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Album Review: “P R E S S U R E” by Rochelle Jordan

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Released independently as a free download in 2011, Toronto songstress Rochelle Jordan released her debut EP, R O J O – an adventurous, multi-layered joyride showcasing promise and an equal footing in the R&B of the 90s and the future. She makes a clear step forward with her second EP, P R E S S U R E, released digitally in August 2012.

As implied by the title, P R E S S U R E underscores conflict and tension, specifically in romantic relationships. Written entirely by Jordan and intricately produced by PROTOSTAR producer KLSH, the record closes in on a specific vibe, both sonically and vocally. Her influences are obvious – the fluttery coos of Aaliyah and the slick vocal layering of Amerie’s heyday, among others. Yet, Jordan manages to fuse them into a singular style and sound that is uniquely hers throughout the record’s twelve tracks. Meanwhile, KLSH’s minimalist and atmospheric productions are approached completely with swirling synths, pulsing bass lines and menacing, snare-driven drums. This provides ample room for Jordan to explore textures and rhythmic patterns of her detailed and impassioned lyrics.

The first e-single, “Losing”, is a downbeat lament to the sacrifices made in the name of a strained relationship. Equally alluring as it is chilling, it is a tender and deeply intimate moment that very few unsigned artists are willing to display in their early musical offerings. Elsewhere, Jordan aims to please her lover on the frenetic up-tempo title track, reminisces on a past love on “Could’ve Been” and is haunted by that same former love in a new setting on “Somebody”. Elsewhere, her frustrations with insecure and dismissive men are laid out with serious bite and sass on “You Ain’t My Man” and “Too Long”. However, it is on the spare “Shotgun” where Jordan wallows in the beautiful anguish of the end of a relationship, brilliantly winding up with what is the record’s best vocal performance.

Hailing from Toronto, home of fellow artists like Drake and The Weeknd, Rochelle Jordan is a welcome addition to those following independent R&B music and is sure to delight fans with her distinct sound.

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Song Review: “Wildest Dreams” by Brandy

After the success of the first single “Put It Down” featuring Chris Brown and it’s accompanying video which premiered last week, Brandy unveiled her anticipated second single, “Wildest Dreams”. Helmed by production duo Tha Bizness and written by Sean Garrett, the track is a mid-tempo 90’s throwback finds Brandy wide-eyed and blissed out after finding a new love that is seemingly too good to be true.  “Never in my wildest dreams / did I think someone could care about me / not just the way you love me / you know I’m emotional (sometimes)…”. Her signature runs and walls of vocals weave themselves warmly around a thick bass line and lush keyboards.

The single will be released to iTunes and other digital retailers on August 28th, while her sixth studio album “Two Eleven” is scheduled for release on October 16th, 2012. The album is set to include production from Danja, Noah “40” Shebib, Bangladesh and Mario Winans, among others.

Proposed Documentary: “Here, My Dear”

January 6, 2012 1 comment

Documentary Project Proposal

Here, My Dear

Written, produced and directed by Michael Ashton

SYNOPSIS

In the United States, marriage and divorce are increasingly becoming common experiences. The former has carried a perceived of being one of the most positive aspects in life, whereas the latter is perceived to have a negative connotation.  Here, My Dear is a feature documentary thoroughly following the details of being in a marriage, the emotional journey of dissolving one and ultimately how both aspects impact children in various ways.

People marry for their own reasons ranging from legal and social to economic and religious reasons, as well as genuine love. In any case, marriage is considered to a milestone event in a spouse’s life that requires a number of adjustments. A couple beginning a union opens a chapter of togetherness into forever. Conversely, a spouse entering a divorce face a range of emotions such as (but not limited to) regret and stress to excitement and optimism. Although a divorce is irrefutably difficult for all, it is the children of the family who suffer the most. The idea that a couple can “stay together for the children’s sake” never seems to work out, often worsening the underlying issues, exacerbating tension and causing more harm than good to children who need the stability of both parents. Here, My Dear journeys to document all of these aspects and to find answers to the questions that people have about the struggles of family life.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND BACKGROUND

In the book The History of Human Marriage (1921), Edvard Westermark defines marriage as “a more or less durable connection between a male and female lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring.” Marriages are typically recognized by the state, a religious power, or both. It is often seen as a contract or institution, irrespective of any religious affiliation but in accordance with marriage laws of the state.

