Tag Archives: Dance

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/31/2015: ‘The 20/20 Experience’ by Justin Timberlake

The 20 20 Experience

Eight years ago Justin Timberlake released his second studio album FutureSex / LoveSounds,an album very much defined by uptempo funk and EDM musical ideas and hybrids. The grooves were emphasized over the vocals a lot of the times, and it was quite a creative departure from his debut. In the time since that release Justin Timberlake has taken time to star in feature films and,for awhile seemed to be joining the ranks of Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston who traded in their musical banner for shots at the silver screen. But not only did his theatrical roles turn out to be a big success, but they seemed to have inspired him creatively as well.

During mid summer my friend Henrique informed me that Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience would be followed up by the end of September by a second volume. Seems Timberlake has recorded easily enough usable material in the last seven years for a double album. But probably knowing the economy level of most music buyers he elected to release it in two parts,also releasing the two full albums as the double set it was intended for those who haven’t gotten the first part yet.

For one thing,the idea that a contemporary recording artist to think creatively in terms of double albums (or albums period) is a profound revelation. Of course it helped that the first volume on this focused primarily on a genre one could call AOS/AOF (album oriented soul and/or funk) that hearkened back to the prime of the 70’s funk era. Of course I was eagerly anticipating this album. Of course I steered clear of streaming as I wanted to allow this album to speak for itself as I listened. From what came through that was a very good idea.

Most popularly inclined music artists today have gone backwards to a degree to emphasizing single songs again. Mainly,as with the 45 RPM record half a century ago, that format is more in tune with the age of internet based formats such as YouTube and MP3’s. Not only is Timberlake a fan of dressing and grooming himself in a sharp,elegant manner but his time in film probably exposed him more to the medium’s dynamic way of presenting its vision. So since Timberlake bought “sexy” back last time out,he is now bringing the musical quality of the album format back in a similar fashion.

The album opens with the upbeat melody and stop and start groove of “Pusher Love Girl”,with Timberlake’s sensuously subtle vocal approaching wrapping around the hiccuping rhythms as he compares a strong relationship to an addiction. Hearing it here I’ve warmed up heavily to “Suit & Tie”,a percussively rhythmic funk piece where Jay Z’s rap is perfectly in tune with the musical setting and never intrudes on Timberlake’s melodic vocal harmonies. “Don’t Hold The Wall” blends a slower 2-step dance groove with a trance music-type harmonic atmosphere,complete with East Indian singing and flutes. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is one of my favorite songs here. It begins with a lightly pulsing,spare electro funk and builds in it’s last three minutes into a afrolatin dance/funk/percussive jam.

The enormous rhythmic dynamics of “Tunnel Vision” and the slower “Spaceship Coupe” but more of the emphasis on Timberlake’s songwriting and vocals again-as he vocally harmonizes with himself Marvin Gaye side to express both the romantic and carnal side of his personality in these songs. “That Girl” is a sweetly melodic neo soul type number-led by a fantastic jazzy guitar riff that again places the focus on his singing and melodicism. “Let The Groove In” is just amazing-a hyper kinetic funk era style jam that is heavy on a genuine African percussion/tribal dance rhythm.

“Mirrors” is a very potent mixture of modern soul and progressive pop/rock that grows stronger in tone as the song progresses-especially in terms of its melodic development. The final song “Blue Ocean Floor”-with it’s spare trance/electronica sound and backwards loops takes the overall approach of this entire album to its most basic level. “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)”,”True Blood” and “Murder” are driving,rhythmically thick funk of the highest order. Justin jams on the one throughout all of these-intersecting the related grooves of James Brown,Michael Jackson and Prince through his own distinctive vocals,beat boxing and sexually eccentric lyrical orientation.

