Music Review: Pharrell Williams GIRL

 

I was super excited to review Pharrell Williams new album GIRL [Columbia] for a multitude of raison d’être’s.

Wayyyy before Blurred Lines and his GORGEOUS collabs with Daft Punk, I was a long time fan girl of Williams reaching back to his production work with partner Chad Hugo from the late 90’s. ‘The Neptunes’ produced some of the greatest tracks in in R&B + Hip Hop history—a few ultimate stand outs being Britney Spears’s Slave For YouJay Z’s I Just Want to Love You (where you can hear Pharrell on the chorus), Clipse’s When The Last Time (he also makes a cameo) Justin Timberlake’s solo debut Like I Love You and Nelly’s club monster Hot in Herre. Like no other production team before them, each track had that distinct Neptunes *feel*—the unique beats being the show case for each and every song.

In 2001 along with Hugo and childhood friend Shay Haley, Williams group N.E.R.D. (No-one Ever Really Dies) released their first of four albums In Search Of…

To this day it is one of my favorite albums of all time—emphasis on the albumas it was a collection of tracks that begged to be listened to in its richly, hi-fi lo-fi experimental entirety.

But back to present day and last weeks offering of Williams second solo album GIRL.

His first release Happy—a song that LITERALLY changes the molecules in the brain into mini bursts of  endorphin bubbles—was the feel-good opus of early spring 2014.

Meryl's Happy Moves at 2014 Oscars

Meryl’s Happy Moves at 2014 Oscars

A breath mint with a battery, this song is impossible to sit still to and quite simply, the most joyful song I have heard in years.

And perhaps this, coupled with his extraordinary last year (Blurred Lines, Grammy’s for Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, Oscar nom for Happy) is why I expected more from this album.

Like with most things, repeated listens and marinating allows for one to pick up on nuances that don’t register upon first echo, and all of the productions themselves—cross pollinations of musical styles and beats are really well done.

That being said I really like four other songs on the album and don’t care for the remaining five. The #1 Happy was already produced for Despicable Me 2‘s soundtrack and was simply ‘added’ to this solo album. Williams has even alluded to the fact that it was a ‘cash grab’ idea from Columbia to make a solo album after the exceptional year he had, and that on his own he may not have elected to do it.

I like Marilyn Monroea 70’s themed pop symphony complete with dramatic violin hooks and plucks courtesy of Hans Zimmer. I actually couldn’t help envisioning roller skating to this song on one of those old school circular tracks. I was quite the boogie-woogie roller babe in the 80’s. *I probably shouldn’t brag about that.

I like Brand New the duet with Justin Timberlake—but felt like it sounded exactly like something that would have come off of Timberlake’s former 20/20 Experience-–i.e; slightly derivative…but no less enjoyable.

Come Get it Bae is a fun and infectious happy-clappy step-dancing hoedown of sorts that features his Bangerz client, l’enfant terrible Miley Cyrus.

Gust of Wind is a breezy danceable track that is helped along by Daft Punk and is sure to be a huge summer car cruisin’ fave.

***

Songs that are collectively whiny, annoying and repetitive are It Girl, Hunter and Lost Queen—the latterwhich feels like a nursery rhyme.  With repeated plays Hunter becomes far more interesting than I had first given it credit for with nuances + inflections of Blondie’s Rapture, glosses of vintage Jagger and even Carole Pope.

Gush is neither here nor there. I don’t love it nor hate it but wouldn’t necessarily play repeat either. It drips vintage Michael Jackson + El Debarge and that, right there is always a good thing.

Lastly, Who You Are is a duet with Alicia Keys that feels completely disjointed. I wouldn’t be surprised if they laid down the tracks separately as it feels like they are worlds apart in this forgettable song—despite Keys perfect pitch raspy-sweet vocals.

So in the end, 5 outta 10 is for me worth the price of admission—but you may not agree on those kinds of odds. In this case, GIRL *is* made for single cherry picks on iTunes despite it being touted as a concept album—something which I didn’t clock into at all.

GIRL is not the hit-factory that one would come to expect from Williams—and ahhh there’s the rub. A huge part of his wheel house is making chart toppers for ‘others‘…like the upcoming lead single for the Superman 2 soundtrack  “It’s On Again” that he co-wrote and produced. Between his charity initiatives, his clothing line and his mammoth repertoire of musical work, perhaps the release of this solo album could have been better executed…or perhaps he should have saved some hits for himself instead of giving them all away to clients. No-one can have it all…and this album is representative of an artist who has spread himself too thin, unfortunately.

One thing that cannot be disputed is that Pharrell Williams is an über talented maverick who is never the same note twice. I’m so indebted for his longstanding contributions to the industry and hope he continues to inspire and shake up the current climate of music for decades to come.

 

Stay ‘Happy‘,

XOXO                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The Pop Culture Rainman™

Spike Jonze; Intergalactic Zeitgeist of our Time

I just finished watching the movie Her, written & directed by Spike Jonze—and it rendered me both speechless *and* ashamed.

Speechless because of how much texture and onion peeled *feel* layers my eyeballs were privy to, and shame for forgetting, nay—obliterating from-memory—what an absolute genius Spike Jonze was/is!?

I grew up on square meals of his incredible music videos, and I thoroughly enjoyed the wacky eccentricity of Being John Malkovich which was Jonze’s first feature film directorial debut. He teamed up again with writer Charlie Kaufman for the film Adaptation which was a visceral delight and so incredibly creative and cerebral.

I recall being super excited about the prospect that Jonze was going to be bringing the ‘adaptation’ of Maurice Sendak’s classic 1963 children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are to the big screen. He also partnered with one of my favorite writers Dave Eggers, to flesh out the script further.

