Archive for the ‘Culture and Style’ Category

Musicians With Style: Justin Timberlake


Justin Timberlake is a man who has seemed to beat the odds of his childhood success to become a well respected actor, musician and even SNL funny man.

The guy is also just plain likable. You also can’t doubt that he knows how to dress, too.  If you’re stuck in the 90’s you may still be haunted by his bleach blond curls or even his dreaded corn row phase that we all have thankfully forgotten. For a walk down memory lane, click here. Though, his former fashion horrors just prove that there is hope out there for us all someday.

But fast forward to 2011–if you’ve been culturally aware as of late, you may be aware of his chic street style as well as his classy get ups that he sports at red carpet events.

Look #1: Casual

This past year or so cardigans have been very much in style so it was no surprise to see Timberlake pulling them off fairly dapperly. Cardigans are extremely versatile. You can pair them with a t-shirt and jeans for a casual street look, or even pair them with a button down and tie for a more formal setting.

Just be sure that the wash and style of denim works well with the cardigan and shirt. Match your colors well–a lot of guys (myself included) are guilty of forgetting the importance of denim shade and how it flows with the rest of your attire.

Look #2: Semi-Casual

I’m kind of cheating on the next one. It’s not really his style, but the style of one of his characters.

In the film Bad Teacher, Timberlake goes for this geek chic type look. A look that seems to make it’s focal point around the eye glasses (another great accessory, this same style tactic is also used by his character in Social Network.)

Along with glasses you also find bright colored ties, and either light colored blazers or again–light colored cardigans.

What makes the characters dress so memorable are, again, the glasses. Glasses certainly can be used for fashion and to add a hint of sophistication–I guess it’s right–glasses do make folks look smarter.

Pair glasses with a more “fancy” out fit and it certainly makes it a bit more classy. Also take note of the color scheme–light plaid ties with light colored shirts blend with perfection.










Justin Timberlake Semi Casual



Look #3: Semi-Formal

The vest seems to be a tricky topic–but I say go for it.
It was in with the kids for a while but just like fedoras, vests started turning into a novelty ware more than great style pieces.

However, if done correctly, vests can still be a great addition to a shirt and tie or even just a button down sans the tie.

Timberlake has been known to pair vests with slacks as well as jeans–I’m more of a purist though, so I’d recommend pairing them with slacks for a vintage yet classy look.

Also wear them with a pair of rimmed glasses to up the sophistication of the whole piece.

Lately we have seen a resurgence of 3 piece suits, skinny ties, and vests. Trends such as this seem to be riding off of the success of TV shows such as Mad Men, but also because that whole look is just timeless.

You can’t go wrong with some basic mens formal or cocktail ware, although a lot of pulling it off is about fit, the ingredients of it are fairly simple.
Just pair together a good collared shirt and solid colored tie, or vest and you’ve nailed it.
Classy is in these days. Especially for a soon to be college grad like myself.



Frank Ocean, There Will Be Tears

Dear Vocal Effects,

It’s been a while.

You were used well by Peter Frampton in Do You Feel Like I Do a good 30 years ago but ever since then you kind of turned into a novelty–and then T-Pain showed up and all this drama happened, just..take my word for’ve seen better days. You’re washed up.

You’re either over used or used incorrectly.

Hey now..

Oh c’mon, don’t be sad, Vocal Effects.  I actually have some good news!  You were fantastic on the Frank Ocean track There Will Be Tears.

I don’t know what it is, but the muffled electronica intertwined with Mr. Hudson’s crooning, swooning, british flavor is perfection to my ear drums.

Hudson lays down an amazing introduction sampled from Straight No Chaser and then Ocean hits us with his narrative singing and emotional lyrics. The song tells the story of Oceans dead beat and absent dad and his “player” grandfather who ending up leaving him as well–but this time due to death rather than lack of parenting.

Ocean then goes on to sing about how both his friends and society tell him that he shouldn’t cry and be sad–especially when their folks have abandoned them too–but Ocean counteracts their comments with a simple, “yeah, yeah I can.”

The track is short, sweet and powerful.

It contains great content and a perfectly placed sample of Mr. Hudson’s Straight No Chaser. The Hudson/Ocean collaboration is reminiscent of the 2000 Eminem/Dido collaboration where Eminem sampled Dido’s Thank You in his track Stan.

The similarities arise in the unique voices of both Dido and Hudson, as well as how the samples were used–sparsely, effectively but also hauntingly.

And while speaking on the production–the effects in the track are used at all the right places and all the right sections. Not just in There Will Be Tears but throughout Oceans entire album.

So Vocal Effects, take note of how you were used in this piece know.. do that more often. You can also forward this letter to Lyrics, Song Structure and Production.

