspondent. Based in Detroit, Techno School's blog is an interesting look at life in a new city woven into insights on today's EDM and the state of techno. (@itstechnoschool)
  • Unapologetically POP! - Minna, having recently moved to Israel, is still out this month, but Gregory is here to providehis intermittently stinging sense of wit and unerring sense of positivity and overall sense of questioning on our singles section. (@unapologeticpop

    NOTE: All the music discussed in this article can be heard by clicking on the album artwork provided; most of the selections are available on the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the post or by clicking here. Of course, we also encourage you to patronize those you enjoy by buying their material. (I did). Dates and label info are for US releases.

    *   *   *   *   Albums of the Month   *   *   *   *

    Elle Varner - Perfectly Imperfect (RCA, August 3)

    Pop Messiah: Perfectly Imperfect is a deliciously laidback, pop-soul record and Varner's actually got a pretty fantastic voice; a tonal and stylistic combination of Alicia Keys, Tweet and the late Amy Winehouse. Opening track and lead single "Only Wanna Give It To You" and closing track "So Fly" (which features some of my favorite lyrics from the set) are standouts for me on the first listen, but on the second listen I find myself falling for other tracks, like "Sound Proof Room" (where Varner sings to an object of desire that they'll need one if they should decide to knock boots.) Perfectly Imperfect is joyful, sexy and ironically, pretty close to perfect. I don't know about the rest of you, but I think it's high time that R&B has a new golden age (Remember the 90's?) and it seems more and more artists like Elle are bringing their "A" game to the ongoing battle.

    Taking/Universe: I absolutely love Elle Varner's voice! It is so soulful and has that right amount of raspy to it without breaching over into man-voice territory. This album took me by complete surprise, however, because most of the time I won't even give R&B a chance, but this album incorporates so much more than that. Songs like "Refill" including a bluegrass feel with a fiddle playing in the background set this set of songs apart from the competition. This is one of the few instances where I think that versatility really works for an artist. Usually when someone tries out too many different genres, they spread themselves too thin, but Elle manages to do Funk, Rock, Acoustic, R&B, and so much more, and do it well in so few tracks. To be honest, with that voice, she could sing me the Republican National Convention speeches and I'd go wild for it. Thankfully there is actual thought to the songwriting, making it a double whammy. Songs like "Only Wanna Give It To You" and "Stop The Clock" give me hope that good lyrics still exist beyond gettin' crunk in the club. My hypocritical statements aside, I have to say this is among my favorite for the month. *TOP PICK*

    Vertigo Shtick: This is my first experience with Elle Varner, and I've gotten mixed results when trying out new R&B artists, but I enjoyed this album. I particularly appreciate when albums start and end well, and this had a perfect opener in “Only Wanna Give It to You” (feat. J. Cole, and my favorite on the album) and a swell closer in “So Fly.” “Refill” is an interesting single, with its nifty metaphor and that fiddle (this changes R&B); “Not Tonight” and “Welcome Home” are innocent and sweet and gave me the warm fuzzies; “Stop the Clock” is built on one of those really satisfying chord progressions that you instantly can hum along to like you've heard it a hundred times (at least I did); and “Oh What a Night” is like the urban version of “Last Friday Night (TGIF),” which is a good thing (unless we start seeing clones popping up everywhere). Even the times my attention drifted a bit I still enjoyed the sounds I was zoning out to. I thought the recurring motif of everyday consumerism (she does like her shoes!) was cute and cleverly done, sometimes meant literally and other times figuratively. It was fun spending some time in Elle Varner's world.

    Popledge: I have never listened to any of Elle’s music before giving this a spin so this will be a very first impressions piece. The album kicks off with the J.Cole assisted ‘Only Wanna Give It to You’ – my first thoughts – sexy and funky. It’s classy pop music with a smooth head-nodding quality to it. ‘Refill’ is also an awesomely smooth RnB track, I loved the hip hop style drums running through the track and again when she sings ‘Refill’ it oozes classiness, her vocals are strong yet subtle on the track which ends up being my favourite on the album.  Throughout the album I heard nods to the 60’s, the Supremes, synths, militant drumming and some more acoustic moments. I really enjoyed the lyrical content of the album especially ‘Not Tonight’ which sees Elle wishing she held more confidence within herself and could tell that special guy just how she felt. Few weaker tracks for me; Leaf unfortunately just didn’t have enough about it, sweet vocals but it made me relax just a little too much! Same with ‘Stop the Clock’ I found the lyrics a bit on the repetitive side. Future single has to be ‘Oh What a Night’ I really enjoyed the build up of the song into a party tune, the beat of the track is infectious and the lyrics are all centred around a boozy night out. I really liked the simplicity of ‘Damn Good Friends’ with just her voice, a guitar and a few bells – a very ‘pretty’ track to listen to. ‘So Fly’ is definitely a song for the ladies and all the pressures we are put under to ‘look good’ whether that be from ourselves or the media; lots of references to cellulite, wanting different coloured eyes, a smaller waist, physical attributes basically. A track like this could seem a bit self-indulgent or perhaps saccharine on the soul but I think it works – concentrate on being the best version of you and having a fulfilled life as Elle says! Overall an album which sounds very well made and produced, if you like En Vogue, Eternal or Alicia Keys then try Elle Varner too.

    Lost in a Melody: Well it’s not terrible, and I’d hate to kick things off on a bad note, but I’m a pop boy at heart, so you’re going to have to be making outstanding, game-changing R&B if I’m going to stop, pay attention and fall in love. And Elle Varner is not doing that. ‘Refill’ deserves a mention, if only because it has a cool string riff and sounds like a distant cousin to Erykah Badu’s ‘Window Seat’ (which, by the way, is a CLASSIC).

    Techno School:  I never would have imagined that a voice so classic, so reminiscent of today's soul queen Alicia Keys, could be so versatile. In Perfectly Imperfect, listeners are treated with a cool mix of genres. The album seems a little lost in itself, with the surprisingly wholesome-sounding but definitely raunchy track about loud, nastay sex, "Sound Proof Room", immediately followed by "I Don't Care," a flowery, romantic ballad. And, however playfully cute, I just don't understand why the body-love anthem "So Fly" is added to a record about, ultimately, matters of the heart. It's one of my favorite tracks, but seriously: is that supposed to be the whole moral of this story? Love your body and the rest will take care of itself? Or was this single just too good to edit out? Listening to the tracks in order, nothing really impresses me until I hear "Oh What a Night," when the album takes a hard left turn from the world of chillaxed R&B and finds itself lost in Natasha Bedingfield's pop corridor, Elle Varner lighting up from hopeless romantic to bubbly party girl. Neither persona is groundbreaking, but I find the latter more fitting for Varner. "Oh What a Night," with its funky retro beat and bright acoustics, brings a little extra to the table and makes me wonder where she could take a techno beat with that gifted rasp. That and "Stop the Clock" I could easily imagine riding the mainstream radio waves. But wait! There's more! Perfectly Imperfect even touches on folk, however lightly, with "Damn Good Friends," a ballad that you could mix in with tracks from Jason Mraz's We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things and not even notice. Ultimately, I'm left waiting to hear Verner on the radio and hoping she tries to team up with a light dubstep artist. Because I'm pretty convinced a Verner-Doorly collaboration would actually be Most Epic.

