Posts Tagged ‘secrets’

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

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beautiful.

February 28, 2010

This song by Vivian Green is one of my new favourites at the moment.  It’s what real R&B is (not this dance/pop/Timbaland hybrid nonsense), about self-esteem, relationships and beauty.  Her voice is lovely on the song, and the lyrics are so poignant.  It’s inspired me to write this blog, because over the last 6-9 months, I’ve grown to feel a lot more comfortable in my skin.  I’ve gained a lot of new friendships (Nick and Toby met today! We had a lot of fun banter and coffee/tea in Starbucks), I’ve entered into a really lovely relationship in which I’m starting to feel comfortable, and my body and image are finally reflecting the man that I am, that I’ve become.  In short, it’s taken 24 years but nobody can make me feel ugly anymore.  Sometimes I might be hard on myself, and I’m pretty vain and heavily self-critical, but at the end of the day I’ve come to a place where I’m good.  Although it doesn’t matter whether other people validate you and the most important person you have to please is yourself, it has been a revelation just how valued I am by my friends, both old and new.  I entered into university and despite my closest friends being quite different from me, they support me and I support them.  We value each other, respect each other, and nobody can convince me now that I’m an ugly person.  Over the past 6 months, I’ve let people in on some heavy secrets of mine, and nobody ran away.  They all embraced me, and that’s meant a lot to me – I’m a beautiful person inside and out.  Not because they say so necessarily – after all, I worked damn hard to get to this point and feeling this way is still incredibly new to me.  But for example, I got home tonight and my parents were sniping at each other regarding a possible new car (which would be expensive), and they tried to ensnare me in the discussion.  I’ve grown to the point where I won’t be bullied by my mother or shouted down by her neverending arguments from her fixed point of view.  And neither will I be wound up by my father’s surreptitious planted comments, nor intimidated by his own feelings of superiority, inferiority or jealousy.  I love my parents, but so often these days I feel like the adult in this house and I won’t be made to feel inferior, naïve or ugly by either of them.  It took a very long time (longer than it should have), and it took more newly-formed friendships than it should have, but I’m strong enough to see their faults for what they are, rather than just taking them into me and feeling guilty about myself.  It’s not my fault, and I’m not the problem.  I’m not perfect, but I’m beautiful and I deserve to love myself and believe in myself as much as anyone else.  And finally, even though I can often waver or doubt myself (as we all can), I more or less do.  It’s a work-in-progress, as with anything.

In both of the essays I’ve submitted on my careers guidance course so far, not only have I got pretty decent marks, but I’ve received praise on how well I write.  This stands in contrast to when I was at Oxford and my tutors would complain about my essay structure and my use of language.  Perhaps part of it is that I’ve taken these past criticisms on board, perhaps I’ve grown not only in age but in maturity and the ability to express myself in a subject or arena that I enjoy, but it’s true that you can’t please everyone.  At the end of the day, I appreciate the compliments and try to improve from criticism, but it’s a lot harder to knock me down.  I feel happier, stronger and more sure of myself, and what’s most important to me when I’m handing in an essay, when I’m selecting my outfit for the day, when I’m singing a song to an audience, is that I’m happy and believe confidently in my self-expression.  Criticism from other people can help me to grow, praise from others lets me know I’m on the right path, but at the end of the day I have to be alright with me and nobody else can disguise whether I’m good or uneasy with myself.

So I realise that this entry can be construed as me giving myself a massive pat on my back, and to an extent it’s true 😉 But in the past when I’ve kept diaries or expressed myself in some form, it’s often fixated on the negative and become quite self-deprecating.  I won’t deny that there are entries on this blog where I’ve still been that way, but life doesn’t preclude negativity.  We all have good days and bad days, but I’m determined to acknowledge the good just as much as the bad.  I feel happier than I’ve possibly ever felt in my life, and I want to celebrate that and encourage you all to celebrate your own good days and happiness.  I’m determined to celebrate myself, even if nobody else will – but the greatest thing is that in the past 6-9 months, enough of my friends have reinforced me and held me up when I’ve not quite had the energy to see the good in myself or do it myself.  I truly appreciate that, and you know who you are – thankyou 🙂 So in connection with Vivian Green’s “Beautiful”, please listen to the song and put not only your loved ones but your friends and those who matter “on a pedestal / let them know that they’re beautiful”.  A compliment costs nothing but if it comes from the heart, it can make all the difference and encourage or remind people of the good in themselves. In a recent entry I talked about the value of letting people know that you appreciate them, and I wanted to reiterate that in this entry.  I appreciate myself, I feel appreciated and I won’t be downtrodden the way I used to be.  And neither should my friends be, and neither should you be.  Love yourselves, love one another, and we can all succeed together. 🙂

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valentine.

