Sunday, June 30, 2013

Azealia Banks Takes on Glastonbury

Yesterday, freshman rapper Azealia Banks performed at this year's Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, and I couldn't be happier with the result. I have been quite a big fan of Banks since I heard the songs from 1991, so I had been anticipating this performance for a while. I was especially looking forward to the event knowing that she would finally perform her newest single release.

I don't live in the United Kingdom, nor do I have the money to travel there to see one artist perform, but luckily the festivities at Glastonbury are usually professionally recorded and released online. I have embedded a YouTube video of Banks' full performance later in the post for everybody to watch.

In a one hour set, Banks was able to squeeze in just under twenty songs, including all four songs from 1991, and some of the highlights from her Fantasea mixtape such as "Atlantis," "Jumanji," and fan-favorite "Esta Noche." She also sprinkled in a few extra songs like "No Problems" and her rejected rendition of Baauer's "Harlem Shake," both of which were only unofficially released via her Soundcloud account.

While performing, Banks donned long black locks and an interesting costume composed of an aqua-colored two-piece outfit, with soft spikes running down her arms and legs. Eventually, she took off the spikes but no major costume changes took place. She also resumed wearing colored eye contacts, this time wearing only one, which changed her left eye color to match her outfit.

As noted by The Guardian journalist Rebecca Nicholson in her review of the performance, the crowd watching Banks at the event was less than excitable. From what I saw in the YouTube video of the full performance, there were some really big fans of Banks that migrated closer and closer to the stage, while all of the other people were "baffled punters waiting for '212,'" as Nicholson called them. Come on, people: it's Azealia Banks! Be at least a little bit excited, instead of saving all of your energy for just one of her many great songs.

While most everybody in the crowd was looking forward to the classic "212," true fans of Banks like myself were anticipating the final song of her set: "Yung Rapunxel." I hadn't seen a live performance of Banks' newest single until today, and I was definitely surprised. 

Since the song's release, I wondered how she would perform the song live, particularly the screamed verses that make her sound like she's having a mental breakdown.  All of my thoughts were put to rest today as Banks ran back and forth on the stage, naturally spewing out the lyrics. Without warning, she picked up a bright pink megaphone to scream "Brr-brr-brrt / Bitch better quit that, quit that chit-chat / If you strapped ******! / Dare you, dare you / Brr-brr-brrt" as the fans screamed in excitement. I had my doubts about the live performance of this song, but she really pulled it off.

Fans also got another treat during the set list when Banks gave a sneak preview of a new song called "ATM Jam," which features a rapper named Pharrell, who has been gaining a lot of popularity as of late. I'm not the biggest fan of Pharrell's voice, but I'm not going to judge the song based on the small snippet that Banks played.

The performance was really enjoyable to watch, even though I wasn't there in person. Banks had spunk and the talent to back her attitude up, and seemed to genuinely enjoy being on the stage and performing for the fans that actually wanted to be there to see her full set list. Congrats on a job well done, Azealia! (Now let's get down to business and release Broke With Expensive Taste.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lady Gaga Comes Out of Hiding; Sings the National Anthem

Little Monsters, it's time to brace ourselves: Lady Gaga has finally broken out of her self-imposed media blackout and made a speech at a gay pride rally in New York City. She went on to sing a beautiful rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" a cappella.

This is one of the first times Gaga has partaken in a public event since February, when she was forced to cancel the remainder of the Born This Way Ball Tour after a hip injury. From February until now, us Little Monsters have had to track her via paparazzi photographs, but hopefully this is a sign that Gaga is finally stepping back into the spotlight and, more importantly, is ready to release ARTPOP.

While at the event, she gave a speech over equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community. After her speech, she broke out into "The Star-Spangled Banner," and she sounds better than ever. The piece was a cappella, giving her time to slightly stylize the piece. Many artists go overboard with trying to make their rendition of the country's anthem unique, but Gaga kept it rather traditional, minus the fact that she did purposely change a few lyrics to support the gay pride event towards the end. You can listen to it below; I'm sure you can agree that everybody else's faves have been slayed by that amazing performance.

