Friday, February 24, 2012

Radio is a Dance Floor...

Pop radio has been in different phases in the last decade...

1999-2001 is when you had the peak of the pure pop era with acts like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys and N*Sync

2003-04 is when hard rock bands like Evanescence, Trapt, Lostprophets, and Crossfade broke into top 40 radio.

Between 2005 and 2007 is when you had a lot of dirty south style rap artists breaking top 40 radio like D4L, MIMS, Yung Joc, and Lil' Jon.

2008 was the year of Pop&B with Chris Brown, Rihanna, and Usher dominating pop radio.

Ever since Lady Gaga's prominence in 2009, radio has sounded a lot like this.

Why? Putting a sociopolitical spin on it, the recession hit the US in late 2008 really hard and we're just now starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

Dance music seems to be the perfect escape music, so it's not entirely surprising to have seen acts like Taio Cruz and LMFAO dominate the Top 40 scene. Even songs that weren't meant to be dance songs in the first place are getting remade for the floor and are getting a lot of airplay, such as Adele's Someone Like You.

It's gotten to the point where other genres of music have had to adapt to the dance craze. Jay-Z & Kanye West's Watch the Throne project released the dubstep flavored "N**gas in Paris" as a single and Korn put out an entire album influenced by dubstep, The Path of Totality, last year. Add the three Grammies that dubGod Skrillex won a couple of weeks ago and it seems like this dance influenced pop music is here to stay for a little while.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why I Am Not "Team Breezy".

Three years ago, the world was shocked to find out that clean cut R&B/pop superstar Chris Brown beat fellow R&B/pop superstar and girlfriend Rihanna in a car in Los Angeles before the 2009 Grammy Awards. The extent of the felony mentioned in the link made it all the more shocking.

This past Sunday, after a successful run with his F.A.M.E. album, he won his first Grammy in 11 career nominations for the Best R&B Album.

As Chris Brown preps a new album called Fortune with new single "Turn Up the Music" already burning up Top 40 radio, he is facing yet another public backlash for the incident. Why? Because, simply put, he's never learned his lesson.

First off, no one hates him 'cause he's got a Grammy. They hate him because he admitted his guilt and never learned the error of his ways. He never got the punishment that fit the crime. For a punch in the face, he got a slap on the wrist.

People can hate on what Tiger Woods did, but what he did was not illegal, just immoral.

People can hate on what Michael Vick did, but he actually served time in prison and cost himself two full years of football in the process. He had to work really hard to come back to the level of prominence that he had before the dogfighting charges.

What Chris Brown did was so severe, that he could have earned himself four years in prison, which would have meant that Graffiti, F.A.M.E. and now the upcoming Fortune, would have likely never been released.

After his sentencing though, he was able to continue his career and still managed to put out an album (Graffiti) by the end of 2009. Despite the album being critically panned, he still earned two Grammy nominations and a debut sales week of over 100,000 copies.

Chris Brown then started to get on a roll. Deuces, the first single from F.A.M.E. earned praise back from his fans and music critics. He earned some of the most successful singles of his career, including the extremely popular song Look At Me Now, a song that earned Karmin a recording contract because of their cover.

Chris Brown was at the top of his game again and then his appearance on Good Morning America proved that he had not been given the right punishment.

It should have been expected that Chris Brown was going to face some questions about the Grammy incident. In fact, from the day of the initial report and on, it will define every aspect of his career.

Chris Brown doesn't seem to understand that and continues to lash out at his "haters". Even worse is that his fans feed his ego and his "hater" mentality by mitigating, condoning, and worse, making a joke of what he did.

No, it's NOT OK. That's why people hate on him in the first place. His talent does not make him immune from his actions.

