Retrospective Review: Calvin Harris – Motion

Last month I had to face a cold, harsh truth: I’m past my Longboarding prime.

When I was seventeen, I picked up the hobby for like three months and I’m pretty sure I mildly impressed a few people. I even got those fancy Slide Gloves and learned to do a couple of legitimate tricks (I believe one was called a “Coleman”). Before I knew it, every girl in my high school wanted nothing more than to fuck my brains out. Just kidding, no one cared. But in all seriousness, as a lover of learning first and foremost, I had an absolute blast with the whole process – putting in the long hours and watching my rapid growth at this new hobby – just as I had done with guitar before that and sacrificing goats before that or whatever Fox News hosts think Metalheads do in our free time.

But as anybody past the age of eighteen is well aware, getting older means that your many interesting hobbies quickly narrow down to the two-or-three-things-you- kinda-just-do-to-avoid-blowing-your-brains-out-in between-grueling-work-hours. And as much as I love to Longboard – and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anybody I meet – my beautiful Landyatchz board has just been sitting in my garage for years and years.

So I finally pulled the trigger and sold it on Craig’s List for a hundred bucks. I immediately took that hundred bucks (which was paid to me in a single crisp Franklin) and cleaned out the Dance Music section at my local soon-to-be-bankrupt FYE.

One of my purchases was a used copy of Calvin Harris’ wildly successful 2014 album Motion. And when I say the album was “wildly successful”, I mostly mean two songs: “Summer” and “Outside” (the latter of which features Ellie Goulding). Both were utterly inescapable that year, and I have fond memories of being drunk at many a college party while they throbbed in the background.

For the last year or so, my main musical “research project” has been Electronic Dance Music. I’ve been frantically consuming anything even remotely related to that world, from ‘70s Disco to ‘90s Gabber to whatever the fuck Kraftwerk is, working hard to better understand the genre. I’ve been falling in love with it all at an alarming pace, and my goal is to eventually have the necessary background and knowledge to start reviewing it on confidently . But more on that quest later.

So in the midst of this exploration, I figured Motion would be a great case study when it comes to modern EDM crossing over into the Pop mainstream.

Motion was Calvin Harris’ follow-up to his breakthrough 2012 album 18 Months, which featured smashes like “Feel So Close” and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, and more. And like its predecessor, Motion’s track list takes a star-studded, radio-baiting approach, with only three feature-less tracks out of fifteen, and guests ranging from Gwen Stefani to Alesso to Big Sean to Ellie Goulding. What Calvin Harris did on 18 Months and Motion is a lot like what David Guetta did on Nothing But the Beat and Listen – tighten up house music to fit a compact Pop format, then pass off the hooks to A-listers. It’s a brilliant strategy, one that in retrospect, I’m surprised artists like Tiesto didn’t figure out a decade earlier (but then again, dance music wasn’t yet the full-blown phenomenon it would become).

Unfortunately – winning formula or not – collaborations need chemistry, and some of the collabs on Motion feel so shamelessly “pieced together”. One such instance is the Gwen Stefani-assisted “Together”, which has a lively drop and everything, but also has this cold, calculated-ness to it as Stefani sings some generic lovedrunk lyrics.

Speaking of guest appearances, Motion includes what I now recognize as one of the worst songs in recorded history – “Open Wide”, featuring Big Sean. It’s a complete piece of shit. I’m not sure what I despite about it most, the anti-climatic drop itself, Big Sean’s bars (he rhymes “blouses” with “trousers”), or his obnoxious, trashy refrain asking for…well, you can figure it out from the title. Let’s just say it makes Nickelback’s “Something In Your Mouth” look super fucking classy.

But other than a couple forced duets and a couple low-bro moments (I’d throw the heinous drop in “Overdrive” in the latter category along with “Open Wide”), Motion does deliver on its obvious M.O.. When it comes to lightweight, accessible, party-friendly dance songs, this album totally works. Couple that with the fact that most of its intended audience doesn’t give a shit about full albums (i.e. we can ignore a few duds), and it REALLY works.

Whether its Harris putting together a simple, uplifting tune on his own (“Faith”) or knocking a Swedish House Mafia-style banger out of the park (“Under Control” with Alesso), this is as non-threatening and approachable as dance music gets. It sounds tailor-made to soundtrack summer day drinks and club nights alike, and while it may feel cheap and easy at times, who am I to chastise the man for achieving his goal? Especially with standout tracks like “Outside,” which still launches my brain into a blissful party montage with every listen.

