Posts Tagged ‘dark’

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Top 10 albums of 2011.

January 2, 2012

So here is my other annual end-of-year post. I have been able to whittle down my list of favourite albums that were released in 2011 into a nice list of 10, and I have written a twitter-sized (ish!) review under each one. Enjoy and share your thoughts and favourite releases of the year too! 🙂

10. Drake – Take Care

Drake releases another heartfelt hip-hop album, smoother & more cohesive than his debut. Highlights: Take Care, Marvins Room, Shot For Me

9. Rihanna – Talk That Talk (read the full-length review here)

The midpoint between Loud & Rated R. Stellar first half, average 2nd half. Highlights: You Da One, We Found Love, Cockiness (Love It) / Birthday Cake

8. Nicole Scherzinger – Killer Love

Nicole’s solo debut blends killer pop with strong ballads showcasing powerful vocals. Highlights: Poison, Killer Love, Right There, AmenJena

7. Mýa – K.I.S.S.

Mýa continues to deliver solid R&B with her latest album deservedly re-released in the USA. Highlights: K.I.S.S., Take Him Out, Mess Up My Hair, Mr. Incredible

6. Nadia Oh – Colours (read the full-length review here)

The sound of the summer! Deliriously catchy, irresistible dance-pop with tongue firmly in cheek. Highlights: Jump Out The Window, Taking Over The Dancefloor, No Bueno

5. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne (read the full-length review here)

The rap event of the year with production and braggadocio so confidently executed, it couldn’t fail. Highlights: Niggas In Paris, Who Gon Stop Me, Murder To Excellence

4. Natalia Kills – Perfectionist

Masterful, dark pop with powerful imagery to match its consistently hooky and interesting songs. Highlights: Wonderland, Free, Zombie, Mirrors, Broke, If I Was God

3. B.Slade – Diesel

My discovery of the year – the best male vocalist I’ve heard in a very long time, with an impressive lyrical depth and stylistic range. Highlights: B.A.S.S., I’m Done, Do U Get Down?, Dorothy Humperdink, Never Again…, Sequel

(P.S. his new album Stealth. is also excellent, but that only came out on 25th December and I don’t feel I have listened to it enough to be able to judge it – however, it likely would have earned its own place on this list!)

2. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Lady Gaga just keeps getting better, giving everything she has – heart and soul. Highlights: Marry The Night, Born This Way, Judas, Americano, Yoü and I, The Edge Of Glory

1. Beyoncé – 4 (read the full-length review here)

Genuine soul, classic ballads and earth-shattering uptempos make for Beyoncé’s best album yet. Highlights: the whole album! (you can skip Start Over and the bonus tracks if you’re pushed for time)

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Tube update: Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street.

November 16, 2011

Tonight Toby and I were supposed to go to a lecture at UCL on whether it were possible for mythological beings such as angels, fairies and dragons to physiologically exist. Unfortunately, Toby was a little late and by the time we went in, the lecture was rammed – so we ended up leaving. But the journey enabled me to get a couple more tube stations ticked off the list (I have given up on my policy of not taking pictures of them in the dark – these pictures came out decently, although I didn’t bother taking a picture of Leicester Square on our way home because by this point it was pitch black).

Tottenham Court Road

Goodge Street

(I always think this is a weird name.) And this picture is different, because the lights from the blue Underground sign were blurry; but the shot of the whole, old-style building with the old sign across the middle is visible – it makes it look very old and stately! Which is nice.

Despite our failure to attend the lecture, we had a fantastic time roaming around Camden and Soho, investigating Foyles and its disappointing selection of sheet music, going to the Arts Theatre Club on Frith Street and having cocktails, meeting Nick and then going to dinner at Nando’s (classy!) and being very loud and generally enjoying ourselves very much! I think that Cocktail Night should be a weekly fixture. Yes!

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onyx paradise.

