Posts Tagged ‘organic’

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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about high fashion.

October 1, 2009

Just a quick track-by-track run-through of all the songs on my High Fashion mixtape!  I hope you enjoy it and this fleshes out the stories behind the music for you all 🙂

High Fashion

The photos for this mixtape were actually the last thing to get done! I had a lot of ideas for it, but basically it involved playing dressup and taking lots of fun fun pictures of me pouting in designer accessories and too much lip balm and radiating attitude! Trust me, some of the pictures were horrendous, but I was pleased that I got some decent ones that I chose to use.  In contrast to the Quiet Storm artwork, which incorporates a lot of dark blues, purples and blacks with white type and layered translucent textures (evocative of the intimate, nocturnal atmosphere embodied by the album), the artwork for the mixtape is very bright, very immediate (no gloss or photoshopping!) and very tongue in cheek – I do not dress that ostentatiously in real life!!!  But it was a lot of fun 🙂

Official Boy

This song was recorded a year ago – obviously, it’s a cover of Cassie’s song “Official Girl”… I seem to be the only one who loved that song!  I was obsessed with that song at the time because I could relate – I was semi-dating somebody but didn’t know where I stood. (It turned out to be nowhere.)  So I got the instrumental and decided to rerecord my version – in the process, I learned a lot about creating vocal layers and harmonies and counter-melodies, and I appreciated how densely the original song is constructed.  I also wrote my own rap, which was really fun.  I really liked Cassie’s latest material, as I did a cover of this song and “Touch Me” samples another Cassie song, “Nobody But You”.

Touch Me (see post!)

Hook Boy (Remix)

This song uses the instrumental of Day26’s “Imma Put It On Her”, continuing the love for Bad Boy artists.  I have always been impressed by Diddy’s production skills and most of the Bad Boy tracks that have come out over the last 12 years have had really solid music and production.  It’s a remix of the song “Hook Boy” on Quiet Storm, and so I changed up the melody and some of the lyrics somewhat, but the basic skeleton of the song remains the same, though this remix has a more celebratory, uptempo feel to it, relishing being in the club and being with the one you love.

Get Me Home (Interlude)

I liked the harmonies on this one, but I have an interlude called “Focused” on the album where I did a superior job of a similar type of harmony, so I removed this track from the album and kept it for the mixtape.

Jump Off (Part I) (Snippet)

The original version of a song which is on the album (appropriately called “Jump Off (Part II)”), this is a very straight-up R&B ballad, no frills.  The lyrics have been kept more or less identical between the two songs, but Part II has a much more R&B, nocturnal feel which I fell in love with and which suited the feel of the album as a whole much more.  I might finish this version eventually, because I think it has potential, but I kinda left it by the wayside in favour of Part II, which is one of my favourite tracks on Quiet Storm, and very lyrically honest.

Don’t Look Now (Game Over)

This song was written after I was seeing somebody who just suddenly disappeared with the excuse that “I need space”… BULLSHIT mayne!!!   I decided to channel my irritation positively, and this record was a cutting, dance-type response to that whole situation.  I like the lyrics in it, which pay a nod to “Bad Girl” and “Pretty Boy” by the now sadly defunct Danity Kane, as well as Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable”.  My favourite lyric is “dangerous and brokenhearted”, and I briefly considered that as an album title.  I love the ring of it, but ultimately there is something about the song that meant it couldn’t hang with the rest of the tracks that made the album, so ultimately it got relegated to the mixtape!

Pronunciation (Interlude)

This was just a big big laugh… it sets the scene for the next song, “Armani Earrings”, which is a track on Quiet Storm that I just had so much fun writing, as it really epitomises swagger!  The idea came from the “learn Italian” tapes they play in the bathrooms at Frankie & Benny’s restaurants, and working in The Perfume Shop and getting irritated at how many designers names got mangled by customers on a regular basis.  So this interlude is a play on all of those things, as well as a lead-in to the next track.

Armani Earrings

… you’re gonna have to wait for the story behind this one!!!  Just enjoy it for now 🙂

Can’t Play A Playa

Originally I was so excited about this track, with the military gunshot-style intro and the catchy hook… but somewhere along the line, although I tried out a lot of different ideas such as having a rap in the middle of the song instead of at the bridge, and multiple hooks and stuff, I felt it lost the sparkle and drive I was aiming for the song to have, so I didn’t feel it was strong enough to make the album.  I like the song, but I just couldn’t execute it the way I wanted to so I kept it back for the mixtape.

Wild Heart

During my time at Oxford uni, I became friends online with a guy who got into trying to write and produce his own songs.  He sent me this track that he’d written and produced (the production is a slightly different style to anything I’ve done, though the song itself I like), and asked me to resing it.  I went a bit crazy with it, attacking it with different melodies and ad-libs, and when I sent it back he was like “WOW you have CHANGED it!!!” I really liked the way it turned out, but I think he was somewhat taken aback… I never really considered this song for the album, especially as my only input into it was changing some of the melodies, harmonies and structuring, but I like it nonetheless so I thought that there was no harm in putting it on High Fashion.