At least since early 2011, it's been rumored that Chris Brown and Rihanna have come back together. If he slips just once into that abusive behavior that got him in trouble in the first place, we'll see how quick the world is to forgive his actions a second time.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dave Grohl and the Economics of Genre

Before I begin, I'd like to preface that I have the utmost respect for Dave Grohl. The music that he's helped create in the last 23 years as a part of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fast track his entry to the Hall of Fame.

At the Grammy Awards this evening, Dave Grohl said something that stuck out to me while making his acceptance speech for Best Rock Performance for the Foo Fighters' "Walk".

In the speech, Grohl made it a point to mention playing instruments and working at your craft to be a better musician.

I respected the speech, but the issue that I have is that not every kid can afford instruments to play and some neighborhoods here in the Bronx have it very difficult.

There are a lot of very talented, but underprivileged kids that don't have easy access to these instruments.

A lot of people turn to rap music because it's fiscally easier to handle. All you need is the gift of wordplay and a good beat (which can be vocally or digitally manufactured) and you have a song.

R&B music is very much the same way. All you need is your voice and music (which again can be very easy to make digitally).

In a world where your parents can barely afford to pay for rent, food, or even clothing, buying a $500 electric guitar with a $300 amp isn't really the answer.

It's a lot like sports. Not everyone can pay a couple of hundred dollars for the equipment to play football whereas you only need yourself, a round ball, and a hoop to play basketball or yourself, a round ball and a couple of placeholders to play soccer.

In either case, you make do with what you have rather than what you want to have.

It's all about money. If there were schools that would offer free lectures to kids that are aspiring musicians regardless of their socioeconomic class, that would be a wonderful way to bring kids to perform, hang out with each other and learn about each other (and how people don't all live the same way) and experience the ability to make music for fun together and eventually explore making music for a living.

Again, I have no problem with what Dave said aside from not recognizing that not everyone has access to affordable instruments to play with. However, this can change with lobbying from famous musicians (*ahem* Mr. Grohl) so that they can either begin new programs for kids to learn instruments and sing or enhance programs that already exist.

If there's one musician that I have faith to incorporate this change, it's Dave freakin' Grohl.

Should Win/Will Win: The 2012 Grammies: The Big Four

Tonight marks the 54th annual Grammy Awards on the somber note of Whitney Houston's death. As sad as that news was, the show must and will go on. We still have a year of music that deserves celebration.

I will try my best to determine who will win in the Big Four and will involve a little of my personal opinion as to who should win. However, if last year's Album of the Year upset by Arcade Fire was any indication, you really don't stand much of a chance of predicting the winner for any award in the Big Four even though you do have a 20% chance.

I will start with Best New Artist:
The Band Perry
Bon Iver
J. Cole
Nicki Minaj

Who should win: Bon Iver. While Bon Iver made more of a splash on Kanye West's most recent solo effort, he is the indie darling of these awards much like Arcade Fire was last year, but much more dominant in that Justin Vernon and co. were nominated for three of the Big Four awards. It's gonna be hard to bet against him not winning one of the Big Four and this one seems to be the most likely.

Who will win: Skrillex in an upset. Something that you'll realize when looking at this category is that this is the award most likely to have upsets (Esperanza Spalding defeating Drake and Justin Bieber last year and Marc Cohn's (The guy that sang that "Walking in Memphis" song) 1992 win upstaging Boyz II Men). I just think this is going to be yet another year where Bon Iver, J. Cole and Nicki Minaj cancel each other out and Skrillex and the entire dubstep genre will be the beneficiary.

Record of the Year:
Adele - Rolling In the Deep
Bon Iver - Holocene
Bruno Mars - Grenade
Mumford & Sons - The Cave
Katy Perry - Firework

Who should win: Adele - Rolling in the Deep. As if that weren't obvious. But you know something, as amazing as Adele's year is, I don't see her sweeping her six Grammy nominations, much like Norah Jones did when she swept the Big Four awards in 2003.

