Friday, July 9, 2010

A Deep Surprise

Her music drops slowly into your soul. With ripples of rhythm flowing towards the listener song by song, word by word, Samantha James has found her sound by mixing waves of lounge with sprinkles of electronica, making one of the most surreal, yet mesmerizing albums of the past ten years. Solely by listening to the artists latest LP, Subconscious, one cannot help but let the luscious lyrics, vivacious vocals and mellow melodies dive deep into your subconscious.

James may know how to hypnotize her audience, but the only thing now is for the world to catch onto one of the greatest artists of the past decade. After a #1 single on the Billboard dance charts with “Rise,” James released her debut album of the same name. While sales were soft, the quality of her debut matches that of legends.

With Subconsious, James continues her legacy of the Queen of Lounge and one of the few artists out there who can take what is conventionally background music and put pure heart into it, bringing it to life.

On “Veil,” the LP’s strongest song, James tells the listener to lift their own veils and see the world for what it is: a light that shines over all of us. “Veil” has James in the area where she does it best: lounge. Perfect for that drive at sunset or along with that delicious cosmopolian. The song explodes with euphoric rhythms that put the listener in a trance, but even though this track is one of the most flavorful, it’s just a taste of things to come.

Mirror mirror on the wall, which song is the most single-worthy of all? The answer is “Find a Way” perhaps James’ most gorgeous song so far. Everything about the track, from the melody, to the vocal delivery has the familiar scent of Sade. The calming song puts the mind at ease and allows the listener to journey through the emotion of James as if they were floating through rose-scented air.

James flows most freely on “Free,” the most urban-flavored of the bunch, shows James tip-toe into the world of electro-jazz. Perhaps one of the LPs most candid track that shows the reality of the protagonists pain and wishes. One the other side, the title track makes for some fluffy fun on the dance floor. But even for a song about a topic as trite as a club hook-up, the songwriter likens the occurrence to something that touches her soul and dances through the most hidden areas of her mind. Another dance track, “Waves of Change,” the album’s first single, crashes onto the dance floor with some of the best remixes of the year done by Kaskade.

One of Rise’s most memorable moments was “Right Now” a simple chill track with minimal vocals and an amazing musical production. The sequel, “Life is Waiting” follows the same musical road with similar success. Think of it like the older sister of “Right Now,” with even more production. The simplicity of “Right Now” made it a chill classic, and while “Life is Waiting” holds the same future in its hands, one cannot help but compare the two.

James doesn’t always reach pure perfection. “Tonight” would make for a nice club track except for the inclusion of guest vocalist JB Eckl, whose vocal talents fail to mess with the suave diva. “Illusions” starts off nicely, but that ends up to be an illusion itself. The song sounds like an awkward mix of sounds and lyrics the singer has previously done. Even so, in the rare instances when the album drops, the quality is still above 99.9% of music out there today.

Pushing forward and upward, “Satellites” sees James venture into acoustic-touched electronica with sweet success. “Maybe Tomorrow” goes through the glowing motions of loungy-pop, and “Amber Sky” drops with the soft, sweet sounds of electronic-pop to the poetic lyrics of James yearning for the girl of her past. “Tree of Life” at first, seems to have been sprouted in the same vein as Rise’s “Come Through," but the song does grow on you eventually on its own ground.

The final page of the album, “Again and Again” marks the first released Samantha James track with no electronic elements to it at all. Nothing but pure piano, the haunting closer shows the most sensitive side of the singer.

As the LP makes its way deeper into your subconscious, feelings of beauty and love takes over in a way that no other album could make you feel, and with that, Samantha James has become a success. Perhaps not a success with sales, but James has found her niche for her sound and her message that transcends all fads and breaks through the musical barriers to make her mark. Like the word itself, it is impossible to define the album Subconscious precisely, but perhaps that’s the genius behind Samantha James.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rhythm of Love

At first glance, Aphrodite's cover looks like either the second coming of Christ, or an advertisement for Kylie Minogue's newest, bluest perfume. With that said, Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite proves to be a little bit of heaven and still sleek and sexy enough to be en vogue. In comparison to other Kylie records, The poetic lyrics of 1997's Impossible Princess are still no where to be found, and the striking vocals of 1994's Kylie Minogue have been replaced by airy, nasal one's since 1995, but even so, the album is full of love.

Produced by Stuart Price, the genius who assisted Madonna in the creation of hit LP Confessions on a Dance Floor, the album has the 70's/80's/90's dance flavor while still maintaining the modern sound. Aphrodite isn't quite as danceable as Confessions, but listening to the disc, one realizes that the current Madonna's music is all about strength (and sex) while Kylie takes a much softer approach to the topic of love.