Role Model

The first element of this song that I had was the bassline, and then I just started adding lyrics to it.  I remember half of it was written in my head on a car journey with my parents, and the minute we got back in the door I rushed upstairs and spent an hour creating the song.  I like the sung chorus element, because it really expressed how I don’t feel that I fit easily into many categories that people try to pigeon-hole me into.  In terms of the music I listen to, my educational background and my sexuality (among other things), I don’t really feel that what is widely portrayed in the cinema really represents me, and I wanted to put across the fact that just because there is a stereotype for these things doesn’t mean that everybody necessarily fits them.  Although it’s not my finest hour rapping (and I like to think that the rhymes on “Armani Earrings” demonstrate how much I’ve improved), the lyrical subject matter is very true and I am positive I am not the only young person who feels misrepresented.  You have to be who you are, for the sake of who you are.

Broke WIthout Remedy

I was listening to Erykah Badu’s most recent album New Amerykah and wanted to do a song which was a bit more unstructured and organic sounding, so I hit up Garageband and started playing with samples. This is the result! I was near the end of my university degree at Oxford, and I was kinda frustrated because I didn’t know where I was going next and I was in a lot of debt and I was just like “what happened? I thought this degree would solve all my problems and it’s just left me with more!”  With my new uni course and being so happy and that being beyond me, the perspective I now have of Oxford is perhaps more balanced and I can appreciate the quality of degree and the good friends that I got from there, but at the time of writing / singing the song, I was feeling quite down.  Towards the end, my voice cracks and I kept it in as evidence of too much cigarettes + emotional despair = raw vocals!

I Want To Know What Love Is (see post!)

High Fashion (Acapella) (Outro)

Another little acapella taster of the “High Fashion” track on my album.  The Intro uses some of the backing music, and the outro uses the first verse and chorus of the song.  Although I’m not 100% happy about ending the album with 2 acapellas in a row, I definitely thought that these last two songs both deserved to be on the mixtape and both fit at the end.

So there you are!  Once again, you can download the mixtape HERE and I really hope you enjoy it! 🙂

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intangible.

July 24, 2009

Two of my very favourite things in my life are music and fragrance.  Music has been something I have loved from day one, and I never looked back: ever since I was little my mum and I would dance around the living room to Whitney Houston, Belinda Carlisle, Kool & The Gang records (on vinyl! Somewhere in my bedroom is Mariah Carey’s very first single “Vision Of Love” on vinyl, which I imagine might be worth some money!).  We’d sing along to Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie and the Pointer Sisters in the car (on cassette), and as soon as we had MTV I knew that my ideal vocation was a pop star.  I think by force of habit (I was singing long before I got my first Mariah Carey album, which was at age 12) I made myself a decent singer, and once I was 13 I broke through at my school singing anywhere and everywhere, making myself a little celebrity status and signing autographs at school (it was a stressful time with gossip and rumours, but also a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the renown.).  I did concerts, dance competitions, displays and random other stuff, and I made myself my own brand… it was good training for the real world!  But primarily, I did these things because I love to sing, I love to dance, and I have always enjoyed these things.  To sound corny, they make me feel free and allow me to escape the monotony, depression and pain of everyday life, and the fact that I seem to be genuinely talented (though I need occasional reassurance from my friends, now that I don’t do performances very often, that I’m not secretly shit – they are always supportive of me 🙂 ) is a bonus.  But writing songs, making my own music, and singing along to everything is such an intrinsic part of who I am, and it’s something that can’t be taken away from me (unless you rip out my larynx) because it’s intangible.  It’s the air I breathe, the way I control my voice, the years of daily practice… it’s nothing tangible.  It’s more ethereal and spiritual to me.

On the other hand, my love of fragrance is something much more recent in comparison.  Though I realised, leafing through the Avon catalogue tonight, that I have had fragrance in my life since the age of 15, when I used to buy their cheap n cheerful classics Black Suede, Modern Balance, Mesmerise… I can’t remember what my first “proper” fragrance was (I know my mum bought me CK Contradiction when I turned 17, but I don’t know what the first one I bought for myself was), but I have always loved Black XS, Dior Homme and A*Men, and despite working at a perfume shop for a year and a half and coming into contact with all the brands and all the scents a guy could want, those are still probably my favourites (along with a couple of others 😉 )!  I think there is something so captivating and seductive about someone who smells intoxicatingly good, it’s like an addictive allure (wading into Bai Ling territory there…).  Although a lot of fragrances have a ridiculously long list of notes of which most normal people can only smell two or three, there is something mysterious about the way certain aromas or elements (well, they’re actually aromachemicals, but we can pretend it’s something more organic and exotic 😉 ) are combined to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  And again, it’s something that travels on the wind, something subjective that triggers individual reactions and desires, something that is unique to each person and which suggests something primal about who that person is (and after all, the fragrance someone wears can tell you a lot about them! Perfume SAs around the world can vouch for this 😉 ).  I think that is why both of these things are so important to me, because they come from within, they are both things which are at once intangible and primal, and they are an opportunity for us to expose the essence of who we are.