Posts Tagged ‘emotions’

h1

Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (album review)

July 17, 2012

The first I time I took notice of Frank Ocean was when I found out that he was the writer of one of my favourite songs, “I Miss You” from Beyoncé’s 4. By this point, he was already gaining some buzz as a member of the Odd Future collective, and so I downloaded his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. I fell in love with songs such as “Novocane” and “American Wedding” immediately, while others such as “Swim Good” and “Strawberry Swing” grew on me after a couple of listens. I was convinced that Ocean was indeed skilled at creating R&B that was a bit more grown than the electro-dance recycling going on in the charts, and that focused on exploring human emotions. In this way, he set himself apart in my mind, and I was excited to see what he would do next.

Enter channel Orange. If anything, it’s less accessible than Nostalgia, Ultra. or than many of the songs that make up Ocean’s mammoth The Lonny Breaux Collection. For the most part, songs don’t announce themselves (and certainly not with typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structures) as much as their melodies seep into your head with repeated listens. However, between the lush instrumentation (and there is definitely genuine instrumentation going on here; these are more than just pre-paid beats) and resonating lyrics, after each listen one takes away something more from the experience. channel ORANGE is a meticulously crafted piece of work, and there is much to discuss. It’s at times difficult to penetrate the chilled, hazy vibe of the album to find a meaty hook of the type that we’re used to – and I feel it would have been nice to have had more of these sprinkled through the album – but there’s nevertheless plenty of sustenance here.

Opening track “Thinkin Bout You” is possibly the most immediate song on the record, and it’s utterly beautiful: the way Ocean uses his falsetto is reminiscent of Prince, and evokes the feelings of at once being totally in love and feeling totally alone in that love, desolate and desperate. While not a technical vocalist to rival R. Kelly or Usher, Frank Ocean knows how to use his voice to maximum effect. The lyrics in the song evoke the unrequited first love that we all knew, and that Ocean wrote about so eloquently in his open letter posted on tumblr. The bravery of an R&B star, of a black man with ties to and props from the largely chauvinist hip hop community, to come out as bisexual two weeks before his album was released has not gone unnoticed, and should not be ignored; rightly so, it appears that Ocean’s success – and I personally believe that even without the announcement / confirmation of his sexuality, channel ORANGE would have been a hit – has been bolstered. Support has been largely overflowing, and it would appear that at last, times might be changing – and not just because Obama and Jay-Z gave black men permission to support their fellow man if that man happened to be gay or bisexual. But in terms of the music and in terms of Ocean’s letter, the focus pulls away from the object of his affections being male or female to the beauty and the intricacy of the sentiment. Sometimes Ocean sings to a boy, sometimes to a girl – but 100% of the time, it sounds beautiful, the lyrics are deep and honest, and the songs as a whole don’t simplify but rather reflect the complexity of the subject matter of being infatuated, in love and lost in love. “Bad Religion”, another standout on the album, begins with a howling organ which Ocean’s plaintive vocal joins to express his loneliness and despair. Lines like “I can’t tell you the truth about my disguise” and “It’s a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you” are at once more detailed than what one finds in a typical R&B song for the radio, and yet the emotions of someone in love can’t be put much more simply, or laid bare any more.

Subject matter on channel ORANGE doesn’t just limit itself to romance found and lost, but tackles other topics too. “Super Rich Kids” explores precisely that, but the lyrics could apply equally to the inhabitants of Ladera Heights and to the wealthy-yet-jaded entertainers in the music industry: “Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce…too many white lies and white lines…nothing but fake friends.” The coda which robs the hook from Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” lends the track an air of nostalgia while giving the listener something recognisable to grab onto. “Crack Rock” likens loneliness to drug addiction, and fastens to these emotions details of being ostracised by family and society. In some ways “Pyramids” is the centrepiece of the album – an epic 10 minutes that starts out evoking Egyptian deserts, before seguing into a sexier exploration of making love to a stripper called Cleopatra. While lyrically drawing parallels between how women were and are at once worshipped and subjugated by men, the production starts off bouncy, transitions through seductive into sleazy, and fades out with a howling guitar Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix would be proud of.

Interludes give the album a sense of constant flow, and the overarching feel is nostalgia-soaked classic quality. channel ORANGE isn’t immediately accessible to non-R&B heads, and rewards repeated listens. If I could improve anything about the album, while I commend its artistry and sense of originality and self, it would be nice for some of the songs to have some more standout hooks. But overall, Frank Ocean has done himself and the world of R&B proud with this album – it’s deep, intelligent, textured and heartfelt.