As of late, almost one out of two marriages will end in divorce, many of which include one or more children. When children are involved, the immediate thought is how they will cope through this difficult period. Though the couple may be preoccupied with their quest to dissolve their union, the children are often invariably confused by how the security of their family life is now shaken. They may start to feel shame, assuming the fault that they somehow have caused their parent’s marriage (and their own stability) to crumble.

STYLE AND STRUCTURE

Here, My Dear is an observational documentary following lives in four separate arcs. It seeks to question why people get married, follow the dynamic of those that have stayed married, the emotions that come after a divorce and how children play an important factor.

Here, My Dear was named after legendary soul singer’s 1978 album of the same name, which documented his feelings about his crumbling marriage and subsequent divorce. Each story relates to a track from that album.

CHARACTERS

1. Oliver Sanchez

Anger destroys your soul. Rage, there’s no room for rage in there. Line up some place to go to be mad. It’s a sin to treat your body bad. (“Anger” by Marvin Gaye)

Oliver is an child from Lynbrook, New York. At age 11, he currently attends St. Agnes Elementary School in Rockville Centre, New York. He enjoys dance, television, science and math. Born to parents who divorced after less than five years of marriage (when Oliver was only four years old). He has a close relationship with his mother, while his relationship with his father has grown to be strained over the course of his childhood. His mother believes that his behavioral problems in school stems from being a product of divorced parents. Both parents argue often about finances for Oliver.

Interview Questions:

    1. Why do you think couples divorce?
    2. How many of your classmates have parents that are separated/divorced?
    3. Do you think your parents are better off being divorced or do you wish they were still married? Do you think they can resolve their differences?
    4. What do you think your parents think of each other now?
    5. Do your parents ask you how you feel about being an only child? Do they ask you about your feelings?
    6. How do you feel about your parents?
2. Michelle & Roger Benshoff
…cause when you look at me, I get weak in my knees. My heart won’t let me be. Won’t you help me please? I really love you. Darling, you’re so wonderful. You are so divine. You’re my heavenly dream. (“Time to Get It Together” by Marvin Gaye)
Michelle is a 5thgrade teacher from Brooklyn, New York. Roger is a train conductor for New York City transit. They have been happily married to each other for 25 years. Michelle is currently pursuing her second degree in education, while Roger is looking to start a small family business. The Benshoffs describe their marriage as “very happy and enduring” with “very, very few arguments”. She and her husband are committed to each other and to providing an excellent life for their two daughters (ages 29 and 24).
Interview Questions:
    1. What do you think has been the key to keeping such an enduring marriage?
    2. How many couples do you know that have been together as long as you have?
    3. How often do you have disagreements? How often do you make up?
    4. Can you reveal your weaknesses and doubts to your partner without fear of embarrassment, criticism or judgment?
    5. When you’re upset or angry about something your partner does/doesn’t do, do you find it easy to tell her/him about it?

3. Marcus & Nicole Baptist

Hey Anna, here’s your song. The one that I promised you all along. I knew all the time that I’d find the rhyme. Never have a fear, here it is, my dear. (“Anna’s Song” by Marvin Gaye.)

Nicole is a nurse and Marcus is an electrician engineer for New York University. The couple has been married for almost 25 years and has had two kids. They describe their marriage as “generally positive” while admitting that most of their hardships and arguing are centered on finances as Marcus feels they “are not completely secure enough to spend” the way they’d like to.

Interview Questions:

    1. How much will you spend on gifts for family, friends and each other?
    2. What hobbies or recreational pursuits do you pursue individually? Together? How often do you pursue them?
    3. How important is money to you both?
    4. Who will pay the bills and keep the checkbook? What are your reservations about the use of credit cards? When it comes to finances, do you usually agree on what to spend your money on?
    5. How often have you felt a lull in your marriage? Have you ever felt that divorce was eminent?
    6. Describe what keeps your marriage strong.

