Category Archives: Pop

Cassie: This Ain’t Yr Daddy’s Rhythm Nation


Oh hai there.

So…r n’b. I’m not a popist or anything, but I’ve crawled out of my hate hole far enough to appreciate (and even OBSESS OVER) some of the neighborhood dudes n’ divas. Usually it’s the hit single, or whichever-album track-Rich Harrison-produced jams that shine through (you know: “1 Thing,” “Ain’t No Other Man,” every Ciara single ever, “Gotta Make It,” “Let Me Love You,” etc.) I’m not, like, pouring over Keisha Cole b-sides or anything, but its worth taking the collective finger off the mute button if you like pillowy synths n’ shit.

Considering all that, it’d be really really tempting to file Cassie neatly under “had one great track due almost entirely to its pansy/pounding production” (“Me & U”) like a lot of the highlights of contempo r n’b, but GUESS WHAT the album is actually pretty fuckin’ good!

First oddity out of quite a few: production consistency. R n’b (and rap, largely at this point) production tends to be all mercenary style (*guys in suits at Arista* “let’s get Scott Storch, Jazze Pha, Timbaland, The Neptunes and seven guys no one has heard of and add one reggaeton remix as a bonus track”). Which is fine n’ dandy and usually produces 1.5 good singles or so and then a lot of cookie cutter stomps and DRIPPY BALLAD CRAP. On Cassie, Ryan Leslie has produced just about every fake snare hit and vocal burp. At the risk of insulting all the Golden Age nerds, it’s an easy comparison to the Bomb Squad/Public Enemy or Primo/Gang Starr days when there were simply variations on ONE sonic palette. Obviously this dude isn’t Dr. Dre or something, but Ry Ry proves enough of a unique MIDI keyboard knob twiddler to make Cassie swing.

If there was any confusion, SONICS is mostly what I’m eyeing here. Cassie herself is basically a breathy alien supermodel. Which could be pretty compelling, but mostly is just kinda servicable here. The “lyrical themes” or whatever are boilerplate ’00s r n’b: “Look at me I’m hot, u want me, LOL”, etc. If anything, I occasionally daydream about how many imaginary points better this album would be with Ciara singing/monotoning all over it. The important VOID that Cassie shares with Ciara, though, is a total lack of show-offiness, which means no buzzkill wonky melisma (see: Mariah, Xtina ballads). YES, it might be because she just doesn’t have the pipes for it anyway, but, ummmm, THAT’S OKAY.

In any case, Cassie the SINGER is not really why we’re here, I’ll try and stick to the plot from here on out, starting with the most immediate slug-in-the-chest thing about the album: the SYNTHESIZERS.

The thing about the synths on Cassie is, it’s not just synths-as-keyboards. EVERYTHING is synthesized. The bottom-end of “Me & U” (a complete monster) is a synth’d CELLO. Elsewhere you’ll hear some processed harpsichord. Normally such upfront THIS MUSIC IS SUPER FAKEness might be a red flag for cheesedickery, but there’s something about the depths plumbed here that sells me. I mean, this album actually heavily features FLANGER. And it sounds GOOD! Every surface is polished and cold; it sounds mechanical, but it’s still FUN, which is pretty miraculous, indeed.

With all the processing, it’s a bit of a surprise that there’s such a MINIMALIST feel to a lot of the production, particularly the percussive elements. It’s lots of syncopated odds n’ ends – snaps, claps, shakers, TRIANGLE fer chrissakes. It all sounds super SHARP and clipped; there’s basically NO reverb. The production on Cassie sits way outside the Harrison/Just Blaze/Timbo axis of cascading snares/big horns/funk samples/etc. I kinda hate myself already for saying this, but the production here is the Suicide of contempo r n’b. Maybe a little less repitition and, like, cyberpunk-ness and whatnot.

In any case, the first five tracks on Cassie are immediate standouts, especially the ones with goofy r ‘nb spellings (“Me & U,” “Long Way 2 Go,” “Call U Out”). The second half dip dangerously into “No Scrubs”-y lite-ness. There are some neat sonic moments (fake dulcimer and harp on “Not With You”) and the songs never hit ballad rock bottom, but some of Leslie stretching his stylistic wings here falls flat. Thoughts:

– “Ditto” is like Annie by way of AARON CARTER.
– “What Do U Want” borders on popstress guitar pop ala Kelly & Avril (even has a “Girlfriend“-y breakdown); wait, wait, FLANGER AGAIN?!?

Cassie ends with the Basement Jaxx Jr. of “Miss Your Touch” – a funkier moment than any other on the record. It’s not a revelation or anything, but it’s a fun, flitty ummer bounce and its a decidedly welcome flittiness after an album of Big Dark Sounds.

A taste?

