The Emergence of the UK ‘Imperfect’ Soul

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In British television, particularly reality television or talent contests, there is a repeated trope that black female contestants fall into. The ‘soulful’ black woman, she can power through ballads, her style is gospel, her vocal abilities surpass those she is competing with. Often, she is subject to genre experimentation, we see her recite self-written rapper verses, just to pander to the British public’s understanding of what is ‘urban’. The contestant is boxed into the trope of ‘Sassy Black Woman’ through what the media understands as black characteristics; urban wear, rap music and dance, she is also held to the ‘Magic Black Girl’ perfection, consistently having to meet high performance standard, where one can draw comparisons to existing R’n’B singers. If this standard is not met, she faces the cognitive dissonance of the British public. We are told her downfall is her inability to relate to the public, but really, the issue is that the contestant was unable consistently meet the tropes of black women heavily engrained into British culture. British ‘reality television’ platforms continuously fail contestants through attempting to frame their art forms to one that can be digestible through an entertainment lens, with minority contestants, this lens is understood as a “white entertainment” lens where the additional struggle of being understood by the white majority audience arises.


Contemporary soul, rap and R&B is seeing the development of a counter culture that perfectly responds to this trope, the nuances of black existence are translated into a musical soundscape to form a sonic understanding of this identity. Moreover, we see the rejection of the polished soul singer, as indie artists could embrace the imperfections of the raspy “Halsey” voice, contemporary R’n’B artists are embracing the gentler, softer notes that counter traditional vocal powerhouses.

Fusions of gospel, classic soul and electronic music appear in artists such as Nao, Ray Blk, Sampha and Kelsey Lu, to ears that haven’t experienced the cultural mishmash that is growing up city immigrant communities around the UK, it acts as a way of understanding such beings as products of these cultural interactions. A clear example of this idea is Ray Blk’s “Baby Girlz”, the song is a UK rap piece with a sung chorus. Blk’s identity as a South Londoner is clearly demonstrated, her accent is a clear marker of her London upbringing and the old-school hip hop samples imply a black musical presence in her lifetime. Jorja Smith’s debut single “Blue Lights” uses a similar indicator, the song is an entirely sung pieces yet uses a sample from Dizzee Rascal’s 2007 single “Sirens”, clearly indicating her English identity.

Similarly, to how Solange used her expression of experiences exclusive to the African American community as catharsis, we are seeing UK artists break through the stereotypical representations of blackness in British media and express their exclusive Black British experiences.

 

 

 

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Thoughts on The “New” Kanye

As a long term fan of Kanye West,when questions regarding his music are asked this tweet springs to mind:

However the market in question is Kanye’s discography and various business ventures. He has over-saturated his own market of content and now fails to amuse his fan base hence barrage of fans calling for “Old Kanye”. This is acknowledged and played on in the song “I Love Kanye”. The Fourth Wall of the Yeezus persona is broken, to push an agenda of self depreciation to the listener.

Kanye acknowledges his transformation but unfortunately incorrectly. Kanye has never not been a controversial self-aggrandizing figure. He has never been an technical rapper but worked to prove himself as a creative, unique rapper and producer. “Chop up beats” Kanye rapped “They say he bougie, he big-headed/Would you please stop talking about how my dick head is” on Last Call. The same Kanye,voiced his dissatisfaction with Bush’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and stormed onto stage during the MTV Europe Music Awards.”Pink Polo” Kanye rapped “After each and every show a couple dykes in the van
It’s easy/The hood love to listen to Jeezy and Weezy/And, oh yeah, Yeezy” Misogyny,public controversy and misconduct are a vital part of the Kanye package,what gains the public approval of his fan base and has the defense of the “Kanye persona”. It isn’t when West sings, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous” on “Famous” that deters followers of Kanye,it is simply put, the deprivation of creative content,the intended agenda is now unclear.

The “old Kanye” may be a short hand way of expressing the longing of creative direction that leads to a legible album narrative.The drive to transform aesthetically and semantically to engage and appeal to those that follow Kanye. The Kanye that used interviews as an outlet to explain said changes.This idea is displayed simply by looking at the variation between Graduation, an album described as a “rock-tinged, electronic-influenced soundscape” and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a culmination of sampling and collaborations. The proclamation that 808s & Heartbreak is “Pop Art”. Followers are now given a less precise and perfected version of this, influences are now imitations in Kanye’s music, samples are hardly reconstructed merely toyed with to provide content.

Alexis Petridis fantastically outlines this feeling in her review of The Life of Pablo in which she states “it’s the sound of a man over-reaching himself. Perhaps it’s a document of a mind coming increasingly unglued”. Kanye’s creative direction is skewed,hard to follow and increasingly underwhelming.