Advertisements
h1

sensitivity.

May 27, 2012

I find that as I’m getting older, rather than becoming more blasé and desensitised to things, significant and insignificant events alike have a deeper emotional resonance. As a teenager, I watched endless horror films without ever getting scared (the very occasional example aside); I sped through various important academic achievements and educational landmarks without batting an eyelid or appreciating the gravity of them (even when everyone around me was congratulating me and making a really big deal); I would visit new places without often taking in what surrounded me beyond a cursory acknowledgement. How could I be more jaded in my adolescence than I am now? Going to a wedding or even the graduation of my students brings a lump to my throat; watching a romantic drama or action extravaganza that is meant to be a disposable way of passing a couple of hours can have unexpected meaning that makes me stop and really contemplate. I’ve always been in touch with my emotions and music & lyrics have always been a great emotional conduit for me (which makes sense), but lately it feels like I have more of them!

Is it because, as a fully-fledged adult, I’m more aware of my own mortality and my lack of invincibility? I don’t ever remember feeling “invincible” per se… Am I just more mature and thus more able to appreciate and find the value in art, nature, landmarks (both literal and figurative) and emotions?  Am I just more easily emotionally manipulated the longer I’m exposed to mainstream entertainment? Is my resilience being worn down, or is my emotional intelligence developing? I sincerely hope it’s the latter! 

h1

Describing Scent workshop at Les Senteurs. (review)

April 15, 2012

On a bright Saturday lunchtime in April, Toby and I headed to Marble Arch to attend Les Senteurs‘ “Describing Scent” workshop, hosted by my good friend Nick (who also happens to be the Store Manager of the Les Senteurs store on Seymour Place). We arrived and as the shop starting filling up with attendees, we made our way downstairs to be greeted by a large table, laid out with place settings which each had a slice of orange on a neon plate, a loop of string, a coin, a rubber band and a glass with ice. The dozen of us seated ourselves, introduced ourselves to the group (among us was a florist, a composer, a student of fashion journalism, a mathematician, a chemist, and the rest of us who were also fans of perfume via various avenues) and then Nick proceeded to explain the purpose of the workshop. Part of it would be smelling scents (starting with the objects on the table, and then followed by a range of perfumes passed around the room on blotters) and experiencing fragrances mostly stocked by Les Senteurs. But the real point, as hinted at in the name of the workshop, would be to describe the fragrance. Not only in terms of smell, but in terms of taste, colour, light, shadow, temperature, textures, shape, sound, the kind of place it evoked and so on. It’s extremely difficult to describe a scent effectively using only the limited vocabulary of adjectives normally ascribed to smell – scents are intangible, and so they evoke a range of images, sounds (interestingly, “notes” and “accords” are used in the language of perfumery), textures and emotions in each of us.

As we proceeded through the objects on the table, and then onto the eight fragrances, we discussed how each of them made us feel, and what they evoked in us. Nick guided us through each of the perfumes, which we firstly smelled ‘blind’ (i.e. not knowing anything about the fragrance – neither its name, nor the brand behind it) and then were tasked with describing as fully and accurately as possible. It was a comfortable environment for us to be honest and unguarded about what the perfume evoked, as we were all passionate about fragrance and we all understood that perfume is personal to each of us. Nick would eventually reveal the perfume’s name and brand, composition and concept. It was intriguing to see what notes each of us picked up (which frequently included ingredients not listed in the perfume’s composition), and how different our own thoughts were from others’. For example, Toby’s scientific knowledge was able to explain various smells and associations in a way that was completely beyond me, but at the same time I made other connections for different reasons. Moving through fragrances by Creed, Parfumerie Générale, Heeley and others, we exposed the different connections and our own varying preferences between a range of scents. But whatever we preferred, be it niche or “high street”; leathery or floral; warm and introverted or cool and expansive – this workshop worked because we were all passionate about fragrance, and because Nick facilitated the workshop in such a way that we all felt comfortable to express ourselves.

At the end of the session, we all filled out a feedback form which asked some intriguing questions – among which were:

  • “Is this kind of event something you would talk to your friends about” (evidently so!);
  • “What is most important to you in a perfume?” (for me, a fragrance has to smell beautiful, but also different to everything else in my collection, so that it complements one of my moods. I am far too fickle / moody to have a ‘signature’ fragrance that would suit me every day, day in and day out! I also think that it’s important that the fragrance has a well-chosen name and attractive bottle, as these are the things that will initially attract me towards trying it out.); and
  • “Are there any events you would like to see that haven’t been suggested already?” (I feel that I would love to attend workshops that would each focus on ‘classic perfumes’ – such as Joy, Chanel No. 5, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Poison and Opium).