They could probably take some pointers from this track too.



Image Courtesy of Planet Ill.

Great Albums: Sam Cooke, Live at The Harlem Square Club (1963)

In a recent post I spoke of Little Richard and the reasons why he was so successful in his career. I made the observation that Richard was performing in a time where segregation was prominent even in the music charts–black performers generally had to work a bit harder to break racial norms. Richard compensated by putting out a product that was wild and innovative. Due to his “struggle” to be known in the industry, you can sense Richards emotion and passion in his early work.

Just as Little Richard is deemed the father of rock and roll, there is this guy by the name of Sam Cooke who is deemed the creator and innovator of soul music.

During the 1960’s it was very common for record labels to find gospel singers and give them a “fast beat r&b style” a style that slowly grew into soul music and roots rock & roll. Cooke was no different–he started off in a gospel group called The Soul Stirrers, but quickly took off as a solo artist. He put out extremely successful tracks such as Twisting The Night Away, Wonderful World, Having A Party and the passion filled Bring It On Home To Me. (Shown above). 

Tragically, Cooke  left the world too soon at the age of 33 after a controversial shooting at a motel–leaving behind a wife and son–but he also left behind a musical legacy and one of the best albums of all time–Live At Harlem Square Club. An album that had made Rolling Stones “100 Best Records of All Time” as well as “500 Albums to Listen to Before you Die.”  The album was made just a year before he was killed, the album serves as a time capsule for Cooke’s life and legacy, but also as a time capsule for music and live performances in the 1960’s.

Immediately a few things inspire me about the album, one being the amazing sound quality for a 1963 live recording–a time where recording techniques were rather simple and tweaking any mistakes was impossible–you only had one take.

Also, I was extremely impressed with the audience–in a lot of ways–the audience makes the album due to being incredibly interactive to the point where it adds to the song.

The crowd shouting and responding to Cooke’s lines and ad libs adds mounds to the performace:

Cooke: “..and as soon as I hear my baby saying hello.”
Crowd: HELLO!

Moments like this give the album a raw, live feeling that is lost in even some modern live albums today.

I attribute the crowd’s enthusiasm to a few things.

One being that performances like this were fairly new, they were exciting! The crowd was genuinely excited to be there listening to Sam Cooke so they sang along loud and proud when Sam asked them too. Another, more importantly, is that the concert was at The Harlem Square Club–an all black club in the 1960’s in the heart of the civil rights movement.

The crowd wasn’t just proud to be there but they were proud that they had a place to call their own in a time of civil unrest. They had a place where they could be themselves, and music to call their own. They weren’t embarrassed to sing and dance, this was a rare time where they could meet together and just let loose.

Cookes singing on this album is phenomenal. As I said before, it was live so it was done in one take with no tweaking–even some of his recorded stuff is slower with added violins and cello–but here he does each song with showmanship and enthusiasm.

He was a tremendous talent, but what makes the songs even more unique are his introductions–his singing and talking over drum rolls and bass lines prior to the songs gives it more of a story feel. His conversing with the crowd beforehand is off the cuff and raw–also his amusing ad libs give each song unique character. You can tell he is having fun.

Things such as:

“And I’ll be carrying a big ole suitcase”  “Can ya’ll just imagine me lugging one of those things around? Look at me! Ha!”

“And I’m sick, so sick.” “But it ain’t that leukemia though, I ain’t sick with that.” 

These lines plus his signature laugh “Ha Ha Ha” that he encoporate in his songs–make them a conversation. Cooke is communicating with the audience rather than singing to them–it’s wonderful.

On the original version the song order is done with perfection.

The performance tells a story–on songs like Cupid  and It’s All Right he tells the crowd what to do if your girl is rumored to be messing around on you–telling the men not to beat up on your woman but to go home and whisper in her ear that it’ll be alright as long as they love you.

On Have Mercy he starts to feel the effects of his run-around girl and is begging someone to have mercy on him during his time of trouble, and then Bring It On Home To Me he tells his woman, “I don’t care who you were with baby, but just bring it to me..bring it on home to me.”

Ultimately the album ends with Having A Party where he tells his audience as the song fades to “remember to have a party where ever you’re going or where ever you’re at.”

Cooke is a master story teller, he builds up his songs and sings them as though he were telling us a story–they have continuity, emotion, and soul. It’s an experience in its own right and words don’t do justice to the feeling of the album. So find it and give it a spin. The music is great and sets the bar for future soul, rock and r&b legends such as James Brown, Stevie Wonder, even Al Green and Marvin Gaye were inspired by Cooke’s music.

