Archive | August, 2013

“ft. Pharrell”: A List of Collaborative Excellence

31 Aug

Pizzle

Rapper. Fashion designer. Songwriter. Producer. Skateboarder. Singer. In the twenty years that the world has known him, Pharrell Williams has worn many a hat – some of them his own design, and all of them at the jauntiest of angles. As part of the Neptunes, Pharrell has produced remarkable music for a remarkable roster of artists: everyone from Daft Punk to Kelis to Britney Spears to Jay-Z owe a part of their success to Skateboard P. The man has gone on to write, sing, produce and collaborate with music’s most talented artists – the list is truly mindboggling.

But never fear. As always, Top Five Records gives you a good place to start. Here’s our list of the top five songs with those moneymaker words in the title: “ft. Pharrell”.

5. “Celebrate”, Mika ft. Pharrell

A stylish duo

A stylish duo

Since his debut with the aptly-titled Life in Cartoon Motion, Brit singer/songwriter Mika has been well-known for his larger-than-life pop songs with delectable happy-go-lucky vibes. Last year’s album The Origin of Love featured one such gem, “Celebrate”, a disco-dance-synthpop anthem that’s just ridiculously upbeat. Pharrell co-wrote the song with Mika and contributed a verse, too. His intuitive sense of arrangement and design, paired with Mika’s joyous, talented voice, makes for a laudable combination. Here’s hoping to more collaborations between the two.

4. “Change Clothes”, Jay Z ft. Pharrell

Jay Z and Pharrell

Hova and Pharrell have quite a history. Mr Williams has had a hand in every Jay Z album (with the exception of The Blueprint) since 2000’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, including this year’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail. Our favorite collab between the two geniuses (genii?) is 2003’s “Change Clothes”, off of the iconic Black Album. Everything on the track just works: from that indubitable Neptunes bounce to Jay’s unmistakable cool. We find it only fitting that the refrain in the video shows Pharrell flanked by fawning models at a fashion show: it’s just that slick.

3. “Give It Up”, Twista ft. Pharrell

Twista is one of the most underrated rappers in the game today. There haven’t been as many bright spots in his career as there should have been, but one of the brightest and most colourful is definitely his collaboration with Pharrell on 2007’s “Give It Up”. The video is somewhere between 1950s airline commercial and a Tetris game, full of solid colors and candy boxes and pin-up girls: classic Hype Williams. Pharrell and Twista seem to have a lot of fun in the song, listing out all the kinds of girls who “wanna give it up” for them – black, white, Spanish, Middle Eastern, you name it. We have a slinky feeling that the song just wouldn’t have been as great without Pharrell’s presence.

2. “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk ft. Pharrell

All around the world this year, for the entire summer, critics and fans have been fawning over this phenomenal song. Music this groovy has not been made since the disco fever; it’s funny that it took a couple of French robots to bring it all back. Between Nile Rodgers’ shimmery fretting and Pharrell’s infectious chorus, it’s no wonder that “Get Lucky” is THE song of the summer. The song’s rabid success is anything but luck, though – Pharrell and Rodgers collaborating with Daft Punk is just that electric a combination.

1. “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell

cool cats

cool cats

“I got the Rolly on my arm and I’m pouring Chandon/ I got the best weed ‘cause I got it going on,” claims Snoop in the opening lines of this track, and you know he isn’t lying. Big boasts populate the track that coasts atop one of the slickest Neptunes beats ever – composed entirely of tongue clicks. The track really showcases why there will never be anyone as stylish in the game as Snoop Dogg. The black and white composition of the track’s brilliant video perfectly suits the Neptunes’ minimalistic style. “Think before you fuck with lil Skateboard P,” warns Pharrell in one verse, and he’s right. There’s really no one quite like him.

Honorable mention:

“Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell and TI

In 2013, Pharrell Williams became only the 12th artist in the history to hold both the #1 and #2 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the same time, pairing the ubiquitous “Get Lucky” with the equally omnipresent “Blurred Lines”. In the well-received music video, Robin Thicke, Pharrell, TI and three young models flirt in front of a simple peach-coloured wall, soundtracked to a Marvin Gaye-meets-Prince romp that will definitely get you dancing. It’s suave, swaggering, and an absolute riot. What’s not to love?

Agree with our list? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below!

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The F16s: Kaleidoscope

28 Aug

Top Five Records is no stranger to the Chennai Music Scene; we’ve done our best to highlight the polished, challenging, unique indie sound that comes out of a city that normally has a less-than-stellar reputation for indie music. Bands like Little Babooshka’s Grind, Junkyard Groove, Adam & the Fish Eyed Poets and the Shakey Rays have challenged that notion time and again over the past year or two, and now it’s the F16s’ turn to challenge India’s perception of what the southern city’s young musicians can come up with.

