Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Madonna - Hard Candy

[review by JP]

Madonna’s 2005 "Confessions on a Dancefloor" album placed her on a future-disco mood where there was some intention to mix the freedom and joy of a dance song with the deepness of some of the ideas expressed in the lyrics. But truth to be told, the album lacked intimacy between her and the listener. For die-hard Madonna fans, the darkness of some of her best songs such as “Substitute For Love”, “Paradise (Not For Me)”, “I Deserve It” or “X-Static Process” was missing. Even if enjoyable and highly successful, I think the record was a bit of an empty affair.

Fast-forward to 2008 and there she is again. And this time there’s the best of the two Madonna’s in the same “candy” package. There’s the Madonna who screams the joy of dance and freedom on tracks such as “Give It 2 Me” or “Heartbeat”, with such lyrics as “Can’t you see when I dance I feel free?” reminding us that the cool young girl who wrote songs such as "Into the Groove" has gone nowhere. But if, like me, you really enjoy her more personal writing, there’s some goodies in the bag as well. More about each song:

Candy Shop
The album's opener is a dirty little track where the lyrics reveal a sense of humor that she hasn’t used for a while in her writing. “My sugar is raw / sticky and sweet” she sings over a clever hip-hop meets electronica arrangement created by Pharrell Williams. Great opener for the record, a very seducing invitation to her “store”.

4 Minutes
The first single, a duet with Justin Timberlake. It’s actually one of the least effective tracks on the album, a great beat but somehow over-produced. She sounds lost in the middle of the production (blame Timbaland) and it’s just an odd choice for the first single since there are much better tracks on this confection.

Give It 2 Me
Ok so now we’re talking, Madonna and Pharrell turn the fun booster on in this bouncy track that will be the record’s second single. It’s mostly a self-empowering song that will get everyone dancing. “What are you waiting for, nobody’s gonna show you how” she sings, adding that “When the lights go down and there’s no one left I can go on and on”. As if we didn’t know that. Pharrell’s clever production joins electro elements, an amazing breakdown where they sing “Get stupid! Get stupid!” and it’s a total sugar high.

Still Pharrell on the dance-floor with Madonna, where she asks us “Don’t you know, can’t you see? / When I dance I feel free". Everyone knows and loves this Madonna. Still very electro over an hip-hop arrangement, something that I quite like on this record. One of the best tracks.

Miles Away
Back to Timbaland, this isn’t by any way a ballad but it’s very mid-tempo and beautiful. Accoustic guitars, strong dry beats, and some great lyrics where she says “I guess we’re at our best when we’re miles away / You always have the biggest heart when we’re six thousand miles apart” (now we know not everything is perfect inside the Ritchie’s family house). Very personal lyrics but all in a perfect-pop fashion. This will be played to death by radios everywhere, write it down.

She’s Not Me
Back to Pharrell for another one of the album’s highlights. This starts like a disco song about a relationship gone wrong, where she says that whatever the new lover can bring the guy, she’s not her and she never will be. The track is very funky and by the second half, it turns really electro as well. I love what Pharrell did here, the song is very rich and kind of takes you on a sonic journey. He guest vocals in the end and his singing is totally amazing! Wendy Melvoin, the guitarist of Prince and The Revolution fame, funks up the guitar hook on this one.

Very close to the previous one in structure but very melodic and I’m hearing this can be a single. It’s kind of like she’s saying she wants to go back to the first days of a relationship where everything is perfect and beautiful. I get the sense that she’s not 100% happy in her marriage, or at least the lyrics on “Hard Candy” seem to reflect that (and Madonna does write her own lyrics, she always did, even if she gets her co-producers to shape them into the song).

The Beat Goes On
Very different to the leaked version that surfaced online a few months ago. That was simply a demo, here she and Pharrell go nuts and fuck up the elements of that demo. Pharrell does the back-chorus singing “Get down / Beep beep!” and it’s great fun. Kanye West drops by for a guest rap and it fits perfectly. One of the best songs of the package.

Dance 2Night
Back with Justin Timberlake again, it’s like a late 70’s / early 80’s disco tune where they both do a bit of a “boy meets girl on the dance-floor” escapism thing. Very nice, I sense an early Michael Jackson influence here but maybe it’s just me.

Spanish Lesson
Ok, this is the worst track here. Latin beats and guitars and very cliché lyrics. It’s not bad but it’s the filler of the album. You can listen to it and have fun but it’s very empty.