February 14, 2010

I am sat in Starbucks in Cabot Circus, working on my School Placement essay when Toby turns up.  I wave him over to come and sit with me (Sunday afternoon and this place gets rammed). We embrace, he looks good in his black cable-knit zip-up cardigan and the purple Diesel Only The Brave scarf I bought him for Valentine’s Day but then got impatient so regaled him with that and a DVD of Series 3 of the IT Crowd on Friday night.  He presents me with a card with the sweetest message inside, emblazoned with “You’re Tweet”, and a book of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  On the book, attached by a white ribbon, is a card which says “For the guy with the gun tattoo…” I am so touched, and with the sun streaming in through Starbucks and my essay goal accomplished for today, this is hands down the best Valentine’s Day ever.

I don’t know what is going to happen in the future, and we’ve only been together for 6 weeks, but this guy is something else.  He accepts my blonde moments, my vanity, and my predilection for cigarettes.  Most importantly, he’s the second man in a matter of months to be confronted by my secret and not run away, but instead embrace me and see my sincerity inside.  The issue with concealing this blog on twitter is no longer an issue, and he can read the innermost parts of me without seeming to be scared, intimidated or annoyed about it, which is a blessing because I don’t want to compromise this blog – it’s an important form of self-expression. I’m not very good at letting someone in past a certain point – I don’t actively hide anything, but I don’t actively reveal everything about me to all and sundry.  And now I know that I can tell him personal things, and I hope he knows that he can do the same.

This therefore constitutes the first Valentine’s Day that I’ve actually had a valentine, by which I mean more than just someone I’ve vaguely fancied, or to whom I’ve scribbled an anonymous note and then stressed about it the whole day.  I’m not used to feeling secure or safe in a relationship, I’m not used to having a boyfriend, I’m not used to any of this.  But after getting over the initial jitters of letting someone in, I’m really settling into my stride and it feels really good.  And I hope that it continues, maybe for a long time…  Wishing you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day – whether you’re with somebody or you’re single, the bottom line is never forget to love yourself.

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I wanted to just post a little song at the bottom, taken from LeToya Luckett’s fantastic sophomore album Lady Love, which I reviewed last year.  The song is called “Good To Me”, and although in the song LeToya is searching for that someone, I feel it’s so apt because I might have found the first person in my life whom “I could take home to my Daddy” one day.  The lyrics are so true and heartfelt, and LeToya’s vocal delivery is better on this song than on any other. If you live in the USA, hit up iTunes and support her by buying a copy of the single!  To all of you, please listen, appreciate and enjoy 🙂

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secrecy.

January 14, 2010

For the moment, I’ve taken off the link to this blog from my twitter, and I’m going to be deleting the twitterfeeds as well.  I don’t anticipate doing this for long and they’ll be back up in a few days or so, for a couple of reasons which I will explain, but firstly I’ll explain why I’ve done it.  I’ve started seeing a wonderful guy called T, and he’s so nice.  He cooked me dinner last night, we talk on msn all the time, and we have great coffee sessions.  I’ve also stayed over at his place a couple of times and everything seems good so far.  I appreciate that all the time that I’ve been whining about being single and various foibles with guys, unrequited attractions etc., I’ve wanted someone solid, stable, interesting and nice, and now I appear to be finding that.  So why am I so fucking scared?

I know that part of it is that I don’t want to end up hurting T the way that I hurt Lukas in the past.  Although Lukas was way too clingy, and turned out to be a bit of a nutcase, he didn’t deserve to be hurt the way he was – even though it was an honest accident, being dumped by text is not the way that I operate (I think it’s a pretty shitty thing to do) and I will always regret that that was how things went down.  T, although we’ve only known each other for a few weeks, appears to be better in every way.  So the thought of accidentally hurting T and really upsetting him (I’m confident he likes me a lot) really scares me.  I’ve always been the kind of person who feels nervous but manages to override his fear, but I won’t lie and I’ll say that being single is so much easier – you’re not responsible for anyone else’s feelings and you don’t have to worry about what makes them happy or what makes them sad.  If I, in some way, hurt T through no fault of his own, I think it would make me feel really awful. So that’s part of my fear.