April 11, 2010

Those of you who know me will know that my screen name for 85% of the forums that I use is “onyxparadise”.  Originally I only liked the ‘onyx’ aspect of the name (since the word looks and sounds pretty), but the name ‘onyx’ had been taken already on the forums I was interested in using at the time, and I was inspired by Britney Spears’ Onyx Hotel Tour.  Choosing an alternative, mysterious-sounding gemstone quickly became apparently not an option: “sapphire” and “topaz” (both in reference to my mother’s favourite stones, and both pretty-sounding words once again) were far too girly, so I thought about adding something to “onyx” to make it work.  Again “sunset” and “beach” sounded too feminine, but I hit upon the idea of “onyxparadise” and it had a magical, mysterious ring to it.  When I think of what the word represents, it symbolises some sort of fantasy faceted-glass multicoloured landscape within a gemstone.  I don’t know how to verbalise it better than that, but I know that those words create nothing close to the image / atmosphere in my head.

Returning to Britney Spears, she did teach me something interesting about the onyx: although the stone is traditionally black when we see it used in jewellery (and although black is my favourite “colour”, I’m not a fan of onyx jewellery), any light that shines into it can be refracted back out in a multitude of colours.  Now, Wikipedia tells me that this is false (or somewhat exaggerated at the very least) but I’m going to go with it because it supports the metaphor that I want to explore and essentially base the rest of this blog entry on.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve always felt like I’ve had multiple personalities.  Different sides of myself expanded as I got older and I started to give them different names: Alan; Miles (ok that was ill-advised but he didn’t last long); AC; purehonesty; onyxparadise; Chase.  They embodied different things, different representations of me, and now I reflect upon it I see that onyxparadise was really the perfect name.  Rather than multiple personalities, I am one person with all these different facets, different colours, different aspects to my being.  Just like an onyx (or Britney Spears’ version of it, anyway).

Sometimes I feel like I keep getting it wrong: I hated the movie Kick Ass, which I went to see last night, because I could only see reference after reference to Kill Bill – at want point does a parody/homage become a rip-off? It must have just been me, as the vast majority of reviews online are hugely positive, but I guess I just didn’t get the sense of humour (though I enjoyed Hit Girl). I don’t eat pizzas quickly enough for my father to have as much space in the fridge as he would like, and the first thing he said to me this morning was “who opened the back door?” as if by getting my milk from the fridge I had unwittingly committed a cardinal sin.  It’s times like these that I feel socially awkward or incorrect (like when I confused the barista at Costa by barking at Toby not to be so healthy in his choice of biscotti, as he was making me look bad with my vanilla frescato and carrot cake), and it’s only recently that I’ve taken a personal stand not to let my family make me feel so ugly, because their problems are no reflection of me.

There is a facet of me that feels tough, dark and edgy.  I now have 3 tattoos, I dye my hair black on the regular, I smoke and drink and stay out late.  I’m still a good person, I have many friends and I work damn hard juggling studies and employment. So I feel I’m entitled to play hard, and I feel that at 24 years old I’ve proved to myself (and to anyone else, not that that matters) that I am intelligent and sensible enough to make my own decisions and to stand by them and live through the consequences, right or wrong.  By embracing that side of myself, I take less nonsense, stand up for myself more (although this is still a work in progress)and I feel that it’s been key in the shift in my life over the last 9 months to being much more happier and taking control.  I feel happier indulging the edgier, mysterious side of me, acknowledging there are dark depths of my personality and essence that I have yet to plumb, because it makes the light shine that much brighter too.

And now, I have some really good friends, people who are close to me.  If my family more and more are the source of unnecessary stress and drama in my life, then my friends feel like what my family should be.  So I almost glow when my new best friend tells me how glad he is to be friends with me; when my boyfriend tells me for the first time that he loves me.  These are experiences I never had before, that make me feel almost uncomfortably good because I am valued, I matter.  Sometimes being strong, being independent, being tough – even if it’s a self-fulfilling façade at times – is really lonely.  But it’s times like that, it’s times when Mike offers me to spend the day with him and his family, when Billy gives me a big hug and kiss before bedtime, when Toby holds me tight in his arms as we watch TV and I feel so safe, that I know I don’t have to be, don’t deserve to be alone.

