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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in justin timberlake (3)

Wednesday
Oct232013

In Which We Don't Like Music Made By Boys

Male Diptych

by ALICE BOLIN

1. Justin Timberlake

It is a prominent feature of my personal #brand that I don’t like music made by boys or boy things in general. As far as boys are concerned, I have historically favored Backstreet Boys: as a tween, when I would receive issues of YM or Teen People featuring their rivals *NSYNC, I would rip the magazines’ covers off.

Still, Justin Timberlake is difficult to hate. He’s a solid musician, a pretty good actor, and an always delightful Saturday Night Live host.  In his solo music career, he has shown artistic savvy far exceeding his boy band origins. I had low expectations for Timberlake’s album The 20/20 Experience, which came out in March of this year, considering its boring-ass lead single “Suit and Tie” and the fact that six out of ten of the album’s tracks are over seven minutes long.

But I was won over by The 20/20 Experience’s creative, orchestral arrangements and ecstatic melodies. For my money, “Mirrors” is one of the best radio singles of 2013. Nevertheless, when I heard Timberlake was releasing another album of ten extremely long songs this September, I was all, “uh oh.” The 20/20 Experience was such a critical and commercial success that I wasn’t sure how Timberlake could pull this off twice. And guess what.

He couldn’t. The 20/20 Experience2 of 2 is as hackneyed and lame as the first installment was fresh and interesting. Timberlake is still working with his long-time collaborator Timbaland on 2 of 2, but the lush disco strings of 1 of 2 are replaced by boring, weirdly retro drum machine beats. There are times when 2 of 2 sounds kind of like *NSYNC, which I’m pretty sure Timberlake would take as the world’s worst insult.

Silly metaphors are a hallmark of both installments of The 20/20 Experience — on “Strawberry Bubblegum” off of 1 of 2 he sings (over and over), “Be my strawberry bubblegum… let me love you ‘til I make you pop.” But on 2 of 2, where there is nothing compelling going on musically, the corny lyrics are glaring. “True Blood” is a truly embarrassing track about, yes, vampires: “It’s that demon in me that’s got me screamin’,” Timberlake sings, “Makes me wanna build a coffin for two.”

At times this metaphor mania reminds me of country songwriting — especially on “Drink You Away,” where Timberlake partakes in the venerable tradition of personifying varieties of alcohol. “I can’t drink you away,” he sings. “I’ve tried Jack, I’ve tried Jim, I’ve tried all of their friends.” This can be charming, granted, but so many of the lyrics on 2 of 2 are so bad they’re unforgivable. On his lovemaking jam “Cabaret” he sings, “I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we’re lying in the manger.” This might be the most profoundly unsexy simile of all time.

2 of 2 closes with the ballad “Pair of Wings,” on which Timberlake acknowledges that he can’t protect his love from pain, but says, “If I could I’d fly you away/On a big old pair of wings.” This is a hidden track, and if you ask me, it wasn’t hidden well enough. It exemplifies 2 of 2’s creative exhaustion — the lazy lyrics, the nondescript melody, the tendency towards the cheesy. The thing is that most artists would be satisfied with releasing one very good (and very long) album in one year, and they should be. If 2 of 2 were released as a bonus disc, I could take the songs at face value, but as a companion to 1 of 2, the comparison is just unfortunate.

In some ways Timberlake’s solo career reminds me of Paul McCartney’s. Both were “the cute one” in their original groups, and they are used to being indulged, which has led to wildly inconsistent creative output — for McCartney, it has meant both the successes of his albums like Band on the Run and Ram and his writing and releasing dozens of tracks that are boring, trite, and bizarre. For Timberlake, it has meant both the success of The 20/20 Experience - 1 of 2 and the disappointment of The 20/20 Experience2 of 2. If that comparison sounds like way too big a compliment to Timberlake, keep in mind that he was in *NSYNC and Paul McCartney was in, you know, The Beatles — which was a pretty good band, despite being comprised entirely of boys. 

