music

Keeping up with Kanye’s new shoes

I’m always fascinated by celebrities and the power with which they can command an audience. Some drive their audiences toward charities that are close to their hearts, others drive their audiences toward their own brands.

Last week, I was sent out to write a story about why people were lining up outside the downtown Vancouver Holt Renfrew. Turns out – Kanye West’s latest collaboration with Adidas was about to be re-released.

I don’t know about you but I think the most I’ve ever spent on a pair of shoes was $120 and those were well-made boots that have lasted me two years and counting. I’m not sure I could bring myself to pay $225 for a pair of shoes designed by a celebrity, no matter how much I admired them.

No one man should have all that power, right?

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I bless the rains down in Africa

(This is a post dedicated to sharing the good message of Toto’s “Africa.” You’ve been warned.)

It doesn’t matter what decade you were born in but if you currently have access to the Internet, a record collection, or a soft-hits radio station, you’ll know Toto’s “Africa.” It’s a great song all around and if I had any authority on music (which I won’t claim to have), I’d argue that it’s one of the best songs ever written and released. True or not, it sounds like a good argument though.

The song was released in late 1982 on Toto’s album Toto IV, which debuted earlier that same year. It hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1983, and got as high as #3 on UK charts the same month.

Most recently, actors and real-life couple Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell posted their own homemade music video tribute to the song, featuring footage from the couple’s trip to, yes, Africa. I already love the song and I love Kristen Bell even more so I’m a sucker for this video, obviously.

An online video of two guys performing in a pizza shop in South Jordan, Utah has also been dubbed “The Best Cover of ‘Africa’ by Toto You’ve Probably Ever Heard.” (h/t Michael Berry at KTRH)

The performers are Mike Masse and Jeff Hall, and the video was actually posted to Youtube back in August 2010, but the fact that the video is still being passed around just goes to show that Toto’s “Africa” is a timeless song.

So today’s lesson is: You’ll never regret hearing Toto’s “Africa” because it’s a great song that makes you feel good. That is all.

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FIRST LISTEN: Weezer’s “King of the World”

I’m just gonna say it. I like the track. But you’re right. I’ll probably always love any Weezer track. I’m sorry. I can’t help it. (I mean, I probably could but I won’t.)

Weezer’s “King of the World” comes in advance of their 10th album. It’s, of course, self-titled but is already being referred to as the White Album, in the same vein of Blue, Green, Red, etc. thanks to their dreamy Californian faded album art. The album drops on April 1, just weeks after the band’s unofficial 24th birthday on Feb. 14.

Don’t worry, I’ve already pre-ordered my copy and bought my tickets. Duh.

Stephanie’s Top Albums of 2015

I’ll keep this short and brief. Insert here a disclaimer about how this isn’t an exhaustive list and is by no means definitive. It’s just me and my weird taste in music. There’s still plenty of other new music I haven’t even had the chance to sit down and listen to yet. Phew.

These are listed in chronological order by release date but if I’m picking just ONE top album for the year, it’ll be Death Cab For Cutie’s Kintsugi, hands down.

Purity Ring – Another Eternity
Released: Feb. 27, 2015 on 4AD
“Push Pull”

Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
Released: March 17, 2015 on Epic
“Lampshades on Fire”

Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi
Released: March 31, 2015 on Atlantic, Barsuk
“Good Help Is So Hard To Find”

Matt & Kim – New Glow
Released: April 7, 2015 on Fader Label
“Get It”

Muse – Drones
Released: June 5, 2015 on Warner Brothers/Helium-3
“Defector”

Tame Impala – Currents
Released: July 17, 2015 on Modular/Universal/Fiction/Interscope
“The Less I Know The Better”

Atlas Genius – Inanimate Objects
Released: Aug. 28, 2015 on Warner Brothers
“Molecules”

Big Grams (Big Boi + Phantogram) – Self-Titled
Released: Sept. 25, 2015 on Epic
“Fell In The Sun”

Featured Image: Marc Wathieu / Carnaby Records. LINK

First Listen: Weezer’s “Back to the Shack”

Anyone who knows me, knows that Weezer will forever be my one true love. And yes, their material in recent years hasn’t been the most promising and a lot of people have the quartet written off. Even so, I think there’s always been a small part of my heart that always remembers the band I first fell in love with, the one that gave us the Blue Album and Pinkerton. Heck, even the Green Album!

Their upcoming album, Everything Will Be Alright In The End is due this September and to start the party, Weezer harkens back to the good ol’ days in the album’s lead single, Back to the Shack. The lyrics are quite literal and Rivers Cuomo absolutely knows what we’ve all been thinking about Hurley and that other album.