    Alanis Morissette - havoc and bright lights (Collective Sounds, August 28)

    Pop Messiah: Before I dive in, I'd like to point out that in the last Popologist Panel, while evaluating P!nk's latest single, I claimed that Morissette's material had succumbed to the new baby curse. As havoc and bright lights is in fact, her first release since giving birth, I would have no actual evidence on which to have based my original statement and so I happily retract it. That being said, I need to prepare myself and want everyone to repeat after me: It's not fair to keep comparing everything she does to Jagged Little Pill. Got that? IT'S NOT FAIR TO COMPARE EVERYTHING SHE DOES TO JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Ok, so now that's all out of our systems, let's proceed. havoc and bright lights has, what I feel are a couple of surprises, having been somewhat disconnected from Morissette's last few releases. While it seems nobody but me ever wants to talk about her past-life as Canada's answer to Britney Spears, it seems that we get glimmers now and then of pop sensibility (see her cover of Seal's "Crazy") and this album is no exception. While the lyrics are on point (as always) and the album boasts strongly produced instrumentals, on over half of the tracks it seems like the vocal melodies on the "hooks" aren't quite hooking me. Also, what's with the same dreamy reverb on all of the vocal tracks? Small criticisms aside, after a few listens I DO find myself enjoying this album much more than I expected to. Standouts are "woman down," "receive" and "edge of evolution," but others are definite growers. In summary: all of her mood swings have become a little less intense, but there are still elements of the girl you're all thinking about, whose 17-year-old (WHOA!) international smash album has ABSOLUTELY NO bearing on our opinions about this one, right?

    Taking/Universe: I have never been a big Alanis fan, so I didn't have a lot of expectations coming into this one. It actually surprised me, however, as it wasn't anything as to what I was expecting. I guess I was stuck in that "I hate 90's music" mindset I usually have. This album is a nice update to her previous sound, keeping from sounding overly dated. I like that the whole album isn't rocker chick, and that it devles into other genres momentarily. Unfortuately even with the minor genre changes I felt like I was listening to a lot of same over and over again. Only a few of the first half tracks really stood out to me on my first run through of the ablum, such as "celebrity" and "woman down". The title track of sorts is actually a much slower track that the rest of the album, which took me by surprise, and was a bit of a relief from the rest of the fast paced set. I'm all about girl power, but something about her voice mixed with the over powering guitars just turns me off for this album and makes me shut down mentally. Maybe next time she will succeed at getting my attention, but for now this album is a pass.

    Vertigo Shtick: By now I am used to the good-not-greatness of Alanis' post-Jagged Little Pill work, with its lingering immaturities and lukewarm anger and hit-or-miss qualities, which sometimes I have embraced. But as a child of the mid-eighties, Jagged Little Pill wasn't just big, it shaped my entire musical understanding and appreciation, and you see where that's taken me, so Alanis is very important to me and will be even if she never does anything again, and I like to listen to what she has to sing. (I think the suggestion that Alanis is seeking our approval is kind of egoistic... like, oh, really? Hm, that's so interesting, and you've changed the world how many times? Oh, ok, but you've probably sold 60 million albums...oh, you haven't? I see.) A problem with her post-JLP work springs from the reality that once you become as famous as Alanis did you can't write about ordinary experience because you're not having it; this led her; this made her subsequent work, especially the angsty stuff, less realistic and more like a white woman writing The Help. This naïveté still lingers here (um, weren't you a “celebrity” my dear?) but maybe the decade and a half of us punishing her for making one of the greatest albums of all time has taught Alanis a thing or two about real life, because I connected to a lot of this album, which I wasn't expecting. Things are black and white at nineteen, which makes for great music like “You Oughta Know,” but the experience of loving and losing a good partner respectfully (as she did with Ryan Reynolds) is full of fucked up nuances that can't be raged away as easily. I was relived that havoc and bright lights wasn't just an album full of “I love my babyyyyyyyyyyyy” songs, and impressed at Alanis' comfortable assimilation of rock music's tentative flirtation with electronica after Foo Fighters' last album, only she doesn't seem so begrudging about it (probably because back in the day she used to make dance music). She doesn't use it as if to prove she's hip with what the kids are doing these days: it fits the songs she uses it for, like the Maroon 5-only-better “woman down” and the closing “edge of evolution.” The album swings back and forth, with almost humorous consistency, between lighter songs – a few of them a little too soft for my liking – and darker ones, which remain what she's known for. Even when the content is off (“celebrity”) these songs sound good (although the vocals on the “woman down” chorus suffer from bad mixing). But it's the contemplative songs that let the lyrics take center stage where Alanis has always shone brightest, and songs like “lens,” “guardian,” “empathy,” (which amused me as it follows the same chord progression as Lady Gaga's “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)”) “win and win,” and “receive” offer thoughtful and relatable, if sometimes a bit preachy, insights on life, relationships and especially equality, a theme that runs throughout. The Amazon bonus track “tantra” also provided me with the unnerving experience of being somewhat aroused by an Alanis Morissette song, which just shows that anything is possible. I actually really got something out of this album and see myself listening to it a bit more going ahead like I did Fiona Apple's album, and despite my sentimental devotion to Alanis, I wasn't expecting that. When I first heard "celebrity" I got excited thinking this was a tell-all about her quick rise to fame; it would be really interesting if Alanis addressed those issues, and how it has felt to deal every day with having made a masterpiece she can never surpass, THAT would make an interesting album.

    Popledge: The explosion of Ms Morissette came a little before my time which might help me review this, I am away of her previous work but I don’t hold it in a special place in my life or heart like I know a lot of people do. I’d heard opening song ‘guardian’ before as a single from the album. I gave it a positive review then and I still would now, it’s a little rock/pop by numbers but the sentiment or the song is nice and the rock vibe is just strong enough without over-powering it. ‘empathy’ has some nice piano moments in it and fits into the same category of ‘guardian’ it’s a song which is saying thank you to someone in your life, it would be a safe option single. ‘lens’ again reflects the stability in Alanis’s life at the moment, perhaps an ode to her new husband it is again is a song of thankfulness for what she has been given. Tracks I didn’t warm to included ‘woman down’ I wasn’t quite sure what Alanis was getting at through her lyrics, is she dissing all these women or is she trying to say they shouldn’t put women down? I think the later but I didn’t like it and I didn’t like her vocals around the chorus’s either. If you are going to sing a song about women then it should be about empowerment rather than listing faults or categories to dislike. ‘Til You’ I did enjoy but not till the 2.29 mark when the more ethereal sounds started, her voice sounds lovely on this track. ‘celebrity’ was a bit too odd for me, obviously an angry song around being in the public eye it sounded like it should be an Evanescence album track. I would have liked a bit more angst and grit to the album, but I understand that this body of work reflects her state of mind and place in life at the moment, new mother and wife this is more of a thank you album from Alanis. "numb" comes close to the Alanis of past…again it strays very close to Evanescence territory but the amazing violin solo saves the track and actually turns it into one of my favourites on the album – great vocals that convey a depth of emotion. But the album does suffer from lack of variety, lots of tracks blend into one another especially as the album progresses past track 9.