2. Drake

“This is nothing for the radio,” Drake sings on “Tuscan Leather,” the first track on his new album, Nothing Was The Same, “but they’ll still play it though.” Drake clearly suffers from the same ambivalence about being a hugely successful pop star as his mentors Jay-Z and Kanye West. West impregnated the most overexposed woman on the planet and then made a scary, angry album about how he hates being a celebrity. On “Moment of Clarity” off The Black Album, Jay-Z says, “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be/Lyrically, Talib Kweli,” expressing a weird desire to be a “smart” rapper instead of a gazillionaire. “Who else making rap albums doing numbers like it’s pop?” Drake asks on Nothing Was The Same and I’m like, “Um, Kanye?”

West made it acceptable to rap about growing up suburban and middle class, and Drake took that shit and ran with it. He talks about his bar mitzvah money and his mom driving him to the set of Degrassi in her Acura. People have made fun of him for his track “Started From The Bottom,” since he obviously didn’t have it hard growing up, but that’s the point. “Boys tell stories about the man,” Drake sings on “Started From The Bottom,” “Say I never struggled, wasn’t hungry.” He’s saying that just because you don’t grow up poor, it still isn’t easy to become one of the most successful rappers in the world, which, point taken.

I saw a Tumblr post that was supposedly Drake searching for porn; it was just a gif of someone searching “personality” on PornHub. I had a hearty LOL over it. But Drake’s main contribution to hip hop is that he writes in an honest and self-aware way about relationships. “I got trust issues,” he sings on “All Me.” “I’m the type to have a bullet-proof condom/And still gotta pull out.” Wasn’t that a Girls plot line?

Drake mostly favors fuzzy, sensual, stripped down production like his bro The Weeknd. At times the drum-driven and moody arrangements almost remind me of Phil Collins. Collins and Drake are soul twins in their own way — both make smooth, sexy, catchy music that reveals an unexpectedly intense, insecure, and sad persona behind it. Like Kanye said, “We all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” Confidence is bankrupt.

On Nothing Was The Same, Drake imitates David Alan Grier and Damon Wayans saying, “Hated it!” in their classic In Living Color sketch “Men On Film.” “The Fresh Prince just had dinner with Tatyana, no lie/All these ‘90s fantasies on my mind,” he sings on “Tuscan Leather.” You don’t need a Buzzfeed list to tell you Drake is a ‘90s kid. I don’t know if Drake is trying to pander to the internet’s nostalgia baiting or it just happened that way.

But those lyrics might give you a sense of why a leaked Drake album caused a Twitter feelings frenzy. 50 Cent had his breakthrough in 2005; Twitter was founded in 2006, and after that, as they say, nothing was the same. On “Own It,” Drake sings, “Next time we fuck/I don’t wanna fuck/I wanna make love.” Drake, I told you, I’m into having sex. I ain’t into making love. So come give me a hug. If you into getting rubbed.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She last wrote in these pages about Bangerz. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her twitter here and her tumblr here.

It was known as Poptober, when Alice Bolin brought you

an insightful look at Miley Cyrus' breakup album

an extensive investigation into Lorde

scathing critiques of Drake and JT

and the month isn't over yet

"Someday Sparrow" - Laura Cantrell (mp3)

"Barely Said A Thing" - Laura Cantrell (mp3)

The new album from Laura Cantrell, No Way There From Here, is out now in the UK and will be released in the U.S. in January 2014.

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.

Friday
Jul292011

In Which We Only Have Sex In Montage

The Boyfriend Experience

by JESSICA RIONERO

Friends With Benefits
dir. Will Gluck
109 minutes

I used to think men and women could be friends. Growing up, I thought I was a tomboy because I had lots of boy friends. Not boyfriends but friends that were boys. Looking back, I ended up hooking up with half of them and the other half came out gay after we hooked up. This is obviously a pressing issue since two films were released this year on the subject: Ivan Reitman's No Strings Attached and now Friends With Benefits directed by Will Gluck (Easy A).