The F16s
The F16s’ debut album, Kaleidoscope, is a mix-and-match of styles, genres, sounds, stories and inspirations (although somewhat skewed towards a mix of Arctic Monkeys and the Strokes) that comes together in a burst of colour and shapes, and ideally beer. It’s almost overwhelming. Heady, carnival-inspired post-break-up indie? Check. Guitar-fuzzed, anthemic garage rock? Check.  Smokey-back-room-inspired depressing alt rock? Check. Kaleidoscope works as the perfect showcase for one of the few Indian bands who can rightly claim the tag “genre defying.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the EP is accompanied by absolutely gorgeous album and single art.

It also doesn’t hurt that the EP is accompanied by absolutely gorgeous album and single art.

So, on to the album, then. “Prelude” first tiptoes and then charges onto the scene armed with a driving guitar riff, pressing drum beat and tinged with acid techno. A little over a minute later, however, “Light Bulbs” strolls in: a swinging, off-centre electric piano groove, with drawling guitars and drawling vocals. Full of a painful, morose sort of ennui, it’s almost impossible not to imagine a depressed 20-something in a Delhi restrobar with her friends, trying to stay afloat in the gloomy bar-hopping culture of young corporate India. Appropriately enough, the song ends with a vocal harmonization that rivals that heard in Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida”. It does have way more cowbell though, so I suppose in some respects it’s even better.

The depression doesn’t abate as the EP slides into “Avalanche”. We love the original acoustic version, but it’s great to hear it fully realized in electric: subtle organ shifts and a catchy syncopated guitar rhythm (anyone else hearing A Certain Romance?) strengthen a song that’s about trying to run away from your troubles.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech allows for a bizarre but  fun segue into “The King’s Dream”, a song that starts off sounding like Jet and ends up sounding like The Fratellis. Fuzzy guitars and a very danceable beat make for  the kind of music that’s perfect for non-IDM-saturated hipster parties; their groove just won’t let you stay still. Don’t worry, though: the Reverend’s spirit lives on in the song through its lyrics full of rebellion (although admittedly from an upper-middle-class youth perspective). 

“Who Robbed the Rogue” moves The F16s’ sound into new territory yet again, flying through the Strokes’galaxy with a minor stopover in MGMT’s world. The song’s outro is a universe apart entirely, and builds up into a crescendo of what we can only describe as Wagnerian rock (think early-2000s Muse).

“My Shallow Lover” is a great follow-up song after “The Rogue”. Ostensibly a song of discovered adultery with none of the tears and all of the middle fingers, “My Shallow Lover” doesn’t beat about the bush:

“I don’t give a fuck about who you love and who you want and who you are, because I’m more important than you.”

High on cheek, sugar, and rotary organ keyboards, what sets this song apart from all the others in the EP is its super-awesome carnival descent at the end of the track: A heady mix of shoe-gaze and dream-pop that sounds exactly how I imagine dropping acid and riding a merry-go-round would feel.

Wrap your head around that for a second.

“Nuke” slows things down a bit, for a second, before turning up the fuzz slowly. First comes another Arctic Monkeys-esque drum groove (revisiting “Whatever People Say I AM” territory), before Josh opens his pipes again to belt: “Can you take control?” The song’s outro returns us back to Kaleidoscope’s initial techno-ish feel, albeit with a heavier, more industrial sound, before we’re left to our own devices surrounded by a fading hiss of static.

Kaleidoscope does have its rough parts: not all songs are for everyone, and it takes a rather unique listener to be able to appreciate each and every song. We’re talking about a release that jumps from genre to genre, from inspiration to inspiration, and from story to story almost every other minute.  Still, each jump brings you to newer territory and more awesome sounds, so the aural exercise is definitely worth it.

Go listen to the F16s on their SoundCloud account and buy their EP over at OK Listen. And check out the band’s Facebook Page for lyrics and absolutely gorgeous album/single art!

Also, a huge shout-out to Harshan Radhakrishnan for making keyboards sound cool!

– Karthik Manickam

My Bloody Valentine at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (23/8/2013)

25 Aug

My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine was one of the bands to define shoegaze back in the late 1980s and 1991’s Loveless is still probably the greatest example of that alternative rock subgenre ever to be created. They broke up for quite a while, but 2013 marked their first album in 12 years, m b v and a worldwide tour that took them to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.

Their performance was exactly what one would expect from one of the bands that defined shoegaze. It was very loud, rather repetitive and had almost no talking. There was one intelligible piece of crowd interaction in the concert and that was to tell us that the next song was to be the last. When playing to a crowd, you have to deal with both the luxury and tyranny of the crowd’s undivided attention. It is your chance to really engage with your crowd, and during the concert I spent more time thinking about work than the music itself.

These complaints may seem unavoidable when dealing with shoegaze, but even if they artists refuse to interact with the crowd, their music should. It is their job to create a journey for you to travel through over their concert, and it was not only difficult, but also unrewarding to fall into the flow of this performance. There were some great moments over the three and a half hours of the concert and three songs, including my personal favorite Soon, were excellent. Taken as a whole, it was a good concert, but I expected better from alternative rock royalty like My Bloody Valentine.

