11 December 2012

From Tulle to Tweed's Top 20 Songs of 2012 (10-1)

As the list continues, female pop vocalists are heavily featured throughout my Top 20 picks.  During my childhood I was an avid listener of pop music; my free time was spent listening to a mix of Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Huey Lewis, at the height of their careers.  I continue to maintain a strong appreciation for synthesizers and pop ballads. 2012 was also a year where dub step gained more mainstream success.  Artists like Skrillex, were headliners for major music festivals and were placed in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio.  What once seemed to be a part of middle American fringe culture has emerged to become ubiquitous. 

10. Too Close-Alex Clare
An interesting barometer for a successful pop song is to analyze how often it is being utilized in commercials. British vocalist, Alex Clare, was provided a jolt of worldwide recognition when Too Close was picked up by Microsoft for their re-branding campaign. Heavily influenced by jazz and soul , Clare delivers a powerful male presence in the dubstep scene. Contrary to his ingenue contemporaries, Clare's vocals strongly lead the listener from the start of the song to the triumphant drop.

9. Let's Go-Matt & Kim
Following the success of the bombastic album Grand in 2008, Matt & Kim returned to the scene in 2012 with a more mature and musically rich album.  Lightning extends past college radio and embraces a sound that is much less disquieting to listen to.  Matt & Kim are at their best with a drum set and vocals that are full of angst.  However, Let's Go encourages listeners to sit back in their chairs rather than hurl them towards the stage.

8. Paddling Out-Miike Snow
Miike Snow is the moniker for Swedish electro pop artists Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg.  With a background in music production, including a Grammy win for Britney Spear's Toxic, it is obvious that Miike Snow knows their way around dance music.  Catchy pop music is what Swedes do best and Miike Snow is no exception.  Paddling Out is off of Happy to You, the follow up to their 2009 self titled album.

7. Closer-Tegan & Sara
Artists Tegan & Sara fall into the category of musicians that listeners either love or hate with great intensity.  Many of their songs are reminiscent of coffee house ballads that one would expect to hear within the student union of a Seven Sisters college, sung by a wispy, wannabe, counter-cultural, trust fund ingenue.  Those statements aside, Closer is such a delightful anthem and a total antithesis of what one typically expects of Tegan & Sara.   

6. Oblivion-Grimes
Upon first listen of Grimes, one undoubtedly mistakes her for any one of the numerous indie pop singers who possess similar voices.  However, it is the playful nature of her voices that makes me return to listen.  Grimes is the stage name of Canadian Claire Boucher.  Grimes received widespread critical acclaim in 2012 for her album Visions.

5. The Chaser-Infinite
A personal favorite and one of the most underrated k-pop bands on the scene, Infinite was able to shine brightly through the jewel that is The Chaser. Known for their unique vocalization and harmony, this song is pure 1980's retro goodness.  Produced by k-pop powerhouse duo Sweetune, The Chaser was certainly one of the best k-pop songs of 2012.

4. Constant Conversations-Passion Pit
Constant Conversations delivers Passion Pit away from the carefree, soporific days of 2008's Sleepyhead and into the soulful caverns of adulthood.  Whereas Manners was the work of a group just emerging from anonymity, the desire to be rid of the trappings of celebrity is evident in GossamerConstant Conversations is poignant yet still maintains a sense of the electronic music Passion Pit has become famous for.

3. Get Free-Major Lazer (Minami of CREAM vocals)
I became enraptured when I first heard the original version of Get Free, which featured female vocals from the Dirty Projector's Amber.  Recently, producer and EDM powerhouse producer Diplo released a cover of Get Free with vocals provided by Minami of the Japanese performance duo CREAM ,in a promotional video for his Asian tour.I am waiting with bated breath for when Minami's cover will be available for purchase.