Thus getting to the reason why I’ve temporarily hidden the link to this blog.  If you’ve read some of my entries over the past 4 months, you’ll know that I’ve developed pretty serious feelings for someone.  Someone whom I can never have, but who has redefined what it is to be a man, and has shown me what I want to aim for as a man myself.  He’s one of my best friends, he’s really important to me, and I’m a total masochist for allowing my feelings to grow to this point.  But I know (whether I like it or not) that I can never have him as anything more than a best friend (!!!) and that is enough to treasure.  I don’t die inside very often, and when I am dying, I just grin and bear it until I come out the other side.  I’m very lucky to have such a friend who’s been more of a role model for me than my father ever was, than any male figure has ever been.  If you’ve been reading, you know all of this and more, and I don’t need to recap.  But because I’ve been so honest and open about this on here, I don’t want to risk any of T’s feelings being hurt if he reads it – surely he couldn’t help but wonder?  Nothing inappropriate’s ever happened, but the fact that the desire is there, and it’s stronger than I care to admit most of the time, makes me feel like it would be something that could hurt his feelings, or at least question my sincerity towards him.  And I do like him.  Things have gone quite fast, and I think I want to slow down a little bit and just enjoy the moment and be easy with having someone there for me – because I’m scared of rushing myself, I’m scared of rushing our emotions and burning out too quickly, I’m scared of accidentally hurting him but I also want to give myself time to get a grip on my heart.  That makes sense, right?  I don’t want to mess anything up so early on, but I also don’t want to push things too fast without really knowing what we’re getting into.  I deserve a good, stable relationship with a good, stable man, and I’m not going to run away from T – that would be totally counter-productive and I’d be back at square one.  But I’m going to take my time – I have to do this for the sanity of my head and the security of my heart.

I guess that’s the crux of the matter.  I don’t really know how to just be in a relationship with someone.  I definitely overthink things (as Mike has said and as I’m well aware), and I can’t stop my mind and heart running away with me.  How do you do that?  How do you turn your brain off, dial your emotions down?  The longest relationship I’ve had has barely touched two months, and even then I felt somewhat claustrophobic, like I somehow couldn’t let a person get too close to me for fear of getting hurt, for fear of too much responsibility over their emotions and heart, and for fear of showing them all of me only for them to be disgusted, find a host of imperfections, or plain run away.  I don’t know why I feel this as it’s totally irrational, and all my close friends know me for who I am and seem to be perfectly happy with it.  There’s nothing wrong with me.  And yet I’m not confident in believing myself when I say that there’s nothing wrong with me.

And if there’s nothing wrong with me, why am I hiding this blog from him?  Over the last 6 months (has it been that long?!??!) of writing, I’ve really enjoyed it, I’ve made a handful of new friends whom I’ve really appreciated, and I have relished the ability to be so honest and frank.  Unwittingly, by adding T to my twitter (but how could I refuse? And why should I refuse?) I’ve compromised my ability to be candid, to be frank with him, and with all of you.  Shouldn’t he be able to like me for who I am?  My heart is who I am, writing this blog has become a part of who I am, and as well as the main concern of not being able to be totally honest with him, it’s gonna affect my hits 😛 (although ironically, since I took this off twitter on Monday, my views have gone up?!?!? where’s the logic?) But I’m not going to delete my posts about Mike, I’m not willing to censor myself and write differently, so I’m not going to change the way I express myself on this blog because I know that some readers appreciate my candour and can relate.  Plus it’s cathartic for me.  But I really, really don’t want to raise questions in T’s mind about my affection for Mike nor about my sincerity towards him.  I want to see where this relationship leads, I deserve a nice boyfriend (and so does he!) and I want to enjoy spending time with him (albeit relaxing a little bit now after our quite intense, fast beginnings).  I just hope that eventually, he will understand that Mike will always be in my heart, but nothing can ever happen and if things go right in the future, I could hold him in my heart too.  And that’s the best way I can express myself and it still doesn’t quite express my feelings how I want to – but hopefully you understand what I mean, because it’s the best I can do.  Thankyou for reading, and I hope you understand.

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don’t take it personal.

