Song Discovery

Q.U.E.E.N (ft. Erykah Badu) by Janelle Monae

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Janelle has been in the music scene since 2005. She was featured on a few songs by OutKast on their “Idlewild” CD. OutKast member BigBoi liked her so much that he told P.Diddy about her, and then Diddy went on to check her out and wound up signing her to his label. Monae has put out 2 proper albums and her newest album (Electric Lady) is getting ready to drop later this year. This song is the first single off of her new album. Some of you may know her name thanks to the fun song “Some Nights” where she is featured near the end of the tune. Others of you may know her from her break out song “Tight Rope,” which kinda put her on the map in the world of R&B. The song I’m reviewing today is probably one of my favorite songs of hers. The moment i heard this song i was in love with the beat. The whole vibe of the song has a very ‘funk’ feel to it. Monae doesn’t sing on the track, but instead has more of a spoken word type of flow. The best part of the song is at about the 4 minute mark when the horns really come in to the track, and Monae is set to rap a little bit. She has a very steady flow and honestly, I didn’t feel like the rap was out of place on the track. The rap flowed nicely with the funk style that the song is engrossed in.

Doin’ It Right by Daft Punk

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The Parisian duo known as Daft Punk actually first formed back in 1992. The “robots” are DJs Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. With the release of only three single, the duo started a bidding war in 1996, eventually signing with Virgin. They released their debut album “Homework” the following year. The DJs’ sound was a blend of house, techno, funk and electro, with a mild touch of hip hop. It was and still is anthemic dance music. They experienced a lot of success (in their genre) and their follow-up was eagerly awaited. Four years later, they released “Discovery” in 2001, which I still think is their definitive album. Four years after that “Human After All” came out (a letdown, but anything was bound to be a letdown after “Discovery”. The duo put together an astonishing live show (by DJ standards), which led to the release of “Alive 2007”. A ‘live” album from DJs you’re probably wondering? But it works, and works very well. They did a great job mashing some of their songs together and had a state of the art light show to go with it. They did the soundtrack for the movie “Tron: Legacy” in 2010 and now in 2013, have released their fourth proper studio album “Random Access Memories”. Based on the success of their live show, Daft Punk has grown so much bigger than they were when they released their third album. People are even paying good money for homemade reproductions of the duo’s robot helmets that are sold online. The band has really changed things up with their new release. It’s a full-blown disco tribute, bringing you back to that era and sound in a major way. They used Nile Rodgers on guitar on several tracks (you may know him from Chic – “Good Times” & “Le Freak”) and Giorgio Moroder was also a “collaborator”. Another thing the band did was go out of their way to use live musicians instead of the synthesizers they had previously based their sound on. So instead of digital string sounds, you hear an orchestra actually playing the music. The album was painstakingly recorded and sounds simply incredible. Unfortunately, this will be lost on the overwhelming majority of listeners unless you’re listening on a nice stereo system or possible a high-end pair of headphones (and no, Beats by Dre don’t qualify there). Daft Punk pulled in many others to collaborate with on this album in addition to Rodgers and Moroder, including Pharrell Williams, Paul Williams, Todd Edwards, Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) and Panda Bear (Animal Collective).

I’m featuring the track “Doin’ It Right” that features Panda Bear on vocals, because it is most like their older material. I’m still wrapping my arms around this disco homage they’ve crafted, so hearing something more familiar immediately registered with me. “Get Lucky” is also a great track, but you’ve probably been living in a cave for the past month+ if you haven’t heard that song yet. “Doin’ It Right” kicks off with their trademark heavily synthesized vocals chanting the mantra “Doin’ it right everybody will be dancing, and we’re feeling it right, everybody will be dancing and be doin’ it right, everybody will be dancing when you’re feeling alright, everybody will be dancing”. They slowly layer a beat behind this, along with some other sounds and tempo changes. Then Panda Bear’s vocals start-up, contrasting nicely with the robotic mantra in the background. This was the sound that first drew me in to these guys. If you enjoy this track and don’t own a copy of “Discovery”, you should go download that album tonight.

& It Was U by How to Dress Well

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All I can say is that guy is seriously impressive. His name is Tom Krell and he was born in Chicago. Currently he is receiving his PHD in philosophy in Germany. Back in 2009 he started putting out free EPs online to get his music heard. In 2010 he released his first album, entitled ‘Love Remains.’ This album had some great tracks on it and really reminded me of the type of R&B you would hear in the 90’s (Shai, Mint Condition, Janet Jackson). I was eager to see what new stuff he would come up with, and in September of last year he dropped his second album ‘Total Loss.’ He definitely didn’t disappoint with his follow up album. & It Was U is by far my favorite song out of the two albums. What I love most about this song is the tempo change; the song starts off very melodic with just his voice and finger snapping, then at about the 1:30 mark he brings in a steady drum beat that he plays around with until the song ends. He also brings in some nice harmonizing of his voice, which he clearly loops to add a feathery content to the song. If you like this track, I’d recommend checking out more of his work.

Purple Yellow Red and Blue by Portugal. The Man

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Purple Yellow Red and Blue starts off with a simple mechanical beat and synth line, before the distorted vocals kick in, followed by some dominant percussion coming into the mix. This song is very catchy, probably one of the most straightforward songs on the album. Gourley nails his lyrics once again, especially in the first verse with “When I grow up I wanna be, A movie star or on TV, Cuz workin’ just don’t work for me”. Danger Mouse adds some nice effects throughout the song with synthesizers and also distorting the vocals, which keeps the track interesting as it unfolds. It’s just over 4 minutes long, but feels like 2 minutes.

