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Monday, September 24, 2012

Elle Varner's "Perfectly Imperfect"

Elle Varner’s “Perfectly Imperfect” album released on August 3rd, 2012.  She’s no where near “new” to music at all.  Both of her parents are songwriters and she actually often accompanied her parents to recording studios for sessions.  She even divulged that at a young age, her parents would even ask her opinions and suggestions on their music.  Visit her website at  Elle Varner was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the outskirts of the LA.  She attended Amazing Grace Conservatory, Hamilton High School under the Academy of Music and even received a spot in New York University’s Clive Davis Program of Recorded Music.  So understand, there’s no rookie behind “Perfectly Imperfect”, just a pearl gracefully leaving the mollusk to shine.

We all are familiar with “Only Wanna Give it To You”, her first single featuring J. Cole.  She actually started writing the song as a teenager and it’s one of her most loved hits from the album.  The clever lyrics switch from her potential interest in a guy to her obsession with shoes.  Her ability to grasp a concept and take each piece of the concept apart to create something catchy is also exhibited in her second single “Refill”. 

Her newest single release is “I Don’t Care”, paired with the video to the right. Her video shows unlikely couples, their love, and their obvious struggles.  Once again, Varner keeps substance in her music with great lyrics and composition, and reels us in for the kill with awesome melodies in her hooks. 

Her more soul-esque tracks include Not Tonight, Welcome Home, Sound Proof Room which all show off her range and skill.   

The percussion and strings in “Oh What a Night” is sick alone without her skilled vocals, and it definitely has potential to be a radio single. Speaking of strings, “Damn Good Friends” is just Elle and guitars in ¾ time.  She definitely pushes the limits and goes for what is different, yet beautiful.

“Stop the Clock” slows the album back down and utilizes awesome chords throughout the song, and the track “ticks” like a clock during her verses.  What more could you ask for?

The last and my personal favorite is “So Fly”.  This track discusses our society’s idea of outer and inner beauty.  It reminds me of TLC’s “Unpretty”.  The substance of this track overpowers the melody and the background. It’s awesome that she picked such a mellow accompaniment for a song with such a strong message and it will no doubt speak to the hearts of younger girls today. 

“Perfectly Imperfect” is a great album, with “radio” tracks to vibe to, rhythm and blues tracks to relate to, and just plain good music to hold on to. Elle Varner’s album can be purchased for $7.99 on iTunes and $6.99 on Amazon


Elle Varner's Perfectly Imperfect

Elle Varner released her new album "Perfectly Imperfect" on August 7, 2012. Album review coming soon!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Unoriginal or Extremely Limited?

     It seems like every time you turn on your tv, listen to the radio, or even hear your favorite artist’s new album, something in their song sounds strikingly familiar to you. Have you heard the song before? Is your favorite artist unoriginal or is it possible the artist is actually just musically limited?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – Bert Lance

     We live in a time where instant gratification rules every single aspect of our livelihood. In addition, Western music (the music our culture is accustomed to) is based on seven notes in the diatonic scale. That means we essentially have twelve notes to work with in music. This means possibilities for melodic composition are broad (this does not even consider chords, progression, texture, instrumentation etc.).  But what we do not take into consideration is our tendency to want to listen to the AABA and verse/chorus/bridge song form.  AABA is one of the most common song forms according to, and it is most used in pop, gospel and jazz music.

     If song forms and other traditional processes to create music create great music, why steer away from it (besides to be an innovator or evolutionary artist, which sometimes doesn't create the biggest fan base)? Simply put, we live in a society that wants its artists to push out music now and to do so often (because of instant gratification i.e. the microwave age).  The fans value simple melodies just as much as they value the painstakingly difficult melodies, harmonies and chord progressions. So why would an artist want their music to go unappreciated when they spent so much time on the complex melodies and instrumentation? No artist wants to go on unappreciated. Prince spoke on this issue and gave his honest opinion. He said "I personally can't stand digital music. You're getting sound in bits. It affects a different place in your brain. When you play it back, you can't feel anything. We're analogue people, not digital". Prince has since stopped releasing his recorded music because it will only profit “Apple and Google” in his opinion (from A great example of the “analogue” sound Prince speaks of is Morris Day and The Time (a band Prince worked often with in the 1970s and 1980s). Here's their song “Walk”.  The riffs and intricacies of every instrument truly created a great track and you can hear a very different sound in this music and the music we buy today.