Going back to ARTPOP, many Little Monsters will have their eyes peeled for information on the album today, due to a letter that Gaga wrote exactly one year ago to some fans waiting outside her hotel. On both sides of the paper, Gaga post-dated the note for June 29, 2013, when in actuality, it was written on June 29, 2012. Ever since then, we have been speculating that something related to the album will happen today. I don't want to get my hopes up, but I can't help but be a bit excited... She obviously had a reason for writing the wrong year on the note twice, so perhaps we will find out today. If we don't, I'm not going to be upset or anything, but I'm sure plenty of people in the fan base will be and I will be there to watch the meltdowns in real time.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Made in the USA | Demi Lovato

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Demi Lovato is back to promoting her album DEMI, this time with a second single called "Made in the USA." When I reviewed the album, I didn't get too in-depth with this song, so I thought I might as well touch on it now.

The song is titled "Made in the USA," yet it has absolutely nothing to do with the country. Instead, it's about how much how much she loves her boyfriend and how strong their bond is. The only line of lyrics that reference the United States is, "No matter what the people say / I know that we'll never break / 'Cause our love was made / Made in the USA." So, unless the lyrics act as a metaphor signifying that American products are of better quality that foriegn-made products, the song wasn't really named appropriately. (Just wait... Employees from Walmart will make a song called "Made in China.")

"Made in the USA" is a really safe single choice for Lovato. It has the radio-friendly lyrics and average production to easily become a radio hit. As I said in my review of DEMI, the album isn't that super as a whole, but if Lovato and her record label choose singles carefully, this could still be a really successful era for her. I guess "Made in the USA" is okay, but I will still continue to pray that "Neon Lights" is promoted to single-status.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Rating: ★★★★★

I know I'm usually talking about music on this blog, but I have been playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf for just over a week now, and I have been so impressed by the game that I felt it was time to talk about my love for it here. (This is both a review and an explanation of the game. This post will also include a few spoilers, hints, and tips.)

I have played all three of the prior games in the Animal Crossing series that have been released in North America. When I was younger, my cousin gave her GameCube to me after she upgraded to the Nintendo Wii. Along with the system, she also gave me her copy of Animal Crossing, a game that I spent hours playing. It was a rather innovative game, in which I could freely interact with a village full of talking animals. Cute, right? I couldn't pull myself away from it!

Animal Crossing was amazing, but up until New Leaf, none of the other games were able to surpass the quality of the original game. Animal Crossing: Wild World for Nintendo DS was okay at best, but I was never particularly enthused by the game; I spent far less time playing it than I did the original game. As the Wii grew in popularity, we also saw the release of Animal Crossing: City Folk, which included everything the previous games offered, plus an added shopping center feature for players to visit. The shopping center was supposed to be the biggest marketing feature of the game, but all of the shops were either useless or had extremely overpriced items. The user controls of the game were also quite awkward, and it made for an odd playing experience.

Now, taking all of their experiences from the past games, developers have poured the best features from all of the games into Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which premiered on Sunday, June 9, 2013 in North American markets. I had been anxiously awaiting the game's release for months, and oddly enough, my birthday was just a few days before the release date. So, with money I received as birthday gifts, I was able to run right out on the morning of release to buy the game and revel in my purchase.

When I first put the game into my Nintendo 3DS and arrived in my town, which I gave the extremely modest and traditional name of 'Shabooty,' I was suddenly commanded to be the mayor. (In all of the past games, the mayor of a player's town had always been an elderly turtle named Tortimer, but have no fear: he still appears later in the game.) I ran off to the town hall, and was introduced by Isabelle, my bossy personal assistant. After a few words with her, I was off to complete my next task: to find a house.

Unsurprisingly, Tom Nook, the shady and infamous tanuki, was back to market houses in town. Now Nook resides in his own real estate and home improvement office, rather than the department store he used to run in previous games. I am very excited to say that this game actually does allow players to choose where their house should be built. Before, we we stuck choosing from four pre-built houses, which were usually built in the most awkward locations possible. In Shabooty, I was able to construct my house right on the cliff-side, near the town's river and the waterfall leading to the sea. It's truly beautiful.

Thanks to Nook's new store, Nook's Homes, the exterior of houses can now be modified as well. The siding, mailbox, door, roof color, sidewalk, fence... If you can name it, you can change it in New Leaf. Before, we were limited to the boring stone exterior, white picket fence, and wooden windows. Now, my house in Shabooty has orange stucco siding and white windows, with a green hedge surrounding it. This is one of my favorite changes to the game by far, because it allows players to use their creativity more than ever before.