And while I may have been introduced to one of my least favorite songs I’ve ever heard, I also found a new favorite. When I first heard the HAIM-guesting “Pray to God”, my jaw hit the floor. No joke, I’ve listened to that song over fifty times since I got this CD. I am fucking furious with myself for missing the boat on it back when Motion dropped. Not only is the dance beat itself a mind-boggling, irresistible charge of adrenaline, but Danielle Haim’s soaring vocals make me wish she did more guest appearances. And the cherry on top is the uber-melodic guitar part that pops in as Harris hits the brakes for the song’s final 20 seconds. I can tell this one’s gonna stick with me for years to come.

Until I inevitably become an EDM snob somewhere down the line, albums like Motion are totally cool with me. Before writing this review I spent two weeks blasting this CD in my car with the windows down and had – aside from a couple completely intolerable songs – very little complaints. As long as people continue to party and continue to overlook shoddy deep cuts, the Motions of the world will never go out of style. That being said, though I’m sure Calvin Harris could easily keep pumping out albums like this for years to come (and I’ll probably dig a few tracks off of each one), I’m hoping that his latest smash single “Slide”, my second favorite song of the year so far, is a sign of greater things to come.

When contrasted with the material on Motion, “Slide” is so much more mature, multifaceted, and stylistically distinctive. And his two features, Frank Ocean and Migos, could not have been a more organic fit. Though Motion showcased Calvin Harris’ undeniable ear for hits, “Slide” has me psyched to hear this talent of his applied to a more unique, impactful project. ‘Til then, I guess my Longboard money went to good use.

2017 Grammys Rundown: Who Won, Who Should’ve Won, and More Angry Thoughts

If you’re anything other than the most casual, Kool Aid-chugging Z100 listener, you’re probably aware that the Grammys suck massive amounts of dick a good amount of the time. I’m not going to get myself all worked up here with a Grammy Awards: Cluelessness and Disrespect 101 history lesson, but you get my point. (Side note: Sometimes I wonder if film buffs feel the same about the Oscars, but I’m as fair weather a moviegoer as they come, so if that’s the case, I’m part of the problem.)

Of course I love music too much to look away, and every year my morbid curiosity gets the best of me.Here’s a cathartic synopsis of some of my most primitive thoughts: the right decisions, the wrong decisions, and some additional commentary about the show itself. So I’ll begin with a dissection of the categories relevant to this blog, and end with a bunch of self-absorbed opinions. Enjoy!

Category: Album of the Year

Winner: 25 – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Lemonade – Beyonce

Why: Ask Adele. She’ll tell you.

 

Category: Song of the Year

Winner: Hello – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Hello – Adele

Why: Despite my personal distaste for it, “Hello” has been a ubiquitous radio monster for the last 18 months, and with its success we saw Adele reach an even higher echelon of stardom than on her tremendous 21 album cycle.

 

Category: Best New Artist

Winner: Chance The Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: Anderson .Paak

Why: Chance is not NEW you fucking idiots. Since Acid Rap dropped in 2013, he has been the de facto face of independent Hip-Hop and a massively influential force in the industry’s ever-evolving approach to music distribution. But hey, I guess when you’re half a decade behind, he IS new.

 

Category: Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Winner: “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Who Should’ve Won: “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Why: So we could see one of the best acceptance speeches of all time.

 

Category: Best Pop Vocal Album

Winner: 25 – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande

Why: Beyonce may have had the artfulness and critically acclaim, but Ariana had the hits! Not just one or two, but a whole album full of them! Like it or not, Dangerous Woman is such a flawlessly executed Pop record that it’s still dominating airwaves EIGHT MONTHS after its release.

 

 Category: Best Pop Solo Performance

Winner: “Hello” – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: “Dangerous Woman” – Ariana Grande

Why: Far and away the better song! Plus, it was so cool to hear some bluesy guitars make it onto the charts.

 

 

Category: Best Rock Song

Winner: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Who Should’ve Won: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Why: Even though this is classic “better-late-than-never” posthumous appreciation from a clueless institution, “Blackstar” is an amazing song. Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” gets a close second here.

