Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy's Song

Live fast. Die young. Leave a good looking corpse. For many people this is where their comments on the recent death of Amy Winehouse ends but if you're familiar with more than "Rehab" (trust me, pick any song from either album and it's 100X better) then you might have felt some kinda way about her passing. I was quite saddened when I heard the news on Saturday morning and it has been one of the first thoughts that enter my mind when I wake up every morning since then. She is a mainstay on my iPod and I guess I listen to her music so much and so often that I felt connected to her in some way. She had a voice and presentation that drew you in without ever trying too hard. She never needed to scream to get your attention and, stealing a line from Jadakiss, 'she don't use beats for help, she help the beats'. It was as if she wasn't aware of her immense talent and to her she was just toying around. Her voice always came off with a mystifying air but at the same time very very real. Something that I am pretty sure can only come naturally.

Amy Amy AmyI have never met the woman, much less spoken to her but through her music I felt like I was listening to her in a personal kind of way as she poured out her troubles with unsuccessful love affairs to me. You know, like those times you sit and listen to a friend without needing to say a word...they just need you to listen. Overall, I can't help but feel like she's that close girl-friend that every guy has who calls to complain from time to time about other men. I listen to her venting to me about how her man, seven years older than her, acts like a child on "Stronger Than Me" or, similarly, on "Help Yourself" to the "fuckery" of another on "Me & Mr. Jones". How dare he cause her to miss the Slick Rick show and question her love for him? In a voice that appears saddened by and tired of dealing with men she tells me how she "Wakes up Alone" and eventually breaks up with her guy, insisting that he "Take The Box". Of course, as any man who has had these conversations with women would understand, she ultimately asks the question "What Is It About Men"? Finally, she comes to the conclusion that "Love Is A Losing Game" sounding like one that will never fall for that trick again as she accepts it and comes to the realization that her "Tears Dry On Their Own".
I listen attentively as she tells me she gets back on the horse thinking she is in the "Mood for Love" but scarred by her past experiences she ends up just turning the tables and abusing men with her nonchalance of cheating as she shrugs and sings "I Heard Love Is Blind". She's tries to justify and explain her infidelity by telling her beau things like "You are everything, he means nothing to me. I can't even remember his name", and "I didn't let him hold my hand", and quite hilariously "I was thinking of you when I came". Unable to quell his anger she blames him with "what do you expect? You left me here alone..." I just can't help but feel indifference oozing from her words. She lets another down a little easier by telling him they should be "Just Friends" because although she's not ashamed the guilt will kill him if she [his woman] doesn't do so first. Her divorce form romantic fantasy is cemented as she makes it known that no man should get too comfortable in her bed because she sees them as replaceable toys and eventually the novelty will wear off. She talks about her mastery of separating sex from emotion, reminding her lover that the only time she holds his hand is to "get the angle right". As she laughs she tells me that she always let them know that she is trouble and in her words, "You Know I'm No Good". Sensing that she may be putting too much on my shoulders she lightens the mood by ridiculing the groupie, cookie-cutter hoe types and their "Fuck Me Pumps" and relaying this nice little story about how she cussed out her girlfriend because her boyfriend was always coming over and smoking all her [Amy's] weed. Needless to say, she did not appreciate that. She didn't mind that he smoked it, she just would like him to replace it so that she can get her high too. 

I still love her. Regardless of her addictions and self-destructive lifestyle that many people berate her for I fully appreciate the music she has left with me (and for introducing me to Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings). I am still very sad because with her recent tours I was hoping that she was getting better and would hopefully start recording again. Maybe some of the stuff she was reportedly working on will be released. She most recently recorded with Tony Bennett for his album Duets II to be released on September 20 and was rumored to have done a collaboration with Cee Lo for her new album which was supposed to be out earlier this year, in January (there had been on again/off again mention of this album since a year ago). Clearly this didn't happen and depending on the source you will hear that there is either a "ready-to-be-release album" or some "really great demos"...we'll have to wait and see what the happens in the future but I would love to hear what she was working on.