Film Still-Where The Wild Things Are

Film Still-Where The Wild Things Are

That movie felt like it was in production purgatory for a while, and I never got around to seeing it and suppose I fell off his radar shortly before it came out in 2009.

I had forgotten just how much of a creative mastermind Jonze was, someone so ahead of his time—that I’m convinced he’s some sort of time travelling nomad. The only other writer/director that has been remotely similar in terms of risk taking and continuity is Paul Thomas Anderson—someone who also has an incredible knowledge of music in his wake. Anderson had previously directed a couple of ex girlfriend Fiona Apple’s music videos, and he was executive music producer on the soundtracks of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, the latter being one of my all-time favorite soundtracks.

Magnolia Soundtrack. So Dreamy.

Magnolia Soundtrack. So Dreamy.

A lot of contemporary music and art has become utterly lazy in my opinion. The last time that film(s) felt emotionally transformative was during the faze of the Coen Brothers Fargo, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, writer/director Todd Solondz’s Happiness and Sam Mendes American Beautywhich incidentally, all came out around the same time.

HER brings all of that back. All of it.

I must also give a generous nod to the quieter genius of Jonze’s ex-wife Sophia Coppola, both have shared cinematographers and posses a similar poetic aesthetic in their works.

Also, it goes without saying that writing/director duo the Coen Brothers are also exceptional in their own rite(s).

but back to *Spikes*

While I could do without the whole Jackass alliance…correct me if I’m wrong—but who in the English speaking hemisphere has consistently captured the Zeitgeist more than Spike Jonze consistently has in the last 15-20 years? No-one…not-a-one. And that includes his entire portfolio of photography, music videos, commercials, film shorts and features.

Did you know that he was also co-editor of the male oriented counter-part to Sassy magazine Dirt? XOJane‘s very own Jane Pratt hand plucked him!

Jonze was the first Hipster, the first Flash Mobber (Bjork’s, It’s Oh So Quiet)— his visual story telling was head and shoulders above what his peers were putting out—far from the overly expensive + flashy Hype Williams et al budgets. His videos always had a low-fi, cutting edge hipness to them, the story or artful thread always being at the forefront.

He is a bona fide futurist like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and yes, even the great Stephen Hawking. I sincerely hope they all belong to a skulls-like think-tank collective, because whoever they are (aliens, me thinks)—they are light years ahead of all of us. 

Speaking of lights (weak segue I know!) the following are six of my all time favorite Spike Jonze music videos. Watching them with fresh eyes all over again makes me to crawl into his brain & jump around like it were an inflatable bouncy castle.

P.S. I would love nothing more to offer up my thoughts on each video, but I don’t want to be known as the ‘long-read blogger’ (millennial attention spans are hard to come by!) So instead, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section as to which ones are your favorites and why!

Enjoy!

WeezerBuddy Holly’-1994 (* I searched high + low for a Youtube video that they would allow me to embed, but no such luck. Please click on the arrow which will lead you to a link. Must Watch! It’s such a feel-good + clever video)

BJörkIt’s Oh So Quiet’-1995

Daft Punk ‘Da Funk’-1995

The Chemical Brothers ‘Elecktrobank’-1997 (*Starring his then girlfriend Sophia Coppola)

Fatboy Slim Praise You’-1999 (*This multi-award winning video reportedly cost only $800 to produce, with most of that money going towards a replacement boombox and food for the cast and crew. It was also shot in just ONE take. This video is missing the fake dance troupe’s extro where Spike Jonze is in character as choreographer Richard Koufey talking about his ‘inspirations’. Find the longer version online, this is the only one I was able to embed)

Weapon of Choice Fatboy Slim 2001 (*Starring the multi-talented Christopher Walken)

**Honorary mention has to go to Beastie Boys Sabotage – 1994an homage to 1970’s crime drama television series. The visual rhythmic cuts to this song are phenomenal.

***

Jonze’s tour de force Her is nominated for both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture at the 2014 Oscars on March 2nd. He was left out of the Best Director category—an oddity for someone who is in the running for Best Picture. Let’s hope he takes the Best Original Screenplay! #FingersCrossed!

And remember, it’s my new Glengarry-esque mantra—ABJ Always Be Jonzing!  

XOXO                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The Pop Culture Rainman™

Daft Punk ‘Random Access Memories’-Review

As cut throat and saturated as the modern music industry can be, every once and awhile an album launch can capture what seems like the ears of the entire listening public–eclipsing all other contenders for a pregnant pause.

For the month of May, that group was Daft Punk.

Riding on the coat tails of a strong initial release ‘Get Lucky’, the album Random Access Memories [Sony] which dropped on May 21st, landed at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold $339,000 copies in its first week–two firsts for the French musicians, whose 4th album is their most successful to date.

To call, RAM merely ‘music‘ does not do it justice, as it truly is a work of art befitting of an entry into 2013 time capsule for future generations to discover. The soundscapes are beyond brilliant, intricately layered, with theatrical and emotional subtexts weaving through each and every song. Sure, it’s electronic dance music with both disco and opera influences, but its also a blend of spoken word, sampling, and live musical performances with Daft Punk limiting their usage of electronic instruments to drum machines, a modular synthesizer, and vintage vocoders. I was very thankful to see that very few songs had the robo-synth vocals that are Daft Punk’s calling card, and instead chose very wisely from a thoughtful den of vocalists to carry off some of the album’s most memorable tracks.

The guest stars on this album, are not here to fluff their peacock feathers, they are part of the stew, this great big pot of ART STEW!

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