Music

The-Dream: Love vs. Money

Although perhaps the most album-like R&B album in recent memory, typical R&B pitfalls bring Love vs. Money down from the excellence The-Dream has proven capable of producing.


The-Dream

Love vs. Money

Contributors: Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Lil Jon
Label: Radio Killa
US Release Date: 2009-03-10
UK Release Date: Available as import
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The difference between an album and a collection of songs is subtle, but very important to the listener's experience. Broadly generalizing, most pop albums will seem more like a collection of songs, but usually, the best ones actually make sense as an album, either through concept or sound. Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak certainly had a particular concept and sound around it, and while some people hated the Autotune, no one could deny that it was his most focused album yet. For The-Dream, Love vs. Money is a chance to display his full songwriting chops, but he does it in a way that questions the role of album in a pop culture so centered around singles. In the last two years, he has produced or co-produced some of the biggest pop songs of the decade, including Rihanna's “Umbrella” and Beyonce's “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It). Both of these songs have a particular musicality about them missing from a lot of pop music, and they stand out even in the respective artists' catalogues.

Arguably one of biggest songwriters in pop music right now, The-Dream's second solo album has high expectations riding on it. Instead of a feature-loaded album of radio-ready singles, Love vs. Money has elements of a more cohesive album running through it. Still, it hardly reinvents the wheel. The-Dream himself stated in an interview with DJbooth.net, “This album's gonna be the same thing -- a little more beefed up, I'm just gonna give you more.” Love vs. Money is just that -- an R&B pop album with great production, composition, and lyricism.

It seems as if The-Dream wants to get all the singles and features out of the way before the real album begins. The first three songs, including lackluster lead single “Rockin' That Thang”, are decidedly more poppy than anything else on the album. “Walkin' on the Moon” features Kanye West in one of his more hopeful appearances to date, as it appears that he has grown out of his auto-tune phase and returned to his old rapping style. “My Love” takes the slow jam feel of “Rockin' That Shit” and puts Mariah Carey over it. Naturally, it is the second single off the album. “Walkin' on the Moon” will be the third. In comparison to the rest of the album, these three seem like quick writes for The-Dream that just fill up space.

The album truly reaches its high point at “Take You Home 2 My Mama”, where the record enters a strain of four songs that flow unlike any R&B LP before it. Beginning with an uptempo (really midtempo, but in context one of the fastest songs on the album) song not too far removed from “Umbrella” or Usher's “Moving Mountains”, both of which he produced, it is truly a suite of R&B that quickly covers all of the ranges that R&B can cover. “Love vs. Money”, an eight-and-a-half minute epic split into two parts, reflects on a past relationship based entirely on money, juxtaposing it with the girl's current relationship, which is much deeper than his. Part two suddenly turns angrier, flipping the tables on the money issue and essentially characterizing the same girl as a gold digger. This two-part song is easily the best lyrical moment on the album and proves that pop music can go beyond a song-by-song structure.

“Fancy” finishes off the four-song suite with a more meditative love song, different from the energy of “Take You Home 2 My Mama” and the depression and anger of “Love vs. Money". At six minutes and 30 seconds, it continues along the much more grandiose path of the album. Lyrically, the song takes a stab at another aspect of the relationship between love and money, telling more of a rags-to-riches story. After so many different aspects on this issue, it is hard to define where The-Dream gets his inspiration, and the album seems slightly unfocused for such a cohesive album in strictly musical terms.

Aside from this four-song suite, however, the rest of the album is basic, boring R&B. “Mr. Yeah” is the token masochistic song showing off swagger; unfortunately, this is one of The-Dream's most insincere songs, complete with the repeated catchphrase, “Cupid ain't got shit on me”. It makes even less sense after he admits in “Put It Down” that he cannot sing as well as Usher or dance as well as Chris Brown. The melodies, beats, and tempos of the songs all begin to sound similar by the end of the album, thus further downplaying the less intense, emotional songs surrounding the aforementioned four-song suite.

While consistently produced well and composed with remarkable flow, The-Dream's sophomore album falls into many of the natural pitfalls of modern R&B music. Cliché love songs, too many similar beats and melodies, and a lack of energy all pull the album down, and when the album is composed in a way that should be fully appreciated in its entirety, the lack of variety affect the album's success even more. Still, the amount of thought and effort put into the composition deserves acknowledgment, as no other R&B album in recent memory has achieved anything close to the level of cohesion the album provides after its singles.

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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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