 

 Category: Best Rock Performance

Winner: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Who Should’ve Won: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Why: What a joke that Bowie’s competition for best ROCK performance was a fucking Beyonce song and Disturbed’s Simon & Garfunkel cover. Fuck the Grammys.

 

 Category: Best Metal Performance

Winner: “Dystopia” – Megadeth

Who Should’ve Won: “Dystopia” – Megadeth

Why: Would’ve been happy with Megadeth, Baroness, or Gojira on this one. All three are favorites of mine! The Grammys are so historically clueless with Metal that you just hope the dice land in a reasonable place (i.e. NOT Motorhead winning for a Metallica cover, or Tenacious D beating out Slipknot, Mastodon, Motorhead, and Anthrax).

 

Category: Best Rock Album

Winner: Tell Me I’m Pretty – Cage the Elephant

Who Should’ve Won: Weezer – Weezer

Why: Weezer was a Top 5 Album for me last year. Cage…maybe in the top….300? Haha. Oh, and Gojira is not a “rock band” guys. The Grammys’ ignorance would almost be cute if it wasn’t so upsetting

 

Category: Best Urban Contemporary Album

Winner: Lemonade – Beyonce

Who Should’ve Won: Lemonade – Beyonce

Why:

 

Category: Best Rap Album

Winner: Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

Why: MASSIVE respect to Chance for his much deserved win! Couldn’t be happier for him. It’s a big moment in Grammys history since Coloring Book is a “free project” and all. I just preferred TLOP.

 

Category: Best Rap Performance

Winner: “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

Why: One Summer ‘16’s most irresistible and inescapable bangers. Blows the other four nominees out of the water (let’s face it, the nominees themselves are the real issue a lot of the time).

 

Category: Best Rap song

Winner: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Who Should’ve Won: “Famous” – Kanye West feat. Rihanna

Why: Drake did crush it with “Hotline Bling”. He really did. But it’s another in a long line of petty bitter ex-boyfriend-isms from Drizzy that glorify controlling, chauvinistic nonsense. So I guess I’ll go with the less concealed chauvinism on “Famous”.

 

Category: Best Rap/Sung Performance

Winner: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Who Should’ve Won: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Why: I HAVE to give him this. Much more appropriate in this category anyway ‘cause he’s barely even “rapping” on this track.

 

Some More Thoughts:

  • A Tribe Called Quest’s performance was one of the greatest moments in Grammy history. So powerful, so true to their legacy, and so NEEDED. Please watch it if you haven’t yet! They call Trump “President Agent Orange” on national television.
  • Say what you want about Adele beating out Beyonce, but to her credit, she did a HELLUVA better job being a white apologist than Macklemore did when he beat out Kendrick. I still cringe so hard when I think about that.
  • The Chainsmokers need to go away. I’m praying that they’re relevant by the 2018 show. Unfortunately I’m an Atheist, so Closer 3.0 and Closer 4.0 might be up for some awards next year (Closer 2.0 is “Paris”, in case you’re wondering).
  • Twenty One Pilots gave one of the most memorable, touching acceptance speeches I’ve ever seen. Though I’m beginning to grow out of their music, I’m so happy for those guys and all their much deserved success.
  •  Putting aside the two things that everybody was upset about – James Hetfield’s mic being turned off and the tranny forgetting to mention Metallica’s name when he/she introduced them – the Metallica/Lady GaGa collaboration was fucking wack. Having been not only a fan of GaGa, but aware of her unabashed Metal fandom for quite some, I had high hopes, but it was as awkward and forced as an Anakin/Padme love scene in Attack of the Clones. Bummed me the hell out.
  • Lastly, to all you Metalheads getting your studs and leather in a wad over this shit – the Grammys have NEVER showed one iota of respect towards the genre. This is not new. You can get as pissed as you want, but what you should really do is focus your attention on bigging up the true METAL awards shows hosted by REAL members of the faithful like Revolver and Metal Hammer. Let’s put our energy into making these awards shows a cornerstone of the genre! Forget the Grammys. In Metal, when you’re not invited to the party, you start your own.

 

 

 

John Mayer – The Search For Everything: Wave One EP Review

John Mayer is one of those people whose so brilliant you can’t really blame him for being kind of a douche. His mastery of the Pop hook, his chops as a guitar player, his genre elasticity and the all-around adventurous spirit with which he approaches music…he’s easy to hate but equally easy to admire. After detours into Country and Folk with his last two LPs – 2013’s exceptional Paradise Valley and the previous year’s solid-but-less-exceptional Born & Raised – Mayer is one of the artists whose new tunes I’ve been most anxiously anticipating.