4. Jennifer Allen

(“You know, when you say your marriage vows, they’re supposed to be for real. I mean…if you think back about what you really said, you know, about, honor and loving and obeying till death do us part and all. But it shouldn’t be that way, it should…it it shouldn’t be lies because it turns out to be lies. If you don’t honor what you said, you lie to God. The words should be changed.” -“When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You?” by Marvin Gaye.)

Jennifer is a medical nurse who recently graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University. At 57, she filed for divorced from her husband of 22 years due to increased arguments and growing dissatisfaction. Early in the marriage, her husband fathered another child during an affair. After reconciliation and jointly putting three children through college over the years, a bitter divorce was put into motion that deeply affected her.

Interview Questions:

    1. When was the moment that you knew your marriage was over? Do you think there was anything else that could have saved it?
    2. What are your greatest memories? Regrets?
    3. How do you feel about your ex-spouse now? Are both of you on speaking terms?
    4. Though the youngest of your three children is 22 years old, how do you think the dissolution of your marriage has affected them?
    5. How do you feel about marriage now? Do you see it in your future? Why or why not?

RELATED WORK

The film “One Divided by Two: Kids and Divorce” is another film that describes the conflicted feelings that children aged 8 to 18 feel when their parents dissolve their marriage. It carries an original approach with the inclusion of animation to tell parts of the stories. It is an excellent discussion starter to help parents gain a bit of insight as to what their children are experiencing emotionally.

Here, My Dear will have a similar approach, but it will also include those who are married, those who struggle with marriage and those who have recently divorced.  The film seeks to cover the emotional journey that they all go on.

Review: “The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1” by Jill Scott

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Typically, a compilation release of unreleased material features unremarkable outtakes and half-finished demos with varied quality compared to that of an official studio record. The opposite proves to be true with The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1 by Jill Scott, the first (of hopefully, several) contractual fulfillment albums following her quiet departure from Hidden Beach Recordings and subsequent signing to Warner Bros. Records. Impressively, the tracks are unfailing and on par with every release in her revered catalog, likely due to her involvement in the song selection process. Unlike her uneven 2011 release The Light of the Sun which featured some formless and even half-baked compositions, The Original Jill Scott… is consistent, with some of the material being recorded as far back as the conception of her first album.

After a brief introduction, Jill flirts coyly on the bombastic and shuffling “I Don’t Know (Gotta Have You)” produced by Carvin & Ivan. In contrast, “Wondering Why (You Don’t Talk to Me)” finds Jill cooing with distress from miscommunication amid a mid-tempo track, complete with a gooey live bass line and background vocals by Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men for some additional color. The funky bounce of “The Light” (produced by Dre & Vidal, who also supply a “piano mix” of the track) and the Southern soul of “Wake Up Baby” both play off of Jill’s impeccable strengths as a versatile lyricist,while the breezy “I’m Prettier” and “Comes to the Light (Everything)” highlight her multi-textured vocals.

Two of the most exciting inclusions are found with “Running Away (Suite)”, a twelve-minute, seemingly free-styled studio jam is complete with adlibs, giggles and hollers from Jill and members of her band, all of whom perform to pleasurable perfection. The other, “Holding On”, is a slow burning torch masterpiece in which Jill mournfully envelops her voice around each instrument as she reminisces about her lover during the wee hours of an early morning.

The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1 may not get the attention it properly deserves from audiences but those who have followed Jill will have their perception of her musicianship and perfectionism enhanced by each of this compilation’s songs and their varying moods.

Review: “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Relatively unknown to the United States at the time, British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse released her second album, Back to Black, in March 2007. As Winehouse was inspired by the girl groups of the 1960s, the album is buoyed by classic jazz and soul with light ska and jazz influences, not unlike the classic Phil Spector wall-of-sound productions that were released during this period. The album was critically applauded and was named a classic must-have only months after the release.

Nostalgia aside, the album was a very focused, modern and current record for music lovers of any major genre to appreciate. Winehouse wrote all of the 11 tracks while the production duties were almost evenly split between famed R&B/Hip-Hop veteran Salaam Remi and British DJ/production wizard Mark Ronson. Both producers take Winehouse to revisit the glory of Motown in its heyday, while still bringing a fresh taste of the current music scene to the fore.

