Posts Tagged ‘beats’

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quiet storm track walkthrough (part iv).

November 20, 2009

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

Okay, this is the final part of the stories behind the tracks on my album Quiet Storm.  Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be viewed if you click on those little numbers, and I want to thank everyone once and again for supporting my album and my blog.  I really appreciate it, and I hope that these behind-the-music notes have added a little to your enjoyment of my music.  On with the show!

18. Role Model (Interlude)

This was originally an entire song which was a rap song with a sung chorus. You can hear the original full version on my High Fashion mixtape but although the lyrics were kinda cool, I wasn’t too keen on my flow in places and I thought that I would rather not have the raps as part of my album.  Nevertheless, I appreciated the idea of the chorus and feeling misrepresented in society as a young person, a gay man, a singer, my music tastes, where I come from, my heritage… all those things are categorised and yet how many of us actually fit the stereotypes for those categories?  I felt that it led into the next song well, as it is about exposing who I am as a person, and not letting anyone’s pigeon holes or preconceived notions dictate who I am.  This is me, and this is…

19. The Truth

This song is probably the most heartfelt I’ve been in any of my songs recorded to date.  It discusses my relationship with my family, life and death, my emotional state and insecurities, my childhood, my education, and music.  It is the truth of who I am – sometimes we feel sad or hard done by, and other times we remember how happy we have been and whatever happens, we just have to keep going and get on with it anyway.  This song is a bit scratchy due to the fact that I have recorded myself playing acoustic guitar on the track (yes, that is me!) and it didn’t work perfectly, though I think it did the job.  I liked the guitar and the piano and the beat – it combined together well to be a midtempo R&B joint that was musically quite stable and almost sunny, yet anchored in place by some really heavy lyrics.  I thought it would originally have been the album closer, but then you’ll see I changed my mind about that.

20. Last Chance

I wanted the last song proper on the album to be a dance song – something that really went out with a bang! I decided this because sometimes (in keeping with the nocturnal theme of the album) you’re not ready to go home at the end of a night, until the DJ has played one final song that really gets you to annihilate the dancefloor and you can just let yourself go with the music before calling it a wrap.  This song is that song – I was inspired by “Work” by Ciara (sampled on the track!), “Get Me Bodied” by Beyoncé, “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas and just any song that really makes me want to move.  Other songs sampled in this are Paulina Rubio’s “Sexi Dance” (at the very end when the track fades out) which gives the song a late-night / early morning sensuous hue, and Beethoven’s “Für Elise” – just because it worked! I was crafting this track for a really long time, and between utilising the beat at the end of “All Night Long” to give the album a sense of circularity and closure, and trying to really fire up the beats and make them incendiary, I just tried to be as crazy as possible.  The rap, the off-kilter song structure with multiple hooks and instrumental at the beginning, the extended coda – it’s really going for broke! And that was what I wanted for the last song.

21. Close

To once again fit with the theme of closure and circularity, this is the “outro” of the album, to pair with the “Open” intro – again, I wanted to use the word “Close” in two different ways, both signifying the end of the album and also bringing in the idea of just wanting someone to hold you close, and desiring that intimacy (not necessarily sexually) at the end of the night, just before the sun rises and you’re feeling contemplative.

22. Lucky To Have You (Bonus Track)

My grandfather passed away during the creation of this album, and I remember being at Oxford and hearing on the telephone from my mother and grandmother that his health was really deteriorating. I wrote this song to comfort him (though he never heard it, and neither has anyone else in my family) as he passed away – I wasn’t allowed to go home and see him because it was in the middle of my finals, and he died and the funeral was held all while I was stuck in Oxford and expressly forbidden to come home.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget that – feeling so helpless far away and yet just glad his suffering was over (his illness was long and protracted).  This song is really personal and dedicated to him; it doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, but I nevertheless wanted to include it somewhere so I thought a bonus track was the best opportunity.

That’s it!  Once again, please download my album if you haven’t already, and check out my blog! Thanks for all the support – I really appreciate it and I’ll keep the posts coming! 🙂

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

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Rihanna – Rated R. (album review)

November 14, 2009

Here is the album review I promised on my twitter yesterday!  Before I start, once again I want to thank you all for supporting my blog, both my music reviews and my personal entries.  I really appreciate all the views and I hope that you’ll keep it locked here because I ain’t stoppin’! 🙂 Thankyou.

You already know what I think of Russian Roulette, and the other 3 songs we’ve heard already from Rated R.  Generally, they portray a darker, edgier side to Rihanna, both in the production (deeper, more menacing beats) and lyrical content that includes a bit of cursing, a lot of swagger and references to pain, trials and tribulations.  “Russian Roulette”, “Wait Your Turn” and “Hard” are more or less indicative of the album as a whole.  In contrast to her previous smash Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s a lot less uptempo.  The songs are mainly midtempos and ballads, which may alienate a lot of fans who want her faster, danceable material (though “Hard” and “Rude Boy” cater to these needs, and do so well with swagger lyrics – the latter seeing Rihanna come on to a ‘rude boy’ as if she were the guy who is gonna “put it on you”).  However, the slower material allows for two major things: one, to prove that Rihanna can actually sing.  Okay, she’s no Beyoncé, but she holds her own a lot better than many people might expect.  “Russian Roulette” and closing standout “The Last Song” don’t employ lots of vocal runs, but they emphasise strong, clear vocals that prove Rihanna’s got a voice as well as a body – btw. the artwork for this era is immense! – and also go well with the more emotionally searching and vulnerable material.  Two, it allows for Rihanna to delve into her pain, and although it’s never made explicit that she’s referencing her love, abuse and love lost with Chris Brown, songs such as “Stupid In Love” and the epic “Cold Case Love” immediately bring that whole affair to mind.

