Music

Jennifer Lopez: Brave

Throw some danceable beats together, pay for a couple of recognizable samples maybe add a guest rapper or two, and voila! You have an instant J. Lo album!


Jennifer Lopez

Brave

Label: Epic
US Release Date: 2007-10-09
UK Release Date: 2007-10-15
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Every generation has its share of pop idols that are blessed with great songwriters, catchy hooks and addictive beats and not much else. Jennifer Lopez is one such idol. For almost a decade now, she’s spun off high-gloss pop albums, rife with songs that songs that sound great when you’re playing the car stereo. The fact that those songs sound great has much to do with the songwriting and more likely, the production. Lopez is not a singer of any great value, and you get the feeling that if she were not already a successful actress and dancer, no way she would have gotten a record deal and a lot of her songs would be just as good-if not better-had they been sung by someone else.

While Lopez has certainly had a successful music career, how many people out there actually go into their CD collections and pull out one of her old albums to listen to on purpose? Her music has a temporary appeal that ultimately results in quite a few copies of the Lopez catalog in used bins across the country. As someone who has owned each of her previous five English-language albums at one time or another, I can say that they’re fairly interchangeable. Her first couple of albums had a more pronounced dance/Latin influence, but everything since has had the same fairly disposable vaguely urban sound that positions her as sort of a 21st century Lisa Lisa. Throw some danceable beats together, pay for a couple of recognizable samples maybe add a guest rapper or two, and voila! You have an instant J. Lo album!

She stepped out of her comfort zone earlier this year by making a complete Latin-pop album, and the title of her newest English effort is Brave, so I assumed that this album would be a little different, perhaps more daring vocally or musically. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Brave is more of the same when it comes to Lopez. It’s danceable pop/R&B in the vein of all her previous releases. I guess you could look at that in a good way. She could have gone for the trendy sounds of a Timbaland for this album (the two have worked together before), or gone the simple but popular schoolyard-anthem route favored by Gwen Stefani or Fergie. However, not a lot on this album sticks to the ribs. Lopez’s singing is as bland as ever, and the production doesn’t really pop in the way that previous hit singles like “Waiting For Tonight” and “Get Right” did. While there are a few bright moments interspersed through the album, this might be the weakest effort of Lopez’s career, and that’s saying quite a bit when you consider that 2002’s This Is Me…Then is the only one of her efforts that’s slightly better than average.

In an era when producers like 9th Wonder, Kanye West and Just Blaze are doing new and inventive things with samples, it’s sort of sad to see Lopez still relying on Puffy-style beat jacking for many of the songs on her new album. The first single “Do It Well” pilfers Eddie Kendricks’ over-sampled “Keep on Truckin’”, the intriguingly titled “Hold It Don’t Drop It” lifts sizable chunks from the Tavares disco classic “It Only Takes a Minute”, and “Gotta Be There” swipes it’s title from a Motown-era Michael Jackson classic while also borrowing a good amount from another MJ oldie, “I Wanna Be Where You Are”. So much so that it can almost be considered a duet. If you like this song, it makes better sense to just listen to the original. And this is actually one of the album’s better tracks.

Brave reaches beyond only mediocrity twice over the course of it’s 40 minutes. The opening track “Stay Together” is a peppy throwback dance tune. It could’ve easily been a hit during the late ‘80s/early ‘90s heyday of dance-pop, when acts like The Cover Girls and Seduction were the rage. Oddly, the album’s other standout track is the piano-spiked ballad “Wrong When You’re Gone”. The pretty melody and catchy hook combine to lift this track above the generic remainder of the album.

I’d imagine that you know what to expect if you’re picking up a Jennifer Lopez album, and Brave doesn’t deviate much from her typical pattern. Her thin voice (which sounds more computer-processed than usual on this album) doesn’t have much in the way of character, leaving the song to rise and fall based on their amount of musical ear candy. Lyrically, you’re not getting much beyond the typical love song (the rock-etched “Mile in These Shoes” can be classified as semi-autobiographical and completely embarrassing), and there’s not even an interesting guest appearance to be had (Ludacris, the album’s only guest performer, obviously had a paycheck and only a paycheck on his mind when he phoned in a rhyme on “Do It Well”’s remix). Great pop artists, think Madonna, Janet or even Christina and Justin, have enough personality to elevate their music past the level of fluff, and when that fails them, they get saved by ace production. Brave has neither a strong artistic personality nor boffo production, and as a result, ends up being just another disposable pop record with no redeeming value.

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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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