2. The Only Place-Best Coast
Having grown up in the Jersey Shore area, I loved this song the moment I heard it.  Admittedly, Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast did not fare well during her short stint on the East Coast.  In an interview with SPIN magazine, Bethany bemoaned her academic career at my husband's alma mater, The New School.  Her time spent in New York City was fleeting and chock full of angst.  That being said, it is implied that the best coast is the west coast.  As a Jersey girl, I am forced to disagree with this statement.  The Only Place is the perfect anthem to illustrate Shore towns prior to Hurricane Sandy.  Most inhabitants could never imagine living anywhere else, but near the ocean, where their dreams were constructed like sand castles.

1. Bad Boy-Big Bang
In April, following the release of Big Bang's album Alive, the hip hop blog World Star Hip Hop released what was supposed to be a hysterical video of an Asian pop band performing in hip hop wear.  Although, some comments were insensitive, the resounding reaction was that the song, Bad Boy, was a really good. While it does channel images of '90s R&B groups like Bel Biv Devoe and Teddy Riley's New Jack Swing, this song is yet another one of G-Dragon's diamond compositions. Bad Boy is the song that solidified my place as a Big Bang VIP and is most deservedly my pick for the Top Song of 2012.


Leave your comments and tell me who you think either made this list or been left off of it. 

From Tulle to Tweed's Top 20 Songs of 2012 (14-11)

Without much fan fare, we are going to plunge into the songs that are in the middle portion of my list.  In contrast with the previous post, there will be a greater emphasis on the some of the indie music darlings of 2012, with only one pop vocalist thrown in.  As we are all entitled to our opinions and musical taste is subjective, please comment on my Top 20 list.

SM Entertainment's EXO-K, the Korean branch of a k-pop mega group, is probably the most talented group currently on  Lee Soo-Man's roster.  Even though the group contains the general formula of rapper, vocalists, dancers, there is an absence of dead weight.  One of my favorite aspects of YG Entertainment's Big Bang is their versatility regarding genres and a complete absence of talentless members.  Exo-K replicates this sense of epic artistry, but is chock full of the weirdness (supernatural mythology created around one band) that one only sees with SM.  MAMA was part of EXO's creation story; someone was definitely having delusions of grandeur.

13. Mercy-Kanye West feat. Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz
2012 was another stellar year for Kanye West, one in which he boastfully rapped about his exploits with Kim Kardashian while globetrotting on tour with Jay-Z. Mercy is as over the top is a hip hop anthem can be. The song showcases relative newcomers Big Sean and 2 Chainz while not over powering Kanye or Pusha T's star power.  Mercy is a song best enjoyed straight, but for the sake of this audience,  I will be posting the censored version.

12. Titanium-David Guetta featuring Sia
Titanium was released during the second week of December 2011, but didn't begin to receive wide airplay or criticism until 2012.  The song transcends the dance tracks that define David Guetta, instead embracing the extraordinary vocal talent of SiaSia's vocal range is stretched within the work, well past the parameters listeners are accustomed to hearing.  Overall, Titanium is a rare song for both artists.

11. Frank Ocean-Thinking About You
Frank Ocean emerged from experimental rap group, Odd Future, to be showcased on Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne album in 2011.  While Frank Ocean may have appeared to be out of place in Odd Future, his vocals were the perfect fit for Watch the Throne's  track, No Church in the Wild.   With his debut album, Channel Orange, Ocean continues to woo the hearts of listeners with his tender crooning.  Thinking About You is a song that was tailor made to fit all audiences.

09 December 2012

From Tulle to Tweed's Top 20 Songs of 2012 (20-15)

As someone who avidly consumes information from music blogs, I have always been a bit wary of 'best of lists'. Something about the format seems to imply neutrality, an objective ranking of one song as being above another. Rarely is my #1 anyone else's, and even when this is the case, #2-#10 may be contrary to my opinion. There is something self-centered about 'best of lists'. But I love the idea of sharing my favorite songs with my readers and so present my list. Agree, disagree, love it or hate it, I would love to hear your comments in the blog, as I certainly don't hold back from offering my own!

