WHAP Concert Series: Robyn

April 30, 2008

Where: The Fillmore, Philadelphia
When: April 30, 2008

If you’ve never heard of Robyn, here’s the 411: She’s touring small clubs behind her latest release — the self-titled Robyn — after its long-delayed American release earlier this month. She’s perhaps the world’s only unashamed pop star simultaneously beloved by indie writers, music critics and an ever-growing international fanbase that includes our most obnoxious celeblogger. And her new repertoire of electropop, far removed from her late nineties hits like “Show Me Love,” are impossibly infectious. So you can’t blame me for venturing out to see her play Philadelphia’s Fillmore Theatre — nor for claiming Robyn as my guiltiest pleasure since its European release back in 2005.

And truth be told, I wasn’t let down. My only complaint about Robyn’s set was its brevity: incorporating two encores, she only managed 70 minutes of material. But playing to a capacity club crowd, even she was surprised at the American reception to some of her lesser-known Eurohits — among them “Konichiwa Bitches,” which the majority of the audience (myself included) knew every word to. (Sample lyric: “Comin’ in your mouth/Makes you say yum-yum.”)

In that just-over-hourlong set, Robyn played the majority of her new disc, backed the entire time by two drummers, a keyboardist and a Mac. Opening the set with an absolutely electric “Cobrastyle” — a stylized Teddybears cover from the American rerelease of Robyn — she followed with a slue of her own hits: “Who’s That Girl,” “Crash and Burn Girl,” “Eclipse” and crowd favorite/album highlight “Handle Me.” Her interjections were sparse and brief, limited to spare “thank you”s and “you are so beautiful”s, and her kind demeanor vastly contrasted her stage swagger. Other covers balanced out an otherwise Robyn-dominated set: she worked in minute-long versions of Salt ‘N Pepa’s “Push It” and Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction” (which she recently remixed), as well as a rockabilly-saloon take on Prince’s immortal “Jack U Off.” (It’s nice to see that “Jack U Off,” which Prince refuses to play in concert himself, sees the light of day somewhere.)

The show’s highlights, however, came when Robyn remixed her own hits — mostly notably the aforementioned “Show Me Love,” which she played in its stripped-down, video-game-blip version. She also remade “Be Mine” as an ’80s punk ballad midshow, later reprising it as a piano-assisted torch song finale. And “Bum Like You” — perhaps the most underrated track off Robyn — appeared in concert as an electrorave remix, a vast improvement on its MOR-light album version.

Outside of her new material, Robyn played only “Show Me Love” and “Keep This Fire Burning” from her back catalogue — a smart choice, although leaving out “Robotboy” and “Should Have Known” from the new disc was rather inexplicable. And her rousing rendition of “With Every Heartbeat” — another American add-on to Robyn — could have turned anthemic had she not cut it off after three minutes.

So if you have the chance to catch Robyn live — and you only do if you’re in NY, Chicago, Cali or Portland (?!?) — then set the date. First Sweden gave us ABBA, perhaps the only tolerable leftover from the disco era outside of the BeeGees. Then Swedish-born Max Martin almost singlehandedly pioneered the nineties explosion of bubblegum pop, penning hits for Backstreet Boys and Britney before re-emerging behind Kelly Clarkson (“Since U Been Gone”) in 2004. Now, Robyn seems the rightful heir to the Swedish pop throne, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to see the Queen in action.

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American Idol: Top 5

April 29, 2008

The seventh season of American Idol — praised back in January and still today as the most talented crop of Idol vocalists yet — has also been plagued by the show’s lowest ratings to date. Granted, low ratings for Idol means anything under 30 million viewers. But there still has to be a scapegoat for the best singers also being the franchise’s least watched.

And call me crazy, but I’d point to this year’s musical themes. Tonight, for example, we’ll be treated to two rounds of Neil Diamond from each contestant, in lieu of countless better artist choices. (That includes Madonna, who drops Hard Candy today and could have guested like Mariah did to plug E=MC2 two weeks ago).

Diamond — who’s just as much a punchline as he is a prolific songwriter — will stop by to give advice to our final five for what’s sure to be another interesting night. Below are song choices, after the jump are comments and predictions.