“Me & U” [mp3]
“Call U Out” [mp3]
“Miss Your Touch” [mp3]

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5 Comments

Filed under Pop, Posted by Doorknobs

Kanye West doesn’t care about black people.

Seriously, wtf is with the moment in the otherwise-gorgeous “Flashing Lights” (my favorite track by far on the new one) where lovelorn ‘Ye speaketh that the pain in his heart is “like Katrina with no FEMA,” and then follows it up with “Like Martin with no Gena”? Is this not the biggest trivialization of Katrina yet put to rhyme? It’s got some serious competition, like when Wayne rhymes “It’s been a year since Katrina hated.” (Yes, that’s what it did. It “hated” on New Orleans. That’s what “hateration” feels like. Like an entire city wiped out. Think about THAT next time you post “Wayne iz gay” on Nahright.com). JUELZ FUCKING SANTANA managed a more trenchant line about Katrina: “Wayne, I feel your pain and I see your stress/How your people s’posed to make it through Katrina off of FEMA check?”

At least those two lines are ABOUT Katrina. Kanye takes a personal inconvenience — getting caught cheating on his (beautiful) fiancee with some (likely also beautiful) groupie chick — and compares it to the a fucking near-Biblical natural disaster. I mean, why stop there!?

“When I read comments about me on SOHH.com, it’s exactly like 9/11.”

OR:

“When I didn’t win that MTV Video Music Award, which has all the value of a “World’s Best Dad” mug, it felt precisely like the abuse suffered by the prisoners at Guantanamo.”

OR

“When everyone made fun of me for wearing that lavendar tuxedo to the Grammys last year, it kind of reminded me of what Nelson Mandela went through.”

ETC ETC ET AL

XOXO
TN

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Filed under Pop, Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC, WTF

RE-ASSESS: Junior Boys

So normally with a re-assess the interesting/motivational force would be the opinion needle moving from UMMM, DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE, THIS SOUNDS LIKE FUCKING JERMAINE JACKSON to something more like WAIT, I WAS WRONG – THIS MAKES ME WANNA JUMP IN A KIDDIE POOL AND HI-FIVE PEOPLE!! The 180-ness of it all making you wanna yell about it from the nearest mountain top and/or weblog. This Last Exit thing is very NOT THAT, though. Just for clarification.

Back in my super ILM-trolling day, I saw the good amount of rallying around the first JB album (and the preceding EPs). And, of course, the ‘fork review. I listened with what I remember as open ears. I waded through comments about the bonus disc remixes being “perfunctory.” I considered as interneterz said stuff like, “It’s like Timbaland doing 2-step, but, like, GLITCHY” (paraphrase, obvs). But this shit just DID NOT RESONATE.

My appreciation/enjoyment was frustratingly arms-length. It was: “yeah, yeah this is ‘good’, I get it.” It seemed like a little bit of everything everyone was saying it was; it was skating by on neat-o reference points and the fact that it was SMART dance music (not to be confused with INTELLIGENT dance music. OOF). Something seemed missing to me — a lot seemed missing, actually. This shit was DREARY. It wasn’t Dance and it wasn’t Pop. Nothing was shining, nothing screamed. I tried a few times, even bought the CD (with the perfunctory remixes)…then shelved it.

That was 2004 or so. Which, fuck, seems like not that long ago. In any case, skipping past all kinds of personal and music nerd listening habit history, I’ve been listening to Last Exit a bunch recently. And it’s basically a whole new ballgame. I’d really rather not get into what about the way I’ve “grown” or whatever has made the sonics of LE more palatable, so if we could let that slide, that’d be cool.

Point is: the “moodiness” as a function of the muted sounds on this record can be seriously GORGEOUS and ENGAGING and, umm, GREAT if you just set yr expectations on stun. A few things:

The Drums: Unlike newer JBs (see So This is Goodbye), the drums are skittery and, YES, bordering on IDM! It’s a Squarepusher-on-downers kind of thing. The difference here is all that shuffling, the clipped snares, etc. are there to create SPACE for BREATHY, PILLOW SYNTH-Y POP. And you know what, yeah I even hear some TIMBALAND. I said it.

The Mood: Okay, yeah, it’s not Katrina & the Waves but fuck if this sputtery r&b synth can’t also be IMMEDIATE. There’s the whispering vox to contend with (not a small feat, if yr looking for melody IN YOUR FACE), but LE lives on the sexy and SAD end of the pop matrix. It’s rainy-day pop rather than drivin’ 55 pop, but POP nonetheless. (Don’t wanna overuse the P word, but it needs to be said and re-said that this ain’t just “electronic” music.)

Ok so this is my first real post on the Pinky and I don’t wanna get carried away. Welcome to the terror tome, suckas.

3 Comments

Filed under Pop, Posted by Doorknobs, Re-assess