Devil Wouldn't Recognize You
As the album gets closer to the end the lyrics get more dense, which by now is a common Madonna standard (“Secret Garden”, “Mer Girl”, “Gone”, “Easy Ride”, “Like it or Not”...). I’m not into this song because Timbaland re-uses a lot of his own clichés, think "Cry Me a River". It’s a huge ballad with great lyrics and it would have an impact on the US Top 40 but nothing close to the creative heights of what she achieved with Pharrell on the previous tracks.

Love this one. Starts with an acapella of Justin asking “Who is the master and who is the slave?” and the whole thing is like questioning if you are walking the dog or the dog is walking you. Very clever lyrics and a huge orchestral instrumentation. She’s singing about someone who has demons and the whole thing just makes a fantastic end to the record.

So the verdict here is that it’s a way better record than “Confessions…” was. The lyrics are all great and the production is stellar. She achieves her best moments with Pharrell Williams on production, not Timbaland. Pharrell and Madonna go to the same levels of creative chemistry she had with Mirwais or William Orbit. To me, that makes this album the perfect blend of US street sound culture with a more european electronic sensibility that we know from her latest records.

Next, I hear she’s going on tour…

Monday, April 28, 2008

Music Videos # 79

Esser - I Love You

Another name to add into the list of up-and-coming new young British sensations waiting for the spotlight, here's Ben Esser, who's already causing some waves around with this debut track. A ridiculously catchy affair, "I Love You" is an electro-pop oddity with a looped chorus that will get stuck in your head for days, being completely written, produced and performed by Esser himself and counting with the help of Lexxx on the mix boards. In the meantime, and while you watch him on the road to deserved stardom, enjoy this D.I.Y. video with its twisted humour and, err, food being thrown at him?! Fun!

MySpace page

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Dodos - Visiter

Coming from San Francisco, what's more surprising about this duo is the way they manage to create a whole new sound using only a minimal set consisting of a drum kit, acoustic guitars and vocals, with the occasional additions of a banjo, piano and horns. The most cited comparisons have been to Animal Collective, as both projects present a primitive and ritualistic atmosphere while, at the same time, playing with the concept of folk music and adding new inventive approaches. Still, this is something else. With and impressive asset of songs that exult vitality and armed with unexpected shifts and creative structures, this is music with a huge sense of urgency, needing to celebrate the most primal aspects of life. The fact that it does so while daring to experiment with the concepts of melody and rhythm in an almost old-fashioned way makes "Visiter" one of those records that is difficult to get at first, but when that happens it becomes even harder to leave. (9/10)

The Dodos - Fools (video)

Official site
MySpace page

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Music Videos # 78

Madonna (feat. Justin Timberlake) - 4 Minutes

The video rules and the song is OK though not her best, but the real treats are yet to come with "Hard Candy", an absolute stunner of an album. Great song-writing by an inspired icon, loads of sexy punchlines and a team of the best producers in town showing why they're on top of their game (was Pharrell high or what? His stuff is completely out of this world!)...resulting in one of the best pop albums the mainstream has seen in years. For now, my favourites include "She's Not Me" and "Incredible" with their amazing twists, the vintage delight that is "Dance 2night", the futuristic electro-funk vibes of "Hearbeat" and the brilliant "Give It 2 Me" with its hallucinating keyboards. Expect a more-detailed review soon!

Official site
MySpace page

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours

Australia may not be the first country that springs to mind when thinking of places with strong music scenes, but judging from recent projects like Muscles, Midnight Juggernauts or Gotye, we may have to quickly change our perception (and I know, the lack of any mention until now about Muscle's infectious 2007 album "Guns Babes Lemonade" has been unforgiving from my part). Another band from down-under with more than a few good things about them are Cut Copy who, with this second album, are destined to conquer the hearts of many music lovers around the world. With an amazing collection of fantastic hooks, "In Ghost Colours" is one of the best synth-pop records ever to come out this side of The Tough Alliance. Starting as an updated and inspired take on New Order at their best and ending up on uncovered and exciting new territory that manages to blend rock and electro in never-heard-before fashion, there's also a genuine sense of fun and pleasure that is unbelievably contagious. Co-produced by DFA's Tim Goldsworthy and loaded with vibrant keyboards, glorious guitars (both acoustic and electric), silky summer melodies, pulsating beats and epic synths, along with the aforementioned addictive hooks, "In Ghost Colours" works as a gigantic non-stop party voyage that never ceases to overload our senses with incredibly good treats. (9/10).