"not many people have it in them to do something they love, simply because they love it. with no fuss and no compromise. but she knew what she was capable of and didn’t even need to try. if she wanted to do something she would and if she didn’t she’d say fuck off. it came easy to her and that’s why we all loved her so much. we believed every word she wrote, and it would sink in deep when she sang them. Amy paved the way for artists like me and made people excited about british music again whilst being fearlessly hilarious and blase about the whole thing. i don’t think she ever realised just how brilliant she was and how important she is, but that just makes her even more charming. although im incredibly sad about Amy passing im also reminded of how immensely proud of her i am as well. and grateful to be inspired by her. Amy flies in paradise xx" --Adele
[emphasis is mine]

This song will forever remind me of her death. I am renaming it "Amy's Song".

Amy Winehouse - October Song

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"74 Miles Away". Belgium is not as far as you think.

74 Miles Away Live Concert @ Dour Festival 2011-6390
[click photo for behind the scenes video]
74 Miles Away at the Dour Festival 2011 - 
Pierre Anckaert, Eric Paquet, Louis Van De Leest (left to right). 
Photo compliments of Kmeron.

FYI, Belgium has more to offer the rest of the world than waffles. Not only has the country been home to a number Nobel Prize winning scientists but there are also some noteworthy Belgian musicians that have been occupying my playlists recently. A major part of that Belgian music scene has been the artist collective known as Laid Back (LDBK). LDBK is a project that started in 2002 as a radio show on a local radio station in Brussels. The radio show is now available online and the project has grown to include a variety of artists such as designers, photographers, writers, musicians, DJs, producers, filmmakers etc. According to the website, LDBK's priority is "to connect existing communities around the world and activate them to engage in different projects". One superb project that I has been activated through LDBK is the union between two Belgian outfits - Pierre Anckaert Trio and MonkeyRobot. The result is music that blows you no less than 74 Miles Away.

Pierre Anckaert: is a Belgian jazz pianist/composer who studied at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and also spent a month on a course in Afro-Cuban music in 2003. In 2007 his trio was awarded first prize at the Jazz Hoeilaart International Contest. A year later he released his first recording "Candide" as a trio ensemble with double bass and drums. His music is incredibly diverse with sets ranging from trios, quartets, quintets, and big bands to the Brussels Chamber Orchestra. The Belgian composer/conductor Frédéric Devreese had this to say about Anckaert and his work:
"A particularly happy mix of jazz and classical music, subtle harmonizations and surprising modulations, inventive and virtuoso improvisations, a variety of atmospheres and terrific grooves... In a nutshell, a discovery!"

MonkeyRobot: On the other side of the coin is a pair of musicians/beatmakers/producers from Brussels: Eric Paquet (Eric P.), Louis Van De Leest (LuiGi) who have previously worked under the moniker InfinitSkills. Their works are genius and their instrument implementation takes you on a ride you can feel as it moves you through different levels. According to LDBK founder, Julien Mourlon, Eric P. and LuiGi had been DJs for the LDBK radio show for over five years. Here is what he has to say about them: 
"Since I met them in 2003, it was the “old vs new” duality that I liked in their music. Being musicians and beatmakers, sampling live instruments or adding organic layers to their beats was their trademark. When Louis released a cover of René Costy’s "Scrabble" (the Chapell libary cut used by Dilla for his classic "F*** The Police") on Jazzy Sport last year with long time friend Pierre Anckaert on the Fender Rhodes, it was clear there would be a follow up to this collaboration."

The first track that I heard from 74 Miles Away was the opener of the
LDBK compilation "All School Flavor vol. 1" - Seven Four. This hybrid track is the perfect example of what makes this collaboration and the 74 Miles Away project the perfect idea. Though not the most complex piece of music, it is a nice fresh take on the Cannonball Adderley track 74 Miles Away (perhaps their name is in tribute to Adderley?). The seamless transition and mingling of the work from both sides goes a long way to validate the marriage of the Anckaert Trio and MonkeyRobot.

