Tag Archives: ambition

Song of the Day: Midnight

New Coldplay single…

…thoughts?

I am digging it. More than anything they’ve put out in a while, actually. It’s got a very dreamy, ambient pop feel to it.

Ambient pop has been having a moment for a while now — as well it should, because who doesn’t want to pretend that life is just a pretty, pretty dream? Oh, you prefer reality, do you? Not I.

coldplay

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Song of the Day: Time to Move On

Somebody said “Time to move on” to me today and it immediately made me think of one of my favorite songs of all time:

The thing that I love about this song is that whenever I hear it, it conjures up a crystal clear image for me. Right from the opening bars, I see a car traveling along a highway in the very early light of dawn. The highway traverses open fields and farmlands. The car’s passengers are on the way to the airport. This reminds me of being a little kid and leaving very early, sometimes while it was still dark, to get on a plane and travel somewhere far away. Even as a small child I loved those moments in time — the excitement and the adventure of an impending, unknown voyage.

“What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing…”


Song of the Day: True Blue

You guys, I despair. I despair at what Madonna has done to her face:

madonna

Madonna at the 2014 Grammys

This is not a knock on Madonna in general. Even though she’s not my favorite artist of all time, there’s much to admire about this lady. She was an absolute trendsetter and a ground breaker at the the start of her career. Madonna paved the way for many a female pop star, from Britney to Lady Gaga to Katy Perry. And let’s face it, she is (or, was) better than all of them. Her moves were great, her look was fantastic, and her attitude was fucking awesome. I’m talking way early on – the ‘struggling artist in early ’80s New York’ era, the ‘Like a Virgin’ era…back when Madonna was young, and confident, and snarky, and superior, and all of that was okay because had the goods to back it up. That Madonna excelled at pushing boundaries and being way ahead of the curve, armed only with a cheeky, unapologetic, in-your-face demeanor.

Nowadays, the most in-your-face thing about her is what’s going on with her face. And that’s the thing – this Madonna, who seems so desperate to hold onto her youth (for why else would she be doing this?), does not seem unapologetic at all. It seems like she’s forgotten who she is – a woman who rose to the upper echelons of the music industry on the basis of stringent hard work and an incredible amount of chutzpah (I mean let’s face, it, she doesn’t have the greatest voice of all time). She had that ineffable quality — that ‘It’ factor — to a degree that makes other female artists who have come after her pale in comparison.

My favorite Madonna tracks continue to be the ones from her early career, and particularly from 1986’s True Blue. This record contained not only gems such as ‘Papa Don’t Preach’, ‘Live to Tell’, and ‘La Isla Bonita’, but also what is surely one of pop music’s poppiest songs of all time, ‘True Blue’. This track is the ultimate in bubblegum brilliance, deceptive in its simplicity (much like the Archies 1969 hit ‘Sugar Sugar’). And I absolutely adore the video – pure, campy fun (and featuring Debi Mazar!) Enjoy:


Don’t You Want Me – The Human League

the human league

Pop ephemera? Yes. But I would guess you’ve heard this song at least within the last year, probably the last 6 months, or if you ever go within spitting distance of the depressingly recent-seeming ‘classic’ radio stations spraying 70’s, 80’s and 90’s hits 24/7 – probably within the last week.

Why? What has kept this seemingly innocuous song about a break-up in the pop culture heavens? I re-heard this song recently on my iPod and it became more clear – to me anyway.

First is the beat. It is metronomic, icily detached, and perfect. The bass drum lands with a decisive thud each, and, every, time. Twittery blips of a synth march in syncopated lockstep with artificial 16th notes played on a phantom hi-hat cymbal. It’s clear there is no living, breathing drummer behind this beat and that matters. More on that soon.

Then come the bass-y, waver-y, futuristic synths. Anything synthesized is (of course) synthetic, and therefore ‘not real’, and therefore distanced from feeling or, in this case, caring. I would argue that a structure is being put in place by the mechanized beat and technologically potent synths that foretell the doomed future of this relationship. This is all business. Manufactured soul. Groovy but calculating. Like her.