You can hear it in the lyrics, you can hear it in the song’s crunchy riffs – but this is most definitely the closest to the Rivers Cuomo we first met “in the garage” all those years ago, than we’ve seen in recent years.

Sorry guys I didn’t realize that I needed you so much,
I thought I’d get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks.
I ended up with nobody and I started feeling dumb,
Maybe I should play the lead guitar and Pat should play the drums.

Take me back, back to the shack, back to the Strat with the lightning strap,
Kick in the door, more hardcore, rockin out like it’s ’94.
Let’s turn up the radio, let’s turn off those stupid singing shows,
I know where we need to go: Back to the shack.

First Look: Wish I Was Here

The trailer for Zach Braff’s new film Wish I Was Here was released today and it is lovely. From Zach Braff: “Get ready to hear in the trailer the unbelievable, original song The Shins made just for our movie.  James Mercer saw our film and was so inspired he wrote an original song just for the movie. (It’s the second song you’ll hear…)”

First Look: Arcade Fire’s “We Exist”

Arcade Fire’s new video for We Exist is exhilarating. Andrew Garfield completely disappears into this character and even though the clip is only about six minutes long and there’s no dialogue, there’s more of a story here and more character development than in some full-length films. I absolutely love, love, love it. Just breaks my heart and fills it all at once.

First Look: Foster the People’s “Houdini”

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know I’ve been a longtime fan of Foster the People. I’ve dedicated a couple posts to them over the last year or so and will likely continue writing about them in the future. They’re a quirky band with an interesting style, one I hadn’t seen in a long time. If you’re unfamiliar with this band, then you need to get out from the rock you’ve been living in and introduce yourself to them quickly.

Cultural commentary?

Their new music video for “Houdini” emits the same kind of quirky humour last seen in “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” and “Call It What You Want.” There’s a lot of artists who aim for a ‘quirk’ but when it comes to Foster the People, I feel like there’s always an underlying commentary, something subtle but snarky that they’re trying to say.

Foster the People – “Houdini”

Houdini

The “Houdini” video starts by showing the band members on set of a new music video – turning the focus on the process itself. Only seconds into the clip, a lighting rig crashes down on the set and all three band members are killed – but only in the storyline, of course. While the video crew freaks over the band’s concert the next day and wonder, ‘What the hell are we to do?!’, a secret crew led by a wise-looking Mr. Miyagi-style character receives the call. Instantly, they appear on set, like some secret department of the FBI, and get to work ‘re-animating” the three corpses.

Agents in black body suits begin puppeteering the band members against a black backdrop, positioning them at their instruments, arms flailin’ and feet stompin’. The crew quickly realizes there may be a way to save the show after all instead of having to cancel and refund all those tickets – phew! They get to work filming the band’s new music video and on-set hijinks ensue (including a hilariously staged scene where a band member is bent over suggestively in front of an agent, busy taking a snack break).

The agents also get creative and even hoist the band members into the air, giving the impression of anti-gravity as their instruments ‘explode’ into the air and then reassemble. Though the crew is already impressed, the agents go another step further and even kick in some fancy footwork. The guys are suddenly swapped into white outfits, reminiscent of the Backstreet Boys’ video for “I Want It That Way (Tell Me Why)”.

Performing live

Suddenly, it’s the next day, the crowd is packed, the girls are screaming, the concert experience is shiny and flashy – but let’s be real. When was the last time you were at a concert that exciting? How about never? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The band appears on stage, dressed all in white and the music video scenario is then performed live on stage. The audience is none the wiser that the band is actually dead and that they’re being reanimated by puppeteers! Ack!

However, the concert is a success, the crew is ecstatic and one hell of an after party swings in action. The band doesn’t miss a single beat but of course, being the dead corpses that they are, they’re left slumped – and likely rotting – on a couch in the green room as everyone else enjoys congratulatory high-fives all around. Confetti!

…or playing dead?

When I was in elementary school, we did a Halloween poster project that featured scenes of a graveyard, complete with tombstones. On one, I wrote ‘STEPHANIE IP’ and then put my birth year and the present year. My teacher left it on the wall with all the other posters but when Halloween passed, I collected the poster and brought it home to show my parents. I remember so clearly what my mom said when she saw my tombstone: “Well, that’s messed up. Are you telling me you’re going to die in the next two months?”

As a kid, I thought nothing of it but there is definitely something morbid about dating your own death, even as a joke on a Halloween craft project. That’s why I thought it so peculiar that Foster the People would enact a version of their own deaths in “Houdini.” Sure, some people are superstitious and some aren’t – but I wouldn’t want to tempt the fates either way. Foster, however, are able to find hilarity and a sense of lightness in joking about the afterlife.

