Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Adventures of B.O.B. & The Freshman Syndrome at Passion of the Weiss

Wrote a long essay over at Passion today on B.O.B.'s new record, pop-rap, indie rock/rap crossover and the perils of being a major label rapper in 2010. BTW "Nothin' On You" has been #1 on the Billboards for just over 3 months, just got bumped to #2 by that horrific Usher/Wil.i.am song. Click the excerpt below to read the whole ting.

It’s no secret anymore that the genre boundaries between hip-hop and alternative/indie rock are becoming increasingly blurred. Kid Cudi was the first influential rapper to convincingly adopt an indie aesthetic, singing and rapping over songs by Band of Horses, LCD Soundsystem and Vampire Weekend without pandering to the hipster audience; don’t forget his palpable influence on 808s and Heartbreak, the album which brought this aesthetic to the mainstream. Even after everyone and their kid brother rapped over “Paper Planes” and Capo mumbled over MGMT, who would have expected to see a remake of a Vampire Weekend song on a major label rap album in 2010? Sure, the aforementioned “Kids” is a sad waste of Janelle Monae but B.o.B. still does a lot right on this album. His sincere appreciate of Paramore make the Hayley Williams collabo plausible; “Airplanes” is honest, emotive pop-rap, seemingly tailor-made for Facebook profile quotes. “Don’t Let Me Fall” is a great summation of B.o.B.’s rapping and songwriting talents, a rousing risin’-to-the-top tale with enormous hooks.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

"If You Want A Boxer...": The Genius of Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man"

Leonard Cohen never really fit the conventional of a singer-songwriter. Not a particularly gifted musician in the technical sense, nor blessed with an especially powerful voice.
Cohen took up music after finding there was little money in publishing his poetry and novels, heading to America to pursue a career as a folk singer.
His light, gentle baritone slowly deepened from the 80s onwards, most noticeably on 1988's I'm Your Man; his slow, methodical singing on the album more closely resembles spoken word than any of his work from the 60s. The musical backing changed with him. He abandoned acoustic guitars and gentle orchestration for synthesizers and keyboards.

'84's Various Positions was the first album Cohen recorded which integrated recognizably synthesized instruments, but I'm Your Man embraced the synth-pop sound wholly. Many other singer-songwriters who recorded their best work in the 60s floundered in the 80s; they struggled to adapt an aesthetic designed for acoustic backing to the then-futuristic sound of drum machines and synths. Where Dylan, Linda Rondstadt, et al. struggled, Cohen soared by wholly embracing the 80s sound. The tackiness of the programmed drums, lite-jazz guitar work and pseudo-symphonic keyboard swells all serves to lend Cohen's newly deepened voice even more gravitas.

"First We Take Manhattan" is the crown jewel of the I'm Your Man, and exemplifies the purpose of the album's production and tacky instrumentation. Narrating from the perspective of a terrorist, Cohen is a prophet of doom; he pronounces the end of the world over music taken from a Reagan-era infomercial. When Cohen intones, "I don't like your fashion business mister/I don't like the drugs that keep you thin", it sounds like a death threat.
Covers of Cohen's 80s output (Buckley's "Hallelujah" aside) miss the point of his musical backing during this era; the cheapness of his surroundings lent Cohen's murmur even more heft as he reports from the eye of the storm. When you strip these songs down to an acoustic guitar and a voice, you're not getting it. R.E.M.'s cover of "First..." actually comes pretty close, though - sadly can't find a link to it anywhere now.

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