Showing posts with label reggae. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reggae. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

resonators 2018 - episode #004 - 'bad brains' by bad brains (VIDEO)

And WOW, this was a fun listen. So glad this wound up on Resonators, it was a TON of fun.

Next up... okay, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Monday, April 30, 2018

resonators 2018 - episode #004 - 'bad brains' by bad brains

I think it's time we talk about race in punk music.

Now this is not a comfortable topic, and there are layers and nuance that I'll freely admit that I'm probably not the best guy to talk about beyond looking for the history. And with the history of punk... well, it gets even dicier, especially coming out of the late 70s and how genres were co-mingling and mutating. Of course punk has some of its deepest roots in black music - at its core much of punk utilized traditional rock and roll song structures invented by black musicians - but throughout the 1970s traditionally black musical genres were going in very different directions, from the growth of soul, funk and R&B to the mutation of disco to the very early days of hip-hop. And while black music was getting more opulent and smooth, punk seemed to be heading in the exact opposite direction - although one can make the argument that the sharp political subtext that underlined a lot of soul music and funk music would have had common cause with the punks of the time.

But that doesn't mean there weren't punks of all races within the scene who found common cause with the righteous fury and rough edges of the genre... and this is where we hit another major roadblock and it has to do with a subgenre I referenced a few months back: the Oi! scene. Originally grounded in working class rebellion in the U.K, it was a sound that sadly got co-opted by second wave skinhead culture and hard right, frequently racist groups in the late 70s and early 80s. And while you could definitely make an argument how much of this was fair to the scene or the artists within it, many who could credibly make the argument to being misrepresented, the messy public perception led to ugly assumptions and branding that Oi! bands and even hardcore punks have had to fight to escape for years since, not helped by the street punk and skinhead explosion in the U.S. where the hard-right branding was harder to escape or deny. And with that popular connotation, it's no surprise why black artists might have shied away from the scene, especially in the face of friendlier, no less conscious or political spaces like in early hip-hop.

Of course, there's another side to this, and it leads to another genre that was organic, raw, and often sharply political: reggae. It was a looser subgenre than punk, but throughout the 70s it had flourished and had often received billing and airplay in punk venues. And thus the cross-pollination of genres between the newborn hardcore scene and reggae was only a matter of time, with one group originally making music as a jazz fusion act before amping up the tempos and bringing an distinctly black flavor to hardcore punk, now widely held as one of the most legendary bands of the genre. That's right, we're talking about the 1982 self-titled debut from Bad Brains, and this is Resonators!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

video review: 'stories' by avicii

Well this was a surprisingly fun review to put together. Surprisingly easy too, but that can happen.

Next up... hmm, not really sure. Long weekend up ahead, and I want to make sure I make the best of it. So probably Julia Holter and The Dead Weather, but then there's The Game and Frankmusik and I should probably talk about Deafheaven if only to get it out of the way... eh, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'stories' by avicii

Of all the electronic producers I've covered in the mainstream, both in full-length reviews and on Billboard BREAKDOWN, Avicii is one that continues to frustrate me.

See, those of you who have followed me for a long time know that I wasn't too kind to his debut album TRUE, not a bad record but ultimately an experiment that landed steadily decreasing dividends throughout its runtime in attempting to fuse folk with accessible EDM. And yet many of you probably know that two Avicii songs have landed on my year-end lists for my favourite hit songs of 2013 and 2014 with 'Wake Me Up!' and 'Hey Brother'. And the stranger thing is that I'll stand behind both of those choices even though I'd still argue that TRUE was only ever a decent album.

And here the crux of that argument: Avicii is the sort of artist who has a great grasp on the fundamentals and the broad strokes of his experimentation, but can get stuck on the details, which is why the folk sections of that debut album ended up working better than any of the electronic segments. Sure, he's a strong melodic composer in putting together dynamic, surging progressions and marrying them with well-textured guitars and banjos and solid acoustic grooves... but the second he starts adding in thicker beats or percussion, things kind of go off the rails. Hell, he's not even a bad lyricist - all of which makes me think Avicii might be a better songwriter than producer and performer - but I can't help but see the irony in an electronic producer who blended folk in and made it work, except in the underlying electronic production itself!