There are bands who are better in the studio than on the stage and sadly My Bloody Valentine has proven to be one of them. This was a fine concert, just not a great one.

Daft Punk: Random Access Memories

14 Aug

In the late 90s, two Frenchmen released a landmark debut album that forced the world to reconsider its current taste in dance music. This album was followed in 2001 by an even more historic album that, once again, forced the world to reconsider. Ensconced invariably in metallic helmets and a coolness that doesn’t quit, Daft Punk have made it their job to redefine things for a world that is far behind the curve. What happens, then, when they choose to delve in the past rather than look towards the future?

Brilliance.

Random Access Memories

In May 2013, Daft Punk built a futuristic discotheque in space called Random Access Memories, and they’re inviting everyone to their party – not just the cool kids. Old-time artists sessions (Paul Jackson Jr., JR Robinson et al) form an intoxicating mesh of disco-jazz, while dreadlocked funk icon Nile Rodgers frets his way through the fabric of their material. Hip-hop/R&B superstar Pharell Williams croons in the foreground and Panda Bear is at the back selling acid tabs. And at the very middle of all this commotion are two robots, trying their very best to make music like they’re humans from the 70s.

Before RAM released, Daft Punk recorded disco king Giorgio Moroder talking them through his rise to fame. Eventually, they chose to include one snippet, heard on “Giorgio by Moroder”, about his involvement in the birth of disco music. “I wanted to make a record with the sounds of the 50s, the 60s, the 70s,” explains Giorgio in his clipped German accent, “And then have a sound of the future.” This is the defining sentence, the centerpiece and the crux of Daft Punk’s effort in this album. What Daft Punk tries to do on this album is what Giorgio tried to do all those years ago.

Giorgio Morodor on the cover of his '77 album From Here to Eternity

Giorgio Morodor on the cover of his ’77 album From Here to Eternity

But an ideological centerpiece is not all that RAM has. EDM (which, by the way, Giorgio Moroder basically invented in ‘77) in its modern form caters to humankind’s strange desire to sound more machine-like. But Daft Punk has, as usual, taken this idea one step forward. Random Access Memories is a story about humans that became robots and are trying to remember what it’s like to be human again. The robots try to access their half-forgotten human side through their random access memories. Get it?

The story starts off, in my opinion, right before Giorgio Moroder gives Daft Punk his clue of combining the past with the future. On “Lose Yourself to Dance” (a directive that really does result in full-body grooving) , we meet Pharell Williams at his absolute soul-funk best, in a jam with Nile Rodgers, who’s belting out the tightest disco riffs this side of the 70s. They create magic again on the spectacular first single “Get Lucky” which would be an honest-to-God hit in disco’s heyday. On both tracks, the Parisian androids are tinkering quietly in the background.

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After Giorgio’s monologue, a few things change in the story. Album opener “Give Life Back to Music” is their distilled learning from Mr. Moroder: in order to create the future, revive the past. Pharell leaves, the vocoder enters, and Nile Rodgers continues to provide the funkadelic backbone. “Let the music of your life/ Give life back to music,” they implore, and you’re inclined to agree.

Pretty soon, though, the robot takes over the human. “The Game of Love” is about a robot emoting, almost like a human, about heartbreak and eventual acceptance, and on “Within”, the robot is slowly starting to lose touch with its human side completely. “There are so many things that I don’t understand/ There’s a world within me that I cannot explain,” laments a vocoder-edged automaton, amidst slinky piano and theatrical flourishes.

Thomas Bangalter (L), Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (R)

Thomas Bangalter (L), Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (R)

The storyline (and album) finds dead center on “Touch”, a magnificent magnum opus featuring the old-world folk voice of Paul Williams. The robot, expressing itself through Williams, asks how to relate its computerized memory of touch to the human feeling of touch; and after a full-blown blissful horn and gospel section, the robot realizes the answer is (of course) love. After this life-altering moment (“Sweet touch/ you’ve almost convinced me I’m real”), Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories comes full circle: about humans that slowly became robots, and are slowly turning back into humans. It will send shivers down your spine, I promise you.

Why aren’t the songs in chronological order? Because that’s not how our (human) brains work. Memories are distorted, rearranged and accessed (yes, randomly) by our brain; Daft Punk is trying to mimic that very phenomenon. The album title is really very clever, non?

Daft Punk makes music that foils critical analysis. They want to play 70s disco in their spaceship from the year 4000, because they think it would be a fun thing to do: and that’s their only reason. They are able to distill their playfulness and whimsy into a structured, inspired album – without becoming self-indulgent – and therein exists their greatness. Towards the end of “Giorgio by Moroder”, Giorgio leaves one final observation in the listener’s mind. “Once you free your mind about a concept of harmony and music being correct, you can do whatever you want,” he notes. Daft Punk understand this very well, and on this album, you will, too.

Best Tracks: Get Lucky, Giorgio by Moroder, Lose Yourself to Dance

Bonus:

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