Jezebel was where I read that Easy A could be the next Mean Girls. I enjoyed the literary allusion to The Scarlet Letter as well as the parallel storyline this film shared with 1987's Can’t Buy Me Love, a movie about a teenage nerd who pays a girl to make him seem cool and they fall in love. Mr. McDreamy, Patrick Dempsey, played the lead.

When I see the charming posters for these films I can’t help to think, "but they get together in the end!" Any pre-adolescent sixth grader can tell you that. At the end of the movie, they are going to fall in love and live happily ever after. That’s not my only beef with these movies. These people are also way too good-looking to need fuck buddies. If you took the female leads from both of these films and put them in an Oscar worthy drama they would still hook up.

This is all actually a sensitive subject for me; I am a recovering fuck buddy. I actually had two friends with benefits scenarios. I am a bit embarrassed to admit all of this. Maybe that one year of Catholic school really did screw me up. Fast-forward 12 years later to the booty call and 4th wave feminism, add a shot of Maker’s Mark and we are up to speed.

So there was…let’s call him Boy A. Not Andrew Garfield, just my good friend from college, Boy A. Boy A and I became single at the same time and found ourselves equally horny. We figured we would do it a few times until we found real people to date/sleep with. In our social circles, we urged to keep this quiet. Especially since, okay not proud of this either, he dated a dear girl friend of mine. I was never this kind of girl. I actually had this happen to me once and I was devastated and here I was, repeating the cliché. It’s physically possible, just generally frowned upon. But we didn’t care; he would compare us to a Dave Eggers short story as if we were a literary novelty.

We got more intense. When we hung out it felt like dates. People started finding out, even his ex-girlfriend and my now ex-friend. He told me he loved me and that he wanted to make me his girlfriend. I just did not feel the same way. Everything went sour from there. We were no longer friends. We tried to make one another jealous and fought all the time. He said I was like Summer, rejecting him, fearful that I would probably fall in love before he was able to move on.

This is coming from the guy who took me to go see Meek’s Cutoff at Film Forum. Not only did he admit that he saw (500) Days of Summer but he equated himself with JGL.

We ultimately decided we would never work and that we actually needed to stop talking to one another. No sex and no friendship. Nothing. We haven't spoke since. I was fine! Thinking, "I don’t need a boyfriend! What for? Dates? Oh so we can hit it off, become sexually compatible, date, meet each other’s parents, make it facebook official, move in together, get married, have kids, grow old, and die.” Yeah not for me. But jeez, Ian Curtis wasn’t messing around when he said, "love will tear us apart again" because low and behold, there came Boy B.

Boy B was a new co-worker. He became the talk around the office cooler. All the girls wanted him and I had no idea why. He was good looking but completely not my type. Maybe my initial disinterest was the appeal to him. He wanted me. Me? The same girl who had braces two years ago.

I was in over my head. Texting, "yeah you can come over but you can’t stay over." At first, it was so carefree. I am pretty much nocturnal and he worked late. I was doing my best to keep up and was enjoying doing so physically. Mentally it was excruciating. It was one late night/early morning drunken mess after another and to top it all off, we were co-workers. He finally laid down the law: "I think of you as a friend, you’re hot and we have amazing sex together. That’s it." And that’s when I said, "I can’t anymore." Which meant ignoring texts, five a.m. phone calls and ultimately leaving my job.

With all this free time not working and not fucking, I was able to do some research. I watched a lot of Sex and the City. In the wee early seasons of the franchise, there was an episode titled "The Fuck Buddy." This was worth the 72-minute wait on megaupload. In the episode, Carrie mentions Edith Wharton and Henry James as she romanticizes New York City. Here’s one of my favorite quotes: "Your tits look really great in that thing." I recognized Carrie’s go-to fuck buddy right away. It was Dennis Duffy from 30 Rock.