December 15, 2009

I apologise for not having blogged in a little bit.  Real life has kinda taken over, and if you follow me on twitter (please do!!! – I have my latest tweets on the right —> ) then you’ll have an idea why.  Basically, although I’ve been open that I’m slightly envious of the fact that Mike likes someone other than me, and that other person seems to like him back (although there are marriages, children and mixed signals thrown into the mix), I’ve been handling it pretty well.  Yep, that’s right, you spotted the past tense.  Well, I’m handling it well again now.  But we had our Christmas meal on Friday night, and I might have got a little bit paranoid and possessive.  Allow me to elaborate.

Mike & me are HBICs on our course.  We do more or less everything together, we are friendly with everyone and everyone knows us as the smokers / naughty guys talking dirty at the back of the class / dedicated and working in the library on the sly / fun and easy to talk to / the ones who organise the social events on the course.  The third person in our equation is someone Mike noticed early on, but has only been included in our circle the last few weeks.  I knew that Mike was developing feelings before he admitted it to me, but it is still hard to accept.  I know he’s a straight married man, but what does a not-stunning 33-yo woman with 2 kids, an overly-possessive husband and an average wardrobe have on me?  Ok, she is a lovely lovely person, and admittedly has sparkling blue eyes and a shapely butt. But I’m 24, I apparently “look immaculate” (Julie), am “very pretty / beautiful” (Mike!!! and others), I can sing, dance, write and produce my own music, I smoke, play piano and guitar, I’m quite intelligent and “articulate” (Leanne) and “really good to talk to and understanding” (Penny, Emma, Mike).  What the fuck more can I do?  How many more hoops do I have to jump through?  I’m missing the point.  Sexuality is sexuality, although I firmly believe that although you can definitely be instantly attracted to physical traits, ultimately the body is the wrapping and the gift is the person inside (I mean that not in a sexual way, but in an emotional / spiritual / personal way).  Somewhere along the line, he’s my best friend but he doesn’t see all of who I am – otherwise if he has feelings for the woman, he certainly would have feelings for me as we share a good heart and a love of innuendo.  I’m going over old territory here, but although he’s my best friend at university and I utterly cherish that, sometimes it’s maddening that I can’t have more.

Anyway, I admit I’ve been a bit envious.  But I’ve also been more than there for him as much as I can, despite my own feelings for him (which he knows about).  The day of our Christmas meal, I was feeling extremely nervous and on edge, despite telling myself that they are adults, they can do whatever they like and it’s not my job nor my place to keep them apart.  I felt that I didn’t want Mike to be regretting anything the next day, that I might be a bad friend if I let him down by not keeping him rational, and that I would have my heart hurt in the process.  I played “Russian Roulette” multiple times, since that song, those lyrics and the whole Rated R album seem to be the story of my life right now, and nervously arrived at Mike’s house.  For a while I felt fine – we got to the restaurant, Mike said that after we went for late-night drinks and conversation the night before he was feeling more balanced about it all, I was confident and happy.  But then she eventually arrived, I felt the focus slipping away from me, I ended up having a lot to drink (note: 5 sambuca shots in one go is never a good idea), and then my hitherto good handle on the whole situation (which admittedly I had been managing pretty well, considering it’s a lot to bear) flew out the window.  I had to corral our whole group (who were splitting off in various directions, somewhat annoyingly – again I blame the alcohol!) into BSB on Corn Street, and then no matter how much I danced, smoke or drank, I couldn’t help but keep looking back at the two of them chatting in the corner.  In short, I was driving myself crazy, and Mike knew that I was really tense.  Apparently I said a couple of not-so-nice things about how little I trusted her (the drink talking, not that that’s an excuse), and I was dashing on and off the dancefloor and in and out of the club like a crazy person trying to keep my emotions and sanity in check, and then failing miserably.  I didn’t offend anyone, I didn’t do anything stupid or say anything revealing – I even managed to cover for the two of them when an observant Jenny remarked “how close they are… I wonder if they like each other?” (my reply – “Nah, we’re all just close friends” before linking my arm through Mike’s).  I am a good friend and my heart was and is in the right place.  But that night, my head was not.  More than my own envy or my own feelings, I wanted to be a good friend to Mike and stop him from doing anything he would regret in the long term.