Who will win: Katy Perry - Firework. The indie darlings Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons cancel each other out and as strong as Bruno's Grenade was, it's going to be between Adele and Katy Perry and Katy squeaks a victory. If there is any category in the Big Four that Adele is likely to lose out on, it's this one.

Song of the Year:
Kanye featuring damn near everybody - All of the Lights
Mumford & Sons - The Cave
Bruno Mars - Grenade
Bon Iver - Holocene
Adele - Rolling in the Deep

Who should win: Adele - Rolling in the Deep. Again, there's not a big surprise here. Adele should roll through the competition in this category.

Who will win: Adele - Rolling in the Deep. Kanye may actually be the strongest competition in this category, seeing as he wasn't in the Record of the Year category. This will be a category to watch, but I think Adele wins here.

And finally, the big one. Album of the Year:
Adele - 21
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
Lady Gaga - Born This Way
Bruno Mars - Doo Wops & Hooligans
Rihanna - Loud

Who should win: Adele - 21. No album sold within the past year has come even close. No album has had as much artist praise as 21 either. When looking at a record in the world of social media, I tend to pay attention to what other artists say and while there are strong candidates, nothing tops 21. It shouldn't be any other way, really. While I would love as a rock fan if Wasting Light pulled off a great upset here, again, it is Adele's year. Even Dave Grohl praised the work of 21 in a recent Billboard interview.

Who will win: Adele - 21. If she doesn't, I can sense a riot coming on. It wouldn't seem fair to deny Adele the album of the year when it's pretty much saved the music industry in the past year. Distribution of physical albums has been down, but that hasn't stopped Adele from selling 100,000 albums a week pretty much all of 2012. The sales and praise make it hard to bet against Adele in any category let alone this one, but somehow, I don't see her sweeping her six nominations. She will win amongst the most for any artist though.

I didn't put money on the Super Bowl and I'll be damned if I start betting on these awards now, but I hope that I'm somewhat accurate.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rest in Peace, Whitney Houston.

As a 5/6 year old kid growing up in the golden era of music videos, there were two artists that stood out the most, one of which being Michael Jackson and the other Whitney Houston. As of today, neither are with us. Whitney Houston was found dead at a Los Angeles hotel this afternoon at the age of 48.

Whitney's legacy in music as a female artist is unparalleled.

As of 2010, she's won over 400 awards for her contributions to music and film.

Even though Katy Perry has recently threatened to break the award, Whitney Houston had 7 consecutive #1 songs on Billboard, a record that still stands for any artist.

Her second album (Whitney, 1987) became the first female album to debut at #1 at a time when debuting at #1 for any artist was a rare feat.

Her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV (Bills v. Giants) in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War was so popular that it was commercially released and, to this day, is the only version of the National Anthem to be commercially released and be certified platinum.

All of this preceded the most successful album and venture of her career, The Bodyguard movie and soundtrack in 1992. The movie sold over $400 million worth of tickets worldwide, one of the top grossing films at the time of its release and the soundtrack is one of the best-selling albums of all time, apart from it being the highest selling soundtrack of all time at 17 million albums stateside and 44 million worldwide. The album was also the first album of the Soundscan era (post May 1991) to sell over 1 million copies in a single week.

The single "I Will Always Love You", a cover of a 1974 Dolly Parton song, became the most successful single at the time of its release hitting #1 on the Billboard for a then record 14 weeks, outperforming the original song (a rarity to happen in the music industry).

The single is the second best-selling single in history only behind Elton John's 1997 remake of Candle in the Wind and netted two of Houston's six overall Grammy Awards.

Lightning struck twice for Whitney when her cover of the 1978 Chaka Khan classic "I'm Every Woman" would also outperform the original, becoming yet another worldwide smash.

Before The Bodyguard's popularity, Whitney became romantically linked to Bobby Brown, the two would marry in July 1992, putting out "Something in Common" on Bobby's album the following month, which became a moderate hit for Bobby on one of his most successful solo albums. Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown would be born the following year.