‘We’re a real band!’

The video also brought up some interesting points about the role of a ‘star.’ What’s the value of a rock star? Who’s qualified for the job?

In “Houdini,” it’s almost as if Foster the People are downplaying their own success. Anyone could do this. Anyone can orchestrate this level of success, they seem to be saying. The rock star lifestyle is so easy, you could do it with your eyes closed! Heck, you could even use a puppet and still create the same image! Whether you can extrapolate that into commentary on the role of record labels in the creation of an artist… well. That depends whether you think record labels are big, horrible monsters or a legitimate part of how the music industry works.

The music video – that is, the one being filmed within the video – and the concert went off without a hitch, even when its star players were down and out for the count. It could be interpreted as drawing a spotlight on all the aspects that go into a successful band. Or it might be interpreted as illustrating how mindless being a pop star these days can be – just sing some songs, have the right image and the rest will show up on a silver platter.

Disappear

You can draw your own conclusions about what Foster the People meant to say with the video but if you take a look at the lyrics of “Houdini,” there’s a loose explanation.

Got shackles on, my words are tied,
Fear can make you compromise,
Fasten up, it’s time to hide,
Sometimes I wanna disappear.

Much of the lyrics focus on the narrator’s “ability” and feelings of adequacy. It appears the narrator is constrained by some unknown figure’s expectations and challenges – you could use the context of a relationship or if you want to tie it more closely to the video, the context of pop culture and what it expects from its artists. The expectations are so tough that the narrator just wishes he could evaporate like Houdini, and constantly tries to tell himself “it’s up to your ability.”

In a way, the song and video is a white flag of surrender. It’s the idea that, yes, even wildly successful people still face expectations that they don’t always feel like they can measure up to, expectations that are tough to meet. When things get that difficult, the natural instinct is often to run in the other direction, to wish that you could just “disappear,” to remove yourself from the equation and hope that things will continue on.

Featured Photo and Video Stills: Screengrabbed by Stephanie Ip

Rolling in the Grammy’s

Since I finished school last spring and started working, I haven’t had much time to follow the music industry as much as I’d like to. That being said, the Grammy Awards can be an easy — though not the most definitive — way to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s being lauded in music.

But before the show gets going, here’s a couple of my own picks from some of the more the anticipated categories:

Record of the Year
Want to Win: “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele
Will Likely Win: “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele

Reason: It’s hard to imagine any other record in this category holding a flame to Adele’s work on “Rolling in the Deep.” Her raw talent completely surpasses Katy Perry’s sexual allure, Mumford & Sons’ indie credibility, and even Bruno Mars’ heart-wrenching lyrics.

Nominees:
“Rolling in the Deep,” Adele
“Holocene,” Bon Iver
“Grenade,” Bruno Mars
“The Cave,” Mumford & Sons
“Firework,” Katy Perry

Album of the Year
Want to Win: 21, Adele
Will Likely Win: Born This Way, Lady Gaga

Reason: Although I’m pulling for Adele, it’s easy to see how Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, with its deeper social message of acceptance and self-love, could usurp the English songbird for Album of the Year. Gaga’s effect on the pop world and music industry at large is so wide-spread, it’s hard to understand. Those who connected with the anthemic message, however, are largely to thank for propelling the album to its current status.

Nominees:
21
, Adele
Wasting Light, Foo Fighters
Born This Way, Lady Gaga
Doo-Wops & Hooligans, Bruno Mars
Loud, Rihanna

Song of the Year
Want to Win: “The Cave,” Performed by Mumford & Sons
Will Likely Win: “Rolling in the Deep,” Performed by Adele

Nominees:
“All of the Lights,” Performed by Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi and Fergie
“The Cave,” Performed by Mumford & Sons
“Grenade,” Performed by Bruno Mars
“Holocene,” Performed by Bon Iver
“Rolling in the Deep,” Peformed by Adele

New Artist
Want to Win: Skrillex / Bon Iver
Will Likely Win: Nicki Minaj

Reason: This year’s Grammy Awards are a big turning point for the world of electronic music. Dubstep artist Skrillex (also known as Sonny Moore and former lead singer of From First To Last) is walking in with a small handful of nominations and if he wins any of them, it’ll be a huge step toward lending electronic music an air of credibility the rest of the industry has had a tough time understanding.