Hunter Beck however provides an interesting explanation to the “New Kanye” he declares that from 2009 onward,Kanye plays a fictional character . Demonstrated by his increased public outbursts and the use of “Cinderella” by Roald Dahl in “Dark Fantasy” the opening song of his 2010 album. This explanation sees Kanye’s persona as a performance that critics the nature of today’s media. We concentrate on vice and sensation because it sells, Kanye’s outlandish statements such as his declaration to run for president have graced the pages of various publications. The notable difference in content is a way of reiterating this idea of an inattentive pop culture,When he wrote and recorded lyrics for Yeezus as freestyles in just two hours and made this known to the public, We still eagerly consumed his content skimming for provocative lyrics.

The flaw with this idea is that as a culture we’ve become increasingly critical;interested in feminism,racial politics and representation. Kanye’s  appeal of controversy and erratic behavior  is now questionable.

 

Symphony No.2: Is categorizing songs as “Pop” is setting many artists back?

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Unfortunately,Popular music today has negative connotations.Every time the genre “Pop” or “Popular music” is mentioned it is  overridden by the following negative clichés:

“Musicians don’t even write their own songs!”
“Too Much Auto-tune”
“Can they even play any instruments?”
“Lost faith in humanity!!”

This is not limited to people of all ages,young people are often devastated to find their favorite song by a favorable artist has reached the top twenty charts.Take Lana Del Rey’s “Ultraviolence” for example,surely it should be placed under the “Sadcore,, trip hop,blues,chamber pop” category,invented specially for Miss Del Rey.Due to all the negative connotations associated with Pop has many avoid listening to anything labelled as Pop to avoid criticism and the good old “listen to real music”cliché,perhaps there should be a “Real Music” genre on ITunes,so that the regular consumer can invest in some.

However pop music is popular for a reason.The basic format which is easy to replicate so that it can be covered,remixed and tampered with.The repeated choruses and catchy hooks which make them easier to learn and remember.Pop music contains influences from a wide range of genres,therefore there is plenty of access to variety.One could have a wide range of genres from listening to top 40 music alone despite the believe that everything is electronica infused.

One could argue that classifying all songs as Pop,sets back many musicians,it disallows them the opportunity to be among artists similar to them and be directly linked to a genre.For example First Aid Kit’s album “Stay Gold” has been placed in the pop category on several music sharing outlets due to the success of their singles.surely they would access more fans in the “Alternative” genre section as the success of one song does not automatically mean that a regular pop consumer will enjoy the whole album.Also,not all the songs on the album follow the “verse-chorus” structure.

A thing that should be acknowledged when arguing over the categorization of music is that,the regular consumer does not have the time to browse through 50 odd genres,music genre is simplified to make things easier.If “Starry Eyed” by Ellie Goulding in  were to be categorized as “Neo-Folk Indie Electronica”,How difficult would it be to access today? Especially among the influx of singles and albums being released in today’s fast paced music industry.

Symphony no.1: Kasabian’s 48:13

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High energy,profound bass and labyrinthine layers of sound is what comes to mind on first consumption of this album
On browsing the review section of iTunes in curiosity,I scrolled through reviews titled as “Pants” “Terrible” and even “Dross”.Many complained of Kasabian “changing” and some described it as Kasabian’s best album yet. My mind flickered through all these states as the duration of 48:13 passed, 48:13 left me in a state of contention as to whether this album is one to enjoy,as it is not far from previous works.

The introduction “(shiva)” warns the listener the distorted electronic and orchestal sounds that will be used during the album,the interludes are used to mark transition in sounds throughout the album,”(levitation)” introduces the use of neo-psychedelia and “(mortis)” introduces the use of abstract electronic melodies.

Pizzorno keeps within the band’s  conventional mould of zany lyrical content and cross genre exploration,”stevie” “doomsday” and”explodes” accurately depict this ideal. The album relies heavily on the typical pop structure of verse-chorus-bridge.Heavy instrumentation and rhythmic patterns are used to make tracks alluring.An interesting,sample is used to conclude the track “glass”,it is unclear what message was trying to be conveyed through the use of this.The album closes with the two downtempo tracks “s.p.s” and “bow” weaning the listener away from the consistent pop song structure used in the album.

Overall,If you’re looking for an upbeat Alternative Rock album with heavy electronic influence,this album is perfect.If you’re looking for a heavily experimental Kasabian record that differs from their previous work,this is not the ideal one.

Tracks to Download:

bumblebee:  an upbeat guitar riddled track which sounds a bit like a sequel to “Vlad the Impaler” from their Empire album,it’s hard not to bob your head to the chanted chorus and rousing vocals

treat: a funky polyphonic texture with trumpets,trombones,deep bass and electric guitar which sounds like the offspring of Franz Ferdinand and Soft Cell.the swinging nature of the vocals in the chorus allows the use of repetition to be positive and dancey.

clouds: a piece heavily influenced by psychedelia,with heavy synthesizer and a repetitive reference to intoxication.