His slyness,wit and assertions to freedom of expression permeate all of these. While both very well composed and rhythmically complex the 2-step hip-hop/dance styles of “Cabaret” and “TKO” are probably my least favorite here. Yet the fact they are not stereotypically overproduced does give them extra vitality and groove. “Take Back The Night” is a beautiful dance/funk odyssey-almost a follow up to “Rock Your Body” from Justified only with a fuller production. Its easily my favorite here,and one of my favorite Timberlake songs of all time. “Drink You Away” is a grinding,rocking and funky blues type number-with Timberlake supplying some grooving guitar work of his own.

And what is the overall approach of this album exactly? In a modern production concept from Justin and Timbaland,who produced the previous album, Justin Timberlake has managed to bring out a re-visitation of the cinematic psychedelic soul/funk/pop-rock sound that permeated music by Isaac Hayes and much of the Norman Whitfield era Temptations. The songs here are generally seven + minutes and therefore have enough space to develop instrumentally and vocally. But as opposed to relying on a backup vocalists and enormous orchestral instrumental passages with no vocals, Timberlake’s own talents in singing/songwriting are integrally linked to the conceptually dynamic instrumental approach this album takes.

And the mixture of tradition string and horn arrangements with modern day EDM/hip-hop electronics give this album the possibility of being the commercial fruition of how music in the last three or four years has began to grow out of the unsettling complacency its been in since the turn of the millennium. Considering this albums already strong commercial success, if an approach to music like this catches on in the coming years, the funk/soul album innovations of the century might reach their commercial golden age.

Originally Posted As Two Separate Reviews On April 15th And September 30th,2013

Links to the original reviews for both albums below:

The 20/20 Experience 1 of 2

The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2

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Filed under "Suit & Tie", Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jay Z, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Prince, The 20/20 Experience, Timbaland

The Anatomy of THE Groove 5/9/14 Rique’s Pick : “Automatic” by the Spandettes

There’s always been something special to me about the summer time and soul, funk, disco and hip hop dance music. It’s my feeling summer in particular is the season in which funk flourishes. Something about the excitement of a dance rhythm seems to be the perfect soundtrack to the warm weather’s improvement of human mood and attitude. It’s only May, but I can already put The Spandettes “Automatic” on my summer time playlist. The 13 member combo from Canada’s song is a triumphant, giddy feel good music opus about an attraction that happens easily, smoothly, and naturally, somewhat like the best summer time connections.

The track kicks in the door with a pounding drum beat, four on the floor, just like during the reign of disco. The hi hats set the pace, making the song feel much faster than it actually is, playing a sixteenth note pattern with some extra acrobatics in place, some 16th note quadruplets to keep you honest. The 4 bar drum intro, a staple of dance funk one rarely hears these days, is soon joined by the rest of the band, Bass, Electric Piano, Guitar, and Horns.  The bass player plays a very simple but effective and funky Afro-Carribean-Latin dance line that anticipates the beat and outlines the chord changes. The guitar player chooses to join forces with the drummer’s hi hat, playing a funky, rhythmically busy 16th note, guitar scratch and one note line, perfectly locked with the drummer’s cymbals. The horn section comes in with a brash, celebratory, triumphal voicing, with the trumpets playing a very attention getting note at the top of the voicing, with the whole band giving way to the guitar players very similar chord, a mean splangalang played high on the neck of the guitar, with those attention grabbing notes on the top.

The three female singers for the band are Alex Tait, Maggie Hopkins, and Lizzy Clarke. The lead singer sings a tune of instant attraction, the kind that quickly breaks down any hard to get, legs crossed (closed) posturing, “No way to control it/it’s to-ta-lly au-to-ma-tic/whenever you’re around.” The melody she sings reminds me of two ’80s songs, Jeffery Osbourne’s work on “Plane Love” and the DeBarge’s melody on “Rhythm of the Night.” The horns riff along in support of the vocals the whole way.