20.  Purity Ring-Belispeak
2012 was the year of ethereal female pop vocals overlapping strong electronic sounds. One of the most understated acts of the year was Purity Ring. Considered by most to be part of the sub-genre witch-house, Purity Ring evokes images of a supernatural dance party.

19. G-Dragon-Crayon
While this year introduced the world to K-pop via Gangnam Style, Big Bang frontman G-Dragon was busy songwriting and performing. Named Korea's Star News's number one songwriter for 2012, G-Dragon penned 17 hit songs in one year.  Crayon is from G-Dragon's second solo album, One of a Kind. Fans of hip hop and EDM should take note of G-Dragon, a bold musical pioneer who is creating a new frontier in Korean pop music.

18. Hot Chip-Night & Day
From the group that brought us the indie dance hit, Ready for the Floor, comes a science fiction inspired delight. With plenty of bleeps and samples, the song is just enough to make you rock on your feet without breaking too much of a sweat. Added bonus for the line: do I look like a rapper?

17. Twin Shadow-Five Seconds 
Almost perfect execution of eighties A.M. radio from a Hispanic indie rock star. George Lewis Jr. is one of the most interesting indie rockers in the current scene, with his stint on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations being one of my favorite episodes.  Five Seconds is a soaring, epic song. The guitar riffs inspire me to put on leotards along with my leg warmers and begin Jazzercize warmups. 

16. Super Junior-SPY
It comes as no surprise to those who have read From Tulle to Tweed that I am a fan of K-pop.  However, when it comes to the big three Korean pop music agencies (SM, YG, and JYP Entertainment), I have never been a huge fan of SM artists. I once read an article comparing SM artists (SM Town) to the popular girls and boys at school who you love to hate. Differences aside, I was pleasantly surprised by Super Junior's SPY. The song merges elements of electro-swing, sixties spy music, hip hop, and pop. Extra bonus for being able to see Leetuk, Siwon, and Donghae looking dapper in their vintage inspired suits and tuxedos.

15. Ellie Goulding-High for This (Weeknd Cover)
2012 was Ellie Goulding's year.  The song Lights had been known by indie pop fans for some time but this was the year mainstream pop listeners heard her sweet, angelic voice. The antithesis of Lights is High for This, where Goulding maintains the cynicism that made this Weeknd song so eerily catchy.

Film Review: A Werewolf Boy

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of viewing the most successful melodrama in Korean history, "A Werewolf Boy".  Set in the Korean countryside of 1965, the movie's focus on the lives of Koreans is a complete contrast to the flashy images of cosmopolitan excess currently prevalent in popular culture. This is Director Jo Sung-hee's first foray into commercial cinema; before this movie, he worked on a number of art house films. Jo Sung-hee manipulates the pastoral setting to drive the viewer into a nerve wracking state of unease and paranoia. In "A Werewolf Boy", doors are both pathways to hope and portholes to unknown horror.

The movie's supernatural subject matter is treated with less of a sense of camp and frivolity than films like Twilight. Although there are comedic elements, the plot is driven by a sense of lingering doom reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock. The presence of an actual sense of horror makes "A Werewolf Boy" a delightful antidote to the comical, contrived acting and super budget CGI special effects that define most supernatural films. The script, which was written by director Jo Sung-Jee, conveys many of the same themes that were present in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: humanity's fear towards that which we consider outside of our species, the supernatural and the unnatural; but, like Frankenstein, we see the development of tender, even romantic feelings, between the social outcasts and the supernatural outcasts.

The movie opens with Kim Suni, who is residing in the United States, in the later stages of her life.  This is a flash forward from the actual storyline. Suni is now an ahjumma (grandmother), who has the respect of her family members. As she inspects her wrinkled skin in the mirror, it is apparent that Suni valued beauty in her youth. Through the progression of the film, Suni returns to the village of her teenage years with her granddaughter.  It is during this time that Suni begins to recall the strange events surrounding the time during which her family resided in the village. 