Cut Copy - Lights And Music (video)

MySpace page

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm Not There

First things first, I don't know much about Bob Dylan's career, so it was with mixed expectations that I went to see this movie. After all, Velvet Goldmine (also directed by Todd Haynes) is still one of my favourite movies ever, but it was also about something I could easily identify, while I'm Not There was basically a complete shot in the dark. And with that in mind, it ended up being an even greater surprise. Using 6 actors to represent 7 different masks of Dylan's persona, some almost literal pastiches while others working more as free variations / interpretations, the final result is nothing less than extremely intriguing, thanks in no small part to the surreal atmosphere that subliminally dominates the movie. Working partially as a visual poem inspired by Bob Dylan, each of the 7 segments flows smoothly while intercepting each others, as if everything was mostly an intensely seductive dream.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Music Videos # 77

These New Puritans - Swords Of Truth

Speaking of These New Puritans, their new video finds vocalist Jack Barnett standing almost still in front of the camera, with a few juxtapositions between his face and the other members, topped by some psychedelic effects. Though I quite like its dark and primitive atmosphere, the really treat in here is the fantastic song, included in Beat Pyramid, with its wicked jungle rhythms, industrial guitars, hypnotic vocals and unique sample structures.

Official site
MySpace page

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Foals - Antidotes

A good companion to the excellent Beat Pyramid by These New Puritans, this debut album from Oxford group Foals gives another exciting perspective into the post-punk revival that has been going on for a few years now. Adding an intense mathematical approach that reminds me a lot of Battles, especially in its dry and highly detailed rhythmic section, and using repetition to build an hypnotic atmosphere (have they been listening to Steve Reich?), Antidotes manages to create another scary vision of paranoia in industrial societies. Loaded with looped sounds, fluctuating guitars, intricate structures, nervous rhythms, infectious melodies and alien elements like ska horns or claustrophobic keyboards, this may be a self-absorbed and very dense world to be immersed in but it actually becomes a rewarding (re)discovery. And even if you can easily identify their many influences, these addictive songs actually manage to stand on their own, sounding like something completely different from whatever else. (7,5/10)

Foals - Cassius (video)

Official site
MySpace page

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mystery Jets - Twenty One

Adding to the innumerous indie-pop projects recently coming from the UK, Mystery Jets may have just done one of the most solid records to hit the scene yet. And if, at first listen, "Twenty One" sounds like your average well-done indie-pop album, don't let yourself be fooled, because there's oh so much more in here. Loaded with sharp hooks, perfect melodies, an effective production, lots of "ooohh's" and "aaahh's" chants to sing-a-long and an absurd amount of ear catching details insanely appearing everywhere, it's hard to resist this album's (many) charms. With a sense of vitality and freshness from start to end, every song is direct and straight-to-the-point but, most of all, it features an enthusiastic attitude that ends up building addictive and shiny anthemic tales about the inevitable themes, a.k.a. love and break-ups. Mark my words, songs like "Young Love", "Hideaway" or the genius moment that is "Two Doors Down" are destined to become next summer's soundtrack for a lot of people. (9/10)

Mystery Jets - Young Love - feat. Laura Marling (video)

Official site
MySpace page

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Music Videos # 76

Los Campesinos! - My Year In Lists

Did you think the exclamation mark in their name was just a gimmick? Don't hold your breath waiting for a confirmation. Taken from Hold On Now, Youngster... (incidentally, one of my favourite records of the year so far) here are 1:50 minutes of pure sugar-coated pop perfection that seem like many exclamation marks put together, in the form of a short break-up anthem. Too nice for words, really. "Send me stationary to make me horny". What? "I get carried away..." But then comes the sweet conclusion: "I cherish with fondness the day before I met you". So good!

Official site
MySpace page

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Music Videos # 75

Björk - Wanderlust

Another breathtaking video from our girl Björk, this time for Wanderlust, one of the best songs from Volta... and, like, wow! 7 minutes of an epic journey that creates a dazzling parallel universe with absolutely awesome visuals. Directed by Encyclopedia Picture, the original was shot in 3-D, but for now the above 2-D compressed version will have to do to satisfy our appetites. To watch it in all its full glory, the DVD (which will even come with special 3-D glasses!) will be out on the 14th of April. Start marking your calendars!