    Lost in a Melody: It’s still far too sore a subject for me at the moment. I’ve been a life long fan of Alanis and admire her passion, philosophies and eloquence so much – and until now there’s only been one album in her discography that I’ve completely 100% disowned. And now here we are again – I can’t believe getting married and giving birth to her first child couldn’t rejuvenate the supposed former infatuation junkie and this whole release is left as a terrible combination of weak, nonsensical lyrics and paper-thin production. It pains me when an artist goes from being world wise and feisty to mediocre and uninspired (No Doubt are heading down the same route by the sounds of it) and so this release joins Under Rug Swept in my own personal Alanis Room 101. And the less said about the patronising and dated ‘celebrity’, the better.

    Techno School: I listen to this album with so many feelings inside, yet so little to say. Is this what the last decade felt like for Alanis Morissette, when she disappeared from the scene to take up yoga and parody Black Eyed Peas singles? I don't know what it is, but every song on havoc and bright lights just feels...too long. Like the same chords are being played the over and over for four minutes, but I get sick of it after two and move to the next track. The only song that really jumps at me is "woman down", with its 1990s Alanis attitude and straightforward attack on modern masculinity. But the rest of the album? I just don't know. Morissette is a bit old to be selling the idea of low self-esteem. I just wanna tell her "Sorry Alanis, but Linkin Park crossed that territory when you were on your little hiatus. No, seriously: they also released a song called 'Numb', and it was basically about the same thing." (The words "anxious" and "overwhelmed" actually show up in Morissette's version. How emo, indeed.) When the lyrics aren't giving off an air of angst, they comes across as a bit holier-than-thou. "guardian" is an obvious reference to Morissette's devotion to her son, and "lens" is all about accepting different people's lifestyles and philosophies--which, given recent news, probably has a lot to do with breastfeeding your kids until high school after the first 12 months. I just wasn't a fan.

    *   *   *   *   EPs   *   *   *   *

    Coco Morier - Strangers May Kiss (Ingrid, June 18)

    Pop Messiah: As has always been the case thus far, this month's panel assignment introduces me to an artist I was previously unaware of in Coco Morier. As first impressions go, I'm not sure how I feel about Morier's vocals, which seem to lack uniqueness and personality, but this is an interesting set of catchy and exquisitely produced pop songs that definitely have the potential to earn my favor on repeat spins. These five tracks manage to sound retro and somehow futuristic all at once. In previewing this work on her SoundCloud page, I see in her bio that she's written for Wynter Gordon and Britney Spears and I shamefully admit that I probably would prefer these tracks with vocals from either of those artists. In fact, "My Satellite" seems like something Spears might record but ultimately leave off an album. In spite of the generic vocal delivery, there's a lot to like about Strangers May Kiss but much like strangers who do, there's not much between them in the vein of love. The only real standout in the bunch for me is "Shameless," which truly is a bit of Pop Heaven!

    Taking/Universe: This is one of those artists that I see people rave about all the time but I never had the time or the drive to seek them out. Lucky for me, I get exposed to her here by force! Strangers May Kiss being my first impression of Coco Morier, I had no idea what I was getting into. This girl is one of those artists that is fun to listen to on occasion but I'm not sure if I would crave her tracks. Her vocals are very low and lacking in energy, which actually create a great atmosphere regardless of how bad that comment seemed. That's not to say that the whole album is low key. The pace picks up quite a bit with "Shameless", easily becoming my favorite song of the group. As I kept listening to the EP, the thought kept crossing my head that Coco is the experimental/rock version of Freezepop both with the more static and purposely processed vocals and the lack of energy put into the music. That being said I'm a huge Freezepop fan, so again, not insulting anybody, just stating facts. The songwriting is great, but it's just not something I am into.

    Vertigo Shtick: I discovered Coco Morier one night last December; it was a very hard time for me, having just moved back home after seven months of unemployment and playing “Ambulance,” the home game. When I happened to come across a tweet she'd sent to another blogger I sort of have a secret Azealia Banks-Nicki Minaj thing, with an invitation to check out some new solo stuff, I pounced on it, and ended up writing one of my more in-depth reviews on the self-titled introductory EP and eventually interviewing Morier twice about her work, and now she's one of the great local indie pop acts I follow closely. It took me a little while to get used to some of the style elements, particularly the vocals, but the more I listened, and the more I learned about Morier's punk, techno and pop influences, the more it made sense. The three poppiest of the five tracks from that original set show up on Strangers May Kiss, and you can very much tell Morier has made her living writing mostly top-line songs for Britney Spears and others. Morier told me the project was originally just a repository for unused songs from that process, and several of these were written with or for Sky Ferreira, who apparently would rather make crap like “Everything is Embarrassing” and “Sex Rules.” I can't figure out if she's going down the pop oddball path that her first Ingrid single “Afterlife” and the fabulous “Journey to the Center of the World,” which was left off Strangers May Kiss, or delivering the traditional sort of pop songs like “Ambulance” and “Shameless” in a new style, and I know she's experimenting so she may not know either. I would be very interested in seeing the former, but since pop fans are mopey saps (everyone seems to like “Hallucination”) there's plenty of market for more wrist-cutting and sighing. Or, better yet, she could always hedge her bets with masterpieces like “Explosions,” which is perfection. *TOP PICK*

    Popledge: Coco wrote Britney Spears amazing Blackout track ‘Heaven on Earth’ which Britney later described as her favourite track from that iconic album. It is also my favourite and instantly makes me warm to Coco especially as I read on in her Bio to discover she has written quite a few tracks for Britney, Selena Gomez and Wynter Gordon. ‘Explosions’ is a great opening track to the EP, subtle yet instantly catchy it’s about that ‘explosion’ you get when you get with someone new. ‘Ambulance’ goes very 60’s in its approach, lots of hushed vocals and groovy beats, you can imagine it being played in an uber cool club at ‘alternative pop’ night. 'Hallucination' was the weakest track on the EP in my opinion; it was a nice change of pace to a laid-back vibe but it got lost in such a short EP. If you like Goldfrapp or Daft Punk with a European pop twist and an extra helping of grit then I would give this a go!

    Lost in a Melody: It’s no secret that Nicole wrote some of my all time favourite Britney Spears songs, but she also wrote tracks that I will never hear for the same act that Example penned his unheard masterpiece for (read more about that below). For that reason alone, I’ve been dying to find time to actually explore her own music under the Coco moniker, but I have to say I’m very disappointed. Her voice isn’t unique enough to suggest a move from songwriter to singer is a good idea and the tracks themselves are just skeletons with no meat hanging from them. ‘Ambulance’ is probably the closest we get to hearing a decent track (the plea of “Someone please turn off the life support machine” is amazing) but it quickly descends into an uncomfortable cutesy nursery rhyme territory that just does nothing for me.