Not every song is concerned with love lost.  “Te Amo” is about a girl who’s infatuated with Rihanna, and its undulating beats have been beefed up slightly on the album version to make it more hypnotic and possibly (along with “Rude Boy”) the song that would have slotted in nicely on Good Girl Gone Bad.  “Rockstar 101” is backed up by Slash’s guitar work and like “Hard” and “Wait Your Turn”, it demonstrates Rihanna’s confidence in herself – something she perhaps wants to emphasise.  She is fierce!  However, compared to some of the other tracks, “Rockstar 101” falls somewhat flat, as it doesn’t have as much depth as the emotionally-charged midtempos, nor does it ring as true as the harder-knocking songs.  It does demonstrate that Rihanna is not an urban artist – she’s a pop singer who encompasses a range of music. On this album, she combines elements of rock, pop, R&B and melds them together to create a dark album that works for the most part.  And credit goes to her for trying to improve on each album – like Good Girl Gone Bad, the amount of filler on the disc is fairly minimal (in contrast to her first two records) and she’s tried to do something different that has evolved as she has as a person.  So I must applaud that.

A couple of the ballads such as “Stupid In Love” and “Photographs” (which benefits from will.i.am’s synthed beats that kick in midway) are perfectly solid, but pale in comparison to the best tracks.  These are, in a nutshell, first single “Russian Roulette”, “Fire Bomb”, “G4L”, “Cold Case Love” and “The Last Song”.  These all work because Rihanna is putting herself out there vocally and emotionally.  The producers do a fantastic job (praise must go in particular to Justin Timberlake and The Ys’ work on “Cold Case Love”, which shows a gradual building of beatboxing, standard beats, guitars and strings to an epic climax that fades out by itself and underline Rihanna’s pain at a love misfired – “Release me now ’cause I did my time”) more or less throughout, but Rihanna herself carries the songs.  “Fire Bomb” has been compared to something by Kelly Clarkson, but in my opinion it knocks much harder and is a compelling contrast to expectations – most people would expect a club banger from the title, when in fact it’s a slow pop/rock ballad which essentially says “if I’m going down in flames, you’re coming with me”.  “G4L” is one of the darkest songs which shows Rihanna pledging to be “down 4 life”, ride or die until the end.  The off-key tweaks at the beginning signal something mysterious, and the lyric “I lick the gun when I’m done ’cause I know that revenge is sweet” is one of the best opening salvos I can remember.  The track brings to mind the tiny gun tattoos on the sides of Rihanna’s breasts, demonstrating that even if she may be a sweet person on the surface, she’s also a strong and determined one – her attitude is reflected in her music as much as her body art.

“The Last Song” was the track that stood out to me most from listening to the 30-second snippets, and it doesn’t disappoint – it’s a perfect closer to the album, not only in name but in texture also.  It employs a soaring guitar and heartwrenching lyrics, chronicling the realisation of a breakup.  “The sad song ends up being the last song you’ll ever hear.”  Rihanna’s spare vocals almost seem to cry the lyrics throughout the track, and the buildup throughout the song until near the end where all the instruments fade out is done perfectly.  Rihanna said that she wanted Lil’ Wayne and Kings Of Leon to like her album, demonstrating her desired blend of urban and rock. The album is definitely a mélange of styles, but apart from “Hard”, I don’t see enough hip-hop for Weezy to connect with, and the rock elements are nowhere near as indie-pop as Kings Of Leon.  However, the soaring guitars provide something edgier and deeper within the context of a pop album, and the hard-hitting beats and synths knock plenty – the combination of which provide something quite extraordinary and special within itself.  Rihanna should be proud of this record.

Rated R has a focused aggression to it that rings truer than it did on Good Girl Gone Bad. Despite the lack of uptempo smashes, it’s a fantastic record that hopefully will have as much repeat-play value as her previous record.  Whether it’s because of her personal struggles, maturity as a young woman or desire to experiment musically (probably a combination of all three), Rated R shows growth.  I pray that her label doesn’t re-release the album, since it’s perfect as it is and comes across as something sincere, rather than designed to make money as a light pop confection.  Why I’m impressed with Rated R, beyond the simple fact that most of the songs are solid or better, is because it’s cohesive.  All the songs work together to make the album more than the sum of its parts.  It has a big emotional impact, and it sets a musical mood (dark, edgy and yet heartfelt) that doesn’t let up throughout – in her own words, from “Hard”, “that Rihanna rain/reign”.  I didn’t know if she had it in her to best Good Girl Gone Bad, but even if it doesn’t have as many number 1 smashes and addictive beats, Rated R is a musical step forward that I personally value that little bit more.