But that was 2013, and let's face it, the EDM world has changed significantly in even just the past two years. The leftovers of the folk boom that Avicii was riding is now long dead and most modern EDM has gone to the deep house or R&B/neo-soul route - that'd be your Calvin Harris - or suffered badly for it, like Zedd. Where does Avicii fall with his sophomore release Stories?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

video review: 'blurryface' by twenty one pilots

Now that's the sort of surprise I want to see more of in music - man, what a great record.

Next up... ugh, might as well get this Kelsea Ballerini record out of the way... or maybe this Shamir record... ugh, either way, I'll find something, stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

album review: 'blurryface' by twenty-one pilots

I get the feeling a lot of people missed the point of my twenty-one pilots review.

Now granted, that review dropped in 2013 back when I was still getting my sea legs, and I'll freely admit that many of those early reviews were not the best things I've ever written. But still, considering how positive I was on their major label debut Vessel, the backlash I got did take me off-guard - but the more I think about it, the more I'm not entirely surprised.

Because let's be honest here: twenty-one pilots is a weird, awkward sort of group, straddling the lines between electronica, indie pop rock, emo, and even rap, and their major label debut showed more of the stress marks of that fusion than the synthesis. But as much as I thought that Tyler Joseph could use a little more seasoning and they really were crying out for a bass guitar, I saw enough potential in the songwriting and melodic composition to give the band a lot of praise. And hell, I get why a band like this develops a cult following even if their mainstream debut didn't take off with the same force - they're too unique of a group not to! That said, going back to Vessel, I do feel I overrated it a bit as it's very much a product of its time and the overall awkwardness of the release can toe the line between charming and kind of grating.

On the other hand, I've been anticipating their follow-up record Blurryface a fair bit, mostly because the lead-off singles have actually been pretty damn strong, really showing Tyler Joseph getting a lot stronger as a singer and with some welcome improvements in the songwriting. In other words, it looked like the genre fusion was coming together a lot more, so I definitely made sure to dig into it - what did we get?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

video review: 'don't kill the magic' by MAGIC!

Man, this review was an absolute chore to get through. Granted, some of the chore was trying - and failing - to write a review for Sam Smith, but eh, that happens.

Next up is Trey Songz, and then... hmm, not sure yet. Stay tuned!

album review: 'don't kill the magic' by MAGIC!

So if you took a look at the charts right now, you'd find that they look wildly different than they did a good four months ago. And really, that's a good thing because the beginning of 2014 became played out for the pop charts in record time, to the point where I'm honestly dreading making my year-end hit song lists and underrating songs simply because of overexposure.

But putting that aside, at long last summer has arrived with a collection of new songs - most of which are by artists I've never heard of before. Which for me is exceptionally unnerving, because I criticize pop music and I thought I had a pretty good handle on what was becoming popular. And for acts like Nico & Vinz, Rixton, MKTO, and KONGOS to effectively come out of nowhere is more than a little unnerving. It's a troubling sign when I felt relieved I knew who Sam Smith was thanks to his success in the UK - a little less of a relief after I listened through his underwritten bore of an album and couldn't come up with anything noteworthy to say about it, but knowing was half of the battle here.

So when I looked at the charts this week and saw that 'Rude' by Canadian reggae fusion band MAGIC! was at #2, I was a little annoyed, because not only did I barely know who these guys are - and as a Canadian music critic living in Toronto, that's a problem - but that of the Canadian pop rock acts who have come up in the past couple of years, it's these guys who get popular? Not Marianas Trench or Tokyo Police Club or The Brilliancy, but MAGIC!? But when I racked my memory, I did recognize the frontman and songwriter of the band Nasri Atweh - for all of the wrong reasons. Primarily known as a songwriter for Chris Brown, Pitbull, and most for Justin Bieber, my first exposure to him in front of the microphone was on Shakira's self-titled album earlier this year on the song 'Cut Me Deep', where he was promptly blown off the stage, which did not give me a good feeling going into this record. But I figured, 'Hey, it's been a long time since reggae has charted on the Hot 100, so this album could be interesting, right?' So I checked out Don't Kill The MAGIC! - how did it go?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