One aspect of the song that really impresses me is the song structure, in addition to the general big, bright, sunny dance funk vibe. The song is well constructed from a pop sense, as if the Spandettes had in mind making a #1 funk and pop HIT. There is a nice stop and start groove leading to the chorus, during which the ladies croon the word “Automatic” broken down to syllables, in their three part harmony. This is backed by a nice jazzy, softly blown horn chart. At 2:25 in, the band gets their time to shine, in a nice break/instrumental interlude that lasts from 2:25-2:49. The break has space for the horns and bass, the electric piano, and the drummer to all shine.

“Automatic” is a bouyant, feel good song that I hope will serve as a soundtrack for some great moments for me in Summer ’14. What impresses me the most, besides the Spandettes singing, songwriting, and musicianship, is the audacity they have to make a funky song in 2014 with the clear design of a radio/club/popular hit in mind. Instead of treating funk as if it was some dusty relic that’s power relied only in it’s obscurity, The Spandettes remember funk use to be the soundtrack for a lot of peoples good times. And they aren’t giving up any ground to hip hop, EDM, dance punk, Indie, or any other music form out there. “Automatic” is a cute, fun song with a proper “hands in the air” bounce that can rock clubs, wedding receptions, cover band gigs, and many other functions. And in this musically (and culturally) segmented world we live in, such versatility of groove is essential. So I invite you to put this on your summer party list along with the Margarita mix.

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Filed under Blogging, Disco, Funk

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’- Rique’s outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation Part Duex

 

 

 

Pharrell Williams recent triumph with an infectious ditty about human joy and the movements of the human spirit is one that fills me with tremendous joy and that I  identify with very personally. I see it as the culmination of a career spent highlighting the spirit enhancing aspects of Black music at a time when darkness was accepted as the norm.

Back in my high school days, my main friends who I referred to as my brothers,  Jesse, Osceola, and Frank use to spend our time before, after, and sometimes during school hours at OC’s house, eating gumbo, cooking, playing bass and discussing and debating how we were to make it in the world.  Often times we looked at the current culture around us, in the days of bling rap and very ignorant music as inadequate to the views we had of ourselves and how we wished our lives to be, not to mention the attitudes we’d inherited from our well meaning parents. The late 1990s seemed to be an extremely long ways away from the vitality we associated with other days of black culture in particular.

Outkast was the closest of any group at the time to who we felt we were. There were many other groups we liked bits and pieces of, but no one captured it as well as them. Then, at some point in 1999 we started to hear another groove. It was electronic, sparse, and FUNKY. It was heard on records like Mase’s “Lookin at Me”, ODB’s “Got Your Money” and “Recognize” and especially Kelis’ “Caught Out There.” Then one day out of nowhere, we heard that same beat but we got some vocals, on a track called “Oh No” by Nore, we saw a handsome, carmel skinned brother with throwback aviator shades on, giving an old school hip hop chorus in a falsetto voice. Osceola, ever the sharp eyed visionary, said simply, “I like that dude.”

As the milenium turned, the hits rolled in, like Mystikals James Brown influenced “Shake Ya Ass”, Nelly’s “Bustin Loose” influenced “Hot in Herre”, and several records that referenced The Vanity 6’s eternal Purple Funk classic “Nasty Girls” (“Milkshake”, “Slave”, etc). Pharrell and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes, could give you aural images of Run DMC’s “Sucker M.C’s” on a track like the Clipse’s “Grindin'”, and recall both Cameo and Slave on Snoop Dogg’s “Lets Get Blown.” And Pharrell’s own “Frontin”, may be one of the few R&B love songs that came out in the last decade that I truly identified with, not just as music, but as experience.

The Neptunes music took the black historical sound of funk, and edited it, filtered it through hip hop, and presented it as the hottest party sound of the new milenium. Pharrell’s falsetto, used in the beginning simpy to guide singers on demo’s, recalled Eddie Kendricks, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and many other legends, who I’ve heard him all reference in interviews. I was always amazed at Chad and Pharrells skill at interpolation, building new funk off old funk and making an ahistorical young urban audience accept it as THE THING.

