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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review: Uffie: "Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans"

Like most Americans, I would imagine, my first run-in with Uffie was on Justice's 2007 song, "The Party," for which she supplied all of the vocals.  In my review of , I called the song "the one low point on an otherwise flawless album."  And then I forgot about Uffie.  Fast-forward to 2009 when I hear Ke$ha's "TiK ToK" and initially mistake it for Uffie.  My interest was piqued and as I started listening to Uffie's small catalog of songs, something strange happened: I actually started to like some of it.  So what we have here is one of my most bizarrely anticipated albums of 2010, and one that has been delayed for years and years.  (Hell, "Pop the Glock" was originally released in 2006!)  The result of all that waiting is Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans, an album that is certainly a letdown, but is not without its fair share of hits.

The aforementioned "Pop the Glock" starts the album on a high note.  Featuring genuinely unique production from Feadz, the song remains just as fresh as it was 4 years ago when it first appeared.  It's still one of the best songs on the album and is only topped by "ADD SUV."  The Mirwais produced song is a straight-up, mainstream club banger that not only has the best production on the album, but the catchiest hook as well.  Pharrell Williams (of The Neptunes and N.E.R.D.) adds his vocals to the song to great effect.  His rap verse is one of the coolest aspects of the song and his voice fits surprisingly well with Uffie's auto-tuned half-rapping.

"MCs Can Kiss," Sex Dream's first single (released back in January) stands out on the album due in large part to Mr. Oizo's old-school rap influenced beat.  Uffie's vocals don't hurt either though, and as it stands, her flow on this song s the most technically-impressive thing she's ever done.  The fact that she can spit out lines this quickly is a surprise because I'm so used to hearing her rap much slower (and much clumsier). "Difficult" continues this trend with another impressive performance by Uffie and yet more fantastic production.  Uffie's declaration of "Don't worry if I write rhymes...I write checks" seems like a defiant finger to the haters, saying "I may not be the best lyricist, but I'm making money."  It's an attitude that is echoed throughout the album, constantly acknowledging her (wildly apparent) flaws as an artist, and reinforcing the fact that she is - above all else - an entertainer.

However, a listener's ability to appreciate Uffie as an entertainer is going to depend heavily on their willingness to overlook her notable lack of musical talent.  She cannot sing (she almost breaks auto-tune on "First Love"), she is often incapable of rapping fluidly, her lyrics are just garbage,  and all of her best songs are often great despite her presence, not because of it.  Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans' greatest asset may not be Uffie at all, but the producers who have provided their skills here (which is not completely surprising for an Ed Banger album).  On songs where the production isn't as solid, Uffie flounders.  Take "Art of Uff," for example, which is just a showcase of Uffie's mediocre rapping skills and elementary lyricism.  With a beat this minimal, the focus is placed squarely on the artist, and she fails.  Miserably. When she tries singing on "Give it Away" or "Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans" the result is just as disastrous; possibly worse.

Unfortunately, Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans is just as mediocre as the artist that appears on the cover.  Despite truly awesome and groundbreaking songs like "Pop the Glock" or "Illusion of Love," it is hampered by others that go nowhere, say nothing, and entertain no one.  The album's pacing and momentum also suffer from its hit and miss nature, and a  great song is almost guaranteed to be followed by a bad one.  Does Uffie succeed at being entertaining?  Sure.  In fact,  I'd put some of these songs against anything that plays on mainstream American radio!  But overall, Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans leaves a lot to be desired.  Great production can only cover so many flaws, and Uffie's flaws burden an otherwise decent album.  Seriously, when you make Pharrell Williams sound like a talented rapper, something is wrong.

Key Tracks:
1. "Pop the Glock"
2. "ADD SUV" (feat. Pharrell Williams)
3. "MCs Can Kiss"
4. "Difficult"
5. "Illusion of Love" (feat. Mattie Safer)

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The More Things Change, the More They Continue to Change

Oh readers, where do I start?

Back in December of last year, I wrote about the state of Audio Overflow, and laid out pretty basic plans about what I wanted to accomplish in 2010.  To sum it up:  more reviews, more news, more features, and Twitter integration.  Can we all agree upon the severe disappointment that has since followed.

At that point, 2010 was looking like a pretty laid-back year in my work and personal life. Since early January, however, life has thrown an innumerable amount of curveballs at me, making my life much more hectic than anticipated at the time of that writing.  Despite my honest desire to write on a more frequent (hell, a weekly) basis, the times in which I can sit down in front of a computer for a few hours and crank out a review are becoming fewer and fewer each day.

What happened to that whole Indie Gold thing I was hyping back in February?  Well it's still in the back of my head, waiting to be written.  I've been listening to Arcade Fire specifically for that series for several months, but I just haven't found time to devote to it.