“Cupid Boy” shoots its dart deep into your ears and feet, becoming Minogue's best song to dance to tipsy on the floor. Another future dance floor-classic, “Get Outta My Way” gets things going from pretty much the premiere of the album. “Better than Today” have Minogue's best lyrics in years and production-wise, the most flavor of the entire LP. The title track, in which the Aussie claims to be a “Golden girl, an Aphrodite” turns out to be one of the singers most fierce tracks, well, ever. And it's true, even though Kylie isn't Bea Arthur, she is a golden girl.

When it comes to the theme of love, the songs touched by Kylie's soft spot are “Everything is Beautiful” and “Looking for an Angel.” Both filled with pure euphoria and sweetness. While not as romantic or sexy as 1994's “Automatic Love,” both fill your heart with drops of love.

One track that needs to be a single is the song “Closer.” Along with its eery production and sexy sounds, the song sinks deep into your mind and takes over. One can just imagine a video of a scary, yet sexy Kylie being chased by mutant ducks (listen closely to the intro). In the same vein as Michael Jackson's “Thriller” or Rihanna's “Disturbia,” Minogue carries on the tradition of amazingly haunting, yet sometimes scary pop.

As with most Kylie LP's, there are a few slips. First and foremost being the first single “All the Lovers” in which the singer chirps “Dance, I'm standing here, why won't you move?” Won't move? Hopefully this isn't a metaphor for sex, otherwise, one has to wonder about Kylie's choice of “lovers” and if this one who refuses to move is the best, how were the rest?? Lyrics aside, the music, which sounds like the sissy sister of Kylie's hit “I Believe in You” has to be Minogue's most limp-wristed production since her debut single “Locomotion.” While not as bad of a choice for a first single as the god-awful “2 Hearts,” “All the Lovers” actually is one of the weaker links of the disc.

There are other songs which are not so loveable, such as “Too Much,” which sounds like something you'd hear at half-time, and “Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)” tries (too hard) to be a club anthem when it lacks everything it takes to be one.

Minogue, who is known for her b-sides and bonus tracks, such as “Good Like That” and “Almost a Lover,” that are usually better than the songs that make the album, disappoints so far with the rare songs for Aphrodite. Kylie finally has done a Spanish version of a song with “Los Amores” (“The Lovers”) but it's a shame she wasted the languge on such a track. “Spinning Around” or “Word is Out” are much worthy contenders for the conversion, but I'll take what I can get from Kylie when it comes to espanol.“Heartstrings” sounds like a Fever-era throwaway, “Good Hard or Go Home,” along with its cringeworthy rappers yelling “hey!” every chance they get, is better suited for Rihanna than Kylie Minogue, and while “Mighty Rivers” fits the album perfectly, it doesn't hold a candle to Kylie's legendary bonus tracks. Still though, the b-sides fit the idea Kylie always had for this album: one of love.

Looking at today's charts one might ask where has the love gone? The answer: Kylie's latest LP Aphrodite. Filled with sounds and words of love, the album let's you fall in love with Minogue all over again after the entire X fiasco. As loveable as this album is, its laughable that no matter how good it is, the likes of Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga and Kathy Perry, with their heartless, throwaway-pop, will outsell Minogue. Most songs of this solid record prove to be the musical form of Cupid, all pointing their arrows to the tushy of love. Kylie Minogue may not be Aprhrodite, but she is a strong contender for the goddess of pop.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Beautifully Lost

Remember Blues Travelers from the mid-’90s? Well, if that group had died, their reincarnation would be JK & The Lost Boys. Some mellow jam sessions, catchy hooks and clever lyrics have all be bunched in together in the band’s EP Street Lights & Avenues. Natives of Conyers, Ga., the lead singer mixes the popular rock sound with his own unique brand of jam-session folksy pop inspired by those before him. Not only is the inspiration of Blues Traveler apparent, but there’s a little Dave Matthews Band and Counting Crows in there. Surprisingly, the band pulls this sound off the the greatest of ease. In other words, this doesn’t sound like a debut in any way.

“Beautiful Day” starts off the record with a distinct flavor that brings you straight back to the 90′s, but that’s no insult. Current commercial rock/pop pales in comparison to that of its past, and with their charming songs, JK & The Lost Boys step back in time without sounding retro or stale. If “The Wrong Things” isn’t released as a single, that would be a mistake. One of the best tracks on the short album, the track details the mistakes of the protagonist in the matters of love.

With a twist of twang, the album goes down the folksy route at times, and while not for everyone, the sound doesn’t stretch much from the band’s overall tone. “Sing it On Down” strides down the road of the folksy sound, and while it may turn some off, fans of folk will no doubt enjoy the mix of sounds.