    Techno School: I really liked the overall mood of Strangers May Kiss. Earthy, low-key, booming. You think you're just going to sip your cafe latte and relax to the beat, but something connects inside and gets you up on your feet. You're wired. Every song on this EP reminds me of something else: "Ambulance" has a very MGMT-like quality to it, "Hallucination" reeks of "Ruled By Secrecy" (or maybe "Endlessly"), off of Muse's Absolution, and "My Satellite" sounds Gaga-ish or Madonna-ish, depending on how you lean. That spoken-word interlude is oh-so "Born This Way" that it makes me wonder if Coco Morier ripped the structure straight from Gaga, which would be daring and exciting if that were true, but it probably isn't. Morier really needs to push the boundaries more to set herself apart from her inspirations and, more importantly, from all the other up-and-comers who have similar voices. I would have appreciated a bit more experimentation with non-traditional sounds, like the thunderous bass and tingly rising scales in "Shameless" that make it a standout. Or, the delightful, strange, almost French introduction of snare and accordian-like synth into the latter half of "Hallucination," which could easily have been omitted and left this much less of a song. I want Morier to run with that a little more, whatever "that" is.

    *   *   *   *   Music Videos   *   *   *   *

    Nicki Minaj - "Pound the Alarm"  (Cash Money Records/Young Money Ent./Universal, July 31)

    Pop Messiah: While I wasn't impressed enough with Minaj's sophomore album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded on the first listen to ever give it a second chance, "Pound the Alarm" registered as "the song that's much better than 'Starships' but is mostly the same sort of thing." It's come to grow on me considerably since it was announced as a single, but upon viewing its music video for the first time I will admit that it's not at all what I expected. On a first viewing, it seems like typical summer fare; showcasing the sights and spectacles of Carnival in Trinidad. I came, I watched, brushed off the sequins and bits of feather and moved on, at least until I randomly stumbled upon an article on which argues that despite the overall critical consensus that this video is vapid and meaningless, that "Pound the Alarm" actually carries much subtext as it relates to the enforcement of curfews in Trinidad and Tobago in 2011 due to rising crime rates (particularly gang violence) in the night-time party scene. While I'm not about to scream Nicki's political genius from the rooftops, I do think it's a good read and something interesting to ponder, especially in the video's somewhat off-putting darker moments at it's conclusion, which after reading this article's take on things, seems to make a lot more sense.

    Taking/Universe: Damnit Nicki Minaj. You release a new music video every other week. How the hell am I supposed to keep up? The newest video (which will probably not be the newest by the time this is released) is "Pound The Alarm". Nicki has two modes - Pop and Rap. Luckily this song is no "Beez In The Trap" and is actually poppy and dancy. The video is a mess of real women dressed up in drag queen clothing at a party that looks like Mardi Gras taking place in Jamaca. Nothing really happens other than girls booty bumping now and then. The song sounds like it was made for Jersey Shore, causing everyone to subconsciously fist pump along with the bridge. The lyrics are ridiculous with lyrics like "We getting sexy and hotter", but then again, who listens to a Nicki Minaj track for the lyrics anyway?Most of the time I just listen to her music to hear her odd yet infectious voice. After a few shots of her in a top that has more cleavage than Dolly Parton in her heyday, we are left with an ending of the queen covering her face with a bandanna and walking into the light. That's it. I really hope I'm not the only one who doesn't "get" this video. Eh, at least the song is catchy.

    Vertigo Shtick: I've always been generally pro-Nicki Minaj, but I've really gotten into her as a solo act with her second album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, which in terms of enjoyment by volume is probably my favorite album of the year so far (step it up, people!). I like how she brings her background in musical theatre to hip hop, just as Lady Gaga does to pop except that Nicki's taking it into hostile territory whereas Gaga's presenting high dramatics to an audience of girls and gay men. It's no surprise that this audience has embraced Nicki Minaj so enthusiastically as well, and while people argue about this I think it was at the very least a smart business move, prompted by the success of “Super Bass,” to find a way to play to that massive, lucrative market a bit more without abandoning hip hop. But her pop stuff, as enjoyable as it is at its best (ie “Pound the Alarm”), isn't as daring and unconventional as her pop stuff because what's outlandish in hip hop (not that it doesn't get outlandish in its own way) is unshocking in a genre increasingly used to whipped cream breast guns. In fact, Christina Aguilera rocked this look in the “Lady Marmalade” video in 2001. It's the first time in a video I've seen Nicki not dominating every shot she's in; she looks a little intimidated by her outfit or something...whatever it is, she's not the boss. She's still all in, gamely strutting and dancing and weird face-ing through the Mardi Gras-themed video and by all accounts having a blast – which is kind of a metaphor for her ventures into pop, I guess. I like the song, and the video, and I don't mind Nicki doing pop. But I hope the mainstream pop flirtation is something she's getting out of her system before focusing on being revolutionary in hip hop rather than competent in pop.

    Popledge: I love the fact that Nicki Minaj has ‘given back’ to her community with this music video. All of the visuals were filmed in Trinidad with beautiful backdrops and even more beautiful ladies. Some points stray a little too close to a soft porn movie for my liking but then again boobs and ass will probably attract even more people to the island. The highlight for me was the amazing carnival costumes the ladies wore with the head-dresses, the visuals build nicely until we get a spectacular fireworks finale.

    Lost in a Melody: More fake boobies than the Playboy Mansion – why does Nicki insist on shoving out these lame party videos? It’s so embarrassing to see her winding and grinding with all the sexiness and grace of Bambi in that scene on the ice. It’s funny how Nicki and Azealia have ended up as complete opposites – one regularly astounds with classy and visually exciting promos, the other entertains with commercial hip-pop. Can we somehow push them together really hard until they morph into one super weave-eating pop monster?

    Techno School: What better place for Nicki Minaj to shoot her latest video than ESPAÑA! Party capital of the world, bitches! Minaj is full-out Barbie in this one, with a gravity-defying pile of blond curls and figure-enhancing bikini. She paradea around with a bunch of female Carnival-eqsue dancers, and the happy bunch eventually lands itself at Minaj's own concert. What I love about this video is how the video girls, as it were, are treated like real people. The women aren't staring sultry into the camera all "hither there". They're smiling! They're jumping around! They're rocking out! Their number one priority is to have a damned fiesta, not to run to the bedroom! Yes, the dancers are being objectified, but they're also being given more of a humanity in this video than any male artist would provide them. This is why I love Nicki Minaj. The only glaring exception, surprisingly, is when Minaj becomes her own video girl toward the end of “Pound the Alarm”, quite unimpressively thrusting her bosom and hither there-ing toward the camera herself. All the bubbliness carries us through the fantastical video until a very confusing ending, where slow-motion shots set to eerie sound effects try to create a false sense of drama at the end of an otherwise lighthearted video. I hope this is a lead-in to Minaj's next video. If not, I'm going to be very disappointed. **Note: After writing this review, I came upon an article by Annita Lucchesi that breaks down what is apparently a very politically-motivated music video. The subtext was way over my head. Maybe next time Minaj can be a little more explanatory for her ignorant American fans?