At the end of the night me and Mike were walking back from dropping Jenny and her at the car park, and we had a little talk.  I was in a very bad mood, and it took me a while to work out why.  I called Mike to apologise for my mood, and he said it was ok, and I offered to explain what it was tomorrow.  First thing next morning, he texted me to ask how I was and why I had been feeling down.  I explained, he said I didn’t have anything to apologise for and not to worry or think so much. (For the record, “don’t think so much” is an astute but lousy piece of advice!!!)  I felt silly all weekend, but I thought that things were going to be ok and I was looking forward to seeing him on Monday.  Since I had his house key, I had arranged to give him that back.  Fast forward to Saturday night – Mike isn’t replying to my texts (this is unusual behaviour!), I was feeling fed up, caged at home, and decided to go out with Nick to a party and get drunk.  I had a fantastic time, and although I still had Mike at the back of my mind (or midway, maybe), it was whatever.  Life goes on.

Sunday I was in Starbucks working on my essay, when I get a call from Mike (after not replying to another text of mine telling him I had a crazy dream where we were both mercenaries undercover at an underground Nazi gathering led by Daniel Craig, except Mike was being hunted by the police for drug trafficking… yeah) to ask me if I was at home, and if I could give him his house key.  I had his key in my bag so I met him and his nephew Jack outside Harvey Nichols, handed it over (along with some tobacco, since I had run out of cigarettes on Friday night and smoked several of his rollies… it was also a little bit of an “apology offering”) and we had brief conversation.  Once again, everything seemed fine.  But then in the evening, we had texts which went unanswered, others which were answered and I just didn’t know where I stood.  Obviously I was overreacting, but nevertheless I couldn’t stop my own guilty feelings from colouring my judgement and thinking that I might have ruined our friendship.

Monday comes, I’m talking with Henna outside university when Mike rolls up.  He’s fine, but melancholy.  I apologised, we talked a lot about Friday, but things just weren’t the same.  He seemed glum, I was sad, and although we were talking and spending time together it just wasn’t the same. No innuendos, no physical contact, and at one point he thought I was in a piss with him (when I wasn’t!) and I explained what I was feeling and he said that “although I promised I’d never hit you, if you keep worrying then I will!”  Despite that, it was like our friendship was a shadow of its former self.  I texted him in the evening, but no reply once again.  I felt like I was being punished when I had apologised, been told there was nothing to apologise for and not to worry about it!  I felt like I really was a product of my mother’s emotional fuckery and my father’s control freakishness, and yet I couldn’t stop my brain from over-analysing every little thing (I apologise to Nick, Adam, Nana and everyone else I stressed out to over the past few days – y’all are so understanding and I really appreciate it.  Thankyou. 🙂 ).  I felt so down, that after everything our close friendship had been somehow ruined, that despite my ability to be truly honest with Mike about my deepest darkest secrets and tell him things I can’t remember telling anyone, he couldn’t come correct to me and tell me what the matter was.

This morning I waited for him at our usual block, on edge and feeling sorta upset.  We met up and went to the library, he apologised for not replying to my text (I pretended it was nothing) and the black cloud persisted for a while.  But I soon realised that it wasn’t to do with me – in fact, I was the only person he could spend time with but still be honest about his moods.  I didn’t press him, but I realised that his home situation was really getting him down.  I offered him reassurance, friendship and a hug where appropriate, and tried to give him space.  As the day went on, we perked up (despite the fact we were writing an essay!) and I felt finally reassured that I still had his friendship, and that I can’t be responsible for him always being in a good mood, or for him being down.  His being sad makes me feel sad for him, but however much I might drink on a night out or however much guilt I feel, I can’t hold myself responsible for his moods, no matter how good friends we end up being.  I learned that I really do take things too personally, that I can’t turn my brain or heart off however much it might be convenient sometimes, and that I can be someone’s best friend but I can’t stop them from making a mistake – all I can do is be there for them, give them space to breathe and a shoulder to lean on when they need it.  This weekend was an emotional rollercoaster for me, but it wasn’t without its lessons and I try to take that away from it.  Drinking and love doesn’t mix, and you can only hide your heart under a façade for so long before it nevertheless starts to chip. Now I’m repairing myself and we’re all taking a deep breath and gradually going back to normal, and that’s a relief.  But I promise not to forget what I’ve learned this weekend, and I appreciate (once again) my friendships so much.

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secrets (my first album.)