Nominees:
The Band Perry
Bon Iver
J. Cole
Nicki Minaj
Skrillex

Pop Vocal Album
Want to Win: 21, Adele
Will Likely Win: 21, Adele

Nominees:
21, Adele
The Lady Killer
, Cee Lo Green
Born This Way
, Lady Gaga
Doo-Wops & Hooligans
, Bruno Mars
Loud
, Rihanna

Rock Album
Want to Win: The Whole Love, Wilco
Will Likely Win: Come Around Sundown, Kings of Leon

Nominees:
Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul
, Jeff Beck
Wasting Light
, Foo Fighters
Come Around Sundown
, Kings of Leon
I’m With You
, Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Whole Love
, Wilco.

Rap Album
Want to Win: Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West
Will Likely Win: Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West

Reason: I don’t think I even need to explain, do I? You’ve got two of the biggest giants in rap music collaborating on an album that has given the world one of the best tours in recent history? Hands down, I’m telling you…

Nominees:
Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West
Tha Carter IV
, Lil Wayne
Lasers
, Lupe Fiasco
Pink Friday
, Nicki Minaj
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
, Kanye West

Feature Image: Adele – “Rolling in the Deep” (SCREEN GRAB)

Top 10 Songs of 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, it’s hard to resist the allure of year-end lists. Just ask High Fidelity‘s Nick Hornby.

I haven’t devoted much time to music this year since I spent half of it completing my 20-year formal education and the other half starting my first full-time job. However, from what I did manage to absorb, it was the year of dance and pop. Compared to previous lists I’ve compiled, there’s a noticeable lack of artists who play live instruments on their own tracks.

Either way, here’s my  Top 10 Songs of 2011. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list or any sort of musical authority; it’s simply what I thought were great singles released this year. These songs are catchy, well-written and I just couldn’t shut them off. Enjoy.

Top 10 Songs of 2011


10. The Joy Formidable – “A Heavy Abacus” | LISTEN
From The Big Roar; Release Date: July 11; Peak Position: #29 on US Alt
It’s been awhile since I’ve heard a band that really commands your full attention. The Joy Formidable is great and I’m sad I missed them when they were in town August 2010 at the Media Club. The UK-based trio has a stadium presence that explodes from within and their aptly titled album, The Big Roar, is full of that huge, reckless sound that the present-day alternative scene often lacks.

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9. Jay-Z & Kanye West – “N*ggas in Paris” | LISTEN
From Watch The ThroneRelease Date: Sept. 13; Peak Position: #5 on US
Jay-Z and Kanye are great artists on their own but when they collaborate, even people not into rap or hip hop will sit up and take notice. It’s like the rap equivalent of superheroes joining forces or a crossover episode of a popular mid-90s TV show. (Forgive my similes.) The best way to explain the allure is by looking at the dialogue included on “N*ggas in Paris” taken from the Will Ferrell film, Blades of Glory:
“I don’t even know what that means!”
“No one knows what it means but it’s provocative. It gets the people going!”

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8. Death Cab For Cutie – “You Are A Tourist” | LISTEN
From Codes and Keys; Release Date: March 29; Peak Position: #1 on US Alt
While there’s been criticism that Ben Gibbard has lost many of the original elements of the signature Death Cab sound, I’d argue that a lot of those elements are still there –just in different, more mature ways. “You Are A Tourist” was also accompanied by a live-streamed, one-take music video directed by Tim Nackashi, who has directed videos with Rye Rye, Maroon 5, OK GO and almost anyone else you can think of. The video used multiple cameras, live performers and no edits. Very cool.

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7. Benny Benassi ft. Gary Go – “Cinema (Skrillex Remix)” | LISTEN
From Electroman; Release Date: March 8; Peak Position: #6 on US Billboard
While dubstep’s become a bit of an inside joke as of late, I think it’s still worthy to note its popularity among EDM fans, both new and old. Skrillex’s dubstep remix of “Cinema” boasts a pretty heavy drop with a great build and it’s easy to see why some think it eclipses the original electro house cut by Benassi. The dubstep version definitely takes the song and turns it into a different beast completely.

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6. Beyonce – “Run the World (Girls)” | LISTEN
From 4; Release Date: April 21; Peak Position: #1 on US Dance/Club
While the song’s framework is built on a sample of Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor,” it’s really Beyonce’s lyrics that make this song work. Other critics weren’t fans, claiming it was a continuation of the same old themes of “independence” in Beyonce’s other songs such as “Diva” and “Single Ladies.” The difference is that Beyonce really hammers the message home in “Run The World (Girls),” taking prisoners and kicking down doors. “Run the World (Girls)” also lent itself to some great live performances, something that is difficult to do these days. (Skip to 3:00 to see the live performance.) Recognize, yo.