I can’t recommend the Les Senteurs workshops highly enough for anyone even slightly curious about perfume beyond the Superdrug counter (for their list of events, please click here). Toby and I both had an excellent time, and it was both luxurious being able to spend an afternoon smelling such wonderful scents, and intellectually stimulating being challenged to describe them and contemplate how others react to fragrance. At the end of the day, there are few rights and wrongs in one’s experience of perfume, and this workshop served to underline how intangible and thus personal fragrance can be.

h1

Tube update: Farringdon.

March 22, 2012

Last night I met up with Karina, her friends Alex and Jo, and Nick and we went to Farringdon.

We went to the Antlers gallery and saw a cool exhibition by Bristol artists on the theme of “Other Nature“. There was some really ornate stuff there, including some excellent pencil work with a butterfly theme, and some dictionaries which had been hollowed out and replaced with layers upon layers of various illustrations. This reminded me (and Karina) of the artist’s work in Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, which was a dense but emotionally resonant work.

We enjoyed some gin, and then headed to a Spanish-esque bar called Anexo near Farringdon station. We enjoyed cocktails (I had a white russian), nachos and I had a yummy chicken and chorizo burger. We talked fashion, music (Anexo appeared to have tapped directly into my iPod, which was bizarrely fun – much singing along to be had!), films that I haven’t seen and apparently really should have, and lots of other stuff besides. I had a fantastic time, and it was sad that Anexo closes down tomorrow!

Anyways, I just wanted to share my enjoyable evening with you all. Ciao!

h1

one night in paradise. (photos from our trip to Paris)

February 25, 2012

This evening Toby and I got back from our overnight stay in Paris – it was a late anniversary gift to one another to celebrate 2 years of being together and very much in love! The last time I went to Paris I was on my year abroad from my undergraduate degree at Oxford, and I was there for a week with my father. This time, although the holiday was much shorter, it was even more special 🙂 It was a pain-free journey on the Eurostar, but we made up for the lack of pain by doing about 12 miles’ worth of walking! We didn’t use any public transport once, and the weather turned out to be very nice so we took full advantage. Firstly we had some lunch near the Palace of Justice:

Then we headed to Notre Dame cathedral:

From here (on the island in the middle of the Seine) we caught a riverboat tour of Paris, which enabled us to see lots of the sights and find out a little more history about Paris from a strongly-accented French woman who was studying English.

After the riverboat tour, we crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts, a bridge to which lovers attach engraved padlocks (or padlocks with their names written on them) to celebrate their love. Next time Toby and I go to Paris (there will be a next time, I’m pretty sure!), we will bring a padlock of our very own. 🙂

We then walked to the Louvre and saw the glass pyramid:

… and the Obelisk:

After this very long walk, we checked into our hotel near the Champs-Elysées in the 8th arrondissement, and had a little lie-down, changed our clothes, and then we were off again to the Champs-Elysées itself!  At the top, we saw the Arc de Triomphe (and its mad traffic system – or lack thereof!):

We stopped and had a coffee and a croissant, and then went for a twilight walk along the river towards the Eiffel Tower. Things started getting more and more perfect…

I felt like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City when she goes to Paris (before she starts getting miserable and stuff). Look, we were even on an appropriately-named street!

There was this cool monument:

And this one:

Sure enough, as twilight approached the Eiffel Tower slowly but surely lit up, and it was the most romantic thing I have seen. I felt so special, and Toby and I were just in awe. We took many pictures (Toby had wisely brought his big camera) as things got more and more amazing. And then at 7pm, the tower started glittering with strobing lights:

It was so perfect! We strolled along further, taking more pictures – at each end of the bridge by the Eiffel Tower was a carousel which lent a touch of old-French kitsch to proceedings:

We decided that if we lived in Paris, it would not be totally awful. We finally headed back to the hotel and found a restaurant (appropriately called “The 8th Arrondissement”) which sold nice, if somewhat bizarre food! This morning, after a very long and restful sleep, we walked to a bakery and had a traditional continental breakfast of croissants and coffee before walking up to the Sacre Coeur, which has breathtaking views.

We dodged the sellers on our walk down and headed back to the Gare du Nord:

…where we had a yummy dinner with a proper, more traditional burger in a restaurant that played only Lady Gaga, before finally making our way back to London.