August 19, 2009

Tonight I want to share with you the first collection of songs that I completed between August 2006 and March 2007.  I was listening to the songs while wasting time at work, and I realised that before I debut my new material in the coming months, I wanted to take you through a history of my previous songs (don’t worry, there aren’t too many! 😉 )  I entitled my first album Secrets mainly because I was writing a song with the same title that ironically didn’t make it onto the album, but also because this album was the first attempt at my realising my own dream of creating a collection of songs that were “my little secrets”, as it were.  The sound of the album is sorta a combination of R&B meets dance via pop, and I’m glad to say that it is a long way away from the material that I create now (though a couple of the songs on the new album Quiet Storm do hark back to that sound).  The vocal production leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s only towards the end of the album (which were the last songs to be finished) that the songs begin to sound anywhere near polished. Nevertheless, I am so proud of these songs because they represent my first attempt at realising my dream of producing an album and being able to share it with the world, and it allowed me to get to grips with Garageband (the studio program on my mac, which is an application that I am still learning with every song).  And some of them aren’t so bad!  I hope that you enjoy the album, and I’ve provided a track-by-track ‘review’ with my thoughts behind the songs and the songwriting process.

DOWNLOAD SECRETS HERE: megaupload rapidshare zshare

Prophecy (Intro)
I wanted an intro to my album that was ominous and mysterious, so I liked the sitar-esque intrsuments.  The words are from the Book of Revelation, which makes it a direct copy of Madonna’s “The Beast Within”… but what the heck.  I thought it worked as an intro, I liked the idea of it being a “revelation” (because the album is called “Secrets”!), and I thought it led nicely into the pounding alien synths of the next track…

Reach Out
This is the “lead single” of the album, very club ready and the second song that I ever did.  Things I like about this song: the use of strings in an uptempo, the pounding bass and synths, the twinkling piano over the top, and the tongue-twisting chorus which proved to me that I write lyrics which are sometimes too hard to sing: “All my ladies in the club looking fly in your Moschino sexy sophisticated / All my boys ridin dirty flexin muscles flossin twenty” is a little bit more of a tongue-twister than I realised.  Things I should have improved: the chorus is in a slightly different key to the “just reach out just reach out” hook which comes after it!  Although I am certainly a singer before I am a rapper, the rap in the bridge is not my finest hour.  But I played the hell out of this on my ipod, and I was so proud so this song means a lot to me.

Confession (Prelude) / Checkin’
The prelude comes after I had just gotten into Joss Stone’s most recent album, Introducing Joss Stone, which used a lot of old-school instruments such as horns and live drums, so I was flirting with that old-school sound.  And then for “Checkin'”, I liked the contrast between the brassy horns in the prelude and then the cold, spiky electronic backing of the song itself.  In “Checkin'”, I actually combine those horns into the dance-feel of the song, and the beat changes several times throughout the song (particularly in the prechorus change to the chorus) which is something I feel makes the song fresh.  However, the vocal production on it leaves a little to be desired… So there are things I appreciate about the song, but also things that I wish I had polished a little more, once again.

My Man / I’m Coming (Interlude)
Again, this song has subdued vocals, and the somewhat restrained vocal production means that it fades into the beats a little too much.  This is one of the most R&B songs, and the straightforward ballad backing is something I think I did a really great job of.  The lyrics are also straightforward “keep your hands off my man”, but I turned it into a ballad rather than an uptempo, which is what usually goes along with a more fiery message.  The song is confident and was written a lot in the spirit of Monica’s “Sideline Ho” – you might be the one on the side, but I’m the main dude, so don’t even think of coming for me.  I like this one, and I wouldn’t mind doing another song with the same sort of music backing, just stronger vocal production (especially on the whispers, which are barely audible).

Respect Me
This is the first song I ever did!!! This brings back memories, I was sat on the sofa in the lounge, before I was due to go off to Spain, and I just started messing about with what sounded a little crazy on Garageband. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I made my vocals skip, and then I started playing with the different drum kits.  The crazy beat is a product of going “C D E F G A” on one of the kits, nothing more, nothing less!  The siren is stolen from Beyoncé’s “Ring The Alarm”, and I wanted the same kind of fiery approach to the vocals, without the screaming!  The vocals actually came out pretty good, so on some of the songs I did in between this one and the last two songs on the disc, I don’t know why I didn’t put so much effort into the vocal production.  The handclaps in the bridge are my very own handclaps, which is why they sound a bit fuzzy, but other than that, I feel that this song holds up fairly well compared to others on the disc.

