At least there aren’t any kittens.
Posts Tagged ‘Owl City’
Victorious Cast featuring Victoria Justice—”I Want You Back”
This is pure karaoke—the only thing that sounds different from the original is the vocals—but it’s a world away from Glee or the worst of American Idol. Still, it’s a well-crafted curiosity and nothing more. It helps that Justice doesn’t try to do Michael Jackson. More and more, in fact, she reminds me of Katrina Leskanich. I await her version of “Walking On Sunshine”.
Darius Rucker—”I Got Nothin’”
After the warm and sleep-inducing paeans to family life on Rucker’s last album, the bleak desolation of this record comes as a surprise. What may be even more surprising is the way Rucker sings it: there isn’t a trace of country phrasing. If anything, he sounds like a grunge singer dabbling in a different genre (if you ever wanted to hear Eddie Vedder sing country, this may be as close as you get). Not a great record, but better than I would have expected.
David Nail—”Let It Rain”
One of the things that makes country so fascinating right now is the sense of growing stylistic openness; more and more it sounds as if they’re willing to try anything. This may be desperation in the face of imploding sales, but it may also have to do with the broadening of the country audience not just beyond the south (which has been going on for decades), but from a rural and suburban base to one more urban. So now you get more traces of urban styles, even touches of hip-hop and urban soul, besides the obvious blues, southern rock, and easy-listening pop. This record, good but not great, features pumping organ as it’s rhythmic base, along with background vocals that suggest both black gospel and the sophistication of Fleetwood Mac, plus the unfortunately de rigueur power ballad climax (when is someone in country going to fight the loudness epidemic? they, of all genres, should be leading the charge). It doesn’t veer far from the basics, especially in the vocals, but it’s enough to make it sound fresh, and to make you wonder just where country is going to be a few years from now.
Skrillex—”Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”
The sound of an early-twenties DJ/producer with a love of not only techno but heavy metal, playing at fun and games in the studio (or on his laptop). In other words, nerd music, but with a twist. It’s no surprise when near the end the relatively unfiltered vocals sound as wimpy and wan as Death Cab for Cutie or Owl City, but Skrillex isn’t interested in emphasizing his sensitive side, he’s into creating alter egos that reflect multiple aspects of his personality, even the nasty ones that aren’t that pleasant to listen to. Right now the dichotomy is obvious, jarring, and somewhat off-putting; if he should ever manage a synthesis, though, he could be something.
Tech N9ne, F/D-Loc, Twista, Busta Rhymes, Ceza, Jl B. Hood, Twisted Insane, Uso & Yelawolf—”Worldwide Choppers”
An entire single devoted to Busta Rhymes’ machine gun flow. No surprise that the only one who comes across is Busta himself, though in a few places this starts to sound more like Dizzee Rascal. Mostly, though, it’s an incomprehensible novelty.
Jamie Foxx featuring Wiz Khalifa—”Best Night Of My Life”
Foxx likes to keep on top of trends, or at least trendy rappers, so he picks up on Khalifa, who sounds almost as anonymous as Foxx himself. The result is a record that disappears from memory while you listen to it.
The unsettling beat goes perfectly with the unsettling message, which suggests that plasticized, emotionless sex and beauty are as irresistable as they are numbing. It’s the same idea Lil Wayne has been dancing around lately, except Ocean has found music to match. What Ocean lacks is Wayne’s sense of guilt and despair, maybe even lust, along with any apparent sympathy for the woman. So while I like this a lot, it doesn’t go as far as it could, or should.
Immediately identifiable as a one man project—those pizzicato string samples are the tip-off—and as pretentious as you might expect from an album called Megalithic Symphony. Striking in its way, but also ridiculous, not to mention self-absorbed. It’s like Owl City for prog-rockers.
Chester See, KevJumba, Ryan Higa—”Nice Guys”
It starts out sounding like a comedy record, and maybe it is, but it quickly turns nasty, and then falsely sincere, and ends up the most misogynistic single of the year (to make the singles charts, at least). Yuck.
Owl City featuring Shawn Chrystopher—”Alligator Sky”
Shawn’s Chrystopher’s B.o.B. impersonation does a good job of beefing up Owl City’s usual wimpiness, and the music sounds tougher and more strenuous. The lyrics are the same old fluffy nonsense, though—I can buy the title as a description of a certain kind of cloud-studded sky, but I have no idea what that image actually signifies—and Adam Young’s vocals simper even more than usual. He sounds like a text-to-speech sample, only with less humanity.
Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo, AfroJack & Nayer—”Give Me Everything”
Overwrought and underwritten, this record represents a low point for everyone involved, including AfroJack and Nayer, neither of whom I’ve ever heard of. Ne-Yo, who’s been having a lousy year, at least in commercial terms, provides the dullest hook I’ve ever heard from him. Pitbull, meanwhile, who’s been having an incredible year, sounds exhausted, almost burnt out, and the charming subtlety of his voice turns into a raspy, demanding car horn. Time for everybody to take a vacation.
Brad Paisley featuring Alabama—”Old Alabama”
Leave it to Paisley to create a tribute track that far outstrips the people he’s supposedly paying tribute to. The worst moment of this record, in fact, the point where it turns from realistic country lust into sweet and sticky sentimentality, is when it’s namesakes make their appearance. Fortunately Paisley ignores them, turns up the tempo, and goes out on a high speed hoedown that outstrips not just Alabama, but everybody else in the business as well. It’s rude of Paisley to show up his elders like that, but since he only tolerates them so he can get laid, can you really blame him?
Reba—”If I Were a Boy”
A terrible mistake, not because Reba can’t do justice to the song, but because it’s too young for her (it’s too young for Beyonce, as well, but not by so much that she can’t get away with it). You can hear the age and experience in Reba’s voice, and it’s impossible to believe that someone at that level of maturity would think about men in this way. She sounds like a cougar bemoaning the unfaithfulness of a younger man, which is an image too unwholesome to take pleasure in or evoke much in the way of sympathy. It is, in fact, kind of icky, especially with Reba attached to it. I never thought this was a particularly great song to begin with, but coming from Reba it seems bizarre.
“Empire State of Mind”, #21
“What I Did For Love”, #51
Yet another “I Gotta Feeling” rip, only this time not from someone directly associated with the original record, which is a relief. Akon’s voice may have changed, but his gift for hooks remains, and here he strings enough together to make for a bearable dance record. My only question is whether this is intended as a tribute to Lady GaGa, who has guaranteed Akon a comfortable living even if he never has another hit. Maybe he should just go into promotion and forget this whole making records business. He wouldn’t be the first.
Update: Whoops, there I go forgetting to check the credits again. This was produced by David Guetta, so just ignore that first sentence.
Catchier than their previous records off the new album, but in its own way just as stiff and claustrophobia inducing. Their clockwork groove is like a wall they build between the music and whatever emotion is supposedly generating it. Which means they’re either trying too hard or are too tasteful to get really funky. Working with a producer other than the tireless careerist Robert John Lange might help.
A few years ago, Jesse McCartney was the equivalent of Justin Bieber, only with a little more funk and without the hordes of screaming girls. Now he seems to be in limbo. His voice has matured, but his material still has a teenage quality to it (doesn’t everybody’s?) that doesn’t quite match with his voice. I like the telephone gimmick leading into the chorus, and this is catchy and almost funky enough to get by, but the song’s slightly Bieberish quality throws me off. He’s like a solo version of Maroon 5: his heart is in the right place, but his music is too stiff to catch up.
Diddy – Dirty Money featuring Drake—”Loving You No More”
This goes down smooth and easy in the background, but like most muzak, once you get up close you notice how barren it is. And that’s even before Drake clears his throat and starts to rap.
Mike Posner—”Please Don’t Go”
Pleasant but forgettable, which is a step up from his last record, which was brainless (often mistaken for pleasant) and irritating. I like the random electronics on the last verse, but the rest of it is sap. With guys like Posner and Owl City on the scene, the hipness quotient of electronic music is going to nosedive fast, if it hasn’t already.
Zac Brown Band featuring Jimmy Buffett—”Knee Deep”
When Zac Brown sings by himself, he sounds like James Taylor. When he sings with Alan Jackson, he sounds like Alan Jackson. Guess who he sounds like now? And no, despite the presence of the original inspiration, this is not as good as “Toes”.
Bon Jovi—”What Do You Got?”
Ann Powers swears that Bon Jovi is a great arena band, and though I’ve never thought of that as a distinct genre, I’m willing to take her word on it. All the same, should I ever find myself in an arena with Bon Jovi, this song is when I would seize the opportunity to find a bathroom.