Wave One of The Search For Everything (which is Mayer’s seventh full length) is the official kick off of an exciting, unorthodox release strategy in which the Connecticut-born “recovering ego addict” will drop four songs a month until the whole LP is completely“ out”. A n intriguing approach from one of the elite “so-successful-he can-do-whatever-he-wants” members of the industry.

Reviewing four short songs is, well, exactly that. It’s basically four intertwined track reviews. So we might as well start with “Love on the Weekend”, the lead single Mayer premiered back in November. This track is a resurrection of the warm, intimate Rom-Com relatability of his debut Room for Squares – Mayer sings matter-of-factly about the every day ins and outs of relationships and packages it with bubbly melodies like only a Pop genius like him can. He makes romance sound so effortless and so casual with a lovely, soft-spoken piano line that’s accentuated by sleek stabs of clean guitars.

“Love on the Weekend” definitely feels like a deliberate, conscious return to simplicity for the songwriter – Mayer’s music hasn’t sounded this stripped down in over a decade (though the quaint Born & Raised was similarly straightforward – just in a whole new style, mind you.) I can only fault it for being TOO MUCH of a “Pandora station for a froyo shop” type song. It’s pleasant as can be, but it does have a certain wallpaper quality to it.

The opening cut “Moving On and Getting Over” is a much more interesting affair. Stylistically it’s an intersection of Heavier Things and Continuum. What immediately caught my attention is Mayer’s use of octave vocal harmonies in the verses – the harmonizing pitches are so far apart that it creates the illusion of two separate singers in two separate moods trying to express the same thing. It’s a fucking cool effect. Lyrically, it’s an understated meditation on the aftermath of a break up – the point where you THINK you’re ready to move on but you’re still, as John himself puts it, “One text away from being back again”. And the funky guitars that accompany these sentiments tie a neat little bow around a superb song.

But it’s the tender, heartwarming piano ballad “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me” that steals the show. There’s something so wistful about Mayer’s performance as he whistles his way through an unforgettable melody with one particularly beautiful chromatic passing tone (in laymen’s terms: that one note that doesn’t sound like it “fits”). And there’s one lyric that practically brings me to tears: “Life is full of sweet mistakes/and love’s an honest one to make”. Just so glad John Mayer thought of it first and not Nicholas Sparks or some other hokey sap.

Unfortunately, the one BIG dip in quality is “Changes”, which could’ve easily found a nice, comfy spot on the cutting room floor. It’s bland and predictable, with a refrain that isn’t strong enough to be repeated as many times as it is. And let’s not even begin to dissect this gem: “ I see the sky changing/it reminds me of my changing”. Ugh, what the fuck. But hey, I’m not at all mad at that Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque guitar tone in the solo though!

To be honest, it’s tough to review a small fourteen-minute chunk of a record. ‘Cause fascinatingly enough, even though “Wave One” had some mixed results (Mayer batted .750 with me if you’re keeping score), if the next three “Waves” – or however many it ends up being – are super consistent, then that still adds up to a great album! So we’ll see. I certainly commend John Mayer for throwing us all for a loop, and it’s going to make my job that much more delightfully puzzling in the coming months. Until Wave Two, John!

The Spring 2016 Pregame Playlist

This past December, this blog received a generous helping of douche when I gave a candid account of the embarrassingly basic music I had been pregaming to during the Fall semester of my senior year of college. As much as I am loath to admit, those songs continue to soundtrack my increasingly frequent alcohol consumption as college comes to a close. Still, my pregame playlist this Spring semester has also welcomed several new faces, some just as corny and white girl-y, but that have become mainstays nonetheless.

Kidding aside, it is overwhelming to think that years from now, these songs will likely trigger some intense nostalgia for that time period “before life stepped on my dreams”. Anyway, if you’re an alcoholic millennial like me, here are a few pregame and party jams that may or may not already be in your life:

Lush Life – Zara Larsson

Maybe it was because it was Boston in January and Ms. Larsson repeatedly mentions Summer. Maybe it was even because I was crushing a bit at the time myself (#relatable). But somehow, this sickeningly sugary tune thrust itself into my life rather forcefully. And granted, it doesn’t sound as fresh as it did at the beginning of the semester. But it’s still there. And it’s still nearly as much of a familiar face in my weekends as Jack Daniels himself.