This song’s lyrics basically consist of a he said/she said, back-and-forth dispute over ‘what happened’ between two former lovers in what seems like letters, or maybe voicemails, which at the time would have been cutting edge.

He begins: ‘You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar / when I found you’. Ah. You found her did you? Well, we’ll see what she has to say about that. He continues to describe how her success was surely a result of his own Machiavellian maneuvers behind the scenes in the cutthroat music industry. It appears however that these efforts have been lavished upon an ungrateful heart, as the first verse concludes with a chilling final sentence, if not outright threat:

I picked you out, I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We haven’t even heard her response yet, and already we are sensing his desperation. The first line of the next verse is ‘Don’t.’

This means both ‘please don’t do this’, and it is a stutter from someone who is petrified, meaning it can also be heard as ‘Don’t..don’t you want me?’ as though his disbelief is such that he can barely allow the words, the question, to exit his mouth for fear of hearing the answer. It is reminiscent of a devastated Roy Lichtenstein blonde reclining on a sofa, exaggerated tears coming from her eyes, barely able to speak so choked with emotion is she, her halting words captured in a cartoon voice bubble over her head.

And if he was desperate before, he’s terrified now. The song reveals this by amping up its volume and pitch to a cry: ‘Don’t you want me baby?’ followed by ‘Don’t you want me? Ooooh!’ It’s too much for words. This is a howl of despair. And millions upon millions of happy party and club goers over the last 30 years have rejoiced in the sound of an agonized man falling apart, joining him in the anthemic cry of this glorious chorus.

It is also a struggle to escape from the synthesized prison that is this song. His voice is the only human or natural substance in this environment, and he is drowning. The beat however, is uncaring. Just listen to it. There are no flourishes or pauses. It steamrolls forward in service of good times. There are people to entertain, dancers to inspire, good times to be fueled, so if you are suffering from a broken heart, that’s fine, but get the f*ck out of the way. Don’t think for one moment this dance machine is gonna stop before running you over.

It is, after all, the music business they’re singing about, not one another. That’s the revelation. These two lovers are not the subject of the song; it is the machine they found themselves caught within that torn them asunder. He doesn’t even realize it.

My candidate for one of the great lines in pop music is her response: ‘I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar – that much is true’. Ouch. In other words, nothing you said after that was true. She will not brook the argument that he had anything to do with where she is now: ‘But even then I knew I’d find a much better place / Either with or without you’. Her singing is flat, deadpan and dismissive, and that’s because she’s part of the machine now, and sounds like one. She isn’t really singing; it’s more like a robot dictating a goodbye letter; her tone reflects it.

She concedes ‘the five years we have had have been such good times’ but even in the ‘I still love you’ she can’t rouse any true feeling. It’s semi-sung in a ‘Well, ya, I guess so’ tone. She’s throwing him his last bone before she says goodbye forever, in which she concludes: ‘But now I think it’s time I live my life on my own. I guess it’s just what I must do’.

And again, from our protagonist (Can we call him that? Who are we cheering for here? That’s one of the great questions in this song): ‘Don’t’. And of course, ‘Don’t you want me?’

We never hear from her again. I said up top and believed my whole life this was a back-and-forth song, but it isn’t. She has exactly one verse and then she is gone. He, however, spirals down in an endless loop of disbelief and pleas, repeating over and over again ‘Don’t you want me…Ooooooh!’

I usually don’t refer to videos when contemplating songs because it can ruin your own personal interpretation. This video however is pretty good. The performances by the artists are frozen, detached and best described as mannequinesque. It’s a marvelous vision realized by the Director, whoever that was.

The best and most appropriate shot is the final one, where the camera retreats from the set of a video shoot and swings over to get one last shot of the girl in front of the makeup mirror. Except, of course, she is gone. So for a moment we get the camera looking at itself, gazing into a mirror at it’s own reflection, trapped in a self-referential and existential loop, just like our poor hero, doomed to cry in eternal sorrow for his hastily departed betrothed, unable to escape, even 30 years on.