Reverse
One of the things that annoys me about Garageband is that you actually can’t reverse any portion of any of the tracks.  Not vocals, not anything (if anyone knows a way to do it, please let me know!).  So instead I slowed my vocals down in the chorus; “strato-stratosphere!” More questionable rapping in the verses, but the vocal run in the first prechorus – “daaaaaaaaaaaaaaanger” – is one of my finest moments! (and yes, it is all me doing that! No special effects!)  The concept of the “tetris beat” is adapted from Gwen Stefani’s “Yummy”, featuring Pharrell.  The straightforward 4-4 beat, combined with the odd space-alien synth and hand-claps (not mine this time) served as a simple club-ish backing.  I also liked the idea of the ” count 1,2,3,4…” which broke the song after the first chorus and gains attention.  This song isn’t bad at all, but excluding the Latin piano in the bridge, I wish I had done more singing on it and less rapping/speaking.

Say Anything
I think I did a great job with this ballad, which I presume must have been inspired by Janet Jackson’s “Take Care” from her underrated 20YO album.  I was listening to this song in the store-room, and this and the final song (the next one) “Yur Boi” are by far the best songs on this cd.  It’s a sexy, slow ballad that goes beyond the physical to really express how I can relish a lover’s company, not only when we’re talking but even when we’re silent.  True communication goes beyond words… but I still ended the song with a poetic spoken-word coda.  The bassline shudders appropriately, and the finger-clicks accentuate the subtlety of the whole song.  I can imagine Aaliyah singing something like this, as well as Janet Jackson.  I look fondly back on this song, which I wrote in Spain along with…

Yur Boi
Originally, this song was meant to share the sound of Brooke Hogan’s “For A Moment” (which is referenced in the very last line of the song), but midway through my stay in Spain, I rediscovered Jaimeson’s garage-R&B album, and I was listening to “Complete” and decided to change the song so that it had more of a drum’n’bass feel, which ended the album on an unexpected note that drew away from both the R&B and dance elements that had come before.  The melody steals a bit from Beenie Man & Mýa’s “Girls Dem Sugar” (the part where she sings “If I could be your girl” is the little snippet I stole, though I rejigged the rhythm and everything so it’s not recognisable until you compare the songs side by side).  I also wanted the lyrics to tell a story that surprised the listener – the first half of the song gives the impression that I’m blissfully happy with my lover, when as the song transitions into its less beat-driven second-half, it transpires that I’m alone and missing that person terribly, wishing that I could live our love over again.  The dénouement was reflected by the musical changes, where the drum’n’bass beat was subdued in favour of an acoustic guitar loop, strings and the piano melody which was pushed to the forefront.  On a couple of songs on Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, I was impressed by the way that Justin transitioned between the principal club-ready mainstream song, and the more emotional, heartfelt coda that segued perfectly into what came before and after.  I’m thinking in particular of “Lovestoned / I Think She Knows” and “What Goes Around… / …Comes Around”.  So I sought to recreate that sort of transition.  I think that the song turned out great, and apart from a couple of production quirks, it sounds quite fresh and legit, even today.  This song and “Say Anything” I think are the two best songs on the album, as they sound slightly more polished and have thus held up better with time in comparison to my newer material.

Once again, I want to thank you for reading, taking all these different journeys with me.  Please download the album (let me know if I need to re-up any of the links), and rest assured there is more (and a lot better!!!) to come. I hope that you enjoy reading the descriptions along to the songs and that they shed light on where and what I get my inspiration from.  I also hope that you’ll listen to my new music and see just how much I have matured and how far I have come, both musically and as a person.  From the bottom of my heart, thankyou 🙂

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i cry real tears.

August 4, 2009

On my way home on the bus after a lovely day spent with Hannah and Nick, I suddenly felt tired and wanted nothing more than to be instantly wrapped up on the sofa.  With the rain flooding down the windows as I gazed out at the grey, overcast cityscape passing me by, I couldn’t help but feel that the weather echoed my inner sentiments.  As if, for all the nice chats and coffees and perfume I enjoyed today, I couldn’t escape my own sorrow, loneliness, fear and ennui – I could only subdue it and try to ignore it.  But with the rain coming down all around me, I could have started crying – not bursting into tears, but silently letting them fall from my eyes.