The success of The Bodyguard led Whitney to another movie venture. Waiting to Exhale in 1995 became her first movie venture to debut at #1 and led to yet another soundtrack #1 with "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)".

The following year, Whitney starred alongside Denzel Washington in The Preacher's Wife, which did pretty well for a holiday movie and the soundtrack is the best selling gospel album of all time.

In 1997, a revamped version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella became one of the most successful TV movies in history, winning seven Emmy Awards.

In 1998, she released her first non-soundtrack album in eight years with My Love is Your Love, yet another album that netted Whitney more top 40 hits including "Heartbreak Hotel" and "My Love Is Your Love".

Her double-disc greatest hits album netted her another 10 million sales worldwide in 2000 and in 2001, because of her worldwide success, Whitney Houston signed a record contract of $100 million for six records with Arista Records, the biggest contract in music history, a contract that would seem more synonymous with sports.

However, through all of the success, there were very serious problems. These problems surfaced in the infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer that was one of the most watched interviews in primetime history.

The interest in the interview unfortunately didn't translate as well into album sales and, while the album did moderately well, was not the worldwide smash that Whitney was used to having. A holiday album released the following year didn't do very well either and continued Whitney's downfall.

However, rock bottom became the reality TV show Being Bobby Brown, a show which she was originally going to stay away from. The show displayed Whitney at her very worst, but in a way helped her realize what she'd become. Word had it that the couple went through the $100 million that had been given to Whitney and then some.

After fourteen years, Whitney and Bobby divorced in 2007, leading Whitney to focus back on her music. Clive Davis overlooked what would turn out to be Whitney's last album I Look to You, in 2009.

The comeback was relatively successful. becoming her first album since The Bodyguard soundtrack to go #1. The album received critical praise, however, the album's success was stunted with a much criticized performance on Good Morning America the week of the album release.

Last year, Whitney's problems with drugs and alcohol resurfaced as she went back to rehab. It was also announced that she was working on a remake of the film Sparkle, which had just finished shooting before her death.

In three years, two of the greatest performers of my generation are no longer with us. Rihanna said it best in tweet form when she said "There are no words. Just tears." May she finally be at peace. The Grammies will never be the same without Whitney or Michael there.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Black History Month: Alexis Brown (Straight Line Stitch)

I've covered Straight Line Stitch before, but for those who don't know, Alexis Brown is one of the very few African American female lead singers out there in a rock band.

Straight Line Stitch formed in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2000 as a male-fronted band.

Alexis joined the fold in 2003 and the band has been growing exponentially in popularity. The band gained attention from Dale "Rage" Resteghini (who's music video credits include Fall Out Boy, Jim Jones, and Adelitas Way) and they filmed their debut video for Remission.

Resteghini formed a record imprint on Koch Records so that they could put out When Skies Wash Ashore in 2008, an album that netted Straight Line Stitch a Sirius Octane hit with What You Do To Me. The band draws comparisons to everyone from Shadows Fall to fellow female-fronted metalcore band In This Moment.

In 2011, the band followed the success of Skies with The Fight Of Our Lives. Unfortunately, the band has recently suffered some setbacks with the departures of two more members (drummer Kanky Lora and guitarist Kris Norris), but the band has more former members than current and it appears that they have no immediate signs of slowing down with their latest awesome single One Reason.

Black History Month: Mahlon Rhodes (Amplexus/Hawks & Wolves)

Mahlon Rhodes is an up and coming lead vocalist from Ohio who's put out music with two great projects, Amplexus and, the latest, Hawks & Wolves.

The lead singer originally made waves with Amplexus and the 2007 album Deus Ex Machina.

Mahlon's biggest influences include some of my personal favorite bands, Thrice, The Receiving End of Sirens, and Killswitch Engage, all band influences of which you can hear in the original project. They'd played shows with bands such as Norma Jean and

In 2011, Mahlon and members of Amplexus regrouped and formed the project Hawks & Wolves.