Brooke White: “I Am…I Said” and “I’m A Believer”
Jason Castro: “Forever in Blue Jeans” and “September Morn”
David Archuleta: “Sweet Caroline” and “America”
Syesha Mercado: “Thank the Lord for the Night Time” and “Hello Again”
David Cook: “I’m Alive” and “All I Really Need Is You”

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AmIdol: Top 6

April 22, 2008

Remember that time you tried to convince your friends you weren’t gay, even though you loved American Idol? I do, weekly, but this time, I’m not sure how to defend myself. How do you defend yourself against:

Andrew. Lloyd. Webber. Musicals.

Seriously.

After a few weeks of the usual star-stroking interrupted by Idol Gives Back week, Idol decided to pull a fast one on everyone left with … this. Now I like musicals as much as the next guy — can we see “Wicked” up there? — but check out this song list, thanks to our friends at TMZ.

Syesha — “One Rock and Roll Too Many” from Starlight Express

D. Cook — “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera

Carly — “Jesus Christ Superstar”

Brooke — “You Must Love Me” from Evita

Castro — “Memory” from Cats

D. Archuleta — “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera

The winner of American Idol gets the opportunity to enter the United States pop culture realm. So, to convince Americans who is best poised to enter as ‘American Idol Winner’ as their title, the producers of this show decided that Americans needed to see how they could perform … Phantom of the Opera? For some reason, I’m not expecting Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on Chris Brown’s next record.

Thoughts on the show, as they come, after the jump.

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Music’s Early Birds

April 16, 2008

Earlier today, the A.V. Club ran a story with the following subhead: “20 respectable rock and rap acts that peaked with debut albums.” The article goes on to detail 20 diverse artists, from Snoop Doggy Dogg to Rage Against the Machine, who couldn’t pull off an album to match their first throughout their entire careers. The entire list, as per A.V., is as follows:

20. Sunny Day Real Estate, Diary
19. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle
18. Supergrass, I Should Coco
17. The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good
16. Wu-Tang Clan, Enter The Wu-Tang
15. Boston, Boston
14. Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw
13. Black Flag, Damaged
12. The Sundays, Reading, Writing, And Arithmetic
11. Taking Back Sunday, Tell All Your Friends
10. Television, Marquee Moon
09. Kanye West, The College Dropout
08. John Prine, John Prine
07. The Notorious B.I.G., Ready To Die
06. Nas, Illmatic
05. The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers
04. The Strokes, Is This It
03. Richard Hell And The Voidoids, Blank Generation
02. 50 Cent, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’
01. Rage Against The Machine, Rage Against The Machine

First, a couple of problems with an otherwise spot-on list. Most notably, Kanye shouldn’t be there; his Late Registration is far superior to The College Dropout, which isn’t even as good as last year’s Graduation. And for what it’s worth, Supergrass’ Life on Other Planets is just as excellent as I Should Coco.

But what’s more fun about this list is the thousands of other examples of this freshman phenomenon. Some great debuts come from artists who never got around to making a second disc; the Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bollocks, for example, never received a proper follow-up. Others have already been pointed out around the web: Guns ‘n Roses Appetite for Destruction; The Velvet Underground’s Velvet Underground & Nico; some even argue that Jay-Z never topped Reasonable Doubt.

In that light, I’ve listed five artists who should have made the list by my count after the jump.

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American Idol: Top 7

April 15, 2008

After last week’s Idol lovefest — when not one, not two, but five plus hours aired in three days — this week returns to the normal schedule: performances tonight and elimination tomorrow.

As for the theme, it’s Mariah Carey week — undoubtedly because of the songstress’s longevity and range, not the fact that her new album drops, umm, today. But hey, at least we get to see David Cook attempt “Always Be My Baby.” And though I fear that it’s impossible to send a female home after what is essentially diva night, let’s hope that either Carly Smithson or Kristy Lee messes up enough to keep Jason and the Davids in the Top Six.

Check below for tonight’s song selections, and click after the jump for live coverage of the performances and predictions for the elimination.

Syesha Mercado — “Vanishing”
David Cook — “Always Be My Baby”
Carly Smithson — “Without You”
Brooke White — “Hero”
Jason Castro — “I Don’t Wanna Cry”
Kristy Lee Cook — “Forever”
David Archuleta — “When You Believe”

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Top 25 of 2008: Part 5

April 14, 2008

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already one fourth of the way through 2008. In that light, I’ve decided to create a Top 25 of this year’s most infectious singles, ranked according to personal preference but compiled based on chart success and digital sales. Today: nos. 5 through no. 1.