Pierre Anckaert Trio vs. MonkeyRobot: The above cut is definitely an apéritif to their current release "74 Miles Away: Pierre Anckaert Trio vs. MonkeyRobot" which is deeper in complexity. According to the LDBK website "The main idea behind this “74 Miles Away” project is to put the Fender Rhodes – one of the most precious electric pianos of the last decades – in the spotlight". To reinforce this idea, this promo video clearly shows the 'Seventy Three' Fender-Rhodes taking center stage.  
The concept of the album is one that works well for the talents involved and challenges you as the listener. Four electronic jazz tracks composed and arranged by Anckaert and cut by his trio (P. Anckaert - Fender Rhodes; R. Korolik - Bass; D. Barker - Drums; S. Bracaval - flute [tracks 1 & 3]) comprises the first half of the album. Then tracks 5-8 are those same four tracks reworked by MonkeyRobot along with the introduction of vocals to create a new set of tracks with a jazz fusion tone. The result is 8 tracks (yes, I can do math) but I always find myself trying to decipher and detect bits of Anckaert's originals in the MonkeyRobot tracks and although they are radically reworked, if you listen carefully, there are detectable elements under the heavy synth layers and mesmerizing harmony.
The entire album can be listened to as completely separate songs (the tracks are arranged with the 4 Anckaerts Trio cuts followed by the 4 MonkeyRobot cuts) and they will stand alone just fine or you can create a playlist and play each rework after its original...this is what I did for the first few listens in order to pick up on the similarities. Either way just lay back and let the music take you away...74 miles away.

Here you can take a listen to "Chromeface" and its counterpart "Neverending Rhodes" below and catch a studio session video here.

To hear more you can listen to/purchase the album here. It is also available on iTunes.

For more like 74 Miles Away I recommend listening to/purchasing the LDBK "All School Flavor vol. 1" compilation. There are some great cuts on it including tracks from ClassicBeatz, Bongholio Iglesias, 40 Winks, LeFtO and more.

Thanks to Vincent Philbert aka Kmeron for permission to use his photos. Check out more pics of 74 Miles Away at the Dour Festival or his entire concert archive.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Opening Pandora's box...or URL

Over the last few years the mighty power that is the internet has completely changed how we find and listen to music. I'm not talking about the ability to download 10 albums in 10 minutes through P2P torrents or mediafire. No, I'm talking about the wonderful world of music recommendation sites. While there are quite a few, when it comes to internet radio and music recommendation the one that most people are familiar with is Pandora Radio. But, as usual, for every good thing there is something better but the trick is to find it (or them).

Music recommendation sites such as Pandora, Grooveshark, and have now made it seemingly effortless to discover new music and artists that are similar to what you already like, although they use very different methods to do so. Discovering new music that you thoroughly enjoy gives a sense of joy, excitement, and a great rewarding feeling. Here is a brief rundown on a few services that I use and pros/cons of each. 

Pandora: The spawn of the Music Genome Project, Pandora is probably almost everyone's favorite radio stations and music recommendation site. The approach to music recommendation by Pandora is very technological; based on the inherent quality of the music. With over 400 musical attributes assigned to each song by actual humans Pandora does a pretty decent job at putting together a selection of similar artists (based on the attributes of the initial query) and coming up with new music, however, if left unattended for too long it sometimes, I have found, it strays quite a bit. By leaving it unattended I mean refusing to interact with the playlist. The 'thumbs up' and 'thumbs down' buttons for each song tells the program whether you like that song or not and then Pandora collects this data and adapts to your tastes. So, to get the best experience from Pandora you have to train it to give you what you want. As you listen you can view the lyrics, artist bio, and similar artists to the one currently playing. You get to skip songs you don't like but there is a limit of six skips per hour per station and a 'thumbs down' also counts as a skip. The major downside is that Pandora only allows you to listen to 40 hours of music per month if you do not have the subscription service. In addition, it is only available in the United States so if you are traveling outside of the country you will need alternatives. However, despite it's downsides Pandora will definitely throw some music at you that you haven't heard before