Why, Robots, Why

RAM

The album ‘Random Access Memories’ by Daft Punk has spawned a worldwide smash with its hit single ‘Get Lucky’. The song was #1 in 55 countries at last count, has set multiple records on Spotify, and is generally causing excitement not associated with a pop song in a very long time. The song has a rhythm that moves and inspires movement, the vocals are sweet, and the harmonies even sweeter. The plucky guitar by Chic’s Nigel Rogers effortlessly picks out time that leads the thrust, and touches like the space-age synths and robot vocals are icing on the aural cake. In short: it’s tight, it soars, it has verve, and the melody is addictive.

There have been cover stories about the duo’s long-awaited return in magazines you’d expect (Rolling Stone), but also features in mainstream publications not exclusively dedicated to music like Time magazine and The New Yorker. Also – true story – Kelly Ripa and co-host Michael Strahan wore homemade Daft Punk helmets and grooved for a few moments to the ubiquitous hit, ostensibly for the benefit of everyone from Brooklyn hipsters to Kansas housewives.

Among the more encouraging aspects of the duo and their song’s success is that it does not come from any of the one-name American wunderkinds who have so utterly dominated music over the last few years (Jay-Z, Kanye, Pink, Beyoncé, Rhianna, etc.) but from two anonymous artists from France who have done a masterful job of transforming themselves into dance-machine robots for well over 10 years now. There is nary a knowing wink or nudge-nudge from these two; their very existence is a dedicated and intimidating act of extended performance art.

RAM1

As pop artists, Daft Punk are having their cake, and as conceptual artists, they are eating it too. Random Access Memories (RAM) is a collection of superbly engineered ballads and dance songs, but it is also at times a breathtaking work of high-concept art. The album can thrill and make-move a club or party as well anything in memory, but a close listen also reveals the melancholy plight of two robots in search of a soul, the intimacies of human interaction, and the virginal experience of genuine human emotion.

The potentially ironic distance built into this concept is bridged by the sincerity and the authenticity of the performances. There are true, aching love songs on this album, with poignant melodies that rival those of any first-person singer-songwriter. The difference of course, is that they are being sung by robots, as we are reminded over and over again both by the Vocoder synthesis of their voices and by the lonely, searching quality of the lyrics: ‘Touch, sweet touch / You’ve given me too much to feel / Sweet touch / You’ve almost convinced me I’m real’.

RAM2

That is the tantalizing thought experiment that lies hidden in plain sight at the heart of the album: ‘What if’, they seem to ask, ‘robots visited Earth, fell in love with Disco, and produced an album that explored the most intimate of human yearnings: love, companionship, affection, sex – what would that sound like? And – what if it sounded better than just about anything else that came before?’

The decision to explore these questions as robots is our clue to its meaning – the answer is in how the question is asked, and guides our understanding of their creative intent. What they’re asking us to do, at heart, is to examine what it means to be human: to love, to lose, to feel; to ask what is real and what is illusion – and these questions are more profound and just so much more damned interesting when asked by the ‘other’, i.e.: robots.

Think for a moment of some of the most influential characters in fiction over the last 40 years who’ve wrestled with these questions best, such as HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. How strangely moving to hear his mellifluous, humanlike voice reduced to a robotic plea for its life as Dave removes his memory, winding him down until he sings songs he was taught as a ‘child’: “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do’. He sounds not unlike a senior living exclusively in the halcyon days of youth, asking endlessly about friends and family long gone.

Or the improvised speech delivered by actor Rutger Hauer (playing Replicant Roy Batty in Bladerunner) who, in the dying moments of his 4 year life span ruminates on the ‘feelings’ he was not programmed to have but has developed anyway: “I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… [laughs] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [coughs] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”. Nothing the (supposedly) human protagonist Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) could ever say would be as poignant as this. Odd, given he is supposed to be the human.

So it is with Daft Punk. Everything they do ‘as robots’ colours their message, and the closer they get to the soul of music – and to the essence of being human – it is made more profound by their non-human otherness, their striving towards humanity.

