Music

Jennifer Lopez: A.K.A.

Jennifer Lopez has lost her steam since Rebirth. On her eighth album, she's never sounded so boring or flimsy.


Jennifer Lopez

A.K.A.

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2014-06-13
UK Release Date: 2014-06-16
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"You don’t know me now / oh you don’t know me now" is the last line you hear in the chorus of the title track for Jennifer Lopez’s album A.K.A. And that’s really the irony: Jennifer Lopez (or JLo if you prefer) has always bared herself so much it’s impossible not to know who she is. The singer, actor, and American Idol judge seems to know exactly what to do in order to cater to everybody. She’s somehow managed to be a Latin superstar without really sticking to musical sounds and genres that her ex-husband, Marc Antony, embrace. It’s been great for her career, with many people even deciding to dub her a pioneer of Latin stars crossing over to pop, hip-hop, and R&B. I mean, who would dub hits like "Jenny From the Block" and "Get Right" Latin hits? Exactly.

However, this creative peak for Jennifer seemed to fade dramatically when she decided to make the brief, yet horrendous change to Latin music. We all remember the album nobody bought. Since then, she’s had a really hard time reaching the heights she last achieved on Rebirth. There may have been fleeting moments of her return: the major hit "On the Floor" and her recent performance on the World Cup Ceremony may launch her back into the spotlight, but album sales do not lie. None of her albums, starting with Brave, have managed to go platinum in the States, let alone do better anywhere else. And who can forget the fact that she sold about 33,000 copies of this album?

This is why I feel sorry for her, because she pushes some boundaries on this album, the main one being her voice. We know she isn’t Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson, but she’s always managed to sound bearable. However, someone must have nudged her to take some singing lessons because she is trying to push her vocal limits, although they show every time she decides to give it her all. Take, for example, the Latin-inspired ballad "Let It Be Me". The lyrics may be rather cheesy and there may not be a big finish, but you must applaud her vocal delivery, which easily counts as some of her best to date, although I picture Toni Braxton singing this with much more poise.

There are actual moments of brilliance due to the fact that she pushes herself vocally. The fact that the production is almost bare helps display her vocals even more, with nothing but a few sweeping strings and a Fruity-Loops sounding (yes, that’s not a typo) Spanish guitar running through it. But it isn’t the only ballad on the album, which is a complete shame because it’s the only ballad that does her justice. "Never Satisfied" is completely and utterly terrible for several reasons. First of all, everyone can tell this is a Rihanna demo. Even if it isn’t, I can only picture Rihanna having a hit with this. Plus, Lopez cannot seem to pull off needy very well. Rather she sounds contrived, even annoyed.

"Emotions" doesn’t sound any better, and it showcases Jennifer Lopez needing Auto-Tune badly. After hearing her barely singing the lower notes correctly or in time and then coming across lyrics like this ("Someone took my emotions / I feel good ‘cos I / Don’t feel bad"), I practically gave up on this track twice before hearing it through. And then I came across the production, which then reminded me of the point I made earlier about songs like these being demos for a certain someone. Do you need three guesses? The worst of the ballads features Auto-Tune and Rick Ross. He clearly sounds more interested than she is. And as for the Auto-Tune nobody should be surprised. The lyrics sound like they were written by a 15-year-old ("Im’ma always hold it down for ya / Look at how I move around for ya") and the production is typical hip-hop fodder trying to sound haunting.

The mid-tempo and dance tracks are a slightly better fare, although they don’t hold out much hope either. "Acting Like That: sees JLo outshined by Iggy Azalea. JLo’s delivery is rather spare. While she sounds perfectly fine she never exudes sexy or confident. On the other hand, Iggy seems a lot more comfortable on the track. The title track doesn’t disappoint, with Jennifer presenting a dubstep-lite track that sees her team up with T.I. He doesn’t impress as much as he annoys, but he still delivers a solid verse. Miss Lopez doesn’t ever try to outdo him, but she has enough fun on the track and makes it an easy one to karaoke along to.

The best song on the album, though, has to be "First Love". She happens to strike gold with a track that sounds like an updated demo of a hit made for Britney Spears. That doesn’t mean Jenny fails to put her own stamp on the track. She makes it her own and sounds alive for the first time in a long time. Had this been 15 years ago, this would’ve been a huge hit. Now, it just sounds like a song pulled from a greatest hits album. The ‘JLo’ stamp doesn’t last long, as she’s declaring her love for her Papi with French Montana on a track that doesn’t do justice for either. Montana clearly runs out of steam within the first 20 seconds of popping up on the track and Jennifer sounds like she’s trying too hard. To make matters worse, the production is clunky and it makes me think that the song was intended for another singer (Think Lumidee, if you remember her.)

The last song on the album, "Booty" inspires very little hope that she will ever get out of the I-must-stop-teaming-up-with-Pitbull phase of her career. As usual, she doesn’t have the edginess to pull the vocals off, but Pitbull adds any flavour Jennifer should have injected. He may come up with anything new, but it at least helps the production, which is some of the best production on the album due to Diplo’s hand in it. It’s dance-ability helps lift JLo’s lackluster and plain vocals.

All in all, the album is far from solid. Rather it’s a bunch of recycled ideas abandoned by other artists that have found their way to Jennifer Lopez. It’s not a great album at all, even by her standards. And no, they have never been very high. The main issue isn’t her voice or her choice of collaborators. It’s the simply the end result. Fifteen years into their careers, Mariah Carey and Madonna both released albums that gave them a bonafide hit as well as a multi-platinum selling album. I won’t deny that JLo can achieve an album of that level, but if this is what her fans get after supporting her for 15 years, she’ll be facing the same predicament that Britney faced with Britney Jean: a poor album due to poor production and song writing, poor sales and poor vocal delivery. Jennifer Lopez may have done a Britney and released a strong contender for the worst pop album of the year.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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