Editor’s Introduction: What a year 2013 has been! Between releasing “Run in Circles” with Vestron Vulture [link], the “Contagion EP” [link], being called The Future of Electronica in Sykomindz Magazine [link], moving into the city of Pittsburgh, and a million other undertakings that will be reflected upon in this blog’s yearly wrap-up article, the blog has taken quite a backseat. In hopes to catch up before the year’s end, there will be several super-articles compiling all that has been missed in the last 12 months.
This particular article features several mini-reviews of records released this year. We featured catch-up articles like this in July, and will stop at nothing until all of the interesting releases have been reflected upon. Let’s get started…
ARTPOP by Lady Gaga
Arguably the world’s biggest pop star since she burst onto the scene a mere seven years ago, Lady Gaga set out to reverse-Andy Warhol the music industry and demonstrate that the genre of pop can be both art and pop.
Embracing technology, the record can be housed within an almost completely vacant downloadable iPhone app that only allows its user to create preset gif-files. Promising Gaga TV and something called Trakstar in the future, the application seems to be a waste, but what about the album? You’re shunned if you listen to it through laptop speakers, but ARTPOP‘s sound is so bastardized that it’s seemingly created for the low-end generation of sound. Sitting at an average level of 5dB of dynamic range, Stefani Germanotta’s fourth full length release is as ear fatiguing as it is an exhausting declaration of pretentious meanings through wearisome, over-sexualized lyrical content.
The record’s lethargic title track is similar in composition to Selena Gomez’s superior 2012 “Love You Like a Love Song,” but the biggest offender is the continuation in deceptively utilizing a rhythmic derivative of Madonna’s “Holiday” bass-line and interpolating it into “Fashion!”. We saw this happen with the “Born This Way” versus “Express Yourself” debacle and it seems as though the doppelganger sonics are sustaining themselves on the follow up as well. If the rip-offs and poor mastering techniques aren’t enough, there’s audible distortion heard throughout the clothing oriented song and all over ARTPOP as a whole. Where “Dope” and “Gypsy” could easily be beautiful ballads to disrupt the dance-oriented project, they’re over-compressed instead, with piano and vocals clashing so abruptly in the mix, above a prominent noise floor, that they become grating and lose all possibility of connecting emotion.
If you can look past the poor engineering, ARTPOP does get it right when it comes to vocal delivery and layered electronic charm. “Arua,” the opener and feature in Machete Kills picks up where “Americano” from Born This Way (our review here) left off, sliding right in for a western Lana Del Rey meets pop-star glory and “Sexxx Dreams” combines Janet Jackson-isms and cult-classic “Spectacular” by 3LW member Kiely Williams into an outer-worldly dramatization that confesses “and I lay in bed, I touch myself, and think of you.”
The most complete and comprehensive song on this Lady Gaga spectacular is easily given to the prodigal-producer Madeon song “Mary Jane Holland,” which speaks to a post-dubstep sound-scape, pulling in 21st century synth-pop perfection and a theatrical breakdown in which Gaga proclaims “I know that Mom and Dad think I’m a mess, but it’s alright because I am rich as piss.” We know, Gaga. We know.
Also worth checking out are the compositions for “Venus,” “G.U.Y.,” and “Donatella”.
While ARTPOP reportedly cost an upward of $25 million in promotional funds and may have potentially laid off an unconfirmed fifty Interscope Records employees, it’s a dud that has few and far between moments of sparkling musical content. Where the record thrives most is ironically outside of the notes and into the mind of Ms. Germanotta, who continues to display her relentless amounts of creativity through Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, and Robert Wilson affiliations; as well as her outstanding vocal and live performance talent.
The Electric Lady by Janelle Monae
Moving on to a different Jane, Janelle Monae dropped the follow-up to her 2010 debut LP The ArchAndroid in early September. This particular record follows the imaginative and conceptual Suite installments of which closely follow an android named Cindy Mayweather as she attempts to identify herself as a public citizen capable of love and emotion, just as humans.
Mass praise for Monae has come from Prince over the years and while he hasn’t been well known for collaborations outside of his own work, a not-so-surprising green light for a feature from the legend himself was given and the final result comes in the form of “Givin Em What They Love,” the first proper track from the sophomore release. It’s a rhythmically minimal and funked piece of music, full of “I am…” proclamations in the verses (accompanied with various stereo vocal delays) and quite possibly one of the strongest pieces in Janelle’s discography to date.
Following in collaborations is the Erykah Badu featured “Q.U.E.E.N.” (here is our full coverage on this bootylicious track) and a head-bobbing title-track that features Solange Knowles and recalls the mid-90’s Pop/R&B landscape, most notably incorporating a twist on a line from an early Britney Spears record with the repeated “shock me one good time” moment in the bridge.
Perhaps the most notable moment between creative forces is the team up between Janelle and Miguel on the seductively smooth and promotional single “Primetime”. It’s a boundary pushing number purely because of it’s strong roots in the genre of Rhythm and Blues, which is a genre that’s been fading from general releases for quite some time now. In fact, what makes The Electric Lady such a special record is its fearlessness to conquer multiple disintegrating genres, embellishing them under an umbrella of modern urban pop. The strongest moment of pop force on the record comes from “Dance Apocalyptic,” and while it’s catchy melodic structure made it a no-brainer in terms of receiving full music video treatment, elements of the aforementioned musical describers still gorgeously run rampant through the composition.
A sociological commentary on the oppressed in the world disguised under Cindy Mayweather has been what Janelle Monae has been best at crafting since the beginning of her career. The Electric Lady is no exception in prolonging this subliminal fight and its fusion of eccentric, eclectic influences and musings water this 2013 release into being one of the most enterprising releases in R&B in the last few years.
Pure Heroine by Lorde
Any record that starts out with the first line on the first song as “don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” and somehow ends the last line on the last song as “People are talking, let ’em talk” is bound to have great content and well-crafted introspection inside of it. What’s unexpected is not that Pure Heroine is a debut record by a major label artist, but that Lorde released this record as a sixteen year old who originally crossed her fingers and hoped her art would resonate with its listeners.
What happens inside of this young lady’s first record is absolute magic. Hand-crafted along side fellow New Zealand resident Joel Little and co-produced with Ella Yelich-O’Connor, Lorde essentially finds a creative niche within the realm of the self-proclaimed late-night driving productions found on Drake discs and expands upon it using smartly programmed electronic instruments and outstanding lyrical content that focuses so specifically on the peripheral upper-class from an outsider standpoint that it’s social commentary pours out through the easily instant melodies. “Royals” presents the most prestigious example at confronting a mundane culture, while remaining vague enough for accessibility. The lead single is the perfectly teetered line that placed her as the first female to have cracked the Billboard alternative charts since Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” and in the same month be absurdly called racist by the some of the more unseasoned bloggers.
Almost always brooding in the instrumental front, the occasional down-pitching of vocals, heard on “Tennis Court” and “Gory and Blood” respectively cater to the overall mood. In regards to overall engineering presentation, Pure Heroine stands at an average dynamic range of 7dB, but it’s smart use of equalization and soft techniques during the initial mixing process leads the Lorde project to be more listenable than most other records that suffer the same sort of squashed mastering.
In a world full of fluffy, popped out teenage superstars like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, One Direction, etcetera, Lorde is the antidote to what the mainstream cross-genre world needs. While it’s normal for these sorts of artists to come in and fade out into a more tight-knit scene, it’s our hope that Lorde continues to flourish in what she does – creating some of the most socially profound, but simplified songwriting the current generation has been subjected to through her work thus far.
Start to finish: Pure Heroine is a perfect album.