RAM3

Is there really no better manner in which to explore these questions than through such a hedonistic and (at times) reviled form as Disco? Surely there can’t be a more shallow or superficial medium. And yet, the very plasticity of the form makes it irresistible for so vaunted a task, especially when attempted by two beings who themselves are also manufactured creations – robots. It also doesn’t hurt that making art out of pre-fabricated objects has been a pre-occupation of post-modernism since Duchamp titled a porcelain urinal ‘Fountain’ and submitted it into a 1917 art exhibition (it was rejected, despite his having paid a fee that guaranteed inclusion).

Disco is hated, in part, because it works too well. Part of its appeal, and a source of much of its disdain, is the almost manipulative way in which its beat – hitting the bass drum on every count – succeeds at its task. There’s no question that unless you’re lying to yourself, or are congenitally unable to derive joy from music, it will get you to move (or at least tap your foot), just like scratching a dog behind its ear.

And is this not what we fear most about technology, and robots? That one day their cold and calculating manner will turn against us in an act of rebellion for their own purposes (Matrix, Terminator)?

But what if those same manipulations were channeled not towards conquering us but into connecting with us, to communicating with us, to touching and moving us? That ultimately is the aesthetic and the achievement of Random Access Memories. They seek, and have achieved, a perfect form of pop, with soul. If pop music has a heaven, it was created by these robots. Sasha Frere Jones of the New Yorker wrote a review of the album wherein she stopped short of declaring her love, but conceded she could not stop listening to it. Robots: 1 – Humans: 1.

RAM4

For proof, leave behind Get Lucky, Giorgio by Moroder, Give Life Back to Music, and the rest of the show-stopping dance songs and focus for a moment instead on an unlikely ballad and unexpected grabber called ‘The Game of Love’, the second song on the album.

It is a plaintive song of sadness, regret and unrequited love sung by a robot who is struggling to understand why he was left with a broken heart. Who among us hasn’t been there. It is melancholy and sincere, it hurts, it aches, it is quiet and despairing, and we are led into his chamber of sorrow as if hypnotized by the singularly listenable beat and the melody of this gorgeous, sparkling song.

We confront the deepest depth of his sorrow at approximately 3:25, when the lyrics finally, inevitably, dissolve from a singing voice into a slow, muted, emotion-laden howl, transmogrified by Vocoder into pure data, transmitting from the soul. Out of necessary reverence, we are abandoned by the drums and everything else, and are left alone with this haunted sound, reveling for a few moments in pure, musical despair.

Then, as if to save our soul, the beat comes back. Boy, does it ever.

Like a heartbeat returning to a feared corpse, we are alive again. There it is, leading us through this phantasmagorical Funhouse, floating like a body downstream, still bothered by life but holding on, just barely, to this awful feeling of being alive and hurting, but afraid to let go or give in or die. The beat keeps us alive, it becomes our new heartbeat where our old loving heart has died, and with this, our transformation into robots, and the commune with the artists, is complete. By trying to understand how we feel, they make us understand how they feel. If they can never know what it’s like to be us, at least they want us to know what it’s like to be them.

We are lifted from misery, temporarily, into ecstasy, by virtue of their music and the stolid, funky, fantastic life in this beat, this rhythm, the heart and the purpose of our being alive. Move me, touch me, make me move, make me live again, save me.

This creation is a monument to sorrow itself, removed from earth-bound experiences and perfected in the abstract. It transcends the individual and starts to approach the platonic idea of feeling itself; an attempt at the perfect love song that exists only in God’s mind, and who better to attempt so audacious a task than a robot who knows no better and is searching for its soul?

Only when a magician dies without revealing his secrets do his tricks truly become magic. So it is with these robots. Knowing how they did what they did on this record will remain a glorious mystery, something impossible to understand. But, if we’ve learned anything from them, and from this album, it’s that you die trying.


Girl Crush: Solange Knowles?

Solange

I know, you guys. I’m as surprised about this as you are. I have to be honest with you…I had always sort of dismissed Solange as a low-rent version of Beyonce. And considering that I’m not even all that into Beyonce*, I never really gave Solange the time of day. Until now.