Though, Live at Harlem Square Club is one of the most influential albums not solely due to it’s style and innovation–but because of the emotion felt within it. As I mentioned before, during the 1960’s black artists had to over come racially segregated music charts amongst hundreds of other things.

The album is the start of a movement, it’s a bunch of like-minded people in a club enjoying something that they can call their own. Each track oozes with something lost in current music today–creation, freedom and pride–pride that you’re performing and taking part in something that cannot be stolen from you or segregated.

Get into this album, it’s a piece of history.

Image Courtesy of RCA

Frank Ocean- Novacane

Since they both appeared at the same time, it’s natural to compare The Weeknd and Frank Ocean.

Especially since they are both R&B inspired and both sing about similar content–drugs and sex. However, there are nuances that make them far different.

Weeknd seems to fully embrace their high and their deviant behavior–they are aware that it’s a coping mechanism but they enjoy it, and are okay with being the sleazy drug pushers at the party.

Where as Ocean is the cat that seems to be high but doesn’t want to be. He sings songs about all the things he wants to do once the high finally wears off–he mentally takes note of them–he seems to dislike his drug filled ways. His tracks are very introspective and deeper than face value–I dig that.

Novacane is a love story of sorts. He meets a girl at Coachella who came to see the mash up artist Z Trip, while he was there to see Jay Z. The girl is working her way through dental school by doing porn on the side, atleast she’s working, quips Ocean. Her drug of choice is novacane, which in turn numbs Ocean, but not only physically but emotionally too.

“… love me good, love me numb, but when I’m gone love me none.”

The “numbing” of the drugs is, in fact, clever word play.

Not only is he physically numb from the drugs but the song is about the emotional numbing that drugs and societal ideals can have on people.

He takes a hit of novacane from this random girl at Coachella and all of a sudden he is okay that she is a mash up fan who does porn on the side, because hey “at least she’s working”. Completely non-chalant and apathetic.

Through out the track Ocean talks himself into liking the girl, and he justifies his behavior–he is numb to reality and he is numb to his true feelings about her. Drugs and society have made him callous to feeling and even worse–detached to personal interaction.

The intro of the song discusses how every track is auto-tuned with zero emotions, “they are computing all emotions”— he paints this picture of everyone being desensitized. He blames the “numbness” on the girl who introduced him to novacane– the numbness being physical and emotional–but I think it’s deeper than just that.

The girl represents the appeal of sex and becoming famous and after taking a “hit off of fame” Ocean is numb to everything.

He is robotic and only wants more “worldly” things to keep him going, striving for these things has made normalcy near impossible–girls have become conquests rather than people, and life has become stagnant and emotionless.

Ocean is saying that the things society has labeled important, things such as fame, drugs and sex, are taking away from true relationships.

Ocean is subtly urging us to not become numb, and to be alive to feeling and alert to the people that come into our lives.

Not bad, Mr. Ocean, not bad.

Novacane is a simple melody that’s very vocal based, and vanishes abruptly upon the end. The power of the track comes from the small nuances, the quips here and there and it’s lyrical content–a song about drugs– but also one of the most realistic songs about personal interaction on the radio right now.

Check it out, and keep your eye on Frank Ocean for great stuff in the future.

Image Courtesy: Sweet Lyrics

Band to Check Out: The Weeknd

I am trying to find the words to describe the various movements going on in music today–movements such as electronica, low-fi and dubstep.

Words, I can’t find but what I find interesting is that even thought these genres stand tall in their own right, musicians are still out there improving upon them–artists still mix genres and styles to create something unique that they can call their own.

The Weeknd is a toronto based R&B singer who wonderfully incorporates lowfi backtracks and subtle electronics to his songs that give them a very surreal and intimate feeling–traits that you want to find in an R&B track.

His tracks have that home-grown feelings that appeals not only to R&B fans but to indie fans as well. So, if you thought indie music was only for hipsters and folks who drink PBR you were surely mistaken. Indie simply means homegrown, self created–a style that promotes expression and freedom. That being said “underground”, indie music and the internet music community seems to be embracing this indie R&B style. Artists are emerging such as The Weeknd who have this very unique R&B meets electronica feel to them. (See also Frank Ocean and How To Dress Well).

R&B is notorious for being a narrative style art, an art that includes great melodies but also great stories–and Weeknd surely has that on tap.

Weeknds break out mixtape House of Balloons, that was endorsed by musicians such as Drake, was a surefire hit. The group has a knack for creating atmosphere for every track–and that atmosphere seems to be a spaced out, drug induced atmosphere where the singer is in a perpetual spiral and isn’t sure if he hates it or loves it–but he clings to it–he identifies with it.