Maroon 5 with Lady Antebellum—”Out of Goodbyes”
Apparently anyone who comes in contact with Lady Antebellum turns immediately into another version of Fleetwood Mac, and though the voices don’t blend as magically as Buckingham’s and McVie’s, this has its moments (the line about the “storm brewing in his eyes” is perfectly set). But moments is all it has, and though the playing is as precise as you’d expect, Fleetwood Mac was both precise and passionate, and that makes all the difference.
David Guetta featuring Kid Cudi—”Memories”
Never, ever listen to a song called “Memories”. It’s guaranteed to be sentimental, even when it comes on with garish, hard-edged dance beats and features a vocalist who sounds like he’s coked himself hoarse. In fact, that might be even worse.
Bruno Mars featuring Damian Marley—”Liquor Store Blues”
This doesn’t work, largely because Mars’s overdeveloped pop instinct undercuts whatever sense of “the blues” he may possess, but I’m fascinated by his attempts to show a serious side, or at least some sort of social conscious (this, “Billionaire”, maybe even “Fuck You”). It’s not the sort of thing you find in most masters of lighthearted melodic hooks, and it suggest that if he can ever manage to balance the two, he could become a major artist, instead of just a highly successful one.
I don’t think much of Owl City’s music, but after reading this brief profile in the New York Times I’m beginning to feel sorry for one-man-band Adam Young. He’s about to get royally screwed and he doesn’t seem to realize it. He sounds as naive as his records. Even Avery Lipman, the co-president of his label, Universal Republic, admits as much. This is what he says about their first business meeting:
“It was the most bizarre meeting I’ve ever had,” Mr. Lipman said. “I actually had to discuss and explain the record business 101. I had to explain to him what a record company is, the need for a lawyer, a manager, a booking agent. It was actually kind of tough.”
Which didn’t stop him, of course, from finding Young a manager (a fairly inexperienced one by the sound of it), signing him to a long-term contract, and waging a stealth campaign to make it look like Owl City wasn’t signed to a label at all. I have a feeling that it won’t be long before Young is living in his parent’s basement again.
“Sweet Caroline”, #34
“Bust A Move”, #93
The cover of Neil Diamond’s hoary old chestnut does a pretty good job of puncturing Diamond’s self-importance, if only because the singer is incapable of the sort chest thumping fullness of voice that Diamond was born to. But as to whether the joke was intentional or not, I have no idea. As for “Bust A Move”, it’s their most surprising cover yet, but it’s also easy, and stinks of demographic as opposed to satiric or comic intentions. I mean, if they really wanted to play against their white bread atmosphere, why not “Mama Said Knock You Out” or “Fight The Power”?
Adam Lambert—”Time for Miracles”
As ghastly as every other movie soundtrack ballad, only, as befits a movie about the end of the world, even more over-the-top. I would love to know who’s responsible for the string arrangement, which hovers between mindless overkill and stunning self-parody.
Snoop Dogg featuring The-Dream—”Gangsta Luv”
I was expecting this to be another of Snoop’s biennial greats like “Drop It Like It’s Hot” or “Sensual Seduction”. Instead it’s a very ordinary jam from The-Dream (who’s become almost as bereft of ideas as Jermaine Dupri), with Snoop sounding even sleepier than usual. He really doesn’t care, anymore, does he?
Tim McGraw—”Southern Voice”
Another country list song, distinguished only by the weirdness of its choices: the first verse starts naturally enough with Hank Williams, and then moves through Hank’s grandson to Chuck Berry, William Faulkner, Aretha (not from the south, but what the hell), Dolly, and Rosa Parks before ending with Scarlet O’Hara. Although he namechecks “Hickory Wind” he doesn’t mention Graham Parsons by name, and he makes sure to keep his Christian audience on board by mentioning his gold cross and ending the list with Billy Graham. He manages to sneak Pocahantas on there, as well. This may set some sort of record for how many demographics can be genuflected to in a single song.
T-Pain—”Take Your Shirt Off”
I was put off by this at first—I generally prefer my T-Pain more subtle (as subtle as he gets, anyway), and this struck me as a mindless Lil Jon knock-off. Except Lil Jon never managed tracks as frenetic or musically complicated as this, and though he can get ruder he’s isn’t any funnier. Where crunk jumped up and down in place, this motivates forward at high speed, stops and jumps up and down, and then motivates again. As party music it’s just about perfect, and party music seems to be all that anyone wants these days.