Grooveshark: This is another online music recommendation service with a social aspect. Grooveshark recommendations come through similarities in members' profiles, playlists, and favorites. It offers a radio station where you can listen to different genres just by clicking a button or putting in an artist and letting the music recommendation engine churn out similar tunes. With Grooveshark you can add songs to playlists from the radio player or you have the option of uploading your own songs to build playlists. Like Pandora, Grooveshark benefits from adaptive learning through the use of the 'happy face' and 'sad face' with each song. In terms of interface, Grooveshark is less like a website and more like an audio player. Compared to Pandora, Grooveshark is a much less frustrating experience. With Grooveshark listening time caps are eliminated and so are limits on skipping. Besides building custom playlists you can also listen to other users' playlists and when you want to see what's popular you just click the "Popular" icon which takes you to a playlist of the current popular songs on Grooveshark. Unlike Pandora you won't get the artist information/bio or a list of similar artists so you just have to wait and see who pops up next on the radio. Overall, Grooveshark is more community-based and just on this basis alone is more versatile and offers more options than Pandora. Oh, and you can access it outside of the US. Plus. Now take the best of Pandora and Grooveshark and put them together and you get something that begins to look like has a good music recommendation service with a well-founded community base. Unlike Pandora's technical recommendation algorithm, and like Grooveshark,'s is more social. Music is primarily recommended based on a collaborative filter i.e if you like a song/artist and I like the same song/artist then will likely recommend other songs/artists I like to you. As a result you may end up with some songs with which you are already familiar but you will also get a great exposure to a lot that may be outside of your current playlist. The music is streamed through an in page flash-based player which runs a slideshow of pictures of the current artist that are uploaded by other users. Users are also able to add artist information, album artwork etc. which makes it's own little music wikipedia.  Besides making radio stations based on songs or artists, also keeps a list of your recent tracks and tells you how many times you have listened to an artist and song. There is also a downloadable desktop program called "Scrobbler" which integrates with iTunes and track what you listen to and feeds it into your profile. Based on this, can build stations based on your music library and when an artist outside of your library is played it tells you based on which of your library artists the selection was made. You can also listen to stations that are based on other users with similar musical tastes/listening habits. Another great feature of is that it tells you if the artist who is currently playing is on tour and provides their dates and events. Cool, yea. For quick music discovery you can simply go to the site and type in an artists and click the similar artists tab to the left and get a plethora of recommendations. One thing I must say about is that I can find and build stations around artists and songs that I can't even find on Pandora or Grooveshark. This is because once an artist has been "scrobbled" by a user it automatically generates a page for that new artist.

Music Plasma: Music Plasma is not an internet radio site so you don't get to actually listen to any music. Despite that, it is still a great, quick tool for music discovery. You can create the musical equivalent to a gene network map using Music Plasma. You simply type in an artist which pops up on the map. Then you click on the artist and select expand and it connects a bunch of similar artists to your main query. You can repeat this for each artist as they appear and create elaborate artist network maps that will keep you busy exploring music for weeks. The data that goes into Music Plasma is provided by and Amazon.

I like to use each of these as a compliment to the others because they employ different methods in their music recommendation service and I believe that there is value in both the social and technological approach to music discovery.

Other ways that I use to explore new music is through Soundcloud and Mixcloud. Excellent ways to get on to brand new music...if the artist is an active member of either cloud community. I also follow (on Twitter) or like (on Facebook) artists that I enjoy and sometimes I get some good recommendations through their mentions on feeds. I also take a look to see who's my artists' artist...who do the artists that I like and follow, like and follow. 

Other notable music recommendation sites: iTunes Genius, iLike.

Happy Discovery!

Friday, July 1, 2011

iTunes presents 31 nights of music for FREE!

Think this is a joke? Well it's not. The iTunes Festival 2011 kicks off at 3PM EST at the Roundhouse in London, UK. The Festival will feature 62 artists with concerts every night from today until July 31. If you are outside of London and buying a plane ticket is outside of your budget right now then don't worry you can still enjoy any of the concerts. All you need to do is download iTunes to you computer and use this link, which should open the festival's home page in iTunes. If you would like to catch them on the go there are also apps available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. And, of course, if you own Apple TV you can use AirPlay to steam the shows to your TV screen. Oh, and it is all offered in HD! If you are in the UK and would like to see shows live, you can go to the lineup page and apply to enter a drawing for free live tickets.

The lineup includes something for everyone. Some of the artists performing at this year's festival will be Adele, Miles Kane (formerly of The Rascals), Linkin Park, Bruno Mars, Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Alice Gold, Raphael Saadiq, Dionne Bromfield (Amy Winehouse's 15 year-old goddaughter), Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Moby, *deep breath*...and the list goes on & on & on. To get it all started is that genius song-writer/singer/guitarist Paul Simon (from Simon & Garfunkel). 

Simon & Garfunkel performing The Sound of Silence at MSG in 2009.

So you have about 5 hours to get your internet connection in order and if you are stealing internet from your neighbor's wireless, pray to god that they don't decide to password protect it before July 31. Oh, but that crazy 5h time difference means that you will probably be at work. Well, that's okay because the concerts will be recorded for you to replay when you get home.

Nothing is better than free music...well, almost nothing.