Posts Tagged ‘columbia records

05
Dec
14

Best New Music of 2014: Pharrell – G I R L

Hello and welcome to an annual tradition around here: our month-long list of the year’s best new music! If you’re new, I’m Mark, editor of Extended Play and a contributor to websites like Bearded Gentlemen Music. Every day in December, I’ll run a short review of what I think was one of the best albums of 2014. Today: big hats and bigger hits!

Last year I was really hard on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, a record I felt was overproduced and underbaked, basking in retread 70s grooves and light on anything original or new to say. I’ve mellowed somewhat on it – I’m inclined to agree it’s Daft Punk stepping back from the overdriven EDM scene and back to mellow grooves – but I still think it’s their weakest album.

I mention this because their song “Get Lucky” was basically a dry run for the record I’m looking at today: Pharrell’s G I R L. It’s a record of light dance grooves, spiky funk and one monster hit.

“You missed me? Well I missed y’all,” says Pharrell at the beginning of “Come Get It Bae.” And while I don’t know if we ever were without him, it’d been a while since he’d dropped a new record. Almost a decade, actually. In the meantime he’d worked with just about everyone: Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and Miley Cyrus. But his turn on Random Access Memories seemed to kickstart everything again; within what seemed like a couple of days, Pharrell was on the radio constantly, either on that, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” or his solo track “Happy.”

Originally part of the soundtrack to Despicable Me 2, “Happy” exploded like a firecracker and found its way back on this record. A simple, catchy drum pattern, backing harmonies and little touches of bass, hand claps and keyboard, it’s basically pop distilled down to its bones. It feels nearly skeletal on first listen, but after a dozen times or so, all the little elements start coming into focus: the chorus of voices, a horn adding tonal colouring, overlapping basslines. And the secret weapon of any self-respecting groovemaker: a Fender Rhodes. The lyrics are a little daft, but who cares!

The rest of the album doesn’t have the same glossy effects, but generally things stay at a high level. There’s some nice strings on “Marilyn Monroe” and “Gust of Wind,” a great electro-bass groove on “Hunter,” and “Gush” just drips an 80’s Prince-ish groove, outdoing anything the Purple One has done in years.

Indeed, it’s almost Prince-lite. It’s not as innovative as anything Prince did 30 years ago, but it has a lot of the same dance-inflicted mood and groove. Jangling guitars, bursts of strings and vocals, even the occasional dirty phrase: “I’m gunna set that ass on fire!” At the same time, Pharrell’s not as good an arranger as Prince and he certainly doesn’t have the same guitar chops.

At times, I can’t shake the feeling it’s almost a Curriculum Vitae for him: so many of the names that pop up here are people he’s worked with over the years. I don’t know much about the recording process of this particular album, but I wonder if it happened piecemeal, as he worked with these people. Either that or he’s got one hell of a contact list on his Gmail: Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Cyrus, Kelly Osbourne. Hopefully he doesn’t get too busy producing their next records to get around to his next LP.

 

30
Dec
13

Best New Albums 2013: #2 – Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Volume 10: Another Self Portrait

Running through the end of the month (with a short Christmas break), I’ll be running a post each weekday taking a look at one of my top 20 albums of the year, slowly working my way down to number one. Some I’ve reviewed previously for Bearded Gentlemen Music – I’ll provide links where necessary – and the entire list will eventually end up there, too. But for most of these records, this is the first time I’m writing about them at length, making this a chance to explain my choices in a little greater detail. Last year’s list is no longer online, but for 2011′s Best Canadian Music click here and for 2010′s list, click here.

#2: Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Volume 10: Another Self Portrait

Back in the 60s, Dylan was it. Maybe a few more artists sold more records, maybe a few pushed the limits of rock a little further, but nobody mattered more to music. As pretty much every critic has said, Dylan’s impact on music is almost incalculable. People turned to Dylan for anthems, even as Dylan said he wasn’t a spokesperson. People looked to him for meanings, even when he said sometimes he didn’t have them.

After a much-publicized motorcycle crash and a couple of country albums, critics were increasingly annoyed: what happened to the artist they idolized? Their disappointment climaxed with 1970’s Self Portrait, especially when Rolling Stone’s Greil Marcus infamously asked “What is this shit?” (Funny: I’d have the same reaction to his turgid book Dead Elvis)

The album didn’t tank though. Even without any memorable songs, it actually sold better than any of Dylan’s past few albums. And a few months later, his New Morning went some lengths to restoring his critical ratings, too. The critics were quick to move on from Self Portrait, painting it as misstep, a failed experiment or, more often than not, “hey let’s talk about something else instead.”

Which makes Volume Ten of The Bootleg Series maybe the most essential one yet.

Previously, this series has looked at demos and live performances. There’s one of a messy, powerful gig in 1966 where the audience seems intent on disrupting his electric band; there’s one showing all the demos he recorded for Whitmark. There’s even one of a 1964 show where Joan Baez sings a few songs with him. By and large, they’re all good, even the demos one.