They recorded their debut EP, The Alread EP, in Woodstock in upstate NY. The EP is based around a concept of a paraplegic, mentally unstable Army veteran who creates a world away from reality, finding his freedom. The band, in a short time, has played shows with Bayside and Emery, amongst others.

You can listen to the EP on their Youtube page, including my personal favorite I Dream, I Dwell.

Black History Month: Sahaj Ticotin (Ra)

One of the most underrated rock singers in the game, Sahaj Ticotin is the profile for today. This one holds a special place as Sahaj was a Puerto Rican that was raised in the me! (He also comes from Egyptian descent which explains the band name). Influenced by Metallica, The Police, and other acts, Sahaj is one of the best singers in the hard rock genre.

In 2002, Ra put out their major label debut From One (Universal), which led to the release of one of the catchiest songs of that entire year, "Do You Call My Name".

Universal mismanaged their entire deal however, poorly promoting the 2005 follow-up Duality, which managed to pull in modest numbers despite the poor marketing for the record.

After they were dropped, they put out a live album the following year with independent Cement Shoes Records called Raw. They apparently released the album and while there was talk of a studio followup on Cement Shoes, they wound up leaving that label to self-release Black Sun in 2008, led by the single Broken Hearted Soul.

Ra has earned regular airplay of their music on Sirius' Octane with songs like Broken Hearted Soul and Supernova, the first single of their 2009 B-sides album Black Sheep.

Originally, Ra was going to call it quits so that Sahaj can focus on solo material, but late last year a new song came out called Running Blind that features Dave Chavarri of Ill Nino that is likely to be on their upcoming album due for release sometime later this year.

Sahaj will still be releasing solo material and according to his Facebook, he will be releasing the solo debut on what rock fans are labeling Super Tuesday (releases from Shinedown, Hurt, The Veer Union, etc.), March 27th.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Black History Month: Kele Okereke (Bloc Party)

Kele Okereke is the lead singer behind the British UK band Bloc Party, a band who's debut album Silent Alarm was the indie darling of 2005, winning praise from publications like British heavyweight NME.

Interestingly enough, Franz Ferdinand's lead singer Alex Kapranos gave Bloc Party a hand after hearing a demo of "She's Hearing Voices". The live session they played on BBC led to what became the debut single off of Silent Alarm, "Banquet".

Silent Alarm went platinum in Britain with succeeding singles, such as "Helicopter".

Silent Alarm was so popular amongst indie rock fans that it had been re-released with B-sides such as "Two More Years" and later as a remix album.

The remix album led them to explore a dancier side of Bloc Party (as if there wasn't a dance-y side already) with A Weekend in the City, led by the lead single "The Prayer". "I Still Remember" became their most successful song radio wise here in the States.

Towards the end of the A Weekend in the City era, they put out a non-album single called "Flux" that hinted at the sound of the band's next album Intimacy.

"Mercury" was the first single off of Intimacy. Intimacy was originally released as a download and later physically (with added bonus tracks), which wasn't terribly common a few years ago. Unfortunately, due to the music industry bottoming out, Bloc Party's third album wasn't nearly as successful, so they decided to go on a hiatus after 2009's non-album single "One More Chance".

All of the members of Bloc Party moved onto their own projects, including Kele's 2010 debut solo album The Boxer, which was led by the electronica-infused lead single "Tenderoni".

The band reconnected in 2012 with plans to work on their upcoming fourth record.

What I like about Bloc Party is that they put out so much material. There are so many B-sides that they have put out that are every bit as good as their album material. It'll be interesting to see where Bloc Party goes with this album...whether they put out something closer to Kele's solo album or whether they go back to their Silent Alarm roots.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Black History Month: Crispin Earl (The Veer Union)

Crispin Earl is one of the bright spots in hard rock as the lead singer of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada based The Veer Union, a band who's major label album Against the Grain was able to garner three charting singles.