5. Gnarls Barkley, “Run” (Billboard Peak: #32)
Sure, it’s no “Crazy.” But let’s be fair: we haven’t had anything like that since “Crazy” itself hit Number Two back in 2006. “Run” — full of elated organ, adolescent chants and cartoon percussion — sounds much better in the context of Gnarls’ new disc than on mainstream radio, but it still managed to break the Billboard Top 50 and catalyze sales of the rush-released The Odd Couple. And Cee-Lo proves that he can do James Brown just as well as he does Al Green.

4. Kanye West, “Flashing Lights” (Billboard Peak: #29)
Though it continues Ye’s trend of stealing lines from Justin Timberlake — first the lyric about models lacking ass in “Good Life” and now the line about “flashing lights,” both nicked from “LoveStoned” — “Flashing Lights” is the third in a hat trick of brilliant singles from Kanye’s Graduation disc. Elegantly switching from regal orchestration to catwalk techno and then back again, the song might just be the most intricately produced of West’s career — not to mention the least dependent on samples. And once again, we’ll forgive him for his lyrical shortcomings: “I hate these n****s more than a Nazi” is a monumental misstep.

3. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (Billboard Peak: #1)
Leona Lewis — the first true breakout star of 2008 — is already a contender for next year’s Best New Artist award at the Grammies. With this track, she enters the race for Record of the Year and is more than a lock for Best Female Performance. And unlike some of 2008’s others Number Ones, “Bleeding Love” is neither devoid of melody (“Low”) or lyrically embarrassing (“Touch My Body”). Not since “Truly Madly Deeply” has a radio record given me goosebumps like this one.

2. Lupe Fiasco, “Superstar” (Billboard Peak: #10)
The vast majority of Lupe’s output is too cerebral for radio, so it’s nice to see the Chicago emcee break through with “Superstar.” That said, the song very well might be an argument against fame; I’m still unsure whether “If you are what you say you are” refers to staying true to oneself or to the incessant overuse of celebrity in our culture. But either way, the clever rhymes, euphoric beat and chorus camera flashes are too perfect to get hung up on semantics.

1. Yael Naïm, “New Soul” (Billboard Peak: #7)
I’m glad Feist came and went, but I hope Yael Naïm is here to stay. “New Soul” — an addictive piece of Cajun pop, rightly integrated into that ubiquitous Mac ad — simultaneously proves the power of advertising and the idea that selling out may no longer be stigmatized. But regardless of what you think of riding a commercial into commercial success, you can’t deny a single that’s an American Top 10 hit and a Record of the Year contender at once.


Welcome Back

April 10, 2008

Happiness returns to Thursday nights, as tonight the best show on television returns. It’s been a long time since the last Office episode, and since this blog was partially created due to our mutual love for the show, I thought it would be worthwhile to remind everyone where we’re at. Because, to me, the wonderful thing about the Office is beyond the hilarious writing, I do actually care about the characters.

The last episode of the Office aired on November 15, 2007. It was titled “The Deposition”, which should be an episode that should conjure a few images. For me, it was Toby opening up to Michael, telling him that in childhood he had to choose between parents after a divorce. Michael, of course, responded by throwing Toby’s lunch trey off the table. And there’s the moment Jan goes to all lengths to win her case, throwing Michael under the bus to do so. And the emotional moment at the end when Michael tells David Wallace that he’s a good guy, too.

If anything, the moment was a defining one in Michael’s character. It may have been the beginning — or not so much beginning as the middle — of the end of his relationship with Jan. In Scranton, we’ve seen the Andy and Angela relationship come to fruition — “Oh, D…Oh, D” — and Pam and Jim seem as good as ever.

So, what to expect tonight? Tonight’s episode is called “Dinner Party”, as Michael and Jan invite the two other aforementioned couples over to their house for dinner. The show made two important decisions during the work strike: first, there will be no six month jump in time at the Dunder Mifflin office, we will return to the days after “The Deposition”. Also, the writers decided to not make the Angela character pregnant, instead choosing to hide her belly with copiers, purses, humans and camera angles.

I’ve read a few spoilers on the ‘Net, which I won’t give away, but I will link to this TV Guide cover, that hints at something substantial. And if you give a shit about the Pam/Jim storyline — and a sap like me can’t help it, this YouTube video should pump you up for the return of the best show on television.