Trey Songz featuring Drake—”I Invented Sex”
In overall tone, this follows along in the tradition of “Bed” and “Birthday Sex”, only this is more sophisticated and less funny, and also, to my ears at least, a lot sexier. This version, featuring Drake, tops Drake’s version, featuring Trey Songz. Songz voice has just the right vulnerable, self-effacing quality to get over, whereas Drake sounds a little full of himself, a bit crass. Even on a song as excellent as this, I like him less everytime I hear him.
Carrie Underwood—”Temporary Home”
This is why a lot of people hate country music—sticky and sentimental, with a religious message tacked onto the end that, instead of adding a level of hope, cheapens the suffering of the characters in the song. Come to think of it, this is why a lot of people hate religion, too.
Owl City—”Vanilla Twilight”
If this isn’t the vanishing point that indie infantilism has been moving toward these last few years then I’m Winnie the Pooh and his jar of honey too. “Pour me a cup of atmosphere”, the singer (who’s also the band) whimpers in a voice that would make any intelligent five year old squeamish, and you’ll excuse me for wishing he’d choke on it. And from what I’ve heard, all the indie crowd, when faced with such damning evidence of the hole they’ve been digging themselves the last few years, can come up with in way of defense is “He’s just ripping off The Postal Service.” Exactly.
Darius Rucker—”History In the Making”
I appreciate Rucker because unlike most male country singers he doesn’t waste a lot of time whooping it up and overplaying his love of God and country or treat his voice like some sort of icon whose every shift of timbre and craggy intonation is designed to make women quake in their Daisy Dukes and cowboy boots. He’s just an ordinary guy singing about ordinary things in an at times very ordinary way. He’s nothing to get excited about, but he isn’t an irritant, either. If that sometimes makes him dull, as it does here, then so be it.
I’m unsure what to make of this record. Even if you assume it’s meant as a metaphor for abusive relationships, on first listen the song is as terrifying as it was no doubt intended to be, metaphor or no. But on repeated listening the effect not only lessens, which is to be expected, but drains away almost completely. The problem, as always, is Rihanna’s voice, which conveys no real feeling or emotion—she barely sounds as if she has a life to lose. That could be part of the point, I suppose, but it creates a distance in the song that becomes impossible to breach and ultimately deprives it of any meaningful impact. And impact, I think, was exactly what she was looking for.
Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews—”I’m Alive”
It’s anyone’s guess as to who came up with the Beatlesish feel of this record—it sounds like a mash-up of “Dear Prudence” and “Mother Nature’s Son”—but whether it was Chesney or Matthews, it’s the only thing that’s interesting about it. Since it’s technically Chesney’s record, though, he gets to stick Matthews with the biggest cliche: “Today is the first day of the rest of my life”. Not that the song isn’t one long cliche already.
There’s a hint—just a hint mind you—that this is intended as satire, that these guys aren’t really the sexist assholes they present themselves as, but are actually making fun of such people. They’re often described as a comedy act, after all. But like Lady GaGa’s The Fame, it’s hard to make a distinction between the act and the actor, and even if you could it wouldn’t make the music, which in its blaring boorishness is even more insulting than the lyrics, any better. Whether this is a sign of something new or the final gasp of the old is hard to say. To me, though, it sounds like an exhausted culture slapping itself to stay awake.
This isn’t bad, but from the emphasis on the singer’s Jamaican accent to the hints of romantic naivete in the lyrics it’s so obviously producer J.R. Rotem’s attempt to create another Sean Kingston that the whole record starts to sound forced. Not as forced as Kingston’s own attempts to keep his career alive, but close.
With it’s affected simplicity and dreamy lyric that buzzes in endless circles around itself and goes nowhere, this is like a musical version of a children’s book intended to lull the little tykes to sleep. Except it appears to be a love song, since there’s more than one person in the bed. Do bands that send confusing mixed signals like this think they’re being profound somehow? Or are they just too lazy, or too dumb, or too full of themselves, to make sense? I suspect it’s all of the above.
I generally like Sugarland’s lower-key sound—they don’t blast you the way so many country bands do, even on their uptempo songs—but this is bland and lifeless. So much so that it’s impossible to figure out exactly what’s going on. Is Joey dead? Dying? Late back from a trip to the grocery store? The lyrics don’t fill in the details, and the music doesn’t provide a clue. The inspiration seems to have stopped after providing the missing Joey a not very musical name. Is this about a real person? That would make the blandness even less explicable. Am I overthinking this song? Probably. But that’s better than barely thinking about it at all but releasing it anyway, which seems to be what Sugarland has done.