Originally playing as Veer, the band played shows with Hinder and Seether while their debut Time to Break the Spell was a hit in the Vancouver music scene.

The band's infectiously catchy music got them a deal with Universal Motown to release Against the Grain and Seasons earned extensive quality time on sports montages. Youth of Yesterday and Darker Side of Me failed to do as well, but it's becoming rare for a hard rock band to go three singles deep nowadays.

Unfortunately, due to their low sales, they were eventually out at Universal Motown, but they quickly came back to re-release Time to Break the Spell which featured I Will Remain.

They quickly got snatched up by Rocket Science Ventures that features acts such as Filter and Angels & Airwaves and will be putting out Divide the Blackened Sky in 2012. If lead single Bitter End is any indication, this'll be one of the most talked about hard rock records of the year.

If their recorded stuff isn't enough to convince you that Crispin is awesome, check out this cover of Alice in Chains' Down in a Hole.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Black History Month: Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders)

Welcome to the start of CFW Rocks' look at up and coming rock and metal artists of color. This is not really meant to be about whether black artists are better than white artists or vice versa.

This is meant to give an answer to oft-played out stereotypes that black people are just out to be rappers and R&B singers. I hope to open a lot of eyes and ears out there.

With that being said, my first focus is on Tosin Abasi, lead guitarist of one of the best instrumental metal bands out there, Animals as Leaders.

Tosin Abasi used to be the lead guitarist of metal band Born of Osiris, but developed an innovative instrumental project that best shows off his chops. With the help of Periphery lead guitarist Misha "Bulb" Mansoor, the project released its debut in 2009.

Internet buzz about a relatively new genre of metal called Djent gave Animals as Leaders spots in festivals such as South By Southwest, headlining tours with bands such as Dead Letter Circus, and opening for bands like Underoath and Thursday.

Most guitarists can barely master six strings. Tosin plays 8 string guitars...LIKE A BOSS!

And Tosin is now also playing with a band called TRAM, a band that features Javier Reyes, also of Animals as Leaders and members that have played with The Mars Volta and Suicidal Tendencies.

Their debut album Lingua Franca debuts February 28th on Sumerian Records. Tosin's widely considered one of the best guitarists in any genre, period. With the eight string guitar playing and ease with which he can carry a solo, I think I'd be silly not to agree.

Black History Month: Don Cornelius

I was going to wake up this morning and start posting about influential rockers of color, when I heard the news that Soul Train creator and host Don Cornelius died of an apparent suicide.

Our generation is spoiled when it comes to listening to black artists and having all of these avenues (on radio, television, and now the Internet) for promoting their music.

That was not the case 40 years ago, when Soul Train was born. It was wonderful because it was happening in the golden age of soul and R&B music when you had Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Al Green and countless other artists playing Soul Train at the peaks of their careers, performing the best songs of their priceless catalogs.

As a kid, my Saturday morning television viewing consisted of the occasional morning cartoons, but they were dominated by Dick Clark's American Bandstand and Don Cornelius' Soul Train.

The Soul Train dancing line is one of the most iconic images in television history and is often imitated at special events, such as weddings today.

The legacy of the program still lives on Centric Television, where it still airs vintage episodes of Soul Train today. In fact, the Soul Train Music Awards also live on through Centric years after Soul Train was canceled (the show ended producing new episodes after 2006).

It would be hard to imagine the music world without the influence of Soul Train because of where music stands right now with rap and a little known soul-influenced singer by the name of Adele dominating top 40 airwaves.

Initially, Soul Train was reluctant to air rap artists themselves, but with the influence of popular television shows such as YO MTV Raps! popping up, Soul Train soon followed suit despite Cornelius' aversions.

It is extremely sad to hear of Cornelius' passing, especially in conjunction with the start of Black History Month, but the influence of Cornelius and Soul Train on the industry will not soon be forgotten.