While Tom Nook is busy pursuing a business in real estate and home improvement, Nook's Cranny has been passed down to his nephews, Timmy and Tommy, who have transformed the store into Nookling Junction. Just like the stores run by Nook in past games, Nookling Junction is a department store and can be upgraded to bigger and better stores, but I have yet to see one of these upgraded stores. According to different webpages and players, one of the upgraded Nookling stores also includes a GracieGrace franchise inside, which was included in Animal Crossing: City Folk as its own storefront in the shopping center. The items were so expensive that it was useless to even be included, but maybe the prices will be modified this time around.

In this game, Timmy and Tommy have competition in the retail market when a couple of cute alpacas, named Reese and Cyrus, open up a second-hand shop in the middle of town called Re-Tail. The shop offers more money than Nookling Junction when selling items, and allows residents to sell objects at a price they choose inside the store. The store can be considered a hybrid of a real-life Goodwill store and a flea market. 

The Able Sisters clothing and accessories shop, which is run by Mabel, Sable, and Labelle, returns yet again in this game, with the only noticeable change being that Labelle runs the accessories half of the shop, while the other two sisters manage the clothing half. A few other stores and businesses to make appearances in Animal Crossing: New Leaf are a gardening shop, the Shampoodle hair salon, a nightclub, and a fortune-telling shop. There are more, but I can't name all of them off the top of my head.

One of my favorite features of New Leaf is the introduction of Tortimer Island: a tropical resort started by Tortimer after his retirement from the mayor position. After paying a fee of one-thousand Bells, players can take a boat trip to Tortimer Island to play mini-games, swim, fish, and catch bugs. Personally, I quickly learned that the bugs that can be caught on Tortimer Island are worth thousands of Bells when sold to Re-Tail in Shabooty, especially certain types of butterflies and stag beetles. I usually take multiple trips each night to the resort just to fill my pockets with the valuable bugs to make as much money as possible. I've been able to pay off three mortgages and two public work projects by doing this, actually.

Public work projects are one of the two mayoral duties given to players during gameplay. These projects include the construction of stores, bridges, benches, lighthouses, and other public properties. Eventually, as players advance further in the game, Brewster the coffee-making bird arrives once again, and one of the public work projects proposed will be to build a coffee shop for him to do business in. Players may also take up part-time jobs in the café, acting as a little barista. Mayors may also build a police station, fountain, and shelter house, among many other things as public work projects.

In addition to these construction projects, mayors may also enact ordinances, for a fee of twenty-thousand Bells. Available ordinances can extend business hours for stores within a town, make a town grow more flowers and plants, or cause the economy of a town grow at expansive rates. In Shabooty, I've enacted the Bell Boom ordinance, because that specific action will cause objects to be worth many more Bells when selling them. I also tried the night-owl ordinance, which extended hours to all of Shabooty's stores well into the middle of the night, but it just wasn't as helpful as the Bell Boom is.

If you have a Nintendo 3DS and are looking for a great game to add to your library, I highly suggest to pick this game up soon. Or perhaps you don't own the Nintendo 3DS and you need a few good reasons to spend the money on the handheld console; Animal Crossing: New Leaf should easily be taken into consideration while making your decision on whether or not to purchase the system. Either way, players won't be disappointed. I have already put multiple hours into the game and I haven't even put a dent in all of the content available in it. The game carries a suggested retail price of only $34.99 and from my standpoint, that's a pretty good price to pay for quality entertainment.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Woman's World | Cher

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

After years of saying that her album is coming 'soon,' Cher has actually set a release date of September 24, 2013 for her twenty-fifth studio album. The lead single is now getting some attention and promotion from Cher's record label, and I've finally decided that it's time to review it.

"Woman's World" originally debuted on Cher's website last year, but never saw any sort of promotion or video release. However, Cher randomly made a tweet saying that the song would be officially released on June 18, 2013, as she was going to be performing it live on the American version of The Voice the same day. With that announcement, she also posted the new cover art to the song, in which she looks like a strange drag queen.

The song is a cheap attempt at a female-empowerment anthem, although it was ironically written by a trio of men. Many professional music journalists have called it 'inspiring' and 'empowering,' but I'm not sure why. I'm an amateur high school journalist running this blog out of my love for pop music, and I can promise you that this song isn't going to inspire anyone to immediately pick up some signs and march in the streets for gender equality. Most of the lyrics are stale repetitions of "Tell the truth / This is a woman's world / This is a woman's world" and "All the women in the world / Stand up, come together now / This is a woman's world / Everybody in the club / Stand up, come together now / This is a woman's world." Gee, how inspiring.