In traditional Korean drama fashion, the viewer is soon introduced to Ji-Tae, the impractical wannabe chaebol who is the son of their landlord.  Ji-Tae is arrogant and useless, at best, making him a prime candidate for a future love triangle.  The werewolf boy, played brilliantly by Song Joong-Ki, soon emerges from the shadows. The appearance of this strange, feral boy initially evokes fear and loathing from Suni and her family. What begins as a very contentious relationship later grows into a bittersweet love story between the wolf boy (Chul-Soo) and Suni. The relationship that grows between Chul-Soo and Suni is much more like that of Belle and the Beast, then Bella and Jacob, and (for this viewer) seemed to strike a more meaningful chord in terms of relationship dynamics. Bella's complete lack of fear towards her supernatural suitors always seemed unrealistic to me. Wouldn't the typical reaction of any normal human be a little fear mixed in with her desire?

Viewers in the United States, as well as though viewing it after December 6, were treated to the extended version of the film. Included in this version are a magnificent alternate ending and deleted scenes that provide a better explanation as to how Chul-Soo and the villagers develop their fractured relationship.  This film is definitely a must see for movie goers who are fans of international films, Korean drama aficionados, and those who are looking to witness genuine theatrical talent.

"A Werewolf Boy" will remain in limited release in select locations within the United States until 12/13/2012.  See it!

04 December 2012

Hurricane Sandy and a K-pop Concert or How Social Media Changed My Life Part Deux

    When we last visited New Jersey post-Hurricane, I was stuck on a gas line that stretched from the local highway Route 22 to my apartment.  Luckily, my little fuel efficient Volkswagen Jetta was poised to be fueled up, as I was number ten in line.  This was two o'clock in the morning on day five.  The aforementioned police officer who received a few of my choice words, North Jersey vis a vie  osmosis, was breaking up the gas line. This gas station would not be functional until ten hours later.

     As I worry about having gas in my car, I am also concerned for people who are traveling into New Jersey for the Big Bang concert.  The media is not covering the event from the perspective of fans, which is unfortunate.   There are devout fans who are traveling by car, mass transit, and plane from as far as the west coast, as well as Canada, and Puerto Rico.  Mass transit has gone into absolute disarray due to the storm and worse yet, there is a Nor'easter scheduled to arrive a day prior to the first show.

    Through my anxiety, I continue to post mass transit updates and ways to travel to the state of New Jersey from various surrounding areas.  What remains unspoken is that I still do not know the state of mother's well being.  A breakthrough on that front, comes through my sister-in-law who disperses her father-in-law, a firefighter and National Guard member.  Via communication from my sister-in-law, I discover that my mother is doing well and assisting others in her community. Within hours, I receive a phone call from my mom, solidifying that one of my last remaining blood relatives on earth has not yet perished.

    When I receive the news that my mother is alive and well, I have the complete opposite reaction of what I normally would.  Instead of being apathetic about the plight of people in New Jersey, I decide that something needs to be done.  Within the Facebook forum community, I begin to organize a clothing and supply drive for victims of Hurricane Sandy.  To say that it was difficult to organize a clothing drive surrounding a K-pop concert in New Jersey, is an understatement. With the assistance of members of Occupy Sandy New Jersey, I was given the contact information of a community organizer in Newark, New Jersey.  
     To be a community organizer in Newark in not an easy feat.  In a recent Facebook post, Tobias Fox illustrated how his bike seat was stolen from his bike (his only means of transportation other than public transit) , while he assisted organizers of a rooftop community garden.  Tobias is an awesome person, with much of the spirit of Morpheus from the Matrix.  Community organizing in Newark is difficult for someone who is trying to unite what is viewed by outsiders as a downtrodden city, but Tobias does not appear to be discouraged. 