This past year has been one of special triumph, with Daft Punk’s directly late ’70s influenced “Get Lucky”, Robin Thicke’s “Got to Give It Up” tribute “Blurred Lines”, and now, the ’60s get back in the alley groove of “Happy.”

In the black church, the moment of the utmost jubilation, when people speak in tounges and do the holy dance, and the organ and drums begin to vamp, is called “Getting Happy.” Pharrell mentioned on his interview with Oprah that after 9 tries at nailing down a song to represent the joy of the villian on the film “Despicable Me 2”, he finally hit on this groove. He said the chords were gospel, because that’s the aim of gospel music, to get people “happy”, on a profound spiritual level that gives a glimpse of the eternal joy that all religions promise, with the goal of getting people through an often rough existence on this here earth.

Pharrell accomplishes this in the most spiritual, profound way on this song. He has always aimed to make people happy, his litany of dance hits is proof of that, but this  one hits on another level. The ’60s back beat, straight out of the book of Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, is matched with a low down electric piano and bluesy tone. The blues scale is an actual rarity in “R&B” music these days, it seems black musicians RUN from that historic tone. But the triumph of blues music borne of the black experience is the ability to acknowledge sadness while promoting joy. That is why it is universal, because all of humanity seeks that, the combination of reality and hope. Pharrell embraces a bluesy, funky sound with an uplifiting beat that will make your backbone slip into the jerk, the mashed potatoes, and the monkey if you let it!

The R&B singer Tank, when asked about the struggles of R&B in recent years, made some very illuminating comments. He basically said R&B’s obssessive focus on sex and love have limited it. He mentioned “Happy” in particular as a type of song that “used to be R&B.” And it makes me proud that an artist primarily associated with hip hop laid this on the world. The reason is, for all the bad rap (pun intended) hip hop often takes (and gives), I do feel hip hop is the repository of black musical history and musical history in general that no other music is. Songs like “Hey Ya” by Andre 3000, “My Umi Says” by Mos Def, “Sexual Eruption” by Snoop Dogg, even Ol Dirty Basterd’s rendition of “Coldblooded”, reference the past and the fun spirits of past musics in a way few contemporary R&B artists ever attempt.

But the true genius of Pharrell is in his vision and his uniqueness. Pharrell and a handful of other artists, have always made me feel it was okay to be myself and pursue my own path. They brough the spirit I admired in Miles Davis, James Brown, George Clinton, Stevie, Sly, Marvin, etc, into the present day, when most of my peers would tell me, “That was back THEN.” And it is an amazing act for a black male artist at this time to stand up and make the whole world dance singing a song that says “I’m Happy.”

From the beginning, Pharrell understood this song was the people’s song.  I was amazed when he created the worlds first 24 hour music video, with people uploading their own videos dancing to the song, a truly democratic and positive use of current technology! And his song has become so big that the U.N used it as their theme for their “International Day of Happiness.” The video I posted is from Liberia, my mothers home country and a country both of my parents love dearly. Liberia’s main image currently is one of 19 years of one of the most brutal civil wars seen in recent memory.  But this was a country founded as a country of hope for individuals who were not allowed much in their home land. But Pharrell’s song and the “Happy” video show that the human spirit lives on, as it always has. My mother, who usually does not dig the message of many current musics, actually asked me to bring home Pharrell’s album for HER the other day. I often bemoan the fact that todays black music, in contrast to a song such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, is not often something kids and grown ups can share together. How can a consciounable parent bring their kids out to dance at 2 am to “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe?” But “Happy” is most definitely a song that makes both me and my mother dance. I heard another young lady say that she plays that for her kids in the morning when she’s taking them to school. At that, I’ll say Pharrell has made quite a contribution in his time to the never ending, always elusive human quest, and for 3 mintues and 53 seconds at a time, he plants his flag on that tall and distant summit of joy.

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Filed under Motown, Music, Music Reviewing, Pharrell Williams