Get Free by DJ Diplo’s Project Major Lazer

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Major Lazer isn’t actually a group or an artist, it’s actually a musical project by the DJ Diplo. You might not be aware, but Diplo has produced a lot of songs for number one artists, including M.I.A, Beyonce, Usher, and No Doubt. He first started the project back in 2009 with another DJ named Switch. They wanted to create an album that encompassed the lifestyle of a Jamaican dance hall. Together they dropped one proper album and a few mix tapes before parting ways in early 2012. The musical project is now composed of Diplo and DJ Jillionaire & Walshy Fire. The second album, ‘Free the Universe,’ was released this April and the song I provided comes from their 2nd album. This song has a very island feel to it, thanks in part to the drum beat that hangs out in the background of the whole track. My favorite portion of the song is singer’s voice (Amber). She comes from the group ‘Dirty Projectors.’ There’s something very captivating about her voice to me. You can definitely hear Diplo’s influence on the song with a few of the more electronic snippets that fade in and out of the song. Overall I think it’s a very smooth track, outside of the last 5/6 secs of the song where it is clearly fading into another track.

Atomic Man by Portugal. The Man

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“Atomic Man” starts off with a stomping beat and a nice fuzzy guitar riff. The chorus really sticks on this song “After you, I don’t know what I believe in. After you, hell should be easy.” There are some very nice production touches on this song, some background singing and some of the guitar lines that flit in and out throughout the track. Towards the end of the song, they slow it up during the chorus and break it down with just a piano and a simple beat providing the musical background. This leads to the eventual end which slows down comically by the end, a nice production touch.

Creep In A T-Shirt by Portugal. The Man

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Portugal. The Man formed in Alaska and released their first album back in 2006. They’re prolific having recently released their 9th album (you can do the math). The band has an eclectic sound drawing from many influences but staying much truer to the alternative genre than most bands on their label. They’ve also had many line-up changes over the years. With their new album “Evil Friends”, Portugal. The Man made their most significant adjustment to date by working with producer and collaborator Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, whose credits include The Black Keys and Beck, while also being a member of Broken Bells, Danger Doom and Gnarls Barkley. Burton has done an incredible job working with Portugal. The Man and their sound is much more focused and accessible now. They are still very distinctive, but this new album should greatly broaden their fan base. The band was so eager to work with Burton, that when the opportunity became available, they scrapped two weeks of recording and dropped 8/10 songs they had completed for their new album. They relocated from a studio in El Paso to join Burton in Los Angeles. Burton shares songwriting credits on every track with the band.

There are so many highlights on the new album, that I had jotted down over half of the 12 songs as possible inclusions to write about. I’m beginning with the second track on the album, and maybe the catchiest, “Creep In A T-Shirt”. The tune starts off with a driving beat and great keyboard riff, and Then John Gourley’s slightly distorted falsetto vocals come in, and it’s off. The chorus has nice background vocals and some well-placed horns to add some punch. Danger Mouse’s touches are all over this track. It’s high energy and a lot of fun. I also like the opening lyrics – “I’m sorry Mr. Policeman, If I wanted to talk I would have called a friend”. 

Fragments in Time by Daft Punk ft. Todd Edwards

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First off, I have to give a shout out to a new coworker of mine named Juan who turned me on to this CD.  Since I picked it up it has been in constant rotation in my car and on my iPod.  I must say, this whole album is enjoyable from start to finish. As I’m sure most of you know, Daft Punk has been a forced to be reckoned with in the House music industry for quite some time now.  These guys hail from France and have been making music together since 1993; oddly enough, they have said that they were heavily influenced by The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones.  The group has produced 6 albums in total; 4 proper albums, 1 live album and 1 soundtrack (Tron: Legacy). I have been a fan of many of their singles, such as “One More Time, Robot Rock, Around the World and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” but I had never listened to an album through its entirety until this week.  What I heard I loved. It’s not very often that I can listen to a house album without skipping any tracks, but this album did not disappoint.  The song I have selected for today’s review comes from their most recent release “Random Access Memories.”  I love this track in large part thanks to the vocals from Todd Edwards, but I have to say that the musical arrangement is what lets Todd’s voice really shine through on the track.  The intricate mixing of the melody that his voice carries, along with the electronic beat that brings in live guitar and live drums is a masterpiece. Every time I hear this song, I can’t help the smile that comes across my face and my feet immediately start tapping to the beat. Enjoy!

The Third Annual California Music Industry Summit

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The third annual California Music Industry Summit took place at Laney College on June 8-9th. I couldn’t speak for how many people showed up on the first day, but when I made the trek to Oakland on its second day, I found myself pretty damn amazed by the turn out upon arrival. However, it was not surprising to see so many people attending such an event. The aim of CMIS is to introduce everyone to the world of the music industry by setting up a series of panels that covered just about every position in the industry that you could think of. The panels were hosted by actual professionals whom were well learned in their topics, which truly did show with each panel. The people attending event ranged from artists and band managers to reporters and unsigned musicians who just wanted to learn a little bit more about the industry. It was evident that everyone here was very serious about their pursuit of getting their foot in the door, but spirits were also very high at the same time. But when you bring together hundreds of music lovers within the same conference, it’s damn near impossible to agitate tension. Frankly, it was the exact opposite, standing in the middle of that campus with all of these people I didn’t know. We were all just eager to learn what CMIS had to offer. Read More