     My entire family is from Newark.  My mother and father met and were married within the city.  My siblings went to school there; it is where my parents attempted to make their mark upon America.  Unfortunately, this was prior to the riots of the 1960's that ravaged the city.  After the riots, my parents and subsequently most of my family fled from the city.  The last hold out was my grandmother, Nora Biera, who died living in Newark during the 1990s.  In reality, my attendance of this concert was surreal because it would be the first time I had stepped foot in the city of Newark, since I was twelve years old.   I am a Jersey Shore girl, born at Jersey Shore Medical Center and raised in Manchester.
The inside of Newark City Hall can be as intimidating as the outside.

      In my attempts to organize what should have been a simple supply drive, I discovered many of the obstacles both residents and politicians in Newark encounter on a regular basis.  There is a sentiment of disdain towards the monolithic Prudential Center.  In the largest city in New Jersey, the politicians had no knowledge of the magnitude of Big Bang or the amount of attendees of the show.  8,000 to 12,000 people would be in attendance, on two nights.  This would be the largest show to be held in New Jersey, after Hurricane Sandy.  Yet, no one from the Prudential Center was addressing the fact that there were thousands of people without power, food, and running water within miles of the stadium that was hosting the concert.

Hell's Kitchen Lounge was willing to help when other locations could not.

    With the assistance of Tobias Fox and local politicians, I was able to hold a small clothing and supply drive.  Hell's Kitchen Lounge, a local rockabilly bar, allowed us to store our donations.  A fan of the band, Big Bang, Autumn Maura traveled from New Hampshire with her vehicle filled with supplies.  Although, we were unable to collect at the Prudential Center, we were able to secure over a truck and a half load of donations.  These donations were provided to the 24 hour Emergency Rescue Center at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark.
Donations from the clothing and supply drive, along with fan signs and our banner.

       The concert was an amazing experience with one of the most diverse audiences I had ever seen in attendance of what was essentially a pop music show.  Big Bang is comprised of consummate performers, who made the arduous trip that many concert goers made, worthwhile.  As Spin magazine illustrated in their coverage of the concert, Big Bang used K-pop to heal New Jersey.There was a general sense of excitement; the electricity that emmanates from anyone who is performing before a very eager audience.   In a darkened stadium,  fans waved light wands that glimmered brightly like beacons of hope.   
A banner was passed amongst fans to sign in order to get word about our supply drive out.

     In a masochistic way, I am thankful for Hurricane Sandy, because she taught me about me about the triumph of the human spirit and the beauty of a city I had long forgotten about.   Prior to Sandy, I would have hastily driven or taken mass transit into Newark, without a second glance.  Now, I consider Newark to be a second home.  I am looking forward to attending another k-pop show in Newark.  I have spent the past few weeks proselytizing about the great architecture and wonderfully helpful people.   Sandy may have taken away some of my childhood memories at the Shore, but she has assisted with the restoration of those that were within the city of Newark.

03 December 2012

Hurricane Sandy and a K-pop Concert or How Social Media Changed My Life: Part Un

This is the first in a series of posts:
     As a New Jersey resident, the last week of October was definitely more of a trick than a treat.  The Mr. (my husband, that is) and I traveled down to our ancestral Shore towns, the weekend prior to Sandy, to assist our parents in preparation.  Little did we know, the shore from our childhood would cease to exist, days later.  The night the storm arrived on shore, I spoke with my mother, who justifiably believed she was having her last conversation with me.  Apparently, a tree had fallen against her window and she was awash with fear that the worst was yet to come.