video review: 'back 2 life' by sean kingston

I feel like I'm the only guy who bothered to review Sean Kingston, but here it is anyways. What's more annoying is that I'm not satisfied with how the lighting is working out. Sure, it's brighter, but it's inconsistent between videos, and I'm starting to think it's an issue with my webcam.

Ugh. Guess it's getting close to that time when I actually have to invest money in a good camera.

album review: 'back 2 life' by sean kingston

There are some performers that you can look at once and immediately know that they're going to be a pop smash hit - and sometimes, it doesn't even rely on their music. They have the look and sound and natural charisma and you just know in your gut that on image alone, there is serious potential for them to become huge. The great producer songwriters have a knack for spotting these types and then giving them everything they need to become chart smash hits, whether it is songs or enormous overproduction to overlook the fact that they can barely hit a note - they smell money, and they're going to make a killing.

With all of that in mind, Sean Kingston does not seem to fit that mold - at all. Not to be offensive, but the fellow kind of looked a bit like a doofus back when debuted with his self-titled album in 2007, and he just seemed to have some of that wide-eyed naivete that didn't exactly strike me as the look of a professional. Now there was a reason for that - he made those first two albums when he was a teenager, and it shows - but he seemed like the kind of performer who was very much aware of the fact that he didn't quite belong in the pop landscape, and was just riding out his time in the spotlight for as long as he could.

And really, that was kind of a shame, because he wasn't a bad performer, particularly for his age (his first album came out in 2007 when he was seventeen, when he was my age). He had a distinctive voice and some occasionally interesting (if amateurishly written) songs. Furthermore, he brought a welcome touch of reggae to the mid-to-late years of the first decade of the 2000s that I definitely appreciated - it gave him some personality and helped him stand out. Yes, most of his songs had the reek of JR Rotem behind them, but I thought that with time, he might be able to transition into at least a successful reggae act, if not a pop star in his own right. But after his second album didn't sell all that well, Sean Kingston seemed to vanish from the public eye for a good four years, with only occasional public appearances (most in Africa), a series of mixtapes that nobody cared about, and a pretty traumatic jet-skiing accident (he made a full recovery) to mark his time out of the spotlight. 

But now he's back with a new album Back 2 Life, heralding his return to the spotlight once again. Did he put those four years off to good use and have something great for us?

Monday, April 22, 2013

album review: 'reincarnated' by snoop lion

Let me tell you a story.

When I was sixteen, after getting my beginner’s permit, I began learning how to drive with a close friend and an instructor. On one chill evening, the instructor asked if he could put some music on while I was driving, and he asked me what genre I’d prefer. At that time, I was on something of an Eminem kick (like every other teenage boy growing up in the mid-2000s), so I said hip-hop and rap would be fine. He asked me which rappers I listened to, and I said Eminem and Dr. Dre and a few other acts in that vein.

His eyes lit up. ‘Kid,’ he said, ‘you haven’t heard nothing yet’, and he slid a newly burnt CD into the car’s stereo. Immediately a smooth, rollicking tone filled the car, music that I had occasionally heard in passing on the radio but had never really been exposed to in any significant way. I was immediately intrigued, and for the next several weeks, whenever we would go out for a drive, we’d put on that music and the ride would go smoothly and easily.

That music was g-funk, courtesy of 213, a group consisting of Nate Dogg (RIP), Warren G, and the legendary Snoop Dogg. It was my first real exposure to hip-hop outside of Eminem’s enclave, and while I had heard Snoop Dogg’s verse on ‘Bitch Please: Part II’ on The Marshall Mathers LP, I gravitated more to Nate Dogg’s authoritative and powerful baritone that carried the majority of those tracks. To me at that time, Snoop Dogg just seemed like another gangsta rapper, and everything I heard from him that got popular in the waning years of the decade reinforced that. It didn’t quite help matters that on his mainstream hits, he always sounded way too laid back and chill to take seriously, and compared to the assertive flow and intricate wordplay of OutKast, I didn’t quite see the appeal of Snoop Dogg.

