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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Jan292013

« In Which We Recall It At A Moment's Notice »

The New York Review of Hooks Vol. 6

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Party Girl breaks through every few years because it has to. Whether it is Parker Posey's perfect humor, the fashion, or the snapshot of a forgotten New York, the film continues to impact new audiences for its perfect combination of the outdated and the timeless. In the end, the movie is a coming of age story about a twenty-something woman in a big city, a plot that is straightforward and always memorable. But for many fans, the music is what is most memorable.

Earlier this month Peace Biscuit re-released the film's soundtrack as a free download. Listening to the two volumes was a pleasurable representation of the eclecticism and charms of the film, but what has always stuck out in my mind was a scene toward the latter half of the film in which Mary (Parker Posey) organized Leo's (Guillermo Diaz) 1000+ record collection using the Dewey Decimal system. After a momentary fit of anger, Mary helps Leo find the records he needs to use for his set at Renee's, the "hottest" club in the city. In a classic moment of music fandom, Leo begins to shoot off names that were, have become, and continue to be legends: Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club, Parliament, Madonna, Erik B. & Rakim. It is not just the way that Leo recites the list. It is the fact that he has one and that he can recite it so quickly. Like any true music fan, what he needs at any given moment can be recalled at a moment's notice.

"& It Was U" - How to Dress Well (mp3)

"Set It Right" - How to Dress Well (mp3)

How to Dress Well gave the performance of his career and I missed it. His live performance was even more profound than his latest album, Total Loss, as audiences were able to understand and witness the layers of change and death that proved invaluable in the creation of this latest record. Or so I heard. I don’t doubt the claims. I only wish to have been there during this show, on the South Side of Chicago, in mid-December, in order to be immersed in a sound that already sounds extravagant and lovely through tinny speakers.

In interviews musician Tom Krell described the music for this album as a reaction to immense loss in his own life. It was, "dealing with the initial shock, anger, misery and pain, then working it through in my music." This pain is present, heavy, and soul-shattering. The first time I began to listen to the record, I had to stop not because I could definitely relate to his pain, but because it sounded so direct and impenetrable. Total Loss sounds like an intrusion on Krell's mind, his tears, and his anger. And yet, it is because of the rawness of the record that it is so powerful and damn good.

"Set it Right" in particular is a stand-out track. It's brutal both in lyricism and instrumentation. Compared to lighter, lovelier-sounding tracks such as "& It Was U" or "Running Back," "Set it Back" is direct in it's yearning. Krell sings about the people he misses – friends, loves – and the desperation is palpable. In that sense, we have been there. We have all been there.

"London" - Ofei (mp3)

In recent months, this sort of musical earnestness has become the norm for a variety of musicians of different levels of popularity. In particular, I'm thinking of musicians Oppaa, Mmoths and Ofei. All three released songs that have elements that sound as if the songs were created in tandem with each other. Oppaa's "N'questia," is a step forward from an earlier single he (W.B. Allen) released nearly a year ago. Built on rich samples, a steady beat, and vocals that highlight a smooth melody, "N'questia" sounds immediately familiar and comforting. It's the sort of song that is pleasant and sophisticated. In contrast, Ofei's "London" sounds bare and stark, but still packs an emotional punch. Likewise, in producer Mmoths' new single, "For Her" featuring vocalist Young & Sick, the rhythm is steady. The melody is crisp. The lyrics are mournful. If you are a young man looking to talk about your feelings, now is as good of a time as ever.

Earlier this week, when the temperature dropped to near zero in Chicago, I tweeted "Kate Bush Weather" because I knew instinctively what was needed to complement the brutal weather. There is not an iciness, but an isolation in Bush's music that seems right for the brutality of winter. It's just right for both hours spent at home in hibernation and also for those quick jaunts on near-abandoned streets and roads. I don't know if her music would work as well during this time in a heated car. Walking alone, facing the elements head on, her work seems just right.

"Billions" - JoJo (mp3)

"Thinking Out Loud" - JoJo (mp3)

While not as openly and directly earnest as the musicians mentioned earlier, JoJo's new mixtape, Agape, is driven by a desire to create music that speaks to her various influences and cultural background. JoJo is a Boston girl and she slips in bits and pieces of her hometown and heritage through skits that sound taken from the back of a local local pub. More importantly, on songs such as "Take the Canyon" and "Billions," JoJo gets to focus on what made her such a compelling pop star in the first place: her strong, soulful vocals.

Last year, The FADER suggested that Craig David was "having a moment." Even before the perfect remixes by Ryan Hemsworth and Sango of his early single, “Fill Me In,” the past stylistic choices of David's music was evident in singles by Disclosure and Bondax. When I mention David's stylistic choices, what I mean is the way in which he combined elements of the underground with the mainstream to create an effect that was immediately charismatic and memorable. Besides emerging crossover artists, other more established mainstream acts such as Usher broke through again to radio listeners who perhaps don't listen to the radio. Last year’s “Climax” was a testament to restraint and perhaps a precursor to the latter half of 2012 and music in 2013.

"Nuclear" - Destiny's Child (mp3)

"Suit & Tie" - Justin Timberlake (mp3)

There was not a lot to love on the surface when listening to Justin Timberlake's new single. It wasn't just that it sounded different than anything else out now. It sounded old. It sounded lost. I listened to 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds in anticipation of the song and was thoroughly disappointed by the contrast in production. Although his last album and new single featured the same producer, Timbaland, what was missing was the great push forward toward the future of music. FutureSex/LoveSounds anticipated the synths of the past five years, but did so in a manner that made the record an instant classic. Production was both heavy and created with a light touch. It was never dance music to have dance music. It was never maximalistic production just for maximalism. However, although "Suit & Tie," Timberlake's new single is not as immediately show-y as "Sexy Back," it can grow on the listener. It has a welcome loveliness that will make the chorus turn into something of an ear worm.

The new Destiny's Child single, in contrast, does not build or grow on the listener. It's interesting to see that both performers of the last decade also chose producers of the last decade. Changes in mainstream musical direction feel much more fluid, but listening to the new singles demonstrates how quickly music has turned direction. Both "Suit & Tie" and "Nuclear" sound outdated and of a different era.

Although this potentially stifles any hope for a true Destiny's Child reunion, for Justin Timberlake as a solo artist, it could at once be a push in the direction of something different for the mainstream. Like the suggestion that Craig David is having a moment, mainstream music is in a moment of flux, open to changes that can occur with a strong push in one direction versus the other. The mellow, loving, sweetness of "Suit & Tie," could help turn this tide. 2012 saw a greater appreciation for music that sounded calmer, more collected, and less hurried through the likes of Frank Ocean, Miguel and Solange. Although the last couple of years have produced a handful of dancefloor gems, it has also suffered in repetitiveness and homogeneity. A 180 can only be a good thing.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find the last edition of The New York Review of Hooks here.

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