I never used to wear designer clothes or jewellery.  I have never been a 32″ waist since I was a child, and I find it funny to be posing as a model in Toby’s photos on beautiful days walking around Bristol, because I always dreamed of being a model and assumed it was out of reach.  After the strife of growing up between my parents and their families, the violent alcohol-fuelled arguments and mental abuse I experienced as a child and adolescent, the periods of unhappy rebellion as a 16, 17, 18-year-old, the disappointment of not really knowing where I was going with my life having graduated from Oxford University, the turmoil of a year in retail unable to fulfil my potential, I finally get to experience everything slotting into place, the lights shining from the onyx in a rainbow of the right colours.  Life finally feels good, if not how I imagined it to be! So this entry is really personal to me, because it’s how I see that I’m a whole host of different things – I am one person with many different aspects, not all of them necessarily pretty but all of them important, all of them of value.

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take off running.

April 4, 2010

Happy Easter everyone!  I am fast becoming a bit of a scrooge, dreading any kind of holiday because it means not that I will have to spend money (something that I have absolutely no trouble doing, as you should all know by now) but because there will be some form of family gathering. Today hasn’t been as bad as Christmas, because there are buses running and I have taken refuge in Starbucks after a quick dinner with my parents and grandmother – I’ve even accomplished some work (wonders never cease)!  But discussing my current relationship with my family yesterday with Davina and Frankie, and reminiscing over my historical experience of family gatherings with Hannah on msn earlier today, it’s not really a surprise that being in these kind of situations makes me uncomfortable.  So making a swift (but polite – I thanked my dad for a lovely Easter lunch and gave my nan an appreciative hug, promising that I would see her again soon) exit makes sense and allows me to preserve my own good mood and sanity.

When I was younger, every 27th December (roughly) we would drive up to London (or thereabouts) to see my father’s side of the family for a Christmas gathering.  The venue would rotate each year depending on who was hosting the gathering, and to be fair the food was nice enough and I don’t remember anyone being particularly nasty to me.  However, I do remember the competitive atmosphere between my father and his siblings – comparing families’ progress and ‘success’, wealth, partners and so on.  Being from Bristol, we were the “poor relations” in comparison with the other families who would pretend to be upper class right down to their accents, and my mother being Italian led to a sense of exclusion and some prodding jokes from certain members of the family (this is racism!).  Despite the fact that my father was largely absent during my childhood, and when he was there he was either drunk, argumentative and mentally / verbally abusive, or sleeping, my intelligence (which, much to their chagrin, undeniably outclassed all of my more “well-to-do” cousins – money doesn’t buy smarts, and I promise that in this case I’m not being up myself, it’s just the truth) and good traits were attributed to him rather than to my mother (who raised me more or less single-handed).  Because of this, and because of the fact that the other members of this family were largely self-absorbed to the point of being imbecilic, I didn’t really enjoy these yearly outings, because it seemed like a lot of chest-puffing and bravado for no real purpose.

My grandmother (the head of that side of the family, who seemed to portray herself as the Queen) died when I was 17. From the age of 17, we never had any more of those yearly gatherings. Nearly all of my father’s siblings’ marriages (and some of my cousins’ relationships) broke apart, one aunt declared she was a lesbian and moved her secret girlfriend in, and we never heard from them again.  In other words, all that competitiveness and fuckery had been for show, for my grandmother.  For what purpose, who knows? Interestingly, for all the dysfunction and stress in my family, we stayed together through thick and thin, and I had always got on better with my mother’s side of the family (though they are far from perfect), even though they were from another country – gasp!  But I’ve never tried to be anything I’m not, and that’s the same issue that drives me crazy now, but in a different way.