In terms of production, I don't have any massive problems with the song. "Woman's World" is a cliché club song; no more and no less. It's a nice little tune, but nothing completely mind-blowing. It could easily get some play in nightclubs thanks to the thumping beats and killer synths, which might bump it's popularity status, but I don't think it'll get off the Billboard Bubbling Under Charts. At least the production does show a little advancement to the new age of dance music for Cher.

Cher... Come on, now! You're Cher; do as you're supposed to and make something that will get everyone's attention. If you're going to try and impress me like you did with Believe, you're going to have to give me a lot more than what you had to offer with "Woman's World." I was originally excited for this album because of the duet with Lady Gaga, but that may not even see the light of day because Gaga doesn't like the production of the track. Now, Cher's going to have to do some extra work to stir up my attention, and "Woman's World" isn't going to cut it.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Clarity | Zedd

Rating: ★★★★☆

Last year, electronic dance music artists welcomed a new member to their group of producers: Zedd. Before being signed to Interscope Records last year, Zedd was simply making remixes of other work, from artists like The Black Eyed Peas, Skrillex, and Lady Gaga. However, now he's doing his own thing, and released his debut electronic album last year.

For a long time, I really didn't care for a lot of electro-house music, especially that of Calvin Harris and David Guetta, because all of the songs seemed to be repeating the same sounds over and over again. However, it has slightly grown as a genre, and I've really taken a liking to it, including a lot of the tunes that Guetta and Harris are pumping out. Many of the songs still run off of the same formula (which I will talk more about later), but most of them are still relatively catchy.

I first heard a song from Clarity last year when Lady Gaga released her vocal take on "Stache." Over the instrumental track, she shot off lines like "Where's my stache? / Can you feed my love? / Cannabis / Can you feed my love?" and "Where's my stache? / DJ Zedd, Anton turn it up / Let's party, let's get messed up." Without Gaga singing over it, the track sounds empty, (much like how Lazy Jay's "Float My Boat" is completely hollow without Azealia Banks' "212" rap over it), but then again I don't particularly agree with Gaga's weed-related lyrical content, so I'm pretty well neutral on the track. 

The only song that has been getting some love from the radio thus far is the title track, which features a new singer and songwriter named Foxes. The attention that "Clarity" is receiving is definitely well deserved, because it's one of the highlights from the album, in my eyes. I really like Foxes' voice, and the song suits her voice well, as she shouts out heartfelt lines of lyrics like "If our love is tragedy, why are you my remedy? / If our love's insanity, why are you my clarity?"  The breakdown is on par with every other David Guetta and Calvin Harris song out there, but that doesn't make it a terrible song. Long story short: I love the song and I could listen to it all day.

Zedd also calls in the help of Ellie Goulding, an artist that isn't a stranger to this genre of music. Most of her sophomore album was co-produced by Goulding herself, and contained plenty of electronic dance elements in songs like "Hanging On" and "Figure 8." Now, contributing to Clarity, Goulding sang vocals on the track "Fall Into The Sky." Her vocals are extraordinary as usual, and the overall production of the song is actually pretty fresh compared to most of today's other electronic dance tunes. I like the song a lot, but I really wish more of Goulding's vocals were featured in it. Her inclusion seemed to be cut short when compared to the other collaborations on Clarity. 

Zedd seems a bit overrated within the fan base of Lady Gaga, but he's quite underrated outside of the army of Little Monsters. He was an opening act for selected legs of The Born This Way Ball Tour, and fans instantly began to gush about his music, as if he was the most innovative electronic dance artist to come along. The truth of the matter is that his music is about on par with tunes from David Guetta and Calvin Harris. I love "Titanium," "Sweet Nothing," and "Clarity" all the same, but they all thrive on the same formula: quiet verse, accumulation of energy during the chorus, instrumental breakdown, and repeat. Nothing completely innovative here.