But this is a different beast. With a multitude of alternate versions, outtakes and loose material from the same period, Another Self Portrait is exactly that: another look at an overlooked album. I don’t know if it blows the original away – truth be told, I haven’t the heart to sit down and compare the two, since I like both already – but it certainly changes the way we look at this music: it’s folksy and charming, fun and lighthearted. Occasionally glimpses of the older, spooky Dylan show through. But largely, it’s the work of a man who’s recording the kind of music that inspires him and doing his best to create his own music in that vein.

Songs here reach as far back as The Basement Tapes (when will that Bootleg Series ever come out?) and as far forward as some 1971 sessions. But by and large, it focuses on 1970, when Dylan was recording songs that’d end up on either New Morning or Self Portrait; as it turns out, there wasn’t a lot of difference between the two.

Some of the songs are covers, others have multiple versions. But nearly everything’s a killer here. Personally, I like both takes Time Passes Slowly (this has to be his most underrated song), the electric piano version of Went to See the Gypsy, the two rollicking live numbers recorded with The Band and the version of New Morning with a horn section. But on these two CDs, there’s nary a wasted moment. My biggest fault with the thing is that there isn’t more: where’s the stuff from the Johnny Cash TV show, the leftovers from Nashville Skyline? I guess there’s always Volume 11.

19
Dec
13

Best Albums of 2013! #7: HAIM – Days Are Gone

Running through the end of the month (with a short Christmas break), I’ll be running a post each weekday taking a look at one of my top 20 albums of the year, slowly working my way down to number one. Some I’ve reviewed previously for Bearded Gentlemen Music – I’ll provide links where necessary – and the entire list will eventually end up there, too. But for most of these records, this is the first time I’m writing about them at length, making this a chance to explain my choices in a little greater detail. Last year’s list is no longer online, but for 2011′s Best Canadian Music click here and for 2010′s list, click here.

7. Days Are Gone – HAIM (Columbia)

Call HAIM a curious case of hype. I remember when they just about exploded into being from, well, a family band. I’m not so sure on the backstory, but at one point they played with their parents and then as part of a girl group. Then they went at it on their own. The released a free, three-song EP: Forever. Then they played SXSW and suddenly they were on every music blog, constantly. I think there might’ve even been a bidding war before Columbia picked them up.

Their three-song EP was so strong and concise it just about blew everyone away. Here was a trio of sisters and their first album was great: sharp melodies, strong songwriting and they could play anyone’s asses off. The music was familiar enough you could hit on the influences – Fleetwood Mac, Destiny’s Child – but it never sounded derivative, either. Before long, this band with just three originals to their credit was playing Jools Holland and Letterman.

They ended up with so much traction on their three-song EP that maybe no full length could’ve delivered everything everyone wanted. Maybe that explains the backlash. They’ve been accused of ripping off everyone from The Eagles to Shania Twain. And people love to mock Este Haim’s “Bass-face,” because musicians aren’t supposed to enjoy what they’re doing, I guess.

Maybe they wear their influences a little too on their sleeves sometimes (to my ears, The Wire does cop pretty hard from Shania Twain). And maybe they’re guilty of mining their back catalog a little: they reused two songs from their Forever EP. I don’t care. Their debut album was a fun, engaging listen and I’ll take that any day.

Through 11 strong songs, HAIM blows past the sounds of their debut, constantly tackling different styles and pulls it off, too. On Falling, they verge into 70s soft rock, complete with a fuzzy, yet restrained guitar solo. On the handclap-propelled If I Could Change Your Mind, they’re as catchy and dancy as anything I’ve heard all year. And Don’t Save Me is tense, tight, wiry pop.

What really sets them apart to me is how good they can play: Danielle’s a good guitar player, often handling lead vocals and the guitar parts live (no easy feat: how many other people play lead and sing?) and Alana’s capable at three or four instruments, especially live; on SNL she handled keyboards, percussion, backing vocals and guitar. But Este’s the one I’m fascinated by: the basslines on this album are what set the different styles apart and she easily goes between ballads, soft rock and dance. She gets all the stupid flak online, but I’d wager she also deserves most of the credit for their success, too.

Even minor reservations aside (I think the title cut sounds comparatively cold to their other songs and it loses a bit of steam near the end), it’s a hell of a debut, even taking the anticipation and hype into consideration. Most bands would be proud to have any of their albums be so strong; with HAIM it’s only the beginning.

05
Dec
13

Mark on Music Classic – Blood on the dance floor: Miles Davis’ Live Evil

Earlier this year, I managed to track down a copy of Miles Davis’ Cellar Door concerts. It’s six CDs of Davis’ first great electric band – Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett and Airto Moreira – at their best, taking improvised music to places where the Grateful Dead or Phish could only dream of: alternately funky and hard-rocking, sometimes restrained and at others, pounding with a fury. I’ll probably write something about it for Bearded Gentlemen Music in the new year.

Anyway, I was listening to it the other day and remembered I wrote a thing about Live-Evil, the Davis album where parts of those tapes originally ended up, for Flashfact back in the day. I disagree with some of my assessments of it now that I’ve heard the unedited live takes, but I still think Live-Evil is an essential document. The entire, unedited piece follows. Continue reading ‘Mark on Music Classic – Blood on the dance floor: Miles Davis’ Live Evil’




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