In fact, it wasn’t until last year that I finally began to understand why Snoop Dogg worked as a performer, his appeal finally crystalizing on his collaboration with Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars: he was cool. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how many rappers and singers on the scene really weren’t cool in the slightest. I mean, Jay-Z wasn’t really so much cool as coldly dignified and professional, very much owning the label of ‘the new Sinatra’. Kanye and R. Kelly weren’t really cool either – most of the time they were too wrapped in their own egos/insanity to seem all that cool, falling more in line with eccentricity. For a while, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, and T.I. seemed cool, but the workmanlike nature of their music gradually seemed to make some of that coolness slip away (plus, Lil Wayne released Rebirth and that kind of destroyed his ‘coolness’ in one fell swoop). And too many of the gangsta rappers were bound up in their own egos and being ‘hard’ to really come across as cool (hell, most of the time I don’t even think they were having fun).

But Snoop Dogg was cool, and the effortless swagger that seemed to pervade his image was a big breath of fresh air. Now, granted, a lot of my issues with him remained – it was tough to tell when Snoop Dogg was trying or not, and more often than not I got the feeling he wasn’t – but I understood the appeal. People like cool, they respond to cool, they gravitate towards cool. And frankly, I was fully expecting Snoop Dogg to coast on that coolness for the rest of his career.

And then in 2011, Nate Dogg passed away - only days before the release of Snoop Dogg’s newest album. From this point forward, I can only speculate, but I do know that Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg weren’t just bandmates, but close friends, and if the outpouring of grief from Snoop Dogg over Twitter was any indication, Snoop Dogg wasn’t taking it well. Much like Eminem losing his best friend Proof, the loss of a close, personal friend sent ripples through Snoop Dogg’s life and after he finished touring, he took a trip to Jamaica that would change his life.

In 2012, Snoop Dogg announced that he had converted to Rastafarianism and he was leaving rap to become the reggae act Snoop Lion, which he described as a ‘reincarnation’. And while it was very tempting to join the mockery of this ‘evolution’ like everyone else on the Internet, I have to say I was intrigued. For an artist decades into his career, this was precisely the right way to reinvigorate a fanbase and attract newcomers to his discography. And reggae (along with its cousin funk) was a genre that I’ve always liked, but have had a lot of trouble understanding, mostly due to some unfortunate cultural myopia on one hand and my difficulty deciphering Jamaican accents on the other. So if Snoop Dogg – forgive me, Snoop Lion - was taking steps towards reggae with a full album, it might provide a new entry point for me into a genre I’ve had difficulty understanding. And really, if there was an artist on mainstream radio to approach the laid-back reggae rhythms and deft social commentary, Snoop Dogg would have probably been my first suggestion.

And on a slightly broader note, I also wondered whether or not the introduction of a modernized form of reggae might be good for the pop charts. Keep in mind that in 2012 we were coming off of the hangover of the club boom, and the slightly more organic mainstream indie trend was only beginning to take root. So on that note, I considered the possibility that a reggae/funk revival might add a certain flavor to the charts – and really, while it did get a little overblown throughout the early-to-mid 70s and throughout the mid-90s with the ska revival, I wasn’t going to deny the fact that scrag rhythms and greater diversity of instrumentation couldn’t hurt pop music. After all, a little cultural diversity never hurt anyone, particularly in an era where k-pop was starting to notch mainstream chart hits (by the way, PSY’s new single ‘Gentlemen’ sucks). And besides, in a time where Ke$ha is working to revive the psychedelia and punk energy of the 70s, why shouldn’t some of the other elements of that decade make a revival?

So I was definitely interested in Snoop Lion’s new album Reincarnated, and now that I’ve had a chance to take a look, what do I think?