Meanwhile, outside of my favorite community of fans, Zedd is a bit unknown. Sure, people are slowly gaining interest since the commercial success of "Clarity," but when it comes down to it, he's not a household name. He does deserve a reasonable amount of credit for this album, but let's not go overboard. Clarity is a run-of-the-mill electro-house album with some really outstanding tracks. It's not overly innovative or experimental, but it's catchy music regardless.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Slow Down | Selena Gomez

*I had to use a fan-made cover for this review due to the fact that the official cover has not been released yet. Once the official cover is released, I will replace the existing image.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Ladies and gentlemen, be ready for a summer filled with Selena Gomez. After dropping 'The Scene,' Gomez released "Come & Get It" and recently announced that her debut solo album, Stars Dance, will be released on July 23, 2013. Accompanying that announcement was the premiere of "Slow Down," the song that is rumored to be the second single from the album. 

"Slow Down" has both things needed for a relatively-successful pop song in today's society: the provocative lyrics and, as Jenna Marbles once said, "a beat that would make even Jesus Christ himself want to dance." (And before you ask, yes, I just used the phrases 'provocative' and 'Jesus Christ' in the same sentence. Yes, I realize how weird that is, but it's already been written and I don't plan on changing it now.)

With this being said, the production of this song is what really makes it shine. The production on "Slow Down" immediately captured my attention, thanks to the handiwork of the Cataracs, who may best be known for their work on Dev's "In The Dark" and Far East Movement's "Like a G6." (So, for those of you who persistently post comments on YouTube like, "OMG why is devs voice saying its the cataratcks on this song!!!!!?????", you now know why.)

I really love this song; it's a superb attempt, and it gives me high hopes for Stars Dance. I have a copy of When The Sun Goes Down and I moderately enjoyed it, but I'm almost positive that Stars Dance will blow that album away in every aspect. Gomez has said that after the Stars Dance era comes to close, she would be taking a hiatus from music. Hopefully she changes her mind before that time comes, because I'm really loving the direction she's going in and I'd like to hear much more material from her.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Halcyon | Ellie Goulding (Follow-Up)



Opinions can change over time, especially in terms of music. Music can grow old with time, as one song is overplayed to its death. (Yes, I'm looking at you, "Hey, Soul Sister," and "Moves Like Jagger"). On the other hand, some pieces of work can develop into so much more after listening to it repeatedly, and Ellie Goulding's Halcyon easily falls into this category.

Halcyon is most definitely an album that takes some time to get used to. The changes between Lights and this album were tremendous, and were apparently too much for me to handle when Halcyon was first released. However, now that I've been listening to it for months now, I can honestly say that Halcyon is the superior piece of work from Goulding.

I originally gave Goulding's sophomore album a three-out-of-five star rating, but recently, I've really had a change of heart and realized that it was time to bump that rating up to a perfect five-out-five. The overall production of the album became more and more impressive every time I listened to the album. In terms of production, my favorite songs have turned out to be "Hanging On," "Figure 8," "Only You," and "Anything Could Happen," while lyrically, "Explosions" takes the cake.

So, I"m not going to go too in-depth here, but I just wanted to make my change of heart clear. I went from being rather unimpressed by Halcyon to being proud to call it one of my favorite albums. Anybody who was giving the album a lukewarm review should really try revisiting it soon, because I know I haven't regretted it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

We Can't Stop | Miley Cyrus

Rating: ★★★★☆

Apparently this year, the former Disney girls have been putting their careers in high gear, as we've seen new releases from Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez, and now it's time for Miley Cyrus to come back into the public eye with "We Can't Stop." Her fans have been littering the Internet in anticipation of the song, and now the time has come for it's release.

I got a glimpse of the cover while shuffling around Gaga Daily before the song was released, and the cover immediately made me think that "We Can't Stop" would be a massive rave song. Now that the song is finally out, I'm surprised how much different the song is than I was originally expecting, because it's actually got more of a slow tempo. I'm also equally as surprised because of the fact that I actually like the song. I never expected that the former Hannah Montana would put out a song this good.

The song's a bit more mature than her previous work, as Cyrus describes the scene of a wild part and sings of how she won't quiet down and will do as she pleases at her party. She's obviously come a long way since throwing her "Party in the U.S.A." and wearing a long blonde wig to make a television show. The lyrics are pretty shallow, but they could be a lot worse.

I do enjoy the overall sound of the song, which is more than I was expecting before. In terms of the former Disney stars, I've always preferred Selena Gomez rather than Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus. However, all three ladies have been putting out pretty good material this year. Of course, considering the material already released from the album, I think that Selena Gomez's Stars Dance is going to slay over DEMI and the upcoming album from Cyrus, but perhaps only time can tell.