     Sampling is too often said to be unoriginal most often by people who value the music sampled.  Many baby boomers hear songs like “We are the Champions” by the Diplomats, “Otis” by Jay Z and Kanye West, “Music” by Erick Sermon, or “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey and feel as though music artists today have no originality. (These examples include samples from Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Tom Tom Club, and Queen.) In reality, many artists sample because they respect the music/artist sampled or they want to pay homage.  If all a rapper heard blasting in his mom’s house as a kid was Marvin Gaye, those memories are forever imprinted in that rapper's mind.  They hold that music close to their heart.  It reminds them of family, of childhood, and of good times.  Believe it or not, music artists and producers do endure a lengthy process to “clear” a song for creative use according to

     In all honesty, the instances of similarity amongst popular music today are numerous because we collectively have allowed them to be.  If we praise and buy the albums of artists who use a four chord progression in every song, other artists may feel our culture does not want to hear complex music. So they “give the people want they want” so to speak. Maybe it is a never ending cycle. 
Bottom line is music should evoke feelings.  As long as it does, people will listen, regardless of its complexity, its writer, its recording quality, etc.  To end lightheartedly, get lost in the Axis of Awesome’s music video on pop music’s common four chord progression: I V vi IV.

check out Axis of Awesome here!

The Alter Ego of the True Artist

“Hip-hop avoids extinction by reinventing itself and challenging convention”.“Eminem primarily uses his alter-ego Slim Shady to manufacture this aura (a credible and indestructible aura).  Slim Shady is someone inaccessible and elusive, someone highly valued but who is also both deceptive and untouchable” according to this scholarly paper. Marcia Dawkins proceeds to conclude that Eminem has created success for himself by using an alter-ego.  “At times that call for serious and contemplative biographical speech aimed at white males, he refers to himself by his birth name, Marshall Mathers.  At times when he negates or excludes hip-hop Others (e.g., homosexuals, women, himself, and other white men) he invokes humor and horror, often dresses in drag, and always inhabits his alter-ego pop persona of Slim Shady. In battle raps, hip-hop’s traditional rhetorical situations in which he struggles for street credibility and is the Other, he refers to himself as Eminem". This gives Eminem multiple dimensions and maybe even allows for different types of people to relate to him on different levels, therefore creating increased potential for success and record sales.
Many of you might be thinking “this sounds extremely familiar”.  Nicki Minaj seems to have successfully mastered this concept of alter-egos with her rap career as well.  Cookie, Nicki Minaj, Nicki the Harajuku Barbie, and Roman Zolanski, her twin brother, are all alter-egos that the megastar has discussed in countless interviews.  These many alter-egos have allowed for her to reach various audiences in the market from teenage girls (Barbie) to middle-aged men.  What a great way to create a group of people (boy/girl band) without having to share royalty checks with them all and later declare bankruptcy after major label advances need to be repaid.
 Lady Gaga has been said to appear as Jo Calderone as her alter-ego.  Many have guessed Bob Dylan or Bob Geldof, but her true alter-ego is said to be French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg according to this article. This individual brands himself often with “the cigarette, unkempt hair, stubble, and sideburns”. This performer often pushed the envelope much like Gaga. International Business Times goes on further to describe a life very similar to Gaga’s for Gainsbourg, where he worked at a bar before he recorded his first debut in 1958.  It took 10 years for him to top charts and be recognized for his art.  If anyone has read up on Gaga’s story, they would find out that she too worked in a bar before being discovered. So we can see why Lady Gaga would choose such a fitting alter-ego to portray. 
Let’s not forget the most popular alter-ego of today’s music, Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce.  Sasha Fierce was created by Beyonce and is said to be her persona while on stage, especially after her last World Tour in 2009.  Sasha Fierce was created to protect the “real Beyonce” while at work.  This is much different from Mariah Carey’s emancipation of Mimi, also discussed in this article, which was created to release the “real Mariah Carey”, the fun side of Mariah Carey. 
Whatever the purpose of the alter-ego, it almost always seems to help the career of the individual "temporarily altered".  Spectators can't seem to get enough of entertainers who claim to house an alter-ego, always looking to sneak a peak of it unexpectedly. Even recently, Adele has revealed her Beyonce-inspired alter ego, Sasha Carter. We all know that Adele needs no help in her career at the moment, but one article says she uses hers to psych herself up right before her shows. Maybe in order tap into an incredible artist within you, a transformation must knowingly take place.  Whether or not it is an alter-ego does not matter; Michael Jackson was one of the greatest entertainers on Earth, but he didn’t have to coin himself an alter-ego for people to understand, we just knew that Michael onstage was different from Michael off the stage