I can’t believe that we were only in Paris for just over 24 hours; we packed such a lot in that it feels like we had a full week’s holiday! But not only was it romantic (Paris + glittery Eiffel Tower = love) but it was exactly what I needed. A getaway from everything, which allowed to recharge emotionally and forget everything that was bringing me down. Work appears to have resolved itself somewhat, and the rest of my annoyances can buzz off for now. I know that I will always be a sensitive and somewhat neurotic person, but ultimately, life is very good now and I am happy. And when I have vacations like this, I am reminded just how happy I am. 🙂

— PS. I also have a corresponding post on my tumblr!

h1

mean / Tube update: Queensway and Bayswater.

February 7, 2012

I have been really irritable lately. On Friday evening we were at Toby’s flat and Christina was cleaning the kitchen and mopping the floor. I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to go “See Toby, this is called ‘mopping’.” A few minutes later I realised that while Toby is indeed messy, there was no call for me to just criticise him out of the blue.

During my cooking of the lasagne on Tuesday, I kept my cool with the very frustrating ingredients and recipe for about 45 minutes before I snapped, started ranting about crushing garlic on Twitter and went for a cigarette. Now, although I can be somewhat impetuous, I know that I dislike cooking and I also know that I am not experienced and so things are likely to be frustrating – I should have had a bit more patience than that.

Then at the weekend, we went out to Soho for Christina’s birthday. We had a lovely meal at Ping Pong, but afterwards we were trekking through the snow for an hour trying to find our next venue. I was cold and wet, people were throwing snowballs in the streets and I got hit twice (which I think was really uncalled for, since I had not done anything to anyone), we lost half of our party, went into a random club which was full of people – and only 10 minutes later, just after I had put my bag down and taken my soaking coat off,  everyone decided that we were going to leave again and go somewhere else. But first everyone went to get cash. This was the breaking point for me and I told Toby that I could no longer handle all of this and wanted to just go home. With the snow, the crowds of people stranded in central London also trying to get home, and the tube stations and tube lines shutting down one by one, we had to walk in the snow, slush and crowds for 45 minutes before finally getting to Temple where we caught the District Line train back to Earls Court. We left Ping Pong at 9:30; we got back to my flat at midnight. I was thoroughly unimpressed.

And yet, I felt guilty. Although even writing this and reliving it as I do so, I feel justified in just wanting to get out of the situation and get home, I also feel mean for leaving Christina’s birthday early. I didn’t want to, but I also just couldn’t handle being out and cold and wet, wandering aimlessly and having snow thrown at me, and not being able to go home. But on balance, I had helped make her birthday cake (I rescued ganache, using the power of the internet!):

…wrote her card, was out last night for the restaurant-portion of the evening, and saw her again the following morning, so I had made an effort for her and things were all fine. But still, I don’t know why but lately I just feel like I am irritable to people and not as nice as I could be. I had a meltdown on Sunday with Toby – I felt trapped in by the snow, powerless to accomplish anything useful, and spiralling into depression and feeling utterly useless. After much understanding from him, I saw that I was being too hard on myself. Well, what’s new?

Following the emotional surgery, I uncovered that a lot of my frustration is to do with work. I will not say much more about this because I feel it would be unprofessional (and you never know who might be reading), but suffice to say that it’s called ‘work’ for a reason. Toby suggested that one thing I could do is make sure I take a proper lunch break and get out of the office, have some fresh air and a walk. So I have started doing this in earnest: and on Monday, I had a walk (trying not to fall over in the slush) and managed to add another two tube stations to my list: Queensway and Bayswater (after my initial failure when I walked to Paddington).

I worked out that I should also be able to walk to Lancaster Gate, Latimer Road and Royal Oak, so watch this space! I am hoping that not only will I get some additional exercise (and pictures!), but it will improve my mood (both daily and in the longer term). Fingers crossed 🙂

h1

Rihanna – Talk That Talk (album review)

November 19, 2011

Rihanna’s new album Talk That Talk sits somewhere between Rated R – her creative and musical zenith, and Loud – her hit-laden album that couldn’t stop releasing catchy, radio-friendly #1 singles. This is very much a good thing – although the album is not quite as emotionally deep or jagged as Rated R, it has more edge to it than Loud did – think of it as Loud² with the lights turned down.