Why? I have a pretty good life, and I had had a nice day.  But I guess that being on my own, in the middle of a crowded bus (the windows steamed up by our collective body heat) with nobody to talk to and my ipod drowning out everything, surrounded by anonymous faces and anonymous rain, the solitude just got to me.  I’ve fallen for somebody real bad, and it’s crazy because right now, I can’t think of anything better than escaping my life and running away to another country, learning another language and living a completely different life.  Obviously I’m not going to do this, but I can’t help but imagine what it would be like, and how happy I could be if we really did fall in love with one another.  I’m wrapped up in a fantasy and it’s so sweet, it makes reality all the more bitter in comparison.  And I’m wrapped in his cologne (Opium Pour Homme) so that I always feel it on me, and it’s torture because it smells so good and yet he’s not there.  I’ve met the guy once (though we talk most days) and I’ve gone utterly crazy.  Rationale literally out of the window.

I have a ridiculous amount of music on my iPod, and at times like this I can’t help but pick songs that echo my mood, or lyrics that echo my situation.  My current choices range between optimistic and heartrending: Blu Cantrell – “I Can’t Believe“, Mariah Carey – “The Beautiful Ones“, Shontelle – “T-Shirt“, Toni Braxton – “Spanish Guitar” & “I Don’t Want To“, The-Dream, “H.A.T.E. U” are the examples which come to mind.  Of course, tugging at my heartstrings doesn’t make me feel any better or enable me to forget my situation, but instead keeps me moping, though at least I am moping to a good soundtrack!

Anyway, I didn’t cry.  I am not the kind of person who would break down in public (I don’t like looking imperfect, even sweating in public, so tears are out of the question – I do my utmost to keep my façade weakness-free), and I’m not the kind of person who breaks down even in private.  Ever since I was a kid, I was taught to keep my emotions inside so that nobody can see your weaknesses (particularly when my dad would try to upset me with the goal of making me cry, my mother taught me not to give him the satisfaction).  So even during trying times, I try to suppress any extremity of emotion in public, and take deep breaths and clench my fists and just get on with things.  After all, the quicker it’s over, the quicker it’s done.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to cry.  I believe in the cathartic power of tears, and once you’ve cried your eyes and your heart out, there’s nowhere left to go but to start healing yourself and picking yourself back up.  Although they make your eyes puffy and swollen, and seem to bring out dark red freckles around my cheekbones (lucky me), tears do serve a purpose – they let you acknowledge your sadness and express it and move on.  Sometimes, my restraint from expressing my sadness even privately means that it festers, whereas if I could just let myself go and cry, maybe I’d move on a little quicker.  Who knows – that’s just the kind of person I have come to be, it’s probably to late to do anything about it now.

Yet I disagree with the widely-held belief that “boys don’t cry”.  They just don’t let anyone know that they cry.  There are a lot of secrets kept between the sexes that I think stop us from understanding one another and feeling close to one another.  Of course people are going to think that men and women are from different planets; that’s the way we live our lives.  The machismo the boys don’t cry does stem from the fact that crying supposedly signals weakness, and men must never appear weak.  But why is it ok for women to be weak, in that case?  Everybody gets weak sometimes (even though nobody talks about it, we all know it’s true) and in that weakness, the best thing we can do is to seek strength from others.  But (and I am particularly guilty of this), seeking strength and asking for help once again points out our weaknesses to other people and we are too proud / afraid to bare ourselves in this way.  So we cover it up.  But I think that to make it a gender thing (Fergie made things no better with her song “Big Girls Don’t Cry” – boys cry, men cry, big girls cry, petite girls cry, grown women cry, transexuals cry.  Everybody cries.) is just stupid – tears are universal.

Babies cry for attention.  Adults rebel against this because when we cry, we don’t want anyone to know – bringing attention to ourselves is the last thing on our minds.  Crying is a secret rebellion against maintaining that all-important appearance of teflon perfection.  I don’t cry (films never get to me – the right music is usually the closest thing to bring me to the brink) very often at all, but sometimes – like today – there is an evocative feeling in my heart, and I don’t know what to do with it.  And though, despite everything, I am not comfortable with letting my tears fall in public, it’s as pure an expression of hurt and longing as you’re gonna get.  And wrapped in this cologne, my longing aches just that little bit sweeter.