And while I have already written more reviews in 2010 than in all of 2009, there were plenty of albums that I wanted to get to but haven't had the chance (Vampire Weekend, Crystal Castles, LCD Soundsystem, Tallest Man on Earth, Band of Horses, etc.).  Maybe I can fart out a Mini-Review, but oftentimes once I start writing one of those, it turns into a full on review (see Ellie Goulding or The New Pornographers).  I will say with full confidence that writing fewer reviews has made me a better writer, with more time to devote to the work itself (The New Pornographers review is one of the best I've ever written, I think).

My point in this post is to reassure the readers that, yes, I do still care about Audio Overflow and intend to get things going soon. 

To all the artists who have sent me music over the last few months:  thank you.  I am listening to it, and if I believe in your art, I will write about it. 

This post took me 5 minutes to write.  Gotta go.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Review: The New Pornographers: "Together"

Despite the fact that 2007's Challengers wound up becoming a better album as time went on, most people still viewed it as a disappointment in comparison to the near-flawless Twin Cinema.  Those same people should be pleased then with the latest from A.C. Newman's group of power-poppers, Together.  Eschewing Challenger's eccentricities for the more mainstream and catchy aspects of Twin Cinema, Together is more of a return to form than a reinvention.  Songs like "Crash Years" and "Your Hands (Together)" come crashing down on the listener like a giant reminder of what made The New Pornographers such an endearing act to begin with.  They parallel classics like "Sing Me Spanish Techno" or "Electric Version" flawlessly, and inspire such a visceral joy that repeat listens are almost guaranteed.

Neko Case regains a little bit of the spotlight that she lost on Challengers, and the result is nothing short of amazing.  Her performance on "My Shephard" rivals some of her best solo work, and her vocals on "Up In the Dark" play flawlessly with Newman's, easily creating one of the best songs that the group has ever put together.  Dan Bejar's songs are just as amazing.  "Silver Jenny Dollar" may lack some of the lyrical charm of "Myriad Harbour," but the rest of the band makes up for that small misstep with flawless performances that keep the song interesting.  "Daughter of Sorrow" is even better, but there's hardly any disguising that this is a Destroyer song dressed up in New Pornographers clothing.  It has got all the grandeur of Bejar's greatest songs (think "European Oils" from Destroyer's Rubies), but completely overpowers his solo work with the help of his bandmates.  I love it!

Together isn't all pomp and fanfare, however.  Newman takes a few opportunities to slow things down and get emotional.  "Valkyrie in the Roller Disco" is easily the most gorgeous song to release in 2010 thus far.  Its subdued beauty is unparalleled by any other song the band has ever recorded (yes, even "Challengers").  When Neko and Newman sing, "Valkyrie don't go home/ It's not right/ Not right/ Leave with the lights up," it hits you in the gut and forces an emotional response.  The drums and guitars are relegated to simple background duties, but Kurt Dahle absolutely nails the percussion here!  When it comes in, it's just enough to heighten the song to another level.  Amazing stuff, really.

A friend of mine commented on Facebook that Together is the best album the band has made since Twin Cinema.   That's just a fancy way of saying that it's better than Challengers.  Still, I'm compelled to agree with him on this one.  Together is the New Pornographers album that all of us wanted after Twin Cinema.  It is far more focused than its predecessor, presenting the listener with songs that aren't going to push any boundaries but still manage to excite.  Some may be turned off by the band's insistence on sticking with the tried and true formula that has brought them such success, especially after Challengers' seemed to signal a slight change of direction.  For what it's worth though, Together is a flat-out awesome album that rivals some of The New Pornographers' greatest work.  Hearing it is like having an old friend write to tell you they're coming to visit.  You're not entirely surprised by their arrival when they show up, but it's still nice to see them.

Key Tracks:
1. "Crash Years"
2. "Your Hands (Together)"
3. "My Shephard"
4. "Up in the Dark"
5. "Valkyrie in the Roller Disco"

9 out of 10 Stars

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Introducing: Bigbang

Oh, indie music is all well and good for the most part, but it can sometimes be lacking in that old-school rock and roll sound that preceded it.  That's not necessarily a terrible thing, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to hear a little bit of the old stuff to understand where the new stuff came from.  Los Angeles via Norway's Bigbang (not to be confused with the similarly-named Korean boy band, "Big Bang") is looking to fill that void in your music life with a style that pays tribute to bands like The Rolling Stones and REM yet still remains distinctively modern. 

Over the last few weeks, I've been listening to their latest album Edendale, and I'm amazed by how the band is able to draw from such a diverse pool of influences and yet keep the album from sounding like a patchwork tribute album.  The band has a talent that's hard to deny, even if their music can sound slightly uninspired from time to time.  But it's this talent that keeps the album from getting stale, even when their sound is pulled largely from other tried and true genres.

If that sounds like something that may interest you, Bigbang may be a band to keep on your radar (Check out the song "Bag of Leaves" - It's my personal favorite). The band is currently touring Europe in support of Edendale which is out right now in the U.S. 

More info at the band's MySpace page.

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