My story came full circle when Friends with Benefits came out last weekend. See, I have been completely single for a few months now. With no hook-ups or drunken make-outs. Not even a real date with a guy, like where he pays and I shave my legs. I decided to see the movie all by myself.

I was mildly embarrassed seeing groups of young girls and perky couples walk in. I barely was able to spit out, "One for Friends With Benefits." As I finished a tweet about the uneventful fall line up for movies this year, a young woman sat down right next to me. There were other seats in the theater. Maybe she was embarrassed to be alone. She seemed pretty and normal. I wondered why she didn’t have a group of friends or a significant other. No woman is an island after all!

In Friends With Benefits, Mila Kunis is so New York and Justin Timberlake is so L.A. They are so opposite, how will this ever work! Within the first twenty minutes, Kunis’ character exclaims how she will show her leading man "the real New York," not the tourist stuff. So she shows him the Brooklyn Bridge, a view of the Empire State building, and Times Square. I would have taken him to a rave in Bushwick, spun the cube at Astor Place, and probably split a forty at the closest Papaya King.

Friends With Benefits contains homages to to Nora Ephron, Nicholas Sparks, Pretty Woman and of course Katherine Heigl of The Ugly Truth. I was very impressed with the opening to the film, wherein both Kunis and Timberlake share similar relationship woes as they are dumped by Emma Stone and Andy Samberg. Emma Stone’s caricature breaks up with JT because he was late to a John Mayer concert, thus missing "Your Body Is A Wonderland." But if you are going go to a John Mayer concert in the first place, you go to hear "Your Body Is A Wonderland." It’s like going to the Louvre, you must see the Mona Lisa or in L.A., you must go to an In-N-Out Burger. Is it a reason to break up with someone?

No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits share identical moments. Alcohol fuels an ill-fated relationship. Rules need to be laid down. Something like: thou shall not cuddle for too long. Thou shall not look each other in the eyes, thou shall not have time when you hang out and not have sex, e.g. meals together, movies, you know normal people stuff.

The film teases the idea of JT as a workaholic and Mila Kunis as the quirky girl that will show him a good time. But a lot of these things get lost in a cute but provocative sex montage. It was very similar to No Strings Attached’s sex montage, in that both lacked a doggy-style position.

Friends With Benefits contains a ridiculous amount of exposition, throwaway characters, and pivotal plot points abruptly dropped. But who cares! Better yet, there is a fake romantic comedy that the couple notes stars Rashida Jones and Jason Segel. They make fun of the production value and the stereotypical dialogue. As cheesy as the faux rom-com seems, it serves as the blueprint for JT to win Kunis’ heart.

A great supporting cast eases the pain. NSA: Mindy Kaling, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, and Ludacris! FWB: Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, and Bryan Greenberg. However, the film did leave out the whole false pregnancy scene and the adderall inspired threesome but seriously who’s counting? And more importantly, spoiler alert: they all get together in the end and live yet again, happily ever after.

As for me? Two fuck buddies and no, I did not end up with either of them. Through my experience and a few pretty bad romantic comedies, I have realized you do not need sex. I looked into it and lack of sex will not cause cancer. Next time around, I am going to have to do this all from scratch. Let’s say I am on a real first date in the near future.

Guy of my dreams: Oh yeah, I mean, I was on again off again with this one chick but then I met you. What about you? Ex-boyfriends?

Me: Funny you should bring that up because I’ve never had a boyfriend before. I’ve never even liked anyone. I’m a virgin and I’m actually saving myself for marriage.

Think he'll buy it?

Jessica Rionero is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer and comedian living in New York. You can find her website here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

photo by drew kaufman

"Vanishing of Time" - Vivian Girls (mp3)

"Lake House" - Vivian Girls (mp3)

"Death" - Vivian Girls (mp3)