Lead singles “We Found Love” and “You Da One” are excellent examples of this. The former is a hands-up-in-the-air bittersweet love anthem that incorporates basic 4-to-the-floor dance just as previous lead single “Only Girl (In The World)” did. However, “We Found Love” is lyrically much more sparse and perhaps more potent as a result – the simple refrain of “We found love in a hopeless place” carries more weight. The excellent, vibrant and startling video further brought this song to life, emphasising the exhilarating highs (the high-energy production courtesy of Calvin Harris) and destructive lows (the simple, spare lyrics) of being in an all-consuming love. The album’s opening song “You Da One” is a sticky-sweet treat in the vein of mega-hit “What’s My Name”; it’s a shame that this didn’t come out in the summer, as it is a song to play in the car when you are riding with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

The first half of Talk That Talk is relentless; after “You Da One”, “Where Have You Been” turns the BPM up to ‘insane’, adds an irresistible call to arms in “Wheeeeeeere have you beeeeeeeeeen all my liiiiiiiiiiiiife”, and quickly becomes Rihanna’s best dance single since “Don’t Stop The Music”.  The album’s title track boasts a predatory rap from Jay-Z just like “Umbrella”, and Rihanna adopts a swagger which suggests that she is at once nonchalant and aggressively icy. It’s a curious dichotomy that defines Rihanna’s appeal – sometimes she is effortlessly stylish and seems to throw out hits that succeed in spite of their singer’s lackadaisical approach; and yet, there is some fierce and determined artistry in Rihanna’s heart to make her records work consistently, and to imbue them with heart and a range of emotions that has come through in her best material. At this point in her career, she commands respect.

According to “Cockiness” and its subsequent interlude “Birthday Cake”, Rihanna also commands the bedroom. “Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion” / “I love it, I love it, I love it when you eat it” are lyrics so aggressively sexual and yet so explicitly chosen for their shock factor that you can’t help but admire Rihanna’s chutzpah. The cherry on top is that she delivers all of these lines as if she couldn’t care less. “Cockiness” is aided by some top-notch production from Bangladesh, while “Birthday Cake” gets dark and dirty thanks to The-Dream. (This song would have been the album highlight did it not inexplicably fade out after 1:18 – possibly the album’s most glaring fault! But fear not – Rihanna is apparently recording a full version, perhaps for a repackage? I am a cynic.)

Of course, in case you were in doubt, Rihanna has a heart too – ballad “We All Want Love” attempts and fails to recreate the epicness of Rated R‘s closer “The Last Song”, and is possibly an album low-point, although Rihanna sings earnestly. “Drunk On Love” is more successful – with a chunkier beat behind her, Rihanna sings about being intoxicated to the point that “nothing can sober me up”, and the desperation in her vocal is palpable.  After this, we’re back to the template of previous Rihanna songs, and “Roc Me Out” is a retread of “Rude Boy” that is perfectly acceptable, if hardly groundbreaking. The song is fine, but it would sound a lot better if “Rude Boy” hadn’t existed. “Watch n’ Learn” incorporates reggae flavour (which was one of the best and most welcome aspects of Loud) and improves upon Loud‘s “It’s Raining Men”. “Watch n’ Learn” is raunchy, as is much of the album, but it’s also laid-back, chilled and bouncy all at once. The closing ballad “Farewell” is somewhat overwrought, but Rihanna’s vocals are impressive and the lyrics speak about wishing a close friend / lover well, and selflessly not holding them back despite wanting to – which is a unique song topic. “Somebody’s gonna miss you / Somebody’s gonna wish that you were here” is a tender lyric that succeeds where “We All Want Love” fell a little bit flat.

Talk That Talk‘s bonus tracks are all decent. “Red Lipstick” reunites Rihanna with Chase & Status for some grimy dubstep; “Do Ya Thing” is another upbeat urban pop song; “Fool In Love” is a muted, electro-ballad that would have fit nicely in the main body of the album. In summary, Talk That Talk does not take the title of Rihanna’s best album; but given the circumstances under which Rated R was produced, that album is pretty special and unique and I wouldn’t wish her to go through that again. Talk That Talk perhaps ties with Good Girl Gone Bad for second place. It’s an album of contradictions – relentlessly sexual and yet unwittingly heartfelt in places; startlingly aggressive and yet disarmingly laissez-faire; there’s a bunch of hit songs on this record that nobody else could have delivered quite as well as Rihanna, and yet a lot of these songs are clearly inspired by earlier Rihanna hits. I believe that Talk That Talk is a calculated album designed for maximum chart success, but at the same time it sounds exactly like who Rihanna is and precisely what kind of music she personally wants to release. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned, including the listener – Talk That Talk is an irresistible ride.