As you listen to the mix tape you can envision a post-party atmosphere, a hazy environment–the singer wakes up off the floor surrounded by half dead strangers and empty beer bottles–coke residue still on the glass coffee table–he is unsure about his life and seems to regret his choices but it’s all that he knows, so he keeps living this lifestyle.

The mix tape is straight out of a 1980’s Bret Easton Ellis novel. Ellis often wrote about the cocaine trends in the 80’s, he would watch his friends become ghosts at high profile parties and watch them struggle to find themselves the following morning–trying to remember who they were amidst the post party downfall, crawling hung over and crashing from the drugs.

Such a similar atmosphere is found in Weeknds tracks. Songs like Glass Table Girls are clearly about coke, while other tracks are about break ups, mistakes, and using sex and drugs as a means of numbing inner turmoils.

Weeknds song content is raw–it’s real–and it’s powerful.

Even the track names tell a story–with names such as Coming Down and The Party and After Party. The whole mix tape reads like a novel–the singer is telling you of his escapades, his regretful party nights, and his terrifying drug experiences.

What makes their content successful isn’t just the narrative lyrics–but also the instrumental tracks and production styles.  Weekends instrumentals create this “open space” and this space puts the emphasis on the emotive vocals and lyrics. You get this “space” via reverb, echo effects, and soft electronic that’s mixed with traditional r&b sounds. It becomes a surreal and intimate experience that instantly draws you in, whether you like it or not.

One track getting a lot of attention right now is Wicked Games, a song about the singer leaving his girl–and drowning his confusion, sorrow, and guilt with drugs and sex.

Deep down he knows what he did wasn’t right–his girl didn’t do a thing wrong–but he left her, and he will dabble in drugs and promiscuity to keep himself from thinking of the wrongs he has committed. At one point in the song he is begging a stripper  to tell him that she loves him–even if she doesn’t–he just needs her to justify his behavior..his flawed thought process.

He is singing that he needs “off of this”off of this life, off of this downward spiral, but in the same breath, he needs all of it too. He needs all of it to keep his sanity, and to keep his mind from veering off into the reality that he keeps hidden by the drug abuse and sex.

So, that being said, he accepts the high of this lifestyle fully and remains in this state in order to escape his flawed reality.

..told you it was intense.

Listening to a track by The Weeknd  you learn more about the singer, and listening to the mix tape is like reading a novel–you get to know the singer through and through, and you actually start to feel for the guy–even if he seems to enjoy the downward spiral.

So enjoy the current R&B trend. Check out The Weeknds Wicked Games or download the free mix tape from their website here.

It can get intense, but it’s surely something fresh and something that you can’t help but appreciate.

Image courtesy of The Weeknd

New Video: Bright Eyes-Jejune Stars


Ah, Bright Eyes.

One of the groups that solidified my interest for the music industry–as well as a group that reminded the world that songwriting is still a well crafted, artistic entity.

With Conor Obersts amazing lyrics, their “home feel” concerts, and everything else with comes with the..dare I say it..legendary group–makes them a mainstay in the heart of music fans across the globe.

So it was bittersweet when they announced their final album as well as their final tour. Of course we still have Obersts numerous other projects–but Bright Eyes was what started it all and was what truly showcased Obersts genuine talents.

So, bitter sweet was also what it was when MTV Hive showcased their new video for the tune Jejune Stars. A video that showcases a live performance complete with pyrotechnics just in time for summer and Fourth of July.




Video Courtesty: MTV Hive and Bright Eyes Band 

Image Courtesy: Exclaim

Stream: Bon Iver, Bon Iver


During a time in the indie music world where electronic based movements such as dub step are beginning to reign supreme–it’s rather refreshing to hear a more minimalist approach. To hear music that is based upon lyricism and musicality rather than electronic beats that are seemingly more so designed for a club setting.

One of the groups that we all know and love that truly exemplifies vocal ability, as well as stellar song writing and performing is Bon Iver.

Personally, I have always been a fan of the group–not just for the lyrics but the whole atmosphere.

The group really capitalizes on Justin Vernons vocal ability by producing and mixing their songs in a way that genuinely showcases Vernons voice and the groups lyrics–which is rather refreshing in a time where over production is quite common.

I discussed my admiration for the group (and for well executed cover songs) in a post a few weeks ago for their cover of a Bonnie Raitt tune– and not only did I enjoy their rendition of I Can’t Make You Love Me, but I also spoke of my anticipation for their new album– Bon Iver. 

The entire album is now available for stream on their website as well as NPR! So before I write a riveting review on the piece–I figured I’d share it with the world first.


Click here to stream the album at NPR. 

Also be sure to check out NPR’s awesome collection of album streams.

Stream Courtesy of NPR

Image Courtesy of Sunset In The Rearview