    Jessie and the Toy Boys - "On With My Bad Self" (

    Pop Messiah: Dear Jessie and the Toy Boys, (or perhaps just "Dear Jessie" as we understand that like "the Diamonds" - as in Marina, they don't really exist. You do, however, take it one step further as you have at least provided mannequins as a physical manifestation of your crazy and hey, we respect that!) We are writing to you today to tell you that despite the obvious tongue-in-cheek intentions of your video for “On With My Bad Self,” there is NOTHING funny about drug-induced cannibalism, unless of course you count this. We know this may cause us to come off as prudes, but we all have limits and lines we have to draw and eating people is ours. We honestly believe that eating people should be a limit for everyone, but as they say: “to each his own.” Until that moment of the video, we were sort-of down with the way the video was shot and styled. We especially loved how very Gwen Stefani the whole thing was. Come to think of it, didn’t she also have some “imaginary” friends for a little while? Hmmm…  Sincerely, The Pop Gods

    Taking/Universe: Apparently she's ready to play by my rules. In that case stop the video and let's move on. I'm not the biggest fan of Jessie or her Toy Boys. This song is so ADD that I don't even know how to approach it. Half the time she's trying to be a hardass, and then the chrous kicks in and she's suddenly this cutsey rock-pop chick. Does her lack of conviction to any one image remind any one of Avril Lavigne? The video is just as ADD as she is. Half ot he time she's looking bad ass, and then BAM she's cutsey again. Oh and she eats a guy. Someone should tell her that Bath Salt jokes are soooo two months ago. Old news. Moving on.

    Vertigo Shtick: I'm not sure if Jessie Malakouti gets fucked over more than most people or if she just makes more noise about it, but considering how much fun it is when she does, I don't mind either way. I've found her work as Jessie and the Toy Boys (the latter's corporeality depends on whether she has backup dancers at the moment or not) hit and miss, though when she hits “Money Makes the Girl Go Round,” “Valentine,” “5 o'Clock”) it's pretty sublime. This is definitely one of the hits, although it's really more full-scale cannibalistic revenge killing (and let's all take a moment to clap at the “bath salts” gag). Regarding the song itself, I worried the first time listening to it that it was going to be one of those frustrating songs with amazing verses and lackluster chorus, but by the end it all clicked together nicely. Major props for managing a dubstep breakdown that still feels relevant at a time when the trend is becoming really tired (like I said last month, dubstep breakdowns are the new cerulean). Sometimes she pushes my comfort level (e.g. the body part picnic, bloody teeth shot), but that's probably a good thing. I like being challenged.

    Popledge: I didn’t really like the verses to this single which is unfortunate as I think it ultimately reflects on my enjoyment of the video. I loved the visuals in the video though, it starts off with a dissatisfied ‘Stepford’ housewife around the home with her business-man husband in the car returning from work, she then has a BBQ with friends and as hubbie returns the video really twists. The friends and Jessie all turn into werewolves and end up eating the husband! Jessie is then crowned Queen and her and the minions end up eating her husband on their BBQ! It is deliciously weird (as referenced on one of the male dancers vests) and the fashion and colours in the video are cool. I loved the smiley faced outfits and her ‘all American’ sunglasses – it really deserves more than 35,000 views on YouTube so go and watch!

    Lost in a Melody: I’ve written before about how not many Caucasian female singers can pull off a song like this (I’m talking about you, Colette Carr), and that the only reason some of them DO succeed is because they’re being very tongue in cheek and know how ridiculous the whole thing is. And that’s exactly why ‘On With My Bad Self’ by Jessie & The Toyboys works. Yes there are guns, bikini shots and a dubstep wobble, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s light-hearted, there’s a great chorus and it’s FUN. Basically more pop needs to be fun - that’s your lesson for the day.

    Techno School: I had to watch this three times before it really grew on me, and I'm glad it did. Maybe I was too distracted dancing around my living room, but I couldn't put all the different pieces of the story together the first time around. There's lots of bits and pieces to this video, okay?!?! There's neurotic Jessie-in-the-bathtub, and there's black lipstick-wearing Jessie-death-ballerina, and there's cleaver-slamming Jessie-serial-killer! "Saw your video/Ripoff" is a rather ironic lyric, considering Jessie's sound and look in the chorus' meat cleaver-bangin' scenes sound very, very Gwen Stefani--and it's set behind rose bushes, no less! Not to mention Jessie's styling in all the other scenes and the theme of the video in general are very, very Gaga. And the cannibalistic references are very Ke$ha (seriously, everybody needs to stop trying to be Ke$ha!). All derivative aspects are forgiven when a deeeelicious dubstep bridge is accompanied by Jessie fittingly dumping an entire container of bath salts into her serial-killer tub before the band goes all Vulture on their latest kill. The witty reference to the rave scene--"bath salts", although falsely known as the drug that leads people to become living zombies. is actually very similar to ecstasy--makes me smile and give the band some creative credit back. Now I just want to know what their live performance is like (I bet it's like Ke$ha's). *TOP PICK*

    *   *   *   *   Singles   *   *   *   *

    Neon Hitch - "Gold" (feat. Tyga) (Reprise, August 10)

    Pop Messiah: My love affair with Neon Hitch began when 2011's lush and gorgeous "Get Over U" served up some Robyn-like realness. Since then, this Brit songstress has been dominating my iPhone playlists despite the fact that she still has yet to release her debut album Beg, Borrow & Steal. What I like about Hitch is that she could throw down in a drunken brawl with Ke$ha but is at least 75% more likely to show her softer side. She's simultaneously tough and gritty, sweet and sugary. Second album single "Gold" falls into the sweet and sugary category as she coos her love's praises in her best Britney impression over a strumming guitar loop. Young Money's Tyga makes an appearance in a mostly unnecessary (but not unpleasant) guest-rap spot. The track sounds like a summer smash to me but since it only debuted on August 10th it may have to settle for an indian summer smoulder. It would be nice to see her name on the charts with something other than her guest spot on "Ass Back Home" by Gym Class Heroes. (By the way, if you're wondering, yes - Neon Hitch is her actual name! Her father was a lighting technician!)  *TOP PICK*

    Taking/Universe: I have a love hate relationship with Neon Hitch. I started out loving her, but the more i listen to her songs, the more I get annoyed with her. Her last track, "Fuck U Betta" was less than impressive, but this time around she sounds a little more sincere, so it hooked me in... even if it did sound like Ke$ha wrote it. To be honest, I spent most of the track waiting for Tyga to come on. He is one of the few rappers I actually like, and his whole ten seconds on the track made it all strangely worth it. I guess she is making progress. This song is a long ways away from "Bad Dog" both in production and sustainability. I'll keep my eye out for more things from her in the future, but as for now I'm not overly impressed.