      Simultaneously, I was engaged in a conversation with some of my co-workers via iPhone messaging.  The girls at work and I would regularly gossip about daily events and share relationship woes.  On this night, however, the conversation had taken a dark turn towards that of fear for our well being and the safety of our loved ones. As we engaged in conversation, green and yellow lights flashed brightly outside our windows.  We would later discover that this psychedelic light show had a direct correlation with the widespread power outages.
       Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, my biggest concern for the month of November was attending the concert for one of my favorite Korean pop bands, Big Bang.  Big Bang was touring in the United States with two shows at the Prudential Center in Newark.  I had tickets for the second night and was sharing the concert with a fan whom I had met via a Facebook fan forum.   The Mr. had suggested that I find people with similar interests in Korean pop music, which led me to actively engage in various Korean pop (K-pop) related forums.  I had been enthusiastic about the show, for weeks, ordering my light stick and head band from retailers in South Korea.  There were various fan projects surrounding the show, including simple crafts like the star below  to display allegiance to the band.

Part of a Star for Big Bang Project

       During the dismal days following the storm, my mother and my in-laws faced widespread power, phone, and cellular phone outages.  Even in central and northern New Jersey, centralized locations like Bridgewater Commons Mall resembled refugee camps for the wireless and electrical challenged.  Frazzled teens and businessmen, alike, could been seen squatting with their laptops plugged into any available power outlet.  To someone who had lived in New Jersey and the tri-State area their entire life, it appeared as if the world was coming to an end.

Children playing on storm debris.
      The Mr. and I were fortunate in that our power was restored after only twenty four hours.  When our power returned, half of our apartment complex could be heard cheering.  The other half of the complex would remain without power for four more days.  In the midst of the power and communication black out, I was unable to contact my mother.  My mother lives within a guarded senior citizen complex, where other slightly technologically challenged seniors were trying to figure out why their cellular calls were dropping.  The fact that a cellular tower may have been destroyed by the storm went unnoticed and spoken by them. So, for five days I was not able to verify that my mother had fared okay through the storm.

       By the second day, the Mr. and I were doing quite well.  Our power had been restored, which meant that the adjacent shopping center was functional, as well.  We were able to replenish our groceries, visit the liquor store for some potent potables, and purchase a hot cup of coffee.  This, however, was all done with the knowledge that our family at the Shore was probably not faring quite as well.   I should also add that we live in a town that was decimated in the nineties by a hurricane. The run on joke is that if you live in Bound Brook, you should own an inflatable boat. Our families, unable to gain access to information and without power, feared the worst for us. 
       As the days trudged on, with little word from our family members, we continued to care for our dog and ourselves.  Having a shopping center within close proximity helped. On day three, the Mr. and I ventured out to Bridgewater Commons Mall to lunch with my two of my friends from work.  The normally well-heeled patrons of The Cheesecake Factory looked absolutely bedraggled.  Children were crying hysterically and stay at home trophy wives appeared to be absolutely unhinged.  Within the area of Bridgewater, there were widespread power outages that extended into the tony area that is known as "The Hills".

     By the fourth day, I had started to become more engaged with the online forum I had previously only been an observer of.  Young people from throughout the country were planning to converge on New Jersey for the K-pop concert, which was scheduled on November 8 and November 9.   Language barriers inhibited the concise production of travel advisories and official information from the management of Big Bang.  Conservative Korean families were urging their daughters to remain at home and not to enter the disaster zone, as many were referring to it.  As I read their posts, I scoffed at their concerns.  This was because where I lived was not as hard hit and due to the power outages, we hadn't traveled too far.   New Jersey didn't truly seem to be a disaster area, to someone like myself.
    By the time day five had arrived, the realization that FEMA and the Red Cross were descending upon the disaster zone that was New Jersey, had hit.  In a desperate effort to obtain gasoline for my car, I remained awake twenty four hours, following traffic trends and posts via the social media GPS application known as Waze.  I had still not spoken with my mother and was concerned about my husband returning to work.   I had been out of work since Sandy had hit, with little promise of power being restored to the school and work center.  A lifetime law and order person, I was reduced to yelling at law enforcement officers who were attempting to control social order through monitoring gas lines.  

Part Deux...