Perdoname – Deorro

In 2012, “Gangnam Style” proved beyond a shadow of doubt that fans of Pop music do not give a flying FUCK about lyrics. Evidently, if it bumps, it can be in another language for all we care (or even fucking notice). The irresistible synth line in this Latino-flavored banger is the kind that inspires the goofiest, silliest, and most carefree bodily reactions (read: humiliating dance moves) of any of these songs.

Big Catzz – Rustie

As I repeatedly emphasize, I do not – nor do I pretend to – know jack shit about EDM. From time to time, I simply hit up a reliable connoisseur friend of mine for some periodic education. And one Friday last month I was feeling particularly EDM-y (yep, I’m inventing new emotions by the minute) and requested that he drop some knowledge. The same dude that has fed me gems like Madeon’s Adventure and Porter Robinson’s Worlds recommended Rustie’s EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE album from last year. Its massive single “Big Catzz” quickly became a pregame staple for me. It’s a song that’s bursting with energy, but its melodic content is ultimately what drives it home.

Zoney – Wiz Khalifa

Released in February, Wiz’s Khalifa album wasn’t too exciting for me for the simple reason that his music is, to put it lightly, topically stagnant. But nevertheless, several songs on the LP offer little retrospective glimpses into his brilliant Kush & OJ era, “Zoney” being a prime example. It’s four hundred and twenty different types of chill, with a mesmerizing instrumental and some smooth, sentimental crooning from Wiz. And that appearance by his son at the end is fucking adorable.

1234 – Wallpaper

I finally got around to seeing the new Blue Mountain State movie the DAY BEFORE my Spring Break began (yeah, there’s definitely some subconscious forces at work there). So you can only imagine how I felt when I heard “1234” during the film’s absurd, drug-riddled party montage. Fused with some electronic flavors, the acoustic instrumentation is what allows this song to channel Radical Something’s “Santa Barbara” reasonably well.

Make Me Like You – Gwen Stefani

Ok there’s a HUGE asterisk on this one. When she put out this little ditty as single number two to her upcoming record This Is What the Truth Feels Like, I was smitten and even somewhat amped to hear the LP. Well, sometimes life leads you down unfortunate roads. Now that I have heard the album, I can’t even enjoy “Make Me Like You” anymore without Stefani’s cringeworthy Iggy Azalea-meets-Fergie attempt on “Red Flag” lurking in my mind’s darkest, most masochistic corners.

Famous – Kanye West

I made it about a month. I successfully ignored The Life of Pablo and its overwhelming hype until the end of March. And I’m proud of each and every one of those days. I suppose it was my twisted way of proving to myself that I have an ounce of self-restraint. But once it hit Apple Music, “Famous” floored me. Undoubtedly, this one will go down as one of Kanye’s shining moments as an artist. The provocative bars, the Swizz Beatz ad-libs, Rihanna’s chorus, and that tuneful, eargasmic breakdown do all the arguing for me.

Old Thing Back (Matoma Remix) – The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Ja Rule

I was unfathomably late to this irresistible rager, but I still have every right to enjoy it! Crazily enough, we’re at the point where this remix is technically one of Biggie’s top songs on Spotify. Babuh BAYBUH!

Pedal to the Metal – Wiz Khalifa

New tunes like the aforementioned “Zoney” had me revisiting Kush & OJ quite a bit – a mixtape that just floods me with nostalgia and immediately makes me feel like a 16-year-old kid with dreams, aspirations, and all those other things we had in high school. “Pedal to the Metal” is far away my favorite from the mixtape. I love the way the chorus is able to drum up an ever-so-slight sense of drama while maintaining an impossibly fly (can I say that if I’m white?) aesthetic.

Aurora – RL Grime

The most recent edition to my Ultimate Playlist of Douche, “Aurora” caught me completely flat-footed. For the most part I can’t stand trap (the EDM OR the Hip-Hop subgenre, mind you). The former has always felt lifeless to me, almost like Electronic’s off-kilter answer to Heavy Metal that’s less abrasive than Dubstep was. But on a whim, I took a peak at Apple Music’s Electronic A-List playlist and was blown away by “Aurora”. It’s fucking hypnotic. It has definitely sparked a bit of curiosity for me in the Melodic Trap department.