    Vertigo Shtick: Benny Blanco and Neon Hitch's management know it's getting time to shit or get off the pot with this intriguing British singer, and thus they have shat "Gold," a safe, radio-friendly, "oh that sounds like ___" pop song of the kind the Swedish conglomerate (with whom Blanco associates) have used to get Cher Lloyd, Jessie J and Karmin onto the airwaves. I'm convinced that there are only three ways to get mainstream airplay and thus break out (whether you blow up or deflate being up to you): one is to have previously had a radio hit(s), one is to get lucky and blow up via the internet, and the third is if the Godfather says so. Not sure who the Godfather is exactly - possibilities include Dr. Luke, or possibly Ryan Seacrest, but most likely the head of Clear Channel. We'll see if the Godfather wishes Neon Hitch to be a pop star or not, but I have my doubts, which on one hand is a shame, but on the other hand it would set her free to finally make the fascinating music clearly bubbling underneath and suppressed in the quest for label success (Jessie J, we hardly knew ye) instead this sort of lazy, recycled, well, shit. The "Wash, Rinse, Repeat" stench of this bothers me more and more the more I think about it. If I were Neon Hitch, I would give the whole mainstream thing a big "Fuck U! (Betta)" and come over and join the ranks of the Robyns and the Queen of Hearts-es and the M.I.A.s of the world and do your freaky-ass sex-crazy flame-haired thing on your own. I mean, really, Bruno Mars, were you simply too terribly strapped for time that you couldn't spend a couple minutes coming up with an original hook, or did you just toss on that old one you and Ryan Tedder have both used - in recent hits, no less! Just, like, "no one will notice!" Did Tedder put you up to this? I know that's his thing.

    Popledge: I know Neon Hitch more from her collaborations with other artists such as Ke$ha and 3OH!3 so it was good to listen to her taking the lead on this song. I really like the flow of the song, with it being the Olympics in London at present the ‘gold’ theme made me think of some of the amazing moments we have seen here. The Tyga section I hated, I really think that record labels are keen on this ‘rent a rapper’ business to boost both artists’ profiles but to me it is a little cheap. Tyga is featured on the current Tulisa single too so like Timbaland and Flo Rida before him I hope he releases his own stuff or buggers off soon. I would have liked a few ‘punchier’ moments in the song, stronger beats or a big note, just something to raise the track up a level. Could do better would be my report card.

    Unapologetic POP!: The start of "Gold" sounds simultaneously fun and soulful, yet eventually the production shifts into generic dance territory. I feel like I’m going to overuse the term “generic” this month, but why is everything sounding the same same same? Neon possesses a distinctive personality, but her music sounds like Karmin, the duo whose indistinctive songs are less-than versions of Katy Perry and Ke$ha hits. Benny Blanco has crafted some beautiful tracks in his short career, so I don’t understand why his work with Neon sounds like a mash-up of everything I’ve heard in the last two years. Let’s move POP forward! Why can’t Benny create some gorgeous melodies and production like "She Doesn’t Mind" for Neon? Also, what is with this Tyga feature? Some people may think that a new POP tart needs a feature to rise to stardom, and that may be the case, but s/he should never do it on his/her own track. That destroys his/her brand and disables the singer from establishing his/her own identity. Madonna wouldn’t become MADONNA if "Holiday" featured LL Cool J.  Plain. Simple. The End.

    Lost in a Melody: I could never really properly get into Neon Hitch because I found her too experimental in her “sound” (i.e. she released like a thousand different songs in different genres in the hopes that someone would eventually like her) but with ‘Gold’, that all changed. The vocal delivery is VERY Dragonette, but fortunately it’s a lot better than their recent output. The chorus is super sweet and simple, the build up in the pre-chorus is brilliantly done and the rest of the song stomps along like a toddler without a care, making it feel like her most effortless release yet.

    Techno School: I listened to this song a lot, trying to wrap my head around what I liked and didn't like about it. Initial reaction: unenthused disgust. "Gold" is nothing like "Fuck U Betta"--this is a whole other side of Neon Hitch. There's a lot more emphasis on her voice, which is nothing special. But the more I listened to it, the less grating "Gold" became, kind of in the way a catchy but poorly-written radio track can grow on you, play after play after play. By the time this song slithers its way up to the mainstream radio waves, I'll probably find myself scrambling to change the station the second I hear the opening line. Musically, "Gold" is subdued and minimalist. The low register zip of the backbeat carries us through the verses, and then it disappears in lieu of those warbly, bubbly keyboard tones, tangoing with single piano notes that give an otherwise fluid sound a much-needed backbone. The constant high hat/clap is a bit annoying, but manageable, and there's a nice build between stanzas in the verses that I find effortlessly beautiful. I think most of my reservations I have about "Gold" actually come from the trainwreck-y pile of analogies in the lyrics. Hitch's heartbeat is "racing like a cheetah", and her love interest is "sweeter than a Cinnabon", so she "needs a Tylenol" because her "head is spinning like a disco ball"! I don't even know what to say about Tyga's "She called me baby/like what comes after labor/labor/labor" during his completely unnecessary rap interlude. Not only is that the most awkwardly-placed analogy I've ever heard--Hey guys, let's think about a woman dripping sweat in labor in the middle of a song about ethereal, uplifting love!--but for some reason the producer decided it was a good idea to repeat "labor" three times!  Maybe they're trying to distract listeners from the Star Wars reference that immediately follows. If anybody tries to compliment me by saying I "shine like a 'saber", I'm making a beeline for the door.

    Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen - "Good Time" (Universal/Interscope, June 26)

    Pop Messiah: I had actually avoided hearing this track until now despite all the hype of it being Carly Rae’s follow-up to smash “Call Me Maybe.” Truthfully, I have never been terribly impressed by Owl City. Like many, I enjoyed “Fireflies” and I admit I was rooting for him back when he wrote Taylor Swift a note on his blog back on Valentine’s Day in 2011 and recorded his response to her beautiful song about meeting him: “Enchanted.” To put it nicely, "Good Time" is completely uninspired, derivative radio fodder. While many would have said the same about “Call Me Maybe,” at least that song had some cute lyrics and truthfully I can’t think of any songs that sound much like it, but this has nothing unique or special about it and it comes off as a bit of a novelty song. Next!!!

    Taking/Universe: Am I the only one who thought this was a strange combination? I mean I know they both had amazing hit singles fall out of the sky, but something about this combo is just weird. Odd feelings aside, it really works. Owl City's robotic vocals next to Carly's raw talent just makes for a great, fun summer track. It's not the next "Call Me Maybe", but it is solid and catchy. I really love it when songs have two vocalists, especially when it's a guy and girl combo, so I was all over this track from the start. The parts are balanced well with no one singer overpowering the other and each getting ample time to shine through doing what they do best. They each have their own strengths here, Carly being more vocally solid and Owl City being more of a fit for the track's heavy synth use, but they each manage to make up for the other's shortcomings to make a strong single. This song would have been perfect if not for the video. Just... don't watch it.