I can’t be an angel for my grandmother (the one who’s still alive, obv) – I never really was an angel, but I’ve gotten darker over the past year.  I’m 24 years old and I can’t be treated like I’m 12 by anyone – I am not on drugs, I don’t have an eating disorder or a gambling addiction and I find it frankly insulting to be accused of those things by my mother, the woman to whom I was so close during my childhood.  Shouldn’t she know me better?  Shouldn’t she credit me with more intelligence, show me more respect?  Has everything I’ve accomplished, the fact I’ve never gotten into trouble – does that all mean nothing?  It really hurts me when I have to suffer those things, even if they’re just jibes, coming from my family – the people who are supposed to be on my side more often than not feel like they are against me now, when I’m just being myself and having my own independent thoughts, opinions and life.  I refuse to compromise, I refuse to conform – I’m an adult, why should I? And shouldn’t my family be proud that I am my own man with my own mind? I don’t understand why I have to give itemised accounts of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve eaten. That’s why these days, given the slightest opportunity, I’ll take off running out the door, because my friends (the only family I feel I have these days), my sanity, my freedom is out there.

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g4l. (my new tattoo)

February 6, 2010

Yesterday, I got my second tattoo done, check it out!

That picture is taken straight after the guy had finished tattooing, so that’s why it’s quite red – the blood is at the surface.  In a couple of weeks when the tattoo has healed, the shading will look much more black and grey, which will be perfect! Needless to say, having a tattoo on my ribs was a tad bit more painful than my first one above my collarbone, but I handled it like a man, and Mike reassured me a couple of times which was helpful (we’re both two tats apiece now!).  I didn’t get hardly any sleep last night, because my tattoo is quite sore and every time I rolled over on it, I seemed to wake up, but I’m happy to sacrifice a little sleep for a piece of art I’m truly happy with.

A lot of people have asked “Why a gun???” I think that it’s a little darker than people expect from me, but it has its significance to me.  Firstly, I like the fact that it’s a little dark, a little edgy, a little dangerous.  I was inspired by Rihanna because she has a little gun on her side, but I really didn’t want to just copy her tattoo: a) it didn’t have that much detail in it, and b) I wanted it on my ribs as opposed on my side on level with my chest.  I had my own ideas, and that’s the most important thing I think when getting a tattoo: it has to be what you want.  That’s why I’m so into custom design, rather than picking something from a book or from the display cards in the studio.  The gun means that I’ll never be defenceless again, and it’s a little reminder of the fact that I always possess some power, some control in life.  Finally, I modified the design to make it a revolver instead of your average pistol / shotgun, because I am in love with Rihanna’s song “Russian Roulette” – not only is it a beautiful song to listen to and to sing, but the lyrics mean so much to me.  In short, when I listen to it, it’s the story of Mike & me, it’s a story of love and heartache and the danger bound up in that.   And for those reasons, I wanted to get the revolver barrel put on my gun to honour that; over the past 4 months I’ve had to grow up a lot, and those experiences have really shaped who I have become and my maturity, my outlook on life.

The tattoo studio I went to this time was Iron & Ink on Bristol Road in Whitchurch Village: Dean and Lewis are both fantastically talented and really nice blokes, and having done this tattoo + two for Mike, and Phill’s getting one there next week (where are our loyalty cards?!?! 😛 ), I can’t recommend them enough.  They may be a tiny bit pricier than some other tattoo parlours (their minimum charge I think is £40, rather than £15 or £20 that you might find elsewhere), but I hope the picture above demonstrates that you get what you pay for.  At the moment, they have small waiting lists (I expect this to change as they become more well-known!) and I booked my gun last week, got it done yesterday, thankyou very much – and they’ll work on a design brief you give them and customise it so that it looks the best it can.  I thoroughly recommend them!

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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.