Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When a music review rocks the boat too much!

So I learned today that because of an unhappy publicist, my review of “pop sensation” Jay Aura’s latest EP, iParty was removed from a music website for which I freelance. I understand that the editors have a business to run and sometimes labels need to be placated in order to keep the house in order. Unfortunately, this is one occasion where a critic’s opinion (and I use the term critic loosely, as I honestly see myself more as a fan of music openly discussing what I like and don’t like in review form) is superseded by the whim of an “artist” who simply cannot take criticism.

Allow me to add a bit of context; this website to which I contribute largely makes its bread & butter from content in the indie, alternative, esoteric, and hard rock genres. So when something like this comes across my desk, it screams of someone simply fishing for free advertising, as he obviously has no prior investment with the site; otherwise, he'd KNOW that this type of "music" is not central to the site's readership.

The site's business model is also fairly simple, and predominantly beneficial to the "artist" - you pay for an ad, and you get a guaranteed review of your albums (which really is great, because it serves as two adverts for the price of one, and the choice of reviewing is no longer left to the whim of the editors/contributors - it MUST be reviewed.) What makes this particular situation even more interesting is that I am usually called upon as the "last resort" reviewer, meaning that when the editors simply cannot convince any of their other contributors to give a decent (or honest) assessment of a recording by the ad deadline, it typically falls to me to churn one out. So I'd actually love to be a fly on the wall when the publicist complains about the lack of review for this album on the site and the editors have to explain to them that there was no one on the staff who actually liked the album, and the one review that was posted, you asked to have removed.

I was going to just let it die and move on, but there was a nagging twinge in the back of my mind telling me not to allow the marketing companies to dictate personal opinions. So, without further ado, here is that review in its unedited entirety, with a short addendum as a closer, for your viewing enjoyment. For what are blogs for if not to bring some form of written pleasure?

JAY AURA – iParty (Island / Def Jam)

Throwing caution and any semblance of musical integrity to the wind, Beverly Hills “bad boy” Jay Aura somehow managed to collect some money (though he apparently turned down modeling gigs and an artist development deal), found a studio that would tolerate him (or paid the Ark Music Factory to write some “songs” for him, a la the unfortunate Internet sensation Rebecca Black). This is the most soulless, superficial excuse for an album/EP I have ever heard.

Kicking off with a “song” called “I Won’t Remember,” which is a celebration of the fine art of binge drinking on the town, I can only guess that this “artist” is the ill-fated progeny of the Jersey Shore generation – where talent, intelligence and skill are superseded by over-inflated attitude, extreme self-fulfillment, and the burning desire to acquire wealth while doing the least amount of real work.

Lyrically, Aura wields the English language as deftly as a third-grader. For example, rather than using common vernacular like “taxi cab,” he prefers to call it a “taxi car,” for the sole purpose of rhyming it with “bar” in the next line.

And like the aforementioned Black, his voice is processed and Auto-tuned to the point where on each track, he sounds like he is “singing” underwater. Even on tracks where he speaks rather than “sings,” his voice is altered like he is in the Witness Protection Program or hiding behind some superhero disguise. Go talk to some fish, Aquaman!

And if you are looking for any inspiration from the music itself, well, you can forget that, too, as the guy’s backing track is little more than regurgitated mid-1990’s house music. If you have a taste for uninspired tripe which can only serve as the soundtrack to getting drunk on a dance floor, then by all means, enjoy! This reviewer has zero tolerance for someone who dares consider himself an “artist,” yet has such vehement ignorance to what music is and the creative process.

Saddest of all, based on the evidence produced, Jay Aura is most likely one of those ego-maniacal simpletons who doesn’t care if he is being criticized or praised, he is simply satisfied that his name is being uttered at all. And simply being assigned to review this abomination, I am inadvertently feeding the beast.

If you feel you absolutely must listen to this guy’s aural nonsense, by all means, listen to it for free at his MySpace page, and do not give him the satisfaction of paying for it at iTunes! Keep this drivel underground, where it can die a harmless death.

Was I too harsh on the guy? Maybe; but between the godawful music and the mega-hype text and photos on the guys website, this guy really needed to be taken down a notch. Even if only 10 people ever see this post, it at least gave me an outlet to vent a particular frustration.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Happy Birthday John Williams - a god among movie soundtrack composers!

I want to take a moment to congratulate Mr. John Williams on his 78th birthday today (February 8) and commemorate his unbelievably dense catalogue of film music compositions.

Like many film music fans, Williams was largely responsible for my introduction and immediate adoration for movie scores. I still remember repeatedly listening to the double-vinyl Empire Strikes Back soundtrack on my “portable” record player, lying on the floor and intensely admiring the artwork on the gatefold album sleeve. From there it was on to Superman, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and before I knew it, I was collecting movie soundtracks the same way people collect baseball cards.

Williams is one of those elite composers who has the magical ability to grip a child’s imagination and hold onto it through adolescence. It is one of the many reasons that it is difficult to fling a negative comment in his direction.