    Vertigo Shtick: Tracks like this remind me that there are different ways in which a song can be “bad,” and it's important to clarify if you want to declare something to suck and have it stand up to scrutiny. If I were simply to say “Good Time” is a Bad Record – which it very much is – someone (let's say Scooter Braun) could argue in Billboard that it's catchy, has good production quality, speaks to a fun late summer sentiment, and has sold a buttload of downloads, and because he'd be right that would be the end of it, and where would we be? With that in mind, I'll clarify that What Makes “Good Time” Boo-able includes pandering, treacly, mind-numbingly dumb lyrics (even for pop), a calculated, formulaic obviousness that would shame even Diane Warren, the “Hey, you're that new chick/Blowing up like crazy/We're one hit wonders/So, duet maybe?” artist pairing, and episodes of Barney contain fewer unironic cliches. And just when you think it can't get worse, they bring in the fucking kids' chorus. “We don't even have to try...” Must you rub it in?

    Popledge: Aww Carly Rae my secret pleasure! I like her because she’s around the same age as me yet dresses like she’s still at school. I also really liked ‘Fireflies’ back in the day (it’s a good song to fall asleep too!) This song doesn’t quite live up to my expectations; it isn’t as good as ‘Fireflies’ or the irrepressible ‘Call Me Maybe’ but I still like it. I like the Carly ‘wooooo’ and ‘Twilight’ vocals in the production and the chorus is very catchy. Adam’s voice sounds the same as ever but to me it is bearable, the ultimate tween party song for the summer! *TOP PICK*

    Unapologetic POP!: "Good Time" is a catchy tune, and I would say it’s cooler than the other tracks, but it still bores me. It reminds me of "Fireflies," indicating that Adam Young has not grown much as an artist/producer. Mix it up, mister! Also, I’m the one person on Earth who doesn’t like "Call Me Maybe." Carly better deliver the goods on her album, Kiss.

    Lost in a Melody: It was inevitable that whatever Carly Rae Jepsen did next would be intensely scrutinised, and in all honesty, new single 'Good Time' is definitely not as instant as ‘Call Me Maybe’. It’s a duet with Owl City who sings like he’s one of those androids from a Ridley Scott movie - digitally pitched to cold, emotionless perfection. Despite that, the track is infectious and has a great summer feeling, especially in “woah” chants. It’s the kind of song that makes you eager to go surfing, even though you’ve never stepped foot on a surfboard before in your life. Will it be enough to save Carly from the One Hit Wonder label? Only time will tell…

    Techno School: You know those people who post all those photos of their perfect homemade brunches and their perfectly adorable pets playing in the park and the perfect indie rock concerts that they drink their PBRs at? Fuck those people. Especially when they write songs about how everything is easy and fun and they don't have to get up early for work or worry about paying bills or chug a gallon of coffee just to have enough energy at the end of the day to drag themselves off the couch. Fuck them and their stupid little song about their perfect little hipster, Instagram'd lives. I really expected more from Owl City--there were lots of places where he could have highlighted the robotic, playful keyboard sounds that defined his Ocean Eyes album. But, mostly, fuck him and his good times. I hope he doesn't get laid tonight. And I hope Carly Rae Jepsen has a bad hair day. She really isn't adding anything to the musical landscape, and I'm done listening to her overplayed voice, and she needs someone to put her in place. Damnit, now I'm all riled up! I'm gonna hit up the wine bar. Who's down? (oh, wait...)

    Example - "Say Nothing" (RCA, August 3)

    Pop Messiah: Example is the second artist on the September assignment that I’ve never heard of before. As his vocals begin, I feel he has a tone similar to Bono but without the styling. (Checking out his video, his appearance matches this sentiment of not really seeming polished for the conventions of the dance genre, and I actually like that!) While he’s not the greatest singer ever, I find that I don’t really mind that much as the song goes on as I do like the lyrical content. Imagine my surprise when after the second chorus, he starts rapping and suddenly I find myself wondering why he’s singing on the track at all when he’s obviously much more skilled with the spoken word. I actually think this song would be improved if he rapped on the verses and just sang on the choruses, but perhaps that would be too formulaic. Either way, “Say Nothing” didn’t leave me feeling strongly for or against Example but I’m game to hear more of his work before I pass overall judgement. In the end, it’s a decent dance track with passable vocals but nothing revolutionary.

    Taking/Universe: One of the few people this month I had never heard of, I went into this song with an open mind. My first impression of this song was that the guy's voice is amazing. With male artists like Adam Lambert all over the charts and radio these days, it's nice to hear a vocalist with a deeper voice -- one that I can actually hit all the notes to when I sing along. I love the lyrics, a more positive approach to a failing relationship disguised by a upbeat electro-rock beat, and the rap bit (one actually done by the same artist and not a guest spot!?) was spot on. I don't usually go for acts from the UK, not because I don't think they have talent, but because their music, for the most part, is so damn hard to get ahold of in the US. I'll keep my fingers crossed that "Say Nothing" somes out on iTunes in the states. Maybe his association with Calvin Harris (Yay Wikipedia!) will get boost him right on over here. *TOP PICK*

    Vertigo Shtick: I'm not familiar with, er, examples of Example's work prior to this, though I know who he is; on this song he sounds like U2 crossed with One Direction (complete with “We Are Young” ohhhhhhhhhhhhh-ing). I found this tune unobjectionable, but it's not something I'd listen to much on my own. The chorus causes my grammar gland to shut down and hide under its bed until the artillery dies down. And awww, how cute, a Ke$ha rap, but in a British, male accent...actually that makes me kind of horny. Although instead of “you don't have to say nothing” (*shudder*) Ke$ha would say something cool written by Neon Hitch like “Stop stop stop talking that blah blah blah!” And also using a childhood photo is like saying "I got fat between albums and I'm not back in shape yet," so...less horny.

    Popledge: Another British ‘man of the moment,’ this song will keep Example’s music in the public's mind but for me this isn’t his strongest single to date. ‘Watch the Sun Come Up’ and ‘Midnight Run’ being a couple of my Example favourites. I really like the dark nature of Elliot’s songs but again this doesn’t go dark enough for me, I enjoyed the rap part and the electric guitars towards the end of the track but to me it should have been left as an album track.