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5. M83 – “Midnight City” | LISTEN
From Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming; Release Date: Aug. 16; Peak Position: #20 on US
M83’s “Midnight City” has been listed by many publication as the best song of 2011. The song, which is synth-pop goodness at its best, feels familiar and yet, draws you into something unknown, as if the Back to the Future trilogy was the inspiration point. The gratuitous saxophone solo, while hilarious and strangely fitting, is admittedly, well, sexy. The haunting vocals add another surreal layer to this nostalgic trip of a song.

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4. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep” | LISTEN
From 21; Release Date: March 8; Peak Position: #1 on Various
There could not be enough praise in the world for Adele’s vocals. On “Rolling in the Deep,” however, she makes sure that you know it. Her vocals are delivered with a careful cutting edge that disguises itself until it’s time to strike. The lyrics are mournful and yet, the chorus’ wail lets her ex-lover know that yes, it hurts like a mother effin’ bitch but that’s just too damn bad, isn’t it? The song’s stomp-clap bridge also sets things up nicely.

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3. Avicii – “Levels” | LISTEN
Release Date: Oct. 28; Peak Position: #1 on US Dance/Club
I know it’s super cliche to say so but Avicii’s “Levels” has taken the world by storm. I’ve only just become familiar with the electronic scene over the last year but I’ve heard enough to know Avicii is doing something crazy good and the club kids all love it. The song has hit #1 on charts across the UK and it won’t be long before Avicii becomes a staple on North American dance charts too.

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2. Foster the People – “Pumped Up Kicks” | LISTEN
From Torches; Release Date: Sept. 14; Peak Position: #1 on US Alt
“Pumped Up Kicks,” which made the rounds online long before Foster the People ever had a record deal in place, is a weird concoction of equal parts laid-back indie-rock, indie-pop and dance. The song’s strange little nuances and sounds — including whistles, warbles and fades —  make it all the more intriguing. Curiously, the lead single is drastically different from their other songs, though the same quirky character is still present.

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1. Robyn – “Call Your Girlfriend” | LISTEN
From Body Talk; Release Date: April 1; Peak Position: #1 on US Dance/Club

You know when girls scream, “This is my jam!” when they’re in the club? Well, this is that song for me and it takes everything in my body to not yell out those exact same words every time this song comes on… and this song comes on a lot. (Mostly because it’s the most played song on my iPod from the past year.)

Robyn’s been making a hot comeback here in North America where most people remember her from the late 90s not-so-one-hit-wonder, “Show Me Love.” But what many don’t realize is that Robyn’s been doing quite well for herself over in Europe. Body Talk, however, has really launched Robyn back into the pop consciousness of North American music fans.

While all the tracks off Body Talk are impeccable and deserve attention, “Call Your Girlfriend” has a maturity not often found in pop music. Lyrically, Robyn is the Other Woman, telling her new boyfriend to break it off gently with his girlfriend. There’s a keen awareness of her position in the tricky situation, while also acknowledging the feelings of her lover and the scorned woman.

The song itself has a buzz, a hum of energy that never lets up. You can hear this in the initial notes where the beat almost feels ahead of the count, pulling the listener forward, driving the tempo with purpose. When the beat picks up about 0:30 seconds in, there’s a definite push that holds firm.

The accompanying music video also played a huge role in the success of the song. The video features Robyn in a warehouse, dancing as lights flash in the background. It’s an example of lights done well as the warehouse transforms from barren walls to a neon storm of colour. Filmed in one continuous take, the video’s unconventional dance routine has Robyn going all out, only a small hint of the energy exuded during live shows.

If 2010 and 2011 were any indication, it looks like Robyn’s got a lot more calls to make in 2012.

Honourable Mentions


Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris – “We Found Love” | LISTEN
From Talk That Talk; Release Date: Sept. 22; Peak Position: #1 on Various
I’m a sucker for a great dance-pop tune so it’s no surprise that “We Found Love” is noted here. The problem is that while Calvin Harris’ production, Rihanna’s vocals and the accompanying music video are very well done, the lyrics themselves do nothing for me. Sometimes, simplistic works but the song’s repetition loses me entirely.

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Kreayshawn – “Gucci Gucci” | LISTEN
Release Date: June 14, Peak Position: #18 on US Rap
While it’s by no means a masterpiece, Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” has pop cultural references that are all at once hilarious, shocking and quirky. There’s a carefree flow that only a petite white girl from Oakland can pull off. Or maybe I just really like singing along. “Yeah, you can kiss the ring / But you can never touch the crown.” The difficulty is that the entire song rests on these pop culture references; her other songs haven’t reached the same level of success.

Featured Image: A record shop in NYC’s Greenwich Village. Photo by Stephanie Ip.
Screen caps and titles captured and edited by Stephanie Ip.