Known as the man behind the music of many Hollywood blockbusters, New York-born composer John Williams is among the few artists worthy of the titles “icon” and “legend.” He studied at both University of California (Los Angeles) and Julliard, and his first scoring composition was for the 1958 film Daddy-O.

Read more of my tribute to John Williams at my Soundtracks Examiner page here!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Counting down the best Heavy Metal and Movie Soundtrack music of 2009

Now that 2009 is quickly becoming a fleeting memory, all the major media outlets are scrambling to remind the public of what it SHOULD be remembering as the best and worst of the year. Nine times out of ten, these lists are ham-fisted, shameless plugs for that which was the most popular, what is most likely to win awards, with smatterings of unknown indie releases simply to prove that the “experts” aren’t the nose-upturned snobs we know they are.

Whatever happened to culling lists because they were fun? Why not make a list of things that you genuinely like, without any kind of ulterior (or advertising-linked) motive? Ham-fisted concoctions like those you see in mainstream magazines only continue to act as ego-stroking that spoon-feeds us until we become so reliant on those “experts” to tell us what is “good” and what is not. And we ultimately forget that the “experts” are merely people with opinions…just like us.

This is why I agonize over making “best of” lists, because it only serves to express my own personal opinion. If you read any list you find online, you will undoubtedly see a string of comments of both praise and complaint – praising the writer for including some of the reader’s favorites (which was actually a coincidence), or chastising the writer for “forgetting” to include certain things or flat-out telling him/her that he/she is wrong in his/her choices and rankings.

So, with all of that weighty nonsense in mind, I have decided to offer up, to help close out the year properly, a list of 20 heavy metal and movie soundtrack/score albums (respectively) that I felt were great – be they fun, sophisticated, throat-crushing, or just straight-up earworm-y. If you don’t agree with the choices, I applaud you for not being a clone of me.

Read my Examiner feature on the best Movie Soundtracks of 2009 here!

And check out my Examiner feature on the best Heavy Metal releases of 2009 here!

Jolly day!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The new TESTAMENT! My chat with Pomo Indian and heavy metal legend, Chuck Billy!

Testament is a band that truly needs no introduction. Since the mid-1980s, the Bay Area quintet has been the unyielding flag-bearer for highly-skilled, innovative and monstrously heavy thrash metal. With a catalogue featuring ten studio albums (including the 2001 collection of re-recordings, First Strike, Still Deadly), five live albums, a string of DVDs and a host of “best of” collections, it is impossible to deny the legacy of the band.

In early 2010, Testament is hitting the road with metal titans Megadeth and Slayer for what has been dubbed The American Carnage Tour. Before heading out, we managed to score some time with Testament’s imposing front man, the charismatic Chuck Billy. Read on, as we discuss the excitement of the tour, the importance of loyalty, and the value of family. [Feature can be found here!]

Discussing the ongoing relevance of PANTERA with Revolver Magazine's Jon Wiederhorn

It has been five years since the tragic passing of Pantera guitarist and chief songwriter Darrell Abbott AKA Dimebag Darrell. Every year since his death, metal and guitar-centric magazines pay tribute to his life and accomplishments with old interview clips, new interviews with surviving members of Pantera, and even anecdotes from fans.

This year, however, Revolver Magazine has taken things a step further and devoted an entire section of its latest issue to discussing the magical, perfect storm that went into the creation of Pantera’s 1992 breakthrough album, Vulgar Display of Power. Spearheaded by senior writer Jon Wiederhorn (whose additional credits include talent coordinator and panelist for AOL Noisecreep's "Creep Show' Podcast, Noisecreep writer, freelancer for Inked and Guitar World, former editor in chief of MTV's Headbanger's Ball Blog, and ex- associate editor at Rolling Stone), the magazine painstakingly compiled new interviews with everyone imaginable who had anything to do with the inception of the album to paint a living memorial to one of heavy metal’s iconic guitar personalities.

Read on as we sit down with Wiederhorn and discuss what it was that made Dimebag and Pantera such revolutionary entities. [Feature can be found here!]

Discussing vocals on soundtracks with AVATAR and IRON MAN 2 songstress Lisbeth Scott!

Although you may not know her by name, you surely have experienced the vocal talents of Lisbeth Scott. Called upon to be the featured vocalist by many of Hollywood’s most noteworthy film music composers, Scott’s mesmerizing voice has contributed to many Hollywood blockbusters, including both Chronicles of Narnia films, the first two Shrek movies, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Munich, King Kong, The Sixth Sense, and The Passion of the Christ. She has also been featured on high-rating television series, like CSI, ER, The Tudors, and True Blood.

Currently, Scott can be heard in two films in theaters – Guy Ritchie’s revamp of Sherlock Holmes, and James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar. She is also booked to lend her voice to 2010’s Iron Man 2, and has several other opportunities on the burner. Read on, as we get to know one of the “unsung” heroines of movie soundtrack canon. [Feature can be found here!]