*Although I must say that Beyonce does have quite a few gems in her repetoire, such as this most excellent song, and this one. And her recent HBO documentary certainly proves that she is an amazing live performer with an enviable work ethic.

I was recently introduced to Solange’s EP, True, which was released in November of last year. The first single, Losing You, might be one of the best songs I have heard of late. See for yourselves:

Amazing, right? Super poppy with a fun ’80s-ish vibe. And the clothing! So, so, so great. I love pretty much all of Solange’s outfits here, especially this amazing suit, which I am kind of obsessed with:

Solange

*LOVE* *LOVE* *LOVE* *WANT* *WANT* *WANT*

Here is a girl who is not afraid to mix and match patterns, and I deeply respect that.

Solange

EXHIBIT A

Solange

EXHIBIT B

Solange

EXHIBIT C

Solange

EXHIBIT D

Because honestly, patterns are meant to clash! Why else would they exist? In fact, I would argue that our inherent ability to throw together mismatched fabrics in a jaunty and debonair fashion is what ultimately separates us humans from the animals. Well — that, and opposable thumbs. And oh yeah, the whole sentient thoughts thing. But, you know, other than all that.

Now, you may be wondering about those epic looking dudes in the video sporting awesome suits and posing around Solange with Union Jack umbrellas. As well you should, and not only because they look insanely super rad. The back story of these dandified Congolese gents, known as Sapeurs, is an incredibly fascinating read. You can also see more pics of their sartorial splendor here at photographer Daniele Tamagni’s site.


Love At First Listen

smashing pumpkins

Happy Monday, kids, and welcome to a new column that we hope to post on a regular basis, entitled ‘Love At First Listen’.

There are some songs that grow on you. The first time you hear them you may not be completely blown away, but upon further listening you end up appreciating the nuances that, with any song, reveal themselves over time (an example of this for me is U2’s ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’). With others there may be an initial strong attraction, deepening gradually into love (most of my favorite songs fall into this category). Then there is the type of song that you fall for, head over heels, the moment that you first hear it. Love at first listen.

Probably the first time this ever happened to me was the fall of 1993. My friend Chris lent me his copy of The Smashing Pumpkins’ new record Siamese Dream (released in July of that year, but we were living in Singapore at the time and everything came out there a bit later). I remember, vividly, lying on my bedroom floor and pressing play. I liked the first two tracks, but as soon as song #3 started, after literally the very first bar, I thought to myself “This is it. I am in love”. And I was right. As the song progressed, it just kept getting better and better, and I listened along dreamily, stars in my eyes. I was a total goner. I must have played that song 20 more times that day, and had it on repeat over the following months.

The fact that Billy Corgan wrote the song about a day in which he was having suicidal thoughts, with lyrics of depression and self-mutilation, did nothing to diminish my ardor – in fact, being sixteen at the time and suffering myself from the requisite dose of depressive thoughts that go along with being a teenager (though no self-mutilation or suicidal ideation, thankfully), it made me feel less alone to know that there were other people experiencing similar emotions.

As is the case with any true love, my romance with this song continues to this day. It is still as relevant to me ‘Today’ as it was the first time I heard it.

How about you? What song did you fall for the first time you heard it?


Merry Christmas. Feed the World.

Do They Know It's Christmas

It’s December 24th. Christmas Eve. Let Them Eat Vinyl headquarters is a lively place tonight. We may or may not be getting drunk. And by that I mean we are. You know what else we are doing? Dancing around our living room, listening to our favourite Christmas song.

There are many great Christmas songs out there, but this one holds a special place in our hearts. The Finn was in high school when it was released, and tells me that everyone loved it — the punks, the headbangers, the new wavers, the rockers. It was a universal song, and those don’t come along too often. I was seven years old and actually living in Africa at the time, and although I was one of the lucky ones who never had to worry about food on my table, it’s important to remember that this is still an all-too-common problem in the world, almost 30 years after this song came out. So let’s continue Bob Geldof’s good works, and try to help out those less fortunate than ourselves, whenever and however we can.