In a similar fashion to her previous album Frank, Back to Black offers an honest account of the complexities of fidelity and pride, the wit of a strong and almost stubborn personality and the miseries of bittersweet love. There is a vivid sexuality and candidness that is strikingly tender and is nothing short of mesmerizing. She croons and sulks, sucks her teeth and scowls, laments and serenades – all while baring her heart on her sleeve.

Lyrically, there is much to take in. Her passionate eye for observing details is wisely documented in her strong songwriting skills. Her knack for producing simple yet effective melodies are can be easily relatable to the listener. For all we know, it could have been a song she wrote about an instance that has happened in any one of our lives.

The brassy “Rehab” is a bold statement in itself. Winehouse cleverly satires the reaction of her closest business partners and family members during an intervention about her escalating alcohol habits (a habit she relies onto and often alludes to in many of the other album tracks). In turn, she defiantly declares her refusal for help, stating that she would rather “be at home with Ray [Charles]” because there is nothing that a rehabilitation center can teach her “that she can’t learn from Mr. [Donny] Hathaway”. A topic not tackled in a conventional pop song in recent memory, the track surprisingly works with its undeniable hook, skittering drums and shuffling keys.

Continuing with the striking tell-it-like-it-is honesty, “You Know I’m No Good”, finds Winehouse confessing to a lover of sleeping with an ex-boyfriend as she had previously predicted that she would before. Her lyrics are seamless and so meticulously delivered from verse to chorus that you are almost set in the eloquent visual vignettes that she maps out musically.

But when she isn’t sarcastically serving her opponent (and herself) with deprecating humor and wit, Winehouse spends much of the album analyzing her more pressing matters in her personal relationships with men.

The emotional centerpiece of the album is in the three middle songs. She states the running theme of the album on “Love Is a Losing Game” – a somber ode to the finality of a failed relationship. The sweeping and swelling strings are complimented with Winehouse’s naked vocal delivery and phrasing that channels the late DinahWashington. “Over futile odds and laughed at by the Gods…and now the final frame – love is a losing game,” she sings with a tender sincerity that pierces through to the very core of the listener. Contrasting this is the upbeat “Tears Dry on Their Own” which reprises a sublime “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” loop as a backdrop for Winehouse to specify her declaration of optimism, despite going over the numerous reasons why a particular relationship floundered. Though she admits “we never had it all, we had to hit a wall,” the song essentially finds Winehouse looking to days ahead with a sense of hope. The tempo slows with “Wake Up Alone” which dissects and details hitting the emotional low of attempting getting on during a typical day and night without having her loneliness consume her. “This face in my dreams seizes my guts, he floods me with dread. Soaked in soul, he swims in my eyes by the bed. Pour myself over him, the moon spilling in…and I wake up alone.” It is one of the chilling and darkest moments in the course of the entire album.

The most hope in Back to Black lies in the final two tracks, “Some Unholy War” and “He Can Only Hold Her”. The former is a mellow, late night assertion to her partner of undying love. Her dark vocal tones tumble like dice upon the moody ballad’s guitar licks, giving a new shade to the album’s atmosphere. The latter switches her role from first person to third, Winehouse seems objective when the “I’s” become she’s and the “you’s” become “he’s” as she speaks about a couple’s standstill. Possibly critiquing her own situation, the man is frustrated by the woman’s insecurities from a past relationship – “Now, how can he have her heart when it got stole? Though he tries to pacify her, what’s inside her never dies.” Laid against an uplifting, glitteringand melodious accompaniment, it is the album’s shining moment.

What made Back to Black such a masterpiece among music lovers and an experience among casual listeners was the honest look at the downside of love. If you take a comparative look at the songs on popular record, there is nothing that matches or captures the sheer genius of the record, stylistically, lyrically and/or musically speaking. Several critics lauded the blended styles of music into one piece that fans of different genres could appreciate singularly. Many other critics praised the creativity, the well-juxtaposed sense of humor and self to bare honesty in the lyrics that told stories and made people think about their own lives.

(written during the summer of 2008)