    Lost in a Melody: Example once wrote a song, and then gave it away to someone else, and then in the end it was never released. That song was incredible and sounded like nothing he had ever put his name to before. ‘Say Nothing’ (the lead single from his new album) is the closest he’s got to recreating that amazing and mysterious track. Essentially what I’m trying to say is that this is also brilliant. I never doubted for a second that moving away from straight up club records to this guitar driven sound would suit him and his vocals perfectly, and ‘Say Nothing’ delivers more and more with every listen. This will be one of the biggest sounds of the summer, if all goes to plan. And maybe the reaction will be so good that he’ll dig up that unheard classic-in-the-making and chuck that on the album too. I can only hope. *TOP PICK*

    Techno School: I have loved Example since I first heard him featured on Flux Pavilion's last single, "Daydreamer". He's my favorite vocalist in the electronic world, and I'm glad to hear him in his own lovely single. The pop track shares one unfortunate thing with many techno singles that have dominant vocals: the words kind of take themselves too seriously. It isn't that I find the lyrics about a relationship almost falling to pieces and then cradling itself in beautiful silence isn't relatable; it's that they don't seem genuine in this particular song. Probably because the music in "Say Nothing", although relatively simple, is performed with unbelievable U2 levels of grandiosity. Still, the music is surprisingly hard to analyze behind Example's angelic voice, which absolutely captivates my attention. I'm less a fan of his spoken word lyrics, but they are brief, they are bearable, and they blend well into the background. This isn't my favorite track, but it makes me want to know what else Example has been working on.

    Mariah Carey - "Triumphant (Get 'Em)" feat. Rick Ross & Meek Mill (The Island Def Jam, August 7)

    Pop Messiah: It pains me to say it, but after approximately 22 years of Stan-dom, I'm been slowly losing my love for Mimi. Much like I said earlier about Alanis, there comes a time where you have to stop holding on to what was and face what IS. The woman who produced some of the strongest pop singles of my lifetime just doesn't have it anymore. Even her occasional successes at this stage of her career pale in comparison to the golden years when she nailed down #1 hits as easily as she could navigate her ever-famed whistle tones. Sadly, it seems that she's gone from five octaves to one note (and to any "lambs" reading this, I obviously don't mean this literally). The thing about "Triumphant" is that it simply isn't. Are the lyrics sort-of inspirational? Yeah, I guess so - but honestly I can hardly hear them. Mariah's voice is weighed down in layers of softly-cooed harmonies and reverb, rendering her little more than background vocals in this track that feels way more like a collaboration on a hip-hop mix tape than a lead single from a Mariah Carey album. There's some irony in the fact that the woman who pioneered the guest-rap-on-a-pop-track trend when she shocked the world in '95 - introducing Wu-Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard into the mainstream on the remix to "Fantasy," now plays hook-hoe to Rick Ross and Meek Mill on her own song. I'm praying to the Pop Gods that whenever we hear the rest of this album project that she's got better than this track up her sleeve, otherwise this could be her most disappointing era yet, and YES I am counting "Glitter."

    Taking/Universe: Is this one of those instances where I'm going to be beaten if I don't know who Meek Mill is? I don't like being beaten! I listened this song to hear Mariah Carey's beautiful voice, and I'm greeted not with her heart melting vocals but a rapper who is nothing but annoying. Luckily, the chorus swoops in to save the day. The second verse is a little less annoying, as Rick Ross is much more tolerable and amusing (especially in the music video). Mariah even chimes in during his voice, making everything much more tolerable. It is about time this sexy lady made a comeback. She's been absent for far too long, and this song may not be what I wanted to hear, but it should prove to be a profitable venture for her. The highlight of the track is obviously the end of the track where she lets loose completely, wailing with everything she's got. There's just something about Mariah Carey that I just can't get enough of. Seeing as she's married to Nick Cannon, and Colette Carr is on his N'Credible label, I think a duet is in order. No? Oh, my bad.

    Vertigo Shtick: You know how I said there are different ways a song can suck? This one covers all the bases. It's kind of like Nicki Minaj's song “Champion,” in which Nicki just does the hook while Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy handle the verse work, but still retains lead artist credit; the flipside of the usual practice of dudes getting girls to sing hooks (like, do non-hip hop people buy T.I. songs because they love the rap part? Or is it that big chorus Rihanna sings?) for feature artist credit (or, if you're Ke$ha, bupkiss). But with Nicki it was like she was the boss so she could make the boys (famous boys, no less!) do all the hard work while she lounges on the couch eating grapes in a neon green wig and still collect most of the residuals. Mariah, though (IS that Mariah?) know, I'm not sure she's ever heard of the feminist movement. Or maybe she doesn't give a shit because she's raking it in on Idol this year, has a HOT baby daddy, and, you know, she's Mariah fucking Carey... and if that's the case then I have to give it up to her. Even the single cover looks like a 90s shopping mall glamour shot version of the Emancipation of Mimi cover. I mean, seriously, like who  I did like Meek Mill's topical “bottom-up” over “top-down” rap - very DNC. But the only note I wrote when I listened was “Jesus that was bad.”

    Popledge: I blame Mariah’s record company for this song, she sounds like the featured artist rather than the lead artist, her voice is too soft all the way through it and she should have waiting till her American Idol tenure started. Basically the whole single and single campaigns were wrong. Let’s just move on with our lives and forget this ever happened.

    Unapologetic POP!: "Triumphant" is a perfectly average song. As has been said before, Mariah Carey’s role in her own song is minimal. What happened to the Mariah Carey who fused R&B and bubblegum POP ("Always Be My Baby," "Fantasy," "Dream Lover")? Yes, she had a hit album by going hip-hop on The Emancipation of Mimi, but that’s only because (1) that genre reached its apex on POP radio in 2005 AND (2) Mariah was the cake, not the frosted topping. The two records that followed flopped. Mariah is pushing herself into irrelevance by sounding like a has-been. Triumphant" is completely generic. If Mariah played with some more experimental production (a la Azealia Banks), she could at least be considered an innovator. Instead, she’s made something that sounds far less fresh than the hits that made her, and in the process, she’s shitting on her iconic status. It’s really a shame and makes me quite sad. Also, Mariah is a DIVA who doesn’t need to perpetuate this pink, Paris Hilton doggy in a Louis Vuitton aesthetic – it cheapens her.

    Lost in a Melody: This is a Mariah Carey song? Are you sure? She’s barely in it…

    Techno School: Does Mariah Carey think she can remix one of her early 2000s hits and sell it back amongst the electrified chart-toppers of today? Is she re-living the glory days? Trying to play off what she thinks is "classic"? I don't really catch the intent of "Triumphant", but the dated sound falls flat on its face. Even Mariah "Queen of the High E" Carey herself doesn't sound quite right.  A little pitchy, a little scratchy, something in her voice is just off. I blame the production crew more than the performer for this one, as some of her better, improvised moments in "Triumphant" are for some reason muted beneath the blah vocals of the chorus. Then again, Carey hasn't put out a single since her excellent 2009 Eminem dis track, "Obsessed", and even that song didn't focus around Carey's signature high pitch. I'm thoroughly unimpressed by Meek Mill's "Look at me now!" lyrics, and I'm thoroughly turned off by Rick Ross' allusions to all the strippers and "blond bombshells" that must clearly be clamoring to the backseat of his make-believe Lambo. It really feels like these two rappers are trying to make themselves out as significant in the music world by riding the coattails of a megastar who peaked a decade ago. All in all, a yawn-worthy track and a disappointment coming from someone of Carey's caliber.

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