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Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013
After breaking records and becoming one of the biggest millennial pop stars in the world, Katy Perry's big comeback single is surprisingly safe, timid, and -- worst of all -- just plain boring.

There was a time when Katy Perry was considered a commercial disappointment, believe it or not.


Although Katy Perry’s last album, Teenage Dream, came out all the way back in 2010, it sure doesn’t feel that way, what with her media omnipresence being felt on the radio (which still plays her five chart-toppers from that disc) to film to even being a tabloid queen with her courtship and eventual breakup from comedian Russell Brand. Yet even with two #1’s already to her belt prior to the album’s release (those songs of course being “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls”), the fact that Perry’s album debuted with sales of “only” 200,000 made people think that perhaps Perry wasn’t the big-seller everyone thought she could be. Of course, her consistency is what made her last—not everyone can release an onslaught of broadly-appealing pop like that on such a regular basis, ditching the meta-qualities of Lady Gaga in favor of things much more simple and direct—and it’s that very reason why she was even able to make a film, perfume line, have fans who call themselves “KatyCats”, etc.


While promos for her new album Prism show Perry doing things like burning her iconic blue wig to showcase an artistic rebirth (echoes of George Michael, anyone?), the long-anticipated premiere of her new song “Roar” shows that, despite having just come off what may be her single finest songwriting achievement, her new track, while not an outright failure, is a surprisingly flat entry into her discography, doubly so for something that is supposed to usher in her new blockbuster album.


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Tuesday, Jul 30, 2013
Canada's humbly suave songwriter has been hard at work on the fringes of commercial success, just narrowly missing the widespread attention he so clearly deserves. But his glowing pop albums are sure to set alight the hearts of those who take a moment to listen.

Whether an old soul reveling in the sumptuous folds of a ragtime melody or a smooth, contemplative rocker with pop-perfect pitch, Royal Wood has been working a long, studious groove in Canada’s growing indie rock realm as one of the many bright, talented artists of this generation, helping to rejuvenate the once-anemic scene. Wood’s elegantly-crafted numbers walk a balance between a plush swell of jazz and the instinctive, hedonistic joy of pop with poise and precision.


His first album, 2004’s Tall Tales, was a sophisticated and smart blend of Depression-era jazz and classy indie pop. At the centre of it all was his voice; either a silky, soft croon or a powerhouse of dynamics that tested all the octaves in his range with impressive skill.  Most interesting was Wood’s accompanying look; he dressed like a 1930’s lounge singer who had stumbled into a scruffy, Adidas-conscious millennium by way of a time-warp. It wasn’t so much that Wood dressed to differentiate himself from his contemporaries – it was just that he sincerely embodied the music he made and played in an earnest and wholly human way.


Tagged as: canada, royal wood
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Tuesday, Jul 23, 2013
Bassist Jake Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra has a unique take on this much-beloved band, and takes PopMatters through the band's love of music's past, UMO's future, and the challenge of covering Otis Redding.

Jake Portrait has found himself in the middle of everything.


The Portland native has recently moved to the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, and he finds himself surprised at his new home’s place in the indie music world: the offices of Jagjaguwar Records and Captured Tracks are on his block, and musician Brad Oberhofer (of Oberhofer) is a neighbor. It’s a surprising situation for Portrait to be in, but not an unfortunate one: the musician/producer/engineer is currently having a pretty good year so far as the bassist of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the solo project-turned-band of Portrait’s friend Ruban Neilson whose new set II has become one of the most talked-about indie rock albums this year.


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Thursday, Apr 25, 2013
One of Italy's most esteemed and successful rappers, Mondo Marcio continues to broaden his musical horizons with his latest album, a stylistically-diverse effort that captures his freewheeling spirit.

His stage name translates as “Rotten World” but lately, life for Mondo Marcio has been pretty sweet. One of Italy’s top rappers, the artist has for the last decade been helping give form to a highly misunderstood genre of music in his home country and selling loads of albums in the process. A once callow teenager taken in by the world of hip-hop, he has now blossomed into a fully assured individual who works steadily to reinvent the genre through a particularly Italian perspective. Six proper albums into his career, Mondo (whose real name is Gianmarco Marcello) has now cultivated a style that incorporates everything from electronica and R&B to orchestral pop and dancehall reggae into his rumbling, bass-saturated brand of hip-hop.


Born in Milan, the 26-year-old struggled with a difficult upbringing that saw his home-life in disarray and at the mercy of Social Services. With such an inauspicious start in life, the rapper was left to fend for himself, trying to keep afloat, rather unsuccessfully, with school and the troubles of a broken family life until inspiration finally hit. With courage and a burgeoning sense of curiosity, Mondo abandoned the everyday routines of teenage life for the more dangerous and exciting turns of the music world. Adopting a stage name that would reflect the youngster’s outlook on life, Mondo quickly worked his way up, spitting rhymes and cutting tracks, honing his craft until he could manage to put together a solid collection of work to bring to the masses. After releasing a demo, which he shopped around to a number of music execs at independent labels, the young Italian soon caught the attention of those in the growing circles of the hip-hop communities in Italy. A proper debut was released in 2006 and since then, the platinum-selling artist has been churning out albums that have further carved a niche in the thriving and vibrant scene of Italian hip-hop.


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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2013
Critics' darling Lori Carson has been offering her small and devoted fanbase quiet bliss with her emotionally-textured and intimate songs over the last two decades. But just recently, Carson turned to her other love of literature. With her first novel, she delves even further into a strange and still familiar world -- one that her haunting music has often explored.

Lori Carson spent the last three decades immersed in the life of song, sketching out the details of her most personal explorations in a series of chord progressions, overdubs, and musical meters. Her music introduced the world to a highly introspective and sensitive woman who seemed to be communicating a life’s worth of trouble and joy by way of the guitar. Carson’s first effort, 1990’s Shelter, was a shy entrance into a world dominated by excessive noise; hair bands were dying out, hip-hop was just cresting in the mainstream, and British dance music had started to expand beyond the borders of the UK. Shelter was brave, in that it forced Carson into a lone confessional space with only her guitar. At the time, female singer-songwriters brandishing guitars were far and few between, and the industry hadn’t much time for young women making big confessions in very small ways. Carson’s music defied those misconceptions. Her musings may have been secretly intimate and, therefore, easily ignored, but her no-nonsense storytelling approach and convincing sway with melody and inflection ushered those who did listen into her small, private world.


Anton Fier, founder of the Golden Palominos, took notice and invited the singer to appear on two of the band’s most inventive and forward-thinking albums, This is How it Feels and Pure.  Both albums explored electronic textures in a rock-band set-up, with Carson’s breathy cooing and warm acoustic guitar giving a sensual shading to each of the seductive numbers she appeared on. Following her stint with the Palominos, Carson would return to recording solo, turning out quietly devastating works, like 1997’s Everything I Touch Runs Wild, recorded mostly in the calm privacy of her apartment. Wild, the album in which the artist was finally received with some attention outside of her cultishly small fanbase, borrowed some of the influences heard on her collaborations with the Palominos, along with some of their guest session players (most notably Bill Laswell). A string of albums would follow, exploring various reaches of folk, pop, and electronica, and Carson remained musically active whilst still keeping a low profile and on the margins of commercial success.


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