The most politically-charged track, “What’s This Peace” questions the true motives of war and if all the pain is worth it. Perhaps not as inspired as “Give Peace a Chance,” nonetheless, the track is worthy of mention for a debut album.

Closer “Your Colors” ends the EP on a sullen, yet satisfying, note. The track actually sounds like something John Mayer would sing, only about 10,000 times better than how any Mayer track would sound.

Of the six tracks, about three are single-worthy, something rare for a debut EP. With such a promising debut record, it looks like the boys of JK & the Lost Boys are not lost at all, but know exactly what their doing and how to do it well.


Athens and its music scene all have a flavor of their own. Hit acts from The B-52’s and R.E.M., to the Indigo Girls and Bubba Sparxxx have all sprung from Athens, making it one of the most recognized, and diverse, small towns in America. At times, the sound is pure indie, at others, pure pop, but that’s okay, because the acts have the talent to back it up. One thing though, the music isn’t for everybody. With its unique flavor, it takes a special kind of taste to enjoy and appreciate the Athens Sound.

Since 1997, AthFest has not only promoted the music of Athens, but has also supported causes such as arts and music education. In anticipation of AthFest 2010, a collection of the best tunes from some of the artists performing this year are all on one disc.

The disc starts off with The Whigs’ “I Don’t Even Care About the One I Love,” an explosive opening, which brings in the dusty direction that somewhat sets the tone for the entire complication. Listening to Five Eight’s “The Ballad of Frankie Jr.” or Ken Will Morton’s “Tell it to the Wind,” you cannot help but think of Athens on a dusty, dreamy day.

The Orkids “Told You So” wins the prize as the most infectious ditty on the record. Reminiscing of 80’s pop, the sugar-tingled track brings to mind a sunny day in Georgia.

On the more suave side, Hope for Agoldensummer’s “Be Free” and Venice is Sinking’s “Bardstown Road” slow things down for the record. One thing though, Athens’ indie is much different from other cities idea of indie. Even the energetic songs have a mellow feel to them.

Prepare to boot-scoot to some Athens country; like Bubba Sparxxx before, the country chords come through with Timber’s “Sad and Scrawled” and William Tonks’ “Allelujah (Cut the Strings),” songs that twangs things up. The Vinyl Strangers’ “So Long, Heartache” blends the Athens sound with some classic country, making it one of the more interesting tracks of the bunch.

With the mix of indie and country, the AthFest compilation sets the mood for this years upcoming festivities in celebration of Athens music and art. It is a good thing that in a world of hyper-hyped, contrived, overproduced music, there are still some music acts out there who need not polish their sound of fine-tune produce their beats and just be real.

Piano House

Adair Park Recordings artists This Piano Plays Itself are back for another jam session with their album As the House… An album with many sides, at times the sound is pure indie-rock, other times it aims more towards the pop sound. Creative Loafing describes their sound as “wide-scoped rock,” whatever that means. Interestingly enough, a band that calls themselves This Piano Plays Itself doesn’t actually feature a piano as the main attraction of the record!

A much more electric guitar-driven record, As the House…, like many rock albums, has been built with many elements from The Beatles later psychedelic LPs. In just about every of the eight songs, there’s a little bit of Revolver. This is a good thing though, because even the weaker tracks are based on the best. Not to say This Piano Plays Itself are on Beatle Piano-player mode, these guys have a sound and feel of their own.

A semi-concept album, with titles such as “Who We Were,” “When We Got There” and “Why We Stayed,” the LP seems to want to detail a lot about this musical story. Vocally, musically and lyrically, the band seems very focused, but still there lies an element of fluidity in the compositions that set this record aside from other indie releases.

“Who We Were,” the most refreshing and commercial track on the album, is pumped with energy and atmosphere. The moody track has a breath of pop, but isn’t tied down to any of the genres, allowing it to show all the sides of the band. A bit dark, a bit dreamy, and it’s definitely a bit possible this song will break the group through to mainstream success.

The band gets their most whimsical on “How We Left,” a mix of rock, folk, and, of course, an accordion. Quite the charming song, even if sonically it has nothing to do with the rest of the album. No matter, what these guys are about is fun. And fun it is!

Other tracks like “Where We Lived” and “What Happened” range from sullen rock to explosive experimental. The record doesn’t expand much from there, but with only eight songs on the LP, that’s no insult.

The group has already garnered attention for their live shows, making Creative Loafing’s pick for best live shows of the week, and with their sophomore album already creative a buzz online and off. No doubt that the boys of This Piano Plays Itself are set to play themselves right into success.