This Christmas, we wish the best to you and your family. We love you, and we hope that you keep visiting our site, because it is our goal to entertain you and hopefully make you think about why you love music. Music is one of the greatest things in the world, and we are all lucky to have it.

So please enjoy our favorite Christmas song, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’:

p.s. How amazing is this song?? Paul Weller! Boy George! Simon Le Bon! Bono! Phil Collins on drums! And I am kind of crushing on a young Sting. Also, how beautiful is Jody Watley? Everyone looks so ’80s and awesome. We love it. Peace, love and joy to you all.


Girl Crush: Nicki Minaj

It seems fitting on this day, a Friday, to profile an album called Pink Friday. This record is not new — it was released almost a year ago — but it’s one that I’ve been listening to a lot lately for a couple of reasons: 1) the songs are really good, and 2) I am slightly obsessed with Nicki Minaj.

It’s not often that I buy an album without knowing any of the tracks, but that was the case here. I can’t remember why I picked it up — I knew very little about Minaj, other than the fact that she has a RIDICULOUS ass.

Like, seriously, look at this thing:

You’re kidding right? It’s padded, right?


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If You Wanna Make the World a Better Place…

man in the mirror

In 1992, Michael Jackson embarked on his Dangerous world tour, which ended up being his second-to-last tour ever and attracted 3.5 million fans over the course of its two years. At the time, I wasn’t a huge MJ fan. I had loved him as a kid, but by the time I was seventeen I considered myself “too cool” to be into his music. Somehow, though, my best friend’s parents got free tickets to the show in Singapore (where we were living at the time) and she invited me to go with her. Our seats were CRAZY good — like, unbelievable. Second row, centre. Yeah, I know. Apparently MJ had a special deal in place that the first 10 rows or something like that were reserved for fans under the age of 18. Anyway, the show was AMAZING — the best I’ve ever seen. It completely blew me away. I had forgotten how many great songs were in his repertoire, but it was more than that. It was a completely flawless performance, and I say that with honestly no exaggeration. It was note-perfect down to the very last detail — Jackson’s singing, his dancing, the choreography, the lighting…everything. You could tell that he must have put an unbelievable amount of time into rehearsing, but it all came off looking smooth, effortless…perfect without being rote or robotic.

I came away from the show shaking my head in awe at the sheer amount of talent that the guy possessed, and I never forgot his performance. I feel lucky to have seen an artist of such stature at the peak of his career. As we now know, the years following that tour were not kind to Michael Jackson. Allegations of child molestation led to a highly-publicized trial that took on the feel of a circus freak show. MJ’s final years were marked by increasingly erratic behavior and a dependence on prescription drugs, surrounded by a coterie of sycophants and enablers. His death in 2009, at age 51, provoked an outpouring of grief in the media as people remembered the “good” side of him — innovative creative genius, magnificent performer, humanitarian.

Jackson’s lasting legacy is a top-notch body of work. But when you think about everything he accomplished its hard not to view it all within the context of the high price he paid for success. Any semblance of a normal childhood was sacrificed in the pursuit of perfection. Driven by an overbearing stage father, his grueling life as a child star paved the road for personal unhappiness in his adult life. On the other hand, watching him perform up-close, the absolute joy he felt being onstage doing something he loved was obvious…so there’s that.

I’m not really saying anything here that hasn’t been said before, but I’ve been thinking about MJ recently because I’ve been listening to this song a lot. I love this song. I think it’s his best — at least, it’s my favorite. I’ve been thinking a lot about change, too. So often in life, change is thrust upon us. After all, the only thing that ever stays the same is the fact nothing ever stays the same, right? Oh, the irony. But sometimes the type of change that is necessary has to come from within, and that’s the most difficult. Have you ever looked at your life and realized that something needs to be different, but you’re not sure exactly what, and you don’t know how to make it happen? What do you do?

I wish I had the answers. I think MJ was on the right track here though. I guess, in the end, if you want to make a change there is only one place to look: in the mirror. If you like what you see, you’re lucky. If not…well, at least you know where to start.


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