electro-pop

Lily Allen Sings “The Fear”

Listen to this track by London denizen, anti-Katy Perry pop songstress, and mum Lily Allen. It’s her 2009 song “The Fear” as taken from her second record to follow up 2006′s Alright, Still, and cheekily titled it is too, It’s Not Me, It’s You.

Despite the fashionable retro-electro musical style, this song is about a culture that celebrates the ephemeral, the lavish, and the self-serving, the incredibly shallow, laced as it is with irony, and not just a little bit of disgust at the attitudes pervasive in pop star circles.

Lily_Allen_-_It's_Not_Me,_It's_You

Iconoclastic lyrics against a smooth electro-pop backdrop and all, Allen scored number ones in the UK, and here in Canada, too. The album went triple-platinum in the UK, with “The Fear” scoring best track at the 2009 Q Awards. The record was nominated for the Mercury Prize that year, too. The song was her second entry in the US Billboard Hot 100.

All of this is quite an irony in some ways, given that she was taking pot shots at the very characteristics that pop stardom appears to represent. But who specifically is this song aimed at?

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Prince Performs “Sign O’ the Times”

Prince Sign O' The Times singleListen to this track by diminutive musical savant Prince. It’s “Sign O’ The Times”, as taken from the 1987 LP of the same name, Sign O’ The Times, a post-Purple Rain double-album that would keep Prince on his trajectory to being one of the most influential, and certainly one of the most prolific, artists of the decade.

Despite being a singular artistic entity capable of creating albums completely on his own, this was the first album released after his work with his celebrated back-up group The Revolution. The previous album Parade (featuring his now very well covered single “Kiss”) was the last record that group would collaborate with him on in name, ending a run starting with 1999 in 1982.

This new record would incorporate some of the material the ensemble had worked up. But, the album would be an amalgam of solo projects as well, from an aborted triple album, to an off-the-beaten path project Camille, something of a female alter ego. The resulting album here would continue to demonstrate Prince’s agility with funk, soul, electro-pop, and rock styles, plus other styles besides.

But, along with songs with sexual themes (“If I Was Your Girlfriend”), and party songs (“Housequake”) for which he was known, Sign O’The Times adds yet another set of themes to his pallette – the state of the world according to Prince.  And what does he see here on the album’s title track, as the world edged closer and closer to the end of the 20th Century? (more…)

Kraftwerk Perform “Pocket Calculator” Live

Here’s a clip from the Beatles of Electronica – Kraftwerk and their song “Pocket Calculator”, originally taken from the 1981 album Computer World.

KraftwerkNot many casual music fans really know just how important this band is to the development of popular music from the mid-70s to the modern day. Their influence can be traced in new wave, hip-hop, acid house, 90s big beat, and modern electronica. Heavily imitated and very heavily sampled, Kraftwerk’s signature sound is the brainchild of leaders Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter, who met as students of classical music at Düsseldorf Conservatory at the end of the 60s, united by their obsessions with experimental music and technology. They experimented with traditional instruments in the early 70s as a group, but it was 1974′s Autobahn album, a record which greatly benefited by their purchase of a Moog synthesizer, which set them on their stylistic path.

Kraftwerk are connected with both the Krautrock sounds of Can and Tangerine Dream, and also are closely connected with the British synthesizer acts of the early 80s, over whom they had tremendous influence – Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, OMD, and many others. This is not to mention American acts like Afrika Bambaataa who sampled selections from Kraftwerk’s catalogue for his breakthrough hip-hop track “Planet Rock”. More modern day Kraftwerk-influenced acts like the Chemical Brothers, Alpinestars, LCD Soundsystem, and Fat Boy Slim have regularly fed Kraftwerk samples into their dance-music constructions, or have crafted their original sounds after them.

The key tension in the music itself is the idea that technology and modernity are both liberating and dehumanizing at the same time; that which enables greater efficiency is also that which can be a source of isolation. Pushing past what many perceive to be the coldness of electronica in general, and of Kraftwerk specifically, there still lies a very human drama at the heart of it. The best of music of the genre frames this tension very well, showing electronic music is just as connected with the beating heart of humanity as any visceral rock music. Further, the idea which is intrinsic to the Kraftwerk approach to music-making is that there are very few divisions between technology and users of it. This is a prophetic notion of course, conceived as it was in the 70s, and looking at it now in this age of Internet, social media, and (ahem) blogging.

For more information about Kraftwerk, check out the official Kraftwerk website.

For a wider sampling of the music and more clips of the band, get yourself on down to the Kraftwerk MySpace page.

Enjoy!

Air Perform ‘Talisman’ From Their Album Moon Safari

AirHere is a track from French retro-futurist outfit Air off of their 1998 album (and a personal favourite) Moon Safari.

Something is stopping me from making this a part of my The Song In My Head Today series, maybe because I’ve added to that series so recently. But call this an unofficial entry, as this is, in fact, the song in my head today.

When I first heard Air, it was the lead single off of that album, ‘Sexy Boy’, which left me kind of cold on first listen. It’s grown on me since, but it’s still the weakest track (relatively speaking) off of a phenomenal, must-have release. What sold me on MS was the follow-up single, ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’, which is all vocoder fronted electro pop and dreamy piano arpeggios. Apparently, the titular Kelly is a reference to the character from Charlie’s Angels as played by Jaclyn Smith. You’ve gotta respect that.

The piece itself, much like the whole of the record, seems to be a soundtrack to the coolest European movie from 1975 that was never filmed. The songs and instrumental pieces seem to tell a story; the kind of tale you’ve dreamt , and have forgotten the details of once you wake up, yet feel as though you’ve been on a great adventure.

If you’ve not heard Moon Safari, and you have an affinity for the sound of lost 1970s soundtracks, with Moog synths, theremin, and Fender Rhodes textures, then I envy your discovery of this album. I plan to write a full review of this album, as it is one of my favourites, in an upcoming article – stay tuned, people!

In the meantime, take a look at the clip of Air performing their instrumental piece ‘Talisman’.